Eric Caraballoso

Eric Caraballoso

Corresponsal acreditado de OnCuba en La Habana.

Parque de la Fraternidad

Faces and stories of the Parque de la Fraternidad

The daily and cosmopolitan life of Havana has one of its most representative places in the Parque de la Fraternidad. This vast esplanade, with its trees, benches, and monuments, is one of the Cuban capital’s points of greatest confluence, a place of passage and meeting, of rest and contemplation, and even of love dates and sexual skirmishes, although today the pandemic imposes an unusual landscape to its days and nights. Its real name, shortened by popular usage and rationality, is Parque de la Fraternidad Americana, and long before it is what it is today, the lands it currently occupies were mangroves and groves, in a colonial Havana that grew to encounter it. At the end of the 18th century, it would become a field for military exercises that would improve in its layout and infrastructure, and as such, with the name of Campo de Marte, it would reach the Republic. Then it would renew its image again and almost hosted a zoo, but the devastating cyclone of 1926 would destroy it and change its future. The Parque de la Fraternidad, in Havana. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez. In a short time, it would recover from nature’s fury to...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Animal welfare in Cuba: the regulations to come (II)

In the year that is just beginning, Cuba must finally have specific legislation on animal welfare. According to the legislative schedule updated at the end of 2020 by the National Assembly, the Council of State, a permanent collegiate body of the island’s parliament, must approve in February a decree-law on the subject, which would then be ratified by the Assembly in its next period of sessions. In addition, the Cuban government must also approve a state policy, of which the decree-law will be the legal instrumentation, with which both documents would unify, expand and update what has been regulated until today on this issue in the country and would respond to the hitherto postponed desires and requests of many people and animal groups that have gained visibility and multiplied their actions in Cuba in recent years. The Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG), whose functions include attention to animal health on the island, has been in charge of coordinating the drawing up of the policy and legislative regulation, with the support of other state entities and associations related to them. For this, a large working group was created, which remained active throughout 2020 and whose work has been based on the problems...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Animal welfare in Cuba: the regulations to come (I)

Although the issue of animal welfare and protection has been on the table for years in Cuba, with so far unfinished attempts to establish specific legislation in this regard, it has gained strength in recent times along with the claims of a growing sector of Cuban civil society. The popular debates around the island’s new Magna Carta, approved in a referendum in February 2019, exposed to public opinion the criteria and concerns of many Cubans about the treatment of animals in the country, both by state entities as well as by society itself, and they reinforced the need for up-to-date and comprehensive legal regulations, in tune with international advances in this direction. In this scenario, the actions of an active animal-friendly community, articulated mostly independently, which has developed numerous animal health and protection actions, has insisted on the approval of new regulations and has played an outstanding role in unprecedented events until recently on the island, such as peaceful protests and a march authorized by the government, as well as some spaces for dialogue and participation with state institutions. At the same time, the Cuban authorities finally gave the green light to the drawing up of a state policy and...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Monetary unification: putting accounts in order

When Ramiro found out about the new electricity rate that will be in force in Cuba as of January 1, as part of the monetary reorganization process, he lost sleep for a few days. “I started to do the math and couldn’t sleep,” this 51-year-old electronics technician, who works in a state appliance repair shop in Havana, confesses to OnCuba. His new salary will be over 3,000 pesos, but only in electricity he can spend more than 2,000, if he does not manage to lower his household consumption from the more than 350 Kwh usually devoured by his family, made up of his housewife wife, his mother-in-law , now old and sick, and his daughter, who is studying at the university. “And if you add to that the prices at the agricultural market, those of anything on the black market and even those of the supplies on the ration book, I don’t know where we’re going to end up, and I don’t have someone to send me dollars from abroad,” he says. It’s true that until now his salary was not enough, not even with his mother-in-law’s pension―which will also go up―and what his wife “invents,” so “to complete,” like...

Funeral honors for City of Havana Historian Eusebio Leal, at the National Capitol, on December
17, 2020. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Eusebio Leal in the heart of Havana

The death of Dr. Eusebio Leal on July 31 left Havana orphaned, the city to which he consecrated his life and that this Thursday, as a full tribute to his work, went to give him his choral and at the same time intimate goodbye at the National Capitol. There, in the monumental building that he got to see restored, in the symbolic Hall of Lost Steps, at the foot of the gleaming statue of the Republic, his ashes received the last tribute from the people of Havana, from all Cubans. Floral wreaths, the national ensign and a beautiful portrait of he who was and will always be for many the Historian of Havana, he who devoutly kisses the Cuban flag, accompanied his remains, while thousands of people passed in front of his ashes in silence, sad, grateful, moved. Box with the ashes of Havana Historian and a portrait of him in which he kisses the Cuban flag, placed for his funeral in the National Capitol, on December 17, 2020. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez. From great artists and figures of the country’s public life to students and humble workers, townspeople, came this December 17 to say goodbye to...

Audiovisual Varentierra coworking workshop, organized by the WajirosFilms production company at its headquarters in Havana, with young Cuban filmmakers. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Varentierra coworking: in Wajiros code

Varentierra: it is said in Cuba of a rustic construction made from the royal palm, typical of rural areas, with one room, a gabled roof that reaches the ground and only a front wall with its door, used by farmers to store provisions, materials, farming tools and even their crops, and also as a shelter during storms and cyclones. But for Cuban cinema, since this weekend―or actually a little before, since its call was launched in early November―Varentierra is much more. It is a network still in the making of audiovisual support and collaboration, but already with its first and promising results, in which independent producers and state entities, young filmmakers and renowned figures of the seventh art converge, and whose main organizer and promoter is, not coincidentally, WajirosFilms. Guajiro: it is said in Cuba of the farmer, of the rural man and woman. But if instead of “G” it is written with “W,” then its meaning expands to other dimensions within the extensive universe of Cuban audiovisuals. “At Wajiros we defend the traditional, but from the contemporary, that’s the reason for the ‘W’,” explains to OnCuba Carlos Gómez, director and journalist, leader of this audiovisual group, legally legitimized thanks...

Fernando Pérez, National Film Award (2007). Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Three voices of Cuban cinema: betting on dialogue and not on violence

More than a week after the concentration of Cuban artists and intellectuals, mostly young, on November 27 (27-N) in front of the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), and the meeting ―until the early hours of the 28th―of a group of their representatives with Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas, the replicas and ramifications of that event keep the island, and in particular its artistic community and its cultural fabric, in a telluric tension. It is a complex scenario, which had as an immediate trigger the events related to the so-called San Isidro Movement (MSI), but which undoubtedly surpasses it in purposes and motives, and germinates in a terrain fertilized by previous debates and contradictions. Since then, a spiral of events and reactions has been generated, ranging from calls for dialogue, to condemnations and denunciations of the other party, not always in an edifying and objective way, in the media and social networks. In the midst of this rapidly evolving panorama, which has among its most recent seasoning the MINCULT statements after an email received with new demands from those meeting with the deputy minister―or, at least, from a part of them―and that the cultural authorities considered “unacceptable,” and the meeting this Saturday of...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana and Havanans, beyond San Isidro*

Havana woke up this Tuesday gray, wintry. In its oldest part, including the San Isidro neighborhood―center of gazes and comments on the events of the last days―and also beyond. The cloudy sky and the north winds left no room for doubt. The first cold front of the season entered the city just as December began and the thermometers and the people of Havana were thankful. “And it was needed,” says a man who prefers not to reveal his name, “to see if it refreshes the atmosphere a bit, because things have been quite hot in recent days. You know.” I know, you know, he knows, we all know. In the Cuban capital―and also throughout the island and even outside of it―no one is exempt today from this conjugation of the verb to know in the present tense of the indicative mood. https://oncubanews.com/en/opinion/columns/no-filter/dialogue-in-this-cuba/ We all know, in one way or another, of what happened in San Isidro and the Ministry of Culture, of their sagas in Havana itself and in other cities of the country, of the “tángana” in favor of the government in Trillo Park, of the Cuban Foreign Ministry complaint that the United States intervened in the matter, of...

Havana’s Paseo Promenade. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana’s Prado Promenade, despite COVID

Through time it has been officially known as Alameda de Extramuros or Paseo de Isabel II or Paseo Martí, but for the people of Havana of yesterday and today—and surely also of the future—it has always been and will be the “Prado.” Just like that. A place that neither time, nor storms, real and metaphorical, nor the COVID-19 pandemic have been able to shatter its charm. This extensive two-kilometer-long avenue, built at the end of the 18th century and transformed several times throughout its history, is one of the indisputable symbols of Havana and also one of its most emblematic places. A meeting and resting point, dating and commercial operations, strolling and children’s games, street activities and art exhibitions. Children playing on Havana’s Paseo Promenade. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez. Although the wide, tree-lined Paseo, with its marble benches, lampposts, and iconic bronze lions—sculpted by Frenchman Jean Puiforcat and Cuban Juan Comas—is its most recognizable face, the Prado actually begins earlier, at the Fuente de la India and in front of the busy Parque de la Fraternidad, and extends to the famous Malecón in Havana, passing through the esplanade of the Capitol and Parque Central, with its monumental...

Photo: Monica Rivero

Flights to Cuba in the new normal

Cuba is now one month into the “new normal.” At least, almost the entire island. Since last October 12, most of the Cuban provinces officially entered that status, which seeks to boost the economy after months of the coronavirus pandemic, although without neglecting epidemiological surveillance and hygienic-sanitary measures to prevent a new wave of COVID-19. Only Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus and Pinar del Río—which had to regress due to a strong outbreak of the disease—remain in the phase of limited autochthonous transmission; while Havana, even though it has shown favorable indicators in recent weeks, continues in phase 3 of the recovery stage, in which many of the services and activities have already been restored. As part of this normalization of life in the country, all Cuban international airports reopened to commercial flights in mid-October, with the exception of José Martí in Havana, which will finally do so next Sunday, November 15. The air terminals of the tourist destinations of the keys adjacent to the island had already been authorized, the only ones that until then offered their services to international tourism, although in practice only Jardines del Rey, in the north keys of the central Cuba, did so. It...

A boy plays in a square in Havana, during the post-COVID-19 de-escalation. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana: scenes from a particular de-escalation

Havana is already experiencing its new de-escalation. Its own, the particular one. Since last Monday, the city entered phase 3 of the post-COVID-19 recovery stage, after reporting an improvement in its epidemiological indicators. Its inhabitants seem to have taken the pulse of that awaited moment quickly. The capital is currently the only Cuban province in this phase, in which “a greater standardization of services and productive activities is envisaged, bringing those considered to be of lower risk to normal, keeping the measures to reduce it in place,” according to the new strategy for confronting the pandemic on the island. A hairdresser resumes his private business in Havana, during the post-COVID-19 de-escalation. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez. However, due to the complexities involved in the territorial characteristics― a street is often just the boundary between two municipalities―and the population density of Havana, its authorities chose to launch their own recovery plan in which, at least for the moment, not all the measures originally planned for phase 3 of the de-escalation will be applied. Thus, for example, regular flights are suspended throughout October, while trips by buses and trains to other provinces will begin next week. Neither can gyms in...

The shops are being prepared for their opening. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Havana, COVID-19 and the “new normal” (II)

One week after the lifting of a group of restrictions, in force until then to contain the spread of COVID-19, Havana has a different face. It’s not only about increased activity in the streets, which there is, or the return of the buses to the urban landscape, or other opened shops, offices and restaurants and other businesses, but also about the people’s attitude, in the way in which they begin to assume their “new normal.” “You have to adapt, there’s no other way,” said to OnCuba Luis, an electronics technician and owner of a home appliance workshop which he hopes to reopen “in these days” to improve his personal economy, affected by the pandemic. “I already reopened it in July, when the coronavirus situation improved, but I preferred to close it when we went back, because the risk was high and health always comes first,” he explains. “Now I’m letting a few days go by to see how everything is going, but I’m ready to start, yes, taking extreme hygiene measures because the disease is not over and cases continue to appear in the city every day. But I have to, because if not, how do I feed my children?...

A clerk wearing a mask checks his mobile phone, after the relaxation of restrictions due to COVID-19 in Havana. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana, COVID-19 and the “new normal” (I)

For a week now, Havana has been living its “new normal.” After being the epicenter of COVID-19 in Cuba for months, and experiencing an outbreak in August and September that forced the imposition of harsh restrictions, the Cuban capital began October with a de-escalation that seeks, according to its government, “to reactivate production and services,” and thus boost the economy, mired in the quagmire of the pandemic. When reporting on this change on September 30, the Havana authorities affirmed that the measures applied until that moment―among them, a night curfew and a substantial limitation of the socioeconomic life of the city―had had a “positive impact” and that the statistics on the disease in Havana―new cases, active cases, deaths, and open transmission events in recent weeks―showed “a trend towards epidemiological stability.” However, they explained that the risk in the capital was still high, so the reopening would be partial. For this reason, along with the lifting of prohibitions and the reactivation of a group of activities, several restrictive measures would remain in force―such as the prohibition of interprovincial transportation to and from Havana―and mandatory sanitary provisions, both for people and private businesses, state enterprises and institutions. In addition, the high fines...

Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez (left) at the Saliut 6 orbital station, in September 1980. Photo: Juventud Rebelde/Archive.

Tamayo and me

Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez was 38 years old when he flew into outer space. I was not yet four. By then, Tamayo had already been in the process of selection and arduous preparation for the joint Soviet-Cuban flight of the Soyuz 38 for nearly three years. During that time, I had learned things that were very important to anyone, such as talking, walking and not peeing in my pants, which, however, cannot be remotely compared to flying to the Saliut 6 orbital station alongside Soviet Yuri Romanenko to spend more than a week in space and go around the Earth’s orbit 128 times. Two crews were prepared for this flight. One, formed by Romanenko and Tamayo and another by Eugeni Jrunov and Revolutionary Armed Forces Captain José Armando López Falcón. Photo: Perfecto Romero via Juventud Rebelde On September 18, 1980, 40 years ago, at 10:11 p.m. Moscow time, 3:11 p.m. Cuban time, Tamayo and Romanenko took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Cuban was traveling as a research cosmonaut; the Soviet―who had already flown to the Saliut space station in 1977, to spend more than three months and even do a spacewalk―as commander of the...

A couple wearing masks hold an umbrella as they walk along the boardwalk at sunset in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. Photo: Ramón Espinosa/AP

COVID-19 in Cuba: six months of epidemic

The COVID-19 epidemic in Cuba has already passed the six-month curve in the middle of a dangerous outbreak. Despite the measures taken on the island to prevent and control its spreading, and the indisputable success achieved in stopping a first wave, the disease is experiencing an expansion that keeps alarms on throughout the country, even though not all provinces today exhibit the same scenario. Havana, which had become the epicenter of the epidemic early on, continues to be the most affected territory, with a wide spread of the coronavirus in its geography. However, in recent weeks the central Ciego de Ávila has shown a complex situation in several of its municipalities and, in particular, in the provincial capital. Other provinces such as Artemisa, Matanzas, Pinar del Río, Mayabeque, Villa Clara and, more recently, Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos, Holguín and Camagüey have also reported positive cases and remain in tension. But how has the disease gotten to this point? What has been the evolution of COVID-19 on the island? Which are its advances and setbacks? What are the most illustrative figures of what happened for more than six months? OnCuba invites you to follow a chronology of the epidemic in Cuba and...

The quarantine for Cubans, in 7minutes

Help us keep OnCuba alive COVID-19 has changed the world. It has infected millions, it has caused the death of hundreds of thousands, it has spread fear and suffering along with its invisible perpetrator: the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Borders from everywhere have been closed to try to contain the deadly invasion; trips, events, and classes have been canceled; long confinements and restrictions have been imposed, which, after becoming more flexible due to the apparent improvement, have had to be resumed in many countries in the face of new waves of the disease. As it has also happened in Cuba. People are not the same today either. The quarantine has changed their life dynamics, priorities, and interests. It has forced them to adapt to a different, more oppressive and claustrophobic reality, to multiply virtual interactions over physical ones, to be creative and willing to overcome the limitations imposed by the pandemic, to persevere in holding on to who they are, what they do, and what they want, even from home; and to find an opportunity to grow, even in adversity. As it has also happened in Cuba. Mariacarla Dausá and Claudio Peláez found that opportunity. She (a producer) and he (a filmmaker),...

People gather waiting in line in Havana during the coronavirus second outbreak. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana, a setback

Less than what a meringue lasts at the door of a school (Cuban popular saying). That was in Miguel's opinion the time that Havana lasted in the first phase of the post-COVID-19 de-escalation. His opinion seems exaggerated if you look at it literally, but it is not at all if you look at it from the prism of popular wisdom. "We could see it coming" explains this retired person from Havana. For just over a month, the Cuban capital remained on the first step of the return-to-normal ladder and, contrary to what happened in the rest of the Island, it did not manage to continue moving forward. Just a few days after entering the recovery stage, the capital authorities had to open two local transmissions detected events in the municipalities of Cerro and Diez de Octubre, and since then, the outbreaks have increased. And although the main Cuban city did not report autochthonous cases for two days in a row and met the health indicators for a short time to move on to the second phase, the truth is that it could never completely get off the tightrope. With the cases reported at the end of this Friday, the main...

Photo: OnCuba.

Online stores in Cuba: catch me if you can

Help us keep OnCuba alive If Steven Spielberg were to take a trip to Cuba these days―if he could do it even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic―he would surely film the second part of Catch Me If You Can, that so-much-liked film based on the life of famous swindler Frank Abagnale Jr. that Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks starred in 18 years ago. Only instead of narrating the persecution around the world of the elusive Abagnale by a stubborn FBI agent, its sequel would take place mostly in a digital environment and would reflect the countless vicissitudes of those who try to buy the different products that Cuban online stores sell today. At least this is what Ihosvani thinks, “a movie buff for pleasure and a buyer out of necessity,” one of the many and many Cubans―I wouldn’t dare risk a number―who dedicate part of their days to monitoring the different online shopping platforms that exist on the island, mainly the controversial TuEnvío, of the state corporation Cimex; to monitor notifications and alerts for mobile applications and groups on social networks; to navigate the not infrequently stormy waters of connectivity in Cuba; and to “hunt” any “prey”...

Photo: Notimérica

Steps and keys for reopening Cuban tourism

Help us keep OnCuba alive here This July 1st Cuba officially opened its first hotels to international tourism. It did so only in keys adjacent to the island after three months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, without clear indications of its possible convocation and short-term economic success, and with the imperative to apply strict hygiene and safety measures to prevent new outbreaks that would represent a reversal in today’s controlled epidemiological scenario of the country. The decision, announced days ago by the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), only foresees the arrival of foreign visitors to Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Cruz, Cayo Santa María and Cayo Largo―the first four located in the northern keys of the center of the island, and the last one, in the south of western Cuba―, from which for the time being tourists will not be able to leave. Meanwhile, other hotel and non-hotel facilities have already opened their doors to the national market, as part of the beginning of the post-COVID-19 stage. https://oncubanews.com/en/cuba/cuba-to-open-to-foreign-tourism-on-july-1-but-only-in-its-keys/ The first phase of the de-escalation, which has already ended in most of the Cuban provinces and which Havana entered this Friday, seeks to be the first step towards a gradual...

Rainier Bonne Espinosa and his baby girl Ambar Bonne Barcelay. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Rainier’s and Ámbar’s gaze

Help us keep OnCuba alive here Amber doesn’t know why Rainier looks at her over a piece of cloth, or why that cloth stands between their faces and her father’s words collide with the cloth, and they become strange for her. She also doesn’t know why when he comes home from work, or from the street, he first goes to take off his clothes and bathe to leave behind any dirt from the outside world, before hugging and kissing her as any father would like to do. She doesn’t know and can’t ask him, at least not in words, although sometimes she opens her curious baby eyes wide and Rainier thinks he sees more than one question in them. Those questions that also distress him and that he tries to answer silently, between one hug and another, when he finally knows that he is clean, sure that he won’t infect his daughter with the coronavirus or any other illness that he may have accidentally picked up in his hands. Ámbar was born a month ago, just a month ago, in a Havana that became the epicenter of COVID-19 in Cuba; in a city that 30 days after her birth continues...

Why has Cuban biotechnology been successful against COVID-19? (II)

Help us keep OnCuba alive here The biotechnology sector has been fundamental in Cuba’s successful battle against COVID-19. Thanks to a more than 30-year-old structured and recognized industry, the talent and dedication of its scientists, and the results obtained over decades, the island’s biotechnology has been able to quickly make available to hospitals a battery of products, converted by their effectiveness into pillars of the Cuban medical protocol against the pandemic. The recombinant interferon alpha 2b, of proven antiviral efficacy, the monoclonal Itolizumab and the CIGB 258 peptide, the latter two used in the treatment of patients who reach the severe phases of the disease, have been key in reducing the mortality rate from COVID-19 in Cuba, which has remained below 4%. They are not, logically, the only medicines produced on the island now redirected as part of this battle for life, but they are bulwarks of that effort, the most visible fruits today of a leafy tree still growing and with many challenges ahead. “There are 70 ongoing research protocols in Cuba related to COVID-19, which in these months have been approved by the joint scientific committee. It may be difficult for someone to believe, but it is so,”...

Why has Cuban biotechnology been successful against COVID-19? (I)

Help us keep OnCuba alive here Although Cuba has not completely defeated COVID-19, as evidenced by the outbreaks and positive cases detected in recent days, the island has undoubtedly successfully managed to cope with a disease that has become a pandemic, which has already spread to some 8 million people and killed more than 430,000 worldwide. The island’s figures, although they have maintained a progression since the first cases were reported on March 11, have not suffered an exponential jump, as has happened in many nations, and have managed to remain within a favorable scenario. This has prevented hospitals from overloading, victims from multiplying—to date, just over 2,260 infected have been confirmed and 84 patients have died—and for the country to carry on its shoulders the weight that an uncontrolled epidemic would represent for its already hit economy. The key to this achievement, the Cuban authorities assure, has been the implementation of a comprehensive strategy that combines active epidemiological surveillance, isolation measures for the population—although without decreeing quarantine, except where there have been localized transmission events—, the compulsory hospitalization of positive cases, contacts and suspects—even asymptomatic—, and medical attention that has not spared all the resources at its disposal for...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Risk perception

The perception of risk, I read in a synthetic scientific definition as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is “a subjective assessment of the probability of having an accident or a disease.” The key concept here is “subjective assessment,” that is, what each one interprets, analyzes, thinks on the matter; but that subjectivity, it is already known, is separated by many objectivities. Or by one, which contains the others: life itself. A line is objective. Having the fridge empty, too. The refrigerator is never “subjectively” full or empty: it either has chicken or it doesn’t; or it has mincemeat, hotdogs, eggs, sausage or―a miracle―meat, or it doesn’t have them. Yolanda is a big mulatto woman, one might say plump, who paces from one side of the line to the other, controlling, putting order, imposing her character even behind her facemask. No one chose her for that, she decided to do it herself. And she carries out his task with the discipline of a Tibetan monk, although not with his silence and restraint. People acknowledge her will, they abide by it, although from time to time someone questions it, their spirits rise, and the whole delicate balance of the line is...

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