Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cuba: Medical Impotence

Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Posted on February 25, 2015

While the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are
coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough,
chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had
never before been seen on the Island.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days,
Maritza thought that her four-year-old son's persistent cough was due to
a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had
started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had
escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer
running a fever. The pediatrician's diagnosis confirmed Maritza's
suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would
follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him,
give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines

But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that
Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so
that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms — could be
treated with oxygen. Almost by happenstance, an experienced doctor who
heard the child cough took an interest in the case, and, after a more
detailed examination, made her diagnosis as whooping cough, a disease
Maritza had never heard of and against which – at least in theory — all
Cuban children are protected, thanks to subsidized national health
system vaccination programs. Furthermore, according to official
statistical records, whooping cough (pertussis) was eradicated from Cuba
many years ago.

Thanks to that doctor's providential presence, Alain was treated with
the appropriate antibiotics and, following the advice of the doctor,
Maritza asked a relative who resides abroad for an emergency shipment of
a medication that does not exist in Cuba, pertussis suppositories, used
in the treatment to lessen the child's coughing crisis.

Alain is recovering now, but his convalescence may take up to three
months or more. Maritza has overcome her anxiety, but wonders how many
children will be in the same predicament, considering that this highly
infectious disease is circulating around the Island, and health
authorities have not sounded the alarm. In fact, she recently found out
that in the past several years the incidence of whooping cough has been
on the rise, not only among children, but also among adults.

The lack of information in the official media results in the population
not having a clear perception of the risk, and turns Article 50 of the
Constitution of the Republic of Cuba into meaningless babble. The
article establishes the right of all Cubans to medical care and health
protection, and points to the State as guarantor of that right.

Turning back the clock

Dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya (*), cholera …
With the reappearance of old diseases, the introduction of others that
did not exist on the Island and the lack of effective drugs, it would
seem that Cuba has regressed to the nineteenth century. However, the
Cuban national health system remains a prestigious benchmark for
international agencies, particularly since lending Cuban medical
services abroad has become the most important source of the government's
capital income and a powerful political tool, given that it allows
displaying as example of solidarity and altruism what is actually a
poorly disguised form of modern slavery.

So, while the government exports the service of tens of thousands of
medical professionals at the expense of a loss of attention to Cubans,
and the exposure of the Cuban population to multiple imported diseases,
the institutional bureaucracy of international organizations
congratulates itself on being able to count on a whole army of doctors
mobilized by the regime to deal with epidemics and other pathologies.
The government of any moderately democratic nation would never be able
to recruit doctors as if they were mercenaries.

The truth is that Cuba currently has two opposing systems: one of
"health", which only exists in theory and today is a sad imitation of
what it once was; and the other of "unhealth", much more efficient,
endorsed in a completely dismal hospital and services infrastructure,
and in the continuing incursion of exotic diseases, imported by our
doctors from the most infected corners of the globe, since, upon their
return home to Cuba, the practice of a rigorous quarantine plan and
infection risk control is not followed.

All this in a nation that, in the late 50s of the last century, stood
out among the top in terms of health care at the regional and global
levels, with a respectable hospital network in addition to membership
clinics, emergency clinics, maternity hospitals and other health
services, both free and private.

At this rate, it is likely that, when the Castro regime finally ends, we
may have to request emergency services from the World Health
Organization itself and from the International Red Cross in order to
address Cubans' health crisis, as occurred during the US occupation
after the 1898 War of Independence, which created the basis for what
would become, during the Republic, one of the most enviable health
systems of its time.

*A viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya | Translating
Cuba -

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba
/ 14ymedio
Posted on February 26, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased
considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published
today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with
headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to
freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by
criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty
International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the
re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the
United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of
human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last
year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The
Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of
repression, although Amnesty International also mentions the arrests
produced at the end of 2014 on the occasion of the Community Summit of
Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The annual report, which offers an overview of the human rights
situation in 160 countries and forecasts trends in this arena for the
next year, addresses the issue of the control that Raul Castro's
government exercises over all means of communication and the
difficulties of accessing information on the Internet. Among the
harassments that independent journalists have suffered, the organization
cites the case of 14ymedio, which, on the day of its launch last May 21,
suffered an attack on its web page. Since then this digital daily has
been blocked on the Island.

The report dedicates a special section to prisoners of conscience and
notes that laws that classify "dangerousness" and the likelihood of
future offense as crimes have been used frequently to incarcerate
citizens critical of the Government. Also, they point to the restriction
on travel outside of Cuba imposed on the 12 prisoners of the Black
Spring who were released without a clarification of their legal status.

Amnesty International appreciates the immigration reform of 2013 which
has permitted Cubans to travel abroad but points out that the government
has confiscated materials and documents from opponents and critics on
their return to the Island. The international organization complains
that Cuba has not yet ratified the International Treaty of Civil and
Human Rights or the International Treaty of Economic, Social, and
Cultural rights, both signed in February 2008. Also, the Government has
not responded to the petition made in October by the special rapporteur
on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments and
punishments. Cuban authorities have denied Amnesty International access
to the country since 1990.

A "cruel" year on a regional scale

Amnesty International stresses that 2014 was a "cruel" year in all of
the Americas, characterized by outbreaks of protests and impunity for
criminal networks.

"Last year, insecurity and conflicts grew on the American continent.
Protests exploded in several countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil,
Mexico and the United States, often violently repressed by state forces.
We also were witness to the tragic increase in violence by criminal
networks that acted with total impunity," Erika Guevara Rosas, director
of the organization's program for the Americas, asserts.

"From the disappeared students in Mexico through the revelations about
torture at the hands of CIA agents in the United States and the shooting
of protesters by Brazilian police, 2014 was a shameful year in the whole
region," she adds.

Amnesty International warns that, if significant structural changes are
not put in place, the region will see an increase of protests and
demonstrations, while organized crime and violence will continue
devastating countries like Mexico, El Salvador and the English-speaking

The organization notes as positive the peace talks between the Colombian
government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the
purpose of putting a definitive end to the continent's oldest armed
internal conflict. Nevertheless, the report stresses that at the end of
last year both parties continued abuses and violations of human rights.

As for Venezuela, the report insists that security organizations
employed excessive force to disperse protests and emphasizes that dozens
of people were detained arbitrarily and denied access to doctors and

Amnesty International nevertheless harbors a certain hope that movements
in defense of human rights in the Americas may improve their form of
organization thanks to the help of new technologies and social networks.

Translated by MLK

Source: Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions
in Cuba / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Cuba, US at odds on ending Havana's terror blacklist

Cuba, US at odds on ending Havana's terror blacklist

Washington (AFP) - Just two days ahead of a second round of talks on
restoring diplomatic ties frozen for five decades, Cuba and the United
States staked out competing demands to ensure progress.

Cuban officials demanded that as a preliminary step to renewing
relations, Washington must remove the island from its list of state
sponsors of terrorism.

But a US official insisted the two issues should not be linked.

"It would be very easy to restore diplomatic relations if they would not
link those two things ... it's a delay of their own making, frankly,"
the senior State Department official told reporters.

A delegation from Cuba will meet with US counterparts on Friday at the
State Department to resume negotiations after a first historic round
held in Havana last month.

"This session will focus entirely on the restoration of diplomatic
relations," the US official said, adding the session would start at 9:00
am (1400 GMT) and end in the afternoon with press conferences by both sides.

"We will focus on just what we need to do and get resolved to open
embassies in each other's countries, or transition our interests
sections to embassies," the official said, adding "both sides have an
interest in doing that as quickly as possible."

Washington has insisted that American diplomats must be allowed to
operate freely and meet with dissidents on the communist-run Caribbean

But Havana has remained wary.

And even Cuba's dissident community has had mixed feelings about US
President Barack Obama's December agreement with Cuban leader Raul
Castro to seek normal ties.

Some have praised the move while others worry too much was conceded to
the communist regime without getting much in return.

Some observers believe that diplomatic ties could be restored before a
Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, to be attended by Cuba for
the first time in the history of the regional gathering. Obama is also
due to attend.

- Terror review moving forward -

But Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Gustavo Machin said opening the
embassies before then would "depend on America."

"It would be a contradiction" if Havana were still on the US list of
state sponsors -- which has made access to the international banking
system difficult for Cuba -- he told Cuban reporters.

The State Department official said however that restoring ties and
removing Cuba from the terror list, to which it was added in 1982, are
"two separate processes."

A review ordered by Obama on whether to take Cuba off the blacklist was
"moving forward as quickly as we can ... but we don't think that should
be linked to the restoration of diplomatic relations."

The recommendation will go to Obama, who will then have to notify Congress.

Everything depends "on how our counterparts come to the table prepared
to get things done and whether they are comfortable with the things we
need to run an embassy," the US official said.

The US delegation is to be led by Roberta Jacobson, the State
Department's top official for Latin America, who last month became the
highest-ranking US official to visit Cuba in 35 years.

She will sit down with Cuba's chief negotiator, Josefina Vidal.

Source: Cuba, US at odds on ending Havana's terror blacklist - Yahoo
News -

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

HAVANA (AP) — The jubilation that greeted the announcement of U.S.-Cuban
detente two months ago has faded to resignation for many Cubans who are
realizing they're at the start of a long process unlikely to ease their
daily struggles anytime soon.

Dreams of U.S. products flooding Havana stores and easy visits to family
members in Florida have dissipated, in part because of a coordinated
campaign by Cuban state media and officials to lower expectations and
remind people that the main planks of the half-century-old U.S. trade
embargo remain in place.

As Cuban officials head to Washington for a second round of talks on
restoring diplomatic relations Friday, many working-class islanders say
they no longer expect immediate changes in their lives regardless of
what emerges from the negotiations.

"The great expectations that surged with the news that first day have
been lowered a lot and now the man in the street barely talks about it
anymore," said Magali Delgado, a retired worker in the Ministry of
Foreign Commerce who subsists on a pension of $11 a month. "People are
so desperate ... they wanted immediate, concrete results."

It's a stark contrast to the giddy moments on Dec. 17 when Cubans
cheered in the streets after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro
announced that they were exchanging imprisoned spies, moving to reopen
embassies in Havana and Washington, and seeking to normalize their
countries' long-dysfunctional relationship.

"Expectations went far beyond what was in the announcements," said
Joaquin Borges, a sociologist and widely read cultural critic. "Some
people misunderstood things, particularly on the street, as if
everything was going to be solved and the shortages that Cuba has had
because of the embargo and the economic crisis were going to be resolved
from one day to another."

Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. relations, said the communist
government felt it needed to make clear to its people and the rest of
the world that an opening with the U.S. did not mean things would change

"I think that not just Cubans but Americans and the whole world needed
to be made clear about the reality of what was being announced and
unfortunately the expectations had to be lowered," Machin said.

But pessimism is far from universal.

Obama's easing of restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and the
quadrupling of limits on remittances are expected to have a dramatic
short-term impact on the privileged class of Cubans with links to the
global economy. There are also thousands of motivated, highly educated
young people who hope to seize on the opening with the U.S. as a chance
to move up into greater prosperity.

"I'm an optimist. I have a vision of a better future," Jose Torres, a
nurse, said as he stood on a street corner checking text messages on his
smartphone. "Better Internet, better in the sense of travel to other
countries, exporting Cuban goods, importing U.S. goods ... having access
to Facebook and Google."

The dour mood is strongest among Cubans who lack ties to the
tourist-fueled economy, family members abroad to send them money or a
sense that they can transition into one of the economic sectors boosted
by tighter ties with the United States. Virtually all the proposed new
economic links between the countries involve Cuba's private sector,
which has grown to as much as 40 percent of total employment, according
to a 2013 Brookings Institute study.

"There's a new generation that's mastered the Internet, that's mastered
computing, that, yes, has possibilities," bicycle-taxi driver Alberto
Rodriguez said as he cleaned dirt from his cab's gears and chain on a
street in Old Havana. "I'm older and I don't have what it takes to
compete in this market."

Alexis Ramos, a janitor in a medical clinic, said grimly, "I expect the
rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer."

A senior State Department official, who insisted on anonymity, said
Wednesday that U.S. officials would be delighted to reopen their Havana
embassy before April's Summit of the Americas in Panama, which both
Obama and Castro are expected to attend.

But the countries still appear far apart on some central issues,
particularly Cuba's presence on a U.S. list of state sponsors of
international terrorism. While Obama has all but said Cuba will be
removed from the list, the State Department official said Washington
sees the process as separate from the diplomatic talks with Cuba and any
holdup linked to the terror list is "a delay of their own making."

View gallery
Roberto Alvarez, 47, right, chats with friends backdropped by a wall
decorated with images of Cuban …
Officials in Havana disagree.

Machin, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. relations, said that while removal
from the list isn't a formal condition for the re-establishment of
relations, significant progress will be impossible without progress on
the issue.

"How can we explain to the Cuban people, to the U.S., to Latin America,
to the whole world, that Cuba and the U.S. are re-establishing
diplomatic relations and Cuba is still on the list?"


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia and Andrea Rodriguez
contributed to this report.


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Source: Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US - Yahoo
News -

Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE

Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE
The Moscow Times Feb. 25 2015 15:59 Last edited 15:59

Russia may build a large international airport in Cuba with investors
from the United Arab Emirates, Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis
Manturov said in an interview with a newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

Manturov told newspaper The National that Russia is in discussions with
Abu Dhabi's Mubadala investment company to invest in building a hub in
Cuba for flights to Latin America. Russia is ready to invest $200
million in the project, Manturov said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Mubadala told The National: "The company is regularly
reviewing a number of different investment opportunities with its
Russian partners."

Manturov added that if the project goes forward, Cuba may provide a rail
link from the airport to the nearby seaport of Mariel, where Havana has
established a special economic zone to attract foreign investment.

Russia's interest in investing in Cuba comes amid a larger pattern of
courting Latin American countries in the face of Western sanctions over
Moscow's role in the conflict in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin made Havana the first stop on his tour of the
South American continent last summer, where he wrote off the majority of
Cuba's $32 billion debt to the Soviet Union. Under Moscow's new terms,
Cuba must now pay Russia $3 billion in 10 years time.

Cuba has historically denied that it owes Russia any money, asserting
that the nation and currency it was indebted to disappeared in 1991 with
the Soviet Union's collapse.

Source: Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE |
Business | The Moscow Times -

Cuba’s Tech Start-up Sector: ‘People Are Hungry to Work’

Cuba's Tech Start-up Sector: 'People Are Hungry to Work'
Feb 24, 2015 Latin America

Growing up in Cuba, Jose Pimienta didn't see the Internet until 2006. He
and his friends taught themselves computer programming with a Russian
textbook on the Pascal programming language that had been translated
into Spanish. Even in university, when he finally had access to the
Internet, Pimienta, now 27, was limited to 20 megabytes per month of
data — a small fraction of what fits on a thumb drive today. Yet, in
2013 when PayPal hosted its first-ever global hackathon competition in
San Jose, Calif., with a $100,000 purse, Pimienta and two partners
placed third for developing a peer-to-peer lending app called LoanPal.

"In Cuba, you have a lot of people who have done things with limited
resources and no real access to knowledge," Pimienta, who emigrated to
Miami in 2009, says. "You have a lot of talent there." Pimienta is proof
of the level of talent Cuban universities are producing. He and his
Cuban partner won the regional PayPal hackathon in Miami two years
running, and he's now working with clients in the United States, Europe
and Cuba, building websites and brands from the ground up, while
employing former Cuban classmates.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro on December 17 made an historic
announcement that the adversaries, separated only by 90 miles, would
work to reopen diplomatic channels, ease travel and trade restrictions,
and allow for U.S. banks to start processing transactions on the island.
But even before the announced thawing of relations, Cuba was developing
sought-after computer programmers and a tech start-up community that has
drawn interest from entrepreneurs and industry giants like Google.

"You have a highly educated workforce, excellent programming talent and
a huge amount of opportunity for companies that want to invest in the
knowledge economy Twitter ," notes Faquiry Diaz Cala, CEO of Tres Mares
Group, a private equity investment firm in Miami that has partnered with
Pimienta. "There's already demand for these programmers. There are
full-blown projects that are being done in Cuba by guys who are working
underground because they haven't really opened up the sector yet."

There is no official number for the size of the information technology
sector in Cuba or the number of trained professionals. But Diaz says
Cuban universities are churning out large numbers of graduates who have
learned to program with limited resources

"These guys are sought after because their programming is so tight,"
Diaz notes. "And their programming is so tight because they have learned
with limited access to time on computers and limited access to the

That could change. New regulations announced by the U.S. Treasury
Department allow for the export of technologies to Cuba that were
previously banned under economic restrictions against the island. That,
coupled with economic reforms slowly rolled out by the Castro
government, has positioned the Cuban technology and start-up sector as
one of few areas of the Cuban economy truly poised for growth. Before
the island can transition into a tech hub, however, it has to overcome
serious hurdles including a lack of critical infrastructure, laws that
limit foreign investment and government control of access to the Internet.

"We know from previous transitions that a gradual transition — such as
the ones staged in China or Vietnam — were better than those that
followed the so-called shock-therapy recipes." –Mauro Guillen

Not an Overnight Process

While the joint announcements made by Obama and Castro were met with
much enthusiasm, analysts warn that the outcome of the thaw between the
two countries will largely rely on a long, arduous process of
negotiations, which began in January when assistant secretary of state
for western hemisphere affairs Roberta Jacobson traveled to Havana for
two days of discussions with the Cuban government. "The fact that they
were meeting at all is hugely significant," says Cynthia Arnson,
director of the Latin America program at the Washington-based Wilson
Center, a think tank. "But this is going to be a process, and it's not
going to happen overnight."

Even if the negotiations are successful, fully opening the Cuban economy
will take time, notes Wharton management professor Mauro Guillen, who is
also director of The Lauder Institute. "That process of transition from
all points of view — the legal, the economic, the financial, the
monetary, the regulatory — is going to be very complicated. It cannot
happen all at once. It cannot happen overnight," he says. "We know from
previous transitions that a gradual transition — such as the ones staged
in China or Vietnam — were better than those that followed the so-called
shock-therapy recipes."

Standing in the way of fully normalized economic relations between the
U.S. and Cuba is the economic embargo first instituted by John F.
Kennedy in 1962 and then later strengthened by Congress. There is a
near-zero chance of it being lifted. The U.S.Treasury has exercised its
limited ability to make exceptions to the embargo, but removing the
embargo completely needs Congressional approval. Republican lawmakers
are mostly opposed to loosening restrictions against Cuba. The
Republican-controlled Senate may even block Obama's nominee for the

To be sure, full normalization of the economy has the potential to bring
an enormous windfall. The Peterson Institute for International Economics
estimated in a 2014 paper that Cuba, which currently attracts about $500
million in FDI, could lure as much as its Caribbean neighbor the
Dominican Republic, which has $17 billion in FDI, including $2 billion
from the U.S.

And the Cuban government has identified information technology as one of
the sectors it is seeking to develop under the reforms to its economy
that President Raul Castro began to roll out in 2008. "Today's situation
does not allow computer activity to address many of the needs required
by the population," deputy minister of communications Wilfredo Gonzalez
Vidal said in an interview with Granma, the official newspaper of the
Cuban Communist Party. The government sees technology as "an industry of
strategic development for the nation, strengthening the economy and
providing broad access to contents of digital services," he said.

The government has a multi-part plan to develop the industry that
includes promoting training, focusing on government and electronic
commerce, allowing for new business models, and cooperating with
international actors to improve content and infrastructure and the
availability of equipment.

"There are full-blown projects that are being done in Cuba by guys who
are working underground because they haven't really opened up the sector
yet." – Faquiry Diaz Cala

Perhaps the most significant sign of both the Cuban government's
approach and the international interest in the island came on February
9, when Netflix said it would immediately begin offering streaming
service to the island.

Severe Limitations

Netflix's announcement drew headlines, but also exposed the severe
limitations that pose a threat to the development of the information
technology sector. Penetration rates for cellular telephone usage and
Internet connectivity remain uncommonly low: Only 5,360 home and
business broadband Internet connections exist in Cuba, according to the
International Telecommunications Union. Roughly one in 10 Cubans
regularly use mobile phones, according to Freedom House, citing 2011

Among the country's largest investments in telecommunications
infrastructure came in 2013 when it activated a $70 million undersea
cable laid by the Venezuelan government, giving the country a dependable
link to the Internet.

Still, most Cubans won't be able to afford to access the Internet or buy
a cell phone in the short term. An hour of access to the web eats up
roughly almost one fourth of the average Cuban's monthly salary. And
most Cubans can only check e-mail or visit government-approved sites
through a domestic intranet.

Pimienta knows the government-imposed obstacles well. He is currently
partnering with Cuba-based designers on jobs from international clients.
Due to restrictions on file sizes, his partner has to send large files
broken up into as many as 30 e-mails, which are then pieced back
together. Beyond that, he is not legally permitted to pay his Cuba-based
employees. "I supply them with equipment and technology instead," he says.

Pimienta hopes new regulations will make it easier to work with
Cuba-based designers. To that end, he and several partners have launched
a website that highlights the work of Cuban designers and programmers.
He hopes to bring together dozens of professionals from across the
island, showcasing their work. "We want people to know about the talent
that exists in Cuba," he says. "With these regulations changing, we want
to be able to provide companies with access to Cuba. You're an American
firm and you want to go to Cuba? We know the market both in the U.S. and
in Cuba. And we can help you build a brand."

Changing the Image

The popular image of Cuba, at least in the United States, is that of a
closed-off, tightly controlled island where the Castro regime has a hand
in nearly every facet of life. Miami-based entrepreneur Hugo Cancio sees
the potential of the Caribbean island, where he was born, beyond its
appeal as a tourist destination full of the robust cigars, vintage cars
and aged rum for which it has become associated. "Cuba is more than
that. You're talking about a country of 11.2 million highly educated
people. It's about more than just the Castros," he says.

"There was a Cuba here before 1959, and it's a Cuba that is still here
today." – Hugo Cancio

An understanding of Cuba is the message Cancio tries to relay to readers
of his magazines and websites, including the flagship OnCuba
publication. The magazine informs readers about Cuba's cultural
uniqueness, its history and current events. "There was a Cuba here
before 1959, and it's a Cuba that is still here today," he says. Yet,
perhaps more revealing than Cancio's message is how he built the
magazine and website with homegrown Cuban talent.

Cancio plucked some of the island's best and brightest, trained them to
produce a bilingual publication, and hired a handful of programmers to
maintain the website. "The talent here is extremely highly trained," he

Cancio says he has worked with U.S. companies that have expressed
willingness to get into the Cuban market when it opens. "It's amazing to
see how interested American businesses are in Cuba," he notes. "We
believe there is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars flowing
from the U.S. to Cuba and Cuba back to the United States, eventually."

The potential is so large that it could attract major U.S. companies,
such as AT&T, Verizon and Google, the latter of which has already said
it is interested in expanding its reach on the island.

How quickly investments proceed likely depends less on U.S. regulators
and more on the rules that Cuba sets for investment. The
state-controlled ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.) and
its subsidiary Cubacel (Telefonos Celulares de Cuba S.A.) currently have
a monopoly on the telephony sector.

Welcome News

However, the early signs in the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba
are welcomed news for entrepreneurs. "I think that you'll see a lot more
direct assistance to the private sector … in the form of technical
assistance so that they can grow and prosper and perform at a high
level. That's what's happening on the black market already anyway,"
notes Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who
follows Cuba. "Creating institutions that respect property rights — this
kind of thing is a whole new concept in Cuba. A major transformation is

Regardless of how quickly reforms take place, Pimienta says there is
already buzz around the potential for change in Cuba. Greater access to
knowledge from U.S. companies and the ability to import needed
technology and equipment can only benefit the start-up industry in Cuba,
he adds.

"The reality is that there are people hungry to work. They're creative
and they are just waiting to show what they can do," he says. "If this
happens, it would be wonderful for the people of Cuba."

Source: Cuba's Tech Start-up Sector: 'People Are Hungry to Work' -

Boxers fleeing Cuba seek freedom, fortune in Vegas

Boxers fleeing Cuba seek freedom, fortune in Vegas
Reported by: Amber Dixon Email: adixon@mynews3.com
Published: 2/25 6:24 am Share Updated: 2/25 9:40 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV My News 3) – Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada said
of the 1,800 refugees it helps resettle each year in Las Vegas, 75
percent are Cuban.

Trained boxers are among the Cubans that move to Las Vegas, fleeing from
oppression, seeking freedom and drawn to a city where fighting is center
stage. They hope the sport will make them some money.

In 1992, Cuban boxer Joel Casamayor, won an Olympic Gold medal. In
return, the Cuban government gave him a bike.

"A Chinese bicycle," said Cuban boxing historian Enrique Encinosa. "He
says, 'Right then and there I understood, I had to get out."

And Casamayor did, in 1996, while he was training in Mexico for the next
Olympics. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum helped.

"They were in Mexico, and we smuggled them out of Mexico," said Arum.
"And he turned out to be a champion."

But success is not the norm. New-found freedom and money can kill the dream.

"They've been deprived of the luxuries of life so long, they only read
about them," said Arum. "They heard about them, and suddenly they're
available to them, and they go absolutely nuts."

"By the time he's had three or four fights, he figures, 'This is cake. I
don't really have to train that hard, and I've got this money in my
pocket, and I have 22 of 24 hours in a day to screw around,' and that's
where a lot of them go off the rail," said Encinosa.

Cuban boxing brothers Rances and Leduan Barthelemy fled Cuba, just like
their older brother, Olympic Gold medalist Yan Barthelemy. They chose to
live in Las Vegas, and now the boxing world is watching Rances.

Last year, he became the International Boxing Federation world super
featherweight champion. His journey to that point was filled with new
experiences, like going to the bank. "Finance, credit, numbers here,
numbers there, it was like a math class," said Rances Barthelemy.

They also learned what Listerine was. "When I saw Listerine, it smelled
good like mint, and I started drinking it," said Rances.

"Me too, when I opened it, I smelled it, and I said, 'Wow, this smells
good,' and I started putting it on like it was cologne," said Leduan.

But behind these happy moments in the United States are some sad
memories of home. "Leaving them was hard," said Leduan. "There were
times when I would cry at night because I needed the love of my mother
and of my brothers and sisters."

"I left my sister when she was only 8 years old, and now she's going to
high school, and I haven't been able to see her grow, to touch her, to
hug her and to tell her how much I love her," said Rances.

The pain of being apart, lessened by knowing that in at least in the
U.S., they can make money and send it to the loved ones they left behind.

"I don't have words to explain how grateful I am to be living here,
because I can help my family," said Rances.

There were several times during the interview with News 3 when an
adviser for the brothers interrupted, warning them to watch what they
said about Cuba. That's because if the brothers one day want to return
to visit, the Cuban government must approve, said the adviser and
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

The Cuban government reportedly monitors what high-profile refugees say
and do after they defect.

Those refugees typically must wait eight years before they can ask
permission from the government to return.

Source: Boxers fleeing Cuba seek freedom, fortune in Vegas - Las Vegas
MyNews3 - KSNV -

US pressures Cuba to turn over fugitives

US pressures Cuba to turn over fugitives
By William E. Gibson
Washington Bureau

- Cuba claims the United States is harboring violent criminals and
terrorists and refuses to return them to Cuba
Cuba has indicated it would be willing to send common-criminal fugitives
back to the United States.
- U.S. officials will continue this week to pressure Cuba to turn over
fugitives wanted for Medicare fraud and other crimes in the United States.

Closer cooperation between the two old adversaries could disrupt a
criminal pipeline that has funneled ill-gotten gains from Florida to
Cuba, an organized crime network disclosed last month by the Sun
Sentinel after a year-long investigation.

Some members of Congress are demanding the return of fugitives, hoping
to halt Cuban crime rings and discourage scams.

"I would hope that if those who wish to violate American law understand
that they can't hide from prosecution in Cuba, it would help to deter
people from ripping off American taxpayers," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch,
a Democrat who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The issue will be raised Thursday when Cuba's alleged links to terrorist
groups are discussed at a House subcommittee hearing.

Chairman Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said Cuban spying and connections to
terrorists jeopardize U.S. security and facilitate "a criminal pipeline
spanning Cuba to Florida."

U.S. officials will get another opportunity to press for the return of
fugitives during diplomatic talks with Cuban leaders set for Friday in
Washington. This second round will focus on establishing embassies while
setting a timetable for separate talks on law-enforcement cooperation.

The hearing and diplomatic talks both stem from a startling change in
U.S. policy to end the isolation of Cuba, encourage communications and
re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

The change, announced in December, revived hopes of retrieving criminals
who fled to Cuba to evade justice, including crooks who bilked Medicare,
robbed insurers and preyed on other victims to the tune of more than $2
billion over two decades. Some live openly in Cuba, defying attempts to
apprehend them, the Sun Sentinel found.

Friday's talks will focus on establishing normal diplomatic relations,
which could pave the way for agreements on the extradition of criminals
holed up in Cuba and Cuba's acceptance of criminals in the United States
who were ordered to be deported.

Cuban leaders are demanding that the State Department remove Cuba from
its list of "state sponsors of terrorism." Cuba has been on the list
partly because it harbors fugitives wanted for terror-related acts. But
critics say the listing is an outmoded relic from a time when Cuba
backed leftist revolutions in other countries.

In the first round of talks last month in Havana, Cuba refused to return
fugitives who committed crimes of a political nature, notably Joanne
Chesimard, a former member of the Black Liberation Army convicted of
shooting a New Jersey patrolman in 1973.

"We've explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some
people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political
asylum," Josefina Vidal, Cuba's lead negotiator, told the Associated
Press. She and other Cubans accuse the United States of harboring criminals.

"We've reminded the U.S. government that in its country they've given
shelter to dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens — some of them accused of
horrible crimes, some accused of terrorism, murder and kidnapping,"
Vidal said. "And in every case, the U.S. government has decided to
welcome them."

But Cuban negotiators have indicated a willingness to turn over
fugitives wanted for non-political crimes — the kind who have bilked
Medicare and run scams in Florida.

"In general, they seem prepared and willing to fight common crime," said
Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who
met with U.S. and Cuban officials in Havana.

Some analysts say the Obama administration needs to show benefits from
the negotiations to blunt criticism from Republicans in Congress that
the United States is legitimizing the Castro regime without getting
anything in return.

Results could include an agreement to extradite criminals and to
cooperate on environmental preservation, including safeguards against an
accidental oil spill in Cuban waters.

"Florida benefits immensely from that," said Robert Muse, a Washington
attorney who specializes in Cuban legal matters. "That would start to
show some results from this thing."

U.S. officials say they are pursuing an agreement on both fronts.

"We'll have a separate conversation [with Cuban negotiators] on law
enforcement and fugitives basically as soon as we can set these up,"
Roberta Jacobson, the lead U.S. negotiator, testified at a congressional

An extradition agreement would help put a dent in Medicare fraud in
Florida and elsewhere, anti-fraud experts say.

"That would certainly be a positive thing," said Louis Saccoccio, CEO of
the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. "Folks who do commit
these types of crimes and go overseas would be subject to return to this
country. That would be helpful. The big challenge is to get the foreign
country to cooperate in that effort."

wgibson@tribune.com, 202-824-8256

Source: U.S. pressures Cuba to give up criminal fugitives - Sun Sentinel

Latin America and the ‘end of capitalism’

Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America and the 'end of capitalism'
02/25/2015 7:00 AM 02/25/2015 9:33 PM

The saddest thing about outgoing Uruguayan President José Mujica's
statement this week suggesting that capitalism is agonizing is not that
he said it as the New York stock market was reaching its all-time high,
but the fact that it's an idea that is being happily repeated by many
Latin American presidents as if it were an indisputable truth.

Hardly a day goes by in which Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and
his counterparts in Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and several
other countries do not proclaim — some more explicitly than others — the
"end of capitalism." Former Cuba ruler Fidel Castro has been proclaiming
"the inexorable demise of capitalism" since the early 1960s.

Mujica, who ends his term on Sunday, was quoted by Cuba's official
Prensa Latina news agency as telling the Mexican daily La Jornada this
week that "capitalism is exhausted." His exact quote in La Jornada's
Feb. 22 interview was that capitalism "seems to have already given
everything it had," and that it is likely to be replaced by "democratic

Trouble is, while U.S.-styled capitalism could and should be perfected,
many Latin American presidents are sitting idly by waiting for its
death. Meantime, China, India, Vietnam, and virtually all Asian
countries are growing and reducing poverty at record rates, and they
have been doing so precisely since they started embracing capitalism in
the 1980s.

Perhaps somebody should present Latin American leaders who keep talking
about the end of capitalism with a framed copy of a recent news story
about Apple's market value. They should hang it on their office walls to
remind themselves constantly of what's going on in the world.

According to a Feb. 11 news story, Apple reached a record market value
of $710 billion that day. To put that in perspective, that's more than
the entire GDP of Argentina ($610 billion), Venezuela ($483 billion),
Colombia ($378 billion), Chile ($277 billion), or Peru ($203 billion),
according to World Bank figures.

The presidents of Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia should be the first to
hang that framed news story on their walls. Apple alone is worth seven
times more than Ecuador's GDP ($94 billion), 12 times more than
Uruguay's ($55 billion), and 23 times more than Bolivia's ($30 billion.)
And that's just one capitalist company.

If that's not enough to convince them that we are living in a different
world — in which technological advances are becoming increasingly
lucrative, while Latin America's raw materials or basic manufacturing
goods are becoming increasingly cheaper — there are plenty of other
examples to learn from.

Uber, the 4-year-old company that created a smartphone application for
taxi services, has reached a market value of $41.2 billion. This amounts
to more than Mexico's total annual oil exports.

WhatsApp, the instant-messaging application for smartphones started by
two 20-somethings, was sold last year for $19 billion. That's almost 20
times the total value of Chile's wine exports.

Unfortunately, while they keep waiting for capitalism's definitive
demise, many Latin American countries keep relying on their commodity
and basic-manufacturing exports and are failing to invest in innovation,
research, and development.

Latin American countries invest only 0.8 percent of their GDP in
research and development of new products, compared with the world
average of 2.1 percent, according to World Bank figures. Not
surprisingly, Latin America has become increasingly dependent on raw
materials in recent years, and its high-tech exports have fallen as a
percentage of its total exports.

According to figures cited by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin
America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) head Alicia Bárcena at a Feb. 13
speech, Latin America's exports of high-tech products has fallen from
nearly 20 percent of the region's total exports in 2000 to about 10
percent of its total exports today.

My opinion: Capitalism has many faults that should be corrected, but
Latin American presidents should stop with this nonsense about its
imminent death and get to work — like Asian countries have been doing in
recent years — to become more competitive in the world economy.

Instead of talking rubbish about the "agony of capitalism," Latin
American presidents — especially now that their commodities' export
prices have plummeted — should be talking about improving education,
innovation, and science and technology to export increasingly more
sophisticated goods to world markets.

Their current ruminations about the collapse of capitalism are only
helping breed complacency, inaction, slower economic growth, and more

Source: Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America and the 'end of capitalism' |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

U.S.-Cuba talks head to Washington

U.S.-Cuba talks head to Washington
02/25/2015 5:30 PM 02/25/2015 10:59 PM

The second round of U.S.-Cuba talks, which will be held Friday at the
massive limestone Department of State building in a wintery Washington,
D.C., is expected to be a nuts-and-bolts negotiating session to restore
diplomatic ties between the two nations.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, who heads the Cuban Foreign Relations
Ministry's U.S. division, will lead their respective delegations as they
did in Havana during the first round of talks on Jan. 22.

During that historic closed-door meeting aimed at ending a 53-year
hiatus in diplomatic relations between the two neighbors, both sides
laid out their positions and it was clear there were differences.

A senior U.S. State Department official said Wednesday this round of
conversations will be devoted entirely to matters related to opening
embassies — unlike the Havana talks, which also included discussions
about human rights and areas of mutual cooperation such as the fight
against Ebola, environmental protection and combating human and
narcotics trafficking.

While the Havana talks were "historic," the official said Friday's talks
"may seem a bit disappointingly workman-like."

The U.S. side is hopeful that renewal of diplomatic ties and reopening
of embassies could take place before the April 10-11 Summit of the
Americas in Panama, but the State Department official added, "I'm not
sure" there's enough time.

Among the topics the U.S. delegation wants to discuss are ensuring the
ability of its diplomats to travel freely throughout the island,
unfettered access by Cubans to the future embassy and unimpeded
deliveries to it.

During the Havana talks, Vidal said the banking problem at Cuba's
missions in Washington and at the United Nations would have to be
resolved before embassies could be opened. For the past year, no bank
has wanted to handle Cuba's accounts, putting the missions on a
cash-only basis.

The United States has been trying to help Cuba find a banker but so far
there are no takers.

The State Department official said a Cuban embassy could open and
continue to operate on a cash basis, but added, "That is really
uncomfortable for them and frankly unsafe. They can [have an embassy
without a bank] but all of us would rather they didn't have to do this."

One reason U.S. banks are so hesitant to bank with Cuba is that the
country remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a
status that makes banks wary they could run afoul of U.S. law if they do
business with sanctioned countries. An expedited review of Cuba's status
on the list is underway.

The talks are part of a new direction in U.S.-Cuba relations announced
on Dec. 17 by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. As
part of the new policy, Obama also chipped away at the embargo with
measures allowing trade with Cuba's emerging private sector, more travel
by Americans and an opening for the U.S. telecom industry to do business
in Cuba if Havana chooses to engage.

Meanwhile, the rapprochement is continuing on other fronts.

The State Department's Office of International Communications and
Information Policy in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, for
example, hopes to meet soon with their Cuban counterparts to see what
will be possible in terms of a telecom opening, said Assistant Secretary
of State Charles Rivkin.

The new U.S. policy allows U.S companies to sell personal communications
equipment in Cuba as well as work on projects to improve Cuba's outdated
telecommunications system.

Cuba also has proposed having a separate dialogue on human rights with
the United States, which the U.S. delegation has accepted — although
Jacobson has conceded the two sides' ideas about how such a dialogue
should be structured are probably quite different.

While these topics won't be discussed Friday, it's possible that dates
will be set for various dialogues.

Earlier this week, New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on
the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said talking directly with Cuban
officials is important.

Engel, who accompanied House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on a recent
trip to Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, said the delegation
raised the issue of human rights at every meeting they had with Cuban

"I believe the ball is now in the Cuban government's court to respond by
ending the harassment of political activists and releasing political
prisoners," Engel said. "For our policies to continue to change, it's
going to take give and take on both sides, and frankly I'd like to see
some more changes on the Cuban side, and I said that in Havana."

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has been critical of the
Congressional delegation, saying members had sent "worrying signals to
the regime that human rights are, in fact, negotiable."

But in general, Engel said "average people that we met on the street
were all very, very positive" about the rapprochement.

South Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, elected to Congress in
2014, was hardly as sanguine. "It is quite an insult that on the week
commemorating the anniversary of the shoot-down, the State Department
will roll out the red carpet to Cuban officials who represent the
murderous regime that killed" four Brothers to the Rescue pilots,
Curbelo said in a statement. Tuesday marked the 19th anniversary of the
day Cuban MiGs shot down two civilian planes from Miami as they neared
Cuban territory.

Meanwhile, two bills have been introduced in Congress to lift the
embargo and further expand Cuba travel for Americans, but
anti-rapprochement forces in Congress, including the Cuban-American
delegation, want to roll back the opening toward Cuba.

Getting the two embassies open is just the opening salvo in the much
more difficult task of normalizing relations between two countries that
have been on hostile terms for much of the past half century.

"An embassy will be opened in the next few months, but this is perhaps
one of the easier topics of negotiation that the two countries will
face," said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's
Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. "The Cuban government needs to
maintain its anti-U.S. posture for domestic and international
credibility, so expect it to maintain a tough position at any negotiations."

Raúl Castro has said before any normalization in the relationship, the
five-decades old embargo against Cuba would have to be lifted, the
United States would have to return the Naval base at Guantánamo Bay,
there would need to be compensation for the "human and economic damage"
caused by the embargo and transmissions of Radio and TV Martí would have
to end.

Where: U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.

Delegations: Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Roberta Jacobson heads the U.S. delegation; Josefina Vidal, the Cuban
Foreign Ministry's chief of its U.S. division, heads the Cuban side.

Focus: Matters related to opening embassies in both countries.

Next round of talks: No date set. 'We will keep working until we get
this done,' said a senior U.S. State Department official.

Source: U.S.-Cuba talks head to Washington | Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines
ROSA LOPEZ, La Habana | Febrero 24, 2015

The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They
were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn't even a line for seeking a
visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the
only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana's Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how
the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if
it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3
million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the
moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos,
businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and
international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues
to depend exclusively on paper currency.

"When the subject is money, people fume," says a young man whose
Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even
though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed
ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines
or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in
Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority
were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious
deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba
for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the
system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures
between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash
payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and
payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with
great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very
promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big
department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and
slow. "When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for
minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and
you have to try it several times," explains a cashier from the busy
market at 70 th Street and 3 rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are
practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse.
Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing
the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. "Why do they pay me on the card
if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make
purchases almost nowhere with this?" complains Marilin Ruiz, a former
elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for
the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing
recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with
another woman.

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to
collect their pensions. "I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about
$8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,"
explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age.
Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the
children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of
getting money before nightfall.

"We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using
plastic, now it is that we are trying it," laments Asuncion. The first
ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after
2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from
Madrid. "I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it
for my expenses." There are no public statistics about how many of the
country's residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit
cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative,
but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the
test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking
conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or
work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through
that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

"We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive
in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,"
says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits
in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank
branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco
Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were
partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks,
sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other
infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the
banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money "under the
The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on
weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more
optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to
achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese
students who must, of course, pay in cash.
Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her
money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream
to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition
to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the
crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to
spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear
with the "out of service" announcement, nor was there a power outage
and, yes, the machine had cash.
Translated by MLK

Source: The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines -

Cuba's revolution generation: few regrets

Cuba's revolution generation: few regrets
By Carlos Batista

Havana (AFP) - Communist Cuba's revolution has held sway for so long --
56 years -- that those who remember no other system are nearing
retirement age with a mixture of fond memories, and just a few regrets.

"We were part of a generation that changed everything, romantic,
contradictory and maybe one of a kind," journalist and author Manuel
Juan Somoza, 69, told AFP.

For political analyst Jesus Arboleya, 67, it was the revolution
generation under a young lawyer named Fidel Castro that fought hardest
to get Cuba on a different path -- and wound up the Americas' only
one-party communist nation.

"We were certain we were going to win. And that is precisely how we acted.

"We also are known for the personal sacrifices we have made, and for
honesty. Some people now call it idealism, but it was what made our
lives make sense," Arboleya told AFP.

Around the world, many remember the international role Cuba played in
the Cold War.

But inside Cuba, in the 1960s and 70s in particular, the revolution
generation ("GenRev") became known for its activist commitment to making
Cuba's divided and unequal society a symbol of equality.

They led the way on national campaigns to wipe out illiteracy,
organizing students and picking crops for the greater good.

As the generation nears the retirement age of 60, many GenRev are proud
they made change in Cuba, but realize mistakes were made along the way.

"We were a really committed and optimistic generation," Arboleya said.

Yet at the same time, GenRev took orders from authority, and did not rebel.

"We always were unconditionally taking orders from the generation that
won" the revolution, said Somoza, who wrote a history of his generation,
"Tales from the Belly of the Beast."

A legendary folk singer for the generation, Silvio Rodriguez, put it in
one verse: "virar esta tierra de una vez" ("change this country's course

"Our generation had a lot of goals. Too many, maybe. But even if we only
achieved some of them, that will do," said demographer Antonio Aja, 61.

- Looking back, and ahead -

Before 1959, Cuba was allied with the United States and was advanced
economically by Latin American standards. Socially however it was
wracked by inequality, illiteracy and lack of access to education and
health care.

In the Cold War era that saw Havana become a staunch US foe for over
five decades, GenRev was the leading edge of change.

There are over a million unofficial members of GenRev, about nine
percent of Cuba's population. Some are currently leaders in President
Raul Castro's government.

Thousands of people in GenRev, particularly in rural areas, were the
first in their families to learn to read -- then dare to dream of higher
education, and achieve it.

"We had an academic, ethical and social training that despite some
pressures was really valuable," said writer Leonardo Padura, 59.

In 2018, the generation that won the revolution, led by Fidel Castro and
now Raul Castro, is scheduled to hand the reins of the government to a
new generation.

Described as the generation of "institutional revolution," they are led
by Castro's designated successor Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Economy Minister Marino Murillo and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez are
also notable leaders from the next generation.

- Was it worth it? -

Meanwhile, Cuba's economy is in crisis; its leading political and
economic ally, Venezuela, is deep in its own economic morass.

As the downturn continues, Cuba's GenRev are looking forward to modest
pensions in a country where workers' average salary is about $20 a month.

Cubans for years have been awaiting changes that would mean a better
living standard. The government however does not want to aggravate
social differences or undermine the revolution's political achievements.

There is renewed economic optimism after Havana and Washington in
December announced plans to seek closer ties.

But US economic sanctions are still in place and what lies ahead is

It's not clear "if so much sacrifice was worth it, yet," Somoza said.

Others say they wouldn't change a thing about living their life
dedicated to one communist leadership.

"Some things did not go the way I would have chosen, sure. But I have
nothing to be sorry about," said Arboleya.

Source: Cuba's revolution generation: few regrets - Yahoo News -

In Cuba, a long-forgotten landmark of U.S. culture

In Cuba, a long-forgotten landmark of U.S. culture
By Nick Miroff February 24 at 10:38 AM

HAVANA — Many of the Cuban diplomats negotiating detente with the United
States — talks resume this week in Washington — are graduates of Cuba's
Advanced Institute for Foreign Relations. It's the Castro government's
foreign service school, located in a drab, blockish building along
Calzada street in Havana's Vedado neighborhood.

Less widely known is that the building was originally constructed as the
Instituto Cultural Cubano-Norteamericano (U.S.-Cuba Cultural Institute),
and was once a mainstay of the two countries' deep and complicated ties.

Like many buildings whose pre-1959 use didn't fit with Fidel Castro's
post-revolution plans, it was taken over and repurposed soon after the
rebel convoys rolled into Havana. The institute's days as a center for
U.S. cultural promotion came to an abrupt end, and its long-time
director, historian Herminio Portell Vila, fled for Miami.

With the United States and Cuba now moving toward restoring long-broken
relations, it's not hard to imagine such an institution returning again
at some point — though not likely at its former location.

Inaugurated in 1943 at the height of World War II, the institute began
with 200 students, offering courses in English and U.S. history. Its
Marti-Lincoln Public Library, named for Cuba's national hero and the
venerated U.S. president, was one of the first in Havana to allow users
to check out and borrow books in the style of an American public
library, according to Cuban journalist Waldo Fernandez Cuenca.

Fernandez recounts this history in the December issue of Palabra Nueva,
the magazine of the Havana archdiocese, and said the library's entrance
featured a painting by the prominent Mexican muralist David Alfaro
Siqueiros (who, ironically, was a militant Stalinist).

"I wanted to rescue this forgotten history," Fernandez said. "It was an
example of the close ties and cooperation between the two countries."

The library's shelves soon filled with donated books from the U.S.
government and well-heeled American supporters, many of them prominent
U.S investors in Cuba. Library visitors had access to all the current
editions of Time, Life, Vogue and the like.

As an extension of American culture, it was also at times an extension
of the United States government. This 1945 State Department cable shows
that American military officials tasked Portell Vila with providing a
report on the Cuban educational system, with the goal of hiring Cuban
civilians for U.S. military bases in Cuba.

When the United States closed its base at San Antonio de los Baños at
the end of World War II, the secretary of the War Department transferred
more than 4,000 volumes to the Institute's Marti-Lincoln library,
according to Fernandez. The library was well-known for its collection of
military history, especially its World War II materials.

Cubans seeking scholarships to study in the United States flocked to the
institute. By the late 1940s, it processed more than 800 applications a
year from Cubans wanting to study aviation, meteorology and other
courses at U.S. schools.

With its popularity growing, the institute moved in 1950 from its
original location along Old Havana's Prado Boulevard to a new site in
Vedado, erecting a six-story edifice with 23 classrooms, a huge library
and capacity for thousands of students.

Then Vice President Richard Nixon visited the institute during a trip to
Havana in 1955, calling it "a vital element in the U.S.-Cuba
relationship that grows closer every day" in a letter to Portell Vila.

With Castro's rise to power and a rapid deterioration of U.S.-Cuba
relations, the institute came under a cloud of suspicion. This article
appearing last year in the communist party daily Granma made rare
mention of the institute's existence, describing it as beachhead for
American espionage and "an institution dedicated to influencing and
penetrating Cuba's scientific, academic and cultural sectors."

After taking control of the building and its well-appointed library
collection, the new Castro government kept the school's original
function as a language academy, though English-speaking instructors were
replaced by Russian and German ones. The old name lived on, according to
Cubans who studied there and knew it as the "Lincoln school" well into
the 1970s.

When the language academy shut down in the 1990s, the building was used
as Education Ministry offices, then became the new training academy for
Cuba's Foreign Ministry, located just two blocks away.

Today it is not among the storied Havana landmarks associated with
pre-Castro Cuba and the ill-fated era of U.S.-Cuba intimacy, like the
iconic Hotel Nacional or the Cuban Capitolio. But Fernandez, who dug up
much of the U.S.-Cuba Cultural Institute history using copies of its old
newsletter, "Dos Pueblos," said it's a legacy worth revisiting.

"In the end, I think its contributions to Cuba were more positive than
prejudicial," he said. "It didn't even last two decades, unfortunately,
but maybe some day something like it will emerge again."

Source: In Cuba, a long-forgotten landmark of U.S. culture - The
Washington Post -

Inequality Becomes More Visible in Cuba as the Economy Shifts

Inequality Becomes More Visible in Cuba as the Economy Shifts

HAVANA — The river where Jonas Echevarria fishes cuts through
neighborhoods brimming with new fine restaurants, spas and boutiques,
springing up in Cuba's accelerating push toward private enterprise.

Tattered mansions and luxury apartment blocks speak of old wealth and
new. A bounty of private restaurants known as paladares serve pork
tenderloin, filet mignon and orange duck to tourists, Cuban-Americans
visiting relatives and a growing pool of Cuban entrepreneurs with cash
to spend.

These were things Mr. Echevarria, with only a few eggs, some plantains
and a handful of rolls in his pantry, would not be having for dinner.

In his neighborhood, a shantytown called El Fanguito (roughly, "Little
Swamp") on the fringe of the Rio Almendares and the margins of society,
few people have relatives sending money from abroad, food rations barely
last the month, and homes made of corrugated tin, wood scraps and
crumbling concrete fail to keep out floodwaters.

Nobody goes to paladares, much less has the money to start one.

"Never," said Mr. Echevarria, whose livelihood depends on the catch of
the day. "I guess I could not even afford the water."

As Cuba opens the door wider to private enterprise, the gap between the
haves and have-nots, and between whites and blacks, that the revolution
sought to diminish is growing more evident.

That divide is expected to increase now that the United States is
raising the amount of money that Americans can send to residents of the
island to $8,000 a year from $2,000, as part of President Obama's
historic thaw with Cuba.

Remittances, estimated at $1 billion to nearly $3 billion a year, are
already a big source of the capital behind the new small businesses. The
cash infusion has been one of the top drivers of the Cuban economy in
recent years, rivaling tourism revenue and mineral, pharmaceutical and
sugar exports.

Raising the remittance cap, along with allowing more Americans to visit
Cuba and other steps toward normal diplomatic relations, will help
"support the Cuban people," the Obama administration contends.

But some will enjoy that support more than others. Cuban economists say
that whites are 2.5 times more likely than blacks to receive
remittances, leaving many in crumbling neighborhoods like Little Swamp
nearly invisible in the rise of commerce, especially the restaurants and
bed-and-breakfasts that tourists tend to favor.

"Remittances have produced new forms of inequality, particularly racial
inequality," said Alejandro de la Fuente, director of the Afro-Latin
American Research Institute at Harvard University. "Now the remittances
are being used to fund or establish private companies, that is, not just
to fund consumption, as in the past."

The Cuban government argues that the shift to more private enterprise, a
pillar of its strategy to bolster the flaccid economy, will allow it to
focus its social programs on the neediest. As a billboard on a busy road
in Havana proclaims, "The changes in Cuba are for more socialism."

But many poorer Cubans are frustrated by what they see as the
deteriorating welfare state and the advantage that Cubans with access to
cash from outside the country have in the new economy.

"As Cuba is becoming more capitalist in the last 20 years, it has also
become more unequal," said Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College who
studies the Cuban economy. "These shantytowns are all over Latin
America, and Cuba's attempt with revolution to solve that inequality
succeeded to a certain degree for a time. But as capitalism increases,
you have some people more well positioned to take advantage and others
who are not."

At Starbien restaurant, one of the most popular in Havana, the owner,
José Raúl Colomé, said it was not unusual for a majority of the
clientele to be Cubans who live on the island, rather than tourists or

"Some are artists who are doing well or entrepreneurs who have had
luck," Mr. Colomé said. "A lot are tourists, naturally, but we are
getting more Cubans who might be called middle class."

In poorer neighborhoods like Little Swamp, many describe feeling like
foreigners in their own city, watching the emerging economy but lacking
the means to participate in it.

They note the predominance of white Cubans in the new ventures but
broach the subject carefully, noting the gains that the revolution
brought to Afro-Cubans in education and health but also the hard
economic times that darker-skinned Cubans continue to endure.

"I look in those new places and don't see anybody like me," said Marylyn
Ramirez, who works at a tourist hotel in the Vedado neighborhood and
passes new restaurants on the way to work.

Asked if she received financial help from relatives abroad, she smirked
and swept her hand around her small living room, which floods repeatedly
in heavy rains.

"If I had that," she said, "do you think I would be living here?"

After the so-called special period of the 1990s, when the collapse of
the Soviet Union plunged Cuba into an economic crisis, thousands of
desperate people moved from the countryside to Havana without
permission, hoping to find work.

Many still live as virtual refugees in their own country, in
neighborhoods like Little Swamp, unable to register for government
services like ration books because it is almost impossible to change
addresses without prior authorization.

"Erosion of poverty has always been a concern, but they have not managed
to eliminate these kinds of neighborhoods in the best years of the Cuban
welfare state," Mr. de la Fuente said, "and it is much less likely they
can do it now."

Many residents mention the free education and health care the government
has provided but lament that both seemed better in years past, with
shorter lines for care and better teachers. The few poor residents who
do receive remittances are known to pay private tutors to ensure that
their children advance to upper grades, several people in the
neighborhood said.

One resident mentioned a government program that offered refrigerators
to those without them, for a price of about $300. But the monthly
payments, made with government salaries that are rarely more than $20 a
month, can last for years, "longer than the refrigerator lasts," he said.

Cuba's two-tier currency puts residents at a further disadvantage. One
currency, known as the convertible peso and used for tourism and foreign
trade, is pegged to the dollar. But most Cubans are paid in the local
peso, worth a fraction of the other. Many consumer goods and other
amenities from abroad are paid for in convertible pesos, keeping such
comforts out of reach for many.

A government program to build housing has not kept up with demand, and
residents often refuse to leave their homes when floodwaters threaten
because they fear that squatters will take over or the authorities will
not let them return. Jerry-built electrical wiring sprawls along walls
and rooftops, a clear fire hazard.

Stagnant state wages have also shut many Cubans out of the real estate
market that emerged after the government allowed the buying and selling
of homes last year, said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, an emeritus professor at the
University of Pittsburgh who has long studied the Cuban economy.

"Reforms like the authorization of selling homes benefit those that have
the best homes, as they can sell them and buy a smaller one, but not
those with the worst housing," he said.

Still, for all the problems, few talk openly about leaving the country,
mostly because they have no relatives abroad or money for visa
applications or plane tickets. The alternative is setting off in rickety
boats or makeshift watercraft, a journey that could end in death or
detention and reprisals by the Cuban authorities.

"They catch you, you go to jail, and they won't let you fish anymore,"
Mr. Echevarria said.

Eugenio Azcaly, 61, a cook at a state restaurant, figures that he has
the skills and experience to open or run a paladar, but he has no
capital and no support from relatives overseas. The state, he said, has
been good to him, providing him the experience of traveling abroad, to
East Germany in his youth. But he has been watching the restaurants open
and wondering about his coming retirement.

"I will have to continue working, but I don't know where," he said.
Touching his skin, he added, "I don't know if the new businesses would
accept me."

Mr. Echevarria said he usually made about $15 a month, a little below
the average of $20 for Cuban workers.

"It's never enough," he said. "But we have to keep trying to get by."

Source: Inequality Becomes More Visible in Cuba as the Economy Shifts -
NYTimes.com -

The Cuba-Iran-Venezuela Relationship: Implications for the United States

The Cuba-Iran-Venezuela Relationship: Implications for the United States*
[25-02-2015 06:23:26]
Jaime Suchlicki
Director del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos y Cubano-Americanos de la
Universidad de Miami

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- President Barack Obama's announcement on
December 17, 2014, about an improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations will
have little, if any, impact on General Raúl Castro's alliance with Iran,
Russia and Venezuela. The close relations that these countries have
developed with Cuba will not be affected. Their aid is not conditioned
on changes in Cuba. They share with Castro a virulent anti-Americanism.
They all share a belief that the world convergence of forces is moving
against the United States. Despite economic difficulties, Cuba is
unwilling to renounce these alliances and accept a role as a small
Caribbean country, friendly to the United States.
Since assuming formal power in Cuba in 2006 following Fidel Castro's
illness, General Raúl Castro has continued his close alliance with
Venezuela, Iran and China, and has expanded Cuba's military cooperation
with, and purchases from, Russia. Venezuela's vast purchases of Russian
and Chinese military equipment, the close Venezuela-Iran relationship
and the Cuba-Venezuela alliance are troublesome. Although it is not
known if Venezuela is transferring some of these weapons to Cuba,
Caracas remains an open back door for Cuba's acquisition of
sophisticated Russian weapons, as well as Cuba's principal financial
backer. The objectives of this alliance are to weaken "U.S. imperialism"
and to foster a world with several centers of power.

Given Cuba's military and intelligence presence in Venezuela, it is
likely that the Chavista revolution will continue its Cuban support.
Even at the current low prices for petroleum, Venezuela can continue,
with its vast resources, to help Cuba. Deliveries may be reduced from
the current 100,000-120,000 barrels daily to some 50,000-60,000, enough
to keep the Cuban economy afloat. A collapse of the Chavista revolution,
while unlikely at the present time, could lead to a curtailment of
Venezuelan oil. In that case, Cuba would have to look to other
allies--Russia, Iran, Angola--for help.

Cuba has renewed its military cooperation with Russia. Russia's economic
and diplomatic support are important to Cuba, especially if Russia's
support forces the United States to offer unilateral concessions to Cuba
beyond President Obama's executive order establishing diplomatic
relations with the island and particularly if the United States lifts
its embargo and allows American tourists to visit the island.

In 2014, Cuba and Russia signed agreements providing the Kremlin with
naval and aerial facilities in Cuba for the Russian military. Russia's
growing presence in the Caribbean, while not necessarily challenging the
U.S. militarily, allows for Russian power projection, forces the United
States to increase its defenses and monitoring capabilities on its
southern flank and reinforces the perception in Latin America and
elsewhere that the United States is being challenged in its own sphere
of influence by outside powers. This, in turn, further weakens American
influence in the region and encourages anti-American leaders to take
positions inimical to U.S. interests.

Enter Iran

After decades of expending military, financial and human resources in
support of a variety of Arab dictators, Islamic fundamentalist movements
and anti-Israeli terrorist organizations, (1) Havana recently has begun
to reap substantial returns on its long-term investment in the Middle
East. From Dubai to Tehran and via the Organization of Oil Exporting
Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, the political and ideological ties
cultivated by Fidel Castro's pro-Islamic foreign policy are now
generating tangible benefits for the successor regime of brother Raúl.
In the process of receiving nearly US$1.5 billion in foreign direct
investment, financing and aid from autocratic Muslim states, Cuba is
emerging as a strategic ally and outpost in the Western Hemisphere for a
wide range of Islamic regimes.

For Cuba, the infusion of Islamic capital strengthens the regime's
stability and diversifies the risk of economic collapse by adding a
fourth financial pillar alongside oil from Venezuela, bilateral trade
credits from China and Russia, and corporate capital from Canada, Latin
America and the European Union. As Cuba and its Islamic partners forge a
trans-Atlantic alliance of their own, what are the implications of the
increasingly free flow of trade and capital from the Persian Gulf to the

Communist Cuba's alliance with the Iran of the Ayatollahs dates to 1979,
when Fidel Castro became one of the first heads of state to recognize
the Islamic Republic's radical clerics. Addressing then-Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Khomeini, Castro insisted that there was "no contradiction
between revolution and religion," an ecumenical principle that has
guided Cuba's relations with Iran and other Islamic regimes. (2) Over
the next two decades, Castro fostered a unique relationship between a
secular Communist Cuba and theocratic Iran, united by a common hatred of
the United States and the liberal, democratic West.

In the early 1990s, Havana started to export biopharmaceutical products
for the Iranian healthcare system. By the late 1990s, Cuba had moved
beyond pharmaceutical exports to transferring (licensing) both its
medical biotechnologies and, along with the technical know-how, implicit
capabilities to develop and manufacture industrial quantities of
biological weapons.(3) In addition to training Iranian scientists in
Cuba and sending Cuban scientists and technicians to Iran's research
centers, the Cuban state-run Center for Biotechnology and Genetic
Engineering established a joint-venture biotechnology production plant
near Tehran at a cost of US$60 million (Cuba provided the intellectual
capital and technology, and Iran the financing). With this facility,
Iran is believed to possess "the most modern biotechnology and genetic
engineering facility of its type in the Middle East."(4)

Geographically, Cuba's strategic location enabled Iran, on at least one
occasion, to clandestinely engage in electronic attacks against U.S.
telecommunications that posed a threat to the Islamic regime's control
and censorship. In the summer of 2003, Tehran blocked signals from a
U.S. satellite that was broadcasting uncensored Farsi-language news into
Iran at a time of rising unrest. Based on the location of the satellite
over the Atlantic, it would have been impossible for Iranian-based
transmissions to affect the satellite's signals. Ultimately, the jamming
was traced to a compound in the outskirts of Havana that had been
equipped with the advanced telecommunications technology capable of
disrupting the Los Angeles-based broadcaster's programming across the
Atlantic. It is well known that Cuba has continuously upgraded its
ability to block U.S. broadcasts to the island, and hence conceivably,
to jam international communications in general. Although the Cuban
government would later claim that Iranian diplomatic staff had operated
out of the compound without its consent, given that Cuba "[is] a fully
police state," as an Iran expert has noted, "it is difficult to believe
the Iranians had introduced the sophisticated jamming equipment into
Cuba without the knowledge of the Cuban authorities," much less utilized
it against U.S. targets without the knowledge of the Castro regime. (5)

For its solidarity and services to the Islamic Republic, Iran began
compensating the Cuban government directly. During the presidency of
Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Tehran offered Havana an initial
20-million euros annual credit line. (6) Then, following the election of
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the island emerged as a major beneficiary
of Tehran's foreign policy. Consequently, Iranian financing for Cuba
expanded exponentially from a modest 20 million euros in 2005 to 200
million euros for bilateral trade and investment projects in
2007. (7) At the same time, Havana was spearheading a campaign within
the Non-Aligned Movement to legitimize Iran's "peaceful" nuclear program
as an "inalienable right" of all developing nations. (8) In June 2008
Ahmadinejad approved a record 500-million euros credit for the Castro
regime. From Iran's perspective, Cuba deserves to be rewarded for its
"similarity in outlooks on international issues." (9)

In total, since 2005 Cuba has received the equivalent of over one
billion euros in credits from Tehran. With Islamic Republic financing,
Cuba has begun to make critical investments in the rehabilitation of
dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure. Iran is funding some 60 projects
ranging from the acquisition of 750 Iranian-made rail cars to the
construction of power plants, dams and highways.(10)

The election of Hassan Rouhani, the reduction in the price of oil and
Iran's involvement in the Middle East have precluded new credits to
Cuba. Yet the relationship, as evidenced by visits, cooperation in
international organizations and joint support for Venezuela, has continued.

Should Venezuela Worry the United States?

The emergence of an anti-American regime in Venezuela, first led by Hugo
Chávez and now, by Nicolás Maduro, represents the most important threat
to U.S. national interest and security in Latin America today.
Emboldened by Venezuela's vast oil resources and a close relationship
with Iran and Russia, Venezuela has laid claim to the leadership of the
anti-American movement in the region.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro's illness and Cuba's weak
economic situation thrust the leadership of the Latin American left onto
the Venezuelans. If Fidel was the godfather of
revolutionary/terrorist/anti-American groups, Chávez, and now Maduro,
are the trusted "capos," the heirs to "the struggle against Yankee
imperialism." Maduro's petroleum largesse toward several countries in
the region and his support for candidates in the Bolivian, Nicaraguan
and Ecuadorean elections are appreciated by leaders in these countries.

The Venezuelan Chavista leaders have no desire to relinquish power. They
have manipulated past elections, and will manipulate future ones, to be
re-elected for at least the next decade. They are increasingly deepening
their Bolivarian revolution by weakening and subverting Venezuela's
democratic institutions. In the process of consolidating their
authoritarian rule, they are now aiming their control at the
culture-conserving democratic institutions. The press, the church, the
education system and the family are all under attack in a relentless
move toward establishing a dictatorship loyal to the Chavista leadership.

Unhappiness with Maduro has grown in the past few years. Corruption,
drug trafficking, mismanagement and food shortages are all contributing
to social unrest. The possible increase of protests and tension may lead
to the replacement of Maduro. Yet the possibility of a total collapse of
the political system is less likely given the continuous support of
Cuba, the enrichment of the military in the drug business and the
weakness of the organized opposition.

Venezuela also threatens the democratic development of Latin America.
The Chávez regime purchased over $6 billion in Russian weapons. The
militarization of Venezuela and the ambitions of its current leader
represent a major threat to neighboring Colombia, which is currently
engaged in a peace process with the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas
Revolucionarias de Colombia). The border dispute between Guyana and
Venezuela also offers Venezuela an opportunity to flex its muscle with a
much weaker neighbor.

At best, Venezuela's weapon purchases are leading to an arms race in the
region, with Colombia acquiring U.S. weapons and Brazil turning to
France. Other countries, such as Ecuador and Peru, are also spending
their much-needed resources in the acquisition of weapons. A coalition
of Venezuela with its allies Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and naturally
Cuba has developed into a club of well-armed, anti-American regimes
capable of intimidating its neighbors and exercising significant
influence in the region.

As recent evidence has shown, Venezuela and Cuba have been strong
supporters of the FARC. The principal challenger to the Colombian
regime, the FARC is a guerrilla/narcotrafficking group operating
throughout the country. Venezuela has provided it safe haven and
political support. High-profile FARC operatives have used Venezuelan
territory with impunity. In the past, small arms from Venezuelan
military inventories have turned up in the hands of the FARC. FARC
guerillas and drug smugglers use Venezuelan territory for the
transshipment of drugs from the cocaine-producing regions of Bolivia and
Colombia to the markets in the United States and Europe. According to a
Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, cocaine flowing through
Venezuela grew fourfold (from 60 to 260 metric tons) between 2004 and
2007. (11)

Venezuela's alliance with the FARC has evolved into a major enterprise,
smuggling narcotics and laundering money through Venezuela's financial
institutions and state-run enterprises. Simultaneously, Venezuela ended
all U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operations, expelled U.S.
DEA officials and denied visas to U.S. anti-drug personnel. As Colombia
has taken the upper hand in its conflict with the guerrillas in the last
five to six years, FARC narcotics operations have been flushed out in
the open – as has Venezuela's complicity in these criminal activities.

Given the recent drop in the price of petroleum, Venezuela may be
turning to other ways of obtaining much needed resources. During the
past decade, the Grupo de los Soles, an elite Venezuelan military unit,
has been engaged in close relationships with the Colombian drug cartels
to transport Colombian drugs to the United States and Europe. That
effort may be redoubled in the near future.

In December 2014, Leamsy Salazar, security chief of Diosdado Cabello,
president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, defected to the United
States. Salazar accused Cabello of being the head of the Cártel de los
Soles. An indictment against Venezuela issued by the attorney general of
New York, claims that five tons of drugs are being transshipped weekly
from Colombia through Venezuela. The indictment also accuses Cuba of
protecting and helping the Venezuelans in bringing the drug to the
United States.(12)

Venezuela and Iran

The most remarkable and dangerous foreign policy initiative of the
Venezuelan regime has been its alliance with Iran. During the past
several years, the Venezuelans have allowed Iran the use of their
territory to penetrate the Western Hemisphere and to mine for uranium in
Venezuela. Venezuela's policy is aiding Iran in developing nuclear
technology and in evading U.N. sanctions and U.S. vigilance of Iran's
drug trade and other illicit activities. Venezuela's Mining and Basic
Industries minister, Rodolfo Sanz, acknowledged that Iran is "helping
Venezuela to explore for uranium." "Venezuela will soon start the
process of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" he added,
"not to build a bomb." (13) Chávez officially stated that Iran has a
legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports
Iran's nuclear technology." (14)

The concern is not necessarily that Venezuela will build its own nuclear
bomb. What, for example, would stop the Iranians, once they develop
their own weapons, from providing some to their close ally in Caracas?
Or worse, will the Iranians use Venezuela as a transshipment point to
provide nuclear weapons to terrorist groups in the hemisphere or
elsewhere? Or with the help of Venezuelans, would the Iranians smuggle a
nuclear weapon into the United States?

Given Maduro's erratic and irresponsible behavior such as his
mismanagement of the economy, his squandering of Venezuela's resources,
and his support of Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, these
possibilities should not be dismissed lightly. Not too long ago, Fidel
Castro helped the Soviet Union surreptitiously introduce nuclear weapons
into Cuba aimed at the United States. The October 1962 missile crisis is
a grim reminder that poor U.S. vigilance, a daring leader in the
Caribbean and a reckless dictator in Russia almost brought the world to
a nuclear holocaust.

Since 2004, Iran has created an extensive network of installations
throughout Venezuela. Most of these installations are designed to
provide cover for illegal and subversive activities and to aid terrorist
organizations in Latin America and the Middle East.(15) The Venezuelan
government established a binational Iranian-Venezuelan bank, an alliance
between the Banco Industrial de Venezuela and Iran's Development and
Export Bank, and facilitated the formation of an entirely Iranian-owned
bank, the Banco Internacional de Desarrollo. It also created a
binational investment and development fund and opened Iranian commercial
bank offices in Caracas. (16) These banks are being used for money
laundering and to help Iran violate U.S. sanctions.

In September 2014, Venezuela and Iran launched their eighth Joint
Commission intended to deepen cooperation between their two nations.
Venezuelan officials say this high-level commission will focus on
improving ties in different sectors including culture, sports,
education, industry, science and technology, health, energy, agriculture
and trade. Tehran and Caracas currently have more than 260 agreements.
The two countries also are involved in around 40 joint projects under
development in the oil sector and in 2012 they signed a slew of new
deals aimed at improving joint scientific research and agricultural
cooperation. (17) Iran's President Hassan Rouhani emphasized that the
relations between the two countries "need to increase to the highest
possible level." (18)

The Iranians have acquired "industrial" installations throughout
Venezuelan territory, including a "tractor" factory in the State of
Bolivar, a "cement" plant in Monagas, a car assembly plant in Aragua and
a bicycle factory in Cojedes. Some of these installations are used
primarily as warehouses for the storage of illegal drugs, weapons and
other items useful to Iran and its terrorist clients. In addition, the
Islamic Republic bought a gold mine in Bolivar that indeed produces
gold, but also produces uranium. (19) As part of a mineral survey in
Guyana, U308 Corp, a Canadian uranium exploration company, in 2007
recorded a substantial source of uranium in the Roraima Basin, which
straddles the border between Guyana and Bolívar. Iranian companies
operate mines in this region; at least two of these facilities have
their own ports on the navigable Orinoco River through which uranium and
other contraband can be smuggled to the Atlantic.

Iran is also providing Venezuela technical assistance in the areas of
defense, intelligence, energy and security. Iranians, as well as Cuban
personnel, are advising, protecting and training Venezuela's security
apparatus. Cuba is also handling the issuance of Venezuelan passports
and other identity documents. This gives Cuba the ability to provide
false documents to Iranian and Cuban agents to travel throughout the
world as Venezuelan citizens. A close relationship among the three
countries, with a clear anti-American tone, has developed. This triple
alliance represents a clear threat to U.S. security interests and to the
security of several countries in Latin America.

Of more strategic significance is the possibility that Iranian
scientists are enriching uranium in Venezuela for shipment to Iran.
Venezuelan sources have confirmed this possibility. Foreign intelligence
services consulted by the author acknowledged these rumors but are
unable to confirm them. If confirmed, these actions would violate UN
sanctions as well as U.S. security measures.

U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela

Since the initial years of the Cuban Revolution, no regime in Latin
America has challenged the national security interests of the United
States like Venezuela. Venezuela's close relationship with Iran, its
support for Iranian nuclear ambitions and its involvement in the affairs
of neighboring countries all pose a major challenge to the United States.

U.S. policy has either ignored or mildly chastised Venezuela for its
policies and activities. Removing visas for Venezuelan officials to
enter the United States or highlighting Venezuela's involvement in the
drug trade may not be enough. The United States needs to develop
policies that undermine the Venezuela regime, organize the opposition
and accelerate the end of Chavista rule. Covert operations to strengthen
opposition groups and civil society are urgently needed. Vigilance and
denunciation of Venezuelan-Iranian activities and Maduro's meddling in
Latin America are critical to gain international support for U.S. policies.

While regime change in Venezuela may be a difficult policy objective,
U.S. policy makers need to understand that the long-term consolidation
of Chavista power in Venezuela may present a greater threat than the one
posed in the 1960s by the Castro regime. Unlike Cuba, Venezuela is a
large country that borders on several South American neighbors. Its
alliances with Iran, Syria and other anti-American countries and its
support for terrorist groups, while representing a smaller threat, are
as formidable a challenge as the Cuba-Soviet alliance.

A comprehensive, alert policy is required to deal with the threat posed
by Iranian inroads in the hemisphere. Maduro is, after all, Fidel
Castro's disciple and heir in the region. The lessons of the Missile
Crisis of 1962 should increase our uneasiness about Venezuela's policies
and Iranian motivations in Latin America.

(1) Cf. Domingo Amuchastegui, "Cuba in the Middle East: A Brief
Chronology," and "Castro and Terrorism: A Chronology." Cuba Focus (Issue
57), July 29, 2004.

(2) Fidel Castro cited in Damián J. Fernández, "Cuba's Foreign Policy in
the Middle East" (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), p. 86.

(3) Cf. José de la Fuente, "Wine into vinegar — the fall of Cuba's
biotechnology," Nature Biotechnology, October 2001 (Vol. 19, Num. 11).
(4) See Cuba Transition Project, "Cuban Foreign Policy in the Middle
East: A Cuba-Iran Axis?" Cuba Focus (Issue 55), June 7, 2014,
(5) Safa Haeri, "Cuba blows the whistle on Iranian jamming, "Asia Times
(Hong Kong), August 22, 2003,
(6) Raisa Pages, "Iran grants Cuba 20-million euro credit," Granma
Internacional (Cuba), January 17, 2005,
(7) IRNA, "Iran, Cuba sign investment, trade MoU," Tehran, April 24, 2006.
(8) Cf. "NAM backs Iran's right to nuclear technology," Tehran Times,
August 2, 2008, http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=174294.
(9) Fars News Agency, "Iran, Cuba Sign Trade MoU," Tehran, June 20,
2008, http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8703310656.
(10) IRNA, "Envoy: Arak Pars Wagon has big share in Iran-Cuba
exchanges," Arak, Iran, August 15, 2007.
(11) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Report to Ranking Members,
Committee of Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, Drug Control: U.S.
Counternarcotics Cooperation Has Declined, 111th Congress, 1st
Sess. Washington D.C., July, 2009.

(12) "Jefe de seguridad del número dos Chavista deserta en los EE.UU. y
lo acusa de narcotráfico." ABC.es Internacional, January 27, 2015.
(13) Gustavo Coronel, "The Iran Nuclear Axis," Human Events, October 29,
(14) "Venezuela-Iran Foreign Relations," IranTracker. May 12, 2010.
(15) See Norman A. Bailey, "Iran's Venezuelan Gateway," The American
Foreign Policy Council, February 2012.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Press TV (Caracas), September 27, 2014.

(18) IRNA, September 24, 2014.

(19) Roger F. Noriega "Hugo Chávez's Criminal, Nuclear Network: A Grave
and Growing Threat," American Enterprise Institute On Line, October 14,

*Prepared for the Center for Hemispheric Policy's paper series,
"Perspectives on the Americas." University of Miami. February 2015.

Source: The Cuba-Iran-Venezuela Relationship: Implications for the
United States* - Misceláneas de Cuba -