Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blogger Yoani Sanchez comments on Obama's policy change

The interesting thing about her comment is that she is picked up and posted on the popular Huff ington Post blog:

Yoani Sanchez, award-winning Cuban blogger
Posted April 15, 2009 | 12:19 AM (EST)

Obama Threw the Ball, Now It's In Raul's Court

The ball is in Cuba's court after Obama threw it yesterday, as he announced new flexibility in his policies toward Cuba. The players on this side seem a bit confused, hesitating between grabbing the ball, criticizing it, or simply ignoring it. The context couldn't be better: loyalty to the government has never seemed more perverse and ideological fervor has never been as feeble as it is now. On top of that, few still believe the story that the powerful neighbor will attack us and the majority feel that this confrontation has gone on too long.

The next move is up to Raul Castro's government but we sense we will be left waiting. He should "decriminalize political dissent" which would immediately annul the long prison sentences of those who have been punished for differences of opinion. The ball we would like him to throw is the one that would open up spaces for citizens' initiatives, permit free association and, in a gesture of the utmost political honesty, put himself to the test of truly free elections. In a bold leap on the field "the permanent second" would have to dare to offer something more than an olive branch. We are hoping they eliminate the travel restrictions, which would put an end to that extortionary business of permission to come and go from the Island.

The game would become more dynamic if they let the Cuban people take hold of the erratic ball of change. Many would kick it to end censorship, State control over information, ideological selection in certain professions, indoctrination in education and the punishment of those who think differently. We would kick it to be able to surf the Internet without blocked web sites, to be able to say the word "freedom" into an open microphone without being accused of "a counter-revolutionary provocation."

Many of us have climbed down from the bleachers from where we were watching the game. If the Cuban government doesn't grab the ball, there are thousands of hands ready to take our turn to launch it.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.

U.S. Telecoms Eager to Get Cuba on the Line


U.S. Telecoms Eager to Get Cuba on the Line
Firms Wait to See Plans for Infrastructure, Government's Approach to Access

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; A12

U.S. telecommunication firms could open up investment in Cuba now that the Obama administration will allow companies to operate there, a final global frontier for the Internet age.

But before cellphone and Internet providers rush in, they will closely study potential pitfalls in setting up shop in the Communist nation with one of the poorest populations in the region, analysts said.

The Cuban government has not been helpful in allowing its citizens access to communications technology, said David Gross, who was U.S. ambassador and coordinator for International Information and Communications Policy during the Bush administration. Now that the United States has opened the door, he said, "the question is whether the Cuban government will allow people to come inside."

Cuba has the lowest percentage of telephone, Internet and cellphone subscribers in Latin America, according to Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Miami. About 11 percent of residents subscribe to land-line telephone service, and 2 percent have cellphone service.

Under President Obama's plan, U.S. telecom companies would be able to build undersea cable networks that connect the two nations. Cellphone carriers would be able to contract with Cuba's government-run wireless operator to provide service to its residents and offer roaming services to Americans visiting the island.

U.S. satellite operators such as Sirius XM Radio and Dish Network could beam Martha Stewart and MTV programs to the nation. Cubans could also receive cellphones and computers donated from overseas.

But with average monthly salaries of about $15, many citizens might not be able to afford service fees, according to experts on Cuban policy and telecommunications infrastructure. Others question whether residents would spend money on BlackBerrys and services such as video on demand, especially if the government restricts Web content.

"The infrastructure that exists there today is lousy, and the Cuban people are paid in pesos, which is worth nothing," Cereijo said. "They are thinking about buying food first."

Most telecom companies declined to comment yesterday about the administration's announcement because they are waiting for more details on how such business relationships would be implemented.

The Cuban government also has not yet responded to Obama's pledge to relax trade and travel barriers between the nations. But analysts and trade experts say President Raúl Castro, brother of longtime dictator Fidel Castro, has loosened the government's grip its people. Last year, he allowed Cubans to buy cellphones, computers and microwaves, in what appeared at the time to be a major step in allowing them to freely access information.

Currently, a government-run company provides all telecom services to Cuban citizens.

Gross, now a partner at Wiley Rein, said U.S. cellphone carriers will balk if the Cuban government tries to charge high fees for roaming contracts. He and others say that consortiums that build undersea cable networks in the Caribbean may see business opportunities in connecting to the island, but they will avoid any conditions that prevent them from offering video and other Internet content, for example.

"Everyone in the region has been wondering when Cuba might open up, and I think Cuba is trying to figure out ways to attract investment in a way that works with its political situation," said Michael Prior, chief executive of Atlantic Tele-Network, a wireless and Internet network carrier in the Caribbean.

Prior said the best return on investment would be for wireless services, which do not come with the hefty capital costs of laying cable and fiber-optic lines undersea.

Cereijo estimates it would cost $2.5 billion to upgrade the island's telecom infrastructure for basic high-speed Internet as well as more reliable land-line and cellphone service.

Some U.S. firms already have licenses with the Cuban government that allow calls from America to connect through the island's carrier.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Obama to abolish limits on U.S.-Cuba family ties


Obama to abolish limits on U.S.-Cuba family ties
By Anthony Boadle Anthony Boadle Fri Apr 3, 8:10 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a move that could herald better ties between Cold War foes, the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

President Barack Obama has decided to fulfill a campaign promise and allow Cuban Americans and Cuban emigres to freely visit and send money to their families in the communist-led nation, the newspaper said, citing a senior administration official.

A White House official confirmed the administration's intentions to lift the restrictions, but said the measure was not a new policy statement and was not imminent.

"The administration has conveyed that our policy toward Cuba is being reviewed and the president has stated that there's a sense that restrictions on family visits and cash remittances should be lifted," the official told Reuters.

"Our focus remains on the need for democratic reforms and human rights" in Cuba, the official said.

The removal of limits on family travel and cash remittances would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. It would also remove the ceiling of $1,200 per person in cash remittances to needy family members in Cuba.

"This is a good humanitarian move that honors Cuban Americans' right to visit and aid their relatives as they see fit," said Cuba expert Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute.

"But it creates one class of Americans who can travel to Cuba at will, so it will add to the momentum in Congress to lift restrictions on all other Americans, who have a right to travel too," he said.

The Wall Street Journal said the move was probably meant to signal a new attitude toward both Cuba and other Latin American countries that have pressed Washington to end a trade embargo that has sought to isolate Havana for more than four decades.


During last year's presidential campaign, Obama favored easing U.S. restrictions on family travel and remittances, but said he would not eliminate the trade embargo until Cuba shows progress toward democracy and greater human rights.

The U.S. Congress is considering bills that would lift the ban on American citizens traveling to Cuba that was introduced with other sanctions in the early 1960s when Fidel Castro's revolution turned Cuba into a Soviet ally.

Obama is due to meet Latin American leaders at a summit in Trinidad and Tobago later this month.

The Wall Street Journal said Obama is not considering any specific diplomatic outreach toward Cuba, where Fidel Castro has been sidelined by illness and was succeeded as president last year by his brother Raul Castro.

U.S. lawmakers, who believe in increasing numbers that the embargo has proven ineffective in bringing political change to Cuba, have taken the initiative on the outreach front.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives arrived in Havana on Friday to meet with Cuban officials in a sign of accelerating efforts to improve relations.

Representative Barbara Lee said the group of seven Democrats wanted simply to "see what the possibilities are" and carried no messages from Obama or proposals for the Cubans. "We're here to learn and talk," she told reporters.

The congressional delegation is the first from the United States to visit Cuba since Obama took office in January.

"Change is in the air and our president, of course, talks very clearly about bilateral relations with all countries in the world," said Lee.

(Additional reporting Jeff Franks in Havana and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Chris Wilson)