Friday, March 31, 2017

Hit by Venezuela shortage, Cuba to restrict premium gasoline sales

Hit by Venezuela shortage, Cuba to restrict premium gasoline sales
PUBLISHED: 00:03 BST, 31 March 2017 | UPDATED: 00:03 BST, 31 March 2017
By Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA, March 30 (Reuters) - Cuba will stop selling premium grade
gasoline except to tourists starting Saturday due to a fuel crunch
affecting Venezuela, its oil-rich ally and key trading partner.

Cuba's leadership has yet to announce the measure publicly, but a
government source confirmed the contents of an official memo that has
circulated on social media outlets this week.

The memo has already been "sent by official means to those implicated,"
said the source, who was unauthorized to speak to about the matter and
requested anonymity.

Cuba has become increasingly reliant on Venezuela for refined oil
products, even as the latter wrestles with shortages of those products
at home. Last week, Venezuela faced its first nationwide shortage of
motor fuel in five years.

The OPEC nation has one of the world's largest crude reserves but must
import components for motor fuels and products crucial to dilute its
extra heavy oil. Payment delays to providers have delayed deliveries.

Cuba cannot easily replace Venezuelan supplies as these are subsidized
and the Communist-ruled island is strapped for cash.

Most vehicles in Cuba, including its vintage American cars and
Soviet-era Ladas, use regular fuel. But modern cars, belonging to state
and joint ventures as well as diplomats and other foreigners, run on
higher-octane, so-called special fuel or premium.

"CUPET will not be delivering special fuel throughout April," said the
memo, circulating on social media.

"The special fuel remaining in stock at the gas stations from April 1
will only be sold ... to tourists, until the inventory is depleted,"
added the memo, using the acronym of the state oil monopoly CubaPetroleo.

One diplomat based in Havana said embassy workers had been advised to
stock up on special fuel now and to carpool.

"Special fuel is going to disappear," said Victor, a worker at a gas
station in the business district of Vedado. "We have a small reserve
left, but we aren't supplying any."

The government memo suggested motorists replace premium with regular
grade fuel. But a worker at a joint venture, which received the memo
through official channels, said an auto service provider had recommended
against using regular in its Mercedes-Benz cars.

"It is bad for the engines," she said. "But what can you do, if there is
no special fuel?" (Additional Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana and
Marianna Parraga in Houston)

Source: Hit by Venezuela shortage, Cuba to restrict premium gasoline
sales | Daily Mail Online -

Port of Seattle hopes to help out Cuban ports

Port of Seattle hopes to help out Cuban ports
Glenn Farley, KING 7:30 PM. PDT March 30, 2017

As Cuba develops its ports, the Port of Seattle hopes to be a role model.

In January, Port of Seattle commissioners and its then chief executive
met with Cuban transportation officials in Havana. The occasion was the
opening of the first direct west coast service to Cuba by SeaTac based
Alaska Airlines.

"I think there's a real opportunity to bring executives from Cuba to
Port of Seattle to learn best practices, to learn about the airport, the
seaport, and the cruise business," said Port Commissioner Stephanie
Bowman. "A little known fact people don't really recall...Cuba was the
number one importer of peas and lentils before the embargo."

The Port of Seattle considers itself to be unique with a cargo seaport,
cruise ship terminals, and a large airport all under one government
entity. The Port of Seattle says it can offer help and guidance in any
one of those areas.

"They're looking to becoming a major trans shipment point for the
Caribbean. And that's where we can offer our expertise, on the marine
cargo side of the business," Bowman said.

"They're in a very tough place. They're dying for foreign investment,"
said Commissioner Fred Felleman, who was also on the trip. "They want to
open their doors, and we want to help them do that. Meanwhile, they
don't have the infrastructure in place to absorb that crush."

The crush Felleman and many Cubans are concerned about is what if the
nearly six decade old series of economic embargoes placed on the
regime of Fidel Castro were to quickly go away and open the island's
economy to an on rush of American tourists. Politically, the U.S. and
Cuba have been on opposite poles since the 1959 communist revolution,
even though the island is just 90 miles away from Florida.

Felleman, a longtime Seattle-based environmentalist, particularly in the
area of marine mammals, says the Port of Seattle's environmental
initiatives could help the Cubans manage that impact.

"Sustainable development is the only way these guys can prosper for the
long haul," Felleman said. "I think they understand they have something
very special. The question is, can they get in front of the curve?"

In 2014, relations between Cuba and the United States grew closer with
the re-establishment of embassies in both capitals and installations of
ambassadors. The so called "embargo," which is actually a series of
sanctions, is still in place, but with special permissions and licensing
arrangements issued by the U.S. government. There has been growing
levels of business interaction with Cuba.

Now, what will the new administration of President Donald Trump do?
Thus far, the administration has said little about Cuba other than
it's being studied. During the campaign, candidate Trump made statements
that ranged from vowing to undo the Obama administration's opening to
saying that 50 years of sanctions was enough.

Source: Port of Seattle hopes to help out Cuban ports | -

Cuba is top country for U.S. visa refusals worldwide

Cuba is top country for U.S. visa refusals worldwide
Despite grim prospect, Cubans make sacrifices to apply for U.S. visa
By Hatzel Vela - Reporter
Posted: 6:21 PM, March 30, 2017

HAVANA - Cuba remains among the top countries for U.S. Visa refusals.

After the "wet foot, dry foot" policy allowing Cubans who managed to
arrive to the U.S. without a visa to stay came to an end Jan. 12., the
majority of Cubans who applied for a visa were denied.

More Cuba Headlines
Artists from Los Angeles collaborate with Cubans for exhibit that will…
Cuban government TV launches new 'Canal Caribe'
Despite new discount, Cubans deal with expensive mobile phone service
Cuban museum guards 'The Mummy of Matanzas'
Despite the grim prospect of a nearly 82 percent rate of denial,
according to the U.S. Department of State, Cubans were still vying for a
chance to come to the U.S.

Ana Maria Chiroles was among dozens who were recently standing in line
in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana to apply for a tourist visa.

"I have my grandchildren there and my son," Chiroles said. She added
that a "little piece" of her heart was in the U.S.

Chiroles' brother Juan Chiroles, said they have no intention of staying
in the U.S., so the two traveled to Havana from Artemisa to test their
luck. Chilores said he owns a bakery, land and cattle. He has no need to
move, he said. They risked $160 each on application fees.

"I think there is a possibility because I am not a possible immigrant,"
a hopeful Juan Chiroles said.

Last year, travelers from Cuba faced a lower possibility of getting a
visa than any other country in the world, according to data from the
U.S. Department. The possibility was less likely for Cubans than it was
for travelers from countries with U.S. travel warnings related to
terrorism in Afghanistan and Maurtania.

After waiting for hours, Chiroles siblings walked out of the U.S.
embassy heart broken. Their visa request was denied.

Source: Cuba is top country for U.S. visa refusals worldwide -

Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook

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 -

Holding the Repressors Accountable

Editorial: Holding the Repressors Accountable
DDC | Madrid | 31 de Marzo de 2017 - 04:08 CEST.

Both off and on the Island, in recent weeks several successful actions
have been taken against State-perpetrated violence.

Composed of lawyers, professors, human rights activists and political
and student leaders of several Latin American countries, a new
organization was announced: the International Commission for the
Investigation of Crimes against Humanity by the Castro Regime. Dedicated
in its first stage to documenting and investigating violations, it will
organize public hearings in various capitals and advocate for the
creation of an international tribunal to investigate these crimes.

In Havana, a delegation of the Ladies in White submitted to the Attorney
General of the Republic a detailed analysis of the repression suffered
by the women's movement from 2016 to 2017. The report was also presented
to the delegation of the European Union (EU) and the Apostolic
Nunciature, and in the next few days will be sent to the Military
Prosecutor's Office, the State Council and various embassies.

In Washington the Citizens for Racial Integration Committee provided the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with a report covering the 187
cases of human rights violations of Afro-Cuban citizens. This report
will serve as the basis for efforts by various activists in their
dealings with Cuban authorities.

Also in the US, at the University of California Irvine (UCI) School of
Law, a group of independent journalists and activists from the Island
offered the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression first-hand
information on violations of this right. The group met with teachers and
students, and advised the Special Rapporteur to insist on his request
for an authorization to visit Cuba.

Meanwhile, at its last meeting the UN Committee against Enforced
Disappearances raised objections to the official Cuban report, called
for the Island's authorities to ratify the Optional Protocol to the
Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, and to recognize the International Criminal Court. It
also pointed out the fact that the Government does not currently
recognize the legitimacy of any human rights organizations in Cuba.

All this activity comes in addition to the sustained work, on and off
the Island, by organizations such as the Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation, Archivo Cuba, the Foundation for
Human Rights in Cuba, the Cuban Human Rights Observatory, and Cubalex.

It is not just a question of documenting and publicizing each of the
violations and crimes, but holding the regime's representatives and
institutions accountable for their repressive and criminal record. The
joint work by international and Cuban organizations, although not
officially recognized, serves to pressure the repressors and serve
notice that their crimes are being methodically recorded and will not go

In recent months State-sponsored violence against opposition activists
and independent journalists has increased, but also growing and
strengthening are means and instruments to peacefully resist such
violence, and to keep the truth about our most recent history alive.

Source: Editorial: Holding the Repressors Accountable | Diario de Cuba -

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ladies in White Report the Repression They Suffer to Attorney General

Ladies in White Report the Repression They Suffer to Attorney General

14ymedio, Havana, 2017 — The Ladies of White Yamile Garro Alfonso,
Lázara Barbara Sendilla and Maria Cristina Labrada delivered on Monday,
as representatives of the whole movement, a summary report to the
Attorney General's Office on the repression they have suffered over the
last fifteen months.

The leader of the women's group, Berta Soler, explained to 14ymedio that
the report is the same as the one presented on 23 March by Leticia Ramos
to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression,
David Kayes, on "Arbitrary detention and harassment against the family
of Ladies in White," but that it had been "updated to yesterday."

Soler detailed that the new version of the report explains how "the
Cuban regime" threatens them "all the time" with fines to keep them from
leaving the country and with imprisonment.

The leader of the movement denounced that activist Lismerys Quintana
Ávila was sent to prison on Monday in what she defined as "a rigged trial."

"They are really inventing some crimes to be able to fine us and to kill
the Ladies in White," explains Soler

"We delivered it to the Attorney General's Office, the European Union
Delegation, the mailbox of the Apostolic Nunciature and the Embassy of
the United States," said Soler. She also said that they will also "hand
it over to the Archbishop of Havana." According to the Lady in White,
the movement wants the Catholic Church to understand what is happening
to them.

"They are really inventing some crimes to be able to fine us and to kill
the Ladies in White," explains Soler, who considers the actions of the
authorities arbitrary and also denounces "what they are doing to the
families, to the children and spouses," of the activists.

He added that they plan to deliver a copy of the text, about twelve
pages, to the Military Prosecutor's Office and the State Council, as
well as to send it to the embassies of Spain and the Czech Republic by

She also denounced that the Ladies in White headquarters in the Lawton
neighborhood of Havana is surrounded by "an operation" that "has been
around the clock since Thursday, March 23."

Source: Ladies in White Report the Repression They Suffer to Attorney
General – Translating Cuba -

Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center Reopens

Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center Reopens

14ymedio, Havana, 29 March 2017 — This Tuesday, the Carlos III Plaza
Shopping Center, closed since last Friday, reopened its doors to the public.

From the early hours dozens of people waited outside the mall with the
hope that, after being closed four days, the shelves would be better

The only difference from other days was that the employees had a more
polite attitude than usual and the singular fact that there were bags at
all the cash registers in the market, and also the coins needed to make
change, which isn't always the case.

"They even said 'thank you' after we made purchases," commented a
gentleman who said he had come from Puentes Grandes in search of a box
of chicken.

In the children's play area, the kids rode their horses and carts while
the parents ate pizza or drank beers.

Not a single word was said about the reasons for the closure of the
market, either in the written press or in the television news.

Outside the market there was not a single informal dealer in household
appliances, furniture, or electrical equipment. Instead there were many
police officers imposing fines for poor parking or simply keeping watch.

Source: Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center Reopens – Translating Cuba -

Santiago de Cuba Hit Hard by Drought

Santiago de Cuba Hit Hard by Drought

14ymdio, Zunilda Mata, 29 March 2017 — Cuba is experiencing one of the
worst droughts of the last half century and its reservoirs are at 39%
capacity, a situation that affects the water supply for people, industry
and agriculture. Santiago de Cuba is going through the most serious
situation, according to José Antonio Hernández, director of the
Department of Rational Use of the Institute of Hydraulic Resources, who
spoke Wednesday on state TV.

In that eastern province some 635,000 people are supplied with water on
17 and 20 day cycles. Meanwhile, more than 81% of the agricultural area
of ​​the island is affected in some way by the lack of regular
irrigation. The picture is aggravated by the annual loss of 3.4 billion
cubic meters of water through leaks and breaks in the supply system.

Currently, the reservoirs in at least 11 provinces are below 50% of
their normal levels and "in three they do not even reach 25%," Hernández
said. In the case of Ciego de Ávila stored water stored barely fills 15%
of the reservoir capacity in the territory. The supply is currently
governed by a rigorous schedule, prepared by the local Aqueduct and
Sewerage Management.

Reservoirs in at least 11 provinces are below 50% of their normal levels
and "in three they do not even reach 25%

The Zaza dam, with the country's largest storage capacity, is also in a
difficult position. Located in Sancti Spíritus province, the dam is
filled to only 14% of its capacity, the equivalent of 146 million cubic
meters. The neighboring Siguaney Dam has less than one million cubic
meters of usable water.

This central province has seen 69 of its supply sources dry up, 16 of
them totally. This situation affects 105,821 inhabitants in more than 40
communities and urban neighborhoods of the cities of Sancti Spíritus,
Trinidad and Jatibonico, according to figures offered by the local press.

"Since the first signs of the drought in the country began in mid-2014,
working groups have been set up to deal with this problem," explains
Hernández, whose mission is to monitor and assess the situation in each
area from the municipalities.

At the end of last year the country's reservoirs were 1.510 million
cubic meters below the historical average, a situation that has been
aggravated in the first quarter of 2017 and has forced the country to
expand the practice of supplying water through tanker trucks – popularly
known as pipas – that deliver water neighborhood by neighborhood and
block by block, to residents who collect it in every available container.

Water problems have also affected internal migration. "The fact of being
able to open the spigot and have water is a luxury I can't give myself
in Palmarito de Cauto," Raydel Rojas, a man from Santiago who recently
emigrated to the capital, tells 14ymedio.

"The problem in the province and in small towns is that it becomes more
difficult to pay for the water truck," says Rojas. "You have to live day
by day buying water little by little."

In the West, the situation is not without problems either. The
authorities have looked at the private swimming pools, considering them
wasteful in times of drought. The entrepreneurs who rent to tourists in
the area of ​​Viñales have experienced the "anti-pool" offensive with
special intensity.

At the beginning of last year the Council of the Municipal
Administration decreed the closing of all the pools and canceled the
licenses to rent to tourists for those who resisted obeying. Over the
months the situation has worsened.

"Now they carefully supervise water consumption and call to account
those who have a greater consumption," complains an entrepreneur who
rents two rooms in his home in this village that attracts a lot of
tourists. The innkeeper, who chose to remain anonymous, said local
inspectors "have their eye on the pumps if we increase the pressure of
the showers because they say it costs too much."

Source: Santiago de Cuba Hit Hard by Drought – Translating Cuba -

The Ascent Of The Spy

The Ascent Of The Spy

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 March 2017 — It was only a
matter of time before the spy Fernando González Llort took over the
presidency of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples
(ICAP). Since his return to Cuba after serving a 15-year prison sentence
in the United States, many predicted his rise to that position.

In June 2014, González was appointed vice president of ICAP and on
Tuesday it was announced that he was replacing Kenia Serrano Puig, who
had served in the presidency of the institution for eight years.

The official note on the replacement was sparse in its goodbye to
Serrano and did not include the usual formula of "she will take on other

The official note on the replacement was sparse in its goodbye to
Serrano and did not include the usual formula of "she will take on other
responsibilities." The text didn't even describe her "excellent
performance at the head" of the institution. In the grammar of power,
this reservation does not bode well for the woman.

Since their return to the island, all the members of the so-called Wasp
Network have held positions in official bodies, mostly as
vice-presidents. González Llort is the first to manage an organization.

In 1987, shortly after graduating with a Gold Diploma in International
Political Relations, González Llort was part of a tank brigade in
Angola. In the rest of his biography, he emphasizes his participation in
the Wasp Network that concluded with his arrest and imprisonment in the
United States.

For decades the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP)
has been a front for Cuban Intelligence

For decades, ICAP has been a front for Cuban Intelligence. Since their
founding, institutions of this type have existed in the rest of the
socialist countries. Instead of presenting themselves with the
ideological tint of the Marxist court, they wrap themselves in the
clothing of friendship between peoples.

The position of ICAP president can lead its occupant to higher spheres,
as was the case of Sergio Corrieri, who was part of the Central
Committee of the Party and was a member of the State Council. On the
other hand, Kenia Serrano, who had previously been a member of the
National Bureau of the Young Communists Union (UJC), was only able to
ascend to a seat in Parliament.

Source: The Ascent Of The Spy – Translating Cuba -

All You Can Catch in the Almendares River is a Good Infection

"All You Can Catch in the Almendares River is a Good Infection"

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 28 March 2017 — The stench
fills the air and permeates the clothes of El Fanguito residents near
the Almendares River. Those who live there carry that stink everywhere,
it gets into your nose and into your pores. The main river flowing
through Havana barely shows any signs of recovery despite several
environmental projects that are trying to rescue it from pollution and

Gonzalo once lived from fishing in the vicinity of this river, which the
natives called Casiguaguas and which gave its current name to one of the
country's most famous baseball teams. The Almendares has been a part of
the old man's life from the time he gets up in the morning until he lies
down at night. All his memories begin and end in its waters.

A resident of El Fanguito neighborhood for more than 70 years, Gonzalo
recalls the crystalline channel that he knew as a child. In those waters
he fished with his friends, dived in to escape the heat, looked for
small treasures of stone or metal in its depths. But these are old
stories and only exist in the memories of the oldest residents.

A study published in 2005 by the Ministry of Science, Technology and
Environment (CITMA) warned that the main channel of the river was in a
"critical hygienic and health situation." The report drafted by
specialists at the Higher Institutes of Technologies and Applied
Sciences documented, at that time, 70 sources that dumped hazardous
waste into its waters with "high levels of organic and inorganic
contaminants, among them toxic substances such as heavy metals."

The river bank has been systematically stripped of trees and in the last
decades some 17 dams and reservoirs have been created in its
tributaries. Another CITMA study determined that 80% of the
contamination came from organic domestic waste and that some 200 liters
of sewage flows into the river every second.

"The only thing that can be fished here is a good infection," Gonzalo
mocks as he points to those still, dark waters that approach his modest
home. On the shore floats a mass composed mostly of plastic bottles and
bags, while the surface is lit up in many areas due to hydrocarbon spillage.

Domestic and industrial waste has seriously damaged the Almendares's
biodiversity, according to CITMA. Lorenzo Rodriguez Betancourt, a CITMA
specialist, told the official press that the cleaning of the basin was
"an immediate mission, but very complex at the same time, because it
requires a major investment of capital and the creation of awareness in
the residents living close to the area."

Among the measures taken by the government is the closure of the two
beer breweries, the Tropical and the Polar, which dumped part of their
waste into the water, and also replacing the technology of the Mario
Fortuny Gas plant and the Coppelia Ice Cream plant. Several nearby
facilities that produced construction materials were dismantled.

Authorities point to urban settlements as one of the main sources of
pollution, but residents of El Fanguito defend themselves. "This
neighborhood does not have a sewer," says Rosa, a retired teacher who
settled in the area two decades ago. "We paid the bills for water and
electricity but outside that we have been forgotten by everyone," she says.

Every day, the woman takes care of her bodily needs in a can that she
empties at night in a nearby mound. The place is full of debris and a
truck rarely comes to pick it up. Legends abound about crocodiles and
enormous catfish known as claria that swallow everything in their
path. At night, families prefer to stay indoors and one of the first
lessons they teach their children is "don't swim in the river."

Rosa was filled with hopes a decade ago when a project led by then Vice
President Carlos Lage was heralded as the solution for the slum. The
project included the construction of new houses, the asphalting of
streets and even several playgrounds for children in the area. But the
idea never moved past the planning stage and Lage was soon ousted.

Instead of improvements, the neighborhood has continued to grow, chaotic
and impoverished. More than two hundred houses dot the banks of the
river, cramped and flimsy. The police avoid going into the area and on
rainy days everything takes on the color of mud.

Some initiatives focus momentary attention on the problem, such as the
recently concluded Casiguaguas River Festival, which, under the motto
"For Cleaner Water," brought together various social actors and
institutions interested in environmental action. But after the headlines
in the press and the TV reports, the sewage took over once again.

For Armando Hernández López, representative of the National Sports and
Recreation Institute (INDER), who gave a lecture at the second River
Festival, many communities on the bank have "poor housing, overcrowding,
precarious sanitation, low educational levels, school dropouts and
alcoholism, where in spite of the talks carried out by different
sectors, the sanitary and hygienic conditions become more acute."

Clara María Kindelán, a specialist at the Provincial Center for Hygiene
and Epidemiology, believes that the main actions should be taken in
communities and work centers. The state of the river does not yet allow
"sanitation activities where participants have contact with water.
Decontaminating the Almendares River will be our main challenge in the
coming years," she says.

A representative of CITMA in the capital said that the pollutants have
been reduced, but that there are still more than 50. The official adds
to the list sources of waste that have been closed, including "two paper
mills and a rubber company." Although the latter, she clarified, has
begun to be readied to reopen, "by a political decision."

For the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution at
19th and Rio Streets in El Fanguito, the urgency is to move from words
to deeds. "All they do is talk to us about eliminating the sewage that
goes into to the river, but nobody is in charge of building or helping
to build a good sewer." The resident says that there have been "angry
outbursts" in the community because the children "play around these waters."

Meanwhile, the elderly Gonzalo no longer registers the stench that
permeates his house and his skin. He looks at the river of his childhood
as a convalescent relative that needs urgent therapy. He has lost the
illusion of ever swimming in its waters again someday.

Source: "All You Can Catch in the Almendares River is a Good Infection"
– Translating Cuba -

Raul Castro Modifies His Brother’s Orders

Raul Castro Modifies His Brother's Orders / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 27 March 2017 — At age 85, infirm, and ten months
from his much trumpeted retirement, Raul Castro directs the Minister of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces to modify Order Number One of the
deceased Commander in Chief.

According to an unexpectedly transparent account from a corpulent and
not very young Cuban official, "Cuba has a rusty army that, taking into
account all its forces — land, sea and air — as well as reservists,
exceeds 700,000 troops [in a country of just over 11 million people].
Every unit, regiment or battalion chief dictates an Order One, that
rules the behavior of the men under his command.

"For his part, the Commander in Chief, which in Cuba is the same person
as the head of state, decrees an Order One, that governs the conduct of
the members of all institutions, be they military or not, charged with
the defense and security of the state.

"To violate this precept, as many of us know, could be considered an act
of high treason and imply a penalty that ranges from a warning to the
death penalty. It is so stipulated in martial law.

"But Fidel is water under the bridge, he's dead, and although Raul has
chosen not to call himself Commander in Chief out of respect for the
memory of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, the reality is that when
he inherited the post of head of state, he also inherited that
'honorific rank.' So now, that he is the Commander in Chief should he
change the Order? Not necessarily."

"The Order One," he continues, "obliges all the military, among other
things, not to have relations with foreigners, counterrevolutionaries or
emigres, and to endure with stoicism the rigors of service. That has to
change, not because the Commander died, it is transformed because the
operative situation changed, the world scenario and the sociopolitical
conditions of Cuba.

"We see," he reflects, "Today, there are fewer trees among the so-called
Amazons, family and friends of Cuban leaders, officials, military and
revolutionaries living outside this country. Some are coming back,that's
great; but it is not fair, nor ethical, nor moral, that so long as it is
forbidden for many, some, I among them, have an exemption to engage with
our exiled relatives, which, to a large extent, I must admit, left
because of us. That is why the law changes, by the force that, with
great dignity, some officers are doing that which we don't want to call
attention to."

"The other reason is more obvious," he adds. "At the time that mandate
arose, back in the 60s, there was no economic conglomerate of Cuban
soldiers with the force today held by the military run GAESA Group
(Business Administration Group SA). The negotiations of this group, or
of the Universal Stores, the Mariel Special Economic Zone, or ANTEX,
ALMEST, GEOCUBA, GAVIOTA, TECNOTEX, any of the 57 companies owned by the
Armed Forces or other civilian companies run by the military are carried
out with foreigners, or with emigrant Cubans who now reside abroad. The
order fell into obscurity, so that, following it closely, even Luis
Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Callejas [Raul Castro's son-in-law] should be
tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment for violating the regulations."

"We have to change things," he tells me like a punch line, "but
modifying Order One is only one part of an integrated agenda that
includes repealing outdated laws and instituting others that don't
hinder the transition to a more democratic, more participate and open
society, without abandoning our principles."

Source: Raul Castro Modifies His Brother's Orders / Juan Juan Almeida –
Translating Cuba -

Mississippi businesses see potential for trade with Cuba

Mississippi businesses see potential for trade with Cuba

Biloxi businessman Mike Alise was among a delegation from Mississippi
who traveled to Cuba in February to look for trade opportunities.
Alise, the owner and operator of Gulf Coast Produce, said he was struck
by the lack of available food on the island and the fact that Cuba has
to import the most basic commodities from Vietnam and other distant sources.
"I met with the minister of agriculture and he said they need food they
can buy from the states," Alise said. With his business connections and
distribution network, Alise said he could help fill the gap. "I get rice
from Crowley, La., 600 miles away, and (Cuba) is buying it from
Vietnam," he said.
Another item readily available in the U.S. but in short supply in Cuba
is fresh milk. "I'd send a truck to Miami full of milk. It's 90 miles
away by ship"to Cuba he said.
Gulf Coast Produce, owned by Alise and wife Christi, has two warehouses
in Biloxi and Foley, Ala., and had $40 million in sales last year.
The trade trip Alise and other business people took Feb.19-22 was
arranged by the Mississippi Development Authority. It dovetailed with a
visit by Sen. Thad Cochran and officials representing Mississippi ports
and other interests.
MDA officials said interest in doing business with Cuba is high among
state businesses, including wood products, industrial machinery,
construction products and shipping.
"The areas holding the most potential for doing business with Cuba are
for food products such as produce, poultry, rice and other agricultural
products and for logistics in the case of our two deep water ports,
Gulfport and Pascagoula," said Rose Boxx, director of MDA's
International Trade Division. "Cuba imports most of the commodities they
consume and use on a daily basis."
She said the ports signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cuba
National Port Administration during the recent trade mission.
"Tourism and foreign direct investment have also increased tremendously
in Cuba over the past two years, creating the need for more goods to
support the hospitality industry and the infrastructure improvements to
the island from foreign capital," Boxx said.
Alise said there are opportunities for everything from hotels to
restaurants. "It's incredible," he said.
MDA hosted a seminar in October on doing business with Cuba to help
businesses learn how to capitalize on the changing Cuban market. "In
addition to our recent educational seminar and trade mission, we speak
and meet one-on-one regularly with companies interested in Cuba
regarding the current regulations, business environment and
opportunities," Boxx said. "We are also in regular communication with
our trade contacts at the Cuba Embassy in Washington, D.C., in order to
stay informed and continue to enhance Mississippi's trade with Cuba."
Alise said the first trip was a "meet and greet" exchange and that he
would like to return to Cuba in a couple of months to build and maintain
contacts there. "They like building relationships. I want to go back and
get out to the farms, see what they're growing and do some fact finding.
I've done that for years with Panama and Colombia," he said.
Alise said he's interested in bringing in farmers to teach Cubans how to
grow garlic and other products to diversify their crops. He in turn
would buy the excess crops to sell in the U.S., much like distributors
do now with countries such as Honduras. "It lets them be self
sufficient," he said. "They are hard working people but they just need
some help and we're the closest to them. And Cubans like to do business
in the southern U.S. region, which makes sense" because of the proximity
and access.
Alise said the state has a lot to gain from trade with Cuba. "It's
exciting for Mississippi if we wrap our heads around it," he said.

Source: Mississippi businesses see potential for trade with Cuba -
Mississippi Business Journal -



YOU CAN'T VISIT Cuba and not hear reggaetón. The eclectic mix of salsa,
hip-hop and electronica blasts from shops, cars and bike taxis. And
despite government censorship and limited internet access, the genre
exploded in popularity thanks to "el paquete," a grassroots distribution
system that relies on nothing more than hard drives, thumb drives, and
old-fashioned hand delivery.

"My neighbor has some kid who rides by on his bike and drops off this
hard drive," says Cuban-American photographer Lisette Poole, who lives
in Havana. "She copies whatever she wants, then he comes and picks it up
two hours later."

Poole celebrates this vibrant movement in Reggaetón. Her colorful,
energetic photos show superstar reggaetóneros like Jacob Forever and
Chacal y Yakarta in the studio, meeting fans, and singing for thousands
of people at county fairs and elite nightclubs. "Cubans love to express
themselves and have fun and really dance," Poole says. "The reggaetón
scene is part of that self-expression."

Reggaetón started in Panama in the 1970s, and spread to Cuba in the
early 2000s with the release of albums like Cubanito 20.02's Soy
Cubanito. The government found the entire genre, with its overtly sexual
lyrics, vulgar and demeaning and banned it in 2012. It eased up a bit in
the years since, but still prohibits reggaetón artists from appearing on
most state-run TV and radio or recording in state-run studios. El
Paquete ("the packet") became the only way for reggaetóneros to
reach adoring fans. "That's how this music has been able to gain such
popularity without having access to TV or radio," Poole says.

Or much access to the internet. Less than 30 percent of Cubans are
online, and those who are usually surf the web at public hotspots in
parks. They pay about $1.50 an hour—a hefty sum in a nation where most
people earn around $25 a month, and the government monitors online
activity. El paquete started in Havana in 2008. Each Saturday, one
terabyte of music, TV shows, and even commercials hits the street. A
network of 300 vendors pays $20 apiece to copy the data onto hard
drives. Couriers deliver the drives to hundreds of customers, who pay
anywhere from $5 to $15 to download the content, which they sell to
some three million people throughout the country.

Poole moved to Cuba in 2014 and noticed reggaetón's influence
everywhere. Young people sport similar haircuts (long on top, shaved on
the sides), tight pants, and oversized t-shirts just like their favorite
reggaetóneros. The music even infects the language. Lyrics like "hasta
se seque el malecon" ("until the seafront dries up"), from a hit song by
Jacob Forever, became a common expression on the street. "It kinda
means, 'This party goes all night,' or, 'This will go on forever,'"
Poole says. She began collecting songs from the packet and shooting
concerts in the spring of 2015. By fall, she was following reggaetón
bands on tour and visiting them in their homes and studios.

Her magnetic images capture the infectious energy and electricity of
reggaetón. Producers hole up in studios laying down the latest track. A
music video shoot fills a busy city street. Artists perform on stage,
half-illuminated by strobe lights and obscured in smoke while screaming
fans claw at their feet. Everyone is lost in the beat. Even Poole is
addicted. "Right now I like this new guy Harrison's song 'Onaonao,'" she
says. "You'd hear it and go, 'What the heck?' But it grows on you when
you've been here for a while."

Poole's short documentary film, Reggaetón Revolution: Cuba in the
Digital Era, is playing at the Norwegian Embassy in Havana March 31st.

UPDATE: 13:43 03/30/17: A caption originally stated it cost 10 Cuban
pesos for a concert. It is actually 10 Cuban convertible pesos. A quote
was also updated for clarification.

Source: How Reggaetón Exploded All Over Cuba Without the Internet |

Mariela Castro promotes pro-LGBT ‘legislative package’ in Cuba

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 -

Thugs Beat Pregnant Pro-Democracy Dissident 'in the Belly,' Put Father in the Hospital

Cuba: Thugs Beat Pregnant Pro-Democracy Dissident 'in the Belly,' Put
Father in the Hospital
by FRANCES MARTEL29 Mar 2017110

An unidentified mob attacked two members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba
(UNPACU) – a pregnant teen and her activist father – on Sunday night,
hurling bottles at them and reportedly punching the woman in the belly.
The activists in question are 52-year-old Ángel López Figueroa and his
18-year-old daughter Ariadna López Sotolongo, who is six months
pregnant. According to Sotolongo's father-in-law, who spoke to the
Miami-based Martí Noticias, a mob formed outside the family home in
Havana on Sunday night and began attempting to break into the house.

"They began throwing bottles at the house, that is when they hurt the
father. They tried to open the front door, managed to pry it open and
attack Ángel," according to Roberto Pérez Rodríguez. Sotolongo,
meanwhile, "received blows to the belly" and injured her hand trying to
fight off the mob. Her 13-year-old sister also received unspecified
injuries, according to Pérez.

Images UNPACU has circulated on social media of Figueroa after the
attack indicate that he sustained grave injuries to the head and may be
suffering a concussion.

Journalist Liu Santiesteban writes on Facebook that Figueroa was "left
for almost dead" following the incident and Sotolongo "barely showed
vital signs" upon arriving at the hospital and "almost lost the fetus."

Pérez told Martí that his family struggled to convince their local
clinic to take in the dissidents. "The doctor said things were not that
way, that he had to [receive care] at the hospital… that the ultrasound
had problems," he explained. "Yesterday we had problems, today they told
me the woman who had to work here didn't come in today. That is how
things are with us dissidents."

The Cuban government often recruits civilian members of the Communist
Party – not police – to commit "actos de repudio," or "acts of
repudiation," against dissident headquarters. These acts typically
involve mob attacks on unarmed dissidents in which they are pelted with
garbage, physically attacked, tarred, and insulted with vulgar epithets.

Given its size and its presence throughout the island, UNPACU is one of
the primary targets of the Cuban government's repression efforts against
the pro-democracy opposition, along with the Ladies in White and the
Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) dissident groups. UNPACU is believed
to have more prisoners of conscience among their members than any other
dissident group.

UNPACU suffered a violent attack on its headquarters in Santiago, on the
eastern end of the island, in early March, in which UNPACU leader José
Daniel Ferrer was arrested and "disappeared" to an undisclosed location.
This attack, unlike typical actos de repudio, was executed by Cuban
National Revolutionary Police (PNR). When Ferrer resurfaced, he
described the holding cell police placed him in as akin to a "horror
movie for how much blood there was on the walls, of prisoners who were
beaten and the mosquitos killed by prisoners."

During that raid, police confiscated over one thousand pounds of food
goods – including rice, sugar, vegetables, and meat, all difficult to
procure for the average Cuban.

Ferrer nonetheless told local media that "the majority of our activists
are in high spirits, this type of attack does not discourage them."

This month, UNPACU lost prisoner of conscience Hamell Santiago Maz
Hernández while imprisoned without due process; Maz was facing charges
of "disrespect," a catch-all crime the Cuban police use to imprison
anti-communist dissidents. UNPACU members told media they did not
believe the official story of his demise, "cardiac arrest," and would
continue investigating the incident.

Violence against anti-communist dissidents has skyrocketed since
President Barack Obama visited Cuba a year ago, attending a baseball
game with Raúl Castro and standing silently beside him as he denied the
existence of political prisoners on the island. In addition to
emboldening the Castro regime by promoting business ties with the
dictatorship, President Obama repealed the longstanding refugee policy
known as "wet foot/dry foot," eliminating the little hope Cubans had of
escaping the island, albeit through the dangerous Florida strait. The
last-minute policy change has stranded hundreds of known Cuban nationals
throughout Mexico, Central, and South America.

"We Cubans gave him our heart and he betrayed us," Luis Pedroso, a Cuban
stranded in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, told the Cuban independent outlet 14 y
Medio. "I lost my life."

Source: Cuba: Thugs Beat Pregnant Pro-Democracy Dissident 'in the
Belly,' Put Father in the Hospital - Breitbart -

Cuba starving for children – and here's why

Cuba starving for children – and here's why
Thursday, March 30, 2017 | Charlie Butts (

If Cuba is to emerge into a vital and productive nation, it must first
begin to encourage families. That's the advice of one of the leading
experts on the international pro-life movement.

Dr. Joseph Meaney, a spokesman for Human Life International, is well
versed on Cuba's problems. He explains that the communist nation's low
fertility rate, just 1.7 births per woman, means not enough children are
being born to replace an aging population or provide citizens for the
labor market.

"They have a situation there where there are very few young people," he
tells OneNewsNow. "And the elderly are really becoming the dominant
portion of the population."

He says in addition to the low fertility rate, many young people are
leaving the country – making the situation more dramatic because Cuba
also has a terrible economy.

Thus, many couples avoid having children because they fear they will be
unable to provide for them. Others are reluctant to bring children into
the world because of the political, social, and religious persecution.

"The government promotes abortion rampantly," Meaney says, "so many of
the children are just not born. There's an enormous abortion rate."

According to 2010 date compiled by the United Nations, there were nearly
30 abortions for every 1,000 Cuban women of childbearing age.

Meaney notes that a Cuban citizen can get more prison time for killing a
cow than a human being. In addition, Cuba spends a good deal of money
providing luxury accommodations for Communist elite and building upscale
hotels to attract tourists.

Source: Cuba starving for children – and here's why -

Florida lawmakers ask Trump administration to revoke Havana Club trademark license

Florida lawmakers ask Trump administration to revoke Havana Club
trademark license

A bipartisan Florida Congressional delegation is asking the Trump
administration to revoke a license granted to a Cuban company to
register the Havana Club rum trademark in the United States as part of a
Cuba policy review now under way.

The 25 House representatives, led by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, issued a letter asking the
departments of State and Treasury to revise the February 2016 decision,
when the Treasury's Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) — following
a State Department recommendation — broke a long-standing position and
granted a license to the Cubaexport company that allowed it to register
the Havana Club rum brand in the U.S.

"We believe that OFAC's decision to depart from precedent is untenable
and that the Executive branch must continue to honor our nation's
intellectual property laws and policies," the letter said.

The lawmakers specifically asked for explanations about why OFAC did not
apply section 211 — in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998 — which
stipulates that OFAC should investigate whether the trademark in
question is linked to confiscated property, and whether the party
seeking registration has obtained permission from the original owners of
the stolen mark.

The Congress members said they are worried about the precedent set by
the decision, which could affect other cases and weaken protection
against the expropriation of U.S. intellectual property by foreign
governments. Also, they rejected the argument made by the State
Department — under former President Barack Obama — that the granting of
the license was consistent with the new foreign policy toward Cuba.

"It was a decision made for political expedience that ignored standing
U.S. law and potentially opened a Pandora's box that could see U.S.
intellectual property rights holders subject to unlawful and unjust
foreign confiscations," Ros-Lehtinen said.

Wasserman Schultz also urged OFAC to "reverse this misguided decision
and send a loud and clear message to the international community that
the United States has been and always will be a global leader on
intellectual property rights."

Amy Federman, a Bacardí spokeswoman, said the company was "pleased to
see that support for intellectual property rights and opposing illegal
foreign confiscations continues to have bipartisan Congressional support."

"The company supports both legislation and legal action to uphold the
principle of protection of trademarks and ensuring trademarks that have
been confiscated by the Cuban government without the consent of their
rightful owners not be recognized by the international community," she

The complicated case involves property confiscated by the Castro
government of the Arechabala family, the original producer of the Havana
Club rum. Bacardí — also a famous producer of rum expropriated by the
Cuban government, which has legally battled for control of the trademark
— claims to be the legitimate heir of the brand because it bought the
rights in an agreement with the Arechabala company in 1997. Both
entities assert that they have never authorized Cubaexport to use the
Havana Club trademark.

But Cubaexport managed to register the trademark — fraudulently,
according to Bacardí, because it was done without mention of the
confiscated properties — during a period in which the Arechabala company
left its registration to expire. In 2006, the OFAC denied Cubaexport the
ability to pay for its renewal. An appeal by the Cuban government
reached the Supreme Court, which dismissed the case and sent it back to
the Patent and Trademark Office.

Last year's decision took Bacardí by surprise, and the company
immediately filed an amended complaint with the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia. According to a company spokeswoman, nothing
has yet moved in court.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Florida lawmakers to Trump: revoke Havana Club trademark license
| Miami Herald -

Activist on hunger strike is transferred to an isolated intermediate care room

Activist on hunger strike is transferred to an isolated intermediate
care room
DDC | Holguín | 30 de Marzo de 2017 - 11:20 CEST.

On Monday Cuban activist Anairis Miranda Leyva was moved to an isolated
intermediate care room at the provincial hospital of Holguin after
spending 22 days on a hunger strike, her mother, Maydolis Leyva, told
Martí Noticias.

Her twin sister, Adairis, continues at the Lucía Iñiguez Surgical
Clinic, and their brother, Fidel Batista Leyva, is being kept
incomunicado in a punishment cell at the province's Cuba sí jail.

Leyva told the outlet that: "last night she learned that her daughter
Anairis had been transferred from her room at the Lenin hospital to an
isolated intensive care room."

"Only the medical personnel attending to her have access to my daughter.
I found out that next to her there are two guards, permanently, and they
have placed green curtains around her, so that she cannot be seen," said
her mother.

According to Leyva, Anairis's room change and isolation are due to her
complaint to the authorities that in the room where her daughter was
hospitalized she had been handcuffed to the bed.

Her mother, an opposition activist, has not heard from the other twin
sister, also hospitalized.

Fidel Batista Leyva remains in a punishment cell at the Cuba Sí jail.
According to her mother, she has been informed that he "could be taken
to a hospital" on Wednesday.

She was able to have some brief contact with Batista before he was taken
to the punishment cell. He had told her that, in addition to her hunger
strike, he had decided not to drink water either, at which point he
began to "urinate blood."

The family of dissidents belongs to the Movimiento Cubano Reflexión. In
November of last year the regime arrested the three siblings and their
mother, and accused them of the "defamation of institutions and the
martyrs of the fatherland" during the ceremonies to mourn the death of
Fidel Castro.

Last February, the three siblings were sentenced to one year of
internment, their mother receiving the same sentence, but under house
arrest. The activists have maintained their innocence, and commenced a
hunger strike to protest irregularities in the judicial process, and to
demand their freedom.

Source: Activist on hunger strike is transferred to an isolated
intermediate care room | Diario de Cuba -

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Requiem For My Havana

Requiem For My Havana / Somos+, Grettha Yedra

Island, what happened to you?
Who changed the spring?
Who shut the door?
What ship left you alone?

Island, they have changed your clothes
They have distorted decency
They have trafficked your innocence
They have shit on your equality and mine.

Island, by Lien Y Rey

Somos+, Gretther Yedra Rodriguez, 29 March 2017 — A few days ago I
arrived from Cuba. I was there about a month. Havana was where I spent
most of my time. I hadn't seen it for almost two years, two years of not
feeling the breath of the Malecon which enchants even the most
skeptical. I suffered the spectacle. The most controversial capital in
the world felt to me like a Dantesque chaos. In a few years, I thought,
it's going to look like a pile of trash where there once was a city.
Cardboard houses proliferate on the periphery and spread throughout the
country. Havana, my beautiful Havana, what happened to you?

I saw something that I had not seen before and that, in the country
where I now reside, caused me great sorrow: I saw beggars, tons of them.
Beggars and children wandering aimlessly along the Malecon and the
historic center. Old people with lost gazes, filled with despair and
empty hands. Irritable people, alcoholic men… and even women. State
companies in a lamentable state, indolent workers who say NO for the
pleasure of saying it.

I saw Havana as a raggedy old man, lying in a doorway while a copy of
the Granma newspaper pretends to protect him from the cold.

On my way from Matanzas to the city I could see idle lands, plagued by
the invasive marabou weed, and I thought enviously of the Ecuadorian
earth, deeply cultivated, filled with cattle, of the rows of plants
created by the indians and native people. I thought with sadness that
there was a time when Cuban land did not suffer by comparison to the
beautiful Andean land. It is not necessary to be a specialist to see the
decline in agricultural and livestock, to notice the huge expanses of
idle farmland, the volume of imported food continually increasing,
making up for the deficit in national production.

While most of the Asian and Latin American countries lagged behind Cuba
in the 1960s, they have now overtaken Cuba in the diversification of
their economies, the development of competitive manufacturing sectors
for export, and the decline in their dependence on a limited group of
export products. And knowing this data and returning to Cuba, it
hurts. It forces you to rethink many things, to not remain silent when
the instinct of self-preservation demands it.

As I was walking along Montes street, I looked in disbelief at how the
building collapses multiplied in only two years of absence. A man,
seeing my puzzled face, told me: "Looks like they threw bombs, right?"
My silence was agreement. And the bombs exploded in my head. Nothing
they promised was fulfilled, economic failure has made a beautiful
country into an arid land, cold and dirty, where people fight to survive.

How to wake an entire people from their slumber? How to tell them that
humanity said "Enough" and got up and walked, and that we should do the
same if we want a future?

We cannot remain with the masterful lines of Gabriel García Márquez,
where an omniscient narrator asserts that those condemned to a hundred
years of solitude do not have a second chance on earth. We are not
García Márquez's fictional Macondo, we are Cuba. We come from the line
of Maceo, Gomez and Martí, Jose Antonio Echeverria, Frank and
Camilo. Let us honor these men by rescuing what we have all lost. Let us
awaken from this lethargy and, without shaking off the dust of the road,
let us act. These are times to act.

It would kill me to say that Cubans are afraid, that it is difficult to
reveal ourselves to a totalitarianism that constantly represses and
annuls. In Cuba today, fear no longer exists, what we lost was faith and
with it shame. From the ashes of Havana we must rescue her.

Source: Requiem For My Havana / Somos+, Grettha Yedra – Translating Cuba

Health Of Three Siblings On Hunger Strike In Cuba Worsens

Health Of Three Siblings On Hunger Strike In Cuba Worsens

14ymedio Havana, 27 March 2017 — The health of the siblings Fidel
Batista Leyva, and Anairis and Adairis Miranda Leyva is worsening, as
Monday marked their 21 days on a hunger strike, according to their
mother, Maydolis Leyva Portelles, who spoke with 14ymedio.

Members of the Cuban Reflection Movement, the three siblings are
experiencing "a serious deterioration" of their health.

In a telephone conversation, Leyva denounced the "cruel and inhuman"
treatment she has received from the political police who will not allow
her to see her twin daughters, one of them admitted to the Vladimir
Ilich Lenin University General Hospital of Holguin and the other in
Lucía Iñiguez Landín Clinical Surgical Hospital.

"All patients have the right to see their relatives at two in the
afternoon but I have been told that until my daughters stop the strike I
cannot see them," says the mother.

14ymedio contacted the Lenin Hospital by telephone and was able to
confirm with the information desk that Anairis Miranda has been admitted
to the intermediate therapy care room in bed 2. Medical sources report
her condition as "serious."

The nurse on duty in the intermediate therapy room explained that
Adairis Miranda, sister of Anairis, "is not reported to be in as serious
a condition," but continues in "voluntary starvation."

Leyva explains that her son is being held in the Cuba Sí Holguin Prison
where as of Monday he has been a hunger strike for 21 days, with five
days of that also on a thirst strike.

"Despite the prolonged strike they keep him in a punishment cell
sleeping on the ground," says his mother.

The three siblings were serving sentences of one year accused of the
crimes of public disorder and of defamation of heroes and martyrs. The
authorities accuse them of having "made a provocation" last November 27,
during the days of national mourning over the death of former President
Fidel Castro, an accusation that the three deny.

Later the activists were victims of an act of repudiation; their homes
were raided, they were beaten and their personal property was stolen,
concluding in the arrest of the three siblings

The Miranda Leyva twins were held in the Provincial Women's Prison,
while Batista Leyva was a prisoner at La Ladrillera Work Camp, from
where he was transferred to Cuba Sí, a penitentiary with a more severe

The strikers demand the "unconditional freedom for the 10 political
prisoners of the Cuban Reflection Movement" and the "acquittal" of Dr.
Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement.

The regime opponent Librado Linares who heads the Cuban Reflection
Movement told14ymedio that the siblings are being held prisoner "unjustly."

"Those responsible for their lives are placed at the highest level, from
Raul Castro to the authorities of the Interior Ministry in the province,
for having thrown them into this situation," said Linares.

Source: Health Of Three Siblings On Hunger Strike In Cuba Worsens –
Translating Cuba -

Young Cuban Women Skaterboarders Defy Gravity And Machismo

Young Cuban Women Skaterboarders Defy Gravity And Machismo

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havna, 28 March 2017 — A pirouette and life is
turned upside down. Another and the wheels crash against the pavement
leaving a mark in their path. Cuban women skaters defy gravity and
machismo, two forces trying to make them fall. Their dreams are told in
the documentary Sisters on Wheels by director Amberly Alene Ellis,
currently in the United States.

The film looks at the phenomenon of skateboarders told from the
experience of young Cuban women who practice a sport marked by
prejudice. Not only must they deal with the animosity still provoked in
some observers, but also with putting themselves in "a territory of men."

The protagonists of Sisters on Wheels display the technical difficulties
of practicing this discipline in Cuba, with few resources and places to
skate for training. The young women talk about their struggle to have
skateboarding recognized as a sport, far beyond an entertaining pastime.

The Amigo Skate project has helped alleviate the material hardships of
some of these young women. The initiative asks, from its on-line site,
for people to bring or send skateboarding equipment to the island, and
facilitates events linked to the sport, in additional to concerts and
the painting of murals.

Cuban-American René Lecour is part of the solidarity project and the
director of Sisters on Wheels came to the reality
of skateboarding through him. In a country where very few skateboards
have been marketed and there are barely enough spare parts to fix a
broken table, the practice becomes complicated. However, new
technologies help, with videos and tutorials that teach spinning and
other techniques.

Ellis, who traveled to the island initially to film material about women
filmmakers, was attracted by the "innovation" she saw in these urban
athletes and knew first hand about a similar phenomenon in her own
country when "skateboarding pioneers, in the '80s, made their own boards
with what they could find."

"Without intending to, we moved from filmmaking to skating," recalls the
director, who believes skating becomes an act of protest for these young
people in a nation where the government regulates every centimeter of
reality, especially the sports scene.

The documentary, which began filming in 2015, uses skateboarding as a
way to approach the national reality and in particular the changes that
occurred after the thaw between the Governments of Cuba and the United

In the practice of skateboarding, the filmmaker sees a gesture of
independence that "is seeking free expression"

Source: Young Cuban Women Skaterboarders Defy Gravity And Machismo –
Translating Cuba -

Cuba’s communists dig in as Castro’s reform drive hits the sand

Cuba's communists dig in as Castro's reform drive hits the sand

Islanders mystified as 'economic tsar' Marino Murillo not heard in
public for a year

Cuban president Raúl Castro is preparing to step down next year,
Venezuela has cut millions of dollars in aid and Donald Trump's election
has cast a shadow over the nascent US-Cuba detente. Unnerved by the
changes, Havana has allowed its domestic reform drive to grind to a halt
as the Communist party battens down the hatches.

Marino Murillo, the senior official leading Cuba's reforms, has not been
heard in public for almost a year. His absence has mystified Cubans and
dented the high expectations Mr Castro's liberalising drive once
fomented, both at home and abroad.

"There are three reasons for the pause in the reforms — and I say pause,
because inevitably reforms will continue at some point," says Richard
Feinberg, a Cuba scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"Senior leadership is focused on managing austerity and preparing the
succession as Raúl steps down . . . They are also managing a backlash
over emerging inequality, low state wages and inflation."

Mr Castro made reform the hallmark of his presidency when he formally
took over from his elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008. He sought to
decentralise the economy and boost productivity by allowing
self-employment, slashing state bureaucracy, welcoming foreign
investment and unifying Cuba's dual currency system.

Mr Murillo, who became known as Cuba's "economic reform tsar" when he
was appointed minister of planning and the economy in 2009, was the
technocrat in charge of implementing the changes. In some ways, he and
Mr Castro made up a tag team that repeatedly cajoled Cuba's stolid
bureaucracy to reform.

While Mr Castro's revolutionary stature provided moral cover, Mr Murillo
gave lengthy PowerPoint presentations to party and government members
that explained the changes. His talks, usually an hour long, were later
broadcast on state television, sometimes more than once.

By contrast, Mr Murillo has not uttered a word in public since last
July. At the same time, price controls have been slapped on burgeoning
private sector businesses in agriculture and transport.

The reversal comes as Mr Castro, 85, prepares to carry out his pledge to
step down as president on February 24 next year. If he does so, 2018
will be the first time in six decades that Cuba has not been ruled by a
Castro — although he is expected to remain head of the Communist party
and armed forces. Fidel Castro died last November.

"In a way, the reforms have not gone far enough but at the same time too
far," says Bert Hoffman, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global
and Area Studies. "Not far enough to . . . lift up growth [but] too far
in that social inequalities are widening, the cost of living is rising
and the Communist party fears the discontent this produces."

These tensions became clear at a party congress in April 2016, which
admitted that reforms had failed to meet popular expectations in terms
of economic growth, supplies of goods and higher wages. At the same
time, a debate on state television showed party delegates fuming over a
private onion farmer who had earned enough money to buy a car and fix
his house.

In many ways, Cuba has been here before. Reformist officials have often
had their wings clipped after liberalising drives were stifled by
hardliners who feared loss of control. One famous case is that of Carlos
Lage, Fidel Castro's "economic fixer" in the 1990s, who was
unceremoniously dismissed in 2009 and now works as a paediatrician.

One difference today is that Mr Murillo still seems to enjoy official
blessing. He was promoted to the powerful politburo in 2011 and remains
chairman of the government's economic policy commission.

The slowdown in domestic reforms suggests the orthodox wing of the
Communist party is strengthening, says Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor
emeritus of economics at Pittsburgh University and a long-time Cuba
watcher. He sees reform opponents using Mr Murillo as a scapegoat to
strengthen their position before Mr Castro steps down.

"All this has been a severe blow to Murillo, although the main problem
is the deterioration of the Venezuelan economy," he says.

Caracas has long supplied Havana with 100,000 barrels per day of
subsidised oil, but Venezuela's economic and political crises have
forced it to cut shipments by as much as 40 per cent. Largely as a
result, Cuba's economy shrank by almost 1 per cent in 2016, entering its
first recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In another setback for reformists, Mr Trump has promised to re-examine
the detente begun under his predecessor Barack Obama — although the US
president has taken no concrete steps since his election last November.
His state department has yet to appoint an official in charge of Latin
American affairs.

Some US businesses have scaled back their initial euphoria about
opportunities in Cuba. Although 615,000 Cuban-Americans and US tourists
visited the country last year — of a total 4m foreign visitors —
Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways cancelled scheduled US flights on
March 13, citing lack of demand and market saturation. American Airlines
and JetBlue have also reduced their schedules.

"They [the Cubans] have managed quite well to dampen reform
expectations," says a senior European diplomat, referring to Mr
Murillo's muting.

However, the corollary of prioritising political stability over economic
reforms, at least for now, is that complaints about government inertia,
low wages, high prices, shortages and deteriorating services have become

One clear sign of that came in a rare private survey carried out in Cuba
late last year by the independent NORC research group at the University
of Chicago, in which 46 per cent described the country's economy as
"poor or very poor". A similar number said they expected it to stay the
same while only three in 10 expected it to improve. Remarkably, half of
polled Cubans said they wanted to leave the country.

Source: Cuba's communists dig in as Castro's reform drive hits the sand

No bandits, scum, or mercenaries (bandidos, escoria, mercenarios) - learning to speak without the keywords of Castroist propaganda

No bandits, scum, or mercenaries (bandidos, escoria, mercenarios):
learning to speak without the keywords of Castroist propaganda
FRANCISCO ALMAGRO DOMÍNGUEZ | Miami | 29 de Marzo de 2017 - 11:00 CEST.

On March 11 Cuban television aired The Other War (La otra guerra) a
series on the civil conflict (1960-1966) that took place in the center
of the Island and produced thousands of victims. As is typical of
political propaganda, the series seems to lack the essential balance
between good and evil, and exhibits a substantial detachment from
historical truth: the "bandits" (bandidos) remain those who rose up
against the Communist regime; the civil war is still called "clean-up of
Escambray," (limpia del Escambray) as if it just involved cleansing some
pestilent redoubt.

Assuming that the democratization of information, and the passage of
time, have enabled those living on the island to harbor a more balanced
understanding of those days can be a critical mistake. There may be no
little glasses of milk, or free bread, as had been promised by the
regime, but a steady diet of anti-history and political manicheism is
and will be guaranteed. Most of our compatriots have a skewed view of
the past, and, as a consequence, of the future. As with the psychotic,
their views are impervious to the logic of evidence.

Perhaps for this and many other reasons it is necessary to explain to
newcomers, before any legal process, or job application, that there are
words and concepts that on this side of the water are not used, or are
understood in a completely different way, or are even
offensive. Fernando Ortiz conceived the term catauro, a kind of rustic
basket used in fields, as a dictionary to "translate" Cuban terminology
that is difficult to understand for other Spanish speakers, or those
speaking other languages.

A generous humanitarian gesture would be to read to each new Cuban
immigrant this new catauro, a kind of lexical primer. For example,
those who live in this country and in this city are not gusanos
(worms). We are people. Those arriving probably still call escoria
(scum) those who left from the Port of Mariela; as in, "He came with the
scum." We should talk about the thousands of Cubans who arrived 50 years
ago with nothing but the shirts on their backs, or those who, 40 ago,
crammed into boats full of madmen and criminals. They are the ones who
have built this beautiful and vibrant city.

Cuba was no pseudocolony of the US. In 1959 almost 70% of Cuban industry
and commerce were in the hands of nationals. It was a republic whose
independence was recognized on May 20, 1902, and not on January 1. Cuba
was a country that had several presidents (some true heroes in the War
of Independence), a Senate, House, and Supreme Court, with their highs
and lows, but more good than bad, allowing it to became one of the most
advanced republics in the Americas in the 50s.

Among the ranks of the strong opposition to the Batista regime there
were rich people, merchants, professionals, workers, peasants and
students. It was not a "class struggle". No senior leader of the armed
opposition to Batista was a worker or a peasant. And in the early
months of the effort there was little talk of Communism, Lenin or Marx.
In fact, the Cuban people were thoroughly anti-Communist. Unfortunately
for the propagandists, there are reels and reels of film and hundreds of
yellowed pages constituting incontrovertible evidence of this.

The catauro of terms should include a chapter dedicated to the Bay of
Pigs. The so-called "mercenaries" were young Cubans who did not fight
under the US flag, but rather that of their homeland, Cuba. They did
receive US financial support and training. But, as history would have
it, there has not been a single strike against an oppressor in Cuba that
has not been funded by and supported from the US territory, whether
actively or passively. Here in Miami they respect and revere the
"invaders" of the Bay of Pigs. To say otherwise is an insult to the
memory of nearly 100 Cubans killed in combat, or who ended up in prison.

Finally, it is important for the catauro or primer for the
visitor/emigrant to Miami to clarify that the "clean-up of Escambray"
was an actual civil war in the Cuban mountains, and that the regime
displaced entire civilian populations to the far end of the island,
seizing all their property, as part of a kind of a "reconcentration"
that gave rise to the infamous "captive towns."

There were atrocities on both sides: summary executions, torture,
indiscriminate bombing. Many "bandits" had been officers of the Rebel
Army, peasants who had served in the columns that took Santa Clara and
other cities in Las Villas and Camagüey. Which is why the fighters in
Escambray should really be called "mutineers."

Cuban television can keep making all the TV series its wants, while
paying with the material and spiritual poverty of a whole people. Once
Cubans have reached this country, they ought to know that those over
here have the right, and the duty, to tell the other side. Those who
step on this soil will realize, as Rabindranath Tagore said, that the
truth does not belong to he who screams loudest.

Source: No bandits, scum, or mercenaries (bandidos, escoria,
mercenarios): learning to speak without the keywords of Castroist
propaganda | Diario de Cuba -

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Enigmatic Closing Of Plaza Carlos III Causes Discomfort

The Enigmatic Closing Of Plaza Carlos III Causes Discomfort

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 March 2017 – It is almost noon on
Sunday and a young couple, with their two young children in their arms,
stops frustrated in front of the closed gate of the Plaza Carlos III
Shopping Center. For a moment they are confused, they consult the clock
and immediately become inquisitive towards several people who arrived
earlier and who, like them, have stopped in front of the lattice. Some
wait patiently in the entryway from very early, "in case they open
later," but in vain.

The scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24, the day
when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in
Cuba, was closed. Dozens of regular customers from various provinces in
the interior have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small
and laconic sign on the security gate, which warns the obvious and
offers no useful information:




Apologize for the annoyances that we may occasion


Of course, without official information, the surprise closure of Plaza
Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in the
neighborhoods surrounding the enclave, in the heart of downtown Havana,
being one of the pioneer shops of the "opening" to foreign currency
transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the
dollar, back in the 90's of the last century. Since its opening as a
foreign exchange market Carlos III has undergone several renovations in
different stages, but never before have the sales to the public been
completely discontinued.

Rumors are circulating that relate this unusual closure to the recent
fires that have occurred in other establishments that operate in foreign
currency in the municipality. "The management denounced to the fire
department headquarters the bad state of the fire-fighting media,
because it does not want the same thing to happen to them [as in the
last ones], so they are renovating the whole system," say some residents
of the neighborhood who, according to what they say, received that
information from some of the shopping center's employees and officials.
There are those who say that "the firemen came and found that there were
flaws in the fire protection system."

These days, however, no metal or metal bars covering the two entrances
of the Plaza have been seen to deploy personnel or vehicles specializing
in fire-fighting technology, nor have any workers been seen to be
reinstalling or maintaining the electrical networks or other similar tasks.

The most visible interior hassle has been the employees of the place,
occupied in general cleaning of the floors and windows, who have been
reluctant to give explanations to those who are not satisfied with the
simple poster and inquire about the date of reopening. "Until further
notice," they repeat, as automatons, those who deign to respond.

Other neighbors speak of a "general audit" that "becomes very
complicated" due to the large number of shopping mall departments and
the size and complexity of their stores. This conjecture is reinforced,
on the one hand, by the experience of decades of cyclical (and futile)
raids against mismanagement, administrative corruption,
misappropriation, embezzlement, smuggling, black marketing and all other
illegalities to be found in a socioeconomic system characterized by
growing demand, insufficient supply and the poor management of the state
monopoly on the economy. The regularity of which does not escape any
establishment where a high amount of state resources moves.

On the other hand, the surprise and unannounced closing – with all the
losses it entails in a shopping center that bills thousands of pesos in
both national currencies – is a sign of the intervention of the highest
ranking government auditors to detect irregularities on the spot without
giving transgressors time to hide traces of their misdeeds.

If the alleged audit is, in fact, underway, it would be a demonstration
of the nullity of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their
failure to prevent illegalities in the neighborhood. For several months
the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the
commercial center have conferred a deplorable image of a besieged
square, while the "inside" thieves, those who are part of the staff,
looked after their own interests.

Last Sunday some trucks continued unloading merchandise in the Plaza
Carlos III warehouses, which augurs that on an imprecise but possibly
soon date, the mall will be reopened to the public. There is every
indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to
that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments
of the capital that trade in hard currencies.

Affected sites include the hardware stores at 5th, 42nd and La Puntilla,
in the Playa municipality Playa; the Yumurí and Sylvain de Zanja and
Belascoaín stores in Centro Habana; the Pan American TRD on 9th Street,
in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood of the Cerro municipality; and
numerous sale kiosks spread around different points of the city, just to
mention some cases.

While the waiting lasts and the questions accumulate without answers,
the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands in the
intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza
Carlos III will be accompanied with a renewed merchandise, and that at
least in the first days of resumed sales the usually depressed shelves
of the different departments will offer a greater quantity and variety
of products.

Hope is the last thing you lose.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: The Enigmatic Closing Of Plaza Carlos III Causes Discomfort –
Translating Cuba -