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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
The Future Is Built With Cement … But There Isn't Any

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 May 2017 — The cranes show off
their slender anatomy in some areas of Havana where several luxury
hotels are being built. Apart from this landscape of progress, private
construction and repairs face technological problems and shortages. This
week it has been cement's turn.
"This is the third time I have come and I am leaving with an empty
wheelbarrow," a customer on the hunt for construction materials
complained Thursday in the Havana's La Timba neighborhood. The employee
standing behind the counter confirmed that "they are sending less than
before and every day more people come to try to buy it."

To send, to arrive and to supply are the verbs used to refer to the
state distribution of any product, be it eggs, milk powder, or tiles to
cover a roof. There is an enormous supply chain responsible for
distributing construction materials, in a country where 39% of the
housing stock is in "regular or poor" condition.

Since the beginning of the year, gray cement has become the biggest
headache for those involved in construction, a situation that has
worsened in recent weeks.

Several employees in the stores in the capital specializing in
construction materials and that sell their goods in convertible pesos,
told 14ymedio that since the beginning of 2017 they have not received

The government has chosen to place the product in the network that sells
in Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, in the face of previous
criticisms of excessive prices in the foreign exchange network. However,
a network of corruption, diversion of resources and re-sales makes it
almost impossible to get one of those sacks with the precious gray powder.

The national cement industry has not yet recovered from the blow that
resulted from the fall of Europe's socialist camp and the withdrawal of
the Soviet Union's subsidies to Cuba. At present, six factories on the
island managed to produce slightly more than 1.4 million tonnes of gray
cement last year, a figure well below the 5.2 million achieved in the
same period in neighboring Dominican Republic, a country with a
comparable population (about 11 million inhabitants), according to a
report from the Producers Association.

The government has assigned the Construction Materials Business Group
(GEICON) to produce cement in each of its variants, in addition to other
building materials such as aggregates, blocks, and flooring elements,
along with asbestos, fibroasphalt and roofing tiles.

The sales and marketing director of the group, Rubén Gómez Medina,
recently explained on national television that despite the sector's
recovery over the last five years, it still cannot meet demand.

The situation becomes complex for self-employed masons, and also for
those who are part of a non-agricultural cooperative. "As there is no
wholesale market, when we are contracted to do a job we have to place
responsibility for the materials on the customer," says Carlos Núñez,
who two years ago obtained a license for that occupation.

The entrepreneur remembers that at first they calculated a budget that
included everything, the plans, the materials and the labor. "Since we
started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next
and no one can tolerate that."

A bag of gray cement last year cost just over 6 CUC in an official
store. In the open markets the same bag is sold in national currency at
the equivalent of 7 CUC. The lack of supply has meant that in the
underground market, where it is also scarce, the price doubles and in
some areas reaches as high as 18 CUC.

Cement, along with pork or cooking oil, is one of those goods that set
the pace of the everyday economy. Its disappearance or shortage is a
direct blow to the population's quality of life.

Of the more than 23,000 homes that were built during 2015, less than
half were erected by the state. The rest were built by the private sector.

Now, for many, the only option is to buy gray cement on the black
market, or to sleep outside one of the open markets all night to see if
there's an early delivery.

On the outskirts of Fe del Valle Park, mixed among the dozens of people
who connect to the Internet in this popular Wi-Fi zone, resellers
abound. The site has a reputation for being a place where you can find
everything, "even 12 gauge electric cables for electrical
installations," a young man nicknamed El Chino proclaims without modesty.

So as not to be confused with a police informant or an inspector, the
buyer should pronounce the question in the most roundabout way. "How's
the cement coming along, pal?" El Chino arches his eyebrows and with a
precise professional air answers, " P350, which is for mounting plates,
goes out of here at between 10 and 12 CUC a bag and P250, for
plastering, goes for 9."

He pauses, as if he is sorry for what he is about to confess and adds,
"But right now there isn't any."

At the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) the officials questioned do not
clarify the reasons for the shortage, although several cooperative
members engaged in construction assert that part of the production of
the western zone has been sent to Guantánamo province to repair the
houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

A MICONS employee, who preferred anonymity, does not agree with that
explanation and insists that "since a group of measures to promote
construction by self-effort was implemented, there was a building
explosion that was not foreseen in the production plans for the
materials… Important hotels are being built and the supply to those
places can't be allowed to fail, so it has been prioritized," he adds.

The most recent version of the Foreign Investment Opportunities
Portfolio describes the objective of the authorities to "promote the
construction of infrastructure and industrial maintenance, mainly for
the nickel, oil and cement industries." But so far potential investors
are wary of putting their money in ventures on the Island.

"What has happened is that the cement industry is bottoming out and can
not withstand the pressure of the high demand," an engineer with 30
years of experience in the sector, who prefers to be called Osvaldo –
not his real name – to avoid reprisals for his statements, tells this

In 2016 the country's factories have had serious problems due to the
lack of maintenance but transportation has also burdened the
results. "We depend on the Cuban Railways to transfer part of the
material used in cement manufacture," Osvaldo said. "It's a chain of
inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the

"No new equipment or parts are coming into the country. In many
factories, the furnace engines, the mechanical couplings and the mills
are badly damaged," he adds.

"This industry is the engine of prosperity, because it is the one that
allows houses to be built, people to have more amenities and there is
progress," Osvaldo proudly says. "But if we do not invest a good amount
of money we will continue as we are, between improvisations and defaults."

To illustrate his comment, the engineer shows the side wall of a newly
built house that is still waiting to be plastered. "It's because I
haven't been able to find the cement anywhere," justifies the owner.

Source: The Future Is Built With Cement … But There Isn't Any –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Havana is collapsing
DIMAS CASTELLANOS | La Habana | 4 de Mayo de 2017 - 11:28 CEST.

In the municipality of Centro Habana, which for years has witnessed
buildings collapse, what happened at the corner of Amistad and San
Miguel, in the neighborhood of Colón, did not constitute news because of
the collapse itself, but rather because there were no fatalities as a
result of it.

In the early hours of Tuesday, April 18 the old building, about to turn
100 years old, and home to more than 100 families, gave way. It is now
to be condemned. The building's staircase caved in, from the third floor
on down, while the residents on the fifth to the tenth levels were
trapped. To make matters worse, the staircase between floors five and
six was separated from the wall, and the elevator had been out of
commission for years.

Because of the fates suffered by people facing similar situations,
several of the occupants were initially reluctant to abandon the
building. They are now being evicted, from the upper floors to the lower
ones, and relocated to dwellings and houses located in other parts of
the city. Until last Sunday, 11 days after the collapse, residents on
the ninth and tenth floors had been relocated, and they were in the
process of emptying the eighth floor. Work will continue in the coming
days to complete the eviction of all the building's occupants.

What happened in Centro Habana is an indication of a national tragedy.
Going back to the last century, population growth made housing a major
problem to be addressed. In Havana, in parallel to the buildings erected
in the center of the city, several urban developments were completed in
Pogolotti, Boyeros, Luyanó and Guanabacoa, but this significant
construction effort proved insufficient.

From 1946 to 1953 an average of 26.827 new homes were built yearly.
Between 1945 and 1958 —the period of the most construction activity
before 1959— housing featuring good or acceptable levels of quality
could only satisfy one third of the demand, due to the population
growth. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the
Caribbean (ECLAC), the housing deficit up until 1959 came to more than
700.000 homes.

A promise of the Revolution

In 1953 Fidel Castro, contending that history would absolve him, stated
that "a revolutionary Government would solve the housing problem by
demolishing the hellish tenements and erecting modern buildings with
many floors, and financing the construction of houses on the Island on a
scale never seen...".

With this intent, the government that assumed power in 1959 drew up a
series of plans, which, in their revolutionary/military jargon, they
dubbed the "battle for housing." The first of these plans, from 1960 to
1970, called for 32.000 apartments annually, but the figure of 11.000
was, ultimately, not surpassed. The second plan, from 1971 to 1980,
raised the target to about 38.000 per year, but they were unable to
construct even 17.000. To make up for this performance, in 1981 it was
proposed to build 100.000 houses annually, but for 25 years they failed
to exceed 40.000.

If to meet the demands of population growth some 50.000 homes annually
are needed, and to gradually redress the preceding deficit another
50.000 are required, it is necessary to build some 100.000 per year.
That seems to have been the calculation used by Carlos Lage Dávila when
he proposed a second plan for 100.000 homes. According to him, due to
the improvement in the country's financial performance, they were going
to "build and finish no less than 100.000 new homes per year as of 2006."

But these figures were never realized either. In 2008, it was announced
that instead of 100.000, only 52.000 homes would be built. According to
the National Bureau of Statistics, however, that year about 45.000 were
built; in 2009, about 34.000; in 2012, just over 32.000; and in the year
2013 there were fewer than 26.000 homes built.

Then, on July 15, 2015, at the 5th Regular Session of the National
Assembly of the People's Power, it was reported that GDP was up 4,7% in
the first half of the year. However, only about 30.000 homes would be
built that year.

A conservative estimate now indicates a deficit in excess of one million
homes, mitigated by the more than two million Cubans who have left the
country since 1959. Almost six decades after the "battle for housing"
began, the situation is worsening, and remains a hurdle to be overcome.
Tens of thousands of buildings are in poor condition or occupy deficient
properties. Tens of thousands of families have been relocated
"temporarily," while as many others inhabit buildings in danger of
collapsing, like the one that just did in Centro Habana.

No more shelters

A few months ago in the "Papelitos Hablan" section on the television
program Hola Habana, José Alejandro Rodríguez showed a video in which
Ciudad Habana's Shelters Director provided the following data: there are
35.000 family units totaling 116.000 people (a figure similar to the
population of Matanzas) living in 120 shelters, and another 34.000
poorly built housing developments are in need of shelters. Of the 35.000
family units housed, 5.292 live in 585 adapted facilities. The average
stay in shelters is 20 years.

In light of this situation, the Government decided not to build more
shelters, instead undertaking a plan for the refurbishment of buildings
and the construction of "low cost" (i.e. very low quality) housing. But,
to rectify a situation 40 years in the making, said the Director, they
need to build some 2.000 homes annually, while to date they have only
been finishing about 160.

Hence, the population's growth, the ageing of the country's available
housing, its deterioration due to shoddy maintenance, the nine powerful
hurricanes that hit the country between 2001 and 2016, the repeated
collapses, slow pace of construction, citizens' lack of mobility, and
irresponsibility of many Cubans, have generated a scenario that only
gets worse over time, expands geographically, cuts off possibilities for
young people of age to marry, and swells the ranks of those who decide
to leave the country.

Between the 16 years from December 5, 2001, when the building located at
the Calle Águila 558 collapsed, until April 18, 2017, when that at San
Miguel and Amistad did, both in Centro Habana, too many Cubans have been
left dead or wounded; men and women, young and old alike, and thousands
of families have ended up staying in ramshackle hostels for a good part
of their lives.

The State must be part of the solution, but in collaboration with those
in need, who lack the autonomy necessary to create small and
medium-sized companies for the production and sale of construction
materials, repairs, transport, and alternative financing. And these are
shortcomings that amount to an insurmountable obstacle to solving or
alleviating the housing crisis. Also required are multidisciplinary
studies on the psychological, sociological and demographic factors
involved; the creation of a new governing body at the Ministry level;
and the creation and implementation of the appropriate policies and

A new housing policy is essential, whose central axis must be a
harmonious balance between social justice, individual and social
interests, freedom, and the possibility of participation. In short, the
State and society working together.

The choice is clear: the State must promote and respect personal
autonomy and freedom while fomenting public participation, in a parallel
and subsidiary way. If it chooses to continue to take charge of
everything, it will only paralyze its people's potential, and this
national tragedy will go on.

Source: Havana is collapsing | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central Havana

Mariagne Durán resides in the seventh floor of the Central Havana
building affected by the collapse and refuses to evacuate. (14ymedio)
Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 18 April 2017 — Mariagne Durán, a mother
of two children who lives in the Serrá Building in Central Havana where
the stairs collapsed on Tuesday, refuses to leave the property because
she has nowhere else to go. An employee of the Telecommunications
Company of Cuba (ETECSA), Duran and her mother are part of the group of
residents on the corner of Amistad and San Miguel Streets who are
resisting being evacuated.

A temporary elevator placed outside the building has allowed residents
to come and go from the building and run their daily errands. In the
most urgent cases of people trapped it was necessary to use cranes for
their rescue, but some families refuse to leave without their
belongings. They do not want to leave behind their refrigerators,
stoves, washing machines and household goods for fear of looting.

Durán resides on the seventh floor of the building and commented to
14ymedio that on Tuesday evening the residents had a meeting with
leaders of the Provincial Housing Directorate, but the meeting did not
specify what will happen next with the affected families after the
evacuation. "I will not accept a cubicle in a shelter," concludes the woman.

Neighbors trapped in the building after the stairs fell in watch through
their windows as the police deploy. (14ymedio)
This Tuesday, about 120 people were trapped in the building after the
stairs that gave access to the apartments collapsed, as reported here:

Source: Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central
Havana – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 18 April 2017 — About 120
people are trapped in a Central Havana building after the interior
stairs to the apartments collapsed this morning.

The property, located on Amistad and San Miguel Streets has been in
danger of collapse for years due to lack of maintenance. A loud noise
alerted neighbors to the collapse of the old stairs. Police forces and
firefighters were mobilized to help the residents and to evacuate their
few belongings.

In the evening hours, the authorities installed an external elevator
through which paramedics and health personnel have accessed the
building. So far no injuries have been reported, but according to one
police officer at midday, "there are elderly among the trapped," some
with blood pressure problems.

"My cousins ​​live there. They have been complaining about the bad
condition of the stairs for five months and although the authorities
visited the place nothing was fixed," says a neighbor, indignant at the
lack of government action.

For Manuel, a man who lives on the corner of Neptune and Amistad Street,
this morning's collapse is only "the tip of the iceberg."

"Right here in San Rafael there are several buildings that are falling
apart, the government repairs the stores on the ground floors but the
apartments on are the upper floors and they fall in and no one cares,"
he added.

According to Rescue and Salvation personnel in the area, the stairs on
the third floor collapsed.

"We are waiting for the scaffolding to arrive so we can begin to remove
the people who are at risk, bit by bit to empty out the structure," said
one of the rescue workers.

A specialist from the Municipal Housing Department of Central Havana
said that they had received complaints from the residents "for years."

"The elevator doesn't work. The stairs are on the verge of collapse. The
building itself is a danger. They wanted to put the people in shelters
but we don't have the capacity in the district to shelter so many
people," she explained.

After the collapse of the stairs the electricity company cut off the
electricity and also suspended the gas service. After a "thorough
checkup," the specialists of both institutions decided to re-connect the

The Cuban authorities recognize that the housing problem is the first
social necessity in Cuba.

According to official figures 33,889 families (132,699 people) need a
roof. Most of them have spent decades in "temporary" shelters for
victims of building collapses or cyclones.

In 2012, the Census of Population and Housing showed that 60% of the 3.9
million homes on the island are in poor condition.

"There are dozens of people and even pets trapped in that building and
everything is as if nothing happened. Will we wait for Havana to
collapse to realize the serious problem we have with housing?" Yanelis,
a resident of Old Havana, said indignantly, having come to look at the

Source: Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Cuban hustle: Doctors drive cabs and work abroad to make up for
meager pay
FEBRUARY 8, 2017

HAVANA — He knew as a child that he wanted to be a doctor, like his
father. He went to medical school, became a general surgeon and
ultimately a heart specialist. He practiced at Cuba's premier
cardiovascular hospital, performed heart transplants, and published
articles in medical journals.

For this, Roberto Mejides earned a typical doctor's salary: about $40 a

It wasn't nearly enough, even with the free housing and health care
available to Cubans, to support his extended family. So in 2014, Mejides
left them behind, moving to Ecuador to earn up to $8,000 a month working
at two clinics and performing surgeries.

It's a common story here, where waiters, cabdrivers, and tour guides can
make 10 to 20 times the government wages of doctors and nurses — thanks
to tips from tourists.

"Doctors are like slaves for our society," said Sandra, an art student
and photographer's assistant who makes more than her mother, a
physician. "It's not fair to study for so many years and be so underpaid."

Cuba is proud of its government-run health care system and its skilled
doctors. But even with a raise two years ago, the highest paid doctors
make $67 a month, while nurses top out at $40. That leaves many feeling
demoralized — and searching for ways to improve their lives.

Some enter the private economy — by renting rooms to tourists, driving
cabs, or treating private patients, quasi-legally, on the side.
Thousands of others accept two-year government assignments to work as
doctors abroad, collecting higher salaries for themselves and earning
billions for the state, which helps keep the stagnant economy afloat. In
fact, health workers are Cuba's largest source of foreign exchange.

A few doctors, like Mejides, arrange foreign employment on their own,
putting at risk their future ability to return to a government job in
the health system back home.

"It's hard to migrate and be alone," Mejides said in Spanish, during a
video phone call from Ecuador to a reporter visiting Havana in October.
"It's stressful. I am in the wrong place. I should be with my family in
my country, working and being rewarded properly."

Still, with his Ecuador earnings, he was able to buy his wife, two
daughters, and two stepdaughters a $23,000 apartment in Havana, and he
sends them $300 to $500 a month.

Renting out rooms to make ends meet

While doctors back in Cuba grumble about their low pay, they usually
find ways to make do.

Sandra's mother, Nadia, a genetics researcher, earns about as much as
she pays a cleaning woman to maintain her three-bedroom Havana
apartment. Whenever she can, she rents one of those rooms to tourists
for $40 a night, making more in two nights than she does from her
monthly earnings as a doctor. She asked that her full name not be used
to avoid any problems with the government.

The rental income allows Nadia to have a modestly comfortable life and
to be able to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. But a
restaurant meal is a rare treat, and traveling abroad is impossible.

Still, she loves her work and the intellectual challenge of her research
into genetic diseases. She said many Cuban doctors are committed and
provide excellent service, in part because of the ways they have learned
to overcome shortages of equipment and technology.

"We don't have all the electronic tools, so we have to learn to do
things other ways, to diagnose just by external examination," she said,
over a dinner of fish and rum at her apartment.

She'd like to earn more money, of course, and she understands why so
many doctors, including many she knows, have chosen to leave Cuba.

"I'm not ambitious for money," she said. "I get rent from visitors, and
I get to live in Cuba. I have a nice house, and I'm happy with what I
have. But I'm not a millionaire."

Cecilia, a 60-year-old former nurse who also asked that her full name
not be used, spent 25 years working in government hospitals and clinics.
To adapt to the shortages, she learned to make inventos medicos —
medical inventions — using a chair or bench to raise the back of a
patient's bed, for example, or cutting the tip off an intravenous line
to fashion an oxygen feed to a patient's nose.

But she became disillusioned by the chronic shortages and the stress she
saw in both her patients and colleagues.

"The material scarcity is so overwhelming that it keeps people from
dedicating all the passion, love, and brain power that they should to
their patients in need," she said, sitting in a rocking chair in her
third-floor Havana apartment. "I was the one who had to face the
patients and tell them we don't have the drug that you need. It was very
common. And I didn't want to do that any more."

Doctors and nurses "have the best intentions, but they face so many
obstacles, there are so many things on their mind," she added. "The
doctor might be treating a patient but they are actually thinking: 'When
I get home, at God knows what time, what am I going to feed my kid?'"

She quit nursing in the early 2000s and later began to pursue her
passion, doing hands-on alternative medicine that combines techniques of
massage, kinesiology, magnetic therapy, and so-called floral therapy,
which uses extracts of flowers and herbs as healing agents.

Her work with private clients, who come to her apartment, is permitted
under a license for massage, the only form of healing work included on a
list of government-approved private services and businesses. Working
three days a week, she earns almost $120 a month "if all my appointments
show up," she said. "I use to make that in six months working at the

A surplus of doctors

In the years after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba invested
heavily in education and science, training tens of thousands of doctors,
nurses, and scientists. As a result, Cuba, a country of 11.2 million
people, today has 90,000 doctors, the most per capita in the world.

About 25,000 of these doctors, along with 30,000 Cuban nurses and other
health professionals, are working in 67 countries around the world. They
earn about $8.2 billion in revenue for the government, according to a
recent article in Granma, the official paper of the Cuban Communist Party.

The bulk of the doctors, about 20,000, are in Brazil and Venezuela. Over
the last three years they provided treatment to 60 million Brazilians,
mostly the rural poor, said Cristián Morales Fuhrimann, the Pan American
Health Organization's representative in Havana.

Cuba receives about $5,000 a month per doctor from Brazil, pays each
doctor about $1,200, and banks the rest, said John Kirk, a professor of
Latin American studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, who
has researched Cuba's program of medical missions. Most of the doctors'
shares are deposited in their Cuban bank accounts, requiring them to
return home to collect it.

"Cuba has too many doctors, so their main source of hard currency is to
rent out medical services," Kirk said.

Once close allies of Havana, Brazil and Venezuela have been engulfed in
political and economic crises that will cause them to reduce their use
of Cuban doctors in the coming years.

That may lead Cuba to redeploy some doctors to other parts of the world,
including the Middle East. In Qatar, an oil-rich emirate about as far
from Cuba geographically and culturally as any place in the world, the
so-called Cuban Hospital is fully staffed by 400 Cuban doctors, nurses,
and technicians.

Cuba's dispatch of doctors not only generates revenue, it is also an
exercise in soft power that allows the country to spread its influence
around the globe.

"It's a major contribution to the health of the world," said Morales.
"They made a big difference in fighting Ebola in Africa, in the
aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti."

Some Cuban doctors working overseas have defected to the United States,
aided by a policy launched during the administration of George W. Bush
that permitted Cuban medical personnel to go to the US with their
spouses and children. In its last weeks in office, the Obama
administration announced it was ending the program.

Since the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program began in 2006, more
than 9,000 medical professionals and their family members were approved
for admission to the US. In the past four years, the number of entrants
spiked, reaching almost 2,000 for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization protested
the policy as a form of poaching that undermined Cuba's health system
and impeded newfound cooperation between the US and Cuba. In a
statement, Obama acknowledged that the program "risks harming the Cuban

Cuban doctors are in demand internationally because they come cheap, are
well-trained, and work in a public health system that is highly
organized and well-run. In Cuba, primary care clinics are available in
every neighborhood. Specialists in cancer, immunology, genetic medicine,
and cardiovascular disease staff the hospitals. Life expectancy rates,
which two generations ago were at Third World levels, are today roughly
equal to those in the United States.

But the absence of so many doctors also provokes complaints from
patients, who say it keeps them from getting the best care. They also
grouse that they have to bring their own food and bedsheets, wait for
appointments or medications — and provide gifts to doctors to ensure
good treatment.

When the 61-year-old father of Concepcion, a young Cuban professional,
was diagnosed with prostate cancer last summer, she used personal
connections to enable her father to see a specialist promptly.

Concepcion, who asked that her full name not be used to avoid reprisals
or damage to her professional standing, also provided daily gifts of
food, cosmetics, and sometimes cash to doctors, nurses, and technicians
while her father was hospitalized for a month in Holguin, a city in
eastern Cuba.

"Doctors are used to receiving gifts," she said. "You give the gift and
the attention starts getting better. If you stop and the attention goes
down, you go back to handing out gifts. You feel sorry for the doctors
because they work really hard under bad conditions and you always feel
like they're not being rewarded."

She estimated she spent about $500 on gifts and food, an amount she said
would have doubled had he been hospitalized in pricier Havana.

Jose dos Santos, a Cuban journalist who needs regular treatment for his
diabetes, said the care he receives is excellent. Bringing gifts to
doctors "has become a habit because we know that the job doctors do
needs to be better rewarded," he said. "We don't produce oil," he added,
"but we produce talent, and it makes sense that that talent is
acknowledged and rewarded."

In December, Roberto Mejides moved again, this time to Merida, Mexico,
where he plans to work for the next four years. His income will be
roughly the same as in Ecuador, but now he's just 90 minutes by air from
Havana. He hopes to bring his family to join him in the coming months,

"My hopes have always been the same, to work honestly and to provide my
family with an adequate life," he said. Someday, he added, he wants to
return to Cuba: "It's my country, my homeland."

Rob Waters can be reached at
Follow Rob on Twitter @robwaters001

Source: Cuban doctors drive cabs and work abroad to compensate for
meager pay - Continue reading
"I Did Not Enter This House Through The Window" / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Every night when Bisaida Azahares Correa goes to bed and looks at the
ceiling, she is afraid that when the sun comes up she will have leave
the house where she lives with her two children. This dwelling in the
Siboney neighborhood is her only chance of not ending up sleeping on the
street, but its walls are also the source of her major headaches.

The phrase "forced extraction" makes this well-spoken and
straight-talking woman shudder. The first time she read those two words
together was six months after her husband, Dr. Nelson Cabrera Quesada,
left on a medical mission to Saudi Arabia. Since then her life has been
turned upside down.

Life in the converted garage revolves around the impending eviction. A
situation that contrasts with the large mansions and opulent chalets –
where life seems almost bucolic – that surround the modest home of the

A few yards away, the presence of bodyguards betrays the place where
Mariela Castro lives, the daughter of the Cuban president. Nearby is
also the spacious home of Armando Hart, former Minister of Culture. All
are Bisaida's neighbors, but they are not aware of the drama that
defines the life of this almost 50-year-old woman.

The Cuban authorities have recognized that the housing problem is the
primary social need in Cuba. Analysts estimate that the country has a
deficit of 600,000 homes, but in the last decade housing construction
has fallen by 20%.

In the midst of this situation, the so-called "forced removals" of those
who have occupied an abandoned state "shed," a property closed for years
due to the emigration of its owner, or who have erected a house on
vacant land, are frequent. But Bisaida's case is different.

An official notification recently ordered the family to leave the
property because it is owned by the University of Medical Sciences. The
woman vehemently questions that statement. She says that in 2005 she
settled in the house with her husband and their children to care for the
doctor's grandmother.

After the death of the lady, the couple did everything possible to
regularize the situation of the house that had been given to Cabrera
Quesada's grandfather in 1979 when he worked as an administrator in the
department of International Relations at the university. After living
there three years, the teacher won the right to have the property
separated from the institution and turned over to her

The law recognizes that "at the end of a housing claim" after a tenant
lives there for 15 years, "the municipal Housing Directorates issue a
Resolution-Title of Property in favor of the persons with the right and
who agree to pay the total in 180 monthly payments." In this case, the
family says they have settled the debt with the bank.

However, the twists and turns of the bureaucracy made the legal transfer
into the hands of the family impossible. The grandfather ended up
retiring and emigrating to the United States, although his wife remained
as the principal resident of the house until her death. Since then the
family has repeatedly tried to obtain the housing papers, but they have
only received threats.

Among the worst moments Bisaida remembers is the day they showed her
husband a document that declares they are illegal occupants. They were
given fifteen days to leave the house. Although the doctor wrote letters
of complaint "to all levels," the answer to his claim can be summed up
in two intimidating words: "no place."

The woman, who is recovering from breast and uterine cancer, says her
husband "has not had the support of any of the ministries involved in
his case nor of the University."

"All I want is justice, my husband's grandparents lived here for decades
and we've been here twelve years," complains Bisaida. She is not
demanding a gift or violating the law for her own pleasure. She only
wants the house to be passed on as personal property, as stipulated in
Resolution No. V-002/2014 of the Minister of Construction, Regulation of
Linked Homes and Basic Means.

Their situation forces them to live virtually locked up.

"We are afraid to leave," the woman laments. They fear that once outside
the house the authorities will take advantage to block access or place
an official seal on the door.

"I did not enter this house through the window," says Bisaida. She shows
the address that appears on her identity card and that matches letter by
letter with the location of the small garage.

Source: "I Did Not Enter This House Through The Window" / 14ymedio, Luz
Escobar – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Taking Stock of the Flood Damage in Havana / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 January 2017 — The hectically busy
residents of the areas bordering Havana's Malecón, on Tuesday, tried to
repair the damages left by seawater flooding over the seawall the
previous day. The strong northwestern winds associated with an extensive
extratropical low pressure over the state of South Carolina have
submerged the dreams of many families.

"It was strong and very fast, not as moderate as they said on
television. There was a lot of water flowing," says Lázaro, a resident
of Arcos Passage on 3rd Avenue and A Street in the Vedado district.

"It was not like other years because this time they did not warn us in
time and the team of people who always help with the evacuation did not
show up."

Victoria, a resident of the same street, is sweeping the sand that
reached to her doorway. At the same time last year there was something
similar in the area, "but not so intense," she says, tired of all the
hustle and bustle.

Wet mattresses, refrigerators damaged by salt and humidity, and the
lamentations of the unprepared state, are part of the scene along the

While taking a break, Victoria tells her neighbor that the water once
again reached Calzada but this year it also got as far as Linea Street.
She says that in her house "all night I couldn't sleep because of the
beating of the waves," and regrets that "they have not cleaned the
streets as they are doing in front of the Meliá Cohiba hotel."

The floods went from moderate to strong in a few hours on the north
coast, including the Havana Malecon, taking many unawares. Just after
four in the afternoon one could see cars drifting on the water, and the
sewers were black holes where the currents swirled.

On A and B Streets water penetrated more than four blocks into the
city. Several warehouses, like the one at 3rd and C, lost part of
their merchandise because the workers did not have time to raise up all
the sacks of rice, sugar or beans.

One family has lost everything because their house was a garage turned
into a home because of the deficit of housing. "We didn't see it coming
and by the time we realized, everything was underwater," was all that
the woman managed to repeat, as she rescued swollen chairs from a
mixture of seawater, mud and garbage.

In front of the Labiofam offices at 1st and B, cars "had all four tires
in the air," explains Ramiro, a resident, while pumping out the water
that entered his garage. The man, who lives in the 110 building behind
the Presidente Hotel, complains that those in charge of decontaminating
the water tanks are "delayed" and in similar situations "they let some
three days go by to force the residents to solve the problems on our own."

In many private businesses the employees were busy from the early hours
of the morning cleaning, getting the water out, and trying to save what
wasn't washed away with the current, while repairing the damage.

A group of people who had approached the seawall to enjoy the waves
breaking over it were alerted by the whistles of police officers who
guarded each block; the law enforcement officials explained to the
reckless that it is very dangerous because "a stone can fly up and hit you."

As reported by the Forecast Center of the Institute of Meteorology,
coastal flooding began to decrease "gradually" from this morning, but in
the early hours of the afternoon there were still heavy tidal waves.

Source: Taking Stock of the Flood Damage in Havana / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Castro Clan is Fighting over Point Zero, Fidel Castro's Home / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 January 2017 — Point Zero has unleashed a conflict
between the Castro Soto del Valles and their cousins of the "emporium,"
the Castro Espins (Raul Castro's children), who are trying to expel
Dalia, Fidel Castro's widow, and her children from the strategic property.

It all seem carefully calculated, to maintain the appearance of a
well-groomed, well-brought-up happy family. Health, fame, money, power,
good moods and excellent humor; but less than three months since Fidel's
death, the fight between the members of the clan for the exercise of
power over the famous parcel that for years served as the refuge of the
former commander-in-chief, has become the beginning of a great soap
opera that promises to have many episodes.

Located to the west of Havana, in the municipality of Playa, in the
Jaimanitas neighborhood, exactly at 232 Street between 222nd and 238th,
is Point Zero, the apple of discord.

"They are pushing to get Dalia out of Point Zero," says one of the
bodyguards of the late Commander-in-Chief who, in addition, adds that he
feels hurt because none of the bodyguards were invited to the funeral.

"A lack of respect, a personal affront, and to justify the eviction they
come up with three cheap justifications," says the source.

1 – They are going to destroy everything so that nothing is left and no
one else can access the "last estate" of Fidel Castro.

2 – They are going to convert Point Zero into a museum with limited
access. Remodel it and include it as a part of an exclusive and
obligatory tour that will only be shown to important visitors.

3 – They are going to maintain the property as the temporary residence
for future Heads of State of the island.

I do not know what the outcome will be of this truculent story. But what
I do know, is that, by resolution, the properties used and enjoyed by
the maximum leaders do not appear on the Registry of Property because
they are a part of the "Associated Housing and Possessions Linked to the
Council of State" and cannot be inherited.

The provision is that the widows abandon the property where they lived
with the political leader. This was the case with the wives of José
Alberto "Pepín" Naranjo and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, to cite
the examples of two deceased leaders.

But of course, there is always an exception. I know of one.
The "leadership of the country," understood to mean Raul Castro, for
personal interest and affection, is authorized under the
incontrovertible power of … "I feel like it," to transfer a property
from the regime's "Basic Possession" to "Personal Property."

"Dalia can be called the most varied epithets; but she was the wife of
Fidel and dedicated herself to that man. If they confront her, I assure
you that we are going to see the unleashing of the tongue of more than
one* Castro Soto del Valle" according to the firm statement of one of
the many former daughters-in-law of the dead commander.

*Translator's note: Fidel and Dalia had five sons and Fidel had another
son with his first wife and other acknowledged children.

Source: The Castro Clan is Fighting over Point Zero, Fidel Castro's Home
/ Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Housing Construction In Cuba Remains Very Slow / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 January 2017 – This week Luisa
Bermejo's biggest headache will be getting the rebar she's lacking. For
months she's been piling up stacks of cement, bricks and other materials
to build an improvised room in the Cerro district of Havana. If she's
lucky she'll soon finish her house built with her own efforts, in a year
when the state plans to build fewer than 10,000 houses on the entire island.

The authorities recognize that the housing problem is the primary social
need in Cuba – analysts estimate the deficit at some 600,000 homes – but
in the last decade the number of homes built has fallen by 20%. In 2006,
there was a historic peak of 111,373 housing units erected, but by the
end of 2015 the total barely exceeded 23,000, more than half of which
were built through private efforts.

With the gloomy economic announcements in the last session of the
National Assembly, alarms have also been set off about the development
of the housing fund in the short and medium term. In his speech to the
parliamentarians, Minister of Economy and Planning Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz
declared that in the next twelve months the state will only finish some
9,700 homes.

The areas prioritized for the new buildings coincide with the five
municipalities affected by Hurricane Matthew in its passage across
Guantanamo province, a region where more than 38,000 homes were totally
or partially destroyed, and for which the government is raising
international aid to rebuild them.

The Alaves Emergency Fund, established by the Provincial Council of
Alava and the Municipality of Vitoria, in Spain's Basque Country, just
announced it will allocate 52,000 euros for schools and workplaces in
the area of Cuba affected by the hurricane, but foreign aid is barely a
drop in the ocean of Cuba's housing deficit.

The difficult situation facing thousands of families has led many to
stop waiting for the state's construction plans – in the style of those
undertaken in the years of the Soviet subsidy – and to seek their own
solutions. A tortuous road, where the obstacles range from getting the
materials to the cost of labor.

Luisa, 61, lived for six years in a place that she, her two daughters
and her husband sneaked into. "There was no bathroom and we had to see
to our needs in a can and empty it every day," she tells 14ymedio. With
the 2011 enactment of the law that allows the buying and selling of
houses , Bermejo acquired a small piece of land near Sports City, with a
rickety wooden house on it

These last three years she has dedicated to construction, spending full
time locating and acquiring the materials for the house, supervising the
brick layers and making with her own hands everything from formwork to
mortar. "We are living amid dust and sacks, but at least it's mine," she
reflects. So far, she has spent 2,000 Cuban Convertible pesos, a
decade's worth of the salary from her former job as a teacher, from
which she retired a couple of years ago.

At the beginning of the century, Vice President Carlos Lage was the
official functionary in charge of the housing program. The goal, in
those years, was to build 150,000 houses a year to relieve the problem.
Luisa hoped to benefit from an apartment in a microbrigade building
built by a social contingent, but the brief economic flourishing the
island experienced with aid from Venezuela was extinguished shortly

"We realize we have to solve this problem ourselves," she comments.
Shortly afterwards, Lage was ousted and no other face of the government
took on the public commitment to families needing a roof.

Instead, in the middle of last year, Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, also
vice-president of the Councils of States and of Ministers, made it clear
that the solution to the housing problem in the country resides "in
individual effort."

Despite the attention, the result is insufficient. The retired teacher
is now worried about problems with the supply of construction materials,
with the east of the island given priority, according to decisions made
in the capital. "We have a lot of problems getting pipes and everything
related to electrical installation," she explains. She also needs
"tiles, concrete glue and gravel."

Since last November, there have been weeks of shortages of building
materials in Havana, a situation that could slow even further the
completion of construction projects. But Luisa seems determined to
finishing her own personal plan. "This year my bathroom and my own
shower, even if I have to tile it with my own hands."

Source: Housing Construction In Cuba Remains Very Slow / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's Ration Book Survives For Another Year / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 22 December 2016 — At the end of
this month the ration market quotas for January 2017 will go on sale.
Cubans who depend on products distributed at subsidized prices will
gather outside the bodegas, in long lines, for the 55th anniversary of
the ration book, whose elimination continues to be one of Raul Castro's
unmet projects.

In 2014, the average monthly salary on the island increased by 24%, to
584 Cuban pesos (some 24 dollars). Despite this increase, many families
still depend on the subsidized prices maintained by the ration card.
Their income does not allow them to pay the prices in the
supply-and-demand markets or in the retail network of stores in Cuban
Convertible pesos.

Different analysts and official functionaries have warned that the
elimination of the ration book could cause a fall in the standard of
living in the most vulnerable sectors of the population, among whom are
the retired and families who don't receive any additional income beyond
their state salaries.

Among the Guidelines approved by the Seventh Communist Party Congress,
last April, it was agreed "to continue the orderly and gradual
elimination of the ration book products." However, so far, the proposal
has not gone into effect, in part because of the poor economic
development experienced by the country in recent years.

Cuba's gross domestic product will grow only 0.4% this year, its lowest
level in the last two decades, as recently confirmed by the Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Faced with this
reality, the government has not been able to improve people's purchasing
power or dismantle the rationed market.

The Government is faced with the dilemma of maintaining the enormous
infrastructure and the hefty costs of prolonging the life of the ration
book or suppressing it, with the consequent deepening of poverty for
various social groups. Such a measure would have an undeniable political
impact on a process that has been defined as a revolution "by the humble
and for the humble."

Officialdom has repeated on several occasions that it is preferable to
"subsidize people rather than products," but the rationed quota is still
given to every citizen equally, even those who have reached an above
average level of income. The practice has focused on removing products
from the subsidized basic market basket.

Rice, grains, oil, sugar, salt, eggs, chicken and bread are some of the
foods that are still subsidized, while other goods have been removed
from the ration book altogether, including liquid detergent, bath and
washing soap, toothpaste, beef and cigarettes.

During the 1970s and '80s it was virtually impossible to live without
ration book products. This phenomenon resulted in, among many other
ills, low internal migration and a greater control of the State over the

Currently, the mobility of the population to provincial capitals and
especially to Havana has increased as a result of the easing of the
policy on rental housing. The ability to purchase food and hygiene
products outside the rationing system has also contributed to the

The emergence of a parallel market that includes state establishments
and private bakeries has also been hugely important to the process of
citizen independence. Ration book bread, a recurring theme in the
"accountability meetings" of the People's Power, a topic of critical
analysis in the official press and a target of mockery for the majority
of Cuban comedians, has lost its importance.

Families with better incomes have given up standing in the traditional
lines to get bread for 10 centavos in national currency (less than one
cent on the US dollar). They prefer to go to the private bakeries that
offer a wide variety of products at unregulated prices.

The bodegas with empty shelves and a blackboard listing the products of
the month have become, along with the old American cars that still
circulate on the streets of the island and the billboards with political
messages, among the photographic trophies taken by tourists as part of
the social landscape of Cuba.

The disappearance of the ration book will have to wait until the
completion of the gradual reforms announced by the authorities. There
will probably be more who mourn its end than those who will celebrate
it, but the day will come when some incredulous grandchild will listen
to his grandfather repeat stories of "that era when everyone ate the
same thing on the same day in the whole country."

Source: Cuba's Ration Book Survives For Another Year / 14ymedio, Marcelo
Hernandez – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Gentrification: another face of Cuba's socialist equality
JORGE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ | La Habana | 10 de Octubre de 2016 - 09:25 CEST.

If there is one issue the Cuban Government has failed to resolve in over
50 years it is, undoubtedly, that of residential spaces. Cuba's "housing
problems," as Government officials refer to them, cut across all the
Island's socio-cultural strata.

Overcrowding, as notes psychologist Yanet Cruz Hoyos, "besides being a
factor associated with domestic violence, is identified by most Cuban
families as one of the main problems that affect their daily lives," as
"many people are forced to share small physical spaces."

The rhetoric of social equity, upheld by the sole party and promoted by
its ideological affiliates, has never squared with the economic reality
of everyday Cubans. And the "housing problem" manifests more clearly
that the reform of laws allowing the sale of houses and apartments has
not yielded equal opportunities to acquire decent living spaces.

According to the figures in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook, in its
chapter on construction and investments, completed homes in Havana
during that period came to a total of 4,090, of which 3,096 were built
by the State sector. But the data did not specify for whom, for what
purposes, and where these "finished homes" are located.

The writer Arsenio Castillo Martiatu notes that Havana has become "the
capital of gentrification" (a process of neighborhood transformation
that involves the implementation of new social and economic applications
and the displacement of traditional residents, who cannot afford the
rising housing costs. These areas become homogeneous in terms of their
social composition, populated by more affluent people).

It is no secret that for most Cubans, "if it was previously impossible
to legally sell your home, it is now almost impossible to legally buy a
property. At current prices – tens of thousands of CUC for an apartment
or house – the possibility is nil. There are no saving mechanisms, no
loans of this magnitude, or wages making it possible. Neighborhoods
undergoing gentrification are usually located near the center of the
city, including the coveted Vedado, where owning a good house or
apartment means one must have the opportunity to run a rental business,
or a restaurant or bar," says Castillo Martiatu.

The introduction of the "new economic model," designed with more with a
view to political power than promoting the entrepreneurial spirit of
citizens, has been a failure in its empowerment of civil society. The
ownership rates for Cubans, both on the Island and those in exile, are low.

"The flourishing of the construction of homes through one's own efforts
is proportional to the growth of social inequality," says Euripides
Barrientos, an architect and the founder of Contingente Blas Roca. The
same applies to the sale of properties.

Gentrification or recolonization?

"We do not sell ideas, we make them reality." This is the slogan of a
private construction sector group in charge of remodeling, among others,
the local Bar 911 (in 27 corner 4) and Piano Bar H and 23, both in Vedado.

One of its masons, Leonel G. Rodriguez, explained that the group also
offers interior design services. "We focus on creating residences
reflecting the current trends of minimalism and brutalism," he says.

"It's almost impossible for an everyday Cuban to afford our services,
due to the high cost of investment in quality materials and work. Both
the houses and business locales that we have designed or remodeled are
for people with affluent relatives living abroad, or foreigners who come
to invest in Cuba and acquire these properties through Cuban owners."

Although the Government has not yet implemented a law allowing
foreigners to buy property directly, both residential and business,
foreign capital is being invested through Cuban owners living on the Island.

"Gentrification in Cuba began long before the current reform measures
undertaken by the national institutes of Physical Planning and Housing,"
says Iznaga, an economist and ex-manager of the Caracol chain.

"This reform also served to justify what was already obvious: a country
that was being bought up, piece by piece, by private foreign investors
and the Government's military elite," he says.

"One example of the people who will have the opportunity to empower
themselves is the GAESA's 'coup' against the Havana Historian's Office.
Cubans who, thanks to their own efforts, manage to acquire luxurious
properties or businesses are few, and the important thing is to ask how
they acquired the capital, because gentrification in Cuba is also the
result of a third factor: internal corruption."

Source: Gentrification: another face of Cuba's socialist equality |
Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
In the Midst of a Hurricane, Mariela Castro Remodels Her Mansion / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 October 2016 — At the same time that Hurricane
Matthew is setting off alarms throughout the island, especially in the
eastern part of the country, the wall of secrecy surrounding the Castro
family is starting to crack, allowing us to see that the Cuban
government is spending more money on remodeling Mariela Castro's house
than on relief aid to deal with the approaching storm.

The numbers speak for themselves. If nothing else, Hurricane Matthew has
exposed the sins of Raúl Castro's family. Satellite images, which do not
lie, reveal that from 2013 to the present the government has invested
more than double the money at triple the quality on remodelling Princess
Mariela's house — located at 1513 206th Street (between 15th and 17th)
in Havana's Atabey district — than on preparations for the area that, as
of Saturday, remains under a hurricane warning.

On October 1 General Raúl Castro appeared in Santiago de Cuba flanked by
the ministers of Transport, Energy and Mines, Construction,
Communication, Agriculture and Domestic Commerce. The group also
included the president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources,
the first deputy minister of Public Health and the deputy minister of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces, General Ramón Espinosa Martín.

The presidential party arrived in eastern Cuba with a shipment of aid
that included fiber cement construction panels, zinc, steel and wood
panels, asphalt roofing materials, electrical generators, food and water.

The entourage also inspected the preparations by the General Staff for
Civil Defense for food distribution, stockpiling of agricultural
products and the evacuation of those living in low-lying areas to higher

The resources are insufficient, I believe, because turning the official
residence of General Castro's daughter, who is also director of the
Cuban National Center for Sex Education, into a bunker required
diverting resources and state assets to invest in construction materials
for an expanded housing complex which now includes a perimeter stone
wall, lined on its inside face with Jaimanita limestone, and a new
security system.

The remodeling project involved replacing the property's original pool,
previously located behind the house, with a new rectangular imported
one, now located along the side of the house. An "old shack" was
demolished and replaced with a new structure which features precious
woods from the Guanahacabibes peninsula, one of Cuba's principle nature
preserves. As though that were not enough, designers and construction
workers were used to build and furnish an adjacent bungalow-style guest
house. The entire project — including labor, transportation and
refreshments for the construction crews — was coordinated by the
Revolutionary Armed Forces.

The Hurricane Matthew alert confirms just how much disdain the classless
ruling class has for the Cuban people. If General Raúl Castro really
wants to stamp out corruption by the root, he should start by cleaning
up his own house.

Source: In the Midst of a Hurricane, Mariela Castro Remodels Her Mansion
/ Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 September 2016 — In recent days, the
Cuban official media announced the implementation of a tax on personal
income for workers in the State's business sector, as well as an
extension of payments called Social Security Special Contribution (CESS)
– that workers at the so-called "perfecting entities" were already
paying into.

The new measure will take effect on October 1st of this year and will
involve over 1.3 million workers who will "benefit" from the Business
Improvement System (SPE) along with those receiving payments for results
and profits. Such an arrangement "confirms the redistributive function
of tax revenues and allows a decreasing participation of the State
budget in the financing of public expenditure," according to officials
quoted by the official press.

The payment of taxes will be deducted directly from State company
workers' income by the State company, which will forward it to the State
Budget. That is, workers will collect their a salary after deductions
are taken by their State employer for payment to the State.

Contrary to what might happen in a moderately democratic country, where
workers can join together in free trade unions and make demands against
measures that affect their wages and income, in Cuba there have been no
demonstrations, strikes or insubordination in the labor groups affected
by this arrangement. Nor is this expected to occur. Against the grain of
what some imaginative foreign digital media may claim about "over one
million angry workers," to date no event in the Cuban scene justifies
such a headline.

Actually, Cuban State workers, deprived of such a basic right as free
association, have developed in recent decades other peculiar ways of
processing their dissatisfaction with government actions that harm them,
such as being less productive and increasing theft and "diversion" of
resources to round up their depressed wages with additional "profits"
from such diversions; or emigrating to the private sector – which has
been becoming more frequent and expeditious – or permanently leaving the
country to seek prosperity away from the costly "protection" of the
Castro regime.

For its part, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC, Cuban Workers
Center), the only "union" legally recognized in Cuba, not only has
failed to fulfill the functions it supposedly was created for, and – on
the contrary – is developing a whole strategy of support for the
government, holding meetings at the grassroots level so that union
leaders may enlighten workers about the need to contribute to the State
Budget as a way of contributing to the fabulous social benefits they are
enjoying, especially with regard to health and education.

For this purpose there have been commissioners who, either due to their
lack of mental capacity, out of sheer perversity, or for both reasons,
mention among these "freebies" the public's use of battered highways and
roads, the calamitous sewer system or even the precarious and almost
nonexistent system of streetlights.

However, implementation of the new tax measures should not surprise
anyone. Since the 2011 Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party
(PCC), the Guidelines framed on Fiscal Policy announced that "higher
taxes for higher incomes" (Guideline 57) would be established, and that
the tax system would gradually "advance widely to increase its
effectiveness as an element of redistribution of income."

In that vein, on November 2012, Law 113 (of the Tax System) was
approved, repealing Law 73 of August 1994, establishing a special
provision that reads: "Personal Income tax on salaries and other
qualifying income, in accordance with the special rules and Property Tax
on Housing and vacant lots to Cuban-born citizens and foreign
individuals permanently residing in the national territory, will be
required, if economic and social conditions warrant its implementation,
which will be approved by the Budget Act of the corresponding year."

In April 2016, the VII Congress of the PCC once again took up the issue
of the need for the population to develop a tax culture, stressed the
inability of the State to continue assuming the costs of social benefits
and announced that it was studying the implementation of a system of
personal income tax… when suitable conditions existed.

In light of today, it becomes obvious that these "conditions" did not
refer specifically to an increase in workers' purchasing power, which is
still insufficient despite the much vaunted 54% increase in the average
wage in the State business sector from 2013 to the present, which places
the wage at 779 Cuban pesos (about US $31) according to official
figures. Rather the "conditions" are the State's increasing inability to
ensure the already deficient social security by itself, plus the budget
deficit, which the government's own media places at 1.2 billion Cuban
pesos, which must be covered by the treasury.

As officially reported, the State budget for 2016 is 52.4 billion Cuban
pesos, of which 5.7 billion (more than 10% of the total budget) went to
social security.

Hence Resolution #261 of 2 August 2016, by the Ministry of Finance and
Prices, which sets out in detail the tax rate aimed at complementing Law
113 of the Tax System. This should have been applied starting in the
second half of the year, but – apparently – nothing could be allowed to
mar the Ex-Undefeated One's 90th birthday celebration in August, so,
during the last regular session of the National Assembly of People's
Power it was agreed to postpone the implementation of the resolution
until the fourth quarter, starting with September's income.

Of course, in a "normal" society, an increase in social benefits
coincides with a rigorous compliance with a realistic tax policy. The
problem is that Cuba does not have either of these two premises: it is
neither a "normal" country nor does it have a "realistic" tax burden,
but quite the opposite.

In fact, Cuba's own laws demonize prosperity, limit and discourage
production capacity, and discourage and penalize the "accumulation of
wealth." At the same time, there is colossal inflation and a deviant
monetary duality: the country operates with two currencies, the Cuban
peso (CUP) and the so-called Cuban convertible peso (CUC). For the most
part wages are paid in the first currency, while a large portion of the
necessities of daily life are sold only in the second. With an exchange
rate of 25 Cuban pesos for 1 CUC, this creates an unbridgeable gap
between Cubans with access to hard currency, CUCs, and the always
insufficient living wage in national currency, CUPs, creating a
distortion between official projections, real wages and workers' cost of

Other accompanying factors to the tax culture of a nation, not reflected
so far in the government's plans, are the economic freedoms of those who
produce the wealth – the taxpayers – and a necessary transparency in
financial figures. Both the source of funds of the State Budget and the
destiny of the revenue that feeds State funds through fiscal policy are
occult matters of science, under the management of only a small group of
anointed ones.

There are certain benefits of collateral privileges for some sectors,
which are also not in the public domain. For example, the population
does not know what percentage of the national budget is allocated to the
cost of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the
Interior (MININT), although both ministries were the first to apply the
SPE, while their employees enjoy higher wages, as well as prioritized
plans for housing construction and free or irrationally cheap vacations
at resorts with prices that are prohibitive for the pockets of common
workers. They also get guaranteed transportation services, the largest
motor home park in the country, preferential access to food products and
a long list of freebies.

In addition, there has been no information on the relationship between
the tax and the pensions that retirees get. That is, how many State
workers should pay taxes to cover the pensions of all retirees, and what
are the projections in this direction for a population that is aging at
an alarming rate, and that is, in addition, being hit by the growing and
constant exodus abroad of its labor force.

At the moment, workers – suddenly converted to taxpayers without
economic rights – have not been liberated of their patriotic obligations
such as the "donation" of a day's pay for the National Militias Troops,
a shell entity which nobody sees or belongs to, but with a fixed quota,
or of the union fees for an association whose primary function is to
defend management. Cuckolded and beaten.

What is uncontested is the efficiency of the State in sharpening its
pencils and doing its math. It is known that 1736 State-owned businesses
have average salaries in excess of 500 Cuban pesos at which the tax goes
into effect; therefore, their workers will begin to take on the new tax
burden that will make their incomes dwindle. The bad news is that,
presumably, many State workers will give up their jobs to look more
promising ones elsewhere. The good news is that Daddy State will stop
bragging about so many expensive freebies.

The "gains" made by the workers through half a century of "Revolution"
are quickly blurring.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Camagüey Neighbors Manage To Stop Work On An Official's House /
14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 13 September 2016 — The
struggle of a small community of neighbors in Camagüey against the
allocation of a plot of land at the corner of their building to an
official from the Ministry of the Interior, has resulted in a small
victory, as they have managed to stop the work on the new owner's house.

Since 2001 there has been a plot of idle land some 200 yards from where
it is believed the first house in the city was built, 500 years ago. As
the area is large, and given the deterioration of an old multi-family
building, at the end of the 1990s it was planned to fund new
construction of a five-story building with 10 apartments. The new
housing was planned to be built under the "microbrigade" progam, [Ed.
note: See page 26 of the linked PDF] most of whose participants came
from the deteriorating structure, and they were the ones doing the work.
The project was completed and the new building was inhabited while the
old building collapsed, leaving a generous plot of land in front with
the new apartment building behind.

For more than 15 years there have been many solicitations to build in
the downtown area, but all were denied. Thereafter, the empty space has
served only as an eventual landfill.

The pleasant site to the east hosts the America Cinema, an emblematic
theater from the 1950s, a beautiful and well used entertainment venue,
and to the east Plaza Santa Ana hosts its namesake church, more than 300
years old, the oldest church on the city.

In early August, to the surprise of the locals, it was announced at a
neighborhood meeting that the vacant lot had been given to a high
official of the Ministry of the Interior. Almost immediately, a
supposedly qualified person marked off an extensive perimeter for the
construction of a private residence for the official.

Many members of the community criticized the "excessive" use of space –
around 2,700 square feet – and there was even an exchange of angry words
between a neighbor of the building and a family member of the official.
The following day backloaders and trucks appeared to clear the area and
excavate it, leaving only a few yards of space between the site and the
multifamily building to the rear.

There was no delay in registering a complaint. The building residents
and some other people from the community got together and drafted a
protest letter to the municipal government with more than 20 signatures.
The district's delegate to the People's Power, affectionately called
Angelito, offered his unconditional support to the citizen protest and
said he felt badly for not having taking into account their opinions as
the area's authority from the Communist Party base.

In the letter the residents argued that not only would the building
completely eclipse the view of the beautiful multifamily building, whose
brightly painted color scheme contributes to the atmosphere of this
corner of the city, but the narrow corridor remaining for their
circulation was dark and hidden and badly connected to the street. They
also argued that in the case of a medical emergency, a fire, or any
other emergency, it would be very difficult in such a narrow space for
an ambulance to maneuver, much less, a fire truck.

Dr. Armando Balaguer, promoter of the complaint, appeared before the
president of the municipal government and, he says, he was not treated
with the expected benevolence. The local president claimed that the
Ministry of the Interior official, Liduvina Gay Perez, deserved the land
donation because of her dedication as head of the women's prison in
Camagüey. Dr. Balaguer stressed that the demand of the neighbors was not
opposed to the individual who was benefiting from the donation, it was
simply a demand for the rights of the citizens in this small community
of families, not only with the voice and legitimate vote of their
delegate, but also because the more than 10 families affected includes
five doctors, most of whom have served on international missions
providing health care in other countries [in exchange for payments in
cash or oil to the Cuban government].

In addition, although the land is state-owned, the residents of the
building feel it is their own, and given their marked sense of belonging
their demand states that they want a playground to be built there, or a
circuit training park to fight obesity, or a fenced area for children's
sports, given that the neighborhood's children do not currently have a
place for extracurricular games. This first discussion was a failure.

Without surrendering to defeat, Dr. Balaguer met with several residents
of the building and with the delegate of the district, and they went
again in a tight group for the second time to the office of the
president of the municipal government. After some research on their own,
they learned that the Office of the City Historian, the supreme entity
in such cases, had not given its approval for the donation, which would
indicate that the gift was directly rooted in the municipal government
with the concurrence of the Department of Physical Planning.

After the clearing of the land, the excavations, and the staking out of
the perimeter, the work has been stopped. It is appears that the methods
used to arrive at the construction of the house were not the most
correct nor in accord with the aesthetic interests of the city.

See also: A subtitled film on Microbrigades in Cuba by Florian Zeyfang,
Lisa Schmidt-Colinet, Alexander Schmoeger, 2013

Source: Camagüey Neighbors Manage To Stop Work On An Official's House /
14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Sirley Avila's New Battle /14ymedio

14ymedio, 10 September 2016 — Shortly after returning to Cuba on
September 7, the activist Sirley Ávila learned that her house, located
on a farm in Las Tunas province, had been occupied by another
family. "This house was a 'basic medium' and it has been given to us,"
the new inhabitant of the property told her when Avila reclaimed his
home. The former People's Power delegate for the 37th District in the
Majibacoa municipality began her activism to denounce the closure of a
school in her locality. Today she is a member of the opposition group
Republican Party of Cuba.

The dissident stayed in the United States for six months, where she
received treatment for the physical scars left by a violent machete
attack – in which she lost a hand, among other injuries – which she
attributes to Cuban State Security, which determined to punish her in
this way for her political activism.

Avila explains that her attacker has been released and is proclaiming
that he now has the opportunity to finish his "unfinished work."

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Ávila reports that although
the land belonged to the Institute of Hydraulic Resources, being near a
dam, she built her house in 2011 with her own resources and with the
permission of the Institute for Physical Planning.

"On leaving for the United States I did the paperwork required to
transfer ownership to my son, but when he went to get the papers he was
told that the record did not appear," she says. In her opinion, the
authorities are intending, with this decision, to start "a judicial
process that can take years" so that she will decide to stop living in
Cuba and finally emigrate.

This coming Monday Sirley Ávila will file a legal claim in the housing
offices in the province of Las Tunas.

Source: Sirley Avila's New Battle /14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
A Family Puts Its Belongings In The Street Amid Fears Their House Will
Collapse / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Larada, Havana, 4 September 2016 – After the
heavy rains that have hit western Cuba in recent days, many residents of
the capital fear an increase in the number of building collapses. Denise
Rodriguez Cedeño, 54, a resident Luz Street, between Egido and Curacao,
in Old Havana, placed her family's belongings in the street after part
of the roof of her house caved in on Saturday.

Those who pass through the busy street, in the heart of the historic
center, can see the bundles with clothes piled up outside the building,
along with kitchenware and a fan. The Rodriguez Cedeño family made the
decision to spend their hours outdoors, in protest against the lack of
response from the institutions charged with distributing materials for
home repairs.

The already poor state of her home worsened with the storm that brought
heavy rains, linked to the ninth tropical depression of the hurricane
season, a weather phenomenon that caused intense rains in the west and
center of the island and moderate flooding in the coastal town of
Surgidero of Batabanó.

Rodriguez Cedeño works for Community Services and has lived in her home
for more than 35 years. The resident told 14ymedio that her housing
problems began in 2003, but she has not yet received a reply from
anyone. Right now her situation is desperate.

The anguish has led her to also pressure the authorities with the
warning that she is not going to send her grandchildren to school this
Monday, when the new school year begins nationwide, because she does not
have the conditions to guarantee them a "home."

"For thirteen years I have been asking through a technical report for
repairs to my house, but they always tell me there are no building
materials," she says. On other occasions, Rodriguez Cedeño has chosen to
"make repairs with my own resources," but the deteriorating economic
status of the family, made up of "four women and two little girls who
have chronic asthma," has prevented her from being able to make the
arrangements to do it herself.

After several hours in which the women stayed with their belongings in
the open street, the authorities of the Council of the Municipal
Administration (CAM) of Old Havana arrived, to learn what damage
occurred in the house and to call for calm. Dozens of people, especially
foreigners passing through the city, were filming what was happening.

The directors of CAM explained that the family would be located in a
Transit Community (a shelter) for about seven days and then taken to
inhabitable housing in another community for people whose homes have
been declared uninhabitable or have collapsed.

Rodriguez Cedeño had spent the whole night between the street and the
half-ruined house, waiting for the authorities keep their word this
Sunday. She warned that they would "plant themselves in the street
again" if they didn't provide a permanent solution to her case.

In their current situation, these residents of the Old Havana
neighborhood have become part of the 33,889 families (132,699 people)
across the country who need a home, many of whom have spent decades
living in shelters for victims. The population census of 2012 showed
that 60% of the 3.9 million existing housing units on the island are in
poor condition.

During the last session of the National Assembly of People's Power, in
July, the deputies met in the Standing Committee on Industry,
Construction and Energy, and agreed that "the housing problem is the
number one social need in Cuba." The parliamentarians criticized "lack
of coordination, integration and priority" at the municipal level in
managing the demands of the population in terms of applications for
materials and construction permits.

In the first half of this year, at least 90,652 people who have received
subsidies for construction work have gone to the stores selling
materials. However, only 52,000 have been able to buy all of the
materials they were assigned, due to shortages of key products such as
steel, cement blocks, bathroom fixtures, tiles and roofing.

Source: A Family Puts Its Belongings In The Street Amid Fears Their
House Will Collapse / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada – Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
They're building houses for Cubans deported from the U.S. / Juan Juan

Juan Juan Almeida, 4 July 2016 — The Cuban authorities are preparing to
receive, in a short period of time, a bonanza of Cubans with
deportation orders in the U.S. They're constructing for them, in an
undeveloped area, what many call a "polyfoam" neighborhood.

Judicial and police matters are subjects that both governments discuss
with a view to normalizing and perfecting relations. In agreement with
official data published in July 2015, they have mandated the deportation
of 35,106 Cuban nationals in the U.S., of which, at this moment, 162 are
detained and 34,944 are at liberty.

One of the lawyers for the Office of Housing said that this ward,
located in the Havana municipality of Boyeros, very close to Avenida
Vento, just on the border that separates Capdevila and Altahabana, which
has been conceptualized as "Popular Council Capdevila 1," was conceived
to shelter and/or isolate the Cubans expelled from the North. The
deportees will come together, in this one-of-a-kind district, with a
"thousand beings." Some have spent years, by the grace of God, without
housing, because their houses collapsed; some are ex-prisoners whose
conduct is still marginal, and certain families are "special cases"
whose homes were expropriated, by force and without claim, for different

How to bring snow to the desert

With an acceptable and misleading image that falsifies its real and
flimsy character, the area is composed of small, multi-family buildings
constructed of polyurethane foam boards. For the time being, and it
seems that even later, they won't have numbers on the front doors. The
streets still haven't been paved and there is no adequate signage. But,
as a Mexican move star said, "This doesn't have the least importance or
the greatest transcendence."

Accommodating a new neighborhood with different concepts can be
confusing. I'm speaking of hospitality, housing and prison.

I managed to talk with someone who works there constructing these
buildings, a specialist in the material cited, and who identified
himself as the architect for the community.

The professional explained that polyurethane foam offers total thermal
and water-repellent insulation. It's easy to handle, doesn't contaminate
the environment, contains no insects or rodents, doesn't need any
special care, doesn't decay, doesn't rust or become moldy; it's light,
flexible, elastic, waterproof; the chemicals are inert, and it serves as
an excellent insulator from noise. But here's the thing: It's not
designed for the load to which it's being subjected. Then he stopped
talking and in a subtle transition, mixing honesty, disillusion and
imprudence, he concluded: "We'll see how it holds up when the first
hurricane starts blowing. I'll let you know."

Source: They're building houses for Cubans deported from the U.S. / Juan
Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear /
14ymedio, Caridad Cruz

14ymedio, Caridad Cruz, Cienfuegos, 19 June 2016 — One of the greatest
treasures of Cienfuegos, the Goytisolo Palace, lies in ruins amid
official apathy to the rescue of this emblematic building in a city
declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Declared a local monument, the Goytisolo Palace, or La Catalana as it is
also known, was built by Agustín Goytisolo Lezazarburu, a Biscayan born
in 1812 who came to Cuba in search of opportunities in the 1830s.

Known for his reputation as a skilled tradesman, by 1870 he had become a
wealthy businessman with hundreds of slaves, the owner of sugar
plantations in Hacienda Simpatía as well as the sugar mills of Lequeito
and St. Augustine.

By 1847, just 28 years after the founding of Fernandina village of
Jagua, now known as Cienfuegos, the Goytisolo family acquired a site on
Santa Elena Street at the corner of D'Clouet, for the construction of
the building, which it was concluded in 1858.

It was considered an example of the Baroque style and one of the most
important house-warehouse buildings of the nineteenth century. At 68 by
123 feet, it had a basement and central courtyard. Among the
architectural elements that could be found in the building was an
exquisite gate facing Santa Elena Street which appears to have been the
coach entrance.

It had stained glass windows on the first floor and in the back,
apparently for the warehouse. It also had richly decorated beams, and on
the second floor Malaga tiles and Bremen mosaics, bricks and ornate
marble intarsia.

Nothing remains of the former splendor. The palace has become an empty
shell languishing since it was declared uninhabitable in 2005. The
Revolution converted it into multifamily housing. One of these "rooming
houses," in which a house "abandoned" by its owner, fleeing the new
economic system, was partitioned into small apartments where dozens of
people cohabited.

After the indiscriminate theft of what was an exquisite
nineteenth-century building, only ruins remain. Neighbors took the
marble floors, and cut and resold the railings. Even the bricks,
extracted at the tip of a sacrilegious chisel, were sold. Carpentry was
supplied by the beams of the mezzanine.

Local authorities have argued for the demolition of the building, but
the Office of the Curator of the City opposed it. In 2012, a part of the
wall and the windows of the building collapsed. Since then, the
countdown to its total destruction has begun.

Declaring the site a Local Monument is worthless. La Catalana has become
a constant concern of scholars of local history who know that not
undertaking any restoration sends a dangerous message to the
preservation of the heritage of the nation. Nothing can withstand the
indiscriminate passage of time and the apathy of the rulers.

Source: The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear /
14ymedio, Caridad Cruz – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Rain Causes 17 Building Collapses in the "Wonder City" / 14ymedio, Luz

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 June 2016 – The residents of 418
Villegas Street, in Old Havana, were unhurt after a building collapse at
nine o'clock Wednesday morning. The collapse of the roof of the house on
the first floor was one of the 17 partial and total building collapses
that occurred in the Cuban capital, four of them in the historical
district, as a result of the heavy rains of recent days.

With very few belongings salvaged from the rubble, residents of the
place waited Wednesday afternoon for the authorities to address their
situation. "We'll sleep outside here, even though it's raining, so that
no one steals anything," said a young resident of the property, who
maintained the illusion that "some police officers to guard things"
would arrive.

Leticia Ramirez, seven months pregnant and also a resident of the
collapsed building, said that if something had happened "at six o'clock,
when everyone was in the house, it would have ended in a tragedy." She
explained that the collapse "could have been avoided" because the three
families affected by the collapse of part of the building had started
"years ago" the process to obtain a bank loan to undertake repairs.

However, Ramirez says that the bureaucratic process to obtain permits to
undertake the work in the Havana historical center took too long. "And
in the end look what happened." The woman enumerated all the problems,
pointing to a pile of rubble that on Wednesday blocked the passage of
cars and pedestrians.

The plight of the residents of the Villegas Street began long before the
June rains. Banking authorities took three years to approve a subsidy
request to allow them to purchase materials for the reconstruction of
the building. Money was only allocated last December.

From that moment there began a series of impediments from the
inspectors and specialists from the Office of the City Historian, in
particular with regards to the authorization to place scaffolding around
the façade of the building to undertake the repairs. The signature of
Eusebio Leal Spengler's office didn't arrive in time.

Ramirez's mother went back and forth for months, "from one office to
another," says the young woman, but "without resolving anything." The
pregnant woman stresses that she will not accept shelter near the
well-known Casa del Pedagogo "with a mattress thrown on the floor," a
place that frequently shelters neighbors who have lost their homes in
building collapses.

We are owners and nobody here wants to go into the shelter," insists the
woman, who noted sarcastically that a few hours before the building
collapse Havana had been declared a "Wonder City."

Older residents were clearly desperate over the loss of their roof and a
good part of their furniture and personal possessions. Adelaida said
that they had been awarded a subsidy but that there were so many
obstacles to "purchasing materials" that the work hadn't begun.

As night fell, they still remained at the site waiting for the fire
department to finish evacuating the contents of the building. As of noon
on Thursday, none of the affected residents had received a visit from
any representative of the People's Power.

Some 1.7 million households, representing 39% of the housing stock in
Cuba, is in fair or poor condition or worse, according to a report from
the Housing authorities. During 2015, only 23,003 new houses were built
throughout the country, of which 10,417 were built by people's own
efforts, a good part of them financed by loans awarded by state banks.

Between 2012, when the granting of credits to "natural persons" began,
to the end of 2015, they had awarded 5.1 billion pesos (212 million
dollars), of which 60% was earmarked for home repairs, according to the
official press.

Source: Rain Causes 17 Building Collapses in the "Wonder City" /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
On one Havana street, gentrification exposes old inequality
The Associated Press
Posted: Apr. 16, 2016 8:00 am Updated: Apr. 16, 2016 10:17 am

HAVANA (AP) — Halfway down Calle Habana, a crumbling two-story colonial
building is being painstakingly restored by a Cuban-American businessman
who fled as a child after the 1959 revolution. On the corner, brightly
colored paintings hang in a home now converted into a chic art gallery.

Not far away, dozens of people live in a crumbling government tenement
with no running water and wooden stilts holding up what remains of the
second floor.

Looking at the changes on the cobblestone street in Old Havana, Magaly
Gonzalez Martinez is pleased to see much of the once-decaying
neighborhood get a new coat of paint. But she also worries how the
transformation will impact those living in deteriorating buildings like
her own as a wave of gentrification transforms swaths of Havana,
bringing the inequities of modern real estate to one of the world's last
communist countries.

"I thought everything should be equal, no?" the 66-year-old retired
construction worker said.

With tourism up nearly 20 percent since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul
Castro ended a half-century of Cold War in December 2014, Cubans with
wealthy friends or family abroad are funneling millions of dollars into
a real estate market that's suddenly white-hot. They're snapping up
properties in historic Old Havana and elegant residential neighborhoods
and transforming them into immaculate restored rental properties and hip
bars and restaurants.

In some tourist-flooded neighborhoods the redistribution of wealth that
transformed Cuba after its revolution appears to be rewinding before
people's eyes. Wealthy Cubans who left to live abroad decades ago are
buying buildings once confiscated from families like theirs. Residents
who had been living hand-to-mouth are selling deteriorating properties
and taking their new fortunes and moving to less sought-after areas, or
leaving the country entirely.

"When I arrived, it was totally different," said Reinaldo Bordon, 44,
who purchased the Calle Habana property where he runs Habana 61, one of
the city's top restaurants, with two friends three years ago. "If things
continue at this pace, I think in another 10 years it will change a lot."

Before Fidel Castro's revolution, well-heeled Cubans lived in exclusive
Havana neighborhoods like Miramar, while the poor lived in shantytowns.
Providing equal housing was one of the revolution's first goals. Almost
immediately, evictions were prohibited and rental payments slashed up to
50 percent. Droves of middle- and upper-class Cubans fled, leaving
behind mansions and suburban homes that the state handed out to the
poor. The result was a leveling of Havana's housing stock, with former
maids and tenants becoming the proprietors of homes now managed by the

In 2011, Cuba announced it would allow people to sell their properties
for the first time since the early years of the revolution. The new law
set into motion what had not formally existed in decades: a Cuban real
estate industry. Cubans living in peeling architectural gems began
placing cardboard signs out front, inscribed with the words, "For Sale."

Fueled by the post-detente boom in visitors, the resulting property
turnover is moving at high speed in areas like Old Havana, where aging
colonial buildings are being repaired on nearly every block.

On Calle Habana in the small, scenic Old Havana neighborhood known as
Angel Hill, newly painted and restored homes dating back to the early
1900s are quickly beginning to outnumber deteriorating buildings on the
verge of collapse. Those who live in the few still decaying homes are
listing their properties on real estate websites, waiting for the right
buyer to come along and in one financial transaction lift their families
out of decades of poverty.

Though foreigners still cannot purchase property in Cuba, Joel Estevez,
the director of Havana-Houses Real Estate, said about 60 percent of home
purchases in Cuba are financed at least in part by someone abroad.

After Obama and Castro announced plans to restore U.S.-Cuba relations,
the number of Cuban-Americans repatriating in order to purchase property
while maintaining their U.S. citizenship has soared and could double in
the years ahead, Estevez said. In other cases, a foreigner who is
married to a Cuban might purchase a property and put it under a spouse's
name. The riskiest transactions involve foreigners who have no family
members on the island but purchase a home and put it under the name of a

After scoping out Havana properties over several visits, 70-year-old
retired businessman Jose Angel Valls Cabarrocas settled on a stately but
neglected home on Calle Habana, next to the tenement building.
Cabarrocas and his family fled their Miramar home for Macon, Georgia,
when he was 13.

"We belong here just as much as anybody else," he said.

The nascent market favors people like Cabarrocas, who despite the
difficulties of transferring cash to Cuba, nonetheless have the capital
on hand to make purchases. With no financing available, the vast
majority of Cubans are left out of the market. The average home price in
Havana is about $25,000, according to real estate statistics collected
by IslaData. The average Cuban state worker earns $20 a month.

"The median home price is very disconnected from what the average Cuban
earns," said Ricardo Torres Perez, an economist at the University of Havana.

Some Cuba observers wonder if the real estate market will slowly shift
Havana back toward the inequality that characterized it nearly six
decades ago.

Jesus Hermida Franco, 41, an artist who is using the bottom floor of his
family's home on Calle Habana as a studio, said he doesn't see it that
way. In his mind, there always remained some degree of inequality and
class division in Cuba. If anything, the market is giving people a shot
who didn't have one before.

"Thanks to these changes people have been able to realize their dreams,"
he said, then added: "Some people."


Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.


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Source: On one Havana street, gentrification exposes old inequality -
New Jersey Herald - - Continue reading
Cuba for Sale
Al Jazeera
18 February 2016

Half a century ago, when Fidel Castro's revolutionary forces entered the
Cuban capital Havana, the new leader pledged to improve the lives of the
poor by putting an end to capitalist excess.

One of the revolutionary government's key measures was the elimination
of the property market as a lucrative business. Housing was declared a
human right, private rental was abolished and the majority of Cubans
were given free properties to live in.

But with a US embargo declared on the revolutionary island and its
finances dependent on an inefficient state-driven economy, the
government ran out of money and vast parts of Havana fell into decline.

In a radical move, Raul Castro opened up the economy in 2011. Property
laws were reversed and Cubans were allowed to buy and sell their homes
once more.

The government says its revolutionary vision hasn't changed and that the
reforms are aimed at safeguarding rather than dismantling socialism. But
will the re-introduction of private property make Havana's urban poor
worse off? And how will the government deal with the growing, wealthy
new class that the regime once fought so hard to defeat?

In Cuba for Sale, reporter Juliana Ruhfus and filmmaker Seamus Mirodan
investigate the impact of the country's recent economic changes and
whether the re-introduction of private property heralds an end to Cuban


By Seamus Mirodan

Havana is often described as a time capsule; its architecture unchanged
though much of the 20th century. Outsiders walking the streets of the
city's old town find themselves harking back to a time when monolithic
skyscrapers, new builds and concrete tower blocks were but a glint in a
1940s architect's eye.

They are transported back to something that feels like a purer era,
characterised by a plethora of architectural styles - colonial,
neo-Gothic, Baroque, Beaux Arts and Art Deco mansions sit side by side,
resplendent in their differences and the unique cityscape they create.

It was a perhaps unintended side effect of Fidel Castro's revolution
that the capital city was preserved in this way. His predecessor, the
capitalist and US-centric President Fulgencia Batista, planned to
demolish major portions of the old city to make way for what he saw as
modern development: the building of high-rise apartments, offices and
roadways aimed at connecting the rest of the city to the previously
undeveloped lands to the east.

But when the revolutionary rebel forces arrived in Havana in 1959,
ousting Batista and sending the president and his supporters, including
much of Havana's economic elite, packing into exile, new leader Fidel
Castro turned his fledgling administration's attention away from the
urban setting and focused his finances on developing agricultural land
in a bid to better the conditions of the "campesinos" or rural peasant

After all, it was the woeful and abject poverty suffered by these
campesinos that had provided the major stimulus - and troops - for the

As a result, the streets and buildings of Old Havana remained frozen in
time, but their inhabitants changed dramatically. When the original
owners of the city's colonial mansions fled, it was in some cases their
servants who remained behind, taking their properties over. In others,
poorer residents simply moved into abandoned houses or were given such
properties by the government which had officially expropriated all
housing from previous owners.

But such huge living quarters for one nuclear family was seen as
bourgeois, so many of the new inhabitants invited relatives from the
countryside to come and join them. Over the years, mansions that had
once housed a single family, came to be home to tens of people living in
overcrowded conditions, allowing once glorious architectural gems to
fall into dilapidated decline.

The unplanned structural modifications made by the new inhabitants to
create more room, coupled with damage caused by high humidity and a lack
of maintenance, have made many of these buildings unsafe. So unsafe that
last year alone, one building collapsed in Havana every second day,
sometimes with lethal consequences.

It is precisely this sense of unique architecture, densely populated by
thriving communities amid a distinct lack of polish that has come to not
only characterise Havana, but also attract a stream of foreign tourists
to visit each year, even during the times when gaining a visa required a
bizarre and convoluted process that could take months to engineer.

Source: Cuba for Sale - Continue reading
Construction Materials / 14ymedio
Posted on February 7, 2016

14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 – Building or repairing a house in
Cuba is a road strewn with obstacles, which begin with getting the
permits, finding labor and buying materials. Despite the new programs to
locally produce aggregates and blocks, the providers can't keep up in
the face of the high demand in a country where more than 60% of housing
units are in fair or poor condition.

Sales of construction materials are also marked by the so-called
"diversion" (i.e. stealing) of resources, mismanagement, the arbitrary
behavior of prices and the shortages of products in greatest demand:
cement, iron bars, and cement and zinc tiles.

At places where these products are sold in Cuban pesos, often missing
are doors, windows, bathroom fixtures, paint, plastic parts for piping
and hydraulic and sanitary fittings. The situation becomes even more
critical with mosaics and tiles, concrete joists and water tanks.

Source: Construction Materials / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
There Isn't Enough Beer For So Many 'Yumas' / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
Posted on February 6, 2016

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales and Havana, 6 February 2016 – First they
ran out of water bottles, then packaged juices became scarce, and now it
is difficult to find fresh fruit. This is how a hostess of tourist rooms
in Viñales describes the situation there with the significant increase
of tourism in Cuba and the problems of supplies.

During 2015, 3,524,779 foreign visitors arrived on the island, according
to the latest official figures, an increase of some 17.4% over the prior
year. However, the number of hotel rooms and private homes offering
accommodation has not grown just as quickly. Other services, such as
airports, food services and transportation, have also appeared to be
overwhelmed by the flood.

The beautiful valley of Viñales, with its attractive mogotes and range
of nature tourism, has experienced months of great demand. "Now we have
more tourists here than locals," exaggerates Paco, an 81-year-old who
owns a house near the well-known Indian Cave. From his doorway he can
see the incessant caravan of buses that brings visitors to the beautiful
underground attraction.

"Before I sat down here," he notes from his wooden armchair, "I saw at
least ten To one side of his house, a family that owns a private
restaurant reinforces Paco's view. "We are struggling to maintain our
menu, because between the shortages and the number of tourists that are
coming it's getting very difficult," says Zoila, the restaurant's cook.

The market stalls show the effects of the increased demand. Every day
5,000 tourists visit Viñales, slightly more than one-sixth of the number
of residents. They come looking for products like fresh fruit, lobster,
shrimp, rum, beer and, of course, the local tobacco. "Sometimes we have
to go to other towns to find papayas and oranges for breakfast," says a
woman who rents rooms to tourists.

She acknowledges, however, that she is "happy" with the surge of
visitors. "Bring more, we're profiting," she repeats a very popular
phrase exuding optimism, although she would like to improve the town's
infrastructure, "to solve these bottlenecks."

There are 60 private sector restaurants in the Viñales valley with a
high demand for vegetables, fruits and meats. A good share of them are
supplied by the illegal market and buy directly from the farmers. "We
only have imported beer," says a sign outside one private restaurant.
The local beers, Cristal and Bucanero "are not available because the
'yumas' [foreigners] arrive very thirsty," a waiter comments jokingly.

A few yards away, a young man offers horseback rides through the valley
for five convertible pesos for twenty minutes. "All my animals are busy
now," he tells some Canadians want a little cross country trot. "I'm
full up, you'll have to wait for the ones making the tour now to
return." The man started with four horses, and now has nine and is
expecting to have fifteen this year.

In Havana, Obispo Street is buzzing at two on a Saturday afternoon. Some
pedestrians choose parallel streets such as O'Reilly or Obrapia to avoid
the crowds. Tour groups walk slowly with their guides, stopping to take
pictures and marveling at an old woman smoking an enormous cigar or a
woman dressed up in colonial-era clothing.

The whole place seems like a great Tower of Babel with the different
languages heard. Among the millions of visitors who came to the island
last year were some 125,000 Canadians, 36,000 Germans, 35,000 French,
32,000 British, 30,000 Spaniards and 26,000 Italians, among other

With the beginning of Air China flights, there are also a lot of Chinese
tourists beginning to arrive. "I can't complain," says Lucia, who rents
two rooms near Plaza Vieja in the historic center. "Last year my rooms
were occupied almost the whole time. I have spent a long time in this
arena and have never seen anything like it," she said.

The problem, points out the self-employed woman, has been that "the
supplies in the stores and the markets haven't kept up." Her family has
had to search everywhere to buy toilet paper, milk, soap and alcoholic
or sweetened drinks, these latter to fill "the minibars in the rooms,"
she said.

"Sometimes we have to go out at the crack of dawn to guarantee that
there is bread for breakfast," details Lucia. "This neighborhood has
collapsed, there is no way we can maintain quality service if we don't
have an improvement in supplies," she points out. A simple stroll
through the most important stores in the area, among them the centrally
located Harris Brothers, confirms her words.

"No, we haven't had small bottles of water for weeks," says a clerk on
the ground floor when asked about that product. "They are bought by the
boxful by the people who rent rooms," she adds. The same thing happens
with "beer, large bottles of Cola, and toilet paper," she emphasizes.

Old Havana still has its chronic problems of water supply, and with the
flood of customers in state and private accommodations, the prices
charged by the water trucks have also risen. "There are days when even
20 CUC isn't enough to get my water tank filled," comments Lucia.

For Maria del Pilar Macias Rutes, general director of Quality and
Operations of the Ministry of Tourism, there is "a challenge to continue
to improve quality systems in order to meet the demands of the boom in
tourism," she declared this week on national television. Among them, are
"programs to improve the situation in food and beverages, entertainment
and shopping," she explained.

"Havana can't take any more," jokes the keeper of a private restaurant
near Havana Bay when asked about the volume of foreign visitors who come
to his place. "We have already renovated three floors in the place and
we still can't cope," the man comments proudly, dressed like a gentleman
of the eighteenth century to attract more tourists.

The increase in visitors is also noticeable in the availability of
transport. A couple of years ago there were few people waiting at the
Havana Bus Tour stops, but now the lines are almost like those "for the
buses to go to work," laughs the driver of one of these double-deck
buses. For five convertible pesos, the route provides a two-hour tour of
the main tourist sites in the city.

The country currently has just over 60,000 rooms, of which 66.5% are in
four- and five-star hotels. By 2020 there are expected to be 85,500
rooms with international standards, according to the Minister of
Tourism, Manuel Marrero, but the signs are that the growth will have to
be faster than programmed. For 2016 barely 3,700 tourist rooms will be
added, and 5,600 will be renovated or improved, particularly in Havana,
Varadero and Northern Keys.

In the private sector, there is a total of 28,634 licensed housing
units, rooms and spaces, but some of them are intended for Cubans or are
premises rented for services.

Nor do the airport terminals escape the congestion and saturation of
passengers. In the Havana airport, travelers can expect to wait between
an hour-and-a-half to two hours from the time their plane lands until
they get out the door with their suitcases. The lines at the passport
checkpoints "at times are so long they almost stretch to the steps of
the plane" says a customs worker.

Customers complain about the stifling heat while waiting at the baggage
claim because the air conditioning in Terminal Three, the most modern in
the country, barely cools the room. "There is no toilet paper in the
bathrooms, and no place to even buy a bottle of water here," a recently
arrived Argentine tourist complained this weekend.

The situation could worsen throughout the year, during which the number
of visitors is expected to exceed 3.7 million, according to Deputy
Minister of Tourism Mayra Garcia Alvarez; this would be 175,200 more
tourists than last year.

Just outside the Havana airport the taxi drivers no longer fight for
customers, it is the latter who have to try to get to one of the
Panataxis as they are approaching the terminal from the street. Two men
were arguing over a cart to carry their luggage. "I saw it first,"
protested one, with a French accent. Finally he managed to hang on to
it, but it had a broken wheel.

Night falls and tourists are pouring out of the airport to visit a
country that cannot cope with meeting their expectations.

Source: There Isn't Enough Beer For So Many 'Yumas' / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mata | Translating Cuba - Continue reading