Wednesday, December 31, 2008
- Palabra Nueva reports that five of
’s Catholic bishops visited prisons on Christmas and said Mass to prisoners. Cuba
- Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul, says that if there’s a respectful dialogue between President Obama and her father, “all this is going to change.” CubaEncuentro has excerpts of her December 18 interview in Spanish with the
radio program La Noche se Mueve. Miami
- The Cuban phone monopoly ETECSA says that cell phone subscriptions are growing at an “unstoppable” pace, according to reports from ANSA and CubaEncuentro. There are 130,000 new subscribers (since when the reports don’t specify), and 110,000 of the accounts in the name of foreigners have been switched to Cuban nationals’ names. Since April, Cubans have been permitted to have cell phone accounts in their own names, and earlier this month activation fees were cut in half.
- The Herald’s Frances Robles on the night Batista fell, 50 years ago.
- Cuban singer Pablo Milanes, interviewed in
, says he doesn’t “trust in any Cuban leader who is older than 75.” Cuban Colada translated excerpts here and links to the interview in Spanish. Spain
- A fire damaged the
shopping center La Puntilla yesterday; Granma’s story is here and El Nuevo Herald says it’s the third fire in a Cimex corporation property this year. Havana ’s tourism ministry says 2008 was a record year for tourist visits. The Granma article (English) says hotel capacity is nearly four times that of 1990, progress is insufficient in substituting domestic products for imports, and there is “instability in relation to supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables.” Cuba
CubaEncuentro has a gallery of photos of the construction of the Malecon when it was extended to the west under Batista. Does anyone know what the building is in the background below, and where it stood? As best I can tell it’s an old convention center near where Paseo meets the Malecon.
[Update: As Ernesto of Penultimos Dias points out in the comments, these photos were placed on Flickr some time ago by another blogger. You can view them here without the watermarks that CubaEncuentro added.]
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
says 2009 economic growth will be four percent, and the economy minister sees higher growth in 2010 due to agriculture reforms and other measures. At Encuentro, there’s a skeptical look at Cuba ’s recent gdp figures by economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. Cuba
- David Adams of the St. Petersburg Times reports on hurricane recovery in Pinar del
- Juventud Rebelde interviews a machetero in Las Tunas – a “Cuban multimillionaire” – who estimates that he cut more than four million arrobas of sugar cane in a career that spanned 45 sugar harvests. (One arroba is 25 pounds.)
- Radios, flashlights, fake invoices, a shell corporation: The U.S. Attorney’s office issued a press release describing how Felipe Sixto stole government money from a USAID grantee, even while he worked at the White House.
Monday, December 22, 2008
A clarification came last week in
In the press conference, Raul says that a former president (of the
He went on to say that under “absolute equality of conditions,”
And in response to a question about dissidents in prison: “We’re going to do gesture for gesture; those prisoners you speak about, they want them released; let them tell us tomorrow, we’ll send them there with their families and everything; let them return our five heroes to us, that is a gesture by both sides, and of the supposed political prisoners in Cuba.” (My translations.)
The Bush Administration rejected the idea, as AP notes.
It’s hard to tell precisely what signal Raul was trying to send here, or even if he planned to send a signal had reporters not asked about human rights issues. The point about unilateral gestures and concessions is clear enough, and if you want to be optimistic you can take it as a positive signal that he is willing to engage in reciprocal concessions. On the other hand, if “we’ll send them there” means that dissidents would be released on condition that they and their families leave their country, then in this case he is proposing an idea with which no U.S. Administration would be likely to agree.
Earlier comments on the issue here.
In the AP story on the 50th anniversary cited below, it is mentioned that the billboards facing the U.S. Interests Section were taken down. They had, to put it mildly, anti-Bush messages on them. Was it a hurricane precaution, or a political decision?
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- The Russian destroyer Admiral Chabanenko entering
, Havana Bay December 19, 2008. [AFP photo]
- Ag Journal: the
farm sector is looking for increased exports to U.S. during an Obama Administration. Cuba
- If you read Spanish, it’s worth absorbing the Brazilian president’s comments at the end of this press conference with Raul Castro. It gives a good indication of
’s view of U.S. Cuba policy, its expectations of the Obama presidency, and of what the Obama Administration can expect to hear from Brazil Latin America. Not all the pressure to change policy will be domestic. Cuba
- More on the 50th anniversary: a long survey from AP correspondent Anita Snow, with lots of street-level perspective.
- The Herald’s Cuban Colada covers an exchange that occurred in person and in writing between blogger Yoani Sanchez and Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul.
- A guilty plea in the Felipe Sixto case.
- AP: Key dates in the past 50 years of
’s history. Cuba
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
…and while we’re at it, we'll send a signal to Obama.
You could call it the independence summit. The meeting of Latin American and
Mexican President Felipe Calderon suggested creation of a new hemispheric organization to discuss political and economic issues; it would not include the
On the Cuba front, there was a joint statement calling on the United States to end the Cuba embargo, and “in particular” to stop applying “the measures adopted over the past five years to deepen the impact” of U.S. sanctions against Cuba. President Calderon and Argentine President Fernandez agreed to visit
- Reuters on the impact of the global financial crisis on
: a cash crunch affecting payments to foreign businesses, and rescheduling of debt payments to foreign governments. Cuba
- Granma announces tomorrow morning’s arrival of the Russian navy vessels.
- A look at the Havana film festival in The Wall Street Journal.
- Senate Republicans considering the nomination of Eric Holder for Attorney General are searching for documents on his role in the Clinton Administration, then as Deputy Attorney General, in the Elian Gonzalez case.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
- Carlos Valenciaga, a Council of State member and chief of staff to Fidel Castro, and the man who made the television announcement of Fidel’s illness and transfer of power in 2006, is rumored to have been removed from his duties. The rumors are very solid in the sense that they are very widespread and everyone seems to believe them. Granma has yet to run one of those terse little notes saying he left his post and is waiting until “se le asigne otras funciones.” At any rate, Penultimos Dias says Mr. Valenciaga is now working in the manuscript department of the National Library. Which would not be far from his old job, as a crow flies, just across the Plaza de la Revolucion.
- Oil & Gas Journal on the new agreements with
; the plan is to build a new refinery and expand others, to quadruple Venezuela ’s refining capacity. Cuba
- Reuters looks at
’s urban garden cooperatives (“organoponicos”); the 160 members of a coop in Alamar earn twice the average state salary. Cuba
- Prensa Latina has a writeup and box score of a 3-3 tie between the
and a Cuban team of selected university students. Universityof Alabama
- For the record, a December 4 item that I missed: a business community letter (pdf) released by USA Engage calling on President-elect Obama to make dramatic changes in
policy toward U.S. . Cuba
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The 2009 World Baseball Classic will be played March 5-23. The brackets for the four-round tournament are here.
The Cuban team would seem to have an excellent chance to advance from the first round in
Speaking of baseball, here’s another reason to read Penultimos Dias: a terrific item from Tania Quintero on Dodgers greats Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese training in
- Raul Castro is in
for a Latin American/Caribbean summit, where Brazil will formally enter the Rio Group. Reporters asked him on arrival if he is willing to discuss the Cuba embargo with a new U.S. administration. He replied, “If Mr. Obama wants to discuss it, we’ll discuss it. If he doesn't want to discuss it, we won't discuss it.” U.S.
- Oswaldo Paya was denied permission to travel to the European Parliament in
for the 20th anniversary of the Sakharov human rights award, which he won in 2002. Strasbourg
- The prime minister of
needs surgery, and heads to Cuba for the operation. Trinidad and Tobago expects that 2008 will bring a record 2.34 million visitors, AP reports in a story that explains why Cuba is doing better than Cuba Caribbeanneighbors this year, in spite of quality factors that discourage return visits. And Vice President Carlos Lage (see AFP Spanish) says is ready for the Americans to come, Cuban Americans or otherwise; “Our tourism sector and our people are prepared,” he said. Cuba
Politically, it would not be surprising if this were so. And legally, Fidel’s role is clear as can be. He retains his post as Communist Party chief, and the party is the “highest leading force of society and of the state” in Cuba’s constitution. Which may be why, in
Monday, December 15, 2008
- The Miami Herald begins a very in-depth series on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban revolution with an informative, even-handed examination of gains and losses by Frances Robles. The series is previewed here; further installments will be on the Herald’s Cuba page.
- One hundred opposition members were detained in
last week around the celebration of Human Rights Day, rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez reports. Speaking of the opposition, Tracey Eaton asks all the right questions – ten of them – on his blog. I’m too lazy to give them full essay-test treatment, but it does seem to me that there has been a shift in tactics from arrests/trials/long-term sentences to short-term detentions. As to whether a “peaceful, bloodless resolution to the U.S.-Cuba conflict” is possible, I say “peaceful” is highly likely into the distant future, while “resolution” probably is not. Cuba
- AFP: A Russian destroyer and two other naval vessels will visit
on Friday, the Russian navy announces. Cuba
- Cuban cell phone activation charges were cut nearly in half to about $65, AP reports. Now can we remember what our economics professors said about “elasticity of demand?”
- A horrible story in the Herald: a
company allegedly engaged in pure fraud by taking money to forward as family remittances to Hialeah , and then simply keeping it. Cuba
Energy, education, information technology, and agriculture are among the areas covered. The New York Times account focuses on energy, including oil refining and construction of a plant in
…I have two questions:
1. Has there ever been another television station where, 18 years after its creation, there is a debate about whether it has an audience or not?
2. If TV Marti went off the air, where would the most people notice – in
Friday, December 12, 2008
But I heard a few weeks ago that produce was starting to appear in Havana’s farmers markets, and last week the following items were on sale in two Havana markets I visited: pork, garlic, onions, chives, tomatoes, lettuce, several varieties of cabbage, bean sprouts, watercress, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, carrots, squash, okra, eggplant, radishes, beets, ginger, parsley, basil, cilantro, black beans, red beans, malanga, yuca, corn, peanuts, corn flour, corn meal, oranges, limes, pineapples, coconuts, grapefruit, guayaba, anon, and starfruit.
Plus lots of flowers.
There’s a list of items, posted in the markets, whose prices are capped at pre-hurricane levels. I only saw a sharp price increase in one item I note regularly; pork chops were going for 35 pesos per pound, about 40 percent higher than usual. On the other hand, maybe the vendor thought I would be willing to pay 35.
The Obama Cuba policy is going to take time to define.
Obviously, the foundation will be the President-elect’s campaign statements (see here). Then there will be personnel decisions, the decisions on how to implement campaign promises, and the first-year decisions on all the moving parts of the policy, e.g. will the Obama Administration fund TV Marti?
But in the meantime, let’s take note of any straws in the wind. And if I miss some, send them in.
- From the Times magazine piece discussed below, advisor
: “With the new Democratic majority in Congress, and some clear Cuban gestures on human rights, you could get changes to Helms-Burton.” Anthony Lake
- Here’s former congressional candidate and Miami-Dade Democratic chairman Joe Garcia speaking about the timing of travel and diplomatic initiatives, in El Nuevo Herald: “Obama has a good group of advisors and he is going to listen to them. The right to travel and remittances will be restored, but only remotely will there be an immediate opportunity to converse with
- And the Brazilian defense minister, recently in
, called for the end of the Washington embargo as he made the rounds. According to this report in CubaEncuentro, Secretary Gates “did not say yes or no,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said U.S. should “take the first step,” and there’s no report on the response from Obama’s soon-to-be national security advisor. The minister said to Gates, “After all these years of the embargo on Cuba , what have you got? Just two things: a poor country and a very proud people.” Cuba
Thursday, December 11, 2008
- At its summit last Monday, Caricom called for the United States to end its “economic, commercial and financial embargo against the Republic of Cuba.” Reuters report here.
- Via Bloomberg, an Italian newspaper reports that Telefonica de Espana is in talks to buy the share of the Cuban phone monopoly Etecsa that is now owed by Telecom Italia.
- The committee seeking a presidential pardon for Eduardo Arocena says it is not surprised that Arocena was not included in the pardons and commutations issued by President Bush last month. “We know,” it says in a statement on its website, that “this gift to the Cuban community, and especially to his family, we will receive it this Christmas.” Arocena was convicted in 1984 for murder of a Cuban diplomat and other charges; the judge who denied his appeal describes Arocena’s actions in this decision.
According to press reports from Havana, the Damas de Blanco walked through a Havana neighborhood and distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before climbing the steps of the Capitolio building and calling aloud for freedom.
More than 50 dissidents were detained Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Elizardo Sanchez, who said that many were detained in the provinces as they prepared to come to Havana.
Sanchez denounced the “pure, hard repression” that is the government’s “sui generis way” of celebrating Human Rights Day. Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque said Cuba celebrates the day with its “head held high.”
The Christian Science Monitor reported on an activist, Belinda Salas, who said she and three others were beaten by police on Tuesday after leaving the U.S. diplomatic mission, and the three others were arrested.
“Lealtad beckoned me,” Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote in a long, first-person magazine piece last Sunday on the approaching 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.
“What I saw,” he said, “struck me with the force of a vision.” On Lealtad, the street in Centro Habana, the Times’ veteran, Paris-based reporter found a bar. Inside, people were drinking. And there were “harsh fluorescent lights” and a “white man with a bulbous red nose pickled by drink.” There was a black man and a black woman – stay with me, please – who also seemed to be drinking, and they were all “at a distance from one another.” Then before you know it, Cohen is pondering existential despair, and finds himself in an Edward Hopper painting.
I guess you had to be there. Regardless, Cohen then sums up: “The feeling of being transported is very Cuban.”
Roger, if you don’t mind my asking, what were you drinking that day?
Ok, more seriously, if you don’t mind the writer’s flair for the dramatic (the Malecon is “haunting”), and the snooty (during an interview in Miami, “inevitably, we ate at the kitschy Versailles Restaurant”), it’s an interesting article. I liked Cohen’s account of his exchange with an economy ministry official, and his account of the owner of a little private restaurant who takes out a camera, turns it to video mode, and gets Cohen to say that the food is good and he works for The New York Times.
On the Malecon, Cohen observed “over subsequent days that Cubans perched on the seafront wall rarely looked outward.” I always thought that was because people prefer watching the passing parade on the sidewalk and street, but there’s an existential meaning to it, and you have to read the article to find out.
But what really prompted me to write was to ask readers’ help with this inscrutable closing paragraph:
“Yes, Fidel’s communist revolution, at 50, has carried a terrible price for his people, dividing the Cuban nation, imprisoning part of it and bringing economic catastrophe. But as I gazed from Cuban hills at Guantánamo, and considered Obama’s incoming administration, I thought the wages of guilt might just have found a fine enough balance for good sense at last to prevail.”