Thursday, May 31, 2007

U.S. messages

As the American Secretary of State prepares to tell Spain’s Prime Minister what she thinks of Madrid’s policy toward Cuba, I’ll drag out one element of her own “transformational diplomacy” as applied to Cuba.

Last year the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba erected an electronic signboard to deliver messages to the Cuban public on the streets below. The Cuban government responded by building a sea of flagpoles (under construction in news agency photo, right) that blocks the sign from view.

The signboard’s content is available on-line.

In the beginning, it included daily messages in addition to news. Apparently, the messages were not well received, so in mid-2006 they were discontinued. Now, only news headlines appear, resembling the crawl of headlines that run across the screen of a television news channel.

Some of those messages were jokes about the Cuban condition, as if Cubans can’t make their own jokes and need a foreign government to help them.

Others, such as this one, seemed to instruct Cubans how to think about political matters:

Reading Granma today is like reading it yesterday, or reading it tomorrow. The date changes but the content stays the same…Granma publishes the fantasy that all is well in Cuba, that things have been well for decades. Who believes Granma? What’s more, who reads it? (2/24/06)

Or this one:

The tourist who comes to Cuba and enjoys the island also feeds a repressive regime. They drink rum, smoke tobacco, go to the Tropicana, and fall in love with the girls. They have a great time. They don't know the Cuba that you live in. The tourist says, "I feel safe in Cuba." Of course…police states are famous for maintaining security. (4/10/06)

This one reminded me of the dictums from Fidel that you see on billboards and painted on Cuban highway bridges:

Do not forget the unbreakable link between social justice and democracy. (3/1/06)

Some seemed to taunt, such as this one:

Eight workers in a butcher shop won $22 million each in the Power Ball lottery. (2/22/06)

Or this one, a real gem:

Miami public schools adopted a new menu to attract more children to school breakfast. Eggs, sausages, pancakes, cereal, yogurt, milk, dried fruits, nuts, raisins, and cookies are some of the choices. The federal government pays for the breakfast of all children in Miami public schools. (3/8/06)

“Only totalitarianism benefits from the current confrontation”

Dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe comments on U.S. policy in today’s El Nuevo Herald.

Varadero golf

Cuba’s tourism ministry may be preparing to build new golf courses, but they won’t match this one, about a third of the way out the Varadero peninsula, where the land mass is barely two fairways wide. This picture was shot near the old Dupont family beach home (to most of us, it’s a mansion), part of an estate that constituted a large part of the peninsula itself.

Odds and ends

  • I have written a few times about Europe’s “common position” regarding Cuba; a reader points out that the origin of this policy was an “explicit threat of Helms-Burton Title III sanctions” during the Clinton Administration. Title III, which has never gone into effect because Clinton and Bush have waived it every six months, would allow Cuban Americans whose property is touched by foreign investors in Cuba to sue those investors in U.S. courts.

"Now more than ever we are in the hands of God"

Dagoberto Valdes, erstwhile director of the Catholic diocesan journal Vitral, gave an interview to Liberpress, which as best I can tell is a website based in Argentina.

He doesn’t comment directly on the actions of the new bishop in his diocese, but his disagreement is pretty clear; he wants the church’s civic and religious education to continue. His dedication to the church and to his work within its laity is unshaken. And he displays patience, lots of it.

A few translated excerpts:

“To identify the church only by its [clerical] hierarchy is a theological error, just as it would be to conceive of a church without pastors, because they have a role that is as indispensable as that of the laity and the believers.

“[The church] should continue, as it has until now, opening spaces for dialogue and reconciliation, and also spaces for education, promotion and defense of justice and peace, of human rights and the rights of peoples. It should not abandon its ethical and humanistic work of civic and religious education, as it has for centuries and centuries, through light and shadow.

“Some who see the situation [‘la cosa’] as being very closed, recommend that we leave Cuba, that we leave the church, that we go into a partisan opposition. Well, right now we have no concrete plan, we are in a time of pruning and a pruned tree needs time and sap from its roots to sprout again…

“We are not leaving Cuba, we are not leaving our church, and we are not leaving the place we have chosen in civil society.

“We should not allow our attention, or that of others, to drift from that which is the essential problem of this historic hour: liberty and democracy in Cuba, liberty and responsibility for all Cubans, without distinction or exclusions.

“…when freedom and democracy dawn for this people, there by the kitchen where the daily bread is warmed, will be our mother the church to serve breakfast early, to encourage those who come out to work for Cuba, to educate the smallest and the neediest in freedom and love.”

[Photo of cathedral in Bayamo]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Odds and ends

  • He starts with a parable and pushes hard on a hard question – not who must die, but what must die if Cuba is to change. If you read Spanish, read this column from Ariel Hidalgo.

  • The Organization of American States, pressed by Venezuela to call for the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, found a lowest-common-denominator consensus: a resolution that condemns terrorism, endorses extradition “as appropriate” to fight terrorism, and leaves Posada’s name out of it.

"An open mind"

Five members of the U.S. House of Represetatives visit Cuba during an event where the Cuban food importing agency makes deals with U.S. food exporters. One of the legislators, Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia, has supported U.S. sanctions against Cuba but now has “an open mind” about changing them.

Cuba bought $340 million in U.S. agricultural products last year, and Cuban officials say sales would be higher if U.S. regulations were made less cumbersome. Legislative proposals before Congress would not change the requirement that Cuba pay cash for U.S. products, but they would end the requirement that Cuba make its payments through third countries, allowing Cuba to wire money directly to U.S. banks.

Near Palma Soriano, 2005

CLC dumps Iggy

If you follow the Miami press, blogs, and radio, you have seen that columnist Ana Menendez has experienced un tremendo acto de repudio for pointing out, in a way many found disrespectful, that the Cuban American community is selective in its outrage.

Her case in point: While the community leads boycotts against smaller targets, there seems to be no organized effort to block a French company, Bouygues, from carrying out a huge Miami tunnel project on which it submitted the winning bid, even though Bouygues has built hotels in Cuba.

Bouygues, it turns out, is represented by Washington attorney Ignacio “Iggy” Sanchez, who is a founder and director of the pre-eminent hard-line organization, the Cuban Liberty Council. He says a Bouygues affiliate may have built hotels in Cuba, but the unit that will build the Miami tunnel has not done so. Sanchez is described in press reports as someone instrumental in the writing of Helms-Burton – as is his legal adversary in this case, Miami attorney Nick Gutierrez.

The Cuban Liberty Council requested Sanchez’ resignation and yesterday he tendered it, Rui Ferreira reports. His elegant letter of resignation reaches back to 1770 and quotes John Adams (“The law no passion can disturb.”)

Bouygues is not the first target of U.S. sanctions that Sanchez has represented; last year, when Treasury jumped all over Sheraton for renting rooms in its Mexico City hotel to Cuban officials attending an energy conference, Sanchez appeared in Capitol Hill offices representing Sheraton.

Menendez’ latest column is here.

Room for rent, Havana 2004

A 2005 Cuban study of the tourism industry noted that there are 5,000 to 6,000 rooms for rent in private homes, as compared to the island's 41,000 room hotel capacity. This home, at Linea and Malecon, is one of many Havana rentals. Room rental is a challenging business, but it's lucrative once one establishes a client base, which is done through Internet advertising, word of mouth, and cooperation among entrepreneurs who refer clients to each other. It also generates ancillary jobs -- maids, cooks, night watchmen, laundry service -- that pay hard currency.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


The Miami Herald notes that Cuba has returned two fugitives to the United States and said it will not provide safe haven to any more fugitives. Raul Castro offers to negotiate differences – might that mean that Cuba could be persuaded to return American fugitives? – but Washington isn’t interested in exploring what the offer means, isn’t interested in expanding contacts of any kind, and is not interested in negotiating anything until Cuba is a democracy. If cop-killer Joanne Chesimard was worried before, she probably rests easier now. Wouldn’t it be nice if the U.S. government were doing something to make her uneasy?

Scolding Spain

As Spanish officials began human rights discussions with Cuban counterparts, Secretary of State Rice, en route to Europe, takes a shot at Spain. After deigning to acknowledge that Spain has democratic values and represents them in Cuba, she questions how those values are “advanced by simply dealing with the current regime.” With that statement, Rice is criticizing Foreign Minister Moratinos for not visiting dissidents during his last trip to Cuba (he had an aide see them instead).

Rice has never gone to Cuba to visit dissidents or anyone else, but never mind.

It is incorrect that Spain is “simply dealing” with Cuban officials. Its embassy may be the most plugged-in in Havana. Unlike their American colleagues, Spain’s diplomats travel outside Havana and their contacts range throughout Cuban society. They know the human rights situation and the Cubans who defend human rights. Maybe Secretary Rice will hear about some of that after she delivers her message that “the Cubans deserve better.”

Rice, it turns out, doesn’t sound very bullish on the dissident movement; it’s a “very nascent and fragile democratic opposition that is beginning to arise,” she says.

Ciego de Avila, 2005

Let's all trash the media

No one announced that last week was to be Attack the Media Week, but it sure seemed that way.

On May 21, Cuban culture minister Abel Prieto spoke at a Caracas forum, “The citizen’s right to inform and be informed,” sponsored by Telesur, the Venezuelan government’s international television network. He noted, according to a Cuban news report from the scene, that the major news media “exclude the authentic popular cultures of the Latin American peoples” and only serve “the ideological interests of the hegemonic apparatus.” Hmmm.

The minister then trekked to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where he spoke at the “Fifth Encounter of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity,” where it was decided that a committee should be formed, AP reported, to “observe media conduct” with the mission of “morally sanctioning journalists who disinform the people.” Prieto mused about “jailing a media owner, with pleasure we would put him in jail for life, for lying, for confusing the people.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales, upon receiving the intellectuals’ and artists’ conclusions, noted that the “first adversary that my presidency, my government has, is certain communications media.” We’ll make a note of that, Evo.

Later, back in Caracas, the government terminated the license of RCTV television, forced it off the air Sunday night, seized its equipment, and began broadcasts of Venezuelan Social Television, TVES. Officials criticized the content of a remaining independent news station and CNN.

Then on Saturday in Havana, an article by Maria Julia Mayoral in Granma accused foreign media accredited in Cuba of “manipulation” and linked the media with the U.S. government’s “lies and disinformation” about Cuba. The major media, “including wire services, have for more than four decades participated, by action and inaction, in the media war.”

Mayoral nods to the independence of the international media: “One cannot…ask that any foreign news agency follow the standards of the Cuban revolutionary press, but the marked differences are not coincidental.” She then complains that coverage of “Los Cinco,” the convicted Cuban agents in U.S. federal prison, is sparse and unsympathetic. Coverage of the Luis Posada Carriles case, she writes, lacks detail about Posada’s checkered past. Coverage of Cuban dissidents, she believes, is excessive.

Havana-based correspondents have written about “Los Cinco” and Cuba’s energetic campaign to secure their release. But they have not covered every phase of that campaign, probably because of a judgment that a government campaign, in Havana or anywhere else, is not in itself news.

Regarding Posada, it seems Mayoral has never done a Google news search. Posada’s coverage has not been flattering.

And regarding the dissidents, foreign media have reported Cuba’s accusation that the dissidents are paid agents of the United States. They also report the dissidents’ opinions and their disagreements. In Miami, there are those who lambaste the Havana-based correspondents because, in their long-distance news judgment, the dissidents are a pre-eminent factor in Cuban politics and deserve far more coverage than they get.

Cuban officials know that real reporters don’t participate in campaigns, and they don’t take dictation. I can only assume that this article is directed to the Cuban domestic audience, and to the correspondents themselves, maybe as a shot across the bow.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Weekend concert

I don't know what the occasion was, or the orchestra, but I came across this concert on the sidewalk of the Hotel Inglaterra one afternoon in December 2005. I'm tired of information and argument, so until Tuesday, just music. If someone recognizes the orchestra, please fill us in.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Odds and ends

  • In Mexico, EFE reports on a meeting of U.S. and Cuban hurricane experts.

  • At Florida International University, the Sun Sentinel reports on a satellite-photo database of properties in Cuba, with a mechanism for registration of claims for future settlement.

  • Cuba’s food buyers may make commitments to import $100-$150 million in U.S. agricultural products at a meeting that begins next week in Havana, AP reports. A North Dakota delegation is already there, an Alabama group arrives today.

Posada debate broadens

The Luis Posada Carriles case, debated earlier this week at the UN, continues to move from U.S. courts and political debate into the diplomatic arena.

The OAS was not able to reach a consensus on a Venezuelan resolution criticizing U.S. handling of the case, but Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said that “all crimes should be tried, including this one, hopefully in the country where they were committed or in the country whose citizens were involved.”

In Paraguay, the Mercosur countries noted that Posada is “implicated in the downing of a Cubana de Aviacion airliner in 1976” and called on the United States to “adopt measures that will permit his due trial.”

And in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon told AFP that Posada remains under a deportation order, the U.S. government is “still examining Venezuela’s extradition request,” and the United States is “acting in good faith, recognizing our laws and obligations under international laws.”

The Venezuelan request to which Shannon refers was made in June 2005.

Farmers market, Ciego de Avila, 2005

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Nobody likes to be lectured in the public arena"

It’s for the Europeans to decide, but it has never made sense to me that the countries of the European Union, with their diversity of experience, connections to Cuba, and views about Cuba, would strait-jacket themselves into a “common position,” a single diplomatic posture toward Cuba. The current direction – with Spain deepening its connections and dialogue while others take their own route – seems beneficial to me.

And three cheers for Spain for defending their position, first in its foreign minister’s visit to Prague, the center of the U.S.-supported effort to return to the 2003 diplomatic sanctions, and now in a foreign ministry official’s visit to Washington. The Spanish have some concrete ideas to propose in their human rights dialogue with Cuba, the Herald reports, including visits by the Red Cross and human rights monitors.

And a Spanish socialist in the European parliament points out in an interview that “we don’t want Spain to be out of the game in the post-Castro era, without knowledge or presence in Cuba.”

Spain’s position is hardly radical. Its logic is embraced by President Bush when it comes to China. Consider this excerpt from a Bush speech in January of 2006, showing his sensitive side when it comes to the feelings of the communists in Beijing, with whom he discusses human rights and democratic values:

“One thing that matters to me is the freedom of the Chinese people. I think any time in the diplomatic arena, you want the President to be in a position where he can have a relationship where you can speak with candor and your words can be heard, as opposed to a relationship that gets so tense and so off-putting because of distrust. Nobody likes to be lectured in the public arena, let me put it to you that way. I don't like it, and I'm sure other leaders don't like it. And so I've worked hard to make sure that my personal diplomacy is such that I'm able to make certain points with the Chinese…”

Sugar bust

Cuba declared its 2007 sugar havest finished. Like last year, no figures were released but a Reuters report estimates no more than 1.2 million tons, well short of targets. Officials blame weather and organizational problems.

In years past, such a report would signal a crisis for Cuba’s economy as a whole. Now, with Cuba drawing on other sources of foreign exchange, sugar’s role is second-tier at most, and the economy is growing even with sugar in decline.

But there are opportunities to revive a profitable sugar industry. They stem from higher sugar prices, high oil prices, and high ethanol demand. Combined with Cuba’s natural advantages, experience, and workforce, an infusion of capital – either Cuban or foreign, through joint ventures – could modernize production and milling, and build ethanol production capacity. With lower production costs, Cuba would be well positioned to sell sugar and ethanol, adjusting the product mix depending on year-to-year market conditions. That would be welcome news for laid-off sugar workers, and a lift for the rural economy and national foreign exchange earnings.

They key is capital. I have seen no sign that Cuba is willing to invest its own working capital in a revival of the sugar industry. That’s why the recent statements backtracking from Fidel Castro’s complete rejection of sugar-based ethanol production are important. We’ll see if they are followed by revival of the talks with Brazilian investors.

A 2003 report on the downsizing of Cuba’s sugar sector is here (pdf).

An item on Cuba and ethanol from The Fueling Station, the St. Petersburg Times’ blog on alternative energy sources, is here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Extradite Posada?

A Reuters report on a UN discussion of the Luis Posada Carriles case, initiated by Cuba and Venezuela, contains this nugget:

“U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad … said the immigration judge who originally considered Posada Carriles's case had barred his deportation to Cuba or Venezuela. But he said Washington would be prepared to send him to another country with terrorism-related charges against him.”

Italy, perhaps?

Odds and ends

  • Who’s in charge? Reuters surveys the scene where Fidel Castro has been out of public view for nearly ten months, but asserting his presence in writing – eight articles and 16,000 words, by the news agency’s count.

  • Revolting: An Iberia airlines ad for travel to Cuba, now withdrawn. The Herald story includes the YouTube link. A Spanish consumer group protested, and the ad also spurred on Miami bloggers who were already bashing Spain for “over 500 years” of exploitation in Cuba.

The Sierra Maestra's foothills, south of Bayamo

Ethanol confusion

Maybe I haven’t followed the discussion closely enough, but Cuba’s policy on ethanol development is a little unclear to me. A year ago Cuba took a big political step in seeking foreign investment in sugar production and milling, so as to take advantage of higher sugar prices and to capitalize, with additional foreign investment, on the ethanol opportunity.

Fidel Castro then quashed the whole idea in his written commentaries, and his reasoning reached all the way back to exploitation of sugar workers in Brazil.

Now minister of basic industries Yadira Garcia, says, according to EFE, that her country supports ethanol production as long as it does not imply denying food to the poor or reassigning lands that produce vegetables for human consumption. Which means, given Cuba’s land use patterns and the enormous surplus of sugar lands, full speed ahead in Cuba.

Did I miss something, or did we all miss the behind-the scenes debates that twice reversed Cuba’s ethanol policy?

Here, from AP in English, a little more light on the issue.


Fidel Castro is cranking his articles out, another one today on energy policy, a tight 744 words – is someone telling him he has to live with Granma’s space limitations? At any rate, I’m done highlighting these. Here’s the link, check in every day if you like.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Polos Opuestos -- Indispuesto? (Updated -- muy dispuesto)

Rumors – nothing more than rumors – in Miami have it that Maria Elvira Salazar’s debate program Polos Opuestos on the local MegaTV channel is mulling what to do with the program it taped last Friday with Frank Calzon and Joe Garcia, where the debate overheated a bit. And that there are serious pressures to spike the program.

The first thing to say is that this has nothing to do with censorship.

Salazar and MegaTV are free to tape programs and throw them away, and it ain’t nobody’s business if they do.

But if this major Miami media institution spikes a program that happens to run against the grain of one established point of view, and at the same time pretends to run a standard debate program – one that hammers nightly on the one-party, one-ideology, one-linea defects of Cuba – then it can’t be surprised if the rest of the country looks on with irony.

Prove us wrong, Maria Elvira. Run the tape.

(Update: Rui Ferreira is reporting that the program runs tonight, 8pm on Miami's MegaTV.)

Parque Cespedes, Bayamo

Odds and ends

  • In a crisp 709 words, Fidel Castro’s latest column takes a swipe at the Royal Navy, comparing the cost of its three new attack submarines with the medical education, care, and facilities that the same money would buy. On the Granma webpage, the “Reflections of the Commander in Chief” are featured in Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Arabic, and Russian.

  • “Our positions are much closer than they might appear at first glance,” said the Czech foreign minister in Prague as he stood next to his Spanish counterpart. “We share the same objectives,” said the Spaniard. Oops.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Air the debate

The word in Miami is that a taping of the nightly debate program Polos Opuestos turned unusually hot last Friday.

Miami-Dade Democratic party chairman Joe Garcia and Frank Calzon, the veteran human rights advocate and director of the Center for a Free Cuba, were the guests. Calzon’s staff promoted the appearance in a Friday afternoon release e-mailed to reporters and others. According to Rui Ferreira – who has few details, but a few more than anyone else – Garcia asked Calzon what percentage of his organization’s federal funding reaches people in Cuba, whereupon Calzon, “defamed,” removed his microphone from his lapel and himself from the set, only to return after seeing that Garcia didn’t budge from his seat.

Rui calls on the producers to air the program. I’m with Rui. Advertise it, milk it to Oscar Haza’s discontent, weather the complaints – but air it.

"Cuban spies are lurking"

Scott Carmichael, the self-deprecating Defense Intelligence Agency official who investigated Cuban spy Ana Montes, wrote in his book that he looks like Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live.

Actually, the more he continues his book tour, the more he resembles not an actor, but a prop in a show – I would say a right-wing show, but that would give conservatism and political philosophy in general a bad name.

Carmichael, fresh from appearances in Miami, spoke at the American Enterprise Institute last week.

I’m sorry I missed him, but his appearance was covered by, which is sort of a wire service with attitude.

Newsmax called him DIA’s “top counter-spy,” which is a considerable promotion – Carmichael is a veteran investigator, not the director of the agency. Carmichael said, “I believe” that other Cuban spies are operating in the U.S. government, which Newsmax translated as “more Cuban spies are lurking inside the U.S. government.” You get the idea.

According to Newsmax, Carmichael said that Montes, DIA’s top Cuba analyst, was “on a first name basis” with Fulton Armstrong, the intelligence community’s top Latin America analyst. (Amazing, isn’t it?) They “continued to confide by phone even as Carmichael and his investigative team were closing the noose around Ana Montes,” Newsmax says.

Joe McCarthy, call your office.

This is a clumsy innuendo that looks ridiculous to readers of Carmichael’s book. Nothing was more important to Carmichael, he wrote in detail, than to create a “bubble” around the investigation so that neither she nor her colleagues would know an investigation was under way. As a result, her colleagues at DIA and other agencies continued to “confide” in Montes until the moment of her arrest in an atmosphere of complete normalcy.

Also appearing was Paul Crespo, a Miami media personality. He said that the U.S. government contains a “huge infrastructure of Castro sympathizers…Castro agents of influence have infiltrated the U.S. Army War College, the Navy War College,” not to mention Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In Miami, they have “penetrated the Miami Herald” and other media, Crespo added.

Brave statements, no names provided.

Norman Bailey, who was dismissed after serving three months as the intelligence community’s Cuba-Venezuela “mission manager,” also appeared. He wondered, according to Newsmax, why none of Montes’ analytical work has been disavowed by the government.

Maybe, in the case of bioweapons allegations, it’s because the intelligence community – post-Ana Montes – re-examined its files on weapons of mass destruction programs worldwide and downgraded its assessment of Cuba’s activities.

Newsmax breaks new ground in reporting that Bailey:

“…was summarily fired without explanation in March 2007 by the incoming Director of National Intelligence, Gen. Mike McConnell, after asking too many questions about Cuba and the continued use of the National Intelligence Estimates that Ana Montes had authored before her arrest. ‘FBI counter-intelligence is entirely convinced there are several other high-level Cuban agents, not just in the intelligence community, but in the policy community,’ Bailey said.”

Newsmax also reports:

“Montes also played a decisive role in suppressing intelligence obtained from Cuban sources in 1994 that led other analysts to conclude that Castro was developing biological weapons. ‘Ana objected so strongly to the draft that she actually spiked it. That's the kind of power she had,’ Carmichael said.”

That assertion is not in Carmichael’s book, and it can only be drawn from the intelligence community’s assessment of the damage Montes caused during her long spy career.

As Carmichael continues to promote his book, maybe it’s time for the the U.S. government to declassify as much of this assessment as possible, so everyone in this debate can separate fact from his commercial efforts and the political theater in which he is playing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Capitanes Generales, again

Here’s another view of the Palacio del los Capitanes Generales, a beautiful and majestic building that is at the center of Havana’s colonial sector and at the center of Cuba’s colonial history. It was completed in 1791 and housed 65 Spanish colonial governors, four chiefs of U.S. occupation forces, three presidents of Cuba, 170 mayors of Havana, and the offices of the city's first official historian, Emilio Roig de Leuchensring. It was the first project in a huge restoration effort that Roig's successor, Eusebio Leal, continues today (a 2001 report on Havana’s restoration [pdf] is here). The Palacio now houses the Museum of the City of Havana.

The travel ban in action

The U.S. Treasury Department has backed down on a threat to levy a $34,000 fine against the Alliance of Baptists, reportedly because its investigation showed that member churches in Alabama, Washington, D.C., Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee did not engage in “forbidden economic activity” while in Cuba for religious fellowship missions.

Well, that’s a relief.

But Treasury, the report said, reminded the Alliance that it no longer has a license to sponsor travel to Cuba, and that the Administration’s new policy is no longer to grant licenses to regional or national religious organizations that would allow its member congregations to travel to Cuba.

According to Americans who support religious travel to Cuba, the Administration is scrutinizing religious travel more closely by licensing trips individually, and is tilting against contacts with churches that are members of the Cuban Council of Churches, which the Administration views as pro-government. Members of the Council are registered with the government in order to have legal status, which allows them to acquire property, build churches, and carry out other functions. Cuba’s Catholic church has never registered.

When President Bush himself visited Beijing in 2005, he worshiped in a church that is registered with the Chinese government and is part of what local communist officials view as a “patriotic” organization of congregations. “The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church,” President Bush told the pastor after the service.

The travel ban and the U.S. government’s scrutiny over the itineraries and spending of those Americans who are licensed to travel to Cuba, are part of the Administration’s policy to bring “an end to the Cuban dictatorship.”

Who is isolating whom?

Sunday’s Miami Herald provides a good roundup of Cuba’s foreign relations in the ten months since Fidel Castro left public view.

For the United States and its goal of isolating Cuba diplomatically, the picture is not much different than it was during the 47 years during which Fidel Castro was in public view: Washington is isolated while others engage. Only now, the difference is that other countries, including our closest allies, are engaging with the purpose of gaining influence among Castro’s successors.

If this were any country but Cuba, President Bush – who backed Vietnam’s accession to the WTO, visited Hanoi, and promotes close relations between the Pentagon and the Chinese military – would be right at their side.

Odds and ends

  • The Cuban American National Foundation again says that it has contacts with top military and civilian leaders in Cuba; this time, in Diario las Americas.

  • In a May 20 statement, President Bush sends best wishes – and that’s about it – to the Cuban people.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Havana, Palacio de los Capitanes Generales

Odds and ends

  • Fidel Castro’s latest article, this time on free trade agreements, in which he summarizes presentations at a recent Havana conference.

New pay policy in the works

If you look for clues about economic policy in Cuba, you tend to find a lot more about the problems they are trying to tackle than the solutions they have in mind. Last month’s speech by Carlos Lage is one example.

A just-published interview with labor minister Alfredo Morales is another.

Morales discusses Cuba’s new labor regulations, part of a process of “restoration of order and discipline” in the workplace. The goal is to improve productivity and quality, and to attack the problem of pilferage, where state enterprise workers lift items from work to sell on the black market.

Discipline and cost control are two keys to improving productivity and quality, he says.

He also adds another ingredient: compensation.

All state enterprises, Morales says, are now reviewing their systems of incentive pay – sliding pay scales that reward productivity. Incentive pay is not new; it exists in joint ventures, in state enterprises that have hard currency earnings, and in many that have only Cuban peso revenues. It is a key requirement of the “perfeccionamiento empresarial” reform process (pdf report on this topic here) that began in the military enterprises in the 1980’s and, with Raul Castro’s impetus, spread to the civilian sector in the 1990’s.

Morales sets the bar high. The goal of the new salary policy will be not only to tie pay to output, but to “guarantee” that workers “may live from their work,” i.e. that they will earn enough to take care of their needs and no longer have reason to resort to the black market.

That will require a lot of money. How much will earnings increase? When will a new salary structure take effect? Will Cuba create a single currency, or try to solve this problem in the current context of a dual-currency economy?

Morales says the review of salary policy will continue until June. Apart from that, we all have to wait for the rest of the answers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One for the techies

An anonymous blogger in Cuba, who goes by the name Karamchand and makes interesting comments here occasionally, has a question about Google and the Internet in Cuba. If you read Spanish and understand these things, you might take a look and leave an answer in his comment space.

Why, he wants to know, if he created his blog on or, does he see that he’s on the domain every time he logs off?

His concern, as you might guess, is privacy.

Who ever said diplomats don't sacrifice?

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Ambassador Rafael Dausa, on duty in Bolivia.


The United States limits contacts with Cuban government officials as part of its policy of isolating Cuba diplomatically. But lack of contact can translate into lack of information, so every now and then someone suggests an adjustment.

U.S. diplomats in Cuba have been confined to Havana ever since 2001 when the Bush Administration, citing the threat of Cuban intelligence activities, ordered that Cuban diplomats could travel outside the Washington metropolitan area only with prior State Department approval.

The Administration has been happy to keep things this way. So our diplomats in Cuba stay in Havana, and they ask others about conditions in the rest of the country.

Another policy, dating at least to the Clinton Administration, bars U.S. military attaches posted in our embassies overseas from having conversations with Cuban military attaches, even if they only meet at a cocktail party.

Part of military attaches’ function – ours and everyone else’s – is to gather intelligence. The Pentagon, according to this report from Pablo Bachelet in McClatchy newspapers’ Washington bureau, asked that its attaches be permitted to have contact with their Cuban counterparts. The State Department denied the request.

One can argue that Cuba is in an important period of its history, the military is a key institution, and it would be good for the United States to develop relationships – now and over time – with the mid-level Cuban military officers who serve in Cuba’s embassies overseas. I suppose the counterarguments are that personal relationships don’t generate information over time, or that we already know what we need to know, or that U.S. military officers are weak and susceptible to Cuban tricks.

The news about this proposal comes from the former head of the CIA’s special office to coordinate collection and analysis of intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela. He was dismissed after three months, and says his former office has effectively been disbanded.

Tampa Tribune in Havana

With this, I may never post another photo again.

Plus, reporting from Karen Branch-Brioso’s trip earlier this month – Mayday coverage, how entrepreneurs manage, and more. And this link, provided by photographer Chris Urso, to an audio slideshow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Odd and ends (updated)

  • Cuba’s population is declining, and getting older.

  • In today’s Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, terrific stories, based in part on unauthorized reporting from Cuba, on what it takes to make ends meet.

  • Former Senator Fred Thompson, beefing up his credentials for a presidential run, jumped right on the Michael Moore publicity wagon. Moore fired back, inconveniently quoting a conservative magazine’s profile of Thompson, whose office clutter includes “box upon box of cigars – Montecristos from Havana.” Now if Treasury would only go after Thompson… [Penultimos Dias has the video of Thompson's response, with cigar.]


Havana province, 2005.

Chairman Joe speaks

How do generational change and the changes in Cuban American opinion translate into Miami-Dade politics?

One answer is: Slowly. A second answer is found in the person of Joe Garcia, new chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic party.

Interviewed in CubaEncuentro (Spanish), Garcia shows a (partially) new way of handling the Cuba issue, and a new language for treating it.

Garcia claims Democratic credit for legislation such as the Cuban Adjustment Act that make Cubans “privileged immigrants.” He twists himself like a pretzel to blame Republicans for, yes, the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Republicans today, says the chairman, are all talk and no action, and “in the absence of action, rhetoric works.”

What to do about current policy?

He would leave the embargo as is – a position that won’t scare hardliners away. He would allow unlimited family travel and remittances, however, exploiting a cleavage in the community and showing Garcia’s judgment that the Administration and the local GOP congressisonal delegation are on the wrong side of it.

President Bush’s 2004 family sanctions, he says, are “possibly the biggest mistake Washington has committed with respect to Cuba…it imitates the policies of Fidel Castro in the sense that it divides the Cuban family.” He dresses up his position with the claim that Cuban Americans are the only people in the world who do any good when they visit Cuba. Well, politics is politics.

Garcia takes shots at the older generation:

“They shout: ‘I’m intransigent, and so what?’ The problem is that when an American, a Chilean, a Frenchman, or a Mexican hears that, he concludes that he is standing in front of a crazy person. That is not the image that a mature society that wants to make known the suffering of the Cuban people, should transmit. Fidel Castro is the intransigent one.”

Garcia ducks when asked what he thinks of Luis Posada Carriles’ release from jail, saying it is “absurd” to speak for or against him. But he ducks with purpose. He turns directly to a politically delicate issue, i.e. the way Cubans will one day come to terms with the Posada case and all the rest of their past:

“When the Cuban nation finds a serious path forward, we are all going to have to sit around a table and determine what were the errors, what were the realities. If we decide that the most important thing for Cuba is to make justice instead of making a future, we are not going to have a future and we are not going to have justice.”

When a serious political figure goes out of his way to insert the clean-slate concept of Cuban national reconciliation into an interview, you know that Miami politics is changing.

A fine Republican politician I know used to get the attention of African American audiences by saying that while it’s true that blacks were ignored by the GOP, they were taken for granted by the Democrats – and they deserved better from both.

For Cuban Americans, the reverse has been true. It can only be healthy that the Democrats, with verve, are competing now in Miami-Dade.

On this same topic, read Armengol's comment here. And extreme irritation at Babalu.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

New tourism investment planned (updated)

Cuba’s tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz says $320 million is available to invest in rehabilitation of hotels, construction of new hotels and resorts, and construction of golf courses, marinas, and theme parks. Part of the investment plan includes creation of new joint ventures with foreign investors, a new twist.

This article doesn’t say where he made this announcement, but came in the context of the week-long promotion that Cuba just concluded with foreign tour operators.

We’ll see where this goes; in Cuba there’s a big difference between announcement and execution of investment projects.

The minister is putting money behind priorities that his ministry has held for years. They are based on a recognition that long-term growth – especially into higher-end market segments – depends on diversifying Cuba’s tourism product through golf course construction and other projects. One element that strikes me as new is the emphasis on “revitalization” and “reconstruction” of hotels – an area where visitors note uneven investment.

If this plan is carried out, it’s one more sign that unlike five years ago, Cuba has working capital at its disposal.

[Update: More efforts to boost tourism reported on the Caribepreferente website: reduced airport services fees, landing fees, and aviation fuel prices, a promise of less red tape in Customs, highway repairs and installation of lots of highway signs.]

Malecon, 2004

Odds and ends

  • Francine Robles provides an English translation on her blog of a note from Miriam Leiva describing the Mother’s Day activities of Las Damas de Blanco.

“The New Jersey investigation is in the final stage and could bring charges of financing actions that violate the Neutrality Act, according to sources linked to the case.”

  • Fidel Castro’s latest “reflection,” in large part his own summarization of presentations at a recent Havana conference, is another reminder of Cuba’s 180-degree turn on ethanol. One year ago, Cuba’s position was that it was seeking foreign investors to modernize sugar production and to build ethanol production capacity. No more.

OAS/Cuba dialogue?

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, in Rome, repeats his view on Cuba: he seeks to open a dialogue between Cuba and the OAS; it is “absurd” that there is no dialogue considering that 33 of the organization’s states “have normal relations with Cuba and only one does not;” to restore its membership, Cuba will need to sign the OAS democratic charter; and “transition in Cuba at some moment is going to exist, necessarily.”

English here.

There's no word in this article, or in Insulza's other statements, as to when, where, or how this dialogue is to occur.

$50,000 nickel

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Cuba has the world’s third-largest nickel reserves.

Cuba produces about 75,000 tons of nickel per year.

In 2002, the average price of nickel was 2.70 per pound, or $5,400 per ton. Earlier this month (May 4), nickel traded at a record $51,625 per ton, and in recent days has traded around $49,000.

That’s a five-year price increase of more than 800 percent.

With prices in this range and with Cuba producing at current levels, Cuba can expect annual nickel revenues to be more than $3 billion higher than five years ago. Even accounting for production costs, that means a substantial increase in profits translating into Cuban government revenues.

What does this mean?

First, much is made of Cuba’s claim of double-digit gdp growth, which is calculated in a unique way. (Cuba’s gdp figures now include the value of free and subsidized services, such as health care, as if they were provided in a market economy and transacted at market prices.) But the CIA estimates that Cuba’s economy grew 7.5 percent in 2006 – and if one takes into account nickel revenues, energy developments, and aid, trade, and credits from Venezuela and China, one can see how 7.5 percent can be a realistic estimate.

Second, it puts U.S. sanctions into perspective. Certainly the U.S. embargo has an impact on Cuba, and Cuba pays close attention to the United States. But notwithstanding Cuba’s railing against the embargo, the United States is not at the center of Cuba’s worldview. Cuba is engaged with the rest of the world, active in world markets for commodities such as nickel and services such as tourism, and is finding ways to advance regardless of U.S. sanctions. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of this substance amid Cuba’s constant trumpeting of seemingly insignificant visits of foreign officials.

Third, it puts the Administration’s “transition” policy into perspective. The tightening of U.S. sanctions in 2004 was sold as part of a policy, combined with beefed-up broadcasts and aid to dissidents, that would “hasten” political change in Cuba. A frequent fallback argument is that the sanctions at least deny Cuba resources for its police and intelligence budgets. A 2004 Administration estimate held that the tightened sanctions deny Cuba $500 million per year, which would be one sixth of the increment in gross nickel revenues alone. Hence the Bush sanctions are trimming a little from Cuba’s growth rate, nothing more.

The idea that U.S. sanctions are pinching the budget of Cuba’s interior ministry, much less forcing political change, is laughable in the current economic context.

Embargo proponents are naturally irritated at those who oppose a policy they view as set in stone. I sometimes wonder why they don’t focus their irritation at the Bush Administration for insulting their intelligence, especially in presidential election years.