Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cuba Notes Practical Steps Not Taken by the Obama Administration

Following is the introductory section of Cuba's annual documentation of the impact of the unilateral US embargo in preparation for the scheduled UN debate. It cites numerous reforms that lie within the exclusive authority of the Executive which the Obama Administration has declined to initiate, in effect Cuba's commonsense road map for the US if it wishes to achieve a more normal relationship.


On March 28, 2009, US Vice President Joseph Biden, in the framework of the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Chile, made a press statement that the government of that country would not lift the embargo on Cuba. On April 7th of the same year, Robert Wood, the State Department spokesperson declared at a press conference: “I think that we have been very clear that we do not consider this is the right time to lift the embargo”.

On April 19, 2009, David Axelrod, Obama’s advisor, replied in an interview on CBS-TV when asked if the White House had any thoughts about lifting the “embargo”: “...we are far from that”.

That same day, President Obama’s economic advisor Lawrence Summers declared on an NBC-TV interview when referring to the lifting of the embargo: “That is not something for tomorrow and it will depend on what Cuba is going to do, Cuba knows what it should be doing for some time now, and it depends on them in terms of their policies, their democratization and all the steps they might take (...) it is a topic that will be decided on the basis of Cuba’s conduct”.

It is evident then that the US government does not harbour any intention of producing a change in its policy towards Cuba, or of complying with the reiterated resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly that ask the government of that country to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba. On the contrary, the US government continues holding on to inacceptable interfering conditions and demands as a condition for a change of policy towards Cuba.

Despite having considerable support in Congress, the press, public opinion and the business sector, that transcended any preceding consensus in American society regarding policy towards Cuba, something that would have allowed him to act with a high level of autonomy, President Obama has stayed well below the expectations created by his speech about the claims from different sectors in American society and the international community, as well as his prerogatives to change significant policy aspects, even without intervention from Congress.

By virtue of those prerogatives and if such political will for that were to exist, President Obama would have had sufficient authority to significantly make the embargo against Cuba more flexible. In that sense, and without the need for mediating congressional approval, the President would have been able to issue a broad range of permits to authorize the following measures:

* Substantially expand travel by Americans and foreigners residing in the US by a broad interpretation of the 12 categories for travel established by law (for example, expansion of educational travel, permits to participate in professional conferences, academic, scientific, student, cultural, sports, religious exchanges and authorization of humanitarian projects, just to name a few).

[These categories are: travel for official government business, foreign governments or international organizations; family travel; educational travel; religious; for public presentations, sports competitions and exhibitions; travel for activities in support of the Cuban people; for humanitarian projects; trips for private foundation, research institute or educational activities; travel for export, import or transmission of information or informative materials activities; and travel for activities relating to the export of agricultural products.]

* Eliminate limits on travel associated expenses such as accomodations, food and local transportation that Americans and Cubans residing in the US can make when they visit Cuba (Americans, including Cuban-Americans, after the amendment to the Budget Act for the 2009 fiscal year, cannot spend more than the limit set for travel expenses abroad for US government officials, today set at 179 USD per day).

* Eliminate the prohibition on use of credit and debit cards, personal cheques, travellers’ cheques, issued by both US and third country banks.

* Broaden the list of US airports authorized to operate charter flights to Cuba (at the present time, there are only three approved: Miami, New York and Los Angeles).

* Permit ferry service between the US and Cuba.

* Authorize all US travel agencies to organize trips to Cuba, or make the requisites and procedures in force more flexible so that travel agencies may obtain the necessary permits for this activity (today there are some 150 agencies authorized to do so, via specific licences).

* Authorize travelers visiting Cuba to buy Cuban products and take them to the US for personal use or as gifts, and eliminate the limit on their value (up to the present time they can only take information materials, including art objects).

* Eliminate the prohibition on Cuban companies to participate in the transportation of US visitors to and from Cuba, or Cuban visitors to and from the US.

* Permit certain bank relations, such as correspondent banks and the opening of accounts by Cuban entities in US banks to facilitate agricultural exports.

* Eliminate the prohibition that prevents vessels transporting agricultural products to Cuba from carrying goods in our country even though their destination may be a third country.

* Expand the list of products that may be exported to Cuba to include, for example, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, agricultural equipment and even wooden furniture and objects manufactured with materials having animal or vegetal origins.

* Permit broader forms of collaboration in the development, marketing and supply of medicines and biomedical products originating in Cuba.

* Authorize the importing of medicines and medical products of Cuban origin and the payments corresponding to the Cuban exporters.

* Authorize the export of medicines and medical equipmentbb that may be used in the manufacture of Cuban biotechnological products.

* Instruct US representatives in international financial institutions not to block the authorization of loans or other financial facilities to Cuba.

* Loosen up or eliminate the prohibition on using the dollar for Cuba’s international transactions.

* Permit foreign subsidiaries of US companies to carry out certain transactions with Cuba, such as financial services, insurance, services and investments (The Torricelli Act prohibits commerce in goods but not the mentioned transactions).

* Lift the two prohibitions established in the Torricelli Act regarding vessels: the one forbidding entry to US ports for 180 days by vessels from third countries that have carried goods to Cuba; and the one making it impossible for vessels carrying goods or passengers to or from Cuba to enter US ports (the Torricelli Act and regulations for its implementation authorize the president to issue licenses for that).

*Exclude Cuba from the list of states sponsoring international terrorism. This list was first published in 1982 under the Reagan administration and has remained in effect until today. It involves the application of certain sanctions.

[Among the sanctions being applied to a State sponsoring terrorism, according to the list drawn up by the US, are: the prohibition on financial transactions without a permit, the prohibition on financial and direct technical aid by the US government, the prohibition on exports of certain goods such as heavy industrial products, high tech equipment, and products having dual usage, the prohibition on transfer of munitions, and the prohibition on granting temporary visas to nationals of the country without special decision of the Secretary of State.]

Friday, September 3, 2010

Interview with Esteban Morales

Interview with Political Scientist and Internationalist Esteban Morales

Red Alert against Corruption

“I am one of those who think that sometimes it is healthier for us to recognize our shortcomings ourselves than for the enemy to throw them back in our face, or save them up against us, which is worse,” asserted Cuban political scientist and academician Esteban Morales during an interview with the International Press Service (IPS), reproduced by Cubanow.

Patricia Grogg

“I still view corruption as an extraordinary danger to the country, since its “corrosive power” makes it a matter of “national security,” emphasized Esteban Morales, who was expelled from the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) after making his warnings public.

Morales appealed to the PCC, an option he’s entitled to according to the statutes of that Party, which is the only political party recognised in Cuba.

“A commission has to analyse the appeal and make a decision. If I am not satisfied with the answer, I can take the case as far as the Party Congress. I will continue to appeal, because I think I have reasons to do so,” he told the IPS news agency.

Meanwhile, he remains very active as an academic and researcher, although he will retire in September from the teaching staff at the Center for Hemispheric Studies on the United States (CEHSEU) of the University of Havana, which he helped found and to which he has devoted a large part of his professional life.

“I'm retiring at 68. I'll have more time and more freedom for my academic and research works,” added this doctor of Science and Economics and an expert on Cuba-U.S. relations, as well as the author of essays, books and numerous articles on the no less delicate issue of racism in his country.

IPS: After your separation from the PCC was made public, you preferred to avoid contact with the press, especially the accredited foreign press. What made you change your mind and agree to this interview?

EM: I think that clearing up certain points is healthy. Some people have said I was a privileged person, a state security (secret service) agent, and now I want to say these things. They will never find my privileges, because I have none. As for being a security agent, if I were, I would be proud of it, because in Cuba that is an honor.

My curriculum vitae speaks for me. I am a true academic, not an invented one. I have written dozens of works, not always on straightforward subjects, as well as doing a lot of teaching, lecturing at conferences and acting as an academic adviser. If anyone has any doubts, they only need to enter my name into Google.

Others have taken delight in the idea that I might change sides and go over to the 'dissidents.' Perhaps the counter-revolution, lacking as it is in leadership, thought that I would fill that gap for them. People who really know me know that that's impossible, and that I'm a firmly committed revolutionary. Furthermore, I have never had any pretensions to leadership or sought to be center stage.

IPS: Have you never wavered in your political convictions?

EM: No, never. Even the sun has its spots; different appraisals are always possible. I may have given room for wrong interpretations, although the spirit of my texts is clear and anyone can see they were written from a revolutionary stance.

I was a revolutionary before I was a party member, and I will continue to be one. It’s a political affiliation I decided over 50 years ago, my free choice. I have never liked to play the lying game.

I am not paralysed by what has happened. I will simply be much more careful when expressing myself and writing, but I won't stop doing it, as an intellectual who the Revolution has trained to warn with honesty about things that can damage us, and that is what I have always done. These are the risks one has to take.

IPS: Doesn't the fact that you were punished after publicly expressing your views on corruption and the risks it poses for the country's political and social stability contradict President Raúl Castro himself, who on August 1st said that unity 'is nurtured and harvested within the broadest possible socialist democracy and in open discussion of every issue, however sensitive, with the people'?

EM: I believe debate and criticism are encouraged by Raúl and the party leadership. But there may be circumstances in which someone at some level does not quite agree.

I would say that the process of exercising a critical approach is much more complex than the mere decision to do so. It has to do with the structures, with individuals and the different ways in which some people understand things sometimes. Or perhaps part of what I said could have been said in a different way. There's a big gap between intentions and the way they are put into practice.

IPS: What do you think is most worrying about corruption?

EM: Its corrosive effect from the moral point of view. When morality and ethics are affected, the prestige of our political system is undermined and everything goes downhill. That's why I agree with those who say corruption is a national security problem.

However, it won't be solved just through more inspections and paperwork, but by being very much on the alert and continuously creating mechanisms to prevent it, so that people who handle money and resources are constantly brought to book. Our country's assets really do belong to the people, it's not just talk.

IPS: You are very well known for your writings on the United States, its relations with Cuba, and racism. What prompted you to write about corruption, an issue that, according to some government sectors, encourages “campaigns to discredit” the country if ventilated in public?

EM: I wrote those articles because I believe these are the dangers we are facing now. I have a motto: amid the situation we have lived all these years, I think that whoever wants to be a revolutionary has to wage his own war, fight his own battles and run whatever risks there are. Otherwise, he should just stay home, under the bed.

The claim that the enemy will take advantage of things does not immobilize me either, because it isn't the enemy that is going to solve the problem for us, quite the opposite. I am one of those who think that sometimes it is healthier for us to recognize our shortcomings ourselves than for the enemy to throw them back in our face, or save them up against us, which is worse.

IPS: Whom are you referring to when you say 'enemy'?

EM: We cannot close our eyes to the fact that, since the late 1980s, the focus of the U.S. policy towards Cuba has changed. Nowadays, everything that is happening internally on the island is being observed and monitored by US politicians and especially by the US special services.

It is in this context that I view the problem of corruption, which I still see as an extraordinary danger.

Translated by Brenda Sheehan

Monday, August 23, 2010

Catholic Church Addresses Dissident Complaints

Church in Cuba responds to open letter from dissidents

Havana, Cuba, Aug 23, 2010 / 10:11 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Havana issued a press release on August 20 in response to an open letter recently sent to Pope Benedict XVI by a group of Cuban dissidents. The archdiocese said its statement was in response to the uproar among Catholics concerning the letter, “which contains offensive content toward the Church in Cuba.”

The letter

The open letter from the dissidents was signed by 165 people, many of whom are Catholic and have been involved in the Varela Project. Many are also family members of the prisoners who “desperately want” the regime to disappear.

The dissidents stated that they are not in agreement with “the position the Cuban Church hierarchy has taken in its intervention in support of political prisoners,” which they call “unfortunate and embarrassing.” They believe that if the bishops had offered the “right mediation,” they would have listened to “the complaints of both sides” and would have reconciled them.

“However,” they continued, “the solution of exile, accepted by those who have been unjustly imprisoned for seven years only because of their ideas, only benefits the dictatorship,” as this “exodus” prevents them from continuing in their struggle for democracy in Cuba.

The response from the archdiocese

The press release from the Archdiocese of Havana pointed out that when the Church “accepted the mission of mediating between the family members of the prisoners ... and Cuban officials, it knew that this mediation could be interpreted in different ways, provoking various reactions: from insults to defamation, to acceptance and even gratitude. Remaining inactive was not a valid option for the Church because of her pastoral mission,” the statement said.

The archdiocese also noted that “the Church’s actions supporting respect for the dignity of all Cubans and for social harmony in Cuba has been ongoing for 20 years” and “has never and will never be based on political tendencies, whether of the government or of the opposition, but rather on her pastoral mission.”

The statement also indicated that “the Church in Cuba will not divert her attention from that which motivated her to act in this process: the humanitarian complaint from families who have suffered from the incarceration of one or more of their members.”

Demonstrating the Pope's awareness of the situation, the archdiocese quoted Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who recently remarked that the crucial role assumed in the Cuban dialogue process by Cardinal Jaime Ortega and by Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, the president of the bishops’ conference, was possible because of the evident fact that the Catholic Church is profoundly rooted in the nation's people and is interpreted in the light of their spirit and their expectations.

The statement continued citing Fr. Lombardi, who said that the Church in Cuba “is not a strange reality, she does not escape in difficult times. She bears the sufferings and brings hope, with dignity and patience, ... but without trying to increase tensions or exacerbate feelings.”

She does this, he added, “with the constant commitment to opening paths to understanding and dialogue.”

The archdiocese concluded its statement again quoting Fr. Lombardi, who said the Holy See “supports the local Church with its spiritual solidarity and international authority,” and that “the Holy See has always declared itself against the embargo, and thus is united with the people in their suffering.”

The spokesman then spoke of the Church's willingness “to support any perspective on constructive dialogue ... with patience, important progress has been made in this direction. We all want it to continue.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cardinal Ortega's Washington Speech and Interview

Cardinal Ortega of Havana, Cuba Receives Knights Highest Award

* By Randy Sly
* 8/6/2010
* Catholic Online (

The Knights of Columbus Presented its Gaudium et Spes Award to Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino

During the States Dinner, Tuesday evening, of the Knights 128th Supreme Convention, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson presented the order's highest award, the Gaudium et Spes Award, to Cardinal Ortega of Havana for his tireless witness to the Gospel and his persistent defense of religious freedom.

Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori and Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson congratulate Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana, Cuba, Gaudium et Spes Award honoree.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - At the States Dinner, Tuesday evening, for the Knights of Columbus 128th Supreme Convention, the order awarded its eighth Gaudium et Spes Award to Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana, Cuba.

Cardinal Ortega, 74, was born in Jaguey Grande, Matanzas, Cuba. After studying at seminaries both in Cuba and Quebec, Canada, he was ordained a priest in 1964. Like many of his fellow-priests, he was arrested and spent a period of time in prison for his faith.

He was appointed as the Bishop of Pinar del Rio and received episcopal consecration in 1979. Appointed Archbishop of Havana, in 1981, he was named to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1994.

The citation read at the dinner stated, "For nearly 30 years as archbishop, our honoree has guided the Cuban Church through often rough waters. But in January 1998, a new era of hope dawned when he welcomed Pope John Paul II to his country. During that apostolic visit, Pope John Paul II asked for Cuba to open itself to the world and for the world to become more open to Cuba, as he underscored the central place that the Catholic faith has played in the lives of the Cuban people."

In his acceptance speech, Cardinal Ortega said it was "a duty to publicly say special words of gratitude for the services rendered by the Knights of Columbus in favor of our Church in Cuba. You, dear Knights of Columbus, have actualized the motto of this year's convention, I am My Brother's Keeper.

"Regardless of the distance and the differences in our social or political systems, you have been brothers to the Cuban Catholics and have shown us your solidarity."

Reflecting on the fact that the Knights of Columbus founded its first Cuban council in 1909, the Cardinal brought an optimistic report concerning the current work among the laity.

"I must say that the laymen of Havana are already organizing groups of men who wish to join the Knights of Columbus in the various parishes. I now convey to you an entreaty on their behalf and a very especial invitation from the Archbishop.

"I can assure you that nowadays the situation is more favorable for the action of charity services characteristic of the Knights of Columbus in the Cuban Church.

"Plenty of social works for the elderly people, for disabled children, parochial workshops to help those with learning difficulties, for youngsters and adults who wish to learn humanities or the Church Social Doctrine, etc., are some of the possibilities for a social presence of the Church in Cuba, which is exceeded by these efforts also carried out by numerous Mission Houses that gather communities of 60, 70 or even 100 people in family homes.

"Many times, these communities are looked after by catechist laymen who prepare the faithful to evolve from evangelized communities to Eucharistic communities. In my Archdiocese several of these communities have turned into parishes. Now we must build parish churches. We have already achieved some permits to build them, but our Church is poor and needs help."

Cardinal Ortega also indicated a new level of cooperation desired by the Cuban government with the Church.

"Lately, the Cuban government, responding to our request, has asked us to mediate between the political prisoners' relatives and the government authorities in order to know their proposals. In this way a process began, which has led to the recent announcement that fifty-two convicts, considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, will be released in a period of three to four months. More than twenty of these prisoners have already traveled to Spain.

"These discussions conducted by the Church have been unprecedented, and they bring about a new situation of social appreciation for our Catholics. We hope that this process of dialogue, in which we are immerged now, ends successfully. We ask you to pray for this cause and for our Church in Cuba."

According to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Headquarters, the Gaudium et Spes ("Joy and Hope") Award was named for the landmark 1965 document that was released as part of Second Vatican Council. It is the highest honor bestowed by order and is awarded only in special circumstances to individuals of exceptional merit. The award recognizes them for exemplary contributions to the realization of the message of faith and service in the spirit of Christ. The Award comes with an honorarium of $100,000.

First given in 1992, when the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta was named as the recipient, the award has only been given eight times. Others who have been honored include Cardinal John O'Connor, former Archbishop of New York; the late Cardinal James Hickey, former Archbishop of Washington DC; Cardinal William Baum, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and Major Penitentiary of the Vatican; and Archbishop Michael Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.


Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online ( He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.


Prisoner releases, ongoing talks with Castro give Cuban cardinal hope

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana speaks in an interview with Catholic News Service. He was in Washington to attend the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention. (

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The release of the first 20 of 52 political prisoners the Cuban government has promised to set free is a hopeful sign for the country, said Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino.

While the government's release of prisoners certainly is popular in Cuba, where dissatisfaction with the economy and other issues has been growing, Cardinal Ortega told Catholic News Service Aug. 2 that the main benefit to the Castro government has been improved foreign relations. Cuba's treatment of political opponents has long been a key element in the nearly 50-year U.S. economic embargo of the nation.

"In the internal life of Cuba, this is not very important," Cardinal Ortega said. "But for foreign relations, it's very important."

Cardinal Ortega was in Washington to accept the "Gaudium et Spes" Award from the Knights of Columbus. It is the fraternal organization's highest honor.

The cardinal said Cubans have been especially grateful to the Catholic Church for its role in the prisoner releases. He said that as he went out to buy something for his trip to the U.S., "many, many people stopped me on the street, saying 'thank you, Cardinal.'"

He said before he and the president of the Cuban bishops; conference, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago met with President Raul Castro in May, tensions in Havana were threatening to become as volatile as they were around the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Then, at a time of economic downturn, the government opened the port of Mariel to all who wanted to leave Cuba, and boats from the United States quickly arrived to help them. About 125,000 Cubans ultimately resettled in the United States as a result of the Mariel releases.

Cardinal Ortega explained that he asked to meet with Castro amid a crackdown this spring on weekly silent marches by wives and mothers of political prisoners, known as the Ladies in White, who want freedom for their relatives. The usually quiet marches that begin after Sunday Mass were met by counter-protesters -- allegedly brought in by the government -- who shouted and blocked the women, harassing the group for hours.

"It was beginning to look like the time of Mariel," said Cardinal Ortega. "It was causing instability."

After several weeks of this, Cardinal Ortega said, he wrote to Castro. The letter went out on a Monday and by Thursday, he had been contacted by a government official, seeking to arrange a meeting with the Ladies in White. At that meeting, the women asked for relatives who were imprisoned far from their homes to be moved closer to their families and for the release of those who were in poor health. Those requests soon were being met, and the counter-protesters stopped harassing the women on the weekly marches.

"After that first meeting, we began a conversation (with the government)" said Cardinal Ortega.

After a follow-up meeting with Castro in July, the cardinal announced that Castro had promised to release a group of prisoners who had been held since a 2003 crackdown on political opposition.

Cardinal Ortega said he met with diplomats at the U.S. Interests Section, which serves in place of an embassy for some government functions. He said he was told the prisoners could not come immediately to the United States. The U.S. "wanted to take a low profile," he said, adding that the diplomats told him requests for political asylum would have to be processed individually.

In the meantime, the Spanish government agreed to allow the ex-prisoners to go to Spain, though nearly all would prefer to resettle in the United States, where they have relatives, the cardinal said. Some have said they would refuse to be sent out of the country, and it remained unclear whether that would affect their release. Cardinal Ortega added that he expected the remainder of the 52 to be released in the next couple of months.

He said the Cuban people's biggest current frustration is the weak economy. Castro announced some economic changes in a July 31 speech opening the biannual session of Parliament, including scaling back controls on small businesses, allowing more self-employment and laying off unnecessary government workers.

The cardinal said he had not read Castro's speech yet, but that he found the announcement encouraging.

Beyond their economic struggles, the cardinal said a high priority for most Cubans is that they have better means of communicating within the country and beyond. While people are allowed to use the Internet, for example, it's quite costly and runs poorly because of inadequate infrastructure, he said.

"To communicate easily with their relatives and to be able to go to the U.S. for visits and then return to Cuba," that's what people want, the cardinal said.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cronología de la mediación del cardenal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Arzobispo de La Habana

Espacio Laical brinda a sus lectores la segunda parte de la cronología de la mediación iniciada por el Cardenal Arzobispo de La Habana en relación con la delicada cuestión de las Damas de Blanco y los presos por motivos políticos. La cronología termina el día 21 de julio, momento en que enviamos la revista para la imprenta, y continuará en el próximo número.

14 de junio

·Los ministros de Relaciones Exteriores de la Unión Europea (UE) deciden posponer hasta septiembre las conclusiones sobre su examen anual de la política hacia Cuba, a la espera de los resultados del diálogo entre la Iglesia Católica y el gobierno de la Isla.

15 de junio

·El Secretario para las Relaciones con los Estados de la Santa Sede, Dominique Mamberti, llega a Cuba para presidir la X Semana Social Católica y sostener conversaciones con la jerarquía y el gobierno local.

16 de junio

·Monseñor Dominique Mamberti manifiesta su satisfacción por los resultados de las conversaciones entre la Iglesia Católica y el gobierno de Cuba, en conferencia de prensa. Mamberti señaló que «uno de los objetivos mayores de la diplomacia de la Santa Sede es el de favorecer el diálogo entre las Iglesias locales y las autoridades de los distintos países».

·Abre sus puertas la X Semana Social Católica con participación de Obispos, más de 130 laicos de todas las diócesis del país y destacados intelectuales cubanos de la Isla y la emigración. Durante las jornadas de trabajo se abordan temas relacionados con el diálogo entre cubanos, los desafíos de la economía nacional, la reconciliación entre cubanos y la presencia pública de la Iglesia Católica en la sociedad cubana.

21 de junio

·Monseñor Dominique Mamberti, se reúne con el presidente Raúl Castro, pocas horas antes del fin de su visita oficial y pastoral a la Isla. Ambas partes conversaron sobre el 75 aniversario de las relaciones bilaterales, calificadas como “cordiales, respetuosas, continuas y en ascenso”.

·El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Francia reitera su solicitud al gobierno de Cuba para que libere a todos los presos políticos, en especial a aquellos que permanecen enfermos, según declaraciones de un portavoz de la Cancillería del país europeo, que reconoció las gestiones de la Iglesia Católica a favor de los reclusos.

24 de junio

·El cardenal Francis George, presidente de la Conferencia Episcopal de Estados Unidos, inicia una visita de dos días a Santiago de Cuba para reforzar los nexos entre las Iglesias de los dos países. George, arzobispo de Chicago, viajó invitado por el presidente de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Cuba (COCC) y arzobispo de Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García, quien dijo a la AFP que aunque “la visita sea eclesial, siempre tiene un significado a nivel social”.

27 de junio

·El cardenal Jaime Ortega Alamino, arzobispo de La Habana, inicia una visita a Estados Unidos.

28 de junio

·Monseñor Arturo González, obispo de Santa Clara, visita a Guillermo Fariñas para interesarse por su estado de salud.

29 de junio

·El estado de salud de Guillermo Fariñas, en huelga de hambre desde hace más de cuatro meses, se complicó con el diagnóstico de una “trombosis en la vena yugular”. Alicia Hernández, la madre de Fariñas, indicó que el estado de su hijo es “grave crítico”, con un cuadro que incluye problemas hepáticos, una infección causada por un germen estafilococo, y la confirmación médica de un coágulo en la yugular. Hernández señaló que el equipo médico ya comenzó a suministrar a Fariñas un anticoagulante para tratar el trombo y le han recomendado que permanezca en reposo absoluto sin moverse para evitar que el coágulo se desprenda o desplace.

30 de junio

·El diario mexicano La Jornada informa que el cardenal Jaime Ortega, arzobispo de La Habana, viajó a Estados Unidos la semana anterior para sostener encuentros coordinados por la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos. El viaje del Cardenal no había tenido registro público, hasta que The Wall Street Journal especuló de posibles entrevistas del prelado en el Departamento de Estado y el Congreso.

1 de Julio

·El Comité de Agricultura de la Cámara de Representantes de Estados Unidos aprueba un proyecto de ley que ampliaría las exportaciones de alimentos a Cuba y permitiría los viajes de ciudadanos de ese país a la Isla, trascendió a medios de prensa en Washington. La iniciativa debe pasar aún por los comités de Finanzas y Relaciones Exteriores, antes de ser presentada en el pleno de la Cámara y el Congreso.

3 de julio

·El diario Granma publica una inusual entrevista con Armando Caballero, jefe de los servicios de terapia intensiva del Hospital de Santa Clara, (donde Fariñas está ingresado desde el 11 de marzo), en la que detalla se detalla su situación y los tratamientos y atención que está recibiendo.

5 de julio

·El ministro español de Exteriores arriba a Cuba para impulsar el proceso de diálogo abierto entre la Iglesia Católica y el gobierno cubano sobre los presos políticos. Fuentes españolas afirman que durante su visita de dos días a la Isla, Miguel Ángel Moratinos tiene previsto reunirse con representantes del Gobierno y de la Iglesia Católica. Confirman que no se entrevistará con ningún miembro de la disidencia cubana, incluido Guillermo Fariñas.

6 de julio

·En la mañana Miguel Ángel Moratinos es recibido por su anfitrión Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, en el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. Por la tarde, el funcionario español y el embajador Manuel Cacho, visitaron al cardenal Jaime Ortega en la sede del Arzobispado de La Habana, donde conversaron durante una hora y media. En declaraciones a la prensa a la salida del Palacio Cardenalicio, Miguel Ángel Moratinos se mostró optimista de que su visita a Cuba ayudará a eliminar la Posición Común de la Unión Europea (UE), mientras que el cardenal Jaime Ortega consideró que el viaje refuerza la esperanza de liberación de prisioneros opositores.

7 de julio

·En horas de la mañana tiene lugar una reunión de trabajo entre el cardenal Jaime Ortega, el canciller cubano Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla y el canciller español Miguel Ángel Moratinos.

·En una nota de prensa, hecha pública en horas de la tarde, el Arzobispado de La Habana da a conocer que el gobierno cubano se ha comprometido a liberar a 52 presos políticos. La Iglesia Católica cubana asegura que la liberación de los primeros cinco presos podría producirse en el transcurso de las próximas horas. La noticia se da a conocer después de la reunión mantenida entre el presidente Raúl Castro y el cardenal Jaime Ortega, en la que también participaron el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores Miguel Ángel Moratinos y su homólogo cubano Bruno Rodríguez. Los presos que serán liberados forman parte del grupo de los 75 que fueron detenidos en marzo de 2003. En la nota se informa también de que en las próximas horas otros seis presos serán acercados a sus provincias de residencia.

8 de julio.

·Todos los medios de prensa cubanos dan a conocer la nota emitida por el Arzobispado de la Habana con motivo del anuncio de la liberación de los presos políticos.

·Guillermo Fariñas depone la huelga de hambre que mantuvo durante 135 días tras conocer la identidad de los cinco primeros presos, del grupo de 52, que serán liberados por el gobierno cubano, gracias a las gestiones de la Iglesia.

·En dos notas de prensa el Arzobispado de la Habana informa los nombres de 6 presos que serán acercados a sus provincias de residencia y de otros 5 que salen próximamente hacia España.

·La secretaria de Estado norteamericana, Hillary Clinton, y la Alta Representante de Política Exterior de la UE, Catherine Ashton, felicitan al ministro español de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, tras conocer el anuncio de liberación de los presos políticos. Clinton telefoneó al ministro español y le comunicó que el anuncio de las liberaciones supone una «muy buena noticia».

·El Cuba Study Group se mostró “sumamente complacido” con el anuncio hecho por la Iglesia Católica de que el gobierno cubano liberará a 52 presos políticos. En ese sentido, agradeció “el papel constructivo que ha jugado la Iglesia Católica en un proceso iniciado por la sociedad civil cubana”. Este grupo instó a la Iglesia a continuar en su papel de “mediadora” y reconoció que la solución de muchos de los problemas con que se enfrenta Cuba “requerirá necesariamente de un diálogo nacional en donde sectores de la sociedad civil cubana estén representados”. Emplazó además al Gobierno estadounidense a que “responda a estos pasos positivos en Cuba con medidas constructivas”.

·El líder del Partido Popular (PP), Mariano Rajoy, celebró “las gestiones de la Iglesia Católica” que permitirán la liberación de 52 presos políticos cubanos. En una rueda de prensa en el Congreso, el líder conservador atribuyó a la Iglesia esas gestiones, pero no mencionó el papel que el ministro español de Exteriores, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, ha desempeñado en ese proceso.

·Phil Peters, del Lexington Institute, afirma al diario The Washington Post: “Esto es algo nuevo, algo grande. No acaba con el problema de los derechos humanos en Cuba, pero representa un cambio dramático y seguro que provocará una reacción de Washington y de Europa”. Para Peters “lo elegante de este proceso es que el cardenal Ortega ha logrado establecer este diálogo con el gobierno, entre cubanos. Es un diálogo nacional y el factor que siempre tiene la capacidad de entorpecer cualquier éxito en Cuba, la presión extranjera, no está. Este es un aspecto muy prometedor del proceso”. Por su parte Wayne Smith, del Center for International Policy y ex máximo representante diplomático estadounidense en La Habana, coincidió a The New York Times: “La liberación de los presos debería llevar a la administración Obama a hacer algo para alentar esta tendencia”.

9 de julio

·El gobierno de México manifestó su gran satisfacción por el anuncio efectuado en Cuba, en torno a la liberación inmediata de cinco prisioneros, el traslado de otros seis a centros penitenciarios cercanos a sus lugares de origen, y la excarcelación en los próximos meses, de 47 personas más. En un comunicado de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores también se congratuló por la decisión de Guillermo Fariñas de levantar su huelga de hambre, tras 135 días en ayuno. Sin calificar el tipo de presos que serán liberados, el gobierno mexicano hizo un reconocimiento a la Iglesia Católica de Cuba por las gestiones que realizó para liberar a estas personas y al gobierno de Raúl Castro por su disposición y sensibilidad, para llegar a esa determinación.

·Julia Sweig, especialista en Cuba del Council on Foreign Relations, declara a la agencia DPA que “la Iglesia cubana está desempeñando un papel realmente importante en estos momentos, al crear un espacio que puede ser visto tanto por el gobierno como por la sociedad civil como seguro para el debate”.

10 de julio

·El asesor especial para Asuntos Internacionales de la Presidencia de Brasil, Marco Aurelio García, afirma que el Gobierno de su país participó en la decisión de Cuba para que fuesen liberados 52 presos políticos cubanos. “Nosotros ayudamos. Actuamos callados, sin alardes”, declaró al diario O Estado de Sao Paulo. Según García, Lula abordó el tema en la visita realizada a Cuba en febrero. Destacó también el papel de la Iglesia Católica en la negociación para conseguir la liberación: “La Iglesia estaba en el momento cierto y en el lugar cierto para hacer el gol”.

·El cardenal Jaime Ortega comienza personalmente las gestiones negociadoras con cada uno de los presos por vía telefónica.

·En dos notas de prensa el Arzobispado de La Habana informa los nombres de otros 5 presos que serán liberados y que saldrán del país rumbo a España y los nombres de otros 7 que serán excarcelados en los próximos días.

11 julio

·El diario estadounidense Los Angeles Times, uno de los más importantes del país norteño, exhortó al Congreso a aprobar un proyecto de ley que levantaría las restricciones de viajes a la Isla y aliviaría los obstáculos al comercio bilateral. En un editorial el periódico reconoció la liberación de 52 presos políticos, anunciada por La Habana, pero se cuestionó la permanencia en las cárceles de cualquier persona por esa razón.

·El padre Federico Lombardi S.I., director de la Oficina de Información de la Santa Sede dedica al proceso de diálogo entre la Iglesia y el gobierno cubano el editorial de Octava Dies, el semanario del Centro Televisivo Vaticano. “El comunicado oficial del arzobispado de La Habana sobre la liberación de más de cincuenta prisioneros detenidos en las cárceles cubanas, publicado también en el diario del Partido Comunista cubano, y la interrupción de la huelga de hambre de Guillermo Fariñas, son las buenas noticias de la Isla del Caribe que esperábamos desde hace algunas semanas”, reconoce el portavoz vaticano. “Son señales significativas y esperamos que indiquen un progreso estable hacia aquel clima de renovada convivencia social y política que todos deseamos a la nación cubana. El papel crucial asumido en el proceso de diálogo cubano por el cardenal Ortega Alamino y por monseñor Dionisio García, presidente del episcopado, ha sido posible por el hecho evidente que la Iglesia Católica está profundamente arraigada en el pueblo y es intérprete atendible de su espíritu y de sus expectativas”. La Iglesia cubana “no es una realidad extraña, no escapa en los tiempos de dificultad. Carga con los sufrimientos y trae esperanza, con dignidad y con paciencia, sin servilismo pero también sin tratar de aumentar las tensiones ni de exacerbar los ánimos, al contrario, con el compromiso constante de abrir caminos a la comprensión y al diálogo”. Por su parte la Santa Sede, aclara el portavoz, “apoya a la Iglesia local con su solidaridad espiritual y con su autoridad internacional”. “Desde el viaje de Juan Pablo II hasta a las recientes visitas del secretario de Estado Cardenal Tarcisio Bertone y del arzobispo Dominique Mamberti, hasta los contactos diplomáticos en el Vaticano sobre la situación de Cuba, la Santa Sede se ha declarado siempre en contra del embargo, y por lo tanto solidaria con los sufrimientos del pueblo, y dispuesta a apoyar toda perspectiva de diálogo constructivo”. Y añade: “con paciencia, se han hecho importantes progresos en esta dirección. Todos deseamos que el camino continúe”.

12 de julio

·Una nota del Arzobispado de la Habana anuncia la próxima liberación de otros 3 presos. Hasta el momento son 20 los presos que han comunicado el deseo de ser enviados a España, al menos de forma transitoria.

13 de julio

·El primer grupo de 7 presos excarcelados llega a Madrid en el vuelo 052 de Air Europa. En un comunicado preparado por los 7 y leído por Julio César Gálvez afirmaron que esta liberación “significa el inicio de una nueva etapa para el futuro de Cuba y de todos los cubanos. Tenemos la esperanza de que los que quedan en Cuba gocen de la misma libertad que nosotros”, formularon, y resaltaron “el papel importante” de la Iglesia Católica cubana en su liberación.

·La liberación de siete presos políticos es un “acontecimiento positivo” que debería representar una mejora de los derechos humanos en Cuba, declara el portavoz del Departamento de Estado norteamericano, Philip Crowley, en un comunicado.

14 de julio

·Llegan a Madrid otros dos presos cubanos excarcelados, acompañados por 17 familiares.

·El presidente de Brasil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, expresa su felicidad por la liberación de los presos políticos cubanos y comparó el sentimiento con lo vivido cuando estuvo arrestado por el Gobierno militar de su país en 1980. “Felicitaciones a la Iglesia Católica, felicitaciones al Gobierno cubano y felicitaciones a todos los que han luchado para liberar a algún preso político en el mundo. Dios quiera que todos los países suelten a presos que son considerados presos políticos”, dijo Lula.

18 de julio

·Cuba podría estar preparando una profunda reforma política y económica. Fuentes citadas por el diario español El País mencionan entre los posibles cambios la ampliación del trabajo por cuenta propia, la cooperativización de servicios, recortes en la plantilla de empleados estatales y la preparación para eliminar la doble moneda. A la vez, podría avanzarse en la renegociación de la deuda para aliviar las tensiones financieras.

19 de julio

·Una delegación del Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) podría viajar a Cuba en septiembre próximo, informó a la prensa en Madrid Elena Valenciano, secretaria de Política Internacional y Cooperación de esa organización. La funcionaria expresó su confianza en que “el camino de las reformas se abrirá paso en la Isla”, luego de la liberación de los presos anunciada por las autoridades cubanas.

·El secretario general de las Naciones Unidas, Ban Ki-Moon, saluda la liberación de presos políticos cubanos e instó a Cuba a tomar más “medidas de reconciliación”. “Seguí de cerca la reciente liberación de presos (...) y se trata de buenas noticias”, dijo a los periodistas Ban Ki-Moon.

20 de julio

· La Oficina de Intereses de Estados Unidos en Cuba anuncia que acogerá una serie de encuentros con familiares de los presos políticos liberados que no desean viajar a España, con el objetivo de informarles sobre los trámites consulares necesarios para entrar al país norteño.

· El jefe del Parlamento cubano, Ricardo Alarcón, afirma a la Agencia Francesa de Prensa en Ginebra, que podría haber más liberaciones de presos políticos que las 52 anunciadas y que los ex detenidos, si lo desean, pueden permanecer en la Isla. Alarcón recordó que en las conversaciones entre el gobierno de Raúl Castro y la Iglesia Católica “quedó claro que la voluntad del gobierno cubano es la de sacar de la cárcel a todas las personas” sobre las que no pesen crímenes de sangre. “Según Su Eminencia el Cardenal, en las conversaciones quedó claro que la voluntad del gobierno cubano es la de sacar a todas las personas” a condición de “que no pesen sobre ellos responsabilidades de la vida de otras personas”, dijo Alarcón, que participa en Ginebra en una reunión de líderes parlamentarios de todo el mundo. Al preguntársele si podía confirmar la posibilidad de liberar a personas que no estuvieran vinculadas a ese tipo de crímenes, Alarcón respondió: “Claro”.

21 de julio

·Otro preso político cubano y sus familiares llegan a Madrid, con lo que suman 12 los opositores excarcelados que emigraron a España en los últimos ocho días, informó una fuente del ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores español.

La revista Espacio Laical puede ser vista en
y adquirida en la Casa Laical, sita en Teniente Rey #152 (tercer piso)
e/ Bernaza y Villegas, La Habana Vieja.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Was Machado Laying the Groundwork for Change on July 26th?

Cuba is not Afraid of Challenges Ahead says First VP

HAVANA, Cuba, Jul 26 (acn) Cuban First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura said that the Cuban people is not afraid of the challenges that lay ahead in the main speech at the ceremony marking Cuba's National Rebellion Day held this Monday in the central city of Santa Clara, Villa Clara

In front of a crowd of more than 90,000 people, headed by Cuban President Raúl Castro, Machado said "We are not afraid of the difficulties or challenges in front of us. To this end we count on the invincible strength of our people."

In his speech Machado said that the martyrs of July 26 did not die in vain, because we will continue to being faithful to the ideals they died for.

"In this historical moment, we will change everything that should be changed, without accepting external pressures, or our sovereignty being reduced, or renouncing a single one of our dreams of justice for Cuba and the world."

Machado also said that we will continue to study and analyze to overcome our deficiencies, but will act without populist or demagogic solutions because we will do so with a high sense of responsibility, without improvisations, or rushing, not to miss anything or take measures that do not meet the current conditions.

He added that food production is a top priority because it is one of the main aspects of the economic struggle that sustains our social system.

Machado said that saving, the reduction of expenses and the rational use of resources are of paramount importance in all sectors. "The sphere of Education has shown that costs can be reduced, without affecting the quality of the process, but the field of Health should continue to advance towards this end," he said.

Machado also said that Cubans have to continue saving energy and spoke about the systematic checks and discipline as indispensable principles to achieve this goal.

The Cuban first vice president spoke about the difficult circumstances Cuba is facing in the middle of the this economic struggle, the damage caused by the last three hurricanes that hit the island, and the impact of the economic and financial crisis, added to the anachronistic US blockade against Cuba and the effects of climate change.

Machado acknowledged the provinces of Ciego de Ávila, Granma and Havana for having achieved great results in the provincial emulation for July 26 and congratulated Villa Clara for the results that deserve it the venue for the celebrations of National Rebellion Day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CBS Summary of Church Conference

Catholic Church Sponsors Policy Debate in Cuba

Posted by Portia Siegelbaum June 18, 2010 8:48 PM

The need for economic reforms and for more cohesive changes so that desired reforms don't fall flat emerged in this week's Catholic Church sponsored debate on the current situation in Cuba.

"This is one of the most critical moments we have had," said Omar Everleny, researcher at the University of Havana's Center for Study of the Cuban Economy in a press briefing. However, the crisis, he said, has prompted the most theoretical discussion ever about what is going to happen in Cuba.

Everleny, along with other Cuban intellectuals, religious and non-religious, including three Cuban Americans, is participating in panels on everything from the economy to reconciliation between Cubans on the island and in the Diaspora during a four-day conference that winds up Saturday organized by the Cuban Catholic Church.

"Not even in '95 and '96 [when the collapse of the socialist camp plunged Cuba into an economic freefall] was there such a blunt analysis as there is now about an excess of a million workers and of where they are to go if no investments are made," he told reporters Friday morning.

Workers at the security company SEPSA tell CBS they are being merged with Transval and two other firms offering compatible services cutting employees from 30,000 to 12,000. Cuts such as these are taking place at government ministries and companies in all sectors, as the government tries to trim, what President Raul Castro told parliament were a million unnecessary workers from its payroll.

Everleny further revealed that representatives of the Spanish corporation Mondragon are in Cuba this week holding meetings with City of Havana officials as Cuba studies the possibility of cooperative ownership, part of its reexamination of property rights.

The Mondragon Corporation is a federation of worker cooperatives and is the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of turnover and leading business group in the Basque Country, employing 92,773 in 256 companies by the end of 2008.

The Government is already dabbling with cooperatives in small scale services. Beauty parlors and barber shops have been turned over to their workers in the last year. Typical is a small shop on 44th Street in the Playa neighborhood of Havana. The locale and all the modest equipment are now the property of the two hairdressers and one manicurist working there. As customers show up for their haircut, Yamila explains that she is now working for herself and has raised the cost of a cut from 3 pesos to 20. So far all her customers are willing to pay the new rate and, she says, wish her well.

"It was a shock when she first told me," says one customer who dropped in on her way home from work. "But, I like the way she cuts hair and I have to get it done so I'll pay."

Out of her earnings Yamila must pay the State 1,458.00 pesos a month in rent and taxes and buy the shampoo and other products she uses. But, she says, she is happier than before. Probably less happy is the administrator who formerly handled supplies and who has been laid off.

Until now the state has been the owner of all means of production and retail businesses, but in recent months the Friday edition of the Communist Party daily Granma has run letters from readers who have suggested that bringing in cooperative ownership would not be re-introducing capitalism--letters understood to be trial balloons to test the public reaction.

The current Church conference comes at a moment when relations between the Cuban Catholic Church and the Government are at a high point. The reason for this, one participant suggests, might well be President Raul Castro's desire to focus on problems--such as the economy with its declining growth rate--that are central to his office and remove others that distract from this.

"Raul Castro is a very practical man, he is a problem solver," says Jorge Dominguez, a Latin American studies expert and long time Cuba scholar at Harvard University.

The international outcry over Cuba's treatment of prisoners and the Ladies in White in the first half of this year, opines Dominguez, most likely forced Castro to consider "how do I solve problems that are getting in the way of other things that I would rather achieve...and the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church turned out to have possible means to address them."

Last month, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega had a more than four-hour face-to-face meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in which Ortega expressed concern over the treatment of political prisoners and dissidents on the island. That meeting got unusual coverage from the official media with a photo of two men smiling on the front page of Granma.

Since then twelve political prisoners have been moved to jails closer to their homes--a long-time demand of their families--and one ailing prisoner Ariel Sigler has been released. And prior to this, Ortega had negotiated a halt in the government harassment of the Ladies in White, relatives of political prisoners, who had faced a heavy-handed attempt to stop their weekly protest march.

Not all dissidents are pleased with the situation. Several like Sigler and Oswaldo Paya have issued statements saying the government has not done enough and all political prisoners should be released. Paya, in a press release, expressed anger that visiting Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti is not meeting with opposition forces during his visit here.

Not everyone is satisfied with the pace of change in the economy either. Everleny says things are being done "very gradually, and I'm not very much in agreement" with this. He admits however that the issues are very complex and things must be done "step by step."

Dominguez says that Cubans and anyone studying Cuba have "discovered is that it is difficult for the Cuban Government to actually implement measures of change, not because there is insubordination, not necessarily because there is active resistance but because it is a government not well accustomed to implementing some of the significant changes" that have been authorized. "This doesn't mean that the intention at the top from Raul Castro is any less genuine. It is that he too is discovering that it is difficult to govern Cuba as he would want," concludes Dominguez.

Dominguez and another participant, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Latin American scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, single out the government decision to turn over land from state farms to individuals to cultivate as a good decision that falls short.

Dominguez points out that "unless those farmers can purchase seeds, unless those farmers can purchase tools, unless those farmers can purchase tractors, unless they can get credit so that they get all of these things, unless they can sell them at prices that actually cover their costs, giving them the right to use land is not enough."

According to Dominguez, "measures that are isolated in that way, that are not accompanied by other complimentary measures will not work, not because they are bad decisions but because they are insufficient decisions." Castro, he says, has to "think strategically and not in terms of isolated decisions but as packages of decisions that necessarily build on each other" and only then will he be able to implement the policies that he has announced.

Mesa-Lago told reporters that the way the land is being given to individuals creates "uncertainty and a lack of initiative." People will be reluctant to invest in their land because the law is not clear on what happens to their investment once their ten-year lease runs out, he said. Cooperatives and State farms have contracts that last 20 years but, he suggested, it would be better if farmers were given open ended leases as has been done in China and Vietnam and allowed to decide what to plant, to whom to sell and to fix their own prices--all areas still decided by the Cuban State.

Cubans in general have been expressing disagreement with the lack of information coming from the Government on economic reforms. The debate going on in the Church conference is not being reported by the state-controlled media. Many young people say the uncertain economic future awaiting them when they finish their studies is the main reason they emigrate or dream of emigrating. Even parents of undisputed revolutionary pedigrees, who we spoke to, do not necessarily discourage their children from leaving. The consensus is that things are not working well.

Positive Vibes from Vatican Foreign Minister's Cuba Visit

Vatican envoy ends Cuba visit with meeting with Raul Castro

Monday, June 21, 2010

By Catholic News Service

HAVANA (CNS) -- Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, concluded an official and pastoral visit to Cuba June 20 saying relations between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government are on a healthy course.

Just hours before his departure, the archbishop met with President Raul Castro, saying afterward that bilateral relations are "cordial, continuing and on the rise."

An official release to various Cuban state-run news media reported on the meeting and said the president and the Vatican diplomat also discussed subjects of common interest on the international agenda.

"The visit of (Archbishop) Mamberti also showed the favorable development of relations between the state and the Catholic Church in Cuba," the government's note said.

The Vatican diplomat spent several days on the island, marking 75 years of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Cuba and participating in a national conference on the church's social teachings.

Archbishop Mamberti is considered an expert on Latin America, the United Nations, Africa, the Middle East and Islam. His visit took place at a time of church-state dialogue, focused primarily on the status of political prisoners, although other subjects have also been on the table.

As a result of these conversations, begun in May, the government recently released one jailed political opponent, Ariel Sigler, who had become ill, and moved another 12 prisoners to jails closer to their homes.

During his stay on the island, Archbishop Mamberti participated in several official programs, including a tribute to 19th-century Cuban hero Jose Marti and a meeting with the foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez.

At a joint press conference following their meeting, Archbishop Mamberti welcomed the results of the conversations between the church and the government and said he hoped his visit would contribute to strengthening such talks.

Archbishop Mamberti said one of the Vatican's diplomatic objectives was "to support the dialogue between local churches and the authorities of various countries."

Rodriguez emphasized the church's social programs and called its communications with the government "profound and constructive."
He said the conditions were right to continue such "fruitful exchanges."

The archbishop's official visit included stops at various schools, a concert and a tour of Havana's historic district.

His pastoral visit opened with a session on the state and laity during a church social teaching forum that analyzed subjects like dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans, the economic situation of the island and the public role of the institutional church.

Archbishop Mamberti is the highest-ranking Vatican representative to visit the island since February 2008, when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, represented Pope Benedict XVI for celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's historic visit.

Cardinal Bertone was the first international dignitary received by Castro after he officially assumed the presidency, a few days after the announcement that Fidel Castro was turning over the role to his younger brother.

Copyright © 2010 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Monday, June 21, 2010

Role of Catholic Church Expands

Catholic Church plays politics in Cuba

By Nick Miroff
Created June 17, 2010 06:41

The church's role has changed abruptly. Will it help facilitate the release of political prisoners?

HAVANA, Cuba — For years, the Catholic Church has been a quiet presence in Cuban affairs, working carefully to regain a place in a communist-run system that formerly persecuted religious believers. Church leaders have succeeded largely by attending to Cubans’ spiritual needs, not their earthly politics.

But that role has changed abruptly in recent weeks. A new dialogue has opened up between Catholic officials and the Castro government, elevating the church’s role in Cuban society and raising expectations that it might secure the release of many jailed government opponents.

The conversations mark the first time communist authorities have engaged in talks about the island’s problems with another Cuban institution, opening a path to a so-called “Cuban solution” that might ease the government’s hard-line stance against dissent. The dialogue could also be a critical first step toward better relations with the Obama administration, which has conditioned changes in U.S. policy to reforms on the island.

Cuban authorities have long bristled at criticism and pressure from international human rights groups and foreign governments, especially the United States, but the island’s Catholic leadership is homegrown. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, was once sent to a communist re-education camp in the late 1960s.

So far talks with the church have only produced modest gestures from the Cuban government. It has transferred a dozen inmates to jails closer to their families, and paroled one wheelchair-bound prisoner, Ariel Sigler Amaya. But church officials characterize the dialogue with the government as part of a “process” that has no timetable but whose goals include an improvement in conditions for Cuba’s political prisoners, if not their release.

Read an opinion about the Catholic Church's Pope Benedict XVI. [2]

“We’ve always said that this is process, and like any process, it won’t necessarily move forward at the same speed and along a straight line,” said church spokesman Orlando Marquez at a recent Havana press conference. “The process has begun, and we hope it will continue,” he said.

The Castro government hasn’t commented on its plans, but it has long maintained that it holds no political prisoners. Many of the jailed dissidents given lengthy prison sentences were convicted of treason for engaging in political activities supported by U.S. officials and Miami exile groups that aim to topple the government. Amnesty International recognizes more than 50 “prisoners of conscience” on the island, while local activists put the number of Cuban political prisoners at about 190.

The new engagement with the church has already paid dividends for the Cuban government abroad. At a European Union meeting in Brussels Monday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos reportedly told members that the Castro government would free more prisoners “in a week,” as he successfully urged the postponement of a key vote on a Spain-led push to ease EU policy toward the island. The vote will now be delayed until September, in order to allow the church more time to continue its dialogue with Cuban leaders.

Moratinos’ prediction of imminent prisoner releases may also be linked to an official visit this week to Cuba by the Vatican’s top diplomat, Dominique Mamberti. His trip coincides with the “Catholic Social Week,” and a church-organized conference in Havana that will bring together Cuban prelates and top Cuban scholars, including several from U.S. universities. Discussion topics include economic reform and national reconciliation.

Marquez, the church spokesman, said the conference would help inform the church’s “social mission,” not a political one.

Observers say the Castro government could gain other advantages by using the church as an interlocutor. The government may be looking to improve its image after triggering a wave of international condemnation when prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in February [3] after an 86-day hunger strike.

The church can also help the government soften its stance without appearing to bow to outside pressure. In turn, the Vatican may be able to nudge Washington at a time when a new bill in Congress proposes to lift travel restrictions on Americans visitors to the island. And Cuba continues to campaign vigorously for the release of the "Cuban Five," a group of Cuban intelligence agents serving long sentences in U.S. prisons who were sent to spy on anti-Castro militants in Florida.

“The church has always played a mediation role in Latin America,” said Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor and religion expert who teaches at the University of Havana. “The Cuban government needs an interlocutor, and the church is an ideal one. It has international stature, but it’s a relatively weak institution here.”

The church’s role is not without risks, Lopez Oliva said. If the government fails to release a significant number of prisoners, it will add to criticism, particularly among Cuba exiles, that the church has been too accommodating and is helping the government buy time.

Still, for Julia Nunez, whose husband Adolfo Fernandez Sainz was moved to Havana last weekend from a rural prison 300 miles away, the church’s intervention has brought results, and at least a minor comfort. Nunez is one of the Ladies in White [4] made up of the wives and relatives of 75 dissidents who were rounded up in a 2003 crackdown. Fifty-two are still behind bars.

“It’s a relief for me, but these are small steps,” Nunez said. “Our main goal is to bring our husbands home. We won’t be satisfied until then.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Variety of Viewpoints Expected at Church Conference

By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Jun 11, 2010 (IPS) - Cuban intellectuals, religious and non-religious, including three who live and teach in the United States, will take part in a four-day conference organised by the Catholic Church next week in the midst of a relaxed climate of dialogue between the Church leadership and the government of Raúl Castro.

"This conference is taking place against a favourable backdrop marked by progress in Church-State relations," sociologist Aurelio Alonso, who will take part in the "dialogue among Cubans" panel, told IPS.

His fellow panelists will be Jorge Ignacio Domínguez, a Latin American studies scholar at Harvard, and Catholic priest Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.

Alonso said the conference would not be an "apologia", would likely take on a critical tone at times, and would highlight unfulfilled hopes and expectations. "But that will be beneficial to the country, which has to evolve towards a greater openness," he said.

The Jun. 16-19 event in Havana will be the 10th edition of these conferences that are organised regularly by the Catholic Church. The current agenda includes issues that go beyond Church questions, such as the economy, migration and the relations between Cubans at home and abroad.

The panelists on economy and society will be Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva and Pável Vidal, prominent researchers at the University of Havana Centre for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC), along with Carmelo Mesa Lago, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin America at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Rafael Hernández, director of Temas magazine, will discuss reconciliation among Cubans with Arturo López-Levy, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative politics and a lecturer at the University of Denver, Colorado, and Lenier González, editor of Espacio Laical, the publication of the Havana archdiocese's lay council.

"Under the present circumstances, it is important to listen to the views of these people who are experts in their various fields of politics, society or the economy and make use of that contribution in benefit of the Church's pastoral work," Catholic Church spokesman Orlando Márquez told journalists Thursday.

The Church as an institution is not removed or separate from social issues, said Márquez, who is also the director of the Havana archdiocesan magazine Palabra Nueva. Questions like migration, family break-up and economic difficulties are issues of concern to the Catholic Church, he added.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, will also take part in the conference, during a Jun. 15-20 visit to Cuba. His schedule includes talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Cuba's bishops, and a possible visit with President Castro has not been ruled out.

Mamberti's visit to Havana will be the second by a senior Vatican official since Raúl Castro officially became president in February 2008 after taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in July 2006.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state to Pope Benedict XVI, visited the island in February 2008 on the 10th anniversary of the late Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Cuba. Bertone was the first official envoy of a foreign state to meet with the new president.

Mamberti's visit is in response to an invitation by the Catholic Church in Cuba and the Cuban government, to participate in the commemoration of the 75th year of relations between Cuba and the Holy See.

Both this visit and the conference organised by the Church are taking place in a climate of warming of relations between the government and the Church since the lengthy May 19 meeting between Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, and Dionisio García Ibáñez, president of the Catholic bishops' conference of Cuba.

In the talks, the Church leaders expressed concern over the conditions of Cuba's political prisoners, which could eventually lead to the release of some, according to remarks by Cardinal Ortega.

In early June, six prisoners were moved to penitentiaries closer to their homes. The six form part of the original group of 75 dissidents handed lengthy sentences in 2003 on charges of treason for conspiring with the United States to destabilise the government. (Fifty-three are still in prison.)

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, headed by dissident activist Elizardo Sánchez, there are 200 people imprisoned for political reasons on the island. But the government claims that all dissidents are mercenaries in the pay of Washington and does not recognise the existence of political prisoners.

"We continue to hope for further gestures, although we do not know when they might occur," said Márquez, who pointed out that such processes are not always linear and do not always move ahead at a steady pace.

"We hope that what started will continue. There is nothing to indicate that the process has ground to a halt or has ended," said the spokesman for the Havana archdiocese

The sentencing of the 75 dissidents cut short a process of rapprochement with the European Union.

And although Havana and Brussels resumed political talks in 2008, Foreign Minister Rodríguez has repeatedly stated that the European bloc's "common position" on Cuba, which seeks "to encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms," is "obsolete meddling" and is the final hurdle for the full normalisation of relations.

Rodríguez met this week in the French capital with his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Spain will apparently end its six-month rotating presidency of the EU this month without fulfilling its aim of replacing the "common position", which dates back to 1996, with what it describes as a more "realistic" policy towards Cuba.

A Cuban view of the dynamic within the church by Manuel Alberto Ramy can be read in the Progresso Weekly.

Cuba expands program cutting free lunches


HAVANA — Nearly a quarter million Cuban workers are discovering there's so such thing as a free lunch.

The government is dramatically expanding a program that shuts workplace cafeterias while giving people stipends to buy food on their own. It is part of a larger plan to chip away at the raft of daily subsidies that have long characterized life on the island.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Friday that a pilot program begun in October to eliminate free lunches for 2,800 government workers will grow to include another 225,000 as of July 1. The move will save the cash-strapped country $27 million.

The reform is being extended to state bank workers, employees at the tourism, transportation, foreign investment, natural resources and foreign relations ministries, as well as workers at the government retail giant CIMEX and the Office of the City of Havana Historian and the Cuban Chamber of Commerce.

The new round of cafeteria closings means that in all, about 5 percent of Cuba's official work force of nearly 5 million will have to fend for themselves at lunch time, though the government will provide about 70 U.S. cents per work day to help pay for it.

The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and almost everyone works for the state. Education through college and health care are free and housing, utilities, transportation and food are heavily subsidized, but government workers earn an average of less than $20 per month.

The reform represents a change in philosophy for the government, which has traditionally micromanaged many aspects of Cubans' lives — from monthly ration books to determining who can own a car.

Cuba's always-fragile economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and President Raul Castro, who took over from his elder brother Fidel in February 2008, has said he wants to cut costs by streamlining the stifling bureaucracy and putting a measure of decision-making in the hands of citizens.

A simple meal like a pork sandwich from a street stand costs about 25 cents, while pasta bought from a vendor may run about twice that — meaning some workers could save money.

Still, some were dubious.

"It doesn't seem good to me," said Susana Garcia, a 35-year-old who has worked in the Havana City Historian's office since 1998. "If you don't go to work or you get there late they dock you, and what you get isn't enough to buy anything — it's two packets of chicken per month."

Others affected by the new rules told The Associated Press they were called to meetings at work last weekend and informed that their free-lunch days were numbered.

Interviews Friday with six state employees who will lose them yielded only complaints, though many declined to give their names for fear of landing in hot water at work.

Some said that even if they can find a way to bring food from home — no small feat in a country where things like plastic kitchenware are hard to come by — they have no way to heat it up without access to state cafeterias. Others said they work nontraditional hours and will have trouble buying food during the times they have to eat it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Interview with Cardinal Ortega


Interview with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana

[Unofficial Translation, original Spanish at]

To anyone paying attention to what is happening in Cuba today, Cuban or foreigner, it is clear that we are experiencing one of the most unique moments in our history. However much we insist on the contrary, there are uncertainties in the economic, political, cultural and even religious aspects impacting our national life. To all this, we should add the place of the Church in the midst of Cuban society: while some people think that it says too much, others think that it says little.

In this interview with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, New Word presents not only a timely perspective from our archbishop and pastor in regard to the moment we are living, but his words, reiterating once again, the Church's call for dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans.
       --Orlando Márquez

Palabra Nueva: Your Eminence, recently the national media gave wide publicity to a meeting attended by pastors and leaders of virtually all the religious denominations present in Cuba with President Raul Castro, Mrs. Caridad Diego, Head of the Office of Religious Affairs, other senior Cuban officials and the Brazilian Dominican friar Frei Betto. But there were no bishops or representatives of the Cuban Catholic Church at this meeting. This has generated many doubts or questions about the Church's position regarding the Cuban government. Why was the Catholic Church absent in these events?

Cardinal Jaime Ortega: For this event we received an invitation at the level of auxiliary bishops like me and other members of the clergy and certain religious orders, but declined to attend because it was a commemoration of two events not directly related to the Catholic Church. One is the anniversary of a meeting held by President Fidel Castro twenty years ago with the Cuban Council of Churches, in which the Catholic Church is not a member. The other event commemorated was the publication in Cuba of the book "Fidel and Religion" by Frei Betto. He did not directly involve us as a Church, although this book contains a number of useful responses from Fidel that have value even today with outstanding issues regarding church-state relations, including various aspects of Catholic education. But we did not judge as appropriate to the Church this broad gathering of various religious faiths, representatives from syncretic cults, spiritualists, and even leaders of Freemasonry, the latter which is not a religion.

I think the only thing they have in common, these religious manifestations, animists and other associations, is being treated all the same by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee. But this office, which provides services to various religious groups or associations in Cuba, is not a kind of governing body that meets with the same purpose with all the various groups that are under its authority.

PN: At that same meeting were evoked the words of former President Fidel Castro in an interview with Frei Betto twenty years ago and described in the book you mentioned, specifically its call for a "strategic alliance" between Christians and Marxists to deal with Latin America's ills. But now the "strategic alliance" would be a permanent alliance between Cuban Christians and the authorities in Cuba to work, he said, for the good of society. As the Catholic Church was not in that encounter, what is the response to the invitation to establish a definitive strategic alliance with the government for the good of society?

CJO: Indeed, at that time there was talk of a strategic alliance with the Cuban state to oversee the well being of the people, by the various groups gathered there.  I have never accepted these terms as describing the actual role of the Catholic Church in society and its relations with the powers of the State, because they have military or political resonances that are not appropriate for developing relations between Church and State, such as the possibility of acting in society, to serve men and women living in our country, not depending on an explicit or implicit social pact between Church and State.

The action of the Church in society belongs to the order of rights, and the right to religious freedom is clearly recognized by the Constitution in force in Cuba. It is within the constitutional framework itself, as in its identity and own way of proceeding, that the mission of the Catholic Church in Cuba is deployed towards the common good. In pursuit of the common good the Church could link official or private institutions with international aid agencies, etc., which can assist the general welfare of the Cuban nation; but either vertically or horizontally the action of the Church is not founded on a partnership but springs from the right of the church body to present the love of Jesus Christ in the world today, according to its own mission.

PN: When the Church speaks of the common good, it also speaks of a series of favorable conditions for the integral human development of the person living in society. In the difficult conditions facing the country today, how can the church help in finding the common good for society? 

CJO: Our country is in a very difficult situation, probably the most difficult we have experienced in the twenty-first century. In the Cuban media there appear all kinds of opinions on how to find solutions for economic and social difficulties at this time.  Many talk of socialism and its limitations, some propose a reformed socialism, others refer to specific changes that must be done to leave behind the old Stalinist-type bureaucratic state, others talk about the lack of enterprise of workers, the low productivity, etc. But there is a fundamental common denominator among almost all discussants: there is a need in Cuba to promptly make the necessary changes to remedy the situation. I believe that this opinion reaches something of a national consensus and postponing it produces impatience and uneasiness among the people.

The international financial and economic crisis made its appearance just at the time that three hurricanes affecting Cuba were leaving huge losses.

These new realities, together with the long lasting embargo by the United States, are added to the perennial economic problems of Cuba which flow from the limitations of the kind of socialism practiced here, and all these create sometimes a grim situation.

PN: Pardon ... Do you think really that the conflict with the United States makes a mark at determining the life of Cubans? 

CJO: I believe that a Cuba-US dialogue would be the first step that is needed to break the cycle in which we find ourselves.

At the beginning of his administration, President Raul Castro suggested to the United States dialogue without conditions, and on all issues, including human rights, and has repeated his proposal in more than one occasion. 

In his presidential political campaign, Barack Obama also said he would change the style used so far and will seek above all to talk directly to Cuba. 

At that time there were growing expectations about a possible meeting between the two countries. However, after coming to power, the new American president has repeated the old pattern of previous governments: if Cuba makes changes regarding human rights, then the United States will lift the embargo and open up space for further dialogue. 

While important steps were taken to modify some unwise measures imposed by the previous government, in time the pre-election proposals were altered. Once again the old politics prevailed: start at the end. I am convinced that the first thing must be to get together, talk and as the dialogue advances some steps would be taken that would improve the difficult situations or overcome the most critical points. This is the civilized way of dealing with any conflict.

PN: In recent weeks the situation has worsened, specifically from the death of the prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo due to a hunger strike. At least one Cuban citizen has joined this kind of protest, the wives and mothers of political prisoners are demonstrating on the streets for their loved ones, to which the Cuban government responds with firmness ... All of this further thinning the environment. Is it possible to have a dialogue in these conditions?

CJO : The tragic event of the death of a prisoner as he was on hunger strike has resulted in a verbal war by the media in the United States, Spain and other countries. This strong media campaign contributes to further exacerbating the crisis. It is a form of media violence to which the Cuban government responds in its own way.

In the midst of this, what can the Church do for the common good? Certainly the Church’s mission prevents her from simply joining one of the two warring parties, on the one side political goals of destabilization, and on the other the consequent defensive retrenchment. What belongs to us as the Church is to invite all to sanity and wisdom in order to pacify the spirits. 

We know that a call to peace is historically irrelevant in the midst of war. But it is the call that the Church has always repeated in every time and in any conflict. Pope Paul VI coined a phrase that here has all its validity: "Dialogue is the new name of peace." Because amid the crossfire of words and arguments are the people, tired and anxious for a more peaceful present and a more prosperous future. If our voice was heard, it necessarily would contain a call for dialogue. 

The bishops of Cuba made this call in our note lamenting the tragic death of Orlando Zapata, in which we asked "from the authorities who have in their hands the lives and health of prisoners to take appropriate measures so that situations are not repeated, and, at the same time, to create conditions for dialogue and appropriate understanding, to avoid reaching such painful situations that do not benefit anyone and cause suffering to many." This conciliatory provision, although it seems unfruitful, is what we repeated in the case of Guillermo Fariñas, the other Cuban citizen who has joined this mode of protest, asking him to abandon the hunger strike.

PN: In this action-reaction environment, we have seen increased among us the reactions of some form of violence against those in Cuba who have expressed their disagreement or demands, specifically in the highly publicized case of the Damas de Blanco. What do you think of this?

CJO: This is not the time to stir passions. That is why it is so sad to see the acts of repudiation to mothers and wives of several prisoners, which are now joined by another group of women, all known as the Ladies in White.

After the painful acts of repudiation that occurred during the exodus from Mariel in 1980, we thought that they would not return again to our national history. At that time, the bishops met with a senior government official who, after hearing our opinion of these acts, said, "You can relax, these acts will be over and very soon." Indeed, the acts of repudiation disappeared shortly afterwards. But we saw with surprise that some time later these actions began to appear again on the national scene, and among Cubans in South Florida against other Cubans of different thinking, and artists from Cuba, etc.  Such verbal and even physical intolerance should not continue in our history as a people, as a characteristic of the Cuban person. In fact they are always a few who staged these events that do not indicate the feeling of the majority.

P.N.: Returning to the political prisoners. I remember that following the arrests and summary trials of 2003, both the Vatican and the Cuban bishops asked the authorities for a significant gesture of clemency, for humanitarian gestures with individuals who had received long sentences and were sent far from their homes. Does the Church continue expressing its interest in these people? Is there anything new about it?

CJO: With respect to prisoners held for political reasons, the Church has historically done everything possible for them to be released, not only for those who are sick but also others.

With the collaboration of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the United States in the 80s, there came out of jail a significant group of prisoners, and together with their closest relatives they left for the United States. Taken together, prisoners and their families, there were more than one thousand who left Cuba on flights paid for by the American bishops. Only those who had committed heinous crimes did not receive visas to the United States or other countries. At the request of Pope John Paul II during his visit to Cuba, also a good number of prisoners were released and those who received visas from various countries also emigrated, with the same reservations by recipient countries about those who had committed serious crimes.

This is what the Church always does with prisoners and every person affected with them such as their families. The same has been done with respect to the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States at the request of their families, making arrangements, so far unsuccessful, at least so that two of the wives who for nearly ten years haven’t seen their husbands may visit them. With respect to anyone who is in such deplorable situation, without analyzing the causes or grounds for their conviction, the mission of the Church has always been one of understanding and compassion, working discreetly but effectively so that the situation of those people affected be overcome for the good of themselves and of their relatives, although we have not always achieved the desired results.

In summary, in this difficult time, the Church in Cuba calls for prayer and action from all believers so that love, reconciliation, and forgiveness prevail among Cubans here and elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Yoani Sanchez interviewed by Salim Lamrani

An interview by Salim Lamrani, originally published on Rebelion Website as republished in The South Journal, translated into English.

A Conversation with Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez

French journalist and expert in relations between Cuba and the United States recently interviewed Cuba blogger Yoani Sanchez in Havana. The interview was posted on Rebelion website and on Cubadebate website. Yoani Sanchez is the new figure of Cuban opposition. Since she created her blog “Generation Y” back in 2007, she has been granted several international prizes, including the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Prize in 2008, the Prize in 2008, the Bob’s Prize in 2008, the Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 2008, granted by the prestigious US University of Columbia. Similarly, the Cuban blogger was selected among the world’s 100 most influential personalities by Time Magazine in 2008, along with George W. Bush, Hu Jintao and Dalai Lama. Yoani´s blog was included on the list of the 25 best blogs of the world by CNN and Time Magazine in 2008.

In November 30, 2008, Spain’s El Pais newspaper included her on its list of the 100 most influential Hispanic-American personalities of the year (a list where you can’t find Fidel or Raul Castro).

Foreign Policy magazine, on its part, included her among the 10 most important intellectuals of the year, while Mexico’s Gato Pardo magazine did the same in 2008.

This impressing landslide of distinctions, as well as their simultaneous occurrence, has raised numerous questions, so much so that Yoani Sanchez, according to her own confession, is absolutely unknown in her own country. How can a person, who is unknown to her neighbors—according to the blogger—, be on the list of the 100 most influential personalities in the world?

A diplomat from a western country, who is close to this atypical opponent of the Cuban government, had read a series of articles I wrote about Yoani Sanchez and that were somewhat critical. He showed the blogger my articles and she wanted to meet me to clear out some points I had referred to.

The meeting with the young dissident, of controversial fame, did not take place in any dark apartment with closed windows or in a remote site that could avoid the indiscrete ears of “the political police.” On the contrary, the meeting took place in the lobby of the Hotel Plaza, in the heart of the Old Section of Havana, and in a sunny afternoon. The place was packed with people, many foreign tourists wandering around the huge hall of the majestic building that opened its doors in the early 20th century.

Yoani Sanchez has close ties with western embassies. In fact, a simple call by my contact at midday allowed us to set the date just three hours later. And at 3 pm, the blogger showed up smiling, dressed in a long skirt and a blue jersey. She also wore a sports jacket to keep herself warm in the relatively fresh temperature of the Havana winter.

Our conversation lasted nearly two hours as we sat at a table in the bar and in the presence of her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who accompanied her for some 20 minutes before they left the place as they headed for another meeting. Yoani Sanchez appeared very cordial and friendly; she proved her great peace. Her voice was firm and she never showed being uncomfortable. Already used to meeting with the western media, she really masters the arts of communication.

This blogger, a person who looks weak, intelligent and astute is aware that, although hard for her to admit her western media relation is not by mere chance, but because it advocates the setting up of “sui generis” capitalism in Cuba.

The Incident on November 6, 2009

Salim Lamrani: Let´s start with the incident that occurred on November 6, 2009 in Havana. You explained on your blog that you were arrested along another three friends of yours by “three unknown hefty men” during “an afternoon stormed with beating, cries and insults.” You denounced the Cuban police for having committed violence against you. Do you maintain your version of the events?

Yoani Sánchez: Yes indeed, I confirm I was submitted to violence. They held me for 25 minutes. I was beaten. I managed to take a piece of paper that one of the men had in his pocket and I hid it in my mouth. One of them pressed his knee over my chest and the other, from the front seat would beat me in the kidney area and my head so that I opened my mouth and get the piece of paper. For a moment, I thought I would never get out of that car.

SL: the story on your blog is really terrifying. I quote: you spoke of “beats and pushes,” of “beating knuckles,” of “stream of beats,” “Knees on your chest,” beating your “kidneys and […] your head, “pulling you by your hair,” of your face “going red due to pressure and painful body, of “ beats that went on” and “ all those bruises.” However, when you met with the international press on November 9 all those marks had faded it out of your body. How can you explain that?

YS: They are beating professionals.

SL: Ok, but why didn’t you show the pictures of the marks?

YS: I got the pictures. I got the proving images.

SL: So you got the proofs?

YS: I got the proofs in the pictures.

SL: But, why haven’t you published them to reject all rumors saying you might have fabricated this attack so that the press told about your case?

YS: I rather keep them for the time being and not publish them. I want to present them to a court some day so that these three men are judged. I can perfectly recall their faces and I got the pictures of two of them at least. As to the third man, he is still to be identified but since he was the chief, he will be easy to spot. I also have the piece of paper I took from one of them, which has my saliva because I kept it in my mouth. The name of a woman was written in that paper.

SL: Fine. You publish many photos on your blog. It is not difficult to understand why you prefer not to release the pictures this time.

YS: As I told you, I rather keep them for justice.

SL: You are aware that your attitude gives credit to those who think that you fabricated the attack against you, aren’t you?

YS: It is my choice.

SL: However, even the western media, which quite favor you, took some unusual precautious measures when telling your story. BBC correspondent in Havana Fernando Ravberg wrote, for instance, that you “had no bruises, marks or scars.” France Presse news agency told the story by clarifying carefully enough that it is your own version and it gave it the title: “Cuba: Blooger Yoani Sanchez Says to have been Beaten and Briefly Arrested.” On the other hand, the reporter affirmed that you “were not hurt.”

YS: I wouldn’t like to evaluate their work. I am not who is supposed to judge them. They are professionals who face very complicated situations that I can not evaluate. The fact is that the existence or not of physical marks is not evidence of the event.

SL: But the presence of those marks would reveal that violence took place. That is why publishing the photos would be so important.

YS: You should understand that they are professionals in intimidation. The fact that three unknown men took me to a car without presenting any documents gives me the right to complaint as if they had broken all my bones. The photos are not that important because the illegal act has been committed. Now being so accurate as to say “if it hurts here or there” is just my internal pain.

SL: Ok, but the problem is that you presented it all as a very violent attack. You talked about “kidnapping you in the worst Sicilian Camorra style.”

YS: Yes, that is true, but it is my word against theirs. The fact of getting into these details, if I have bruises or not takes us far off the real subject, which is that they kidnapped me during 25 minutes illegally.

SL: Excuse my insistence, but I think this is important. There is some difference between an identity control, which lasts 25 minutes, and police violence. My question is very simple. You said and I quote: “I had a cheekbone and an eyebrow swollen all during the weekend.” Since you got the pictures, you can now show the marks.

YS: I just told you I rather keep them for court.

SL: You are aware that some people will find it hard to believe your version, if you do not publish the photos, aren’t you?

YS: I think that by getting into these details we miss the subject. The fact is that three bloggers accompanied by a friend of theirs were on their way to a place in the city, right on the corner of 23 and G streets. We had heard that a group of youngsters had called a march against violence there. They are alternative kind of people, hip hop and rap singers, artists. I would be there as a blogger to make pictures and post them on my blog and make some interviews. On the way to that site we were stopped by a “Geely” car.

SL: Was it an action to prevent you from taking part of the event?

YS: That was the reason, evidently. They never told us that formally, but that was their objective. They told me to get in the car. I asked them who they were. One of them took me by my wrist and I held back. That happened in a Havana zone which is centrally located, right at a bus stop.

SL: So there were people at the place then. I mean there were witnesses.

YS: Yes, there were witnesses but they do not want to talk. They are scared.

SL: Not even in an anonymous way? Why hasn’t the western media interviewed them anonymously as they usually do when they publish critical articles about Cuba?

YS: I can’t explain about the reaction of the press. I can tell them what happened. One of them, a man about fifty years old, with a strong body as if he had ever practiced free wrestling—I tell you this because my father practiced that sports and he has the same body shape-. I have quite weak wrists and I managed to get out of his grasp and I asked him who he was. There were three men plus the driver.

SL: So then, there were four men instead of three.

YS: Yes, but I couldn’t reach to see the driver’s face. “Yoani, get in the car, you know who we are.” I replied: “I don’t know who you are.” The smallest one said: “Listen, you know who I am, you know me well.” I answered him: “No, I don’t know who you are. Who are you? Let me see your papers or just any document.” The other one told me: “Get in the car, do not make things difficult.” Then I started to shout. “Help! Kidnappers!”

SL: Did you know that they were policemen wearing civilian clothes?

YS: I figured it out, but they never showed me any document.

SL: Then, what was your objective?

YS: I wanted things to be done legally; that is, that they showed me their documents and then they could take me although I suspected they really represented the authority. You can not force a citizen to get in a private car without presenting any documents, or else it is illegal and thus kidnapping.

SL: How did the people at the bus stop react?

YS: The people were astonished because “kidnapping” is not a common word in Cuba; such a phenomenon does not exist here. Then they wondered what was going on. We did not look like criminals. Some tried to approach us but one of the policemen shouted at them: “Do not get into this, these ones are counterrevolutionaries!” And this confirmed that they were part of the political police although I figured it out when I saw the Geely car, a new Chinese make, which has not been sold anywhere in Cuba. These cars only belong to people with the Armed Forces and the Interior Ministries.

SL: Do you mean that since the beginning you knew that they were policemen wearing civilian clothes because you identified the car they were driving?

YS: I sensed that. On the other hand I confirmed it when one of them called a uniformed policeman. A patrol made up of a woman and a man came and took two of us away. They left us in the hands of these unknown men.

SL: But at that point you did not have any doubt about who they were, did you?

YS: No, but they did not show us any documents. The policemen did not say that they represented Cuban authority. They said no word.

SL: It is hard to understand any interest of Cuban authorities in attacking at the risk of unleashing an international scandal. You are famous. Why would they do that?

YS: They wanted to make me radical so that I wrote violent articles against them, but they won’t get away with it.

SL: We can not say that you are soft about the Cuban government.

YS: I never use verbal violence or personal attacks. I never use hard adjectives like “bloody repression”, for instance. Their objective was that of having me radicalized.

SL: However you are very tough about the Cuban government. You can read in your blog that: “the ship taking in water is about to be shipwrecked.” You speak about “the shouts of the despot,” of “people in the shadows who, like vampires, feed from our human joy, inoculate us with fear through beating, threats and blackmail,” “the shipwreck of the process, the system, the expectations, the illusions. [It is] [total] shipwreck,” these are really strong words.

YS: Perhaps they are, though their objective was burning the Yoani Sanchez phenomenon by demonizing me. For that reason my blog was blocked for a long time.

SL: However, it seems surprising that Cuban authorities decided to physically attack you.

YS: It was clumsy. I can’t understand why they prevented me from attending the march since my thinking is quite different from those who use repression. I can’t explain. Perhaps they did not want me to meet with the youths. The police thought I would start a scandal or make an incendiary discourse.

Back to my arrest; the police took my friends away in an energetic and firm manner, but without any violence. When I realized they would leave us alone with Orlando, and with these three guys I held on tightly to a tree at the place and Claudia grasped my waist in an effort to prevent being separated from me just before she was taken away.

SL: What’s the use of resisting the police in uniform and run the risk of being accused for that and commit crime? In France, if you resist the police, you run the risk of being imposed sanctions.

YS: They took them away, anyhow. The police woman took Claudia. The other three persons took us to the car and I started to shout again: “Help! This is a Kidnap!

SL: Why? Did you know they were police men not wearing their uniforms?

YS: They did not show any documents. Then, they started to beat me and they pushed me inside the car. Claudia witnessed it and she told about it.

SL: But, You have just told me that the police patrol had taken Claudia away, haven’t you?

YS: She saw the scene from a distance while the police car drove away. I defended myself and launched beats like an animal that feels that its last hour has come. They drove around Vedado as they tried to take the piece of paper out of my mouth. I took one of them by his testicles and he increased his violence. They took us to a poor neighborhood, La Timba, which is near the Revolution Square. The man stepped down, opened the door of the car and asked us to get out. I did not want to get off. They took us out by force including Orlando and then they left.

A woman approached us and we told her we had been kidnapped. She took us for insane people and left. The car returned but did not stop. They threw out my purse in which I had my cell phone and my camera.

SL: Did they return your cell and your camera?

YS: Yes

SL: Doesn’t it sound funny to you that they bothered to return? They could have confiscated your cell and your camera, which are your work tools.

YS: Well, I don’t know. It all lasted 25 minutes.

SL: You are aware however, that as long as you do not publish the photos your version will be submitted to doubt and that will cast a shadow on the credibility of all that you say.

YS: I do not care about it.


SL: In 2002 you decided to migrate to Switzerland. Two years later you returned to Cuba. It appears difficult to understand why you left the “European paradise” to return to the country which you describe as hell. My question is simple: Why?
YS: It is a good question. Firstly, I like to go against the current. I like to organize my life in my own way. What is absurd is not the fact of leaving and returning but the Cuban migration laws, which stipulate that any person who spends eleven months abroad loses his or her permanent resident status. Under different conditions, I could spend two years abroad and with the money earned I could return to Cuba to repair my home and do some other things. Then it is not the fact of deciding to return to Cuba that is amazing, but the Cuban migration laws.
SL: Surprising enough is particularly the fact that having the chance to live in one of the richest countries in the world, you had decided to return to your country, which you describe in quite an apocalyptic manner, nearly two years later you left.
YS: There are several reasons for that. First, I was not able to leave with my family. We are a small family but very united with my sister and with my parents. My father was sick during my stay in Switzerland and I was afraid that he could die and that I was not able to see him anymore. I also felt guilty for being living a better life than theirs. Every time I bought a pair of shoes, or that I logged on the Internet, I thought of them. I felt guilty.
SL: OK, but you could help them from Switzerland by sending them money.
YS: That is true, but there is still another reason. I thought that with all I learned in Switzerland I could change things when I returned to Cuba. You also feel this nostalgia for the people, your friends. It was not a well thought decision, but I do not regret it. I wanted to return and so I did. Actually, it’s something that could seem uncommon, but I Iike doing unusual things. I opened a blog and the people asked me why I was doing that, while the blog satisfies me professionally.
SL: That is alright, but despite all these reasons, it is still difficult to understand why you returned to Cuba while people in the West think that all Cubans want to leave their country. It is something even more surprising in your case because you present your country, I repeat, in an apocalyptic way.
YS: As a philologist I would consider that word, since “apocalyptic” is a grandiloquent term. There is something that characterizes my blog: verbal moderation.
SL: That is not always the case. For instance, you describe Cuba as “a huge prison, with ideological walls.” The terms are quite strong.
YS: I have never written that.
SL: Those were the words you used during an interview with France 24 TV Channel on October 22, 2009.
YS: Did you read that in French or in Spanish?
SL: In French.
YS: Do not trust translations because I never said that. Quite often I come across words I have not said. For instance, Spain’s ABC newspaper attributed words to me that I had never pronounced and I protested that. The article was withdrawn from the Internet site.
SL: Which were those words?
YS: “In Cuban hospitals, more people die from hunger than from diseases.” It was a total lie. I never said that.
SL: Then, did the western media manipulate what you had said?
YS: I wouldn’t say that.
SL: If they attributed words to you that you did not say; then it is manipulation.
YS: Granma newspaper manipulates reality further more than the western press when it say that I am the product of the Prisa media group.
SL: Exactly, Don’t you think that the western media uses you because you advocate “sui-generis” capitalism in Cuba?
YS: I am not responsible for what the media does. My blog is personal therapy, a kind of exorcism. I have a feeling that I am being more manipulated in my own country than in any other part. You know about this law in Cuba, Law 88 called the “Gag” law, which imprisons the people who do what we are doing.
SL: You mean?
YS: I mean that our conversation may be considered a crime and that you may be punished up to 15 years in jail.
SL: Sorry but, the fact that I interview you may take you to jail?
YS: Of course!
SL: I do not have the feeling that this worries you that much, since you are giving me this interview, in full day light, in the lobby of a hotel in the heart of Old Havana.
YS: I am not worried. This law states that any person that denounces the violations of human rights in Cuba cooperates with the economic sanctions, since Washington justifies the imposition of the sanctions against Cuba because of the violation of human rights.
SL: If I’m not wrong, Law 88 was passed in 1996 as a response to the Helms-Burton Law and particularly punishes those people who collaborate with the implementation of the American law in Cuba, for instance, by providing Washington information about foreign investors in Cuba so that they be taken to American courts. As far as I know, nobody has been condemned for that so far. Let’s talk about freedom of expression. You have certain freedom to speak through your blog. You are being interviewed this afternoon in a hotel. Don´t you notice any contradiction between your affirming that there is no freedom of expression in Cuba and the reality about your writings and activities, which show the opposite?
YS: Yes, but you can not see my blog in Cuba since it has been blocked.
SL: I can assure you that I visited it this morning before we had this interview, from this very hotel.
YS: It is possible, but most of the time it is blocked. Any way, at present, I can’t have the smallest space in the Cuban press, while I am a moderate person, no space in radio or television.
SL: However, you can publish whatever you want on your blog, can’t you?
YS: But I can not publish a single word on the Cuban press.
SL: In France, which is a democratic country, wide sectors of the population have no access to the media because most media outlets belong to private economic or financial groups.
YS: Yes, but it is different.
SL: Were you threatened because of your activities? Have you ever been threatened with prison for what you write about?
YS: No direct prison threats, but they do not allow me to travel abroad. I am currently invited to a Congress on the Spanish Language, in Chile; I did all proceedings, but they do not allow me to go.
SL: Have you received any explanation?
YS: None, but I´d like to put something straight. US sanctions against Cuba are atrocious. It is a failed policy. I have said this many times, but they do not publish it because it bothers them that I have this opinion, which is contrary to the archetype of any opposition member.


SL: So you oppose the economic sanctions.
YS: Absolutely, and I say this in every interview. Some weeks ago, I sent a letter to the US Senate requesting that the American citizens be allowed to travel to Cuba. It is atrocious to see how they do not allow American citizens to visit Cuba, just like the Cuban government prohibits me to travel out of my country.
SL: What’s your opinion on the hopes sparked by the election of Obama, who promised a policy change towards Cuba, but has disappointed so many people?
YS: He came to power without the support of the Miami-based fundamentalist lobby, which backed the other candidate. On my part, I have already given my statement against the sanctions.
SL: This fundamentalist lobby opposes the lifting of the sanctions.
YS: You can discuss with them and expose my criteria, but I would not say they are enemies of the homeland. I don’t think so.
SL: A group of them participated in the invasion against their own country in 1961, at the orders of the CIA. Several of them are involved in terrorist actions against Cuba.
YS: The Cuban exiles have the right to think and take decisions. I favor their right to vote. Here, the Cuban exile has been very much stigmatized.
SL: Do you mean the “historic” exile or the ones that have emigrated for economic reasons?
YS: Actually, I oppose all extremes. But these persons who are in favor of the economic sanctions are not anti-Cuba people. Just think that they are defending Cuba according to their own criteria.
SL: Perhaps, but the economic sanctions affect the most vulnerable sectors of the Cuban population and not the leaders. Then, it is difficult to favor the sanctions and intend to defend the wellbeing of the Cuban people at the same time.
YS: That is their opinion. That’s it.
SL: They are not naive. They know that the Cuban people are suffering because of the sanctions.
YS: They are simply different. They think they will be able to change the regime by imposing sanctions. In any case, I think that the blockade has been the perfect argument for the Cuban government to keep its intolerance, control and internal repression.
SL: Economic sanctions have an impact. Or do you think that the sanctions are a mere excuse for Havana?
YS: They are an excuse leading to repression.
SL: Do they affect the country from the economic point of view, according to you? Or is it only a secondary issue?
YS: The real problem lies on the lack of productivity in Cuba. If they lift the sanctions tomorrow, I doubt that the result will show.
SL: In this case, why doesn’t the United States lift the sanctions and eliminate the excuse for the Cuban government? That way, it would reveal that economic difficulties are the result of domestic policy. If Washington insists that much on the sanctions, despite their anachronistic character, despite the opposition staged by the large majority of the international community, 187 countries in 2009, despite the rejection by a majority of US public opinion, despite the rejection by the world of business, there must be a reason, don’t you think?
YS: Simply because Obama is not the dictator in the United States and he can not eliminate the sanctions.
SL: He can not eliminate them totally because an agreement by the Congress is necessary; however, he can soften them considerably, what he has not done so far, since except for the elimination of the restrictions imposed by Bush in 2004, almost nothing has changed.
YS: No, that is not true, because he has also allowed US telecommunication companies to do business with Cuba.


SL: You have to admit that this is all very little when we know that Obama promised a new approach of Cuba. Let’s go back to your personal case. How can you explain this landslide of prizes, as well as your international success?
YS: I can’t say much except expressing my gratitude. Any prize implies a dose of subjectivity on the part of the jury. Any prize can be questioned. For instance, many Latin American writers deserved the Nobel Literature Prize better than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
SL: Do you say that because you think he is not as talented or due to his position favoring the Cuban Revolution? You do not deny his talent as a writer, or do you?
YS: It is my opinion, but I will not say that he took the prize and then accuse him of being an agent of the Swedish government.
SL: He obtained the prize for his literary work, while you have been rewarded for your political position against the government. That is the impression we have.
YS: Let’s talk about the Ortega and Gasset Prize granted by El Pais newspaper, which sparks more controversy. I won it in the “Internet” category. Some say that other journalists have not yet won the prize, but I am a blogger and a pioneer in this field. I consider myself a figure in the Internet. The Ortega y Gasset jury is made up of highly prestigious personalities and I would not say they took part of any conspiracy against Cuba.
SL: But you can’t deny that the El Pais newspaper maintains a very hostile editorial line towards Cuba. And some people think that the prize, which includes 15,000 Euros, was a way to reward your writings against the government.
YS: People think what they want to think. I think my work was rewarded. My blog has 10 million visits monthly. It is a cyclone.
However, that is not what an internationally recognized site measuring traffic says; a site like, of Amazon, which at the same time can not be taken as suspicious in terms of partiality in favor of alternative media sites from Cuba, Venezuela and Spain. A simple comparison of Yoani´s blog to other media outlets confirms that Generacion Y has much less traffic than the other websites to which it is compared, which have made their traffic public, below 10 million accesses monthly. Does Generacion Y alter its stats? I would seem it does. Another example, the Website with the largest traffic in the United States and one with the largest traffic in the world is The New York Times, which reports 17 million accesses every month.
SL: How do manage to pay the cost of the management of such a large proportion?
YS: A friend of mine in Germany would deal with that, because the site was hosted in Germany. It has been hosted in Spain for over a year now and I got and 18-month free management thanks to The Bob´s Prize.
SL: And how about the 18-language translation?
YS: They are friends and admirers who do it voluntarily and for free.
SL: Many people find it hard to believe that, because no other Web site in the world, even those of the most important international institutions -for example, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the European Union- has so many linguistic versions. Not even the Web sites of the US State Department or the CIA have such variety.
YS: I’m telling you the truth.
SL: Even President Obama responded to your interview. How do you explain that?
YS: First, I want to say they were not complacent questions.
SL: We can’t say either that you were critical, since you didn’t ask him to lift the economic sanctions that you say “are used as justification for the production disaster and to repress those who think differently.” That’s exactly what Washington says in that regard. The most daring question was when you asked him if he was thinking about invading Cuba. ¿How do you explain the fact that President Obama spent part of his time to answer you in spite of his extremely tight schedule, an unprecedented economic crisis, the reform of the health system, Iraq, Afghanistan, the military bases in Colombia, the coup d’état in Honduras, and hundreds of requests for interviews from the most important media in the world waiting for him?
YS: I’m a fortunate person. I’d like to tell you that I’ve also sent questions to President Raúl Castro and he has not responded yet. I don’t give up hope. Besides, he now has the advantage of having Obama’s answers.
SL: How did you reach Obama?
YS: I passed on the questions to several people who were coming to see me and could possibly contact him.
SL: Do you think that Obama answered you because you’re a Cuban blogger or because you’re opposed to the government?
YS: I don’t think so. Obama replied because he speaks with citizens.
SL: He receives thousands of requests everyday. Why to answer you, if you’re just a blogger?
YS: Obama is close to my generation, to my way of thinking.
SL: But why you? There are millions of bloggers around the world. Don’t you think you have been capitalized on in Washington’s media war against Havana?
YS: In my opinion, perhaps he wanted to address some aspects, like the invasion of Cuba. Perhaps I gave him the opportunity to express himself about a topic he wanted to deal with a long time ago. Political propaganda constantly talks about a possible invasion of Cuba.
SL: But there was one, wasn’t it?
YS: When?
SL: In 1961. And in 2003, Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, said that any Cuban migratory wave to the United States would be considered a threat to national security and would require a military response.
YS: That’s another issue. Going back to the interview, I believe it made it possible to clarify certain aspects. I was under the impression that none of the sides wanted a normalization of relations, reaching an understanding. I asked him when we were going to find a solution.

SL: In your opinion, who is responsible for this conflict between the two countries?

YS: It’s difficult to find somebody to blame.

SL: In this specific case, the United States is the one imposing unilateral sanctions on Cuba, and not the other way around.

YS: Yes, but Cuba confiscated properties from the United States.

SL: I get the impression that you’re acting as Washington’s advocate.

YS: Confiscations occurred.

SL: It’s true, but they were made in accordance with international law. Cuba also confiscated properties from France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, and indemnified those nations. The only country that rejected that compensation was the United States.

YS: Cuba also allowed the installation of military bases on its territory and of missiles from a far-off empire…

SL: …Just like the United States installed nuclear bases against the USSR in Italy and Turkey.

YS: Nuclear missiles could reach the United States.

SL: Just like the US nuclear missiles could reach Cuba or the USSR.

YS: It’s true, but I think there was an escalation of confrontation on the part of the two countries.

The five Cuban political prisoners and dissidence

SL: Let’s tackle another subject. A lot is said about the five Cuban political prisoners in the United Stated, sentenced to life imprisonment for infiltrating extreme right factions in Florida, involved in terrorism against Cuba.

YS: It’s not an issue the population is interested in. It’s political propaganda.

SL: But what is your point of view in this regard?

YS: I’ll try to be as neutral as possible. They’re agents from the Ministry of the Interior who infiltrated the United States to collect information. The Cuban government says they were not carrying out activities of espionage but that they had infiltrated Cuban groups to prevent terrorist acts. But the Cuban government has always said those groups were linked to Washington.

SL: Then the radical groups of exiles have bonds with the US government.

YS: That’s what the political propaganda says.

SL: Then it’s not true.

YS: If it’s true it means that the five were carrying out activities of espionage.

SL: Then, in this case, the United States has to admit that violent groups are part of the government.

YS: It’s true.

SL: Do you think the Five should be released or that they deserve their sentences?

YS: I think it would be worth re-examining their cases, but in a political context of greater calm. I don’t think that the political use of this case could be good for them. The Cuban government gives this issue too high a media profile.

SL: Perhaps because it’s a matter totally censured by the western press.

YS: I think that the situation of those persons could be salvaged, they’re human beings, with families and children, but there are also victims on the other side.

SL: But the Five have not committed crimes.

YS: No, but they provided information that resulted in the death of several people.

SL: If you refer to the events of February 24, 1996, when the two airplanes of the radical organization Brothers to the Rescue were downed after they violated Cuban airspace several times and dropped fliers inciting rebellion.

YS: Yes.

SL: However, the district attorney admitted that it was impossible to prove Gerardo Hernandez’s guilt in this case.

YS: It’s true. I think that’s what we get when politics interferes in matters of justice.

SL: Do you think this is about a political case?

YS: For the Cuban government, it’s a political case.

SL: And for the United States?

YS: I understand that there’s a division of powers there, but the political atmosphere could have influenced the judges and the jury, but I don’t think we’re talking about a political case led by Washington. It’s difficult to have a clear image of this case, since we have never been able to have full information in this regard. But the release of the political prisoners it’s a priority for Cubans.

The US financing of Cuban dissidents

SL: Wayne S. Smith, the last ambassador of the United States in Cuba [sic, Wayne was head of USINT in the Carter Administration, with several successors], declared that “sending money to Cuban dissidents was illegal and unwise.” He added that “no one should give money to dissidents and much less with the objective of overthrowing the Cuban government.” And explains: “When the United States declares that its objective is to overthrow the Cuban government and then affirms that one of the means to achieve that objective is to provide Cuban dissidents with funds, then they are, in fact, in a position of agents paid by a foreign power to overthrow their own government.”

YS: I think that the financing of the opposition on the part of the United States has been presented as a reality, which is not the case. I know several members of the group of the 75 dissidents arrested in 2003 and I very much doubt that version. I have no evidence that the 75 were arrested for that reason. I don’t believe in the evidence presented before the Cuban court.

SL: I don’t think it’s possible to ignore this reality.

YS: Why?

SL: The US government itself affirms that it finances the internal opposition since 1959. Suffice is to consult, besides the declassified archives, Section 1705 of the Torricelli Law of 1992, Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Law of 1996, and the two reports of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba of May, 2004, and July, 2006. All these documents reveal that the President of the United States finances internal opposition in Cuba with the purpose of overthrowing the government of Havana.

YS: I don’t know, but…

SL: If you allow me to, I will quote the laws in question. Thus, Section 1705 of the Torricelli Law stipulates that “the United States will provide assistance to non-governmental organizations suitable for support to individuals and organizations which promote democratic and non-violent change in Cuba.”

Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Law is also very clear: “The President [of the United States] is authorized to offer assistance and to offer all kinds of support to individuals and non-governmental independent organizations to organize forces with a view towards constructing a democracy in Cuba.”

The first report of the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba sets forth the establishment of “a solid program of support which favors Cuban civil society.” Among the measures announced were 36 million dollars in financing to “support the democratic opposition and the strengthening of the emerging civil society.”

The second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba sets forth a 31 million dollar budget to finance, even more, internal opposition. In addition, the financing of at least 20 million dollars a year for the following years, with the same objective, “until the dictatorship ceases to exist,” is also planned.

YS: Who told you that that money reached the dissidents?

SL: The US Interest Section affirmed it in a communiqué: “The US policy, for a long time now, is that of providing humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, particularly the families of political prisoners. We also allow private organizations to do the same.”

YS: Well…

SL: Even Amnesty International, which recalls the existence of 58 political prisoners in Cuba, recognizes that they’re in prison “for having received funds or materials from the US government to carry out activities considered by the authorities as subversive and damaging for Cuba.

YS: I don’t know if…

SL: On the other hand, dissidents themselves admit they receive money from the United States. Laura Pollán, one of the so-called Ladies in White, declared: “We accept aid, support, from the ultra-right to the left, unconditionally.” Opponent Vladimiro Roca also confessed that Cuban dissidence is subsidized by Washington, claiming that the financial aid received was “totally and completely legal.” For dissident René Gómez, the economic support on the part of the United States “is not something that needs to be concealed or that we have to be ashamed of.”

Even the western press recognizes it. France Press agency reports that “dissidents, for their part, defended and accepted that economic aid.” The Spanish agency EFE refers to the «opponents paid by the United States.” And the British Reuters news agency points out: “the US government openly provides federal financial aid for the dissidents’ activities, which is considered by Cuba as an illegal act.” And I could give many more examples.

YS: All that is the Cuban government’s fault, which prevents the economic prosperity of its citizens, which imposes rationing on the population. People have to queue to obtain products. It’s necessary to judge the Cuban government first, which has led thousands of people to accept foreign aid.

SL: The problem is that dissidents commit a crime that Cuban law and all penal codes in the world severely punish. Being financed by a foreign power is a serious crime in France and in the rest of the world.

YS: We can admit that the fact of financing an opposition is proof of interference, but…

SL: But in this case the people you describe as political prisoners are not political prisoners, since they committed a crime when they accepted money from the United States, and Cuban law condemned them on that basis.

YS: I think that this government interfered many times in the internal affairs of other countries, financing rebel movements and the guerrilla. It intervened in Angola and…

SL: Yes, but it was a matter of helping pro-independence movements against Portuguese colonialism and South Africa’s segregationist regime. When South Africa invaded Namibia, Cuba intervened to defend that country’s independence. Nelson Mandela publicly thanked Cuba for that and was the reason for which he made his first trip to Havana and not to Washington or Paris.

YS: But many Cubans died for that, far from their land.

SL: Yes, but it was for a noble cause, whether in Angola, the Congo or Namibia. The battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 made it possible to put an end to Apartheid in South Africa. That’s what Mandela says! Aren’t you proud of that?

YS: OK, but at the end of the day it’s my country’s interference abroad what bothers me more than anything else. It’s necessary to decriminalize prosperity.

SL: Even the fact of receiving money from a foreign power?

YS: People have to be economically autonomous.

SL: If I understand correctly, you advocate the privatization of certain sectors of the economy.

YS: Privatize? No, I don’t like that term, because it has pejorative connotation, but put them in the hands of private people, yes.

Social achievements in Cuba?

SL: It’s a question of semantics then. In your opinion, what are the social achievements of this country?

YS: Every achievement has had an enormous cost. All things that could look positive have had a cost in terms of freedom. My son receives a very indoctrinatory education and he’s taught a History of Cuba that does not correspond to reality at all. I would rather have a less ideological education for my son. On the other hand, nobody wants to be a teacher in this country because salaries are very low.

SL: OK, but that doesn’t prevent Cuba from being the country with the highest number pf professors per inhabitant in the world, with a maximum of 20 students per classroom, which is not the case in France, for example.

YS: Yes, but there was a cost for that, and that’s why education and health are not real achievements to me.

SL: We can’t deny something acknowledged by all international institutions. With regard to education, the illiteracy rate in Latin America is 11.7% and 0.2% in Cuba. The primary education rate is 92% in Latin America and 100% in Cuba, and as for secondary education level is 52% and 99.7%, respectively. These are figures from UNESCO’s Department of Education.

YS: I agree, but in 1959, although conditions were difficult in Cuba, the situation was not that bad. There was a flourishing intellectual life, a political thinking that was alive. Actually, most of the current supposed achievements presented as results of the system were inherent in our idiosyncrasy. Those achievements existed before.

SL: It’s not true; I’m going to quote a source free of any suspicion: a report from the World Bank. It’s a long quote, but it’s worthy to recall.

“Cuba has become internationally recognized for its achievements in the areas of education and health, with social service delivery outcomes that surpass most countries in the developing world and in some areas match first-world standards. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and the subsequent establishment of a communist government, the country has created a social service system that guarantees universal access to education and health care provided by the State. This model has enabled Cuba to achieve near universal literacy, the eradication of certain diseases, widespread access to potable water and basic sanitation, and among the lowest infant mortality rates and longest life expectancies in the region. A review of Cuba’s social indicators reveals a pattern of almost continuous improvement from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Several major indices, such as life expectancy and infant mortality, continued to improve during the country’s economic crisis of the 1990’s… Today, Cuba’s social performance is among the best in the developing world, as documented by numerous international sources including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and other UN agencies , and the World Bank. According to 2002 World Development Indicators, Cuba far outranks both Latin America and the Caribbean and other lower-middle income countries in major indices of education, health and sanitation.”

Moreover, figures show this. In 1959, infant mortality rate was 60 per every one thousand live births. In 2009, it was 4.8. We’re talking about the lowest rate in the American continent, of the Third World; even lower than that of the United States.

YS: Well, but…

SL: Life expectancy was 58 years before the Revolution. Now, it’s almost 80 years, and it’s similar to that of many developed nations. At present, Cuba has 67,000 doctors, as compared to 6,000 in 1959. According to the English newspaper The Guardian, Cuba has twice the amount of doctors as compared to England, for a population that is four times smaller.

YS: OK, but in terms of freedom of expression there was a reduction with respect to Batista’s government. The regime was a dictatorship but there was a plural and open freedom of the press, radio programs of all political tendencies.

SL: It’s not true. Censorship also existed. Between December, 1956, and January, 1959, during the war against the Batista regime, censorship was imposed for 630 days, out of 759. And opponents were doomed as a rule.

YS: It’s true that there was censorship, intimidation and dead people in the end.

SL: Then you can’t say that the situation was better with Batista, since opponents were assassinated. That’s no longer the case today. Do you think that January 1st is a tragic date in Cuban history?

YS: No, no, not at all. It was a process that aroused a lot of hope, but that betrayed most Cubans. For many people, it was a bright moment, but they put an end to a dictatorship and established another. I’m not as negative as some.

Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban Adjustment Act and migration

SL: What do you think about Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA agent and responsible for a large amount of crimes in Cuba and whom the United States refuses to trial?

YS: It’s a political issue people are not interested in. It’s a smokescreen.

SL: At least it interests the relatives of the victims. What’s your point of view in this regard?

YS: I don’t like violent actions.

SL: Do you condemn his terrorist acts?

YS: I condemn all terrorist acts, event those committed today in Iraq by an alleged Iraqi resistance that kills Iraqis.

SL: Who kills most Iraqis, the attacks of the resistance or the US bombings?

YS: I don’t know.

SL: A word about the Cuban Adjustment Act that stipulates that Cubans legally or illegally migrating to the United States automatically get the status of permanent resident.

YS: It’s an advantage the rest of the countries don’t enjoy. But the fact that Cubans seek to migrate to the United States is due to the fact that here the situation is difficult.

SL: And also the United States is the richest country in the world. There are also many Europeans immigrants there. You admit that the Cuban Adjustment Act is a wonderful tool of incitement to legal and illegal emigration.

YS: It is, indeed, a factor of incitement.

SL: Don’t you see it as a tool to destabilize society and the government?

YS: In this case we can also say that the fact of giving the Spanish citizenship to descendants of Spaniards born in Cuba is a destabilizing factor.

SL: That’s beside the point, since there are historic reasons for that and besides Spain applies this law to all Latin American countries and not only to Cuba, while the Cuban Adjustment Act is unique in the world.

YS: Yes, but there are strong relations. Baseball is played both in Cuba and in the United States.

SL: And also in the Dominican Republic and there’s no Dominican Adjustment Act.

YS: There is, however, a tradition of rapprochement.

SL: Then, why wasn’t this law approved before the Revolution?

YS: Because Cubans didn’t want to leave their country. At that time, Cuba was a country of immigration and not of emigration.

SL: It’s absolutely false, because in the 1950’s Cuba already ranked second among Latin American countries in terms of the number of migrants to the United States, only after Mexico. Cuba sent more emigrants to the United States than all of Central America and South America together, while today Cuba only occupies the 10th position, in spite of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the economic sanctions.

YS: Maybe, but that obsession of leaving the country did no exist.

SL: Figures show the opposite. Nowadays, I repeat, Cuba only occupies the 10th position in the American continent in terms of migratory emission to the United States. Then, the obsession you’re talking about is stronger in at least nine countries of the continent.

YS: Yes, but at that time Cubans left and returned.

SL: It’s the same things today, since every year Cubans abroad return to spend their vacation here. In addition, before 2004 and before the restrictions imposed by President Bush that limited the trips of Cubans from the US to 14 days every three years, Cubans constituted the minority in the United States that traveled more often to their country of origin, much more than Mexicans, for example, which shows that the vast majority of Cubans in the United States are economic émigrés and not political exiles, since they return to their country for visiting, something a political exile wouldn’t do.

YS: Yes, but ask them if they want to stay to live here again.

SL: But that’s what you did, right? Besides, in July, 2007, you wrote in your blog that your case was not an isolated one. And I quote: “Three years ago [...] in Zurich [...], I decided to return to my country to stay. My friends thought I was joking; my mother refused to accept that her daughter no longer lived in the Switzerland of milk and chocolate.” On August 12, 2004, you showed up before immigration authorities in Havanato explain your case. You wrote: I was surprised when they told me to mark in line, in the queue of ‘those who return’ [...]. So I found, all of a sudden, other ‘crazy people’ like I, each of them with his or her gruesome story of return.” Then, this phenomenon of returning to the country exists.

YS: Yes, but these are people who return for personal reasons. There are some who had debts abroad, others who couldn’t stand living abroad. Well, dozens of reasons.

SL: Then, in spite of difficulties and daily vicissitudes, life is not that terrible here, since some return. Do you think that Cubans have too much of an idyllic vision of life abroad?

YS: That’s due to the propaganda of the regime, which presents life abroad too negatively and that has caused the opposite effect on the people, who have overly idealized the western way of life. The problem is that, in Cuba, emigration for more than eleven months is definitive, when one could live two years abroad and return for a while and then leave again, etc.

SL: Then, if I understand correctly, the problem in Cuba is rather of an economic nature, since people want to leave the country to improve their standard of living.

YS: Many would like to travel and then be able to return but migratory laws don’t allow them. I’m sure that if that were possible many people would emigrate for two years, and then they would return to leave again and return, etc.

SL: There were interesting comments about it in your blog. Several émigrés spoke about their disappointments with respect to the western way of living.

YS: That’s very human. You fall in love with a woman and three months later you lose your enthusiasm. You buy a pair of shoes and two days later you don’t like them any more. Disappointments are part of human nature. The worst thing is that people can’t return.

SL: But people return.

YS: Yes, but only on vacation.

SL: But they have the right to stay all the time they want, even several years, although they lose some advantages related to their status of permanent resident, like the ration card, priority for housing, etc.

YS: Yes, but people can’t stay for several months here, they have their lives abroad, their jobs, etc.

SL: That’s something else, and it’s the same for all émigrés the world over. In any case, they can perfectly return to Cuba whenever they like and stay there all the time they want. The only thing is that if they stay for more than eleven months outside the country they lose some advantages. On the other hand, I find it hard to understand, if reality is so terrible here, if someone has the opportunity to live abroad, in a developed country, why would he or she like to return to live in Cuba again?

YS: For numerous reasons, their family bonds, etc.

SL: Then reality is not that dramatic.

YS: I wouldn’t say that, but some people have better living conditions than others.

SL: What are in your opinion the objectives of the US government with respect to Cuba?

YS: The United States wants a change of government in Cuba, but that’s also what I want.

SL: Then you share a common objective with the United States

YS: Like many Cubans.

SL: I’m not convinced of that, but, why? Why is it a dictatorship? What does Washington want from Cuba?

YS: I believe it’s a geopolitical issue. There’s also the will of the Cuban exile, which is taken into account, and that wants a new Cuba, the well-being of Cubans.

SL: With the imposition of economic sanctions?

YS: It all depends on whom you’re referring to. As for the United States, I think they want to prevent the migratory bomb from exploding.

SL: Is that so? With the Cuban Adjustment Act that incites Cubans to leave their country? That’s not serious. Why don’t they repeal that law then?

YS: I think that the real objective of the United States is to finish with the Cuban government in order to have a more stable space. A lot has been said about David against Goliath to talk about the conflict. But to me the only Goliath is the Cuban government, which imposes control, illegality, low wages, repression, limitations.

SL: You don’t think that US hostility has also contributed?

YS: I not only think it has contributed to it but also that it has become the main argument to say that we live in a besieged fortress and that all dissidence is treason. Actually, I think that the Cuban government fears the disappearance of this confrontation. The Cuban government wants the maintenance of economic sanctions.

SL: Really? Because that’s exactly what Washington says in a somewhat contradictory way, because if that were the case, it should lift the sanctions, thus leaving the Cuban government to stand up to its responsibilities. The excuse of the sanctions to justify problems in Cuba wouldn’t exist.

YS: Every time the United States has tried to improve the situation, the Cuban government has had a counterproductive attitude.

SL: When has the United States tried to improve the situation? Sanctions have been strengthened since 1960, with the exception of the Carter period. It’s difficult then to maintain this discourse. In 1992, the United States voted the Torricelli Law with an extraterritorial reach; in 1996, the Helms-Burton Law, extraterritorial and retroactive; in 2004, Bush adopted new sanctions and increased them in 2006. We can’t say that the United States has tried to improve the situation. Facts show the opposite. Besides, if sanctions are favorable to the Cuban government and it’s only a matter of an excuse, why not eliminate them? Leaders are not the ones who suffer as a consequence of sanctions, but the people.

YS: Obama took a step in that regard, insufficient perhaps, but interesting.

SL: He only eliminated the restrictions Bush imposed on Cubans, which prevented them from travelling to their country for more than 14 days every three years, at the very best, and provided that they had a direct member of their family in Cuba. He even redefined the concept of family. Thus, a Cuban in Florida who only had an uncle in Cuba couldn’t travel to his country because he was not considered to be a “direct” family member. Obama didn’t eliminate all the sanctions imposed by Bush and we didn’t even return to the status that existed under Clinton.

YS: I think the two parties should lower their tone about everything, and Obama has done that. Obama can’t eliminate sanctions, since it takes congressional approval.

SL: But he can alleviate them significantly, by signing simple executive orders, which he refuses to do for the time being.

YS: He’s busy on other issues, like unemployment and the heath reform.

SL: However he took time to respond to your interview.

YS: I’m a fortunate person.

SL: The position of the Cuban government is the following: we don’t have to take steps before the United States since we don’t impose sanctions on the United States.

YS: Yes and the government also says that the United States should not ask for domestic changes, because that’s interference.

SL: That’s the case, right?

YS: Then if I ask for a change it’s also interference?

SL: No, because you’re Cuban and for that reason you have the right to decide the future of your country.

YS: The problem is not who is asking for those changes but the changes in question.

SL: I’m not sure, because as a French citizen I wouldn’t like the Belgian or the German government to interfere with France’s internal affairs. As a Cuban, do you accept that the US government tells you how to govern your country?

YS: If the objective is an aggression to the country, it’s obviously unacceptable.

SL: Do you consider economic sanctions an aggression?

YS: Yes, I consider them an aggression that hasn’t had results and that it’s a mummy of the cold war, that it makes no sense, that it affects the people and that has made the government stronger. But I repeat that the Cuban government is responsible for 80% of the current economic crisis and the remaining 20% is due to the economic sanctions.

SL: Once more, I repeat, it’s exactly the position of the US government and figures show the opposite. If that were the case I don’t think that 187 countries in the world would bother to vote a resolution against the sanctions. This is the 18th consecutive time that the vast majority of the UN member nations declare themselves to be against this economic punishment. If it were marginal issue, I don’t think these nations would bother to vote.

YS: But I’m not a specialist in economics; it’s my personal feeling

SL: What do you advocate then for Cuba?

YS: I think the economy needs to be liberalized. That can’t be done overnight, because it would cause a fracture and social differences that would affect the most vulnerable people. But it has to be done gradually and the Cuban government has the possibility of doing it.

SL: A “sui generis” capitalism, like you say.

YS: Cuba is a sui generis island. We can create a sui generis capitalism.

SL: Yoani Sánchez, thank you for your time and your availability.

YS: Thank you.

Salim Lamrani is a professor in charge of courses at the Paris-Sorbonne -Paris IV University and at the Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University. He’s a French journalist and a specialist on relations between Cuba and the USA. He has just published lamranisalim

Published response by Yoani:

I don’t enjoy going through life defending myself against attacks, perhaps because I have spent most of it in the crossfire of criticism. I’ve learned that at times it is better to digest the insult and move on, because denigration sullies the one who does it more than the victim. Everything, however, has its limits. It is a very different thing to put words in my mouth that I did not say, as has happened with the interview published by Salim Lamrani in Rebelión. As I started to read it I didn’t note much distortion, but by the second part I couldn’t recognize myself. It’s true that in the introduction he tries to generate an aversion for me in his readers, but it is the right of any interviewer to describe how he sees the object of his questions.

The big surprise has been noted, in the way in which he presents the text: enormous omissions, distortions and even invented phrases attributed to me. It would have been just another attempt, among many thousands, to attribute to me positions I don’t share and declarations I never made, if it weren’t for the fact that the official Cuban media was prepared to quickly echo the rearranged interview. Yesterday, when I saw the presenter of the most boring program on official television refer, without ever mentioning my name, to a series of questions that had “stripped me naked,” I began to understand everything. The reason for the adulteration was not haste in transcription nor the desire of the journalist to prove his hypothesis at all cost, even distorting the words of the interviewee to do so. Something major is brewing with this semi-apocryphal text, and I now make a stop along the way in my blog to warn of it.

I have a very vivid memory of that afternoon almost three months ago - curiously Mr. Lamrani has waited all this time to publish our conversation - and of the words we exchanged. I remember his stereotypical questions, at times uninformed about our reality, and with very little resemblance to those, as documented, that he has reworked to appear to be a specialist. I would not characterize myself as one who responds in monosyllables, and I had a hard time finding myself among so much parsimony. As our interchange at the Hotel Plaza advanced, I could sense the sympathy he had for my position growing. In the end, I felt that all the barriers had fallen and he understood that we were not opponents, simply people who saw the same phenomena from different viewpoints. A final hug on his part confirmed it. But, evidently, his discipline for “the cause” was stronger than his journalistic ethics, and the professor from the Sorbonne ended up - visibly in the second part of the interview - falsifying my voice. On his painfully hip iPhone my moderate phrases must have been like a computer virus, eating away at the stereotypes, a call to end the confrontation that people like him prefer to feed.

Presumably one or both of them have a tape which could be made public.
--J McA