Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cuba's List of Important Bilateral Issues

New York, 28 September 2009

section on US-Cuba relations

As for Cuba, which has suffered the US aggression for half a century, the new
US government announced some new measures on April last to abolish some
of the most brutal actions taken by the George W. Bush administration which
prevented any contact between Cubans resident in the United States and their
relatives in Cuba, particularly, the possibility to visit them and send them some
assistance without any limitation. These measures are a positive step, but they
are extremely limited and insufficient.

The announced measures included the authorization to some US companies to
carry out certain telecom operations with Cuba, but other restrictions that
prevent their implementation have not been modified. Neither has there been
any signal indicating that the US government is ready to put an end to the
immoral practice -quite expanded in recent days- of misappropriation of the
Cuban funds that remained frozen at American banks, and of other goods,
based on orders issued by venal judges who violate their own laws.
The crucial thing is that the economic, commercial and financial blockade
against Cuba remains intact.

The US President, despite the existence of laws such as the Helms Burton Act,
still has broad executive powers, such as the ones required to grant licenses,
by means of which he could modify the implementation of the blockade.
Should there be a true desire to move towards change, the US government
could authorize the export of Cuban goods and services to the United States
and vice versa.

The United States could allow Cuba to buy any product containing more than
10 per cent of US components or technology anywhere in the world, regardless
of its trademark or country of origin.
The US Treasury could abstain from persecuting, freezing and confiscating
third countries transfers -whether in US dollars or in any other currency- to
Cuban nationals or entities.

Washington could lift the ban that prevent third countries vessels from
entering any US port until 180 days after touching any Cuban port.
The persecution unleashed by the US Treasury Department against financial
institutions and companies that trade or carry out operations with Cuba could
also be suspended.

President Obama could allow American citizens, by means of a license, to
travel to Cuba
, the only country in the world they are not allowed to visit.
The report submitted to this Assembly by the UN Secretary-General abounds
with examples. In the course of 2009 numerous actions have been taken to
impose fines, confiscate and hinder transactions carried out by Cuba or by third
countries with Cuba.

As has been reported by the very US Treasury Department, since January this
year, almost half of the funds collected by its Office of Foreign Assets Control
came from the sanctions imposed on American and foreign companies for
alleged violations of the economic blockade against Cuba.

The truthful and indisputable fact is that the new US government continues to
ignore the overwhelming appeal that is launched by this General Assembly
year after year to put an end to the blockade against Cuba.

Contrary to what all the American public opinion polls reflect, two weeks ago
President Obama instructed the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the
Treasury that "it was in the US national interest" to maintain the economic
sanctions against Cuba under the Trade with the Enemy Act approved in 1917
to cope with war situations, which is only applicable to Cuba.

The US blockade against Cuba is an act of unilateral aggression that should be
unilaterally terminated.

For many years Cuba has expressed its willingness to normalize relations with
the United States.

On August 1st last, President Raul Castro publicly reiterated Cuba's disposition
to sustain a respectful, arm's length dialogue with the United States, without
overshadowing our independence, sovereignty and self-determination. He
emphasized that we should mutually respect our differences and that we do not
recognize in the government of that or any other country, or in any other group
of States any jurisdiction over our sovereign affairs.

The government of Cuba has suggested the US government a set of essential
topics it considers must necessarily be discussed during a future process of
dialogue aimed at improving relations, namely, the lifting of the economic,
commercial and financial blockade; the exclusion of Cuba from the spurious list
of countries that sponsor terrorism; the abolition of the Cuban Adjustment Act
and the "wet foot/dry foot" policy; the compensation for economic and human
damages; the return of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base;
the end of all radio and television aggressions from US territory against Cuba;
and the cessation of the funding of domestic subversion.

An essential topic in that agenda is the release of the five Cuban anti terrorism
fighters who have been unjustly imprisoned in the United States for eleven
President Obama has the constitutional prerogatives to set them free,
as an act of justice and of commitment by his government against terrorism.
Furthermore, we made a proposal to the United States to begin talks in order to
establish cooperation to fight drug-trafficking, terrorism and human smuggling,
to protect the environment and cope with natural disasters.

It has been in that spirit that the Cuban government has held talks on migration
and the resumption of direct postal services with the US government. These
talks have been respectful and fruitful

full text

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Raul Castro pushes Cubans to rethink socialism

* Cubans urged to look inward, improve efficiency

* Paternalism and centralization on national debate agenda

* Relations with the United States also to be discussed

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Cubans began taking a hard look this week at entrenched customs like food rationing, pilfering on the job, cradle-to-grave subsidies and black market trading in a national debate called by President Raul Castro.

Authorities have circulated a ten-point agenda for thousands of open-ended meetings over the next month at work places, universities and community organizations to rethink Cuban socialism, focused on the economic themes highlighted by Castro in a speech to the National Assembly in August.

The discussion guide, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, makes clear that questioning the communist-ruled island's one-party political system established after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, or calling for a restoration of capitalism, are off limits.

But the guide said: "It is important that the meetings are characterized by absolute freedom of criteria, the sincerity of participants and respect for differing opinions".

The possibility of eliminating one of the world's longest-standing food ration systems, heavily subsidized utilities, transportation and meals at work and universities, among other items, would be debated at the meetings.

Alicia, a communist party militant who will lead the debate in her Havana work place next week but who asked that her last name not be used, said the purpose was "to call on everyone to do what they have to do and stop looking up into the sky and screaming that there are problems."

"Of course there are problems, lots of them, what's needed is that everyone begins taking care of their own," she said.

A similar round of meetings was held in 2007, during which Cubans were asked to air their complaints and what they wanted from the government.

At this round of discussions, the guide says participants were being asked to look in the mirror and apply Castro's speech to their own "radius of action," identify problems in the context of his words and come up with a list of proposals to solve them.

"Nobody, no individual nor country, can indefinitely spend more than she or he earns. Two plus two always adds up to four, never five," Castro said in his August speech. "Within the conditions of our imperfect socialism, due to our own shortcomings, two plus two often adds up to three," he added.

Cubans have mixed feelings about the debate. Some say it is a sincere effort to involve them in changing their lives, while others suspect it is a maneuver to get them to buy into austerity measures that have already been decided on.

"The monthly ration lasts about 15 days and now it won't last 10," Jorge, a construction worker, glumly predicted.


Castro, in his August speech, said a foreign currency shortage had forced drastic cuts in imports and budgets and postponement of payments to foreign creditors and suppliers.

He said egalitarianism had no place under socialism, except in the area of opportunity, and more resources should flow to those who produce and less to those who do not. He has often expressed this refrain since taking over the presidency from his elder brother, Fidel Castro, 18 months ago.

The discussion guide includes excerpts of an earlier Castro speech in which he said reversing the country's dependence on food imports was "not a question of yelling 'fatherland or death, down with imperialism, the blockade is hurting us ...'", but working hard and overcoming poor organization.

Cuban leaders routinely call the 47-year-old U.S. economic embargo against the island a "blockade" and frequently blame it for Cuba's economic woes.

Castro called for decentralization of the state-dominated economy, new forms of property ownership and an end to all government gratuities and subsidies except in health care, education and social security, though these also had to had to cut waste and inessential services.

The president also said in his speech to the National Assembly that Cuba recognized a change in tone from U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and was open to trying to solve the standoff with the United States.

"We are ready to talk about everything, I repeat everything, but in terms of here in Cuba and over there in the United States, and not to negotiate our political and social system," he said.

Obama has eased some slight aspects of the longstanding embargo on Cuba, and initiated talks with the Cuban government on immigration and postal services. But he has called on Cuban leaders to respond by becoming more democratic, freeing detained dissidents and improving human rights.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

State Employee Lunchrooms Closing

Cuban lunchrooms closing, food service boom looms

* Cuban ministries to close lunchrooms, others to follow

* Workers to receive stipend boosting food service demand

* Theft, waste and inefficiency seen as cause

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Cuba plans to close state-run office lunchrooms, put more money in employees' pockets and let them fend for themselves as it cuts budgets and food imports and works to wean people off the dole, government sources said.

"The order is already out to close the lunchrooms of the ministries in Havana and pay the employees 15 pesos more per day," a mid-level government administrator said this week, asking that his name not be used.

"If all goes well many more will close in the city and around the country," he added.

The plan, in its pilot phase and which could involve hundreds of workplace cafeterias by next year, will fuel demand for food services provided by private vendors and other state-run food services.

On the always crowded market-lined Tulipan Street in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood, state and private vendors said they had heard of the measure and some were preparing for the increased demand from employees of the nearby agriculture and transport ministries.

"I'm training two people to help me as I can't meet the demand that's coming. I have to think big," pizza maker Jorge Perez Diaz said.

Roselia, an employee at a state-run cafeteria who asked that her last name not be used, was less enthusiastic.

"They are going to have to give us more resources and employees because what there is now will not do even to start," she said.

Cuba, like other Caribbean countries, has been hit hard by the global financial crisis, which has slashed revenue from key exports and tourism, dried up credit and reduced foreign investment.

The government has cut imports by 30 percent and local budgets by around 10 percent, implemented energy savings and adopted other measures this year to cope with the crisis.

President Raul Castro has railed against government inefficiency, pilfering and hand outs since taking over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro last year. Last month he called for "elimination of free services and improper subsidies -- with the exception of those called for in the constitution (healthcare and education)."


The decision to close lunchrooms comes even as the government considers turning over some retail food services to workers as cooperatives and perhaps increasing licenses issued for private food vendors, frozen in recent years.

Popular state television commentator Ariel Terrero recently suggested that sectors such as food services could perform better if they were run in a new way.

Terrero pointed to Castro-led reforms in the island's agriculture that include decentralization of decision-making, greater emphasis on private cooperatives and farms, and the leasing of state lands to about 80,000 individuals.

"The leasing of state lands, which in the end is the placing of state property in the hands of producers, could be applied in other sectors, for example food services ..." he said.

The lunchrooms are a major source of black market activity, with a minimum 20 percent of the tons of imported food assigned every day stolen, the government believes. Waste is also rampant.

A local economist said the plan killed numerous birds with one stone, from theft and employee grumbling over poor lunchroom meals to the need to transport supplies and supervise the lunchrooms, but what still needed working out was how the new demand for food on the street would be met.

"The daily lunch stipend represents a doubling of Cuba's average base pay of just over 400 pesos per month and will greatly increase demand on the street for state and family-based food service providers," he said, asking his name not be used.

The economist said many employees were expected to bring a meal to work, but others would buy the sandwiches, pizzas or bigger box lunches of rice, beans and pork or chicken typically offered by private vendors and state-run food services for 10 to 20 pesos.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cubans Enjoy Luxury Resorts

After long ban, some Cubans sample tourism luxury

Fri Aug 14, 2009 By Esteban Israel

VARADERO, Cuba (Reuters) - Floating, cocktail drink in hand, in the pool of a five-star hotel in Cuba, Alexis basks in a holiday experience that for years was out of reach for him in his own homeland.

The pastel-colored hotel buildings, the well-ordered gardens, the turquoise waters and the perpetually smiling waiters -- all just 84 miles east of his home in Havana. So near, and yet for many years, so far away.

Until last year, Cuba's communist government prevented its citizens from entering hotels reserved for hard currency-paying foreign tourists. It argued that tourism was a strategic revenue sector and that widening access would create inequalities in a socialist society, where most earn inconvertible Cuban pesos.

The tourist hotels, whose services, shops and restaurants are a world away from the hardships and shortages experienced by most Cubans, remained largely out of bounds for ordinary citizens. This prohibition angered most Cubans, who considered it made them second-class citizens in their own homeland.

But when President Raul Castro took over from his ailing older brother Fidel Castro last year, one of his first acts was to end the ban and open all facilities to Cubans. The change was widely popular even though most islanders still can not afford to stay at the tourist hotels.

"Let me tell you, this is great," said Alexis, an employee of a state-run Havana hard currency store who declined to give his full name, as his girlfriend returned from the bar with more "mojito" cocktails -- a tropical mix of lime juice, Cuban rum, and mint leaves.

In the years immediately following the 1959 revolution, Cuban workers were allowed into the island's premier resorts, yet the need to earn much-needed hard currency led to the development again of a more exclusive foreign tourism sector, especially over the last 15 years.

But the global financial crisis has taken a big bite out of Cuba's international tourism, so the Cuban travel industry, seeking to boost occupation in half-empty hotels, has begun offering reduced-price package deals to Cubans.

At $70 a night for an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero, Cuba's premier beach resort, prices are well below what foreigners pay, but still out of reach for most Cubans struggling to make ends meet on state salaries that average less than $20 a month.

According to Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero, Cubans have accounted for 10 percent of occupancy at Cuba's high-end hotels this summer.


The opening of a domestic market is giving more visibility to an emerging class of wealthier Cubans who have hard currency in their pockets and are eager to sport the colored wristbands of the fancy all-inclusive hotels.

The new Cuban internal tourists are professionals, technicians working for foreign joint ventures and people receiving dollar remittances from relatives living abroad.

"Before a foreigner would ask us about Varadero and we did not know what to say," recalls Roberto Garcia, a 43-year-old engineer who arrived from Havana with his family of six.

"Now, if you have the money, you can do it."

Without precise official figures on revenue from internal Cuban tourism, it is difficult to gauge just how much of a boost this new access is giving to the cash-strapped economy.

But to the extent that Cuban tourist spending increases the flow of dollars to the island -- by, for example, family members in Miami financing a trip to Varadero for their Cuban relatives -- it is helpful, said Cuba expert Paolo Spadoni.

"Financing from abroad might also play quite an important role," said Spadoni, a post-doctoral fellow at Tulane University's Center for Inter-American Policy and Research.

Some Cubans interviewed on a recent trip to Varadero said expenses were paid by relatives visiting from the United States, a flow which is up 20 percent since U.S. President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions in April on Cuban-Americans visiting the island.

But Obama has made clear he will keep a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in place for the moment to press Cuban leaders to improve human rights and political freedoms. Havana, while agreeing to talks on migration and other issues, has said it will not make "concessions" for improved ties.

With the help of foreign investors, Cuba reluctantly developed its tourism industry in the mid-1990s in response to the deep economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, its chief benefactor and ally for decades.

"All the money made here is for the people," proclaims a banner at the entrance to Varadero, a 12-mile-long peninsula of white-sand beaches lined with big hotels.

This slogan reflects the long-used government argument that tourism revenues are employed to benefit all of Cuba's people by helping to pay for free health care and education.

Cuba has some 55,000 hotel rooms managed by the state, many in association with foreign hotel heavyweights such as Sol Melia of Spain, the French firm Accor or Jamaica's Sandals Resorts.

Attracted by its beaches and enduring revolutionary mystique, 2.3 million foreign tourists, mostly from U.S. allies Canada and in Europe, visited Cuba last year, which brought the island $2.5 billion in revenues and made tourism one of Cuba's main sources of hard currency.

President Raul Castro said in a speech earlier this month that the number of international tourists is up, but revenues are down compared to last year.

Both numbers are expected to grow if the U.S. Congress approves a proposed bill that would allow all Americans to freely visit Cuba, currently prohibited by the U.S. embargo against the island 90 miles from Key West, Florida.

But for now, Cuba is looking to Cubans to keep its hotels humming, and people like Alexis are happy to help.

"This is just fantasy. Real life starts again on Monday when we get back to Havana," he said between sips of a last "mojito" as the sun set over Varadero.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Pascal Fletcher)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Anti-corruption Campaign

Cleaning House in Cuba

Posted By the editor On August 10, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

By Circles Robinson
Unity, Firmness & Victory is once again a battle cry, this time to fight corruption. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, August 10 - The Cuban government’s answer to the rampant theft and corruption problem plaguing the socialist economy is a new comptroller’s office, something that exists in many countries.

The lax administrative and accounting controls present in much of the country’s state-run economy are no secret to anyone, much less to the nation’s leaders.

With a major drive taking place to improve work efficiency and productivity and to cut imports at a time of international economic crisis, confronting a problem that has permeated all strata of Cuban society is an urgent but equally difficult task.

President Raul Castro sounded the alarm when he took office in February 2008, when he made it known that tolerance of misuse of state resources was on the out. Since then, little guys scraping to get by, on up to several of the country’s top ministers and political figures in much larger illicit operations, have fallen from grace after being accused of theft or corruption.

The president has made battling such un-revolutionary behavior a priority, while also recognizing that low salaries and a lack of incentives for greater initiative have affected job motivation and efficiency.

Trusting more in the businesses run by the military, Castro has put several former Army administrators in key positions in the civilian state economy.

Nonetheless, neither the military nor the civilian economy are held accountable to the public as neither the workers nor the general population are privy to the economic performance information that would make possible an educated evaluation of efficiency.

Instead, Cubans are accustomed to being told to blindly trust the judgment of their leaders and the administrators they in turn appoint to manage public resources.

The other catch-all factor has been the ever present “enemy to the north” with its blockade and other attempts to strangle the island’s economy, which serve corrupt officials as a shield.

The New Watch Dog

Last weekend the government announced that the Comptroller’s Office - conceived as a watch dog over the use of state funds and resources - would be a place where citizens can file complaints on such abuses and expect to get action. The office is headed by legislator Gladys Maria Brejerano Portela, just appointed a week ago.
Castro has put several former military administrators in key positions in the civilian state economy. Photo: Caridad

Castro has put several former military administrators in key positions in the civilian state economy. Photo: Caridad

Created by the legislature, the office will receive and follow up on complaints filed by citizens on the misuse of public resources and other illegalities and acts of corruption, said Jose Luis Toledo Santander, president of the parliament’s Constitutional and Juridical Affairs Committee.

Virtually every Cuban, foreign resident or visitor is in one way or another regularly taken in by the different income-supplement scams that have grown to become as normal as rice and beans for most people, whether they like it or not.

In everyday life, very few people even bother to complain about being overcharged or getting taken on the weight or quality of a product. Instead, they often show understanding or even sympathy toward whoever is doing the taking to make a sorely needed buck.

At the same time, many people speculate privately that for so much theft to take place so rampantly on the ground level, there have to be accomplices higher up - from supervisors to managers, to executives, on up to ministers.

Will people now take advantage of the opportunity to file a complaint that supposedly could bring some action? Or will they continue to avoid picking a fight with a boss or higher up that in the past has often had the cards stacked in their favor?

Article printed from Havana

URL to article:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Silvio Rodriguez Reaffirms Support for Cuban Freedom to Travel

May 11, 2009

Silvio Rodriguez calls for the right of all Cubans
to be allowed to enter and leave their country at will
A CubaNews translation by Mercedes Rosa Diaz.
Edited by Walter Lippmann

The news that Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez was denied a visa to enter the United States to attend a tribute to U.S. musician Pete Seeger prompted a letter that was published in the Dominican press. The letter, which was addressed to Rodriguez, was written by a Cuban residing in the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez quickly responded to the letter; the content of both letters is published below.

An open letter to singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez
Published in the newspaper El Nuevo Diario,
Dominican Republic, on Sunday, May 10, 2009

The person writing this is Cuban just like you. First, I support you in your complaint against the U.S. officials who denied your request to legally enter the U.S. to attend the tribute for Pete Seeger. It's a loss to all that you were unable to play your music during the celebration that took place in New York city. Like most Cubans, I too, resent those foreign laws created to threaten the sovereignty of the Cuban people.

Now that we have established that, I want to share with you a another reality that is even sadder than the fact that a country's officials refused a foreigner's request to visit their country.

Over the past 50 years, thousands of Cubans have been unable to enter Cuba, not even to attend the funeral of loved ones as close as a mother or a son. Among these are musicians, artists who have settled abroad for the sake of their careers, and who are prevented from reentering their own country despite the fact that they have praised Cuba at every turn. Celia Cruz is a classic example.

My mother is 80 years old. I'm prevented from entering Cuba to see her, which means that my human rights have been trampled as badly and as unfairly as yours. You are no threat to the United States or its society. Likewise, I'm no threat to Cuban society. Neither of us is a terrorist or a murderer.

You can't cloak justice in political ideology. There is only justice. The first and most important belief is that all human beings are entitled to their respect and their dignity.

Unfortunately, our native land practices a policy called a "permanent exit," and it's an inhuman abomination. It is anti-Cuban and a threat to the legacy of our Mambi ancestors, who fought for Cuba's freedom so that all Cubans could enjoy the fruits of a free society. They were guided by Marti's dream of a country "for all, and for the good of all."

Silvio, my countryman: my freedom ends where yours begins. One must give respect to earn respect; rest assured that I write these words while holding you in the highest respect as a human being and a fellow Cuban. By the same token, I would expect you to do the same for me. It is with this in mind that I now approach you as an artist who is known for having dedicated his life to promoting social justice and progressive ideals during these turbulent historical times in which we live.

I ask that you use your voice and your guitar to intone a song promoting harmony and a respect for diversity between all Cubans. Sing for the unification of divided Cuban families and for the repeal of this harmful "permanent exit" policy that is a shame to the sacrifices made and the blood spilled by our ancestors. I am not asking you to sing a song of protest. I would rather that you make it a love song that should touch the hearts of all Cubans, especially those which most need to hear it.

If you want, invite other artists to sing along with you, anyone who might be sympathetic to the cause of those who cannot be there. Sing for those of us who are absent by necessity, but who hope to one day return to sing at your sides. Invite Fito Páez, Ana Belén, Serrat, Pablo, Chico, Mercedes Sosa, and anyone else who wants to open their hearts to this endeavor. Sing for the freedom and the right for all Cubans to be able to spend time in our native land.
Written by: Adrián Leiva

An open response to Cuban citizen Adrián Leiva.

Havana, May 10, 2009, 5:00 p.m.

Mr. Adrián Leiva:

To begin with, I've made no complaint about being denied entrance to the United States. I just sent an email to my sister in which I told her that since I had not yet received a visa to travel to the United States to attend the tribute to Pete Seeger to which I had been invited, I would simply return to Cuba to continue work. The organizers of the Seeger tribute asked her permission to publish the email, so we gave it to them. That's why this came out. About two days later, during the tribute, I wrote to the Maestro Seeger directly and asked him to forgive my absence even though I had originally pledged that I would be there. I explained to him—as well as I could and to my understanding—why I could not keep my word to him. Somehow the press somewhere got hold of the letter, resulting in all this controversy.

However, I understand; I've spoken out about what I consider to be an error in our migration policies, like the so-called "white letter" and the fact that permission is needed to enter and leave our own country. It's an archaic policy that is obsolete and should be repealed. I am convinced that when that absurd obstacle is removed, our country will be a better place and we will all feel better about it and one another.

I can't promise I'll write a song about it, because, quite frankly, I'm not alone when I do that—I do rely on the Muses as well. But I will promise you this: no matter where I am, I will continue to promote the belief that Cubans should have the right to enter and leave their country at will, providing, of course, that they do it legally.

Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Leadership Change as Seen By a Scholar in England

Raúl Castro and Cuba: reading the changes
Antoni Kapcia

A high-level reshuffle in Havana reveals much about the political character of the Cuban leadership in a testing new era, says Antoni Kapcia.
22 - 04 - 2009

The influence of Cuba on the political agenda of its neighbours has been much in evidence in April 2009. The easing of restrictions on travel, telecommunications and remittances between the United States and Cuba declared by Barack Obama on 13 April - largely reversing the special measures imposed by his predecessor in 2004 - fall far short of a lifting of the long-term trade embargo, though it is a notable shift of policy by Washington at this early stage of the new presidency. The discussions around the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago on 17-19 April 2009 also showed that even in its absence, Cuba is regarded as integral to the future of the region. Antoni Kapcia is professor and head of the Centre for Research on Cuba, University of Nottingham, England. He is the author of Cuba in Revolution: A History Since the Fifties (Reaktion, 2009)

But events in Cuba in the previous month are a healthy reminder that internal political developments in the country often overturn outsiders' expectations, in ways that require some reflection and analysis. Whatever the effects of a changing regional environment on Cuba, the country's political leadership will be an active player in seeking to mediate and manage them. So much is clear from the startling changes in senior personnel announced in Havana on 2 March 2009.

The long wait

Since Raúl Castro took over from his ailing brother Fidel - temporarily in August 2006 and permanently in February 2008 - two developments had been universally expected: government changes (promised in 2008) or a clearer raulista stamp, with the latter being seen either as retrenchment or as the start of a process of economic (if not political) reform.

As these developments failed to materialise, observers attributed the delay to various factors: Raúl's need to balance factions, Fidel's continuing influence (or Raúl's need to respect Fidel's sensitivities), popular fears and expectations, and (most convincingly) the impact of 2008's three hurricanes and the world recession. Another explanation is more prosaic and "institutional": that, until the much-postponed Communist Party congress (due in late 2009), Raúl has no formal mandate for reform.

But when the two long-awaited developments actually did occur in advance of the landmark congress, their character was as much a shock as their timing: for they included the demotion of two prominent politicians long seen as longer-term successors to the Castro brothers - Carlos Lage (secretary to the council of state, overseer of the post-1992 economic reforms which saved the revolution, and often described as Cuba's de facto prime minister) and Felipe Pérez Roque (the youthful foreign minister, once in Fidel's Grupo de Apoyo (support group) and always seen as "close to Fidel").

The changes also saw the removal of José Luis Rodríguez (the economy minister, and the economist who designed the 1990s reforms) and confirmed the demotion of Otto Rivero (the vice-president, also "close to Fidel", a former leader of the young communists (UJC) and since 2005 responsible for the "battle of ideas" campaign initiated by Fidel in 2000).

These changes - and the simultaneous promotions (many associated with Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces [FAR]) - were predictably seen by many foreign observers as having been driven by Raúl's need to impose his authority by removing "Fidel's people". This revealed the automatic operation of a five-decade-old "Fidel-centrist" media tendency: namely, that the revolution has always been determined by Fidel's skills, megalomania, loyalties, and charisma - except that now its controls had been reformatted to produce a newly "Raúl-centric" focus on personalism.

Many others similarly read the reshuffle in terms of familiar, formulaic patterns: Raúl Castro as the revolution's "ideologue", the rising presence of FAR people in government and the removal of known "reformers" presaging the imposition of a hard line, the division of Cuban politics according to "reformist" and "old guard" factions. The last frame was often applied outside Cuba to view Carlos Lage in particular as the would-be Mikhail Gorbachev, whose desire for a social-democratic Cuba was restrained by "old guard" resistance.

A singular and very different reading of the personnel changes was proposed by Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's former foreign minister and now an academic at New York University: that the demotions pre-empted a coup by loyalists (specifically Lage and Pérez Roque) supported by Hugo Chávez, who feared that Raúl's reforms would "betray" the revolution (see Jorge Castañeda, "The Plot Against the Castros", Newsweek, 14 March 2009).

A variation that combines elements of these readings has also occasionally seen Raúl himself as a quasi-reformer - seeking a "Chinese model" of political control and state-backed economic liberalisation, but restrained by Fidel (or by the "old guard") whom he is obliged to retain in government.

The limits of formula

These diverse interpretations evidently are inconsistent with one another in several respects, as well as embodying assumptions that limit their capacity to explain anything. Indeed, a scrutiny of two predominant assumptions is one way to approach the complexity of the Cuban reality and offer some more plausible and consistent explanations.

The flaws in the first assumption, that of personalism, are clear enough. A reading of this kind is logical enough in journalistic shorthand or in the polemics surrounding Cuban politics, but it casts little useful light on Cuban realities or the loyalties within the Cuban system. The internal arguments and tensions of this system are far better understood as the ebb and flow of an essentially collective rather than one-dimensionally personalist leadership.

That is not to deny the historically dominating presence of, and loyalty to, Fidel Castro. But it does entail moving beyond the obvious to the roles played by others: Raúl himself (more decisive than most have imagined and not, as often suggested, simply Fidel's loyal or resentful younger brother), but also other key players of the past (Che Guevara, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Raúl Roa, Osvaldo Dorticós, Armando Hart) and the present. It is easy to construct a credible picture of fifty years of debate among a remarkably solid leadership composed of players who, far from being ciphers, have been vociferous decision-makers within their respective fields of competence.

The second assumption, of the decisive influence of factions in the Cuban system, enters here. It arises mostly from older paradigms (of closed regimes whose behind-closed-doors politics led to speculation about internal tensions), but also draws on the known battles inside the Cuba of the 1960s (principally between "old communists" loyal to Moscow, and the unorthodox former guerrillas).

What this perspective misses, however, is that groupings around one issue are rarely replicated with consistency on others. For example, the fact that opposition in Cuba in the late 1980s to Gorbachev's reform programme had several sources (fear of a weakened united front against "imperialism", nationalist resentment, a glimpse of the seeds of later "Yeltsinism") meant that what came later - the campaign of "rectification" - was always more than the conservative opposition to change it was caricatured as. Equally, a "factionalist" reading of the March 2009 reshuffle is undermined by the inability to fit Rodríguez into a fidelista "faction" or Pérez Roque or Rivero into a "reformist" one.

Moreover, factionalist readings never work because they over-simplify the scope and purpose of internal debates inside a system which has almost always encouraged open disagreement "within the revolution" (i.e. behind closed doors or within limited circles or periods), and which has thereafter seldom castigated those who lose the argument. Ramiro Valdés is a case in point; a former guerrilla and interior minister, he was removed from the leadership in the 1980s but remained to be "rehabilitated" after 2005, becoming a minister and most recently vice-president, taking over the "battle of ideas" from Rivero.

True, the precise nature of "within" has differed over the decades - from the open academic debates of the "great debate" of the 1960s (over Cuba's economic future) to the limited leadership debates after the disastrous harvest of 1970. But it has generally been evident before party congresses, in mass organisations during consultations, or in academic "think-tanks". By the same token, the alternative ("against") has always been deemed unacceptable, though also variously defined by the scale of the current problem or external pressures.

The main reason why such traditional interpretations miss their target is that the focus on "reform" assumes the term's homogeneity and thus of those espousing it. Since 1989, "reform" has in the west become synonymous with "transition" (to capitalism); in Cuba, however, it has meant very different things to different actors.

Some might have advocated Gorbachev-style reforms in the 1980s, others might have admired the "Chinese model" - but few Cuban politicians shared either perspective, for the majority was aware that full liberalisation would mean Cuba being swamped by foreign imports and capital, and that a Chinese-style model might mean unacceptable inequality and corruption. In the Cuban context, "reform" in the early 1970s had meant following Soviet models of decentralisation and incentives; in the 1980s, it meant moving towards greater efficiency; after 1990 it meant whatever was necessary to save the revolution (including "dollarisation", self-employment, and tourism).

Much of this is missed by outsiders, whose search for "reformers" is associated with the assumption of a non-existent desire for "transition". The mismatch of perceptions was evident during Raúl's takeover in 2006-08; outsiders still saw him as a "hardliner", whereas most Cubans - based on his record within the FAR and then on his oversight of the 1990s reforms - saw him as (in Cuban terms, the ones that make sense of what is happening) an economic "reformer". In the former case what was consistent was his desire for efficiency; in the latter, the motives were clear and shared by Fidel.

The lessons of revolution

These considerations help to clear the way for a more realistic understanding of the political changes in Cuba. It is clear that any idea that Raúl might be planning a significantly different policy can be discarded: both brothers are cut from the same ideological cloth, and are equally determined to defend and further "the revolution" (see Cuba in Revolution: A History Since the Fifties [Reaktion, 2009]). Where they differ is in tactics and style.

Fidel has, broadly, always preferred to lead Cubans by mobilising through campaigns, rallies and "direct democracy", using his charisma, reputation and the reservoir of personal loyalty. Even when he employed stable structures to channel that support (the Communist Party and the mass organisations), he was generally suspicious of them - though not necessarily because they might constrain his freedom, power or authority.

The reasons were, rather, rooted in experience: the 1960s had taught him that institutionalised structures could be used by groups to try to take over the revolution or to change policy, while a decade of institutionalisation (1975-85) with its mix of consumerism and an enlarged party had created conditions for privilege and corruption. Thus, when, in 2000, the Elián González campaign transmogrified into the "battle of ideas" - promising to reinvigorate demoralised activists and incorporate a new generation of loyalists - mobilisation took precedence over structures, leading to the postponement of the party congress set for 2002.

Raúl, by contrast, has always preferred to govern through those same structures - though not because (as commonly assumed abroad) he is either a Stalinist or a boring bureaucrat.

The reason is, rather, rooted in his awareness that mobilisation, while often necessary to strengthen ideological resolve, contains two dangers: a lack of accountability and a tendency towards inefficiency. For him, structures (properly invigilated and motivated) can be more accountable, more effectively democratic, more efficient and less susceptible to ad hoc corruption.

All this is in the context of what is for Raúl the critical priority: to defend, sustain and enhance the revolution. Fidel might have seen the means to that end being ideological enhancement through mobilisation, but Raúl knows that his options are different: instead of "direct democracy" or campaigns, he has to earn Cubans' active commitment (even if he shares Fidel's historical legitimacy) by delivering tangible economic improvement. Some might argue that this is only possible though a transition towards capitalism, involving the privatisation of the heavily state-run structures and liberalisation of commerce; Raúl's preference is clearly to achieve it through the greater efficiency of the same structures.

What "efficiency" means in practice is a vexed question. For Raúl (as for Che Guevara in the ministry of industry in the early 1960s), inefficiency is inherently anti-revolutionary and produces corrosive corruption. The vexation comes because this "corruption" is not the high-level, headline-grabbing kind that sees ministers sacked or generals executed, but rather the low-level pilfering and diversion of resources of the kind that existed before 1989 and was exacerbated after the 1990s crisis, becoming almost standard means of survival for many and of enrichment for some.

For Raúl, both effects undermine the revolution's legitimacy: if ordinary citizens are obliged to steal public goods to survive, that undermines both their respect for, and active commitment to, revolution, while those who thus enrich themselves are parasites on their fellow citizens. Neither is acceptable.

In this larger context, the political demotions and promotions of March 2009 are part of a wider and longer-term strategy. There is a broad link with the post-2006 campaign against lax labour practices (such as ad hoc absenteeism and inadequate fulfilment of quotas), one that has generated stubborn resistance, trade-union objections and delayed legislation.

The constraint of ambition

There is need for a caveat, however: the need to avoid reading single motivations into unrelated developments. The fact that the demoted politicians shared little with each other makes it more than likely that Raúl also seized the opportunity to make changes for very different reasons.

Thus for example, corruption seemingly played no role in the demotions of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque; but it was implicit in the case of Otto Rivero, not (at this stage at least) for any personal involvement but for having failed to prevent corruption at lower levels. If the loose structures and lack of accountability in the "battle of ideas" allowed opportunities for local corruption, this will have confirmed Raúl's suspicions about unstructured mobilisations.

In the cases of Lage and Pérez Roque (the reasons for the removal of José Luis Rodríguez are still unclear) another factor came into play: the system's inherent vigilance towards emerging "politicians". This refers to a consistent suspicion - predating Raúl's mandate - of politicians who, having risen through the ranks, have begun to act in their own right, outside the existing structures.

This happened with "rising stars" in the past, most notably Carlos Aldana in the early 1990s and Roberto Robaina in the late 1990s; both were identified abroad as potential successors to Fidel (and Raúl), and were removed partly because - as if persuaded by the label - they began to act accordingly. The public statements about Lage and Pérez Roque contain more than a hint of these precedents.

The leadership's reaction to such ostensible aspirants thus has a long and consistent history. But there is another factor: Raúl's own preference for "managers" over "politicians": the former are relied upon to deliver required results efficiently, the latter being less reliable and more likely to develop a personal base and approach.

Raúl Castro's "night of the long knives" may best be considered a characteristically raulista step in the defence, shaping and development of his main concern: "the revolution". An awareness of this core strategic and political calculation might be useful when the measures announced by Washington a month later begin to reach Cuba's shores and Cubans' pockets.

Also by Antoni Kapcia in openDemocracy:

"Cuba after Fidel: stability, movement, reform" (22 May 2008)

"Cuba's revolution: survival, loyalty, change" (15 January 2009)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 20: Anniversary of A Compromised Independence or ?

From 1868 to 1898 Cuba fought three wars for independence, the longest from 1868 to 1878.

The last war began in 1898 and resulted in the American intervention and occupation of Cuba until the 20 of May of 1902.

This last war was organized by José Martí. Its beginning was obstructed and seriously jeopardized when the American authorities seized three ships with weapons in “La Fernandina” in Florida, an expedition prepared by Marti. The Cubans, nevertheless, launched the war. For the first time the Cuban Army was able to invade the western provinces: Matanzas, La Habana and Pinar del Río and the Cienfuegos region in Las Villas. This was the economically critical sugar producing area.
At the beginning of the war the slogan of the Spanish government was “For Cuba to the last man and peseta”, but a new government came to power under the banner “Not one more man or pesetas for Cuba”.

Essentially Spain was defeated, not in a big battle, like Stalingrad or the Ardennes, but by the capacity of the Cubans to have not been defeated, like the Vietnamese years later.

Spain granted “Autonomía” to Cuba, but it was too late and too little.
All of the sudden, after years of “neutrality” and without recognizing the Cuban forces as belligerents, the US declared war and invaded Cuba near Santiago de Cuba. Cuban forces, under the overall command of General Calixto García, protected the landing of the US troops, horses, supplies etc. on Daiquiri Beach.

Very quickly the war ended. The occupying American forces did not allow the Cuban army to march into Santiago or any other town. Calixto Garcia resigned and sent General Shaffer a letter full of honor and pride. However, to the scorn of the Cubans, Spanish local authorities were retained in their posts.

The occupying authorities dissolved the Cuban Liberation Army and created a new force, the future Cuban Army. Essentially, with differences introduced by time, this is the army that was defeated in 1958 by the Revolution. Cuban landowners who had lost their wealth, particularly in the east of the country, had to sell their land for pennies to American interests.

The Platt Amendment was introduced into the Cuban Constitution as a condition for the end of US occupation. In effect, Cuba was a US Protectorate until the Platt Amendment was voided in 1934 as part of the New Deal’s Good Neighbor policy, with the notable exception of continued US control over the Guantanamo Bay base.

The US lowered its flag on the 20 of May 2002 and the Cuban flag was raised over the Morro Castle. America’s imposed conditional independence frustrated the majority of Cubans, but pleased the big land owners in western Cuba and the Spanish who controlled trade in Havana.

Celebrating the 20th of May in Washington as Cuban Independence Day is living in the past, opening old wounds and reminding almost everybody on the island that maybe the US of 2009 is still the US of 1898 and 1902.

(The author is a retired reform minded official of Cuba's governmemt.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reform in Food Distribution

14:26 30Mar2009 Cuba revamps food distribution in efficiency move

* Cuba overhauls food distribution system

* Castro pushing to boost farmers' output

* Agriculture ministry to focus on food production

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, March 30 (Reuters) - Cuba has begun a major overhaul of its food distribution system as part of an effort to increase production and tackle inefficiency, farmers and cooperative producers said.

The vast state network responsible for purchasing and distributing 90 percent of farm output has been moved from the agriculture ministry to the domestic trade ministry, the sources said.

Their comments confirmed a brief report on state-run television last week saying the transfer was underway and that "agriculture will be left with what has to do with production."

The report said the number of state produce markets in the country would be almost doubled from 156 to 300.

So far, government officials have not spoken publicly of the moves, nor have official decrees been published.

But farmers are praising the steps because they say they will allow agricultural officials to concentrate on getting more food produced while leaving distribution to another ministry.

"It is a good measure linked to others they are taking. Agriculture should not be diverted from producing by other tasks," farmer Alfredo Rodriguez said in a telephone interview from the central province of Camaguey.

President Raul Castro has made increasing food production a priority since taking over for his ailing brother Fidel Castro just over a year ago.

The cash-strapped country imports some 60 percent of the food it consumes, spending nearly $2 billion last year.

Raul Castro has moved to decentralize control of agriculture, once centered in Havana, and to increase farm supplies. He has begun the massive leasing of fallow state lands to those interested in tilling it and has as much as tripled amounts the state pays for most agricultural products.

Local economists have applauded the measures, but say they fall short of the market mechanisms needed to improve output.


The latest move followed a government reshuffle earlier this month that replaced eight ministers and several top officials and brought armed forces generals, former officers and middle-aged Communist Party officials into the cabinet.

Acopio is the name of the huge state-run purchasing and distribution system that has come under fire for being grossly inefficient.

There have been numerous reports in the local media this year of how part of a bumper tomato harvest rotted in the fields for lack of containers and transport to cart it away.

"Acopio functions as an intermediary between farmers and consumers and has no business being part of the agriculture ministry," farm cooperative member Diego Cosme said in a telephone interview from eastern Holguin province.

Raul Castro has promised to reorganize and downsize the government to make it and the state-run economy more efficient.

Cuba has around 250,000 family farms and 1,100 private cooperatives, which together produce about 70 percent of the country's food on less than one-third of the cultivated land.

The remainder of the land is owned by the state, and half of that lies fallow.

Some 90 percent of the food is purchased by the state and shipped to institutions ranging from hospitals and schools to work place lunchrooms, and also sold at state markets, with the remainder sold by farmers on the open market.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Kieran Murray)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jorge Castañeda vs. Nelson Valdez

The Plot Against The Castros
Two of Cuba's star politicians seem to have been a part of a conspiracy or a coup to overthrow Raúl Castro

Jorge Castañeda
From the magazine issue dated Mar 23, 2009

For years, two tidbits of conventional wisdom have dominated debates among Cubanologists (a tropical subspecies of former Kremlinologists). First, that Deputy Prime Minister and economic czar Carlos Lage has been in charge of running the island economy since the early '90s, and, despite differences of opinion regarding his performance, was seen as one of the most likely successors to Fidel Castro's brother and successor, Raúl. Second, that Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque was not only in charge of the international relations Fidel Castro took increasingly less interest in, but that he was something of a favorite son. Most observers, including several Latin American ex-presidents close to Castro, saw him as the heir apparent, once the caudillo's brother passed from the scene. So Raúl's decision to dump the two stars a fortnight ago is a major event in Cuba, and unlike previous purges, this one is clearly linked to Fidel Castro's succession, and may tell us a great deal about what lies ahead.

The problem, of course, is that, as in the Soviet Union when Stalin died, or in China after Mao's death, we don't really know what is going on. Yet there are solid reasons to believe that something along the following lines took place: for at least a month or so, Lage, Pérez Roque and others were apparently involved in a conspiracy, betrayal, coup or whatever term one prefers, to overthrow or displace Raúl from his position. In this endeavor, they recruited—or were recruited by—Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, who in turn tried to enlist the support of other Latin American leaders, starting with Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic, who refused to get involved.

Their reasons for wishing to unseat Rául were mainly turf and power, but they also feared that the leader was beginning to feel threatened by the reaction of the Cuban people to excessive economic and social deprivation, and after his brother's demise would be unable to control the flow of events. Consequently, he would accept a series of economic and political reforms to normalize relations with the United States, knowing full well that therein lay the only option for immediate improvement in Cubans' lives. They believed this to be a betrayal of the revolution, and the beginning of the end of its survival.

This would represent the latest of many anti-Castro intrigues since 1959. As usual, Castro (Raúl this time; before, both brothers) detected the plot almost before the plotters themselves. Raúl took the evidence collected by military intelligence to his ailing brother, and forced him to choose: stick with him and extend his support to the predetermined succession path, or back Lage and Pérez Roque and forsake Raúl. With evident disappointment in his old allies, the Comandante Máximo backed Raúl. Then Chávez was summoned to Havana to be placed before another devil's alternative: back off, while maintaining economic support for the island, or lose his Cuban security detail and intelligence apparatus, exposing himself to coups and assassination attempts from eventual Venezuelan replacements. He chose to stick with the Castros.

The day after their resignation, the two plotters were expelled from their other posts in disgrace. In a newspaper column Fidel accused them of harboring excessive "ambitions" fed by the "honey of power" and the "absence of sacrifice." He said they had reawakened the illusions of "foreign powers" regarding Cuba's future. More importantly, and enigmatically, he resorted to a baseball metaphor on the occasion of the World Baseball Classic to praise Dominicans for not participating (the team's plans had been unclear) and to claim that Chávez's baseball players, "as good and young" as they might be, were no match for "Cuba's seasoned all-stars."

When the conspirators were stripped of their titles, they published classic Stalinist mea culpa letters, acknowledging their "mistakes" (without saying what they were), and pledging loyalty to Fidel, Raúl and the revolution. Such behavior raises ominous questions. Pérez Roque was popular in Cuba; his youth, his humble origins, his combative nature all brought him closer to the people than most Cuban bureaucrats. Once Fidel is gone, will Raúl be able to "keep him down on the farm," if and when he claims to be Fidel's true heir? Will Raúl be able to pull off a rapprochement with Washington quickly enough to placate the restiveness his opponents could exploit? Or should he act to remove them from the scene, one way or another, before they return shrouded in glory?

Needless to say, none of this can be fully substantiated, and it is quite possible that, indeed, the entire affair might have now come to an end. Or, more probably, there will be a sequel: further persecution of the fallen idols, growing discontent in Cuba and increasing difficulties on the part of Raúl in managing the succession. It is worth remembering that Lenin, Stalin and Mao were all unable to control their successions, and they were neither fools nor choir children. There is scant reason to believe that Fidel, despite all his talent, will prove more successful.

Castañeda is a former foreign minister of Mexico, Global Distinguished Professor at New York University and a fellow at the New America Foundation.


Newsweek, Foreign Policy Magazine and Speculation as "Entertainment"
by Nelson P Valdés

Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque)

"I would rather tell seven lies than make one explanation.
- Mark Twain

"Even now you can see how there are attempts to distort what happens in the
world and what is the truth of what is going on in Cuba."
- Fidel Castro, April 4, 1959

On March 14, 2009 Newsweek magazine published an article ["The Plot Against
the Castros"] written by Jorge Castañeda. The article claimed to provide an
interpretation of the reasons for the March 3rd government changes in Cuba.
The author claimed,

"...for at least a month or so, Lage, Pérez Roque and others were apparently
involved in a conspiracy, betrayal, coup or whatever term one prefers, to
overthrow or displace Raúl from his position. In this endeavor, they
recruited-or were recruited by-Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, who in turn tried to
enlist the support of other Latin American leaders, starting with Leonel
Fernández of the Dominican Republic, who refused to get involved."[1]

Castañeda, using his power of creative fiction wrote: "The day after their
resignation, the two plotters were expelled from their other posts in
disgrace. In a newspaper column Fidel accused them of harboring excessive
"ambitions" fed by the "honey of power" and the "absence of sacrifice." He
said they had reawakened the illusions of "foreign powers" regarding Cuba's
future. More importantly,and enigmatically, he resorted to a baseball
metaphor on the occasion of the World Baseball Classic to praise Dominicans
for not participating (the team's plans had been unclear) and to claim that
Chavez's baseball players, "as good and young" as they might be, were no
match for "Cuba's seasoned all-stars."

In his article Castañeda conflated Fidel Castro's comments about the
Baseball Classic with changes in the makeup of the Cuban cabinet. In the
process he even imagined the role of two Latin American presidents.

Within hours it was clear that the Newsweek piece was based on no evidence.
Jorge Castañeda had said as much 72 hours later, CNN fromMexico City quoted
him as saying, ""I have no evidence of it."[2]. Yet, on March 18th in the
digital version of the Spanish newspaper El País he had a new article (La
ambigüedad de la victoria) where he repeated his speculation although
acknowledging he had nothing to back him up. In the new revised speculation
he mentioned Hugo Chavez but not the Dominican Republic president. of
course, the Venezuelan president denied the assertions. [3]

Over 67,000 web pages, blogs and printed media reproduced the claim that
there had been a plot against the government of Raul Castro; yet, only
18,000 web pages reported that the whole thing was not based on evidence.
When it comes to Cuba, anything goes as far as the mass media and numerous
academic institutions are concerned. Castañeda is at present a fellow at the
New America Foundation, which only shows that some "think tanks" are ready
to broadcast fantasy, falsehoods and anything else as long as some
ideological preconceptions are ratified.

The blogger Machetera, on March 17, decided to speculate on what is going on
"Inside Jorge Castañeda's feverish mind." And "just for fun" Machetera
ripped the Newsweek article apart, paragraph by paragraph. [4] Yet, another
"respectable" publication came to the rescue of the creative fiction writer
- Foreign Policy magazine - owned by the same company that produces
Newsweek. Joshua Keating, the editor of FP wrote on the blog the editors of
the magazine have:

"To be fair to Castañeda, "informed speculation" is probably the best we're
going to get in terms of Cuban political analysis at the moment. His theory
seems as good as any of the others (It is a bit strange that Chavez hasn't
publicly commented on any of this yet.) and at least it has the virtue of
being entertaining."[5]

Of course, all these assertions were the result of an overactive imagination
lacking the most basic professional ethics of commitment to truth, integrity
and intellectual honesty.[6]

In the post-modern world truth, accuracy and method are of no consequence,
it seems. Infotainment now passes as foreign policy analysis. When
everything fails to justify political speculation, and hacks passing as
academics are caught in their lies; there is always the entertainment value
of lying. Or so, we are told.





[3] and



[6] A Guide to Professional Ethics in Political Science, Second Edition,
revised 2008.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Triumph of the Raulistas

Two factions had definitely emerged in the Cuban government since Raul's
formal accession to the presidency last year. The rift between the
Fidelistas and Raulistas was widening. The military (supported by those
in the intelligence services who know that genuine economic reform is
vital for the survival of the Revolution), were increasingly frustrated,
reflecting the widespread feeling of the Cuban people. I actually heard
senior military people say that a coup could happen if the Fidelistas
persisted in putting the brakes on economic reforms. This was a
necessary move, as the Cuban people are increasingly discontented, and
if there were a popular uprising, the military would probably join it
rather than shoot protesters.

From what I know of the people named as replacements, this is indeed a
triumph of the Raul faction. Most (including the Army generals) could
be characterized as technocrats, well-educated, worldly, with a strong
understanding of different economic systems, non-ideological, pragmatic,
and results-oriented. Some (and possibly all) have spent time abroad in
Western countries, and have been exposed to different political and
economic systems. I am sure that they are loyal to Raul. These are not
democrats, but I believe that they have a mandate to reform the Cuban
economy and that this will involve a strong market element at the
domestic level. I have been told that a sweeping economic reform plan
exists, but could not be implemented due to opposition of the

Perez Roque was despised by other senior members of the Cuban
government. I have heard for months that Carlos Lage had lost power and
was no longer a force to be reckoned with. He will continue to serve in
an advisory role, as his views are respected (he is considered to be an

It is very important for the US government to recognize that Ricardo
Alarcon is little more than an official spokesman for the Cuban
government. He is not a possible successor to Raul.

It is also important for the Obama administration to understand that the
Cuban military has morphed into a military/industrial complex, and is
staffed by officers who are more businessmen than "old school" military
thugs. I have met several field grade officers with MBAs from western
universities. These people have also been very influenced by the
economies of Viet Nam and China, although I have spoken to some who
expressed greater admiration for Singapore and Sweden, and have told me
that Cuba will create a new economic system that incorporates elements
from successful socialist economies and create a new "Cuban Economic

A common complaint in Cuba is "the system doesn't work." Raul's people
are determined to make the system work, even if it means creating a
market economy and putting a socialist veneer on it.

Finally, the people now in power are open to normalizing relations with
the US (and view it as inevitable), but want to control the process so
that change comes gradually. I believe that a similar policy path
should be followed by President Obama.

--Timothy Ashby 3/3/09
Cabesterre, LLC Miami, Fl.
former senior political appointee at the US Commerce Department, International Trade Administration. Bio at

Speculation from Havana

Crawling with Speculation
Inter Press Service - March 4

By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Mar 4 (IPS) - While the staff of the cabinet ministries set to undergo major reforms are gearing themselves for what lies ahead, the people of Cuba, from academics to pensioners, are speculating about the extent of the recently announced changes and hoping they will bring improvements to their lives and to living standards in general.

Meanwhile, the official daily of the Communist Party, Granma, published an article Wednesday in which former president Fidel Castro clarified that the major cabinet shakeup announced Monday has his full support.

The column also set off new conjecture as to why powerful figures like former foreign minister Felipe P rez Roque and former cabinet chief Carlos Lage were unexpectedly removed from those posts.

Referring to them only as "the two most frequently mentioned," the convalescent Castro wrote that "the honey of power, for which they had made no sacrifices, awoke in them ambitions that led them to play an undignified role. The external enemy was filled with illusions for them."

By contrast, the statement in which the Council of State announced the ministerial shuffle Monday consistently used the respectful term "compa ero" and the verb "released" from their posts, rather than "dismissed."

"I told you yesterday that this was a truene ," one neighbour remarked to another. Leaning out of their windows, the two women lowered their voices as a group of tourists walked by.

In Cuban slang, a public employee who has been "tronado" has been "thunderously" sacked and put on the "pajama plan" in other words, sent home.

"Fidel s reflection reveals that there were problems with Lage and P rez Roque, but provides no real explanations. We will have to wait for things to be clarified further," an academic source who asked not to be identified told IPS.

Less cautious, a young university professor commented that the removals came as a big surprise because "many people in Cuba thought they (the officials in question) were set to govern in the future."

"Now, all of us would like more information," said another professor. "Fidel s accusation is very serious."

The 57-year-old Lage is a member of the governing Communist Party s powerful Politburo and was reelected as vice president of the Council of State in February 2008. P rez Roque, 43, is a member of the Council of State and of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

In the past, both officials formed part of the "Commander-in-Chief s Coordination and Support Group", a government team made up of younger Communist Party leaders that was in charge of overseeing and implementing projects and initiatives considered top priority by Fidel Castro, who due to his failing health was permanently replaced as president in February 2008 by his younger brother Ra l.

The special group functioned parallel to the cabinet of ministers.

Observers suppose that as part of Ra l Castro s process of streamlining the government s institutions, such parallel structures no longer have a raison d etre. And it is in that light that the restructuring of the cabinet - which includes the merging of several ministries, to concentrate efforts and resources and boost efficacy - should be understood, they say.

In the view of the younger Castro brother, Cuba s institutions are one of the "pillars of invulnerability of the revolution, in the political terrain." In that sense, one of the decisions that was most widely welcomed was to "release" Otto Rivero from his responsibilities as vice president of the Council of Ministers.

Rivero was in charge of the so-called "battle of ideas", a plan created to "perfect" Cuban socialism in a number of areas, which included programmes that have now been put under the aegis of the "respective investing bodies," according to the official statement.

"The new government wants the ministries to truly fulfill their roles. These parallel bodies created a dangerous duality of power, concentrated in people who did not have to answer to the Council of Ministers - not to mention the fact that they opened a door to the chaotic use of funds," an academic with experience in the matter commented to IPS.

While some researchers were somewhat sceptical about the government reforms put into motion by Ra l Castro on Monday, the source who spoke at length with IPS expressed enthusiasm, and said he hoped that under the new Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo, Cuban state enterprises would become more competitive, face fewer hurdles and receive greater incentives.

He also applauded the merging of the Ministries of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, under Minister Rodrigo Malmierca.

The academic described Malmierca, who up to Monday was at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Investment, as "a person with frequent flier miles , who knows how the economy and world politics work."

The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said "Cuba is betting on real insertion into the global economy," and for that reason it must overcome internal problems and eliminate, for example, regulations and laws that lead to "the constant undersupply of the country s stores" and that stand in the way of the export of domestically produced goods by Cuban companies.

And while some analysts have criticised the appointment of several armed forces officers to the cabinet, arguing that it will usher in a degree of "militarisation" of the government, he said he disagreed.

With respect to the naming of army general Salvador Pardo Cruz the former head of the Military Industry Union as Minister of the Steel Industry, he said it was a good decision, pointing out that the military managed to upgrade and modernise their equipment based on local initiative, resources and organisation, with a strategy that could be transferred to the steel industry, which he said is currently "undercapitalised" due to a lack of coherence in the ministry s policies.

No less strategic was the appointment of Jos Miyar at the head of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, along with the transfer of the "scientific pole" - comprised of Cuba s main scientific research institutions to the ministry. (It currently answers directly to the Council of State). "No one knows more about science in Cuba than he does," said the source.

That decision also eliminates the unequal treatment received by the research institutions grouped on the west side of Havana and other parts of the "scientific pole" around the country.

"I think Chomi (the name by which people in Cuba know Miyar) will bring about a shift among scientists and science, a sector that has been called upon to become a dynamic productive force in the country," the expert said.

Cuba s biotech industry, which began to be developed in 1998, is generating more than 300 million dollars a year in exports, according to unofficial reports. And countries that have good relations with Cuba have expressed a growing interest in joint operations that would allow the sharing and even the transfer of know-how.

"I think Cuba is making progress towards the creation of conditions to make the leap forward and pull out of the hole, and that it will become an efficient country, where work will once again be the source of social recognition, and which will be inserted in a diverse world, based on its own diversity, and that Ra l will have the merit of launching this crusade," the source added.

New Foreign Minister

Cuban foreign minister expected to set new tone


Posted on Tue, Mar. 10, 2009 Miami Herald

The new face of the Cuban government overseas is a man with perfect English, a steady professional style, and more than a decade of experience living in New York as a Cuba representative at the United Nations.

People who have met newly appointed Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tend to use the same word to describe him: diplomatic. It's not an adjective often used for Cuban ambassadors, who are usually noted for ideological rhetoric.

Rodríguez is a career foreign service officer who takes the helm of the country's foreign ministry at a time of heightened expectation for change between Washington and Havana.

His predecessor was fired and Rodríguez was appointed the same week that the U.S. Senate debated adjustments to Cuba policy. The former United Nations ambassador will be helping shape Cuban foreign policy just after a parade of Latin American presidents visited the island -- and a month before those same leaders meet with President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas conference in Trinidad.

''Raúl Castro could well be preparing for Obama, because Obama is a complicating factor for all these fellows: Castro in Cuba, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia,'' said Javier Corrales, a Cuba expert at Amherst College in Massachusetts. ``They need to have a response.''


Experts say Rodríguez's response will undoubtedly be the Cuban Communist Party line, but delivered in a manner American politicians are unaccustomed to.

Rodríguez is described as a deliberate, intelligent, great negotiator. His identifying feature is his impassibility: He can say the harshest things without becoming upset or raising his voice.

At 51, he is among the youngest members of the Cuban Cabinet. He was born in Mexico, the son of a Spanish immigrant who was a Civil War refugee.

A law graduate, Rodríguez entered politics as a Communist Youth leader, and was the chief of its international relations department. He served at a mission in Angola, and in 1990, was named to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He was close to Roberto Robaina, a disgraced former foreign minister.

For a short time, Rodríguez was editor of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper and distinguished himself for his hard line in the face of the changes imposed by perestroika and glasnost. He wrote a harsh review of the 1991 movie Alice in Wondertown, a movie that led Fidel Castro to oust the president of the Cinema Institute.

In 1993, Rodríguez became a delegate to the United Nations, where he honed his political skills until 2004.


He gave fiery speeches defending Cuba after the Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down 1996, and filed a formal complaint when the corner outside the Cuban mission in Manhattan was named after the pilots' group.

''He has never held a job outside government,'' said Frank Calzon, who heads Center for a Free Cuba, an anti-Castro organization in Washington. ``I asked someone in our government whether this guy could be independent and moderate. He answered: Nobody in the Cuban government can ever be independent or moderate.''

To be sure, Rodríguez's political finesse did not mean he was unwilling to take on Cuba's northern neighbor. He railed at the ''yankees'' when Washington declined to condemn the perpetrators of the 2002 coup in Venezuela.

''There will never be any flirting with those who want to chop off our heads,'' Rodríguez said in a 2002 speech. ``There will be no concessions or gestures or dialogue: There will be a struggle without any truce, until the last bullet.''

Mauricio Font, director of the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies in New York, said Rodríguez will bring diplomacy back to Cuban international relations.

''He would return Cuban diplomacy to a more traditional way of doing things,'' Font said. ``He has made contacts and people respect him. He can represent the Cuban position assertively, but he was not seen as an ideologue. He was seen as a diplomat.''


Font and Sandra Levinson, director of the Center for Cuban Studies, a New York nonprofit that advocates normalized relations with Cuba, said many people were particularly impressed with the former ambassador's wife Olga, a sharp and social woman.

''He was very smart and has a very smart wife,'' Levinson said.

She noted that both Rodríguez and Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba's new Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, were posted at the U.N. mission in New York. Malmierca's father, the late Isidoro Malmierca, was foreign minister from 1976 until 1992.

''It's certainly a sign when you see two people put in positions of authority who were recent ambassadors to the U.N.,'' Levinson said. ``I think they are trying to put people in place who have more professional qualities.''


After his assignment in New York, Rodríguez was first vice minister of foreign relations for five years. There, he was an architect of Cuba's recent diplomatic triumphs in Latin America and the U.N.

Experts say that diplomatic strategy toward Latin America and Europe was conceived to send a message to Obama: The secretary general of the Organization of American States wants Cuba reinstated in the community of hemispheric nations. Already, 31 countries have relations with the island.

Cuba was recently incorporated into the Río Group, reestablished ties with Mexico, strengthened commercial links with Brazil, and played host to a stream of presidents.

Sarah Stephens, who heads a Washington, D.C. anti-embargo organization, cautions against pinning too many hopes on Rodríguez, despite his qualifications.

''I just think we in the U.S. make the mistake of thinking of everything Havana does is about us. It usually isn't,'' she said. ''It strikes me that his predecessor got fired, and he was next in line. I want to think Havana wants better [U.S.] relations and [he was chosen because] he is better at it, but I don't know that I believe it.''

© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Leadership Change As Seen from Havana

Raul Castro stirs up Cuban leadership
Posted: Tuesday, March 03, 2009 11:27 AM

By Mary Murray, NBC News Havana Bureau Chief

HAVANA – Cuba’s President Raul Castro sure knows how to get the nation to sit up and listen.

While most people were at school or work and far away from their TV sets on Monday, a news announcer read a typed sheet of paper announcing the reshuffling of 10 Cabinet positions and the collapse of four key ministries into two. But by the end of the day, the shake-up was all people were talking about.

The Cuban public seemed most surprised by the removal of two men closely aligned with Raul’s predecessor, Fidel Castro, and pegged as the frontrunners of the next generation of leaders.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque was replaced by his own deputy, Bruno Rodriguez. And Dr. Carlos Lage lost his job as Cabinet Secretary to Brig. Gen. Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra, but Lage remains one of the Council of State’s vice presidents.

Both men are popular leaders, especially with the island’s younger generations.

Possible successors no more
Prior to being named foreign minister, Perez Roque, 43, was Fidel Castro’s chief of staff – he was just fresh out of engineering college when he landed that job. At his appointment in 1999, he became the youngest member of the Cabinet and the only one born after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

The nation watched him grow from a shy figure in Fidel’s shadow into a self-assured politician who adroitly managed Cuba’s complex foreign relations with more than 140 countries. For the moment, Perez Roque remains a senior member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

Lage, 57, is a pediatrician by training who has been active in Communist Party politics since his student days. He rose to prominence during the turbulent years that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, which had been the island’s financial lifeline. Lage become known as Cuba’s economic czar, credited with designing the financial reforms that allowed the island to survive the crisis that began in the early nineties.

Lage remains an extremely popular figure here. People remember him as the young politician who, like millions of workers, rode a Chinese bicycle to the office when the country had no cash to import oil. He was often spotted jogging along Havana’s public streets without bodyguards or fancy running shoes. In the summer of 2006 when Fidel Castro required surgery, Lage was one of the select group given provisional powers to rule in Fidel’s absence. He has widely been considered one of the successors to the Castro brothers’ rule.

Over the past year as Raul steered Cuba along his own course, Lage and others in Fidel's inner circle seemed to have lost influcence. Today there is no clear successor to 77-year-old Raul, except for his hand-picked vice president, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who is actually a year old than the younger Castro brother.

In addition to the shuffling of some 10 Cabinet positions, Raul also took a stab at reducing the socialist government’s enormous bureaucracy.

Under Monday’s measures, the food and fishing ministries collapsed into one entity, as did the ministries of foreign trade and foreign cooperation. As with any reduction in public spending, these moves are expected to leave hundreds of state workers without jobs.

Still dominated by ‘historic generation’
Monday’s announcements could well add to grievances from younger people who complain that their generation holds little influence and power in today’s Cuba. Kids routinely grumble that the island is run and dominated by what’s known here as the "historic generation," the men who fought with Fidel Castro and seized power half a century ago.

Jesus Montoya, 23, said he heard the announcement in a packed university commons room. "It did not go over well. Some kids even started booing."

Personally, Montoya says he is reserving judgment since he backs any actions to reduce the government's size. "I hope this will naturally lead to a larger private sector. People need to stop relying on the state and the state needs to allow people to rely on their own abilities to make a living." He wants Raul to allow Cubans to open up their own businesses.

That however does not seem to be a priority for Raul’s administration, although he has allowed more private taxis on Havana’s streets. Instead, he seems focused on trying to tackle the colossal issue of government waste.

‘A matter of survival’
Since officially taking office on Feb. 24, 2008, Raul has hammered away at the idea of Cuba needing to save money and resources by becoming more efficient. "It’s a matter of survival," he has said on more than one occasion.

Over the past year in office, Raul has spearheaded drives to reform state-run companies, open up the agricultural sector and to downsize government. Under his mandate, the younger Castro has even supported economic incentives, almost a treasonous idea to the elder Fidel Castro who organized Cuban society around the ideas of equality and egalitarianism.

With the Cuban state controlling over 90 percent of the economy, Raul’s push for economic reform has had an across-the-board affect.

His government has adopted modern management and accounting practices with local managers being granted more day-to-day decision-making power.

Both state and private farmers can now legally charge higher prices for their products after meeting state quotas. And, in some industries, Cuba has abolished nationally set wage ceilings so that salaries are tied to both an individual's performance and that of the collective.

Raul also has allowed Cubans to buy computers, own mobile telephones, rent cars and spend nights in hotels previously only accessible to foreigners. While most cannot afford such luxuries on their low wages, people generally applauded the end to the discriminatory practices in the Cuban market.

'Two plus two always makes four – not five'
But Raul was forced to curtail his economic and social reform drive after three devastating hurricanes swept the island last season and caused some $10 billion in damages, equal to 10 percent of Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product.

During the 2008 closing session of parliament, Raul revealed that recovery could easily take up to six years but that "this did not mean reforms have been shelved."

At that meeting he turned the spotlight on government deficiencies, calling the lack of accountability and waste in government spending one of the "fundamental problems" of Cuba’s socialist system. He revealed plans to set up a watchdog agency on government spending, eliminate some $60 million a year in state-run company bonuses and cut in half all travel perks for Communist Party and business leaders while promising to raise wages and create jobs.

"We have to eliminate improper gratuities and bloated subsidies, otherwise the bills won't add up. Two plus two always makes four – not five," Raul said.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Politicaql Prisoners Reduced by One-third

Reported number of Cuban political prisoners dips

Monday, February 02, 2009
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer

HAVANA — The number of political prisoners held in Cuba continues to fall gradually, but brief detentions of activists have soared under President Raul Castro's rule, with more than 1,500 documented last year, the island's leading independent rights group said Monday.

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said that it documented 205 political prisoners as of Jan. 30, down from 234 in early 2008. Twelve of the 205 have been freed on medical parole but continue to serve their sentences and can be returned to prison for parole violations.

The number of political prisoners has dropped by a third since Castro took assumed power from his ailing elder brother Fidel in July 2006, when the commission counted 316 prisoners.

"It is true that in 2008, as well as in the previous two years, the government has stopped applying long prison terms as it did in 2003," commission head Elizardo Sanchez wrote in the twice-yearly report, referring to a crackdown that put 75 critics behind bars.

But Sanchez said Raul Castro's government has increased "low-intensity political and social repression in the form of hundreds of short-term arbitrary detentions."

Castro said last month he'd be willing to send the island's political prisoners and their families to the United States in exchange for the freedom of five Cubans serving long terms in U.S. prisons on espionage charges.

Even if the U.S. agrees, Cuba is unlikely to free all of those on the commission's list, which includes some people convicted of violent acts, such as two Salvadorans sentenced to death for Havana hotel bombings that killed an Italian tourist.

Amnesty International has identified only 66 of those on the commission's list as prisoners of conscience, including 10 who have since been paroled.

President Barack Obama has never discussed a possible prisoner exchange
and has said he will maintain a long-standing trade embargo against the island until Cuba shows "significant steps toward democracy," starting with freedom for political prisoners.

But Obama also has promised to lift all restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba, and has said he is willing to talk directly with Raul Castro.

The commission headed by Sanchez is funded by international rights organizations and it operates without government approval. The group is now largely tolerated, but Sanchez spent eight years in prison for his human rights work during the 1980s and early 1990s.

The commission gets its information from prisoners' relatives or inmates themselves and its reports are regularly used by international groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Cuban officials say they do not hold any political prisoners and dismiss dissidents as "mercenaries" who take money from the U.S. government to destabilize the island's communist system. Officials maintain they respect human rights more than those in most countries, given the free education and health care and other subsidized services their system provides.