A 42-Year-Old Masseur, Alexander Alazo, Arrested for Attacking the Cuban Embassy in Washington

Cuban Embassy seat in Washington attacked in the early morning hours

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 April 2020 — The alleged perpetrator who fired several shots at the Cuban Embassy in Washington in the pre-dawn hours this past Thursday has been arrested by the police and answers to the name of Alexander Alazo. According to El Nuevo Herald, the individual is a 42-year-old man who had lived in Miami-Dade County and who has a license to practice massage in Texas.

The same newspaper which confirmed the information in public records indicated that Alazo has a police record for several traffic violations in Florida and in other states. However, there is no evidence of a conviction for crimes or criminal activities.

According to the Secret Service, who are in charge of the investigation, “The individual was arrested for being in possession of an unregistered firearm and ammunition, for assault with deadly intention, and for possession of a high-capacity [automatic] device.” The alleged attacker, who resides in Aubrey, Texas, offered no resistance. continue reading

The attack took place with an assault rifle around 2:00 in the morning against the exterior of the diplomatic mission in the northwest section of the US capital. Municipal police arrived at the location after neighbors notified them of the shots.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a communicado in which the attack was confirmed, and stated that no employee had been injured

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a communicado in which the attack was confirmed, and stated that no employee had been injured, although the building certainly had been, due to the impact of the bullets.

The building is secure and protected, since it is equipped with a system to confront any threat against its personnel and installations.

“It is an obligation of any nation to adopt all appropriate measures to secure the locations of any accredited diplomatic mission in its country against any intrusion or damage, and to avoid the disruption of peace of the mission and any assault on its dignity,” declared the communicado.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

The Governmment Manages Two Sets of Coronavirus Statistics, the Real and the Touched-up

Graph of data managed by the authorities showing the possible scenarios of the evolution of the pandemic.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 27, 2020 — Cuba will reach the peak of Covid-19 infection next week, in contrast to data offered by other sources, accord to the forecast of experts who evaluate for the government. Although it initially was forecast that this peak would be reached toward the end of May, results from the preventive steps taken allow for moving up the date if the restrictions that are in force are kept, according to specialists interviewed by the official press.

“This is a cautious forecast which depends on the evolution of the sickness in the next few days,” warned Raúl Guinovart Díaz, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computing at the University of Havana, during an extended report published today in Cubadebate in which he shelled out the official data, illustrated with graphs.

According to these figures, Cuba should have a minimum of 1,500 cases and a maximum of 2,500, this expert says, although he emphasizes that if the present conditions are relaxed, the forecast could change. continue reading

The evolution of the disease, with the official data available, coincides now with the forecasts of a group of Cuban experts in the United States who call themselves “Los Tocos” and who every day since the end of March have shared with 14ymedio their projections from a mathematical model. Nonetheless, these specialists lately have voiced their concern of a possible manipulation of data by the Cuban government.

“We are certain that the number of hospitalizations has been touched up, with a dual purpose — first, to avoid [the fact] that the performance of the Government could be monitored from the outside, and secondly, to allow an additional margin of time for liquidating the epidemic.”

Los Tocos noticed that something wasn’t quite right when, “The number of hospitalizations, which had been increasing vertiginously, decreased and the number of the cured rose inordinately.” According to these experts, it’s not easy to detect the fraud with the numbers of hospitalizations and cured because the authorities do not offer detailed information about these.

“The government manages two sets of statistics — the real one which is used for business purposes, and the gussied-up one for protecting itself and manipulating public opinion,” add Los Tocos. The change for arriving at the peak infection date may be laid to this. Until just a few days ago, the official sources were speaking of the twenty-eighth of May, but the new number of hospitalizations now allow them to advance the date to the third of May. On the other hand, Los Tocos estimate that the peak of the epidemic will arrive “around the fifteenth of May.”

In the interview published in Cubadebate, the dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computation explained that, according to the first available models, a more complicated scenario had been foreseen, with up to 4,500 active cases in a single day, which would overwhelm the normal capacity of the health system. Regardless, the positive effects of the steps taken in personal distancing was causing the scenario to change constantly, so that the predictions have improved in recent days.

“The curve was turning toward a more favorable scenario,” emphasized Guinovart.

Lizet Sánchez Valdés, mathematician and epidemiologist, gave nuance to the numbers and indicated that if the numbers of people tested increase, the figures could change due to detection in the asymptomatic. “Anyway, we don’t think it’s going to the critical scenario.”

Specialists have explained that the speed of propagation of the disease has become high, with a base reproduction number (number of additional people each infected person infects) of almost five. In order to control an infectious disease, this number has to fall below one, which is to say that each infected person has to infect fewer than one other.

“Generally, when an epidemic begins, the base reproduction number often is high,” said Guinovart. “Little by little, it’s been going down since the measures taken; it stabilized at one, then rose somewhat due to the event at the senior home in Santa Clara. Being this was such a localized event, it did not affect the figures at national level very much. Meanwhile, Havana was complicated, but after the restrictive measures, this parameter is close to a “one”, maintains the expert.

The predictions that are made around the world help governments make decisions according to the evolution of the pandemic, since such complicated scenarios demand drastic measures. However, if changes show up in the control of the disease, one can consider relaxing the confinement in order to re-activate the economy.

Guinovart vouches for the role of mathematics and statistics in this pandemic. “We think, in our modest opinion, that we have helped in decision making,” he believes.

Sánchez Váldez, moreover, took the opportunity to ask the Government and the population to follow carefully the recommendations that have been made. “The final message to the population is that if they do not adhere to the measures of social isolation, the model can again increase, and we can go to a critical scenario. The model is working as of now, but we all are responsible for it. The epidemic is becoming vulnerable to the actions that are being taken, but this depends on social behavior and governmental steps. The model is showing that we can change the course of the epidemic,” she concludes.

 Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

The Mysterious Medical Alliance Between Cuba and Andorra

Cuban health workers at the entrance to their hotel in Andorra, where they were met with the applause of their colleagues

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, April 15, 2020 — Little apparently connects Cuba with Andorra, the first with a yearly income of barely 7,470 Euros per capita, and the latter enjoying an income of 35,975 Euros per inhabitant, per year. Nonetheless, the arrival at the end of March of a medical brigade sent by Havana to the tiny principality has almost become the storyline of a movie.

Three months have gone by since the Cuban health brigade arrived in Andorra to support the country’s health personnel in its battle with Covid-19. Since then, there has been much publicity but few concrete data about the cooperation between the impoverished communist country and the tax haven with which it re-established relations in 1995 during the time of Fidel Castro. All is mystery. This news source has asked the Andorran Ministry of Health to see the agreement, but has not received an answer to date. According to local media, the text has yet to be formalized.

All that’s known for certain is the cost that was incurred for a part of the trip, amounting to 19,811.60 Euros. This past Wednesday, the Official Bulletin of the Principality of Andorra (BOPA) has made public the statement in which the Spanish airline Iberia charged for a round trip of “medical equipment for health emergency”. To this expense it is necessary to add the trip from Madrid to Old Andorra, which was undertaken by bus on the twenty-third of March, given that the principality has no airport of its own. continue reading

The arrival was beset with mishap. With a health worker testing positive for the coronavirus and the entire team being put in quarantine, it came to light this weekend that the expense in the agreement of cooperation would be defrayed by a private family of foreign origin, though residing in Andorra for several decades.

The Andorran Ministry of Finance, Eric Jover, explained in a news conference that the Sirkia family will take in hand all charges that otherwise would be laid to the public treasury by the presence of the Cuban doctors in the Principality. The family, he said, “has offered to make this donation and we thank them very much, since they will take charge of all the expenses of the agreement under which we have brought over the Cuban doctors.”

Who are this family? Little is known. Although an Andorran doctor gives out that they are a family of Cuban origin, this news source has been unable to find any connection between the Island and the Sirkia family, which formerly owned one of the luxury jewelry stores on Meritxell Avenue which crosses the capital of the Principality and its annex Escaldes-Engordany where the health workers are lodged.

The Finance Ministry announced, some weeks ago, a fund of public subscription for collecting money destined for the battle against the coronavirus, the total of which has reached 1.6 millon Euros. Part of this money was collected by SMS, although the most robust donations were those of the International Club which sent in at least 80,000 Euros taken up amongst its members, or [donations] during the skiing season (one of the great sources of revenue for the country specializing in winter tourism), which yielded 50,000 Euros; the Automobile Club, over 9,000 Euros; and from a neighborhood association for the Ransol quarter with more than 5,000 Euros. But to date it is not evident whether anyone has decided on a concrete recipient for the money other than the Cuban brigade.

To the lack of informed cooperation from the Principality is added the habitual opaqueness on the Cuban side which eludes answers to direct questions. The Cuban consul in Barcelona, Alain González who keeps track of the group, offered an interview with Diari D’Andorra this past Friday in which he dodged repeated questions concerning the budgeting of this agreement.

“What expenses did Andorra run for the stay of this brigade?” asked a journalist. “I do not have that information,” the consul replied, directing him to the Andorran authorities.

“How do you measure the monetary value of the brigades sent overseas?” emphasized the interviewer. “I shall ask you a question — do you think that solidarity has a monetary value?” retorted González. There are things that [have no monetary measure] and go beyond economic reach.”

The reporter, however, would not relent. “I shall not go back to Cuba with empty hands …” he replied. “Cuban solidarity never has been motivated by economic interest. What motivates us here is to give support to the Andorran people.” The journalist persisted without giving ground. “Insist on disconnecting philanthropy from business.” To which the consul replied, “We share what we have, and not what we have left over, and this is one way to face the philosophy of life. Solidarity is inherent in our way of thinking … we are not going to look for loot, we are not corsairs, we are not mercenaries, we are not pirates. These are doctors who voluntarily join a mission,” he emphasized.

Although the interviewer repeatedly questioned, reminding González that the sale of medical services is one of the principal sources of income for Cuba, and not for the professionals themselves, the consul settled the matter saying, “That is not the case with the brigade that is here.”

The verbal dispute continued when the journalist asked him to assure that these health workers in Andorra work in decent conditions, and the Cuban continued to elude the question, vouching for the professionalism of the workers, the majority of whom, he explained, have abandonned their country to exercise their calling with dignity, and who feel pride for the Cuban people.

“We haven’t come to create propaganda, nor to look for recognition nor economic benefit. We simply are responding to an appeal from Andorra and humanity,” he affirmed.

This same periodical published an interview this Tuesday with the leader of the brigade, Dr. Luis Enrique Pérez Ulloa. The question was put to him again about the economic interests of these missions, to which the doctor replied that this the question only reveals unfamiliarity with the Cuban public health system, which is “purely altruistic”.

The journalist was interested in the purchasing power of the salaries received by the contingent and whether they adapt to the cost of living in Andorra, to which Pérez Ulloa replied that they are lacking for nothing. “What better example than being here and hearing the notes of the Cuban national anthem sound off from the balconies each evening at eight p.m. And when you walk to the hospital, you see people applauding … this goes to the heart and fills us with pride. This is the best gift we have received, and this cannot be bought with money.”

The interview, like the news about the family that underwrites the agreement, has caused strong disagreements in comments to the online press. Some citizens are grateful to the Sirkia family for having decided to invest part of their money toward medical assisstance, while others are suspicious of the circumstances of the agreement, and claim that taxes and not donations are what supports the public expense.

There are those who applaud this cooperation with the Cuban doctors, regardless of how the agreements were drawn up, while others think that the health workers might be exposed to the habitual conditions of Havana, and reject it.

In Andorra, there have been 659 persons infected with Covid-19 to date, of which 160 have recovered and 31 have died — an extremely high rate of mortality, at 4.7%.

Cuban doctors took up positions at their usual work posts this past Monday after spending several days in quarantine due to one off their members testing positive for Covid-19, and a week off to familiarize themselves with El Cedre, a social health center in which the elderly or handicapped usually reside and which has been outfitted as an auxiliary care center for those ill with coronavirus, initially the less severe cases. The severe ones go to the hospital Nostra Senyora de Meritxell.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

Cuba’s Freelance Vendors Are Not Heeding the Warnings of Diaz-Canel

As an alternative to lining up for several hours, many Cubans turn to the informal market.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 22, 2020 — Freelance vendors on mopeds pass through the Casino Deportivo neighborhood. They know that this is one of the most high-income areas in Havana. They offer the same products that require hours in line in front of a store, but which they will bring to people’s houses for twice and even three times the price.

A package of frozen chicken that costs five CUC in the state market they will sell for twelve. “Don’t go out and put yourself at risk to buy this,” one vendor warned a lady who hesitated this past Tuesday. “Everything is brought to your door and without danger, because this merchandise is washed beforehand so that there is no contagion,” adds the man who is riding an electric moped.

Higher income families are ready to pay much more for the groceries than they cost a few weeks ago in order to avoid crowds. The resellers know this, and have begun to offer home delivery. continue reading

The greater part of the merchandise is filched from state storehouses, from hotel kitchens that have been paralyzed by lack of tourism, from stores where their own employees have redirected a portion of the stock to the black market, or from the so-called “gatherers” who stand on line several times or who go with their whole families in order to obtain a greater measure of the foodstuffs that are rationed.

Regarding these resellers and “gatherers”, Miguel Diez-Canel spoke yesterday, saying he had received many reports referring to those who are dedicated to these activities, along with others who wander about without apparent purpose despite the authorities’ appeal to stay at home unless it’s a necessity to go out.

“We have to act against these also, nobody here can be engaged in illicit activity, nobody here is authorized to sell or to resell anything, this cannot be permitted,” stated the leader in the daily meeting of the workers’ group for the prevention and control of coronavirus.

“What little we have we are trying to give out in the stores and in the distribution chains in our markets. And here, there is nothing to explain, it’s to act with severity, because these are the people who are making the situation more complicated,” he said.

The black market is getting ahold of the technologies that guarantee its survival and that elude control. Orders are broadcast via online portals for buying and selling, and by WhatsApp threads, Telegram groups or by word of mouth. The advertisements for the sale of ready-to-serve foods last but a few minutes on the most popular classified ad sites.

“I had it up until yesterday, but it’s already gone, call tomorrow to see if I have any more,” replied by telephone a freelance vendor who had announced an offer of cheese, ham, sausage and powdered milk on the website Revolico. “The merchandise took off!” he told an anxious buyer who had called some ten stores but without any success at all.

To evade the police, the vendors prefer to deliver to clients’ houses in order to prevent clients from coming to their own.”Hold up! Hold up! Let this person go by,” a  householder in Nuevo Vedado was cautioned by the man who arrived downstairs at his house on an electric moped with his wife on board. Shortly, after an elderly man had disappeared down the street, the freelance vendor took from his knapsack two bags of powdered milk.

The man on the street took and rapidly placed the merchandise in another bag and pretended to shake hands to take his leave. In reality, he slipped two bills to pay for the purchase and to avoid the curious gazes of neighbors. The surveillance networks which until a few weeks ago had overlooked these operations, now are more alert.

“They have instructed us that we need to avoid people gathering in lines, and to keep a distance of a meter, but also that we make rounds in the neighborhood to identify the resellers,” explained 68-year-old Manuel, an activist in the Communist Party and denizen of El Cerro. With a green mask, the retired man patrols the vicinity of The Cupet in Ayestarán Street, a frequent hub of informal marketing.

“Yesterday, we discovered a couple of illegal operations selling agricultural products and also frozen foods. We turned them in at once to the High Command,” he explained. The penalties for these clandestine operations are difficult to foresee in a situation such as the present one in which the government applies punishments as away of setting examples.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

Lies and Half-truths about a Donation from China to Cuba to Fight Coronavirus

Cuban authorities knew as far back as last November that Avianca was not reliable for travel to Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Katia Monteagudo/Mayli Estévez, México/Madrid, April 14th, 2020 — On the first day of April, the official daily of the Communist Party of Cuba, Granma, published an article entitled “The Untold Story of How an Airplane with Medical Supplies from Cuba was unable to enter Cuba”.

The source of the information was the Cuban embassador in China, Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernández. Granma reproduced a text published by Pereira Hernández which asserted — without any evidence whatsoever — that the foundation of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, founder of the online store Alibaba, wanted to send medical supplies to Cuba to combat the coronavirus epidemic, but was unable to do so because of the embargo laws of the United States.

“The carrier [for the Jack Ma Foundation], a U.S. company that was hired, declined the job at the last minute, citing the rules of the economic, commercial and financial blockade in force against the recipient nation, reimposed by the present administration in the USA,” wrote the embassador in a blog reproduced by Granma. continue reading

Later, Pereira stated: “The extraordinarily noble and laudable attempt by the founder of Alibaba and the Jack Ma Foundation (…) could not touch down on Cuban soil, no matter how necessary these resources could be in sustaining the battle waged by the besieged and blockaded small Caribbean island.

The story was reproduced literally by other media and the matter was settled — one of the richest men in China wanted to support the fight against the pandemic but, at the last minute, the carrier did not want to go to Cuba.

The government, by way of Granma, left several questions unanswered, however, among these a very fundamental one — why is it, given there are several options for sending the goods, that the outfit that had been refused to fly to Cuba months ago was precisely the one chosen?

This is a retelling of the complete story.

What did the donation consist of?

Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba, one of the biggest internet sales outlets in the world, and competitor to the US company Amazon. Ma has a foundation which on the twenty-first of March announced on Twitter that it would send two million masks, 400,000 virus detection tests and 104 mechanical respirators to Latin American countries.

And how was the donation to get there?

The logistic arm in charge of shipping products of the Alibaba group is the Cainiao company which has its own freight planes. In order to have its donations arrive as quickly as possible, Cainiao partnered with about 50 partners in transportation and logistics which, until now, have delivered more than 100 million vital medical supplies to more than 140 countries in Latin America and the rest of the world.

In Africa, for example, they operate with Ethiopian Airlines; in Europe, with ASL Airlinnes, which is of Irish origin, while the state-run China Cargo supplied shipments to the Ma Foundation in Spain.

In Latin America, Alibaba has used various airlines for shipments. For example, in Mexico on March 31st, they used the Mexican freight airline AeroUnión. Said airline, in point of fact, does fly charters to Havana.

Any one of the airlines mentioned could have shipped the donation to Cuba. Yet, in order to fly to the Island and to other countries of the region such as Panama, Bolivia or Colombia, Caimiao chose Avianca, as was reported by the news agency AP.

It is not known how or why the decision was made, nor whether the Cuban authorities in Beijing knew of it in advance and could have prevented the outcome. But in choosing Avianca, the Chinese donor committed a mistake because Avianca was unable to complete the mission.

We inquired of Alibaba and the Jack Ma Foundation regarding this decision, but as of the moment of publication, they haven’t answered the several emails they have been sent.

Is it really true that “a US firm refused the job at the last minute”, as the embassador has said?

This is false.

Avianca isn’t exactly an enterprise with its headquarters in the US. Its headquarters is in Colombia, and it’s an airline whose share holders are principally Colombians and Salvadorans. As of last year, these owners have been controlling the shares of Avianca through a network of corporations registered in the state of Delaware, USA.

This in fact caused Avianca to cease selling tickets last year for Cuba from Colombia and El Salvador. The airline announced on October 31, 2019, that it would not fly into Cuba while it was resolving with the US authorities certain questions related to the embargo. Subsequently, on November 20th, Avianca confirmed that as of January of the present year it would not operate flights into Cuba.

So, this was a cancellation at last minute? Hardly! The Cuban authorities knew from last November that Avianca, having become a company partly regulated by laws of the United States as a corporation operating in Delaware, was not reliable for flying into Cuba.

Have other donations suffered the same obstacle?


On April 6th, Chancellor Bruno Rodríguez announced that “a donation sent by the People’s Republic of China has arrived.” According to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, the cargo included 2,000 N95 masks, 10,000 surgical masks, 2,000 protective gowns, and an equal number of pairs of sanitary shoes, protective goggles, and gloves.

Another donation, from a Chinese company called Zhengzhou Yutong Bus, donated 100,000 protective masks and 10,000 protective gowns, according to Xinhua.

How did these goods arrive at the Island? As the deadline for press approaches, we have been unable to verify independently the route of entry, but it is sure we can be sure that they indeed arrived to the Island because a more reliable carrier than Avianca was hired.

Other donations by the founder of Alibaba to countries under embargo also have arrived at their destinations. In a tweet from the Jack Ma Foundation on March 13, assurance was made that in previous weeks countries such as Iran (likewise sanctioned by the United States) had received medical shipments from the Chinese company.

The Government of Iran, for its part, expressed its gratitude. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry at Teheran declared that “the Iranians shall never forget their friends in hard times,” at the same time they confirmed that the material had been received the past 14th of March, along with medical equipment and financial aid coming also out of Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, China, Japan, Qatar, Russia and Turkey.

How could they have done it? They selected the proper airline to transport the goods.

Does the embargo really prohibit US companies from sending humanitarian donations to Cuba?

The laws governing the US blockade of Cuba are considered overly hard and illegal by many countries of the world, but they have their exceptions. Among these is the shipment of donations. In article 746.2 of the embargo law, it is expressly affirmed that no american company needs an advance authorization in order to make humanitarian donations to Cuba. Article 740.12 specifies that the only such [blockaded materials] would be medical goods that could be used for torture or human rights violations, or cases in which there is certainty that they will be resold to other countries or used for the production of “biotechnological” material.

So, why didn’t Avianca transport the goods?

Upon being consulted for this story, Avianca referred us to its public relations statements and would not give any further explanations. There is, ipso facto, no accurate response.

What could have happened is that the airlines might have feared being brought to trial in the United States by a man named Ramón López Regueiro, who already has sued another airline for operating in Cuba this past September.

López Regueiro, a US citizen, avers that the José Martí International Airport belongs to him because his father had the license to build and operate it during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The facilities were expropriated afterwards by the Revolution.

At present, there is a United States law in effect that allows lawsuits in that country against any company in the world that knowingly benefits from or uses in any form private goods expropriated during the Cuban Revolution.

This rule, in the third section of the referenced Helms Burton Law, though passed in 1996, never was set in effect because it was considered too vague and extreme. This past year, however, the administration of Donald Trump decided it should be applied.

From that time on, it has given rise to lawsuits such as those of López Regueiro. He considers that whatever airline that operates in Cuba is benefitting from an asset that was expropriated from him without any compensation for his family.

For this reason, he brought suit against American Airlines and the Chilean Latam Airlines, and warned others that he might sue them as well.

Though this risk has not kept plenty of airlines from flying to Havana, it’s possible that it dissuaded Avianca.

Lorenzo Palomares Starbuck, a Florida lawyer who defends the strict application of the Helms Burton Law, confirmed in an interview that “no carrier can arrive at a port that has been confiscated by the Castro Government.”

“It will be very difficult in these times for a US airline or one with a [US] capital investment such as Avianca to carry donations to Cuba,” stated Palomares Starbuck.

This opinion, nevertheless, is not shared unanimously by the courts of the United States. Other Cuban-american heirs of expropriated assets have not managed to succeed in similar suits before the courts.

In January of this year, Granma reported, a judge in Miami threw out a suit against various cruise companies that used land in the port of Havana that had been expropriated by the Revolution.

*Katia Monteagudo is a Cuban journalist who has written for various media, among them Yahoo News and the magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze). Mayli Estévez likewise is a Cuban journalist who collaborates with Tremenda Nota (“Great High” or “Good Buzz”) and Play Off Magazine.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

Argentine Tourists Have Been Relocated to the Habana Libre and the Neptune-Triton Hotels

The Tulipán Hotel now is destined for Cuban health care workers who take part in international missions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, April 21, 2020 – Some of the Argentine tourists who put up in the Tulipán Hotel in the Capital have, as of this Sunday, a new residence at the Tryp Habana Libre, if they can pay between 30 and 40 dollars US for a room, a price very much below the usual rate of 145 dollars.

If this is not possible, the travelers must declare themselves indigent and fill out a sworn statement in order to be transferred to the Hotel Neptuno-Tritón, in which case the Argentine government itself will assume the costs.

Until the end of this past week, the Tulipán sheltered a group of 195 sojourners from the South American country who found themselves stranded in the Island with the closing of air space of both nations, but the authorities have proceeded with the emptying-out and disinfecting of the hotel for its incorporation into the National Health System. continue reading

“We were told they were sending doctors from the brigades that are being sent abroad so that they could stay a few days before traveling. I understood it was a sort of quarantine,” a worker at the Hotel Tulipán reported to our paper. “Here we disinfected over the weekend and already are ready to receive them.”

During recent weeks it came to be somewhat usual to see the Argentine group in the areas of greenery around the establishment where they spent the hours doing exercises or playing soccer.

In an interview with Notícias around the end of March, Javier Figueroa, Argentine ambassador to Cuba, counted about 900 of his countrymen who found themselves trapped on the Island. “We are looking into special flights. The entry is forbidden, but not the exit from the Island,” he said.

The Embassy has announced the departure of a flight of Copa airlines for this Thursday. It’s the fourth chartered airplane for Argentines leaving Cuba, but there yet remain at least 400 more persons, an employee of the Embassy in Havana told 14ymedio.

The departure criteria the authorities have put together favor persons with greater clinical or epidemiological risk. “We know […] that there are people on medication and who have pathologies that put them at risk. These will be the absolute priority.”

The Argentine embassy has been providing information via its social media in which it has received various criticisms and complaints of families concerned about the slowness of the operation. The delegation defended itself, affirming that half already have been repatriated and the remainder were being “sheltered with food and all the medicines that can be had.”

Others have objected over these transfers which they consider to represent lack of prevention, in the context of present circumstances. “I’m in Cuba, my children are there in Cuba. They travelled well before the quarantine and are marooned there by necessity, under force majeure, due to the pandemic. They are workers who can’t afford to pay what you all propose […] it’s an obligation to care for and protect all of them and not to commit such a foul-up.”

The ambassador has rejected the criticisms and updated the situation of the Argentines who still are on the Island. “I am not going to accept talking about a ‘foul-up’. The State has evacuated 650 persons; another 156 are leaving this Thursday. No one is in the street. No one has been infected. No one has had a medical emergency, nor has been admitted to a hospital.”

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

Cubans Dread the Return of Lengthy Blackouts

Officials have not given details of the quantity of fuel no longer being consumed due to the closing of industries, the paralysis of education and the shutting down of public transportation. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 19th, 2020 — Cubans fear that added to the Covid-19 crisis on the Island will be electrical black-outs due to exhaustion of fuel supply, a concern that has increased this week when the authorities made an appeal to save energy on account of the increased consumption due to confinement and the elevated temperatures.

Those who recall the crisis of the ’90s, officially known as the “Special Period“, fear a short-term repetition of the scarcity of foodstuffs, collapse of transportation, and blackouts which characterized those years following the loss of Soviet subsidies.

Months before the first case of coronavirus contagion in Cuba, the scarcity of fuel had caused a decrease in public transportation and of the workday in many state offices, as well as in the supply to gasoline stations. continue reading

Faced with an “uncommon increase of demand and consumption” which went so far as to surpass the high average consumption of summer months, the National Office for the Control of Reasonable Use of Energy launched a “Save Now!” campaign.

With the majority of families in seclusion and classes suspended, the use of air conditioners, fans and appliances has shot up in Cuban households. The situation was made worse this past April 12th when a new national temperature record of 39.7C (103.5F) was recorded.

Sixty-eight percent of this demand is concentrated in households, according to data from the National Energy Council. In Havana alone, residential sector use rose from 55% to 80%, as the General Director of Eléctrica de la Habana, Mario Castillo, explained to the newspaper Tribuna.

During the first fortnight of April, the average maximum demand at noon (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) rose 20.6%; 421 Megawatts above the expected according to official sources cited by the state news agency Agencia Cubana de Notícias.

“All this high consumption causes damages that are perfectly avoidable if the population pays heed to the effectiveness of using energy in a reasonable manner,” insists the Director of the electric company Empresa Eléctrica de la Habana.

Nonetheless, the officials have not given details as to how much fuel use has been reduced with the closing of industries, the suspension of classes and the shutting down of public transportation, measures undertaken to face down the coronavirus.

These worries have shot up the demand for candles, matches and fuel to light oil lamps, but the task of latching on to these products is arduous in a country where the greater part of products are rationed, and others are sold on the black market because of the exhaustion of supplies in stores.

In the Twitter social medium, a number of users have reported electrical outages this past week, and have reactivated the hashtag #ReportoApagonCuba in order to report the situation. This hashtag was greatly popularized around the middle of this past year when a series of cash flow crises that required the cutting back of imports was noticed. Cuba’s principal ally and benefactor, the Venezuelan government led by Nicolás Maduro, had to confront its own internal crisis, for which it reduced substantially the shipments of petroleum to the Island.

With less money to buy petroleum at international market prices, and without the Venezuelan subsidy, the authorities perform juggling acts in order to avoid having the Island regress to the years in which blackouts lasted twelve hours.

 Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

Spain Certifies 82 Cuban Health Workers During the State of Emergency

Cubans whose degrees have been certified must join up in order to practice in the National Health System of Spain. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, April 15th, 2020 — The Cuban health workers who petitioned the Spanish government for recognition of their degrees in order to join the National Health System are gaining results and already are the foreigners who have received the most work permits in the past month. The Ministry of Spanish Universities has recognized the degrees of 134 Cubans so far in 2020; 82 of these during the state of emergency which was went into effect the 15th of March, 2020, according to the statistics the department has provided 14ymedio.

Despite being an important step forward, this progress does not mean the immediate setting to work, since in order to work they need to join the national system, a process which requires a certificate of a clean record to be sent from Havana, which according to the doctors usually takes around two months.

All told, the Venezuelans have been the health care workers who have received the most certifications since January, with 269, of which 52 were granted during this period of emergency. Columbians are another of the most favored nations, with 172 certifications of which 68 came about in this month. continue reading

Of the 416 certifications realized during the emergency period (1,083 this year), 343 have been for physicians, 43 for nurses and 28 for others such as physical therapists and nutritionists.

During the Covid-19 crisis which has hit Spain with force, the Ministry has established a new protocol which prioritizes the recognition of professionals from the health care field who already have begun the paperwork process though it be unfulfilled for administrative reasons. Additionally, the Ministry has urged those applicants whose files are held up for lack of accreditation that they turn in any outstanding documents in order to finalize the process.

The Ministry works jointly with the Ministry of Education and Professional Training which also has certified, as of March 31st, 223 degrees of foreign professionals in the branch of health care. Eighty percent of these (of which 85% are nurses aides) come from Latin America, especially Columbia. This group also will serve to reinforce the Spanish health care system.

Another of the departments that take part in this process is the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, which has facilitated the process in order to issue the work permits which were already in process, of which it has already delivered 90.

Toward the end of March, a group of Cuban health workers residing in Spain opened a petition in Change.org making themselves available to health authorities in the battle against the corona virus. The group said it has more than 200 professionals awaiting certification of its degrees, and asked that the process be expedited, reiterating their “duty and readiness to be useful in this singular period of the battle against the corona virus.”

The latest data from Spain indicate that the epidemic is holding in a state of slow decline. This Tuesday, the total number of infected rose to 177,633; the deceased are 18,579 and the cured are 70,853.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

The Uncertain Path of Pork

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Acosta, Havana, 16 April 2020 — For lack of other meats, pork has taken center place in the diet of Cubans who can classify as “emerging middle class” or who are on the way to taking their place on that social perch. Fresh fish, sea food and beef are the privilege of that ten percent who don’t ask “how much?” before deciding to buy something. The rest of the population hopes for sausages and canned sardines, and line up early when the rationed chicken arrives.

Pork, however, shows up in one degree or another at all levels of consumption. This is the reason that any situation that decreases its production or hampers its transaction is reflected immediately in its price. The response of the State, which tries to control everything, wavers between rationing and applying a price cap.

A few months before the crisis caused by Covid-19, a rule was announced to regulate at 45 pesos (CUP) the maximum price for a pound of boneless pork in the capital city. In the other municipalities of the countryside, the top price remained at 35 pesos. continue reading

At the present time, in the middle of April, a pound of pork on the hoof varies between 25 and 30 pesos. The hunting-down of each animal is quoted at 50 pesos, because these hogs are not in a stock-yard waiting for someone to come by and pick them up. Detective work is required which consists of verifying who has the hogs and in what place the hogs are kept ready for sacrifice, in addition to going out on horseback to round them up.

On top of this, the drover who exercises this roundup has to pay at least 600 pesos to the wagon driver who will deliver the condemned to the abattoir, and to the executioner goes another 100 pesos for each hog he kills and cleans.

Throughout this process (similar to what the State calls “chain port transport internal economy”) [sic] and at each of these steps the crises is felt. For there is no hauling if fuel prices are too high, and the vigilance for anything which might appear illegal has become insufferable.

As it is dangerous to raise prices at the point of sale, which is the only point under surveillance by the authorities, the merchants have begun to close their butcher shops — at least the visible ones that operate under license. This doesn’t mean that the business has ceased. Each butcher has a fixed number of clients whom he knows personally. Selling to these on the sly suffices to continue earning at least enough to live.

This brings to light a feature of the dark mechanisms of the informal market. When the producer comes to the conclusion that competition doesn’t affect him and that the consumer has no alternative but to accept the prices the producer imposes, the stimulus to increase production in order to earn more disappears.

One needn’t be an economist to realize that this generates a vicious cycle in which the prices enter into a spiral.

Where does it end, and when? First, we need to know when the pandemic ends…

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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

Jailed in Camajuani for Swiping 280 Pounds of Spuds

The fall in potato production has been noticeable in recent years. (Yosmani Mayeta/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana | April 14th, 2020 — The People’s Court of Camajuaní in Villa Clara has sentenced two individuals for filching 280 pounds of potatoes intended for sale under the ration system. In the verdict, described by the official press as “setting an example”, the party in charge of the establishment was sentenced to a year of prison, and a second person unafiliated with the establishment, to eight months’ loss of freedom.

The initial hearing took place this past sixth of April against the supervisor of the State enterprise La Cascada, located at 199 Independencia Street, and another citizen not affiliated with the place of business, according to the notice published in the local media.

Both the accused were convicted of the crime of misappropriation of goods for removing from a grocery store a bit over 280 pounds of potatoes that had been destined for the official “basket of basic family necessities”, as the text explained. This tuber, very scarce in Cuba, has undergone at times greater control and at other times a certain flexibilidad in its distribution. continue reading

The prison sentence for the [state] employee will be satisfied with correctional work and incarceration, added the source. The official was penalized additionally with a temporary suspension of rights disallowing her to hold any position whatsoever for two years.

The convicted have the right of appeal within a period of three working days.

The crime occured in the morning of March the 29th, “when the citizen, under the direction of the supervisor, removed six sacks of the valuable tuber to a hired horse-drawn wagon, with the purpose of parcelling them out among the households of the convicted, the clerks of the store and his own.

Just as the vehicle was leaving the store with the load, it was detected by an official of the Department of Technical Investigation (DTI) of the Ministry of Interior, who arrested the individual.

In 2017, the free distribution of potatoes, a symbol of the government of Raúl Castro, suffered a hard setback upon returning to control throughout the country, with a limit of 14 pounds per person upon presentation of the ration booklet. Since that time, the tuber has become increasingly scarce in the stands at the markets.

The prosecutor Naivi Hernández Cardoso explained that, after analyzing all the proofs gathered by the authorities of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR in Spanish) and directed by the Prosecutor’s Office, “the participation of the accused in the activity became clear on top of the confession of the parties and other elements of proof brought to air in the trial.”

“The matter has a great social repercussion,given that we are speaking of a food destined for the basic food basket of the population, and one of which three pounds per person are distributed [in that province]. With these 283 pounds of misappropriated potatoes, eighty households and ninety-three persons are affected.”

“In the case of Camajuaní, there is a difficult situation because of the outbreak of the corona virus, and now more than ever we have to be well embued with ethical values and the concept of the Revolution, and be more humane and united one with another. This is not the best behaviour of a person entrusted with the caring for State goods and guaranteeing that they arrive directly to the people,” the Prosecutor argued.

The judge as well added that in light of present circumstances, the Prosecution should be energetically opposed to the waylaying of food products, fuel, construction materials, and with regard to the coronavirus, this activity should be considered a crime in spreading the epidemic to those who suffer tne illness or who suspect they have it and decline to check themselves into a health facility.

Trials that “make examples” are approved by the leadership of the Communist Party in the province, and have for an objective “giving a response that’s rapid, exact and necessary in accordance with the responsibility of the court as representative of the State, and to watch over the strict fulfillment of the laws and other legal dispositions,” the notice further stated.

Potatoes on the Island were distributed exclusively in regulated manner up until the year 2009, at a set price of one CUP (Cuban peso, worth four US cents), a price the State describes as subsidized.

The falling-off of potato production has been notable in the past few years. In 1996, in the midst of the Special Period and strictly rationed, they began to be exported once 348,000 tons were reached. With the reforms of Raúl Castro, beginnng in 2010 the unrationed sale was authorized, but within barely five years, the harvest had fallen to 123,938 tons, and the authorities had to import 14,233 more tons in order to cover the internal demand.

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin


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