Cuba's food shortages
Hungry for changeThe timidity of agricultural reform
Mar 25th 2010 | HAVANA | From The Economist print edition
TWO years ago last month Raúl Castro formally took over as Cuba's president from his convalescent elder brother, Fidel. The switch raised hopes of reforms, especially of the communist country's long dysfunctional agriculture. But change has been glacial. Official figures show that in the first two months of this year deliveries to the capital's food markets were a third less than forecast. Nobody starves, but hard-currency supermarkets go for weeks without basics such as milk and bread.
What has gone wrong? Cuba's state-owned farms are massively inefficient, and rarely provide more than 20% of the country's food needs. Three hurricanes in 2008 made matters worse. Raúl Castro has acknowledged the problem, and introduced some changes. Idle state land has been leased to private farmers. The government has raised the guaranteed prices it pays for produce. Farmers can now legally buy their own basic equipment such as shovels and boots, without having to wait for government handouts
But farmers say that the reforms have been too piecemeal to be effective. In meetings across the country they have called for more. They want to buy their own fertilisers and pesticides, and to control distribution. The government still supplies almost everything, and does it badly. Much of last year's bumper crop of tomatoes rotted because government trucks failed to collect them on time.
Significantly, the state-owned media have reported the farmers' complaints in some detail. They have also announced that 100 of the most inefficient government farms will be closed. Officials are launching a pilot plan to set up market gardens close to cities. And reports from eastern Cuba suggest that food shortages there are less acute than in the capital.
But Raúl continues to move very cautiously. So Cuba will buy much of its food from foreign suppliers. Foreign exchange, never abundant—partly because of the American economic embargo—is again in short supply. The world recession cut Cuba's earnings from nickel and tourism last year. Imports fell last year by almost 40%.
A foreign businessman in Havana says there have been signs of a further squeeze this year. Transfers abroad by foreign businesses have been blocked, or delayed, for months. The Spanish owner of Vima, a food importer which supplied many hotels and state-run restaurants, made the mistake of publicly criticising delays in getting paid. His contracts were promptly revoked. Foreign companies have been warned that the government may stop selling them staples, such as meat and rice, for their staff canteens. "They told us bluntly that their priority is feeding the general population, that the situation is very serious, and that we should make our own arrangements," says a manager of one joint-venture.
Cuban dissidents praise Obama, government silentJeff FranksHAVANAThu Mar 25, 2010 3:09pm EDT
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban dissidents applauded U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday for denouncing their ill treatment by the Cuban government and said it had helped their cause.
They praised him for standing by them in what appeared to be a new, tougher turn for the president who has said he wanted to improve U.S.-Cuba relations that went bad after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and installed a communist system.
The Cuban government, which views dissidents as U.S.-employed subversives, has said nothing about Obama's statement, issued on Wednesday in Washington.
State-run press ran a column on Thursday by former leader Fidel Castro praising Obama for winning approval this week of healthcare reform, but pointing out that Cuba has had universal healthcare for more than 50 years. It appeared to have been written before the release of Obama's written statement.
Dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, in a telephone interview from his hospital bed in the central city of Santa Clara, said Obama's declaration would not have an immediate effect, but would help isolate the Cuban government.
"That is very important, given that with a dictatorial, totalitarian government as exists here, one must not negotiate. You have to condemn and isolate dictatorships," he said.
Farinas, 48, was in the 29th day of a hunger strike seeking the release of 26 ailing political prisoners. He has vowed to die for his cause if necessary.
Obama called Cuba's human rights situation "deeply disturbing," citing the recent death of dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the "repression" of the dissident group Ladies in White last week during marches protesting the 2003 imprisonment of 75 government opponents.
LADIES IN WHITE
The women, wives and mothers of the those arrested in the 2003 crackdown were shouted down by government supporters and in one instance dragged by police into a bus as they walked through Havana for seven consecutive days.
"These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist," Obama said.
Obama called for the immediate release of Cuba's estimated 200 political prisoners.
"In name of the Ladies in White, I thank Obama for the statement criticizing the government," said Berta Soler, whose husband Angel Moya was arrested in the 2003 crackdown and is serving a 20-year sentence.
"It is very important to count on the solidarity of international personalities, and on Obama in particular, raising their voice asking for respect of human rights," she said.
Former political prisoner Oscar Espinosa Chepe also thanked Obama for the "strong show of support" and accused the government of rejecting Obama's overtures because "totalitarianism needs confrontation to justify repression."
Obama's has slightly eased the long-standing U.S. trade embargo toward Cuba by lifting restrictions on Cuban American travel to the island and initiating talks on migration issues and resumption of direct mail service.
He has pegged further progress to Cuba releasing political prisoners and improving human rights.
Cuba, which says it is the victim of 50 years of U.S. aggression, has complained that Obama has done too little to bring about rapprochement.
After a brief warming, relations turned rocky again when Cuba detained a U.S. contractor in December and accused him of working in "espionage services."
The contractor, Alan Gross, remains in jail without charges. The United States has said he was only in Cuba to expand Internet services for Jewish groups, but admitted he entered the island on a tourist visa that would not permit such work.
His work was funded under U.S. programs aimed at promoting democracy in Cuba, which Cuban leaders view as part of the long U.S. campaign to topple their government.
Obama did not mention Gross in his statement.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Esteban Israel; Editing by Tom Brown and Philip Barbara)
Cubans forget their worries in baseball raptureMar 25 12:02 PM US/Eastern
With the signal to "play ball" in the island's baseball finals, Cubans have immersed themselves for a week in a sport so close to the heart it has even entered their language of love.
"Problems are over for the week, people forget everything else, the shortages, the transportation problems, the long lines, everything, absolutely everything," said Fausto Dominguez, 55, a hotel employee in Old Havana.
"No soap opera tonight!" shouted the headline of Juventud Rebelde, as Cubans switch over from the intrigued-packed, ratings-busting Brazilian television series "La Favorita" during the play-offs.
This year's baseball finals pit Industriales, a Havana team known as the Blue Lions, and Villa Clara, the Orangemen from central Cuba, in a series of as many as seven games for the crown of the 16-team league.
More than the national sport, baseball is a passion here, to the point that it has become part of the lexicon of daily life.
A lover discovered in an infidelity is said to have been "caught off base" and if the relationship breaks up, they "gave him the bat." To be "between second and third," is to be trapped in a dilemma, and a "number four batter" is someone of great power and strength.
To get in the spirit of the finals, the Puerto Rican hip hop group Calle 13 donned the shirts of the Cuban national baseball team at a huge free concert Tuesday at Havana's Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Plaza.
Kelvis Ochoa and other Cuban musicians returned the compliment by wearing the colors of the Puerto Rican team.
The opening game was in Santa Clara, a city 280 kilometers (168 miles) east of Havana that is custodian of the remains of revolutionary icon Che Guevara and his Bolivian guerrilla comrades.
Santa Clara beat Industriales 3-2 Tuesday night. The team that is first to win four games wins the series, which can play out over as many as seven games over the coming days.
On opening day, Havana turned out in blue, wearing the blue T-shirts and caps emblazoned with a gothic I, symbol of Industriales, one of two Havana teams, the other being Metropolitanos.
"I'm going to finish work early, buy my little bottle (of rum), eat and at 8:30 pm I'll be in front of the TV with my pals from the neighborhood," said Victor Ortega, a 38-year-old carpenter who like many Cubans cannot bear to be alone when he watches baseball.
The official Communist Party newspaper Granma announced that it would transmit the games play by play on its Internet website, something unusual in a country where Internet access is very limited.
Officially, the initiative was aimed at reaching the more than 40,000 Cubans, mainly doctors, who are on missions in other countries like Venezuela, according to the report.
But it was also for the 1.5 million Cuban emigres in the United States,
Draught causes thousands of wildfires in Cuba13:45, March 25, 2010
A thousand forest fires burnt through Cuba in the first quarter of 2010 alone, Lt. Col. Sergio Zubizarreta, deputy chief of the Cuban fire department, said Wednesday.
Zubizarreta said the fires were mainly caused by draught in the dry season which usually runs from February to May.
Besides, reckless pasture burning, driving cars without spark arrestors and large amount of combustible materials and fallen trees amassed after hurricanes in 2008 were also causes of wildfires.
Areas at high risk of being affected by fires are the eastern provinces of Las Tunas and Camaguey, the western province of Pinar del Rio and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud.
According to officials of the Cuban national forest ranger corps, some 437 fires were reported from January to May 2009, some 80 percent of which were caused by negligent behaviors.
The fire department has pledged to improve the fire emergency and rescue system at a time the country is developing a risk reduction mechanism.
Posted on Wednesday, 03.24.10U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS
Obama toughens his stance over Cuba's crackdownsThe president censured Cuba's attacks on dissent as Gloria Estefanprepared to lead a march Thursday in Miami's Little Havana to supportthe Ladies in White.BY JUAN O. [email protected]
President Barack Obama, in his harshest censure of Cuba's repression ofdissent, Wednesday said Havana had used “a clenched fist'' against“those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans.''
Obama also appeared to hint that his efforts to improve U.S. relationswith the Raúl Castro government have lost steam in the face of therecent string of tough actions by Havana.
“During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out tothe Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relationsbetween the governments of the United States and Cuba,'' said afour-paragraph statement released by the White House.
“I remain committed to supporting the simple desire of the Cuban peopleto freely determine their future and to enjoy the rights and freedomsthat define the Americas,'' he added, making no mention of a similarcommitment to improved government-to-government relations.
The statement amounted to the president's harshest condemnation of Cubasince he was inaugurated. Last spring, he eased U.S. restrictions onCuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba and launched bilateraltalks on immigration and direct mail service.
Obama's statement came a month after the death of political prisonerOrlando Zapata following an 83-day hunger strike, and a week aftersecurity forces and pro-government civilians violently broke up a marchin Havana by the Ladies in White, women relatives of jailed dissidents.
On Thursday in Miami, a five-block stretch of busy Calle Ocho will closeto traffic to make way for a march led by singer Gloria Estefan insupport of Cuba's Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White.
Participants are being asked to wear all white and march in silence toshow solidarity with the women, who traditionally do the same when theypeacefully protest for the jailing of their sons and husbands.
The Zapata and Ladies in White cases, “and the intensified harassmentof those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans,are deeply disturbing,'' the president said.
“These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity toenter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to theaspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,'' he added.
“Today, I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and agrowing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression,for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners inCuba, and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people.'' thepresident declared.
The statement drew immediate praise from those who favor keeping toughU.S. sanctions on Cuba.
“We thank President Obama for his statement in solidarity with theCuban people and his recognition of the increased repression by theCuban dictatorship,'' said a statement issued by Florida RepublicanReps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart.
“Now more than ever it is time to demand international solidarity andto increase assistance to the brave heroes who struggle for freedom anddemocracy within Cuba,'' they said.
“With this statement he has chosen to side with Cuba's future, asopposed to unconditionally embracing the regime that only represents itsrepressive present and past,'' Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of thepro-sanctions U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee, wrote inan e-mail to El Nuevo Herald.
Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla. and a Senate hopeful, said the president hadmade it “clear that the United States stands with the people of Cubawho are not alone in their fight for freedom and justice.''
Posted on Wednesday, 03.24.10Obama calls on Cuba to respect its people's rightsThe Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is calling on the Cuban governmentto respect the rights of its people.
In a statement Wednesday, Obama cited the recent jailhouse death of adissident on a hunger strike, uniformed Cuban security agents blockingan opposition march by women demanding the released of jailed loved onesand harassment of those who speak out for their fellow Cubans.
The president called the events "deeply disturbing" and said they showthat, instead of entering a new era, Cuban authorities continue torespond to the aspirations of its people with a clenched fist.
Church Mission To Cuba Offers Emotional AidThe Rev. Tom Schacher makes first heart-changing tripBy Carissa Katz
(03/25/2010) "It is good, when you are on mission, to allow yourself to go beyond where you came from and what life was, to immerse yourself in where you are and what life is," the Rev. Tom Schacher of the EastBarbara D'AndreaMembers of the congregation of the Guines Presbyterian Church in Cuba greeted the Rev. Tom Schacher after worship services there earlier this month.Hampton Presbyterian Church wrote on a blog during a recent church mission to Cuba.
Although members of his and other local Presbyterian churches have been going on missions to Cuba for nearly 20 years, this trip, from March 3 to March 13, was Mr. Schacher's first visit to the island. "Missions are always life-changing and heart-changing, and this was no exception," he said last week at his office in East Hampton.
Six people joined Mr. Schacher on the mission in Cuba, where the Presbytery of Long Island has a 20-year relationship with the Presbytery of Havana. Local church mission groups have established a partnership with the Presbyterian church in Guines, a small city in the countryside southeast of Havana.
"We don't go down to Guines and build something or paint a church," Mr. Schacher said. "We go to strengthen relations and build up connections between us and the church and the people in Guines."
The mission provides "not financial aid as much as emotional aid," said Barbara D'Andrea of Wainscott, who has been traveling to Cuba with the church since 1994 and coordinates the missions to Guines.
Her husband, Dennis, who describes himself as her assistant, has been traveling with her for about 10 years, but his first experience on the island goes back much further than that. From 1968 to '72 he was stationed at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, where he served as an acting chart master.
Last week he recalled how he had studied the detailed charts that included strategic locations for potential bombings on the island. "Now I'm meeting all these people 20 years later," he said, and he is thankful that "the cold war never became a hot war." At the time, the people of Cuba "were an abstraction on a chart," he said, "now they're human beings."
In the pastor's mind, that sort of realization is one of the most important parts of mission work.
Also on this month's trip were John White of the Presbyterian church in Bridgehampton, Rob Stuart, a retired Amagansett pastor, Ron Fleming of Amagansett, and Emily Hawsey of Smithtown.
During mission trips, people have attended weddings, baptisms, and funerals, as well as many of the church's anniversary celebrations, which are "in February, but it's a floating date because they do it when I'm there," Ms. D'Andrea said.
"The thing I feel most is, they trust us," she said. "When we were first going, people were very guarded. It took them many years to open up and share."
In returning again and again, she and those who join her show the people of Guines that their commitment is ongoing. And that's important because a single 10-day trip might not make much impact, but the cumulative effect of many return trips does.
"We provide a lifeline as things get tough in Cuba," Ms. D'Andrea said. For friends in Guines, it means a great deal "just knowing someone is praying for them and working for them."
In dire times, "the churches gave hope to people," Mr. Schacher said. Although the government frowned on churches after the Cuban Revolution, it did not close them. However, it did require that a church open its doors every Sunday. For a long time, he explained, that meant that lay people kept the church alive, even as congregations dwindled to just a dozen or so people.
When the economic crisis in Cuba deepened in the early 1990s, people began to return to the church. Now, close to 150 people attend services in Guines on Sundays.
"There wasn't much hope in Cuban society, in the government. People had no hope for change, no hope for their lives. If people are going to find hope, they're going to find it through the church," Mr. Schacher said.
They turn to the church for spiritual sustenance as well as material needs unmet elsewhere in Cuban society. When they cannot find work, for example, or medicine they look to the church. The local mission groups help to provide some of those things, taking medical supplies, medicine, computer equipment, and money to the Guines church.
"These are very practical things that you and I can get hold of very easily," Mr. Schacher said.
Mr. White, who lives in Sagaponack, has been going to Cuba with the mission groups since 1998. Ms. D'Andrea, he said, is the "heavy lifter" who handles all the logistical details of getting the group from New York to Havana. In terms of documentation, the group needs a license from the United States Department of the Treasury, a visa, and a special Cuban religious visa. The application process takes several months.
"We have to do everything long term," Ms. D'Andrea said. It can be difficult to get people to commit to joining the mission so far in advance. Plus, they pay for the trip out of their own pockets, which can be expensive.
Yet people continue to return, even as they sometimes feel frustrated by these obstacles. "We get to see old friends that we've now known for a long time, kids who've grown up and are now small-business people. There's a continuity after 15, 20 years of doing this, and you develop strong attachments that you just can't break, no matter how inconvenient it is. It's worth all the hassle."
Although it is even harder for their Cuban friends to travel here, last year, two ministers from the Guines church were able to visit the South Fork. Over the years a number of lay people have also visited with special permission.
Mr. Schacher hopes to organize a youth mission to Cuba in July. He has done missions in Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, and Moscow. "In all my travels around the world, I had not encountered a people of such warmth and hospitality and genuine love," he said of the people in Cuba.
He gave the Sunday sermon in Guines on March 7. After worship, he wrote, "I stood in the back and shook hands with some. I say some because most gave us kisses and hugs."
Cuba's government-run news media regularly praises the armed forces as a model of efficiency, yet seldom mentions their powerful role in the island's crippled economy, according to a U.S. intelligence report.
Raúl Castro has been increasingly presenting himself as a civilian leader, the report added, appearing less frequently in his army general's uniform and more often in suits or guayaberas.
The report was issued Feb. 26 by the Open Source Center (OSC), a U.S. intelligence community branch that monitors foreign news accounts. It was not publicly released, but a copy was obtained and published by Secrecy News, a Federation of American Scientists program on government secrecy.
Cuba's military, widely viewed as the most respected official institution on the island, controls an estimated 60 percent of the country's economy, hard hit by the global financial crisis, hurricane damages and domestic failures.
Many of its top officers have studied business administration abroad, and the management system it uses in its own enterprises in areas such as tourism is portrayed in Cuba as a model to be followed.
The OSC analysis noted, however, that while Cuba's official media frequently praised the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), it made little mention of the military's leading role in the economy.
“State media portray the military as a model of collective and individual performance [and] regularly find fault with civilian agencies and workers …. but coverage of the military is generally … silent on the subject of FAR involvement in the Cuban economy,'' the report noted.
The state media in 2009 “had only one mildly critical report on the military: a call for improved living conditions for active duty soldiers,'' added the report, titled “Cuba — Military's Profile in State Media Limited, Positive.''
One Radio Rebelde broadcast on Sept. 2 directly contrasted what it called the FAR's immediate response to the three hurricanes that devastated Cuba in 2008 with the “slow pace of civilian-led recovery work,'' according to the OSC report.
“There's a disconnect here. They have a pretty large phalanx of military people running the economy,'' yet they're spared blame for the economic crisis, said Brian Latell, senior research associate at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “Maybe it's another reflection of the … dysfunction of the regime.''
The OSC report added that Castro was “atypically visible and engaged'' during the Bastión military exercise in November, “but more commonly he presents himself as a civilian rather than military leader.''
“Castro appeared in uniform in about one-fourth of his media appearances during 2009, down from just over a third in 2008,'' according to the report, and he “generally meets foreign visitors wearing a suit or a more casual guayabera.''
Castro gave up his job as minister of defense and became president ofCuba in early 2008, replacing his ailing brother Fidel, although the Havana media still refers to him often as “General Raúl Castro.''
Other top military officers, such as Defense Minister Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, his three three vice ministers and the commanders of Cuba's three regional armies, had a “largely ceremonial presence in state media, where the military receives limited but overwhelmingly favorable coverage.''
Their names appeared in the media less often last year than in 2008, but that's probably because several were promoted in 2008, according to the OSC report.
Vice Defense Minister Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias was the most visible military leader in 2009, mentioned 17 times in the media, according to the report, and was the only one reported to have traveled abroad.
Posted on Thursday, 03.25.10Calle Ocho packed with marchers organized by Gloria EstefanBY LUISA YANEZ, JENNIFER LEBOVICH And FABIOLA [email protected]
Throngs of Cuban exiles wearing white and carrying gladioluses and Cuban flags packed a stretch of Calle Ocho closed to traffic Thursday to make way for a silent five-block march led by singer Gloria Estefan in support of Cuba's Las Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White, peaceful dissidents who were attacked by government security forces in Havana last week.
The Cuban-American star called on South Floridians to join her in protest of the treatment received by the women who were violently confronted during a march in Havana to mark the anniversary of the 2003 jailing of 75 dissidents, many of them independent journalists and poets. One of the dissidents, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died after a hunger strike.
Hundreds heeded Estefan's call that of other celebrities who joined her, including television personalities, exile group leaders, and revered stars like singers Olga Guillot and Willie Chirino.
Shortly after police closed Southwest Eighth Street from Southwest 22nd Avenue to Southwest 27th Avenue on Thursday afternoon, people began to flock to Little Havana.
Couples holding hands, elderly bused in from suburban communities, parents with small children and others dressed in white walked down Calle Ocho, as vendors sold flags and beads, ice cream and other treats. Some held flowers and others took seats on the curb.
“We're trying to voice what we can from this side of the water,'' said Omar Pinate, 36, an Army sergeant stationed in Atlanta but in Miami on vacation who was dressed in white pants, a white button down and a white cap. “Unity. Every little bit helps.''
Uniformed and plain clothes police officers were posted throughout the Southwest 8th Street corridor.
“That's typically what we do when there are marches of this magnitude,'' said Miami police spokeswoman Kenia Reyes.
Unlike early exile demonstrations, which relied solely on Cuban radio to get the word out, the Internet's social media teemed with news of Estefan's call for a show support on behalf of Las Damas de Blanco.
Colombian singer Juanes, who organized a controversial concert in Havana last September, didn't show up (he was reportedly in London), but he sent many messages of support via Twitter: “CUBA, USA, COLOMBIA, VENEZUELA libertad a los presos politicos, intercambio humanitario, libertad a los secuestrados!! libertad!'' (freedom for political prisoners, humanitarian exchange, freedom to the kidnapped!! freedom).
“..estoy con ustedes Damas de Blanco…'' another Tweet said. “I am with you Ladies in White.''
Many Cuban-Americans all over the country posted videos of the women being dragged and beaten and made their support known through their Facebook status and Twitter postings.
In New York, playwright and actress Carmen Pelaez created a Facebook site for the Damas, uploaded a photograph wearing a white T-shirt in support of them, and posted Thursday that she “wishes she was in Miami to walk with the thousands that will walk in support of LAS DAMAS DE BLANCO.''
Pelaez took a quote from Orlando Zapata Tamayo's mother, a Dama de Blanco, and made it her Facebook status:
` “They dragged me, I am all bruised. They beat me. They called me a N—-r. They will know this mother's pain. When I get to my home town of Banes in my home province ofHolguin they will have to bury me with my son. But my people will remember me. They will remember me. . . . The Castro brothers cannot be forgiven. They cannot be forgiven.'' No wonder Fidel is afraid.'
In Boston, former Mayor Manny Díaz, who is teaching at Harvard's Institute of Politics, led a group of students on a march through Harvard Square in support of Las Damas de Blanco and the march in Miami.
In West Miami, a solidarity rally by residents who couldn't make it to Little Havana but wanted to show their support took place in front of City Hall.
They remained silent for 15 minutes in prayer for a free Cuba.
“It's very overwhelming to see this number of people dressed in white holding flowers all standing for one worthy cause,'' Nancy Ortega said. “It was so emotional.''
In Little Havana, Miami police will detour traffic until about 9 p.m., when the street is expected to be reopened. Estefan and her husband, Emilio, have said that they will foot the bill for the cost of police presence at the march.
Events like Thursday's and the Juanes concert are small steps in pushing toward democracy in Cuba, said medical student Susana Bejar, 24, who attended the march.
“It's important to show solidarity with them and the human rights movement,'' said Bejar, who was born in Puerto Rico, but her family is Cuban and she still has relatives on the island. “It's important to show Cubans we don't just care about what happened 50 years ago… it's important to keep on building relationships, have direct mail. As the two communities become more integrated that'll be the way to a new and better Cuba.''
As for the Estefan's involvement, she said: “Anything they touch in Miami is gold. They're Cuban royalty.''
Miami Herald staff writer Jose Cassola contributed to this report.
Empresas españolas: inseguridad en gran parte de América LatinaPor JORGE SAINZThe Associated Press
MADRID — Las empresas españolas detectan inseguridad jurídica para invertir en varios países de América Latina, sobre todo en Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela y Ecuador, al tiempo que reconocen que deben hacer más esfuerzos por mejorar su imagen en la región, según reveló el jueves un informe.
El exhaustivo documento fue elaborado por la Comisión de Asuntos Iberoamericanos del Senado español después de meses de trabajo y de las comparecencias de representantes de hasta 30 empresas españolas con intereses en América Latina, entre ellas las más importantes, como Banco Santander, BBVA y la petrolera Repsol YPF.
Tras recabar los testimonios, los senadores elaboraron un informe que señala a Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela y Ecuador como los países menos recomendables para invertir, mientras que entre los más atractivos apunta a Chile, Brasil, México, Colombia, Perú y Panamá. Los senadores indicaron que muchas compañías tampoco pondrían su dinero en Argentina o Guatemala.
El texto califica a Bolivia como un país en el que no invertirían grandes cantidades de capital en la actualidad. Lo mismo ocurre con Cuba, en el que asegura que hay un "déficit legal" y dificultades para repatriar beneficios, aunque reconoce que la isla valora mucho "lo español" y que Cuba es un país con oportunidades de futuro.
Sobre Venezuela, los empresas perciben una "creciente inseguridad jurídica", pero creen que aunque no es recomendable invertir hoy en día, Venezuela puede ser un país atractivo si se producen cambios en las actuales instituciones de gobierno, debido a su "elevado potencial y sus muchos recursos naturales".
En el informe del Senado, también se recoge que muchos empresarios no invertirían en países como Ecuador, Guatemala y tampoco en Argentina, debido a la alta volatilidad institucional y la carencia de un marco regulatorio objetivo.
Por contra, los empresarios argumentan que países como Chile, Brasil, México, Colombia, Perú, Panamá y también Uruguay ofrecen importantes expectativas de negocio y una buena fiabilidad en la recuperación de la inversión.
El estudio, realizado para analizar los problemas de las empresas en la región, explica que en las últimas dos décadas, algunas compañías españolas han vivido un gran fenómeno de expansión, con América Latina como protagonista, convirtiendo a España en uno de los principales inversores en la zona junto a Estados Unidos.
De hecho, los senadores subrayan que el 70% de la Inversión Directa Extranjera de España va a América Latina.
No obstante, reconoce que la imagen global de su presencia es mala, según todas las encuestas. En ese sentido, los empresarios piden por ejemplo estar presentes en la gestión de algunos proyectos de cooperación para mejorar su imagen y contribuir al desarrollo de los países.
También reclaman una implicación mayor de las embajadas en la búsqueda y fomento de las oportunidades de negocio y que se mantenga un nivel de interlocución muy elevado con las autoridades y la sociedad civil del país en el que se esté presente.
En ese sentido, apuesta por fomentar el papel que desempeña el canal público TVE Internacional, presente en toda América Latina, potenciando la "imagen de España como la de un país líder en el sector del turismo de calidad y en el de la tecnología".
También solicitan el desarrollo de convenios para evitar la doble tributación impositiva, mayores incentivos fiscales a la expansión de la industria hotelera y aumento de vuelos regulares a algunos destinos.
Publicado el jueves, 03.25.10La Habana encubre creciente papel de los militares en la economíaPor JUAN O. TAMAYO
La prensa cubana, controlada por el gobierno, elogia regularmente a las fuerzas armadas como un modelo de eficiencia pero rara vez menciona su destacado papel en la maltrecha economía de la isla, según un reporte de inteligencia de Estados Unidos.
Raúl Castro se ha presentado como un líder civil, añadió el reporte, vestido menos de general y más frecuentemente de traje o guayabera.
El informe fue emitido el 26 de febrero por el Open Source Center (OSC), una rama de los servicios de inteligencia que le sigue la pista a las noticias extranjeras. El informe no se dio a conocer al público pero fue obtenido y publicado por Secrecy News, un programa de la Federación de Científicos de Estados Unidos sobre los secretos del gobierno.
Las fuerzas armadas cubanas, consideradas generalmente la institución oficial más respetada de la isla, controlan aproximadamente el 60 por ciento de la economía del país, duramente afectada por la crisis financiera mundial, los ciclones y las fallas internas del sistema.
Muchos de sus principales oficiales han estudiado administración de empresas en el exterior y el sistema usado por sus propias compañías en sectores como el turismo es presentado como un modelo a seguir.
Sin embargo, el análisis del OSC observa que aunque los medios cubanos elogian frecuentemente a las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR), casi nunca mencionan el papel de los militares en la economía.
"Los medios estatales presentan a los militares como un modelo de eficiencia colectiva e individual [y] regularmente critican a las entidades y empleados civiles… pero la cobertura de los militares generalmente no menciona el papel de las FAR en la economía'', observó el reporte.
En el 2009 los medios "sólo publicaron un informe ligeramente crítico sobre los militares: un llamamiento a mejorar las condiciones de vida de los soldados en servicio activo'', añadió el informe, titulado "Cuba, perfil militar en los medios estatales''.
Una transmisión de Radio Rebelde del 2 de septiembre hizo un contraste directo entre lo que llamó la respuesta inmediata de las FAR a los tres ciclones que devastaron Cuba en el 2008 con el "lento ritmo de las labores civiles de recuperación'', según el informe de la OSC.
"Hay una desconexión. Tienen toda una falange de militares dirigiendo la economía'' y sin embargo no se les considera responsables de la crisis económica, observó Brian Latell, socio investigador del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos y Cubanoamericanos de la Universidad de Miami. ''Quizás sea otro reflejo del mal funcionamiento del régimen''.
El reporte de la OSC añadió que Raúl Castro apareció ''atípicamente visible y comprometido'' durante los ejercicios militares Bastión en noviembre, "pero generalmente se presenta más como un líder civil''.
Raúl Castro "vistió de uniforme en alrededor del 25 por ciento de sus presentaciones en los medios durante el 2009, en comparación con más de 33 por ciento en el 2008'', según el informe, y "generalmente recibe a los visitantes extranjeros vestido de traje o guayabera''.
Raúl Castro renunció a su cargo de ministro de las Fuerzas Armadas y tomó la dirección del país a principios del 2008, reemplazando a su enfermo hermano Fidel, aunque los medios siguen refiriéndose a él como "el general Raúl Castro''.
Otros altos oficiales, como el ministro de las Fuerzas Armadas, general Julio Casas Regueiro, sus tres viceministros y los jefes de los tres ejércitos regionales, tienen "una presencia básicamente ceremonial en los medios estatales, donde las fuerzas armadas reciben una cobertura limitada pero abrumadoramente favorable''.
Sus nombres aparecieron menos en los medios el año pasado que en el 2008 pero probablemente porque varios fueron prmoovidos en el 2008, según el reporte del OSC.
El viceministro de las FAR, general Leopoldo Cintra Frías, fue el líder militar más visible del 2009, mencionado 17 veces en los medios, según el informe, y el único del que se reportó que había viajado al exterior.
Publicado el jueves, 03.25.10Gloria Estefan encabeza marcha de disidentes cubanosPor LAURA WIDES-MUNOZThe Associated Press
MIAMI — Gloria Estefan ayudará a encabezar el jueves una marcha en solidaridad con las madres y esposas cubanas de unos 75 disidentes arrestados en el 2003.
La superestrella cubano-estadounidense y otros activistas llamaron a la manifestación de esta tarde en la Pequeña Habana de Miami para honrar a las Damas de Blanco de Cuba.
La semana pasada, agentes de seguridad cubanos reprimieron manifestaciones de las Damas de Blanco que marchaban por La Habana para conmemorar el séptimo aniversario de los arrestos mientras eran abucheadas por militantes del gobierno.
El historial de derechos humanos de Cuba ha llamado la atención mundial en semanas recientes con la muerte del disidente Orlando Zapata Tamayo en una huelga de hambre, la hospitalización de un segundo activista, Guillermo Farinas, y un video del trato a las Damas de Blanco.
"Veo al resto del mundo pronunciándose, veo a la Unión Europea pronunciándose, gente que usualmente está del lado de Fidel Castro. Pensé, 'Dios mío. Yo soy una mujer. Yo soy cubana. Tengo la oportunidad de hablar por lo de la música. Es algo que tengo que hacer'", declaró Estefan, quien planeaba traer a su hija de 15 años con ella.
"Nosotros los cubanos tenemos muchas opiniones diferentes, pero una cosa en la que estamos de acuerdo es que queremos la libertad para los cubanos" en la isla, añadió la cantante.
Estefan le ha pedido a las manifestantes que vistan de blanco, caminen en silencio y lleven flores al estilo de las Damas.
La enfermera Beatriz Ledesma, de 36 años, estaba entre aquellas que planeaban asistir a la marcha del jueves. Era la primera vez para ambas.
"Yo vine de Cuba hace siete años. No soy política, pero ni puedo ver la tele", dijo Ledesma. "Me hace querer llorar. Han hecho demasiado en la forma en que están tratando a la gente".
El presidente Barack Obama también se pronunció el miércoles, cuando calificó la muerte de Tamayo como trágica.
"La represión infligida sobre las Damas de Blanco y el intensificado acoso de aquellos que se atreven a dar voz a los deseos de sus compatriotas cubanos, son profundamente perturbadoras", dijo el mandatario estadounidense.
Obama apuntó que el pasado año ha señalado su interés en mejorar las relaciones entre ambas naciones.
Sin embargo, dijo que estaba "comprometido a apoyar el simple deseo del pueblo cubano de determinar libremente su futuro y disfrutar los derechos y las libertades que definen a las Américas, y eso debe ser universal para todos los seres humanos".