Tahimi Arboleya

Tahimi Arboleya

Licenciada en Microbiología, Universidad de La Habana. Master en Comunicación. Directora Editorial de OnCuba.

Is “day zero” approaching for the Cuban economy?

The arrival of the famous “day zero,” the day when one of the two Cuban currencies currently in circulation is eliminated, is a recurring theme these days for Cuban society. Since 2011, when the Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución (Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution) were approved at the 4th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, this was one of the objectives to be achieved for the Cuban economy. In the approved document, it was established as necessary to “Strengthen the levels of macroeconomic policy coordination and conclude the studies to eliminate dual currency and improve exchange rate policy.” This need has been endorsed in each of the plans and strategies subsequently approved. Although at other times the arrival of “day zero” has seemed imminent, now many economists, who have studied the subject, agree that everything seems to indicate that the days are numbered for the CUC (Cuban convertible peso). On this subject I talked with Juan Triana, Doctor in Economic Sciences, specialist in Cuban economy issues, columnist for OnCuba. Do you think the time has finally come for monetary unification? Yes, without a doubt, if we...

Cuban Soberana 01 vaccine

Last July 17, a group of people devoted to science in Cuba finally had in their hands a small bottle with a transparent liquid; on the label it said: COVID-19 vaccine. What is in that precious small amount of liquid, how to get there and what time is needed to have a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine? What is a vaccine? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “a vaccine is understood to be any preparation intended to generate immunity against a disease by stimulating the production of antibodies. This may be, for example, a suspension of killed or attenuated microorganisms, or products or derivatives of microorganisms. Most vaccines are given by an injection, but some are given orally (by mouth) or sprayed into the nose.” What does it mean to generate immunity by stimulating the production of antibodies? The immune system is like the body’s defense army, and it is a complex army where different body organs and cells participate. From the moment we are born we have the ability to defend ourselves against external agents that can pose a threat to health, when these are biological entities capable of causing diseases they are called pathogens. There are many pathogenic microorganisms...

Replica of Sputnik 1 at the National Air and Space Museum, United States. Photo: NASA

The Russian Sputnik V vaccine

On Tuesday, August 11th, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country had registered the first vaccine against the coronavirus that causes the current COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly it could be very encouraging news for the world, something that we have all been waiting for since March 11th, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that we were facing a new pandemic; and the world turned upside down. https://oncubanews.com/mundo/rusia-registra-la-primera-vacuna-contra-la-covid-19/ So, why has this news been taken with caution by the scientific community? Beyond geopolitical interests (which unfortunately exist), the problem is what is known and what is yet unknown about the vaccine with trade name “Sputnik V”, the same name as the first satellite that the Soviet Union managed to put into orbit in space, in one of its greatest victories in the technological race with the United States during the Cold War. Sputnik translates as “satellite”, but it is also a word that derives from the Greek and means “traveling companion”. What do we know about the Russian vaccine? The Gam-COVID-Vac vaccine was developed by scientists from the National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology (Gamaleya) together with the Ministry of Defense. It is based on an adenovirus that...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Havana orphaned

One of the most extraordinary Cubans with whom I have shared the breath of time that reaches us while alive has died. Eusebio Leal was a brilliant intellectual, a gifted orator, an impeccable humanist, a stubborn lover...tireless; and, above all, a useful man. It’s hard to imagine that he had formally studied only up to sixth grade, this wise man who received the highest awards from the academy in so many places in the world. He started working from the age of 16 and formed himself, not only by reading but by listening; it is said that he was an excellent listener, with that insatiable thirst to swallow the world, to understand the world and people, to find the poetry hidden in a gesture, or on a wall. Eusebio’s great work is Havana, and that city―which is also mine―owes him what has been saved of it. Not only did he prevent with his body and soul that ignorance, or apathy, or poverty, rip her to pieces or let her die; rather, he planned and executed―as far as he could, and it was a lot―its resurrection. He thought of Havana as a living body, that’s why it can never be said...

Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas. Photo: http://lufkindailynews.com/

Interview with Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas: “There are more than enough reasons for there to have been a statement by the U.S. State Department”

In the early morning hours of April 30, the usual quiet of NW 16th Street in Washington DC, home to several embassies and just two miles from the White House, was interrupted by a shooting. The attack was directed at the headquarters of the Cuban embassy in the United States. The incident lasted a few minutes, the now detained Alexander Alazo shot 32 times with an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle and a few minutes later he was arrested by officers of the Metropolitan Police Department without offering resistance. Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas gave OnCuba an interview on the subject. Ambassador, are there usually police posts guarding the Cuban embassy in Washington? No. In this case, the Metropolitan Police Department evaluates the need for the presence of one or more police vehicles in embassy areas, which are not there all the time. It depends on what they call “threat appreciation,” they determine it for each embassy. So far, they have determined that a presence of one of their vehicles, or officers, is not required permanently. It’s not similar to what happens in Havana, where there is protection for the American embassy all the time. Some reports indicate that there were around...

Photo: Yander Zamora/EFE.

Coronavirus in the air? Facemasks yes, and other things too

Many ask about the possible airborne spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19. In the OnCuba special we made reference to a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, 2020 that indicated that this coronavirus could remain in the air for 3 hours. However, this study did not confirm transmission through this route. According to reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) artificial conditions had been used that did not allow conclusive results; furthermore, the necessary viral charge to infect is still unknown. What does droplet or aerosol transmission mean? When people become infected with respiratory viruses, they release viral particles every time they speak, breathe, cough, or sneeze. These particles are enclosed in balloons of mucus, saliva, and water. The larger balloons fall faster than they evaporate, so they sprinkle nearby areas, these are traditionally called “droplets.” Smaller balloons evaporate faster than they fall, leaving dry viruses that linger in the air and travel farther, these are called “aerosols.” When researchers say a virus is “in the air,” like measles or chickenpox, they mean it moves like aerosol. So far the WHO has said that the transmission of this virus appears to be (like the...

Photo taken through a microscope of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Why can’t we have a COVID-19 vaccine right now?

What is a vaccine? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “a vaccine is understood to be any preparation intended to generate immunity against a disease by stimulating the production of antibodies. This may be, for example, a suspension of killed or attenuated microorganisms, or products or derivatives of microorganisms. Most vaccines are given by an injection, but some are given orally (by mouth) or sprayed into the nose.” In a previous article we had talked about the immune system, which is like the body's defense army. One is born with a capacity to respond to what the body recognizes as foreign, as a threat (such as a virus, a bacterium, a fungus, or a parasite). That primary responsiveness is quick, but it is not specific and, therefore, sometimes not enough, the threat manages to get past that barrier. We call that first, fast and nonspecific immunity innate immunity. The body has another way of defending itself, specially designed for each type of threat. Let's say that the body has, from birth, a group of cells ready to design and produce specific weapons for each pathogen. This second army works on what we call acquired immunity. Since there is a...

Recombinant Interferon alfa-2B, a leading Cuban biotechnology product, used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

The famous Cuban interferon vs the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus

Following the use of the Cuban recombinant human interferon alfa-2B as one of the 30 medicines chosen in China to counter the epidemic (COVID-19) caused by Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), many have heard the word interferon for the first time. But what is interferon (IFN) and how to understand its possible role in dealing with this virus? Biology is very complex, cellular and molecular processes need many years of study for a “medium understanding,” in this article I will try to explain the basic information in the simplest possible way. Some basic concepts Viruses: They are microscopic entities, made up of genetic material (can be DNA or RNA) and other molecules. Viruses cause different diseases when they enter the body. In other words, viruses cannot live independently, they need a cell from a host to replicate, they enter it and put the entire mechanism of that cell in function of its replication. Pathogen: It is a biological entity capable of causing damage or disease to a plant or animal, including humans, that is susceptible to it. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, for example, is a pathogen for humans. Immune system: The immune system is like the protective army. It is the system that fights...

Francis del Río. Foto: David Garten.

Rhythm Under the Skin

Photographer David Garten entered Cuban music together with Irakere. The first thing Garten heard in the late 1970s, when he was studying at New York University, was the mythical jazz band, and Cuban music became one of his passions. He started traveling to the island since 1994, and has accumulated a valuable register, some of his photos have been published in The New York Times, JazzTimes and OnCuba, as well as in ballet and contemporary dance books. His photos have been the cover of records for Chucho Valdés (Irakere’s director), Los Van Van and Síntesis. He works in New York for Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, he has also illustrated two of the Cuban-American musician’s covers for three Grammy Award winning records. “Rhythm Under the Skin” shows the Cuban passion for music. Eleven portraits of Cuban musicians playing live which provoke the senses, almost to the point of being able to hear them and feel their passion. Why do you have a passion for Cuban music? First you have to start with the rhythm, or the clave, which I believe belongs to the periodic table of elements, or the guaguancó, or the Batá drums,...

August-September

Cubans and their Music It was September 20, 2009, it was Havana, it was Revolution Square, it was 2:00 pm…. We had gotten dressed in a white T-shirt, just like other thousands of persons, and we had been waiting for hours for the concert to start, in that Square that I had never seen so full before. All ages, colors, lineages, languages and origins were there, and when the music started my daughters moved to the same rhythm as that grey-haired man who only a few minutes ago looked like he was going to faint, exhausted by the heat, sitting by the sidewalk; and I moved and sang the same song as the lady who before looked so circumspect, so whitely dressed, trying to not stain her wardrobe, all the time watching out for that, until the strains of that music were heard. What a strange thing! I thought, for a few minutes we had something in common. After two hours, Juanes, Olga Tañón, Los Orishas, Silvio Rodríguez, Luis Eduardo Aute, Miguel Bosé, Síntesis…and others had passed by there. Two hours from the concert, with the September heat among that indescribable multitude, no one was wearing anything that was completely...

June-July

Cuban People When people visit Cuba they are struck by its very beautiful beaches; the beauty of its colonial cities; hills and rivers; the spectacular seabed along its coasts; and yes, of course, the old cars and the strange “exotic” mystic of living in revolution; but undoubtedly, what’s extraordinary about Cuba is its people. Behind, in the middle, at the side, over, holding everything, are the people, with their lives, their joys, their loves, their miseries, their rhythm, their sorrow, their fears, their certainties. I don’t believe we Cubans are “special” beings; we share much of the Caribbean spirit; of the Spanish traditions and soul; of the African essence; neither are we a compact mass, all Cubans don’t know how to dance, all of them don’t like rum, not all of them play dominoes or speak loudly, we are not all blacks or whites and, although we have the most “unanimous” Parliament in the world, nothing is more difficult than getting two Cuban to come to an agreement. But it is true that when visiting Cuba one finds something that’s extraordinary in its people. Many say that it is the way of “sharing” the much and the little there is;...

April-May

My Grandmother’s Beans What people in each country eat says a great deal about their locals. We Cubans have a complex and central relationship with food. Our lives revolve around eating because of the many years of hard work involved in getting provisions. Feeding every day the family has aroused an imagination that borders on magic, frequently on madness. However, there’s always food at our parties, birthdays, celebrations and during all the pleasant times, food is frequently the central theme, or the pretext. We share our food like the most prized treasure and, no matter how little there is, if you get to a Cuban friend’s home at suppertime (even if you haven’t been invited), he will share with you what he has, he’ll just have to “add some water to the soup.” In this edition of OnCuba Travel we are speaking about food. When I think about the subject, my grandmother Elena’s black beans immediately come to my mind. She used to live in the countryside, more or less 40 minutes from Havana. My parents, my sister and I used to go see her on Sundays; I used to spend the entire trip thinking of the plate of black...

February-March

Come to Cuba! I enjoy nothing better than showing my home. About Cuba I know a great many nooks and crannies, I’ve toured it from one end to the other, few corners still have not resisted me. I can’t say I have a favorite place in Cuba. I’m moved by Cuba’s countryside, the healthy ingenuity of its people; I’m impressed with its colonial cities, full of impeccable harmony or disharmony; I adore the Cuban beaches, when I dive in them it’s like being at home. But when I close my eyes and think of Cuba there’s no uninhabited landscape, the people are always there. That’s why I tell my friends: if you want to be alone, take in the sun, enjoy the summer, or isolate yourself in the tranquility of a very beautiful beach; don’t go to Cuba. We have all that, but it’s a waste to go to Cuba and not grasp its culture, or get acquainted with its people. Cuba cannot be understood and I stopped trying to understand the Cubans, but it’s not necessary. You can go to Cuba and feel alive, enjoy and suffer; question yourself, surprise yourself. You can like it more or less, but...

October-November

The homeland looks proudly upon you On Pajarito – the horse that accompanied him in battle -, the man was writing the stanzas that I sang so many times in the school playground. It was October 20, 1868. Two days before, his daughter Canducha, aged 17, had entered Bayamo as the standard bearer of a recently formed troop, donning the colors of the new flag. She was escorted by her brother Gustavo and one of the sons of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes himself, the man who barely a few days before had freed his slaves and had harangued them to follow him in battle to not “live in dishonor,” that was the beginning of the Independence Wars in Cuba. They had taken Bayamo in two days and had established there the headquarters of the first government of the Republic in Arms. The man who was writing while riding his horse, in the middle of all the excitement in the town square, was Pedro Figueredo, Perucho. Like Céspedes, Perucho was a lawyer, the son of a wealthy family, very cultured, a mason, a lover of arts and letters. A solid intellectual, he had traveled the world and studied military tactics: he...

August-September

The Possible Dreams “How easily does a person with imagination create a universe out of nothing” Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer “In times of crisis, only imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein Imagining, having the capacity to dream and the courage to make dreams come true; setting a goal even when others consider it unreachable; creating a project and going all the way to achieve it…. There is no greater inspiration than this. Cubans have always used imagination. Otherwise, how could they have survived the shortages, the siege, the limitations? For imagination to be productive it must be accompanied not just by inventiveness, creative power, willpower, the capacity to work, but also needed are knowledge, training, qualities which Cuba can boast of in all fairness. The best thing a country with a poor economy, blockaded by the most powerful neighbor in the world, can do is develop individual and collective initiative, boost the possibility of creating, encourage prosperity, create the foundations for everyone to set goals for themselves that have an impact on a social level. As in any modern society that tries to be just, the biggest challenge consists in that the personal goals contribute to the collective dreams,...

June-July

Traveling to Cuba New York is the United States’ most populated city. Many rightly call it the world’s capital. People from all parts of the world live in NYC, more than 170 languages are spoken, its diversity is such that it is said that no ethnic origin predominates over another, although the most important are the Puerto Rican, the Italian, the Antillean, the Dominican and the Chinese. A few days ago, when I was working in New York, I had just visited the studio of a Cuban visual artist. I hadn’t walked even two blocks when, very close to Washington Square, a couple started walking ahead of me. I couldn’t avoid overhearing them; one said to the other in perfect English: “Do you know that a Cuban chamber music orchestra is playing today in Central Park? I’m not missing it.” And I thought to myself: this city has more than 8.5 million people, unimaginable cultural options, and I hear on the street that they’re talking about Cuban music. I of course went to the concert, it was full, despite the heat that New Yorkers know how to put up with. Hundreds of persons enjoyed the music in the wonderful stage...

April-May

Women March has just come to an end, a month in which Women’s Day is celebrated. This year with a special connotation: on March 8 some 54 countries participated in the Women’s International Strike against gender violence. Its organizers proposed a big movement that would make a call to everyone to think of the inequalities we still suffer, as well as how to make visible aspects of the problem which are not always taken into account. “The International Women’s Strike (IWS) is a grass-root movement created by women from different parts of the world…. a response to social, legal, political, economic, moral and verbal violence experienced by contemporary women in diverse parts of the world,” one of its organizers explained. At the height of the 21st century we are living in a world where one out of three women suffers physical or sexual violence, almost always from their couple or ex couple. According World Health Organization data, the mistreatment of women is the social phenomenon that claims more women lives per year in all parts of the world. It is the principal cause of death among women aged between 15 and 44, and it is estimated that in...

February-March

Worthwhile Years Tahimi Arboleya Delgado Five years ago we started OnCuba. I will opt for not mentioning names, but I can say with total conviction that what has been conquered has been thanks to a team effort; all those who are and have been working for OnCuba have fallen in love with their, each one has left an imprint and a path. For a long time we worked in “itinerant offices,” in the homes of members of the team (some became veritable communes), even in cafeterias we opened and closed consuming only water and coffee. With an Internet connection that infinitely multiplied working hours; printing in private businesses, covering the news watching TV and dictating on the phone…. The foundation days have a special charm. We didn’t imagine the reach we would have in such a short time, so we have been constantly reinventing ourselves, I always think we are a work in progress and that we don’t have final goals, we always extend them, like the limits. Many people thank us, others accuse us: in Cuba some label us as dissidents, and in the United States as being at the service of the Cuban government. And it’s that our...

CEO of Norwegian Cruises. Photos: Osbel Concepción

Frank del Río, the Cruise Man

Barely a year ago, Frank del Río returned to Havana, which he had left on August 22, 1961 and which he had never again visited. The seven-year-old boy’s memory had recorded many things and they started leaping up, one after the other, when touching Havana soil. The hospital where he had been born and which he had revisited sometimes when sick, his Lawton home on 957 San Francisco, between 19 and 20 streets, an address he knows by heart. The Náutico Club, Guanabo beach, Jalisco Park, the Malecón seaside drive and its car races, his first school…. It’s hard to believe that he could have kept so many memories for more than 50 years, but the details and his eyes when speaking of them leaves no room for doubt. He has already come back three times since he traveled to Cuba in 2015: “Cuba hasn’t developed as it should have for several reasons, among them the blockade, therefore so many things were the same as I had left them, and others were in a bad state. I looked at everything, to see which buildings could be rescued, what can be returned to its glory. Havana continues having a special charm.”...

December-January

Cuba, to Your Health! I love this time of the year. In my family we’ve always celebrated New Year’s Eve, more than any other festivity. For us it is undoubtedly the party of the year. The women try to have something new to wear; it was the day in which the entire family got together, from noon to the following day. A day of roast pork, congrí, cassava, sweet fritters, fried plantain, dominoes and beer. I have so many memories of one and all the New Year’s Eves!!! Every year my father invented a different way of roasting the pork, and each year there was an accident. According to him, the time it came out the best was when the oven, right in the middle of the preparations, caught fire. The flames burnt the lemon tree and threatened with spoiling the day for the fire fighters from the Santa Catalina Station. We put out the fire by hosing it with water and we resumed the roasting. My father believes that that “heatstroke” gave the turbulent roast a touch of distinction. In recent years, being the mother of two daughters, the New Year’s Eves were always so hectic for me that...

October-November

Fuel for the Soul Havana is Cuba’s most populated city, with more than two million inhabitants. More than two million Cubans also live in the United States, counting those born on the island and their descendants. Ever since we created OnCuba more than four years ago, we wanted to be a bridge, a connection, between those Cubans living in the United States and their country, their customs, their roots, their people. We didn’t imagine then that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between both nations would be so near, and that with them so many opportunities would arise to facilitate the exchange. We had been a bit ahead. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and U.S. citizens have known about the Cuban reality through OnCuba. It is an enormous responsibility that accompanies us every day and every night. Cuba’s history cannot be written without its emigration, for us the island goes beyond its physical borders, and is multiplied in each place where there are Cubans who feel as such, and who desire and participate in the dream of building a greater country. They are persons who enter other cultures, who live, who work, who build their lives in other places, but continue...

August-September

Nights in the Lab I spent long days and nights in the labs, hallways…rooms of the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) while I was studying microbiology in the University of Havana and was getting my thesis ready in one of the many research lines that were being developed at the time to find a vaccine against dengue. At the IPK the normal working days ended at 6 p.m., but frequently an experiment required that we stay until the next day, or the other. I remember very long hours of reading, numberless steps that made an experiment last throughout an entire dawn, and meanwhile, gatherings: from literature to music, from politics to the prices in the agricultural market, always with the multiple theories a scientist can have about each thing. I was greatly surprised by many of my professors, eminent scientists with published books and recognized theories and who, nevertheless, walked along those hallways just like I did, had lunch in the same canteen and adhered to the same schedule. There were also the youths who were buildings their lives, almost without leaving the lab. In that place I learned, I fell in love, I met friends…and was able...

Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Cuba. August 2015. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

DeLaurentis: “It is long and complex, but the normalisation is underway”

This July 20 marked the first anniversary of the restoration of Cuban-US relations. The international press, on both sides of the Florida Straits in particular, devoted headlines to taking stock and to remembering the date. A year ago this day, the Cuban flag was raised in Washington at the new embassy’s headquarters, ​​a space formerly occupied by an Interests Section. On 14 August the opening ceremony for the US diplomatic mission in Havana will be remembered. Both events concluded an essential first step – the diplomatic - in the road of normalization. Over the course of this year bilateral and cooperation agreements on areas of mutual interest have been signed. There has been significant progress in the diplomatic arena; both countries have received delegations from different levels, US travel to the island has significantly increased. Although they are few in number some contracts with US companies have been signed in the areas of ​​telecommunications and tourism. And during this year President Obama visited the island on an historic trip. A small group of foreign media accredited in Cuba, OnCuba among them, were able to converse with Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chargé d'affaires at the US embassy in Cuba. "It is the first...

June-July

OnCuba in Miami While we were closing this issue of the magazine, we were presenting in Miami our communication platform. For the first time a great deal of the OnCuba team from Havana coincided in that city with the one in the United States, something almost impossible to conceive of when in 2012 we decided on the foundation of the project. We walked the streets of Miami, went up and down in Uber taxis, almost all of them driven by Cubans. In cafeterias, museums, beaches, the homes of friends and acquaintances, we talked with as many as we could. We know of persons who decry our work, who do not conceive of the possibility of understanding between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but they have been infinitely fewer. In general the Cubans we talked to are workers who are struggling to get ahead in a society they recognize as harsh. They want to have normal relations with their country, and what the majority most complain about is the high price for the passport and the airline tickets, veritable obstacles when traveling. They maintain sentimental and emotional ties with their culture; they feel Cuban even though they live...

Carlos Gutiérrez at the inauguration of the American Embassy in Havana. Photo: Alain L Gutiérrez Almeida

Carlos Gutiérrez: “We can’t let this opportunity go by”

Carlos Gutiérrez is the highest-ranking Cuban in the U.S. government. He was born in 1953 and his parents took him to live in the United States in 1960, a year after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. He is a man who inspires respect in the Republican Party: he was Secretary of Commerce during the George W. Bush government, and during that time he and Condoleezza Rice were co-chairs of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Gutiérrez has had a long and successful business career. He is former CEO of the Kellogg Company, is now a co-chair of the Albright Stone­bridge Group, and was a key member of George W. Bush’s economic team. He is a prominent expert on business issues and is an important promoter of policies benefiting U.S. business growth. His agreement with Obama’s new policy on Cuba has surprised many people. In remarks by Gutiérrez himself published in the New York Times in June, he said: “Like many fellow Republicans and Cuban-Americans, I was critical when President Obama announced in December 2014 that his administration would begin to normalize ties between the United States and Cuba ….” However, he has expressed optimism about progress in...

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