Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wikileaks document on Cuban health care

Thursday, 31 January 2008, 19:52
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 HAVANA 000103
EO 12958 DECL: 01/25/2018
Classified By: COM: Michael E. Parmly: For reasons 1.4 b/d
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: This cable is a follow up to Reftel and provides anecdotal accounts from Cubans about their healthcare, based on USINT FSHP’s (Foreign Service Health Practitioner) interactions with them, her unauthorized visits to Cuban hospitals, and her care of USINT American and Cuban personnel. End Summary.
¶2. (C) The following anecdotes were obtained from Cubans of various walks of life: domestic employees, neighbors in the Havana suburbs, USINT Local Contract National (LCN) employees, service providers such as manicurists, masseuses, hair stylists, chauffeurs, musicians, artists, yoga teachers, tailors, as well as HIV/AIDS and cancer patients, physicians, and foreign medical students.
-- A Cuban woman in her thirties confides, “It’s all about who you know. I’m okay because I am healthy and I have ‘friends’ in the medical field. If I didn’t have my connections, and most Cubans do not, it would be horrible.” She relates that Cubans are increasingly dissatisfied with their medical care. In addition to the general lack of supplies and medicines, and because so many doctors have been sent abroad, the neighborhood family physicians now care for 300-400 families and are overwhelmed by the workload. (Note: Neighborhood doctors are supposed to provide care for only 120 families. End Note.) In the absence of the physicians, patients go to their municipality’s “polyclinic,” but long lines before dawn are common, with an all too common 30-second diagnosis of “it’s a virus.”
-- A 40-year old pregnant Cuban woman had a miscarriage. At the OB-Gyn hospital they used a primitive manual vacuum to aspirate the contents of her womb, without any anesthesia or pain medicine. She was offered no emotional support for her ‘loss’ and no pain medication or follow up appointments.
-- A 6-year old Cuban boy with osterosarcoma (bone cancer) is admitted to the oncology hospital. Only his parents are permitted to visit, and then only for limited hours. He does not have a television nor any games or toys. The hospital offers no social support services. The parents do not seem informed as to their son’s case. When asked by the FSHP what they know about the management of the disease, they shrug their shoulders. According to the FSHP, cancer patients do not receive on-going basic care utilizing testing procedures common in much of the world to monitor cancer care -- such as blood chemistries and tumor markers, sonograms, x-rays, CT and bone scans, MRIs, PET scans, etc. Patients are generally informed of the type of cancer they have, but know little of its staging, tumor size, metastasis, or prognosis. They may be offered surgery followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation but are not given choices to decide an aggressive versus less aggressive approach, nor are they allowed internet access to learn more of their disease.
-- Many young cancer patients reportedly have become infected with Hepatitis C after their surgeries. Contracting Hepatitis C after surgery indicates a lack of proper blood screening prior to administering transfusions. All blood should be screened for Hepatitis B, C, HIV and Syphilis prior to use. Patients have no recourse and are not fully informed of the seriousness of such an inadvertent infection.
-- During chemotherapy and radiation treatments, patients receive little in the way of symptom or side-effects care (i.e., severe nausea, vomiting, low blood counts, fever, diarrhea, radiation burns, mouth sores, peripheral neuropathies,etc.) that is critically important in being able to continue treatments, let alone provide comfort to an already emotionally distraught victim. Cancer patients are not provided with, nor can they find locally, simple medications such as Aspirin, Tylenol, skin lotions, vitamins, etc. Most Cuban patients are not offered Hospice Care or any social support programs for children, adults, or their care providers.
-- HIV positive patients have had the letters ‘SIDA’ (AIDS)
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stamped on their national ID cards. Needless to say, in a country where the national ID card must be shown for everything from getting monthly rations to buying a train ticket, the person is stigmatized for life. There is no patient/doctor confidentiality and discrimination is very strong. (Note: According to Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) officials in Havana, stamping ID cards used to be the case but is no longer the practice in Cuba, something we could not independently corroborate. End Note.)
-- Some newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS patients are held in what has come to be known as “Prision de Pacientes con SIDA de San Jose” (Prison for AIDS patients). There they are started on antiretrovirals AZT, D4T, 3TC. It is unclear to them why they were put in this prison-like facility but believe it is plain discrimination due to their homosexuality. The average period spent at this facility seems to be 18-24 months.
-- AIDS patients are not given prophylaxis medication for the prevention of PCP (Pneumocysti carinii pneumonia), and for lack of newer medicines some patients are re-started on antiretroviral regimens that were stopped due to significant side effects. The Cuban family physicians who care for these patients’ primary care needs do not have the authority to treat their HIV/AIDS disease. There is only one facility in Cuba, Instituto Pedro Kouri, located in Havana, where HIV positive patients can receive their specialty care, antiretroviral medications and treatments. According to HIV positive Cubans known to FSHP, one usually waits for months for an appointment, but can often move ahead in line by offering a gift or hard currency. We are told five Cuban convertible pesos (approximately USD 5.40) can get one an x-ray and more can get one a CD4 count. Patients on the island must travel to the capital city for their specialist visits and medication. Due to the lack of island-wide transportation and the cost of travel, many HIV-positive patients may be seen only once per year.
-- While the GOC claims there is a network of organizations that provide social support for HIV/AIDS patients, many of our sources say they have never been to one. Because they are “marked” as HIV positive, many are prevented from pursuing university studies and few can find gainful employment -- many must resort to menial jobs to survive.
-- A physician XXXXXXXXXXXX told the FSHP that he works 14 hours every other day, then has to hitchhike home because he cannot afford to own a car.
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that Cuban authorities have banned Michael Moore’s documentary, “Sicko,” as being subversive. Although the film’s intent is to discredit the U.S. healthcare system by highlighting the excellence of the Cuban system, he said the regime knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them. When the FSHP showed Sicko to a group of XXXXXXXXXXXX, some became so disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room.
-- Even the Cuban ruling elite sometimes goes outside of Cuba for the best medical care. Fidel Castro, in July, 2006 brought in a Spanish doctor during his health crisis. Vice Minister of Health Abelardo Ramirez went to France for gastric cancer surgery. The neurosurgeon who is Chief of CIMEQ Hospital (reportedly one of the best in Cuba) went to England for eye surgery and returns periodically for checkups.
-- According to a local pediatrician, the approximate breakdown of Cuban physicians’ salaries are: 1st & 2nd year residences earn 325 pesos monthly (USD 15.00); 3rd year residences earn 355 (USD 16.00); 4th year residences (specialists) earn 400 pesos monthly (USD 18.00). For every four years of medical practice thereafter, a physician receives an additional 20 pesos (USD 0.89 cents) per month.
-- There is reportedly such a shortage of nurses that within the last few years, a high-school graduate is now offered an
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accelerated training course of just ten-months duration entitled, “Enfermeras Emergentes” (Emergency Nurses). These “quasi” nurses are not trained to start Intravenous lines, interpret lab results or draw blood.
-- Few medical professionals are allowed access to the internet and are rarely allowed to travel to participate in international conferences or continuing education courses. Access to up-to-date medical literature is not available. Some physicians have confided to the FSHP, “All of us want to leave.” They are dissatisfied with their salaries and their own medical care. They receive no special privileges - most of them do not even have access to care at the better foreigner hospitals, even if they work there.
-- As described in reftel, the best medical institutions in Cuba are reserved for foreigners with hard currency, members of the ruling elite and high-ranking military personnel. These institutions, with their intended patient clientele in parentheses, include: Clinica Central Cira Garcia (diplomats & tourists), Centro Internacional de Investigaciones Restauracion Neurologica (foreigners & military elite), Centro de Investigaciones Medico Quirurgicas (military & regime elite), Clinica de Kohly (Primer Buro Politico & Generals of the Ministry of Interior), and the top floors of the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital (foreigners) and Frank Pais Hospital (foreigners). These institutions are hygienically qualified, and have a wide array of diagnostic equipment with a full complement of laboratories, well-stocked pharmacies, and private patient suites with cable television and bathrooms.
¶4. (C) Below are first-hand observations from USINT’s Foreign Service Health Practitioner’s (FSHP) impromptu and unauthorized (by the GOC) visits to major Havana hospitals where average Cubans receive their healthcare, and from conversations with Cubans in many walks of life.
¶A. Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital
-- Address: San Lazaro #701 Esquina A Belascoain, Centro Habana, Havana
-- Date of visit: October, 2007
-- Built in 1982, this newly renovated 600 bed, 24 story hospital is depicted in Michael Moore’s film “Sicko,” where some 60 surgeries are performed daily including heart, kidney, and cornea transplants, mostly to patients who receive free treatment as part of Operation Milagro (mostly from Venezuela, but also from the rest of Latin America). The two top floors (shown in the movie) are the most modern and are reserved for medical tourists and foreign diplomats who pay in hard currency. The hospital has three intensive care units and all medical specialties except Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology and has no emergency room. The facility has a CT scanner (often said to be out-of-service), MRI and hyperbaric chamber capabilities.
-- Upon entering the building the FSHP was struck by the grand and impressive lobby with a four-story ceiling, polished terrazzo floors and an elegant center reception booth. No one was in the reception booth, which displayed a digital streaming ticker-tape announcing an outdated hospital event; 30 or 40 people were sparsely scattered in the leather-like chairs throughout the lobby. There were no wheel chairs or other obvious signs this was a hospital.
-- She was told the majority of patients came from Venezuela and each received weekly one bar of Palmolive bath soap, Palmolive shampoo, and a tube of Colgate toothpaste. She was also told the Venezuelan patients frequently take these items outside to the front parking lot and sell them to local Cubans. Cuban in-patients receive one tube of Colgate toothpaste and no other toiletries.
-- Due to the high volume of foreigners receiving treatments and surgeries, most Cubans do not have access - the only chance might be a through a family member or connection working there and a gift or 20 CUCS (USD 21.60) to the Hospital Administrator. Cubans are reportedly very resentful
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that the best hospital in Havana is “off-limits” to them.
¶B. Ramon Gonzalez Coro Hospital
-- Address: Calle 21 #856 between 4th & 6th Avenues, Vedado Plaza, Havana
-- Date of visit: July, 2006
-- What is today the Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB-Gyn) hospital for Havana, used to be a private clinic prior to the revolution. The hospital has: 300 beds and reserves 12 beds for foreigners; an Intensive Care Unit for women as well as a Newborn Intensive Care Unit (using a very old infant ‘Bird’ respirator/ventilator - the model used in the U.S. in the 1970s); an Intermediate Newborn Care Unit; one room for babies less than five pounds needing weight gain; a Genetics Department with a specialized laboratory; and five surgical suites.
-- The FSHP visited this hospital with a pregnant USINT American patient. Normally USINT staff is required to go to Cira Garcia Clinic, but because there were possible OB complications the FSHP was able to arrange, through a Cuban medical contact, for the patient to be seen by a highly-recommended obstetrician.
-- This hospital, located in the densely populated residential area of Vedado, had a dilapidated and crumbling exterior. The FSHP was stopped at the entrance by a guard, but upon mentioning the name of the doctor they were to see, were allowed to proceed to the second floor - supposedly the nicest part of the hospital, which is reserved for foreigners; it reminded the FSHP of some of the poorest hospitals she had seen in Africa - unkempt rooms, old wrought-iron beds, flat mattresses with only one sheet, no A/C, no TV, no amenities. At the nursing station there was no nurse, but a metal cabinet with glass doors that had one jar filled with cotton and one half-full 16 ounce bottle of isopropyl alcohol. There were no other supplies nor any indication this was a nurse’s station - no stethoscopes, no computers, no medical charts, no papers or pens on the desk - there was a lone dial-type black telephone.
-- After waiting 15 minutes a nurse in a white uniform appeared and told the FSHP and her patient to wait. She wasn’t friendly. There was no waiting room, so they found some chairs in the hall. It was very hot and the patient was very anxious and in pain. After 45 minutes and several attempts in a polite manner to move things along, a young female doctor came out smiling and asked for the patient - she asked that her husband remain in the chair, but did allow the FSHP to go with her upon insisting. At the end of a long hallway, the FSHP and the patient were guided into an “exam room.” There were no chairs, screens, posters, any medical supplies or equipment; only one old rusting sheet-metal table without any covering, extensions or stirrups. She asked the patient to undress and climb on the table with no intention to drape her. Having worked in third-world countries, the FSHP brought with her a bag of supplies that included paper drapes, which she placed on the table and over the patient. The doctor pulled out of a nearby drawer an old Pinard fetal heart stethoscope made of aluminum (funnel-shaped, like those used at the turn of the Century ) to listen for the baby’s heart beat. The FSHP could not believe her eyes -- this was one of the best OB/GYN hospitals in Cuba. When the FSHP offered the doctor a portable fetal Doppler she had brought from the USINT Health Unit (HU), she gladly accepted.
-- Although the doctor appeared to be clinically competent, she was abrupt and rough with the patient. FSHP believes this to be typical of the hierarchical doctor-patient relationship in Cuba. She stated, “She has an infection and needs an antibiotic,” and gave the FSHP a written prescription for an antibiotic generally not recommended during pregnancy. Upon returning to the HU the FSHP did a culture that returned negative for a bacterial infection. Needless to say, the FSHP did not give the prescription to the patient. As a result of this experience, the FSHP concluded that the best care for her unstable female pregnant patients in Havana -- barring a MEDEVAC to the U.S. -- would
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be by the FSHP in their own home with telephone consults to an obstetrician in the U.S.
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX told the FSHP that XXXXXXXXXXXX foreign medical students are increasingly covering for the gross shortages of physicians in Cuban hospitals.
¶C. Calixto Garcia Hospital
-- Address: Avenida De Universidad Y 27 De Noviembre, Vedado, Havana
-- Date of visit: November, 2007
-- Built in the late 1800’s, this dilapidated 400-bed hospital was the first teaching hospital in Cuba and is only for Cubans. FSHP believes that if Michael Moore really wanted the “same care as local Cubans,” this is where he should have gone. The 22-bed emergency room receives all the major trauma and accident victims from Havana City, plus there are large Intensive and Intermediate Care Units. It also has a CT scanner and an MRI, which are reportedly often out of order. The hospital provides specialist care in all medical fields except OB-Gyn and Pediatrics.
-- During the hospital visit, FSHP was struck by the shabbiness of the facility -- no renovations were apparent -- and the lack of everything (medical supplies, privacy, professional care staff). To the FSHP it was reminiscent of a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world.
-- In an open-curtained exam room inside the emergency room, FSHP saw a middle-aged man lying on a gurney in his own soiled clothes with a large bloody bandage wrapped around his head - he was breathing, but was neither moving nor talking - there was no IV, oxygen (in fact no piped-in oxygen at all at this facility) or monitoring equipment. Neither did there seem to be any sense of urgency to his care.
-- The hospital is spread out over several city blocks consisting of many two-story buildings with various specialties: Internal Medicine, Cardiology, General Surgery, Orthopedics, Ophthalmology, and Neurology, etc. Each building is set up in dormitory style, with 44 metal beds in two large open rooms.
-- The laboratory equipment is very rudimentary - a simple CBC (complete blood count) blood test is calculated manually by a laboratory technician looking through a microscope and counting the individual leucocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, etc.
-- As the FSHP exited a building, XXXXXXXXXXXX drove up in a badly dented 1981 Moskovich that belched exhaust fumes. The private car, which is a luxury in Cuba, was a gift from his deceased father. He was a thin man, appearing disheveled, unshaved, with a cigarette between his lips, wearing a tattered white lab coat without a shirt underneath. He said his salary was 565 pesos (approximately $22) per month.
¶D. Salvador Allende Hospital
-- Address: Calzada Del Cerro # 1551, Cerro, Havana
-- Date of visit: November, 2007
-- This 400-bed hospital is located in Cerro - a poorer and more densely populated section than the others visited in Havana. It is an old, run-down facility similar in appearance to Calixto Garcia Hospital in that there are several two-story buildings each with a medical specialty.
-- The FSHP was dropped off a few blocks away so the guards wouldn’t see the diplomatic plates. When she walked in, the guards smelled of alcohol. In the emergency room there were about 40 mostly poor-looking Afro-Cuban patients waiting to
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be seen. It appeared to be very orderly, clean, and organized.
-- The rest of the buildings were in shambles . The FSHP did not see any “real” medicine or nursing practiced during her almost one-hour walk through most of the buildings. As she saw patients, she could not help but think that their own home might provide more value-added than remaining in that hospital. Patients had to bring their own light bulbs if they wanted light in their rooms. The switch plates and knobs had been stolen from most of the rooms so one had to connect bare wires to get electricity. There was no A/C and few patients had floor fans. Patients had to bring their own sheets, towels, soap and supplemental foods. Hospital food service consisted of rice, fish, rice, eggs, and potatoes day after day. No fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat were available.
¶5. (C) Comment: After living in Cuba for two and a half years, treating numerous Cuban employees at USINT, and interacting with many other Cubans, the FSHP believes many are malnourished and psychologically stressed. Hypertension, diabetes and asthma are widespread, but poorly treated. Common prescription and basic over-the-counter medications are unavailable. Given the large number of chronic diseases treated by the FSHP, preventive medicine in Cuba is a by-gone ideal, rather than the standard practice of care. PARMLY

Oswaldo Paya interviewed by Norwegian Christian Democrats

Brief BBC Interviews with dissidents

Que me pongan en la lista (1 de 2)

Que me pongan en la lista (2 de 2)

Cuba’s plan to shop talent may not help MLB

By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports
Dec 27, 4:36 pm EST

Pedro Luis Lazo retired from baseball the day after Christmas. A horse-drawn carriage took him into the stadium in Pinar Del Rio where he and Jose Contreras(notes) once formed the most fearsome pitching duo in the history of the Cuban league, Serie Nacional. Nearly a decade ago, Contreras fled Cuba for the riches of Major League Baseball. Lazo stayed.

For the last 21 years, Lazo pitched for a pittance. Outside of the tiny island shut off from the United States, he is barely known. Whatever Lazo could’ve been in MLB – monster closer or inning-gobbling starter in all likelihood, and outsized, magnanimous personality for certain – his nationalist and loyalist sensibilities handcuffed him to Cuba.

He is a dying breed. Over the last two years, major league teams have spent more than $75 million on Cuban defectors for whom a life with new cars and sparkling jewelry and freedom was too much to ignore. Nearly half the sum went to Aroldis Chapman(notes), who in his first season with the Cincinnati Reds threw the fastest recorded pitch in history and showcased the highest-end talent available in Cuba.

Chapman’s defection, along with that of shortstops Jose Iglesias (Boston signed him for $8.2 million) and Adeiny Hechavarria (Toronto signed him for $10 million), has compelled Cuba to reconsider its policy on restricting players from plying their trade professionally elsewhere. The Baseball Federation of Cuba, headed by Fidel Castro’s son Tony, is discussing a plan that would allow baseball players to leave the country in exchange for a proportion of their salary going to Cuba, according to two sources familiar with the proposal.

Ideally, one source said, Cuba would send players to the major leagues and circumvent the spate of defections that have embarrassed the country. Such a plan, the source said, is currently a non-starter. Though MLB would welcome Cuban players, the arrangement would in effect pay the Cuban government for players, a violation of the United States’ 50-year-long embargo on Cuba. That is unlikely to thaw for baseball. While the U.S. government has allowed Cuba to play in both World Baseball Classics, Cuban players were the only ones not given the prize money handed out by the International Baseball Federation.

For now, the idea is for Cubans to go to Japan, South Korea, Mexico or Europe, like doctors and entertainers who make money elsewhere, then return home eventually. Because of working agreements with the first three countries, MLB would not take defectors from them. And baseball in Europe is played at a significantly lower quality and salary, likely keeping the top-end Cuban talent from playing in the Netherlands or Italy.

Accordingly, the defections probably will continue unabated. In November, Yasiel Balaguer, a 17-year-old on the Cuban Junior National team, defected to Nicaragua. Whether Balaguer is anything more than a marginal talent seems not to matter, as MLB teams’ intrigue with Cuban players continues despite the deep risk involved with their signings. Eleven Cuban players made major league debuts in the last three seasons and 35 have done so since 1995.

For every Chapman and Iglesias – he is expected to take over as the Red Sox’s full-time shortstop by 2012 – there are Noel Arguelles(notes) and Dayan Viciedo(notes). Kansas City paid $6.9 million for Arguelles last December, and he’s looking like Kei Igawa(notes) to Chapman’s Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes). Arguelles still hasn’t thrown a professional pitch and underwent shoulder surgery in August. Viciedo’s two main problems – plate discipline and weight – haven’t resolved themselves, and the White Sox only hope their $10 million investment in the third baseman isn’t a complete wash.

Even if they’re busts, there have been enough Cuban successes in the major leagues to feed the defecting marketplace. The Angels’ Kendry Morales(notes) is among the best hitters and the White Sox’s Alexei Ramirez(notes) is among the best-fielding shortstops in the American League. Shortstop Yunel Escobar(notes) is poised for a breakout season with Toronto, and pitcher Yunesky Maya(notes) joins Washington’s rotation this season, and outfielder/first baseman Leslie Anderson could crack Tampa Bay’s opening day roster.

Despite the dozens of players who have left over the past two years, Cuba remains No. 1 in IBAF rankings. Major league teams still covet Frederich Cepeda and Yulieski Gourriel and Alfredo Despaigne and even Lazo, who, at 37 and sporting a paunch, can fire fastballs and forkballs like his old teammate in Pinar Del Rio.

Contreras signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal to remain with Philadelphia this offseason. Already he has made $62.5 million in his eight major league seasons. Depending on the report, players in Cuba are paid anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to $2,000 or $3,000 per season. Over his career, Contreras has made $3,396.55 per pitch.

Lazo could’ve had that. He could’ve been like so many Cubans who leave behind their families to be rich and famous and free. There is something tragic about Pedro Luis Lazo, just as there is about Cuba. And yet as Lazo rode off into the sunset on a horse, having pitched for 21 seasons in the place he loves most, there was something beautiful about it, too, about the dying breed going out exactly like he wanted.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fidel Castro to appear on Cuban television and radio

Mon Jul 12, 2010
HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has lived in seclusion since falling ill four years ago, will appear on Cuban television and radio on Monday evening to discuss his theory that the world is on the verge of nuclear war, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said in its Monday online edition. The appearance will mark the second time in less than a week that the suddenly resurgent 83-year-old has made a public appearance, after staying out of view, except in occasional photographs and videos, since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.
Last Wednesday, he made a visit to a Havana scientific center that was disclosed in a blog on Saturday. Castro writes opinion columns, or "Reflections," for Cuba's state-run media that in recent weeks have focused on his prediction that nuclear war will soon break out, sparked by a conflict between the United States and Iran over international sanctions against Iran's nuclear activities. "The empire is at the point of committing a terrible error that nobody can stop. It advances inexorably toward a sinister fate," he wrote on July 5. The "empire" is how Castro usually refers to the United States, his bitter foe from the time he took power in Cuba in a 1959 revolution. In a column published on Sunday night, Castro said the "principal purpose" of his writings has been to "warn international public opinion of what was occurring." He said he has reached his dire conclusion based in part on "observing what happened, as the political leader that I was during many years, confronting the empire, its blockades and its unspeakable crimes." The columns have attracted little attention internationally and caused little reaction in Cuba, but Castro promised to continue his lonely fight to warn the world of the coming disaster. "I don't hesitate in running risks of compromising my modest moral authority," he wrote on Sunday. "I will continue writing 'Reflections' about the topic." Castro ruled Cuba for 49 years before provisionally ceding power to younger brother Raul Castro following his 2006 surgery. Citing age and infirmity, he officially resigned in February 2008 and Raul Castro, now 79, was elected president by the National Assembly. Fidel Castro's reappearance comes as Cuba is preparing to release 52 political prisoners, all jailed in a crackdown on the opposition in 2003 while he was still in power.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cuban dissident ends hunger strike after prisoner release deal

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas Thursday ended a 135-day hunger strike that had put him close to death, and the island's Catholic church identified the first five political prisoners to be freed. Fariñas a 48-year old psychiatrist and independent journalist, has refused to eat and drink since Feb. 24, but has received nourishment intravenously in a Santa Clara hospital since March 11. He took his first glass of water around 2 p.m. Thursday, according to bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Claudia Cadelo, who were with Fariñas when he announced that he was ending his hunger strike after the government agreed to free 52 political prisoners. A church statement Thursday identified the first five political prisoners to be released as Antonio Villarreal Acosta, Lester González Pentón, Luis Milán Fernández, José Luis García Paneque and Pablo Pacheco. Pacheco's wife, Oleivys García, told El Nuevo Herald she was surprised when she visited him in a Ciego de Avila prison Thursday and learned Ortega had just called Pacheco to let him know he would be freed.``We were surprised '' Garcia said via telephone from Cuba. Her husband ``told me he thanked Ortega, who was very courteous, and told him that he was glad to be one of the first released, but hoped he would not be one of the last.'' Pacheco, an independent journalist who has been writing a blog from jail, Voz Tras las Rejas, -- Voice from Behind The Bars -- with the help of Cadelo, has been serving a 20-year sentence. Fariñas launched the strike one day after the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata following an 83-day hunger strike, to demand the release of 26 other political prisoners reported to be in ill health. Sanchez and Cadelo were among about 30 activists who traveled to Santa Clara Thursday to persuade Fariñas to abandon his strike after Cuba agreed Wednesday to release the 52 political prisoners over the next four months. The 52 are the last dissidents still in jail from the 2003 crackdown on 75 opposition activists known as Cuba's Black Spring. The others were released for health reasons.

Dissident leader: No forcible deportations

'We want true freedom. Let the prisoner and his family decide. If there are forcible deportations, there can be no talk about an advancement of human rights.'
–Laura Pollán, leader of the Ladies in White, quoted in that organization's website.

List of Cuban Political Prisoners scheduled for release / deportation

List of prisoners about to be liberated, according to The Associated Press:
Pedro Argüelles Morán, Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Mijail Barzaga Lugo, Oscar Elías Biscet González, Marcelo Cano Rodríguez, Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, Antonio Ramón Diaz Sánchez, Alfredo Domínguez Batista, Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, Efrén Fernández Fernández, Juan Adolfo Fernández Sáinz, José Daniel Ferrer García, Luis Enrique Ferrer García, Próspero Gaínza Agüero, Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, José Luis García Paneque, Ricardo Severino Gonzales Alfonso, Diosdado González Marrero, Lester González Pentón, Jorge Luis González Tanquero, Leonel Grave de Peralta Almenares, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Normando Hernández González, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Regis Iglesias Ramírez, José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Librado Ricardo Linares García, Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutiérrez, José Miguel Martínez Hernández, Luis Milán Fernández, Nelson Molinet Espino, Ángel Juan Moya Acosta, Jesús Mustafá Felipe, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Pablo Pacheco Ávila, Arturo Pérez de Alejo Rodriguez, Horacio Julio Pina Borrego, Fabio Prieto Llorente, Alfredo Manuel Pulido López, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzerique, Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez, Alexis Rodríguez Fernández, Omar Rodríguez Saludes, Omar Moisés Ruiz Hernández, Claro Sánchez Altarriba, Guido Sigler Amaya, Ricardo Silva Gual, Fidel Suárez Cruz, Manuel Ubals González, Héctor Raúl Valle Hernández, Antonio Augusto Villarreal Acosta. Read more: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/cuban_colada/#ixzz0t6sZrWRC

Catholic Church in Cuba announces impending release of 52 political prisoners

(Reuters) - Cuba will free 52 political prisoners, Cuba's Catholic church said on Wednesday, in a major concession to international pressure and a possible step toward improved relations with the United States and Europe. The church said five of the prisoners would be freed later on Wednesday and allowed to go to Spain, while the remaining 47 would be released over the next few months and permitted to leave the communist-led Caribbean island, if they choose. The 52 men are those still in jail from 75 arrested in a 2003 government crackdown against dissidents that damaged Cuba's international standing. The release was the result of recent dialogue between President Raul Castro and Cuban Catholic leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega as the church has taken a more prominent role in national affairs. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos came to Havana this week to join in their discussions. He said the release would "open a new era in Cuba ... with the desire to definitively resolve the question of the prisoners." The release would be the largest since 1998, when 101 political prisoners were among about 300 inmates freed following a visit by Pope John Paul II. It will reduce the number of dissidents behind bars to about 100, which moves Cuba closer to eliminating one of the biggest stumbling blocks in its relations with the United States and Europe. The United States and European Union have long pressed Havana to free political prisoners, improve human rights and move toward democracy. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights said on Monday that Cuba had 167 political prisoners, including 10 who were out on parole, which was the lowest number since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.
The U.S. State Department issued a cautious statement, saying it was working to confirm the church's report but "would view prisoner releases as a positive development." But Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-born member of the U.S. Congress from Florida and the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, warned against being "fooled" by the government in Havana and said "maximum pressure must be exerted" until all Cubans are free. Reaction from Cuban dissidents was mixed, with Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights saying the release was "something good" but not an indication that Cuba's human rights will improve. Laura Pollan, leader of the dissident group Ladies in White, said the release was an important moment in Cuba. "I believe we are at the doors of a change, a significant change," said Pollan, whose husband Hector Maceda was one of those still behind bars from the 2003 crackdown. Hopefully, she said, it will be "the first steps of a true freedom, of a true democracy." Cuba's state-run television reported Castro met Ortega and Moratinos on Wednesday but did not mention the prisoner release. Cuba came under heavy international criticism after the February 23 death of hunger-striking dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo and in recent weeks has slightly relaxed its policy toward dissidents, whom it views as mercenaries working for the United States and other enemies to topple the government. Zapata's death prompted another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, to launch a hunger strike that, after 134 days, reportedly has brought him near death in a hospital in the central city of Santa Clara. He is demanding the release of 25 ailing political prisoners, who are believed to be included in the group to be freed. But Farinas said through his spokeswoman that he would not yet abandon his strike because he has not received word from the church or the government.
His refusal led to a dramatic scene at Pollan's home in central Havana, where she implored him by phone to start eating. "Trust a little bit," she said. "Stop the hunger strike. You are more valuable alive than dead." Sarah Stephens, director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas, said she hoped Wednesday's events would shift U.S. policy away from its cornerstone -- a 48-year-old trade embargo against Cuba -- and toward greater dialogue. "This is joyful news ... and a lesson for U.S. policymakers that engagement -- talking to the Cubans with respect -- is accomplishing more right now than the embargo has accomplished in 50 years," she said. U.S. President Barack Obama has made modest efforts to improve relations with Cuba, including a slight easing of the embargo, and has said there would be further progress when the island released political prisoners. But standing in the way is Cuba's detention of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who has been jailed in Havana since December on suspicion of espionage activities. U.S. officials, who say Gross is not a spy and was only providing Internet access to Jewish groups, maintain there will be no significant improvements in relations until he is freed. Cuba, which considers Gross to be part of longstanding U.S. efforts to undermine its system, has said only that he remains under investigation. Moratinos said the release of the prisoners "logically has to help (Cuba's) relations with the United States, because now there is no excuse." The Spaniard has been a leading voice in Europe for engagement with Cuba instead of confrontation and has pushed for the 27-nation bloc to drop its common position emphasizing improved human rights and democracy on the island. The Cubans view the EU's stance as an obstacle to relations. Zapata's death helped derail Moratinos' efforts to amend the EU position while Spain led the bloc in the first half of this year but he said freeing the prisoners changes things. Many in Europe "did not trust this way of doing policy and today we see that it gives results," Moratinos said.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

La Iglesia de Cuba "esperanzada" con la visita de Moratinos

«La visita reafirma la esperanza acerca de los prisioneros y Cuba en el contexto mundial», señaló el cardenal arzobispo de La Habana

7 de Julio del 2010
El cardenal Jaime Ortega, arzobispo de La Habana, aseguró hoy que la visita a Cuba del ministro español de Asuntos Exteriores, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, "reafirma la esperanza" sobre la situación de los presos políticos en la isla. "Se reafirma con su visita (en referencia al ministro español) la esperanza que ya hemos anunciado anteriormente acerca de estos temas de los prisioneros y de todo lo que tenga que ver con un avance en la presencia de Cuba en el contexto mundial positivamente considerado", señaló Ortega.

Moratinos con el cardenal arzobispo de la Habana

El cardenal hizo estas declaraciones a periodistas tras reunirse en el Arzobispado de La Habana con el ministro español, que se encuentra en Cuba para apoyar el diálogo abierto entre la Iglesia católica y el Gobierno de Raúl Castro sobre los presos políticos. Jaime Ortega agradeció al ministro español su postura de "comunicación y puente" con Cuba, así como su esfuerzo para tratar de normalizar las relaciones con la Unión Europea, regidas desde 1996 por la llamada "posición común", que las condiciona a avances en materia de derechos humanos. "Se lo agradezco como cubano, como arzobispo de La Habana y como miembro de esta Iglesia que ha tenido esta oportunidad especial de llevar adelante un momento muy propicio para poder dar algunos pasos positivos en el mejor sentido de nuestra situación nacional", declaró el religioso. Por su parte, Moratinos manifestó que el Gobierno español se siente "muy satisfecho" de la labor de la Iglesia cubana en su diálogo con las autoridades de la isla. "Esperamos lógicamente que ese trabajo dé resultados", dijo el jefe de la diplomacia española, quien garantizó que el Gobierno de España "está acompañando todas las actividades y actuaciones del cardenal Ortega y la Iglesia Católica". Tras su encuentro con Ortega, que duró cerca de una hora y media, el ministro español eludió pronunciarse sobre la posibilidad de que España acoja a presos políticos cubanos en el caso de que se produzcan excarcelaciones, al ser preguntado por la prensa. "Vamos a seguir trabajando, vamos a seguir dialogando y eso es lo que tenemos que hacer", manifestó. La visita de Moratinos a Cuba ha aumentado las expectativas de que el Gobierno del general Raúl Castro libere a presos políticos, en el marco del proceso de diálogo abierto con la jerarquía católica el pasado mes de mayo. Fruto de esas conversaciones, el régimen cubano excarceló en junio a un preso gravemente enfermo, Ariel Sigler, y "acercó" a doce a centros penitenciarios ubicados en sus provincias de residencia. Además de con Ortega, el jefe de la diplomacia española se reunió este martes con el canciller cubano, Bruno Rodríguez, con quien repasó el estado de las relaciones bilaterales entre ambos países. Ambos coincidieron en que el momento de esta visita -la tercera de Moratinos a Cuba- se produce en un momento "importante" y "promisorio" y se mostraron convencidos del éxito de la misma.

Moratinos espera obtener gestos hacia los presos en Cuba que cambien la política de la UE

El ministro de Exteriores confía en la derogación de la Posición Común que condiciona desde 1996 el diálogo europeo con La Habana


6 de Julio del 2010

El Pais

Nunca una visita del ministro de Asuntos Exteriores, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, había levantado tanta expectación como la que inició el lunes por la noche a La Habana. La pregunta no es si se producirá una liberación de presos políticos, algo que casi todo el mundo da por descontado, sino qué alcance tendrá y si se hará coincidir su anuncio con la presencia del jefe de la diplomacia española, que en la noche del miércoles regresa a Madrid.

Moratinos ha dado a entender que no se marchará con las manos vacías al declarar, al inicio de la reunión que las dos delegaciones han mantenido este martes por la tarde en la sede de la cancillería cubana, su convencimiento de que la visita será un éxito y, lo que es más importante, que así lo considerarán también los otros socios de la UE. Su objetivo explícito es la derogación de la llamada Posición Común, que condiciona desde 1996 el diálogo europeo con La Habana al respeto a los derechos humanos y los avances democráticos. El ministro español ha conseguido que sus colegas de la UE le den una prórroga de dos meses, hasta septiembre, para obtener gestos significativos por parte de las autoridades cubanas. Pero sabe que los partidarios de la firmeza -encabezados por Alemania, República Checa o Polonia- se negarán en redondo a cualquier concesión si no se produce antes la liberación de un grupo significativo de los 167 prisioneros políticos que hay en la isla. No bastan las excarcelaciones a cuentagotas y los traslados penitenciarios realizados hasta ahora. El propio canciller cubano, Bruno Rodríguez, ha reconocido los "esfuerzos" realizados por la presidencia española de la UE para derogar la Posición Común, que ha tachado de "injusta, injerencista y discriminatoria", y se ha mostrado convencido de que la visita de Moratinos, "en un momento promisorio", no sólo será un éxito desde el punto de vista bilateral sino que también tendrá también efectos para las relaciones entre Cuba y la UE. Un guiño dentro de la calculada ambigüedad que rodea esta visita. Rodríguez acudió el lunes por la noche a recibir al ministro español al aeropuerto José Martí y luego le acompañó a la residencia oficial del embajador español en La Habana, Manuel Cacho, como muestra de la complicidad que se ha generado entre ambos. El tercer actor de este drama, cuyos hilos se tejen entre bambalinas, es el cardenal Jaime Ortega, con quien Moratinos ha departido durante hora y media este martes en el Arzobispado de La Habana. "Apoyamos las gestiones de la Iglesia cubana y esperamos que ese trabajo dé resultados", declaró el ministro tras la entrevista. "Se reafirma con su visita [del jefe de la diplomacia española] la esperanza acerca de los prisioneros" políticos, añadió el cardenal, quien agregó que el actual momento es "muy propicio para que se puedan dar algunos pasos positivos". Un lenguaje cauteloso que apenas disimula el temor a que pudiera malograrse en el último momento la esperada liberación de presos políticos. Uno de los elementos que más preocupan es el la situación del disidente Guillermo Fariñas, que se encuentra en estado crítico tras más de 130 días de huelga de hambre y sed en demanda de la liberación de 25 reclusos de conciencia que se encuentran enfermos. La delegación que acompaña al ministro ha estado permanentemente pendiente de su estado de salud, pues un desenlace trágico de su protesta podría hacer descarrilar o como mínimo retrasar, toda la operación. Por su parte, el presidente de la Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional (CCDHRN), Elizardo Sánchez, ha informado de que unos 40 presos políticos han sido entrevistados o sometidos a chequeos médicos en las cárceles en los últimos días, un hecho que en su opinión podría indicar que se prepara una excarcelación masiva. La última palabra la tiene el presidente Raúl Castro, con quien Moratinos tiene previsto reunirse antes de regresar a Madrid, a pesar de que la cita no figura en el programa oficial.

Dissident on hunger strike in danger of dying, Cuba says

Los Angeles Times
July 6, 2010

A prominent Cuban dissident on a hunger strike has developed a blood clot that could kill him, Cuba's government said in an unprecedented official report in the Communist Party state-run newspaper. Here's the report in state-run Granma, in Spanish, headlined "Fighting for life is our responsibility." (The English version of the site does not appear to have the article posted.) In the report, a doctor who has been treating Guillermo Farinas said the dissident is fed nutrients intravenously and has gained weight since being admitted to the Arnaldo Milian Castro University Hospital in the city of Santa Clara. But infections and a recent clot that could block the flow of blood to his heart is putting Farinas's life in danger, Dr. Armando Caballero said. The Granma story fills two pages in the eight-page newspaper but does not mention that Farinas is on a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners in Cuba. The 48-year-old psychologist and journalist began the hunger strike Feb. 24; he was moved March 11 to the Milian Castro hospital, where he has access to a telephone line and a television. The dissident has carried out 22 hunger strikes in the last 15 years, reports said. He has vowed to remain on hunger strike until all political prisoners and dissidents in Cuba are released. Cuba usually ignores calls to release dissidents but has faced increased international pressure and protests on the island from the "ladies in white." The movement of mothers and wives of jailed dissidents grew after the February death of another hunger-striker, Orlando Zapata. Late last month the Cuban government released one dissident, Darsi Ferrer. Ferrer had been jailed for 11 months for allegedly buying black-market cement. Critics said his punishment was excessive. "The entire Cuban population buys black-market goods," economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Spain's FM in Cuba as hunger-striker nears death

By Rigoberto Diaz
HAVANA (Agence France Press)

July 5, 2010 — Spain's top diplomat rushed to Havana in a bid to save the life of a hunger-striker who is defying the communist government and demanding that sick political prisoners be freed. In Madrid, Spain's leading daily El Pais said Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who arrived in Cuba late Monday, believes the communist government will gradually begin releasing all political prisoners, starting with 26 who are in poor health, as a result of his visit. Releasing the sick, jailed dissidents would meet the top demand of seriously ill hunger-striking Cuban activist Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist and online journalist who has put his life on the line in a high-stakes clash with the Americas' only one-party Communist regime. In unprecedented coverage of a dissident's protest, the Communist Party daily Granma reported Saturday Farinas could soon die -- without mentioning his hunger strike seeking freedom for jailed dissidents has left him near death. Farinas, 48, hit back against Cuban government authoritarianism and repression in a statement released on an opposition blog Monday, complaining sarcastically: "they forgot to explain why it is I am on a hunger strike." In any case, "the only people who will be responsible for my death are brothers (former president) Fidel and (President) Raul Castro," Farinas said. "I want to die in my country right under the noses of the dictators who have the guns, rifles, cannons and bombs. I have the moral weight of the people from below, who have been deceived and repressed for 51 years by those who have the weapons, the violence and totalitarian laws they use to govern poorly from above," Farinas added. Moratinos is to hold talks with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, and the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega. But a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro "is not yet confirmed," the Spanish foreign ministry has said. The visit comes after Havana said at the weekend that dissident Farinas is close to death after 132 days on a hunger strike.

While Moratinos is not scheduled to meet with Farinas, the Spanish diplomat told a news conference Monday that his delegation would be in touch with the dissident's entourage "and will express our conviction that the best thing for everyone would be for him to end this hunger strike. "We think that (Farinas) should already feel satisfied with his aims and that he should work, as we are all doing, to improve human rights in Cuba," he said. "I obviously have other objectives on this visit to Cuba which make it worthwhile and can lead to results and help all the citizens of Cuba," he said. Farinas stopped taking food the day after leading dissident Orlando Zapata died on February 23 as the result of an 85-day hunger strike. The international outcry over both hunger strikes and pressures from the Catholic Church led the Castro regime last month to free a paraplegic dissident and transfer 12 other prisoners to jails closer to their homes. The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) -- an outlawed but tolerated group -- estimates there are 167 political prisoners in the Caribbean nation of more than 11 million people. The group's leader, Elizardo Sanchez, said "there is a high likelihood" Havana will set free 30-40 political prisoners in coming "days or weeks." "There are a lot of signs inside the prisons, They are getting medical checkups and being asked in prison if they want to leave the country," Sanchez said. Spanish media have reported France and Italy would take released prisoners, but officials believe most would depart for the United States. Chile also has said it would take in some of those freed. Cuban authorities consider the dissidents a threat to national security, and claim the prisoners are "mercenaries" on Washington's pay, out to smear the Cuban government.

Drilling off Cuba could be sticky proposition

By Christine Stapleton

The Seattle Times (Cox Newspapers)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Despite the warnings of Dick Cheney, George Will, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, the Russians are not drilling for oil off Cuba. Neither are the Chinese. In fact, no one — not even Cuba — is drilling for oil off Cuba. The pesky and persistent rumor, bubbling back up with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is still nothing more than a pesky and persistent rumor — aired in 2008 by former Vice President Cheney (who got the misinformation from conservative columnist Will), repeated on Fox News and recently revived by conservative radio commentator Limbaugh, who told his listeners 10 days after the spill: "The Russians are drilling in a deal with the Cubans in the Gulf. The Vietnamese and Angola are drilling for oil in the Gulf in deals with the Cubans. "However, as oil from BP's exploded well continues surging from the Gulf floor and washing onto Panhandle beaches, the rumor is poised to become fact. Repsol, a Spanish company, expects to begin drilling off Cuba in 2011, according to published reports and oil-industry analysts. Companies from at least 10 other countries, including Russia and China, are negotiating or already have signed lease deals to drill off Cuba. Should the United States be concerned about drilling off Cuba? Yes, according to Jorge Piñon, former president of Amoco Oil Latin America and now a visiting research fellow with the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. "Let's face it, the oil industry is a risky enterprise and there is always concern for a Deepwater Horizon incident," Piñon said. But he added: "If we are going to be afraid of drilling off Cuba, we need to be afraid of the 3,500 rigs drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. "How much oil lies beneath Cuban waters is unknown. Only one exploration well has been dug and hydrocarbons were detected. A U.S. Geological Association survey indicated there are significant reserves. The troubling question for companies hoping to drill is what to do with the oil after they get it out of the ground. Cuba has limited ability to refine oil. The embargo bans U.S. companies from refining Cuba's oil, and two other large refineries in the Caribbean are owned by U.S. companies: Hess in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and Valero in Aruba. Venezuela's refineries are "maxed out," Piñon said. "Oil has zero value unless you can turn it into gasoline or diesel," Piñon said. "Where are they going to refine it?"

Politics could force an answer to that question. Lifting the embargo and allowing U.S. companies to profit from refining Cuban oil is one option. Another is to continue the embargo and risk Cuba strengthening its friendships with U.S. foes. A refinery on Cuba's northern coast is being built by a partnership between Venezuela and Cuba. "People say they (Cuba) can't or shouldn't do it (drill for oil). Well, forget it," Jones said. "It is going to happen, and you guys in Florida can't stop it, and the U.S. government can't stop it, but you'd better think of a way to deal with it." Zones established by maritime law in 1977 gave the United States and Cuba special rights of exploration and navigation in the Florida Straits.

The boundary of Cuba's Exclusive Economic Zone extends to within 45 miles of Key West. The parcels within the zone that Cuba has leased for drilling are along Cuba's northwest coast — about 65 miles south of Key West. By comparison, the Deepwater Horizon well, as much of a concern as it is to South Florida officials, is 800 miles away. Oil from a spill off Cuba could much more quickly enter the Florida Straits and blanket the Keys and South Florida as it is pulled north on the Gulf Stream. "It's ironic that we have been worried about them drilling when it is us that we had to worry about," said Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates, a consulting firm specializing in trade with Cuba. The Deepwater Horizon disaster has forced politicians, policy makers and petroleum companies to rethink how an oil spill off Cuba would play out, Jones said.

Politics, geography and long-standing grudges would make responding to a spill from Cuba much more complex. The 48-year-old Cold War era embargo against Cuba would bar U.S. companies from providing equipment, technology, advice, vessels or personnel to stop and clean a spill off Cuba. "Today, if Mexico or the Bahamas or Canada have a spill, all they have to do is call Houston and in a matter of hours they have access to submarines, skimmers and blowout preventers," Piñon said. "With Cuba, that is not the case. "Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana — the equivalent of ambassador — recently traveled to Cuba with a group of lawmakers from Texas to discuss hurricane preparedness. Conversations quickly turned to the oil spill. With oil from U.S. waters heading toward Cuba and Cuba poised to begin offshore drilling, now would be a good time for the United States to rethink its relations with Cuba and the embargo, Smith said. "Certainly you could make arrangements and exceptions to the embargo," Smith said. "Cuba seems to have the same effect on American administrations as the moon used to have on werewolves."

Can the internet bring change to Cuba?

Daniel Wilkinson
The New York Review of Books
July 6, 2010

Cuban blogger Reinaldo Escobar (center) and other dissidents, being harrassed by pro-government supporters during a protest march, Havana, November 20, 2009

For decades, the Castro government has been very effective in repressing dissent in Cuba by, among other things, preventing its critics from publishing or broadcasting their views on the island. Yet in recent years the blogosphere has created an outlet for a new kind of political criticism that is harder to control. Can it make a difference?

There are more than 100 unauthorized bloggers in Cuba, including at least two dozen that are openly critical of the government. The best-known blog, Generation Y, gets more than a million visitors a month and is translated into 18 languages. Its author, thirty-four-year-old Yoani Sánchez, has won major journalism awards in the US and Europe and in 2008 Time Magazine named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Sánchez has set up a “blogger academy” in her apartment, and she helped found the Web site, Voces Cubanas, which hosts the work of thirty independent bloggers.

Like other government critics, these bloggers face reprisals. Last November, for example, Sánchez reported being detained and beaten by Cuban security agents. Weeks later, her husband and fellow blogger, Reinaldo Escobar, was subject to an “act of repudiation” by an angry mob of government supporters on a Havana street. Such public harassment, as Nik Steinberg and I reported in our recent New York Review piece is commonly used against “dissidents” on the island, along with police surveillance, loss of employment, and restrictions on travel. (The Cuban government requires its citizens to obtain permission to leave the island, and those marked as “counterrevolutionaries” are generally denied it.) And then there is the perennial fear of the “knock on the door”—as Sánchez puts it—announcing the beginning of an ordeal that has been endured by countless critics: arrest, a sham trial, and years of “re-education” in prison. Cuba has more journalists locked up than any other country in the world, except China and Iran.

Policing the Internet, however, is not so easy. The Cuban government controls the island’s Internet servers, just as it controls the printing presses and broadcasting transmitters. But the inherent porousness of the Web means that anyone with an Internet connection can disseminate new material without prior approval. The government can block the sites it does not like (as it blocks Generation Y in Cuba, for instance), but it cannot stop other sites from springing up to replace them.

The biggest challenge for Cuban bloggers isn’t outright censorship. It’s simply finding a way to get online. To set up a private connection requires permission from the government, which is rarely granted. Public access is available only in a few government-run cybercafés and tourist hotels, where it costs approximately five US dollars an hour, or one-third of monthly wage of an average Cuban. As a result, bloggers often write their posts on home computers, save them on memory sticks, and pass them to friends who have Internet access and can upload them—for example workers in hotels and government offices. Others dictate their posts by phone to friends abroad, who then upload them through servers off the island.

No amount of resourcefulness, however, can change the fact that most people in Cuba are unable to access even the unblocked blogs. Indeed, the bloggers themselves are not always able to read their posts online. Some have never even seen their own sites.

Still, by reaching large audiences abroad, the critical blogs pose a threat to the Cuban government’s international image—which explains why the government and its supporters have reacted so virulently, attempting to discredit the bloggers as pawns or even paid mercenaries in the service of US imperialism. Granma, the official state news organ, published an article in its international edition dismissing Generation Y as “an example of media manipulation and interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.” The editor of the pro-government blog Cubadebate, put it this way: “the United States has been waging economic and political warfare against [Cuba] for the past 50 years. And this is just the latest form of that warfare.”

Yoani Sánchez herself, when asked by another blogger about the “external factors” that had contributed to Generation Y’s popularity, acknowledged that attention by The Wall Street Journal and other foreign publications had helped bring new visitors to her site. “But,” she went on, “what happened was the readers came and they stayed. Users could have come once and not come back. Press coverage doesn’t make a site.”

So why do the readers come back?

I asked the Cuban novelist José Manuel Prieto what the bloggers’ appeal was for Cuban exiles like himself. “First, it’s their moderation,” he said. “They criticize the Cuban government without calling for its overthrow.” Indeed, Sánchez, Escobar, and others are unequivocal in their condemnation of the US embargo toward Cuba, a position that until recently was taboo within much of the exile community. In late May, for example, a group of Cubans, including Sanchez, Escobar, and several other bloggers from Voces Cubanas, signed a public letter to the US Congress, urging support for a bill to lift travel restrictions to Cuba.

But more than their politics, Prieto said, what’s appealing is their measured tone. Sánchez herself puts it this way: “I have never used verbal violence in my writings. I have not insulted or attacked anyone, never used an incendiary adjective, and that restraint may have garnered the attention and sympathy of many people.” Ironically, the bloggers’ moderation may be their most subversive quality. It makes it harder for the Castro government and its supporters to dismiss them as right-wing ideologues.

If these blogs are to serve as a catalyst for change, however, it will not be by influencing Castro sympathizers, who are less likely to read them anyway. Instead it will be their growing audience within the exile community, whose leaders have largely shaped US policy toward Cuba. Like the Cuban leaders, the anti-Castro hardliners have sought to discredit opposing views by questioning the motives and allegiances of those who hold them. They accuse critics of the US embargo of ignoring the Castros’ repressive policies. But this charge does not work with the independent bloggers in Cuba who question US policy. For not only are these writers themselves victims of the repression, they are today among its most credible witnesses.

Whether the bloggers can ultimately influence US policy is an open question. In any case, their objectives appear to be more modest—and more profound. They are not polemicists or pundits so much as poets and storytellers. They are less concerned with proposing new policies than chronicling the costs to ordinary people of the repressive policies already in place. The bloggers’ ability to evoke the realities of daily life in Cuba, Prieto says, is another principal source of their appeal.

Here is Sánchez describing one of Havana’s many sex workers:

With a tight sweater and gel-smeared hair, he offers his body for only twenty convertible pesos a night. His face, with its high cheekbones and slanted eyes, is common among those from the East of the country. He constantly moves his arms, a mixture of lasciviousness and innocence that at times provokes pity, at others desire. He is a part of the vast group of Cubans who earn a living from the sweat of their pelvis, who market their sex to foreigners and locals. An industry of quick love, of brief caresses, that has grown considerably on this Island in the last twenty years.

Here she recounts the daily chore of getting water:

I still remember how annoyed my grandmother was when I told her I couldn’t take it anymore, having to use the bathroom when there was nothing to flush with. Then we had to pull up the bucket on a rope from the floor below, helped by a pulley installed years before on the balcony. This up-and-down ritual has continued to multiply until it has become standard practice for thousands of families. In their busy daily routine they set aside time to look for water, load it and carry it, knowing that they cannot trust what comes out of the taps.

Another blogger, the forty-year-old novelist, Ángel Santiesteban, records the struggle over scarce bread outside a bakery:

When the bread comes out of the oven, the mobilization starts, disorganized shoving…. Everyone shouts, offended if someone tries to join an acquaintance in the line or tries to sneak into a possible gap with the objective of cutting in; but the violators don’t listen, the insults don’t matter, hunger is worse than shame, and they keep on pushing.

Claudia Cadelo, the twenty-seven-year-old author of the blog Octavo Cerco, begins a post with this account:

I met him when I was eighteen: intelligent, tall, good looking, mulatto, bilingual and a liar. He said he was an Arab and that was a lie, he told me he had traveled and that was a lie, he told me he had a “yuma” girlfriend who was going to get him out of the country, and that too was a lie. But I liked him anyway, I like dreamers. We became friends.

Then life took us on two different paths: I got tired of waiting for a way to leave the country [after having been refused permission to do so]; while he chose the infinite wait. Once or twice a year we see each other, every time we are further apart: I deeply enmeshed in the thick of things, he waiting and waiting.

The post then takes us up to the present. The friend, now fifty, is still waiting, his old lies exposed, his charm long gone.

He is not alone, the “infinite waiting” has claimed almost all of my friends—the petition, visa, permit to leave, permit to live abroad, permit to travel or scholarship—everyone is waiting for that paper that will take them far away, very far from The Land of No-Time…I have come to define it as a physical and spiritual state: you haven’t gone, but you are not here.

Sánchez tells the story of a man who made his living repairing damaged books. One day the man opened a large volume that had been sent for restoration and discovered inside a “detailed inventory of all the reports that the employees of a company had made against their colleagues.” It was, Sánchez writes, a “testimony, on paper, of betrayals.”

As in the plot of Dangerous Liaisons, in one part it could be read that Alberto, the chief of personnel, had been accused of taking raw material for his house. A few pages later it was the denounced himself who was relaying the “counterrevolutionary” expressions used by the cleaning assistant in the dining room. The murmurs overlapped, producing a real and abominable spectacle in which everyone spied on everyone. Maricusa, the accountant—as witnessed by her office mate—was selling cigars at retail from her desk, but when she wasn’t involved in this illegal work she turned her attention to reporting that the administrator left some hours before closing. The mechanic appeared several times, mentioned for having extramarital relations with a woman in the union, while several reports against the cook were signed in his own hand.

Some of the most telling posts probe the bloggers’ own reactions to the limits the government has placed on their freedoms. In one, Sánchez describes how she was unable to obtain copies of her own book, a compilation of her blog postings published in Chile, which she had hoped to distribute among her friends on the island. Instead, she received a note from the customs office explaining that the shipment of books had been confiscated on the grounds that the “content goes against the general interests of the nation.” In the post, she imagines what might have gone through the minds of the agents who confiscated the books and concludes:

If three years of publishing in cyberspace would serve to bring my voice only to these grim censors, I would have sufficient reason to be satisfied. Something of me would remain inside them, Just as their repressive presence has marked my blog, pushing it to leap toward freedom.

Here Cadelo reflects on her failed effort to obtain a visa to travel abroad:

Today I look at my refusal of permission to travel and it gives me peace: I was not hurt, not surprised. It is the long line that I have been drawing of my path, it’s the certainty that I wasn’t wrong, it’s the proof that the Cuban government has taken the trouble to tell me so I will know—despite the Party and its State, the security forces and their impunity—that I have managed to live as a free woman.

The paradoxical satisfaction both bloggers describe reflects a sense of vindication: The government’s confiscation of Sanchez’s book and denial of a visa for Cadelo confirms their work—not only the truth of what they write but the fact that, in the government’s own estimation, their blogs matter.

Yet there appears to be something even more basic here: the satisfaction of discerning the value of things as perhaps only someone who is deprived of them can. To a large extent this is what these blogs are: chronicles of deprivation. What appears to affect these bloggers most acutely is being deprived of ways to discuss and disagree about their country’s problems. When they manage to initiate such debate—even if it takes place in a forum that is inaccessible to most Cubans—their enthusiasm is palpable.

The bloggers of Voces Cubanas. Many Cubans are unable to access their own blogs.

Here is Sanchez’s answer to the question of why readers of her blog keep coming back:

[T]hey feel that Generation Y is a public place or a neighborhood where they can sit and talk or argue with a friend. And they have stayed there, right up to today. In this very moment my blog is alive, while I am sitting here, talking to you. People are recounting, narrating, publishing, and that is the most important kind of wealth there is.

Indeed, the posts on Generation Y routinely elicit thousands of comments from readers, most of them abroad. Some are angry diatribes. Some display the familiar intolerance of ideologues insisting on adherence to their beliefs. Most, however, are from people eager to contribute their own observations and commentary—and their own stories and vignettes—to this new “public place.” This open dialogue is a historic achievement for Cuba, and it is only possible thanks to the Internet. Yet the bloggers themselves have only limited access to this conversation, and most other Cubans on the island still have none.

One of the more moving passages I’ve come across in Generation Y over the past few months follows an interview with a Spanish journalist. Here is Sánchez, one of the world’s more influential bloggers, describing what appears to be her first encounter with the iPhone earlier this year. The passage conveys the playfulness and yearning that make her voice of moderation so appealing:

Between the walls of this house, which had heard dozens of Cubans talk of the Internet as if it were a mythical and difficult-to-reach place, this little technological gadget gave us a piece of cyberspace. We, who throughout the Blogger Academy, work on a local server that simulates the web, were suddenly able to feel the kilobytes run across the palms of our hands. I had the desperate desire to grab [the Spanish journalist’s] iPhone and run off with it to hide in my room and surf all the sites blocked on the national networks. For a second, I wanted to keep it so I could enter my own blog, which is still censored in the hotels and cybercafés. But I returned it, a bit disconsolate I confess.

For a while on that Monday, the little flag on the door of my apartment asking for “Internet for Everyone” did not seem so unrealistic.

July 6, 2010 2:15 p.m.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Entrevistas a Dr. Darsi Ferrer y a Juan Juan Almeida

Entrevistas a Dr. Darsi Ferrer y a Juan Juan Almeida

Cuba - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

Paul Budde
Communication Pty Ltd., March 2010,
Table of Contents

The Cuba - Telecoms, Mobile, and Broadband profiles the fixed-line, mobile and broadband markets in Cuba. Cuba still has the lowest mobile phone penetration in Latin America, one of the lowest levels of Internet penetration, and is among the five lowest in terms of fixed-line teledensity. Cubas fixed-line services remain a monopoly in the hands of government-controlled Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (Etecsa), while mobile services are provided exclusively by Cubacel, a subsidiary of Etecsa.There remains substantial state control over the right to own and use certain communications services, including the right to access the Internet. The Obama administration has recently relaxed some of the embargo rules pertaining to telecommunications, in an attempt to improve freedom of communication and information for Cubans. Despite this, and although Raul Castro is more reform-minded than was his brother Fidel, the genuine liberalisation of Cubas telecommunications sector is expected to occur slowly over the next five to ten years.Market Highlights:In mid-2009 the Obama administration issued new policies in relation to US-Cuban relations, half of which related to the telecommunications sector. The steps were prefaced by a statement from the Obama administration saying it aimed to promote the freer flow of information to the Cuban people.For instance, the Obama administration said it would forthwith authorise US telecoms companies to establish themselves in Cuba, whether that be by way of establishing telecommunications facilities, roaming agreements with Cuban service providers, or transactions leading to the provision of satellite radio and television services. The US administration would also allow US residents to enter into service agreements with telecoms companies providing services to Cubans, as well as allowing the donation of certain telecommunications devices to Cuba without a licence.By early 2010 it was still unclear whether the Cuban government would approve of the US policy steps.In October 2009 the US government gave permission to a small Miami-based company called TeleCuba Communications to lay the first fibre-optic cable connecting the USA and Cuba. The project, which in early 2010 was still awaiting approval by the Cuban government, would cost around $18 million, financed by private investors, and would result in an 8Tb/s-10Tb/s capacity cable which could be operational by mid-2011. In addition to the US initiatives, stimulus for reform may also be aided by recently improved bilateral relations with Russia. In March 2010 Cuba and Russian signed a telecommunications pact in which the two countries agreed to jointly develop information technology. As part of the pact, delegates from both countries would also evaluate other possibilities for cooperation in the areas of radio spectrum, telecommunications and professional training.In the meantime, the substantial gap between Cubas mobile penetration, which stands at around 6% as at early 2010, and the rest of Latin Americas, which averages above 80%, continues to widen.Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cuba sets free Darsi Ferrer in Havana

Taken from "beforerumors.com" from June 23, 2010 post

The Cuban prisoner Darsi Ferrer is already released. After spending 11 months on remand and numerous protests by his situation, so yesterday was tried by a court in Havana, coinciding with the unprecedented process of open dialogue between the Cuban Catholic Church and the government of Raul Castro, now has allowed the release of political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya. Ferrer was arrested in 2009 for an alleged crime of illegal purchase of construction materials, and prosecutors asked for him three years in prison for “receiving” and “bombing.” The court sentenced him to 15 months, but allowed him to perform on his home the four remaining months of sanction under the regime of “probation.”
The dialogue between the Church and the regime has helped release. “It was the predictable,” he said yesterday human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez. For him, the release of Ferrer “deals” with the process of dialogue between the Church and the Government, even though his case is different from that of prisoners of conscience from the Group of 75. “The current line of the government is leaving the problem of prisoners,” he says, after stating that there will be “more prisoner releases and movements” in the coming weeks. Ferrer is a doctor, is 40 and began military opposition a decade ago. He became known for its street actions, especially the marches organized in a central park in Havana 10 December to mark the World Day of Human Rights. For his opposition activities was arrested on numerous occasions, but the arrests were always short. It was only the July 21, 2009. That day he was detained and questioned about the provenance of some building materials seized in a pre-registration at home. Ferrer was charged with receiving, for having “illegally acquired” two bags of cement, aluminum windows and several plates of iron which would reform the home. In addition, the office was accused of an attack by an alleged physical assault on a person in your neighborhood. During the 11 months he spent in prison, Ferrer made several protests and hunger strikes to demand that his trial. In early 2010, Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. The resolution of the case Ferrer takes place in a special moment, when the Catholic Church stars in a mediation process that has already yielded its first fruits. Ariel Sigler Amaya, the first of those released, received last week a U.S. humanitarian visa to receive medical attention. Might be the way to continue other released, according to some analysts.

"Reporters without Borders" Statement on Dr. Darsi Ferrer

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
From the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders:Dissident doctor and reporter paroled after nearly a year in pre-trial detentionDarsi Ferrer, a dissident public health activist who contributes to independent news media, was finally tried yesterday on charges of "irregularities" and "assault" and was granted a conditional release after being held without trial since July 2009.A physician who heads the independent "Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Centre," Ferrer upset the authorities by gathering and disseminating information about the current state of the Cuban health system and the situation of political prisoners.Ferrer had been held in Valle Grande prison, west of Havana, since his arrest on 21 July 2009, for which the official reason was his "illegal" acquisition of building materials to repair his house. Prosecutors requested a three-year jail sentence, but the court sentenced him yesterday to 15 months and said he could serve the remaining four months under house arrest."We are obviously relieved by Ferrer's release even if he was finally given a jail sentence to match the time he already had spent behind bars," Reporters Without Borders said. "No one is fooled about the real reason for his detention as this is a country in which the authorities tolerate no public expression of dissenting views. His release was not in any way an act of clemency or, even less so, a sign of an improvement in respect for basis rights and freedoms."Cuba still has approximately 200 prisoners of conscience, who include 24 journalists. One of them is the Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, who has been held since the "Black Spring" crackdown of March 2003.Dissidents continue to be the target of harassment, repression and hate campaigns by the authorities and their supporters. Hablemos Press, a small independent news agency, reported that two more journalists, José Manuel Caraballo Bravo and Raúl Arias Márquez of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA), were arrested on 21 June.Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the community of Latin American countries to intercede on behalf of Cuba's imprisoned journalists and dissidents, some of whom have fallen seriously ill since their arrest.

Dr. Darsi Ferrer's Story in Pictures
Outside of a courthouse in Havana, a crowd awaits the arrival of Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner, Dr. Darsi Ferrer, demanding his release.

"Surrounded by Cuban state security, Dr. Ferrer smiles at the crowd. After 11 months of imprisonment without trial, Dr. Ferrer's wife and supporters are relieved by his release and placement under house arrest.
The "L" stands for "Libertad" ("Freedom").According to Dr. Ferrer, his release "is due in large measure to international pressure, to the courage of the opposition, to the overwhelming needs of the Cuban people that don't have the possibility of a dignified life amidst this [regime's] unsustainable failures."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cuba, Vatican say talks on dissidents continuing

June 16, 2010
HAVANA — Cuba and a top Vatican official expressed optimism Wednesday that landmark negotiations between the church and Raul Castro's government will continue and indicated they could produce more breakthroughs on the treatment of dissidents and political prisoners. The comments by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, and his Cuban counterpart were the latest signal that a month-old dialogue that has already led to the release of an ailing prisoner of conscience and the transfer of 12 others to jails closer to their homes is gaining strength. "The dialogue that is happening now makes us happy, and I hope that it will be strengthened through my visit," Mamberti said at a joint news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. "I think it is important ... to see the fruits" of such talks. Rodriguez applauded the role the Church has been playing on the island, and said all signs point to more dialogue.
"We have held fluid and profoundly productive talks," he said. "We appreciate the constructive role of the Church in these matters and we think that all conditions exist ... for these fruitful exchanges to continue." Neither spoke of any concrete steps that would see the release of more of Cuba's 180 political prisoners. Mamberti said he had no plans to meet with dissidents, though he did not rule it out. The Vatican official arrived in Havana on Tuesday, ostensibly to celebrate the 75th anniversary of relations between Cuba and the Vatican. He is also scheduled to attend discussions on the island's economic plight and efforts to bridge the divide between Cubans and exiles in the United States and elsewhere. The church has traditionally been cautious in dealing with Cuba's communist government since relations improved in the 1990s. That changed dramatically in May, when Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega intervened in a standoff between the government and the Ladies in White, a group of mothers and wives of some of the 75 activists jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissent. On May 19, Ortega and another church leader held a four-hour meeting with President Castro, emerging optimistic that the government was prepared to make concessions to the dissidents. Prisoner transfers began June 1, and on Saturday Cuba released Ariel Sigler, a 44-year-old inmate paralyzed from the waist down who was serving a 25-year sentence for treason. Critics say the government's concessions have been underwhelming so far, but church leaders have consistently urged patience, saying there is no deadline for progress.
While Cuba has welcomed the Church's role, it made clear this week that it did not appreciate a running commentary on the talks from the outside — particularly Washington.
After State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a mostly upbeat statement saying the United States viewed the release of Sigler as "a positive development" and hoped it would lead to the release of others, Cuba reacted strongly.
"Cuba doesn't recognize any authority by the State Department or its spokesman to pass judgments on internal matters," Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's North American affairs office, told The Associated Press late Tuesday. "Moreover, the United States doesn't have moral authority to give lessons to anyone." Cuba and the United States have been at odds since shortly after the 1959 triumph of Fidel Castro's revolution. Cuban authorities consider the dissidents to be a mixture of common criminals and agitators funded by Washington to destabilize the country. At Wednesday's news conference, Rodriguez also brought up the case of Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor arrested in December on accusations of spying. Gross has been held without charge for six months, and American officials have made clear that relations cannot improve until his case is resolved. Rodriguez said Gross had been detained for "committing grave crimes in our country at the service of the subversive policy of the United States against Cuba." He said Gross was still under investigation and gave no indication of when he might be charged, adding that the prisoner had been given repeated access to consular officials, offered legal representation and allowed to speak with his relatives. "The legal situation of Mr. Gross has conformed strictly with Cuban criminal procedures," Rodriguez said.