Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 5, 2013

April 4, 2013, 8:45 a.m. ET

Cuba's Venezuelan Pawn

Venezuela's military government will hold what it refers to as a
presidential "election" on April 14, and one of the candidates on the
ballot will be Hugo Chávez's handpicked successor, Nicólas Maduro. The
50-year-old union leader-cum-politician was named Venezuela's acting
president after it was announced on March 5 that Chávez had died. In all
likelihood, Mr. Maduro will win the election, using the dubious methods
perfected by Chávez and with whatever help Havana feels it necessary to

Having started out in bus-driver training, Mr. Maduro is being presented
to the world as almost an accidental president. But as the Cuban-born
writer Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a column in Miami's El Nuevo
Herald last week, Mr. Maduro's rise to power in Venezuela is anything
but coincidental. Cuba has long had its eye on Venezuela's oil, and Mr.
Maduro seems to have been in training to help with that goal for decades.

Venezuela has a constitution but doesn't use it much. Chávez's
"inauguration" as president for a new term in January, despite his
failure to appear at the swearing-in ceremony, is but one example. Mr.
Maduro's appointment last month as interim president is another.
According to the constitution, that job should have gone to the
president of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello.

Mr. Cabello didn't get the nod most probably because Cuba did not
approve. The tropical communist island is an economic wreck after 54
years of Castro leadership and only survives thanks to oil subsidies
from Venezuela. In exchange Cuba controls all the levers of state
security and intelligence that help chavismo keep a lid on dissent. That
means that Cuba has both the means and the motive to ensure that someone
sympathetic to the needs of the Cuban elite follows Chávez.

Mr. Cabello could not be trusted. He is known as a nationalist and,
having come from the military, he maintains close ties to the men in
uniform. Many of them are whispered to resent the enormous influence
that Cuba has in running their country and the largess that Venezuela
gives to Havana while so many Venezuelans are living in dire poverty.
Allowing Mr. Cabello to sit in the presidential chair, no matter how
"temporarily" was likely considered too risky by the Castro brothers.

Mr. Maduro, on the other hand, is a known quantity in Havana, according
to Mr. Montaner. Indeed, as it turns out, Cuba seems to have been
grooming him for just such a post for many years. Mr. Montaner based his
reporting on the testimony of an alleged former Cuban agent who says
that Mr. Maduro attended Cuba's special school for political leadership,
Escuela Ñico López, in the 1980s. "Judging from this information," Mr.
Montaner writes, Mr. Maduro is "an old collaborator of Castro
intelligence. Because of that, Raúl Castro convinced Hugo Chávez that he
was his natural heir." All that's left now is the formality. Continue reading
Media focused on dissident instead of Beyonce, Cuban official laments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The media is too fixated on Cuba's best-known
dissident, blogger Yoani Sanchez, who is on an 80-day multination tour,
and has not focused enough on important news in Cuba like the visit of
pop star Beyonce, a Cuban official said on Thursday.

Jose Cabanas, the top Cuban diplomat based in the United States, said
Sanchez was garnering much more media coverage than necessary after she
was granted a passport and set off in February on a journey to more than
a dozen countries.

"Too much attention has been devoted to this lady, taking a lot of
attention from the most important ... news that has been happening these
days in regards to Cuba," Cabanas said in response to a question at the
Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.

"Including the presence of Beyonce, the singer, who is today in Havana,
enjoying a lot of attention from the public, but it's not covered by the
media - incredible."

(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Mohammad Zargham) Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 04.04.13

Cuban dancers begin new lives in Miami
By Arturo Arias-Polo

Six dancers of the National Ballet of Cuba who arrived in Miami after
defecting and crossing the Mexican border are certain they will make
their dreams come true in the United States.

Thursday morning, they arrived at Miami's Hispanic Cultural Center for
the Arts, better known as "The House of Ballet," ready to take their
first class in exile with Colombian professor Eriberto Jiménez.

"Miami is a city that could swallow you," said Luis Víctor González, 23,
who arrived Sunday with Ariadni Martín, Annie Ruiz Díaz, and Randy
Crespo, three days after the arrival of Josué Justiz and Edward
González. A seventh dancer, Alejandro Méndez, 20, is still in Mexico,
according to The Associated Press.

González, who had gone on world tours with the National Ballet, said he
defected because he thought it was his time and he wanted "to grow
artistically and financially."

Justiz, 20, "thanked God for having been born in a country that has one
of the best dancing schools." Thus, he has no fear of confronting the
competition "in any company in the world."

His stepfather, Eduardo Sánchez, said that Justiz's arrival did not
surprise him. "Josué is very happy. This is the right step. He has been
fighting since he was 8 years old, and it was time for him to jump. Now
he is where he is supposed to be," said Sánchez, a UPS employee who has
been in Miami for three years.

The group planned the escape in Havana, according to González.

"We feared being discovered. However, we agreed to complete all the
Giselle performances in order to fulfill our role with the company,"
said the 20-year-old.

After arriving in Miami, González learned that his mother, Nancy
Morgado, who worked in the National Ballet's wardrobe department,
resigned from her job, fearing retaliation.

Crespo, 22, had been with the company for five years. For him, his
decision represents a "great challenge."

"We have arrived in a country with a lifestyle totally different from
that of Cuba, and perhaps we will not be able to perform as dancers,"
Crespo said. "But we are willing to do what it takes."

Crespo said that among his company colleagues who returned to Cuba
"there are different opinions" about the dancers who defect. "I know
that there are many who support us, some don't and other feel nostalgic
for us," the dancer said.

"Our families knew it, and word had reached us that the State Security
knew that there was a group that would not return," Crespo said. "Which
is why we were alerted [when defecting] not to fly to Laredo from the
airport in Cancún because they would be watching us."

The exodus of ballet dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba is nothing
new. Ever since the first tours by the company in the early years of the
Cuban revolution there were defections in different parts of the world
from groups led by the legendary ballerina Alicia Alonso. One of the
first took place in Paris in 1966, when 10 dancers slipped away from
State Security agents and requested political asylum.

"It's young talent that needs to vibrate and widen their artistic
horizons," said Pedro Pablo Peña, director of the Cuban Classical Ballet
of Miami, the International Ballet Festival of Miami, and the Hispanic
Cultural Center for the Arts. "They are all very good dancers because
they come from a school that promotes excellence."

Peña announced that in May the dancers will perform at The Fillmore
Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 04.04.13
The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Winds of change

OUR OPINION: Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez's visit has brought together
Miami exiles of all political stripes, generations
By The Miami Herald Editorial

As Yoani Sánchez departs South Florida to continue her tour through
Europe and Latin America before heading back to Cuba, the dissident
blogger has managed to bring together exiles of all generations and
political philosophies to focus on the one truth they can all agree on:
The 54-year-old dictatorship must end.

At virtually every Miami event this week, Ms. Sánchez, whose Generation
Y blog and tweets are followed by millions worldwide, was greeted with
respect and affection. The few protesters (we counted at most a dozen
about to be rained upon) outside the Freedom Tower on Monday practiced
that all-American right to disagree peacefully while the blogger
exhorted Cuban Americans inside the iconic tower not to let the Castro
regime divide them.

Indeed, dissidents in Cuba disagree on the embargo and a whole manner of
issues, but they are united in their peaceful quest for democracy and
fresh leadership.

Cuba's opposition leaders have set an example mirrored in Miami this week.

Disparate groups like the 2506 Brigade (veterans of the failed Bay of
Pigs invasion) and the politically connected Latin Builders Association,
both opponents of lifting the embargo, joined anti-embargo
organizations, like the Cuban American National Foundation and the Cuba
Study Group, to sponsor events welcoming Ms. Sánchez. Leaders of
pro-embargo groups like the U.S.-Cuba PAC and the Cuban Liberty Council,
which finally was able to award Ms. Sánchez its 2009 "Heroes of Freedom"
medal, were eager to show they support the blogger. And Roots of Hope, a
national group of college students that holds no official position on
the embargo, has been at the forefront of connecting young Cubans on the
island with technology and donated cell phones.

The diversity of groups has been a recognition that democratic change
must come from the Cuban people and that exiles and all people of good
will want to help.

Not that exiles who vehemently oppose lifting the U.S. embargo of Cuba
have changed their minds instantly by the visit of one dissident
blogger, no matter how internationally renown she has become in the past
five years or how well she has blogged and tweeted about every abuse by
the communist regime she has witnessed or experienced directly. But Ms.
Sánchez does offer a perspective that comes from living all but two of
her 37 years in a crumbling country where the Castro brothers have used
the embargo to excuse every abuse, every failure of their totalitarian
state. She speaks from experience.

In the next few weeks other Cuban women who are valiantly exposing the
regime's abuses will be in Miami. Berta Soler, who heads the Ladies in
White, will bring her own perspective as to why she believes keeping the
embargo in place is best. Rosa María Payá, the daughter of the late
Oswaldo Payá, has been in Spain to lobby for an investigation into her
father's death last summer in a car crash that some witnesses have told
her involved a Cuban security vehicle running the car off the road and
into a tree. She, too, will be meeting with Miami's exiles.

These three women offer an opportunity for Cuban Americans to consider
the possibilities and new approaches to help those peaceful dissidents
who are risking their lives every day.

The regime already is under pressure to make it appear it is opening up.
Americans ought not be fooled into complacency. Cubans on the island
know they are still, as Ms. Sánchez put it, "birds in a cage." Continue reading
Meet The Man Many Call Cuba's Gorbachev
Originally published on Wed April 3, 2013 8:50 pm

Within 10 days of Miguel Diaz-Canel's big promotion to vice president of
Cuba in February, he was already being tapped as a stand-in for
reticent, 81-year-old President Raul Castro. It was Diaz-Canel, not Raul
or Fidel Castro, who gave Cuba's first public condolences when the
communist government lost its best friend and benefactor, Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez.

"We're saddened, but more determined than ever," Diaz-Canel said in a
speech broadcast on national television. "Our tears will be worthless if
they don't come with a commitment to carry on the beloved leader's vision."

Diaz-Canel's appointment makes him the designated successor to Fidel and
Raul — and has put him on the Cuban equivalent of a media blitz. It's
the first step in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated campaign
to ready the island for an uncertain post-Castro future.

Relatively Young And Unconventional

Cubans are now wondering what sort of vision Diaz-Canel will have for
their country. The island has been under the stern hand of Fidel and
Raul Castro since 1959, and the vast majority of Cubans, like Diaz-Canel
himself, have never lived under another leader.

Raul Castro says his current five-year term, which ends in 2018, will be
his last. But given Castro's age, Diaz-Canel could take over sooner.
Many Cubans are only beginning to form impressions of the new vice
president, but he is especially well known in his home province of Villa
Clara, where he first rose to be the top Communist Party official,
according to Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas.

"This is the only political leader in Cuba that has conducted a radio
show, so he has a communication capacity," Hernandez says. "He was known
in Villa Clara because he used to sit down and drink beer and talk in
the streets. The majority of Cuban politicians are not like that. I
mean, the majority of the old bureaucrats are not like that."

The adjective most often used here to describe the tall, burly
Diaz-Canel is "young," even though he's 52. Archival photos show him
wearing his silvery hair a bit long in the back, in the style of a
mullet. His reputation is that of a low-key, technocratic manager who
listens and doesn't lecture, but his only experience at the national
level came when he became Cuba's minister of higher education in 2009.

To most Cubans, Diaz-Canel is still a question mark.

Inheriting A Slew Of Structural Problems

At a busy intersection at the foot of the steps to the University of
Havana, a young Fidel Castro once delivered fiery stem-winders as a
gun-toting law student. But in a country where public protests are
banned, the place has long ceased to be a democratic forum.

Ask young people here today about Diaz-Canel's tenure at the head of
Cuba's struggling university system, and he evokes praise — but no
discernible passion. After 53 years of Castro family rule, students like
Carla Sanchez are more inclined to recite fuzzy platitudes about his
duty to carry on the revolution.

"What young people want is someone with a fresh way of thinking who will
move our country forward," Sanchez says.

Cuba's elderly leaders seem to be betting that Diaz-Canel can earn
loyalty by delivering economic growth and good governance along the
reform path charted by Raul Castro. Students like Jesus Manzo can expect
to earn $25 a month if they graduate to government jobs, pushing many to
instead leave the country or work as tour guides and hotel clerks.

"The big problem we have is our salaries," Manzo says. "We graduate and
then take jobs that are far below our education level."

It's just one of the accumulated structural problems Diaz-Canel will
face if he inherits the unenviable task of second act to the Castros.
During a visit to New York in March, dissident Cuban blogger Yoani
Sanchez said she hopes Diaz-Canel would turn out to be another Mikhail
Gorbachev — a figure who could engineer the soft undoing of the island's
socialist system.

Internal and external pressures will surely build for Diaz-Canel to do
so, and there won't be a Castro around to push back. Continue reading
Cubans Will Pay More Taxes in 2014
April 4, 2013

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban government will implement new taxes in 2014,
the Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza Rodriguez, told the
Council of Ministers on Tuesday.

The minister said other sources of increased revenues will come from
increased taxes on services, personal income, and contributions for
Social Security.

Pedraza also announced that as of next year State owned companies will
be able to use up to 50% of their profits after taxes, for development,
investment and direct stimulation to their workers. Continue reading
Opinion: Zambia Needs No Lessons from Cuba
Published April 5, 2013 By Peter Adamu

Suddenly, there is an outbreak of visits to Cuba by senior Zambian
government officials. Some sort of cordial and warm relationship is
emerging. There is a strong bond, from the looking of things, being
created between Zambia and Cuba.

The last a check-list was done, the closest the Zambian government came
to bonding with Cuba was some obscure newspaper presence of the private
owned Post stationed in that country.

However, in a space of two three months, two top figures of the ruling
Patriotic Front are already flirting with Havana – Cuba's capital.
Sports minister Chishimba Kambwili and other government officials are in
Cuba for whatever exchange programme it is.

Wynter Kabimba – the Minister of Justice and the Patriotic Front General
Secretary – traveled to Cuba for what should understandably have been a
bilateral visit some eight weeks ago.

Take note; Kabimba is the Chief Executive of the PF while Kambwili is
National Youth chairman of the ruling party. These are not just mere
positions but postings that give the two gentlemen sufficient leverage
to command policy direction of the party.

While in Cuba, Kabimba made damming statements against the West. He
called them imperialists. He was full of praise for Cuba and countries
like Venezuela and Bolivia where leaders have stayed in power beyond two
terms through manipulation of their constitutions and its own people.

There is no doubt. No one can question the fact that Cuba has some good
record in medical school. It also offers some impressive record in
sports – especially boxing although their coaches recently deployed to
Zambia have left without nurturing a single world-class boxer.

Anyway, that is as much as Zambia can attempt to learn from this island.
And if that is what Zambia wants to learn, technocrats – not Kabimba and
Kambwili – are better placed to undertake any form of exchange programmes.

But if its Kabimba going to Cuba, it's politics and that is where we are
getting it all wrong. Kabimba made strange but real pronouncements
stating permanent support for Cuba and its policies while committing
Zambia to learning from this country. In a way, he was trying to be a
Robert Mugabe that he is not and will never be.

However, from that trip, there seems to be a policy direction that aims
to portray Cuba as Zambia's 'messiah'. This is very interesting.

Before the PF were elected, Kabimba never took time to visit Cuba or
even promote the 'angelic' image he now sees in Fidel Castro's country.

Kabimba and the PF have gathered some false courage to go and denounce
the west in Cuba. Before long, Kambwili is in Cuba. This should ring a bell.

And take a look at this; for over 50 years, Cuba has been ruled by Fidel
Castro in a communist type of governance. Until 2008 when he was
indisposed, Castro – revered as the Great Leader after indoctrinating
his people – ruled Cuba with an iron fist.

He has since passed on the baton to his brother Raul. Yet this is not a
kingdom of Mwata Yav or King Mswati. Simply put, the transition of power
from Fidel to Raul was reminiscent of a family dynasty. And this is
where Kabimba wants Zambia to draw its lessons. In so doing, he is
suggesting that in an event and for whatever reason, President Sata
cedes power today, his son Mulenga will not be a bad idea to take over
in the interim. Could this be one of the lessons from Cuba?

Look here; Fidel Castro outlasted nine US presidents before he
relinquished his position as Cuba's president and Washington's
irritant-in-chief. This is the man Kabimba wants Zambians to eulogise.

In Zambia's humble 48-year-old history, it can at least boast of having
five democratically elected presidents. This is not the case with Cuba.
Zambia is currently ranked miles better than Cuba in terms of press freedom.

The present ranking places Cuba at 171 while Zambia is 72nd. Cuba's
peers in press freedom are countries like Sudan and Eritrea. This is
where Kabimba, inspired by the demagoguery ideas of Fred M'membe, wants
Zambia to draw its inspiration.

It is an open secret that M'membe hero-worships Fidel. He is a fan of
the Cuban dictator. On face value, the Post Newspaper owner postures as
a communist. In reality, he is a capitalist who thrives and wants to
compete with teenagers by riding Hollywood styled automobiles such as

He preaches protection and respect of humanity but practices non.
M'membe, the chief PF propagandist and President Sata's unofficial chief
advisor, practices nothing of what he preaches. But because of his
fanatism of Cuba, it should now be a model to Zambia and Kabimba says, yes.

M'membe has gone on a warpath with countries like South Africa and its
President Jacob Zuma for apparently giving President Rupiah Banda an
opportunity to give his side of the story on the on-going persecution.

Zuma has been a subject of M'membe's misguided attacks while Kabimba and
Kambwili are heading to Cuba to draw inspiration from the dictatorship
of Fidel Castro. It's no wonder Zambians are experiencing a return to a
one-party state. Very soon, coupons will be introduced to buy mealie
meal like the case was in Kaunda's era. It will not be surprising if the
only option to vote is between Sata and a frog. Yes, this has happened.
And everything points to Cuba where the opposition does not exist,
freedom of expression is only a preserve of the ruling class supporters
and the transfer of power is woven in a family dynasty.

If this is the route Kabimba, Kambwili and PF are taking, one thing they
ought to know is that Zambians are watching. For now, including their
M'membe, none of them enjoys presidential immunity.

Whatever business they are doing in Cuba on behalf of Zambia, their
actions will be called to question when the right time comes. For this
and many other reasons, Zambia does not need to learn governance from
Cuba. At least, Zambia can do without Cuba but not without a key partner
like South Africa. Continue reading
Cuba allows state firms to implement performance-based pay
Havana, Apr 5 (IANS/EFE)

Cuban state-owned firms may use up to 50 percent of post-tax profits for
R&D and employee incentives, Communist Party daily Granma said,
reporting on a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers.

"Companies, once they've fulfilled their commitments to the state and
the established requirements, may use after-tax profits to create funds
for development, investment and motivating workers," Finance Minister
Lina Pedraza said.

Retained profits, therefore, "may be used to increase working capital
(and funds) for investment, development, research and training, as well
as to pay workers based on their performance", the daily said Thursday.

Pedraza said the decision stems from a clause in the economic-adjustment
plan approved in April 2011 at the 6th Communist Party Congress.

President Raul Castro presided over Tuesday's Council of Ministers
meeting, which was centered on the island's economic policy and the 2014

Castro called for "considering and reconsidering" and "periodically
reviewing" the government's measures to correct possible errors, and
urged his administration not to be deterred by the "obstacles that may
emerge" as Cuba works to "modernize" its socialist economic model.

The Council of Ministers also analyzed a first group of 126 non-farm
private cooperatives presented for its approval.

A law enacted in December extended this type of organizational model to
sectors other than agriculture. Continue reading
Apr 4 2013 10:42PM

SA-Cuba deal 'on track'
Zodidi Mhlana

Despite the heavy criticism it has attracted from some quarters, the
South African and Cuban medical training programme is here to stay.

That's the word from the health department on the programme aimed at
tackling the doctor shortage and assisting in the overhauling of the
healthcare system.

"South Africa has a critical shortage of doctors and as part of
government's aim of increasing the number of doctors, the South African
and Cuban health ministries signed a collaborative SA-Cuba Agreement.

"The agreement is assisting South Africa to use the capacity that Cuba
has in the training of medical doctors.

"SA and Cuba entered into the health agreement with the aim of
bolstering South African human resource requirements by allowing South
African students to train in Cuba.

"Yes, the agreement is achieving its objectives as 357 doctors have so
far qualified in Cuba. They are practising in health facilities in South
Africa," health department spokeperson Joe Maila said.

A total of 1344 medical students are studying medicine in Cuba.

The naysayers against the Cuban training programme have become more
vocal after six South African students studying medicine in the
Caribbean country returned home citing unhappiness over conditions of
study there.

They were demanding an increase in their monthly stipend and changes in
their diet.

The drop-outs were part of a group of 187 students who took part in a
hunger strike and boycotted classes in February.

They were demanding their monthly stipend be increased from $200 (R1860)
to $700.

The SA government spends about R500000 per student over six years for a
course that includes language (Spanish), medical training and living
expenses in Cuba.

The programme, which has produced almost 400 doctors since its inception
more than 15 years ago, will also assist with the roll-out of the
National Health Insurance (NHI), the department said.

"It will further strengthen the health ministry's strategic
interventions in the implementation of the NHI and the overhauling of
the health care system by refocusing on the primary health care," Maila

Some of the critics of the programme have said that it should be
scrapped as it was producing "second class doctors".

But the department has dismissed the calls. "Those who are calling for
scrapping are doing so from a position of ignorance. South Africa needs
preventative medicine to deal with the quadruple burden of disease. We
value Cuban training because it emphasises primary health care,
encouraging doctors to work on preventing diseases and on the promotion
of health."

The department added that the country's eight medical institutions were
unable to produce adequate doctors.

"Their annual output has remained constant at about 1200 per year,
despite population growth and the challenge of the burden of disease,"
it said.

Half of the medical graduates prefer working overseas or joining the
private sector, according to Africa Health Placements. Continue reading
Agence France-Presse April 4, 2013 15:30

Cuba economic reforms moving 'at a good pace:' Castro

Reforms aimed at breathing new life into Cuba's decrepit Soviet-style
economy are advancing "at a good pace," President Raul Castro said
Thursday, dismissing calls for accelerated change.

Since sweeping economic reforms introduced in 2011 "we can see that
we've advanced at a good pace," according to the daily Granma.

The president said that "the magnitude and complexity" of Cuba's
problems "do now allow us to resolve them from one day to another," the
state newspaper said.

Castro urged Cubans to "resist pressure from those who insist that we
should move faster," although he added that the country is currently "at
a better moment" to push the economic reforms forward.

Castro, 81, took over from his ailing older brother Fidel in 2006 and
has gradually been overhauling island's antiquated Soviet-style economy.

Measures include trimming state payrolls and allowing more types of
self-employment, handing over unused land to farmers, and allowing
private ownership of things like homes, cars, mobile phones and computers.

His goal is to liberalize Cuba's economy and encourage more private
entrepreneurship, but at the same time maintain a key role for the Cuban
state through joint ventures.

The reforms are also aimed at trimming back the bloated public sector.
The government still controls 90 percent of the economy and is by far
the main source of jobs on the island.

Castro said the reform blueprint "has helped us work with more order and

He called on his ministers to "think and re-think everything we do,
periodically check each measure to correct possible mistakes," and urged
them and not to stop "despite obstacles that may emerge."

In its 2014 economy plan and budget, the Cuban government hopes to
increase exports and cut back on imports.

Desperately needed foreign currency comes from tourism, the sale of
medicine, and exports of nickel and sugar.

rd/ch/sg Continue reading
Cuba's Yoani Sánchez: What to Make of the Dissident's World Tour
By Tim Padgett
April 04, 2013

By all accounts, the world tour of Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez, which
shifts today from the U.S. to Europe, has so far proven a Buena Vista
Social Club-caliber success. For those weary of the feckless,
half-century-long screaming match between left-wingers and right-wingers
over Cuba policy, Sánchez's spring excursion has brought a welcome
breath of reason.

She has parried every thrust from the Che Guevara T-shirt crowd who show
up to denounce her for daring suggest that her communist island isn't
the people's paradise. (She acknowledged, for example, that Cubans get
free education and health care, but she pointed out that while caged
birds get free water, they're still caged.) Just as impressively, she
seems to have charmed the Cuban-American hardliners on Capitol Hill and
in Miami, who didn't have missile crisis-grade meltdowns when she
reiterated her opinion that the U.S. should drop its failed 51-year-old
trade embargo against Cuba, and let Americans travel there again, so as
not to let the Castro regime use such measures as excuses for its
political repression and economic ineptitude. This week, an ebullient
Sánchez tweeted that the opportunity to finally engage the world
face-to-face instead of just in cyberspace was letting her "live the
days of my dreams…Days that change your life!"

(MORE: Cuban Dissident Blogger Visits White House)

But will these days do anything to change Cuba? Much was made earlier
this year of Cuban President Raúl Castro's decision to drop the regime's
harsh travel restrictions and let even dissidents like Sánchez, 37,
internationally famous for her Generación Y blog, go freely abroad—and,
just as important, freely come back. Yet like every change made under
Castro, 81, and like every change made under his older brother and
former President Fidel Castro, 86, the travel reform was as calculated
as it was momentous. Some find it remarkable watching Cuba's leading
dissenter criticize the Castro dictatorship from Miami to Madrid, but
Havana wouldn't have given her an exit visa if it didn't think it might
get something out of this too—namely, an argument with which to blunt
the very criticism she's leveling. If things are still so oppressive
back here on this side of the Florida Straits, Rául now asks, why did we
let this woman fly out to receive your bourgeois human rights prizes and
cast aspersions on our revolution?

That's certainly not to suggest that Sánchez is letting herself be used
by the Castros any more than she's being used by their enemies.
Sánchez's credibility and effectiveness reside largely in her refusal to
be co-opted by either side—as was the case with the late Oswaldo Payá,
the dissident leader whose torch passed to Sánchez and her social media
savvy last year when he was killed in a car accident in Cuba. Make no
mistake, I've often seen firsthand how the mere mention of Sánchez's
name makes Cuban officials break into cold, angry sweats—as TIME's Latin
American bureau chief in the 2000s, I became persona non grata in Havana
when we included her on the magazine's list of the world's 100 most
influential people—because they fear that her blogosphere activism could
become less controllable than Payá's more conventional movement was.

(MORE: Oswaldo Paya: Requiem for a Cuban dissident.)

But Payá's demise is simply another reminder of why Raúl may not mind
Yoani's road show as much as we assume. Payá's family alleges his death
involved foul play, even though little if any real evidence has surfaced
to back that charge. But either way, Sánchez's global speaking
engagements, for all the bleak and iron-fisted picture they paint of the
Castros, lend the dictatorship a more lenient face that it hopes will
help soften international scrutiny of its dismal human rights record.

And yet, Yoani's excellent adventure could still backfire on Havana.
Speaking at Miami's Freedom Tower this week, Sánchez implored her mostly
Cuban-American audience to cease thinking of Cubans in terms of "you
[here] and us [there]. There is only us." It's a message they
embraced—and, says Tomás Bilbao, director of the Cuba Study Group and
one of the coordinators of Sánchez's U.S. visit, it can still be a scary
message for Cuba's leadership. "The Cuban government calculates there
will be little domestic political cost to pay for letting Yoani travel
and speak abroad," says Bilbao, who also believes it's time to drop the
embargo. "But they may underestimate the effects of increased contact
between the U.S. and Cuba that her visit has promoted, how she's
breaking down barriers" between the two countries that the Cuban regime
has so often relied on to keep its hold on power (and which, at least in
my view, the hardline Cuban exile leadership has too often promoted to
maintain its own political influence here).

Other Cubans are bound to take notice of that less antagonistic
landscape when they themselves visit the U.S. under Raúl's travel
reforms (which he decreed in part to help bring badly needed hard
currency to the island). And they are less likely as a result to be as
tolerant of their island's economic and human rights deprivations when
they return. Sánchez, who has been harassed, detained and even beaten up
in Cuba for her independent journalism, says she still expects pariah
treatment when she goes back; but Havana might (granted, a big might)
decide that persecuting dissidents now carries a potential domestic as
well as international cost. Chances are, while her life-changing spring
tour won't produce a Cuban Spring any time soon, it could turn out to be
more of a country-changing excursion than either she or the Castros
anticipated. Continue reading
Apr 4, 2013, 1:33pm EDT

U.S. Rep. Castor visiting Cuba
Kathleen Cabble

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is on a four-day visit to Cuba, a trip her office
billed as a fact-finding visit focused on opportunities to poise Tampa
as a gateway to Cuba and to create economic opportunities in this region.

She will meet with the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of
Energy, the National Association of Cuban Economists, the Foreign
Ministry of Cuba and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, according to
a written statement.

Castor also will visit farmers, small business owners and Finca Vigia,
Ernest Hemingway's house outside Havana.

The congresswoman recently announced that she supports lifting the
embargo, which restricts travel to and business with Cuba.

She is traveling with representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based
Center for Democracy in the Americas. Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 04.04.13

Beyoncé and Jay-Z stroll in Havana
By Juan O. Tamayo

Dozens of Cubans crowded around R&B diva Beyoncé and husband-rapper
Jay-Z as they toured Old Havana on Thursday after celebrating their
fifth wedding anniversary with island staples like daiquiris, and rice
and black beans.

"People outside were desperate to see them and we had to call security,
we had to call the police," said La Guarida restaurant waitress Vivian
Aimerich, who helped serve the superstars during their anniversary
dinner Wednesday night.

The couple drew even bigger crowds Thursday as they strolled the streets
of Old Havana like any other tourists, with Beyoncé wearing a short
summer dress and big sunglasses and Jay-Z smoking a cigar and wearing a
straw hat, shorts, and sneakers.

They visited the Havana Cathedral, built between 1748 and 1777, and
walked around the cobblestoned streets of the colonial-era neighborhood,
declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z spoke with several Cubans during their walk but
declined to answer journalists' questions on their visit to the
communist-ruled island.

The government-run CubaSí website reported the couple is on a tourist
visit, although that would be illegal under the half-century old U.S.
embargo. Washington does issue special licenses, however, for cultural,
religious, academic, and other types of visits.

ICM talent agency in Los Angeles said it had no information on the
visit. Beyoncé's publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure in New York, did not
return El Nuevo Herald calls.

The superstar couple was first spotted in Cuba on Wednesday night as
they entered La Guarida, "The Hideout," a restaurant on an upper floor
of a crumbling early 1900s palace where the hit Cuban film Strawberry
and Chocolate was filmed.

"They were recognized downstairs and the whole street filled up with
people shouting her name until she went out on the balcony and waved to
them," Aimerich told El Nuevo Herald by phone from the restaurant.

"We knew that someone important was coming, but we had no idea," she
added. The restaurant, which has become an almost obligatory stop for
tourists in Havana, is known as a "paladar" because it is privately
owned. Most restaurants in Cuba are state-run.

Beyoncé, Jay-Z, their mothers, and some of their bodyguards spent nearly
three hours in La Guarida celebrating the couple's fifth wedding
anniversary, Aimerich said. They were married April 4, 2008 in France.

They drank daiquiris, rum, and wine, snacked on shrimp and shared a big
plate of white rice and black beans, the waitress reported. Beyoncé had
the chicken roasted in honey and lemon, and Jay-Z finished off a fish
filet with tomato-based sauce.

Restaurant staffers had their photos taken with the visitors before they
left, she added, escorted by police.

The 32-year-old Beyoncé Giselle Knowles has won 17 Grammys, performed at
the Super Bowl halftime show this year, and sang the national anthem at
President Barack Obama's inauguration in February. Jay-Z, born Shawn
Corey Carter, has created a business empire that stretches from fashion
to a part ownership of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.

La Guarida, in the Havana Centro neighborhood, flourished when it opened
in 1996, when a bankrupt Cuba was allowing some private enterprise and
Western tourism to make up for the loss of the Soviet Union's massive

It closed in 2009 as the island's economy recovered and ruler Fidel
Castro cracked down on the private sector with tax and health inspectors
but reopened a few years ago and has been attracting a steady stream of
U.S. and other visitors.

It now displays photos of famous visitors, such as Will Smith, Jack
Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Naomi Campbell, Jodie Foster, Danny Glover, the
queen of Spain, and Spanish actor Javier Bardem.

Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone wrote in his blog, Capitol
Hill Cubans, on Thursday that the Cuban government had "seized on the
trip's propaganda value" by posting pictures of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Old
Havana on the CubaSí pages.

Will they also meet with dissident musicians or jailed opposition
activists, asked Claver-Carone, who is also executive director of the
U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee in Washington.

"Or will they just wine and dine at the Castro regime's hotels,
restaurants, and nightclubs … fulfilling a propaganda dream for Cuba's
brutal dictatorship a la Dennis Rodman," he added, referring to the
retired basketball star's recent trip to North Korea.

It's unclear whether their trip to Cuba will impact Beyoncé's Miami
concert at AmericanAirlines Arena on July 10 as part of her Mrs. Carter
Show World Tour. Jay-Z will perform Aug. 16 at Sun Life Stadium as part
of the Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake.

The news of their visit came in the same week that famous Cuban blogger
Yoani Sánchez made several well-attended appearances in Miami to talk
about human-rights abuses and lack of basic freedoms on the
Communist-ruled island. Miami is home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban
exiles who fled the Castro regime starting in 1959.

Jay-Z at times has mentioned Cuba in his raps. In Otis, with Kanye West,
he raps, "Welcome to Havana smoking cubanos with Castro in cabanas." And
in his latest hit with Timberlake, Suit & Tie, he raps this line: "Green
card for the Cuban linx."

Miami Herald staff writer Luisa Yanez contributed to this report. Continue reading
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