Monday, August 30, 2010

Message from Amnesty International about Cuba


Hi all

Amnesty's Cuba Co-Ordinator reminded us that Tuesday 31 August marks the 5th International Blog Day. To mark it, we would be keen if as many people as possible could spread the word about Cuba. We've recently blogged about the fact that despite the recent agreement made by the Cuban authorities to release 52 prisoners of conscience, freedom of expression in Cuba remains at risk. Cuban bloggers have to dictate their posts via phone or send them via email, and are usually unable to read their own blogs. However, through their entries bloggers manage to send out information about the human rights situation in the country, trying to fill the gap created by the lack of independent media.

On International Blog Day - bloggers are asked to post a recommendation of 5 new blogs. We'd be delighted if you could help Amnesty in its Freedom of Expression in Cuba campaign by including in your recommendations on Tuesday a Cuban independent blog

Here are two examples of independent blogs from Cuba. Please note that Amnesty International does not necessarily endorse the content:

http://voicesbehindbars.wordpress.com/ - blog (English translation) of Pablo Pacheco, journalist jailed for 30 years in the March 2003 crackdown on dissidents. He was released in July 2010 with the offer of moving to Spain, where he continues to blog. As a Prisoner of Conscience for 7 years he managed with great difficulty to blog from prison. This blog also has contributions from current Cuban Prisoners of Conscience blogging from prison.

http://desdecuba.com/generationy/ - blog (English translation) of Yoani Sánchez, who has won several international prizes for digital journalism but has never been granted permission to leave Cuba to collect her awards. She says:” Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration”. It provides a fascinating insight into everyday life in Cuba and the struggles dissidents face.

Thanks all!

Happy Blogging

Amnesty Blog Project

(From a friend's mailbox)

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  • Friday, August 27, 2010

    Cuba expands free-market reforms

    The Cuban government has issued two free-market reforms aimed at boosting its struggling economy, including allowing foreign investors to lease state-owned land for up to 99 years.

    The moves, announced in the official Gazette newspaper on Thursday and Friday, are considered a significant shift for the country as Raul Castro, the country's president, promises to scale back government control of businesses.

    The government has said it was modifying its property laws "with the aim of amplifying and facilitating" foreign investment in tourism, and that doing so would provide "better security and guarantees to the foreign investor".

    A small group of investors in Canada, Europe and Asia have been waiting to crack the market for long-term tourism in Cuba, built on drawing wealthy visitors who could live part-time on the island instead of visiting for a few days.

    Golf tourism

    It may also help the country embrace golf tourism.

    Investment firms have for decades proposed building 18-hole courses ringed by luxury housing under long-term government leases.

    Cuba currently has just two golf courses nationwide, but the tourism ministry has said it wants to build at least 10 more.

    "I think this is huge. This is probably one of the most significant movesin recent years relative to attracting foreign investment,'' Robin Conners, CEO of Vancouver-based Leisure Canada, told the Associated Press.

    The company plans to begin construction next year on a luxury hotel in Havana and also wants to build hotels, villas and two championship golf courses on a stretch of beach in Jibacoa, 60km to the east.

    Cuba has allowed leases of state land for up to 50 years with the option to extend them for an additional 25, but foreign investors had long pressed tourism officials to endorse 99-year deals to provide additional peace of mind to investors.

    The longer leases also mean lower interest rates on international banking mortgages.

    Self-employment

    Another decree put forward allows the expanded sale of farm products, and could have far greater impact on ordinary Cubans.

    It authorises them to produce their own agricultural goods - from melons to milk - and sell them from home or in kiosks.

    They must pay taxes on any earnings.
     

    It is also the first major expansion of self-employment rules since Castro said in an address before parliament on August 1 that the government would reduce state controls on small businesses - a significant development in a country where about 95 per cent of people work for the state.

    The new rules are consistent with other efforts by Castro's government, which has allowed minor free-market openings while also seeking to eliminate black-market income.

    It has also been made easier to obtain permits for home improvements and increased access to building materials, while more strictly enforcing prohibitions against illegal building.

    From: Aljazeera


    video



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  • Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    No Smoking: Cuba drops cigarettes from ration book


    HAVANA - A program that provided state-subsidized smokes to Cuban seniors is headed for the ash heap.

    The communist government announced Wednesday it is cutting cigarettes from its monthly ration books effective Sept. 1, the latest in a series of small steps toward fully eliminating subsidies for food and other basic items that impoverished islanders depend on.

    Cubans 55 and older had been eligible to receive three packs of "strong" cigarettes and a pack of milds — 80 cigarettes altogether per month — for 6.50 pesos, or the equivalent of about 30 cents, using their ration books at state-run distribution centres.

    The island's lowest-quality cigarettes, the only kinds subsidized, normally cost 7 pesos, or about 33 cents, per pack, while imported or topflight domestic brands can go for $3 or more apiece.

    Until the 1990s, all Cubans 18 and older received a monthly allotment of cigarettes, but the loss of billions of dollars in annual subsidies from the collapsed Soviet Union forced officials to scale back subsidized smoking. Now even older smokers are out of luck.

    "I'm insulted because it's another thing they are taking away from us," said Angela Jimenez, a 64-year-old retiree who lives on a monthly pension of 200 pesos, or about $10.40. Jimenez first took up smoking at 17 but says she will now have to quit because she won't be able to afford them. "I don't know how far they're going to go with this," she said of the subsidy cuts.

    The government's announcement made no mention of the health benefits of quitting smoking, saying only that the move was "part of the steps gradually being applied to eliminate subsidies."

    Cigarettes are just the latest item to be scrapped from the ration book: Peas and potatoes were dumped in November.

    In an additional cost-cutting measure this summer, the government shuttered scores of workplace cafeterias that had fed state employees for virtually nothing, instead giving qualifying Cubans stipends to buy their own food. So far, nearly 250,000 people have seen their government lunches disappear — and officials say further cuts are coming.

    Under the existing subsidy system, even nonsmokers accepted cigarette rations, which they then sold on the black market, charging at least 2½ times the subsidized price per pack. Others traded them for rationed items such as salt, sugar, beans, meat, rice, eggs or bread.

    Jesus Casanova, a 58-year-old security guard, described the quality of the rationed cigarettes as "awful" — but he collected them every month anyway to feed his elderly neighbour's smoking habit.

    "He is a very poor man and he doesn't have the money to smoke anything else," Casanova said. "But now even that's over. I don't know what he's going to do."

    Casanova prefers cigars, generally finishing one slender stogie during his 12-hour shift. The island's world-famous cigars were never provided as part of the ration program, however.

    Fidel Castro, once the most famous cigar smoker in Cuba — if not the world — famously gave them up under doctors' orders in 1985, and has sporadically urged his fellow islanders to quit.

    President Raul Castro's government is trying to cut the weight of subsidies for Cuba's cash-poor economy, a plan that could eventually mean eliminating the entire ration book. A full-page editorial in the Communist Party's Granma newspaper in October suggested the idea, which had long seemed unthinkable.

    Critics argue the moves break with what had been a sacred covenant of the Castro brothers' 1959 revolution: that socialism would not make people rich, but would provide all Cubans with at least the basics.

    Authorities say their goal is to encourage more productivity and free the state from a crushing economic burden.

    Even with the changes, the state still pays for or heavily subsidizes nearly everything including education, health care, housing and transportation. Then again, in a country where almost everyone works for the state, the government only pays salaries of about $20 per month.

    The ration program began in 1962 as a temporary way to guarantee basic food for all Cubans in the face of Washington's then-new embargo. It is designed to tide people over, providing a few weeks of food, as well as other occasional staples such as laundry soap and toothpaste.

    From: Metro News

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  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Mother of Cuban Dissident Died in Hunger Strike Pays Respects to Her Son

    Mother of Orlando Zapata, a dissident who died in February after an 85-day hunger strike, Reina Luisa Tamayo pays respects to her son at local cemetery after weeks of being blocked by government supporters. Her son, Orlando Zapata, died on February 23 during his hunger strike for better prison conditions, bringing widespread international condemnation.

    Tamayo said that she has been harassed by Cuban police in an effort to prevent her from marching.

    However, Tamayo was allowed to march on Sunday after weeks of encounters with pro-government crowds who thwarted her previous attempts.

    Reina Luisa Tamayo vowed to continue her protests in honor of her son.

    Although Tamayo is not a member of the organization, the Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White held a protest in Havana to show support for her, and to demand the release of all remaining political prisoners on the island.

    Laura Pollan, a member of the Ladies in White and the wife of Hector Maceda, a political prisoner, thanked governments and non-government organizations for their support of Tamayo.

    So far, 26 of 52 political prisoners have been released, along with their relatives, into exile in Spain.

    Most of them were arrested in March 2003 during a crackdown on opposition to the communist regime. 


    From: TAN Network

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  • Saturday, August 21, 2010

    What is in fact the Castro communist revolution?

     


    On April 11th (2003), the Cuban government executed three men accused of hijacking a ferry.  Worldwide outrage and condemnation have been reported, a welcome development.  But, the brutal nature of the Castro regime is not news.  Thousands of its victims have written this tragic story for over 44 years.  Close to 6,000 executions for political reasons have been independently documented, a figure believed lower than the actual number.
     
    On April 2nd a group of ten hijacked a ferry with 50 passengers in an attempt to flee Cuba for the United States.   A standoff of one day ended without violence, although the hijackers were reportedly armed with one pistol and several knives. On April 8th, the three ringleaders -Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Barbaro Leodan Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac- were sentenced to death for acts of terrorism in secret summary trials, in total disregard of due process of law.   Less than three days later they were executed by firing squad, their families notified only after the bodies had been buried under cement.  Seven alleged co-conspirators received prison sentences ranging from life to three years. 

     
    The executions were believed to be the first in three years. In its four decade long reign in power, however, the Cuban Communist government has executed thousands in its effort to crush opposition. A documentation effort led by Dr. Armando Lago, the Truth Recovery Archive on Cuba, is recording the loss of life resulting from the Cuban Revolution. It reports executions of eighteen men who, from 1961 to 1992, attempted to flee the country by boat, most without resorting to force or violence. In 1963, for example, the New York Times reported that three Protestant ministers left Cuba by boat as part of a group of nineteen. They arrived at Anguilla Key, Bahamas, where the Cuban Coast Guard staged a raid.  Returned to Cuba, Reverends José Durado, Pablo Rodríguez and Antonio González were swiftly executed for exiting the country illegally.
     
    Cuba’s Penal Code establishes the death penalty, delivered by firing squad, for a large number of causes that include numerous acts against state security, including hijacking.  The Penal Code also declares illegal entry to and exit from the national territory as crimes punishable with prison. The Truth Recovery Archive on Cuba has documented the assassination of 73 people, including children, caught while attempting to flee the country by sea.  Cuban patrols have machine gunned the escapees or rammed their vessels, drowning them. Many more anecdotal accounts are known, including the sinking of rafts with sandbags thrown from aircraft.

     
    The Castro regime has shown time and time again its mercilessness with those who challenge its absolute rule. The executions came in the wake of a crackdown on Cuba’s peaceful dissident movement and two plane hijackings.  As world attention has been focused on Iraq, 75 human rights’ activists and independent journalists and librarians received prison terms ranging up to 28 years for conspiring with U.S. diplomats to subvert the government. 
     
    For additional information on the Truth Recovery Archive on Cuba and updates on research on loss of life during the Cuban Revolution, go to www.CubaArchive.org.

    From: Cuba Archive 

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  • Friday, August 20, 2010

    Cuba: mother of dead hunger striker banned from marking son's death

    Amnesty International has called on the Cuban authorities to end the ongoing harassment of the mother of a prisoner of conscience who died following a hunger strike.
    Reina Luisa Tamayo, whose son Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in February this year, has been repeatedly harassed by authorities and government supporters during the regular marches she carries out in the town of Banes, in memory of her son.
    Reina Luisa Tamayo told Amnesty how on Sunday 15 August government supporters arrived early in the morning and surrounded her house, preventing her and her relatives and friends from marching and attending mass at the church.
    Ahead of the march Cuban security forces also allegedly detained some of the women due to attend in their homes for up to 48 hours, without providing any explanation.
    Amnesty International’s Deputy Americas Director, Kerrie Howard said:
    “Reina Luisa Tamayo is simply paying tribute to her son who died in tragic circumstances, and that must be respected by the authorities.
    Every Sunday Reina Luisa Tamayo, who is usually accompanied by relatives and friends, walks from her home to the church of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, to attend mass, from where they march to the cemetery, where Orlando is buried.
    Reina Luisa also told Amnesty that six loudspeakers were installed near her house and were used to shout slogans against her and the Ladies in White, an organisation of female relatives of prisoners of conscience campaigning for their release.
    Amnesty International has also expressed its concern at a series of recent detentions by the police of independent journalists and dissidents.  Writer Luis Felipe Rojas Rozabal was detained by the police at 7am on 16 August, at his home in the town of San Germán, province of Holguín.
    Luis Felipe’s family is unaware of the reasons of his arrest, but they have said they suspect this might be related to his criticism of the government. He has been arbitrarily detained on several previous occasions in similar circumstances.
    Several members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, a network of political dissident organisations, have also been detained.
    Kerrie Howard continued:

    “At a time when the Cuban government has begun to release prisoners of conscience, the campaign of harassment against Reina Luisa Tamayo and the arbitrary detention of journalists and dissident figures shows that the authorities are yet to make significant progress on human rights.”

    Background
    In March 2003, Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested and, a year later, sentenced to three years in prison for “disrespect”, “public disorder” and “resistance”. This was the first of a series of convictions for “disobedience” and “disorder in a penal establishment”.
    Orlando was one of dozens of prisoners of conscience adopted by Amnesty International in Cuba at the time. The majority were among the 75 people arrested as part of the massive March 2003 crackdown by authorities against political activists.
    In early December 2009, Orlando started a hunger strike to campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience held in Cuba. He died on 23 February 2010.
    Currently there are at least 30 prisoners of conscience in Cuba’s jails.  Last month following talks held between Cuban authorities and Roman Catholic Church officials in Havana, the Cuban government agreed to release 52 of the 53 prisoners of conscience which remained in Cuba’s jails. So far 23 have been released.
    Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience currently held in Cuba, including lawyer Rolando Jiménez Posada who is serving a 12-year prison sentence and who is not as yet scheduled for release.

    From: Amnesty International UK

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  • Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    U.S. plans to ease travel to Cuba - lawmaker's aide

    And what about Cuba easing travel for Cubans?
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is getting ready to relax travel restrictions to Cuba for some Americans, without lifting the trade embargo and a ban on U.S. tourism to the island, a congressional aide said on Tuesday.
    The small steps would make it easier for groups of Americans to once again go to the Communist island as part of academic, cultural or religious exchanges, as thousands of them did during the Clinton administration, the aide told Reuters.
    Officials are trying to finish regulations so the changes can be announced before Congress returns in mid-September -- well before Nov. 2 midterm elections, said the aide who was briefed on the plans but asked not to be named.
    Some Cuban-American lawmakers are adamantly opposed to improving U.S. ties with Communist Cuba, which have been in the diplomatic deep freeze most of the time since Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959. He has been succeeded as president by his brother Raul, who has agreed to free some political prisoners.
    Other U.S. lawmakers, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, have urged the U.S. government to open up more to Cuba. Several bills in Congress would promote more trade and travel there.
    Restrictions on money transfers may also be eased, making it easier for Americans to donate cash to Cuban organizations such as churches or community groups, the aide said.
    U.S. sanctions against Cuba are aimed at encouraging democratic reform in the one-party state. Critics of the policy say they have failed to do so in almost 50 years in effect.
    President Barack Obama has said he wants to "recast" ties with Cuba, and last year renewed outreach efforts to the island. He eased limits on travel by separated family members and cash remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives.

    PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE TRAVEL
    U.S. advocates for better ties with Cuba, which include business and pro-democracy groups, are expecting the Obama administration to go further now, especially in the wake of Cuba's recent decision to free 52 jailed dissidents.
    "There will be a huge emphasis on people-to-people travel. That is (the Obama administration's) whole mantra. That's what they're talking about," said Sarah Stephens, executive director of Center for Democracy in the Americas, a non-profit group in Washington that opposes sanctions against Cuba.
    Cuba plans to drill for oil in its Gulf of Mexico waters and U.S. companies would be left out if deposits are found and the trade embargo is not lifted, she said. [ID:nN17125278]
    Jake Colvin, vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council, said the new policy could possibly increase the number of airports from which U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba.
    White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said there was nothing new to announce on Cuba policy, "but the president is going to continue to do things that are in the best interest of the United States and that help to create a more democratic environment and expand freedoms for the Cuban people."
    Obama will visit Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community in the United States, on Wednesday for a political fund-raiser.
    Under the expected changes, the law banning U.S. travel to Cuba would not be scrapped, but more licenses for exceptions to this ban would be issued on a case-by-case basis to groups of Americans by the U.S. Treasury Department, the aide said.
    This was common under President Bill Clinton, but his successor President George W. Bush reversed the policy and such group travel requests were routinely denied. (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer, Patricia Zengerle and David Alexander, editing by Anthony Boadle)

    From: Reuters Africa

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  • Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Agricultural Production Falls 7.5% in Cuba


    HAVANA – Agricultural production in Cuba fell 7.5 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2009, according to a report released on the Web site of the National Statistics Office, or ONE.

    Farming output – excluding sugar, which is treated as a separate industry – fell by 9.7 percent on the communist-ruled island, while livestock production was down 4.8 percent, ONE said.

    The harvests of tubers, roots, vegetables, beans, rice and citrus declined, and bananas were the only product experiencing a notable increase of 48 percent.

    The fall in the broader agricultural sector so far this year comes along with a bad situation in the sugar industry, where the 2009-2010 harvest was called by government-run media the poorest since 1905 although the precise figures have not been made public.

    In an Aug. 1 speech to the national legislature, President Raul Castro referred to the “failure” of the sugar sector and other agricultural areas “due to errors of leadership and also ... the effects of the drought.”

    Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said that the drop in agricultural and livestock production “shows signs of a continued reduction since 2008” and the results have been “disastrous,” given the hurricanes that severely affected the country in that year and the subsequent drought.

    “Consequently, the dependence on abroad in food matters is deepening, just when the nation seems to be lacking financial resources,” according to an analysis released to the foreign press by Espinosa, a former political prisoner paroled on medical grounds in 2004.

    In his opinion, Cuba “urgently (needs to make) radical changes in productive areas, in marketing and the acquisition of supplies for agriculture.”

    During the first half of this year, the Cuban government put more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of idle lands into the hands of new producers to work as part of its policy to spur food production and reduce imports.

    The law for distributing land in this way was approved in 2008, after the announcement that half of Cuba’s arable land was idle.

    Raul Castro, who succeeded ailing older brother Fidel in January 2008, has insisted on several occasions that food production is a matter of “national security” and has reiterated his determination to boost the island’s agricultural production.

    Cuba has been importing more than 80 percent of the food its 11.2 million citizens consume, and in April it emerged that the country spends more than $1.5 billion each year on food purchases from abroad.

    From:  Latin American Herald Tribune

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  • Monday, August 9, 2010

    Raul Castro wants “an opening” with Washington to help with the economy

    Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Roman Catholic archbishop of Havana, told The Washington Post that Cuban President Raul Castro wants “an opening” with the United States.

    “He has a desire for an opening with the US government,” Ortega was quoted as saying. “He repeated to me on several occasions that he is ready to talk to the United States government directly, about every issue”.
    Ortega and the Catholic Church led negotiations with the Cuban government that secured in recent weeks the release of more than 50 dissidents who have been jailed for years.
    The church official made the comments in an interview with the columnist Jackson Diehl, who published them in Monday's edition of the US daily.
    According to Ortega, Castro's motivation to improve relations with the United States lies in the chance that Cuba's economy can be revived by US trade and investment.
    When asked whether such talks could include democratic reform as requested by the administration of US President Barack Obama, the cardinal said things need to be taken “step by step.”
    “It's not realistic to begin at the end. This is a process. The most important thing is to take steps in the process” Ortega said.
    He highlighted the current situation as “something new” and as something that is set to “open possibilities” in the communist island.
    Ortega was in Washington last week to collect a prize, in what was his second visit to the US capital in a little over one month.
    He met with high officials of the Obama administration, including Obama's National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. In his first visit to Washington in late June, he had already met with Valenzuela.

    From: MercoPress

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  • Saturday, August 7, 2010

    Extended Street Footage- El Maleconazo- Cuban Uprising for Freedom on August 5, 1994



    Amateur video footage of the "maleconazo" uprising in Havana, Cuba on August 5, 1994. This spontaneous demonstration of the Cuban people's desire for freedom is being remembered around the world on August 5, 2009 as "Cuban Resistance Day."

    Video no profesional mostrando imágenes del levantamiento conocido como el maleconazo, ocurrido en La Habana, Cuba el 5 de agosto de 1994. Esta manifestación espontánea del deseo del pueblo cubano por la libertad se recordará en todo el mundo el 5 de agosto de 2009 como El Día de la Resistencia Cubana

    5th August, 1994


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  • Friday, August 6, 2010

    Cuba tries armed men tied to US anti-Castro group

    Santa Clara streets
    Three armed men who were intercepted by Cuban border guards in 2001 and have been awaiting trial since then on charges they planned acts of sabotage went to court behind closed-doors Friday, according to a veteran human rights activist.
    Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that during a roughly eight-hour hearing in the central city of Santa Clara prosecutors presented their case against the three Cuban-born exiles: Ihosvani Suris de la Torre, Santiago Padron Quintero and Maximo Pradera Valdes, also known as Maximo Robaina.
    Authorities are seeking 30-year prison sentences for Padron and Pradera, and life behind bars for Suris. A judge will now rule on their guilt and determine an appropriate sentence for each — though it was not clear when that decision would come.
    "The trial is ready for sentencing," Sanchez said by phone Friday night. He said the three men were transferred from a maximum-security prison in Havana to Santa Clara for their day in court.
    Island border agents first intercepted the men on the northern coast of Villa Clara province, of which Santa Clara is the capital. After exchanging gunfire with Cuban authorities, the three fled to Jutia Key Island, where they were arrested April 26, 2001.
    They were armed with four AK-47 assault rifles, an M-3 rifle, three Makarov pistols and night goggles, all purchased openly at stores in Miami, according to evidence Cuban prosecutors detailed on state television in the months following the arrests.
    In Miami, Andres Nazario Sargen, leader of anti-Castro paramilitary group Alpha 66, said in 2001 that Suris and Robaina were active members of the group but went to Cuba independently. He said back then that Padron had been a member years ago, but had not been active lately.
    The three have long featured prominently in a video shown several times a week on Cuban state television, where the voice of Suris is apparently heard, confessing that the group arrived in Cuba to commit acts of violence. That same presentation includes a bugged phone conversation between Suris and a man identified as a leader of the anti-Castro, Cuban-American community, detailing a plan to detonate an explosive inside the Tropicana, Havana's best-known cabaret.
    Cuban authorities did not comment on Friday's proceedings, and rarely discuss such matters publicly.
    Sanchez's commission is not recognized by Cuba's communist government, but largely allowed to operate.
    Sanchez said he did not know exactly why it took eight years for the three to go to court, but that he suspected it was no coincidence that authorities held a trial a day after the U.S. State Department again included Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba has bristled at that charge, which Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez dismissed as "two-faced and hypocritical."

    WILL WEISSERT (AP)



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  • Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Havana remains entrenched in Cold War, push for change must come from the outside

    Yes, by all means, take your time. What's the hurry? After 50 years, why should Cuba rush to make any reforms?
    The economic situation in Cuba remains desperate. Popular sentiment for reform is widespread. And the world has spent the past few months condemning the regime's callous treatment of political prisoners.
    In his July 26 speech, however, Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura made clear neither he nor the Cuban leadership are in any hurry to make any cambios . "We will proceed, step by step, at the rhythm we determine, without improvisations or haste so as not to make mistakes," said Machado Ventura, 79, echoing what we've repeatedly heard from the other septugenarians and octogenarians running Cuba.
    One wonders whether the Cuban Revolution would have been victorious if it had been fought with the same stale, risk-aversive and uninspired way the revolutionaries govern today. It wouldn't have, but then again, the Castro-led regime isn't interested in governing, just holding their grip on power.
    So don't look for any meaningful changes from Havana, other than "freeing" political prisoners by jettisoning them to other countries. Mind you, these are individuals that should never have been jailed in the first place.
    Faced with such intransigence, it's clear to anyone no longer living in the mid-20th century that a break in the Cuba logjam must come from the outside. Fortunately, some U.S. lawmakers in Congress are pushing to end the counterproductive ban on travel to Cuba. Lifting the prohibition on travel to the island would do much to promote democratic efforts in Cuba.
    Why? For starters, it would put more dollars directly into the hands of the Cuban population, making them less dependent on the state. And it would allow a much broader spectrum of people to go to Cuba, and not just those who are generally sympathetic to the regime — and apologetic about its dismal human rights record.
    Those who oppose lifting the travel ban say it will provide resources to the Castro government, and effectively toss the regime a lifeboat. What they don't understand is that the Titanic that is the Cuban economy sank decades ago and no lifeboat can spare the regime the judgment of history.
    BOTTOM LINE: Cuban regime promises more same-old — really old. 



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  • Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Can Cuba Turn to Capitalism?

    Can Cuba turn to capitalism? It seems that the answer is yes. In any case, this is what can be concluded from the words uttered by head of state Raul Castro on August 1.

    Speaking on Sunday, the brother of the leader of the Cuban Revolution said that the country will have an “updated economic model.” It will include restriction of government intervention in private business development, changes in the tax system, as well as layoff of every fifth employee working for state enterprises. As it turned out, they are simply redundant.

    So far Cuba had been building socialism, the main economic component of which is known to be a complete predominance of the public sector in the economy. Strictly speaking, this is where 95 percent of Cubans are currently employed.

    Moreover, socialism does not entail unemployment. People seem to be always attached to some company or organization. Now every fifth employee of state enterprises will lose her job. This is a huge number as it involves 19 percent of the adult population.

    Russia Today: Cuba to take brakes off economy, but not turn off socialism road

    Of course, such changes are fraught with social upheaval. The Cuban authorities addressed the issue to prevent it from happening. They promise that all laid off employees will be retrained or reassigned. However, a question arises: if every fifth job is redundant, then where can these people be employed? The answer is the private sector.

    A small number of entrepreneurs appeared in Cuba in the early 1990s. Then the socialist camp collapsed, Cuba lost the old Soviet support, and the United States tightened the embargo of the island. Under these conditions, Cuba plunged into a severe economic crisis. In order to give people at least some means of livelihood, the government had to allow small and medium businesses.

    Hairdressers, owners of small cafes and restaurants opened private institutions, and became very successful. Supporters of “traditional socialist values” sounded the alarm and forced the government to introduce restrictions for the “bourgeois.” Taxes were raised for the private businesses and the rules for obtaining licenses were tightened. As a result, only five percent of Cubans were employed outside of the public sector.

    From: Nuzban

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  • Monday, August 2, 2010

    U.S. urges Cuba to free "unwell" detained contractor


    The United States urged Cuba on Friday to free a U.S. contractor held in Havana for nearly eight months on suspicion of espionage and subversion, saying he was unwell and had still not been formally charged.
    The arrest of Alan Gross, 60, at Havana's airport in December has added another bone of contention between the U.S. government and communist-ruled Cuba, obstructing moves to thaw half a century of confrontation and hostility.
    Havana says Gross, who worked for a Washington-area company contracted under a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy in Cuba, committed "serious crimes" in aiding U.S. efforts to destabilize the Cuban government.
    Cuban officials said Gross gave restricted satellite communications equipment to local dissidents. U.S. officials say he was providing Internet access to Jewish groups after entering Cuba on a tourist visa.
    "We consider the arrest of Alan Gross ... to be an unacceptable act. He was not violating any laws and has not been charged as far as I know," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, told a news conference in Trinidad and Tobago, where he was visiting.
    "He is not well, he has lost 80 pounds (36 kg), it's been more than six months (since his arrest) and we're encouraging the Cuban government to release him," he said.
    Gross has been held at Villa Marista state security headquarters in Havana. Cuban officials say he has been assured defense counsel, has received consular assistance from U.S. diplomats and has been able to communicate with his family.
    Cuban President Raul Castro's government has started releasing the first of 52 Cuban political prisoners to be freed under a recent deal struck with the Roman Catholic Church.
    The United States, along with many other foreign governments, has cautiously welcomed this move, but has demanded the release of all political detainees.
    President Barack Obama's administration has made clear that its modest efforts so far to improve U.S.-Cuban ties will be put on hold as long as Gross remains detained.
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this month that Washington was working "every single day through every channel" to obtain Gross' release and safe return home.
    Some analysts have speculated that Cuba may want to use the detained U.S. contractor as a bargaining chip to try to secure release of five convicted Cuban intelligence agents serving long U.S. sentences for espionage.
    The U.S. government linked the five to Havana's 1996 shoot-down of private planes piloted by Cuban exiles near Cuba.

    From: WHTC

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