Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cuba’s new ‘blogger-in-chief’

Cubans line up in front of a Havana Internet Café
on Obispo street in Old Havana.
Fidel Castro has gone from Cuba’s commander in chief to its de facto “blogger-in-chief,” posting constant opinion columns online, singing the praises of the internet age, even hailing Wikileaks and sites like it as the common man’s tool to greater worldwide transparency.

Now, if only his fellow Cubans could get in on the cyber-party.

Less than 3 percent of islanders used the internet at least once over the past year and only about 6 percent used email, according to a nationwide survey released Thursday by the state-run National Office of Statistics.
Cuba has long published annual statistics on its internet and cell phone users. But the level of detail contained in this survey had not been made public before – and it revealed a country astoundingly behind the technological times.

Just 2.9 percent of survey responders said they had used the internet in the past 12 months, and the majority of those did so at work or school – not from home. Cuba only legalised the sale of computers to the general public in 2008, though they were, and still are, widely available on the black market.

The tally paints a far bleaker picture than the statistics office’s annual report on connectivity, which found that Cuba had 1.6 million internet users last year. But even that is far below internet access in any other country in Latin America, according to international surveys.

Statistics officials based their study on interviews with 38,000 households across the island from February to April. The office did not say whether the survey was done in person or over the phone, and it listed the margin of error only as less than five percentage points.

It was not clear how many Cubans themselves would see the statistics, however, since they were posted on the agency’s website.

The communist government severely limits Web access, but says it has no choice given that Washington’s 48-year-old embargo doesn’t allow Cuba to access US service providers located close by. Instead, the island must rely on slow and costly Internet via satellite from Europe and other faraway locales.

Meanwhile, authorities block blogs that are critical of the government as well as other pages containing content that is considered counter to Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has promised to lay a fibre-optic cable from his country to Cuba to improve connectivity here, but those plans have been stalled for years.

Of those surveyed by the National Office of Statistics, only 5.8 percent said they use e-mail. The survey did not say how often.

Ordinary Cubans can join an islandwide network that allows them to send and receive international e-mail, but lines are long at youth clubs, post offices and the few Internet cafes that provide access.

The survey also found that just 2.6 percent of respondents regularly use cell phones, despite the government’s dramatic lifting of bans on them two years ago. That was slightly higher than the 2.5 percent who said they own cell phones or have been issued them for work _ meaning some are using phones that belong to relatives, friends or neighbours.

Those percentages are substantially lower than previously released figures, with the state-controlled telecommunications monopoly reporting in July that more than 1 million cell phone lines were in use nationwide. Cuba has a population of 11.2 million people.

Mobile phones in Cuba had been prohibited for all but tourists and foreigners, some government employees, business officials and academics. But in April 2008, just two months after he succeeded his brother as president, Raul Castro authorized their sale to all who could afford them.

From:  Updated News

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  • Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Kudos to Castro

    Castro back in the old days with his friend Yasser Arafat
    Palestine and Iran are giving nothing to Castro. Not anymore. Their political support has little value and the economical is non existent. And Israel has money. Jews have money. It's time to change sides, maybe people would not remember "little" mistakes from the past. 

    Israel should rejoice in Castro’s holiday gift of a positive message on Israel, which might just mark the beginning of a trend.

    A belief in the capacity inherent in every individual to fundamentally change for the better is one of Judaism’s most important and redeeming tenets.

    The recent Day of Atonement is the annual apex of that notion, and penitents are welcomed into society and revered as bearing more rights than virtuous people.

    It is tempting to view former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as now being repentant of his longtime sin of backing those who act toward the eradication of Israel, following the support of the Zionist entity he expressed in a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in which the aging revolutionary also criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his repeated Holocaust denial.

    “Yes, without a doubt,” was Castro’s unambiguous answer to Goldberg’s inquiry as to whether he thought Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish State. The Cuban leader, who passed over the presidency to his brother Raul in 2008 but remains First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, also expressed understanding of how the history of persecution of Jews, most notably the Holocaust, would influence Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision-making process, and even noted his desire to meet with the premier’s father Ben-Zion, the leading historian of the Spanish Inquisition.

    President Shimon Peres issued a warm letter to Castro over the weekend with gratitude for the “moving” and “unexpected” words that bore “an original and unique intellectual depth.” And a Prime Minister’s Office’s statement defined what Castro had said as a testimony to his “deep understanding of the history of the Jewish people and Israel.”

    ONE NEED not be a great historian like Netanyahu Sr., however, to recall Cuba’s anti-Israel track-record under Castro. In 1967, Cuba’s ambassador to the UN described Israel’s preemptive attack against the onslaught of Arab armies in the Six Day War as “a surprise attack in the Nazi manner,” and Havana’s military advisers provided instruction to PLO terrorists both in Cuba and in southern Lebanon in the seventies and early eighties. Diplomatic relations with Israel were cut in 1973 after Castro sent Cuban tank commanders to join Syrian forces in the Yom Kippur War, and Cuba remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
    I'm just following the money baby...
    In fact, one needn’t be a historian at all to encounter a revolting diatribe the same Castro, still idolized by the extreme Left in Europe and Latin America that often does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, published on June 10 on his CubaDebate website.

    “The state of Israel’s hatred of the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send one and a half million men, women and children from that country to the gas chambers in which millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis,” he wrote just a few weeks before his interview with The Atlantic, following the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. “The Führer’s swastika would seem to be Israel’s banner today. This opinion is not born of hatred,” Castro continued, noting his country’s history of absorbing Jews during “the harsh days of World War II.” (Cuba’s Jewish community has since dwindled, from an estimated 15,000 in 1959 to a current 1,000 or so.) Interpreting the inner workings of the mind of this 84-year-old, who might or might not be rethinking his long-time stance on Israel, may be beyond us at this stage. But whatever his motivations, the very day after the initial segment of the interview was published on The Atlantic’s website on September 7, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared he’d be meeting with the leaders of his country’s Jewish community.

    Chavez, who considers Castro an influence and has close ties with Ahmadinejad, a week later indeed heard the Jewish leaders’ concerns over anti-Semitism in the state media and their desire to see diplomatic ties with Israel, which Chavez cut in 2009, reinstated.

    Castro’s standing as the radical Left’s elderly statesman puts him in a unique position to generate a move toward making pro-Israel sentiment somewhat fashionable, or at least to help distance anti-Semitism from the realms of the political discourse. Without forgetting his problematic past, and accordingly without attributing uncritical weight to this refreshing draft from the Caribbean, Israel should rejoice in Castro’s holiday gift of a positive message on Israel, which might just mark the beginning of a trend.

    Source: JPost

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  • Monday, September 27, 2010

    Capitalism sees new birth in Cuba

    Capitalism Vs Socialism. Who wins?
    The dominos stopped falling at Cuba. When the Soviet Union collapsed, capitalism was in the ascendance, but it didn’t reach as far as Cuba. And that brings us to an irony. On the eve of the credit crunch, when some argued capitalism was dying, it seems Cuba is at last embracing the profit motive as a way to kick life into the economy.

    In 1992, soon after the Soviet Union collapsed, the author Francis Fukuyama penned the book “The End of History and the Last Man”. In essence, he argued that capitalism had won, and that moving forward there would be one economic and political system, hence the description “the end of history”.

    Then in 2008 and 2009, when some argued capitalism itself was tottering, many dusted off their old copy of Fukuyama’s book and argued instead we were seeing the end of capitalism.

    And yet, through it all, Cuba remained steadfast in its communist ways. In the land of cigars there is one wage – at least in theory. In theory, there are no wealthy or poor people. Instead, everyone has the same, which in practice means just about everyone is poor, with a few privileged exceptions.

    But not even Cuba is immune to the harsh economic times. It has no choice but to cut 500,000 jobs. It’s a disaster in Cuba, and brings with it the risk of total disenchantment with the economic system.

    But the government has responded by allowing Cubans to work for themselves in 178 categories. And in no less than 83 categories they will be allowed to employ non-family members.

    And so it is that the genie that is the profit motive, is out of the lamp.

    But which way next?

    Clearly Cuba will not want to go the way of the Soviet Union. Not only will words like Perestroika and Glasnost, which mean openness and transparency, be taboo, but so will the spirit that these words conjure up.

    Instead, Cuba will try and go down the Chinese route.

    But Cuba differs from China in one important respect. For the island of the Caribbean has one rather large and distrustful neighbour separated by a bit of water. How this story will pan out will be truly fascinating.

    From: Investment & Business News

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  • Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Wanted Americans still hiding in Cuba don't need changes

    Like Fidel Castro, who will lose his enemy, they are not very interested in an improvement on the relations between USA and Cuba.

    For years they provided political support, and in some cases money, to Castro's regime. Recent changes on the island could pose a danger for them. Together with other criminal refugees from Europe and the Americas they are believe to have some influence - although difficult to say to what extent - on the Cuban politics related to their respective countries.

    This is an FBI report from last year:
    There are believed to be dozens of other Americans living in Cuba beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Most of them have been holed in Cuba for decades, with many living casually in plain sight. Others, however, are taking no chances and living deep underground.
    The best known American fugitive still hiding out in Cuba is JoanneChesimard, 62, also known as Assata Shakur.
    Chesimard, a member of the radical activist organization the Black Liberation Army, was found guilty of first degree murder in the shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper in 1977. She escaped from prison in 1979 and was last seen in Cuba in 1984. She is widely believed to still be living underground in Cuba. …
    Among the FBI’s 10 most wanted fugitives — a list that includes Osama bin Laden — is Victor Manuel Gerena. Gerena has been on the lam since 1984 after being accused of stealing $7 million in the heist of the Wells Fargo armored car depot in Connecticut to finance a Puerto Rican separatist group.
    Joanne Chesimard is wanted for escaping from prison in Clinton, New Jersey, while serving a life sentence for murder. On May 2, 1973, Chesimard, who was part of a revolutionary activist organization known as the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices were stopped for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike by two troopers with the New Jersey State Police.

    JoanneChesimard, AKA Assata Shakur
    At the time, Chesimard was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery. Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers, seemingly without provocation. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range.

    Chesimard fled the scene, but was subsequently apprehended. One of her accomplices was killed in the shoot-out and the other was also apprehended and remains in jail.In 1977, Chesimard was found guilty of first degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery. She was sentenced to life in prison.

    She escaped in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she lives openly, in defiance of US authorities who want her returned to prison.

    In fact, as one might guess, the fugitives suspected of living in Cuba comprise a who’s-who of radical leftist politics in the 1960s and 1970s.  Fidel Castro certainly offered his hospitality to those who hated the US and didn’t mind using violence to show it.  Oddly, though, one prominent rogue capitalist is also on the list: Robert Vesco, who stole as much as $200 million from investors before being discovered in 1982, and who also contributed illegally to the re-election campaign of … Richard Nixon.

    Maybe Castro likes having Vesco there as an example.  Or, perhaps, Castro liked Vesco’s money more than his politics.

    If the US wants to pursue normal relations with Cuba, these fugitives should be part of the transaction.  The Castros need to quit sheltering those who killed and maimed here in the US if they want access to American markets and American consumers.

    Sources: FBI, HotAir

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  • Thursday, September 23, 2010

    FARC commander 'Mono Jojoy' killed. Chavez and Castro losing terrain in Latin America

    Jorge Briceño "Mono Jojoy" (right) with Manuel Marulanda Velez "Tirofijo" (killed 2 years ago)
    The FARC's military chief, Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, alias "Mono Jojoy," was killed by Colombian state forces, local media reported on Thursday. The news is not yet confirmed by the authorities.

    According to the media sources, the leader of the FARC's Eastern Bloc and member of the FARC's Secretariat was killed in an air strike in La Macarena in central Colombia.

    Caracol Radio said a military source confirmed the guerrilla leader's death. RCN Radio also said it had had the news confirmed. According to W Radio, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos would not confirm the news.

    Mono Jojoy, also known as "Jorge Briceño Suárez," was allegedly the boss of virtually all guerrillas involved in the rebel's war with the state.

    Mono Jojoy was considered the military leader of the country's largest guerrilla organization and responsible for holding hostage captured politicians, policemen and soldiers. The veteran guerrilla had a $1.3 million reward on his head and 62 arrest warrants against him.

    From: Colombia Reports 

    Video - CNN reports

    And this is the last part of an interesting article related: The end of the colombian FARC is near.

    ...It is a fact that the colombian have been successfull in fighting the FARC. The main leaders are dead (Marulanda and Reyes) , in jail , out of the country or on the run ( Mono Jojoy).

    The FARC have been defeated in several encounters with the colombian military, and there is a certain possibility that the remaining FARC leader still on the field , alias Mono Jojoy, will sucumb. That if he does not manage to escape through Venezuela or Ecuador.

    What will happen with the defeat of the FARC? War, says Chavez. I do not think so.

    There is a possibility that the remaining guerrillas will try to survive by using the borders of Venezuela and Ecuador. That will regionalize the conflict and would oblige Chavez and Correa to make a decission. They must be very clear in the definition of which side they will be. The end of Gral. Noriega should be a reminder for those statesmen playing with fire.

    The weakening of the FARC will cause that the production of cocain in the region will be reduced -for a while- , and the structure of the production and distribution of narcotics in the region will change.

    However, there are more players in the field. Hidden players. Very significant players. Russia and Cuba.

    Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales
    Why Cuba? Fidel Castro’s inheritance is to make sure that four or five “pro castrist” leaders in Latin America will remain in power after his death, like Chavez, Correa, Morales, Ortega. He is giving them all his dictatorial know how, specially in the case of Chavez. The ideologist of the “bolivarian” associaton of ALBA is not Chavez , but Fidel Castro. The “Comandante” wants to make it very difficult for the United States in Latin America. He wants also disciples like Chavez to carry on his message. That will be his legacy to the world.

    He is not longer interested in the faith of the cuban people. His brother Raul is now the administrator of Cuba. Raul does the homework and Fidel supervise his brother. Fidel is much more interested in saving his place in history. He said once “the history will judge me”, but he wants to be sure that the history will judge him well. The defeat of the FARC will be a setback for Fidel’s ´political plans, because it will push Chavez and Correa in the corner of the political ringside in Latin America.

    So, Fidel and Chavez will do everything to stop Colombia and USA from defeating the FARC.

    Why Russia? Vladimir Putin and his “mob style” surrounding of oligarchs and former KGB agents wants to recover influence in former soviet republics like f.e. Georgia and Ukraine. Russia want also to stop the expansion of the US in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. One way for Russia to do so is to start playing geopolitics in the region considered by USA as its own backyard: Latin America. As a consequence of that, the military presence of Russia in Venezuela is getting important and will be expanded.

    Russia sees with good eyes the increasing economical presence of China in the region.

    Maybe Russia wants to force USA to make a trade, similar to the agreements between Kruschev and Kennedy (no nukes in Cuba, no nukes in Turkey).. In this case could be Chavez in exchange for Mikheil Saakashvili or Viktor Yushchenko.

    Finally, it is a fact that the expansion of the presence of US military in Colombia is the most important geopolitical move of USA in the last years in order to recover the lost influence of the US in Latin America....

    The US objectives are: to defeat the FARC, to reduce the production and distribution of illegal narcotics to the US, to support Colombia as his first ally in South America, to weaken Chavez and his gang, to assure that the history will judge Fidel in a proper way and finally to deal with Russia and China on a more global scope.

    Latin America is in fashion now. The big global players are there, once again.. for old times sake. Same tune, thirty years after. Play it again, Sam…

    24/09/2010 - Death of El "Mono Jojoy" finally confirmed, the Colombian Government revealed a picture of the body

    Last picture of El "Mono Jojoy"

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  • Monday, September 20, 2010

    Reform On The Range: Cubans Heed The Call To Farm

    Now some Cubans can work for themselves, not only for Papa Castro
    Cuba has miles and miles of fertile, lush countryside where nothing is growing or grazing. After five decades of state-controlled agriculture, the country struggles to feed itself, forcing the government to import some 70 percent of the island's food.

    Cuban President Raul Castro wants to change that and is asking enterprising Cubans to go back to the land.

    Aniley Pena was watching TV two years ago when she heard the offer. The government was giving out free 10-year leases on state-owned land to anyone willing to take a crack at farming.

    Today, she has 12 acres on the outskirts of Bejucal, a small town 20 miles south of Havana.

    Pena is 38, rugged enough to trudge around in rubber boots, but not too earthy to wear mascara in the fields. She shields herself from the withering sun with a parasol and a Nike cap, supervising a team of men as they mix organic fertilizer into beds of radishes, carrots, scallions and spinach.

    Pena's tractor is a little red Ford from the Truman era she inherited from her late grandfather. She has called her farm "Las Estrellas" — The Stars. Stars are bright, and they bring clarity, she said, which is what this new vocation has given her.

    "Being out here relaxes me," Pena says. "Plus I know I'm doing something good for society, and also for myself."

    Independence, Sense Of Security

    Pena is the new face of Cuban socialism, a private entrepreneur with a sense of social responsibility. She was trained as a veterinarian, but like many in Cuba who aren't inspired by $20-a-month government salaries, she dropped out of the workforce.

    Now, she's working seven days a week and studying pest control methods at night. As part of her deal with the government, she will give one-third of her produce to the state and sell the rest for a profit.

    "Having this land, you realize how productive it can be," Pena says. "When you're growing your own food, you have independence, and that gives you a sense of security."

    The Castro government has approved more than 100,000 applications for state land, but so far that hasn't led to an increase in food production.

    As usual, bureaucratic absurdities are to blame. Farmers can't buy tractors or trucks without government permission. Irrigation equipment and tools have to be assigned by the state.

    Police checkpoints surround Havana to make sure no one is illegally sneaking produce into the city for sale on the black market.

    The government's new solution is fruit and vegetable stands where farmers can sell directly to customers. They are popping up all over the island, as some Cubans are even getting back land that belonged to their families before it was nationalized in the early 1960s.

    Oscar Espinosa Chepe is a dissident economist in Havana.

    "The reforms are a step forward, but they're not going to fix the problem," he says. "Cuba needs more radical changes, but the government is too scared to give up control."

    Feed Mother Cuba, Save Mother Earth

    There's an old joke in Cuba that if education, health care and athletics are the Cuban revolution's greatest achievements, then its three biggest failings are breakfast, lunch and dinner. Government supermarkets — where many Cubans can't even afford to shop — stock imported mango juice from Mexico, chicken from Brazil and butter from Denmark. All could be easily produced locally.

    Lorenzo Ramos is another farmer taking advantage of the government deal. On a recent day, he is making fertilizer from decomposing sugar cane stalks.

    His five-acre plot was choked with garbage and thorny weeds when he got it a year ago. But with his machete and his rusting Soviet tractor, he and his wife have turned a wasteland into a tidy orchard of fruit tree saplings.

    Some fruit varieties have grown so scarce in Cuba that Raul Castro complained about their disappearance in a speech last year.

    Ramos has responded by planting rows of mangos, guavas, peaches, lemons and prized delicacies like the guanabana, or custard apple.

    "Having a farm means coping with everything — ants, thunderstorms, scratches, hurricanes, waking up at dawn," Ramos says. "It's sacrifice and hard work, but somebody has to do it. We can't all be intellectuals, because then there'd be nothing to eat."

    Ramos has put up a sign along the highway next to his farm, inspired by something Bolivian President Evo Morales said on TV. "Save Mother Earth," the sign reads, and Ramos is hoping to put his fruit stand right next to it.

    by Nick Miroff
    From: NPR

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  • Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Cuba fires minister in charge of oil and nickel

    Is this the first layoff of the 500.000?

    Now ex-minister Yadira Garcia with ex-president Castro

    Cuba fired Basic Industry Minister Yadira Garcia, in charge of the oil and nickel industries, on Sunday and said the first vice minister would stand in until a replacement was named.

    A government communique said Garcia was let go due to "her deficiencies manifested, especially in poor control of resources destined for investment and the productive process."

    First Vice Minister Thomas Benitez was named as a temporary replacement "until a new minister can be appointed," the statement said.

    The ministry is also in charge of the cement industry and domestic pharmaceutical industry.

    The Cuban oil industry is preparing to drill with foreign partners in the Gulf of Mexico next year and in partnership with Venezuela is developing its refining and other oil related infrastructure.

    Unrefined nickel is Cuba's most important export at around 70,000 tonnes per year and a joint venture with Venezuela plans to add 60,000 tonnes of ferronickel by 2013.

    Garcia was the last economic minister inherited by President Raul Castro in 2008 when he replaced ailing brother Fidel Castro.

    Raul Castro replaced the other ministers in 2009.

    From: Reuters Africa

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  • Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Cuba may link up to Glonass system, Russia's satellite navigation system

    Glonass receiver

    Moscow and Havana plan to connect Cuba to the Glonass navigation satellite system, the Russian ambassador to Cuba said on Wednesday.

    Glonass - the Global Navigation Satellite System - is the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, and is designed for both military and civilian use. Both systems enable users to determine their positions to within a few meters.

    Russia and Cuba are currently developing cooperation in the sphere of advanced technology, Mikhail Kamynin noted.

    "Our plans include a detailed work on connecting Cuba to the Glonass system," the ambassador said.

    From:  RIA Novosti

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  • Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Cuba To Cut 500,000 Government Workers

    Castro cutting jobs, but now Cubans allowed to cut hair
    Cuba's communist government will lay off hundreds of thousands of workers and reduce restrictions on private enterprises to help them find work.

    The Cuban Workers Federation -- the country's only trade union -- said some 500,000 jobs will be cut by early next year.

    More than 85 percent of Cuba's workforce, or about 5 million people, are currently state-employed.

    The plan is the most important reform undertaken since President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2008.

    The labor overhaul comes less than a week after Fidel Castro was quoted as saying Cuba's communist economy no longer works.

    From: Radio Liberty

    Video: 500,000 Cubans Booted Off Government Payroll

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  • Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Goldberg ratifies Fidel: “The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore”

    Jeffrey Goldberg
    The US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic magazine ratified his version of the interview with Fidel Castro, when he confessed that the Cuban model is no longer working, not even in the island, in spite of the Cuban leader attempt to amend his words.

    “Fidel Castro is claiming that I misunderstood his statement, ‘The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore’. In a speech at the University of Havana that was then broadcast on Cuban TV, Castro said he meant “exactly the opposite” of what was understood by Jeffrey Goldberg, who was interviewing him for The Atlantic...

    On Friday, Castro said he was correctly quoted, but that, “in reality, my answer meant exactly the opposite of what both American journalists interpreted regarding the Cuban model. My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system no longer works for the United States or the world,” he said. “How could such a system work for a socialist country like Cuba?”

    Castro called Goldberg “a great journalist.” “He does not invent phrases, he transfers them and interprets them,” he said. “I await with interest his extensive article.”

    First, thank you very much, Fidel, for the kind words. Second, I'm sorry to say it, but I think the expression, “The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore” means, “The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore.”

    Fidel says that his answer meant “exactly the opposite” of what Julia Sweig heard him say. Just as a language experiment, here is what the opposite of his statement would sound like: “The Cuban model works so well for us that we want to export it.” But he didn't say this. What he said was -- well, you've read what he said. I'm not sure how this statement --accurately quoted, according to Fidel -- could mean anything other than what it means”.

    From: MercoPress

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  • Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Video shows armed Cuban police breaking up student protest

    A Cuban anti-riot squad, previously unseen but surprisingly well-equipped and with fixed bayonets, quelled a Pakistani student protest in Matanzas, a video of the event shows.
    “Our hand will not tremble in the face of violence,” one Cuban official warns the medical school protesters in the video, broadcast on the Maria Elvira Live program on MegaTV.

    The official adds that it’s the second protest by the Pakistanis but gives no dates for either, and says 15 leaders of the latest manifestation were to be flown home immediately.

    A statement by the Cuban Embassy in Pakistan on Thursday, after parts of the video were posted on the Internet, confirmed the protests but did not mention the students’ complaints of inadequate education and living conditions.

    “Unfortunately, since the first months of 2007 and until now, grave violations of discipline have repeatedly been committed by a small group of students,” the statement said.
    “Such violations of discipline have included, among others, disrespect for their professors, disregard to the Cuban authorities, failing to attend class, misbehavior, physical aggressions . . . along with acts of violence,” said the statement, published by the online Pakistan Observer.
    The video shows scores of members of the anti-riot squad dressed in black and equipped well for a country where riots are extremely rare — with tear gas guns, riot batons, dogs, face shields and U.S.-styled helmets. Several had bayonets fixed on their AK assault rifles.
    About five squad members are seen briefly pushing back a group of a few dozen students, some wearing skull caps. But the video did not show any signs of violence.


    It’s not clear if the unit, previously unseen in public, belonged to the police or military, but its deployment signaled that the government is well prepared for street disturbances.

    “This is a super well-equipped unit, which we have never seen before but which showed that it was ready for something serious,” said Camilo Loret de Mola, who appeared on the Maria Elvira Salazar program that broadcast the video.

    Loret de Mola said the video was received from a Cuban he declined to identify. The program broadcast segments on Wednesday and Thursday.

    The protest took place at the Maximo Santiago Haza Medical School in Jagüey Grande, in Matanzas province, where nearly 1,000 Pakistanis have been studying on scholarships arranged after a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan in 2005.

    Pakistani media reports indicate that it occurred sometime before March, and that at least five of the students were sent home.

    The video, apparently taken on cellphones, shows the riot squad virtually surrounding the campus and posted on rooftops as the students are warned by Rolando Gómez, a foreign ministry official who helped set up the scholarship program.

    “Think well about what’s at play here,” Gómez cautions them, because “today is the day that you decide if you want to be doctors or you want to go home.”

    El Nuevo Herald phone calls to a number listed for the embassy went unanswered.

    Under the scholarship program, about 400 Pakistani students arrived in Cuba in 2007 and another 600 arrived a year later. They were sent to the Matanzas school rather than the better known Latin American School for Medicine near Havana, which has about 30,000 students from 126 countries.

    A letter purporting to speak for the 1,000 Pakistani students in Cuba, posted Sept. 17, 2009 on the website Overseas Pakistani Friends, detailed a slew of complaints against Cuban and Pakistani authorities.

    “We are very much frustrated and feel our future on stake, as we do not even know whether our degree is valid or not” once they return to Pakistan, the letter notes.

    While the scholarship program touted Cuba’s medical education as “world leading,” the letter added, the Matanzas school “by no definitions of the word can be called a world leading university.”

    The converted Spanish-language school lacks facilities such as a “library, proper laboratory, no specimens (The dead bodies etc) are available for the dissection, and even the nearest hospital is far away from our school.

    “How can one think of a medical school without any hospital attached?” the letter asked.

    Video (Spanish):

    From: SignalFire

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  • Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Cuba's Soviet-style economic model no longer workable: Castro

    This way! Or, maybe the other way...
    London, Sept. 9 : Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has said that Cuba''s Soviet-style economic model "doesn't even work for us anymore".

    In an interview to the Atlantic Monthly magazine, Castro said that the modest reforms introduced by his brother, President Raul Castro to stimulate his country’s troubled economy, appeared to be a step in the right direction.

    Castro also criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for anti-Semitism and denying the Holocaust.

    He criticized his own actions during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when he urged the Soviet Union to launch nuclear weapons against the United States, telling Goldberg "it wasn''t worth it at all." (ANI)

    From: Top News

    Fidel Castro : "Cuban model doesn't work"

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  • Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Using Che Guevara image riles some Cuban Americans

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Some Cuban Americans in south Florida are upset to see a picture of revolutionary Che Guevara promoting an irreverent car race.

    The “24 Horas de Cuba del Norte” — or 24 Hours of Cuba of the North — is part of a national circuit of farcical auto races called 24 Hours of LeMons. Drivers spend less than $500 and race junk cars decorated like Halloween floats.

    Other races in the circuit have names like “The Can’t Get Bayou” in New Orleans and “The Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500″ in Chicago.

    But the use of Cuban revolutionary Guevara’s image in the Dec. 30-31 race’s logo crosses the line for some native Cubans. Critics say it’s like using Ku Klux Klan imagery to advertise in the South.

    Race organizers say they don't plan to change the campaign.

    From: Cheat Games

    Video - The Victims of Che Guevara

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  • Friday, September 3, 2010

    Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez is Named IPI’s 60th and Final World Press Freedom Hero

    Blogger "provides a glimpse into what is otherwise a closed world": IPI Interim Director

    The International Press Institute today declared Cuban blogger Yoani Maria Sanchez Cordero its 60th World Press Freedom Hero.

    Sanchez’s blog, Generation Y, is an acerbic critique of life in Cuba, and a telling reminder to the world of the restraints on free speech and expression on the Caribbean island.

    Sanchez, a graduate of Havana University, left Cuba for Switzerland in 2002, but returned two years later. On her return, she set up, along with a group of other Cubans, the magazine “Consenso” as a forum for reflection and debate.

    In 2007, spurred by what she saw as a growing repressive climate in her homeland, she launched her blog, Generation Y. Composed of reflections on daily life, politics and culture in Castro’s Cuba, the blog today boasts a readership of more than a million.

    In early 2008, Sanchez reported that the site may have been targeted by government censors. In April 2008, the site became unavailable in Cuba.

    Since then, Sanchez has resorted to extreme and creative measures to keep her blog alive. In a country where internet access is severely restricted and prohibitively expensive, Sanchez often poses as a tourist to access the internet, emailing her entries to friends outside the country who then publish them online.

    Sanchez has been refused permission to travel outside of Cuba at least six times in the past two years alone, despite international acclaim for her blog. In 2008, “TIME Magazine” named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people, noting her “feisty dedication to the truth,” and pointing out that “under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech.” She has also received the Ortega y Gasset Prize, Spain’s highest award for digital journalism; the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University; and in 2009, TIME Magazine named her blog among the 25 Best Blogs of 2009.

    In her own country, however, Sanchez has repeatedly faced harassment by authorities. In November 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported that she was beaten by a group of unidentified men while on her way to a peaceful protest. According to the article, after the attack, she was dumped “again in the middle of the street, (…) leaving her bruised, scared and sobbing.”

    Sanchez says she has not been able to see her own blog since 2007. She reports on her blog that she is under continuous surveillance by state security agents. On 24 May, Sanchez’s blog reported that her name had been announced on Cuba’s state-run Roundtable program, “mixed with concepts such as “cyber-terrorism,” “cyber-commandos” and “media war.”

    “To be mentioned in a negative way in the most official program on television is, for any Cuban, the confirmation of her social death,” says Sanchez in her blog.

    However, Sanchez refuses to be silenced. “If you are insulted by the mediocre, the opportunists, if you are slandered by the employees of the powerful but dying machinery, take it as a compliment,” she says on her blog.

    “Sanchez’s tremendously important work provides a glimpse into what is otherwise a closed world,” said IPI Interim Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. “It is perhaps fitting that our 60th and final World Press Freedom Hero represents a future where the power of the internet can be harnessed to promote free speech. We are proud to know Yoani and to award this prestigious prize to her.”

    "Yoani's work has contributed tremendously toward a more wholesome understanding of the reality of life in Cuba. Her clear insights, beautiful use of language and tenacity have distinguished Yoani as an outstanding Caribbean journalist, blogger and citizen. We all look forward to the day conditions in her homeland change so that free expression can be more fully and abundantly facilitated, encouraged and exercised. Our congratulations on her achievement of this prestigious award," said Wesley Gibbings, President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, reacting to the announcement of the award.

    From: IPI

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  • Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Cuba Video: The “Ladies in White” Steadfast Until Every Political Prisoner is Free

    NEW YORK (September 1, 2010) – In order to provide an accurate backdrop with regard to the announcement of the Cuban government’s release and forced exile of 52 political prisoners, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) releases an exclusive video documentary short of the “Ladies in White,” a civil society group inside Cuba that organizes peaceful Sunday marches for freedom and human rights.

    The world-renowned group is formed by the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and supporters of political prisoners who were arrested during the “Black Spring” government crackdown on Cuban dissidents. During the four-day period that occurred in March 2003, 75 independent journalists, librarians, and democracy and human rights advocates were arrested and ultimately convicted with sentences ranging from 6 to 28 years.

    Currently, 26 of the prisoners have been released and exiled to Spain, while another prisoner was released to the United States for medical treatment. At least five of the prisoners have refused to accept exile, meaning they choose to remain in prison unless they are granted unconditional release and allowed to stay in Cuba.

    "The release of these innocent individuals is a welcome development and cause for celebration, but we must remember that the mechanism of repression remains firmly entrenched in Cuba. None of these arrests should ever have been made in the first place,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “It should be made clear that their release does not indicate a reversal of conviction or pardon. These men are still considered treacherous criminals by the Cuban government. If they are allowed to stay in Cuba it shall be with the specter of certain and continuous political persecution and harassment,” he continued.

    The Ladies in White have declared that they will continue protesting every Sunday until all of the Black Spring prisoners have been released. In the video, Laura Pollan, spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, relates the history of how the group formed following the Black Spring and discusses recent events that have brought international attention to Cuba’s political prisoners.

    "The government states that there's a lot of freedom in Cuba, that it's a paradise,” said Pollan. “I'd invite those people who believe that Cuba is free to come and live here; to come and live here like a regular citizen, without bringing dollars; to come to work, and make what a regular worker makes; to come and live in a humble house, buy their food with a ration book, and express themselves here as much as they do in their own countries against their governments and other individuals, so that they see what the outcome is in Cuba,” she continued.

    The Cuban government has been under pressure to release its political prisoners following the February death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who went on a hunger strike to protest Cuba’s treatment of its prisoners. The death of Zapata prompted another dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, to launch his own hunger strike.

    "The whole world is awakening and removing its blindfold with regards to Cuba,” said Pollan.

    "The prisoners should be allowed to choose for themselves whether to remain in Cuba or leave the country. Those prisoners who have refused a forced exile are courageously willing to sacrifice their own freedom and stand up for freedom of expression for all,” said Halvorssen. “This is a powerful threat to a regime that has held power for 51 years and ruthlessly persecutes its opponents.”

    With the release of the 52 political prisoners, Cuba’s criminal code—which allows the “pre-emptive” arrest of an individual before committing any crime—remains unchanged, as do laws allowing for the arrest of anyone writing anything critical of the Cuban government.

    "The cyclical release of political prisoners in Cuba is usually followed by the arrest of more dissidents who have committed some kind of ‘thoughtcrime’ or who have done nothing but exercise their right to free speech. Further, there are still an untold number of political prisoners in Cuba’s jails, and Raúl Castro could simply replace these 52 prisoners with another crackdown on Cuba’s opposition voices tomorrow,” said Halvorssen. “Any significant reform involves more than window dressing to obtain European credits or editorial kudos from the foreign media. Why not a full transition to democracy and the respect of basic civil rights and civil liberties?” he added.

    In May 2010, HRF also released videos of former prisoner of conscience Armando Valladares and world-renowned blogger Yoani Sánchez in honor of Global Cuba Solidarity Day. The videos were filmed exclusively for the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum and are now available on YouTube.

    Contact: Thor Halvorssen, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (212) 246.8486      end_of_the_skype_highlighting,

    From: HRF

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  • Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Cuban church leader arrested on questionable charges

    A respected church leader in Cuba was unexpectedly arrested on Monday and taken to a town in Central Cuba where he is expected to stand trial. CSW believes the charges of “offensive behaviour” and “threats” against Reverend Roberto Rodriguez to be false.

    Those close to Reverend Rodriguez, who is in his late 60s and in poor health, say he became a government target after the organization he led publicly withdrew from a government sanctioned religious umbrella group in the second half of 2008, and that the criminal charges against him are an attempt to discredit and silence him. His arrest was so sudden that Reverend Rodriguez was unable to take important medication with him. It is feared that without it, his health will continue to deteriorate.

    Reverend Roberto Rodriguez
    According to his family, state security officials arrived at the home without warning on 30 August and forced Reverend Rodriguez to go with them. The family understands that he will be taken to the town of Placetas where he will be put on trial sometime over the next few days. Prosecutors are asking that he be given a one-year prison sentence.

    Charges were first brought against Reverend Rodriguez in late 2008 and he was given three trial dates over the course of 2009 but no trial ever took place. He and his family were forced to move after being subjected to constant verbal and physical abuse from their neighbours, apparently acting with the support of the government. He has spent the last 21 months under house arrest.

    CSW is calling on the Cuban authorities to release Reverend Rodriguez immediately and drop all charges against him.

    CSW’s National Director Stuart Windsor said, “The treatment of Reverend Rodriguez and his family over the past 21 months has been disgraceful. The European Union will be looking at the human rights situation and reviewing its Common Position on Cuba this month. While some heralded the release of some Cuban prisoners of conscience this summer as an improvement in the human rights situation, the arrest of Reverend Rodriguez this week demonstrates that the Cuban government is not interested in real human rights reform. We call on the EU to make urgent representations on behalf of Reverend Rodriguez to the Cuban government.”

    From: Christian Today

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