A Glance at Cuba News this Past January

Erasmo Calzadilla

Believe Me. Illustration by Carlos Fraguela

HAVANA TIMES — I am doing a monthly summary of the most important Cuba-related events. I fish news from here and there and season them with my profound analyses. I’ve decided to exclude sports news, finding these alienating. I hope you’ll make your own contributions to the summary.

From my point of view, the most important and worrying bit of news this month was the rise in food prices at our agricultural and livestock markets. At least in the capital, Castro and Murillo’s measures have done the opposite of what was hoped. The prices of several products have gone up by one or two pesos since January 1. We’ll keep an eye on this situation to see how it evolves.

Cuba’s new labor code was expected to come into effect at the beginning of the year. The code has been criticized by the Left for favoring exploitation and giving employers more power. At a parliamentary assembly, Mariela Castro stressed the code’s inadequate gender focus. It is my understanding the code is under review and that the final draft has not yet been made public.

Those self-employed who were selling industrially manufactured products without government authorization had been told to suspend such sales by New Year’s. Some of the products (particularly clothing) had been imported, while others were bought at State stores and later resold at less than generous prices. I approve of penalizing such hoarding. Now, however, it’s hard to find a run-of-the-mill nail out there.

In keeping with the above, more severe laws have come to regulate the self-employed market since January 15. Decree-Law 315 has added 21 infractions under the category of “Very Serious”, including all activities which aren’t expressly authorized by the government and failing to comply with hygiene norms.

At the beginning of the year, Cuba was excluded from the European Union’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The GSP is an aid mechanism and, because of its economic indicators, Cuba did not make it to the new, modest selection and will have to pay considerably higher tariffs for its exports to the EU.

On January 2, Cuba’s major official newspaper, Granma, reported that the country’s infant mortality rate for 2013 was 4.2 %. This is the lowest figure ever reported in the country’s history and it is one of the lowest in the world. According to the Mundi Index, in 2012, Cuba had already reached figures lower than those reported by Canada, Greece, the United States, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Chile, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Qatar, The Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China, South Africa and many others. All of these countries have a GDP higher than Cuba’s.

Since the 3rd of the month, Cubans are entitled to purchase automobiles at State dealerships. The astronomical car prices announced unleashed a wave of mockery and anger. Authorities have insisted the money made from car sales will be destined to improving public transportation, but, by the looks of it, very few people are buying this part of the story. According to Global times, the Chinese car manufacturer Geely plans on opening an assembly plant in Cuba.

A leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White, Sara Martha Fonseca, requested political asylum in the United States on January 7. Among the reasons for this, she alleged serious health complications brought about by the beatings she’s endured in her years as a dissident activist. Sara Martha had joined the Cuban opposition movement and occupied important positions since 2004. Months ago, people circulated a video showing a Rapid Response Brigade insulting and threatening the dissident while throwing stones at her ramshackle home. From inside, she and her family were yelling human rights slogans and “down with the Castros” out the window.

Another female dissident, former political inmate Martha Beatriz Roque, formally approached the courts to request re-incarceration, claiming she preferred to be behind bars than suffer constant harassment by police officers, State security agents, neighbors and government supporters. Recently, Cuban television aired a video where we saw Martha Beatriz (or an imitator) receiving food during an alleged hunger strike.

An extremely unusual incident was reported on January 9: a low-intensity earthquake shook Cuba’s western region. The residents of Havana are a little worried, for a slightly stronger quake would have razed what’s left of the city to the ground. Other minor earthquakes were detected this month, but none occurred as close to the capital.

As of mid-January, 15 young Cubans with ties to the dissident movement have been studying at Miami Dade College. The scholarship program, Somos Un Solo Pueblo (“We are One People”) is financed by the US government through a branch of the Cuban American National Foundation. In this connection, Lopez Levy remarked: “(…) what could have been a persuasive, post-Cold War logic became yet another example of US attempts against Cuban sovereignty (…)” I would love to know whether Danilo Maldonado, alias “El Sexto”, is thinking of spray-painting the streets or walls of the University of Miami.


Shortages of hygiene products manufactured in Cuba were reported this month. Generally speaking, hard-currency stores are severely understocked, but the shortage of hygiene items is far more serious than others. I’m a slob and used to wiping myself with pages taken from the Granma, but I wonder what the more refined out there are doing.

On January 17, Cuba’s Official Gazette published Decree-Laws 311 and 319. These authorize individuals working in credit and service cooperatives (CCS) to work up to 67.1 hectares of land. According to a note published in Granma, 16 % of cultivable lands in Cuba continue to be idle.

On the 26th of the month, Cuban saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and the Brazilian Trio Corrente received a best Latin Jazz album Grammy for their Song of Maura. D’Rivera had requested political asylum at the US embassy in Spain in 1981, during a tour. According to Wikipedia, D’Rivera says he would love to be able to play in Cuba again, but that he refuses to return before democracy is restored there. The co-founder of the Cuban band Irakere had already won seven Grammy awards.

The second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was celebrated in Havana from January 28 to 30. The leaders of the 33 member states and the secretary generals of the UN and OAS were in attendance. Participants agreed to declare the region a Peace Zone free of nuclear weapons, condemn the US block and the inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Countries also agreed to establish a China-CELAC cooperation forum and other mechanisms.

What caught my attention was the call for “respect towards the right of all countries to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system,” or, in other words, the right of governments to trample on their people without any foreign intervention. What’s even more “interesting” is that talks surrounding the so-called integration process don’t even mention the free circulation of persons between different countries – that would be news for the average Cuban.

I read somewhere that, as a result of the Summit, the Mexican president would cancel 70% of Cuba’s debt to Mexico. Peña Nieto made no mention of this in his official remarks.

Availing himself of the occasion, Raul Castro inaugurated the first part of the container terminal of Cuba’s new Mariel port. The transformation of the Havana bay area into a marina for yachts and cruise ships is now set to begin. China will donate a gigantic incense stick that will burn day and night across the bay, to disguise the stench that emanates from the water.

Some believe that, in order to bear profits, the free trade zone at Mariel must be complemented by a new foreign investment law capable of attracting foreign capital. For more on this, I recommend L. Padura and E. Morales’ analyses ( http://cafefuerte.com/cuba/10389-cuba-por-fin-quienes-van-a-invertir-en-el-puerto-del-mariel/  http://cafefuerte.com/cuba/8534-zona-especial-del-mariel-apuestas-y-realidades-economicas/).

One of the rumors heard this month is that, in February, the salaries of Cuban health professionals are to be doubled. Another bit of gossip we’ve heard is that, in a few days, all Cuban stores will sell their products in one currency: the Cuban Peso, or CUP (1 CUC = 25 CUP).

To conclude, organic folk musician Vicente Feliu is currently in Barcelona, representing Cuba at the 19th International Auteur Song Festival. To select the musician that would represent the country, the Ministry of Culture based itself solely on the invaluable quality of Feliu’s work, believe you me.

2 thoughts on “A Glance at Cuba News this Past January

  • If ‘El Sexto’ was caught, spray paint can in hand, defacing walls or public spaces at the University of Miami, he would likely be arrested on the spot. The difference is that in Miami, his arrest would be based on the crime of vandalism and not the content of what he wrote.

  • Very nice summary. Thank you.

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