Yeny García / EFE

Yeny García / EFE

Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa/EFE.

Sun, beach and safety: Cuba’s proposal in times of pandemic

At first glance, it is hard to believe that we are in 2020: several people sunbathe on the sand, others laugh with cocktails in hand and a couple embracing walk near the water. All with their faces uncovered, forgetting for a few days that a pandemic is still raging outside. The only clue that COVID-19 is still a reality are the mandatory use of masks for Cuban hotel personnel, governed by a protocol that includes taking temperature and hand and foot disinfection at the entrance, which employees kindly make guests comply with, without exceptions. A radiant sun smack in the middle of winter, paradisiacal beaches and sanitary safety are the benefits with which Cuba wants to attract a foreign tourism increasingly necessary to revive its battered economy, now even more affected by the pandemic. Women workers offer disinfectant gel to tourists upon arrival at a hotel on December 2, 2020, in Cayo Coco. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa/EFE. “We wanted to come to get away from the cold and Cuba seemed the best option. We could not be happier,” said Lisa, a 30-year-old tourist, who traveled thousands of kilometers from Yakutia, Siberia, to “warm up to the rhythm of salsa.” Traveling to...

Photo: Yander Zamora/EFE.

Cuban entrepreneurs reinvent themselves to survive the pandemic

If opening and maintaining a private business was already difficult in Cuba, the COVID-19 epidemic now places new obstacles for Cuban entrepreneurs, forced to reinvent themselves to survive an unprecedented crisis from which, despite everything, they could emerge stronger. Hardened after years of fighting against shortages and bureaucratic obstacles, the island’s “self-employed” are using their inventiveness and adapting their ventures, many of them now focused on home delivery and on strengthening online interaction with customers. Everything to stay afloat until the pandemic passes. Some have gone further and have adapted their offers to the new situation: lowering prices, adding incentives―such as free masks and free or half-cost shipping―and guaranteeing security in deliveries. Crisis after crisis A little less than two months ago, people toasted in bars and restaurants in Havana. The rental houses bustled and the classic cars colored the streets, today almost without traffic and with signs of “Closed for COVID-19.” Since the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed on the island on March 11, one after another the self-employed started closing their businesses even before the government decreed the closure of leisure centers and borders, leaving out tourism, the greatest source of income for the Cuban private sector....

Several members of the Arthaus project participate in the workshop “Jiu-jitsu against Rape,” taught by former sportsman Javier Peña, on January 29, 2020, in Havana (Cuba). Photo: EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa.

Cuban women learn jiu-jitsu to protect themselves against abuse

The change begins by taking off jewelry, makeup and everything that hinders you to fight. “We ask the young women to even cut their fingernails,” explains Elena Molina, one of the organizers of a jiu-jitsu workshop to “empower” women in imminent situations of rape. Then, ready to “roll on the floor,” about 20 participants in the course begin the true process of transformation, which goes from the physical to the mental: learning that defending and hitting an aggressor is not “a bad thing” and convincing themselves that they can face a stronger person trying to overpower them. “It's about a paradigm shift and building the confidence that you can be prepared for a difficult situation,” adds Fabiana Salgado, the other half of the duo behind Arthaus, an autonomous creative space, dedicated mainly to art and now hosting this initiative, unprecedented in Cuba. Fabiana Salgado, artist and organizer of the Arthaus project, talks with EFE, on January 29, 2020, in Havana (Cuba). Photo: EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa. Be prepared for the worst The images are eloquent. Javier Peña, the professor of “Jiu-jitsu against Rape,” shows them on the cell phone to those who still doubt that a woman can overpower an...

Photo: National Assembly of People’s Power / Twitter.

Five factors for appointment of new Cuban prime minister

Cuba will again have a prime minister starting this Saturday, when Parliament designates the person who will occupy a position that disappeared more than 40 years ago and was now recovered by the new Constitution. 1.- Origins and disappearance The position of prime minister appears in Cuba with the progressive Constitution of 1940, one of the most advanced in Latin America at the time. It was created as a link between the Executive and Legislative powers, without much relevance in the political life of the island, where he was seen as the president's spokesman. It becomes important as of 1959 when Fidel Castro comes to power. The deceased leader assumes the position and becomes the true ruler, eclipsing then President Osvaldo Dorticós. In 1976, the new Constitution eliminates the figures of the president of the Republic and the prime minister and establishes a collegiate government, with the Council of State as its highest body. 2.- The constitutional reform of 2019 Fidel Castro (1926-2016) remained as president of the Councils of State and of Ministers until 2006, leading all decision-making bodies, from the government to the almighty Communist Party and the Armed Forces. His brother Raúl Castro (88 years old)...

A woman uses her cell phone this Friday, December 6, 2019, in Havana, one year since the activation of mobile internet in Cuba. Photo: EFE / Yander Zamora.

Citizen and government awakening on Twitter: a year of mobile internet in Cuba

Answering WhatsApp messages from bed and posting photos on a bus was something unthinkable for Cubans until a year ago, when the country activated its mobile internet network and took the first step towards a new reality, marked by greater access to information but still weighed down by high prices. “It was like suddenly entering the real world,” jokes Claudia, one of the thousands of persons who started using the service immediately, one of the most awaited since the island's government opened the first public Wi-Fi points some three years before. The young engineer recalls the arrival of 3G “almost like euphoria,” reflected in the more than 1.8 million users who used mobile data in the first 40 days since the service was activated. An average of about 45,000 new customers a day. A young woman looks at her cell phone in a Wi-Fi zone in Havana. Photo: Yander Zamora / EFE. An expensive milestone for the average pocket For journalist and activist Glenda Boza, the arrival of mobile internet has been one of the milestones of the last year on the island, governed by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and, until very recently, one of the most disconnected...

Sarilén Morales, head of the online communication team at Decorarte, the autonomous cooperative that manufactures the Gabi & Sofi line, at its stand at the 37th Havana International Trade Fair, on November 6, 2019. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE.

Toys made by Cuban entrepreneurs will head to Europe

A line of handmade toys designed and manufactured by Cuban entrepreneurs using recycled wood from the habano industry for the first time will get to Europe, after the signing of an unprecedented agreement this Thursday that will allow the autonomous cooperative to take its products to the international market. The agreement, signed between the Cuban state company Copextel as an intermediary and the German Profümed at the Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV 2019), will be a great step for the brand, created in 2016 in response to the high demand for children's products on the island and whose name is Gabi & Sofi. “As far as we know, it is the first time that Cuban toys, with a Cuban identity and a proper Cuban brand, reach the international and European market,” said to the EFE agency Sarilén Morales, one of the members of the Decorarte non-agricultural cooperative which is the owner of the brand. This non-state management formula is the closest thing to small and medium enterprises in Cuba, whose government does not recognize SMEs for now. Founded in 2013, Decorarte is based in Varadero, the famous Cuban beach resort located some 100 kilometers east of Havana, where the entire...

Several women perform hairstyling practices on June 29, 2019, in Havana. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE.

Curls and Afros to vindicate Afro-Cuban culture

"Sometimes they ask me if I lost my comb," smiles Leydis, who almost three years ago decided to "free herself from the torture of straitening her hair" and start wearing her big Afro with style, an image that has gradually ceased to be rare in the streets of Cuba. Although on the island everyone accepts that "whoever doesn’t descend from the Congos, descends from the Carabalí," as displayed by the vast majority of its population, paradoxically Afro-Cuban culture has been relegated to an almost marginal status that a new generation has proposed to change starting with what’s most visible: hair. For many young Cubans, embracing their Africanness begins by changing their appearance to break with centuries of colonization and beauty canons that in the Caribbean country have led to Afro hair being seen as "bad hair" that has to be fixed. Coinciding with the "black power" boom in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the first "espendrus"―the Cuban popular term for Afro hairstyles―were seen in Cuba, but the fashion did not survive long and it was replaced by braids and "hair straitening products," designed to tame the hair. "Although many people identify with 'Afro' roots from...