UNEAC Expels the Writer Pedro A. Junco for his Letter to Cuban President Diaz-Canel

Pedro Armando Junco in his house in Camagüey. (Sol García Basulto/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 5, 2020 — The Camagüeyan writer, Pedro Armando Junco, has been expelled from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) for “acting in stark contradiction to the principles, statutes and rules” of the organization, according to what the author himself posted on his Facebook page.

“As all my followers can imagine, this has been in response to my daring to write a public letter, through Facebook, to President Díaz-Canel,” says the writer, who admits he was hardly surprised by the violation of the constitutional article that guarantees freedom of thought and expression.

Junco published his missive to the President on July 19, in which he rejected government measures like the opening of shops for food and cleaning products in hard currency, and, especially, qualifying anyone who questions this and other decisions as an “enemy”. continue reading

“When they tried to get me to apologize at the end of July, like Herberto Padilla almost 70 years ago*, I expected this,” he adds. Junco was held for almost a month and pressured to retract his criticisms of Castroism and recognize his alleged “counterrevolutionary” attitude.

Junco, who claims his letter was respectful and well-presented, thinks the Government was upset by the “positive reception” that thousands of people gave his words, sharing the post or marking “Like” on the social network. “This letter captures the feeling of most of the Cuban people: NO to the segregation of our money in the face of foreign currencies, and economic freedom for all those who produce food,” he continues.

The writer says that there are many who supported the text in the shadows, but didn’t say so openly for fear of reprisals. “And I understand them. They’re afraid! They don’t want to put their feet in hot water and risk their salaries, which barely allow them to eat, or the social perks that some enjoy. They are ignorant of that aphorism of Alejandro Jodorowsky: ’Your fear ends when your mind realizes that it’s the one creating this fear’,” he adds.

Pedro Armando Junco, 72, has had a long trajectory in Cuban letters since publishing his first work in 1984. He’s won awards on numerous occasions in Cuba, even winning the David National Prize, which he received from the association that now expels him, for his book, La furia de los vientos (The Fury of the Winds), one of the most important in recent literature and the name of his blog.

On May 16, 2015, his son, the rock musician Pedro “Mandy” Junco, was murdered in Camagüey, and the writer led a campaign for increasing the penalty for homicide on the Island. Junco has collaborated several times with 14ymedio, among them telling the story of the sad death of the young man, who was 28 years old.

*Translator’s note: Herberto Padilla was a Cuban poet imprisoned in 1971 after publication of Fuera de Juego (Out of the Game), where his ideas were considered “counterrevolutionary”. He was released 37 days later, after a self-criticism session in a UNEAC meeting, and he urged other writers to follow the principles of the Revolution. He was not allowed to leave Cuba until 1980.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Salaries in Cuba: Source of Injustice and Social Inequality

“Does anyone actually believe this?”(ONEI)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 30, 2020 — The recent publication of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), “Average Salary in Figures. Cuba 2019” has confirmed what is more or less already known.

In the first place, average nominal monthly salaries in Cuba have grown since 2015, when they were a little more than 687 Cuban pesos (roughly $28 US), up to 879 pesos in 2019. The growth accelerated that year by 192 pesos, 28%, showing a necessary evolution, if salaries are to mean anything.

Secondly, the same as before, this average salary in 2019 is the equivalent, according to the present exchange rate, to a little more than 37 dollars, and given the prices in the convertible-money stores, it’s obviously not enough. The buying power of salaries for daily basic necessities outside the subsidized “basket”, despite having increased, continues to be insufficient.

The combination of these two tendencies explains why salaries are one of the main concerns for Cubans, a result obtained in all the known opinion polls about the social reality of the Island. continue reading

Salaries are a double-edged sword in an economy.

On one hand, excessive growth has a negative effect on external competition, driving up production costs, limiting profits and generating inflationary pressure. Equally, higher salaries (with inflation under control) create high levels of buying power in the population, which leads to a succession that, in the words of Díaz-Canel, is fundamental for stimulating consumption and production. In this case, inflationary tension also appears.

Growing salaries are the main threat to inflation. For this reason, economists insist on the need for salaries to correlate with labor productivity. If the two variables keep pace, unit costs remain stable, competition is not eroded, businesses produce more to meet increasing demand, and this results in greater buying power. Managing this virtuous circle isn’t easy and depends on policies of growth and well-being, plus the R and D (research and development) of technological innovation.

How much have prices increased in Cuba since 2015? And what has productivity done?

The question of prices is complicated, because the Consumer Price Index refers only to the national market. In such conditions, you have to refer to the GDP deflator, which offers official data only up to 2018. Taking into account these limitations, a growth in prices of 20% (possibly more) can be estimated between 2015 and 2019, which leaves a real salary increase of 8% in these years, around 1.6% annually. Barely perceptible.

The indicator for labor productivity is obtained from dividing GDP in constant prices by the occupation level. In accord with our estimates, which include up to 2019, productivity increased in the same period by 12%, as a result of the decrease in occupation level. This indicates that the growth in unit costs has been 16% between 2015 and 2019, the equivalent of 3.2% per year. There have been inflationary tensions on the cost side.

In sum, salary increases since 2015 have had limited impact on real buying power, but, through the weak growth experienced by productivity, have generated inflationary pressure on costs, above all on the budgeted sector [that is operations included in the State budget that do not return revenue to the State, including: public health, education, culture and sport, public administration, community services, housing and defense]. The policy of central planning has ended up being, in terms of salaries, another resounding failure.

In addition, other results arise from the analysis of the official ONEI data.

For example, salary inequality among Cubans is increasing.

By territory, the distance between the lowest salary earned in 2015 on the Isle of Youth, barely 617 pesos, and the highest in Ciego de Ávila, with 752 pesos (equivalent to 135 pesos, or 22%) in 2019, hasn’t been corrected. Just the opposite. Ciego de Ávila loses first position at the expense of Artemisa in 2019, with an average salary of 989 pesos, while the lowest corresponds to Santiago de Cuba, with 757 pesos, a difference of 232 pesos (double what it was in 2015), the relative equivalent of 31%.

In addition, in Artemisa, the increase in salaries in those years approached 50%, (specifically, 48%), while on the Isle of Youth, salaries increased by only 24.3%, below the average. The provinces that experienced higher salary growth are those that had the highest levels, and at the same time, those in which the lowest salaries were paid have been those that registered less growth. Santiago de Cuba, for example, barely saw growth of 20% for salaries in this period, clearly lagging behind. So what kind of central planning is this?

It’s easily observed that salary inequalities in Cuba are a function of where you live. And then Díaz-Canel goes and announces that development in his strategy should be launched from the municipalities, a clear bet for keeping and increasing these unjust inequalities. The economy of central planning, without ownership rights or a market, cannot ensure salary justice among the territories of the Island. On the contrary: it increases the differences.

Salary inequalities for Cubans are greater still when distribution by economic activity is analyzed. In this case, the difference in 2019 between construction, which paid 1,597 pesos, the highest salary, and hotels and restaurants, with 529 pesos, the lowest, reached 1,068 pesos. A Cuban who works in construction receives a salary three times greater than someone who works in tourism.

As for trends, there are activities that gain and others that lose in regard to salaries. For example, the sugar industry, which paid 1,238 pesos in 2017, barely paid 1,062 in 2019, a decrease of 14% in this period. Even hotels and restaurants, which had the lowest average salary in 2019, had a downward trend in salaries after 2017, from 546 pesos to 529, or -3.1%. For education and health professionals, the results are contradictory. While the first receive salaries lower than the average 783 pesos, the second receive 965 pesos. The increase in salary for educators since 2017 has been 47% and for health workers, 16%.

One last inequity. The official statistics for salaries support the observation that the high intensity of non-State activities, private or self-employed, like hotels and restaurants, transport and trade, shows lower salary levels (and fewer salary increases) than in the budgeted sector that depends on the Government. Does anyone actually believe this?

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Seller of Auto Parts Arrested in the Middle of Cuba’s ‘Battle Against Illegalities’

The police confiscated hundreds of auto parts in addition to cash and three houses belonging to a citizen who was selling accessories and auto repair services. (Capture/You Tube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 2, 2020 — In the bull’s eye of the police and the official campaigns are now hoarders and coleros (someone paid to stand in line for someone else), whom the Government blames for the shortages. The case of a resident in the Havana municipality of Cotorro, accused of “illicit economic activity” and “”contraband,” is added to other arrests of this type denounced in the national media.

The police confiscated hundreds of auto parts, in addition to cash and three houses belonging to a citizen who was selling accessories and auto repair services, according to a report transmitted on July 29 by the Caribe Channel, in which it defined the businessman’s arrest as part of “the battle against illegalities and corruption.”

In the report can be seen images of police officers entering a home with several rooms in which there are hundreds of spare parts for vehicles. The video also includes a tour through another two houses linked to the accused. One of them was rented out as a glassworks to another citizen. continue reading

In this domicile, the police seized 158 plates of glass and 17 window frames, “on which they were working to determine their origin,” the report specified. In the cash registers of the three homes, they found 15,870 euros, 1,100 dollars, 68,718 convertible pesos and 57,010 Cuban pesos.

First Lieutenant Susana Cañizares Corps said that the “negative economic effect” on the country is more than 306,000 Cuban convertible pesos. This affirmation is accompanied by the statement of Gustavo Reyes Sierra, business director of the State company, Auto Parts, who says he has no idea how the accused “can have this volume of auto parts.”

Sierra reminds us that when these types of products are imported as personal effects, “in no case can they be used commercially. This is such a considerable quantity it had to be acquired inside the country,” he adds, saying he opened his door to businesses or individuals with the legal capacity to import commercially and they might be involved.

“There’s a huge volume, and they’re from the same lot,” Sierra says about the hundreds of tires found in the place. A statement that points to a possible network of corruption in the State import infrastructure, a route that is regulated by the authorities but frequently used for bringing in merchandise to the black market.

This Wednesday’s report is nothing new. From the beginning of the pandemic they have escalated persecution and punishment of those who practice “illicit economic activities,” “speculation” and “hoarding,” crimes that are especially sensitive for a country that suffers from chronic shortages, now aggravated by Covid-19.

Several trials of these presumed offenders have been televised as “exemplary measures,” and the police have allowed State media to accompany the agents on the raids to capture the criminals, who are identified and interviewed on camera.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Remittances in Dollars to Cuba Through Cubamax and VaCuba Are Halted

Western Union continues sending remittances to the Island, but not in dollars, only in CUC (Cuban convertible pesos). (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Havana, July 31, 2020 – The delivery to Cuba of remittances in dollars sent from the United States, which had begun through the agencies Cubamax and VaCuba, is now paralyzed.  On Thursday, el Nuevo Herald reported that the French bank Crédit Mutuel, for fear of possible sanctions by Washington, stopped service to Fincimex, the financial arm of the Cuban army, which controls these deliveries.

“Crédit Mutuel closed its doors to Havanatur, Cubapack and American International Service,” said one the Nuevo Herald’s sources, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “They tried to get other banks to take this business, but none wanted to for fear of the sanctions. What’s sad is that the people in Cuba need dollars, and it deprives their families of sending support to them.”

Western Union, which will continue sending remittances to the Island, denied on Wednesday, however, that it is sending dollars. The addressee in Cuba will continue to receive the money in CUCs (Cuban convertible pesos), which are losing value day after day in the informal market and are not accepted in the new hard currency stores. continue reading

The closing of the French bank accounts also hurts other Cuban Government businesses, like the sending of packages from the U.S. through Cubapack, and individuals traveling to the Island. One of the sources cited by the Miami newspaper said that charter flight agencies cannot pay Havanatur due to the closing of the accounts.

On June 3, The U.S. Department of State included Fincimex on the “black list” of Cuban entities with which Americans are prohibited from doing business. In its press release, the Department notes that these “subentitites”, as it calls them, “disproportionally benefit the dictatorship of the Castros”, which it accuses of using “the profits from these businesses to oppress the Cuban people and finance its interference in Venezuela”.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Resurgence of the Coronavirus Frightens Cuban Authorities

The lines at the shops aren’t helping to contain the expansion of Covid-19 throughout the Island. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, July 31, 2020 – The resurgence of the coronavirus has frightened the Cuban authorities, who have decided to apply new measures that affect Havana and Artemisa, places with a concentration of new cases.

This Friday, the figure for confirmed cases (11) is higher than that of yesterday (9), but it shows a descent with respect to the worrisome data of the preceding days, when 33 cases were reported. It remains to be seen if the data are timely or confirm a tendency to spike provoked by the last infections. Of the 50 local transmission events that have happened in Cuba since March, six continue to be active and are concentrated in certain provinces.

Two of them happened in Bauta after the celebration of a religious festival, and another four in the capital, in the municipalities of Centro Habana, Cerro and La Lisa. This last, according to what was known on Thursday, was the most recent resurgence, which affected 11 people. continue reading

Local authorities in Havana have warned that there are municipalities with very high risk in the capital; among those are La Lisa, La Habana del Este, Centro Habana, Marianao, Diez de Octubre and Cerro. Arroyo Naranjo, San Miguel del Padrón, Playa, Plaza de la Revolución, Regla and Cotorro are considered high risk, and La Habana Vieja, Boyeros and Guanabacoa remain medium risk.

In order to stop the transmission, the plan proposes that Havana consider forming groups of health workers or students to intensify surveys, in addition to increasing testing according to the risk in each zone. Besides municipalities, there are businesses and areas considered high risk, such as beaches, transport, swimming pools and restaurants, where there should be more testing.

Havana continues relying on homeopathy as a prevention method and will keep giving the product PrevengHo-Vir to the vulnerable population and to those already in quarantine through contact or return to the Island. Also, Nasalferon (a type of interferon), will be sent to workers like health personnel and drivers, who come into contact with widespread populations, sick or healthy.

What the authorities most insist upon is the need to educate the population, which, they maintain, has lost the perception of risk. In the Cuban capital, after ordering phase 1 on July 3, there’s been a relaxation of prevention measures plus a large number of people in the streets. The long and many-times crowded lines to buy basic products also make any strategy to contain the virus more complex.

Health officials have noted the lack of social discipline as a cause for the present outbreaks, and they point to private parties, family reunions and inconsistent use of a mask as the main problems. However, they avoid mentioning the crowds on public transport and the lines to buy food as two high-risk scenarios.

In Artemisa in the last 15 days, the rate of incidence has grown enormously and is situated at 12.24%; on Monday it was 6.41%. The governor of the province says that he’s trying to control it by complying with the ordered quarantine. There are 14 isolation centers in the province with more than 700 places, which now house the contacts of everyone infected in Bauta.

The Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, gave a figure 153 patients with Covid-19 in Cuba, of which 152 are in stable condition, while the figures on deaths have remained steady for two weeks.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Defending the ‘Coleros’ and ‘Dishonest Speculators’

Cubans spend a huge part of their lives standing in line to meet their everyday needs. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 29 July 2020 — Granma, on its website, says that complaints from readers about so-called “dishonest speculators” are accumulating. Really, you can’t fall much lower or be worse. On the part of Granma, of course.

The article, I can’t remember the author, describes the long lines and the coleros, who are people who are paid by others to stand in line for them. Both things are plentiful in these months of COVID-19 in Cuba, but the most important question isn’t asked: Why do the lines and coleros exist? It’s curious that the article doesn’t mention Miami, Madrid or Mexico City, where no Cuban has to get up at dawn and spend sleepy hours of sweat standing in interminable lines in order to get groceries. It’s unthinkable.

In Cuba, the line is a hardship, something that can’t be avoided if you want to eat every day and have some basic cleaning product to combat the dirt. And Granma, instead of going to the root of the problem, which they know perfectly well, attacks and insults the “dishonest speculators”, who are just the tip of the iceberg. continue reading

The article describes the numerous and varied behaviors of “resolving” that Cubans practice, as if it were a matter of a crime, “like standing two or three times in line for several people, selling their spots to anyone who can pay at high prices, to accelerate their moment of buying”.  Serious crimes, no doubt. They don’t say, however, that this happens when the consumer, after desperately trying to buy a product for several unfruitful days of standing in line, ends up running to the service that assures him of being among the first to have access to one of the scarce products for sale.

Equally condemned are those who “whisper in your ear that you can have what you want (wet wipes, diapers, chicken, picadillo, oil, air conditioners, freezers…), but only if you’re ready to pay double, triple or who knows how much in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) over the price in the State stores”. It’s normal; for a start, these people can communicate their services however they find it convenient, and, in addition, they have every legitimate right in the world to profit from an activity in which they spend time, strength and, in many cases, economic resources.

And of course, immediately the Ministry of Interior arrived and ended the fun, with the emission of sanctions for more than 1,285 coleros from the beginning of the pandemic, with the certainty that not everyone who received a fine actually engages in these activities. There’s always a threat of repression thrown in, just in case.

So that, in order to be prepared for what the Ministry views as a growing phenomenon, and thus nothing is said about how to address it with economic measures that are necessary and advisable, the Government announces through Granma more repression against what it calls “the indolence of people with no social commitment, dedicated to accumulating products needed by families in the midst of a context of shortages and a national health emergency”. Once more, incredible but true. Insults, condemnations, judgments about presumed crimes, lack of respect for the principle of presumed innocence. For the Communists, the guilty are the innocent.

The columnist even “doubts the humanity of these beings, who, motived by individualism, forget that the children, elderly, pregnant and sick won’t have the opportunity to get what they need”, without realizing that thanks to these dehumanized beings, many of the above-mentioned people now manage to have access to the goods and services they need but can’t get in any other way, not even in their dreams. Rather than committing crimes, these beings are providing a benefit to many people who are willing, logically, to pay for that. Nothing is free, and the Communists know it, although they toe the Party line when it’s convenient.

The amount of the fines is also questionable, because they don’t bring in a lot of money. If the fines were excessively high, the sanctionable act would demand a higher price from the client, which would reduce the size of the demand and, thus, the potential capacity of the offer. So these fines of 100 to 300 pesos are perfectly designed by the Government to keep the coleros and “dishonest speculators” continue to offer their services. Ask the authorities why.

The article continues along other paths, pointing out that many coleros are the same people in charge of organizing the lines in these establishments, which makes the crime worse, but without recognizing that the problem could be solved by supplying enough products in the shops. Then in Havana, as in Madrid, the lines would disappear, along with the coleros and the speculators. An impossible dream for several generations of Cubans who know that their economic system is incapable of accomplishing this basic life goal.

Proposals like scanning identity cards to organize the lines, improving control inside the shops, using the ration card, administrative surveillance of workers, etc. are the Communist solutions to this phenomenon, which, if applied, would surely multiply. Don’t be deceived. These proposals are the ones that Granma says must reach online readers of the newspaper. I’m afraid there are many people who are ignorant about economic matters and only see the situation through an absurd ideological lens that has reached its end. Perhaps the moment for education has arrived.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Adventure of Opening an Account in Cuba in MLC (Hard Currency)

Waiting in line. A daily fact of life in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 26, 2020 – Imagine that you’re going to your bank to open an account. One of the simplest operations in any country in the world.

You really could save yourself the trouble, if you want, because online banks offer a way to do that. In Cuba, it’s more complicated, although this option also exists.

On the Island, it’s normal to have to visit the bank, and in addition, to hurry, because there are only three places where you can open the account, and you will probably have to wait in long lines. Specifically, you can open the account in the Bank of Credit and Commerce (BANDEC), the Metropolitan Bank (BM) and the Peoples’ Savings Bank (BPA), all of them State controlled.

After waiting for hours, you address the employee and tell him you want to open an account in freely convertible money (MLC — moneda libremente convertible) so you can buy goods and services in the MLC shops, which are usually better supplied than the regular State stores. Your goal is to get the debit card associated with the MLC account, so you can buy everything.

The first thing the employee clarifies is that the MLC shops are accepting U.S. dollars and euros. You can forget about using any money from Cuba’s commercial friends, like Venezuela, China and even Russia. They also accept, with a certain reluctance, Canadian dollars, British pounds and Swiss francs. And other currencies, like the Mexican peso, the Japanese yen, the Danish crown, the Norwegian crown and the Swedish crown, but they tell you that the account will be denominated in U.S. dollars, in accordance with the official exchange rates.

You’ve come well prepared, with your identity card (for example, your drivers’ license won’t work, but it’s okay, irregularities are thereby avoided), and you’re surprised when the employee informs you that you don’t need money to open the account. What’s more, don’t worry because the account can be opened with a zero balance. You don’t understand anything, and the wad of bills you have in your pocket is worrisome, because the employee is blunt when he tells you that the account has to be supplied with transfers made from the exterior – from abroad – whether through a bank or by Fincimex (the financial arm of CIMEX, a State entity) with remittances.

With a certain resignation you sign the first pile of papers, and stamps and other administrative elements are added. In the conversation with the employee, he suggests that you use the AIS USD card, which Fincimex offers the population, and he even promotes your request from overseas; in other words, the possibility exists that remittances from the exterior can be requested in the country where you are located. The employee can’t avoid commenting that my card might take a long time, we don’t do well with plastic here so it’s better to get the card outside, you would be able to make purchases sooner.

While the employee introduces the information into a computer, which crashes several times (the network is slow and the employee complains), he comments that BANDEC (a credit bank) offers anyone the possibility through the Transfermóvil application to request an MLC card without having to come in person to the bank branch (the online option). You think it’s a pity you didn’t know this before. You could have saved a lot of lost time, but in Cuba now it’s understood. And besides, you want to go with your card in hand to teach your friends and family how to use it.

But then comes the critical moment. When it seems that everything is ready and that the card is now within reach, the best part arrives. The employee tells you that the card won’t be there for 7 to 10 days, and it could be longer, and he asks for your phone number so he can call you when it arrives. Resignation. It’s not possible to leave the bank with the card.

Then you remember a similar transaction performed by a relative in a bank in Hialeah some months before, and how he left triumphant with the card, with assurance, with a policy of credit and several gifts from the bank. A different system. Once more, the employee whispers, to avoid being heard, deficiencies exist in the deliveries, and we’re continuing to work on this.

The fact is that when Monday comes you still don’t have the card, and when you consult with friends from work you realize that some have spent two weeks waiting, without news. The shops are open, but people can’t buy with cards that were issued by the banks. The lines shown on Cuban television are due to the fact that many buyers have other cards that can be used the same way.

In effect, in addition to the cards from BANDEC, BM and BPA, there are the AIS USD cards of Fincimex, which function in these shops and also in the other electronic payment channels of the Cuban banking system. You thought about the Visa card that was brought back from one of your trips to Miami, which you couldn’t find anywhere.

The employee has you sign several papers, while he gives final instructions. With this account and debit card you can go to another shop, not only to the USD one, and use it the same way. You also can access ATM machines and withdraw money, but be careful, you won’t get dollars or euros, only Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs), at the same exchange rate that the bank has right now for the U.S. dollar.

Then, you dare to formulate a question, only one. Are you sure that the tax on the dollar has been eliminated? The employee smiles and informs you that it was eliminated on Monday, July 20, in accordance with the measures approved recently by the Cuban Government. Before, if you came to the bank with North American dollars in cash, a 10% discount would apply. For example, if you brought 100 dollars they would deposit 90 in your account. Now that doesn’t happen. And he goes back to insist, again, that the account is now open and you don’t need to deposit cash right now.

However, he reminds you again about the three ways to have funds on the MLC cards. He recommends a bank transfer from the exterior and also by way of remittances through Fincimex.

The second can be through a transfer you receive from another USD account, between individuals.

The third is cash, and it can be in North American dollars or other currencies.

At this point, you wonder why they rejected your cash deposit and whether you understood anything at all.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Is Our National Money Still Worth Anything?

Many Cubans felt upset after standing in line and then seeing that the products they wanted in the hard-currency (divisa) stores were not abundantly available. (Facebook)

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14ymedio, Havana, July 21, 2020 – “Since I’ve had the use of reason they’ve inculcated us with the idea that we’re all equal, and now I understand that it’s not true,” writes Avelino, one reader among many of Cubadebate. Since Monday they’ve made their frustration clear about the beginning of the sale of food and hygiene products in hard currency, divisas. The official newspaper has received, up to now, around 70 comments that criticize the measure in a tone that’s closer to disappointment than indignation.

“How do I explain to my kids that their papá, a professional who studied and remained in Cuba, can’t buy the things they want, and the child of someone who doesn’t work and sells dollars or has a business can? Do you think the kids today want to be PhDs? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the country or sell dollars? Marx was clear: man needs to cover his basic needs in order to do the rest later. This is the despair that today weighs on the hearts of many Cubans.” Another reader, a PhD professor in science, writes: “People need real reforms that benefit their economic status.” He says he’s written several times before but wasn’t published.

Cubadebate published on Monday night a Quick Guide to the MLC (money freely convertible, e.g. hard currency) shops in Cuba, which explains the conditions for having access to buying in these establishments, how to set up bank accounts and obtain funds, and the list of basic, prioritized products that will continue being sold in the CUC and CUP (Cuban convertible and Cuban peso) stores. This list approximates quite well the one advanced by 14ymedio on Friday, although it adds some home appliances and construction materials and eliminates some of the food products listed by this newspaper. continue reading

The list is one of the points that has generated the most annoyance, as several comments reflect: “I still can’t understand which food products are considered high or medium range. Whatever product is being sold today in U.S. dollars is what people need. In fact, they’re what we already consume. Is mustard or Cuban ketchup really a luxury item?”

“I saw coffee today in the MLC shops. Do they also have it, as they say on the list, in the CUC shops?” asks someone else. “Because it’s been gone for a while.”

It hasn’t gone over readers’ heads that they couldn’t find a lot of the products seen in the widespread images in the new stores, and that they spent long hours in line trying to bring them home.

“Today in these shops they’re offering the same products that used to be sold in the CUC stores. They disappeared for months at the beginning of the pandemic, but now they’ve resurfaced in the MLC shops and are only a dream in the CUC stores,” reproached a woman.

Others prefer to cast a vote of confidence, but they don’t hide their discouragement. “It’s said there will be different products and that the ones we saw today are the same products that were in the CUC stores three or four months ago. We’re hoping this isn’t a way to make things more difficult for us. I have faith in our Government.”

But already some have determined that the new sales measure will have undesired consequences. “I just saw on [the on-line ad site] Revolico on Facebook that a 5 kg package of detergent that’s worth less than $6 is already being sold at 40 CUC [Roughly $40 US]. This only makes everything worse and encourages the businessmen and coleros (people paid to stand in line for someone),” responded a reader, to someone who asked what people who don’t have hard currency will do.

This question was the one that caused the most anxiety. It’s calculated that in 2019, about $3,716,000 in remittances was received by Cubans, and, although there are many beneficiaries (according to Western Union data some 62% of their offices), a large number of people are at the mercy of their salaries. The pandemic, with the closing of borders and the suspension of tourism, has left many others without hard currency.

“How are those who only have access to CUPs going to manage? What should we do to meet our budgets?” asks another bothered reader. “Why didn’t they do this 30 years ago so we could have avoided the dollar flight? Why are we so late in taking measures to stimulate the economy? They should give us answers to the problems now, because we’re losing capital. This has been the saddest moment to implement these measures. Many people are upset by their lack of access to hard currency and the shortages,” reasons a commentator.

“The Cuban who lives from his salary. How can he go to these shops?” continues another. “The shops in CUCs are mainly not supplied and the lines go on for kilometers. Please, we can’t pretend this isn’t happening. We’re realists. Go ahead and publish this if you want, but many people agree and we have the right to express our displeasure.”

But some readers, a few, have supported the Government’s decision. “The same shops, the same products, but those who have U.S. dollars will be repaid, indirectly incentivized to collect hard currency. Without creating social differences, without handing over monetary sovereignty to our historic enemy, without adding more money to the already complicated monetary unification,” defends a woman. Others try to calm the most annoyed, asking them for patience, because they’re convinced, as the authorities have assured, that the liquidity will permit them to improve the offers in Cuban pesos later.

“If we want to shop in the CUC stores, they have to be supplied. We shouldn’t be afraid or anxious about whether they’re filled with every type of product. And what about the CUP stores?” a reader asks Cuban president Díaz-Canel. “Is our national money still worth anything?” asks another.

Among all the comments, a reflection. “I don’t understand why the euro is elevated above the CUC and now dollars are back, when there’s an official international exchange rate between these two hard currencies. The citizen ends up receiving less than he had before.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

‘We Don’t Accept These Currencies’ : Rubles, Yen and Bolivars Excluded From Hard Currency Accounts

“Rubles, yen and bolivars cannot be deposited in hard currency accounts,” say bank employees. (Collage/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, July 24, 2020 – The currency of the Cuban Government’s main political allies are excluded from the hard currency that can be deposited in bank accounts whose debit cards work in the State stores that sell food and cleaning products in freely convertible money (MLC). The State bank branches aren’t accepting deposits of Chinese yen, Russian rubles or Venezuelan bolivars in these accounts, as confirmed by 14ymedio.

“No, we’re not accepting these currencies,” is the categorical response of an employee at the Playa branch of the Banco Metropolitano. This newspaper received identical responses from a bank office in Old Havana, another in Vedado and a fourth in Central Havana. In each case, the workers were clear: “You can’t deposit cash in rubles, yen or bolivars in hard currency accounts.”

The steps to obtain the debit card start with opening a bank account in MLC, but there’s no indispensable requisite for depositing funds. “The client can come, get his card and then after receiving it begin to deposit. Yes, of course, the deposit has to be in currencies authorized by the Central Bank,” clarifies an employee of the branch on the ground floor of the Ministry of Transport. continue reading

On the list appear U.S. dollars, euros, pounds sterling, Canadian dollars, Swiss francs, Mexican pesos, Danish krone, Norwegian krone, Swedish krona and Japanese yen, but notable by their absence are the currencies of the countries with a political rhetoric more sympathetic to Havana: Venezuela, China and Russia.

“In January, I had some Chinese clients stay for three weeks, and before leaving they gave me some yen, so I got my hopes up about depositing them and buying some soap and toothpaste that were missing from the normal stores, but they told me that I needed hard currency,” Rosa María, owner of a rental home in Nuevo Vedado, told 14ymedio.

Something similar happened to a young man from the municipality of Cerro, who still had a few rubles left from his trip to Moscow last year. “I could use them to take a taxi from the airport in case I returned, but since I didn’t go back I now wanted to deposit them to get some things for the baby girl my wife and I just had.

In the bank branch at Línea and M in Vedado, the employee interrupted the young man’s question. “When I told him that rubles were worthless he looked disgusted and told me, ‘nothing of the kind, they were currencies of Canada, the U.S. and Europe, countries with strong money’. The young man left although he could have started the application for a debit card in MLC. ‘It will be empty a long time because I don’t have divisas’.”

In Venezuela, there are thousands of Cubans on official missions, and thousands of Cubans travel to Russia each year because they don’t need a visa to go there. As for China, tourism to Cuba has grown considerably these last years, so the possibility of getting money from these three countries is much easier than getting euros or British pounds.

On July 16, Miguel Díaz-Canel confirmed what this newspaper had already said about the opening of shops offering basic products in foreign money, exclusively through debit cards associated with national bank accounts, although the shops in Cuban pesos and convertibles would keep functioning in parallel.

These shops opened last Monday, and a wave of indignation was raised among those who lamented that the products which were scarce in the Cuban peso market now were abundant in these shops with prices in hard currency.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Without Chicken, With Long Lines and Police Surveillance, the Sale of Food in Hard Currency Begins in Cuba

In the city of Sancti Spíritus, the line formed outside the Zona+ shop before dawn. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana/Sancti Spíritus, 20 July 2020 — Since before dawn on Monday, the same scenes repeated themselves throughout the Island in front of the new divisa (hard-currency) shops: people lining up before the 9:00 a.m. opening, much police surveillance and, finally, not one single piece of chicken, the favorite product. The 14ymedio reporters confirmed this in several shops in Havana and the provinces.

The first light of day barely began to outline the contours of a park near the market of Boyeros and Camagüey in Havana, one of the places chosen on July 20 to offer food, domestic appliances and cleaning and personal hygiene products in “freely convertible money” (MLC), using debit cards.

Before 7:00 in the morning, more than 200 anxious clients had already accumulated in a scattered and chaotic line. Most of them were trying to shelter from the rising sun and the swarms of mosquitos that were taking advantage of all those bodies gathered together.

At the first light of dawn, some 250 people were already waiting near the shop of Boyeros and Camagüey to buy in divisas. (14ymedio)

A little later, an employee accompanied by a police official with two stars on his lapel approached the beginning of the line and began to assign the first 100 people to enter the shop in a group. The customers asked so many questions that the handover of the numbered tickets was interrupted several times by calls for silence and calm from the police official, who threatened to stop assigning numbers if they didn’t cool it. continue reading

Then came an employee who presented himself as the “head of the business” and addressed the line near the police, to explain the details of what was for sale. Now the sun was burning everyone’s shoulders, adding one more hardship for hundreds of customers who, upon arriving, were warned that they couldn’t take photos and would only be allowed to pass in a group when the previous one left.

“This shop has two categories: the sale of electronics, in addition to food and cleaning products,” screamed the employee so the whole line could hear. “This means that, for the sake of control over the electronics, the first 10 in line must hand over their identity cards to make sure they can get domestic appliances.” To the surprise of those who were waiting patiently, he added, “Just because we sell in MLC doesn’t mean that things aren’t limited.”

There followed an extensive explanation about the rationed equipment. “The air conditioners are limited to four per person; right now we have eight freezers in the shop, and more will be coming this week.” But cold water was really thrown on everyone when he said: “We can’t sell chicken. Until they supply all the shops in the country with chicken, we can’t.” A murmur of resistance came from the crowd.

Dozens of people were waiting Monday on the Boulevard de Sancti Spíritus to enter the shop La Colonial. (14ymedio)

“It’s the same line everywhere,” someone declared. “There are fryers but no refrigerators. We have a virtual shop, Almacén Habana, and the articles they sell on the website are the same ones they have here.”

The panorama at that hour was quite different outside the Doble Nueve shop, on Havana Boulevard, which was selling personal hygiene and cleaning products in MLC. Without customers, the morning’s peace was interrupted only by a police presence and the questions of some curious people who were passing by. The possible reason for the contrast is the shop’s location in the municipality of Centro Havana, where a low-income population resides.

The situation repeated itself at the nearby shop La Arcada on the same street, where the neighbors preferred to continue their daily activities earlier in the morning before stopping at the shop windows, where plenty of preserves, pasta and grains were on display.

At Línea and 12, the central corner of Vedado, the buying power of the district was noticeable. Some 100 people were waiting to enter the shop; they already knew by the rumors that there was beef, ground turkey and cheese in the refrigerators, plus shampoo, a product that has disappeared from the Cuban convertible (CUC) and Cuban peso (CUP) shops in the last weeks.

“There’s no powdered milk, only evaporated,” warned a beleaguered customer who approached to talk with the first buyer who left the shop, with two bags half-full. “She told me that what they have is more or less the same that they had some years ago in the shoppings (the CUC stores), no more no less,” says the woman.

“I came to look for a package of chicken breast at 33 CUC,” comments another customer who had been there before dawn but had given up on the line because the product she wanted wasn’t for sale. “The offers weren’t what I was hoping for; from what they announced it seemed like they were going to have everything, but it’s not true,” whined another.

At Línea and 12, the central corner of Vedado, the buying power of the district was noticeable. (14ymedio)

The frozen chicken, normally imported from the United States or Brazil, has become a national obsession these last months, and the lines to buy it, in strictly limited quantities, can last for days. There was an expectation that these supposedly “high-quality” shops would sell this type of meat.

In other provinces, the assortment is poorer than in the Cuban capital. The Zona+ shop in Sancti Spíritus didn’t have chicken; nor did it have detergent or oil. People decided to organize themselves with a view to the next few days in hope of a greater supply. “Let’s make a list for those who are waiting for new products,” recommended a customer.

“Hey, Mercedes, it’s the same old shit! There’s nothing, the only thing that’s changed is the money,” yelled an annoyed Santería woman from one side of the line. She said she had been there since 4:00 in the morning in order to, finally, “not enter the store, because they have nothing of what they said they were going to have.”

On the Boulevard de Sancti Spíritus, La Colonia, an old discotheque transformed into a CIMEX (Cuban army corporation) money exchange business, managed to attract dozens of the curious from early morning. The line is some distance from the entrance of the premises, and only customers in the vicinity who already have a ticket are let through. Each time someone comes out with a bag and walks a few steps, a nest of curious hornets falls on the person to ask questions.

“Do they have powdered detergent? What about toothpaste? Did you see if they have yogurt? How are the prices? Do you know if they have enough ground meat or if they got just a little?” The questions come from all sides. One woman with a serious face and nothing in her hands comes back through the door a few minutes after entering. “I stood in line for fun,” she announces in front of the grim expressions of the police, who are staked out along the whole street.

As far as prices go in the 74 new shops along the length and width of the country, customers complain that they are “higher than the exchange rate for CUCs to dollars” if you take into account the taxes in CUC of the shop merchants. But, yes, “everything was very clean, with air conditioning everywhere, and the employees were very friendly,” says a customer from the shop at Boyeros and Camagüey.

The shop La Colonia, on the Boulevard de Sancti Spíritus, was an old discotheque transformed into a business. (14ymedio)

“I remember in the ’90s when they opened the dollar stores that all of them were really nice, but then they deteriorated little by little,” adds the same woman. “I don’t know how long this one will stay in good condition, but if it’s anything like the country, maybe 15 days. It all begins well and then half a month later doesn’t function. I came today even though I had to stand in line.”

A glass jar with 1.8 kilos of preserved white asparagus, of the Spanish brand Aldaketa, costs a little more than 68 dollars, practically the double of what this product sells for in other shops outside the Island.

Among the predominant brands are the Spanish Vima and Celorrio, in preserves, and Kiriko in personal hygiene and cleaning products. Also, the Gallo and Romero for pasta or Luengo for beans, packaged in Spain but produced in the Ukraine.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

In the Middle of the Pandemic 31 Cuban Balseros Arrive in Miami

According to official data, so far in fiscal 2020, which began in October, 96 Cubans were intercepted at sea. (CBP)

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14ymedio, Havana, July 17, 2020 – A group of 31 Cuban balseros (rafters) arrived at dawn on Thursday on the coast of Cayo Hueso, Florida, according to local media reports. A short while after their arrival, authorities announced the arrest of 20 of them in Miami.

According to the migratory agreement signed under Barack Obama’s administration with the Cuban Government, the migrants will be returned to Cuba.

“Twenty Cuban migrants were arrested in the Miami sector,” John R. Modlin, the head agent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said on Twitter.

“The migrants were exposed to extreme temperatures in an overloaded, homemade boat without safety equipment. This type of trip from Cuba, it’s dangerous!” he added. continue reading

The landing was filmed by a couple who, in an interview with America TV, explained that they were shocked to see a mother holding a child among the rafters.

Junior Ramos and Katherine Molina were the young people who filmed the arrival, and according to what the migrants told them, it took one and a half days to get there from Cuba.

“We two were there and welcomed them to a free nation,” said Ramos. The couple confessed that the event would mark them “for life.”

According to official data, so far for fiscal 2020 (which began in October), 96 Cubans have been intercepted on the high seas. In 2019, a total of 481 immigrants from the Island were captured on the journey.

In 2017, Obama eliminated the policy of “wet foot, dry foot,”,which allowed Cubans who set foot on land to be admitted as refugees, with an expedited path to permanent residence.

Before the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, in 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard counted the arrival of 1,845 rafters. In 2007, another tense year for U.S.-Cuba relations, the number reached 4,161.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, still in effect, allows for the regularization of migratory status for Cubans after one year of residence in the U.S., but it requires that they be admitted legally at the border. If they’ve arrived illegally by sea, they can’t invoke this rule. However, not all legal routes are closed, Alejandro Vázquez, an immigration attorney, told the Nuevo Herald.

“Immigrants who arrive by sea and aren’t detained can request asylum like anyone else,” he said.

The lawyer assured that even those Cubans who are detained upon arrival and show credible fear of returning to the Island can be released under personal recognizance or bail, pending an asylum trial, or remain detained pending a repatriation trial.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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The ‘Truly’ Convertible Money Now Prevails In Cuba

Besides household appliances and auto parts, Cubans can now buy food and personal hygiene and cleaning products with dollars in the CIMEX* shops. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, July 16, 2020 – in the midst of a growing shortage in Cuban markets, the Government has decided to increase the distance between consumers and merchandise, improving the capacity to buy for holders of debit cards that can only be nourished with foreign currency. This commercial modality started at the end of last year for the sale of household appliances and auto parts, but now it’s being applied to food and personal hygiene and cleaning products.

The reason for this “partial dollarization” of commercial activity is that despite its name, the CUC (Cuban convertible peso) is not a convertible currency in international markets. It doesn’t make sense for the State to buy merchandise abroad in euros, yen or dollars to sell it later in the internal market in exchange for a piece of paper that has no real value and can’t be exchanged off the Island for any other currency.

Monetary unification has been announced many times, only to be postponed. As of yesterday, the Cuban peso (CUP), with which salaries are paid, won’t inspire envy, and the chavito (slang for the Cuban convertible peso) is now humiliated. What is valuable for real life will be the currency that is truly convertible: dollars, euros, yen or crowns. It’s not important that customers can’t get their hands on it; it’s enough that an electronic device can read the card and verify that the value is there. continue reading

In the absence of a political explanation that justifies this measure, it will undoubtedly be supported with reasons related to the restrictions imposed by the U.S. on Cuba, and with the infallible argument that what is collected will swell State funds in order to maintain social benefits. So a privileged minority that has access to foreign currency will finance a deprived majority.

When Fidel Castro introduced the dollar into the economy, he already accepted foreign investment and authorized self-employment, arguing that he was doing it to save the Revolution’s achievements.

Almost three decades later, it should be stated that, more than “saved,” these achievements only survived, at a high price and a highly regrettable standard. At this point, it’s not possible to go back to repeating the same argument.

Among the foreseeable consequences of this risky step, salaries will be farther away from being the natural support of the family economy, since almost everyone who has access to the debit cards won’t be part of the work force. This isn’t money earned “with the sweat of the workers,” but rather received as a handout or gift from the exterior.

The already growing social inequality will now extend to a highly sensitive sector: nutrition. What they’re going to sell in these stores aren’t “delicacies” but rather products of primary need, for which there’s a pressing demand.

What are they going to tell the kids of someone employed by the State when they ask why some of their classmates bring food to school for snacks that they can’t get?

Despite what is established in the Cuban Concept of the Social and Economic Model, in the Communist Party guidelines and in Article 65 of the Constitution, the new rule now won’t be “to each according to his work” but rather to each according to their relatives or friends abroad who are ready to send remittances. As a result, no one will now have the same enthusiasm for “the common work that provides justice to all,” but will strive to improve their personal relationships.

The dollarization of one indispensable part of retail commerce isn’t in itself bad news. It’s almost a blessing that this has been established by the present authorities, so that there won’t be leftist criticism of those who, after a foreseeable change, propose that everything be dollarized. In this sense they are already including other “advances,” like the elimination of workers’ dining rooms, the closure of Schools in the Countryside or the elimination of illegal gratuities.

The defect in this measure is its incoherence in relation to the other economic, social and political factors. It’s enough to remember that point 19 of the macroeconomic policies of the Party guidelines proposes “consolidating the pecuniary functions of the Cuban peso, with the goal of strengthening its role and preponderance in the monetary and financial system of the country.” Can undercutting the ability of the Cuban peso to convert itself into goods and services be a way of strengthening it?

When complaints about poverty are combated by arguing the inviolability of principles, believers close their mouths and forge ahead; but something will have to happen when principles are trampled underfoot and the suffering increases.

*Translator’s note: CIMEX is a State-owned Import-Export corporation. Its financial branch, FICIMEX, controls credit card transactions in Cuba and remittance wire transfers from other countries.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Elimination of the 10% Tax on the Dollar

The Cuban convertible peso and a US two dollar bill. (EFE)

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14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 17, 2020 – Let’s imagine a government that spends 61 years calling another government an enemy, accusing it of economic harm. That includes, among other things, a prohibition against using the other country’s money. It also condemns to prison those who are caught transacting on the informal economy (the black market). Then, having said this, the government has no other solution but to return to authorizing transactions in said prohibited money for the purchase of food and cleaning products that are basic to the population.

And in addition, the authorities of this government maintain that the same old measure is fair and benefits all Cubans inside and outside the country. Incredible, because this is Cuba in the time of Díaz-Canel, and this is how the international communication media have covered this news coming from the Island.

Fidel Castro did it another way. When, in the middle of the Special Period he saw that the dollar was devouring the Cuban peso and that the national money was scorned by the population in the face of the free-for-all that brought with it the collapse of the Berlin wall, he created a fictitious currency, the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), in order to collect hard currency directly, and he didn’t bat an eyelid. continue reading

The dual currency in Cuba has been here for a quarter of a century and could continue indefinitely, in spite of the strain it puts on the functioning of the economy.  But Fidel Castro created the CUC, and no one up to now has had the courage to eliminate it. The CUC won’t survive the present measures. That’s for sure.

But let’s go to the heart of the matter, which has attracted the attention of the international media. It’s clear that this country, which had prohibited the use of the foreign enemy’s money, had established a tax of 10% on transactions, generally on remittances made in said currency. All of a sudden they decide to eliminate this tax. As there are few governments that act this way, you have to ask why the Cuban Regime has decided not to charge this 10% on transactions in dollars.

The question is easy to answer. Basically, a system of commercial intermediation was conceived last year with the sale of appliances, air conditioners, computers, auto parts, refrigerators, etc., and now they want to extend it to basic goods and cleaning products in 72 shops that will certainly have everything, as opposed to the State stores where, after long lines and wait times, you normally can’t get the product you want. Let’s say that, in addition, they have announced more products and shops for August. The Cuban Government sees commercial transactions with hard currency as a way to overcome the present Covid-19 crisis.

Why are we saying this? Basically, because now food can be imported and paid for with the hard currency that’s collected in the dollar stores by the sale of products—hard currency that doesn’t exist in the national economy because tourists haven’t come to the Island in four months, as the Minister of the Economy recognized. Thus, the dollars needed to buy corn or rice from the U.S. can be obtained in the shops which sell in Moneda Libremente Convertible [Freely Convertible Money). These shops are being inaugurated on Monday, July 20, by the Communist Regime, and everyone is very happy because the threat of a food crisis is thereby removed from the dismal scenario of the Cuban economy.

But this same measure has two sides, like the money. Side A is positive, because it allows Cubans who have access to dollars to open accounts in certain banks, obtain debit cards and embark on buying what they want in the stores. But the question is, what happens to the 80% of Cubans who have no access to the dollar, nor family in the exterior to send remittances?

This is Side B. They would have to save a lot, which is very complicated with the salaries they are paid, and they would have to exchange Cuban pesos with the dollar. The Cuban peso will be the first to notably depreciate in the informal market, and, most probably, these Cubans won’t be able to buy anything in these stores.

Surely Cubans will regulate this injustice in the informal economy, with creative formulas that show us how clever and capable they are. Meanwhile, State Security is training to put an end to the so-called “illegalities”, which are nothing less than a cry for freedom.

For the moment, let’s say adiós to the 10% tax on transactions with dollars, which Fidel Castro also established in 2004 to respond to what he called “attacks of the embargo”. The reality is that nothing has changed since then, even if the application of Title III of the Helms Burton Law has made things more complicated. Now the Cuban Communist Regime has decided to eliminate the tax so people won’t lose that 10%, which still doesn’t make anyone jump for joy.

No one should expect these measures to revolutionize an economy that, according to the latest data from CEPAL (the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), will sink to -8% in 2020 (remember that in April they had estimated only -3.8% because things were going badly, and what is worse, much worse, is that this decline will continue). The Government has reacted by applying, inside the profit margins allowed, a measure that tries to obtain all the hard currency circulating in the country from remittances (the only hard currency that presently comes in).

The older generation remembers Fidel Castro’s dialectic against the U.S. and the threat of the dollar. Decriminalizing the possession of dollars took place in 1993 during the so-called Special Period, but before that date many Cubans suffered imprisonment and heavy fines for having dollars. History can’t be easily forgotten, and much less should it fall into oblivion when the past is reconstituted.

Before 1959, the U.S. wasn’t insulted for meddling in the Cuban economy. Prices in stores were established in dollars, and the peso was on a parity with the dollar. The Cuban economy rested on more solid fundamentals.

So much demagoguery and long hours with speeches empty of content in order to stop selling pork, shampoo and hamburger meat in dollars to Cubans in a series of select shops. Basic products in prices given in dollars in a country with two official currencies in circulation, the historic Cuban peso and the Castro invention called Cuban Convertible pesos. Sometimes history goes backwards from good sense to those who offend it by playing Russian roulette. What’s going to happen in Cuba starting from next Monday, July 20, has a lot to do with those lost battles by governments and political regimes, in which there is no type of justification for supporting them.

What’s bad about all this is that they want to present these measures as something beneficial for the Cuban people, when they aren’t. That 80% of Cubans don’t have access to the dollar leaves many people on the margin of this commercial system oriented to capturing hard currency. This causes discontent, because no one is going to understand this difference. In Cuba, the access to buying goods and services that don’t exist in other shops isn’t going to be a function of the value of work, strength, motivation or performance, without having family or friends in the exterior to send dollars. Is this the moral lesson that the Castro Regime wants Cubans to have? If those who govern the country have nothing better to do than insult those who question these measures, let them retire and make way for others. They are losing very valuable time that can’t be recovered. Luckily, Cubans know it.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Cenesex Talks About Political Manipulation and Yusimi Persists

Yusimi González in her interview with Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, as reported by the journalist on his Facebook page.

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14ymedio, Havana, July 16, 2020 – The discussion about the homophobic statements attributed to an official of the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television (ICRT) has prompted the National Center of Sex Education (Cenesex) to make a statement giving a soft rap on the knuckles to Yusimi González Herrera and the organization, whom we’ve invited for a dialogue. In a meeting, González criticized the “affected voices” of some professionals on national radio because they don’t transmit a “credible message” to the audience.

“These last few hours we have become aware of an audio that is circulating on social networks in which Yusimi González Herrera, Director of Communication and Content for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television and Deputy of the National Assembly of People’s Power, uses expressions that could be considered discriminatory in an analysis about the work of announcers, journalists and collaborators of Cuban radio,” Mariela Castro, Director of Cenesex, published on her Facebook page.

“Our mission and commitment to educate on subjects of sexual and reproductive rights prompt us to speak with the official and her institution. Such situations confirm for us the need to continue our work of training and awareness in the ICRT. Prejudices are not quickly overcome and thus require a permanent formative impact,” adds the text. continue reading

For this center, success with the official confirms the importance of “continuing to defend an educative process that sometimes may be more difficult”.

“We go forward together and close the doors to any manipulation that tries to convert these rifts into a political weapon in order to discredit what we are advancing,” concludes the note.

Yusimi González was interviewed by the journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, who has offered a preview of the conversation; the entire text will be posted Thursday on his blog, Paquito de la Cuba.

“I’m sorry that I hurt people with a manipulated audio; really the one who should apologize is the person who manipulated this audio and used it to hurt people, to make them feel excluded and humiliate them to some extent. That never has been the intention of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television. The Institute works with everybody; it has an inclusive policy,” says the representative in the preview video, which barely lasts two minutes.

González adds that the Institute “wants all its professionals, whatever their specialties, independently of their sexual orientation or any limitation or disability they have, to come into what is their house, which always receives everyone when they come to construct, unite and dignify a social project.”

The leaked audio generated a wide rejection in the LGBTI community on the Island, and some on social networks even have asked that the official be fired after this incident.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Cuban Radio and Television Must ‘Be Careful About Political Propaganda Voices’

After the stir caused by her statements, Yusimi González excused herself from an interview with the journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz. (Facebook/F.R.C.)

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14ymedio, Havana, July 17, 2020 – “We have to be careful about the voices that transmit our political propaganda.” Thus, Yusimi González Herrera, a representative of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), tries to explain what she said. Her controversial statements about the abundance of “high-pitched” voices on the Cuban airwaves became news this week.

In a new audio shared this Thursday on social networks, González, in conversation with Alfredo Zamora Mustelier, director of programs and the head of ICRT’s propaganda, spoke about the importance of the “architecture” and “design” of voices used to transmit political propaganda. “Can you imagine how people called to a march feel when they hear a high-pitched voice?” asked Zamora, provoking laughs among those present.

“More than that, Zamora,” interrupts González. “We have to be careful about the voices of those who transmit our political propaganda,” she explained, alleging that “they contain our identity, the defense of the Cuban nation, the country”. continue reading

After the stir caused by her statements, González excused herself in an interview with the journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, whose full text was disseminated Thursday in his blog, where he said that the audio, the first of those played, corresponds to “a work meeting that lasted several hours”.

“It’s my voice and it comes from a meeting I had in 2016 about techniques of locution and other questions. It was a work agenda, and this was among the themes we discussed,” González said.

“What were we defending at that time and still defend today? That our channels and emissions all have a profile, a profile that defends and defines us, from rhythms, a profile across editorial lines, of sounds, timbres, tones. (…) That’s what we were talking about. (…) I believe the fragment that was selected comes from here, when we referred to high-pitched voices. There are high-pitched voices that work for one type of program, but not for another,” she added.

González said that the audio was “edited” to “convey the idea of the person who edited it” and “to imply that the station was evaluating high-pitched voices and whether people with this type of voice could work in the communication media, when it’s not true”.

“It’s never been the position of radio or television to limit anyone by sexual orientation, disability or skin color. This isn’t the case.”

In addition, she recognized that it’s possible that “at some moment” the Institute of Radio and Television could have been wrong “because humans can always improve themselves”, but she noted that they “knew enough to offer apologies”.

Asked if a specific apology for her words in that meeting would be fitting, she said that anyone who knows her “knows that this audio isn’t how I think”. However, she said she was sorry that some people “felt hurt” because “no one has the right to hurt anyone”.

Upon ending the interview, González denied having been aggressive, “as a professional, mother, daughter”, or that she also hurt her family and friends. “A speech has been manipulated, a contribution or a construction of my thinking at that moment. It has been used to injure other people, to try to create divisions, to mistreat people. And that’s not fair, it’s not something good people do, it’s not real”, she concluded.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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