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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Keeping the flame alive

FIVE QUESTIONSKeeping the flame alivePosted on Sun, Feb. 24, 2008

Maggie Alejandre Khuly's brother was one of four South Floridians shotdown in planes 12 years ago today. Carlos Costa,Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales will becommemorated in a 1 p.m. mass at St. Agatha Catholic Church, 1111 SW107th Ave., Miami.

Q. Has the painful memory of the shoot-down diminished?

A. Every year, the pain is refreshed. You begin planning thecommemoration activities to bring alive the memory of these four men forthose who don't remember them as we family members do. You also tend toremember past anniversaries and to worry. Will their photo be in thepaper? Will there be media coverage? We want their photos shown becausethey are the focus, not us.

Q. What stands out about this year's anniversary?

A. This anniversary is different because stepped down ashead of state last week. So what we have been hearing, that he hashead-of-state immunity, is no longer true. From what we've seen these 12years, there is no political will on the part of the U.S. government toindict Castro. Now this impediment has been removed. These were fourAmericans who were murdered. The U.S. government will have to come upwith a different reason for why the indictment is not possible. Anotherdifference is that the documentary Shoot Down has been playing in areatheaters for five weeks.

Q. 'Shoot Down' was made by your daughter, Cristina. What is its impact?

A. It makes very clear in a linear way the events that led to theshoot-down. And it reinforces that the government of Cuba is responsiblefor the murders of these four men. It's good that the documentary is inEnglish. It's important as a portrayal of an egregious violation of. Every single one of us, as part of the human community,should take an interest in it. It happened to our families, and we don'twant it to happen to any other American family ever.

Q. Have the families gained justice for the victims?

A. We have received a measure of justice. I would start with the formalcondemnations by United Nations and Organization of American Statescommissions of human rights; and the civil lawsuit by which thegovernment of Cuba was found guilty of premeditated murder in theshoot-down of two unarmed, civilian planes flying a humanitariansearch-and-rescue mission over international waters of the FloridaStraits. That's what people see in the documentary.

We also have the conviction of Gerardo Hernández [one of five Cubanspies convicted in 2001] for conspiracy to murder in the shoot-down; andthe pending indictments for the Cuban Air Force officer who gave theorder and the two pilots who fired the missiles.

Q. What comes next?

A. We would like additional indictments. We believe there is enoughevidence available to indict other Cuban officers, all the way fromFidel and Raúl Castro to the air controllers who guided the planes tofind their targets. There were a lot of people involved.

Even though we are focused on our family members, we won't be finisheduntil there is justice for other victims of the Cuban government, suchas the victims of the attack on the 13 de Marzo tugboat. The familiesare looking forward to the day that we, through our foundations fundedby the civil lawsuit [that awarded $93 million in damages], can helppeople in Cuba with schools and libraries built in the memory of Carlos,Armando, Mario and Pablo.

Editorial Board member Susana Barciela prepared this report.

http://www.miamiherald.com/851/story/429264.html

Señales de humo desde La Habana

Publicado el sábado 23 de febrero del 2008

Señales de humo desde La HabanaNICOLAS PEREZ DIEZ ARGÜELLES

Me encuentro en Bogotá escribiendo un libro sobre Colombia. El proyectoes apasionante. Me desplazo de un lado a otro a velocidad vertiginosacon Gonzalo Guillén, corresponsal de El Nuevo Herald en este país,alguien que desde su se comunica al instante con toda lasociedad política colombiana. Es opositor por vocación y su espíritucrítico casi es en él un vicio de carácter. Periodista de raza, no secalla la boca. Y como a muchos no les gusta lo que dice, y aquí lascosas no son fáciles, nos trasladamos en un SUV de las Naciones Unidascon cristales blindados y dos guardaespaldas.

Diariamente hago varias entrevistas, y aunque siempre la primerapregunta es sobre si el Alvaro Uribe podrá lograr unavictoria militar contra las FARC, siempre el corazón me traiciona, elpolítico que hay en mí desbanca al periodista y acabo hablando sobre elproblema de Cuba.

Desde aquí no se ven las cosas de la isla como en Miami. Por primera vezme he cuestionado si el es un tema de política interiornorteamericana que nada tiene que ver con Cuba, un arma de negociación oun circo. También, de qué nos sirven nuestros odios, que como me dijoayer en un almuerzo en el Matiz el joven MauricioGonzález, de la firma de consultores T Mega, “son más peligrosos queuna piraña en un bidé''.

A principios de esta semana fui a visitar al ex presidente AndrésPastrana, me recibió afectuoso y sonriente, pero encima de la enormemesa de conferencias, como al descuido, había un montón de fotosenmarcadas, y encima de todas resaltaba una suya enorme junto a FidelCastro vestido de uniforme militar de gala. Lo tomé como un claromensaje de que sabía perfectamente quién era la persona que lo iba aentrevistar. Pero no le acusé recibo de su agudeza y en un ambientedistendido y franco, comencé a escuchar anécdotas sobre una recientevisita suya a La Habana con su hija. No me habló de Fidel ni de Raúl,sólo mencionó sus entrevistas con Carlos Lage, Felipe Pérez Roque yRicardo Alarcón. En el acto aproveché la coyuntura y le dije:

–Presidente Pastrana, hay algo que no es una opinión política, sino unaecuación matemática. Las soluciones al problema de Cuba son una invasiónnorteamericana a la isla, que sería funesta; un golpe de Estado militarcruento, que prolongaría un poder dictatorial hasta el fin de lossiglos; una sublevación popular donde podría correr la sangre araudales; y la última opción, que es la que sirve a los intereses delpueblo de Cuba, sería establecer un diálogo entre los cubanos de las dosorillas para lograr una reconciliación nacional.

–Siempre he sido partidario –me dijo sonriente– de resolver losproblemas políticos sin violencias, con conversaciones, a través de undiálogo.

No lo dejé respirar y le recité de carretilla:

–La lucha por la paz de Colombia ha tenido para usted un alto costopolítico. No hay quien le discuta su gran prestigio mundial de amante dela paz, ¿se ha puesto a pensar por un segundo cuál sería el legado quedejaría usted a la historia de Cuba y de América Latina si lograraencaminar conversaciones entre La Habana y Miami?

Se recostó en su mullido butacón y pensó durante algunos segundos.

–Habría que estudiar eso a fondo, pero podría ser –dijo–. Hay unasreuniones de ex presidentes, ex ministros de relaciones exteriores yotras figuras de gran peso a nivel mundial, a esto se le llamaInteraction Council. Creo que allí podríamos plantear esa inquietud ycomenzar a trabajar para obtener objetivos.

Me despedí con respeto y quedamos en vernos en unos días, pues salía deviaje.

Otro que me ha impresionado mucho es Alvaro Leyva Durán, uno de lospersonajes más interesantes de Colombia, miembro del PartidoConservador, católico militante, ex ministro de Ingeniería y Minas,experto en pacificación de conflictos y el hombre que ha sido duranteaños el contacto del gobierno colombiano con las FARC. Tiene estaturapresidencial. Atardeciendo y en un salón de la SergioArboleda, me dijo:

–Pronto va a haber grandes cambios en Cuba. A Raúl no le gustan losmicrófonos ni tiene proyectos de dominio continental. Si los EstadosUnidos y ustedes desaprovechan la oportunidad de abrir alguna puerta conRaúl cuando desaparezca su hermano, cometen una estupidez. Estoyoptimista con respecto a una apertura próxima en Cuba.

Pienso igual que Alvaro Durán. Que el pueblo cubano pueda ser capaz deexpresar sus puntos de vista, aun dentro de los enjutos parámetros queles marca el sistema, y la última liberación de presos de conciencia sonseñales de humo que se elevan al cielo desde La Habana. Ahora elobjetivo nuestro consiste en descifrarlas.

[email protected]

http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/columnas_de_opinion/story/164439.html

Glance at Cuba’s Council of State

Glance at Cuba's Council of StateBy The Associated Press

Powers of Cuba's governing Council of State:

_Represents National Assembly, or parliament, between regular sessions.

_Proposes legislation and dictates new laws by decree when parliamentnot in session; interprets existing laws when necessary.

_Calls special parliament sessions and sets dates for legislativeelections, usually once every five years.

_Decrees general mobilization of population if country threatened; candeclare war in event of aggression if parliament cannot meet because ofurgency or security concerns.

_May reshuffle Cabinet between regular parliament sessions.

_Suspends Cabinet decrees and local parliament decrees it considers outof line with constitution or existing laws or have negative effect onlocal or national interests.

_Bestows medals and honorific titles, names commissions, ratifiestreaties, grants pardons, accepts or rejects diplomatic representativesfrom other countries, designates and removes Cuban diplomats.

http://www.marshallnewsmessenger.com/news/content/shared-gen/ap/Latin_America_And_Caribbean/Cuba_Council_of_State.html

Twenty four Cuban refugees land in Key West

Twenty four Cuban refugees land in Key WestPosted on Sat, Feb. 23, 2008BY JOSE [email protected]

Twenty four Cuban refugees landed in Key West on Saturday morning, thefirst to reach the United States soil since announced Tuesday he would cede presidential powers.

The group guided their 16-foot, homemade boat to Key West's SmathersBeach after navigating through Caribbean waters for more than 26 hours,according to Key West spokeswoman Christie Phillips.

Phillips said the boat, equipped with a Mercedes diesel engine, departedfrom an area east of Havana carrying 20 men and four women.

''They were pretty dehydrated, but all in good condition,'' she said.

All the refugees, including a pregnant woman, were on shore when KeyWest police arrived after being alerted to the landing at 6:30 a.m.Police said the group was given and water before being taken byBorder Patrol officials three hours later.

Also Saturday, four Cuban migrants were repatriated to Bahia de Cabanas,Cuba. They were part of a group of 33 intercepted by the Coast Guardnine miles south of Dry Tortugas on Feb. 9. The other 29 wererepatriated last week.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/breaking_dade/story/430538.html

Black youths hungry for change

CUBABlack youths hungry for changeSubjected to random stops by and hindered by a lack ofopportunities, Cuba's restless young blacks fear that whatever changemay come will not be enough.Posted on Sat, Feb. 23, 2008By MIAMI HERALD STAFF [email protected]

HAVANA –Two Cuban men walk down a busy street in Old Havana, joking as they windtheir way through the thick scrum of tourists and the cascade of salsamusic spilling out of bars.

Their laughter quickly stops as a portly police officer stops them andasks for their identification. The men flip out their wallets and saynothing as the cop studies their ID cards.

''That's Cuba,'' says Liván, 25, who has deep chocolate skin and shortdreads. “That's what it means to be a black man here. They don't need areason to stop you.''

These are perhaps the most restless of Cuba's restless youth: youngblack men who live under a system that tells them they are equal but ina daily reality that often says otherwise.

''There's one word to sum this up,'' said Liván, referring to the randomstops. “It's bull—-.''

As they walk away, their friend Franco breaks into a song that is partrumba, part rap, with Liván beat-boxing behind, about the constantstops, the endless rules, and the lack of opportunities.

Neither believes 's official departure that was announcedTuesday will bring change soon. Both have come to the same conclusion:They will probably leave when they get a chance.

''I love my country, don't get me wrong — I really love it, because ithas both good and bad things,'' Liván said. “But I just don't thinkanything is going to change.''

About 2.5 million of Cuba's 11 million people turned adult after thestart of a grueling economic crisis in 1990, according to ForeignMinister Felipe Pérez Roque. An estimated 60 percent of the total areAfro-Cubans. And youths have taken part in a recent series ofdemonstrations with varying degrees of anti-government overtones.

For Liván and Franco, whatever change comes after Castro may not beenough. These artist-musicians want more than today's Cuba can give them.

Last year, Castro's brother and designated successor, Raúl, called onthe youth to debate issues ''fearlessly,'' and signs of a more opendiscussion have emerged, as seen by the contentious exchange between a student and National Assembly Ricardo Alarcón in arecent videotaped meeting.

The young student has become an instant icon for the island's restlessyouth.

''I believe that kid should pass into history,'' said Franco, 22. “He'sa peasant, someone with no family in the United States, part of therevolutionary youth — he was the only one who could have done thatwithout being thrown in jail.''

Though Franco doesn't believe the dramatic exchange means transformationis on the horizon — at least not enough for him — he says it'simportant “that he did it and I'm glad someone had the courage to standup and say the things that all the Cuban people are thinking.''

Liván and Franco both work government jobs, but have their small sidebusinesses, selling art to tourists or to Cubans able to pay. They dreamof a life playing music, a fusion of the sounds that define their lives:the salsa and rumba they grew up with, and the U.S. rap and funk theyhave come to love.

And they want to play in a place where they can say whatever they choosewithout worrying about the consequences.

Liván is the louder, more kinetic of the two. Music constantly plays outthe small earphones running up from a mp3 player tucked under hisT-shirt, and he often talks over it, breaking into a little shimmy as hespeaks.

Franco is more subtle, with small braids pulled back in a ponytail. Heis a painter who creates commercial paintings that sell but make himfeel that he's sold out. ''That's not me, and it would shame me for youto see them,'' he said.

He also doesn't like to talk too long about the problems in Cuba. ''Itmakes me feel like I'm sinking,'' he said.

They live in one of Havana's outlying neighborhoods, a leafy area fullof modest houses and low-rise apartment buildings.

The gap between older Cubans and the change-hungry youth plays out atmeals at Liván's wood dining table, as he and his 63-year-old motherdebate the revolution's more than 50 years of history.

''I think things have gotten better here because I know what it was likebefore,'' said his mother. “I know how people suffered under capitalism.''

She describes a pre-revolutionary time when poor Cubans died becausethey couldn't buy medicine, and gently dismisses her son's impatiencewith the present as the luxury of a generation that doesn't know better.

''I don't like it when you tell me I can't understand because I wasn'tthere then, Mamá,'' he said. “That was your time, and this is mine.''

His mother said that some evolution should occur, starting with the restrictions. If Cubans, she argued, only knew more about what itwas like to struggle in places off the island, more would want to stay.

Fidel Castro did good things for Cuba, Liván replied, ''but he shouldhave resigned a while ago.'' He concedes that now some change couldcome, but waiting for it seems unfathomable. ''Life is passing me by,''he said.

He and Franco move through the world of Cuba's underground rap,listening to groups such as Los Aldeanos — musica contestaria, oranti-establishment — that can't make it onto the government controlledradio stations.

''Why do you stop me to ask me what I'm doing and who I am?'' oneAldeanos song demands. 'My name isn't `Psst, hey show me your ID' ''

''They say there aren't class differences, but there is classism, andthey say there is no racism but there is racism,'' said Liván. “Thismusic talks about that.''

Many of their favorite rappers play at a smoky, dark club in the Vedadoneighborhood where on a recent night women rappers in metallic heels andskinny jeans mingled with hip-hop artists visiting from and .

The rapper Anderson, the night's main act, often performs songs by LosAldeanos. Taking the stage in front of the mostly black audience, heunleashed a relentless rant on Cuban life in a high-pitched voice.

Three large, stiff men walked into the club, looked around and thenarranged themselves in the far back corner, the one place with a view ofevery part of the room. Anderson abruptly ended the show. ''Well,'' hesaid. “That's all.''

Instead, a DJ played Tupac and the Fugees, and the audience danced onwhile the suspected security agents looked on.

''Things like that,'' Liván said of Anderson's blunted performance,“They crush my heart.''

The name of The Miami Herald correspondent who wrote this dispatch, aswell as the surnames of the Cubans interviewed, were withheld becausethe reporter lacked Cuban government permission to work on the island.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/story/429876.html

Cubans Hope for More Self-Employment

Cubans Hope for More Self-EmploymentFeb 22, 2008 3:20 AM (1 day ago) By WILL WEISSERT, AP

HAVANA (Map, News) – Juan Bautista Gonzalez's living room was alreadycrowded with customers when still more shuffled in, clutching goldnecklaces with broken clasps and bent rhinestone earrings. He knew hewould be skipping lunch again.

"If someone comes with a job, I'll do it. No matter what time it is,"said Gonzalez, who gave up a government mechanic's job four years agoand now earns more fixing his neighbors' jewelry for $1.25 per repair."Work more, earn more."

Gonzalez is among the 150,000 or so Cubans – a meager 3 percent of thework force – who are allowed to be self-employed.

The communist government firmly controls more than 90 percent of Cuba's. But as provisional president, has raisedexpectations for tiny pockets of private initiative. With theresignation of Fidel Castro, Cubans are hoping for an even greaterloosening of the economy. The easiest such reform might be to allow morepeople to work for themselves.

But to understand the economic issues facing Raul, who will likely benamed president on Sunday, one has to consider the degree to which Cubacontrols private enterprise with licensing, taxes and enforcement, notto mention an onerous approval process.

To be self-employed in Cuba means a lot of hard work and patience.

"There are good months and bad," said Gonzalez, 54, pulling a pair ofpliers from his battered worktable and straightening a silver ring."It's worth it. Not working, that's not worth it."

They are tutors, tire repairmen, taxi drivers and dozens of otherprofessionals who are licensed by the Labor Ministry and forced to paystiff taxes – $19.20 per month – slightly more than an average state salary.

Owners of small family restaurants, musicians and artists who earn moneyabroad, and small farmers who sell excess produce above governmentquotas are also among those lawfully allowed to earn their own money.Far more Cubans work without approval in the underground economy in acountry where most people need a second income to make ends meet.

Raul Castro has criticized government inefficiencies and encourageddebate about Cuba's economic future. Now many believe he could opensectors of agriculture, retail and services to private entrepreneurs orcooperatives, though there is little expectation he will privatize majorsectors such as energy, utilities, sugar or mining.

"He is the man of change. If anyone has experience with it, it's him,"said , a state-trained economist who became adissident anti-communist.

Others aren't convinced.

Ronaldo, a cobbler who receives a monthly government salary of $23 tofix shoes, is allowed to keep any money he makes above his governmentquota. But he has to pay $0.80 a day to rent his small workshop underthe stairs of an Old Havana apartment building.

"One goes, and there's another brother. Nothing will change," saidRonaldo, who wouldn't give his last name, fearing he would be harassedby authorities if he is seen as a complainer.

Cuba already has some experience with liberalizing its economy. When theSoviet Bloc collapsed, taking away subsidies that represented as much asa fourth of Cuba's domestic product, the government allowed someself-employment. It reopened farmers markets based on supply and demandand encouraged foreign and .

As Defense Minister, Raul Castro was at the forefront of that economicoverhaul. His soldiers tended farms while their superiors oversawsignificant enterprises in electronics, cigar production and tourism.

From the start of the Cuban revolution in 1959, "Raul Castro is the onewho organized the country, and he's the one who saved the economy at thestart of the 1990s," said Chepe, the dissident economist.

The number of self-employed Cubans had climbed to nearly 210,000 byJanuary 1996, creating new economic divisions in Cuban society and deepfeelings of envy and resentment among those stuck with tiny state salaries.

Fidel Castro eventually denounced the "new rich class" and rolled backsome of the reforms. A 2004 decree forbade new licenses for 40 forms ofself-employment – including auto body repairmen, masseuses, stonemasonsand children's party clowns – reducing the number to the 118 professionstolerated today.

Self-employment rates plummeted, but Cuba found new economic saviors:high nickel prices, extensive borrowing from China and nearly 100,000barrels of subsidized oil a day from Venezuela.

Havana's warm relationship with China and Venezuela has made the needfor major economic reform in Cuba less urgent, said William Trumbull,director of West Virginia 's division of Economics and Finance.

"In China, after (Mao Zedong's) death, everyone, from the top down, wasso thoroughly disillusioned with the failed economics of socialism andall the repression that they were ready for and committed to change,"said Trumbull, who has run study-abroad programs to both Cuba and China."I am not sure those sorts of conditions exist in Cuba today."

But Evis, another cobbler, said Cuba's economy may need reform to staystrong.

"The revolution gives you a good , but you can't have educatedpeople there on the street without jobs," said the 44-year-old, who likehis colleague didn't want his last name used.

Evis is trained as a mechanic, barber, electrician and musician but saidhe can make the most money repairing shoes because it allows some autonomy.

"It's miserable," he said. "But it could be worse."

http://www.examiner.com/a-1235419~Cubans_Hope_for_More_Self_Employment.html

The battle of ideas is all that’s left for Castro

The battle of ideas is all that's left for Castro

02/22/2008

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) once noted, "There are two levers formoving men–interest and fear." This must have been the exact sentimentof the man who used these two levers in giving direction to people andcreating history. Which lever was it that moved aging Cuban leader FidelCastro from within when he decided to step down on Tuesday?

The 81-year-old revolutionary explained why he would not seek anotherterm as of the Council of State: "My first duty was to prepareour people both politically and psychologically for my absence."Castro's decision was necessitated by his own advancing years andfailing , which even his power could do nothing about.

In the mid-20th century, Cuba was a semi-colony with its mainstayindustries, especially the sugar industry, under U.S. control. As anangry young lawyer, Castro led a failed armed rebellion. He went intoexile in Mexico, where he met Ernesto "Che" Guevara, another hero of theCuban Revolution.

Castro re-entered Cuba in 1956 with 81 fellow revolutionaries aboard anold yacht. Since overthrowing the Fulgencio Batista regime in 1959,Castro has led the nation for nearly half a century, much to the dudgeonof the United States.

In a country with no of the press nor an opposition party, the"retirement" of its charismatic leader is a very rare occurrence.

By carelessly ceding control, the leader could well find himself at themercy of his political foes and dissidents. Holding on to his positionis the only way to protect his present interest and keep any future fearat bay. However, many leaders have been dealt fatal blows from historyand fell from power because such "internal levers" did not function.

Napoleon was said to be always on his guard against attempts on hislife, and never allowed anyone to give him a shave. In a sense, hehimself was being moved by fear. But his luck eventually ran out. He wasexiled, and was in his coffin when he passed through the Arc deTriomphe, which he had commissioned for construction.

Leaders in positions of extraordinary power are extraordinarily lonely.Anything can cause them to distrust their aides and even their bloodrelations.

Castro is fortunate, in that he is resigning in favor of his youngerbrother, Raul. As for his own future, he told his people, "My only wishis to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas." He must have judgedthis to be the only way to live his final years in peace, having fullyscrutinized his "fear and interest."

–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 21(IHT/Asahi: February 22,2008)

http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200802220059.html

Fidel Castro Relieved To Be Stepping Down

Relieved To Be Stepping DownAssociated Press1:49 PM EST, February 22, 2008

Fidel Castro said Friday that he's relieved to be stepping down asCuba's , complaining that the process of selecting Cuba's nextgovernment "had left me exhausted."

After nearly a half-century in power, Castro announced Tuesday that hewouldn't accept another term when parliament selects a new government onSunday.

"The night before, I slept better than ever," Castro wrote in anewspaper column. "My conscience was clear and I promised myself avacation."

The ailing 81-year-old said Tuesday that he's not well enough tocontinue as president. Most expect his brother Raul, five years younger,to step into the presidency on Sunday. has been actingpresident since his brother fell ill in July 2006.

Fidel Castro said he had planned on taking a break from his newspapercolumns for at least 10 days, but decided: "I didn't have the right tokeep silent for so long."

The column published Friday in both major government-controllednewspapers focused on the United States, with Castro poking fun at U.S.presidential candidates. He said word of his retirement forced them totalk about Cuba.

"I enjoyed observing the embarrassing position of all the presidentialcandidates in the United States," he wrote. "One by one, they could beseen forced to proclaim their immediate demands to Cuba so as not toalienate a single voter."

He criticized demands by the candidates and by President Bush forpolitical change on the island.

"'Change, change, change!' they shouted in unison. I agree. 'Change!'But in the United States," he wrote. "Cuba changed a while ago and willcontinue on its dialectical course."

He added of Bush: "'Annexation, annexation, annexation!' the adversaryresponds. That's what he thinks, deep inside, when he talks about change."

Castro asked press authorities not to run the column on page one, andthe column was printed on page four of both newspapers. That's incontrast to the front-page play given to Castro's earlier columnswritten before his resignation.

He titled the column "Reflections of Companion Fidel," rather than"Reflections of the Commander in Chief," which he had used earlier.State Web sites that ran the column changed the logo as well, replacingan image of Castro in olive-green fatigues with one of the leaderhalf-smiling, his hand thrust high in a wave.

Castro remains head of the Communist Party, the only political factiontolerated in Cuba.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/cuba/ktla-fidelcastro,0,7954353.story

Cuba’s revolution not worth price

THE OPPENHEIMER REPORTCuba's revolution not worth pricePosted on Sun, Feb. 24, 2008BY ANDRES [email protected]

MEXICO CITY — Now that Mexico is officially describing Cuba's newlyretired as an ''outstanding figure,'' theBrazilian president calls him a ''mythical'' leader and the world mediaare doing verbal pirouettes to avoid calling him a , it's a goodtime to take a dispassionate look at Castro's record.

Will he be remembered as a well-meaning strongman who raised health and standards? Or will he go down in history as a selfish tyrantwho clung to power for half a century and left his country poorer than ever?

A joke I heard on the streets of Havana in the late 1980s said that theCuban revolution's three biggest achievements were health, education andnational sovereignty, and its three biggest failures were breakfast,lunch and dinner.

Maybe so. But the Castro government's list of shortcomings has grownsubstantially since.

For fairness' sake, let's not dwell on reports that the Cuban governmentconsiders unfair, such as Forbes magazine's estimate that Fidel Castrohas a $900 million fortune, or the New Jersey-based Cuban Archive''Truth and Memory'' report, which says it has documented 4,073 Castroregime executions and 3,001 ''extra-judicial'' killings since 1959.

And let's set aside for a moment the undisputable fact that Castro hasbeen — by any dictionary's definition — a dictator, and that nearly 20percent of the island's population has left the country since he took power.

If we just look at the Cuban government's favorite ranking, the 2008United Nations Human Development Index, which ranks countries around theworld with special emphasis on their health and education standards,Cuba ranks sixth in Latin America, behind Argentina, Chile, Uruguay,Costa Rica and the Bahamas.

HIGH MARKS

When it comes to some specific health and education figures, Cuba doesvery well: it has a 99.8 percent adult literacy rate and a 77.7-yearlife expectancy. That amounts to the best adult literacy rate in theregion, and the third best life expectancy rate, after Costa Rica and Chile.

But then, Cuba was already one of the most advanced Latin Americancountries before Castro's 1959 revolution.

According to the U.N. 1957 Statistical Yearbook, Cuba's 32 per 1,000infant mortality rate that year was the lowest in Latin America, andCuba ranked fourth in the region — behind Argentina, Chile and CostaRica — in literacy rates. Cuba also ranked third among Latin Americancountries with the highest daily caloric consumption rates, U.N. figuresshow.

Granted, Cuba was a de facto dictatorship when Castro took power, highlydependent on the United States.

But nearly five decades later, Cuba expressly prohibits oppositionpolitical parties and independent media, and there is a huge economicdependence on 's foreign aid and nearly $1 billion a year inremittances from Cubans exiles.

On top of it, Cubans earn an average of only $12 a month (the generous$6,000-a-year U.N. figure includes government subsidies for andhealthcare), there is an economic apartheid system on the island thatdoesn't allow Cubans to enter hotels or restaurants frequented bytourists and people can go to prison for reading foreign newspapers thatare deemed “enemy propaganda.''

Even the Cuba-friendly 2008 U.N. Human Development Index places Cubaamong the world's most backward countries in cellular telephone andInternet use.

Cuba has an average of 12 cellphone users per 1,000 inhabitants,compared with Haiti's 48, Mexico's 460, and Argentina's 570.

As for Internet access, Cuba has 17 Internet users per 1,000inhabitants, compared with Honduras' 36, Haiti's 70, Argentina's 177 andMexico's 181.

DON'T BLAME

My opinion: Castro admirers say that Cuba's shortcomings are due to theU.S. economic embargo. While I'm no fan of the U.S. embargo, I don't buythat. All dictatorships justify their actions citing domestic or foreignthreats, and Cuba is no exception.

To his credit, Castro took pride in improving the good health andeducation standards he inherited, but at the cost of imposing adictatorship that cost thousands of lives, separated millions offamilies, made the country poorer and ended up leaving it moreeconomically dependent than before.

In the end, the key question may not be whether the Castro revolutionwas justified, but whether it was worth the price paid by the Cubanpeople. It clearly wasn't.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/columnists/andres_oppenheimer/story/430868.html

Food not politics on Cuba’s mind

not politics on Cuba's mindBY Maite JuncoDAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Saturday, February 23rd 2008, 12:28 PMFidel Castro's announcement this week that he's stepping aside has alleyes on Cuba's election tomorrow. Galeano/AP

Fidel Castro's announcement this week that he's stepping aside has alleyes on Cuba's election tomorrow.

HAVANA – Many Cubans here are fond of saying, "Things are not meant tobe understood." After a couple of days, you get a sense of what they'retalking about.

Havana is a city of contrasts and contradictions, a place where the mostspectacularly restored colonial building can stand near two crumblingstructures held in place by wooden planks.

A place that endured a decade of daily blackouts but is going green withenergy-efficient appliances to replace American- and Russian-maderefrigerators, washing machines and blenders.

A place where an egg can cost, in Cuban pesos, 15 cents, 90 cents or1.50 – depending on where it is purchased.

"Before, I used to go out every day, but not anymore. Because when I goout I spend. Everything is very expensive," said Gilma Dieguez Tamayo,68, who was shopping for produce at an outdoor food market in Vedado.The retired bank worker lives on a pension of 200 pesos a month.

"First time that I see myself this tight [financially]," she said,carrying a bag of grapefruits. "You come to the agro and you can spend100 pesos."

Agros are a network of small produce markets where Cubans can buy inpesos. A pound of papaya was selling yesterday for 3 pesos and onionsfor 6 pesos. The average Cuban makes about 300 pesos a month.

On the eve of Sunday's National Assembly to choose a successor to FidelCastro as the head of the island of 11.2 million people, Cubans seemedmore concerned with the rising cost of living than politics.

Each Cuban receives a monthly allowance of food, referred to as the, or food from the bodega.

It includes 6 pounds of , 10 ounces of two different types of ,10 eggs, chicken parts, sugar, salt and oil. Cubans pay for these items,but at a subsidized price.

The rest of the produce comes from the agros. There are two kinds ofagros, operating next to each other: the subsidized, state-run agros andthe independent ones.

The results can confuse even the best mathematician. For example, at thebodega, a pound of rice is 25 cents but at the agro it's more than 10times that.

Cubans can get only 10 eggs per month through the libreta. The firsteight eggs are 15 Cuban cents each through the libreta; the last two are90 cents each. A Cuban who wants more than 10 must go to independentsellers, where they cost 1.50 pesos each.

"People who say they can live on the libreta are lying to themselves,"Dieguez Tamayo said.

She and many other Cubans across Havana said they would like to seechanges from within.

"We are already in socialism," she said. "They [the U.S.] hate thissystem. This system has its advantages and disadvantages."

A nationalized care system, for all, and sportsdevelopment top her list of pluses stemming from the revolution.

Maria Antonia Gonzalez, a 40-year-old gynecologist from central Havana,said the announcement that Fidel was stepping down and would like to bereplaced by his brother, Raul, was "no surprise."

"As a matter of fact he's already directing," she said of ,who most people expect will be named tomorrow. "It's a matterof ratifying what already happened."

Gonzalez and her teenage daughter were waiting at Parque John Lennon forbuses to go away to Santa Cruz for a weekend at the beach. She makes 820pesos a month, almost three times what the average Cuban takes home.

"It's not that you have extra, but at least it's enough," she said."It's not an exquisite diet."

Ten years ago, when Cuba lost Soviet aid, Havana had barely any cars,only a few shops for tourists and daily blackouts.

Today, the city is crowded with traffic, outdoor cafes and even a tapasrestaurant overlooking the Malecon, a giant sea wall stretching a littlemore than two miles. service is available for visitors and cellphones are ringing on the streets.

"There are many more things for sale. More possibilities," Gonzalezsaid. "There's not that many but there are."

Still, the black market flourishes for scarce commodities like milk.

"[Milk] is the equivalent of caviar and champagne here. You can't get itlegally," he said, "so I must buy it on the black market."

[email protected]

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2008/02/23/2008-02-23_food_not_politics_on_cubas_mind.html

Planes, rooms and automobiles in Cuba

Planes, rooms and automobiles in Cuba

Car at auto show in Havana"Cuba's infrastructure has improved inleaps and bounds over the past decade," said Christopher P. Baker,author of several Cuba guidebooks, as well as "Mi Moto Fidel:Motorcycling through Castro's Cuba" and "Cuba Classics: a Celebration ofVintage American Automobiles."

However, Baker noted in an e-mail Wednesday, tourism peaked at about 2.5million visitors in 2005, then dropped to 2.1 million in 2007.

The current trend, he said, "is toward more deluxe hotels. The largeall-inclusives that continue to be added in Varadero, Guardalavaca andCayo Coco are almost all upscale, with Sandals, and Sol Meliathe preferred management partners. Within cities, the effort is towardrestoring historic properties and converting them into charming boutiquehotels that play on a colonial theme."

And though the many locals may still be cruising in 50-year-oldvehicles, rental cars (from Hyundais and Toyotas to VWs, BMWs and Audis)are available nationwide, Baker said. (But he warned that maintenance is"a problem, and contracts that include rip-off clauses are an irritant.")

Baker also noted that Cuba has "an efficient, high-quality busservice called Viazul and has just signed a deal to overhaul its railnetworks with 100 locomotives from and rolling stock from Iran.But when it comes to domestic air , Baker cautions, planes are"unreliable and uncomfortable."

The ? "A few excellent restaurants with consistently good meals areto be found in Havana, and a fistful of other top-quality hotels aresprinkled around the isle," said Baker. "But for the most part, foodremains one of the serious weak links, as are pilfering of guests'belongings by staff, lousy Cuban management of hotels and touristentities, and low-quality service at every level."

— Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

http://travel.latimes.com/daily-deal-blog/?p=1379

Freed dissidents expose Castro’s brutal regime

Freed dissidents expose Castro's brutal regime

By Graham Keeley in BarcelonaLast Updated: 3:32pm GMT 23/02/2008

Four dissidents freed this week after five years in inhumane conditionsin a Cuban have revealed the dark side of 's regime.

The four – José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Omar Pernet Hernández, AlejandroGonzález and Pedro Pablo Álvarez – described regular beatings,humiliation and arbitrary punishment with long periods of solitaryconfinement in cramped cells with cement beds.

They said they were deprived of and water in conditions whichresembled "a desert".

Arriving in to be reunited with their families, they exposed theroutine abuse of political prisoners which marked Castro's five decadesin power.

The four were part of a group of 75 dissidents who were jailed in 2003by Castro's regime in a move which caused an international outcry. Theofficial reason given for their release was " reasons".

But behind the scenes pressure from the Spanish Government on Havana isbelieved to have been the key to setting free the long-term oppositionactivists, who all have relatives in Spain.advertisement

Mr Castillo, 50, a who wrote articles critical of the regime,told The Sunday Telegraph: "It was terrible. It was like being in adesert in which sometimes there is no water, there is no food, you aretortured and you are abused.

"This was not torture in the textbook way with electric prods, but itwas cruel and degrading. They would beat you for no reason even when youwere in .

"At other times they would search you for no reason, stripping you bareand humiliating you. There was one particular commander at a jail inSanta Clara who seemed to take delight in handing out beatings to theprisoners."

Mr Castillo, who claims he was denied proper medical aid for diabetesand heart problems, added: "We are nothing more than a reflection of thehuman cost of the fight being waged by the Cuban people."

While the dissidents tasted , 58 of the original 75 jailed forlong terms in 2003 are still behind bars.

It is estimated another 250 political prisoners languish in Cubanprisons. Mr Castillo was not hopeful that the departure of El Comandantefrom the helm of power would bring great changes.

"Nothing will change with the resignation of Castro. He will still bemanipulating things behind the scenes," he said.

"His resignation could be a small step but I have my reservations. Wewere only released because (Castro) wants to clean up his image as a violator. He is still present. He is a ghost governing thecountry."

Omar Pernet, a steel worker also in his fifties, was jailed for being anopposition activist, suffered an accident while being moved from onejail to another in 2004.

He also suffered lung problems in jail, a broken leg, a broken collar bone.

He said he was kept in solitary confinement in a cell measuring fourmetres square with a cement bed.

In all, he has spent 21 years behind bars for opposing the regime. MrPernet was jailed for 20 years after being accused of aiding the USsecret services – a charge he says was trumped up.

In a statement, Amnesty International called the release of the four a"positive step" but called on Raul Castro, who has been Cuba's actingpresident since his brother, Fidel, fell ill in 2006, to also releaseall other political prisoners held by the regime.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/02/23/wcuba223.xml

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