Things That Matter

Cuban Youths Are Skateboarding In Record Numbers And Don’t Want To Be Nationally Recognized As A Sport

Skateboarding has been used as a form of inclusion for teens and young adults to express their individuality. It keeps them active and allows them to form a tribe of like-minded individuals who can converse on the latest skate tricks and develop an artistic identity outside the conventional norms of society. Cuba is known around the world for the strict government and austerity that permeates the island. But a small group of young adults are taking their boards to the street to give themselves, and others, hope.

That sentiment extends to the marble-lined strip of Paseo del Prado in Havana, the main strip for skaters to practice stunts in the city.

Che Alejandro Pando, a tattoo artist and veteran of the skateboarding scene in Cuba, told the Havana Times, “With the boredom we have in this country, if you give a kid a skateboard and he goes for it, you are giving him something healthy to do, instead of hanging on to the outside of buses or drinking out and about.”

Skateboarding has given young people something positive to do in a country where good news is rare.

Teens are using skateboarding as an active, healthy lifestyle choice, and skater girls and women are using it additionally as a way to empower themselves. Although women on the island do have a certain degree of equal rights, the typical expectation is to be revered as a wife, mother and sister—not to go and dare to be anything they want to be.

With a board in hand, some Cuban women are seeing it as their metaphorical form of a spear and shield.

Team up with sPACycLOUd tomorrow, Aug. 5th to help female shredders in Cuba! Come to Local 16 and join our fundraising…

Posted by Skate Girls Tribe on Friday, August 4, 2017

“I do totally have this sensation of being different just for having a passion,” Belkis López Correa told the Miami New Times. “Like I’m fighting so hard to do something I love.”

López Correa endured stares, questions from her parents and scraped knees all to do the sport that she loves.

Regardless of who is on the board, skateboarders in Cuba are wary of authorities and are conscientious that they are not seen as a recognized sport by the country’s National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER) for fear of being regulated by bureaucratic red tape. Some skaters have reported having their boards confiscated, being slapped with fines or even getting arrested.

Getting a board confiscated is often a literal derailment for skaters, since boards are hard to come by on the island.

Some non-governmental organizations such as Amigo Skate and Cuba Skate (both coincidentally started in the same year) have been providing skateboards and equipment for Cuban skateboarders since 2010.

The skateboarding community in Cuba continues to grow and offers necessary hope.

Amigo Skate’s website says “the primary focus of our mission in Cuba has been to facilitate the tools and skills needed for Havana’s at-risk youth to foster a world where creativity has no limits.” Now the organization is working on expanding past Havana and bringing the support of the organization to eight other cities on the island that have a thriving skateboarding culture.

And there is no shortage of organizations facilitating the growth of this sport.

Cuba Skate also began in 2010 when two University of Michigan alums who had studied abroad in Cuba and made close ties with local skateboarders decided to keep that connection going. What emerged was a NGO to “establish sustainability for the island’s skateboarding communities.”

Skateboarding has a short history in Cuba, coming to the island just 40 to 50 years ago.

According to the Miami New Times article, skateboarding was first introduced in Cuba by Soviet soldiers, doctors and students who brought skateboards to the island in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Kids around Havana soon started making their own makeshift skateboards. By the ‘90s, skateboards were smuggled in thanks to travelers or those who worked abroad. Then in the 2000s, skateboarding culture started growing in the city. Havana even received donated ramps from Red Bull to build the Patinodromo, one of the only skate parks in the city.

Skateboarding still has a long way to go in Havana, since it is still seen as a ‘rogue activity’ due to its unofficial status as a sport and its ties to American NGOs and partnerships. Yet, the young men and women skating up and down the cities of Cuba are giving the country’s youth something to look forward to.


READ: The Latinos Who Defined Skateboarding’s Future Featured In ‘L.A. Boys’ Documentary

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In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Culture

In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Photo via Getty Images

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for Cubans. Not only have Cubans been physically affected by the virus like the rest of the world, but the drop in the island’s gross domestic product has stymied local economic productivity. The island can no longer look to tourism to add to their GDP.

Because of this drop in GDP, food shortages on the island have become more severe than in recent memory. And Cuban cooks are feeling the effects.

Cubans must stand in line for hours at markets with no guarantees that the ingredients that they want will be available.

This way of living is especially hard for Cuban cooks, like 39-year-old Yuliet Colón. For Colón, cooking is both a creative expression and a stress reliever. “The kitchen is my happy place, where I am calmer and I feel better,” she recently revealed to the Associated Press.

Yuliet Colón is one of the creators of a Facebook page called Recetas del Corazón that has changed the cooking game for thousands of Cubans.

Now, thanks to Colón and other curious and generous Cuban cooks like her, Recipes from the Heart is now 12,000 members strong.

The goal of the page is to help struggling Cuban cooks cope with food shortages. Members of the page share creative recipes, tips, and food substitutions. Launched in June of 2020, the page was an instant success. Its success proves that Cubans have been desperate to find ways to adapt their cooking to the post-COVID-era.

To AP News, Yuliet Colón laments about the lack of rice, beans, cheese, fruit, and, most of all, eggs. “What I like the most is making desserts, but now it’s hard to get eggs, milk or flour,” she revealed.

The brightside is, however, that Cuban cooks are finally able to share food-related tips and tricks with each other on a much larger scale than they were before the internet became more widespread in the country.

Now that many Cubans have access to communication apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, they can now connect with one another and make the most of what they have–however little that may be.

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This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

Things That Matter

This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

Cuba has long been a biotech juggernaut in the Caribbean. When health crises emerge around the globe or there’s a medical disaster, Cuba is often one of the first nation’s to send medical staff and emergency workers to help. Its medical team has become part of the country’s diplomacy.

But the Coronavirus pandemic has brought economic devastation to a country already facing severe economic issues. Many on the island struggle to even find daily necessities like Tylenol or Band-Aids yet the Cuban government is just steps away from developing its own vaccine against COVID-19. How is this possible?

Cuban researches are making their own Coronavirus vaccine and seeing great results.

Currently on the island, there are five vaccine candidates in development, with two already in late-stage trials. Cuban officials say they’re developing cheap and easy-to-store serums. They are able to last at room temperature for weeks, and in long-term storage as high as 46.4 degrees, potentially making them a viable option for low-income, tropical countries that have been pushed aside by bigger, wealthier nations in the international race for coronavirus vaccines.

If they’re successful and developing and rolling out the vaccine, Cuba – a country where the average scientific researcher earns about $250 a month — could be among the first nations in the world to reach herd immunity, putting it in a position to lure vaccine tourists and to export surpluses of what officials claim could reach 100 million doses by year’s end.

If they pull this off, it would be a big win for the communist government.

Achieving success would be an against-the-odds feat of medical science and a public relations win for the isolated country of 11 million people. Cuba was just added back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the final days of the Trump administration.

It could also make Cuba the pharmacist for nations lumped by Washington into the so-called “Axis of Evil.” Countries like Iran and Venezuela have already inked vaccine deals with Havana. Iran has even agreed to host a Phase 3 trial of one of Cuba’s most promising candidates — Soberana 2 — as part of a technology transfer agreement that could see millions of doses manufactured in Iran.

“We have great confidence in Cuban medical science and biotechnology,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told The Washington Post this week. “It will not only be fundamental for Venezuela, but for the Americas. It will be the true solution for our people.”

So how is Cuba managing to pull this off despite all the challenges they face?

Cuba is an authoritarian, one-party state with strict controls on everything from free speech and political activism to social media and LGBTQ rights. But the island has always invested heavily in education and healthcare, which has led to an unusually sophisticated biotechnology industry for a small developing country, with at least 31 research companies and 62 factories with over 20,000 workers.

Should Cuba’s vaccines succeed, its researchers will have overcome even more hurdles than their peers in Western labs — including shortages of equipment, spare parts and other supplies, due in part to U.S. sanctions

A successful vaccine could also become a vital new source of revenue for Cuba, which has been suffering a brutal economic crisis that has citizens waiting hours in line to buy scarce food, soap and toothpaste. The economy worsened under Trump-era sanctions that tightened the long-standing U.S. economic embargo of Cuba by curbing remittances, scaling back U.S. flights, ending cruise ship passenger traffic and further complicating Cuba’s access to the global financial system. President Biden has called for a possible return to Obama-era policies, but he has made no such moves yet.

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