Paseo Galleries in Havana, a Palace of Consumption Turned into Ruins

The store that was a symbol of opulence now displays dirt and destruction everywhere / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 24 February 2024 — Careful!” a woman managed to say this Friday to a child who was rushing along the entrance ramp of the Paseo Galleries, in Havana’s Vedado district. The floor slabs, full of holes, forced customers going to the market, located on the first floor, to walk gently to avoid falling or spraining an ankle. The deterioration of what was one of the consumer palaces of the Cuban capital in the 90’s seems to know no limit.

Everywhere you look you will only find destruction, grime and peeling paint. With barely any lighting at its entrance, the cloudy day was of little help for those who entered the three-story establishment, located right across from the luxurious Cohiba Hotel and a few meters from the ocean-front wall of the Malecón. Most of those who arrived went to the market — which requires payment in freely convertible currency (MLC) — on the first floor, managed by the Cadena Caribe of Cuba’s GAESA* military conglomerate.

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

Inside the store, the floor is in better condition and at least the lamps have most of their bulbs working, but the presentation of products is more reminiscent of a warehouse than a store. “Everything is piled up, in order to find a price sometimes you have to go among the mountains of bags or cans,” complained a customer who came in search of powdered milk. In the back, the meat sales area had a small line.

“This place sucks, but it’s what I have closest to my house and I came here to buy butter,” commented Moraima speaking to 14ymedio; she is a retiree who receives remittances on her MLC card from her son, who resides in continue reading

Sweden. “This small bar [90 grams] costs 1.70 MLC,” the woman criticized. Behind her, the price board announced “baby octopus” at 16 MLC per kilogram; seven units of Asturian blood sausage for 4.25, and 200 grams of smoked salmon for 35.

“Everything is very expensive and the place is depressing. They charge in foreign currency and abuse in Cuban pesos,” said Moraima. “This cart with oil, peas, a package of chickpeas, tomato sauce, flour, butter and a little ham is already costing me more than 50 MLC,” she explained to this newspaper. “With this, I’m spending more than half of what my son sends me monthly; he has to work very hard to send me 100 MLC.”

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

“All this is in this condition because they know that even if it is a dark cave, people are going to have to continue coming here to buy,” another customer said out loud while waiting for an employee to appear to open a bag with packages of children’s candy. “They say that until they read the barcode, they can’t tell me how much it costs,” he was losing his patience.

“They don’t sell anything fresh and there is a disgusting smell in the market, it smells like rotten fish, I don’t know how they can be open like this,” questioned another buyer. “I used to come here, I even bought a Spanish pressure cooker years ago that turned out to be very good, but this place doesn’t even look like that anymore, this is in total decline.”

For those who do not want to risk their lives going down or up the access ramp to the supermarket, there is still the risk of taking the stairs with several broken steps on their edges and which has not seen a broom come by in months, perhaps years.

The Jazz Café, located on a mezzanine with a stunning ocean view, now resembles a haunted house, full of dust and cobwebs. “It closed a little before the pandemic and never reopened, a shame because this was always full and it was a unique place in Havana,” lamented a worker who was trying to push a cart full of goods being careful so the wheels wouldn’t fall into the ramp’s potholes.

A meeting place for musicians, national and foreign clients looking for company, the Jazz Café charged about ten convertible pesos (CUC), in the days when the CUC was still in circulation, which included a basic dinner and a musical show. The place remained full past midnight, especially on weekends, and the access staircase became an improvised catwalk of young girls showing themselves to the tourists.

With a careful design and sculptures that imitated jazz players in full improvisation, the Jazz Café became a unique space in the Havana night. “The proximity of the Cohiba Hotel guaranteed that this would be full, but right now there is little tourism and those who come asking if the club is open what they find is this, an abandoned place,” acknowledged a taxi driver who charged 2,000 pesos for a ride to the nearest municipalities to those who left the supermarket this Friday.

For the most empowered customers, Galerías Paseosreserves its boutique shopping area for dresses that exceed 200 MLC and sneakers from famous brands. But even those places of supposed glitz do not escape the dirt and crisis of the environment. Thus, Adidas shoes alternate with stained glass, expensive perfumes with cracked floors, and leather purses with stained walls.

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

At least three of those businesses were closed this Friday without explanation. With the lights off inside, the stores, located on the third floor, gave the impression of having been abandoned with the merchandise inside, and no employee of the complex could attest as to when they would reopen. “Come by on Tuesday or Wednesday to see if they are selling again”, a custodian suggested to a teenager who inquired about the shoe shops.

The workers’ faces are also streaked with apathy. What was once a very attractive place to work has ceased to generate interest. “Everything is paid by card, customers almost never leave tips, and when they do, it is in pesos,” acknowledges an employee who this Friday helped a couple carry their purchases to the car.

“Many people have also left because they received their parole visa or left by way of the volcano route,” the man acknowledged. When foreign currency stores opened for Cuban customers in the 90s, working in one of those stores was, automatically, the beginning of starting to be part of a wealthier social class, but now the situation is very different.

“Inspections, hard work and little encouragement,” the employee summarized the situation of the Galerías Paseo workforce. “This has gotten really bad, I’m looking for a job in one of those MSMEs that pay better and where there isn’t as much drama as here, because I might as well have to stay until the next day for an audit than to put up with complaints from a client who is absolutely right, because what they should do with this place is to shut it down, it cannot continue operating in these conditions.”

In the bathroom on the top floor, only the one for women was open, which had three cubicles and at least one of them was out of service. A cardboard over the bowl with a bucket on top prevented the use of the toilet and the smell that came from inside made some of the urgent customers who came to that area give up. There was also no water supply for hand washing or flushing toilets.

The magical world looks faded and opaque / 14ymedio

But the best “surprise” was at the exit. A colorful sign welcomed Mundo Mágico, a place that a few years ago was the children’s store. “No, we no longer sell toys here, now we only sell the ‘basic products module’ [from the rationing system] for the people of this area,” an employee responded grumpily to a clueless customer who was looking for some dolls.

Above the worker’s head, blue, red and yellow letters recalled that period when Galerías Paseo was the consumer palace of a Havana that could afford to go shopping and enjoy the journey.

*Translator’s note: Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA) is a Cuban military-controlled umbrella enterprise with interests in the tourism, financial investment, import/export, and remittance sectors of Cuba’s economy.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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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 Cuban Scorpion Venom Scam Claims the Life of a Cancer Patient in Mexico

Castro Ochoa had been treating his patients with “alternative” treatments for years. (Facebook/Carlos Castro Ochoa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 January 2024 — Carlos Miguel Castro Ochoa, a rural healer from the Mexican municipality of Ixmiquilpan, in the state of Hidalgo, faces trial after the death of a patient whose cancer he had promised to cure with blue scorpion venom from Cuba. The “naturopathic doctor,” as he presents himself, charged about 17,000 pesos in advance – about 1,000 dollars – for the treatment with Escozul, a product manufactured in Cuba.

According to the Mexican press, Castro Ochoa supplied his patient with “large bottles with homemade printed labels,” whose doses were applied orally using a dropper. It was “a substance coming from Cuba without the necessary Mexican health permits.” Although the note does not reveal the name of the medicine, it publishes an image of its label, which corresponds to the old format of Escozul bottles.

Castro Ochoa had been treating his patients with “alternative” treatments for years and “dozens of people came to the improvised office inside his home” on Calero Street in the rural town of El Nith. Last December, the relatives of the patient – who died in the emergency room of a hospital in Ixmiquilpan – demanded money from Castro Ochoa and he “responded with threats” and claimed that “the authorities could not do anything to him.”

It is not the first time that Castro Ochoa has faced problems with the Justice Department, but – according to the newspaper Milenio – he is spared because “he is of foreign origin.” The healer promised those who came to him to be treated for advance stage cancer and diabetes, leukemia, epilepsy, sexual dysfunctions, kidney stones and other ailments, always having to pay in advance, they clarify. continue reading

A municipal ruling from Ixmiquilpan, published in 2007, prohibited “healers and fortune tellers” from operating in any of its locations.

A municipal ruling from Ixmiquilpan, published in 2007, prohibited “healers and fortune tellers” from operating in any of its locations and expelled repeat offenders, the newspaper claims. However, Castro Ochoa evaded the law due to his “alleged foreign origin.”

Facebook and Telegram groups that sell both “drugs” as a cancer cure are common in Mexico. One of these groups, attended by a user who identifies himself as “Doctor Alejandro CR,” sells Vidatox as a “general homeopathic treatment” and disqualifies Escozul as “a very expensive treatment.”

“I bring Vidatox directly from Cuba,” explains Alejandro CR bluntly. “Bringing it to Mexico is difficult, sometimes it gets confiscated. That is why you will find other people on the Internet who, like me, sell it here.” Escozul, which is less affordable, he adds, requires “going to Cuba, where they do a study and personalize the doses according to the type of cancer. Treatments with Escozul can last for years.”

The “doctor” warns against “advertisements that say that Vidatox does not work” and explains its reason for being: “It is a commercial competition”, lies launched by Escozul because “they do not agree that Vidatox exists with a much lower price than what they charge.” Next, Alejandro CR tells his potential clients to contact him privately for more information.

The mind behind Escozul is the microbiologist Alexis Díaz, the same scientist who in 2011 began selling Vidatox

Escozul is one of the two compounds derived from the venom of the blue scorpion (Rhopalurus junceus) that Cuban Public Health promotes and sells at a high price abroad. Manufactured by Lifescozul Laboratories – which has several branches in the region, including Mexico – the product is presented as “the most advanced formulation of blue scorpion venom.”

The mind behind Escozul is the microbiologist Alexis Díaz, the same scientist who in 2011, when working for the State-owned Labiofam, began selling Vidatox, to which he attributed “proven antitumor, analgesic and anti-inflammatory efficacy.” Since then, Cuba has insisted on the healing properties of scorpion venom and has published numerous “scientific” articles attempting to demonstrate its effectiveness and promote its purchase.

The Lifescozul team, very active on social networks and with headquarters in the expensive international clinic La Pradera – founded by Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996 – offers very expensive treatments to its patients. In order to be treated in Cuba, you will have to pay $1,200 or more. If you want the medication to be sent to your country, you have to pay between $80 and $110 per month for the duration of the treatment.

In 2021, Escozul signed two contracts in Mexico with the companies Pharmométrica and Research Pro. In 2022, they closed a deal with the Tecnológico de Monterrey

 In 2021, Escozul signed two contracts in Mexico with the companies Pharmométrica and Research Pro. In 2022, they closed a deal with the Tecnológico de Monterrey, to give more scientific weight to Escozul’s work. Dr. Díaz’s ambition: to obtain the Health Registration of the product, which would allow its authorized sale throughout the world.

Apparent rivals in the public sphere, Escozul and Vidatox have a common origin in Havana and the improvised merchants who sell them – such as Castro Ochoa and Alejandro CR – do not distinguish these nuances when it comes to profiting from a product whose origin is unknown.

The medical reality, however, is clear: it is not scientifically proven that scorpion venom can cure cancer. The prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research center – founded in 1884 in the United States – has explained that the benefits attributed to Escozul or Vidatox “are largely based on anecdotes, testimonies and experiments that may not have been correctly carried out.” And he adds that “in Cuba, where these products originate, the Government rejected the use of Escozul in 2009 for not having enough information.”

Translated by Norma Whiting
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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.

With the Cancellation of Flights to Cuba, Argentina’s Favors to Havana Will End

The company had already ceased operations in Havana in 2016. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 25 January 2024 — A little over a year and a half after Aerolíneas Argentinas re-established its flights to Cuba, the company has announced that it is canceling them again. This Thursday, according to local media information with inside company sources, the route is not profitable, so starting next March 8 they will suspend the weekly frequency that until now connected the South American country with Havana via Cancun.

Each flight to the Cuban capital from Buenos Aires, airline sources declared to Infobae, had an average of $16,000 in losses. In 2023 alone, the company lost half a million dollars, although, according to Clarín, the figure would have been higher if it had not been subsidized by the Government.

“Those passengers who already purchased their tickets for that destination will be transferred to flights through other airlines at no additional cost”

Those passengers who already purchased their tickets for that destination will be transferred to flights through other airlines at no additional cost.  If they wish to cancel their trip as a result of this modification, the full value of the ticket will be refunded”, the company reported. continue reading

The measure was taken after the appointment of a new company manager, Fabián Lombardo, who will implement the transfer of shares, from the State to private hands in Aerolíneas Argentinas decreed by the brand-new president, Javier Milei.

Although the previous government of Peronist Alberto Fernández assured that the route to Cuba is “highly requested by agencies and tour operators”, the data showed that Cuba is not a relevant tourist or commercial destination for Argentina.

The company had ceased operations in Havana in 2016. Previously, the Government of Mauricio Macri had made the decision to restructure the airline to reduce the deficit it represented for the State: nationalized in 2008, the company cost to the country was around two million dollars per day.

The savings plan significantly affected the aircrafts and, consequently, the routes operated were reduced

The savings plan significantly affected the aircrafts and, consequently, the routes operated were reduced. At that time, those responsible argued that Cuba had become a very expensive destination, something that the company itself has now confirmed again.

The libertarian Milei already made it clear that “current foreign policy fundamentals differ from the previous one”, regarding his country’s refusal to finally be part of the BRICS group of emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

In his participation at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, he once again reiterated his position regarding economic systems such as the one that governs Cuba, saying that socialism “is, always and everywhere, an impoverishing phenomenon that failed in every country where it was tried.  “It was an economic failure, it was a social failure, it was a cultural failure and it also claimed the lives of 150 million human beings.”

14ymedio, Madrid, January 25, 2025 — A little more than half a year after Aerolíneas Argentinas reestablished its flights to Cuba, the company has announced that it is canceling them again. According to local media this Thursday with sources in the company itself, the route is not profitable, so starting next March 8 they will suspend the weekly frequency that until now connected the South American country with Havana via Cancun.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

European Food Aid Is Free but It Is Being Sold on the Informal Market in Cuba

On the ‘tetrapacks’ not only did it read that it was a product from Spain of the Apis brand, but that it was merchandise that had arrived in Cuba through the European Food Aid program. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 17 January 2024 — The merchandise, some 500-gram boxes of tomato sauce, “Are of good quality, each one for 300 pesos and I have five. If you buy them all I will give you a discount,” explains the informal seller, dressed in a cap and backpack, who knocked on 72-year-old Niurka’s door in the Central Havana neighborhood of San Leopoldo. A regular in the area, the merchant has built a clientele through the years, based on trust. “Neither snitches nor people who want to do business on credit” is his motto.

But today, security was more necessary than other times. It indicated on the tetrapaks not only that it was a product from Spain of the Apis brand, but that it was merchandise that had arrived in Cuba through the European Aid Fund for the Most Disadvantaged People (Fead). On the packaging, in capital letters, it warned: “Free food, sale prohibited.” Niurka extended three 100-peso bills, took the box and pretended that she had not read the sign or seen the blue flag with its little stars in a circle.

Where did the merchant get the tomato sauce? Did he steal it from a state warehouse or did the families who benefited from the aid give it to him to get some cash? Questions flooded into Niurka’s head as soon as she closed the door. But it could be said that, whatever the case, she was also “a vulnerable person,” with a meager pension and two grandchildren to care for. She immediately opened the box, poured the contents into the pan where she already had some sausage slices and prepared, at full speed, some spaghetti for the children who would soon arrive home from school. continue reading

The module that has recently arrived in Cuba from Spain includes rice, cooked chickpeas, canned tuna and meat, pasta, fried tomato or cookies.

Fead provides food or basic material assistance to people who need it most in nations with high rates of poverty and economic insecurity. Support consists of food, clothing, footwear and other essential products for personal use, such as soap and shampoo. But each European nation decides the type of aid it wants to provide, and how to obtain it and distribute it.

The module that has recently arrived in Cuba, coming from Spain, includes rice, cooked chickpeas, preserved tuna and meat, pasta, fried tomato, cookies, vegetable salad, soluble cocoa and oil, a composition similar to the one that has reached other Latin American countries. The intention is that it land on the table of those families who have been plunged into misery by inflation, low pensions, physical disabilities of some of their members, and old age.

However, the mechanism does not escape tricks and the rerouting of resources. There is also no way to control whether beneficiaries use these free foods to put on their own plates, or end up selling them on the black market. With the 300 Cuban pesos from selling a box of tomato sauce, someone can probably pick up some food or vegetables that will give them more value on their table.

Due to those inextricable paths that life takes, today Niurka ate thanks to European aid, although her name is not registered in any humanitarian program.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

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At the Gas Stations in Guanabacoa, Cuba, Women Rule, and Not Always by Good Means

One just has to go to the Corral Falso and Los Paraguas Service Centers, in Guanabacoa, to take the pulse of the drivers’ discomfort. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 January 2024 — While a group of Havana residents observe him, a senior officer of the Armed Forces parks his motorcycle next to a pump at the Los Paraguas Service Center in Guanabacoa. He doesn’t waste time on questions and goes directly to the gas station attendant. After a very brief conversation, and before the displeased looks of those present, the soldier returns to the vehicle, activates the hose and fills the tank.

The anger of those present has an explanation: before buying, each of them had to fight for the “privilege” of being included in a meticulous list of customers that the local government ordered to be drawn up during the fuel crisis of June 2023, and that has been reactivated a few days before the announcement of the increase in fuel prices for next February. The soldier, whose uniform opens doors for him, is above these formalities.

One just has to go to Los Paraguas or the other service center in Guanabacoa, Corral Falso, to sense the drivers’ discomfort. Dozens of sullen faces gather around a woman who gives blunt instructions to those who want to buy: “You have to sign up for the Telegram group.”

The speaker is the person in charge of making the daily list of buyers through the messaging application. On Telegram she identifies herself simply as Esther, although there is a team behind her – also with simple nicknames, such as Yanet or Carilda – which claims to be “directed by the continue reading

government of Guanabacoa.” Her mantra, which she repeats when a client questions her authority, is: “This is not anarchy, it is queue control, avoiding hoarding, profits, queues, etc.”

The soldier, whose uniform opens doors, is above formalities. (14ymedio)

The Falso SC C. group had 4,025 members this Thursday; the one at Los Paraguas, 5,046. Every morning, about 20 users join. At approximately six in the morning, Esther tells the group that she is “awaiting information.”  As the day progresses, the woman organizes the flow of clients through the client list of each service center, prepared in Excel.

Esther demands name, surname, license number, vehicle license plate and a telephone number. On more than one occasion she has stated that the list “is the same as in 2023” and that the names “were jealously guarded.” “The ones that don’t show up is because they were never there,” she alleges, and she invites the ones she does not know to “stand in line” to make their purchases after those who do show up.

However, this newspaper received a complaint from a reader who detected numerous irregularities in the customer inventory. The Los Paraguas Excel document lists 3,688 clients, of whom 114 are repeated up to four times and 77 do not have badges – a requirement that Ester always demands. In the case of Corral Falso, where 2,855 names are registered, there are 168 that are repeated up to four times and 40 without plates. Some 1,003 clients are on both lists.

No matter how much they accuse her, in groups and – according to her – privately, Esther keeps repeating that she does not have to give explanations. Next to her, a man in shorts and flip-flops acts as a bodyguard. Desperate, due to the lack of gasoline or the slowness of the queue, many customers tend to “get annoying.”

This Wednesday, Esther suspended the queue “until the police arrived and acted against three motorists who were threatening,” she told the group. “They got the wrong idea of the place. This is not a jungle.” Hours later, the woman narrated her outcome: a “person from town” “persuaded” her to resume the queue. “It bothers me that men do not respect a lady,” she summarized, especially when “this activity – the organization of the queue – is directed by women.”

Employees at Los Paraguas also refer to the group and Esther’s authority as the only way to obtain fuel. (14ymedio)

In one of her many explanations since both Telegram groups were reactivated, Esther explained why “the government of Guanabacoa took control of the queue.” “Reason: the paid line standees proliferated with their usual act of making money from human needs and no one reported them,” she argued. But there was more: “For anyone who interrupts this process, there are relevant bodies to make them understan.”

Esther develops a kind of chiefdom over both groups. The stability of the queue, the power to stop the process and her apparent direct connection with the authorities are all in her hands. She often complains that, during the early hours of the morning, those “summoned” don’t dare to go to the gas station. “Do we run or hide?” She then rebuked the clients who, given the growing lack of safety on the streets, don’t leave their house before sunrise.

Other times, she has outbursts of anger, especially when she is accused of corruption or manipulating the queue: “It’s enough for someone to react inappropriately to this comment to remove them from the group,” she threatened, after stating that she was not afraid of accusations or “attacks,” as she calls them.

Gas station employees also refer to the group and Esther’s authority as the only way to buy fuel. “You have to sign up between eight and nine, when they open the group. Meanwhile, you can’t write,” a worker at Los Paraguas service center tells 14ymedio .

As for the new prices, the employee is not happy either. “Hopefully, there will be a debate and that will change. We agree that they increase for tourists, but for self-employed persons, when you raise the cost of gasoline, the result is that they will increase their prices. If they charged 100 pesos for something before, now they will charge 500. To me, they are finished,” period.

“Hopefully, there will be a debate and that will change. We agree that they should go up for tourists, but for self-employed persons, when you increase the cost of gasoline, the result is that they will increase their prices”

 The truth is that, from the seat of Government, the outlook is not rosy either. The expert from the University of Texas (USA), Jorge Piñón, explained to this newspaper that one of the causes of the current national gasoline crisis is that Cuban refineries – particularly the one in Havana – have been out of service.

The researcher, who analyzes the behavior of gasoline, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas consumption in the country, has noted that in the last five years with official figures (2017-2021) there has been an increase of 40% in demand for gasoline in Cuba. In 2022, adds Piñón, providing his own data, the country consumed 335,000 tons, an incredible amount, if one considers that only 240,000 tons were consumed in all of the previous year. However, in 2023 there was a drop of 23% from the year before: 258,000 tons.

On the other hand, the movement of tankers through Cuban ports does not stop. The ships Ocean Mariner, Vilma and Delsa are anchored in terminals in Mexico and about to set sail for Havana. María Cristina, Alicia, Lourdes, Petion and Esperanza are waiting in Venezuela.

“What is the true cost (cash flow) of these volumes? We know that shipments from Venezuela are in exchange (barter) for products and services provided by Cuba, but there has to be an accounting statement that shows the economic impact (cash flow) in the State budget,” argues Piñón. “Same as supplies from Mexico: what is the cost of these barrels?”

“Loose tongues” is the state that best defines Cubans’ discomfort. In the huge lines of vehicles waiting their turn at the Cupet, in the masses that gather at taxi stands, in taxis, increasingly hard to pay, people emphasize: “We have to rob these people. Fuel, oil, petroleum, whatever.”

For Ernesto, age 58, the dilemma already has an answer. “I’m going to sell the car,” he tells this newspaper. Owner of an old Cadillac that he has used for years to transport passengers, this Havana native who worked for decades at an official radio station had the vehicle in the workshop months ago for bodywork. “I’m not even going to take it out of there, I already told the owner of the place that it is for sale.”

“Loose tongues” is the state that best defines the unrest of the Cubans at taxi stands. (14ymedio)

“I did a quick calculation after the Round Table [program on State TV] and it showed me that if I don’t charge the entire trip at more than 300 pesos to each passenger, I can’t pay for the fuel and keep the car running. And if I charge that, I’m going to spend every day in the street wrapped up and hearing insults, so I better stay at home,” he summarizes.

Yogurt, cheese and pork make up the offering that Iván, a resident of Alquízar, province of Artemisa, frequently takes to sell in Havana. Although he sometimes makes the trip on the train that connects the Cuban capital with San Antonio de los Baños, he also alternates trips with his son-in-law, who drives a Lada. Now, after finding out about the rise in prices, he has been “doing the math” for hours.

Between raising the price of his merchandise or suspending his merchant route, Iván, for the moment, prefers “not to promise anything” to clients, until he can verify, in practice, how much he must invest to get his merchandise to the Cuban capital. “There is always a chance that these people will back down because this is going to be a very unpopular measure,” is his hope.

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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.

Diana Rosa Cervantes, First Femicide Victim in Cuba in 2024, Was Murdered in Camaguey

Cervantes lived in the Edén neighborhood, in the municipality of Camagüey. (Facebook/Diana Rosa Cervantes Mejías)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 4 January 2024 — The new year has already claimed its first victim of fatal violence against women in Cuba. With the murder of Diana Rosa Cervantes Mejías this Tuesday, in Camagüey, the list of femicides opens just three days into 2024.

The attack on Cervantes has not yet been confirmed by independent observers, but several publications on social networks by acquaintances of the victim, collected by CiberCuba, indicate that the alleged aggressor was her partner, who killed her with blows to the head “out of jealousy”.

According to the same sources, Cervantes was the mother of a young child and a resident of the Edén development in the municipal capital of Camagüey province.  Her age is not known.

This Monday, the femicide of Nurisbel Guerra, a nurse residing in the Granma municipality of Cauto Cristo, who was on vacation from a medical mission in Venezuela, also made the news. After returning for a short vacation, on December 24 she was murdered by her husband, who committed suicide after cutting her throat. The aggressor, identified as Orestes Tamayo, from whom she intended to separate, was a worker at the province’s Electric Company, the independent media reported. continue reading

According to the same sources, Cervantes was the mother of a young child and a resident of the Edén development, in the municipal capital of the province of Camagüey

This December, the official press broke its usual silence to report the femicide of Ohanis Soto in the town of Lincoln, province of Artemisa. After a “domestic altercation” that took place at 6:00 pm on December 28 and which “ended in a fatality”, Soto was stabbed several times by her partner, Osmar Frómeta.

As revealed by the newspaper El Artemiseño, after killing the victim, Frómeta turned himself in to the Police to avoid an alleged “settling of scores” by the Soto family.

So far, Guerra is listed as the last victim of fatal violence against women of 2023, but observers’ attempts to resolve several unconfirmed cases so far, could continue to add to the list.

For their part, both the official press and the authorities maintain their distance from femicide cases, and their promises to prevent and quantify cases of violence against women in real time remain unfulfilled.

The year that just ended closed with a total of 87 confirmed victims of femicide, more than double the figure (36) registered in 2022 by independent observers, who always make mention in their reports the “under-recording” of femicides.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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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.

From Christmas Dinner to Epiphany Gifts, the Festivities in Cuba Are Paid-for by Emigrants

Many emigrants buy food through e-stores such as Katapulk, Supermarket 23 or Cubamax. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2023 — Two bottles of oil, Gouda cheese, 10 pounds of white sugar and a pork leg top the list of food Yoel bought for his family in Cuba this New Year’s Eve from Miami. The Cuban émigré laments, “it’s the same story every December, since 2015”.  Without their sacrifice, however, their relatives’ Christmas celebrations in Havana “would be sadder than they already are”.

“This list is just the one that’s meant for my mom. I have to add what I send to my children,” he tells 14ymedio. According to his estimates, the purchases he made through the Katapulk online store amount to almost $400. “I also sent a dozen bottles of beer and a cake, because, if not, it doesn’t feel like a celebration and you always want them to enjoy it”, he says.

“Every year when December approaches I start putting together money to buy food for Cuba. This year, however, the situation was worse, because everything is more expensive and there is nothing there. Before, at least one would send money, and since there was not much inflation or shortages, the family itself could get the ingredients for Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve dinner, plus something that one would buy in virtual stores”, Yoel recalls.

Every end of year’s he tries to send food to his family in Villa Clara so they can have a “decent” holiday

“My brother made his purchase through Cubamax, which has a sales method that allows people who are getting the package to choose the food they want. Coffee, chorizo, pasta, and all kinds of legumes – lentils, red beans, white beans and peas – was what they asked for. It amounted to 22 pounds of things that haven’t been seen in Cuba for a long time,” he adds. continue reading

The situation of Leticia, who has lived in Spain for five years, is similar. Every year’s end she tries to send food to her family in Villa Clara so they can experience “decent” festivities. “This year I bought two pork legs of more than 20 pounds each, for my in-laws’ house and my father’s. My brother from the United States helped me by sending a box of beer and some sweets. In total, everything worked out for us at about 200 euros,” she tells this newspaper.

Since her arrival in the Spain, Leticia has explored different ways to send to Cuba what she buys for her family. “Finally, I send everything I can with friends, and in these cases, I buy things in Miami through my brother, because everything is more expensive from here. I also look for individuals who sell the food within the country and deliver it at home, because in virtual stores they bleed you dry,” she says.

Leticia acknowledges that she is upset that all the money she sends or spends on food for her family “ends up in the hands of the Government”, but at the same time she considers that it would be “very painful” if her family could not enjoy that day of peace. “That is another reason to buy from individuals, but it also has its pitfalls. If you start to think about where they get the pigs they kill, the beer, the cheeses and everything else they sell, you realize that you are probably buying stolen food from some state warehouse or some hotel”, she says.

At the end of the year, she continues, everyone who sells food in Cuba “becomes rich.” “This time, the person who sold me the hams told me that I had to wait several days for mine to be distributed, because he had a long list of people in front of me. In the end, the meat arrived on December 24,” she says.

Irene, another Cuban from Holguín who came to Mexico with a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree, tells 14ymedio about the challenge of sending food to her family by the end of the year. “They don’t pay me much because of the scholarship, so I always prioritize buying items that last, like clothes, shoes or medicine. This way my parents can use all their money to buy food”, she explains.

One of the products most requested by Cubans from their emigrated relatives is coffee. (14ymedio)

At the end of the year, however, “things change, because, in Cuba, we have a tradition of getting together with relatives and celebrating by eating congrí (a traditional dish of rice and beans cooked together), roast pork meat and opening at least one bottle of cider. There is none of that in Cuba, and “you want your family to have a good time despite everything, so you end up spending an arm and a leg”, she continues.

From Guadalajara, where Irene resides, shipments cost about 350 Mexican pesos per kilogram (about $20), in addition to whatever must be paid for the product being sent. “Things are cheaper here than in Mexico City, for instance, but the expense is still enormous”, she says.

This year, Irene has noticed a peculiarity among her friends who also send food to Cuba. “Everyone is sending rice and beans. That is something that I had never seen done before, because sending a kilogram of rice costs more than 20 dollars and it’s barely enough for a meal for four people,” she reflects.

To this she must add the cost of delivering products outside the capital, which she adds another 700 Mexican pesos ($41) to the bill. “With that amount I can buy two weeks’ worth of food in Mexico”, she compares. “At least from here the shipping is direct. From other states, where there is no one traveling to Cuba, you have to pay extra to send things to a big city”, she asserts.

“We emigrants have started supporting those who stay there. If previously we bought what they didn’t have – shoes, clothes, or a recharge for the phone – now the need for everything in Cuba is covered by the Cuban community abroad,” she adds. “I will also be sending Three Kings’ Day gifts for the children this January”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Those Who Stay in Cuba

The most unfortunate people in Cuba have always been the same, before and after 1959 and until now. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 December 2023 — Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have been able to leave the country for the United States during 2023 thanks to humanitarian parole; another tens of thousands are Spain-bound thanks to the new Democratic Memory Law. As the country empties, the streets are left with citizens whose faces are increasingly poorer, increasingly older, increasingly hopeless.

If that face had to be given only one color, it would undoubtedly be dark. Because the most unfortunate people in Cuba have always been the same, before and after 1959 and until now, in the middle of the unstoppable stampede: the black population.

They are evident in any city in Cuba, in the lines at increasingly scarce grocery stores, sitting on sidewalks begging for money, rummaging through garbage containers. Long ago, many of them served the regime with enthusiasm, but today, the Revolution, inexorably failed, turns its back on them and leaves them to their fate, like stray dogs.

Others are neither black nor elderly, but, even so, they have not wanted or been able to leave Cuba. Ernesto, a resident of Central Havana in his 40s, has a difficult time because he has no one to ask for “sponsorship” from the United States or from Spanish ancestors to qualify for the “grandchildren law.” A once-successful musician, not only in the theater, but in tourist shows, he survives by doing different jobs, such as delivering food for private businesses. He lives in a precariously balanced building, but he has no money or way to move out. He relies on his natural strength and some faith in something else. “I always say that God has to have something in store for me, I don’t know what, but I have to stay here.”

Emigration was very close in the case of Alberto, a 22-year-old young man from Cienfuegos, but it has not been possible yet. He signed up, together with his parents and his brother, for the Humanitarian Parole in the month continue reading

of January, when the program was announced to go into effect. Last April, his family received notification that they had been accepted, but his name was not included in the email in which they were told the good news. He is still in Cuba, but now, instead of living in the old manor house that belonged to his grandparents, he is staying at an aunt’s house, sleeping on her couch, since his parents sold their house before leaving.

Alberto’s family, with whom he speaks twice a day, insists that he must wait for his case to be resolved, but in recent weeks he has considered leaving by way of Nicaragua or using other means to emigrate. For the first time in his life, he will spend Christmas without his parents and his brother, who avoid sending him photos of the celebrations they are already having in exile in Miami, so as not to feed him the sparrow of nostalgia.

Emelia, a 78-year-old Public Health retiree, feels “still strong” but she does not plan to emigrate. Her two daughters and her granddaughters have left in the last two years, either to the United States or Spain, but she does not want to be a burden on them at a time when they are still “taking off” on their migratory path.

Another reason Emilia is that she is reluctant to leave the family home, which has been left under her sole care. The house that her parents bought when they got married and where she was born is located near Calzada del Cerro, in Havana. Although she could still sell it and use the money to buy “an apartment like a doll’s house, with new everything,” she considers herself the guardian of the family legacy. These rainy days, the leaks have not allowed her to sleep in the first room of the house, but she has four more… all empty.

The vast majority of emigrants are young people, professionals or small businessmen, those who the Cuban Government did not allow to flourish, or who were directly harassed and persecuted for being difficult. All of them are the work force, the drive and the motor, that countries other than the one where they were born are already benefitting from. The joy for each Cuban citizen who achieves freedom leaves a bitter question: who will be left to build a new Cuba?

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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.

A Picture of Fidel Castro on Display, the Requirement for Cuban End-of-Year Sales

Authorities instructed the merchants that they should place some slogan, flag or photo of the leaders. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana | 23 December 2023 — This Saturday morning, a portrait of Fidel Castro waited for the curious people who approached one of the kiosks at the New Year’s Eve fair on Zanja Street in Central Havana. Next to the image, a pair of tennis shoes, a poor copy of the Nike brand, cost 16,000 Cuban pesos, four months’ salary for a professional. Authorities instructed the merchants to place some slogan, flag or photo of the leaders of the Communist Party in each stall.

“A lot of propaganda but everything is very expensive,” complained a young man who came to the fair to buy a new wallet. “Mine was stolen yesterday and now I’m doing the paperwork for a new identity card”, he lamented. Traditionally, during the end of the year, thefts spike “because everyone is desperate for money”, the man considers. “I’m going to have to add what I am going to spend here to what I lost because of the thief”.

“A lot of propaganda but everything is very expensive,” complained a young man who came to the fair to buy a new wallet. (14ymedio)

Others came to the fair searching for food for the Christmas celebrations. The Cuban capital’s authorities had announced the sale of agricultural products as a “salute to the upcoming 65th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution”, but at the Zanja Street Fair the supply of food, vegetables and meat was very scant. Some withered lettuce and some dirty beets made up the assortment to put on the plate. The rest were caps, clothing, footwear and personal hygiene products. continue reading

“At what price are they going to sell the broth?” an old man asked two men who were stirring a steaming pot behind a sign announcing “our challenges and our victories”. “It’s going to take a while, grandpa, because we’re starting now and when we get it out it will be 50 pesos a glass”, one of the improvised cooks responded. Under a photo of Raúl Castro, women’s handbags were displayed at prices between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos, depending on the size and the material.

Guarded by an image of Ernesto Guevara, cigar in mouth, a set of clothing for girls combined pink tones with the faces of Disney characters. Later, next to a July 26 flag, beach flip-flops were offered, also imitations of well-known brands, such as Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger. A few meters away, a Mipyme kiosk sold soft drinks and frozen chicken, all imported.

This Saturday, a few meters from the fair, the end of year summed up what Cubans are experiencing, trapped between inflation and the excesses of political propaganda.

The fair represents Cubans, trapped between inflation and the excesses of political propaganda. (14ymedio)

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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 Alleged Murderer of ‘Snow White’, a Well-Known Cuban Drag Queen, Is Arrested

After the first investigations, the authorities confirmed that the cause of death was a stab wound to the lung.  (Luis Alberto Castillo/Facebbok)

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14ymedio, Havana, 16 December 2023 — Rudy, a Cuban drag queen known in the LGBTI community as Blancanieves, (Snow White) was murdered this Thursday by his partner, who was arrested shortly after by the Police. The crime, which could be classified as femicide when the details are known, occurred in the town of Santiago de las Vegas, in the province of Havana, where the victim lived with Yordano, who caused her violent death with a knife.

After the first investigations, the authorities confirmed that the cause of death was a stab wound to the lung. According to Cubanet, the testimony of a neighbor states that Blancanieves and Yordano returned home in the early morning hours and had a heated argument while the former’s cries for help could be heard. However, no one came to offer help because they claim that the couple often had heated fights.

On Friday morning, upon noticing a suspicious attitude on the part of Yordano, who said that Blancanieves had gone on a trip, the neighbors decided to go to the house, where they found the body and immediately called the Police. When the aggressor returned to the scene, they detained him and handed him over to the authorities, according to this same version of the events.

No one came to offer help because they claim that the couple repeatedly had heated fights.

Last June, 14ymedio published a story about the murder of a 30-year-old trans woman, Samira Lescar, known as La Loba, at the hands of her ex-partner, who refused to leave the relationship. La Loba died from the four stab wounds that were inflicted on her, one of which fell directly on her heart. continue reading

In November, the platforms also reported a violent attack against a transsexual woman in Cárdenas, an event that Alas Tensas then considered an attempted trans-feminicide. It was Roxana Suárez, 22 years old, who suffered several skull fractures and had to be transferred to the Faustino Pérez hospital in Matanzas in serious condition.

The work of feminist groups and their dissemination in independent media has contributed to making visible the cases of sexist murders and of women who have disappeared in recent years.

This Saturday, Alas Tensas and Yo Sí Te Creo in Cuba included in their registry of femicides the murder of Yamilet de Jesús Domínguez Torres from Holguín, a case that 14ymedio reported last December 13. After verifying the manner of her death, they indicated that her body was found buried under the floor of her own house after being reported missing on November 24.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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’s Decline: Where There Were Rolex, Towels Remain

If clients could access the Riviera House before, with its mix of neoclassical and baroque styles and its employees in suits and ties, now sales take place at the door and in a hurry. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 5 October 2023 — A woman carries a large wad of bills in her hand. She doesn’t bother to protect the thousands of Cuban pesos because, what was once a large sum of money, today barely becomes a few purchases. Adjacent to the peculiar façade, a dozen people lined up this Thursday in front of the former Casa Riviera, an exclusive store on Galiano #456 in Centro Habana, which once sold Rolex watches and jewelry, but which has now been rented to a small private company that offers sheets, cloth wipes for cleaning floors and towels.

A few meters before reaching the store, the symbols of its former class can be distinguished. The imposing entrance gate, the small stained-glass windows decorated with flowery frames where the expensive jewels used to be displayed. The rough stone columns support the entrance hall that used to have beautiful granite floors and today shows impersonal modern slabs, of poor quality and full of holes.

“My place is after the man in the blue shirt,” exclaimed an elderly woman who pledges to have “seized the rhythm” of the MSME* [small private business]. “They sell a little cheaper than elsewhere, so many people come here to buy in quantities and take them away to resell”, she explains to 14ymedio. After years of being closed due to problems with sewage pipes and lack of supplies, the old Riviera began to be managed by individuals a few weeks ago. continue reading

If previously its customers could access the property, with its mix of neoclassical and baroque styles and its employees in suits and ties, now selling takes place at the door and with haste

A bedsheet with two pillow cases, made with a high percentage of polyester and at 1,300 pesos, ($54.60) is displayed at the entrance counter. If before clients could access the property, with its mix of neoclassical and baroque style, and its employees in suits and ties, now selling takes place at the door and in a hurry. “Come on, whose turn is it?” the saleswoman tried to speed up the line, somewhat overwhelmed by the questions from those crowding the counter. Behind her, the interior of the legendary watch and jewelry store was still visible, with its light marbles, its elaborate capitals and a narrow staircase that gave way to the majestic mezzanine.

“Give me ten towels!” A customer shouted and her voice echoed through the walls of the business that initially operated under the Abislaimán e Hijos brand, the exclusive distributor of Rolex watches in Cuba. “Don’t crowd together, I can’t even breathe that way!” the employee demanded when the line got out of control and overwhelmed her. The majority of those who stood in line were humble people, who are willing to get up early to make a few pesos difference on the resale of merchandise.

A bed sheet with two pillow cases, with a high percentage of polyester priced at 1,300 pesos, is displayed at the entrance counter. (14ymedio)

Casa Riviera was not the only business of Julio Abislaimán Fade’s family. His daughter Alicia and her husband Manuel Hernández managed the also exclusive Chantilly jewelry store in a central location on San Rafael Street in Havana. When the confiscations began after Fidel Castro came to power, the clan of businessmen packed their bags and went to Puerto Rico. There, they registered the company as Chantilly Joyeros and, although a good part of the descendants of those Cuban emigrants moved to the United States, the Abislaimán Joyas firm, niece of the Casa Riviera in Havana, still operates in ”La Isla del Encanto” (Puerto Rico).

“If you don’t get organized, the sale will have to stop”, an anxious saleswoman shouted this Thursday, unable to control the customers’ disorder. Next to her, two of the armored glass and bronze-framed windows, which more than half a century ago showed the shiny Rolexes, this morning had a rusty hook for hanging pillowcases and kitchen rags.

*Translator’s note: Literally, “Micro, Small, Medium Enterprise.” The expectation is that it is also privately managed, but in Cuba this may include owners/managers who are connected to the regime.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Instead of a Day of Mourning in Cuba, a Conga Carnival a Few Blocks From the Fatal Lamparilla Building Collapse

Conga Carnival on Obispo y Villegas Streets, in Old Havana, a few blocks from the collapsed building on Lamparilla where people died. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerJuan Diego Rodríguez, Havana | 5 October 2023 — “Farewell, oh, oh, farewell.” The conga troupe going up and down Obispo Street this Thursday in Old Havana was the same one that every day, accompanied by stilt walkers, playing drums and singing, cheer up the tourists, always plentiful in the historic center of the capital. The difference is that today is not like every day nor is Obispo Street just any place.

Today is just one day after a building collapsed on Lamparilla Street, taking with it three lives, those of firefighters Yoandra Suárez López and Luis Alejandro Llerena Martínez, and that of an elderly man, Ramón Páez Frómeta.  And Obispo Street, where the conga is parading this Thursday, is just two blocks from the site of the tragedy, walking a little down Villegas Street.

Obispo Street, where the conga is parading this Thursday, is just two blocks from the site of the tragedy, walking a little down Villegas Street

“The dead man to the hole and the living man to the chicken”*, an onlooker exclaimed under her breath as she saw the musicians passing by, dressed in bright colors. “I’m not saying that they declare National Day of Mourning, but at least have a little respect and say: “hey, no conga today,” the lady continued.

In the corners adjacent to the collapsed building, located on Lamparilla, between Aguacate and Villegas, a strong police operation continues this Thursday, although they lifted the one at La Plaza del Cristo. When she saw the number of agents, the woman on Obispo Street said: “The only thing they are interested in is that tourists do not come to the collapse and take photos of what this place is really like.”

 *Translator’s note: El Viejo al hoyo y el hombre al pollo.  Popular Cuban phrase meaning someone dies and life goes on.

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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 Dream of a Proletarian Home in Cuba Sinks in San Miguel del Padron

The potholes in the streets filled with water, and the mud reached the deteriorated sidewalks in the Workers’ Neighborhood of San Miguel del Padrón, in Havana. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 20 September 2023 — Electrical storm this Tuesday night in Havana only aggravated what is already “a normal state of things” in the Barrio Obrero of San Miguel del Padrón, in Havana. The potholes in the streets filled with water, mud reached the deteriorated sidewalks and garbage that had not been collected for weeks floated and was scattered throughout the area. Winds cut off the electrical service, which only returned this Wednesday at mid-morning.

Located in the Rocafort Popular Council, the Barrio Obrero is experiencing the worst moment that its residents remember. “This has been abandoned”, says Ramiro, who lives in one of the three-story buildings that were built on the site in the 1980s. At that time, the neighborhood was projected as part of “Havana of the Future”, with modern and affordable apartments for workers of the several nearby industries. But many of those factories no longer exist and the infrastructure around the buildings has remained in the engineers’ plans.

Around the buildings, neighbors have expanded their houses’ space, and improvised structures and parking areas made of tin with lightweight covers also abound everywhere. The initial workers who received those apartments are today the grandparents of young people who have no opportunity to rent or buy their own roof, except by emigrating.

“You walk and walk and there is nowhere to buy anything”, complained a young woman who came to the place to look at a house for sale, one of the many offered on classified sites “with everything inside” continue reading

“You walk and walk and there is nowhere to buy anything,” complained a young woman who came to the place to look at a house for sale, one of the many that are being offered through classified sites “with everything inside.” The houses, small but comfortable, sell for $5,000, with furniture and appliances included, a clear symptom of the desperation of owners to auction off the property as soon as possible, probably to leave the country.

The potential buyer, however, came back to her senses “as soon as she saw the panorama of this working-class Neighborhood,” she lamented. A good part of the trees that provided shade for walkers have been cut down or have fallen during a hurricane. At night “you can’t even see your hands,” Ramiro warns, and “to buy food you have to leave here because what is available is little and expensive,” he adds.

“Boys meet in La Herradura park because there is nothing else to do on weekends,” a mother of two teenagers tells 14ymedio. “Not even taxi drivers want to drive here after a certain hour, because they say it’s a dangerous area,” explains the woman. Not much remains of that Barrio Obrero neighborhood with smiling and hardworking proletarians, in the style of images of socialist realism. Now it is a place which the majority of its residents want to leave, as soon as possible, towards another Havana municipality, or to the other side of the Straits of Florida.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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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 Decline of Lawton, the Cuban Capital’s Industrial and Prosperous Neighborhood

Beyond the railroad bordering the distillery, Lawton’s rum industry suffered the same fate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson García, Havana, 16 September 2023 — Ruins attest to Lawton’s former splendor: abandoned factories, buildings reduced to rubble and the famous “Scandinavian castles”, on the verge of collapsing. For the neighbors, the deterioration of the neighborhood, located in the municipality of Diez de Octubre, until becoming one of the most dangerous places in Havana, has a start date: 1959.

Omar, who has lived in Lawton since the Special Period, points out an inhospitable area on the corner of F and 12 Street. “The fish processing plant used to be there,” he tells 14ymedio. “Packages of lobsters, shrimp and many other seafood came out of that place”.

If the grass grows now and the garbage accumulates, the main complaint is because of poor planning by the Government. “In 1980, the processing plant ceased to exist and was converted into workshops of the Metal and Electrical Construction Company (COMELEC),” he says. The plan came to nothing after the fall of the Soviet Union, and after being closed for a while, it was decreed that everything be demolished.

“They said they were going to build houses for the workers”, recalls Omar, who used to work at COMELEC. “Thirty years have gone by: Where are they?”

The most obvious sign of decay is found in what remains of the neighborhood’s three famous “European” chalets. (14ymedio)

Not far from the processing plant stands the tower of the old Havana distillery, built during the sugar boom of 1945. “The factory produced various types of alcohol until, once nationalized, the mechanism that channeled the hot water kept breaking down, causing the liquid to overflow from the boilers and begin to accumulate around the factory”, he explains. “First came the unpleasant smells and then the mosquitoes. It didn’t take long for this to fill with ditches and swamps until, eventually, they closed the distillery”. continue reading

Beyond the railroad bordering the distillery, Lawton’s rum industry suffered the same fate. “Everything is extinct here,” Omar summarizes.

The paint factory that the American company Sherwin Williams installed in Lawton – right next to the distillery – was confiscated by Fidel Castro’s Government in 1960 and first reassigned to the Electric Company, and then to the Geysel Power Plant.

Rigo, age 56 and a former worker at the also dismantled Lawton slaughterhouse, highlights the contrast between Geysel’s “painted and cared-for” building and the premises that once served as a paint warehouse. “The neglect is such that several trees have grown”, he says. A skeleton of beams and columns, as well as a series of rusty tanks, rises in what was once the Siporex prefabricated block industry.

“The only thing that works in Lawton, and barely, is the Siré Cookie Factory,” he says, alluding to one of the first industries in the neighborhood, built by Cuban Mariano Siré in 1927, and also expropriated by Castro.

A series of rusty tanks rises in what was once the Siporex prefabricated block industry. (14ymedio)

One of the most emblematic cases of Lawton’s decay is that of the Antonio Maceo slaughterhouse, which became, after its abandonment in 2000, a mecca for illegal dog fighting and drug dealing. Several families have settled in the other rooms and offices, and even after two decades, they have not managed to overcome their two main problems: crime and constant threats of eviction.

Ramón, 69, remembers perfectly the decline of Lawton’s three bus depots: “There is only one left and it is practically a cemetery”, he concludes. The neighborhood also lost its fertilizer plant, and two other oxygen and acetylene plants, closed since the 1960s due to the Castro “phenomenon,” he says.

But the most obvious sign of decay is found in what remains of the three famous “European” chalets in the neighborhood, built at the beginning of the 20th century, although details of their construction or their former owners are not known. One of them served as a restaurant, supplied by meat from the slaughterhouse; another was a school, which was soon closed. During the Special Period, the Government located several families there, who modified the structure of two of the “little castles”, while the third is in a state of collapse.

“They used to be the symbol of Lawton,” says Ramón. “Now they are like the rest of the neighborhood: withered and forgotten.”

Skeleton of beams and columns from the old Siporex factory. (14ymedio)

Translated by Norma Whiting
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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.

‘Cachita’ Goes for a Walk Through Havana Under the Watchful Eye of the Political Police

This is the second procession after the suspensions of public activities forced by the pandemic. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana | 8 September 2023 — With more needs but equal enthusiasm, Havana residents gathered this Friday at the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre Church on the corner of Manrique and Salud, in Centro Habana. Inflation and mass exodus have marked the day dedicated to Cachita*, the Patroness Saint of Cuba, in modest and heavily monitored celebrations.

“I managed to buy a small bouquet of sunflowers for 500 pesos, but I was lucky because most are between 700 and 1,500”, an elderly woman told 14ymedio.  She came to Mass in the central church that every September 8 pays tribute to “the mother of all Cubans”.

From Avenida Galiano, metal fences and several police officers controlled the passage to the Havana temple where thousands of people attend every September 8 to pay tribute. This year the date has coincided with a deep economic crisis, which has cut back on the offerings left on the altar at the entrance of the church.

Outside the temple, dozens of people waited for the image of Cachitato emerge to follow it in a procession through Zanja, Galiano and Reina streets and finally back to Manrique. A route in which flower petals are thrown from the balconies and the Cuban State Security tightly controls the passage of the devotees.

“I managed to buy a small bouquet of sunflowers for 500 pesos, but I was lucky because most are between 700 and 1,500”

After half past five in the afternoon the image of the Virgin appeared through the door of the church and was received with songs, applause and raised hands holding mobile phones trying to capture the moment. A vehicle with loudspeakers was waiting for Cachita and people alternately dressed in yellow and white clothes in the crowd, symbols of the Virgin who, in African religions, is syncretized with Oshun. continue reading

“What I want is for you to bring me luck on the journey I have to undertake,” repeated a young woman to the image, one of the first devotees with a sunflower in her hand, as soon as she descended the stairs of the temple. “I already set your yellow candle for you and now I need you to accompany me on the road. Little Virgin, go with me”, she repeated.

The crowd’s passage was guarded by the evident presence of State Security agents dressed in civilian clothes. This is the second procession after the suspensions of public activities forced by the pandemic and comes at a time of great popular unrest due to inflation, lack of cash and mass departures from the Island.

“My daughter is crossing right now through Nicaragua,” says Nieves, a 62-year-old Havana native who has been left in charge of her two granddaughters. “Our Virgin of Charity knows about that, she accompanies the rafters and everyone who leaves here, so I come to ask you to guide my daughter until she reaches her goal”.

Next to Nieves, two teenagers pointed their phones at the image of the Virgin. The Instagram and Tik Tok generation also mark a day where many had empty hands where before there were candles, bouquets of flowers or images. The crisis has turned this procession into a moment for minimalism. Some didn’t even get to the procession and were content with the photos.

At her house in Lawton, Mercedes de la Caridad preferred to wait for a couple of friends to send her the images of the procession. “With what it costs me for a round trip by car, I buy candles, candy and flowers for Cachita to put here”, she says. Next to the image of the saint, a sweet meringue, cascarilla and honey close the syncretism with which Mercedes lives her religiosity.

“The sunflowers have been very small this year”, laments a seller of flowers and other religious supplies who has a small table on Salud Street. “I buy from others and what has arrived in Havana is all like this, small and expensive. People complain, but for us the prices have risen a lot too. It is not a whim; it is what a sunflower is worth right now”.

“What I want is for you to bring me luck on the journey I have to undertake”

On the corners, agents in plainclothes stood out from the surroundings. Among the ruling party’s fears through the last two years is that the procession will become the scene of some demand for the release of political prisoners, which, since the protests of July 11, 2021, have increased to more than a thousand.

For the rest, from the beginning, the day has been influenced by complaints. The director of the Daughters of Charity in Cuba, Nadieska Almeida, published a text this Thursday on Facebook in which she summarized her wishes: “I want a free people. I want a government in dialogue. I want inclusion in this Cuba house. I want possibilities for everyone. “I want to dream again”.

“Where do we look when what surrounds us is hunger, abandonment, permanent flight from a country where it’s increasingly difficult to breathe? How can we stay here by choice? How can we find meaning in this senselessness?” questioned the religious nun, one of the most critical Catholic voices in Cuba.

Father Alberto Reyes, a priest, also described the current moment harshly, and extended his request to the Virgin to “help us get rid of so many omnipresent written, broadcast, televised… official lies, so much institutionalized falsehoods, so much sham that only serves to feed social paralysis”.

Dominican Priest Léster Rafael Zayas, for his part, asked his parishioners if Cubans had done “something wrong” to deserve that, in Cuba, “something has broken definitively.” He lamented the thousands of “fewer voices” in Cuba, after leaving on “planes that leave for Nicaragua… on a one-way trip: the backpacks of those who travel say so”. “What have we done wrong that young people do not feel proud of being Cuban?” He questioned. His response: “To silently approve with our lowered heads what is not right. What we have done wrong is to let fear overcome us, and lies take over all areas of our lives.”

Furthermore, he alluded to “young Cubans, who prefer to go to fight in Ukraine to obtain Russian nationality”. “What do we have to do with the Russians?” He added, criticizing those who let themselves be carried away by the “slogans”.

At this Friday’s mass at the Church of the Charity, Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, cardinal and current Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Cristóbal de la Habana, was present. With his sparse, uncharismatic style, the priest limited himself to asking for the blessing of the Virgin for everyone and starting the procession immediately after.

The rest of the way was mixed with emotion, pleas and attentive looks from the police. For those who could not be in the procession in Havana, there was the possibility of following the mass at the National Sanctuary of La Virgen de La Caridad del Cobre, in Santiago de Cuba, starting at 8:45 pm this Friday. On the same television schedule where religion was stigmatized for decades, this Friday, Cachita will be able to be seen.

*Translator’s note: Nickname often used in Cuba for “Caridad,” the word for “charity.”

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