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Castrocare: Freezing to death in Havana

Castrocare: Freezing to death in Havana

The Associated Press reported: "26 patients at Cuba's largest for the mentally ill died this week during a cold snap, the government said Friday."

As John Stossel pointed out: "Michael Moore, in his movie Sicko, lauds Cuban care. Everyone gets free treatment. Too bad Americans have to pay and suffer. Of course, many socialist systems offer free treatment. I wonder if it's worth what they pay for it."

As the Associated Press report noted: "Communist Cuba provides free health care to all its citizens but, though the quality of its medical system is celebrated in leftist circles around Latin America, it is also plagued by shortages. Patients are expected to bring their own sheets and towels and sometimes their own during hospital stays."

But we are glossing over the real icky part of this: The state decides who is mentally ill. The Soviets and just about every other totalitarian government decided that political opponents are mentally ill.

The Associated Press report in full:

HAVANA — Twenty-six patients at Cuba's largest hospital for the mentally ill died this week during a cold snap, the government said Friday.

leaders cited negligence and a lack of resources as factors in the deaths, and the Health Ministry launched an investigation that it said could lead to criminal proceedings.

A Health Ministry communique read on state television blamed "prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius) in Boyeros," the neighborhood where Havana's Psychiatric Hospital is located.

It said most of the deaths were from natural causes such as old age, respiratory infections and complications from chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular problems.

The statement came in response to reports from the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights that at least 24 mental patients died of hypothermia this week, and that the hospital did not do enough to protect them from the cold because of problems such as faulty windows.

Commission head Elizardo Sanchez said that so many patients dying of hypothermia was "absurd in a tropical country" and claimed the deaths could have been prevented if the government had granted long-standing requests from groups to tour Cuba's medical facilities, including the capital's 2,500-bed mental hospital.

Such cold weather is unusual in sun-drenched Cuba: Temperatures in and around Havana rarely drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), even in January, the country's coldest month, according to the Meteorological Institute. Still, the Health Ministry said a commission created to investigate the deaths has already identified various deficiencies at the hospital.

Communist Cuba provides free health care to all its citizens but, though the quality of its medical system is celebrated in leftist circles around Latin America, it is also plagued by shortages. Patients are expected to bring their own sheets and towels and sometimes their own food during hospital stays.

The government blames the shortages on the U.S. trade , though the embargo does not prevent the direct sale of medicine or medical supplies to the island.

Castrocare: Freezing to death in Havana « Don Surber (18 January 2010)http://blogs.dailymail.com/donsurber/archives/7785

Cuba cold snap kills 26 at psychiatric hospital

Posted on Friday, 01.15.10

Cuba cold snap kills 26 at psychiatric By ANDREA RODRIGUEZAssociated Press Writer

HAVANA — Twenty-six patients at Cuba's largest hospital for the mentally ill died this week during a cold snap, the government said Friday.

leaders cited negligence and a lack of resources as factors in the deaths, and the Ministry launched an investigation that it said could lead to criminal proceedings.

A Health Ministry communique read on state television blamed "prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius) in Boyeros," the neighborhood where Havana's Psychiatric Hospital is located.

It said most of the deaths were from natural causes such as old age, respiratory infections and complications from chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular problems.

The statement came in response to reports from the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights that at least 24 mental patients died of hypothermia this week, and that the hospital did not do enough to protect them from the cold because of problems such as faulty windows.

Commission head Elizardo Sanchez said that so many patients dying of hypothermia was "absurd in a tropical country" and claimed the deaths could have been prevented if the government had granted long-standing requests from groups to tour Cuba's medical facilities, including the capital's 2,500-bed mental hospital.

Such cold weather is unusual in sun-drenched Cuba: Temperatures in and around Havana rarely drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), even in January, the country's coldest month, according to the Meteorological Institute. Still, the Health Ministry said a commission created to investigate the deaths has already identified various deficiencies at the hospital.

Communist Cuba provides free health care to all its citizens but, though the quality of its medical system is celebrated in leftist circles around Latin America, it is also plagued by shortages. Patients are expected to bring their own sheets and towels and sometimes their own during hospital stays.

The government blames the shortages on the U.S. trade , though the embargo does not prevent the direct sale of medicine or medical supplies to the island.

Cuba cold snap kills 26 at psychiatric hospital – World AP – MiamiHerald.com (15 January 2010)http://www.miamiherald.com/news/world/AP/story/1427586.html

Cuba Is Back

Cuba Is Back06-23-2009 16:08 By Jorge Castaneda

MEXICO CITY ? After 47 years, the Organization of American States, at its annual General Assembly, has repealed its suspension of Cuba's membership.

The so-called ALBA countries (the Spanish acronym for the so-called Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), which includes Cuba, , Honduras, Nicaragua, , Dominica, and Ecuador, were able partly to outwit ? and partly to “out-blackmail" ? , the United States, and the Latin American democracies in getting Cuba rehabilitated.

The OAS did, however, lay down two conditions. Cuba must explicitly request reinstatement, and a dialogue must be initiated in accordance with the premises of the OAS Charter and other basic OAS documents, and in consonance with the principles on which those documents are based ? most importantly, democracy and respect for human rights.

Like many diplomatic compromises, the outcome left everyone a bit happy and a bit disappointed. Everyone could claim victory, and no one was obliged to acknowledge defeat.

But those compromises are like statistics or skimpy swimsuits: what they show is less important than what they hide. Two fundamental considerations come to mind, and their ramifications in “up-for-grab" countries in Latin America, such as El Salvador, are particularly significant.

The first consideration involves the ALBA countries' conduct of foreign policy. Given that the smaller countries do not act independently of Venezuela, and that Venezuelan Hugo Chavez does not act without Cuba's guidance on weighty matters such as these, it is now clear that the Cubans and their allies will cut U.S. President Barack Obama no slack on Latin American issues.

They could have easily let the OAS assembly go by, giving the new American president more time to prepare his Congress and public opinion for a delicate balancing act. The key issue here is how to lift the now almost 50-year old U.S. on trade, , and to Cuba unilaterally, while portraying it as the result of a negotiation.

The ALBA countries decided they would concede nothing to Obama, and attempt, instead, to back him into a corner: either the U.S. would go along with the new OAS consensus, angering both parts of the Cuban-American lobby and the human rights community by abandoning principles and commitments, or the U.S. would have to act alone (perhaps with Canada by its side), leaving it totally isolated in Latin America ? the last thing Obama wants.

The ALBA group pushed hard for a vote, or a compromise on its terms, which it could then flaunt to the world and to domestic public opinion. Obama had no choice but to go along.

The second consideration is that this behavior will continue. The reason seems clear enough: Cuba needs desperately, and there are not too many places where it can find it. Hopes that Brazil and China would provide cash to Cuba have been dashed by the international financial crisis and geopolitics.

And Chavez, despite the recent increase in oil prices, can no longer afford to subsidize Cuba as he did during the boom years. So it seems that the Cubans are hoping to find resources elsewhere, and the only possibility, as remote as it seems, is the Inter-American Development Bank.

In principle, IDB membership requires OAS membership, and therein may lie the reason why Cuba insisted so strongly on returning, and why it was ultimately disappointed in not obtaining unconditional re-admission.

It will nonetheless attempt to have its allies push for some sort of association with the IDB, while at the same time radicalizing its stance elsewhere, as it is now doing in El Salvador.

Indeed, the new Salvadoran president, Mauricio Funes, was elected on the ticket of the FMLN, the party that succeeded the old, hard-left guerrilla group of the 1980s and 1990s. He is a moderate, modern leftist who has openly identified himself with Brazilian President Lula and Barack Obama, as opposed to Chavez.

But his party is as close to Cuba and Venezuela as one can get. In a showdown over the composition of the cabinet just before his inauguration on June 1, the FMLN old guard won, threatening to take the conflict to the streets. The Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans will not cut Funes any slack, either, believing that history is on their side, and that now is the time to force every issue in sight.

They are probably right, up to a certain point, because the second lesson from the OAS assembly concerns the behavior of the Latin American democracies, mainly Mexico, Brazil, , and Colombia. They tried to accommodate the U.S. (it is rumored that Obama phoned Lula and asked for his help), but were nonetheless unwilling to break with Cuba and Venezuela to side openly with the U.S.

They will not do so any time soon, on any issue that may spring up, if it means confrontation with the ALBA countries. knows this, and will take advantage of the democracies' diluted commitment to human rights and democracy.

In each country where conflict is present or emerging (Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Ecuador) the hard-left will push hard, the democracies will look the other way, and Obama will either give in (as at the OAS) and pay a domestic political price, or step back from Latin America, for fear of appearing isolated. A magnificent opportunity for a new start in U.S.-Latin American relations will have been missed.

Jorge Castaneda, former foreign minister of Mexico (2000-2003), is a global distinguished professor of politics and Latin American studies at New York University. For more stories, visit Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).

Cuba Is Back (23 June 2009)http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2009/06/137_47292.html

Falling crude prices squeeze Chavez oil diplomacy

Posted on Tuesday, 01.06.09Falling crude prices squeeze oil diplomacyBy IAN JAMES and RACHEL JONESAssociated Press Writers

CARACAS, 's slumping oil earnings are starting to squeeze Hugo Chavez's public spending spree and curb the he uses to counter U.S. influence.

State-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is based in Houston and distributes Venezuelan oil in the U.S., suspended a free heating oil program for poor Americans this week, according to Citgo's nonprofit partner Citizens Energy.

Some are now predicting a drastic pullback in Chavez's oil-fueled largesse elsewhere.

"Venezuela's oil diplomacy will retrench," said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "The government is not in a position to continue the subsidies, so at the very least this is going to reduce Chavez's clout as a regional power-maker."

Citizens, based in Boston, said a program that distributes free fuel for 200,000 American households in 23 states has been suspended by Citgo. Last year the program cost Venezuela $100 million.

Citgo has refused to comment since the announcement Monday.

Oil is the financial engine behind Chavez's socialist government. Accounting for nearly 94 percent of exports and half the national budget, it pays for everything from subsidized to free universities, allowing Chavez to expand the state payroll and nationalize businesses.

It has also bankrolled an international aid bonanza in which Chavez showers allies with cheap fuel, refining projects and cash donations. With international aid, Chavez has forged ties with left-leaning allies and promoted his vision of a united Latin America increasingly independent of the United States.

In 2007 alone, Venezuela pledged more than $8.8 billion in aid, financing and energy funding abroad, according to an Associated Press tally at the time.

But oil prices have fallen 67 percent since their July peak and the Venezuelan has come under strain. Annual inflation now tops 32 percent in Caracas, and growth fell by nearly half last year to 4.9 percent, the slowest rate since 2003.

Oil prices are now well below the $60 a barrel Venezuela budgeted for 2009, making a deficit likely for the first time in five years. And experts say output is sagging at state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, where profits are often used to finance Chavez's social programs instead of to explore for new oilfields.

Chavez, campaigning to abolish presidential term limits, vows not to cut back on the public spending that has made him popular. He has accumulated $42.2 billion in Central Bank reserves and billions more in savings as a cushion.

But he may now be forced to spend much of that money at home. Critics are asking that Venezuelan ally Cuba pay cash for the nearly 100,000 barrels it receives every day.

"Chavez is going to have to significantly pare back his diplomatic ambitions" to maintain support at home, said Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst at the New York-based Eurasia Group.

One of Chavez's biggest international initiatives has been the Petrocaribe pact, which sells oil to Caribbean and Central American countries largely on credit, charging 1 percent interest over 25 years. Venezuela has financed more than $2 billion in sales to the pact's 18 members since 2004, sometimes accepting as partial payment cattle, bananas, sugar, and medical care from Cuban doctors.

Plunging oil prices have changed the terms of that deal: Recipients now pay for at least 50 percent of the oil up front, up from 40 percent when crude prices topped $100 a barrel.

Still, the pact isn't likely to disappear soon: The allies it has won Venezuela are too useful in international forums such as the United Nations, where small countries' votes sometimes carry the same weight as those from larger nations, said Alejandro Grisanti, a Latin American analyst at Barclay's Capital in New York.

Officials in more than a dozen beneficiary nations report no cuts in aid, and Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez insists that Petrocaribe shipments will continue: "There is no plan to modify that contract."

Yet even if cutbacks are not publicly disclosed, analysts including Rafael Amiel, managing director for Latin America at IHS Global Insight, expect Petrocaribe shipments and other assistance to dwindle substantially by the third quarter of 2009.

Some beneficiaries have amassed large debts to Venezuela. Analysts doubt will be able to repay the more than $100 million it owes. Meanwhile, Venezuela is reevaluating how to finance refineries planned for Nicaragua and Ecuador.

"The government is attempting to project the image that it has put away resources that will enable the country to function more or less as it now is for upwards of a year," Birns said. But, he said, "Venezuela is beginning to hurt and will hurt a good deal more in the near future."Associated Press writers contributing to this report included Theresa Bradley in Mexico City, Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, and correspondents in Petrocaribe countries.

http://www.miamiherald.com/business/breaking-news/story/840275.html

Cuba years ahead in "eat local" movement

Cuba years ahead in "eat local" movementFri Dec 19, 2008 11:03am GMTBy Esteban Israel

HAVANA (Reuters) – After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba planted thousands of urban cooperative gardens to offset reduced rations of imported .

Now, in the wake of three hurricanes that wiped out 30 percent of Cuba's farm crops, the communist country is again turning to its urban gardens to keep its people properly fed.

"Our capacity for response is immediate because this is a cooperative," said Miguel Salcines, walking among rows of lettuce in the garden he heads in the Alamar suburb on the outskirts of Havana.

Salcines says he is hardly sleeping as his 160-member cooperative rushes to plant and harvest a variety of beets that takes just 25 days to grow, among other crops.

As he talks, dirt-stained men and women kneel along the furrows, planting and watering on land next to a complex of Soviet-style buildings. Machete-wielding men chop weeds and clear brush along the periphery of the field.

Around 15 percent of the world's food is grown in urban areas, according to the U.S. Department of , a figure experts expect to increase as food prices rise, urban populations grow and environmental concerns mount.

Since they sell directly to their communities, city farms don't depend on transportation and are relatively immune to the volatility of fuel prices, advantages that are only now gaining traction as "eat local" movements in rich countries.

ROOFTOPS AND PARKING LOTS

In Cuba, urban gardens have bloomed in vacant lots, alongside parking lots, in the suburbs and even on city rooftops.

They sprang from a military plan for Cuba to be self-sufficient in case of war. They were broadened to the general public in response to a food crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's biggest benefactor at the time.

They have proven extremely popular, occupying 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of land across the Caribbean island. Even before the hurricanes, they produced half of the leaf vegetables eaten in Cuba, which imports about 60 percent of its food.

"I don't say they have the capacity to produce enough food for the whole island, but for social and also agricultural reasons they are the most adequate response to a crisis," said Catherine Murphy, a U.S. sociologist who has studied Cuba's urban gardens.

GREEN PRODUCTIVITY

In Alamar, the members get a salary and share the garden's profits, so the more they grow, the more they earn. They make an average of about 950 pesos, or 29 pounds, per month, more than double the national average, Salcines said.

The co-op, which began in 1997, now produces more than 240 tons of vegetables annually on its 11 hectares (27 acres) of land, which is about the size of 13 soccer fields.

The gardens sell their produce directly to the community and, out of necessity, grow their crops organically.

"Urban agriculture is going to play a key role in guaranteeing the feeding of the people much more quickly than the traditional farms," said Richard Haep, Cuba coordinator for German aid group Welthungerhilfe, which has supported these kinds of projects since 1994.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, Cuba's supply of oil slowed to a trickle, hurting big state agricultural operations. Chemical fertilizers were replaced with mountains of manure, and beneficial insects were used instead of pesticides.

Unlike in developed countries, where organic products are more expensive, in Cuba they are affordable.

"We have taken organic agriculture to a social level," said Salcines.

Some experts fear that rising international food prices along with the destruction of the hurricanes will return Cuba to the path of agrochemicals. The government is planning to construct a fertilizer plant with its oil-rich ally .

But , who replaced ailing brother as in February, has also borrowed ideas from the urban gardens as he implements reforms to cut the island's $2.5 billion in annual food imports, much of it from the United States.

Castro has decentralized farm decision-making and raised the prices that the state pays for agricultural products, which has increased milk production, for example, by almost 20 percent.

And, in September, the government began renting out unused state-owned lands to farmers and cooperatives, measures that met with approval of groups.

"Decentralization and economic incentives. If those elements are expanded to the rest of the agricultural sector, the response will be the same," said Welthungerhilfe's Haep.

(Reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Jeff Franks and Eddie Evans)

http://uk.reuters.com/article/reutersEdge/idUKLNE4BI02520081219?sp=true

Cuba looking for relief

Cuba looking for reliefMatt HalipIssue date: 11/21/08 Section: Features

A hurricane, which creates massive waves, torrential downpours and violent twisters, is one of the most feared phenomena on earth.

Few fear the wrath of a hurricane more than Cuba, which has been devastated by Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav, and most recently Tropical Storm Paloma. When the powerful storms struck the island, they severely damaged crops and left some 200,000 homeless. With estimated losses of $5 billion, one of the world's last communist regimes is facing an uphill battle.

"Never in the history of Cuba have we had a case like this," said Raúl Castro, according to The Miami Herald.

Following the damage to the island's supply, , and electricity grids, there have been several questions regarding Cuba's ability to get by without massive . Cuba's most valuable export crops, citrus and tobacco, suffered big losses. Almost half the sugar cane fields were flattened and the coffee harvest has also been badly affected.

"It is impossible to solve the magnitude of the catastrophe with the resources available," said Carlos Lezcano, director of the National Institute of State Reserves, according to The Miami Herald. "The reserves are being tested. We shall have to prioritize."

In the aftermath of the storms, Cuba's main allies flew to the rescue. Russia sent four large cargo planes carrying 200 tons of relief supplies. Brazil and sent smaller shipments. is expected to make a big contribution, though details are not yet known.

Even though the damage done by the hurricanes was immense, Cuba declined help from the United States. The Bush administration offered Cuba $100,000 in relief aid, later raising the amount to $5 million. Instead of accepting, Cuba demanded that the United States lift its trade to enable it to buy much needed reconstruction materials.

With or without the help of the United States, Cuba believes they will come out of this crisis stronger than before.

"It's rather unlikely that sweating and starving Cubans go rioting in the streets, even less so against a government that has been effective in disaster preparation and response," said Johannes Werner, editor of Cuba Trade and News, according to The Miami Herald. "Cubans have a track record of coming out stronger in far worse situations."

http://media.www.guilfordian.com/media/storage/paper281/news/2008/11/21/Features/Cuba-Looking.For.Relief-3557911.shtml

Foreign Aid Helps Fund Cultural Activities

CUBA:Foreign Aid Helps Fund Cultural ActivitiesBy Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Nov 20 (IPS) – In Cuba, is promoting the advancement of cultural projects, adopting an approach that enriches the traditional perspective on development with a dimension closer to the needs of the human spirit.

With that aim in mind, two European organisations, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE) and the Dutch Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos), have kept up their aid efforts in this Caribbean island nation, along with other initiatives by multilateral bodies, in spite of political and diplomatic changes.

"Foreign development aid goes directly to enhance the spirit of the population," Yoanny Sarmiento, director of the Casa de Cultura cultural centre of Jamaica, a town located more than 800 kilometres east of Havana, told IPS.

In Jamaica, the second-biggest town in the province of Guantánamo, a project that began in 2006 aims to revitalise the community's social and cultural life, backed by financing from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has supplied technical equipment to cultural centres.

"There has been a huge increase in the number of appreciation workshops and the quality of artistic products has improved enormously," says Sarmiento, a 33-year-old music instructor.

"We don't support art for art's sake, but rather for the social and cultural role it plays," Susana Rochna, coordinator for Central America and the Caribbean for Hivos's Art and Culture programme, based in San José, Costa Rica, told IPS.

Hivos, a Dutch non-governmental organisation inspired by humanist values, is active in 30 countries around the world, working with local organisations in a range of fields, including culture, where it supports independent artistic initiatives

"This marriage between cooperation and its concern for development and art has an interesting effect, because it helps raise social awareness," said Rochna. "We support art that is quite avant-garde and anti-establishment, that stimulates reflection, generates change and awakens the best in people."

Of the 800 non-governmental organisations that are backed by Hivos's Culture Fund, 150 are located in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through its programme "Making Civil Voices Heard", the organisation's cultural assistance also extends to the use of technology, promoting access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and the mainstreaming of ICT tools.

In its Art and Culture programme, Hivos puts a priority on the artistic quality of the proposals, the search for new "languages," the dissemination of the products to broad audiences, and the social commitment of the artists.

In Cuba, Hivos has made a decisive contribution to the development of a number of cultural institutions, like the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Centre, the Retazos dance company, the International Low Budget Film Festival organised by Humberto Solás, and the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Centre, a literary workshop.

"Hivos gave us the start-up funds to open the Centre," Ivonne Galeano, head of the governmental Onelio Jorge Cardoso Centre, told IPS. "We had the approval and the support of the Ministry of Culture, but we didn't have the money to buy the initial equipment."

In its creative writing courses, the Centre, founded in 1998 by Cuban short-story writer Eduardo Heras León, has taught more than 500 young students from cities, towns and remote villages, thus transforming the island's literary map, which had previously been dominated by the large cities.

Thanks to foreign aid, the Centre was later able to set up a computer lab, furnish the main office, and establish the publishing house Caja , which has released short-story anthologies and puts out the quarterly "El Cuentero" literary magazine.

In March, the Centre took its work beyond Cuba's borders, with the first International Young Writers's Festival, which drew more than one hundred representatives of Latin American and Caribbean literature, and was made possible through the support of Hivos, COSUDE and Cuba's cultural authorities.

The two international aid agencies also organised a Cultural Cooperation Workshop on Nov. 6-8 in Havana's Neptuno , with the coordination of the Centre for Exchange and Reference on Community Initiatives (CIERIC), and the assistance of cultural projects from four provinces.

"I believe financing is key, because it basically allows people to produce and bring to life their ideas," Rochna said.

According to Rochna, Hivos has a budget of some 100 million euros (118 million dollars), of which approximately five percent go to the Art and Culture programme.

"We try to maintain our support long enough to ensure that certain capacities are built and there is an infrastructure in place, providing the foundation for them to continue working," she said.

"When our support ends, the people are left with greater prestige, experience and technical resources, as well as a professional team," Rochna added.

Since the and Cuba broke off relations in 2003, following diplomatic sanctions imposed by the for mass arrests, Cuba has received no official aid in the area of culture from the EU as a bloc or from most of its members, with the exception of and .

But this situation could change now that the EU and Cuba renewed ties in late October.

Cultural aid is aimed at stimulating artistic activity throughout the country, promoting creative production, preserving the cultural heritage, conducting research and developing human potential.

In late 2007, Cuba received aid from 39 countries, 110 local governments, 102 non-governmental organisations and 20 private funds. This year, the projects underway include more than 109 million dollars in financing. (END/2008)

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=44789

Battered by Storms, Cuba Uses Ideological Zeal to Lift Spirits and Direct Anger

Battered by Storms, Cuba Uses Ideological Zeal to Lift Spirits and Direct AngerEnrique de la Osa/ReutersBy MARC LACEYPublished: September 27, 2008

LOS PALACIOS, Cuba — There is a familiarity to the huge hurricane relief effort under way here as work crews hammer away at homes whose roofs were blown away, restring fallen electrical lines and dole out rations to those who lost everything. But then there is the quintessentially Cuban dimension: the newly painted placards and billboards going up amid the destruction.Jose Goita for The New York Times

After the storms, which caused about $5 billion in damage, the Cuban government sold mattresses in Havana for about $7.

"The revolution is more powerful than Mother Nature," trumpets one roadside banner, a quotation from that has appeared in the weeks since two successive storms battered Cuba.

"The people of Los Palacios will recover with our own force," reads a hand-drawn sign in front of the Communist Party headquarters in this hardscrabble agricultural town in western Cuba that suffered two direct hits.

One might think that ideology could wait at least until all the lights were back on. But in Cuba, acknowledged for its expertise in hurricane preparedness and response, the political ramifications that storms present are tallied along with the physical damages.

The physical effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike have been profound, totaling at least $5 billion, the government says. The storms partly or completely destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and crops in fields from the fertile Pinar del Río Province in the west to Guantánamo in the east, a grave concern in a country that was struggling to feed itself before the hurricanes hit.

Besides clearing fields of , , plantains and sweet potatoes, the storms destroyed more than a million eggs and killed half a million chickens.

Assessing the political fallout is trickier. Local Communist Party officials are walking block by block gauging discontent among the population. The country's leaders, meanwhile, have told the people again and again that blame for any lasting pain they endure should be directed not their way but at Washington, their regular foil.

"The empire is making our suffering worse," said Luis Guzmán, 56, who has followed the regular commentaries that Mr. Castro has been producing from his sickbed since handing over power to his brother, Raúl, in February. "It's your blockade that prevents us from developing."

Mr. Guzmán, a retiree, is one of many Cubans who were hard hit by the two storms, Gustav in late August and Ike early this month. His home was not just damaged but blown away altogether, scattered over the vast fields of this agricultural region. Some small scraps of wood were left behind; he turned them into a makeshift lean-to under a tree.

Mr. Guzmán does not receive Granma, the state-run newspaper that faithfully prints Fidel Castro's writings (though no longer always on the front page). Instead, he listens to his battered radio, which tells him what the former leader is thinking.

The hurricane has clearly been on Mr. Castro's mind. In his day, he would appear on television from the country's hurricane command center and give running commentary on the incoming storm's wind speed and potential for destruction. After the winds had quieted, he would rush to lead the cleanup.

Recently, Mr. Castro has issued a storm of commentaries about the storms, overshadowing in some ways the more contained remarks his brother made during a trip to affected regions on Sept. 17, which some have pointed out was more than two weeks after the first hurricane hit.

"I didn't see any sullen faces, and when I saw one, I went up to them and talked to them, and it was because they were at the sick or had some problem," Raúl Castro said.

Cuba has pointedly turned down several offers of emergency aid from the United States, and no one has been more vocal than Fidel Castro in explaining why to the population. The assessment team that Washington initially proposed was a euphemism for spies, he said. The relative pittance — $100,000 in the first offer and now more than $5 million — came with strings attached, he insisted. Dignity trumps a politically motivated handout, he declared.

The Cubans have been holding out for a lifting — even a temporary one — of the United States to allow them to buy building materials and relief supplies on the American market. It is not just a pie-in-the-sky idea. After Hurricane Michelle in 2001 the Cubans began buying agricultural products from the United States, a loosening of the trade ban that continues to this day.

As Emilio Triana Ordaz, the Communist Party secretary in Los Palacios, put it, paraphrasing Fidel Castro: "The United States didn't cause the hurricane. We know that. But they've been causing damage to our country for 50 years, and it's holding us back."

Mr. Ordaz, who also directs the local civil defense committee, boasted about the efficiency of the pre-storm evacuations, which included gathering people in havens and carrying away their electrical appliances as well. Seven people were killed countrywide in the two storms, a death toll that even Cuba's critics acknowledge would have been much higher in a country that did not keep detailed lists of every resident on every block.

"When something awful like this happens, your spirit is on the floor," said Mr. Ordaz, explaining the banners that remind everyone that even if the landscape is damaged the political institutions still stand. "You're sad. We want to lift spirits and motivate people to get up and struggle. It's not the end of the world."

Raúl Castro's fledgling government was under great pressure to institute changes before the hurricanes hit, and that pressure has only grown. In fact, Mr. Castro sped up his long-planned overhaul of Cuba's agricultural system, saying he would dole out unused land to those who want to give farming a try. In the days since the hurricane, thousands of applications have been accepted and land giveaways have begun.

"The country is going through difficult times, and this is a way to help," said one of those future farmers, Rolando Pérez Estupiñán, as local Communist Party officials looked on and nodded with encouragement at his revolutionary fervor. He said nothing about his opportunity to make a profit on any extra he produces after paying off the state for seeds and other farming materials, which is part of the plan.

"These storms have been catastrophic," said Jürgen Roth of German Agro Action, an group working to increase Cuba's food production, which has fallen by a third over the past decade. "The state has food reserves, but it is in the coming months when people will begin to feel this. You can't feed 11 million people with cabbage."

The government has acknowledged the losses but put the best face on them. "There have been very serious effects, but I can say no Cuban is going to die of hunger or be abandoned to their fate," said Alcides López, the vice minister of .

While some Cubans are grousing about the delay in receiving aid or the small temporary dwellings where they are now forced to live, it is uncertain to what degree Cubans blame Raúl Castro.

Some Cuba experts based in the United States are predicting a spike in the number of Cubans trying to flee to the United States as conditions worsen, especially since October is typically when the fiercest storms slam into Cuba. Brian Latell, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who tracks developments in Cuba, went further in a just-published essay: "Popular anger, perhaps even new forms of lawlessness, are likely to grow."

But Mr. Ordaz shook his head vigorously when he heard that. He said his walks through the neighborhoods of Los Palacios, where most of the homes suffered some damage, had given him no cause for concern.

"We know things are tougher there in the U.S. right now," he said, referring to the financial crisis in the heart of capitalism on Wall Street.

As for an exodus, he said: "People aren't leaving. We know every time someone goes, and"—making a zero with his fingers — "this many have gone."

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/world/americas/28cuba.html?em

Bloodied, but unbowed

CubaBloodied, but unbowedSep 18th 2008 From The Economist print editionDesperate for , hurricane-torn Cuba turns down anyrelief from its old foe, the United States

"NEVER in the history of Cuba have we had a case like this," Raúl Castro lamented after two powerful hurricanes, barely a week apart,struck the island, severely damaging crops and leaving some 200,000homeless. Miraculously, Havana, the capital, was left virtuallyunscathed, as were the main resorts, the oil industry and nickelmining. But with estimated losses of $5 billion, one of the world's lastcommunist regimes is facing a daunting task.

The enormous damage sustained to the island's food supplies, andelectricity grid raises big questions about Cuba's ability to get bywithout massive international aid. Two of the island's most valuableexport crops, citrus and tobacco, suffered big losses. Luckily, thetobacco harvest was already in, but some 3,000 curing sheds where theleaves are stored were damaged. Almost half the sugarcane fields wereflattened. The coffee harvest in the east has also been badly affected.

The government has admitted that it cannot cope alone. "It is impossibleto solve the magnitude of the catastrophe with the resources available,"said Carlos Lezcano, director of the National Institute of StateReserves. "The reserves are being tested. We shall have to prioritise."

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike could increase pressure on Raúl Castro toaccelerate reforms to loosen the island's centrally-controlled ,much as his brother, Fidel, was forced to do in the early 1990s afterthe collapse of Cuba's subsidised trade with the Soviet Union. Backthen, reforms briefly opened the economy up to private enterprise, but slammed the door shut again once the economy had recovered.

Since his brother fell ill in July 2006, Raúl has stressed the urgentneed for Cuba to raise its domestic agricultural production tosubstitute for increasingly expensive food imports. To that end, he hasintroduced measures to redistribute idle land and allow farmers moreautonomy. After years of decline, the agricultural sector had begun toshow signs of modest recovery, with output up 5.5% last year. Citrusproduction rose 20%, having fallen by 41% over the previous three years.Sugar cane was also making a comeback.

In the aftermath of the storms, Cuba's main allies leapt to the rescue.Russia sent four large cargo planes carrying 200 tonnes of reliefsupplies. Brazil and sent smaller shipments. is expectedto make a big contribution, though details are not yet known.

But not even hurricanes of this ferocity could break down the lack oftrust between Cuba and its old foe, the United States. Instead, the twohave plunged into yet another round of political argy-bargy. The Bushadministration offered Cuba $100,000 in immediate relief aid, laterraised to $5m, but Mr Castro turned it down, demanding instead thatAmerica lift its trade to enable it to buy urgently neededreconstruction materials. (In neighbouring Haiti by contrast, where thestorm damage was worse, the United States promptly dispatched ahelicopter-laden warship to help relief efforts, as well as pledging$19.5m in aid.)

In Havana, food markets are already running out of supplies and priceshave shot up. Although some Miami-based Cubans may be eagerlyanticipating anti-government protests, analysts do not consider this ison the cards—unless the government bungles the relief effort. "It'srather unlikely that sweating and starving Cubans go rioting in thestreets, even less so against a government that has been effective indisaster preparation and response," said Johannes Werner, editor of CubaTrade and News. "Cubans have a track record of coming outstronger in far worse situations," he noted.

http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12262213

International aid flows into storm-battered Cuba

flows into storm-battered Cuba05 Sep 2008 19:07

By Rosa Tania Valdes

HAVANA, Sept 5 (Reuters) – shipped in 16 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Cuba on Friday, while tiny East Timor donated $500,000 and anted up $300,000 as international help flowed into the island working to recover from devastating Hurricane Gustav.

, Cuba's closest ally, said it would help as did Colombia and Mexico, while arch-foe the United States offered $100,000 in emergency funds on the condition it go through relief groups, not the Cuban government.

The United Nations, which sent in an adviser to conduct a joint damage assessment with the government, also said it had offered aid.

Russia, Cuba's former Cold War ally, flew in two planeloads of goods on Thursday, and said two more were coming.

The storm wrecked an estimated 100,000 houses and, according to former leader , caused several billion dollars of damage when it struck western Cuba and the Isle of Youth on Saturday.

Gustav's 150-mile-per-hour (240-km-per-hour) winds ripped off roofs, knocked over power lines and flattened crops and trees as it crossed the island on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. It later struck Louisiana.

No deaths have been reported in Cuba, despite the extensive damage that Castro, in a commentary on Wednesday, equated to a nuclear bomb. He said scenes from the hardest-hit areas recalled Hiroshima, the Japanese city hit by a U.S. atomic bomb at the end of World War Two.

Castro, ailing and 82, was formally replaced as in February by brother , but writes frequent newspaper columns and appears to still play a role in the government he led after taking power in a 1959 revolution.

Spain said its aid included electric generators, tents and personal hygiene articles. Russia brought tents, electric cables, sleeping cots and blankets.

East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta announced his country's $500,000 donation during an official visit to Cuba.

John Holmes, the UN's humanitarian affairs chief, said in New York the international body was "looking at the possibility" of providing aid to Cuba from its emergency response funds.

If Cuba accepts, "I think it would be the first time they have been willing to take such assistance from us," he said.

The United States has offered emergency funds to Cuba before, but Cuba has turned it down.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Fidel Castro offered to send Cuban doctors in to help storm victims, but Washington did not accept.

The United States has maintained a trade against Cuba for 46 years and the two countries, just 90 miles (144 km) part, do not have diplomatic relations. (Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip in New York; editing by Jeff Franks and Eric Walsh) Keywords: STORM GUSTAV/CUBA

http://about.reuters.com/dynamic/countrypages/mexico/1220656040nN05215040.ASP

Cuban dissidents ask looser US embargo after storm

Cuban dissidents ask looser US after stormPosted on Thu, Sep. 04, 2008By WILL WEISSERTAssociated Press Writer

HAVANA –Two prominent Cuban dissidents have asked U.S. George W. Bush to temporarily loosen restrictions on and sending money to the communist-run island to help tens of thousands left homeless by Hurricane Gustav.

Marta and Vladimiro Roca signed a Spanish-language letter to Bush which they delivered to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Wednesday. Officials at the mission, which Washington maintains here instead of an embassy, said they passed it along to the White House.

The letter, sent by fax to foreign reporters on Thursday, asks Bush to lift restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban exiles in the United States "for at least two months."

"You know as well as we do that any family member abroad would like to have physical contact with those who are going through a difficult situation," they wrote.

Gustav slammed into western Cuba with 140 mph (220 kph) winds on Saturday, ripping roofs off homes, leveling buildings, tossing trees, cars and power lines and crumpling electric towers.

About 100,000 homes nationwide were damaged, thousands beyond repair, and suggested recovery could cost billions of dollars.

"Knowing how intransigent the Cuban government is about accepting help from your country … we ask that you permit American non-governmental organizations to help the region so as to soothe the suffering of its inhabitants," the dissidents wrote.

Past hurricanes have served to soften the U.S. embargo, if indirectly.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress authorized direct sales of American and farm products to the island. The communist government refused to import even one grain of for more than a year because of a dispute over financing, but finally agreed to take advantage of the law after Hurricane Michelle in November 2001 cut into its food stocks.

Today the United States is the island's leading supplier of food.

, who succeeded his brother Fidel as president six months ago, has not asked for , though Russian planes carrying tents, building materials and food landed in Cuba on Thursday.

Roque is a former government official who was among 75 political activists sentenced to in 2003 on charges of conspiring with U.S. officials to undermine Cuba's communist system. She was subsequently conditionally released for medical reasons.

Roca is a former fighter pilot and son of a legendary communist leader who served nearly five years in prison for his political beliefs.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/AP/story/671952.html

Human rights abusers hijacking United Nations

abusers hijacking United NationsLorne GunterCalgary Herald

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Each year, the human rights watchdog House surveys all 193countries in the world, plus 15 select territories, and assesses thestate of freedom in each.

During 2007, Freedom House determined that 90 countries (47 per cent)were free. Their governments respected "a broad array of basic humanrights and political freedoms." This is good news. Since these countriesalso represent nearly one-half of the world's population, that means weare approaching the day when a majority of Earth's inhabitants live free.

Since 1977, the number of free countries has doubled. Another 60countries (31 per cent) were "partly free." While there were "someabridgements of basic rights and weak enforcement of the rule of law" inthese countries, political dissent was mostly permitted, elections werelargely free and citizens could believe what they wished without muchfear of imprisonment. (Sort of like before human rightscommissions began telling us what thoughts were and were not acceptable.)

But 43 countries and eight territories were "not free," according toFreedom House. In those states "citizens endure systematic and pervasivehuman rights violations." Freedom of and assembly are limitedor non-existent. Critics of the government are imprisoned andoccasionally executed. Of this Un-Free 43, Freedom House considers 17countries and three territories to be "the worst of the worst."

"Within these (17) entities," Freedom House explains, "state controlover daily life is pervasive and wide-ranging, independent organizationsand political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear ofretribution for independent thought and action is part of daily life."

Furthermore, eight of these are considered "the world's most repressiveregimes." These include Burma (Myanmar), where the junta is sorepressive and paranoid it won't permit most to enterits cyclone-ravaged land for fear aid workers will seduce the Burmeseinto revolt.

They value their power more than they value the lives of tens ofthousands of their countrymen. The other seven most-repressive are Cuba,Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Alsoincluded are two territories, Chechnya and Tibet.

Freedom House only places in the next-to-worst group — the ninecountries and one territory that, while among the worse regimes on theplanet, are not quite as bad as the eight "most-repressive."

China, then, is in a sort of outer-circle-of-hell group along withBelarus, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria,and Zimbabwe.

The fascinating aspect for me is how many of Freedom House's "worst ofthe worst list" have also been elected by the UN to be voting members onits human rights council.

The UN human rights watchdog has 47 members. One, Cuba, is among theeight most-repressive governments in the world, as judged by FreedomHouse. And two more, China and Saudi Arabia, are among the bottom 17countries.

In all, 10 members of the UN Human Rights Council — more than one-fifthof its complement — are from Freedom House's list of countries thathave few if any freedoms.

On May 21, 15 of the 47 UNHRC seats will come up for election orre-election. Along with UN Watch, an organization that analyzes UNactivities, statements and programs, Freedom House has declared thatfive of the 15 candidate countries — Bahrain, Gabon, Pakistan, SriLanka and Zambia — are entirely unfit for membership because of theirrights records. All but one of them (Bahrain) is already a member of thecommission. This goes to show how useless the UN is at protecting humanrights.

Of the 47 member states, UN Watch calculates that just 13 havepro-freedom voting records at council meetings. Canada leads the waywith 19 freedom-defending votes on the 32 most important resolutions tocome before UNHRC last year. The next-best records belong to ,, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia and the UnitedKingdom, all with 11 for 32 records.

Yet that leaves 34 UNHRC members with anti-freedom voting patterns,including Russia and China, which voted against expanding freedom 18 of32 times and 19 of 32, respectively.

This was not supposed to happen. Three years ago when the corrupt,feckless UN Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the UNHRC, theworld was reassured the council would never become hijacked byrights-abusing countries the way its predecessor had been.

But once again the UN has placed the foxes in charge of the henhouse.

http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/theeditorialpage/story.html?id=618ec503-0bf7-41c6-8336-4ce6c45fb1f2

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