Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cuba's most famous resort welcomes 1M tourists in 2009

Cuba's most famous resort welcomes 1M tourists in 2009
Updated: 2009-12-31 15:03

HAVANA: Varadero, Cuba's most famous resort, welcomed 1 million tourists
this year, a source from the Cuban tourism sector said Wednesday.

Velio Barrera, an expert on commercialization and communication at the
Tourism Ministry in Varadero, said that 40 percent of the tourists
visiting Cuba went to Varadero. Varadero is also known as the Blue
Beach, and lies 140 km from Havana.

Barrera added that more than 86 percent of the hotel rooms in Varadero
belong to the four- or five-star category, which together with the more
than 20 km of beaches have made it one of the most popular tourist
destinations in the Caribbean.

Besides, Varadero offers various services including restaurants, cafes,
boats, an airport and shops.

In the 1950s, there were only 15 hotels and many hostels in Varadero.
Now, Varadero has 48 hotels, and investments here continue to increase.

Cuba's most famous resort welcomes 1M tourists in 2009 (31 December 2009)

Cuba - New York times

By ANTHONY DEPALMA | Updated: Oct. 27, 2009

A half-century ago, on Jan. 1, 1959, Fidel Castro brought down the
curtain on Fulgencio Batista's right-wing dictatorship in Cuba. As Mr.
Castro planted himself firmly in the Communist camp and began to
nationalize businesses and property and clamp down on dissent, an exodus
began that eventually brought hundreds of thousands to the shores of the
United States; Miami became Cuba's second city.

In the shadow of the 50th anniversary of the revolution, Cuba is a
repressive society long under a single ruler -- the ailing, aged Mr.
Castro still holds Cubans in his thrall even if he formally handed the
presidency to his younger brother, Raúl, in July 2006 when he was taken
sick with an undisclosed stomach ailment.

Through a labyrinth of rations, regulations, two currencies and four
markets (peso, hard currency, agro and black), people make their way.
Life for most Cubans is filled with injustices and indignities-a
currency system that keeps many consumer goods mockingly out of reach;
swank tourist hotels that few Cubans can afford (or until 2009 were even
allowed to enter); recurring shortages of necessities like milk, eggs,
beans and even toilet paper. Health care is free, but seeing a doctor
can be a day-long ordeal that ends with a prescription for drugs that
cannot be found, or a recommendation for surgery that cannot be
performed. The creaky old American cars in Havana that rumble past the
historic yacht Granma that Mr. Castro used to start his revolution
underscore the static nature of life in Cuba.

For the last 50 years, a long line of American presidents-Republicans
and Democrats alike-have tried to stare down Mr. Castro, without much
success. He has proven to be a master of imagery, a complex strategist
who managed to turn U.S. attempts against him and his country to his own
advantage again and again. In the end, it appears that nature and human
frailty may do what assassination attempts and a half-century-long
embargo have failed to do-bring the Castro era to an end.
Fidel Castro's Rise to Power

After seizing power, Mr. Castro promised to restore the Cuban
constitution and hold elections. But he soon turned his back on those
democratic ideals, embraced a totalitarian brand of communism and allied
the island with the Soviet Union. He saw himself as Cuba's messiah, and
he governed with an ideological fervor that bordered on
self-destructive. He brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in
the fall of 1962, when he allowed Russia to build missile launching
sites just 90 miles off the American shores. He weathered an
American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs and used Cuban troops to
stir up revolutions in Africa and Latin America.

Declassified Pentagon documents indicate that in the 1980s, Mr. Castro
pushed the Soviet Union to take a tougher stand against Ronald Reagan's
military buildup, and urged the Soviet generals to seriously consider a
nuclear strike on the United States, even if it meant catastrophe for
Cuba. And after a pair of powerful hurricanes devastated large swathes
of the island in 2008, leaving behind $10 billion in damage, the Castro
regime refused to accept foreign assistance offered directly to the
Cuban people. All aid had to go to the government, or it would be turned

Actions such as these have earned him the permanent enmity of Washington
and led the United States to impose decades of economic sanctions that
Mr. Castro and his followers maintain have crippled Cuba's economy and
have kept their socialist experiment from succeeding completely. The
sanctions also proved handy to Mr. Castro politically. He cast every
problem Cuba faced as part of a larger struggle against the United
States and blamed the abject poverty of the island on the "imperialists"
to the north.

For good or ill, Fidel Castro was without a doubt the most important
leader to emerge from Latin America since the wars of independence of
the early 19th century, not only reshaping Cuban society but providing
inspiration for leftists across Latin America and in other parts of the
world. But he never broke the island's dependence on commodities like
sugar, tobacco and nickel, nor did he succeed in industrializing the
nation so that Cuba could compete in the world market with durable
goods. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of its aid to the
island, Cuba has limped along economically, relying for hard currency
mostly on tourism and money sent home from exiles..
Raul Castro's Turn

Some experts have said that Raúl Castro is more pragmatic than his
hot-tempered brother. Involved in the revolutionary struggle from the
beginning, Raúl had run the armed forced efficiently for decades. But
nothing about him was charismatic, and he did not command loyalty
outside of the barracks.

Understanding that he needed to make concrete changes if he was to win a
measure of support from the Cuban people, Raúl acted quickly after
taking over as provisional president. He ordered a fleet of Chinese
busses and put them on the streets of Havana, vastly improving daily
life for thousands. He also agreed to allow Cubans to enter tourist
hotels, and to buy DVDs and computers (even though one could cost
several years salary).

He has given signals he might try to follow the Chinese example of
state-sponsored capitalism. But his regime has made no significant
changes. In March 2009, Mr. Castro announced a shake-up in his
administration. That his brother was still calling shots was obvious
after the 2009 purge that saw several top ranking officials, including
two who had often been mentioned as possible successors, unceremoniously
removed. By all account, their crime was ambition.

People say they have seen small improvements in the economy that do not
go far enough. Many roads in Havana have been repaired. Microwave ovens,
DVD players and cellphones are now in stores.

The nation still imports more than 80 percent of what it consumes, and
Mr. Castro is trying to encourage farming by giving fallow land to those
willing to work it. But the money they can earn selling the food remains
below what is needed for the tools and labor needed to start a farm.

Three hurricanes in 2008 cost Cuba $10 billion, or 20 percent of the
gross domestic product. Salaries remain low, food prices are high and
housing is scarce. Bartenders, with access to dollars, earn wages many
times that of physicians. Tourism was up in 2008 but the price of Cuba's
top export, nickel, dropped by 41 percent.
U.S.-Cuba Relations

Many Cubans are putting their hopes for the economy on President Barack
Obama's easing of longstanding restrictions on family travel and
remittances to Cuba, although the Cuban government charges hefty fees on
such remittances.

Recently there have been other small signs of détente. Cuban and
American officials have talked about resuming direct mail service, and
the Obama administration has given American telecommunications firms the
OK to provide cell phone services in Cuba. The Cuban regime has promised
to make Internet service more available, though it still does not
tolerate direct criticism, online or off.

In the meantime, as the American embargo continues, foreign companies
are gradually increasing their presence in Cuba. Brazil, China and
Russia have joined the search for oil in Cuban waters in the Gulf of
Mexico. Spanish companies have always had a strong economic presence,
and relations between the countries have grown stronger since Spain
passed a law in 2008 that allows anyone with Spanish grandparents to
become a Spanish citizen.

Instead of lifting the trade embargo with Cuba, enacted in the 1960s in
an unsuccessful attempt to force a change in government after Fidel
Castro came to power, Mr. Obama is using his executive power to repeal
President George W. Bush's tight restrictions and the looser
restrictions issued under President Bill Clinton so that Cuban-Americans
can now visit Cuba as frequently as they like and send gifts and as much
money as they want, as long as the recipients are not senior government
or Communist Party officials.

In a sense, the policy shift is an admission that a half-century of
American policy aimed at trying to push the Castros out of power has not
worked -- as the Cuban American National Foundation, the most powerful
lobbying group for Cuban exiles in Miami, conceded in April 2009. Cuba
policy experts characterized Mr. Obama's moves as important humanitarian
steps but said they still left open the broader question of how the
United States and Cuba plan to engage in the future.

Cuba - The New York Times (31 December 2009)

In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing

December 31, 2009
In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing

HAVANA — The Obama honeymoon here is over.

When President Obama came to office, the unflattering billboards of
George W. Bush, including one outside the United States Interests
Section of him scowling alongside Hitler, came down and the
anti-American vitriol softened. Raúl Castro, who took over from his
ailing brother Fidel in 2006, even raised the possibility of a
face-to-face meeting with Mr. Obama, which would have been the first
time one of the Castros met with a sitting American president.

But the tenor here has changed considerably, and Mr. Obama, whose
election was broadly celebrated by Cuba's racially diverse population,
is now being portrayed by this nation's leaders as an imperialistic,
warmongering Cuba hater.

"As things appear now, there will be no big change in the relationship
in the near future," said Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba's
National Assembly. He dismissed the Obama administration's recent steps,
like loosening restrictions on Cuban Americans' traveling or sending
money to the island and allowing American telecommunications companies
to do business there, as "minor changes."

The two countries have postponed the talks they restarted at the
beginning of the Obama administration to discuss migration, postal
delivery and other issues, blaming each other for the delays. In the
absence of talks, Mr. Obama's carrot-and-stick approach of relaxing some
Bush-era policies while continuing to denounce the Castro government on
human rights has failed to engage — and perhaps has enraged — the Cuban

While Raúl Castro repeated the offer to meet with Mr. Obama in a fiery
speech recently, he also blasted the Obama administration for
"undercover subversion" against Cuba and warned that his nation was
ready for any American invasion. In one of his recent written
commentaries in the state press, Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in
public in nearly three years, wrote that Mr. Obama's "friendly smile and
African-American face" masked his sinister intentions to control Latin

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla also recently accused Mr.
Obama of behaving like an "imperial chief" at the climate change talks
in Copenhagen, displaying "arrogant" behavior aimed at quashing
developing countries.

"It's unfortunate," Wayne S. Smith, a former American diplomat in
Havana, said of the rising tensions. "There was and still is potential
for the Obama administration to change relations with Cuba. These
comments coming out of Havana don't help."

Mr. Obama is the 11th president from what the Cubans call "El Imperio,"
or "The Empire," that the Castros have jousted with since the revolution
a half century ago. And given that the Cubans have used Washington as a
foil for so long, some of the high-voltage criticism of Mr. Obama is
chalked up by some Cuba analysts as merely Havana's normal stance when
it comes to the United States. It is only a matter of time before the
first anti-Obama billboard goes up, some experts speculate.

Mr. Alarcón, the National Assembly president, did give Mr. Obama credit
for using language that is "more peaceful, and civilized and open" than
his predecessor. But he said that it was clear to him that the White
House was too distracted with other issues to make Cuba a priority.

Others in the Cuban government take matters further, maintaining that
Mr. Obama, despite some initial steps toward rapprochement, has
continued to follow the Bush administration's goal of toppling the
Communist leadership. "In the last few weeks we have witnessed the
stepping up of the new administration's efforts in this area," Raúl
Castro told Cuba's National Assembly during its annual session on Dec.
19. "They are giving new breath to open and undercover subversion
against Cuba."

He was referring to the detention this month of an American contractor
distributing cellphones, laptops and satellite equipment in Cuba on
behalf of the Obama administration. The Cubans have accused the
contractor, whose identity has not been made public, of giving the
equipment to civil society groups in Cuba without permission. For its
part, the Obama administration complains that Raúl Castro is running the
island exactly like his brother did, without fundamental freedoms and
with continued abuses against political opponents. But Cuban officials
say Washington's insistence on more democracy in Cuba continues an old
pattern of meddling in their country's sovereign affairs.

"If the American government really wants to advance relations with Cuba,
I recommend they leave behind the conditions of internal governance that
they are trying to impose on us and that only Cubans can decide," Raúl
Castro said in his assembly speech.

Cuba continues to press its own issues with the United States, arguing,
for instance, that Mr. Obama ought to immediately pardon five Cuban
agents, known on the island as the Cuban Five, who are serving long
prison terms in the United States for gathering information about Cuban
exile groups in south Florida.

Mr. Alarcón reiterated a proposal that Raúl Castro has made on more than
one occasion: the exchange of political prisoners in Cuba for the five
Cubans held in the United States

The Cubans also insist that the Obama administration extradite to
Venezuela Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant accused of
helping to blow up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. Mr.
Posada, who is living in Miami on bail, faces charges in federal court
in Texas for making what the government says were false statements to
immigration officials. An immigration judge has ruled that he cannot be
sent to Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, because he faces a high
likelihood of torture there.

"With the previous administration, it didn't make sense to talk about
anything," said Mr. Alarcón. "This administration came to office
pledging to change and to improve relations. Obama has nothing to do
with the past but he's finished his first year and so far nothing has
happened with these issues."

Mr. Smith, now a Cuba analyst at the Center for International Policy who
advocates a lifting of the American trade and travel bans on Cuba, was
supposed to accompany Barry McCaffrey, a retired American Army general,
on a trip to Havana from Jan. 3 to 6 to discuss how the two countries
could cooperate on fighting drug trafficking. But General McCaffrey
pulled out, incensed by recent criticisms of Mr. Obama by Cuban officials.

"This type of shallow and vitriolic 1960s public diplomacy also makes
Cuban leadership appear to be nonserious, polemical amateurs," he said
in a letter to Mr. Smith. "President Obama is the most thoughtful and
nonideological U.S. chief executive that the Cubans have seen in 50 years."

At the same time, still hopeful that the two countries can put their
grudges aside, Mr. Smith said the United States should continue efforts
to improve relations by removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of
terrorism, for instance, and by closing Radio Martí and TV Martí, the
anti-Castro broadcasts financed by the United States government and sent
from American soil to Cuba.

Some Cuban exiles, however, argue that Mr. Obama has gone far enough and
that it is Cuba's turn to make a meaningful gesture.

In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing - (31 December

Cuba's vitriol

Posted on Thursday, 12.31.09

Cuba's vitriol
OUR OPINION: After 51 years, Cuba's leadership sticks to dictatorial

As Cubans end 51 years of living under the Castro brothers' rule, the
regime continues to crack down on bloggers, artists, dissidents and
others who dare question the communist dictatorship.

Sometimes it can seem that little will ever change. But it's clear that
a new generation of Cubans raised on the government's anti-U.S.
propaganda aren't buying it.

It's clear, too, that efforts in Congress to drop the U.S. travel ban on
Cuba have stalled, and for good reason. Even those who have tried to
work with Fidel and Raúl Castro to improve U.S.-Cuba relations are
questioning the Cuban regime's true intentions.

The latest to do so is four-star retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former
White House drug czar and SouthCom commander who has called for lifting
the travel ban. He cancelled a Jan. 3-6 trip to the island after Cuban
Foreign Minister Bruno Ródriguez went on the attack, calling President
Obama an ``imperial and arrogant liar.''

The general noted that ``this type of shallow and vitriolic 1960's
public diplomacy makes Cuban leadership appear to be non-serious,
polemical amateurs. President Obama is the most thoughtful and
non-ideological U.S. chief executive that the Cubans have seen in 50
years. . . . [Rodriguez's] speech probably slammed the window shut on
U.S. congressional and administration leaders being willing to support
bringing Cuba back into the community of nations.''

Gen. McCaffrey also pointed out that Raúl Castro ``mentioned Cuba's
recent `war games' to prepare for U.S. invasion. What a laughable
assertion of an external U.S. military threat.''

That old Castro script would be laughable, too, if it hadn't caused so
much suffering on both sides of the Florida Straits. The general
deserves praise for calling it like it is.

Cuba's vitriol - Editorials - (31 December 2009)

Los Van Van plans concert in Miami

Posted on Thursday, 12.31.09

Los Van Van plans concert in Miami

Cuban dance band Los Van Van will return to Miami in January for the
first time since more than 3,500 protesters created havoc outside their
Miami Arena show in 1999.

The band, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this month, will play
the James L. Knight Center on Jan. 31. They will play another show Jan.
28 in Key West. Tickets for the Miami show are on sale at

Los Van Van was the first group in Cuba to use synthesizers and drum
machines in its music, creating a new genre of music called ``songo'' --
soul, disco and go-go music fused with Cuban son. The group won a Grammy
for best salsa performance in 1999.

When Los Van Van played Miami Arena later that year, thousands of Cuban
exile protesters greeted concertgoers by spitting at them, yelling
obscenities and throwing eggs, rocks and bottles. By night's end, more
than 50 Miami police officers had donned riot gear, and five people had
been arrested.

Los Van Van plans concert in Miami - Living - (31
December 2009)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Than Half a Century of Tragedy in Cuba

Publicado el 12-30-2009
More Than Half a Century of Tragedy in Cuba

January 1st, 2010 marks the fifty-first anniversary of the enslavement
of the Cuban people by the totalitarian Marxist-Leninist tyranny of
Fidel Castro, and in the last two years of a two-headed tyranny with the
incorporation of General Raúl Castro as head of state. To review in
detail the history of these fifty-one years is to revive terrible
memories of what the suffering of the noble Cuban people has been with
its execution walls, its prisons full of persecuted citizens, religious
persecution and with the plundering of banks and privates homes in total
violation of private property.

It is inconceivable, painfully inconceivable, that during the year that
is about to end democratically elected rulers of the Western Hemisphere
visited Havana to pay homage to the decrepit and ailing tyrant. Without
any qualms whatsoever, these rulers, male and female alike, arrived to
burn incense at the feet of the tyrant, taking their pictures with him
and expressing their feelings of admiration, respect and solidarity,
although not necessarily all of them might have used the same words.
But, undoubtedly, these concepts are implied in this shameful behavior
to pay homage to the one who is a determining factor, the only one, in
the enslavement of a sister nation that has been oppressed by a fierce
tyranny for more than half a century. These tributes included
decorations or gestures of "political tenderness" as was the case of the
now deposed President Zelaya who came to see Castro and placed the hat
that he usually wears on the head of the tyrant as a sign of exceptional
identification with him.

The attitude of these rulers implies their close ties with a regime that
is cruelly anti-democratic, which is more than anti-democratic. And,
nevertheless, they dare to challenge the will of the majority of the
people of Honduras "disqualifying" the democratic and constitutional
performance of the government that substituted Zelaya in compliance with
the country's Constitution.

What the Cuban people have suffered is perhaps incalculable in many
aspects. And to make things worse during this more than half-a-century
prominent Cuban figures have died, thus no longer being able to offer
verbal testimony – there are many in writing – of what their homeland
has suffered.

Diario Las Americas - More Than Half a Century of Tragedy in Cuba (30
December 2009)

Cuban nickel output seen lowest in a decade

Cuban nickel output seen lowest in a decade
Wed Dec 30, 2009 11:25am EST

* National output seen between 60,000 and 65,000 tonnes
* Sherritt International venture operating at capacity
* Industry still struggling to overcome hurricane damage

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Cuba's unrefined nickel plus cobalt
production appears to have been between 60,000 and 65,000 tonnes this
year, the lowest in a decade, according to scattered radio reports this

Cuba produced 70,400 tonnes of unrefined nickel and cobalt in 2008,
after averaging between 74,000 and 75,000 tonnes during much of the decade.

While production at Canadian mining company Sherritt International's
(S.TO) nickel venture in Cuba topped 37,000 tonnes, output at two plants
owned by state-run Cubaniquel was well below capacity.

Cuba has not announced this year's nickel output, with officials simply
stating it was less than the 70,000 tonnes planned.

The Caribbean island is one of the world's largest nickel producers and
supplies 10 percent of the world's cobalt, according to the Basic
Industry Ministry.

"The Pedro Soto Alba plant met this year's plan, producing more than
37,000 tonnes of nickel, and remains open," Jorge Cuevas Ramos, the
first secretary of the Communist Party in Holguin, was quoted by
national state-run Radio Rebelde on Wednesday as stating.

Radio stations based in Holguin, where the three plants are located,
reported this week that production at the Cuba-owned Ernesto Che Guevara
plant, with a capacity of 32,000 tonnes, did not meet it's 26,000-tonne

There was no mention of output at the country's third and oldest plant,
the Rene Ramos Latourt at Nicaro Holguin, which has a capacity of 10,000
to 15,000 tonnes and is also operated by Cubaniquel.

Scattered reports this year indicated Rene Ramos Latourt and the feed
process to the plant were operating below capacity at various times, so
there were most likely production problems there as well.

Hurricane Ike, a Category 3 storm, hit Cuba in September 2008 at
Holguin's northern coast, where the nickel industry's three processing
plants are located, damaging the two Cubaniquel plants, infrastructure,
housing and buildings and swamping the area with torrential rains and a
storm surge.

Nickel is essential in the production of stainless steel and other
corrosion-resistant alloys. Cobalt is critical in production of super
alloys used for such products as aircraft engines.

Cuban nickel is considered to be Class II, with an average 90 percent
nickel content.

Cuba's National Minerals Resource Center reported that eastern Holguin
province accounted for more than 30 percent of the world's known nickel
reserves, with lesser reserves in other parts of the country.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Walter Bagley)

Cuban nickel output seen lowest in a decade | Reuters (30 December 2009)

The Castro brothers' big dirty secret

The Castro brothers' big dirty secret
Posted: December 30, 2009

For years I have been reporting on how Fidel Castro has been crushing
internal dissent. I did this while simultaneously trying to demythicize
his comrade, Che Guevara, a charismatic man when he was not a merciless
executioner at Havana prisons. I once met Guevara, and, during our
exchange at a Cuban mission in New York, we did not agree on the value
of free elections. As for Fidel's brother, Raul, he continues the family
tradition of adding to the prison population of Cubans caught practicing
discordant political speech.

Throughout the course of these columns on the Castro dictatorship, I
have cited the chronic racial discrimination against black Cubans
throughout Fidel's Revolution, a "revolution" that gladdens such
visitors as celebrity documentarian Michael Moore, who never mentions
Jim Crow on the island.

The extensive marginalization of blacks in Cuba has failed to break
through into general American consciousness; but as of the Nov. 30
release of "Statement of Conscience by African-Americans"
(, Dec. 1), the big dirty secret of the Castro brothers
has been exposed.

According to the resounding news release – which had the authoritative
ring of Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" – "60 prominent black
American scholars, artists and professionals have condemned the Cuban
regime's stepped-up harassment and apparent crackdown on the country's
budding civil-rights movement. This statement is the first public
condemnation of racial conditions in Cuba made by black Americans."

Trapped in Castro's gulag and lived to tell about it – check out Armando
Valladares' story of 20 years under dictator's thumb: "Against All Hope"

Among the signers denouncing the "callous disregard" for the "most
marginalized people on the island" are:

Princeton University professor and widely read author Cornel West;
Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College; professor Ron Walters,
University of Maryland and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential
campaign manager; renowned actress Ruby Dee Davis; film director Melvin
Van Peebles; and UCLA Vice Chancellor Claudia Mitchell-Kernan.

These protestors emphasize that "traditionally, African-Americans have
sided with the Castro regime and condemned the United States' policies,
which explicitly work to topple the Cuban government. Yet this landmark
statement by prominent African-Americans condemns the growing
persecution waged by the Cuban government against Afro-Cuban movements"
in Cuba.

Tellingly, these tribunes of civil rights emphasize, among other
sources, including Afro-Cubans: "The U.S. State Department estimates
Afro-Cubans make up 62 percent of the Cuban population, with many
informed observers saying the figure is closer to 70 percent.

"Afro-Cubans are experiencing strong and growing instances of racism on
the island, with their 25-odd civil-rights movements reporting a wide
range of discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion and access to
Cuba's socialized medicine and educational system."

When you were filming your tribute to Fidel Castro's exemplary
government-controlled health system, Mr. Moore, didn't you notice the
paucity of black patients?

There's more from this statement of conscience, which has received
little notice in the American press as of this writing. Surely what
follows should be of interest to Americans of all colors:

"Young black Cubans bitterly complain of aggressive racial profiling
conducted by police, and Cuba's jail population is estimated to be 85
percent black, according to black Cuban civil-rights activists." In
addition, "70 percent of Afro-Cubans are said to be unemployed. In such
conditions, a vigorous rebirth of Cuba's black movement, banned in the
early years of the Cuban Revolution, is occurring. Cuban authorities are
responding with violence and brutal civil-rights violations."

(Column continues below)

In a previous column, I reported on a visit to Havana months ago by
members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Several enthusiastically
lauded Fidel Castro's achievements in advancing the betterment of the
Cuban people, but there was not a word about the pervasive racism.

In contrast, writing about this "Statement of Conscience" challenge to
the Cuban government, Juan O. Tamayo (, Dec. 1) noted
that "more African-Americans traveling to Cuba have been able 'to see
the situation for themselves,' said David Colvin, one of the statement's
organizers and former president of the National Conference of Black
Political Scientists."

And, in an incisive reminder to President Obama as he advocates improved
U.S. relations with the Cuban government, Victoria Ruiz-Labrit, Miami
spokesperson for the Cuba-based Citizens' Committee for Racial
Integration, also reminds all of us that even those Americans working
for human rights in Cuba have largely omitted the race issue. But, she
adds, "Cuban blacks moved closer to the term 'civil rights,' because
those are the rights that the movement here in the U.S. made a point of
– the race issues."

The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – along with leaders in the
NAACP and our other civil-rights organizations – will, I hope, soon book
passage to Cuba to stand with Cuban civil-rights activists trying to get
some of their members out of the Castros' prisons where they are held in
cells with common criminals.

Next week: the prison hunger strike by Cuban civil-rights leader Dr.
Darsi Ferrer, and more of the resistance to the dictatorship.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment
and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, including "The War on
the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance."

The Castro brothers' big dirty secret (30 December 2009)

Cuba's "World-Class" Music Education?

Cuba's "World-Class" Music Education?
Matt Welch | December 30, 2009

The short one, on the rightThe New York Times has a goo-goo story up
about how Carlos Varela, "Cuba's Bob Dylan" (quick question: what does
the world wrongly think it has more of, "fill-in-the-blank-country's Bob
Dylan," or "the Silicon Valley of fill-in-the-blank country"?), who is
currently in the U.S. trying, as the headline says, "to sway America's
Cuba policy with song." Here is your requisite NYT-Cuba WTF paragraph:

His life has been marked by the highs and lows of the Cuban
revolution. The government gave him a world-class education in music and
theater, but refuses to broadcast many of his songs, which have veiled
critiques of the Communist leadership.

Doot-en-doo-doo (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3)This "world-class education" stuff
I'll never understand. When you're talking particularly (though not
only) about the humanities, whether music or literature or architecture,
how can any education be "world class" if it is utterly and
intentionally choked off from a thick chunk of the outside world? Is it
technically possible to provide a world-class education in music while,
for instance, banning the Beatles?

Being anti-communist means never having to say you're sorry about your
tiesYou used to see the same kind of credulous nonesense written about
the former East Bloc. What literate, well-educated, artsy people! (Never
mind that many were pretty well educated, often better educated, before
the Red Army began policing the borders.) But the joyless, restrictive
dead-endism of communist thinking poisoned the humanities there as much
as anything else. One of the first things that Czechoslovakia's
post-commie Fine Arts Academy rector did was fire each and every one of
the professors. A Czech classical music student I knew flunked out of
one key oral exam by failing to properly answer the question: "What is
music?" (The correct answer: Music is art that is experienced by the
ears.) With whole swaths of music and literature banned, and
expression/exchange frowned upon and criminalized, many artists and/or
free-thinkers would aim to receive as technical an education as possible
(for instance, in engineering, or the restoration of old buildings). In
Cuba, I befriended an architect and former revolutionary who finally
turned his back on Castro after the regime suddenly announced post-1989
that it could no longer afford to import Central European newspapers and
journals. A revolutionary architecture that willfully cut itself off
from the global conversation, he decided, was an architecture without

It should be intuitive that closed systems generally produce bad
learning, with only occasional exceptions of results produced by
grotesque over-emphasis (for instance, medicine in Cuba, and swimming in
East Germany). But apparently it's not.

Varela's offical website here. I wrote about the island's crappy culture
of information back in 2002. Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin wrote
about "Castro's favorite propagandist" in 2007. And Michael Moynihan
caught up recently with Cuban punk rocker Gorki Aguila for ReasonTV:

Finally, for connoiseurs of terrible music, here is Varela's pal Jackson
Browne singing "Going down to Cuba," a song whose righteous lyrics about
Americans' freedom of travel cannot begin to make up for the line "They
make such continuous use of the verb to resolve."

Cuba's "World-Class" Music Education? - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine (30
December 2009)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cuba turns to Azerbaijan for oil-industry equipment; offers medicine in exchange

Cuba turns to Azerbaijan for oil-industry equipment; offers medicine in

About 70 percent of the equipment used by Cuba in its oil industry comes
from Azerbaijan, and Havana is eager to obtain more of it, said Cuba's
ambassador to that country.
In an interview published Monday in the Azeri newspaper Trend, Marcelo
Caballero Torres (fot) said Cuba is also interested in food and
agricultural products and in expanding trade in communications and medicine.
Havana and Baku established diplomatic relations in April 1992, but no
ambassadors were named until 2007. Since then, a joint commission on
cooperation has met twice and the two countries have signed agreements
on energy, health, communications, agriculture, tourism, and sports.
A third meeting is scheduled for early March in Havana.
Still, "the exchange of trade between our countries is small, so more
needs to be done in that direction," Caballero told Trend, without
providing any figures.
"The most promising areas in our economic relations are tourism, oil and
gas, communications, pharmacology, health care, education, sports and
other areas," the ambassador said.
"In 2008, two Cuban medical delegations visited Baku to study the market
and consider offering [Cuban] biotechnology services and products" to
Azerbaijan, he said. "Previously, there had been an intensive exchange
of information on health systems. Were there any specific results?
Unfortunately, none to this date."
Azerflag Caballero restated his government's support for Azerbaijan's
territorial integrity and said that Cuba "calls for the immediate return
of territories occupied by Armenia, and a speedy, peaceful resolution of
the Karabakh problem."
Thousands of people died in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that erupted
after the mountainous region in the southern Caucasus declared
independence in 1991. The region has been under Armenian control since a
Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994, but Azerbaijan has never ruled out
military action to regain the land. (ILLUSTRATION SHOWS the Azeri flag.)
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.

Cuban Colada (28 December 2009)

Control over cultural projects questioned in Cuba

"Control" over cultural projects questioned in Cuba
December 29, 2009

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 29 - A group of Cuban intellectuals and civil society
initiatives questioned the "increase of the bureaucratic-authoritarian
control and obstruction of social initiatives" in a letter released in
the island's capital, reported IPS. The letter said they were in favour
of a socialism "that socializes - shares - all its resources, where we
all have equal access to the exercise of power," contrary to another
that "is the power of a bureaucracy against the rest of society."

To read the full letter in Spanish click here:

"Control" over cultural projects questioned in Cuba - Havana
(29 December 2009)

Cuba critical of all 4 Florida Senate candidates

Posted on Tuesday, 12.29.09
Cuba critical of all 4 Florida Senate candidates
The Associated Press

HAVANA -- Cuba's official media lashed out at all four main candidates
to become Florida's next senator - Democrats and Republicans alike -
saying Tuesday they will do nothing to improve relations between Havana
and Washington.

Republicans Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist and Democrats Kendrick Meek
and Maurice Ferre all have voiced support for continuing Washington's
47-year trade embargo on the island, according to an article Tuesday in
the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The paper called them part of a "Miami mafia machine that dominates the
city and North American policies toward Cuba."

Rubio, the son of Cuban parents, is a conservative former Florida House
speaker who is challenging Gov. Crist for the Republican nomination.

Meek is a Democratic Congressman, and Ferre is a former mayor of Miami.

Each candidate addressed the hardline US-Cuba Democracy Political Action
Committee (PAC) last week, arguing why he would be the best to fight for
democracy in Cuba.

Florida is home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles who have left
the communist-run island since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. US-Cuba
policies are one of the main issues that dominate the state's politics.

While many Cuban-Americans favor a hardline approach to the island,
polls indicate a growing number support efforts to improve relations.

The general election will be held in November 2010.

The candidates are seeking to replace retiring Republican Mel Martinez,
a Cuban-American who is also a strong proponent of the embargo.

Cuba critical of all 4 Florida Senate candidates - Florida AP - (29 December 2009)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Few Cuban take advantage of recent legislation allowing second job

Few Cuban take advantage of recent legislation allowing second job
Posted 09:57 AM ET

Dec 16, 2009 (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX) -- [Report by "Correspondence
Received" columnist Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, who is also a panellist on
Radio Rebelde's "Straight Talk" panel discussion programme: "Few Have
More Than One Job in Cuba" [Discreta aun la aplicacion del pluriempleo
en Cuba]]

A little more than 50,000 Cubans, a modest number, were working two jobs
last October and November, pursuant to the Council of State's Decree Law
268 of 2009, which relaxes the country's labour system and makes it
legal to take on an additional job.

Jose Barreiro, deputy minister of Labour and Social Security (MTSS),
reported in a press conference that six months after the enactment of
268, nearly 97 per cent of the people working an additional job do so in
service activities, primarily in the field of education.

In Cuba more than a few payrolls are still bloated, which is why this
relaxation to allow plural employment will be shaped by this situation.
Moreover, it is only a supplementary option. It will not be a magic wand
if the payment system is not redesigned to promote productivity,
quality, and efficiency.

It is well known that results-based payment, promoted by the MTSS, has
met resistance and more than a few obstacles in the country.

Even so, Decree Law 268 is an instrument that if used correctly may
ensure the production and services of sectors that are still facing a
shortage of labour, such as agriculture. During specific periods of
harvest and preparation, this sector could benefit from the contribution
of more workers, who in turn will see their earnings increase.

First and foremost, agencies must manage the labour force efficiently
and rationally. Plural employment must not become the means to which we
resort to cover up waste and inefficiency.

According to reports, the number of students working more than one job
is insignificant, even though Decree Law 268 makes it legal to employ
young men and women in higher and advanced secondary education courses
for a determined period of time.

The initiative is in the early going, and coordination is still needed
among labour leaders, territorial institutions and companies, the FEU
[Federation of University Students], and the FEEM [Federation of
Secondary School Students] to facilitate the hiring process.

Nevertheless, the decree establishes that students at these levels may
be hired to perform any activity or duty, provided that they meet the
necessary qualifications and skill requirements. They shall be
compensated commensurate with performance and granted all the rights of
labour and social security legislation. Student shifts shall be agreed
upon with the respective managers, provided that they do not affect or
limit their academic performances.

During journalist questions, Jose Barreiro underscored that Decree Law
268 is only an instrument for relaxing the system. It alone cannot solve
the problems of labour efficiency in Cuba. He acknowledged that much
more must be done, with different instruments, to reinforce work as the
only source of wealth in the country.

Source: Juventud Rebelde website, Havana, in Spanish 16 Dec 09 - Few Cuban take advantage of recent legislation allowing
second job (28 December 2009)

Cuba offers medical expertise to Kuwait

Cuba offers medical expertise to Kuwait
Published Date: December 28, 2009
By Ben Garcia, Staff Writer

KUWAIT: Cuba plans to renew its previous bilateral agreement with
Kuwait, especially in the field of medical cooperation, once the
country's new envoy secures a formal meeting with Kuwait's Minister of
Health(MoH). Manuel Pardinas Ajeno, the new Cuban Ambassador to Kuwait
was speaking to the Kuwait Times yesterday to announce the country's
National Day celebrations that will be observed on Jan 1.

The day is commemorated in Cuba as the victory garnered by the
triumphant armed revolution against the US-backed dictator in 1959. "Our
pharmaceutical industries are booming now than ever before. We have the
technical knowhow, we have the best medical universities that educate
and train our doctors and nurses. So, I would suggest, when I have the
opportunity to meet with the Kuwaiti minister, that our proposal to
revive our medical agreements be accepted just like before," he said.

Before 1990, Kuwait used to employ Cuban nurses in some government
hospitals, but the practice ceased to exist since, he added. The Cuban
envoy mentioned, "It is similar to that of the agreement renewed with
Qatar at this point in time. But now, instead of nurses there are Cuban
doctors. This is because we have the best doctors who have studied in
our best medical universities. I think, our doctors can serve here if we
can have sign same cooperation agreements with Kuwait," he reiterated.

He also invited Kuwaiti students to receive education at huge college
campuses and acquire proper training and education in the field of
medicine. "We have huge campuses for doctors to educate or train medical
students, our campus is gradually being recognized worldwide," he added.

He emphasized the breakthrough in building several pharmaceutical
companies in Cuba which, he mentioned, has gradually gained popularity
in many countries. "Our pharmaceutical industries are booming, thanks to
genetic engineering and biotechnology. We are extending our solidarity
and support to every country that needs our help. We have people to
assist developing countries especially in health and medical issues,
especially with our neighboring countries. In return, we are also
getting something, like in
Venezuela, we are given special prices in return for their oil," he said.

Ambassador Ajeno also mentioned that three important bilateral
agreements were signed with Kuwait last month. "On November last month,
Cuba and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development signed three
agreements to revive our water supply systems and water treatment
plants. Projects have already commenced in Santiago de Cuba and Holguin
province," he disclosed.

Ajeno also lauded its political relations with Kuwait, placing it on the
highest level. "Generally our bilateral relations in all fields are
excellent and solid. The promotion and bilateral agreements which we
signed with Kuwait recently will further strengthen our bilateral ties,"
he said. Next year, according to Ajeno, Cuba will be working hard to
improve the country's infrastructure, especially in the development of
sea ports and airports to facilitate Cuba's economic activities and
prosperity. The co
untry also wants to develop its oil industry, mining and agriculture
sector to ensure food requirements for Cuban people.

When asked about the recent developments in Cuba with current President
Raul Castro taking over the reins from Fidel Castro, Ajeno pointed out
that no changes have taken place in terms of policy on both domestic and
foreign issues. "They are biological brothers so no policy change has
been implemented. But Raul Castro, our President, has been doing a great
deal of work for our country and for Cubans in general. The good thing
about Cuba is that a majority of our people support our government; that
is beca
use the government is moving on the right track," he emphasized.

Commenting US President Barack Obama's leadership and the policies he
has adopted in relation to Cuba, Ajeno said that their(US) central
government's has taken a 'wait and see' approach. "We are ready to
discuss issues with them," but he admitted that he was still
pessimistic. "Honestly I don't see any changes in the US policy towards
us, but we are sovereign country just like the United States, so we want
to deal with them as one country with a representative in the United
Nations. We are hoping, but no
t so much," he said.

He also mentioned that according to the recent resolution passed by the
United Nations, 187 out of 192 countries voted in favor of removal of US
sanctions on Cuba. "But United States is a powerful country, so what we
can do but 'wait and see'. They possess the veto power in the United
Nations, so we'll see," he said.
The Cuban revolution was an armed revolt that led to the overthrow of
US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista of Cuba on January 1, 1959 by the
26th of July Movement led by Fidel Castro. The Cuban revolution also
refers to the successful and ongoing implementation of social and
economic programs by the new government.

Cuba offers medical expertise to Kuwait » Kuwait Times Website (28
December 2009)

Hit song changes Cuban tune on migration

Hit song changes Cuban tune on migration
Published Date: December 28, 2009
By Vicente Poveda

A song, both humorous and poignant, about Cuban migrants has become one
of the most popular hits on the communist island, illustrating a change
in the attitude of locals towards those who decide to leave. The song
Gozando en La Habana, which can be translated as "enjoying myself in
Havana," by David Calzado and his Charanga Habanera is about a young
girl who goes off to Miami. But once there, she calls her boyfriend in
Cuba to talk about how much she misses her country. "She says she has
money, the car she
always dreamed of, but she cannot find in Miami what she left in
Havana," the song goes. The abandoned boyfriend then teases the girl:
"You're crying in Miami and I'm enjoying myself in Havana.

For months, Gozando en La Habana has been the most listened to and
danced to song in Cuba. Circulated widely on CDs, tapes and even pen
drives, it can be heard on Cuba's state radio and television even though
it touches on a thorny issue. It is rare to find a young person who
doesn't know all the words. "We have managed to create a phenomenon and
it is becoming an anthem of Cuban youth," Calzado told dpa. He said the
song became such a huge hit because many Cubans can identify with the story.

For Calzado, there are no political connotations. But he admits that the
song mentions Miami, rather than Paris or Madrid, because it is a
stronghold for Cuban exiles. In the 50-year history since the revolution
led by Fidel Castro in Cuba, tens of thousands of migrants have settled
in the US city after managing to leave the island for political or
economic reasons.

Until recently, Cuban authorities considered those exiles as the worst
criminals, enemies of the state and imperialists. "Gusanos", or worms,
was a common insult used to refer to them. But Havana's outlook on
migrants has changed. Legislation has become more flexible, and Cubans
who work abroad and send money to their families back home are now an
important economic factor for the island. Some studies consider those
remittances as Cuba's top source of foreign currency, even above
tourism. "Why do you cry,
if it is thanks to you that I was able to buy my computer," the boy in
the song tells his girlfriend in Spanish.

Still, Cuban legislation continues to discourage leaving. Even for short
trips, Cubans need an exit permit, including a letter of invitation from
their foreign host. The entire process costs more than $300, which is a
massive burden for Cubans who on average earn less than $20 a month. The
exit permit is usually granted if the time-consuming paperwork is
completed and the relevant fees are paid. Cuban authorities now allow
entire families to leave at one time, something they would reject in the

There has been a sea change in migration from Cuba. The country has come
a long way from past mass waves of emigrants - the last of them in Sept
1994. At that time, Cuba was facing extreme hardship, which included
protests against the government in the wake of the collapse of the
Soviet bloc that was Cuba's main trade partner.

Castro allowed those who were "most upset" to go, and for an entire
month the coast guard remained passive as 30,000 Cubans went out to sea
in makeshift vessels, in the hope of reaching Florida. It was the crisis
of the "balseros", those who went to sea in a "balsa" or raft.

The United States grants refugee status to any Cuban who arrives on its
territory, as long as they make it to shore. If the person is
intercepted by the US Coast Guard, he or she is sent back to Cuba, in
line with the so-called "wet foot, dry foot policy". The law was left
unchanged in the wake of the events of 1994, which claimed many lives.
But Washington agreed to grant up to 20,000 visas per year - compared to
5,000 per year until then - to Cubans, to promote more orderly
migration. Most of those visas
are given out in a lottery.

Nowadays, Cubans who leave the island in precarious boats are an
exception, although there are still some cases. Calzado insists that he
is not "a blind man who says everything is fine". But he claims that he
never thought of leaving - not even in 1997, when he got into trouble
with the authorities after his band flew over the audience in a
helicopter during a concert. "We were banned for six months, because
(the authorities) understood that was ostentation. Not even at that
time, when it looked like they
were going to ban the Charanga forever, did I think about leaving," he
says of his band.

Calzado notes that, in his travels, he has not found perfection in
advanced countries either. "In the most developed countries, where you
have one thing, you lack another. In the face of imperfections, I'd
rather stay in my home environment, where I feel that the atmosphere is
just what I need," he says. - dpa

Hit song changes Cuban tune on migration » Kuwait Times Website (28
December 2009)

Three Cubans escape from migrant detention camp in Mexico

Three Cubans escape from migrant detention camp in Mexico
IANS Monday 28th December, 2009

Mexico City, Dec 28 (IANS/EFE) Three Cuban nationals escaped from a
National Migration Institute, or INM, facility in central Mexico,
officials said.

Yoel Francisco Escalante Machado, Roxana Alfonso Roche and Jose Miguel
Falla Yera got out of the facility, the INM said.

The Cubans were being held at the INM detention centre in Queretaro, a
city located northwest of Mexico City.

An international alert has been declared 'to achieve the quick recovery
of the Cuban citizens', the INM said, adding that the escape was 'an
isolated incident'.

The immigration service said it would 'not tolerate corruption inside
the institution'.

This was not the first escape by Cubans this year from an INM facility.

Eight Cubans got out of the INM detention centre in the southern city of
Chetumal in August, but six of them were later recaptured.

A group of suspected people traffickers intercepted a bus carrying 33
Cubans under INM custody in 2008.

Some of the Cubans turned up several weeks later in Texas.

Cubans enter Mexico illegally in an effort to make their way to the US.

Mexico and Cuba signed an immigration agreement in October 2008 aimed at
guaranteeing a legal, orderly and safe migration flow.

The pact calls for Havana to take back all illegal Cuban immigrants
detained by Mexican authorities.

Previously, the island's government took back illegal emigrants detained
on the high seas, but it refused to accept Cubans detained on Mexican
soil while en route to the US.

Under Washington's 'wet foot, dry foot' policy, Cubans who reach US soil
are permitted to remain and become legal residents, while the vast
majority of those intercepted at sea are sent back to the island.

Havana says the US policy encourages Cubans to undertake risky voyages
to Florida and, in recent years, to Mexico's Caribbean coast.

Three Cubans escape from migrant detention camp in Mexico (28 December 2009)

Young dancers perform in Cuba in the new year

Young dancers perform in Cuba in the new year
Arts & Entertainment
Dec 25, 2009

Dundas and Ancaster dancers will be among the first Canadians to perform
in Havana's Gran Teatro.

After a successful performance of The Nutcracker ballet in Hamilton,
seven youth from Dundas and Ancaster will head to Havana, Cuba, next
month to resume their roles.

The group will join 34 other youth from the Canadian Ballet Youth
Ensemble in Havana, Jan. 4-11, 2010.

Together, the troupe will have the rare opportunity to be the first
Canadians to dance in Cuba's illustrious Gran Teatro – home to the
National Ballet of Cuba. There, Canadian children will perform The
Nutcracker alongside novices like themselves and elite-level dancers
from the world-class Cuban national ballet.

As well as the performance, the dancers will take part in classes and
rehearsals under the artistic direction of Cuba's legendary prima
ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso.

Meanwhile, back at home auditions are underway for Canadian Ballet Youth
Ensemble's upcoming production of Hansel and Gretel Feb. 26, 2010. Roles
are open to male and female dancers and gymnasts ages seven to 18. For
details on how to audition for Hansel and Gretel contact or

To learn more about the Canadian and Cuban ballet connection, visit News: Story: Young dancers perform in Cuba in the
new year (25 December 2009)

Church leaders awaiting return of members turned away from Cuba

Church leaders awaiting return of members turned away from Cuba
By Noelle Crombie, The Oregonian
December 28, 2009, 10:29AM

Leaders of the First Unitarian Church of Portland are awaiting word from
church members who were detained briefly in Havana over the weekend
before being sent to Mexico.

Nine members of the church group were held at the Havana airport
Saturday, while five other members were sent back to Cancun, Mexico. By
Sunday, all of the church group's members were in Mexico.

Kate Lore, the social justice minister with the First Unitarian Church,
said she and other church leaders are waiting to hear from the group.
All of the members are safe and in good health, chuch leaders said.

"Now we are just waiting," Lore said, adding that she sent the group an
email but has not heard back from them. She said their return to Oregon
may be delayed since they will be boarding a last-minute flight and they
want to wait for their bags to arrive from Havana.

"They have to find an empty plane and find their luggage," she said.

To read more about the group's efforts to travel to Cuba, go here:

-- The Oregonian

Church leaders awaiting return of members turned away from Cuba | Oregon
Local News - (28 December 2009)

Cuba's paranoia

Cuba's paranoia
Monday, December 28, 2009

Get caught spreading pro-democracy materials or even humanitarian aid in
Cuba and chances are you'll sample the Castros' hospitality behind bars.

The communist island dictatorship that employs one of the most
aggressive intelligence networks in the world remains committed against
even the lowest level of outside interference -- and is as paranoid as ever.

"If you work for a human rights organization, it's naive to think they
don't know who you are," says one expert on Havana's autocracy.

Earlier this month Cuban authorities arrested an American subcontractor
for a Maryland economic development firm. Reportedly he was distributing
cell phones and laptops in Cuba. President Raul Castro insists the
American was supplying opposition groups with satellite communication
equipment and accuses the Obama administration of maintaining hostile

Although Raul says he's open to a "respectful dialogue" with the U.S.,
bitter brother Fidel remains ever critical of the Obama administration.

So much for Washington "recasting" its relationship with Cuba, in part
by attempting to soften a 47-year trade embargo. For all its ill-advised
efforts the U.S. has done nothing to change a narrow mind-set whose
priority remains iron-fisted control.

Nothing will change in Cuba until the brothers Castro are relegated to
history's dustbin of despots.

Cuba's paranoia - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (28 December 2009)

China, Cuba Sign Irrigation System Contract

China, Cuba Sign Irrigation System Contract
Monday, 28 December 2009 19:01 Prensa Latina

Cuba and China signed a contract for supplies to develop an irrigation
system in Caujeri valley, by means of which they will rescue the
potential productive capacity of that area in Guantanamo province. At a
cost of around $1.1 million, this project will allow restoring the
irrigation and drainage infrastructure, and establishing an organization
to operate it efficiently.

Ambasador Carlos Miguel Perera called the agreement and its execution
really valuable, according to the priority that Cuba gives to
agriculture, especially food production as part of the strategy to
reduce imports and mitigate the effects of the international crisis.

He recalled that this has been an important year to relations, despite
the mentioned crisis, while the new project shows the continuity of
those relations and their expansion.

The supply includes trucks, tractors, trailers, retro excavators, and
different kinds of valves.

The initiative will be executed, using part of a donation granted in
2007, and will favor vegetable, grain, and fruit production.

Chinese Liaoning Zhongyi International Economic and Technical
Cooperation Co. Ltd is in charge of the new project, which expresses the
good bilateral collaboration relations.

The document was signed by Chen Lan Xia, director of the company's
representative office to Havana, and Nancy Cruz, of the Donation
Executing Company, on the Cuban side.

Other representatives of that Chinese company and the Cuban diplomatic
mission to China also attended the ceremony.

China, Cuba Sign Irrigation System Contract (28 December 2009)

Group Of 9 Detained At Cuban Airport

Group Of 9 Detained At Cuban Airport
Church Members Sent Back To Mexico
UPDATED: 8:29 am PST December 28, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nine people from a Portland church group hoping to
perform humanitarian work in Cuba were detained overnight at an airport
in Havana this weekend.

Rev. Kate Lore of the downtown Portland-based First Unitarian Church
first received word of the incident Saturday night.

Sixteen people from the church headed from Portland to Cancun, Mexico on
Friday. They then departed Mexico and arrived at the airport in Cuba,
but five were immediately sent back to Cancun. The other nine were
detained at the airport in Havana for hours.

"It was a scary situation for our members because the Cuban authorities
weren't forthcoming with the reasons they were detained," Lore said.
"(They were) forced to sleep on the floor. We had elderly people there."

Several hours passed before the detainees were allowed to contact their
church. Lore received an e-mail that said the group was being "held as

"They didn't know what was going to happen to them," Lore said.

The group was allowed to leave Cuba on Sunday. It appeared a mix-up with
their paperwork led authorities to believe the group was traveling as
tourists. It is unlawful for Americans to travel to Cuba without
obtaining a special license and tourist travel is not licensable,
according to the U.S. Department of State.

The First Unitarian Church holds a religious activities license
providing legal travel and has made several trips to Cuba for
humanitarian work, bringing medicine and helping the country's AIDS
patients. Members of the church have also performed as a choir and their
Web site said the church aims to keep the struggles of the Cuban people
on the radar screen for Americans.

Lore said the incident won't deter church members from returning to Cuba.

"This was a paperwork glitch and we will remedy it in the future," she said.

Group Of 9 Detained At Cuban Airport - Portland News Story - KPTV
Portland (28 December 2009)

Cuban authorities send Portland church group back to Mexico

Cuban authorities send Portland church group back to Mexico
By Rick Bella, The Oregonian
December 27, 2009, 9:31AM

A humanitarian aid group from the First Unitarian Church of Portland was
allowed to leave the Havana airport today, after being detained by Cuban

Nine members of the group were held in the airport overnight for
unexplained reasons while five others were sent back Saturday to Cancun,
Mexico, where their flight to Cuba originated.

The Rev. Kate Lore, the church's social justice minister, said all
members of the group are safe and sound.

"I am so happy to hear they are doing well," Lore said. "I am breathing
a big sigh of relief."

After leaving Portland late Friday night, the nine people detained by
authorities slept on the floor at the Havana airport.

With few exceptions, U.S. citizens are banned from visiting Cuba.
However, the group, Cuba AyUUda, holds a special religious activities
license that allows legal travel to Cuba for those affiliated with First
Unitarian Church.

Carol Rossio, a church member, said members on the trip said Cuban
authorities said their religious activities license did not match their
tourist visas.

"They said that never bothered the Cuban authorities before," Rossio
said. "They didn't understand why that was a problem now."

Rossio said e-mails from detainees indicated that Cuban authorities
appeared to be expecting them and intercepted them as soon as they
landed. Some of those detained were in their late 70s, and found it
uncomfortable to sleep on the airport's cold concrete floor. She said
some Cubans not affiliated with the government offered help and tried to
make detainees comfortable.

"I'm glad they're safe and sound now," Rossio said.

Rossio went on the church's first trip to Cuba in 2003, with the choir.
Since then, a group has gone at least twice a year for projects such as
painting buildings, helping people in nursing homes and transporting
medical supplies and clothing.

She said the trips began after church choir director Mark Slegers met a
Cuban choir director who invited the choir to sing in Cuba.

The purpose of Cuba AyUUda's trips, the church Website says, is to share
Unitarian Universalism, foster citizen diplomacy, create and maintain
friendships, bring much-needed supplies to Cubans and maintain awareness
among Americans of the struggles of the Cuban people face.

Lore said the 14-member group was bringing medical supplies and planned
to paint a health clinic.

-- Rick Bella

Cuban authorities send Portland church group back to Mexico | Oregon
Local News - (27 December 2009)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top gifts fill Cuba after easing of ban

Top gifts fill Cuba after easing of ban

HAVANA Christmas in Cuba was awash with hard-to-get presents like
flat-screen TVs and expensive candies as a wave of US-based Cubans
visited for family reunions only made possible by a recent scrapping of
US travel restrictions.

Adrian, one 17-year-old who flew in from the US state of Florida, where
he was born to Cuban immigrants, was overjoyed as he threw his bags into
a relative's classic orange 1956 Chevrolet at Havana's airport. He was
seeing his grandfather for the first time.

"My parents emigrated 20 years ago and I'm so happy to be able to come
and get to know my relatives," he said, grinning.

Next to him, the grandfather, a 60-year-old truck driver named Evaristo
Delgado, was likewise exuberant, though he slammed "the politics that
separate the Cubans here from those over there."

"Over there" mostly means Florida, the closest point in the United
States to the communist island state that Washington has targeted with
an economic embargo dating back five decades, in reaction to the
revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Former US president George W. Bush toughened the embargo by allowing
US-Cuba ns to make only one trip every three years.

In April of this year, though, US President Barack Obama relaxed the
restrictions slightly, by giving Cuban-Americans the right to freely
travel to Cuba. Non -Cuban-Americans, however, remain barred from doing so.

The change has meant that over this Christmas season, up to 10 flights a
day were arriving from Miami in Havana, each of them filled with US
Cubans weighed down with gifts.

Jose Rodriguez, a 50-year-old mechanic standing at the airport with a
bouquet of flowers in his hand, was waiting for one of those flights
which was carrying his 28-year-old niece. The last time he saw her was
three years ago.

"Cuban families have to be able to come together. The restrictions don't
make any sense, nor does the embargo," he said. "The people shouldn't
carry the blame of their governments."

His niece, Nora Rodriguez, arrived and greeted her relatives with a
flurry of hugs and kisses and happy tears. She moved to Miami 17 years ago.

Her glee, though, was tempered a little by the exorbitant price she had
to p ay to for the one-hour flight covering a mere 140km.

"I haven't seen them for three years. They are my life. I love Cuba, and
I miss it, but you end up broke coming here. I paid $600 for the plane
ticket and $300 there for excess baggage and another $126 for the excess
here," she complained.

Another US-based Cuban, Yaimelis, 37, said she arrived with her husband
and their two children from North Carolina to share a typical Cuban
Christmas with her family in Havana. "I came two months ago and now I'm
back. Now we can travel when we want and we save up for it. It's
ridiculous to be split up because of politics. So many people drown at
sea trying to join family members who have left," she said.

She explained that she left Cuba with her parents in 1980, when 125,000
others departed for the United States during a brief permission given by
Castro's government.

Yaimelis said she hoped Obama would ease more of the restrictions, and
that the government of President Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, would
lift barriers to Cubans travelling abroad.

Agence France-Presse
Oman Tribune - the edge of knowledge (27 December 2009)

Venezuela and Cuba to Form Joint Venture to Exploit Mature Fields

Venezuela and Cuba to Form Joint Venture to Exploit Mature Fields
27 December 2009

Following the Tenth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission of
Integral Cooperation Agreement Cuba-Venezuela, held in Havana, Cuba
earlier this month, delegations from both countries signed a memorandum
of understanding to the establishment of a joint venture aimed at the
primary activities in the hydrocarbons within the enclosed area of
mature fields.

According to the signed document, these activities may be implemented in
accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in the Agreement of
the National Assembly, the National Executive Power decree authorizing
the creation of the Joint Venture and the decree which transfers to the
Joint Venture the right to exercise the primary activity in this area,
as specified by the legal regime of oil in Venezuela.

Similarly, the Intergovernmental Commission authorized the change of
name and purpose of the joint venture established in Cuba PDVCUPET S,A
in April 2006 between Commercial Cupet, S,A, and PDVSA Cuba S,A.
Henceforth the company will be named CUVENPETROL, S,A. and shall pursue
the development and operation of the system of petroleum refining,
liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas in the Republic
of Cuba.

The operation of Cuvenpetrol S,A also includes the development in the
Republic of Cuba expansion projects Refinery "Camilo Cienfuegos", design
development and construction of facilities for the regasification plant
of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), construction of a new refinery in
Matanzas and expansion of the refinery Hermanos Diaz.

285 projects
Venezuela's delegation was chaired by Vice President and Minister of
Popular Power for Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramirez, and the
delegation of Cuba by Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, vice president of the
Council of Ministers.

The Tenth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission hill with the
approval of a portfolio of 285 projects to implement in 2010, valued at
3 thousand 161 million 66 thousand 387 U.S. dollars.

The closing ceremony of this event was attended by the President of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and President of the
Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz.

The delegations agreed that the adoption of these agreements and the
agreed cooperation program, are an important contribution to increasing
industrial complementation and integration of the economies of both
countries under the principles of the Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of Our America and the Treaty of Commerce of the People (ALBA-TCP).

The coordinating body of the Convention, the Ministry of Popular Power
for Energy and Petroleum of Venezuela, and the Ministry for Foreign
Trade and Foreign Investment in Cuba, agreed to hold quarterly meetings
to review the status of implementation of agreed programs.

The Eleventh Meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission will be held in
Caracas, Venezuela, in the second half of 2010.

OilVoice | Venezuela and Cuba to Form Joint Venture to Exploit Mature
Fields (27 December 2009)

Cuba and religion, 12 years later

Posted on Sunday, 12.27.09
Cuba and religion, 12 years later

Twelve years ago today -- because of holiday deadlines I'm writing on
Tuesday, Dec. 22 -- I wrote a Christmas story of sorts. The story was
about how, for the first time since 1969, the Cuban government had
announced that Christmas was back, in preparation for the visit of Pope
John Paul II to the island in mid-January of the following year, 1998.

``Here is this old, frail man, the leader of the church, who is going
through the trouble of going to their country, visiting with them,
listening to their troubles, that has to mean something to them,'' said
José ``Pepe'' Prince, a sociologist from Queens who left Cuba in 1963
and had signed up to join the New York group that planned to travel to
the island for the Pope's visit. ``I think this trip will be of
psychological and symbolic importance. And I don't want to miss the
opportunity to witness that.''

Some of the people mentioned in that story of jubilation and hope have
since died, including Prince and the Pope himself -- now on the throes
of becoming sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church -- but the Castro
brothers, of course, are still alive and very much in charge. Cubans are
indeed free to celebrate Christmas, to go to church, read religious
publications -- there are about 40 circulating on the island now, I'm
told -- and even to listen to religious leaders in the
government-controlled media.

But beyond that, what has changed?

When the Pope gave his first Mass in Cuba on Jan. 22 in Santa Clara, I
stood in the back of the barren field where several hundred people had
congregated to listen to his words. The audience was subdued and a woman
approached me to ask me if I knew who was selling oranges and for how
much. She had heard a rumor and was hunting for food while the Pope from
the pulpit criticized divorce and birth control.

The Cuban people still lack food, housing, and, oh yes, freedom. The new
big idea of the government to face its economic woes is to go back to
the bag of tricks from the past: five-year plans. Planificación --
planning -- and proyección -- projections -- are again buzz words. The
United States is still the enemy. The embargo is still the culprit of
all (``The situation is worse given the unjust and counterproductive
U.S. embargo against Cuba, despite the initial hopes of change after
Barack Obama became president,'' concluded an editorial in Spain's El
País on Tuesday). And a couple of government thugs can still force two
people into an unmarked car and proceed to beat them up in the back seat
in the middle of Havana.

Yes, members of the clergy are allowed to visit prisoners and say Mass.
But there are still political prisoners in Cuba's jails. Yes, the church
is helping to feed people and contributes to the cultural and social
fabric of the country through a variety of programs that include
exercises, help to the elderly and even, in a modest scale, education.
Yes, members of the clergy are allowed to organize and join religious
processions, and to hold conferences and congresses, but it is all
controlled and subdued by the ever watchful government. It's like the
relationship between a parent and a toddler: you can walk alone, but
don't run, and even worse, don't dare cross the street or even get close
to the curbside.

Yet, María Cristina Herrera, a retired college professor who keeps close
ties with the Cuban church and follows the intricacies of its triumphs
and disappointments from her home in Coral Gables, remains convinced
that ``Cuba has not been the same since the Pope's visit.''

``The church has left the walls of the temple and has placed itself
squarely with the people,'' Herrera said. ``But not enough, not in the
way I know they would want to.''

The danger with such accommodation, Herrera said, is that the church may
compromise too much and back the government when it shouldn't in order
to keep the small space it's managed to carve out in the dozen years
since the Pope urged Cuba to open up to the world and urged the world to
open up to Cuba.

Curiously, both things have happened. Most people -- except those in the
United States -- have unrestricted access to Cuba as long as they can
pay a plane ticket. And the world -- again with the exception of the
United States -- has remained open and receptive to Cuba. And yet, it
hasn't been enough. Because in addition to some sort of breathing space,
a certain freedom to dissent, and a more liberal emigration policy, the
Cuban people need the legal and civic structures, common to all
functioning democracies, that would buffer and protect them against the
state. El derecho al pataleo, the right to complain, is not enough when
the individual has no one to turn to. It's like the proverbial tree
falling in a remote forest.

Many more trees would have to fall before the world notices the island
has been decimated.

Cuba and religion, 12 years later - Other Views - (27
December 2009)

Human rights our priority

Posted on Sunday, 12.27.09
Human rights our priority

As a senator from Florida, the gateway to Latin America, it is incumbent
upon me to focus on U.S. policy as it relates to the Western Hemisphere.
U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere stands at a critical juncture. Our
actions in the region signal to all countries where we stand on our
commitment to respecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Our policy in Latin America cannot be transactional. We must insist on
human rights and other democratic institutions, including the rule of
law. Fortifying democratic institutions and pursuing respect for human
rights is the cornerstone of United States' foreign policy in Latin America.

Because of these concerns I placed a hold on the nomination of Tom
Shannon. This allowed more time for me to evaluate Shannon's record and
to ask specific questions of Shannon and State Department officials.

U.S. must be resolute

Two countries that represent the direction of the foreign-policy
commitments of the United States are Honduras and Cuba -- Honduras,
having just emerged from a constitutional process that resulted in the
removal of its president and elections, and Cuba, where a dictatorial
regime continues to oppress its people and violate their most basic
human rights. In these two areas, the United States must be resolute --
demonstrating through action our insistence on democracy and respect for
the rule of law.

During this process I have discussed my concerns for the region with
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I am grateful for her appreciation
of the unique responsibility I have to the region as a senator from
Florida. I am confident Clinton shares my concern about a reverse of the
progress of democracy and the rise of authoritarian strongmen in Latin

I have received sufficient commitments from her that the
administration's policy in Latin America, and specifically in Honduras
and Cuba, will take a course that promotes democratic ideals and goals.

As a result of these discussions with the secretary and other State
Department officials, I am pleased to report several concrete examples
of this commitment.

Making progress

In Honduras, the United States will continue to normalize relations with
that country's government and President-elect Porfirio Lobo.
Counternarcotics cooperation will resume, and visa procedures will be

In Cuba, the United States will reopen the process for nonprofit
organizations to apply for pro-democracy grants and renew the practice
of including members of the Cuban pro-democracy movement in events at
the U.S. Interests Section, Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act will be
enforced and Cuba Democracy Assistance grants will be awarded in a fair
and transparent manner. The State Department has memorialized these
commitments in the form of a letter reviewed and approved by Clinton.

Ensuring our neighbors in the hemisphere recognize our commitment to
democracy, human rights and the rule of law is fundamental. Leaders in
nations that seek to destabilize the region are paying close attention
to the way in which we carry out our policies in Latin America. I look
forward to a continuing dialogue on how we canstrengthen U.S. relations
with the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

George LeMieux is a U.S. senator for Florida.
Human rights our priority - Other Views - (27 December 2009)

Operation Pedro Pan marks 49th anniversary

Posted on Saturday, 12.26.09
Operation Pedro Pan marks 49th anniversary
Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Operation Pedro Pan, the unique
exodus of Cuban children to the United States that began on Dec. 26, 1960.

Forty-nine years ago Saturday, two frightened Cuban children landed at
Miami International Airport on a commercial flight from Havana. They had
traveled alone, gaining entry to the United States with coveted visa

Operation Pedro Pan had just begun.

The famed, clandestine effort to spirit children out of Fidel Castro's
new Cuba as Communist indoctrination was spreading into the Catholic and
private schools officially began on Dec. 26, 1960.

By the time it ended 18 months later, the unique exodus of children --
ages 5 to 17 -- had brought 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban minors to
America, with the secret help of the U.S. government, which funded the
effort and supplied the visa waivers, and the Catholic church, which
promised to care for the children. The late Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, a
Miami priest, was considered the father of the effort.

As the children filtered into Miami and their numbers swelled, many went
to live with relatives and family friends, but others were sent to
Miami-Dade group homes and camps called Florida City, Kendall and
Matecumbe. They were then relocated across the country to archdioceses
in places like Nebraska, Washington and Indiana.

There, they went to live in orphanages, foster homes and schools until
their parents could find a way out of Cuba. Sometimes the separation was
brief; sometimes it lasted years.


The first two children to arrive in Miami as part of Operation Pedro Pan
were the Aquino kids -- Vivian, then 14, and Sixto, 12, according to
official Operation Pedro Pan records.

They didn't know it at the time, but they were pioneers. Today, they
recall the culture shock.

``To this day, I always remember Dec. 26,'' said Vivian Latour, who
lives in Southwest Miami-Dade. ``How could I not? It's the day my entire
life changed forever.''

Latour and her brother, who now lives in Washington, D.C., were greeted
by a nun at MIA that day-after-Christmas long ago. They eventually went
to live at St. Joseph's Villa at Northwest Seventh Street and 29th
Avenue. They were later reunited with their parents.


As time has passed, Operation Pedro Pan has gained fame because of its
young participants and the predicament they found themselves in once
they were in the United States alone, and, for the horrible choice Cuban
parents had to make to send them ahead following Castro's 1959 revolution.

``People ask all the time: `How could parents send their children ahead
to a foreign country?' They wanted to save us from Communism, that's
why,'' said Carmen Romanach, who was sent to Miami through the program
when she was a teenager.

``I always thank my parents for getting me out of Cuba,'' said Eloisa
Echazábal, who was 13 when she came to the United States with her
younger sister.

Today, Romanach and Echazábal work to pass on the history of Operation
Pedro Pan and preserve its official records and memorabilia. They say
being a Pedro Pan -- most of whose members are now in their 50s and 60s
-- is similar to being a war veteran: Only those who experienced it can
identify with the angst.

Earlier this year, The Miami Herald unveiled a database listing the
names of all the children who took part in the mission. The site has
received over 1 million visitors in nine months and has allowed Pedro
Pans from across the country to register and reconnect. To access the
page go to pan.

Next year, Operation Pedro Pan will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Parties, books and documentaries are planned.

Latour will take part in the momentous anniversary. But she says the
real trailblazer was her late mother, Belen, who realized she had to get
her children out of Cuba and helped launch the visa waiver hand-out by
sending her children first. ``My mother is the real pioneer; she saw
where things were going in Cuba and wanted to get us out. She's the one
to be admired.''

Operation Pedro Pan marks 49th anniversary - South Florida - (26 December 2009)

Friday, December 25, 2009

In Cuba, Christmas makes cautious return

In Cuba, Christmas makes cautious return
Island gets festive spirit as a result of reforms to Marxist state.
By Nick Miroff
Published: December 25, 2009 09:35 ET

HAVANA, Cuba — It's been more than a decade since Christmas was restored
to national holiday status on this communist-run island, but don't
confuse the kindly old man with the bushy white beard on government
billboards for the jolly fellow in the flying sleigh.

That's Karl Marx up there, not Kris Kringle.

And yet, ever since the late Pope John Paul II made a historic trip to
Cuba in 1998, Christmas has been gradually returning as a public
holiday. There are no fake Santas at the state-run shopping centers or
carolers in the streets, but the island seems to embrace La Navidad more
and more openly each year. Government stores now stock plastic Christmas
trees and gaudy ornaments, and Christmas lights can be seen twinkling in
scattered Cuban homes and apartment buildings.

"We're going to have a big celebration this year," said Guillermo
Rodriguez, standing outside a department store in Havana's Miramar
neighborhood with his twin brother, Ruben. Rodriguez lives in Spain, but
traveled back to the island to spend the holidays with his family.

"We love Christmas," his brother Ruben said.

For a country whose holiday calendar is otherwise dominated by the
Castro government's political and historical commemorations, the
celebration of Christmas is still an evolving process, wrapped in all
the economic contradictions and religious accommodations of contemporary

As relations between the government and the island's church leaders
improve, the tradition has even earned a small space in Cuba's
state-controlled media. For the second year in a row, government-run
television has broadcast a tape of a Christmas celebration at Cuba's
National Cathedral, including a message from Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the
island's highest-ranking Catholic official.

Ortega spoke directly to Cuba's "divided families," and praised new
Obama administration policies that have lifted travel and financial
restrictions for Cubans living in the U.S. who have relatives on the island.

"Families are happy this year to be able to welcome relatives from the
United States who wanted to visit them but could not," Ortega said. "For
that we thank God."

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the Christmas holiday was widely observed
on the island, reflecting both Spanish traditions and American cultural
influences. But Cuban authorities cancelled Christmas celebrations in
1969, saying they interfered with the country's sugar harvest. While
many Cubans continued to celebrate the holiday in private, public
displays were discouraged.

Much of Cuba's holiday enthusiasm was redirected to New Year's Eve, as
that date became a kind of secular alternative to Dec. 25. Cuba
celebrates Jan. 1 as the anniversary of the "Triumph of the Revolution"
— the day in 1959 that Fidel Castro took power — so with Christmas
diminished, many Cubans adopted New Year's Eve as their end-of-year
occasion, gathering with family to exchange gifts and share a
traditional feast of roast pork, apple cider and Spanish candy bars
called turrones, among other delights.

The Christmas spirit began creeping back in 1990, when Cuba removed
references to atheism from its constitution, and allowed Christians and
other religious believers to join the Communist Party. After Pope John
Paul II visited in 1998 and met with Fidel Castro, Dec. 25 was restored
as an official national holiday.

These days, one of Cuba's most moving Christmas spectacles occurs at
Havana Joe Marti International Airport, where charter flights from Miami
and elsewhere arrive with teary-eyed Cubans carrying huge bundles of
gifts. Entire families stand outside the terminal to greet their loved
ones, as brothers and daughters and grandparents rush to embrace
relatives after years of separation, in some cases.

But for Cubans who don't have relatives coming from abroad to help them
financially, or who depend on woefully inadequate government salaries,
the holidays can also be a time of pain and bitterness.

"I wanted to buy my daughter a doll, but they cost $20 here," said
Alejandro Esposito, a mechanic, outside a toy store in Havana's Miramar
district. "That's more than I make in an entire month."

Nearby, Eglis Figueredo emerged from a department store with a miniature
plastic Christmas tree, pre-decorated in silvery ornaments and plastic
pine cones. Figueredo said her daughter and granddaughter were living in
Peru now, and most of her extended family lived in eastern Cuba, too far
to travel for the holiday. She had her church to go to on the 25th, but
she said she would probably spend Christmas Eve alone.

"It's a tough day for me," she said. "I'll be thinking about my daughter
and my granddaughter. I hope they can come visit me soon."

In Cuba, Christmas makes cautious return
Cuba | Christmas | Cuban Marxist Castro government (25 December 2009)