Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cuban dissident: Government lying about case of political prisoner

CNA STAFF, Mar 18, 2010 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- In an interview with CNA, the president of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba, Oswaldo Paya, offered encouragement to those struggling for democracy in the country and accused the government of spreading lies about the recent death of prisoner of conscious, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Referring to the plight of prisoners of conscience, Paya remarked that they “are treated like common prisoners” and are “abused and harassed” right in front of government officials. These prisoners are held “often far from their families, in conditions of extreme overcrowding, with barely enough water to drink,” said Paya adding that they “have to use paper or bags when they go to the bathroom.” These conditions they face are in addition to the “systematic beatings and abuse they receive, such as the case was with Orlando Zapata,” Paya said. Speaking about Zapata, who recently died, Paya explained that he was first sentenced “to three years in prison,” and after being “subjected to arbitrary trials” he was “sentenced to 36 more years.” Because of this oppression, he said, “Zapata declared a hunger strike. He was put in a prison, in a cell that was truly like a cage. We even received reports that they left him without any water for several days.” Paya said hunger strikes are sort of an “act of desperation because the prisoner has no other recourse and for this reason his demands must be supported.” When “a prisoner declares a hunger strike we must ask that his demands be met, which is different than the lies that the Cuban government has spread that are an insult to people’s intelligence. We must ask for a more decent treatment, for more respect of the human being.” He then reported there are some 200 political prisoners in Cuba, and that the government paints them as dangers to society in order to avoid the appearance of incarcerating them for political reasons. “They are considered to be delinquents and agents of imperialism ... In this case the political motives were the defense of human rights, the proposal for peaceful change, the denunciation of human rights violations, the organizing of peaceful civic movements to promote dignity, rights and information.” “This is what Stalin, Hitler, Franco, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein did, and it’s what the government of Fidel and Raul Castro are doing,” Paya said.

Dissident encourages dignity and rights for Cubans

CNA STAFF, Mar 22, 2010 / 11:56 am (CNA).- In an interview with CNA, the president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya reiterated the need for a democratic change in Cuba and called on the international community to support this peaceful struggle without ideological bias. In the second part of his interview with CNA, Paya spoke of the complicated situation on the island that has caused some to lose hope. “First of all, our call is that people, whether they are believers or not, discover that they have the God-given capacity to be free. That is, they are born free and with rights. We say: Cubans have a right to rights.” “And we are sowing hope not in a foreign power nor in the demise of a dictator,” but we tell people to “discover your own dignity, discover your own rights and show solidarity out of love for your neighbor.” “In other words, the source of this liberation is not hatred, nor the desire to destroy others, but rather love, the unselfish love of oneself.” Referring later to the Varela Project, an initiative of the Christian Liberation Movement, Paya explained that it proposes “asking Cubans in a referendum whether or not they want these changes." The project, he continued, “is a peaceful path but it gives citizens the power, it gives citizens the ability to participate in public and economic life and vote on changes. Let the people be the ones to decide what is good, what they want, but above all in an atmosphere of reconciliation, in an atmosphere of brotherhood. This is very important, because we don’t want liberation resulting from a brother against brother confrontation.” “We don’t see the Christian Liberation Movement as the interpreter of the gospel ... but we do get light from the gospel, recognizing each human being as our brother. For this reason our motto is, ‘Cubans All, Brothers All, and Now Freedom’,” Paya said. He added that the central point of solidarity lies in “the liberation of all political prisoners. Why? Because they are prisoners for defending these rights. They are prisoners for calling for these peaceful changes, and nothing else.” “Let us seek out the truth together. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth. The truth is in God and we are all children of God. God gives freedom to human beings – to those who believe or do not believe,” Paya continued. “For this reason we speak in terms of liberation, not through violence or through hatred, but through the restoration of liberation, dignity, and the rights of each human being,” he concluded.

Biosketch: Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino

Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of San Cristóbal de La Habana (Cuba), was born in Jagüey Grande in the diocese and province of Matanzas, Cuba, on 18 October 1936. His father was first a worker in the sugar factory close to the village where he was born, and subsequently a shop-keeper. When he was five years old, his family moved to the city of Matanzas. There he completed his compulsory education at the prestigious school Arturo Echemendía. He completed his higher education at the Advanced Institute for Secondary Studies of Matanzas, a state-run student centre. He earned a diploma in arts and sciences in 1955 and after one year at the university, entered the diocesan seminary of San Alberto Magno, directed by the Fathers of the Foreign Mission of Quebec.
After four years studying humanities and philosophy, the Bishop sent him to study theology at the seminary of the Foreign Mission in Quebec, Canada. He then returned to Cuba and was ordained priest on 2 August 1964, in the Cathedral of Matanzas. His ministry as Coadjutor Vicar of Cárdenas was interrupted in 1966 when he was detained in work camps known by the initials UMAP. In 1967, at the end of his imprisonment, he was appointed parish priest of Jagüey Grande, his native town. Like all parish priests in Cuba during this period when priests were few and far between, he was in charge of several parishes and churches. In 1969 he was appointed parish priest of the Cathedral of Matanzas. Responsible for the parish of Pueblo Nuevo in the city and another two churches outside it, at the same time he was also President of the Diocesan Commission for Catechesis and maintained an active apostolate with the youth of the Diocese. In those years, very difficult for the Church's pastoral activities, he founded a youth movement, which included among the various forms of the apostolate summer camps for young people and evangelization by the means of theatricals, performed by the young people themselves. For several years, in addition to his pastoral activities in the city of Matanzas, he taught at the Sts. Charles and Ambrose interdiocesan seminary in Havana, which he visited once a week to give courses in moral theology. On 4 December 1978, John Paul II named him Bishop of Pinar del Rio. He was consecrated on 14 January 1979 in the Cathedral of Matanzas, and on 21 January he took possession of his diocese. Three years of pastoral work in a deeply religious Catholic Diocese with a very committed and participative laity left an indelible mark on the soul of the Bishop who was promoted to the Archdiocese of Havana as Archbishop on 20 November 1981. On 27 December he took possession of this new See. He was in charge of pastoral activities for 13 years in this Archdiocese. He created new parishes, set up the Diocesan Council for Pastoral Initiatives, rebuilt more than 40 churches and parish houses, founded a priests' residence for the priests of the Diocese and of the whole of Cuba for meetings, retreats or simply for holidays, created a lay centre for meetings with a library, chapel and guest rooms, built two centres for meetings and conferences especially for youth. These are some of the principle initiatives undertaken by the Archbishop who always showed special interest in the laity and above all, in young people. In 1991 he set up Caritas in Havana, thus founding Caritas Cuba. The Archbishop's chief concern was for vocations to the priesthood. In the course of his episcopal mission, Archbishop Ortega ordained 22 Cuban priests; a modest but significant number in a country where the Church's pastoral action has always been considerably curtailed. Thanks to his homilies, the archdiocesan monthly bulletin Aqui la Iglesia and other speeches and messages, he made himself known to the people in his archdiocese who listened to his opinions and followed his guidance despite the fact that the Church in Cuba has no access to the media. In 1988 until November 1998, he was President of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this capacity, he took part in the fourth General Conference of the Latin-American Bishops in Santo Domingo. From 1995 to 1999, he was the Second Vice President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM). From December 2001 until February 2006, he served his fourth time as President of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops. Has received degrees Honoris Causa from the Barry and St. Thomas Universities (Florida), University of San Francisco (California), Providence College (Rhode Island) and Boston College (Massachusetts). January 2001, Honoris Causa doctorate, St. John’s University (New York). Created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of November 26, 1994, of the Title of Sts. Aquila e Priscilla.
Curial membership:
Clergy (congregation)
Health Care Workers (council)
Latin America (commission)

Cardinal Ortega: Church in Cuba “is alive and united with her people”

Havana, Cuba, Jan 9, 2008 / 08:04 pm (CNA).

In an extensive interview with the magazine “Espacio Laical,” published by the Archdiocese of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega said the Church in Cuba is “alive and united with her people.” Speaking with reporter Lenier Gonzalez Mederos on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s visit to Cuba, the cardinal noted that during the first few years after the Castro revolution, the Church experienced a drop in the number of priests and personnel and a lack of resources to carry out her mission. The focus was mainly on internal Church affairs, the sacraments and the spiritual, moral and material support of the Catholic communities, he explained. However, “in 1981 the Church in Cuba began to develop what was called the Cuban Ecclesial Reflection program, which was carried out over five years and ended with the National Cuban Ecclesial Encounter in 1986.” That event “opened doors” and “breathed a new spirit into the communities,” the cardinal said. “Our faithful needed to understand this and come out from the fold and the Church needed to recognize that the Church has a mission that is not limited to the confines of the sacristy.”

“The Catholic faithful,” he added, “has progressively understood that the Church has an irreplaceable mission to carry out here, and the State has also progressively accepted and understood the mission of the Church, which is not limited just to worship.” Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba was a consequence of the “enthusiastic and coherent attitude of all the bishops of Cuba. At that time we acted as one, with great determination and enthusiasm to make the Pope’s visit a reality,” Cardinal Ortega said. The visit required intense coordination with local officials, he went on, and thus it became clear that it was possible to participate in society and live together “without giving rise to conflict.”

“The whole time the Pope was in Cuba, the gestures of the people were very significant. The reception by the people surpassed our expectations,” the cardinal said. “One day,” he recounted, “the Pope told me as we were coming back: ‘These people are intelligent. They applaud the concepts and not just the way a speech sounds’.”

Evaluating the current situation in Cuba, Cardinal Ortega pointed out that Cuban culture is essentially Christian but that during the last 50 years there has been an attempt to erase Christianity in the country—“through a very strong Church-State separation.” Today the new generations of Catholics are called to insert themselves into society, he said, and “this is something the Church should foster.” Cardinal Ortega acknowledged that the concept of “national reconciliation” is “a term that many times cannot be used in Cuba,” because it is often a politically charged idea that “refers to the possibility of reconciling ideologies.” However, “people can be reconciled. I believe that we can reach that kind of fraternity through personal dialogue. We’re not talking about dialogue between Church and State leaders, but rather dialogue between the diverse political sectors,” the cardinal stated. As reconciliation between people spreads, he emphasized, “other situations, including political ones, will improve.” Finally, Cardinal Ortega stressed that with the historic papal visit, “The Church made our society known to the entire world: The Catholic Church was there, she was alive and she was united with her people,” he said.

Cuba eyes foreign investment to halt sugar decline

Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:54am EDT
* Talks with foreign investors advancing: sourcesBonds
* Joint administration of mills on the table
* U.S. embargo, national pride seen as obstacles
* First such projects since 1959 revolution

By Marc Frank
HAVANA, March 25 (Reuters) - Cuba may open sugar production to foreign investors for the first time since the 1959 revolution as it seeks to reverse the once proud industry's relentless decline, business sources said this week. Talks between investors and the government have come and gone with little result for years, but what is shaping up as perhaps the island's worst harvest in a century has increased interest in bringing foreign partners, the sources said.
Their money and management know-how could help revive a sugar industry that has collapsed from neglect and the decapitalization of mills and plantations, local experts and foreign traders said. President Raul Castro, who took over from ailing brother Fidel Castro two years ago, is trying to right communist Cuba's cash-strapped economy by increasing exports and cutting imports.
Sugar, once the driver of Cuba's economy, now accounts for less than 5 percent of Cuba's foreign earnings, but prices have been driven up by ethanol demand, so Cuba is turning to it once again.
A Cuban source with knowledge of the sugar industry said the government has been seriously exploring foreign participation for several months. "The executive Committee of the Council of Ministers approved plans to pursue talks last November, and again this year to sign administrative agreements," the source said. Foreign banking and other business sources confirmed talks were advancing toward agreements that would have investors jointly administer several mills and share in the production for a limited number of years. The sources would not name the various companies involved or provide further details. Similar agreements already exist in the citrus industry, where Panama-based Israeli investors jointly operate juice plants with the government.
Theoretically, the state-run sugar industry has been open to direct investment since 1995, but in practice there has been little interest on the government's part except in a few joint ventures making sugar derivatives such as alcohol and parts used in sugar processing, the sources said.
A big obstacle is the U.S. Helms-Burton law, which penalizes investment in properties expropriated from U.S. owners and contains a yet-to-be implemented chapter allowing Cuban-Americans to sue investors who "traffic" in their expropriated properties. All but eight of Cuba's mills were built before the revolution and therefore nationalized, and most plantations are lands expropriated by the government after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Foreign investors are forbidden by law to own land in Cuba, and do not need to own anything for the proposed sugar ventures, said a local economist. "There is little need for investors to own land. In fact, it is in their interest to simply administer mills, provide farmers with technology packets and process the cane," he said.
Cuba was once the world's biggest sugar exporter with raw output reaching 8.1 million tonnes in 1989, but the industry went into decline after Cuba's top ally for 30 years, the former Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991. The Soviet Union paid padded prices for Cuban sugar to boost the island's economy, so its demise hit Cuba and the sugar industry hard. Cuba shut down and dismantled 71 of 156 mills in 2003 and relegated 60 percent of sugar plantation land to other uses. More mills have closed since then, with just 44 mills open this season. Another 20 have been maintained in working condition for future use. Only 1.7 million acres (700,000 hectares) of the over 5 million acres (2 million hectares) once controlled by Cuba's Sugar Ministry are currently dedicated to sugar cane. Cuba planned to produce 1.3 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, but milling problems and low yields have resulted in a shortfall of more than 100,000 tonnes to date. With the harvest scheduled to end by May, Cuba is in danger of reaching its lowest output since 1908, when 1.2 million tonnes of sugar were produced.