Monday, July 31, 2006

The official Cuban proclamation

Posted on Mon, Jul. 31, 2006

Translation: The official Cuban proclamation

Proclamation broadcast on Havana radio, read by Carlos Valenciaga, Fidel Castro's secretary.

Proclamation by the Commander in Chief to the people of Cuba:

As a result of the enormous effort [I] made to visit the Argentine city of Cordoba to participate in the reunion of Mercosur, in the closing ceremony of the Summit of the Peoples at the historic University of Cordoba, and in the visit to Altagracia, the city where Che spent his childhood, and, along with all this, to attend immediately the commemoration of the 53rd anniversary of the assault on the barracks at Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes on July 26, 1953, in the provinces of Granma and Holguin, days and nights of continuous work, barely able to sleep, my health, which has withstood all trials, was subjected to extreme stress and broke down.

This provoked an acute intestinal crisis, with sustained bleeding, that obliged me to face a complicated surgical operation. All details of this health accident are evident in the X-rays, endoscopies, and filmed materials. The operation obliges me to spend several weeks in repose, away from my responsibilities and duties.

Because our country is threatened in these circumstances by the government of the United States, I have made the following decisions:

1. I delegate, on a provisional basis, my functions as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba upon the Second Secretary, comrade Raul Castro Ruz.

2. I delegate, on a provisional basis, my functions as Commander in Chief of the Heroic Revolutionary Armed Forces upon the aforementioned comrade, Army Gen. Raul Castro Ruz.

3. I delegate, on a provisional basis, my functions as President of the Council of State and Government of the Republic of Cuba on the First Vice President, comrade Raul Castro Ruz.

4. I delegate, on a provisional basis, my functions as principal promoter of the national and international program of public health upon the member of the Political Bureau and Minister of Public Health, comrade Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera.

5. I delegate, on a provisional basis, my functions as principal promoter of the national and international program of education upon comrades Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernandez, members of the Political Bureau.

6. I delegate, on a provisional basis, my functions as principal promoter of the national program of the energy revolution in Cuba, and cooperation with other countries on this field, upon comrade Carlos Lage Davila, member of the Political Bureau and Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers.

The funds required for these three programs -- health, education and energy -- must continue to be managed and prioritized, as I have been doing it personally, by comrades Carlos Lage Davila, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers; Francisco Soberon Valdes, Minister-President of the Central Bank of Cuba; and Felipe Perez Roque, Minister of Foreign Relations, who accompanied me in these tasks and who must form a commission for that purpose.

Our glorious Communist Party, supported by the mass organizations, and all the people, has the mission to assume the task recommended in this proclamation.

The Summit of the Movement of Nonaligned Nations, to be held between the 11th and 16th of September, must be given the closest attention by the State and Cuban nation so it may be held with the greatest brilliance on the appointed date.

[About] the 80th anniversary of my birth, which thousands of people so generously agreed to celebrate next Aug. 13, I beg all of you to postpone it until Dec. 2 of this year, the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma.

I ask the Party's Central Committee and the National Assembly of the People's Power for the firmest support for this proclamation. I have not the slightest doubt that our people and our Revolution will fight to the last drop of blood to defend this and other ideas and measures that may be necessary to safeguard this historic process.

Imperialism will never be able to crush Cuba. The battle of ideas will go forward.

Long live the motherland!

Long live the Revolution!

Long live socialism!

On to victory, always!


Fidel Castro Ruz

Commander in Chief

First Secretary of the Party and President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba.

Miami Reaction

posted on Tue, Aug. 01, 2006

A prelude: Miami streets burst with spontaneous joy
Miamians, eager to celebrate a change of any sort in Cuba's leadership, reacted to news of Cuba's power transfer with spontaneous partying, honking, yelling and joy.

For two generations, Cuban Americans in Miami have waited patiently for the news that reached them through cellphones, televisions, BlackBerries and radios Monday night: Fidel Castro is no longer the leader of Cuba.

At least temporarily.

But the disclaimer meant little to the thousands who took to the streets, oozing 47 years of pent-up joy as they leaned madly on car horns to awaken anybody who may not have heard:

Fidel Castro, suffering from a serious illness, ceded power Monday night to his brother, 75-year-old Raúl Castro, the leader of Cuba's armed forces.

Minutes after the announcement from Havana, news spread like electronic wildfire, with countless hands reaching simultaneously for telephones and television remotes. Nostalgia clashed with disbelief in an electrified Miami.

''We just wish [Castro] a slow and painful death,'' said Lourdes Cambo, outside Versailles restaurant in Little Havana.

On Bird Road and Southwest 87th Avenue, where police blocked off the streets to traffic, dozens of revelers formed a makeshift conga line and banged on pots and pans, chanting ``¡Cuba si, Castro no!.''

They danced on Calle Ocho and in Broward, Hialeah and Sweetwater.

''Do what you're going to do, this is a happy moment, but please celebrate on the sidewalks, don't block the street and don't block traffic,'' said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was born in Cuba.

Across the street from Versailles restaurant, the default epicenter of exile political life, Teresita Del Cueto said Castro's time had come.

''It's time for him to pay for all the suffering he has caused, not only to Cuban people but the whole world,'' del Cueto said.

Cautious Miami-Dade county officials fired up the emergency operations center and set up the 311 line for information, standard operating procedure the county had prepared in the event of Castro's death.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, a Cuban exile, hit the town. Crazed celebrants banging kitchenware surrounded him as he stepped onto the traditional backbone of Cuban Miami, Calle Ocho.

While many Miamians popped beers, partied and vented decades of pent-up angst, other exiles who watch Cuba more closely were more cautious.

Ninoska Pérez-Castellón, a commentator on Radio Mambí and stalwart anti-Castro hard-liner, could barely contain the glee in her voice during an interview. But still, she didn't say IT.

''IT'' in Miami is best translated for the layperson in this way: ding dong, the witch is dead.

''I think the moment has arrived, but we can't even savor the moment,'' said Pérez-Castellón. ``We don't want to go out and start saying anything because it's not confirmed. It would be irresponsible to fuel that. Maybe they are just buying time in Cuba before taking that step.''

Ding dong. . .

It's been 47 years of waiting, of praying on Christmas eve for the possibility of celebrating the holidays in Havana the following year.

This is the day Miami Cubans itched for all these years. The day the news trickled down that Fidel is no longer Cuba's leader.

At the Bernado Garcia Funeral Home on Southwest Bird Road and 82nd Avenue, about 20 Cuban exiles had been mourning the loss of a loved one when news of Castro's potential demise filtered in.

For 64-year-old Mercedes Valdes of Hialeah, who came to Miami in 1968, the emotions were bittersweet.

''They forgot about the dead and started talking about Fidel,'' she said.

But then, she added, ``It's a ray of hope in the midst of so much sadness. We're all scared it's not true.''

Zoila Castro, 85, stood on West 49th street screaming and hollering with other Hialeah residents. ``I am crazy with joy.

Radio personalities like Marta Flores of Radio Mambí cautioned the audience to temper their celebration.

''People, listen to me, no one has confirmed that Fidel is dead,'' Flores reminded her audience, who clogged her radio lines.

But the callers didn't care.

''This is the happiest day of my life,'' one woman caller said joyfully.

Many people longed for the report to go further, hoping it meant Castro was already dead.

''That's the only reason Cuba said anything; otherwise, we wouldn't even know he was sick. He's dead,'' said another caller.

At WQBA-La Cubanisima, radio personalities said they had seen a copy of the statement issued by Castro and the signature did not appear to be the comandante's, giving fuel to the ''he's dead'' theory.

At La Ideal Babystore's parking lot in Hialeah, dozens sang and danced along to Willy Chirino's Ya Viene Llegando, (The Time is Comin), practically a Cuban American Anthem, as it blared from a red Toyota Camry's speakers. On woman was on the brink of tears.

Aiza Rodriguez, 33, said though they hadn't pronounced Castro dead she felt it inside.

''It reeks of death,'' she said. ''The Cuban government never says it all,'' she said. ``Either way, one thing is for sure, Cuba is free. Raul Castro can't stop us, nobody can.''

Jose Chavez, 32, predicted the partying would go on well into the night and for weeks to come.

Other exiles didn't want to believe that THE DAY had come. Exile activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, head of the Democracy Movement, theorized this could just be a dress rehearsal.

''Castro could have planned this. Castro could be watching to see how it will really go if he really hands over the reigns to his brother,'' he suggested.

But Democratic Party activist Joe Garcia, former director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said he thinks the announcement from Havana is key.

''Something major happened,'' Garcia said. ``If it turns out it was all a joke, then it'll just be a night where people had a few too many beers and that's it.''

Miami Herald staff writers Luisa Yanez, Elaine De Valle, Marc Caputo, Frances Robles, Monica Hatcher, Diana Moskovitz, Pablo Bachelet, Evan S. Benn, Jennifer Mooney Piedra, Yudy Pineiro, Charles Rabin, Gladys Amador, Carli Teproff, Ben Torter, Carolyn Guniss, Betsy Martinez, Jack Dolan and Jim Murphy contributed to this report.

And in the Miami Herald

Posted on Tue, Aug. 01, 2006

Castro faces surgery, cedes power to brother


In a stunning development, Cuban leader Fidel Castro temporarily ceded his presidential power to brother Rául Castro late Monday due to ''an intestinal crisis'' that requires ''complicated surgery,'' according to a letter read on Cuban national television.

The letter, reportedly signed by the Cuban leader and read by Carlos Valenciaga, his secretary, said that Castro was assigning his top duties to his brother because Cuba is ``threatened by the United States government.''

Fidel Castro is 79 and has been in questionable health for years; Rául, the defense minister, is 75 and has been taking on a more public role in recent months.

In South Florida, where the Cuban exile community has awaited such news for decades, the initial reaction was muted but seemed certain to intensify as word spread.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz predicted that the next few days would be ``very tense.''

He called it ''unusual'' that Castro would be willing to cede power, even temporarily, and suggested that it was a sign that the Cuban leader's health was deteriorating sharply.

''Obviously, we're all going to be very, very happy the day that he dies,'' Diaz said. ``We'll be keeping a close eye.''

A party atmosphere descended over the Versailles restaurant in Little Havana, with a couple of dozen people gathered outside celebrating what they hope is the beginning of the downfall of Castro.

''We've waited 46 years in this country,'' said Angel Caso, 77. `` We don't know what this means, but it has to be good.''

''I think he's dead,'' Caso added, referring to Fidel Castro. ``He can't last much longer if he's not. Then we have to figure out what to do.''

In Washington, the State Departmenmt had no immediate comment.

Castro's letter attributed the ailment to stress from recent public appearances in Cuba and Argentina.

''The days and nights of continuous work without sleep caused that my health . . . suffered great stress,'' the letter said.

It is the first time in 47 years that Fidel Castro ceded the power that he snared as a rebel and clung to through decades of controversy and, many would say, brutal repression. Cuban law stipulates that his brother would take over as president upon his death.

''There is no doubt the people and the revolution will struggle until the last drop of blood,'' Valenciaga said.

Providing some evidence that Castro's medical situation was serious, Valenciaga said the Cuban leader delegated various functions to high-level Communist Party officials. He also postponed an upcoming international conference.

In addition, celebrations scheduled for Castro's 80th birthday on Aug. 13 will be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, the announcement said.

''Until victory forever,'' Valenciaga said, using a revolutionary slogan.

In November, The Miami Herald reported that Central Intelligence Agency analysts were so certain Castro has Parkinson's disease that the agency last year began briefing U.S. policy makers.

Two longtime U.S. government officials familiar with the briefings said the CIA believed that Castro was diagnosed around 1998.

Parkinson's symptoms include tremors, stiffness, difficulty with balance and muffled speech, although it varies according to the patient.

In typical fashion, Castro responded with an hours-long speech broadcast on Cuban state television to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his entrance into the University of Havana. During the speech, he blasted President Bush and the CIA for the war in Iraq and the use of secret jails to house terror suspects.

''They've said Parkinson's -- what do you think of that?'' Castro told an audience of students and academics. ``I don't care if I get Parkinson's. The pope had Parkinson's, and he spent a bunch of years running all around the world.''

Showing no visible signs of health problems and dressed in his fatigues, Castro said he would not insist on remaining in power if he ever became too sick to lead the country.

''If I don't feel I'm in condition, I'll call the [Communist] Party and tell them I don't feel I'm in condition . . . that, please, someone take over the command,'' he said.

In October 2004, Castro, then 78, broke his left knee and right arm in a fall after giving a graduation speech in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara.

Former Ecuadorean President Lucio Gutiérrez wrote in his recent book that he had to prop up a dozing Castro several times while sitting next to him at an international event.

Castro fainted during a speech in a Havana suburb in 2001 and was seen almost collapsing during the inauguration of Argentine President Néstor Kirchner in 2003.

Herald staff writers Larry Lebowitz, Susannah A. Nesmith, Charles Rabin and Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.

Castro Gives Temporary Power to Brother

July 31, 2006
Ailing Castro Gives Temporary Power to Brother

Filed at 11:55 p.m. ET

HAVANA (AP) -- Fidel Castro, who took control of Cuba in 1959, rebuffed repeated U.S. attempts to oust him and survived communism's demise almost everywhere else, temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul on Monday night because of surgery.

The Cuban leader said he had suffered gastrointestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba, according to a letter read live on television by his secretary, Carlos Valenciaga.

''The operation obligates me to undertake several weeks of rest,'' said the letter. Extreme stress ''had provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure.''

Castro said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his younger brother and successor Raul, the defense minister, but said the move was of ''a provisional character.'' There was no immediate appearance or statement by Raul Castro.

It was the first time in his decades-long tenure that Castro has given up power, though he has been sidelined briefly in the recent past with occasional health problems.

The elder Castro asked that celebrations scheduled for his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Castro said he would also temporarily delegate his duties as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Raul, who turned 75 in June and who has been taking on a more public profile in recent weeks.

In power since the triumph of the Cuban revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, Castro has been the world's longest-ruling head of government. Only Britain's Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, has been head of state longer.

The ''maximum leader's'' ironclad rule has ensured Cuba remains among the world's five remaining communist countries. The others are all in Asia: China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.

In Old Havana, waiters at a popular cafe were momentarily stunned as they watched the news. But they quickly got back to work and put on brave faces.

''He'll get better, without a doubt,'' said Agustin Lopez, 40. ''There are really good doctors here, and he's extremely strong.''

In the nearby Plaza Vieja, Cuban musicians continued to play for customers -- primarily foreign tourists -- sitting at outdoor cafes. Signs on the plaza's colonial buildings put up during a recent Cuban holiday said, ''Live on Fidel, for 80 more.''

''We're really sad, and pretty shocked,'' said Ines Cesar, a retired 58-year-old metal worker who had gathered with neighbors to discuss the news. ''But everyone's relaxed too: I think he'll be fine.''

When asked about how she felt having Raul Castro at the helm of the nation, Cesar paused and said one word: ''normal.''

Over nearly five decades, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled Castro's rule, many of them settling just across the Florida Straits in Miami.

The announcement drew cheering in the streets in Miami. People waved Cuban flags on Little Havana's Calle Ocho, shouting ''Cuba, Cuba, Cuba,'' hoping that the end is near for the man most of them consider to be a ruthless dictator. There were hugs, cheers and dancing as drivers honked their horns. Many of them fled the communist island or have parents and grandparents who did.

White House spokesman Peter Watkins said: ''We are monitoring the situation. We can't speculate on Castro's health, but we continue to work for the day of Cuba's freedom.'' The State Department declined to comment Monday night.

Castro rose to power after an armed revolution he led drove out then-President Fulgencio Batista.

The United States was the first country to recognize Castro, but his radical economic reforms and rapid trials of Batista supporters quickly unsettled U.S. leaders.

Washington eventually slapped a trade embargo on the island and severed diplomatic ties. Castro seized American property and businesses and turned to the Soviet Union for military and economic assistance.

On April 16, 1961, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist. The following day, he humiliated the United States by capturing more than 1,100 exile soldiers in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The world neared nuclear conflict on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. After a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them.

Meanwhile, Cuban revolutionaries opened 10,000 new schools, erased illiteracy, and built a universal health care system. Castro backed revolutionary movements in Latin America and Africa.

But former liberties were whittled away as labor unions lost the right to strike, independent newspapers were shut down and religious institutions were harassed.

Castro continually resisted U.S. demands for multiparty elections and an open economy despite American laws tightening the embargo in 1992 and 1996.

He characterized a U.S. plan for American aid in a post-Castro era as a thinly disguised attempt at regime change and insisted his socialist system would survive long after his death.

Fidel Castro Ruz was born in eastern Cuba, where his Spanish immigrant father ran a prosperous plantation. His official birthday is Aug. 13, 1926, although some say he was born a year later.

Talk of Castro's mortality was long taboo on the island, but that ended June 23, 2001, when he fainted during a speech in the sun. Although Castro quickly returned to the stage, many Cubans understood for the first time that their leader would one day die.

Castro shattered a kneecap and broke an arm when he fell after a speech on Oct. 20, 2004, but typically laughed off rumors about his health, most recently a 2005 report that he had Parkinson's disease.

''They have tried to kill me off so many times,'' Castro said in a November 2005 speech about the Parkinson's report, adding he felt ''better than ever.''

But the Cuban president also said he would not insist on remaining in power if he ever became too sick to lead: ''I'll call the (Communist) Party and tell them I don't feel I'm in condition ... that please, someone take over the command.''


Associated Press writer Vanessa Arrington in Havana contributed to this report

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Cuban oil renews embargo debate

Associated Press
Cuban oil renews embargo debate
Discovery of sizeable reserves means U.S. trade ban may finally have a cost
The Associated Press

Updated: 4:40 p.m. MT July 29, 2006

MIAMI - Some facts about America’s trade embargo with Cuba:

—It’s been U.S. policy since 1961.

—It has yet to loosen Fidel Castro’s grip on power.

—It has cost America little strategically or economically.

Until now, that is.

From here on out, say a growing chorus of experts, America will pay a price for maintaining its 45-year trade ban with the communist nation — a strategic and economic price that will have negative repercussions for the United States in the decades to come.

What has changed the equation?


To be more specific, recent, sizable discoveries of it in the North Cuba Basin — deep-water fields that have already drawn the interest of companies from China, India, Norway, Spain, Canada, Venezuela and Brazil.

Embargo past its prime?
This, in turn, has reheated debate in the U.S. Congress and the Cuban-American community on an old question:

Has the time finally come to shelve the embargo — given America’s need for more sources of crude at a time of rising gas prices, soaring global demand and the outbreak of war in the Middle East?

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, an expert on Cuba energy matters and a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says America’s thirst for oil will soon force a fundamental change in Washington’s relations with Havana.

“I’ve always argued that we would keep the Cuban embargo in place until we got to the point where it started to cost us something.” Today, he adds, “we’re almost there.”

Says Phil Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va., that defends limited government and free trade, and a Cuba expert: “If Cuba discovers a lot of oil and becomes an oil exporter, the embargo almost becomes an absurdity.”

Kirby Jones, founder and president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, D.C., which has long sought an end to the trade ban, says the reality of Cuba as an oil producer makes the embargo too costly a policy to keep.

“Our choice is: Are we going to let those other countries take that oil? Or are we going to look at our strategic interests and recognize that very close to our shores is a substantial quantity of oil that is going to be exploited?”

Lucrative find
Cuba has been oil hunting, not always successfully, for decades.

With Soviet help, it discovered the Varadero Oil Field in 1971. This reservoir, within 5 miles of Cuba’s northern coast, today yields about 40 percent of Cuba’s total production — roughly 75,000 barrels a day of poor-quality, heavy, sour crude.

In July 2004, however, the Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF, in partnership with Cuba’s state oil company, CUPET, identified five fields it classified as “high-quality” in the deep water of the Florida Straits, 20 miles northeast of Havana.

Seven months later, a report by the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed it: The North Cuba Basin held a substantial quantity of oil — 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of crude and 9.8 trillion to 21.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Cuba wasted no time, dividing the 74,000 square mile (120,000 square kilometer) area into 59 exploration blocks, and then welcoming foreign oil conglomerates with offers of production-sharing agreements.

Oil companies from China and Canada, already prospecting for oil along Cuba’s coast, began talks with Cuban energy officials about investments in deep-water operations.

Then, in May, Spain’s Repsol-YPF announced it was partnering with India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp., and Norsk Hydro ASA of Norway to explore for oil and gas in six of the 59 deep-water blocks along Cuba’s maritime border with the United States. (Sherritt International Corp., the Canadian oil company, has acquired exploration rights in four of the deep-sea blocks.)

That raised the eyebrows of many an oil executive, says Jorge Pinon, a former senior executive with Amoco Oil and a research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

Breaking the blockade
Norsk and ONGC are among a select group of companies with deep-water know-how and technology, so when they signed on with the Spanish, “everyone else said, ’Maybe we better take a look at Cuba again.”’

The U.S. Congress certainly has.

In May, with much fanfare, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, introduced twin bills to the House and Senate that would exempt Big Oil from the embargo.

Before introducing his legislation, Craig told a reporter that “prohibition on trade with Cuba has accomplished just about zero.” Ominously, he added: “China, as we speak, has a drilling rig off the coast of Cuba.” (The senator failed to mention that the Chinese are working in shallow water near Cuba’s shore, and possess neither the technology nor the expertise to tap Cuba’s promising deep-water reserves.)

Regardless, the bills represent the best chance yet to “punch a big hole into the embargo,” says Johannes Werner, editor of Cuba Trade & Investment News, published in Sarasota, Fla.

Chorus of opposition
That scenario raises the hackles of the conservative, and highly influential, Cuban-American voting lobby of south Florida — not exactly what President Bush, or his brother, Jeb, who occupies the governor’s mansion in Florida, would prefer three months before midterm elections.

Says Alfredo Mesa, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami: “Those who would advocate for ... allowing U.S. companies to drill off Cuba lose sight of how that would damage our ability to press the Cuban government on other issues, such as human rights.”

Environmentalists are also squarely set against oil-industry access to Cuba, though for different reasons. Oil spills — even routine toxic pollution from drilling — could pollute the Everglades and Florida’s most economically important beaches, they say, and wreck the state’s tourism industry.

Thanks to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Jim Davis, D-Fla., they, too, have measures in Congress for which to cheer: twin bills that would deny U.S. visas to executives of foreign companies that drill for oil in Cuban waters.

Nelson’s bill would undo a 1977 maritime boundary agreement between the countries that bisects the Straits of Florida and allows Cuba to perform commercial activities (e.g., oil drilling) near the Florida Keys.

It’s not clear how this could keep the Cubans from exploiting waters closer to their shores than America’s. One semiofficial response from Cuba, an editorial by the state-run Prensa Latina newswire, called the measures “extraterritorial.”

Time to think it over
How likely is it that Congress will act?

“If the oil industry continues to sit on the fence as it has been — not too likely, especially with this administration and Congress,” says Werner, editor of the Cuba trade newsletter. “But there are elections in November, which could change the whole equation.”

Peters, of the Lexington Institute, agrees. “I think if you call (oil companies) up and ask them, ’What is your position on this?’ they’d say yes, we’re behind an exemption in the embargo. But I’m not sure if they would get behind it in a major way yet.”

In response to queries from The Associated Press, the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C., the industry’s lobbying arm, issued this statement:

“We cannot speak to individual interest in Cuba, but we can say that API members are more focused on expanding access on the U.S. portion of the outer continental shelf, which is much closer to the existing pipeline network and where they have more information about oil and natural gas reserves.”

All of this is still somewhat premature, says Pinon, the former oil executive and research associate. “We are still three to five years away from commercializing any of those Cuban reserves.”

There is at least an 18-month backlog on the leasing of deep-water rigs, he says, and “crude oil is worth zero if you can’t move it or process it. Even if they find the oil, what are they going to do with it?”

Benjamin-Alvarado, a regular visitor to Cuba who has been following that nation’s energy development for 15 years, concurs. Cuba, he says, needs help “downstreaming” — upgrading its ports, refineries and maintenance equipment.

Already, though, Venezuela’s state oil monopoly, PDVSA, has signed a $100 million deal to revamp Cuba’s Cienfuegos refinery, a Russian relic from Cold-War days, and to increase oil storage capacity at the Port of Matanzas.

“Every day the United States puts off making the path into Cuba, that window of opportunity closes a little more,” says Benjamin-Alvarado. Once Cuba gets to the platform stage of deep-water drilling, he says, “the Americans are going to be left out.”
© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Exiles Display Anti-Revolutionary Placards

From Oscar Corral's blog July 25:

Exiles Call for Passive Resistance in Cuba

Defanairiondo_3 Three Cuban exile groups announced a campaign Tuesday to encourage a wave of passive resistance in Cuba to combat Fidel Castro's government peacefully. The groups, M.A.R. for Cuba, Plantados until Freedom and Democracy in Cuba, and Cuban Democratic Directorate, unveiled posters that emulate street signs which they plan to smuggle into Cuba and disseminate on the island.

The signs, which are a striking red and yellow, say "yo no," (I don't) followed by different words, sigo (follow), reprimo (repress), asisto (assist), chivateo (snitch), coopero (cooperate) and repudio (repudiate). The groups said the signs will be circulated inside Cuba as stickers and fliers, although they declined to specify how they will sneak them in. Two of the groups, Directorate and Plantados, receive federal funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Group leaders said the campaign was launched after dissidents inside Cuba appealed to the exile community to help them spread the word of passive resistance inside the island. The groups believe there are signs from the island that passive resistance is growing. For example, they said, many people now refuse to engage in acts of repudiation against their neighbors.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Miami's Nuevo Herald Caught Doctoring Photo of Cuba

Originally published by Miami New Times 2006-07-27
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Listen Up, McClatchy
The most-honored Spanish newspaper in the United States is ethically challenged
By Chuck Strouse

A striking, five-column color photo was splashed across the Sunday, June 25 edition of El Nuevo Herald. It showed four spandex-clad prostitutes in Cuba hailing a foreign tourist. Just a few feet away, two policemen conversed with a little girl and a woman. The headline: "Hookers: The Sad Meat of the American Dollar."

The cops obviously didn't care about the working girls — a clear sign of the hypocritically wanton ways of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Problem is, the picture was a fake. Indeed it was just the kind of manipulated combination of two images that prompted the Los Angeles Times to fire staff photographer Brian Walski in 2003. Walski, you may recall, altered two photos of an American soldier to make them appear as one, more dramatic image. Several papers unknowingly published the combo on their front pages, and Thom McGuire, a Hartford Courant assistant managing editor, said the incident made him "sick to my stomach."

El Nuevo's sin was worse. Its image — on page 27A — appeared with the caption "The government has proven incapable of confronting the dramatic phenomenon of prostitution" and a story about a book on Cuba's working girls by author Amir Valle.

It pushed an anti-Castro agenda in a newspaper advertised by its new owners, McClatchy and Co., as the "most-honored, highest-circulation Spanish-language newspaper in the continental United States."

And, perhaps worse, higherups at El Nuevo overrode the objections of veteran photographer Roberto Koltun, who snapped both pictures several years ago in Cuba (and didn't return a call seeking comment). "Two things were put together," commented photo coordinator Orlando Mellado. "[Koltun] expressed concern about it for that reason and others. He basically didn't want it used."

So why did the newspaper print it?

"That's a decision that was made by another editor," Mellado responded before referring me to Luis Garcia, an El Nuevo artist.

"I remember putting together something for that section," Garcia said when I phoned him. "I'll go get it and call you back." He never called. Three follow-up messages weren't returned. Nor were two messages left with Andrés Reynaldo, who edits the section in which the photo appeared, Séptimo Día (Seventh Day).

I also left multiple messages with Humberto Castelló, the paper's executive editor; and Gloria Leal, the associate editor. They weren't returned either.

"You expect this kind of thing from a Communist newspaper," commented one local photographer. "But from a legitimate news organization, this is unacceptable."

Clues to Deception: In the doorway in the background, there is a sharp variation in light between the right and left sides; note the difference in perspective between the police officers and prostitutes; the police officers cast shadows -- the prostitutes don't.

Cuban Hip-hop group Orishas

Black Magic Musicians
Orishas cast a spell on fans worldwide
By Alexandra Quiñones
Article Published Apr 27, 2006
Miami New Times

Before the grillz-and-bills lyrics of modern hip-hop, there were the socially relevant teachings of Public Enemy. Before the abrasive thumping of reggaeton, there were the rich vocals of Benny Moré. But Orishas' genre-splicing music follows no predecessors; the Cuban trio is unique in its endeavors. Roldán González, Hiram "Ruzzo" Riveri, and Yotuel Romero have created their own fusion, melding traditional Cuban son and rumba with rap lyrics and rhythms. Orishas' latest release, El Kilo, features African percussion, Spanish guitar, gritty urban turntable scratches, and booming bass lines. But despite the eclecticism of their music, there is no doubt Orishas are firmly rooted in their Cuban origins. The bandmates often reference the Santería gods from which their name is derived. Although Orishas' homeland directly influences the group's distinct sound, the members did not meet or find success until they were thousands of miles away from their muse.

Producer Niko Noki introduced the members of the then quartet (Liván Núñez Alemán, a.k.a. Flaco-Pro, left the group after the first album) in Paris in 1999. After the release of their debut album, A Lo Cubano, Orishas flexed their versatile appeal by playing a plethora of concerts with a variety of artists from Cypress Hill to Iggy Pop. Their experience as foreigners shaped their sophomore release, Emigrante, a telling album that won a Latin Grammy. The remaining three members now live scattered throughout Europe; González resides in Paris, Romero in Madrid, and Riveri in Milan. Although oceans apart, Orishas' artistic and spiritual connection to Cuba is ever present, while their political stance is decidedly ambiguous.

"We don't want to be used politically by anybody. I want people to see us for our music rather than our political views," Romero reveals. "In Cuba we couldn't do the music we wanted to do, and that is why we had to look for new horizons — in particular France. I don't want anybody labeling us as a political group. And we don't want to touch the topic of Castro for better or for worse."

The government of Cuba has been particularly supportive of Orishas' efforts, especially for a group that adamantly distances itself from its motherland. The Ministry of Culture built a studio for rappers in an attempt to realize Orishas' wish of seeing the once-shunned hip-hop music flourish in Cuba. Despite their unwavering champion, Orishas' maintain a political silence that has not weakened their influence in the country they left behind:

"Thanks to our music, the music in Cuba has turned 180 degrees. Now in Cuba you can hear reggaeton and rap music. Rap has entered Cuba like a revolution, and we can say humbly that we had something to do with it," says Romero.

Orishas' social stances are not so vague. Many tracks recall the realities and hardships of life in Cuba via references to the struggles faced under intense scrutiny, poverty, and deceitful acquaintances. Riveri and Romero's heady rap rhymes roil into a furious crest while González's balladlike vocals are the sweeping undertow that balances out the wave of melded sounds. The trio always remains true to the integrity of its words with songs that exude confidence and acknowledge its originality. Unlike the overtly crass lyrics often associated with rap, Orishas do not promote violence, belittle women, or glamorize wealth.

"Hip-hop has distanced itself from such artists as Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy. If you listen to their lyrics, and compare them with today's acts, it's more belligerent. It seems like there is some kind of anger in the new rap artists. I believe that rap should be revolutionary and a unifying force. Instead it's about who has the most gold, the most bling," says Romero.

Perhaps the threesome's positive influence will spread with its numerous individual collaborations. Aside from acting gigs, Romero helped produce and raps on albums for Miami-based artist Descemer Bueno and actress/singer Beatriz Luengos. A solo full-length is in the works for González, but Orishas fans can still expect a new album in 2007. Orishas' current release, El Kilo, is yet another tribute to the group's heritage. The album's title refers to a slang term for a cent in Cuba. Romero reveals the true meaning behind it:

"What we're trying to say with El Kilo is that you may not have a dollar, you may not be a millionaire, but at the very least you will have un kilo. You could have any album you want — a U2 album or a Michael Jackson album — but in every home, we would hope that there is at least El Kilo from Orishas."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Letter on Cuba Report

Posted on Sun, Jul. 16, 2006
Miami Herald
Letters to the Editor

Don't continue bad Cuba policy

Last week, President Bush endorsed the latest report issued by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba on the role of the United States in the Cuban ''transition'' after Fidel Castro's death. The commission's recommendations reveal yet again that the Bush administration is incapable of learning from an uninterrupted 47-year record of policy failure.
While the report professes that its goal is the spread of democracy in Cuba, the commission's past recommendations (strengthened by the new report) further restricted travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans, scholars, students and humanitarians. This policy not only belies the U.S. commitment to basic freedoms but also runs counter to our policy regarding other communist countries, where the prevailing assumption always has been that democracy is spread through American travel and the dissemination of democratic ideals.
The report claims that its insistence on Castro's removal comes out of humanitarian concern for the conditions of the Cuban people. Yet it simultaneously suggests renewed vigor in the implementation of restrictions that limit the amount of money, medical supplies and other necessities that Cuban Americans can send to Cuban relatives, as well as the frequency of family visits, on the specious grounds that these things help Castro stay in power.
The overriding expressed concern of the embargo all along has been to get Castro out of power, without regard to the humanitarian costs. If the U.S. government really wants an invited (rather than imposed) role in the transition -- one initiated by the Cuban people themselves -- it seems obvious that it would first need to establish itself to those very Cuban people as being concerned with their current condition.
The Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists for Change in U.S.-Cuba Policy (ENCASA/U.S. CUBA) urges Congress to reject the recommendations of the report. We also urge our fellow Americans to reject politicians who support such failed and misguided policies.
MARTA CAMINERO SANTANGELO, member, ENCASA steering committee, Lawrence, Kan.


© 2006 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 14, 2006

ENCASA's Top Ten Absurdities in the Cuba Report

Taken from Oscar Corral's Cuba blog:

ENCASA: Washington's New Cuba Report Full of "Absurdities"

ENCASA, the group of Cuban-American academics and artists that formed recently to criticize the U.S. embargo of Cuba, fired off a top 10 list of reasons why they believe the Cuba commission report released in Washington this week is a loser:

"Rather than attempt here a detailed, reasoned analysis of a report that is based on anything but reason or analysis (although we have prepared just such an analysis in a separate document), we have chosen to make use of the finest traditions of Cuban and American irreverence to respond to this second edition of the CAFC (Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba) report in the manner that it deserves."

"Top Ten Signs that the CAFC Report is Bad":

10. It is an exercise in political opportunism. How coincidental is it that the Bush administration rediscovers Cuba on even years (2004, 2006) just before tough elections?

9. It is contemptuous of international law and world opinion.

8. It is a failed welfare program for the professional anti-Castro set. Much of this money is sure to end up in the bank accounts of people who have made a lucrative career out of fighting Fidel Castro from the safety of the United States.

7. It is a combination of political science fiction, wishful thinking, delusions and sour grapes. The tone of much of the report is almost surreal and delusional in its talk about a hypothetical Cuban “transition” government and its detailed description of the policies such a government might undertake and the U.S. government actions that would result.

6. It is a model of cynicism and cruelty disguised as concern. The report is replete with crocodile tears and expressions of concern over the humanitarian needs of the Cuban people and promises of help--but only after a transition is under way. What about the problems faced by Cubans today?

5. It infringes on the freedom of American citizens. What ever happened to the U.S. government’s pious pronouncements of the “free exchange of ideas”?

4. It is not about the desires and dreams of Cubans abroad. Is the Commission speaking in a code in which reconciliation means confrontation, isolation, and economic strangulation?

3. It is not transparent. One can only imagine what items of dubious legality and sheer lunacy may be contained in this classified portion of the report.

2. It is not about sovereignty. The report’s emphasis on “restoring sovereignty to the Cuban people” is one of its most Orwellian aspects. A state that respects the sovereignty of another nation and its people does not produce a detailed script for the political future of that nation and that people.

1. It is about regime change, stupid. Make no mistake about it; this is a blueprint for accelerated regime change. Evidently, the Bush Administration has not been sobered by the disastrous result—for Americans for sure but especially for the Iraqi people and its devastated nation—of its recent adventure in U.S.-imposed regime change. Nor has it learned how far astray certain kind of exiles, with their own agendas and delusions and totally disconnected with the people back home, can lead this country.

Laying Foundation for Raúl Castro's rise

Regime readies path for Raúl Castro's rise
Fidel Castro's younger brother Raúl is taking on a more public persona in what experts say is a clear effort aimed at ensuring a smooth transition in leadership.
Posted on Fri, Jul. 14, 2006

A recent string of Cuban media reports highlighting Defense Minister Raúl Castro has U.S. analysts saying that Havana is preparing the way for life after Fidel and suggesting that his younger brother already has begun taking on more governance responsibilities.

Raúl, long designated as successor to his 79-year old brother, was the subject of a fawning 6,300-word profile on his 75th birthday, and the government media has reported on his visits to military bases and comments on the island's politics.

While a database search showed the number of media mentions of Raúl has remained constant, one expert Cuba-watcher said the scope and depth of the coverage has changed dramatically -- from close-cropped photos of him at official functions, for example, to wide-angle ''almost heroic'' shots of him reviewing troops in the field.

When the Granma newspaper announced a high-level shake-up of the Communist Party last week, Raúl's quotes were prominently featured. And a speech he gave last month is still posted on Granma's website (, in what Cuba-watchers view as another sign of Raúl's sudden importance.

Some Cuba experts say Raúl may be offering himself as the face of the future -- perhaps to detract contenders keen on taking that spot when Fidel is no longer in power.

''They are preparing the process. Fidel is in control and directing this process of change. As Fidel slowly becomes more debilitated, you'll see Raúl and [National Assembly President Ricardo] Alarcón becoming more visible,'' said Tony Rivera, editor of the online Cuba news site, La Nueva Cuba.

At a recent military celebration, Raúl addressed the issue of succession. His job as first vice president of the ruling Council of State makes him first in line to succeed Fidel under the constitution, and Raúl also is No. 2 to Fidel as second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party.

''Only the Communist Party -- as the institution that brings together the revolutionary vanguard and will always guarantee the unity of Cubans -- can be the worthy heir of the trust deposited by the people in their leader,'' he said earlier this month at a ceremony observing the 45th anniversary of the Western Army. ``Anything more is pure speculation.''

But the Castro brothers themselves have suggested that a newer and younger generation of leaders need to be tapped. In an interview published recently by French writer Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel quipped that at 75, his brother isn't getting younger.

Cuba watchers say that comment did not go unnoticed, and that it's no coincidence that it was followed by a swell of positive media coverage.

''The propaganda media of today's capitalist world has tried for many years to paint a picture of Raúl as an extremist, sullen and gruff in his human relations, lacking in sense of humor and devoid of sensitivity. The enemy does it like that because it knows very well what Raúl represents for the Revolution, for our people and for the future of our nation,'' Granma wrote in the June 2 story marking his birthday the next day. The story also described him as ``tireless, systematic, intelligent and decisive.''

That softer persona reflected in the story, titled Proximity of Raúl, is meant to ease fears of the Cuban people and convince the international community, experts said.

''Raúl has never been a person people really like. He's not so popular. Now they need to protect their leader,'' said Rivera, editor of the online Cuba news site.


Five years younger than his brother Fidel, Raúl was also educated at Jesuit schools in Havana and helped plan and execute the failed attack on Moncada military barracks on July 26, 1953. Along with Fidel, he was jailed and exiled to Mexico but returned in 1956 to incite the revolution that ultimately toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista.

He assumed command of military operations in Oriente province in the east, and one of his first acts was the summary execution of 100 Batista soldiers. Raúl spent the next 47 years as minister of defense and head of the army, where he developed a reputation as a pragmatic, solid leader who lacks the charisma and fiery oratory of Fidel.

He has been described as a brusque heavy drinker, but one more open to economic reform and negotiations with the United States.

In 1993, The Miami Herald reported that federal prosecutors in Miami were preparing to charge Raúl and 14 other top Cubans with smuggling Colombian cocaine through Cuba to the United States, but the indictment was never brought before a grand jury.

As head of the military, Raúl today oversees a military force of up to 55,000 people, significantly smaller than 15 years ago, when Cuba enjoyed hefty Soviet subsidies. But while his forces may have shrunk, his position as head of the military took on increasing importance in the 1990s, as the armed forces started taking over profitable chunks of the Cuban economy.

Top positions running the island's tourism industry, ports, transportation and other key sectors are now held by generals.

''There is no other force in Cuba right now that is so organized or powerful,'' Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a dissident economist and journalist in Cuba, said in a telephone interview. ``Raúl is an important figure. He doesn't have the charisma with the people, but within the army he does have a lot of prestige. I'm a dissident, but I'm not a fool or unobjective: Raúl is esteemed.''

Brian Latell, a former top CIA analyst and Raúl biographer who now works at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said the media blitz shows a ''probable acceleration of succession planning.'' The reporting is, more importantly, trying to distinguish him from Fidel.

'Proximity of Raúl could be saying, `Get ready, the change could be coming,' '' said Latell, author of the book After Fidel. ``His role in decision-making has been expanding. When you start seeing Raúl playing a prominent role in foreign policy -- Fidel's bailiwick -- that will be an unmistakable signal that Raúl is playing a very central role.''


As an aging Fidel -- who is believed by the CIA to suffer from Parkinson's disease, a progressive condition that causes stiffness, shaking and problems with balance -- takes fewer trips abroad, Vice President Carlos Lage has been taking on the role as intercontinental emissary. This suggests the government is also grooming him for a future position of power, Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National War College in Washington, said in a phone interview.

''What has been happening in the last month is that forces are coalescing to let it be known the party is doing its job and is ready to assume responsibilities when the time comes,'' Mora said. 'I'm intrigued by this bolstering of Raúl's image, letting people know: `We are in good hands. We have nothing to fear when Fidel goes.' ''

Bush approves Cuba policy report

Posted on Mon, Jul. 10, 2006

President Bush approves Cuba policy report


WASHINGTON - President Bush approved today a much-awaited report that updates U.S. policies to hasten and assist Cuba's turn to democracy after Fidel Castro, including an immediate $80 million program to assist the Cuban opposition.

Bush also approved an accompanying Compact with the People of Cuba, ''which outlines how the United States will support the Cuban people as they transition from the repressive control of the Castro regime to freedom and a genuine democracy,'' according to a White House statement.

''The report demonstrates that we are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change,'' Bush said in the statement. ``I call on all our democratic friends and allies around the world to join us in supporting freedom for the Cuban people.''

The Cuban government has blasted the report as a blatant violation of the island's sovereignty and calls Cuban dissidents ''mercenaries'' of the U.S. government. The report's inclusion of a classified annex -- whose contents remain unknown -- prompted the head of the Cuban legislature, Ricardo Alarcón, to speculate that it may include plans to assassinate Castro.

The second Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba report was officially unveiled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Cuban-American Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, the co-chairs of the commission. The State Department's Cubatransition coordinator, Caleb McCarry, briefed the media on the text.

A draft version of the report obtained by The Miami Herald two weeks ago recommended creating an $80 million fund to promote democracy in Cuba and a broad array of measures aimed at tightening the enforcement of U.S. sanctions on the island, from creating a task force to target Cuba's growing nickel exports to stopping humanitarian aid from reaching organizations with alleged links to the government, like the Cuban Council of Churches.

U.S. officials said the final version approved by Bush contains only minor modifications.

''Under a new two-year, $80 million program, we are stepping up our efforts along multiple fronts,'' Rice told the media. ``We are increasing our determination to break the regime's information blockade, and we are offering support for the efforts of Cubans to prepare for the day when they will recover their sovereignty and can select a government of their choosing through free and fair multi-party elections.''

After the initial two-year period, at least $20 million will be added to the program, known as the Cuba Fund for a Democratic Future, every year. Officials said the money comes on top of the $35 million a year that Radio and TV Martí already gets from the U.S. government, although the stations could get even more money under the new arrangement.

Officials say the money also would be in addition to the other democracy-assistance programs run by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which amount to about $10 million a year.

Officials repeatedly underscored that many of the recommendations for U.S. actions during a transition would only kick in if Cuba's post-Castro leadership asks for them.

Gutierrez said the U.S. government would supply emergency food, water, fuel and medical equipment, and work with other nations to contribute assistance and stop ``third parties from intervening to obstruct the will of the Cuban people.''

The aid would only be provided if the transition government moves toward a full democratic system, as mandated by current U.S. laws, an apparent rejection of a Chinese-like model that would move toward economic but not political freedom.

''We will do all this and more, provided we are asked by a Cuban transition government that is committed to dismantling all instruments of state repression and implementing internationally respected human rights and fundamental freedoms, including organizing free and fair elections for a democratically-elected new Cuban government within a period of no more than 18 months,'' said Gutierrez.

U.S. visas will be denied for Cuban officials who take part in human rights abuses, and the U.S. government will work with allies to curtail Venezuela's support for Castro.

The report says there are ''clear signs'' that Cuba is using money provided by the government of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to ``reactivate its networks in the hemisphere to subvert democratic governments.''

The text was commissioned in December as a follow-up to the commission's 400-plus page 2004 report that, among other measures, tightened travel by Cuban Americans to the island. More than 100 government officials and 17 government agencies worked on the latest report, which was presented last week to President Bush.

A copy of the report will be posted sometime today at

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Cuban exodus quieter and bigger

Posted on Tue, Jul. 11, 2006

New Cuban exodus quieter and bigger
A new wave of Cubans, larger than the one that came during Mariel, is adapting to life in South Florida in their own way, mostly shunning the political zeal that defined earlier waves of exiles

A sense of isolation came suddenly to Tamara Saavedra as she ended a phone call from her husband and stared at the empty Hialeah video rental store where she works the late shift.

Tears welled up in her eyes, even as a loud Latin music concert played on the television set near her: a somber mood for a woman surrounded by the latest Cuban government-produced DVDs of popular TV shows on the island, Hollywood movie releases and flashing screens of electronic slots.

Saavedra, 31, is a recent arrival from Cuba, one of tens of thousands who have come to the United States since 2000. More Cubans have arrived during the last six years than during the entire Mariel boatlift in 1980, quietly reshaping the Miami area.

Like so many immigrants, Saavedra has struggled to cope with the sense of dislocation of a new land. The problems she worries about are common: having enough money to buy medicine for her sick daughter, pleasing a husband she sees only a few minutes a day and finding ways to materialize the dreams she envisioned for herself when she left Cuba behind.

Forging ahead in her immigrant life, she doesn't always see the proverbial light at the northern end of the Florida Straits.

''The American dream no longer exists,'' she said, as she swept the floor of the store. ``But I'm never going back to Cuba to live, not while Fidel Castro is alive.''

Unlike immigrants who come from other parts of the Americas, newly arrived Cubans in their 20s and 30s have to overcome an unusual handicap. Children of the Castro revolution, they were mostly raised in the ''special period'' of economic turmoil that roiled Cuba in the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

They were taught and survived in a communist system so far removed from the capitalism and democracy that govern the United States that they often feel lost in the shuffle of competition and assertiveness.

At least 130,000 Cubans have come to the United States -- the vast majority to South Florida -- since 2000. Most have entered legally through the U.S. ''lottery'' that allows 20,000 Cubans each year, but some have made the dangerous trek by sea, too. Many now reside in Hialeah, long a working-class gateway for Cubans and other immigrants.

Their entry has been quieter, more measured, and into a Miami area far different than the one that greeted the Mariel arrivals a generation ago. In 1980, Cubans were the major Hispanic group in Miami. The city and nation reacted mostly in horror to the unchecked immigration, which included a few thousand Cubans with criminal records.

Today, Cubans remain the largest immigrant group but no longer the majority of Hispanics here. And few people have batted an eyelid at the arrival of this new subgroup in the exile diaspora.


The political energy that characterized the first wave of Cuban exiles seems subdued among these new arrivals. Most of those interviewed for this article know little or nothing of South Florida politics, and keep their criticism of Castro's government to a minimum.

Ariadne Quiñones, 27, arrived barely a month ago. To her, Miami is a mere ''country town'' compared to Shanghai in China, where she spent six months singing in Mandarin to wealthy Chinese nationals in 2003 -- thanks to the Cuban government.

''I don't like politics,'' she said. ``In Cuba, you leave when you can, not when you want to. It's all the same to me. All systems have good and bad things. You have to be happy where you live.''

For Barbarita Herrera, 39, assimilation into American life, Miami style, has been a culture shock. Even the water tastes different than the ''parasite-laden'' water she said flowed from Havana pipes. But unlike others, Herrera has a hatred of the government she left behind, a system she believes is bound to change.

''Sometimes I feel like just giving up and going back,'' she said. ``But I can't go back to that system. Castro really has to fall. You don't realize how bad things are there until you get here.''

One of the few politically charged new arrivals is Manuel Vásquez Portal, a dissident journalist who served time in a Cuban prison before he went into exile last June. He says the political apathy of newly arrived exiles is a product of their disillusionment with the Cuban system, which led them to immunize themselves from politics.

''The economic deterioration on the island, a direct result of bad politics, has made living on the island a nightmare,'' Vásquez Portal said. ``No one feels love for a nightmare, so they try to forget it.''

As Herrera put it, ``I'm just looking for a better life.''

She seems to have found it. In her apartment: two televisions with satellite connections, an air-conditioning unit and a computer with Internet access, all donated.

Herrera said she and her daughter, Rocio De La Torre, were smuggled out of Cuba on a go-fast boat on a quiet evening off the coast of Guanabo in September. She says her daughter never paid the $10,000 smuggling fee. But the chaos on the craft -- packed with 33 people who boarded after swimming 100 yards -- was so great that the smugglers didn't notice the extra body until the drop-off point in Dry Tortugas.

Some Cubans come with visas, some as political refugees. Some sneak across the Florida Straits or the Mexican border. But they all have a rare privilege: U.S. residency practically guaranteed a year after arrival.

More Cubans gained U.S. residency last year, about 36,000, than in any year since the early 1980s. This year, the U.S. Border Patrol is on pace to detain more Cubans who sneak into the country than any year in the past decade. They usually spend a day or two detained before being paroled into freedom.


Hialeah has a sophisticated infrastructure to ease the transition for Cubans: video stores that rent copies of Cuban government-produced TV shows, movies and cartoons, thrift stores that sell quinceañera and wedding gowns for $20, restaurants and other businesses that keep their doors open to new arrivals who need work.

L & J Video on East Ninth Street -- where Saavedra works -- rents Cuban television shows and movies, such as Punto y Coma, De Cubano a Cubano and Elpidio Valdés to new arrivals nostalgic for a dose of communist-era programming. Nayibi Pérez, 22, who arrived four months ago, scooped up 10 videos on a recent visit.

''This is the best thing on Cuban TV,'' she said, holding up a video of a Cuban detective series. `You can't even watch TV in Cuba without [the political show] Mesa Redonda interrupting it. Everyone wants to leave there. The food is no good. You don't get paid enough. I used to talk a lot when I was there about coming here and making money just by kicking over rocks. But few people come here and actually face this reality.''

Pérez's boyfriend, Elpidio Amores, 40, who came from Cuba during the 1994 rafter crisis, told her that in Miami the only thing that can bring success is hard work.

Pérez and Amores paid the $20 and hauled away their slices of Cuban nostalgia.

''I love these shows. They remind me of all the lies,'' Pérez said. ``In Miami, life is hard. But it's not a lie.''

Read Oscar Corral's blog Miami's Cuban Connection in the blogs section of or at

New Cuba Commission Report: Formula for Continued Failure

New Cuba Commission Report: Formula for Continued Failure
July 10

By Wayne S. Smith

In May of 2004, the Bush Administration's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba issued an almost 500-page report that seemed to conclude the Castro government was virtually at the point of collapse. Just a few more nudges – a few more Radio Marti broadcasts, denials of a few more travel licenses, and support to a few more dissidents – and it would all be over. The United States, the report seemed to suggest, would then come in and show the Cubans how to operate their schools properly, make their trains run on time, and grow their crops more efficiently. It was envisaged as such a U.S.-run operation that in July of 2005, a U.S. transition coordinator was appointed. One skeptical observer noted at the time that in the case of Iraq, the Bush Administration had at least waited until it invaded and occupied the country before appointing a transition coordinator. Did his appointment in this case mean the U.S. intended to invade Cuba as well? And if not, what was the U.S. transition coordinator supposed to do from his office in the State Department building? Even today, that remains unclear.

Perhaps OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza's reaction to the idea of a U.S. transition coordinator for Cuba summed it up best. "But there is no transition," he said, "and it isn't your country."

Indeed, the transition plan put forward in 2004 had such a "made-in-the-USA" tone to it that it backfired in Cuba. Even Cubans who had their disagreements with the Castro government did not want to be told by the United States how they should run their country. Leading dissidents described the new approach as counterproductive. Elizardo Sanchez of the Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, for example, noted that the U.S. policy announced in 2004, "has had an effect exactly the opposite of the one you should want."

Cuba's Catholic Bishops also disagreed with the U.S. approach, saying its measures "threaten both the present and the future of our nation."

Nor did many Cubans agree with the idea that they should give up free health care and education, and various other services provided by the government

The New Report. Now the Commission has issued a new report, at a ceremony on July 10 presided over by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez and Transition Coordinator Caleb McCarry. Interestingly, perhaps in response to charges that the first report was nothing but an American occupation plan, the new one stresses that its purpose is, rather, to offer assistance to Cubans on the island. Solutions must come from them, it insists. The United States simply stands ready and willing to support their initiatives. But having said that, the report then goes on with page after page of recommended actions, from reorganizing the economy and the educational system to the holding of multiparty elections – always provided, of course, that Cubans on the island wish to initiate them!

And the basic premise, that the regime is on the verge of collapse, is as pronounced and as unrealistic in the new report as in the old. Two years have passed and rather than collapsing, the Cuban economy has shown strong signs of reinvigoration. Even the CIA gives it a growth rate of 8%. Cuba has new and vitally important economic relationships with Venezuela and China and indications of an important new oil field off the north coast, for which various nations are bidding for drilling sites. Things are looking up, not down.

There is no indication of that in the new report, however. Rather, it says: "Chronic malnutrition, polluted drinking water, and untreated chronic diseases continue to affect a significant percentage of the Cuban people." And of course adds that: "Conditions will not improve as long as Fidel Castro remains in power."

Never mind that UN indices consistently indicate Cuba's population to be considerably healthier than those of most neighboring states, including the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico – one reason being that they have free health care. It is interesting to note also that life expectancy for Cubans is five years longer than for African-Americans!

Funds Diverted for International Meddling. Whatever the earnings produced by the Cuban economy, the report insists they are used not for the Cuban people, but for nefarious purposes. "The revenue … does not go to benefit the Cuban people," the report insists, "but is diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus and fund Castro's interventionist and destabilizing policies in other countries of the Hemisphere….The Castro regime's international meddling is done at the expense of the needs of the Cuban people."

First of all, if this were so, if funds had been so massively diverted, Cubans would no longer have free health care and education and other social-welfare programs would have long since collapsed. That they have not is evidence that the report's allegations are false. Further, it provides no example of this "international meddling" to which such a huge share of the Cuban economy is supposedly being channeled. Cuban doctors have been sent to many other countries, including Guatemala and Haiti, in addition to Venezuela and Bolivia. They have been praised on every occasion for their excellent and selfless assistance. If this is the meddling to which the report refers, there should be more of it. If it is not, then the report should provide examples of the interventionist actions to which it has reference.

Prevent Succession. When Castro passes from the scene, he will, under the Cuban Constitution, be succeeded by the Vice President. At this point in time, that is Raul Castro. There will be many within that new leadership structure, and many within Cuban society, arguing for political and economic reforms – just as there will be other voices opposed..

The principal objective of the Bush Commission's new plan, however, is to prevent the succession altogether, calling on Cuban citizens and the international community to reject the government that would replace Castro under the Cuban Constitution and to insist instead on an entirely new one. But neither the Cuban people nor the international community are likely to take so frontal a position against a successor regime. Change, rather, will have to come about slowly and as the result of an internal process, not as the result of a formula imposed from abroad – and certainly not one imposed by the United States. As Oswaldo Paya, one of Cuba's leading dissident leaders, stated a few weeks ago in anticipation of the publication of this second report: "We do not accept transition programs made outside of Cuba."

Measures to Block Succession. The Bush administration's objective, as stated in the new Commission report, is to see to it that "the Castro regime's succession strategy does not succeed," but the measures put forward to achieve that goal are as inadequate as were those put forward two years ago to bring an end to the Castro government.

Expanded Broadcasting. The new report, for example, calls for increased Radio and TV Marti broadcasting and an expansion of third-country broadcasting. But the broadcasting already conducted over the past two years, of the one kind or the other, hasn't had any appreciable effect on public opinion. More of it isn't likely to have any more.

Support for Dissidents and Civil Society. The report two years ago called for support to dissidents and representatives of "civil society" as a means of confronting the government. The new report calls for more of the same, and even for the establishment of an $80 million fund to increase that support. But as in an earlier report we quoted one dissident on the island summing up the effect of that support: "The good news is that most of that money remains in Miami; the bad news is it makes our position more difficult even so."

What he meant is that much of the money is given to organizations in Miami, some of it, supposedly, to pass on to groups in Cuba, but that little in fact gets through; it stays with those in Miami. Further, when the U.S. says its objective is to bring down the Cuban government, and then says that one of its means of accomplishing that is by providing funds to Cuban dissidents, it in effect places them in the position of being the paid agents of a foreign power seeking to overthrow their own. Inevitably, that puts them in an even more difficult position and severely limits their effectiveness.

That will be no less true now than in the past. The new fund, in short, is not likely to have any greater impact than did the old one, especially as, as noted above, many of the dissidents themselves do not agree with the U.S. action plan. It should be noted, for example, that one of Cuba's leading dissidents, Oswaldo Paya, on July 1 of this year, published an opinion piece in The Washington Post emphasizing that Cubans wanted to preserve the right to free health care and education – something at odds with the recommendations in the original Commission report. Paya has also said he wants the U.S. embargo to end and for Americans to be allowed to travel to Cuba, a position that has enraged hard-line exiles in Miami.

Curtail Travel. Measures were introduced two years ago to sharply reduce the travel of Americans and especially Cuban-Americans, and to curtail remittances and parcel deliveries. Claiming that these measures have had great success, the new report calls for their strengthened implementation. But while the new restrictions on the travel of Americans and Cuban-Americans to the island have of course reduced revenues from that source, overall revenues from tourism have not fallen, since Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans (especially Venezuelans) have continued to travel in even greater numbers.

Moreover, this is a problem with several dimensions. It had long been an article of faith, for example, that the best way to get the message of American democracy abroad was through the travel of American citizens. Does reducing their travel to Cuba, then, not work at cross purposes with the broader objective of encouraging change in Cuba? And whether the pain caused to divided Cuban-American families is worth the few millions denied to the Cuban government is an open question.

No Assistance to the Cuban Council of Churches. New measures are called for even against Cuban churches, through a tightening of regulations for the export of humanitarian items to ensure that exports are not consigned to entities that are "regime administered or controlled organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches." This follows on denial of visas to various members of the Cuban Council of Churches, which the Bush administration insists is controlled by the Cuban government. As an American religious leader countered heatedly: "In that they have to play by the rules laid down by the Cuban government, they are of course 'controlled.' But to suggest that the Cuban Council of Churches is simply an instrument of the government is absurd. They are legitimate religious leaders whose cooperation we highly value."

Be that as it may, American churches will no longer be able to send the Cuban Council of Churches humanitarian assistance, a prohibition the U.S.-based Church World Service is already vigorously protesting.

Effort to Monitor Nickel Exports. Given that nickel exports are now such an important source of revenues for the Cuban government, the Commission report calls for the creation an inter-agency Cuban Nickel Targeting Task Force to strengthen measures to control imports of nickel-bearing substances or products (i.e., "we won't buy your steel if there's any chance it contains Cuban nickel!"), and for several other measures to discourage other countries from buying Cuban nickel. Such tactics have been tried in years past with very little success. They are not likely to have any greater success now. Indeed, they are more likely to cause a strong negative reaction in the international community.

Reaction of the Cuban People to Efforts to Undermine Their Economy. One must wonder also how the Bush administration expects the Cuban people to react to its call for measures which can only have the purpose of making their own lives more difficult? Are they supposed to be grateful to the United States should its policies result in new shortages and thus be ready to support its campaign against their own government? Not likely. On the contrary, fostering a siege mentality in Cuba can only work against any popular support for U.S. policy.

The Secret Annex. The measures to block the succession process that are discussed in this report – or, at least those that are openly discussed – aren't likely to work. However, the report carries an annex which it is said must remain secret for "reasons of national security" and to maximize its chances of success. We can only guess what is in the annex. Given the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, however, there will inevitably be speculation that it contains new assassination plots against Castro (although this time against Raul) and new plans for exile raids if not direct U.S. military action. There is already virtually no support in the international community for U.S. policy toward Cuba. The uncertainty and suspicion resulting from this secret annex are likely to reduce it even further.

Wayne S. Smith is now a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and perhaps the most veteran U.S. observer of U.S.-Cuban relations, having been a Cuba analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1957-58), Third Secretary of Political Affairs in the American Embassy in Havana (1958-61), Cuban Desk Officer (1964-66), Director of Cuban Affairs in the Department of State (1977-79), and Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82).

Friday, July 07, 2006

CCP shake-up

Posted on Thu, Jul. 06, 2006
Miami Herald
Younger party zealots the face of post-Fidel Cuba
Cuba's Communist Party appeared to be laying the groundwork for a future without Fidel Castro.

A shake-up unseen in more than 10 years is under way in the Cuban Communist Party, in what experts say is a sign that Havana is anxious to lay the foundation for a strong, communist post-Castro Cuba.

The party leadership announced Tuesday that it had resurrected its secretariat, a policy-implementing group that was abolished 15 years ago, officially for financial reasons. Tapped for the new board: longtime party stalwarts who represent a younger generation of Fidel Castro's revolution.

The move underscores the Cuban government's desire to strengthen ruling institutions for a future when a government currently so dependent on the 79-year-old Castro is no longer possible.


Several of the new secretariat members were provincial leaders who were replaced in May, at that time fueling speculation of a purge. But experts say that was, in fact, the preparation of a promotion of new leaders.

''They are reorganizing,'' said Alcibiades Hidalgo, a former Cuban diplomat and chief of staff to Defense Minister Raúl Castro. ``This is not a purge. They are preparing a party that has been asleep for 15 years.''

The moves came during a party meeting held Saturday, but they were not announced until Tuesday. The party's newspaper, Granma, said Castro presided over the meeting and will head the secretariat along with his brother, Raúl.

One of the 10 other new members is José R. Machado Ventura, 75, right-hand man to Raúl Castro. The others include three women: María del Carmen Concepción González, party first secretary in Pinar del Río province; Mercedes López Acea, first secretary in Cienfuegos; and Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, ex-minister of audits and oversight.

Cuban government leaders have cautioned in recent months that the revolution has failed to capture the nation's youth. The new personnel changes appear aimed at grooming younger officials, with even Fidel Castro himself recently noting that his designated successor, Raúl, just turned 75.


But while many of the new members are in their 50s and considerably younger than the Castro brothers, experts noted that they also are longtime party favorites.

''They are not the youngest generation,'' Hidalgo said. ``They have a lot of experience and are not at all inclined to changes.''

Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1994, said the new committee members represent the ''middle generation'' -- people born into the revolution and tapped for leadership positions since their youth.

''These are people with a definite mind-set,'' he said. ``The idea is to strengthen the party and offer a message of institutionalism, that Cuba is not going to replace one caudillo for another.''

The party also announced several new members of its central committee and the removal of former Basic Industries Minister Marcos Portal León, who was fired earlier this year from the ruling Politburo. Several experts noted that such moves were particularly important considering the party has not held a nationwide party congress in nearly 10 years.

Some analysts viewed this week's announcements as steps toward reconvening a party convention.

''The party has been adrift for a number of years,'' said Dan Erikson, a Cuba analyst with the InterAmerican Dialogue in Washington. ``If there are changes in Cuba and the party is weak and disorganized, that does not do much for a succession process. It has to be a concern.''

Accusations that J-Lo uses Santeria

Lopez voodoo

July 07, 2006

JENNIFER Lopez has cast "voodoo" spells on all her lovers, according to ex-husband.

Ojani Noa, who was married to Lopez from 1997 to 1998, claims the singer practices Santeria, a set of religious beliefs brought to the Americas by West African slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries that involves chanting, trance states and animal sacrifice.

He alleges J.Lo used the practice to cast spells on him, and insists her former fiance Sean "Diddy" Combs, second husband Cris Judd and current spouse Marc Anthony have also been victims.

Speaking in a court deposition, Noa -- battling Lopez over his plan to release a book about their marriage -- says, "She was doing bad things to a lot of people. She was doing all this religious (bleep) to me, to Cris, to Puffy, to Anthony," the New York Daily News reports.

Last week Lopez won an injunction banning Noa from going ahead with the memoir, just a year after he was paid $150,000 to sign an agreement to keep quiet.

The NY Daily News says reps for Lopez and Combs declined to comment on accusations Wednesday.

The Daily Telegraph

This report was published at