Friday, July 30, 2010

“We should focus on what works and what does not work”

Palabra Nueva, the magazine of the Havana archdiocese that circulates throughout Cuba, includes in its July/August issue a strong call for economic liberalization from its editor, Orlando Marquez.

The article, “On Liberty and Liberalization,” is here and as usual, Cuban Colada has done a great service by translating a big chunk of the text.

Once he gets through some personal observations about freedom based on his travels, and once he asserts that basic rights are God-given, Marquez’ argument – in favor of self-employment, freedom to buy and sell homes and cars, and more – is framed in opposition to “paternalism.”

Senior Cuban officials have argued against paternalism too, usually to push citizens to stop expecting the state to provide subsidies and benefits that may soon be on the chopping block. (See this example from the editor of Granma.) Marquez argues not against the paternalism of excessive state benefits, but against that of excessive state restrictions that make so many kinds of enterprise and transactions illegal.

It’s interesting to read this article at a time when the government itself is reviewing economic policies. It’s also interesting in the context of assertions that Cubans have no source of information except state media, or that the Church never stands up for the average Cuban.

Odds and ends

  • Diario las Americas welcomes Orquesta Aragon, the “mother of Cuban charanga bands” with “the sound everyone remembers” to Miami for concerts tonight and tomorrow night. The group’s tour goes also to Tampa, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico.

  • Guillermo Farinas returns home from the hospital after ending his hunger strike earlier this month and gives an interview to the Associated Press in the royal plural: “We feel a bit run down physically,” the release of prisoners “makes us happy,” etc.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Legislature examines pilot projects

Cuba’s legislature convened its committees yesterday for days of discussions of lots of domestic and foreign policy issues – the need to improve coffee production and stop spending $50 million annually on imported coffee; veterans care; improvements in highway safety and the railroad system; and lots more. There are brief accounts of many of these discussions in Cuban media – see the list of articles at top of the Agencia Cubana de Noticias website.

Also on the agenda is a review of pilot projects in state retail and service businesses such as taxi companies, barbershops, and beauty shops, where the state has in a way turned the business over to workers. In the barbershops, for example, the workers pay rent and a license fee then set prices, buy their own supplies, and keep their profits.

This report says that the committee concerned with services will also examine experiments in the sale of farm products in Havana province and the nationwide experience in the sale of construction materials in the Cuban peso, not the hard-currency peso. Excerpt:

La comisión de Atención a los Servicios, en su primer día de sesiones, también trató sobre la aplicación del experimento de arrendar taxis a los choferes, iniciativa aplicada desde enero de este año con buenos resultados.

Mañana ese grupo parlamentario tratará, entre otros temas, la puesta en funcionamiento de la venta liberada para la población de materiales de construcción, en moneda nacional, iniciada en Sancti Spíritus en enero último y extendida a todo el país.

También incluye la comercialización de productos agropecuarios en las dos provincias habaneras, la aplicación del experimento de arrendar barberías y peluquerías y el cumplimiento del plan de circulación mercantil minorista del Ministerio del Comercio Interior.

A report from Europa Press here. My earlier notes on pilot projects here and here.

Odds and ends (Corrected)

  • Canadian Press: The 19-year-old Canadian held in Cuba since an April traffic accident is now out on bail and free to return to Canada. He had been denied permission to leave Cuba while awaiting possible charges in connection with the accident. An earlier report on the foreign ministry’s efforts on his behalf is here. A Vancouver Sun editorial is here. (Correction: Earlier version said he was "jailed;" thanks to a reader for the correction.)

  • Reuters: Cuban imports of U.S. agricultural products fell 35 percent in January-May 2010 compared to the same period last year.

  • An inspirational quote from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), in 2006: “The freedom to travel is a part of our way of life and if we start denying legal travel abroad, then we give in to Osama Bin Laden, Hezbollah, and other terrorists who wish to change our way of life.”

  • NBC Miami: Ariel Sigler Amaya, released from prison in Cuba, arrived in Miami for medical treatment.

  • Voice of America: Fidel Castro plans to publish a new book, The Strategic Victory.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How many political prisoners?

Cuba has committed to release 52 political prisoners, and last week parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon said it was “very clear from the discussions that the government’s wish is to free all the people” as long as they were not involved in crimes of violence (see AFP English and Spanish).

So what would constitute release of all political prisoners?

There are differing counts.

Amnesty International counts 53 prisoners of conscience, so that if Cuba releases the 52, only one prisoner of conscience will remain in jail by AI’s count.

Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation is an independent monitor of human rights conditions. He counts 167 in jail for “political or political-social motives,” and his list is cited in many places as the definitive accounting of political prisoners. Some of the 167 have been released and are in Cuba or abroad. And some have been involved in violent crimes such as hotel bombings. It is a mystery to me why Sanchez would combine people who engage in nonviolent political action with those who attack civilians based on political motives (terrorism), but it’s his list and it is completely transparent.

And Human Rights Watch asserts that these lists understate the number of people jailed in Cuba for their beliefs because of the state’s abuse of the “dangerousness” charge (peligrosidad predelictiva) to lock up opponents based on specious accusations. Human Rights Watch does not have a concrete count.

At any rate, these issues are treated in detail in this report from the Associated Press.

Other information on this, if you want to sort it out yourself:

Odds and ends

  • Missed this one last week: Cuba’s health minister was replaced, with 78-year-old incumbent Jose Ramon Balaguer moving back to the Central Committee of the party and vice minister Roberto Morales Ojeda, 43, taking the top job. Here’s the official announcement.

  • In the Houston Chronicle, the American Farm Bureau’s president makes the case for ending Cuba travel restrictions.

  • The Root publishes two looks at race issues in Cuba, and promises more to come. These are from novelists Leonardo Padura and Achy Obejas.

  • At Babalu, a reflection by Anastasio Blanco about a recent trip to Cuba. This sort of jumps off the page: “Barely anybody on the island knows of the political prisoners or the various democracy movements.” And this: “The satellite cards used to secure the [satellite television] signal had been smuggled into the country by some rather famous artists…many here in the U.S. have portrayed folks like those who took great risk to import the cards—and distribute them gratis—as lackeys for the regime. They are not, and we must think before making hasty accusations in the future.”

  • The Washington Post’s ongoing web-based feature on leadership highlights the Ignacio Ramonet book on Fidel Castro, “cruel and charismatic” and still ticking.

  • Tampa, I was reading recently, had a Cuban community that was called “little Havana” before Miami’s Calle Ocho even existed. (Later it became “Ybor City.”) Last week the Tampa Tribune sorted out the arguments about travel to Cuba, arguing that the United States out of step in “banging its drum for separation.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

26th in Santa Clara

Hugo Chavez couldn’t make it to Cuba’s 26th of July celebration in Santa Clara – an event dedicated this year to Bolivar – because of impending imperialist aggression across his western border. Fidel Castro didn’t make it, but he had marked the 26th on Saturday by traveling to Artemisa in “his olive-green shirt of a thousand battles,” as Granma noted, continuing to show that he’s in better shape than anyone thought.

Raul Castro made it, but didn’t give a speech. This broke long precedent established by his brother, and it frustrated expectations of many that he would use his talk to define current policies more sharply.

Is there deep meaning here?

I don’t think so. Raul Castro is plainly not concerned about oratory; he gives fewer speeches, and for much shorter durations, than his brother. Today he went so far as to have his #2 and the local party chief give the speeches while he watched and later handed out some awards. He clearly doesn’t view July 26 as an occasion that requires a major policy address. Last year he gave a much more interesting and substantive speech a few days after the 26th than he did at the July 26 ceremony itself.

The top-ranking official to speak was Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. (Granma coverage here, Reuters story here.) “We will proceed with a sense of responsibility, step by step, at the rhythm we determine, without improvisation or haste so as not to make mistakes,” Reuters quoted him during his economic discussion. “We will not conduct ourselves by campaigns of the foreign press.”

As ever, actions are what count, and the coming months will tell if the lines of action already suggested – in state enterprises, government downsizing, agriculture, and more – are followed.

[Photo from Granma.]

USAID's world of intrigue

The U.S. Agency for International Development is looking to make grants to promote grass-roots economic development in Cuba, but under a scheme that seems unlikely to work for the same reasons that landed contractor Alan Gross in jail.

The idea is contained in a request for grant applications for USAID’s “non-presence assistance program for Cuba.” This document says $3 million has been set aside for a program to “foster the development of Civil Society Groups (CSGs), especially those focused on promoting self-employment and entrepreneurial initiatives, and to pilot the establishment of Savings and Credit Groups among marginalized segments of the population.” (The meat of the document is in “Section B, Program Description.”)

In the second component, the “marginalized” Cubans would pool their savings in a lending pool and the USAID grantee would be permitted to match those savings.

This is part of USAID’s larger effort, the document explains, to provide “material support to targeted beneficiaries throughout the island to support the [U.S. government’s] foreign policy goals.”

Also: USAID “will be in frequent communication with the U.S. Interests Section, in Havana, in both soliciting and sharing information during the programmatic analysis and subsequent design of this activity.”

And USAID issues a warning: “Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of the USAID Program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID grant funding.”

Here we go again.

Starting with the positive, I like the idea that the Administration is interested in promoting economic development through credits to Cubans to support entrepreneurial activity.

But the warning to grantees would seem to indicate that the plan is to carry out the project covertly. Regardless of what one thinks about the Cuban government, the U.S. program, or its intentions, such a scheme has severe practical problems (discussed here and here regarding the Alan Gross case) and poses risks both to USAID’s operatives and those they contact in Cuba.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More on the prisoner releases

  • AP: Three more dissidents, released from prison, arrived in Spain today. That makes 15.

  • AFP: The Cuban government’s first official statement on the prisoner releases came from legislative chief Ricardo Alarcon, now traveling in Europe, and he seems to affirm that those who say they want to stay in Cuba will indeed be released: “The agreement says that they could travel abroad…but in Cuba there are people who have been freed from prison several years ago and who stayed in their homes. As in this case,” he says.

  • Juan Tamayo of the Miami Herald examines political prisoner numbers, now that there is word that more than 52 could be released. The frequently cited list of 167 compiled by Elizardo Sanchez’s organization is often described as a list of political prisoners, but its title says it is composed of those tried or sentenced for “political or political-social motives,” and includes some convicted of crimes such as terrorism, as the article mentions.

  • AP: U.S. consular officials in Havana are explaining the procedures and timelines for immigration and asylum applications to the families of political prisoners. Bottom line: if their wish is to settle in the United States, they should stay in Cuba and apply in Cuba rather than go to Spain where they would have to apply as immigrants, not refugees, and things will take much longer.
  • Spain’s foreign minister got a little carried away predicting that the U.S. embargo’s days are numbered because of the prisoner releases.

  • BBC: The first group to arrive in Spain is opposed to EU repeal of its “common position.”

  • El Universal: Arturo Pérez de Alejo, a dissident released from jail and now in Spain with his wife, daughter, and four other relatives, says he is in “forced exile.” He wouldn’t speculate about the future of the U.S. embargo but said it “has not caused any effect on the Cuban government, but yes on the Cuban people, because it has been fifty-something years with the same policy, and what has it solved?”

Odds and ends

  • St. Petersburg Times: Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa becomes the first member of Florida’s Congressional delegation to support an end to Cuba travel restrictions.

  • A Cuban who was intercepted at sea, sent to the Guantanamo naval base, then resettled in Spain, is starting a hunger strike to push the Spanish government to sort out his immigration status.

  • The Kansas City Star on Yunel Escobar and Brayan Peña, buddies in Cuba who met again on a big league diamond.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How to roast a pig

Today's New York Times shows how to roast a pig, purchased whole “without the viscera.” Works fine if you have a farm upstate, a backhoe, a quarry full of rocks, a shop-vac rigged up to stoke the fire, and lots of other paraphernalia. But it was a successful pit-roast, and don’t skip the slideshow.

In other latitudes, if you don’t mind doing without the stuffing, they get great results with above-ground roasting and what seems to be a lot less trouble.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A new premium on job creation

On a more serious note, the interesting question about the prospect of gradual, large-scale layoffs in Cuba (as reported in this Reuters story) is what will come with them.

In carrying out the layoffs, the Cuban government is taking action following its acknowledgement, delivered by Raul Castro himself, that up to a million workers may be unproductive.

The government will not want to maintain laid-off workers and their families forever – after all, it is already looking for ways to cut social services spending, and it wants to boost economic production.

To generate new jobs, it could try new government projects – new state enterprises or new joint ventures with foreign partners.

But capital is scarce, and there is little in the economic track record of the past few years that gives confidence that on its own, the government could generate hundreds of thousands of new, productive jobs each year over the next several years.

I’m not going to predict what the Cuban government will do. But it is safe to predict that if these layoffs proceed as outlined, the resulting jobs puzzle will not be solved without expansion of the private sector. An expansion of self-employment (trabajo por cuenta propia) accompanied large-scale government layoffs in the 1990’s, and the government has already been carrying out pilot projects (accompanied by lots of public discussion) that could lead to conversion or state retail and service enterprises into cooperatives, a form of socialist property that already exists in the countryside.

Why Republicans should travel to Cuba...

…because it’s where they are cutting the size and scope of government.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let the private sector do it

The State Department spokesman reveals the Obama Administration’s approach to mitigating the risk of an oil spill in Cuban Gulf waters: American companies that provide “oil spill prevention and containment support” can get licenses to provide those services to foreign companies that operate in Cuba. And if they don’t, that’s fine too.

Odds and ends

  • Unnamed sources tell El Pais that after August, “there will be a broadening of self-employment and above all the conversion of certain service enterprises into cooperatives; subsidies and social spending will continue to be reduced with the goal of making the system sustainable, and payrolls will slowly be deflated, something that, as is known, will have a social impact; there will also be progress in the elimination of the dual currency and the renegotiation of the debt with the goal of alleviating financial tensions.”

  • CNN: The U.S consulate in Havana is holding a meeting with families of the political prisoners who have declined to go to Spain, and with those who have not yet been contacted. Spanish and Church officials will be present. More from AFP and Yoani Sanchez’ Twitter feed.

  • Paul Hare, former British Ambassador in Havana, writes in the Herald that the recent prisoner releases are the result of dialogue plus pressure.

  • Recently freed political prisoner Ricardo Gonzalez, now in Spain, writes in the New York Times about what he learned in prison and his rebirth upon leaving it.

  • A Spanish newspaper chides the released dissidents for complaining about their living conditions and the likelihood that they will be offered settlement in places other than Madrid. At Babalu, they dug up comments about the hotel where they are staying temporarily, and it sounds the kind of place that you would want to be temporary.

A call to open the telecom/IT sector

The Cuba Study Group, the Council of the Americas, and the Brookings Institution published a paper (pdf) last week that describes Cuba’s telecom/IT sector and argues that current U.S. laws and regulations are counterproductive. The authors see two benefits to broader access to communications technology: it is a “liberating force” in politics and a long-term benefit for the Cuban economy.

The authors do not ignore Cuba’s own technology restrictions, but they argue that it is “unreasonable” for the United States to wish for greater Cuban access to the Internet and social media while maintaining sanctions that hinder their development. They call for a broad relaxation of U.S. restrictions, and throughout the paper there is the refreshing assumption that Cuban economic development is not a bad thing for U.S. interests.

Cuba would not necessarily respond to a U.S. opening by signing deals with American companies to further develop its telecom/IT sector. But the point is that U.S. regulations should not be the obstacle. And the recommendations include ideas that are smaller in scope, but interesting – such as allowing American companies to hire Cuban talent to develop software and applications.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Herald: A Cuban rafter is rescued after 25 days at sea; he was drifting 51 miles south of Marathon Key.

  • El Mundo on the impact of the announced prisoner releases on the Damas de Blanco.

  • Rep. Bill Delahunt reminds the Washington Post that when it argued in an editorial for maintaining Cuba travel restrictions, it invoked the name of Guillermo Farinas and others who favor ending the restrictions.

  • Reuters: The Salvadoran nabbed in Venezuela in connection with the 1997 hotel bombings in Cuba was handed over to Cuba.

  • McClatchy: Confessed Cuban spies Walter and Gwendolyn Myers want to be jailed near each other, and far from Florida.

  • FT’s Latin America editor sees Cuba sending a market signal: that Venezuela is an “underperforming” asset.

  • Washington Post: The Skakespeare folio saga – England to Cuba to Washington’s Folger Library – ends in British court with a conviction on charges of handling stolen goods. More here.

  • From Brett Sokol at Slate: While the Russian spy story is still fresh, a review of shortwave radio “numbers stations” that intelligence services, including Cuba’s, use to communicate with their agents.

Out and about, again

Fidel Castro visits Havana’s Center for Research on the World Economy.

[Photo from]

Departure or exile?

And say'st thou yet that exile is not death?
– Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 3

Seven of the 52 Cuban political prisoners slated to be released from jail arrived in Spain yesterday with their families, where they issued a statement proclaiming a new phase of their civic struggle.

“We are the beginning of a path that can be the beginning of a change” in Cuba, said the statement, which was read by Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso. Asked whether they are being manipulated, Gonzalez answered in the negative, noted that all negotiations include concessions, and “each one has taken the path that he has considered to be convenient.” He added: “We are sure that, given the seriousness of the church and Spanish government, all prisoners will be freed.” He credited Zapata, Farinas and the Damas de Blanco for their roles in securing their freedom. He also congratulated Spain’s world champion soccer team.

AP covers their arrival here and provides their bios here. Here’s coverage from BBC, and EFE’s story in Spanish is here.

Cuba’s Catholic Church says that of the 52, 20 have so far “accepted the proposal to leave prison and go to Spain.”

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley called the release a “positive development” and concluded: “All those released from prison should be free to decide for themselves whether to remain in Cuba or travel to another country.” He wasn’t as poetic as old Romeo above, but his point is clear: it is better all around that the prisoners be released, but if it’s forced exile, it’s a different kind of punishment.

And the issue bears examining because on many past occasions, the Cuban government has released prisoners on the condition that they depart Cuba. And Raul Castro has offered to release these prisoners in exchange for the return to Cuba of the Cuban Five – but his idea was that the prisoners and their families would come to the United States.

So the key question is: Are the releases unconditional? Spanish officials and Church authorities say they are. We will know for sure in due course, as we’re beginning to see reports that some of the prisoners are saying they want to remain in Cuba.

Meanwhile, if you are trying to stay on top of this, here are some news items that help.

  • EFE: Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos on July 9: “The Spanish government has accepted the proposal that all those who are released may travel to Spain if that is their wish.”

  • El Pais reports that the Spanish embassy had personnel at the airport Monday night to conduct visa interviews in which they made sure “that this was not a deportation, but rather that their exit from the country is voluntary.”

  • From the same report: “The leader of the Damas de Blanco, Laura Pollan, explained that of the 26 political prisoners reached by Sunday by the Church, 20 said they were disposed to leave Cuba while ‘six had said no, they are staying in their Patria.’ It is not yet known what will happen with them.” AFP reports that about 20 of the 52 say they do not want to leave Cuba. Blogger Claudia Cadelo tweets that Pedro Arguelles, Eduardo Diaz, and Regis Iglesias say they do not want to leave Cuba.

  • In an interview published Saturday in El Pais, Hector Palacios – himself one of the 75 jailed in 2003, who has been released on licencia extrapenal for medical reasons – had this exchange with reporter Mauricio Vicent:

Q. The government has imposed a condition that the prisoners leave the country…

A. I don’t think that is so. Just yesterday a prisoner of the group of 75, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, called me from jail. Cardinal Jaime Ortega had just called to inform him that he would be released in another group of prisoners, and he told him that he didn’t want to leave the country. The cardinal responded that that seemed fine to him, that it was his decision and it had to be respected and was not going to affect his release at all. Another thing is that the majority of the prisoners do want to leave, and it is their right.

  • Prisoner Pedro Arguelles, interviewed by Yoani Sanchez (English here, Spanish here): “…on Saturday, July 10, I went to the office of the head of the prison and there they put me through on the phone to talk to the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega. He informed me that I was on the list of those who would leave for Spain if I would agree to go. I told him that no, I had no interest in leaving my country. He asked me about my wife as well, if she would have any interest. I said no. Well, he told me, he would report back and he said goodbye. That is all I have been told, they haven’t told me anything more, I’m here waiting for events and their development.”

  • I haven’t seen a precise definition of the status and conditions of those who are leaving for Spain. Reports indicate that 1) they are considered emigrants, but not with the salida definitiva status that would require their homes and properties in Cuba to be liquidated; 2) they will need a permit to return to Cuba; 3) their families can return as they please. See reports from La Jornada, AFP, and EFE.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Guillermo Farinas was interviewed by El Pais; excerpts:

“Above all it has been a victory for Cuba, because the repressed won but so did the repressors; they also had to concede and learn to walk toward reconciliation.”

“It is time to look forward. We cannot stay here – neither the government, nor the opposition, nor the international community: it is a window that has opened and we have to take advantage of it.”

He is of the opinion that the United States should seize the current moment “to move” and to authorize travel by American tourists. In his view, this would be the best help for changes in Cuba. “The visits of millions of United States citizens would without a doubt change this country, just as did the arrival of exiles in 1979.”

[On the meaning of Fidel Castro’s public appearances as the prisoner releases began:] “It gives the measure that this entire play has been made with the consent of Fidel Castro, that he is lucid and he is behind everything.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

The big guy is back (Updated)

Ex-President and Communist Party chief Fidel Castro went to a research facility last week and cell phone pictures appeared on blogs. And tonight he’s on the Mesa Redonda – to talk about “dangerous events taking place in the Mideast,” Granma says.

Update: Here's the video from the Mesa Redonda.

Additional releases announced

The text of three press statements from the Archdiocese of Havana:

1. [July 10] En continuidad con el proceso de liberación de prisioneros, se informa los que saldrán próximamente con destino a España.






2. [July 10] En continuidad con el proceso de liberación de prisioneros, se informa que otros siete serán excarcelados próximamente. Ellos son:








De esta forma suman diecisiete (17) los prisioneros que han aceptado la propuesta de salir de la prisión y trasladarse a España.

3. [July 12] En continuidad con el proceso de liberación de prisioneros, se informa que otros tres serán excarcelados próximamente. Ellos son:




De esta forma suman veinte (20) los prisioneros que han aceptado la propuesta de salir de la prisión y trasladarse a España.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's over

Yoani Sanchez reports from the hospital in Santa Clara that Guillermo Farinas is ending his hunger strike.

Miscelaneas de Cuba: Gisela Delgado, also present in Santa Clara, confirms that report and reports that the local bishop visited Farinas last night to inform him of yesterday’s developments.

Church releases first five names

Another press statement from the Havana archdiocese naming the five prisoners who “will be able to leave for Spain in the coming days:”



Como adelantamos en la nota de ayer, cinco (5) prisioneros podrán salir rumbo a España en los próximos días. Ellos son:






Orlando Márquez Hidalgo

La Habana, 8 de julio de 2010

A talk with Farinas (Updated)

Miscelaneas de Cuba, a Sweden-based website run by ex-prisoner Oswaldo Alfonso, one of the 75 jailed in 2003, interviews another of the 75, Hector Palacios, who was released in 2006 and remains in Cuba.

In the audio, Palacios says he is on his way to Santa Clara to see Gullermo Farinas, and he and his colleagues will try at 1:00 p.m. to persuade him to end his hunger strike: “I believe we can save Coco Farinas…because he has already won.”

Update: A tweet from Yoani Sanchez at 1:50 p.m.: She is in Farinas’ hospital in Santa Clara with Hector Palacios, Gisela Delgado, Rene Gomez Manzano, Reinaldo Escobar, and pastor Mario de Taguayabon.

Church statement on prisoner transfers

[A press statement from the Havana archdiocese indicating that "the authorities" have informed Cardinal Ortega that six prisoners will be transferred "toward their home provinces."]



El cardenal Jaime Ortega, arzobispo de La Habana, ha sido informado por las autoridades que en las próximas horas serán trasladados seis (6) prisioneros hacia sus provincias de residencia. Ellos son:

1- NELSON MOLINET ESPINO, de Pinar del Río a Ciudad de La Habana

2- CLARO SÁNCHEZ ALTARRIBA, de Camagüey a Santiago de Cuba

3- JOSÉ DANIEL FERRER GARCÍA, de Las Tunas a Santiago de Cuba

4- MARCELO MANUEL CANO RODRÍGUEZ, de Cienfuegos a Ciudad de La Habana

5- ANGEL JUAN MOYA ACOSTA, de Ciudad de La Habana a Matanzas

6- LUIS ENRIQUE FERRER GARCÍA, de Santiago de Cuba a Las Tunas

Orlando Márquez Hidalgo
La Habana, 8 de julio de 2010

In today's Granma

Today’s Granma takes brief note on page one of the talks between Raul Castro, Spanish foreign minister Moratinos, and Cardinal Ortega, and runs the text of yesterday’s press statement from the Archdiocese of Havana on page two. To see how they appear on the printed page, here is a pdf of page one and page two. Here is the Miami Herald’s translation of the Church statement.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dialogue and results

Today’s announcement about prisoner releases is a very positive development. Here’s hoping that the releases discussed in the statement from the Archdiocese of Havana take place as soon as possible.

The result, if all comes to fruition, will be the release of the remainder of the 75 arrested and jailed, unjustly in my opinion, in the spring of 2003. They are a diverse group that included nearly all the principal activists behind the Varela Project, the pro-reform petition drive led by Oswaldo Paya and the Christian Liberation Movement.

If those releases occur, there would be by my quick count only about a dozen left on Amnesty International’s list of prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

I’m told by someone close to the process that the releases are not contingent on the prisoners leaving the country – that “may leave the country” means what it says, and doesn’t mean “must.” In many cases over the years, that condition has indeed been imposed, trading imprisonment for forced departure – but apparently not in this case. And several of the 75 that were released in recent years – e.g. Hector Palacios, Oscar Espinosa Chepe – have remained in Cuba.

For a long time, it has been said that what is needed is not a dialogue between Cuba’s government and foreign governments, but rather a dialogue with the Cuban people themselves. Cuba’s government has naturally said this is not necessary, because Cuba’s form of government and political system represent the popular will and feature permanent contact with the public.

Now there’s a new feature on Cuba’s political landscape – a dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuba’s civil society in the form of the country’s largest independent institution, the Catholic Church. More important, the Cuban government has acknowledged in the official media that this dialogue is taking place and includes the topic of prisoners. To me, that should count as progress.

It should also count as progress that the process is beginning to produce results. No one can argue that it is solving the totality of Cuba’s human rights problems, or that the Church should be immune from criticism as the process plays out. Nor can one deny that it was preceded by, and perhaps caused in part by Cuban citizens’ protests and hunger strikes.

But it is beginning to produce results where sanctions, distance, rhetoric, and regime-change schemes of all kinds have not.

Remarkably, this statement from Miami’s three Cuban American members of the House of Representatives doesn’t hold the Church’s feet to the fire, doesn’t warn of a bait-and-switch. It simply ignores the Church completely, as if the Cubans active in this process don’t count. The Cubans who have achieved a dialogue with their government on human rights issues get no mention at all – just the “heroic actions of the internal opposition,” and “the economic pressure of U.S. sanctions,” and the foreign minister of Spain “dedicated to the defense of the Cuban terrorist regime” and “attempting to divert attention from the need for freedom for the Cuban people through multiparty elections.”

Church statement on prisoner releases

[Cuban Colada translates this statement here.]



Al mediodía de hoy, miércoles 7 de julio, el cardenal Jaime Ortega Alamino ha sido recibido por el presidente cubano Raúl Castro Ruz. En el encuentro participaron también el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación de España, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, y el ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Horas antes, el cardenal Ortega había sostenido una reunión de trabajo conjunta con los ministros Moratinos y Rodríguez Parrilla.

Durante estas citas de hoy se conversó sobre el proceso iniciado el pasado 19 de mayo, cuando el presidente Raúl Castro Ruz recibió al cardenal Jaime Ortega y al presidente de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Cuba, monseñor Dionisio García Ibáñez.

Hasta el presente, el desarrollo de este proceso ha permitido la liberación de un prisionero y el traslado de otros doce a sus provincias de residencia.

En el ámbito de estos encuentros de hoy, y siguiendo la continuidad del proceso antes mencionado, el cardenal Ortega fue informado que en las próximas horas otros seis prisioneros serán trasladados a sus provincias de residencia y que cinco más serán puestos en libertad y podrán salir en breve para España en compañía de sus familiares.

Las autoridades cubanas informaron además que los 47 prisioneros que restan de los que fueron detenidos en 2003, serán puestos en libertad y podrán salir del país. Esta gestión será concluida en un periodo de tres a cuatro meses a partir de este momento.

Este proceso ha tomado en consideración las propuestas expresadas previamente al cardenal Ortega por los familiares de los presos.

Orlando Márquez Hidalgo

La Habana, 7 de julio de 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Odds and ends

  • AP: The municipal communist party is trying to expel Esteban Morales, author of this article on corruption, and he isn’t taking it sitting down.

  • Only in Miami, continued: One of David Rivera’s opponents in the GOP Congressional primary has put out a video hammering him on his apparent friendship with a guy who is involved in sales of agricultural products to Cuba. The clincher: they are Facebook friends. Rivera is running in District 25, an open seat resulting from Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s move to another district, and is likely to face Democrat Joe Garcia.

333 in 2006, 167 now

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) has released its latest list of political prisoners, and the total is 167 – 34 fewer than six months ago, and 166 fewer than were listed in January 2006.

The Commission, led by human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez, issues the list every six months. This link takes you to Sanchez’ statement, and if you scroll to the bottom there are additional links: to the list of the 167, and to a list of the 53 on Sanchez’ list that are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Here are stories from CNN and EFE. Spanish foreign minister Moratinos is in Spain, human rights is on his agenda (see BBC story), and Granma noted his visit this morning.

Separately, a story in La Jornada (“Expectation grows that Cuban government will free jailed opponents”) cites “reports from prisons, according to which medical examinations have been made and photographs taken of 30 to 40 dissidents, who were asked if, in the case that they were freed, they would think about emigrating, to which country and with which family members. These are unusual proceedings that take place when there are releases from jail, said Elizardo Sanchez,” who was credited with gathering the reports.

Highlights from Sanchez’ statement:

  • The reduced number of political prisoners reflects “a certain change in the forms of political repression,” from long-term jail sentences to intimidation through short-term detentions of opposition activists, of which 802 took place in the first half of the year.

  • This is termed a “low-intensity” form of political repression.

  • The “great majority” of those released during the past year either completed their sentences, or completed sentences that were reduced for good conduct.

  • “In spite of the dispiriting human rights picture,” the release of Ariel Sigler Amaya and the transfer of a dozen prisoners to jails near their homes and families “are positive acts, but limited and late in coming.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Granma says Guillermo Farinas is in danger of death and runs a 2,100-word article explaining the hunger striker’s medical treatment over the past few months. “They are preparing public opinion for his death,” Yoani Sanchez tweets. His doctor says he and his colleagues are asking Farinas “that he contribute to the fight for his life.” The article does not mention the reason for his hunger strike.

  • AP: Venezuelan authorities say they have detained at the Caracas airport a suspect in the 1997 Havana hotel bombings. The man, Francisco Chavez Abarca, is a Salvadoran national.

  • Washington Post: The Nationals sign Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez to a minor league contract. The article says his age is 44; I didn’t know that his precise age was known. His brother Livan, whatever his age, is chugging along with a 2.98 ERA.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Technology and political change

As a quiet panic continues to grip five continents with Penultimos Dias heading into its third week off-line and under repair, that blog's author Ernesto Hernandez Busto takes a hard look at the “limits of cyber-dissidence” in El Pais.

The question is whether new information technologies drive political change. The answer is increasingly colored by facts such as these: governments can often use the technologies as well as their opponents, and technology cannot succeed where there is absence of motivation.

An earlier commentary from Ernesto on cyber-activism in Cuba, in English, is here.

In his El Pais article, he makes reference to a debate on this topic between Yevgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky; it can be found in the UK’s Prospect magazine here, here, here, and here.

Odds and ends

  • A column in last week’s Wall Street Journal reported indirectly that Cardinal Ortega had been in Washington, and rumors of meetings he had here. There’s lots of talk about that trip, very little concrete or on the record. But the June 21-28 trip itself has been confirmed by his spokesman Orlando Marquez; see Progreso Weekly and La Jornada.

  • AP: Cuba is closing more workplace cafeterias. The experiment that initially affected 2,800 workers is now expanding to cover 225,000, all in Havana, all of whom receive 15-peso daily stipends to go buy their own lunch. Earlier discussion here.

  • The Wall Street Journal advances the Cuba oil story, quoting a Repsol spokeswoman saying the company plans to resume drilling next year in its concession in Cuba’s Gulf waters. Its rig is under construction in China. Also: “A Treasury Department spokeswoman said some U.S. firms involved in oil cleanup have been issued licenses to travel to Cuba in case oil from the continuing spill hits beaches there.”

  • The understatement of the year from Elian Gonzalez, who holds no ill feelings against his Miami relatives but says they “just didn’t make their best effort” to reunite him with his father. If that’s the way he remembers it, it’s probably not a bad thing. Herald story here.

  • From a reader: video of one number, “Demasiado,” at Silvio Rodriguez’ Washington concert.

Havana seafront

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What is Spanish for “chutzpah?”

Granma notes in today’s paper that a House committee approved a Cuba travel bill yesterday and concludes with this sentence: “According to the nation’s Constitution, the travel prohibition in effect for more than half a century violates the rights of U.S. citizens and is illegal.”

Only in Miami

GOP Congressional candidate and state legislator David Rivera, a fully reliable gonzo hardliner on Cuba issues, has a friend who does business with Cuba, so he’s now in an “awkward spot,” the Herald reports.

This part of the article is delicious:

Said Mary Ellen Miller, former Miami-Dade Republican Party chairwoman: “I know Ariel and I know David and they are friends. They’ve been friends probably since they got involved in Republican politics.” (Two days after her comment, Miller said she had gotten a call “from a friend” she declined to identify and wanted to change her statement to deny the two men had ever been friends.)

Apparently, “We’re friends but we don’t agree on everything” doesn’t cut it on this issue, in that corner of America.