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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
Will Trump Open A Pandora's Box Of Litigation Over Cuban Property?
If the president fails to continue the suspension of Title III, business
relations will be disrupted far more severely and irreparably than they
would be by any regulatory change.
07/10/2017 02:34 pm ET

Long before the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce finish
writing the new regulations that President Trump ordered to restrict
trade and travel to Cuba, the president will face another decision on
relations with Havana that could be far more consequential for U.S.
businesses. By July 16, he will have to decide whether to continue
suspending certain provisions of Title III of the Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (also known as Helms-Burton, after its

If he allows Title III to go fully into effect, he will open the door to
as many as 200,0000 lawsuits by U.S. nationals whose property was taken
by the Cuban government after 1959.

U.S. courts would be swamped, the ability of U.S. companies to do
business on the island would be crippled, and allies abroad might
retaliate for U.S. suits brought against their companies in Cuba. The
tangle of resulting litigation would take years to unwind.

Title III allows U.S. nationals to file suit in U.S. courts against
anyone "trafficking" in their confiscated property in Cuba—that is,
anyone assuming an equity stake in it or profiting from it. The U.S.
Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has certified 5,913 claims of U.S.
nationals whose property was seized. These are the claims that Cuba and
the United States had begun to discuss during the Obama administration.

But Title III takes the unusual position of allowing naturalized Cuban
Americans who lost property to also file suit against alleged
traffickers. Normally, international law recognizes the sovereign right
of governments to dispose of the property of their own citizens.
According to the Department of State, by including Cuban Americans who
were not U.S. citizens when their property was taken, Title III creates
the potential for an estimated 75,000-200,000 claims worth "tens of
billions of dollars."

Back in 1996, angry opposition from U.S. allies Canada, Mexico, and
Western Europe, whose companies doing business in Cuba would be the
targets of Title III law suits, led President Bill Clinton to insist on
a presidential waiver provision in Title III when Congress was debating
the law. As a result, the president has the authority to suspend for six
months the right to file Title III law suits, and he can renew that
suspension indefinitely. Every six months since the Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, successive presidents, Democrat
and Republican alike, have continued the suspension of Title III.

If President Trump does not renew the suspension by July 16, however,
claimants will be free to file Title III law suits by the tens of
thousands. Once the suits have been filed, there will be no way to undo
the resulting legal chaos.

When the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, U.S.
allies in the Americas and Europe denounced its extraterritorial reach.
Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom passed laws prohibiting
compliance with it. The European Union filed a complaint with the World
Trade Organization, which it dropped after President Clinton suspended
Title III. In fact, the principal justification both President Clinton
and President George W. Bush offered for continuing the suspension was
the need to maintain cooperation with European allies.

If President Trump does not renew the suspension, all these old wounds
with allies will be reopened as U.S. claimants try to haul foreign
companies into U.S. courts for doing business in Cuba. We already have
enough tough issues on our agenda with Mexico, Canada, and Europe
without adding another one.

U.S. businesses would not be exempt from potential liability. A Cuban
American family in Miami claims to have owned the land on which José
Martí International Airport was built, so any U.S. carrier using the air
field could be sued under Title III. Another family that owned the Port
of Santiago could file suit against U.S. cruise ships docking there.

Moreover, it would be almost impossible for a U.S. company to know in
advance whether a proposed business opportunity in Cuba might become the
subject of Title III litigation. "This will effectively end for decades
any attempt to restore trade between the U.S. and Cuba," attorney Robert
Muse told the Tampa Bay Times.

Explaining the new trade and travel regulations that President Trump
announced on June 16, senior administration officials said they were
designed "to not disrupt existing business" that U.S. companies were
doing in Cuba. If the president fails to continue the suspension of
Title III, business relations will be disrupted far more severely and
irreparably than they would be by any regulatory change.

Source: Will Trump Open A Pandora's Box Of Litigation Over Cuban
Property? | HuffPost - Continue reading
Cuba policy change: Poultry exports could be impacted
By Mary Sell Montgomery Bureau Jun 25, 2017

MONTGOMERY – Agriculture officials and industry leaders in Alabama for
years have lobbied for expanded exports to socialist Cuba, a country
where they see a promising market for the state's poultry products.

Now they're waiting to see what President Donald Trump's recent, more
restrictive policy change with Cuba will mean for the millions of tons
of poultry that leave Mobile for the island nation every month.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan last week said exports to
Cuba could be impacted by that country's response to the president's

"Particularly, with Raul Castro stepping down in early '18," McMillan
said. "We're going to be anxious to see what the Cuban government's
policy is going to be.

"If something undesirable happens there, that would be on the Cuba
side," he said. "We hope that doesn't happen."

Earlier this month, Trump said the U.S. would impose new limits on U.S.
travelers to the island, and ban any payments to the military-linked
conglomerate that controls much of the island's tourism industry, the
Associated Press reported.

Trump also declared "the harboring of criminals and fugitives will end.
You have no choice. It will end."

He said the U.S. would consider lifting those and other restrictions
only after Cuba returned fugitives and made a series of other internal
changes, including freeing political prisoners, allowing freedom of
assembly, and holding free elections.

Cuba's foreign minister later rejected the policy change, saying, "We
will never negotiate under pressure or under threat." He also said Cuba
refuses to return U.S. fugitives who have received asylum in Cuba.

About 7 million tons of poultry are shipped from the Port of Mobile each
month to Cuba. But Cuba has other options for importing agriculture
products, McMillan said, including Mexico, South America and Canada.

"They have choices. Some of those choices may be more expensive, that
may be our advantage," said McMillan, who has taken multiple trips to
Cuba and advocated for expanded agriculture exports.

There are human rights violations in China, but no one is cutting off
trade there, McMillan said.

"The bottom line, I think, is that the best way to format change down
there is to continue trade with them," he said.

Armando de Quesada of Hartselle disagrees. He was 10 when he fled Cuba
in 1962. On this issue, he agrees with Trump.

"Any dollars that go to Cuba automatically go to the Castro regime,"
Quesada said. "It's not like here. Over there, the government owns
everything. There's no benefit to the Cuban people."

Growth of private industry is limited, and Quesada doesn't think opening
relations between the two countries will effect change.

"I don't think enriching them helps the cause of freedom," he said. "It
doesn't help the people."

Ag shipments to Cuba weren't part of former President Barack Obama's
policy with the socialist country. In 2000, Congress began allowing a
limited amount of agriculture exports to Cuba.

"We've been trading with them for some time," said Johnny Adams,
executive director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association. While
Obama made it easier, it's still cumbersome, he said.

"We're not allowed to give them credit. They have to pay us up front
through a third party," Adams said. "Normalizing trade would make it a
lot easier."

Like McMillan, Adams has been to Cuba multiple times.

"We have the highest quality, most reasonably priced poultry in the
world and we're 90 miles away," Adams said.

"Hopefully, everyone can sit down and work things out between the two
countries," Adams said. "We've enjoyed our relationship with the Cuban
people, and would like to see it get better."

Source: Cuba policy change: Poultry exports could be impacted | State
Capital | - Continue reading
KO y una nueva trumpada, editorial 486 20 Junio, 2017 8:13 pm por Primavera Digital en Cuba La Habana, Cuba, Redacción Habana, (PD) El régimen militar totalitario castrista ha reaccionado como era de esperar frente al anuncio hecho por el presidente estadounidense Donald Trump de la nueva política que llevará adelante su administración sobre el […] Continue reading
Will Congress pass bills to encourage Cuba trade, farm labor changes?
The view from the Louisiana Secretary of Agriculture
David Bennett | Jun 12, 2017

With crop prices low and too many rural communities economically
sluggish, recent news out of the White House hasn't helped disperse
lingering dark clouds. The Trump administration put forth a budget that
would slash USDA programs, has made rumblings that trade advances made
late last year with Cuba would be rolled back and hasn't seemed to focus
on continuing calls from the U.S. agriculture sector for more foreign
farm labor.

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain – who also heads the
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) –
admits the cuts to USDA are troubling but something the White House is
open to revisit.

"If you look at the budget cuts to USDA, those are slated at 20 percent
discretionary and 8 percent overall. We're just starting the discussion
on some of the things like the Market Access Program (MAP) and the
program for farm market development. We're going to work to have money
put back into these programs. If you look at MAP, for every dollar spent
we get back almost $50 in sales. That's all about trade.

"So, we'll be working with (Agriculture Secretary) Sonny Perdue on that.
We already visited on this about two weeks ago when I was in Washington.
That was a topic of intense discussion along with Ray Starling, the
president's advisor on agriculture and trade. Starling and I will talk
again (June 8)."

At the end of the day, "especially since the commodity section of the
agriculture budget is such a small portion of the overall federal
budget, we'll make significant strides in putting some of those dollars
back. When you look at the value of those programs, they spur rural
economic development and that enhances the overall commerce of the
entire United States.

"Look at the Office of Rural Development. Producers will remember when a
number of offices were shut down a few years back. Right now, the
offices have to be within 30 miles of each other on average. Get farther
apart than that and people won't take advantage of their services. They
don't want to have to drive an hour.

"They're also talking about cutting 970 positions from the Farm Services
Agency. But this is only where the discussions begin and the next farm
bill will likely take more than a year to draft. We all understand our
money must be invested wisely because the farm bill impacts agriculture,
which is the largest industry in America."

As for Cuba, Kurt Guidry, an LSU agricultural economist, says there is
"definitely potential for trade impacting the Mid-South. For fiscal year
2014/2015, Cuba's total agriculture imports were at $1.9 billion. The
United States had about a $300 million share of that, mostly in poultry.
We sold them about $30 million each of soybeans and corn."

While no U.S. rice was sold to in 2014 "if you look at it historically,
we used to sell a lot to Cuba. In 2014, of that $1.9 billion in Cuban
imports, about 11 percent of that was rice. That would mean about a $200
million to $250 million market for our rice. That's significant and
would mean a nice opening for Mid-South rice growers.

"If you take the ag commodities we were exporting in the late 1950s and
consider it in current dollars, it would about a $600 million market for
us. The credit restrictions are really hampering our export efforts. We
can't sell to them on credit so they go elsewhere to find what they need."

Strain's belief agricultural trade with Cuba won't be pushed back is
buoyed by action in Congress. "There has been a potential compromise
reached with (Arkansas) Rep. Crawford's bill. That would allow private
institutions, not government, to enter into agreements and more
normalization of trade with Cuba.

"In return, there would be a 2 percent surcharge or export tariff or
duty paid for by the seller. That would go into a fund at the U.S.
Treasury for reparation claims to draw from. That's on the table and
both sides are working on it.

"If we can start trade through that mechanism then I'll support it. My
understanding is that is gaining strength in Congress."

What about immigrant farm labor?

"There's also a bill in Congress introduced by (Louisiana) Rep. (Clay)
Higgins addressing farm labor," says Strain. "It would provide for a
three-year returning guest worker. The first year, the worker would
count against the cap (on numbers of workers allowed into the country)
and the last two years they wouldn't count.

"I'm a supporter of that approach. I've long been an advocate of a
returning guest worker provision where you would have to go through all
the red tape only one time."

Is the White House amenable to greasing the skids for farm labor?

"I think so. I don't think it's the White House's intent, at all, to
restrict labor for agriculture. I think the White House understands that
without those laborers the work simply won't get done. We all know that.
Those returning guest workers actually protect American jobs. They
average guest worker protects four American jobs."

Source: Strain Louisiana Mid-South Cuba trade farm labor H-2B - Continue reading
Should US Entrepreneurs Make Their Way to Cuba?
Entrepreneurs: this could be big.
By James Paine
Founder, West Realty Advisors@JamesCPaine

There's a new possible hotspot for entrepreneurship that might surprise
you: Cuba.

Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba are warming up, many
entrepreneurs see the island nation as an intriguing choice. When former
President Obama announced that he'd like to open up relations with Cuba,
thoughts of tourism and trade arose.

For entrepreneurs, Cuba could be a land of untapped potential.

Cuba has a struggling economy, but it also has a population of roughly
11 million -- and is a short flight from Florida.

Not long after Obama's announcement, companies started to dip their toe
in the Cuban market. While trade policies have been slightly relaxed,
it's still not a situation where a U.S. company could open up in Cuba.

Tourism rose roughly 20 percent after Obama's 2014 announcement and more
than 94,000 U.S. tourists visited Cuba in the first quarter of 2016, but
it's still a complex web for businesses.

In 2015, American companies such as PepsiCo, Caterpillar, Boeing and
American Airlines were present at the Havana International Fair, an
event usually sparsely attended by the U.S.

However, the hurdles toward building a successful business in Cuba are
endless. In addition to the lack of infrastructure in Cuba (it's still
largely a cash-based society, with little availability for plastic), the
U.S.-Cuba embargo remains in place.

There are still avenues for a determined American entrepreneur, though.

Experts have said that entrepreneurs who visit the island are more
interested in real estate opportunities, the hospitality industry and
establishing small factories in a 180-square-mile "free zone" outside of
Havana. Foreign entrepreneurs are able to own and operate businesses in
that zone, but only after being granted approval from the Communist Party.

Right now, most of the entrepreneurship is happening natively, as Cubans
start to gain more economical power thanks to the influx of tourism
dollars. The country's policies are still very insular, leading
Americans and other foreigners to work more with entrepreneurial Cubans
than trying to curry favor with the Communist Party in order to own a

Still, the seeds are being planted. Largely popular airline Southwest
recently opened up routes to Havana, and Carnival Cruise Lines docks in
the capital city, as well. It may take years for Western companies to
operate out of Cuba, but these are promising steps toward that future.

There are ways for entrepreneurs to gain a foothold within Cuba, but it
takes some coordination and teamwork. Americans are able to go into
business with Cuban entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas as they are known.
The Cuban government allows these cuentapropistas to operate taxis,
shops and restaurants.

Right now, they are the best conduit for American entrepreneurship in
Cuba. Working with a cuentapropista is a great first step for the
determined entrepreneur wanting to learn more about business operations
in the island nation.

As more tourism comes to Cuba, that revenue could fuel a change in
thinking. Currently, the Cuban government and the Communist Party
strictly prefers that Western business practices stay away from the
island. But with an influx of tourism money, that could change,
especially if Cuba uses this money to build out infrastructure.

While it might be easier now (though still an arduous process) to travel
to Cuba as a tourist, it does not seem that the land is totally open for
business yet.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not
those of


Source: Should US Entrepreneurs Make Their Way to Cuba? | - Continue reading
Cuba then and now: LGBT progress is real
As the country opens its doors even farther, U.S. fundamentalists are
looking for influence and to proselytize — not a good omen for LGBT Cubans.
Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News Jun 5, 2017

It was 20 years ago when I first reported on the state of LGBT life in
Cuba, and the differences between then and now could not be more apparent.

Start with the procedure to arrange my travel to the island nation. In
1997, as an out LGBT journalist, I received no assistance from the U.S.
government — except the warning that I could have trouble re-entering
the United States, since the U.S. government might not recognize LGBT
reporters as legitimate journalists.

As for Cuba, its embassy refused to return calls.

As with most Cuba-bound Americans, I had to travel via Mexico and
arrange hotel and other necessities through third- and fourth-party
connections. At times, it was almost cloak-and-dagger.

Today, travel protocols made my arrangements vastly easier than 20 years
ago. The Cuban Embassy not only sped up my visa, it arranged for me to
have official Cuban press credentials, which it also did for other U.S.
LGBT media on the same trip.

That ease of entry symbolizes Cuba's attempt to open its society — and
go after the lucrative LGBT tourism market.

My trip could not have been timed better, since Cuba was about to
commemorate the 10th annual International Day Against Homophobia and
Transphobia, spearheaded in the country by the Cuban National Center for
Sex Education. CENESEX is headed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of the
current president of Cuba and niece to its former president, Fidel Castro.

Understanding religion's role
My first evening's dinner was spent with an old friend and U.S. gay
pioneer, the Rev. Troy Perry of the LGBT-inclusive Metropolitan
Community Church, who was scheduled to receive an award from CENESEX.

We dined with members of his Cuban church, whose pastor is Elaine
Saralegui, an out lesbian from Matanzas, Cuba. Their work holds a mirror
up to the religious complexity of the Cuban people.

The Roman Catholic Church estimates that 60–70 percent of Cubans
identify as Catholic, with Protestants — like MCC members — making up
only about 5 percent. Many from both denominations also embrace
practices of the African-Caribbean Santería faith.

As the country opens its doors even farther, U.S. fundamentalists are
looking for influence and to proselytize — not a good omen for LGBT Cubans.

But Perry's church has a distinction: It is the first official
non-government LGBT organization in Cuba. Perry takes pride in stating
that Cuba now becomes the 34th nation with MCC churches.

The distinctions and progress don't end there. Perry says that while the
Catholic Church in Cuba imports its priests from other Latin countries,
all MCC churches will have Cuban-born ministers.

The first is Saralegui, making her the first out lesbian activist in
Cuba. She says, with a grin, that she identifies as an LGBT Christian

Saralegui was inspired by Perry's work two years ago and asked her
bishop about creating a church for LGBT people. A few disagreements
later, MCC Matanzas — a city that considers itself Cuba's art capital —
became Cuba's first out church.

When she's not tending the church, Saralegui travels the country
performing liturgies for LGBT Cubans and anyone else who wants to hear
her message of inclusion.

"I want our community to be proud," she says with a smile through a

When I ask her if she's had any issues from members of the LGBT
community about her activism, she smiles broadly and states, "Some don't
believe you can be Christian and gay."

Overcoming Cuba's dark past
Cuba's past often clashes with its present — and the government's
relative embrace of the LGBT community today belies its shameful past.

Meet Luis. Now 74, he survived one of Cuba's labor camps for gay men in
the 1960s. At 16, Luis was taken to a camp, which was apparently
unsurprising since, he smiles and says, "Everyone in my neighborhood
said I was that way." He soon discovered what his time in detention
would comprise: "The second day they yelled and yelled at me, 'Be a man,
be a man.' All day.

"They never hit those of us in the camps; they only spoke at us."

On most days, the men had to sit through what today we'd call
re-programming. "They had signs everywhere: 'The revolution needs men.'
And they kept telling us we had to be men and gay people were not men."
They also heard frequently from the psychologist camp officials brought
in from Havana.

In another attempt at reeducation, the men were put to work.

According to Luis, there were many camps and each held about 120 men.
The hard physical labor was supposed to make one a hard (read: straight)

As to numbers, Luis tells me several thousand gay inmates were housed in
a section of Cuba far from Havana.

Luis is not clear about how he left the camp, but he knows what he did

"My old life was no more and I couldn't go home or get work so I went to
the capital," he recalled. "I told them I lost my papers and was given
new papers; they never knew about my past life."

He studied and became a technical draftsman. He found love, and settled
into life.

The government used to deny it had such camps, but before his death,
Fidel Castro admitted it and apologized. Luis, a short, jovial man,
wanted a personal apology and he eventually received it from another
Castro — CENESEX's Mariela.

When I ask what he thinks the future holds for Cuba's LGBT community, he
shrugs and says he's "hopeful." He wants people not to forget their
history, but he doesn't want that connection to the past to impede progress.

It's a hard line he walks, but he does it with a joyous style.

A couple of days later I watched him dancing at the CENESEX rally, doing
a rhumba with his friends. Luis was enjoying life and its new freedoms,
but never letting go of those memories of a different time.

Nascent LGBT tourism industry
The reality is that you can't judge Cuba on its treatment of LGBT people
in the past. Louis wants to live for today, and in today's Cuba, at
least for the LGBT community, things have changed.

My tour guide, Leandro Velazco, says of LGBT tourism: "We have bars,
nightly 'inclusion' parties, a couple of good restaurants, a state-run
LGBT organization, occasional festivals and even Grindr." When I look
quizzically at him, he tells me about something called Planet Romeo,
which he said was the first LGBT social-networking site to hit Cuba
several years ago. His business,, like many in Cuba,
is adjusting to the internet, hoping that the promise of LGBT tourism in
Cuba becomes a reality.

I thought of that as I marched in the International Day Against
Homophobia and Transphobia rally, along with almost 1,000 Cubans. They
shouted socialist slogans peppered with "End Homophobia and Transphobia
Now." There were no corporate sponsors, and it looked more like a gay
Pride celebration than a march of defiance. At the rally, there were a
few speeches and then a dance and festival. CENESEX used the event for
HIV education, condom distribution and testing.

There's no question Cuba wants to get into the gay tourism game. There
are at least four LGBT tour-guide sites on the web and numerous
individuals and travel groups in the United States who specialize in
LGBT Cuban tourism.

Cuba is home to great weather, beaches, mountains, incredible colonial
architecture and some of the most hospitable people you'll ever meet. It
also sometimes seems the country is in a time capsule.

That can be a curse or a charm.

The old Buicks and Chevys are an example. They're charming, but their
prevalence reminds visitors that new cars are out of reach for many
Cubans — although that has begun to change, as has the hospitality
industry, which languished for years. On the way to the airport, you
notice parking lots full of new taxis and tour buses waiting for the
explosion of tourists.

Cubans call their country "The Pearl of the Caribbean," but that pearl
is still trapped by the U.S. embargo. It's a touchy subject here — some
claim the embargo is keeping this country in economic turmoil, while
others say it is the government's political repression that stifles Cuba.

Either way, it wreaks havoc on tourism. There is not one place in all of
Cuba that you can use an American credit card. Therefore, cash is a
requirement. How many Americans want to travel with a wad of cash in
their pockets?

Still, Cubans themselves say they want change — and no longer to feel
like pawns of two governments.

This article originally appeared in Phildelphia Gay News.

Source: Cuba then and now: LGBT progress is real | Lifestyle | - 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
Protests mark decade of LGBT activism in Cuba

Calling for same-sex marriage, Cubans have chanted "revolution yes,
homophobia no" in the streets of Havana. Until the early 1980s, gays and
lesbians were routinely rounded up and forced to work in labor camps.

Hundreds of Cuban nationals gathered in the streets of central Havana on
Saturday to protest homophobia and demand the introduction of same-sex
Waving the Cuban flag and rainbow banners, protesters chanted
"revolution yes, homophobia no" as they marched down the seaside
promenade of Malecon.
Mariela Castro, LGBT activist and daughter of Cuban President Raul
Castro, joined the protesters, saying that a proposal to legalize
same-sex marriage has been under discussion for years and could be
introduced at the next Communist Party congress.
Mariela Castro, who heads the National Center for Sexual Education, said
the government needed to do more for the LGBT community, given its
history of persecution.
From the 1959 revolution that marked the country's seismic
transformation to a communist nation through to the early 1980s, gays
and lesbians were considered deviants, routinely rounded up and forced
to work in labor camps.

Mariela Castro, one of Cuba's most visible LGBT activists, joined the
protesters to call for more rights
'Most important thing'
The demonstration also marked the 10th anniversary of the Cuban
Conference against Homophobia and Transphobia, which has pushed the
government to officially recognize the LGBT community and secure its rights.
Francisco Rodriguez, LGBT activist and journalist at the state-owned
newspaper Trabajadores, said while several issues still needed to be
addressed, progress had been made over the past decade.
"Perhaps the most important thing that has been achieved in these 10
years is to make the public aware of the issue, and also to ensure that
it is no longer politically correct in Cuba to be homophobic or
transphobic," Rodriguez said.
In 2010, former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who led the country's
revolution, described the repression of the LGBT community under his
watch as a "great injustice."

Source: Protests mark decade of LGBT activism in Cuba | News | DW.COM |
14.05.2017 - 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
Why Cuba's Brain Drain Looks Different

COLLEGE PARK, Md., May 15, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Cuba is
experiencing a brain drain, though it's not the kind that forecasters
were predicting when the long-closed country began opening its borders.
It's internal brain drain, says Rebecca Bellinger, managing director of
the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business Office of
Global Initiatives and Center for International Business Education and

The small island nation's doctors and other highly skilled workers
aren't emigrating for more lucrative jobs in Miami and elsewhere. In
fact, they aren't emigrating at all. They're staying in Cuba, but moving
toward the burgeoning hospitality sector.

And it's posing a major new threat to Cuba, Bellinger says. „Cubans are
deciding that they'll have a higher quality of life if they enter the
travel and service industry."

To be sure, some highly skilled Cubans – doctors, lawyers, professors
and others – are leaving the country in search of opportunity. But many
more who are staying in Cuba are opting to leave their jobs because of
low state salaries or are taking on second jobs, becoming taxi drivers,
waiters and bellhops – jobs involving regular interaction with foreign
visitors and their hard currency. The government is experiencing a sort
of „drain" as well, as state workers flee their jobs for the more
lucrative private sector.

„These are people who are leaving the jobs for which they have been
trained," Bellinger says. „Last year, we met an English teacher who left
his rural school position to become a tour guide, both to use the
language he had learned and to gain access to hard currency."

Cuba's universities have long been regarded as the best in Latin
America, but in recent years, gross enrollment has been plummeting,
sparking additional worries.

The country maintains two forms of legal tender: the Cuban peso (CUP)
and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The CUC is pegged to the U.S.
dollar, and is many times more valuable than the CUP. Neither trades on
the global forex market. Most Cubans are paid in the weaker peso (CUP),
limiting their buying power. Visitors to the country use the CUC and
leave tips, and that's helping to fuel Cuba's internal brain drain.

Bellinger has been traveling to Cuba since 2010, studying what's
happening there as she forges experiential learning opportunities for
students and collaborative partnerships with the University of Havana
and its associated research centers. As part of her work with NAFSA, the
Association of International Educators, she has worked with the Office
of Foreign Assets Control, a Treasury Department unit that manages
sanctions, to educate the higher education community in the U.S. on
regulations that govern legal travel to Cuba. She also leads the CIBER
Faculty Development in International Business (FDIB) Program to Cuba for
faculty from across the U.S.

She has seen an uneven upturn in travel, steep in Havana, but shallow
everywhere else.

„Last year, we were told by a hotel manager that Havana has 100 percent
capacity in hotels all year long," she says. The capital city is so full
of foreign travelers today that it's scarcely recognizable from even a
year ago.

Travel to Cuba's secondary cities, meanwhile, has been generally missing
the boom. That's in large part because U.S. travelers have faced highly
restrictive travel conditions in the past and may not be aware of what
the island has to offer outside of Havana.

To be approved for travel to Cuba, Americans must have an itinerary that
aligns with one of 12 approved purposes, which include religious
activities, journalism, humanitarian projects and people-to-people
outreach. „And tourism is not one of them. This is not a destination
that U.S. citizens can just explore for sun and sand," Bellinger says.
That has kept most U.S. travelers in Havana for now, but gradually that
will change, Bellinger says, as U.S. relations with Cuba continue to evolve.

As Cuba looks to its future, Bellinger says, it must focus on these
eight things.

Support economic reforms: This has already begun, Bellinger notes, but
much work remains. The economic reforms announced in 2010 have
encouraged development and job creation in the non-state sector, which
has eased the financial burden on the state. Over 500,000 Cubans are now
self-employed in their own microenterprises and private cooperatives,
but the regulations that govern these businesses are still constraining.
For example, private restaurants are able to have only 50 seats, and
private companies are not permitted to import any goods or foodstuff to
support their business.

Address the dual currency issue: Rebuild the country around a single
currency, to level the playing field for Cubans and increase consumer

Address salary issue: Traditionally esteemed, high-skilled work should
be appropriately compensated, to counter brain drain tendencies in the

Invest in innovative capacity: „Because of Cuba's history," Bellinger
says, „it does not lack the ability to innovate. Just think about the
old jalopies." Closed off from much global trade, Cubans have long found
ways to maintain and retrofit 50-year-old automobiles. „That type of
innovation exists," she says, „but so do impressive global innovations
in health, biomedical and pharmaceutical fields.

Ease access to information: Access to the internet has increased in
Cuba, with about 2,000 homes in Havana authorized to receive the
internet directly and with the number of Wi-Fi hotspots growing
virtually every day. „It is fantastic," Bellinger says, „that the
government is no longer afraid of giving people access to information."
The country should encourage the democratization of the internet,
allowing greater accessibility at a fair and level price, she adds. In
most countries, internet prices are determined based on the amount of
data used. In Cuba, users are charged based on the types of websites
visited, with domestic websites costing less than foreign ones. Some
foreign websites are still blocked in Cuba.

Educate a generation of business leaders: For a half-century beginning
around 1960, the economy was generally controlled by the Cuban
government. Now, the country faces a crisis in business education: Who
will educate the next generation of business leaders, job creators and
entrepreneurs? The reforms that have allowed for the creation of private
business have not been supported with education, meaning that the
individuals starting and running small businesses do not have access to
the formal training they need to be successful. The Catholic Church has
begun a program that's similar to a masters of business program, and a
Miami-based nonprofit is doing some startup business training on what
Bellinger describes as „a very small scale." But education remains an
area where Cuba prohibits joint ventures with foreign entities, so
prospects for business education remain murky.

Improve transportation and infrastructure: Cuba has infrastructure
problems, „first and foremost," Bellinger says, making travel cumbersome
between Havana and the country's secondary cities. Addressing those
problem would spread economic development across the island.

Choose democracy: Elections are planned for 2018, when Cuban President
Raul Castro plans to step down. „But if there's going to be an election,
is it going to be fair? Who will be the key players? We don't know,"
Bellinger says. „It's as important as ever that Cuba listen to its

Central to her suggestions is the notion of investing in human capital.
„At the end of the day," Bellinger says, „if you don't invest in human
capital – if you don't invest in your workforce – nothing is going to
change in Cuba."

Visit Smith Brain Trust for related content
at and
follow on Twitter @SmithBrainTrust.

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized
leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and
schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School
offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online
MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as
outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its
degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North
America and Asia.

Contact: Greg Muraski at 301-892-0973 or

Source: Why Cuba's Brain Drain Looks Different | satPRnews - Continue reading
LGBTQ Americans meet in Havana with fellow Cuban activists

A delegation of American LGBTQ advocates met Saturday in Havana with
"leaders of Cuban civil society" who are demanding that the government
there recognize marriage for same-sex couples and create legal
protections for transgender Cubans.

The group from the U.S., organized by Cuban-American civil-rights
attorney Tico Almeida, includes Brad Sears, executive director of the
Williams Institute think tank at UCLA Law School; trans activist Dana
Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland; and Nadine Smith,
CEO of Equality Florida.

"I began my activism helping to found the International Gay and Lesbian
Youth Organization in the '80s and I'm pleased to have an opportunity to
return to those roots by connecting with activists in Cuba," Smith told
the Miami Herald just before she traveled to Havana.

"Florida has a special connection to the people of Cuba. Our state has
been a destination of hope and a beacon of light in the midst of a
brutal regime," Smith said. "Now, as a new, more open day dawns we must
maintain that relationship as the LGBT community worldwide continues the
fight for basic equality, justice and dignity under the law."

A year ago, Almeida and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson were in
Cuba for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events. In
Havana, they met with Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National
Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

Before this week's trip to Havana, Almeida said he wants to "create
stronger connections" between LGBTQ people in Cuba and the United
States, and also hopes that Congress lifts all travel restrictions to
the island.

"Business leaders at our top companies like American Airlines, Google,
and Facebook have helped build bridges between Americans and the Cuban
people, and it's also important for the LGBT movement in the United
States to create stronger connections with the brave gay and lesbian
Cubans who are petitioning their government for the freedom to marry the
person they love," Almeida told the Herald.

"While we wait for the United States Congress to repeal the absurd
travel ban that still restricts Americans' freedom to travel to Cuba, we
can participate in legal 'people to people' travel opportunities that
allow us to meet with leaders of Cuban civil society and exchange ideas
about promoting fairness and equality for LGBT people in both countries."

Some Cuban-American LGBTQ activists in Miami are skeptical about the visit.

"While it's important to engage the Cuban people, I would be extremely
concerned about creating optics that support the Cuban Regime — a regime
that continues to suppress its people and the people of Venezuela," SAVE
Executive Director Tony Lima posted Saturday on Facebook.

"It is telling that Cuba's leading LGBTQ rights activist is the straight
daughter [Mariela Castro] of Raul Castro. We must not forget ONE family
has controlled Cuba for nearly six decades with brutal implications for
LGBTQ people during the far majority of that time," Lima continued. "I
hope the current LGBTQ delegation in Cuba will reach out to those voices
outside the regime and will be sensitive to its complex and painful
implications in our South Florida community. Be it Cuba, Venezuela or
Syria, we must all be vigilant in promoting basic human rights."

Herb Sosa, president of Unity Coalition, Miami's Hispanic LGBTQ-rights
group, said his organization "supports any and all efforts to assist the
Cuban people on the island in their path to civil liberties & freedom."

But, he added:

"Unity Coalition has maintained communications with dozens of LGBT
activists on the island — most of whom are routinely arrested, beaten,
jailed and kept away from these sort of media circus opportunities
orchestrated by the Castros. The real activists fighting for change in
Cuba are not allowed to meet with these well-intentioned U.S. activists."

Source: LGBTQ Americans meet in Havana with fellow Cuban activists |
Miami Herald - Continue reading
Sand Mountain tractor company still trying to sell to Cuba after 2 years
Tuesday, May 9th 2017, 1:07 am CEDT
By Stephen McLamb

A Sand Mountain company is still trying to get into Cuba to sell its
tractors two years after announcing its plans.

Cleber LLC hoped to become one of the first companies to do business
there after former President Barack Obama eased restrictions with the

READ MORE: Tractor design aimed for Cuba based off Paint Rock model

In 2015, Cleber LLC president Horace Clemmons hoped for his new tractor
company to be the first in Cuba.

"Cuba is going to push more responsibility on the local farmers. We
decided the best thing we could do is build the most cost-effective
tractor," Clemmons said in 2015.

Two years later, they're now building that tractor.

"Well, in Cuba, the embargo has not been lifted so we're not able to
produce tractors in Cuba yet, but what we learned from Cuba is what we
created had global applications," said Locky Catron with Cleber LLC.

So they're now trying to sell in other nations what they can't bring to
Cuba just yet.

"We've shipped tractors to Peru, Ethiopia and Australia, but really the
most important part of our business is the local aspect," said Catron.

The Oggun tractor runs around $12,000 and is designed for the small farmer.

Clemmons said Cuba has around 300,000 farmers and just 60,000 tractors.

"Until the embargo is completely lifted, then nobody will be able to do
anything in Cuba, so that's why our focus has come back to U.S.
farmers to come back to farmers in the developing world," said Catron.

The Cleber company will be showing off their tractor at a couple of
locations in Cullman and Marshall counties over the next couple of weeks.

Video on this link:

Source: Sand Mountain tractor company still trying to sell to Cuba after
- WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL - Continue reading
University Entrance Exams Begin With "Extraordinary Measures" Against Fraud

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 4 May 2017 — Early Wednesday
morning Karel wasn't sleeping. He spent it turning somersaults in bed
and solving math problems. Together with thousands of students across
the country, the young man presented himself at the Mathematics entrance
exam for higher education. "It was complicated, but I answered all the
questions," he said smiling to his mother as he returned home.

As of this Wednesday, high school classrooms are filled with nervous
gestures and students who are playing with their professional future on
a piece of paper. Most have been preparing for this moment for months,
and many have had to pay for a private tutor who prepares them to
successfully pass the tests.

"I'm a little anxious, but I feel safe because I've studied a lot," said
a twelfth grader from Old Havana minutes before the buzzer announced the
start of the first entrance exam. My strength is geometry and I didn't
like the problems at all," he confessed.

The Mathematics exam started off the admission tests for Higher
Education throughout the country. More than 45,000 high school graduates
took part, the young men after finishing their Active Military Service,
and the girls who completed Women's Voluntary Military Service.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of university students fell by more
than half: from more than 206,000 students throughout the country to 90,691

Other applicants take the tests through competition. All, without
exception, set their sights on continuing higher education in a country
where university diplomas are less valued every day.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of university students fell by more
than half: from more than 206,000 students throughout the country to
90,691. The causes for this decline are manifold and the specialists do
not agree, but economic imperatives are among the incentives for an
increasing number of young people to prefer to go to work as soon as

The situation contrasts with the massive admissions to higher education
that characterized national education for decades. Previously, tens of
thousands of professionals graduated, many of whom are now engaged in
occupations not related to their specialties.

Finding a chemical engineer working as a bartender in a hotel or a
biochemist driving a private taxi has become a "normal anomaly" in the
Cuban system.

"My family cannot afford for me to be in a classroom for five more
years," says Rodney Calzadilla, 18, a food vendor in Matanzas
province. The mother of the young man has a degree in Economics, but she
"always told me that the most important thing is to be useful, not to
have a diploma hanging on the living room wall," he says.

Of the 539,952 Cubans who worked in the private sector at the end of
January of this year, or for themselves, more than 3,000 are under the
age of 20

Of the 539,952 Cubans who worked in the private sector at the end of
January of this year, or for themselves, more than 3,000 are under the
age of 20.

At the conclusion of the exams this May, the list will be drawn up,
which also takes into account the average of students' grades in high
school. Those with the best grades and test scores have priority to
choose one of the 83,840 places in higher education that are offered for
the 2017-2018 school year, of which the most desired by young people are
the 36,705 in the regular day course.

But the entrance exams are complicated. In June 2014, a fraud scandal
shook the most important tests in Cuban education. The incident involved
five pre-university teachers, a provincial-level methodologist at the
Ministry of Education, a print shop worker, and another citizen not
linked to educational institutions.

A year later they returned to the eye of the hurricane, when the
Ministry of Education recognized that "the approach of the question 4 of
the examination of Mathematics" was subject "to several
interpretations." Faced with the massive complaints from the students,
the authorities were forced to evaluate only section A, discarding
section B.

"This year we have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sanctity
of examinations, " a source at the Ministry of Higher Education told
14ymedio. The official, who requested anonymity, believes that "previous
incidents have greatly damaged the image and confidence of students in
this process, so we are committed to changing that impression."

Next Monday the Spanish test will be administered and the calendar
concludes on Thursday, May 11 with History, the most ideological subject
in the curriculum

Next Monday, the Spanish test will be administered and the calendar
concludes on Thursday, May 11 with History, the most ideological subject
in the curriculum of the schools of the Island.

For the History exam the students are preparing themselves on this
occasion on subjects related to the deceased ex-president Fidel
Castro. "What goes, goes," says María Julia, a teacher of the specialty
that organizes private tutoring in Havana's Playa district.

"The main question of the test almost always is related to some
anniversary or historical figure that is important in the current year,"
clarifies the teacher. "It's clear there will be one or two questions
about him, that's for sure." With a degree in History, María Julia has
drilled her students in "the concept of Revolution" and Fidel Castro's
"biographical data."

"For students who do poorly on the math test, the most difficult of all,
it is possible to raise the average with History, which is easier,"
admits the teacher. "For those who aren't that comfortable with numbers,
if they have a good grasp of politics, they have a chance on this test."

Source: University Entrance Exams Begin With "Extraordinary Measures"
Against Fraud – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
When The Abuser Is The Government

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the
third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class
to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other
children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of
Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today
she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.
She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her

Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul
Castro's daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against
homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes
the family in order to "understand what it is about, to help the girls
and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the
school," says the sexologist.

Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is
"fairly low," an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her
lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official
figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal
experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies
of bullying in the educational environment surface.

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel
Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under
the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic
robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more
typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread
of those of us who attended these schools.

I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the
water tower of the People's Republic of Romania High School in what is
now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures
of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central
hallway during the evening's recreation hour when we felt the thud of
his body landing on the concrete.

His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in
the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury
a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him:
abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists –
fortunately he didn't die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat
up a tenth grader for "having feathers," i.e. being effeminate.

However, abuse in the schools doesn't end there. There are many ways to
harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates,
nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or
group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the
consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict
psychological damage.

A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las
Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent
psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters
worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who
behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the
leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.

Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new
type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character
assassination that would be laughable if it weren't aimed at destroying
her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like
that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power,
persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.

The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy
lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected
by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its
schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity
that the problem presents.

Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection
of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for
all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical
blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in
their schools.

Source: When The Abuser Is The Government – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Trade with Cuba remains a priority for potato, wheat officials
A team from Potatoes USA recently returned from an "informational
exchange mission" in Cuba.
John O'ConnellCapital Press
Published on May 1, 2017 10:06AM
Last changed on May 1, 2017 2:51PM

A team from Potatoes USA tours a potato field in Cuba. Cuba plans to
evaluate seed from the U.S. in trials this fall, though market
restrictions still make trade difficult.

DENVER — Though efforts to normalize trade relations with Cuba have been
in limbo under President Donald Trump, some potato and wheat industry
leaders have continued making inroads in the market.

A team of 16 board members, seed potato growers and agronomists,
representing Potatoes USA, recently returned from a five-day
"informational exchange mission" to Cuba. Kansas Wheat officials say
they've also been active in laying the groundwork for future trade
opportunities with Cuba.

The U.S. has had an embargo against Cuba for decades. Exceptions under a
2000 law allow for exporting U.S. food products and commodities into
Cuba — which have totaled more than $5.3 billion since Dec. 2001,
according to John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and
Economic Council Inc.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. entered discussions with Cuba
aimed at addressing trade barriers. Kaviluch explained the U.S. requires
Cuban buyers to pay cash rather than extending them credit, prohibits
Cuban businesses from having bank accounts in the U.S. and places
restrictions on the use of the U.S. dollar in transactions with Cuba.

Questions still linger about more than $1.8 billion still owed to U.S.
businesses who had assets taken after the Cuban Revolution. Food product
and agricultural commodities exported to Cuba are processed through the
Bureau of Industry and Security, under the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Kaviluch said another trade obstacle is that "Cuba is consistently late
in paying those who they owe money to."

Kaviluch said Obama left office before the major questions were
resolved. Trump has voiced concerns about Obama's Cuban policy, sending
a Twitter message in late November 2016: "If Cuba is unwilling to make a
better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people and the U.S.
as a whole, I will terminate the deal."

Laura Johnson, marketing bureau chief with the Idaho State Department of
Agriculture, said ISDA has added Cuba to the list of potential
destinations when it seeks industry input on state-sponsored trade
missions, though the industry chose Taiwan and Vietnam for the next
mission, scheduled for November.

Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs with Kansas Wheat,
believes Trump will keep an open mind toward "finding the best deal
possible" with Cuba, which could represent a 50-million-bushel wheat
market. Kansas Wheat officials gave a Cuban team a tour of their state's
wheat production last October and made their own trip to Cuba a month later.

"At this point, I think we're probably in a holding pattern," Heady
said. "That doesn't mean doing outreach and still doing trade missions
and talking with people is a waste of time."

Kansas Wheat supports a bill by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to normalize
trade with Cuba, and also participates in coalitions advocating for the
cause — Engage Cuba and Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

The Potatoes USA team visited Cuba on March 27-31, meeting with the
nation's Ministry of Foreign Commercial Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture
and potato growers in the countryside. According to a press release, the
Cuban government hopes to revive its domestic potato industry, which has
declined significantly during the past two decades, and will need to
import high-quality seed. Potatoes are one of eight foods controlled by
the Cuban government for distribution and price.

The Cuban government hopes to conduct trials beginning this fall to
assess how U.S. seed varieties perform in their tropical climate,
according to the press release.

"Based on successes in the Dominican Republic and Central America,
Potatoes USA and the U.S. seed potato growers are confident U.S.
suppliers can provide potato seed to help improve yields in Cuba,"
Potatoes USA Chief Marketing Officer John Toaspern said in the press

Source: Trade with Cuba remains a priority for potato, wheat officials -
- Capital Press - Continue reading
Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook

Cuba, battling a chronic energy deficit, has all the sunshine, wind and
sugar to fuel what should be a booming renewables sector - if only it
could find the money.

The country's first utility-scale renewable energy project, a biomass
plant in Ciro Redondo, is finally under construction thanks to an
injection of funds from China, a socialist ally and in recent years, the
communist-led island's merchant bank of last resort.

Turning Cuba's renewables potential into reality has become a state
priority over the past year since crisis-stricken ally Venezuela slashed
subsidized oil shipments to Cuba that were supposed to help power its
traditional plants.

Some foreign players in green energy, such as Spain's Gamesa and
Germany's Siemens, have shown early interest in the country. But the
overall paucity of foreign financing means that this project, being
carried out by Cuban-British joint venture Biopower, is still the
exception rather than the rule.

The financing puzzle is a crucial one to solve if cash-strapped Cuba is
to hit its target of renewables filling 24 percent of its energy needs
by 2030, up from 4 percent today, a strategy that would require billions
of dollars in investment.

The government announced last July it was rationing energy, raising
fears of a return to the crippling blackouts of the "Special Period"
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The energy shortage comes at a
time when growing tourism and private business creation are generating
greater demand.

"The most challenging thing we have had to deal with in the last six
years of developing this project has been the financing," said Biopower
President Andrew Macdonald, while touring the site of the Ciro Redondo

The Scotsman, who has been doing business with Cuba for more than a
decade, said the U.S. blockade had "strangled" funding from Europe "and
other obvious sources", with banks afraid of sanctions.

His start-up Havana Energy joined forces with a subsidiary of domestic
sugar monopoly Azcuba to create Biopower in 2012, with a contract to
build five plants attached to sugar mills.

The plants are projected to use sugar cane byproduct bagasse and
fast-growing woody weed marabu as biofuels, costing around $800 million
to add some 300 MW to the grid.

Biopower was finally able this year to start building the first one,
thanks to a decision by China's Shanghai Electric Group Ltd to buy an
equity stake in Havana Energy. The JV is now looking for external
financing for the next four plants.

"We have to check whether the funders are open for the Cuban market or
not," said Zhengyue Chen, former investment manager at Shanghai Electric
and current Biopower chief financial officer.


Some international companies have shown an interest in gaining a
foothold in the slowly opening Cuban market, encouraged by a three-year
old investment law that allows full foreign ownership of renewables

Cuba last year signed a deal with Spain's Gamesa for the construction of
seven wind-powered plants and with Siemens for the upgrade of the
creaking power grid.

These are just preliminary agreements, however, which may not become
concrete contracts, Western diplomats based in Havana say, given
difficulty agreeing on a financing framework and actually securing the

On top of the U.S. trade embargo, which frightens banks from offering
Cuba loans, Cuba's payment capacity is questionable. While it has
improved its debt servicing record under President Raul Castro, it is
falling behind on paying foreign providers.

And it has little to offer as payment guarantees in hard currency. Its
state electricity utility generates revenue in Cuban pesos, which are
not traded internationally, only into convertible Cuban pesos at a
state-fixed rate. The government has promised to unify those two
currencies, but it is unclear how.

"If no currency indexation is provided from the government, significant
devaluation poses a great threat to investors' revenue," said World Bank
renewable energy expert Yao Zhao.

Moreover Cuba does not belong to multilateral institutions like the
Inter-American Development Bank that could provide external guarantees.


That is likely to force further reliance on China, already Cuba's top
creditor in recent years, having offered loans as a way to hike trade
with the island. Shanghai Electric is importing and building the Ciro
Redondo plant, as well as helping finance it.

Project Manager Li Hui, already directing excavators shifting earth on
site, said he will stay on after the factory is built as the head of the
company's first branch in Cuba.

"We will hand them over a fully-functioning power plant," he said,
adding that Shanghai Electric had to bring over new building equipment
because the Cuban ones were antiquated and lacked spare parts.

But even Chinese largesse may have its limits. Chen said Biopower was
now in discussions with overseas funders, mainly from Europe, and hoped
to secure commercial funds for the second plant by the end of this year.

Macdonald said he hoped his project would be part of the launch of many
foreign participations in the energy sector.

"But today, we are still pioneers," he said.

(Editing by Christian Plumb and Edward Tobin)

Source: Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook | Reuters - Continue reading
Mariela Castro promotes pro-LGBT 'legislative package' in Cuba

The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro on Wednesday said there is a
"legislative package" that would extend rights to LGBT Cubans.
Diario de Cuba, an independent website that is blocked in Cuba, reported
Mariela Castro, who is director of the country's National Center for
Sexual Education, did not provide specific details when she spoke to
reporters at her organization's headquarters in Havana's Vedado
neighborhood. Mariela Castro said the Cuban National Assembly could
consider the package once they approve proposed constitutional reforms,
which Diario de Cuba said could take place in 2018.
"We have a lot of aspirations," she said, according to Diario de Cuba.
"Sometimes we don't have enough working groups or sufficient
understanding of the effect that certain changes can have."
"These proposals are studied and analyzed in order not to do things
superficially," added Mariela Castro.
Diario de Cuba reported Mariela Castro made the comments after she
signed an agreement with the U.N. Population Fund and the Dutch
government to implement the second phrase of a project that is designed
to promote "sexual education, sexual health and human rights" on the
Communist island.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on
Wednesday reported on the agreement that Mariela Castro signed. It's
coverage did not mention the legislative package about which she spoke.

IDAHOT events to take place in Cuba in May
Mariela Castro's comments come less than two months before her
organization, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, will hold a
series of events in Havana and the city of Santa Clara that will
commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Cuban lawmakers in 2013 approved an amendment to the country's labor law
that banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban National Assembly, voted
against the proposal because it did not include gender identity.
Cuba's national health care system has offered free sex-reassignment
surgeries since 2008. Independent LGBT rights advocates and critics of
the Cuban government maintain only a few dozen people have been able to
undergo the procedure.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who died last November, in 2010
apologized for sending thousands of gay men and others deemed unfit for
military service in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution to labor
camps known as Military Units to Aid Production. The Cuban government
also forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria
until 1993.
The Cuban constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Mariela Castro, who is former Cuban President Fidel Castro's niece, in
recent years has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for
same-sex couples.
She noted hate crimes remain a problem in countries in which gays and
lesbians can legally marry in remarks that she made earlier this month
at a film festival in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. Mariela Castro,
who is a member of the Cuban National Assembly, also said the country
does not "like to copy anyone" as she discussed why the country has yet
to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
LGBT rights advocates who work independently of Mariela Castro and
CENESEX in 2015 launched a campaign that urged Cubans to sign a petition
in support of the issue. They hoped it would spur lawmakers to publicly
debate the issue.
The activists have criticized Mariela Castro for not publicly supporting
their campaign that appears to have stalled. They have also told the
Washington Blade that Cuban authorities routinely harass and even detain
them for publicly criticizing Mariela Castro and her father's government.
The Blade has reached out to several Cuban LGBT rights advocates — those
who support Mariela Castro and work independently of her and CENESEX —
for reaction to her latest comments.

Source: Mariela Castro promotes pro-LGBT 'legislative package' in Cuba - Continue reading
Perdue supports expanded trade with Cuba
James Williams 8:35 p.m. CT March 27, 2017

USDA Secretary designate Sonny Perdue is an exceptionally qualified
nominee to lead the USDA. Mr. Perdue has long been an advocate of
expanding trade with Cuba's $2 billion agricultural import market. We're
very optimistic that Mr. Perdue will be confirmed by the Senate and will
continue to support American agribusiness by advancing efforts to lift
the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In an exchange with committee member Senator John Boozman from Arkansas,
Perdue said, "with respect to Cuba, for those of you on the Gulf Coast
and those along the East Coast as well as those who have been mentioned
by your colleagues in the upper Midwest, I think we would love to have
Cuba as a customer in many things.

As Mr. Perdue notes, American producers are able to sell their products
to Cuba. However, they are unable to offer private financing for the
sale of agricultural commodities to Cuba. As a result, American farmers
have consistently lost market share in Cuba's market every year since
2009. While this restriction is codified in law and would require an act
of Congress, Mr. Perdue went on to announce his support for legislative
efforts to remove these financing restrictions.

"So I think we have the product they need and they would like the
product. The real issue I heard regarding Cuba was the financing part
and certainly that would come probably under another area, not the USDA,
but I would support their efforts if we could get private financing,"
Perdue said, referring to the bipartisan Cuba Agricultural Exports
Act which would remove restrictions on offering credit for the export of
agricultural commodities to Cuba.

That bill has been introduced by Congressman Rick Crawford from Arkansas
in the House and Senators Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and John
Boozman from Arkansas.

Williams is president of Engage Cuba

Source: Perdue supports expanded trade with 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
How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in Business
The challenge of running a restaurant "a la izquierda"
by Suzanne Cope Mar 21, 2017, 2:02pm EDT

On a recent January evening, tourists and a few Habaneros sat under a
palm frond canopy sipping rum cocktails, listening to a live band
playing Cuban folk songs — and eating notoriously difficult-to-procure
lobster, a special of the day.

California Cafe, a paladar, or newly legal, privately owned restaurant
in a country where the state has controlled almost all businesses for
the past half century, is owned by a couple who met in San Francisco.
Paver Core Broche is Cuban, Shona Baum is American, and they decided to
return to Havana to open a restaurant in February 2015, not long after
the regulations for private businesses started loosening.

"In some ways it was really easy," Baum says about the process of
opening a paladar in Havana. "You can't even open a coffee cart in San
Francisco without a million permits and tons of money, and here… we
bought the space, and applied for a license, and it didn't take that long."

But in Cuba, most businesses can't simply call up a bulk vendor or
wholesaler purveyor to place a produce order, since most means of
production are controlled by the government. The country uses two
currencies, Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) and Cuban pesos (CUPs), the
former tied to the U.S. dollar and known as the "tourist currency," the
latter, valued at 1/25th of the CUC, used by the government to pay its
oversized labor force. (Paladares and private businesses might charge in
either.) Running a restaurant can be complicated in the best of
situations, but it's especially challenging in a country where most
aspects of daily life are tightly regulated — and where much of the
economy operates a la izquierda, or "on the left."

As California Cafe grew, both Baum (who works the front of the house)
and Broche (who cooks) had to learn to navigate the labyrinth of
sourcing food and supplies in a place where the state-run corner bodega
might have 100 imported fruit cakes on the shelf but no toilet paper.
Baum says the reality in Cuba is that product availability is sporadic.
"When they have mayonnaise, they have three million [jars of]
mayonnaise, and then it's gone and they have three million of something
else," she says.

To find many necessary items — from condiments to serving plates — one
has to travel around the city visiting various markets. That process can
quickly become time-consuming, and Broche and Baum hired a full-time
person to help with sourcing. They also rent a storeroom to stockpile
enough nonperishables to last a few weeks of service, and they plan
their menu around ingredients that are usually available. The result is
a style they call "Californian-Cuban fusion," with vegetable-heavy
dishes like pork and vegetable "California" skewers.

But the inconsistent availability of products is only one aspect of
sourcing that makes operating a paladar a complicated endeavor in
Havana. The other is the persistence of a la izquierda — the Cuban black
market. There are many ingredients and products needed by restaurants
that are either illegal to buy or else often expensive or scarce, such
as lobster or non-processed cheese. And staples like toilet paper,
vinegar, and beer can also suddenly become hard to find, or "esta
perdido," (literally "it's lost"), Baum says. Numerous restaurant owners
note that if they want to stay in business, they have to buy certain
things a la izquierda.

Alexi, a paladar owner near Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago de
Cuba, worked for many years in the state-owned hotel industry before
opening his own open-air restaurant with tented tables right on the
Caribbean. "You must be enterprising to get all of the things you need
for your restaurant," he says. "Today we have something, but tomorrow it
will be quite difficult to get that same thing … and it is illegal to
buy some things. For example, the government has made all kinds of
seafood illegal to buy. So sometimes I have to buy products other ways."

The Cuban black market works in many ways to circumvent the government's
control of goods. One is the common — and complicated — practice of
state-owned-store employees holding back certain goods to sell a la
izquierda, while accepting pay-offs for other goods — procured illegally
by individuals — to be sold in their shop instead. The government has
strict regulations on the sale of almost every food sourced, from
seafood to coffee to tomatoes, setting the harvest goals and prices for
each farmer or fisherman and prohibiting the sale of excess through
private channels. To make extra money, almost any person within the
supply chain might reserve products to be sold at a price he or she

Buying products a la izquierda is so integrated into daily Cuban life
that it often does not look much different than most other transactions
to the average non-Cuban — these sales aren't all happening in dark
alleys with secret handshakes. Rather, there is a complex system of
bribery and separate record-keeping that many employees of both state-
and private-run businesses take part in.

Both Alexi and a former military cook, Marcus, who lives in Santiago de
Cuba, attribute this in part to the government prioritizing state-run
restaurants and hotels when they distribute the best-quality food. "If I
have a good paladar, then that means people are going to eat at my
paladar and they are not going to be a good customer for the
government," Marcus says. "That's [the government's] loss, and they
don't want that." Marcus is currently attending a military cooking
school, but hopes to soon work in a tourist hotel and eventually own his
own restaurant, a dream that wouldn't have been possible just a few
years ago.

Paladares were technically legalized in the 1990s, partially in reaction
to a mass poisoning in an illegal restaurant, when a cook accidentally
added rat poison to the food. However, they were highly regulated, and
it was difficult to obtain their required permits until the 2011
economic reforms under Raúl Castro's leadership. These reforms made
opening paladares much easier — and in 2016, the government announced
plans to ease other private ownership laws as well, paving the way for
individuals to open a variety of private businesses.

These changes, along with the revised laws allowing United States
citizens to more easily travel and send money to the island, have helped
the number of paladares swell. After President Barack Obama restored
diplomatic relations with Cuba in mid-2015, U.S. tourism to the country
hit an all-time high, with 615,000 travelers visiting Cuba from the U.S.
in 2016.

However, the support for this quickly growing class of business has not
been enough to sustain them, particularly as competition increases.
There have been reports of food shortages for locals in part due to the
demand of private restaurants (although some Cubans are equally quick to
blame farmer strikes and government disorganization over the emerging
private sector). Leo, one of the owners of the popular Havana paladar
Havana Blue, has noted the number of paladares that have already come
and gone in his quickly changing city. "There are some that open and
then close," he says. "Not because of lack of demand. It's also bad
management. Many people don't have the foggiest idea because they have
never run a restaurant before."

The government, for its part, has made some effort to support paladares,
at least in gesture. It opened a version of a wholesale market, but
multiple paladar owners question its usefulness. The prices aren't any
cheaper than a retail market, and availability is still often
unpredictable. "People pull up and the beer is gone in two minutes,"
Baum says.

Baum also says that the national bank reached out to small business
owners in the last two years to offer loans. While commonplace in the
United States, this kind of credit is mostly unheard of in Cuba. Yet
when Baum asked about interest rates, the bank associate was vague.
"'Don't worry, we'll give you a good rate!'" was the answer.

Ministry of Agriculture journalist Jose Ignacio Fleitas Adan says the
government is working to do better. "There's an intention, and also
projects and plans, to increase food production and availability," he
says, echoing the official government response. "Es complicado," he adds
with a laugh.

And that seems to be the one truism about food sourcing in Cuba,
particularly when one is running a business. Baum mentions two
restaurants nearby that were shut down recently. "They just
disappeared," she says. "Basically, they were doing illegal things. So
there's a lot of fear around what's going to happen next." She questions
whether more crackdowns are coming for those who buy goods a la izquierda.

What were those shuttered restaurant doing that was more illegal than
what anyone else is doing? Baum pursed her lips. This answer, too, was
complicado. "I spoke with someone who ate there, and they had dried
cranberries on their salad. Which is great, but clearly dried
cranberries aren't available here." She pauses. "What you realize over
time is that there are people who are really well connected, so it's
hard for the regular people like us, and all the other people in our boat."

Still, the opportunities for business owners are lucrative. A Cuban
working in the growing service industry — as a taxi driver or a
restaurant host — can earn exponentially more than the average state
wage of around 20 to 40 CUCs per month. Many educated young Cubans are
thus leaving professions like teaching or medicine to work in the
emerging private sector. When I walked into a new Mediterranean-themed
paladar with Habanero food writer Sisi Colomina, the first question she
asked the host was, "What did you do before?" The answer: psychology.

This wage disparity also makes it easy to understand why so many people
risk buying and selling a la izquierda, or starting their own businesses
in an uncertain market, to supplement their meager income. What
successful paladares demonstrate is that capitalism can work in a
country where almost all aspects of (legal) businesses have being
tightly controlled by the state for more than 50 years.

Yet while many come to the restaurant business for monetary reasons, for
others, opening a paladar is a chance to follow their passion. "It was
always my dream — illegal or legal," Alexi says. "Cooking is an art." He
also called paladars the most popular private businesses in the country
by almost any metric: They're "the most important window for showing the
possibilities to other Cubans."

And while the challenges of food sourcing can make running a private
business in a communist state complicated, Baum does appear to love her
work. We finished our cocktail as she sang along to the band and then
did a sweep of the patio to help her servers deliver food and greet
customers she had met earlier in the week. When she sat back down, she
admitted that the business had a rocky start. But now, she says, she is
"slowly falling in love with Cuba."

Suzanne Cope is the author of Small Batch and an upcoming book on food
and revolution.
Editor: Erin DeJesus

Source: How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in
Business - Eater - Continue reading
Grow Food In Caves: The Latest Brainwave From The Ministry Of
Agriculture In Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 March 2017 — Specialists from MINAGRI, the Cuban
Ministry of Agriculture, tell us that planting seeds inside or near to
the Cuban cave network could quickly guarantee food production, which
would help to satisfy the ever-increasing requirements of the Cuban

Another insane initiative, launched by the Ministry of agriculture,
focuses on sustainable solutions to environmental problems, optimising
energy and water, improving productivity, and using human waste as compost.

It is not a new idea. Millions of years ago man took advantage of the
humidity in caves and their surroundings. How is it possible that today,
in the 21st century, the Cuban government is trying to return to the
agriculture of the cavemen?

The insane move, which includes training and the creation of
laboratories for studying the quality of water in each cave area of the
island, emerged as a response to a presumptuous and pushy ministerial
debate on the use of water in agriculture that took place last February,
where Inés María Chapman, President of the National Institute of
Hydraulic Resources spoke about the serious situation regarding this
natural resource, and Norberto Espinosa Carro, director of the Livestock
Business Group, discussed the development programme being undertaken in
the middle of straitened economic circumstances.

Anyone traveling to Cuba, even as a tourist, will know that the island
has one of the largest cave systems in the world, 70 per cent of its
territory, with the exception of Las Tunas, is composed of limestone and
calcareous rock, natural phenomenon that leads to the formation of
caverns. I doubt that farmers want to return to the caves, or that the
MINAGRI can guarantee an underground irrigation system when, over more
than 50 years, it hasn't been able to guarantee even one-third of the
national food requirement on fertile ground.

"It is called permaculture and it is a fashionable nonsense brought here
by this new Minister from his trip to Europe. And that is exactly one of
our biggest problems, the lack of organization, and Ministerial
fantasies", as we are told by one of the managers of the Institute of
Agricultural Engineering Research.

"In Cuba", he concludes, "the problem is not the water or moisture, but
the poor support for the beneficial owner of the UBPC Cooperative, the
absence of liquidity, the poor utilization of agricultural land, the
very bad selection of water sources used for irrigation and drainage,
the thousand and one legal restrictions which prevent farmers enjoying a
better life, such as building their own home on the land where they
work, the poor livestock management and shortage of cattle feed, the
shortage of manpower and technically-qualified personnel, the scarcity
of supplies and tools, the unavailability of machinery to prepare the
soil, the lack of spare parts in the areas where they work, the deficit
of qualified technical staff and work force, the lack of inputs and
tools, the non-availability of machinery for the preparation of the
land, the lack of spare parts, and the long-running errors in allocating
transport for agricultural marketing. That's all"

Translated by GH

Source: Grow Food In Caves: The Latest Brainwave From The Ministry Of
Agriculture In Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
"The LGBT community in Cuba is going through a transition"
Daniel Abma, director of 'Transit Havana' says the regime is now
integrating gays into society
Bilbao 20 MAR 2017 - 15:50 CET

"El colectivo LGTB de Cuba vive un momento de apertura y transición"
A meeting with a Belgian surgeon gave the Dutch documentary filmmaker
and human rights activist Daniel Abma the story he was looking for:
every year, Cuba invites this surgeon along with a Dutch colleague to
carry out sex reassignment surgery on five of the island's residents.
Between November 2013 and January 2015, Abma documented the lives of
three transsexuals hoping to be among the lucky five. Then, as relations
between the US and Cuba warmed, he was given a newsworthy peg on which
to hang his film.

"The regime has gone from persecuting homosexuality to using all its
propaganda machinery to promote integration," says Abma who has just
watched his documentary, Transit Havana, premiere at the LGTBI Zinegoak
2017 Film Festival in Bilbao. " But Cuban homosexuals still have to deal
with religious intolerance, poverty, discrimination and often prostitution."

Many Cuban transsexuals have no alternative than to turn to prostitution

Cuban-trained doctors do not possess the necessary know-how to perform
sex reassignment procedures, which is why the Cuban government seeks out
experts in Europe. Through him, Abma was able to get permission to
document the new transgender residents' program, headed by President
Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela.

"Mariela Castro supported us in every way. There was no control over
what we filmed and it became clear that she is a sort of mother figure
for the community," says the director, who visited the island four times
over the course of two years.

Mariela Castro is a member of Cuba's National Assembly and Director of
the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), whose push for
integration is giving the community a great deal of positive exposure
while, at the same time, making socialism a priority – the program
financing the sex reassignment surgery has adopted as its slogan:
homophobia no, socialism yes.

But it wasn't all plain sailing for Abma's project. While he was offered
unprecedented access to certain aspects of life in Cuba, some of his
footage was thought to give the wrong image of the island. "Without
Mariela's support, it would have been impossible to move so easily
around the island but when the authorities saw the results, they wanted
several changes that we didn't make," says the director, who regrets
that Mariela Castro did not show up for the premiere.

The Cuban authorities wanted some cuts to the documentary, which were

Along with Abma, the documentary's three protagonists, Odette, Malú and
Juani – three generations of different sexes facing different challenges
– were at the premiere in Bilbao. "At 64, Juani has a good life," says
Abma. "She was one of the first transsexual women and her new identity
as a man has not caused her problems."

This is not the case for Odette, who at the age of 38, has had to deal
with rejection from her family due to their religious beliefs, while
Malú, 28, was forced at times to turn to prostitution to make a living.
"Each of the three highlights the challenges that still face
transsexuals: religious prejudice, the lack of job opportunities and
social stigma," says Abma.

The director adds that Cubans are aware discrimination is wrong and
that, in the spirit of the revolution, they accept in theory that all
people are equal. But in practice traditional attitudes, combined with
Catholic convictions, mean that prejudice is widespread.

"The Church is a big problem for Odette," says Abma. "Her mother insists
that she can't be transsexual because it goes against Creation. Malú's
fight for transsexual rights has become her life and made her the leader
of the TransCuba Association. The older generation has reservations
about the country opening up, and finds it hard to understand
transsexuals. The young people are pushing for change and see the
community as normal."

The making of Transit Havana also prompted Abma to consider issues such
as how countries can implement radical change and how the most
traditional governments can turn their propaganda tools to good use. "In
Cuba, tradition exists side-by-side quite comfortably with movements
keen to open up," says Abma. "And it's Mariela Castro who is promoting
integration within the National Assembly. It's a shift that fills the
LGBTI community in many Eastern European countries with hope.
Communities can take strength from my documentary and governments can
reinforce their campaigns."

In Georgia, a transsexual was murdered on the street just days after
Transit Havana was released. But as he embarks on his next project,
these kinds of brutal responses only make the director more determined
to use cinema as a platform to bring about change and equality.

English version by Heather Galloway.

Source: Gender issues in Cuba: "The LGBT community in Cuba is going
through a transition" | In English | EL PAÍS - Continue reading
Eight Truths About Cuba That the Bikini-Clad Girls Don't Know / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 4 March 2017 — Another crazy initiative…a bit
picturesque, perhaps interesting, but totally absurd. Representatives of
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) arrive at the José
Martí Airport in Havana with the express intention of combatting animal
abuse and creating vegetarian habits on the Island.

The idea of watching young activists dressed in lettuce leaves attached
to green bikinis makes for an attractive attention-getter–and it
surprisingly reveals the enormous ignorance of many about Cuban history,
politics, culture, laws, and society.

Perhaps the authorities, as part of a "considered" neo-diplomacy, allows
these young ladies to promenade with gossamer lightness through Old
Havana, dispensing souvenirs, feeding homeless dogs, or handing out
introductory pamphlets on vegetarianism with recipes for beans and rice.
But there exists, and it is good to know this, (1) a cautionary,
provincial ordinance that more or less says the following: Anyone who
publicly goes around the Cuban capital dressed in swimwear, even when we
all know that it is a coastal city, commits a violation and could be fined.

Regarding beef, somebody should explain to the PETA activists that, ever
since July 12, 1963–creation date of the sadly famous OFICODAS (Offices
of Food Control and Distribution)–(2) Cubans have been forced to
exchange beef for chicken, 'hotdogs' and/or fish [see (4) below, there
is no fish], depending on which series is listed on the ration booklet.

In the greatest of the Greater Antilles, (3) there is as much beef
consumed as in India, where cows are considered sacred. And, besides the
facts that Cuba is (4) the only island in the world whose diet does not
feature fish and that Cubans born in that time euphemistically called
the Special Period (5) grew up without a culture of beef consumption,
(6) one pound of vegetables, in the agricultural market, competes with
pork in terms of price.

It would be useful to know who will offer lettuce to these young
lovelies because, even though Raúl Castro in 2008 started leasing
out 1.7 hectares of land in usufruct for agricultural use, (7) Cuba
still imports more than 63% of the food it consumes and the (8) fresh
lettuce offered in the restaurants of tourist hotels is not cultivated
on the Island.

A misguided plan which, save for the level of risk, is very similar to
that of the Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma–who even knowing the
fate of his ex-comrade and mentor, the Venezuelan Hugo Chávez–still
decided to travel to Havana this past 1 March to receive urgent medical
care in Cuba.

The principal enemy of people who waste time creating publicity stunts
is common sense. Now is the time for momentum, determination, and
awareness-raising about real matters, such as the disturbing rise in
the crime rate, gender-based violence, and the innumerable cases of
domestic violence. To name just a notable few.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Eight Truths About Cuba That the Bikini-Clad Girls Don't Know /
Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading