Monday, July 31, 2006

Castro's brother always by his side

CNN

Siblings share ideology but have different personalities

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 Posted: 0241 GMT (1041 HKT)

(CNN) -- Smaller, less of an ideologue and less charismatic than Fidel Castro, Raul Castro has nonetheless known for years that he was the man designated to take over from his older brother.

For years Raul Castro has talked about a post-Fidel Cuba under his leadership.

"Is there going to be a transition here towards something? Yes, towards a better form of socialism, and here's something you'll like: towards a more democratic society," Raul Castro has said.

But exactly what he means by more democratic is unclear.

Fidel Castro was undergoing intestinal surgery and provisionally handed over power to Raul, according to a statement read on Cuban television Monday night.

Both brothers were born in Mayari, Cuba, the sons of a Spanish immigrant who became a rich landowner, and the housemaid he eventually married.

Raul Castro was always by his brother's side, beginning with the 1950s uprising that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Since 1959, he has been Cuba's powerful minister of defense. He is also the first vice president of the Council of State and is the next in line to take over from Fidel Castro in case of death.
Different personalities

The two brothers share the same ideology but have very different personalities.

Raul Castro is said to have a more common touch and be more pragmatic than Fidel Castro.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left Cuba on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation, it was Raul Castro who insisted on allowing free-enterprise farmers' markets.

He declared that "beans have as much importance as cannons, if not more."

While Fidel Castro is rather stiff, Raul Castro is more down to earth, enjoying parties and always joking, according to those who've known him well.

Still, in many ways he is seen as more of a hard-liner than Fidel Castro.

During the early years of the revolution, Raul Castro earned a reputation for being ruthless with his enemies. That reputation remains, and many Cubans say it makes them afraid of how he might rule once in power.

Raul Castro has said that Fidel Castro would be a hard act to follow.

"No one will ever again have as much authority as Fidel Castro has had, because of who he is, because he made a true revolution," Raul Castro said.

Raul Castro is only five years younger than Fidel Castro and plagued by rumors about his own health.

Still, he says he will rule alongside the Communist Party, which he says is the only thing that can guarantee continuity.

Just in case, Raul Castro would also have the power of the military behind him.

Proclama del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro al pueblo de Cuba

Juventud Rebelde, Cuba

Correo: digital@jrebelde.cip.cu

31 de julio de 2006 22:26:01 GMT

Con motivo del enorme esfuerzo realizado para visitar la ciudad argentina de Córdoba, participar en la Reunión del MERCOSUR, en la clausura de la Cumbre de los Pueblos en la histórica Universidad de Córdoba y en la visita a Altagracia, la ciudad donde vivió el Che en su infancia y unido a esto asistir de inmediato a la conmemoración del 53 aniversario del asalto a los cuarteles Moncada y Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, el 26 de julio de 1953, en las provincias de Granma y Holguín, días y noches de trabajo continuo sin apenas dormir dieron lugar a que mi salud, que ha resistido todas las pruebas, se sometiera a un estrés extremo y se quebrantara.

Esto me provocó una crisis intestinal aguda con sangramiento sostenido que me obligó a enfrentar una complicada operación quirúrgica. Todos los detalles de este accidente de salud constan en las radiografías, endoscopías y materiales filmados. La operación me obliga a permanecer varias semanas de reposo, alejado de mis responsabilidades y cargos.

Como nuestro país se encuentra amenazado en circunstancias como esta por el Gobierno de los Estados Unidos, he tomado la siguiente decisión:

1) Delego con carácter provisional mis funciones como Primer Secretario del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba en el Segundo Secretario, compañero Raúl Castro Ruz.

2) Delego con carácter provisional mis funciones como Comandante en Jefe de las heroicas Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias en el mencionado compañero, General de Ejército Raúl Castro Ruz.

3) Delego con carácter provisional mis funciones como Presidente del Consejo de Estado y del Gobierno de la República de Cuba en el Primer Vicepresidente, compañero Raúl Castro Ruz.

4) Delego con carácter provisional mis funciones como impulsor principal del Programa Nacional e Internacional de Salud Pública en el Miembro del Buró Político y Ministro de Salud Pública, compañero José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera.

5) Delego con carácter provisional mis funciones como impulsor principal del Programa Nacional e Internacional de Educación en los compañeros José Ramón Machado Ventura y Esteban Lazo Hernández, Miembros del Buró Político.

6) Delego con carácter provisional mis funciones como impulsor principal del Programa Nacional de la Revolución Energética en Cuba y de colaboración con otros países en este ámbito en el compañero Carlos Lage Dávila, Miembro del Buró Político y Secretario del Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de Ministros.

Los fondos correspondientes para estos tres programas, Salud, Educación y Energético, deberán seguir siendo gestionados y priorizados, como he venido haciéndolo personalmente, por los compañeros Carlos Lage Dávila, Secretario del Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo de Ministros, Francisco Soberón Valdés, Ministro Presidente del Banco Central de Cuba, y Felipe Pérez Roque, Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores, quienes me acompañaron en estas gestiones y deberán constituir una comisión para ese objetivo.

Nuestro glorioso Partido Comunista, apoyado por las organizaciones de masas y todo el pueblo, tiene la misión de asumir la tarea encomendada en esta Proclama.

La reunión Cumbre del Movimiento de Países No Alineados, a realizarse entre los días 11 y 16 de septiembre, deberá recibir la mayor atención del Estado y la Nación cubana para celebrarse con el máximo de brillantez en la fecha acordada.

El 80 aniversario de mi cumpleaños, que tan generosamente miles de personalidades acordaron celebrar el próximo 13 de agosto, les ruego a todos posponerlo para el 2 de diciembre del presente año, 50 aniversario del Desembarco del Granma.

Pido al Comité Central del Partido y a la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular el apoyo más firme a esta Proclama.

No albergo la menor duda de que nuestro pueblo y nuestra Revolución lucharán hasta la última gota de sangre para defender estas y otras ideas y medidas que sean necesarias para salvaguardar este proceso histórico.

El imperialismo jamás podrá aplastar a Cuba.

La Batalla de Ideas seguirá adelante.

¡Viva la Patria!

¡Viva la Revolución!

¡Viva el Socialismo!

¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

Fidel Castro Ruz

Comandante en Jefe

Primer Secretario del Partido y

Presidente de los Consejos de Estado y de

Ministros de la República de Cuba.

Julio 31 del 2006

6 y 22 p.m.

Fidel Castro Hands Over Power Due To Illness


www.cbsnews.com

Cuban Leader Relinquishes Power Temporarily After Undergoing Intestinal Surgery

HAVANA, July 31, 2006

(CBS/AP) Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul on Monday night and told Cubans he underwent surgery.

The Cuban leader said he had suffered gastrointestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba, according to the letter read live on television by his secretary, Carlos Valenciaga.

"The operation obligates me to undertake several weeks of rest," the letter read, adding that extreme stress "had provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure."

Castro said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his younger brother and successor Raul, the defense minister, but said the move was of "a provisional character." There was no immediate appearance or statement by Raul Castro.

The elder Castro asked that celebrations scheduled for his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Castro said he would also temporarily relinquish his duties as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Raul, who turned 75 in June and who has been taking on a more public profile in recent weeks.

Castro also announced that he was turning over his functions in the area of health care and education and as head of the national energy program to other Communist party and government figures who he named, reports CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum. .

He said the Communist Party has to stand firm to defend the revolution threatened by Washington, Siegelbaum reports.

In power since the triumph of the Cuban revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, Castro has been the world's longest-ruling head of government. Only Britain's Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, has been head of state longer.

The "maximum leader's" ironclad rule has ensured Cuba remains among the world's five remaining communist countries. The others are all in Asia: China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.

Over nearly five decades, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled Castro's rule, many of them settling just across the Florida Straits in Miami.

Castro rose to power after an armed revolution he led drove out then-President Fulgencio Batista.

The United States was the first country to recognize Castro, but his radical economic reforms and rapid trials of Batista supporters quickly unsettled U.S. leaders.

Washington eventually slapped a trade embargo on the island and severed diplomatic ties. Castro seized American property and businesses and turned to the Soviet Union for military and economic assistance.

On April 16, 1961, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist. The following day, he humiliated the United States by capturing more than 1,100 exile soldiers in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The world neared nuclear conflict on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. After a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them.

Meanwhile, Cuban revolutionaries opened 10,000 new schools, erased illiteracy, and built a universal health care system. Castro backed revolutionary movements in Latin America and Africa.

But former liberties were whittled away as labor unions lost the right to strike, independent newspapers were shut down and religious institutions were harassed.

When social pressures increased, Castro provided a safety valve.

In 1980, people desperate to leave the island poured into foreign embassies and the Cuban leader let 125,000 countrymen flee to Florida by boat through Mariel port, west of Havana.

When economic crisis sparked rioting in Havana in 1994, Castro opened Cuba's borders again, and an estimated 30,000 people took to the sea in rafts.

With Cuba's economy in a tailspin after the loss of Soviet aid, Castro was forced to open up to foreign capitalists and allow limited private enterprise.

But when the economy began recovering in the late 1990s, Castro reasserted control and stifled private business.

Castro continually resisted U.S. demands for multiparty elections and an open economy despite American laws tightening the embargo in 1992 and 1996.

He characterized a U.S. plan for American aid in a post-Castro era as a thinly disguised attempt at regime change and insisted his socialist system would survive long after his death.

Fidel Castro Ruz was born in eastern Cuba, where his Spanish immigrant father ran a prosperous plantation. His official birthday is Aug. 13, 1926, although some say he was born a year later.

Talk of Castro's mortality was long taboo on the island, but that ended June 23, 2001, when he fainted during a speech in the sun. Although Castro quickly returned to the stage, many Cubans understood for the first time that their leader would one day die.

Castro shattered a kneecap and broke an arm when he fell after a speech on Oct. 20, 2004, but typically laughed off rumors about his health, most recently a 2005 report that he had Parkinson's disease.

"They have tried to kill me off so many times," Castro said in a November 2005 speech about the Parkinson's report, adding he felt "better than ever."

But the Cuban president also said he would not insist on remaining in power if he ever became too sick to lead: "I'll call the (Communist) Party and tell them I don't feel I'm in condition ... that please, someone take over the command."

Cuba Finishes #1 at Central American and Caribben Games

<-------Top Ten Finishers---------------->

Country --Gold- Silver Bronze -TOTAL-

Cuba ------138----86-----61-----285
Mexico ----107----82-----86----275
Colombia --72----70-----77-----219
Venezuela -49----90----124-----263
Puerto Rico-23---19-----53------95
Dom Rep ---22----31----44------97
Jamaica -----9-----6------7-------22
El Salvador -6----12-----29------47
Barbados ----6-----2-----11-------19
Guatemala ---5----13-----30-----48

Cuba Comes in from the Cold

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Bolstered by New Investments and Beneficial Trade Agreements, the Island’s Economy Surges while Washington Grumbles over Havana’s Possible Big Oil Surprise

* Cuban society reaps benefits from new investments and from major equity transfers coming from China and Venezuela

* New economic arrangements and wider political ties have led Havana out of its U.S.-consigned international purdah

* Regional political shift blows apart Washington’s already failed policy of attempting to isolate Cuba

* Bush Administration commits its latest blunder in announcing another scorched earth attack against Castro, but it’s fast running out of arrows and credibility

For a country long in the grip of a paralyzing economic malaise, and with living standards which have not always endeared government officials to ordinary citizens, Fidel Castro’s May Day boast of 11.8 percent growth in the first three months of 2006 came as welcome news to a long suffering population. The upbeat report, reflecting a far better-stocked national larder than ever before, replaced the usual exhortations for personal sacrifices that the average Cuban was used to hearing from the leadership, which usually offers more fiery rhetoric than caloric intake. In front of more than one million people gathered at Havana’s Revolution Square, Castro trumpeted progress in all sectors of the economy, despite an unshakeable U.S. trade embargo. Since then, and in widely different locales, Fidel has continued to boast a climbing rate of economic growth, claiming that Cuba’s economy had expanded by 12.5% in the first quarter of this year. “We should thank [the blockade] because it has forced us to grow and rise to the occasion,” the near-octogenarian leader satisfyingly declared on May Day.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 inaugurated the beginning of the very harsh “Special Period” in Cuban history. As its Eastern-bloc financial subsidies dried up and trade dwindled, the Cuban economy suffered a crushing 35% decrease in its GDP. As one U.S. observer noted, “Almost all of Cuba’s sugar harvest had been sold to the communist bloc throughout the Cold War era, and in return the island imported two-thirds of its food supply, nearly all its oil and 80% of its machinery and spare parts from the same sources.” As a result, after 1990, 85% of Havana’s export-import trade –mainly from Eastern Europe—was lopped off, bringing on extremely bitter days for Cuba’s population.

Now, after over a decade of struggle, the island is making a relatively extraordinary recovery: Havana has linked up with new trading partners while revitalizing old ones, resulting in a surging relationship with most of Latin America (albeit involving modest volumes) and much of the rest of the world. The growth has captured the attention of free-market, capitalistic economists who once deemed Cuba’s large state-controlled sector to be too inefficient to support a prosperous economy. The growth also has drawn an undeniable amount of attention to the nearly complete irrelevance of Cuba’s regional arch foe, the United States.

Growth in All Sectors of the Cuban Economy

Quantifying the Cuban economy is difficult, as government officials avoid utilizing standard international measurements as indicators of the island’s economic performance. Economic authorities in Cuba stepped up their criticisms of the international methodology for calculating GDP in 2005, as social benefits were usually exempt from the quantitative data traditionally relied upon. “GDP tells us very little. What purchasing power has a salary in light of social policies… All are lies and distortions,” Castro claimed. Havana’s calculations instead utilize an array of social factors when establishing economic benchmarks and parameters. One Cuban economist demonstrated exactly how the government tags economic growth on social projects, “(Cuba) offered an English course on television; how much would it cost if it had been sold as cassettes in a given foreign country?” By comparing the price of a particular social service with that of an analogue in a foreign country, the island-state can further adjust the true growth of its society. Furthermore, Cuban authorities tend to divide the economy into two main sectors, a practice which underscores the government’s social focus. The “socialist sector,” (as opposed to the non-socialist, free market sector) includes all goods distributed to Cuban citizens, operating in part on revenue generated by the free market sector, which includes all of the island’s foreign exchange earnings.

Both areas of the Cuban market have seen growth in recent years, although the socialist sector has gained relatively more momentum through contributions from the socialist-supporting Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. In his May Day speech, President Castro spotlighted the growing profitability of several sectors, proudly reporting enhanced earnings in construction, transportation and commercial activities. He also pointed to the island’s traditional triumphs with low infant mortality rates indicating the success of its widely admired health care system, and an improving educational system that currently has 500,000 Cuban students enrolled in its rapidly growing university system. Growth in these various sectors comes as a direct benefit from mushrooming new trade arrangements with the outside world, as well as from increasing foreign investment in tourism, oil exploration and nickel.

Regional Political Shift Re-integrates the Island with the Hemisphere

The Washington-enforced political and economic isolation of Havana, long prescribed by the White House as the proper treatment for the perceived hemisphere’s preeminent pariah, began completely unraveling at the end of the Cold War. In recent years, a gradual resurgence of the Latin American left in recent years could be seen as a modest “pink tide” movement throughout South America. This shift significantly benefited Havana; for example, even one of the least ideological members of this group—Uruguay’s Tabaré Vazquez—quickly moved to restore relations with the island-state. Vazquez was not alone, and the new regional interest in cultivating ties with Cuba quickened the tempo of economic benefits for Havana. According to a 2005 debt report regarding the Castro regime, three of the country’s top creditors were regional economic leaders– Argentina, Mexico and Brazil– signifying an increasing confidence in Cuba’s growing economy. At the same time, it should be noted that it has been the Latin American countries with the closest ideological alignment with Havana that have come forth with the most tangible benefits for the island.

Venezuela’s swaggering Hugo Chávez undoubtedly has been Havana’s most valuable partner, with advantageous trade and barter arrangements between the two serving as a lynchpin of the relationship. A 2005 agreement sent 20% of Cuban doctors to serve in poor urban Venezuelan barrios, in exchange for a daily supply of 90,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil. Since Hugo Chávez’s election in 1998, collaboration between the two nations has become a core component of Caracas’ policy, and in recent months this trend has accelerated. For example, Venezuela-Cuba trade is expected to reach over US$3.5 billion in 2006 - a 40% increase over 2005. Given Venezuela’s oil-fueled economic clout, the upside for Cuba has been enormous, and the newest trade agreements have stimulated the two countries to even further intensify these various exchanges. Cuban physicians are currently training 40,000 Venezuelan medical students, and an estimated 100,000 ordinary Venezuelans are scheduled to have free eye surgery in Cuba this year. Cuba also has provided assistance to the Venezuelan literacy program, which reportedly has graduated 1.4 million enrollees since its inception under Chavez, and has come close to eradicating illiteracy in the country—only the second nation in the region to achieve this, after Cuba, which maintains a steady literacy rate of 97.8 percent.

Last December’s electoral triumph in Bolivia of fellow socialist Evo Morales seems to offer a comparable boon for Havana in terms of warm strategic relations and future access to Bolivia’s natural-gas driven, new-found wealth. The ill-concealed admiration for the legendary Cuban leader displayed by both Chávez and Morales has formed the basis for a number of beneficial barter agreements for Castro, as well as for his trade partners.

A Triangle of Trade Agreements: Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela
Highlighting the island’s economic integration with other Latin American nations, in April 29, 2006, Bolivia joined Cuba and Venezuela in signing Chavez’s Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA) trade agreement. ALBA, a proposed alternative to the controversial U.S.- sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), presents a socialist vision for regional commercial cooperation, although at this point its value is largely political, symbolic and somewhat short on economic specifics. The socialist-based agreements are increasingly popular in the region, and on July 18, ALBA’s future initiatives were discussed among 100 representative Latin American groups during Argentina’s Peoples Summit, which hoped to configure possible solutions to neoliberalism-induced distortions in regional societies.

Instead of basing its economic strategy on deregulated profit maximization schemes, ALBA advocates a socially oriented trade model. After Colombia (traditionally the principal market for Bolivian soy) chose to pursue a bilateral free trade arrangement with the United States, Cuba and Venezuela agreed to buy or barter for all of Bolivia’s soybean exports, under the aegis of ALBA. In partial exchange for such products, Cuba has promised to send doctors to Bolivia in order to provide medical care in impoverished rural areas, as well as teachers to conduct literacy campaigns for the region’s poor. Reinforcing such ties among the signatories through the use of barter, discounted loans and credit policies, as well as through ordinary trade, is meant to demonstrate the “social trade” alternatives promoted by the three nations.

The April meeting also included the unveiling of the Peoples’ Trade Agreement (TCP), an association aimed at deepening economic ties among the three nations. First conceptualized by Morales, this framework, like the ALBA, will further integrate Cuba with the economies of Venezuela and Bolivia. In April, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca was quoted by La Paz, a Bolivian daily, as saying that the agreement “is a peoples’ trade agreement, but also a space for integration… It is broader, and not limited to soybeans or coca.” The agreement establishes conditions of mutual cooperation and integration of the Cuban, Venezuelan and Bolivian economies, based on each nation’s comparative advantages, but it was mostly created “to put some meat on the bones of ALBA,” according to LatinNews. Details of the TCP aim to promote integration that elevates social welfare and a respect for history and culture in contrast to the traditional FTA, which prioritizes competition, privatization and the liberalization of markets. While Choquehuanca suggested that, “(Cuba) would buy manufactured goods, textiles, and wood (from Bolivia),” he acknowledged that unresolved details remain by noting that, “At the proper time, we are going to make known which commissions have been formed, and what volumes of products, times, and deadlines this represents economically.”

Veneconomy, a Latin American news source, reported that the signing of the TCP initiates Bolivia’s exportation of coca leaf in unspecified quantities to Cuba and Venezuela, promoting alternative usage of coca products such as for tea and medicinal purposes. Though coca leaves can hardly provide the foundation for dramatic economic growth, the exchange will telegraph the significant symbolism inherent in the agreement. These trade agreements, if less than comprehensive, nonetheless have helped launch Cuba back into the hemispheric fold as well as stimulate its economy, and Castro’s presence at the July 21 MERCOSUR meeting in Cordoba, Argentina, underscored this new reality. It is most likely that within several years, Cuba will be invited to become an associated member of MERCOSUR.

Economic Exchanges lead to Greater International Acceptance
The revitalization of the island’s economy has been bolstered by growing ties with investor nations from both inside and outside Latin America. These ties not only have helped drive Castro’s economic initiatives, but also have led to a greater level of international acceptance for the island. Ever since Castro opened Cuba to tourism in the early 1990s, the industry has flourished, annually attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists from Canada, Europe, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. The Cuban government has released statistics showing that in 2004 a record 2.05 million tourists resulted in gross revenue of $2.25 billion, and a comparable figure is expected to be achieved this year. Approximately half of these tourists are from within the Americas– mostly from Canada, Venezuela and Argentina – and the other half are from Europe, mostly from Italy, Germany and France. Tourism not only continues to buttress the economy, but it also increasingly exposes the island nation to visitors from around the world, usually resulting in a significant measure of good will for the regime.

Oil in Cuba’s Future?

Perhaps even a more significant potential contributor to Cuba’s economic growth are the revenues from oil, biomedical and nickel industries. Cuba’s Economic Exclusionary Zone, which lies in the North Cuban Basin between Key West and Havana, potentially holds petroleum reserves amounting to an estimated 4.5 to 9 billion barrels, according to some confidential, as well as public record sources. While Brazilian, Canadian, and Spanish companies have carried out test drilling in the zone for years, although usually with only minimal returns, new exploration efforts could soon be paying off. Spanish oil company Repsol YPF carried out deep-sea explorations and found existence of high quality oil in 2004, yet not in commercial amounts, and it continues to drill in a 4,132 square mile block. In 2004, Castro announced “very promising” deposits 55 kilometers off Cuba’s shoreline, in an area called Santa Cruz. China, whose rapidly industrializing and newly consumerized economy has displayed an insatiable need for energy resources, has become a formidable new player on the Cuban oil scene. Indian and Norwegian companies are also about to initiate drilling in the zone, and Venezuela has continued its active offshore exploration efforts as well. Furthermore, an agreement this past April with an Iranian official promised to fund both exploratory drilling and building refineries on the island, according to the Tehran Times. Russia also has expressed its interest in the possible commercial quantities of oil and natural gas reserves. In conjunction with the heightened levels of investment, Cuba is planning for the construction of 36 new oil rigs built in partnership with Chinese and Canadian companies within Cuban territorial waters.

Outside of Latin America, it is becoming increasingly apparent that China has started to play a major role in rehabilitating the Cuban economy, which accounts for over ten percent of the island’s trade. The Asian behemoth has rapidly become Cuba’s second-biggest trading partner, resulting in broadened ties that now include even the standby readiness for dispatching Chinese disaster aid should any act of nature wreak havoc on the island. This expanding tempo of investment activity also has included the effort to make Havana a conduit for traditional Chinese medicine, which will soon be spreading throughout regional markets. More importantly, Cuba’s nickel deposits are central to the interest of Chinese investors.

In November of 2004, the Chinese invested $500 million to resume the construction of the ferronickel plant left unfinished by the USSR, and Cuba has been projected to export 4,000 tons of nickel annually from 2005 through 2009. The mineral, when combined with iron produces steel and is an essential building block for that nation’s rapid industrial growth. China’s investments in Cuban nickel have allowed for exports of the commodity to significantly increase, guaranteeing a steady stream of revenue to the Cuban government at a time when world nickel prices are soaring.

Resources from Improve Sources

The spate of foreign investment in Cuba has enabled the island to invest heavily in long-needed domestic infrastructure, as well as to create a solid base for the development of future modern technology. Coupled with Havana’s consistent emphasis on human capital, these initiatives are laying the groundwork for meaningful, if not guaranteed economic growth. Free market revenues have been put to good use by the government, and Castro now claims that the country will be able to cut its oil bill by $1 billion a year through savings from new investments in the electricity industry. Cuban citizens have suffered repeated power outages that frequently left their homes in the dark throughout the past 15 years, but Castro’s call for an “energy revolution” has brought prospects for a new, dependable light to the nation, to the cheers of the average Cubano.

Phasing out inefficient machines and oil-run energy generators, while installing 4,000 new ones across the country and investing in environmentally-sustainable fuels, Castro promised that by May 1, approximately 95 percent of Havana’s households can count on no more power outages. As a part of this program, the government has provided its citizens with free, new, energy efficient light-bulbs, while helping to diminish wasteful domestic consumption that was a drag on the country’s growth potential. “By the beginning of June, some 370,000 refrigerators had been replaced, while obsolete television sets in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Havana, City of Havana, Granma and Santiago de Cuba also had been discarded in favor of newer models. Also… they are replacing the high energy consuming air conditioners,” reported one Cuba news source. A Cuba government official confirmed that this is what indeed has happened; proclaiming that “the blackouts are gone!”

The Cuban government also fully funds the nation’s investment in human capital, and while offering universal education, students are incorporated into a system in which their services and labor are put to work, as what the authorities describe for the good of society. For example, the Economist reported in its June 17-23 issue that 28,000 students of Social Work and Economics are actively investigating the efficiency of the social sector as an initiative to eliminate corruption. This strategy could help make the country’s heavy investment in human capital viable in the short term, while redoubling the amount of social benefits that its political system could eventually offer to the entire citizenry, if the model works out. The education of Cuban citizens is also paying off, facilitating the integration of Cuba with the rest of region. Not only are there Cuban doctors and Cuban literacy programs with trade partners Bolivia and Venezuela, but also Ecuadorians that are now being educated by Cubans. Cuba´s “Yo si puedo” literacy program is being implemented in 17 of 22 provinces, and 17,432 Ecuadorians already have been taught to read and write by the program. It is notable that Ecuador has not joined the Latin American “pink tide” movement, demonstrating a remarkable flexibility when it comes to Cuban literacy aid, as Ecuador is not politically aligned with socialist nations.

The United States Remains on the Sidelines

The U.S., needless to say, has been entirely absent from the rolls of new investors in Cuba. The long-standing embargo and the recent stepped-up enforcement of the single-minded and vengeful Helms-Burton legislation have dashed any attempts at rapprochement. This has scuttled the highly delimited initiatives that Washington has engaged in with North Korea and Iran, not to mention the all but complete reconciliation that the White House achieved with Vietnam and Libya. U.S. oil companies have been prohibited by the Bush Administration from investing or participating in any manner in the Cuban energy industry, a subject which was addressed by the “Western Hemisphere Energy Security Act of 2006,” which would provide U.S. oil companies with a profitable loophole in the administration’s otherwise unremitting hard-line stance to any form of island trade. This exception will allow U.S. oil firms to pursue oil exploration in Cuban-controlled waters, and it is justified as a resolve to the energy crisis through a form of minimum collaboration with a promising Cuban oil scene.

The intensified hard-right definition of U.S. regional policy, under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s tenure, was made abundantly clear by the Treasury Department’s recent decision. At the Sheraton hotel officials were ordered to expel a delegation of Cuban technicians attending its industry seminar from its Mexico City facility, a move which the Bush Administration lamely attempted to justify under Helms-Burton restrictions. Though trade rules were somewhat relaxed in 2000 to allow cash sales of U.S. agricultural products to the island, due to growing unpopularity in Republican-governed farm states of anti-Havana restrictions, the Bush Administration struck back with the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. The blow mandated in February 2005 that Havana pay cash for any U.S. imports before they are loaded onto island-bound vessels. As a result of this decision, bilateral agricultural transactions fell 26 percent by last April. Challenging the administration’s anti-Castro administration rage, the House also has taken on the issue, drafting the Moran amendment (H.A. 1049), which calls for the abolishment of all restrictions on trade with Cuba that have been implemented by the Treasury Department.

The Bush Administration’s obdurate stance is not without its detractors: there is a growing bipartisan coalition in Congress that favors lifting the embargo. This trend is encouraged by the considerable profits that the U.S. agro industry multinationals have collected because of the relaxation of some sanctions against the Cuba trade in 2000. Since 2001, Cuba has spent $1.75 billion on U.S. livestock and agricultural products, according to the Inter-Press Service. U.S. producers from 37 states and 157 companies have benefited from the exchange. Suspension of the embargo would not only open up U.S. economic relations with Cuba to an unprecedented degree, but perhaps also facilitate the gradual normalization of diplomatic relations between the two ancient foes. This is precisely why such an enlightened decision is not likely to come about under this administration.

Diplomatic relations appear even further out of reach after the build-up of Washington’s somewhat ghoulish delight of the anticipation of Castro’s death. The recent Bush Administration’s $80 million transitional plan for “democracy,” which involves the funding of the Castro’s opponents, fails to even remotely try to find a common ground with the island-state. With its anti-Havana position already cast in concrete, Bush’s unremitting drive for hemispheric free trade is sharply contradicted by opposing instincts which painstakingly spells-out a prohibition on such commerce with Cuba.

Aligning Ideologies:

As Cuba normalizes relations with almost every country in the world, it is the U.S. which, in fact, is risking diplomatic isolation due its rigid foreign policy. Industrialized countries are racing to ramp up their ties with Havana, some to exploit Cuba’s potential oil resources, and others to gain access to its sophisticated bio-medical capabilities. Yet the U.S. has remained hermetically sealed to any wind of change, moored to an archaic policy in almost all of its other relationships. Notably, today it is common to find western-style democracies, like Spain and Canada, with a range of domestic and foreign policies similar to those of the U.S., engaging in normal economic ties and diplomatic connections with Cuba. Another important break through occurred at the of the MERCOSUR meeting; in the presence of Fidel Castro, all of the attending leaders pledged to expand trade with Cuba.

Castro has found such a liaison between countries of antithetical ideologies to be a thoroughly reasonable state of affairs, though he continues to maintain that, “Socialism will remain, in the end, the only real hope for peace and the survival of our species.” Cuba’s expanding involvements with China, India, the Middle East and now its prospective participation in the summits being staged by the non-aligned movement (NAM), have managed to break up Washington’s best efforts to isolate the island-state.

At the present moment, the State Department is absorbed in working to bring a new generation of hardships on Cuba. Yet soon, due to the island’s newfound sources of relative prosperity, centered on its encouraging relationships with Venezuela and China, these tactics simply won’t work. While the outsized influence of Miami’s extremist wing of the Cuban exile community has made it impossible for Washington to actively promote rational discourse with Havana, the arguments are mounting against the White House’s patently forlorn policy of attempting to asphyxiate Havana both politically and economically, while seeking to negotiate with every other conceivable pariah nation, because it’s good for business.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Director Larry Birns and Research Associate Adrienne Nothnagel

July 31st, 2006

“Cuba shows us what is possible”

Granma International

Havana. July 31, 2006

• Young people from the United States defy ban on travel to Cuba, join Venceremos Brigade

BY ROSE ANA DUEÑAS — Special for Granma International —

THEY are perhaps one of the largest groups of young people from the United States to visit Cuba this year. They are Chicano, Mexican, Puerto Rican, African-American, Asian, and white, many from working-class families. Coming from nine U.S. states, the 48 members of the Venceremos Brigade traveled to Toronto, Canada to fly together to Cuba, publicly stating their intention of violating the U.S. ban on travel to the island, a component of the imperialist blockade that has been intensified by the Bush administration.

“I feel very strongly about the right to come here, because it’s such an amazing place,” said “brigadista” Priscilla Bassett, a 15-year-old high school student from New York. “I think it’s despicable that we call ourselves a democracy and have this blockade.”

Steven Gustavo Emmons, 26, a waiter and radio journalist from New Mexico, commented, “I knew that this was the only way for me to understand Cuba’s reality, to see it with my own eyes, and that coming here would be a very strong act of civil disobedience against the U.S. government, which I do not believe in at all.”

The Venceremos (“We shall Overcome”) Brigade was created in 1969 when radical students in the United States “decided to support Cuba’s Revolution and travel to Cuba,” explains Kathe Karlson, 57. A social worker at a New York City public high school, Karlson herself has been on the brigade nine times, one of 9,000 people — most of them young — who have gone to the island with the group.

“In the early years it was more about coming to see Cuba; now it’s about openly and publicly defying the blockade,” Karlson explained. Now, even though the government has taken away 90 percent of legal travel, there is increased opposition to the ban, she affirmed.

“THERE’S A REASON WHY OUR GOVERNMENT DOESN’T WANT US TO COME HERE”

Of the 48 brigade members this year, about 30 were under 30 years old, and nine were 19 or younger. Some are politically active in the United States, like

Isaac Padilla, 27, an immigrant-rights activist from Los Angeles who has participated in mobilizations against the fascist-like “Minutemen” militias who attack people crossing the border into the United States. “As a person involved in social change, I wanted to go to Cuba to challenge my beliefs and see if ‘another world is possible,’” he comments.

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, 24, who works in youth development in California, says she first learned about the “VB” when she read Angela Davis’ autobiography. “I feel that there is a legacy of internationalism; it is something Black revolutionaries have been doing for 40 years. And for Black people in the United States, it is one of the greatest crimes: we are taught we’re not part of something bigger. I work with young people who have been locked up in prison, and I explain to them that (coming on the brigade) is a meaningful way of breaking the law. I’m traveling for them, too.”

“There’s a reason why our government doesn’t want us to come here,” the young woman adds. “Cuba shows us what’s possible. And as long as capitalism and white supremacy rules in our country, things aren’t going to change.”

During their two-week visit, the group traveled through several provinces with the help of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples. They weeded cornfields in the Camilo Cienfuegos City-School in Bartolome Masó, Granma province, in the shadows of the Sierra Maestra Mountains, working side-by-side with veteran combatants of the Revolutionary War and Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola to defeat apartheid. As they rode their (non-air conditioned) bus, visiting historical sites, they saw scars of the devastation left by Hurricane Dennis last year. In Habana province, they labored alongside students and construction workers repairing a high school, and chatted with members of the Committees in Defense of the Revolution, who threw them a party. They learned about the work of the National Center for Sexual Education and met with Ricardo Alarcón, president of Parliament, along with members of the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan.

“SUBSTANTIAL HARM TO OFAC’S SANCTIONS PROGRAMS”

On previous occasions, brigadistas returning to the U.S. have received threatening letters from the Treasury Departments’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency charged with enforcing U.S. trade and travel restrictions. Violators face the possibility of a $10,000 fine and/or 10 years in prison. The letters from the government literally say “travel by groups such as the Venceremos Brigade, which publicized the fact that its members traveled without an OFAC license, results in substantial harm to OFAC's sanctions programs,” Karlson notes. Although the courts at some point could try to enforce the Trading with the Enemy Act, a criminal offense, the travel challenges are currently civil offenses and thus do not carry jail time as a consequence, she explained.

When this year’s brigade returned on July 17, they crossed from Toronto into Buffalo, New York, walking over the Peace Bridge, and holding demonstrations and press conferences before and afterward. They were searched and routinely questioned, but not harassed the way Pastors for Peace members were.

“Crossing the border is just the first step of the travel challenge,” explains Bonnie Massey, 25, of New York. “Next come various letters from OFAC, possibly fines, and then the hearings within OFAC and eventually up to the Supreme Court. We continue to prepare people for the long haul and to make sure brigadistas are ready to refuse to pay fines and to support and back each other at hearings. It is during this drawn-out, two-pronged, legally and politically organized campaign that we expect to win; that is, to overturn the travel restrictions and eventually do away with the blockade.”

One brigadista, Soffiyah Elijah, 51, is a criminal defense lawyer and deputy director of the criminal justice institute at Harvard Law School in Boston. She is representing some of those who have received OFAC letters, and since 1988 has been bringing law students and social activists to Cuba.

“I believe people have a human right and a Constitutional right to exercise their freedom to travel and exchange ideas and build friendships with whomever they please,” she affirms. “With this most recent report by the so-called Transition Commission referring to travel-related criminal sanctions, I feel it is even more important for me and for other criminal defense lawyers to be on the front lines for people facing these illegal sanctions.”

NY One Visits Cuba: New York Businesses Make Trade Deals With Cuba

www.ny1.com

July 31, 2006

Trade with Cuba may be restricted to most American businesses, but there are some from the New York area who are striking a deal with Fidel Castro's government. and it’s all above the board. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez has the details in part one of her exclusive series of reports from Cuba.

Few American get to see the sights in Cuba in person because of the hostile relations between the U.S. and that country. But earlier this month a group of New York-area businessmen landed at Havana's Jose Marti Airport with a chance to witness the way of life there first-hand.

They came to the communist nation, off-limits to nearly all Americans, not to sightsee or for political reasons, but to find a new market for their food products.

“Cuba represents a good opportunity, a great market opportunity to reestablish contacts,” says Tony Martinez of Bronx-based Visionary Trade and Export. “As I say, on this island there's 11.5 million people besides Fidel Castro, and they all need to eat."

Martinez helped coordinate this trade mission and navigate the legal boundaries.

Ever since the early years of the Cuban revolution, the U.S. has imposed a strict embargo on trade and travel to the Caribbean island. Under the Trade Sanctions Reform Act in 2000, it did become legal to sell U.S. food and agricultural products here.

Cuba has purchased more than $1.8 billion in U.S. food since then, cash upfront for more than six million tons of food from 35 states. The Cuban government says it's prepared to buy even more.

“In our discussions with New York-based companies, we have seen that there is room for business growth between us," says ALIMPORT Chairman and CEO Pedro Alvarez Borrego.

As a result of this trip, the Foreign Trade Ministry issued two letters of intent; one to buy oils, mayonnaise and butter from Plantation Foods, the other to buy meats from Titan Capital Management.

Manhattan attorney Michael Washor represents both companies.

“They have negotiated in good faith. They have set forth an atmosphere that is inviting,” he says.

While specifics still need to be negotiated, Cuban officials stress that U.S. policies remain a source of insecurity when trying to buy American products.

“Cuba never knows if and when a license will be granted or withheld, or if travel will be allowed in the airport, and all of this means that Cuba cannot be overly dependent on the supplies coming from the United States,” says Borrego.

These businessmen vowed to help.

“When we go back to the United States we'll do everything in our power to influence politicians," says Steven Washor of Titan Capital Management.

"They want to start relationships with each and every individual state in the U.S. to, down the line, have the states lobby on their favorite to break the embargo," says Visionary Trade and Export CEO Felix Ortiz III.

It’s an embargo that's part of daily life on the island, which is only 90 miles from the Florida coast but looks frozen in time. Its impact is felt right down to the food Cubans are able to eat.

The next step for the businessmen who received letters of intent on this trip to Cuba is to return to the Foreign Trade Ministry in October with samples of their products.

- Jeanine Ramirez

Fidel Castro Keeps It All in the Family By Annointing His Brother Raul

The New York Sun

By PHILLIP HART - The Daily Telegraph
July 31, 2006

HAVANA — Fidel Castro offered some rare good news to his Yankee foes. In a speech marking the most important day in Cuba's revolutionary calendar, he assured America that he did not plan still to be running his tropical communist outpost when he was 100.

He delivered his latest taunt about his longevity to an audience of party faithful in the southern city of Bayamo, the scene of an attack that he led on an army barracks on July 26, 1953, that marked the start of his July 26 movement, the guerrilla force that overthrew the Batista regime in 1959.

Mr. Castro has outlasted nine American presidents since seizing power. Only the Thai and British monarchs have reigned longer than his 47 years. Now, as El Comandante prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday in two weeks, he has started to speak about a topic long considered taboo in Cuba — what comes after him.

Most significantly, he has anointed his brother, Raul, the defense and security chief, as his heir, even though Raul is just five years his junior. Fidel Castro has made clear in recent speeches that his final political goal is to fortify the status quo, and that he believes that can only be guaranteed by keeping the succession in the family.

This became evident to Cuba's 11 million people with the adulatory coverage of Raul Castro's 75th birthday last month in the state press. Behind the scenes, his grip was strengthened by the appointment of several "Raulistas" to the party's newly reformed secretariat.

Signs of Fidel Castro's mortality are increasingly evident. In Bayamo, he fumbled with his notes, lost his train of thought, and, voice straining, abruptly wrapped up his paean to the wonders of the Cuban economy after little more than two hours — a duration that verges on the concise for a man who used to regularly deliver seven-hour rants.

The CIA briefed Congress last year that Fidel Castro was suffering the early stages of Parkinson's disease, and reports of his impending death regularly sweep though the expatriate Cuban-American community in Florida. "I die practically every day," Mr. Castro joked to Venezuelan television this month. "But that amuses me a lot and makes me feel healthier. I have resurrected many times."

Despite his breezy air, it was clear that he had contemplated his mortality. "I have to get used to everyone talking about my death," he said. "But I'm not going to criticize it. It's an issue that has to emerge."

Amid the faded colonial grandeur of Havana, where 2 million people live in the chaotic jumble of crumbling Spanish-era architecture and peeling 20th-century tenement buildings, music thumped into the streets to mark the July 26 holiday.

Carlos, 31, a geography teacher with a second job in a store, was nursing a beer. He was partying, not celebrating, he said, and saw little prospect that life would improve much under Raul Castro: "Castro or Castro, it makes no difference. We are still being told we have to sacrifice for the revolution."

As he spoke, two armed policemen watched him suspiciously. On other occasions last week, undercover officers demanded to see the identity cards of Cubans who chatted on the streets with Westerners.

Thousands of extra police have been drafted into Havana from other provinces as security is stepped up ahead of the September summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of 114 developing countries, that the city is hosting.

Raul Castro has been alongside Fidel Castro in the revolutionary struggle, but the two are very different.Raul Castro rarely appears in public, lacks his brother's charisma and oratorical flourishes, and is reportedly a heavy drinker. He is also highly regarded for his organizational skills, a trait that could never be attributed to Fidel Castro.

Raul Castro, whose daughter, Mariela, is Cuba's best-known sexologist, is expected to adopt a more collective style of leadership, backed by key civilian and military figures. He is expected to steer Cuba toward the "Chinese model" — allowing greater economic freedoms under the auspices of the military but maintaining tight party control over government.

The younger Castro is a regular visitor to Beijing, where he has seen how the People's Liberation Army has transformed itself into China's dominant economic force. Indeed, he has already placed senior generals in charge of key areas of the Cuban economy.

Bolstered by subsidies and cheap oil from Venezuela and China, Cuba has emerged from the worst economic privations of the "special period" that followed the collapse of its old Soviet benefactors. Tourism — regarded by Castro as a corrupting but necessary evil, especially under the American trade embargo — has replaced sugar as the most important source of hard currency, and last year, Cuba received 2.2 million foreign visitors.

Although monthly rations — including one quarter-liter of cooking oil, half a dozen eggs, and 4 kilos of rice and beans — remain paltry, there are few shortages in the shops for those with access to convertible pesos. But Cuba's two-tier economy, based on local and convertible pesos, is widely derided on the island as an "apartheid" system.

For many Cubans, especially the younger generation, frustration is focused on the hated travel ban and lack of basic freedoms such as Mr. Castro's refusal to allow any opposition.

Many of the best-educated Cubans continue to leave. Neighboring countries and Havana-based diplomats say that emigration from Cuba — legal and illegal — is soaring again. "Those who stay are just waiting to see how things change after Fidel," a university professor said. "Our lives are on hold."

Fidel Castro's planning for his demise has been mirrored in Washington, which, this month, released a 93-page report by Mr. Bush's Commission for Assistance to a Free Country, which was set up to prepare for "the happy day when Castro's regime is no more."

It outlines plans to undermine the succession by Raul Castro, recommending that America spends $80 million over two years to encourage a transition toward democratic reforms through aid and trade incentives.

Even Cuba's small band of dissidents, depicted by the regime as American "mercenaries," distanced themselves from the report, well aware that America's reputation for nation-building is poor right now.

America insists that it is not planning to enforce "regime change" but that it wants to help to ensure that the Cuban people have a say in the government after Fidel Castro's death. "We want stability but not continuity," a senior American official said. Fidel Castro remains popular with many Cubans, especially in rural areas dependent on subsidies from Havana. There are fears that his death could unleash violence, and many Cubans are worried about how the aging generation of virulently anti-Castro exiles in Miami will react to his passing.

A senior CIA Latin American analyst in the 1990s and author of the book "After Fidel,"Brian Latell, expects the party to rally behind Raul Castro. But he predicted that the real succession question was likely to be who follows Raul Castro and whether "the house that Fidel built" can survive that.

"Until recently, Fidel has made every important decision," he said."He has held it all together. The concentration of power all these years in Fidel's hands could, therefore, prove to be one of his most destabilizing legacies."

Most Cubans remain extremely wary about discussing his demise. "We still say ‘if Fidel dies' rather than ‘when,'" Lucia, 47, an artist born in the year of the revolution, said.

"Cubans will have very mixed feelings when Castro dies. I think of him like an abusive father. He has often treated us badly, but he's still the only father I've known. I'm no fan of Fidel, but I will miss him when he's gone."

U.S. cut off from Cuba's oil rush

Ottawa Sun

Mon, July 31, 2006

By AP

MIAMI -- A Canadian firm is among the companies whose move to drill for oil along Cuba's coastline has raised the eyebrows of oil executives -- and given energy-thirsty America pause to reconsider its 45-year trade embargo against the Communist country.

Canada's Sherritt International Corp. has exploration rights in four of the 59 deep-sea blocks that the Cuban government created in 2005.

Cuba created the blocks after a report by the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed the North Cuba Basin held up to 9.3 billion barrels of crude oil and up to 21.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Companies from Canada and China had already been prospecting for oil in Cuban waters.

WIDE INTEREST

Kirby Jones of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, D.C., says Cuba becoming a big-time oil producer makes the embargo too costly for the U.S. to maintain.

"Our choice is: Are we going to let those other countries take that oil? Or are we going to look at our strategic interests and recognize that very close to our shores is a substantial quantity of oil that is going to be exploited?"

In May, two bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress that would exempt Big Oil from the embargo.

That scenario, however could incense Cuban-American voters in Florida -- not exactly what U.S. President George W. Bush, or his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, would prefer three months before U.S. midterm elections.

"(Letting U.S. companies drill for oil off Cuba) would damage our ability to press the Cuban government on other issues, such as human rights," said Alfredo Mesa, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Take care of U.S., not Cuba's future

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Sybil Kleiman
Coconut Creek
Posted July 31 2006

I am still infuriated that President Bush has approved an $80 million fund to analyze the policy toward Cuba after Fidel Castro's death. I am also infuriated that I have not seen any outrage about this funding!

To meddle in a sovereign country's affairs is a violation of international law and to delegate this money for this cause is unconscionable when victims of Katrina and Wilma are still suffering; when there are over 200,000 homeless veterans and thousands of others; when there are Medicaid cuts; when there are millions without health insurance; when student loans are being cut; when children are without books and attending schools that have leaky roofs and overflowing toilets; when people are opting to delete necessary medicines in lieu of a meal ... I could go on and on as the list keeps growing.

Condoleezza Rice states that the aim of this fund is to help Cuba's opposition leaders and those Cubans who dream of a better future.

Where is the future of our citizens when this lame-brain ideology uses $80 million of taxpayers' hard-earned money?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Israel Butchers Women and Children at Qana


BBC photo: Red Cross paramedics carry the body of Lebanese man from one of the building demolished by the Israeli planes.

CNN: As many as 60 people -- many of them women and children -- were killed when an Israeli missile leveled a residential building where refugees were sleeping, Lebanese officials said.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora : "Out of respect for the souls of our innocent martyrs and the remains of our children buried under the rubble of Qana, we scream out to our fellow Lebanese and to other Arab brothers and to the whole world to stand united in the face of the Israeli war criminals," Siniora said in an impassioned television address Sunday morning.

Reuters: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak condemned as "irresponsible" on Sunday an Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana that killed at least 40 Lebanese civilians, including 23 children. The attack prompted Lebanon to tell Rice she was unwelcome in Beirut before a ceasefire.

French President JacquesChirac: "France condemns this unjustified action which demonstrates more than ever the need for an immediate ceasefire without which there will only be other such incidents."

My comment: Is there no end to the butchery that Israel is commiting in Lebanon? Is it time to institute Nuremberg-like tribunals to try those responsible for this new genocidal holocaust?

To George Bush and Condoleezza Rice: SHAME ON YOU for giving Israel the green light!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dominicans continue to benefit from Cuban eye care programme

Caribean Net News

Thursday, July 27, 2006

ROSEAU, Dominica

Dominicans are continuing to benefit from the Eye Care Programme, an initiative of the Governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

On Tuesday, July 25, 2006, over 100 Dominicans gathered at the Youth Centre in Roseau. Some arrived to receive their glasses at no cost to them, courtesy of the Cuban Government. Other patients had their first consultation since receiving treatment for various eyes diseases in Cuba in the last few weeks.

Since the initiative dubbed Operation Miracle started in July, 2005, well over 1300 Dominicans have received free surgical eye treatment in Cuba. Thousands of persons in fourteen countries in the Caribbean Region have received treatment for various eye aliments in the last year.

Many patients have expressed satisfaction with their eyesight following the operations in Cuba. Some patients have seen a dramatic improvement in their eyesight. Others who were partially sighted, have now had their vision restored.

Patients have been flown to Cuba free of charge and all accommodation costs have been met by the Cuban Government.

In the last year, bilateral relations between Cuba and Dominica have strengthened. A Cuban Embassy in Dominica was opened earlier this year in Morne Daniel. The first ever Cuban Ambassador to Dominica, Osvaldo Cobacho, has taken up residence here.

Clarkson Thomas is now Dominica’s Ambassador to Cuba and a Dominican Embassy has been established in Cuba.

Saul Landau: Castro at 80

CounterPunch

July 27, 2006

History Absolved Him, Now What?

By SAUL LANDAU

Televised contemporary events marginalize the role of history. TV broadcasts death from Lebanon, Gaza and Israel, but paid scant attention to the 53rd anniversary of Cuba's revolutionary beginning. On July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro led 150 plus men to capture the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. This act of nationalist voluntarism failed. The revolutionaries had hoped the heroic act would catalyze an island wide uprising. In January 1959, however, Fidel's guerrilleros took control of the island.

As Cubans celebrated the 53rd anniversary of the Moncada attack, they again confronted Fidel Castro's famous words. "History will absolve me," he concluded his defense. His accomplishments more than absolve him. But the age of revolutionary innocence that fostered the Cuban revolution has ended, as 9/11 dramatized.

Fidel remains a larger than life leader who never relied on TV spots or political "handlers" to preach his messages to Cubans and millions of others around the world. People listen because he has something to say. His agenda ­ justice, equality, ending poverty, facing the perils of environmental erosion ­ retains urgent cogency. Compare his presentation to the "lite ideas" offered by major power heads of state!

From the 1960s on, critics have ignored Fidel's noble ideas and focused their barbs at Cuba's rationing system and chronic shortages. The anti-Castroites systematically neglect to compare the island's life with that of its neighbors, whose health, and living standards rank far worse. Unlike residents of other South American countries, post Batista era Cubans did not fear death squads or "disappearances."

Cuba does not have a free press or political parties. But they have led to problems that Cuba faces today,­ the absence of critical public dialogue. These deficiencies, however, do not detract from the accomplishments.

The revolution converted an informal US economic colony (until 1958) into a proud nation whose citizens danced on the stage of contemporary history. In the heady days of the 1960s and 70s, students returned from studying abroad to join those at home in building hospitals, schools, roads and day care centers. The revolution also gave Cubans rights only dreamed of by other third world people. Not just education and health care, the right to a job and pension, but the chance to change history.

In 1993, at Nelson Mandela's inauguration after the demise of the apartheid system, the new South African President embraced Fidel Castro: "You made this possible," he whispered audibly, referring to the 1987-8 Cuban military defeating of the apartheid South African forces at the battles of Cuito Cuanavale.

In Africa, from the 1960s through the 1980s, Cuban troops played historical roles in safeguarding Algerian, Angolan and Ethiopian integrity. In solidarity, Cuba sent 1,500 soldiers to fight alongside Syrian troops in the 1973 Middle East War. Cuban doctors and technicians offered aid to Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. Cuban doctors are the first to volunteer to help earthquake and other disaster victims all over the world. Indeed, Pakistanis will remember the contribution Cubans made to their recent earthquake victims.

Cuban artists, intellectuals, writers, athletes and scientists have also engraved their works and feats in the annals of many countries throughout the world. Cuba has more doctors abroad than the entire World Health Organization. Its doctor-patient ratio is similar to that of Beverly Hills.

Other third world revolutions and independence movements in small nations did not achieve this level of success. After imperial powers looted their resources and brains for centuries, they "gave" them independence; in some cases, the colonized won it. The "beneficent" former rulers allowed them ten or twenty years to "shape up" into fully operating capitalist "democracies." The imperialists did not replace stolen resources or share technology; they offered no easy credit or beneficial terms of trade. The one option: "get IMF'd" as the late Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley called it.

Cuba's good fortune, having a veritable insurance company ready to write a long-term development policy, meant the Soviet Union would provide for infrastructure and the know how necessary for development. For the hideous warts of the Soviet system, it worked. Cuban infant mortality and life expectancy reached first world levels. Cuba has a literacy rate equal or better than the United States.

The Cuban Revolution was a success. What is it now?

In 1990, the Soviet Union dissolved. Cuba lost its aid given and trade partner. Its leaders reluctantly compromised ­ dollarization and tourism -- to survive in a US sponsored hostile climate. Facing severe hardships, tens of thousands of Cubans, placed their destinies in the fate of rafts or, later, in the hands of smugglers, and the uncertain seas that separate the island from Florida.

Before the USSR's dissolution, however, Cuba had already begun to lose its revolutionary purity. Heroic guerrilla warriors often turned into poor heads of ministries and worse politicians. They did not build democratic transition into their model, by transferring their power in a compact of trust to the very generations they educated. Instead, the leaders who enjoyed certain material privileges began to lose close contact with the people. Paternalism, inherited from centuries of Spanish culture, also began to erode the spontaneous rapport and enthusiasm of the early years.

In 1968, while filming Fidel, a PBS documentary, Fidel told me that "socialist democracy should assure everyone's constant participation in political activity." This insight is incompatible with fatherly control ­ even for people's "own good." Paternal attitudes sapped initiative from Cuban society. By "giving" people what they needed without demanding mature responsibility and by maintaining control of virtually all projects, the Communist Party and government helped depoliticize the very people they had educated.

The 1959 revolutionaries swore to fulfill the goals of the 1860s and 1890s independence leaders who began the struggle for nationhood. Fidel expanded their vision into one of communist consciousness: full political participation for each citizen. In 2006, much of the population does not respond to calls for communist consciousness, or participate in meaningful politics.

Instead, visitors to the island hear: "No es facil" (It's not easy), a preface to a laundry list of complaints. In fact, government salaries don't allow most Cubans to live at levels to which they've grown accustomed. The black market, therefore, remains vital.

Cubans consume ­ not as much as they want -- but don't produce goods that bring in foreign exchange. Both producers and those in the service sector, however, don't suffer from the kinds of job stress Americans experience.

"Hard work at boring jobs, that's capitalism," a Cuban friend told me. "Socialism doesn't erase people's energy in meaningless tasks that don't benefit him or society."

Cuban socialism's human face, people continue to risk their lives to leave the island for an uncertain existence. Young Cubans, on and off the island demonstrate high levels of culture, except when political themes arise; their eyes glaze.

After I returned from Vietnam in March, a Cuban friend asked about that country.

Prospering," I said.

"Imagine, the Americans bombed them into the Stone Age and they're prospering. Not a bomb has fallen on Havana and yet we live like we're in the Stone Age."

This habitual whine should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Cuba's investment in human capital did initially stimulate political consciousness. Cubans defended their revolution against a relentless US dirty war, because they understood their cause ­and their enemies. An anti-imperial and a class struggle!

Through the 1970s, Cubans remembered the murderous practices and invidious capitalism of the pre-revolutionary era. Today, 75 percent of the population doesn't remember Batista's cruelty or US neo-colonialism. Lacking vivid memory and without having political input, they have grown tired of Party jargon and slogans that bear little relationship to their reality.

This disturbs me because Bush's July Cuba plan calls for the resumption of US control in the post-Castro era; privatizing its economy and reshaping its politics structure to make it compatible with current Administration views of democracy. The United States would even show Cubans how to manage their schools and farm efficiently. As of July 2005, Bush had already appointed a transition coordinator ­ without even bothering to invade Cuba, as he ordered for Afghanistan and Iraq.

The "Made in Washington" blueprint shows the mind-altering glue inherent in imperial memory. In Washington, the policy crowd sticks to old economic claims on Cuba. The July plan should remind Cubans that they will lose free education, health and housing and start paying heavy prices for these services. Cubans should imagine life under real-estate hungry Miami exiles. How hard and meaningless their work lives would become when their labor went to enrich a true parasite class!

Bush's re-colonization of Cuba plan offends Cubans. But that ugly road is possible if cynicism deepens on the island. Will Fidel have the will to wage yet another campaign, a movement for socialist democracy? A good start premise would be the recognition that educated Cuban citizens merit trust and thus power to make choices as well as participate in the policies that guide their nation. It would put renewed meaning into "patria o muerte!"


Saul Landau's 1968 film, FIDEL, is available on DVD. His latest book, A Bush and Botox World, with a forward by Gore Vidal will be published this fall by CounterPunch/AK Press.

Texas port gearing up for increased exports to Cuba

www.mysanantonio.com

Web Posted: 07/27/2006 08:24 PM CDT

Meena Thiruvengadam
Express-News Business Writer

More U.S.-produced poultry and beans are set to head through Corpus Christi to Cuba starting next month.

Alimport, Cuba's food importing agency, has promised to buy nearly 17,000 tons of poultry from Arkansas-based Ozark Mountain Poultry. The meat will be shipped through the Port of Corpus Christi starting this fall.

Corpus Christi is one of about 17 U.S. ports that have been trading with Cuba since the U.S. government in 2000 eased a trade embargo put in place in the 1960s to pressure the communist Cuban government.

"This is a significant market for our port," said Michael Perez, the Port of Corpus Christi's business development director. "You're talking about an island with the buying power of the greater New York City area."

WestStar Food Co. in Corpus Christi, which has been exporting to Cuba since 2003, is preparing to ship 10,000 pounds of pinto beans next month.

"The beans are grown up north, but a lot of the consumers are in the Southern U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean, so this is a logical place for exporting," managing partner Pat Wallesen said.

Cuba didn't begin accepting U.S. food imports until after Hurricane Michelle devastated the island's crops in 2001.

The Port of Corpus Christi has shipped more than 100,000 tons of agricultural products to the island of 11 million people and expects export volumes to double within a year.

With avian flu fears cutting poultry imports around the globe, Cuba has become an increasingly important market for U.S. poultry producers.

"Cuba has been the one international market that's been consistently buying U.S. poultry," Perez said.

Since the embargo was eased, more than $1.2 billion in U.S. food and agricultural supplies have been shipped to the island.

Alimport, Perez said, promises another $25 billion in trade in a five-year period if trade relations between Cuba and the United States are normalized.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cuba to host Baseball Qualifying Tournament for the 2008 Beijing Olympics


The Baltimore Orioles played at Estadio Latino Americano seven years ago


Cuba's Estadio Latino Americano


Cuba's Estadio Latino Americano field

Photos are from MURRAY COOK'S FIELD BLOG, BALLPARKS & BALLFIELDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD!

It has been reported by the New York Times that the 12-team tournament will be played from Aug. 26 to Sept. 6 in Cuba,

There are two six-team groups in qualifying, and the winner of each will advance to Beijing. The United States is in a group with Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Canada, Brazil and Aruba. The other group consists of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and Colombia.

The third- and fourth-place teams will have another chance at qualifying for a chance to win what will be the final Olympic baseball gold medal during a supplemental tournament next year. After 2008, baseball will be eliminated as an Olympic sport.

'I went to Cuba'

The Patriot News

HERB FIELD

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Early in 2009, a few months after his/her inauguration, President Newperson ended a half century of the United States treating Cuba as a pariah state, flying into Havana International Airport on Air Force One to be greeted by a frail Fidel Castro.

As is his custom, the Cuban leader talked the ear off of his visitor for hours on end. Newperson patiently listened as Castro vigorously complained of a long list of real and perceived wrongs that had been done him and his country since his overthrow of the regime of dictator Fulgencio Battista in 1959.

"I can't do anything, nor can you, about what has gone before. I can only influence the future and that's why I'm here," Newperson told Castro when he finally managed to get in a word. "I don't agree with many things you are doing here, and you don't agree with many things about my country. But it is in the best interest of both Cubans and Americans that we at least try to bridge our differences, find those things we share in common," Newperson went on.

Then he told Castro he was eliminating the ban on travel to Cuba, lifting restrictions on trade and was prepared to restore full diplomatic relations. "All I ask in return," Newperson said, "is that you give strong consideration to releasing all political prisoners and beginning the process of allowing democracy to flourish here."

Newperson's trip was roundly criticized by many who saw it as kowtowing to a dictator, one who couldn't possibly be around too much longer, in any event. BUT THE PRESIDENT'S unprecedented trip to Cuba wasn't just about Cuba; far from it. "In a world in which too often the impulse is to settle matters through violence, isn't it time for peace to go on the offense?" he asked. "And the only way peace can work is by people who have very different, even conflicting, views of what's right, finding the means and will to sit down across from a table, without any preconceived demands or expectations, to look each other in the eye and discuss what bothers them, and what might be if they could learn to live with each other."

"I went to Cuba, not only because I wanted to end a policy that has failed in its purpose for five decades," Newperson said, "I did it because I wanted to show that if the United States and Cuba can put aside 50 years of loathing each other, the participants in other long-term conflicts around the world can do the same."

Then he announced that his secretary of state and other high-level foreign-affairs officials had been sent to urge governments around the world to seek ways to begin discussions with their worst adversaries.

"The untended and unresolved conflict is a powder keg waiting to explode," Newperson said in one of her/his weekly news conferences. "I've been accused of attempting to solve intractable issues from a position of weakness. But I ask you, since World War II what war has solved anything? Our strength lies in being engaged, in truly seeking to find reasonable solutions to long-standing problems wherever they are, whomever are the protagonists, through continuing, never-ending dialogue, that doesn't succumb to the few who cannot abide by peace." A REPORTER WHO suggested that the president was being naive, that America's superpower status rested on its military and economic might, was politely told: "I disagree. The greatest source of our power is our example as a free, tolerant, law-abiding and caring nation. If we live up to our own standards, if we treat others as we would be treated, and if we change the message from one that embraces war and violence as a solution to one that advances peace through peaceful means, the world will follow."

HERB FIELD is a Patriot-News editorial writer: 255-8441 or hfield@patriot-news.com.

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JG: WOW! Excellent!

'Cuban Mafia' tale comes to end with leaders' convictions

By Akilah Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted July 27 2006

The story of the "Cuban Mafia" has all the elements of a cinema thriller: an aging kingpin transfers the power of his criminal empire to his son and a loyal follower, only to watch his dynasty fall when federal agents arrest him and his soldiers and seize millions of dollars in assets.

But this tale of a 40-year-old crime syndicate built on illegal gambling and numbers running that turned into a murderous outfit with a penchant for arson is real, and a hit man and two leading members were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, including murder, gambling, arson and money laundering, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday.

Jose Miguel Battle Jr., 53 -- son of the so-called godfather, or padrino -- and Manuel Marquez, 61, were top-tier members of "the Corporation" or "Cuban Mafia," acting as its head when the padrino was out of the country or in jail, federal prosecutors said. Julio Acuna, 66, was a hit man who enforced the Corporation's rules, prosecutors said.

A Miami jury convicted them Friday and they are scheduled to be sentenced in September. Acuna faces life in prison; Marquez and Battle Jr. face up to 20 years behind bars.

On Tuesday, the jury ordered the three men and 22 others associated with the criminal enterprise to forfeit $1.4 billion, of which more than $20 million has already been seized, prosecutors said.

"Justice has been done in this case," U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta said Wednesday in a news release.

The Corporation started in 1964, several years after Jose Miguel Battle Sr. -- the padrino -- left Cuba. Authorities have likened the Bay of Pigs veteran to Al Capone, saying he fought criminal competitors with contract killings and firebombings.

Battle Jr., Marquez and Acuna were born in Cuba, eventually coming to the United States and settling in the New York/New Jersey area before moving to Miami in the 1980s, prosecutors said.

The organization, made up of lieutenants, soldiers, bosses, bankers and enforcers, was crippled in March 2004 when agents froze millions in assets and arrested nearly two dozen Corporation members, including the padrino, who raised fruit trees on his $1.5 million south Miami-Dade estate.

Battle Sr., 76, who suffers from kidney and liver failure, diabetes and cardiac problems, pleaded guilty during his racketeering trial in May.

The Corporation operated globally, conducting illegal activities in South Florida, the New York/New Jersey area, the Caribbean, Europe and Central and South America, according to court documents.

From the start, the documents say the Corporation ran various gambling outfits. Then in 1970, the organization got into the drug game, moving marijuana and cocaine into the United States until about 1992, officials say.

The Corporation started laundering its money through puppet companies or sham businesses in 1988, according to court documents. One such venture, authorities say, was the Crillon, a casino and hotel complex in Lima, Peru.

"The Corporation preserved and protected its power, territory, operations and profits through the use of violence and destruction," the federal indictment said.

Battle Jr., Marquez and Acuna were found guilty of eight murders and seven arsons that resulted in deaths. One murder -- the death of Ernesto Torres -- occurred in Opa-Locka during the 1970s, prosecutors said. The man who killed Torres turned on the Corporation and was gunned down, prosecutors said. In another murder outside Florida, a hit man took out a Corporation rival in a hospital by dressing up as a nurse. The arsons took place in New York, including one that killed a 3-year-old.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4527

Should the U.S. break its Cuba trade embargo?

JG: The answers is a resounding and firm YES! Nations, even if small and poor, do not kneel down before bullies.

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The Globe and Mail

Associated Press

MIAMI — Some facts about America's trade embargo with Cuba:

— It's been U.S. policy since 1961.

— It has yet to loosen Fidel Castro's grip on power.

— It has cost America little strategically or economically.

Until now, that is.

From here on out, say a growing chorus of experts, America will pay a price for maintaining its 45-year trade ban with the communist nation — a strategic and economic price that will have negative repercussions for the United States in the decades to come.

What has changed the equation?

Oil.

To be more specific, recent, sizable discoveries of it in the North Cuba Basin — deep-water fields that have already drawn the interest of companies from China, India, Norway, Spain, Canada, Venezuela and Brazil.

This, in turn, has reheated debate in the U.S. Congress and the Cuban-American community on an old question:

Has the time finally come to shelve the embargo — given America's need for more sources of crude at a time of rising gas prices, soaring global demand and the outbreak of war in the Middle East?

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, an expert on Cuba energy matters and a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says America's thirst for oil will soon force a fundamental change in Washington's relations with Havana.

“I've always argued that we would keep the Cuban embargo in place until we got to the point where it started to cost us something.” Today, he adds, “we're almost there.”

Says Phil Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va., that defends limited government and free trade, and a Cuba expert: “If Cuba discovers a lot of oil and becomes an oil exporter, the embargo almost becomes an absurdity.”

Kirby Jones, founder and president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, D.C., which has long sought an end to the trade ban, says the reality of Cuba as an oil producer makes the embargo too costly a policy to keep.

“Our choice is: Are we going to let those other countries take that oil? Or are we going to look at our strategic interests and recognize that very close to our shores is a substantial quantity of oil that is going to be exploited?”

Cuba has been oil hunting, not always successfully, for decades.

With Soviet help, it discovered the Varadero Oil Field in 1971. This reservoir, within 5 miles of Cuba's northern coast, today yields about 40 per cent of Cuba's total production — roughly 75,000 barrels a day of poor-quality, heavy, sour crude.

In July 2004, however, the Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF, in partnership with Cuba's state oil company, CUPET, identified five fields it classified as “high-quality” in the deep water of the Florida Straits, 20 miles northeast of Havana.

Seven months later, a report by the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed it: The North Cuba Basin held a substantial quantity of oil — 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of crude and 9.8 trillion to 21.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Cuba wasted no time, dividing the 120,000 square kilometre area into 59 exploration blocks, and then welcoming foreign oil conglomerates with offers of production-sharing agreements.

Oil companies from China and Canada, already prospecting for oil along Cuba's coast, began talks with Cuban energy officials about investments in deep-water operations.

Then, in May, Spain's Repsol-YPF announced it was partnering with India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp., and Norsk Hydro ASA of Norway to explore for oil and gas in six of the 59 deep-water blocks along Cuba's maritime border with the United States. (Sherritt International Corp., the Canadian oil company, has acquired exploration rights in four of the deep-sea blocks.)

That raised the eyebrows of many an oil executive, says Jorge Pinon, a former senior executive with Amoco Oil and a research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

Norsk and ONGC are among a select group of companies with deep-water know-how and technology, so when they signed on with the Spanish, “everyone else said, 'Maybe we better take a look at Cuba again.”'

The U.S. Congress certainly has.

In May, with much fanfare, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, introduced twin bills to the House and Senate that would exempt Big Oil from the embargo.

Before introducing his legislation, Craig told a reporter that “prohibition on trade with Cuba has accomplished just about zero.” Ominously, he added: “China, as we speak, has a drilling rig off the coast of Cuba.” (The senator failed to mention that the Chinese are working in shallow water near Cuba's shore, and possess neither the technology nor the expertise to tap Cuba's promising deep-water reserves.)

Regardless, the bills represent the best chance yet to “punch a big hole into the embargo,” says Johannes Werner, editor of Cuba Trade & Investment News, published in Sarasota, Fla.

That scenario raises the hackles of the conservative, and highly influential, Cuban-American voting lobby of south Florida — not exactly what President Bush, or his brother, Jeb, who occupies the governor's mansion in Florida, would prefer three months before midterm elections.

Says Alfredo Mesa, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami: “Those who would advocate for ... allowing U.S. companies to drill off Cuba lose sight of how that would damage our ability to press the Cuban government on other issues, such as human rights.”

Environmentalists are also squarely set against oil-industry access to Cuba, though for different reasons. Oil spills — even routine toxic pollution from drilling — could pollute the Everglades and Florida's most economically important beaches, they say, and wreck the state's tourism industry.

Thanks to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Jim Davis, D-Fla., they, too, have measures in Congress for which to cheer: twin bills that would deny U.S. visas to executives of foreign companies that drill for oil in Cuban waters.

Nelson's bill would undo a 1977 maritime boundary agreement between the countries that bisects the Straits of Florida and allows Cuba to perform commercial activities (e.g., oil drilling) near the Florida Keys.

It's not clear how this could keep the Cubans from exploiting waters closer to their shores than America's. One semiofficial response from Cuba, an editorial by the state-run Prensa Latina newswire, called the measures “extraterritorial.”

How likely is it that Congress will act?

“If the oil industry continues to sit on the fence as it has been — not too likely, especially with this administration and Congress,” says Werner, editor of the Cuba trade newsletter. “But there are elections in November, which could change the whole equation.”

Peters, of the Lexington Institute, agrees. “I think if you call (oil companies) up and ask them, 'What is your position on this?' they'd say yes, we're behind an exemption in the embargo. But I'm not sure if they would get behind it in a major way yet.”

In response to queries from The Associated Press, the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C., the industry's lobbying arm, issued this statement:

“We cannot speak to individual interest in Cuba, but we can say that API members are more focused on expanding access on the U.S. portion of the outer continental shelf, which is much closer to the existing pipeline network and where they have more information about oil and natural gas reserves.”

All of this is still somewhat premature, says Pinon, the former oil executive and research associate. “We are still three to five years away from commercializing any of those Cuban reserves.”

There is at least an 18-month backlog on the leasing of deep-water rigs, he says, and “crude oil is worth zero if you can't move it or process it. Even if they find the oil, what are they going to do with it?”

Benjamin-Alvarado, a regular visitor to Cuba who has been following that nation's energy development for 15 years, concurs. Cuba, he says, needs help “downstreaming” — upgrading its ports, refineries and maintenance equipment.

Already, though, Venezuela's state oil monopoly, PDVSA, has signed a $100-million (U.S.) deal to revamp Cuba's Cienfuegos refinery, a Russian relic from Cold-War days, and to increase oil storage capacity at the Port of Matanzas.

“Every day the United States puts off making the path into Cuba, that window of opportunity closes a little more,” says Benjamin-Alvarado. Once Cuba gets to the platform stage of deep-water drilling, he says, “the Americans are going to be left out.”

The Madness of King George

The Nation

BLOG | Posted 07/24/2006 @ 10:49pm

By Katrina vanden Heuvel

Today, a bipartisan American Bar Association task force released its report challenging George Bush's flagrant misuse of signing statements to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers.

Bush has issued more than 800 challenges to provisions of passed laws (more than all previous presidents combined) and he has asserted "his right to ignore law." Among the areas of laws Bush has threatened through this "shortcut veto" are the ban on torture, affirmative action, whistleblower protection, and limits on use of "illegally collected intelligence."

The 10 member ABA panel includes three well-known conservatives, including Mickey Edwards – a former Republican Congressman who places protecting the Constitution above lock-step partisanship. Edwards, a former chair of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, is a true maverick whose recent article in The Nation signals his commitment to protecting our constitutional design. "The President. " Edwards wrote, [has] "chosen not to veto legislation with which he disagreed – thus giving Congress a chance to override his veto – but simply to assert his right to ignore the law, whether a domestic issue or a prohibition against torturing prisoners of war."

Task force member Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan administration, concurs: "When the president signs a bill and says he is not going to enforce parts of a bill that he finds unconstitutional, it is in effect an absolute veto, because the Congress has no power to override him.

According to The Washington Post, panel members wrote: "The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal. The Constitution is not what the President says it is."

The panel is recommending legislation that would require a president to publicly disclose his intention to not enforce any law, including "the reasons and legal basis for the [signing] statement." A second piece of legislation would enable Congress or individuals to seek judicial review in the event that a president claims the authority to not enforce "a law that he has signed or interprets a law in conflict with the clear intent of Congress."

ABA President Michael Greco underscores the importance of these recommendations: "We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue…is left unchecked."

As Edwards writes, "… the real issue at stake is not one of presidential policy but of the continued viability of the separation of powers, the central tenet in America's system of constrained government."

This is a critical first step toward reining in presidential power run amok. Certainly more needs to be done, especially as a complicit GOP tries to make legal what should not be – such as the warrantless wiretapping legislation the White House is now seeking.... Which brings us to November.

While one might not agree with all that the Democrats are doing (and I don't), and might wish for more leadership on core issues like the Iraq War and sanity in the Middle East (leadership such as that demonstrated recently by two dozen congressional leaders calling for a cease-fire)…. We MUST restore the checks and balances to counter the one-party state we now live in, especially at this moment when the Republican Party is arguably the most extreme of any governing majority in the nation's history.

Get involved in your Congressional and Senate races. Help stop the madness of King George.