Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talks in Havana

Apart from the talks on resuming postal service, a State Department official talked with Cuban officials about other matters including migration, and with opposition figures – an orientation visit that would have been routine before the Bush Administration. Coverage from AFP here, Washington Post here, El Nuevo Herald here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sanctions can feel great...

…unless they are being imposed on you. Here’s Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iranian opposition leader, via AFP:

“We are against any sanctions against our nation. [They] will impose agonies on a nation who suffers enough from miserable statesmen.”

H/t: Andrew Sullivan.

Economic news

  • On Thursday October 1, the Cuban government will close workers’ cafeterias in four ministries and pay workers 15 pesos daily to buy their lunch. Granma explains that it costs $350 million per year to provide free lunches at 24,700 workplace cafeterias and the measure is being taken to achieve “economic rationality,” but it doesn’t estimate how much money will be saved. It notes that some ministries have large food inventories, and food from these stocks often ends up in the black market. The article explains that this initial action is “experimental,” and will later be extended throughout the country. The article, titled “Giving, more than taking away,” takes pains to assure readers that the action will be taken gradually and that ministries and enterprises cannot close cafeterias on their own; this can only be done when the Ministry of Economy says so. In the case of these four closings, it notes that various nearby state enterprises will be able to provide lunch and is silent on whether private entrepreneurs will play any role. AFP says this is likely to be “the biggest rollback of an entitlement since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.”

  • Comandante de la Revolucion and government minister Ramiro Valdes says Cubans need “to participate in the solution of their own problems and not wait for the daddy-state [papá Estado] to come solve them…Here everyone needs to work, everyone needs to contribute, everyone also needs to bring solutions, ideas.” Ok, but will the state allow people solve their own problems? Valdes made the remarks on a tour of Santiago. El Nuevo Herald story here.

  • Reuters: A Chinese company is entering a joint venture in Cuba to build the “Hemingway Hotel” at the marina in western Havana.

  • Granma airs some dirty laundry: Some state enterprises are not paying farmers for the produce they have delivered, even though they have the budget to do so. At the end of August, 2 million pesos were owed to farmers. “It is an immorality to make the producer think that the state does not have the will to pay him,” the article says. It goes on to list the municipalities where the problem exists, and suggests pretty clearly that heads will roll. Raul Castro’s first move in agriculture was to settle the state’s debts to farmers. AP story here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Odds and ends

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies publishes “Cuba Outlook: Raúl and Beyond,” a report (pdf) that reviews Cuba’s economic and political situation, its foreign policy, and other matters, and concludes that Cuba is in a “holding pattern” and “prospects for change are highly unlikely.” It calls for consideration of closer government-to-government ties and relaxation of travel restrictions on Americans.

  • Cuba’s foreign minister, at the UN, states Cuba’s position on relations with the United States.

  • Columnist Albor Ruiz takes note of some calls from Latin America for the U.S. to end the embargo at last week’s UN General Assembly opening. A General Assembly resolution on the U.S. embargo will be debated next month; the U.S. has been on the losing end of that debate 17 times.

  • The Washington Post goes to the Cuban countryside to see how Raul’s agriculture policies are faring.

The Diz in Cuba

Eight days after, the recriminations continue over the Juanes concert. But one benefit is this photo published by Granma, showing the late Dizzy Gillespie, Fidel Castro, and Arturo Sandoval during one of Dizzy’s visits to Havana. If you’re interested in the recriminations, the Granma article is here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

U.S.-Cuba final in World Cup baseball (Updated)

[Update: The United States won the final, 10-5.]

Here are video highlights without narration of the 5-3 U.S. victory over Cuba Thursday in the World Cup baseball competition in Italy. Cuba beat Canada 5-1 yesterday to advance to the final on Sunday against the United States.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cuban doctors in Venezuela

This paper of mine contains a description of some of the services being provided by Cubans in Venezuela. There’s plenty of debate about the economics of the Cuba-Venezuela partnership and the impact of the deployment of so many doctors abroad on Cuba’s domestic health care system. But it seems pretty clear that these doctors, in Venezuela and elsewhere, are helping people whose access to regular health care services was meager or nonexistent before, and it’s free of charge.

Less clear is where Venezuela’s economy is going now that Hugo Chavez has been in office ten years – the real subject of the paper.

[Photo of a Cuban-staffed clinic in Caracas.]

Odds and ends

  • Author Achy Obejas says the real change spurred by last Sunday’s concert was in Miami. Carlos Saladrigas agrees: “The old policies of hurting the regime with collateral damage to the people need to give way to policies that help the people even when they may provide a collateral benefit to the regime.”

  • AP sums up the story of the concert that almost didn’t take place. Juanes complained that his driver turned out to be the same guy that served him breakfast, and was watching him as if he were a security agent (!). And he and others complained that the section closest to the stage was being reserved for a government-supplied crowd. Rui Ferreira has video of a scene in a hallway of the Hotel Nacional. Penultimos Dias notes Granma’s response: it was a big misunderstanding, the guy is a sommelier.

  • Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon is invited to a U.S. Congressional event and is denied a U.S. visa.

  • The United States beat Cuba 5-3 in World Cup baseball competition yesterday in Italy, and now heads to the Sunday final. Cuba has to beat Canada (in Florence, 7:00 p.m. local time tonight) to get into the final for a rematch with the Americans.

  • The Herald reports on the torture suffered by the Cuban migrants in Mexico who were rescued by Mexican police. The mistreatment was apparently perpetrated by smugglers from both Mexico and Miami. Earlier story here.

  • If U.S.-Cuba postal service is resumed, it will mean the resumption of service that began as early as 1767, a Spanish researcher reports.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama's new rules on gift parcels to Cuba

I just plowed through the Commerce Department’s announcement of new regulations governing the gift packages that Americans can send to Cuba. The new rules took effect September 3, and they are a significant liberalization.

Commerce is involved because it regulates exports, and gift parcels are considered exports. The announcement is a counterpart to this month’s Treasury regulations that end restrictions on Cuban American family visits and remittances. Both actions follow from the President’s April 13 announcement.

The new Commerce Department regulations are here, and a short Q&A is here.

The regulations make significant openings by expanding the range of items that can be sent, by increasing the allowed value of package contents, by increasing the frequency with which packages can be sent, by expanding the universe of recipients in Cuba, and by allowing all Americans, not just those with immediate relatives in Cuba, to send gift packages. Pretty good.

Here’s what the regulations do.

The regulations move away from the Bush approach of listing items that can be sent in gift parcels (food, medicine, medical supplies, radios, batteries, cell phones) and prohibiting anything not on the list.

The Obama regulations keep that list and add a few items to it: “clothing, personal hygiene items, seeds, veterinary medicines and supplies, fishing equipment and supplies, soap-making equipment.” But they then add a catch-all category: “non-sensitive items normally sent as gifts between individuals.”

With that phrase, the Administration pretty much gets out of the business of regulating every single decision someone might make when sending a gift to someone in Cuba.

Under the new regulations, any American can send a gift parcel to an individual in Cuba who is not a high-ranking government or party official, or to a “charitable, educational, or religious organization in Cuba that is not administered or controlled by the Cuban government.” Previously, only Americans with immediate relatives in Cuba could send gift parcels – which meant Cuban Americans and a tiny number of others, such as families with kids studying in Cuba.

It remains the case that only one gift parcel may be sent per month. But instead of one per month to a Cuban household, the new rules allow one parcel per month to an individual in Cuba – which in most cases will mean several parcels per household. The limit on the value of a parcel’s contents has been raised from $400 to $800, and there is no limit on the value or frequency of parcels containing food.

The regulations then create a separate category of items that may be sent as gifts to people and organizations in Cuba: “commodities and software…related to basic personal communications devices that are widely available for retail purchase in the United States.” This includes:

“Mobile phones, including cellular and satellite telephones; subscriber information module (SIM) cards; personal digital assistants; laptop and desktop computers and peripherals such as monitors, graphics accelerator cards, data storage devices and media such as disk drives, flash drives, writable compact disks and floppy disks, keyboards, mice, and printers including commodities possessing IEEE 802.15.1 ‘Bluetooth’ wireless personal area networking (WPAN) capability; Internet connectivity devices including those possessing IEEE 802.11 ‘Wi-Fi’ and IEEE 802.16 ‘WiMax’ wireless capabilities; satellite-based television and radio receivers; digital music and video players and recorders; personal two-way radios; digital cameras and memory cards therefor; and batteries, chargers, carrying cases and similar accessories for the equipment authorized by this rule. This rule also authorizes the export and reexport of basic software for laptop and desktop computers such as: Computer operating systems and software (except ‘encryption source code’) that enable activities such as word processing, producing spread sheets, producing graphics presentations, sending and receiving e-mail, Web browsing or developing relational databases.”

As in the general gift category, these items cannot be sent to high-ranking government or party officials or to organizations controlled by the Cuban government. Unlike the general gift category, there are “no limits on value or frequency of shipments.”

In all the cases described above, senders of gift parcels do not need to get prior permission from the U.S. government.

Finally, the 44-pound limit on baggage carried by travelers to Cuba is eliminated.

There are additional details in the regulations themselves, for example a restriction on devices and software that are on Commerce’s “control list,” such as items containing sophisticated encryption technology. Separately, there’s a section that opens the door to licensing the export of equipment for satellite radio and television, in the unlikely event that Cuba would reach an agreement with U.S. companies to provide those services.

All in all, these regulations are another good, humane move by the Administration. Unlike President Obama’s new policies regarding travel and remittances, this one doesn’t create special privileges for Cuban Americans only. It recognizes that Americans in general might have something positive to contribute. Let’s hope that thinking continues to take hold.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"The Americano"

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich starts The Americano, “an Hispanic news service,” and features a commentary on the Juanes concert that is positive.

Odds and ends

  • Who says blogging isn’t work? Cuban Colada translates Russian newspaper coverage of the visit of General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces here, here, and here. Makarov announced that “Cuban officers will again study at our military colleges and training centers, and Russian defense industry specialists will help Havana modernize its combat arsenal.” Also: “The time has come to aid the friendly nation in its development, especially on the socioeconomic level.”

  • The New York Times: Declassified documents show that Fidel Castro urged the Soviets to consider nuking us, until they explained the concept of blowback to him, and which “changed Castro’s positions considerably.”

  • ESPN: Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman establishes his residency in Andorra, the little landlocked country in the Pyrenees, and will likely soon be a big league free agent.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Juanes, the day after

  • In today’s Herald, Lydia Martin and Jordan Levin round up the concert itself and the reaction in Miami.

  • Yoani Sanchez comments on the concert at the Huffington Post: “It was a rare experience to be there, without shouting slogans and without having to applaud mechanically when the tone of the speech marked that it was the time to cheer…at least this Sunday afternoon we live something different.”

  • Prompted by Univision’s Jorge Ramos to discuss a U.S. role in the event – “Did it get your blessing?” – President Obama played it cool: “I don’t think it’s a matter of us providing blessings…Let me be clear. The U.S. government isn’t a concert promoter…I certainly don’t think it hurts U.S.-Cuban relations, these kinds of cultural exchanges. I wouldn't overstate the degree that it helps…What I’d really like to see is Cuba starting to show that it wants to move away from some of the anti-democratic practices of the past.”

  • At Versailles, the wonderful Calle Ocho bakery and restaurant, Vigilia Mambisa brought a steamroller to smash CD’s and photos of Juanes, AFP reports. Police intervened in a “brief confrontation” between Cuban Americans who supported the concert and those opposed.

  • Also in Miami, Telemundo billed it the “Concert of Discord,” which would be the biggest stretch in this whole saga, were it not for the advent of Gorki Aguila of the band Porno para Ricardo on the Miami media scene. “I have my weak moments,” he told the Herald, “Sometimes I feel like Christ on the cross – ‘why did you abandon me’…But if I don’t do what I’m doing I’d lose much of the sense in my life.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Juanes fills the Plaza

Looked to me like a nice afternoon of music that many thousands of Cubans enjoyed.

As I thought about all the huffing and puffing in Miami, I don’t know why I was reminded of H.L. Mencken’s description of Puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Everybody's talking, everybody's happy

That seems to be the feeling after the talks on re-establishing postal service that took place in Havana yesterday.

From the State Department spokesman:

Question: Can you provide us an update on the direct mail talks in Havana?

Answer: We were pleased with our initial discussions yesterday on the establishment of direct mail service between the United States and Cuba. The United States considers this first round of talks to have been positive. During the course of the one-day meeting, a variety of issues related to the transportation, quality, and security of mail service between our countries were discussed. The Cuban delegation also offered the U.S. delegation an opportunity to tour a Cuban mail processing center and post office, and the U.S. delegation has offered to reciprocate the tour with a visit to an international processing center in the United States. Both sides agreed that, after consultation in their respective capitals on the issues raised, they would meet again. Establishing direct mail service between our two countries supports President Obama’s goals, as announced April 13, of bridging the gap among divided Cuban families and promoting the free flow of information to the Cuban people. We will be reviewing the results of our discussions to determine how best to move forward on this issue.

And a statement from the Cuban delegation:

El 17 de septiembre de 2009, se iniciaron las conversaciones entre representantes de Cuba y los Estados Unidos para normalizar el servicio de correo postal entre ambos países. La delegación cubana estuvo presidida por Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, directora de América del Norte del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y la delegación de los Estados Unidos fue encabezada por Bisa Williams, subsecretaria asistente interina para Asuntos del Hemisferio Occidental del Departamento de Estado.

Durante las conversaciones, Cuba trasladó a la parte norteamericana su evaluación de la situación actual del servicio postal universal entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos y presentó propuestas de solución a las dificultades existentes en esta área. La delegación cubana también abordó los temas que deben tenerse en cuenta para el restablecimiento del correo postal directo entre los dos países, incluyendo la transportación del correo, la seguridad postal y los métodos de pago por ese servicio.

La jefa de la delegación cubana declaró:… “Estamos satisfechos con el desarrollo de esta primera reunión, que permitió examinar los temas que dificultan la normalización del intercambio postal entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos, y valorar un conjunto de propuestas específicas dirigidas a superar estos obstáculos”. Calificó de amplio y útil el intercambio sostenido entre los funcionarios de las administraciones postales de Cuba y los Estados Unidos, dirigido a identificar las áreas en que se deberá trabajar para adoptar acuerdos bilaterales en materia de servicio postal.

En las conversaciones, la delegación cubana enfatizó, en particular, la importancia de eliminar las restricciones discriminatorias derivadas de la política de bloqueo de los Estados Unidos hacia Cuba, que permitan el restablecimiento del servicio de correo postal directo entre los dos países, sobre la base de los principios y normas establecidos por la Unión Postal Universal de la cual ambos Estados son miembros.

Ambas delegaciones coincidieron en la necesidad de dar continuidad a las conversaciones en los próximos meses.

La delegación cubana estuvo integrada además por Silvia Munárriz Mon, viceministra de la Informática y las Comunicaciones; y Eliecer Blanco Prieto, presidente de la Empresa de Correos de Cuba; entre otros funcionarios.

So far, so good, I guess.

But I wonder what the Cubans mean by “the importance of eliminating discriminatory restrictions derived from the embargo policy of the United States toward Cuba…based on the principles and norms established by the Universal Postal Union, of which both States are members.” Does that mean that Cuba is assuming some kind of restriction on payments? Or on the arrival of Cuban planes carrying mail to the United States?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Governor Richardson clarifies his position on travel to Cuba: “Let anybody go to Cuba.” He spoke at the University of New Mexico about his effort to mediate a change in U.S.-Cuba relations. He engaged in some Cuba diplomacy in the 1990’s while serving in the House of Representatives; two accounts of that history are here and here.

  • From a Herald article today: “Another exile group, Mambisa Watch [Vigilia Mambisa], announced that on Sunday evening it will use a steamroller in Little Havana to destroy CDs of artists who take part in the Juanes concert.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hemingway’s Cojimar

A photo essay from LIFE magazine, shot in 1956 by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Juanes, on his way to Havana

Well, he’s going.

The concert is on Sunday and the lineup, according to a statement released by Juanes and the Cuban music institute and published in Granma, is impressive:

Amaury Pérez (Cuba), Danny Rivera (Puerto Rico), Cucú Diamante y Yerbabuena (Cuba-Venezuela), Juan Fernando Velasco (Ecuador), Jovanotti (Italia), Juanes (Colombia), Luis Eduardo Aute (España), Miguel Bosé (España), Olga Tañón (Puerto Rico), Orishas (Cuba), Silvio Rodríguez (Cuba), Van Van (Cuba), Carlos Varela (Cuba), Víctor Manuel (España) y X Alfonso (Cuba)

The statement also says that the concert will be broadcast on Cuban television and the signal will be available “without restriction” to broadcasters and websites in any country. In the United States, the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN) has announced that it will carry the concert live.

The statement also says, “There will not be presenters on stage,” just the musicians.

If you’re keeping score of the politics of this event, that means Cuba 1, Calle Ocho 0, game over.

Cuba” meaning the Cubans who will simply enjoy an outdoor concert, as people do in any other great city.

And “Cuba” as in the government itself, because those who attend the event will know that many in Miami were opposed to it taking place. The Cuban government will be able to say, when those folks talk about freedom and their vision for Cuba’s future, that they are the same ones who even wanted to deny you an afternoon of music. Sad.

Just to make sure, a program will air on Cuban television tomorrow night showing “all the people who opposed the Cuban people having a good time on September 20.” That’s according to Amaury Perez, in an interview last week. Consider the program Vigilia Mambisa’s gift to the central committee’s propaganda team. Sadder still.

When I first wrote about this concert, I recognized some of the criticisms. But then and now, I side with those who decided not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and who simply support a great musical event. For example, check out this young and wise Cuban American’s view on the “right to be inspired.” For all their years, those who warned the loudest about a Castro victory have handed him one on a silver platter.

Last week, Yoani Sanchez went out and recorded Cubans’ opinions of the concert on video, and put it on her blog with a brief comment that she’s happy to be in tune with her people.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who says there are no capitalists in Cuba?

…or at least monopolists…in the La Vanguardia story discussed below, there’s a sidebar comparing retail prices in Cuba and Spain:

20 German sausages: 12 Euros in Spain, 28 Euros in Cuba

Paper napkins: 0.9 Euros in Spain, 2.4 in Cuba

Diapers, “10 units:” 9.95 Euros in Spain, 24.4 in Cuba

Whole milk, one liter: 0.58 Euros in Spain, 2.4 in Cuba

Carbonell olive oil, one liter: 2.95 Euros in Spain, 14 in Cuba

Red wine, “reserva:” 14.65 Euros in Spain, 25.3 in Cuba

Baguette: 0.8 Euros in Spain, 0.75 in Cuba

Odds and ends

  • Spain’s La Vanguardia reports on the closure of workplace cafeterias, discussed earlier here. The reporter, Fernando Garcia, is careful not to predict the end-point of this policy, but says it has already begun and will continue rolling out over the next several months. He ties the elimination of subsidized workplace meals to Raul Castro’s policy preference of making salaries, not an assortment of benefits, the main source of income. An unknown: how much private vendors will be allowed to meet the increased lunchtime demand. An interesting nugget: the 15 pesos that workers will get to buy lunch is half the state’s cost for the cafeteria’s lunches themselves.

  • Five barefoot Cuban migrants at a convenience store in Lee County, Florida, a go-fast boat circling offshore with 40 fuel containers on board, and the feds investigating. Naples News story here.

  • New York Times: from the Industriales to the Angels, Kendry Morales is excelling.

  • AP: At the University of New Mexico, Governor Richardson talks about reciprocal moves he wants to see from the United States and Cuba.

  • Cuban Colada grabs a Russian media report on the visit of the chief of the Russian armed forces general staff to Cuba; he’s there until Friday.

  • AFP Spanish: Through October 15, Cubans are debating ways to increase production and efficiency, and to fight corruption, in their workplaces. The story is based on “material de estudio” distributed by the party in workplaces.

On Prado, under construction

Monday, September 14, 2009

The embargo, alive and well

On September 11, President Obama acted to continue “the exercise of certain authorities” under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Nasty business

Mexican police rescued 14 Cuban migrants from a house in Cancun where they were being “held in crowded conditions and were being mistreated,” according to Mexico’s El Universal. Their alleged smuggler was also captured, the paper says.

Reportedly, their relatives had not paid the full sum required to the smuggler, which led to their mistreatment, which in turn led to neighbors’ complaints to the police. Cuban Colada has an account here.

“The Cuban people don’t want that”

AP has a long and interesting profile of Cuban American National Foundation president Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez, including this:

“Of toppling Cuba’s government, he says now: ‘It’s not that I wouldn’t like to do it. It’s that I’m smart enough, and I have enough experience in these things, to know that that is not possible, and that it’s counterproductive at this time because the Cuban people don’t want that, and we don’t have enough resources.’”

Odds and ends

  • New York Times: Armando Ruiz of Miami has applied for a license to operate Miami-Havana ferry service.

  • The recently passed revolutionary leader Juan Almeida has been in the news recently because of a memoir published in Spain by his son, who remains in Cuba and is seeking to leave for medical treatment. Penultimos Dias has published excerpts of the book; here’s one with a link to a second at the bottom. In English at Huffington Post, Yoani Sanchez comments on the book.

  • Two Sorolla paintings that the Fanjul family claims to be from their family collection in Cuba show up at the Prado in Madrid, and the family reacts with this statement.

  • Senator Mel Martinez left the Senate last week, and the Herald’s Lesley Clark looked at his last day, and his Senate career.

A veteran passes away

Comandante de la Revolucion and Granma veteran Juan Almeida Bosque, 82, died last Saturday. AP has an obituary here and coverage of the Sunday mourning here. R.I.P.

(Juventud Rebelde photo.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cuban hotels for Cubans too

A CNN Spanish report:

H/t: Rui Ferreira

Public Internet services coming to post offices

AP reported yesterday that the Cuban government has adopted a policy that will allow Cubans to access the Internet through computer facilities at post offices. For years, these facilities have given Cubans access to e-mail, but web access has been limited to the intranet portal Islagrande. The policy has not yet gone into effect. The resolution that changes the policy was published in Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial and appears in the post below.

Other telecom/IT developments:

  • Reuters looks at the possible impact of the Obama telecom opening, and runs a separate “factbox” containing lots of data on telecom/IT in Cuba. My guess, stated here (pdf), is that the most likely deals will be roaming agreements with U.S. cellular carriers, because Cuba already has such deals with other countries’ carriers, and it would be a moneymaker.

Resolution on Internet service

From the June 29 Gaceta Oficial, the resolution on Internet service:


RESOLUCION No. 99/2009

El Decreto-Ley No. 204 de fecha 11 de enero de 2000, cambio la denominación del Ministerio de Comunicaciones por la de Ministerio de la Informática y las Comunicaciones, que desarrollará las tareas y funciones que hasta el presente realizaba el Ministerio de Comunicaciones, así como las de Informática y la Electrónica que ejecutaba el Ministerio de la Industria Sidero-Mecánica y la Electrónica.

POR CUANTO: El Consejo de Estado de la República de Cuba, mediante Acuerdo de fecha 30 de agosto de 2006, designó al que resuelve Ministro de la Informática y las Comunicaciones.

POR CUANTO: El Acuerdo No. 2817 de fecha 25 de noviembre de 1994, del Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de Ministros, faculta a los jefes de los organismos de la Administración Central del Estado; dictar en el límite de sus facultades y competencia, reglamentos, resoluciones y otras disposiciones de obligatorio cumplimiento para el sistema del organismo; y, en su caso, para los demás organismos, los órganos locales del Poder Popular, las entidades estatales, el sector cooperativo, mixto, privado y la población.

POR CUANTO: El Acuerdo No. 3736, de fecha 18 de julio de 2000, adoptado por el Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de Ministros, establece que el Ministerio de la Informática y las Comunicaciones, es el organismo encargado de ordenar, regular y controlar los servicios informáticos y de telecomunicaciones, nacionales e internacionales y otros servicios afines en los límites del territorio nacional, así como de conjunto con las organizaciones correspondientes, el Acceso a las Redes de Infocomunicaciones con Alcance Global.

Además, está encargado de evaluar, proponer y otorgar la expedición y revocación de concesiones, autorizaciones, permisos y licencias a operadores y proveedores de servicios informáticos y de telecomunicaciones, privados o públicos, velando por su cumplimiento en el marco de su autoridad.

POR CUANTO: La Resolución Ministerial No. 179 de fecha 7 de octubre de 2008, ordena en el país todo lo referente a los Proveedores de Servicios de Acceso a Internet al Público.

POR CUANTO: La Empresa Correos de Cuba, cumpliendo con lo dispuesto en la Resolución Ministerial No. 179/2008 antes mencionada, ha solicitado autorización para la prestación de Servicios de Acceso a Internet al Público.

POR TANTO: En el ejercicio de las facultades que me están conferidas,

R e s u e l v o :

PRIMERO: Autorizar a la Empresa Correos de Cuba, como Proveedor de Servicios de Acceso a Internet al Público, los cuales deberá prestar a personas naturales en el territorio nacional a través de sus áreas de Internet.

SEGUNDO: La Empresa Correos de Cuba, brindará los servicios autorizados, conforme se estipula en la Resolución Ministerial No. 179/2008, que establece las normas para la organización, funcionamiento y obligaciones del Proveedor de Servicios de Acceso a Internet al Público.

TERCERO: La Agencia de Control y Supervisión del Ministerio de la Informática y las Comunicaciones, queda encargada de controlar el cumplimiento de lo que por la presente se dispone.

NOTIFIQUESE al Presidente de la Empresa Correos de Cuba.

COMUNIQUESE a los viceministros, a la Agencia de Control y Supervisión, a las direcciones de Regulaciones y Normas, Economía, Oficina de Seguridad para las Redes Informáticas, a la Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., así como a cuantas personas naturales y jurídicas deban conocerla.

ARCHIVESE el original en la Dirección Jurídica del Ministerio de la Informática y las Comunicaciones.

PUBLIQUESE en la Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba.

DADA en La Habana, a los días 17 del mes de junio de 2009.

Ramiro Valdés Menéndez

Ministro de la Informática y las Comunicaciones

Figure this one out

From a Weekly Standard profile of Marco Rubio, former Florida House Speaker and candidate for U.S. Senate in next year’s Florida Republican primary:

Like Obama, Rubio can thrill an audience. On April 13, he addressed the College Republicans and Students for a Free Cuba at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Cuba, he said, presents us with “an opportunity just 90 miles off our shores to defend and stand up for the constitutional and founding principles of this country.”

Rubio called the U.S. embargo “our last and only leverage point” for negotiating Cuban freedom with a successor regime. He added, “I wish we could do in China what I hope we’ll do in Cuba, but we can’t. There are geopolitical realities.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Governor Richardson is working on his idea of a dialogue between Cuban Americans and the Cuban government, the Herald reports. The reactions are mixed and interesting. There are lots of ways to figure why the odds are against Richardson, starting with Jaime Suchlicki’s assessment: “What does Raúl care about Cuban Americans?”

  • Penultimos Dias: A Lenin school reunion in Miami this weekend. “La Lenin” is an elite high school in Havana.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Slow going

A document from the Havana city government indicates that beginning on Friday, applications will be accepted for new private taxi licenses, finally carrying out a policy announced last year.

AFP Spanish report here, my earlier comment here.

Odds and ends

  • Placido Domingo says, “Go, Juanes, go.” So does Dionisio García Ibáñez, president of Cuba’s conference of Catholic bishops. According to Cubaencuentro, he said of the concert: “It will be like a light, an opening, so artists from other parts of the world may come to Cuba and communicate with the Cuban people. Beyond any political content, we know that many will go see Juanes, and will appreciate his concert.” And six more jailed dissidents support the concert, according to this EFE report.

  • Speaking of the black market, the Herald reports on “mules” who have carried money and goods to Cuba in excess of U.S. regulatory limits, and whose business may be threatened.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Remittances by bank transfer -- a good first step (corrected)

[Correction: My reading of that Treasury language was wrong. U.S. banks will be permitted to send remittances through third-country banks, and at the same time they will be allowed to communicate directly with the Cuban banks to establish who is sending the remittances and who should receive them. We’ll see how this works in practice, but it should be cheaper than some of the methods of sending remittances that have been available to date. It still escapes me why the U.S. government would not allow direct wire transfers of money between U.S. and Cuban banks in both cases discussed here; the legal sending of remittances to Cuba, and Cuba’s payments for shipments of U.S. agricultural exports.]

In addition to ending limits on remittances, President Obama has made it easier to send them. His new regulations will allow direct transfers of funds between U.S. and Cuban banks, so that a guy in Hialeah can go to his bank and transfer money directly to the Cuban bank account of his sister in Camaguey. No middleman, no Western Union, no storefront remittance forwarder, no mule charging 20 percent.

The language is as follows:

“Depository institutions are permitted to set up testing arrangements and exchange authenticator keys with Cuban financial institutions to forward remittances…but may not open or use direct correspondent accounts of their own with Cuban financial institutions.”

That’s a normal, 21st-century arrangement.

So why can’t it apply to the payments for our agricultural exports to Cuba?

When Cuba pays for our exports, our regulations don’t allow the Cuban buyer to wire money to U.S. banks – payments have to be sent through third countries. This makes European bankers happy as they collect fees for handling the transactions and changing money from one currency to another. Sometimes, this scheme delays transactions, and it always adds a few percentage points of cost, needlessly making our exports more expensive and less competitive.

If American banks can send money to Cuban banks, why not let Cuban banks send money to ours, especially since this would benefit U.S. exporters?

Vamos pa' Cuba

Good for President Obama, and good for the Cuban American community. Thanks to yesterday’s new Treasury regulations, Cuban Americans can visit their family in Cuba as often as they like for as long as they like, and they can send them as much money as they like.

A humane step, long overdue.

And the definition of family, narrowed by President Bush, is now wide open. Treasury’s definition: “For purposes of this part, the term close relative used with respect to any person means any individual related to that person by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person.”

The regulations also define the telecom business opportunities that President Obama announced last April. American companies will be allowed to negotiate satellite or fiber optic links to Cuba, roaming agreements so U.S. cell phones can work in Cuba, and satellite radio and television service.

Radio Marti says the measures “ease the United States sanctions against the Castro regime.” An Obama Administration official described them to the Herald as follows:

“This gets the U.S. government out of the business of regulating the separation of Cuban families…The real question here now is the Cuban government. The Cuban government likes to blame the limited access to information on limited bandwidth, and they blame that on the United States. After these regulations, to the extent there is limited flow of information in Cuba, it will be very clear that those limitations are coming from the Cuban government.”

Fair enough, I suppose.

But the new rules also create an odd, and I would argue unsustainable, situation where the U.S. government has created a special privilege for one class of Americans, those with relatives in Cuba.

Cuban Americans can now travel virtually without restriction – for weekends, for tourism, for special occasions. Soon we’ll see a surge in Miami-Havana charter flights and images of Cuban Americans bringing their relatives to Cuban hotels, since Cubans are now allowed to stay in those hotels. For some, the ability to send unlimited remittances means that their loved ones won’t have to worry about basic needs. For others, it is an opportunity to invest by sending money to a relative to buy tools, to expand a house, or even to buy a new one with extra space for relatives who will visit now and retire there some time in the future.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country will remain under Cold War rules governing those activities, based on policies that designate Cuba an “enemy” country to which the flow of hard currency should be strictly limited.

The contradictory policy is now a perfect reflection of the contradictory politics of Cuban Miami.

Every two years, Cuban Americans vote in Congressional elections to sustain U.S. sanctions to punish the Castro regime. Every two hours, they will be filling planes headed to Havana, because those sanctions don’t apply to them.

Un-freakin’-real, as they say.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The new regulations explained

For information on the new regulations governing Cuban American family visits and remittances, telecommunications, and travel for sales and marketing of agricultural or medical products:

  • Treasury’s fact sheet, a good, plain-English explanation of the new regulations, is here.

  • And the new regulatory language itself, with detailed explanations of how the new rules supersede old ones, is here (pdf).

Treasury regulations coming

The Herald reports that the Treasury Department is about to issue regulations to carry out President Obama’s April 13 announcement regarding Cuban American family visits and remittances, and telecommunications.

Odds and ends

  • Twenty-four dissidents signed a statement supporting the Juanes concert, calling it “a great opportunity to advance reconciliation among all Cubans, and to leave behind the hatreds that for so many years have poisoned our patria.” What a bunch of commies! (Reuters coverage here, excerpts and signatures here).

  • Speaking of commies, the communist Chinese are giving Cuba a new $600 million line of credit, including $260 million for grain purchases.

  • AP: A Miami federal judge awarded a $27.5 judgment to the family of a Cuban political prisoner, to be paid by the Cuban government and Communist party, to compensate for the distress that the incarceration of Omar Rodriguez Saludes has caused.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Closing the cafeterias (updated)

If Cuban bureaucracies operate cafeterias to provide lunch for their employees but there’s a chronic problem of theft of supplies and nobody is thrilled with the food, why bother?

That question has been asked and answered, Reuters reports, as ministries in Havana have been ordered to close their cafeterias and pay employees a lunch stipend.

This is good news for private food vendors who, the article reports, are preparing for the increased demand. In recent years, the state has used regulatory enforcement and tighter licensing policies to squeeze the licensed entrepreneurs who sell homemade pizza, roast pork sandwiches, and other items from street stands.

The interesting part of this story is to come. If workplace cafeterias close all across Havana, will the increased demand be handled by more state food establishments, by beefing up existing ones, by turning state food establishments into cooperatives, by licensing more individual entrepreneurs, or all of the above?

(Update: More reporting in Financial Times.)

Amnesty International: end the embargo

Amnesty International says President Obama should “take the lead on lifting embargo against Cuba” in a report issued today. (Press release with link to report here.)

The report says that U.S. sanctions “are particularly affecting Cubans’ access to medicines and medical technologies and endangering the health of millions,” and while it is the Cuban government’s responsibility to provide health services, “governments imposing sanctions such as embargoes need to pay special attention to the impact they can have on the targeted country’s population.”

Amnesty reports that while both food and medical imports from the United States are permitted, Cuba purchased $710 million in agricultural products and only $1.2 million in medical products last year. It blames the low level of medical imports on a U.S. requirement that vendors monitor the end use of their products.

Odds and ends

  • Speaking from Beijing, Cuba’s foreign minister says that the U.S. policy of “blockade, aggression, internal subversion, and isolation” has failed and remains “intact” under President Obama.

  • Cuban Colada links to the audio of Governor Richardson’s press conference at the Hotel Nacional in Havana and notes that there were just a few little problems in translation.

  • Herald: A cancer drug developed in Cuba is in clinical trials in the United States, but if it is effective we can’t buy it unless we make an exemption to the embargo.

  • The New York Times reviews a Travel Channel program about Cuba that aired last night and took a “don’t-offend-the-host approach.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More on the Geoffrey Sullivan case (updated)

Last month I wrote about a lawsuit where a Maine woman, Sherry Sullivan, won a $21 million judgment for the wrongful death of her father. She had alleged that her father, Geoffrey Sullivan, had died in Cuban custody. Sullivan and an associate, Alexander Rorke, had a history of flying over Cuba in the early 1960’s to carry out activities, shall we say, in opposition to the Castro government.

The Cuban government didn’t respond in court, and the judge ruled in the plaintiff’s favor.

I was interested in the judge’s reasoning, especially on the issue of evidence regarding Sullivan’s whereabouts and his alleged incarceration in Cuba, so I obtained his decision (pdf) from the court.

On that score, the decision isn’t very helpful. The judge simply took the plaintiff’s proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” made a few edits by hand, and made the document his judgment in the case. He removed Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and the “Army of the Republic of Cuba” as defendants and left the Cuban government as the sole defendant.

The plaintiff’s document is interesting, however. It says that Sullivan and Rorke had “participated in various anti-Castro covert operations in Central America and Cuba” including “Operation Mongoose, the covert-action sabotage and subversion program against Cuba initiated in November, 1961 and the widely-publicized April, 1963 bombing of the former Esso oil refinery in Havana, Cuba, as well as collateral activities in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”

It goes on to cite accounts by unnamed former prisoners in Cuba who say an American named Sullivan was in Cuban prisons. It states that Sullivan has been declared legally dead in the United States, and that his death “constitutes an extrajudicial killing under applicable law.” Further, since Cuba is listed by the U.S. government as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” U.S. anti-terrorism statutes apply to the case.

A few observations:

If someone sues you in Waldo County, Maine, you had better show up and respond in court.

These days, flying over a foreign country to bomb a refinery would be considered terrorism, or it would be considered an act of war if a government were behind it. The irony of using an anti-terrorism statute to benefit Mr. Sullivan’s family doesn’t seem to have entered into this case.

It still seems to me that the U.S. government owes Ms. Sullivan a straight answer about her father’s activities and any U.S. government connection to them. Lots of information about Operation Mongoose and similar activites of that era are in the public domain.

This case is a good object lesson for anyone who thinks that normalizing relations with Cuba would be a simple act. This and similar judgments against the Cuban government are hanging out there and will need to be resolved in some fashion.

Here’s a more immediate problem. If U.S.-Cuba mail service is re-established through the talks that will begin this month, and if the two sides were to agree that flights will carry mail in both directions, how would the U.S. government ensure that Cuban planes are not subject to seizure on U.S. soil to satisfy the $21 million claim that Ms. Sullivan now holds against the Cuban government?

Update: A reader asks if Cuba could appeal this decision even though it didn’t contest the case in court. Maine attorney and blogger Alan Nye gives the following answer: “Typically, an appeal from a civil action in the Superior Court to the Maine Law Court must be filed within 21 days. However, I don’t know if filing an appeal would be the next step. Technically, on an appeal you argue that the trial court made a mistake of law in ruling on the facts presented at trial. There does not appear to have been a trial in this case so I'm not clear what an ‘appeal’ would present for issues. Since this appears to be a Default Judgment by the Court, it might be possible to file a Request for Relief From Judgment on the grounds of ‘mistake, inadverence, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, fraud, mistrepresentation’ etc. The motion needs to be filed in a reasonable time, but for the reasons I just listed, not more than one year after the judgment.”