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.

Read more:

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.