Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mottoes and Slogans

Mottoes and Slogans / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 29, 2013

A month ago I wrote about the motto that will preside over the May Day
celebration in Cuba: United for a Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism.
I thought anyone with half a brain would realize the absurdity of that
and would recommend replacing it with something more palatable.

This didn't happy and today, a couple of days from the day, they are
repeating that slogan to the point of exhaustion in the press and on
radio and TV. It's like fingernails on the chalkboard. Socialism never
has been and never will be prosperous and sustainable. Its global
failure proves it. The motto seems more typical of capitalism, despite
its crises and problems.

The motto and the slogan, which in this case is the same, I brought to
mind some used in different years, when they wanted to mobilize the
masses in pursuit of some task or goal. I remember "Humanism yes,
communism no" (clearly they were hiding the ball), "Fidel this is your
house" (political innocence), "Fidel and Khrushchev, we two together"
(survived until the October Crisis).

Also, "The ORI (Integrated Revolutionary Organizations) is the fire,
take care you don't get burned" (pure sectarianism), "The ten million
[tons of sugar harvested] achieved" (the harvest failed), "Convert the
setback into a victory" (as a sequel to the prior one), "Armed struggle
is the only way" (lasted until the triumph of the Popular Unity in
Chile), and the most absurd of all, "Now we are going to build
socialism" (after more than twenty years of sacrifice for it). The
latter ranked first for a long time, until displaced by the current one.

In the world of advertising, when a slogan is developed for a campaign,
that is as like the motto and the slogan, there is usually some random
sampling from a certain number of people to determine if it sticks in
people's minds. Depending on the results obtained, it was used or not.

It seems that now the mottoes and slogans are made by one or a number of
feverish minds, sitting behind their desks, believing that their ideas
are shared worldwide. They forget that times have changed and with them
the people as well. Even a cursory glance would prove otherwise, it is
not so easy to actually fool most of the population.

Anyway, as I wrote then, the events on that date will be a success, both
in the capital and in the provinces and municipalities. Cubans will
come, not because they wish to do so or believe in what they do are
doing but because they feel they must do so to avoid possible effects on
their jobs, schooling, travel abroad, promotions and other scraps that
depend on the state.

This situation has been repeated year after year, and if it shows
anything, it is how much we still lack of having a civil society that is
the driving force of the nation. Therefore, the mottoes and slogans are
the least important and can be absolutely false and even virtual. They
actually do not mobilize anyone: the instruments of mobilization are
completely different.

27 April 2013


Cuba and the Communist Moral Code

Cuba and the Communist Moral Code
April 29, 2013
By Martin Guevara*

HAVANA TIMES — Mayte, the head of the Young Communist League (UJC)
committee at my high school, was the girl who presided over those
summary trials we would hold in the classroom after school hours.

The meetings, then referred to as "Communist Moral Code Reviews", were
assemblies in which each student was publicly evaluated and judged in
terms of those qualities which, supposedly, placed them on the right
path to – or made them deviate from – the communist ideal.

When rumors that Mayte was a lesbian spread, she went pale. Suddenly,
she was no longer fit to occupy that lofty position, and her permanent
record began to accumulate the stains she had often caused others to
suffer. Her victims had suddenly become inquisitors. A few days later,
she hanged herself from the branch of a Flamboyant tree.

A hanging spills no blood, so when I looked at the Flamboyant on the
sidewalk across the street from my house and saw its brown pods, hanging
indifferently from the branches, swaying in the breeze beneath bright
red flowers, I would think of Mayte and the many people who had hanged

Those who had refused to fight in Angola because they rejected violence
or out of a basic fear of losing their lives, in a war that was just too
distant; those who had asked permission to leave the country, and had
never obtained it; those who were Jehovah's Witnesses, or had a relative
in the United States and told you they still corresponded with them,
missed them; those who drowned their misery in alcohol; those who had
put out to sea on a makeshift raft and run aground, on the dry earth
where those trees grew.

I pay tribute to all of them. To those who were systematically
intimidated, who were forced to live with an overwhelming sense of
isolation, thirsting for understanding, feeling ashamed of who they were.

Because of all the ills that characterize these one-party systems, which
are deceptively referred to as "socialist", occurs the most baleful,
perverse and sickening misappropriation of a revolutionary language,
which speaks of helping those in most need. It constitutes the hijacking
of people's noblest feelings, feelings of profound empathy towards the
laboring classes and their hardships, towards the poor and hungry of
this world.

Because of this, those who believe that they are being stifled by an
authoritarian and omnipresent Power, and feel the overwhelming need to
express their condition, immediately begin to ask themselves if, by
doing that, they could be damaging something greater and ultimately more
important than their individual aspirations.

In short, if they are going against the "Good", a category which has
taken refuge in that domesticated revolutionary discourse, a brilliant
re-articulation of the techniques which time has taught its precursor,
the cunning Church. First cousins.

A warm breeze caresses the cheek of Mayte's father, right where his
bitter tears flow with disquieting persistence. He is already showing
signs of instability: the knots are coming undone, he talks to himself,
drinks without moderation, knocking back the beer they dispense in the
neighborhood, to remain calmly wound-up.

He no longer laughs while playing dominos with the neighbors, no longer
dances at parties thrown by the local Committee for the Defense of the
Revolution (CDR). His face has never regained its color, not since his
daughter fell dead, choked by the weight of History.

Buried by an avalanche of amnesia, Mayte hazily lives on, as a solemn,
chilling, eternal memory.

The time has come, today, to think of the best way we can prevent that
from ever happening again, knowing that it could occur, being ready to
make the soil fertile with nothing other than the footprints we leave
behind as we walk.

Orchids and daisies, strewn over the feet of women who, today, raise
their voices to help us become more aware. Mythical beings dance around
the thick, thorny trunk of the ceiba tree, while the Flamboyant's pods,
crowned by fiery-red flowers, sway in the breeze, recalling the blood of
the fallen.

I salute all of them. I salute you, Mayte.
(*) Born in Argentina, Martin Guevara was raised in Cuba. He is the son
of Juan Martin, Ernesto "Che" Guevara's younger brother. Residing in
Spain, he publishes a blog and is currently writing a book about
contemporary Cuban reality and his renowned uncle.


China delivers sixth bulk cargo carrier to Cuba

China delivers sixth bulk cargo carrier to Cuba

State-owned Shanghai Shipyard Co. Ltd. delivered the sixth of 10 bulk
cargo ships Cuba has ordered in China, official news service ACN reported.

The 35,000-ton grains carrier was delivered in Shanghai in the presence
of the Cuban ambassador in Beijing, Alberto Blanco. The ship was named
after revolutionary heroine Lidia Doce.

Neither of the two sides has revealed the financial terms of the order
by Cuba's Empresa Importadora General del Transporte (EIGT), on behalf
of Grupo Acemex, with Chinese state company China National Machinery
Import & Export Corporation (CMC). The purchases are financed by China's
Eximbank. According to observers, the order for 10 35,000-ton handymax
vessels is worth at least $250 million. The order came in September
2009, ending a one-year drought for the state-owned shipyard.

The addition of 10 cargo ships will boost the tonnage of Cuba's merchant
marine and allow it to trade with far-flung partners such as Iran,
Ecuador or Angola. The addition of grain vessels will lower the cost of
grain imports for Cuba; foreign shippers charge a premium for serving
Cuba because the United States prohibits ships coming from Cuba to dock
at U.S. ports.

In August 2011, the same shipyard in Shanghai delivered the first
35,000-ton ship, the Abdala.

Employees of Cuban state company Acemex are supervising the construction
of the ships.


Adventists in Cuba use baseball as outreach tool

Adventists in Cuba use baseball as outreach tool
Apr. 29, 2013 Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
Mark A. Kellner, News Editor, Adventist Review

What would you do to attract young people to church, particularly in a
nation where overt witnessing is difficult?

How about a game of baseball?

That's the recent experience of Seventh-day Adventists in Cuba, where
baseball has long been a popular sport. Starting, and growing, a league
of baseball teams is bringing newcomers to the church, local leaders say.

In Cuba, baseball is a highly regarded sport: the country has its own
amateur league, and a Cuban national team was a finalist in the 2006
World Baseball Classic competition, losing to Japan in a game played in
San Diego, California.

"The program began in 2009, as a way to help young Adventists enjoy
sports without harming their Christian witness," said Dayami Rodriguez,
Communication director for the church's Cuban Union Conference.

Shirts and caps may not always match, and there are other challenges to
be met, but Cuban Adventists have found that baseball is an ideal
outreach tool. In fact, the peaceful nature of the games even attracted
a local government official, who offered words of welcome.

"Games are conducted with respect for all sides; team members pray
before games. The fighting and rough language sometimes associated with
other leagues is absent from the Adventist practices and competitions,"
Rodriguez said.

The peaceful atmosphere also attracted non-Adventists, who wanted to
participate. Church leaders agreed, but with conditions: players must
demonstrate good behavior, their speech and attitudes would be in line
with Adventist standards, and all players would attend daily, morning
Bible studies and evening seminars.

Players remove their hats for the national anthem, a baseball tradition.

According to Rodriguez, "It worked! Onlookers – ranging from local
umpires, professional baseball players, and members of the public who
happened upon the games — were all absorbed to see men in the heat of
the game praying for each other before a game, holding hands, embracing
and congratulating each other after the game."

Some spectators approached the teams, asking to learn more. The
youngsters identified themselves as Seventh-day Adventists, and invited
those interested to the evening meetings. In the first year, 28 people
gave their hearts to the Lord as a result of the effort. Last year, 100
people made a Christian commitment as the games and outreach took place
in Palmarito, Holguin, in the eastern part of Cuba.

Rodriguez said, "Each night the little town was paralyzed by what was
happening in the humble Adventist church atop the valley. Everyone was
running to hear the preacher, carrying their own chairs to find a little
place in the midst of so many people who crowded the windows and doors
of the sanctuary. And at the end of the week of an evangelism series
titled, 'Jesus the Conqueror of All Time,' the church rejoiced to
receive within it many who decided to cast their lot with Christ forever."

Local authorities – at first reluctant to permit a religious group to
use local facilities – finally relented, and volunteers cleared the
designated area for play. In fact, the local Communist Party first
secretary attended the opening, giving a welcome. The president of the
Adventist Church in Cuba and other pastors joined him.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been active in Cuba since 1905.
According to world church statistics, more than 31,000 baptized members
worship in 297 congregations across the island nation.

—with reporting by Dayami Rodriguez


The Life and Death Of Cuba's Largest Counterculture Music Festival

The Life and Death Of Cuba's Largest Counterculture Music Festival
By Daniel Rivero

In 1998, the cultural climate in Cuba wasn't exactly conducive to
artistic freedom. While a thriving underground music scene did exist,
official radio and television channels were notoriously selective, only
airing artists who echoed the Communist Party line.

But soon came the Rotilla Festival, named after the beach where it
began. Conceived among friends as a way to promote electronic music on
the island, this seemingly impossible task only served as motivation for
its founders. The dream came to life when in only a few short weeks the
group acquired all of the official permits to launch the largest
counterculture music festival in modern Cuban history. The first event
drew a meager 200 to 300 people, but it was considered such a success
that the producers held a second one within months.

In a few years, the festival exploded. Youth from around the country
started to see it as a place of cultural convergence within the Cuban
arts community. Anything underground and without government sanction
became fair game. By 2008, the festival encompassed everything from
hip-hop, rock and electronic music to independent film.

Something very different had taken root, with people referring to the
event as the "Freedom Festival." From its original focus on blacklisted
artists and musicians, attendance at the final event in 2011 reached
close to 20,000 people. That's when the government pulled the plug.

Now filmmaker Diddier Santos and his company Matraka Productions have
produced a documentary called Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, Azul, about the final
days of the festival. Matraka had been involved in the production of
the festival since 2004. Santos is on his first visit to the United
States, where he has been showing the film and generating awareness
about state of artistic expression on the island.

The final free showing takes place tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Blackbird
Ordinary in Miami's Brickell neighborhood. Santos will be on site to
answer questions.

WLRN spoke with the filmmaker recently about his work.

WLRN: What did the government think of the Rotilla Festival at first?

Santos: Well, it's hard to say exactly what they thought at first, but
it's easy to see the evolution of their thought as the festival became
the biggest free cultural space in the country. There was always a shaky
relationship between Rotilla and the state, with the government
questioning even the smallest details.

WLRN: What happened the day the government put an end to it?

Santos: We had an informal meeting in a parking lot. It was Noel Soca,
director of the Recreation Commission of Mayabeque Province, (film)
director Michel Matos and myself as director of production. We were
going to ask for a meeting to coordinate the logistics of the next
event. We were told that we no longer had anything to do with the
production and that the government was going to handle all of it. It
was a governmental order that came from above.

A few days later we heard that the Ministry of Culture was going to
throw the event. We had been thrown out of our own party, very politely.

It was at this moment that we realized the government was completely
stealing this from us so we decided to act. We filed a lawsuit accusing
the officials involved, issued a statement explaining what had happened
and sent more than 9,000 emails. It was at this moment that we decided
to make the documentary, to make sure that everybody knew what had
happened. We were robbed.

WLRN: It is your first time in the United States. Can you describe what
your experience has been like? Has it been what what you were expected
or different in some way?

Santos: Well, yes it's my first visit to the US, and it's way different
that what I expected. All my life I was raised watching TV, and
listening to the radio, hearing that here in this country people were
assigned to a certain class, and that it was ugly. That was a huge lie.

I've found that people here live normal lives with very human
experiences. They wake up every day with a willingness to work and be
better people. In the end I see Americans are human.

Another thing that I have come to see is that there is so much cultural
freedom here, and that art thrives with no government censorship. I see
a well-organized and respectable society with humble people, rich people
and poor people.

I haven't had the pleasure of seeing the plagued and unhappy society
that they showed me in school, on TV and on the radio in Cuba.

WLRN: Where have you gone during your stay?

Santos: I've been able to visit New York, where I participated in an
event with many young Cubans and people of other nationalities. Since
then I've been here in Miami, a place that makes me think of Havana's

WLRN: What is your impression of the people of Miami? Have they received
you with open arms? Please, tell us a little about your interactions
with the locals, especially the Cuban-Americans you have gotten to know.

Santos: First of all, a lot of my friends live here in Miami, old
friends (from Cuba) who I grew up with but who later left. I also have a
lot of family here.

I've met a bunch of really agreeable and nice people who want to learn
more about Cuba. But the biggest and best surprise that I have gotten is
the ability to get to know Cuban-Americans. The truth is that before
this visit, I didn't really understand what a Cuban-American was. It was
always something so foreign to me.

But now I can say that it has been a huge pleasure getting to know a
bunch of them. I see that they are just as Cuban as I am, and they love
and want to help Cuba however they can. I can see it in the eyes of my

I also feel a lot of frustration knowing that even though we are so
close, we are so far from each other. I hope in the near future, we
will be able to join together and create a new nation of our collective
dreams. What the Cubans here dream of, and what Cubans on the island
dream of-- are the same thing.

WLRN: What do you want the world to learn from your documentary?

Santos: I want everyone to know the truth. We want to expose the
violations, abuses and injustices against artists in my country in hopes
of defending a more righteous path.

WLRN: Why is it called "Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, Azul? (Translates to "Not
Blue, Not Green, Blue")

Santos: It was the name of a campaign that we ran in Rotilla, It was
our way of saying that we want to form a new generation with no
political or military ties, and that we are part of a new revolution
that Cuba has needed for years. We stand for different economic,
political and social models. After they took the festival from us, we
cling to this idea even more than before because we are utterly
disappointed and frustrated with the current system.


Ladies in White leader wants U.S. to maintain hard-line on Cuba

Posted on Monday, 04.29.13

Ladies in White leader wants U.S. to maintain hard-line on Cuba
By Juan O. Tamayo

The leader of Cuba's dissident Ladies in White, Berta Soler, Monday
called for maintaining the U.S. trade embargo and limiting travel to the
island until the Raúl Castro government respects human rights.

Castro's economic and migration reforms are merely "cosmetic," Soler
added during a lengthy visit with reporters and editors from The Miami
Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

Soler acknowledged that her hard-line views differ from those of other
government critics such as blogger Yoani Sánchez, who opposes the
embargo and favors more U.S. travel.

But all dissidents agree that the Castro system must end, she added.

Wearing the traditional white clothes that the Ladies in White use
during their protests, the 49-year-old microbiology lab technician
called for "harsh treatment" of the Castro regime, including maintaining
the half-century old U.S. embargo "to take away the Cuban government's

While Cuban-American visitors deliver some cash and other benefits to
their relatives on the island, Soler argued that other U.S. visitors
spend most of their money on state-owned hotels and tourist facilities.
The embargo prohibits tourist travel to Cuba, but U.S. citizens are
allowed to make people-to-people trips, which are supposed to increase
the opportunity to interact with everyday Cubans.

"That money arrives clean at the Cuban government," she said, adding
that for island officials international tourism is the industry "that
lays the golden eggs."

Soler also dismissed Castro's economic reforms as "nothing more than
cosmetic." She called the changes in the immigration system — credited
with allowing her and half a dozen other dissidents to travel abroad for
the first time in years — "the same dog with a different collar."

Although the government removed the requirement for the much hated "exit
permit" in January, she added, authorities can still deny passport
applications or put "no travel" flags on the official records of any Cuban.

Soler also argued that dissidents in Cuba require more financial support
from abroad because the government, which is almost the island's only
employer, denies them jobs and other income yet calls them "mercenaries"
paid by the U.S. government.

"Nobody pays us" to oppose the government, she said. Soler said the
Ladies in White distribute assistance from abroad to women with
relatives in prison or who need help with transportation, food, clothes
and medical care.

Half a dozen Ladies in White appeared in a video last week complaining
that they were not being paid enough money. Soler dismissed the video as
government propaganda and noted that it came out on the same day she was
in Belgium to pick up the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for
Freedom of Thought.

On her group's relations with the Catholic Church in Cuba, Soler said
the women receive support from priests and nuns. She also noted that
Cardinal Jaime Ortega played a role in 2010 in ending the government's
increasingly harsh repression of the women's street protests in Havana
and arranging for the release of political prisoners.

The government eventually freed about 115 prisoners, including the last
52 dissidents still jailed from the group of 75 rounded up in a 2003
crackdown known as Cuba's "Black Spring." The remainder included some
common criminals, she noted.

All but a dozen of the freed inmates went directly from prison to exile
in Spain. Soler's husband, Angel Moya, chose to stay in Cuba following
his release and remains a leading opposition activist.

But Ortega has been "silent" since a four-hour meeting with the Ladies
in White last summer, Soler added. A month earlier, the women had what
they called a "tough" meeting with Msgr. Ramón Suárez Polcari,
chancellor of the Havana archdiocese.

Suárez declared that the women were no longer a humanitarian group
because their jailed male relatives had been freed, and that their
request for an audience with then-Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican was
unnecessary because the Cuban government would never allow them to leave
Cuba in any case, according to media reports.

Soler also blamed the Cuban government for the Oct. 14 2011 death of
Laura Pollán, who founded the Ladies in White in 2003 to bring together
the female relatives of dissidents arrested in the Black Spring crackdown.

Pollán, who suffered from diabetes but did not require insulin, was
feeling ill for several days and went into a hospital for treatment.
"She was doped up in order to kill her," Soler declared. The official
cause of death was listed as a cardio-respiratory failure.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Camouflaged Capitalism

Camouflaged Capitalism / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 29, 2013

Like Deng Xiaoping in China, General Raul Castro is using capitalism to
save Cuba's brand of socialism. It worked in China. The party and its
ideological stalwarts achieved results.

Not only did the market and capital investments transform China into the
second largest economy on the planet, creating spectacular economic
growth, the party also performed Olympian ideological acrobatics.
Sweeping away the resounding failures of Mao's Great Leap Forward and
the barbarities of the Cultural Revolution was a masterpiece of Chinese
advertising magic.

Deng experienced the violence of the revolution personally. He was a
victim of the Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao. Accused of being a
counter-revolutionary, he was stripped of power. He was confined in 1969
to a remote region and forced to work in a tractor factory in Jianxi
province. After Mao's death he was rehabilitated. Once in power he
gradually began China's transformation.

From a rural economy he created a superpower by fusing the tools of
capitalism with the supremacy and control of the Communist Party. His
first steps were gradual. At the time his Soviet comrades and Cuba's
Fidel Castro branded him a traitor to Marxism.

In the 1980s, while Fidel Castro dismissed the new Chinese government,
his brother Raul took note. The Chinese reforms began seven years before
Gorbachev's perestroika. They met with approval from the United States
which, astonished by the economic and social experiment, granted China
most-favored-nation trade status.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused China of violating human
rights, imprisoning political dissidents and carrying out 18,000 death
penalties a year.

During the uprising in Tienanmen Square in 1989, Deng Xiaoping did not
hesitate to order the army to fire on peaceful protesters calling for
democracy. Deng was clear; no one but no one was going to impede the
progress of the reforms.

Millions of people got out of poverty thanks to the economic
transformations. Today the Communist Party applauds people who make
money, as long as they remain silent, obedient and do not succumb to
democratic rhetoric.

Today China is a quiet empire – a country where laborers work for
seventy dollars a month for as many hours as an investor wants without
worries about losses from strikes or independent trade unions.

China is a cocktail of voracious capitalist ambition combined with the
rigid societal controls typical of an autocracy. The entire reform
process in China has been carefully studied by the accountants,
technocrats and economists advising the Cuban general.

Raul Castro has been in charge of the nation's economy since the
mid-1990s, but it was only after July 31, 2006, when his brother gave up
power due to illness, that the path was clear to introduce economic
changes on the island.

In Cuba the capitalist methods of a market economy are to be introduced
gradually. As in Deng's China, lip service will still be paid to a
planned economy, but the doors will be discreetly opened to capitalist
investors. The economic czar, Marion Murillo, is careful to camouflage
his future plans.

Among the first steps will be overtures to millionaire Cuban businessmen
living in the United States. Unlike China, however, Cuba is of no
particular interest to the world's power centers.

A limiting factor is that its market of eleven million impoverished
Cubans in not a seductive draw for foreign investment. Its complicated
investment laws also do not inspire confidence.

Until now the Castros have acted like swindlers, breaking it off with
capitalists and closing down their businesses when they feel like it.
General Raul promises to change the rules of the game.

The embargo is another big obstacle. No capitalist with any sense of
pride is going to invest money in Cuba if it means not being able to do
business with the world's superpower.

There is nothing more cowardly than a million dollars. To reverse the
situation, sensible people in the regime are trying to strengthen the
anti-embargo lobby in the United States.

They can count on the support of most country's in the world as well as
the proven inefficacy of the embargo. Economic pressures from Washington
have brought neither democracy nor free elections to the island.

Eleven administrations have passed through the White House during the
fifty-fours years of this autocratic government, having committed
themselves to democracy in Cuba.

If Raul Castro comes up with cosmetic political changes and creates
business opportunities for all Cubans — exiles and non-exiles — the next
American president could change policy.

At the end of the day, China is no more democratic than Cuba. And the
United States wants a neighbor that keeps illegal immigration under
control and combats drug trafficking and terrorism.

These are the trump cards the government of Castro II will proposed to
sit down and negotiate with the Americans. The current regime could be
innovative in creating democratic pockets.

For some time, the special services have been colonizing certain areas
of dissent. As an international image it doesn't hurt. And, above all,
to engage the rest of the nations of the continent, where the opposition
is legal.

Raul Castro's intentions are to revive the economy so that people can to
live better without questioning who governs. His goal is to extend the
Castro regime beyond his death.

His guide has been China's reforms. His strategy is similar. That
capitalism saves a shipwrecked socialism.

Iván García

Photo: Iberostar Ensenachos. Five star hotel with 440 rooms, located on
the north coast of the province of Villa Clara, in the center of the
island. Among the benefits of the environment are two pristine beaches,
the Ensenachos and The Mégano. Built on a virgin key in a the shape of a
horseshoe, the area is considered a Biosphere Reserve, for having
endemic species of flora and fauna and an aboriginal settlement.

25 April 2013


Call for release of blogger held for past two months

Call for release of blogger held for past two months
Published on Monday 29 April 2013.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the Cuban authorities to quickly
release Angel Santiesteban-Prats, a writer and blogger who has been held
for the past two months and who has been on hunger strike since his
transfer to a different prison at the start of this month. He is now in
an isolation cell.

"On 9 April, the same day that the authorities acceded to calls for
dissident journalist Calixto Martínez's release, Santiesteban-Prats was
transferred to Prison 1850 in the Havana suburb of San Miguel del Padrón
and was subjected to a 'maximum-severity' regime of treatment.

"His detention is both cruel and absurd. The authorities are trying to
make an example out of him, but they will never be able to prevent the
population from expressing itself in diverse ways. We urge them to
release him without delay. At the same time, we appeal to him to abandon
his hunger strike.

"The Cuban government took over the rotating presidency of the Community
of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in January, but it has
yet to honour its international obligations as regards human rights and
fundamental freedoms. The other CELAC members should remind Cuba of this

Arrested on 28 February to begin serving a five-year jail sentence,
Santiesteban-Prats was placed in an isolation cell, without water or
light, when he went on hunger strike following his transfer to Prison 1850.

Currently allowed to use the phone for only a few minutes a day, he
reported on 22 April that prison guards had held him down and forced him
to drink a filthy liquid that made him ill.

Santiesteban-Prats received the five-year jail sentence on trumped-up
charges of "home violation" and "injuries" at the end of a summary trial
on 8 December.

The winner of major literary prizes, he was arrested several times prior
to the trial in connection with the political views he expressed. The
harassment increased after he created his blog, The children no one
wanted, in which he criticized the government.

One other news provider is currently detained in Cuba. It is Luis
Antonio Torres, a reporter for the government newspaper Granma, who was
arrested in 2011 and was sentenced in July 2012 to 14 years in prison on
spying charges for which no evidence has ever been produced. Reporters
Without Borders also calls for his rapid release.


Ex-Cuban spy offers to renounce US citizenship

Posted on Monday, 04.29.13

Ex-Cuban spy offers to renounce US citizenship
The Associated Press

MIAMI -- A convicted Cuban spy is offering to renounce his U.S.
citizenship if a judge will allow him to serve a probation sentence in Cuba.

Rene Gonzalez was recently allowed to visit Cuba for two weeks following
his father's death and is due back May 6. His lawyer says in court
papers that Gonzalez will renounce his citizenship while in Havana at
the U.S. Interests Section, but only if he can serve his remaining
months of probation there.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard issued no immediate ruling.

Gonzalez is one of the so-called Cuban Five convicted of spying on
exiles in Florida and attempting to infiltrate military installations
and political campaigns. They are hailed as heroes in Cuba.

Gonzalez was released from prison in 2011 but is serving three years'


Cuban Regime Blog Threatens Rosa Maria Paya With Prison

Cuban Regime Blog Threatens Rosa Maria Paya With Prison / Juan Antoni
Posted on April 28, 2013

The Cuban government sponsored blog Herlado Cubano is trying to
intimidate Rosa Maria Paya in a recent post in which it criticizes the
allegations Oswaldo Paya's daughter had made about his death. The
official blogger, who goes by the name Arthur Gonzalez, said that for
accusing the Cuban government for being behind the death of the opponent
Oswaldo Paya, Rosa Maria Paya could be indicted for false accusations, a
crime under article 154 of the Penal code, which provides penalties from
six months to two years in prison.

"It is not appropriate for Rosa Maria and her mother Ofelia Acevedo,
with complete impunity, to accuse and defame the Cuban state; Cuban
Institutions can also exercise their right and bring their accusations.
Whoever plays with fire is going to get burned," writes the blogger.

Paya just returned to Cuba after several months in different European
countries and the United States to build support for the opening of an
international investigation into the death of her father.

From Punt de Vista, the blog of Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall


IDB: Remittances sent to Latin America and the Caribbean on the upswing

Posted on Monday, 04.29.13

IDB: Remittances sent to Latin America and the Caribbean on the upswing

Remittances sent to Latin America and the Caribbean grew less than 1
percent in 2012 but showed larger increases in countries more dependent
on money sent home by migrants living in the United States, according to
an Inter-American Development Bank study released Monday.

Last year, the region received $61.3 billion in remittances — the money
sent by migrants to sustain family and friends in their homelands.
That's $300 million, or 0.6 percent, more than in 2011.

The tally doesn't include countries, such as Cuba, which aren't IDB

"What we're seeing is a continued stabilization in remittances and that
has been the trend for the last few years as we've come out of the
global economic crisis,'' said Natasha Bajuk, an IDB remittance
specialist who worked on the report.

Remittances had been growing steadily, reaching a high of $65 billion in
2008, but falling by 15 percent in 2009 as the effects of the financial
crisis took hold. The trend once again turned positive in 2010, but
there have been very small increases for the past few years.

In contrast, most of the Andean countries, which are more dependent on
remittances from Spain and other European countries, are continuing to
show declines.

"Unemployment trends affect the capacity of migrants to continue sending
money back home,'' Bajuk said.

In debt-ridden Spain, unemployment reached a record 27.2 percent during
the first quarter of this year and spiked to 57.2 percent among 16- to

Despite its economic problems, Spain is still the second most important
source of remittances sent to the region.

Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, where the bulk of
remittances come from the United States, showed increases in
remittances, according to the report.

Remittances sent to Costa Rica ($579 million), Guatemala ($4.78 billion)
and Nicaragua ($1.15 billion) were up more than 9 percent.

But the trend was slightly different for Mexico, which at $22.45 billion
far and away receives more remittances than any other Latin American or
Caribbean nation, Bajuk said.

Even though most of the remittances sent to Mexico come from the United
States, remittances were down by 1.6 percent.

"What we've seen over the years is that the driving force for sending
patterns is the need to cover necessities on the other side,'' Bajuk said.

Last year Mexico's exchange rate turned more positive from migrants'
perspective, meaning they could send less money and still have the same
impact on their relatives' lives.

"If you look at the amount received in terms of the value in the local
currency, there would actually be a slight positive trend in remittances
to Mexico,'' Bajuk said.

Another factor affecting remittances to Mexico is that during the
economic slowdown in the United States, net migration flows from Mexico
have been near zero, meaning some migrants are returning home. During
January, according to the report, the unemployment rate among Mexican
migrants in the United States was 10.5 percent.

Haiti, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010, is also a big
recipient of remittances from the United States.

But the $1.99 billion that Haitians received last year actually
represented a 3.4 percent decline.

In 2010, remittances to Haiti jumped by 20 percent to nearly $2 billion
and were up an additional 4.4 percent in 2011.

Despite the 2012 decline, remittances were still ahead of the pre-quake
record of $1.8 billion in 2008.

Read more here:

Venezuela's Maduro pledges continued alliance with Cuba

Venezuela's Maduro pledges continued alliance with Cuba
HAVANA | Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:17am EDT

(Reuters) - Cuba and Venezuela signed cooperation accords on Saturday
for 51 projects as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, on his first
trip to the island since his election, pledged to maintain the close
alliance forged by his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Maduro said they would jointly spend $2 billion this year on "social
development," but it was not clear if he was discussing the 51 projects,
few details of which were disclosed, or other works.

His visit appeared aimed in part at allaying Cuban worries about
post-Chavez relations with the oil-rich South American nation that is
Cuba's biggest ally and benefactor.

Venezuelan oil and money help keep the communist-ruled island's troubled
economy afloat and the governments have about 30 joint ventures, most of
them in Venezuela.

"We have come to Havana, Cuba, to say to the people of Venezuela, the
people of Cuba, all the people of Latin America ... are going to
continue working together, we came to ratify a strategic, historic
alliance that transcends time, that is more a brotherhood than an
alliance," Maduro said at a signing ceremony in Havana's main convention

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, told reporters he met with
former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 86, for five hours on Saturday,
"remembering Comandante Chavez, remembering that those two built this

Maduro narrowly won an April 14 election to replace Chavez, who died on
March 5 after a long battle with cancer.

He ran basically as a Chavez surrogate who would continue his socialist
policies both at home and abroad, including a close relationship with
Cuba and Castro, whom Chavez considered his political mentor.

But his election opponent, Henrique Capriles, scored political points by
criticizing the alliance with Cuba, which combined with serious economic
problems facing Venezuela, made Cubans worry they could lose their
economic lifeline.

Cuba receives an estimated 110,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan oil in
exchange for money and the services of some 44,000 Cubans, most of them
medical personnel, in Venezuela.

In 2000, Cuba and Venezuela created an intergovernmental commission that
holds annual meetings to develop joint projects in a wide range of
areas, among them healthcare, education, culture and economics.

Cuban President Raul Castro, who spoke only briefly at the ceremony,
said that along with the 51 projects, they had agreed on memorandum of
understanding for the development and adoption of a "bilateral economic
agenda" for the next five years.

(Reporting By Jeff Franks and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Peter Cooney)


Cuba Dissident Blogger Yoani Sanchez Confronted by Italian Pro-Castro Fanatics

Cuba Dissident Blogger Yoani Sanchez Confronted by Italian Pro-Castro
By Gianluca Mezzofiore: Subscribe to Gianluca's RSS feed
April 28, 2013 9:59 PM GMT

Cuba dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has been confronted by pro-Castro
fanatics at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia

A group of around twenty demonstrators accused Sanchez of being
pro-American, shouting "Yes to Cuba, no to Yankee" and throwing fake
dollars with the face of Sanchez in it. They demanded the release of the
Cuban Five, also known as the Miami Five (Gerardo Hernández, Antonio
Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González) who were
convicted in Miami of conspiracy to committ espionage, murder and acting
as an agent of a foreign government in the US.

The group left the room singing Bella Ciao, an old folk song used by
Italian anti-Fascist partisans during the Second World War.

"My voice sounds louder in face of their insults," said Sanchez. "I
dream one day that every public figure in Cuba will be scrutinised and
subject to critique."

Yoani Sanchez started the blog Generación Y (Generation Y) in 2007,
becoming Castro regime's most internationally vocal opponent. Her site
gets millions of hits per month, and hundreds of thousands of people
follow her on Twitter. The blog, available in twenty languages, reports
on everything from mass arrests to the endless queues, from sudden
spikes in food prices to some citizens who are "building their own
antennas" because antennas are illegal in Cuba.

Internet access is incredibly limited in Cuba due to tech
underdevelopment but also to government restrictions. It has been
estimated that 98% of Cubans have no Web access. Cuba has no high-speed
Internet connection and public computers are connect to an Intranet
system called RedCubana, which contains only regime-approved sites. To
break censorship, Yoani sends text message tweet from a mobile phone.
"I'm a techonology freak," she admits.

"I live in Cuba, because I chose to live in Cuba, not because I was born
there. I'm useful there. "When I was in Switzerland, my mind was in
Cuba, my body was in Switzerland. But I'm not I'm sorry I got back I
would do it again."

Sanchez was taken into police custody in September 2012 after a public
protest against the regime's detention of an anti-Castro writer, Yaremis
Flores, for her articles published on Miami-based CubaNet website.

Sanchez appeared unruffled despite the violent protest.

"Here [in Italy], when they can insult me I can reply," she said. "The
pain I feel is that in Cuba, if they insult me, I can't reply.

"I feel like Ulysses now, I've been travelling around the world to feel
people like me," she continued. "But I want to go home. That's the route
of pain."

The blogger explained that she is very critical towards those who see
huge differences between the two Castro brothers. Raul Castro became
Cuba's leader when his elder brother, Fidel, stepped down in 2006 to
undergo intestinal surgery.

"Raul Castro government has an original sin: we did not elect him! He
inherited the president because he has the right DNA," she said.

"We want change," she continued. "My generation was never asked how we
wanted to see the country to become like. My generation had never been
able to choose the president who govern the country."

US president Barack Obama famously said that Sanchez' blog "provides the
world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba" and
praised her efforts to "empower fellow Cubans to express themselves
through the use of technology."

"I have to speak a universal language, tell people what's going on,"
Sanchez said. "We, people of Cuba, deserve respect, because we are
fighting against a monopoly, an inflexible structure which is the Cuban

"We want respect and freedom as human beings."

To report problems or to leave feedback about this article, e-mail:
To contact the editor, e-mail: editor@ibtimes.co.uk


Report chronicles Cuba's rights abuses

Report chronicles Cuba's rights abuses
Apr. 28, 2013

The State Department's latest report on human-rights practices
effectively puts the lie to the idea that the piecemeal and illusory
changes in Cuba under Gen. Raúl Castro represent a genuine political
opening toward greater freedom.

If anything, things are getting worse. The report, which covers 2012,
says the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation
counted 6,602 short-term detentions during the year, compared with 4,123
in 2011. In March 2012, the same commission recorded a 30-year record
high of 1,158 short-term detentions in a single month just before the
visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

Among the many abuses cited by the 2012 report are the prison sentences
handed out to members of the Unión Patriotica de Cuba, the estimated
3,000 citizens held under the charge of "potential dangerousness,"
state-orchestrated assaults against the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in
White), the suspicious death of dissident Oswaldo Payá and so on.

As in any dictatorship, telling the truth is a crime: Independent
journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, the first to report on the
cholera outbreak in Cuba, was jailed in September for the crime of
desacato (insulting speech) and remained there until last week.

The regime is willing to undertake some meek economic reforms to keep
people employed. It has even dared to relax its travel requirements to
allow more Cubans to leave the country if they can get a passport.

Both of these are short-term survival measures, designed as escape
valves for growing internal pressure. But when it comes to free speech,
political activity and freedom of association — the building blocks of a
free society — the report is a depressing chronicle of human-rights
abuses and a valuable reminder that repression is the Castro regime's
only response to those who demand a genuinely free Cuba. Fundamental
reform? Not a chance."


Leading Dissident Group 'Ladies In White' Want A Cuba Without Castro

Leading Dissident Group 'Ladies In White' Want A Cuba Without Castro
Published April 28, 2013
Fox News Latino

CORAL GABLES, FL - APRIL 27: Berta Soler, co-founder of the Ladies in White, and current leader of the Cuban opposition group leads a cheer as she visits with Cuban exiles during an event at Merrick Park on April 27, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. In Cuba Soler?s group is made up of wives and mothers and was formed in 2003 after the arrests of 75 government opponents. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (2013 Getty Images)

While en route to accept Europe's top human rights prize, the leader of a leading Cuban dissidents group spoke strongly against the Castro brothers to an exile community that received her message with enthusiastic applause.

"We want a Cuba in which liberty exists," Berta Soler, co-founder of the Ladies in White, said. "Where there is democracy. And where there is respect for human rights. And also, we are fighting pacifically for a Cuba without the Castros."

The wife of a former political prisoner traveled to the United States after receiving the Sakharov Prize with other members of the Ladies in White Tuesday in Brussels. She met with Cuban-American political leaders in Washington and spent Saturday uniting with exiles in Miami, where nostalgia for Cuba still dominates many aspects of daily life.

Her visit comes shortly after that of two other prominent Cuban dissidents, blogger Yoani Sanchez and Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, an opposition leader who was killed in a car accident last year. All three have recently been allowed to travel after years of being denied exit permits. In January, a new law scrapped the permit, which Cuba had routinely denied to those considered "counterrevolutionaries."

Soler accepted the prize in Brussels, eight years after it was awarded to the Ladies in White.

"I'm not here because of the migratory change, nor because of any good gesture by the Cuban government," Soler said, speaking in a strong, husky voice. "I'm here today because of international political pressure."

She called the economic and social reforms instituted by Raul Castro "cosmetic." The changes have expanded private enterprise and legalized a real estate market.

"They don't resolve the economic necessities of the people," said Soler, dressed in a white shirt and skirt, her eyes painted with a sparkling purple eye shadow.

Soler said Cuba is still a country where people go hungry and are castigated and detained for expressing dissent. Not all Cubans have been allowed to travel, including Soler's own husband, Angel Moya, who was locked up for years in connection with his political activities.

Soler spoke at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. About a dozen previous members of the group now living in the United States came dressed in white to greet her. Former political prisoners and passionate exiles peppered her with questions about conditions on the island.

The Ladies in White group was founded by wives and mothers of 75 government opponents arrested in a crackdown on dissidents in the spring of 2003. They marched together on Sundays, wore white to represent peace, love and purity, and carried gladiolus flowers, calling for their relatives' release. The Cuban government has detained the women from time to time and sent crowds of government proponents to shout at them. But their demonstrations proved successful. All of the political prisoners arrested in the crackdown have been released.

A small core of the original group has continued to march nearly every Sunday, joined by some who now have no relative that has been detained, but simply are in agreement with their message. The Ladies have struggled to find a new direction, but if Soler's speech was any indication, the group has turned its focus to a larger cause calling for democratic change and human rights on the island.

Soler said the members of her group have faced nearly every kind of insult, from being spit at and harassed to hit and detained. She also spoke about the discrimination faced by black Cubans. Blacks have long been underprivileged in Cuba, something the revolution attempted to rectify, though Soler said today they remain highly underrepresented in the government, at universities and in well-paid jobs.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I don't lie," said Soler, who is black. "There's nothing to thank the revolution for."

The issue of black equality in Cuba recently resurfaced after the publishing director of the influential, government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute was demoted to a lesser role following his publication of an opinion piece in the New York Times that criticized "blatant racism" on the island.

Soler spoke forcefully about her views on the U.S. embargo against Cuba — she said the real blockade was the one inside Cuba.

"We are all Cubans and we all have the right to be in our country, no matter what political ideology we defend," she said. "Cuba does not belong to the Castros. It belongs to the Cubans."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Differences and Pluralism

Differences and Pluralism / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 27, 2013

For some time, our main political leaders have begun talking about the
need to accept and respect differences, both in Cuban society and the
world. Although, in regard to the world, at least in the speeches and
communications, and even some regional and international organizations.
In the national sphere it's not the same and they limit themselves, so
far, to questions relating to culture, religion, race and sexuality. The
issue of differences in political conceptions seems to be taboo, and not
part of the official language.

To accept and respect some differences, excluding other important one,
is not serious nor sufficient: acceptance and respect should encompass
everything but, even more, it is essential to create the constitutional
and legal framework to ensure their practical implementation, and
failing this it is all just words which, usually, are gone with the wind.

"Pluralism,: which is a more all-encompassing than "differences," is a
pending issue for the authorities, to which they have to pay special
attention, if they truly want to walk the path of economic reform,
although they want to call it an "update" when what it needs is to be

Without constitutional and legal changes that delete or modify the
different articles that prevent and repress pluralism, our society
cannot advance and, much less, get in line with the times. To keep
one-party hegemony, political and social organizations organized and
controlled by it, a National Assembly legislates and, itself, decides
the constitutionality of legislation (judge and jury) and elects the
president and fills the main posts, based on a proposals from a
so-called Nominations Commission, without direct participation of voters
and other absurdities, refusing the proclaimed acceptance of
differences, or, and it's the same thing, of pluralism.

It's true that this is not an easy task, for those who have held
absolute power for more than fifty years, but, sooner rather than later,
they will have to decide to take the bull by the horns, for the good of
the nation and of all Cubans.

23 April 2013


Cuba's young see bleak future, many want to leave

Cuba's young see bleak future, many want to leave
By Jeff Franks | Reuters – 04/28/2013

HAVANA (Reuters) - On weekend nights in Havana, young hipsters fill the
sidewalks at a busy intersection near the seafront and spill into the
park below, passing rum bottles between them, smoking cigarettes and
playing guitars.

Black t-shirts, low-slung jeans, oddball haircuts and tattoos are in
vogue at this spot, a favorite hangout for Cuban youth with a
counter-cultural, slightly rebellious feel to it.

On one corner, police question a few overzealous partiers, but generally
leave people alone compared to years past, when, according to one
regular, Ernesto Ramis, they made everyone move along.

Ramis, 25, says you can get drugs here - uppers, downers, maybe some
ecstasy - but there is no overt evidence of illegality this night, only
a sense that being young in Cuba today is different, that conformity to
the old ways has faded.

"The main difference," says Ramis, pointing toward the Straits of
Florida, barely visible in the darkness, "is that everyone wants to leave."

His use of the word "everyone," is an overstatement, but he has touched
on one of the Cuban government's biggest problems - youthful discontent
with a system many view as lacking opportunity for a better life.

It is not a problem unique to the Caribbean island, which like many
underdeveloped countries struggles to hold on to its best and brightest,
but unlike most others faces the added difficulty of doing so at the
doorstep of a hostile superpower with an open door immigration policy
for Cubans.

The government, well aware of its youth problem, is gradually changing
the Soviet-style, state-run economic model put in place after the 1959
revolution, partly to address the issue.

There are young people taking advantage of the reforms by opening their
own businesses or going into jobs in the island's growing private
sector, but there are others who doubt the government will move fast
enough - or far enough - to make a difference, and they want out.

Most hope to go to the United States, only 90 miles away, following in
the footsteps of an estimated 1.5 million who have preceded them since
the revolution.

Other countries such as Canada and Spain are also sought-after
destinations, although Spain's economic woes have lately made it less

Some Cubans claim that when the sky is very clear you can see the glow
of lights from Florida in the night sky, which is doubtful, but an
indication of the psychological proximity of the two places despite
years of official hostility.

The U.S. approves 25,000 to 30,000 immigrant visas for Cubans each year,
and several thousand more enter the country without visas from third
countries or by sea.

An elderly Communist Party member said the difference from the past is
that the desire to leave is so widespread among the young.

"Unfortunately, if you talk to 10 young people today, nine of them will
tell you they want to leave Cuba. They don't see a future," she said,
not wanting to be identified.

Ulisses Guilarte, head of the party in Artemisa province and a member of
the Central Committee, told Reuters the reason for youthful
disillusionment was obvious.

"It is clear the economic situation is difficult, undoubtedly. The young
people view their aspirations as still distant," he said.


The government prides itself on providing free healthcare and education
to its people, but in an economy handicapped by inefficiency and a
longstanding U.S. trade embargo, monthly salaries average the equivalent
of $20 a month.

Young people have watched their parents scrape by for years and do not
want the same fate of little money and limited choices.

They want better-paying jobs, their own homes and cars, access to the
Internet and a brighter future. Few have traveled abroad, so they want
to see the wider world and live a life they get glimpses of in movies or
from tourists or visiting relatives.

Some want to have children, but feel it makes no sense if they have no
money and have to share homes with relatives, as many do in Cuba.

"After I graduated and began to work, I realized that with the money I
was earning it wasn't enough to have or maintain a family," said
computer programmer Estela Izquierdo, 29, before she moved to Montreal
with her husband.

It was not an easy decision to leave her family and the life she had
known, but time was of the essence.

"I can't wait my whole life (for things to change). I have a biological
clock, I have to have kids," she said.

A photograph of the couple posted on the Internet showed them bundled
against the Canadian cold, playing in the first snow they had ever seen.

Edgar Saucedo, a musician, said he also wants to have a family, but in
the United States, not in Cuba where he shares a Havana home with seven
other people.

"It's just not feasible here," he said. "Here you work and you work and
at the end of the month you've got 12 CUCs, if you're lucky. What can
you do with 12 CUCs?" he added, referring to Cuba's hard currency,
valued at parity with the U.S. dollar. Most people earn Cuban pesos,
which are 24 to 1 with the dollar.

Saucedo's hopes of going to the United States are based on a vague plan
of getting invited up to play Cuban music and, once there, never leaving.

He is a keyboard player by profession, but a friend in the United States
making $18 an hour as a garbage pickup man says he can get him the same
job, which sounds good to him.

"I'll do whatever work I have to do," said the bearded 33-year-old. "I
don't want that much, I just want to have a normal life."

Cuba's outward tide looks unlikely to end any time soon, and may increase.

The government relaxed laws in January, making it easier for Cubans to
leave the country, which U.S. officials in Havana say has led to a 10
percent increase in inquiries about visas.

Before the change, most visa applications came from the elderly but now
most are coming from young people, they said.

Schools in Havana offering classes in foreign languages, particularly
English and French, are overloaded with young applicants.

One woman said she began French classes three years ago with 34 other
students, all of whom wanted to learn the language to help them get an
immigrant visa to French-speaking Quebec. All but four are now in Canada
or have visas to go, she said.


"One of the things that's ironic is Cuba has an educated population, but
it doesn't have anything for them to do. They've almost prepared their
professionals to emigrate," said Cuba expert Ted Henken at Baruch
College in New York.

"I think in some ways the Cuban revolution is the best thing that ever
happened to Miami, because half of their professional force was probably
trained there," he said.

In a world where population growth is exploding and a region where
countries have high birth rates and low median ages, Cuba's population
is declining and getting older.

Preliminary figures from a national census last year showed that the
number of Cubans had slightly declined from 2002 to about 11 million people.

The median age of Cubans has risen to about 39 from 36 in the 2002
census, according to a U.S. government estimate, far above that of any
other country in Latin America.

Under President Raul Castro, Cuba has launched economic reforms aimed in
part at providing new opportunities it hopes will be attractive to the

In today's placid Cuba, the notion of a youth revolt seems far-fetched,
but this government was put in place by young rebels led by Fidel
Castro, so it knows the potential of restive youth.

Raul Castro, who succeeded older brother Fidel Castro in 2008 and is 81,
is encouraging more private businesses.

The number of those working in the private sector has risen to just over
400,000 from 150,000 in 2010, and the money earned is generally better
than what state jobs pay.

Alexander Perez, 29, is an example of what the government hopes to see.
Almost all of his former classmates at the University of Havana have
left, he said, but he decided to try out the new economic model.

He borrowed money from friends and family, rented a commercial space and
started up Havana Pizza. With time, and by putting his business major
into practice, people came to like his thin-crust pizzas, which are rare
in Cuba, and the prices, starting at the equivalent of about 50 cents.

On a recent night he watched over a steady flow of customers and
regularly checked messages on his cellphone, and would not disclose how
much money he is making. But he is glad he stayed.

"There's a friend of mine who tells me I'm crazy because I want to do
this, but, fine, each person thinks differently. What's a solution for
me is not for another," Perez said.

School teacher Marisela Rey, 29, also is an example of what the
government would like to see, not because she is starting a business,
but because she wants a better life in Cuba, not somewhere else.

"If Cuba gives me the opportunity, I would achieve it Cuba. I like my
country," she said. "I think this system is the ideal one if we repair
and reconstruct it."

It is a job she thinks would best be left to a new generation of
leaders, not the aging men who have led the country since the revolution.

"They can't wait anymore, youth will prevail."

(Reporting By Jeff Franks, Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson Acosta; Editing
by David Adams, Kieran Murray and Mohammad Zargham)


Cuba: Capitol Building to Host Parliament Again

Cuba: Capitol Building to Host Parliament Again
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated Press
HAVANA April 26, 2013 (AP)

Havana's Capitol building will play host to Cuba's parliament for the
first time since 1959, when it came to be seen as a symbol of the old
regime thrown out of power that year by Fidel Castro's revolution.

City Historian Eusebio Leal, whose office has been overseeing the
multi-year restoration of the building, said this week that lawmakers of
the unicameral National Assembly will move into offices there.

They will also use it for their twice-annual one-day sessions, instead
of the convention center in western Havana where they currently take
place. Cuba is a single-party communist state.

Leal, who did not give an exact date for when the building will be
ready, called it "a work of great importance for the architectural world
and for Havana."
Cuba Capitols Revival.JPEG

Inaugurated in 1929, the neoclassical masterpiece sits like an oversize
wedding cake in the middle of bustling Center Havana.

It was inspired by and looks remarkably like the U.S. Capitol in
Washington, and its elegant gray-and-white dome can be seen from many
parts of the city when not shrouded with scaffolding.

Inside are massive granite stairs and a gigantic Egyptian onyx statue of
a maiden warrior that symbolizes the republic.

After 1959, the building was used first as the home of Cuba's Academy of
Sciences, and later by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

Its latest tenants moved out in recent years as the City Historian's
Office began work on the building. The pace of restoration has
noticeably picked up in recent months, even as it was still unclear what
the building would be used for.

Leal's office has restored hundreds of historic buildings and monuments
in the city's colonial quarter and elsewhere.

He said he also hopes to reopen the historic Marti Theater this year,
just steps away from the Capitol.


Follow Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP


Venezuela's Maduro pledges continued alliance with Cuba

Venezuela's Maduro pledges continued alliance with Cuba
Reuters – 04/28/2013

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and Venezuela signed cooperation accords on
Saturday for 51 projects as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, on his
first trip to the island since his election, pledged to maintain the
close alliance forged by his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Maduro said they would jointly spend $2 billion this year on "social
development," but it was not clear if he was discussing the 51 projects,
few details of which were disclosed, or other works.

His visit appeared aimed in part at allaying Cuban worries about
post-Chavez relations with the oil-rich South American nation that is
Cuba's biggest ally and benefactor.

Venezuelan oil and money help keep the communist-ruled island's troubled
economy afloat and the governments have about 30 joint ventures, most of
them in Venezuela.

"We have come to Havana, Cuba, to say to the people of Venezuela, the
people of Cuba, all the people of Latin America ... are going to
continue working together, we came to ratify a strategic, historic
alliance that transcends time, that is more a brotherhood than an
alliance," Maduro said at a signing ceremony in Havana's main convention

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, told reporters he met with
former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 86, for five hours on Saturday,
"remembering Comandante Chavez, remembering that those two built this

Maduro narrowly won an April 14 election to replace Chavez, who died on
March 5 after a long battle with cancer.

He ran basically as a Chavez surrogate who would continue his socialist
policies both at home and abroad, including a close relationship with
Cuba and Castro, whom Chavez considered his political mentor.

But his election opponent, Henrique Capriles, scored political points by
criticizing the alliance with Cuba, which combined with serious economic
problems facing Venezuela, made Cubans worry they could lose their
economic lifeline.

Cuba receives an estimated 110,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan oil in
exchange for money and the services of some 44,000 Cubans, most of them
medical personnel, in Venezuela.

In 2000, Cuba and Venezuela created an intergovernmental commission that
holds annual meetings to develop joint projects in a wide range of
areas, among them healthcare, education, culture and economics.

Cuban President Raul Castro, who spoke only briefly at the ceremony,
said that along with the 51 projects, they had agreed on memorandum of
understanding for the development and adoption of a "bilateral economic
agenda" for the next five years.

(Reporting By Jeff Franks and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Peter Cooney)


North Korea, Cuba and Iran Criticize Canada's Lack of Human Rights at UN

North Korea, Cuba and Iran Criticize Canada's Lack of Human Rights at UN
April 27, 2013 By Daniel Greenfield

The moral authority of the United Nations and its supporters and
defenders has as much value as the moral authority of the North Korean,
Chinese, Cuban, Russian, Saudi and other totalitarian regimes that
actually dominate it.

Until the United States does the right thing and waves farewell to this
union of tyrants, terrorists and thugs, we will all be forced to
subsidize obscene scenes like these.

Obama brought the United States back into the United Nations Human
Rights Council lending it whatever shoddy moral authority a Nobel Peace
Prize winner who upholds Islamist tyrannies that oppress women and
Christians has on tap.

Today's UN quadrennial review of Canada's human rights record quickly
turned into a spectacle of hypocrisy and farce when the North Korean
regime of Kim Jong-un took the floor to accuse the country of "torture
and other ill-treatment," China, Cuba and Pakistan bewailed Canada's
"racism," and Russia deplored "torture and cruelty against peaceful


Iran: We are "concerned on violations of human rights by Canadian
government… particularly with regard to child sexual exploitation and
trafficking, the right to food, discriminatory law and regulation
against indigenous people and minority groups including Muslim and
African communities."

China: "We are concerned by the wide-spread racial discrimination in

Cuba: There is "racism and xenophobia" in Canada.

North Korea: "We have serious concerns about continued violation of the
right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, torture and other
ill-treatment, racism and xenophobia."

Egypt: "We are alarmed by several instances of racial profiling in
law-enforcement action and racial discrimination in employment."

Pakistan: "The increased poverty and unemployment rate among immigrant
communities is a manifestation of racial discrimination."

Russia: "Human rights defenders are alarmed by police actions of torture
and cruelty against peaceful demonstrators."

There isn't even any point in commenting on this. The United Nations is
a sick sad joke. It's time to turn off the lights, raise the curtain and
go home.


Globe-trotting Cuban activists sway world opinion

Posted on Friday, 04.26.13
Cuban dissidents

Globe-trotting Cuban activists sway world opinion

At least a half dozen Cuban activists are now crisscrossing the globe, more or less at the same time, publicly airing their grievances against the Cuban government and meeting with high-level officials and politicians abroad.

What gives? Many Cuba watchers are wondering why a society and government that has been closed for so many years is now allowing opposing voices to speak so freely abroad and collect awards — some with significant amounts of money attached.

In the past, Havana sporadically granted an exit visa allowing a human-rights activist to travel, but a reform instituted in January swept away the need for the reviled tarjeta blanca, or exit visa. Dissidents and opposition bloggers quickly began testing the waters, requesting their passports and accepting international invitations that in some cases had been stacking up for years.

Some say money — or lack of it — is the motivating factor in Cuba’s decision to institute economic and migration reforms. With Cubans freer to come and go, they can work abroad and make international contacts.

But the big question Cuba analysts are asking is: Is Cuba truly opening up — or just trying to burnish its image at a critical time when the future of its main benefactor, Venezuela, is uncertain and it needs to reach out to the world? On May 1, Cuba also is scheduled to officially present its report on human rights for review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Cuba has taken some modest steps towards opening up. Easing up on travel restrictions has been one key area,’’ said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy analysis center. “Cuban authorities can say that it is easier now for Cubans to travel to the U.S. than for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.’’

Regardless of the dissidents’ critical messages abroad, their travel gives the Cuban government the opportunity to appear less restrictive. “Every time they take a plane and travel they are proving this point,’’ said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence analyst who now lives in Miami.

But Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, an exile organization, says that rather than giving more legitimacy to Havana, the trips are more advantageous to the dissidents and their views.

“They are giving a face to Cuban reality that is different from what the government is putting out. I think this will change the world’s view of the internal situation in Cuba,’’ he said. “We also have an opportunity to relate more personally with these people that we have been helping for quite some time.’’

Another benefit for the dissidents, he said, is “when they return, they will be protected by the knowledge and the contacts they’re collected outside.’’ And some will return with additional monetary support, he said, from the prizes they’ve received and the contacts they’ve made.

But he worries that with all the focus on the world travelers, no one is paying much attention to the repression and continuing arrests of dissidents on the island.

Amuchastegui said the new travel policy also is a response to a changing world. “The rules of the game have changed... and Cuba is trying to respond to these new rules.’’

In the end what prevailed among the Cuban leadership is the idea that “we have to deal with these people [dissidents] in a different way,’’ he said.

But Rosa María Payá , daughter of Oswaldo Payá , perhaps Cuba’s most well-respected dissident at the time he was killed in a car crash last year along with colleague Harold Cepero, takes a more cynical view.

“This effort by the Cuban government to sell its reforms as democratic changes, as the beginning of an opening, is what we call cambio fraude” — fraudulent change, she said during a recent meeting with The Miami Herald editorial board. “They are trying to clean up their image.

“In Cuba there has been a change but it has nothing to do with the changes of the government. It has to do with changes that are occurring in the hearts of Cubans who are convinced Cuba needs change,’’ she added.

While on a world tour that took her to Spain, Sweden, New York, Washington and South Florida, Payá, 24, continued to press for an international investigation of her father’s death. The Payá family believes his death wasn’t accidental but caused by Cuban security agents who rammed the vehicle in which he was traveling.

From long-time human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, who arrived in Spain last week, to Orlando Luis Pardo, who writes the blog “Monday of the Post-Revolution’’ and has been giving lectures on college campuses from Wisconsin to Princeton, the dissidents have taken full advantage of the platform the novelty of their visits has afforded them.

Yoani Sánchez, who writes the critical Generación Y blog, got a rock-star reception during her recent visit to Miami, and Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, a dissident group that has marched relentlessly on behalf of Cuban political prisoners, has an event-packed agenda during a visit to Miami starting this weekend. “I think the Cuban government miscalculated and didn’t fully understand what the impact of the visits would be,’’ said Raúl Moas, who heads Raices de Esperanza (Roots of Hope), a group that connects young people in the U.S. with those on the island and sent some 1,500 new and refurbished cell phones to Cuba last year.

“For 50 years you had one voice coming out of Cuba. Now you have multiple voices,’’ he said. “It changes the narrative that the government has so long tried to control.’’

But Amuchastegui said it wasn’t a miscalculation on the part of Cuban leadership — just a risk Havana was willing to take. “I think the Cuban leadership was perfectly aware the dissidents would travel around the world in 80 days… and they were willing to go ahead given the current context of Cuba.’’

The Foundation’s Hernandez said he expects a cost-vs.-benefits analysis is going on in the highest echelons of the Cuban government. “In the long time I have been in this fight, I can assure you that the Cuban government had this all pretty well planned and calculated.”

Still, some analysts say the countless media moments the travelers have racked up as they appear on talk shows, meet editorial boards and hold press conferences on three continents are disconcerting for Havana.

During an appearance at the Inter-American Dialogue earlier this month, José R. Cabañas, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Washington, chafed at all the attention Sánchez has received.

The same Sánchez met with members of the U.S. Congress — “a few, I would repeat a few members of Congress’’ — Cabañas pointed out a congressional hearing was going on discussing the U.S. relationship with Cuba and the embargo, and it received scant media coverage.

But he added, “She was free to come and make her comments freely.’’ However, in response to questions from the Inter-American Dialogue audience about Sánchez, Cabañas never said her name, referring to her as “this lady.’’

“The Cuban government officials are uneasy about what the bloggers and dissidents are saying outside of Cuba, and about all of the attention they are getting. The sharp criticism naturally makes them uncomfortable,’’ said Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue.

“The authorities tend to be dismissive about the bloggers and insist that they don’t represent anyone in Cuba, that they have no constituency,’’ he said. “Of course, the bloggers claim no such thing; they are just expressing their views.’’

A few activists, including Payá, are now back in Cuba and others plan trips in the coming weeks.

How their taste of freedom of expression and the contacts and supporters they have gained abroad play out in their daily activities remains to be seen.

Sánchez has said she hopes to start a digital newspaper that will be distributed in Cuba via flash drive when she returns. Payá is continuing her campaign for an international inquiry into her father’s death. And activist Eliecer Avila has said he wants to start a political party when he returns to Cuba.

Avila was the student who confronted then-National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon in 2008 with a series of tough questions — including “Why can’t the people of Cuba go to hotels or travel to other parts of the world” — when Alarcon visited his school. Video of the encounter was posted on YouTube and went viral.

But with little Internet access available to the average Cuban, the ongoing policy of short-term detentions of dissidents who become too public in their protests, scant recognition at home of the names that have become so high-profile abroad, and a largely politically apathetic Cuban public, dissidents face an uphill battle in getting out their messages on the island.

“As long as the government can control the internal situation, they could care less what the international view is,’’ said Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

He said the government has allowed dissident travel as a way to relieve pressure on the island “There is no way Raúl Castro is going to lose control — yet.’’

And for dissidents returning to Cuba, it does seems to be life as usual. Payá, for example, tweeted that last Thursday afternoon police hassled friends who had stopped by her home to visit.

Even Yoani Sánchez acknowledges the political malaise in her homeland. “The average Cuban is apathetic and indifferent, doesn’t believe in the government but also doesn’t believe that anything is going to change,’’ she said last week in an interview with Spanish blogger Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall in Madrid.

Many Cubans, said Sánchez, currently look to emigration as a solution. “As the national rebellion continues to be channeled outside our borders, the pressure cooker is never going to reach the temperature of explosion. The government knows this and encourages, promotes economic migration.’’

But Hernandez is optimistic the visits will represent a watershed event for Cuba. “This is going to change the Cuban scene without a doubt. This is finally coming to an end,’’ he said.

“It is hard to know what the long-term effect of such travel might be on the political situation in Cuba,’’ said Shifter. “There is no evidence that it marks the beginning of the end of the Cuban system, but clearly some change is happening in Cuba — on that point, both the Cuban government and the bloggers seem to agree.’’

And the activists seem intent on their quest to open more space within Cuban society for themselves and others.

Avila recently tweeted that while leafing through a magazine on a flight, this title caught his eye: “Move and the world moves with you; stop and the world will pass you by.”


Cuba’s Ladies in White leader Berta Soler praises exile support

Posted on Saturday, 04.27.13

Cuba's Ladies in White leader Berta Soler praises exile support
By Melissa Sanchez

The leader of Cuba's Ladies in White thanked Miami's exile community on Saturday for its continued support for dissidents on the island and asked for more moral, spiritual and material help for those who seek to end the Castro regime.

Berta Soler also blamed the Cuban government for the lack of economic and educational opportunities for Afro-Cubans and affirmed her support for the U.S. economic embargo against the island.

Soler answered questions for more than half an hour during a press conference at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies/Casa Bacardi at the University of Miami Saturday morning.

She said she wasn't surprised by the first question about whether Cuban dissidents who favored an end to the embargo were actually secretly planted by the Castro government. The question was an indirect reference to the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who visited Miami earlier this month and has been criticized by some exiles for her call to end the economic blockade.

"I appreciate that comment, and I was waiting for it. I come from a country where there is no liberty, where you can't speak freely as you just did," Soler said. "Cuba isn't in the shape it's in because of the U.S. government; it's the fault of the Castro government."

She added: "Liberty can't be bought or sold. Nobody sent us to do this, neither from the inside or the outside."

The Ladies in White was founded by the wives, daughters and other female relatives of a group of 75 peaceful dissidents who were sentenced to long prison terms during a crackdown in 2003 known as Cuba's Black Spring of 2003. The group's marches after Sunday masses at a Havana church became the only public protest regularly tolerated by the communist government and are now active in virtually every major city on the island.

Soler, who was allowed to leave the island under a change in Cuba's travel rules, was in Brussels earlier this week to accept the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She said she is not afraid of reprisals upon her return home.

"Love for my family, for life and for my country is stronger than prison bars," she said.

Soler, who is black, rejected the notion that racism is not a problem on the island. She asked why white Cubans have the best jobs in government and other institutions.

"If you look at Cuba's universities, whites are everywhere," she said. "And in the jails, most of the prisoners are black because they don't have opportunities."

Asked whether the U.S. Interests Sections in Havana provides sufficient aid, Soler said she was grateful for the Internet access granted there to the Ladies in White. However, she revealed that the connection is much too slow.

"I said that to the State Department and the White House," she explained. "The Internet connection is slow, and I think they need to change the server, because sometimes we have to sit there for an hour, an hour and a half, and we can't connect."

Joined by a group of Ladies in White who live in Miami, Soler started her day by dropping off flowers at the Cuban Memorial, which remains under construction at Tamiami Park. She also spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the exile group Mothers and Women Against Repression in Cuba and planned to participate in a vigil on Saturday evening in honor of the deceased Ladies in White founder Laura Pollán Toledo.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who attended the luncheon, said that democracy will arrive in Cuba because of the work of groups like the Ladies in White.

"It's so easy to speak against the Castro brothers from here," she said. "But what makes the Ladies in White truly valiant is that they're doing that in Cuba, despite attacks and the threat of prison sentences for them or their relatives [...]. Nobody can stop the Ladies in White."