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Rosa Lopez

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 20 May 2015 – On World Environment Day, this coming 5 June, Cuba will have 11,000 sources of pollution that affect ground water and coastal areas. This information was updated by Odalis Goicochea, Director of the … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 28 April 2015 – In Cuba it is cheaper to buy a liter of rum than a kilo of powdered milk. Ever since convertible currency stores appeared in the nineties, people have been demanding price reductions … Continue reading Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39000" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Painting of a woman's face (Silvia Corbelle)[/caption] 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Camagüey, 8 March 2015 -- On the kitchen table is a smeared plate of pink meringue. It’s been there since Friday afternoon, when she brought that piece of cake from the party for Women’s Day. After the celebration, the music and a boring speech from the factory director, Magaly returned to the routine of her life. To a house where a double workday awaited her, with no union, no protective laws, much less a salary. Almost sixty, she’s learned that the speeches about gender equality are just that, speeches. In the distant year of 1869, within a few hours of the proclamation of the Guaimaro Constitution, Ana Betancourt launched a phrase that would mark women’s illusions with the processes of political change in our country. “Citizens: the woman in the dark and quiet corner of the house waited patiently and with resignation for this beautiful hour in which the new revolution broke her yoke and unchained her wings.” Which is what Magaly felt as a teenager when she went to a meeting of the Federation of Cuban Woman (FMC) for the first time. In those years she was also a part of a squad in the Territorial Troops Militia (MTT), and at the same time she did volunteer work almost every weekend and was raising two small children. Those were the days of the so-called “orchestra woman” this graduate in Chemical Engineering says now, with disappointment -- a time when women thought they could play all the instruments at once. Her disenchantments are shared with many women who gave the best years of their lives to a process where emancipation was only achieved on paper in official reports. “Before every problem where I needed some kind of protection for being a woman, I found myself helpless,” remembers Magaly, sitting in the living room of her house, an old mansions with cracked walls in the city of Camagüey. "I experienced moments of domestic violence with a husband who was obsessed with me, but the police would never give me a restraining order"  She details the situations where she felt the weight of her ovaries like a difficult burden to bear. “I experienced moments of domestic violence with a husband who was obsessed with me, but the police would never give me a restraining order and when I complained they told me that we had to ‘work things out ourselves.’ Imagine how frightened I was, barely able to go outside.” She became an expert in hiding bruises behind dark glasses and looked for a lover who “would punch out the abuser, and so it was resolved, because here it’s only done man to man.” “When I divorced that husband, just to top it off, they only gave me a monthly support payment of sixty pesos [roughly $2.40 US] for each child. What could I do with that?” she asks, upset. Although in Cuba child support after a divorce is obligatory, the amount is determined based on the legal earnings of the father, or of his salary in Cuban pesos. In a society where the Government itself recognizes that wages are not people’s principal source of income, calculating support in this way puts the main economic burden of raising children on the mothers’ shoulders – who retain custody in most cases. In Magaly’s family the women were always strong and fighters, she says, while showing some photos from the past. “My grandmother participated in 1923 in the First National Women’s Congress, when there were 31 women’s associations in the different provinces.” It was the first meeting of this type in Latin American and in its discussions they demanded the chance to campaign for women’s suffrage. The voices of women were also heard in getting laws to protect children and to achieve equal social, political and economic rights. After reviewing the history of the women in her family tree, Magaly says that “when the Revolution triumphed my mother was very excited by the advantages this would bring us.” However, the consensus opinion is that with the speeches about emancipation that accompanied the process from its first day, women achieved major representation in public positions and a double workday, but very little changed inside the home. “All my friends spent the day working on domestic issues, some even left their jobs to be able to dedicate full time to their homes,” says this professional who makes a living reselling products she manages to extract illegally from the factory where she works. She clarifies her statements with a dose of irony, “It’s true that having an abortion became very easy and divorce is achieved at the blink of an eye, but the machismo structure of society remains intact, leaving us the role of almost-slaves in the home.” “Having an abortion became very easy and divorce is achieved at the blink of an eye, but the machismo structure of society remains intact” "And the FMC?" she asks loudly. "Well thank you for convening meetings and giving us more tasks to do because that’s all it does." This in reference to the only women’s organization allowed in the country, founded in August 1960, which today comprises more than four million females. The majority of them have joined the federation in an almost mechanical gesture, very similar to the push making so many Cubans members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). Magaly belongs to that generation that grew up surrounded by promises of equality. “Most of my classmates at the university were women, but today a large percentage of them are no longer working.” The economic collapse of the Special Period [2] sent many women who had worked in a company or state entity back to their homes. Today, many depend economically on their husbands, and upon retirement receive they will receive only a symbolic pension, leaving them to be supported by their children. Someone knocks on the door while this woman from Camagüey describes her daily life. It is an onion seller who asks two days wages for one bunch. There’s no choice but to buy them, because “I’m soaking some beans and I have to have something to put with them,” she says, wrapped in a robe so old it’s transparent. When the transaction is over she continues talking about her frustrations. “My friends can’t afford hardly anything, even to buy makeup they have to jump through hoops.” “But I don’t fight it,” she concludes. “What I can’t do without is diazepam,” she explains, taking from her purse a packet with little white pills that are prescribed for anxiety, muscular spasms and seizures. In Cuba there is an extensive illegal market for this drug and other anti-anxiety medications which are greatly used by women. “This is the real emancipation, almost all the women I know take something like this… it is the pill that makes us feel like queens, at least for a night, while we sleep.” [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38861" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their health. Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the rigors of the Special Period [3]. In the words of a humorist, “We Havanans turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies.” The economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables. The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas. Hidden, serious problems point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas Nationwide, about 40,000 people work in urban agriculture projects on some 83,000 acres (130 square miles) that are divided into 145,000 parcels, 385,000 patios*, 6,400 intensive gardens and 4,000 urban organic gardens. These last under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, although with some autonomy for crop management. With these lands planted in populated areas, it has been the goal to reduce food insecurity, offer greater access to fresh produce and to expand green spaces in urban zones. Havana has 97 high yield urban organic gardens. One of the best known is located in the Alamar neighborhood and is currently managed by a cooperative of 180 members. The capital also has 318 intensive gardens, with crops sown directly in the ground, in addition to 38 crops that are semi-protected and in enriched soil. The soil enrichment uses a technique known as vermicomposting, which consists of transforming solid wastes by the action of earthworms and micro-organisms. The problem is that many of the urban wastes that serve as a basis for the process are gotten from residential trash and carry a big load of heavy metals that with time accumulate in greens and vegetables. The compost comes from household trash containing cadmium and lead above the maximum permissible levels A study carried out in 2012 by several researchers from the Institute of Soils and that included samples from urban organic gardens in Havana and Guantanamo brought to light that “the compost obtained from the urban solid wastes originating in household trash extracted from landfills without prior sorting, and the subsoils prepared from them, contain heavy metals, especially cadmium and lead, above the maximum permissible levels.” The lack of an effective system of trash sorting and processing works against us, because much of the waste used for compost in the urban organic gardens has had previous contact with materials like cans, paints, and batteries, thrown indiscriminately into landfills all over the country. [caption id="attachment_38862" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [4] Urban agriculture in Havana (flickr)[/caption] Furthermore, the process to achieve compost often is not carried out properly, so that the pathogens contained in the wastes are not destroyed. Although part of the material used in this process comes from the garden itself, trash from nearby settlements, market wastes and agro-industrial refuse are also added. Family gardens account for close to 90% of the greens consumed by the population, so ingestion of high doses of heavy metals could be affecting a great number of Cubans. Irrigation adds a high content of chlorine and other water purifiers  Irrigation of the urban organic gardens aggravates the problem because the water comes from the population’s supply network and affects the amount of water available for human consumption, besides also being unsuitable for crops because of the high content of chlorine and other purifying products. The proximity of streets and avenues to the crops worsens the pollution because heavy metals also arrive through the ground and the air. Add to that the use of pesticides and fungicides for control of pests in the urban organic gardens. An un-confessed but widespread practice. Most alarming is that the Ministry of Agriculture keeps silent about this matter and does not promote research into the presence of chemical agents harmful to health in produce that consumers imagine fresh and organic. Complicity or apathy? No one knows, but there are many reasons to distrust that bunch of lettuce with its attractive green leaves. *Translator’s note: “Patios” in this context refers to home gardens producing food primarily for family consumption. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38743" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park. A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists. The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency. “When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash. The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services. The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing  Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing. In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar. In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity. The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.  “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall. “We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived. Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade. In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba. “We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” “We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line. The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.” The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash. Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38661" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Lines in front of Etecsa (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, 18 February 2015 -- These days the line outside the State-run Nauta Internet “cafés” all over the country are much longer than usual. The reduction, to half price for Internet connection cards is the reason for such an influx. The special offering, put into effect by the State-run Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) this last 10 February, will remain in effect until this coming 10 April. Users not have to pay 2.50 CUC (convertible pesos) for one hour of Internet access, instead of the usual 5.00 CUC. The measure has caused some excitement among customers, hoping that the special offering will be maintained to the end of the year. “It’s still expensive, but if now I have to pay half the price it means I can do twice the work when I connect,” says Liudmila Muñoz, an entrepreneur who coordinates tourist trips to the Island, for which she arranges accommodating, dance classes and transportation. In front of the Nauta Internet room in the centrally located Focsa Building [3], people spread the word of the new prices. “I have to come a lot. I’m a sailor and I’m looking for a contract to work on a cruise, so I shouldn’t have to pay so much,” explained José Antonio Romero who, nevertheless, believes that “it’s still armed robbery, to pay so much for Internet.” The Nauta Internet rooms opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. In statements to the official press, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communication, Luis Maneul Díaz Narajo, said that during the first quarter of 2015, another 136 rooms with 538 computer stations will be added in the Youth Computing Clubs. Local navigation Nauta opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. Speaking to the official press, the director of Institutional Communication ETECSA, Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, said that during the first quarter of 2015 136 other rooms with 538 points will be added in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing). Despite the high prices of the connection rooms, the demand is very high. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 Cuba had only a 25 percent Internet penetration with a population of 11.2 million inhabitants. [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38597" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Some condoms (CC)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, ROSA LOPEZ, Pinar del Rio, 12 February 2015 – People in Pinar del Rio didn’t have to wait to read about it in the newspaper Granma. For weeks the popular voice says it, louder and louder. “There are no condoms,” started to be heard like a whisper on the corners. “There are no condoms,” said the couples on hearing it and the teens warned their parents before they went out on Saturday night. “There are no condoms,” howl the pharmacy clerks when their customers dare to ask. The uproar was such that finally this Wednesday the official organ of Communist Party issued a formal answer. Those who still have a sense of humor, after a month long shortage of contraceptives in the country’s westernmost province, suggest that perhaps it’s a government strategy to increase the birth rate. We will have to see the birth statistics between September and October of this year, although it could be that the number of abortions will also shoot up in the coming weeks. Before every shortage, some specialist always suggests a workaround. That’s what happened with the article published by the official newspaper, which says that the Program of Prevention and Control of STDs and HIV proposes that, given the scarcity of the product, “people find alternatives, for example, limiting the sexual act to kissing, caresses and masturbation…” Tell that to a customer burning with passion whose store of condoms ran out at the end of last year! What the note in Granma doesn’t say is that contraceptives aren’t the only thing missing from pharmacies. A brief tour this morning of places where medications are sold in the city of Pinar del Rio demonstrated that other products have also been disappearing for weeks. Both in the pharmacy on the central corner or Marti Street at Recreo, as well as the one known as Camancho or the one located on the ground floor of the 12 story building on Maceo street, have empty shelves and drawers. The shortages include drugs such as Meprobamate, anti-flu medications, Dipyrone, Azithromycin, Prednisolone and Clotrimazole. What do the public health authorities propose in the face of such shortages? Looking for alternatives like with condoms? Will they then engage in the fantasy to anticipate what the patients should do in the face of such shortages. [1] [2] Continue reading
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 8 January 2015 — A poster with Fidel Castro’s face is pasted on the glass of the deteriorated locale. Years ago, some naughty boy painted the whites of his eyes dark and the effect is intimidating, … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 19 December 2014 – The semester is ending at the University of Havana, a time when everything shuts down until the middle of January. But this year is different. Expectation runs through the corridors and the central … Continue reading Continue reading
For some time, TEDx Havana had been cooking. Those of us who for years have followed the trail of this event, which mixes science, art, design, politics, education, culture and much ingenuity, were counting the days until we could hear … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana / 1 November 2014 — Why do young people prefer video games to the high-flown revolutionary exploits that national television displays? Is the audio-visual “packet” displacing official programming? Those questions hang in the air – although … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meeting of the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. … Continue reading Continue reading
Unauthorized vendors welcome new customs regulation with caution as they prepare to redefine strategies 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 3 September 2014 — “Call me from a land line” instructs the classified ad placed by Mauro Izquierdo, vendor of electrical household … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 29 August 2014 — Just outside the Tienda Ultra (Ultra Store), an illegal seller advertises deodorants and colognes. It is precisely in August, this terribly hot month, when the shortage of hygiene products aggravates the bad … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, Rosa Lopez, 27 August 2014 – “You can’t come in,” a young doorkeeper emphatically tells a young man, while gesturing for him to move away from the door. When the target protests, he receives the explanation that in … Continue reading Continue reading