Sunday, April 23, 2017

Should U.S. Companies Hit ‘Pause’ on Doing Business in Cuba?

Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba?
Apr 20, 2017

President Trump's government has yet to reveal its hand on the issue of
reconciliation with Cuba. There had been a lot of progress towards
greater ties following President's Obama's overtures in December 2014:
Some cooperation agreements were signed – particularly in aviation and
communications — and Google and Airbnb now have a presence on the island
nation. But only about two dozen U.S. companies have taken early steps,
and there has been limited progress on other fronts, such as the
reconciliation of Cuban-Americans with the Cuban people.

And while President Trump had supported more economic ties with Cuba in
the past, just before the presidential election he reversed course. That
makes it unclear what business should expect going forward.

The overarching issue is the ongoing U.S. economic embargo, noted
Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat at the recent 2017 Wharton Latin
American Conference. Arnavat, now a senior adviser at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, had a front-row seat on U.S.-Cuba
policy as an advisor to President Obama's team on the issue. He also
represented the U.S. in 2009 at the Inter-American Development Bank
(IDB), the largest provider of development finance in Latin America.

"It would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba,
even in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done
previously," he said. Adding further to the uncertainty, Cuban President
Raul Castro is scheduled to leave office in February 2018, with no clear
successor in the wings.

Arnavat took stock of the emerging state of U.S.-Cuban ties in a
discussion with Knowledge@Wharton at the recent Wharton Latin American
conference. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton: It was a historic time in the Winter of 2014 when the
U.S. government decided that a policy that had been in place for 50
years was no longer working, and that it was time to rethink how the
U.S. and Cuba were engaging with one another, and try to normalize
relationships at whatever level was possible. Could you describe why and
how you got involved in U.S.-Cuba relations before President Obama's
policy shift on December 12, 2014?

Gustavo Arnavat: The greatest variable contributing to my interest in
Cuba has to do with the fact that I was born in Cuba. I grew up in a
very conservative, Republican household in Hialeah, Florida, and there
wasn't a day that went by that a family member, or friend or visitor
didn't criticize some element of the Cuban revolution or talked about
Cuba. So, it was impossible for me not to be interested in Cuba and
U.S.-Cuba relations as I grew up. Later, I came to understand that the
world was not black and white, and that realization and complexity made
me even more interested in the topic.

After law school, I was a lawyer focusing on sovereign finance and
corporate finance, and eventually went over to investment banking on
Wall Street. I worked on many deals, but Cuba was never part of that,
for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, there was always a part of me that
wanted to be involved, somehow. Eventually, I became involved in several
projects examining U.S policy toward Cuba, but all of that came to an
end when I joined the Obama Administration because I was at the IDB, and
Cuba wasn't a member of the IDB, and I otherwise wasn't involved in
setting Cuba policy while I worked in the Obama Administration.

Knowledge@Wharton: The major policy shift occurred in December 2014.
What do you think motivated President Obama to make such a major change?

Arnavat: The primary reason is that this was something that I think
President Obama wanted to do for a long time. When he was a senator in
Illinois, he spoke about the futility of the embargo. At the annual
luncheon of the Cuban-American National Foundation in Florida in May
2008, he said that if Cuba began to open up, starting with releasing all
political prisoners, he would begin a dialogue that could lead to
normalized relations. This was startling and unprecedented for a
presidential candidate of either political party. Anyone from Miami
knows that advocating "normalized" relations and a "dialogue" with the
Cuban government just 15 or 20 years ago was a very dangerous thing to do.

He also faced pressure from other Latin American countries, particularly
in the context of the Summit of the Americas. A number of the countries'
presidents told President Obama during the Summit in Cartagena, Colombia
in 2012, that for the next summit (in Panama City in 2015, if Cuba is
not invited, they were not going to participate. That also weighed on
the White House

Related to this, there was a growing consensus in the region – and U.S.
foreign policy –that the primary issues affecting Latin America were not
the same ones from 20, 30 or 40 years ago, which chiefly included
unstable and undemocratic governments, drug trafficking, corruption,
etc. Instead, the focus has been on trade and economic development
through integration. If you are the U.S., it's difficult to make a case
for global economic integration and certainly regional economic
integration, when Cuba is prevented from being fully integrated from an
economic perspective. Finally, President Obama felt that since the
elections of 2014 were over, he had nothing to lose from a political
perspective, and the timing was right to do what he wanted to do all along.

But very little could be done while Alan Gross remained in Cuban
custody, and the Cubans knew this to be the case. [Editor's note: Alan
Gross, a U.S. government contractor employed by the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID), was arrested in Cuba in 2009.]

Knowledge@Wharton: What was your reaction to the policy shift and what
steps did you take?

Arnavat: I was shocked. After I left the IDB, I became aware of a
growing number of Cuban Americans, particularly in Miami, who were
successful lawyers, businesspeople and bankers, who wanted to promote
engagement between the U.S. and Cuba in order to help the Cuban people
more directly. We thought, what can we do? How can we try to convince
the White House to go in a different direction? But we were extremely
pessimistic because we had witnessed very little interest on the part of
the White House, especially because of the situation with Gross.

With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon, we thought U.S.-Cuba
policy would once again be the victim of domestic political
considerations. That was despite the fact that Hillary Clinton in her
book (titled Hard Choices, published in 2014), criticized the embargo in
a very open way, and in a way that was unexpected. Some of us in
retrospect thought that was her signal to the White House to encourage
it to pursue engagement.

When the announcement was made, the thinking was, we were finally going
to be able to sit down with the Cubans, and talk to them about all the
issues that two normal countries should want to engage in, on areas of
mutual interest. Little did I know that in fact, they had been
negotiating for about 18 months, but this was an opportunity to test the
waters and see to what extent it made sense to engage diplomatically and
commercially in ways that would benefit both countries.

So a number of us provided the White House with our insights, though few
of us had very high expectations over the short-term effects of an
opening toward Cuba, especially with respect to political matters.

Knowledge@Wharton: How would you assess the progress since the winter of
2014? Has there been real progress, or as somebody once said, is it a
triumph of hope over experience?

Arnavat: I break it down into three buckets. Let's call the first bucket
official U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations. The second bucket is commercial
relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The third is Cuban-American
reconciliation issues.

On the official bilateral bucket, a lot has been accomplished. After
more than 50 years of acrimony between the two countries, diplomatic
relations were reestablished. Embassies were reopened. As part of that
process, Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,
based on an analysis conducted by the State Department with input from
our intelligence community. Regular mail service was established between
the two countries.

Migration talks were regularized, and they've become much more
substantive and more meaningful. Agreements were entered into with
respect to cooperation in law enforcement, environmental disasters and
other areas. I believe close to two dozen such agreements were reached.
A lot was accomplished given the relationship the two countries had.
However, I know that Obama Administration officials were frustrated that
more wasn't accomplished on the human rights front, although the belief
is that civil society in general has benefited because of the new policy
approach.

On the other hand, the biggest issue is the embargo, which is still in
place. Another issue relates to property claims that U.S. citizens have
against Cuba for property that was expropriated in the first few years
of the revolution. Those have still not been resolved, and they're far
from being resolved. Keep in mind, this was the primary reason why the
U.S. broke off diplomatic relations in the first place. So in that
sense, very little progress has been made.

As far as the commercial relationship is concerned, the assessment
depends on whom you talk to; the Cubans believe that a lot of progress
was made given that the embargo remains in place. On the bilateral
front, commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba were reestablished.
U.S. Airlines, as part of a process led by the Department of
Transportation, competed for those routes, and six or seven airlines won
those routes.

A number of mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon have entered into
roaming agreements with the Cuban government. You may not think that's a
big deal, except that before, there were no such roaming agreements and
it made mobile phone communications very difficult. Airbnb is there,
which is very helpful for travelers who don't want to pay for relatively
expensive hotels in Havana. Google has a presence now, and U.S. cruise
ships are sailing into Havana and bringing Americans.

However, a lot more could have been done. One of the missed
opportunities is in fact that not as many deals were done. That's bad
for a number of different reasons. One, U.S. companies have missed out.
The Cuban people and the Cuban government have missed out on great U.S.
products and services. While the Trump administration is reviewing the
policy, instead of having a hundred companies advocating, you only have
25 or 30 or so going to their congressional representatives and saying,
look, we have this business now in Cuba.

When you ask the Cuban government, they will grant that a lot of
proposals were presented to the Cuban government. The pushback came for
a variety of reasons. In some cases, the companies were too small or
were startups. They want to be able to deal with the major players. The
problem with deals that were proposed by major global corporations was
that those proposals didn't necessarily fall into one of the priority
areas in Cuba's plan for economic development.

Then, even with the right kind of company, in a priority area, they
would site the embargo. They would say that even if we wanted to do
this, we couldn't, because there's no way that U.S. companies could pay
for a service or the other way around. They are right to an extent,
because of the continuing restrictions on financial transactions, but
more important, the way those restrictions and regulations have been
interpreted by legal counsel and compliance officers at major financial
institutions around the world, especially in the U.S. They're very well
aware that if you run afoul of those regulations, you get hit with a
multi-billion-dollar fine, as has happened, even recently.

At the same time, investment conditions in Cuba are very challenging for
U.S. companies that are not accustomed to working with foreign
governments in transactions normally involving private sector companies
as counterparts. But the reality is that doing business in Cuba
necessarily means doing business with the government, and not all U.S.
companies are prepared to do that at this point.

So those are in the first two buckets. In the third bucket, on
reconciliation, Cuban-Americans are going to play some role, just as
they have played an important role in shaping U.S.-Cuba policy in the
past. I know that many Cuban government officials are not comfortable
with that involvement, but the sooner we can start to engage from that
perspective and have reconciliation, the better it is both for Cubans in
the U.S. as well as Cubans on the island. Very little has been done, or
has occurred, on that front because of the lack of mutual trust.

Knowledge@Wharton: You've just returned from Cuba. Looking at things
right now, what are the biggest opportunities in Cuba, and what are the
biggest challenges or the biggest risks?

Arnavat: Imagine you discovered a country that you didn't know existed.
You realize that less than 100 miles away from the U.S. is a country
that, if it were a U.S. state, would be the eighth-largest in
population, right after Ohio, for example. It has 11 million people who
are very well educated, despite all of the challenges in Cuba, and lack
of resources. It has software engineers, for example, who graduate from
some of the best technology universities in Cuba, but they're
underemployed. A lot of people code quite a bit in Cuba. So from a human
capital perspective, it's a country that is enormously resourceful, and
this presents a huge opportunity for U.S. companies that will invest
when they are able to do so.

From a natural resource perspective, it's a very large Caribbean
island, so it will be an important destination for tourism, or for
second homes for Americans, whenever that becomes a possibility. It's
got a health care system that is, again, very poorly resourced, but
there is a high level of training on the part of medical staff there,
and access to knowledge and technology. Some presidents in Latin America
from the ALBA countries (the 11-member Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of Our America), when they get seriously sick, they go to
Havana. Medical tourism would be of great interest as an area to invest
in if that were possible.

It is also a country that has tremendous needs from an infrastructure
perspective. The roads are quite better than a lot of places I've been
in the Caribbean, and certainly Central America. But it's a country that
needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The question, of course, is
going to be how do you pay for it? That brings us to the challenges.
There is no access to capital. It has a legal system that was set up to
support a socialist economic model, which is anachronistic and foreign
to U.S. investors. They're beginning to figure that out, and are
struggling with how to emerge and how to evolve from that. But even
those who recognize the need for change don't want that change to be
forced on them from abroad. This is an essential point to keep in mind.

Cubans are increasingly getting comfortable referring to non-state
employees or entrepreneurs as the private sector, although officially
it's called the non-state sector. I am certain that when things do open
up, and the right incentives are in place, the human capital there is
going to be such that Cuba is going to be well-placed as a market for
Americans to investment.

I'm not sure how independent the judiciary is to resolve disputes
between, let's say a foreign company, a foreign investor and an entity
where the Cuban government may have an interest. So that's obviously a
risk for any U.S. company to consider. It's a risk in any country, but
especially in a country where the government plays such an important
role in the running of the society. There is also the political risk
associated with the fact that [President Raul] Castro is supposed to
leave office on February 24 of next year, and it's always unclear as to
who's going to take over and in what direction the country will go.

If you have to put a bet, Cuba is likely to continue on a socialist
trajectory for an indefinite period of time. You also have the immediate
risk of the Trump administration in trying to decide what to do. So it
would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba, even
in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done previously.

Knowledge@Wharton: How do you think U.S. policy towards Cuba will evolve
under President Trump? You were very complimentary about President
Obama, very optimistic about reading Hillary Clinton's book and what she
said about Cuba. What's your assessment of what President Trump will do,
and what that will mean for Cuban-American relations?

Arnavat: I honestly have no idea. And I don't think anyone has any idea.
People in Cuba have no idea. It could go in lots of directions. It seems
that President Trump is not going to come out any time soon and say
we're going to continue to engage without the Cubans making any
quote-unquote "concessions."

Trump has said very little about Cuba in his career. He appeared to
entertain launching a potential campaign in the 1990s, I believe it was
in Miami he talked about how he was such a strong supporter of the
embargo and he would never do business in Cuba while the Castro brothers
were in place, etc.

Two years later, as it turns out, he sent a consultant to Cuba — a paid
consultant, to figure out how to do business in Cuba. Beginning about
six years ago up until sometime last year, people in the Trump
organization had visited Cuba, exploring opportunities in golf and
hotels, hospitality, that sort of thing. So we know that from a
commercial perspective, he definitely has been interested in doing so.
And, it makes sense, given his investments in China and other countries
that don't adhere to U.S. standards of human rights and democracy.

When President [Obama] announced the policy shift, on a few occasions,
[Trump] said that he supported the engagement. One time, I think he was
in a debate in Miami, a primary, and he said something along the lines
of, "Come on, folks, it's been over 50 years. We've got to move on.
We've got to try something else." But then about six weeks before the
election, he began to tailor his message much more to the conservatives
and the hardliners in the community. He said, "Unless the Cubans take
steps to," and I think he said, "to provide for more political freedoms
and religious freedoms, then I'm going to reverse everything." Mike
Pence said that as well shortly before and maybe after the election.

But having said that, [Trump's policies regarding Cuba are] just not
clear. There are a number of individuals who worked on [Trump's]
transition team, who are involved in the administration, who have been
very focused the last 15-20 years on enforcing the embargo, on
tightening the embargo, on making life as hard and difficult for the
Cuban government. Those people are certainly weighing in very heavily on
the policy. A policy review is ongoing, but it is unclear when they'll
be done with that and what the outcome will be. I imagine an important
consideration will be the change in government that I mentioned previously.

Knowledge@Wharton: When you met people in Havana, what did you hear from
them about how they expect relations with the U.S. to shape up?

Arnavat: Shortly after the announcement of the policy shift, something
like 97% of the Cuban people expressed they were in favor of the
engagement, and of reestablishing diplomatic relations, etc. This makes
sense, because the more Americans that travel to Cuba and invest in
Cuba, the greater the economic benefits to the Cuban people in general.

Everyone is concerned that in fact, the policy will reverse, that there
will be fewer people visiting, fewer people making investments, as a
result of a decrease in remittances that are used as seed capital to
start new businesses on the island. Even if you stay at a state-owned
hotel, you hire private taxis, and you eat in private restaurants that
are allowed under Cuban law. So a lot of people who are private
individuals are in fact benefitting because of the increase in travel
between the U.S. and Cuba. And they're very concerned about that not
occurring

Source: Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba? -
Knowledge@Wharton -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-business-should-hit-pause-on-new-u-s-cuba-ties/

Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution'

Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution'
By Will Grant
Cuba correspondent, BBC News
23 April 2017

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Slick new graphics, drum and bass theme music and young presenters: at
least in its presentation, Cuba's latest state television channel is a
break with the past.
Called Canal Caribe, it is an attempt to stand out from the stiffly
presented, heavily scripted newscasts that have aired on state TV for
decades.
The channel is trying out different formats. They include live link-ups
with international correspondents via Skype and the use of social media
sites like Twitter - simple devices that are common on most other news
channels but new for Cuban TV.
The channel's news director, Ovidio Cabrera, showed me around the station.
As one of the founders of another left-wing Latin American news service,
the Venezuelan-funded Telesur, he says this new venture will be unique
in Cuba because it will run outside the fixed midday and early-evening
slots.
"The key difference is that this will be a news and information channel
that's on air for 18 hours a day," says Mr Cabrera.
"And the vast majority of our coverage, around two-thirds, will be live."

'More revolution'
A live, round-the-clock television news channel might not sound
particularly innovative, but in Cuba such changes happen slowly.
The state-run newspaper and mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party,
Granma, has barely changed its typeface in 50 years of revolution.
The question is whether editorially Canal Caribe will be any different
from other channels on the Communist-run island and if criticism will be
broadcast.
"This is a channel for more revolution," says Mr Cabrera, immediately
squashing any suggestion that Canal Caribe will be anything less than
100% pro-government.
"We won't shy away from criticising what isn't working, from making
suggestions, from analysing and discussing social problems, but always
through the prism of supporting the revolutionary process, not against
it," he explains.
The young journalists at Canal Caribe insist that, despite the
restrictions on them, they will report issues that matter to ordinary
people.
"As an intern [working in state media] here, I was told a lot of rules I
found to be nonsense," says news anchor Luis Miguel Cabrera in fluent
English.
"And I'm really proud that I've experienced how those rules have been -
I can't say 'changed' exactly - but certainly made more flexible."
Not yet in his thirties, Mr Cabrera presents The World Now programme and
believes that Canal Caribe is evidence of changing media attitudes in Cuba.
"I have personally experienced that I could report the sort of issues
that one couldn't do in the past. So I think that we have that
responsibility to push hard in order to change things that we don't find
representative of what is going on, not only in Cuba but in the world as
well."
That said, he is a realist and knows the editorial environment in which
he works.
"You have to keep in mind that this is a state-owned channel. But I
believe that we can responsibly show on TV what is going in Cuba and
what is representative of the Cuban people," he says.
Change under way
The way Cubans are consuming their news is undoubtedly changing.
"I haven't watched state TV in years", a young music video producer
tells me.
"I get all my information from the Weekly Package" he adds, referring to
an offline form of file-sharing in Cuba using hard-drives which is both
cheap and hugely popular.
There are also now about 100 public wi-fi spots dotted across the island
and most young people would rather pay for an hour of Internet access
than tune into the nightly news.
Canal Caribe may be the Cuban Government's attempt to tackle that, but
they will find it hard to engage the island's youth.
A pilot scheme has just ended to allow Internet connections in private
homes and theoretically should soon become more widely available.

Essential message
One Cuban blogger, Ariel Montenegro, thinks the days of the Internet
being perceived as dangerous by the authorities may now be numbered.
"I don't believe that the Cuban Government believes right now that the
Internet is bad and is going to be bad for the country and for the
revolution and for socialism and so on," he says, sitting in a public
wi-fi spot.
Although getting online is still slow and expensive, he says, he is
broadly optimistic about the future of the island's connectivity.
Part of the Canal Caribe newsroom is a building site as they construct a
completely new set while inside the on-air studio, the young team of
journalists is preparing to broadcast live again.

In a rapidly changing media environment, the Cuban government is acutely
aware that the slogans of the past no longer appeal to many young people.
With a round-the-clock news channel, they are hoping to become more
relevant to their audience again while still delivering the same
essential message.

Source: Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution' - BBC
News - http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39631864

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water

Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze
when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his
wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar
Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated
neighborhood of La Victoria, in the heart of Havana.

A couple of cylindrical metallic tanks that can carry 55 gallons of
water each are attached to the truck. At seven o'clock in the morning,
when the city listens as a symphonized tune, a trail of alarm clocks,
and Havanans get ready to go to work or school, Antonio unloads dozens
of buckets to several customers in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo.

"Two years ago, for filling a 55-gallon tank, I charged 50 Cuban pesos
(equivalent to two dollars) but now, because of the drought which is
causing some scarcity, the price has risen to 60 pesos for each tank,"
Antonio explains, while lunching on a serving of congrí rice, pork steak
and cole slaw and cucumber in a private restaurant.

After five o'clock in the afternoon he goes back to the capital's
neighborhood to sell the water. In one day he can earn 500 pesos, about
20 dollars. "In addition to earning money, I keep in shape," he says,
and shows his trained biceps after almost twenty years carrying buckets
of water.

In Havana there are more than 170,000 units that do not receive drinking
water in their homes. Some of them due to breaks in the pipes and others
because with aluminum sheets and pieces of cardboard and veneers they
have raised frightening shacks without bathrooms and lacking the most
basic conditions for human life.

According to an official of the state-run Aguas de La Habana, "these
people are supposed to receive water in (state) tanker trucks. But
because of the lack of gasoline, the drought that affects the country or
simply corruption, the 'pipers' sell water to those who can pay, and
thousands of families do not receive water in a timely manner."

In Cuba, plagued with a dysfunctional government and low productivity
that generates scarcity, anything can become a business. Why not water.

From aguateros, like Antonio, who travel through the cracked streets of
the old part of Havana selling water, to the tanker trucks of the state
companies that also profit from the precious liquid.

"A full tank at this time costs between 25 and 30 pesos Cuban
convertible pesos (about 25-30 dollars US). And demand outstrips
supply. The buyers are business owners who have restaurants or rent out
lodging, those who have swimming pools in their homes and in buildings
where there is water shortage and people have a source of hard
currency," says the driver of a tanker truck.

The problem of the water supply in the capital is longstanding. For lack
of a coherent hydraulic policy, the regime has been overwhelmed by
something that is as essential as water.

With a population that exceeds two and a half million inhabitants,
Havana continues to have as its main source of supply the old Albear
aqueduct, a masterpiece of industrial engineering that began to be built
in 1858 and was inaugurated in 1893, for a city of 600,000 people.

When Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, and after the October 1963
passage of Hurricane Flora, which left more than a thousand dead in the
eastern part of the island, hundreds of dams and reservoirs of water
were built that multiplied the country's water storage capacity by a
factor of five.

In 1987 the construction of the El Gato aqueduct began in the
southeastern part of Havana. But because of lack of maintenance of the
aqueduct and sewer networks, more than half of the water that was
distributed was lost by leaks and ruptures of the pipes.

In the midst of the current drought, which plagues 81% of the country
and is considered the worst that Cuba has suffered in the last hundred
years, authorities that manage water resources have tightened measures
to prevent water being wasted.

Manuel Manso, Aguas de La Habana's ombudsman, explained that an
inspector squad of 108 workers is trying to interact more directly with
consumers, whether business or residential. One of the provisions is the
application of fines, with 870 already having been imposed on private
companies, in amounts of up to one thousand Cuban pesos (about 42 dollars).

Although the regime has invested nearly 9 million dollars in the
rehabilitation of 550 miles of water networks in the capital, the effort
appears to be inadequate.

"The company repairs a section, but then the water pressure damages
another section that has not yet been repaired. Also, the quality of the
repairs is not always good. And the technological obsolescence and
timespans between maintenance complicate things. It's like 'plowing the
sea,' (a complete waste of effort)," says an engineer.

A health and epidemiology specialist is worried that "the water deficit
in the residential sector could have an impact on the emergence of new
outbreaks of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, carriers of dengue fever,
chikungunya and other deadly diseases. Plus there is the proliferation
of rats and cockroaches. Water scarcity, poor cleanliness in streets and
public spaces, and the irresponsibility of citizens who dump garbage on
any street corner have made Havana one of the dirtiest cities in Latin
America."

If the drought persists, along with poor hygiene in the city and
problems with water supply, which cause families to store water in
inappropriate containers without adequate protection, the arrival of
summer could bring the breeding ground for a huge epidemic of
mosquito-borne diseases.

"Every year we run the same danger, for not carrying out the necessary
preventative work and the lack of hygiene in the city," said one
official. And walking on the edge of a cliff always carries risks.

The worst has not yet come. But the conditions are given.

Note: Although this article is limited to Havana, the water shortage due
to drought has long been affecting all provinces.

Source: Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-risk-of-health-crisis-due-to-lack-of-potable-water-ivn-garca/

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport
ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana's
pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the
municipality where they can operate.

The sticker carries the driver's license number and the name of the
municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained
to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will
ensure that "if you do not live in this municipality you can't put the
sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here."

The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a
poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell
into a crack in the building.

Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector's uniform, Tamara barely looks up
from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if
you don't have a license, don't come. "In addition, they have to bring
the acrylic."

The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated,
has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other
bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a
pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban
convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but
unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose
name comes from the "almond-shape" of the classic American cars used in
that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers
"to the door of their house." Most of them are young people without a
defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the
equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect
daily.

A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their
customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the
identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who
identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling
threatened by the new measure.

"I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro
district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don't have an address in
the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to
survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on
the front of the bike," he explains resolutely.

A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite
being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical
effort. "We are accustomed to occasionally 'inventing' something of this
type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I
have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there
for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to
take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I'll charge him what the
trip is worth and take him."

While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making
gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, "They are the
ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don't have to be an
engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It's fine to have
control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something
lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about
where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There's no one
who understands it," protests the pedicab driver.

Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike
and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. "I'm going
home. I don't feel like working."

*Translator's note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle
in their city "Palestinians" – a reference to the fact that without a
resident permit, they are "illegals" in the city.

Source: Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live – Translating Cuba
- http://translatingcuba.com/pedicab-drivers-can-only-work-where-they-live/

Elderly man in Cuba treats arthritis pain with scorpion venom – swears by it

Elderly man in Cuba treats arthritis pain with scorpion venom – swears by it
Published April 21, 2017 EFE

PINAR DEL RIO, CUBA – At age 71, Cuban peasant Pepe Casañas fends off
the typical aches and pains of his age in a unique, and effective, way.
His secret: letting himself be stung every now and then by a scorpion,
the venom of which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Although anyone who has been stung by a scorpion says that it hurts a
good deal, for Pepe it's "just a minor sting," which he endures at least
once a month using one of the three or four scorpions that he keeps
close at hand in his house.

"The sting doesn't hurt me a bit. And if they're using it as a treatment
for cancer in Cuba, it has to be good," said Pepe, who sometimes keeps a
scorpion in his hat in case he starts to feel a pain he needs to treat.

"About eight years ago, I started with this scorpion stuff. My bones
were beginning to hurt me, arthritis, and it helped me to feel
comfortable," Pepe told EFE at his home in the town of Los Palacios in
Cuba's far western province of Pinar del Rio.

"I couldn't brush my teeth, or comb my hair. I got a scorpion, squeezed
it, and it stung me twice, and look: My arm's doing fine."

Pepe, who comes from a family of beekeepers, began using insect bites –
starting with bee stings – as a remedy against pain. He even says his
brother cured himself of a disability thanks to bee stings.

Although Pepe's strategy might seem strange as a way to combat the aches
and pains that come along at his age, it is a fact that scorpion venom
is used in Cuba as the main ingredient in Vidatox, a homeopathic
medication that is prescribed mainly to alleviate pain and other
symptoms associated with cancer.

In 2006, Cuba started clinical trials to test the efficacy of scorpion
venom in cancer treatment and researchers quickly noted that patients'
quality of life was substantially improved.

In 2011, the Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam began manufacturing Vidatox.

"A very important use of Vidatox, which we want to promote, is that of
an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, for use against cancer, given that
any osteoarthritic process such as rheumatism can be treated with this
medication," Dr. Fabio Linares, who heads the Vidatox project, told EFE.

According to Linares, "it makes sense" that Pepe feels better after a
scorpion sting, since in addition to its analgesic effect, the venom
stimulates the body's natural curative mechanisms and immune system.

In a laboratory in the city of Cienfuegos, where the Vidatox project is
under way, Linares' team is raising some 7,000 "blue scorpions"
(Rhopalurus junceus, a species endemic to Cuba) and is taking 10 or 12
venom extractions from each of them every year before releasing them
back into the environment.

Some 17,000 bottles of Vidatox are produced and sold over the counter
every year in Cuba and in 15 other countries around the world.

In Cuba alone, an estimated 65,000 people have used the remedy to
alleviate cancer pain.

Source: Elderly man in Cuba treats arthritis pain with scorpion venom –
swears by it | Fox News -
http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/04/21/elderly-man-in-cuba-treats-arthritis-pain-with-scorpion-venom-swears-by-it.html

Morocco and Cuba have restored 37-year-old broken diplomatic ties weeks after the private visit of Morocco’s King Mohamed VI to Havana.

Morocco and Cuba have restored 37-year-old broken diplomatic ties weeks
after the private visit of Morocco's King Mohamed VI to Havana.

Ambassadors of the two countries to the United Nations signed a
memorandum of understanding on Friday in New York to reestablish
diplomatic ties.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement that: "Guided by the
mutual will to develop friendly relations, the two governments agreed to
reestablish ties as well as political, economic and cultural cooperation."

Already, King Mohamed VI of Morocco is reported to have ordered the
opening of an embassy in Havana.

Morocco cut ties with Cuba in 1980 after the latter's recognition of
Western Sahara and support for the Polisario Front.

Cuba has since trained several Saharawis.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara , a former Spanish colony in 1975 and
fought the Polisario Front. It considers the mineral-rich territory as
its "southern provinces" and has proposed wide-ranging autonomy.

The UN brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peace keeping
mission to monitor and help prepare a referendum on the the territory's
future which has never taken place.

Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for
the local population which is estimated at between 350,000 and 500,000.

Source: Morocco extends hand to Cuba after 37 years, diplomatic ties
restored | Africanews -
http://www.africanews.com/2017/04/22/morocco-extends-hand-to-cuba-after-37-years-diplomatic-ties-restored/

Cuba needs new laws and stronger action targeting human trafficking – UN rights expert

Cuba needs new laws and stronger action targeting human trafficking – UN
rights expert

21 April 2017 – A United Nations human rights expert has urged Cuba to
consider introducing new legislation to ensure that everyone who falls
victim to trafficking in persons can be identified and helped, and the
authorities can take action against offenders.

"Although cases of trafficking in the country may appear to be limited,
the number of criminal prosecutions and victims assisted is still too
modest, and shows that a proactive approach to detection of the problem
is needed," said the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons,
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, wrapping up a five-day visit to Cuba.
Ms. Giammarinaro acknowledged the Government's political will to address
human trafficking and appreciated its strong aim on prevention, while
underscoring that the protection of children from sexually motivated
crimes should be extended to everyone under 18 years old.
"The focus of Cuba's anti-trafficking action so far has been sexual
exploitation. However, recent developments which have created new
opportunities for individual initiatives in the tourist sector require
vigilance to stamp out any cases of labour exploitation; the use of
foreign workers in the construction industry should also be monitored"
she stressed.
Based on a multi-disciplinary and coordinated approach to combat
trafficking, Ms. Giammarinaro welcomed Cuba's 2017-2020 Action Plan to
prevent and fight against trafficking in persons and for protecting
victims, which had been approved just before her visit – the first by a
UN rights expert in 10 years.
"The real challenge will be the implementation of measures provided for
in the document, especially aimed at identifying and supporting victims,
while respecting their human rights" the Special Rapporteur said.
The UN expert praised Cuba's universal and free systems for education,
healthcare and social security, saying they helped to reduce the
vulnerability of Cuban citizens to trafficking.
However, citing thousands who, in 2015, were exposed to trafficking and
exploitation, she said that migration in unsafe conditions created
situations that could lead to trafficking.
Ms. Giammarinaro spoke with a few of the survivors, who said that they
had signed apparently legal contracts and been promised good working
conditions abroad, "but, at their destination, their passports were
confiscated, and they found themselves in the hands of gangs determined
to exploit them for work without payment."
"When efforts were made to force them into prostitution/sex work, the
women managed to communicate with their families in Cuba and were
rescued thanks to the immediate action of Cuban embassies. However, we
don't know how many young women may have been obliged to stay in
exploitative situations abroad," the expert said.
Ms. Giammarinaro called for the social stigma surrounding
prostitution/sex work to be removed, and for the closure of so-called
'rehabilitation centres' where women are detained even though
prostitution is not a crime.
"Any fear of being punished is a major obstacle for victims of
trafficking for sexual exploitation to report their plight and the abuse
they have suffered," she stressed.
Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights
Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a
country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN
staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Source: United Nations News Centre - Cuba needs new laws and stronger
action targeting human trafficking – UN rights expert -
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56601#.WPtQ9dKGP6Q

Friday, April 21, 2017

For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn’t a Priority

For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn't a Priority / Iván García

Iván García, 19 April 2017 — When evening falls, Yainier and a group of
friends who live in El Canal, a neighborhood in the Cerro municipality,
20 minutes by car from the center of Havana, grab a table by the door of
an old bodega, and between swigs of rum and Reggaeton, they play
dominoes well into the dawn.

They are six unemployed youths who live by whatever "falls off the back
of a truck." They also sell clothing imported from Russia or Panama,
joints of Creole marijuana and toothpaste robbed the night before from a
local factory.

They note down the domino scores they accumulate in a school notebook.
The duo that gets to 100 points earns 20 pesos, the equivalent of one
dollar, and if they really kick ass, they can earn double that amount.

The winners buy more rum, and between laughter and chatting, they kill
time in a country where the hours seem to have 120 minutes. No one has a
plan for the future.

In the seven or eight hours they pass playing, they usually talk about
women, football or black-market businesses. Politics is not a subject of
conversation.

The dissident, Eliécer Ávila, lives a few blocks away from where they're
playing dominoes. He's an engineer and the leader of Somos Más (We Are
More), an organization that supports democracy, free elections and free
speech.

Probably Ávila is the most well-known dissident among Cubans who drink
their morning coffee without milk. His debate in 2008 with Ricardo
Alarcón, then the president of the one-note national parliament, was a
success on the Island. The concerns of the young computer engineer and
Alarcón's incoherent answers circulated clandestinely on flash drives.

Eliécer, together with Antonio Rodiles, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Julio
Aleaga Pesant, figure among the most well-prepared dissidents in Cuba.
Born in 1985 in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, Ávila has leadership qualities
and good speaking skills.

His project goes over the heads of people in the neighborhood, like the
six domino players, who are indifferent to the reality of their country.
How to achieve anything is a problem to solve for a repressed local
opposition, which up to now has no power to convoke a meeting. Without
going farther, in the slum area of Canal, where most inhabitants are
black and deathly poor, almost no one is interested in demanding
inalienable rights in any modern society.

One of those neighbors is Raisán, a mulatto with discolored skin, who
religiously pays his dues to the Cuban Workers Center, the only labor
organization that's authorized on the Island. However, he recognizes
that the Center, which supposedly ensures his salary and labor demands,
doesn't even attempt to manage them.

"Brother, this has to change. You can't live on a salary of 400 Cuban
pesos — around 17 dollars — while it costs 10 times that to eat or dress
yourself," says Raisán, after making a list of the daily hardships that
the government never solves.

There's a dichotomy in Cuba. Ask any Cuban his assessment of the
performance of the State organizations and you can publish several tomes
of complaints. People are tired of political rhetoric. The citizens want
better services, salaries and living conditions. But they don't have the
legal tools to carry out their propositions.

Creating a movement or party that looks out for their interests,
changing the political dynamic and demanding the democratization of
society, continue to be taboo subjects. Although the dissidence requests
these rights, it still hasn't managed to gain the confidence of the
beleagured citizens, for whom the priority is to find food and money
sufficient to allow them to repair their houses, among other needs.

State Security, the political police, short-circuits any initiative that
tries to insert the opposition inside the population. And certainly it's
the fear, typical of a tyrannical regime that has more severe laws for
dissenting than for certain common crimes. Fear is a powerful wall of
containment that repels nonconformists.

Cuban society continues being excessively simulated. It always was.
During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, after the assault on the
Presidential Palace by the Revolutionary Directorate, March 13, 1957,
the authorities called for an act of reconciliation with the dictator,
and in spite of the rain, 250,000 residents of Havana responded in a
spontaneous manner.

The same thing happened in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In
silence, without protesting, Cubans saw how Castro knocked out
democracy, dismantled the legal judicial machinery, buried the free
press, eliminated private businesses and governed the country like a
vulgar autocrat.

The answer to discontent always was to emigrate. A considerable segment
of the citizenry didn't support – nor do they support – those who bet on
peacefully reclaiming their rights, inserting themselves into politics
and denouncing the frequent attacks on human rights.

People prefer to look away or continue coming to the game, seated in the
stands.

To get Cubans to understand that the best solution to their complaints
is democracy, free elections and a coherent and independent judicial
framework, which supports small and medium-sized businesses, until now
has been a subject that stopped with the internal opposition. Which has
tried, but without success.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn't a Priority / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/for-ordinary-cubans-democracy-isnt-a-priority-ivn-garca/

Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode?

Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret
in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation's president, army
general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018.

I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the
tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the Council
of State.

A well-informed source claims, "The man is desperate to retire. He wants
to spend more time with his children and grandchildren and travel around
the world. He's really going to retire. And it seems to me that he will
probably pass his job on to the first party secretary. He has always
preferred to be in the background."

A technocrat with connections to powerful elites states, "The succession
is not happening at the best time but Raul is serious when he says he is
leaving. I have it on good authority that Miguel Diaz-Canel and his wife
Lis Cuesta, around whom the media has been creating a presidential image
in recent months, are studying English in depth and preparing to lead
the country."

A former personal security officials says, "Resources have been put at
Diaz-Canel's disposal, the kind of communication technology and
logistical support that a president would have."

Meanwhile, as the official media has been inundating us with reports of
economic successes and the alleged loyalty of the population to Raul
Castro and his deceased brother, the countdown to the succession continues.

There is only a little more than ten months until D-Day. At midnight on
February 24 the republic will presumably be governed by a civilian
president without the last name Castro.

One of the sources consulted for this article believes that "after his
own retirement, Raul will force the retirement of several longtime
revolutionary officials such as Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Ramiro
Valdes.* His son Alejandro, who is a colonel in the Ministry of the
Interior, will retain a certain degree of power while his daughter
Mariela will continue promoting an image of tolerance towards
homosexuality but will no longer hold any really significant positions.

"The power behind the throne will be the military. Everything has been
arranged. There will be major economic changes. If the purchasing power
of the population does not increase, consumer spending will be
encouraged while the monetary and intellectual capital of the exile
community will be tapped.

"If not, Cuba will never get out of the swamp. Political exhaustion and
systemic failures have created conditions conducive to the emergence of
an acute social crisis whose outcome no one can predict. That is why
there will be changes."

In Cuba, where the state press's greatest strengths are saying nothing
and masking daily reality, rumors within the halls of power carry more
credibility than the official news.

Raul Castro is a perpetual schemer. Let the analyst or journalist who
foresaw the secret negotiations with the United States and the
reestablishment of diplomatic relations on December 17, 2014 raise his hand.

Prognosticating in such a secretive country can be disastrous but there
have been some signals. During the the monotone National Assembly's 2015
legislative session a gradual rollback of Raul's reforms began. And
Marino Murillo, the czar of these reforms, disappeared from official photos.

In response to the Venezuelan crisis, which led to cuts of 40% in fuel
imports, the economic initiatives promoted by Raul Castro came to an
abrupt halt.

Barack Obama's visit to Cuba in March 2016 was the final straw. The
regime's most conservative factions began changing the rules of the game.

While lacking the charisma or stature of his brother, Castro II has
proved to be more effective at putting together negotiating teams and
has had greater successes in foreign policy. They include reestablishing
diplomatic relations with the United States without having to make many
concessions in return, acting as mediator in the meeting in Havana
between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, facilitating the peace
agreement in Colombia and securing the cancellation of a considerable
portion of the nation's financial debt.

His agricultural reforms have failed. People are still waiting for that
glass of milk he promised them in a speech given in Camaguey on July 26,
2007. On that day Raul Castro said, "We have to erase from our minds
this limit of seven years (the age at which Cuban children are no longer
entitled to receive a certain ration of milk). We are taking it from
seven to fifty. We have to produce enough so that everyone who wants it
can have a glass of milk."

The Foreign Investment Law has not been able to attract the roughly 2.5
billion dollars expected annually. The sugar harvest and food production
have not gotten off the ground, requiring the regime to import more than
two billion dollars worth of food every year.

Except for tourism, the profitable foreign medical assistance program
and other international missions, and remittances from overseas, all
other exports and economic initiatives have decreased or not shown
sufficient growth.

Vital industrial sectors are not profitable and its equipment is
obsolete. Problems in housing, transportation and public service
shortages are overwhelming. The price of home internet service is
outrageous. Official silence has surrounded recent restrictions on the
sale of gasoline** while public speculation about a return to the
"Special Period" has not been discussed by the executive branch.

Raul Castro barely appears in the public anymore. Aside from attending
Fidel's funeral in November 2016, presiding over parliament last
December and sporadic appearances at the Summits of the Caribbean and
the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, his presence is
almost imperceptible.

He is governing in hibernation mode, on automatic pilot. There is no
word on currency reform. The vaunted Economic Guidelines, only 21% of
which have been carried out, seem to be dead in the water.

According to a former journalist who now lives in Miami and who dealt
closely with Raul in the late 1980s, his seemingly erratic behavior
could be interpreted in several ways.

"Raul is not doctrinaire like his brother. Nor does he leave tasks half
done like Fidel used to do. I supposed he has his hands full preparing
Diaz-Canal so he can finish the job and implement good, effective
reforms. I think Diaz-Canal will play an important role in Cub's future.
Reporters should start lining up their canons now," says the former
journalist.

The sense on the street is that the island is going to hell. The outlook
does not look good. The future is a question mark. The pathways to
emigration are closing. And the average person's salary remains a bad joke.

The optimists, who are in the minority, are praying the general has an
emergency plan in his desk drawer. The pessimists, who are in the
majority, believe that life in Cuba will go on as it has, whether under
Raul, Diaz-Canal or any other members of the Communist praetorian guard.

*Translator's note: Vice-president of the Council of State and
governmental vice-president respectively.

** Though no public announcement has been made, as of April 1 sales of
so-called "special gasoline" have been restricted to tourists with
rental cars.

Source: Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/is-raul-castro-in-hibernation-mode-ivn-garca/

Residents Thank the Rain That Put Out The Year's Biggest Fire

Residents Thank the Rain That Put Out The Year's Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio,
Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the
odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of
Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and
food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000
hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community's residents that something was
happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began
April 9 and devoured everything in their path. "Nothing was said on
radio or television," Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of
El Guay, tells 14ymedio.

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues
of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked
daunting and ever closer to the houses. "The entire town was affected by
the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to
do," recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely
rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster
on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later
disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the
Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities
later reported that several local administrators had not authorized
delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to
the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the
branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The
combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions
favorable to the fire's spread. "We thought nothing could put out such a
strong fire," recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the
Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could
suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares.
The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures,
forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental
specialists from the area classify as "sensitive" the damage caused to
flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. "There are no
bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged," commented
one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba
province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur
"in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the
invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of
spark arrestors in cars."

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to
start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year
and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than
one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas,
Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human
factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor
Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. "In this time of
year forest fires are more likely," and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to
"have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent
those accidents."

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and
"that is why sometimes fires occur" because "the grass itself at this
time is very dangerous."

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real.
The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle
of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the
flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A "huge downpour" came to the aid of the residents. The day that the
first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept
raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is
suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century.
For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they
know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Residents Thank the Rain That Put Out The Year's Biggest Fire –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/residents-thank-the-rain-that-put-out-the-years-biggest-fire/

Havana walls brought to life with murals of wide-eyed children

Havana walls brought to life with murals of wide-eyed children
By Sarah Marsh
Reuters April 21, 2017

HAVANA (Reuters) - The gigantic black and white portraits of children
started appearing on walls around a suburban neighborhood of Havana two
years ago, the work of Cuban artist Maisel Lopez.

The sober, finely painted portraits contrast with Cuba's dilapidated
buildings and pot-holed streets, colorful vintage cars and peeling pink,
apricot and turquoise paint on eclectic architecture.

With nearly 30 murals completed, Lopez said he is only getting started
on his "Colossi" series, a striking endeavor in the Communist-run
country where street art is rare.

"I want to keep expanding further afield," said Lopez, 31, who started
painting the walls of homes and shops in his home district of Playa and
is now completing his first mural in neighboring Marianao.

A chubby girl with wispy blond hair wistfully rests her chin on her
hands, while a black boy with angular features peers at passersby with a
slight air of defiance.

The murals are unusual in a country where public spaces are tightly
controlled and posters and murals mainly have political themes or depict
figures like Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Only one other artist in Havana, Yulier Rodriguez, has an equally
recognizable assortment of street art. His figures are alien, the murals
colorful. Lopez's subjects are realistic and monochrome.

Lopez said in an interview last week that political art led him to paint
murals. He helped with several celebrating the Bolivarian revolution
during a cultural mission in 2009 to Cuba's socialist ally Venezuela.

"A mural is constantly in interaction with the public," said Lopez,
whose work is inspired by Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, who said
"children are the hope of the world".

"That's why I paint the children big, to mark their importance," he said.

Unlike many street artists, including Rodriguez, Lopez seeks permits to
paint on walls. While initially hard to get, he gained trust as he
developed the series, he said.

Each colossus is several meters tall and takes Lopez four days to a week
to paint. Each depicts a child living in the vicinity. He does not
charge to paint them.

Instead, he earns a living teaching art classes and selling canvas
portraits that can fetch up to $1500.

Locals have declared themselves fans and guardians of his work, looking
after it as people stop to take photographs.

"It's really striking and gives life to the street," said Vivian
Herrera, 47, who runs a bakery next to one of the murals. "It's like the
girl is really there, with her big, open eyes."

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Source: Havana walls brought to life with murals of wide-eyed children -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/havana-walls-brought-life-murals-wide-eyed-children-132218435.html

Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization process with Cuba

Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization process
with Cuba
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

Sixteen retired senior military officers are asking the Trump
administration to continue the process of normalization with Cuba for
the sake of U.S. national security and stability in the region.

"The location of Cuba in the Caribbean and proximity to the US make it a
natural and strategically valuable partner on issues of immediate
concern, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction,
environmental protections, and emergency preparedness," the retired
officers stated in a letter that was for National Security Adviser Lt.
Gen. H.R. McMaster and made public on Thursday.

The retired officers indicated that ensuring economic stability on the
island was beneficial to the United States for security reasons.

"We acknowledge the current regime must do more to open its political
system and dialogue with the Cuban people. But, if we fail to engage
economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and
other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States' will
rush into the vacuum," the letter said. "We have an opportunity now to
shape and fill a strategic void."

Six of the 16 letter-signers traveled to Havana from March 14-17 at the
invitation of the Cuban government and met with officials from the
Foreign Ministry as well as representatives from the Energy,
Agriculture, Trade, and Foreign Investment ministries. The group also
visited the Port of Mariel and met with 12 Ministry of Interior
officials — a gathering not previously disclosed. The MININT is in
charge of domestic security but also of the Cuban intelligence services.

The Cuban officials provided "a significant hour and a half Power Point
brief on their security concerns and their thoughts on cooperation with
the United States," Stephen A. Cheney, a retired brigadier general in
the U.S. Marine Corps, said. "A pretty interesting group of active
military folks.

"Some questioned why we did not meet with dissidents, but this was not
the purpose of this trip but to listen to government people, have an
idea of ​​how it works and what their concerns are."

The letter seeks to influence the administration while it is still
reviewing Cuba policy, an exercise spearheaded by the National Security
Council. The Trump administration "must take into account all national
security factors under consideration" and not look at the current policy
"simply as something that Obama did and because Obama did it, you hate
it," Cheney said.

The main concern from the national-security standpoint, he added, is a
migration crisis if the island's economy worsens, a possibility that "at
90 miles from our coasts, does not do us any favors."

"If they feel desperate, they are going to reach out to those we would
rather not want," added retired Brig. Gen. David McGinnis, in reference
to the growing role of China, Russia, and Iran in the region.

Cheney highlighted the level of cooperation with Cuba on issues like
anti-drug efforts but said that part of the "frustration" of the Cuban
government is that the routine meetings to continue these mechanisms of
cooperation have been canceled by the Trump administration, "not out of
a policy change but because the people are not there."

Cheney also said the Trump administration could lift trade and financial
restrictions, such as in agriculture, to the benefit of U.S. companies.
"Clearly the embargo has not worked. We have to look for new actions if
we want to increase our security," said retired Lt. Gen. John G. Castellaw.

The trip and the missive were coordinated by the American Security
Project (ASP), a non-partisan organization of which several of the
retired officials who signed the letter are members of — Cheney is its
executive director. According to an ASP statement, the trip was
organized by Scott Gilbert, a member of its board and a lawyer of
contractor Alan Gross, who was jailed in Cuba for five years and
released on Dec. 17, 2014.

Among those who signed the letter are retired Gen. James T. Hill, who
headed the U.S. Southern Command from 2002-2004 and retired Admiral
Robert Inman, who held senior positions in the intelligence services
under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Several signers of the letter including, McGinnis; retired Major Gen.
Paul Eaton; retired Rear Admirals Jamie Barnett and Michael Smith; and
retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis publicly supported Hillary Clinton
during the presidential campaign.

Source: Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization
process with Cuba | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article145847939.html

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central Havana

Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central Havana

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

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

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

Neighbors trapped in the building after the stairs fell in watch through
their windows as the police deploy. (14ymedio)
This Tuesday, about 120 people were trapped in the building after the
stairs that gave access to the apartments collapsed, as reported here:
http://translatingcuba.com/over-100-people-trapped-in-collapsed-building-in-havana/

Source: Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central
Havana – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/several-residents-refuse-to-leave-a-building-in-ruins-in-central-havana/

Cockfighting in Cuba: clandestine venues, state arenas

Cockfighting in Cuba: clandestine venues, state arenas
By Sarah Marsh and Alexandre Meneghini
Reuters April 20, 2017

CIEGO DE AVILA (Reuters) - Cuban farmer Pascual Ferrel says his favorite
fighting cock's prowess was "off the charts," so after it died of
illness he had the black and red rooster preserved and displays it on
his mantelpiece beside a television.

"He fought six times and was invincible," the 64-year old recalled
fondly, talking over the crowing of 60 birds in his farmyard in the
central Cuban region of Ciego de Avila.

Though it is banned in many parts of the world, cockfighting is favored
throughout the Caribbean and in Cuba its popularity is growing.

Last year, Ciego de Avila opened its first official cockfighting arena
with 1,000 seats, the largest in Cuba, to the dismay of animal rights
activists who see it as a step backward.

Cockfighting is a blood sport because of the harm cocks do to each other
in cockpits, exacerbated by metal spurs that can be attached to birds'
own spurs.

After the 1959 revolution, Cuba cracked down on cockfighting as part of
a ban on gambling, recalls Ferrel.

Over the years that stance has softened. Official arenas have opened and
hidden arenas are tolerated as long as there are no brawls.

"'People say: if the government is allowed to hold cockfights, why can't
we?" says Nora Garcia Perez, head of Cuban animal welfare association
Aniplant.

Enthusiasts argue that cockfighting is a centuries-old tradition.
Critics say it is cruel, and they blame its popularity on lack of
entertainment options, poor education on animal welfare, and its
money-making potential.

In Ciego de Avila, there is a different clandestine arena for every day
of the week, some hidden among marabu brush or in sugarcane fields, down
dirt tracks with no signs.

People carrying cockerels in slings or under their arms travel to these
venues by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or in candy-colored vintage
American cars.

Arenas made of wood and palm fronds operate like fairgrounds. Ranchera
music blasts from loudspeakers, roasted pork and rum are sold and tables
are set up with dice and card games.

"You'll see how fun this is," says Yaidelin Rodriguez, 32, a regular
with her husband, writing in a notebook bets she has placed on her cock.

Gambling is outlawed in Cuba but wads of cash exchange hands at most
arenas. Enthusiasts wear baseball caps that read "Cocks win me money,
women take it away."

In the Ciego de Avila official arena, foreigners pay up to $60 for a
front row seat. At concealed arenas, mainly a local affair, seats are $2
to $8, a princely sum in a country where the average monthly state
salary is $25.

"We can earn about $600 a day from entrance fees and the sale of seats,"
says Reinol, who declined to give his full name.

He splits that sum with his business partner and still earns more from
it than from his regular job as a butcher.

Cuba also exports cockerels, breeders say, adding that cocks with proven
fighting prowess could sell for up to $1000.

At a secluded arena near Ciego de Avila one recent afternoon,
cigar-smoking, rum-swigging owners guarded their birds to make sure no
one hurt or poisoned them before the fight.

"Come on," "Go for it," onlookers screeched once it began, the cocks
flying at one another in rage.

"You have to train the cocks like they are boxers, so they are
prepared," says Basilio Gonzalesm adding they must also be groomed,
scarlet legs sheared and feathers clipped.

Some, like cockfighting enthusiast Jorge Guerra, dream of making more
money in countries where betting is legal.

"I'd like to go somewhere with big competitions and bets like Puerto
Rico," the farmer said. "I'd like to show someone how much money I could
make for them breeding cocks."

Click here to see a related photo essay: http://reut.rs/2pCDa3B

(Editing by Christian Plumb and; Toni Reinhold)

Source: Cockfighting in Cuba: clandestine venues, state arenas -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cockfighting-cuba-clandestine-venues-state-arenas-151529640--spt.html

Cuban State Security and Police Prevent Screening of Independent Film in Havana

Cuban State Security and Police Prevent Screening of Independent Film in
Havana

Statement from Miguel Coyula and Lynn Cruz

15 April 2017, 8:00 PM, Havana: Cuban State Security and Police blocked
the street leading to the Gallery El Circulo in Havana in order to
prevent the audience from attending the screening of Miguel Coyula's
independent film Nadie, which depicts the story of the Cuban Revolution
through the eyes of Cuban Poet Rafael Alcides. On January 29th the film
won the Best Documentary award during its world Premiere at the Global
Film Festival in Santo Domingo.

We were asked for our IDs, then crossed checked them with a list they
had and proceeded to tell us we were not allowed to enter the block. We
asked for the reason and they said it was confidential.

Later we found that over 40 people were turned back as well. We denounce
censorship in its full scale, as it is the role of artists to create,
exhibit and defend their creation. It's important for any independent
filmmaker to express not only on the screen, but also in life, since
life inevitably is reflected in art.

/signed/

Miguel Coyula (director) and Lynn Cruz (actress)

Source: Cuban State Security and Police Prevent Screening of Independent
Film in Havana – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-state-security-and-police-prevent-screening-of-independent-film-in-havana/

Trump and Cuba should start dialogue: Mississippi governor says

Trump and Cuba should start dialogue: Mississippi governor says
By Sarah Marsh
Reuters April 20, 2017

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Trump administration and the Cuban government
need to start a dialogue, the Republican governor of Mississippi said on
Wednesday during a trip to the Communist-led island to scout trade
opportunities for his state.

"That's the first step: trying to get that dialogue going in a very
positive manner," Phil Bryant said in an interview, adding that he had
found his trip "encouraging."

Cuba watchers are looking closely for signs of how President Donald
Trump will deal with the country, given he threatened during his
campaign to roll back the fragile detente between the Untied States and
Cuba, former Cold War foes.

The White House is undertaking a "full review" of America's foreign
policy toward Cuba, press secretary Sean Spicer said in February.

The governor, who had just met with Cuba's trade minister, said it was
key "not let too much of the political conditions in the United States
become overwhelming."

"Sometimes people have a narrative of Mississippi as if it's 1960s, and
it's not, and it's not the 1960s in Cuba," he said, citing changes like
growth of private businesses.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro
stunned the world in December 2014 when they announced the United States
and Cuba would restore diplomatic ties after more than half a century of
hostility.

Even with a U.S. embargo preventing most trade with Cuba, Mississippi
already exports authorized products to the island such as frozen poultry
and healthcare products, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council.

There was room to increase that trade and as establish exchanges in
healthcare and research, including perhaps bringing Cuban doctors to the
Mississippi Delta, said Bryant.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh)

Source: Trump and Cuba should start dialogue: Mississippi governor says
-
https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-cuba-start-dialogue-mississippi-governor-says-014109832.html

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana

Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/over-100-people-trapped-in-collapsed-building-in-havana/

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire

When Your Ally's Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old
adage, when you see you neighbor's beard on fire, go soak your own*. The
maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we
take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President
Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from
the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or
lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst
political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not
only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a
real bombardment of misinformation by the government's press monopoly.

As a result of decades of lies and "secrecy" — which journalist Reinaldo
Escobar has defined as "the euphemism that disguises what is in reality
a policy of censorship of the press" — and the requirements of the
struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty
in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are
apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about
what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its
government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The
presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their
services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the
population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political
tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of
Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the
opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up
with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans,
for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much
responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their
countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing
poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of
circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would
constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban "missionaries" of health and
other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does
the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them?
Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system
with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in
Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late
Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban
construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a
sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more
gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and
leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in
street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the
"collectives" and police forces are increasing, and the government's
repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and
arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are
also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan
suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next
Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets
will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro
government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another
dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious
extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro
has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while
thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor
to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the
Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high
command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century
socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be "the peoples'
alternative," has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government
or respected international organization will support a government that
is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana's
Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are
waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness
of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans' will and courage, but knowing that
with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in
the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still
sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves
in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and
his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-"Bolivarian"
alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them.
It's not always possible to find allies with the features of the
Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a
neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to
fully manipulate, for Cuba's benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus
extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is
likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy
certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as "a democratic
dictatorship" for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms,
presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator's note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: "When
your neighbor's house is on fire…"

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: When Your Ally's Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/when-your-allys-beards-are-on-fire-miriam-celaya/