Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Russia to help Cuba with production of rifle ammunition

Russia and Cuba are planning to sign a contract on building an assembly line for production of ammunition for Kalashnikov assault rifles, Kommersant business daily reported on Wednesday.

According to a source in the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, cited by Kommersant, an assembly line for 7.62-mm rounds used in Kalashnikov assault rifles and other Russian-made rifles will be built at Cuba’s Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara military plant.

The source said that Russia’s arms exporter Rosoboronexport had already prepared a contract, which includes the license and technology transfer.

The official did not specify the value of the contract but said Russia was hoping to receive a contract in the future on a complete overhaul of rifle ammunition production facilities in Cuba, which were built in 1970s-1980s with the help of Soviet specialists.

A Rosoboronexport source has confirmed the planned contract with Cuba but refused to provide more details on the subject, Kommersant said.

Although the Cuban leadership has repeatedly said it has no intention of resuming military cooperation with Russia after the surprise closure of the Russian electronic listening post in Lourdes in 2001, bilateral military ties seem to have been improving since 2008.

Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov said during his visit to Cuba in 2009 that modernization of the Soviet-made military equipment and training of Cuban military personnel will be the focus of Russian-Cuban military cooperation in the future.

Source: Ria Novosti

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  • Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Cuba's smoke-and-mirror reforms

    The Castro regime's announcement that for the first time Cuban citizens will be able to buy and sell their own homes has spurred an outpouring of irrational exuberance that real change is finally coming to the island-prison of Dr. Castro. "To say that it's huge is an understatement," one interested observer told the New York Times. "This is the foundation, this is how you build capitalism, by allowing the free trade of property."

    Another told Reuters, "The ability to sell houses means instant capital formation for Cuban families ... It is a big sign of the government letting go." Still another writes in the Christian Science Monitor that these are "incredibly meaningful changes."

    Such optimism is ill-founded. In fact, it is indicative only of one of two things: either it betrays a brazen political objective (Time magazine: "Why the U.S. Should Drop the Embargo and Prop Up Cuban Homeowners") or it demonstrates just how low the bar of expectation has been placed for what the Cuban people need and deserve that we must celebrate mere crumbs tossed their way by the Castro dictatorship.

    Indeed, sweep away the hype and all you see are daunting hurdles as to how this announcement will change in any way the regime's suffocating control of the Cuban population. The new order restricts people to "ownership" of one permanent residence and one vacation home (as if the average Cuban is in any position to own a second home); all transactions must be approved by the State; no explanation is given on how you grant titles to homes that either have been confiscated from their rightful owners, have been swapped multiple times in the underground economy, or which house multiple families because of the severe shortage of available housing; the construction industry remains state-controlled; and the regime itself admits this order reflects no backsliding on the preeminence of the State in controlling the country's economic and political systems.

    Beyond these challenges, however, is the fundamental fact that you cannot conjure private property rights, let alone the free trade in property, out of thin air. Those rights exist only where they are rooted in a credible, impartial, and transparent legal superstructure that can protect one's property, settle disputes, and guarantee transactions against the predations of the State. Anything less is a rigged game where the State is the dealer.

    This is how the State Department's annual Human Rights Report characterizes Cuba's judicial system: "While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is subordinate to the imperatives of the socialist state. The National Assembly appoints all judges and can remove them at any time. Through the National Assembly, the state exerted near-total influence over the courts and their rulings ... Civil courts, like all courts in the country, lack an independent or impartial judiciary as well as effective procedural guarantees."

    Translation: Cubans' ability to "own" property, trade, or leverage their property to build capital will continue to exist at the sufferance of the State. And what the State giveth, the State can taketh away. The bottom line is that, ultimately, all Cubans will really own is a piece of paper that says they own something.

    Rather than empowering individual Cubans, the regime's goal in allowing the open trade of houses is to hopefully siphon more Cuban American money into the island's perennially bankrupt economy. With average Cubans on the island too poor to buy or improve their dilapidated dwellings, their hope is relatives in Miami and elsewhere will remit even more cash to the island attempting to improve their relations' situation. Indeed, the cynicism of relying on Cuban exiles to support the Cuban economy has never bothered the Castro brothers in the slightest.

    The Castro regime recognizes the increasing unrest among the repressed and impoverished Cuban people for fundamental change, but they are capable only of prescribing more painkillers rather than the radical surgery that is needed to restore the nation's health. Pretending to devolve more autonomy in individuals' lives is just one more cruelty inflicted on the Cuban people over five decades of dictatorship, a cruelty made worse by the cheerleading from abroad.

    By José R. Cárdenas
    Source: FP Blog

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  • Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Castro's regime battles WiFi

    Cuba recently accused the United States of enabling illegal Internet connections in its territory and said several people were arrested in April for profiting from the wireless networks. Granma newspaper said that those arrested, who were not identified, “had for some time and without any legal authorization, been installing wireless networks for profit.”
    Using satellite connections to the Internet and equipment that was either stolen or brought to the island illegally, they set up a service to receive international telephone calls that bypassed the state telephone monopoly ETECSA. “This activity is financed by the United States, which is where the necessary means and tools come from, evading the established controls,” the newspaper charged. Cuba has restricted access to the Internet, giving priority to universities, research centers, state entities and professionals like doctors and journalists.

    Because of the US embargo, Cuba cannot connect to the underwater fiber optic cables that pass near the island, leaving satellite connections with high rates and narrow bandwidths as the main option available to Cuban Internet users. To overcome those limitations, a Cuban-Venezuelan company laid an underwater cable between the two countries in February. It was supposed to have been activated in July, but it has been delayed for reasons the government has yet to explain.

    Cuban authorities have previously accused the United States of illegally introducing technology in the island to enable the creation of wireless networks outside state control. One such case was that of US government contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested in December 2009 and sentenced to 15 years prison for bringing IT equipment into the country and delivering it to various people.

    “Cuba has every right to safeguard its radio-electronic sovereignty. Those who try to evade it will bear the weight of the corresponding administrative rules and criminal law,” Granma said.

    Source: Repeating Islands

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  • Friday, November 11, 2011

    The Unreported Tragedy of Cuba’s Repressive Communist Regime

    Cuba—to listen to, watch or read some of the media—is a place that has remained unbowed in the face of impoverishment by the U.S. embargo. Lately what you hear is that it is attempting to make bold reforms not just in the economy, but socially as well (it just allowed gays to marry!) The people still dance.

    Only that the reality of Cuba bears little resemblance to the plucky little island narrative. Cuba’s penury has nothing to do with the U.S. decision not to trade with the communist island, but with the fact that the island is communist in the first place. If communism produced misery in Europe and Asia (where one half of Germany and Korea stagnated under repression while the capitalist halves of those countries thrived in economic and political freedom) why would the result be different in the Caribbean?

    Communism is a human tragedy, enslaving the soul while failing to produce enough goods for the people trudging under it. Communist countries are large prisons; the borders must be closed lest the people escape. And within that hell there are smaller circles where the repression is intensified. It’s the Gulag, the re-education camp or, in Cuba’s case today, public beatings by government mobs for who speak up their minds.

    One would think a journalist would want report on that, especially when—as is the case in Cuba today—the people have finally decided to risk it all and take to the streets to voice their opposition. Reality, however, is again otherwise.

    In Cuba today there’s a growing and vibrant protestor movement, headed by a group of women called Las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White). Originally organized by the wives of political prisoners, it has now galvanized others to lose their fear and voice their anti-communist sentiments in public.

    Their acts are dignified.  They march to Mass on Sunday bearing flowers; sometimes they stand in squares and chant slogans or meet in each other’s houses.

    The repression that Cuba’s communist regime has unleashed against these poor ladies is anything but dignified. They have been seized by government goons bused in for the occasion, pushed, scratched and beaten. In one case, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, these ladies were stripped to their waist and dragged through the streets.  In another instance they were bitten. The founder of the movement, 63-year-old Laura Pollan, died last month and her remains were returned to her family only after she was cremated..

    We understand—though it still rankles—why journalists posted in Havana are reluctant file stories or broadcast on these events or on the overall mind-numbing reality of communism. If they do, they will be put on the next plane out (a fate any Cuban would relish, of course). As blogger Yoani Sanchez—a rare Cuban allowed to speak her mind, with only the occasional beating—posted last month at Foreign Policy:
    “The dilemma of foreign correspondents — popularly called ‘foreign collaborators’ — is whether to make concessions in reporting in order to stay in the country, or to narrate the reality and face expulsion. The major international media want to be here when the long-awaited ‘zero day’ arrives — the day the Castro regime finally makes its exit from history. For years, journalists have worked to keep their positions so they will be here to file their reports with two pages of photos, testimonies from emotional people, and reports of colored flags flapping all over the place.

    “But the elusive day has been postponed time and again. Meanwhile, the same news agencies that reported on the events of Tahrir Square or the fighting in Libya downplay the impacts of specific events in Cuba or simply keep quiet to preserve their permission to reside in the country. This gag is most dramatic among those foreign journalists with family on the island, whom they would have to leave or uproot if their accreditation were revoked. The grim officials of the CPI understand well the delicate strings of emotional blackmail and play them over and over again.”
    It’s unfair to single out the press, however. The Obama Administration has failed, too, to bring the plight of Cubans to the forefront, even during the current wave of repression against the Ladies in White.

    Two reasons are given for the soft approach. President Obama may not want to complicate the case of Alan Gross, a Marylander Cuba has taken hostage. Gross was sent to Cuba in 2009 by the U.S. Agency for International Development to set up internet connectivity for Cuba’s dwindling Jewish community.  He was arrested in December of 2009 and has been sentenced to 15 years for the crime of bringing satellite phones and laptops into Cuba. President Obama also wants to reach out to the Castro brothers.

    We at The Heritage Foundation agree with Churchill and Reagan that tyranny cannot be appeased. We have a proud record of standing up to communism, including its Caribbean variety, an effort led by decades by such giants as Lee Edward, the chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

    That’s why next week, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, we will have two events on these subjects; the first devoted to Cuba and the second to communism.

    At the first event, at 10 am, we will feature a key note address by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., FLA), the Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as a panel on the latest from Cuba.

    In the second event, which follows at 11 am, we’ll look back at the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the USSR, Cuba’s former patron, in a panel featuring Heritage experts and the distinguished scholar of the Soviet Union, Professor Richard Pipes.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union was a tremendous victory, but the survival of the Castro regime, and the rising tide of authoritarianism in Russia, should remind us that not all the achievements of 1991 are secure. So in addition to celebrating the return of freedom to Eastern Europe, we’ll look at how the lessons and concerns of two decades ago are relevant to today.

    By Mike Gonzalez

    Source:  The Foundry

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  • Monday, October 31, 2011

    For Cuban Women, Sundays Are for Protest Marches

    The Ladies in White march in Havana, Cuba

    Relatives of political prisoners in Cuba--many of them women--are fighting to curb abuses they say family members suffer during incarceration. One of the most prominent opposition groups, Ladies in White, meets on Sundays.

    Four women stood with anti-government signs in a well-trafficked square in Havana.

    They were members of Ladies in White, a group that formed in 2003 after 75 political dissidents were jailed.

    Dressed in white--the color of peace--they march to Catholic mass to pray for human rights and the release of relatives and loved ones in prison.

    The group has been meeting on Sundays across Cuba for years. But this particular small demonstration a couple of months ago--on Aug. 23 in Havana--proved momentous. When a plain-clothes police officer came to break up the women, some nearby people defended the women and forced the officer to leave in search of backup.

    It wasn't the first time bystanders had aided the women, but because it was in such a busy area, it was the first time such an action was caught on video with cell-phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube the very next day.

    "It was visible proof, released to an international audience over YouTube, that there is an increasing support for the resistance movement," said Aramis Perez, a leader of the Assembly of Cuban Resistance, based in Miami, Fla.

    Often, he said, reports filed from Havana are censored or written by government supporters and describe activist groups as "small and fragmented."

    Two days later Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, published a call to stop the repression of the Ladies in White.

    Police and government officials have violently attacked individuals and groups of female political dissidents on at least 25 occasions this year--sometimes while the women were engaged in nonviolent protest, and other times while they were with their families at home--according to a report released by the Assembly of Cuban Resistance in August. The report, "Cuba: Violent Aggressions Against Women, Human Rights Defenders," was based on daily communication with activist groups in Cuba.

    'A Leading Role'

    The resistance movement is carried out by a wide cross-section of Cuban citizens--urban, rural, farmers, students--but "women have been playing a leading role," said Perez.

    One of those women is Laura Pollan, the leader of Women and White and the recipient of the European Parliament's 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Pollan died on Oct.14 at age 63.

    Another is Bertha Antunez who lives in exile in Florida.

    She spoke at a meeting last month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly along with other human rights activists, including Marina Nemat, Iranian author and former political prisoner; Jacqueline Kasha, Ugandan LGBT rights activist and winner of Martin Ennals 2011 Human Rights Defenders Prize; and Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur dissident and former political prisoner.

    Antunez used the podium to urge the international community to help women in Cuba who are working for human rights.

    "These women, today, at this moment, risk their lives, put their bodies before the police violence," she told a roomful of people at the forum, organized by a coalition of international nongovernmental groups. "Their voices shout for freedom while they are brutally beaten and they continue to take to the streets."

    Antunez said her activism was fueled by prison visits to her brother, released in 2007, after 17 years of incarceration in various prisons, making him one of the longest serving political prisoners in Cuba.

    "Soldiers from the prison savagely beat my brother in my presence and in the presence of two children from our family. We were beaten too. On various occasions I had to resort to a hunger strike to save my brother's life," she told the human rights activists, advocates and supporters.

    Motivational Visits

    In an interview with Women's eNews, Antunez expanded on how those prison visits had motivated her.

    "I got firsthand testimony from many prisoners and there were things I couldn't believe" she said. "I never thought these abuses were taking place in my country. I knew there were injustices outside the prison because we are all victims of those; but this was torture."

    A Cuban dissident group, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, based in Hialeah, Fla., reports that Antunez's brother, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, was arrested during a demonstration for yelling that communism was "an error and a utopia." His speech was considered "oral enemy propaganda," the report says. His sentence was extended several times for speaking back to guards and continuing to vocalize his political beliefs.

    Antunez and relatives of other family members of political prisoners founded the National Movement of Civic Resistance "Pedro Luis Boitel" to fight abuse in prisons.

    The group remains active and continues to organize peaceful protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes at prisons across the island.

    This year, the incarceration of two of the group's members and other recent crackdowns on dissidents spurred Human Rights Watch to issue statement in June saying that Cuban laws "criminalize virtually all forms of dissent, and grant officials extraordinary authority to penalize people who try to exercise their basic rights."

    By Maura Ewing

    Source: Women's eNews

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  • Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Just How Specious is Latin America's Revolutionary Rhetoric?

    Although Cuba's Fidel Castro, as one of the fathers of revolution, continues to verbally assault the U.S. and essential democratic principles, Cuba is playing it safe and cautious not to stagger too far off the beaten path of a much better informed world audience.

    An exception to this apparent rule is Castro's admiration for his protégé, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Castro does not hesitate to wave the much tattered Cuban revolutionary flag when speaking of his admired pupil.

    An op-ed column last week by Fidel Castro graphically demonstrated his remaining true moniker of world dictator. He remarked, "Given its exceptional educational, cultural, social development and its immense energy and natural resources, Venezuela is called upon to become a revolutionary model for the world." And with what must have been a monumental attempt to be sincere and appear rational, he added, "I had long conversations with (Chavez) yesterday and today. I explained to him the intensity with which I am devoting my remaining energies to dreams of a better and more just world." (Digital Granma Internacional, Havana, Cuba, Oct. 19, 2011; translation Granma)

    While both Castro's have been pandering for world support and U.S. mercy to lift the decades old trade embargo against Cuba, Fidel could not resist his usual venomous hatred of U.S. governance and culture. "... (T)he empire [the U.S.] is already showing the symptoms of a terminal illness.... Saving humanity from an irreversible disaster, these days, could depend on the stupidity of any mediocre president among those who have led the empire in the most recent decades, or even one or another of the constantly more powerful heads of the military-industrial complex which controls the destiny of that country."

    While praising the "friendly nations" of Russia and China, Castro said that "together with the peoples of the so-called Third World in Asia, Africa and Latin America, (they) could attain" the goal of saving humanity from capitalism.

    Castro's usual heady dialogue always fails to confess the financial and institutional destruction of the Cuban mainland and the horrible sacrifices imposed on the populace by iron-fisted communist dictatorial rule. And the Castro agenda, once again, telegraphed the proverbial passing of the now dimly lit torch of radical rhetoric to Hugo Chavez's narrowing optical imagination.

    Furthermore, Castro's revolutionary hysteria appears to have taken a curious back seat with Cuba's silence on the death of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, while having and maintaining a very strong mutual support relationship.

    To the verbal rescue of those revolutionaries remaining mute, Venezuela's Chavez stepped up quickly to say, "(Gaddafi's death is) an outrage. We shall remember Gaddafi our whole lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr." Owed loyalty could be attributed to Chavez's ego, after having been awarded the "Algaddafi International Prize for Human Rights," a prize granted by the Libyan leader. Cuba's Fidel Castro and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega were also past recipients of the award.

    Fidel Castro's fading revolutionary tenure and factual recollection remained to remind that Chavez "is a supremely humanitarian person and respectful of the law; he has never taken revenge against anyone. The poorest and most forgotten sectors of his country are profoundly grateful to him for responding - for the first time in history - to their dreams of social justice."

    Considering apparent major voids of factual events in praise by Castro, Chavez and (Nicaragua's) Ortega of each other's human rights achievements, one must question their words and thoughts related to national liberation and social revolution - and then refuse support to the overwhelming majority of Libyans in their battle for freedom against dictatorial rule and public dissent.

    Leftist leaders Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Bolivia's Evo Morales have also been noticeably quiet recently, as citizens of their respective countries have amassed in verbal and demonstrative posture in protest.

    More than 1,000 Indians opposing a jungle highway in Bolivia's Amazon paraded last week into the capital after a 63-day protest march. Government "baton-swinging police" attempts to break up the marches "fueled charges that leftist President Evo Morales discriminates against Bolivia's Amazon-based indigenous groups."

    Ecuador's Correa too has had problems. Last year Correa's own brother, Fabricio Correa, said the nation is being "directed" from Venezuela in an effort to impose "a political model" that is widely rejected. "Now everybody rebels, and students, indigenous people and professors are against a Venezuelan project that nobody wants in Ecuador. A totalitarian model is intended to be established."

    Rafael Correa was attacked in 2010 in what he described as "an attempted coup d'état (and ‘kidnapping')" from his own police force. Soldiers subsequently arrived with tanks and submachine guns, opened fire on the police, and a fierce gun battle ensued.

    Even with a world "media revolution," that is apparently demonstrating new messages these days, leftist regimes in Latin America are having serious trouble with credibility. Consequently, many are silent - for now.

    By Jerry Brewer

    Source: Mexidata

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  • Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Freedom House study reveals optimism in Cuba about economic reforms

    The Freedom House report on Cuba released today finds that Cubans see real economic change there, and more Cubans now would rather work for themselves than hold once-prized state jobs.

    When Raul Castro announced radical changes to the economic structure of communist Cuba, the country was in a semi-daze.

    Many Cubans were excited about the prospects of economic change, particularly opening access to self-employment. But, as state jobs were slashed, many were also worried about going it alone after a lifetime of stable, if paltry, government salaries and subsidies.

    But a new Freedom House survey released today shows a radical change in perceptions. Forty-one percent of Cubans say the country is making progress, compared to only 15 percent who felt optimistic about the country’s future when Freedom House last conducted field research in December 2010. In fact, today more Cubans say they would prefer to work for themselves than for the government, the survey shows.

    Less than a year ago, Cubans were “very skeptical about change. They doubted real change would happen,” says Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House and co-author of the study. This survey was carried out in June, after reforms were implemented formally at the Sixth Communist Party Congress in April. And now, Mr. Calingaert says, Cubans see “change is real.”

    This economic opening is the “most significant positive change to have taken place in Cuba since communism was introduced half a century ago,” the new survey concludes.

    At first glance, Cuban optimism could be a good sign for the Castro government. But it could also pose additional challenges. Cubans who have tasted economic freedom say they want more, and a bit of stability has also allowed them the luxury to think beyond the day-to-day economics of feeding a family. “It’s opening people to new possibilities,” says Calingaert. “There is more interest in individual freedoms.”

    Indeed, one of the more surprising findings is that, when asked what reforms they most wanted, Cubans said increased freedom of expression and the freedom to travel (28 percent). This is a radical change from the most recent study, when economic reform topped the wish list of respondents.

    The Cuban government has a long way to go on the freedom front. Most Cubans continue to get their news from the government. The poll showed that only 40 percent of Cubans surveyed knew what happened to Egypt’s leaders, while only 36 percent knew how the revolution in Tunisia ignited.

    Here are some of the survey’s specific major findings:

    • 79 percent say they have noted visible change in the past six months in Cuba, including more self-employed on the streets.
    • 63 percent of respondents favor the reforms introduced under Raul Castro. The report quotes an ice-cream vendor: “Imagine, I can make more money selling ice cream than I ever did as an accountant for the government.”
    • 49 percent say that it is better to work for themselves, compared to 44 percent who say a government job is better.

    That is not to say that Cubans aren’t wary of changes ahead of them. For example, the field research culled commentary from Cubans voicing concern about unsteady incomes, having enough funds to start their own businesses – especially those without family in the US to help – and growing resentment among less successful entrepreneurs.

    “The changes are causing a sense of insecurity and resentment among some Cubans, as might be expected in a country where citizens were almost entirely dependent on government for their material needs and had no experience of market competition,” the report says. “Such insecurity and resentment accompanied the shift from communism to market economies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While the insecurity and resentment presents a challenge for reform in Cuba, it is also a reflection of how profound are the changes that are currently underway.”

    By Sara Miller Llana

    Source: CSMonitor

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  • Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Updating Immigration Policy in Cuba

    The mere fact of hearing it on television petrifies me, but listening to the president of my county has been illuminating, because in revolutionary Cuba there are issues so ethereal that they never find an appropriate occasion to be raised “procedurally,” taboos the single mention of which give one goosebumps, themes that cannot be approached without people looking at you, eyes wide with terror.

    This is the case with the immigration policy the Cuban government has maintained over the last 50 years, one of the most traumatic and thorny issues in Cuban society. The twisted mechanisms created to impede the free flow of people, whether to travel or to emigrate, have turned what would normally be one more choice in the life of any Cuban, into a real ordeal.

    During his speech delivered to the Cuban Parliament on August 1, 2011, Raul Castro announced that work was now underway “…to implement the upgrade of the current immigration policy…” While I welcome the proposal — given that Fidel Castro never announced anything like this in his entire time in government — I quickly curbed my enthusiasm when, a minute later, Raul specified that “…the flexibilization of the policy will take into account the right of the revolutionary State to defend itself from the interventionist and subversive plans of the United States government and its allies, and at the same time will include reasonable countermeasures to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent practiced by the powerful.

    Stated thus, is this a way of saying he’s going to put the usual patch over the tatters? Suddenly I sensed he was talking about me because, being a doctor, I am subject to the super-punitive Ministry of Public Health Resolution 54 — which places restrictions on the emigration of doctors — which hangs like a guillotine over professionals in my profession.

    Until now, the Cuban citizen who desires to travel outside of Cuba has to overcome a whole string of obstacles: obtain a “letter of invitation” from a foreign citizen, getting a visa for the country in question, first having deposited thousands of dollars in a bank — a necessary condition for many countries — and then… ah! then… the terrifying “exit permit,” also called the “white card,” that can be issued or denied at will, and which also includes the “entry permit” — awarded by the immigration authorities of the Ministry of the Interior through Decree/Law 989 of December 5, 1961, which says it all.

    This has one obvious consequence for Cubans within and outside the island, who for fifty years have been subjected to a tacit ban on travel abroad, because the above-mentioned mechanism functions like a narrow filter, unbreachable by anyone stigmatized for political reasons and especially anyone whom it is suspected might emigrate if given authority to travel. This monster, treacherously rationed, is subject to thousands of acts of extortion, bribery, corruption and moral degradation involving both officials and citizens throughout the country.

    But as this is the land of magical realism, a government that has practiced, for so long, this policy of secrecy with regards to travel, has come to the point of cynically questioning the immigration policies of others. They cite repeatedly, for example, the government of the United States for prohibiting its citizens to travel to Cuba as a consequence of the embargo — which is certainly a violation of the rights of the American people — and even convene meetings with the diaspora where they poetically call for “normalization” of relations with emigrants, including, I suppose, those who left Cuba in 1980 under the rain of their blows and tossed eggs.
    At these meetings not a word of apology is heard, nor is the need to reform immigration policy even mentioned; convened by the Cuban government, its representatives lash out, throwing stones from their glass house. When I hear news like this I turn off the television, because I was born with only one liver and my tolerance has its limits.

    Shielded behind the argument of the “…legitimate defense against the aggressions we’ve been subjected to for more than 50 years…” — perpetrated by successive U.S. administrations, but for which my people bear no fault — the Cuban government lashed out indiscriminately against our freedom and extended this “immigration” war to the rest of the known universe.

    Taking as a given that the U.S. administrations certainly haven’t rested, nor will they, in their attempt to overthrow the Revolution, there are still more than 180 other countries with whom Cuba maintains diplomatic relations, consulates, or full trade. This, if there’s no way we can consider ourselves an “enemy” of all humanity, then why don’t we have the right to travel freely in the rest of the world? Why does this ban remain even for countries with “friendly” governments like China, Bolivia, Ecuador and our Venezuelan ally? Why has this sick control been maintained over something so natural? This shows that the sealed-wall policy marks the hard line of a much wider control strategy. Maintaining this strategy fits like a glove with our condition as an archipelago. Our insularity greatly facilitates the wishes of the Cuban government, which has the luxury of trampling rights that it would not be able to monopolize so fully if we had land borders.

    Raul added in his speech: “This sensitive issue has been subject to political and media manipulation over many years in an effort to denigrate the Revolution and create enmity with Cubans living abroad.” As if anyone needed to distort anything in relationship to this policy to show exactly what it is: the glaring and massive violation of a right inherent to every home sapiens on the earth. It is not possible to ethically defend such a posture, nor is it necessary exhaust oneself in any kind of “manipulation” to “denigrate” the guilty, because this policy is already, in and of itself, a sufficiently denigrating manipulation to universally discredit anyone who perpetrates it.

    Nor was it necessary to “alienate” anyone from the Revolution, because this same policy led to truly bestial treatment of emigrants; it’s enough to remember those shameless repudiation rallies in 1980, the demonization of those who left, the social stigmatization of all those “lumpen” and “worms,” of all that “social scum” dragged through the streets everywhere in Cuba for their “sin” of emigrating, the confiscation of all their property, the total uprooting…

    It was this brutality that kept families separated for five decades, and not just residents of “enemy” territory, but every Cuban resident in any country from Manchuria to Patagonia. This policy is at fault, in great measure, for thousands of lives lost at sea in the last two decades, a trail of death that could have been avoided with a policy supporting the natural flow of Cubans through legal means. No one, given a civilized alternative for travel, would have risked ending up adrift with the sharks.

    Hopefully, for the good of everyone, sanity will finally be imposed, because once this policy of perpetual imprisonment is eliminated, maintained against the will of the Cuban people, its immediate and visible consequences will end — the illegal trafficking of people across the Gulf, for example — and then time will heal, bit by bit, its generational consequences — which are chronic and so, deeper — at the same time that the Cuban government casts off this serious stigma. For now, one conclusion is clear: “normal relations” cannot exist with immigration as long as there are not normal legal mechanisms that regulate the migratory phenomenon; as long as this isn’t the case every attempt to approach the subject will be a farce, as long as it is not accompanied by sincere political will.

    The time has already come in my country when travel can no longer be entertainment earned by a privileged caste, or a gift rewarded uncritical or servile postures, but rather a strictly personal decision, without consultation, not subordinated to the authority of any minister.

    Citizens must be left to their own devices, through binding and unequivocal laws that no authority would dare to break. They must guarantee full respect for the individual right and return to the national the wealth of the diaspora, the whole universe of Cubans beyond the sea that has been separated from us for far too long; a universe that in its time included the poetry of Gaston Baquero, the narrative of Cabrera Infante, or the lyrical prose of Reinaldo Arenas; the music of Sandoval and Willy Chirino,Celia’s lost voice that no longer vibrates with Los Van Van in the Piragua; the arms of Duque and Contreras, who don’t throw against their Cuban team, but are excluded from it in the World Baseball Classic; I speak of the generational painting José Bedia and many others, Cubans like me, who make an infinite cosmology that belongs to us. We all fit under the sky of our unique tricolor Cuban nation, but to realize this miracle will require that we forever swear off the doomed Dictionary of Absurd Analogies and admit, finally, that concepts such as travel and renounce, migrate and betray, abdicate and forgive… will never be synonymous.

    There remains, however, the sting of uncertainty: In the event that the leadership of the country is certainly thinking about freeing foreign travel without conditions — something I sincerely doubt — will doctors and other professionals be excluded? Will they take “reasonable countermeasures” — words of a rare exoticism among us — or will they to back to the extremes?

    Not to fall into sterile speculation, we can only hope. But for now I recover the hope of seeing old friends again, alienated by this wall of discord for over ten years, when they left for new horizons. Because they decided not to live under this government, the doors of their country closed behind them. I say their country, because that sacred spiritual possession that is one’s homeland is always carried within. These, my beloved beings who seek new paths, convince — I already said the most universal of Cubans — that homeland is also humanity.

    By Jeovany J. Vega

    Source: Translating Cuba

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  • Monday, October 17, 2011

    Cuba: Anti-corruption campaign hits British golf developer

    Directly affecting a core player in Cuba’s ambitious golf development plans and a major port expansion, the top executive of a British investment fund was arrested in Havana amid an investigation into alleged corruption.

    The Cuban government has not made any announcement regarding the arrest last week in Havana of Amado Fakhre, of Coral Capital Group Ltd.

    The arrest, first reported by Reuters, is part of a broadening anti-corruption sweep against Cuban state company executives and the foreign investors they interact with. The move against Coral Capital comes after long prison terms, in absence, for the Chilean owners of Alimentos Río Zaza and a shut-downs of Canadian trading companies Tokmakjian Group and Tri-Star Caribbean.

    Cuban company executives receive tiny salaries, while often handling millions of dollars worth of transactions.

    According to Reuters, the investigation of Coral Capital apparently centers on the company’s import business in Cuba, not on its plans to build a $120 million golf resort just east of Havana and a $43 million logistics zone at the port of Mariel.

    Set up in 1999 and incorporated on the British Virgin Islands, the London-based company has slowly become a strategic player in the Cuban economy. Coral offers trade financing, manages the Laroc Trading Fund, provides brand representation in Cuba, and has invested in plastics bottle manufacturing, as well as film production and other cultural ventures in Cuba. It also spent $28 million on the Saratoga boutique hotel in the historic center of Havana and led the 2006 buyout of the foreign side of the El Senador joint venture hotel on Cayo Coco; that hotel, managed by Iberostar, is undergoing renovation and expected to reopen in winter 2011.

    However, Coral may have the biggest impact yet with its plans to build a 1,200-home golf resort at Bellomonte, just 15 miles from the center of the capital. The 628-acre site at Playas del Este, within the city limits of Havana, is anchored by two 18-hole golf courses; plans include a country club, spa, and 323,000 square feet of commercial space. On a separate 20-acre property, Coral plans to build a 160-room beach hotel and beach club.

    Bellomonte is one of four golf projects the Cuban government is expected to approve soon, and Coral was planning a construction start of the $120 million first phase for the end of 2012.

    In another key project for Cuban economic development, Coral is a partner in a planned $43 million investment in the Mariel logistics zone just west of Havana. Over five years, Coral has produced a master plan with Dubai-based Economic Zones World. The first phase includes 540,000 square feet of warehousing, light industrial plants and offices.

    Source: Cubastandard

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  • Sunday, October 16, 2011

    In Memory of Laura Pollan

    Today, all of Cuba grieves for the passing of Laura Pollan, the co-founder of las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White). For nearly a decade, she helped to stage weekly protests with other wives of political prisoners to press for their release. She never missed a week, regardless of whether it rained or if the island was awaiting the imminent arrival of a hurricane. She also never gave up hope that her voice, and the voices of so many other families, would be heard.

    She was 63 years old when she passed from this world on Friday, October 14th. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, she had been in intensive care for acute respiratory problems since October 7th.

    As the head of the Commission said of her, "She was a teacher and a housewife, but she became a leader for civil rights. She has played a fundamental role, without a doubt even beyond winning freedom for her husband."

    Indeed, it is true that few can remember a time when Pollan was seen wearing any colour other than white. But, before the Black Spring of 2003 that saw her husband and dozens upon dozens of other Cubans imprisoned on trumped up charges, Laura Pollan was a high school literature teacher who loved cats and plants. She steered clear of politics.

    When she dared to speak out against her husband's imprisonment and to call for his release, the Cuban authorities labelled her a "traitor" and a "subversive agent" in the employ of the United States. Even under attacks by paramilitary forces, she and the other brave members of the Ladies in White have continued to march peacefully once a week, a silent and non-violent expression of resistance against a decaying dictatorship that stubbornly clings to power.

    IFLRY stands in solidarity with the Ladies in White, the family of Laura Pollan, as well as all those who knew this courageous person, as they go through a difficult and trying time. Her loss is felt around the globe. But, as Laura Pollan passes from this world, she also leaves behind a powerful legacy. The weekly marches of las Damas de Blanco have secured the release of many political prisoners. The decision to continue, to carry on the legacy of Laura Pollan, is a welcome one.

    On behalf of the IFLRY Cuba Programme Team, I commit myself to intensifying our efforts, to giving all that we can and all that we have in the struggle for a brighter future for Cuba and the Cuban people. Laura Pollan deserves no less from us.

    Paul Pryce

    IFLRY Cuba Programme Manager

    Source: IFLRY

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