State Violence and the Sin of Complicity

Yaira Jiménez Roig / Karla Pérez González (Photo: Twitter)

Miriam Celaya, Havana Cuba, 31 March 2021 ─ The case of young Karla Pérez González, who had to complete her studies as a journalist in Costa Rica after being expelled from a Cuban university for political reasons is the most recent example of selective exile applied by the Cuban dictatorial regime against one of our compatriots. The Cuban authorities denied her re-entry into the country when she was already in the flight’s technical stopover phase at Panama’s Tocumen Airport to continue to Havana.

The rest of the episode is well known: the solidarity with Karla reflected profusely on social networks, the presence of several colleagues at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanding explanations and the ambiguous press statement of the spokeswoman for said ministry justifying the “no reinsertion” of the journalist in her own country.

Apart from the absurd legal considerations -which are not “legitimate”- established in the highly controversial Migration Law, by virtue of which those born in Cuba lose all rights at the end of the two years from the date they leave the country, the truth is that Karla’s case is far from being an exception. continue reading

The right of admission and the exit permit for Cubans is one of the regime’s oldest and most widely used instruments of political control and blackmail, despite the apparent “flexibility” introduced by the 2013 immigration reform, which merely consisted of an extension of the “permit” to stay abroad, from 11 months and 29 days to two years. What was formerly known as the “white card” (or exit permit), was not eliminated in practice but instead mutated and remained latent under the rhetorical figure of “regulation,” which maintains, at the government’s discretion, the permit or denial of departure from the country.

This is how, against all rights, the character of a prison fiefdom has been maintained by the will of the dictatorial elite. Today, it constitutes one of the most abusive measures applied against Cubans, both inside and outside the Island, which is why it is doubly surprising that there are still those who try to justify this other form of state violence, especially when the incident comes from an independent press site that can be accessed from inside Cuba.

To some extent, accrediting this and other habitual outrages of the Castro regime, by placing responsibility for the outrage on the victim, and arguing a supposed “lack of citizen training” to confront the State in these “critical episodes” is incomprehensible nonsense, to say the least.

According to Maykel González Vivero, author of this nonsense, Karla herself sealed her fate by “accepting the function of victim” and returning to Costa Rica with refugee status. The naive journalist believes that Karla – mired in legal limbo and completely defenseless at the Panamanian airport – should have said “I have no country other than Cuba.” Instead, he reproaches her for having declared, since her return to San José, “Costa Rica is my new homeland,” thus resolving what he believes would otherwise have been a “diplomatic crisis” that would have allowed her entry in Cuba.

Definitely, some people tend to reverie. Over the years, examples abound about Cubans adrift around many of the world’s airports without a diplomatic crisis arising from it. The article in question does not provide us with elements to suppose that, in Karla’s case, the question would be different.

Nevertheless, up to that point, only a sin of naivety or absentmindedness, typical of an impulse of goodwill could be attributed to the Tremenda Nota article that, involuntarily, twisted the way. If it were not for some inexplicable reason, the author took the opportunity to mix in the same text the hunger strike carried out by a group of young people from the San Isidro Movement (MSI) and the failed and most recent attempt at dialogue by 27N [27 November] with the cultural authorities. In all cases, he accuses the protagonists of having aided “the justification for violence.”

“This predisposition to feel defenseless, to justify our defeat in the face of an arbitrary government, is one of the attitudes that make any claim of the citizenry fail.”

Maykel makes mention of “citizenship” as if more than 60 years of totalitarian dictatorship had not torn apart the entire civic fabric of Cuba, as if there existed in Cuba rights of expression and free association, as if we had legal mechanisms to defend ourselves and as if the frequent arrests, beatings, and jail sentences against dissidents were merely timid excesses and not the violence of a colossal state against a society whose glimpses at citizenship have barely begun to sprout.

In the case of the San Isidro Movement, González Vivero understands that the group “was politically discredited” for starting a hunger strike that “they were not willing to sustain,” while the 27N “justified” the violence of the police and institutional officials by refusing to enter to the Ministry of Culture for dialogue.

Thus, the note conveniently omits events as significant as that the raid on the MSI headquarters occurred when some of its members were still on hunger strike, and that police violence against 27N had preceded the attempt at dialogue with a strong operation, closing of streets, mobilization of the repudiating militias and several arbitrary and brutal arrests against activists which prevented them from reaching the place.

Such a trap – which González Vivero does not ignore – could not be the propitious framework for dialogue, hence the reluctance of the activists to enter the Ministry’s headquarters. Attributing to them, in addition, some of the responsibility for the violence unleashed against them is not only false and harmful, but represents an accomplice wink to the dictatorial regime, whether or not that is the author’s intention.

Furthermore, seeking justifications for the violence that the State has been exercising against Cubans for decades is to tarnish the memory of all those who, over four generations, have suffered firing squads, jail, torture, family fracture, hunger, poverty, blackmail and numerous other forms of violence that the Castro regime has committed and continues to carry out.

To some extent, all we Cubans have been victims of the dictatorship, although some of us rebelled against it and others, like González Vivero, are not even aware of it. May their sins be limited to that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Young Cuban Commits Suicide in Holguin After Being Fined 5,000 Pesos for Selling Bananas

Small scale vendors like this one display their wares on makeshift platforms (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 31 March 2021 — Just over 10 years ago, on 17 December 2010, in a town in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street vendor, died by setting fire to himself after the police confiscated his fruit stand. Two days ago, on March 29, in the town of Guaro, in the Holguin municipality of Mayarí, another pushcart vendor, Jorge Cachón Martínez, hanged himself after the authorities fined him 5,000 pesos and seized the bananas he sold on the street.

The activist Teresa Miranda denounced on her social networks the suicide of Cachón Martínez, only 25 years old. The publication was shared by several Internet users who criticized the way in which the Government attacks pushcart and street vendors.

According to the testimony published by Miranda, the young man, who was “orphaned of his mother and father,” was fined for selling food on the street. Cachón Martínez did not have a license to market agricultural products on an itinerant basis, and in addition to the fine, some bananas were seized from him. continue reading

“Here many people are regretting what has happened, and of course, everyone agrees that what they did to him was an abuse,” Miranda told 14ymedio from Guaro. “They found him hanged on Monday and immediately buried him under the pretext of Covid,” he said.

Two independent farmers’ organizations also denounced the suicide, the League of Independent Farmers and the Cuba section of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (Flamur). “The anti-Cuban mafia that misgoverns the country has thrown tens of thousands of people into extreme poverty and misery, suddenly and dramatically devalued their purchasing power and has ignored their needs for medicine and food,” they said in a statement.

“It intends to economically corral, with exorbitant and repeated fines, any citizen who takes an initiative simply to save their loved ones from this national shipwreck. To top it all, the members of those few mafia families that have taken over the country make a public display of their lives of luxuries and waste,” added the organizations.

In their text, they argue that “the fines finance the repression” and pay the salaries “of the henchmen who impose them in an abusive and arbitrary manner.” The independent farmers demand that the suicide of Jorge Cachón Martínez, “who preferred to kill himself rather than humiliating himself or begging, must put an end to these abuses.”

“No one should pay one more single fine until they respect the people and lift the internal blockade! There are no jails for so many people,” they concluded.

At the beginning of March, several residents of the Luz neighborhood, in the same province of Holguín, prevented two inspectors from seizing several agricultural products sold by a vendor on a corner of Mario Pozo street, as could be seen in a footage released on social networks.

Two videos posted on Facebook record how neighbors banded together to prevent the seizure of the merchandise, which included several products missing in state markets. The inspectors, dressed in long-sleeved blue shirts, demanded the presence of the owner of the stand, but no one responded and they had to leave.

At the end of February in Caibarién, Villa Clara, a sweet seller staged a protest after being fined 2,000 pesos. The man climbed on the roof of his sales cart, in the middle of a public road, and around him dozens of people from the town gathered who showed their support for this self-employed vendor.

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The History of the CUC, or How the Dollar’s Bastard Brother Shaped the Lives of Cubans for 27 Years

Dual currency became law in Cuba on August 13, 1993, at the most critical moment of the Special Period. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carla Gloria Colomé Santiago, New York, 28 March 2021 — The CUC has died and died young, like Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, just 27 years old. The CUC, the Cuban convertible peso or chavito, as it has also been called, would become the substitute actor of the dollar that, at times, has taken the place of an extra or a double, since it entered and left the stage at the convenience of the Cuban economic theater.

The CUC was also a kind of bastard brother of the dollar that sometimes took on a name that did not belong to it. For years we continued to call the CUC a ‘dollar’, we continued to call the coins kilitos en dolar, and openly and crudely we also called them fulas [a word that means a troublesome person].

The CUC always carried with it that lack of identity, always in the shadow of the dollar and, in the end, the legitimate brother ended up imposing himself on the bastard. continue reading

The currency, issued by the Central Bank of Cuba, began to circulate in 1994, shortly after the country bottomed out with the crisis kindly called the Special Period.

The currency, issued by the Central Bank of Cuba, began to circulate in 1994, shortly after the country hit bottom with the crisis, kindly called the Special Period, which made Cubans understand the true meaning of the word hunger.

In December 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared and the following years were particularly hard for Cuba, when important economic sectors, such as industry and agriculture, collapsed.

The Cuban Government printed money to pay wages, although many workers stopped having real activities to perform. The result was galloping inflation, which reached 200% that year and evaporated the population’s consumption capacity.

Since the Cuban peso had the capability to buy less each time, those who could replaced it with the dollar, which reached exorbitant values in the informal market. A dollar reached a cost of 150 pesos, when before it had been priced at just five. Five pesos.

The Government then decided to legalize the dollar, and a few months later, in 1994, they invented a national currency that would have parity with the US currency. For every dollar that entered the Cuban economy, a CUC would be issued, and both currencies would be used in the economy that was beginning to emerge, dependent on tourism, remittances and foreign investment.

In this way, the Government tried to isolate the dead parts of the old economy, in which the peso was used, from the new, more lucrative activities, dominated by the dollar and its bastard brother, the CUC.

Both could be used in the new Hard Currency Stores, where it was possible to find everything that did not exist in the rest of the stores.

But, true to its role as a supporting actor, already in these early years the CUC was reduced in importance against the dollar.

Tourists, who began to arrive in the millions, could pay with dollars. State companies linked to tourism or foreign investment could maintain bank accounts in dollars and use them to buy items abroad.

The dollar had purchasing power and the challenge was how to get it working.

From the United States, it was easier for exiles to send foreign currency to their relatives, thanks, in part, to services by Western Union, which began operating in Cuba at the end of 1995.

Over time, remittances would become one of the most important income sources for the country.

During the 90’s, these measures brought some stability to the country, where three currencies coexisted simultaneously, although in reality it was divided between those who had dollars and the rest

During the 90’s, these measures brought some stability to the country, where three currencies coexisted simultaneously, although in reality it was divided between those who had dollars and the rest.

The CUC was born within an emergency context, but with the new century, it started positioning itself in the Island’s economy.

Dollar usage by Cuban State-owned companies had not gone unnoticed by the United States, which, in May 2004, imposed a $100 million fine on a Swiss bank for operating dollar transactions with Cuba and other sanctioned countries.

It was a warning from the George W. Bush Administration that motivated the Cuban authorities to take the next step: the dollar would take a back seat, and the CUC would be the central character.

Since 2003, the CUC had been imposed as the currency with which state companies had to operate, but in November 2004 it was decided that the dollar would stop circulating as currency for the purchase of goods and, from now on, only CUC or Cuban pesos (CUP) were to be used.

Circulation of the dollar in Cuba was not prohibited, although its use, especially cash payments, was discouraged by creating a 10% exchange tax. Dollar bank accounts continued to exist.

From then on, the reign of the CUC in the country began, and Cubans were divided between those who had convertible pesos and the rest.

With the Cuban peso you could pay in certain places, with the CUC in almost all of them. Even if the sale was not in CUC, if the seller saw that you had such a currency, his eyes would take on a shine and he would sell you the product, valuing the convertible peso, for example, at Cuban 23 pesos, when the official exchange rate was 25.

The most palpable example were the taxi drivers in Havana. Who never rode in an almendrón* (taxi), and on reaching your final destination, if payment was in CUC, the change was always in Cuban pesos and less than the amount than you actually expected?

If you dared to voice a claim, the taxi driver would seriously answer that that was the exchange rate at which he accepted CUC’s and if you did not agree, the option was to pay with Cuban pesos, which you were not carrying. Then you had no choice but to slam the door of the ’57 car (or even earlier) and leave, the driver being right or not.

There were CUC coins in 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents, equivalent to 1, 2, 5 and 10 Cuban pesos, respectively. Those coins were the well-known dollar kilitos en dolar which every Cuban child asked his father to keep. As for the bills, they circulated in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 convertible pesos, equivalent to the price that the seller considered convenient to set, with respect to the Cuban peso.

The CUC, which never went beyond Cuba’s borders and was forbidden to be taken abroad, brought us not a few joys and sorrows, like everything in life

The CUC, which never went beyond Cuba’s borders and was forbidden to be taken abroad, brought us not a few joys and sorrows, like everything in life.

If you managed to score one of those jobs where they paid you 450 Cuban pesos and 10 CUC, you were still a very poorly paid worker and, even so, you were one of the luckiest workers in your neighborhood, in your municipality, even in your province. The rest of the workers received their full salary in Cuban pesos.

The sad phenomenon of “job reorientation” also appeared around this time, according to which, if you had attended university and had an academic degree, you would earn less than the person who worked in the gastronomic sector or as the driver or chef for an embassy, who, in general, had earnings in the coveted CUC.

With the CUC, the figure of the “reseller” was also born, an illegal trade that Cubans invented to buy and sell dollars indistinctly from CUC on the black market, always at a better rate than that of the banks or the Cadeca, the State exchange houses.

In Cuba, there were stores where everything was worth one CUC: putting on fake nails cost one CUC; private English classes cost one CUC per hour; the bumper carts at Varadero amusement park cost one CUC; on Teacher’s Day, each classroom collected a CUC for the collective gift. And so, we adapted to speaking in the language of that currency.

The CUC was a kind of opium for Cubans: it had the ease to separate you, to alienate you with apparently simple numbers. For example, being told that a pair of shoes cost 20 CUC was not the same as telling you that the same pair cost 500 pesos. They got us used to low figures, thus coloring us with chaos and misery.

Tourists came to the country and did not understand the reason for so many currencies and so many exchange rates for each one of them. How to explain this whole complex system to foreign visitors, if we barely understood it ourselves?

An ordinary citizen who received a CUC or a dollar as a remittance could exchange it for 24 or 25 pesos. On the other hand, for a worker in the Mariel Special Development Zone, each CUC earned, in theory, was converted into 10 pesos. While for State companies’ accounting purposes, the dollar, the CUC and the peso were comparable.

The result of this was a country in which there was an incentive to import everything, sell it in CUC and continue importing. Exporting or producing for the local market was impossible. And the problem of wages in the State sector did not seem to have a solution. With salaries that became 20 or 30 CUC, you could hardly buy those same imported products.

The panorama was shaping the new economy, which little by little stopped producing food or industrial products that the domestic market needed.

These could always be imported as long as tourism continued to flow, while Cubans continued to emigrate to the country where they could earn dollars, and while Venezuela and other countries continued to contract for medical services.

That the CUC was destined to die began to be sensed in 2011, when the Congress of the Communist Party approved the so-called Guidelines, which ruled that the country should “conclude” the monetary and exchange unification.

That the CUC was destined to die began to be sensed in 2011, when the Congress of the Communist Party approved the so-called Guidelines, which ruled that the country should “conclude” the monetary and exchange unification.

By then it was becoming clear that multiple exchange rates were a problem and the parity between the CUC and the dollar was no longer real. For years, new CUC bills had been printed without being backed in dollars.

State companies could no longer convert them into dollars, but relied on documents called Liquidity Certificates issued by the Government, which defined which CUCs were equivalent to dollars and which were not.

But in Cuba, these types of changes, if they happen, usually happen slowly. In fact, it took almost ten years, the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and the arrival of a global pandemic that ended tourism (at least temporarily), for the unification to be “complete.”

The last decade would be that of the decline of the CUC. Like a patient diagnosed with a terminal illness, the CUC lived on, knowing that its days were numbered.

In 2014, the government announced that it had created a plan to unify the two national currencies, something that would happen on what was called Day Zero. That would be the CUC’s death date and the birth of the Cuban peso as the only currency in circulation.

From then on, the supposed and imminent arrival of Day Zero became a recurring rumor that hung over the life of the CUC.

In 2016, the official media published articles stating that the decision could not be postponed.

In 2017, Raúl Castro, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and then President of the country, said that the solution to the problem “cannot be delayed any longer”.

But it was not only delayed, but in October 2019, the authorities once again turned to selling products in dollars. History, as they say, is cyclical. The country again had three currencies: Cuban peso, CUC, and the US dollar.

It became clear, then, that even if the CUC were eliminated on Day Zero, there would still be more than one currency in the country.

Initially, only domestic appliances, vehicle parts and other products that were defined as “high-end” were traded in foreign currency. Then, in July of 2020, stores opened, selling all kinds of food and basic necessities.

These stores, called freely convertible currency (MLC) stores, only accept payments with magnetic cards linked to a bank account with dollars or euros. To attract the dollars to these stores, the authorities decided to withdraw the 10% tax that had weighed on the US currency.

Once the stores in MLC were opened, the stores in CUC were completely relegated, with shelves increasingly empty and their offers – already scarce – even more impoverished.

By losing its usefulness in buying basic goods, the health of the CUC entered a terminal phase. Cubans no longer knew what to do with their accounts, savings or holdings in CUC.

Many businesses no longer accepted CUCs or returned the change in pesos. As the dollar re-installed, the CUC lost value every day. At the end of 2020, the currency that one day had parity with the dollar was exchanged on the black market for half a dollar.

On December 10, 2020, it was announced that Day Zero would finally happen on January 1, 2021

On December 10, 2020, it was announced that Day Zero would finally be January 1, 2021.

The death of the CUC was announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, with Raúl Castro at his side, when he stated that what they had been cooking for years was finally starting to take off: monetary reunification or the ‘Ordering Task’, as the process has also been called lately.

For the general population, including for the self-employed, now the peso will coexist with the MLC. Income earnings will be received in the first currency, although many of the things they will need to buy will be sold in the second, as was the case in 1993.

For most State-owned companies, only the peso will exist. And they will only be able to access dollars at the same exchange rate that applies to citizens: 24 pesos for every dollar.

This will spell ruin for many of those companies, which will either disappear or will have to be rescued, authorities have said. This will also produce inflation, which according to some estimates will be between 470% and 900%, worse than was recorded in 1993, the hardest year of the Special Period.

The CUC will be relegated to the memories of Cubans, to the memories of the last 30 years, which are the memories of scarcities and of shortages.  Nevertheless, nobody will miss the CUC, which died young.  Experts and those who know have stated, however, that it should have died even younger.

*Translator’s note: Almendron is the name given to what is usually a classic American car in use as a taxi, often operating in fixed route service. The name comes from the “almond” shape of old vehicles.

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Editor’s Note: This work was supported and edited by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an independent not-for-profit organization working with the media and civil society to promote a positive change in conflict zones, closed societies and countries in transition all over the world.

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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.

Private Contractors Are What’s Keeping Cuba’s Online Shopping Site ‘TuEnvio’ Alive

Storefront at the Carlos III shopping mall processing deliveries of “combos” purchased through the delivery service TuEnvío. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, March 22, 2021 – The Cuban delivery platform TuEnvío could have used the pandemic as an opportunity to develop and improve its services but, after more than a year, the consensus is that the platform is a disaster. Even the state-run news site Cubadebate acknowledges as much. The problems are less technological and more about its supply and business model. The one bright spot is the introduction of private transportation workers, a move which has greatly improved customer satisfaction.

“The use of private delivery services has been very well received. It has allowed delivery times to be reduced to a few days and reduced delays,” admits the news site in a special report published on Monday.

“In the past, deliveries always arrived on a Cimex truck but for some time now they’ve been coming in vans, private motorcycles and vintage sedans,” says a customer who frequently uses the service. continue reading

However, an employee at the TuEnvío storefront in the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall claims that, though the company contracted with a private-sector worker to deliver orders, it never contacted him after signing the agreement. He reports that the store at this location almost exclusively uses drivers from RentCar, who typically work in the tourism sector, augmented with a few freelance drivers.

According to Cubadebate, 772,612 users downloaded the government’s online shopping app. Though more than 96,000 did the same to receive alerts from Telegram, which lists items for sale in stores, sales have totaled only about 14,000 to 15,000 according to figures released by TuEnvío.

The state-run Telegram group not only alerts customers when an order has been shipped but also reviews their comments and complaints. It diligently censors any swear words, which are common, and immediately deletes any criticisms of state institutions.

“All I did was recommend a private food delivery service and not only did they delete my comments, they permanently blocked me from using TuEnvío in Havana,” laments a young woman. Unwilling to accept this outcome, she ultimately found a way to contact the Telegram website administrators directly.

“They took me to task. I had to agree to certain conditions if I wanted to be readmitted. No political comments, no criticism of the government and no ads for private delivery services. I stayed for a few days, got tired of it and left on my own accord,” she adds.

But being censored was not the only thing that annoyed this user. “There’s a bunch of computer scientists, who are friends of the site’s administrators, and they have figured out how to hoard items sold through the app. They control everything so the chance that a user who doesn’t know what strings to pull will come out ahead are minimal.”

“What I don’t understand is how privately run sites like Cuballama and AlaMesa can put a well-balanced meal on your table a few hours after you order it but a powerful state-run outfit like TuEnvio can’t,” wrote one Telegram user minutes before his comments were deleted. “The difference is obvious: private delivery services earn actual dollars while TuEnvío is playing with fake money, Cuban pesos.”

The platform was created by Cimex in 2019. By the end of that year the site had gone from a hundred visits a day to between 6,000 to 8,000. Shortly thereafter, company president Héctor Oroza Busutil realized just how big the impact from Covid would be. After processing 1,356 orders in February of 2020 and 6,000 in March, April’s numbers skyrocketed to 73,386. By mid-May orders already reached 78,893 and demand was growing in spite of technical problems such as “flying combos,” products which disappeard within minutes.

It seems that customer complaints about crashing webpages, delivery delays, closed combos* and lost shipments were not enough to slow the company’s growth. Though problems always seemed to be on the verge of being resolved, nothing has improved. Quite the opposite. There are now fewer products available and, judging by the numbers, the popluarity of the app has fallen sharply at a time when the Covid infection rate is worse than before.

By October, orders had fallen to 20,000. Current sales figures are even lower. On any given day in Havana, there are roughly 7,000 combos available. The Cubadebate article described this as “a figure that, unsurprisingly, helps satisfy the high demand of a city experiencing long lines and crowded stores as well as a high rate of Covid infection.”

The article raises the question of the retail sector expanding through TuEnvío and asks why there is a dearth domestically of locally produced items. It also suggests the site stop promoting imported goods, arguing that this greatly limits consumer choice.

Though the article repeatedly blames the shortages on the embargo and U.S, policies, it takes aim at what it sees as a burdensome requirement, devoid of logic, that “often forces customers to purchase products that are not really useful or essential to them.” As a result, less-used products, such as detergent, fill up warehouses while endless lines of people fill the streets because these products are in short supply.

“A parallel resale market has sprung up, which not only hits thousands of people in their pocket books but also upends government efforts to raise Cubans’ standard of living through higher wages. But just as in feudal times, the exchange and trading of merchandise by online groups has gained followers,” reads the article.

The article also addresses one of the basic problems with the app, which is technological. “In addition to repeated crashes, over saturation and shopping carts emptied before purchases have been completed, there are connection problems with banks and Transfermóvil,” it admits.

Attempts have allegedly been made to improve the situation — more infrastructure, servers, bandwidth, bots to automate the process and longer store hours — but they have not yielded results.

In parallel to what is already happening in the non-digital world, the official press is also concerned about “virtual hoarders.” “The inability to distinguish between a normal user from someone who employs computer tools to gain an advantage in the purchasing process makes a more equitable distribution among consumers impossible. Only a total redesign of the site with the output of an API that breaks out sales through the internet and APK could could solve the problem,” claim the experts.

On the plus side, they point to a geo-location system which will, if all goes well, allow the company to calculate the distance between store and home in order to more precisely determine delivery charges. The company has also opened a TuEnvio Havana and will have daily listings of what is in stock at every store in the country except Havana.

*Translators note: Combinations of completely unrelated products which must be purchased together as a group. These often include a popular item combined with other products for which there is little consumer demand.

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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.

Cement Reappears in the Shape of a Concrete Cuban Flag in Front of the U.S. Embassy

Construction of a concrete structure in the shape of the Cuban flag in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, March 29, 2021 — The cement shortage has not been an obstacle to the Cuban government’s plans to build a huge concrete flag in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The structure, some ten meters tall, is a replacement for the flag poles, badly damaged by saltwater, that once stood on the so-called Anti-Imperialist Platform.

“Rising on our Anti-imperialist Platform is this monumental work: our flag, ’that has never been mercenary,’ whose star shines more brightly now that it stands alone,” reads a statement from the contractor, the Construction and Maintenance Company (ECOM), published on its Facebook page.

The statement does not specify if an individual artist was responsible for the monument’s design or what its final dimensions might be.

The structure is being built at a time when the the price of cement is skyrocketing. Last week it was selling on the black market for more than 1,000 pesos a bag and has virtually disappeared from state-run stores, where it sells for 165 pesos. continue reading

“I saw this and kept thinking that it cannot be true. Using material for this… what’s the point? This photo is a bad joke,” reads one user’s tweet.

“Does this make any sense? While buildings in Old Havana are falling down,” writes another user on the same social media site.

Cuba is experiencing a severe economic crisis, which began before the Covid-19 pandemic, that experts describe as its worst in thirty years.

The Anti-Imperialist Platform was built in 2000 as part of Fidel Castro’s Battle of Ideas campaign, which demanded the United States return Elian Gonzalez. Sustained by the resources of his new Venezuelan ally, he also used it as an opportunity to tighten the ideological screws.

The platform was built in eighty days of uninterrupted work by 1,988 laborers, technicians, architects and engineers from various parts of the country. At the time, billions of dollars had begun flowing into the country from the government of Hugo Chavez, who was subsidizing the Cuban economy.

The Anti-Imperialist Platform has been the site of countless marches and demonstrations against the United States by Fidel Castro’s regime. After his brother Raul inherited power, the plaza became the site of concerts and artistic events. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States in December 2014 further diminished its political significance.

Over the years its proximity to the sea and the impact from hurricanes led to the installation’s decay. The flagpoles that supported the so-called sea of flags, installed in an attempt to obscure a brightly illuminated electronic billboard on the face of the embassy, had rapidly deteriorated.

In 2019 officials reported that, three years prior, waves and floods caused by Hurricane Irma had damaged all its facilities, including meeting and dressing rooms as well as the masts in the Forest of Flags.

Repairs were expected to be completed this year in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana but the economic crisis has delayed those plans. Instead, two one-story buildings are being built on the site to house meeting rooms and other spaces.

*Translator’s note: Installed by the then Bush administration, the ticker-style billboard flashed uncensored news stories to Cubans in its proximity.

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We Are Cuban Forever

Young journalist Karla Pérez had to return to Costa Rica on March 18th, after being stranded for several hours at the Panama airport, subsequent to not being allowed to board her plane to Cuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, Pinar del Río, 24 March 2021 — Young Karla María Pérez González could not enter Cuba, the country where she was born, grew up and attended school, because an authority left her stranded at the Panama airport and she had to return to Costa Rica, where she had gone to attend school after being expelled from her [Cuban] University for political reasons. The details of this case have filled the networks in recent days. Now I want to get to the bottom of the matter and highlight the perpetuity and inviolability of the Cuban condition of everyone who has been born in this land.

The 2019 Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, in force today, dedicates six articles on the subject of citizenship.  Title IV establishes:

Article 33. Cuban citizenship is acquired by birth or by naturalization.

Article 34. The following are Cuban citizens by birth:

a) Those born in the national territory, with the exception of the children of foreigners who are in the service of their government or international organizations. The law establishes the requirements and formalities for the case of children of foreigners who are not permanent residents in the country. continue reading

The acquisition of another citizenship does not imply the loss of Cuban citizenship

Article 36. The acquisition of another citizenship does not imply the loss of Cuban citizenship.

Article 38. Cubans cannot be deprived of their citizenship, except for legally established causes. The law establishes the procedure to be followed for the formalization of loss and renouncement of citizenship and what authorities are empowered to decide it.

Article 39. Cuban citizenship may be recovered after fulfilling the requirements and formalities prescribed by law.

Article 128. It corresponds to the President of the Republic to:

a) comply with and ensure respect for the Constitution and the laws;

m) decide, in the cases that concerns it, granting Cuban citizenship, accepting resignations to Cuban citizenship and disposing of deprivation of citizenship.

From these constitutional precepts we can conclude that all of us who have been born in this land and are children of Cuban parents are Cuban citizens because of our birth, as established in the aforementioned article 34, while article 38 clearly states that Cubans cannot be deprived of their citizenship except by established legal decision, which is the prerogative of only the President of the Republic.

We are, therefore, Cubans by birth and in perpetuity unless a legal process and the explicit decision of the president deprives a person of it. The person can, however, recover it according to article 39.

We are, therefore, Cubans by birth and in perpetuity unless a legal process and the explicit decision of the president deprives a person of it

So, if we are Cubans and have the same rights and duties, all those recognized by the Constitution must be respected, because no law can go against the Constitution, which is the Magna Carta that governs coexistence among all Cubans. I seem to hear some who might comment that these rules are dead paper and are frequently violated. Well, we can argue at least two things:

Without the Constitution, without laws, and without respecting it, the country is led into chaos, and peaceful coexistence becomes almost unfeasible. Therefore, even theoretically, the Constitution, legitimate or not, can, and should be an instrument of peaceful and civilized order. Otherwise, citizens would fall into total helplessness, and disorder would reign. This is not convenient to anyone, least of all to the authorities responsible for keeping the order. Whoever violates these rules of coexistence not only commits a serious crime, but also threatens national stability and peace.

That they are systematically violated, or that they are interpreted ad libitum, according to the will of those who have the duty to respect them and take care that they are respected, does not mean that these freedoms, rights and duties are not valid, necessary and convenient.

This does not apply only to Cuba; it is part of the universal legal heritage.

To freely enter and leave the country

Another of the current constitutional precepts that nothing and no one should violate because it is also common sense, incontestable ethics and jurisprudence in all countries, is that every citizen has the inviolable right to enter and leave her own country. This is what the current Constitution says in its article 52:

Article 52. People are free to enter, stay, transit and leave the national territory, change their domicile or residence, without any limitations other than those established by law.

In Cuba, a status euphemistically called “regulated” has become almost common and current.

It is in the public domain that this constitutional precept cannot be denied by a lower regulation that leaves the free will of a person, or of an organism that is not a competent court of justice in each case. However, a status euphemistically called “regulated” in Cuba has become almost common and current, which leaves the decision of non-legal persons or institutions the free decision to “regulate” the departures of the country to people who have no pending cause, neither criminal nor civil.

In the same way that we know of cases in which people who have unexpired legal causes are granted an exit permit. Now the case is that, whatever the cause, a Cuban citizen has had to be welcomed by special intervention of a country that is not her own because she has not been able to resolve an immigration procedure whatsoever if she had any. That would correspond to Cuban consulates anywhere in the world to detect it, alert it and resolve it.

Situations like these, and other similar ones in relation to the free exit or entry of the country or province where one resides or was born, only contribute to destabilization and feed mistrust, uncertainty and illegalities.

Several questions arise in these irregular situations: are they somehow justified by authorities, regulations or protocols that are contrary to the Constitution, and therefore legally unacceptable, or are they simply the errors of intermediate officials? Who is or are empowered to make these decisions that go against human rights and against the letter of the Constitution? Why have these errors or unconstitutional regulations not been corrected, if they were? What are the legal mechanisms with which citizens can claim these and other arbitrariness, or do we simply remain defenseless due to attributions of organisms of non-legal character?

The situation in Cuba is not in any condition to add to the economic, health and existential crises these types of events that produce tension and disaffection

The situation in Cuba is not in any condition to add to its economic, health and existential crises these types of events that produce tension and disaffection even greater than those that already exist in the daily life of Cubans.

Whatever the answers to these and other questions, something is clear in the universal conscience and in the international regulations which Cuba is a part of, and that is:

That we are Cubans forever, and that we have the inalienable right to enter, leave, reside and change our address simply because of our condition of being Cuban, and even more, because of our condition of being human.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Convivencia and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Cuba: One Bag of Cement Costs More Than 1,000 Pesos vs. the State Price of 165

The shortage of materials has hit home construction hard, Cuba’s Minister of Internal Trade Betsy Díaz Velázquez, acknowledged. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 March 2021 – Amid the rise in prices brought about by the ‘Ordering Task’, the prices of cement and some other construction materials will not vary, according to a report on Cuban Television’s Roundtable program this Friday. However, the product has disappeared from the State stores and is only found on the black market, where its price is increasing.

The shortage of materials has hit home construction hard, Cuba’s Minister of Internal Trade Betsy Díaz Velázquez, acknowledged. Since last January and after the economic adjustments, there has been a reduction in the sale of materials in the 343 state stores of this type that operate in the country.

“Fundamentally, products with inventories before December 31 have remained on offer” the Minister detailed, appearing with the Ministers of Industries and Construction. Even when some of these materials reach the so-called ‘remnants’, they are reserved only for subsidized clients and those affected by hurricanes, she added. continue reading

In the case of cement, the 42.5-kilogram bag of Portland P-350 maintains its price of 165 pesos, but the minister could not specify whether the product will return to the state stores that set prices in the national currency, from where it disappeared more than a year ago.

The only option to get the products at the moment is the informal market, where the price of a single bag exceeds 1,000 Cuban pesos (roughly $40 US); or go to the foreign currency stores where it costs 10 dollars and is scarce. Díaz explained that the production plan for this year is 1.02 million tons, slightly higher than 2020, but far from the 4.27 million tons that the Island produced in 1958.

“This product has a centralized wholesale price and maintains the current retailer from before the Ordering Task,” Díaz clarified. In order not to raise its price on the remnants, the State adopted the decision to “finance the losses so as not to pass on the inefficiency or obsolescence of the factories to the population.”

The minister’s statements provoked dozens of comments, most of them with complaints about the lack of supply. “Yes yes yes. All very nice. But where are those materials. If all the materials are under the counter,” lamented an Internet user on the official Cubadebate website that reproduced Díaz’s statements.

“So many subsidies from the state budget only mean that production is not going to be even remotely similar to the demand for these materials. Only what was planned will be produced,” lamented another reader who predicted that as soon as the sacks reached “the warehouses they will already have an owner and the resellers will charge a lot for these products.”

In 2019 there were six cement factories throughout the Island, but the sector has been at half-speed for decades, after the fall of the socialist camp and the end of Soviet subsidies.

In recent years, cement has become a rare “gray gold” that is eagerly sought by all those who want to repair a kitchen, modernize a bathroom or touch up a facade. Since 2018, the product barely appears in stores in Cuban pesos and is rationed in state supplies set aside for victims of natural disasters.

According to the statistical analysis site Foresight Cuba, the island occupies “the last place in terms of cement consumption per inhabitant in Latin America,” excluding Haiti, a country for which no data is available. The average consumption of Latin America in 2017 was 278 kg per inhabitant, but Cuba consumes only 45% of that average, according to data from the Inter-American Cement Federation.

The shortage was exacerbated by a tornado hitting Havana in January 2019. With thousands of homes affected, the State guaranteed a 50% discount on the cost of construction materials for people with homes damaged by the disaster in the neighborhoods of Luyanó, Regla, Guanabacoa and Santos Suárez.

With the monetary unification and the rise in many prices of products and services since January 1, the situation has worsened. Cement has become a fixture in the growing barter on classifieds sites where it is traded for pork, mobile phones and even powdered milk.

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New Controversy in Spain Around a Street Dedicated to ‘Che’ Guevara

Che Guevara Park, in the city of Zaragoza. (Google Maps)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 March 2021 — Spain’s Popular Party (PP, currently in opposition) in the municipality of Fuenlabrada, located in the Community of Madrid, will present a motion in April to ask the city government to change the name of the street dedicated to Ernesto Che Guevara. The PP proposes to replace it with the name of “healthcare professionals who have faced the pandemic.”

“Fuenlabrada cannot allow itself to be called a friendly city with LGTBI people or a city opposed to violence while we maintain a street with the name of a homophobic murderer on our street,” said the PP’s municipal spokesperson, Noelia Núñez.

With about 200,000 inhabitants, this municipality is part of the so-called “red belt” and, since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, it has only had mayors from the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE). continue reading

In the 2019 municipal elections the PSOE won 55.54% of the votes, with 16 councilors, Ciudadanos (center) 13.30%, the PP (center right) 10.91%, Vox (right) 7.20% and Unidos Podemos-Izquierda Unida-Ganar Fuenlabrada (communist) 6.54%.

For the PP, which already made a similar request in 2019, it is “an insult to citizens” that the local government “has maintained the name of said street in such a sectarian manner.” On that occasion, the proposal was to change the name of the street to that of José Pedro Perez-Llorca, one of the “fathers” of the Spanish Constitution who had died that year.

On several occasions the proposal was also put forward it in the plenary sessions of the District Board, but the request was not considered by the PSOE.

It is not the first time that the name of Che Guevara has sparked controversy in Spain, where several municipalities have dedicated streets, parks and even a statue like the one in the Galician city the one in the Galician city of Oleiros that, in 2015, was painted in the colors of the Spanish flag and the word “murderer.” It was the 4th time the monument had been vandalized since its inauguration in 2008.

Also in 2019, the Zaragoza city council was studying changing the name of a park and a street in that city after PP and Ciudadanos municipal groups supported a Vox motion on this issue. That same year, the mayor of Leganés, Santiago Llorente, responded to a request from Vox to remove a statue of Che Guevara, which he had no intention of doing and said: “It is not necessary to create controversy where there is none” because “beyond specific acts of Che, this monument represents a movement that developed in many towns and that was identified with the need for freedom.”

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And What Will You Ask of Biden?

“Americans should also demand of their president to be a watchman of respect for human rights throughout the world.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Desde Aqui, Havana, 22 March 2021 — Some friends often ask me “And what will you ask of Biden?”

Since Mr. Joe Biden was proclaimed President of the United States, he has received various petitions in his White House office, some public, others private. From the interior of his country, he has been asked to take decisions related to the pandemic, the sale of weapons, racial discrimination; from the borders, emigres shout for him to open the doors, and wherever the world’s highest power plays a role in its international politics, be it Hong Kong, Syria, Israel, Russia, China or Afghanistan, requests of various tendencies arise.

As far as Cuba is concerned, the range of requests covers the entire spectrum of political debate and is expressed both in ways of requests as well as suggestions and even demands.

Basically, two trends can be identified with their intermediate points.

One of them is in favor of maintaining, including intensifying, trade restrictions, sanctions, inclusion in the list of countries that collaborate with terrorism, suspension of travel and remittances. The other favors full reestablishment of diplomatic relations, lifting of the embargo and, in some way, for the continuity of the policy of rapprochement initiated by President Barack Obama. continue reading

 Those who are betting on the tightening of the screws hope that those measures will cause an economic collapse with the supposed consequence of a social explosion

Those who are betting on the tightening of the screws hope that those measures will cause an economic collapse with the supposed consequence of a social explosion that will end with the final capitulation of the regime.

Among those who opt for a second edition of the thaw, it is debatable whether conditions should be met “in advance” or whether those in command in Cuba should be given the opportunity to respond to the dismantling of restrictions with economic reforms and political openings.

Critics of Obama’s policy insist that too much was granted in exchange for nothing or almost nothing, which creates an intransigent stance against the possibility of those mistakes being repeated. For their part, those who disapprove of the decisions made during Donald Trump’s time point out that what was done did not bring an improvement in human rights or in the lives of Cubans, and that, ultimately, said measures only served to justify the causes of problems generated by the system and increase repression.

It is very difficult to remain silent or to claim neutrality in the face of the dilemmas that arise in the face of such predicaments. Sooner or later the question ‘what will you ask of Biden?’ will have to be answered.

I start with the obvious fact that Joe Biden is not my ruler. He reached the presidency of the United States in a contentious election in which he did not have my vote, either for or against, which means that he has no obligation to fulfill any electoral commitment to me.

The civic duty to make demands of their president to first respond to the interests of that nation corresponds to US citizens, including hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.

The civic duty to make demands of their president to first respond to the interests of that nation corresponds to US citizens, including hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.

In relation to Cuba, these immediate interests include fair payment in compensation for confiscated properties; extradition of persons living in Cuba who committed serious crimes in that country, and not granting commercial credit until there is a guarantee that the debts can be repaid by Havana.

Americans must also demand that their president be a watchman of respect for human rights throughout the world, but that he fulfill that obligation under the rules that govern international law in order to respect the sovereignty of other nations and avoid armed conflicts.

At the end of January of last year, numerous American and Cuban-American protesters asked the Biden government to put an end to “the criminal blockade against the people of Cuba” and to uphold the slogan “Bridge of Love” as the name of a project that claims to put forward family before politics.

Eliécer Ávila, a Florida resident and leader of the [political group] Movimiento Somos + [We Are More],when calling for a march in front of the White House on March 20th, explained his wishes that, when the policy towards Cuba is announced, “it should be a policy aimed to end that dictatorship, and not for the purpose of having the dictatorship function better or to make it easy somehow for it to continue to remain in power”.

We Cubans who remain on the Island have experienced the results of a dictatorship for six decades, the consequences of the actions to overthrow it carried out by our powerful neighbor to the north, and the frustration of seeing our intentions fail when attempting to change things with our own efforts.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

I Am Cuban!

Willy Chirino and Alexis Valdés have created this new song with the collaboration of Arturo Sandoval. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eloy M. Viera Moren, Madrid, 20 March 2021 — A video clip posted on the internet a few days ago shows three young non-commissioned officers wearing uniforms of the Ministry of the Interior performing a song in response to the song Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life). The origin cannot be specified, but judging by the uniform of one of them, even equipped with the regulation whistle with its chain to the epaulette, they certainly seem to be members of the forces of law and order. Such an eyesore would not deserve a comment if it were not for the initial phrase: “Sixty years of this great nation; 62 of this Revolution”.

First, dressing up as police to intimidate by this music those Cubans who think differently is absolutely anti-national, and sounds more like the dogs in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, who disappeared as puppies and then became the dangerous bodyguards of the pig Napoleon when he came to power.

In order to define Cubanness, it is indispensable to turn to Fernando Ortiz. Among his works and articles on the subject, he conceived it as a “condition of the soul” that requires “the conscience of being Cuban and the will of wanting to be Cuban”; no other reference to place of residence, ideological preference or political thought. Likewise, he denounced that “our synthetic intellectual characteristic is ignorance” — an epithet more characteristic of the young authors of the song, to say the least. continue reading

On March 15, the same day on which the laughing stock was released, another piece by Alexis Valdés was premiered, sung as a duet with Willy Chirino, accompanied by a group of Cuban musicians, including a brief performance by composer and performer Arturo Sandoval. As far as I know, the idea arose during the presentation by these and other artists sponsored by several members of the European Parliament in order denounce the hardships of the Cuban people. Sixteen days later it was released, despite the urgency, a true offering to the nation from the feelings of quality and enduring.

With a fusion of genres, it has, however, the flavor of a son Cubano. Sandoval’s virtuosity in his brief solo spiced up the performance in the best tradition of his brilliant predecessors Félix Chapottín, the Louis Armstrong of the son Cubano, or Julio Cueva, who made Paris vibrate with the conga.

All of them outstanding trumpet players, Chapottín had no known political affiliation, Julio was a consistent communist (by the way, he died in Havana in 1975, submerged in anonymity) and Sandoval considers Marxism to be one of the greatest misfortunes suffered by this country in its history. All of them are Cuban and qualify among the most apt to express Cubanness through music.

Our oligarchs, masters of populism, have been capable of erasing genuine exponents of popular music such as Sandoval or Chirino from broadcasting, just for thinking differently. When to this is added an “excessive professionalism” (I quote Ecured, the Cuban official platform), the musician becomes absolutely unknown. Such a qualification is found in the page dedicated to Aurelio de la Vega, universally known as composer, instructor and orchestra conductor, described as “colossus of Cuba and the world” in the Diario Las Américas.

With more than 90 years of active life, he has been forced to spend 62 of them in exile because he considers that Cuba suffers from “a totalitarian communist government with a capitalist business system.” The criticism of his professionalism is due to the cultivation of atonalism as a tendency in many of his compositions, as if the work of Harold Gramatges, who held prominent positions in the communist leadership of culture, were not equally complex.

The ruckus motivated by Patria y Vida has generated, on the one hand, a significant amount of responses from the government, mostly marked by mediocrity; and on the other hand, the aforementioned composition, which was made with skill and professionalism. Disregarding likes, dislikes and even “data mining”, this ideological battle has been lost by the Cuban government.

The reason is that talent cannot be forced (not even with money) to generate lasting works, even less from a false and insubstantial patriotic feeling. An eloquent testimony of this nervousness is the newspaper Granma’s announcement, 25 days after the premiere of Patria y Vida, about the inclusion of the topic “political-ideological subversion on the internet” among the issues to be discussed at the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

As genuine an expression of Cubanness is the work of the communist Julio Cueva with his Tingo talango, as the most elaborate of Arturo Sandoval, to the definitely atonal and complex of Aurelio de la Vega. We are all equally Cuban by the will of wanting to be so, although motivated by a similar diversity of possible worldviews. For the time being, with much good Cuban music still to be heard, I say goodbye, along with Valdés and Chirino: “I am Cuban, and no one will be able to take away my being Cuban”.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

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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.

Cubans Discover the Virtues of the ‘Food Truck’

A ’Food Truck’ outside the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 25 March 2021 — The street used to be full of tourists but now, on the stretch from the corner of Virtudes to Paseo del Prado in Havana, there is only one truck and a line to buy croquettes, sandwiches and soft drinks. Protected by the shadow of the imposing Iberostar hotel, dozens of people wait to take home cooked or semi-finished food.

The line has started to form very early this Thursday. Before opening the sides of the peculiar food truck (Cubans use the English name) the employee writes a “no” on the board next to some menu items that have already been sold out and reminds customers that “this is not a bodega (ration store) this is a hotel.” The truck gleams in the March sun and murmuring is heard in the line.

The opening has been delayed for almost half an hour, after ten in the morning when it should have started selling, and the employee apologizes as customers complain about the slowness, but “there are few hands and we already had to put the ice cream at another point of sale because it was what attracted the most people.” In a city marked by food shortages, not even the prices — hardly cheap — of the food truck make them give up going to the place. continue reading

The sun is biting and the white surface of the truck glows. “We read on the internet that they had opened the truck and that there was ice cream. We got in line at six in the morning but in the end the tubs of ice cream are no longer being sold here but around the corner, in a place that they set up for that ,” says a woman, as the employee points to the corner.

The vehicle, produced by the Spanish company GEM Soluciones Industriales, mimics the old Citroën H1, a light commercial vehicle produced by the French manufacturer between 1947 and 1981, and which was used in the sale of food on the streets of cities such as London and Berlin. The European company clarifies that, initially, the Iberostar truck was intended as a tourist attraction.

The plummet of foreign visitors due to the pandemic, together with the shortage of food that the island is experiencing, has converted the ‘entertaining’ food truck into a busy food outlet. Unlike its great-uncle, the Citroën H1, the truck does not move from the place and does not even have a cab for the driver, but functions as a trailer that must be pulled by another vehicle.

The line for ice cream around the corner at a hotel annex building. (14ymedio)

“I came to look for the precooked croquettes that they are selling. My choices are this line or waiting for hours in front of a store to see if they put something on the shelves. At least this is safer although it is not cheap. There is nothing cheap now in Havana,” comments a young man who has been sitting on the lid of a water tank since before the sun rose.

The food prices range from the 35 peso ham sandwich, the lowest figure on the blackboard, to a combination of three hamburgers with buns and soda that exceed 550 pesos and other more complex combos that cost a third of the monthly minimum wage. There are no sweets left, no cheesy ham bites and drinks are only served with food.

“I came to order three roasted chickens for a birthday that I have tomorrow, but the chicks are, in truth, quite small,” laments a lady who arrives and sees the small size of the chickens. “Something is better than nothing,” another customer replies. “If you are going to buy those frozen chickens, you can’t find them and the store where they are sold only sells one per person.” The price of the combination that the woman is looking at is 750 pesos.

“The prices are not expensive if you compare them with what some home paladares (private restaurants) are selling, but of course, without home delivery this is not available to anyone either. They are prices that can be paid once but forget about becoming a regular of this truck,” adds a young woman who has carried a bag full of croquettes to take away.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when tourism began to decline and many hotels closed their doors, Iberostar Parque Central set up a home delivery service for food. There were ready meals and also combinations with different types of cheeses and cold cuts. “The phone lines were burning up, the people called desperately”, remembers an employee.

Given the abundance of orders, the administration of the place changed the service to ordering only 24 hours in advance and changed the menu a bit. “Now what we sell mostly are ready-made dishes and these variants of pre-cooked croquettes, mainly,” explains the worker.

As he speaks, two young men come around a corner of Calle Virtudes. Each one carries a box with ice cream that they have bought in the neighboring store that now delivers the product to avoid greater crowds in front of the truck. One of them also bears a box and, on the lid, is the logo of the hotel chain. Nine letters that until recently meant only a prohibitive luxury for anyone who now lines up there.

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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.

Electronic Commerce in Cuba, Another Gordian Knot

Photo: Cubadebate

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 March 2021 ─ On March 22nd, the official Cubadebate website has published an analysis on electronic commerce in Cuba one year after the implementation of the TuEnvío platform. Despite the forced omissions imposed by the dictatorship’s orders to its spokespersons, the article recognizes some of the numerous problems that weigh down this “new” service to nationals, although the author, Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo, washes his hands of possible indictments by pointing to the “blockade”, the global economic crisis and the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as the root causes of the inefficiency of virtual stores: insufficient supply.

Among the successes of the TuEnvío state platform, which promotes sales of the CIMEX and Caribbean chains, is that with this option the crowds of the eternal queues in each store in the country are avoided, with the consequent risk of multiplying contagion and expansion of the disease. In the text, mention is made of elements that have been introduced to improve the platform, such as the acquisition of new equipment in order to improve network traffic, readjustment of shopping hours and reduction of delivery times and (supposedly) a greater stability of the offer.

However, these improvements are not reflected in the experience of users, among whom a “collective sense of frustration and disappointment” predominates. For these, in addition to technology inefficiency, the main obstacle lies in the gap between the growing demand of the population and insufficient store supplies. continue reading

This tends to be confirmed in the data provided by CIMEX executives through other media, and that in the reference article reflects a decline in the delivery of between 5,000 and 6,000 daily modules of food and sanitary items in relation to last October, despite the fact that, at that time, the daily dispatch (20,000 modules) far from satisfied the platform’s registered customer demand, which currently amounts to approximately 800,000.

Other problems are added to the limitations of the offering, that are reasons for recurring complaints by customers. These are related to technological failures, such as page instability, connection drops, saturation, emptying of the “shopping carts” before having completed the cycle, disappearance of some items after they have been selected, as well as the practice of imposing “combos” that forces customers to purchase products that they do not want or need as a part of a package. Frequent difficulties with banking service are also reported through the Transfermóvil application, to which national cards are attached.

Of course, in the analysis of yore, the complaint against hoarders and resellers is ever present and has become an obligatory reference in all official press releases related to real or virtual trade, as if said phenomenon were the cause and not the consequence of the chronic shortages of food and other basic necessities, a phenomenon typical of a highly unproductive and incompetent economic system.

A line stretches into the night (Photo by the author)

Thus, with exquisite “ingenuity”, the author discovers that “the battle to acquire scarce hygiene and food products has shifted to online spaces”, generating the resurgence of a “parallel market” (of hoarders), which implies resales at higher prices which “affects the pockets of millions of Cubans and defeats the government’s efforts to increase the quality of life of the population by increasing wages.”

Thus, this communicator ─ who is not by chance the Editorial Coordinator of Cubadebate and a regular journalist on the Roundtable television program, who has special permission to make moderate “criticisms” of the national reality ─ seems to ignore that the resale of scarce products has not only always existed among us, but has also been perfected and diversified to the extent that the shortages suffered by the population and the inability of the State to satisfy them have both multiplied, so the underground market (which is not “parallel”) has not “moved” to online spaces, but has expanded from real to virtual space, beyond the intended righteousness of a government whose most palpable show of goodwill towards its people is also the unstoppable increase in official prices, much higher than the artificial rise in wages and pensions of Cubans from the overhyped (un)-Ordering Task.

What Cubadebate qualifies as a return to “feudal times”, endorsed in the exchange (barter) and “trading of merchandise by online groups” is the appropriate response to the reality of a feudal economy driven by a government that stubbornly refuses to move towards the inevitable: an opening towards the freedoms of vernacular entrepreneurs and national commerce that increases production, sanitizes the internal economy and satisfies those market demands that do not depend on imports and that have nothing to do with the hackneyed U.S. “blockade”.

(Photo by the author)

Meanwhile, in recent times an interesting phenomenon has been registered in relation to an evident change in attitude of Cubans, who have gone from acceptance to criticism, as can be seen in the comments of the forum members on the pages of the official press, and whose interventions are much more revealing and realistic than the complicit texts of the scribes of the Castro press. The stubborn reality shows that you cannot have an entire people deceived all the time, and even less so in this era of the Internet and social networks.

Increasingly irreverence, questioning and mockery are the popular response to the disrespect of the regime and its scribes, as sealed in the case at hand with the satirical comment of one of the forum members: “TuEnvío seems very good to me, the whole day to shop, you don’t eat but are entertained”. Let that sentence function in summarizing the perception that Cubans have about electronic commerce one year after its implementation on the Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Case in Cuba Against Carolina Barrero for ‘Clandestine Printed Matter’ Has Been Shelved

Today we have won,” Barrero said in a message on her social networks. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 March 2021 – The criminal case against Carolina Barrero for “clandestine printing” has been shelved this Thursday, as she herself confirmed on her social networks.

“Together we can build a culture of law, we have to know that we can defend ourselves against arbitrariness and fight for our legal rights,” she wrote on her Facebook wall. “Today we have won. At the Infanta and Manglar station I was notified that the proceedings are being archived according to Article 8, subsection 2 (8-2) of the Penal Code and I was given the seized iPad.”

The article cited says that “the act or omission is not considered a crime, even including the elements that constitute it, as it lacks social danger due to the limited nature of its consequences and the personal conditions of its author.” continue reading

A police file was opened on the historian on February 7, after an interrogation in which a State Security agent urged her to return to Spain, where she currently resides, for making and disseminating drawings of José Martí wearing a shirt with stars.

According to what Barrero told 14ymedio on that occasion, State Security also searched the house where she was staying in Old Havana and seized her iPad, the printed drawings, and some pages with signatures collected online demanding the resignation of the Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso.

“State Security accuses me for this printed image. It is a Martí made of stars, with the trace of the tenderness and the dream. There is not a hint of offense in that drawing, it is all respect and illusion,” Barrero wrote on her social networks, During the interrogation Barrero availed herself of her right to remain silent and did not comment on the accusation. “If they are going to build a case against me for this to put me in prison after a summary trial like they do, let it be clear to them, they are not going to blackmail me or threaten to build an alleged crime. I told them yesterday, I did not hide making it, I would print it a thousand times. ”

The complaint against Barrero was made by Lieutenant Colonel Kenia María Morales Larrea, an officer who has dedicated herself to threatening artists like Tania Bruguera in recent years. Morales has also participated in police searches of the homes of activists and independent journalists.

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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.

Electric Tricycles Sell Like Crazy for Dollars in Cuba

The motorcycles will begin to be sold in the coming days in the network of state stores. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 March 2021 — Those who visited the store that sells in hard currency (MLC) on Infanta Street, in Centro Habana, on Monday, could not believe it: for sale were the first electric vehicles for private sale in more than half a century. Two models of electric cargo tricycles were on display, at prices that were also astonishing: one, at $3,895, and another, with more capacity, at $6,900.

The vehicles will begin to be sold in the coming days in the network of state stores, although for weeks they have been marketed on government digital platforms.

“I believe that these tarecos don’t cost that anywhere in the world, they are bandits,” lamented a curious man who came to see the tricycles, which must be paid for in a single transaction and with a magnetic card in foreign currency.

The prices of the motorcycles are unattainable for most workers, much less in foreign currency. Among them, the farmers, a sector that cannot raise its head in an agricultural country, need this type of transport but do not have access to dollars. continue reading

“They are very expensive and there are no payment plans, so there is no one who can buy that,” complains Gerardo Cabrera, a farmer from the Guanes area, in Pinar del Río, who assures that “such a tricycle is essential for what we do on this farm, but between the costs of electricity, fertilizers, bureaucratic payments and other costs, it is impossible.”

However, despite the prices, these types of vehicle sell like crazy. This is confirmed by the vendors in the shop on Calle Infanta. “These don’t last at all here, people have their ways of finding out [they’re going on sale] and they line up. The tricycles that we have sold don’t last 24 hours on display and the problem is that the demand is high; this type of thing hasn’t been for sale for a long time,” he explains, and specifies that the fact that they are electric does not matter to the customer: the main attraction is that “it is a light vehicle.”

“They are prices for rich people, but at least there is that option. Before you used to die with old bills in your pockets and you couldn’t buy anything that rolled, but we don’t even have horses left because they were stolen to eat them,” says the farmer  Cabrera by telephone. “I would feel like Alain Delon on one of those tricycles, but I wake up and realize that I’m not even Panfilo.”

Tricycles are also widely used by private couriers to transport products, especially fruits, vegetables and meats, but so far most of those that perform this function are pedal powered. In less than a year these electric vehicles in private hands have begun to be seen circulating on the streets of Havana.

Outside the Luna restaurant in the town of Guanabo, curious people stop to look at a blue convertible tricycle belonging to a nearby self-employed person. Boastful of his vehicle, the man tells 14ymedio that his brother bought it from abroad through one of the most popular sales portals the sends products to the island.

A tricycle similar to the one owned by the self-employed man from Guanabo, without a dumping mechanism. (porlalivre.com)

“The good thing about having these types of tricycles in Cuban stores is that you save yourself from depending on an emigrated relative to do you the favor of buying it for you and that you do not have to wait the whole bureaucratic process for it to be delivered to you once its bought, which in my case took more than six weeks,” explains the man, who is self-employed.

“Those for sale now are more multipurpose, because they have a cab and you can put a good cover over the back, so they can be used for more things, but still very few arrive,” he explains. “People line up for weeks and it’s not easy to buy them.”

The $3,895 model is assembled on the island by the company Vehicles Eléctricos del Caribe (Vedca), which began operating last year in the Mariel Special Development Zone. It is one of the most promoted brands in recent months both on social networks and on other digital platforms.

According to the administrator of Vedca’s Facebook page, who calls himself Ray Motos [motorbikes], the vehicle has a “strong and resistant chassis, giving the vehicle a load capacity of one ton.”

The $ 6,900 model is from the Ming Hong brand, based in the Chinese city of Suining. Although they have not been as publicized by the Government as the Vedca, Cuba’s official press published a few months ago that three motorcycles of this brand were on tour in the Cienfuegos municipality of Abreu, donated, incidentally, by the United Nations Development Program to the 26th of July Farmers’ Cooperative.

On the island, the Ángel Villareal Bravo Industrial Company of Villa Clara, known as Ciclos Minerva, has produced this type of tricycle since 2019. It currently has another five models for heavy cargo and passengers in the testing phase and is studying the incorporation of two quadricycles, according to a story in the local press published this Monday. The new tricycles could be commercialized before the end of 2021.

Since the end of last year, electric tricycles have been incorporated into public transport in the capital, and according to official newspaper Granma, by 2021 the Government plans to manufacture new vehicles in the country with the same objective.

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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.

Flat Rate Internet in Cuba: Between $52 and $1,000 a Month, and Only for Programmers

Etecsa office in Candelaria, where Nauta Hogar [home internet service] is sold. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana | 24 March 2021 — The Cuban Telecommunications Company, announced on Tuesday the first flat rate for web browsing for private workers on the Island. The new ADSL Internet Service, managed by the state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa, is exclusively intended for self-employed persons with a computer equipment programmer license (PEC).

On its website, Etecsa assures that the measure will strengthen “the Cuban industry of computer applications and services” and aims to improve “the performance and functioning” of private workers.

According to the legal definition, the computer equipment programmer is one who “develops, markets, implements, deploys and provides technical support for computer programs, applications and services through contracts with natural or legal persons.” Most of those who have that license on the Island are dedicated to programming software, creating applications and installing programs. continue reading

The number of people who will be able to access the service is difficult to know because the PEC license, which began to be issued with the economic reforms promoted by Raúl Castro in the past decade, stopped being offered in 2017 when the Government launched a process to regulate and order self-employment.

It was only in February of this year that the reopening of PEC licenses was announced but, so far and according to testimonies collected by 14ymedio, the new issuance of licenses is paralyzed until the new list of private occupations comes into operation.

The flat rate service for programmers will allow Internet connection access through asymmetric digital subscription line (ADSL) technology. “This offer includes the installation and contracted data service through the use of digital links that permanently interconnect a computer network to other networks, in accordance with the quality specifications that are defined,” explains Etecsa in its statement.

The connection speed will depend on the technical conditions required by the businesses, the service does not have time restrictions and includes the option of enabling international mail.

The prices vary according to the internet speed required: 512/128 Kbps, at 1,250 pesos per month, until reaching the maximum that is offered, which is 6,144 / 1,024 Kbps at a cost of 24,125 pesos; this latter is the equivalent of 1,000 USD per one month of service.

With regards to contracting for Nauta Hogar (home internet service), the method is postpaid and the self-employed person must have a Nauta account. Should the individual not have an account, “one is enabled for free and it can be recharged by any of the established routes.”

Etecsa clarifies that the Nauta Hogar will have a connection speed of 2,048 / 1,024 Kbps and the enablement will cost 250 Cuban pesos (CUP). The monthly price will depend on the service that is contracted: 240 hours for 2,000 pesos (8.30 CUP / hour) or 480 hours for 3,000 pesos (7.20 CUP / hour). The additional hourly rate for the two offers will cost 12.50 pesos.

Criticisms of the services announced by Etecsa have not been long in coming. Most of the comments on the official Cubadebate site lament the high prices of the flat rate and the requirement that one have a PEC license to be eligible to apply for it.

“The offer is appreciated, the price greatly excessive taking into account the international costs for a higher speed service,” comments an Internet user by the name of Pedro. An opinion shared by reader Raly: “Why doesn’t Etecsa make special offers for teachers and students who need it so much in these days of connectivity? Why don’t they sell us phones in the currency with which they pay us?”

“How much revenue should a programmer have for any of these offers to be profitable?” Asks Sixto, another commentator. “These offers could be profitable for a group of programmers of between three and five, associated as SMEs. But small companies have not been approved. These small companies are key to innovation,” he adds.

Self-employed persons interested in Etecsa’s offers should make the request by email to offers.tcp@etecsa.cu. The documents to be sent are: photocopies of the authorization card to carry out work on behalf of a PEC and an identity card, a signed request specifying the connectivity package to be contracted for and, “in case the interested party is not the owner of the telephone line where the service will be installed, there must be written authorization from its owner.” After the request is approved, they will inform the client which office to go to to sign the contract.

Access to a flat rate has been one of the demands most repeated in recent years by customers of the state monopoly. The #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet [Lower Internet Prices] campaign reached its peak in mid-2019. In its first edition, in just 24 hours, the hashtag became a trending topic on the island.

Etecsa responded by labeling the promoters of the campaign as “mercenaries” and blamed the US embargo for the high prices of services.

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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.