The 47 Victims of the Hotel Saratoga Explosion

Some of the faces of victims of the Hotel Saratoga explosion in Old Havana. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2022 — A ferocious explosion followed by a column of black smoke (seen in great detail in 14ymedio’s coverage) shocked the residents of Old Havana on 6 May at 10:50 in the morning. People’s worst fears were confirmed a few minutes later: the luxury hotel Saratoga, whose reopening was planned for just a few days later, had partially collapsed, taking with it the lives of dozens of people.

Among the victims, the number of which would end up totalling 47, were 23 employees of the hotel who were preparing for the reopening, but also residents of the area and pedestrians who had the misfortune of walking past at that moment — including two children and a Spanish woman who had only just arrived on a visit to the Island with her partner.

The incident (which the authorities promised to investigate but so far little or nothing of that has transpired) was apparently caused by inadequate handling of the transfer of liquid gas from a truck to the hotel’s storage tank.

The government was profuse in pushing the official line in its press about the rescue work, which lasted for several days until all the bodies were recovered and the names of those not found released. However, they never published any detailed record showing pictures of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.

This newspaper undertook an exhaustive gathering of all the information put out on social media by friends and family members of the victims so that finally we were able to bring together data on the majority of them: who they were, what were they like, what they did, what were their ambitions, who grieved for them. Our intensive work was recognised by the many readers who turned to us for our reporting on this story — the most read in 14ymedio of 2022. continue reading

Damage was also caused, in the explosion, beyond the hotel itself — built in 1880 and considered one of the most luxurious in the capital until in 2016 when the military took control of it — to a Baptist church, a school, the Martí Theatre and a number of other neighbouring buildings, a number of which remain beyond repair.

To add to this tragedy, which cost the lives of so many people this year, it is awful to have to add the shameful fact that in October it was revealed that Adel de la Torre Hernández, one of the emergency responders who took part in the evacuation, was sentenced to seven years in jail for having participated in the 11 July 2021 protests.

 

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Another Year, Another Shortage of Ration Books in Cuba

Sign in a Cuban store saying that they won’t be issuing new ration books. (Facebook/Jonatan López)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya and Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 29 December 2022 — “Customers please be aware that in January we will be using the same ration book as 2022. So please look after it!” Messages like this one, written hurriedly on a scrap of cardboard and stuck carelessly onto the shop door, have been appearing in numerous stores in Cuba over the past week.

These are the only sign of something that’s about to happen yet again: that they haven’t printed the new ration books that normally would get issued in December, for use from January onwards.

The ministry of Interior Commerce confirmed this on Thursday on its Facebook page. In the announcement, in which it also assures that “the distribution of already established family hampers for January is guaranteed”, they inform that “there are some changes to the usual timely distribution of ration books for 2023, because in six provinces, and, partially in another three, their production has not yet been completed”.

Because of this, the text continues, “food products corresponding to the January quota will temporarily be recorded in the 2022 book, for which a procedure has been sent out”.

This newspaper has established, by telephoning a number of grocery stores, that this is happening in Havana — in the Central, Cerro and Revolution Square districts. “There are problems in getting hold of next year’s books and people are going to have to continue to use this year’s”, they explain over the phone, “most likely beyond January or February – there’s no date yet”. continue reading

The only district that appears to be free of the problem is Luyanó, where, despite the scarcity, and all the general problems associated with buying from state shops, they have actually received the ration books.

Beyond the capital, there is a shortage reported in Sancti Spiritus. There, the stores are recording January orders in the old books.

The fact that there’s a lack of these things — things which have been a daily norm ever since rationing started in 1962 — isn’t new. It was exactly the same last year.

A statement from the Ministry of Internal Commerce later clarified that there were “delays in the importation of basic printing materials”, which delayed the “production and distribution” of the document, which is essential for obtaining basic subsidised foodstuffs. In other words: they’d run out of paper.

One would read from this announcement that until they re-establish the distribution of these documents in the western and central districts, that they’ll have to keep using the 2022 ones. And to avoid confusion, it would be appropriate to “cross out things that have already been bought” before adding to the new ones in the space available “on the January and February pages” of 2022. This December, Cubans are feeling a bit… deja vu.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Cheapest ‘Street Drink’ in Cuba Now Costs More than the Daily Minimum Wage

Though the price marked on the metal trolley was 25 pesos per freshly poured glass, a paper sign above it now announced that the product had gone up by five pesos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 20 December 2022 – At first it quenches the thirst but later you’re left wanting another, and then another. Granizado [English: ’slush’] is the cheapest drink you can get whilst out and about on the streets in Cuba, but in times of inflation even this glass of ice, water and syrup has seen its price arrive at a level beyond the pockets of anyone who only earns the monthly minimum wage.

Known as raspado in other Latin American countries, Cuban granizado has been there for the common people through thick and thin. Consumed with peanuts, this sugared drink was a lifesaver during long hours of waiting for the bus at dawn before any breakfast, and even in the improvised social gatherings on the Malecón in Havana when you didn’t even have the price of a shot of rum.

But even this modest sip has become unrecognisable. In only a decade granizado has become more than ten times more expensive. If a glass of it cost 2 pesos in 2012 now it’s 30 — a price that’s alienated even its most loyal customers: pensioners, those with few resources and adolescents who can’t afford a can of fizzy drink. continue reading

On Tuesday morning, a cart selling granizado appeared opposite the steps of the entrance to Havana University. With its range of flavours including strawberry, cola and ice-cream, it was noticeable that no one approached it to cool themselves down in the December heat with a cold sugary drink. Though the price marked on the metal trolley was 25 pesos per freshly poured glass, a paper sign above it now announced that the product had gone up by five pesos.

On the benches nearby dozens of people formed a long queue (line) for the buses, which, increasingly spread out now, line up from Calle San Lázaro. In earlier times they would have hung around and had a granizado first, but most of them are elderly and their pension doesn’t provide them more than 2,000 pesos a month. It’s just too much to spend more than a day’s pension on a coloured squash drink that disappears in three mouthfuls.

The sellers, however, justify the price increase. “No one sells me anything cheaply. I have to get up really early every morning and pay for the the ice at the price that it’s at on the day”. A bag of ice of between 6 and 7 pounds never goes below 80 pesos and “you have to add to that the cost of the syrup and the paper cups”. In order to get hold of the supply of most of these materials one needs to get onto the black market.

The granizado man continues with his list of complaints: “It’s increasingly more expensive for me to keep the cart in a secure place, and then there’s the fines that sometimes I get for selling on some corner where I shouldn’t be, or then some spiteful inspector wants to get money out of me… All this just adds up and adds up”. His story might sound logical enough and try to minimise the rise in prices but it doesn’t manage to change many of his customers’ decisions.

What was a drink to be grabbed in ordinary life for everyday need, to give you a swig and move you on for another half hour, has now been added to the list of things that can no longer be afforded, a bit like it all ended up with a beer, a soft drink or even a bottled water.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso  

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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: The Other Euthanasia

Raúl Castro, during a session of the National Assembly of People’s Power last week. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 December 2022 — The approval of the right to euthanasia announced by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health hasn’t brought about, as one would suppose and desire, a wide debate between its supporters and its critics.

The idea of offering a “dignified death”, of avoiding a prolonged and painful agony, is supported when there’s scientific confirmation that the person’s illness is both incurable and lethal and when it’s the expressed desire of the patient themself (or of their closest relatives, if they should find themself incapable of expressing their will).

It’s the tenacity of the self preservation instinct that can counter the idea of euthanasia (and all forms of suicide), and it can reappear as a change of heart at the last moment, when the process of switching off life is already irreversible. On the other hand, religious considerations which leave the decision in the hands of God oppose the practice.

It’s very tempting to apply the argument in favour of euthanasia in other areas of life. When a successful farm is affected by a blight, it’s best to pull up the sown field and plough the earth; when a company becomes unproductive and despite refurbishments continues to make a loss, the best solution is liquidation; when a whole economic, social and political system doesn’t produce the hoped-for results, you need to change it.

To not beat about the bush, this moribund Cuban type of socialism deserves the application of a merciful euthanasia, above all so that it stops causing such unnecessary pain to all the 11 million patients who suffer under it. There’s an abundance of evidence that the ills contracted under the rules of this system are incurable and that sooner or later the collapse will come without warning.

It’s the self-preservation instinct of a group of people who still cling to their privileges and ideologies that counters this social euthanasia — ideologies with shades of pseudo-religion that invoke the blood spilled in arriving at where we are, from a people still committed to dead leaders of the past and continuing to believe in the blurry illusion of a prosperous future.

It wouldn’t occur to anyone, including myself, to commit suicide even if everything indicated that I were about to suffer a horrible, painful and prolonged departure, but we Cubans don’t have to go on supporting “this” and from here on I’m daring to recommend a “dignified death” for the whole process. And the only ’will’ to take into account here is the will of those who are suffering.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

A Country Ill from Chronic Laughter

Published, ironically, by a printing house on Calle Amargura (Bitter Street), the sketches in the book are by Conrado Massaguer. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, Spain, 18 December 2022 – If oblivion had a physical form, or a symbol, it would be that of a faded photograph. From an original shaky camera shot, or just from the degrading of the resulting photographic paper print itself, a photo that has lost its sharpness doesn’t tell us very much. One is tempted to think that, just as the paper deteriorates with the passage of time or even through the work of termites, so the person depicted in the photo also ends up in the land of abandoned things.

This thought occurred to me yesterday while I was looking at a photo of Gustavo Robreño, the forgotten Cuban republican writer who joined the team at the celebrated Alhambra theatre in Cuba in 1900 and composed El velorio de Pachencho (Pachencho’s Vigil) with his brother Francisco.

I’m looking at Robreño now, in a kind of daguerreotype of image; he has all of that fresh elegance of the nineteenth century — a white hat on his head, suit and walking cane — or at least he appears to have these details from what can be made out from the fading yellowing image. The picture looks as if it’s under water and it’s difficult to tell whether he’s looking genuinely surly or just mocking, whether his face is wrinkled or even if he’s sporting a moustache.

A man scattered across two centuries, stirred by theatre and politics, he was born in 1873 in Pinar del Río and died in 1957 — perhaps anticipating how the good times were about to end. As a young man, in Spain he read and discussed with all the intellectuals of the ’Generation of ’98’. The language of his books is creole, mocking — it’s impossible for him to write a single word without it having an opposite or a calculated crosswise meaning.

In 1915, Robreño undertook a kind of ’settling of scores’ with Cuba’s past, in order to better explain the convulsive beginnings of its early Republic. If I’m not mistaken, he wrote one of the first histories of the Island in the twentieth century, possibly the only one — apart from the comic strips of Vista de amanecer en el trópico (A View of Daybreak in the Tropics) by Guillermo Cabrera Infante — in which Cuba is described as an incoherent, not very serious place, sometimes charming but at the end of the day tragic and irredeemable.

Historia de Cuba: narración humorística (The History of Cuba: a Comic Narrative) is also a rare edition. Published, ironically, by a printing house on Calle Amargura (Bitter Street), the drawings in the book are by Conrado Massaguer, a promising young artist of 26 at the time. continue reading

On the book’s cover, Massaguer has drawn an amazed Christopher Columbus holding out a nappy (diaper) to an indigenous baby there in front of him on the ground, crying inconsolably. Behind them some Spaniards peer across at a palm grove from where a nanny goat gazes out suspiciously.

The scene is a forewarning of what’s to come. Robreño launches into a hillarious revision of the Cuban story from the first arrival of this famous Admiral up to the birth of the nation. No one escapes his satire. The prologue, signed by a skeptical ’Attaché’ — a pseudonym that isn’t difficult to attribute to Cabrera Infante himself in a previous life — puts the book into context: “The time of blood and heroism over, now experience Cuba in the time of caricature, in which it governs itself, legislates, and even makes revolutions to the sound of loud guffawing”.

It was the first cautionary note: the Cuban people have a historical compulsion to “sell their soul to the devil…and then live happily, unconcerned…inebriated”, “with a firefly in their hand and a big cigar in their mouth”. Robreño demonstrates this in his book, pointing out the ridicule of a multitude of episodes in which opportunists dress up with much ceremony.

Of the burning of the indian man, Hatuey, romanticised by historiography, Robreño says that it was “an admirable case of civilised savagery…or savage civility”. According to this writer from Pinar:  the artist Velázquez “died of envy” because of Hernán Córtes the Brave — “as one couldn’t give the other up” — and Alejandro de Humbolt was a “German flora-fauna geologist who tried to show the world that Cuba was an almost habitable country and not a tobacco factory”.

In 1762 the Spanish treated the English invaders politely and asked them “if they would like [to take] anything” [meaning: to eat or drink]. The Count Albemarle’s reply was no less polite: “Havana!”. Rather circumspect, governor Juan de Prado then puts a scary warning out to Havana’s residents: “Citizens, the English are five miles away from the capital and according to reports they are all wearing ’pointy shoes’, strong and new. So have your backsides (asses) prepared because I fear it won’t only be on the ground where the invader puts his feet”.

Robreño’s book becomes positively acidic when he talks of the “patriots, traitors and loan sharks” of 1868, who argued against his “little memo” after the ’burning of Bayamo’, and even more when he refers to the first years of the republic, in a magnificent portrait of families who never will pardon neither the living nor the dead.

The history of Cuba — “A country ill from chronic laughter” — should, for Robreño, be evaluated from a higher perspective, that is, “from an aeroplane but with a handkerchief over your nose”. I wonder whether the collective rage of the nation would not have wanted to hide away Robreño’s book, deny his very existence, give him up for lost, or even burnt.

And it’s not surprising. If anyone wanted to undermine or subvert the the ’gravity’, fiction or convenient silence of all the Cuban politicians — and those of today are a grossly inflated version of those from antiquity — you only need to read Robreño’s apocryphal history to the kids.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cuban Parliament Considers Law to Prohibit Non-State Digital Media

First day of the tenth series of sessions of the current legislature of the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power, on Monday. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 13 December 2022 — On Monday the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power agreed to put back the debate and final approval of the controversial Social Communication Law, an action which postpones for now the idea of illegality of non-state media.

The Parliament’s president Esteban Lazo explained that the Council of State requested a delay to its approval of the law on account of its “complexity” and the changes to which it had recently been subject — changes which had not yet been completely transferred over to the deputies.

Lazo confirmed that this “important” regulation, which, if approved would be the first of its kind in the country, can be debated in February or March 2023, once a larger number of specialists and citizens have offered their opinions.

The draft Social Communication Law affirms that the national media “are of socialist ownership” and that “they cannot be an object of any other type of ownership”, a statement which would lead to the illegality of independent digital media.

The law, which in its latest version contains 101 articles, prohibits content which would “propagandise in favour of war, a hostile foreign state, terrorism, violence and the justification for hatred between Cubans, with the objective of destabilising the socialist state of law”. continue reading

It also points out that the country’s system of social communication has the purpose of “promoting a consensus and national unity about the Homeland, the Revolution and the Cuban Communist Party.”

The teams that make up the independent media in Cuba — generally critical of the regime — have been decreasing in size in recent years owing to pressure from State Security. Apart from exceptions such as 14ymedio and La Hora de Cuba, they tend to be based outside of the Island, mostly in Miami or Madrid.

The new Penal Code, which came into effect on 1 December, threatens with up to three years imprisonment anyone who “spreads false information” with an intent to “disturb the peace or damage the prestige or credit of the Cuban State”.

The Assembly’s schedule of work had intended to include discussion on six new laws — among them, one concerning Social Communication — inside an overall plan to adapt national legislation to the new developments introduced by the 2019 Constitution.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Havana Christmas Tree: The Only Thing Lit Up at This Year’s End

Christmas Tree in Fe del Valle park in Havana this Wednesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerJuan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 15 December 2022 — The big attraction in Havana at the moment is the Christmas tree recently erected in the Fe del Valle park in central Havana, next to Calle Galiano. The fir tree, tall and not very bushy, becomes alive at night time, when its decorations are lit up.

Dozens of people, many with children, crowded around it on Wednesday, smiling and trying to get the best pose for a photo. “I know why, because we’re not used to this,” commented a woman sitting on a nearby park bench.

In all of her 45 years she had never seen such a Christmas tree like this here on a Cuban street, something so common in any other part of the world.

The German tradition of decorating a fir or a pine tree with those shiny global decorations — something which became popular throughout Europe in the nineteenth century and which was made even more universal via American culture, though with strong German roots, was not looked upon kindly from the very beginnings of the Cuban Revolution. continue reading

Those born before the beginning of the last century know very well that to have a Christmas tree in the house was seen as some kind of “ideological deviation,” a bit petty bourgeoisie, and a bit dangerously close to the ’imperial enemy’.

The fir tree, tall and not very bushy, comes alive at night time, when its decorations are lit up. (14ymedio)

In 1995 the government even put out a dictat which prohibited the installation of Christmas trees in any official or governmental buildings (an event which gave rise to the naming of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as the “Christmas Tree Man”). However, reality does prevail and though there aren’t many independent shops that don’t have these festive decorations on show at the end of December there have not been any public displays on the streets until now.

From all that then, comes this week’s surprise in the eyes of Havana’s citizens, on seeing this giant tree in La Galiano. “Come here, you’ll look better!” “Yeah, yes that’s better!”, the people shout delightedly as they pose and take photos. The Christmas Tree in the Fe del Valle would seem to be the only shining light at this dark time of year on the Island, where inflation is making it so difficult to put any festive food on the table, and where there is  so much sadness drowning families who have lost relatives through emigration.

Dozens of people crowded around him this Wednesday, many of them with children, smiling and looking for the pose for the best photo. (14 and a half)
Dozens of people crowded around the tree this Wednesday, many of them with children, smiling and looking for the pose for the best photo. (14ymedio)

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Saramago’s Havana Book

“The house which I see in the photos is obviously not the house of a proletarian, but of an accomplished and wealthy novelist.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 4 December 2022 – A colleague of mine went to Lanzarote – the most eastern island of the Canaries archipelago – and on her return she sent me some photos of the house where José Saramago lived.  I’ve always been an admirer of the Portuguese writer, famous for his large spectacles, his bitter, faithless prose, his reflective atheism and his fervour – scarred with age – for a communist utopia.

The house which I see in the photos is obviously not the house of a proletarian, but of an accomplished and wealthy novelist (he deserved it, without a doubt. He earned it – through his writing, not through government fawning and handouts). There’s a collection of beautiful inkpots on a shelf, pictures of some friends, the bed in which he died, a small green table where I’d like to sit and smoke, palm trees and cactuses on the patio, and, in the distance, a landscape which he described as “dark, and covered in bits of crushed lava”.

And books. Many books. Legions of heavy tomes which now rest on top of armchairs and bookshelves. Titles in various languages and from many cultures. Volumes, owned by a writer who travelled, dreamt and invented with intensity – though not about the other way in which we should live, dream or invent.

Not very much more than a few days ago – on 16 November – Saramago would have been 100. Few people remembered him in Cuba – a rough and volcanic island, much like Lanzarote – where the novelist was welcome, until he made a famous pronouncement which mortified Castro: “I’ve come this far” [“…and if Cuba is to continue their journey I’m staying behind”]. continue reading

I believe [when he died, in 2010] the National Library hung up a few posters and the usual crew got together to formalise his burial. Saramago donated the rights to his works to an island that ended up executing, much to his horror, the three Cubans who attempted to abandon our oppressive stone raft in 2003.

“The worst thing about Islands”, the lucid Portuguese novelist had written a couple of years earlier, “is when they start to imitate the sea that surrounds them. Under siege [from the sea], they [put their people under] siege”

Amongst the photos is one of Saramago’s bedside table. Underneath his spectacles, which now lie closed for ever, is one of his Lanzarote Notebooks: his diaries 1993-1997, which, either through boredom or excess of work, he abandoned. The following year, and after a long wait, the Swedes awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It’s a frenetic decade: the end of the century. In publisher Alfaguara’s classic edition of the Notebooks that I have in my hands, he reflects upon the hypocrisy of Diana Princess of Wales and Mother Teresa, the embarrassment of Gorbachev appearing in a pizza comercial and the failure of the communist project; there are transcriptions of letters from Christian believers, infuriated by The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and there’s an account of how An Essay on Blindness was written; in these, Saramago is intimate, courteous, ironic and endearing, as if he’s conversing at the little green table on his Lanzarote patio.

And of course there’s an abundance of  references to Cuba, to Roberto Fernández Retamar – the grey prominent figure at the Casa de las Américas – to  Cuban writer Cabrera Infante, to the Castro-Guevara duo, and to the local version of socialism during the ‘Special Period‘.

In May 1993, the young poet Almelio Calderón – in exile today – sent him a letter written in pencil. “Our editorial policy is very slow. At the moment there is a huge paper crisis”, he told him before admitting nervously: “There isn’t any”. Fueled by a hope for change that didn’t happen, the young man with no pen concluded by saying: “Here we are living through historical moments, very unique, very important, very intense, and I hope that history will know how to record them in its pages”.

I continue turning the pages. On 5 January 1994 a planned journey to the Island falls through, a journey which he interpretes as “the last opportunity to return to the socialist Cuba that I admire”. At the end of that year he even pledged to stand up for Castro with Clinton.

The most intense link with Cuba in the Notebooks was the obsession which took over him after reading the beautiful Muestrario del mundo (The World’s Sampler) by Eliseo Diego. In 1993, Eliseo -“one of the greatest poets of this century, and I’ve said this both inside and beyond Cuba”, Saramago noted, – had just won the Juan Rulfo Prize. Shortly after, death came knocking at his “modest door”.

Heartbroken by the friendship that was not to be, the novelist retired to his library to read all of Eliseo’s poetry works. And it’s here he makes a discovery: “Matías Pérez” – proclaims a known passage by the Cuban, and which sounds to him [Saramago] like an incantation – “toldero [a seller of canopies] by profession, what was there in your huge pretensions that took you away with such elegance and haste”.

He feels the possibility of a new novel like it were a command from the dead. “Matías Pérez, who are you?” he notes down various times – in Lanzarote, in Lisbon, in Madrid or in Río de Janeiro. He dreams about the hot air balloon and starts to investigate – “I wanted to know the how and the when of such an appealing story” – and he writes to Retamar asking him for a clue, a lead, a ’silhouette’ of this Portuguese guy who disappeared forever over the rooftops of Havana. “Who knows, maybe I’ll go to Cuba to uncover the mystery of Matías Pérez. If not, I’ll just have to invent him, from head to toe”, he notes, and throws in the towel.

The end of the story is, I’m afraid, not very romantic. The sinister Retamar replies years later with a letter. Inside the envelope, carefully folded, there is a newspaper cutting about Matías Pérez, written in almost forensic tones, ending with: “The military authorities of the day carried out a thorough investigation. There was no trace. But months later, the remains of a hot-air balloon were found, in the coastal keys close to the Pinos Islands”.

Saramago must have destroyed the actual article – who knows whether or not he was instructed to by ‘inspector’/ curator Retamar, in order to deter him from writing the story – the ‘Havana novel’ that José Saramago might have written. Retamar, like Mephistopheles, later came to demand a favour: in exchange for that newspaper cutting he wanted a “brief portrait” of Guevara for his magazine.

On 2 July 1996, in his Lanzarote library, Saramago mentioned Matías Pérez for the last time: “If I get the time and I keep my determination up, perhaps one day I’ll get out and look for him”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

*Translator’s note: Matías Pérez was a nineteenth century Portuguese-born Cuban, who was a canopy tradesman and an amateur balloonist, who disappeared mysteriously during one of his balloon flights from Havana.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Pablito, and Selective Historical Memory

Pablo Milanés performed for the last time in Cuba, in June, in a concert not without tension and polemic. (Pablo Milanés Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, 3 December 2022 – Those who today, even after his death, reproach Pablo Milanés for what he said or stopped doing in previous times, have a very selective memory. The majority of people who lived during the first two decades of the Revolution belonged to the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and were present at the mass rallies in Revolution Square. So did those, who, not as long ago, supported in one way or another the condemnation of asylum seekers in the Peruvian Embassy or those who emigrated from the port of Mariel. These days many of them condemn Pablito for his past, but not for anything in the world do they acknowledge criticism of their own past.

You could understand criticism of anyone who left Cuba before 1968, a period when, through the so called “Revolutionary Offensive“, everything remained controlled by the Party-State elite, when it wasn’t yet possible to work independently of the state, and it was imperative, if you wanted to get a job, to be part of the so-called “organisations of the masses”. These people didn’t really live in a totalitarian dictatorship. But to those who lived through it you have to say: “don’t ask others to do what you weren’t able to do, and don’t criticise others for doing what you too, in one way or another, also did yourself”.

If you say that Pablito was very late in correcting things in order to be on the right side of history, then what exactly is the right moment for separating the “early” from the “late”? Perhaps the day they “changed their opinion”? And if our melodic poet changed his opinion very late then what can we say about those who haven’t yet done so themselves, but could still one day do so? continue reading

And this is the message that he is sending to them: “Dear repressors, keep repressing the people. Dear police and soldiers, keep supporting the tyranny. Dear intellectual apologists, keep on defending the disgrace. All of you, carry on supporting those responsible for the misery and oppression of all the  people, because, at the end of the day, the eternal condemnation of History will inevitably fall upon you”.

I don’t know about History, but with this message the ignominy will be maintained far beyond these guys’ lives, and the guiltiest people will be quite happy with this tremendous service that they are giving them.

If you announce to the defenders of a besieged garrison that they’ll all be executed when the stronghold is overrun, then nobody will surrender and the battle will be prolonged, because everyone will fight to the death at the cost of more lives on both sides, that is if there’s anyone left surviving at all.

On the other hand, it has to be said that if we are fighting for a Cuba in which all the rights and liberties of its citizens are to be respected, then you have to respect the rights of those who still believe in, and defend, the badly named Revolution, without violating the rights of those who think differently. But one needs to send a different message to those from the other side who violate those rights — a message like the one that the glorious Oswaldo Payá launched at his persecutors: “I don’t hate you Brother, but I’m not afraid of you either”.

I pity those who still call for “those guilty of the Cuban tragedy to be hung from guasima trees with barbed wire”, a view generally held more commonly among those who have suffered the least, those who ignore the lessons of history and wish for the repetition of the same mistakes that brought us to this calamitous situation; those who packed the squares and yelled for the death of those supposed guilty of other mistakes of the past and later were forced to go into exile or wound up in prison. Or, worse, like that commander of the Revolution, doctor Sorí Marín, who signed the decree of executions and was later executed himself for the law which he himself redacted. So many innocent people lost their lives in front of firing squads having been sentenced without due process.

History’s reach goes further than this; when they said that there could not have been anything worse than the machadato [1920’s tyrannical government of president Machado], and, after that was over, the mobs took to the streets to lynch anyone who was marked out as a porrista [government cheerleader], though it was never proven, and they were dragged through the streets in a general chaos which Machado himself prophesied whilst boarding the plane that took him to exile — a chaos that has continued to this day — well later came even worse: el batistato [the Batista regime]. And many said: “there can’t be a regime worse than this”. And the blood flowed, and it carried on flowing, after the arrival of a newer, and worse regime still. And today they’re still saying the same thing.

Enough. We have to put an end to this prolific chain of tyrannies — an end to hatred and reprisal, each time more shameful than the last — before we all drown in a sea of blood.

We cannot build a republic of peace on the foundations of the gallows. Or as a visionary named José Martí once said about the Russian revolutionaries of his time: “The steel of incentive is no use for the founding hammer”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Spanish Government Cannot Help Mario Josué Prieto Because He Also Holds Cuban Nationality

On 23 August 2021 Mario Josué Prieto was arrested again and sentenced to 12 years in prison for sedition. (Cortesía)

EUROPA PRESS/14ymedio, Madrid, 28 November 2022 — The Spanish government has clarified that it is not able to help Mario Josué Prieto — the young Spaniard imprisoned in Cuba for taking part in the 2021 demonstrations on the Island and condemned to 12 years for sedition — because he is still a Cuban national.

This was communicated in a parliamentary reply to which Europa Press has had access, after Spain’s Popular Party took an interest in the case and because of the support that the government has been providing him since his parents asked for help via a letter sent in September to José Manuel Albares, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Ministry explained that both the Embassy and the Consulate General in Havana “have been following the case” and have approached the Cuban authorities “to try and ease his prison situation”.

Nevertheless, they clarified that as Prieto also holds Cuban citizenship “it isn’t possible to give the usual assistance to the prisoner”, which normally they can give in cases of Spaniards imprisoned abroad.

In his case, the Ministry explained, the reason is none other than Article 36 of the Cuban constitution, which states: “While Cuban citizens are on Cuban territory (…) they may not make use of a foreign [dual] nationality”.

Even so, they affirmed that the Embassy in Havana “is in contact with Prieto’s family”. The young man, resident in the U.S, was trapped on the Island in March 2020 by the pandemic outbreak, while visiting his family.

There is an ongoing arrest warrant in force for Prieto in Suffolk County Virginia, U.S.A, dating from 2019, and confirmed with 14ymedio by local police, which remains in force for crimes of: robbery, inappropriate conduct, avoiding arrest, aggression towards a family member and littering a public space.

During his stay in Cuba he took part in an anti-government demonstration in Holguín on 11 July 2021 and was arrested though released two days later, only to be arrested again on 23 July. Later, he was condemned to 12 years jail for sedition. continue reading

In September, Cuban Human Rights Observervatory sent the government a judicial report on Prieto’s situation, whom they define as a “political prisoner”.

According to this organisation, which has analized the case against him, at no time was the alleged crime of sedition tested in court nor was there any respect for the principles or guarantees that a defendant should be tried by a local judge and not by an emergency tribunal or courtroom; similarly, they did not take into consideration the personal circumstances or state of health of the defendant.

In their opinion, “the fact that the Cuban authorities are applying the effective principle of citizenship doesn’t stop the Spanish authorities from intervening” in this case, given that “they have committed obvious judicial errors and the situation is a grave and humanitarian one, with danger to the life of the Spanish citizen”. In this way, they maintain that “pressure from Spain could be decisive in obtaining his freedom”.

The observatory also pointed out that Prieto is a psychiatric patient and had already twice attempted suicide. Allegedly, according to his mother, speaking to Spanish outlet Libertad Digital, he had made a further attempt last week, at the hospital in Holguín where he is being held for the health problems that he has been showing since his first arrival in prison.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 and Spain Share a Common Creative Space in a Collective Exhibition

The Cuban artist Francisco Alejandro is part of the exhibition, installed in an old factory in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 28 November 2022 — On Saturday, ten Spanish and eight Cuban creatives inaugurated an exhibition titled: “Artists in Production”, a joint project which uses only the materials already available in the exhibition space — an old factory.

The project, promoted by the independent art studios, Estudio 50 and FigueroaVives, in Havana, and Nave Oporto from Madrid, proposes 18 installations which will “use elements already existing in the space”, explained Cristina Vives, curator of the show, speaking to EFE.

“None of the works should arrive here at Estudio 50 (the exhibition’s site) in a finished state, instead it’s all about how the space itself can intervene in the creation of the work”, the art critic added.

In the middle of setting up the exhibition Vives recounted that “it’s been ten whole days of sharing ideas on how to complete each of the works, whilst also thinking about the world in which we live, as well as our own artistic inclinations”.

“We have to work together. However dynamic, independent and creative we are as individuals, we can achieve much more together”, said the curator of a project which is also supported by the Spanish and Norwegian embassies in Cuba. continue reading

The concept of converting old factories into spaces for exhibiting contemporary art is the line promoted by the Nave Oporto studio in the Spanish capital, which has taken the idea to Cuba to promote this collective show, in which artists such as Miguel Fructuoso, Elvira Amor and Miki Leal are participating.

Fructuoso commented that beyond the mere artistic process itself, the essential thing has been the “human connection” with Cuban colleagues participating in the exhibition, including Francisco Alejandro y Lorena Gutiérrez.

For his part, Alejandro expressed that it has been an opportunity to “exchange ideas between, and enrich current cultural contexts in” Cuba and Spain.

They each agree that it has been a “marvellous experience” for both parties.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso  

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

A Stranger is Shipwrecked in Cabo Lagarto, Land of Tobacco and Forbidden Women

The ruin and demolition site of the  Hotel Cosmopolita, in Camajuaní, originating from 1880, inspired a number of passages from Náufrago del tiempo (Castaway in Time). (Elena Nazco)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 26 November 2022

The village lives in a perpetual silence, as though words had the power to unleash a tempest. The women believe that any festivities would bring bad luck and catastrophe; the men never speak to one another and the children are forbidden from playing outside, to avoid the wind from disorientating them and snatching them away from their mothers.

When my daily work is done, someone from the village will usually give me the basics to survive. They think I’ve gone crazy because I keep breadcrumbs, fruit skins, grains and bits of anything digestible in the deep pockets of my shirt. These are for the little cat that follows me day and night, which is, after all, the only companion I have in the old hotel.

It’s to him that I owe the old pallet that I use as a bed, and the continual revelations that I have about the building.

His body is as skinny and ghostly as a blade, and it’s because of this that he’s able to understand the anatomy of the hotel better than I do. He knows all the passages, all the cracks that lead into the bedrooms, the crevices between the bricks, the strange creatures that live in all the pipes and tubes.

I try to sleep when I arrive back at the old hotel, in order to save any energy I get from the little food I have to eat. Even from within the ruins you can feel the electrified air and an atmosphere that becomes more and more charged, as though a hurricane were to come and shake the village’s foundations at any moment. continue reading

Sometimes the insomnia is too strong and I only get to sleep as morning approaches. In those moments I drift in and out of dreaming like someone drowning at sea, I hear all kinds of vermin scratching at the hotel’s walls, I see my father’s face, and the women’s faces. At the same time the creatures start to move, scuttle inside the piping, watching me with their little eyes, burning with night blindness. I know I’m not just imagining these creatures because the cat, which is my night guardian, also follows them with his hunter’s eyes.

Yesterday, thanks to my companion, I found a hotel bedroom door that was easy to break down. After I’d cleaned up the debris I was able to sleep, once again, this time on a relatively soft mattress.

I get the impression that everything I do is somehow bound up with the cat. He guides me through the hotel’s darkness, a veritable labyrinth that he knows better than I do, and he shows me which wall to tear down or when I should sleep. Whilst I get hungrier and hungrier and can start to see my ribs showing, he grows fatter, feeding on whatever I bring him each evening, as an offering to stop him from abandoning me to my fate in the middle of the storm that will soon arrive.

***

Since the dawn, the cat has started to nibble affectionately at my big toes. He does it to demand food, or when he wants to show me something new in the hotel. Obstacles broken through, and new passages discovered, the cat has brought to my attention a shaft of light, very weak, coming from the other side of a wall where I’d thought there were no more rooms.

I looked for the iron bar that I use for pulling down walls and gave this one a blow. On the third attempt the bricks gave way and I walked through the cloud of dust and into the space where the cat wanted to take me.

What I found there was both marvellous and terrible, and words themselves are useless at describing it properly.

***

In one place, as the prophets had foretold, there was the serpent and the dazzling bird, the stream filled with fish of every colour, docile beasts which grazed on grass and creatures that crawled up into the branches of the trees, the scaly bright lizard, bees, moths and ants in search of food; there were all kinds of plants, clinging onto healing stones and onto walls sculpted by time, fruit which ripened in seconds and fell to the ground only to become at one with the soil and the coldness there; and there was light, a golden, greenish light, almost as if the air itself were covered in moss, all a brightness and a heaven, with no indication at all of the approaching storm.

It was then that I remembered the hotel had once been a monastery; perhaps, before being a monastery it had been a piece of Eden itself, later recovered by the very words spoken by the monks.

Cover of the novel ‘Náufrago del tiempo’ (’Castaway in Time’) released in November by the Spanish publisher Verbum.

But there, in the middle of all that, there was also a man, sitting at the head of a long wooden table, being served with fruit and other delicacies, which the animals had brought for him. He remained completely still, eyes half open, naked as though it was his turn to be the Adam of that garden. His hands, long and bony, were ploughed through with small wounds that looked as though they’d been caused by a needle.

The cat jumped onto the table, took a bite from the fruit and lay down, very close to the man. Cautiously, because one doesn’t expect anything good to come out of Cabo Lagarto, I asked the man who he was, and where were we.

“I am the rock which supports the world”, he said to me, hardly opening his lips. “And when I fall, the globe too will fall”.

***

The man’s throat sounds deep and dusty, full of words, but from a place where time gets bogged down and becomes stone, bones, motionless matter. A rheumy liquid runs from his wrinkles, as though he had never closed his eyes. His grey beard covers his throat and his chest, and he spreads his hands as if, indeed, the very destiny of the cosmos depended on his steadying of the table and everything on it.

When we speak the animals look at us, from the grey cat to the lizards whose bodies are impossible to see completely because of all the weeds covering them.

The man speaks little and always replies in riddles. On the first day I limited myself to looking around the cloisters or the inner courtyard of the hotel, which was already a small universe for me. As the days went by the man became more revealing.

Sometimes he would say:

“I am as old as the stones and the mountains; the moon gave birth to me, the sun gave me life; I pronounced the first word ever spoken in the world, but I forget what it was. That’s why I’m here.”

Or he’d lower his forehead until it touched the table, and then changed his story:

“I fought hard during the war. The victors accused me of being a spy; the vanquished said I brought them ill fortune. Both sides sentenced me to death and decreed they’d erase my name from everywhere. I escaped and came here to take up this monastery”.

His hands appeared to be tied by some invisible chain. He moved them only once: to explain to me why he didn’t eat any of the delicacies on the table.

“I swore I’d kill the world and the world never forgets”, he said, as he moved his fingers to reach out for an orange. “Watch what happens if I dare to contradict my own blasphemy”.

At that moment, mice, cockroaches, insects and other vermin I can’t even name began to climb up the table legs. Birds came flying down from all parts of the ruin, and, while the old man tried to reach the fruit, the animals bit his fingernails and pecked his hands until his thick blood began to mess up the food along with the birds’ feathers and all the bugs.

“Now do you understand the weight that I carry?”

I wanted to reply, but I couldn’t speak, I was too full of revulsion for what I’d just witnessed. The only thing I could do was run, knock down the walls, get covered in dust and fall exhausted onto my rickety bed in the reception hall.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 New Electric Tricycles in Havana are (Practically) Phantoms

Electric tricycles, presented by the Havana authorities, for operating on the new routes in the Playa (Beach) district. (Tribuna de La Habana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 25 November 2022 — The authorities in Havana have twice announced, in their customary pomp, the arrival of electric vehicles onto new transport routes in the Playa district. The first time, two weeks ago, the official press assured us that a tricycle service would commence on 15 November, but this didn’t materialize.

Days later, and without any explanation, Tribuna de La Habana changed the start date: it would be the following Monday, 21 November, when a total of 20 electric tricycles would begin to operate, increasing later to 25, They would be organised on three routes: from 3rd and 80 to La Ceguera hospital; from avenue 120 to the hospital; and from 120 to La Puntilla, on a timetable running from 7am to 7pm.

“People will be able to access an affordable, quick and efficient alternative to, and complement to, the public bus service, which will generate local employment”, boasted the provincial newspaper.

However, the vehicles didn’t appear anywhere. At La Puntilla, for example, the supposed final stop on one of the routes, none of the local residents said they’d seen the new means of transport, which was meant to help alleviate the ever pressing crisis of mobility in the capital, owing chiefly to the shortage of fuel.

Neither could any signage be seen at the supposed stops along the routes, such as on Calle 0 and 1.

Julio, who works near to the Sierra Maestra building — headquarters of the Cimex Corporation — was already thinking they must be nothing more than “phantom tricycles” when, on Friday, he finally got onto one. “It was quite by chance. I found it when I was walking down Third street, but hardly anyone knows about them, so much so, that where I boarded there were no other passengers waiting, and just one woman got on board during the whole journey”. continue reading

The vehicle, which has a capacity of 6 passengers and a range of 120 km, was driven by a woman, like other electric tricycles operating in Havana, but on these new routes, according to the driver, they have hired men too.

At a price of 4 pesos people usually pay 5 and don’t expect any change. “I’m not going to ask for one peso back”, Julio explained. “No, and I’m not going to give it to you!”, replied the driver, laughing — in a country where the decreasing value of small denomination notes and coins makes them more and more useless for making everyday payments.

Regarding energy sources, there’s still no news about those solar powered hubs that were promised for the Ecotaxis in Central Havana. “This thing is charged up on the normal mains power supply, no solar panels or anything like that”, explained the vehicle’s driver. “Those kinds of things only work on television. Beyond that, no, nothing”, her passenger replied, cynically.

It goes without saying that the arrival of the new tricycles is designed to force a lowering of prices by the taxi drivers operating the beach zone. One journey in a big almendrón* taxi costs at least 50 pesos, but the likelihood of a price drop remains far off. While the old Chevrolets or Fords circulate constantly around the city, the new initiative by the authorities can hardly be seen. They might have three wheels, but the others have many years of struggling with inflation and with state experiments.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

*Translator’s note: Almendrón — from the Spanish word for ‘almond’, because of the shape — is the name given to the large classic American cars operated as taxis in Cuba.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

‘I Can’t Serve You Because You’ve Been Reported Dead’

“I went to Oficoda [Office in charge of rationing in Cuba] and they told me that in their records my ration book registration was circled, with a number “1”, and it appeared that I was dead”. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 24 November 2022 – Ricardo, 77, rose that morning in good spirits, not imagining the awful surprise that awaited him in the grocery store where he went to buy his rations for November: “I can’t serve you because you’ve been reported dead”, the assistant replied after being given his ration book.

Three days and many formalities later, this habanero pensioner was finally able to prove that he was still alive.

The store assistant had explained that he needed to go to the Consumer’s Registry Office (Oficoda) with his ID card, his ration book and any evidence that proved that he hadn’t died. The scene was like it was lifted from the black comedy Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), but instead of happening on the cinema screen it was happening right there in Havana in 2022.

“I went to Oficoda and they repeated that in their records my ration book registration was circled, with a number “1”, and it appeared that I was dead”, Ricardo told 14ymedio. “It was a really absurd situation, because how are you supposed to prove to an official that you’re alive, if not just to walk up to her and talk, and ask questions”, he joked. “In the end I moved up closer to the woman and asked her: Miss, do I smell like I’m dead?”

Joking aside, correcting the error not only took Ricardo quite some time, and a ton of paperwork, but he also had to postpone getting his quota of rice, cereal and other produce. “While I was there in the Oficoda another three people arrived who were in the same situation. Two had been taken for having died and the other one for having emigrated”, he said. continue reading

The process of digitalisation of data at Oficoda started in 2018. Although at first the authorities presented this process as a means to speed up and improve the procedures offered to the population, the truth is that their real objective was to identify relatives of deceased or emigrated individuals who continued to buy food rations in their place.

The obligation to cancel the ration book of a deceased or emigrated person isn’t a particularly new or original one. Resolution 78, passed by the Ministry of Interior Commerce in 1991, imposes this rule on people who are in prison, in care homes, in long-term hospitalisation or resident abroad for more than three months, and they have between ten and sixty days to be taken off the ration book system.

However, the rule has hardly been applied for decades, and this has contributed to the existence of thousands and thousands of “ghost consumers”. In 2021 alone, in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 15,000 of the 437,000 registered total no longer even lived in the country, according to data from the Department of Identification, Immigration and Alien Status published in the official press. This phenomenon applies across the whole Island and has gotten worse in recent months, with the massive exodus of people from the country.

With Cuba’s economic crisis and its lack of currency for buying products abroad, Oficoda has tightened up its investigations into the existence of these ‘ghost consumers’. The digitisation of its register will certainly have helped in this process, but errors, and the reliance on unchecked information from store managers or other consumers, along with corruption itself, have all left a substantial and continuing potential for irregularity.

Ángela, a resident of Luyanó, Havana, told this newspaper: “They managed to duplicate my ration book. I went to sort something out at Oficoda and when they put in my family data they found there was a duplicate book”. Up until then somebody else had been buying bread and other regulated food products designated to Ángela and her family members, but no one had noticed it.

“I don’t have a photocopier in my house for making a copy of the ration book. So who did that?”, she complained. But the official just answered vaguely, “There must have been an error during the digitalisation process”. During the hour and a half that Ángela spent at the centre trying to sort out the problem, at least two others arrived with similar problems. They were all given the same excuse about probable errors in digitisation.

It isn’t just a routine problem to have your ration book duplicated or to be removed from the system because you’re presumed dead — it becomes a real headache for victims. This document, which has been used by every Cuban since as long ago as  1962, has actually gained in significance in the area of state commerce in recent years. Instead of disappearing, as optimists had predicted, these days it has become indispensable for obtaining products which until recently were on sale more freely.

“Being presumed dead not only stops me from buying the regulated amounts of rice or coffee, but also from getting a packet of chicken or even a bit of washing powder”, says Ricardo. Ever since that fateful morning, every time he wakes up he looks closely at himself in the mirror, touches his chest, breathes in and tells himself, with some relief: “I’m alive. And I hope Oficoda knows it too!”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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: Two Thieves Attack Child in Luyano in Broad Daylight and Steal Phone

“They hit him [the thief] several times”, said a neighbour. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 November 2022 – Muggings in broad daylight are becoming more and more common on Cuban streets. On Wednesday two individuals assaulted a minor in the Luyanó quarter, Diez de Octubre, Havana, and took his phone. The thieves tried to run away but members of the public intervened and one of them was caught and handed over to police.

The attempted robbery happened mid-morning in calle Rodríguez, between Reforma and Fábrica streets. The boy was walking down the road when two youths pounced on him to grab his phone, local residents told 14ymedio. “When the neighbours realized what was happening and went to help the boy one of the youths managed to escape down an alleyway on Reforma but they caught him. The other got away”.

The youth was beaten by a group of residents of the zone and handed over to police, who arrived a short while later. “They hit him several times”, said a neighbour, who witnessed the whole thing from her front door. “I thought they were going to kill him, they were so angry he’d done that to a little kid”.

“These days they don’t even wait till dark, it’s dangerous just to walk the street in the daytime”, the woman added. We used to be able to walk about without worrying around here but now it’s become problematic just getting your phone out or carrying a nice purse or wearing a neck chain -even if it’s fake”.

It’s becoming more and more common for neighbours to take the law into their own hands against thieves, fraudsters or sex offenders. The economic crisis has fuelled an increase in so-called “quick snatch” street crimes [muggings] in which the criminal runs away at top speed after taking a phone or a wallet or a piece of jewellery. Some simply escape on foot while others use bikes or mopeds to get away after committing their crimes. continue reading

In the last few months social media has been filled with complaints in which citizens have called for urgent measures to be taken against the increase in street crime in the country. Some complain that although there are enough police around to deal with protesters and supposed ’crimes’ against the State, there are not enough for rooting out thieves in the local neighbourhood.

The government does not publish the numbers of thefts or robberies, nor those of violent assault, so it is impossible to know when, or whether, the crime rate is increasing or decreasing. Nor does the official media cover this sort of crime or any possible crime wave, generally limiting its coverage to robberies in the state sector, and, in many cases, boasting about successes in solving them.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.