Short on Dollars, Cadeca Will Now Process Tax Collection and Retiree Payments

People waiting in line outside a Cadeca currency exchange bureau. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2021 — Residents of Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood had been wondering why Cadeca, the state-run currency exchange agency, would be opening a new office in their area. They got their answer this weekend: the company will now be processing taxes and payments to retirees.

“All of us were surprised they would open an office here given the reduction in currency exchanges, especially now that they won’t be accepting dollars,” said one Plaza of the Revolution resident who lives near the corner of Tulipan and Estancia streets, where the office will be located.

A Cadeca employee told 14ymedio that, although the office is not yet operational, it will be processing payments to retirees, handling procedures for the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) and servicing customers with bank debit cards who prefer not to withdraw their cash from an ATM. continue reading

This information echoes a statement the president of Cadeca, Joaquin Alonso Vazquez, made on Sunday to the official press, in which he said the company was diversifying its retail services after the government announced that customers would no longer be allowed to deposit U.S. banknotes in their accounts.

Alonso Vazquez indicated that, although he foresees a shift in the retail sector to other foreign currencies, the company was diversifying the range of services it provides. These involve “operational capabilities and alliances” with ONAT, the banking and postal systems, utility companies that provide electricity, water and mobile phone services, the credit card company Fincimex and the oil company Cuba Petroleo, “to offer their services through Cadeca offices.”

Alonso Vazquez stated that sales are high at stores that sell goods or services for Cuban pesos so the company is setting up operations, known as third-party deposits, with state-owned businesses to confirm customers’ bank accounts.

The only service he did not mention was the sale of pre-paid gasoline cards, which are currently not available in all provinces.

In late May the government suspended the operations of currency exchange bureaus at the country’s international airports, claiming it had run out of cash. Executives at Cadeca said that they had been operating within established limits despite a “significant shortage” of hard currency but had to shut down due to a “lack of liquidity” which had reached an “extremely unsustainable level.”

Only two weeks ago, on June 10, authorities announced they would temporarily stop accepting cash bank deposits in dollars, blaming tighter U.S. sanctions imposed as part of the ongoing U.S economic embargo, which prevent the country’s central bank from using dollars it collects in Cuba overseas.

Cadeca offices became an essential feature of Cuban life in the 1990s when use of the dollar became widespread throughout the country. The company opened branches in major cities, tourist destinations and neighborhoods. Their importance has diminished in recent years, however, especially with the unification of the Cuban peso (CUP) with the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which is being taken out of circulation.

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European Union Turns Down Funding to Cuban University

Karla María Pérez González, a student who was expelled from the University of Las Villas for political reasons according to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights. (Captura)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 11 June 2021 — On Friday the European Union announced it would not provide funding for the Central University of Las Villas after the school expelled students whom the Cuban government considers to be subversive. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) also condemned the move on Wednesday.

“It is not a given that the EU will fund this university. The EU supports specific educational projects as part of its program of worldwide cooperation,” a spokesperson for the bloc, Peter Stano, told the Spanish news agency EFE.

This week the OCDH reported that in 2019 the EU gave three million euros to the Central University of Las Villas (UCLV), which official EU documents described as “the most repressive in Cuba.” It cited the cases of Karla Maria Perez Gonzalez, who left for Costa Rica after she was expelled from the school, and Professor Dalila Rodriguez, who was fired in April 2017. continue reading

Regarding the Cuban situation, Stano told EFE, “There is a specific program for renewable energy and efficient energy use that focuses on advancing applied research in the field of renewable energy through a consortium of Cuban universities, led in Cuba by the UCLV, linked to EU academic institutions.”

Stano, who serves the EU as spokesperson for Josep Borell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the funds are channeled through the Free University of Brussels, a Belgian educational center serving the Flemish community. He added that the EU is “tracking the implementation of this project through in-depth dialogue and monitoring its progress.”

In response to questions about the situation in Cuba during a debate on Tuesday in the European parliament, Borell told delegates that the EU does not provide economic cooperation funds to organizations controlled by the Cuban regime.

“We are providing 8.4 million euros to civic organizations, 7.6 million of which are managed by civil society organizations, which by definition are not part of the Cuban government,” Borell said.

He added that 800,000 euros are managed by Cuban civil society organizations “carefully selected” by the EU delegation in Havana under the condition that they serve the broader interest and act as mediators between the authorities and their citizens.

On Thursday the European Parliament approved a resolution sponsored by the European People’s Party, liberals and right-wing deputies which called for the release of Cuban political prisoners. Members also expressed regret that the island has shown little progress more than three years after entering into a political association and cooperation agreement with the EU.

Nevertheless, Borell defended the agreement in the parliamentary debate, saying it has provided a “stable framework for a ongoing political dialogue and cooperation that did not exist before” and allows the EU to “support the modernization and reform process in Cuba.”

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Cuban Regime Expropriates My Sister’s House, But Celebrates My Father’s Birthday / Juan Juan Almeida

Monument to Juan Almeida Bosque in Santiago de Cuba: “No one surrenders here” (EFE)

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2021 — When my father died and they put on that little show in the Sierra Maestra, Raúl Castro promised one of my sisters – who lived outside of Cuba – that, as long as she “behaved herself,” he would respect her house.

He gave her a hug, they exchanged tears, and the pledge was settled at the feet of the deceased.

So then, complying with her part of the bargain, my sister behaved very well. And now, while the super homage is being paid to our father, she gets the notification from the court.

And when someone inquires at the office of Raúl Castro, to find out what’s happened with that pledge, he is informed that she did indeed behave VERY WELL – and for this, the General was most appreciative. However – and this is how they put it – the “pledge to Behave Herself also included controlling me and shutting my mouth. Therefore, through my fault, she is losing the house.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

‘We’re Facing a New Version of the Black Spring,’ Says Martha Beatriz Roque

The Human Rights report mentions the case of the reporter and activist Iliana Hernández, whose home has been surrounded by police for more than two months. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 June 2021 —  A total of 13 new political prisoners were registered in Cuba during the month of May. According to the latest report by the Cuban Center for Human Rights (CCDH), led by the opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque, it is the highest number since March 2003, which makes this repressive wave “a new version of the Black Spring.”

The document highlights that the greatest repercussions came from the forced hospitalization for a month of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. The cruelty, says the CCDH, has been “targeted” with all the artists and activists who, like Alcántara, are linked to the song ’Patria y Vida’.

In any case, the report says, prosecuting opponents, no matter how well known the person is, has become “the latest way the dictatorship has adopted of reducing to the minimum those who do not support the system.” continue reading

The document also indicates that last month the non-payment of fines, together with the crimes of contempt, public disorder, disobedience, spread of epidemic, illicit economic activity or pre-criminal dangerousness, have been used to imprison and “remove from circulation” dissidents and human rights defenders.

The Havana-based organization explains that it is “very difficult” to collect information on political prisoners because, due to the Covid pandemic, prison visits are prohibited. The report also mentions “an outbreak of coronavirus” in the provincial prison of Sancti Spíritus where, according to reports, they have placed restrictions on visits and phone calls from prisoners so that information is not leaked, a “very difficult” situation for inmates.

People who are constantly besieged by the government and its repressive forces and who are not allowed to leave their homes without even having been given any document issued by the authorities, are also detailed in the report.

The Center also mentions the threat made by prosecutor José Luis Reyes Blanco on national television, when he said that opponents of the regime who are outside the island could be prosecuted and extradited so that they could be held criminally responsible for a crime committed.

With regards to “harassment” against the activists, the NGO details that it has been carried out on 102 people, 10 more than the previous month, and also notes that “repressive actions are increasingly intense.”

As an example, it cites the case of the reporter and activist Iliana Hernández Cardosa, who has had a police cordon around her home for more than two months, and those of Iván Hernández Carrillo, the Ladies in White, the members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and of the Opposition Movement for a New Republic, who have been under siege for the entire month.

Regarding the economy and the crisis that the country is experiencing, the report indicates that every day “the amount of products and services” that are sold in foreign currency in state stores increases, as do “people’s complaints about exorbitant product prices.”

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Cuban Government Repeats a 1980s Scam, This Time with Dollars

Long lines began forming in the early hours of Friday morning in front of bank branches. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, June 11, 2021 — “I deposited everything I had: eighty dollars.” Reinaldo waited in line early Friday morning outside the Banco Metroplitano on Infanta Street in Old Havana to hand over his modest hard-currency fortune that he has been saving for emergencies.

Thousands of Cubans like him woke up worried, after learning the night before that the government would suspend cash deposits of dollars on June 21. “What’s the use of having this money if I can’t use it after that date?” a young man in the doorway of the bank asks.

“The bank really planned ahead,” he notes. “Normally there are only two or three tellers available but today everyone was there, ready to take people’s deposits.” continue reading

On the TV news/interview program Roundtable, officials described the decision as a necessary step to deal with obstacles created by the U.S. embargo. But the official explanation has failed to convince either ordinary citizens or economists, who expressed astonishment the day after the announcement.

At the end of May, the government suspended currency exchange services at the country’s international airports, claiming it had run out of cash. It indicated that, despite a “significant shortage” of hard currency, it had been able to continue operating within established limits but that a “lack of liquidity” had made those operations unsustainable.

Long lines formed again on Friday outside stores that only accept freely convertible foreign currency, especially those selling home appliances. Outside the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall in Central Havana, dozens of people were already in line by 5:00 AM, when the pandemic curfew ends, eager to spend their dollars on a refrigerator, air-conditioning system or rice cooker.

“People are going crazy because they’re afraid they’ll be hit with more measures like this in a few days,” says one young man waiting in line to buy clothing at a foreign currency store in the capital’s biggest shopping center. “What this has done is create more doubt and given people the impression that the those at the top don’t know what they’re doing.”

Lines outside hard-currency stores were especially long after the announcement that banks would not be accepting deposits of U.S. banknotes for the foreseeable future. (14ymedio)

For many the situation has brought back memories of the so-called Houses of Gold and Silver. In the 1980s the government operated stores known as “Houses of Diego Velazquez” — a reference to early Spanish explorers who traded tiny pieces of mirrored glass for gold — in which customers exchanged jewelry, gemstones and precious metal objects for vouchers which could be used to purchase clothing, footwear and household appliances.

No figures were ever released on how much gold and silver was ultimately collected but the operation lives on in the Cuban imagination as a kind of institutional scam, especially since the merchandise bought with the vouchers turned out to be shoddy and wore out quickly.

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Temporary Closure of Cuban Oil Factory Makes Price Soar to 300 Pesos

About 15 days ago, the Santiago authorities announced repairs at the Edible Oil Refinery (Erasol). (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 June 2021 — With the paralysis of the Santiago de Cuba vegetable oil refining plant, one of the sources supplying the city’s informal market, residents fear that the price of the product will skyrocket even more due to shortages and will end up costing twice as much as they currently pay.

“A liter of oil costs 250 pesos and when it disappears, which is almost always, it goes up to 300 (12 dollars at the official exchange rate). Yesterday a friend who lives in Manzanillo called me and told me that she is paying 350 pesos per liter,” Dunia, a resident of Santiago, told 14ymedio.

About 15 days ago, local authorities announced repairs at the Edible Oil Refinery (Erasol) and, this Monday, the director of the company, Ricardo Lores Durán, confirmed to the Granma newspaper that “the available raw material was also exhausted.”

The official explained that the shutdown of the industry will last for several more weeks and that “due to financial restrictions” associated with the “US blockade” the arrival of “crude oil scheduled for March” had been delayed. continue reading

However, the vegetable oil crisis in the city has been dragging on since last year. Dunia says that before January, several times he paid 80 pesos for a pound of oil. With the rise in prices associated with the ‘Ordering Task’*, it became not only scarce, but “almost unattainable,” he says. In addition, in the stores that only accept payment in freely convertible currency (MLC) they hardly sell the product and the little that is sold in the network of stores in pesos “already has owners.”

“There are no possibilities for people to buy the little oil the stores put on the shelves because resellers monopolize the line. Here we have to buy everything at a premium. The street sellers don’t give anyone else a chance to buy anything and then they sell things at triple or quadruple their value,” adds the Santiaguan.

With the refinery shut down, the authorities warned that the unrationed sale of the product will be affected and that they will only be able to include oil in the basic market basket sold through the ration stores for the month of July. Santiago’s industry supplies that province and also Las Tunas, Granma and Guantánamo.

Although Durán assured that there is already a ship sailing to the port of Santiago with the raw material, he expects the cycle of regulated distribution to be reestablished next month, but did not refer to whether the sale in the network of state stores will stabilize.

Vegetable oil is widely used in Cuban kitchens, mainly sunflower, soybean and corn, a use that has been expanding as the traditional fat, mainly from pork, disappears from recipes, a sector in decline due to the lack of of animal feed.

Cuban culinary culture also abounds in fried foods and the lack of other products, such as sauces, various condiments or various dressings, force families to use vegetable oil in many dishes, a practice that several studies indicate as harmful to health due to its link to obesity.

However, in Cuba the lack of vegetable oil for cooking is associated in the popular mentality with the crisis, such as the one that the island went through in the 90s. Having to boil food or cook it “without fat” is considered by the vast majority of Cubans as a sign of misery and lack of resources.

In other eastern Cuban cities such as Baracoa, in Guantánamo, a liter of oil is sold on the black market for 200 pesos, and in Holguín, a resident of the Sagua de Tánamo municipality reports it is selling at “300 pesos and continues to rise.”

“There are many things here that have already changed their status. Science fiction literature in Cuba now is no longer about aliens or robot technology that is going to end the universe, here science fiction is oil, chicken, rice; and beans, corn, sweet potatoes enter into ancient and medieval literature, that is, they are only memories,” joked the man from Holguin.

Erasol is the only industry on the island that processes edible oil, while the companies located in Camagüey and Havana are only dedicated to packaging.

In the Cuban capital, at the beginning of last May, several complaints gained force on social networks after some Internet users published images of one-liter bottles of oil, made in Russia, with a label that read that the sale of the product because it belongs to a lot of donations from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).

The Ministry of Internal Trade then alleged that breakage in the domestic industry had prevented the product from being bottled for sale on the rationed market and that they would replace the WFP bottles as soon as possible.

*Translator’s note: The ‘Ordering Task’ [Tarea ordenamiento] is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 

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Cuba’s New Bank Resolution: More Shadows than Lights / Miriam Celaya

A line in front of a bank in Havana. (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2021 — An informative note from the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) presented on Cuban TV’s  Roundtable program this Thursday, June 10, announced the temporary suspension of US dollar deposits in Cuban banks by individuals and legal entities.

As expressed in the note, this measure, which will go into effect on June 21, is “necessary for the protection of the banking system” and will affect cash, but not accounts in freely convertible currency (MLC), which will be able to continue receiving US dollars from abroad. The provision does not affect other currencies such as the Euro, Canadian dollars, Pounds Sterling, etc., in which deposits and other transactions can continue.

Presentations on the subject were given by Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Director General of the US Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marta Sabina Wilson González, Minister President of the BCC, and the Vice Minister Yamilé Berra Cires. None of the interventions sufficiently clarified the implementation of this new edict. continue reading

Resolution 176 of the BCC is based on the impossibility of depositing physical US dollars in international banks in Cuba due to the restrictions imposed by the “extraterritorial nature of the blockade,” which makes it increasingly difficult to find banking institutions that will allow Cuba to carry out transactions in that currency.

According to Fernández de Cossío, with the tightening of the blockade applied by the Trump administration since 2017, but with greater force since 2019, “the US seeks to depress income and generate hunger and misery” in order to achieve a social outbreak that will do away with the Revolution. The emphasis on affecting the financial sector, laments the official, “has had surgical precision,” with “devastating impact.”

The official maintains that the limitation of remittances since 2019 and the suppression of the institutional channels to process them -he refers directly to the express prohibition of conducting of US dollar transactions through FINCIMEX — turns it into cash arrivals in Cuba, introduced by Cuban and foreign travelers, which causes a “disproportionate” circulation in that currency without being able to give it its due course.

The matter is confusing, especially considering the pernicious lack of liquidity that Cuban authorities often complain about, which was the reason given for the controversial opening of MLC-operating stores. Now it turns out that the “blockade” has generated an accumulation of dollars in Cuba which the government alleges it has no way to process.

According to Minister Wilson, an accumulation of physical money has been created that is without value because it cannot be circulated; “No foreign trade operation can be carried out with it.” She says that “the incisive effect on the financial system” and the loss of counterpart foreign banks is an additional damage caused by the US blockade against Cuban banks. “Placing Cuban entities on a black list implied the limitation of transactions with those entities”, she points out. Therefore, “people must understand that we have no other option” than the application of this resolution.

June 20 was established as the deadline for the public to make dollar deposits. It was also announced that the application of the new provision is temporary and that it will not result in penalties for holding dollars.

The duration of this measure, insists Wilson, “will depend on the duration of the restrictions imposed by the United States on Cuba,” which leaves the alleged “sovereignty” that the Island’s government authorities boast so much about in very bad standing.

For her part, Vice Minister Yamilé Berra was in charge of another array of calamities suffered by the Cuban banking system from the pressures established by Trump, which “Biden has kept intact.” Among them, he mentioned the conclusion of operations with Cuba on the part of 35 foreign banks, 12 of which were fined hefty multimillion-dollar fines under the Helm-Burton Act.

Berra also stated that, as part of the measures implemented since 2017 by the Trump administration, Cuban banking messaging system was canceled and several banking services have been closed operationally, including messaging and correspondent codes, and the refusal to accept Cuban operations using letters of credit.

“In 2020 alone, there were more than 190 actions by foreign banks against Cuban banks,” declared the vice minister, who regrets that Cuba is considered a risky country for these banks, a rating that has the “blockade” as one of its reasons. The official did not refer to other possible reasons -such as the recurrent defaults on the overwhelming debt- for the existence of such reserves against the Cuban banks.

In short, the statements by government officials on the Roundtable program, far from being enlightening, left many unanswered questions, in addition to omitting some questions of great interest. It would have been interesting to know if the non-acceptance of US dollars by Cuban banks includes the suppression of their purchase in the CADECAs at the rate of 24 x 1, given that this entity is part of the same financial system. It is assumed that the dollars collected by the CADECAs would also accumulate in bank vaults and thus lose their user value.

Another question corresponds to the statement of the CADECA management, a few weeks ago, about its lack of liquidity to change the national currency into foreign currency, as in cases of visitors who return to their countries of origin and try to get rid of the CUP. It turns out that — and is contradictory at a minimum — in a country where vaults are full of dollars that cannot be given their user value, it is not possible by a financial entity created for that purpose to exchange currency.

Nor can we ignore the possibility that the new resolution of the BCC has the unconfessed purpose of suppressing, or, at least, of limiting, the rampant illegal market of currencies, of which the most present is indeed the US dollar, a market that, among other secondary evils, encourages the development of illegal trade with products that are sold exclusively in MLC stores.

For the moment, in the days to come, corresponding reactions to these illicit activities should take place, typical of economies in crisis, as the Cuban case has been for decades. It is to be expected that the value of the dollar will tend to fall — at present it is around 70 CUP — while the Euro should rise considerably.

Attention, Cubans, new distortions are coming.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Banks to Temporarily Suspend Dollar Deposits

The measure will take effect on June 21. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 10, 2021 — Starting June 21, Cuba will temporarily suspend cash deposits of U.S. dollars according to a memo from the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC), which made the announcement on the television news/interview program Roundtable.

The statement indicated the measure is the result of “obstacles” created by the U.S. embargo, noting that it will allow the country’s banking system to deposit hard currency it collects on the island in entities overseas.

“The measure will not affect previous transfers or cash deposits in other freely convertible currencies accepted by Cuba, which will still be permitted without restrictions,” the memo states. continue reading

It adds that this measure is intended to protect the Cuban banking and financial system and only applies to U.S. currency in cash, not to dollar denominated bank accounts or existing accounts in this currency, “which will not be affected in any way.”

The BCC claims that, for more than a year, it has been restricted from depositing U.S. dollars collected within Cuba’s borders in international banks.

The bank also claims that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Cuba to find international institutions willing “to receive, convert, or process cash” in the form of dollars because of “the extra-territorial effects of the blockade and additional measures adopted by the United States.”

“This is not about penalizing people for having dollars. What we are saying is that we have a problem with banks overseas,” BCC president Marta Sabina Wilson González said on Cuban TV’s Roundtable program, adding that Cubans had until June 20 to deposit foreign cash in their bank accounts

Carlos Fernández de Cossío, director general of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, added that the reason for this decision is “the blockade,” whose aim, he noted, is to “depress foreign earnings and people’s standard of living.” U.S. measures towards Cuba, he observed, were intensified four years ago during the Donald Trump administration and have so far remained unchanged under Joe Biden.

The official statement concludes by noting that how long this measure remains in effect “will depend on the lifting of restrictions that impede normal procedures for exporting American currency.”

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Water Returns to a Havana Building After a Complaint on Facebook

The multi-family building is located on 19 de Mayo and Ayestarán, in the capital’s municipality of Cerro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 9 June 2021 — After more than a week without water, the residents of a multi-family building located on 19 de Mayo and Ayestarán in the capital’s municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, were able to receive water through a watertruck, thanks to a complaint on social networks where they named the state company Aguas de La Habana.

Internet user Otane González made the complaint by sharing a company poster with the phrase “Water is like love, we cannot live without it.” With irony, the woman responded to the state company: “Very true Aguas de La Habana, without love you cannot live and without water, even less. Pay attention to what you say.”

In Gonzalez’s post also we read: “We have been a week without water and love wanes,” adding that despite the efforts made by the residents of the building they were unsuccessful. Those in charge of repairing the problem “trade in justifications and an important point is forgotten: this street is inhabited by living beings,” she said. continue reading

A neighbor who lives near the building told 14ymedio that after the complaint, a government leader saw the publication on the networks and they sent a watertruck. “Apparently there is a break [in the pipes] that they have not found, that is why the supply does not reach the residents of the building, but in the rest of the area there is water every day, from 5 am to 3 pm,” he said.

“It’s now better to write on Facebook than to call any institution to solve a problem,” explains a resident of the property speaking to this newspaper by phone. “When we were calling Aguas de La Habana and complaining to the area’s delegate, we only got the runaround.” However, “it was enough for her to go online for them to start running.”

The man adds that the lack of supply put them “on the brink of a hygienic crisis.” The high temperatures, the high incidence of the pandemic in the capital and the shortage of personal and domestic hygiene products “came together in a perfect storm,” he details. “Luckily I could go to my daughter’s house to bathe, but here there are people who have been barely cleaning their mouths all these days and that’s it.”

At the beginning of last month, the residents of the Havana districts of El Canal (Cerro) and La Víbora (Diez de Octubre) experienced cuts in the drinking water service when the capital authorities established that the supply would be provided every three days and not on alternate days as had happened up to that time.

The reason for the new supply pattern was due “to the intense drought that the country is experiencing,” said the state company, which adds that “the water tables of the main sources that supply the city are very depressed.” For this reason, there are “effects due to lack of water and low pressure in some areas and neighborhoods of the central system.”

A few days later, there was an electrical breakdown that damaged the Cuenca Sur source, affecting the municipalities that receive that water: Plaza de la Revolución, Centro Habana, Cerro, Diez de Octubre and La Habana Vieja, in addition to the Miraflores and Altahabana neighborhoods, in Boyeros.

The supply of drinking water is one of the services that, with the elimination of subsidies on January 1, increased considerably in price. In this case, from 1.75 pesos to seven pesos per cubic meter.

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Cuban University Plunges in International Ranking

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 June 2021 — Finding Cuba among the 2022 university rankings published by the British company Quacquarelli Symonds is a daunting task. Universities in the U.S. and U.K. are once again at the top, followed by many others in the rest of the world. You will have to go far down the list, however, to find the top-ranked alma mater in Cuba, the University of Havana, which finds itself in the 501-510 category (out of a thousand).

The second highest ranked Cuban school, in the 531-540 category, is the Central University “Marta Abreu” of Las Villas in Santa Clara. The third highest is Havana’s José Antonio Echeverría University of Technology, in the 1,001-1,200 category. The official news agency Prensa Latina seems to have been impressed by these numbers. It published an article entitled “Three Cuban Universities among the World’s Most Prestigious”.

The official news website Cubadebate was more circumspect. Its headline read, “Three Cuban Universities Listed in 2022 Edition of the QS World University Rankings.” What was most noteworthy, however, were the seven comments at the end in which readers expressed pride in the superiority of the country’s educational system or in the particular institutions where they had studied if they had been ranked as “one of the 1,300 most prestigious universities in the world.” continue reading

The University of Havana now returns to the position it held in 2020, after having risen to 498 in 2021. The decline of the country’s most important center of higher learning has been precipitous if one takes into account that as recently as 2015 it held a respectable 83rd place.

In the global context, Latin America is not the highest ranking region. Not until you come to 69th place do you find one of the continent’s school’s, the University of Buenos Aires. Next on the list is the National Autonomous University of Mexico at 105, followed by the Universiity of Sao Paulo at 121, and the Catholic University of Chile at 135.

Topping the list globally (as it has for ten years) is the presitigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), followed by most of the traditional American and British universities.

Among the most striking things about this year’s rankings is the rise of Chinese universities, two of which are in the top twenty, in contrast to those of Japan, almost half of which fell.

The QS World University Rankings evaluates 9,000 universities throughout the world, chooses the top 3,000 and ranks them using several criteria: academic peer review, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, employer reputation, international student ratio and international staff ratio.

London-based Quacquarelli Symonds is a company specializing in education and overseas studies. It is one of the most widely recognized firms of its kind in the world.

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Cuba: Economic Indicators for Ciego de Avila Fall to a Minimum

The authorities want to increase “territorial self-sufficiency” with the planting of products that are in short supply, such as cassava, bananas and taro. (Invasor)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 June 2021 — The economic data of Ciego de Ávila does not leave room for optimism. Local companies in the city, the provincial capital, lost more than 53 million pesos until April, Roberto Obregón García, mayor of the Municipal Administration Council, told the local newspaper Invasor.

Among those with the worst indicators are those related to commerce, which has lost 28 million, and food services, 24 million pesos. The food service sector suffers, as in the rest of the world, because of the restrictions related to the pandemic and its sales have fallen by 68.8% in its traditional services. But also sales have fallen 61.9% in food delivery and take away purchases, which were adopted to allow the viability of these companies and which, however, failed to break through.

Another negative indicator is that of the sales of basic foods, such as pork and sausages, which reached only 22.3% of the forecasts, and eggs, which reached only 16.7%. In addition, the authorities want to increase “territorial self-sufficiency” with the planting of products that are in short supply, such as cassava, bananas and taro. continue reading

Tobacco also fell dramatically, making 54% of the forecast, as did construction materials (54.3%), agricultural inputs (7.7%) and household supplies (17.1%).

Thus, of the 304 million pesos in commercial circulation originally foreseen, only 225 million were realized.

Local authorities have drawn attention to the importance of making decisions to improve production and savings, although nothing was put on the table to suggest that there will be a change in such a negative trend.

Obregón García explained that during the first four months of the year 193 fines related to non-compliance with the decrees that regulate prices and sanitary measures have been imposed in the amount of 1,075,000 pesos.

Decree 30, approved in December 2020, establishes sanctions that reach 3,000 pesos for those who fail to comply with the health regulations provided to reduce coronavirus infections. On the 31st, and published the same day, sellers were fined between 5,000 and 7,000 pesos for not displaying on a board the products and prices they offer; between 8,000 and 10,000 for “withholding, reserving, postponing or not putting products for retail sale on sale,” and up to between 12,000 and 15,000 if the seller does not comply with the measures ordered against “abusive prices” and “speculative prices.”

“Municipal economic development has a short, medium and long term strategy planned, a fact that will facilitate better planning and in-depth review of each measure implemented to ensure the redistribution of scarce available resources and meet priorities,” affirmed the mayor.

Ciego de Ávila’s numbers are not surprising. At the beginning of this year the Ceballos Agroindustrial Company, one of the few jewels in the crown of the Cuban State and the main industry in the territory, ended the month of January in the red. The industry, which produces canned food and sells mainly in national currency, suffered from the lack of packaging and the rise in raw material costs.

The news of Ceballos’ nosedive was published at the same time that President Miguel Díaz-Canel said that “the business system of the Food Industry needs a shake up, to take advantage of the 43 measures to strengthen the socialist state enterprise and get the maximum benefit from the Ordering Task*.”

“We can do more: more production, more efficiency, more offers, better designs, different ranges of products, greater optimization of processes,” concluded Díaz-Canel then, during the meeting to analyze the work of the Ministry of the Food Industry during 2020.

But the province’s performance suggests that the measures have not yet yielded the expected results.

*Translator’s note: The ‘Ordering Task’ [Tarea ordenamiento] is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 

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

The Endless Drama of the Cuban Rafters, Where Are the Causes?

Cuban rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard October, 2020. Photo Coast Guard

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, 8 June 2021 —  On January 12th, 2017, when Barack Obama, the then outgoing president, repealed the dry feet/wet feet policy that had been in force since 1995 — a result of immigration agreements between the US and Cuba after the Balseros Crisis (1994) — Cuban authorities considered that decision as “an important step” for the advancement of relations between both governments. In addition, Raúl Castro, then Cuban president, gave himself credit for the event as a result of the secret negotiations that his government had held with the northern neighbor for more than a year.

It should be noted that, though years ago the Cuban side had accepted in principle the conditions proposed by the Clinton administration regarding the return of migrants who were intercepted at sea, it had previously refused to do so. Since 1995, the Cuban dictatorship had insistently spoken out against the existence of that policy that, it claimed, encouraged illegal migrations from the Island, putting the lives of thousands of Cubans at risk while causing a “brain drain.”

For their part, Cubans living in and outside of Cuba reacted virulently against what they considered Obama’s flagrant betrayal, despite the fact that visas had multiplied under his government and that the entry of Cuban migrants to the US had increased, especially since the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between our two countries raised the fear — not entirely unfounded — of losing the immigration privileges Cubans had enjoyed, including the Adjustment Act, in force since 1966. continue reading

As a reference, it should be noted that in fiscal year 2015-2016 alone, about 47,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, doubling the number who had arrived in the previous fiscal year.

But, although the repeal of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy meant a severe setback for tens of thousands of Cubans, whose maximum aspiration was (and is) to settle in the United States, and despite the fact that the first impact, while not eliminating it completely, did manage to considerably reduce the flow of rafters from Cuba, the truth is that, since the beginning of 2021, the trend of escaping from Cuba by sea is increasing.

Figures don’t lie. In 2018, a total of 259 Cubans were intercepted at sea, while the figure rose to 313 in 2019. In 2020 — at the start of the pandemic — there was a pause, when only 49 Cubans were captured in their vessels, while so far in 2021 that number has increased more than six times, with 323 rafters trapped so far.

The drama of this migratory flow is accompanied by a heavy dose of tragedy and death, which is why it continues to make headlines in numerous international media. The shipwreck of a boat with 20 Cubans on board was recently revealed. Two of them were found dead, floating at sea, 10 disappeared and only eight survived, rescued by US Coast Guard vessels, so that, eventually, the culmination of their sacrifice will be to face almost certain deportation to Cuba.

The increase in the illegal exodus by sea despite the fact that Cubans no longer have the prerogative that allowed them to remain in the United States legally and access permanent residence just by being able to touch that country’s territory (dry feet), and the evidence that they prefer to assume the uncertainty of living under undocumented status, just like the rest of the millions of illegal immigrants of other nationalities in that great nation, confirm that the causes that also compel Cubans to face the dangerous journey by sea, risking their lives in pursuit of a dream that not everyone manages to achieve, rest exclusively on the failure of the sociopolitical system imposed in Cuba more than six decades ago, in the permanent economic crisis derived from it, in the absence of freedoms and rights, as well as the repression inherent to the dictatorial regime.

Meanwhile, against the grain of the most elementary common sense that indicates that no one would escape from a country where everything is fine, where a Revolution was “made for the humble,” where social justice prevails and opportunities for a better life abound, Cuban authorities, alienated to the reality that is revealed before everyone’s  eyes, and with its intrinsic cynicism, continue to point to the Adjustment Act, the embargo and the “provocations” of the different US administrations as the causes that motivate the escapes.

But the indisputable truth is that the Cuban rafters, hostages of politics on both sides of the Straits of Florida and a bone of contention between extreme positions, are a direct result of the Castro Regime. It’s a sad chapter, unknown to our pre-1959 history. The escapes have existed since the first years of the “Revolution,” the rafters crossed the waters of the Florida Strait even before the existence of the Adjustment Act and the policy of wet-foot/dry-foot, and they will continue to exist and surrender to the uncertain fate of the unpredictable Caribbean as long as there is a dictatorship that prevents all of us from manufacturing our own dream of prosperity and democracy in Cuba. There is no alternative.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba’s Medical Brigade in Kuwait Performs With its Eyes on the Nobel Peace Prize

Just a year ago, around 300 Cuban doctors arrived in Kuwait to reinforce the fight against Covid-19. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 9 June 2021 — Every medical brigade that returns to Cuba is an opportunity for promotion with a view to the Nobel Peace Prize. This Tuesday the returning brigade was the last contingent that remained in Kuwait, where the Cuban government sent more than 300 healthcare workers in the last year to reinforce the group that was already there, and to help alleviate the ravages of Covid-19.

“Today, upon returning to the homeland with the satisfaction of having fulfilled our duty, we are convinced that they will be willing to carry out the necessary missions in our country and anywhere else in the world,” said Jorge Delgado Bustillo, head of the Central Unit for Medical Cooperation, speaking on behalf of Miguel Díaz-Canel to the 60 health professionals who landed yesterday in Havana from the Persian emirate.

The group consisted of 29 doctors and 31 nurses who, according to the official note, “treated 101,290 patients, at a rate of 280 patients a day, saved 3,130 lives, and performed 435,990 nursing procedures and 112 major surgeries, 12 minimal access surgeries and 69 minor surgeries.” continue reading

In August of last year, the first group of health workers returned to the island, which, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, consisted of 152 aid workers who treated “758 patients infected with the pandemic, and saved 189 of them from death.”

In January, the second group arrived, in this case of 125 professionals, who “treated 33,753 patients with Covid-19, carried out 374,680 nursing procedures, worked in the emergency services, and in intensive therapies and attended 30 patients per day.”

It is unknown how the jump was made from 758 patients in two months to more than 33,000 in six, despite the reduction of 150 in the total number of health workers present in Kuwait, although it is less understood that in June the figure tripled with just 60 doctors, even if the figure was accumulated.

In addition, the number of cases of coronavirus in Kuwait has been 320,257, so if Cubans make reference in their accounting to only patients with Covid-19, they would have dealt with almost half of those infected in the country. However, it is possible that in the global count, where it is not clear whether the patients were afflicted with the coronavirus, others hospitalized for any circumstance have been included.

All three returns of the brigades have been celebrated with the usual epic. “The pure white of the medical gowns distinguished the night veil of the first hours of the date, when the 152 members of the internationalist Henry Reeve contingent descended from the plane to the national soil, to be received as heroes,” said the press release on the August contingent, who did not remain there. “The assistance of Cuban solidarity reversed the pace of death.”

A less literary note was released for the January group, but was signed by the Cuban president himself and entitled Henry Reeve also with his imprint of love in Kuwait.

The Cuban people still do not know how much was paid for that love, although there has been speculation with figures of around 12 million dollars. In Kuwait, a local doctor can earn around $7,000, which can be doubled in cases of high specialization or overtime.

The Cuban government has doctors in several Middle Eastern countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Qatar. In the latter, several Cuban health workers fled and reported the conditions under which they worked in this mission, similar to the usual ones, including the requirement that they surrender their passports, the impossibility of communicating with citizens of the host country, the obligation to give public support to the Government and participate in its activities and, finally, the fact that the Cuban government keeps between 70% and 90% of money paid by the host country for the healthcare workers’ services, with the remainder paid out in salaries.

Cuba is taking advantage of its doctors to profit from its image during the pandemic. In addition to being one of the few economic assets that remains after the collapse of tourist activity, the obstacles to remittances and the collapse of its ally, Venezuela, the obtaining of the Nobel Peace Prize, which it has been seeking for months, would yield — in addition to the value of the award, just over a million dollars (10 million Swedish crowns) — the prestige that it craves.

Since April 2020, when the health crisis broke out, the campaign to win the Norwegian award for Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade has been insistent in its search for support around the world. This same Tuesday, during a debate in the European Parliament on human rights in Cuba, two Members of the European Parliament reviewed the work of the island’s doctors and their great contribution against Covid-19 worldwide.

This international campaign is accompanied by the internal one. Physicians are greeted with pomp at each return, with Kuwait just the most recent example. Just three weeks ago, Dr. Julio Guerra Izquierdo, head of the brigade stationed in Mexico, insisted in his speech that the low mortality rate in that North American country was due in part to Cuban health workers. “With the hard work of our collaborators, it was possible to reduce the fatality at the end, after four months, to 9.7%,” he defended.

A paradigmatic case of this amplification of the work of the Cubans is that of Andorra, where that country’s press did not skimp on its mockery of Cuba’s official propaganda: “If you read the balance sheet for the delegation presented by the the Castro regime media (…) thanks to Cuba and the Cuban health workers, the pandemic, the coronavirus, has not swallowed Andorra and Andorrans. It has been a miracle (…) The figures are such that it is evident that the brigade has saved the Principality from Covid as, in his day, Charlemagne [a medieval emperor decisive in Andorran independence and the European configuration] saved these latitudes from other events,” said an article in the Altaveu newspaper.

In the European principality, the data on cured people was also questioned, which permits putting in quarantine any official figure that is provided. “They have supposedly treated 821 critically ill patients in the Intensive Care Unit of the Nostra Senyora hospital in Meritxell. It is evident and clear that the hospital’s ICU has not treated this number of patients in any way shape or form. The collapse would have been brutal. But in Cuba, it is clear, they will be heroes. They have been decisive in the recovery of more than 700 patients, which are all the people officially recovered so far and of whom Cuban health workers have barely seen 20%,” the article added.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in October, so expect a long summer of lavishly celebrated returns.

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

“The Police Have Kidnapped Me in My Home for 60 days,” Denounces Iliana Hernandez

A policeman and a State Security agent guard the surroundings of Iliana Hernández’s house, in Cojímar, Havana. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, 7 June 2021 — CiberCuba activist and reporter Iliana Hernández has been besieged for two months at her home by police and State Security agents. Not only do they prevent her from going out, but they also do not allow any of her friends to visit, and they have cut off her mobile data internet service.

In conversation with 14ymedio, Hernández points out that the last time she was able to leave her home was on April 8, but she ended up arrested on Obispo Street in Old Havana along with other activists. “Since the 9th, I woke up surrounded by surveillance, until today,” she points out.

The journalist assures that in the 60 days that she has been in home detention, she has been “documenting the oppressors… Even at night, when they get close to my home, I record them,” she says. “On Sunday, one of them tried to hide behind a post so as not to appear in the video and in the end, his hiding was useless, because I later caught him around the corner. It is one of the best images I have of this repression.” continue reading

“They brought me to El Cerro in another patrol car and one of the security agents warned me not to go too far,” says Otero Alcántara

This Sunday, artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Art Historian Carolina Barrero tried to visit the reporter and ended up being detained by the officers who were part of the siege. “A block before, we saw a patrol car and we got out of the car we were in,” Otero Alcántara tells this newspaper. “Right there, the policeman told us that we couldn’t go to Iliana’s house and they put us in a patrol car and took us to the Cojímar police station. They brought me to El Cerro in another patrol car and one of the security officers warned me not to go that far.”

For her part, Barrero pointed out that she wanted to go see Hernández “because she has been inside the barricade for many days,” when in reality there isn’t “either a complaint, nor a process, nor a precautionary measure” which will legally prevent her from leaving her home. “I wanted to see her, bring her some things, have a coffee with her, so that she feels accompanied, and Luis Manuel told me that he wanted to go with me because he also wanted to see her,” she says.

Barrero details that the police had her sitting on a bench in the police station for a while, and after some time a patrol went to look for her and left her at her house in Old Havana. “Luckily, no security agent appeared, no one came to ask me anything,” she adds.

In an article denouncing in her social networks the arbitrariness that Hernández has experienced in recent weeks, Barrero pointed out that “the authority” that today is preventing Hernández from leaving her house “is not legitimate” and that “it is discredited for a lack of respect to rights and to the law itself.”

“What I found funniest was that they told me that they were masters of my life and writers of my destiny,” said reporter Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho

Journalist Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho was also arrested this weekend when he tried to visit Iliana. Upon reaching the corner of the reporter’s house, he was put in a patrol car that took him into custody at the Cojímar police station and then he was transferred to Infanta and Manglar, in El Cerro. “They wanted to draw up a warning report for violating a security action but I refused to sign it. They threatened me again by preventing me from going to a training course, confining me at home, inventing a cause to take me to jail,” Cocho complained to this newspaper.

“What I found funniest was that they told me that they were masters of my life and writers of my destiny,” noted the reporter, a contributor to the news portal ADN Cuba.

Iliana Hernández says that State Security would like her to leave Cuba but that they know perfectly well that she is not going to leave Cuba “forever”.

“They know it and that is why they still have me regulated [banned from traveling outside Cuba], they denied me the complaint I made to the Ministry of the Interior, the Supreme Court gave it no place, breaking all the laws because there is no justification for me to be regulated. I am not going to tell them that I want to leave and never return, this is my country and they do not own Cuba. They have kidnapped me but they are not the owners, we are recovering Cuba from the kidnapping,” she declares.

She also stated that right now for her “there is no idea” in her head other than to continue with her activism and her work as a reporter: “My priority is my country’s freedom and they are not going to get me to give up, they can be out there as long as they want, when I need to go out, I’m going to go out.”

On April 24, after two weeks of the police siege, a group of activists who went to visit her ended up being arrested, including Hernández herself who was accompanying them.

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.

Cuba’s New Prepaid Currency Cards for Visitors Cannot Be Purchased with Pesos

Cash withdrawals using pre-paid debit cards will be issued only in Cuban pesos and only through one bank’s ATM network. (Radio Mambí)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 June 2021 — Cuba’s official press has claims that the the state-owned currency exchange company, Cadeca, was planning to sell prepaid cards in convertible foreign currency that could be purchased with Cuban pesos at the official exchange rate of 24 pesos to the U.S. dollar. “Such reports are completely false and an attempt to confuse the public,” Cubadebate stated on Saturday.

“If the Cuban banking system does not have sufficient funds to routinely do this type of transaction at its branches, how will it be able to issue such cards through Cadeca?” asks the online news website.

“If Cadeca could sell dollars for pesos, would it not be much easier do what it did in 2019? If Cadeca had enough dollars at the time to issue a card in exchange for pesos for use in currency stores, wouldn’t it be easier for Cuba to buy merchandise with those same dollars and sell it in stores that accept pesos?” continue reading

“The reality is that a new banking product — prepaid denominated cards for visitors from overseas — is being readied for launch and will be available soon. Some information has already been shared through the banking system’s official networks,” states the article, which received dozens of comments within a few hours, most of them critical.

“Too bad it’s a lie,” one reader writes. “A dollar is already worth 70 pesos and working people — those of us who are not leaving the country — cannot buy anything.” Another commentator complained, “All the city’s most important stores now only take hard currency and the trend is spreading to the suburbs. I’m told they’re geared towards tourists and people with hard currency. I just don’t understand.”

The new pre-paid cards, which will probably only be available to visitors from overseas, will be issued exclusively by the Bank of Credit and Commerce (Bandec) in 200, 500 and 1,000 dollar amounts, though the state-owned company has yet to provide details.

As the article notes, cash withdrawals can only be made in pesos and only through the bank’s ATM network. Withdrawals cannot be exchanged for foreign currency and the bank maintains it is not obliged to return any unused funds. It is not yet known when the cards will go into circulation. On May 20, Cuban airports abruptly stopped selling hard currency without prior warning. The news came via a message on social media posted by Cadeca a few hours before the decision took effect.

The company claimed that the drop in tourism due to the pandemic resulted in a “significant shortage” of hard currency, adding that, though it had been able to operate normally up to that point, the lack of liquidity had reached an unsustainable level.

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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.