Thursday, April 29, 2010

"A call to dialogue"

Palabra Nueva published an interesting interview with Cardinal Jaime Ortega last week; the text is here (pdf), AP’s coverage is here, and Cuban Colada translated excerpts here.

At the Havana Note, Tom Garofalo wrote a very useful explanation of the meaning behind some of the terms the Cardinal used when he expressed his desire for dialogue in the interest of the common good of the Cuban nation.

Cardinal Ortega focused mainly on the situation inside Cuba, discussing Cuba’s sharp economic difficulties, and stating his view that there is basically a “kind of national consensus” on changes that are urgently needed to address them.

He is not swooning over President Obama. He makes a modest assessment of the new President’s actions toward Cuba, saying that “important steps were taken that modified some counterproductive measures imposed by the previous Administration.” But when it comes to dialogue, he said:

“…with time the campaign proposal was changed. The old policy prevailed again: to begin at the end. I am convinced that the first step should be to meet and talk and, as the dialogue advances, steps could be taken to improve difficult situations or to overcome the most critical points.”

In other words, President Obama has it backwards.

And Cardinal Ortega gives the issue of U.S.-Cuba dialogue more importance than one might guess.

The remarks cited above came in response to this question: “Do you truly believe that the conflict with the United States affects the lives of Cubans in a decisive way?” His answer began, “I believe a Cuba-United States dialogue would be the first step needed to break the critical circle in which we find ourselves.” That sounds as if he’s saying that the state of Cuba’s relationship with the United States affects the country’s internal dynamics. He wouldn’t be the first Cuban to express that opinion, but it would be interesting to know why he thinks that is the case.

Finally, the Cardinal described the coverage of Orlando Zapata’s death as a “war of words of the communications media of the United States, Spain, and others.” He went on to say that the coverage constituted “a form of media violence” to which the government reacted “in its own way.” I understand and support the Cardinal’s idea that dialogue all around would be a good idea. But news is news, and coverage of it isn’t “violence.”

House hearing today

The House Ways and Means Committee’s Trade Subcommittee holds a hearing this morning on U.S. policy toward Cuba. The announcement includes the witness list and a link for public submissions for the record.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Odds and ends

  • “I am living my dream,” says former Cuban player Leslie Anderson, now signed by the Tampa Bay Rays, in this profile by St. Petersburg Times columnist John Romano. Anderson is in training and could make his way through the minors and join the Rays later this year. And the Red Sox are in the process of signing a 23-year-old catcher, Adalberto Ibarra of Camaguey, and putting him into their farm system; Globe story here.

  • Herald: Sentencing for Cuban agents Walter and Gwendolyn Myers is set for July 16. They appeared in court and prosecutors say they have had 50 to 60 meetings with U.S. officials to explain how they worked.

  • The Texas Tribune on hopes for increased trade for the state and the port of Houston.


“The embargo…which is opposed by the whole world is a stupidity…and serves as an excuse for castrismo to justify the failure of a hallucinatory system, full of administrative inefficiencies and political brutality. Nonetheless, in Miami it is defended tooth and nail, perhaps because many persist in the idea that a settling of scores is more important than liberty in Cuba.”

– Former political prisoner Nicolas Perez Diaz-Arguelles, in an El Nuevo Herald op-ed in which he also says, “To dialogue with the Castros is to imagine that oranges can grow on a ceiba tree,” and refers to Cardinal Ortega as “hypocritical and always wrong.” (Translation mine.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Posada Carriles’ trial has been delayed again but as Tracey Eaton points out, there’s plenty of time before the guy turns 90.

  • Also from Tracey Eaton: notes on the state security agents that posed as dissidents until they unmasked themselves in 2003, following the arrest of the 75. Eaton has photos of two whom he interviewed.

  • The Herald’s Alfonso Chardy on the Reagan-era agreement that allows some of those who came to the United States from Cuba in the Mariel boatlift to be sent back, including the story of one Cuban American who met that fate.

  • The Guardian on the impact and high cost of mobile telephony in Cuba.

  • Granma on efforts to produce the farm tools needed by all the new farmers who received land grants in the past year.

  • No one knows the timing but serious economic change could come soon in Cuba, the political counselor in the U.S. Interests Section says. Cuban Colada translates parts of an article published in Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Dia.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obama Administration's first Cuba policy address?

CSI Havana

Thinking of the experience of USAID detainee Alan Gross in the Havana airport, a reader sent me this video of a Cuban television program that depicts some of the screening and surveillance at Jose Marti International. You can draw your own conclusions.

The program, Tras la Huella (“Following the Footprints”), is a crimestoppers show, each episode showing uniformed and plainclothes personnel of the police and Interior Ministry solving one crime. It’s easy to find episodes on YouTube by searching the program’s name, or “tras la hueya” as some posters have spelled it.

Odds and ends

  • The Herald has a terrific report on Humberto Rios, a Cuban who won a prize for innovating and spreading organic farming techniques. He accepted the award in San Francisco, but it’s not clear if his $150,000 in prize money can be wired to him.

  • Cubaencuentro: Arturo Lopez Levy looks at the exchange between Carlos Alberto Montaner and Silvio Rodriguez and finds Montaner’s “laundry-list” approach wanting.

  • TIME: A look back at the Elian Gonzalez saga, ten years later.

  • LA Times: Casa Don Rolando, a restaurant well worth visiting.

  • Europa Press: A Spanish official visits Cuba and gets assurances that 23 million Euros owed to companies from Asturias will be paid. Payments to these and other companies were frozen last year.

  • Another hunger strike has begun, this one by Yamil Dominguez, a Cuban American with U.S. citizenship who is in Cuban prison. According to CubaNet and Spain’s El Mundo, he was convicted in 2007 of offenses related to alien smuggling, but he claims that he only took his yacht to Cuba because a storm forced him off his Miami-Cancun course. Dominguez’ demand is for his own freedom.

  • Progreso Weekly translates the article (cited earlier here) by Cuban historian Esteban Morales about corruption.

Etecsa charges less, hopes to earn more

“Although cellular phone rates are still high for most people,” a Granma report begins, the Cuban phone monopoly Etecsa is cutting rates “with the objective of increasing access to these services and the traffic of phone calls on the network.”

Here’s the deal: per-minute rates for calls on prepaid cell phone accounts will be 0.45 convertible pesos (which I believe is unchanged from the current rate), except for 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., when a 0.10 convertible peso rate will apply. Also, international long distance rates will fall for both cellular and fixed-line accounts; rates will be 42 percent to 75 percent lower. Calls to the western hemisphere will now cost 1.60 convertible pesos per minute except for the United States (1.845) and Venezuela (1.40), and calls to the rest of the world will be 1.80 per minute.

Also, a “calling party pays” scheme will be introduced. Now, both parties to a call pay 0.45 per minute. Now, a caller will be able to signal the other party that he will pay all the charges for the call, so it will cost nothing for the other party to answer. There will also be a way for the person receiving the call to pay all the charges. In either case, the charge will be 0.60 per minute.

Other information from a press conference with communications ministry official Maximo Lafuente:

  • There were 43,343 cellular accounts in 2003, and 838,370 as of the end of last month, with more than 600,000 added since 2008.

  • 70 percent of Cuban territory with 77 percent of the population has signal coverage.

  • Cuba has roaming agreements with 306 carriers in 128 countries, and 2.2 million people used those services in Cuba last year.

Juventud Rebelde story here. An earlier item on cellular rates here, noting that activation fees for new accounts have fallen from 120 to 60 to 40 convertible pesos.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Estefans and The Community

I can’t say I understand the stir caused by the Estefans hosting President Obama at their home last week for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, unless the idea is that Cuban Americans are supposed to be a one-party group.

At any rate, South Florida Daily Blog examines the issue at some length, and for the record here is Gloria Estefan’s introduction of President Obama at the reception and Emilio Estefan’s interview with Telemundo in Miami. In it, he says that President Obama sees this as a “historic moment” in Cuba.


“The concert of the Puerto Ricans of Calle 13 was able to attract 100 times more Cubans than the total of all who participated in the seven days of marches of the Damas de Blanco and the counter-marches of the government.”

– From “Any given Sunday,” on the blog of the BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg, describing Cubans at leisure a few Sundays ago.

Carlos Franqui, R.I.P.

He was a revolutionary who edited the magazine Revolución and broke with the Revolution itself, leaving Cuba in 1968. Obits from AP here and El Pais here and here.
From his book Family Portrait with Fidel, some of Franqui’s recollections from 1964:
"I went down to the old tropical market, but it didn’t exist any more. No more fish. No more fruit. No more flowers. Where was it all? The socialist market was empty, bureaucratic, and ugly. The whole city was becoming Haitianized. You now saw chickens and turkeys in coops on balconies; there were vegetable gardens wherever there was some open land. Once upon a time only the Chinese had these mini-gardens; now everyone did. The salt in the air was destroying the walls of the houses because no one bothered to paint any more. It was early in the day, and the first lines had already formed, people looking for bread or for the cup of coffee they would never find. No neon signs, no lights, fewer cars than I had remembered. Buses were now a rarity, and taxis were impossible to find. Women came carrying pails of water.
"As day dawned, it dawned on me that I was in real danger. In my mind’s eye, I could see the past like a film. I reviewed it all and found no way out of what I had done, no way out of where I was. I should have thought things over when we came down from the mountains into Santiago at the beginning of January in 1959. Fidel said he would miss the war. I knew I wouldn’t, but I knew I would miss something else – the future I had fought for. Everything was different, but nothing had changed. Only the power had changed hands. The people still had to work and obey."
[Photo from La Razon]

Fishing fleet

Friday, April 16, 2010

Odds and ends

  • EFE: Like many thousands of other Cubans, dissident Martha Beatriz Roque has acquired Spanish citizenship.

  • Herald: “A Chilean executive questioned by Cuban prosecutors in a corruption case has been found dead in Havana, the latest twist in a burgeoning scandal that has snared two Fidel Castro protégés and several other Cubans.” Reuters reports a Cuban government statement on the cause of death.

  • El Nuevo Herald has compiled the long exchange between Madrid-based author Carlos Alberto Montaner and Silvio Rodriguez, the singer-songwriter who lives and works in Cuba. Some interesting nuggets in there, but the most interesting fact may be that the exchange took place at all. Granma and other Cuban media mention Montaner from time to time and always trash him – but today Granma publishes a bill of particulars, which may be a sign that the exchange is getting some attention in Cuba.

  • Cuban historian Esteban Morales takes aim at “counterrevolutionaries” in an article published by the artists and writers union – but it’s corrupt high-level officials that he has in mind. AP story in English here, Morales’ article in Spanish here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

President Obama in Miami

President Obama goes to Miami today to raise money for the Democratic Party at the city’s arts center and at a high-dollar reception in the home of Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

Herald report here. AP rounds up the mixed opinion among Cuban Americans. And the Herald’s editorial page urges the President to resume people-to-people exchanges with Cuba, which means reversing President Bush’s more restrictive travel regulations.

Joe Garcia enters the District 25 race

Former Miami-Dade Democratic Chairman and (now) former Obama Administration Energy Department official is making another run for Congress in Miami-Dade’s District 25. He lost to incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart by a 53-47 margin in 2008, but District 25 is an open seat following Rep. Diaz-Balart’s decision to run in an adjacent district.

Garcia’s announcement speech, on YouTube, is here.

The Republican candidate is likely to be David Rivera, a well-funded incumbent state legislator.

The Herald’s political blog, Naked Politics, has lots more. My earlier thoughts on the race here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Speaking of the United States...

Secretary Clinton’s statement that “the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States” reminded me of a recent interview of Juan Antonio Blanco, a former professor and member of the staff of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. The interview, in Spanish on YouTube, is here and here, and in the second part he addresses the same question as Secretary Clinton:

Blanco: I remember that I had some pretty heated discussions precisely because when I arrived at the Central Committee I began to make proposals that in my opinion could improve the relationship with the United States. Some of them had to do with this question – we’re going to look at the real human right problems that we have in the country, we’re going to discuss it, we’re going to try to give it some kind of solution. I saw that some of my bosses hadn’t been paying much attention until one day when there was a big argument, an argument that got ugly. One of them called me outside to the parking lot of the Central Committee and said to me, look, you’re new, but we know that Fidel Castro isn’t interested in solving the problem of the relationship [with the United States]. He wants to contain the conflict within certain parameters so it doesn’t get out of control, but he isn’t interested in really solving this problem.”

Interviewer: So you think he has lived off this hostility with the United States?

Blanco: Absolutely.

[Translation mine.]

Speaking of the retail sector...

As discussed here and here, the Cuban government’s action regarding barber shops and beauty shops begins to address problems that had been identified long ago in the retail and service sectors. (This post notes some of the discussion of the issue in letters to the editor.) The sector’s problems were described at length in a three-part series that appeared in late 2006 in Juventud Rebelde that makes for interesting reading. I don’t have the links to the original articles, but the texts of all three are pasted here (pdf).

The articles aren’t a statement of government policy by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m sure they must be a political benchmark for Cubans who read them – and who would naturally ask how far reforms will go, and whether the solutions will be in proportion to the problems described in the state media.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Secretary Clinton on Cuba

Secretary Clinton answered a question about Cuba last Friday, where she asserted her “personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would then lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.”

This drew a Cuban response in the form of a commentary aired by Radio Reloj, the retro all-news AM station with the constant tick-tock sound in the background. The response said that Secretary Clinton “mixed ignorance and falsehoods,” which we can set aside, and issued an interesting challenge:

“Since the Revolution, according to Hillary Clinton, depends on the excuses that the embargo provides, suspend it for 12 months and then we’ll see what happens.”

Wouldn’t that be interesting.

Secretary Clinton also theorized, as President Clinton used to do, that every time there’s a possible U.S. opening toward Cuba, “you can almost chart how the Castro regime does something to try to stymie it.” At a certain point, that becomes a formula for doing nothing, for putting control of U.S. policy in Havana’s hands, and for avoiding hard questions. Such as: Given the nature of Cuba’s government and its repressive record, what kind of relationship serves U.S. interests – between our governments, and between our societies?

There were two other nuggets.

On Haiti, the United States “actually helped some of the Cuban doctors get medical supplies who were already operating there” after the earthquake.

And she described detainee Alan Gross as “an American who was passing out information and helping elderly Cubans communicate through the Internet.”

Odds and ends

  • Another quake last night, this time 45 miles south of Bayamo, magnitude 4.6. Map here, details here, Cuban civil defense announcement in Granma here, with no report of damage.

  • ESPN on another Cuban southpaw, making his debut with the Mets.

The state lightens its burden

It took a while, but the Cuban government appears to be launching a solution to problems it identified long ago in its small state retail enterprises.

Reuters broke the story here, and it has to do with ending state control of barbershops and beauty salons. That may seem like small potatotes – and it obviously is small potatoes in terms of Cuba’s overall economy – but the idea behind it is important if you consider this clarification in the middle of the Reuters story:

Cuba and North Korea are the world’s only remaining Soviet-style command economies in which the state controls more than 90% of economic activity. Other communist countries such as China and Vietnam have long since liberalized retail trade, services and small business.”

More than three years ago, a series of articles in Juventud Rebelde detailed the problems in small state retail and service businesses: petty corruption, pilferage, bad service, and lack of consumer protection. In several cases, the paper reported that there was no functioning supply system, so workers in barbershops or shoe repair shops would buy their own supplies, set their own prices, and decide on their own how much revenue to leave in the government’s cash register at the end of the day.

The articles also discussed possible solutions: fixing the supply system, putting more decisions in the hands of workers, and giving workers a “direct relationship with profits.”

So the solution, reportedly in the process of implementation in hundreds of smaller barber and beauty shops around the country, is effectively to end the state enterprise and give workers an offer whereby they can operate on their own. The terms are that they pay a monthly fee that amounts to 15 percent of their average revenue, they pay utilities, they buy their own supplies, they set their own prices, and they keep their profits.

Now we have an idea what Cuba’s economy minister meant last December when he said the government is undertaking “experiments…to lighten the state’s burden in the provision of some services.”

From the report, it sounds as if each worker will be licensed individually, so this is not a move to a cooperative model.

Nonetheless, it moves some economic activity across the line from the state sector to the private sector. In Cuba, that’s a big deal.

And considering that the government is fixing just a small part of a retail service sector that it has shown to be riddled with problems, this could point to more changes ahead.

A hunger strike suspended

Uncommon Sense: Jailed dissident Darsi Ferrer suspends his hunger strike after his medical and legal demands were addressed; EFE Spanish story here.

Looking west

Monday, April 12, 2010

Odds and ends

  • AP: Police yesterday blocked the weekly Quinta Avenida procession of the Damas de Blanco.

  • CNN reports on the construction of replacement housing for hurricane victims in Pinar del Rio, with building materials manufactured on the spot.

  • Herald: A 25-year-old diplomat defected from the passport section of the Cuban consulate in Mexico City and has come to the United States with her husband, according to her uncle in Canada.

  • AP: A concert at the “tribuna anti-imperialista” on the Malecon next to the U.S. diplomatic mission drew a small crowd yesterday. Singer Silvio Rodriguez read a statement, and didn’t sing.

  • Remember the report that travelers to Cuba would be required to buy travelers’ health insurance policies? Cubaencuentro reports that the cost will be three convertible pesos per couple per day.

  • Cuban Colada takes note of a report in Spanish-language media that six Chilean companies wrote their government to point out that the problem of Cuba freezing the bank accounts of foreign companies operating there “has virtually been solved.”

A daydream

What if these two Cuban pitchers could face each other this year?

Aroldis Chapman, young turk, made his AAA debut yesterday with a 101 m.p.h. fastball and nine strikeouts in four and two-thirds innings. He will move up to the Cincinnati Reds later this season.

Livan Hernandez, lion in winter, was just reactivated by the Washington Nationals and pitched seven shutout innings yesterday against the Mets. His fastball was in the low 80’s but probably looked like 101 in contrast to curve balls in the low 60’s.

The Reds and Nats play June 4-6 in Washington and July 19-22 in Cincinnati.

[Photos from Washington Post (Livan) and ESPN Deportes (Chapman).]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Florida State Representative David Rivera raised $700,000 in the first quarter of this year for his Congressional race, according to this blogger at Florida’s Sunshine State News. Rivera is seeking the GOP nomination in the district being vacated by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Rivera, meanwhile, is taking a symbolic shot at food exports to Cuba by pushing a bill that will bar the state from putting certificates on Florida food exports to Cuba that verify their Florida origin. The Herald reports that last year’s Florida exports consisted of “ham croquettes, Italian bread crumbs, salad dressing and vegetarian tamales.”

  • Herald: Adrian Leiva, a dissident who left Cuba in 2005, died of drowning when attempting to return to Cuba last month in a small boat. His intention was apparently to take up residence in Cuba again and to resume his activism. The three others on his small boat survived.

  • A summary of a Council of the Americas seminar on investment conditions in Cuba, and the Council’s Chris Sabatini outlines recommendations for the Obama Latin America policy here, including this:

“Third, shake up the Cuba debate. Take both sides: talk human rights and open up to the island. And don’t wait for reciprocal action on the other side of the Florida straits. The Cuban government wants us to hesitate. Don’t. We should do it because we stand for principle: human rights and openness.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Death of a bureaucracy?

A Reuters report attributed to “business sources” in Cuba says that the Ministry of Sugar is to be dissolved and replaced by a state enterprise, one that will reportedly seek partnerships with foreign investors to boost productivity.

If this pans out, it would be the first major move on the part of the Raul Castro government to fulfill its aim of increasing foreign investment in Cuba – apart from ventures with Venezuela.

And it would also make economic sense for Cuba. As I noted last week, the price of sugar is about four times higher than in 2002 when the Cuban industry was downsized. My 2003 report on the downsizing is here (pdf).

Reuters also published a timeline of major events in Cuba’s sugar industry.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Concessions? Not here, not now

Raul Castro’s speech to the communist youth convention last Sunday doesn’t require a lot of reading between the lines. (Spanish text here, English here.)

The hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas amounts to “blackmail,” he says, and Cuba will not yield to it. He alleges that the same parties who encouraged Zapata to enter his hunger strike are doing the same with Farinas, and they are the “only beneficiaries.” He questions the standing of the United States and Europe to be questioning Cuba over human rights, and says this is all occurring amid “ferocious and coordinated media campaigns.” To put things in perspective, he looks back at the fight against Batista, the Bay of Pigs, and the missile crisis, and reassures his audience that it would be hard for the current situation to top any of those crises.

In other words: things are a little hot right now on the political front, but we’ll get through it.

The economic discussion was framed a bit differently. Economic policy – the “economic battle,” as he calls it – is the main task, the central focus of ideological work, and the determining factor in the “sustainability and preservation of our social system.”

In other words, it’s for all the marbles.

“Excessively paternalistic and irrational regulations” have to go, in part to solve emerging labor shortages in several key lines of work. People have to reject illegality and corruption. Inflated payrolls have to go; there may be one million excess workers. Pay has to be linked to results. Dogmas have to be broken and the “updating of our economic model, already in progress,” has to proceed.

Some might dispute the “already in progress” part, especially if they have nothing to do with agriculture – and Raul recognized that many are “exasperated,” preferring to see “immediate changes in numerous areas.” His response is that the government is avoiding “hurried or improvised” actions, and hence avoiding a situation where reforms would solve some problems but give rise to new ones.

What would the danger be, and what new problems could result from haste in economic reform? Raul didn’t specify. One can imagine that they could be social, or political, or budgetary, or all three.

Regardless, apart from the you-are-the-future messages directed at his immediate audience, the speech told the world that if Farinas dies it will be Farinas’ fault, and it told Cubans that the slow pace of economic reform (imperceptibly slow, to many) is the right pace, and will not change.

Monday, April 5, 2010


“These are counterproductive programs…The best way for the U.S. government to help the Castro government is to be seen both within Cuba and internationally as trying to subvert it.”

– A former State Department official, quoted in Politico, describing USAID’s Cuba programs

Odds and ends

  • Former national intelligence officer for Latin America Brian Latell looks back at political crises in Cuba, says the Cuban government is a “doddering regime” today, but predicting its end has been a “losing proposition” for 51 years. His monthly essays, published by the University of Miami, can be found here.

  • Cuban-born pitcher Mike Cuellar passed away, and his Orioles teammates remember him in this story in the Baltimore Sun.

  • Cuban Colada sums up recent coverage of an apparent corruption scandal at the Cuban national airline, translating reports from BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg (and linking to his original reports). Employees apparently operated an off-the-books, we-keep-the-money cargo business on Cubana aircraft.

  • The Herald explores the cost of traveling to Cuba, and the benefits that Miami retailers are reaping from travelers stocking up on things to bring to their relatives in Cuba.

Raul: hunger strikes are blackmail, we won't yield to them

AP: Raul Castro closed a meeting of Cuba’s communist youth with a 45-minute speech that referred to hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, not by name, saying Farinas’ own “self-destructive” conduct, not the government, is to blame if he dies. He said Farinas and his supporters are engaged in “blackmail.”

AFP previewed the weekend conference here.

Here’s the speech text in English and Spanish.


The huge landmark apartment building in Vedado, recently renovated.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Herald: President Obama will attend a $30,000-per-couple fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at the Miami home of Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

  • The U.S. airport screening measures put in place after last year’s Christmas bomber are being dropped. Now, instead of carrying out extra security measures on every passenger arriving from 14 listed countries, the extra security will only be applied when the the government has information that warrants it, and then only to the class of passengers indicated by the intelligence information. Cuba was on the list of 14, which caused a big dust-up and protests by Havana. Although, in practice I never heard from any travelers returning from Cuba that the measures were actually applied to them.

  • AFP: A second U.S.-Cuba meeting about collaboration on assistance to Haiti, this time at the UN. Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to the Secretary of State, spoke to Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. The State Department spokesman answered questions, here.

Administration defends Cuba flights in court

A federal court in Miami is considering an effort by Ana Margarita Martinez, who holds a $27 million civil judgment against the Cuban government, to collect that judgment by garnishing the fees paid to the Cuban government in connection with the approximately 50 charter flights that go back and forth each week.

The judge asked the federal government to state its opinion on the case, and it did so by filing a “Statement of Interest” on Wednesday.

The court doesn’t make such documents public, so thanks to El Nuevo Herald for putting it on its website here (pdf). The Herald’s story is here, and Miami New Times profiles Ms. Martinez here, giving background on her original grievance – a Cuban agent who married her and abruptly abandoned her – and her views on the lawsuit.

The U.S. government’s position is unequivocal. The Statement of Interest begins with a variety of legal arguments why Ms. Martinez’ claims lack merit. It argues that the U.S.-Cuba flights are in the U.S. national interest and includes a supporting statement from the State Department. Finally, starting on page 39 it includes a declaration by the Treasury Department and an exchange of letters that would seem to establish that in accepting a partial payment of $198,000 in 2005, Ms. Martinez relinquished her claim to punitive damages and retains a claim to about $7 million in compensatory damages.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not an April Fool's joke...

…just a regular, everyday joke: TV Marti has been on the air for 20 years.

Actually a little longer – its first transmission was March 27, 1990.

I was sort of hoping someone else would have marked the anniversary, maybe the government itself or someone who supports the program.

No such luck.

This is the only broadcast operation that has been on the air for any period, much less two decades, where there is a debate about whether it has an audience.

The signal simply “is not seen,” according to Salvador Lew, the first Cuba broadcasting director appointed by President Bush. The State Department assessed that it can “rarely if ever be received.”

But the program chugs on, about $10 million per year, a monument to the idea that in this corner of U.S. foreign policy, intentions can count for more than results.

Sancti Spiritus

A Presbyterian church off the main square in Sancti Spiritus, and a plaque inside the bell tower.