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.