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."