Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Castro Reappears on TV

Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Jun. 05, 2007
Castro talks about past, not Cuba's future
Fidel Castro reminisced about old times in Vietnam but offered no comment on his own country in a televised chat Tuesday -- the first lengthy look at the Cuban leader 10 months after surgery forced him to cede power.

Castro, 80, credited a better diet for his improving health and joked that a 70-year-old Japanese man recently climbed Mt. Everest. But he then added an ominous note: ``There are dangers that threaten the health of a human being. . . . I don't want to disappoint.''

His face seemed more filled out than in recent photographs, and he smiled often but spoke slowly and in short phrases, slurring his words at times and drawing labored breaths. The interview appeared to have taken place in the same room as his April meeting with a Chinese delegation -- a room the Beijing media said was in a hospital.

Castro mentioned twice that he had been in an intensive care unit recently but gave no details and said he had been ''doing what I'm supposed to'' to regain his health.

But he provided no hint on whether he planned to return to power and made no mention of his brother Raúl, who assumed most of Castro's powers July 31 after he underwent surgery for what is now widely believed to be diverticulitis, an intestinal condition that can lead to fatal bleeding.

''This confirms for me that the succession has taken place,'' said Andy Gómez, a senior fellow at University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. ``This is all part of a strategic plan by the new leadership to show the Cuban people and the international community that Castro is no longer capable of running the country.

''It shows that he is not involved in the day-to-day activities and hasn't been for a while,'' Gómez said. ``He's living in the past, rather than preparing for the future.''

Castro spent most of the 50-minute ''conversation'' with Randy Alonso, host of the nightly news program Round Table, recounting his weekend visit by Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh. He became animated as he recalled a visit to Vietnam when it was at war with the United States.

He spent about 40 minutes describing the destruction caused by the war and slowly rattling off a string of facts about modern-day Vietnam that ranged from its rice and coffee harvest figures to the number of its modern toilets.

He remained seated throughout the interview, wearing an Adidas track suit in Cuba's red, white and blue colors and black sneakers. The cameras showed close-ups of his head, hands and feet, but no full-body views.

After Alonso commented that Castro did not appear to have difficulty reading from a copy of Granma newspaper, Castro joked that his eyesight was indeed improving. ``I used to wear glasses. I had myopia. But myopia goes away with the passing of years. And the first time [a doctor] told me my myopia was going away, I asked him: Does that mean I'm growing younger?''

And while there has never been any official and detailed version of his illness, Castro claimed the public knows enough. ''They say [my health] is a state secret; what state secret? I said very clearly where things stood,'' he said.

Translator Renato Perez contributed to this report.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Havana: U.S. fugitives are no longer welcome

Havana: U.S. fugitives are no longer welcome
Cuba has said it will stop providing safe haven to U.S. fugitives who arrive on the island.

A little-noticed passage in two State Department reports says Havana has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to U.S. fugitives who enter Cuba -- a promise the Castro government has met twice since September.

The promise and deportations amount to a rare sign of cooperation by Havana. Some 70 U.S. fugitives are believed to be living in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

Cuba has refused to return them, generally arguing that the U.S. charges against them are ''political.'' The refusals were among the reasons the State Department used for including Cuba in its list of nations that support international terrorism.

But a brief passage in the State Department's voluminous 2005 and 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism -- the 2006 report was released April 30 -- that went largely unnoticed until now said Cuba ``has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to new U.S. fugitives who may enter Cuba.''

State Department spokesmen declined comment on who made the promise, when or whether it involved any U.S. counter-promise. Havana has long demanded the return of five convicted Cuban spies jailed in Florida.

Such Cuban acts of cooperation have come under more scrutiny since Raúl Castro took the reins of power after his brother Fidel Castro fell ill last summer. However, the 2005 report on terrorism, the first to include the wording on ending the safe haven, was issued before the ailment was announced on July 31.


State Department officials noted Cuba's history of on-and-off collaboration with the United States makes it hard to know if Havana's promise is signaling a new stance.

''We have no way of knowing for sure what the Cuban government is trying to accomplish, if anything,'' said Eric Watnik, a department spokesman.

Cuba has demanded the United States extradite anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela, where he faces charges of masterminding the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976 that killed 73. U.S. immigration fraud charges against Posada were dropped recently by a U.S. judge.

Cuba has returned at least two U.S. fugitives since the promise first appeared in the State Deparment report.

In September, a South Florida man kidnapped his son, stole a plane at a airport in the Florida Keys and flew to Cuba. The son was later returned to his mother in Mexico and the father was put on a plane to Miami, where he faces prosecution. That was the first time Cuba had returned a fugitive from U.S. justice, according to the 2006 U.S. report.

In April, Havana returned to Florida Joseph Adjmi, a fugitive sentenced to 10 years in U.S. prison for mail fraud in 1963.

Earlier this year Cuba also expelled to Bogotá Luis Hernando Gómez-Bustamante, wanted in Colombia as a leader of the Norte del Valle cartel. Colombia then extradited him to the United States.

Washington and Havana have long had tenuous communications on issues such as drug trafficking and migration. In early 2006, the Cubans briefed the Coast Guard officer based at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana on their counter-drug trafficking operations. But the Cubans refused to allow Drug Enforcement Administration agents to question Gómez-Bustamante while he was detained there on immigration fraud charges.


An annual report on drug trafficking issued in March by the State Department said Cuban officials ''profess interest'' in more bilateral contacts with Washington on drug trafficking matters.

The Bush administration suspended biannual talks with Cuba on migration issues in 2004, and has refused any formal contacts with top Havana government officials.

Raúl Castro has on two occasions -- in August and December -- declared he would be willing to sit down and talk with Washington. The Bush administration replied that it was not interested in talks until Cuba takes the path of democracy.

Cuba to buy $118 million in U.S. food

Cuba to buy $118 million in U.S. food
Associated Press Writer

Cuba agreed Wednesday to buy $118 million in U.S. food products ranging from pork and corn to soybeans and Spam, and said it was negotiating deals that could bring the total to nearly $150 million.

"The sales this week went beyond all of our expectations," said Jim Sumner of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, one of more than 200 Americans from 25 states who visited Havana for talks with communist officials. "When the embargo is lifted, which we hope will be very soon, these deals will be much greater."

Although Washington's 45-year-old embargo remains, U.S. food and agricultural products can be sold directly to Cuba under a law passed by Congress in 2000. Since 2001, Havana says it has spent more than $2.2 billion on American farm products and related costs.

A smiling Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said Americans are "recovering the market" they lost in the 1960s with the imposition of the embargo.

"The active and massive participation of the American business community makes us very happy," said Alvarez, whose company organized the latest round of negotiations with U.S. farm producers.

Cuba expects this year to match the $570 million it spent in 2006 on American food and agricultural products, including shipping and banking costs.

Cuban Commerce Minister Raul de la Nuez said most of the food would be sold at heavily subsidized prices, on the government's food ration and at public schools and workplace dining rooms.

"This will help feed our people," De la Nuez said.

"We have a common goal of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba," Kirby Jones, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, told the gathering. "One day, we hope there will be free and open trade."