Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Useful idiots, PBS edition

"Free" health care may look like this. Picture from a Cuban medical facility.
One would have thought we were well past the day when the the folks at PBS would be shilling for Castro and Communism, but one would be wrong. Mary Anastasia O'Grady brings us a remarkable example of Castroite stupefaction in her Wall Street Journal column "A Cuban fairy tale from PBS," noted here by Tim Graham at NewsBusters. O'Grady finds reporter Ray Suarez declaring the glories of Cuban health care in a three-part PBS NewsHour series last week.

Suarez took the Potemkin village tour of the Cuban health care system; O'Grady notes that the NewsHour series was taped in Cuba with government "cooperation," so it is not exactly a great surprise that it went heavy on the party line. Yet Cuba is a national museum of Communism, the clock having been stopped around the time that Castro seized power half a century ago. It is something of a ramshackle paradise for political pilgrims that has been exposed as such many times over.

O'Grady contrasts Suarez's series with Los Funerales de Castro, the 2009 memoir by Vicente Botin covering his four years in Cuba as a correspondent for Spanish Television:

Botín tells about a Havana woman who was frustrated by the doctor shortage in the country. She hung a sheet on her balcony with the words "trade me to Venezuela." When the police arrived she told them: "Look, compañeros, I'm as revolutionary as the next guy, but if you want to see a Cuban doctor, you have to go to Venezuela."

The NewsHour has posted Suarez's installment on Cuba's purported emphasis on preventive care online. This seems like a sick joke. One would indeed be well advised not to succumb to an illness requiring medical care in Cuba.

Suarez reports that, according to the World Health Organization, the country has earned bragging rights. The average Cuban lives to the age of 78. That's slightly longer than the life span of the average American. The cost of health care in Cuba is less than $400 a year per person. In the U.S., the annual tab is almost 20 times higher. As George Orwell said, "There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them." Not that Suarez is exactly an intellectual.

Suarez wants us to understand that we have much to learn from Cuba and Castro. The Maximum Leader has created a system producing better outcomes than the United States at a fraction of the cost. You might think he'd look a little harder to discover how such a "miracle" was accomplished. Is it for real?

I can believe that the per year per person cost of health care in Cuba is minimal; health care professionals are slaves who are paid slave wages and medical infrastructure is, shall we say, deficient Commenting on Michael Moore's film Sicko, Jay Nordlinger provides a slightly more realistic portrait than Suarez's:

Testimony and documentation on the subject are vast. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs -- even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. In Sicko, even sophisticated medications are plentiful and cheap. In the real Cuba, finding an aspirin can be a chore. And an antibiotic will fetch a fortune on the black market.

A nurse spoke to Isabel Vincent of Canada's National Post. "We have nothing," said the nurse. "I haven't seen aspirin in a Cuban store here for more than a year. If you have any pills in your purse, I'll take them. Even if they have passed their expiry date."

The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves -- there is no choice. When they travel to the island, on errands of mercy, American doctors make sure to take as much equipment and as many supplies as they can carry. One told the Associated Press, "The [Cuban] doctors are pretty well trained, but they have nothing to work with. It's like operating with knives and spoons."

And doctors are not necessarily privileged citizens in Cuba. A doctor in exile told the Miami Herald that, in 2003, he earned what most doctors did: 575 pesos a month, or about 25 dollars. He had to sell pork out of his home to get by. And the chief of medical services for the whole of the Cuban military had to rent out his car as a taxi on weekends. "Everyone tries to survive," he explained. (Of course, you can call a Cuban with a car privileged, whatever he does with it.)

So deplorable is the state of health care in Cuba that old-fashioned diseases are back with a vengeance. These include tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhoid fever. And dengue, another fever, is a particular menace. Indeed, an exiled doctor named Dessy Mendoza Rivero -- a former political prisoner and a spectacularly brave man -- wrote a book called ¡Dengue! La Epidemia Secreta de Fidel Castro.

(Dr. Miguel Faria has more on ¡Dengue! here.)

University of Oklahoma Professor of Anthropology Katherine Hirschfeld actually conducted ethnographic field work in Cuba on the health care system for 10 months in 1997. She experienced the effects of Cuban health care first hand: "Hirschfeld, then a 29 year-old doctoral student, was hospitalized in May 1997 with dengue fever in Santiago. Doctors were expected to keep the outbreak quiet, she says. And she was sent to a secret ward where an armed guard stood before her door."

In a paper on her field work in Cuba, Hirschfeld noted some of the difficulties: "Formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act both for me as a researcher, and for people who spoke openly with me."

Professor Hirschfeld's increased awareness of Castro's tyranny caused her to ask a question that evidently did not occur to Suarez: "to what extent is the favorable international image of the Cuban health care system maintained by the state's practice of suppressing dissent and covertly intimidating or imprisoning would-be critics?"

Professor Hirschfeld's book is Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898. Professor Hirschfeld discovered that Castro has been cooking the books on his health care system, another revelation that would undoubtedly come as a shock to Suarez.

Suarez's report on Cuban health care in 2010 is a disgrace. When Congress gets around to examining the funding of National Public Radio in connection with the termination of Juan Williams, it ought to do likewise with respect to the Public Broadcasting System.


ONE MORE THOUGHT: With Suarez's report, PBS returns to its venerable Cold War role as one of Communism's useful idiots. Why now? I believe the answer is obviously Obamacare. Suarez wants to persuade Americans that a state-run health care system is just what the doctor ordered. Like NPR, PBS is a media adjunct of the Democratic Party.

By Scott

From: Power Line

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  • Sunday, December 26, 2010

    11 Cuban dissidents spend 8th Christmas in prison

    HAVANA - It was another lonely Christmas for the wives of 11 imprisoned dissidents slated to be freed under a deal between the Cuban government and the island's Roman Catholic Church, as the holiday came and went with no sign they'd be released anytime soon.

    "Christmas is a family holiday, and for eight Christmases, there's been an empty seat at the table. We hope that next year, that won't the case," said Laura Pollan, a leader of the Ladies in White, a group made up of the wives and mothers of the dissidents.

    Still, Pollan added, "There's been no sign that any of them are going to be released soon."

    She spoke to reporters as about 30 women took part in the group's traditional after-Mass Sunday march.

    Under an informal deal announced in July by Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega, 52 activists and social commentators detained in a 2003 crackdown were supposed to be freed, probably by early November. Forty-one have been released, and all but one was sent to Spain.

    The 11 still behind bars have said they want to remain in Cuba, a demand some observers see as a possible stumbling block to their release.

    "It's clear that the way the government has proceeded is to get the prisoners to agree to leave the country," said Phil Peters, a Cuba specialist at the Lexington Institute near Washington. "Now they're down to the people who don't want to go, so that makes it much more difficult."

    Peters said he wasn't particularly worried they had not been freed by Christmas.

    "There isn't anything special about the date, except for that the prisoner release has been discussed by the Catholic Church and obviously Christmas is an important date for Catholics," Peters said in a telephone interview. "The government never gave a specific date, so maybe they had a longer period in mind" than the three- to four-month period mentioned by Ortega.

    "It's going slowly, but then again, lots of things go slowly in Cuba," Peters said. He added the release of the 11 will be a "very important step" because it would bring the number of political prisoners in Cuba "down to a very low number, or nearly zero."

    That was little comfort for the Ladies in White at Christmas time.

    "It's a difficult time for us," Bertha Soler told the AP. "It's a sacred time for families and we're still far from ours."

    The government alleges all the dissidents are paid by Washington to undermine the political system and says many of them were sentenced for crimes including treason.

    Last Thursday, the Church announced that two prisoners not on the list of 52 would be freed and sent to Spain shortly.


    From: Metro

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  • Friday, December 24, 2010

    Cuban Wikipedia most elaborate propaganda creation ever

    EcuRed or CastroRed?
    Last week, Cuba launched EcuRed, it’s own version of Wikipedia. It was an intriguing move for a country whose population has very minimal Internet access. But the Cuban regime produces a large amount of propaganda targeted at the outside world, and EcuRed fits neatly into that framework.

    “They do these extensive media operations,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, and a member of the board of directors of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, “so that eventually the rest of the world, they hope, is seeing that, and they think it’s the truth because it’s coming from all kinds of different sources.”

    If building an entire online encyclopedia seems overly elaborate for propaganda, one need only look at Cuba’s newspapers, says Claver-Carone. He points out that all six major newspapers in Cuba are state run, but each claims to represent a different voice in the population, leading to the perception that multiple different viewpoints are represented in the media.

    “It’s their way of continuously rewriting history, essentially, for a foreign audience,” he said, because “domestically, the Cuban government is not going to convince anyone that all is good … they survive basically off foreign political support and foreign economic support.”

    Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for Free Cuba, agrees. “This is not for the Cuban reader,” he said.

    Calzon credits this massive propaganda effort with the fact that “there are still some folks that give the Cuban government the benefit of the doubt.”

    The targeted audience, obviously, is not the United States, a country that, as The Daily Caller reported last week, gets a pretty bad rap on EcuRed. “There is a huge audience out there that consumes anti-Americanism,” said Claver-Carone, calling it “the blame America first model.” The regime’s propaganda “feed[s] that anti-American audience.”

    It also, according to Claver-Carone, serves as a “distraction, so that people don’t pay attention to the real issues on the island.”

    In spite of this massive effort, Calzon suggests that technology has ultimately made it more difficult for Fidel Castro’s regime to preserve this image to the outside world.
    “People say technology is neutral,” he said, “but I think in our days technology is more in favor of democracy. It’s very difficult for a regime to have control to the extent that they are used to when people can take a photograph from a telephone.”

    By Alexis Levinson

    From: The Daily Caller

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  • Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Cuba Commits to Private Enterprise and Foreign Developers Want In

    For a country that claims to want to open its economy after five decades of communism, Cuba has chosen an unlikely poster child for its efforts to attract foreign tourists: Che Guevara. A photograph of the revolutionary leader dressed in combat fatigues and swinging a golf club adorns walls at the Ministry of Tourism and at the Havana offices of some of the foreign companies that are teaming up with the government to develop golf courses, luxury hotels, vacation villas and condominiums. Never mind that Che posed for that photo op to thumb his nose at Yankee capitalists during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The picture’s message today is that there is nothing counterrevolutionary about golf — or about seeking to lure the game’s well-heeled practitioners from abroad.


    Is Cuba serious about opening its economy or just making a feint toward capitalism? Observers have their doubts. Consider the regime’s heavy bureaucratic hand. Supposedly to free up the economy, the government has designated 178 specific businesses — including family-run boardinghouses, small restaurants, tourist boat rentals, taxi owners and even party clowns — that will be eligible to operate privately under state licenses beginning next year. “This enumeration of private work seems more in tune with a feudal village than a 21st-century country,” wrote Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most famous dissident blogger, in September. Private businesses, ranging from small farms to market stalls to barbershops and beauty salons, currently employ just 144,000 workers, and they have no access to credit from the state-owned banking system or to microfinance. It’s hard to see how this tiny private sector can absorb the looming army of unemployed, few if any of whom have entrepreneurial experience. “It is challenging to suggest that the least productive 10 percent of the labor force will become a juggernaut of commercial enterprise,” says John Kavulich II, a senior adviser to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York–based organization that advises U.S. businesses on Cuban affairs.

    In short, the new era does not yet appear to be a Cuban version of 1978, the year Deng Xiaoping unleashed market forces in China by allowing peasants to cultivate private plots. Yet Castro’s gesture marks a welcome change after five decades of suffocating state control. “This is no opening of the floodgates, but it may mean the beginning of a new socialist era,” says Ted Henken, an expert on the Cuban private sector who teaches at New York’s Baruch College.

    If private sector employment is to take off, tourism is bound to play a leading role. The island — the largest in the region — boasts white-sand beaches and expanses of unspoiled nature. Havana itself is a virtual museum of architecture. The old town center, Habana Vieja, features scores of Spanish colonial buildings dating to the 16th century, while Centro, the downtown district, has hundreds of neoclassical, art nouveau and art deco structures.

    Along with oil exploration and nickel mining, tourism is one of the few areas of the economy open to foreign investment, and it has grown rapidly over the past two decades to overtake sugar as Cuba’s largest source of hard-currency revenues. The sector pulled in $2.1 billion in 2009, compared with $2.88 billion for all the country’s exports of goods and services. “I believe the economic reforms are cause for optimism,” says Andrew Macdonald, chief executive of Esencia Hotels & Resorts, a privately held company based in London that is seeking government approval to develop a $200 million luxury resort east of Havana complete with a golf course, 800 luxury apartments and 100 villas. “Anything that increases the private sector and reduces the role of the state in the economy is a favorable development.”

    Cuba began developing its tourism industry nearly two decades ago. The country was hit hard by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which had propped up the Castro regime with subsidies. Cuba’s economic output contracted by a third in the three years after 1991. In a bid to cover the shortfall, the government ordered ministries to devise commercial strategies to help fund their budgets. The Ministry of Education sent teachers to Nicaragua and Venezuela, and the Ministry of Health dispatched an army of doctors overseas to earn hard currency. The armed forces, then under the command of Raúl Castro, plunged into tourism.

    In 1991 the new Russian government abandoned plans to build a naval base on the coast east of Havana, forfeiting tens of millions of dollars that the old Soviet regime had placed in escrow for the project. Castro’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces used those funds to expand its fledgling tourism arm, Gaviota, into luxury hotels, travel agencies, car rentals, marinas and restaurants. The company currently operates 38 hotels.

    Gaviota’s success has spawned several imitators. The Ministry of Tourism is considering proposals from several joint ventures to develop a dozen golf resorts — this in a country with only one 18-hole course, at Varadero, a beach resort town 86 miles east of Havana. Foreign investors know the wait can be painfully long. “In normal countries joint ventures are quickly created and assume high risks for potentially high profits,” says a Cuban working with a foreign developer. “In Cuba decisions are so centralized and slow that it can take years to form a joint state-private venture. On the other hand, once it is created, the business risks are very low and high profits are almost guaranteed.”

    Leisure Canada hopes to prove that hypothesis correct. The small company (market cap $31 million) focuses exclusively on the Cuban market and has been lobbying the government for more than a decade for the right to develop tourism projects. The company has a ready market: Canadians are avid snowbirds, accounting for 933,000 of the 2.4 million foreign tourists who visited Cuba last year. The U.K. ranked a distant second with 171,800 visitors. The half-century-old U.S. trade embargo continues to keep American companies and tourists out of Cuba, although an estimated 200,000 Cuban-Americans (who are not counted as tourists by either Havana or Washington) visit relatives in Cuba each year.

    Last year, Leisure Canada finally won approval to set up a 50-50 joint venture with Grupo Hotelero Gran Caribe, a fully owned entity of the Ministry of Tourism. The company plans to break ground in early 2011 on a $200 million, 716-room hotel in Miramar, a Havana district popular with wealthy Cubans and Americans before the revolution that today houses a number of government agencies and foreign multinationals. “Now they are reacting pretty quickly to feedback from us,” CEO Conners says of the authorities.

    In August, for example, the government announced it would allow foreigners to take out 99-year leases on state property, up from a previous maximum of 50 years. The move followed lobbying by Leisure Canada and Esencia, which regard long-term leases as essential to developing resort properties for upscale foreign tourists. “We explained to our Cuban partners just how important a 99-year lease is for this sort of client and to obtain better financing terms for the project,” says Conners. “Banks view it as virtually full ownership.”

    The new long-term leases are crucial for Leisure Canada’s other two projects, which are pending approval. The company wants to develop a $130 million luxury resort with 425 hotel suites, condo apartments and villas at Cayo Largo, an islet 50 miles south of Cuba’s main island that has an air force base with a runway large enough for transatlantic aircraft. Even more ambitious, Leisure Canada hopes to build a $900 million resort with a golf course, marina, hotels, condos and villas at Jibacoa, some 40 miles east of Havana.

    Both of those projects could take years to get started. The site currently houses a state-run campground and cabins for the Cuban proletariat. Conners is optimistic that economic necessity will ultimately prevail. “Cuba has a large pool of workers available for the hotel construction and service industry,” he says. Groups of people hanging around the Jibacoa village square attest to that fact. Nearby, a bare-chested watchman stands guard at the entrance to the planned development site. After letting a company executive enter the area, he pleads, “Hurry up with the project — and sign me up for the first job.”

    At the other end of the tourist industry spectrum, family-run bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants are also expected to expand in number as a result of the economic reforms, but that will require new sources of financing. Thus far the state banks that monopolize credit do not lend to the private sector. The most obvious source of foreign capital is the Cuban-American community. “But will the Cuban government allow somebody in Miami to send a relative in Havana $50,000 to start a business?” asks U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council adviser Kavulich. “And will the U.S. government allow it?”

    To survive and succeed as a private innkeeper in socialist Cuba demands the sort of entrepreneurial spirit, ingenuity and persistence that Carlos Repilado has displayed over a quarter century. Repilado rents out three rooms to foreign tourists for about $30 a night in a bed-and-breakfast called Carlos&Nelson that he has created in his second- and third-floor apartment in a 1920s Havana townhouse.

    Repilado, a broad-shouldered 72-year-old who looks two decades younger, began his adult life as a computer programmer for IBM Corp. in the mid-1950s. When the Castros and Che entered Havana triumphantly in 1959, Repilado was among the revolutionaries’ excited sympathizers. IBM pulled out of Cuba in the early 1960s, leaving him without a job, but Repilado took advantage of the new regime’s large cultural affairs budget and found work in the theater, eventually gaining a reputation as a lighting designer. He has worked in Havana and abroad on Cuban theatrical and musical productions, from highbrow European plays to the high-kicking Tropicana Cabaret. But even with his renown, Repilado earns barely double the average monthly wage of $20 in his profession; the B&B provides the bulk of his income.

    Becoming a jack-of-all-trades during a half century of theater assignments has made him an expert at the home repairs necessary to running a thriving guesthouse. Finding specialized labor and ready-made products is nearly impossible in Cuba. “Here you have to learn to do many things on your own,” says Repilado as he goes about reupholstering an ancient sofa on a hot, humid afternoon. Later in the week he and a friend will stanch a leak in the 20-foot-high ceilings and repair the wooden window shutters that have been lashed by tropical storms.

    Repilado became an innkeeper through luck, skillful bargaining and a Rolodex of foreign contacts. With aging parents and aunts to care for, he traded his own small apartment and theirs for the large duplex apartment, which had been occupied by a friend whose growing family required more than one residence. This is the usual horse-trading that goes on in Cuba, where there is no legal right to sell one’s dwelling and where there has been almost no urban residential construction for 50 years. Repilado’s relatives moved in with a bounty of heirlooms that later turned his B&B into a comfortable living museum of armoires and tables with matching carved wood chairs, European paintings and sepia photographs, porcelain statuettes and alabaster chandeliers.

    After his parents and aunts died, Repilado began to offer free lodging to foreign theater colleagues. When a 1985 government decree authorized a limited number of B&Bs in private homes, he opened his residence to paying guests recruited through the grapevine of his acquaintances abroad. Now there are 138 B&Bs — known as casas particulares — in Havana and more than 200 nationwide, according to the Casa Particular Association. But few have lasted as long as Repilado’s. In a country where hardly any innkeepers speak foreign languages, his serviceable English has allowed him to expand his guest list to Canadian, British and even U.S. travelers.

    Only a robust occupancy rate enables Repilado to survive the onerous taxes and fees that scuttle dozens of casas particulares every year. Like other guesthouse keepers, he hopes the government’s reforms will include lower fees and taxes. “But until now we have heard nothing,” he says. He must pay the government about $300 a month in guesthouse fees regardless of how many clients arrive. And taxes rise steeply depending on his occupancy rate. Other casas particulares are known to underreport income or secretly rent unauthorized rooms. “But I’m not going to do anything that is against the law — it’s just not worth it,” says Repilado.

    Determination and serendipity in the face of a hostile state bureaucracy have also been keys to success for restaurateur Omar González Rodríguez. Lean, angular and white-haired, the 64-year-old González bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Gregory Peck in the lead role of Old Gringo, which is why he named his Havana restaurant after the 1989 film based on the Carlos Fuentes novel. “We met when Mr. Peck came to Cuba for a film festival, and he did say we looked like each other, except he was a head taller,” recalls González.

    González opened Gringo Viejo 15 years ago in a basement in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, right after a 1995 decree allowing entrepreneurs to go into the restaurant business. These private restaurants, known as paladares (from the Spanish word for “palate”), were permitted only 12 seats each and had to be located in the owner’s home and staffed only with family members. They were prohibited from serving lobster and beef, which were available only in state restaurants catering to foreigners. Taxes were steep and have continued upward, ensuring that the government takes well over half of reported profits. Little wonder that after reaching a peak of more than 200 paladares a decade ago, the number has dropped to fewer than 100 today.

    González has made the most of his cramped, windowless dining space. The room is unexpectedly splendid, lined with photographs of prominent diners and a poster of Peck in Old Gringo. There are exposed racks of imported wines against the walls. A flat-panel television above the bar plays a video of Aretha Franklin belting out “Respect.” The menu offers dozens of main courses, mostly pork and chicken dishes. All the clients are foreigners, including a Chinese family, an Italian couple and two German friends. At the equivalent of $15 to $30 a meal, Gringo Viejo is far beyond the reach of ordinary Cubans.

    González was a graphic designer by training and made a living by producing handmade sandals and wallets as well as metal sculptures, one of which hangs in his paladar. The dining area used to be his workshop, in the basement of his home. “At night friends would come by because they knew there was always a bottle of rum,” says González.

    When the decree permitting private restaurants was announced, González opened his paladar with encouragement from his friends. He hired his son as bartender, his daughter as chief waitress and other relatives as cooks and assistant servers. González himself enrolled in cooking and wine-tasting classes. His idea was to infuse traditional Cuban dishes with European and Asian ingredients. Today one of Gringo Viejo’s most popular entrées is a typically Cuban pork cutlet topped with fried quail eggs and a soy-based sauce, with flash-fried bok choy and bean sprouts on the side. “I’m always experimenting with recipes, and then I turn them over to the cooks,” says González.

    A government decree issued in October allows paladares to expand to 20 seats, hire employees who aren’t related to the owner and, finally, serve lobster and beef. But the measures don’t evoke much enthusiasm among private sector advocates. “They are just enough to survive,” says Baruch College’s Henken. “Obviously, the government doesn’t want paladares to become full-scale restaurants and compete against the state.”

    Becoming too well known and successful can incite a government backlash. Only last year the authorities shut down one of the top paladares, El Hurón Azul, because the owner had purchased forbidden luxury imports, including a refrigerator and a stove. González is savvy enough to navigate these political shoals. But he does complain that it is hard to compete with government-owned restaurants that have no capacity restrictions and lower costs.

    He is optimistic, however, that the government will expand its tepid reforms. “Joblessness will push the growth of paladares,” he predicts. His son, the bartender, is already planning to start his own tapas bar. For now, González would be content if he was permitted to expand his paladar to the cramped terrace, located between the street and the basement entrance, to accommodate a barbecue grill and a smoking area. “After a meal, people should be allowed to enjoy a good Cuban cigar,” he says.

    From: Institutional Investor

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  • Monday, December 20, 2010

    Panic, anger as Cuba plans to lay off 1 of every 10 workers

    Cuba’s draconian plan to lay off 10 percent of its workforce is running into a slew of problems — not the least of which are the growing fights over who will wind up on the street.

    Cuban and foreign economists say it’s too much, too fast.

    Radical leftists are branding Raúl Castro as a capitalist exploiter of workers and – in an odd alignment with Cuban dissidents – are urging workers to fight the job cuts.

    One well-known historian and Communist Party member has warned of social chaos, maybe even a mass exodus, and cautioned that the layoffs may be unconstitutional.

    Workers desperately trying to keep their jobs are accusing others of corruption. And some blacks and women are warning that those sectors may be hardest hit by the job cuts.

    Almost no one doubts the job cuts are necessary in a country where the government pays the salaries of 85 percent of the workers – many of them in little more than make-work jobs. Castro has admitted the state payrolls are padded with more than one million surplus workers.

    In his most significant reforms since he succeeded brother Fidel in 2008, Castro is laying off 500,000 workers by April and is expected to cut another 500,000 to 800,000 in three years.

    He’s also cutting back other public spending and subsidies, and allowing an expansion of the private business sector in hopes that at least 250,000 of the newly laid off workers will be able to support themselves.

    Some Cubans say they are not overly concerned by the job cuts because Castro has promised that no worker “will be left unprotected.’’ The island will eventually muddle through the crisis, they say.

    Others say the country is awash in fear, especially among the bureaucrats, administrators, elderly, academics and recent university graduates seen as most likely to be left jobless.

    “The entire country is afraid. Fear of who’ll be out of work.

    Fear of how you’re going to buy food or something for the kids,’’ said Evelina, a Havana mother of two teenagers. “That’s what people are talking about, every minute, in every place.’’

    But the problems with the job cuts extend far beyond the fear. Dissident Havana economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said he does not doubt the layoffs are needed, but argued that Castro is doing it the wrong way.

    “He’s doing in a very abrupt, very brutal way, without first creating the proper conditions’’ by waiting until the private sector had begun expanding, Espinosa said by telephone from Havana.

    “They got it ‘bass-ackwards’. They are laying off first and hoping and praying that the small private sector is going to expand enough to absorb them,’’ said Archibald Ritter, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who specializes in the Cuban economy.

    Former Cuban Deputy Labor Minister Lázaro González Rodríguez wrote in a recent Internet column that while the job cuts are needed, ‘‘what I can’t agree with are the methods, ways and time frame.’’

    The organization of labor at most state agencies and enterprises have not been studied for years, González argued, so the decisions on how many employees will be laid off at each workplace “are not the result of a technical study.”


    Article 45 of the Cuban constitution also says that a job “in socialist society is a right, a duty and an honor,’’ he added. A group of Afro-Cubans, the Cofradía de la Negritud, in a Sept. 22 declaration urged blacks who believe they are to be dismissed for racial reasons to “not accept this passively and be ready to defend their labor rights.’’

    Cuban women also have warned against discriminating against them in the layoffs, with one writer noting that women hold 80 percent of the administrative jobs – a sector singled out for deep cutbacks.

    And a group of dissident lawyers, the Corriente Agramontista, issued a set of guidelines this month explaining the rights of workers to appeal their layoffs and if denied, challenge them in court.

    Even the leftist International League of Workers, active mostly in Latin America, blasted the layoffs as “a classic capitalist plan’’ and added: “The true defense of socialism in Cuba today means supporting the workers against this plan and ...demanding the right to strike.’’

    Castro has promised that the process of selecting those who will keep their jobs will be done not on the basis of seniority but “with strict observance of the principle of suitability.’’

    But his government has taken a somewhat hands-off approach to the process, apparently to distance itself from some of the pain of the cutbacks.

    The layoffs were first announced by the communist-run Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), the island’s lone labor union. And the initial recommendations on who goes are made in each workplace by a Committee of Experts made up of one administrator, one CTC official and either three or five workers chosen by fellow employees.

    Final decisions are made by higher-level supervisors. The government has not revealed how many workers have been laid off so far, though the cutbacks were to have started Oct. 4.

    But the committees already have sparked intense tensions, especially in government agencies and enterprises with access to goods that can be filched and sold on the black market.

    Miriam Celaya, a Havana woman who writes the blog Sin Evasion (Without Evasion), reported on Oct. 23 on a friend who works for a food-related state enterprise in Havana and now sits on its Committee of Experts.


    Workers at the enterprise used to happily kick back their meager salaries to supervisors in exchange for the chance to earn much more by stealing supplies and cheating customers, Celaya wrote, comparing the arrangement to a “Sicilian mafia.’’

    The scheme is not uncommon in tourist restaurants, where administrators claim that the state keeps all the profits so they need the workers’ salaries to maintain and upgrade the facilities, two Havana residents said.

    But now her friend “must decide, along with the other commissioners, which ones of these thieving associates [who, along with her, and just like her, cheat customers and bribe the bosses] ... remain as part of the gang’’ Celaya wrote.

    In another post, Celaya reported “pitched battles’’ between workers as the commissions consider who should keep their jobs.

    “These days anyone can be another’s executioner,’’ she added. “Why are they going to fire me and not that woman, who is corrupt ... And why me and not that guy, who’s always late? ...

    And of course they don’t fire that woman because she’s having an affair with the boss.’’

    Independent journalist Adolfo Pablo Borrazá wrote that at the Book Institute in Havana employees are denouncing co-workers “just to keep their jobs.’’ He added, “Even if it’s a good worker, it would be enough for someone to denounce a criticism of the government.’’

    Mutual accusations of corruption during committee sessions at a Havana hotel and José Martí International Airport already have sparked inquiries by prosecutors, according to reports circulating in Havana. The planned layoffs also have sparked warnings of unrest, even among government supporters like Pedro Campos, a historian, Communist Party member and former diplomat.

    “This could lead to unnecessary chaos, a social collapse, a massive and uncontrollable exodus,’’ declared a column signed by Campos “and other companeros’’ and published Sept. 27 on the Internet.

    But Cubans are more likely to accept the layoffs without complaints, wrote Havana blogger Elha Kovacs on her Internet page, Arma de Tinta – Ink Weapon. “In the long run people will use their personal resources and strategies for survival – and continue thinking about anything except changing the circumstances and conditions at the root of the dramatic scenario,’’ Kovacs added.

    Espinosa Chepe said the Castro government may even decide to lay off less than the targeted 500,000, or extend the March 31 deadline, once it realizes the magnitude of the problems ahead.

    “I have my doubts that this will go ahead as planned because there are no – none at all – conditions for it to succeed,’’ he said.

    By Juan O. Tamayo
    From: McClatchy

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  • Saturday, December 18, 2010

    US allies accused of kowtowing to Cuba

    Australia, Canada and several European countries have stopped pressing Cuba over human rights in the hope of winning commercial favours from Havana, according to confidential US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

    The Western governments continued to pay lip service to concerns about political prisoners and censorship, but in reality were appeasing the island's communist rulers, said Jonathan Farrar, the US head of mission.

    The diplomat made scathing remarks about his colleagues shunning democracy activists, ''kowtowing'' to the Castro regime and joining what he scornfully termed the ''best friends forever'' camp.

    ''The Cuban government has been able to stonewall its independent civil society from foreign visitors who have, for the large part, been all too ready to give in to Cuban bullying and give up on these encounters,'' Mr Farrar said.

    He named and shamed the countries Washington considers offenders in its battle, started half a century ago by President John F. Kennedy, to keep an international squeeze on the island.

    ''The Australian foreign minister, Switzerland's human rights special envoy and the Canadian cabinet level minister of the Americas not only failed to meet with non-government Cubans, they didn't even bother to publicly call for more freedoms after visiting Cuba in November,'' Mr Farrar wrote.

    Farrar said those foreign delegations that shunned civil society activists and avoided mention of political prisoners reaped few dividends. ''For the most part the rewards for acquiescing to GOC (Government of Cuba) demands are risible: pomp-full dinners and meetings and, for the most pliant, a photo op with one of the Castro brothers. In terms of substance or economic benefits they fare little better than those who stand up to the GOC.''

    The criticized governments are likely to reject the memo as an example of sour grapes from a country that has seen its Caribbean foe embraced by Africa, Latin America, Asia and increasingly the West. Even Washington's allies consider its embargo a cold war anachronism. ''Demented,'' as one European ambassador put it.

    Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd met with his Cuban counterpart during a visit to the UN General Assembly in New York in September. Last November, former foreign minister Stephen Smith made a two-day visit to Havana, during which he met Cuba's vice-president Jose Machado to discuss developing scientific, cultural and business projects, according to local media.

    Australia has consistently voted against the US trade embargo against Cuba in the UN General Assembly since 1993.

    A spokeswoman from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that Australia had raised human rights issues with Cuban interlocutors both bilaterally and in multilateral forums. The spokeswoman confirmed former Foreign Affairs minister Stephen Smith discussed human rights, among other issues, during the visit to Australia in June this year by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

    A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said: ''The government does not comment on the content and veracity of leaked US cables.''

    A government source said trade and commercial interests in Cuba are minimal on a global scale.

    Meanwhile, another diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks reveals that Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, siphoned as much as $9 billion out of his impoverished country, and that much of it may be stashed in London banks. The allegation emerged during conversations between US officials and the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court.


    From: Port Lincoln Times

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  • Friday, December 17, 2010

    Quo Vadis Fidel? Where are you going?

    The enormously talented and courageous woman, Yoani Sanchez, summarized the meaning of the forthcoming April 2011 Conference Guidelines for the Communist Party’s Sixth Congress in her biting blog called Generation Y. On November 9th, 2010, she wrote “not a single line refers to the expansion of civil rights, including the restrictions suffered by Cubans in entering and leaving our own country. Nor is there a word about freedom of association or expression, without which the authorities will continue to behave more like factory foremen than as the representatives of their people.”

    However, other than castigating the “bloodsucking character” of the thirty some odd pages of text containing economic proposals, “more appropriate for the Ministry of Finance than for the compass of a political party,” she treads lightly on the bureaucratic contradictions that drive the Cuban Communist Party at this critical point in time. The emotional turmoil of present day Cuba she gives voice to as a “detective of the unexpressed.” She rarely is excelled by anyone in an overseas context. However the political economy of the moment remains fair game for foreign policy analysis.

    Other than those who remain dedicated to the cause of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, I suspect that most serious analysts would correctly claim that the forthcoming assembly can only seek to preserve and protect the Communist party apparatus. To expect it to declare itself out of business and defunct is too much to imagine from a single party that monopolizes every organ of public opinion and political mobilization. But this very domination of politics is a source of deep weakness; it demonstrates the absence of legitimacy in the Castro brothers’ regime. It may rotate leadership elites, but it can not change the course of totalitarianism.

    In a system of dynastic communism, practiced to a fine art in North Korea, but mocked everywhere else, its impact beyond the 800,000 members of the Communist Party ranges from negligible to indifferent. The decision of the Communist Party to reform the economic system from within is faced with a cul-de-sac from which it cannot readily extricate itself. Reduced to a political faction of less than ten percent (closer to seven percent) of the population, and faced with a variety of cultural distancing from the regime-ranging from rebellious youth to religious revivalism as a mobilizing device-the system at the level of ideological superstructure is a ghost of what it was in earlier periods of Cuban communist history.

    Turning toward the political economic base, the system seems even more vulnerable than in the past. The natural history which transpired in 2010 augurs poorly for a party conference scheduled for late spring 2011. Even the supposition that the actors in this drama will remain the same is dubious. Leaders in their eighties cannot presume immortality.

    1. First, there is the strange September 8, 2010 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the National Correspondent for The Atlantic in which Fidel Castro admits plainly that “The Cuban [Communist] model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” Castro’s post-interview shifts and qualifications hardly constituted damage control.

    2. The government apparatus of Raul Castro declares a reduction in the size of the central bureaucracy by at least 500,000 to 700,000 individuals. The size of the public sector was thus reduced from 85 percent to somewhere between 75-70 percent.

    3. The problem is that there is no private sector available to absorb such a huge exodus from government employment. Not only is this population redundant within the bureaucracy, it has little tooling or educational retraining in the largely pyrrhic private sector.

    4. Often overlooked is that the culture of communism strongly discourages business skills and private sector initiatives. Those who engaged in such practices in earlier decades were rapidly forced to surrender its activities; or failing that, pay exorbitant taxes for the privilege of embracing the private sector as small time entrepreneurs.

    5. The swollen public sector exiles thus must turn to the black market or gray market in order to survive. Already rife with a myriad of widely reported illegal activities in the black market, from stealing of any moveable parts, to services rendered “off the books” in repairs and services, the situation is grim.

    6. The currency situation created by the new edicts will do little to strengthen the value of Cuban currency, certainly neither abroad and probably not within Cuba itself. What it is likely to accomplish is the further flight from the Peso Cubano (moneda nacional) into convertible currencies such as North American dollars and European euros.

    7. The trade unions mandated by the government now stand exposed as the ideological voice of the Communist Party and its edicts, or must face the prospect of opposition to the regime itself. This is a situation strangely parallel to Poland during the founding of Solidarity in the Gdansk shipyards in September 1980 where Lech Walesa and others formed a broad anti-Soviet social movement ranging from people associated with the Catholic Church to members of the anti-regime Left.

    The larger, external macroeconomic factors for Cuba offer little comfort-dependency on Venezuela or at least on Hugo Chavez parading about as the savior of the island for providing petroleum products at reduced rates and bartering professional personnel in exchange for such assistance. This offers little succor to either the Party or its leadership. The declining markets for sugar and tobacco produced as a result of stiff competition from other nations and regions also have become part of the permanent Cuban landscape. The island is unable to compete, and even less able to revitalize established industries much less institutionalize new technologies that have become routine even in less democratic parts of the world. The pressures from the embargo by the United States (which are real, despite Fidel’s repeated past blaring that they counted for little) do weigh heavily on the regime. Add to this Russia’s loss of support on a variety of finished products, the Castro brothers are faced with impossible choices. Not even Chinese good will can bail out the system.

    The Castro entourage would be wise to retool the getaway airplane used by Fulgencio Batista, and try for January 1, 2011 as a fine one-way departure date. And so might this prove to be the peaceful end of the Communist regime in Cuba: not in a thundering manifesto of historical absolution, but as a quiet departure of a frenetic politburo that should have taken place years ago. The Cuban people will have to figure out who to punish and how to move beyond more than a half century of authoritarian rule. They will also need to examine options and alternatives before them in the torturous road of re-entry into hemispheric civilities and global economics. But this upcoming event — Proyeto de Lineamientos de la Política Económico y Social — far from alleviating the situation will only exacerbate matters. It will focus attention on systemic failures, and add substance to Fidel’s off-handed remarks in the Atlantic interview. In this way, Fidel may yet prove a prophet of doom, rather than a harbinger of the future.

    By Irving Louis Horowitz

    From: Eurasia Review

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  • Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Cuban dissident grounded for EU 'free thought' prize ceremony

    Bust of Andrei Sakharov, Washington DC
    The Cuban authorities have confirmed that Guillermo Fariñas, who was awarded the EU's 'free thought' prize in October, would not be allowed to leave the country to receive the award in person at a ceremony in the European Parliament tomorrow afternoon. 

    Cuban dissident Fariñas was unveiled as the winner of the European Parliament's 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the EU assembly's president, Jerzy Buzek, on 21 October.

    "Regrettably, Mr. Fariñas is experiencing problems leaving the country, even though I made a personal appeal in a letter to the president of Cuba, Mr. Raul Castro. If Guillermo Fariñas were to leave in the next few hours, he could still be here in time to receive his prize," said Buzek yesterday evening.

    But those hopes were dashed later that night after the Cuban authorities refused to grant Fariñas permission to leave the island, meaning that the accolade will instead by awarded to an empty chair.

    Back in October, Buzek was optimistic that the Cuban dissident would be allowed to make the trip. "I hope to hand over the award to him in person, here in Strasbourg, in December, which would be a tremendous moment for the European Parliament and for all Cuban prisoners of conscience," he said then.

    Possible impact on EU-Cuba relations

    It remains unclear whether the Castro regime's decision not to allow Fariñas will impact upon EU-Cuba relations. "We expect that Lady Ashton will take due note of these problems and that she will take this into account in future relations with Cuba," said President Buzek yesterday.

    He was echoed by French MEP Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), in urging Ashton to take into account Cuba's decision not to let him travel in any future evaluation of the EU's relations with the island.

    "The European Parliament and the EU should join forces with those who are fighting for freedom in Cuba rather than follow the script provided by the La Habana regime," Daul said.

    "The absence of Guillermo Fariñas from the ceremony of the 2010 Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought this Wednesday in Strasbourg means that nothing has changed in Cuba," added Daul, whose EPP group was instrumental in convincing the Parliament to award Fariñas the prize.

    In February Fariñas – a supporter of non-violent protest and vocal critic of the Castro regime – started his 23rd hunger strike, calling for the liberation of 26 political prisoners who were ill after many years in detention. He ended his 135-day fast on 8 July after the Catholic Church had intervened to secure the liberation of 52 political dissidents.

    Fariñas has spent over 11 years in prison over the course of his life and is the founder of the 'Cubanacan Press', an independent press agency which informed the world of the destiny of political prisoners in Cuba until the authorities shut it down.

    'Fundamental freedoms' denied

    "The fact that Guillermo Fariñas has not received the necessary permission to travel out of the island and come to Strasbourg to receive the award proves that the Castro brothers' dictatorship continues to deny fundamental freedoms," EPP chair Daul said yesterday.

    The Sakharov Prize, consisting of a certificate and a cheque for €50,000, will be awarded in absentia at a ceremony in Strasbourg at 1pm tomorrow afternoon. MEPs will symbolically leave empty the chair on which Fariñas was due to sit before delivering his acceptance speech.
    Guillermo Fariñas

    Tomorrow will not be the first time the prize has been awarded in absentia. In 2008, Chinese dissident Hu Jia was given the accolade but was unable to receive it as he was in jail in China. In his absence, his wife spoke to MEPs during their plenary session in Strasbourg via video link from Beijing, where she was being held under house arrest.


    "The combat of Guillermo Fariñas is and will be an example for all people who fight for freedoms and democracy and the fact that he will not be allowed to come to Strasbourg shows that the European Parliament made the right choice, as the Sakharov Prize has been created to honour exceptional people like Andrei Sakharov who have suffered in the fight against intolerance, fanaticism and dictatorship," said French MEP Joseph Daul, chair of the centre-right European People's Party, upon hearing the news.

    A group of EPP MEPs backing Fariñas' nomination said his "struggle has been, and still is, a shining example for all defenders of freedom and democracy," while Spanish EPP member José Ignacio Salafranca described Fariñas as "the epitome of someone defending peaceful resistance".

    Next Steps 

    15 Dec.: Guillermo Fariñas to be officially awarded Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg.

    From: EurActiv

    To read:

    Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov

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  • Monday, December 13, 2010

    Castro misreads WikiLeaks, Washington misreads Castro

    Courtesy: Alfredo Pong
    WikiLeaks poses an interesting dilemma for governments that share Julian Assange's hostility to Washington, but not his enthusiasm for information. Case in point: Havana. Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez offers a glimpse:
    "I remember the first mention of Julian Assange's site in our official media was accompanied by a certain complicity on the part of the article writers, a hint of laughter anticipating the damage that the publication of these classified documents could cause the U.S. Government. But when the name of Cuba began to appear along with reports about the interference of Venezuela and the testimonies of coercion against their own medical personnel, the enthusiasm of the newspaper Granma turned to annoyance and the initial applause gave way to silence. Not even the Maximum Leader referred to Wikileaks again."
    She's presumably referring to this cable from the Caracas embassy, which alleged that Cuban medical personnel were being forced against their will to work in Venezuela. Aside from old-school communist credibility, medical expertise is the main export Cuba has to offer Venezuela, which under Hugo Chávez has become an essential trading partner and oil supplier for Fidel and now Raúl Castro's government.

    Speaking of which, a February cable published Friday -- one of only a couple to emerge from the U.S. interests section in Havana, signed by Jonathan Farrar, the top official there -- offers a sweeping view of the crumbling Cuban economy: Chávez's support is the only thing keeping Cuba from falling back into the deprivations of the Special Period, Farrar reports, and the country is defaulting right and left on its trading partners. But the cable also suggests that American diplomats badly misread the seriousness of Raúl Castro's economic reform agenda:
    "Despite how badly Cuba needs them, significant economic reforms are unlikely in 2010, especially with the continued delay of a policy-revising Communist Party Congress... . The [government of Cuba]'s direction and leadership remains muddled and unclear, in great measure because its leaders are paralyzed by fear that reforms will loosen the tight grip on power that they have held for over 50 years. Faced with political uncertainty regarding future Cuban leadership and relations with the United States, the Cuban people are more likely to endure a slow erosion of state-subsidies than a much-needed radical restructuring."
    Less than a year later, a radical restructuring may in fact be on the way.

    Charles Homans


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  • Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Cuba: Life After The Castro Brothers

    The subject assigned to me, “Cuba: Life after the Castro Brothers”, poses quite a challenge. In the words of a renowned Danish physicist, “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” And I would add: more so in the case of Cuba, where even predicting the present is very difficult.

    After all, who would have foreseen the “resurrection” of the Narcissist-Leninist Fidel Castro, who was near death not too long ago and has now resumed the role of Maximum Pontificator?

    Before venturing into Cuba’s cloudy future, let me share with you a few key facts to provide some perspective. Cuba is facing today the worst economic and financial crisis since the end of Soviet life support in the early 90s. Agriculture is in such dire straits that Cuba has to import 80% of the food it consumes, including sugar.

    To secure subsidized oil and generate hard currency, the cash-strapped Castro regime has contracted out to Venezuela and other countries more than a third of its licensed doctors and teachers, along with hundreds of Communist experts in espionage and repression. Last year, the regime, bordering on insolvency, froze bank deposits of foreign investors in Cuba and deferred payment of a large number of overdue accounts.

    To pare costs, the Raul Castro regime slashed imports, rationed electricity, and started to phase out workplace lunches as well as the subsidized food basket (ration card). Recently, it announced the layoff of 500, 000 government employees out of a total of 1,000,000 unproductive state jobs, or 20% of the workforce, which will be cut over 2 to 3 years.

    To revamp agriculture, the regime distributed fallow lands to some 100,000 small farmers, but only on lease, without providing fertilizers, tools and bank credits. One year later, two thirds of the distributed lands remain unproductive.

    The regime is now stepping up the granting of licenses to individuals and hired staff to render a variety of services on their own, ranging from quasi restaurants at home, with a cap of 20 chairs, to barber shops to artisan work in small ateliers. Many of these activities have been going on in the black market for some time. The government now expects them to come out in the open. But to avoid what it calls “concentration of wealth”, the mini businesses will be saddled with four different taxes, including an income tax as high as 50% if the income exceeds $2000 a year.

    The proclaimed objective of Raul Castro’s reforms is not to scrap or transform the failed Communist system, but to make it more efficient. Although some believe that Cuba is approaching a China-type opening, the fact is that the bulk of the economy remains under the control of mega State enterprises led by loyal army officers. To quash growing discontent, Raul has intensified repression and exiled most of the prisoners of conscience who were recently released.

    The reforms under way signal the beginning of the end of State paternalism in Cuba; the unraveling of the unaffordable government support system that meagerly supplements the average salary of $20 a month. But what is being offered as a solution is nothing more than stopgap measures that do not significantly deregulate the centralized economy, unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the Cuban people, and cure the dire crisis.

    The bankrupt regime may hang on for some time, particularly if it’s bailed out with U.S. tourist dollars and financing. But it will not survive the Castro brothers. The totalitarian grip will eventually splinter and slacken, the fear will wane, and all those yearning for freedom, including the marginalized reformists within the government and the army, will emerge, weigh in and prevail.

    Liberation could and should, in my view, be hastened by providing support to the dissident movement, as the U.S. did with Solidarity in Poland, and applying U.S. technology to penetrate Castro’s censorship firewall and overcome the jamming of Radio and TV Marti.

    When Cuba truly opens up, I foresee a phased, negotiated transition, culminating in a government of national unity that will install the rule of law, restore individual rights, and pave the way for multi-party elections. The process is bound to be bumpy and messy, but Cubans on the island can draw on the do’s and don’ts of the post-Communist transitions in Eastern Europe and the post-Franco transition in Spain.

    Cuban-Americans, with their business experience, contacts and resources, can be very helpful, if they return to the island with a forward-looking mentality—not with the greed of recovering, but with the zeal of rebuilding.

    Cuba will definitely resurge post Castro brothers, but it will take some time for the wounds to heal and for the country to settle down. Recovery will require revitalizing the Cuban heritage, dismantling the stifling regulatory system, and renegotiating the country’s huge external debt ($30 billion to the Paris Club of creditors– the largest on a per cap basis).

    It will also call for the reconstruction of the island’s dilapidated infrastructure, the shoring up of its social services, and the creation of a business-friendly environment that will attract responsible foreign investors willing to partner with Cuban entrepreneurs.

    Investment opportunities will then abound in such areas as tourism, agro-processing, minerals and oil, biotechnology, assembly or maquila, banking, and IT outsourcing.

    By Nestor T. Carbonell

    From: The Americano

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  • Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    "Totally unprecedented" unrest in Cuba

    Hundreds of students protesting outside the movie theater "Camilo Cienfuegos" in Santa Clara.
    Strikes and student protests have broken out in Cuba in what one exiled democracy advocate calls a “totally unprecedented” spate of unrest.

    The regime faces the prospect of further discontent in the run-up to April’s Communist Party congress, the first since 1997, as the authorities need to reform a stagnant economy and bloated public sector without undermining the austere security that underpins the ruling party’s base of support.

    The streets of the eastern city of Bayamo have been blocked for two days by horse-drawn carriage drivers protesting against tax increases. Hundreds of students in Santa Clara reacted violently when the communist authorities broadcast a documentary instead of the Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer game they had paid to see.

    The unrest is “totally unprecedented,” says Orlando Gutierrez, national secretary of the Directorio Democratico Cubano, who notes that while the strikers and students’ actions were provoked by specific grievances, they soon became politicized.

    The students initially protested over the switch in program, but “by the end they were calling for the downfall of Castro and the end of the regime,” he said, and some of the strikers in Bayamo have reportedly claimed to be inspired by Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prominent dissident who died following a hunger strike earlier this year.

    Bayamo is politically symbolic as the city in which Cuba’s wars of independence started in 1868.

    The current ferment began on 30th November 3o, says Gutierrez, when the National Civic Resistance Front, led by Jorge Luis Garcia Pérezaka “Antúnez” (left) organized a banging of pots and pans to mark the anniversary of the abortive 1956 uprising against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship. The protest reportedly spread across the island to six main cities.

    The unrest “could become a critical threat to the Raúl Castro regime, which fears spontaneous protest far more than organized activism,” The Miami Herald notes. “While few Cubans are interested in politics, issues over transportation and food could serve as a lightning rod for a fed-up populace eager for change.”

    Bayamo is politically symbolic as the city in which Cuba’s wars of independence started in 1868. Some strikers have reportedly claimed to be inspired by Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prominent dissident who died following a hunger strike earlier this year.
    The communist regime recently announced a range of modest economic reforms, allowing Cuban citizens to start small businesses in certain professions, while also dismissing 500,000 state employees.

    The authorities appear to have concerned at the prospect of political unrest arising from the system’s inability to deliver either the economic growth associated with market-based reform or maintain the traditional security of state-subsided employment.

    The future of the nation is at stake,” said an editorial in Granma, the official news daily.

    Fidel Castro himself recently conceded that “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

    Revolutionary movements often start when citizens suddenly feel orphaned by a paternalistic government, sociologist Bronislaw Misztal tells The Miami Herald.

    “If it reaches a critical mass, then it may be a process that’s very difficult for the authorities to stop,” he says. “The question is: What will make the Cubans tick? It may be something that surprises us, and then it will be like fire in a bush.”

    Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez (aka “Antúnez”) was one of five Cuban dissidents honored by the National Endowment for Democracy., the Washington-based democracy assistance group. Addressing the meeting by phone from central Cuba, he accepted the NED’s 2009 Democracy Award as an indication of the “prestige and recognition which the political opposition has gained.”

    “As long as human rights are violated and as long as there are political prisoners in Cuba, there will continue to be resistance,” he said, until the island “returns to the fold of free nations.”

    From: Democracy Diggest

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  • Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Cuban dictatorship: Fidel Castro Is Not Augusto Pinochet

    Castro with Pinochet in Chile, 1971
    My essay "Fidel Castro is not Augusto Pinochet" is the traditional story of the Third World’s apathy towards the Cuban Dictatorship...For many reasons, I think that Castro is much worse dictator than Augusto Pinochet...

    Since 1960 Fidel and Raul Castro have send a sinister example to Third World nations. The number of countries which democratically governed and respect human rights is decreasing since 2004. Today there are many dictatorships: Thailand [2006], Venezuela, Zimbabwe…

    Miss Chile, Jenny Purtho Arap, was eliminated in the first round at the Miss Universe Pageant on July 26, 1982, in Lima, Peru’s capital city. Certainly, she, a girl with charming personality and beautiful eyes, was the big favorite by the international journalism. I think that Chile should have been crowned Miss Universe in my country. I believe that she was robbed of title for political reasons.

    One of the major problems which Chilean dictatorship had to face was the international boycott campaign. From 1973 to 1989 Chile suffered international sanctions. Different from Cuba, many countries did not have diplomatic relations with Augusto Ramon Pinochet Ugarte, who ruled from 1973 to 1990. Many Chileans did not get VISA, an example was Claudio Arrau, one of the best pianists in the history. The same history of Israel, Taiwan, Rhodesia (currently Zimbabwe) and South Africa (Apartheid).

    Ironically, The People’s Republic of China and Romania recognized the Chilean dictatorship. Under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung and Jiang Qing, First Lady of the Chinese Revolution, China and Chile had maintained good diplomatic relations. However, Pinochet Ugarte was harshly attacked by the USSR, Cuba, East Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Norway.

    In 1980 Ferdinand Marcos, dictator of Philippines, invited Augusto Pinochet to come to his country. On March, 1980, he left Santiago de Chile for Philippines and made transit stops in Fidji, an ex British colony, and Tahiti. When Augusto Pinochet arrived Suva, the capital city of Fiji, a small country in the South Pacific, some human rights activists were waiting for him. There were protests against Chilean dictator’s visit. His tour had already begun when the tour was cancelled abruptly at the last moment by the dictatorship Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

    1976: In the Davis Cup final match, the Chileans lost to Italy, but the team from Chile had a particularly difficult tournament. In Rome, a group of people blocked the entrance to stadium before the match between Chile and Italy, chanting: "Pinochet is a dictator"…"He is a genocide"…Pinochet is Hitler"…and "Pinochet is the worst dictator in the history". Certainly, Chile’s participation again became an issue.

    Many famous people went to Festival Internacional de la Canción Viña del Mar, but they were criticized by human rights activists and journalists. Camilo Sesto, Spanish singer, was called "Camilochet". In July 1978, the Mexican government objected to the presence of Miss Chile, Marianne Muller, in the Miss Universe Pageant beauty in Acapulco, Mexico. Another example: Jorge Luis Borges was considered one of the best writers in the 20th Century. He was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Borges was never awarded the Noble Prize by Swedish Academy. Why? In 1976 Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges visited Chile. Cuba would have wanted to have a writer like him…

    The Chilean dictator Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet never was accepted by the Latin America Community and Third World countries. Pinochet became notorious for human rights abuses and corruption. From 1973 to 1989, more than 3,000 Chileans were killed by Pinochet’s Secret Police Force. His autocratic and anti-communism style of rule earned him many enemies.

    In comparison to Augusto Pinochet and Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, whose father was a Spanish immigrant, is not famous like dictator… He is called "Third World spokesman" Why? Unfortunately people that don’t know Cuba very much think that Castro is a "good man". Honestly, he never has been compared to Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, former dictator of Haiti, and Charles Taylord. "The student always surpass the teacher" is my favorite slogan. In my opinion, I think that Castro´s Communist dictatorship is worse than the former Chilean. Dictatorship.

    Cuba is one of the few nations in the world in which a family controls the government. From 1960 to 2006 Fidel Castro was President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba…Currently, Raul Castro Ruz, Fidel’s brother, is the Head of State. They claim that Cuba has the most highest human development rate in the Third world and that Cubans live better in the Island than in South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India. During Cold War, Cuba received more money per capita than the Socialist Republic of Ethiopia, one of the most poorest nations on Earth.

    The country’s resources are used to build Olympic projects devised by dictator’s megalomania. Cuba has one of the most highest suicide rates in the world and the Island has the highest number of abortions in Latin America in relation to its population. Ironically, the standard of human development is going down. Ultimately the prostitution is increasing alarmingly in the Island. The dictatorship restricts such liberties as freedom speech and freedom of the press. Under the socialism, the government has imposed sharp restrictions on artists who criticize the dictatorial system. Reports Without Borders considers Cuba one of the "15 enemies of the Internet". More than 300 artists and writers have defected since 1960: Jose Manuel Carbonell (poet), Lydia Cabrera (writer), Ernesto Caparros (photographer), Ernesto Lecuona (pianist), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (writer), Enrique Labrador (writer), Jesus Diaz (film maker) Nestor Almendros (film maker) and Jorge Esquivel (dancer).

    Cuba’s dictatorship was one of the first states in the world that prohibited homosexuality. The general gays rights situation under Cuban Revolution was catastrophic during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.Many gays were jailed, tortured and exiled by Castro’s "Olympic Paradise"…Reynaldo Arenas, a gay writer, was imprisoned several times because of his longtime opposition to Cuban rule. After release, Arenas wrote his autobiography, with the title "Antes que anochezca" (Before night falls).

    The Cuban Secret Police is extensively used by Fidel and Raul Castro to suppress and disrupt pro-democratics movements. However, a number of protests against human rights violation are organized by Las Damas de Blanco. Las Damas de Blanco have been compared to Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Argentina), who fought against the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla.

    Unfortunately, some Third World democracies support the Cuban government for economical reasons. Cuba has sent more than 6,000 doctors, coaches, technicians and teachers around the world. Furthermore there are 15,000 foreign students in the Island.

    I would like to finish my essay "Fidel Castro is not Augusto Pinochet" with my favorite personal motto: "Only oppression should fear the full exercise of freedom" by Jose Marti.

    By Alejandro Guevara Onofre

    Alzota, Julio. "Hoy en el Perú surgirá la más bella del Universo", La Prensa, Lima, 26 de julio 1982.
    -Bonilla, Juan José-Payan, Miguel-López, José-Villalba, Susana. Diccionario Mundial de Actores, Ediciones JC, Madrid, 1998
    -Caputo, Robert. "Ethiopia Revolution in Ancient Empire"; National Geographic, Washington DC, may 1983
    -Diccionario de Literatura Cubana (tomos I y II), Editorial Letras Cubanas, La Habana, 1980
    -Diccionario Sopena de Literatura de Literatura (tomo I), Editorial Ramón Sopena, Barcelona, 1991
    -Documental: El Caso Pinochet /Chile/ 2001
    -Encyclopaedia Británica Book of The Year 1977, 1981, 1984, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago
    -Freedom in the World. The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties 1992-93, Freedom House, 1993
    -Gasparini, Juan. Mujeres de Dictadores, Ediciones Península, Barcelona, 2002
    -Grondona, Mariano. "La otra Cuba", Visión, Miami, diciembre de 1993
    -Guevara Onofre, Alejandro. "Crisis de Supervivencia en Cuba", Diario El Peruano, Lima, 25 de agosto de 1992
    -Guía del Mundo 1993-94, Instituto del Tercer Mundo, Montevideo, 1992
    -Guzmán, Patricio. Documental: La Batalla de Chile (II)/Chile/ 1977
    -Huntington, Samuel. The Third Wave. Democratization in the Latre Twentieth Century, University Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1991
    -Informatodo 1970, Editorial Reader´s Digest, México, 1969
    -Informe sobre Desarrollo Humano 1991-2006, PNUD, New York
    -Jorge, Antonio. The Cuban Economy: Dependency and Development, University of Miami, Miami, 1989
    -Lande, Carl. "The Return of People Power in The Philippines", Journal of Democracy, Washington DC, January 2001
    -Miller, Nicola. Soviet Relations with Latin America 1959-1987, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989
    -Roca, Ana. "Charlemos con Reinaldo Arenas: un escritor en el exilio", Americas, Washington DC, septiembre de 1981
    -Roca, Sergio. Socialist Cuba: Past Interpretations and Future Challenges, Westview Press, London
    -Rodriguez Elizondo, José. Crisis y Renovación de las Izquierdas, Editorial Andres Bello, Santiago, 1995
    -Suchlicke, Jaime. The Cuban Military under Castro, University of Miami, Miami, 1989
    -Taufic, Camilo. Chile en la Hoguera, Ediciones Corregidor, Buenos Aires, 1974
    -The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1975-2006, The World Almanac Books, New York, New Jersey
    -Vargas Llosa, Mario. "El Lenguaje de la Pasión", Peisa, Lima, 2000
    -Zandrox. "Una de ellas puede ser Miss Universo", Extra, Lima, 26 de julio 1982 

    From: Buzzle

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  • Thursday, December 2, 2010

    A year later, American consultant languishes in Cuban jail

    Alan Gross
    MIAMI -- Alan Gross has dropped 90 pounds from his 250-pound frame, is losing feeling in his right foot and spent most of his summer watching Cuban baseball on TV.

    The American arrested a year ago for illegally bringing Internet to Jewish groups in Cuba kills time with musical jam sessions with his jailers and by mapping out an economic recovery plan for the country that has held him without charges.

    Gross, 61, is an economic consultant and figures Cuba could use his help.

    "He really means it - he would like to work on that," Gross' wife Judy told The Miami Herald. "I would describe him as an idealist, someone who has worked with kids, adolescents and the disadvantaged in developing countries and has never lost his excitement for that."

    Judy Gross has other plans for her husband of four decades - like getting him home. Her husband's detention and the loss of 70 percent of her household income forced the psychotherapist to sell her home of 22 years. She now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., where she spends her evenings writing letters to the likes of Cuban leader Raul Castro and worrying about her 26-year-old daughter, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

    Despite the public appeals for his freedom and letters to Castro - Gross and his mother wrote him, too - Friday will mark exactly a year since the world-traveling development worker found himself trapped in a diplomatic conflict between two nations.

    The Cuban government recently rejected the Gross family's plea for a humanitarian release, and insisted that the case is moving forward like any other.

    "It remains in the same situation. It still hasn't concluded. It's still being worked and when it finishes, the answer will be given," Maj. Gen. Dario Delgado Cura said at a news conference in Cuba. "This adheres to Cuban law. There's no problem. Everything moves ahead as was foreseen.

    "It's a normal case."

    Some have suggested that the Cuban government is holding out to pressure the United States to release five intelligence agents jailed in federal prison, a swap Judy Gross considers "apples and oranges."

    "They were arrested and convicted for spying," she said. "Alan is a hostage."

    Gross has emerged as a pawn between two nations that severed diplomatic ties decades ago. His arrest appears to have stalled any momentum that may have existed for Havana and Washington to begin building bridges. Experts say Gross now serves as a symbol of both a nation that lacks the rule of law, and another's misguided efforts at promoting democracy.

    Gross was arrested Dec. 3 at his Havana hotel on the tail end of a weeklong trip. A consultant, he had been hired by Bethesda-based Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) to help bring the Internet to Jewish organizations. But Gross' five trips to Cuba were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development's Cuba program, whose mission is to help foster democracy on an island ruled by the same pair of communist brothers since 1959.

    Or as Cuba sees it: counter-revolutionary regime change.

    "I find it frustrating that Cuba has not charged Alan Gross but even more frustrating that the U.S. has not taken the steps which could have led to his release," said John McAuliff, who runs a foundation that helped normalize relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. "The fundamental problem is mutual respect and sovereignty."

    McAuliff is also an anti-embargo activist in New York who follows the case closely. "The U.S. politically and culturally presumes it has the right to intervene in other countries for their own good," he said, "and to support our values whenever we can get away with it."

    The Cuban government has accused Gross of smuggling illegal satellite equipment and being a spy. Whatever gear he was caught with - U.S. officials have said it was satellite gear - was cleared by Cuban customs.

    Gross was interrogated daily, sometimes twice, for the first six months of his detention, Judy Gross said.

    "He did nothing wrong," she said. "He is a great person who may have been a bit naive. He loves the Cuban people and does not want to hurt the Cuban people."

    Gross has been assigned a Cuban attorney in Havana who visits him weekly and brings him candy or cake. She said that while the U.S. State Department has been supportive, the White House has yet to reach out to her.

    The Cubans are trying to use Gross as a "pawn" in bilateral relations, said a U.S. official who discussed the case on the condition of anonymity, citing government policy.

    "We are not going to play that game."

    In September, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela met with Cuban officials during the opening of United Nations General Assembly to push for Gross' release, said Philip Crowley, State Department spokesman.

    "Unfortunately, that has not yet happened," Crowley told reporters, later adding that "we would hope that it would happen today, but that's up to the Cuban government."

    DAI officials declined to speak about Gross' arrest.
    "DAI is profoundly disappointed by Alan's continued detention," DAI's President and CEO James Boomgard said in a statement. "As the anniversary of his detention approaches, our thoughts are with Alan, his wife Judy, and their two daughters, and our hope is that this loving husband and father may be swiftly reunited with his family."

    Gross had worked in at least 50 different countries, largely in the Middle East and Africa, on projects such as working with Palestinian dairy farmers and West Bank cross-border issues. He began traveling for work 25 years ago and fell in love with the work, Judy Gross said.

    Gross was allowed to visit her husband for three days in July. She saw him at the military hospital where he is now being held.

    "I prepared myself for the worst, but I still wasn't prepared," she said. "He looked like a 70-year-old man all hunched over. He looked pale, his cheeks were sunken in; his posture was humped over. He was dragging one of his feet. That was pretty shocking."

    While he has generally been treated "fairly," Judy Gross said her husband developed a disk problem that is causing paralysis in one leg. He had ulcers, gout and lost 90 pounds. When he was held in a cell, he stayed in shape by walking around and around and around in circles.

    "His letters vary from sounding hopeless, anxious and depressed to very humorous," she said. "I'm not sure what changes his mood."

    He has nicknamed two of his guards "Cheech and Chong."

    In his last correspondence, he said he had just seen the moon for the second time in a year.

    "My plan is to see him again," Judy Gross said, "when I go there to bring him home."

    From:  Kentucky.com

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