Cuba’s Transition and Plans of the Castro Regime’s Business Mafia

With the death of López-Callejas (center), the potential of a Cuban Putin was aborted before birth, and the consolidation of that mafia business is on hold for the moment.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, August 8, 2022–Following a trip to Russia in 1992 to attend a seminar on the transition in Cuba, I published La transición que los cubanos no debemos hacer [The Transition We Cubans Should Not Make] in the Miami Herald. The Soviet Union had just crumbled and Yeltsin was in power. I posed the following question to the vice-director of Izvestia, a newspaper that was part of the old USSR, “To whom does Izvestia belong?” For me, this was a key question to which the response was, it “theoretically” belongs to the Russian Federation.

In a way it made sense, because at that time the newspaper was already in the process of being handed over to a great businessman, Vladimir Potanin who, at the same time, was the country’s Vice President. Marxism was no longer discussed and neither was socialism. Russia was taking its first steps, still wobbly, toward a business mafia camouflaged by a discourse that was beginning to be tinged with nationalism. The man charged with directing the transition to the end, Vladimir Putin, had resigned from the KGB a year earlier, and four years later would become part of the Yeltsin administration.

A similar process had begun in Cuba, except that the person supposedly destined to lead it died suddenly. General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, who is the father of one of Raúl Castro’s grandchildren, was referred to as the “tsar of the Cuban economy” for his role as the head of Gaesa, the most economically powerful conglomerate which controls the most important companies in the country. Last year he became a delegate of the National Assembly and a member of the Politburo, the senior leadership of the totalitarian party which governs the country.

The only thing missing was to replace President Díaz-Canel, who was provisionally placed in that position by Raúl Castro to take the fall for the disastrous results of the policies implemented by the leadership. His resulting unpopularity would justify this substitution. However, this last step for López-Calleja did not come to pass. Thus, the potential Cuban Putin was aborted before birth, and the consolidation of the system of a business mafia under the “godfathership” of the Castro family is on hold for the moment.

This occurred amid the deepest crisis it Cuba’s history and of uncontrollable popular protests across the country.

At this crossroad, what can the Castroist elite do? And when I say “Castroist elite,” I refer to what remains of the octogenarian — and now nonagenarian — “historic leadership.”

A. It could do nothing, just allow all the businesses to disintegrate under their own weight and let civil and military bureaucrats appropriate those means of production as new capitalists, on condition of being accountable to that leadership and in particular, to the “family.” This is one form of abandoning that antiquated model which has been proven unsustainable, and spawning another model more similar to the Russian than the Chinese. However, because the public is already aware and desperate, this would require violently repressing popular protests and demonstrations in a new kind of Tiananmen — a very dangerous thing as it could face sedition by young generals whose loyalties are not beyond doubt.

B. Secure asylum for themselves in an allied country without extradition continue reading

laws, while abandoning their minions and underlings to face the chaos and grave dangers of an overwhelming popular tsunami, while they peacefully live out their few remaining years or months with their families and their ill-gotten funds, but clear of danger.

C. Replace Díaz-Canel and his team with reformist officials whose image is more acceptable to the people and international public opinion, to spur hopes for short- and medium-term solutions, and allow them to implement changes toward a partial economic and social opening, at least until the so-called historic leaders disappear naturally. In that case, it would be a revolution in reverse, to release from the state the assets that had been under state control, still under the supervision of this elite who would retain some power, at least until their physical disappearance.

Any one of these three options is possible, but regrettably the most likely, in my opinion, is option A, due to the obstinacy they’ve always demonstrated to remain in power at all costs; and the least likely, for the same reason, is option B.

Option C would be the most intelligent, and there are several possible candidates, all unthinkable under normal circumstances. For example, one recently mentioned by several media sources would be Armando Franco Senén, the former director of Alma Mater, who was fired in April for tackling controversial topics which apparently caused discomfort among authorities. The expulsion, which spurred the resignation of the entire editorial team, occurred at the urging of the National Committee of the UJC and, in particular, Nislay Molina (at the time in charge of the ideological arm of the organization of young communists) who said, “We should have fired you a long time ago.”

I mention Senén due to the unexpected fact that, shortly after, Molina was relieved of her duties. In contrast, he was promoted to an important position at Palco, a state group less powerful than Gaesa, but with several companies under his control. This promotion was celebrated with much fanfare by Palco exactly one month after López-Calleja’s death. For a bureaucrat “to fall up” is a common event among the acolytes of the regime who make mistakes, put never among critics of the regime, no matter how moderate.

We must remain vigilant to facts such as these because López-Calleja’s death and the growing protests may have resulted in the elite discarding option A to lean toward C.

But all this is hypothetical. The only thing we can say with clarity is that in the near future, Cuba cannot continue being what it has been until now. Continuity of the current model will not be possible. History itself has shown this.

The model of a state-run centralist monopoly, misnamed “real socialism” is not viable and that is why it did not require military interventions, coup d’etats nor armed insurrections for all of socialist Europe to implode. Even China, to avoid collapse, had to make capitalist reforms. This is why Cuba, to sustain itself, always needed subsidies from a foreign ally, something which it no longer has and is not on the horizon. Nonetheless, its leaders are dead set on keeping it.

In Russia, the formerly communist oligarchs were able to impose a business mafia system because a strong opposition did not exist, but rather a few groups with notable personalities such as the Committee on Human Rights in the Soviet Union, the Helsinki Group and Memorial, all of whose members together do not exceed the double digits.

In contrast, in Cuba there is a dissidence, which totals about a hundred organizations with thousands of members with a history of almost 40 years of struggle, and a movement which has resulted in a popular trend of civic activists in the arts, known as “artivism,” which along with access to new telecommunications technologies has gained a meteoric strength impossible for the powers that be to stop, let alone extinguish, it.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


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Cuban Opposition Figure Felix Navarro is Isolated and has Covid in Aguica Prison in Matanzas

Félix Navarro still has after-effects from a covid infection last year, which is added to the diabetes and migraines he suffers. (Facebook/Juan Antonio Madrazo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2022 — Since last August 4, the Cuban government opponent Félix Navarro has been isolated in the infirmary of the Agüica prison, in Matanzas, due to a new infection by covid-19. The activist Rosa María Payá denounced through Facebook that “for almost three weeks he has not been allowed to communicate with his family.”

Navarro, was sentenced to 9 years in prison for the crimes of “attack” and “public disorder” just for going out to demonstrate on July 11, 2021. According to Payá, he was taken from his cell and the inmates have not heard from him since. Sonia Álvarez, wife of the former Black Spring prisoner, had expressed concern about his deteriorating state of health, which is aggravated by diabetes and a lung injury that he suffers.

Last June, the activist Ania Zamora confirmed to Radio Televisión Martí that Navarro was receiving antibiotics, in addition to the fact that he still has sequelae from last year’s covid infection and “had infected pimples due to bedbug bites” in prison.

Zamora detailed that Navarro’s family had been informed that “the visits he could receive in the Agüica prison would be every forty-five days” and the last one would have been on June 7.

On July 28, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures in favor of Félix Navarro, noting that he is in a “serious and urgent situation of risk of irreparable damage to his rights in Cuba.”

Family members and a lawyer told the IACHR of the difficulties they have faced in maintaining contact and visits, as well as obtaining information about Navarro’s detention and health conditions. They also indicated that the opponent suffers from diabetes and migraine. continue reading

After analyzing the allegations of fact and law, the IACHR considered that the information presented shows prima facie that Navarro is in a serious and urgent situation, for which it requested the Government of Cuba “to adopt the necessary measures to protect the rights to the life” of the opponent. The situation that has not been addressed.

The lockdown that the regime has placed on Navarro’s case so that his family is kept incommunicado about his situation seems to be a constant on the island. No one takes responsibility for the health of the 68-year-old opponent, who was one of the political prisoners of the Black Spring 2003, when 75 opponents and independent journalists received heavy prison sentences.

Just as they have tried to keep the case of Navarro in check, users have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the poor internet service, curiously since the explosion of the fire that devoured the Matanzas Supertanker Base on August 5.

This Monday, the Twitter user called El Demócrata denounced: “I have no landline service and very little internet for data.” Another user targeted the state telecommunications company Etecsa to point out that “always when the power goes out at the same time as the internet, it gets very bad. Like now in Nuevo Vedado.”

“Cuba’s dictators are inhumane without empathy, they even cut off internet communications and people in Matanzas can neither inform nor communicate with their relatives,” said a user identified as Yuli Libertad on Twitter. “This is a crime to want to hide what is really happening.”

One day before Yuli Libertad’s comment, Etecsa, through which all Cubans inside and outside the island process their phone recharges and buy their data packages for internet use and other services, insisted it was providing service, including hours later guaranteeing coverage in “facilities where fire containment, evacuation zones and health areas are managed.”

Failures in the service are notorious to the users of social networks. Using the pseudonym El Makina, Frank tweeted that due to his poor connection it was not until August 6 that he was able to connect and find out details of the “disaster” in Matanzas and of the wounded and missing. “Cuba hurts a lot and those most affected are always those forced to resist.”


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The Canadian Blue Diamond Group Continues its Offensive in Cuba and Takes Over Havana’s Inglaterra Hotel

The Inglaterra is the oldest hotel in the country, almost 147 years old. (Hotel England/File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2022 — The Canadian Blue Diamond Group will add Havana’s  historic Hotel Inglaterra to its operations in Cuba starting next November. The news was announced last week by the communication director of the company on the island, Miguel García Núñez, in statements to Radio Habana Cuba.

García Núñez added that, in September, the hotel company will reopen the Regis, also in the capital, with the Mystique seal, aimed at the “adult segment.”

The Inglaterra, located in front of Parque Central, a few steps from the Capitol and the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater, is the oldest hotel in the country, almost 147 years old, and has been declared a World Heritage Site and a National Monument.

In 2018, the Marriott chain published that it would take over the management of the hotel, but in the end the operation did not materialize. The American company which, thanks to Barack Obama’s diplomatic thaw, signed an agreement with the Cuban government to manage the Four Points by Sheraton in the capital, left the island in 2020, after then-President Donald Trump revoked its license.

In fact, the expansion of Blue Diamond contrasts to the withdrawal from Cuba of large foreign tourist conglomerates. Blue Diamond was recently granted the exclusive administration of Cayo Largo del Sur.

On July 18, the Canadian firm reported that it would reopen the Paseo del Prado hotel on August 1, under the name of Royalton Habana. It was a surprise, since the establishment, one of the most luxurious in the Cuban capital, was managed, together with the state-owned Grupo Gaviota, by Accor. continue reading

Asked by this newspaper, the French group limited itself to confirming by email that it would not operate the establishment from August 1, without offering any reason. After an expensive renovation, publicized in December 2019, the hotel was closed as part of the measures imposed to contain the covid-19 pandemic.

In its July press release, Blue Diamond did not detail whether it had redesigned the interior, simply announcing that it would provide “stunning views from inside and out,” thanks to “its modern look, as well as the views afforded by the rooms, the three restaurants and bars, and the rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the Bay of Havana and the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta.


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Cuban Reporter Nelson Julio Alvarez Resigns from Journalism Due to Pressure From the Regime

The “YouTuber” Nelson Julio Álvarez denounced systematic harassment by State Security. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2022 — The systematic harassment of the Cuban regime, acts of intimidation and threats by State Security, including a summons to his mother, forced reporter Nelson Julio Álvarez Mairata to “resign from his profession” and his position as a collaborator in the digital media Cubanet.

An agent of the political police, whom he identified as First Lieutenant Roberto, warned him that if he didn’t resign he would be subject to legal proceedings once the new Criminal Code was approved, and Roberto demanded that he make a video talking about his link with Cubanet and “his funding,” which he categorically refused to do.

Álvarez also denounced through his Facebook account that, since 2019, he has been subjected to “exhausting hours of interrogations, arrests, warning letters, even the search of the home where I was living, just for practicing journalism.”

The journalist explained that as part of the hate campaign against him, the regime hacked his social media profile to “expose his private life” and mock his sexuality and gender identity. “My family has been affected; my mother is being summoned for interrogation” and intimidated by prohibiting her from leaving the country, as is Álvarez’s sister, a 17-year-old teenager.

This siege led Álvarez to fall into an episode of burnout, an emotional exhaustion that affected him physically. The harassment he has suffered from the regime, he said, is part of their strategy. “The government has the resources to repress people individually.” continue reading

Police repression and the severity of the legislation against freedom of expression on the island are obstacles faced by journalists, and some have had to emigrate. This situation could increase in the face of the new Criminal Code, which provides for stricter punishments for independent newspapers and magazines that receive funding from abroad.

Similar to Álvarez’s case was that of independent journalist Cynthia de la Cantera, who on July 24 denounced the harassment of State Security. In a Facebook post, agent Manuel gave her three options: “Collaborate with them, abandon journalism or suffer the consequences and face criminal proceedings.”

“I’m deciding to give up journalism because I’m not willing to accept either of Manuel’s other two options,” said De la Cantera. “It was a decision that I had to make in a matter of a few minutes and, I reiterate, under threats. I just say, and I trust, “La Noche No Será Eterna” [The Night Will Not Be Eternal].

Translated by Regina Anavy


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Four Fuel Tanks are Destroyed in Matanzas, Cuba, and ‘The Risk Continues’

A firefighter at the site of the fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base (Cuba). (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 August 2022 — The official information is that the fire that has been devouring the Matanzas Supertanker Base since Friday began to subside this Tuesday. The Cuban Fire Department confirmed that the fourth tank, which exploded on Monday night, collapsed completely, and the state press itself published images of the four melted tanks.

Despite the fact that the authorities insist that “successful work is being done on extinguishing the fire” and that the spread of fire to the rest of the port facilities was prevented — there are four other tanks similar to those destroyed — they warn that “there are still flames” on the surface of the tanks and that “the risk continues.”

“It’s still a big fire, but we see a different situation than yesterday,” Alexander Ávalos Jorge, Assistant Chief of the National Fire Department and Firefighter Team said at a press conference on Tuesday.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel showed up at the site to evaluate the progress of the work and said that there are still “possibilities that the fuel will catch fire again.”

Support teams from Venezuela and Mexico, EFE reported, were able to start the hydraulic pump that they had installed and hadn’t been able to operate. On Tuesday, in addition, two ships with the Mexican flag arrived: the Liberator, of the Ministry of the Navy, with a helicopter to help, and the Bourbon Artabaze, a private ship hired by the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), specializing in putting out fires in marine oil facilities.

The Mexican delegation, which began arriving on Saturday night, has sent almost 45,000 liters of retardant foam and two specialized irrigation pumps to the island on 13 flights.

The images disseminated show that the black smoke from the accident has turned gray, since the fuel from the tanks has been consumed. Each tank has a capacity of 50,000 cubic meters (50 million liters) and was filled with an indeterminate amount of fuel. continue reading

The government’s version is that lightning struck one of the warehouses on Friday afternoon and, in circumstances not yet explained, since that type of facility must have protection against that natural event, it lit a fuel tank with 25,000 cubic meters of national crude oil. In the following days, the fire reached the neighboring tanks one by one, between explosions that were broadcast live not only by private users but also by state television.

While working on extinguishing the first fire, the explosion of the second tank caused the death of firefighter Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, whose body was found on Saturday, and the disappearance of 14 others, most of them young people aged 18 and 19 who were going through military service, as witnessed by the desperate calls of relatives on social networks.

The Government has not published the list of these missing persons or acknowledged any more deaths and has already announced that the recovery of the bodies will not begin until the flames are extinguished. This lack of transparency results in the dissemination of contradictory information.

Relatives of one of the missing, Leo Alejandro Doval Pérez de Prado, only 19, wrote messages on social networks considering him dead, but this newspaper is waiting for confirmation from the family. Likewise, official journalists reported that Michel Rodríguez Román, 20, had died, but later deleted the information. Both boys were in military service.

In its latest report, Cuba’s Ministry of Health pointed out that of the total of 125 injured in the accident, 19 are hospitalized, 5 of them critical, 2 serious and 12 with “care.”

Another effect of the accident was the shutdown, on Monday, of the largest thermoelectric power plant in Cuba, Antonio Guiteras, located almost five kilometers from the Supertanker Base.

Although the Electric Union of Cuba (UNE) reported that it had begun to get the plant back in service, an attempt was thwarted on Tuesday night. “Just a few minutes after synchronizing with the national electrical system, the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant went down again, as a result of a shot,” official journalist Lázaro Manuel Alonso posted on Facebook, without giving more detail about what he was referring to. The UNE, for its part, indicated that it was “for unknown reasons” that are being investigated.

In any case, a new day of blackouts presented itself. On Tuesday, only 60% of the island’s energy demand was met.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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Cuban Stores Sell Imported Vegetables, Not Products Grown in Cuba

A Cuban farmer told the state-run newspaper Granma that it’s not just about training. Things as simple yet essential as product packaging are often not available on the island or do not meet international standards.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 5, 2022 — Cuba’s hard-currency stores are well-stocked with imported goods, as much as they can get, something obvious to any regular reader of the official press. In an article entitled “Broken Links in the Chain,” the state-run newspaper Granma asks why Cuban farm products are not being sold in these establishments. It is ironic because, in the opinion of those interviewed, the government has done all it can and it’s now up to producers themselves.

“While the workers under its command strive to maintain a steady supply of fresh vegetables, two blocks away a currency store operated by the state-owned Cimex corporation is selling imported spinach, beans and carrots,” the newspaper quotes Jesús Gonzalez as saying. Gonzalez runs an organic farm in Pinar del Rio called Las Flores and insists he is willing to supply stores like this but none have shown any interest.

Roberto Trujillo, head of marketing at the Provincial Delegation of Agriculture, blames the farmers, claiming they lack a marketing mentality. “There is a lot of ignorance, even among the most experienced producers,” he says.

He notes that — with the exception of honey, tobacco and charcoal — little is being marketed to consumers overseas, to the tourism industry or to Cuba’s hard-currency stores. These potential income sources, he claims, could provide domestic producers with enough earnings to acquire needed raw materials and technology.

Granma interviewed Onay Martinez, an engineer who runs Tierra Brava, a farm in the town of Los Palacios, which he says “supplies more than 200 tons of fruit,” though he does not specify whether it is sold in Cuba or abroad. Martinez explains that it is not just about know-how. Sometimes things as simple but as important as packaging for retail sale are not available or do not meet international standards.

While Martinez believes it would be easier to sell to Cuban retail chains or the tourism sector than to export, he blames the business sector for being more focused on itself than on forming business partnerships. “I think this is one of the problems we currently have, that we are not looking inward,” he says.

He does not blame the government, however, which he believes has worked hard at eliminating obstacles to economic development. “All the necessary policies have been put in place. Now the problem is people’s mindset, which has to change to take the next step”, he says.

His farm produces fruits and condiments which, as the article notes, “are sold at local outlets and neighborhood stores in Palacios and Pinar del Rio,” as well as on the hard-currency market.

For Juan Carlos, a 42-old fruit grower in Alquizar, a town in Artemisa province, the hassles of getting his crops into stores start as soon as harvesting begins. “Getting boxes that will protect the fruit and vegetables during transport is a headache,” he says. continue reading

“We already have wooden crates but the dividers and trays to keep the fruit from being crushed by its own weight aren’t available”, he points out. “Another issue is the packaging. You can’t sell it in those stores without some kind of product presentation. And no one is willing to sell it in bulk, by the pound, right now.”

“I cannot compete with another producer from Spain, who offers his strawberries in flashy packaging where everything is explained, from calorie counts to recipes. The best I can do is put my fruit in a bag or package with a tiny label, but that’s it. Which product are you going to buy? The imported one because it catches the eye.”

Juan Carlos has dabbled in frozen mango, mamey and guava pulp, which he sells in bags. “I have customers who buy it here because they know it’s a good quality product and that we make sure our conditions are sanitary. But it doesn’t make sense to try selling it somewhere else when basic refrigeration isn’t available.”

“My mango is better than some cherries in syrup from Spain but, without freezers, labels, packaging and fuel, I can’t sell it in hard-currency or peso stores. It’s not about not having a merchant’s mindset. It’s about not having the resources, about the hurdles to buying what we need.” he says.

The Granma article insists that producers’ ultimate goal cannot simply be to sell to hard-currency stores. Otherwise, their products, it argues, “would be beyond the reach of most of the public.”

Two thirds of the article is dedicated to a speech Raul Castro gave back in 2007 in which he discussed overcoming the import mindset. “In order to have more, we must start by producing more, with a sense of rationality and efficiency, so that we can reduce imports, starting with food produced here,” said the general on July 26 of that year.

According to Granma, this marked a turning point, a rare success story. Artisan and Pinar del Rio resident Claudio Roba announced he could produce all the bats needed for the National Baseball Series.

Roba began making the bats for fifty pesos apiece compared to the hundred dollars it would have cost to import them. That year he produced almost thousand. However, orders for his bats began to decline until they dried up altogether. “Sadly, this money, which the country needs for so many other things, is spent on things we can make in Cuba,” he said.

Near the end of the article, Granma lists the measures the government has adopted since 2011 which, in its judgement, producers should follow to improve their output. “The business system has undergone organizational, economic, managerial, financial, fiscal and worker income transformations aimed at facilitating the productive chain with the socialist state company,” it states before to mentioning the seven main principles.

However, fourteen years after Raul Castro’s speech and eleven years after the first of these measures took effect, the situation has only gotten worse. Foreign trade data released by the National Office of Statistics and Information for 2021 speaks for itself: Cuba imported four times more than it exported.


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The Antonio Guiteras Thermoelectric Plant Goes Out of Service Over Lack of Water

The Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant is located in the province of Matanzas and is the largest in Cuba. (Yurmuri TV/Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2022 — The Antonio Guiteras Thermoelectric Power Plant, which operates in the city of Matanzas, left the National Electricity System, as confirmed by the authorities, Monday afternoon, causing a loss of 1,246 MW and ensuring the programming of more blackouts. “The unit ran out of sufficient water supply to stay in operation,” the Matanzas government reported on its social networks.

Local authorities also explained that “water is supplied by pipe to the plant and pumped,” but still “it’s not enough to keep it running, so it had to be shut down.” The Guiteras thermoelectric plant has been affected by the fire that began this Friday in the industrial area of Matanzas, after a lightning strike, according to the official version, started a fire in one of the fuel tanks and has already spread to two other tanks.

“Its return to the grid isn’t expected for the hour of maximum demand,” the Electric Union of Cuba (UNE) warned, while insisting that the recovery of the thermoelectric plant “will depend on the disposition of water levels,” although in another statement it said that “about 12 hours are needed for it to start up again. However, actions are already being taken to reduce this time.”

However, the supply of water will take longer than expected, the authorities acknowledged, due to the taps in the thermoelectric plant, which demand a greater supply than usual.

The UNE also reported that due to the exit of the Matanzas plant “it was necessary to decrease 200 MW to Havana, and the restoration of this load will depend on the conditions of availability of the National Electricity System.”

Last Saturday, 12 hours after the explosion, the Government had announced that the thermoelectric plant, located about 10 kilometers from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, had fuel to operate for two days, since pumping from there had been suspended to the largest Cuban power plant.

The UNE predicted blackouts that day due to a deficit of 35% of demand, which was maintained until Monday when the Guiteras plant had to shut down.

Power outages, due to failures and breaks in outdated thermoelectric plants and lack of fuel and scheduled maintenance, are increasingly frequent in Cuba. In July, blackouts were recorded in 29 of the 31 days, according to UNE data. continue reading

The situation, which weighs down all areas of the economy and significantly affects daily life, has fueled social discontent, and several protests have been reported throughout the island.

Last year, blackouts were one of the reasons behind the anti-government protests of July 11, the largest in decades, in the opinion of analysts.

Cuba relies heavily on foreign oil to produce energy (thermolelectric plants generate two-thirds of the electricity), and its main supplier, Venezuela, has significantly decreased its shipments.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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.

Mexico Will Pay Cuba More than a Million Dollars a Month for 641 Healthcare Workers

A group of Cuban healthcare workers prior to their transfer to the Nayarit community of Santiago Ixcuintla. (Municipal DIF)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Ángel Salinas, Mexico, 9 August 2022 — Finally, 641 Cuban doctors will be hired by the Mexican government to fill vacancies in precarious areas. The director of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), Zoé Robledo, indicated that these healthcare workers will be integrated into the Health Plan for Well-being and that “115 are already working in the states of Colima and Nayarit.”

A source from the Institute of Health for Welfare (Insabi), who withheld their name, confirmed to 14ymedio that the Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos, SA, will be “responsible for selecting the group of Cuban specialists and the salary issue.”

This Government of Havana company, created in 2011, has been accused internationally of human trafficking and forced labor. It is also pointed out as a business channel of the regime through which it operates, from sending personnel to international medical missions “paid” by the requesting countries, to offering treatments under the concept of health tourism. continue reading

The Insabi official affirmed that, by the end of 2022, it is expected that the 641 Cuban doctors will be giving consultations in the marginalized areas assigned to them. “The salaries are the same that Mexican doctors will receive, we are talking about 41,784 pesos (2,042 dollars) for a specialist and 35,237 pesos (1,722 dollars) for a general doctor.”

The money, 1,308,922 dollars per month, will be managed by Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos, S.A. “The agreement specifies that this first stage will be for one year, with the possibility of extending the agreement.”

The information provided by the director of IMSS is different from that published on August 3 by the journalist Lourdes Mendoza. The Government of Mexico informed via transparency of the hiring of 610 Cuban doctors, for whom it would pay Cuba 1,177,300 euros per month (1,199,645).

The source consulted by this newspaper confirmed, as made known to the communicator, that the payments will be deposited in an account of Banco Internacional de Comercio, SA, with fiscal domicile at Inmobiliaria Monte Barreto, Jerusalem building, ground floor, 3rd avenue, and / 78 and 80, Miramar, Playa, Havana, Cuba.

The Government of Mexico promised to provide accommodation and food to the Cuban doctors. Of the 115 specialists who are already in Mexico, 40 are women and 75 men. It was also detailed that 15 are high-demand specialties, 31 internal medicine, 31 pediatrics, 24 general surgery, and seven gynecology and obstetrics.

Insabi authorities asked the Island for a list of Cuban doctors who are missing to join the medical mission. “It is required to advance in immigration paperwork and the revalidation of studies before the Ministry of Public Education, which was what stopped the integration of the team in Nayarit,” explained the official.


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The Cuban Regime Wants Help from the US Without Formally Asking For It

The authorities do not know exactly the damage to the four storage tanks, of the eight at the Supertanker Base, which are on fire. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 August 2022 — With the fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base out of control since Friday, August 5, and a population distressed by the consequences of the incident and the additional blackouts that are coming, the Cuban government begins to imply that the United States is reluctant to send aid to the island.

Thus, Johana Tablada, deputy director general for the United States of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, in statements collected by Cubadebate, that the only thing that the northern neighbor has offered so far was “technical advice (talking by phone with our specialists)” and that the rest “does not depend on Cuba.”

However, according to US sources speaking to this newspaper, the problem is that Havana has not requested the aid through the proper diplomatic channels. In the same vein, Guena Rod, editor of the podcast, wrote on Facebook : “I am told that the US has been and is prepared to send everything available to extinguish the fire, but that due to the circumstances and regulations, they cannot send something that Cuba has not requested directly and through the appropriate channels. ”

Guena Rod asked his sources about the public call made by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, and they replied that “that helped, but that’s not how it works.”

Diplomacy experts explain to 14ymedio that although there is no international rule that requires establishing this type of relationship between countries in a certain way, the usual thing is to either send a letter signed by the president, prime minister or chancellor of a country, or issue a verbal note, and immediately establish a communication channel between the experts, not only for technical issues related to the problem, but also to smooth out any bureaucratic hurdle that the case entails, such as customs permits.

Such a communication by the Cuban government would, of course, entail formally admitting that it is asking the perpetual “enemy empire” for help, something it appears to be reluctant to do.

“The United States is carefully monitoring the situation in Matanzas and is waiting in case Cuba requires humanitarian or technical assistance,” the US embassy in Havana tweeted on Monday, insisting hours later on “supporting the people and organizations that are sending humanitarian assistance goods in response to the Matanzas fire. Our team is here to facilitate the export of humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people.” continue reading

Meanwhile, the statements of Alexander Ávalos Jorge, second chief of the National Extinction Department of the Cuban Fire Department, leave no doubt that the incident that has devastated the Matanzas Supertanker Base since Friday is still out of control and will continue to be so. “It is impossible to calculate,” he admits, when it will be controlled. “We could still be looking at days.”

In his press conference this Monday, the military official also acknowledged that the exact damage to both the third and fourth tanks affected by the fire, of the eight that make up the facility, close to the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, the largest on the island, is unknown. That plant, which stopped working this Monday due to lack of fuel and water.

“The high temperatures have made work very difficult and it has been committing itself in a chain reaction and it has been practically impossible,” to stop the fires admitted Ávalos Jorge, on a day in which large explosions continued to occur, and were even broadcast live by the state television.

According to the official, the rest of the tanks, of 50,000 cubic meters each (50 million liters), are also “compromised.”

The latest explosions and the profusion of smoke at ground level frustrated the use of the hydraulic pump brought by Venezuela, publicized by the official press as “key” to containing the flames. In fact, according to CiberCuba with a source in a fire chief present at the scene of the incident, seven more people were injured this Monday, including several foreign technicians.

So far, the authorities have only reported one deceased, firefighter Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, 60, from Cienfuegos, whose body was recovered on Saturday.

The number of disappeared dropped from 16 to 14, after “two people appeared in hospitals,” said Susely Morfa, first secretary of the Provincial Committee of the PCC in Matanzas.

Despite all of them being called ’firefighters’ by government sources, many of them are 18 and 19-year-olds who were in military service, as testified by the desperate calls from family members on social networks.

A total of 24 wounded, out of a total of 125, are still hospitalized.


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In Cuba, Protests Against Blackouts, and for Freedom, Spread to Holguin

“Turn on the electricity dickhead,” was the majority cry of the people, between the sounds of people banging on pots and pans and the blare of car and motorcycle horns. (Screen capture)

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14ymedio, Havana, 9 August 2022 — Nearly 200 people took to the streets on Tuesday morning in Alcides Pino, one of the 21 popular councils of city of Holguín, to protest the prolonged blackouts that the city is suffering.

“Turn on the electricity dickhead,” was the majority cry of the people, between the sounds of people banging on pots and pans and the blare of car and motorcycle horns, which accompanied the large demonstration, broadcast through social networks.

One of those recordings was made by a user who said: “It’s time to ask for freedom for the people of Cuba,” a cry that was answered with gestures of assent by the crowd. “Join us!” they yelled at bystanders watching the march.

Some of the protesters covered their faces with their own shirts, something that did not happen on July 11, 2021. Many of those imprisoned for those protests were arrested after being identified in the videos broadcast, that day and in the following days, on social networks. continue reading

Alcides Pino is one of the more than twenty places in Holguín that, as reported by the Electric Union of Cuba (UNE), would suffer a power cut between 12 at night and 6 in the morning and would only have electricity again from that time until 6 pm this Tuesday.

Since the first demonstrations against the blackouts, on July 15, in Los Palacios (Pinar del Río), protests have been added throughout the island, which is suffering an unprecedented energy crisis. On August 5, the same day that the gigantic fire started at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, hundreds of people demonstrated in Martí Park in Cienfuegos demanding an end to the blackouts, which in some areas last up to 14 hours.

Electricity shortages, however, are far from easing. The official media reported this Tuesday morning that the current deficit is forecast at 837 MW – the previous day, the forecast of a deficit of 991 MW ultimately turned out to be 1,246 MW. Meanwhile, the Antonio Guiteras plant, near the Matanzas fire, which was shut down this Monday due to lack of fuel and water, is now in the “start-up process,” and many other units are out of service. Using the usual euphemism in these cases, the authorities described the situation as “very complex.”


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Cuban Government Confirms the Third Fuel Tank Collapsed in Matanzas

Moment when the fire reaches the third tank of the Matanzas Supertanker Base, on Sunday night (@SantanaMiriel/Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2022 — “The fire has taken on a greater magnitude; four tanks are already compromised,” Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Avalos of the Cuban Fire Department said at a press conference on Monday afternoon. The military said that they’re working to prevent the spread of fire to other areas of the Matanzas Supertanker Base, such as a nearby depot that contains reserves of other fuels. Extinguishing the fire can take days.

The fire that has been devouring the Supertanker Base since Friday worsened on Sunday night when it reached a third fuel tank after explosions in the second. The provincial governor himself, Mario Felipe Sabines Lorenzo, confirmed on Monday morning that the third tank collapsed.

Official media, as well as private users, broadcast live through social networks the moment when, before midnight, a gigantic flash emerged from the affected tanks and, instantly, a column of fire reached several tens of meters.

A few minutes earlier, announcer Humberto López, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, welcomed the fact that the first tank set on fire, as a result of lightning, according to the official version, was “without flames,” only emanating “white smoke.” That fire was extinguished when all the national crude oil contained in the tank was consumed.

The strategy to combat the flames, which included cooling the tanks with sea water with the help of Mexico and Venezuela, was unsuccessful.

This morning, Cubadebate reported, a Venezuelan rig arrived at the scene of the accident to pump a chemical agent over the fire. On Sunday, 35 firefighters, specialists and PDVSA technicians arrived from the Caribbean country with 20 tons of foam and other chemicals. Likewise, a Boeing 737 of the Mexican Air Force also landed on Sunday with 60 rescue soldiers and 16 technicians from Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Sabines Lorenzo admitted that the fire was revived when the second tank collapsed and the fuel it contained was spilled. Neither authorities nor official journalists mentioned the word “explosion” at any time.

Nor have they made public the list of those who are missing in the accident. Only one body, that of firefighter Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, 60 years old and originally from Cienfuegos, was found and identified. The Government has already warned that the recovery of bodies will not begin until the flames are extinguished. continue reading

The Matanzas Supertanker Base, in Cuba, near the Antonio Guiteras Thermoelectric Power Plant, before the fire started on Friday. (Google Earth)

Despite all of them being called firefighters by government sources, many of them are 18- and 19-year-olds who were fulfilling their military service, as evidenced by the desperate calls of relatives on social networks.

Among the names of the missing are Fabián Naranjo Núñez, Osmany Blanco Sosa, Andy Amarilys Ramos, Adrián Rodríguez and Leo Alejandro Doval Pérez de Prado.

For its part, this Sunday, the Ministry of Public Health reported that there are 122 injured, of whom five remain in critical condition, three are in serious condition and 16 are receiving care. The others were discharged.

About 5,000 people have been evicted from villages near the industrial complex, which houses a total of eight tanks of 50,000 cubic meters (50 million liters) each. Stored in one of the eight tanks in the port of Matanzas, are 700,000 barrels of fuel oil were sent by Russia in June.

Russia is one of the countries which the Cuban government asked for help. “Cuba requested national assistance after the disaster that hit the country,” María Zajarova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement, adding that “the competent entities are in constant contact with the Cuban side to coordinate possible joint actions and provide the necessary assistance.”

The United States declared on Saturday that its law “authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide aid and response to disasters in Cuba” and that it is “in contact” with the Cuban authorities.

The smoke from the fire reaches not only the entire province of Matanzas, but also Pinar del Río and Havana, more than 100 kilometers away, where, since Friday, the air clearly smells of oil.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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A Monday of Anguish in Havana

We can’t even say that it was dawn in the city because the horizon was a dark smudge this morning. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 8 August 2022 — My sore throat woke me up. I went to the bathroom to gargle and looked out the window. An eerie glow was visible in the sky to the east. The fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Terminal, which started last Friday, is not something that can only be seen on television screens or through social networks. It is also here, in Havana, where a dark cloud, with the residue of the combustion, covers the city while people search for answers they cannot find.

My dog ​​Chiqui raises her snout and hides her tail between her paws before hiding under the sofa. My mother calls me because she has to go outside and she doesn’t know what precautions to take. I tell her to wear a mask and to avoid at all costs getting wet in the rain if there is a downpour. In the background the official television report sounds, showing party leaders in a meeting in an air-conditioned room and some announcers who avoid precise words at all costs. “Explosion” or “alarm” is not said, nor are the words “danger” or “threat” pronounced.

They are two parallel realities. While in the microphones there is talk of overcoming and resisting, in my neighborhood people raise their eyes and fear. We can’t even say that it was dawn in the city because the horizon was a dark smudge this morning. My eyes burn and when a ray of sunlight manages to cross the clouds, a strange, almost ghostly golden line is projected on the floor of the balcony. My head throbs and I try to drink as much water as I can; yes, from that we have collected before the start of the fire, because the rains may have contaminated the reserves between Saturday and today.

I review my list of the most fragile people I know in this situation. The old lady on the corner who had to stand in line at dawn to buy bread, the friend who has a small plot of vegetables and fears that so much waste in the air will end up on that food, and if he can’t sell it he won’t have the money to support his family, and the mother with a son in the Military Service whose heart is in suspense because her boy could be sent to the disaster area, even if he lacks the experience and age to face the monster of fire.

I never believed that this system’s capacity for disaster could reach such a point, that mismanagement, violation of security protocols, laziness and voluntarism would take us to these limits. As an optimist by nature, I thought that even the official bungling had a limit or a circumscribed margin of effect, that they could not harm so many people in such a short time. I was wrong. This system is lethal. Its ineptitude kills and kills many. The sky of my city today is screaming those truths.


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Havana Historian Eusebio Leal, Two Years After His Death His ‘Oblivion’ is Decreed

The regime, fond of funerary statues and monuments, summoned José Villa Soberón to “capture the essence” of Leal in a sculpture. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 2 August 2022 — The legacy of Eusebio Leal, after two years of his death, fits in a couple of showcases and some tearful speech. An exhibition at the Elvira Cape Provincial Library, in Santiago de Cuba, was the greatest tribute to which the historian of Havana could aspire, far from the city to which he dedicated his life.

The Office of the Historian, dismantled in practice by the Armed Forces, exists as a symbolic skeleton to take advantage of the influence gained in life by Leal, although deprived of its business background.

Eusebio Leal died on July 31, 2020, and while the Government was preparing the funeral to embalm one of its most skilled managers, the military bureaucracy was grinding its teeth to reorganize the Office. A wave of dismissals, relocations, betrayals, departures from the country and petty battles for the favor of the new masters took hold of the most independent institution in Havana.

“They don’t have money for anything and the projects they used to have to help people in poverty were limited,” says a former worker at the Office. “It was the case of the department that was in charge of Humanitarian Affairs, from which the old people of Old Havana received help and donations. Now, they cannot even drink a glass of milk.”

The man points to Perla Rosales, deputy director of the Office and daughter of Division General Ulises Rosales del Toro, former Minister of Agriculture and one of Raúl Castro’s “incombustible” faithful, as responsible for the “surrender” to the military.

“I worked with them for many years, before the decline began,” he says. “The old directors retired or left the country, because they knew the misery that was coming: with Perla Rosales nothing can be ’resolved’, only she has ‘authorization’ to fill her pockets.” continue reading

“The residences for the elderly, very different from the asylums,” says the former worker. “They tell me that the employees, with a key to the apartments, usually enter and rob the old people with impunity. That did not happen with Leal.”

Havanans had become accustomed to a certain “activity” in the main arteries of the city. Stores, agencies, projects or museums promoted by the Office or by its economic arm, Habaguanex.

However, in 2016 the progressive dismantling of this corporation began, involving, according to rumors, an unprecedented embezzlement that the Government took advantage of to limit the functions of the Historian.

Leal himself admitted to this newspaper that many of the Office’s establishments were being transferred to Gaesa, directed by the late General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a conglomerate that the historian defined as “a development company with investment capacity and prestige,” although he would retain “the power to advise on the conservation of the work and also on new projects.”

“It hurts us, yes, that at a time when perhaps the greatest respect for life circumstances is required, the mediocre ones who lack any work, and the poor in spirit, take advantage of it to hurt and harm the many who have worked over the years to save the heritage of a nation, whether in Cuba or any latitude on earth,” he added then.

Leal had forged a multinational network of influence, achieved almost exclusively personally, which was extremely useful for the Cuban government. Two years after his death, perhaps the most scandalous thing in the state management of the Office is not having already chosen a new Historian of Havana.

In addition to economic and hotel management, Eusebio Leal recovered the former academic splendor of the Office. Founded in 1938 by Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, the first historian of Havana, the original vocation of the Office was to rescue the capital’s heritage, both the intangible and the buildings in the historic center of the city.

The opening of the Colegio San Gerónimo in the same place where the old University of Havana was located; the financing of the Cuban Academy of Language and History; the foundation of a publishing house, Ediciones Boloña, and an extraordinary magazine, Opus Habana, formed a cultural ecosystem that Havana had lost with the cultural supremacy of the Revolution.

The “glorious ruins” that the Elvira Cape Provincial Library in Santiago de Cuba exhibits in display cases of terrible taste testify to this active editorial work.

The regime, fond of funerary statues and monuments, summoned José Villa Soberón to “capture the essence” of Leal in a sculpture. A few hours before the anniversary of his death, in the portals of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, some tourists were taking photos next to the bronze figure, to which a prankster had placed, in his outstretched hand, a paper cup of granizada.

In an interview granted to the official journalist Randy Alonso, during the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, Eusebio Leal said: “I don’t aspire to anything, I don’t even aspire to what they call posterity.”

The Cuban Government, the Armed Forces and the cultural bureaucracy have enthusiastically complied with the wish of their historian.


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Cuba Approves Adjustments to Working Hours, Holidays and Teleworking to Reduce Energy Consumption

The authorities urged teleworking during the pandemic, but the option was never consolidated. (Prensa Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 August 2022 — The Ministry of Labor and Social Security of Cuba announced labor measures to reduce electricity consumption ranging from working remotely, in the field, vacations, adjustments in hours and job relocation.

The package of measures seeks to reduce energy consumption in the state sector and contemplates work interruption, although this “must be applied as a last option,” according to a press release from the Ministry.

The text indicates that, if a reduction in working hours is determined, the salary will be paid in correspondence with the real time worked, not one hundred percent.

It’s also specified that workers who cannot be relocated are entitled to a wage guarantee equivalent to one hundred percent of their basic daily salary for a period of one month, counted consecutively or not, within the year.

Cuba already adopted alternatives such as teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid contagion, although it wasn’t widely applied, and face-to-face attendance returned quickly.

The measure comes in the midst of the country’s energy crisis, with daily power cuts and scheduled power outages for the residential sector. Industries had already been progressively reducing their work time during peak hours, but nothing seems to be sufficient.

The blackouts were one of the causes of social discontent that provoked last year’s massive anti-government protests, as well as the minor but increasingly frequent demonstrations in recent days.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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The First Fatality of the Fire in Matanzas is Identified

The column of smoke from the fire extends for kilometers over the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 August 2022 — Firefighter Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, 60, is the first identified fatality of the fire that still continues at the Matanzas Supertank Base. His body was found this Saturday, and he was one of the 17 missing.

The Cuban authorities have not reported information about the other 16 people. On Saturday, the Cuban Presidency reported that in addition to the injured, there is also a group of missing people, without specifying who they are. In a morning report, the EFE agency said that they are firefighters.

According to the newspaper Girón, family members who ask about people who aren’t on the lists of those injured or those who are still fighting the fire must go to the Velasco Hotel. “In the hotel there is a care center for the families of those who aren’t listed,” said psychologist Laura María Hernández, who is in charge of mental health specialists at the Faustino Pérez hospital.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health said on Sunday that 122 more people were injured. Of these, 24 remain hospitalized, including five in critical condition and three in serious condition, and the rest have been discharged. Also, 4,946 people have been evacuated from the area of the accident. continue reading

The official press released a photograph of the firefighter who died in the fire, Juan Carlos Santana Garrido. (Collage)

So far, the official press is reporting that firefighters continue with the work of extinguishing the fire, which started around 7:00 pm last Friday, allegedly due to the lightning strike on the structure of tank 52, which held national crude oil. The fire spread to a second tank of imported fuel oil and threatens to spread to a third.

The work of putting out the fire has been joined by delegations of experts from Mexico and Venezuela. The first of three Mexican planes arrived last night at the Juan Gualberto Gómez de Matanzas airport in an aircraft of the Mexican Air Force, a Boeing 737-700.

The Mexican delegation is composed of 60 members of the Armed Forces and 16 technicians from the state company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) “with experience in cooling this type of disaster,” said Cubadebate. The other two planes will transport chemicals and materials to fight the fire, according to statements by the Mexican ambassador to Cuba, Miguel Díaz Reynoso.

During the early hours of Sunday, an A340-600 aircraft also arrived from Venezuela, at Juan Gualberto Gómez de Varadero International Airport, with 35 firefighters, specialists and technicians from the state company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to help extinguish the flames.

In addition, the United States offered technical advice to help put out the fire. Yesterday, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Island, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, said that they were coordinating the aid. Nicaragua and Chile have also offered help, in addition to the European Union, which expressed its willingness to collaborate.

On Sunday morning, Matanzas Radio 26 reported that some trucks are already moving material to extinguish the fire. In addition, the ship María Cristina arrived in the bay of the province to evacuate 6,000 tons of fuel from the tanks.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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