Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cuba's Repression Escalates: The loosening of travel restrictions by the U.S. is read as weakness in Havana

The Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2011

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson returned home from an attempted hostage-rescue mission to Cuba last month empty-handed and "still scratching [his] head" as to why the Castro regime double-crossed him. What is truly baffling is why Mr. Richardson expected anything different from a dictatorship operating in extreme-repression mode. In a Sept. 14 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Richardson said he had been invited to the island to discuss the release of U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross. Mr. Gross was arrested in December 2009 and is serving a 15-year sentence.

Civil rights protester Sonia Garro after a seven-hour interview with Cuban state security.

Mr. Richardson admitted that he got stiffed by Cuba's "foreign ministry, which a lot of the people there I know and have been friends" with. What he could not grasp is why those "friends"—a strange designation for individuals who might one day be hauled before an international human-rights tribunal—don't appreciate the Obama administration's outreach. Yes, they are "hardliners," he admitted, but they ought to understand that the White House has been bending over backward to get along.
Actually they do understand, and that's why they treated him so badly. Mr. Richardson told Mr. Blitzer that he was "flabbergasted" when, after a "delightful" three-hour lunch discussing how U.S.-Cuba relations might be improved—including, he told me by phone Friday, the possibility of removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism after the release of Mr. Gross—the foreign minister "slammed me three ways: one, no seeing Alan Gross; no getting him out; and no seeing Raul Castro." What happened was very predictable. The "loosened travel restrictions" and increased "remittances [from] Cuban-Americans" that Mr. Richardson cited as signs of Mr. Obama's willingness to deal are read as weakness by the bullying regime. It has something, i.e., somebody, the U.S. wants back very badly, and the administration acts as if it is powerless. Why should Castro deal?
Mr. Richardson did even less for Cuba's dissidents. One Richardson pearl of wisdom, shared on CNN, was that Cuba's "human-rights situation has improved." In fact, human rights in Cuba are rapidly deteriorating. To claim otherwise is to abandon the island's brave democrats when they most need international solidarity. Ask Sonia Garro, pictured in the nearby photo. For years Ms. Garro has denounced the regime's discrimination against Afro-Cubans. Despite her own poverty, in 2007 she created a recreation center in her home for poor, unsupervised children, according to a report by an independent Cuban journalist. One of her goals: to get young girls out of prostitution. Ms. Garro is also a member of Ladies in Support, a group that pledges solidarity to the Ladies in White, which was founded by the wives, sisters and mothers of political prisoners in 2003 to work for their liberation.
In October 2010, Ms. Garro was detained by state security and held for seven hours. She emerged from the ordeal with a broken nose. Another woman taken into custody with Ms. Garro had her arm broken. The nongovernmental organization Capitol Hill Cubans has reported that in the first 12 days of September, authorities detained 168 peaceful activists. These "express detentions" are designed to break up dissident gatherings, which risk spreading nonconformist behavior. Locking up offenders for long periods would be preferable, but the regime wants people like Mr. Richardson to go around saying that human rights have improved. The regime is also making greater use of civilian-clothed "rapid response" brigades that are trained, armed and organized to beat up democracy advocates.

Mr. Richardson told me he considers Cuba's record improved because 52 political prisoners were sent to Spain in 2010. Yet exiling promising opposition leadership hardly qualifies as a humanitarian gesture. Nor are gruesome Cuban prisons anything to ignore. Last month in a speech in New York, one former prisoner, Fidel Suárez Cruz, described his seven years and seven months of solitary confinement, including two years and eight months in a cell with no windows, ventilation or artificial light. One favorite pastime of his torturers: Four military men would pick him up and then drop him on the floor. His testimony, posted on Capitol Hill Cubans website, is required viewing for anyone who doubts the evil nature of this regime.

Nevertheless, Cuba's dissidents remain relentless, and there are signs that the regime is giving up on the express-detention strategy. Fearless democracy advocate Sara Marta Fonseca and her husband Julio León Pérez have been in jail since Sept. 24. Ms. Fonseca's son has seen her and says she is black and blue all over and has an injury to her spinal column. Word is the regime is preparing to charge the couple; 11 other dissidents are awaiting trial. Meanwhile, Yris Pérez Aguilera, the wife of the prominent dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez," and two peers were detained on Sept. 26. Their whereabouts are unknown. Any hope of protecting these patriots lies in international condemnation. Mr. Richardson could help by returning to CNN to correct the record.
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Cayman Immigration holds 19 Cubans after boat runs aground

Cayman News Service, October 8, 2011

The Cayman Islands authorities have confirmed that they are holding 19 Cuban migrants on Cayman Brac after their boat reportedly ran aground off the Sister Island yesterday evening. Government officials said that the migrants are being temporarily housed under immigration control, and several other government as well as private sector agencies are helping meet their immediate needs. A spokesperson from government said that the group were expected to be transferred to Grand Cayman early next week for processing. No information was given regarding the sex or age of the latest group of refugees from Cayman’s northern neighbour. Although, Cuban boat people have frequently landed on Cayman the migration via Cayman had stopped throughout 2010 but this is now the fifth vessel that has passed through local waters this year. Cayman policy dictates that Cuban migrants cannot be assisted by the Cayman Islands if they wish to continue with their journey. If they request help, even food, water and fuel, they are taken into custody and eventually repatriated to Cuba. If the migrants choose not to be deported they must leave Cayman waters unassisted. In circumstances such as these if the boat is not seaworthy the refugees face enforced repatriation unless they claim political asylum.

Founder of Ladies in White, Laura Pollan is hospitalized

HAVANA — The founder of a prominent Cuban dissident group, the Ladies in White, was hospitalized for acute respiratory problems and was in intensive care Saturday, family members and associates said. Laura Pollan went to a hospital Friday and was in serious condition the following day, though stable and showing signs of improvement. "She is very, very grave," said Bertha Soler, another member of the group. "They told us she has an acute respiratory deficiency," and the doctors "think the cause is viral." Pollan fell ill and was vomiting last weekend, and was seen by doctors twice this week before going Friday to the hospital, where she was intubated to help her breathe, Soler said by phone from the medical center.

Pollan's daughter, also named Laura, said her condition was still being studied but she has begun a treatment with antibiotics. Doctors told the family to expect that she will remain in intensive care for at least a week, said dissident Elizardo Sanchez, who was with them at the hospital. Pollan also has diabetes. The 63-year-old formed the Ladies in White in 2003 along with other wives of 75 activists, social commentators and opposition leaders who were arrested that year. Pollan's husband, Hector Maseda, was among those sentenced to 25 years in prison.
For years the Ladies pressed for their release by staging weekly marches through the streets of the capital, wearing white and holding gladiolas. On occasion, they have been met by rowdy pro-government crowds who surround the women, shouting insults and revolutionary slogans. The government accuses the Ladies in White and other dissidents of being mercenaries in the service of Washington. The last of those jailed in the 2003 crackdown have been released over the past year under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, and many went into exile with their families.
However the Ladies have continued to march and even expanded their activities outside the capital. They said they were refocusing their demands on the release of about 50 other, lesser-known prisoners. Most of those were arrested for politically motivated but violent crimes such as sabotage and hijacking, which disqualifies them from consideration by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience." "We are going to continue," Pollan told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "We are fighting for freedom and human rights." In 2005 the European Union recognized the Ladies in White with its top human rights distinction, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, angering the Cuban government.

Source: Huffington Post

Cuba to Graduate 22,000 Foreign Physicians in 2011

Saturday, 08 October 2011

Havana, Cuba, Oct 8.- Cuba expects to close 2011 with almost 22,000 physicians from 65 countries graduated with similar study plans to those applied in the Caribbean nation that emphasizes health prevention, press reported on Saturday.
The figure also includes the first graduation of physicians in Venezuela in December with Cuban professors and methods, Granma newspaper stated after reporting the graduation so far of about 13,600 physicians from other countries. About 10,000 students have studied at the Havana-based Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), founded in 1999 to train youth from Central America, devastated by Hurricane Mitch the year before. Then, the initiative by the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, was expanded to other Latin American, Asian and African countries, and even to poor U.S. communities.
About 21,000 scholarships from 113 nations have been enrolled in Cuban medical universities, more than 1,700 study in their countries the last year of the career. Also on the list are other 134,000 youth trained by Cuban teachers in Guinea Bissau, Timor Leste, Gambia, Tanzania, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Bolivia, Nicaragua, South Africa, Guyana and Venezuela. (Prensa Latina).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wikileaks: Cuban Cardinal pushed to close magazine (?)

A spokesman for Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega denied the cleric sought to silence a Catholic publication critical of the communist system.

By Juan O. Tamayo

A Vatican expert on Cuba told U.S. diplomats in 2007 that Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega has pushed to shutter a highly regarded Catholic magazine that often criticized the communist system, according to a State Department cable made available by Wikileaks. Cuba’s government wanted to close the Vitral magazine for years but feared a backlash and so “must be happy because the Church did its dirty work for it,” the expert noted. The publication was not closed, but its editor resigned and its content was toned down. Ortega’s spokesman denied in an email that the church had bowed to government pressures and said that although the Cuban government had complained about Vitral and other church publications, “the complaints never turned into requests for closures.” “It’s not important if the fact is real or not, it’s simply repeated even though there’s no first-hand source that confirms it in public,” spokesman Orlando Márquez wrote. “It is good to ask who benefits from this.” The cable sent to the State Department by the U.S. embassy to the Vatican also mentioned previously unconfirmed reports that Vatican officials at times had felt Ortega, who also serves as archbishop of Havana, was too friendly with Cuban ruler Raúl Castro.

“Vatican officials have hinted in the past that Ortega has become too cozy with Castro,” noted the cable, dated May 14, 2007, and classified as “secret.” It was one of more than 250,000 State Department documents that Wikileaks provided to McClatchy, which owns El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald. Ortega recently has won wide praise for his unprecedented talks with Castro, which helped win the release of about 115 political prisoners over the past year. But some critics have claimed for years that he had failed to take a strong stance against human rights abuses. All but a dozen of the jailed dissidents were taken directly from prison to airplanes that flew them to Spain in what critics have called a forced exile. Vitral, founded in 1994 by the Diocese of Pinar del Río in westernmost Cuba, was considered to be the best church publication on the island. Its name, meaning “a stained-glass window,’’ referred to the many-colored opinions it published.

But in April of 2007 the magazine reported that “because of a lack of resources, the editorial board … will no longer be able to guarantee publication.” Director Dagoberto Valdés and most of his staff resigned and the magazine all but halted its criticisms of the government and started publishing every three months instead of every two months. The announcement sparked speculation at the time that after Pinar del Río Msgr. José Siro González, who backed Valdés, had retired in late 2006, his successor, Msgr. Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez, had bowed to pressures to shut down the publication. One month later Kirsten Madison, then-deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs, went to the Vatican and met with two monsignors who dealt with Cuba issues to ask their help with Vitral and discuss the island’s human rights situation, according to the cable. One official who was new to his post said that Vitral was closed for financial reasons, but the other was more experienced and “offered a goldmine of information on the church in Cuba.” McClatchy is not publishing the names because the cable asked that they be “protected.” The more experienced official “said that the government had been trying to close Vitral for years, but was afraid of the potential backlash. When the local bishop [Siro] retired, Cardinal Ortega pressured new Bishop Serpa to shut it down, apparently motivated by some animosity towards the leadership of the magazine,’’ the dispatch added.

The cable did not detail how the official had obtained that information. Valdés, who lives in Pinar del Río, chuckled when El Nuevo Herald read him the dispatch but declined comment. He now runs an independent online magazine titled Convivencia — Fellowship. “What I do know is that it [Vitral] did bother the government,” he said. An agricultural engineer, he was demoted to a menial job in a state tobacco enterprise in 1996 when he refused to stop working for the magazine.

In the statement he emailed to El Nuevo Herald, Márquez, the communications director for the Havana archbishopric, said Cuban bishops have long received complaints about several church publications. “Some of these publications dedicate more attention to the social environment in which we live,” Márquez wrote, adding that he knew of complaints against Vitral both before and after 2007 as well as the magazine that he edits, Palabra Nueva – New Word. “Despite all the occasional complaints, which are not new, the bishops have always defended the church publications before the authorities,” he added.

Márquez noted that although the church respects the authority of each bishop within his diocese, there was “only one occasion some years ago in which Cardinal Ortega spoke directly with Dagoberto Valdés about Vitral.” Complaints about Vitral reached the Vatican’s embassy in Havana, he noted, “and from that very [office] they asked Cardinal Ortega to visit Dagoberto and talk to him about the complaints, but there was never any talk of closing the publication.” The State Department cable went on to note that the Vatican official who was new to his job was surprised to hear the U.S. diplomat’s description of human rights violations in Cuba “but did not dispute it, simply seeking details.” The more experienced official “was not as surprised,” according to the cable, and recounted “three recent incidents of harassment of Catholic clergy at the airport.” The dispatch provided no details on the incidents.

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Cuba revokes accreditation of Spanish journalist, Mauricio Vicent

MADRID -- One of Spain's largest media groups says Cuba has revoked the accreditation of its longtime correspondent on the Caribbean island for alleged bias and negative reporting, the latest in a series of steps by the communist government targeting foreign journalists and news organizations. El Pais said Sunday that 47-year-old Mauricio Vicent has reported from Cuba for the newspaper El Pais and the radio network Cadena SER – both part of Grupo Prisa – for 20 years. He is married to a Cuban woman and has children born on the island. It was not clear whether the revocation of his accreditation meant Vicent would have to leave the country, or if he was just barred from reporting.

Cuba's international press center informed Vicent his permit was withdrawn "irrevocably," according to El Pais. Several phone calls to Vicent went unanswered Sunday, and Cuba's government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. El Pais said Vicent's work was an example of professionalism, impartiality and balance, and that he won Spain's 1998 International Press Club award for best work. Several correspondents based on the island have not had their press credentials renewed in recent months, and some have left.

Cuba's state-run media often accuse the foreign press of being biased, and the country has kept up an unusually strong stream of criticism this year. State-run media most recently have accused the foreign press of misunderstanding the country's economic changes because they see them through a capitalist prism. In February, the Communist Party newspaper Granma carried an article denouncing The Wall Street Journal for an editorial that drew parallels between Cuba and Egypt, where a popular uprising forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down. The editorial was published days after Cuban media lashed out at CNN's Spanish-language channel for reporting that an opposition demonstration was going to take place in Havana. The protest never occurred.

Cuban state cable TV providers in January removed CNN's Spanish service from a package of channels provided mostly to hotels, foreign companies and diplomats on the island, though no reason was given. Then in April, a Cuban state-television channel accused a former bureau chief for the Reuters news agency of helping arrange a meeting between an undercover Cuban agent and a U.S. diplomat who the program described as a CIA operative. Reuters vehemently denied the accusation.

Cuba Chases 5 Billion Barrels of Undiscovered Oil; U.S. Intervenes

William Pentland
Forbes, September 4, 2011

The island nation of Cuba is scrambling to secure access to what it believe to be about 5 billion barrels of oil lying deep under the ocean off its northern coast. A massive drilling rig is en route to Cuba and plans to start drilling in a matter of months. Meanwhile, the United States government is sufficiently concerned about the risks of another oil spill that is dispatching a group of quasi-diplomats to Cuba on a fact-finding mission as early as tomorrow, according to reports in Dow Jones. U.S. officials believe Cuba’s waters could contain more than 5 billion barrels of undiscovered oil. Cuba will begin a plan to tap its offshore oil later this year, when a consortium led by Spanish company Repsol YPF S.A. plans to start drilling a well in more than 5,500 feet of water off the country’s northern coast, which will likely trigger a race to set up production in Cuban waters, presuming Repsol finds oil.

If oil is discovered, Cuba will reduce its reliance on Venezuela for its energy needs. In 2009, Cuba produced roughly 50,000 barrels of oil a day from onshore and coastal wells and relied on imports from Venezuela to supply an additional 130,000 barrels to meet consumption levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Repsol will be drilling in waters that are deeper than those in which the Deepwater Horizon rig operated at the time it exploded last year. Repsol will be using a Chinese-built drilling rig that only recently left Singapore for Cuban waters. The rig, known as Scarabeo 9, is expected to arrive in November or December. Scarabeo 9 is a semi-submersible drilling vessel recently built by Yantai Raffles, which will be on contract by Repsol YPF for deepwater exploratory drilling off Cuba.

In response to Cuba’s drilling plans, the U.S. is sending a delegation led by Bill Reilly, co-chief of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill commission, to Cuba next week to help evaluate that country’s plans for developing its oil resources, according to reports by Dow Jones. The delegation will be on a fact-finding mission to determine the country’s long-term plans for pursuing its oil resources and identify steps to ensure safety and environmental protection.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

400 Anos de la Patrona de Cuba: Cardenal Ortega pide que "los cambios buenos lleguen"

EFE, La Habana

El arzobispo de La Habana, cardenal Jaime Ortega, dijo hoy que tiene la certeza de que todos los presos políticos detenidos en la llamada ‘‘primavera negra'' de 2003 serán excarcelados, como ya ha sucedido con 32 de ellos. Ortega pronunció esas palabras durante la homilía por la misa en honor de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patrona de Cuba, en la parroquia del mismo nombre de la capital ante una iglesia abarrotada de fieles. En una homilía más "política'' que en años anteriores, Ortega se refirió a las excarcelaciones de los presos políticos, negociada personalmente por él con el Gobierno cubano, y que se tradujo en el anuncio de 52 excarcelaciones del grupo de 75 detenidos en una oleada represiva en 2003 (el resto ya fueron liberados por distintos motivos). Ortega dijo tener "la certeza de que todos los que forman parte del grupo de prisioneros de 2003 serán liberados'', en alusión a una decena de ellos que se niegan a partir a España y a dejar Cuba, como han hecho todos los demás hasta ahora en el momento de ser excarcelados. El cardenal también se refirió a los "muchos cambios que desde hace tiempo se espera que ocurran'' en Cuba, y a este respecto pidió a la Virgen del Cobre "que los cambios buenos lleguen'' y que puedan "aceptar los aspectos difíciles que ellos puedan traer consigo''. Aunque no los mencionó, sus palabras fueron interpretadas como referencia a los ajustes económicos que el Gobierno cubano ha anunciado como necesarios para dotar de mayor eficiencia a la economía, y que se han traducido hasta el momento en recortes -aunque muy leves- del enorme sistema asistencial cubano. Por último, el Cardenal se refirió a la espiritualidad del pueblo cubano y se congratuló de que "esto puede haber sido incomprendido o rechazado en un pasado que, afortunadamente, se ha hecho cada vez más lejano''.

La Iglesia cubana vive en los últimos tiempos una mayor tolerancia en todas sus actividades, lejos de la represión sufrida en los primeros años de la revolución comunista. En la procesión celebrada hoy en los alrededores de la Iglesia de la Caridad del Cobre participaron miles de personas de todas las edades, que cantaron y dieron vivas a su patrona. Muchas de las mujeres iban ataviadas con prendas de color amarillo, que es el color de Ochún, la divnidad con que los cultos afrocubanos asocian a la Virgen de la Caridad, en un sincretismo que nunca ha sido visto con buenos ojos por la Iglesia pese a que no lo puede evitar. La Fiesta de la Patrona de la Isla ha coincidido con la peregrinación nacional de una imagen de la Virgen iniciada en agosto pasado con motivo del 400 aniversario de su primera aparición que se celebrará en el año 2012.

Según la leyenda, la imagen de esta Virgen apareció por primera vez en 1612 ante tres pescadores que iban en una barca por la bahía oriental de Nipe. Uno de ellos, Juan Moreno, supuestamente dijo entonces que habían visto "una cosa blanca sobre la espuma del agua'' y que, al acercarse, encontraron la imagen de una virgen morena con un niño en una mano, flotando sobre una tabla con la inscripción "Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad''. Los obispos católicos de Cuba convocaron en 2008 a todos los creyentes y no creyentes del país a participar del festejo porque la Virgen es símbolo y "vínculo de unidad'' entre los cubanos. La Virgen de La Caridad tiene su santuario nacional en El Cobre, pequeño pueblo cercano a Santiago, a unos 900 kilómetros al este de La Habana. Fue declarada patrona de Cuba el 10de mayo de 1916 y coronada personalmente por el papa Juan Pablo II el 24 de enero de 1998, durante su visita a la isla.

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

From the Government: Cuban Airline and Pharmaceutical Executives Convicted on Bribery

Saturday, 30 July 2011 13:58
Havana, Cuba, Jul 30.- The Provincial Court of Havana convicted ten former executives and officials of the Cuban Institute of Civil Aeronautics and the Commercializing Enterprise of Pharmaceutical Products HEBER BIOTEC S.A on bribery and handed down sentences of three to 13 years.
An official statement released Friday says the defendants were found guilty of favoring foreign companies in negotiations, at the expense of Cuban enterprises, in exchange of cash bribes and perks. The communiqué, which provides the names of the people found guilty and the sentences they were given, states that the sanctions were based on the seriousness of the crimes for the substantial loss to the Cuban economy and the deterioration of the defendants’ ethical values, as well as the level of responsibility of each of them and their conduct. The stiffest sanction went to Cubana de Aviacion’s Freight Director Jose Heriberto Prieto Ferrer, sentenced to 13 years. There were other three executives from Cubana de Aviacion with sentences of 10 to six years; one from Corporación de la Aviación Civil S.A (CACSA); and one from AEROVARADERO S.A. both condemned to six years. From HEBER BIOTEC S.A, former Head of the Exports Department Jair Rodriguez Martin received a 10-year sentence, while Edamir Medina Mendez, exports technician was condenmed to three. The Court also convicted the manager and deputy manager of CARIBE CARGO S.A, Alexei Crespo Gutiérrez and Maria Antonia Lopez Gonzalez on continued bribery and handed down sentences of six and seven years repectively. The two latter defendants are still pending for another trial on corruption. In addition to the jail terms, the sanctions included the confiscation of goods and cash adquired by the defendants as the result of the illegal activity and the prohibition of exercising the professions, posts or positions they were holding. The communiqué says the defendants and the prosecutor have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.(ACN)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Castro Regime's Survival Depends Greatly on Ill Venezuelan Leader's Largess
JULY 20, 2011
In Cuba, a Prayer for Chávez
CARACAS—Venezuela's ailing President Hugo Chávez says he is praying to Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the spirits of the Venezuelan savannah to help him beat his cancer.
Mr. Chávez hasn't mentioned it, but probably no one is praying harder for his health than Fidel and Raúl Castro in Cuba. Their ossified regime now largely depends on help from their ally in Caracas and they will do everything possible—short of an invasion—to keep Mr. Chávez or a like-minded ally in power, say U.S. officials, Venezuelan opposition leaders and analysts. Venezuela ships about 115,000 barrels per day of oil at cut rate prices to Cuba, meeting about 60% of the island's oil needs, according to a recent Brookings Institution paper, which calculates the value of the oil and other Venezuelan aid at about $5 billion a year, a major portion of Cuba's hard-currency earnings. In exchange, Cuba has sent to Venezuela tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, sports technicians, and intelligence and security experts, helping Mr. Chávez stay in power. Havana's relationship to Venezuela is akin to its economic dependence on the former Soviet Union in the 30 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which led to a 35% fall in Cuba's economy.

"To save Chávez is to conserve [Raúl's] presidential seat," wrote Yoani Sánchez, a well-known Cuban blogger and critic of the regime. "To lose him could lead to [Raúl's] own downfall."

Were Mr. Chávez to become gravely ill—he arrived in Havana Saturday to undergo chemotherapy after doctors recently removed a "baseball-sized" tumor—the Cuban government is likely to use its sway to try to shape events. Analysts say the Cuban leadership has significant clout, owing to its relationship with Mr. Chávez and top Venezuelan officials. The Cubans could also deploy their intelligence services to help one faction at the expense of another. "Cuba is the most important foreign power with a stake in Venezuela," said Moisés Naím, a former Venezuelan cabinet minister and an analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They are not going to be passive bystanders. They will be players." There is no political relationship in the Americas quite like the tie between Fidel Castro and Mr. Chávez. Mr. Castro, who officially handed power to his younger brother Raúl in 2008, has been a mentor, spiritual and political father, savior, psychiatrist, and even bedside doctor to Mr. Chávez. In return, Mr. Chávez has bankrolled Cuba's government and given Mr. Castro occasion to dream again of a Latin America united against his bëte noire, the U.S., or as both men sometimes call it, "the empire."

At times, Mr. Chávez and top Cuban officials have talked of melding the two countries into a single confederated state—an unpopular idea among most Venezuelans. "Cuba has two presidents, Fidel and Chávez," said then Cuban vice president Carlos Lage on a visit to Caracas in 2005. Two years later, the Venezuelan president said virtually the same thing. "Deep down, we are one government," said Mr. Chávez during a visit to the island.

During his tenure, Mr. Chávez has tried to indoctrinate the Venezuelan military, bringing on thousands of advisers to replicate Cuban military doctrine, and to deal with security and intelligence issues. Cuban officers are deeply involved in intelligence and security matters in Venezuela, from the acquisition of military equipment to overall military strategy, according to people with knowledge of the matter. One source estimates the number of Cuban intelligence experts working in Venezuela at 3,000. Last year, Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero, once the head of Venezuela's civil defense, resigned his commission because of what he said was Cuban interference and influence at all levels of the armed forces. Shortly after, he was accused of revealing state secrets and forbidden by a judge from speaking publicly about the military. On Tuesday, Jorge Giordani, Venezuela's finance minister, said there was no doubt Mr. Chávez would run for re-election in 2012. Nonetheless, if Mr. Chávez dies or is too ill to run, his movement, divided by money, ambition, ideology and economic interest, will have a difficult time fielding a candidate who satisfies all factions, analysts say. The Cubans could push for Adan Chávez, Mr. Chávez's elder brother, now a state governor and a former ambassador to Cuba. "They will pick a horse, or more than one horse," Mr. Naim said.

"A negotiation will involve the Cubans," said Alexander Luzardo, an ex-senator and former Chávez supporter. "We will need to talk to them."

Mr. Chávez's relationship with Mr. Castro dates to 1994 when the Cuban dictator invited Mr. Chávez, then an obscure cashiered lieutenant colonel and failed coup plotter recently released from prison, to Havana. Mr. Chávez was given the red-carpet treatment, and even gave a speech to students at the University of Havana. "Fidel saw that in Chávez he had a diamond in the rough," said a former Chávez cabinet minister. "He turned on the full force of his charm and started to work on Chávez."The relationship blossomed when Mr. Chávez, riding a wave of revulsion against corruption, won the presidency in a landslide victory in 1998. Mr. Castro's blessing of Mr. Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution" endowed the tank commander with revolutionary legitimacy. In return, Mr. Chávez's billions in oil money and his admiration of the Cuban leader have afforded Mr. Castro a chance to extend his revolutionary philosophy, at least by proxy. In 2000, Mr. Chávez took Mr. Castro on a trip to his dusty hometown of Sabaneta in the southern plains state of Barinas. There, Mr. Castro suggested that in 100 years pilgrims would flock to visit Mr. Chávez' humble house, said Luis Miquilena, a former Venezuelan Interior Minister who was on the trip. Mr. Chávez was overcome by Mr. Castro's flattery, Mr. Miquilena said.

A glimpse of how seriously Havana takes the relationship, and the risks should Mr. Chávez leave the stage, was on full display in 2002, when Mr. Chávez was ousted briefly by army generals. Mr. Castro assumed a major role in Mr. Chávez's return to power, as he helped mobilize support among Venezuelan generals and world leaders. Mr. Chávez' return was a lucky break for the Cuban regime. In the 48 hours that Mr. Chávez was out of power, thousands of Venezuelans who were angry over Havana's outsized role in their government surrounded the Cuban embassy in Caracas, demanding the new Venezuelan government cut off ties between the two countries. Meanwhile, Venezuelan officials mulled ending oil shipments to the island. Two years later, Mr. Castro sent thousands of doctors to man Mr. Chávez' neighborhood health program, known as Barrio Adentro,a move that helped revive Mr. Chávez' popularity.

More recently, Cuba last year sent Ramiro Valdez, the regime's legendary secret policeman, on an extended visit to Venezuela, ostensibly to advise Mr. Chávez on Venezuela's spluttering electrical grid. Another leading Cuban official has been a top adviser on Venezuelan agricultural and food issues. Last month, Mr. Chávez credited Mr. Castro, in almost religious terms, with being the first in realizing the Venezuelan leader was ill during his recent trip to Havana."We were...with Fidel, that giant who has surmounted time and place," said Mr. Chávez when he announced for the first time that he had cancer. "He interrogated me almost as a doctor, and I confessed, almost as a patient."

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First meeting of Twitter users in Havana?

Follow this link for the report!

An Adolescent is Killed for Trying to Eat Genips* in Havana

by Laritza Diversent (Cuban blooger)
July 19, 2011

On the afternoon of July 15, 2011, the town of Mantilla, on Havana’s outskirts, was shocked by the death of Angel Izquierdo Medina, a 14-year-old black teenager, who died from a gunshot to the femoral artery by Amado Interian, a retired police Major. According to the victim’s family members, three boys, including Angel, entered the property of the ex-police officer, to take genips, also known Spanish limes, from a tree. When the ex-cop caught them in the act, he fired two shots from his pistol. Before retiring, Interian had been a police chief in the area. The child’s body was laid out in the Mauline funeral home, at the entrance of Santa Amalia residential neighborhood. More than 500 people attended the viewing, most of them fellow students, in shock from the news, and also teachers and neighbors.

“Oh my God he was the same age as my son, because a mischief, that only can be done by an extremist”, said one of the spectators sobbing, while passing by the coffin. Agents of the State Security Forces dressed in civil clothes took over the funeral home because the mourners had been threatening to protest. Around midnight there were incidents reported at the site, without arrests being made. The burial was on Saturday July 16, 2011, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, in the Christopher Columbus cemetery.

Mantilla is a Havana suburb, with a low income population and high levels of dangerousness. It belongs to the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, the most violent and poor of the capital city. So far, we don’t know if the ex-police officer will be prosecuted because of the adolescent’s death. As is usual in Cuba, when things of this nature happen, the official media prefers to keep silent and not to report what happened.

Mamoncillos. With its sweet flesh, it is one of the most preferred fruits in Cuba. But as with so many fruits, after 1959 they were scarce in the market and could still be consumed only by those who have a tree of Melicoccus bijugatus (its scientific name) in the backyard. The genip along with the sugar apple, soursop, custard apple, cashew, canistel, loquat, plum and apple banana, is listed as one of the extinct fruits after Castros took power. Years after this barbaric event — one of the tasks of the ‘famous’ Che Guevara’s invasion brigade was to uproot fruit trees from the fields where it passed by — little by little the fruits started to reappear again — mangoes, guavas , mamey and avocados — among others fruits that have been always been greatly eaten by Cubans. With the only difference that before the bearded men, with 10 or 20 cents you could buy a mamey or an avocado and now days you cannot find them for less than 10 or 20 cuban pesos. (Tania Quintero)

*Translator’s note: Melicoccus bijugatus, commonly called Spanish lime, genip, genipe, quenepa, mamoncillo, limoncillo, it is a one-inch, round fruit with a green leathery skin at maturity. Each fruit has a large seed inside, the same ovoid shape as the fruit itself , the seeds have a fleshy tan-coloured edible sweet and juicy seed coat.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview with Norberto Fuentes

Asesinato de Camilo Cienfuegos

Norberto Fuentes interviewed by El Mundo, Spain

Political prisoners not exiled from Cuba

Published: June 23, 2011

HAVANA, June 23 (UPI) -- Cuban President Raul Castro made no deal to free 115 political prisoners if the Catholic Church got them to be exiled to Spain, a church spokesman said. The exile was totally voluntary, Orlando Marquez said in a statement. Representatives of the Ladies in White opposition movement, consisting of wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents, said some family members thought it would be best if "their dear ones could leave Cuba, even if unaccompanied, because that was preferable to keeping them in prison," Marquez's statement said. Spain agreed to accept any prisoner wishing to leave Cuba, but going there was not a requirement for freedom, said Marquez's statement posted on the Web site of the church magazine Palabra Nueva. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, called the prisoners -- 52 of whom were rounded up in 2003 -- to ask if they wanted to leave the island, Marquez said."A few asked if the trip [to Spain] was a condition for leaving prison. The cardinal told them no, and assured them that they would be freed later, as indeed occurred," Marquez wrote. The 115 who agreed to leave went directly from prison to the airport in Havana and flew to Madrid. The 12 who refused to go were later freed too, he said. Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler told Miami's El Nuevo Herald Marquez was "telling the truth" and the decision of the 115 to leave for Spain was "understandable and voluntary." Ortega was recently accused helping Castro by forcing the 115 political prisoners freed during the past year to go into exile in Spain.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Aroldis Chapman's path back to the Big Leagues

May, 29, 2011May 2911:16AM ETEmailComments1
The most pivotal moment for Aroldis Chapman, in the end, might not have happened on a mound, or in a bullpen session. It might've occurred in a conversation that he had with Reds pitching coach Bryan Price.

The Cincinnati left-hander is currently in the minor leagues, working his way back to the majors, after a spectacular start to his season, and an equally spectacular crash. Chapman didn't allow a run in his first 12 appearances of the season.

But in his 13th appearance, Chapman lost the strike zone, walking three batters in an inning. It was the first in a string of four outings in which Chapman walked 12 batters in 1.1 innings. The worst of it may have happened in Houston on May 10, when Chapman walked all three batters he faced.

It was apparent to the Reds' staff that Chapman, a defector from Cuba, was greatly embarrassed by his outing, and greatly frustrated. There were times when he was in the minors in 2010 in which he had seemed isolated, and appeared to struggle to assimilate with teammates. After the three-walk outing in Houston, he disappeared from the main room of the clubhouse.

Chapman and Price met that day to talk about what had happened and to discuss adjustments, not an easy conversation -- which is probably expected for players of Chapman's background, at this point. Many major League evaluators believe that the players who have the greatest cultural adjustments to playing Major League Baseball are not players from Japan, like Daisuke Matsuzaka, or from Korea, like Shin-Soo Choo. Rather, through the years, they have noticed that players who defect from Cuba tend to struggle within clubhouses, largely because they don't exhibit trust -- they fear an ulterior motive for routine decisions or interactions.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cuban Prisoner Released, With Pro Bono Help From 2 U.S. Firms

Six years of "back channel work" by lawyers from Sidley Austin and Hogan Lovells finally paid off earlier this month, when the Cuban government released human rights activist Oscar Biscet from prison after more than eight years behind bars, often in solitary confinement. "We were delirious with joy when we got the call from Oscar's wife," said Sidley Washington partner Andrew Strenio Jr. "It was a labor of love." Strenio credits Sidley associate Lauren Buckley and Hogan Lovells Washington partner Jeremy Zucker for much of the pro bono behind-the-scenes work they all did to help win Biscet's release. Biscet, a medical doctor who has been likened to South Africa's Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned for his nonviolent human rights work in Cuba. Supporters also said the Afro-Cuban doctor was the victim of Cuban racism. Biscet was one of 75 dissidents arrested in 2002. Most of those have been released in recent years, but Biscet's freedom was delayed in part because he wanted to remain in Cuba to continue his advocacy. "Some of the dissidents accepted exile as a condition of their release, but Oscar refuses to leave Cuba," said Strenio. "He is intent on continuing his work." Asked what the lawyers did to win Biscet's release, Strenio said it involved "quite delicate work" that he did not want to describe fully. But much of it was "back channel" communications aimed at making it clear to Cuba that Biscet's release was important to a wide range of government, civil and religious groups. "His eloquence and the force of his personality won him admirers around the world," said Strenio. Biscet has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2007, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in absentia. Last year, Strenio said, feedback began to turn positive about Biscet's possible release, so when the call came from Biscet's wife about his March 11 release, it was not entirely a surprise. Strenio said Biscet has since spoken with the lawyers who helped him, thanking them profusely. "The chance to be of help to him was such an honor that we were thanking him," said Strenio, an antitrust expert and former Federal Trade Commission member. The 49-year-old Biscet is "doing remarkably well," given his long confinement, said Strenio, who hopes to meet Biscet some day. Carter Phillips, Sidley's D.C. managing director, said in a statement, "Sidley is deeply honored to have been part of this inspiring struggle to free Dr. Biscet, and we are grateful that our efforts on his behalf have succeeded. Dr. Biscet's release represents a victory for the rule of law and demonstrates the important role that pro bono lawyers can play even on matters beyond our nation's borders."

Oscar Elías Biscet says Cuban dissidents are willing to discuss transitional government

By JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ Oscar Elías Biscet, the most important member of the opposition in Cuba, said dissidents would be willing to negotiate a transitional government to implement democratic measures that would avoid a civil war. “If the regime were willing to have talks, we have demands,” Biscet told El Nuevo Herald from Havana. “We want Raúl and Fidel Castro to resign because they have drowned the country in misery, political assassinations and persecution. Let them assign other people to represent their interests and let us begin a transition toward freedoms for the Cuban people.” Biscet was released on March 11 after mediation by the Cuban Catholic Church culminated in the release of 115 political prisoners. Fifty other prisoners are still jailed and there are no plans for their release. All, except Biscet and 12 others, accepted exile in Spain. “The fact that a group is not willing to leave the country is a way to show the world that our fight is about love of our country and dignity for human beings,” he said. “It seems to me that this favors the Cuban people’s cause.” Biscet, a 49-year-old doctor, said that Cuban authorities are giving the world and the people in Cuba false indications of change — allowing some to be self-employed, opening the country to foreign capital and opening a dialogue with dignitaries who advocate for human rights, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Carter met with the Castro brothers and Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, and other officials during his visit to Havana last week. He also visited Alan P. Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana. Gross was arrested for carrying transmission equipment for independent groups. In his meeting with dissidents and bloggers, Carter was briefed on the economic, political and social crisis in the island, as well as on the corrupt, repressive and exclusionist nature of the regime. “We made it clear to Carter that a dictatorship rules Cuba and that no sovereignty exists,” Biscet said. “We were able to communicate some things, a brief synthesis of our thoughts.” About the Cuban economic situation Biscet said that any adjustment must be accompanied by policies that would guarantee, among other aspects, people’s fundamental rights, the legalization of independent groups and organizations within the civil society, religious freedoms and the release of all prisoners of conscience. “We want comprehensive changes and a market system associated to freedoms and things that lead to a harmonious and happy life in our nation,” he said. Biscet, founder of the Lawton Foundation for Democracy and Human Rights, accused the Cuban government of permitting acts of corruption and trumping up charges to get the members of civil society and their leaders out of the way. “It benefits the government to have corrupt people because with such characteristics they will not fight against them, and that is why they are allowed to exist,” he said. “And when they feel threatened that a new leader could emerge within their party or among those who govern with them, they attribute acts of corruption to them so they would not have any followers.” Biscet said that as long as a totalitarian dictatorship exists in Cuba there will always be a risk of raids and massive detentions of independent journalists and opponents, as was the case of the Black Spring of 2003. Biscet was serving a 15-year sentence after he and 74 other dissidents were arrested. Biscet had been arrested many times since 1998. “Everything is possible here. They are willing to go to any extent to never lose power,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why they do not sign any international or human-rights agreements, particularly those addressing basic freedoms.” He said that despite the Cuban government’s extreme vigilance of the opposition movement, there is a social force — the younger generation — escaping from the regime. “The Cuban youth does not believe in the system, and the spirit they are developing is not afraid of the government’s pressure. The fear the Castros wish to impose is not going to stop the wishes of the youth of pursuing the general welfare, including the economic and psychological perspectives,” Biscet said. “The youths will create their own space to accomplish their objectives.” Biscet also mentioned the work of the independent reporters and bloggers on the Internet, which threatens to bring down the government’s information monopoly that keeps the population uninformed of the denunciations and criticism against the regime. “They are giving the world different perspectives and ideas,” Biscet said. “And when these emerge everything else finds its place. This is very important for us because, associated to the state terrorist activities, the government wants to control all the information to continue deceiving the population.” In 2007, the Bush administration gave Biscet the Medal of Freedom in absentia in recognition of his opposition activities and his appeals to civil disobedience. Biscet said the U.S. government’s financial support is essential to promote democracy in Cuba. Recently Sen. John Kerry, who presides over the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, announced his opposition to $20 million included in the 2012 budget to promote democracy in Cuba. “Kerry must know that resources are needed for this type of fight and he knows very well that Cubans in the island do not have those resources,” Biscet said. “If we are able to resist it’s because of our high morale not because we have resources. Here we have to depend on people’s mercy to survive.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Radio Marti Interview of Oscar Biscet

Comments on the Cuban situation today

Winnie Biscet speaks of her father's release

Sidley’s Pro Bono Team Helps Secure the Release of Human Rights Activist Oscar Elias Biscet from Cuban Prison

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sidley Austin LLP is pleased to announce the successful conclusion of its efforts to free human rights activist Oscar Elias Biscet from a Cuban prison, where he was serving a 25-year sentence.

“Dr. Biscet’s release represents a victory for the rule of law and demonstrates the important role that pro bono lawyers can play even on matters beyond our nation’s borders.”
.Dr. Biscet, who recently was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in absentia in 2007 from George W. Bush, was released on Friday. Sidley, led by D.C.-based partner Andrew J. Strenio, Jr. and associate Lauren Randall Buckley, has worked for six years on behalf of Dr. Biscet, assisting an international effort aimed at his release.

“Sidley is deeply honored to have been a part of this inspiring struggle to free Dr. Biscet, and we are grateful that our efforts on his behalf have succeeded,” said Carter Phillips, the managing partner of Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office. “Dr. Biscet’s release represents a victory for the rule of law and demonstrates the important role that pro bono lawyers can play even on matters beyond our nation’s borders.”

Dr. Biscet has long served as a leader of the pro-democracy movement in Cuba, a powerful voice for individual freedom and an advocate of non-violent political protest. He was sentenced to a 25-year prison term in Cuba in 2003 for “acts against the sovereignty and independence of the national territory.” Cuba has recently released numerous political prisoners, but most of them have been sent to foreign countries, such as Spain. Dr. Biscet’s release was complicated by the fact that he successfully sought to remain in Cuba and intends to continue his human rights efforts.

Sidley, along with several non-profit organizations working to free non-violent prisoners of conscience, aggressively advocated for his release, generating support from the United Nations, the Vatican, the U.S. Congress and many foreign governments. The effort was part of Sidley’s expanding pro bono efforts in the area of international law.

Sidley Austin LLP is one of the world’s premier full-service law firms, with more than 1600 lawyers practicing in 17 U.S. and international cities, including Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. Sidley is recognized for service and responsiveness. Sidley received the most first-tier national rankings of any U.S. law firm in the inaugural U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” rankings for 2010. BTI, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, has named Sidley as one of only three firms to have been in the top ten of the BTI Client Service rankings every year since the inception of those rankings in 2001, and as number one in three of those years.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Castro convierte a Ramiro Valdés en su superministro


El Nuevo Heraldo, 9 de Enero del 2011

Con la última remodelación del gobierno cubano, el comandante Ramiro Valdés asumirá la supervisión de un estratégico frente económico que incluye la industria petrolera, la minera, la construcción y las comunicaciones. Recién comenzado un año que estará marcado por el plan de reformas económicas emprendido en la isla, el presidente Raúl Castro ha vuelto a mover su gabinete para sustituir a los ministros de Informática y Comunicaciones y de Construcción, así como al responsable del Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos.

En este cambio, Ramiro Valdés, de 78 años y también vicepresidente del Consejo de Ministros, ha quedado ``liberado'' como titular de Informática y Comunicaciones pero para ``facilitar'' su labor de coordinación tanto de este departamento como de los de Construcción y de Industria Básica. Este último ministerio tiene bajo su responsabilidad tres importantes sectores de la economía cubana: la energía (que comprende todas las actividades vinculadas al petróleo y la electricidad), la geología y minería, y la química básica.

Está dirigido por un titular interino desde noviembre, cuando Raúl Castro destituyó a la ministra Yadira García Vera por su ``pésimo trabajo'' reflejado en ``débil control'' de los recursos: así lo explicó el propio gobernante en el discurso ante la Asamblea Nacional del pasado 18 de diciembre. Desde su nueva posición, Valdés también supervisará el Ministerio de la Construcción, cuyo nuevo titular es el ingeniero civil René Mesa, de 52 años, en sustitución de Fidel Figueroa, destituido por ``errores'' en su función. Esa labor de coordinación incluye a su anterior ministerio: el de Informática y Comunicaciones, para el que Castro ha nombrado como ministro a Medardo Díaz Toledo, un general de brigada de 48 años que fue jefe de Comunicaciones de las Fuerzas Armadas.

Analistas consultados por EFE coincidieron en que Valdés se ha convertido en una especie de ``superministro'' al asumir la coordinación de un conjunto de sectores que concentran la ``masa crítica'' de las inversiones y proyectos estratégicos del país. Considerado un ``histórico'' de la revolución desde la guerrilla de la Sierra Maestra, Ramiro Valdés ha desempeñado diversas funciones en los últimos 50 años como la creación de los servicios de inteligencia y su gestión al frente del Ministerio del Interior, entre otras. Tras un largo periodo alejado de la cúpula gubernamental, Raúl Castro lo recuperó en 2006 al nombrarlo ministro de Informática y Comunicaciones.

Los últimos cambios del gabinete cubano, anunciados en la noche del jueves, han incluido el nombramiento de una nueva presidenta del Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos, Inés María Chapman, de 44 años, quien desde marzo coordinaba las obras de rehabilitación hidráulica de la ciudad oriental de Santiago de Cuba, una función que seguirá ejerciendo. Esos movimientos se producen en un momento en el que Cuba está sumida en el debate sobre el plan de ajustes que Raúl Castro impulsa para superar la crítica situación económica del país.

Esta misma semana ha arrancado una de las medidas más drásticas de ese plan: la supresión masiva de empleos en el sector público para reducir las abultadas plantillas de empleados estatales. A lo largo de su mandato, Raúl Castro ha acometido numerosos cambios en el gobierno, el más profundo de ellos ocurrió en marzo del 2009, con la salida definitiva del Ejecutivo de cuatro vicepresidentes y ocho ministros.

Ex presidente de Alimport habría desertado de Cuba


Pedro Alvarez Borrego, ex presidente de Alimport, la empresa cubana que monopoliza el comercio con Estados Unidos, y quien el año pasado fue destituido bajo cargos de corrupción, escapó de la isla en circunstancias no aclaradas y se encuentra en este país, informaron el jueves medios de prensa y activistas. Alvarez, quien también presidió la Cámara de Comercio de Cuba, es uno de los funcionarios cubanos de mayor rango que haya escapado hacia Estados Unidos.

Según el periodista Oscar Suárez, quien dio a conocer la noticia en su blog, la fuga de Alvarez ha desatado un intenso operativo de seguridad en Cuba. Las circunstancias de la fuga no están aclaradas, pero algunas versiones apuntan que escapó disfrazado de mujer por vía aérea. "Alvarez es un tipo de mucho interés para las autoridades cubanas y por esa razón la Seguridad del Estado quiere saber cómo logró salir y quiénes lo ayudaron'', dijo Suárez a El Nuevo Herald. Suárez aseguró que recibió la información de una fuente en Centroamérica. La fuga habría ocurrido entre el 27 y el 29 de diciembre, precisó. Alvarez habría llamado por teléfono a su suegra desde un punto no determinado para decirle que no regresaría más a Cuba. La esposa de Alvarez, Olga de la Cruz, murió en el accidente de un avión de Aerocaribbean ocurrido el 4 de noviembre cerca del pueblo de Guasimal, a unas 200 millas al este de La Habana. No hubo sobrevivientes.

Alvarez era investigado por supuestos actos de corrupción y actividades en perjuicio de la actividad económica cometidos durante su gestión en Alimport. El pasado año, parientes y amigos suyos fuera de Cuba dijeron a El Nuevo Herald que había sido interrogado por lo menos dos veces. Tanto su destitución de Alimport como de la Cámara de Comercio no fueron dadas a conocer oficialmente en la isla al momento de producirse.

Frank Calzón, director del Centro para una Cuba Libre, en Washington, D.C., indicó que un funcionario del gobierno estadounidense en esa capital le confirmó que Alvarez estaba en este país.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director del grupo de cabildeo US-Cuba Democracy, señaló que la deserción de Alvarez tiene una extraordinaria importancia, puesto que controló por largo tiempo todas las negociaciones con exportadores estadounidenses.

"El conoce como pocos los negocios del régimen, la estrategia de lobby en Washington y las intimidades de los políticos durante sus viajes a Cuba'', indicó Claver-Carone. ‘‘Debe haber varios políticos norteamericanos preocupados sobre lo que pueda revelar Alvarez sobre sus viajes a Cuba''.

Bajo la dirección de Alimport por parte de Alvarez, de 1998 al 2009, Estados Unidos se convirtió en el quinto socio comercial de la isla. En el 2008, las importaciones alcanzaron un récord de $711.5 millones. Sin embargo, en el 2009, las importaciones descendieron un 27 por ciento a causa de la crisis de liquidez y créditos en la isla.

Alex Cruz, portavoz de la oficina de la congresista republicana por la Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, indicó que ésta no haría comentarios sobre el tema. Los departamentos de Estado y Justicia no respondieron preguntas en relación al caso.

Alvarez nació en Alquízar el 8 de agosto de 1943. Ingresó a las filas del Ministerio de Comercio Exterior (MINCEX) a inicios de la década de 1960. Entre 1967 y 1982 fungió como consejero comercial en las embajadas de Cuba en la ex Unión Soviética y Bulgaria.

A su regreso al MINCEX sirvió como director de envíos y seguros internacionales. En 1990 fue nombrado viceministro, puesto que ocupó hasta 1998.

Read more:

Gaveta News: Entrevista sobre el aborto en Cuba

Cuba expects to receive 2.5 million tourists in 2010

Xinhua, December 22, 2010

Cuban authorities plan to conclude 2010 with a total of 2.5 million tourists, with an expected growth of 10 percent in the number of tourists for 2011, a senior official of the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) said on Tuesday.

Commercial Director of Mintur Jose Manuel Bisbe said that a total of 2.4 million tourists have visited the nation this year by Tuesday, and the number is expected to reach 2.5 million by the end of 2010. He considered the figure satisfactory given the situation in other countries. The official stated that Cuba hopes to welcome 2.7 million visitors in 2011. He described the goal as "ambitious" but not unattainable considering the current conditions in local tourism. "We are not so far away from the goal of 3 million visitors to Cuba per year," Bisbe said. Cuba has over 56,000 hotel rooms, most of them in the capital and in Varadero. According to Bisbe, visitors are mainly from Canada, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Russia, Argentina and Mexico.

"Cuba is currently developing cruises, recreational boating and eco-tourism. It is also building a new golf courses for 2012," Bisbe added. Tourism is currently the second source of income for Cuban's economy. The National Statistics Office said tourism represented a 2.2 billion U.S.dollar income for the country in 2009. It is also one of the strategic sectors in the economic reform plan promoted by leader Raul Castro. Castro has proposed to expand the range of services offered in the industry, which he described as one of the most effective ways to inject currency to the weak Cuban economy affected by the global financial crisis.

Cardinal says Cuba will free prisoners as promised

HAVANA, Jan. 1, 2011 (Reuters) — Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega assured on Saturday that "in coming months" Cuban leaders would release 11 political prisoners as promised under a landmark deal with the government. Speaking at a New Year's Day mass, Ortega expressed confidence the communist-led government would fulfill its commitment to release the men, who were among 52 dissidents included in the accord he brokered and announced on July 7.

The announcement said the process would take three to four months, but so far, almost six months later, only 41 of the prisoners have been freed. The 52 were part of a group of dissidents jailed in a 2003 government crackdown that strained Cuba's international relations. "A clear and formal promise from the Cuban government exists that all those prisoners will be freed," he said of the 11.

He and Cuban leaders have previously said the government planned to release not just the 52, but all political prisoners. Ortega repeated that in his mass. "I have the moral certainty that in the coming months not only those (11) prisoners will be freed, but others of a larger group of prisoners sanctioned for some type of act related to political actions," he said. Cuban leaders consider dissidents to be mercenaries in the pay of Havana's longtime ideological enemy, the United States, and they want the freed prisoners to leave Cuba and go to Spain, which has agreed to take them. Of the 41 released so far, 40 have accepted the deal, while one has been allowed to stay in Cuba.

Some of the 11 remaining prisoners want to go to the United States and others want to stay on the Caribbean island, Ortega said.

There is disagreement over how many other political prisoners Cuba has, but in recent months the government has freed 16 not included in the group of 52. All have agreed to go to Spain. Cuba's decision to release political prisoners followed an international uproar over the February death of a jailed dissident after an 85-day hunger strike for improved prison conditions.

(Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Franks and Paul Simao)

Oscar Biscet es un ser humano

(Radio Martí, 29/12/10) - La esposa del prisionero de conciencia, Oscar Elías Biscet, envió una carta a Raúl Castro en la que cuestiona el incumplimiento en la liberación de los 11 disidentes del Grupo de los 75 que permanecen en prisión.

En su misiva, Elsa Morejón Hernández indaga la razón por la cual su esposo está en un régimen carcelario que no le corresponde según la ley cubana, y los motivos por los que el gobierno comunista no ha cumplido con el plazo de excarcelación prometido a la Iglesia Católica en Cuba.

"Mi esposo y el resto de los presos políticos son ciudadanos cubanos y seres humanos que están en prisión por delitos de opinión", aseveró Morejón.

Oscar Elías Biscet fue condenado a 25 años de privación de libertad en la Primavera Negra del 2003 junto a otros 74 disidentes, periodistas independientes y activistas de derechos humanos. Está confinado en el Combinado del Este.

Amnistía Internacional considera que es un prisionero de conciencia y exige su liberación. En el 2006, el presidente estadounidense George W. Bush le otorgó la Medalla de la Libertad.

Pulse en el audio para escuchar una breve declaración de Elsa Morejón Hernández.

Aquí está su misiva completa (En formato PDF - Se necesita Acrobat).

Cuba: Cables Reveal Government Sees Bloggers as “Most Serious Challenge”

From "Global Voices"

Like Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil, Cuba was one of the Latin American countries most frequently referenced in the trove of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks. Cables confirmed much of what is already known about the diplomatic impasse that has stifled relations between Cuba and the USA for over fifty years. But they also revealed the Cuban government’s deep concern about the political impact of independent bloggers on the island.

Cables sent from the US Interest Section [1] (USINT) in Havana in 2009 (the most explicit of which can be found at El País) indicate that, in the eyes of USINT, the Cuban government does not see the traditional dissident community as a serious threat to political stability on the island, and that the movement has limited resonance within the general population.

An April 15 cable described the dissident movement in Cuba as, “as old and as out of touch with the lives of ordinary Cubans as the regime itself.” The dissidents mentioned here include leaders and groups such as Oswaldo Payá and Agenda para la Transición, who represent part of the island’s small, decades-old dissident community that receives considerable support from USINT and struggles to evade repression by the Cuban government.

On April 15, 2009, Jonathan Farrar of USINT wrote:

…we see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans. Informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas.

Given that USINT surveyed visa and refugee applicants, a group that opposes the Raúl Castro government in greater proportions than the general population, this information should be particularly disconcerting to dissident leaders. Ironically, Farrar also wrote that “…dissidents have, and will continue to perform, a key role in acting as the conscience of Cuba and deserve our support in that role.” He did not elaborate on how these groups could represent the “conscience of Cuba” if they were, as mentioned earlier, “out of touch with the lives of ordinary Cubans.”

A cable sent on December 20, 2009 indicated that the Cuban government sees bloggers as “its most serious challenge” within the realm of civil society.

Another cable also described “[y]ounger individuals, including bloggers, musicians, and performing and plastic artists” as being “much better [than traditional dissidents] at taking “rebellious” stands with greater popular appeal.”

The December 2009 cable read:

The bloggers' mushrooming international popularity and their ability to stay one tech-step ahead of the authorities are causing serious headaches in the regime. The attention that the United States bestowed on XXXXXXXXXXXX, first by publicly complaining when she was detained and roughed up and later by having the President respond to her questions, further fanned the fears that the blogger problem had gotten out of control.

The name redacted here unquestionably belongs to renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who was abducted and beaten in November of 2009 and conducted an email interview with US President Barack Obama shortly thereafter. In September of 2009, a USINT cable described a meeting between Sánchez and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams in Havana, in which Sánchez told Williams that “[a]n improvement in relations with the United States is absolutely necessary for democracy to emerge [in Cuba.]”

Collectively, these and other cables suggest that for USINT, certain bloggers may come to represent a “next generation” of government critics and activists that the US government will likely seek to support, if it is not doing so already.

Rogelio M. Díaz at Bubusopía [es] wrote that he was glad that the US had recognized that Cuba’s future lies in the hands of Cuban youth, and not that of the “old guard” dissident community.

[Es] cierto que no nos sentimos para nada identificados con los fósiles de la contrarrevolución, los que venden al país por treinta monedas… [mientras] siguen apoyando el bloqueo…

[It’s] true that we do not at all identify with the fossils of the counterrevolution, those that are willing to sell their country for thirty coins… [who at the same time] continue to support the blockade…

But he was wary of the cables’ inference that bloggers could somehow replace, or serve the same purpose (however futile) as, traditional dissidents.

Jóvenes como yo, entonces, preferimos como ídolos…aquellos que…repelieron la vileza mercenaria con las armas en la mano…[y] continuaron trabajando y luchando con sus manos, su intelecto y su amor por construir un futuro mejor…

Young people like myself, then, prefer as idols…those who…fought off mercenary turpitude [2] with arms in hand…[and] continued working and fighting with their hands, their intellect, and their love to construct a better future…

It is important to understand that these cables refer only to bloggers who are critical of the Castro government; the island’s very small independent blogging community represents a wide range of political positions, many of which support Cuban socialism and hope for positive change that will face challenges and strengthen the system as it stands. Blogs like Bubusopía represent an important part of this community. If they are truly interested in understanding the “conscience of Cuba,” it would behoove USINT officials to read all of these blogs in earnest, and to incorporate the significant diversity of opinions that they represent into their diplomatic discussions.
[1]: A historically controversial institution, USINT is seen by most as a center for information gathering, and as a source of (unauthorized) support for dissidents, and of pro-US propaganda dissemination.

[2]: Díaz's mention of “mercenary turpitude” refers to forces of capitalism.
By Ellery Biddle · Posted 28 December 2010

Cuba: High-Ranking Official Is Missing

January 8, 2011

The State Department has no information about the whereabouts of a leading Cuban government trade expert who Miami news reports said had fled, an American official said Friday. The newspaper El Nuevo Herald and several Cuban-American Web sites reported that Pedro Álvarez, 67, the former head of Cuba’s state food importing company, and a crucial figure in legal Cuban purchases of American farm products, had defected to the United States. Cuban authorities and state-run media made no mention of the reports from Miami, which said Mr. Álvarez had escaped last week and had been under investigation for corruption.