Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks reveal US concerns on Cuba-Venezuela ties

Chavez and Castro.
Cuban intelligence agents have deep involvement in Venezuela, according to a 2006 US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks. 

Then-US Ambassador William Brownfield wrote that Cuban spies had "direct access" to President Hugo Chavez.

Another cable sent in 2010 said Cuban agents controlled spying operations against the US embassy in Caracas.

The left-wing governments of Cuba and Venezuela are close allies and outspoken opponents of the US.

The secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks were published by the Spanish newspaper, El Pais.

Similar allegations of Cuban intelligence influence in Venezuela have been made by Venezuelan opposition groups, but US officials have not publicly expressed such concerns.

The leaked cable from Ambassador Brownfield says the ties between Cuban and Venezuelan intelligence are so close that the two countries agencies "appear to be competing with each other for the Venezuelan government's attention". Indoctrination

The ambassador wrote that Cuban spies were so close to President Chavez that they provided him with intelligence unvetted by Venezuelan officers.

"Cuban agents train Venezuelans on both Cuba and Venezuela, providing both political indoctrination and operational instruction".

The ambassador concludes that the Cuban involvement could impact US interests directly.

"Venezuelan intelligence services are among the most hostile towards the United States in the hemisphere, but they lack the expertise that Cuban services can provide".

The level of Cuban involvement in other agencies of the Venezuelan government was harder to confirm, he wrote.

The embassy "had received no credible reports of extensive Cuban involvement in the Venezuelan military", but there were reports that Cubans were training Mr Chavez's bodyguard.

But Cubans were likely to be involved "to a great extent" in agricultural policy, as well as in an identity card scheme.

The ambassador added that it was impossible to tell how many Cubans were working in Venezuela.

Cuba's biggest and most public involvement in Venezuela is in the provision of tens of thousands of doctors and nurses who provide basic health services in poor areas.

In return, Venezuela provides Cuba with subsidized oil.

From: BBC News

  • Go to Home Page
  • Monday, November 29, 2010

    Over 81,000 Cubans apply for permits for private work

    More than 81,000 Cubans applied for licenses to open small businesses or rent their homes since the government decided in October to expand these activities as part of a plan to eliminate 500,000 government jobs, the official daily Granma said on Saturday.

    A total of 81,498 Cubans had applied for permits to develope "self employed" (private) work till Nov. 19, less than a month after the announcement of new measures for the expansion and flexibility of that activity, Granma said.

    Granma stressed that already 29,038 permits have been delivered and more than 16,000 requests are under study. 20 percent of the accepted "self employed" licenses shall be used to produce or sell food, an activity with great demand on the island.

    Another six percent of the permits are for transport activities or passengers transfer (private taxi drivers) and one percent is associated with new ways of house renting.

    Raul Castro's government in October allowed the opening of small businesses to help absorb the half a million people, 10 percent of the workforce, who will lose their jobs from the state bloated sectors.

    The private work may be exercised in 178 activities, 83 of them are allowed to recruit employees for the first time in 50 years of revolution, a way for the creation of small private companies in the island.

    The small private business were eliminated in Cuba on March 13, 1968, as part of the then so-called "Revolutionary Offensive."

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy fell to its lowest point and the licences for private work were reopened, but with the economic recovery the permits were frozen till Raul Castro' s new reforms.

    The economic adjustment plan designed in Cuba is expected to be ratified by the ruling Communist Party at its Sixth Congress, scheduled for the second half of next April.

    From: Xinhuanet

  • Go to Home Page
  • Friday, November 26, 2010

    Cuba to Import 130 mln Dollars of Goods to Supply Emerging Private Sector

    A watchmaker in Havana reading the "Granma", the official newspaper of the Communist Party.
    The Cuban government will spend 130 million U.S. dollars next year in importing goods and raw materials to ensure supplies for the country's emerging private sector as a result of its current economic reform, a trade official said Friday.

    Enrique Ramos, the economy ministry's trade director, said that supplies are the major concern for Cubans interested in the new self-employment options.

    Wholesale markets with different prices can not be created in short term to ensure the supplies, so retail sales markets in the two currencies circulating in the country (the convertible peso CUC and the Cuban peso CUP) will remain in place, he added.

    To ensure supplies to the self-employed sector, the Cuban government will "refocus" the imports and 130 million dollars will be spent to buy different products abroad in 2011, including 36 million spent on food.

    Ramos warned that "these supplies will not appear by magic" and stressed the need to strengthen the supply market by increasing domestic production. The official added that the existing inventories of raw materials in the state warehouses will be moved to the network of shops in the country.

    Raul Castro's government also plans to incorporate the sale of products in "different formats" for the private sector, so it could be possible to buy raw materials like oil, detergents and soft drinks in containers of more capacity at a relatively lower price."

    "To encourage self-employment without guaranteeing the proper supplies would be irresponsible," the official said.

    Last September, the government authorized the opening of small businesses to absorb the most of the half million jobs to be eliminated until next March, the first stage of a plan to reduce staff levels in the state bloated sectors. It was also agreed to implement a tax system for the "self-employed" sector to "respond" to the current economic changes.

    Raul Castro's government will expand the self-employment to 178 activities in their plan to "upgrade" the socialist model and try to overcome the acute economic crisis affecting the country. The economic adjustment program will be ratified at the sixth edition of the Communist Party of Cuba congress scheduled for late April 2011.

    From: Crienglish

  • Go to Home Page
  • Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Netanyahu Clarifies His Praise of Castro

    Binyamin Netanyahu
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called a U.S. congresswoman in order to clarify his recent praising of comments made by former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, AP reported.

    In a recent interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Magazine, Castro had acknowledged that Jews have been persecuted more than any other people. He also attacked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his denials of the Holocaust.

    In response to Castro’s comments, Netanyahu said he was full of admiration for the former Cuban leader and added that Castro's remarks show his deep understanding of the history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

    President Shimon Peres also praised Castro and sent him a personal message in which he wrote: “Your unexpected words comprise a kind of surprising bridge between a difficult reality and a new horizon. This is proof that those distant from one another can be close.”

    Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
    The kind words, however, were less than pleasing for Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Lehtinen, a Republican who has represented Florida's 18th congressional district since 1989, is a Cuban exile and fierce critic of Castro. She is also the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a strong supporter of Israel and is therefore considered a key player for Israel.

    During a recent conversation with Politico, Ros-Lehtinen said that she had expressed her dismay over the pro-Castro comments. “I just said look, this guy has been an enemy of Israel, just because he said something that a normal person would say — after 50 years of anti-Israel incitement, it’s one phrase from an old guy who doesn’t even know where he’s standing.”

    Netanyahu subsequently called Ros-Lehtinen to clarify his position on Cuba and Castro. AP quoted a statement from Netanyahu's office which said that "in response to questions," Netanyahu had called the Ros-Lehtinen and said that his comments were limited only to Castro's remarks about Israel and the Holocaust

    by Elad Benari

    From: Arutz Sheva.

  • Go to Home Page
  • Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    China company to lead $6B Cuba refinery update

    Venezuela has already invested more than $1 billion at the Cienfuegos refinery according to the authorities.

    Project will include refinery, LNG terminal

    HAVANA - A unit of China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) is set to begin in 2011 a $6-billion expansion project at Cuba's Cienfuegos refinery in one of the biggest investments ever on the communist-led island, a source close to the project said Monday.

    The blockbuster deal will be financed mostly by China's Eximbank and backed by financial guarantees in the form of oil from Venezuela, Cuba's close socialist ally and leading trade partner, the source said.

    State-owned CNPC's Haunqiu Contracting and Engineering Corp is expected to start the project in the first quarter with completion planned for the end of 2013.

    The Italian unit of French oilfield service company Technip will do design and engineering for the project and assist in construction.

    The expansion will increase the capacity of the Soviet era refinery 155 miles southeast of Havana to 150,000 barrels per day from 65,000.

    But it will also include construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal with capacity to process 2 million tons of gas annually, and a 150 megawatt electricity generation plant.

    "It is one of the biggest investments in the history of Cuba. It's a minimum of $4.5 billion just for the refinery and another $1.3 billion for the LNG terminal," an executive involved with the project told Reuters.

    The expanded refinery could play an important role in processing Cuban oil if the island finds significant quantities of petroleum in its waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Several companies are planning to sink exploratory wells off Cuba's northern coast starting next year.

    The project greatly expands China's role in Cuba's energy sector, which, at least publicly, has been small. China is Cuba's No. 2 trade partner.

    Beijing is assisting in production of oil along Cuba's northern coast and has leased an onshore block for exploration near Havana.


    The offshore drilling rig to be used in exploring Cuban waters next year has been under construction in China, but whether the Chinese government has had a role in that project is not known.

    Although final details are still being negotiated by the governments of China and Venezuela, the source said about 85 per cent of the cost will be financed by China's Eximbank and secured by China Export & Credit Insurance Corp.

    "But the investment is totally guaranteed by the Venezuelan government, through off-takes of PDVSA crude oil," said the source.

    The Cienfuegos refinery, operated by state-owned CubaPetroleo and state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), has been the centrepiece of the strategic alliance between Cuba and Venezuela.

    The refinery was built during the Soviet era, but never operated until it was activated in 2007 after Venezuela helped refurbish its antiquated facilities to process part of the 115,000 barrels a day that Venezuela sends to Cuba at preferential terms.

    The most recent official figures showed Cienfuegos was producing about 55,000 barrels per day of oil products.

    Refinery expansion will become important for Cuba if significant offshore oilfields are found in its waters, and the Cienfuegos project is being done with that in mind.

    "The expansion of the refinery is tied to the exploration in the Gulf of Mexico," the source said.

    The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated Cuba has about 5 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas offshore, but Cuba says it could have at least 20 billion barrels of oil.

    A consortium led by Spanish oil firm Repsol YPF is planning to drill an exploration well next year, as is Malaysia's Petronas in conjunction with new partner, Russian firm Gazprom.

    Other oil companies such as Brazil's Petrobras, ONGC Videsh, a unit of India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp, PDVSA, PetroVietnam and Russia's Zarubezhneft have exploration leases in Cuban waters, with plans to develop them.

    Oil expert Jorge Pinon at Florida International University in Miami said Cuba has been installing oil storage tanks in Matanzas along the northern coast and reconstructing a pipeline that runs from there to Cienfuegos.

    "The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place," he said.

    By Esteban Israel, Reuters

  • Go to Home Page
  • Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Members of the Cuban medical team defect in Chile

    Around 500 Cuban doctors working in the program "Barrio Adentro" already defected in Venezuela
    Two Cuban doctors and an anesthesiologist, members of the Henry Reeve Cuban Emergency Medical Brigade sent to Chile to help after a Feb. 27 earthquake, have decided to stay in the South American country.

    Cuban Ambassador Ileana Diaz-Arguelles has confirmed the defections to Cooperativa radio station, saying it was the trio's personal decision. She says that "there are people who value material questions more."

    The leader of the Cuban dissident community in Chile, Mikail Bonito, says he has been informed of the situation but hasn't had contact with the three.

    Local media reported Friday that one of the doctors and the anesthesiologist worked in a field hospital in Rancagua, while the third worked in Chillan.

    The magnitude-8.8 quake killed 521 people and caused $30 billion in damage.
    Henry Reeve Cuban Emergency Medical Brigade

  • Go to Home Page
  • Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Fidel Castro hints he may resign as party chief

    "My turn"
    HAVANA - Cuban leader Fidel Castro has suggested he may resign as Communist Party chief, his last leadership post, as he praised his brother Raul's management of the country.

    "I got sick and did what I had to do - delegate my powers. I cannot do something that I am not capable of dedicating full time to," Castro told a group of students on Wednesday, state-run press said Thursday.

    Castro said he was not speaking to them as first secretary of the ruling communist party but rather as a "soldier of ideas."

    "I did not hesitate even a second to put aside my responsibilities," said the 84-year-old, who has kept busy writing and participating in academic meetings in recent years.

    After ruling Cuba for nearly half a century, Castro provisionally ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, in July 2006 following intestinal surgery, and officially resigned the presidency in February 2008.

    For now, Castro officially remains head of Cuba's only legal political party, which will meet in April to discuss future economic policies for the Caribbean nation. He has held the post since 1965 after seizing power during the 1959 communist revolution.

    Castro also praised his 79-year-old brother and successor, saying he was "pleased, because the country is working, despite of all the challenges." He also pointed to communist China, which has steadily grown in recent years, as a model for development.

    Raul Castro has said Cuba's economic model, which has survived two decades since the Soviet Union dissolved, must be "updated" without copying patterns from other countries.

    His proposed raft of economic reforms is up for debate at the Cuban Communist Party Congress, the first since 1997.

    The reforms, which including cutting more than a million government jobs, represent a major management shakeup for the communist island.

    They provide for an influx of foreign capital, an opening for private enterprise and reduced government role in the market - all steps away from the Soviet-style communist system currently in force that gave an overarching role to the state.

    The proposals make efficiency a vital part of economic management, aim to do away with state subsidies, including food rations, and foresee starting a tax system.

    Following up on his pledge on subsidies, president Castro is eliminating subsidies on materials to build and repair homes, with all such products due to be sold at higher prices free of government intervention from January.

    Since Februrary, a few materials have been sold free of subsidies in over 300 stores, but subsidized sale prices remained in effect for most building products, trade ministry official Pilar Fernandez told Juventud Rebelde newspaper.

    From: AsiaOne

  • Go to Home Page
  • Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Gazprom gets stake in blocks off North Cuba

    Cuban offshore blocks.
    JSC Gazprom Neft will acquire a 30% stake from Malaysia’s state Petronas in four Gulf of Mexico blocks off Cuba’s western coast.

    Blocks 44, 45, 50, and 51 lie 100-200 miles west of Havana and slightly farther southwest of Key West, Fla.

    The agreement is subject to approval by Cuban authorities. Gazprom said, “The possibility to work on the shelf of Cuba was initially considered by Gazprom Neft’s board of directors in early October 2010, when the board acknowledged a positive long-term outlook to the company’s activity in this region.”

    Cuba’s government signed the production-sharing agreement covering the four Cuban foreland basin shelf blocks with Petronas in 2007. Petronas holds the remaining 70% interest.

    The PSA provides for geological exploration on the blocks with the possibility of oil production until 2037 and gas production until 2042. Petronas has shot 2D seismic on the blocks and expects to spud the first exploratory well in 2011.

    From: Oil & Gas Journal

  • Go to Home Page
  • Yoani Sánchez Wins CEPOS Freedom Award

    Yoani Sánchez has been denied the right to travel several times
    NEW YORK (November 16, 2010) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is pleased to announce that 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum speaker and Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez was awarded the inaugural CEPOS Freedom Award, in the amount of $50,000, by the independent Danish think tank, CEPOS. Sánchez, author of the world-renowned blog Generación Y, was nominated for the award by HRF President Thor Halvorssen.

    The Freedom Award is granted to individuals who demonstrate a principled and steadfast commitment to the values and ideas of individual freedom and basic human rights.

    “CEPOS could not have selected a more deserving recipient for this prize,” said Halvorssen. “Sánchez is a remarkable woman who has repeatedly overcome great obstacles and risked daunting consequences to make her voice heard, despite a dictatorship that systematically strangles freedom of expression.”

    Through her blog, Sánchez provides a window into the hard-hitting reality of everyday life in Cuba. Her elegant and thoughtful criticism of the totalitarian state has earned her the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize for Journalism and the 2009 Maria Moors Cabot Prize. She was named one of Time magazine’s "100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2008, and was selected as a 2010 World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute.

    “Despite the huge personal costs, Yoani Sánchez has shown amazing courage by expressing her honest and personal opinion of the society she currently lives in. Single-handedly and at great personal expense, she has managed to keep focus on one of the world’s most suffocating dictatorships. CEPOS wishes to show admiration of her courage and dedication by awarding her this prize,” said CEPOS Director Martin Ågerup.

    CEPOS has invited Sánchez to receive the Freedom Award at a ceremony in Copenhagen in the near future.

    “We hope that the Cuban government will recognize her right to travel to Denmark to receive the prize in person,” stated Halvorssen.

    From: HRF

  • Go to Home Page
  • Monday, November 15, 2010

    Raúl the pragmatist

    Am I in charge now?
    Shortly after he took charge of Cuba from his ailing brother, Fidel, in 2006, Raúl Castro declared that his country’s moribund communist economy needed to change. But his failure to make anything more than marginal adjustments disappointed hopes that he would follow Chinese and Vietnamese communist leaders in combining capitalist economics and growing social freedom with continued party control.

    Now, at last, Mr Castro is showing signs of boldness. Over the past few weeks he has launched some potentially far-reaching changes. By April 1, 500,000 Cubans will be laid off from their state jobs and encouraged to make their own living in small businesses. Over the next two or three years, another 800,000 are likely to join them. Eventually up to two Cubans in five will no longer work for the state.

    This week Mr Castro convened a much-postponed Congress of the Communist Party for late April: its job will be to bless the new economic model. Meanwhile, the government has released more than 50 political prisoners. Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is Cuban communism finally on the way out?

    Any answer must be hedged about with caveats. The economists advising Mr Castro are barred from talking of “reform”. In its guidelines for the party congress, the leadership declares that “only socialism [ie, communism] is capable of overcoming our difficulties and preserving the gains of the revolution” and that in the new economy “planning will be paramount, not the market.” No Cuban official has matched Deng Xiaoping’s embrace of “market socialism”, let alone his (perhaps apocryphal) injunction that “to get rich is glorious”. The welcome release of prisoners seems merely to have been a move to deflect outside criticism after the death of one of them in a hunger strike, rather than a first step in dismantling the island’s police state. Indeed the army is playing a bigger role in the economy and in government.

    Yet Raúl’s reforms go much further than Fidel’s reluctant acceptance of foreign investment and limited self-employment after the collapse of the Soviet Union, partially reversed on the appearance of a new benefactor, Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. For the first time since the 1960s Cubans will be able to employ other Cubans (even though the constitution bans such “exploitation”). Many of the rules under which these new businesses will operate are still being drawn up. But it seems that Cubans will now be able to get loans and rent and buy property. Other changes are likely to follow. Mr Castro talks of gradually eliminating the free food rations that Cubans get, and moving towards targeted social assistance (as elsewhere in Latin America). The corollary is that wages will have to go up — and increasingly they will be set in the market.

    In all this Mr Castro is bowing to reality. He has been withering in his criticism of the featherbedding that has bankrupted the state. He has also refused to blame the American economic embargo for problems which he rightly says are self-inflicted. His pragmatism has finally won out against his brother’s doctrinaire Utopianism.

    Apart from the economy, the other big task facing Mr Castro, who is 79 (and Fidel 84), is to start handing over power to a younger generation. That may come after the party congress next year. In the meantime, his new boldness represents an opportunity for those who hope that Cuba will eventually join the rest of Latin America in accepting democracy and the market economy, for once the market’s green shoots appear they tend to flourish.

    How to help kill communism

    Outsiders should take their lead from the common position that Europe adopted in 1996, which allows it to help in “the progressive and irreversible opening of the Cuban economy” while predicating closer friendship on moves towards democracy. Offering training and credit — as Brazil has done — to Cuba’s incipient private sector would be a good move. Rewarding Cuba for releasing prisoners who should never have been locked up in the first place — as Miguel Moratinos, Spain’s recently sacked foreign minister, wanted — would not.

    America’s embargo remains as futile and counter-productive as ever. Although Barack Obama has commendably reversed George W. Bush’s restrictions on visits and remittances by Cuban-Americans, Republican control of Congress will make it even less likely that the embargo will be dismantled. That’s a great shame. The embargo has allowed the Castros to pose as proud Cuban nationalists standing up to a bullying hegemon and thus helped them cling to power. If change is at last under way it is despite the embargo, not because of it.

    From: Indian Express

  • Go to Home Page
  • Friday, November 12, 2010

    Pedro Pan flight veterans mark 50th anniversary

    Some of the Cuban children sent to the US.
    The last thing 13-year-old Mercedes Argiz's father told her before she boarded the plane from Cuba to the U.S. was: "I will see you for Christmas."

    That was nearly half a century ago, just days before the Cuban Missile Crisis. She never saw him again.

    Argiz was one of more than 14,000 Cuban children spirited out of the country between late 1960 and 1962 on the so-called Pedro Pan flights organized by Catholic Church leaders following the Cuban revolution. On Friday, she flew from northern Virginia to join more than 100 other Cuban-Americans in Miami to mark the 50th anniversary of their exodus and tour the South Florida refugee camps they first stayed in.

    Operation Pedro Pan effort was organized at the behest of Cuban parents, fearful of the new communist government's efforts to take control of their children. Most of the refugees spent time in one of several Florida refugee camps before they moved into foster homes or orphanages around the country. The effort drew its name from the fictional character Peter Pan and an unaccompanied minor named Pedro who came to the attention of Bryan O. Walsh, a priest who headed the Catholic Welfare Bureau.

    The children thought they would be reunited with their parents within a few weeks. But heightened tension between the two countries following the missile crisis — the nuclear standoff over missile sites on the island — meant many had to wait years to see their parents again. Some never did.

    On Friday, dozens of Pedro Pan veterans cheered and shouted as they hugged friends they had not seen since childhood. They waved American and Cuban flags and sang the camp songs they learned upon their arrival, Spanish children's tunes exhorting communists to leave Cuba while promising "Americans" they would be friends.

    Cuban officials and some researchers have long maintained the effort was a CIA-backed plot to create a brain-drain from the island. The U.S. government denies those accusations.

    Argiz, who now goes by her married name Precht-Matuschek, says it was her own experience that prompted her departure. After the government shut down her Catholic school, she was transferred to a communist-run public school where she excelled. Asked to recite a poem at the school year's closing ceremonies, she planned to thank her family, friends and God, she says. A teacher warned her to replace God with the name of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Precht-Matuschek didn't, and the local dignitaries in attendance were not pleased.

    A short time later, her family was informed she was selected to go to Russia to continue her studies.

    Precht-Matuschek's family was able to get her a temporary visa, promising she would soon return. After a brief stay in the camps, she ended up with a wealthy family in Cincinnati until she was reunited with her younger brother and mother five years later. She says her father, who had owned a canning company before the revolution, was not allowed to leave.

    At Camp Matecumbe in the south Miami suburb of Kendall, the former Pedro Pan children walked the grounds of what were once dorms for the newly arrived teenage boys. Julio A. Martinez, now a Miami-Dade County civil engineer, recalled sleeping in tents as the number of children arriving outpaced dormitory space, unable to fall asleep because he was terrified of the rattle snakes that haunted the nearby pine and palmetto tree woods.

    Housing developments and shopping malls have displaced most of the tangled forest. The camp is now an activity center for children with disabilities. But for Martinez and his friend Andres Garcia Fernandez of San Francisco, returning for the first time in 50 years, it was as if time had stood still.

    They recalled desperately trying to help their parents leave Cuba as they were bounced from camp to camp.

    They were both eventually able to help get their parents out as part of the 1963 prisoner exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba following the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island by Cuban exiles. Martinez said he was able to convince a Bay of Pigs veteran to claim his stepfather as family because the two shared a last name.

    "We had to survive. We had to figure it out. We were adults at the age of 15," he said, blinking away tears.

    Martinez says he is ever grateful to the U.S. for giving him the chance to remake his life and raise his two daughters and grandchildren.

    Nearby, Garcia's adult daughter, sporting a video camera and nose ring, watched her father protectively.

    "It is so good for my dad to be here with his friends," said Rachel Garcia, 22. "He's always talked about it. And he carries so much sadness and grief from that time, but no one where we live in San Francisco has any idea about it. It's just not history people know about."

    Precht-Matuschek, a retiree who lives in Spotsylvania, Va. near her two daughters, says her father was forced to work once a week cutting sugar cane after she left as punishment. Years later, she moved to Germany with her husband, and in 1973 became pregnant with their daughter. Her father was finally granted a visa to visit her there.

    He died of a heart attack at age 47 before he could make the trip.

    From: Sify News 

    Escape from Havana 1/5

  • Go to Home Page
  • Thursday, November 11, 2010

    2 Cubans rescued at sea might stay

    Picture from 1994, behind, center, the building of the former Soviet Embassy, now Russian.
    Two of the seven Cuban refugees pulled from a raft in the Atlantic Ocean and brought to Cape Canaveral Hospital this week have a greater chance of staying in the United States than their counterparts who were kept aboard a Coast Guard cutter, officials said.

    The two unidentified Cubans were treated at the Brevard County hospital for respiratory problems and dehydration after spending 14 days floating on a makeshift raft that ended up about 45 miles off the coast of Volusia County.

    The five others on board the same raft were secured aboard the Coast Guard cutter in Port Canaveral and are expected to be taken back to Cuba within the next week, Coast Guard officials say.

    The two who were hospitalized and released have been turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. The medical tab for the short stay likely will be absorbed by the hospital's charitable service, Health First officials said Thursday.

    Immigration authorities say the two probably will benefit from the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1995. It means that if Cubans literally touch U.S. soil, they can remain rather than be returned to Cuba if they are interdicted at sea. The policy does not apply to other immigrants attempting to get into the United States illegally.

    "They will be processed according to our border protection policies," said Migbalia Travis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Border Patrol. "Under normal circumstances, they should be able to stay, but we cannot discuss their case directly."

    The "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, a change in the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, was designed to stem the flow of refugees after President Fidel Castro allowed more than 100,000 Cubans -- including many from mental hospitals and prisons -- to escape by boat to the United States in 1980. As a result, the number of Cubans interdicted at sea this year stands at 422, compared to 38,500 refugees who attempted to get into the United States in 1994, which was a peak year.

    Today, Coast Guard officials said those who make it to shore are sent to immigration centers to be interviewed and processed for criminal background checks.

    "They could still end up being treated as "wet foot" by the U.S. government. They'll be taken into custody, but they don't have the right to legal protection during the interview and inspection process," said David Stoller, a Melbourne-based immigration attorney.

    After a year and a day, Cuban refugees can apply for permanent residency, he said.

    "Basically, if you make it here, you're here. But, you never know what's going to happen. Today, it's a different atmosphere than before. Most of the Cubans today are economic refugees more than anything else."

    Other refugees, such as 15 Haitians rescued June 24 at sea by the Coast Guard about 14 miles off Brevard County, do not have the same status under federal law, Stoller pointed out. That group was repatriated to Haiti within a week, Coast Guard officials reported.

    "We treat Cubans differently, while others are sent back," Stoller said, citing the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

    Some Cuban-American residents living in Brevard County -- many of whom came here as political refugees -- say the policy needs to be reviewed.

    Roland Guilarte, 52, of Satellite Beach recalls the struggles of learning English and adapting to the fast pace of American culture after he and his family escaped Castro's regime aboard a 1967 freedom flight to Miami.

    "We were legal refugees and it took about two to 21/2 years for us to be processed," Guilarte said. "But today, the main difference is that you have Cuban organizations that offer assistance and housing for anyone like the two people in this situation."

    Some limited federal assistance is also available. He added that he had sympathy for the five who face repatriation to Cuba, even though they were brought to Port Canaveral yet not allowed to leave the Coast Guard cutter.

    "These people are oppressed, and now they're going back to a living hell," he said. "We understand that we don't want to strain the federal government with taking care of these folks. We don't like the 'wet-foot, dry-foot' policy. We want to be able to take care of our own."

    A look at Cubans interdicted at sea:
    Year -- Number
    2005 -- 2,712
    2006 -- 2,810
    2007 -- 2,868
    2008 -- 2,199
    2009 -- 799
    2010 -- 422
    -- U.S. Coast Guard

  • Go to Home Page
  • Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Cuba To Promote Foreign Investment

    Cuba in future will be a country that promotes foreign investment, expands the private sector and dutifully pays off its debts, according to a proposal revealed on Monday by the ruling Communist party.

    But it will not renounce the socialist system installed half a century ago after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution, according to the 32-page document that will guide debates at a Communist party congress in April.

    "The economic policy in the new phase will correspond with the principle that only socialism is capable of overcoming difficulties and preserving the gains of the revolution, and that in the updating of the economic model, planning will be paramount, not the market." - it said.

    The document, entitled "Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy," is the program of reforms President Raul Castro will place before the party congress for its consideration.

    They could be modified during extensive public discussions ahead of the congress, which was announced by the president on Monday night and will be the first since 1997.

    The congress is where Cuba's only legal political party sets direction for the country, supposedly for the next five years, although it will have been 14 years since the last meeting.

    The April gathering will be particularly important because, given the age of current leadership, it will be the last for the generation that fought the revolution and has held power since then, hewing hard to communist ideology.

    President Castro, 79, took office in 2008 after older brother Fidel Castro, 84, ruled the island for 49 years and finally resigned due to ill health.

    He promised to improve the daily lives of Cubans and has focussed on economic improvement, including major reforms announced in September to cut a million government jobs and expand the private sector by granting 250,000 new licenses for self-employment.

    He said Cuba's economy will be the only topic at the congress.

    The guidelines include reforms already begun by Raul Castro -- among them the reduction of the state's role in the society and the decentralization of agricultural management.

    They include a proposal to eliminate the monthly food ration Cubans receive, symbol of decades of state paternalism and a particular target of Raul Castro, who says handouts have discouraged productivity.

    They also call for provisions for bank credits for the new self-employed and wholesale stores to cut their costs, but also for them to pay taxes to finance public spending.

    In contrast to past policy, state-owned businesses that do not make money will be completely liquidated.

    And the authorities will look to improve the country's international credibility "through the strict fulfilment of contract commitments."

    Cuba's standing with the international business community has been damaged the past two years as a cash crunch forced the freezing of Cuban bank accounts held by foreign businesses and of payments to many of them.

    The party also proposes "to continue encouraging the participation of foreign capital in Cuba, complementing national investment in those activities of interest to the country."

    The document mentions, for example, the development of golf courses, marinas and luxury condominiums to attract wealthier visitors to the Caribbean island.

    Raul Castro said that before being distributed, a copy of the guidelines was submitted to Fidel Castro for his consideration. Even though he is no longer president, he is still head of the Communist party.

    By Esteban Israel

    From: SwissInfo

  • Go to Home Page
  • Monday, November 1, 2010

    "Women in White" - A documentary about the Ladies in White

    More "guts" than the rulers of Cuba.
    Narrated by Andy Garcia, the 55 minute documentary, The Women in White, tells the story of courageous Cuban women trying to free their imprisoned men.

    In March 2003, Castro ordered a crackdown of dissidents.  His secret police arrested 75 men – journalists, writers and human rights activists – during three nights now known as “Black Spring.”

    Two weeks later, the men’s wives, mothers, daughters and sisters gathered to pray for the release of their loved ones.  In that crystallized moment, “Las Damas De Blanco” was born. Every Sunday since, the women dress in white and silently walk the streets of Havana. 

    This documentary was finished last year. Some things have changed since then, but many political prisoners still remain in jail and their wives, daughters and mothers continue to fight for their freedom.

  • Go to Home Page