Russian electricity trader eyes Cuban joint venture
Russian electricity trader eyes Cuban joint venturePublished on Friday, September 18, 2009
ABAKAN, Russia (Reuters) — Russian electricity trader Inter RAO plans to set up a joint venture with Cuban state company Union Electrica by November, at the latest, Inter RAO's chief executive officer said on Thursday.
"We have agreed on a foundation document. It will be a 50-50 joint venture," Yevgeny Dod told reporters.
The sides agreed to form a joint venture in January this year to allow Inter RAO to invest in the Cuban power sector. In particular, Inter RAO will upgrade the Maximo Gomez heat power plant which has an installed capacity of 600 megawatts.
State-controlled Inter RAO, which owns power stations across the former Soviet Union, has an effective monopoly on power imports and exports in Russia.
Inter RAO was founded under the auspices of the former state electricity monopoly to participate in foreign power markets, largely as an exporter of electricity to Finland.
But it began to expand into generation, first of all in neighbouring former Soviet republics, and has continued to plot growth while many other former state power companies, mostly domestic generators, are ratcheting down investment plans.
By buying and taking power generators under management, it has grown into one of Russia's top power producers, with 18,000 megawatts of generation, and has set itself the aim of raising the figure to 30,000
Caribbean Net News: Russian electricity trader eyes Cuban joint venture (18 September 2009)http://www.caribbeannetnews.com/article.php?news_id=18869
Old Havana’s peeling paint
Old Havana's peeling paintBy Sam LeithPublished: September 12 2009 02:34
When Anthony Trollope visited Havana at the end of the 1850s, he reported that "all Cuba was of course full of the late message from the President of the United States", which, according to Trollope's paraphrase, was that "circumstances and destiny absolutely require that the US should be the masters of that island". In light of this he foresaw that, liberated from Spanish rule, "Havana will soon become as much American as New Orleans".
A century and a half later, when I visited the city with my fiancée Alice in April this year, Cuba was also full of a recent message from the President of the US. At the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad that same month, Barack Obama announced he wanted a "new beginning" with Cuba.
This is a culture in which its more powerful neighbour is a perpetual presence: something the island looks towards – if only to define itself against it. Old Cadillacs and Buicks with the guts of Soviet Volgas growl through the streets; the national sport is baseball; the dollar is the shadow currency; the central prop of its ragged economy is a tourist mythos with Ernest Hemingway at the centre of it; and if you want to take a boat out on so much as a fishing trip you need to satisfy the coastguard that you're not planning to bolt for Miami.
But, unlike America, and almost anywhere else in the world, there are no advertisements. No neon, no branding, no billboards – only painted images of Che and Fidel, and exhortations to keep the revolution alive. "Venceremos," reads one blue encouragement painted on a wall, more in hope than in expectation.
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara march with their comrades in Cuba in 1960Fidel Castro (left) and Che Guevara (third left) in 1960Old Havana is something like a living fossil. Or, rather, a nested series of fossils. Here is the town-planning of old Spain; the art deco of 1930s hotels and office buildings; the wallowing American cars of the 1950s. They survive in a regime that is itself a historical curiosity.
It has a compelling, ruined grandeur. The people seem not to belong to the architectural spaces they've inherited, but to live in them like hermit crabs. A row of old warehouses on the east side of the old town stands empty, windows gaping and glassless. A man-high stencil of Che's face has been sprayed on to the opposite ground floor like a graffito. On the floor above, in one of the full-depth arched windows, a young man in a baseball cap lolls, smoking. Behind him, his friend sits on a beaten-up sofa.
The dun-coloured paint is peeling. The paint is one of the things you notice in Havana. Fresh paint and peeled paint: blues and greens, terracottas and yellows. Even the city's showcase cigar factory – where a guided tour feels somewhat like a visit to an aquarium in that none of the workers patiently rolling and racking cigars in wooden presses acknowledges your existence – has its tone set not by its broad, decrepit marble staircase but by its institutional walls in brown and sea-green. It is a fascinating, melancholy place to be.
From the roof terrace of the Ambos Mundos hotel we can see Havana's sedimentary history. An old terracotta roof; a prettily repainted wall; the dome of a church. Then gutted buildings and poured concrete carbuncles. In one direction are old colonial buildings like ruined teeth; in another, Soviet-style tower-blocks. Two inches of the view is Siena; two inches is Moscow.
Walking the streets is the best of it. We pass an empty and dilapidated building, its balcony propped up with a rickety timber scaffold. Right next door is a red-and-yellow high-windowed house with skinny pot-plants growing out through the ironwork at the windows. A woman's arm pops through with a brush and sweeps dust from the sill into the street.
Here, a manky stray cat camps out in the shade of the offside bumper of a powder-blue 1950s Chevrolet; there, an old woman sits on her step smoking a cigar the size of a baseball bat; there again, two five-year-olds play in the street with a baseball bat the size of a cigar. The old woman with her stogie and her splendidly wrinkled face, it occurs to me, couldn't possibly afford to smoke that sort of cigar – she's there, surely, to be photographed by tourists for a convertible peso or two a shot: smoking is her job.
For respite from the heat, and a rest for the legs, we stopped at the Chocolate Museum; more a café than a museum, where a few pesos buys a tall glass of cool, freshly made chocolate milk, and the chance to watch the chocolatier at work in front of an ancient, jiggling machine.
Later, in the warm night, couples sit crammed all along the low sea wall on the Malecón promenade, which sweeps round Old Havana. We walked out for a nightcap at El Patio, a restaurant and bar in three stories of an 18th-century building, with outside tables spreading across the cobbles of Cathedral Square.
It was the eve of Easter Sunday, and the big doors of the cathedral were open, with sonorous choral singing drifting out from inside. From the mouth of a narrow street running north-west from the flank of the cathedral, there came the clashing sound of a salsa band at full throttle. In an open courtyard 40ft down, a guy in a vest top and porkpie hat fronted a five-piece, amplified just to the edge of distortion.
Across the narrow street from the courtyard's closed iron gates is La Bodeguita del Medio, the bar where Hemingway drank his mojitos, and outside it a dozen people with bottled beers were dancing in the street; tipsy tourist girls with Cuban hustlers.
Just before midnight, the priests from the church processed into the square with a tall candle and stood praying in the centre. The salsa didn't stop. We drank rum at outside tables. After 20 minutes or so the priests returned with the congregation into the church, and then a power-cut put the square into darkness. All the stray dogs started barking at once.
Alice and I hired a car and drove the four or five hours from Havana to Cienfuegos. Driving in Cuba is not a simple proposition. Jorge the hire-car man – settling behind his desk in an air-conditioned cabin – chewed a fat stogie beneath his fat moustache. He gave off a sense of dry mirth, becoming serious only when explaining the arrangements for refuelling. There are three grades of petrol available, he said. "The hire car must be filled with "especial" gas. Not ordinary gas. And not under any circumstances" – here the look of a man staring into a precipice came over his face – "the other sort."
"Don't drive on the autopista at night," he added, "or an animal will come in the road and provoke a dramatic accident. Have you driven in Cuba before?"
No, we said. He smiled wanly at us, and made the sign of the cross in the air.
I think Jorge was teasing; but there were challenges. No doubt to thwart the Yankee imperialists in case of an invasion, Cuba is notably light on road signs. After you dip through the tunnel that takes you under the canal from Old Havana, you join an orbital road that sweeps round the city from noon to seven o'clock.
One of the spokes that comes off it is Cuba's main motorway, the A1 – heading south-west towards Cienfuegos in a more or less straight line. But figuring out which junction puts you on it requires shrewd guesswork. (A sign that appeared to promise Camilo and Cienfuegos turned out to be pointing us to an entirely different town, called Camilo Cienfuegos, 40km due east.) Finally, we found the junction by counting the number of railway lines we'd crossed.
It is worth the effort to find yourself down a broad and often empty highway. The countryside is level and green to either side. You pass the odd cow, banana palms, great black john-crows wheeling on the thermals, occasional flashes of small-scale industrial activity. You get tall palms, too – spindly-stemmed and with their leaves swept calligraphically to one side.
We used La Union – a boutique hotel in pretty old colonial Cienfuegos – as a jumping-off point for the coast road, day trips to the plantation town of Trinidad and ascents to the spectacular viewpoints into the Valle de Los Ingenios to its north.
A couple of days later, having negotiated donkey-carts, cobblestones and mountain ascents, we drove back to Havana. Jorge was back behind his moustache.
"Good," said Jorge, taking the keys. Back at our room in the Hotel Nacional we turned on CNN. The screen showed Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chávez at the summit and the news ticker below it read: "PRES TO CUBA: LET'S TALK."
FT.com / Travel – Old Havana's peeling paint (12 September 2009)http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a5c44462-9e61-11de-b0aa-00144feabdc0.html
Cuba forced to rethink system of paternalism
Cuba forced to rethink system of paternalismBy Marc Frank in HavanaPublished: September 18 2009 03:00
Communist Cuba has begun dismantling a vast system of state gratuities and subsidised goods and services in favour of higher wages, more individual choice and targeted welfare.
The move is part of President Raúl Castro's drive to modernise an economy in which, he recently admitted, two plus two often equals five in terms of spending and three when it comes to performance.
The process represents a seismic shift away from social distribution to individual reward and from state-directed consumption to personal choice in one of the world's most paternalistic societies.
In Cuba, authorities have long viewed work and the distribution of goods and services as more of an ideological than an economic matter.
"Social expenditure should be in accordance with real possibilities . . . eliminating spending that is simply unsustainable, that has grown from year to year and which moreover, is not very effective, or even worse, is making some people feel that they have no need to work," Mr Castro said in a recent speech in which he talked of a "new socialist model".
The speech is currently being debated across the island.
Mr Castro has already eliminated subsidised beach holidays for exemplary workers, hotel stays for newly-weds and free meals for those accompanying hospital patients.
Fidel Castro, before ceding power to his brother for health reasons in 2006, introduced discounts for tickets to sporting events and a sliding scale for electricity charges.
Somewhere along the line, no one seems quite sure when, birthday goodies for children, five cases of beer and bottles of rum for weddings, and subsidised supplies for quinces , or coming out parties, disappeared.
Now on the chopping block are the world's longest-standing food ration, heavily subsidised monthly gas and water bills, millions of cheap chocolate mother's day cakes and countless holiday greeting cards, subsidised meals at work and universities, and many other items.
Mr Castro said free healthcare and education, and social security and full employment – all guaranteed by the constitution – would remain.
The state still pays for funerals and 13 vaccines for children under five.
Medicines are also free during hospital stays and are heavily subsidised at pharmacies.
"After installing his own team of economic planners in March, Raúl is making good on promises to fundamentally restructure the dysfunctional economy he inherited," Brian Latell, a former Cuba analyst at the US Central Intelligence Agency and author of After Fidel , said.
"But he is also warily looking over his shoulder, anticipating bitter opposition from Fidel," Mr Latell said.
Growing inequality due to access to foreign exchange through remittances, self-employment, and the black market is making the egalitarian distribution of the nation's wealth obsolete, Cuban sociologists argue.
They estimate that 50 per cent of the population has been left behind and 20 per cent impoverished. Meanwhile, a Cuban elite has emerged with a lifestyle many times grander than the norm.
This social breach is expected to be widened by an influx of Cuban Americans bearing gifts and unlimited remittances deregulated by US President Barack Obama this month.
"I understand we can't go on like this, but they should be careful. Wages and pensions are too low to eliminate everything if they do not take other measures," Julián González, a public works employee, said, expressing widespread public anxiety over the elimination of the food ration.
But in a harbinger of what local economists said could be future policy, the government has nearly doubled office worker wages at various ministry office buildings in Havana, as it closes lunchrooms in a pilot programme aimed at eliminating huge theft and waste of imported food supplies.
"The country's economy needs to place its feet firmly on the ground, which means it has to be totally reorganised," a local economist said.
"You can't live only on ideas, no matter how good they are. You cannot give away what you do not have."
FT.com / UK – Cuba forced to rethink system of paternalism (18 September 2009)http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3e8ee78c-a3ea-11de-9fed-00144feabdc0.html
Russian warships to visit Cuba
Russian warships to visit Cuba09:4418/09/2009
HAVANA, September 18 (RIA Novosti) – Russian warships are expected to pay another visit to Cuba as part of military cooperation between Moscow and Havana, the chief of Russia's General Staff said on Friday.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov arrived in Cuba on a working visit on Monday, met with President Raul Castro and the country's military leadership, and visited several military installations.
"We are currently preparing a plan for the ships' visit," Makarov said. "Undoubtedly, it would be closely linked to our military cooperation with the Republic of Cuba."
He did not disclose the exact date of the visit.
During the last December's Caribbean tour, Russia's Admiral Chabanenko destroyer, escorted by the Ivan Bubnov tanker and the SB-406 rescue tug, visited Havana for the first time since the Cold War.
Cuban-Russian military ties were drastically scaled down after Russia's surprise close of an electronic listening post in Lourdes in 2001. However, military ties have been improving since the visit of Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin in July last year.
Russian warships to visit Cuba | Top Russian news and analysis online | 'RIA Novosti' newswire (18 September 2009)http://en.rian.ru/world/20090918/156170905.html
Russia to help Cuba modernize weaponry, train military
Russia to help Cuba modernize weaponry, train military08:1718/09/2009
HAVANA, September 18 (RIA Novosti) – Modernization of the Soviet-made military equipment and training of Cuban military personnel will be the focus of Russian-Cuban military cooperation in the near future, the chief of the Russian General Staff said on Friday.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov arrived on a working visit to Cuba on Monday, met with Cuban President Raul Castro and the country's military leadership, and visited a number of military installations.
"During the Soviet era we delivered a large number of military equipment to Cuba, and after all these years most of this weaponry has become obsolete and needs repairs," Makarov said.
"We inspected the condition of this equipment, and outlined the measures to be taken to maintain the defense capability of this country…I think a lot of work needs to be done in this respect, and I hope we will be able to accomplish this task," the general said.
Makarov said the Cuban request for assistance with training of military personnel will also be fully satisfied.
Although the Cuban leadership has repeatedly said it has no intention of resuming military cooperation with Russia after the surprise closure of the Russian electronic listening post in Lourdes in 2001, bilateral military ties seem to have been improving following the visit of Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin to Cuba in July last year.
A group of Russian warships, led by the Admiral Chabanenko destroyer visited Cuba in December last year during a Caribbean tour.
Russia to help Cuba modernize weaponry, train military | Top Russian news and analysis online | 'RIA Novosti' newswire (18 September 2009)http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20090918/156170428.html
Cuban Man Sentenced to Prison For Demanding Food Before TV Cameras Released
Cuban Man Sentenced to Prison For Demanding Food Before TV Cameras Released
HAVANA – The Cuban government on Thursday released Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos, alias "Panfilo," from prison after he was sentenced to two years behind bars for drunkenly denouncing food shortages on the communist-ruled island before television cameras.
Elizardo Sanchez, the president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, or CCDHRN, which adopted the 48-year-old Panfilo as a prisoner of conscience, said that the man was released from prison and sent to a psychiatrist to be treated for alcoholism.
"It's an intelligent and rational decision on the part of the Cuban government," said the CCDHRN in a communique, and Sanchez said he felt that it had occurred due to pressure from international public opinion.
Despite the fact that Panfilo was sentenced to two years behind bars for being a "social danger" and the upholding of his sentence in a Havana appeals court last week, on Thursday he received a letter in which he was told of his imminent release and then sent for a 21-day stay in a psychiatric hospital.
Panfilo, who read the letter to Sanchez by telephone, will remain free after he is released from the hospital and will not have to return to prison.
The two-year sentence could not be appealed and Panfilo was to have spent his two years behind bars in the Toledo 2 prison, located on the outskirts of Havana.
The incident for which he was convicted occurred in July, when an evidently intoxicated Panfilo interrupted the taping of a documentary on urban music in Cuba and shouted: "There's tremendous hunger here. What we need is 'jama' (a Cuban slang word for food)."
His outburst might have passed unnoticed if someone had not posted the images on YouTube, where more than 400,000 people viewed them, and from that point forward support groups began to spring up for Panfilo.
Upon seeing the commotion his remarks had caused, Panfilo retracted them in a later video in which he asserted: "I didn't know who filmed me, and I didn't do it with any aim" in mind, but that did not stop authorities from arresting him and putting him on trial on Aug. 12 in a closed-door hearing.
His defense attorney emphasized before the appeals court that his client was suffering from alcoholism and therefore asked that he be placed in an institution for rehabilitation, but his arguments did not find favor with the court at that time.
But Panfilo's conviction created a sizable stir in the media and elsewhere "and it was international public opinion that managed to save him from this tropical gulag," Sanchez told Efe.
The "good news, an unusual and unprecedented act," should not obscure the situation of the thousands of people who are imprisoned in Cuba for constituting a "social danger," Sanchez said, asserting that between 3,000 and 5,000 people are currently behind bars for that offense, although he said that they are "technically innocent because they have not committed crimes."
Among those prisoners are prostitutes, beggars, musicians who have delivered radical messages and black market vendors. EFE
Latin American Herald Tribune – Cuban Man Sentenced to Prison For Demanding Food Before TV Cameras Released (18 September 2009)http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=343947&CategoryId=14510
Cuban freed after being sentenced over YouTube video
Cuban freed after being sentenced over YouTube video18 September 2009 4:13 by James "Dela" Delahunty
Cuban freed after being sentenced over YouTube video A Cuban man has been freed after being sentenced to two years in prison for posting a YouTube video protesting a food shortage in the country. Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos was sentenced last month after the video had receiver 450,000 views since it was posted in April. Instead, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital for three weeks of treatment for alcoholism.
"It's a corrective decision very unusual for a government known for its rigidity," said Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights. He said it was likely the result of "international public opinion." Gonzalez was originally seen drunk in a video where he pushed away a person being interviewed about reggaeton.
"What we need here is a little bit of jama," he shouted (jama being slang for food). "We need food, we're hungry here. Listen to what Panfilo tells you from Cuba: food." He then published a video on YouTube, sober, where he recanted the message. On August 4 he was detained by police and sentenced the following week for two years for "dangerousness."
Cuban freed after being sentenced over YouTube video (18 September 2009)http://www.afterdawn.com/news/archive/19445.cfm
Dissident parolee returned to prison
Dissident parolee returned to prisonCUBANET
CAMAG?EY,Cuba, Sept. 17 (Doralis Álvarez / www.cubanet.org) – Dissident Yoel Marín, who had been free on parole, was reimprisoned on charges he was promoting the overthrow of the government.
Marín's brother, Rubén, said Yoel was picked up by State Security agents on August 6 after walking through the streets of Las Mercedes with signs calling for the a change of government and abolition of the rationing book.
Days earlier he was expelled from the agricultural cooperative where he worked after demanding higher wages for workers.
After State Security withdrew his parole, he was sent to Camagüey's Cerámica Roja prison.
Dissident parolee returned to prison – Cuba Dissidents – MiamiHerald.com (17 September 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/1447/story/1238142.html
Cubans on island wary of politics behind Juanes concert
Posted on Thursday, 09.17.09CUBACubans on island wary of politics behind Juanes concertMany Cubans see politics behind Sunday's concert by Colombian rocker Juanes, but they expect the event to attract a large crowd.Miami Herald Staff Report
HAVANA — Shirtless men are hard at work under an unforgiving sun this week, hammering away at the stage that on Sunday will hold an unprecedented concert with some of Latin music's biggest stars.
But to many people here in Cuba, the concert for peace, organized by Colombian rocker Juanes, is much more than an afternoon of music and good times.
Many Cubans say it's a desperate attempt by a government losing its grasp on the hearts of its people, a government that this week finally began to show its inevitable human vulnerability when one of its aging, beloved leaders died.
The death of revolutionary hero Juan Almeida, they say, underscored that the visit by a Colombian superstar does not change Cuba's stark reality: It's a nation run by men who are approaching the age of 80, or who have already passed it.
“You better come early,'' said a worker who was checking the Sunday afternoon temperature. “By noon Sunday, there won't be room here for one single more Cuban.''
The concert, featuring 15 acts from six countries, was immediately controversial in South Florida, with some conservative Cubans criticizing everything from lineup to location. The concert, which will be shown live on Univisión.com starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, will be held at the Plaza of the Revolution, which plays host to mass government rallies. An enormous silhouette of Ernesto “Che'' Guevara looms overhead.
Most Cubans interviewed, some speaking in hushed tones and looking over their shoulders, had little good to say about the planned event.
“I am not going to that concert because I do not like to be used,'' said Martin, a Havana man in his 40s who lives with his aging parents. “In this country, they can buy people with a drink and a song. That's not a concert; it's a political event. They couldn't have held it in a stadium? Why there? Why such a place with so much meaning here?''
Added Martha, a small business owner: “Why did they have to invite Silvio Rodríguez? There are plenty of less political artists they could have invited.'' Rodríguez and Los Van Van, also scheduled to perform, are longtime supporters of the Castro regime.
Still, many Cubans weren't focused on the concert. The newspapers have yet to mention it this week. What's on people's minds and the paper's front pages is the death of Almeida, a widely respected commander of the revolution, the only Afro-Cuban to have held such a high position alongside the Castro brothers.
“That wasn't just a death, it was a death that symbolized much, much more,'' said Beatriz, an artist. “Now people are saying, `Here comes the domino effect. Who is going to be the next victim?' ''
With Cuba's senior leaders in their late-70s or 80s, some here lamented a lack of youth at the top.
“We need young people with new ideas,'' said Alex, a 29-year-old bicycle taxi driver from the eastern provinces. “I am not saying get rid of Raúl; he can stay. I'm saying there is no reason for this country to be in the condition it is in. We need young people with new ideas. The only young guy we had who was educated and prepared and trained got passed up for the president's job. Who got the job? An old man who knows nothing about nothing except the military. He is 70-whatever years old, and his brother is 80-I-don't-know-how-much. What is that? That is crazy.
“So what do they do? They hold a big concert that's going to be a political event. There will be rows and rows of neatly arranged chairs with the military people up front, the young communist people behind them, and people from the party behind them. Behind all of them, way in the back, in the street, will be the Cuban people. They will eventually go home because they can hear Juanes from three blocks away. I might as well watch it on TV.''
But he acknowledged many probably will attend the concert if for no other reason than because there is almost nothing else to do here on a Sunday afternoon, and Cubans may never again get a chance to see such stars live.
Alex wonders, though, how the government plans to control a crowd of so many people, which is why he thinks it will be a tightly orchestrated event — not the freewheeling public concert it has been portrayed to be.
“A lot of people in Miami are criticizing that event, and they are right. They always mix politics with culture in this country,'' he said. “There won't even be any dancing. People will be clapping like if they were in a restaurant.''
Beatriz, the artist, agreed.
“A lot of people will be there because there are people who are in charge of making sure it is full. There will be meetings held on Saturday, where groups of people will be told, `Your job is to arrive at X time and stay for X hours.' You will see all of the Juventud Party people there. You won't see me there. I'm not saying this because I am 50 years old; I'm sure young people will say this, too.
“With all the necessities we have here, what do we care about a concert? We care about what we are going to eat today because we don't know what we are going to eat today, much less tomorrow. You care about what shoes your kids are going to wear. In the Cuban context, we don't care that much about Juanes, or Jesus Christ if he were a rocker and came to Cuba to sing.
“Maybe if it were Sting I would go, although transportation here is really bad and I don't know how I would get there. I guess if it were Sting, I would walk. Juanes, I can hear on the radio.''
The name of The Miami Herald staff writer is being withheld because the journalist lacks the visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island. Past requests by The Miami Herald for such a visa have gone unanswered.
Cubans on island wary of politics behind Juanes concert – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com (18 September 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/v-fullstory/story/1239125.html
Cuba hopes green tourism can keep it in the black
Posted on Thursday, 09.17.09Cuba hopes green tourism can keep it in the blackBy WILL WEISSERTAssociated Press Writer
BOCA DE GUAMA, Cuba — Crocodile 0383 is too tiny to be menacing.
Three weeks old and barely the length of a candy bar, the gray and brownish-yellow beast already has all 64 jagged teeth, which glint like crushed glass in the tropical sun. Yet his bites don't break the skin and a whipping from his Q-tip-sized tail only tickles.
Though small, Cuba sees big potential in No. 0383, hoping he and thousands of other natural wonders can revolutionize a nascent eco-tourism industry.
Amid dipping tourism revenues, the government gathered top leaders from its state-run vacation industry and European and Canadian tour operators this week for a conference aimed at boosting a segment of the market that only accounts for 4 percent of all foreign visits, according to deputy Tourism Minister Alexis Trujillo.
"We will always be a sun and sand destination," he said. "But we want to diversify. Eco-tourism is the future."
Trujillo expects Cuba to attract nearly 3 percent more total overseas tourists than last year's record 2.35 million, but said that price cuts to keep demand high amid the global recession means overall revenues will fail to meet the $2.5 billion generated in 2008.
Cuba is betting environmentally conscious vacationers, who are often willing to pay premium prices and stay longer than those hankering for cheap beach getaways, can boost profits. Eco-tourists focus not only on nature – biking, hiking, bird-watching, scuba-diving – but also on the country's social and cultural charms, while trying to make as little negative impact as possible on nature.
"There's enough to see and do that's green. It can get tourists coming and keep them coming," said a U.S.-based tour operator who has visited the island four times but asked not to be named because of possible repercussions from the U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces Washington's 47-year-old trade embargo. American tourists are effectively barred from traveling to Cuba, though many ignore the rules.
"When the embargo is dropped and there are more U.S. tourists," she said, "Eco-tourism could be a boon. But it needs to be managed very carefully."
A key attraction will be the national park near the Bay of Pigs where this week's conference was held – the Cienaga de Zapata, or Zapata Swamp. Cuba's equivalent of the Florida Everglades, it's the Caribbean's largest bioreserve, 1.5 million acres of mangrove-choked canals teeming with the wildest Cuban wildlife.
Just 125 miles southeast of Havana, it features more than 1.5 million acres and 354 species of birds – from pink flamingos to the bee hummingbird, the world's smallest bird – plus 130 varieties of plants, dozens of which are found nowhere else on earth. The Boca de Guama crocodile farm that's home to No. 0383 and about 4,300 other Rhombifers, or Cuban crocodiles, is also a top tourist draw – though there are so many crocs that officials simply give them identification numbers rather than names.
Constanze Walsdorf, a saleswoman for Aventura Tours in Freiburg, Germany, which offers about 15 environmentally friendly trips to Cuba, said business has remained brisk despite Europe's moribund economy.
"There's a lot of interest," she said, "and it's growing."
Cuba ranks among the world leaders in low greenhouse-gas emissions, but not necessarily by choice. Government restrictions on vehicles ensure that horse-drawn buggies outnumber cars in all but the largest cities. Heavy industry is so inefficient under state control that even though most factories rely on high-polluting, Soviet-era machinery, their output is low and the environmental impact reduced.
A narrow highway runs alongside the marshes and is flanked by monuments to Cubans killed during the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.
Almost no Cubans live in Zapata, but there are tourist hotels, including bungalows perched on tiny islands in the wetlands. Speedboats take visitors through densely forested canals and lagoons where eagles glide overhead – but the vessels leave a layer of oil runoff on the water.
Still, officials will cap group sizes so that hiking expeditions and other activities don't overwhelm the nature they come to see. Parts of the national park will remain off-limits entirely for their own protection.
Back at the crocodile farm, all the reptiles are separated by size and kept in crowded concrete pens – breeding is the top priority, not constructing an idyllic spot for tourists. The largest lay with their mouths agape to cool themselves, so still that they look like scaly statutes except for haunting yellow eyes that follow visitors hungrily.
When trainers toss in fish heads and crab legs at feeding time, the resulting frenzy is so violent that any injury drawing blood can prompt the pack to turn on one of its own. Crocs that bite down but don't capture any food in their jaws produce a spooky popping sound – a hollow puckering that sounds practically prehistoric.
Crocodiles can live to 80, said farm director Andres Arencibia. Females lay up to 35 eggs per year with three-quarters of those born in captivity reaching adulthood. In the wild, only 15 percent survive, beset by predators, disease and cannibalism.
Crocodile breeding began in 1962, when the animals were endangered. Now, about 6,000 live in the swamps around the farm, and about 300 adults are released into the wild from it each year, Arencibia said.
Holding up a wiggling and writhing No. 0383, he smiled when the pointy-toothed tike emitted a crow-like squawk.
"Give him some months," Arencibia said, "and his bite could take my fingers off."
Cuba hopes its eco-tourism industry will grow just as fast.
Cuba hopes green tourism can keep it in the black – World AP – MiamiHerald.com (17 September 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/news/world/AP/v-fullstory/story/1238369.html
Slain boy’s mom waits for Cuba to let her leave
Posted on Thursday, 09.17.09TRAGEDY AT CORAL GABLES HIGHSlain boy's mom waits for Cuba to let her leaveThe mother of the teenager stabbed to death at Coral Gables Senior High got approval from the U.S. government to travel from Havana to Miami for her son's funeral.By KATHLEEN McGRORY, LUISA YANEZ AND JENNIFER [email protected]
The mother of the slain Coral Gables Senior High School student came one step closer on Thursday to leaving Cuba to bury her son in Miami.
Anais Cruz, 42, who is a doctor and lives in Havana, secured a temporary visa from U.S. authorities in Cuba. It's now up to the Cuban government to give her permission to leave.
“I am pleased that our U.S. authorities have acted in such a thorough yet compassionate manner and expedited this case,'' said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, who has been working with Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to help Cruz make the trip. “Hopefully, she will soon be in the U.S. to bury her son.''
Cruz's son, Juan Carlos Rivera, 17, had come to Miami five months ago and was living with relatives. On Tuesday, he was stabbed to death at school by a classmate.
As a doctor, Cruz needed special permission to leave Cuba.
If Cruz is allowed to travel, ABC Charters, a subsidiary of American Airlines, has agreed to provide her with a free flight.
The school district and the United Way will help arrange the funeral — and are raising funds to cover the costs, Carvalho said.
“This is a tragedy that has touched all of us,'' Carvalho said. “To afford a mother the opportunity to say a final farewell to her son — that is something that anyone on Earth should work to provide.''
As Rivera's family prepared to bury their loved one, the family of murder suspect Andy Rodriguez charged that Rivera had instigated the fight that led to the stabbing.
“You have to listen to both sides of the story,'' his grandmother, Elsa Alfonso, told WLTV-Channel 23, a Spanish-language television station.
“I don't want to excuse what he did,'' she said. “I know how that other boy's grandmother is suffering, but that boy had been picking on my grandson for days.''
Rodriguez faces second-degree murder charges.
Relatives and friends denied that the altercation had been over a girl, as has been reported. Idalma Castresana, Rodriguez's mother, said her son reacted only after being challenged.
“He's not a criminal,'' she said. “He's a good, decent boy.''
Donations for funeral arrangements are being accepted at the websitegivingourstudentstheworld.org. Please specify that the donation is for funeral arrangements.
Slain boy's mom waits for Cuba to let her leave – Miami-Dade – MiamiHerald.com (17 September 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami-dade/story/1239097.html
Jailed Cuba protester released to psychiatric ward
Posted on Thursday, 09.17.09Jailed Cuba protester released to psychiatric wardBy ANDREA RODRIGUEZAssociated Press Writer
HAVANA — A man whose drunken outburst on hunger in Cuba made him an Internet celebrity was released from prison and sent to psychiatric ward for three weeks of alcoholism treatment, a leading human rights activist said Thursday.
Authorities on the communist-run island had given Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos, known by the nickname Panfilo, a two-year jail term for "public dangerousness" following his outburst during the filming of a documentary about Cuban music. The tirade was filmed and ended up on Youtube.
"At two o'clock this afternoon, Panfilo was taken to a psychiatric clinic by police," Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Sanchez said Gonzalez Marcos is technically free, but will first have to spend 21 days at the psychiatric ward and undergo treatment for alcoholism before being released. He will be allowed to receive regular visits from family and friends, a huge improvement from rules at the maximum security jails where he had been held.
Sanchez said the legal about face was "unprecedented" in Cuba, and attributed it to the attention the case got overseas.
The Cuban government had no immediate comment.
Gonzalez Marcos appeared obviously inebriated when he burst into an interview for the documentary, waving his arms and screaming, "What we need here is a little bit of chow!"
The video became a rallying cry for exile groups in South Florida, where some hailed him as one of the few Cubans who dare speak frankly about the difficulties of daily life on the island, though Gonzalez Marcos later expressed regret that his outburst was used for political ends.
Jailed Cuba protester released to psychiatric ward – World AP – MiamiHerald.com (17 September 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/news/world/AP/story/1239049.html