Sunday, December 14, 2008

Beatification Ceremony with Raul Castro Present

Cuban landmark for Catholic friar

The first beatification ceremony in Cuba has been held in front of thousands of Catholics and President Raul Castro.

It was the final step before sainthood for 19th Century friar, Jose Olallo, known as the "poor people's priest".

The ceremony in Camaguey was broadcast on state television.

The unannounced arrival of Mr Castro was greeted with applause, a sign of the growing rapprochement between the communist state and the Church.

The top Vatican official who anoints saints, Cardinal Jose Saraiva from Portugal, presided over a mass lasting almost three hours at the Church of the Virgin of Charity.

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, papal nuncio Luigi Bonazzi, Camaguey Archbishop Juan Garcia, and about 20 Cuban and foreign bishops were also present.

Doves were released and bells rung as Friar Olallo's remains, in a gold-coloured urn, were taken in a procession through the city.

Friar Olallo, a member of the Hospitallier Order of Saint John of God, helped the sick and wounded during Cuba's first war of independence (1868-1878) against Spain.

He defied Spanish orders barring members of religious orders from Cuba, and was the sole Hospitallier on the island at the time.

Improving relations

While the ceremony was the first to be held in Cuba, Friar Olallo was not the first Cuban to be beatified.

Cuban-born Fray Jose Lopez Piteira was beatified in 2007, but the ceremony took place in Spain where he died during the Spanish civil war.

In the early years of the revolution, Cuba was an atheist state. Many priests were expelled or sent to labour camps.

But relations have improved significantly since former leader Fidel Castro welcomed Pope John Paul II to Havana a decade ago.

When his brother Raul took over the presidency earlier this year, his first foreign visitor was the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone.

And this is second time in a week Mr Castro has been to a church.

On Thursday he accompanied the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to the recently opened Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Havana.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/11/30 00:34:33 GMT

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reform Impact on Family Farms

Cuba’s family farms grow again

Monday, July 14, 2008 LA Times

In a series of reforms aimed at improving self-sufficiency and curbing costly food imports, Raul Castro has the idle lands around cities planted.

By Carol J. Williams

July 14, 2008 in print edition A-3

Speckled chickens in Geraldo Pinera’s garden will be on his family’s dinner table soon, stewed with herbs and tomatoes and garnished with creamy slices of the avocados now ripening on a pair of spindly trees.

Pinera, a member of a 25-family farming cooperative in this village outside Havana, tends a private half-acre plot tucked between the state-owned mango orchards where he works a day job. He raises guava, passion fruit, sweet potatoes and poultry to augment a $20 monthly income and the government ration of starches.

Like other Cuban families, the Pineras are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of a national campaign to boost food output and curb costly imports. Their efforts represent a small but significant step toward the government’s ultimate goal to vastly reduce its dependence on more efficient foreign producers, especially for favorite foods such as rice, meat and dairy.

President Raul Castro spurred the planting of idle lands around cities with a series of reforms in recent months aimed at improving self-sufficiency. The moves included making land available free to those willing to till it and easing a strangling national bureaucracy that once controlled a farmer’s every step, from seed procurement to sales price.

Castro has unleashed an ambitious effort to lift output of high-ticket items, raising prices paid to meat and milk producers and freeing growers from obligations to sell their food to the state.

He has made seeds, tools and fertilizers available through a new network of country stores and challenged a population that is 80% urban to grow what it eats.

But a swift expansion in meat and dairy production remains a daunting task, as few farming co-ops have money to pay for cattle even when the prices for their products are increasingly enticing. Predictions of quick results appear to echo the excess ambition of the failed drive in 1970 to harvest 10 million tons of sugar and the unfulfilled plans of past decades to provide each family with its own milk cow.

The government expects to cut food imports by at least 5% next year, Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Perez Lama told journalists in Havana in early June. He also predicted that rice imports could be halved within five years – a herculean task considering that Cuba last year imported $170 million worth from Vietnam, China and the United States.

Cuban state enterprises grew about 10% of the 700,000 tons of rice consumed last year. Private farmers produced about twice that. Although 70% has to be imported, scholars point to the rise in the small-farm output begun a decade ago.

“It’s an impressive goal [to halve rice imports] but I do think Cuba is in a unique position to achieve it,” said Catherine Murphy, a San Francisco Bay Area sociologist working on development projects in Latin America.

Murphy lived in Havana during the late 1990s, when the country suffered severe food shortages after the loss of Soviet aid. That experience of having to swiftly replace imports is serving Cubans well now that food prices are rising around the world, she said.

The state food trade agency, Alimport, reported that rice costs had tripled this year.

In announcing cuts in public investments because of high fuel and food prices, Vice President Carlos Lage predicted that imported food would cost the government at least 50% more this year than last, when it spent $1.7 billion.

Cuba spent almost 30% more on food imports from the United States last year than in 2006, but that increase was due to rising costs, not quantity, said John Kavulich, senior policy advisor of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York.

The United States has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba for decades. Food and medicine sales have been allowed in recent years, but prohibitive shipping and payment regulations still prevent Cubans from taking full advantage of their nearest market.

Dairy output has been slumping since the early 1990s, “fundamentally due to very low investment by the dairy cooperatives, for either keeping their herds or pastures in good shape,” said Frederick Royce, a University of Florida researcher who did graduate work in Cuban agriculture in the mid-1990s.

Until recently, he added, the set price the government paid farmers for milk was well below its cost of production.

In May, farmers who gathered in Havana for a meeting on organic and sustainable agriculture spoke of the need for ingenuity and doing more with less. Such skills were needed in the years after the Soviet trade bloc collapse, referred to as the Special Period in Peacetime, which generated nationwide deprivation.

The outlook for small-scale organic farming has patriotic agronomists like Victor Cruz, a retired army colonel working 50 acres in a rural enclave just south of Havana, predicting victory over the economic blockade imposed by the United States.

“We will succeed in growing our own food because we have the spirit of the revolution driving us,” he said. “We were hungry during the Special Period, but we learned a lesson about dependence.”

Raul Castro, then defense minister under older brother Fidel’s leadership, spearheaded that recovery effort in the mid-1990s, deploying troops to the fields to plant, tend and harvest. Daily calorie intake dropped by a quarter during that time and the average Cuban lost more than 20 pounds before domestic production picked up.

Cuban agriculture had been backsliding again since 2004, when Fidel Castro halved sugar cane growing and milling amid a global slump in sugar prices. He also restored limits on the sale of privately grown produce in an effort to prevent what he considered farmers’ exploitation of urban compatriots.

The government also failed to fulfill promises of better housing for many of the large farming cooperatives in remote rural areas, which have traditionally operated with much less efficiency than the urban and suburban patches that have ready access to buyers.

Along the gravel road leading to the mango co-op, women such as Catalina Alfonso display their produce in battered wheelbarrows for passing motorists and pedestrians.

“I make hardly anything because most of what we grow we need for ourselves,” Alfonso said. “But at least we are eating better nowadays.”

Alfonso’s neighbor, Carmen Martino, like many Cubans, disputed whether more fruits and vegetables represented an improvement.

“We Cubans eat rice, beans and meat. We have since colonial times,” Martino said with a defiant bob of her head that jangled her gold earrings, hoops encircling the word “love.” “I know fruits and vegetables are healthier, but no one will get us to change our ways.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Wage Policy by 2009

Same wage for all setup abandoned by Cuba

Cuba is pushing state-run companies to adopt new wage policies by 2009 that would allow workers and managers to earn as much as they can, local media said Thursday, as President Raul Castro seeks to improve economic performance.

The labour ministry, in conjunction with Castro's closest military economic advisers, issued instructions to managers this week on how to design the new system. He ordered it be fully discussed with workers and ready by December, after they failed to meet an August deadline, said Ariel Terrero, Cuba's most popular economic commentator.

There is little difference in wage scales set by central planners so someone who does little earns almost as much as someone who works hard, including managers.

The plan would replace the current across-the-board egalitarian system with one based on piece work and concrete conditions in each workplace.

Cubans make an average salary of about $17 per month but they receive subsidized food and utilities, transportation, health, education and, in some cases, collective bonuses. The Cuban state controls more than 90 per cent of the economy.

"The goal is to put an end once and for all to these egalitarian concepts that are so damaging for the economy and socialism and that have done more harm than good during these years," Terrero said.

© The Calgary Herald 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Economic experiment in Bayamo

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One town's experiment gives Cuban peso value

A communist experiment is letting average government workers in this eastern city enjoy a few things only foreigners and monied Cubans can usually afford: a good burger, a kicking jazz bar and stiff cocktails.

Across the rest of the island, average monthly government salaries of 408 pesos, about $19.50, don't cover grocery bills, let alone a night out. But in Bayamo the central government has made a special effort to support peso businesses, giving the lowly currency actual buying power.

Along the stylish pedestrian mall known as Paseo or ''The Boulevard,'' six blocks of restaurants, barber shops, ice cream parlors and department stores give Cubans a taste of tourist life at local prices.

Jazz bands jam for free until 2 a.m. at the Piano Bar, where mojitos go for just 5.50 pesos, or 30 U.S. cents. A 1950s-style diner serves up tasty meatball sandwiches for about half a peso -- the equivalent of three cents -- and four scoops of the richest ice cream in Cuba for about the same price.

''Almost everyone who comes in is surprised at first. The music is good. The cocktails are strong,'' said Ernesto Aldana of the Piano Bar, where the Cuba Libre -- copious rum pours with ice and splashes of cola and lime -- costs 4.80 pesos, the equivalent of less than 25 cents.

''It's like you're paying in dollars,'' Aldana said. ``But you're not.''

Under the country's dual currency system, most things Cubans want and need are not available in the money they earn -- the regular Cuban peso which is worth a little more than 4 cents. Virtually all upscale businesses across the island are priced for foreigners in so-called convertible pesos worth $1.08 each, 24 times as much.

Cuba has had two currencies since the collapse of the Soviet Union wrecked its economy and spurred its turn to tourism. Tourist businesses took U.S. dollars and charged U.S. prices, while the peso was maintained for everyday transactions.

The convertible peso, also called hard currency, was born around the same time but took on its current value in 2004, when the government banned the use of the U.S. dollar.

Cubans have long hoped the government would merge the two pesos and close the gap between the goods and services they and foreigners can afford. But so far, nothing has changed under Raúl Castro, who took over as president from his ailing brother, Fidel, earlier this year.

Cuba's government historically has chosen provincial areas to test potential economic policy changes. In Bayamo, a city of 140,000 and the capital of Granma province, leaders of the regional Communist Party began expanding peso businesses in 2005.

''Normally, there's a gap between quality of service to foreigners and service to Cubans,'' said Isidro Alonso of Bayamo's Communist Party's Committee on Ideology. ``We are working to erase that.''

Huge government subsidies are needed. Paseo businesses here take in only 1,000 to 1,700 pesos a day, or $50 to $80. And the program only took shape after Bayamo communists asked central government planners for special autonomy and won the right to sell regionally produced items such as rum, seafood, beer, yogurt, beef, ice cream and cheese to local residents, rather than shipping them elsewhere on the island.

''We would see products like powdered milk made here and sold somewhere else and we said, 'How is this possible? If we make it in Granma, we should be selling it in Granma,''' Alonso said.

However, rising global commodity prices have made Bayamo's government subsidies more costly, while hurricanes Gustav and Ike in recent weeks dealt serious blows to Cuban food production.

The government recently ordered all provinces to contribute more food to all parts of the country and reduce Cuba's dependence on foreign imports, said Humberto Rondon, technical director for production at a state cheese and ice cream factory outside Bayamo. In Granma's case, officials will now have to ship about 80 percent of its cheese to points elsewhere in Cuba.

Despite the hurricanes and rising food prices, the Bayamo experiment is so successful that the central government in Havana is continuing to devote $10 million this year to reopen some peso businesses and cover operating expenses of those already established, Alonso said.

There are ordinary peso businesses all over Cuba, but the products are shoddy and service is mediocre. Shortages of everything from potatoes to pasta mean most of the dishes listed on peso restaurant menus aren't available, while peso stores have long lines of customers for mismatched inventory on largely empty shelves.

Contrast that with Bayamo, where the raw juice bar offers freshly squeezed mango or papaya juice for the equivalent of less than a nickel. The fully stocked dairy stays open until 11 p.m. on Saturdays. Ground beef is often hard to come by elsewhere, but here two hamburger joints serve up double patties heaped with ham for about $0.40 in pesos.

There's an office supply store, a flower shop, two beauty parlors, a pair of seafood restaurants, a Spanish eatery and a place offering passable vegetarian dishes.

''Usually, without hard currency, you never go to restaurants, you never go out on Friday nights. But here you can,'' said Vilna Lopez, who rents rooms in her home three blocks from Paseo.

Out-of-towners even brave long bus rides to spend their pesos in Bayamo.

''I would like to take this place home with me, and I'm from Havana,'' said Alexey Rodriguez, visiting from the capital 460 miles to the northwest.

But the Bayamo experiment is too expensive to work on a larger scale. And it has not done enough to soften the sting of the dual currency system for many.

Ana Luisa Gonzalez earns 225 pesos a month as a street sweeper on Paseo. Her son works at a tampon factory. A portion of his pay comes in convertible pesos.

''We live on that,'' Gonzalez said. ``Salaries in (regular) pesos have no value.''

When asked about all there is to buy along Paseo, the 50-year-old shook her head and said even here, her salary isn't enough. One large block of cheese is 80 pesos.

''If I buy two cheeses and two yogurts here, there goes all my salary,'' she said. ``Then what?''

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fidel's exit means continuity. For change, look to Obama

No one can quite replace Castro, but Cuba's course is clear for now. Its future will depend on who takes the White House

Ignacio Ramonet The Guardian, Wednesday February 20 2008

[This article appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday February 20 2008 on p28 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:42 on February 20 2008. ]

The long and extraordinary political career of Fidel Castro is over - at least as far as the presidency is concerned. But his enormous influence will live on. His regular columns for Granma, the state newspaper - which he has continued to write throughout his illness - will continue. Only the strapline will be altered: instead of the reflections of the commandante en jefe, now it will be plain old camarade Fidel. For Cubans and international observers alike, they will still bear close reading.

There can be no replacement for Fidel. Not simply because of his qualities as a leader, but because the historical circumstances will never be the same. Castro has lived through everything from the Cuban revolution to the fall of the USSR, and decades of confrontation with the US. The fact that he departs while alive will help to ensure a peaceful transition. The Cuban people now accept that the country can still be run the same way by a different team. For a year and a half they have been getting used to the idea, while Castro remained theoretically president but his brother, Raul, held the reins. It was Fidel the mentor, as ever.

The most surprising thing that I found out about the man, in the hours we spent together compiling his memoirs, was how modest, human, discreet and respectful he was. He has a tremendous moral and ethical sense. He is a man of rigorous principles and sober existence. He is also, I discovered, passionate about the environment. He is neither the man the western media depict, nor the superman the Cuban media sometimes present. He is a normal man, albeit one who is incredibly hard working. He is also an exemplary strategist, one who has led a life of enduring resistance.

He contains a curious mixture of idealism and pragmatism: he dreams of a perfect society but knows that material conditions are very difficult to transform. He leaves office confident that Cuba's political system is stable. His current preoccupation isn't so much socialism in his own country as the quality of life around the world, where too many children are illiterate, starving and suffering from diseases that could be cured. And so he thinks his country must have good relations with all nations, whatever the regime or political orientation.

So now he is handing over to a team he has tested and trusts. This will not lead to spectacular changes. Most Cubans themselves - even those who criticise aspects of the regime - do not envisage or desire change: they don't want to lose the advantages it has brought them, the free education right through university, the free universal healthcare, or the very fact of a safe, peaceful existence in a country where life is calm.

While Castro turns full-time columnist, the main task for his political heirs will be how to confront the one perpetual challenge of Cuban life: relations with the US. We must wait to see if changes occur. Raul Castro has twice publicly announced he is prepared to sit down for talks with Washington on the problems between the two countries.

But it is in the US itself that a more appreciable political shift may come, with the Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama having signalled his willingness to engage with America's perceived enemies or adversaries, be it Iran, Venezuela or Cuba. An immediate and radical change may be unlikely, but there is reason to hope that November's election may at least alter the atmosphere after the Bush years - a presidency Castro regards as the most damaging to the whole planet of the 10 he has experienced.

The departure of Bush is likely to lead the US to a reappraisal of foreign policy: learning the disastrous lessons of Iraq and the Middle East, and returning the focus to Latin America. The US will find a changed situation: for the first time, Cuba has genuine friends in government in Latin America, most prominently Venezuela, but also in Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and Bolivia, a host of governments who are not particularly pro-American. It is in the US's interests to redefine its relations with all of them: non-colonial, non-exploitative and based on respect. Cuba, meanwhile, has developed closer relations with partner countries, as part of the EU-like ALBA economic and political organisation, and in agreements with the Mercosur trade area. In the bigger international picture, Cuba is no longer such a unique case.

It is on this international plane, developing ever stronger ties with Latin America, where the most visible changes in Cuban politics are likely to come. Its socialism will undoubtedly alter - but not in the manner of a China or Vietnam. Cuba will continue to go its own way. The new regime will initiate changes at the economic level, but there will be no Cuban perestroika - no opening up of politics, no multiparty elections. Its authorities are convinced that socialism is the right choice, but that it must be forever improved. And their preoccupation now, more than ever with the retirement of Castro, will be unity.

But everything in Cuba is related to the US: that is the one overarching aspect of political life which outsiders need to understand. The retirement of Castro, long anticipated, means continuity. But in the evolution of this small nation's history, the election of Obama could be seismic.

· Ignacio Ramonet is the co-author with Fidel Castro of Fidel Castro: My Life, and editor of Le Monde Diplomatique

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Raul Castro raises hopes of economic change in Cuba

Tue Feb 19, 2008 1:22pm EST

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Raul Castro, Cuba's likely new leader after his ailing brother Fidel Castro bowed out on Tuesday, is a pragmatist more concerned with putting food on Cuban tables than spreading revolution abroad.

The outwardly dour Raul Castro, 76, lacks his elder brother's charisma and has lived in his shadow for decades.

But he is seen as a ray of hope by some Cubans fed up with political rhetoric and the daily grind of getting ahead in a battered state-run economy.

As acting president since his brother was sidelined by illness almost 19 months ago, Raul Castro has encouraged Cubans to openly debate the shortcomings of Cuba's communist system.

If confirmed as president on Sunday as expected, he will face a Herculean task of solving Cubans' economic hardships.

While he has so far made few changes, Raul Castro has raised expectations that Cubans will soon be allowed to freely buy and sell their homes, travel abroad and stay at hotels and beaches where only foreigners can step foot.

In December, the camera-shy army general said Cuba had "excessive prohibitions", a sentiment shared by most Cubans who need government permits for almost everything they do, from buying a car to working as a clown or a shoe-shine.

Raul has acknowledged that wages paid by Cuba's socialist state are too low. He has called for "structural changes" in agriculture to increase food output and reduce Cuba's reliance on imports, and said Cuba was open to new foreign investment.

Yet Raul Castro is not expected to follow China's example and free up a market economy, at least not while his brother is alive. And he has promised more socialism.

"The challenges we have ahead are enormous, but may no one doubt our people's firm conviction that only through socialism can we overcome the difficulties and preserve the social gains of half a century of revolution," he said late last year.

Raul Castro extended an olive branch to Cuba's arch-enemy, the U.S. government, saying in July that Havana was open to talks to end more than four decades of hostility, but only when President George W. Bush has left the White House.

The younger Castro was flung into the role of running one of the world's last communist states when his brother was forced to step aside on July 31, 2006, after emergency intestinal surgery.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since then and the 81-year-old revolutionary announced his retirement on Tuesday.


As defense minister since the brothers led a 1959 revolution, Raul Castro built the armed forces into a formidable fighting force that defeated South African troops in Angola.

Once considered an implacable Stalinist and the Kremlin's most reliable friend in Cuba, Raul is said to have become more pragmatic after the collapse of the Soviet Union pushed Cuba to the brink of economic chaos.

"Beans are more important than cannons," Raul said during the crisis that left the air force parking its MiG jet fighters with the help of horses for lack of fuel.

He cut the armed forces to one fifth of its peak of 300,000 troops, and backed reforms that allowed limited private initiative to flourish in the 1990s.

An admirer of China's economic prowess, Raul is believed to favor loosening up state controls of the Cuban economy while maintaining one-party communist rule.

Forced to become self-sufficient after the loss of billions of dollars in Soviet aid, the Cuban military under Raul's savvy management was the first to introduce capitalist business practices in Cuba and has a big stake in the economy today.

It has emerged as Cuba's most efficient institution and owns lucrative enterprises in agriculture, industry and tourism, including hotels at beach resorts, an airline, a bus fleet, car rentals and a retail shop chain.

Cuba experts say he is a good talent spotter who surrounds himself with capable officials and is good at delegating.

Born on June 3, 1931, Raul Castro was raised -- like Fidel Castro -- on their father's large farm in eastern Cuba.

Since their guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra mountains and the triumph of their revolution on Jan 1, 1959, Raul Castro has always been his brother's most trusted right-hand man.

His late wife Vilma Espin, who fought as a guerrilla, founded the Cuban Federation of Women and served as Cuba's unofficial First Lady.

His daughter Mariela Castro is a sexologist who has defended the rights of transsexuals and is pushing legislation to allow gay marriage in Cuba.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tom Miller Describes Mixed Picture of Reform

As Fidel Fades From the Scene

By Tom Miller
Washington Post
Sunday, February 17, 2008; B02


We were sitting on a wrought-iron bench downtown, Manolo and I, chatting about the December weather, nodding to pedestrians strolling by. I was in Cuba to do some research on José Martí, the national hero who had laid the foundation for the island's war of independence against Spain more than a century ago.

Our conversation was politely interrupted by an officer from the Specialized Police, a force assigned to heavily tourist areas. He asked for identification, not uncommon when a light-skinned foreigner is chatting with a dark-skinned Cuban, then walked away after writing down our data. He returned a couple of minutes later. "Follow me," he said, motioning us to his squad car.

This, I thought, was a miserable way to begin my trip -- but an excellent way to take Cuba's temperature. Ever since Fidel Castro took seriously ill more than 18 months ago and named his younger brother Raúl, then head of the armed forces, temporary president, the word "transition" has been on everyone's lips. They know where their country has been, but no one is sure where it's headed.

The policeman turned us over to a higher-ranking officer who asked whether I had any papers with me besides a few loose sheets stuffed into a small notebook. I had none. Suddenly, several officers put Manolo up against the car, patted him down, handcuffed him and stuffed him in the back seat. I wasn't frisked or cuffed, but officers maneuvered me in on the other side, and off we drove to the police station.

It was a "Dragnet"-era cop shop, with a high desk and officers milling about. I was bumped higher and higher in officialdom, each time asked whether I had any other papers with me. Finally I was ushered into a room where a uniformed immigration officer from the Interior Ministry looked up from his computer screen. He was husky, almost chubby, and his conversation was friendly, or at least not hostile. He, too, asked about papers. "Why is everyone asking about papers?" I asked. He replied with a shrug.

Then a heavy-set plainclothesman from State Security came in. His hair resembled a small dark yarmulke, slightly askew. He thrust a piece of paper in my face. "Have you ever seen this?" he asked sternly. It was the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. "I've heard of it," -- I chose my words carefully -- "but this is the first time I've actually seen a copy."

"Are you sure?" He paused. "We are not opposed to this document, I want you to understand." I thought of the "Seinfeld" line, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

"Someone fitting your description has been handing these out," my interrogator said, and repeated his Seinfeldian disclaimer.

"Well, it wasn't me," I said. Fifteen minutes later, I was released. I never learned what happened to Manolo.

My two hours in Cuban custody seemed to fit a new pattern. The human rights activist Elizondo Sánchez thinks that under Raúl Castro, there are fewer arrests and jailings and more brief detentions. "Our day-to-day observation leads us to think that the style of political repression has changed," Sánchez told the foreign media last month.

Raúl Castro, who turns 77 in June, has surprised a lot of people. I'd last been in Cuba a year earlier, and I'd seen a dismal population going about the daily business of getting provisions for the following day. That's still what most people do, but this time there was more money in circulation, more low-end street commerce, somewhat less sense of perpetual anguish.

Cubans spoke, if not well, then at least respectfully, of their acting president. In the privacy of his living room, a writer commented on the younger Castro's lifelong military career. "He knows how to delegate," he said. "Things are running more smoothly." Another acquaintance, a retired bureaucrat, speaking openly in a restaurant, said she thought that Raúl was more understanding of everyday hardships: "He lives in a real neighborhood and understands the street."

Fidel fatigue underlies some of this new attitude. A change -- any change -- is welcome, as long as circumstances get no worse. My informal survey took me to La Víbora, a once-tidy Havana neighborhood that rarely sees a foreigner. A longtime acquaintance there had been a well-regarded scientist some time ago, but the contradictions between words and actions had compelled her to leave government work and find solace in the Catholic Church, through which she makes humanitarian visits to prisons. She described a devastating rainfall that had pounded the eastern end of the island weeks earlier. People had lost their homes, buildings collapsed, roads were destroyed, railroad lines uprooted.

"If Fidel had been in charge, he'd have started a speech that would still be going, and he'd blame the imperialists for the storm," she said. "Raúl devoted three sentences to it in a speech and blamed climate change. He told us that the ruin came to $499 million, and he ordered repair crews to work on the damage."

She also credits the new provisional president with a measure of expanded inmate rehabilitation programs. "I tell you," she said, "I've known two leaders in my life, Fidel and Raúl. I'm not a fan of Raúl's, but I believe what I see."

I got another indication of Havana's mood when I joined a dozen artists, filmmakers and writers around a table of good cheer at a private residence, pouring glass after glass of Havana Club rum. One fellow laughed about the time years ago when culture authorities had tried to discourage him from painting a certain way because it was considered counterrevolutionary. Everyone lifted their copitas at the distant memory, and someone else talked about the difficulty the late gay poet Virgilio Piñera had experienced getting published. The table nodded, and someone piped up, "Clothes. Remember we were told we couldn't wear narrow straight pants?" "Yes, and we couldn't wear our hair in Afros! They said it was ideologically diverting." More laughter. I started to hum Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This."

"I used to listen to the Beatles on a cassette player in the bushes down by the Almendares," one fellow said. On and on these intellectuals one-upped each other, chortling at memories of authoritarian rule under Fidel. They spoke of the era of cultural autocracy in the past tense, as if it had happened under a previous regime. I asked whether they could have had this conversation 20 years ago. "Are you kidding?" a woman replied. "It would have been suspect just to have a dozen people meeting like this." The liberating air of Fidel's absence gave them enough freedom to indulge in repression nostalgia.

The music of the moment is reggaeton. Under Fidel it was salsa. Reggaeton -- a blend of reggae, Latin beats and hip-hop -- fills theaters with madly cheering fans. At Havana's Teatro América, I saw thousands of Cubans applauding wildly, singing along with the two-man Gente de Zona, whose songs they knew from radio play. The young performers, whose suspenders and gold chains drooped at their sides, poured beer on their bare chests to reflect the spotlight better. Raúl and Fidel were far away.

Out in the provinces, though, life goes on much as it did in the past, regardless of which Castro heads the government. In Camaguey, long supportive of Fidel, the streets are filled with as many bicycles as cars. The bread man pulls his cart through residential neighborhoods, selling loaves of soft white bread with a crumbly crust for five pesos (about a quarter), while another street merchant buys empty rum bottles for a peso to sell at a modest profit at a recycling center. A local businessman named Luis, watching the passing scene with me, reflected on the hardships that, despite Raúl, remain glaringly apparent.

"What we need," he finally said, "is a Cuban Gorbachev."

Few of his compatriots would put it that way, but it was a note of budding hope for his country's future.

Tom Miller, the author of "Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba," has been visiting Cuba regularly since 1987.


My comment to

This article is a realistic portrayal of what is underway in Cuba.

However, it would be a mistake to interpret it as a sign of impending collapse, justifying maintenance of the travel and trade embargo.

Rather it should be seen as a reason for the US to take a different stance toward Raul Castro to encourage tendencies toward reform.

Miller's detention may well have to do with an initiative on the part of western human rights activists to pass out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That has been a tactic in other countries.

In and of itself, such an action should certainly not attract any police attention or sanction.

However, when the neighborhood hegemon which has tried to control your country for over a century is publicly committed to regime change, is squeezing every last third country possibility out of an embargo, and calls for instability and military disloyalty, such acts of human rights education are not viewed as disinterested idealism.

For more information on the debate over reform in Cuba, go to

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lage's Son on Need for Reform

09/11/078 EFE (Madrid )

"Socialism Must deliever the goods"
Says Son Of Cuban Vice President.

By Mar Marin.

Havana, Sep 11 (EFE).- Socialism cannot be "divorced" from
well-being, the son of Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage says,
acknowledging the need for changes that translate the "virtues of the
revolution" into food on the table.

"The people in Cuba have to see that socialism is also material, you
can't deny human beings their material needs," Carlos Lage Codorniu,
president of the University Student Federation, said in an interview
with Efe.

"There's a need for people to feel that the virtues of the revolution
are present in the food on the table," added the 26-year-old
economist, whose father is a key adviser to acting President Raul

Socialist theory, Lage Codorniu said, "never refused to attend to
material needs."

He said that the island's government must undertake the necessary
changes for Cuban society to overcome its contradictions and become a
more fair and just society without abandoning the principles of the
1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, now 81 and ailing.

No infallible formulas exist on how to do that because "the book on
the Cuban model is not written and nobody has the perfect formula,"
which, he said, means that a lot of importance must be given to
discussion and analysis.

"The logic of the revolution is that it doesn't obey dogmas" and it
would be "an error to stick to formulas of the past. We have to make
changes and apply new formulas," he said.

Nonetheless, "changes are never going to be principles, they would be
changes of form" rather than of substance, "because there is no plan
to change the essence of the revolution," Lage Codorniu said.

He said that an "economic offensive" is needed, meaning that wages
ought to be "high enough to satisfy the basic necessities," and that
in parallel there ought to be an "ideological offensive" that
integrates young people into the revolutionary process who grew up
during the very lean years that followed the collapse of the Soviet
Union and the end of massive subsidies from Moscow.

For Lage Codorniu, a July 26 speech by Raul Castro in which he
enumerated the country's problems and signaled the need for
structural changes showed that the revolution "has to transform
itself to keep up with reality."

"There's no reason to repent for what one has done outside of the
errors committed," he said, but "time has passed" and we have to go
beyond "the doctrine of resistance and begin the next stage."

The challenge, he said, is "to work so that the present generation of
young people can guarantee the continuity of socialism in Cuba," and
to achieve that it is fundamental that we solve the problem of
emigration which, according to Lage, is a phenomenon "more dangerous
than the counterrevolutionaries."

To resolve this and other problems of Cuban youth, the congress of
the University Student Federation agreed last December to launch a
cultural offensive, to widen access to entertainment and to bring
back studies of revolutionary doctrine.

To do that, Lage said, the federation's cadres will analyze the July
26 speech and prepare their process of internal elections with a view
to finding directors "with leadership, ability and wide approval."

Raul Castro, 76, has been Cuba's "provisional" president since July
31, 2006, when Fidel announced he was temporarily delegating power to
his brother and other trusted advisers while he recuperated from a
grave illness. EFE

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sun Sentinel Urges US Response to Reform Debate,0,2986418.story

South Florida
Public criticism of Cuban government warrants notice by Washington
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board

February 11, 2008

ISSUE: Cubans speak out in town hall setting.

It wasn't the Boston Tea Party, or even a Tiananmen Square-like rebellion.

However, public criticism of the stagnant status quo in Cuba, in an official town hall-style meeting and other pronouncements, is noteworthy nonetheless. And it ought to prompt a much-needed review of Washington's own stagnant Cuba policy.

The Jan. 19 gathering with Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's national assembly, was marked by fairly sharp questioning by university students. The students were particularly insistent on having the right to travel and access to Cuba's hotels, which are mostly reserved for tourists.

Last week, others spoke up. Folk singer Sylvio Rodriguez, who has been an ardent supporter of the Castro government, chimed in favoring universal access to the resorts.

No, these aren't major concessions, like real elections or media free of government control, which are the bedrock institutions in a true democracy. They are small steps.

Nonetheless, they are steps that indicate that Cubans are making good on an opening presented to them by Raul Castro to speak up and engage in a debate. How far the country's communist leaders are willing to let this debate go is a major question mark.

But if Cubans are willing to speak now, risk potential reprisal later, then the global community needs to take note and act accordingly. Especially the United States, which has sat on its hands for way too long.

Washington can do its part by, first, acknowledging publicly that the process germinating in Cuba is important and desired. Then it can signal its intention to review its own hard line diplomatic stance if the era of openness in Cuba progresses.

No, it's wouldn't be a huge move, certainly no bigger than the small concessions being doled out in Havana, but right now they'd create more hope for change than has been seen in many years.

BOTTOM LINE: Small concessions, sure, but they are concessions just the same.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

My comment on line:

The immediate step that the Bush Administration--or Congress--should take is to restore the Clinton/pre-2004 Bush policy on family and non-tourist travel.

Also a small concession compared to what should happen when a new administration takes office, the end of all travel restrictions.

See also

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cuban Intellectuals Support Openness

Cuban intellectuals hoping new openness will last

EFE News Service


(c) Copyright 2008. EFE News Service. All rights reserved.

By Jose Luis Paniagua.

Havana, Feb 7 (EFE).- An unprecedented debate last year among Cuban
intellectuals about decades-old cultural repression touched off a snowball
effect that has even been felt within the inner circles of the island's
communist government.

The debate on the "five grey years" (1971-76), as the witch hunt against
artists and intellectuals for homosexuality or their supposed lack of
commitment to the revolution has been labeled, today reverberates in a
critical examination of Cuban society that extends beyond the cultural

Culture Minister Abel Prieto said Tuesday that there is not even "the most
remote possibility" that the errors of the past will be repeated in Cuba.

He made the remarks after the presentation of a documentary in which famed
Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez recalled a boat trip at the end of
the 1960s after having problems with cultural authorities on the island.

The past 12 months in Cuba have seen developments such as the screening of
Anton Arrufat's play "Los siete contra Tebas" (Seven Against Thebes), a work
that had been censored for four decades.

Special tribute also will be paid to that author, the winner of Cuba's
National Literature Prize in 2000, at the Havana Book Fair, which gets
underway on Feb. 13.

Cesar Lopez, who was honored at the previous fair, spoke out at that event
in favor of Cuban authors whose writing has been censored by the government
in Havana, such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reynaldo Arenas and Antonio
Benitez Rojo.

For the first time, Cuban television has shown movies such as Tomas
Gutierrez Alea's "Fresa y Chocolate" (Strawberry and Chocolate) and the
documentary about baseball, "Fuera de Liga," in which players who have left
Cuba for the United States, like Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, explain their
reasons for defecting.

Additionally, in preparatory meetings for April's Congress of the Union of
Cuban Writers and Artists, people have expressed demands for such rights as
free access to the Internet, the unrestricted ability to buy and sell houses
and vehicles and the freedom to freely travel to and from the island.

The need for government "permission to leave and enter, that should be
completely abolished. That's something that was done with other ends (in
mind), for other reasons, and has survived for too many years in Cuba, and I
don't think there is any reason for it," Rodriguez, who will give up his
seat in parliament on Feb. 24, said earlier this week.

Beyond the purely intellectual realm, even provisional leader Raul Castro
has acknowledged that Cuba needs "structural" reforms and has promoted
debates in which people have expressed their opinions about the country's

Fidel's younger brother referred to these gatherings on Dec. 28 in
parliament, during a session in which he agreed with those who say there is
an "excess of prohibitions" on the island.

At the same time, Raul, who took the reins when Fidel was stricken with a
serious illness in July 2006, has made it clear that for the time being,
Cuba will remain a one-party state.

According to Rodriguez, the contemporary reality in Cuba is one "of change,"
"like a transition process."

For his part, writer Leonardo Padura, who uses the metaphor of a "snowball,"
told Efe that the "debate among the intellectuals was a little ball that has
gradually grown (with) different needs and complaints having slowly been
added to it."

"A change in perception about many phenomena in Cuban society has begun and
it wasn't by chance that the intellectuals were the ones who began to move
this wheel, which had completely stopped," he said.

"There are demands that at this stage are absolutely fundamental," he added,
such as the right of Cubans to enter tourist hotels, leave the country, have
access to cell phones and freely sell houses and automobile, as well as
demands for changes in the forms of landholding and production.

Arrufat told Efe that when the debate took place last year some did not want
to participate because "they thought it was an isolated matter, and in this
country isolated matters tend to flare up and affect many other matters."

In his opinion, Cuba is going through "a moment in which the people in
general and we artists are willing to participate and participate means
butting in."

"If we get burned later," he said, "that's something only time will tell,
but at least the fear is gone." EFE

Students Question Alarcon

Cuban youths take on communist govt on social restrictions: video

HAVANA (AFP) — A video of university students boldly challenging the communist government on why Cubans cannot travel freely, or stay in Cuban hotels, has stirred society as Cuba braces for possible reforms and leadership change.

Interim president Raul Castro said January 20 the National Assembly would elect Cuba's next president February 24, amid speculation ailing Fidel Castro might not be its choice for the first time in almost five decades. Raul Castro also has suggested lawmakers will soon be handling potential reforms.

In a video made public over the Internet this week and circulated in Havana, students grilled National Assembly speaker chief Ricardo Alarcon, a top regime official, on sensitive social issues many critics deem human rights abuses.

"Why don't the Cuban people have the real possibility to stay at hotels or travel to different places around the world?" Eliecer Avila, a self-avowed government supporter at the University of Computer Science, demanded of Cuba's top lawmaker.

Alarcon tried to justify Cuba's policies controlling its nationals' travel, saying: "if everybody in the world, all six billion inhabitants, were able to travel wherever they pleased, there would be a tremendous traffic jam in our planet's airspace.

"People who travel are really a minority," he said.

And in implied criticism of Cuba's economic policy, Avila asked why staples such as food, cleaning products and clothing must be purchased with convertible pesos, when workers everywhere are paid in normal currency, which is worth 1/25th.

Alarcon, who reminded his audience of what the government maintains are the gains made in 50 years of Cuban Revolution, did not address the earning power/currency question, and sidestepped another question about the limits the government has on Internet access.

Another student, Alejandro Hernandez, asked why he should have turned out to vote for uncontested candidates in January 20 voting. "Where did the (government's idea of a) 'united vote' come from; I am supposed to go out and vote for every one of them when I don't know who they are?" he demanded.

Avila bluntly demanded to know what the country's socialist economic plan was.

"I am sure there is one, but we want to know what it is," he asked, saying his farmer father and grandfather "have grown old trudging behind a pack of oxen, and they still don't know."

Some Havana residents who saw the video were convinced it was staged by the government to float some balloons on possible reforms.

"This has to have been set up (by the government) because I cannot believe they would dare to talk like that otherwise," a waiter at a cafeteria in the El Cerro neighborhood said privately.

In any case, "everything those kids are saying is right on the mark," a 32-year-old housewife in the Miramar district added, on condition she not be named.

The question-and-answer session with Alarcon follows interim president Raul Castro's suggestion last year that people should speak without fear about the problems the country is facing.

Raul Castro, 76, took over from his brother Fidel Castro, 81, on a "temporary" basis while his elder brother recovers from intestinal surgery he underwent in July 2006. Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since.

Potential Cuban travel freedom now could be a security concern for the United States, oddly of Washington's own making. The United States grants immediate residency and work permits to any Cuban who sets foot on US soil.


The CNN story containing video excerpts of the questioning of Ricardo Alarcon by students can be seen here.

Reuters report of the debate adds additional information on the questions raised and explains that the town meeting was broadcast on the closed circuit TV system within the University of Computer Sciences.

A four minute segment of two students asking questions and Alarcon responding can be seen here.

The full meeting can be seen here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ramy: The Dialiectics of Consensus

Yes, but no. No, but yes.
The dialectics of consensus

By Manuel Alberto Ramy

If Shakespeare had lived through this Cuban moment, he would have exchanged his quandary of "to be or not to be" for the title of this article, in which I attempt to answer questions that motivated my previous article ("The process of changes is ongoing".) The most-frequently-asked question is "Why is a consensus needed to make reforms if everything in Cuba is done by unanimity?"

Almost all of the people who ask that question live in the United States. It figures.

The image held abroad of Cuban society and our institutions is one of absolute unanimity. In good measure, this image has been fed by our own information media, which can provide various explanations for the phenomenon.

But reality does not match that projection, and in passing I say that I wouldn't be surprised if several municipal organizations of the People's Power have in the past (and on more than one occasion) rejected candidacies submitted by the National Commission on Candidacies for the Provincial Assemblies and the National Assembly. If this happened, it wasn't reported. But let's go on.

The need for consensus (the reaching of accords among parties that differ on specific topics), which interim President Raúl Castro has referred to in his latest speeches, reveals that while there is unanimity on basic issues -- the defense of the national sovereignty and the essential achievements of the Revolution; the need to concretize Cuban socialism -- there is also a diversity of opinion as to how to maintain those achievements and to advance in the current domestic situation and the tangled international context.

There is a diversity of opinion both in the established structures and institutions and society. The "how" and "how far" to develop the process of inevitable reforms demands a consensus among the different tendencies, because we must avoid fractures. It is a question of reforming within socialism, not of restoring the capitalist system. It is a question of making the citizens' participation in decision-making more effective and real, and of having greater control over political and administrative actions.

It is also inescapable to make certain structural reforms that, no matter where they begin (inevitably in the economy), will have repercussions in political circles. Let's not forget that a greater economic democracy (and here I refer to a greater socialization of the production-and-services sector) will bring more political democracy. This would force us not into a multiparty system, as some people might think, but into a plurality of opinions, which, in addition to being respected (as has been the case) will have to be "consensualized," harmonized.

Reality demands reforms. The people demand them with a foot on the accelerator. So does the intellectual sector within society (academicians or not) but with a full realization that we must use the clutch and the gearshift as well. This sector shows discrepancies as to the measures that could be implemented, especially in the depth and direction of the changes, as well as the mechanisms or levers that must be used in the economic field.

If the reader has any questions, he should access the Web page of the magazine Temas and read the articles by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker and Juan Valdés Paz about the interview that months ago I conducted with sociologist Aurelio Alonso, published in "From Havana" under the title "Less fear that people might make money."

There, we see that in the bosom of society there is a need to reach a consensus, an accord, a need to find points of coincidence that harmonize. And in the Communist Party of Cuba? Well now, with Raúl Castro's recent statement that because there is only one party, the party needs to be more democratic, the doors to diversity of opinion have been flung open. A free discussion, collective analysis, consensus and a consistent behavior.

But "will this party-based democracy work? Is it working?" These are other questions I've been asked. I respond with one example.

Exactly one year ago, there was a colloquium about the "Gray Quinquennium," a period characterized by censorship and alienation in the world of culture. The debate included e-mails, discrepancies, and proposals. The magazine Criterios, which is not funded by the government, offered its small office for debates. That office was too small and the Casa de las Américas, an official institution, offered one of its halls. The topic of the Quinquennium overflowed the strictly cultural boundaries and invaded the political terrain.

The Communist Party and the National Union of Writers of Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) reached an accord and achieved consensus. Debates took place in educational centers; they were very harsh and critical and I reported on them.

Did the consensus satisfy all the parties involved? Not altogether, but there were strong debates and strong criticism. Was it reported by the press? NO, but partly YES, because the subject was treated in two articles by Granma, the party's official publication.

Even more recently, at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, a national TV channel showed the controversial documentary "Out of the League," which -- even though it had been nominated for the national award in its category -- had been shelved for five years. The controversial part of the documentary is that it interviews famous Cuban baseball players -- among them the stellar "Duke" Hernández -- who left the country and play (or have played) in professional baseball, mainly in the United States.

In the interviews, those players affirm their Cubanness and their feeling of belonging to the national team in which they once played. And the statements by their fellow players, back in Cuba, were not at all hostile.

If athletes and artists are opinion leaders, how can we accept those images and statements on TV?, asked some people in important sectors and institutions. Others, especially in the sector of culture, disagreed with that reaction, and remained consistent with the achievements of the debates about the Quinquennium.

The result? The program was broadcast thanks to the maturity of achieving a consensus of opinion. How? I imagine that one sector asked that it NOT be broadcast on a national channel but YES, it might be broadcast in the City of Havana channel. Another sector opined: YES, we should show it, but NOT nationwide.

The dynamic (or dialectic, whichever you prefer) of the YES-but-NO and the NO-but-YES was successful. Neither position won 100 percent, something very difficult in consensual processes, but the important thing is that the program was shown, and the trend to an opening prevailed. Moderately, but it prevailed.

The process of reforms, which must result from a consensus of society as a whole, will not develop in a lineal manner, as I have written previously. It will move forward, retreat, zig and zag, but it will advance by a consensus of positions. Short-term, no one will come up with 100 percent. But whoever can create the conditions to support his demands will come out ahead.

Manuel Alberto Ramy is Havana bureau chief of Radio Progreso Alternativa and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Manuel Ramy Analyzes the Process of Change and US Impact

The process of changes is ongoing

Francisco Aruca chats with Manuel Ramy

Excerpted from Progresso Weekly

One other factor is the people's pressure, from the standpoint of undeniable realities. That's precisely one of the reasons for the recent calls for open discussion, which have been held and have resulted in more than a million proposals, according to Raúl Castro.

Pressure from below, upward, supports the need for change and is a factor that limits the power of bureaucracy. When we talk about structures, we talk about forms, grades, levels of relationship. When we talk about economic structures, we talk about other modes of property that are perfectly compatible with socialism, or about the role the market might play -- whether it would be central or peripheral -- or about the degree of decentralization of sectors of the economy.

We must also realize that it is a question of calibrating the depth and direction of the changes, so that they won't go beyond what's sensible. For these reasons, we're looking at a process in stages that, in my opinion, is being measured cautiously.

Washington certainly has an effect on this entire process. It has had an effect in the entire 50-year history of the Cuban revolution, and the role its pressures have played is very clear. First, at the level of the people, [Washington's stance] is an element of cohesion, of unity, that looms more serious than any everyday problems because it represents the threat of imperialism, 90 miles away, and what it wants to do is to destroy. You can gauge how much, or how little, the people have achieved, but [Washington] is one of the factors that stimulate cohesion.

Aruca: The Cuban people do not want to run the risk of losing all the good things that may have been achieved.

Ramy: I see no evidence that they're willing to do that, so far. On the other hand, the role being played by U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba at this point reinforces the position of the hardliners within the system. They can argue that, because of the threats from the U.S., there can be no opening.

However, that's only one side of the coin. The other is that the pressures from the [Bush] administration also reinforce the need for change [in Cuba], because this country cannot live constantly thinking in a reality ...

Aruca: I conclude that, in your opinion, the people's need for better answers to a series of basic problems is probably the most important factor. U.S. foreign policy, too, plays an important role.

There was a time when more people would have said that the [Cuban] government is using foreign policy as an excuse not to make internal changes. But you say that the changes will come from domestic reasons, whether or not the U.S. changes its policy. If U.S. policy becomes less aggressive, the changes would take place with greater ease.

You say that, to a great degree, the needs of the people are the primary factor that will explain how the changes will be made.

Ramy: You have understood me correctly. The needs of the people are the primary and determining factor. If U.S. foreign policy limits the depth and direction of the changes, that's something else. Within a context of good relations, the Cuban government probably could take the steps it wishes to take, something it wouldn't do within a context of a permanent threat to the Cuban nation. The latter situation would hinder the normal development of a process [of change].

The determining element is the reality and the national factors. The United States is not going to move from where is sits, and the island of Cuba is not going to move from its geographic location.

Aruca: You mentioned Raúl's speech on July 26. But Raúl also delivered a speech on Dec. 28 at the National Assembly, and we all concluded that it was a very important speech. Please comment on the importance of that speech.

Ramy: Raúl Castro has made four major speeches in little more than one year. One was not given much publicity by the media because it was a gathering with students at the University of Havana. Rather, it was a charming and very pleasant conversation, according to students who were there. He told anecdotes about his childhood, his youth and more or less said that the time for generational change was upon us.

Then came the ground-breaking speech on July 26, which was a critical (and self-critical) speech and served as the starter's pistol shot. He spoke about structural changes and changes of mentality. As a result of it, assemblies were held at all levels of Cuban society, with the participation of more than 5 million citizens and the presentation of more than one million proposals.

Then came his appearance Dec. 24 in Santiago de Cuba. As you know, Fidel is a candidate to Parliament for Santiago de Cuba. In his name, Raúl toured the barrios, the municipalities, everywhere.

There, [Raúl] said he gave Fidel Castro his speech of July 26 to read in advance, and said that Fidel didn't correct a single comma. What did he mean by that? That there are no discrepancies. In other words, Fidel Castro is totally in accord with Raúl Castro's statement of July 26.

Further, on Dec. 28, Fidel sent a letter to the National Assembly in which he said Raúl had shown him the speech he planned to deliver there, and that [Fidel] had read it and was raising his hand to support [Raúl]. What does that mean? That there is a perfect agreement between the two fundamental figures in government.

Some analysts see Raúl as the more pragmatic person, perhaps more willing to implement some measures swiftly, while Fidel is the more cautious leader, even though he is strategically in agreement. But the first thing I conclude from all this is that there is a consensus between the two figures in power.

From Raúl's speech, I would point to several aspects. First, that the changes must be made by consensus (obviously, he refers to the deep changes, to the structural changes) and that an integral vision is needed to make those changes. That means that there is a project of integral changes, because there are aspects that cannot be fixed with one measure here, another measure there. That's the first point I would stress.

Aruca: In other words, they are interrelated aspects.

Ramy: Exactly. But he did talk about measures that can already be implemented. When he said that a series of laws were established in the past, regulations that created problems instead of solving them, what did he mean?

Aruca: If I remember correctly, he worded it in terms of prohibitions. A great many prohibitions were enacted that, in turn, created illegalities.

Ramy: One thing is clear. There are many prohibitions here, and many things that are not tolerated, even though they are not prohibitions. I think that many prohibitions and regulations have actually generated the underground economy that exists today, and even participate in it.

I can't give you any figures, but I know that at the people's assemblies, in the CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution], in workplaces, people have made such proposals as allowing citizens to sell their cars, sell their houses. A series of measures have been proposed that -- if implemented -- would give a different style and movement to the domestic scenario.

Aruca: Would you include prohibitions such as not permitting a Cuban national to enter a certain place or eat in a certain [restaurant]?

Ramy: Yes, and that's one of the issues that are being studied and require a consensus.
Not only a consensus at the levels of Party and government but also among population sectors that are not a majority but that wouldn't agree with some specific measures. What's being sought is the widest consensus possible in whatever is done. For example, there's the topic of migration.

I don't wish to minimize the impact of 2 million Cubans living outside the island. I couldn't tell you the figure, but many Cuban families have a relative living abroad. There is a complex migratory problem that goes from "the white card" that enables a citizen to leave the country to the rights of the émigré. I think that's also on the table of topics to discuss.

The place where economic changes must begin is the sector of agriculture. It is essential. Cuba must solve its food problem. If we have achieved military security, as some say, we must achieve alimentary security, because in military terms food is part of the rear guard. Besides, it is one of the problems with the hardest impact.

The country is spending US$1.5 billion in foodstuffs -- practically 70-80 percent of the volume it consumes -- yet, the sectors of agriculture that have given greater results have been the private producers, the credit-and-service cooperatives, and the basic units of production. They produce 60-65 percent of what we Cubans eat.

What does that mean? That the remaining 30 percent comes from state-run farms -- from the state, which has more land than the private producers. Therefore, I think that the policy being instituted (not very publicly) is to distribute more land to the private farmers.

Aruca: To individual proprietors or families, and cooperatives?

Ramy: To both
. Let me explain. The credit-and-service cooperatives own land in which they freely share resources, land, machinery, etc., and share the revenue. Some cooperatives make more than one million pesos per year. The problem is that they need raw materials, they need to spend their money. They don't want regulations from the Ministry of Agriculture that only hamper an individual's productivity.

On the other hand, they must open spaces for certain levels of consumption. I don't mean the farmer's productive consumption but his enjoyment consumption, because the farmer may earn 800,000 pesos and then, what can he do with that money? Will he bury it under a mango tree, or hide it, because he cannot buy a car, he cannot go someplace and stay in a hotel?

I think the turning point in the Cuban economy is the agriculture. The nation's leaders are weighing the option to decentralize it, to form a concept of agriculture in the municipality, to give autonomy to the municipality to plan and develop the local agriculture. That's what [the newspaper] Juventud Rebelde stated.

I think we must produce more, and to produce more we have to be more liberal in the treatment of agricultural production and the farmer. And we have to open space, so that the farmer can spend the money he makes.

That experience can then open spaces in the urban sector, service cooperatives, laundries, industrial production, services that don't exist or that exist only in convertible pesos.
You cannot manage a thermonuclear plant and at the same time manage an ice-cream cart.

Aruca: I think you have touched on the topics that are the most important. You have provided a viewpoint that I almost completely share, although I shall reserve some comments for when I play this recorded interview in Miami. Is there anything more you wish to say?

Ramy: The process is ongoing, but it's ongoing from the institutional point of view, because it comes from within the system. The system needs to reform itself, although it mustn't do so at the expense of the people's needs.

I think that we'll see some things happen in 2008. Maybe they won't be the deepest and most integral measures ever -- because there must be a consensus at Party, government and population levels -- but there will be changes.

Manuel Alberto Ramy is Havana bureau chief of Radio Progreso Alternativa and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Significance of Signing Human Rights Covenants

Excerpt from On Human Rights, Democratic Centralism and Foreign Policy
12/31/07 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) -By Nelson P. Valdes and Robert Sandels

US press misses the point

Meanwhile, the announcement was given cursory coverage in the US
media. The New York Times devoted one paragraph to it, part of which
was a description of a confrontation between protestors and
government supporters in Havana on the occasion of Human Rights

The Miami Herald wrote a lengthier report but concentrated on the
confrontation and on criticism by dissidents like Martha Beatriz
Roque, who was interviewed by the Herald from the home of US
Interests Section chief Michael Parmly.[6]

Coming just days after his own foreign minister announced Cuba's
intention to sign without mentioning the longstanding objections to
the labor and education articles, it is obvious that Castro does not
agree with the decision. This in turn suggests that Castro was either
not involved in the discussion or that he was outvoted. "History will
decide who is right," the title he gives to the 2001 remarks, is a
classic rejoinder of the one who lost an argument. In any case, he
apparently stands opposed to an important policy decision of the
government he heads. He, in other words, accepted the decision. So
much for the picture of Fidel as dictator.

By going public, Castro might have believed he could stop the process
more effectively than he could from inside the government.
Alternatively, he might have pitched his argument to members of the
Communists Party of Cuba (PCC) in order to further educate that
sector of the population.

Should his public disagreement over the covenants prove persuasive to
the party, one of several scenarios could reverse the decision to
sign. The Foreign Ministry could backtrack, the National Assembly
could vote against ratification, or the Council of State could act
against it.

It may be that besides Castro's specific objections to the labor and
education articles, he has a more generic distaste for rights
declared by capitalist countries led by the United States. Why else
would he choose to begin his letter to Alonso by citing an Argentine
filmmaker's "deconstruction" of capitalism's "lies of democracy and
human rights"? After all, the United States is in violation of almost
all of the enumerated rights in the two covenants and could not
implement them under the species of capitalism it now practices.

Lastly, it should be noted that the Cuban political leadership has a
long view of foreign policy matters. The covenants probably will be
adopted by Cuba in mid-2008. If adopted, they will be enforced by
2009. A very practical result would be the Cuban government inviting
United Nations' human rights observers to the island. Such visits,
without a doubt, would have a profound impact on European Union and
Canadian foreign policy toward Havana. If the United States
government, at the time, is dominated by a Democratic Congress and
presidency, then a very important political debate will ensue on
bilateral relations with the island. The potential prospects of
having a political climate to finally end the United States blockade
might be guiding political debate within the island. Or, as Henry of
Navarre said, "Paris vaut bien une messe."

Fidel Castro on Retirement and Raul

What the international press has emphasized most in its reports on Cuba in
recent days is the statement I made on the 17th of this month, in a letter
to the director of Cuban television's Round Table program, where I said that
I am not clinging to power. I could add that for some time I did, due to my
youth and lack of awareness, when, without any guidance, I started to leave
my political ignorance behind and became a utopian socialist. It was a stage
in my life when I believed I knew what had to be done and wanted to be in a
position to do it! What made me change? Life did, delving more deeply into
Martí’s ideas and those of the classics of socialism. The more deeply I
became involved in the struggle, the stronger was my identification with
those aims and, well before the revolutionary victory I was already
convinced that it was my duty to fight for these aims or to die in combat.

Other problems, foreign to our nation and many others under similar
conditions, also threaten us. A victorious counterrevolution would spell a
disaster for us, worse than Indonesia's tragedy. Sukarno, overthrown in
1967, was a nationalist leader who, loyal to Indonesia, headed the
guerrillas who fought the Japanese.

General Suharto, who overthrew him, had been trained by Japanese occupation
forces. At the conclusion of World War II, Holland, a U.S. ally,
re-established control over that distant, extensive and populated territory.
Suharto maneuvered. He hoisted the banners of U.S. imperialism. He committed
an atrocious act of genocide. Today we know that, under instructions from
the CIA, he not only killed hundreds of thousands but also imprisoned a
million communists and deprived them and their relatives of all properties
or rights; his family amassed a fortune of 40 billion dollars —which, at
today's exchange rate, would be equivalent to hundreds of billions— by
handing over the country's natural resources, the sweat of Indonesians, to
foreign investors. The West paid up. Texan-born Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's
successor, was then the President of the United States.

Cuba's Five Heroes, imprisoned by the empire, are to be held up as examples
for the new generations.

Fortunately, exemplary conducts will continue to flourish with the
consciousness of our peoples as long as our species exists.

I am certain that many young Cubans, in their struggle against the Giant in
the Seven-League Boots, would do as they did. Money can buy everything save
the soul of a people who has never gone down on its knees.

I read the brief and concise report which Raúl wrote and sent me. We must
not waste a minute as we continue to move forward. I will raise my hand,
next to you, to show my support.

Fidel Castro Ruz
December 27, 2007