Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cuba Aviation & Biotech Execs Off to Prison

At least ten executives in Cuba’s government controlled airline and pharmaceutical industries were sentenced to 3 to 13 prison terms for corruption, announced official sources on Friday.

The accused “received cash and other benefits to favor foreign companies in business transactions” with the Cuban firms they represented, found the court, which also ordered the confiscation of money and goods obtained by the executives in their criminal activity.

Among those punished was Jose Heriberto Prieto, the director of the cargo division of Cubana de Aviación who got 13 years. Jair Rodríguez Martin, former head of exports for the Herber Biotec S.A. Biotech and Pharmaceutical products was given 10 years.

Nonetheless, the deposed president of the Institute of Civil Aeronautics, General Rogelio Acevedo, was not mentioned in the case. He was also absent from sentencing of other officials under his command earlier this year.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro has repeatedly warned that corruption will not be tolerated under his government, struggling to kick-start the country’s depressed economy.

In a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers, Castro said: “Whoever commits a violation, whatever it is, will be brought to task, and to do so our courts, judges and prosecutors will begin to play a more decisive role.”

Cuban political analyst Esteban Morales told IPS that corruption represents an “extraordinary danger” to the country and that “its corrosive power” makes it a matter “of national security.”

By Circles Robinson

Source: Havana Time

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  • Friday, July 29, 2011

    Cuba: A Pretend Paradise

    Cuba has become Canada’s beloved vacation destination and unofficial 11th province.

    Nobody travels more to Cuba than Canadians — about 600,000 of us head there every year. With affordable non-stop flights and unbeatable all-inclusive packages, even middle-class families can afford to play in paradise.

    But beyond the shoreline, the oasis turns mirage.

    As we casually sip our mojitos and work on our tans, dissident journalists are silenced and jailed every day for speaking out against Castro’s island “utopia.”

    Popular Cuban author and blogger, Yoani Sanchez, is the most recent victim to endure Castro’s silent treatment.

    Her crime? Publishing a tell-all book that dispels the fantasy of Cuba as a model for socialized government. Her shipment of books from the publisher were seized by the government and never made it into the country.

    For her practice of free speech, she is also prohibited from leaving Cuba.

    Through telephone interviews and her blog site, Generation Y, she manages to find ways to loosen the invisible chains of communism that bind her.

    Others like Sanchez convicted of dissidence are sentenced anywhere from five to 25 years in prison — many of them locked up with violent criminals, subject to the worst possible treatment. All this is happening just miles from our sheltered sandy resorts.

    For the adventurous traveler who dares to enter into the “real Havana,” the charming portrait belies the truth, as no local will ever speak of the reality of their circumstances.

    Despite his failing health, Castro’s grip on public perception remains as powerful as ever.

    Jimmy Escobar is an author, frequent visitor to Cuba since the ’90s, and a major supporter of the Cuban people.

    “Loyalists to the government are planted within the tourism industry,” Escobar warned over the phone. “The regime would never allow any worker in contact with vacationing Canadians to speak ill of the government.”

    If we were to sanction every destination that violates basic human rights, we’d be left with few options. However, how is Canada — a country that considers itself a human rights leader on the world stage — able to reconcile propping up a government through tourism, which jails its non-violent critics?

    Sure we do a necessary dance with China, one of the greatest offenders of human rights, but the billions of dollars in trade is the easy justification.

    But how necessary are Varadero vacations?

    While thousands of Canadians save up their hard-earned paycheques to get into Cuba, thousands more Cubans risk their lives to flee on float vessels to freedom; many are turned away by U.S. officials in the Caribbean Sea, countless others drown.

    The irony that our beloved vacation spot is a hell they’re trying to escape is one that cannot be ignored.

    Previous talks of bringing Turks and Caicos into the Canadian fold as the 11th province sound inviting. But why not start a real revolution — and welcome in the warm island of Cuba?

    That way we wouldn’t have to continue to duck under our beach umbrellas at abuses we would never tolerate here at home — all because of the lure of some cheap sunshine and a good cigar.


    Source: Toronto Sun

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  • Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    Media Fails to Report on Castro Regime’s Brutal Oppression

    The media often ignores the Gulag Next Door.

    Last week, just outside Cuba’s holiest Catholic shrine, government thugs attacked in plain daylight a group of opposition women — beating them, stoning them and stripping them naked to the waist. The women, mostly black and middle-aged, suffered this public humiliation because they were trying to find a dignified way to bring attention to the plight of their husbands, who are in prison for freely speaking their minds.

    The archbishop of Santiago de Cuba has condemned the attack. You can find an eyewitness account in Spanish in the above video.

    It should make for poignant watching today, the anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution.
    Unfortunately, there’s nothing unusual in this grotesque attack on the Damas de Blanco (or Ladies in White, the harassed association of wives of political prisoners) on the street outside the shrine of Our Lady of La Caridad del Cobre. It’s routine for Cubans to be publicly degraded, brutalized and imprisoned when they dare speak their minds. Their daily existence has been one of fear and wretched suffering for 50 years now.

    Yet the chances are that you probably haven’t heard about this story. A quick Google search of the attacks on the Damas de Blanco turned up only about five hits, none from a major publication. Why?

    Not because it’s a dog-bites-man story (literally, in this case), as some journalists might have you believe. No, it’s simply because the media don’t report the daily attacks on the Cuban dissidents.

    All the major international news wires, and at least two TV networks, have bureaus in Cuba. But they’re either so afraid of being expelled, or have so bought into the regime’s propaganda, that all they report is how Raul Castro is bringing economic reforms to Cuba.

    So little is the story of Cuba’s oppression known outside that island prison that, were the constant repression reported occasionally, it might actually cause a stir.

    Clearly, Raul—Fidel’s brother, who was handed the day-to-day reins of the island when his elder brother fell ill a couple of years back—has no intention of doing anything that will threaten communism’s firm grip on Cuba. Otherwise, his goons would feel no need to terrorize and drag a bunch of older women naked through the streets.

    What this dearth of news on the Gulag Next Door has produced is a strange double standard, where similar repression in far-away Burma, Zimbabwe or Libya — also by leftist regimes — gets far better coverage. Such is the ignorance of events in Cuba that MSNBC host Chris Matthews two years ago asked this question in an interview:
    Congressman Burton, why do you think Cubans on the island still support the Castro brothers? What is it that allows that lock on those people to continue?”
    Well, Chris, here’s your answer to what happens to Cubans when they try to pick that lock. Leaving Cuba is illegal, so you either stay silent, brave shark-infested waters on inner tubes (it is illegal to own boats in Cuba, for reasons that should be apparent), or risk suffering the fate of the Damas de Blanco.

    by Mike Gonzalez

    Source: Heritage

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  • Monday, July 25, 2011

    The Cuban Way

    Part I: More Government, Less Food

    A Cuban beggar.

    When was the last time you wondered if you would be able to feed your family?

    Fortunately, for the majority of Americans, that thought never occurs, or is rarely a problem. If mom can’t cook the meal, there is always the local grocery store, fast food joint, or sit-down restaurant. Not so in Cuba.

    Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban blogger and author, has dedicated herself to shedding light on the day-to-day trials and tribulations in Cuba. Her newest book, Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today, lifts the veil on everyday life in Havana, painting a vivid picture of the hardships of life under the Castro regime.

    One of the biggest struggles in Cuba is the government-inflicted food shortage. According to Sanchez, Cubans have an obsession with food. Not like America—where people can eat three hamburgers in a sitting or an entire pizza in one meal. Nor does this obsession include fine wine and perfectly seared steak. Instead, it is merely the dire necessity to have something to eat.

    Sanchez says that a Cuban meal often consists of rice with a beef or chicken bouillon cube. One little cube, she reflects, “make[s] me believe that my rice contains a tasty rib or a piece of chicken.” This simple bouillon cube is almost a delicacy in a market where spices and meats frequently run out.

    Why the shortage in food? The Cuban government promises to take care of every social need—including food. From cradle to grave, the Cuban government rations out food to its people, allowing only miniscule portions per family. Sanchez noted, “[I]f the 66 million pounds of rice they distribute every month, through the ration, were available to the free market, prices in the latter would go down.” But the government monopoly leaves prices high and food out of reach of hungry Cubans.

    In fact, the government-issued wages rise in accordance with increases in food prices. Since both prices and wages are set by the State, an increase in wages is generally offset by an increase in food prices.

    The state micromanagement of the Cuban agricultural sector causes the island to import 80 percent of the food it rations. Government rationing has been in place since 1962, and, “Contrary to popular belief, the Cuban ration system does not provide Cubans with ‘free’ food…Rations are limited to a paltry amount of a meager number of pathetic food-stuffs.” This forces many Cubans to find roundabout ways to acquire food.

    Another fact of Cuban life under socialism: Everyone except the upper echelon of the government heads for the black market.

    Purchasing from the Cuban black market is not done out of a desire to buck the system, but out of pure necessity. Sanchez wrote, “I can’t live a day without the black market.” Since the government refuses to provide certain services, such as repairing a washing machine or fixing the oven or shower, Cubans are forced to use or become underground workers. Sanchez noted that obtaining products as basic as eggs, milk, or cooking oil require a visit to the black market.

    A popular joke says Cuban communism has solved all but three problems: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In reality, this is no joke. Life in Cuba is not easy, and it forces many to take extreme measures just to maintain their existence. But the Castro regime holds its citizens in the jaws of a dilemma where they “cannot both survive and comply with [Cuban] law, at the same time.”

    Want to see a government that promises to care for your every need? You don’t need to look farther than 90 miles south of the Florida Keys.

    Part II: Big Brother’s Repressive Hand

    Castro often uses thugs to repress the opposition.

    Big Brother of George Orwell’s 1984 still lives, and he’s right in our backyard. Yoani Sanchez has documented how Big Brother works through her depiction of the Cuban government in her new book Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today.

    Cuban repression often takes the form of a group of thugs rather than the organized police. It targets people who are outspoken and harbor anti-regime opinions. Even Sanchez and her friends were kidnapped and beaten because of their blogging and their opposition to the Castro regime.

    Sanchez wrote, “How can I describe the despotic faces of those who forced us into that car [or] their visible enjoyment as they beat us.” Bruised and in pain, Yoani and her companions emerged from the kidnapping with emotional and mental wounds. The message is clear: Against us you have no rights; our power is limitless.

    Beyond kidnappings, Cubans are frequently imprisoned without warrant:
    Over the years, hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been imprisoned in Cuba for the peaceful expression of their views.… Harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention and criminal prosecutions, all continue to be used to restrict the expression of views critical of the government.
    Government regulation of the Internet has severely limited Cubans’ ability to communicate with each other and the outside world. Twitter, Facebook, and even Sanchez’s blog, Generation Y, are blocked by Cuban authorities. Access is highly restricted as well. In Havana, many native Cubans must resort to dressing as tourists or speaking foreign languages just to get past the guards in Internet cafes.

    So what does Big Brother want? He wants a cadre of true believers who will run the party, the state, and the army as organs of repression. He wants worker bees who will labor for the glory of the hive. He wants other Cubans to remain apathetic and fatalistic.

    As Sanchez notes, “The person who complains or demands his rights is seen as ‘some kind of weirdo.’” Sanchez further observes a general malaise that can be seen through the Cuban choice of language. She says that phrases like “Don’t sweat it,” “You’ll give yourself a heart attack,” “Just ignore it,” and “That’s not going to accomplish anything” are sayings frequently heard in Cuban culture. Reflected in the language of many in Cuba is a worn-out spirit that has lost its will to fight for what truly matters: freedom.

    This the way the Castro brothers want it.

    By Olivia Snow

    Source: The Foundry

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  • Friday, July 22, 2011

    Venezuela: The Final Handover?

    The Cuban regime has access to the Venezuelans’ identity data. (Photo: Cubamatinal)

    It has been denounced time and again that the Hugo Chávez administration has been handing over strategic areas and areas of national security to the despotic Cuban regime.

    The Barrio Adentro Mission gave it the excuse to penetrate the country’s shanty districts with health workers, who have also been engaged in indoctrinating the population, the same as the contingent of Cuban sports “instructors” have been doing country.

    The interference of Cuban officials in any and all sensitive decision-making areas is common knowledge in military circles.

    It is a fact that the System of Registries and Public Notaries is under Cuban control: today, no one in Venezuela moves a paper relating to any property or personal data without Cuba knowing about it.

    There are even fears that the submarine communications cable between Cuba and Venezuela will violate the confidentiality of people’s telephonic and electronic communications even more than they are violated at present.

    Now, as though all that Cuban control were not sufficiently intolerable, Sunday’s El Nacional revealed just how far the handing over of Venezuelans’ identity data to the dictatorial State of Cuba has apparently gone.

    According to the report in El Nacional, the Cuban state-owned company Albet Ingeniería y Sistemas, the same company that was in charge of Venezuela’s electronic passports, “won” the contract for modernizing the National Identification system, which is worth an estimated $170 million.

    This contract has several aspects that need to be looked at carefully:

    1. The secrecy surrounding the contract: a country’s sovereignty depends to a large extent on its national identity system, which means that everything to do with handling that system should and must be absolutely transparent and be made public.

    2. The high cost: Albet Ingeniería y Sistemas subcontracted the multinational Gemalto, headquartered in Mexico. This will make the Venezuelan electronic identity cards one of the most expensive cards with biometric identification technology acquired by countries in Latin America.

    3. But the most serious aspect of all is that the national identity data of the Venezuelan population is being handed over to a foreign power. According to El Nacional, all the software and security guidelines of the identification system will be controlled by Cuba, who will keep “the originals of the source codes (the codes that describe the functioning of the software and allow changes to be made) of the developed computer applications for as long as the technical support period lasts.” To make matters worse, “the Venezuelan party may not have access to the source codes to make changes or adjustments to the developed computer applications for as long as the contract is in force or the technical support period lasts, except when the Cuban party expressly states its agreement to this action.”
    Now that Chávez is even governing from Cuba, what else is needed in order to finally hand over Venezuela to Castro?

    Source: Latin American HT

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  • Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Cuba: Defending “Las Damas”

    The Ladies in White on the sreets of Santiago de Cuba, last Sunday.
    Cuban bloggers continue to update their posts about the most recent attack on Las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White), in which members of the group were reportedly “attacked and brutally beaten…by agents of Castro State Security upon exiting a church sanctuary.”

    The Coalition of Cuban-American Women has issued a press release denouncing the attack, which even includes an audio clip [es] of one of the Ladies, Tania Montoya Vázquez, relating her experience. El Cafe Cubano has republished the Coalition's statement in a show of solidarity.

    Babalu comments on the “recording by opposition leader Tania Montoya Vazquez, who called in to Hablalo Sin Miedo while a violent attack against the Ladies in White was taking place yesterday”, saying:
    You can hear the desperation and fear in her voice. Even if you do not speak or understand Spanish, the tone of her voice and the screams in the background give a chilling account of the brutality of the Castro dictatorship.
    The incident has caused an outcry from other factions as well; see The International Federation of Liberal Youth's statement, here:
    Belkis Cantillo Ramirez was shot in the arm, while others were brutally beaten with batons, stones and other objects. In the midst of the violence, Tania Montoya and Rodaisa Corrioso were arrested by the authorities. Aside from these two brave women, thirteen members of this organization, including Belkis Cantillo Ramirez, are receiving medical care at a local hospital.
    The International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY) condemns these attacks in the strongest terms. Las Damas de Blanco is a strictly peaceful movement. To respond to such non-violent resistance with such brutal repression colours the Castro regime as tyrannical at best. If these attacks were not sanctioned by the authorities, then an investigation must be immediately initiated and given far-reaching jurisdiction.
    The statement goes on to demand that “Tania Montoya and Rodaisa Corrioso must be immediately and unconditionally released”, while Babalu writes another post with “more graphic details” (including photos), saying:
    A quick review this morning of the websites run by some prominent ‘Cuba Experts' finds no mention whatsoever of this brutal and violent attack on these defenseless yet courageous women. The narrative put forth by these ‘experts' mirrors the narrative put forth by the Castro regime…they are not about to shine the light of truth on the atrocities…
    Uncommon Sense also weighs in, making the point that:
    To its credit, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Santiago de Cuba confirmed the report, and denounced the attack.
    This has proven to be an interesting observation, considering Babalu's take on a USA Today editorial suggesting that:
    Post-Castro Cuba will need someone trusted by all segments of society to help shepherd this nation into a new era, without bloodshed or upheaval. Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, is that man. The son of a sugar mill worker, Ortega is uniquely equipped to fill any power vacuum.
    Babalu strongly disagrees:
    In a colossal display of sheer ignorance and contemptuous arrogance, Pinsky nominates for president one of the most corrupted and compromised individuals in Cuba today while ignoring venerable leaders such as Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who unlike Ortega, has not compromised his principles or allowed himself to be used as a political tool by the dictatorship.
    El Cafe Cubano supports this view, saying:
    This past Sunday in ‘Santiago de Cuba, a city in the Eastern province of Cuba, women pro democracy activists were savagely beaten and verbally attacked in the streets by Cuban State Security agents after they attended mass in the Basilica of El Cobre, a Catholic shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Charity, where they prayed for the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners and for the freedom of Cuba.'
    The Catholic Church silent and looking the other way…
    No doubt, the Cuban diaspora will continue to follow developments and provide cyber support for The Ladies in White.

    Written by Janine Mendes-Franco
    Source: Global Voices

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  • Monday, July 18, 2011

    Cell phones and the cost of living in Cuba

    Courtesy of Omar Santana.

    When I first came to Cuba in 1995, cell phone service was so scarce that, after a meeting in which an official had flashed a cell phone from the podium, I turned to Abel Prieto, then the president of the writer’s union, and asked if he had one too.

    “Oh, no,” he said, “I’m not high enough to be part of the celucracia.”

    The cellucracy!

    In later years, of course, Abel became the minister of culture and acquired a pocketful of cells, and I began to know people – rarely connected with government – who had one too. But the stories behind their cells were always complicated and strange.

    The reason was that Cuba did not allow its citizens to legally own cell phones until 2008. That’s right, 2008 – 45 years after its invention, Cubans finally got a chance to own a cell.

    Prior to that, to have a cell phone meant you were either very high in or very important to the government, or you had an European or Canadian connection – a foreigner willing to get a phone and cell service in her name and let you use it. It was an exclusive club, and pulling a cell out in public elicited envy, awe, and not a little bit of fear.

    After 2008, though, cell phones have become ubiquitous. The lowliest delivery boy has one attached to his belt. That is not, of course, in and of itself surprising. Like in so much of the Third World, cell service in Cuba doesn’t require the wait for a land line, which can be months or even years. If you have the right kind of apparatus, you can sign up for service on the same day.

    But what is curious is the chasm between the cost of cellular service and the official Cuban monthly salary.

    You see, after you pay the $30 CUCs – Cuba’s convertible peso, which is at about 0.87 per U.S. dollar – to establish a cell line, you need to buy phone cards to charge the phones at approximately 45 centavos a minute, or about 50 US cents.

    This means that cell phone usage in Cuba isn’t casual. It’s about location, or getting someone to drop a key from a higher floor to open a lobby door, or to ask someone to get to a landline for a real conversation. Cell phones, of course, also facilitate texts, which has been a boon for dissidents and their responders, both groups which have taken to Twitter like an addiction.

    But how, you might ask, can a Cuban earning between $15 and $20 USD a month pay such a steeply priced cell service? The answer is that, at least officially, they can’t.

    And this is where the Cuban government, regardless of its staunch public posture against corruption (especially under Raul Castro), colludes with and counts on the country’s rich black market. Because, really, otherwise how can a Cuban earning $15-$20 USD a month have cell service that ends up being twice that?

    Cell service is one of the many things that, prior to Raul, had been illegal but not uncommon for Cubans. In fact, many of his so-called reforms have been merely bringing into legality what had become common illegal practice: among other things, access for Cuban citizens to hotels, access to car rentals, access to DVD rental of foreign films, access to markets for individual farmers and artisans, and the ability to run a legal business, especially in sales or personal services.

    In the case of the cell service, the government assumes its citizens are getting their funds from abroad or through illegal means. As a friend of mine explained, it’s Cuba’s version of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: The government agrees not to question source of income so long as the citizen agrees to pay the exorbitant fee.

    Added my friend: “It’s not exactly like we have a choice anyway.”

    by Achy Obejas


    Source: WBEZ

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  • Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Cuban Wretch "Escapes" Castro's Paradise

    On Thursday, July 14, 2011, a young Cuban who tried to stow away inside the landing gear of a Spanish airliner died during the nine-hour flight from Havana to Madrid. It was, ironically, Lenin who invented the term “voting with their feet” during the Russian Civil War to describe people moving into areas controlled by the Communists. Collectivists have never found occasion to use that term again.

    The flight of Cubans out of their horrific prison camp nation to anywhere else is a 60-year-old story. Fidel Castro inherited a nation that was among the most prosperous in the Western Hemisphere. Although there was much to dislike about Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban leader whom Castro ousted, there was also much to admire about Cuba before Castro.

    Indeed, there was a great deal for collectivists to admire about Batista. Sumner Welles, Undersecretary of State under Franklin Roosevelt, actually described Batista as a communist. Batista, the first Cuban leader to bring members of the Cuban Communist Party into his Cabinet, described himself as a “progressive socialist.” When Castro attacked Batista in 1953, the Cuban Communist Party actually accused Castro of “Putchism,” another one of the surreal words invented by Marxists which defines as "a method of revolution or overthrow involving secret planning."

    Batista had won during a competitive election in 1940, although he later effectively usurped power. Nevertheless, after his first term as President, Batista left office peacefully. Unlike Castro, who came from an affluent upper-class family, Batista grew up in poverty. He worked in the sugar cane fields, on railroads, and in the hard labor that the poor must do to survive.

    Fulgencio Batista was part black, part Chinese, part American Indian, and part European. Unlike Castro, Batista genuinely was a “man of the people,” and his rise to power — from a sergeant in the Cuban army to leader of his nation — reflected that connection with ordinary people. When he was elected in 1940 with about 60 percent of the vote, he was the first non-white Cuban to win that office (the Barack Obama of his nation).

    Cuba before Castro is uniformly depicted by the establishment media as horrific. The reality is dramatically different. While Batista and others ruled Cuba, the nation flourished. (This is in spite of the socialist policies of Batista, not because of those policies.) How well off was pre-Castro Cuba?

    The Cuban peso had the same value as the U.S. dollar. There were 101 privately owned newspapers. Cuba had one radio per five Cubans and one television set per 28 Cubans. One out of every 40 Cubans owned a car, and one out of every 38 owned a telephone. These were among the best rates of ownership in the world. The infrastructure of Cuba — highways, ports, etc. — was considered by the U.S. Commerce Department to be the best in Latin America.

    How well was labor compensated? The average Cuban industrial worker earned $6 a day in 1958. Although that figure sounds low to us in our hyper-inflated world, that wage level can be understood only in comparison with nations’ average daily industrial compensation at the time: Sweden ($8.10), Switzerland ($8.00), New Zealand ($6.72), Denmark ($6.46), and Norway ($6.10.) Cuba also had the seventh-highest level of compensation for agricultural workers in the world, behind only Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, and Norway. Unemployment in Cuba was the lowest in Latin America.  Even the leader of the Cuban Communist Party until 1962, Anibal Escalante, said, “Cuba is one of the countries [in Latin America] in which the standard of living of the masses was particularly high.”

    The per capita income was the third-highest in Latin America, after Argentina and Venezuela. Ginsburg’s 1959 Atlas of the World Economy placed Cuba at 22nd out of the 122 nations surveyed. Income surpassed that of Spain and Portugal and was comparable to that of Italy.

    The Cuban public educational system received a higher percentage of the government’s budget than any other Latin American nation, with Costa Rica, a famously peaceful and orderly nation, second. Cuba also had 900 private schools and three private universities. Rural education received special attention and was supplemented by a mobile library system. According to the UN report of 1953, the literacy rate in Cuba was 82 percent, higher than in any other Latin American nation except Argentina and Costa Rica.

    How healthy were Cubans before Castro? They ate quite well. Per capita consumption of meat was 65 pounds per year, exceeded only by England, Australia, and Denmark. Caloric intake was the third-highest in Latin America, after Argentina and Uruguay. The nation had the third-lowest mortality rate in the world — lower, in fact, than America or Canada. The infant mortality rate was 3.76 per thousand, while next in line in Latin America was Argentina at 6.11 and Venezuela at 6.56. In fact, the infant mortality rate in Cuba was lower than in France, Italy, Belgium, or Austria. Only Argentina had more doctors per citizen than Cuba. Life expectancy was significantly higher than in Latin America in general.

    Cuba was doing well, but it was doing well in spite of the “progressive” policies of Batista, not because of Batista. What this nation needed was a return to free markets, the end of incessant government intervention on the side of labor, and public expenditures (which were often inefficient) to improve education and health. What Cuba did not need was a collectivist totalitarian such as Castro.

    In the Never-Never land invented by Marxists which divides mankind into “progressives” and “reactionaries,” where was Castro? In his youth, Castro owned the complete works of Benito Mussolini. When he was tried in Cuban courts, his oral argument was virtually modeled on Hitler’s “History will absolve me” speech. When Francisco Franco died, after Castro had been in power over 15 years, Castro ordered a day of respect for the Spanish dictator.

    Fidel Castro believes in power. The Cuban people have suffered grievously during the last 50 years. From 1959 to 1994, more than one million Cubans have left their island home for anywhere else. The horrors of Castro’s Gulag are as awful as anything in the ghastly history of modern totalitarianism. This nation that was once among the most affluent in the Western Hemisphere or, indeed, the world, now languishes in poverty and experiences persistent shortages of even the most basic items such as milk, soap, and clothing. Rationing is the norm.

    The incidental byproducts of Castro’s Cuba are found in baseball players and other athletes who abandon their communist prison as soon as they can, in the grinding poverty of those who cannot leave, and in those desperate enough to hide in the landing gear of an airliner traveling across the Atlantic Ocean from Havana to Madrid.

    by Bruce Walker

    Source: New American

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  • Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Cuba: united opposition launches a new political platform

    Still divided, the Cuban opposition presented to the press on Wednesday a new political platform called “The Way of the People”, presented by some as a project of “democratic transition” and by others as simply a “common position” .

    More than fourty opposition leaders and former political prisoners of various currents and trends have endorsed this document proposes a “national dialogue”, “new laws”, a “referendum”, and remains open to new members.

    Developed by Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Sakharov Prize 2002 of the European Parliament, the document proposes to “establish a genuine national dialogue and to initiate an inclusive process of change.”

    Among the signatories are the best-known opponents: Guillermo Fariñas, Sakharov Prize 2010 and led dozens of hunger strikes, Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White, a group of wives and relatives of political prisoners-, liberal economist Martha Beatriz Roque, the Social Democrat Manuel Cuesta Morua or Elizardo Sanchez, the leader of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights, tolerated by the authorities.

    Former political prisoners as Felix Navarro, Angel Moya, Guido Sigler and José Daniel Ferrer also among the signatories of the platform.

    “The document was drafted by the signatories, and I am sure it is viable and necessary because the message is for all the people of Cuba,” he told AFP Oswaldo Paya.

    In a “basic proposal”, the document calls for new legal provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech, press, association, worship, internal and external migration, and the right of citizens to run for public office.

    Opponents also offer “a referendum for the people to decide sovereignly changes” constitutional and legal and paves the way for “citizen participation on this journey of change.”

    Similarly, the signatories want the organization to “a national dialogue and free elections for all public office and for a Constituent Assembly.”

    “More than a political project, I think it is mainly to express the will to establish a common position in specific circumstances,” he told AFP Manuel Cuesta Morua.

    For Elizardo Sanchez, the document “provides a set of ideas that open a field for reflection, but it is not a proposal for a transition.” “This is a positive contribution to think the time of transition when it comes,” he added.

    In half a century of communist rule in Cuba, opponents, considered by authorities as “mercenaries” in the pay of the United States have developed various projects and proposals for transition, all gone unheeded.

    The best known, the “Varela Project”, named after a 19th century priest-independence, also developed and supported by Oswaldo Paya, was as a petition for a referendum on popular initiative. Presented to Parliament in 2002, the project has been buried by the assembly that wrote into the constitution the character “irrevocable” of socialism in Cuba.

    The Cuban authorities, under the presidency of Raul Castro has launched in the spring a series of economic reforms designed to prevent the bankruptcy of a system modeled on the Soviet Union of the seventies, do not listen to proposals from dissidents and highlight the changes are also aimed at strengthening the system.

    by Sandeep

    Source: PISQA 

    The whole document (in Spanish)

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  • Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Oh, Che Can You See?

    Recently I finished a book, Son of Hamas, written by Mosab Yousef.  Yousef was a Muslim who became a revolutionary for the cause of Christ.  His hatred for Israelis, which was fostered by his religious culture in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank in Israel, consumed him.  This prince of Hamas, however, encountered the Prince of Peace in Old Jerusalem.  A Christian invited Yousef to attend a Bible study.  From that invitation, Yousef's path led to a belief in Jesus Christ as the only source of true peace.

    At the end of the book Yousef lamented that Christians are not more involved in confronting the Islamic culture.  As he is risking his life to expose the dark workings of Islam, Yousef challenged Christians to do more to share the truth.  Simply praying about the situation can often be a cop-out.  Thinking about that challenge a moment I questioned: "What exactly does he want me to do?"  Then it occurred to me.  Although Yousef's context is confronting Islam, where I can passionately demonstrate truth was something I had to figure out for myself.  How can I effectively put my faith into action in America?

    Yousef's challenge to Christians came to mind as I was at the gym on the running track.  On the track I noticed someone (whom we'll call "Joe") wearing a T-shirt with Ernesto "Che" Guevara's image on it.  This cult of personality saddens and sickens me.  Guevara was a thug and a brutal murderer, and yet he is revered as if he were a war hero by many on the political left.  As I try to live by my motto scripture -- "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but, rather, expose them (Ephesians 5:11)" -- I knew I needed to say something to him.  I approached Joe as he was stretching on a mat.

    "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I noticed you are wearing a T-shirt with Che Guevara on it."  Right then, I could tell by the look on Joe's face that others must have shared with him their opinions of Che.  He immediately put up the defenses.

    I tried to be as respectful as I could, yet remembering that "speaking the truth in love" still requires "speaking the truth."

    "Do you know who Che Guevara was?" I inquired.

    "I know he was a revolutionary," he offered, and then added "and I don't appreciate my free speech being questioned."

    "No, I'm not saying you shouldn't wear the shirt; I'm just trying to see if you know who he truly was.  Do you know any specifics of what he did?"

    "No, I don't know any specifics, but I know he was controversial," Joe admitted.

    "Well, Che was a very wicked man..."

    Joe interrupted.  "That's a matter of opinion."

    I continued.  "His revolutionary principles are completely antithetical to our American ideals.  He is not a man to be celebrated." 

    Joe again interrupted.  "That's a matter of opinion, and, if you please, I need to get back to my workout" -- a 15-minute workout that so far consisted of stretching, a few laps walking on the indoor track, and stretching again.

    I respectfully concluded, "I appreciate your taking the time to hear me, and maybe next time you will do more research."

    Here was a grown man, wearing the image of a mass murderer on his T-shirt.  All he cared to know about his idol, his hero, was that Guevara was "a revolutionary" and "controversial."  When confronted with my conclusion that Guevara was a wicked man that should not be celebrated, Joe only offered the relativistic refrain "It's just a matter of opinion."  He was not open to knowing the specifics.

    Relativism sounds wonderful and accepting.  "You can have your opinion and I can have mine."  But what is relativism, really?  Generally speaking, relativism is a philosophy that asserts all points of view are equally valid.  A relativist will likely aver that there is no absolute truth or that absolute truth is unknowable.  Both of those statements are self-refuting.  How can one absolutely believe there is no absolute truth?  How can one know the truth about truth being unknowable?

    The problem with relativists is they don't accept the consequences of their philosophy.  If truth really is relative, then why should a relativist get angry when I punch him in the nose?  His objection to my punching him is simply a matter of opinion, right?  I can have "my truth" and he can have his.

    Sure, everyone is able to have an opinion.  They may even be entitled to that opinion.  But, not all opinions are created equal.  The problem with opinions is that "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."  The truth of John Adams' words resonates in our world that rejects absolute truth.

    Let us look at the facts that should have informed Joe the "Che-ophile's" opinion of Ernesto Guevara:

    • One murder is captured in Guevara's own diary in January 1957.  Guevara admitted that he shot Eutimio Guerra on suspicion of passing on information: "I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain. ... His belongings were now mine."  Does "social justice" include execution without a trial and then theft of the estate?
    • Guevara murdered Aristidio, a peasant, simply because Guevara suspected him of treason to the revolution.  The killing of the poor, dumb cart horse named Boxer in Animal Farm comes to mind.
    • Guevara ordered the executions of hundreds of people without trial as the head of the La Cabaña prison.  Many were executed simply because they were Christians.  Refusing to serve two masters, many Christians died on Guevara's orders as they shouted "¡Viva Cristo Rey!"
    • Guevara ordered the murder of 15-year old Carlos Machado, his twin brother, and their father simply for resisting the revolution's confiscation of their family farm.
    • Guevara embraced hatred as a tactic necessary in his revolutionary struggle.

    For which one of these points was Joe displaying his pride in Guevara?  Relativism and blissful ignorance go hand-in-hand.  Hard-to-accept truth has simply become "a matter of opinion."  To the left, Guevara is a hero of the oppressed, a symbol to rally around for "social justice."  Many youth and other leftists celebrate Guevara's "revolutionary" and "controversial" nature without even the slightest curiosity of the truth of his ignominious life.

    The great danger with blissfully ignorant relativism is that if a majority of society falls for specially marketed, iconic, charismatic "revolutionaries," the entire nation suffers the purges and atrocities for the blessed revolution.  The Che T-shirt wearers in Cuba made it easier for the revolutionaries to execute the country's Machados and steal their farms. 

    Relativism crumbles as the light of truth exposes its deceptions.  Finding truth takes work.  Intellectual laziness is why there are so many liars and so many deceived.  In reality, relativism isn't about the existence of truth.  Truth isn't relative.  A person's will is relative.  Relativism really is a belief only in the truth one chooses to believe in.  All unpleasant, inconvenient truth is disregarded.  The philosophy of relativism is only created to excuse people's choices.  In Joe's case, relativism simply masks his intellectual ignorance.

    So, today, I took up Yousef's challenge and performed my Christian duty to expose the darkness of relativism.  I wasn't about to let Joe carry his blissful ignorance on his T-shirt unchallenged.  I don't know if Joe is blissfully ignorant or deliberately so.  I just know that I was called to bear witness to the Truth.  I hope I shined the light on Joe's darkness and that he embraces the light by researching and he sees who Che truly was...and then burns his Che T-shirt.

    By Christopher S. Brownwell 

    Source: American Thinker

    You Don't Know Che by Steve Pichan

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  • Friday, July 8, 2011

    Video games spread in Cuba despite limitations

    Pirated Computer and Video Games, along with CDs and DVDs are sold "legally" on the streets of Cuba.

    Despite the many limitations on access to digital-age technology in Cuba, a taste for computer games is spreading in this country, giving rise to a youthful movement that is beginning to conquer new public spaces.

    Starting in the 1990s, a small group of mainly young people in this socialist island nation began to enter the world of video games. Over time, the number of people involved grew, and they became keen on face-to-face competitions and meetings, instead of just virtual interaction.

    This gave rise to the nongovernmental Cuban Electronic Sports Group (ADEC), created in November 2007, which works to "spread the culture and wholesome entertainment" of these types of games, Ian Pedro Carbonell, the group's president, told IPS.

    StarCraft, a strategy game created in 1998 by the U.S. company Blizzard, is the best promoted and most popular among the young people who belong to ADEC. Since its launch on the market, it has gained followers worldwide, and in some countries, such as South Korea, it is considered a "sport".

    It can be played on computers with minimal technical requirements, although they need to be able to connect to a network for playing in groups, a more engaging option than a single person playing against the computer.

    "In Cuba, not everybody has access to this technology," Jessica Sori, one of the few women who have participated in the StarCraft tournaments, told IPS. "As a serious sport, it can only be played by those who don’t have heavy work or study commitments, because it requires a lot of time," explained the young University of Havana sociology major.

    Very few young women compete in the tournaments, more popular among men, which are organised by ADEC at least five times a year for both individuals and teams. Sori said young women are not attracted to this type of game because of a sexist upbringing from an early age.

    The Blizzard game, which has spread to all parts of the world in either paid or pirated form, recreates an imaginary universe inhabited by the Terran, Protoss and Zerg civilisations. Each has its own weaknesses and strengths, allowing players to chart their strategies.

    To win, players must be familiar with the potential of each civilisation, develop mental agility and know the keyboard commands to execute each action as fast as possible. In addition to StarCraft, the Cuban group of about 300 members sponsors games that it considers electronic sports, such as Warcraft.

    With no profit motive, young people, especially university students, organise get-togethers to play in cities like Holguín, Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey and Matanzas. "In other provinces, the electronic sports movement is practically null," Osmani Grau, a computer programmer in the central province of Sancti Spíritus, told IPS.

    The scant access to communications via telephone or cell-phone hinders the enjoyment of this hobby in teams, Grau commented. According to a National Office of Statistics survey of about 38,000 homes conducted in early 2010, only 2.9 percent of Cubans had direct access to the Internet in 2009.

    Nevertheless, the tournaments began a few years ago in private homes. In fact, the first Havana StarCraft League existed before ADEC was established. Later, the Havana Teams League formed, and the idea of going public gradually gained force.

    In Havana, the first gathering in an institutional space took place in 2009, in the University Student Centre, run by the federation to which all university students belong. For the past year, the Maxim Rock auditorium in the capital, home to the Cuban Rock Agency, has accommodated ADEC events.

    At the Maxim, as this Cuban temple to rock music is popularly known, the group adds other expressions of electronic culture to its programme. Cuban DJs and VJs (music video jockeys) provide the music for the tournaments, which have become more and more frequent.

    The main aim of this youthful initiative, however, is to be recognised as an organisation by the National Institute of Sport and Recreation (INDER), the state entity that regulates this area in Cuba. But "INDER has a complicated financing situation; it is impossible for it to take us on right now," Padrón said.

    Talks with INDER led only to an agreement of possible support for locales and infrastructure, said Padrón, a cybernetics student at the University of Havana. "We asked them to at least recognise this new form of wholesome recreation, and in the future, to validate it as a sport."

    If these games are classified as a sport, ADEC could aspire to its own venue, better technology for other games, and even sending talented Cubans to international tournaments, Padrón commented. For now, they finance their activities with the support of companies and producers like singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes’s PM Records.

    Informal networks using thick cables running from window to window, or wireless connections with telecommunications devices such as AP (wireless access points), liven up the underground, almost clandestine, world of electronic games in Cuba.

    This form of entertainment, which tends to become an addiction, explodes when played over the web. Cubans have devised creative alternatives, according to a 29-year-old Havana man who asked for anonymity. He told IPS he knows of five wireless networks near his neighbourhood, each of them comprising about 20 people, set up for that purpose. The technology for these connections is not sold in authorised stores. On the underground market, however, accessible on websites like Revolico, buyers can find everything from video cards to APs for connecting some 30 computers within the radius covered by the antenna’s signal.

    By Dalia Acosta

    Source:  Caribbean360

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  • Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Chavez's illness spells trouble for Cuba

    Hugo Chavez back in Venezuela, last Monday, the 4th July.

    Cuba depends on Venezuela for billions of dollars in subsidies that could disappear if Chavez doesn't recover.

    As Hugo Chavez boarded a plane here early Monday for his return to Caracas, he stood on the tarmac with Raul Castro and offered some parting words of reassurance: “Venezuela and Cuba are the same thing, the same country,” he said.

    And that, precisely, is what’s at stake for Cuba with Chavez now battling cancer. Billions in Venezuelan subsidies to the island — and other regional left-leaning allies — are riding on his recovery.

    Two decades after the Soviet Union’s implosion brought chronic blackouts to Cuba and sent the island’s economy into a ditch, Havana is once again highly dependent on foreign largess to keep the lights on. Chavez provides Cuba with more than two-thirds of its petroleum needs, and the island earned an estimated $3.5 billion in trade last year with Venezuela, its largest source of hard currency.

    Chavez, 56, has not disclosed what type of cancer he has, or what the prognosis is, only that he had a growth described as a pelvic abscess removed and that “cancerous cells” were discovered by Cuban surgeons.

    When he landed Monday in Venezuela in preparation for his country’s bicentennial celebration, Chavez appeared upbeat and energetic, sending out messages to his 1.7 million Twitter followers and assuring television audiences he was “devouring” his meals.

    But in Havana, it has been the start of concern. Chavez’s imperiled health brings new attention to the fragility of Cuba’s economy, at a time when 80-year-old Raul Castro is struggling to put the island’s finances in order and proceed with carefully managed, incremental liberalization measures.

    Cuba’s communist government is planning to lay off hundreds of thousands of state employees over the coming years and is allowing the expansion of small private businesses and cooperatives. One big reason Havana can afford to conduct the reforms at its own pace is the dependable revenue coming from Caracas.

    If Chavez’s rule were to end because of his illness or impact his December 2012 re-election bid, the return of 40,000 Cubans now working in Venezuela — mostly in the health care sector — would create still more financial strain for the Castro government.

    Of greater worry is Cuba’s energy supply. Steady oil shipments from Venezuela have largely eliminated the chronic blackouts that plagued Cuba in the early 1990s and led to riots in Havana, as well as the chaotic departure of thousands of rafters for the U.S.

    Back then, Fidel Castro was still at the height of his political powers, taking to the airwaves almost daily to pull Cubans through the crisis by the sheer force of his will. Now he’s 85, and far too frail to rally the country once more.

    Public unrest in Cuba is closely linked to the power supply — especially during the torrid summer months — and over the past decade, Cuba has stabilized its electrical grid by installing a series of relatively small fuel-burning power plants. They run mostly on Venezuelan crude, and even as oil prices climbed over $100 a barrel in recent months, Cuba has continued to enjoy a reliable energy supply.

    Cuba isn’t likely to find a quick alternative to Venezuelan oil, either. The island produces about 50,000 barrels of oil per day from domestic sources, used mostly for generating electricity. Spanish oil consortium Repsol is planning to begin drilling in offshore beds along Cuba’s north coast in the coming months, but even if it has a major strike, experts say it will take years to bring the crude to market.

    Then there are hundreds of other commercial and trade agreements with Venezuela that could be jeopardized if the country’s next president isn’t as simpatico. Cubans privately worry those arrangements may be only as healthy as Chavez himself, a man who views Fidel Castro as his political father figure.

    Other socialist allies around the region, like Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, are also highly reliant on Venezuelan oil diplomacy, along with the 19 nations of the Petrocaribe alliance, whom Chavez buffers from the global oil market’s volatility.

    Chavez insists he is fine, and on the path to full recovery. In a written “Reflection” dedicated to Chavez’s illness Monday, Castro said the Venezuelan president had launched “a decisive battle” that “will lead him and his country to a great victory.”

    But that victory now depends on the Cuban oncologists tasked with saving Chavez. While the location and stage of his cancer has been kept secret, experts speculate the area of affliction could be Chavez’s colon or prostate. A late-stage form of colon cancer would be extremely dangerous.

    Chemotherapy treatments could force Chavez to withdraw from public view again, so his return to Caracas this week may also be a final attempt to put his political team in order before a lengthy absence.

    Source: Global Post

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  • Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Cuba Detains Over 20 Christians In New Crackdown, Activists Say

    Baptist Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and his wife, Yoaxis, were part of the 23 Christians detained by Cuban police in Santa Clara, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major religious rights group.

    They were picked up by police Sunday morning, June 26, and released five hours later, after the service had ended, CSW told Worthy News. The worship service at the Santa Clara Methodist Church was held in support of Pastor Toranzo, who was reportedly removed from his position by the Methodist Bishop Ricardo Pereira Dias, because of his refusal to deny pastoral support to human rights activists and members of the political opposition.

    Pastor Toranzo is the second high-profile pastor in Santa Clara to step down or be removed this year because of government pressure in the Communist-run island, according to church observers.


    Baptist Pastor Homero Carbonell issued a statement at the start of 2011 saying that he and his church had come under “severe government pressure” because of his refusal to expel families of political prisoners from the church, CSW said.

    Pastors Carbonell and Toranzo were reportedly also involved in a cross-denominational citywide march on Easter Sunday in 2010 which drew thousands and angered the authorities. “We strongly condemn the official pressure on church leaders in Cuba to deny pastoral support to certain members of their congregations because of their political affiliations,” added CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston.

    “We call on the Cuban government to cease their interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations and in particular to uphold the right of religious leaders to minister to all regardless of their political beliefs,” he said.

    The Santa Clara Methodist Church has publicly urged the bishop to reverse his decision and church leaders of all denominations in Santa Clara have reportedly appealed to the Methodist hierarchy in support of Pastor Toranzo. There is general agreement among church leaders in Santa Clara that the Bishop’s decision was made because of intense government pressure, CSW said.

    The group claimed that it has received reports from sources in Cuba confirming similar pressure on leaders in other denominations. “There have also been reports that the authorities are making increased use of short-term detentions as opposed to long spells in prison, a tactic which CSW believes is being deployed to deflect international attention from the ongoing harassment of pastors.”


    Cuban officials have not yet commented on the latest developments. This year Cuba released the last of 75 dissidents, including Christians, who were detained in the 2003 crackdown.

    The move following a ground-breaking deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church in which Cuba’s President Raul Castro agreed to free the remaining 52 inmates.

    The Cuban government denies however that it as ever hold political prisoners and considers dissidents as “mercenaries financed by the U.S.”to destabilize the government.

    Source: Worthy News

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  • Friday, July 1, 2011

    Cuba to allow foreigners, migrants to buy and sell homes

    "For Sale"

    The Cuban government is to allow private individuals, including foreign residents and Cubans who moved abroad, to buy and sell homes and cars by the end of the year, the Communist Party daily Granma said Friday.

    The Council of Ministers made the decision last weekend, as it sought to build on the economic recommendations made by the recent Communist Party Congress.

    'The agreements that were made by the Congress will not be shelved away,' Cuban President Raul Castro was quoted in Granma as saying to government officials.

    Castro has long insisted on the need for economic reform in communist Cuba, particularly to strengthen the private sector. He sees this as the best way to overcome the serious financial difficulties that currently affect the country.

    Cubans who live on the island and foreigners with permanent residence within its borders will now be allowed to buy, sell, exchange or donate homes.

    'It will be possible to transfer to partners, ex partners and relatives to a fourth degree of kinship the homes belonging to Cuban individuals who leave the country for good, as long as they have permanently lived with the owner for five years,' the report said.

    The new policy, according to Granma, seeks among others 'to contribute to solving the home-deficit problem' in Cuba.

    Source: M&C

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