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March 2019
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The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales, 27 June 2018 — At the entrance to Calle
Obispo a guide explains to her customers the restoration works in the
historical center of Havana. A few yards away, the line to exchange
currency is full of foreigners and in the corner bar one hears English,
French and German. Tourism is shaping the face of several areas of Cuba
and becoming a problem for their residents.

"In this neighborhood you can't even walk," complains Idania Contreras,
a resident of Obrapía Street in Old Havana and a law graduate. "At first
people were happy because the area improved economically, but little by
little the tourists have been taking over all the spaces and this is
less and less like a neighborhood where people live."

As a consequence of the increase in tourism, prices have also
risen. "Now buying fruits in the markets is a headache because they are
hoarded by the people who rent to tourists," adds Contreras. "A
pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private
restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the
tourists a piña colada for three times that price," she explains. In her
view, those mainly affected are the citizens themselves who can't afford
these prices.

Contreras, who worked for a few months in a real estate management
office, says housing prices are also up in the area. "The price per
square meter has exploded around the Plaza de la Catedral, the Plaza de
San Francisco and the streets where it is most profitable streets." She
also says that these areas are beginning to look like the center of
Barcelona or Venice, where fewer and fewer families are living.

However, she acknowledges that "the problem has not yet reached the
point of other cities in the world that receive many more tourists," but
she is concerned because there are no "public policies to alleviate the
problems we are already experiencing."

Contreras's biggest fear is that there is only talk of the positive side
of tourism, while some streets in the area are already showing symptoms
of congestion and tourism activity aggravates the problems of waste
treatment and water supply.

Several regions of the island face the challenge of absorbing an
increasing number of travelers despite the precariousness of their
infrastructure. Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of
visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the Varadero
resort area and the Cuban capital.

"It is very difficult for a Cuban to rent a room because homeowners
prefer to rent only tourists," warns Gustavo, a handicraft seller near
the Casa de la Trova in the city of Trinidad, which was declared a World
Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and is now an obligatory stop on many of
the package tours.

"This whole area is focused on foreigners," he says. The salesman, born
on the outskirts of Trinidad, believes that there are many people who
benefit from tourism, but on the way he has lost the city he knew as a
child. "Now it has been commodified and everything has a price, even
people," he laments.

In all the tourist hubs, along with an increase in private businesses
there is also an increase in prostitution. "At night the discos are full
of yumas, foreigners, with young girls and it is a really pitiful show
for our children," notes Gustavo.

"[Tourism] is more positive than negative because 30 years ago this city
had old and beautiful houses, but nothing more," says the seller despite
his reservations about this economic sector.

Carlos and his two children live on the road to Viñales. Coming from a
family of farmers, they now sell fruit at a stand by the side of the
road. "Most of our customers are foreigners coming and going from the
Valley," says the farmer. He hasn't gone into town for two years
because, he says, "you can't take a step with so many tourists."

The winding road that leads to Viñales also suffers with the increase of
vehicles. "It's a rare week that there is not an accident in this
section," recounts Carlos while pointing to one of the curves near his
house. The number of travelers interested in the area seems to have
grown, but the seller points out that the streets and roads remain the
same and that no expansion has been undertaken.

Carlos's closest neighbors have a thriving business that offers
horseback rides to travelers. They gain much more from
these "ecotours" than they could sowing beans or tobacco, another change
that is due to the avalanche of visitors. "Before this was predominantly
a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being
lost," he says.

A few yard away, a tobacco drying shed stands with its gabled roof and
its walls made of logs. In the interior, a peasant shows a dozen
tourists how the leaves re dried. "This shed has been set up for groups
who want to see how the process is done, it's pure showcase," says
Carlos. "In this town everything is already like this."

Source: The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
¿Entierro humilde o miedo al juicio de la Historia? Castro pudo temer una futura ira popular o gubernamental contra cualquier monumento levantado en su nombre Lunes, diciembre 5, 2016 | Orlando Freire Santana LA HABANA, Cuba.- La mayoría de los gobernantes, sobre todo aquellos que permanecen largos períodos de tiempo en el poder, se preocupan […] Continue reading
Tarará's Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2016 – "This was my house,"
says Elena, a Cuban-American who returned to the island this week and
visited the place where she spent her childhood. In Tarará she took her
fist steps, but the place barely resembles the residential neighborhood
of her memories. In five decades it has passed from being an enclave of
rich people to hosting a teacher's training school, a Pioneers camp for
schoolchildren, a sanatorium for children affected by radioactivity, and
a tourist's villa.

In the town, located east of Havana in a beautiful coastal area, the
city's crème de la crème settled in the middle of the last century. None
of the residents of the 525 houses of this little paradise could imagine
that soon after the titles of their homes were released, only 17
families would remain there and the rest would emigrate or lose their
property after Fidel Castro's coming to power.

"My father bought the parcel with great enthusiasm, he always said that
he would live his last years here," recalls Elena now. She walks around
the house that has lost all the wood of its doors and windows. Weeds
have taken over the terrace area and on the floor of the main hall there
is evidence of the many bats that sleep in the room every night.

A man sweeping the street asks the newcomer if she passed through "the
entry gate" control where visitors must pay for access to Tarará. For
five convertible pesos Elena has returned to the place of her nostalgia,
with "lunch included" in a solitary cafe by the sea.

She heads in that direction, but not before crossing herself before the
lonely church dedicated to Santa Elena, which had gotten its cross back
a few years earlier, after its having been removed during the decades
when the most rabid atheism ruled the place. "They baptized my littlest
sister here," recalls the woman in front of the chapel.

In the bar of the local restaurant the waiter tells her that during
elementary school he spent several weeks in Tarará. Although they swap
stories about the same piece of Cuban earth, they seem to be talking
about opposite poles. "I liked coming because they gave us yogurt at
breakfast and lunch, and in one of the houses I saw a bathtub for the
first time," explained the man who is now over 40.

His memories correspond to the days when the once glamorous villa had
been converted into the José Martí Pioneers City. The camp hosted
thousands of school age children every year, "they were like vacations
except we had to go to school," explained the man.

The Soviet subsidy supported the enormous complex which included a
cultural center, seven dining rooms, five teaching wings, a hospital, an
amusement park and even an attractive cable car crossing between the two
hills over the Tarará River, which is now a mass of rusted iron.

Elena, meanwhile, recalls the backyard fruit trees, the squash court,
and the softball field that filled with families on the weekends.
However, her fondest memories relate to the drive-in theater located at
the entrance to the village, which is now converted into a parking lot.
Between her memories and the waiter's are 30 years, and a social revolution.

"Now the only people who can enter are those with reservations in the
few houses rented to tourists in this neighborhood," explains the
employee. They belong to the families who resisted leaving despite all
the pressure they received. "Overnight the village filled with young
people who came to the countryside to study dressmaking," he explains.

The few residents who didn't leave "went through hell" the sweeper says.
"They had to travel miles to find a store and all around the houses were
places for dancing and checkpoints," he recalls.

A few years ago the state-owned tourist corporation Cubanacan
rehabilitated 274 houses and another state-owned entity, Cubalse, did
another 223. However, the projected tourist center hasn't taken off.
"This place lost its soul," commented the sweeper while gathering up
leaves from a yagruma tree that have fallen on the sidewalk. The plaque
marking the pier where Ernst Hemingway docked his yacht can barely be
discerned in the midst of the undergrowth.

In the nineties, Tarará was the epicenter of a program sponsored by the
Ministry of Public Health for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear
accident. They came from Moldovia, Belaruss and Ukraine, shortly after
the economic crisis – sparked by the loss of the Soviet subsidy after
the breakup of the Soviet Union – had put an end to the Pioneers camp.

The official press explained, at the time, that Cuba's children had
donated their "palace" to those affected by the tragedy, but no one
remembers a single meeting at the school announcing the transformation
the villa would undergo.

Early in this century 32,048 patients from Central and South America and
the Caribbean passed through Tarará in the noted Operation Miracle,
funded by Venezuelan oil. They came with different eye diseases such as
cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. They found a haven of peace in the
place where only Cuban personnel working with patients and the few
remaining residents were allowed to enter.

A decade ago 3,000 Chinese students came in turn to study Spanish and a
police school was established in the neighborhood; its classrooms are
often used to hold members of the Ladies in White when they are arrested
on Sunday after leaving Mass at Santa Rita Church, on the other side of
the city.

"This looks like a ghost town," says Elena loudly as she walks the
streets. Successive "programs of the Revolution" that filled the
neighborhood have ended and now all that's left is a development of
numerous abandoned houses and others were a few tourists take the sun on
the terraces. The beach where the visiting Cuban-American found her
first snails is still there "as pretty as ever," she says.

Source: Tarará's Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Petróleo vs agua: a un paso de la catástrofe Tercera reportaje investigativo sobre la contaminación de acuíferos en Cuba, perteneciente a la saga “¿Cáncer por altos niveles de metales en embalses?” martes, agosto 25, 2015 | Ernesto Pérez Chang LA HABANA, Cuba.- De todas las fotos que se han tomado del exuberante paisaje de Bacunayagua, […] Continue reading
Petróleo vs agua: a un paso de la catástrofe
Tercera reportaje investigativo sobre la contaminación de acuíferos en
Cuba, perteneciente a la saga "¿Cáncer por altos niveles de metales en
martes, agosto 25, 2015 | Ernesto Pérez Chang

LA HABANA, Cuba.- De todas las fotos que se han tomado del exuberante
paisaje de Bacunayagua, en el litoral norte de la actual provincia de
Mayabeque, ninguna es tan impresionante como esa imagen satelital que
muestra una mancha negra cubriendo la desembocadura del río y ensuciando
las arenas de las playas cercanas.

El 14 de septiembre de 2008, un camión cisterna de la empresa Cuba
Petróleo (CUPET) se accidentó en los alrededores de la planta de ENERGAS
en Boca de Jaruco y vertió 145 m3 de crudo pesado a los ríos cercanos,
produciendo afectaciones graves en especies de corales, en los peces y
la vegetación marina, así como a bañistas, embarcaciones e instalaciones
marítimas, según se advierte en informes de instituciones científicas
cubanas que se muestran preocupadas por el impacto negativo de las
industrias asociadas a la perforación y extracción de petróleo en esa
zona costera.

Los resultados de varios estudios medioambientales realizados en el
área, así como los testimonios sobre afectaciones a los habitantes de
los poblados de Boca de Jaruco y Santa Cruz del Norte, contrastan con el
discurso entusiasta de la prensa oficial que solo se limita a publicar
datos de producción y notas informativas sobre nuevas inversiones y
proyectos, así como a informar sobre los desastres ecológicos de la
industria petrolera en el resto del mundo, menos en Cuba, donde
pareciera que todo está bajo control.

En los medios de difusión locales, como Radio Santa Cruz del Norte,
hasta cuentan con programas divulgativos sobre las bondades de una
industria cuyo manejo irresponsable pudiera derivar en consecuencias
catastróficas para la salud humana. Sin embargo, nada se habla de la
pésima calidad del aire y su relación con el aumento de las enfermedades
respiratorias tanto en niños como en adultos ni del daño ocasionado a
los acuíferos locales ni de la responsabilidad que tienen las industrias
en el agravamiento de la situación de carencia de agua potable tan
denunciada por la población.

Por el contrario, mientras el Instituto de Recursos Hidráulicos advierte
sobre los efectos de la sequía en el territorio y sobre la tragedia que
habrán de enfrentar en poco tiempo, el órgano oficial del Partido
Comunista publica notas, como la del 15 de enero de 2015, donde celebra
el comienzo de la aplicación de técnicas de extracción por parte de la
Empresa Petrolera Boca de Jaruco que comprometen en el proceso
elevadísimos niveles de agua en forma de vapor.

¿De dónde sacarán el agua necesaria?, ¿qué consecuencias negativas
tendrá ese proceso que pudiera agravar más la situación de las aguas
subterráneas o que hasta amenaza con debilitar los suelos?, se preguntan
algunos periodistas en medios de prensa independientes, mientras decenas
de estudios científicos de instituciones cubanas han sido desoídos o
silenciados por los patrocinadores de un proyecto que se realiza en
conjunto con empresas rusas y chinas que, como es sabido, no se
caracterizan por ser cuidadosas con el medio ambiente.

En el trabajo "Principales problemas ambientales que afectan al
municipio Santa Cruz del Norte" [1], discutido en el IX Congreso Cubano
de Geología, celebrado en 2011, los autores presentaron un informe
detallado sobre el grado de vulnerabilidad de esta región de Mayabeque
donde las aguas subterráneas ya se han visto afectadas tanto por la
intrusión marina como por las industrias allí establecidas, lo que
reduce el volumen de las reservas de agua potable.

Dice muy claramente el estudio: "Las fuentes de contaminación del agua
provienen de los sectores minero, industrial y doméstico. La
contaminación del agua por este tipo de efluentes tiene un impacto
negativo sobre actividades productivas importantes para el municipio
como la pesca o la agricultura, además, el deterioro del recurso hídrico
tiene un impacto en la calidad de vida de las personas y el deterioro de
los ecosistemas".

Y continúa más adelante: "Esta contaminación se encuentra representada
fundamentalmente por derrames de petróleo originados durante el proceso
de extracción-transporte, que incluye la disposición de lodos de
perforación, emisiones de gases con olores indeseables, contaminación
con polvo de los caminos y pasivos ambientales en general".

Se sabe, por testimonios de los propios pobladores, que toda la
actividad pesquera del territorio desapareció con la llegada de las
empresas petroleras. Muchos hombres y mujeres, familias completas, que
durante años vivieron del mar, debieron abandonar sus oficios debido a
que los territorios de pesca se han visto afectados por la contaminación.

La agricultura es otro sector que se ha visto seriamente comprometido
por el incremento de las emisiones de gases y las partículas de los
materiales en el aire, mientras que la contaminación odorífera ha vuelto
prácticamente inhabitables grandes zonas urbanizadas.

Existen estudios que advierten sobre la mala calidad del aire tanto en
el territorio como en el resto de las regiones industrializadas de Cuba
y que además reconocen que no son suficientes las capacidades nacionales
para la evaluación de cuán nociva puede ser esta realidad [2].

Durante años, tanto los pobladores de Santa Cruz del Norte como los de
Boca de Jaruco se han quejado a las autoridades de esta situación pero
los estudios oficiales, llevados a cabo por la propia CUPET solo han
sido encaminados a librar de responsabilidades a las empresas petroleras
y las medidas adoptadas no pasan de ser simple maquillaje mediático como
se infiere de las contradicciones que surgen al contrastarlas con las
investigaciones realizadas por los científicos de las propias
instituciones oficiales y cuyos trabajos, al parecer, no son tenidos en

Mientras un informe del año 2009 [3] para la ejecución de un proyecto
perteneciente a CUPET que recuperaba una antigua mina abandonada con el
fin de transformarla en un extenso vertedero de lodos pétreos y desechos
de extracción (las llamadas piscinas) aseguraba que no existía peligro
de filtración de sustancias tóxicas hacia el subsuelo; otro estudio
anterior [4], del año 2002, presentado en La Habana, en el II
Seminario-Taller sobre Protección de Acuíferos, evaluaba la
vulnerabilidad a la contaminación por hidrocarburos en los acuíferos
cársicos costeros en el litoral norte de La Habana-Matanzas.

Los autores del trabajo, pertenecientes al Grupo de Aguas Terrestres del
Instituto de Geofísica y Astronomía, habían determinado en sus
comprobaciones que algunas áreas de la localidad eran "de vulnerabilidad
muy alta, con puntos críticos" que absorbían las aguas superficiales y
las infiltraban en el acuífero. También se señalaba en el estudio, como
principales fuentes contaminantes, los "hidrocarburos y gases
acompañantes de los procesos de extracción y disposición, así como de
transportación por medio de un oleoducto que cruza paralelo al eje
longitudinal del territorio y la costa".

En la investigación, los autores resaltaban la importancia del acuífero
para la región y el impacto negativo de la contaminación para los
"diversos ecosistemas que tienen su sustento sobre la presencia y
calidad de las aguas subterráneas". También existen otros estudios que
hablan de la cavernosidad de los terrenos así como de la sismicidad de
la región [5], que pudiera agravarse con métodos de extracción como esos
que infiltran agua o vapor en los pozos envejecidos.

No obstante, el proyecto del vertedero de lodos en las inmediaciones de
ENERGAS fue ejecutado y, aunque se aseguraba su carácter inocuo, se ha
comprobado que la obra es un verdadero desastre ecológico.

Varios estudios han abordado el problema y hasta han documentado con
imágenes el verdadero impacto de la obra. En el informe ya citado líneas
arriba, "Principales problemas ambientales que afectan al municipio
Santa Cruz del Norte" se puede leer lo siguiente:

"Es manifiesta la tendencia a la acumulación, creación y ampliación de
vertederos y no al tratamiento y recuperación. (…) Al Suroeste de la
Planta de ENERGAS SA se ubican los depósitos de lodos de perforación
perteneciente a CUPET. Este sistema constituido por unas 7 piscinas con
dimensiones y formas variables (100 x 50, 50 x 25 metros) acumulan un
importante pasivo ambiental. Están interconectadas y por gravedad la
capa de petróleo fluye en dirección al Oeste. En los alrededores de la
Planta de ENERGAS en Boca de Jaruco, se detectaron varios puntos, todos
relacionados con antiguas perforaciones y pozos abandonados o depósitos
que han colapsado (pasivos ambientales). De estos, el más grave es el
ocurrido al Sur de ENERGAS, en las piscinas de lodos, que contaminó los
suelos e inutiliza la posibilidad del uso industrial de las aguas
subterráneas en la planta. (…) Los lodos de perforación, así como otros
residuos oleosos y sus depósitos se han convertido en amplias zonas de
acumulación de este pasivo ambiental y representan las fuentes más
peligrosas de contaminación a las aguas (…). Las grasas y sus derivados
petrolizados flotan por encima del agua dulce, contaminando los
acuíferos e impregnándose en los poros, grietas y cavidades de las rocas
que los contiene lo que incrementa la duración del periodo de
eliminación, aumentando el riesgo de problemas medioambientales".

En el estudio también se denuncia la polución de los aires y el
despilfarro del agua potable en obras relacionadas con la industria
minera: "Adicionalmente a la contaminación provocada por las emanaciones
de gases de las torres de petróleo y de los aerosoles marinos, se
detectó en los caminos que circundan la Planta [se refieren a ENERGAS]
una fuerte contaminación con material particulado suspendido en el aire.
El polvo que el viento de dirección NE levanta y deposita en los bordes
de los caminos en los que la vegetación muestra un color blanco. Estos
caminos son rociados eventualmente con agua por medio de camiones
cisternas para mitigar esta situación. El agua utilizada para estos
fines es agua dulce, recurso escaso en la zona y que es tomada
inadecuadamente de la estación de bombeo del Cayuelo".

A pesar de tales pruebas irrefutables, CUPET desarrolla sus propias
"investigaciones" donde siempre termina librándose de la culpa o
traspasándola a otros, como se puede apreciar en un estudio desarrollado
por investigadores de la empresa, a partir de las denuncias sobre
emanaciones de gases tóxicos cercanos a las instalaciones de la ronera
de Santa Cruz del Norte, donde se produce el Havana Club. [6]

Aunque todo hacía sospechar que los gases provenían de los procesos de
extracción de los hidrocarburos, CUPET logró "demostrar" que las
emanaciones eran el resultado de la fermentación bacteriana de los
grandes depósitos de mostos acumulados durante años por la industria
ronera. Se lee en el informe:

"Los argumentos anteriores permitieron rechazar la hipótesis que
planteaba que las emanaciones gaseosas tenían un origen petrogénico; por
tanto las emanaciones gaseosas son producto de la acumulación del
residual, en cavernas desarrolladas de forma natural. (…) Lo expuesto
anteriormente y los resultados de los análisis de las muestras de gases,
nos permitió concluir que la presencia de gas sulfhídrico y los ligeros
contenidos de dióxido de carbono y metano son debido a una fermentación
no controlada en un medio ácido".

Sin embargo, llama la atención que en el propio estudio de CUPET termina
reconociendo la fragilidad de los suelos donde operan sus industrias,
algo que no es motivo de alarma en otros informes para ejecutar
proyectos que pueden amenazar las aguas subterráneas, como las piscinas
de lodo, o afectar la sismicidad de la región, como la inyección de agua
y gases en la roca: "La zona presenta un basamento rocoso que permite
muy fácilmente la infiltración de los residuales, y que ha sido y es muy
carcificable por la naturaleza y el hombre. (…) La incorporación de los
residuales (por la infiltración) hacia el subsuelo ha provocado una
degradación de la calidad de las aguas y un aumento de su agresividad".

Entonces, ¿a quién creer?, ¿a los científicos que avizoran un desastre o
al discurso oficial donde se afirma que todo está bajo control y que la
industria petrolera en Cuba nada tiene que ver con el panorama
devastador de otras regiones? Como es usual en las naciones donde el
cumplimiento de la ley y el respeto a los derechos humanos son asuntos
muy relativos, toda la información verídica, comprometedora, relacionada
con el impacto negativo de una empresa de gran importancia económica, es
de dominio exclusivo de unos pocos que se encargan de manipularla
siempre a favor de las ganancias personales.


[1] López Kramer, Jesús Manuel, Efrén Jaímez Salgado, Ernesto Rocamora
Álvarez, Katia del Rosario, Idelfonso R. Díaz Barrios y Bárbara Polo
González: "Principales problemas ambientales que afectan al municipio
Santa Cruz del Norte, provincia Habana, Cuba", Instituto de Geofísica y
CD-Rom, La Habana, 4 al 8 de abril de 2011. ISBN 978-959-7117-30-8.
Véase, además: Gutiérrez Delgado, Alina Rita y Amaury Álvarez Cruz:
"Contaminación por hidrocarburos en la costa noroccidental de Cuba (Boca
de Jaruco) basada en simulaciones numéricas", Instituto de Oceanología.
Revista Cubana de Meteorología, vol. 20, no. 2, jul – dic., 148 – 164, 2014.

[2] Véase al respecto: Romero Placeres, Manuel, Maricel García Melián y
Mireya Álvarez Toste: "Principales características de la salud ambiental
de la provincia La Habana", Instituto Nacional de Higiene, Epidemiología
y Microbiología. En: Revista Cubana de Higiene y Epidemiología, 2011;
49(3): 384-398. Además: Turtos Carbonel, Leonor Maria, Elieza Meneses
Ruiz y Enrique Molina Esquivel: "Modelación de la contaminación
atmosférica y valoración de impactos epidemiológicos y externalidades
asociadas a instalaciones energéticas e industriales", Centro de Gestión
de la Información y Desarrollo de la Energía. En: Revista Anales de la
Academia de Ciencias de Cuba. Vol. 4 no. 2, año 2014, 1.

[3] Palacios, F.M., et al.: "Impacto ambiental de un vertedero para la
disposición final de desechos petrolizados". Centro de Ingeniería y
Manejo Ambiental de Bahías y Costas (CIMAB), 2009.

[4] Rocamora Álvarez, Ernesto, Leslie Molerio León, Mario Guerra Oliva y
Julio C. Torres: "Evaluación de la vulnerabilidad a la contaminación por
hidrocarburos de los acuíferos cársicos costeros en un sector del
litoral norte Habana- Matanzas, Cuba". Grupo de Aguas Terrestres del
Instituto de Geofísica y Astronomía. Ponencia presentada en II
Seminario-taller. Protección de Acuíferos frente a la Contaminación:
caracterización y evaluación. Ciudad de La Habana. Abril, 2002.

[5] López Kramer, Jesús Manuel et al.: "Caracterización geoambiental del
municipio Santa Cruz del Norte, Provincia Mayabeque, Cuba". En: Ciencias
de la Tierra y el Espacio, julio-diciembre, 2012, Vol. 13, No. 1,
pp.22-35, ISSN 1729-3790.

[6] Ulloa, Diego R.; Francisco Benítez, Ana Luisa Sotolongo, Manuel
Hernández, Julio Camacho Martínez: "Diagnóstico ambiental de la ronera
Santa Cruz bajo la óptica del análisis geoespacial", Departamento de
Geofísica de Pozos, Empresa de Geofísica, CUPET y Agencia de Estudios y
Soluciones Ambientales, DEMA, GEOCUBA I.C.

Source: Petróleo vs agua: a un paso de la catástrofe | Cubanet - Continue reading
Wheelchairs by Angola inmates bring freedom to those in need in Cuba
UPDATED 7:20 PM CDT May 15, 2015

HAVANAH, Cuba —Publicly at odds diplomatically for more than 50 years,
the people of the U.S. and Cuba have kept lines of communication open.
Certainly there have been back channel discussions between governments,
but the efforts of faith-based and humanitarian groups have been far
more prevalent.

Louisiana plays a key role in those efforts. Under the humanitarian
banner, Louisiana rice and poultry have helped feed Cuba for years. And
then there is an unlikely collaboration rooted in Louisiana, that has
been sewing the seeds of freedom in Cuba for years.

This remarkably successful partnership thrives among a group of people
who will likely never meet face to face.

Freedom for those imprisoned by their inability to walk comes from a
wheelchair, but the vast majority of those that need them, especially in
Cuba, have difficulty getting them.

But wheelchairs can also mean freedom for a different group of
prisoners. It is a story that begins at the gates of the Louisiana State
Penitentiary in Angola and ends on the streets of Havana.

"We have problems to acquire these kind of things in Cuba," said Michael
Perez, with the Cuban Association of People with Disability.

Confined to a wheel chair since a swimming accident when he was 16 years
old, Perez works with those with special needs from the association's
headquarters in a quiet Havana neighborhood. The group works to provide
help and equipment to those in need.

It is the same goal of another group nearly 700 miles away.

"A lot of people are dragged on blankets, or they're carried because
they don't have wheelchairs in third world countries," points out Angola
Warden Burl Cain. "So they are giving freedom to some one which is what
they don't have here."

Cain talked about a group of dedicated inmates at the Louisiana State
Penitentiary as they load a huge truck with wheelchairs of all sizes,
wheelchairs that they themselves had rebuilt and refurbished. The effort
is a partnership with an organization called Joni and Friends Wheels for
the World. They've collected 34,000 wheelchairs nationwide.

Angola is one of 17 correctional facilities across the country that
rehabs the chairs, each providing a measure of physical rehabilitation
to someone far away, and coming from a person going through some moral
rehabilitation himself.

Like Aaron Lampton, who is serving 66 years for armed robbery.

"When you are giving back to somebody, when all you did your whole life
was take, take, take, so much, and now you are giving back so it makes
you feel good," he said.

The February shipment was bound for Cuba, a country in the headlines
often recently, still in need of humanitarian aid. Some 220 wheelchairs,
some for adults, some for children, filled the 18 wheeler. Each chair
painstakingly rebuilt in the prison shop by a group of dedicated
craftsmen, all doing time for crimes committed on the outside.

Back in Havana, Maria de los Angeles directs the Cuban Association of
People with Disability from a pair of crutches. Like everyone else who
works in the office, she deals with disability, having only one leg. The
wheelchairs from America, Joni and Friends and the prisoners at Angola
touch her deeply.

"I want to send a small message, but very special to those people that
are in prison they've repaired those chairs, so Cuba benefits from it.
It's so human," de los Angeles said.

The chairs from Angola arrived last month, immediately delivered to
those who need them, fitted to their unique size and challenge.

"When you see a smile in a child, in a family, or tears or just the
satisfaction of the family, there's no word to describe what we feel
when you give a wheelchair. It's something very special," de los
Angeles said.

Freedom comes in many forms, but none greater than the heart finally
free to take flight on its own. Joni and Friend Wheels for the World
delivers the work and passion of the Angola inmates.

A gift of freedom to others and themselves.

Doing life in prison for murder, Alvin Smith tries to give back to
society by working on the wheelchairs.

"Now they can move, see something of life besides being in a room where
they are all the time," said Smith, expressing a sentiment shared by the
people in Havana.

Moved by the gift, Michael Perez said, "That's a very touching thing,
because it's very human, very sensitive. This effort, this work,
delivered to other people that need it. That's very thoughtful."

And de los Angeles is simply grateful.

"I thank them from the bottom of her heart, that the Cuban families are
very, very pleased," she said.

Source: Wheelchairs by Angola inmates bring freedom to those in need in
Cuba | New Orleans - WDSU Home - Continue reading
Rationing in Venezuela: A 'Déjà vu' for Cubans / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on March 11, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 March 2015 — Commissar Nicolas
Maduro, president of Venezuela to the misfortune of its people and –
let's admit it – also for the prolongation of our own misfortune, has
just announced recently the installation of 20,000 digital fingerprint
readers in state food markets and in several private sector retail
chains that, according to him, adopted the initiative "voluntarily"
after meetings held with the government.

Let's draw a merciful veil over the aforementioned secret meetings and
imagine the atmosphere that must have reigned there in the midst of the
"permanent economic war" that Venezuela suffers, the successive "soft
coups" that have been provoked almost bi-weekly in that South American
nation – according to the president's denunciations – and the growing
repression of opposition factions and civil society that demonstrate
publicly and openly against the government. It is not very hard to guess
what caused the "voluntariness" of these businessmen, who are
definitively representatives of the "oligarchies" constantly defamed in
official speeches and press.

But returning to the topic of Comrade-President Maduro's above-mentioned
fingerprint readers, his lofty purpose is, while guaranteeing the
feeding of the people, to counter smuggling, or more exactly, "the
smugglers" since smuggling can exist without socialism but socialism has
never existed without smuggling.

This way, the fingerprint readers – which will limit the purchase of
foods and other products in high demand whose supply has been greatly
depressed causing lines, hoarding and disturbances in the stores – now
are added to the prior rationing through magnetic cards established in
2014. It is clear that the Bolshevik Nicolas has not the least ability
to overcome his country's economic crisis, but at least in contemporary
times the new technologies permit digital management of the misery. It
is without doubt a real contribution of Socialism in the 21st Century
which the late Hugo predicted in his glory days, before being planted in
the Mountain Barracks and turned into a tiny little bird dispensing bad

Decades later, the Venezuelan government model – if it is possible to
call it that – is dragging the country in a sort of reverse race through
experiences similar to those that we Cubans have gone through under

Those of us born before or in the years immediately following the
catastrophic accident of January 1959 remember clearly some of the
bureaucratic variants created to manage poverty, an ill that the older
ones among us believed had been almost overcome with the economic boom
experienced in the 50's.

This administrative strategy, typical of war and famine economies, was
first established for food products, and a little later, with the
decline of Cuban industries due to the extreme nationalization of the
economy, it was rapidly extended to other consumer products, such as
clothing, footwear and other goods. Then came the industrial products
book, popularly known as the store booklet, which currently functions
only for the acquisition of school uniforms.

This version of control not only indicated the limits of access to the
said articles, but it also reached the point of establishing shopping
schedules for groups, with subsections inspired in the strongly sexist
standards of the Revolution, which assigned two days a week – Monday and
Thursday – on which only women workers could shop; an enviable privilege
in the widespread poverty that, moreover, took for granted in a
Revolutionary way that trifles like shopping were not worthy of men.

Decades of shortages, manipulated in detail by those in power, sowed in
ordinary Cubans an extreme dependence on the State – an always
insufficient provider but the only one possible – and a whole culture of
systematized poverty that includes a peculiar glossary with phrases that
we drag around even today in popular speech: "what they are offering" in
this or that establishment, "what's assigned to you," "what's expiring,"
"plan jaba**," "chicken diet***" and many similar ones that reflect the
national acceptance of misery as the common destiny, something that one
day – hopefully not too distant – should embarrass us.

Rationing in Cuba has been quite an institution that has played a role
in the socio-economic realm and also in the political, functioning more
as an instrument of subjection of the people by the Government than as a
true guarantor of a just distribution of consumer goods, established
with a vulgar egalitarianism that annulled individual initiative and
turned the citizen into dough.

The ration book has constituted a mechanism of social control, even to
the point that currently the Government has not been able to eliminate
it, on pain of absolutely abandoning the most disadvantaged social
sectors, especially the elderly without filial protection and the many
humble homes which receive no remittances from abroad nor have any other
hard currency income. In spite of that, the food products rationed and
subsidized through the book – that artifact that constitutes a complete
leftover of the Cold War – are today fewer than a dozen, and they barely
cover precariously some of the most pressing food needs while the rate
of inflation keeps increasing and wages hardly have even symbolic value.

That is why, when I now witness the Venezuelan rationing process, when I
hear the openness with which Comrade-President Nicolas Maduro disguises
in modernity the cataclysm of misery that looms for his people, I cannot
escape a kind of jolt, like déjà vu. We Cubans already traveled that
path, we walked half a century over its thorns and we are convinced that
it only leads to disaster. We have painfully and abundantly proven that
misery is the only thing that, divided among many, touches more.

Personally, I hope that the poor Venezuelans, who lately pursue their
food anxiously and stand in long lines at stores with empty shelves,
manage in time to avoid that serious confusion that sometimes leads
people to interpret as justice that which is the manipulation and burial
of freedoms.

Translator's notes:
* Nicolas Maduro says that Hugo Chavez appears to him as a tiny little
bird, and dispenses advice. In this video, otherwise in Spanish, he
imitates the sounds the bird makes flying around his head and then
imitates the bird whistling a message.
** "Plan jaba" is literally "sack plan" and can mean one of two things:
(A) you leave your bag and come back and pick it up at a convenient time
so you don't have to wait in line all day, which is allowed for some
working people; or (B) you get a "special bag of extras" because of age,
illness or pregnancy, and again, you just pick it up.
*** "Chicken diet" means that you get extra protein because of age,
illness or pregnancy.

Translated by MLK

Source: Rationing in Venezuela: A 'Déjà vu' for Cubans / 14ymedio,
Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba: Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned
December 30, 2014
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban society has experienced the class struggle in a
particularly intense manner. In 1961, the government announced it was
building socialism. Currently, this same government has undertaken a
program of reforms allegedly aimed at updating the system and making
socialism "prosperous and sustainable."

Harsh observers could well point out that, as part of this reform
process, the country has rescued policies and mechanisms that existed in
the past. At a certain point in time, these mechanisms (such as the
market, foreign investment and private enterprises) were banned as
elements that were noxious for the new system and the new human being
that was being forged.

An even harsher observer could point out that part of Cuba's
intelligentsia has taken to heart the remark made by former President
Fidel Castro, to the effect that it is foolish to claim to know how to
build socialism.

Other observers have severely criticized the supposedly socialist nature
of Cuba's system. These critics point out that the fact the means of
production aren't legally owned by individuals isn't enough to affirm a
system is socialist. They argue that, if the means of production are
managed by a reduced caste of individuals grouped around State
apparatuses, if this class behaves with discretion and cannot be
questioned or removed by workers, if the fruits of labor are managed in
a non-transparent fashion by these same elites and if, as a result of
the above, inequalities in terms of quality of life and the
socio-political significance of human beings are reproduced, what we
have is simply another form of capitalism and exploitation.

Under these conditions, the State enterprise reproduces the alienation
of the proletariat just as capitalism does. It is no accident that
government politicians and philosophers have wracked their brains for
years, and continue to bemoan the fact that the majority of workers do
not feel they actually control the means of production. An unwanted
result of this is the enthusiastic misappropriation of State resources
by anyone in a position to do so, and the complete lack of interest in
preventing this shown by other workers.

In the course of decades, the government has launched innumerable
campaigns of a moral and political nature. It has conducted all manner
of social experiments through administrative, Party and trade union
structures…and met with the same, sterile results. I would add that this
should come as no surprise to anyone with basic knowledge of the
principles of political economy and Marxism.

The case of agriculture is particularly representative of this.
Following the Agrarian Reform of 1959, a great many plots of land came
under the administration of so-called "State farms." As the name
suggests, these belonged to the State and were rigidly administered by
the Ministry of Agriculture bureaucracy.

According to the idealistic conceptions of Fidel Castro, these farms,
said to belong "to the entire people," were the most genuinely socialist
enterprises in the world. There, the New Man would be forged, people
would work selflessly for the common good, etc., etc. Workers on these
farms would report the highest levels of productivity. They would become
responsible individuals and strongly feel they controlled the means of
production – the lands, machinery, facilities and resources employed in
agricultural production. These farms would prosper and supply the
country with a wealth of food and other products.

Reality, impertinent as always, would prove Castro wrong. These people's
farms broke all imaginable records in terms of unproductiveness,
wastefulness and the misappropriation of supplies. As State subsidies
decreased, their plots of land became covered with marabou brush – even
before the workers abandoned the farms en masse.

In 1994, the Basic Units for Cooperative Production (UBPC) were created.
These were an ill-conceived attempt at offering farm workers a degree of
autonomy and sense of ownership. So many bureaucratic restrictions were
applied on these that the same disastrous practices of old continued.
Suffice it to mention that, in these supposed cooperatives, the
president of the collective was imposed on farmers from above. Farmers
at base level still were denied the right to decide what to produce, how
to do so, who to sell to and who to buy from.

In 2012, a series of measures aimed at strengthening the UBPCs were
announced. These were aimed at rectifying the conceptual problems of
1994, offering the farms true autonomy and finally giving workers the
sense that they controlled production. It is probably still too soon to
properly evaluate the results of this, but we have a number of
interesting lessons we can turn to.

A metaphor we could toy with is to consider Cuba's industries as a
series of companies that are very similar to those agricultural units,
covered with a variety of urban marabou. The nationalization process
undertaken as of 1959 turned them into that oxymoron, companies "of the
people" strictly subordinate to the State bureaucracy.

No subsequent measure or experiment has been implemented with enough
wisdom and courage to grant worker collectives property rights. In part,
such ownership has oscillated between the center and periphery of the
command chain, but such oscillations haven't altered the vertical and
authoritarian logic behind everything. The government is even willing to
grant foreign capitalists such rights, but it isn't clear whether it is
willing to give Cuban entrepreneurs the same privileges. It never favors
the local working class, the only ones capable of building a socialist

The nature of the ownership over the means of production is what
determines the nature of the social system, as Marx and common sense
tell us. Ownership, in turn, depends on the exercise of property rights,
not on abstract declarations made by political and administrative
superstructures. Now that we are entering a new stage that is full of
uncertainty, it would be worthwhile to ask ourselves how these issues
are handled.

Source: Cuba: Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned -
Havana - Continue reading
Las asignaciones y reparaciones de viviendas no cumplen las expectativas
[28-10-2014 18:55:04]
Aimée Cabrera

( La capital es un hervidero de personas que
tratan de arreglar sus casas con los materiales que aparezcan; no
importa la calidad de los mismos, si por el momento les van a resolver
peligros tales como grandes filtraciones y rajaduras proclives a
derrumbes parciales o totales; el techo es otro asunto primordial para
los que viven en casas o apartamentos que colindan con las azoteas.
La situación se repite en toda la Isla. Primero por la negligencia
estatal de no dar mantenimiento constructivo a todo el país durante
décadas y, hacer inmuebles con mala calidad tanto en lo constructivo
como en la mano de obra. "Hay que vivir, no nos pagan tan bien, no nos
dan todo lo que nos hace falta para trabajar, tenemos que inventar para
no enfermarnos, la comida es mala, hay que vivir, por eso hay quien le
da camino (vende) a la pintura, al cemento, a lo que sea", comenta un
trabajador capitalino del sector de la construcción que prefiere no

Otro aspecto a tener en cuenta es el de los salarios y chequeras de
jubilados, los cuales no alcanzan para vivir, mucho menos para realizar
un arreglo menor o levantar una casa. Uno de los puntos neurálgicos en
la opinión de la ciudadanía, lo que perciben no satisface lo más mínimo,
la Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) hace caso omiso, al igual que
el Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (MTSS).

"Vivo en un apartamento que desde que me lo asignaron hace más de 20
años tenía muchas chapucerías. El baño feísimo, mal hecho todo el que ha
podido ha hecho arreglos en su casa. Si no los haces tú, quién te los va
a hacer", comenta un trabajador del sector de la Salud que reside en la
zona Micro X de Alamar.

El paso de los huracanes de gran intensidad Gustav, Ike y Paloma en el
2008 y del Sandy en el 2012 asolaron territorios completos en todas las
provincias, donde todos sus habitantes o la mayoría perdieron sus casas
y muchos aún están damnificados.

El gobierno está más interesado en grandes campañas políticas a celebrar
en grandes ciudades del mundo, o a construir hoteles y áreas turísticas,
sin haber podido llenar los hoteles con que cuenta. Estos grandes
gastos, dejan muy poco, para dar casa a todo el que la perdió o la tiene
en mal estado.

Solo basta ver en la capital las casas apuntaladas en plena avenida 10
de Octubre que están a punto de colapsar, o los barrios de casuchas
hechas con lo que aparezca, hay quienes les dicen "favelas" pero las de
los filmes cariocas al menos están mejor amuebladas que las de aquí, las
nuevas favelas capitalinas están dispersas por cualquier municipio hasta
en el de Playa conocido por sus residenciales como Miramar que tienen
casas que lucen confortables.

"De qué te vale vivir en Playa si no tienes quien te ayude. Para
"meterle" (darle mantenimiento) a una casa hay que tener mucho dinero,
miles de pesos, ¡y de los que valen! (se refiere al CUC, peso cubano
comparado con las monedas fuertes del mundo). Mírame a mí, me negaron el
préstamo en el banco, con una chequera y sin familia fuera (en el
exterior) ¡qué voy a hacer!", lamenta Caridad González, vecina de

Pero esta negación sucede en otros territorios también. Como le sucedió
a Francisca Castro de Placetas, Villa Clara quien con 84 años vivió con
una sobrina tras los daños ocurridos en su casa por el paso de los
ciclones del 2008. Su esposo se accidentó en el 2013 y tuvieron que ir
para casa de otro familiar.

Con la esperanza de ver solucionado el dilema de la casa, la anciana
pidió un subsidio para acabar de hacerla. Fue visitada por funcionarios
de la Vivienda de su territorio y le entregaron documentos. Sin embargo
no había respuesta de que hubiera sido aprobado el subsidio. Ella tuvo
que escribir a la sección Acuse de Recibo del periódico Juventud Rebelde
que, el 22 de octubre del presente publicó su caso y la ambigua
respuesta dada por un funcionario que, trata de dar a entender que la
señora fue atendida y se le brindaron ofertas.

Quién se cree eso, si en el 2010 fueron tan atentos que hace ella sin
casa todavía. Es una falta de respeto por tratarse de una persona que
debiera haber sido priorizada por su edad. En estos casos ocurre que con
toda intención les hacen los expedientes con errores y entonces el
subsidio no procede, en espera de desestabilizar a la persona o cometer
ilegalidades que benefician a los burócratas. El periodista a cargo de
la sección agradece la explicación dada por el directivo, la anciana
quedó a los ojos del lector como "loca" o "mentirosa".

"Por eso yo no pierdo mi tiempo en escribir a ningún lugar, aquí a nadie
le importa nada, a nadie le interesa si se te está cayendo la casa, "ese
es tu maletín" (problema) mira esto, desde que nací viviendo en este
"bajareque", dice Dailín Pérez residente en una ciudadela ubicada en la
Calle San Miguel en el municipio Centro Habana.

La ciudadela o solar es como una casa compartimentada en pequeñas
habitaciones que sus habitantes han reconstruido poniéndoles baños
dentro porque antes de 1959 estos eran colectivos y añadiéndoles
cocinas, todo en miniatura. A algunos de estos inmuebles, el gobierno
los ha remozado, a la mayoría no le ha hecho nada; los mantenimientos
son a título personal sin la aprobación de un maestro de albañilería con
experiencia o de un arquitecto.

En su mayoría, los que viven en las casas de vecindad son personas muy
humildes y de la raza negra aunque se ven mestizos y blancos, muchos
emigrantes de otras provincias que lo más barato que pudieron pagar fue
un cuarto de solar. No todos llegan a La Habana con dinero para sobornar
a los que trabajan en Vivienda o en otras entidades afines y reciben
dinero por entregar casas cuyos dueños se van del país o fallecen,
dándoles a los compradores ilegales, un status con el cual dejan de
serlo en la capital para además asegurar donde vivir. Las sumas a
entregar llegan a las manos de una cadena de maleantes que son
protegidos por sus superiores.

La prensa oficial se hace eco de amplios reportajes en distintas
provincias donde los ciudadanos manifiestan su júbilo por ser dueños de
una nueva casa o apartamento, o por el aumento de construcciones por
esfuerzo propio gracias a los subsidios otorgados, pero ¡cuánto han
tenido que esperar!, y no precisamente por culpa del bloqueo.

Source: Las asignaciones y reparaciones de viviendas no cumplen las
expectativas - Misceláneas de Cuba - Continue reading
Havana with the Collapsed Building as its Symbol
March 5, 2014
By Carlos Cabrera Perez (Cafe Fuerte)

HAVANA TIMES — The return of former Cuban government spy Fernando
Gonzalez Llort and the crisis in Venezuela and the Ukraine have eclipsed
the tragic news of the partial building collapse that took place at
Havana's central bus terminal, injuring two women (one of whom suffered
a cranial fracture and is currently in serious condition).

In September and November of last year, three people died in Havana as a
result of the collapse of their homes caused by intense rains. One of
the victims lived in the former premises of the Pedro Maria Rodriguez
primary school, located in the neighborhood of La Vibora, while the
other two lived in Centro Habana.

This past Monday, we heard news of the partial collapse of a building
located on 308 Oquendo Street, Centro Habana, an incident which left
more than 600 tenants homeless. The building had been declared in
dangerous condition in 1988.

The structural collapse which took place at the bus terminal confirms
the ruinous state of Havana's buildings, including those housing vital
public service providers. The city's main bus terminal, an example of
modernist architecture, was opened in 1951.

Signs of Modernity

The Cuban republic so derided by the Castro regime was capable of
building not only a central, nationwide highway in a mere four years at
the close of the 1920s but also the National Bus Terminal, which was
considered the second one of its type in the world, second only to the
one in Washington, DC.

Such facts confirm Cuba's former vocation for modernity and its
socio-cultural identification with the United States, no matter how much
it pains Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez to accept this.

The deplorable condition of most of Havana's building today makes any
stroll around the city a chilling experience. There are ruins among old
as well as modern residences: the neighborhood of Alamar, to the east of
the city, today resembles the old town owing to leaks in most of its
buildings caused by structural defects. Around 97 thousand people live
in this neighborhood.

The lack of proper and regular maintenance, the modification of the
homes' internal structures (carried out to house additional tenants),
the transformation of the buildings' supportive structures and the
government's indifference towards the state of Havana's residences do
not paint a very promising picture of the city's future.

If the Cuban government had devoted 5 percent of what it invested
effectively in new constructions to maintain and conserve Havana's
buildings, the situation would not be as serious. This problem is no
longer limited to the capital – it is generalized and provincial
governments do not have the resources needed to undertake the repairs
demanded by the properties.

Backs Turned On Havana

If we go over the records, we'll see that Fidel Castro's first plans for
developing tourism excluded Havana and prioritized destinations at
beaches and keys, in search of superficial tourists who content
themselves with sunny beaches. This was also aimed at avoiding the
potential "ideological contamination" of Cubans, who were denied access
to the hotels and beaches of their own county until Raul Castro did away
with that absurd apartheid recently.

It was only when tourists began to show an interest in visiting Havana
and touring its once magical places, such as the Tropicana cabaret, the
Floridita, Bodeguita del Medio and Sloppy Joe bars and others, that
authorities reacted and wholeheartedly supported the restoration efforts
of city historian Eusebio Leal and his team – which were few and far
between until that point.

At that point, however, it was very difficult to find good masons,
welders, carpenters and other tradespeople skilled in the construction
and restoration of buildings (activities that thrive and enjoy much
social recognition around the world).

In fact, if any Cuban or visitor approaches the buildings in the
residential neighborhood of Miramar, today being sold by real estate
agencies to anyone who can afford their prices (prohibitive for Cuban
workers), they will see the repair work is shoddy and that much has to
be spent in maintaining and/or improving these properties.

Most of Havana's recently-built hotels, such as the 5th Avenue Hotel and
the Melia Cohiba, experience problems stemming from poor construction
work and the use of cheap insulation, doors and windows. In the case of
the first hotel, terraces and the underground parking lot floods every
time there are intense rains.

No Consultation

All of these poor investments have been possible thanks to the
sacrifices made by the Cuban people, without ever consulting citizens on
such questions as whether they agreed that the coast in Miramar, for
instance, should have been besmirched by that glass abomination known as
the Hotel Panorama, whose air-conditioning expenses are most likely secret.

Many things about pre-revolutionary Havana can be criticized, but its
architecture has been praised around the world by experts and impartial
visitors who, on discovering such sites as the pillar less roof of the
old Club Nautico, the Galician Cultural Center, the city Zoo and 5th
Avenue, commend the architects and politicians responsible for these
urban treasures.

What made Havana lose this impulse? The political imposition of a
strategy based on the distribution of poverty, disguised with a vacuous
and sterile spiel, which damaged the Cuban capital and its residents
beyond imagination.

Bringing young peasants to Havana so they could pursue studies there was
a just measure, but there was really no need to lodge them in homes in
Miramar, which were destroyed by this generous scholarship program.

Perversion and Madness

Taking in Chileans who were fleeing Pinochet's dictatorship was a just
decision, but they should not have been allowed to destroy part of the
FOCSA Hotel and the Sierra Maestra buildings in Miramar.

Bringing Venezuelans to Havana to perform operations on them for
cataracts and other conditions was a means of buying votes for Chavez'
movement, but these patients should not have been allowed to tear apart
the Las Praderas Hotel and other facilities.

The people of Havana would have many reasons to feel moderately proud of
their city. The culture of poverty imposed by the Castro regime not only
deprived them of a better life; it also condemned them to live in a city
that has deteriorated in the course of years to such a degree that the
director of Conducta ("Conduct"), the latest Cuban film hit, did not
even have to worry about set design.

The state of Havana today is such that no adjectives could describe it.
One need only set up a camera at any street corner to capture the daily
horrors of a city that, instead of being young and full of energy (like
the women who suffered an accident at the bus terminal), is a picture of
the perversion and madness of the Cuban government, set on razing it to
the ground.

Source: Havana with the Collapsed Building as its Symbol - Havana - Continue reading
Cuba's Reward for the Dutiful: Gated Housing
Launch media viewer
With balconies and air-conditioning, the new apartments for Cuba's
middle ranks are a sign of a hybrid economy in which the state must
compete with private enterprise. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

HAVANA — In the splendid neighborhoods of this dilapidated city, old
mansions are being upgraded with imported tile. Businessmen go out for
sushi and drive home in plush Audis. Now, hoping to keep up, the
government is erecting something special for its own: a housing
development called Project Granma, featuring hundreds of comfortable
apartments in a gated complex set to have its own movie theater and schools.

"Twenty years ago, what we earned was a good salary," said Roberto
Rodríguez, 51, a longtime Interior Ministry official among the first to
move in. "But the world has changed."

Cuba is in transition. The economic overhauls of the past few years have
rattled the established order of class and status, enabling Cubans with
small businesses or access to foreign capital to rise above many dutiful
Communists. As these new paths to prestige expand, challenging the old
system of rewards for obedience, President Raúl Castro is redoubling
efforts to elevate the faithful and maintain their loyalty — now and
after the Castros are gone.

Project Granma and similar "military cities" around the country are
Caribbean-color edifices of reassurance, set aside for the most ardent
defenders of Cuba's 1959 revolution: families tied to the military and
the Interior Ministry. With their balconies, air-conditioning and fresh
paint, the new apartments are the government's most public gifts to its
middle ranks and a clear sign of Cuba's new hybrid economy, in which the
state must sometimes compete with private enterprise.

The housing is just one example of the military's expansive role in Mr.
Castro's plan for Cuba, and it illustrates a central conflict in his
attempts to open up the economy without dismantling the power structure
he and his comrades have been building for more than five decades.

In the short term, analysts and former officers say, he is relying on
the military to push through changes and maintain stability as he
experiments with economic liberalization. Yet his abiding dedication as
a lifelong soldier who was defense minister for 49 years threatens to
further entrench an institution that has often undermined changes
challenging its favored status.

"Raúl knows the military answer is not the answer, but he also knows
that at this time he absolutely needs military loyalty," said Hal
Klepak, a Canadian scholar who closely tracks the Cuban military. "They
are the only ones who will follow him if the reform succeeds, or if it

Mr. Castro and his brother, Fidel, given their guerrilla history, have
always turned to the military in times of need. In the 1960s and early
'70s, as Cuba's professional class fled, officers in fatigues ran
government ministries and nationalized industries. Since the 1990s,
after the fall of the Soviet Union, the armed forces have been slashed
to around 55,000, from a peak of more than 200,000, but they have also
been pushed further into the Cuban economy.

As president, Raúl Castro, 82, has accelerated the growth of what some
scholars have described as a military oligarchy. The chairman of the
Economic Policy Commission, Marino Murillo, is a former officer. Cuba's
largest state conglomerate, Cimex, which processes remittances from
Cubans abroad, among other tasks, is run by Col. Héctor Oroza Busutin.
Raúl Castro's son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez, is the top
executive at the military's holding company, known as Gaesa, which is
estimated to control 20 percent to 40 percent of the Cuban economy.

And its role is expanding. In 2011, a financial arm of the company
bought out Telecom Italia's 27 percent stake in Cuba's
telecommunications company for $706 million. Gaesa also has a network of
hundreds of retail stores selling everything from food to appliances. It
is a growing force in tourism, too, controlling fleets of luxury buses,
a small airline and an expanding list of hotels. And one of its
subsidiaries is overseeing the free-trade zone built alongside Cuba's
largest infrastructure project in decades — the new container port in

The military's interests bestow the privileges of business on a chosen
few, especially senior military officials. "They live better than almost
anyone in Cuba," said Brian Latell, a former C.I.A. officer who worked
in Cuba.

But in the lower and middle ranks, experts say, esteem and relative
wealth have eroded. Career officers in Cuba are now more likely to have
friends or relatives who live abroad, or who visit Miami and often
return with iPhones or new clothes unavailable at the state's musty stores.

Meanwhile, military members must report all remittances they receive,
and they are not allowed any "unauthorized contact" with foreigners or
Cubans living abroad — limiting access to the money that other Cubans
use not just for purchases, but also to improve their homes and open
small businesses.

"It's producing an exodus of talented people from the state to the
private sector," said Jorge Dámaso, 75, a retired colonel who writes a
blog often critical of the government. "Most people in the military have
seen their quality of life fall compared to a bartender or someone who
has a small business. They can see that they are at a disadvantage."

The new housing, a basic necessity in extremely short supply across the
island, looks to many Cubans like another attempt at favoritism.
According to government figures, the military's construction budget has
more than doubled since 2010. When combined with the Interior Ministry
(often described as a branch of the military), the armed forces are now
Cuba's second-largest construction entity.

Project Granma — named after the boat Fidel Castro took from Mexico to
Cuba to start the revolution — is one of several new military housing
developments around the country. Its equivalent in Santiago de Cuba,
where the Castro revolution began, has come under fire from Cubans
struggling in rickety homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But as an
attempt to match the private sector, or life in other countries, it is
perhaps no accident that the colors and architecture of the Granma, in
the same neighborhood that Raúl Castro calls home, give it the feel of a
Florida condo complex.

At its edge, there is a baseball field. Inside the gates, streetlamps
resembling classic gaslights line the sidewalks, while cars, another
perk, fill lots.

At a building with rounded archways, where a movie theater, market and
health clinic are meant to go, one of the project's engineers said
several thousand people would eventually call Granma home. Sweating in
green army fatigues, he praised the plan, noting its imported,
prefabricated design that allowed walls to be assembled quickly, like
puzzle pieces. He failed to mention what a security guard had pointed
out: Most of the workers painting were prison inmates.

Several residents said they were thrilled to live in what Mario Coyula,
Havana's former director of urbanism and architecture, called "the first
gated community in Cuba since the 1950s." Some said they had been living
in cramped quarters with generations of family.

Support for Raúl Castro's economic changes seemed strong here among
those willing to talk. "It's necessary," Mr. Rodríguez, the official
among the first to arrive at Granma, said as he sat outside with a
cigarette. "If you're cold, you put on a coat; it's just what makes sense."

But in the push and pull that has defined Cuba's economic policies over
the last two years, the government has often struggled with when to let
the market function and when to protect the Communist establishment. The
authorities, for example, recently cracked down on private vendors
selling clothes and other items, widely seen as an effort to help the
state's own retail network.

Mr. Dámaso, who spent 32 years in the military, said that the country's
leaders, while longing for economic improvement, mainly want to preserve
the Cuba they know.

"If you have a business run by military officers, when there's a
transition, you're not going to get rid of all these people," he said.
"This is a way to maintain a space for established powers in a future
Cuban society."

Source: Cuba's Reward for the Dutiful: Gated Housing - - Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 10.14.13

Cuban government supporters 'repudiate' the Ladies in White

Cuban police and a pro-government mob Monday shut off the area around
the Havana home where the dissident Ladies in White were marking the
anniversary of the death of their founder, and police reportedly
detained 22 group members who tried to reach the home.

"The government brings the mob, paid by them, to silence our words,"
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said by phone from the home of
founder Laura Pollán, which became the group's office after her death on
Oct. 14. 2011 at the age of 63.

Loud music and chanting could be heard in the background, coming from
the loudspeakers set up by government officials to amplify the shouts by
the more than 100 government supporters crowded since 2 p.m. just
outside the front doors of the home on Neptuno Street.

About 50 Ladies in White were gathered in the home to mark Pollán's
death but another 22 were detained by police Monday to keep them from
attending the ceremony, Soler said. Such detentions are usually ended
after an event ends.

Police closed off the one block of Neptuno in front of Pollan's house to
vehicular and pedestrian traffic since early Monday and installed a
"large stage" for the event against the women, according to a report by
the Spanish EFE news agency.

At least six police vehicles and several police agents, most of them
women, could be seen on Aramburen street, on one end of the closed-off
block of Neptuno street, EFE added.

The Cuban government regularly organizes such "acts of reputation" to
harass and intimidate dissidents and to prevent them from staging street
protests against the island's communist system.

Soler said the Ladies in White gathered in the home had no intention of
going out into the street and hoped simply to mark Pollan's death by
showing a video celebrating her life and reading some of the letters she
wrote giving her support and encouragement to other dissidents.

Another 82 members of the Ladies in White were detained around the
island over the weekend as they tried to reach ceremonies honoring
Pollán, Soler said. All were believed to have been released by Sunday night.

Pollán was one of the main founders of the group, made up of the wives,
mothers and daughters of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown known
as Cuba's "Black spring," to demand the release of their male relatives.

Some of the 75 were released early for health reasons, and the last of
the men still in prison were freed in 2010 and 2011 by the Raúl Castro
government after meetings with leaders of Cuba's Catholic Church. All
but a dozen or so went directly from prison to the Havana airport for
flights to exile in Spain.

The Cuban government reported Pollán died from a heart attack, brought
on by a respiratory crisis complicated by a bout with dengue fever and
her diabetes. Some of her followers have said they suspect she was
poisoned but offered no evidence.

Pollán died nine months before another top dissident, Oswaldo Payá, and
supporter Harold Cepero were killed in what Cuban officials called a
traffic accident. Payá's family maintains the fatal crash was caused by
a State Security vehicle that rammed their car.

Source: "Cuban government supporters 'repudiate' the Ladies in White -
Cuba -" - Continue reading
Maria is Disillusioned With Life, She Would Rather Die / Yoel Espinosa
Posted on October 11, 2013

SANTA CLARA, Cuba, October 9, 2013, Yoel Espinosa Medrano / María de la Cruz Martín Concepción is a lady of 65.
She lives in the central province of Villa Clara, one of the territories
with the highest rates of an aging population in Cuba. Relatives and
neighbors are keeping and eye on her. She is determined to take her life
if the situation in which she lives isn't addressed.

She says she has lost the joy of living. Death has played with her on
several occasions. She has had three heart attacks. She also suffers
from Ischemic Heart Disease, Diabetic Neuropathy, Hypertension, among
other conditions common to her age, exacerbated by poor diet.

Martin Concepcion is experiencing a crisis of diabetes and high blood
pressure . She hasn't bought the medicines to control her conditions for
three months. Her drugs — Glibenclamide, Cartopril, Nitropental,
Dipyridamole and others — cost about 100 Cuban pesos a month.

Fatally, General Raul Castro took 198 pesos (some 7 dollars) from the
pension she receives from social assistance. To control her illnesses
she drinks infusions made from medicinal plants, and also subsists on
the charity of others who give her the occasional pill.

Her husband, Joseph Felinciano Fernandez, 72-years-old, nearly died of a
bowel obstruction complicated by peritonitis recently. He earns a
monthly pension of just over 200 Cuban pesos (about $7) .

Three years ago, a man driving a Russian brand Ural motorcycle with a
sidecar hit the horse-drawn wagon Felinciano was driving and caused a
skull fracture that affected his hearing. He also has an abdominal hernia.

The motorcycle driver was under the influence of alcohol and fled the
scene. Eventually the police found him. The old man was in serious
condition for several days in a hospital.

The trial for the accident was prearranged. The accused, the person who
hit the back of the cart, had "patrons" and money. He got of scot-free
and the old man was sentenced to pay a fine.

The couple's home, located on Callejón del Salado S/N and
Circunvalación, in the Brisas del Oeste neighborhood of Santa Clara, in
Villa Clara province, is in deplorable condition.

An official of the Municipal Housing Authority, named Minerva,
classified it as in a state of total collapse.

María and her husband now spend the night at the home of a daughter who
has one room, a kitchen and bathroom. Also living there are her
son-in-law, grandson and wife.

Raúl Fernández is a paramilitary who holds the position of Coordinator
of the Area , a notorious organizer of mobs and a member of the
so-called Rapid Response Brigades who generally take actions against
human rights activists. He visited the shack and told the elderly couple
they would get together the money for lumber for repairs.

María sent letters to the various levels of government and the Party in
Villa Clara.

A gentleman who identified himself as delegate of the People's Power in
the area analyzed the housing situation and said they could not spend
another minute in it because the roof might fall in at any moment. He
also said they did not have ownership of the house, so they were
classified as illegals, despite having lived there for over 20 years.

The official said that without title to the property they could not
subsidize their housing repairs.

Meanwhile, María waited for a formal response. She herself won't see the
end to their odyssey because with poor nutrition and no medications, her
heart can't withstand another attack.

Yoel Espinosa Medrano

From Cubanet, 10 October 2013

Source: "Maria is Disillusioned With Life, She Would Rather Die / Yoel
Espinosa Medrano | Translating Cuba" - Continue reading
Santiago de Cuba: Prognosis Guarded / Regina Coyula
Posted on July 25, 2013

Santiago de Cuba suffered a heart attack last year. The family conceals
her dark circles, puts on makeup, and dyes her hair, but can't control
her chronic hypertension. All this to celebrate the 60th anniversary of
the assault on the Moncada Barracks.

With the characteristic superstition of the materialists in government,
the celebration of this fixed date should be held in the "cradle of the
Revolution." In Santiago the public lighting was replaced with sodium
vapor lamps; the major parks were refurbished with lighting, benches,
and plants; the Heredia theater underwent a renovation for the cultural
gala to be held on the eve of the political event; Antonio Maceo Square
received an extensive engineering repair that included the underground area.

The television station reopened its studio. Of course Saturnino Lora
Hospital, the Palace of Justice, and the barracks, all involved in the
events of July 26, 1953, received benefits; also the little Siboney farm
and the Venus Hotel, the latter included in the homeland tour.

Abel Santamaría Park, judging by the pictures, was rescued from
significant deterioration. According to a worker in charge, 400 inactive
pumps were unclogged and restored in the cube-shaped fountain, the
park's landmark. The places related to the assault 60 years ago are now
spotless. I wish I could say the same about the housing stock.

It doesn't matter that they've raced to restripe the major streets, or
planted many trees overnight. The scars that were left after Hurricane
Sandy buffeted the battered housing stock overlie the pre-existing
ischemia. The patient's symptoms point out the precariousness of the
Santiago population.

In the midst of the the economic update that simply does not show
tangible results for the average citizen, Santiagans find that Daddy
State not only gives insufficient help as before, but has no ability to
respond to the urgent needs of the victims. Some materials are
subsidized staples, but most have to be purchased at market price. A
family that lost its home can only hope for credit and assistance to
build a home with a kitchen and bath, no matter how many family members
there are.

Although the commemorations have lost their massive character to be
required activities with seating and entry activities as listed, the
cost of such an act is not negligible: foreign guests protocol houses,
hotels, houses transit agencies, military and transport aircraft
executive squadron numerous inputs and then moving back and forth from
the leaders and guests, electricity, amplification equipment, personal
security devices and counterintelligence, artists and technicians who
will take part in the gala preview, press, billboards, banners and
billboards that adorn the avenues to the palm-leaf hats and sweaters,
but the fuel to run all this gear and other items that escape me.

The Santiagans would have preferred a tribute to the fallen and the city
itself was allocated the amount of all these resources to restore the
heart rhythm of a city, whose symptoms allowed diagnosing the
cardiovascular accident caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Raul Castro has missed a great opportunity to achieve political gain
without seeming to.

Regina Coyula | La Habana

From Diario de Cuba

24 July 2013

Source: "Santiago de Cuba: Prognosis Guarded / Regina Coyula |
Translating Cuba" - Continue reading
Cuba’s ’1 percent’ is not who you think it is Published: Friday, 19 Jul 2013 | 7:00 AM ET By: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera | CNBC Chief International Correspondent In most parts of the world, artists struggle to make a living. In Cuba, they’re part of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population. Two quirks of fate [...] Continue reading
Cuba dissident Farinas finally picks up 2010 Sakharov prize Saying “Cuba will be free”, dissident Guillermo Farinas on Wednesday finally picked up the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize — three years after winning the award. “This fist held high means there will one day be democracy in Cuba,” Farinas told the packed European [...] Continue reading
Interview with Rosa Maria Paya / Lilianne Ruiz, Rosa Maria Paya Posted on June 18, 2013 By Lilianne Ruíz HAVANA, Cuba, May, Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, returned to Cuba after finishing a tour with the main objective of promoting an international investigation to clarify the [...] Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 10.05.12 Arrested in Cuba, Yoani Sanchez "is not alone" By Fabiola Santiago This is the real Cuba — not the one of circular and unproductive policy debate in Miami and Washington, D.C., but the... Continue reading
The Oil that Bleeds Cubans DryApril 7, 2012By AmritCooking oil costs about $2.70 usd a liter in Cuba where the average salary is around $20 a month.HAVANA TIMES, April 7 — Whenever I'm forced to come to grips with our waning cooking-oil ration (e... Continue reading