Foreign Policy:Castro's Return Spells Doom For Cubaby Jose R. Cardenas
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro gives a speech at Havana's University. He has made a number of public appearances lately, most notably an interview with the The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.September 13, 2010
Jose R. Cardenas is an associate with the consulting firm VisionAmericas, He served in senior positions in the Bush administration including in the U.S. Department of State, the National Security Council, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Well, he's back. Four years after ceding power to younger brother Raul, Fidel Castro is re-commanding the spotlight inside Cuba and regaling witting foreign visitors with a series of provocative quotes that are causing headlines around the world. In other words, the regime's plan is working like a charm.
While Castro's return may be furrowing the brow of many a "Cubanologist," its meaning isn't hard to figure out: It is an act of desperation by a ruling clique unable to control a fast-moving chain of events and looking to shore up a wobbling regime facing unprecedented threats.
From the death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on a hunger strike (which sparked other hunger strikes by incarcerated human rights activists), to the courageous and undaunted Ladies in White weekly demonstrations in Havana, to desperately using the Catholic Church to broker the release of other jailed dissidents (which failed as a public relations ploy when the released were shipped off to exile in Spain), the brief reign of Raul Castro has been a fiasco for those vested in the regime.
Not only were events drawing heightened international scrutiny of human rights in Cuba, they were also emboldening Cuban dissidents to publicly challenge the very foundations of Cuba's police state like never before.
The hapless Raul also displayed a marked incapacity to institute any meaningful economic reforms to save the Cuban economy from its current tailspin. In addition, the hoped-for salvation — that the Obama administration would open the gates to U.S. tourist travel to Cuba — shows no sign of happening anytime soon.
All this, coupled with Castro's own return from death's door, compelled the return of the Old Man to set things "right." His return conveys a message to both domestic and foreign audiences. For the Cuban people, the sight of Castro alone bedecked again in his military fatigues is meant to cow them, embodying a simple message: give up any expectations that any changes are afoot in Cuba. Things are going right back to the way they were when he left power. There will be no freedoms, no hope, no future; time to go on home.
To the international audience, the message is one of diversion, an attempt to change the subject from the very negative (and deserved) narrative of the past year. The regime knew that international media coverage of Castro's return would step all over the activities of Cuba's dissidents and human rights activists. Throw in a spot of Castro dolphin-watching with a pair of credulous foreign guests and the ruse is complete. All is well, indeed.
It remains to be seen what impact the return of Fidel Castro will ultimately have in boosting the regime's declining fortunes. What is certain is that there is no shortage of outside actors willing to aid and abet this last gasp of the regime to hold things together. Fortunately, to date, this does not include the Obama administration, which has declined to play the role countless policy critics are attempting to assign it. It is good that they remember that Cuba's future lies with those Cubans advocating for something better for their countrymen; not with a fading wraith from a bygone era.
IF IT WERE JUST THE MARABÚ . . .CUBA'S AGRICULTURE 2009-10G.B. Hagelberg
"We face the imperative of making our land produce more . . . the needed structural and conceptual changes will have to be introduced," Raúl Castro famously proclaimed on 26 July 2007, a few days short of a year after provisionally taking over the reins of Cuba's government from his incapacitated older brother. Nine months later, now formally confirmed in power by the National Assembly, he told a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party on 28 April 2008 that food production had to be their top concern as a matter of the highest national security.
In countries otherwise so very diverse as the United States, Russia and Nigeria, Germany, Iran and the Dominican Republic, Sweden, Brazil and Honduras, the four years that Raúl Castro has de facto presided over Cuba would constitute a full term of office, towards the end of which supporters and opponents of an administration argue over its record during a general election campaign. While Cuba's one-party regime marches to the beat of a different drummer, its people – like people across the world – respond to the thrice-daily call of their stomachs. Cuba is no exception to the applicability of the time dimension in politics and economics, and the passage of time is a necessary yardstick for judging this government's effectiveness.
What brought the food situation to the fore of the government's agenda were the ballooning cost of food imports and an alarming deterioration of the food export-import balance pressing on the merchandise trade balance, now that foreign exchange earnings from sugar exports no longer offset outgoings for other agricultural products. Other countries also felt the impact of sharply increased international commodity prices in 2007-08. Cuba's government, however, could not blame soulless world markets alone if people did not have enough to eat. The downsizing of the sugar industry – more demolition than restructuring – had engendered hundreds of thousands of hectares of idle land, on which dense thickets of marabú (Dichrostachys cinerea) bore highly visible evidence of the state's mismanagement of the island's resources. Fifteen years or so into the "Special Period in Time of Peace" that began with the end of Soviet-bloc supports for the Cuban economy, the government was faced with the specter of a return to the drop in food availabilities, if not the nutritional deficits, experienced in the first half of the 1990s – a double dip in current economic recession parlance.
So what has the government done in the farm sector in the four years of Raúl Castro's stewardship?• Debts amounting to tens of millions of pesos owed by state agencies to cooperative and independent farmers have been paid. However, the revelation that barely had the old debts been settled when new debts began to accumulate (Varela Pérez, 2009a) undermined claims that the deficiencies which allowed such arrears to arise had been eliminated (cf. Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2007).• A reorganization of the agriculture ministry begun in 2007 reportedly resulted in the closure of 83 state enterprises and the transformation of 473 loss-making units, with 7,316 workers transferred to other jobs. Analysis of 17 enterprises selected in a second stage showed the possibility of more than halving the number of employees in management. Overall, the ministry counted some 89,000 "unproductive" workers in the state sector – not including Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), undertakings that "after many ups and downs and ambiguities have still not fulfilled the mission for which they were created" (Varela Pérez, 2009b). More recently, agriculture minister Ulises Rosales del Toro stated that more than 40,000 "indirect workers" in the sector had to be relocated (Pérez Cabrera, 2010).• Controls formerly exercised directly by the agriculture ministry from Havana have been shifted down to municipal level. To what extent this actually reduced the bureaucratic apparatus and made life easier for producers is uncertain. The Cuban economist Armando Nova Gonzàlez expressed doubt, arguing that the functions of government and of business management were still being confused: while one structural level had been eliminated, two had been created by introducing a chain of service enterprises to supply production inputs. That was all very well, but how were the producers to acquire the inputs? Through a market, or, as hitherto, by central allocation, which for years had been shown not to be the best way? (Martín González, 2009)• Shops selling hand tools and supplies for convertible pesos (CUC) have been opened in some municipalities. The degree to which this has created direct access to production inputs has so far been limited by the small number of such outlets and the range of goods on offer. Some fraction of farmer income from produce sold to the state and otherwise is also denominated in CUC. But for the acquisition of larger items and bulk quantities, bank loans in that currency would have to become available (Nova González, 2008).• Sharply increased state procurement prices – some, notably for milk and beef, to double and more their former level – have, by all accounts, been an incentive to raise output.But these measures did not amount to structural or conceptual changes, though they could awaken hopes that those would come.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
At the end of the first four years of Raúl Castro's watch, the one structural change worthy of the name in agriculture is the mass grant in usufruct of idle state land, mainly to small farmers and landless persons. Although these transfers are surrounded by conditions, Decree-Law No. 259 of 10 July 2008 is deeply revisionist in concept since it implies – more clearly than the conversion of state farms into UBPCs in 1993 – the abandonment of the long-held doctrine of the superiority of state or parastatal, large-scale, mechanized agriculture reliant on wage labor, of which Fidel Castro had been the foremost exponent in Cuba. Over the signature of Raúl Castro as President of the Council of State, it was decreed that landless individuals could obtain up to 13.42 hectares and existing landholders could bring their total area up to 40.26 hectares under licenses valid for up to 10 years and successively renewable for the same period. Existing state farms, cooperatives and other legal entities could apply for the usufruct of an unlimited area for 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.
No detailed statistics of operations under Decree-Law No. 259 seem to have been published since mid-2009 (González, 2009), cited in Hagelberg and Alvarez (2009). The information on land areas by type and tenancy in the most recent yearbook of Cuba's National Office of Statistics stops at 2007 (ONE, 2010, Table 9.1). Different global figures can be found in media reports. Raúl Castro informed the National Assembly towards the end of 2009 that around 920,000 hectares had been transferred to more than 100,000 beneficiaries, which represented 54% of the total idle area (Granma, 21 December 2009). This would put the magnitude of the total idle area at the outset at 1.7 million hectares. Almost five months later, Marino Murillo Jorge, minister of economy and planning, gave the congress of the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP), the national association of small farmers, the same figure of 920,000 hectares as the land transferred under Decree-Law No. 259, adding that around half of the areas so assigned remained idle or insufficiently exploited (Granma, 17 May 2010).
From the second half of 2009 onwards, the reportorial focus in the state-controlled mass media has shifted noticeably from implementation of Decree-Law No. 259 to advancing a so-called Agricultura Suburbana program. Raúl Castro gave the cue in a speech to the summer 2009 session of the National Assembly (Granma, 3 August 2009):Let us forget tractors and fuel in this program, even if we had them in sufficient quantities; the concept is to execute it basically with oxen, because it is about small farms, as a growing number of producers are doing with excellent results. I have visited some and could verify that they have transformed the land they are working into true gardens where every inch of ground is used.
Raúl Castro entrusted this new initiative specifically to Adolfo Rodríguez Nodals, the head of the National Group of Urban Agriculture (since renamed National Group of Urban and Suburban Agriculture) in the agriculture ministry. The group, he declared, "has obtained outstanding results in urban agriculture, fruit of the exactingness and systemacity expressed in the four controls that it carries out annually in all the provinces and municipalities of the country" (Granma, 3 August 2009). This suggests that Raúl Castro still prized centralized control over operational functionality, evidently unconscious of the fact that it is wholly unsuitable for the management of small-scale mixed farming.
While the idea of the Agricultura Suburbana plan may indeed have come from the experience of the Agricultura Urbana program created in the 1990s (Rodríguez Castellón, 2003) and shares some of its policy objectives and features, such as high labor intensity, the two schemes are as distinct as town and country, horticulture and agriculture. Agricultura Urbana rests, in the main, on patios (domestic gardens), plots (empty lots planted to vegetables) and so-called organopónicos – low-walled beds filled with soil and organic matter, with or without drip irrigation, in the open air or in shade houses, their high-tech name derived from hydroponic installations that could not be maintained after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The system, now reportedly embracing around 10,500 organopónicos alone and occupying more than 300,000 workers (Luben Pérez, 2010), no doubt contributes substantially to the food supply and has other advantages. Equally, Rodríguez Nodals's group undoubtedly fulfills some useful functions by providing advice and facilitating access to supplies in other countries easily available. Its face to the wider public, however, consists of tedious reports of its quarterly inspections and the grades it bestows on its charges, rather in the manner of an elementary school teacher (e.g. Varela Pérez, 2010h).
In contrast, the basic structural model of Agricultura Suburbana is the finca, a small farm, most often in private hands, located in an eight-kilometer-deep ring between two and ten kilometers from urban centers. The plan is being rolled out in stages stretching over five years, some selected municipalities at a time. Its declared objective is to source the food supply of population concentrations as far as possible from nearby crop and livestock producers primarily reliant on animal power for field work as well as transport. Around the city of Camagüey, the test ground for the project, it is ultimately to comprise some 1,400 units with a total area of roughly 65,000 hectares, 80% of which is agricultural land, the greater part devoted to cattle (Hernández Porto, 2009; Carrobello, 2010; Frank, 2010). Introduced as an experiment in 18 municipalities at the beginning of 2010, the program would be progressively extended to some 600,000 hectares across the whole country, according to ANAP president Orlando Lugo Fonte (Bosch, 2010).
The emphasis put on narrowing the distance beween producer and purchaser – distributor, processor or final consumer, on employing animals in place of internal combustion engines in field work and haulage, and on using compost instead of inorganic fertilizers shows that the Agricultura Suburbana program, like the government's other major agricultural policy initiatives in the last 20 years from the creation of the UBPCs to Decree-Law No. 259, is inspired above all by the need to reduce Cuba's dependence on imports, both food and production inputs, at a time of extreme economic stress. To go by the official propaganda, were Agricultura Suburbana enterprises to be characterized by a logo, it would have to feature a pair of oxen. Hence it is disconcerting to find that Cuba's stock of draught oxen appears to have shrunk by a quarter from 377,100 to 284,700 between 2004 and 2009, in contrast to a growing equine population (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.15 and 9.24). If ONE's figures are right, the question can reasonably be asked: do the policymakers in Havana know what goes on down on the farm?
Regardless of whether it offers a perspective of more than a semi-subsistence agriculture, the shortage of material resources to back up the effort to return swathes of mostly marabú-infested land to production under Decree-Law No. 259 favored the more measured approach of the Agricultura Suburbana program. The authorities were admittedly overwhelmed by the flood of requests for plots triggered by Decree-Law No. 259 (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009a). Within barely more than a month of opening the door to submissions in the autumn of 2008, some 69,000 applications were received – 98% of them from individuals and 79% of these from persons without land – according to official figures (Nova González, 2008). Another month of so later and the number of applicants had swelled to some 117,000 (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009a). Was the notorious Cuban dislike for agricultural work another myth? If a fan of the Beatles, Raúl Castro may well have been reminded of the lyrics of Eleanor Rigby: "All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?" Declaring the distribution of idle land in usufruct one of the great challenges for the coming year, he rather optimistically told an interviewer on the last day of 2008: "We have already put behind us the first, initial obstacles we encountered because of atavistic bureaucratic habits" (González Pérez, 2009).
In fact, many successful applicants found that what they had signed up for was, as the trade union organ Trabajadores recalled later, hacer de tripas, corazón – summon up the guts to root out the marabú, "most often without the necessary tools and without a gram of herbicide, by sheer spirit alone" (Rey Veitia et al, 2010). An investigation by a team of Juventud Rebelde reporters in March 2009 unearthed multiple problems – lack of hand tools, machinery and fuel, insufficient financial support, uncertainty over whether even a shelter was permitted on the plot, shortage of fencing wire, and bureaucracy – along with concern over the technical unpreparedness of people new to farming (Pérez et al, 2009). In rebuttal of purported exploitation of the issues by foreign news agencies allegedly intent on defaming Cuba, Trabajadores sought to dampen down expectations: "It would be a delusion to think . . . that any agricultural process that begins with the request for the land could bring significant productive results in only nine months . . . . Bureaucracy? Yes, it is a process that implies steps and involves various agencies" (González, 2009).
Yet similar complaints of shortages, delays, irregularities, bureaucracy, and official incompetence have resurfaced again and again (e.g. "Efectuado pleno . . .," 2009; Rey Veitia et al, 2010). The persistent bureaucracy made the front page of Granma when farmers informed José Ramón Machado Ventura, member of the Politburo and first vice president of the councils of state and of ministers, at an ANAP meeting in Havana, of the "diabolical" mechanisms holding back pigmeat production in the metropolitan area (Varela Pérez, 2010e). And Juventud Rebelde quoted an outstanding young farmer (Martín González, 2010):For some time I have been supplying eggs to a school in the community. Until now I have done it with the hens I have, but they have to be replaced because they are getting old and don't produce. When I asked for replacements, there was so much paperwork that I am still thinking about it.
LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS
A bane in the lives of the Cuban people, an incompetent bureaucracy constitutes a minefield for the country's leadership. In their efforts to devise agricultural reforms, Cuba's policymakers labor under a big informational handicap. The government is ill-served by its statistical apparatus. A cardinal case in point is a monograph survey of land use, released by the National Office of Statistics in May 2008, which put the idle agricultural land at 1,232,800 hectares, equal to 18.6% of all agricultural land, as of December 2007 (ONE, 2008). Presumably, this was the figure that guided the framers of Decree-Law No. 259 of 10 July 2008. The number was repeated in ONE's statistical yearbooks for 2008 and 2009 (Table 9.1), published in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and is still the most recent available from that source. However, as casually revealed in Trabajadores, it appears to have been a gross understatement: "A study of the idle state lands arrived at 1,691 thousand hectares" (González, 2009). The provenance of this study has remained unidentified, as far as is known, but a figure in the order of 1.7 million hectares is now evidently the accepted magnitude of the idle land area existent on the eve of Decree-Law No. 259.
Hagelberg and Alvarez (2009) underlined the scope for statistical manipulation offered by a metric of land utilization that allows inclusion of areas merely earmarked for a crop, as officially employed in Cuba in respect of sugarcane. Carrobello and Terrero (2009a) subsequently pointed to another possibility – there may have been no second study, merely a reclassification of categories that moved the goalposts: "But if we add [to the figure of 1,232,800 hectares] the pastures of doubtful utility, 55% of the agricultural area was not cultivated." Agricultural statistics everywhere must, by the nature of things, be granted a margin of error and should not be interpreted too closely. But this is a discrepancy of a different order. In a matter as sensitive as idle land, pollution of the statistical process by political or ideological considerations cannot be excluded. A century-old practice of maintaining grassland reserves in sugar plantations to expand the cane area when profitable to do so moreover conjures up an image of turf wars between the agriculture and sugar ministries.
However, ONE publications also contain numerous infelicities hard to ascribe to political contamination. For instance, the most recent ONE statistical yearbooks (ONE, 2009 and 2010) report tonnages of sugarcane processed in each season since 2002/03 (Table 11.3) greater than those produced for delivery to the mills in the respective season (Table 9.4). Though perhaps not on a par with the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes, the magnification amounts to as much as 900,000 metric tons in 2002/03 (4.1%) and 800,000 tons in 2006/07 (6.7%). Examination of earlier editions of the yearbook indicates that this inconsistency began in 2002/03, the first crop following the restructuring of the industry. The technical indicators displayed in Table 11.3 – cane milled, sugar produced, yield and polarization – are a farrago of incongruities and plain error. Unusually, ONE references these solecisms to the sugar ministry, but that does not absolve it of responsibility since it is the controller of the national system of statistics and guarantor of their quality.
The question-mark hanging over ONE's integrity, competence and professionalism notwithstanding, it is for outside analysts the only source of the data necessary to present more than an anecdotal picture of Cuban agricultural performance. Accurately weighing the impact of the three major hurricanes and a tropical storm that occurred in 2008 – described as the most destructive hurricane season in Cuba's recorded history (Messina, 2009) – both on that year's output and regarding after-effects, is an additional problem. Messina noted miscellaneous reports of damage and losses in tree and arable crops, chicken and egg production, and sugar factories. But the expected high levels of loss were not reflected in the official data. Discussing the possible reasons for the lighter than anticipated losses recorded, Messina thought the most plausible explanation was that particularly in perennial and tree crops the greater part of the harvest takes place in spring and was largely completed before the hurricane season. The full impact of the 2008 weather events would therefore not become apparent until the spring harvest of 2009 and would have to be taken into account in looking at that year's figures.
Table 1 summarizes the official data on 2009 performance in the major crop and livestock categories. The information for the non-state sector is said to comprehend Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPAs), Credits and Services Cooperatives (CCSs), as well as dispersed private producers and estimates for house patios and plots (ONE, 2010, Chapter 9, Introduction). No breakdown into its components is provided in the yearbook. Given the hybrid character of the UBPCs (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009), their assignment to the non-state sector is debatable. Interestingly, they are carried on a separate government register from CPAs and CCSs (ONE, 2010, Chapter 4, "Institutional Organization," Methodological Notes). The estimates for patios and plots may also include self-provisioning patches of state enterprises, UBPCs and CPAs; but it is reasonable to suppose that the majority are in private hands. In any event, it is understandably difficult to capture the full volume of production in this category (Messina, 2009).
Table 1: Cuban food crop and livestock production, 2009
Production Change from Non-state share (%) (1000 m.t.) 2008 (%) 2008 2009
Tubers and roots 1565.6 12.4 86.6 86.1Bananas and plantains 670.4 –11.6 82.7 84.5Horticultural crops 2548.8 4.5 82.1 80.4Paddy rice 563.6 29.3 87.5 85.8Corn 304.8 –6.4 93.4 91.8Beans 110.8 14.0 97.0 94.5Citrus fruits 418.0 6.7 37.9 38.8Other fruits 748.0 1.3 92.2 90.8Deliveries for slaughter, live weight Beef 130.0 4.9 n.a. n.a. Pigs 271.0 –7.2 41.0 44.8Poultry meat 42.6 <0.5 77.8 77.9Cow milk 600.3 10.0 86.4 86.4Eggs 2426.8a 4.2 19.1 23.4
a Million units.Sources: ONE, 2010, Tables 9.9, 9.11, 9.17, 9.18, 9.20, 9.22, 9.23. Percentages calculated by the author, in the case of the non-state shares of pigs delivered for slaughter, poultry meat and eggs, indirectly by subtraction of the output of state enterprises from total production.
With the sole exception of rice, recorded 2009 outputs in the major crop lines listed in Table 1 were below – in some cases, far below – their levels in 2004, the first year shown in this edition of the yearbook. Average yields per hectare (ONE, 2010, Table 9.12) were the lowest for the six-year period 2004-2009 – except citrus fruits, in fourth place from the best, higher than expected, and other fruits, in fifth place. The record is better in livestock products, with only poultry meat not reaching the 2004 figure. Except in egg and poultry meat production (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.22 and 9.23), there are also clear signs of improved efficiency, with average beef and pig live weights at slaughter and milk yield per cow on rising trends, although still at very low levels (ONE, 2010, Tables 9.17, 9.18 and 9.20).
Not so much legacy effects of the 2008 weather as badly distributed and overall low rainfall the following year (ONE, 2010, Table 2.3) was probably at least in part responsible for lackluster 2009 crop yields, alongside of more secular factors. Messina (2009) surmised that citrus output may still be affected by the bacterial citrus greening or Huanglongbing disease, a conjecture confirmed by Varela Pérez (2010c). Growing corn in Cuba is constrained by low yields and high production costs. Some of the output swings in either direction are easily traceable to official actions on prices and resource allocation. Potato producers enjoyed priority in the supply of imported seed, fertilizer and plant chemicals. Rice and beans are focal points of the policy of import substitution. Milk production mirrors the effect of price incentives and the increase in small-scale stock farming as a result of Decree-Law No. 259, among other factors. On the other hand, the drop in the delivery of pigs for slaughter suggests a classic hog cycle farmer response of herd reduction after encountering marketing difficulties in 2008.
Unsurprisingly in an agriculture as exposed as Cuba's to governmental intervention as well as the vagaries of the weather, there is scant evidence of stabilization in domestic food production. A greatly expanded area planted was the principal factor behind a comparatively large tomato harvest, the main contributor to the smallish rise in the horticultural crop total. Memories of losses due to the inability of Acopio, the state procurement agency, and of processing plants to handle last year's tomato crop are likely to be reflected in 2010, if the large decreases in area planted and production in the first quarter, compared with the same period in 2009 (ONE, Dirección de Agropecuario, 2010) are a guide. Compared with the same period in 2009, the first three months of 2010 saw bananas and plantains up 75.1%, but tubers and roots down 9.0%; horticultural crops down 25.1%; corn up 4.9%; beans down 30.5%; paddy rice up 45.5%; citrus fruits down 21.7%; other fruits up 16.1%; live weight beef and pig deliveries for slaughter down 3.2% and 3.3% respectively; cow milk down 6.0%; and eggs down 1.1% (ONE, Dirección de Agropecuario, 2010). Unless the 2010 rainy season breaks the severe drought that began in late 2008, the government could easily find itself again between the Scylla and Charybdis of a national food crisis or a huge food import bill.
PRIVATE ENTERPRISE TO THE RESCUE OF THE STATE
If there is a clear message from the data, it is Cuba's dependence on the non-state sector – and to a greatly increased extent on the truly private part thereof – for the national food supply. The gradual 245,000-hectare (25%) expansion of the agricultural land owned or leased by private operators that took place between 1989 and 2007 (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009) was dwarfed by the structural change in land tenancy within the space of a few months by the implementation of Decree-Law No. 259.
This is too recent a development to have made an impact on the non-state shares in output shown in Table 1, most of which were already of a high order. However, it is reflected in the non-state shares in crop areas harvested and in production – in seven out of eight categories higher in 2009 than in 2008 (Table 2).
Table 2: Non-sugar food crop areas harvested and in production, 2009
Area Change from Non-state share (%) (1000 ha) 2008 (%) 2008 2009
Tubers and roots 246.0 25.4 87.8 90.8Bananas and plantains 106.4 27.2 82.7 88.8Horticultural crops 278.6 7.5 86.7 88.4 Paddy rice 215.8 38.7 88.0 87.6Corn 204.0 57.9 91.2 95.5Beans 150.6 58.0 94.9 96.3Citrus fruits 47.9 5.0 54.0 62.2Other fruits 91.7 10.4 85.6 88.1
Sources: ONE, 2010, Tables 9.6, 9.8. Percentages calculated by the author.
Overall, the total area harvested and in production of the crops listed here grew by 293,353 hectares from 1,047,559 hectares in 2008 to 1,340,912 hectares in 2009 (ONE, 2010, Table 9.6), an increase of 28.0%. The expansion of the non-state share was greater, both absolutely and relatively, amounting to 296,571 hectares from 906,981 hectares in 2008 to 1,203,552 hectares (ONE, 2010, Table 9.8) – an increase of 32.7%.
Indicative of the impaired state of Cuba's agriculture, however, is that while the 2009 areas of all these crops exceeded the previous year's, those of bananas and plantains, horticultural crops and citrus fruits had yet to recover their 2004 level. The total 2009 area of 1,340,912 hectares exceeded the corresponding figure for 2004 by just 114,279 hectares, or 9.3%.
Another measure of the enhanced role of the non-state sector – in this case excluding UBPC affiliates who are considered ineligible to belong to it – is the growth of the organization representing private farmers, although there is a confusion of numbers. Towards the end of 2009, a member of the national bureau of the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños was reported to the effect that nearly 57,000 new producers had joined the organization and that a further 3,000 new entrants were expected, with an equal growth in the membership of credits and services cooperatives (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009b). The figure of some 60,000 new farmers was subsequently confirmed by Orlando Lugo Fonte, ANAP's president (Hernández, 2010). But Lugo Fonte has also reportedly said that the small farmer sector had grown by "more than 100,000 new members" as a result of the transfer of idle lands under Decree-Law No. 259 ("Destacan potencial . . ., " 2010; Fernández, 2010). However, on the eve of the 2010 ANAP congress he spoke of 362,440 members in CPAs and CSSs, organized in 3,635 base units (Varela Pérez, 2010g). This figure would be roughly consistent with the addition of 40,000 new members to the 327,380 reported in 2005, which was the influx Lugo Fonte had initially expected in 2009 to result from Decree-Law No. 259 (Hagelberg and Alvarez, 2009). While a large fraction of the new producers undoubtedly had previous farming experience as agricultural laborers or technicians – the personnel made redundant by the downsizing of the sugar industry alone constituting a big pool, the fact that the bulk of the applicants for land under Decree-Law No. 259 were previously landless led Armando Nova, an academic and member of the Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, to speculate on "the beginning of a process of 'repeasantization'" (Carrobello and Terrero, 2009b).
Recognition at the apex of Cuba's leadership that Decree-Law No. 259 had created new economic and social "facts on the ground," with political implications to be closely watched, would explain the participation of first vice president and Politburo member José Ramón Machado Ventura in ANAP regional meetings in preparation for the association's tenth congress in the spring of 2010. In a conspicuous display of political manpower, agriculture minister Ulises Rosales del Toro, Politburo member and a vice president of the council of ministers, and ANAP president Lugo Fonte, member of the Communist Party's central committee and of the council of state, were regularly outranked at the presiding table of these gatherings by the No. 2 in the national hierarchy.
REALITY – UP TO A POINT
In his speech to the National Assembly in July 2008, Raúl Castro himself returned to his oft-quoted 1994 statement, near the nadir of Cuba's fortunes following the collapse of central and east European communism, that "beans are more important than cannons." Previously, in April, his focus on food production together with the announcement that the long overdue sixth Communist Party congress would be held towards the end of 2009 had ensured that the subject would continue to figure prominently in the debates about Cuba's future that the regime had organized throughout the country. As it turned out, the congress was again postponed in July 2009 and the prospect then offered of a party conference has also still to materialize. But whatever the authorities gained from the debates in gauging the popular mood, identifying hot spots, preparing the citizenry for cuts in public services and state jobs, and providing a safety valve for discontent, there is one visible result: the greatly increased reflection in the mass media of the raw reality that people have long talked about in the street.
A notable example is the acknowledgment by the veteran chief spin-doctor of the sugar and (more recently) of the agriculture ministries, Juan Varela Pérez, of the defects of the UBPCs (Varela Pérez, 2009c):Time showed that, not having been recognized as true cooperatives, many remained halfway between the state farm and the CPA [collective farm composed of former private holdings]. [Their members] were neither cooperativists nor wholly agricultural workers; a limbo was created, but moreover factors deforming their essence arose, to the point of maintaining intact the structure of the original enterprises, to the control of which they were subordinated.In a subsequent article, Varela Pérez (2010b) listed the differences between genuine cooperatives and the UBPCs that had worked to the latter's detriment. But the new realism goes only so far. The UBPCs failed, with few exceptions, because "they strayed from the essential principles approved by the Politburo . . . the approved basic principles were forgotten" and because of "the violation of the concepts that brought the UBPCs to life." Yet it was the regime's penchant for centralized decision-making and micromanagement that dominated in the creation of the UBPCs in 1993. "We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves," La Rochefoucauld wrote long ago. As long as this is the case, the new openness cannot progress from description of symptoms to diagnosis of causes and thought-through response.
Recognition that beans are more important than cannons has not so far led the government to more than tinker with two major issues that weigh on the overall performance of Cuba's agriculture: the debacle of the sugar agroindustry and the flawed system of state controls over farm inputs and outputs.
For the sixth year running – and, ironically, when world market prices reached their highest point since 1981, Cuba has produced less than 1.5 million metric tons of sugar in 2009/10, a fall of more than 80% from the average annual output of the 1980s. In the last days of the harvest, Reuters (3 June) put the final figure at 1.1-1.2 million metric tons.
In early May, a note from the council of state announced a change of sugar ministers, the outgoing having asked to be relieved of his responsibilities "on recognizing the deficiencies of his work which were pointed out to him" (Granma, 4 May 2010). An agronomic engineer, he had been promoted from first vice minister less than 18 months before, after a 38-year career in the sugar sector. His replacement, a chemical engineer, has similarly risen from first vice minister, after more than 30 years in the sugar sector. The new incumbent will not be a minister for long, however, if the knowledgeable Reuters and Financial Times correspondent in Cuba, Marc Frank, was right that the sugar ministry would soon be transmuted into a corporation (Reuters, 7 April 2010).
The day after this announcement, Varela Pérez (2010f) blamed what he called the poorest sugar crop since 1905 on bad organization, overestimates of the available cane, and "a high grade of imprecisions and voluntarism." But if this had to be the main tenor of a story put out to explain the defenestration of the minister, disclosure that 55% of the crop area had not been fertilized, only 3% irrigated (down from up to 30% in the 1980s) and that sugarcane was "today the lowest paid [product] in agriculture" rendered implausible the pretense that "disciplinary measures" and "perfecting the system of administration" were all the answer required. In calling for the restoration of sugarcane to the place corresponding to its continued significance economically and as "part of Cuba's patrimony," Varela Pérez either forgot or hoped his readers will have forgotten Fidel Castro's denunciation in 2005 of sugar as the "ruin" of Cuba's economy and belonging to "the era of slavery" that was the cue to reduce the industry to its present penury. With the 2009/10 harvest having starkly demonstrated "the effects of the cane crisis" to the point where continued decline could end in the industry's extinction, there was an echo of the old Cuban saying, Sin azúcar, no hay país – without sugar, there is no country, in the way Varela Pérez (2010i) posed the question how to begin restoring sugar's "noble and economic tradition" that "has distinguished Cubans historically." The repeated emphasis on the unremunerative cane price – responsibility of the ministry of finance and prices – suggests that the Cuban regime is not exempt from the inter-departmental differences regularly seen in other governments.
The other big issue – the state's control over what goes into and comes out of agriculture – lies at the heart of the Cuba's command economy, which explains the regime's reluctance to tackle it in a fundamental way despite the record of its vices stretching over decades.
In what is until now the most recent attempt to make the system more efficient, the distribution and marketing functions of Acopio in Havana city and province passed from the Ministry of Agriculture to Domestic Commerce in August 2009. But within barely more than a month, it was clear that Mincin "was not sufficiently prepared for the task," with the result of "significant losses" of perishable products (Varela Pérez and de la Hoz, 2009a). Anxious to find some progress, Granma's reporters returned to the scene again and again (Varela Pérez and de la Hoz, 2009b, 2009c, 2009d), faith triumphing over experience: "However many difficulties, the socialist market has to be a mission possible," they wrote. It remained just a hope. In the first two months of 2010, the state food markets in the capital received only 62% of the supplies they were supposed to get from the farmers in the province. Among the reasons: growers had been left without the fertilizer and plant protection chemicals they needed in the last quarter of 2009, and Mincin still had not got its act together. Bizarrely, a regulation prohibited trucks carrying produce from other provinces to enter the city, even with the proper documentation, and with Mincin company buyers no longer picking up various kinds of horticultural produce, Havana province farmers were reducing plantings (Varela Pérez, 2010d).
Across the island, apparatchik interference with supply and demand has at different times and in different places thrown a variety of spanners in the works. Farmers who have heeded government calls to produce more have pitched up against a worn-out infrastructure. In Granma province, an unspecified amount of rice was lost, some was processed below quality, and growers still held 1,000 tons dried manually owing to insufficient industrial drying, milling and storage capacity, and these were not the only problems (Sariol Sosa, 2009). In a Villa Clara municipality, the government got itself into a tangle with farmers who, urged to plant a greater area of garlic than contemplated, produced about double the crop it had contracted to buy (Pérez Cabrera, 2009). In Camagüey, the state lactic products company was not ready to cope with the increased volume of milk deliveries, and the milk spent, on average, four and a half hours on the road between producer and processor, to the detriment of its quality (Febles Hernández, 2009). Mangoes similarly overwhelmed the infrastructure in Santiago de Cuba (Riquenes Cutiño, 2009). A cross-country survey of the non-citrus fruit situation (Carrobello and de Jesús, 2010) found some improvements, notably the appearance of roadside sales points and ambulant vendors; but production and distribution continued to be hampered by lack of irrigation facilities, input shortages ranging from fertilizer and plant chemicals to gloves and boxes, difficulties in obtaining bank credits, and the rigidities of the state procurement apparatus. Yet though he grumbled about various deficiencies and incongruities, ANAP's Lugo Fonte still thought that the cure lay in rigorous contracting between parties and was not prepared to identify the monopsonistic and monopolistic position of state enterprises in relation to the farmer as the root of the problem (Barreras Ferrán, 2010).
A whiff of oligarchal factionalism came from a Lugo Fonte interview in which he recounted the conditions that had depressed cattle farming in the private sector. Small farmers had been allowed to sell their animals only to state companies, most of which did not have scales and bought the cattle "on the hoof," based on the color of the hide, the tail and the horns, and with a high charge for slaughtering – all in accordance with regulations. These rules had been dumped and beef prices sharply raised. But, in order to preserve their margin, the companies were now hindering producers from sending animals directly to the abattoir by refusing to rent vehicles (Varela Pérez, 2010a). And while ANAP members were being encouraged to send raw milk straight to retail outlets, Lugo Fonte lamented that this practice had not been extended to other products, such as eggs (Varela Pérez, 2010g).
If Acopio was provoking "downpours" of criticism, the mechanisms of supplying farmers with inputs were causing a "tempest," Juventud Rebelde, the Communist Party's youth organ, reported on the weekend of the ANAP congress (Varios Autores, 2010). More was to come at the congress itself. Entitled "For greater farm and forestry production," much of the 37-point report of its commission on production and the economy was given over to a somewhat unselective survey of the gamut of products, from rice to medicinal plants, and from beef to honey, in which greater output could replace imports and enhance exports (Granma, 17 May 2010). But coupled with this were demands on government to resolve a host of functional issues: credit provision; water usage approval; allowing producers to sell directly to retailers, tourist facilities and slaughterhouses; promoting local micro and mini-industries; seasonal price differentiation; crop insurance; tax reform; access to building materials; freeing the cooperatives from restrictions and empowering them to enter into contracts; and reforming quality norms. Of sufficient importance to deserve a point by themselves were the "innumerable concerns" raised by the delegates from Havana city and province concerning the system of commercialization piloted in these territories – excessive product handling, crop losses, arguments over quality, retail outlet permits, state company margins, cartage, container return, and trucks owned by cooperatives being barred from delivering straight to the city's state markets.
MARKET DEREGULATION? NOT YET
Closing the congress from the government side, minister of the economy and planning Marino Murillo Jorge made it clear that there would be no relaxation of the state's control of food marketing (Granma, 17 May 2010). In the sole reference to what he admitted was "one of the subjects most discussed in this congress," he claimed consensus on the need to improve the quality and compelling force of contracts, so that the parties meet their obligations and the quantities agreed are planted, harvested and marketed, avoiding the sale in the suppy-and-demand markets of produce not certified as surplus to contract or allowed free disposal. Government and ANAP had to collaborate "to solve as soon as possible the problem of illegal intermediaries who artificially raise prices without contributing to society."
Concerning market reform, Murillo Jorge had but one announcement – the government would "organize the creation in the majority of the municipalities of the country of an input market where producers could acquire directly the resources necessary for crop and livestock production, replacing the current mechanism of central allocation." The price policy governing this market, he spelled out, "must guarantee, on the one hand, recognition in the acopio price [the price at which the state acquires products] of the real costs of production and, on the other, the elimination of the great number of subsidies that the state pays today through the budget." Whether this market will amount to something more than adding to the small number of existing stores selling tools and supplies for convertible pesos and how it will obtain its merchandise, if not by central allocation, was left in the dark.
All together, it is hard to resist the impression that this was a holding operation at which ANAP delegates could let off steam, but from which they emerged none the wiser about key government policy areas that affect the private farm sector. A number of subjects, Murillo Jorge said, were "in process of analysis and study within the context of the updating the Cuban economic model," naming taxation (of both farmers and their workers), the contracting of outside labor (stating that more than 100,000 wage workers were employed by cooperatives), and the prices of inputs and of acopio.
Speaking to the congress of the Communist Party's youth organization in April 2010 (Granma, 5 April), Raúl Castro acknowledged the existence of voices urging a faster pace of change. Whether the regime's tempo is dictated by the magnitude and complexity of the problems facing Cuba, as he claimed, by divisions among the leadership, by lack of the cash needed to jump-start major reforms, by incompetence, or by all these, is an unknown – certainly to outsiders. Specifically in the area of farm policy, the twists and turns over half a century invite the question: do the policymakers really understand agriculture and how it develops? When it comes to the effective application of scientific and technological advances – highlighted by Murillo Jorge as "an aspect that requires the greatest immediate attention," for instance, are Cuba's policymakers sufficiently versed in the agricultural history of other countries to appreciate the interactions of market forces, farmer-boffins, equipment manufacturers, chemical companies, plant breeders and agribusinesses, alongside of public institutions such as experiment stations and extension services, that drive innovation?
Although located, broadly speaking, towards the opposite end of the spectrum from the extensive model of agroindustry growth that hit the buffers in the second half of the 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the concept now being promoted is similarly extensive in several respects. In pursuit of the goals of replacing imports and increasing exports of agricultural products, the government campaigns to substitute human muscle and animal power for engines, compost for inorganic fertilizers, home-grown animal feedstuffs for concentrates, and prioritizes the expansion of land under cultivation over raising yields. Comprehensible, up to a point, as fire-fighting in the midsts of current economic and financial woes, can these methods generate a serious improvement in Cuba's agricultural trade balance? While the application of idle land and labor will surely increase the domestic food supply, can it make the country anywhere near self-sufficient? Is this model viable in the longer run?
Disturbingly, in all the hype in favor of using oxen for field work and transport, there is nary an indication that either the costs of breeding, rearing, training, feeding and apparelling the animals, or the productivity of a team, including its driver, taking into account speed of locomotion and length of working day, have been factored in. Likewise missing from the hymns to the benefits of compost are signs of awareness that to make enough compost for general application entails industrial-scale production techniques with specialized equipment.
To project the picture of a new mentality gestating in the countryside, Juventud Rebelde located, for its edition on the weekend of the ANAP congress, a few young farmers earning several times the average national wage (Varios Autores, 2010). "In my case," said one, "when I get the money together, I'll buy myself a cellphone, because I need it; let them tell me that, like other presidents of cooperatives, I don't have with what to communicate." Twenty-first century aspirations in Cuba, as elsewhere. For his part, Raúl Castro – spookily bringing to mind Churchillian rhetoric – proclaimed before the National Assembly on 1 August 2009: "They didn't elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it." For that, he realized, beans are more important than cannons. Does he understand that they are more important than command and control?
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US-Cuba miles away; lifestyles worlds apartOne Cuban: 'I am hoping for change. Maybe when the Castros (Fidel and Raul) die. Or maybe (Barack) Obama will change things'By Kat O'Brien • Enquirer contributor • April 6, 2010
HAVANA, Cuba – The 92 miles of ocean separating Cuba from the United States might as well be a time warp. That is how great the distance is between the two nations' lifestyles.
The American Red Cross
Life in Cuba means most food comes via libreta, or ration book, which guarantees each person certain quantities of staple items per month, such as one pound of chicken, eight ounces of beans, seven pounds of rice, four ounces of coffee, 10 eggs, etc. Among the items not on the shopping list: beef, shrimp and milk – except for children.
(In fact, killing a cow can result in more jail time than killing a human, because cows provide milk for children and pregnant women.)
• Photos: Baseball in Cuba• Photos: Chapman with the Reds
The same goes for satellite radio. In response to a passenger's surprised comment that a taxi driver had Sirius satellite radio, the driver said: "It's not very common in Cuba. Why? Because it's expensive, because it's prohibited, and because someone in the United States has to pay the bill for you."
Luckily for this driver, a family member in the U.S. has set him up with this lifeline to the outside world.
Access to international radio means the man doesn't have to rely only on Granma, the Cuban government-run newspaper, for the latest world news. To read Granma alongside any other international news publication is to read completely different version of the same events.
Cubans have to try to make their own sense of what is real and what is propaganda. But talking to foreigners to get a different perspective can lead to trouble. Being seen talking with a foreigner can lead to an arrest for "bothering" the tourist, though police won't ask the visitor if she is being hassled.
In one case, police took away two men for questioning after they spent two minutes discussing baseball with a foreign woman. Those two minutes of conversation led to one of the men being handcuffed and carted off in the back of a police car.
"It's not your fault," a Cuban bystander said to the American. "That's Cuba. They arrest you for anything."
A Cuban baseball player spotted chatting with a foreigner might wind up being kicked off the team, as he instantly would become a suspect to defect.
Despite the harsh penalties for opaque "crimes," Cubans remain remarkably open and friendly toward foreign visitors. A teenage boy named Michael not only offered advice on how to get into a Cuban baseball playoff game, he went and got the ticket and brought with him as a gift a coconut-and-sugar afternoon snack.
Neither he nor any other Cuban really might know how his life compares to that of a resident of the United States. But what everyone does know, in the words of one Cuban, is: "I am hoping for change. Maybe when the Castros (Fidel and Raul) die. Or maybe (Barack) Obama will change things."
It's a hope that floats upon 92 miles of sea.
For Cubans, transition aheadBy Ted MannUpdated 03/28/2010 03:18 AM
Still recovering from post-Cold War changes, the country seeks a new economic reality
Reporter Ted Mann and photojournalist Sean D. Elliot traveled to Cuba last week with the Amistad, the reproduction schooner built at the Mystic Seaport. In 1839, the original Amistad was homeported in Cuba when it was sent to ferry kidnap-ped Africans bound for slavery.
Matanzas, Cuba – Fernando Chacón is an oil engineer by training. In the 1980s, he studied the trade on state-sponsored sabbatical in the Soviet Union. He speaks fluent English, but also Russian, Italian and German, among other languages.
Still, here in the sleepy countryside between the industrial port city of Matanzas and the tourist resort beaches of Varadero, Chacón is working as a tour guide at La Dionisia, the former site of a coffee plantation that held around 200 African and Afro-Cuban slaves. Chacón handles the tour groups that arrive in the new blue-and-white air-conditioned buses (they are Yutongs, made in China and found throughout greater Havana these days), making a quick circuit of the ruined outbuildings of the place, hoping for a convertible peso or two as a tip at tour’s end.
Despite his training, Chacón does this job by choice: The money, pesos here and there from the dozens of Ukrainians, Canadians and even Americans who will pass through today, is better this way.
The visit of the schooner Amistad to Cuba was intended by its organizers to provide a chance for Cubans and Americans to examine their shared history of racial discrimination and interchange. But for the small group of Americans who sailed the ship here or came to meet it, the trip has also provided a unique perspective on a Cuba in flux, one trying to maintain the systems and ideals of the revolución that is now in its 52nd year, even as national leaders court a new tourism sector that is, at its heart, a capitalist enterprise.
And while the political subtext of U.S.-Cuban relations was constantly on the mind of American and Cubans alike during the course of the Amistad visit, the treatment of internal political dissidents here was treated with a notable silence.
Scarcely a word about the Damas de Blanco, or Women in White, who were in the midst of seven days’ worth of marches through Havana as the Amistad’s support crew arrived in the capital. The marches, which were reportedly disrupted by counter-demonstrators loyal to the government and by police, mark the seventh anniversary of the Castro regime’s imprisonment of more than 100 dissidents considered by Amnesty International to be political prisoners.
For their part, some Cubans interviewed here in the past week believed that international attention to the dissident protests, and to the February death of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in a hunger strike over prison conditions, have been greatly overplayed by foreign press opposed to Castro.
But Cubans are remarkably matter-of-fact about the stress points in this economic system, which by some measures is experiencing significant gains, while still perpetuating significant burdens for Cuban citizens.
At the center of the country’s economic conundrum is the convertible peso, or CUC, which was introduced, along with the decriminalization of foreign currencies and tourism businesses, to help Cuba escape the so-called Periodo Especial that followed the collapse of Communist regimes – and major Cuban trading partners – in the early 1990s.
That recession remains the dark shadow of what is seen in the U.S. as one of the brightest developments of the booming 1990s: the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse, one by one, of authoritarian Communist regimes all over Europe. The end of the Cold War was hailed by politicians from both parties in the United States, and as recently as last year’s presidential election, invoked by President Barack Obama and others as the triumph of American principles of economic freedom throughout the world.
Meanwhile in Cuba, multiple Cuban sources said in conversations last week, the sudden elimination of trading partners like East Germany and the U.S.S.R. slashed the nation’s gross domestic product by as much as 35 percent.
Oil and petroleum products, of which Cuba produces very little of its own, virtually disappeared.
“We didn’t have blackouts,” said Michel Rodriguez, who works as a translator for Cuban officials and helped facilitate the Amistad visit. The surprise, she said, was when the lights came on at all.
Cubans had trained for a generation for a “Special Period in Time of War,” said Rodriguez. Instead, they found themselves mobilizing for a “Special Period in Time of Peace,” he said, mobilizing against an assault by economic forces, rather than military ones.
Rodriguez, like other Cubans who spoke of the period last week, remembers the period of austerity in clear detail.
A university student throughout the Special Period, Rodriguez was among the thousands living in the housing developments and neighborhoods east of Havana who rode painfully heavy, Chinese-made bicycles to the mouth of the harbor tunnel that leads to central Havana. There, those masses waited to load themselves and their bikes onto convoys of buses for the trip through the tunnel, only to begin peddling up through the city on the other side.
Thousands rode the so-called “camel” buses around the city and countryside – giant trucks, their open beds covered with canvas awnings to ward off the weather, or simply hitchhiked.
Rolling in a tour bus along the Vía Blanca through the neighborhoods around Playa de Este, the jovial Jorge Diaz pointed out the neighborhoods where residents struggled to raise government-issued chickens for food at the height of the ’90s austerity program (most of the chickens died, he said) and the routes followed by the camel buses to shuttle workers into the city.
“Now we hear everyone talk about a world economic crisis,” he said, grinning. “Come on! We are professionals at that.”
Fuel shortages meant that busy avenues of Havana, like the Paseo Martí and the iconic seaside boulevard of the Malecón, were stilled.
“You could go out to the middle of the street and lie down for three or four hours and not be hit by any bus or car,” Rodriguez said.
Today, those same streets are once again full of Chinese-made vehicles.
Now, they are the ubiquitous blue and white Yutong buses, along with Chinese-made sedans like the Geelys that augment Havana’s legendary automobile traffic of 50-year-old Chevys and barely held-together Soviet Ladas.
In the heyday of its alliances with communist governments around the Eastern Bloc, 70 percent of Cuba’s economy was exports, Rodriguez said, including coffee, sugar and cigars.
Now, 70 percent of the post-Special Period Cuban economy revolves around tourism, primarily in Havana and in the coastal resort town of Varadero, just down the coast from Matanzas, but also from developing centers in the east, including the province of Holguín. Cuban leaders hope to attract more direct air travel to such sites, Rodriguez said, to entice even more vacationers.
The country has also moved aggressively to tap its natural resources, using foreign investment to spur the development of nickel-mining operations.
And Diaz, shepherding his American charges along the Malecón, shares another daydream of national officials: the possibility of moving the remaining industrial port facilities that line the Havana harbor out to Mariel in the west, leaving the entirety of its downtown piers vacant for a hoped-for surge in cruise-ship visits. In the daydream version, the financing is arranged through one of Cuba’s sympathetic local neighbors, such as Brazil.
In Havana, the cobble-stoned streets of Habana Vieja play host to armies of tourists speaking foreign tongues, bearing bright-colored backpacks and spending their multicolored CUC bills by the thousands.
But that surge in economic activity in the official currency of tourists, the CUC, isn’t necessarily trickling down for all Cubans, who receive the separate, Cuban peso – a far less valuable currency – in salary for government-controlled jobs, and must use it to purchase a narrow variety of goods that recipients said scarcely rises above the level of subsistence.
Talking late one night in a hotel bar in Matanzas, after his shift had concluded at a nearby dance club and restaurant, a Cuban named Alexander said $5 CUC would make up roughly half of his weekly ration of Cuban pesos, which he used to pay for beans, rice and other staples. Commodities Americans would consider essential, from deodorant and toilet paper to new shoes, must be purchased with as many CUC as people like Alexander can scrape together through tips, black market services for tourists and occasionally a quiet request for a gift from a sympathetic foreigner.
But even the possession of CUC by someone in his position was a risk, Alexander said.
“For me, for having one peso, I could be in jail,” he said in English. “For talking to you, I could be in jail. Cuba is like Haiti, like Dominican Republic. But in Haiti, you can say it is a bad country. Not in Cuba. I could be dead for that in Cuba.”
To understand the economy, he added, “you need to go in the streets.”
There, contradictions reign.
The quiet necessity of CUC is demonstrated again and again. A young man who drives his souped-up 1955 Chevy as a private cab for a pair of American visitors apologetically insists on depositing his fares around the corner from the Parque de la Libertad, away from the police at the corner of the square. He is earning convertibles on the sly.
In several days of walking in the streets of Matanzas, countless residents expressed surprise and delight to discover Americans walking through the residential neighborhoods that climb the hills up from the port, though several wondered aloud if the visitors were lost, trying to find Varadero.
But the country also maintains a fierce pride in its independence, from the 19th-century martyrdom of the national icon Jose Martí to the boastful wall slogans and billboards erected by the Party of the People’s Power to commemorate the continuing of the revolution of 1959.
“Defendemos la patria y la revolución con las ideas y las armas hasta la ultima gota de sangre,” reads the sign outside the pillared entrance to the Port of Matanzas, where the Amistad docked for three days. It is a quote from Fidel Castro: “We will defend the fatherland and the revolution with our ideas and our weapons until the last drop of blood.”
Back in the hilly neighborhoods behind the port, a young, muscular man who gave his name as Carlos is sitting on a concrete stoop on a long staircase that rises up the side of a bluff to Calle 63 over the Rio Yumuri. Asked his profession, he says simply, “nada,” and when asked what he might do for work in the future, he shrugs and smiles, eventually conceding that it is a complicated question.
A mile or so down the slope, in an alley between two houses, Yainiel Rodriguez Marckintoch is cutting a friend’s hair. To them, the major obstacle to economic progress and improvements in quality of life for Cubans remains the U.S. embargo.
“It should be ended,” says Jorge Aerrí, who is sitting beside his friend. The effect of the embargo has been “very bad” for generations of Cubans, he adds.
Still, in private conversations, Cubans here concede that the current socialist system yields its own problems.
For an example, one individual suggested, consider the system of housing: The majority of Cubans do not own their apartments in Havana and Matanzas, but live in those assigned to their families after the redistribution of property that followed the revolution.
The only legal transfer of such properties is by passing them down to descendants, or in apartment swaps in which no money is supposed to change hands.
In practice, the individual said, this simply means that a small family searching for a bigger place to live must save up enough in CUC to conduct an under-the-table purchase of a new apartment, a transaction that leaves buyer and purchaser alike vulnerable to exposure and substantial legal penalties.
After land reforms during and after the Special Period, farmers can pool land into cooperatives to improve economies of scale, and some privately own livestock like cattle, as opposed to those that are the property of the government. But a farmer cannot slaughter his own cattle for meat – the beef for the ropa vieja in the tourist restaurants of Habana Vieja is either government-slaughtered or imported.
“So smart guajiros tie the cow near the railway,” the individual said, using the Cuban term for peasant. “When the train comes” – he smacked his fist into his palm – “they say, ‘act of God.’”
But the same individual, admitting frustration with some of the government’s policies, nonetheless did not subscribe to the sharp rhetoric of President Obama, who criticized “disturbing” human rights conditions and the government of Raúl Castro last week, just as the Amistad was making its visit to Havana.
The failure of such economic conditions to trigger a more overt opposition to the existing power structures in Cuba is something even vocal dissidents in the country acknowledge.
“For those of us with the illusion that people are preoccupied by the most burning issues of the day, it’s always a little frustrating to come across a group of men shouting and gesticulating passionately, not about how to end the country’s dual monetary system, nor how to reclaim some right they’ve been cheated out of, but only about whether some play was the right thing to do, or who, among all the players, is the best batter,” wrote Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog Generation Y, in a post last week about the ongoing Cuban baseball finals between Industriales of Havana and their rivals from Villa Clara.
A costly struggle
Ricardo Alarcón opens with a joke. As president of the National Assembly of the People’s Power, he acts as the speaker of the legislative chamber, which means he rarely has to speak, but instead orders others to take the floor.
Alarcón, one of the most powerful politicians in Cuba, is speaking at a late-evening reception on the open terrace of the Ludwig Foundation in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado, flanked by Cuban artists, the leaders of Amistad America and others who arranged the quasi-diplomatic visit that is the schooner’s trip to Cuba.
Alarcón is speaking primarily about the struggle for racial equality that is the primary subject of the Amistad event, but toward the end of his remarks, he interjects a note on economics. Other nations around the Caribbean threw off the yoke of colonial power as Cuba did, he notes, but too often entered independence with the same structures of racial and class hierarchy in place.
“From the very first day, that struggle was indivisible from the struggle of black people who had been exploited and overexploited in this island,” he says.
Other countries have tried less radical change, and have retreated from the 1959 ideal of mandating equality even if only harsh measures will work. But not Cuba, Alaracón says.
“And that is the reason why this struggle has been so difficult, why it has cost us so dearly.”
Serving a 30-year sentence for stealing a cow
HAVANA, Cuba, July 27 (Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez / CIHPRESS, www.cubanet.org ) – Juan Sánchez Ruiz, 58, claims he has served 19 years of a 30-year prison sentence for rustling and slaughtering a cow.
Sánchez Ruiz has spent the last five years in a prison medical unit after suffering three heart attacks.
"I was tried in the Pinar del Río Provincial Court and found guilty of the crime of stealing a cow and slaughtering it and sentenced to 30 years in prison," he said. "I only killed a cow and I did it to feed my family. I didn't plant a bomb."
Sánchez Ruiz is trying to obtain his release on health grounds.
December 18, 2008Ted Turner's lies about CubaBy Humberto Fontova
Last week during a FoxNews interview with Bill O'Reilly, Ted Turner, who founded what has become (in their own words) "the world's largest cable news network "claimed that Fidel Castro's Stalinist regime has never killed anyone.
O'REILLY: Fidel Castro, do you admire the man?
O'REILLY: Now he has murdered people. He's imprisoned people. There are political prisoners now. He won't let his people use the Internet. Nobody can use that. And you admire the guy?
TURNER: Well, I admire certain things about him. He's trained a lot of doctors, and they've got one of the best educational systems in the developing world. And you know, he's still popular with a lot of people down there. ..
REILLY: But he's a killer. He's a killer. He's a guy who…
TURNER: But that has never, to my knowledge, that's never been proven. I mean…
O'REILLY: He's executed political prisoners. I mean, he enslaves people who don't see it the way he sees it. Come on. He runs a dictatorship.
For the record in 1958 ( year before Castro took over) Cuba had a higher standard of living than Ireland and Austria, almost double Spain and Japan's per capita income, more doctors and dentists per capita than Britain, and lower infant mortality than France and Germany – the 13th-lowest in the world, in fact. Today, Cuba's infant-mortality rate – despite the hemisphere's highest abortion rate, which skews this figure downward – is 43th from the top.
So, relative to the rest of the world, Cuba's health care has worsened under Castro, and a nation with a formerly massive influx of European immigrants needs machine guns, water cannons and tiger sharks to keep its people from fleeing, while half-starved Haitians a short 60 miles away turn up their noses at any thought of emigrating to Cuba.
But let's get to the heart of the matter. Ted Turner is demonstratively a brilliant businessman. Back in 1997 when CNN craved a Havana Bureau, his sales pitch was not particularly subtle: "Castro is one helluva guy!" he gushed to a capacity crowd at Harvard Law School during a speech. "You people would like him! Most people in Cuba like him."
Within weeks CNN was granted its coveted Havana Bureau, the first ever granted by Castro to a foreign network. By the way, two years ago that CNN bureau's longtime reporter, Lucia Newman, jumped over to Al-Jazeera. A "lateral career move," I think they call this.
To put it bluntly: Ted Turner is very far from a space-cadet. He cannot possibly believe what he said on the O'Reilly Factor. The Castro regime's own henchmen have never claimed anything so transparently preposterous-no Communists ever have. Indeed, like Al Qaeda generations later, terror in the form of mass murder (often public) , was always key to the Communist quest and maintenance of power. Communists have always wanted this to be known, as a means to cow opposition.
"We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable … we will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood! Let there be floods of the blood of the bourgeois – more blood, as much as possible." Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Soviet Cheka in 1918:
"Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!" Ernesto Guevara from the book that became the Motorcycle Diaries.
"We stand for organized terror – this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution. Our aim is to fight against the enemies of the Soviet Government and of the new order of life. We judge quickly." V.I Lenin.
"To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We execute from revolutionary conviction!" Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
"Executions? Certainly we execute!And we will CONTINUE executing as long as it is necessary! This is a war to the DEATH against the revolution's enemies!" Che Guevara while addressing the U.N. General Assembly on December 9, 1964.
According to the Black Book of Communism, published in Paris, 14,000 men and boys were executed in Cuba by that stage — the equivalent, given the relative populations, of over 3 million executions in the U.S. "VIVA CHE! VIVA FIDEL!" bellowed Jesse Jackson while arm in arm with the agent of that appalling bloodbath (Fidel Castro) at the University of Havana in 1984. Jesse Jackson, by the way, wrote a book condemning capital punishment.
Please note: all of Guevara's above quotes are found in the sadist/coward's (alas, the "acrid odor of gunpowder and blood" never reached Guevara's nostril from actual combat. It always came from the close-range murder of bound, gagged and blindfolded men) own diaries. Some of these diaries were fashioned into a movie 4 years ago by Robert Redford (The Motorcycle Diaries); Others provided the screenplay for the 4 ½ hour "epic hagiography" (as described by The New York Times) directed by Stephen Soderbergh and starring Benicio Del Toro titled "Che," and released stateside just last week.
The above-mentioned directors and producers profess rigid fidelity to Che's complete diaries. But you will search these movies in utter vain for these dramatic soundbites, much less their much more cinematically dramatic fulfillment.
When Che Guevara entered the Cuban city of Santa Clara during the anti-Batista skirmishing he promptly ordered the firing squad murder of dozens of Batista "war-criminals." A "battle" that added up to six casualties on both sides , but which Soderbergh and Del Toro-mindlessly sycophantic to their Castroite sources–depict as a Caribbean Stalingrad/Iwo Jima, somehow produced scores of war criminals on one side! The New York Times, who "reported" on this "battle" as it "raged," didn't bother to look into this peculiar numerical discrepancy.
The Cuban Stalinists televised some of their Santa Clara atrocities for essentially the same reason Al Qaeda televised Nick Berg's be-heading. Please click here, Mr Turner, for stark proof of what Bill O'Reilly was telling you on his show.
This valiant man, Col. Cornelio Rojas, refused a blindfold and walked to his execution (murder , actually, Che Guevara didn't even bother with one of his bogus trials) unescorted. Compare Senor Rojas death to Guevara's capture–'Don't shoot!" whimpered the quaking "guerrilla". "I'm worth more to you alive than dead!"
Blanco Rojas, Senor Rojas wife of forty years, died of a heart arttack while watching her husband's Che-ordered murder on Cuban national TV. Cornelio Rojas 17 year old nephew , Pedro, volunteered for what came to be known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. After fighting to his last bullet (and denied more by JFK's Best and Brightest) the defenseless Pedro was murdered in cold blood by a suddenly blustering and sneering Communist who served until recently as Cuba's "Minister of tourism," Osmany Cienfuegos.
June 2nd, 2008Cuba-Brazil, Food Security Matters
Brazil is today a major player on the international scene. There is an abundance of evidence currently available suggesting that this country's influence is poised to go from strength to strength.
Continental in size, this great country has resources to match, whether those resources cited happen to be its population or cornucopia of natural resources.
One of its most valued resources is that its people have embraced democracy and the rule of law as fundaments to its future growth and development.
In today's commentary, we reference this country's expanding relations with nations in our region, inclusive of Haiti and Cuba.
Today we take note of some initiatives it has forged with Cuba.
We cite the growing agricultural cooperation between Brazil and Cuba, with the focus being put on soybean production.
While Cuba has indeed studied the possibility of growing soy for a number of years with advice from Canadian and South American experts, this has been to no avail.
Things may now be set to change.
Some new information to the effect that, "Brazil and Cuba announced on Friday that the South American powerhouse was providing technical assistance and seed to the Communist-run Caribbean island to grow soybeans on an industrial scale for the first time."
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, speaking in Havana to a meeting of Brazilian and Cuban businessmen, said the project represented "a new and important moment for Cuba's development."
Amorim, who arrived on Thursday with dozens of businessmen for a two-day visit, said land was already identified for the project and seed ready.
Brazil is one of the world's largest producers of genetically modified soy, but it was not clear if it would be used in Cuba.
We do know that soy – modified or not – is truly a wonder crop. As research reveals, soy happens to be nontoxic, nonpolluting, and biodegradable.
Soy is becoming the precursor of choice for manufacturing paints, solvents, textiles, lubricants, plastics of every variety, and countless other products.
Indeed, soy – as we are told – provides oil for chainsaw motors in Montana, glue for plywood cabinets in Michigan, foam insulation for offices in Massachusetts, and backing for artificial turf in putting greens and stadiums throughout the Midwest.
Most of this soy is produced in a place in Brazil that is aptly named, Soylandia.
Again, research reveals that, "Soylandia, with nearly 60% of the world market, dominates the global soy trade. And Brazil – the heart of Soylandia – is an agricultural powerhouse. Not only is it the world's biggest soy exporter, a title it seized from the U.S. in 2006, but it has the world's biggest farm trade surplus, $27.5 billion last year.
Brazil is the world's leading producer of beef, poultry, pork, ethanol, coffee, orange juice concentrate, sugar, and tobacco.
Facts and figures show that Brazil has seen farm exports grow an average of 20% a year since 2000, according to the USDA.
Of all those products, soy is by far the most important. Today, demand for soy is exploding.
This is witnessed and evidenced by the fact that the use of soy for animal feed is soaring. China wants it for its fast-growing poultry, swine, and fish-farming industries, while Europe increasingly demands it because soy-fed cattle can't develop mad cow disease.
This information and more like it amply illuminates why this wonder bean would so pique the interests and tastes of the Cuban people, and thus Celso Amorim's remarks concerning possible joint ventures between Brazil and Cuba in the future.
There is talk from the Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Raul de la Nuez that some 30,000 to 40,000 hectares of land to start, but with possibilities to extend it.
This is to be done as part of an experiment. As the Trade Minister rightly suggests, "We have to develop it little by little because it is not something we have grown before in Cuba."
This is a matter of the highest priority for the Government and people of Cuba.
A Cuba that wishes for, craves and values its freedom would wish to increase the amount of food that is home-grown.
In our view, so too should countries like The Bahamas and its other neighbours in the region.
Bill Heavey Goes Bass Fishing In Cuba
I came to Cuba after hearing a number of things too interesting to ignore. One is that there are serious bass anglers and some big fish down here. The other is that the national tournament is almost exactly like the Bassmaster Classic except for a few details. Instead of having $50,000 rocket sleds, the anglers fish from rowboats. All fishing is catch-and-kill. (Protein is relatively hard to come by in Cuba, and the idea of returning it to the water has not even gotten off the ground yet. The fish go to either the anglers themselves or the Cuban Federation of Sport Fishing folks who work the competition.) And instead of the winner's getting half a million bucks—and many times that in endorsements and appearance fees—the top angler and team take home nothing more than a rinky-dink plastic trophy and bragging rights to being the best bass fishermen in the country.
I am more than a bit nervous on the 500-mile drive across a good chunk of the country from Havana to Bayamo. The guys I'm going to meet are fellow bass anglers, of course. But they are also Cuban. I, on the other hand, am a citizen of El Empirio—as they refer to their northern neighbor—the most powerful country on earth.
As we enter the city and my anxiety about meeting the 32 anglers competing in the Cuban national bass tournament rises, I tell my guide and translator, Samuel Yera, to stop at a gas station so I can arm myself with the one thing that bridges all socioeconomic barriers—beer. Samuel is a three-time tournament winner who failed to qualify this year because he spent too much time guiding saltwater clients for tarpon (which is why he is available to guide and translate for me). Ready with packs of cold Bucanero Fuerte, we park at the government dormitory by the local baseball stadium and head upstairs, guided by the sound of men's voices spilling out of an open door.
"Sam-well!" calls a man sitting on his bunk when he catches sight of my host. A burly shirtless guy with a farmer's tan, still dripping from a shower, he waddles over to embrace Yera. The men are sitting in the room, passing around a bottle of rum. Everyone crowds about their old friend, who is regarded as perhaps the most knowledgeable bass fisherman in Cuba.
He introduces me all around, and I shake hard, callused hands. They are carpenters, security guards, and paper-mill workers. One is a local plastic surgeon, another a railroad engineer, another an artist. Special passes from the government allow them to be absent from work for the tournament. American anglers ready themselves for competition by studying the lake and fine-tuning their GPS settings. These guys have been strengthening their legs, backs, and especially their hands. The last thing the men want is blisters or fatigue slowing them down as they row to and from a spot that might hold a kicker fish on the three-bass stringer that each will weigh in.
I pass out beer and survey the room: eight beds with about 2 feet of hanger space in between, a bathroom off the end, a tiny porch outside. Some men have two rods, some just one, plus a little tackle box of some sort and, neatly ironed, the shirt and pants they will wear on the water. Some have an everyday ball cap and a special one with a fish on it for tournament finery. It strikes me that these guys, the top bass anglers in Cuba, have less gear than an average 10-year-old boy in the States.
Samuel is soon lost to me, deep in rapid conversation with a knot of anglers. They don't speak English and I don't habla español, but through smiles and gestures, we find ways to communicate. One of the younger guys, with curly black hair and a Red Sox cap, motions me over to show off the plastic worms that he, like many others, makes himself. He uses dental clay to shape a mold of the bait to be copied, then melts down old lures, scrap plastic, whatever he can find. He mixes that with some kind of oil, heats it, and pours it into the mold. The result is a worm that looks surprisingly true to the original, right down to the faint Power Bait lettering on the tail.
The 9-inch black worm he displays has a few flecks of rubber where it shouldn't, but it will certainly catch fish. My new friend with the handmade worms is curious about something. Through Samuel, he asks my opinion: Do I prefer the Mann's Augertail worm to that company's Jelly worm? The Augertail has more flutter, of course, but sometimes the subtler action of the Jelly worm is better in heavy cover. I interrupt the translation to throw my hands up in despair. "Who the hell knows!" I find myself nearly shouting. I feel as if I've stumbled into some inverted reality—Alice in Bassland. "Besides, you know more about American baits than I do!" I take an equilibrium-restoring swig of the rum.
Samuel informs me that there has been a change for tomorrow. The government promised 16 rowboats for the tournament but has delivered only eight. So the two-day event will now run over four days, the field alternating until everybody gets two full days on the water. In the United States, this would have provoked charges that the tournament was no longer fair. Not least among the reasons: An approaching cold front promises a difficult bite for whoever is on the water when it arrives.
But we are not in the United States, and so four days it will be. Actually, rowboats are quite a luxury, according to Samuel. "Most of our tournaments are done either wading or fishing from inner tubes."
Some of the men, he tells me, are market fishermen. They rise before dawn to bicycle to local lakes, spending all day kicking around the water. Eight or 10 hours later, they deflate their tubes and ride home carrying rod, tackle, fins, tube, and their catch. This sounds like it would be fun for a while. To do it day after day, to have to do it, might not be.
I look around the room and notice the oars in the corners. For this, the national championship, each team has to bring its own. One set with aluminum shafts leans against the wall, but the others are completely homemade, poles with splits of roughly shaped wood nailed or screwed to the shafts. Two pairs sport blades of corrugated aluminum, a common roofing material, that has been hammered more or less flat.
The mood in the room is relaxed and happy. Tomorrow, on the water, they will compete. But for now they are celebrating having made the cut and seeing old friends. Samuel says there are about 80,000 members of the Cuban Federation of Sport Fishing, the organization that sponsors tournaments, of which number he believes 30,000 are bass anglers.
"But this is the most important tournament in Cuba, because we believe bass are the hardest fish, the most sporting. It's a big honor to the winner." The tournament began in 1969, and this is the 25th time it has been held on Lake Leonero in rural Granma province. When the rum reaches me again, I take another swig, grimace, and pretend to suffer mild convulsions. "Ah," I finally gasp. "Que bueno!" They laugh. Maybe I'm okay after all.
Some of the rods, I notice, are rigged with neon-bright orange or yellow line. I ask Samuel if the bright line doesn't spook fish. "You don't understand," he says, smiling. "Here there is no learning curve. The first time a fish gets caught is also the last time." One guy suddenly discovers something beneath his bed and holds it up with a cry of exclamation. It's a coconut shell filled with flowers, bird feathers, colored stones, and a tangle of old fishing line. "Santeria!" he announces—the Cuban folk religion that blends Christianity and African animistic beliefs, including the power of charms and spirits. Someone has put it there to jinx him. He deadpans that his skill is such that he will defy witchcraft. The room erupts in loud, friendly derision.
Samuel and I seem to be doing an odd little dance. The deal is that I hold up lures for his inspection and he keeps shaking his head. He negates a 43?8-inch jointed Rapala. He turns down a 6-inch bubblegum floating worm. "Bigger," he says. We're in a motorized skiff on Lake Leonero. The anglers, two-man teams from Cuba's 14 provinces (plus an extra team from the host province and one from the Island of Youth, off Cuba's southern coast), are spread out over the lake somewhere around us.
I'm here to watch the fishermen, but Samuel says we need to keep our distance from them, especially on the first day. "The fish and the anglers are both very sensitive to noise." This, I am pretty sure, is bull. I think Samuel just wants to catch some fish, partly to ease his obvious chagrin at not being in the race, and partly because he is just a diehard bass man.
And the bass on Leonero like their baits not only big but apparently disruptive, too, because the lure that finally gets the nod is a no-name Devil's Horse–style topwater. This fat cigar of a bait has propellers fore and aft, and treble hooks the size of little chandeliers. It's so big and raucous that I've never even been tempted to tie it on. But Samuel likes it.
"Now you're speaking," he says. I ask why the fish here prefer big lures and whether that is the case all over Cuba. "It's not," he replies. "Some places you need small lures. And I don't even know the reason they prefer the big lures on this lake. They just do."
The morning is calm; a light wind ripples the water. Using Samuel's baitcasting reel and a 6-foot rod, I cast and retrieve. The lure is wiggling like some hyper-active dachshund that fell off the dock when a bass engulfs it. It disappears in a sudden sinkhole of water and I set the hook, the fish diving, pulling left, heading for the pads. I turn it and bring it in. It's the gamest 2-pounder I've ever tangled with—fat, healthy, and thoroughly ticked off at having a hook in its mouth. Samuel is casting a large Zara Spook on a big spinning rod, and soon both of us are catching fish every second or third cast, a number of which run 3 pounds.
It's crazy-good video-game fishing, the flat-out most sustained largemouth action I've ever had. After about 10 minutes of this, Samuel stows his rod. "No good here," he says. I ignore him, cast again, and ask if he'd mind explaining just what the Sam Hill he's talking about. "Place like this, you can wear your arm out. But you can't win a tournament."
What, I ask, would it take to win?
"Here? You need an average of 5 pounds each fish to be competitive. To win, it usually takes an average of 6 pounds, maybe a little more." I look at him. He's smiling but he's not kidding.
We need to invade this country.
We move the boat. It is January, and the females are getting ready to spawn, Samuel says. He is looking for a certain water color that he says the bass prefer. "Where it is coffee-colored—you see over there?—you will not find fish. And often the big females nest in the open water, away from the pads. Often they like green hydrilla flats. If you are just fishing the structure you see, you will not get them."
We keep moving.
At last he anchors near a big flat off a channel. On my fourth cast, something smashes my lure. "Big bass!" Samuel says. "Big bass!" It bends my short baitcasting rod nearly double before I get it to the boat. It has a mouth like a trash can. Samuel says it's a 7-pounder. That would make it the second-biggest bass of my life. I catch two 5-pounders over the next 15 minutes.
"Having fun?" asks Samuel.
On the way back to the put-in, we cruise by some of the competitors. Most are scattered over a single area, a large bowl surrounded by endless pads. One boat, however, is off by itself, fishing a more distant edge of lily pads. It's the team from Las Tunas, a neighboring province, an experienced duo that is expected to do well here. The guy at the oars stops when he sees us, calls to Samuel, stands and struggles to hoist a stringer that's so heavy it's all he can do to lift it clear of the water. There are about 10 fish on it, big oblong bass. One will go nearly 10 pounds, another just over 7.
In the United States, you no longer see such a sight. That's a good thing, of course. Any lake would get fished out fast if it were subject to a sustained harvest of its biggest bass. On the other hand, it's something to behold. The guys will winnow the catch down to six, three per angler. The biggest looks to be a 10-pounder. There are two others that will go close to 7.
The Las Tunas guys tell Samuel that they lost two big fish, one of which would have gone 10, when the line got tangled up with the anchor rope. They have caught virtually all their fish on big worms. And they are fishing them in a way I've never seen.
The guy in the bow has a 9- or 10-inch dark worm Texas-rigged on what looks to be a 3/0 offset worm hook with about a 1?8-ounce sinker. He has a 7-foot spinning rod, which he uses to throw the worm as far as he can. Then he reels it steadily back, just like a crankbait. On his fourth cast, he suddenly stops reeling at what must be a strike of some kind. He pauses for just a second, lowers the rod, reels in slack, then sets the hook hard. His line begins to dance, and soon he is boating another 5- or 6-pound fish.
I have Samuel ask him what the take is like. "Just the sensation of weight, or maybe a tap," he translates. "Nothing strong. They inhale it, not bite it. You give them a moment, take the slack, and hook them." The guy says they fish the worm higher or lower in the water column as conditions dictate. "We fish always this worm," one of them, Onix Hernandez, says. "If I see fish hitting the poppers of other fishermen, I just fish it closer to the surface." They never let it hit bottom and never stop reeling unless they feel a fish. I've never heard of crankbait-style worming. But many things, I'm learning, are different in Cuba. And it's awfully hard to argue with what works.
Back on shore, the boats are pulling in to the mud bank that is the landing area. Pigs and chickens run around, looking for any crumbs dropped from lunch bags. The Las Tunas team shows me its worms: all hand poured and rigged on homemade light football-type jigheads. Their fish are still on the stringer in the water. Most of the fishermen are playing it close to the vest, keeping their stringers submerged. This is partly to keep the fish wet as long as possible—they won't be officially weighed here but back in Bayamo, a two-hour drive during which the fish will be out of water. And it's partly just to keep other teams guessing about how they did.
That afternoon, in a small square in the dusty city, the official weigh-in finally takes place on old-fashioned mechanical scales that might have been borrowed from a fruit stand. Moving away from the pack has paid off for Las Tunas. They are in first place with six fish weighing 38 pounds, more than 6 pounds ahead of the second-place team, Villa Clara, which has 31 pounds. One of the Granma anglers has his photo taken with a fish of just over 10 pounds, the biggest bass caught in a tournament on Leonero in years. The guys who didn't get to fish today look grave. Thirty-eight pounds is not unheard of, but it will be tough to equal, let alone surpass.
On the second day—my last, since I had only expected to be here for a two-day tournament—Samuel once again takes me fishing because of his commendable wish not to disturb the other anglers. Once again, I'm using his baitcaster, while he uses the big spinning rod. I tried the latter for a couple of casts and disliked it. It's too big, too heavy, not particularly sensitive, and a lot of work to crank. He hefts the rod. "It's what every Cuban asks his family or friends in the States to bring him," he says. "Seven-foot medium-heavy UglyStik spinning rod with a Penn 7500 SS."
He hefts it again, working a topwater. "Durability," he says. "An UglyStik is like a '57 Chev-rolet. Almost indestructible." I look at the Penn reel, all 25.5 ounces of it, with its measly three ball bearings. "A Cuban would take this over a Shimano or a Daiwa every time," he adds. "Very dependable. Goes forever. And easy to work on." He grunts, sets the hook, and pulls in a 5-pounder. "Time to move. Look for the big ones."
We don't find the big ones, but we do tire our arms out on the 2- to 4-pounders. And there are worse ways to spend a day. As we head back toward shore, we pass not too far from one of the two teams from Granma province. One evidently has a big fish on because he is excitedly telling his co-angler to get the net. But the net man lunges at the fish awkwardly, frightening it. The fish jumps close to the boat, and the line goes slack. Both men slump back to their seats, despairing at having lost what was obviously a huge bass. Samuel shakes his head in commiseration. "It's just because they're not used to boats, not used to nets. We don't carry nets when we wade or tube. That fish, it could have won them the tournament maybe."
It could have, but it didn't. A few days after I arrive back in the United States, I get an e-mail from Samuel. Las Tunas won the tournament with a two-day, 12-fish total of 78 pounds 8 ounces. Granma was just 5 ounces behind. The fifth-place team, he writes, from his home province of Villa Clara, should have finished in third place. "They had an 11- or 12-pound fish on a big Husky Jerk. But it made one last run by the boat and opened the treble hook and escaped."
On my last evening in Bayamo, I am once again sitting on the end of a bed drinking beer with the guys while a bottle of rum slowly laps the room. I have brought an entire duffel bag of plastics, lures, and line cadged from Yamamoto, Berkley, and Rapala. I dump it out on the floor, and it vanishes in the time it takes a school of piranhas to clean a cow carcass. The only problem is that most of the plastics are tiny, 6 inches or less. No matter. Some anglers are even now squeezing the packs to gauge how well they will melt down to be recast into larger baits.
One of the guys from Granma can't even wait that long. He pulls a 4-inch Senko (green pumpkin) from its pack, studies it, hefts it experimentally. Then he cuts the first 3 inches off one of his 9-inch black worms with a knife, carefully heats both the cut tip of the worm and one end of the Senko with his lighter, and presses the two together until they cool. The result is a 10-inch, two-tone hybrid ribbon tail. He smiles, wiggles it seductively, lifts it for my inspection.
"Beel?" he asks. "What you think?" I give him a thumbs-up and a smile, already vowing never to throw away a chewed-up worm again.
"Oh, yeah. They'll clobber that thing."
FROM CUBARustlers butcher cow stolen from farmerRafael Ferro Salas, Abdala Press.
PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba – January (www.cubanet.org) – When police arrived at 8:00 a.m. a group of people was looking at the cow's carcass left by the side of the road.
"They butchered it alive. That's inhumane," said one bystander.
Police took pictures and studied the terrain looking for evidence. The thieves had gone into the farmer's field during the night, took the cow and butchered it by the side of the road. They had taken the rear quarters.
The man was sitting by the side of the road, smoking and gazing in the distance. When I sat by him, he started talking, as if he had been expecting me.
"That was the only cow I had left. I was feeding the milk to my grandson. It's a shame what they did. You don't do that, not even to an animal," he said.
"Well," I tried to commiserate. "Maybe the police will find the thieves…"
The farmer didn't let me finished. He got up, and as he walked away said: "The police are themselves in cahoots with the thieves all over this area. I'm never going to trust them. In my 76 years I had never seen so much corruption as we have now. You can't tell the bad guys from the police."
He peered at the group of onlookers milling around the cow and walked away, as if from that moment on he'd have nothing to do with what had happened the night before.
Necessity is the great equalizer
Marilyn Díaz Fernández, Sindical Press
HAVANA, Cuba – October (www.cubanet.org) – Although imposed equality is the law of the land in Cuba’s Communist society, we all know life is a seesaw; somedays you are up, somedays you’re not.
Somedays, though, circumstance becomes the great equalizer.
A few days back, several people patiently waited for some form of transportation at the entrance of the old Siboney sugar mill, 20 kilometers outside the town of Sibanicú.
We all milled about, waiting for something to come by that would take us, presumably, given the late hour, home.
Finally a semi truck stopped and its crew agreed to take us. The vehicle had a fenced bed that had most recently transported cattle. Stepping carefully around the fresh and very fragrant cow dung, we each found a place to stand for the trip.
And so we traveled, young and old, men and women, more than fifty in all, holding on the the bars in the fence and all equally anxious to get to our destinations.
From the Ground Up, Cuba Is CrumblingPhysical decay worsens by the day. For many, theft is their Mr. Fix-It.By Carol J. Williams, Times Staff WriterSeptember 19, 2006
HAVANA — At the intersection of Marina and Jovellar streets, more than 50 people wait along a potholed sidewalk and broken curb for a bus that wheezes up to the stop already full.
Somehow, a dozen or so manage to squeeze into the windowless contraption that dates to the days when Moscow provided much of the means to keep the Cuban economy moving. Today, the buses barely keep Cubans moving. Many people spend as much as two hours each night getting home from their jobs in the center of Havana.
Their homes are also in a sad state, with at least 500 buildings in the capital collapsing each year, by the government’s own count. Their utilities are decrepit too: Water and power distribution systems are corroded patchworks predating the 1959 revolution, and olfactory evidence of the state of the sewer system wafts throughout the city.
Cuba is falling apart — literally.
Even as its economy booms thanks to a thriving tourism industry, brisk nickel exports and cheap oil from ideologically aligned Venezuela, the social benefits are difficult to see at street level. Except for a few high-profile historical restoration projects such as the Art Deco buildings of Old Havana, the country’s structural decay seems to worsen with each month.
“It’s not a question of repairing anymore. Everything needs to be rebuilt,” says Julio, a construction worker who spends more time as an unlicensed cabdriver than on state building sites. “There is no material and no money to buy it, so nothing has been maintained.”
Some blame the decrepitude on the U.S. economic embargo that has blocked travel and the flow of goods to the island for nearly 45 years in an effort — through nine U.S. administrations — to starve Cuba into abandoning what Washington sees as a ruinous adherence to communism.
Few Cubans will talk openly about what might be wrong with a political and economic system that even in boom times can’t keep the wheels of public transportation turning or the lights on — especially since President Fidel Castro turned over power to his brother six weeks ago for surgery deemed a state secret. But they complain quietly that there is more to their urban squalor than the embargo or the loss of Soviet aid 15 years ago can explain.
“The problem is that the government owns everything, and people only take care of what is their own,” says another moonlighting cabdriver, Arturo, who buzzes his plastic-encased motorbike around basketball-sized craters in the asphalt where the Malecon seaside promenade meets 23rd Street. “Cubans are very clever and improvisational. We can fix anything. But there isn’t the will to do it unless it is to improve your own conditions.”
In self-improvement mode, city dwellers resort to pilferage to “resolve” their problems.
Resolver, Spanish for “to resolve,” has long been a euphemism for getting around the system, be it a restaurant cook setting aside a few frozen French fries to take home from each tourist’s order, or the filching of park bench planks to patch a gap in the deteriorating walls of an apartment.
The lack of available or affordable parts, tools and building materials has had a cancerous effect on the alreadydegraded infrastructure. Doorknobs disappear from public buildings, screws from wall-mounted shelves and dispensers. Along the Malecon, not a single storm-drain cover survives to prevent rubbish from clogging the sewers, the square metal grates apparently useful to screen windows.
Rampant theft has engendered more bureaucracy, with office workers having to lock their doors when they go for coffee out of fear someone will snatch the wastebasket, stapler, lightbulbs, pens and paper. Inventory lists are posted in government offices, a hedge against the contents disappearing.
But it is the buildings themselves, as well as vehicles and farm equipment, that are at risk of collapse from the pilfering. A tow-truck driver describes how the vehicles he pulls tend to lose their spark plugs, air filters, lug nuts and rear-view mirrors from the point of collection to delivery. Because most cars and trucks are state property, they are seen as fair game by Cubans hoping to make a few dollars by selling the purloined parts.
Even the tourism industry cash cow is vulnerable to widespread theft and minimal investment. Ancient air conditioners blow the smell of mold into “five-star” hotel rooms where renovations have been limited to the lobbies.
Rail tracks link most major cities, offering an affordable means of transportation, but the lines are rusted, engine breakdowns frequent and passenger service so primitive most travelers prefer to hitchhike.
Hope for repair of Cuba’s housing, roads, transportation and utilities has risen with the multibillion-dollar investments made by Venezuela in the last few years, including a deal signed this year for Venezuelan engineers to complete the Cienfuegos oil refinery abandoned by the Soviets in the early 1990s.
That and other joint projects to upgrade the electricity grid, in addition to crude-oil-burning power plants, have had the effect of lowering the number of blackouts and power failures this year compared with the prolonged outages that left Cubans sweltering without fans or elevators the last two summers.
Decades of stoically making do with shortages and dysfunction have engendered a paralyzing passivity among Cubans, at least about the quality of their administrators and the political system that guides them.
“It’s very tranquil here, very safe. We like it that way and don’t want things to change, at least not suddenly,” says Monica, a 30-something engineer asked if the conditions of urban life are frustrating. Like many asked about their expectations for the future, she claims not to have given it much thought, even with the only leader she has ever known now uncharacteristically in the background.
While Cubans succumb to the daily demands of resolving their food, shelter and finance problems, their former countrymen across the Florida Straits say they expect to be called on to help when the next leadership takes on the massive task of reconstruction.
Frank Nero, head of the Beacon Council, a public-private consortium of 400 Miami-area businesses, says that Cuba’s dearth of lumber, hardware, tools, flooring materials, paints, electrical supplies and other do-it-yourself materials could mean that U.S. construction firms “are going to be very much in demand post-embargo.”
Cubans have been taught to fear economic overtures from the exile community in Miami, where some who lost property to the revolution nurture hopes of reclaiming it after the Castro regime comes to a close and — they believe — a more democratic and free-market society emerges.
But with every third family thought to have relatives among the 1.2 million Cuban exiles in the United States, the younger generation has expectations of cross-straits collaboration.
“My brother-in-law has a construction business in Florida. He would help us if it was allowed,” says Julio, who would like to replace the broken, grimy tiles on the staircase leading to his Havana apartment and put glass in the windows. “It will be faster to rebuild if there is goodwill on both sides.”
The Cuban Payola Scandal That Wasn’t By Humberto FontovaFrontPageMagazine.com | September 15, 2006
Last week the headline flashed from the New York Times to USA Today, and from the BBC to Drudge. Both the AP and Reuters ran with the scoop. Even Editor and Publisher ran a story. The breathless reports told of intrepid reporters at the Miami Herald – prompted only by ingenious hunches and inspired only by public spirit – uncovering a scandal of stupendous international import. The article in the Miami Herald that ignited the frenzy even included photos, (mug-shot style) of the ten miscreant journalists. The Herald’s findings were staggering:
“U.S. Paid 10 Journalists for Anti-Castro Reports,” headlined the New York Times.
“Journalists Paid to Blast Castro,” said CNN.
“10 Miami Journalists Take U.S. Pay,” read the headline in the Miami Herald itself, who’s staff, contained two of the reporters besmirched by the scandal, Pablo Alfonso and Wilfredo Cancio. By an odd coincidence these were conspicuous on the Herald staff for their strong anti-Castroism. In a sanctimonious huff, the Herald brusquely fired them and cancelled all assignments with the besmirched Cuban-American free-lancer, Olga Connor.
From the Huffington Post to MichaelMoore.com, leftie blogs are all gloating, characteristically so. The reports in the Miami Herald and New York Times depict a Republican payola scheme where knavish Cuban-American commentators were variously bribed and duped into parroting vicious Bush-ite propaganda against the Castro regime which was broadcast into Cuba via the U.S. government funded Radio and TV Marti.
Upon reading all this, and especially upon reading who were among the ten “bribed” journalists, Cuban-Americans could hardly apply themselves to the first business at hand (cancelling their Miami Herald subscriptions) for the convulsions in their midriff. To think that such as Miami radio star Ninoska Perez-Castellon, (who’s husband is among the longest-serving political prisoners of the century after almost 30 years in Castro’s Gulag,) and Pablo Alfonso and Carlos Alberto Montaner (both former political prisoners themselves and authors of multiple anti-Castro books) require bribes to submit anti-Castro broadcasts is beyond funny, beyond pathetic, beyond stupid.
So we have to expect it from the MSM, who also flip-flopped on this issue. Think about it: for years they’ve been telling us the opposite. The left-wing mantra has it that those rich, dastardly, politically-powerful Cuban-Americans deviously direct U.S. policy. Traditionally we’ve been portrayed as the most fiendishly clever cabal to ever grease a palm, plant a story, fund a PAC, or place a severed horse’s head in your bed. We make up a minuscule 1/300th of the U.S. population, yet – to hear the MSM and Democrats – we control U.S. foreign policy with a firm testicular grip, against the wishes and interests of the entire U.S. population. That takes talent.
“Cuba Policy isn’t made in Washington,” harrumphed Bill Press in a CNN column. “It’s made in Miami by former Batista supporters who think they can reverse history!”
“Bush’s defense of the embargo serves a family voting bloc and little else,” snarled Kathleen Parker in a column.
“A small number of powerful exiles in South Florida cow our politicians into keeping the crazy Cuban policy!” snapped media baron Al Neuharth in USA Today.
Back in the 80′s, leftists claimed Radio Marti itself was a blatant kickback from the Reagan team to Reagan friend and backer Jorge Mas Canosa, then head of the Cuban American National Foundation. In brief, the Cuban-American tail traditionally wagged the U.S. policy dog. Now they tell us it’s the reverse. Consistency, please, MSM.
For the record, Radio and TV Marti are sisters to Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and The Voice of America. All fall under the management of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG.) For over half a century American and foreign commentators, academics and journalists have appeared on all these broadcasts and – just like the terrible ten just outed by the Miami Herald to the blast of trumpets – all have been paid for their time. “For decades, some of the most prominent journalists in America have been paid to be on Voice of America,” explained Larry Hart, spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
But just let those dastardly (and most unforgivably, Republican) Cuban-Americans try it!
David Lightman of the Hartford Courant appears regularly on Voice of America – for pay. “My view is, I’m a professional. I should be paid for my time…I don’t just wing it.”
For years Martin Schram, a Scripps Howard columnist, has served as moderator on The Voice of America – for pay. “If they wanted us to simply volunteer our time, they wouldn’t have a show,” he said recently.
But just let those dastardly Cuban-Americans say the same!
In fact they say something different. “I’d do it for free,” says one of the supposedly besmirched reporters, Juan Manuel Cao of Channel 41 in Miami. “But the regulations don’t allow it. I charge symbolically, below market prices. And I’m proud to help break the censorship in Cuba.”
Much like Radio Free Europe in it’s heyday, Radio Marti offers a tiny taste of non-Stalinist broadcasting to a captive people. Alexander Solzhenitsyn told the Wall Street Journal in 1981,“American broadcasts are the mighty non-military force whose kindling power in the midst of Communist darkness cannot even be grasped by the Western imagination.” But refugee’s from Cuba’s Communist darkness can easily grasp it and heartily agree.
These cracks in the darkness greatly annoy Cuba’s Stalinist regime. And like clockwork, annoyance in Havana quickly translates into annoyance among American leftists. The symptoms quickly manifest in the left-wing media.
Media frenzies against those dastardly right-wing Cuban-Americans are an old and recurring story (recall Elian). Just this past June the frenzy involved hysterical reports of a lust to “ban books” by Cuban-Americans parents. “Miami-Dade School Board Bans Cuba Book,” headlined the New York Times on June 15. The campaign was portrayed as completely unprecedented in nature and thoroughly fascistic in intent, prompting even the ACLU to ride to the rescue.
Yet a simple phone call to the American Library Association would have revealed that over the past two decades, every single year sees between 400 and 600 such schoolbook protests in the U.S. by parents, much of it over material considered “racially insensitive.” As a result, 257 books, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye, have been yanked from public libraries.
But just let those right-wing Cuban-Americans try it!
I suppose it’s asking too much that editors at the Miami Herald read American history, or know the history of America’s most famous journalists, or to be conversant with the most basic laws involving contractors with any branch of the U.S. government. But you’d think these erudite editors might read their own paper. On March 31, 2002 two different El Nuevo Herald (the Miami Herald’s Spanish language sister) articles reported that Mrs Connor and Pablo Alfonso (the same ones now being depicted as knaves and scoundrels for hosting shows on Radio Marti) hosted programs on Radio Marti. The article even boasted of the amount Mrs Connor was getting per show!
Yet last week a “disappointed” Jesús Díaz Jr., president of the Miami Herald Media Co. said these payments violated a ”sacred trust” between journalists and the public. Then why did his own paper boast about the magnitude of this “violation” 4 years earlier and reward the “violator” with more and bigger assignments for over half a decade?
“The payments to journalists were discovered in documents recently obtained by The Miami Herald as a result of a Federal Freedom of Information Request on Aug. 15,” read the bombshell Miami Herald article. Herald managing editor Tom Fiedler then adds that it was all part of a two-year-long investigation. We’re supposed to be impressed.
We are indeed impressed, because – unlike CIA memos and classified Warren Commission transcripts – all payments by the Broadcasting Board of Governors are a matter of public record and easily obtainable in at most two days. If it took the Miami Herald’s intrepid staff two years to obtain information any wino can get in two days with one phone call, the Herald’s got much bigger problems than it thinks.
The Herald impresses us further by consulting and quoting assorted “ethicists” to echo their charges. ”This is such an obvious textbook case,” echoes University of Florida journalism professor Jon Roosenraad. “This is exactly like a business reporter during the day going out and moonlighting as a PR person for a local company at night and then going back to the paper the next day and writing about ‘his’ company.”
Here’s an essay question for you, professor Roosenraad. Edward Murrow, John Chancellor, Hugh Sidey, Fred Barnes, and many others accepted and accept payments from Voice of America: Does your course include ritual denunciations of them as “textbook” journalistic scoundrels? Explain.
Pablo Alfonso contracted with The Voice of America’s sister agency Radio Marti – with full disclosure to his employers. He also proved his ethical code like few American journalist (not to mention journalism professors) ever have. In the late 60′s, Alfonso was arrested in Cuba for publishing Catholic literature. Under threat of torture by a Stalinist regime, he refused to renounce his moral principles and was thrown into in its dungeons for years. Today’s gloating and name-calling critics will never undergo “questioning” by Castro’s goons.
It so happens that The Miami Herald has plenty cause to investigate its staff. But they’re looking for dirt in all the wrong places – or all the right places, given their current agenda, which is widely rumored to be the opening of a Havana Bureau. Back in 1997 when CNN craved a Havana Bureau, Ted Turner was much less subtle. “Castro is one helluva guy!” he gushed to a capacity crowd at Harvard Law School. “You people would like him! Most people in Cuba like him.” Within weeks CNN was granted it’s coveted Havana Bureau, the first ever granted by Castro to a foreign network.
By the way, that CNN bureau’s long-time reporter, Lucia Newman, recently moved over to Al-Jazeera. I think they call this a “lateral career move.”
To many it appears that The Miami Herald is simply carrying out character assassination hits assigned by the Cuban regime. The evidence is more than circumstantial. Just two weeks before the Herald’s hits on the ten journalists, the hosts of the Castro regime’s TV show “Mesa Redonda” denounced some Cuban exile reporters as being on Bush’s payroll and claimed some would soon be axed by the Miami Herald. How interesting.
As Cuban-American author and Miami radio host Enrique Encinosa speculates: “Interesting how the Castro regime knew of these firings in advance. An intelligence analyst would look at three possibilities: either Castro’s DGI has a mole at the Miami Herald; worse still, Cuba has an agent in an important decision-making capacity at the paper; or the Miami Herald is negotiating and cooperating with the Castro regime.”
More interesting still, The Miami Herald recently hired a reporter named Janet Comellas, a lifelong Cuban national and recent “migrant” who until November of 2005 was a prominent propagandist for the Castro regime. Her specialty was U.S. bashing. Given Camellos credentials and specialty, she’s assured an illustrious carder in America’s mainstream media. The New York Times probably already has their eye on her as Maureen Dowd nears retirement.