Sunday, December 31, 2006

Our National Health Plan

MENSAJE DEL COMANDANTE EN JEFE AL PUEBLO DE CUBA

Granma

Queridos compatriotas:

Reciban mis felicitaciones con motivo del 48 Aniversario del Triunfo de la Revolución.

Hemos culminado un año de grandes esfuerzos y resultados alentadores en la Batalla de Ideas, los programas de la Revolución Energética y el desarrollo económico y social del país. Fuimos dignos anfitriones de la Cumbre de los No Alineados y proseguimos nuestra tenaz resistencia frente al bloqueo y las agresiones del imperio.

Nada ha podido detener el camino que hemos emprendido.

Deseo reconocer la serenidad y madurez con que ha actuado nuestro pueblo, y el trabajo de nuestro glorioso Partido, del Gobierno Revolucionario, de nuestras organizaciones de masas y juveniles, de los abnegados combatientes de las FAR y el MININT, y de nuestra Asamblea Nacional.

Les agradezco a ustedes su cariño y apoyo. Sobre mi recuperación siempre advertí que sería un proceso prolongado, pero está lejos de ser una batalla perdida. Colaboro como paciente disciplinado con el consagrado equipo de nuestros médicos que me atiende.

No he dejado de estar al tanto de los principales acontecimientos e informaciones. Intercambio con los compañeros más cercanos siempre que ha sido necesaria una cooperación en temas de vital importancia.

La humanidad vive difíciles tiempos, con guerras y peligros que surgen por doquier, y un desenfrenado proceso consumista, típico del sistema imperialista globalizado, que agota importantes recursos naturales y contamina el medio ambiente. Eso, por sí solo, justifica nuestra heroica lucha.

Cada éxito que alcancemos requiere mayores esfuerzos para mantenerlos y desarrollarlos. Hace falta la máxima cooperación y disciplina social.

Es mi más ferviente deseo que el 2007 constituya una aurora de esperanza para todo nuestro pueblo.

¡Viva el 48 Aniversario de la Revolución!

Fidel Castro Ruz

30 de diciembre del 2006

«Año de la Revolución Energética en Cuba»

Cuban President Vowing Recovery

www.cfnews13.com

Sunday, December 31, 2006 7:02:17 AM

New developments surrounding the health of Cuban President Fidel Castro. He has now released a statement vowing his recovering is going well.

The message came on the eve of the 48th anniversary of the revolution in Cuba. It is a part of a traditional message given to Cuban citizens every New Years Eve.

In the note, Castro says he is grateful for the affection and support of his people. He also admits his recovery has been a long process but says quote "It’s far from being a lost battle."

Five months ago, Castro underwent emergency intestinal surgery, and later ceded power temporarily to his brother.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fidel Castro Nixed US Effort to Prevent ´59 Triumph


Javier Rodriguez

Havana, Dec 29 (Prensa Latina) Recalling the dramatic events of the first day of 1959 they prove Fidel Castro´s firm stand frustrated Washington´s last effort to prevent the Cuban Revolutionary triumph.

The situation of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, established in the Island and supported by Washington since March 1952 for seven years, was really unsustainable late in 1958.

The advance of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra mountains have already put them at the doors of Santiago de Cuba, the second most important city and headquarters of the second military fortress.

The war Fidel Castro spread to the center of the nation by way of Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos absolutely cut the territory in two with the assault on Santa Clara and other cities.

This and other events gave way to Batista´s escape from the democratic republic supported by the US embassy in Cuba aimed to prevent rebel forces from achieving victory.

Fidel Castro´s response was a coup d´grace to such strategy: he ordered guerrillas to go forward to Havana, giving a few-hour deadline to Santiago de Cuba garrison to lay down their arms and call for a general strike.

Fidel Castro´s strong position destroyed the US plan and Piedra and Cantillo"s government who disappeared while the people began taking to the streets.

US administration "think tanks" were wrong again like in the assault to Moncada Garrison and the landing of 82 expeditionaries of the Gramma yacht.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Raul Castro making changes in Cuba


Vivir Latino

December 27, 2006

In the few months that Raúl Castro has taken over power from his brother Fidel, he's changed a few things. Most notably, he's freed some dissidents and has suggested that he'd like to open dialogue with the U.S. Now, Raúl is saying that there is no excuse for the dilapidated state of the Cuban transportation system and is calling for major changes:

Cuba's acting President Raul Castro has said Cuba's transportation system is practically on the point of collapse.

Speaking to members of the National Assembly, he also said there was "no excuse" for many of the problems the communist-led island faces.

Maybe I was wrong when I suggested that Raúl was just more of the same. I mean, aren't comments like the following direct criticism of his brother's government?

Raul Castro said the revolution was tired of justifications. He said it was "inexplicable" how bureaucracy was delaying payments to farmers, and warned that simply buying thousands of new buses was no solution to Cuba's transportation problems.

The younger Castro is also reported to have urged more debate and self criticism in the media, which is entirely state run and has tended to take a congratulatory tone.

I could be wrong, but at least from here it sounds like he's trying to fix some stuff that's been broken under his brother for a long time.

Via / BBC News

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Luis Posada Carriles: Washington and Miami’s Preferred Terrorist

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

“One who shelters a terrorist, is a terrorist” – President George W. Bush

* The Bush Administration is harboring perhaps the Western Hemisphere’s most insidious terrorist, whose application for U.S. citizenship is presently on the docket and if granted, would represent an effrontery to this nation’s bona fides, as well as the legitimacy of its worldwide anti-terrorist crusade and what remains of its good name abroad

* The White House feverishly searches for a country willing to receive Posada in order to spare it from having to cross swords with the Miami leadership by either extraditing him to Cuba or Venezuela, or trying him here

* The Posada case as well as the Cuban Five represents perhaps a defining moment in which the Bush administration’s ideological passions have snuffed out a proper application of justice – an unacceptable sense of ethical values and public rectitude

* Meanwhile, the fate of the Cuban Five, whose crimes were negligible compared to Posada’s homicides, does not seem to either confuse or disturb Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Thus, the White House will likely have a problem regarding who it denominates as a “terrorist” and who it fetes as a patriot


The upcoming immigration hearing for Luis Posada Carriles, the 78 year-old felon who is a self-confessed co-conspirator responsible for the detonation of a bomb which killed 73 passengers and crew members aboard a Cuban passenger airliner as it flew over Barbadian waters on October 6, 1976, represents a huge political burden for the White House and its deteriorating relations with Latin America. The disposition of the case will now also test the authenticity of the U.S.’s War on Terror, since Posada is responsible for some of the worst pre-9/11 crimes perpetrated in the Western Hemisphere. However, he has never been conclusively tried for being one of the region’s most notorious psychopaths, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) lawyers as well as his detractors continue to cavil over whether he should be accorded the gallows or be granted U.S. citizenship.

Posada originally had admitted to a New York Times reporter of masterminding the 1976 bombing of Cuban Flight 455, in which 73 passengers lost their lives, including a nine-year-old girl, Cuba’s award-winning national fencing team, a young mother-to-be, as well as Guyanese and North Korean travelers. However, in deference to the ultra rightist faction of Miami’s Cuban exile community, Washington has repeatedly offered its protection to this world class criminal from prosecution by U.S. authorities or in any other germane jurisdiction. In doing so, the Bush administration almost has gone out of its way to debase the process of shaping a corpus of applicable international standards against terrorism by protecting those whom others might describe as “terrorists,” who are considered to be in good standing by some U.S. authorities. But, as the Washington-based lawyer, Jose Pertierra – who has been retained by Venezuelan authorities to represent their country’s interests in this case – explains “the fight against terrorism cannot be fought à la carte.”

A Case Wrought with Painful Irony

Washington has heard continuous international appeals, mainly as a result of Havana and Caracas initiatives, that Posada (who is both a Cuban national and Venezuelan citizen) be brought to justice. Venezuela and the U.S. have an extradition treaty in place dating back to 1922, which obligates the U.S. to immediately extradite any Venezuelan national in this country who has been indicted on murder charges in their home jurisdiction. Under the applicable terms of this bilateral treaty, Venezuela formally applied for Posada’s extradition in May of 2005. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration immediately rebuked this effort by maintaining that the leftist, pro-Castro nature of the Venezuelan government would preclude a fair trial to Posada in a Venezuelan courthouse, and that the defendant would be subject to torture: a self-serving assumption that U.S. prosecutors have never bothered to evidence.

On the domestic front, Washington’s unwillingness to prosecute Posada or facilitate terrorism charges against him brought in other venues, demonstrates that its War on Terror unmistakably involves double standards based on selective indignation. On September 11, 2006 (the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks), the lack of forward motion by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami regarding the resolution of Posada’s status, led to a judge ruling that the mastermind terrorist be released due to a lack of evidence that would establish that he was a world-class terrorist and thus shouldn’t be released into the general public until his status would be resolved.

Since the federal prosecutor failed to mount a well-coordinated case, but mainly relied upon screening films and citing general grounds for detention, Magistrate Norbert Garney was forced to be exceedingly lenient in his ruling, by lodging only a relatively minor charge of illegal entry into the U.S. against Posada. Garney forcefully scolded the prosecution for its failure to produce critical, factual evidence regarding his professed terrorist status in proving that the only prudent path to take was to continue Posada’s detention. To the families of Posada’s scores of victims, the Bush administration’s DOJ’s legal team handling of the case was a caricature of what should have been an orderly and professional disposition.

Magistrate Garney then gave the prosecutors an extension of time to strengthen their case against Posada, whose U.S. citizenship application was simultaneously being heard by the USCIS. The judge’s reasoning for the extension stemmed from an unequivocal belief that Posada was “an admitted terrorist with a history of involvement in terrorist activities,” and that releasing him could have “significant national and foreign relations consequences.” However, on October 5, the day before the 30th anniversary of the destruction of Cuban Flight 455, the DOJ’s deadline to present adequate evidence to move the trial ahead, came to an end. At this point, the presiding U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez extended a new deadline, February 1, 2007, for the federal prosecution to present its case. In Martinez’s view, Posada has been detained “well beyond” what the U.S. Supreme Court permits. Thus, as of today, at most 30 days remain for the Bush-Gonzales justice to be dispensed.

Amongst the legal community, the DOJ’s lassitude has raised suspicion over whether the U.S. attorneys’ lack of aggressiveness could be attributed to the private biases of Attorney General Gonzales’ in this high profile case, or were they simply trying to gain time by arranging an indefinite trial extension for a self-admitted mass murderer.

What is the U.S. Government Hiding?

There is no reason to scoff at the notion that the U.S. Attorney’s office may be calculatedly sabotaging the Posada case in order to spare the administration an embarrassing outcome brought about by its not applying the full weight of the law against him. Certainly, the executive branch has an interest in shielding the case from widespread publicity. Over the years, Republican administrations on several cases acted to protect Posada, a political icon in Miami. Understandably, the government might not want the U.S. public to know about Posada’s long-standing cooperative relationship with U.S. authorities on various conservative causes, including his role as a CIA agent.

For starters, during the vice-presidency of George Bush Sr., Posada was granted sanctuary in El Salvador where he worked for the U.S. Embassy assisting Contra efforts operating out of neighboring Honduras shortly after escaping for a second time from a Caracas jail on August 18, 1985 where he awaited trial for the destruction of the Cuban airliner. Perhaps only coincidentally, when Posada arrived to San Salvador, Col. Emilio T. Gonzalez, the current Director of the USCIS, was the Assistant Military Attaché in the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. Conceivably the U.S. Congress would find it appropriate to conduct a hearing investigating any possible conflicts of interests considering that the Director of the USCIS, now Dr. Gonzalez, has substantial leverage over Posada’s hopes of being granted asylum in the U.S. Furthermore, the fact that Dr. Gonzalez is an exiled Cuban national, whose family left Cuba in 1961 shortly after the failed attack on Playa Giron, might also be of interest to Congressional investigators. Dr. Gonzalez’s known intense personal anti-Castro elements and personal friendship with the now detained Posada should be addressed after the Democrats take over Congress.
Moreover, documents in the possession of National Security Archives reveal that Bush Sr., as the CIA director at the time of the downing of Flight 455, was likely to have picked up rumors of Posada’s plan at a time when the explosives were being wired to detonate on board Flight 455. Much of the evidence against Posada has come from declassified FBI and CIA documents, including evidence of Posada’s meeting with another notorious terrorist, such as his accomplice and co-conspirator in Caracas, Orlando Bosch. One report states that “We [Posada and Bosch] are going to hit a Cuban airplane. Orlando has the details.” The DOJ even lists Bosch as a “terrorist, unfettered by laws, or human decency, threatening and inflicting violence without regard to the identity of his victims.” Revealingly, Bosch today dwells as a free man in Miami after former President Bush Sr. granted him a full pardon from all U.S. charges on July 18, 1990, a decision made at the behest of the arch Castro-basher, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Otto Reich.

But Posada, whose fate has not yet been determined, is guilty of more than just the destruction of the Cuban flight. The demolition training he received while enrolled in the notorious School of the Americas and thereafter as a CIA proxy, enabled him to mastermind several Cuban hotel bombings while operating under cover in Havana. These attacks were decried around the world as blatant acts of violence against tourists and other civilians, yet the U.S. authorities downplayed their significance at the time.

Posada was also implicated in the highly controversial Operation 40, which, throughout the 1960s, involved conducting sabotage operations and assassination plots in hopes of inciting a civil war in Cuba between pro and con Castro forces. Posada is also suspected of helping Bosch orchestrate the 1976 car bombing of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his U.S. assistant, Ronni Moffitt, on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., in which both lost their lives. Most recently in Panama, Posada was preparing himself to go on trial for attempting to assassinate Castro, while the Cuban president was attending a gathering with more than 2,000 students at the University of Panama in 2000. Extraordinarily enough, former Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, now residing in Miami, found no problem in pardoning him on August 25, 2004, on the eve of her leaving office, after Posada had been detained with 200 pounds of explosives in his possession. Perhaps Moscoso was so preoccupied with the good life awaiting her in Miami, that the matter did not adequately catch her attention. What we do know is that she was able to block from her conscience the impact of the death of 73 innocent victims – who died in the fatal airplane bombing three decades ago – out of which she was able to find the grounds to free him.

Justified Incredulity from Abroad

The Bush administration may be attempting to placate Miami and ease itself out of the Posada affair by attempting to find him a safe haven outside the U.S. However, to their dismay, upon contacting authorities in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Panama, El Salvador and Honduras, Bush officials were repeatedly told that they would only facilitate Posada’s extradition to Venezuela or Cuba, if such papers were ever filed against him.

Posada’s Miami-based lawyer, Eduardo R. Soto, has consistently fought such third-country deportation efforts on the grounds that he would be treated in a prejudicial manner wherever he would end up, something of a tacit admission of his guilt in itself. Other nations understandably want nothing to do with the man, who is viewed by many as a “monster,” and “Latin America’s bin Laden.” Meanwhile, the two countries which overwhelmingly have the greatest justification in seeing Posada brought to justice – Cuba and Venezuela – where Posada remains a fugitive from justice, in what has turned out to be an ongoing trial in absentia. However, the Bush administration has systematically ruled out the two as it considers them “rogue” nations where Posada would face “the threat of torture…and therefore could not be returned under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.” This is a conclusion that most legal experts would turn their back on.

Cuba has long been awaiting the administration of justice for the mass murder of its nationals on board the Cuban airliner. Havana has found widespread sympathy for the enormous loss and pain suffered by its population over this horrific misdeed. In 1998, Fidel Castro unveiled a monument in Barbados commemorating the passengers aboard the ill-fated flight. Venezuela also continues to vehemently assert its right to try Posada, whose successful escape from a Caracas jail is universally believed to be the result of well-heeled Miami confederates pulling strings and bribing prison guards. The Miami capos are also believed to be responsible for bringing Posada into contact with CIA operatives who signed him up as a useful “can-do” asset, and then again, were said by some to be involved in bringing President Moscoso into the scenario that ended up with her inexplicable pardon of him.

The Cuban Five

The fundamentally biased nature of the current Posada proceedings are highlighted by comparing them to the zealous dynamism displayed by U.S. prosecutors from the same office who were involved in the trial of five Cuban nationals: Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González. Now all serving lengthy prison terms, these Havana militants were arrested by the FBI in Miami on September 12, 1998 and were accused of espionage and murder. Andrés Gómez, the Director of the pro-Castro Areítodigital magazine, insists: “The federal government lied and is still lying. The Five, as everyone knows, were not in Miami to spy against the government of the United States, but to infiltrate the terrorist organizations of the Cuban-American extreme right-wing, which with the full knowledge and protection of the federal government, plans and directs from that city terrorist actions…”

Indeed, the only real “threat” that these men seemed to pose from their monitoring of several extremist Cuban exile groups in Miami like CORU, Alpha 66, Omega 7 and Brothers to the Rescue, all of which were documented for their involvement in attacking Cuban personnel and property, bombing island tourist facilities, and illegally dropping pamphlets over Havana and other of the island’s major urban centers.

Double Standards at Work

The Cuban Five were arrested shortly after alerting Havana officials of flights that were being planned by the Miami-based anti-Castro extremist organization, Brothers to the Rescue. When two planes flown by exile pilots professedly penetrated Cuban airspace, they were shot down by Cuban pilots after warnings by Cuban air patrol officials to reverse their course. The blatant bias of trial judge Joan Lenard against the Cuban Five throughout their Miami proceedings, led to their conviction on all 26 counts, in which the jury deliberated for only four days.

The deportment throughout the proceedings of Judge Lenard, who acted more as a government prosecutor than a crusader for justice, only underscores Washington’s obsessive tactics when it comes to the interpretation of international terrorism in its favor. The fact that both the judge and jury foreman were outspokenly anti-Castro should have led to a dismissal of the indictments or certainly a change of venue. It is true that some Florida wags have been know to mutter, yet with her handling of this case, Judge Lenard proved that she is as fair to justice as Katherine Harris is to a fair vote. Notably, a UN Working Group reviewing the case was able to determine that the trial did not take place in a climate of objectivity and impartiality, which is required in order to conclude on the observance of the standards of a fair trial. The UN report also charges that the Cuban Five were wrongfully held for seventeen months in solitary confinement after their arrest, and that their lawyers were deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the available evidence before the government invoked the Classified Information Protection Act.

As a result, Hernández was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus fifteen years, Labañino to one life term plus 18 years, Guerrero to one life term plus 10 years, and Fernando González and René González to nineteen and fifteen years respectively. The defense’s argument that Miami-Dade County was “a basic nucleus of anti-Castro Cuban exiles, where the conditions for a fair trial do not exist,” was summarily rejected in the pre-trial phase of the adjudication. On August 9, 2005, after Leonard Weinglass, the U.S. attorney for the Cuban Five, had appealed this ruling, a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals issued a 93-page reversal of the initial conviction as well as nullified the sentences. In response to the reversal, the Bush administration and Attorney General Gonzales vehemently pushed for the Solicitor General to appeal the verdict of the three-judge panel’s decision before all twelve judges of the 11th circuit in Atlanta. Its finding, to the surprise of many, in a 10-2 vote, reversed the previous pro-Cuban Five ruling, affirming the initial trial’s convictions and providing at least a temporary victory for the Bush administration and its Miami political backers.

Nevertheless, the defense counsel for the Cuban Five was quick to act and called for the conviction to be remanded back to the three judge panel (now only a two-judge panel because one had since retired) for the adjudication of the nine remaining issues under appeal. As Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, Heidi Boghosian explains, “The case of the Five is now in the hands of the very two judges who earlier reviewed this country’s history of crimes against Cuba, and concluded that […] it was impossible for these five Cubans to receive a fair trial in Miami.” Considering the defense’s previous success with this panel of judges, Boghosian expects that they “will again rectify this travesty of justice.”

The case of the Cuban Five is going to haunt the Bush presidency because even those opposed to the Castro regime have raised concern over the harsh treatment and violation of rights exercised upon the Five. The DOJ’s handling of these men has raised a ubiquitous fervor of nationalism profoundly affecting the younger Cuban generation who feel the U.S. has acted on immoral grounds. Considering Castro’s terminal illness, this will be a unifying factor for the Cuban system considering that the Miami-orchestrated case against the Cuban Five will be viewed as a trivial offense on all Cubans. Truly, the concepts of liberty and justice – which attracted thousands of Cubans to the U.S. shores – are not being preached by U.S. and its authorities.

U.S. War on Terror Lacks Consistency and Integrity

While a final decision on the fate of the Cuban Five is expected to be reached in the first half of 2007, the U.S. government’s single-minded hectoring of the Cuban Five – which is propelled by ideology as much as by law – vividly contrasts with the privileged treatment of Posada, whom after being accused of orchestrating the death of 73 innocent individuals, is now leading a protected life while his immigration status is being argued over in an El Paso, Texas, courthouse. Don’t be too startled if Posada is released at any time, by a lightning move on the part of the government since the DOJ has been guided by more of an ideological mission rather than by a faithful administering of the law.

If the U.S. government insists on its sovereign right to preemptively invade other nations to prevent terrorist attacks on its homeland, it might want to consider the illogicality of not attributing the same rights to its neighbor, particularly when that neighbor has repeatedly warned U.S. authorities that the Brothers to the Rescue were routinely violating international law by their repeated over-flights of Cuba.

On September 11, 2001, President Bush announced to the world that “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Nevertheless, the U.S. continues to harbor Posada. If he is not brought to justice on this round, the U.S., by its own definition, can be identified as safe-haven for “evil-doers,” invalidating its own justifications for conducting its War on Terror. Posada’s El Paso-based lawyer, Felipe D.J. Millan disagrees, and asks “How can you call someone a terrorist who allegedly committed acts on your behalf?” Interestingly, Millan’s own query proves the need to judge Posada in another country such as Venezuela or some neutral third country, where he would have to respond to international charges, that, in effect, if found guilty on them, would make him complicit in criminal acts of terrorism and crimes against humanity. If the U.S. does not facilitate this process, as Michael Avery, the former President of the National Lawyers Guild concluded, “Allowing Posada into the United States and entertaining an asylum request from a confessed terrorist is an open acknowledgement of accomplice liability…” Perhaps a viable neutral candidate for a suitable venue to conduct Posada’s trial would be Spain, as the Los Angeles Times editorial board has argued: “Madrid is a credible interlocutor between Washington and Latin America, and Spanish courts have a recent tradition […] of aggressively taking on cases of universal jurisdiction.”

If the spotlight doesn’t stop focusing on Posada, in all likelihood, the administration could calculatedly announce to the general public – on a slow news day or on the eve of a three-day holiday – that Posada should be allowed to proceed with his citizenship application hoping that the case would disappear from the screen. This holiday season, with all the distractions that it entails, could be a period of suspense for scores of grieving family members seeking justice from Miami-spawned violence. The Bush administration has repeatedly displayed its political savvy in the timing of its archly political releases of controversial documents, other information, or individuals. This can be seen in the announcement of Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation as Secretary of Defense, which was made public on the morning after the Democrats’ triumph in the congressional elections, conveniently distracting the population by masking the Republicans’ near political implosion.

Meanwhile, the lives of the five incarcerated Cubans will continue to be squandered because of the intense ideological and political prejudices that define President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales’ way of formulating U.S. policy when it comes to the Cuban issue, or how it uses its criminal justice system for revenge rather than vindication. By setting an arch terrorist free while simultaneously continuing the draconic sentences against the five Cubans on the most meager of charges – who many would argue should never have been behind bars in the first place – Bush continues to build on the Bush family-Posada relationship, while at the same time scrapping all hopes of rendering U.S. relations towards Venezuela and Cuba more rational and responsive to the best of the U.S. tradition of the pursuit of justice and preserving, in good health, its humanitarian legacy.

This analysis was prepared by Research Associate Brittany Bond and co-edited by Research Associates Magali Devic, Danielle Ryan, and Eytan Starkman

Why Is Latin America Going Red?

The Post Chronicle

Thu. December 28, 2006

RIA Novosti

MOSCOW -- The Chinese are said to have 13 words denoting different shades of red. Maybe we should use them in debates about the reddening (or left-leaning) of Latin America.

The "moderately-pink" Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, and the "radically red" Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, could both be branded simply "red" ..but this would affect the precision of the analysis.

There is a general trend that explains, if only partly, why Latin Americans have started going red. It began when the United States, euphoric over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, redirected its attention to the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, invaded Iraq and started spreading democracy to Afghanistan.

This is not the region's first "red period," but this time it has come about without Soviet or Cuban involvement, because the Soviet Union is no more and Cuba is trying to figure out its future now that Fidel is on his deathbed.

Each of the nominally left-wing countries -- Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua -- have turned different shades of red, but all of them for the same reason. Internal factors have had their effect, but external elements have prevailed. Latin America's current leftward drift is a response to the regional policy of the U.S. and multinational corporations, which have never taken into account local interests.

Other potential members of the "red" group are Cuba, half of Peru (a left-wing candidate almost won the presidential election there), and possibly Mexico, which is still split in two by the results of its last election. Left-wing parties lost the elections in Peru and Mexico by a very narrow margin, but won a landslide victory in Venezuela.

The biggest question now is: What will come of it? Nothing much, I'd say. There are several reasons why the region will not become "socialist" ..even if an exuberant Hugo Chavez did promise a new era of socialism after his election victory.

First, it is not Maoists, Trotskyites or Bolsheviks who are marching under red banners in Latin America, but those who want a real rather than phantom sovereignty and a socially oriented economy, and who want to stop the plunder of their natural resources and brazen U.S. interference in their internal affairs.

They don't demand the abolition of private property or the "expropriation of the expropriators." Besides, the banners are mostly carried by old folk and youngsters, and the latter's goal is simply to shock the public with their audacious behavior. These are not diehard Marxists.

U.S. Embargoes Compassion for Cub

Truthdig

Posted on Dec 26, 2006

By Richard Walden

In the 12 years since Operation USA began directly providing humanitarian aid to Cuba’s main pediatric hospitals and its much-lauded international medical school, licenses have had to be obtained from both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The shorthand name for this licensure is the “Trading With the Enemy Act” (aka the Export Administration Act).

Aid groups working in Cuba are hardly alone in facing U.S. requirements for a license to donate agricultural products or medical supplies to Cuba’s main institutions. Think North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, immediate postwar (1975-1991) Vietnam and Cambodia, Reagan-era Nicaragua, etc. But the U.S. government, through the past 10 presidencies, has been particularly vicious toward Cuba; it has sharply limited donating or selling even spare parts for Cuba’s pre-1959 U.S.-made infrastructure and has not allowed Cuban-Americans to send home adequate amounts of cash remittances to family members.

So it is hardly surprising that George W. Bush, with brother Jeb serving as Florida’s governor, would take a particularly hard-line position on travel, trade and aid to Cuba. This despite the fact that a majority in Congress—recently led by increasing numbers of farm-state Republicans—has been pushing for a vastly more open relationship with Cuba.

With Fidel Castro at or near retirement, now would be the ideal time to change course even if it involved standing up to the ever-generous political donors among the hard-line Cuban exile community. Unlike the rejectionists from the Cuban diaspora who left Cuba between 1959 and 1980, most Cuban migrants now leave principally for economic reasons and are interested in reaching back to those left behind. This group tends to be in favor of a more open and freer relationship with the island, and it is fast becoming the majority voice, even in Miami.

Does Bush see or hear any of this? It is doubtful that he cares what anyone else thinks is good politics or even good national security policy.

Recently, the influx of hard-line (and, in many cases, Cuban-American) hires at the Departments of State and Defense—which review Cuba export and travel licenses while they are being processed by the Departments of Commerce and Treasury—has made itself manifest in the rejection of a number of humanitarian licenses up for renewal. Last year’s license renewals banned most training of Cuban doctors and nurses by U.S. aid groups on the pretext that these medical professionals would be made to work as forced labor in the hospitals and clinics of Venezuela to earn hard currency and oil for the Cuban government. This year has seen sharp cutbacks or outright refusals of licenses (and visas to the U.S. in the case of prominent Cubans). Very few cultural or educational exchanges are being licensed, and nearly no visas allowing Cubans to attend professional meetings in the U.S. are being approved.

Operation USA’s recently expired licenses contained provisions limiting the donation and shipment of many kinds of medical product—computers have to be of the pre-Pentium 486 variety; laboratory and radiology equipment is mostly prohibited; equipment must be used and at least five years old; medicines’ end use—not just “for children” but for which specific diseases they will be applied—has to be characterized in advance of licensing approvals. All of the above materials are directed toward pediatric hospitals, but Commerce Department officials are telling relief groups that they have “evidence that such items are being diverted to military or other inappropriate uses.” No precise source is ever provided to back up these charges, and not one U.S. relief group active in Cuba has experienced a diversion of its aid by the Cuban government.

Currently, the Government Accountability Office of Congress (the GAO) and the inspector general of the U.S. State Department are investigating the misappropriation of $73 million in official funds from the State Department given willy-nilly to anti-Castro groups in Miami to purchase supplies to take to dissident groups in Cuba. The groups involved were provided Treasury and Commerce licenses on an expedited basis.

This would not amount to chopped liver if children were not dying as a result of the embargoes imposed by the U.S against Cuba and other nations over many years. In Iraq, one noteworthy study by Harvard University’s School of Public Health of the pre-2003, pre-U.S. invasion period found that up to 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of the U.S. trade and aid embargo (and the U.S.-led United Nations sanctions) in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War.

Washington’s Cuba policy in the coming year will be a measure of whether or not our political leaders have learned anything at all from their previous failings.


Richard M. Walden is founder and president of Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based international relief and development agency (www.opusa.org).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Edwards Throws Hat in 2008 Ring

Washington, Dec 27 (Prensa Latina) Former Democratic Senator John Edwards (North Carolina) announced his intention to be the US Democratic presidential candidature in 2008.

Edwards, who ran as vice president with Senator John Kerry in 2004 against current President George W. Bush, will make his decision official Thursday in a New Orleans neighborhood destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, where he is helping rebuild homes.

Tuesday, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden confirmed his intention to compete in the primaries for the Democratic presidential nomination for the 2008 election.

Statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba

Granma International

Havana. December 27, 2006

Oscar Arias: Vain, mediocre and obsessed with being a star

THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba has learned with profound indignation of the most recent statements against our country and President Fidel Castro pronounced by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. They are not the first and surely will not be the last.

This time, in a disrespectful and completely unethical way, he compared Fidel to deceased Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He also referred to the current situation of Latin America, where, according to him, “there is a pack of irresponsible demagogues and charlatans who are playing with people’s aspirations,” in clear reference to the new progressive leadership that is emerging on the continent.

As everyone knows, the United States government has always had one or another opportunistic clown at hand disposed to follow its aggressive anti-Cuba plans, the majority of them shady policies that end up in the garbage dump of history. With the new winds blowing in the region, it would seem difficult to find someone willing to lend themselves to the despicable task of acting as Washington’s figurehead, but the egomaniacal Arias has offered himself with unusual enthusiasm and abject loyalty to the empire. At some point, it will be known what his price is.

In case anyone has questions, suffice it to illustrate with some examples:

—On March 11, 2006, President Bush called to congratulate him on his election as president of Costa Rica, and told him, “You can help me a lot with respect to the new situation in Latin America.”

—On August 28, 2006, Arias published an article, “La Hora de la Democracia en Cuba” (Democracy Time in Cuba), an almost exact repetition of what U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon had said about “transition in Cuba” five days earlier.

—On September 23, 2006, Arias met with John Maisto, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, and announced the anti-Cuban agenda he was planning to take to the Ibero-American Summit in Montevideo, and which finally he did not dare to bring out, having discovered that his audience there would not be conducive to his doing so.

—On December 6, during his meeting at the White House with President Bush, he extensively discussed “the Cuban case” and told reporters, with the complacency of the master: “You are well aware of my commitment to restoring democracy to the Cuban people after 47 years of dictatorship.”

Mr. Oscar Arias is a vulgar mercenary.

President Arias shamelessly supports the U.S. plans to annex Cuba and has no respect for the heroic and selfless struggle of our people for our independence and sovereignty.

President Arias, moreover, has no moral authority to criticize Cuba or anyone else. In his zeal to once again occupy the presidency of Costa Rica, he used his influence to get the country’s Constitution changed without the required referendum. He did not hold elections in his party. He was elected president with just 25% of the vote in a process plagued by irregularities that have not been clarified.

Instead of concerning himself with Cuba’s future — something that is solely the business of the Cuban people — he should be dealing with corruption in his own country, which has even involved a vice president and three former presidents. He should be attending to the dignified protests of the Costa Rican people, our brothers and sisters, against a free trade agreement with the United States that President Arias is attempting to impose without listening to their demands. He should be concerned about the 23% poverty rate that his people are suffering, the level of citizen insecurity, the lack of jobs, the insufficient access to education for thousands of children and young people, and the growing social inequalities in that nation.

President Oscar Arias is, moreover, out of context, and does not fit into the new times of genuine and definitive Latin American integration. He clashes like a servile parrot of Yankee imperialism, and it is certain that nobody will go to his political funeral.

He is a vain, mediocre person, obsessed with being a star.

He cannot be taken seriously.

Havana, December 27, 2006

Translated by Granma International

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cuba is an advanced country

Times-Colonist
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This is no Mexico

Published: Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Re: "Choose your vacation spot wisely," Dec. 22.

Wouldn't it be more informative if George Jonas did a little more research? He seems to mix apples with oranges when he refers to Cuba and Mexico in the same breath as impoverished and lawless countries.

Cuba under Fidel Castro has elevated herself on the world stage, proving to be far advanced in medicine (sending doctors around the world and with a higher birth-survival rate than in the U.S.), education (again a higher literacy rate than the U.S.) and ecological technology. Both health care and education are free. And all that in spite of a brutal and illegal embargo imposed by our "benevolent" neighbour to the south.

Yes, Cuba is poor and there are debilitating shortages, but tourism is flourishing in spite of the treacherous U.S. campaign in Europe and elsewhere to impede it.

Mexico is also a poor country with a rich elite.

Montezuma's revenge is rampant among tourists, corruption forces the police to buy their own arms and equipment and crime and punishment is a big issue.

But Mexico suffers not nearly the problems that the U.S. imposes on Cuba.

Max Halber,
Victoria.

Defiant activists embrace Cuba


Among those planning to visit Cuba are, from left, Devlin de Vries, Shameka Parrish, Bob Cunningham, Sonja de Vries, Allie Spears and Beth Harrison Prado. They hope to meet Cubans of various backgrounds. (By Kylene Lloyd, The Courier-Journal)

The Courier-Journal
Louisville, Kentucky

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

By Katya Cengel
kcengel@courier-journal.com

Sonja de Vries was 10 years old when she discovered she wasn't Cuban.

For as long as she could remember, her father, Henry Wallace, had been telling her stories about the island and extolling its Marxist principles. So it seemed natural to her that she would be at least part Cuban. There was even a Cuban flag in her Prospect home.

When Wallace, a journalist, preservationist and activist, died this spring, de Vries, now 43, and a group of family members and friends decided to organize a trip in his memory and as a protest of the U.S. travel restrictions and economic embargo on the island nation. The 23 Louisvillians, ranging in age from 8 to 72, are scheduled to leave today for Cuba.

The United States rarely allows its citizens to travel legally to Cuba, but some make the trip without permission.

That's how the Henry Wallace Brigade, as the group calls itself, will be going to the communist nation, said member Beth Harrison Prado.

Four years ago their chance of being punished by the federal government was about 50 percent, said John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser with the nonprofit U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Today, because of stricter enforcement, it is almost assured. Just last month three individuals and two companies settled penalties or were penalized for violating the embargo.

In addition to civil penalties of as much as $65,000, unauthorized travelers may also be subject to future questioning, said Kavulich.

"For those that venture to Cuba today without authorization, the potentiality of long-term inconvenience is substantial," said Kavulich.

Stance toughened

The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was first imposed in the midst of the Cold War in 1962, and travel restrictions began the next year.

The Cuban government estimates that the embargo, which includes commercial, financial and economic elements, has cost it $86 billion in trade over the years.

Over the years the embargo has been expanded, and the Bush administration "has gone beyond anything anyone had ever seen before," said Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and expert on U.S. law relating to Cuba.

In 2004, for example, U.S. officials cut back on allowing people to travel to see family in Cuba from once a year to once every three years, Muse said.

This year the government created a task force to pursue violators of the embargo. Even celebrities, who experts say once seemed to be immune, are being punished. Last month, film director Oliver Stone's production company and four individuals were fined $6,322.20 for breaking the embargo while making a documentary.

The typical fine is $7,500, Muse said.

He estimated 50,000 Americans make the trip each year, many of them not being caught because Cuban immigration does not stamp American passports.

Not every person who travels to Cuba without permission will be caught, said Molly Millerwise, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, which regulates travel to Cuba.

But, she said, the Treasury Department has a number of ways of finding violators, including people who brag about their trips openly and are reported by others, or from news stories about them.

The Henry Wallace Brigade has made no secret of its trip, but on the advice of a lawyer it will not reveal the logistics of the journey.

Embargo objections

De Vries first went to Cuba in 1990 and has been back dozens of times since, including with groups that engage in "travel challenges," publicizing their unauthorized trips to the island. She believes that "asking for permission would be giving legitimacy to the travel ban."

She has never been penalized, she said.

But a "travel challenge" is only one of the brigade's goals. It also takes issue with other elements of the embargo.

"We are going because we think the embargo is very harmful, particularly to the Cuban people," said Bob Cunningham.

The longtime civil-rights activist, who first traveled to Cuba in 1978, said he was impressed with the positive state of race relations on the island.

"As a black man I had never been welcomed the way I was in Cuba," he said.

Ever since, Cunningham said, he has wanted others to go to Cuba. At 72 he is the oldest making the trip. De Vries' 8-year-old son, Devlin, is the youngest. He has made the trip around six times already. But others, like Shameka Parrish, a 29-year-old college student and community activist, are going for the first time.

The Cuban "culture is often depicted negatively in our culture," Parrish said. "We are going as a collective people to observe, to become friends."
Making connections

Like her father, de Vries said, she does not think the Cuban government is perfect, but she believes "it is up to the Cubans to decide what kind of government they have."

During the week they spend on the island, members of the Louisville group plan to meet with everyone from social workers and hip-hop artists to Mariela Castro, Fidel Castro's niece and director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.

While the majority of the 5,000 Cubans living in Louisville, most of them relatively recent arrivals, might not agree with the U.S. travel restrictions, said Rodolfo Bernal, a Cuban/ Haitian case manager at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, they probably would not support the brigade because of its political message.

The brigade is raising the money for the trip, which costs less than $3,000 per person, so those who might not otherwise be able to afford the trip can go.

Parrish, who is taking her 14-year-old daughter, Shameka Matchem, is one of them. As the parent of a teenager, "this is something wonderful for me because a lot of people in my situation do not have the opportunity to go," she said.

The group has managed to raise most of its money through fundraisers and personal appeals. Whatever it raises beyond travel costs will go toward material aid to the Cuban people.

"We have a lot we owe Cuba," Cunningham said. "I'm old and tired, but I'm still going back again."

Reporter Katya Cengel can be reached at (502) 582-4224.

Castro does not have cancer, says Spanish doctor


Dr. José Luis García Sabrido, chief surgeon at Madrid’s Gregorio Marañón Hospital


Times On Line, Great Britain

December 26, 2006

By Times Online and agencies

A leading Spanish surgeon who has just returned from treating Fidel Castro in Havana said today that the Cuban leader does not have cancer.

José Luis García Sabrido, chief surgeon at Madrid’s Gregorio Marañón hospital, flew to the Cuban capital on Thursday to examine the 80-year-old leader.

Today, he said that the President was suffering from a digestive condition, but was amazed at Mr Castro’s good spirits and health.

"He has his intellectual activity intact, I’d say fantastic given the recovery from the previous surgery," Dr García Sabrido said.

"He does not have cancer, he has a problem with his digestive system," the surgeon added. "His condition is stable. He is recovering from a very serious operation. It is not planned that he will undergo another operation for the moment."

Mr Castro, 80, has not appeared in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July. Since then, there has been little information about his condition.

The President has placed his younger brother, Raúl, in charge of the Government. President Chávez of Venezuela, a close ally of the Cuban communist leader, recently denied reports that Mr Castro was suffering from cancer.

Dr García Sabrido has operated on important personalities in the past and is very prestigious in Spain and abroad. He is highly regarded by the Cuban Government and recently addressed a surgery conference on the Caribbean island.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Normalize relations with Cuba, McGovern says

www.telegram.com

Local News, Worcester, Massachusetts

Monday, December 25, 2006

Group of congressmen returns from trip to the island

By Richard Nangle TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
rnangle@telegram.com

WORCESTER— The largest contingent of U.S. congressmen to travel to Cuba since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to the presidency visited the country a week ago and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, was among them.

With Mr. Castro in ill health, his brother Raul assuming the interim presidency, and Democrats ready to take over both branches of the Congress next month, Mr. McGovern believes the time is right for the U.S. to normalize relations with its controversial close neighbor.

It is a policy he has long advocated as nearly a lone voice, but like many of Mr. McGovern’s pet issues these days it is gaining in popularity.

And for Mr. McGovern, who has been to Cuba several times, it was an opportunity to check up on a project that has drawn his keen interest — the rebuilding of the home of author Ernest Hemingway and efforts to preserve important documents that were left untouched in that house for more than 40 years after his death.

Republicans joined the 10-member delegation despite steadfast Bush administration opposition to any U.S. engagement with Cuba. But Mr. McGovern said he is finding that even some of his colleagues on the other side of the aisle are beginning to recognize that the U.S. is better off on speaking and trading terms with Cuba. Mr. McGovern was one of two Massachusetts Democrats to make the trip, the other was William D. Delahunt of Quincy.

If China, Venezuela or some other country ends up drilling for oil of the Cuban coast the consequences to the U.S. could be severe, Mr. McGovern warned. A major spill would kill sea life off the Florida coast and destroy its beaches, he said.

At the conclusion of the two-day trip, Mr. McGovern had some pointed comments at a press conference: “I believe we should lift the travel restrictions and end the embargo,” he said. “Our policy is a relic from the Cold War and makes no sense. It hurts the Cuban people, not the Cuban government. It also, in my opinion, reflects a double standard with regard to how we deal with other countries in the world.”

Mr. McGovern and U.S. Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, participated in an online discussion Wednesday on washingtonpost.com and took questions from people all over the world. In answer to a question about relations with Cuba following Mr. Castro’s death Mr. McGovern said, “The U.S. needs to show more imagination and maturity in our relations.”

Mr. Conaway said he was not convinced that the U.S. should soften its hard-line policy with Cuba: “I do not believe that lifting the embargo and travel restrictions will change any of the policies in Cuba that we want changed,” he said in the online chat.

Mr. McGovern saw things through a different lens, suggesting that many Cuban officials are comfortable with U.S. policy because it offers them cover for their own shortcomings.

Grateful for the opportunity to participate in that forum, Mr. McGovern said he is hopeful that as Americans refocus on Cuba they come to see that friendly relations come without any negatives.

“The embargo hurts the Cuban people but not the government. They crack down on dissidents and justify any failure of the system,” he said.

Today’s Cuba is a mishmash, he said, of positive developments in health care and education and an abysmal record of human rights. But if the U.S. can trade with countries with such dubious human rights records as China and Vietnam, he said, the same the rules ought to apply to Cuba.

“It is self defeating for the U.S. to have this policy and I know dumb is a harsh word but I don’t know how else to describe it because we’re more obsessed with domestic political considerations in the U.S., a presidential primary in Florida, than doing what’s right,” he said. “It’s really time for a change.”

Contact Richard Nangle by e-mail at rnangle@telegram.com.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Spanish surgeon flies to Cuba to help Castro

The Malaysia Star

December 24, 2006

By Andrew Hay

MADRID (Reuters) - A renowned Spanish surgeon has been rushed to Cuba to try to stop a steady deterioration in Fidel Castro's health, a Spanish newspaper reported on Sunday.

Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, an intestinal specialist, traveled to the Caribbean island on Thursday on an aircraft chartered by the Cuban government, according to Spain's left-leaning El Periodico de Catalunya.

Garcia Sabrido was due to carry out tests on Castro to see if he needs another operation after undergoing emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding in July, the newspaper said, citing hospital sources.

The doctor's plane was carrying advanced medical equipment not available in Cuba, the newspaper reported.

Officials at Madrid's Gregorio Marañón hospital, where Garcia Sabrido is head of surgery, declined to comment, as did the Cuban embassy in Madrid.

Garcia Sabrido was among doctors who presented their work at a surgery conference in Havana last month, according to the conference's website.

U.S. congressman William Delahunt, one of the leaders of a U.S. congressional delegation that recently concluded a visit to Cuba, said he had concluded from discussions with officials there that if Castro did resume a political role, it would probably be setting broad policy, not governing on a day-to-day basis.

Call/Write to your U.S. Representative

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen admitted yesterday that she called for Fidel Castro's assassination -- after earlier claiming a video clip of her making the comments was a fake.

I urge all the esteemed readers of this blog who live in the United States to call and/or write their Rep. in the U.S. House of Representatives and urge them to introduce, support and pass a Censure Resolution of the said Rep. for engaging in such shameless behavior.

If you do not live in the United States, write to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, urging that she bring to the floor such a resolution.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen admits call for Castro's assassination

Orlando Sentinel

The Associated Press | Posted December 24, 2006

MIAMI -- U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami acknowledged Saturday that she called for Fidel Castro's assassination -- after earlier claiming a video clip of her making the comments was a fake.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said she has not seen the unedited footage of her interview, which appears in a 28-second clip on the Internet by the makers of a new British documentary, 638 Ways to Kill Castro.

In it, Ros-Lehtinen says: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people."

Earlier this month, the Havana-born lawmaker said filmmakers spliced clips together to make the sound bite.

On Saturday, she backed away from that statement.

"If those words were said by me in the raw unedited version, then I said them," she said in a telephone interview.

"I don't recall those exact words," she said, "but I do a lot of interviews and a lot of documentaries on Fidel Castro. It's an everyday situation for me."

She said she was referring to the YouTube.com clip at the time, which shows her voice out of sync with her mouth movements.

Ros-Lehtinen was the city of Miami's first Republican in Congress and the nation's first Cuban-American member of the House. She was sent to Washington in 1989.

She was recently tapped to become the top Republican on the House International Relations Committee.

Ros-Lehtinen has consistently voted on measures that add pressure from the United States on the communist island's leader, such as trade restrictions.

Despite the controversy, the lawmaker said Saturday she "would welcome [Castro's] passing."

The People Speak / El Pueblo Habla - Part 2

LETTERS

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Embargo plays right into Castro's hands

December 24 2006

Doreen Hemlock's story about the U.S. congressional team's visit to Cuba puts into stark relief the good will and genuine concern for the Cuban people of the majority of Americans, and the ignorance of the right-wing Miami Cubans who seem to care much more about their hatred of all things Castro than the families and friends they abandoned in Cuba.

This egocentric and pigheaded bias is particularly evidenced in the recently aired video of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen advocating the assassination of Castro. Nothing has stymied more the evolution of the Cuban people into a strong economy and force for freedom than the U.S. embargo, which played right into the hands of Castro's totalitarian regime in justifying itself and isolating the Cuban people.

The few hundred thousand Miami Cubans do not represent the interests of the 10 million Cuban people. There is a sleeping giant of Cuban economic well-being and force for freedom, which can be effectively unleashed with the end of the U.S. embargo. It's time for Miami Cubans to get over communism, their absurd belief that they have anything to do with the future of Cuba, and express some sense of conscience about the Cuban people by supporting an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Manuel Lugo
Margate

Good Editorial, Bad Title

Chicago Tribune

EDITORIAL

Sorry, Marti, nobody's listening

Published December 23, 2006

The most popular sitcom on the world's least-watched TV station is "La Oficina del Jefe" ("The Boss' Office"), brought to you by U.S. taxpayers. The show is a satire about life in a fictional government office run by a bearded leader who dresses just like Fidel Castro.

It may be a real thigh-slapper in the Miami studio where it's filmed, but the show isn't widely seen by its intended audience in Cuba. That's because the real Fidel has been jamming the signal ever since TV Marti launched in 1990.

Last year, only one out of 1,000 Cubans reported seeing TV Marti within the previous week, and eight out of 1,000 had watched in the previous year, according to a U.S. government survey. Only 1.2 percent of the Cuban market tuned in at least weekly to its counterpart, Radio Marti.

Those aren't exactly boffo Sweeps Week ratings, but that hasn't stopped the U.S. government from sinking more than $530 million into the Martis over the last 21 years.

Congress established the stations, named after the Cuban revolutionary poet Jose Marti, "to promote the cause of freedom in Cuba" by providing alternative voices to Cuba's state-controlled media. U.S. guidelines say the programming must be objective, accurate and balanced. Yet a review this year by the federal International Broadcasting Bureau found an anti-Castro bias and a reluctance to air news that reflects badly on the administration that sponsors the shows or the Cuban exiles who produce them.

The broadcasts have done little to hurt Castro or to help the U.S. cause, probably because Cubans don't find it worth the effort to tune in. With the television signal scrambled, TV Marti can be viewed only by those with Internet access or a satellite dish--both rare on the island. Radio Marti is best heard on shortwave radio.

For their $530 million, U.S. taxpayers have little to show but a nest of patronage jobs in Miami, another bone tossed to the anti-Castro crowd that means so much on Election Day in Florida.

A better way to expose Cubans to the delights of a free society would be to lift the restrictions that keep Americans from traveling to Cuba and spending money there. Instead, the Bush administration is throwing even more money at Radio and TV Marti as part of a broader effort to empower the dissidents that it hopes will push for political change in the coming months. With Castro rumored near death, the reasoning goes, it's time to turn up the volume.

There's only one problem: Nobody's listening.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The People Speak / El Pueblo Habla

LETTERS

December 14, 2006

Cuban Policies Must Change Post-Castro

There is much speculation about Fidel Castro's failure to appear at recent celebrations in his honor. We can assume that the possibilities of his returning to public life are quite slim. However, it should be obvious by now that the Cuban people are prepared to accept the inevitable and continue supporting their government.

At home our government continues its call for peaceful transition -- "Do as I say..." We have nothing to fear from Cuba, but Cubans have every right to doubt U.S. intentions. Our record of aggression against Cuba, and Latin America in general, should not be considered a thing of the past. It is there, in Latin America, where the United States has exerted its most imperialistic agenda; thus our government's dislike for the surge of nationalistic governments in the region.

America's fear should not be what happens inside Cuba, but what our government, and the right-wing exile community may attempt. For decades, our government has looked the other way while right-wing paramilitary groups train in South Florida. In my view, these are the individuals who are most likely to provoke the Cuban government into taking actions of self-defense. How our government reacts to this possible provocation is much more important than what happens inside Cuba.

The transition to a post-Castro Cuba has already begun; we must respect it, respect the international law and honor our commitment to nonaggression.

RAMON PEREZ
Clermont

Canadian website brightens Christmas in Cuba

Alert!

The website for www.cubamaxstore.com lists two email addresses, one in English and one in Spanish.

Emails to those two adresses are being returned as 'user unknown.'

There is a lot of fraud in the Internet.

Caveat emptor!

---

The Toronto Star

Florida Cubans dodge U.S. embargo with e-trip north

December 23, 2006
Laura Wides-Munoz
Associated Press

MIAMI–A small but growing number of Cubans in South Florida are getting around the United States embargo limiting what can be sent to the communist island by sending their Christmas gifts through Internet sites in Canada.

At least one Canadian website, www.Cubamaxstore.com, allows people to ship items such as beef, jams and even deodorant to relatives in Cuba. While the gifts aren't the iPods and Sony PlayStations that Americans may crave, the items are much appreciated by Cubans, who earn an average of $10 (U.S.) to $15 a month and often struggle to put enough food on the table.

The trend exemplifies the creative ways Cuban families are seeking to stay connected, despite the restrictions on travel and exports imposed by the governments on both sides of the Florida Straits, said Cuban-American activist Ramon Saul Sanchez.

"Fortunately, people try to keep in touch with their families. Unfortunately, they have to go through all these measures," he said.

Antonio Conte, who left Cuba in the early 1990s and edits an online magazine of articles written by Cuban dissidents, recently ordered meat and other items for his adult daughter and son, who live in Cuba. He said it was easier than going through one of the few authorized parcel services and safer than returning to the island.

"My uncle told me about it. It's better to send food there instead of money. It's not so expensive, and you can help a bit.'' Conte said. "In Cuba you have your ration card, and you get chicken only once in a while. Only the children and the sick get meat.''

A gift basket of assorted canned meats and other snacks costs about $60. The website also offers electronics and appliances.

The U.S. embargo against the island, enacted in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, has long limited what can be sent there, but restrictions enacted in 2004 made sending gifts there even more difficult.

Now most Cubans in the U.S. can visit the island only once every three years and can send only quarterly remittances of up to $300 per household to immediate family members.

In addition, the Cuban government now takes 20 cents of every U.S. dollar sent there. The amount is smaller for other currencies, which makes the Canadian online store more attractive.

Neither Cubamaxstore.com nor the U.S. commerce department, which enforces the embargo, returned numerous calls for comment.

Aleida Vives, 68, said she'd never used the Internet before she sent meat to her sister this year.

"It's a little cheaper," she said, adding that meat and other specialty items are often more expensive in Cuba and the quality is poor.

Cuba Dedicates 22.6 percent of GDP for Social Programs

Havana, Dec 22 (ACN) Cuba will dedicate 22.6 percent of its Gross Domestic Product in 2007 to guarantee the development of social programs including education and public health for all citizens. The figure is far greater than other countries in Latin America.

Cuba’s Finance and Prices Minister Georgina Barreiro presented the country’s proposed 2007 budget on Friday to the full Cuban Parliament meeting at the Havana Convention Center.

Many of the island’s top leaders including First Vice President Raul Castro were present at the session.

Barreiro said that financial resources will increase for health care, education, culture, and social assistance, the payment of pensions, as well as the country’s defense and home security.

The proposed budget also prioritizes public transportation, energy and water resources, the minister announced.

Important resources will be used to subsidize the population’s basic food and personal hygiene supplies, for which the country will invest a billion US dollars, said the Cuban government official. Barreiro also noted the need to include a sizeable emergency fund to face possible natural disasters during the year.

Barreiro said the island’s social development indicators, recognized by international organizations, are higher than those in many countries with more resources, a fact despite the nearly half century US economic blockade of the island.

Also during Friday’s session Cuban Transport Minister Jorge Luis Sierra reflected on the tense situation of public transportation and he said that certain improvements will take place during 2007 and 2008, with a priority in the transport of cargo.

Sierra said the island will be receiving 200 buses purchased in China, 50 Mercedes Benz and 344 school buses in the beginning of 2007.

He added that cargo and public transportation in rural areas will be guaranteed with trucks, while the repairs of the railway infrastructure, including bridges, lines and locomotives will be a priority next year.

The Cuban Transport Minister said that the gradual recovery of the sector will require the training of personnel in charge of the new equipment and he pointed out the need to prioritize cargo transportation for its importance in the country’s development.

Cuba Achieves the Largest GDP in Latin America

Havana, Dec 22 (ACN) Cuba closed 2006 with 12,5 percent growth of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the highest such indicator in Latin America and the Caribbean this year, said Economy and Planning Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez.

In his annual report to the Cuban Parliament's 8th Ordinary Session, underway in Havana with the presence of Cuban Vice President Raul Castro, Rodriguez explained that the economic growth has been the largest one reached by the island since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. He said the achievement is the result of efforts by the Cuban people to boost the national energy program known as the Energy Revolution and to further develop investment that guarantee major production lines and services.

The Cuban GDP growth is well over the 5,3 percent economic increase of the region as reported by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), said the Cuban economy minister. He said some of the factors that helped increase the island's economic indicator included the production of goods and the development of services, as well as the saving of energy, the purchase of more than 29 domestic electric appliances
and equipment, which also contributed to improve the quality of life of the population.

The Cuban GDP can be compared to any other around the world, though it also adds a value to major social services, such as education and public health, which are offered free of charge here, in contrast to capitalist countries where such services are sold as any other merchandise.

Cuba does not give false or manipulated statistics with electoral aims, said Jose Luis Rodriguez and noted that this year's economic growth proves the gradual recovery of Cuban economy, which increased 5,4 percent in 2004, and reached up to 11,8 percent in 2005.

Russia banks syndicate $203 million aircraft loan for Cuba

Ria Novosti

17:16 | 22/ 12/ 2006

MOSCOW, December 22 (RIA Novosti) - A syndicate of Russian banks and Cuba's Àviaimport S.À. have signed a $203.4 million credit agreement, Russia's state-controlled foreign trade bank Vneshtorgbank said Friday.

The credit is for 12 years and will be used to buy Russian Il-96-300 and Tu-204 passenger planes, said VTB, which is the credit organizer.

Cuba will provide sovereign guarantees as loan security, while the aircrafts will be used as collateral.

The bank said it is the largest deal on the export of Russian airplanes in modern Russian history, and the second-largest long-term project under the state program of financial support for industrial exports.

In addition to VTB, the syndicate comprises Russia's state-run Vnesheconombank and Roseximbank, which supports government export operations.

Palm Beach County trade delegation to head to Cuba

Sun-Sentinel

By Doreen Hemlock
Havana Bureau
Posted December 21 2006

HAVANA · The World Trade Center-Palm Beach plans a humanitarian, educational and information exchange mission to Cuba in June, the international business group announced Wednesday.

"We hope to exchange information about several key resources found in Palm Beach County: agriculture, ranching and food processing; water purification, irrigation and related technologies; transportation; and medicine and life sciences," Lou Haddad, president of the group, said in a statement.

Haddad said the group is working with its counterpart in Cuba, the World Trade Center-Havana, to organize the visit. About 30 professionals from South Florida are expected to make the trip, pending government approvals.

"There once existed a pre-Castro relationship between the Port of Palm Beach and Cuba," Haddad said.

"We believe that Palm Beach County can re-establish former ties and assist the island to develop its economy."

The delegation does not plan to meet with any Cuban government agencies or officials, "just everyday people like us exchanging information and getting to know each other's cultures better," he said.

Plans for the visit come at a time when Fidel Castro is ailing and has ceded power temporarily to his brother and longtime defense minister, Raul Castro.

Many analysts expect Raul Castro to open the economy more to international business, much as communist-led China has done.

The Port of Palm Beach, known as a gateway to the Caribbean, could gain from closer U.S.-Cuba ties.

"Those of us engaged in maritime commerce look forward to the day when normalized trade relations with Cuba can resume," Lori A. Baer, executive director of the Port of Palm Beach, said in announcing the trip.

Brent Schillinger, a board member of the Palm Beach trade group and a past president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society, said he hopes the trip can forge a dialogue with medical counterparts in Cuba.

The Palm Beach Film and Television Institute plans to co-sponsor the Cuba mission and produce a documentary on the visit, Haddad said.

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@sun-sentinel.com.

Bringing "democracy" to Cuba

USAID, for example, awarded Miami’s Florida International University $1.6 million over seven years to train journalists. Some 214 Cuban students began correspondence courses or video workshops but only four of them completed a course, according to the Miami Herald’s Oscar Corral. Georgetown University received $400,000 and anticipated $400,000 more to admit 20 students from Cuba. In three years only one Cuban student has enrolled, at an annual cost of $112,000.

Loyola University in Chicago received $425,000 from USAID in 2004 to teach English to Cubans. No students materialized. In 2005, USAID gave Creighton University $750,000 to devise a model court for property claims in post revolutionary Cuba. Law professors at Nebraska University reportedly know little about property arrangements in Cuba, but Adolfo Franco, director of USAID’s Latin America program, graduated from Creighton.

Florida’s “Group for the Support of Democracy” spent some of its $7 million largesse on computer games for personnel at the U.S. Interests Section to hand out in Cuba. “I’ll defend that until I die,” said executive director Frank Hernández-Trujillo. “That’s part of our job, to show the people in Cuba what they could attain if they were not under that system.”

“Cuban Democratic Action” in Miami sent mountain bikes, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crabmeat and Godiva chocolates to Cuba. Juan Carlos Acosta, the group’s director, explained, “These people are going hungry. They never get any chocolate there.” He bought a chainsaw with taxpayer money to remove a downed tree in front of his office.

Source:
http://www.pww.org/article/view/10361/

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cuba Parliament Sessions Today


Havana, Dec 22 (Prensa Latina) The Cuban National Peoples Power Assembly (Congress) is holding its ordinary period of sessions on Friday, to analyze important economic issues.

The last one of this kind this year, it will be attended by deputies from the island' s different provinces and held at Havana's International Conference Center.

According to reports, the economic guidelines for 2007 and national budget plan are included in the deliberations agenda.

The event was preceded by the meeting of the 10 Permanent Commissions of that legislative body, which analyzed for two days the labor carried this year and goals for 2007.

They were informed of the budget draft, which strongly stresses the population's social assistance.

Commissions also tackled the course of the energy revolution program destined to create important savings for the country, an issue analyzed by Basic Industry Minister Yadira Garcia.

Commissions like productive activity, international relations, health and sports, constitutional and legal affairs, youth, childhood, women's rights, People's Power bodies, national defense, and service assistance were also on session.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

PBS's Frontline Interviews Francisco Aruca

Francisco Aruca, a very courageous Cuban-American who lives in Miami, is interviewed by PBS's Frontline in 'Saving Elian.' He talks about the saga of the little boy, and the city's industry of evil.

Click here to read the article.

Normalize relations between U.S., Cuba

The Decatur Daily

EDITORIAL

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2006

The Bush administration is missing an opportunity to straighten things out with Cuba because of the strong anti-Castro lobby in the U.S.

With longtime dictator Fidel Castro apparently dying, Cuba may be vulnerable to change. Attempting to make a friend of Cuba rather than carry on the fallout from the Cold War makes a lot of sense.

Cuba could easily become a staging ground for another nation on its way to becoming a superpower if the U.S. doesn't take action.

China some day might love to set up shop in Havana. So might Iran.

The U.S. continues a senseless restriction on travel to and from Cuba and on most trade between the two countries.

State Sen. Lowell Barron, fresh from defeat as Senate leader, is one of the most outspoken critics of the Cuba policy. Back from his second trip to Cuba to promote Alabama farm products and the Port of Mobile, Sen. Barron said the existing trade embargo makes no sense.

He is 100 percent correct. In fact, it makes no sense to ignore the opportunity to establish lasting ties with Cuba.

As he pointed out, the U.S. trades with China and Vietnam, both former enemies and both dictatorships. So, what's the problem with establishing normal ties with Cuba and reducing the chance of another military giant moving in, as the old Soviet Union did?

The anti-Castro lobby is the roadblock because it is strong enough to discourage meaningful talk of normal relations.

As Sen. Barron and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks noted, Cuban trade with Alabama is significant. Last year, Cuba purchased about $140 million in goods from Alabama. One commodity Cuba agreed to buy is soybean oil processed in Decatur.

Barron believes Cuba is a market for West Alabama pond-raised catfish, too.

Normalizing relations with Cuba has so many potential benefits that continuing to ostracize the island-nation of 11 million people, who are but a boat ride away from the U.S., is folly.

U.S. Congressional Delegation Statement

Havana, Cuba, December 17, 2006

On behalf of the delegation

It is time for the United States to enter a dialogue with Cuba.

America has important interests in Cuba and strong disagreements with the Cuban government. At a time when Cuba is changing and the opportunities to advance our interests and values in Cuba are not known, we unanimously believe that the United States should respond positively to the proposal made by Raul Castro in his speech of December 2.

No one should be under the illusion that a negotiation with Cuba would be easy, or that results would be guaranteed. But if we refuse to engage in normal diplomacy, we are guaranteed to produce no results at all.

We should be consulting regularly about migration issues, to protect national security and to save lives. We should see if more can be done to fight drug trafficking. We should be talking right now about Cuba’s offshore oil exploration, given its potential impact on our own marine environment. We know there are fugitives from American justice here, and there are some in U.S. custody who are of interest to Cuba. Perhaps there is the basis of an agreement there.

There may be other areas of opportunity. Only by probing Cuba’s proposal is it possible to find out.

Our visit provided the first official American contact with senior Cuban officials since the delegation of executive powers last July 31. We appreciate the time and courtesies that our hosts extended throughout our visit.

= = = = =

Delegation members:

Republicans

Jeff Flake, Arizona

Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri

Jerry Moran, Kansas

Mike Conaway, Texas

Democrats

Jane Harman, California

Lincoln Davis, Tennessee

Jim McGovern, Massachusetts

Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts

Hilda Solis, California

Gregory Meeks, New York

= = = = =

Meetings conducted:


Felipe Perez Roque, Minister of Foreign Relations

Yadira Garcia, Minister of Basic Industries

Francisco Soberon, President of the Central Bank

Fernando Remirez, International Relations Chief, Central Committee

Pedro Alvarez, Director, Alimport

Ricardo Alarcon, President of National Assembly

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino

Diplomats from Spain, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Holy See

Michael Parmly, U.S. Interests Section

= = = = =

Source: Cuba Central

Revealed at last: how FBI tried to nail Lennon

The Guardian

Thursday December 21, 2006

Maev Kennedy

Clearly a man who sang "Imagine all the people/Living life in peace" was a major league subversive, but still the FBI could not quite nail John Lennon. An American historian has finally won his 25-year campaign to expose the FBI's pursuit of the ex-Beatle - but the last 10 pages, released only after a string of court cases, don't quite make spy thriller reading.

The Lennon files show that American intelligence followed him, photographed him, carefully monitored his activities, and logged his support for anti-war and radical movements.

In the early 1970s the FBI had a cunning plan. They recruited two "prominent British leftists" - alas, unnamed - to befriend him. Having won his trust, they made him an offer he could not refuse: would he like to fund their "leftwing bookshop and reading room in London?"

But Lennon turned them down flat. The report concluded sadly that there was "no certain proof" that Lennon had provided money "for subversive purposes".

The surveillance report of the least successful operation since the plot to poison Castro's cigar has finally been released to a US historian.

Jon Wiener first applied for the documents under freedom of information law in 1981, when he decided to write a book about Lennon, shot dead in 1980.

The FBI responded with a barrage of excuses for not releasing the files, arguing that national security would be compromised, and that some of the information had come from an unnamed foreign government so that disclosure could lead to "diplomatic, political or economic retaliation" against the United States.

In 1997 Mr Wiener won a court order, but only some of the files were released. It took another court order to get the last 10 pages.

Mr Wiener told the Los Angeles Times: "Today we can see that the national security claims that the FBI has been making for 25 years were absurd."

Raul Castro calls for more policy debate in Cuba

Reuters

Thu Dec 21, 2006 8:38 AM GMT

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's interim leader Raul Castro, signaling a different style of government from his ailing brother Fidel Castro, on Wednesday called for greater debate on public policies in the communist-run country.

"Sometimes people fear the word disagree, but I say the more debate and the more disagreement you have, the better the decisions will be," he told students in Havana.

Raul Castro said he was delegating more responsibilities and making fewer speeches than his famously verbose brother, and running the country of 11 million in a more collegial way.

He did not mention the health of his 80-year-old brother who has not been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to relinquish power on July 31 for the first time since Cuba's 1959 revolution.

The bearded leader's absence has fueled uncertainty about the future of the Western hemisphere's only communist state, amid speculation that he may be close to death.

His designated successor Raul Castro, 75, said Cuba's one-party political system, or the "Revolution" as its backers call it, will continue with or without his brother.

"Fidel is irreplaceable, unless we all replace him together," he said, repeating a statement he made in June that Fidel Castro's only possible heir is Cuba's Communist Party.

"Fidel is irreplaceable and I don't intend to imitate him. Those who imitate fail," Raul said in the short speech to a conference of Cuba's Federation of University Students.

The younger Castro had the 800 delegates in stitches with humorous stories about his childhood, including one about getting thrown off a horse the day he tried to copy a peasant and ride bareback.

Looking relaxed even though he was dressed in his army uniform, Raul said Cuba was at an "historic" moment.

"I say historic because, like it or not, we are finishing the fulfillment of our duty and we have to give way to new generations," he said.

Cuba watchers believe Raul Castro does not have the ambition to run Cuba indefinitely and would govern for only a few years before handing over to a younger successor.

Since Raul took over from his brother in July, Cuban newspapers have published rare stories exposing theft and corruption in Cuba's socialist society. He is said to favor relaxing state controls over the economy.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque gave the final address to the student meeting, filling a role traditionally played by Fidel Castro.

Perez Roque announced increases in grants and reductions in bus fares for the students.

A journey begins with a single step

Progreso Weekly

Week of Dec. 21 to Dec. 27, 2006

From Havana

By Manuel Alberto Ramy


maprogre@gmail.com

HAVANA -- I don't know if they brought umbrellas in their luggage, but rain fell hard during the visit of the 10 legislators (six Democrats and four Republicans) who constitute the Working Group on Cuba in the U.S. Congress.

At the head of the group were representatives Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who for years have pressed for changes in certain aspects of the Bush administration's policies toward Havana. Flexibility is the keyword, especially as regards travel and remittances, as well as commercial aspects. But the greatest emphasis was placed on travel and remittances, whose frequency was harshly trimmed by the Bush administration in 2004.

Once in Havana, the legislators met with Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban Parliament; Fernando Remírez de Estenoz, member of the Secretariat of the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), in charge of international relations; Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque; Yadira García, Minister of Basic Industries; the minister-president of the Central Bank of Cuba, Francisco Soberón, and Pedro Álvarez, president of Alimport, the company that handles trade relations with American producers.

They also met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, and with ambassadors from various countries. They did not report meeting with representatives of the dissident movement.

Although the visitors had requested a meeting with the acting president, Army Gen. Raúl Castro Ruz, the meeting was not held. In this connection, Flake declared at a press conference on the final day of the visit (Sunday, Dec. 17) that the Cuban government "does not understand that there is a new era, but the dialogue has begun and more visits will take place in the future."

Picking up this statement by Flake, a good fried asked me for my opinion about this gathering, which brought us the largest number of American Congressmen and women to visit the island in the past 50 years. This is what I think:

The visit was a good step primarily because of its realism, based on working on the issues that bring the parties together, not those that separate them. That posture has opened concrete points of exploration regarding the war on drug trafficking, ranging from specific operations to permanent coordination between Cuban and U.S. anti drug forces. Both sides benefit.

Another aspect is the legal issue that involves "fugitives from U.S. justice [in Cuba] and there are some detainees in the United States that hold interest for Cuba." This point is extremely important because it points to the case of the five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. for informing about terrorist plans against objectives in Cuba.

Again, this benefits both sides, especially the American authorities, since, if the U.S. releases The Five, it would help lift the discredit that hangs over the Bush administration because of its double standard in connection with the struggle against terrorism.

Some people think this issue could also affect the Posada Carriles case. Posada is in jail in Texas for a simple immigration violation that obviated his responsibility (admitted by him) in the terrorist wave against tourism centers in Havana in 1996, which took the life of a young man and left a dozen people injured. Posada is also accused of being the intellectual author of the in-flight bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane in 1976 that took the lives of 73 people.

Some may think that, because Cuba waived its request for Posada's extradition in favor of Venezuela's bid for extradition (Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison before his sentence was passed), the Posada case was outside last week's talks. But the waiver does not bar the Cuban side from raising the issue.

The emphasis on breaking the limitations on trips and remittances to Cuba, which the Working Group favors and has recently gained favor among American citizens, was another topic of conversation, according to the legislators' statements.

To Cubans on both sides of the Strait, this issue is important because it deals with the family, which has been arbitrarily redefined by President Bush. As to the Americans' right to travel, it is a question of enforcing a basic tenet of the U.S. Constitution. Both sides benefit.

Any reader, upon seeing these brief jottings, will appreciate that, yes, the meetings were good and issues were broached that will initiate and widen the agenda.

Now, I return to Flake's statement about the visitors' inability to meet with Raúl Castro, something he interpreted as "a sign that the Cuban government is not ready to concede that a new era has begun. But the dialogue has begun."

"What do you think about this statement?", my friend asked. And I thank him for asking, because his question enables me to deal with the realities of the dialogue table.

While it's true that the legislators were not received by the country's acting president, it is also true that they were met not by the chairman of the Foreign Relations Commission of the National Assembly (Cuba's one-chamber Parliament) but by none other than the president of the Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón, who is a member of the Political Bureau of the PCC and an expert on U.S.-Cuba relations.

According to Congressman Flake, the purpose of the visit was to "establish a dialogue" starting from the "new dynamics" that exist on both sides of the Strait of Florida. That was a clear reference to the change in government leadership in Cuba, now that Raúl Castro is in charge, and the shift in the control of Congress to the Democratic Party. It should be said that the Democrats' small and fragile majority in the Senate now depends on the health of an ailing Democratic senator.

This aspect of the talks does not sufficiently acknowledge the fact that beneath the "new dynamics" lie deeper perceptions on the part of Havana. The Cuban government appreciates that the Bush administration's defeat in the recent mid-term elections was the result of the people's reaction to the policy blunders involving Iraq and Afghanistan -- not to a vigorous and consistent Democratic opposition to that policy. Hubris diminishes credibility -- not of the Working Group, I hasten to say, because the group does have credibility, but of the party to which many of the visitors belong. This must be taken into consideration.

For its part, Havana is interested in a constructive dialogue and in the normalization of relations. But the nation is not desperate; it has no reason to be. Little by little, it has emerged from the huge void of the 1990s, and the Latin American context is increasingly favorable to it.

The energy factor, which is key, has been sufficiently resolved. Thanks to an agreement with the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, Cuba receives 93,000 barrels of crude every day. Meanwhile, national production has grown to 75,000 barrels per day. For greater assurance, PDVSA will begin explorations in the Cuban zone of the Gulf of Mexico; Cuba, through the alliance of its own producer, CUPET, and PDVSA, will be able to explore and exploit oil fields along a stretch of the Orinoco basin.

On the topic of Cuban oil and its implications, the U.S. Congressional delegation has interests that go from the ecology to participation in, and exploitation of, the likely oil fields. No American company is involved; however, six companies from countries that include China and India are involved. In connection with this, Flake has co-sponsored a legislative proposal that would allow U.S. oil companies to explore fields in the Cuban zone of the Gulf of Mexico.

From an economic point of view, Cuba is staying afloat macro economically. In its 2006 report, the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC/CEPAL) states that the island has achieved a GNP of 12.5 percent, a figure that includes health care, education and culture services. However, international analysts estimate that, if those factors are omitted, the nation's growth ranges from 8 percent to 9 percent.

Cuba's problems lie primarily in the domestic economy. While the solutions are emerging from an institutional functioning, from a reordering of the labor, production and entrepreneurial factors, they should and will likely continue through other mid-range measures that imply apertures to other forms of property in specific sectors.

It should be said that, while Cuba is interested in serious dialogue and sat down at the table to do just that, the government is not running amok and has chosen not to give major publicity to the U.S. legislators' visit. This is a third element the visitors overlooked. Let me explain.

Except for a 165-word item in the newspaper Granma on Dec. 16, neither radio nor TV have reported on the visit. Newscasts on national TV have repeatedly played a clip that shows Raúl Castro stating, in his Dec. 2 speech, that the Revolutionary Armed Forces will guarantee Cuba's independence and sovereignty.

A coincidence? Maybe. But, in my opinion, that's the message: Cuba's independence and sovereignty are not negotiable and will be defended "whatever the cost." It is the other side of Raúl's Dec. 2 message: to negotiate while respecting the national sovereignty and independence and the peculiarities of Cuba's internal political processes.

That is why the Cuban leaders did not agree to talk about free elections, pluralism, information and other topics, a condition that Congressman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) described as "disappointing." However, he immediately added that "the most important thing is to hold more talks."

To sum up, there seems to have been clarity on both sides. Realism seems to be the guideline adopted by the American delegation and its Cuban interlocutors.

For the moment, the visitors hope for what is probable in the United States, which they see as a return to the immigration and remittance policies prior to 2004. Add to that the availability of tourism for Americans and greater flexibilities for trade. And if both parties coincide in hoping for what's probable, that in itself is a good step forward.

Of course, once normal trade relations are established between both countries, the volume in the first two years, according to estimates, would rise to $5 billion and would create jobs on both shores.

Officially and publicly, this trip does not establish a negotiation -- as some have said -- or bring preconditions under an umbrella -- as a few Cuban journalists have suggested -- but it is worthwhile as a beginning and a mutual assessment.

Fifty years of confrontation are not resolved in 48 hours, but if, as Delahunt said, "there is a desire to establish a dialogue in areas in which we might be in accord," in other words, to emphasize the areas that unite us ("although I'm sure there will continue to be profound differences with the Cuban government,") the dialogue has an encouraging starting point.

For the time being, the meeting has served to take each other's temperature, suggest ideas, and send signals -- red, yellow and green -- to move ahead for the benefit of both countries and the relations of Cuban-Americans with their families and country of origin.

Manuel Alberto Ramy is bureau chief for Radio Progreso Alternativa in Havana and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.