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Preserving Stability In Cuba After Normalizing Relations With US:
Importance Of Trading With State Owned Enterprises – Analysis
By COHA -- (March 30, 2013)
By Dr. Timothy Ashby

Cuba under Raul Castro has entered a new period of economic, social, and
political transformation. Reforms instituted within the past few years
have brought the expansion of private sector entrepreneurial activity,
including lifting restrictions on the sales of residential real estate,
automobiles, and electronic goods. Additional reforms included, more
than a million hectares of idle land has been leased to private farmers
where, citizens have been granted permission to stay in hotels
previously reserved for tourists, and freedom being granted for most
Cubans to travel abroad. Stating that it was time for the "gradual
transfer" of "key roles to new generations," President Raul Castro
announced that he will retire by 2018, and named as his possible
successor a man who was not even born at the time of the Cuban
Revolution. [1]

The twilight of the Castro era presents challenges and opportunities for
U.S. policy makers. Normalization of relations is inevitable, regardless
of timing, yet external and internal factors may accelerate or retard
the process. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is likely to
undermine the already dysfunctional Cuban economy if it leads to
reductions in oil imports and other forms of aid. This could bring
social chaos, especially among the island's disaffected youth. Such an
outcome would generate adverse consequences for U.S. national and
regional security. To maintain Cuba's social and economic stability
while, reforms are maturing, the United States must throw itself open to
unrestricted bilateral trade with all Cuban enterprises, both private
and state-owned.

The collapse of Cuba's tottering economy could seismically impact the
United States and neighboring countries. It certainly did during the
Mariel Boatlift of 1980, precipitated by a downturn in the Cuban economy
which led to tensions on the island. Over 125,000 Cuban refugees landed
in the Miami area, including 31,000 criminals and mental patients.
Today, the United States defines its national security interests
regarding Cuba as follows:

Avoid one or more mass migrations;
Prevent Cuba from becoming another porous border that allows
continuous large-scale migration to hemisphere;
Prevent Cuba from becoming a major source or transshipment point
for the illegal drug trade;
Avoid Cuba becoming a state with ungoverned spaces that could
provide a platform for terrorists and others wishing to harm the United
States. [2]

All of these national security threats are directly related to economic
and social conditions within Cuba.

U.S. policy specifically supports "a market-oriented economic system"
toward Cuba, yet regulations prohibit the importation of any goods of
Cuban origin, whether from the island's potentially booming private
sector – including 300,000 agricultural producers – or State Owned
Enterprises ("SOEs"). [3],[4] Such a policy is counterproductive to U.S.
interests. Regardless of over 400,000 entrepreneurs, including
agricultural cultivators, it could be many years, if ever, when Cuba's
private sector would be ready to serve as the engine of economic growth.
SOEs employ 72 percent of Cuban workers. [5] A rational commercial
rapprochement towards Cuba would; therefore, require a change in current
laws and in the system of regulations prohibiting the importation of
Cuban goods and products. Normalized bilateral trade will benefit the
Cuban people by helping to provide economic stability and fostering the
growth of a middle class – both of which are essential for the
foundation of democratic institutions. Two-way trade must include both
Cuba's private sector as well as SOEs.

Cuban SOEs are in a state of gradual transition like other parts of the
economy. In December 2012, the Cuban government authorized a wide range
of co-ops that will allow workers to collectively open new businesses or
take over existing SOEs in construction, transportation and other
industries. Considered a pilot program that is a prime candidate for an
expansion, the co-ops "will not be administratively subordinated to any
state entity."[6] Many Cuban officials, well aware of the limits to
small-scale entrepreneurism, appear to harbor hope that co-ops could
shift a large portion of the island's economy to free-market competition
from government-managed socialism. In other transitional states,
particularly in post-socialist economies, co-ops have served as
commercial bridges between state-owned and privatized business. Of the
300 largest co-ops in the world, more than half are in United States,
Italy, or France. [7]

Ironically, the outputs of such co-ops, including agricultural products
which could find strong demand in the American market, are barred by
short-sighted federal regulations, thus hampering if not defeating what
could be a major U.S. policy goal.

The United States has been actively trading with foreign SOEs for years.
The People's Republic of China – a one party and communist state – is
the United States' second largest trading partner, and Chinese SOE's
account for a large percentage of the nearly $400 billion USD in goods
exported to America each year. Venezuela is in the top fifteen of U.S.
trading partners, and the bulk of that country's exports are petroleum
products deriving from the state-owned PDVSA (which in turn owns
Houston-based CITCO oil company). Another communist country, Vietnam –
which initially was the subject of a U.S. economic embargo similar to
that imposed on Cuba – is the second-largest source of U.S. clothing
imports and a major manufacturing source for footwear, furniture, and
electrical machinery. [8] On these matters, the Cuban government has
said that it wants to "replicate the paths of Vietnam and China." [9]

Of relevance to Cuban trade relations, Vietnam has formally requested to
be added to the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program as
a "beneficiary developing country," which authorizes the U.S. President
to grant duty-free treatment for eligible products. The statute also
provides the President with specific political and economic criteria to
use, when designating eligible countries and products. "Communist"
countries are not eligible for GSP membership unless the President
determines that certain conditions have been met, including whether the
applicant is "dominated or controlled by international communism."
Furthermore, countries that fail to recognize "internationally accepted
workers' rights" are excluded. [10]

U.S. statutes do not provide a general definition of a "Communist"
country, and the Obama administration is expected to declare that
Vietnam is no longer "Communist" in terms of its economic system. The
argument will be that even if Vietnam is a "Communist" country (hard to
deny, considering it has one party government that is officially titled
the Communist Party of Vietnam), it is "not dominated or controlled by
international communism" because no such entity exists following the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Similar arguments may be applied to Cuba
in considering normalized relations with the United States.

At the request of the U.S. Congress, the General Accountability Office
(GAO) conducted detailed reviews of the frameworks for seven key
statutes that govern Cuban sanctions. [11] The resulting reports
concluded that (i) the President still maintains "broad discretion" to
make additional modifications to Cuban sanctions; and (ii) prior
measures, implemented by the executive branch have had the effect of
easing specific restrictions of the Cuba sanctions and have been
consistent with statutory mandates as well as within the discretionary
authority of the President. [12] Some legal scholars asset that absence
of such explicit statutory provisions in other areas suggests that
Congress did not intend to prohibit the executive branch from issuing
general or specific licenses to authorize certain transactions with Cuba
when "such licenses are deemed to be appropriate and consistent with
U.S. policies." [13]

Although, a complex variety of federal statutes have re-stated the
regulatory prohibition on importation of Cuban goods under 31 C.F.R. §
515.204, enabling legislation to codify the restriction, has not been
passed. For example, 22 U.S.C. § 6040(a) "notes" that 31 C.F.R. §
515.204 prohibits the importation of goods from Cuba, but does not
codify or expressly prohibit such activity, and 22 U.S.C. § 7028
acknowledges that Congress did not attempt to alter any prohibitions on
the importation of goods from Cuba under 31 C.F.R. § 515.204. [14]

The complete dismantling of the Cuban Economic Embargo will undoubtedly
require Congressional legislation; however, the President has broad
powers to modify policy towards Cuba, particularly in an emergency
situation that could affect US national security. [15] For example,
imports of Cuban origin goods are prohibited under the Cuban Asset
Control Regulations ("CACRS") except as "specifically authorized by the
Secretary of the Treasury by means of regulations, rulings,
instructions, licenses or otherwise." [16]

Such authority could allow the President to argue for the modification
of 31 C.F.R. § 204's complete prohibition on the importation of Cuban
goods by stating that Cuban exports to the United States help the Cuban
people by creating employment and thereby maintaining island's social
stability. Considering the domestic political constituency and the
political obduracy of U.S. Congress, a more realistic presidential
rationale for allowing Cuban imports from all types of enterprises could
be the protection of U.S. borders during an era of grave concerns about
homeland security.

Some policy analysts suggest that bilateral trade with Cuba should be
restricted to businesses and individuals engaged in certifiably
independent (i.e., non-state) economic activity. [17] While
well-intentioned, such a policy would likely have a negligible impact on
Cuba's economic development, and fails to recognize that commercial
enterprises that the U.S. government would classify as SOEs are actually
co-ops or other types of quasi-independent entities that are in the
early stages of privatization. Restrictions such as this also fail to
address larger national and regional security concerns which are the
primary responsibility of the President.

Although ultimately the Cuban people must freely choose their own
political and economic systems, President Obama should be seen as heavy
legal authority to support the transition taking place on the island by
opening U.S. markets to Cuban imports. Normalized bilateral trade will
benefit the Cuban people and help to provide economic and social
stability that is in turn vital to U.S. national and regional security.

Such trade must include both the island's small, yet growing private
sector, and State Owned Enterprises. In this regard, it would be both
unfair and strategically unwise to treat Cuban differently from its
stated models, China and Vietnam.

Dr. Timothy Ashby, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric

Dr. Ashby, who recently joined COHA's Board, served in the U.S. Commerce
Department, International Trade Administration, as Director of the
Office of Mexico and the Caribbean and acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
of Commerce for the Western Hemisphere. Currently a Counsel with the
international law firm Dentons, he has PhD, JD and MBA degrees.


[1] "Raúl Castro Says His New 5-Year Term as Cuba's President Will Be
His Last," New York Times, Feb. 24, 2013, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[2] Gary H. Maybarduk, "The US Strategy for Transition in Cuba," in A
Changing Cuba in a Changing World edited by Mauricio A. Font (The
Graduate Center, City University of New York, March, 2008), 226,

[3] Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, 22 U.S.C. § 6007(a) (1992).

[4] 31 C.F.R. § 515.204 prohibits the importation of any Cuban origin
goods, goods located in or transported from Cuba, or goods derived in
whole or in part from Cuba, unless expressly authorized by the Secretary
of the Treasury.

[5] CIA World Factbook, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[6]"Co-op Laws in Cuba Are Seen as Progress," The New York Times, Dec.
11, 2012, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,
[7] "Global 300 list reveals world's largest cooperatives," USDA Rural
Development, Cooperative Programs, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[8] Michael F. Martin, U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues
for the 112th Congress, (Congressional Research Service, April 5, 2011),
accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[9] "Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo." New
York Times, Nov. 19, 2012, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[10] "Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo." New
York Times, Nov. 19, 2012, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[11] Stephen F. Propst, Presidential Authority To Modify Economic
Sanctions Against Cuba, (Hogan Lovells US LLP, Feb. 15, 2001) 2,
accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[12] United States General Accounting Office, U.S. Embargo on Cuba:
Recent Regulatory Changes and Potential Presidential or Congressional
Actions, GAO-09-951R (September 2009), accessed March 26, 2013,; and Cuban Embargo: Selected
Issues Relating to Travel, Exports, and Telecommunications,
GAO/NSIAD-99-10 (December 1998), accessed March 26, 2013,

[13] Propst, Presidential Authority, 9.

[14] Seven Steps the U.S. President Can Take to Promote Change in Cuba
by Adapting the Embargo. AS/COA, Feb. 20. 2013, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[15] Such as H.R.214 – the Cuba Reconciliation Act, introduced on
January 3, 2013.

[16] 31 C.F.R. § 515.204(a) (1996).

[17] Seven Steps the U.S. President Can Take, supra. Continue reading
Cuba national soccer team defectors surface with Battery
Posted: Mar 29, 2013 12:35 AM RST Updated: Mar 29, 2013 5:11 AM RST
By Mark Davenport

DANIEL ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Soccer is a game of speed, patience and quick
decision making. It's those same skills that also allowed three Cuban
national soccer team players to make a daring escape from a 2012 World
Cup qualifying match in Canada, eventually surfacing in Charleston to
play for the Battery.

"It all started playing on Cuban national team," said Heviel Cordoves,
through a translator. "We went to Toronto to play the Canadian national

Cordoves, Maikel Chang-Rameriz and Odisnel Cooper had been planning a
month prior to the match.

Always in secret, never aloud, the goal was to escape to the United
States just before their World Cup Qualifier in October.

"We were really nervous at first getting out of the hotel," said
Chang-Rameriz. "That was the biggest part because we saw the coaching
staff and any little chance we got when they looked away, we were gone."

The trio got their chance during a lunch break. When the coaches turned
away the three took off running.

"The risk is really big in Cuba if you get caught trying to escape,"
said Cordoves. "I would be taken off national team and pretty much be
put in jail."

Understanding the risk, Chang-Rameriz says they ran through the streets
of Toronto until they met a random man on the sidewalk who let them use
his cell phone and gave them money for a cab.

Cordoves says after a few days the found themselves at the border, feet
away from American soil.

Under the 'Wet foot, dry foot policy,' set in place during the Clinton
Administration, any Cuban who steps on U.S. soil has the right to become
a resident.

The policy is one they were all familiar with.

The trio marveled at the defection of Battery legend and now top MLS
midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in 2008 under similar circumstances.

Now it was their turn.

After the trio crossed the border they made their way to Jacksonville,
Florida by bus then they scored a tryout in Charleston with the Battery.

"It was nervous at first coming in with the team and trying out," says

The tryout was all the three men needed. Battery Head Coach Michael
Anhaeuser says he knew from the minute they stepped on the pitch they
would play for the squad.

"Everything went great from the soccer side," said Anhaeuser. "There was
the issue with communication but they did a great job."

All three players have work permits and are making progress in getting
their U.S. citizenship.

The goal for all the defectors is the top tier of what soccer can offer,
a spot on an Major League team or a contract overseas in Europe.

Cooper left his wife behind in Cuba, but says she will be able to make
the trip to be with him as soon as he becomes a citizen.

Chang-Rameriz and Cordoves are both sending money home to their families
and girlfriends, trying to help them as make as possible from Charleston.

What they make in the U.S. is much different than what they made in
their home country. Cordoves says the average salary for a Cuban
footballer is roughly eight dollars a month.

The forward says after their recent defection, the count is up to 25
players of the Cuban national team to have escaped to the U.S.

"It's a dream come true," said Cordoves. Cooper and Chang-Ramierz agree.

The Charleston Battery kick off their home schedule on April 20 versus
Antigua Barracuda FC. Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 03.29.13
Latin America

No clear successor to Chávez as leader of Latin American left

Venezuelans will head to the polls April 14 to elect a successor to the
late President Hugo Chávez. While Nicolás Maduro, Chávez's handpicked
candidate, is favored to win, it's not as clear who will inherit the
populist's mantle as the ideological leader of the Latin left.

With his strident anti-Americanism and insistence on Latin American
unity, Chávez championed the poor and thwarted a U.S.-backed Free Trade
Area of the Americas at the same time he pushed regional alliances and
hemispheric trade blocks as a counterweight to what he perceived as too
much U.S. influence in the region.

And there seems to be a desire among the Latin left to keep those
efforts alive.

When Chávez died March 5, Argentine President Cristina Fernández,
President José Mujica of Uruguay and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff,
for example, released a joint statement saying the best tribute to
Chávez "would be to preserve his legacy, activism and commitment to the
regional integration project.''

But with the Venezuelan economy in rickety shape and rampant crime
plaguing the country, keeping Chávez's dream alive in Venezuela — let
alone the rest of the continent — may prove daunting.

While those who jetted to Caracas to pay their respects included a who's
who of the Latin left — Cuba's Raúl Castro, Bolivia's Evo Morales,
Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, among them —
there's no clear favorite as to who might fill Chávez's role.

Interim President Maduro, who served as Chávez's foreign minister, may
try. He has well-established contacts around the region and is expected
to try to keep up Venezuela's role as oil benefactor if he wins.

But analysts say he won't be able to cast nearly as long a shadow as
Chávez whose charisma as well as generosity with Venezuela's oil wealth
helped cement his role in leftist Latin American politics and economics.

"I would think that Maduro would seek to maintain the leadership role
based on his past relationships but the question is for how long?'' said
Diana Villiers Negroponte, a Latin American researcher at the Brookings

Going forward, she said, there will be increased pressure on Venezuela
to sell its oil at market prices. While Negroponte expects a Maduro
presidency would maintain its preferential oil arrangement with Cuba,
she said other nations that benefitted from oil diplomacy "may get

In addition, analysts say, Chávez's influence in the region also had
been on the wane as the Venezuelan model, which benefitted the poor but
was plagued with operating inefficiencies that resulted in high
inflation, food shortages, a recent devaluation and a continuing exodus
of the wealthy classes, isn't really seen as much of an alternative.

"A number of Latin American countries didn't share Chávez's approach but
took advantage of it'' and its ability to send a message to the United
States, said Kurt Weyland, a professor of government at the University
of Texas at Austin.

The high point of Chávez's influence was perhaps 2005 to 2008, he said.
"There hasn't been forward momentum in his movement in the past three

More attractive for some is the Brazilian model with its emphasis on
more equity in the distribution of wealth but also fiscal discipline and
the free market.

In paying tribute to Chávez in a New York Times editorial, Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva, Brazil's former president who shared Chávez's aspirations
of improving the living standards of people across Latin America, said
his friend was a "controversial, often polarizing figure, one who never
fled from debate'' and at times said more than was prudent.

But he added, "No remotely honest person, not even his fiercest
opponent, can deny the level of camaraderie, of trust and even of love
that Mr. Chávez felt for the poor of Venezuela and the cause of Latin
American integration.''

Chávez was the driving force behind creation of the Union of South
American Nations (UNASUR), a 12-nation organization, and the Bolivarian
Alliance for the People of our America (ALBA), whose members include
Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and a few Caribbean
nations. Its goal is economic integration and mutual economic aid among

Chávez also hosted the meeting that led to the creation of the Community
of Latin American and Caribbean States — a grouping whose members hope
might become an alternative to the Organization of American States,
which includes the United States and Canada.

But even within these organizations there is disagreement about goals.

"Mr. Chávez's legacy in the realm of ideas will need further work if
they are to become a reality in the messy world of politics, where ideas
are debated and contested. A world without him will require other
leaders to display the effort and force of will he did, so that his
dreams will not be remembered only on paper,'' said Lula da Silva in his
op-ed piece.

Analysts say Ecuador's Correa may be the best positioned for the Chávez

"Our commitment today more than ever is not to take a single step back
from fulfilling your dreams, which are our shared dreams," Correa said
in a televised address after Chávez's death.

Although Correa has been criticized for an authoritarian streak, he is
charismatic and recently won reelection by a substantial margin. Ecuador
also has oil wealth — albeit not nearly as much as Venezuela — and
Correa's popularity has risen as he has used that money to invest in
education, roads and other infrastructure and cash subsidies for the poor.

"I think the one who has made a claim is Correa. That's based on his
easy victory in the polls last month,'' said Negroponte. "However,
Correa doesn't have all that much oil.''

While there are other Latin American leaders who share Chávez's causes,
most have limitations that make it unlikely they will become his
ideological heir apparent, said Erick Langer, director of Georgetown
University's Center for Latin American Studies.

Evo Morales, for example, has domestic problems and isn't particularly
interested in playing on a larger stage, he said. While Lula da Silva
relished his role as a global citizen, Rousseff has made it clear she
prefers to concentrate on domestic issues.

Argentina's Fernández, who was one of the first to arrive in Caracas to
pay her respects but left before the funeral, may also have her hands
full with domestic problems.

Ortega "has disqualified himself with corruption issues in Nicaragua,''
said Langer.

"I don't think there is a clear leader who would fill the void'' left by
Chávez, Weyland said. Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 03.29.13

Three Cuban women speak out

For the first time in more than 50 years, Cubans in exile have been able
to see firsthand the work of three of the bravest women opposing the
Castro regime:

• Yoani Sánchez, who arrived in Miami on Thursday, has won numerous
awards for her Generation Y blog and for depicting life under Cuba's
communist regime 140 characters at a time on Twitter. Her work has been
translated into 20 languages and has more than half a million followers.
She is now in the midst of a world tour proclaiming the importance of
freedom of expression. She has been met by throngs of sympathizers as
well as organized groups of pro-Castro thugs. Most exiles have applauded
her, although a few have criticized her opinion that lifting the Cuban
embargo should be negotiated.

• Berta Soler is in Madrid, Spain representing the Ladies in White,
Cuban women who have been gathering on Sundays at churches throughout
the island to walk peacefully to demand the release of all Cuban
political prisoners. They have been doing so for 10 years, since the
Cuban government in 2003 jailed 75 Cuban dissidents, provoking what many
call Cuba's Black Spring. Soler will be in Miami in May to be honored by
the University of Miami.

• Rosa María Payá is also in Madrid. She is the daughter of one of
Cuba's early dissidents, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, leader of Cuba's
Christian Liberation Movement. He died in a car crash late last year.
Rosa María Payá and the car's surviving occupants point to phone
messages that indicate he did not die in an accident, but rather that a
Cuban state security car forced them off the road and into a tree. Payá
has met with leaders of the Spanish government to ask that they formally
demand that the United Nations conduct an investigation into her
father's death.

The three women have distinct personal opinions of the situation in Cuba
and how change should come about. None of them or, for that matter, any
of the growing group of dissidents, criticizes another or says that her
views are the best and only ones that should be considered.

This is precisely the view of Facts About Cuban Exiles (FACE), founded
in 1982 to promote in a civil way the facts about the hundreds of
thousands of Cubans who have left the island in the more than 53 years
that Fidel and Raúl Castro have been in power. The civility of these
women in their peaceful dissent is admirable.

We in exile do not need to agree with everything each one of them says.
People have the right to disagree. That is what living in a free society
is all about. But when we disagree we must do so in a civilized and
orderly manner.

We welcome these women's valiant efforts to portray life in Cuba despite
all efforts by the island's repressive regime to quiet them.

FACE members are thrilled by their upcoming presence in Miami. We, as
will thousands of other exiles, welcome them knowing that we are
honoring the brave face of dissidence in Cuba. Together, they are
bringing Cuba closer to true freedom than at any point in many decades.

Cesar Pizarro, chairman, Facts About Cuban Exiles, Miami Continue reading
Prison Diary VI. The Inside View of the Trial / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on March 28, 2013

Some friends have asked me not to continue responding to the letters and
posts of those who have sought a few minutes of fame at my expense,
which, for the most part, are blogs that join the fray publicly for the
first time despite the efforts put into them; others, are read only by
the official Nomenklatura and written by people who have never been
important except to their families, I suppose, and who for the first
time, and also possibly for the last, received some ephemeral public
attention in the virtual world, which encouraged — with luck! — their
irrelevant and dull lives.

I'm sure the suggestion of these friends is reasonable, in fact, every
time that I draft the answers I understand them, but I am an extrovert
and I need to be very timely especially with those who manipulate their
letters to confuse and, thanks to the high level of ambiguity
consciously used, to distort the reality of the facts confusing their

This occurred, for example, with the witness heard or referenced used by
the prosecution against me. That witness mentions another woman, my
friend, whose name he made public without consulting her or asking
permission, and if that is not enough he put words she never said into
her mouth. Both my friend and her husband, who was with her at the times
referred to by the prosecution's witness, have expressed feeling very
offended by his lack of ethics and a high level of deceit.

The conversation I had with this friend of mine went through my cell
phone and if I had said a single word that betrayed my guilt, that word
now would be evidence that the prosecution filed against me as the
investigator reviewed all my calls and my emails.

I can only repeat endlessly until my last breath — and this is what I
have been saying in every answer I provide — I demand hard evidence to
sustain the conviction that has been imposed on me; evidence other than
the word of a manipulated person, a friend of the accuser, who repeats
what she was told; proofs that are not those "contributed" by a
Lieutenant Colonel calligrapher who swore, violating all the legal and
scientific conventions on the legal value of a handwriting expert, that
my "slanted handwriting" is proof of my guilt.

These proofs were exposed by a video made of a testimony of a false
witness whom the prosecutor wanted to sneak in, and who was immediately
discarded when we recorded him explaining how he had been bribed and
forced to testify against me. This video was enough to prove my
innocence. He disproved, for its falsity, all the lies the Court
fabricated to hide my innocence. But — I repeat — it's impossible to
hide it. It's impossible to deceive people even if they have a minimum
of understanding.

The Government, Prosecutor, Courts, Police and every person who signed a
letter condemning me for the alleged violence I'm accused of and for
which they sentenced me, not one has presented a single proof against me.

Enough already with the talk and insinuations; it's not sufficient to
imprison anyone.

They say and accept that I got in their way; that in political life, to
my regret, I earned recognition and respect; that my blog began to have
ten thousand visits a day, and they saw me become too close to those on
the island defending the truth, like the project For Another Cuba and
the signatures for the U.N. covenants; projects that, I know, worry and
frighten them.

They recognize that my presence in front of the police station demanding
the release of Antonio Rodiles was found unacceptable for an
intellectual, that the of the beating they gave me traveled the world;
that thousands of people all over the world were terrified by the image
of my blood-soaked shirt; that I maintained a hunger and thirst strike
for those days; and above all, they confessed their helplessness because
of the obvious evidence of their abuse of me and the international

They admit that I bothered them by not compromising when the State
Security official Anibal told me to stop my political actions. That they
took as a taunt my returning to the same place where they beat me the
next day, accompanied by Rodiles's wife Ailer Gonzalez, and his father,
all three of us wearing T-shirts with the image of Rodiles demanding his
release. That every day, during those 19 days of injustice, we sat in
front of the police station until they released him, which they did only
after the swelling had gone down and his black eye had disappeared.

And officers Camilo and Hannibal had warned me. And to stop me there was
nothing they could so other than show me more sophisticated objects,
more sophisticated instruments: the "Revolutionary Courts" that they
both boast about.

The culpability of State Security is as obvious as that of those who
have supported the typical and predictable campaigns against me looking
to raise a smokescreen to hide their misdeeds. History will be
responsible for each of us and will put us in the exact place that we
have earned. That's for sure.

However, despite the media campaign, I fought with the tools that my
circumstances allowed me. I have exhibited my strong evidence, I've put
it in front of their eyes, including the much talked about video of the
false witness who retracted, yet the Police and Prosecutors prepared to
convict me for the rest of my days.

Whoever bites once, does it forever. So they brought military and State
specialists, that is people forced to respond without the slightest
intention of questioning orders, to flesh out versions that always
favored the Prosecution. So they blatantly lied in court without the
slightest pretense, dismissed my solid witnesses, some of them with no
affection for me, but who took the risk to do their duty consistent with
their consciences.

This was the case with my son's teacher, the school principal and — a
detail that has not been mentioned — a member of the Communist Party,
whom the Delegate to the People's Power went to see to pressure her,
because "how can you defend a counterrevolutionary?" In a gesture of
dignity I respect, she responded that she was defending a student, the
boy, that he was the most injured because he — my son — had confessed to
her that his mom had asked him to tell lies to denigrate my public image.

Another witness, thanks to the level of friendship he had with the
accuser, testified that my ex had told him on several occasions that she
"was preparing a number eight legal case against the father of her
child." By then my ex and I had been separated more than two years.

There was another witness with him I only exchanged a polite and cordial
greeting, because I was visiting a family that lived in the back of his
house, and I was obliged to park my car in front. At exactly the day and
time when my ex said she ran into me in her house, I was passing through
the home of this witness whom I heard strongly rebuking her son and,
unable to contain myself, I asked her not to be so violent in the
reprimand, he was just a boy.

She explained he had broken the windshield of a car and the owner was
demanding 900 pesos. Then I said, according to what she herself
remembered at the trail, that a windshield could be replaced a hundred
times, but a child, no. She, according to what she told the court,
didn't forget the day because thanks to me she wasn't unjust with her
son: later she learned he hadn't been the child responsible for breaking
the windshield.

There were two other witnesses: a Lodge brother, who need to re-pass his
exam for Master Mason which was coming up in a few days, and his mother,
who prepared us lunch that day.

So in summary, the Court decided to ignore them in favor of the
Prosecution's witnesses, and did it with blatant lies and contradictions
that can be seen in the judgment. Before the ease and agility with which
the Court accepted everything against me, I was left in a legally
hopeless state.

Instead they accepted a hearsay witness, who repeated what his friend
told him, a witness who wasn't present at the alleged events which I was
accused of and yet they validated his "testimony." (Editor's note:
According to the dictionary: Witness: 1. Person who testifies to
something or attests. 2. Person present or who acquires direct and
verifiable knowledge of something.)

As of today, no one has responded to my questions:

Why did the trial take place in the First Division of State Security, or
specifically on the special site for "relevant" cases in Carmen and Juan
Delgado, as they communicated to my attorney.

Why was my sentence announced by the Official Camilo, from State
Security, a month before the Court issued it?

No doubt many do not want to see how obviously my case was rigged, and I
understand their interests. And although I do not share them, I respect
their complete right to be unjust.

A State of Laws?

Some friends have also told me to use the law to accuse those who have
lied, but that would be another naivete. Friends, brothers,
international public opinion: we do not live in a State of Laws, this is
the Biran Ranch — the Castros' ancestral home — where the foreman obeys
the orders of the owner. We live in a feudal state with no rights where
the only thing that protects us is to do whatever the King says, without
question, because if you question, they will send you to where I am
today: behind bars.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

La Lima Prison, March 2013

27 March 2013 Continue reading
Cuba: Coffee that Tastes Like Coffee
March 28, 2013
Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES — I've never understood people's addiction to coffee. I
love its smell, and I find it delicious with milk or cream, but it's
almost impossible for me to drink it by itself.

No matter how much sugar I add, there's no way for it not to be
unbearably bitter to me. That's what I thought until this past Sunday.
Now I think I might become addicted to that black nectar.

That evening, a few of my Havana Times co-workers and I met at the El
Aljibe restaurant with two professors and several of their journalism
students from the United States.

The students wanted to meet writers from HT to learn about our work on
the website and our diverse vision of life here on the island.

None of the four of us who attended the meeting (Veronica Vega, Yasser
Castellanos, Francisco Castro and I) had ever eaten there before – nor
will we probably do so again.

Actually, we didn't even know the place existed. Can you believe that I
had to send an email to the US teachers asking for the address of a
restaurant in my own country, in my own city?

Despite transportation difficulties, the four of us managed to get there
on time. In fact, we got there too early, a half an hour early. When we
have arranged to meet with someone from abroad, we Cubans do our best
(more than usual) to arrive early.

Among us, foreigners are known for being on time (especially Germans).
Perhaps it's easy to be punctual in their countries, here it's an
odyssey. Because of this, if you have a meeting with someone from here
and you're late, you can expect them to understand and wait for you.

Sometimes the reason for our delay has nothing to do with
transportation; but that's our excuse, and the other person will believe
you since transportation problems are our daily headache.

As it turned out though, the teachers and students from the US arrived
half an hour late, when I was about to suggest we leave. In fact, I had
already started doing something that's become customary with me in the
wake of some recent events in my life: speaking poorly of "Americans."

El Aljibe

They arrived fearing that we had left and apologizing that their plane
had been delayed. They had barely had time to drop off the luggage at
their hotel before heading out to meet us.

In circumstances like these, sitting at the table in an expensive
restaurant, one runs the risk of forgetting who you are. Since the food
situation is so difficult for most Cubans, normally we wouldn't think of
going to a restaurant like this. But there suddenly appeared a noble
soul that refreshed our memory. Who? Another Cuban.

It was the Cuban guide who accompanied the US group. He explained that
everyone was going to get a welcome drink, adding that they could also
have another included in the meal price.

I made the mistake of asking if the drink contained any alcohol, so the
guide explained that the welcome drink was for the group (which didn't
include my friends and I). What was I thinking? This was a welcoming
toast, and I hadn't come from (or gone to) any place outside this country.

In the end, though the waiters also offered us drinks, but I didn't want

Outside of this insignificant incident (and another one later on, when
Veronica saw that the driver of the bus for the Americans, also a Cuban,
didn't wave back or respond when we thanked him for dropping us off in
Vedado), the night was very pleasant.

Our hosts were friendly, young, and intelligent, plus each had sense of
humor. They were eager to learn about Cuba: the society, sports,
culture, fashion… and bad words.

We also liked the food a lot. The specialty of the place is chicken, but
Veronica, Yasser and I are vegetarians. Nevertheless they prepared a
rich dish of rice with vegetables for Veronica, while Yasser and I ate
some wonderful black beans.

Just when I was thinking it would be worth returning to that restaurant
if only for the beans, they brought us some coffee. I decided to try a
sip of Yasser's, which was a strong, frothy, very aromatic espresso with
a slightly bitter aftertaste. Divine.

What's rationed monthly in our neighborhood stores for the subsidized
price of five pesos (about 25 cents USD), is one four ounces pack that
obviously doesn't last the month. Therefore people are forced to pay ten
or fifteen pesos per pack on the black market, though this coffee has
nothing to do with what I drank on Sunday at the restaurant.

What we get is a bitter drink that almost scratches your throat. It's
the chicharo (crushed peas) Veronica explained to me the next day.

Generations of Cubans have become so used to having this chicharo in
their coffee. It's to the point that when their cup doesn't have any,
they actually miss it.

It might seem that I'm using coffee as an excuse to criticize the
government, that the writers for HT do nothing else, and that we spend
all our time looking for something to attack.

But no. There are much more serious issues, more important demands to
make on the government than to think about something as insignificant as
coffee that tastes like coffee.

What happens is that when you realize you've never drank coffee, or
quality coffee, in your whole life, and that your wage doesn't permit
you to buy it — much less consider inviting your family to a restaurant
like El Aljibe even once a year — you wonder what you can aspire to in
your own country.

I always remember that question Eliecer Avila posed to Ricardo Alarcon
in 2008: "How long are we going to have to sacrifice?" Now I wonder: For
what? Why did my parents work? Why do I work?

Some people might think that we Cubans are fortunate. We have the luxury
of complaining about coffee when there are people all around the world
who have to settle for one meal a day – if they're lucky.

They would be absolutely right if the political elite in power hadn't
boasted for years with comparisons about our being at the level of
developed countries…or if that same elite that demanded sacrifice and
austerity in the nineties didn't enjoy the privileges from which we are
so far removed.

I don't know if there's true equality in any society on this planet, but
they promised it to us. That was the society that our parents believed
they were building.

I can understand that to achieve such a society it was worth giving up
the freedom of the press, speech, association, and being subject to the
leadership of a single party in the name of unity. But now that that
bright future has faded on the horizon, what's our goal?

Did I need a sip of good quality coffee to think about these things? No.
After all, there are people who love coffee from the bodega, as well as
people who don't drink coffee. It's a matter of taste.

But it happens that routine sometimes makes us forget that we're second
class citizens in our own country; that our aspirations are increasingly
reduced to daily bread, and we're used to it.

Something relieved me: I'm not going to become addicted to coffee like I
feared on Sunday. This is for the simple reason that it's going to be a
long time before I'll be able to afford the luxury of having coffee with
the flavor of coffee. Continue reading
A visit to Cuba
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 10:00 am | Updated: 10:16 am, Thu Mar
28, 2013.

LEISAH WOLDOFF Managing Editor

Members of Congregation Or Chadash participate in many social action
projects throughout the year, but this month, the Conservative
congregation took its tikkun olam to an international level with a
humanitarian mission to Cuba.

During the weeks before the March 3-11 trip, Or Chadash collected
medical, school and religious supplies; each of the 37 mission
participants could pack about 15-20 pounds of these items to take to
Cuba's Jewish communities. The synagogue also collected cash gifts.

Dedication to tikkun olamat Or Chadash "is really strong and there are a
lot of people who are very passionate about it," says the Scottsdale
synagogue's Cantor Melissa Berman. "To have the opportunity to do
something for another community was something that people were really
enthusiastic about."

Gifts included medication, medical supplies, clothing, tallitot, seder
plates, children's books, Spanish-Hebrew siddurim and baseballs.

"The kids go crazy over baseballs," says Rabbi Micah Caplan, Or
Chadash's spiritual leader, who traveled to Cuba with his 13-year-old
daughter, Brianah.

Or Chadash's mission, organized by World Passage and led by tour guide
Manny Castillo, included visits to two Jewish communities in Havana — El
Patronato and the city's Sephardic synagogue — as well as Jewish
communities in Santa Clara and Cienfuegos.

Participants met with Cuban Jews -— communicating primarily through
translators — and celebrated Shabbat at El Patronato, Havana's largest
synagogue, where Caplan and Berman led the Saturday morning Torah
service. "It was an honor for both of us," Berman says.

The group also visited two Holocaust memorials. The one in a cemetery in
Guanabacoa, in East Havana, is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere,
Caplan says, and is especially poignant because it is also a burial
place. A plaque, written in Spanish, states that several bars of soap
made from the body fat of Holocaust victims are buried there. "Peace to
their remains," the plaque reads. Saying Kaddish there was a highlight
for Caplan because it gave him the opportunity "to stand there and

The group also recited Kaddish at a Holocaust memorial in Santa Clara,
at the city's Jewish cemetery.

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died on March 5, the Cuban
government declared two days of mourning, Caplan says, with flags flying
at half-mast and no music in public places, a stark contrast to the
music heard regularly in public areas on other days.

Before the Cuban revolution in 1959, as many as 15,000 Jews lived in
Cuba, Caplan says; today there are an estimated 1,200-1,300.

None of the country's synagogues have rabbis, but visiting rabbis from
Latin America officiate at lifecycle events, says Naomi Goodell, an Or
Chadash member who helped organize the trip.

Members of Cuba's Jewish community "are so proud of being Jewish," says
Goodell. "For me, the most moving time was Saturday morning services, as
we watched participants march with the Torahs."

A highlight for Berman was recognizing commonalities between American
and Cuban Jews. She was also impressed with the passion that community
members had for sustaining Judaism in Cuba.

Caplan says his visit to Cuba made him proud to be an American Jew and
to know that his connection to other Jews is the same wherever they live.

"They sing the Shema the same way, they put their arms around each other
for 'Oseh Shalom' the same way," he says. "They take the Torah out, and
it's the same words. So even though society and economics and other
things, such as politics, are much different, there's still something
that links us all as human beings to each other." Continue reading
Mar 29 2013 7:54AM

Cubans hold their noses and get used to eating fish

They live on an island, yet don't like fish. But in Cuba, where times
are always hard and food precious, people are holding their noses and
getting used to eating farm-raised tilapia and catfish.

"By nature Cubans reject fish, as they are used to eating pork or other
meat, when they can," said Eduardo Diaz, head of the state fisheries
research agency.

Indeed, one of Cuba's national dishes -- with the wonderful name of
'ropa vieja,' or old clothes -- is a sort of shredded and stewed beef
with a tomato-based sauce, served on rice.

Diaz works at a fishery plant in El Cotorro, 15 kilometers (10 miles)
south of Havana, which breeds tilapia and catfish. They are also being
raised in ponds and lagoons around the country.

The campaign is going pretty well, but production still needs to rise,
he told AFP during a recent visit with foreign journalists.

He said Cuba is now producing 24,000 and 25,000 tons of the two kinds of
fish per year.

Cuba's regular fishing fleet, by comparison, took in 24,500 tons in
2011, according to government figures.

Until 30 years ago Cuba had Latin America's biggest fishing fleet, one
that operated in three oceans. But it was hit hard when the country
signed an international fisheries convention in 1982 and the areas where
the fleet could work were severely limited.

The coup de grace for the security of not going hungry was the collapse
of the Soviet Union in 1991. The dismemberment of communist Cuba's main
benefactor and supplier of fuel and other essentials triggered an
economic crisis that brought Cuban industry to a standstill.

Today, Cuba imports 80 percent of the food it consumes ($1.6 billion
worth in 2012), which is a huge burden for the government's meager
coffers. So producing more food and importing less is a top priority for
the government of President Raul Castro.

Food supplies have become more abundant in recent years but shops still
tend to run short on some basics. Cuban families subsist in part on
ration books that give them food at subsidized prices. But they do not
live high off the hog by any means.

They can also buy food at regular supermarkets but have to pay much
higher prices and do so in hard currency, which is tough when the
average salary is equivalent to about $20 a month.

So the authorities are trying to boost production of food that is sold
at subsidized prices.

Diaz said that in order to satisfy demand, production of freshwater fish
should be "four, five or six times" what it is now.

But introducing Cubans to catfish, for instance, has not gone all that
smoothly. Here, the creature has a reputation as being a predator.
Comedians make jokes about it and a lot of people do not like the fish,
which was introduced from Malaysia and Thailand in 1999 and 2000.

"People say catfish eat anything it runs into, so they turn their noses
at it. Actually, it is a matter of having a bad reputation, more than
anything," says Natalia Diaz, an industrial engineer. But she admits she
has never eaten it at home.

But national TV anchor Agnes Becerra sings the fish's praises.

"Catfish is delicious, and my son loves it. There are people who say it
does not taste good, but many of those who criticize it have not tried
it even once," said Becerra.

Diaz says the fish does get bad press, but the real problem is that his
compatriots just don't like fish, period.

"Cubans have no real habit of eating freshwater fish, or fish from the
sea for that matter," he said. Nor do they eat fish during the
pre-Easter period of Lent as do people in other Catholic countries of
Latin America, he added.

And although production of freshwater fish is rising each year, there
are no plans for now to export, because domestic needs are great and
barely met, Diaz added.

-Sapa-AFP Continue reading
Cuba: Eliecer Avila announces new political organization
March 28, 2013

HAVANA TIMES – The young Cuban political activist Eliecer Avila said
Tuesday in a video posted on YouTube from Poland, that the new
organization Somos+ (We are+), aims to "unite wills" to "negotiate" with
the Cuban government.

"We all win if we unite and we really negotiate, move that huge rock
that is politics in Cuba," said Avila. "I'm willing to spend my youth,
this energy, these years with you (…) to face this struggle and succeed."

"We want to do our bit to promote policies, laws, projects within Cuba
that allow us to build" another reality, he announced.

According to Diario de Cuba, the activist did not say how many people
currently make up Somos+, organization that Avila says will reflect
"the real thinking of many people in the street."

Eliecer is known for having questioned former Cuban parliament chair
Ricardo Alarcon a few years ago at a meeting at the UCI computer
university about Cuba's policy on exit visas and travel.

As of January of this year the exit visa was dropped. Continue reading
Cuba Faces Shortage of Repair People
March 28, 2013
By Aurelio Pedroso (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES – Although I have no firm proof, Cuba might be one of the
few countries where finding the good (or terrible) services of a trades
person requires a great deal of patience, pleading, luck, and even that
old supplication "do me the favor, for your mother's sake" – even though
you may live to regret it, in many cases.

We've been through worse times, let's be fair. Those days in the late
1960s when everything was "consolidated" (barbers, electricians, watch
repairers, even spiritual advisors) and when finding a carpenter, a
mechanic or a plumber to come to your home was akin to a covert
intelligence operation, super-covert even.

The tools arrived from one direction, the repairman from another because
no one should find out about it, least of all the CDR [Translator's
Note: Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, neighborhood watch

The government's blessing upon self-employed workers has managed to
allay those nightmares. But something's still wrong. Either those people
are very much in demand or they lack respect for their clients or are
not serious or punctual when responding. Heaven protect you if it's a
combination of two or more flaws.

Be careful, very careful with those people the Spanish call "manitas"
[handy people]. They come to you as jack-of-all-trades who know
everything. They criticize the work previously done in your house, wreck
everything around you and disappear without a trace in the hubbub of the
street or the darkness of the night. Real household vandals.

Out of this pleiad of good and bad day laborers, I ran across an elderly
repairman of gas kitchen appliances who lived and had a shop in El
Vedado. This senior citizen's excellent skills and initiative made him
extremely desirable. People could recommend him without later hearing
that he was a phony.Today, his grandchildren run the business and every
time they finish a job they clean their tools the way their grandfather
taught them.

Another dependable worker is a repairman of household appliances at 26th
and 15th streets, also in El Vedado. Sitting on a school desk next to a
small table, he instantly fixes any defective appliance – and for a
reasonable price, too.

But these examples are almost exceptions. The other itinerant handy
people need to be avoided at all costs, the way bullfighters dodge the
bull. For the moment, they live at the top of an inverted pyramid, where
they earn more than a surgeon, who faces a lot more challenges when he
walks into the operating room.

There are various ways to interpret this situation. It would seem that
the drowsiness and lack of gumption learned from the bureaucracy,
inefficiency and lack of drive run through the veins of some of these
new microentrepreneurs.

Time, that battered yet valuable concept, will hopefully put them in
their rightful place. Some years ago, a foreign friend of mine kept
asking me what would happen in Cuba when time played its real role. We
can already see what is happening.

Something peculiar happens with mattresses. Day and night we hear the
calls of street repairmen offering to fix your mattress. The most
ramshackle mattress, with the most stories to tell, mattresses that
anywhere else would be tossed in a dump, will be made new for about 30
dollars, they claim.

Not bad, because a new mattress will cost you more than 200 dollars in a
furniture store, and, as my grandmother used to say: "How does the
cockroach sit down?" [T.N.: A Cuban expression meaning an unattainable
wish. Cockroaches can't sit down.]

One way to measure the passing of time is to realize that freelance
repairmen no longer shout "I stretch bed frames! Babies' cribs, adults'
beds, I stretch them all!" a cry that once was made into a popular song.
The classical bed frame has disappeared, replaced by planks of wood
that, paradoxically, are good for your spinal column.

These mattress repair people are all over Havana. And it appears that
the demand equals the supply. I would like to summon a gathering of
furniture experts and listen to their conclusions. I bet they'd agree
that the new mattresses are extremely expensive and of the worst quality.

I wouldn't be surprised if one of those experts said that we lie down
and sleep excessively (two different activities) to the detriment of our
health and the humble mattress' structure.

Summing up, we have much to look forward to in terms of private
initiative. For better or for worse. For better, hopefully. Continue reading
Nick Miroff March 29, 2013 06:01

VP Diaz-Canel: Cuba's man on the make

Introducing Raul Castro's new No. 2, Miguel Diaz-Canel. He's under 80,
but does he bring the new blood Cuba will need when Castro retires?

HAVANA, Cuba — There are no elections scheduled any time soon in Cuba,
but Miguel Diaz-Canel's long campaign for president is already in full

His public audition for Cuba's top job began last month when he was
named first vice president, designating him as chosen successor to Raul
Castro. Since then, over the course of several carefully choreographed
weeks, the island's aging leaders have lifted him from relative
obscurity to become Cuba's man for all occasions.

It was Diaz-Canel, not Fidel or Raul Castro, who offered Cuba's first
public condolences after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death
earlier this month. When Pope Francis was elected at the Vatican
conclave, Diaz-Canel was dispatched to Rome to convey Havana's
congratulations. And when the players from Cuba's national baseball team
returned home with their hats in hand after a fifth-place finish at the
World Baseball Classic, Diaz-Canel was there to cheer them up.

The 52-year-old Diaz-Canel's newfound visibility is a first step by
Cuban authorities to prepare the public for a new face at the top. The
vast majority of the island's 11 million citizens was born after the
1959 Revolution, and has never lived under a ruler not named Castro.

Fidel Castro, now 86 and retired, is seldom seen in public anymore. His
brother Raul Castro, 81, remains in apparently good health but has
announced that his current five-year term as president will be his last.
Given his age and his stated desire to hand over power to a younger
generation of leaders, there's no guarantee he will serve until the end
of his term in 2018.

That leaves Diaz-Canel a heartbeat away from power, with some very big
and unwieldy shoes to fill.

An electrical engineer by training, Diaz-Canel rose through the ranks of
Cuba's Communist Party, serving as the top party official in the
provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin. He was appointed minister of
higher education in 2009.

If he succeeds Castro, he will inherit the hemisphere's only one-party
political system, a chronically struggling economy and thorny rivalry
with the United States and Cuban exiles who will be determined to see
him fail.

Not exactly light duty.

Among his first tasks will be convincing the Cuban public and powerful
figures within the government — especially the military — that he's a
credible and qualified leader.

So it was significant this week that Fidel Castro Diaz Balart, the
comandante's eldest son and a trained nuclear physicist, gave the new
vice president an unqualified endorsement in an interview with Russian
media, calling him "a young man with experience, technical preparation
and charisma."

It was also a subtle reminder that no younger Castros are in line to
take over when Raul steps down.

"I'm sure he will be well-received by the younger generation and the
population in general," said "Fidelito," himself now 63.

Diaz-Canel is not a hot-blooded firebrand in the mold of Fidel Castro or
Hugo Chavez. His reputation is that of a technocratic manager, and he
conveys no detectable enthusiasm for the spotlight or political
stagecraft. In his job as Communist Party boss in the provinces, he won
praise for his down-to-earth manner and competent oversight of millions
of dollars worth of tourism investments.

Archival photos show the tall, stockey Diaz-Canel often smiling and
wearing his silvery hair a bit long in the back, in the style of a mullet.

Whatever his image, Cuba's fading "historico" generation is betting that
if he can deliver economic growth and successfully downsize Cuba's
bloated bureaucracy, he will be able to forge the kind of political
consensus he'll need to withstand internal and external challenges to
his rule.

In comments last week that were reported by Cuba's state media,
Diaz-Canel burnished his image as a reformer, saying that the point of
Castro's ongoing economic liberalization measures has been to eliminate
the "prohibitions that have held back productive forces," and that the
island's private sector should continue to develop "without prejudices."

He also hinted that deeper and more difficult changes were still ahead.

"We've made progress on the issues that are the easiest to solve, that
require decisions and actions that are less complex," he said, "and now
what's left are the more important and complex choices that will be more
decisive in the future development of our country."

Such comments have some opposition activists hoping Diaz-Canel will lead
Cuba into a period of perestroika-style changes that would gradually
unravel the Castros' socialist system.

"For now he seems like a figure of continuity, but perhaps it's a mask
of opportunism that has helped him reach a position of power, and once
he's on top he'll turn out to be another Gorbachev," said dissident
blogger Yoani Sanchez during a recent talk at the Benjamin Cardozo Law
School in New York.

Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas, said in an
interview that Diaz-Canel is just one of several capable, younger
leaders now poised to steer the country forward along the path laid out
by Raul Castro's reform agenda.

While Diaz-Canel may not have had an international profile prior to his
promotion, Hernandez said he was well known and widely admired by Cubans
in the provinces.

"He was known for being accessible to ordinary people," Hernandez said.
"He used to sit down with people in the streets and have a beer."

"The majority of old bureaucrats in Cuba are not like that," he said.
"But in these new circumstances, in this new context, Cuban politicians
must play the role of a politician. They have to get down to the
grassroots level and talk to people. That is how Diaz-Canel will build
his own political consensus." Continue reading
Cuba Prohibits Its Citizens from Boarding Boats
March 28, 2013
Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago I went to Guanacabibes Peninsula, in the
extreme west of the country. It's an unspoiled nature reserve where one
can see iguanas, deer, crocodiles and all kinds of birds – in addition
to a wonderful seabed.

Everything went fine until we wanted to participate in a diving
excursion. We were denied access onto the yacht because among our group
there were Cubans, who aren't allowed to board. The guide told us that
this was a directive of the Naval Command Center.

Once we returned to Havana, we wanted to know if the parliament had
passed some legislation that prevented Cubans from traveling aboard
boats. Very kindly, the Legal Office of the Assembly informed us that
there's no law prohibiting nationals from sailing.

Of course there was no law that prevented Cubans from staying in tourist
hotels; nevertheless they spent nearly two decades on the outside
looking in as foreigners enjoyed the facilities that were closed to them.

But now we had assumed everything had changed, since almost half a
million Cubans who live on the island vacation in those same hotels, and
because a new immigration law allows the unrestricted exit of citizens…
unless you want to leave by boat.

At the Cubatur tourism office they told us, "Cubans — wherever they live
— can't be sold package tours that include a catamaran or a yacht."
Likewise, at the Gaviota tourism agency, they repeated the same
information to us: To be able to take a boat trip, we had to show
authorization from the Naval Command Center.

Finally we called the National Department of the Naval Command Center,
where they confirmed that Cubans aren't allowed to sail, with the only
exception being those people who are married to citizens from other
countries – though they still have to apply for a permit.

To receive one of these authorization letters, a letter from the foreign
spouse is required, because a request from the Cuban partner isn't
accepted. The letter has to detail the reason for travel, provide the
itinerary and give the boarding place, the days at sea and the ship's name.

On top of this, it's required to present the couple's original marriage
certificate and photocopies of the personal documents of both spouses.
All of this is forwarded to a commission headed by a colonel, which
within five days decides whether to grant the permit.

But even those citizens who are married to foreigners, and who are
fortunate enough to not appear suspicious to the commission, can only
sail in Cuban waters. Under no circumstances are they allowed to board a
cruise ship to visit another country.

It must be that they're trying to prevent illegal emigration. But the
truth is, even if a Cuban has a passport, a ticket and a visa, they
still can't leave the country by boat. Somehow the spirit of the new
immigration reforms got diluted at sea.

At the Naval Command Center they explained to us that "this point wasn't
addressed in the immigration laws reforms, therefore the old regulations
remain in force." They also explained that the commission is the entity
with the final word, meaning there's no one to whom an appeal can be made.

None of the people we spoke to — in hotels, travel agencies, marinas,
parliament and the Port Authority — could explain why this prohibition
remains. They simply repeated that "it's well established" – though they
didn't know by whom.

Therefore, the only way to sail is to go to the Port Authority with all
the documents attesting to one being married to a citizen from another
nation. Only then will it be possible to open the seas and adjacent cays
to a Cuban.

Still, if you and your partner are both Cuban and decide to take your
vacation on Cayo Largo, you won't be able to ferry over to the nearby
Island of Iguanas or go on any of the boat excursions available to
tourists from other countries because you won't be allowed to board a

What's more, if you want to visit Cayo Levisa (on the north coast of
Pinar del Rio Province), you'll have to wait for them to build an
overseas highway or embankment to reach it by land.

This is because right now there's the paradox: Cubans are authorized to
stay in the hotel there, but they're not allowed to get on the boat that
takes people there.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by BBC Mundo. Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 03.28.13

Blogger Yoani Sánchez arrives in Miami

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez touched down at Miami International Airport
Thursday afternoon and reacted emotionally to reuniting with her family
as well as arriving in the heartland of Cuban exiles.

Via her Twitter account, Sánchez said she would be spending the next few
days with her sister Yunia, brother-in-law and niece before beginning a
public agenda Monday.

One of her first stops Thursday was at La Ermita de la Caridad, the
Coconut Grove shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba's patron
saint. She met with Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Rev. Richard Vigoa
and Rev. Juan Rumín, rector of the bayside shrine. She also had a
picture taken of herself sitting on the seawall at the shrine and dubbed
it the "malecon of Miami.''

Sánchez, who was denied permission to leave Cuba for a dozen years
despite many invitations to travel abroad, finally received her passport
and began an international tour in February that has already taken her
to Latin America, Europe, New York and Washington.

Her outspoken style about daily life in Cuba and the plight of
dissidents in her Generación Y blog has earned her well over 15 million
hits a month and she has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.

She wasted no time in sending out a stream of Tweets after her arrival
in Miami. Among them:

• "After two years of separation, I've finally been able to reunite
with my sister and give her a hug.''

• "Since I arrived at the airport, I've encountered Cubans everywhere.
What emotion.''

• "My sister and I, two years, 90 miles of separation. The drama of so
many Cuban families."

Sánchez begins the day Monday with a meeting with The Miami Herald
editorial board. From there she'll head to Miami Dade College's Freedom
Tower where she'll receive the MDC Presidential Medal for championing
human rights and take part in a public conversation with Miami Herald
Editorial Page Editor Myriam Marquez. The conversation will be
live-streamed on the college website. All 800 tickets to the event have
already been distributed.

From there she'll head to Florida International University for an
evening reception and public event.

She also plans some private meetings and will appear at a Tweet Up at
the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday. She'll
be discussing technology, innovation and social change at the event
organized by the Knight Foundation and Roots of Hope. The public will be
able to send her questions by tweeting them to #askyoani. Free tickets
are available at Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 03.28.13

Cuban Revolution gets video game treatment
Associated Press

HAVANA -- Fight your way through mangrove swamps shoulder-to-shoulder
with bearded guerrillas clad in the olive green of Fidel Castro and
Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Your mission: Topple 1950s Cuban dictator
Fulgencio Batista.

Out to foil you are helmeted Batista soldiers and police in
mustard-yellow uniforms who pop out from behind trees and fire from
trucks and farmhouses. You pick them off with a vintage Colt .45 or
Springfield rifle in classic first-person-shooter style. If you're hit
three times, it's revolution over.

Island programmers have unveiled a brand new 3-D shoot-'em-up video game
that puts a distinctly Cuban twist on gaming, letting players recreate
decisive clashes from the 1959 revolution and giving youngsters a taste
of the uprising in which many of their grandparents fought.

"The player identifies with the history of Cuba," said Haylin Corujo,
head of video game studies for Cuba's Youth Computing Club and the
leader of the team of a dozen developers who created "Gesta Final" -
which translates roughly as "Final Heroic Deed." "You can be a
participant in the battles that were fought in the war from '56 to '59."

The game starts with the user joining the 82 rebels who in 1956 sailed
to Cuba from Mexico aboard the Granma, the creaky and now-iconic yacht
that has become synonymous with the revolution.

After a brief description of the historic landing - a spectacular
disaster that very nearly derailed the rebellion when some
three-quarters of the Granma's passengers were killed - you find
yourself wading through the wetlands of southeastern Cuba surrounded by
fellow guerrillas, identifiable by the black-and-red armbands of Fidel
and Raul Castro's revolutionary movement.

The keyboard-operated game has five levels, most named after battles
like "La Plata" and "El Uvero," and the scenery is full of ancient
vehicles and the ferns, canebrakes and mountain trails typical of the
Cuban countryside. A metallic soundtrack of gunshots and explosions
accompanies the fast-paced action.

Faithful to history, you never reach the presidential palace to take on
Batista, who fled the island before Castro's troops reached the capital.

The goal is to survive through Level five, the most difficult, which
recreates the key battle of "Pino del Agua II" months before Batista's

The game lets you pick from three bearded player profiles, one in an
olive-drab hat similar to the one Fidel Castro was known for; another
wearing a "Che"-like beret; and the last with the kind of helmet worn by
the ill-fated Camilo Cienfuegos in many revolution-era photographs.
Programmers said, however, that they're not meant to be exact likenesses
of the three famed rebel commanders.

"We didn't want the characters to identify any revolutionary leader, but
we did want it to frame the moment," Corujo said.

In any case it wouldn't be Castro's debut in pixels: 2010's "Call of
Duty: Black Ops," a U.S.-made game, elicited howls of protest in Cuba
because the plot included an assassination attempt targeting the bearded

Critics in Cuba also savaged "Black Ops" for its violence. One article
in state-run media said it "stimulates sociopathic attitudes in North
American children and adolescents."

Corujo declined to draw a parallel between the two, and noted that
"Gesta Final" is tame compared to the goriest games on the wider market.

"We are not responding to any game that was made," she said. "We saw the
importance of young people learning through play."

Video games have been booming in Latin America in recent years, and
programmers from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico are
increasingly getting into the business, said Rolando Bozas, an Argentine
software expert, though obstacles remain.

"It's getting better and better," Bozas said. "But there is a ton of

Rene Vargas, a 29-year-old gamer who tried his hand at "Gesta Final"
when it was presented at a technology fair in Havana last week, said the
graphics were surprisingly sophisticated.

"Bearing in mind the level of technical support there is in Cuba, it
looks pretty good," Vargas said.

"It's obvious there was a leap in Cuban software," his friend Yoalex
Legro added.

The Computing Club, part of the Ministry of Communications, has also
developed six other games, most of them 2-D and designed for children.

It plans for "Gesta Final" to be the first commercial Cuban-produced
game and sell in the local currency, which trades for 24 to the dollar,
though no doubt it will quickly make its way into the thriving market
for pirated CDs and DVDs.

Pricey gaming consoles like the Xbox are relatively rare on the island,
so developers deliberately made "Gesta Final" a PC-based game to reach a
wider audience.

While the game doesn't require a cutting-edge computer, designers say it
should use at least 1 gigabyte of RAM, more than what's installed in
many older machines on the island.

There are about 783,000 computers in this country of some 11 million
inhabitants, according to government statistics from 2011. Private
ownership of computers is low, but many Cubans access them at work,
school or cyber cafes.

Mexican game developer Gonzalo "Phill" Sanchez said Latin American video
games tend to fall into two categories: Those with highly localized
appeal, and those that can reach broader audiences. "Gesta Final," he
said, surely falls into the former.

The game is expected to be released on the island in the coming months
with no current plans to market it overseas. A price tag has yet to be
decided, but nobody's expecting it to rake in piles of cash with most
Cubans earning about $20 per month at their government jobs.

"We developed (it) keeping in mind the purchasing power and reality of
Cubans," Corujo said. "It doesn't require incredible technological

Follow Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter:" Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 03.28.13

U.S. administration calls for investigation of the death of Cuban
Oswaldo Payá
By Juan O. Tamayo

The Obama administration has joined growing calls for an independent
investigation into the deaths of Cuba's most respected dissident Oswaldo
Payá and a fellow dissident in a car crash that some allege was caused
by state security agents.

"The United States supports the calls for an international investigation
with independent international observers" into the deaths of Payá and
Harold Cepero, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.

"The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a
clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic
deaths," Nuland said during a news briefing.

Nuland's comments came amid growing calls for an independent
investigation into the July 22 car crash that killed Payá and Cepero, an
activist in Payá's Christian Liberation Movement.

The Cuban government says Spanish politician Angel Carromero caused the
deaths when he accidentally slammed the car into a tree in eastern Cuba.
Payá and Cepero were passengers. Carromero and Swedish politician Jens
Aron Modig survived.

A Cuban court sentenced Carromero to four years in prison for vehicular
homicide. He returned to Spain in December under a bilateral agreement
that allows each country's citizens to serve sentences in their own country.

Carromero now says his rented car was rammed from behind and forced to
crash by a red vehicle with government license plates, and that he had
been followed by state security vehicles from the time the four men left

A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators signed a letter earlier this
week requesting that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a
part of the Organization of American States, investigate the deaths.

"Recent interviews published in Spanish news media indicate that…
Carromero is innocent and that the vehicle carrying Payá was
deliberately attacked by Cuban government officials," said the letter.

Sent to ICHR executive secretary Emilio Alvarez Icaza, it was signed by
Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, his Republican counterpart
Marco Rubio, Arizona Republican John McCain, Democrat Bob Menendez of
New Jersey, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Illinois Republican
Mark Kirk.

"Oswaldo Payá was a brave man trying to peacefully advocate for greater
political freedoms for his Cuban brothers and sisters," the letter
noted. "It increasingly looks like he paid for that effort with this life.

"His memory and family deserve an honest and independent accounting of
what happened," the senators concluded.

Payá's relatives have repeatedly demanded an independent investigation
of the crash, and several Spanish and other European politicians, mostly
conservatives, have followed suit.

His daughter, Rosa Maria, has said the family might also file a lawsuit
against Cuba in Spanish courts because her father had Spanish citizenship. Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 03.28.13

Turks and Caicos frees Cubans who sewed their lips shut to protest detention
By Juan O. Tamayo

Authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands have freed four illegal
Cuban migrants who sewed their lips together to protest their six-month
detentions in the British territory off Cuba's eastern tip.

"We wanted political asylum here or to be free here. Or send us to a
third country that will give us asylum. But what we want is that we will
not be returned to Cuba," Henry Olivera, 41, said Thursday after
removing his stitches.

Clara Gardiner, in charge of the Ministry of Border Control and Labor in
the British-run territory, confirmed the Cubans had been freed, with
some granted asylum and others denied asylum but released on bond while
they appeal.

Last Friday, four sewed their lips shut — a not uncommon practice by
prison inmates in Cuba to highlight their protests — but they removed
the stitches after learning of the decision to free them, Olivera said.

He told El Nuevo Herald that Miami relatives of the four men and one
woman paid $12,000 a head to smugglers to pick them up in eastern Cuba
and deliver them to Florida. Instead, the twin-engine speed boat dropped
them off in the Turks and Caicos on July 22.

Olivera said the five went into hiding but were discovered by
authorities on Oct. 5. Olivera, Lazaro Hidalgo, 27, and Norlan Alonso
and Pedro Chacón, both 39, were sent to a detention center while
Hidalgo's wife, Meybis Vasquez, 23, went to live with a family after she

Their protest came three weeks after 16 other illegal Cuban migrants
disappeared from the Turks and Caicos, apparently aboard a speed boat,
after a judge freed them from the detention center to await word on
their asylum request. Twelve of the 16 later turned up in Miami,
including the mother of Oakland A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

The Turks and Caicos Islands, about 250 miles northeast of Cuba and
north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have become a stopover on the
path of illegal migrants and drugs heading west to Florida, local
authorities say.

Olivera and the three other men received word of the government's
decision to free them around the time Wednesday evening that America
TeVe Channel 41 in Miami was broadcasting a report on their protest that
showed them sewing their lips.

"It had to be done, brother, to force them to make a decision," Olivera
said. "This has been the biggest nightmare of my life."

Gardiner's statement, emailed to El Nuevo Herald, said the five Cubans
were "not released as a result of their protest, but rather their
application for asylum and the assessment thereof has been completed."

"Three of them were determined to be in need of protection while two of
them do not," the statement said. Olivera said he and Alonso were denied
asylum, but were not told why. None of the five held important jobs in
Cuba, he added.

Gardiner said the three will be granted work permits if they find jobs
in the Turks and Caicos, an offshore banking and tourism center of
40,000 people. The two others were given 15 days to appeal and were
freed on bond.

"Should they not be successful, efforts will be made for their return to
their home country," she added. Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 03.28.13

Panel: General Cigar can use Cohiba name in the US
The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- A federal panel says General Cigar Co. Inc. can
continue using the Cohiba (co-HEE-ba) trademark on its cigars in the U.S.

The ruling is the latest in the nearly 16-year-old legal battle with
Cuba's state-run cigar company over the signature Cuban cigar brand.

The Richmond, Va.-based subsidiary of Swedish Match AB said Thursday
that the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed Cubatabaco's
petition asking it to cancel the company's trademark.

The panel ruled that because courts have held Cubatabaco can't sell
their cigars in the U.S, it has no standing to challenge the Cohiba
trademark in the country.

General Cigar says it has sold its Dominican Cohiba cigar in the U.S.
since the early 1980s. It received its first registration of the Cohiba
trademark in the U.S. in 1981. Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 03.29.13 Coast Guard repatriates 46 Cubans to island The Associated Press MIAMI -- The U.S. Coast Guard has repatriated 46 Cuban migrants who were interdicted at sea in two separate cases this week. Officials say the first group o... Continue reading
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No place to live
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