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Orlando Palma

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 28 April 2015 — In a park in Central Havana the Grandparents’ Circle meets every week for physical exercises that help to prolong a healthy life. A few yards away, the line to buy rationed bread … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 April 2015 – The high demand for foreign language instruction in Cuba in recent years has forced the Ministry of Education to augment the requirements for access to language schools. Resolution Number 75 of 2015, … Continue reading Continue reading
[1] [2] 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo, Havana, 25 March 2015 -- The newspaper Granma published Wednesday a comprehensive report on milk production in the province of Camagüey. This scenario is grim and confirms the downward trend in terms of delivery of this precious food. Since 2012, Camagüey’s milk production and sales to the industry have declined, both in the cooperative and private sectors.Although in the last five paragraphs it outlined with moderate optimism the possibilities of the sector recovery program, a reading of the article, signed by journalist Miguel Febles, reveals a problem that extends across many sectors of the economy, which can be summed up in the affirmation that the bureaucracy continues to be the heaviest weight dragging down food production in Cuba.In short, the problem is that farmers must deliver the milk they produce to a pre-determined collection center. There samples are taken to assess the quality of each delivery, which is tied to the price of the product. However, instead of paying everyone according to the quality of food they bring to the center, the quality is averaged across all deliveries and the price paid to the farmer is derived from that average. The result is to demotivate improvements in quality. Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed  One of those interviewed, Alexis Gil Perez, director general of the Provincial Dairy Company, explains that the contracts are not with individual farmers but with "the productive base." Gil Perez argues that this does not violate any procedure. "If there are opinions or dissatisfactions, we would have to revise the documents that govern the activity, and this decision can only be taken at the national level,” he adds. “Meanwhile, we must comply with the established provisions. It is not within my powers to vary the range of what we pay for milk.”In a ceremony held in Camagüey on 26 July 2007 {commemorating the rebel attack [3]on the Moncada Baracks), General Raul Castro said that every Cuban would be able to drink a glass of milk [4]. Nearly eight years after that desire failed, the immediate proposal is not even to improve the distribution of what is collected, but to stop the decline in milk production observed in that province since 2012.Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed. Its distribution is controlled by the government and private companies are forbidden from trading in milk products, even in the farmer’s markets. [1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/vaso-leche-CC_CYMIMA20150325_0030_16.png [2] http://www.14ymedio.com/ [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moncada_Barracks [4] https://generacionyen.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/1641/ Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38994" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] A line to buy potatoes in Havana. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)[/caption][2]14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 9 March 2015 -- Last weekend, the arrival of the potato in several farmers markets in Havana provoked fights that recalled the despair of the most difficult years of the Special Period [3]. Hours after the squabbles ended, it was possible to buy potatoes in the same places, but from the hands of those clever enough to speculate in the product.The Ministry of Agriculture authorities insist that the current crop of the tuber is notably larger than last year’s, however the lines and fights to buy them also seem to have multiplied.In the current “potato campaign” 60,000 tons of the product are expected, but precedents raise fears that this estimate will not be reached. The 2014 harvest fell significantly short of the production plan, delivering 53,300 tons instead of the 65,700 tons projected. The difference was felt on the dinner tables of Cuban families and provoked desperation in neighborhoods and villages, something that is easy to observe whenever you see a truck with the precious foodstuff.In the case of the city of Havana, given its population density, the situation becomes more complex. The product is sold in at least 51 authorized markets in the neighborhoods of Playa, Plaza, Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja, Diez de Octubre, La Habana del Este, San Miguel, Boyeros, Arroyo Naranjo and Cerro. These places are battlegrounds where people wait for hours, shouting and shoving.The panorama of long lines and fights is now repeated in the illegal market, where the prices for potatoes have also shot up. If at the official stalls a pound costs one Cuban peso (about 4¢ US), buying them under the table is going to cost you one convertible peso, twenty-five times the official price. And that despite the fact that sales are restricted to twenty pounds a person, a limitation the resellers seem to overcome with ease. If at the official stalls a pound costs one Cuban peso (about 4¢ US), buying them under the table is going to cost you one convertible peso, twenty-five times the official price Nancy Wilson Perich, Commercial Deputy Director of the Provincial Company of Agricultural Markets, looks to the future with optimism, however. According to what this functionary told the official media, the number of stalls selling potatoes will increase to 210 during March, and they are expected to sell 26,500 tons, of which 3,500 have already been sold.Most of the potatoes arriving in the capital this season come from the provinces of Mayabeque, Artemisa, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Ciego de Avila. Perich Wilson says that of the 60,000 tons expected from February to April, about 30,000 will go to into cold storage in Havana, Güira, Alquízar and Guines for later sale.“Operation potato” not only involves the Provincial Company of Agricultural Markets, it also involves the Ministry of Domestic Trade, the Logistics Group of the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Revolutionary Police themselves, who are in charge of controlling lines and maintaining discipline among buyers. A long involved chain, which can neither produce nor distribute this staple efficiently.Farmers point to the scarce supply of seed as responsible for the decrease in the presence of the potatoes in Cuba. Most seeds are imported from the Netherlands and Canada at a cost of over 10 million dollars. The national variety, known as Romano, can’t produce the yields of the foreign seeds, but it has the advantage of coming earlier in the year compared to the foreign supplies, which only begin to arrive in the country starting in the month of November. Farmers complain of poor seed distribution, doled out to them in dribs and drabs, late and often in bad shape Farmers complain of poor seed distribution, doled out to them in dribs and drabs, late and often in bad shape. To this is added the climate requirements for good growth of the tubers, which need a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit for full development. The good news is that, at least in recent weeks, the cold fronts that have hit the western region have been favorable for potato cultivation.The same has not been true for the supply of fertilizers, insecticides and the quality of the irrigation systems of the farmers engaged in this work. Problems are felt in towns such as Alquízar, Güira and Artemis, with a long tradition of potato farming, where farmers reported delays and gaps in the delivery of the "technology package." The bad technical situation or absence of sprayers for pests is one of the obstacles most mentioned by the producers.The potato problem, however, transcends potatoes. It is not just about the difficulties facing production. In 2000 there was a very positive peak of 348,500 tons, almost six times today’s production. The situation is closely related to the increase in prices and the lack of substitute products.This is also the case with rice and meats, which in recent months have experienced cycles of shortages and rising imports. Given the high price of beans, the potato becomes a product that can salvage a meal. The desperation to buy potatoes does not represent a special fondness on the part of Cubans for its flavor, but an urgent need to alleviate the lack of food that has increased in recent months because of shortages.[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/comprar-papas-Habana-Luz-Escobar14ymedio_CYMIMA20150309_0004_13.jpg [2] http://www.14ymedio.com/ [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Period Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38686" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)[/caption][2]14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 -- Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry that links the two shores has resurfaced as a result of talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States.This week, the entrepreneur Brian Hall, who leads the company KonaCat with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, made public his interest in operating ferry trips to Cuba from Marathon’s yachting marina on 11th Street. Hall told the daily digital KeysInfoNet that he was confident of getting available space for his 200-passenger capacity catamaran with which he plans to travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba twice daily.The news has barely reached the Island, but since last December 17 when Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the process for reestablishment of relations between the two countries, the return of the ferry has become a matter of importance for many nostalgic people. In addition to the economic concessions and the political détente that this reconciliation would bring between the two governments, connecting both countries with a maritime route would have, besides its practical effects, a strong symbolism, many assert.All great human endeavors have something to do with madness, say the elders. The ferry service that connected Florida with the Cuban capital started with the efforts of a man. Henry M. Flagler, an oil magnate who in 1886 founded the Florida Faster East Coast Railway for railway construction and exploitation of Florida’s east coast. In spite of the great obstacles imposed by the geography of the keys and the constant danger of hurricanes, Flagler’s madness led him to trace the rail lines to Cayo Hueso, where the service was inaugurated in January 1912. That work would be considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world, besides being the boldest infrastructure built exclusively with private funds.Once the railway was in Cayo Hueso, some way was needed to overcome the distance to Cuba. So was born “the train moving over the waters” as the ferry was also called and whose Havana-Cayo Hueso service was inaugurated January 5, 1915. The first shipment consisted of a batch of refrigerated cars, and the boat received the name of Henry M. Flagler, in homage to the visionary entrepreneur who had died two years earlier. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” The dispatch of products between both shores grew like wildfire after that moment. In 1957 it came to more than half a million tons of merchandise in both directions, to which was added the transport of passengers and cars. The sea connection between the two shores lasted 46 years, and some remember it as if it were yesterday that the last boat had sailed. “My grandmother frequently travelled to Florida on the ferry,” explains Jose Manuel, who has had a bad day for fishing. “We were poor, but part of my family went there to work and sometimes would return the same day,” he says wistfully. Near the fishing pole, seated on the wall of the Malecon, a teenager listens to the conversation and smiles with incredulity. He is of the generation that cannot conceive that at some point the Malecon was not a barrier that separated Cuba from the world but a point of connection with the neighbor to the north.The line tightens, and it seems that something has bit. Jose Manuel concentrates on recovering from the water what is going to be his supper tonight, but in spite of his concentration he manages to say, “The day that I see that ferry arriving here again I will be able to die in peace.”Translated by MLK[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Hueso-La-HistoryMiami-Archives-Research-Center_CYMIMA20150220_0007_16.jpg [2] http://www.14ymedio.com/ Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38657" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana[/caption][2]14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, February 15 2015 – Only a few weeks after Barack Obama’s decision to allow American telecommunications companies to offer their services on the Island, Raúl Castro’s government is making it clear that the virtual world will not exist without limits. Lately, official spokespersons have taken on the task of explaining to the general public that low connectivity in the country is not due to a government decisions, and this seems to be the purpose of the First National Computerization and Cyber Security Workshop, which is scheduled to take place on the 18, 19, and 20 of February.According to the official newspaper Granma, more than 11,000 Cuban computer scientists will participate in the event, “the majority connected through videoconferences.” The quote is directed to sketch out a countrywide regulatory cyber-police in a moment in which pressures for full access to the web have gained force. Alternative phenomena, like the distribution of audiovisual material in the so-called “combos or packages” (flash memories containing foreign TV shows, etc.), have also been pushing authorities from the Ministry of Communication to make decisions in this respect.On February 19 and 20, around “260 specialists will share their opinions in commissions centered on four fundamental topics,” noted the Communist Party’s official media. The agenda includes “the human and scientific resources available in the country, electronic governance, cyber security, and economy and legality.” Throughout the Island, 21 headquarters will be made available for users interested in taking part in the debate and accessing the discussions. By visiting the website www.mincom.gob.cu, they will be able to share opinions and ask questions about the topics discussed, announced Ailyn Febles Estrada, Vice Dean of the University of Information Sciences of Cuba (UCI), on the web portal Cubadebate.One of the most unique results of the event lies in the development of a new social organization that will group together the country’s ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) professionals, into which recent graduates from diverse backgrounds like Information Technology, Computer Science, and Telecommunications could be incorporated. It is a clear attempt to centralize Cubans who have ICT knowledge, many of whom provide services in the private sector repairing computers and smartphones. The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined The words cyber-security in the title of this article have also set off some alarms, since in recent years the government has augmented its ideological combat on the Internet. The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber-police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined as a priority for Cuban authorities.The announcement of this workshop is added to the recent promise made by directives of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) that 136 new “internet cafés” will be opened in the year’s first trimester. The majority of them will be found in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing), where users will pay for connection time in Cuban Pesos. On the close of 2014, 155 collective Internet cafés operated throughout the country, with a total of 573 available computers offering web access, a service that must be paid in Convertible Pesos.According to the recently published report Freedom on the Net 2014, which analyzed 65 countries between May 2013 and May 2014, Cuba is the only country in Latin America designated “not free” in regards to Internet access. The study points out the limitations in accessing the world-wide-web as well as the censorship of certain webpages and the high prices for connecting from public places.Translated by Fernando Fornis[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Palacio-Central-Computacion-Parque-Fraternidad_CYMIMA20150215_0026_16.jpg [2] http://www.14ymedio.com/ Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38577" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] A piece of bread. (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 9 February 2014 – “The flour trail is easy to follow,” says a retired baker whose hands, for more than five years now, haven’t mixed ingredients nor added leavening to a dough. “I left it all behind, because the administrator of the bakery where I worked changed every six months and the last one ended up in jail,” explains this sixties-something man with long arms, wearing a white cap from his days in front of on oven. The illegal market in flour has grown in recent years. With the revival of private businesses offering varied menus, demand for “the white powder” has multiplied. It’s estimated that three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground networks and not from the hard currency stores as required by law.A recent TV report has revealed that the diversion of the grain starts at the mills where the wheat is processed and packaged for distribution throughout the country. Cienfuegos Combined Cereals supplies the product to 11 of the country’s provinces, and a high percentage of its merchandise ends up in the informal networks. The trail this traffic leaves extends from the ships of the Cienfuegos company, passing through the railroad cars of at least three provinces and also involving entities such as the Business Base Unit (UEB) and Cargo Transport (Transcar).The Interior Ministry has an ongoing investigation in response to multiple complaints of shortages of flour. The Controller of the Republic herself has intervened in the matter and at the end of 2014 presided over a tense meeting in Camaguey Province attended by all the entities involved in the embezzlement. That meeting turned into a battlefield where each party defended their own innocence and accused the others.In November 2014, María Victoria Rabelo, director general of the Cuba Milling Company, had sent a long missive with a detailed sequence of the thefts committed against the merchandise marketed by her company, pointing an accusing finger at the railroad authorities. According to the millers’ version, the sacks of precious grain go astray during the journey to numerous destinations in the region.In July of last year, the Department of National Railways reduced the number of staff in the Loading and Unloading Inspection Division. Added to the spending cuts is the illusion that the security of the loads relies more on automated methods and the verification of the locks of every boxcar with merchandise. The result of this measure has been a real catastrophe. Three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground networks In a Provincial Food Company inspection of 60 boxcars, it was determined that between September and October alone, over 100,000 pounds of the precious product disappeared. “If before they reduced the manpower of inspectors they were losing between two and three sacks per boxcar, today we’re talking about losing as much as 17 tons fromone of them,” confessed one Cuba Milling Company official on national television.Ledy Guerrero Ramírez, head of packing and stowage for Cienfuegos Cereal company, said it was impossible that the product was stolen during loading. “No way,” she responded before the insinuation that the main diversion was happening in her entity. “Here we have a computer with two automatic scales and here we have another computer where the number of sacks loaded to a boxcar is programmed in,” she added. Guerrero Ramírez also said that, when the full number of sacks is loaded, the conveyor stops automatically.During the police investigation it was found that, despite the implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons less flour. An even greater mystery, and one confusing to the experts, is that this happens without the security seals placed on the door of each car showing any signs of being violated.The railroad operators defend themselves, bringing up Ministry of Economy and Planning Resolution No. 2 of 2008. According to its provisions, the supplier is obligated to place the product in the warehouses of the customers and guarantee its arrival in good condition and without losses. Following the exact letter of the provision, it is the responsibility of Cienfuegos Cereals to take control of and transport the flour to every distribution center.Centralized State control, however, obliges the millers and the railroad operators to work together in a forced relationship. The spotlight of the accusations is falling on the work of the UEB railway in Cienfuegos. Its chief of operations, Antonio Subí Claro, referred to the television official who had recorded missing sacks over the whole year, which have been “significantly increased (…), adding up to some 4,800 missing sacks as of December.”Nothing here ... nothing thereGetting the sacks of flour out of the boxcars can only be carried with the complicity – or blindness – of the train crew. Several farmers in the central area say that there are sites located on the outskirts of towns and cities where the illegal off-loading occurs. A non-scheduled stop allows the product to be transferred to trucks, which wait on both sides of the rail line. The security seals on the boxcars were never closed, which requires several accomplices in the loading areas at the mills. Once they take out the merchandise, they proceed to seal the doors, leaving no signs that they had been forced. Despite the implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons less flour The web of conspirators is so extensive that from the loading centers they convey the information to the off-loaders about which boxcars are marked by the police, to be inspected on arrival. A game of cat and mouse, where this time the rodents appear to have greater ingenuity and creativity than the stupid cat who monitors them without success.Contrary to what many believe, a great part of the stolen flour ends up in the state institutions themselves. The bakeries are the final destination of thousands of these stolen sacks. It will be there where they concoct, with the implements and state infrastructure, the bread and baked goods that later will be sold by private vendors. A mix of state and private (estatal and particular) that people have jokingly baptized estaticular.The phenomenon of undeclared production has become common in state institutions. However, it is in bread baking where it reaches its highest peak. The bakeries work at double their capacity, although the product offered on the ration book is poor quality and underweight. Inside the state entities, the ovens never stop and on the kneading tables they give shape to the bread sold according to supply and demand. This is marketed “under the counter” from the display cases of the bakery itself, or is supplied to private bakers, birthday party managers, café owners and casual shoppers.Another part of the stolen grain goes to families who hide distribution centers where they package the merchandise in smaller portions and offer it to their usual clients. “We supply owners of private restaurants and cafés, mostly to people who sell Italian food,” says Amilkar, a young man of 28 who is part of the flour distribution network in the capital neighborhood of Puentes Grandes, very close to the Cuba Milling Company."This is a dangerous business," says Amilkar, who has seen many "end up in the tank.” In mid-2013 an illegal flour distribution network was dismantled in the city of Camaguey. The police arrested two young men hiding five sacks and flour and two pounds of leavening in the false bottom of a tricycle. The investigators busted it wide open and ended up taking down a network of 17 people, who included some who were issuing false invoices to account for the grain transfers.An illegal industry that is carried out with the stealth of those who traffic in cocaine, because all the flour circulating in the country has been stolen from the state network that imports the wheat and processes it in domestic mills. Attempts to cultivate the grain in Cuban soil have ended up being a sterile, and excessively expensive, enterprise. If I were to buy all the flour I use in the hard currency stores, I would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford In selling flour, so it can be processed by others, the suppliers try to find regular customers. They are offered each sack at a price that varies between 300 and 400 Cuban pesos. Much cheaper than the 2.2 pounds for 1 convertible peso (equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos), which it costs in the network of hard currency stores. Along with the illegal grain business, there also flourished a wide offering of counterfeit receipts so the self-employed workers can justify the product to the inspectors.[caption id="attachment_38578" align="alignleft" width="306"] [3] An establishment of the Cuban Bread Company.(14ymedio)[/caption]"In the absence of a wholesale market, if I were to buy all the flour I would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford," says Norge, an electrical engineer who now runs a private pizzeria. "We have several empty containers labeled with the brand of flour sold in stores in convertible pesos and we fill them with what we get outside, in case an inspector suddenly shows up."On Norge’s kitchen floor, there is a trail of white powder that extends to the back door. In the words of an old baker, that footprint is like a betrayal, a most indiscrete and eloquent track left by the illegal flour business.[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/1-alimentacion_CYMIMA20150209_0003_16.jpg [2] http://www.14ymedio.com/ [3] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2-alimentacion-pan_CYMIMA20150209_0004_16.jpg Continue reading
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 8 January 2015 – The seizure in 2014 of close to 40 tons of drugs in Cuban ports and airports belies the old official line that for decades presented narco-trafficking as a foreign phenomenon, a characteristic … Continue reading Continue reading
Research shows that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are television, visiting with friends and listening to music 14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 5 January 2015 — A Cuban television special this Sunday entitled “They Call Me Cuba” … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA , Havana, 8 December 2014 — Far away from the television studios where they fabricate the triumphalist news, and from the air-conditioned offices where they try to plan the economy, the farmers are holding the evaluation meetings … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 23 November 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, the journalist to whom the six New York Times editorials on Cuba-United States relations are attributed, is in Havana. His trip was announced through the social network Twitter and has … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Villa Clara, 15 November 2014 – Around 7,000 head of beef cattle were presumed disappeared in the space of a year during a count carried out in ten cattle ranches in the province of Villa Clara, according … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana/November 8, 2014 — Although missing from the opportunities portfolio, “the exportation of academic services” may be a considerable field for obtaining foreign currency given the presence of more than two thousand Cuban helpers in some 14 … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 6 November 2014 – A meeting that was meant to sum up achievements turned into a flood of complaints and demands. The Review Assembly of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cienfuegos was the … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, Orlando Palma, 29 August 2014 — Just twelve months ago, all eyes were on Diana Nyad while she swam between Cuba and Florida. This willful 64-year-old woman was the first person to cross the 100 miles from Havana … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, August 11, 2014 – “Very soon the best businesses in Cuba will be trash and old people,” blurts out the owner of an old age home, without blushing. Places like hers aren’t recognized at all by … Continue reading Continue reading