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July 2020
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Prosperous Cuban Entrepreneur Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 June 2017 — Alejandro Marcel Mendivil, successful
entrepreneur, owner of El Litoral, a restaurant located at Malecon #161,
between L & K, and the restaurant Lungo Mare, located in 1ra Esquina C,
in the Vedado district, was arrested in Havana on June 8.

The reasons are not clear. Some claim that Marcel Mendivil is accused of
money laundering and ties to drug trafficking; and others claim that if
you are "noticed" in Cuba, it has a price.

"Alejandro is a young man hungry for challenges and pleasure. He has
money, social recognition, he helps all his neighbors, has ties to
diplomats as important as the ones in the American Embassy. He also has
dealings with high ranking Cuban military and maintains very important
access to the government elite. His ambitions go beyond those of common
entrepreneurs, and to that add that the fact that he has charisma. Isn't
that a lethal combination? Alejandro is no drug trafficker or money
launderer; he only tested power and ended up making it angry," says one
of the neighbors of his restaurant El Litoral, a retiree from the
Ministry of the Interior.

"It was early in the morning, says an employee, the sea was flat as a
plate when the operative began. Not even the Interior Ministry (MININT),
nor the state officials gave any explanations in order to close the
restaurant. They (the police) only told the employees that were present
that we had to leave the place and look for another job in another
restaurant because this closure was going to last. We were closed once,
when an issue with the alcohol, but Alejandro solved it".

"They got in and identified themselves as members of the State
Security's Technical Department of Investigations (DTI). They checked
the accounting, the kitchen, lifted some tiles from the floor and they
even took nails from the walls. An official with a mustache, who
wouldn't stop talking with someone on his BLU cellphone, was saying that
they would find evidence to justify the charge of drug trafficking."

"That looked like a theater, but with misleading script. It was not the
DTI. In fact, Alejandro was not jailed at 100 and Aldabo, but rather
held incommunicado in Villa Marista (a State Security prison). The whole
thing was a State Security operation to put a stop Alejandro, who was
earning money working and was becoming an attractive figure; in a
country such as this one, where leaders, all of them, are very weak."

The incident is timely to a discussion held during the extraordinary
session of the National Assembly of People's Power, which took place
last May 30, where the Cuban vice-president Marino Murillo asserted that
the new model of the socialist island "will not allow the concentration
of property or wealth even when we are promoting the existence of the
private sector."

According to sources consulted in the Prosecutor General of the Republic
of Cuba, there are plans for measures similar to those taken against
Marcel Mendivil for these wealthy and influential owners of a paladar
(private restaurant) located in Apartment 1, Malecon 157, between K&L,
Vedado. And also against another one in Egido 504 Alton, between Montes
& Dragones, Old Havana, in addition to two in Camaguey that were not

Translated by: LYD

Source: Prosperous Cuban Entrepreneur Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Three "Paladares" Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three
private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners
of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private
restaurants – were rated "excellent" on Trip Advisor, one of the most
important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities
are acting against the more prosperous businesses.

The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in
the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure
of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which
operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had
previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the
Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred
to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was "under investigation with
other employees" for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the
entity, which operated with foreign capital.

That investigation ended without charges but according to the same
employee "the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the
embezzled money through El Litoral."

Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to
the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó
and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the
version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor
of the three closed paladares.

"We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare," said the mother of the
detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at
one time, but had sold it "a few months ago."

In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time
that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he
was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora
Mendival, shot "himself in a patrol car," a few yards from the restaurant.

The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by
the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police

The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar
newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to
remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that
they will never include an establishment that is "under a legal
investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law."

This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word "Closed" was the only
visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L
where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The
area is now deserted.

The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the
premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. "I
saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had
in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away," says a

According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took
everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be
inaugurated for "tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars."

The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish,
soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the
flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro's
Government as of 2010.

"From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not
in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the
service," says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a
dozen times in the past decade, where he has "two daughters and many

However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the
large house with a view directly to the sea.

The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita,
specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana's
Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is
now closed, lock stock and barrel.

At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over
the outside terrace and the interior area of ​​Lungo Mare. Underneath
its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the
noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. "This is dead
and it will take a long time for it to rise again," jokes a newspaper
salesman who mourns the situation.

"The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many
people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better
price," he explains.

"This happened because it stood out a lot," says Luis Carlos, a young
man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the
area. "El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and
diplomats came," he explains. "Here they sold the best croquettes in
Havana and that's not a joke."

No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted
to comment on the case.

Source: Three "Paladares" Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In
Havana – 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
'Experiencing Cuba' while under government surveillance

CAIBARIÉN Cuba — Caibarién is a town on a bay that separates it from
Cayo de Santa María, which is located on Cuba's northern coast. It's
proximity to the city of Santa Clara, which is less than an hour to the
south, provided the perfect place to escape "experiencing Cuba" and all
that it entails — including a flat tire and dead battery on my rental
car on Thursday morning — before returning to the U.S.
The breeze that was blowing off the bay was refreshing. The fish at La
Tormenta, a small restaurant on Caibarién's beach that means "the storm"
in Spanish, that I had for lunch was freshly caught and delicious. There
were also no visible Cuban police officers or security agents within sight.
It became increasingly clear over the last couple of days the Cuban
government decided to place me under surveillance, or at the very least
knew where I was and with whom I spoke. The Cuban government will likely
never confirm my suspicion if I were to ask, but coincidence is more
than simple coincidence in a country with little tolerance of public
criticism of the government and/or those who represent it.
Tuesday afternoon was the first time I realized the Cuban government may
have decided to place me under surveillance.
I called Nelson Gandulla, president of the Cuban Federation of LGBTI
Rights, an independent LGBT advocacy group, shortly after noon from the
street to confirm our meeting at his home in the city of Cienfuegos that
we scheduled for 3 p.m. I called Nelson from the cell phone that I
bought from the state-run telecommunications company shortly after I
arrived in Cuba on May 2. The conversation lasted less than two minutes
and I walked back to the apartment near Santa Clara's Parque Leoncio
Vidal that I had rented on Airbnb from D.C.
I was leaving around 2 p.m. when the woman from whom I was renting the
apartment told me someone from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs
called and asked her whether I was a credentialed journalist. The Cuban
government granted me a 20-day visa that allowed me to report on
LGBT-specific issues in the country. I also received a Cuban press
credential from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' International Press
Center in Havana.
The situation clearly left the woman from whom I rented the apartment
embarrassed, and I honestly felt bad the government had placed her into
such an awkward position. She profusely apologized to me several times
after I showed her my Cuban press credentials and assured me that I
would not have any problems while staying in her family's home. I left a
few minutes later and walked to my car that was parked a couple of
blocks away.
Police checked documents after interviewing activist
The hour-long drive from Santa Clara to Cienfuegos, which is on Cuba's
southern coast, was largely uneventful aside from getting lost while
leaving the area around Parque Leoncio Vidal. Driving anywhere in the
country is another one of those "experiencing Cuba" moments that can
certainly leave a lasting impression.
Four Cuban soldiers in red uniforms were clearly visible when I drove
onto the main road on which Nelson's house is located. The large rainbow
flag that usually hangs on the fence and a poster on the front door that
describes Mariela Castro as a "fraud" were gone. The dozens of people —
independent activists and neighbors — who welcomed me to Nelson's house
in 2015 and 2016 were not there when I arrived.
Nelson, who is a doctor, was alone. The only interruptions during our
nearly hour-long interview were a handful of telephone calls and a woman
who asked him to write her a prescription. Nelson casually pointed out
two security agents who passed by his house as he sat in an old wooden
rocking chair with his front door open.
The soldiers that I had seen at the intersection when I drove to
Nelson's house were not there when I passed it shortly after 4:30 p.m.
Men wearing military uniforms were among local residents as I drove
through Cienfuegos, but they are a common sight in Cuba.
I parked alongside a square in Palmira, a town that is roughly 15
minutes north of Cienfuegos, shortly after 5 p.m. to check my email on a
public hotspot. One must use cards from the state-run telecommunications
company to access it. I sent a couple of emails and texts about my
interview with Nelson and started driving again after about 15 minutes.
I was driving through a town near the border of Cienfuegos and Villa
Clara Provinces less than 15 minutes later when a police officer on a
motorcycle pulled me over. He asked me to where I was driving — Santa
Clara I told him — and requested my documents — passport, visa, driver's
license and Cuban press credentials — that I politely and calmly handed
to him. The officer took them and walked over to his motorcycle. He
spoke to someone over the radio before writing something down on a piece
of paper. The officer walked back to my car a few minutes later, handed
my documents back to me and said that I could leave.
I returned to my apartment in Santa Clara about half an hour later. The
trip to and from Santo Domingo, a town that is roughly half an hour west
of Santa Clara on Cuba's Carretera Central, where I met a group of
independent activists who are less forceful in their criticism of
Mariela Castro and her father's government was uneventful.
Back in Santa Clara, I began to notice a white police car (patrulla in
Cuban Spanish) that was parked near the corner of Parque Leoncio Vidal
that was closest to my apartment. I took particular note of its location
in the morning and at night when I walked to the park to check my email
at a public hotspot in the park.

I'm a curious and somewhat defiant person, so I decided to stare into
police officers' eyes on Wednesday when I saw them. It was an admittedly
self-serving attempt to convince myself that they know that I know the
government decided to place me under surveillance.
A white patrol car was once again parked along the edge of Parque
Leoncio Vidal that was closest to my apartment on early Thursday morning
when I was walking home from a party that Mariela Castro's organization,
the National Center for Sexual Education, organized as part of its
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemorations.
There were two officers leaning on the car smoking cigarettes. I walked
past them and said, "Good evening" to them in Spanish. They looked at me
incredulously. I chuckled and called them "idiots" in Spanish under my
breath as I walked home.
A white patrol car was parked in the same area on Thursday morning when
I walked through the park to exchange some U.S. dollars into Cuban pesos
at a government-owned currently exchange house. It was not there when I
returned to my apartment about half an hour later.
The idea of "experiencing Cuba" during the 16 days that I was working in
and traveling through the country will continue to evoke laughter,
resignation, frustration and a variety of other emotions long after I
have returned to D.C. The idea the Cuban government likely placed me
under surveillance — however absurd the reason may have been — is a
clear reminder the country's human rights record remains a very serious
problem that should not be ignored.

Source: 'Experiencing Cuba' while under government surveillance - Continue reading
Editorial: Vilma Espín, Homophobe
DDC | Madrid | 16 de Mayo de 2017 - 12:46 CEST.

When the first police raids of homosexuals were carried out in
revolutionary Cuba, Vilma Espín was already the wife of the head of the
armed forces, the sister-in-law of the regime's top leader, the woman
with the highest political position among the elite, and president of
the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the only gender-based organization
allowed in the new society.

When they imprisoned homosexuals and "other degenerates" in UMAP forced
labor camps, when they persecuted homosexuals and expelled them from
classrooms, theater companies and any setting in which they enjoyed
visibility, Vilma Espín occupied the same position and had the same

When during the Mariel Boatlift homosexuals and lesbians were officially
placed on a par with criminals and delinquents, and it seemed expedient
to get rid of them, Vilma Espín's position remained as privileged as before.

As president of the FMC, during all those decades she should have
defended Cuban homosexuals and their families. But she did not, instead
fully supporting the policies that her brother-in-law and her husband
had devised.

When in 2010, in an interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada
Fidel Castro recognized some responsibility for the existence of the
UMAP, Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Vilma Espín and Raúl Castro,
hastened to contradict her uncle in an effort to exculpate her father,
by then the ruler of the country.

Fidel and Raúl Castro and Vilma Espín are three of the figures most
responsible for repression against homosexuals in Cuba. Mariela Castro
Espín, too young to have actually participated in these events, is
currently in charge of whitewashing her elders' crimes. After
recognizing that the UMAP existed, and after promising an investigation
to clarify this phenomenon, she must also explain why this investigation
has never been carried out, and never will be.

Just as her mother took advantage of the struggle for women's rights,
she exploits the struggle for the rights of the LGBTI community in a
ploy to wield power and suppress dangerous freedoms. In the history of
her family's homophobia, her role has been to hide the horrors of the
past and to misrepresent that history to favor her family's interests.
It is not surprising, then, that the first postcard envelope "dedicated
to the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) community in Cuba"
actually features a stamp graced by an image of her mother, Vilma Espín.

Other countries dedicate these kinds of postal products to true
activists for LGBTI rights, and artists and works from this community,
or to emblems like the rainbow flag. The circulation of these images
serves to raise the public's awareness of the rights and achievements of
these minorities. In the Cuban case, however, no seal will be circulated
including any mention of or allusion to the LGBTI community. What has
been issued, rather, is an envelope including a mere allusion. And,
unlike postage stamps, these envelopes are not meant to actually be
mailed, but rather to expand the collections of stamp collectors.

A postage stamp has not been issued acknowledging the LGBTI community,
but rather one honoring Vilma Espín, issued in 2008, and a great
opportunity for social activism and awareness raising has been
squandered. The family that has been Cuban homosexuals' worst enemy
dares to exploit this opportunity to burnish its image, at the expense
of those whom they denied and persecuted. Like her elders, Mariela
Castro Espín mocks the wishes and dreams of those she claims to
represent, this time by promising them a postage stamp for their cause,
and then circulating an image of her own mother.

Source: Editorial: Vilma Espín, Homophobe | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

Iván García, 2 May 2017 — On an afternoon like any other, an underground
seller of beef, living in the southeast of Havana, bought flank steaks
wholesale from a slaughterer, to then sell them to private restaurants
and neighbours who could afford them.

He filleted the chops and started to offer them for the equivalent of
three dollars a pound. "They flew off the shelf. By night time I didn't
have an ounce of it left. If any red meat comes my way, I can sell it
immediately. The thing is, Cubans like to eat a good piece of steak with
fries, washed down with a glass of orange juice. But, my friend, that
dish has become an extravagant luxury in Cuba," says the vendor, who
knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Havana black market.

Even though a pound of beef costs three days' of a professional's
salary, you don't always find it in the profitable black market.

In the island there is a network of butchers, slaughterers and sellers
which makes sufficient money selling beef. "Everything starts when
someone spots a bullock or a cow not properly protected in some odd
corner in the Cuban countryside. That's when they start to plan how get
it to end up as stew (kill it) and transport it to Havana, which is
where they can sell it for the best price. They can get between 1,300
and 1,600 chavitos (CUCs) for a 1,000 pound bull, and the slaughterer,
the transporter and the sellers get a few kilos of meat free", according
to a cattle slaughterer, a native of the central region of the country.

And he explains that they will just as happily kill a calf, a grown up
cow, or a horse, "whatever has four legs and moves, gets what's coming
to it. Of course, a slaughterer who knows what he's doing takes care not
to kill a cow which is sick or has brucellosis, because if the police
catch you, along with the twenty years the District Attorney goes for on
account of killing a cow, he adds another five or six on top for
endangering public health.

In 2013, the Granma newspaper reported that more than 18,400 cattle were
dying of hunger or disease in the province of Villa de Clara. In April
2014, the Communist party organ highlighted that something over 3,300
cows died in the first three months of that year in the province of
Holguin, and another 69,000 were found to be under-nourished. The
authorities blamed the drought and, according to Granma, 35 thousand
head of cattle were receiving water from water tank trucks in order to
alleviate the effects of the months without rain.

According to Damián, an ex-employee of a sugar mill, who now survives
selling home-made cheese on the Autopista Nacional, "what has happened
to the cattle here is irresponsible and those officials should be behind
bars. But they carry on like that, carrying their Party card and talking
annoying rubbish".

Mario, a private farmer, says, jokingly, that "Cuba is an unusual
mixture of Marxism and Hinduism. Seems like a religious prohibition on
eating beef, which is what Cubans like to eat. Although the leaders
carry on eating it — just look at their faces and stomachs; they look as
if they are going to explode. If you gave them a blood test, their
haemoglobin would be around a thousand".

During the time of the autocrat Fidel Castro, when people wore Jiqui
jeans, Yumuri check shirts and very poor quality shoes, all made
locally, the old ration book which, in March 2017, had been in use for
55 years, authorised half a pound of beef every nine days for people
born in the country.

"Then the cycle was lengthened to once a fortnight, then once a month,
until it was quietly disappearing from the Cuban menu. Along with many
other things like milk, fresh fish, prawns, oranges and mandarines",
recalls a butcher, who made plenty of money selling beef "on the side"
for four pesos a pound in the '80's. In the 21st century he survives
making money from selling soup thickened with soya.

In the last week of February, some "good news" was announced. Because of
poor agricultural output, the state started to sell potatoes through
ration books again.

"It's one step forward, one step back. Five years ago potatoes were
rationed. Until one fine day, the bright sparks in the government
decided that, along with beans, they should be sold by the pound. So
that, everyone was fucked, with potatoes becoming a sumptuary good. If
you wanted to eat potato puree or fries, you had to wait in a queue for
four hours and put up with fights and swearing just to buy a bag of ten
potatoes for 25 pesos. And now that it is rationed once more, the news
channel tells you that they will sell you 14 pounds a head, two in the
first month, and six after that. But in my farmers' market they don't
give you a pound any more. Five miserable spuds and you have to take it
or leave it", says Gisela, a housewife.

If you fancy a natural orange juice, get your wallet ready. "Green
oranges with hardly any juice cost three pesos, if you can actually find
any. A bag of oranges costs between 140 and 200 pesos, half the monthly
minimum wage. I keep asking myself why it is that in countries with a
Marxist government, or a socialist one, as invented by Chavez in
Venezuela, getting food has to be such torture", says Alberto, a
construction worker.

In Cuba, you can't eat what you want, only what turns up.

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or
dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried
food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and
Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Translated by GH

Source: Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García –
Translating 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
It Is Forbidden To Sell Cheese In The Cuban Countryside

14ymedio, Bertha Guillen, Candelaria, 11 April 2017 — The milk boils on
the rustic stove while on the table the cream is churned to make
butter. The whole family revolves around the modest production of
artisan cheese, a product targeted by the police and appealing to customers.

Roberto leaves the house every day very early and stands for hours at
the edge of the national highway, displaying one or two cheeses to all
passing travelers. He hides the rest of the merchandise in the grass to
avoid large quantities of that soft and fresh food that they make at
home being confiscated.

The patrols that monitor the area are mainly focused on trafficking in
shrimp, fish, cheese and beef. From time to time a passenger bus is
stopped in the middle of the road and the troops proceed to check each
passenger's luggage. The police are well able to detect that particular
smell that emanates from dairy products.

"I get up at three in the morning for the milking in the dairy," says
Senén, Roberto's father and a resident of Artemisa province. "When we
have the milk that fulfills what we have to give to comply with the
state plan, then my wife makes the cheese with what remains."

Each farmer is obliged to sell most of their meat and milk production to
companies and state centers. In 2015 the price paid to the farmers for
this fresh milk rose from 2.40 Cuban pesos (CUP) per liter to 4.50, less
than half of the 10 CUPs (about 40 cents US) that it sells for in the
informal market.

Private producers are prohibited from selling milk or any dairy product
they produce to other private individuals on their own. However, many
homes and private restaurants throughout the island are nourished by
this artisanal food, made and transported under absolute discretion.

"My family has been making cheese for years," Senén explains at
midday. They started making it during the Special Period when all the
clandestine pizzas were made with the so-called guajiro cheese. Now some
private restaurants buy pieces of gouda or Parmesan in state stores or
on the black market, but artisanal production remains the most
affordable for domestic customers.

A few miles from the house of Roberto and Senén, in the dairies of
Cayajabos, Olga begins to cut the milk with a serum made from pork lungs
and lemon. This technique ensures a consistent and good tasting cheese.
She adds some boiling water "to kill the bacteria" and to achieve a
firm, "gummy" texture.

Today Olga wants to make a piece of about two pounds with ten liters of
milk. "At the moment we are making few cheeses because the cows are
giving very little milk and we have to fulfill the plan," she says while
straining the fermented milk and recycling the serum to use it again.

Cuba is experiencing the worst drought of the last half century and the
country's reservoirs are below 39% of their capacity. More than 81% of
the agricultural area is affected by low water levels in irrigation and
the effect on livestock production is especially negative.

Rain is not the only problem. Along with the 120 liters of water a day a
cow drinks, it also consumes 10% of its weight in pasture grass, fodder
and food concentrate, according to experts consulted by this newspaper.

Grasslands are currently dry and the feed supply is unstable. Farmers
juggle feeding their cows with mixtures that also include derivatives
from the sugar industry. The deficit directly influences the amount of
meat and milk that is produced.

According to Rogelio González, a farmer from Cayajabos, 30 years ago a
dairy was capable of producing up to 2,160 liters of milk daily, while
now among the 10 dairy farms in the area, they barely reach the 1,080
liters needed to comply with the state plan.

"We had here the trays loaded with feed and purge honey, there were
areas of fodder, urea, salt and the milking system was mechanized, all
this helped to a improve production," evokes Gonzalez. "But
then everything got destroyed, the grazing fields are surrounded by the
invasive marabou weed and the milking systems are pitiful."

During the years of the Soviet subsidy, Cuba managed to produce up to
200 types of cheese, but the fall of the Socialist Camp ruined
production and paralyzed the most important industries in the
sector. The authorities are trying to revitalize some of the dairy
processing plants, but without foreign investment the project becomes
very difficult.

While state production tries to pick up the pace, Senén continues to
make progress in artisanal cheese production. All around are small
wooden molds made with bits of planks of different sizes to give shape
to the cheese. The press that extracts the liquid is used before the
work of turning.

Under the structure, a white bucket collects the liquid that is
draining. "This is to feed the piglet I have back there," adds the dairy
farmer. "You have to take advantage of everything."

When the process of pressing is finished "you have to refrigerate the
cheese for a few hours so the crown has a nice yellow color and a better
texture," according to Senén.

"Right now, we are making only two kinds of cheese, not only because of
the lack of milk but also because there's not a great cheese culture
here, so they eat the artisanal cheeses and the so-called processed
cheese, which is sold in the little market for Cuban pesos, and in the
store there is only gouda and it's very expensive," he says. A pound of
the latter cost between 9 and 10 times more than the product made by
Senén and his family.

Among the handcrafted products is the so-called guajiro cheese, which is
sold on the highway. Normally it is made from skimmed milk boiled and
cut with piña de ratón, a wild seed. The result is a product that is
white and more grainy.

To supply the private restaurants specializing in Italian food the
process becomes longer and complex, in order to cure the cheese
better. There are customers who prefer it with salt and others without
salt, details the farmer. It should be avoided at all costs that the
milk gets smoky during the cooking.

"We have to take the risk of selling it in Havana, because there they
pay better." A pound trades in the informal networks for between 25 and
35 CUP depending on the curing of the product. "We are making contacts
and fixed points where they buy from us," says Roberto, who fears fines
and arrests on the highway.

"Every day the police get more strict and if they catch me, they remove
the merchandise and take me to the station", says the young man. More
than once he has had to run and abandon the product. "It's hard work,
sometimes I only sell a little and most of the time is in the sun." For
him, the best days are those when some foreigner arrives.

For travelers passing by in their tourist cars the scene always looks
nice and with an air of tradition: a man on the side of the road holds a
cheese in his hands, as a trophy, while ensuring that it is
"home-made." Few realize the difficulties associated with trying to sell
this delicious food in Cuba.

Source: It Is Forbidden To Sell Cheese In The Cuban Countryside –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Lower On-Line Prices for Brazilian Meat While Cuban Government is Silent

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 24 March 2017 – Cuba has reacted very
oddly to the scandal of adulterated meat from Brazil, the island's main
provider of beef products: silence on the part of the authorities, lower
prices on some on-line shopping sites, and very little public concern
about possible health risks.

At the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos several customers milled around
this Thursday, waiting for La Havana Butcher Shop to lower the prices on
its display. "My daughter told me they were going to lower prices,"
Carmen, a 78-year-old pensioner waiting on the sidewalk, told this

Carmen's daughter lives in Murcia, Spain and has kept abreast of all the
news about the adulteration of products by the Brazilian companies JBS
and BRF, the two most important in the country, which came to light
through an investigation by the Federal Police.

The Cuban press has been sparing in details about "Operation Weak Meat,"
but the issue has generated hopes among Cubans of a possible fall in
prices of these foods, in high demand on the nation's tables.

The digital sites that sell on the island have taken the first step and
this week some of them have dropped prices on beef. "Meats imported from
Brazil. With great discounts and better quality," announced Supermarket
Treew, one of the most popular internet sales sites.

The services of the company, based in Toronto, began in 1998 and are
widely used by emigrants living abroad to supply their families with
food, cleaning supplies and appliances; they place and pay for their
orders on line and the products are delivered in Cuba. Now
online products like roasts, ground beef, hamburgers and steak are
showing price reductions ranging from 5% to 15%.

However, Cuba's Ministry of Internal Commerce has not applied similar
discounts in the network of domestic stores nor withdrawn these products
from the shelves.

The Ministry of Internal Commerce has not applied similar discounts in
the network of national stores or withdrawn products from the sale

The Department of Attention to the Population of that state entity
confirmed to this newspaper, by telephone, that "no particular measure
has been taken with regards to that subject. We have not ordered the
suspension of the sale of meat from Brazil nor lowered prices, although
each store can do so autonomously."

The point of sale of frozen products located at Neptuno and Angeles
streets continued displaying the usual prices: 10.90 CUC per one
kilogram of beef, half of the monthly salary of a professional.

"I have the store's phone number and I have called every day to know if
they have put anything on sale, but nothing," says Ignacio Luaces, an
entrepreneur who runs errands for a private restaurant. "We are hoping
that the goods will go on sale, but so far, no," he told 14ymedio.

Others are concerned about the potential health implications. "Every day
on TV there are lots of announcements about mosquitoes and the dangers
of the diseases they transmit, but they have not said anything about
it," protests Liudmila, a medical student who plans to specialize in

"Food poisoning is very dangerous and most people who buy beef for
domestic consumption do it for children or the elderly," she says. "I
think it's time for the Ministry of Public Health to make a public
announcement telling people not to eat that meat."

Source: Lower On-Line Prices for Brazilian Meat While Cuban Government
is Silent – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Doubtful Meat From Brazil Continues To Be Sold In Cuba / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 March 2017 — Cubans know a lot about
adulterations. For decades they have grappled with the "diversion of
resources" [i.e. stealing] from state stores and the practice of state
employees acquiring products elsewhere at low prices, bringing them into
the stores and selling them at high prices and keeping the profit for
themselves. Hence the scandal of the altered meat that involves two
Brazilian companies has hardly surprised anyone on the Island.

This Monday Brazilian meat products continued to be sold in Cuba's
retail network, where the frozen chicken of the brands Frangosul and
Perdix, from the companies JBS and BRF respectively, continue to be on
sale. According to an investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil,
both these companies adulterated these products.

In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of
an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase
the weight, without any risks to health.

The results of what was called "Carne Fraca" ("weak meat" in
Portuguese), confirmed the suspicions of those who warned that something
"doesn't smell right" in the world's largest exporter of these products.
Each year Brazil exports beef worth roughly 5.5 billion dollars and
chicken worth roughly 6.5 billion. This business represents 7.2% of
Brazil's Gross Domestic Product.

So far, no Cuban store or market has withdrawn the Brazilian frozen food
products. On the digital sites that offer a wide range of foods that
emigrants abroad can order for their families on the island, Brazilian
beef and chicken remain on sale.

The official media spread the news of the scandal, focusing on the
possible repercussions for President Michel Temer's government. The
Ministry of Public Health did not discuss the issue when asked by 14ymedio.

Cuba imports more than 80% of the food it consumes. For 2017, the bill
for these purchases is expected to exceed $1.75 billion, $82 million
more than the estimate for the previous year.

Each year, more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the
international market, most of it hindquarters, also called "dark
parts." Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry
Producers (SOCPA), recently confirmed to the official press that
"[domestic] meat production is practically zero."

In 2014, several representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture visited
Brazil to inspect the facilities of the dairy and beef plant managed by
JBS in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a view to importing its products to the
Island. Another 25 facilities approved for trade with Cuba are located
in the states of Tocantins, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul,
Goiás, Mato Grosso and Sao Paulo

The United States and Brazil are the countries supplying the greatest
amount of frozen products to the Cuban market. Faced with the lack of
supply and the lack of variety, chicken has become one of the most
common foods at the table of Cubans. Only the wealthy can afford beef.

"I came to buy a piece of top round steak," said a retired woman at the
butcher's in Plaza de Carlos III on Monday. She said, "it is a luxury
that I can only allow myself from time to time." The meat on offer in
that market comes from Brazil, according to an employee who preferred
anonymity, but who, so far, had received "no order to stop selling it."

On display in the meat case are several packages with prime ground beef,
stew meat, top round and tip steak. No merchandise specifies where it
comes from, but local workers confirm that it has been bought from
Brazil. The customers look longingly at the display; meat remains a
forbidden delicacy for many, even if it is wrapped up in
investigations and fraud.

"Here we work with Brazilian meat," explains one of the waiters at the
restaurant next to the Riviera cinema, formerly El Carmelo, on 23rd
Street. In their menu they offer sirloin, fillet mignon, fried beef
tender and ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), this last a very
traditional dish that is in high demand among tourists.

The select El Palco market, whose main customers are diplomats and
foreigners living in Havana, is also "especially stocked with Brazilian
meat," points out one of the local cashiers.

Some 27 people have been arrested in Brazil, and Federal Police
Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi warned of a corruption network inside the
government that allowed adulterated meat to be legalized. That chain of
infractions involved officials of the Brazilian Democratic Movement
Party, to which President Temer belongs.

The main Brazilian meat producers added chemicals to meats that were
"rotten" or unfit for human consumption. An extensive network of bribe
payments purchased approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.

"They used acids and other chemicals, in some cases carcinogenic, to
disguise the physical characteristics of the rotten product and its
smell," Moscardi explained. They treated the meat with vitamin C to give
it a more "appetizing" color, along with levels of preservatives well
above those allowed by health authorities.

Representatives of both companies have denied allegations by police
authorities, but the alarm has spread in the international market and
the companies' stock prices have tumbled sharply.

"BFR ensures the high quality and safety of its products and guarantees
that there is no risk for its consumers," said one of the largest food
companies in the world with more than 30 brands in its portfolio, Sadia,
Perdigão, Qualy, Paty, Dánica, Bocatti or Confidence.

The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture announced, a few hours ago, that it
would accept no more imports from the Brazilian beef market. Minister
Carlos Furche explained that the measure is temporary "until the
Brazilian authorities know exactly what facilities are being
investigated, and of those facilities which have exported to the world
and Chile," he said.

The Chinese authorities have responded unceremoniously. The Government
banned all such imports and prevented meat already shipped from being
unloaded in its ports. Last year the Asian country imported 1.6 billion
dollars from Brazilian meatpackers.

Europe has slowed shipments from JBS and BRF. This week the European
Commissioner for Health Affairs, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will travel to
Brasilia and the agenda revolves around the food scandal.

Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are
beginning to connect the dots. "The chicken no longer came with the
quality of before and had a lot of ice," complains Luisa Cordoves, a
housewife in Central Havana who says that "right now it's better to buy
the chicken boxes that come from United States, because the product
tastes better. "

She believes that the scandal will not dissuade domestic consumers from
acquiring these products. "People have many needs and there is no
choice: you take it or leave it."

Source: Doubtful Meat From Brazil Continues To Be Sold In Cuba /
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms
March 7, 2017
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES — Every Sunday, there is the "Los Chinos" agro-market fair
in the city of Holguin in eastern Cuba. Trucks loaded with produce come
from all over the country, mainly from its central provinces. As there
is competition and since the sellers can bulk buy on the farms, there
are lower prices than normal, which doesn't exactly mean that it's cheap.

Of course, the trucks have been rented out, the real owners of this
produce are the merchants known as "intermediaries". These trade
operators play an essential role in the development of agriculture
because they stimulate production by creating confidence in
commercialization. They logically make nice profits, maybe more than
what would be fair; but the problem here doesn't lie in their existence
as such, but in the many knots in the Cuban system which make balanced
regulation almost impossible.

In the 1980s, the government experimented with the so-called Farmers'
Free Markets (MLC) and then it was shut down by Fidel himself, who
couldn't stand the idea that some Cubans were "getting rich". In order
to cure his headache, he destroyed the emerging semi-free market.

In the '90s, a Party leader from Pinar del Rio spoke about reviving the
MLC in a televised Congress session (perhaps the IV Plenary session of
the Cuban Communist Party in 1991), where the idea alone unleashed
Fidel's rage on the spot and on live TV (I watched this) and then rumors
went round from Pinar that the person who dared share his opinion had
been dismissed of his responsibilities.

When hunger took its hold of Cuba, he sent brother Raul Castro to
announce "the same dog but with a different collar": the Agro-Market. I
remember that this was announced in an interview granted to Luis Baez
and was published in Granma and then repeated across the media. The
government journalist began his article by saying that he had been
looking for that interview with Raul for some time and that Raul had
finally taken some time out for him: it was pure theater! Both of them
knew what the objective was. Fidel never spoke about the subject.

Today, criminalizing the private sector because of its high prices
continues to be a subject of debate in Parliament, especially against
the famous Intermediaries; who are restricted or prohibited at times and
have their merchandise seized resulting in great losses. However, the
truth is that they don't dare to ban them because without them
completely because there wouldn't be commerce or stable farming production.

However, these are the larger merchants, who, even though they pay for
the same license as smaller ones, have completely different functions.
Small traders who sell at a higher price are the ones who mainly
purchase their products from the larger Intermediaries. Here in the
Holguin province, hundreds of small traders (push cart or bike sellers)
travel on Sundays to the capital city and they buy their produce from
the trucks at the Los Chinos market.

Every one of them with two or three sacks also provide work for horse
drawn cart drivers and bici-taxis operators who transport them to bus
and train stations paying for every sack. A lot of people benefit from
this trade, especially the government which charges them for the
license, taking 10% of gross sales, social security payments and fines
for any silly mistakes. All of this translates into the product's final
price, which reaches customers in urban neighborhoods where it often
costs double or triple the initial price.

However, the private sector in Cuba isn't only sentenced to having these
restrictions on growth which our laws impose on them; they are also
treated like a necessary evil, harassed by whimsical regulations. They
don't have a transparent and secure supply chain, nor do they have the
legal freedom to seek it out. They do this but they take risks.

On Sunday February 5th, at the Los Chinos market, dozens of
self-employed resellers had their sacks filled with produce bought from
equally legal intermediaries. A group of inspectors approached them and
they wanted to confiscate their purchases for having violated the
"anti-hoarding law". It seems outrageous but it's true. A great
discussion broke out and the police in charge of keeping order at the
market, intervened. In the face of the resistance that had been created
by those accused and others who were doubtful in helping the inspectors,
the police called for the Head of the Unit, a Major, who turned up on
the scene.

There were several people from my town of Mayari among the traders who
had their purchases taken away. One of them, Jose Ramon, usually sells
on my street and he told me the whole story. Then I confirmed what he
told me with another seller, not without first asking several others,
among the many who pass by here every day offering their garlic,
peppers, onions or bijol under the scorching sun.

The story goes that the Major arrived arrogantly and ordered those who
wouldn't stop protesting to shut up. He was met with: "You like getting
your hands on ham a lot. Ham is what the inspectors get, who make a
living by fining us for no reason; we work really hard to earn our
pesos," one of the boldest protestors said.

After a lot of wasted time (held for over three hours under the risk of
having their things confiscated and bad times), the police finally
guided the inspectors in their conversation with them to release the
purchases. Common sense won out, but this was just one more example of
government resistance to how the private sector runs in Cuba, even at
these incipient times.

Tradesmen didn't have so few rights even in medieval hamlets!" They had
unions and brotherhoods which united and protected them, Cuban
self-employed merchants don't.

There are many forms of repression, not just political repression. This
budding private sector, which has appeared with the self-employed, is
the seed to opening up our economy more, which is fundamental so that we
can reach economic and social progress. Repressing them and prohibiting
their development with laws and individual actions is just another way
to delay this essential path: it's another form of repression in Cuba.

Source: Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms - Havana - Continue reading
Dismantling One of Fidel's Houses and Saying Goodbye to His Bodyguards /
Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2017 — They are dismembering the security
apparatus at the bunker that for years served as a spiritual refuge for
Fidel Castro: an apartment located on the third floor of 1007 11th
Street in Havana's Vedado district.

Little by little they are removing pictures, gifts and belongings along
with some trash. The metal security chain, floodlights and even the
guard post that prevented citizens from moving freely along the length
of the block where the building is located have already been removed.

More than fifty bodyguards have been retired, leaving only a small
temporary garrison of five men and one police officer, Colonel Nivaldo
Pérez Guerra.

Strategically located in District 13, a downtown neighborhood near the
Plaza of the Revolution, the building in question was one of the former
Cuban leader's three official residences. Though he had not visited the
place for several decades, it remained his legal residence from 1976
until the day he died.

These actions are, it seems, an attempt to remove any evidence that
media outlets and Cubans themselves, who have an excessive propensity
for constructing legends and creating myths, might use to craft a heroic
saga out of the daily habits and lifestyle of the late commander-in-chief.

"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. They are getting rid of anything with
even a whiff of age. In the case of #11 (as the building is known), the
country's leaders have sent us a message: 'The options are total
demolition or a complete remodeling of the place; if we leave it the way
it is, it could awaken the interest of an avid array of gossip mongers;
and, you guys, you are to be relocated,'" says one one disgruntled man,
who for years belonged to the tight inner circle of security personnel
guarding the late revolutionary leader.

"But they are not going to sack us," he adds. "What they are doing is
speeding up our retirement, which is not quite the same thing. At the
same time that they are removing Fidel's things from #11, they are
sending us to Personal Security, over there in Jaimanitas, where they
present retirement as compensation for a lifetime of loyal service. They
are giving us a Chinese car that looks a new Geely model CK but which is
actually a discontinued clunker, a used tourist rental car with a lot of
miles on it."

A disbanded and discontented elite military force can be a terribly bad
omen for a society on fire.

One need only go to the parking area of the Hotel Melia Cohiba or Hotel
Melia Havana and ask any of the former Cuban president's various
bodyguards where one might find a good botero (taxi driver).

They will tell you that a group of them, who are all now unemployed, are
planning to regroup and apply for licenses to operate a privately owned
cooperative offering security services to celebrities and fashionable
artists visiting the country.

A good business, I would think. No one can deny that, when it comes to
personal security, these men have plenty of experience.

Source: Dismantling One of Fidel's Houses and Saying Goodbye to His
Bodyguards / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2017 — A fine that is stranger than
fiction. More than 400,000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in
dollars), is the astronomical figure set as a penalty for La
California restaurant, a palader (private restaurant) a few steps from
Cuba's Malecon.

Established in abeautifully restored 18th century building at 55 Crespo
Street between San Lazaro and Refugio in Central Havana, La California
restaurant-bar offers Italian and Cuban-international fusion food, as
well as exquisite service, attractive and entertaining, where the
customer can enter the kitchen and prepare their own delicacy. Part of
what is consumed in this agreeable place is grown on the private estate
of a Cuban farmer, and the rest — according to co-director Charles
Farigola — is imported.

"During the plenary session of the National Assembly Cuban vice
president Machado Ventura referenced the food in the paladares, making
particular note of the products offered that are not acquired in the
national retail network," began an explanation of a Cuban entrepreneur
passing through Miami to buy supplies for his restaurant in Havana.

"The reality," he continued," is that the paladares import very little,
most of the food and drink comes from the hotels*, especially those that
offer 'all-inclusive' plans. Vacuum-packed filets, serrano ham, fresh
vegetables, salmon, sausages, octopus, squid, etc. Almost everything
comes from Matanzas Province, where tourism is concentrated. There are
police checkpoints to search vehicles coming from the resort town of
Varadero to Havana; but almost everything is transported in tour
vehicles and they avoid the controls, because the national police don't
want to bother the tourists.

"The strategy, in response, was to inspect the paladares that boast
about having these kinds of imported products, and La California fell.
They also say that the inspection report specified that the sales report
didn't match observed reality. Parameters and factors that seem subjective."

Can a Cuban paladar pay such a huge fine?

"I don't think so. Look, the inspectors collect a percent of every fine
they impose, and the private businesses offer the inspectors a greater
percentage than they would receive. So that's how we all survive because
it's a game of give and take.

"It could be that La California didn't want to play this game, they
could have accepted an arrangement to pay in installments, they could
default and accept an ugly penalty, they may fight the fine in the
courts. Anything can happen.

"No, we self-employed are not criminals, we are a social group that
makes things and not communist dreams nor libertarian utopias; we are
the part of civil society most dedicated to work, to generating income,
jobs, and bringing money to the national economy, and even so the policy
of the government is to push us toward crime," concludes the
entrepreneur before boarding his plane to Cuba, the island that, with a
certain euphemism, he calls the "Barracks."

*Translator's note: That is, it is "diverted" (the term Cubans prefer
rather than "stolen") and sold to private businesses by a chain of state
workers that can range from the highest to the lowest levels.

Translated by Jim

Source: Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Coexistence Profiles Future Proposals For Cuban Education And Culture /
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 January 2017 — A pluralistic
education, deeply democratic, with a privileged use of technology and
communications together with a vision of culture open to universality:
these were some of the proposals of the third meeting of the Center for
Coexistence Studies (CEC) for the future of Cuba held this weekend in Miami.

The Cuban think tank, based in Pinar del Rio, held its meeting at
Florida International University (FIU) within the framework of an
journey of thought for Cuba. A similar process is taking place in
parallel on the island, although that meeting had to be suspended in the
face of the repression of the political police. Paradoxically, the
prohibition decreed by the authorities facilitated greater interaction
through alternative means such as email.

Dagoberto Valdés, director of the CEC, offered an overview of the
national reality that, in his opinion, is marked by several elements,
including the country's economic crisis "in free fall," the death of
Fidel Castro and the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed
Cubans who touched American soil to remain in the country, regardless of
whether they had a visa.

The analysis of Cuban culture involved preparing a list of paradigmatic
personalities, institutions and referential processes that make up the
nucleus of the nation's identity. It also addressed "weaknesses" and
"negative features" in the country's cultural processes.

With regards to education, there was a discussion of pedagogical models
that tend to strengthen ethical values ​​and individual autonomy.

"The projects presented seek to clarify the roots of identity that
should be rescued and maintained, as well as detail models, content and
methodologies. Also, the types of institutions and educational spaces
that should predominate in the future, and what the profile of an
educator should be," said the press release issued by the institution.

Four sessions enriched the meeting, including one led by the economist
Carmelo Mesa Lago, another by anthropologist and journalist Miriam
Celaya, as well as two led by members of the editorial team of
Coexistence magazine, Dagoberto Valdes and Yoandy Izquierda.

The meeting at the FIU, together with the work being done in Cuba, has
enabled the drafting of 45 legislative proposals for a new Cuban legal

The results of the workshops will be compiled by the Center's Academic
Council and the Board of Directors and published on its website.

Source: Coexistence Profiles Future Proposals For Cuban Education And
Culture / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – 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
Private Restaurants Closed, Owners in Jail / 14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz

14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz, Camaguey, 11 November 2016 — Closed and
silent. Thus are several of the most successful private restaurants –
known as paladares – in Las Tunas and Camaguey these days. Their
proprietors are accused of several economic crimes and are in jail
awaiting prosecution, despite requests from their lawyers to
release them on bail.

Last month, after a thorough search of the Me Son paladar, ten miles
from the Las Tunas capital, the authorities took Valentin, its owner, to
El Tipico prison. It didn't help Valentin that he has in his own house
the presidency of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution,
according to the residents of the town of La Ceiba, in the municipality
of Majobacoa.

"The police took everything, they only left what they couldn't take, we
don't know if we'll go back to work," lamented an employee of the
paladar. "Customers come from Holguin and even farther. We also function
as a site for parties."

Juan Carlos, a young farmer in the area who supplied the paladar with
"food and vegetables every week," confirmed that "the place had become
very famous" and that "it was a question of time before the police
came down on it."

According to the source from the provincial prosecutor's office,
Valentin is accused of "having committed serious illegalities, like
having products without proper receipts*, workers without contracts, and
arrears in tax payments to the National Office of Tax Administration

In recent months the authorities have warned that licenses for private
restaurants don't include authorization for cultural activities, hiring
artists, or bars. In Havana, several paladares have been closed for
violating these rules.

Valentin's legal problems are accompanied by the arrest, last summer, of
Roberto, the owner of La Moncloa, the most successful paladar in Las
Tunas. The arrests and severity of legal actions against the accused set
off alarms in the private sector. "Everyone is keeping their heads
down," said a relative of the owner.

In neighboring Camaguey, at least three owners of paladares have also
been arrested and prosecuted in recent months.

About 500 people work in the 74 legally registered private restaurants
in the province. In the face of the fears running through the
self-employment sector, an official of the Council of Provincial
Administration, Jesus Polo Vazquez, clarified that the searches and
arrests are simply actions to "maintain legality in the exercise of
non-state management," and that "in compliance with the law, no
installation will be closed without justification."

Polo Vazquez described those arrested as "the unscrupulous who are
enriching themselves," with tax evasion. "Cuba has a right to defend its
taxes, because that it what pays for education, health, culture and
other social services."

The family of Alberto Raiko disagrees with the official and insinuates
that the month's detention of the owner of the Mi Hacienda paladar in
the Alturas del Casino neighborhood, is "an extreme measure to frighten
successful self-employed entrepreneurs."

Employees of Rafael Papito Rizo's La Herradura, one of the most famous
paladares in Camagüey, share that perception. The name of the small
businessman went on to become synonymous with quality and fine dining
thanks to a history of more than two decades. Today, the restaurant
located in the Villa Mariana neighborhood is closed.

The most famous case, however, has been the centrally located restaurant
1800 Plaza de San Juan de Dios, winner for two consecutive years of
TripAdvisor's excellence award. The place was closed a few weeks ago
after a search of several hours. The police "loaded up even the air
conditioner," says a relative of the owner, Edel Fernandez Izquierdo.

"They seized 150 boxes of beer and 200 bottles of wine Edel had bought
over the counter without being given a receipt at the Tourism Fair in
Havana," says the relative. "They also took bottles of liquor that were
gifts from Edel's customers and friends."

Fernandez Izquierdo is accused of having containers of liquefied gas
without a receipt* for their purchase and valuable works of art that
were not listed in the Heritage Register. In his neighborhood many
suggest that the trigger was the Peugeot the successful businessman
managed to buy and other property he owns in Camagüey. "That's when
everything exploded," says a neighbor, Ramon Buenaventura.

The owner of 1800 is in the Ceramica jail and his father, retired from
the Interior Ministry with the rank of colonel, still hasn't gotten over
his surprise at what happened. "The uniform hasn't done him much good,
because it's not about something his son did, but about setting an
example so others don't cross the line," said Buenaventura.

*Translator's note: Private businesses are required to present receipts
to prove that they bought their supplies in state stores, not in the
underground market.

Source: Private Restaurants Closed, Owners in Jail / 14ymedio, Ignacio
de la Paz – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana 20 October 2016 — Chinese, Italian or
international food fill the menus of Cuban paladares, but lately fear
has starred as the main dish on the menu of these private restaurants.
The jewel in the crown of entrepreneurship on the island is experiencing
moments of uncertainty after the government froze the issuing of
licenses for these businesses run by the self-employed.

In recent months food and beverage outlets have watched a parade of pop
stars, Hollywood actors, emblematic rock-and-rollers and even US
President Barack Obama through their establishments, but it is a
complicated time.

Even Camaguey province has been shocked, after the closure, at the
beginning of this month, of three of the most important
paladares operating in the city. Restaurant 1800 was searched by the
police, who confiscated some of the furniture and arrested the owner,
Edel Izquierdo. Two other paladares, Mi Hacienda and Papito Rizo's
Horseshoee, were also forced to close.

The suspension in the granting of new licenses for these premises has
stoked fears about a possible backward step in the reforms undertaken by
Raul Castro starting in 2008. Although officialdom has rushed to clarify
that this is a temporary measure, a sense of a country going backwards
to times of greater controls is felt on all sides.

The Acting Vice-President of the Provincial Administation in the
capital, Isabel Hamze, declared on national television this Wednesday
that "of the 135 license holders [of private restaurants] we met with
129 to alert them to a group of problems that cloud the services that
they offer and we explained them that, with these exchanges ended, it
was time to undertake an inspection."

The official noted that during several meetings with owners of the
private locales they discussed among other issues the consumption and
sale of drugs inside restaurants, along with evidence of prostitution
and pimping.

Hamze emphasized that those who acquired "money in Cuba or abroad
illegally" in order to "bring it to the island and launder it," need to
be on guard. "Nowhere in the world is it legal to launder money and it
is not permitted. We are not accusing anyone of doing it, we talked
about where their capital comes from," she said.

"The state can not compete with the privates, which in a short time have
managed to run more efficient and attractive places for foreign and
domestic customers," a waiter of the centrally located Doña Eutimia
Restaurant, nestled against the Havana Cathedral. The man believes that
the current "storm will pass, because otherwise it would go against the

Most owners of these private premises prefer to keep silent. "He who
moved doesn't end up in the photo," joked a private restaurant owner on
23rd Street. "Everything is on hold, because no one dares to stand out
now," he added. "The repression of the paladares has come because some
have become nightclubs with musical programs that attract a lot of people."

According to updated data, more than 150,000 self-employed work in 201
occupations in Havana. There are more than 500 private restaurants
throughout the capital.

In some locations it has become common to alternate good food with shows
ranging from comedy, to magic, to fashion. Lately, the celebrated King
Bar has sent out invitations to spend October 30, Halloween night, with
costumes and frights.

The government undertakes inspections to guarantee strict compliance
with the rules that govern the operations of these establishments: no
more than 50 seats, limited hours, and the purchase of supplies
exclusively in state stores with receipts to prove it.

However, several entrepreneurs consulted by this newspaper agree that it
is difficult to manage a private restaurant following the letter of the
law. The shortages often experienced in the markets that sell in Cuban
convertible pesos, the lack of a wholesale market, and the prohibition
against commercial imports, hobble the sector and push owners to the
informal market.

In the Labor and Social Security Office on B Street between 21st and
23rd in Havana, this Tuesday, it was not possible to get a license to
open a paladar. "The licenses of those who already have them are not
suspended," but "the issuing of new licenses has been halted," declared
an official to the nervous entrepreneurs who came to the site for more

The measure was preceded by meetings with the owners of paladares where
they were warned to comply with the law; officials from the National Tax
Administration Office (ONAT) and the police were at the meetings. The
answer has been felt immediately on the menus of the most emblematic
places, which have reduced their offerings to what can be purchased in
the state retail network.

Lobster and beef have been among the first items to disappear from the
menus, as most of these products are purchased on the black market from
suppliers who circumvent police roadblocks to bring them to the city.

The law criminalizes very severely the theft and illegal slaughter of
cattle – which is nearly all slaughter of cattle outside the state
system – in addition to the "illegal abetting" of such goods. Due to the
decrease in the number of cattle, to a little more than 4 million today,
the Government considers any irregularities in the slaughter and
marketing of these animals to be a serious violation of Penal Code.

However, of the 1,700 private restaurants that offer the country has
many typical dishes known as ropa vieja and vaca frita, among other
dishes made from beef. Given the current onslaught of the authorities, a
stealthy slogan is in play: survive and wait out the storm.

Source: Cuba's Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz
Escobar – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba suspends new licenses for private eateries and warns of tighter control
By Abel Fernández

The Cuban government has temporarily suspended the issuance of new
licenses for private restaurants, popularly known as paladares, and has
intensified the scrutiny of those already operating in Havana, warning
owners that they must obey established regulations, Reuters reported Monday.

In the past six weeks, some owners of paladares have been summoned for
meetings with municipal government representatives in Havana and warned
about alleged violations being committed, such as tax evasion, buying
supplies on the black market or operating illegal bars.

Some of the private entrepreneurs who have taken part in these meetings
said they expect tighter controls on existing regulations and visits by
inspectors and auditors.

Cuban entrepreneur Niuris Higueras, owner of the popular Atelier
paladar, said she was called to a meeting at the municipal offices of
Havana's Poder Popular (People's Power), where representatives of
several state institutions, including the National Tax Administration
Office (ONAT) and police participated. The meeting, she said, gave her
peace of mind.

"I thought it was going to be very tense, but it was not," Higueras
said. "They were very communicative. They even told us that our
businesses are important to the economy and that there were
irregularities not only in private business, but in state-owned
businesses as well. Basically it was for everyone to know that they knew
there were illegal acts being committed.

"It's like they were issuing a fair warning," she said.

According to Higueras, some of the problems mentioned in the meeting
"are real." The authorities mentioned as major issues the use of public
parking to accommodate paladares customers, buying supplies on the black
market, tax violation and money laundering and even prostitution rings
and illegal drugs used in some places.

"These things are really happening," Higueras said."They are doing
inspections. I know that there will be more control."

According to Cuban law, private restaurants have a capacity limit of 50
seats and must buy supplies in state-owned stores, despite the high
price of the products sold by the government.

There are hundreds of paladares operating in Havana.

Some, like La Guarida, have become famous for being frequently visited
by U.S. celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, actress
Natalie Portman and singer Madonna. President Barack Obama and his
family had dinner at the San Cristóbal paladar during his visit to the
island in March.

The tightening of government measures to regulate the paladares comes as
the number of tourists visiting the island has increased exponentially.
Cuba recently reported that some 3 million tourists have visited the
country so far this year. The number of commercial flights to the island
from the United States also has increased: The number of U.S. visitors
to Cuba is expected to reach 300,000 by the end of the year.

Source: Cuba suspends new licenses for paladares and warns of tighter
control | In Cuba Today - Continue reading
Maykel González Vivero: "You cannot imagine what a cell is like"
DDC | Madrid | 14 de Octubre de 2016 - 09:16 CEST.

Journalist Maykel González Vivero, a DIARIO DE CUBA collaborator, was
released Wednesday after spending three days in a cell in Baracoa, where
he had been travelled to report on the ravages of Hurricane Matthew.

"You have to experience that to understand what it is like, and to
really know Cuba. You cannot imagine what one of those cells is like. It
has to be one of the worst things in the world," he told DIARIO DE CUBA
shortly before boarding a bus bound for Guantánamo.

González Vivero's arrest marked the start of a State Security onslaught
against journalists not linked to the official media who were trying to
report on the situation facing the inhabitants of Guantánamo villages
after Matthew's devastating passage.

On Wednesday nine workers for the Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood
Journalism) website, including its director, Elaine Díaz, were arrested
as well in Baracoa and transferred to Guantánamo, confirmed family sources.

"I was just conducting interviews," said González Vivero about his
arrest. "When I was arrested I was interviewing the president of a CDR
(Revolutionary Defense Committee)," he added.

He specified that he was arrested by State Security and taken to a
police station.

"There was some delay, as if they were deciding what to do with me, and
they ended up confiscating all my things and putting me in a cell," he
said. "I was isolated, they wouldn't let me talk to my family, and they
denied me access to a lawyer. Poor medical care, when I asked for it.
The support I received was from the other prisoners. From the others,
nothing but mistreatment."

Vivero González explained that at first the regime's agents informed him
that he had been arrested "in the interest of State Security" but "they
later invented a crime: illicit economic activity."

"They took my computer and camera. I'm going to file a complaint with
the Prosecutor's Office in Guantánamo," he said.

The reporter noted that he met two dissidents in jail: Víctor Campa,
from Santiago de Cuba; and Emilio Almaguer, who had received donations
to aid the victims in Baracoa. The rest were common criminals.

"I heard their stories. I learned so many things. It hurt, and I would
have tried to avoid it, but I learned a lot," said González Vivero.
"They told me to 'talk, talk about everything that is going on.'"

"You feel that you have no rights, that you cannot demand anything.
There was a large sign at the entrance to the jail explaining the rights
of prisoners. I was supposed to be able to see a lawyer at any time, but
they never let me see mine (...) They never let me call anyone. They
said they would, but they didn´t," he explained.

As for the support he received from the common prisoners, he explained:
"The first night I was able to bathe because a prisoner, accused of
robbery, lent me a towel and some soap. I was able to communicate with
my family thanks to a prisoner who still had not had his mobile
confiscated. He did me the favor, spending his own credit, of calling
for me. He was a baker who had been arrested because some of the bread
he had produced was underweight," he explained.

González Vivero estimated that in the end there were about 14 people in
the cell. "Apparently they carried out a raid yesterday," he said.

Maykel González Vivero resides in Sagua la Grande and recently lost his
job at the local radio station for writing for independent media.

On his way to the area affected by the hurricane he wrote an article for
DIARIO DE CUBA: "On the Road to Baracoa After Matthew's Passage," in
which he criticized the political propaganda in the midst of disaster.

Source: Maykel González Vivero: "You cannot imagine what a cell is like"
| Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Cuban youths, LGBT community enjoy nightlife, dream of better future
Some youths pick remaining on island over U.S. migration
By Hatzel Vela - Reporter
Posted: 6:33 PM, September 20, 2016

SANATA CLARA, Cuba - The night starts with a stop by the Camilo Theater,
inside the tallest building in Santa Clara, Cuba, in what's known as the
Santa Clara Libre Hotel.

Inside one of the rooms that used to be a movie theater, a popular cover
band plays the Beatles songs– in the early years of the Cuban
revolution, that such music was banned.

Outside the theater, in Parque Vidal, couples dance to the merengue and

The main square is packed with hundreds of people, mostly teens.

When Local 10 News spoke with several of them, they were not afraid to
talk about being young in Cuba and their future on the communist
Caribbean island.

Leisi Ruiz, 15, wants to study medicine, but like many young people in
Cuba moving to the U.S. is part of the plan as well.

Leisi, who is in ninth grade, begins to share details about her life,
and how her father is in the U.S. But as she's opening up another teen
interrupts her and explains how there is money to be made in the U.S.

That teen's family, who also lives abroad, told him life is better in

"Here you work a year, you work your whole life and you don't see the
fruits of your labor," Jorge Luis Quintero,16, said.

That's the reason Quintero wants to skip college and go straight to work.

But for Alain Cardet, 18, leaving the island through Latin America, or
by way of the Florida Straits, is too risky.

Diana Gattorno, 15, echoes that feeling.

"I can't see myself living there," she, said, added that she's happy
living on the island but would like to travel more.

Walk down Marta Abreu Street and three blocks down there's another busy
hang out. It's called El Menjunje, a state-run cultural center with a
gay theme on Saturday nights.

So while music is important, it's only secondary to drag queens performing.

Ramon Silverio has been running the place 33 years and said he never
imagined things would get to this point.

"It's been a struggle, a lot of years of work to change
things," Silverio said, adding that Santa Clara has been privileged in
the sense that local communist leaders have been allies of the lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Gay patrons said they have their own story to tell.

Lazaro, who would only give his first time, lives in the U.S., and
recalls a time when gay men in Cuba couldn't go out much, police would
ask for identification and sometimes would toss gay men in jail for no
particular reason other than being gay.

It was a bad nightmare Lazaro wants to put behind him.

Angel Fernandez Falcon, 52, also remembers being jailed for simply being

He now thanks El Menjunje, along with President Raul Castro's
daughter, Mariela Castro, for her work as an advocate of the LGBT
community in Cuba.

Castro is often criticized by independents activist who continue to
claim they're often harassed for being gay and publicly critical of the
Cuban government.

This story is part of a series on, which seeks to document
the current state of economy in a small Cuban town. Santa Clara, which
is in the central part of the country, made history when the first
commercial flight from the U.S. landed on Aug. 31. With added commercial
flights and tourism, Local 10 News is exploring a growing private sector
and overall life in what likely will become a tourist destination for

Source: Cuban youths, LGBT community enjoy nightlife, dream of better...
- Continue reading
Tarará's Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Tarará's Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Cradle Of Illegal Lobster / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 18 August 2016 – The Surgidero de Batabanó, a fishing
port with a little over 5,000 inhabitants, seems a place forgotten by
modernity and development. However, among its humble homes and
deteriorating streets lies one of the main centers of the illegal
lobster trade that supplies Havana.

With an abundance of shellfish on the seabed, the economy of this
coastal area, belonging to the province of Mayabeque, centers around the
Industrial Fish Company and the Seafood Factory, but also the illegal
capture of the queen of Cuban tables, the demand for which has grown
with the increase in tourism and the expansion of private restaurants.

While glamorous dining locales have given rise in recent years to a
lobster dish that never costs less than 15 Cuban convertible pesos, in
Surgidero de Batabanó it is a common food on the tables of the poorest
inhabitants. Most of their streets may be unpaved and at night the town
is boring and dark, but the sea guards the greatest wealth all the
residents there possess.

From their humble houses, hidden in suitcases under clothing,
camouflaged with ingenious covers and pursued by the police who control
the roads, travel the lobster tails that end up on the menu of the
finest Havana paladares, the capital city's private restaurants.

Source: The Cradle Of Illegal Lobster / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading