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:

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.