Monday, February 20, 2017

Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to Improve Public Transport?

Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to
Improve Public Transport? / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2017 — Seven in the morning at the bus stop at
Acosta Avenue and Poey Street, in the dense La Vibora neighborhood in
southern Havana. Almost a hundred people are waiting for the No. 174 bus
to Vedado.

While waiting for the bus, some take the opportunity to have a coffee
from the roving coffee-seller. Others breakfast on bread with croquette
or an egg sandwich from a private cantina, continually looking at the
bus stop, in case a 'guagua' (bus) shows up.

Also at Acosta and Poey, some 40 people are in a line waiting for their
turn to catch a shared-taxi to Vedado. Jaime, a maintenance worker in a
polyclinic, can't give himself the luxury of taking taxis.

"In the morning the taxi driver charges twenty "reeds" (Cuban pesos,
CUP) to Vedado. Since I work in Playa, I have to take a second taxi for
another 20 pesos. The return is the same. Eighty 'coconuts' to come and
go from work, and I only get paid 20 a day. If I take a taxi I can make
the trip in an hour, and if I wait for the bus, it's three hours coming
and going. Many documentaries, books and recorded chats about the life
and work of Fidel Castro, but the government spent 60 years without
being able to solve the transport problem. This is crap, brother," says
Jaime, notably angry.

If you want to meet a Cuban ruminating on the horrors of Castroism,
visit him at home during a blackout, or ask him about the supposed
benefits of socialism at the bus stop crammed with people.

At best, he relaxes at a popular pachanga (party) with some cheap beer
and infamous rum, with reggaeton or aggressive timba in the background.
But when it comes from moving from one place to other in Havana, they
put on a whole other face.

Like Mireya's face right now. She's a kitchen helper at a school. "Oh
mother. I leave at 6:30 in the morning to catch a bus. And at 8:00 I'm
still at the stop. And when you do manage to get on, you have to keep
your wits about you because at least opportunity the pickpockets will
lift your wallet. And don't even talk about the perverts. They shove
themselves up against your 'package' from behind like you're their wife.
The other day some shameless guy was so hot he took it out and
masturbated in plain sight," said Mireya, talking openly to everyone
around her.

The lines at the butcher shop to buy "chicken for fish," or to do legal
paperwork, or to wait for public transport, have become a kind of
people's plaza where a journalist, politician or specialist in social
topics could take the pulse of a nation. Two years ago, the president of
Finland disguised himself as a taxi driver to learn his compatriot's
opinions about his management of the state. That would be a good example
for the Cuban authorities to follow.

Managing efficient public transport, be it land, air, rail or sea, is
something the olive green junta that governs Cuban can't get done.

Fidel Castro, today feted for his extensive anti-imperialist discourse
and his role in the decolonization struggle of Africa, was never able to
design a working transportation system for the island.

Havana, with its million and a half inhabitants, and a million foreign
tourists and illegal visitors from other provinces, probably features
among the worst cities of the world to get from one place or another
quickly and cheaply.

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro acquired three thousand Leyland buses in
Great Britain for urban and interprovincial transport. But it wasn't
like that. In the following decades, they were bought in Spain, Japan,
Hungary, Brazil and China.

In Havana it has always been an odyssey to travel by bus. At its best,
there were more than 100 bus routes in the capital and 2,500 buses plus
a fleet of 4,000 taxis, bought from the Argentina military dictatorship,
although they never finished paying for them.

With the coming of the Special Period in 1990, the closest thing to a
war without bombs, public transport experienced its real death throes.
The "camels" — a monster patented by some sadistic engineer — were
container trailers outfitted with seats and pulled by a semi-truck
tractor unit that could carry 300 people each, packed like sardines in a

Havanans still remember the memorable brawls inside the "camels," worthy
of an Olympic boxing match. Those steel boxes were saunas in the
tropical heat and according to street legends they served to procreate
dozens of kids of unknown fathers.

If every Cuban state official had to pay a penny for every revealed lie,
believe me, there would be a legion of new rich on the island. Many
thought it was a bad joke, but in 2014, the government, in complete
seriousness, after authorizing the sale of Peugeots at Ferrari prices,
announced that they were going to use the profits to create a fund to
buy buses to improve urban transport.

Three years later not a single Peugeot 508 has been sold. Logically, you
don't have to have a Nobel in economics to know that no one is going to
pay the equivalent of 300,000 dollars for a touring car. And in cash.

Thus, ordinary Cubans like the worker Jaime and the cook Mireya, are
still waiting two hours to board a city bus. Until all those lovely
Peugeots are sold.

Source: Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s
to Improve Public Transport? / Iván García – Translating Cuba -

Cuba’s Ladies In White Report 50 Arrests This Sunday

Cuba's Ladies In White Report 50 Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2017 — Some fifty Ladies in White were
detained this Sunday on the Island, according to members of that
dissident organization.

Former political prisoner and regime opponent Angel Moya told 14ymedio
by phone that Berta Soler had been arrested by members of a State
Security operation and the police surrounding her Lawton house. The
incident happened shortly after three in the afternoon on Sunday, when
Soler left the movement's site in the company of the Lady in White
Danaysi Munoz.

Moya added that in Havana the Ladies in White Yordanka Santana and Norma
Cruz were "abandoned to their fate*" on the ExpoCuba and Cotorro
highways respectively, after being released. According to the same
source, as of 6:00 in the evening 23 Ladies in White had been arrested
in the capital, although that number could be increased by some "who
still haven't called in."

Moya also reported on a Lady in White detained in Bayamo and eight in
Palma Soriano, while in Matanzas there were 22. In that locality Leticia
Ramos and Marisol Fernandez were arrested twice in a single day and he
said that the whereabouts of both women was still unknown.

The opponent also reported that from the province of Ciego te Avila
Lucia Lopez complained that she was "beaten at the time of her arrest"
by State Security agents and "stripped of her blouse and bra before
being released," in a "clear act of indignity," said Moya.

Meanwhile, Iván Hernández Carrillo reported from his Twitter account of
the arrest in the city of Cárdenas of Odalis Hernandez, Hortensia
Alfonso, Cira de la Vega and Mercedes de la Guardia. Likewise, from
Columbus the activist denounced the arrest of his mother Asunción
Carrillo and Caridad Burunate when they were on their way to the church.

At two o'clock on Sunday afternoon, minutes before being detained, the
leader of the Ladies in White women's movement, Berta Soler, informed
the media that there were already more than twenty detained in Havana to
"prevent them from reaching the site." She mentioned that two of them
were "released on the road to Pinar del Rio*," despite living in the
capital. "Since last Wednesday morning there has been a constant [State
Security and Police] operation outside," the organization's headquarters.

She also mentioned the particular case of Berta Lucrecia Martínez, who
was detained at noon hours after a solo protest in Calabazar
Park. According to the information that Soler has received, the activist
stood for "more than 35 minutes" with a poster regarding Human Rights
and shouting anti-government slogans.

Lucrecia Martinez is one of the Ladies in White who has repeatedly been
prevented from attending Sunday Mass or reaching the headquarters of his
organization. Until the moment of not knowing the place to where it was
led by the police patrol that stopped it.

Calabazar park is a very busy wifi area. As reported to this newspaper
by the activist Agustín López Canino, many people "filmed and
photographed the moment of protest."

Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary
detentions, a figure that "places the Government of Cuba in first place
in all of Latin America" ​​at the head of such arrests, according to a
report by the independent organization.

*Translator's note: Cuban police/State Security often arrest dissidents
and drive them a long way outside the city where they are arrested and
then put them out of the car in the "middle of nowhere," to find their
own way home.

Source: Cuba's Ladies In White Report 50 Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio
– Translating Cuba -

Mexican Police Rescue Two Cubans Kidnapped in Mexico

Mexican Police Rescue Two Cubans Kidnapped in Mexico / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2017 — Two Cubans have been rescued from
the hands of their kidnappers on Isla Mujeres, as the result of a joint
effort between the Federal Investigation Police and agents of the
Ministerial Police of the state of Quintana Roo. In the operation
carried out on Friday, one of those implicated in the kidnapping was
captured, according to the local press.

The Special Prosecutor's Office for Investigation of the Kidnapping
began "a thorough investigation to find and pinpoint the two victims"
from Cuba who had been held by the same people who helped them "to enter
Mexican territory and then demanded 20,000 dollars from their families
for their rescue," said the report.

The investigation took ten days, and on 17 February "achieved the
release of the people safe and sound," although the identity of the
victims was withheld. At the time of the rescue they were in a reserve
"in a mangrove area located on Avenida Rueda Medina at Pelícano Street,
in the municipality of Isla Mujeres."

Police authorities say the family of the hostages had not deposited the
money for the ransom. An individual "with the initials L.J.C.P, who was
the leader of the group and who demanded the ransom from their relatives
in the United States, in order to obtain their release to continue on
their journey," was arrested in the operation.

In another police action the same afternoon, six people of Cuban origin
including one woman were arrested, "who could not prove their legal
status in the State The migrants were turned over to the Public Ministry
to be taken to the National Immigration" authorities.

It is estimated that hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico
after the end of the United States Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy last
January, which had previously allowed undocumented Cubans to remain in
the United States if they managed to reach US soil. For many of these
stranded Cubans, the American dream has become a nightmare of extortion
and disappearances.

Source: Mexican Police Rescue Two Cubans Kidnapped in Mexico / 14ymedio
– Translating Cuba -

Cuban Doctors Stranded - Can’t Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in Colombia

Cuban Doctors Stranded: Can't Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in Colombia

When Adrian Lezcano Rodriguez, a physical therapist from Cuba, was
chosen to serve on a "mission" in the small town of Maroa in the Amazon
rainforest of Venezuela, he knew he would defect. He would make his way
to the U.S. embassy in Colombia, and apply for the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program (CMPP), which up until January 12, allowed
certain Cuban medical personnel to apply for U.S. visas.

Lezcano spent around 20 days in the jungle town working in a small
clinic, which only had electricity for about two hours a day. He ate
once a day, usually lunch.

"If it rained, we drank rain water. If not, we would drink water from
the river," he said by telephone.

Lezcano met a few local indigenous men who were willing to take him, for
a fee, through the treacherous Río Negro to the border with Colombia.
During the five-day journey, they slept along the banks of the river at
night. During the day, they would get lost at times. The boat would
often get stuck in the sand, and they would have to push it so they
could continue on their journey.

When he finally arrived at the border with Colombia the night of January
12, Lezcano found out that just a few hours earlier, former President
Barack Obama had ended the CMPP. It took another day to get to the
capital in Bogotá, where he tried to speak to someone at the U.S.
embassy, but he was turned away. "I was so frustrated," he said.

Lezcano lives in a house with nine other Cubans who have been left in an
unusual situation. He has run out of money and sometimes goes two days
without eating.

Just like Lezcano, there are over a dozen Cuban doctors and other
medical professionals who abandoned their posts in Venezuela and were in
transit to the U.S. embassy in Bogotá when the parole program was
abruptly ended. They say they cannot return to Cuba and they face
deportation if they remain in Colombia. The only reason they risked
deserting was to apply for the now defunct program.

The government of Cuba has said it will accept Cuban doctors and
reincorporate them into the national health system. But, those stranded
in Colombia insist this is not true. They say desertion is considered
treason in the communist island. Those who defect are punished, medical
degrees are revoked, and society scorns them.

Sending doctors and other medical professionals to countries like
Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia on "misiones internacionalistas" is an
important source of revenue for the communist island. In 2014, it
totaled $8 billion - though recently they have scaled back on their
operations in Venezuela because of the economic crisis.

Raúl Castro applauded the end of the CMPP. The government always said
the program robbed the island of professionals they had educated. But
according to health care workers, the "missions' are equivalent to
indentured servitude. They are pressured to meet a quota of patients per
day, their accommodations are meager and they are paid a small fraction
of what the Cuban government receives for their services. They say the
parole program was their only way out.

That was what Yenniffer Santiesteban, a 25 year-old doctor from Holguin,
had in mind when she decided to defect after 15 months in the state of
Sucre in Venezuela. She had been seeing up to 35 patients a day, but the
money she made disappeared in buying food.

"I was wasting my money to subsist in a foreign country — you spend
months working hard and you don't see the results," she said. She became
disillusioned. She wanted to flee and take advantage of the CMPP, but it
meant spending years without seeing her family. Doctors who defect are
barred from entering Cuba for eight years.

On January 10th she decided to leave, but her supervisors had been
tipped off and caught her before she could escape. Before being taken to
the airport and returned to Cuba, she and her two supervisors stopped at
a restaurant to eat. She pretended she needed to use the bathroom,
grabbed her backpack, and fled.

Santiesteban said she did not have a phone and had no idea how to get to
Colombia. She went to a cyber café, contacted friends, and figured out
the best route. She stayed in a motel that night and began her journey
the following day. When she finally arrived in Bogotá on the 13th, a
friend who had defected earlier, took her in and explained the CMPP had
been terminated the day before.

"I was disappointed, desolate, depressed, and enraged," she said.
Santiesteban is now staying in a two-bedroom apartment with six other
Cubans hoping that the Trump administration reinstates the CMPP.

When asked to comment on these particular Cubans, the White House said
in an email, "the administration is reviewing all aspects of the US-Cuba
policy, we do not have any further information to offer other than that
at this time." At a February briefing, White House press secretary Sean
Spicer said the policies "are in the midst of a full review."

Cuban-American lawmakers, like Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio,
both Florida Republicans, have expressed hope that the Trump
administration reinstates the medical parole program.

"If that takes a long time or if the Trump administration doesn't agree
to do that then obviously we want this specific group to be given as
much consideration as possible given their unique circumstance," Curbelo
told NBC Latino.

He said all of the Cuban-Americans in Congress agree the program should
be reinstated. "We will continue communicating to them that while we
understand the broader policy (wet foot, dry foot) had to change, that
particular element of it is worth keeping," Curbelo said. Wet foot, dry
foot refers to the policy that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to
stay as legal permanent residents, but returned to Cuba those captured
on the open sea.

Reversing Obama's policy on the medical program seems like an easy
maneuver for Trump, according to William LeoGrande, a professor of
government at American University who coauthored "Back Channel to Cuba:
The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana." He
said, "the problem is that if he does reinstate the parole program, the
Cubans may back away from their willingness to cooperate on immigration
more broadly."

He thinks it's possible the small group of Cubans who were in transit
when the policy changed could still be admitted because the attorney
general has broad discretionary authority to parole into the U.S. people
who don't have a valid visa on humanitarian grounds. "These would seem
to be cases that qualify for that because they took certain actions in
anticipation of what the U.S. had promised them and then the U.S.
changed the program," LeoGrande said.

In the past few years, the number of Cubans applying to the program more
than tripled, according to numbers provided by U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services. In fiscal year 2014, a total of 1,208 applications
were submitted and 76 percent were approved. But by fiscal year 2016,
the number of applicants soared to 3,907 and 86 percent of those were

Until January 12, applicants who were denied visas made their way to the
U.S. -Mexico border and entered the U.S. under the wet foot/dry foot
policy, but Obama also terminated the policy. Now, the applicants who
are denied visas are also stuck in a similar situation: unwilling to
return to Cuba and unable to stay in Colombia.

There are about 10 Cubans in Bogotá who have been denied visas during
the past month, according to Yusnel Santos, who is also in Colombia and
keeps track of the Cubans in Colombia and Bolivia waiting for their
applications to be processed - something that can take months. According
to Santos, there are about 500 Cubans in Colombia waiting for visas and
about 16 who did not arrive on time to apply for the program.

Marisleidy Boza Varona, a 26 year-old dentist from Camaguey, thought of
defecting from the beginning. When she arrived to the city of Guayana in
Venezuela, and saw the conditions she would have to endure, it made her
more eager to leave.

"We would only eat once a day because we didn't have enough money," she

Sometimes she would have to "invent" to reach the quota of patients she
had to see per day. "People would cancel and I would have to fill that
space, if not, it would be a big problem for me," she said.

On January 9, a friend sent her a text message saying to be vigilant
because their superiors suspected she would defect. She began to receive
calls from the coordinator of the program. That's when she fled and hid
inside the house of a friend. On the 13th, she decided it was safe
enough to make her way to Colombia and it was along the way that she
found out Obama had already ended the program.

"I was in shock. Everything came crashing to the ground … I know people
who have returned to Cuba and they lose everything. They lose their
diploma. They send you to work in the mountains as punishment," she said.

"We all have faith that the U.S. government will realize the situation
we are in," Boza said crying.

Source: Cuban Doctors Stranded: Can't Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in
Colombia - NBC News -

Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy

Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy
Paul Guzzo, Times Staff Writer
Sunday, February 19, 2017 9:12pm

TAMPA — Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to
Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers
spread out over 22 voyages who could add more than $5 million to the
Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between
the two nations.

John Kavulich, president of the council, said he based his figures on if
the ships are at full passenger capacity.

For 2017, Royal Caribbean Cruises has 10 cruises from Tampa scheduled
onboard its 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas with a stop of one day
and night in Havana. The first departs on April 30.

Last week, Carnival Corp. announced it will have 12 cruises from Tampa
for 2017 and 2018 that offer one day and night in Havana. The first
departs on June 29 and all will sail on the 2,052-passenger Carnival

Cruise passengers typically spend $75 per day on things like meals and
souvenirs, Kavulich said.

In Cuba, these expenditures can be done with private or state-run

More than 40,000 passengers can be brought to Cuba on these cruises out
of Tampa.

"Added to this is the berthing fee for the vessel, which varies
depending upon size, and then payments for tours," Kavulich said.

The porting costs are paid to the Cuban government. Educational
sightseeing tours are conducted in partnerships with state-run agencies.

It is against U.S. law to visit Cuba purely for tourism. Instead, the
trip must fall under one of 12 legal reasons such as research, sports
competition or education. Cruise passengers will fit under education.

So, while passengers on these 22 cruises from Tampa can partake in
touristy activities such as snorkeling or lying on the beach during
other stops on their journey, including Cozumel and Key West, their
experience in Havana must include a learning component.

Carnival's website, for instance, says passengers will visit Havana's
Central Park and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary built in the 1700s and
then see a cabaret show.

Whether one day is enough time to learn about the nation is up to the
passenger, said Tom Popper, president of New York-based InsightCuba,
which has been leading American tour groups there since 2000.

"How many questions will they ask? How closely will they listen and
watch?" Popper said.

"Havana is not a typical Caribbean destination, where larger ships often
visit for a day. It has a rich cultural heritage."

Passengers will also have free time to explore Cuba, or they can return
to the ship for cruise activities.

In 2015, President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba for
the first time in five decades. Air travel has resumed between the
nations, and now cruise lines give travelers another way to visit.

Whether Americans' ability to travel to Cuba is temporary or permanent
remains unknown. President Donald Trump has stated he will roll back
Obama's Cuba initiatives if he doesn't get a better deal out of Cuban
President Raúl Castro. Trump has yet to provide specifics.

In late January, Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut funds from any
Florida port that enters into a business agreement with the Cuban

In response, ports that planned on signing memorandums of understandings
with Cuba to seek out future business possibilities decided against
doing so.

However, this threat has no effect on cruise lines, which are private
businesses that lease space from ports.

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018
are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers
and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island,
according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Source: Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy | Tampa Bay
Times -

McGovern in Cuba to discuss new partnerships

McGovern in Cuba to discuss new partnerships
Worcester Democrat is part of bipartisan delegation
By Anthony Fay
Published: February 20, 2017, 9:48 am

WASHINGTON (WWLP) – Congressman Jim McGovern is in Cuba with a group of
other members of Congress, to discuss increasing cooperation between the
two nations. McGovern (D-Worcester), who has long advocated for the end
of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is attending meetings on a
variety of issues, ranging from health care to human rights.

"Americans are ready for a 21st Century approach to Cuba, and two year's
after President Obama's historic announcement of a new U.S.-Cuba policy,
I am proud that this delegation will build on that progress," McGovern
said in a news release sent to 22News.

Obama removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism,
oversaw the re-opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana, and allowed for the
loosening of some trade and travel restrictions relating to Cuba,
however there are still many barriers to travel and trade between the
U.S. and the communist-controlled island.

During the trip, McGovern and fellow Massachusetts Congressman Seth
Moulton (D-Salem) will attend meetings with members of the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council, the Washington Office on Latin America, and a
group from Northeastern University that is investigating academic and
business partnerships in the country.

Other members of the congressional delegation in Cuba are Sen. Patrick
Leahy (D-Vermont), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Sen. Michael
Bennet (D-Colorado), and Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico). The lawmakers
departed for Cuba on Sunday, and will return on Thursday.

Source: McGovern in Cuba to discuss new partnerships | -

The Catholic Church takes a good step

Editorial: The Catholic Church takes a good step
DDC | Madrid | 20 de Febrero de 2017 - 09:41 CET.

Ever since the trip to Cuba taken by Pope John Paul II, the Cuban
Catholic Church's dedication to the defense of human rights has clearly
been insufficient. Understandably, some have come to describe this
failure as constituting collusion with the dictatorship, especially
during the years and years under Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, who
decided to advance the Church's position on the Island at the expense of
not denouncing the social, political and economic crisis induced by the
dictatorship. Ortega Alamino even went so far as to deny the existence
of political prisoners in Cuba, and to serve as a spokesman for the
regime in various international forums.

While Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba yielded few advances in the
struggle for human rights, that by Pope Francis was downright
regrettable, with the pontiff solely focused on repairing relations
between Cuba and the US, without even acknowledging the main problems
haunting the country: the lack of freedom and permanent violations of
human rights.

On Wednesday, however, the current Archbishop of Havana, Juan de la
Caridad Garcia, received representatives of the Ladies in White and
spoke with them, thereby sending an encouraging signal.

Hopefully this dialogue will help to lessen the harassment this group of
women regularly receives from civil society, and the Catholic Church,
without renouncing its ecclesiastical work and promotion of the faith,
will speak out regarding the injustices suffered by the Cuban people at
the regime's hands.

The trail blazed by Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García must be trod
again in the near future, for the sake of the Catholic Church, and for
the good of the Cuban people, both believers and nonbelievers.

Source: Editorial: The Catholic Church takes a good step | Diario de
Cuba -