Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can Cuba’s Mysteries Help Save the World’s Coral Reefs?

by Ocean Doctor
July 18, 2008

Until that tranquil morning in late June 1974, the sum total of my SCUBA diving experience had been in a landlocked state, in a stifling, moldy indoor YMCA pool in the Philadelphia suburbs and a Pennsylvania quarry, flooded with icy soup-green water. Barely comprehending the new world of pungent humidity, mountainous afternoon cumulus clouds, and lush tangles of flowering succulents I experienced at water’s edge during my first visit to the Florida Keys, I was wholly unprepared later that morning when I found myself seated in sugar-white sand with 40 feet of warm, clear aquamarine water above my head. As impossibly multi-colored fish passed slowly within reach before my wide 15-year-old eyes, my gaze broadened as I marveled at the towering jetties of coral around us, living layer cakes of corals upon corals, brown and mustard rock-like structures, encrusted with brilliant red, violet and orange coralline fans and branches, swaying in the warm, nourishing current and, like eager spring blossoms, reaching toward the dancing sunlight scattered on the surface above. Even in those first minutes face-to-face with a coral reef, the enormity of what I was witnessing was clear to me. I remember thinking, “There’s a whole living world going on down here, and we don’t know anything about it.” While I may have suspected in those moments that I would dedicate my career to something having to do with the oceans, I never would have dreamed that more than three decades later I would be literally immersed in some of the most important work of my life just 90 miles to the south of where I was seated beneath the waves.

Last week, as I departed Ft. Lauderdale and the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, the world’s largest coral summit held every four years, the news was sobering. One-third of the world’s corals are well on their way to outright extinction, and the rest are threatened with, among other things, the indignant end of simply dissolving away, as increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from fossil fuel emissions enters the oceans, raising their acidity to the point where any ocean creature with a calcium carbonate shell — from corals to clams — succumbs to the acid waters. When my daughter was 15 and floated above that same reef I had experienced, it had become a pale shadow of the miracle of nature I had so delighted in. Nearly half the corals in the Florida Keys have died in my lifetime. Some are bleached bone white, others shackled in diseased bands of black. Many more lie smothered in broad blankets of algal slime which have robbed the reef of its rainbow of colors, leaving a lifeless green-gray skeleton where countless diversity once eeked from every imaginable crack and crevice. As I beheld this tragic image, little did I imagine that important clues to saving this reef and many more like it around the Caribbean and the world, might lie just 90 miles to the south.

I now sort through assorted dive gear, video equipment, and sunscreen preparing for my 37th visit to that magical place 90 miles to the south, to an island larger than all the other Caribbean islands combined, to an island whose coat of arms bears a key — “llave del golfo“, the key to the Gulf of Mexico — a subtropical nexus where the waters of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean intertwine in a sublime undersea cocktail of diversity, color and mystery. Our fourth joint expedition of Proyecto Costa Noroccidental (Project of the Northwest Coast) — a project of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas: CIM) and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi — will continue our ongoing project to explore the most unknown corner of the Gulf of Mexico: Cuba’s northwest coastal waters.

A green sea turtle hatchling at Cuba's westernmost point, Guanahacabibes

It is often said that those 90 miles of open water south of the Florida Keys — the Straits of Florida — separate Cuba and the USA. Like a hand-drawn blue borderline, the Straits are often invoked as a symbol of the 50-year-old Cold War that has frozen our two countries so tantalizingly close, yet so tragically far apart. But to the sea turtles, sharks, lobster, whales and other sea life, those same 90 miles of blue unite our countries with racing blue currents, unseen underwater pathways, and a web of colorful life that defies the perceptions of so many of the Gulf of Mexico, who know it only as a hot, muddy cauldron that spawns hurricanes and oil platforms. Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. share the Gulf of Mexico and have a responsibility to work together to understand and protect it. Thankfully, despite debilitating restrictions, which are ever-changing in the cool winds of Cold War politics, we have worked for a solid eight years now with our Cuban colleagues, advancing our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico and providing research opportunities for Cuba’s next generation of marine scientists — nearly 20 have based their Masters and Ph.D. research on our joint projects.

Cuba’s northwest coast – the verdant Pinar del Río province, home to Cuba’s legendary cigars — is the least-developed coastal region of Cuba. But as Cuba’s tourism trade continues to develop and as Cuba’s fledgling offshore oil development expands into the Gulf, we hope that the insights from our joint research help to guide the hand of such development so that some of Cuba’s most precious assets, its coral reefs, will be spared the all too common fate I’ve seen elsewhere in the Caribbean. And there is much at stake.

As we dove during the second expedition, it was as if we had been transported decades backward in time, to the healthy, vibrant, towering reefs I remember from my mid-teens. The reefs I have seen in the Archepiélago de Los Colorados, the barrier reef that runs along Cuba’s northwest coast, are the healthiest I have seen in my life. For that reason, and because of its unique history and geography, Cuba may hold important clues for coral reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean and perhaps around the world. Good friend and colleague, Dr. Gaspar González-Sansón, titular professor at University of Havana, CIM, and co-principal investigator of Proyecto Costa Noroccidental, recently pointed to a number of possible reasons for the health of Cuba’s reefs when we spoke when I was recently in Havana:

Cuba’s tourism industry did not begin until 1993, necessitated by the demise of
the Soviet Union and its aid to the island. Though tourism has proceeded at a
rapid pace, it is highly localized at specific resort areas on the coasts. The
healthiest reefs also happen to be far from shore, such as Los Colorados to the
north and Jardines de la Reina to the south, perhaps beyond the reach of harmful
concentrations of coastal pollution.

Cuban commercial fishing vessel in the Gulf of MexicoCuba does have a commercial fishing fleet, but fishermen principally use hook and line, so unlike nets and trawls which result in catching just about everything, fishing in Cuba is highly selective. In contrast, more than 80 percent of what’s caught in U.S. Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawls is not shrimp — it’s small finfish and other creatures collectively known as “bycatch” that represent the unforgivable waste of this fishing practice. Cuba is now phasing out all bottom trawling on its continental shelf.

In the early days of the revolution, President Fidel Castro declared, “Not one drop of water to the sea,” a call to action to dam rivers and streams in order to divert water for use in agriculture and population centers. Reducing fresh water input upset the delicate balance of fresh and salt water in Cuba’s estuaries, resulting in the disappearance of populations intolerant to the saltier waters, such as the white shrimp. In another way, however, this policy may have inadvertently served to help reefs by reducing the transport of fertilizers and pesticides to the reefs. Use of fertilizers and pesticides has dropped dramatically since the withdrawal of the Soviet Union. Given that nutrient pollution is a key factor in the growth of coral-smothering algae, this may also be an important factor.

In countless ways, the island of Cuba is unique. And when it comes to coral reefs, Cuba is again, unique. Here an island of thriving corals flourishes amid a world of corals dying and disappearing. In this mysterious corner of the Gulf of Mexico where time seems to have stopped, I find hope. Hope that the rich ecosystems of this beautiful island will endure. And I find hope that Cuba’s coral reefs might share some of their tantalizing secrets, secrets that can offer clues to protecting and restoring coral reefs elsewhere, including a special place I still remember in the Florida Keys, just 90 miles to the north.

Can Cuba

Can Cuba’s Mysteries Help Save the World’s Coral Reefs?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cuba orders extreme measures to cut energy use

11 Nov 2009
* Cuba's energy situation termed "critical"
* Some factories, workshops to be closed through December
* Most other economic activities to be reduced
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union. In documents seen by Reuters, government officials have been warned that the island is facing a "critical" energy shortage that requires the closing of non-essential factories and workshops and the shutting down of air conditioners and refrigerators not needed to preserve food and medicine. Cuba has cut government spending and slashed imports after being hit hard by the global financial crisis and the cost of recovering from three hurricanes that struck last year. "The energy situation we face is critical and if we do not adopt extreme measures we will have to revert to planned blackouts affecting the population," said a recently circulated message from the Council of Ministers. "Company directors will analyze the activities that will be stopped and others reduced, leaving only those that guarantee exports, substitution of imports and basic services for the population," according to another distributed by the light industry sector. President Raul Castro is said to be intent on not repeating the experience of the 1990s, when the demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of its steady oil supply caused frequent electricity blackouts and hardship for the Cuban public. The directives follow government warnings in the summer that too much energy was being used and blackouts would follow if consumption was not reduced. All provincial governments and most state-run offices and factories, which encompasses 90 percent of Cuba's economic activity, were ordered in June to reduce energy use by a minimum of 12 percent or face mandatory electricity cuts. The measures appeared to resolve the crisis as state-run press published stories about the amount of energy that had been saved and the dire warnings died down. The only explanation given for the earlier warnings was that Cuba was consuming more fuel than the government had money to pay for. The situation is not as dire as in the 1990s because Cuba receives 93,000 barrels per day of crude oil, almost two-thirds of what it consumes, from Venezuela. It pays for the oil by providing its energy-rich ally with medical personnel and other professionals. Cuba has been grappling with the global economic downturn, which has slashed revenues from key exports, dried up credit and reduced foreign investment. The communist-run Caribbean nation also faces stiff U.S. sanctions that include cutting access to international lending institutions, and it is still rebuilding from last year's trio of hurricanes that caused an estimated $10 billion in damages. In response, the government has cut spending, slashed imports, suspended many debt payments and frozen bank accounts of foreign businesses. It reported last week that trade was down 36 percent so far this year due mainly to a more than 30 percent reduction in imports.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cuba's blogosphere has developed a sharper edge

Nov. 09, 2009

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, speaks during a interview with AFP in Havana, on May 6, 2008. Sanchez won the Ortega y Gasset prize in Spain for digital journalism for her critical Internet blog on Cuban reality. Cuban authorities have refused to give a travel visa to Sanchez so she can receive one of Spain's top journalism awards in Madrid on Wednesday, said Spanish newspaper El Pais which hands out the awards annually. When a dozen Cuban bloggers wanted to stage a protest last month, they simultaneously tweeted, texted and posted messages like ``Freedom.''

One later used a blond wig to sneak into a government building and complain against censorship of the Internet. And the next day, she posted a video of her complaint on her blog. Carefully, but with daring determination, some Cubans whose blogs once focused largely on the frustrations of daily life are moving toward sharp-edged commentaries and activities that some fear will eventually lead to a crackdown by the communist government. ``We do not have a common position . . . but yes, some people have been doing actions that go beyond the click and the keyboard and try to exercise the rights of a free person,'' said Reynaldo Escobar of the Havana blog Desde Aquí (From Here). Some bloggers indeed have become ``more assertive, more confrontational, more pushing the limits -- and pushing their luck,'' said Ted Henken, a Baruch College professor who is writing a paper on the social implications of the Cuban blogosphere's growth.

In fact, on Friday the best known of the Cuban bloggers, Yoani Sánchez, reported that she and another blogger were detained and beaten severely by state security agents, apparently to keep them from joining a peaceful march in Havana organized by young musicians. Cuba's blogosphere is tiny for an island of 11.5 million people. About 200 blogs have official approval and 100 don't, among them dissident journalists and human rights activists, according to a recent report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. But about 15 bloggers have captured widespread attention at home and abroad -- sometimes becoming better known than political dissidents -- with posts that challenge the government and break its monopoly on information entering and leaving the island. While human rights activists report ``the sufferings on the island, which are indeed tragic,'' said Henken, the usually younger bloggers tend to use more humor and nonpolitical language to connect with young Cubans and foreigners. ``They appeal to a new generation that speaks their language, the language of social networks'' like blogs and Facebook, he added. ``They appeal to people like my students, who have no politics.''

Escobar said some of the bloggers -- sometimes called alternative bloggers to differentiate them from government-approved and dissident writers -- have now decided ``their purpose is not just to be on the Web but to express their individual will to come together in a place, on an issue.'' They have arranged three ``virtual protests'' since May, but their largest came on Oct. 20, the anniversary of the day the Cuban national anthem was first sung, when a dozen Cuban bloggers and about 100 other sites coordinated their posts, text messages, tweets and other Web activities for Blogacción -- Blog Action. Escobar wrote that if he had a microphone for only two seconds he would ask for ``freedom.'' Myriam Celaya blogged demanding Internet access for all. Claudia Cadelo wrote that she dreamed of the release of blogger Pablo Pacheco, who has been jailed since 2003 but dictates his post to Cadelo, who then arranges to have them posted on Voz Tras Las Rejas -- Voice from behind Bars.

``It's a matter of trying to grease the machinery for online protests,'' Sánchez, 34, wrote about the Oct. 20 event in her blog Generación Y. The total number of participants is unknown, but Google reported 22,000 searches for the words ``Blogacción'' and ``Cuba.'' Six days later, Escobar and Sánchez, who are married, hosted the first session of the Bloggers Academy of Cuba, a series of training sessions for some 30 would-be bloggers in their Havana apartment that includes technology, photography, ethics and the legalities of the Internet. And three days after that, Sánchez sneaked into a government-run cultural center that was hosting a discussion on the Internet. While other cyberactivists were barred from entering, Sánchez took off her wig and launched a withering critique of the government's ``ideological filter'' on the Internet. A video of her comments -- and the thin applause she received -- was posted on her blog hours later. The government has long tried to control Cubans' access to the Internet, putting restrictions on computers and subscriptions, keeping prices high and blocking access to unfriendly sites, including most alternative blogs. It also has assigned university students of computer sciences to post comments supporting the government and attacking its critics.
But Cubans have found myriad ways to get around the roadblocks: Passwords for Internet access sell on the black market for $10 a month. People with access download information to CDs and USB thumb drives and pass them on to others, who then copy the data and pass it further on. One file being passed around instructs cybernauts on how to get around government blocks on the unfriendly blogs and other websites. Yosvani Anzardo, a young engineer from the eastern province of Holguín, even established the digital newspaper Covadonga and an private e-mail system called Red Libertad -- Liberty Net -- by reprogramming his laptop to work as a much more powerful server. Then there's Bluetooth, which allows the rapid transfer of files such as forbidden books, songs and foreign news reports between cellphones that are near each other, without going through telephone or computer lines. Security agents probably don't realize the impact of Bluetooth, Escobar said. ``Those people studied in the KGB and maybe now they are studying in China, but their knowledge is antiquated,'' he said in a telephone interview from Havana.
© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cuba capable of waging a cyberwar


During the last few weeks there have been thousands of cyber attacks on computers and computer networks in the U.S. government and private entities. The United States, because of its dependence on computers, is very vulnerable to such attacks. A cyber attack on the United States could crush our country and the world economy, which depends on the United States as the world's leading economy. If they take us down, they cripple everybody. The U.S. government has not publicly identified where the cyber attacks are coming from, but Cuba has such potential. A partially declassified CIA document released several years ago notes that Cuba started in 1991 to study how to interfere with computer networks. This project had a modest budget of $50,000. The Soviet Union maintained in Cuba the Lourdes electronic espionage base, to which Cuba did not have direct access. That base was dismantled in 2002, but there are others.

Upping the investment

In 1994, Cuba and Russia agreed to build a similar base in Bejucal, south of Havana. It became operational in December 1997 at a cost of $750 million. The Bejucal base shows the importance Cuba puts on cybernetics -- having gone from a $50,000 budget to $750 million in only six years. The Bejucal base has the capacity to listen to U.S. telecommunications, interfere with computer networks, read/change electronic files and, more important, change output commands of computers used to control infrastructure facilities. In 1999, China and Cuba signed an agreement, known as Operation Titan, which allows Chinese personnel to collaborate at the Bejucal base and other facilities in Cuba. Since 2002, Cuba has used China's satellites to operate the Bejucal base, which employs 1,100 engineers, technicians and staff. The Cuban government has emphasized training talented young engineers in computation and cybernetics. A select group has been placed in key positions in cyber facilities there. The Cuban government has declared publicly that computers have replaced canons in the modern asymmetric war. Here's a partial list of other Cuban cybernetic facilities I've found through years of research:

• The Electronic Warfare Batallion in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana cost $75 million. Its main task is interfering with telecommunications.
• The Cojimar electronic complex, east of La Habana, cost $40 million.
• The Wajay farm, also known as the Antenna Farm, near Bejucal cost $15 million and houses hundreds of special antennas.
• The antenna farm in Santiago in eastern Cuba is similar to the one in Wajay and cost about $15 million.
• The University of Informative Sciences was established in 2003 on the site of the old Russian
Lourdes base, enrolling 10,000 students in a five-year program.

In the summer of 2004, Cuba interfered with satellite communications from the United States to the people of Iran from the Bejucal base. That operation confirms Cuba's high technology and its close ties with Iran. Cuba and Iran, along with Sudan and Syria, are classified by the U.S. State Department as state sponsors of terrorism in its April report. Cuba is considered to have the most developed cyber infrastructure among those countries. American society, the media and civic and judicial institutions should realize that Cuba's cybernetic war threatens our democratic principles and freedom. We ignore it at our own peril.

Manuel Cereijo is an electrical and computer engineering professor who holds patents in manufacturing, telecommunications and control systems. He lectures at the University of Miami.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jews in Cuba

Florencia Arbiser • Cover Story
Published: 19 June 2009

CARTAGENA, Colombia – The recent thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States is being greeted with caution by some Jews in Cuba. In April, the Obama administration announced it was moving to ease restrictions on American travel to Cuba and money transfers to the island. Then, earlier this month, the 34-nation Organization of American States agreed to conditionally accept Cuba if Havana was interested. Cuban officials in the past have said they are not interested in membership and denounced the OAS, which receives about 60 percent of its funding from the United States, as a tool of American domination. “We would very much like to receive more visitors,” William Miller, the vice president of the House of the Hebrew Community in Cuba, one of the nine Jewish congregations in the island, told JTA. “Most Cuban Jews rarely travel abroad; the foreign Jewish visitors nourish our souls.” But Miller, who often receives Jewish missions from overseas, said the thaw in U.S.-Cuba ties may change the nature of visits to Cuba by American Jews.

American Jews are now allowed by U.S. law to visit Cuba only if they are traveling under the auspices of a licensed religious organization and their trip is ostensibly for religious purposes. They tour Jewish Cuba, meet with local Jews, share Shabbat dinner in Cuban homes, and even join in communal ceremonies. But if the religious requirement is eased, Miller said, American Jews coming to Cuba simply might head straight for Cuba’s Caribbean beaches, as they do in places like Mexico and elsewhere, and ignore the local Jewish community. “It is a challenge for us to see how we get involved with a potential increasing number of visitors,” Miller told JTA at a conference of Latin American Jewish leaders organized in Colombia last month by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “We must work to spread the word to worldwide Jews that we exist and need contact with them,” David Prinstein Señorans, who lives in Cuba, told JTA at the conference.

Cuba has approximately 1,500 Jews and nine synagogues, three of which are in Havana. Before the Communist revolution of 1959, Cuba had about 15,000 Jews, but many left after Fidel Castro came to power. Some of those who stayed participated in the revolution, achieving prominence in Cuba’s fields of science and culture. For three decades following the revolution, religion was suppressed, leading to assimilation. But in 1992 the government eased restrictions on religion, and since then international Jewish aid agencies have built strong links to Cuba’s Jews. Their activities are centered on bolstering Jewish life on the island, including sending religious items to Cuba and helping its Jews with everyday needs.

The JDC has a permanent office in Cuba that helps run cultural, educational, and religious programs, including religious education for children and youth, bar mitzvah prep courses, Shabbat meal assistance, youth camps, and activities for the elderly. It even has a drugstore. Groups like the JDC and B’nai B’rith also coordinate missions to Cuba that each year draw hundreds of American Jews. “Several families from the United States, Canada, and France come to the island and feel committed to the Jewish community,” said Yacob Berezniak, a Cuban Jewish engineer and member of the Orthodox congregation Adath Israel in Havana.

JDC’s executive vice president, Steve Schwager, said he was not concerned that the personal ties would suffer if travel restrictions were eased. “I am confident that Jewish interest and visits with Cuban Jews will not be diminished by political changes,” he said. Cuba’s Jews remain desperately poor by Western standards, but thanks to the aid of Jewish agencies overseas, they are in a better position than most Cubans. B’nai B’rith provides food and medical assistance in Cuba. One of the group’s current projects includes installing a filter for potable water at Adath Israel. Panama’s Jews send kosher food to Adath Israel. London-based ORT runs a language lab and provides computer training at the House of the Hebrew Community.

Though Cuba does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, Cuban Jews say their community has good ties with the government, which is now led by Castro’s brother, Raul. For example, the government grants requests by Cuban Jews to leave the country to attend Jewish-related gatherings. Eduardo Kohn, the Latin American Affairs director of B’nai B’rith, says the community’s good ties with the government are based on the fact that the Jewish community is involved in religious and cultural activities but never takes part in political issues. Anti-Semitism is virtually unheard of in the country. “As a Jew, I’ve studied in school and at Havana University with my kippah and never had to face a hostile situation,” Berezniak said. “I walk calmly in the streets and I am accepted by my neighbors.

“Cuba is a peculiar country. Anti-Semitism does not exist,” he said. “Unlike other places in the world, we don’t need guards in the Jewish buildings.” Fernando Lapiduz, the JDC’s representative in Cuba, said he is reserving judgment on what Obama’s change in approach might mean for Cuba’s Jews. “We will have to see how this develops day by day,” Lapiduz said. “We might not perceive such a big impact.” Berezniak echoed that sentiment. “It is hard for me to see any remarkable change in our routine coming from Obama’s announcement,” he said.

Jewish Group back from ‘eye-opening’ trip to Cuba

Josh Lipowsky
The Jewish Standard, Cover Story
19 June 2009

Howard Brown of Cresskill wanted to go somewhere he hadn’t been before. He decided on Cuba. But the United States has had an embargo on the small Communist country for decades, preventing trade and travel — except for humanitarian reasons. Brown called Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA Federation Northern New Jersey, to discuss sending a mission to the island nation to learn about and help the small Jewish community there. “I’ve never been to Cuba and I decided to go,” said Brown, who with his wife Nancy was among the trip’s co-chairs. “I felt like a lot of people who went on the trip would like to see how the Jewish community is surviving and what we can do to help out.”

Fourteen people signed up to go — although one couple had to turn back in Miami because of illness — and UJA-NNJ’s Charish accompanied them. From May 20 through 25, the group toured the country’s small Jewish community.
“It was absolutely eye-opening,” Charish said. “Here’s a community that experienced almost 30 years where Judaism was repressed and now the spark has been reignited.” Before Fidel Castro rose to power, some 15,000 Jews lived in Cuba. Many had thought of Cuba as a stop-off along the way to America but ended up staying. Within 20 years of the 1959 revolution, however, the Jewish population dropped to 800. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s religious groups once again began to grow. “It was a beautiful thing,” said Jodi Epstein of Alpine. “I didn’t realize they were keeping [Judaism] alive there or that they were allowed to.”

Today, Cuba’s Jewish community is made up of approximately 1,500 people, about 1,000 of whom live in or around Havana. (See related story.) There are no rabbis and no communal kosher supervision. The capital city has three synagogues: Orthodox, Conservative, and Sephardic. Adath Israel, the Orthodox synagogue, maintains a kosher butcher, as well as the country’s only mikvah. The Patronato, the Conservative shul, is home to an extensive Jewish library, a pharmacy, a community center, and a Hebrew school started in 1992 that now has 50 children. The Sephardic Hebrew Center was founded in 1954 and hosts a community Sunday school for adults as well as a Hebrew teachers’ school. “We couldn’t believe the progress the Jewish community is making,” Brown said. He recalled singing and dancing with some 50 children at the Patronato’s Hebrew school on Sunday.

“They were just adorable,” Epstein said. “It made me see how it took very little to make the children happy. Just having us there made them very happy.” At the Patronato, the group learned from Adela Dworin, the synagogue’s president, that a van that brings people to the center had been funded by Bill and Maggie Kaplen, local philanthropists known for their contributions to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, among other institutions. “I felt terrific when I heard that,” Epstein said. “Maggie and Bill are very generous people.”

According to Robert Miller, UJA-NNJ’s director of missions, the van will pick some people up at 4 in the morning on Saturdays and bring them to the center where they will have breakfast, services, lunch, and then other activities. “That shows a tremendous amount of dedication,” Miller said. “You have to throw out from your mind what the conventions are because of the different system that exists there.” Epstein had been encouraged to go on the trip by her friends, the Browns, but also by her mother-in-law, Eleanor of Englewood Cliffs, who had been to Cuba almost 10 years ago with a federation mission. “She was telling me how they lived in a time warp there,” Epstein said.

The average Cuban earns $20 to $30 a month and food is rationed. During Shabbat dinner at the Patronato, the group learned that the chicken dinner was the only source of protein all week for many of the attendees. “It’s a black hole to a lot of people,” said Miller, who organized but did not participate in the trip. “They are going back 50 years in some ways.” Before the trip, the Cuban community gave the federation a wishlist of necessities, including sun block, vitamin A, deodorant, mosquito repellant, and sneakers. Miller recalled that one participant asked him what size sneakers to buy. “I said, ‘They’re not expecting you to buy anything, they’re expecting it to be used,’” Miller recalled.

According to government regulations, religious groups must commit to undertake only those activities “that are consistent with U.S. foreign policy.” These include “attendance at religious services as well as activities that contribute to the development of a Cuban counterpart’s religious or institutional development.” “It was unlike anything we’ve ever done or contemplated because of [other] government restrictions,” Miller said. Before the federation could make any travel arrangements — booking flights, hotels, or even settling on dates — Miller had to wait for the U.S. government to send a special license that would permit travel to the embargoed country on humanitarian grounds. The mission could depart only after approval, which meant the dates were left fluid. Yet in order to apply, Miller had to submit an exact list of all the participants, who waited to learn when they might go. The license came through in the end of March, and Miller quickly got the group together.

He had hoped for a bigger number, inasmuch as the license covered a group of up to 25, but he noted that the advertising essentially had to be done through word of mouth because of government restrictions. Miller worked with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has an office in Havana and sponsors the country’s only chazzan, to organize the trip. Steven Schwager, CEO of the JDC, said that typically, there is one trip a month from the U.S. Jewish community to Cuba through JDC or the federation system. JDC has played a strictly non-political role in the country since the early 1990s.

“These trips strengthen the connection between the Cuban Jewish community and other Jews around the world,” he said. “In addition, they can provide material support for those Jews living at or below the poverty line.” “We could tell that our visit meant a lot to the people that we visited,” Charish said. “The message was loud and clear that this community is not going to be isolated from the Jewish communities in the United States, even though there are no relationships between Cuba and the U.S.” UJA-NNJ’s travel license expires next May. Under its terms, the organization is permitted one trip every three months. Miller is already thinking about a second trip some time in December, which has excited participants eager to return. “I think the future holds a lot for [Cuba’s Jews], especially if there are more missions like ours who keep going to Cuba,” Epstein said. “I think we give them hope and eventually when Fidel Castro dies and Raul Castro dies, it’ll be a free country.”

For more information on this and upcoming trips to Cuba, call Miller at (201) 820-3954

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cuba to rejoin OAS?

Friday, April 17, 2009

WSJ Editorial: Now Open Cuba's Prisons

The Obama opening does little for Castro's political prisoners

President Obama's decision this week to ease some parts of the embargo against Cuba is being hailed as a first step toward altering a U.S. policy that has prevailed for a half-century without unseating Fidel Castro. We don't object, though it'd be nice if Mr. Obama also began speaking up against the Castro dictatorship. Mr. Obama's changes are partly a humanitarian response to Cuban hardship. They might even expose the regime's phony claim that the Yankee "bloqueo," or embargo, is the cause of Cuba's misery. But let's not expect too much. Embargo or not, Cuba will remain an island prison until its rulers are forced to ease their grip. We have long supported lifting the embargo as a way of accelerating that process. But the demoralized Cuban people also need international solidarity. Economically engaging the regime while ignoring the hundreds of political prisoners and millions trapped in squalor would betray the cause of Cuban liberty. To that end, the most useful thing Mr. Obama can do at this weekend's Summit of the Americas is to call on other leaders to denounce the regime's human rights violations. The Obama plan to lift all limitations on family visits and cash remittances is a welcome development for Cuban-Americans who left loved ones behind. Family separation is a tragic consequence of the Castro regime, and the restrictions on visits, tightened by the Bush Administration to once every three years, have increased that pain. Lifting the remittance cap, also tightened by President Bush, will allow free Cubans to support poor relatives. The Administration says it will also allow U.S. telecom companies to compete on the island, offering fiber optics and other advanced technology. A State Department official tells us the idea is to achieve "a greater level of connectivity and information flow" with Cubans. In theory this has marvelous possibilities. Imagine a Cuban accessing the Web via telephone and realizing that others think the way he does. It would erode the silent fear that the regime depends on to survive -- which may explain why Havana hasn't embraced Mr. Obama's offer. A spokesman at the Cuba Interests Section in Washington said he thinks access to Cuba for U.S. telecom companies should be contingent on re-establishing diplomatic relations. This gets at the heart of Cuba's objection to the embargo. It wants "normalization" with the U.S., which would allow the dictatorship to tap the cash wells at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and InterAmerican Development Bank. Having earned global deadbeat status for defaulting on loans from the former Soviet Union, Europe and Latin America, Cuba is also seeking credit in the U.S. On Monday Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Cuba's absence "from the inter-American system, including the [Organization of American States], is an anomaly and needs to be corrected." This is odd given that the OAS has something called the "democratic charter," which all members supposedly back. But then Brazil sees investment opportunities in a post-embargo Cuba that has access to the U.S. market. Mr. Obama should respond by asking Brazil to unite behind a call for Cuba to free political prisoners and hold elections. The embargo has not worked to free Cuba, but a hemisphere united against the Castro tyranny has never been tried.

Castro Feeds on Cubans’ U.S. Cash Support as Obama Eases Limits

By Jerry Hart

April 17 (Bloomberg) -- The Cuban state pension that Juan Gonzalez-Corzo receives since he retired from a government job in 2003 makes life easier after more than 50 years of work.
So does the cash that comes regularly by wire from his son in West New York, New Jersey.
It’s part of an estimated $1.1 billion sent to Cubans last year by relatives and friends around the world, an amount equal to about 1.8 percent of the communist country’s 2007 gross domestic product. “Most of the remittances end up used for consumption,” said Gonzalez-Corzo’s son Mario, 39, a Cuban-born assistant economics professor at Lehman College in New York City who has studied remittances and provided the estimates. “It helps.” The money also helps the island’s $58 billion economy, as the Cuban government charges fees that take about 20 percent of exchange-wired dollars, Gonzalez-Corzo said. That troubles U.S. politicians who say the transfers support the totalitarian state created by Fidel Castro in 1959 and now run by his brother Raul. President Barack Obama this week eased restrictions that had limited money transfers by Cuban-Americans, most of whom live in southern Florida. “The Castro government will confiscate a high percentage of those dollars, further propping up a regime that suppresses human rights,” said Representative Kendrick B. Meek, a Democrat who represents parts of Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties. About 735,000 people around the world -- more than half from the U.S. -- sent an average of $150 to friends or relatives in Cuba last year, according to a study by Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research organization. The cash sent in 2007 was equal to 42 percent of the island’s tourism income and 4.7 times more than its sugar exports, Gonzalez-Corzo said.

Economic Prop

“Remittances are a key component to the Cuban economy,” where state wages averaging about $17 a month don’t cover basic living expenses, Inter-American Dialogue said in a statement when it released the study last month. “Cubans typically augment state wages with hard-currency obtained remittances.” That’s why Myriam Faya and Lourdes Rodriguez, sisters who are among the 795,000 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, the largest concentration outside Cuba, send money to the island. “I have an aunt who is 87 years old and her pension is very low so we send regularly, without any doubt, $50 a month,” said Faya, who works for an insurance broker. “My sister also sends money to her blind, 60-year-old sister-in-law.”

Wire or Mula

About 60 percent of the money sent to Cuba goes via electronic wire transfer, according to the Inter-American Dialogue study. The rest travels in the pockets of visitors. These mulas, Spanish for mules, bypass the government fees. “If you send by wire, it’s very expensive because the government takes 20 percent,” Faya said. “But if a friend goes there, you can give it to them.” On the other end are charges by transfer agents. Calls to wire services in Miami found fees of as much as $124 to deliver 100 pesos to a recipient in Cuba, or 24 percent. The nationwide average is 15 percent per $100, Gonzalez- Corzo said. Including what Cuba charges, the transaction cost for $100 becomes 35 percent. That’s more than the 5.8 percent cost for money wired to Mexico and the 9.5 percent for the Dominican Republic, data from the World Bank show. “Cuba is the most expensive remittance market in the world when it comes to the transaction cost,” Gonzalez-Corzo said.

Bush’s Restrictions

Under rules imposed by the administration of President George W. Bush in June 2004, money sent to Cuba could go only to immediate family members and the amount was capped at $300 each quarter. Travelers could carry only $300 into the country. Obama granted unlimited transfers and travel cash for Cuban-American families to anyone in Cuba, which is expected to reduce costs as competition grows, Gonzalez-Corzo said. The president’s action raised optimism among investors that other parts of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba could be lifted. The Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, a closed-end mutual fund of companies that could benefit from increased business with Cuba, rose 41 percent, the most ever, the day money transfers were eased. Companies that wire money to Cuba must be licensed by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, under economic sanctions imposed in 1963 after Fidel Castro established his Communist dictatorship. Castro, 82, turned over power to Raul Castro, 77, last year because of illness. More than 100 companies are authorized by OFAC, with three- quarters of them in Florida. The largest is Western Union Co., the world’s biggest money-transfer business.

10-Year Business

The company has been active in Cuba since 1999 and has 153 agents there, Stewart Stockdale, executive vice president and president for the Americas, said in an interview. He declined to break out the company’s revenue for transactions with Cuba. “We think lifting the restrictions is going to expand the business to Cuba significantly,” he said. Western Union charges $15 to wire amounts up to $100 to Cuba, Stockdale said. The fees are “something we’re reviewing,” he said. Gonzalez-Corzo favors anything that makes it easier for him to send money to his 70-year-old father in Santa Clara, in central Cuba. “I have personally gone through all the tribulations of sending money,” he said. “So I know how it works.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jerry Hart in Miami at

Monday, April 6, 2009

Youth discuss life in Cuba

Apr. 03, 2009


Giselle Palacios, the daughter of a prominent dissident family in Cuba, recounted Friday how the island regime's henchmen deflated her school grades, threw stones at her Havana home and jailed her parents. ''It was a hard experience for me,'' said Palacios, 24, the daughter of Héctor Palacios, who was among the 75 human rights activists, librarians and independent journalists who were arrested in a major crackdown in Cuba in 2003. It was first-hand tales like this one -- coupled with Academy Award-nominated actor Andy Garcia's own life story -- that united about 200 Cubans, Cuban Americans and non-Cubans at the GenerAcción conference at the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus.


In its sixth year, the 2,500-member Raíces de Esperanza, or Roots of Hope, aims to bolster ties between the 5 million Cuban youths estimated to be on the island and their U.S. counterparts. The nonprofit's genesis stems from the founders' belief that many Americans misunderstand Cuban Americans' strong feelings on Cuba issues. The group's membership has swelled over the years. Academic conferences have become commonplace. Duke, Princeton, Georgetown and Harvard have hosted forums. On Friday, more than 100 college students from across the nation filled the UM auditorium to learn more about their peers on the opposite side of the Florida Straits. Topics ranged from the apparent apathy among island youth to the role they must play in securing a democratic, post-Castro Cuba. Lauren Vanessa López, a research associate at UM, knocked the idea that Cuban youth were infected with apathy. Citing a 2007 study from the Washington-based International Republican Institute, López noted that 74 percent of the respondents said they would like to vote for a successor to a regime that has been controlled by Fidel Castro and now his brother Raúl for half a century. ''This signifies that Cuba's youth really does want change,'' López said. Visiting the Castro-ruled island has long been a hot-button issue for many exiles, but López urged audience members to make the trip -- within legal means.
''It's really an experience that will be unforgettable for both you and them,'' López said about island youngsters. ``Feel[ing] what they feel is very impactful for them.''


In her first time to participate, a recent Cornell graduate said she enjoyed encountering a range of thoughts on Cuba, . ''I can appreciate there's more diversity of opinion,'' said Katy Sastre, 25, of New Jersey. ``It's nice to get a different opinion.'' The highlight Friday was almost certainly Garcia, film star of movies such as The Untouchables and the director of The Lost City. In a light yet earnest talk, the actor spoke about his unapologetic support for a post-Castro Cuba (''The necessity for freedom is something that's not negotiable''), his early days in Hollywood (``change your name, fix your teeth, lose your accent,'' he was told) and his directing experience with The Lost City (``that movie is the most important thing I've done in my life.)'' Garcia also spoke of the need for audience members, many of them in their 20s, to stay involved in the Cuban cause. ''Both Castro brothers are not going to be around forever,'' he said. ``The dismantling of that regime will eventually happen.''

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Judge kills Cuban lawsuit on Havana Club trademark

March 31, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge dismissed a Cuban lawsuit Monday over the termination of U.S. trademark rights for its Havana Club rum, a victory for Bacardi's effort to take over the brand name as its own in the United States. The dispute dates back decades and is entangled in property seizures during the Cuban revolution, the trade embargo with the island nation and U.S. trademark law.

Cuba's Havana Club is not sold in the United States because of the trade embargo, but the company got a U.S. trademark for the name in 1976 for future opportunities in case the embargo is lifted. French spirits producer Pernod Ricard has partnered with the Cuban government to sell Cuba's Havana Club internationally and has successfully driven up sales around the world outside the United States. Cubaexport, Cuba's state-owned export enterprise, filed the lawsuit three years ago against the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control after the agency refused to allow renewal of its trademark. Tom Gjelten, an NPR reporter and author of a book on the dispute, said Bacardi realizes it's possible the Cuba trade embargo could be lifted and Cuba's Havana Club could become a threat to its rum sales in the United States. Gjelten said Bacardi shrewdly bolstered its case by getting Congress to pass a law in 1998 that prevents the registration or renewal of trademarks connected with companies nationalized by the Cuban government. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth cited that law Monday in his decision to throw out Cubaexport's case. "What this decision seems to be is one more nail in the coffin for Pernod Ricard trying to hold onto its use of the Havana Club trademark in the United States," said Gjelten, author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba."

Cubaexport attorney Vincent N. Palladino said they will appeal the decision. "The decision, and the process OFAC followed in denying Cubaexport a license, are especially disappointing given that U.S.-Cuba policy is under review," Palladino said in an e-mail. Pernod Ricard referred requests for comment to its attorneys, who did not respond to messages left by The Associated Press. Bacardi fought to have Cuba's trademark canceled and is now selling its own Havana Club rum in limited quantities in Florida, made in Puerto Rico so it doesn't violate the trade embargo. Bacardi has an application pending to register the mark in its own name. As Bacardi explains it, Havana Club rum was developed in 1935 by a family owned Cuban company, Jose Arechabala SA. When Fidel Castro rose to power, the family's plant and trademark were seized and the Cuban government began producing rum under the Havana Club label. Bacardi bought the original recipe and the Havana Club name from the Arechabala family in 1994. "We are the legitimate owners of the brand," said Patricia M. Neal, spokeswoman for Bacardi USA Inc. "We're thrilled that once again the U.S. courts have upheld these laws."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cuba loosens spending rule for state companies

Thu Mar 26, 2009 12:46pm EDT
By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro has loosened controls on how state companies spend foreign currency in the first sign a recent cabinet shake-up heralds changes in the running of the economy, businessmen and economists said. The Cuban and foreign sources said authorities have ended a regulation requiring the Central Bank to approve all state company expenditures of more than $10,000. Analysts said the move would mean less bureaucracy and central control. The regulation now lifted had slowed the day-to-day operations of state businesses and hurt production, but in the end had done little to effectively control state spending on the island, the sources said. They asked not to be named due to government restrictions on talking with foreign journalists. "The Central Bank's foreign exchange commission is no longer in business," one Cuban businessman said. A foreign businessman also said the control measure was lifted. The latest move followed a major government reshuffle earlier this month that replaced eight ministers and several top officials and brought armed forces generals, former officers and middle-aged Communist Party officials into the cabinet. The shake-up by Raul Castro, who is widely viewed as a pragmatist and took over as president last year from his ailing elder brother Fidel Castro, appeared targeted at streamlining and improving Cuba's communist system and economic model.

A number of business leaders said the measure would benefit all sectors of the economy by quickening the flow of parts for factories and supplies, especially those that require the most agility, such as tourism and agriculture. Analysts said the latest regulation change ended a control that dated back to 2003-2004 when the government, then headed by Fidel Castro, reimposed rigid centralization over the economy after previously allowing more autonomy for state companies in the 1990s to cope with a deep economic crisis. "It means less bureaucracy, less central control, and more authority and responsibility in the hands of managers of state enterprises," said Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute in Virginia, who has studied Cuban state business practices. "If deeper reforms follow, then state enterprises will be more efficient and profitable -- and fewer, because losers will go out of business," Peters added. Communist authorities often do not comment on internal reforms and official decrees announcing them are often published well after they are signed.


Peters and other analysts believe that Raul Castro, by bringing trusted military officers and other allies into his cabinet team, is seeking to shake off the bureaucratic inertia and disorganization that has long afflicted the Cuban economy. The Caribbean island's economy has been badly battered by three hurricanes last year, wild spikes in commodity prices and the global financial crisis. The balance of payments that measures the flow of foreign exchange in and out of the country went from a $500 million surplus to a deficit of more than $2 billion last year, according to various estimates. This left the country with little choice but to negotiate new payment terms with foreign creditors and businesses. The latest policy move appeared aimed at removing some rigidities in the state-dominated economy. "In the future a more normal budgetary process will be followed under which the ministries will approve annual company budgets in coordination with the Economy and Planning Ministry," a Cuban economist said.
"It will be up to the cabinet to ensure there is financial backing for the budgets, then company managers will be able to purchase what they need without further regulation, unless very large sums are involved," he said.

Cuba experts see the recent cabinet appointments by Raul Castro as following a military reform model called "perfeccionamiento empresarial" -- a Spanish term which translates as "perfecting the (state) company system". The model was developed for companies supplying the armed forces when Raul Castro was defense minister. It seeks to incorporate modern management and accounting practices and grant local managers more day-to-day decision-making power, and also ties wages to individual and collective performance. Since taking office last year, Raul Castro has taken small but symbolic steps such as lifting restrictions on some consumer goods for ordinary Cubans and allowing them to enter tourist hotels previously reserved for foreign visitors. He has also decentralized decision-making in agriculture, granted producers more autonomy and land, and lifted income caps, declaring workers and farmers should earn all they can through their efforts. (Editing by Kieran Murray)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Latin American countries normalize ties with Cuba

HAVANA, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Latin America has opened a new chapter in its ties with Cuba as Costa Rica reestablished ties and El Salvador intended to resume ties with the country. Havana and San Jose agreed last week to resume diplomatic relations despite both sides have been caught by political disagreements on a number of issues in recent years. "Today the world is completely different with what it was in those days," Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said on Wednesday. San Jose and Havana suspended ties on Sept. 9, 1961. He said the diplomatic ties with Cuba were broken during the Cold War era, but the world has changed since then and the decision of restoring the ties is justifiable at this moment. Cuba's Foreign Ministry said the decision is "in accord with its call for integrity and unity with the brotherly people of Latin America and the Caribbean." In San Salvador, newly elected President Mauricio Funes said his government intended to restore ties with Cuba. The outgoing Salvadorian President Elias Antonio Saca had refused to normalize ties with Cuba despite the fact that its neighbors like Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama had done it. Now, Funes is expected to close an era which began in 1959, when the revolutionary army led by Fidel Castro took power and nearly all Latin American countries agreed to cut diplomatic ties with Cuba in the following year. Half a century later, Latin America lives another reality as many governments choose to step away from Washington and break U.S. isolation of Cuba. On December 2008, the Latin American and Caribbean Summit held in Brazil issued a declaration without precedent demanding an end of the embargo set by the U.S. against Cuba since 1962. It will be one of the main issues at the 5th The Americas Summit, to be held in Trinidad and Tobago from April 17 to 19, without Cuba's participation. The issue will be discussed at the Summit without the intention of cornering U.S. or anybody, Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning said last week. Many Latin American countries also called on the U.S. President Barack Obama to lift sanctions against Cuba. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Latin America expects Obama to lift or at least to loose its embargo against Cuba because there are not moral, political or economic justifications to keep these sanctions. Since end of 2008, Cuban Leader Raul Castro has met with leaders from many countries, signaling that Latin America is opening a new chapter in its ties with Cuba.


Obama Administration Seen Chipping Away at Cuba Embargo

Wire reports note that the Obama Administration could be slowly opening up more trade to the island nation.

Farm Futures staff

Could the Obama Administration be further weakening the trade embargo with Cuba? That's the conclusion supported by U.S. Rice Producers Association President and CEO Dwight Roberts, according to a Reuters report. Roberts told the wire service he fully expects Obama to enlarge on the small steps taken by the administration and Congress earlier this month, which softened some travel and trade restrictions. Roberts says he sees a trend in easing trade restrictions, but is also quick to add that he doesn't foresee an immediate end to the 47-year-old trade embargo with the island nation. Amendments passed in 2000 opened food sales to the island, including rice. American rice shipments to Cuba rose to 175,000 tonnes in 2004, but has slipped due to tighter rules introduced in the Bush Administration. Roberts says there will be considerable pressure from a variety of groups to ease trade restrictions with Cuba.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cuba says open to human rights discussion with EU

Wed Mar 18, 2009

By Jeff FranksHAVANA, March 18 (Reuters) - Cuba said on Wednesday it was willing to discuss human rights with the European Union as part of their renewed relationship, but indicated that talk about its prisons may not be any of Europe's business.The EU and Cuba, which reestablished cooperation last year after a five-year rift over Cuban political prisoners, said they would meet in Brussels in May for political dialogue in another step toward normalizing relations.The announcement was made at a joint appearance by new Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, who is visiting the Cuban capital.The two met on the sixth anniversary of a government crackdown in which 75 dissidents and independent journalists were arrested and jailed on sentences ranging from six to 28 years.The crackdown, which came to be known as Cuba's "black spring," caused the 27-nation EU to break off some diplomatic relations with the communist-run island.Michel, speaking through an interpreter, told reporters that Cuba was willing to discuss different issues including "the penitentiary system, an aspect that may be of as much interest to Cuba as to us."Rodriguez, who replaced longtime foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque in a recent cabinet shake-up, quickly corrected Michel.NEW COOPERATION"Cuba is willing to continue the political dialogue with the EU on various topics, among them the field of human rights," he said."But we have not dealt with nor expressed any position about the penitentiary system because we consider that that belongs to the internal jurisdiction of the state," Rodriguez said. "It was possibly a misunderstanding I want to clear up."The EU lifted the sanctions last June with the proviso that it would review Cuba's human rights situation annually. In October the EU and Cuba signed an agreement pledging new cooperation.The United States, which has imposed a trade embargo against Cuba for 47 years but whose new President Barack Obama has spoken of improving U.S.-Cuba relations, marked the "black spring" anniversary by urging the Cuban government on Wednesday to free all political prisoners "and to undertake measures to improve human rights conditions in Cuba."The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights has said Cuba has about 200 political prisoners. Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries working for the United States.Even though President Raul Castro replaced eight cabinet ministers in his government reshuffle, Rodriguez assured "there is absolutely no change" in Cuban's foreign policy.He shed no light on the reasons for the ouster of his predecessor, Perez Roque, who had been considered one of Cuba's top young leaders.He said there had already been enough information released, including a column by Fidel Castro, in which the former leader wrote without explanation that Perez Roque and cabinet chief Carlos Lage, also ousted, had succumbed to the "honey of power."Rodriguez also sidestepped a question about recent comments from a Russian general that Russia might base strategic bombers in Cuba and Venezuela.He said only that Russia and Cuba had "excellent and growing bilateral relations."( Editing by Sandra Maler)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Obama will use spring summit to bring Cuba in from the cold

US companies are queuing up as the president moves to ease restrictions on travel and trade, raising hopes of warmer relations and an end to the embargo

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent
The Guardian, The Observer,
Sunday 8 March 2009

President Barack Obama is poised to offer an olive branch to Cuba in an effort to repair the US's tattered reputation in Latin America. The White House has moved to ease some travel and trade restrictions as a cautious first step towards better ties with Havana, raising hopes of an eventual lifting of the four-decade-old economic embargo. Several Bush-era controls are expected to be relaxed in the run-up to next month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago to gild the president's regional debut and signal a new era of "Yankee" cooperation. The administration has moved to ease draconian travel controls and lift limits on cash remittances that Cuban-Americans can send to the island, a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of families. "The effect on ordinary Cubans will be fairly significant. It will improve things and be very welcome," said a western diplomat in Havana. The changes would reverse hardline Bush policies but not fundamentally alter relations between the superpower and the island, he added. "It just takes us back to the 1990s."
The provisions are contained in a $410bn (£290bn) spending bill due to be voted on this week. The legislation would allow Americans with immediate family in Cuba to visit annually, instead of once every three years, and broaden the definition of immediate family. It would also drop a requirement that Havana pay cash in advance for US food imports. "There is a strong likelihood that Obama will announce policy changes prior to the summit," said Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programmes at the Inter-American Dialogue and author of The Cuba Wars. "Loosening travel restrictions would be the easy thing to do and defuse tensions at the summit."
Latin America, once considered Washington's "backyard", has become newly assertive and ended the Castro government's pariah status. The presidents of Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala have recently visited Havana to deepen economic and political ties. Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is expected to tell Obama on a White House visit this week that the region views the US embargo as anachronistic and vindictive. Easing it would help mend Washington's strained relations with the "pink tide" of leftist governments.
Obama's proposed Cuba measures would only partly thaw a policy frozen since John F Kennedy tried to isolate the communist state across the Florida Straits. "It would signal new pragmatism, but you would still have the embargo, which is the centrepiece of US policy," said Erikson.
Wayne Smith at the Centre for International Policy, Washington DC, said: "I think that the Obama administration will go ahead and lift restrictions on travel of Cuban Americans and remittance to their families. He may also lift restrictions on academic travel. "There are some things that could be done very easily - for example it's about time we took Cuba off the terrorist list. It's the beginning of the end of the policies we have had towards Cuba for 50 years. It's achieved nothing, it's an embarrassment." Wayne Smith, a former head of the US Interest Section in Havana, famously said Cuba had the same effect on American administrations as the full moon had on werewolves. Cuban exiles in Florida, a crucial voting bloc in a swing state, sustained a hardline US policy towards Havana even as the cold war ended and the US traded with other undemocratic nations with much worse human rights records. To Washington's chagrin, the economic stranglehold did not topple Fidel Castro. When Soviet Union subsidies evaporated, the "maximum leader" implemented savage austerity, opened the island to tourism and found a new sponsor in Venezuela's petrol-rich president, Hugo Chávez. When Fidel fell ill in 2006, power transferred seamlessly to his brother Raúl. He cemented his authority last week with a cabinet reshuffle that replaced "Fidelistas" with "Raúlistas" from the military. Recognising Castro continuity, and aghast at European and Asian competitors getting a free hand, US corporate interests are impatient to do business with Cuba. Oil companies want to drill offshore, farmers to export more rice, vegetables and meat, construction firms to build infrastructure projects. Young Cuban exiles in Florida, less radical than their parents, have advocated ending the policy of isolation. As a senator, Obama opposed the embargo, but as a presidential candidate he supported it - and simultaneously promised engagement with Havana. A handful of hardline anti-Castro Republican and Democrat members of Congress have threatened to derail the $410bn spending bill unless the Cuba provisions are removed, but most analysts think the legislation will survive. Compared to intractable challenges in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, the opportunity for quick progress on Cuba has been called the "low-hanging fruit" of US foreign policy. That Obama has moved so cautiously has frustrated many reformers. But after decades of freeze, even a slight thaw is welcome, and there is speculation that more will follow.

Old enemies

President Kennedy imposed an economic and trade embargo on Cuba on 7 February 1962 after Fidel Castro's government expropriated US property on the island. Known by Cubans as el bloqueo, the blockade, elements have been toughened and relaxed under succeeding US presidents. Exceptions have been made for food and medicine exports. George Bush added restrictions on travel and remittances.

The sanctions regime
• No Cuban products or raw materials may enter the US
• US companies and foreign subsidiaries banned from trade with Cuba
• Cuba must pay cash up front when importing US food
• Ships which dock in Cuba may not dock in the US for six months
• US citizens banned from spending money or receiving gifts in Cuba without special permission, in effect a travel ban
• Americans with family on the island limited to one visit every three years.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cuba replaces top Cabinet ministers

March 3, 2009
HAVANA (AP) — President Raul Castro shook up Cuba's top leadership on Monday, replacing key figures tied to his brother Fidel Castro with others apparently closer to him. The abrupt shakeup came a year after Fidel Castro handed the presidency to his younger brother because of poor health. It was announced at the end of the midday news, after the weather and sports. Perhaps the most prominent of those ousted, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, was the youngest of Cuba's top leaders and had been widely mentioned as a possible future president. Perez Roque, 43, was replaced by his own deputy, Bruno Rodriguez. Vice President Carlos Lage, 57, apparently kept his job as vice president of the ruling Council of State, but was replaced as Cabinet Secretary by Gen. Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra, who had been a top official in the military that Raul Castro ran for decades. Lage was credited with helping save Cuba's economy by designing modest economic reforms after the Soviet Union collapsed. Perez Roque was once personal secretary to Fidel Castro and a former leader of the Communist Party youth organization. He had been foreign minister for almost a decade. Among the others ousted was Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez, Finance Minister Georgina Barreiro Fajardo and Labor Minister Alfredo Morales Cartaya. Several ministries were combined in the shakeup. The communique said the decision matched President Raul Castro's desire for a "more compact" and efficient government. Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since July 2006, when he underwent emergency intestinal surgery.

Debate heating up again over U.S. policies toward Cuba

By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Political momentum is building behind efforts to soften America's half-century old policy of isolating communist Cuba, foreign policy experts and lawmakers say.
President Obama, who promised during the campaign to lift restrictions put in place by President Bush on Cuban Americans visiting their relatives, has been largely silent on Cuba as the State Department reviews its policy toward the dictatorship. Last week, the House of Representatives jumped ahead of him by passing a provision in a spending bill banning enforcement of the very provisions Obama said he would repeal.

Also last week:
•The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, issued a report pronouncing the 47-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba a failure.

•A group of diplomats, activists and academics working with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, released a "road map" calling for the removal of all restrictions on humanitarian travel to Cuba, more diplomatic dialogue and an easing of sanctions for art, movies and music. The group included Francisco Hernández, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, which has for years backed a tough stance.

"I think what you're seeing is a trend," said Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who has long sponsored legislation that would allow Americans to travel to Cuba as tourists. After years of going nowhere, he says, the bill now stands a chance. "I think many members are acknowledging, not publicly but privately, that this is such a failed policy it deserves a burial," he said. Changes are likely to happen incrementally. The House provisions, which also ease rules on the sale of food and medicine, will face opposition in the Senate. Among the opponents are Cuban-American lawmakers such as Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J. While calling for engagement, Obama stopped short during the campaign of saying the U.S. should lift the embargo. Some analysts nevertheless believe it will happen on his watch. "When you have Lugar taking a position to the left of Obama, Obama is not going to be able to maintain that position," said Larry Birn, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "You've got farm state Republicans, Fortune 500 CEOs and U.S. oil companies all clamoring for some form of constructive engagement of Cuba." Obama has more political leeway than any president in recent memory because he won Florida in the election despite advocating more engagement with Cuba, said Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which favors lifting the embargo. In contrast, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush campaigned on a tough Cuba stance.
The U.S. stance towards the island nation, now governed by Fidel Castro's brother Raúl, was forged at the height of the Cold War and has been sustained in part because of domestic politics. Many in the Cuban-American community have long rejected efforts to moderate Cuba policy. Given Florida's importance in presidential politics, Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the White House have tended to stand with them. Yet opinion among Cuban Americans is shifting. A poll last month by Florida International University found that 55% of Cuban Americans favor lifting the embargo. Other polls have returned different results, but there is no doubt that a younger generation wants a fresh approach, Hernandez told USA TODAY. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is co-sponsoring the bill to allow American tourism to Cuba, said he believes such visits would lead to the lifting of the embargo, which he says merely bolsters Cuba's repressive government. "This policy really inures to the benefit of those who want to stay in power there," Flake said. Hernandez says that any change to the embargo policy "should wait for a significant response in kind from the Cuban government."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sen. Lugar says US must rethink Cuba embargo


WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. policy of shunning communist Cuba by imposing a strict trade embargo has failed to prod the island nation toward democracy and should be re-evaluated, according to the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests," wrote Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in a report dated Monday.
The report lends new weight to a bipartisan view in Congress that Raul Castro's rise to power has opened a window for U.S.-Cuban relations. President Barack Obama has promised a fresh look at the U.S. policy. He says he would be open to meeting with Castro, who took over as Cuba's president for his ailing brother, Fidel. Obama also supports easing limitations on the number of visits and the amount of money sent to Cuba by family members in the U.S.
But like his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama has said he believes the embargo provides important leverage with the country's leaders. Lugar's suggestion that the U.S. rethink that position was included in an assessment of U.S.-Cuban relations written by his senior staffer, Carl Meacham, who traveled to Cuba in January. The report was scheduled to be distributed this week among Lugar's Senate colleagues. While the report stops short of calling an end to the ban, it offers a harsh assessment of U.S. policies. It charges that the existing embargo provides the Cuban government a convenient "scapegoat" for the nation's economic difficulties, ignores recent political developments and keeps the U.S. from gaining a "broader understanding of events on the island." "By directing policy toward an unlikely scenario of a short-term democratic transition on the island and rejecting most tools of diplomatic engagement, the U.S. is left as a powerless bystander, watching events unfold at a distance," the report states. Ending the embargo would require an act of Congress because lawmakers wrote key parts of the restrictions into law in 1992 and 1996. The 1996 law, passed shortly after Cuban fighter jets shot down two planes operated by a Miami-based anti-Castro group, bars the United States from normalizing relations with Cuba as long as Fidel or Raul Castro is involved in the Cuban government. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a law allowing the sale of agricultural goods and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian reasons. Since then, agricultural sales to Cuba have risen from almost nothing to more than $440 million last year. The report points out that Obama could engage Cuba on this and other issues, such as drug interdiction, migration and terrorism.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cuba: Interview with Blogger Miriam Celaya

Thursday, January 8th, 2009 @ 20:22 UTC
by Claudia Cadelo

ExcerptMiriam Celaya is a Cuban blogger, whose blog Sin Evasión [es] is celebrating its one year anniversary. She started writing under the pseudonym "Eva González," but six months later she decided to use her real name. In this interview with Claudia Cadelo, she talks about how she started blogging, the decision to leave her pseudonym behind, and about her participation in the recent blogger gatherings on the island.

Miriam Celaya is a Cuban blogger, whose blog Sin Evasión [es] is celebrating its one year anniversary. With an art history degree, she worked nearly two decades at the Department of Archaeology at the Science Academies. In addition, she has been a literature and spanish languages professor, where during this time, she became familiar with the use of computers. However, the institute did not have an internet connection. It wasn't until her time working with the digital magazines “Consenso” and “Con Todos” did she learn about the use of the online medium. Soon with the help of other Cuban bloggers, namely Yoani Sánchez of Generación Y [es], she started her own blog under a pseudonym “Eva”. However, that soon changed when she decided to use her own name to publish her blog. Here is an interview with Celaya about her start in the world of blogs, why she chose to leave her pseudonym behind, and her participation in the blogger gatherings.

Claudia Cadelo: How would you define the type of relationships that you have with your blog?

Miriam Celaya: I don't define it. I don't like to categorize things that are dear to me. I prefer to say that my blog is the space where my character and my habitual tendency to provide opinions can be combined with the possibility of freely expressing myself beyond the limited boundaries of interpersonal relationships, within the reality of this country. My blog has allowed me to start relationships with many people, the majority Cubans like me, but also of other nationalities, all of which are very close to me and very needed. It has allowed me to practice tolerance, a skill that - I admit- was very hard for me years ago and something which I had been working on. I also got to know myself better. It was like a second birth for me, and I only hope that the blog will allow to grow as a human being.

CC: You started your blog with a pseudonym, but later you stopped using it. Could you talk about the reasons why you started to blog anonymously?

MC: Some people thought that I hid my identity out of fear of repression. That is not true. In reality, paradoxically, here it is more dangerous to remain “anonymous” by trying to hide. In this semi-clandestine state, one is more prone to blackmail. I was aware that the police knew my real face and could guess that I was scared… My identity was evident: in the magazine Con Todos (and before with Consenso) I published indistinguishably as Miriam Celaya, as T. Avellaneda, as Lucía Morera and as Eva González, and the four had the same writing style. However, I had my own personal reasons to use the mask of Eva, which is the pseudonym that I always preferred: my father, who died in October 2007, was fearful for me because he suspected that I was involved in “something dangerous” and that I also was fearful of possible retaliation against members of my family. In any case, no one can take Eva away from me.

CC: What were the events that led to you showing yourself with your real name? When was it?

MC: As I mentioned, the death of my father and the end of the, let's say, “grace period” that I gave to others, who are very important to me and that always gave some resistance to my intentions to show my face. It is always difficult to convince others about your reasons, especially if those “others” love you and worry about you. I think it was a time of maturity with the circumstances, I publicly discovered myself at the right moment. That was in the summer of 2008, when I was already blogging six months incognito.

CC: Now that you have experienced blogging both anonymously and under your real name, could you tell me about the positive and negative aspects of each and what differences have noticed between the two? Do you feel like you made the right decision?

MC: I feel and know that I made the right decision. I don't have a doubt, especially because it was a completely personal choice and one is responsible for one's own actions, right? I assume all of the consequences for what I write and for the way that I write. The negative aspect of posting anonymously is that it takes away credibility in the eyes of the readers. They understand your reasons and even justify them, but some could wonder that in the distance, whether one is exaggerating the truth hidden behid the pseudonym, avoiding that the opinions and the events can be authentic or verifiable. I truly felt happy with the reaction of the readers upon learning my identity, they encouraged me a lot, connections were made with them, and I gained confidence in myself. However, I don't regret having used my pseudonym during that time: Eva González is a real part of me, even though it was not the name given to me when I was born, October 9, 1959. In an anthropological perspective, Eva was (is) something like a rite of passage.

CC: You are participating in the blogger gatherings, which is how we met. Could you tell us how you feel being a part of that group and in general about your thoughts regarding this phenomenon?

MC: I think it is an extraordinary event, even though of its modest proportions and because of all the difficulties for the blogosphere from Cuba. The gatherings have allowed us to grow closer together and unite the will for the search of independent, civic spaces for dialogue. Up until now, we had been unconnected. The blogosphere also allows us to be something that had been banned: to be citizens, and our gatherings become the forum where people from different backgrounds, ages, experiences, and lines of thinking, can come together, and we profess respect for one another and we encourage this strong feeling, which is inner freedom, and is something that they can't take away. Without a doubt, I am a part of “this”.

CC: Everyone that is part of a journalistic and creative activity like yours, who leaves behind anonymity and publishes their opinions publicly, must have personal and social goals. What are they? Which goals have you accomplished and which ones are close to be accomplished?

MC: I wouldn't say that I am a journalist, even thought I do express my opinions publicly. My personal goals are to contribute any way that I can to the encouragement of dialogue, to search for pluralistic and common spaces, and to push for a different Cuba with which we all dream and need. I don't accept the opinion of some readers who thank me for what I do “for Cuba”: in reality, I only follow my personal convictions and I don't take on the role of Messiah or Joan of Arc. I am not a leader, nor do I follow leaders. Through the blog, I tried to connect myself with many interesting and capable people, people like you and me, who are around, on the streets, who surround you and who you didn't even know existed, and who have the same wishes as you.

Cuba: Interview with Blogger Reinaldo Escobar

Monday, February 16th, 2009 @ 16:12 UTC
by Claudia Cadelo

ExcerptCuban blogger Reinaldo Escobar is one of the few bloggers that has worked professionally as a journalist with official Cuban media. Now he is an independent journalist and runs the portal Desde Cuba, which is also where his blog Desde Aquí is hosted. He is also very active in the Cuban blogosphere and is part of the team that will launch the project Cuban Voices. In this interview, Claudia Cadelo asks about his start with blogging and his thoughts on a blogosphere that is often polarized.

Cuban blogger Reinaldo Escobar was born in 1947 in Camagüey, and graduated with a degree in journalism from Havana University in 1971. He is one of the few bloggers that has worked professionally as a journalist: first in the magazine “Cuba” up until 1987. Here during this work, he was able to travel and visit practically all of the Cuban municipalities where he wrote about many different topics. He later joined the staff of the newspaper “Juventud Rebelde,” (Rebel Youth) where he was later expelled in December of 1988 for what he calls writing with “youthful rebellion.”
Photo by Cuban photographer Claudio Fuentes and used with permission

Now he is an independent journalist and celebrates his firing from the newspaper, together with his wife, Yoani Sánchez of Generación Y [es], whom he met in 1993. From here in 2004, he became editor of the magazine “Consenso” which eventually became the portal Desde Cuba [es], which is is also where his blog Desde Aquí [es] is hosted. He is also very active in the Cuban blogosphere and will be on the jury for the blogging contest called “A Virtual Island [es],” gives presentations during the blogger gatherings, and is part of the team that is preparing to launch the project “Cuban Voices [es],” where to date, 8 bloggers will have their blogs hosted and which will be inaugurated soon. For Escobar, blogging allows him to write about those topics that come to mind, but where he cannot find a space in official Cuban media. Here is a short interview about his interest with blogging.

Claudia Cadelo: How did you start with blogging?

Reinaldo Escobar: In 1994, I touched a computer for the first time, so I arrived late to using technology. Thanks to Yoani Sánchez, author of the blog Generación Y [es], my partner for the past 15 years, she introduced me to this new form of expressing ideas called a blog. She taught me and motivated me, and she still pushes me when I don't write in my blog for more than one week.

CC: What do you see is the value in blogs?

RE: I think one finds an elevated level of freedoms in blogs, and people can aspire to it when they wants to express themselves. Whether or not it is journalism, will be a discussion for the future. It is like the debate whether or not acupuncture is medicine, whether or not chess is a sport, or whether or not yoga is a religion. These phenomena emerge and acquire their own identity, independent of definitions and labels given to them.

CC: What are your thoughts on a blogosphere that is often polarized?

RE: Now, I have chosen moderation, which is not synonymous with cowardice or conservatism. Sometimes, I write incendiary words and I have the urge to insult and discredit, especially with those who insult and discredit others as if it were their job, most of them are opportunist and.. . (see, it does not take much to fall into temptation), but I contain myself. Even though I prefer not to belong to any political organization, I believe that I have a commitment, a citizen's obligation to my country and its future. I enjoy the characteristic (for some it is a defect, and for others a virtue) of not remaining quiet when I sense that it is necessary to say something. I am that person that tells the passerby that their shoe is untied, that signals a driver when he or she drives with their lights on during daytime. Whey should I remain silent when I have the feeling that my children's future is in danger? I don't feel like a hero or anything else. I chose the risks of responsibility, before brave imprudence or indifferent comfort.

La Universidad Católica San Vicente Mártir llega a Cuba

7 de Junio del 2008 @ 22:55:00.
José Ángel Crespo Flor


Dos profesoras valencianas viajan a La Habana para ofrecer un máster en Bioética. Pese a su corta vida ya se puede asegurar que la Universidad Católica de Valencia 'San Vicente Mártir' goza de todas las garantías que uno pudiera exigir. Se trata -su nombre ya lo indica- de una universidad pero donde además de profundizar en el saber intelectual, se marcan unas pautas totalmente cristianas de ahí la característica principal de este centro educativo que cada vez cuenta con más alumnos.El cardenal arzobispo de Valencia monseñor Agustín Garcia-Gasco Vicente ha sido el impulsor de esta universidad de ahí que los logros que ha tenido sean fruto de un enorme trabajo de su equipo directivo pero también de la tenacidad y esfuerzo mostrados por el purpurado desde que esta Universidad comenzó a dar sus primeros pasos.La noticia que nos ocupa, el viaje de dos profesoras de esta institución católica a La Habana para ofrecer un máster de Bioética, viene a corroborar lo que estamos diciendo: la implantación de esta Universidad no tanto en Valencia sino allende nuestras fronteras. Es pues un momento importante el que atraviesa este centro en el que se han puesto tantas expectativas y es momento de sentir orgullo por lo que representa esta Institución y por el cometido que puede hacer por el bien de la sociedad valenciana y de todos los que a ella acuden.Particularmente nos agrada el viaje de estas dos profesoras de la UCV a La Habana porque aquí, en El Canyamelar -concretamente en la parroquia Nuestra Señora del Rosario- se venera desde hace unos años una réplica de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patrona de todos los cubanos. Precisamente este gesto, que lo llevó a término el entonces obispo de Holguín y hoy obispo emérito mons. Héctor Luis Peña, ha servido para que aquí se haya gestado una Asociación que, entre sus cometidos tiene el de ayudar en las carencias a Cuba y el de celebrar todos los 8 de septiembre la Fiesta en honor a la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.

Dos profesoras de la Universidad Católica de Valencia "San Vicente Mártir" (UCV) han participado hoy en La Habana en el acto de entrega de los títulos a la promoción del primer Máster Oficial de Bioética que se imparte en Cuba, según han indicado hoy a la agencia AVAN fuentes de la UCV, que han asegurado que es "la primera vez en 50 años que una universidad católica otorga un título en este país". La promoción que ha recibido su título está integrada por 24 alumnos, mientras que la segunda promoción que iniciará el próximo máster estará compuesta por una treintena de jóvenes, entre ellos, médicos, enfermeros, juristas, veterinarios y biólogos. Las profesoras María José Torres, coordinadora del Master Oficial en Bioética de la UCV, y Gloria Casanova viajaron ayer desde Valencia por vía aérea hacia Cuba donde han asistido hoy, igualmente, a la apertura del primer Centro de Bioética de La Habana que llevará el nombre de "Juan Pablo II". El centro, dirigido por dos médicos cubanos, tendrá como fines principales la investigación y formación continua.Igualmente, Casanova y Torres impartirán contenidos del II Master Oficial en Bioética que comenzará en los próximos días en las diócesis cubanas de Santa Clara, Placetas y Sancti Spiritus, sedes del máster que dirige el misionero valenciano Blas Silvestre.La Universidad Católica de Valencia ³San Vicente Mártir", a través del Instituto de Ciencias de la Vida, que dirige el médico Justo Aznar, inició en 2007 en Cuba el máster en Bioética para profesionales de los ámbitos sanitario y jurídico.El programa ofrece entre sus contenidos los principales aspectos de la bioética fundamental y clínica, así como la investigación. De igual modo, el máster, que incluye un trabajo de investigación final, cuenta con un claustro de profesores formado por varios médicos, psicólogos y juristas tanto cubanos como europeos.Además, los alumnos cubanos pueden completar y reforzar su formación a través de la plataforma digital de la Universidad Católica de Valencia, UCVNet, para la enseñanza "on line", con la ampliación de apuntes y tutorías virtuales, han añadido.De igual forma, la Universidad Católica de Valencia cuenta, además, con un Observatorio de Bioética, fundado en 2006 por el Instituto de la Vida de la UCV, integrado por medio centenar de expertos pertenecientes a la UCV así como a otras universidades, entre ellas, de Navarra, Madrid, Vitoria y Alicante y de Valencia, y por profesionales vinculados a otras instituciones públicas o privadas.El Observatorio dispone de una página web con documentos y foros sobre la investigación y avances médicos para evaluar y tratar diferentes cuestiones desde la ética como la clonación humana, la eutanasia, la experimentación con embriones o las células madre. Las direcciones habilitadas en internet son y, el Observatorio proporciona a los profesionales y personas interesadas en estas materias asesoramiento y formación continuada "que les permita evaluar, consensuar y tratar los problemas relacionados con la bioética", han añadido fuentes de la UCV