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Daily Archives: April 23, 2011

Cuban ballet dancer that defected to perform in Tampa

Cuban ballet dancer that defected to perform in TampaBy Alberto de la Cruz on 04/23/2011 – 10:54 am PDT

Playing the character for the Patel Conservatory's Next Generation Ballet production is a 21-year-old professional dancer named Nieser Zambrana.

Four months ago, Zambrana was part of the strictly classical National Ballet of Cuba, living off $20 a month in a dorm-style dance company apartment in Havana and itching for .

If only he could get to America, Zambrana thought, he could perform any number of dance styles with any number of dance companies. He could live on his own and support himself and a future family.

Cuba was home, but America was opportunity.

The big break came with a company tour in . Defecting, Zambrana said, would be as simple as making his way to the border and setting foot on U.S. soil.

It also would mean never returning.

Two weeks before the trip, Zambrana called his grandmother and asked her what to do.

"Go," she told him.


Agreden a familia de activistas de derechos humanos en Guantánamo

Agreden a familia de activistas de en Guantánamo

Yudislady Travieso Garlobo, ha denunciado el acoso de turbas dirigidas por el gobierno contra su familia y la detención de su esposo. 23 de abril de 2011

En Guantánamo, donde tradicionalmente la policía política cubana reprime con fiereza a los opositores al gobierno de Castro, se produjo el viernes un nuevo mitin de repudio contra una activista de derechos humanos y su familia.

Yudislady Travieso Garlobo, ha denunciado el acoso de turbas dirigidas por el gobierno contra su familia y la detención de su esposo, el activista de derechos humanos, Niorbis Rivera Guerra.

Travieso Garlobo relató a Radio Martí la rudeza con que los paramilitares actuaron contra ella y su familia en horas de la noche del vierbes en la ciudad de Guantánamo.

Según narra Travieso, hasta su hija menor de edad fue víctima de la furia de las turbas que las agredieron.

Tags: , Represión, Acto de repudio

New leader overhauls US broadcasts into Cuba

Posted on Saturday, 04.23.11

New leader overhauls US broadcasts into CubaBy LAURA WIDES-MUNOZAP Hispanic Affairs Writer

MIAMI — A new generation of managers is taking the reins at the U.S. government's radio and TV broadcasts into Cuba, promising to overhaul the stations' programming in an effort to make them more relevant and reach a younger audience.

The overhaul coincides with broader policy changes, as Barack Obama has shifted from the Bush-era tactic of advocating the overthrow of 's communist government to encourage more cultural and economic exchanges to bring about political change from within the island.

Carlos Garcia-Perez, a 43-year-old Cuban-American attorney, took over the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in October. Unlike the Marti founders and most directors since, he is from Puerto Rico, not the anti-Castro exile enclave of Miami. He wasn't even born when the last Marti director, exile Pedro Roig, participated in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

Garcia-Perez insists the often-criticized TV and Radio Marti broadcasts still offer an important service in Cuba, where the government has an iron grip on the media and tries, often successfully, to block TV Marti.

"To enable the free flow of information to our audience (in Cuba), that's what we're all about. It would be great if other commercial broadcasts had complete access, but that's not the reality," he said, noting the Cuban government in January removed CNN's Spanish service from a package of channels provided to hotels and foreign companies. It gave no explanation.

The changes include longer news programs, overhauling entertainment shows with some lighter fare and adding services for mobile phones, which families in Miami are increasingly bringing to their relatives on the island.

One new radio show, "El Revoltillo" (The Scramble), features two hosts exchanging Regis and Kelly-like banter while reading off items and services for sale from a Cuban website. The program is more practical than overtly political because few on the island have computer access. Based on nothing more than a Cuban-style Craigslist, it seems to work, mixing useful information with humor. The hosts throw in an occasional jab at the island's government but not with the same derision of past shows, such as "The Boss's Office," which frequently featured a bumbling impersonator of , Fidel Castro's brother and the country's president.

Since it debuted this year, the show has received calls and even emails from Cubans looking to sell, rent or buy everything from a shower hose to the services of a private investigator. Unlike most previous Marti shows, callers aren't necessarily dissidents. Garcia-Perez said that fits the broadcasts' goal of facilitating more exchange among Cubans from all parts of the island.

Critics have for years questioned the Martis' management and standards, arguing the broadcasts reach few on the island and do as much harm as good for the U.S. image abroad. At least two recent congressional bills proposed dumping the roughly $28 million-a-year Martis, though they are unlikely to pass. And some critics particularly question the point of overhauling TV Marti, which gets most of the budget and is by most accounts successfully jammed by the Cuban government.

Harvard professor and Cuba expert Jorge Dominguez, who occasionally visits the island for research, said there's only so much the Martis can change given their low reputation inside the island and TV Marti's limited audience.

"Even the Cuban government no longer cares. It cared in the 1980s and 1990s, but I can't remember the last time I spoke to a Cuban official who brought it up," he said.

Garcia-Perez has tried to shore up the broadcasts' credibility since arriving, cutting more than a third of their roughly 100 outside contractors. Their positions were often derided as a way to dole out cash and curry favor with Miami's Cuban leaders.

Garcia-Perez also brought in another young Puerto Rican of Cuban descent from the Spanish-language network Telemundo to serve as the stations' general manager. And he hired Humberto Castello, former executive editor of Miami's Spanish-language paper El Nuevo Herald, to add meat and modernity to the Marti website.

Castello isn't exactly the new guard. Under his leadership, El Nuevo Herald faced an ethics scandal over payments a number of its reporters were receiving from the government-run Martis, but the paper also won journalistic prizes.

Traffic at the website is up 25 percent since February, with an average of 4,000 daily hits, according to an automated analysis provided to The Associated Press. Many of those are from the U.S., and Argentina, as Cubans on the island often use foreign email addresses.

The changes at the Martis are part of a broader push among U.S. foreign broadcasts to remain relevant and do more with less. U.S.-funded broadcasters operate on a roughly $760 million budget, in 59 languages reaching an estimated 165 million people weekly, according to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees them.

Voice of America is ending shortwave radio broadcasts in . And it is working especially hard to justify itself in the Western Hemisphere, where people in all but two countries – Cuba and – have an array of local media, satellite channels and sites to choose from.

Toward that end, the Martis and VOA are working more closely to pool resources, boosting the Martis' credibility.

Despite the changes, Garcia-Perez insists the fundamental mission of the Martis – to provide a counterpoint to the Cuban government – hasn't changed.

"We don't try to tell the people in Cuba 'Fidel and Raul are bad.' They know that," he said. "We want to be the number one station to bring the news to the Cuban people about what's happening inside the island first and then a window to the rest of the world."



Reforman transmisiones radiales de EEUU a Cuba

Reforman transmisiones radiales de EEUU a Cuba23 de Abril de 2011 • 13:10

Una nueva generación de directores se está haciendo cargo de las transmisiones del gobierno estadounidense por radio y televisión a Cuba, y promete reformar totalmente la programación para actualizarla y atraer a una audiencia más joven.

La reforma coincide con un cambio más amplio de política, ya que el Barack Obama ha descartado la táctica de su antecesor George W. Bush de impulsar el derrocamiento del régimen castrista para alentar un mayor intercambio cultural y económico.

Carlos García Pérez, un abogado cubano-estadounidense de 43 años, tomó la dirección de la Oficina de Transmisiones a Cuba en octubre. A diferencia de los fundadores y la mayoría de los directores de Radio Martí y TV Martí, es originario de Puerto Rico, no del enclave de exiliados anticastristas de Miami. Ni siquiera había nacido cuando el último director de Martí, el exiliado Pedro Roig, participó en la desastrosa invasión de Bahía de Cochinos (o Girón) en 1961.

A pesar de las numerosas críticas, García Pérez insiste que las emisiones de Radio y TV Martí pueden cumplir una función importante en la isla, donde el gobierno controla la prensa con puño de hierro y trata, frecuentemente con éxito, de bloquear TV Martí.

"Permitir el flujo libre de información a nuestra audiencia (en Cuba), ésa es nuestra razón de ser. Sería buenísimo que otras emisoras comerciales tuvieran acceso, pero la realidad es otra", dijo, y destacó que en enero el gobierno cubano eliminó CNN en Español del paquete de canales que reciben los hoteles y las compañías extranjeras.

El cambio incluye noticieros más largos, programas de variedades con música ligera y servicios para teléfonos móviles, que las familias en Miami llevan a sus parientes en la isla.

En un programa de radio nuevo, "El Revoltillo", los dos conductores intercambian bromas mientras leen los artículos y servicios en venta ofrecidos por un sitio de cubano. Es un programa más práctico que abiertamente político porque pocos en la isla tienen acceso a la internet.

Los conductores suelen lanzar alguna pulla al gobierno de la isla, pero no con el desdén de programas del pasado como "La oficina del jefe", con un imitador de Raúl Castro que retrataba al hermano de Fidel y actual presidente como un hombre tonto y torpe.

Desde su debut el año pasado, el programa ha recibido llamadas e incluso correos electrónicos de cubanos que intentan vender, alquilar o comprar toda la gama imaginable de artículos, desde regaderas de jardín hasta los servicios de un detective privado. Y los que llaman no son, como antes, solamente disidentes.

García Pérez dijo que esto se corresponde con el objetivo de las transmisiones, de facilitar una mayor comunicación entre cubanos de toda la isla.

Desde hace años los detractores ponen en entredicho la dirección y normas de Martí, con el argumento de que las transmisiones tienen una audiencia reducida en la isla y dañan la imagen de en el exterior. Dos proyectos a discusión en el Congreso proponen eliminar Martí, con su presupuesto de 28 millones de dólares anuales, aunque difícilmente podrán prosperar. Algunos críticos cuestionan sobre todo la conveniencia de reformar TV Martí, que recibe la mayor parte del presupuesto y que, según casi todos los testimonios, es bloqueada por el gobierno cubano.

Jorge Domínguez, profesor de Harvard y especialista en Cuba que suele visitar la isla durante sus investigaciones, dice que es poco lo que las Martí pueden lograr, dadas su mala reputación y escasa audiencia en la isla.

"Al gobierno cubano ya no le importa. Le importaba en los 80 y 90, pero no recuerdo que últimamente algún funcionario cubano me haya hablado de eso", dijo.

Desde que tomó la dirección, García Pérez ha tratado de mejorar la credibilidad de las Martí, al reducir en un tercio su centenar de contratistas externos. Muchos consideraban estos puestos un medio para repartir dinero y ganarse los favores de los líderes del exilio cubano en Miami.

García Pérez atrajo a otro joven puertorriqueño de origen cubano de la cadena en español Telemundo para ocupar la gerencia general de las Martí. Y contrató a Humberto Castello, ex director del diario en español El Nuevo Herald de Miami para modernizar y dar mayor contenido al sitio de internet de Martí.

Castello no es precisamente de la llamada nueva guardia. Bajo su dirección, El Nuevo Herald enfrentó un escándalo ético por los pagos que recibían algunos periodistas de una empresa pública como las Martí, pero el diario también ganó premios periodísticos.

El sitio de internet recibe un promedio de 4.000 visitas diarias, un aumento del 25% con respecto a febrero, de acuerdo con un análisis automático al que tuvo acceso The Associated Press. Muchas visitas son de Estados Unidos, Canadá y Argentina, ya que los cubanos en la isla suelen usar direcciones extranjeras de electrónico.

Los cambios en las Martí son parte de una campaña de las transmisiones estadounidenses al exterior para conservar audiencia y lograr más con menos. Las emisoras financiadas con dinero público, con un presupuesto anual de 760 millones de dólares, emiten en 59 idiomas a una audiencia semanal de 165 millones de personas, según el organismo supervisor Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Voice of America pondrá fin a sus emisiones de radio en onda corta a . Y se esfuerza por justificar su existencia en el hemisferio occidental, donde las audiencias en todos los países menos Cuba y cuentan con una enorme gama de medios locales, canales satelitales y páginas de internet.

Con ese fin, las Martí y VOA están colaborando más para aprovechar sus recursos de manera conjunta y aumentar la credibilidad de las emisiones a Cuba.

A pesar de los cambios, García Pérez insiste que la misión fundamental de las Martí no ha cambiado.

"No tratamos de decirle a la gente en Cuba que Fidel y Raúl son malos, eso ya lo saben", dijo. "Queremos ser la estación número uno que lleva las noticias al pueblo cubano sobre lo que sucede en la isla en primer término, y en segundo término, abrirles una ventana al resto del mundo".


Juan Pablo II creía que los cubanos vivieron ‘una especie de respiro, de liberación’ gracias a su visita


Juan Pablo II creía que los cubanos vivieron 'una especie de respiro, de liberación' gracias a su visitaAgenciasCiudad del Vaticano 23-04-2011 – 7:50 pm.

El secretario de Estado del Vaticano, cardenal Tarcisio Bertone, publica un libro en el que recoge algunas de las impresiones del fallecido Papa sobre su viaje a Cuba.

El fallecido papa Juan Pablo II dijo que fue tal vez el gobernante que se preparó más concienzudamente para recibirle, según afirma el actual secretario de Estado del Vaticano, el cardenal Tarcisio Bertone, en su libro Un cuore grande, Omaggio a Giovanni Paolo II (Un gran corazón. Homenaje a Juan Pablo II).

Editado por la Librería Vaticana, el libro saldrá a la venta próximamente. El diario vaticano L'Osservatore Romano adelantó hoy varios capítulos. Bertone homenajea en él al papa Wojtyla con motivo de su beatificación, el próximo 1 de mayo, reportó EFE.

Juan Pablo II visitó Cuba en enero de 1998, en un viaje histórico, en el que recorrió la Isla y se entrevistó con Fidel Castro.

El fallecido Papa criticó el de a Cuba, sin mencionar directamente a ese país, así como el sistema vigente en la Isla, e instó a todos los católicos a unir sus esfuerzos en favor del progreso en un clima de diálogo y entendimiento.

Juan Pablo II, según Bertone, tenía un juicio "muy positivo" de esa estancia, "sobre todo por el entusiasmo del pueblo que conoció una especie de respiro de liberación gracias a la visita".

The Congress of White Guayaberas / Iván García

The Congress of White Guayaberas / Iván GarcíaIván García, Translator: Unstated

The first change in the Cuban mandarins at the Communist Party 6th Congress was in the look. If, in the prior congress, in 1997, the hierarchy wore the hot and intimidating olive green uniform, now the fashion of those who led the sessions and debates was the typical guayabera.

White, as well. As if to transmit purity and political transparency. , and his staff on combat alert intent on rescuing the dying local , sat at the presidential table showing impeccable guayaberas.

And says before, during the courtesy visit of the ex- Jimmy Carter, both the American and his host exhibited this most Cuban fashion. The guayabera sits better on the General than the military uniform.

This shirt has a history. I wrote about it in "From the olive green to the guayabera" a post published in December 2010 in Tania Quintero's . Anecdotes aside, Cubans have always like the guayabera for its comfort and freshness.

Among those who resisted throwing it into the trunk of memories were the peasants, who continued wearing it for weddings, baptisms and parties.

Castro II wants to return to Cuban traditions in dress. On countless occasions, his brother Fidel wore suits, well cut and with elegant ties. On foreign visits Raul has also dressed in suits from good tailors. The most striking was a white one, which he wore in July 2009 during a brief stay in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.

But from October 6, 2010, when a decree declared the guayabera to be official dress, Castro II makes a point of it. In the 6th Congress, if there was something that marked a difference from the five previous ones, it was the wearing of guayaberas. Especially all white ones.

April 22 2011

Forest fires increase in Cuba

Forest fires increase in Cuba

Cuba had registered over 400 forest fires till April 15 this year, affecting more than 5,267 hectares of forests and 2,340 hectares of marsh or grasslands, officials said Friday.

The Cuban Ranger Corps said 80 percent of these fires were caused by human negligence, such as smoking or sparks from vehicles and machineries.

The Ranger Corps said it had restricted the use of fire in April.

Spring is a drought season in Cuba, when forest fires are highly likely to take place.

From January to May 2010, 5,711 hectares of forests in Cuba had been damaged by forest fires with estimated losses of 7.6 million Cuban pesos(298,000 U.S. dollars).

Dr. Óscar Biscet, in Cuba’s prisons for twelve years, speaks

Dr. Óscar Biscet, in Cuba's prisons for twelve years, speaksNews on the Net Friday, April 22, 2011By Jay Nordlinger

'I NEED to get to work," says Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet. Are you familiar with him? He is perhaps the foremost Cuban democracy activist, a symbol of the general resistance to the Castro dictatorship. Has he been neglecting his work? Not exactly. For the past twelve years, essentially, he has been in , suffering the things that the regime's prisoners have always suffered. George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of in 2007. The recipient could not accept it in person, of course. But he has now been released from prison. The day, so long hoped for, by so many of us, was March 11. I spoke to him three weeks after.

Biscet was born in 1961 and has a wife, Elsa Morejón Hernández, and two children, Winnie and Yan. The children have been in the United States for several years; Elsa, like her husband, is in Cuba. Biscet obtained his degree in internal medicine in 1985. A few years later, he embarked on human-rights activism. In 1994, he was charged with "dangerousness," a very common charge. It means that the individual in question will not submit meekly to dictatorial rule. In 1997, Biscet established the Lawton Foundation for ("Lawton" being the name of the Havana neighborhood in which he lived). The organization, of course, is banned. In 1998, he spoke out strongly against abortion, particularly late-term abortion: In his work as a doctor, he saw ghastly things. The authorities responded harshly to his protest.

After being detained repeatedly — 26 times — Biscet was in 1999 and thrown in prison for three years. He was released on October 31, 2002, and had 36 days outside of prison. During this time, he worked on his "Democratic Principles for Cuba" and a civic project called "Club for Friends of Human Rights." He was again arrested on December 6, 2002, and underwent his ordeal until last March 11.

Cuban Reforms Still Over The Horizon As Aging Elite Demurs

Cuban Reforms Still Over The Horizon As Aging Elite DemursPublished on April 23, 2011by Staff ReporterHAVANA (CUBA)

Fear of doing too much too soon and losing the grip on power has led Cuban leadership to stick to Plan A — continue with business as usual while dipping toes into the unfamiliar waters of a market .

Hopes of younger Communist Party adherents joining the ranks of the ruling elite ended when the first party congress since 1971 this week made official President 's elevation as the new first secretary, succeeding elder brother Fidel, 84.

The party also gave the go-ahead for 500,000 government workers to look elsewhere for earnings, a politically charged move sweetened by a much publicized encouragement to self-starters, entrepreneurs and would-be property tycoons. All Cubans can now buy or sell homes, albeit under strict conditions and set up shops and businesses.

That left Cuba as the world's last stronghold of communism, of a sort, after Albania broke ranks and began experimenting with capitalism, taking cash from the in return for advice on much needed fiscal reforms.

Raul Castro, 79, heralded the reforms, warning Cubans to get ready for tougher times. Party newspaper Granma said ways of "working miracles are running out."

In all 300 reforms were cited in the package laid before the congress but none that veered away from entrenched central planning.

and fuel will become more expensive, subsidies will gradually disappear and small and tentative steps will guide Cubans toward what might eventually be recognizable as a market economy with a private sector set for slow but certain growth.

The economic reforms package left unanswered major questions on political transition and easing of curbs on dissent and the media in preparation for developing a democratic infrastructure, a problem seen behind troubles in recently "liberated" societies such as Egypt and Tunisia.

Click Here – For Jailbreak VideoIn addition to routine muzzling of dissent, Watch and international human rights organizations have accused the two Castros administrations of systematic abuses, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials and extrajudicial execution.

Although Cuba relaxed curbs on religious it retains tight control on religious institutions and affiliated groups. Partly due to the U.S. , access remains limited, expensive and largely restricted to hotels frequented by foreign tourists.

The embargo began in 1960 after Cuba nationalized U.S. properties and toughened in February, 1962. Although it formally orders the most enduring trade embargo in modern history, the United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba.

On Sept. 2, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama extended the embargo to Sept. 14, 2011, determining it to be in the national interest of the United States.

An April 2009 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll indicated 64 percent of Americans surveyed backed the lifting of the U.S. ban on Cuba and 71 percent supported a re-establishment of diplomatic relations.

Cuba's reforms could sway more Americans toward the island, which expects its economy to grow 3.1 percent in 2011, up from 2.1 percent in 2010.

At the same time, analysts said, the slow pace of reforms would likely encourage a larger informal sector to grow before a new market economy could begin to take shape.

Fledgling capitalist Albania still has 50 percent of its economy in the unreported and unregulated sector — the black economy, independent European data showed.

Corporate and public sector corruption, organized crime and huge income disparities are rife, the data indicated.

That's a phase that Cuba, too, may go through before it recasts itself as a quasi-capitalist economy, analysts said.

An end to classic cars rumbling across Cuba?

An end to classic cars rumbling across Cuba?By Shasta Darlington, CNNApril 22, 2011 5:11 p.m. EDT

Havana, Cuba (CNN) — They rumble down city boulevards and country roads across Cuba: 1950s Fords, Buicks and Pontiacs, some in mint condition, others on the verge of collapse.

But a new law regulating property ownership in Cuba could change that.

At the recent four-day summit of the country's Communist Party, announced that the legal framework allowing people to buy and sell cars and homes was in the "final stages."

What will this mean to the average Cuban?

He didn't provide details, but many Cubans hope it will be the end of half a century of restrictions. Under current law, they can only freely buy and sell cars that were on the road in Cuba before 's 1959 Revolution.

Russian Ladas and modern Peugeots and Kias now outnumber the 1950s classics, but, for the most part, they are owned by the state and cannot be sold on the free market.

Like many owners, Michel outfitted his '52 Plymouth with a diesel engine and turned it into a private taxi. But he might be open to selling it.

"When they open a car showroom, I'll get in and try them all and then I'll tell you what I would do," he says. "I've never driven a modern car."

But he still doesn't think the American classics are in danger.

"If these cars didn't exist, not as many foreigners would come to Cuba to drive around in them and take pictures."

The changes could be much more significant for Cuba's real estate market.

As it stands, Cubans officially own their homes, but they can't buy or sell them. They can only exchange them for homes of a similar value.

In reality, a house trade is generally a complicated process involving agents on the black market and cash. In some cases, buyers will simply marry the seller, put the house under their name and then divorce.

A group of prospective buyers and sellers who gather in the center of Havana said the speculation is that the law will be published next month.

"There are people who have money and don't have a house, so the changes are good," said one man who declined to give his name.

Because of the restrictions, there are also instances where three or four generations live under the same roof.

It's not clear how the law will work, but perhaps with an eye on the real estate boom in Russia — Castro was adamant that he won't allow the "concentration of property."

Cuba’s revolution hasn’t found fountain of youth

Cuba's revolution hasn't found fountain of youthBy: Staff WriterPosted: 04/23/2011 1:00 AM

CUBA'S Communist party held its convention this week. There were no surprises, but then there hardly ever are at Communist conventions unless the secret show up.

This year, the big surprise involved former leader , who ruled the Caribbean country with an iron fist — Mr. Castro never bothered with niceties such as a velvet glove — for 46 years until stepping down due to illness in 2006 and passing the crown on to his brother Raul.

Fidel had not been expected to make an appearance, but the 1,000 party faithful who showed up in Havana to nod their heads at all of Raul's proposals gave the old a huge ovation anyway. And so they should have, since they all owe their sinecures to him. At the opening of the convention, had suggested that perhaps it was time for term limits in Cuba, that maybe his brother's 46 years in power was a little bit longer than is seemly in a government that claims to actually represent the people.

He suggested that maybe two five-year terms were as long as anybody really needed to be in power or as long as it was good for anybody to be in power. For a moment, he almost seemed as genuine a democrat as the Americans he regards with such loathing and who only allow their presidents to serve two four-year terms. (Canadian prime ministers, in contrast, can serve for as long as they can keep getting elected, which is perhaps one reason why our governments so often seem more sympathetic to their colleagues in Cuba than their fellow democrats in Washington.)

Even Raul's brother, Fidel, seemed to be in sync, suggesting that term limits were "a subject on which I have long meditated." Now that he is no longer in power — for the first time since the revolution he no longer holds an office — it appears that 46 years of meditation is time enough.

Unfortunately, when the leadership of the Communist party was announced at the close of the conference, nothing much had changed. A few younger people got promoted — Communists in their 50s and 60s — but when election fever had abated, Raul Castro, who is 80 years old, was elected first secretary of the party and the No. 2 and 3 spots in the hierarchy went to men who are, respectively, 80 and relatively spring-like 78. Cuba, it seems, still needs another revolution.

Castro hails ‘new generation’ of Cuba leaders, but appoints old guard

Castro hails 'new generation' of Cuba leaders, but appoints old guard

José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, will fill 's old spot as No. 2 in power, while Ramiro Valdes will take over the No. 3 role. Both have collaborated with the Fidel and Raul Castro since at least the 1950s.

By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer / April 20, 2011Mexico City

The theme of the Sixth Party Congress in Cuba seemed clear enough: Raul Castro opened the summit Saturday saying that a new generation of Cuban politicians was needed to secure the socialist revolution.

Even former Cuban leader seemed to embrace the message. "The new generation is called to rectify and change without hesitation all that must be rectified and changed," he wrote in the state newspaper Granma.

But by the time the Congress wrapped up Tuesday, new leaders were named to the Communist Party, and none of the top three positions went to anyone younger than 78, leaving the old guard in power and frustrating those Cubans eager for a political shakeup.

IN PICTURES: Cuba's underground

"Raul Castro was saying they needed to bring in new leadership, bring the new generation forward," says Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington and former US diplomat in Cuba. "But he has named his longtime No. 2 to be No. 2."

The Congress was significant because Fidel Castro was not named the head of the party for the first time since it was formed in 1965. Instead Raul Castro will officially assume that role.

Cuban watchers were eager to see if a younger leader would be chosen as Raul Castro's longtime position as second secretary. But veteran José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, will take the spot, while Ramiro Valdes will take over the No. 3 role. Both have collaborated with the Castros since at least the 1950s.

Raul Castro addressed the apparent contradiction in his closing speech. "We have kept various veterans of the historic generation, and that is logical due to the consequences of the mistakes that have been made in this area," he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in his closing speech. "These have robbed us of a back bench of mature substitutes with enough experience to take on the country's top positions."

Two younger politicians were named to leadership positions, including Marino Murillo who is overseeing economic reform in Cuba. They could later be groomed for top positions. And even the rhetoric alone is a change that Mr. Smith views as significant.

"At least they are talking about the need to bring to the fore the younger generation, and not have the same leaders decade after decade," Smith says. "At least it is an encouraging sign that [Raul Castro] is talking about it."

The Congress was the first in 14 years and comes amid economic changes that Raul Castro has made, including the announcement last fall that half a million state jobs will be slashed. Delegates debated some 300 economic proposals, but few details were released. Instead, they underlined their commitment to changes forthcoming.

"It could have been a Congress that declared new policies with schedules attached to them … that named a bunch of new people," says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute. "Instead it was a Congress that expressed commitments for future actions."

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