Thursday, May 31, 2007

Learned in kindergarten?

Those hard-line Cuban exiles who come into my blog and call me a communist because I would like to see a change in the failed Cuba policies of the U.S. government are extremely entertaining. I just laugh at them.

They never come up with anything worthy of publishing.

Hate consumes them. I wonder if they learned that in kindergarten.

Cuba to buy US$118 million in U.S. food

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: May 30, 2007

HAVANA: Cuba agreed Wednesday to buy US$118 million (€87 million) in pork, soybeans, tomatoes and other U.S. food products — including a shipment of Spam — and said it was negotiating deals that could bring the total to nearly US$150 million (€112 million).

"The sales this week went beyond all of our expectations," said Jim Sumner of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, one of more than 200 Americans from 25 states who visited Havana for talks with communist officials. "When the embargo is lifted, which we hope will be very soon, these deals will be much greater."

A smiling Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said Americans are "recovering the market" they lost in the 1960s with the imposition of the U.S. trade embargo.

"The active and massive participation of the American business community makes us very happy," said Alvarez, whose company organized the latest round of negotiations with U.S. farm producers.

Although Washington's 45-year-old embargo remains, U.S. food and agricultural products can be sold directly to Cuba under a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000. Since 2001, Havana says it has spent more than US$2.2 billion (€1.6 billion) on American farm products and related costs.

Alvarez predicted last week that Cuba would agree to buy as much as US$150 million (€112 million) in food during the trade meetings, which were organized in recent weeks with little fanfare. He has said Cuba expects this year to match the US$570 million (€242 million) it spent in 2006 on American food and agricultural products, including shipping and banking costs.

Cuban Commerce Minister Raul de la Nuez said most of the food would be sold at heavily subsidized prices, on the government's food ration and at public schools and workplace dining rooms. "This will help feed our people," De la Nuez said.

Deals announced Wednesday included chicken leg quarters from Pilgrim's Pride Corp. of Pittsburg, Texas, and turkey drumsticks from Butterball LLC, recently acquired by Smithfield Foods Inc. of Smithfield, Virginia.

They also included soybeans from Perdue Farms of Salisbury, Maryland, and yellow corn from Louis Dreyfus of Memphis, Tennessee. Cuba also bought a shipment of the all-American canned luncheon meat Spam.

Alimport did not provide dollar figures for the individual deals.

"We have a common goal of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba," Kirby Jones, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, told the gathering. "One day, we hop there will be free and open trade."

A five-member U.S. congressional delegation for the start of meetings on Monday but did not return for the announcement of contracts.

Connecticut Democrat Rosa De Lauro headed the delegation, which included Democratic Reps. Marion Berry of Arkansas and Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, and Republicans Rodney Alexander of Louisiana and Jack Kingston of Georgia.

All were making their first trips to the island except Berry, who was here in 2000.

Congress should debate effectiveness of embargo

Jamaica Gleaner

Published: Thursday | May 31, 2007

HAVANA (AP):

The Unite States Congress should take a hard look at American policy toward Cuba and debate whether Washington's 45-year-old embargo is working, visiting U.S. lawmakers said Tuesday.

Headed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, the five-member bipartisan delegation is spending five days in Cuba to discuss farm trade and catch a glimpse of life on the communist-run island.

The group attended a U.S.-Cuba trade fair, speaking with American business leaders and Cuban trade officials before meeting with Cuban Parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon and representatives from the island's Roman Catholic Church.

"It's bipartisan but it's also with different histories with regard to lifting the embargo and travel restrictions," DeLauro, who favours easing U.S. sanctions, said of the group. "So it's the conversations, it's the dialogue, it's the understanding from both perspectives what the future could be. And I think that helps us to move forward on legislation in the Congress."

The embargo prohibits most Americans from visiting Cuba and chokes off nearly all trade between both countries. But direct sales of U.S. food and agricultural products has been allowed since 2000.

Ease-up plane failed

Proposals to further ease trade and travel restrictions have been introduced in both houses of Congress, though similar measures have failed in years past.

Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, has traditionally supported U.S. sanctions against the island. He stopped short of saying his Cuba visit would change the way he would vote in the future, but said: "As the world gets smaller, there's reason to continue discussion."

"If you look at this from an economic standpoint it is a no-brainer," Kingston said. "It's clear both countries could get a lot out of trade agreements on almost any commodity. But our job as members of Congress isn't just to look at business proposals, but the politics, the diplomacy, the human rights standpoints."

The group arrived on Monday afternoon, hours before Fidel Castro released the latest in a series of essays, this one accusing U.S. President George W. Bush of saying recently "I'm a hard-line president and I'm only waiting for Castro to die."

Mercedes, haven’t they told you? There is a Cuban mafia in Miami

Progreso Weekly

Week of May. 31 to Jun. 06, 2007

By Alvaro F. Fernandez
alfernandez@the-beach.net

Mercedes Soler seems to have missed the boat completely and fallen into typical murky Miami waters with her column “Add and multiply, never divide” which appeared in El Nuevo Herald and was then translated and reprinted in The Miami Herald. Or, possibly, Mercedes just misunderstood of what she was writing since she read the column by The Miami Herald’s Ana Menendez in English, a language she seems critical of in her piece.

Ms. Soler writes of democracy and her defense of a free press; a few sentences later she denounces Ms. Menendez’s column as cannibalistic. Ms. Soler is offended because she feels Ms. Menendez has identified her and others who she refers to as “historical Cuban exiles” and likens them to a “Cuban mafia.”

I say to Ms. Soler, “If the shoe fits, then wear it.” But the fact is that when I read the Menendez column, and saw the reference to a Cuban mafia in Miami, never did it cross my mind to include myself in that group. And I am a Cuban, have lived here since April 1960, and come from her generation and from a family who really did something to try to push Fidel Castro out of power in Cuba.

(Special note here: Please don’t call me, or any of my family members, “a historical Cuban exile.” Although, I must admit, that I am getting along in age and now some do refer to me as historical, but more than anything else for my grey and balding head.)

The sad part to this whole story is that there is a Miami Cuban mafia at work. And members of that group have been dispatched to do harm to radio commentator Edmundo Garcia whose program is on daily from 9 to 10 p.m. The harm, Ms. Soler, is real. They want to destroy his source of livelihood: The money he earns for his work.

Ms. Soler, of all people, should understand this. She seems to have placed a great deal of importance on money in the column she wrote.

The fact is, Ms. Soler, that the Miami Cuban exile guerrillas and their mafioso friends, want Garcia to jump through their hoops and fit through their very narrow agenda. And Garcia has refused to do so. The result has been visits to Garcia’s radio program sponsors. They offer protection -- from the vile they claim he spouts over the air waves -- from daily discussions, which border on dangerous, on issues of family reunification, government waste and corruption.

Garcia’s program is but a month old. It has been successful. And based on that press freedom Ms. Soler writes about, Garcia is often critical of Cuban Miami. But now his commercials, his source of livelihood, have started to disappear.

It turns out that some advertisers have been visited at their places of business. Nicely, I’ve been told, they’ve been advised to discontinue their sponsorship of Garcia’s “La Noche Se Mueve.”

Have you forgotten, Ms. Soler, that in the not so distant past, these types of genteel visits were followed by bombs -- under your car, your doorstep, wherever. At best, these ghoulish visitors “arrange” it so your business starts losing customers. Don’t doubt for a second their aim: close you down unless you follow their “strict” orders.

Now, that’s what I call a mafia. Ms. Soler, I’d like to know, what is your definition of mafia?

Finally, in her column Ms. Soler gloats with pride, which I share without the gloating, the gains Cubans have made in this country. From our achievements in the political sphere to the educational, and our success economically as a group, Cubans proportionally outdo every other Hispanic group in the country. This may all be true, but Ms. Soler fails to mention that we should also be thankful for the privileged treatment we’ve received from this country allowing us to achieve all these things in less than one-half century.

Why not ask any other Latino group if they ever had a Cuban Loan allowing them to study in universities? Or, even, if there is such a thing as the Mexican Adjustment Act, for example, making it much easier for them to enter and then stay here.

As for Ms. Soler’s statement that much more could have been achieved in a democratic Cuba… I totally agree that much more may one day be achieved in a truly democratic Cuba. The problem is there are many Cubans -- here and on the island -- who have yet to decipher the true meaning of democracy.

When we manage to figure that out, Miami and Havana will be much better places because of all our efforts.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rice Producers Watch Cuba Trade Talks

Houston Chronicle

May 29, 2007, 3:03PM

By JON GAMBRELL Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK — As U.S. Rep. Marion Berry attends agriculture trade talks this week in Cuba, Arkansas rice producers and others are hoping restrictions on trade to the Communist nation will be lifted.

Dropping current rules that require all purchases be paid in advance could let growers enter a market estimated to consume 700,000 tons of rice a year, of which only 79,000 tons came from the United States last year, said Greg Yielding, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Growers Association. That new market could buoy an industry whose European markets dwindled after discoveries of unapproved strains of genetically modified rice.

"Cuba could dwarf that," Yielding said. "We're just getting just a little bit of their capacity right now. The reason for that is the economic sanctions that we have to endure."

In Arkansas last year, farmers harvested 1.4 million acres of rice, worth more than $892 million, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show. Meanwhile, the state exported only $1.4 million worth of goods to the island nation last year, said Scooter Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Hardin said the U.S. trade rules on Cuba limit how goods can be sold, particularly the Treasury Department's requirement that all be purchased in cash in advance of their delivery.

The rule, put in place in 2000 and later clarified in 2005, burst a one-year bubble of increased trade with Cuba, Hardin said. A commission report shows the state exported $21.6 million in meat products and about $10 million in grain exports in 2004. That dropped down to $2.7 million in total exports in 2005, after the rule clarification.

"They began enforcing it," Hardin said. "2005 reflects that."

Now, U.S. producers have a unique opportunity to enter Cuba's rice market, said Keith Glover, president and chief executive officer of Producers Rice Mill at Stuttgart, a farmer-owned cooperative. Glover said ocean freight rates jumped in the last few months, making shipping to Cuba from the Asian rice market even more expensive.

"It really makes U.S. rice very competitive now," he said. "U.S. rice has a premium with the value of the rice, but the freight rates are such an advantage."

Expanding exports could help another Arkansas company as well. Cuba represents 3 percent of Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc.'s chicken leg quarter exports, said spokesman Gary Mickelson, making it the company's fifth largest destination for the dark-meat product.

Berry, D-Ark., arrived Monday in Havana as part of a delegation of five congressional members attending the agricultural summit that lasts through Wednesday. Berry, whose father's own rice deal collapsed after the Castro-led revolution in 1959, has supported lifting U.S. trade embargoes against the nation.

Berry, as well as U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., are co-sponsors on a bill proposed in the House to eliminate the 45-year trade embargo on Cuba. The bill remains in committee.

For Yielding, he said he understands the idea behind the embargo, but believes it should only apply to high-end electronics and other products that can be used to support the government. Otherwise, Cuba will continue to import its rice from China, Vietnam and Thailand, which also have poor human rights records, he said.

Opening the food market benefits the Cuba's poor _ as well as U.S. rice growers, he said.

"I think that history has showed us economic sanctions when it comes to food don't work. Why would you want to starve the people?" he said. "Why would you want to do that and build up even more resentment to the United States?"

U.S. recognizing gestures of cooperation from Cuba

Fort Wayne News Sentinel

Posted on Tue, May. 29, 2007

By Pablo Bachelet

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

WASHINGTON - A little-noticed passage in two State Department reports says Havana has said that it no longer will provide safe haven to U.S. fugitives who enter Cuba, a promise that the Castro government has met twice since September.

The promise and deportations amount to a rare sign of cooperation by Havana. Some 70 U.S. fugitives are thought to be living in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

Cuba has refused to return them, generally arguing that the U.S. charges against them are "political." Those refusals were among the reasons the State Department has cited for including Cuba in its list of nations that support international terrorism.

But passages in the State Department's 2005 and 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism - the last one released April 30 - that went largely unnoticed until now said Cuba "has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to new U.S. fugitives who may enter Cuba."

State Department spokesmen declined comment on who made the promise, when and whether it involved any U.S. counter-promise. Havana has long demanded the return of five convicted Cuban spies jailed in Florida.

Such Cuban acts of cooperation have come under more scrutiny since Raul Castro took over the reins of power after his brother, Fidel, fell ill last summer. However, the State Department's 2005 report on terrorism, the first to include the wording on the end of safe haven, was issued before the ailment was announced July 31.

State Department officials noted that Cuba's history of on-and-off collaboration makes it hard to know whether Havana's promise signals a new stance.

"We have no way of knowing for sure what the Cuban government is trying to accomplish, if anything," said Eric Watnik, a spokesman for the State Department.

Cuba wants the United States to extradite anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela. A U.S. judge recently dropped U.S. immigration-fraud charges against Posada, who's accused in Venezuela of masterminding the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976 that killed 73 people.

Cuba has returned at least two U.S. fugitives since the promise first appeared in the State Department report.

The first, according to the 2006 report, was a South Florida man who's accused of kidnapping his son, stealing a plane at an airport in the Florida Keys and flying to Cuba last September. The son later was returned to his mother in Mexico and the father was put on a plane to Miami, where he's facing prosecution.

In April, Havana returned Joseph Adjmi, a fugitive sentenced to 10 years in U.S. prison for mail fraud in 1963, to Florida.

Earlier this year Cuba expelled Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, whom Colombia accuses of being a leader of the Norte del Valle cartel, to Bogota. Colombia then extradited him to the United States.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Mad Woman of Foggy Bottom is at it again!

Reuters

Tue May 29, 2007 6:52PM EDT

By Sue Pleming

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Spain on Tuesday for its dealings with Cuba and said she would press Spanish officials on the issue in Madrid this week.

After several years of tense relations with Spain, Rice is set to make her first visit as the top U.S. diplomat to Madrid on Friday. She will meet King Juan Carlos, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

"On Cuba, I am not sure that we see eye to eye," Rice told reporters traveling with her to Germany where she is meeting Group of Eight ministers.

The United States has a policy of isolating Cuba and its ailing President Fidel Castro. Spain, on the other hand, favors constructive engagement and its foreign minister visited Cuba last April.

Rice said a country like Spain that had overcome its own "authoritarian past" -- a reference to Spanish dictator Francisco Franco -- knew of the need for democracy in a nation such as Cuba.

"I don't see how that course (of democracy) is advanced by simply dealing with the current regime, a regime that seems to be setting itself up for a non-democratic succession when the transition takes place in Cuba and doing that at the expense of contacts with the very nascent and fragile democratic opposition that is beginning to arise in Cuba," she said.

"The Cubans deserve better and I think we will talk about that," Rice said.

Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raul in July last year after emergency surgery and the United States has been strongly critical of the move, calling for free elections and an end to the Castro era.

U.S.-Spanish ties have been strained since Spain withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2004 following the election of Zapatero who trounced Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of President George W. Bush.

The two countries have cooperated on Afghanistan and other issues. But differences on Iraq persist and Rice's visit is seen as an attempt to smooth over tensions.

Spain's ties with Venezuela's anti-American President Hugo Chavez have also irked the Bush administration which sees Chavez as meddlesome in the region.

---

JG: I am not surprised by her statement. She must be very upset that she has not been able to turn back the clock in Cuba during her tenure at the State Department. Get used to it Condi, the Mafia and the gusanos will not rule Cuba again. Do I need to remind her of the vote at the United Nations General Assembly last November?

U.S. executives blast Cuba policy

Sun Sentinel

By Ray Sánchez
HAVANA Bureau
Posted May 29 2007

HAVANA · A procession of American agricultural executives on Monday blasted the 4-decade-old policies that ban most business with Cuba during a meeting of U.S. food producers expected to yield $150 million in deals with the communist island.

The opening session of the largest gathering in Cuba of U.S. food suppliers since convalescing President Fidel Castro fell ill last summer was attended by five congressional members, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn, chairwoman of the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee; Jack Kingston, R-Ga.; Marion Berry, D-Ark.; Rodney Alexander, R-La.; and Bob Etheridge, D-N.C.

"We in Mississippi are absolutely committed to ending the political barriers that separate our countries," said William Hawks, a Mississippi farm executive and former undersecretary in the U.S. agricultural department. "It is time that we move forward."

In addition to tightening the trade embargo against Cuba, the Bush administration has made it more difficult for U.S. agricultural and food companies to do business in Cuba by imposing strict payment guidelines and making it clear to companies that Washington frowns on such sales.

"The trade embargo has not only hurt the Cuban people but it has hurt the American farmer," said John Newcomb, an Arkansas farm executive. "I want to challenge Mr. Bush to tear down this embargo now: Open trade and travel between our two countries."

Still, Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the island's food import company Alimport, said the three-day meetings should generate enough deals to ensure that Cuba buys as much U.S. goods in 2007 as it did last year. He said more than 200 agribusiness executives, food exporters and farm groups from 28 U.S. states were attending the talks.

U.S. sales to Cuba are allowed on a cash-only basis under a 2000 law creating an exception to the trade embargo. Since 2001, the island has spent more than $1.5 billion on American farm products, including hefty transportation, insurance and financing costs. Alvarez said the figure would easily double if U.S. restrictions were lifted.

Last year, the values of U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba fell 10 percent to $340.4 million, a decline blamed on a 2005 decision by the Bush administration to require Cuba to pay before its food shipments leave American ports.

Steven Rupert, president of Manatee Exporting Co. of America in Tampa, said he was hoping to strike his first deal with Cuba, selling apples, onions and pears to the island. He said a previous deal with Cuba fell through because of trade restrictions.

"I have some prices and I'm hoping we can get a deal done," he said.

Juan Artigas, president of EMRN Group Inc., a Sarasota-based agricultural products firm, said that though he was born in Havana and left as a child decades ago, he had no problem doing business with Castro's Cuba.

"I don't care about the politics," he said. "This is an opportunity to do business -- it is just business."

Ray Sanchez can be reached at rlsanchez@sun-sentinel.com.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cigar Aficionado Slams U.S. Policy on Cuba

NewsMax.com

Monday, May 28, 2007 4:46 p.m. EDT

Reuters

Cigar Aficionado, the glossy magazine for lovers of expensive cigars, criticized the U.S. Treasury Department for continuing to spend federal funds chasing people for buying Cuban cigars.

"Stop wasting our time and money chasing cigar smokers," the magazine said in an editorial in its June issue, which is dedicated to Cuba as it approaches the post-Castro era.

The premium cigars hand-rolled in Cuba are considered the world's finest, but they are banned in the United States under a trade embargo adopted in 1962 to undermine Cuban leader Fidel Castro's communist government.

New York-based Cigar Aficionado said American agribusiness companies sell millions of dollars a year in food to Cuba, while momentum is growing to allow U.S. oil companies to get involved in oil exploration in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters.

"Yet if you buy a Cuban cigar, you may end up in jail," it said. "Something is wrong with our government priorities here."

Cigar Aficionado, which put Castro on the cover of a 1999 issue that advocated lifting sanctions against Cuba, said U.S. policy has failed to produce change in Cuba in 45 years. "Isn't it time we tried something new?" the magazine asked.

Its June issue, headlined "Cuba Tomorrow," focuses on changes on the island nation since the 80-year-old Castro ceded power to his brother Raul after emergency intestinal surgery 10 months ago and dropped out of sight.

When its previous issue on Cuba appeared in 1999, officials in Miami, a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment among Cuban exiles, pulled the magazine from news racks at the airport because it was considered too flattering to the Cuban leader.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

2007 Capablanca Memorial Chess Tournament

Current standings at the 42nd Capablanca Memorial Tournament being played in Havana, Cuba.

Vassily Ivanchuk 5.5
Vugar Gashimov 4.5
Lenier Dominguez-Perez 4
Walter Arencibia 4
Kamil Miton 3.5
Peter Heine Nielsen 3
Yuniesky Quezada 3
Neuris Delgado Ramirez 2.5
Lazaro Bruzon 2.5
Jesus Nogueiras 2.


2007 World Chess Championship (Mexico)

Candidates Matches for the 2007 World Chess Cahmpionship

Chess on Stamps

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Weak knees Democrats

It was a sorry spectacle to see the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate cave in to the demands of the Warmonger-In-Chief who sits at the White House. This is not what we elected you for in 2006.

After the veto you should have said: We will not send you another funding bill for this war.

Kudos to Obama, Clinton and Dodd for saying NO!

Vicepresident Carlos Lage: Cuba and Ecuador will strengthen friendship

Havana, May 25 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage said on Friday that Cuba and Ecuador will strengthen their friendship.

In brief statements to reporters during a meeting at the Council of State with his Ecuadorian counterpart, Lenin Moreno, Lage expressed satisfaction with his visit to Cuba and noted that in the short period since the incumbent Ecuadorian government took power, it has arisen Cuba"s admiration and respect.

For his part, Moreno conveyed warm salutations to the Cuban people and lauded what he called Latin American brotherhood.

He pointed out that the region's unity is being forged, adding that this effort, first made a long time ago, will certainly consolidate.

We can say that our Revolution will never halt, he stressed.

Moreno and the delegation accompanying him will stay in Cuba until Monday. During their visit, they will meet with local authorities and visit places of historic, social and cultural interest.

Cuba's secret to becoming a centenarian? Happiness

Monsters and Critics

By Silvia Ayuso May 26, 2007, 3:59 GMT

Havana - The music has barely begun when Flora Lopez jumps up on her feet and starts dancing - a scene not at all unusual in Cuba, but for the fact that Flora is 101 years old.

'I even dance alone, music runs in my feet, in my head,' she says, very happy and very lucid.

Beside her, María Alcala claps her hands following the rhythm. She's the same age as Flora, and also shares what they regard as the secret to becoming a centenarian.

Pure and simple, it's 'happiness.'

'You have to laugh, you need a lot of laughs,' says a smiling Alcala. 'I have always been very cheerful, when I was young, I used to dance and sing a lot.'

Alcala and Lopez were kicking up a storm at the Fifth International Congress of Satisfactory Longevity that ended Friday in Havana.

Well past the age of flirtatiousness - though they still care a lot about their appearance - none of those attending hesitates to state their real age. Alcala says: 'When I tell it, nobody believes me.'

Doctor Eugenio Selman-Husein, president of the 120-Years-old Club, a Cuban association dedicated to studying longevity, says these Cubans have found the secret key to a long life.

'Joy and happiness are the potion for eternal youth,' he says.

'The philosophy of this club is that it is possible to become 120 years old without the need to make a great effort or sacrifices,' explains this still-active surgeon, 77 years old.

And another ingredient: 'solidarity.'

'The Club was created to make possible for its members to reach the age of 120 helping each other, and also with the help of their community, friends and neighbours,' he said.

With a life expectancy at birth of 77 years, Cuba belongs to the elite group of 30 countries with the highest longevity. In Latin America, it runs second only after Costa Rica.

For Selman-Husein, there are six basic rules to reach such a high age in a satisfactory way: motivation, moderate food, health, physical activity, culture, and the environment, 'starting with your room.'

He says culture is especially important 'because it is important spiritually and helps you to relax. Stress is one of the worst illnesses of the world.'

Cuba has more than 1,000 centenarians - a figure expected to grow as a country-wide study of centenarians on this Caribbean island comes to a close. There are still three provinces to complete in the study that started in 2005, says Alberto Fernández, director of the study.

In Havana, where the research has already ended, there are 270 centenarians, 14 of them even super-centenarians because they have passed the age of 105.

'I am not old, I am super-old,' said one of them in an interview.

One characteristic they all share is their 'tendency to be very positive' in life despite all the adversities, explained the authors of the study.

Angela Verde, a centenarian Spanish woman who left her country when she was just 19, hasn't had an easy life either, with one daughter born with Down Syndrome. Angela has been in an institution for 22 years, and her caretakeres say she keeps happy and cares about others.

'My mind is too clear', says Angela with slight resignation. 'I was just once in New York, in 1935.'

Lopez, the dancer, doesn't remember many details - not even her school days and graduation.

'I know I knew how to divide,' she says, trying to remember how old she was when she left school.

'Back then,' she says, studying was not that important.

'I had a dignified life,' says this woman who worked almost her whole life and who nowadays just enjoys singing and dancing as much as she can, as well as 'reading.'

And talking. About midday, one of her caretakers tells her it is time to lunch.

'Let me finish talking,' she says, while being escorted away. She says over her shoulder that she will answer more questions next year, 'when I become 102 years old.'

According to Selman-Husein, longevity is also granted for the most prominent Cuban in the world: Fidel Castro, who turned 80 last summer and has survived a severe intestinal illness.

'He doesn't need to be in the Club, he is going to reach the age of 140,' quips the 77-year-old physician.By Silvia Ayuso May 26, 2007, 3:59 GMT

Havana - The music has barely begun when Flora Lopez jumps up on her feet and starts dancing - a scene not at all unusual in Cuba, but for the fact that Flora is 101 years old.

'I even dance alone, music runs in my feet, in my head,' she says, very happy and very lucid.

Beside her, María Alcala claps her hands following the rhythm. She's the same age as Flora, and also shares what they regard as the secret to becoming a centenarian.

Pure and simple, it's 'happiness.'

'You have to laugh, you need a lot of laughs,' says a smiling Alcala. 'I have always been very cheerful, when I was young, I used to dance and sing a lot.'

Alcala and Lopez were kicking up a storm at the Fifth International Congress of Satisfactory Longevity that ended Friday in Havana.

Well past the age of flirtatiousness - though they still care a lot about their appearance - none of those attending hesitates to state their real age. Alcala says: 'When I tell it, nobody believes me.'

Doctor Eugenio Selman-Husein, president of the 120-Years-old Club, a Cuban association dedicated to studying longevity, says these Cubans have found the secret key to a long life.

'Joy and happiness are the potion for eternal youth,' he says.

'The philosophy of this club is that it is possible to become 120 years old without the need to make a great effort or sacrifices,' explains this still-active surgeon, 77 years old.

And another ingredient: 'solidarity.'

'The Club was created to make possible for its members to reach the age of 120 helping each other, and also with the help of their community, friends and neighbours,' he said.

With a life expectancy at birth of 77 years, Cuba belongs to the elite group of 30 countries with the highest longevity. In Latin America, it runs second only after Costa Rica.

For Selman-Husein, there are six basic rules to reach such a high age in a satisfactory way: motivation, moderate food, health, physical activity, culture, and the environment, 'starting with your room.'

He says culture is especially important 'because it is important spiritually and helps you to relax. Stress is one of the worst illnesses of the world.'

Cuba has more than 1,000 centenarians - a figure expected to grow as a country-wide study of centenarians on this Caribbean island comes to a close. There are still three provinces to complete in the study that started in 2005, says Alberto Fernández, director of the study.

In Havana, where the research has already ended, there are 270 centenarians, 14 of them even super-centenarians because they have passed the age of 105.

'I am not old, I am super-old,' said one of them in an interview.

One characteristic they all share is their 'tendency to be very positive' in life despite all the adversities, explained the authors of the study.

Angela Verde, a centenarian Spanish woman who left her country when she was just 19, hasn't had an easy life either, with one daughter born with Down Syndrome. Angela has been in an institution for 22 years, and her caretakeres say she keeps happy and cares about others.

'My mind is too clear', says Angela with slight resignation. 'I was just once in New York, in 1935.'

Lopez, the dancer, doesn't remember many details - not even her school days and graduation.

'I know I knew how to divide,' she says, trying to remember how old she was when she left school.

'Back then,' she says, studying was not that important.

'I had a dignified life,' says this woman who worked almost her whole life and who nowadays just enjoys singing and dancing as much as she can, as well as 'reading.'

And talking. About midday, one of her caretakers tells her it is time to lunch.

'Let me finish talking,' she says, while being escorted away. She says over her shoulder that she will answer more questions next year, 'when I become 102 years old.'

According to Selman-Husein, longevity is also granted for the most prominent Cuban in the world: Fidel Castro, who turned 80 last summer and has survived a severe intestinal illness.

'He doesn't need to be in the Club, he is going to reach the age of 140,' quips the 77-year-old physician.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Friday, May 25, 2007

Head of Ibero-American Organization Calls for Thaw With Cuba

HispanicBusiness.com

May 21, 2007
EFE

The secretary-general of the organization of Ibero-American nations said here Friday that he is in favor of beginning talks with Cuba and added that a good way to start would be removing the economic embargo Washington imposed on the island in 1962.

"I believe it really is time to begin talks and find the way to do so, beginning with something very important, the end of the embargo," Enrique Iglesias told Efe in Madrid.

The veteran Uruguayan diplomat, who served for nearly two decades as president of the Inter-American Development Bank, agreed to head the permanent secretariat established to promote implementation of initiatives agreed on at the annual Ibero-American Summits involving Spain, Portugal and the nations of Latin America.

Iglesias said he was in favor of closer relations with Havana when questioned about statements made by Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza, who also defended talks with Cuba, a nation that is a member of the regional forum but has been suspended from it since 1962.

"What Insulza said makes a lot of sense," he added.

Specifically, Insulza said on February 15 in Lima that it seemed "absurd" that most OAS countries have diplomatic relations with the Cuban government and yet "the organization as such does not discuss or mention that country."

Iglesias said that Cuba's case or that of any other country in the region had not been the subject of discussion at the Inter-American Dialogue Forum that concluded Friday in Madrid, at which more than 100 delegates from Latin America, Europe and the United States analyzed the political, economic and commercial perspectives of the Latin American region.

Discussions held at the forum will form the basis of the agenda for the next Ibero-American Summit to be held in Chile and at which, for the moment at any rate, there is little prospect of dealing with the issue of Cuba.

According to Iglesias, "It's not on the agenda but governments are free to propose what they want." EFE

Thursday, May 24, 2007

John Parke Wright IV and the 'Friendship Cows'

Luxner News

Cattle rancher John Parke Wright: Time to end the embargo

CubaNews / July 2004

By Larry Luxner

John Parke Wright IV leans forward in his chair in the lobby of Havana’s Hotel Nacional, his Stetson marking him as the only obvious cowboy in a sea of visiting American food executives in business suits.

Wright is talking passionately about why the U.S. embargo against Cuba is cruel and disgusting. But five minutes into our interview, the white-haired gentleman suddenly jumps out of his seat, pulls a harmonica from the pocket of his guayabera and joins a hotel band performing “Mayari” and other ballads made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club.

A few songs and a round of applause later, Wright is back in his chair, thrilled over the latest connection he has just made with ordinary Cubans.

“This is an agricultural-based society,” the Florida cattle rancher tells CubaNews in a voice full of genuine enthusiasm. “Country is cool here. The guajiros comprise the majority of people here. That’s why I’m so motivated to help a place like Cuba.”

Wright, 54, is a lifelong Floridian, a devout Catholic and the owner of Naples-based consulting and trading firm J.P. Wright & Co. We spoke to him at length during a three-day conference in April sponsored by Cuban food purchasing agency Alimport.

Among his best friends is Ramón “Mongo” Castro, Fidel’s older brother. The two men have been frequently photographed together — riding horses, enjoying Cohiba cigars and talking about cattle. Their most recent meeting followed the signing of a lucrative contract between Wright’s company and Alimport to sell beef cattle to the island nation.

“I’m here to re-establish the supply of America’s best cattle from the state of Florida to Cuba, and to help increase Cuba’s beef production,” said Wright, explaining his presence in Havana. “I was invited to help in this area last year, with the supply of 150 head of dairy cattle from New York and Pennsylvania. This was done in two shipments, one from the Port of Jacksonville and the other from Port Everglades, and it was very successful.”

The upcoming shipment of 300 head of cattle will be the first of its kind from Florida to Cuba in over 40 years. It wouldn’t be happening at all if not for the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), which for the first time since the 1960s allows the Cuban government to buy U.S. food commodities on a cash-only basis.

Wright originally planned to send 250 head back in March or April, but the shipment was delayed because of a single case of mad-cow disease discovered in Washington state late last year; 50 Florida cattle were later added to the shipment.

As it stands now, 80 Brangus heifers will come from the Strickland Ranch in Manatee County, 80 Brafords from the Adams Ranch in Fort Pierce, 50 Black Angus cattle from the Baldwin Ranch in Ocala, 81 Beef Masters from other Florida ranches and three bulls from each breed.

The total shipment, which now includes 288 head of cattle and 12 bulls, is worth about $750,000 and is scheduled to depart Florida’s Port Manatee this month or next.

Wright said that besides Cuba, he also supplies cattle to the Bahamas, Dominican Re-public and Jamaica. He also does occasional consulting on China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Asian countries, thanks to the 10 years he spent as a trader in Beijing.

But it’s clear that Wright’s real passion is Cuba — a passion rooted in the fact that his family has been shipping Florida cattle to the island since the 1840s, and that Lykes Brothers, a shipping firm started by his great-great-grandfather, had extensive cattle holdings in Cuba before the revolution.

Between 1868 and 1878, Florida cattlemen exported more than 1.5 million cattle to Cuba. Following Cuba’s first war of independence against Spain, demand for cattle was especially high, and ships belonging to James McKay, one of Wright’s ancestors, carried 100,000 head of beef cattle to Cuba in 1879 alone.

Following Batista’s overthrow in 1959, revolutionary forces expropriated a 15,000-acre ranch Lykes Brothers operated near the eastern Cuban city of Bayamo and converted it into a sugar cooperative, Wright recently told the Miami New Times.

Despite a $3.6 million claim for the land, Wright doesn’t appear to hold any grudges; on the contrary, he says he’d like to help the Cuban people as much as possible.

“The potential for Cuba’s economy to grow is significant. With imports and exports and open trade, Cuba’s economy would bounce back in a heartbeat,” said Wright as he proudly showed CubaNews articles about himself in the Naples Daily News and pre-revolutionary magazine ads for his family’s cattle business.

Born in Washington, D.C., Wright was raised in Tampa and attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, though he graduated from Tampa’s University of South Florida. From 1972 to 1981, he was in China, working for the British firm Gardin Matheson & Co., which were Lykes agents in Beijing.

“We sent the first U.S.-flag ship to China in March 1979, and on Apr. 18, 1979, the first Chinese ship docked in Seattle, re-establishing two-way trade between the two countries after 30 years,” he recalled.

“I’m firmly convinced, after seeing the opening of trade with China 25 years ago, that the same course is urgently needed with regard to Cuba. Deng Xaoping was smart enough to see that the future of China was based on opening trade with the West. Cuba, especially with Pedro Alvarez at the helm of Alimport, is smart enough to see that the opening of trade with the U.S. is important to the well-being of his country.”

Wright is a friendly, soft-spoken sort, but he gets angry when asked about the embargo. “To me, it’s as simple as this: There’s been a punitive embargo placed against this country by the United States, and the people it’s hurting the most are average Cubans. This is not genocide, but it’s as close to punishing a whole nation as any punishment can be.”

Referring to Fidel, he said: “No man is an island, but no island is only one man. And this is where the Americans are missing the boat.”

Wright doesn’t intend to miss any boats. His personal goal, he says, is to put milk and meat on the table for everyone in Cuba, especially children.

“The whole country is suitable for cattle, from Pinar del Río to Oriente. Our cattle are in several provinces now, and they’re doing extremely well.”

The key, he says, is “to put America’s best ranchers together with Cuba’s best ranchers” and let them exchange information about breeding, techniques, fertilizers and other relevant topics.

“That’s the kind of thing cattlemen like to do,” he said, though he added that Washington’s embargo against Cuba has cut off the supply of agricultural necessities like tractors, fertilizers, seeds and irrigation equipment.

“After 43 years of an economic embargo imposed by the U.S., Cuba doesn’t have a surplus of cash to go out and buy everything. It’s a question of priorities. With cattle, the first step is to select the right breeds of cattle that can take the tropical heat and disease. That’s why bringing cattle from New York and Pennsylvania was such a good choice because those cattle do well in Florida.”

Wright says that Alimport’s Alvarez — profiled by this newsletter several months ago (see CubaNews, April 2004 issue, page 8) — foresees importing 100,000 head of U.S. beef cattle a year once the embargo is over.

Tourism would thrive too, say experts, with Florida cashing in handsomely as tourists use the state as a jumping-off point to discover the long-forbidden island.

“Shipping cows to Cuba is one thing, but shipping people to Cuba is far more important,” says the rancher. “Miami is the biggest cruise ship capital in the world, and the cruise ship industry really ought to be focused on Cuba. I have not heard of one cruise line company trying to open up cruise tours to Cuba.”

Yet that’s unlikely to happen as long as George Bush is in the White House.

Recent actions point to a toughening of U.S. policy toward Cuba, with the Bush administration making it harder every day for Cuban-Americans to visit the island or send remittances to family members — all in an effort to deprive the Castro government of dollars.

“It’s sad that the U.S. government would try to starve a people to change a regime, especially our Cuban friends. To deny a family member the right to send money anywhere in the world isn’t right, but the money will be sent anyway. No government can stop kindness. That money will get where it’s needed.”

Interestingly, while Wright lavishes kind words on his friend Ramón Castro, calling the 80-year-old a “nice, generous man,” he offers little praise for younger brothers Fidel or Raúl or their communist system of government.

On the other hand, Wright — mindful of potentially lucrative Alimport beef contracts down the road — is reluctant to criticize the Castro regime in any way, especially within earshot of Cuban officials who may be lurking around the lobby of the Hotel Nacional.

And Wright politely declines to discuss last year’s dissident crackdown or any of the other human rights abuses committed by Havana that have outraged most of South Florida, the nation and the civilized world.

“Issues regarding personal freedoms, the right of free speech, private property, things that we Americans tend to take for granted, those are issues that people far more gifted than myself can resolve,” he says, eager to return to the subject of cattle. “My advice is, let’s get our diplomats to talk. I’ve never seen so many unfriendly diplomats in my life.”

Cuba Eyes Potato Deal With North Dakota

The Washington Post

By WILL WEISSERT
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 4:11 PM

HAVANA -- Cuba will dispatch experts to the fields of North Dakota this summer as it closes in on the first agreement to import American seed potatoes, officials said Thursday.

Two Cuban agricultural inspectors plan to inspect the state's varieties and watch how seed potatoes are packed for shipping. If all goes well, Cuba is prepared to buy about 100 tons of seed potatoes to plant in its fields and see how they fare.

Pedro Alvarez, head of communist Cuba's food import company Alimport, said the island already imports as much as 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada and Holland, but that "of course we'd like to diversify our suppliers and varieties."

He said Cuba plans to test the North Dakota seed potatoes in its soil before buying larger quantities. Officials hope to have the state's potatoes planted in Cuba when growing season starts in November.

Roger Johnson, North Dakota's agricultural commissioner, led an 18-member, three-day trade mission to Havana. He noted seed potatoes are more expensive than table potatoes and highly perishable _ making the prospect of sending them all the way to this Caribbean country tricky.

"We want to start small because the risk is enormous," he said.

Washington's 45-year-old embargo forbids American tourists from visiting Cuba, and chokes off most trade between the two countries, though the direct sale of food and agricultural products began in late 2001. Alvarez said Cuba has since spent more than $2.2 billion on American food and agricultural imports, including shipping and hefty bank fees to send payments through third nations.

Johnson, making his sixth trip to Cuba, said North Dakota has sold more than $30 million worth of products to the island since 2001, mostly peas, and garbanzo and lentil beans. During this trip, Cuba agreed to buy 10,000 tons of North Dakota red spring wheat and is negotiating the purchase of soybeans, corn and other crops.

Cuba also is interested in a similar inspection and testing process for North Dakota barely malt, another American product that would be the first of its kind imported to Cuba.

"We're sure it will be very good," Alvarez joked, "because American beer is very good."

Castro Says He's Better, Weight Stable

Washington Post

By ANITA SNOW
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 3:33 AM

HAVANA -- Fidel Castro's recovery from intestinal surgery 10 months ago was delayed because the first of several operations he had went badly, the communist leader said in a statement that gave the most detailed account of his health since August.

Castro, 80, said in the Wednesday statement that he is now eating solid food and improving after "many months" of intravenous feeding. It was the most information released about Castro's condition since his Aug. 13 birthday, when he asked Cubans to be optimistic but not rule out possible "adverse news."

"It was not just one operation, but various," Castro wrote in the statement that the government sent to international media by e-mail. "Initially it was not successful and that had a bearing on my prolonged recuperation."

Expected to be published in state newspapers and read on radio and television broadcasts on Thursday, the statement did not say when Castro might appear in public again or resume Cuba's presidency.

"Today I receive orally everything my recuperation requires," the convalescing leader wrote.

Castro stunned Cuba and the world on July 31 when he was announced he had undergone intestinal surgery for intestinal bleeding and was temporarily ceding power to his 75-year-old brother Raul, the defense minister.

He has not been seen in public since and his condition and exact ailment have been state secrets, though top officials have insisted he is recuperating steadily. He is widely believed to suffer from diverticular disease, a condition that forms sacs in the intestine that can become inflamed and bleed.

A January story in the Spanish newspaper El Pais described Castro as being in "very grave" condition after at least three failed operations for diverticular disease. The Cuban government denied that report.

"I tell everyone simply that I am getting better and maintain a stable weight of about 80 kilograms (176 pounds)," Castro said Wednesday, adding that the greatest risks to him now are age and the effects of not taking proper care of his health over the years.

As he recovers in an undisclosed location, Castro has been seen wearing a track suit in photographs and videos released occasionally by state media. He looked gaunt in the earlier images, but appeared more robust in more recent pictures.

"I don't have time now for films and photos that require me to constantly cut my hair, beard and mustache, and get spruced up every day," he said, evidently referring to the preparation required for some of the official images.

Life on the island has changed little since Castro stepped aside, and many Cubans no longer worry that their "maximum leader" is at death's door.

His comments on his health came in the second half of a statement about food production. It was the 11th written communique signed by Castro in recent weeks, most of them lashing out at U.S.-backed plans to use food crops to produce biofuels.

"For now, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, reflecting and writing about questions that I judge of certain importance and transcendence," the latest one said. "I have a lot more material to go."

Loyalists were sorely disappointed on May 1 when Castro did not make his traditional appearance at Cuba's annual workers parade.

Two weeks after he first fell ill, Cubans received a sober greeting from Castro saying he faced a long recovery from surgery.

"To affirm that the recovery period will take a short time and that there is no risk would be absolutely incorrect," that statement said.

In an apparent reference to those earlier words, Castro said in Wednesday's statement that "my compatriots don't like having me explain on more than one occasion that the recovery is not free of risks."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

U.S., Cuba tangle at U.N. over alleged plane bomber

Reuters

Tue May 22, 2007 7:40PM EDT
By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Cuba and Venezuela clashed with the United States in the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday over the release this month by a U.S. judge of an anti-Castro militant wanted for bomb attacks against Cuba.

Cuban charge d'affaires Ileana Nunez Mordoche accused Washington of a bid to conceal details of Luis Posada Carriles' CIA past by permitting his May 8 release after the judge in El Paso, Texas, dismissed immigration fraud charges against him.

Posada Carriles, who was taken into U.S. custody in May 2005 after he entered the country illegally, is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela, where he is accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.

The Cuban denounced Washington's "complicity and absolute responsibility" for the release, aimed, she said, at stopping Posada Carriles revealing his "terrorist actions" against Cuba and Venezuela as an ex-Central Intelligence Agency operative.

Nunez Mordoche accused the United States of double standards on terrorism. "It is impossible to eliminate terrorism if some terrorist acts are condemned while others are silenced, tolerated or justified," she said.

She urged the Security Council to "take all the necessary steps" but did not elaborate.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad replied that the decision to free Posada Carriles had been made by an independent judiciary. "The United States is currently reviewing that decision and its options for challenging it," he said.

He said the immigration judge who originally considered Posada Carriles's case had barred his deportation to Cuba or Venezuela. But he said Washington would be prepared to send him to another country with terrorism-related charges against him.

Venezuela's envoy also accused Washington of "protection of a terrorist" and violating a 1922 extradition treaty with his country. He said Khalilzad's statement "makes a mockery" of the Security Council.

Trained by the CIA for its failed Bay of Pigs invasion to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1961, Posada Carriles was jailed in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of the Cuban airliner, but escaped in 1985.

Venezuela, Cuba's leftist ally, requested his extradition from the United States in 2005, but got no response.

Tuesday's Security Council meeting was to hear briefings from council committees on counter-terrorism, and as such was open to any U.N. member, not just the 15 council members.

Cuba expects up to US$150 million in new U.S. trade at farm gathering

Canada.com

Anita Snow, Canadian Press
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2007

HAVANA (AP) - Communist Cuba expects to sign contracts for much as US$150 million in American agricultural goods next week at the largest gathering of U.S. farm producers here since Fidel Castro fell ill last summer.

Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the island's food import company Alimport, said that talks beginning Monday should produce enough deals to ensure Cuba buys as much U.S. goods in 2007 as it did last year.

About 100 American farm groups and companies from 22 U.S. states are participating.

In 2006, Cuba spent US$570 million for U.S. food and agricultural products, including shipping and banking costs, Alvarez said in an interview Tuesday. So far this year, his government has spent $225 million to purchase and import American goods.

"We are hoping that by the end of the coming week we will have between $100 million to $150 million in new contracts," said Alvarez, adding he expects as many as 250 Americans at the talks that will wind up with contract signings on May 30.

Washington maintains a 45-year-old trade embargo on the island, but U.S. food and agricultural products can be sold directly to Cuba under a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Since Havana first took advantage of the law in 2001, it has spent more than $2.2 billion on American farm products, including hefty transportation and financing costs.

"We would buy double that if not for the restrictions," said Alvarez, referring to American regulations that include time-consuming paperwork and cash-only financing.

Castro often mingled with American farm producers during past gatherings aimed at increasing U.S. sales to the island. At an agribusiness fair in 2002, he fed milk in a baby bottle to a buffalo calf from Minnesota, greeted then-governor Jesse Ventura and penned some of the contracts to buy American goods.

But the 80-year-old Castro has not been seen in public since July 31, when he announced he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and provisionally ceded his duties to his younger brother Raul, the defense minister.

Since then, he has been seen only in official photographs and videotapes, but authorities report that he is getting better. In recent weeks he has written a string of essays on international affairs, often denouncing the use of food crops to produce ethanol.

During the only other large gathering of U.S. agribusiness interests in Cuba following Castro's illness, fewer than 80 American farm groups and companies converged here in November during the annual International Fair of Havana.

Cuba generally uses the gatherings to register its objection to the U.S. trade embargo, with American farm producers anxious to do more trade with the island chiming in with their own objections.

Last week, rice producers from the United States and 23 Latin American countries meeting in Mexico adopted a statement encouraging"These restrictions prejudice significantly U.S. agricultural producers as well as exporters, transporters and other related economic activities," participants in the 1st Pan-American Rice Congress said.

As a preview to next week's gathering, North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Roger Johnson is leading a trade mission to the island this week to discuss the possibility of selling potatoes to the island.

An Alabama trade mission arrives Friday. Alabama Agriculture Department spokeswoman Christy Rhodes Kirk said that the delegation, including several state lawmakers, will help companies negotiate the sale of products including poultry, lumber, utility poles, cotton, peanuts, fish and snack foods.

Alimport's Alvarez said Cuba expects other large delegations from Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, and smaller groups from California, New York, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Washington state. Congress to eliminate U.S. trade and travel sanctions on Cuba.

---

[JG: Due to the arrogance of the U.S. goverment, and this includes both Republican and Democratic administrations, the requests will continue to be ignored. The U.S. government could care less about the opinions and requests of the people of the world.]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cuba's Cure

Yes Magazine

Summer 2007 Issue

by Sarah van Gelder

Why is Cuba exporting its health care miracle to the world's poor?

Cuba's health care system is based on the neighbourhood docor and nurse. Most often, one of them lives upstairs from the office.
Photo by Sarah van Gelder.

Cubans say they offer health care to the world’s poor because they have big hearts. But what do they get in return?

They live longer than almost anyone in Latin America. Far fewer babies die. Almost everyone has been vaccinated, and such scourges of the poor as parasites, TB, malaria, even HIV/AIDS are rare or non-existent. Anyone can see a doctor, at low cost, right in the neighborhood.

The Cuban health care system is producing a population that is as healthy as those of the world’s wealthiest countries at a fraction of the cost. And now Cuba has begun exporting its system to under-served communities around the world—including the United States.

The story of Cuba’s health care ambitions is largely hidden from the people of the United States, where politics left over from the Cold War maintain an embargo on information and understanding. But it is increasingly well-known in the poorest communities of Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa where Cuban and Cuban-trained doctors are practicing.

In the words of Dr. Paul Farmer, Cuba is showing that “you can introduce the notion of a right to health care and wipe out the diseases of poverty.”

Health Care for All Cubans

Many elements of the health care system Cuba is exporting around the world are common-sense practices. Everyone has access to doctors, nurses, specialists, and medications. There is a doctor and nurse team in every neighborhood, although somewhat fewer now, with 29,000 medical professionals serving out of the country—a fact that is causing some complaints. If someone doesn’t like their neighborhood doctor, they can choose another one.

House calls are routine, in part because it’s the responsibility of the doctor and nurse team to understand you and your health issues in the context of your family, home, and neighborhood. This is key to the system. By catching diseases and health hazards before they get big, the Cuban medical system can spend a little on prevention rather than a lot later on to cure diseases, stop outbreaks, or cope with long-term disabilities. When a health hazard like dengue fever or malaria is identified, there is a coordinated nationwide effort to eradicate it. Cubans no longer suffer from diphtheria, rubella, polio, or measles and they have the lowest AIDS rate in the Americas, and the highest rate of treatment and control of hypertension.

For health issues beyond the capacity of the neighborhood doctor, polyclinics provide specialists, outpatient operations, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and labs. Those who need inpatient treatment can go to hospitals; at the end of their stay, their neighborhood medical team helps make the transition home. Doctors at all levels are trained to administer acupuncture, herbal cures, or other complementary practices that Cuban labs have found effective. And Cuban researchers develop their own vaccinations and treatments when medications aren’t available due to the blockade, or when they don’t exist.

Exporting Health Care

For decades, Cuba has sent doctors abroad and trained international students at its medical schools. But things ramped up beginning in 1998 when Hurricanes George and Mitch hammered Central America and the Caribbean. As they had often done, Cuban doctors rushed to the disaster zone to help those suffering the aftermath. But when it was time to go home, it was clear to the Cuban teams that the medical needs extended far beyond emergency care. So Cuba made a commitment to post doctors in several of these countries and to train local people in medicine so they could pick up where the Cuban doctors left off. ELAM, the Havana-based Latin American School of Medicine, was born, and with it the offer of 10,000 scholarships for free medical training.

Today the program has grown to 22,000 students from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the United States who attend ELAM and 28 other medical schools across Cuba. The students represent dozens of ethnic groups, 51 percent are women, and they come from more than 30 countries. What they have in common is that they would otherwise be unable to get a medical education. When a slum dweller in Port au Prince, a young indigenous person from Bolivia, the son or daughter of a farmer in Honduras, or a street vendor in the Gambia wants to become a doctor, they turn to Cuba. In some cases, Venezuela pays the bill. But most of the time, Cuba covers tuition, living expenses, books, and medical care. In return, the students agree that, upon completion of their studies, they will return to their own under-served communities to practice medicine.

The curriculum at ELAM begins, for most students, with up to a year of “bridging” courses, allowing them to catch up on basic math, science, and Spanish skills. The students are treated for the ailments many bring with them.

At the end of their training, which can take up to eight years, most students return home for residencies. Although they all make a verbal commitment to serve the poor, a few students quietly admit that they don’t see this as a permanent commitment.

One challenge of the Cuban approach is making sure their investment in medical education benefits those who need it most. Doctors from poor areas routinely move to wealthier areas or out of the country altogether. Cuba trains doctors in an ethic of serving the poor. They learn to see medical care as a right, not as a commodity, and to see their own role as one of service. Stories of Cuban doctors who practice abroad suggest these lessons stick. They are known for taking money out of their own pockets to buy medicine for patients who can’t afford to fill a prescription, and for touching and even embracing patients.

Cuba plans with the help of Venezuela to take their medical training to a massive scale and graduate 100,000 doctors over the next 15 years, according to Dr. Juan Ceballos, advisor to the vice minister of public health. To do so, Cuba has been building new medical schools around the country and abroad, at a rapid clip.

But the scale of the effort required to address current and projected needs for doctors requires breaking out of the box. The new approach is medical schools without walls. Students meet their teachers in clinics and hospitals, in Cuba and abroad, practicing alongside their mentors. Videotaped lectures and training software mean students can study anywhere there are Cuban doctors. The lower training costs make possible a scale of medical education that could end the scarcity of doctors.

U.S. Students in Cuba

Recently, Cuba extended the offer of free medical training to students from the United States. It started when Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi got curious after he and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus repeatedly encountered Cuban or Cuban-trained doctors in poor communities around the world.

They visited Cuba in May 2000, and during a conversation with Fidel Castro, Thompson brought up the lack of medical access for his poor, rural constituents. “He [Castro] was very familiar with the unemployment rates, health conditions, and infant mortality rates in my district, and that surprised me,” Thompson said. Castro offered scholarships for low-income Americans under the same terms as the other international students—they have to agree to go back and serve their communities.

Today, about 90 young people from poor parts of the United States have joined the ranks of international students studying medicine in Cuba.

The offer of medical training is just one way Cuba has reached out to the United States. Immediately after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 1,500 Cuban doctors volunteered to come to the Gulf Coast. They waited with packed bags and medical supplies, and a ship ready to provide backup support. Permission from the U.S. government never arrived.

“Our government played politics with the lives of people when they needed help the most,” said Representative Thompson. “And that’s unfortunate.”

When an earthquake struck Pakistan shortly afterwards, though, that country’s government warmly welcomed the Cuban medical professionals. And 2,300 came, bringing 32 field hospitals to remote, frigid regions of the Himalayas. There, they set broken bones, treated ailments, and performed operations for a total of 1.7 million patients.

The disaster assistance is part of Cuba’s medical aid mission that has extended from Peru to Indonesia, and even included caring for 17,000 children sickened by the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine.

It isn’t only in times of disaster that Cuban health care workers get involved. Some 29,000 Cuban health professionals are now practicing in 69 countries—mostly in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. In Venezuela, about 20,000 of them have enabled President Hugo Chávez to make good on his promise to provide health care to the poor. In the shantytowns around Caracas and the banks of the Amazon, those who organize themselves and find a place for a doctor to practice and live can request a Cuban doctor.

As in Cuba, these doctors and nurses live where they serve, and become part of the community. They are available for emergencies, and they introduce preventative health practices.

Some are tempted to use their time abroad as an opportunity to leave Cuba. In August, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a new policy that makes it easier for Cuban medical professionals to come to the U.S. But the vast majority remain on the job and eventually return to Cuba.

Investing in Peace

How do the Cuban people feel about using their country’s resources for international medical missions? Those I asked responded with some version of this: We Cubans have big hearts. We are proud that we can share what we have with the world’s poor.

Nearly everyone in Cuba knows someone who has served on a medical mission. These doctors encounter maladies that have been eradicated from Cuba. They expand their understanding of medicine and of the suffering associated with poverty and powerlessness, and they bring home the pride that goes with making a difference.

And pride is a potent antidote to the dissatisfaction that can result from the economic hardships that continue 50 years into Cuba’s revolution.

From the government’s perspective, their investment in medical internationalism is covered, in part, by ALBA, the new trade agreement among Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba. ALBA, an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, puts human needs ahead of economic growth, so it isn’t surprising that Cuba’s health care offerings fall within the agreement, as does Venezuelan oil, Bolivian natural gas, and so on. But Cuba also offers help to countries outside of ALBA.

“All we ask for in return is solidarity,” Dr. Ceballos says.

“Solidarity” has real-world implications. Before Cuba sent doctors to Pakistan, relations between the two countries were not great, Ceballos says. But now the relationship is “magnificent.” The same is true of Guatemala and El Salvador. “Although they are conservative governments, they have become more flexible in their relationship with Cuba,” he says.

Those investments in health care missions “are resources that prevent confrontation with other nations,” Ceballos explains. “The solidarity with Cuba has restrained aggressions of all kinds.” And in a statement that acknowledges Cuba’s vulnerabilities on the global stage, Ceballos puts it this way: “It’s infinitely better to invest in peace than to invest in war.”

Imagine, then, that this idea took hold. Even more revolutionary than the right to health care for all is the idea that an investment in health—or in clean water, adequate food or housing—could be more powerful, more effective at building security than bombers and aircraft carriers.

Sarah van Gelder, executive editor of YES!, was in Cuba (legally) in December 2006 visiting medical schools, clinics, and hospitals. Her travel was supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies, and MEDICC provided program consulting.

After 45 years and counting, sanctions still don't work against Cuba

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Mon, May. 21, 2007

By MARY SANCHEZ

Filmmaker Michael Moore has the chance to stir the pot on U.S./Cuba relations in ways we haven’t seen since Elian Gonzalez boarded a plane back to Havana.

Young Elian, you’ll recall, was the child unlucky enough to become a pawn in a Cold War struggle that should have ended years ago. The 6-year-old landed in the U.S. after he and his mother escaped Cuba. She died en route. Elian’s father, in Cuba, wanted him back. And the boy’s fate became a media sensation, illustrating the cruelties suffered by families split between the two nations.

The Elian controversy opened the eyes of many Americans to the extremism of diehard anti-Castro Cuban-Americans. Normally sane and respected folks such as Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan — who worked to keep Elian in the U.S. — went nearly loco with venom for Fidel. And the whole sad affair ended with U.S. agents ripping the screaming boy at gunpoint from his new home in Florida to send him back to Cuba.

The fervor of those days in 2000 has died down. But in ensuing years, people far less camera-ready have had their lives devastated by this pointless diplomatic impasse — especially by the policies of the U.S.’s 45-year embargo restricting trade and travel to Cuba. Missionaries have been threatened with thousands of dollars in fines for taking medicine to the Cuban people. A Cuban-born National Guard member serving in Iraq was denied the right to visit his sons in Cuba. And hundreds of students and professors have been told Cuba is off limits to their studies.

These cases attract little attention. But Moore has the potential to do what he does best: shine a light on crazy policies. The creator of “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” is being investigated by the Treasury Department because of a trip he made in March to Cuba.

Moore went to Cuba to film a segment of his latest documentary, “SiCKO,” an indictment of the U.S. health care industry. He took along a few 9/11 recovery workers affected with respiratory problems, presumably as a way to contrast Cuba’s much-praised health care system with our own. “SiCKO” premieres at this month’s Cannes Film Festival and will hit theaters June 29.

In typical fashion, Moore sees the investigation as a grand conspiracy to undermine his work. “I can understand why that industry’s main recipient of its contributions — President Bush — would want to harass, intimidate and potentially prevent this film from having its widest possible audience,” he wrote to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in a letter widely posted on the Internet. Rep. Jose E. Serrano of New York has joined in Moore’s fight, calling the investigation “a witch hunt.”

But this is no conspiracy — it’s just a really dumb, outdated federal policy run amok.

They say the definition of crazy is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result. Well, the Bush administration has taken that adage to a whole new level. Instead of dismantling a policy that has not worked — it was put in place in 1962, yet Castro is still in power — Bush has tightened the sanctions. Cuban-Americans were allowed to visit family in Cuba every year; the current administration has curtailed visits to every three years. It has also strictly cut the amount of money Americans can send to Cuban relatives.

People-to-people trips, like the one that brought the Buena Vista Social Club to U.S. audiences, were halted. Some trade is allowed, but only through cash payments, which is cumbersome. And special courts have been set up to slap sanctions violators with fines. This is what Moore faces.

While Bush clings ever more tightly to the failed sanctions, others are increasingly willing to consider new remedies. More and more Democrats and Republicans in Congress every year support legislation that would rescind or undercut the embargo. Even Cuban-Americans are polling stronger and stronger against sanctions.

Engagement, people-to-people exchanges, trade — things that stand to improve the lives and lift the expectations of the Cuban people — are the best way to inspire democracy. Funny, Bush preaches this for China and Vietnam, but not for a neighboring island held by a dictator with one foot in the grave.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send e-mail to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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JG: Of course, Ms. Sanchez can call the Cuban President anything she wishes to call him, but to millions of Cubans, Fidel Castro is a hero. He has kept the Americans out of the island.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Interview with Cuban Leader Alarcon

Znet

May 20, 2007

Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon on the Release of Ex-CIA Operative Posada Carriles, the Cuban 5, Guantanamo and the Health of Fidel Castro

We go to Havana for an exclusive interview with the President of the Cuban National Assembly Ricardo Alarcon. The Cuban and Venezuelan governments have repeated their calls for former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles to be extradited to stand trial for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Posada was scheduled to go on trial in Texas on Friday for immigration fraud but a U.S. federal judge tossed out the indictment on Tuesday making Posada a free man. Alarcon also talks about the plight of the Cuban 5, Guantanamo Bay, and the health of the ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro. [includes rush transcript] The Cuban and Venezuelan governments have repeated their calls for former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles to be extradited to stand trial for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Posada was scheduled to go on trial in Texas on Friday for immigration fraud but a U.S. federal judge tossed out the indictment on Tuesday making Posada a free man. Critics of the Bush administration's handling of the Posada case say it demonstrates a U.S. double standard on terrorism. Posada has been linked to several acts of terrorism in addition to the 1976 airline bombing. He is currently being investigated by a grand jury in New Jersey for masterminding a string of hotel bombings in Havana in the 1990s. Evidence has also emerged linking him to a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Meanwhile pressure is growing in Washington for President Bush to take action against Posada. On Wednesday Democratic Congressman William Delahunt urged Bush to detain Posada and certify him as a terrorist under the Patriot Act. Congressman Delahant said the U.S. government should not be giving sanctuary to a man he described as "one of the Western Hemisphere's most notorious killers." Democratic Congressman Jose Serrano of New York also condemned the Bush administration's handling of the Posada case. Serrano said: "It further weakens our moral standing in the world as we will undoubtedly be seen as being biased in our ongoing war on terrorism. We go now to Havana for an exclusive interview with the President of the Cuban National Assembly Ricardo Alarcon.

RUSH TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Cuban and Venezuelan governments have repeated their calls for former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles to be extradited to stand trial for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed seventy-three people. Posada was scheduled to go on trial in Texas on Friday for immigration fraud, but a US federal judge tossed out the indictment Tuesday, making Posada a free man. Critics of the Bush administration's handling of the Posada case say it demonstrates a US double standard on terrorism. Posada has been linked to several acts of terrorism in addition to the 1976 airline bombing. He is currently being investigated by a grand jury in New Jersey for masterminding a string of hotel bombings in Havana in the 1990s. Evidence has also emerged linking him to a plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, pressure is growing in Washington for President Bush to take action against Posada. On Wednesday, Democratic Congressmember William Delahunt urged Bush to detain Posada and certify him as a terrorist under the PATRIOT Act. Delahunt said the US government should not be giving sanctuary to a man he described as "one of the Western hemisphere's most notorious killers." Democratic Congressmember Jose Serrano of New York also condemned the Bush administration's handling of the Posada case. Serrano said, "It further weakens our moral standing in the world, as we will undoubtedly be seen as being biased in our ongoing war on terrorism."

We go now to Havana for an exclusive satellite interview with the president of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RICARDO ALARCON: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us.

RICARDO ALARCON: Nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: First, your response to the release of Posada and also the dropping of the charges against him, albeit they were just on immigration issues.

RICARDO ALARCON: Well, I think that what happened the other day in El Paso was a decision by Judge Cardone that put an end to a charade that was organized by the administration. They had spent two years not indicting Posada, not prosecuting him for his real crimes, but playing games with these alleged migratory infractions that, according to the judge, in case he were to be found guilty of those violations, he would get only half a year or one year in prison, and he has served already two.

The issue now is very simple. I think that the situation is now more clear. He is a free man, because the charges were dismissed -- the migratory phony charges. Now, it is up to the US administration to abide by its obligations, according to international treaties, according to American law, to prosecute a terrorist or to allow him to go free. I think that the issue is now more clear than it was before, due to the maneuvering of the administration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Here in the United States, obviously, many Americans are still not aware of the role of Posada Carriles in past terrorism actions, and it's been caught up quite a bit, obviously, in the continuing conflict between the US government and the government of President Chavez and, of course, of your government. But the indictments of him in Venezuela predate the Chavez administration, don't they? Could you talk a little bit about those original indictments?

RICARDO ALARCON: The destruction at midair of a Cubana airplane in 1976 took place at a time where Mr. Hugo Chavez was a teenager beginning his military education. Nobody knew about him. It was a very pro-American administration in Venezuela, led by President Carlos Andres Perez, who asked publicly -- went publicly at the UN to the US government as friend: "Please help us to make justice in this case, because people are saying in the Caribbean that the CIA was involved on that." It was another Venezuelan government.

It was the Venezuelan highest court who declared Mr. Posada a fugitive of justice when he "escaped" -- quote/unquote -- from prison before the court, the Venezuelan court, having sentenced him or having concluded the process. Remember that this man almost immediately went from a Venezuelan prison to Ilopango Base in San Salvador, and he reappeared as a key element in the Iran-Contra affair, distributing weapons to the Contras at that time -- the Nicaraguan Contras at that time, when the US Congress had forbidden that, and violating the law from the White House. Then this man disappeared again, continued to be a fugitive of justice, and reappeared two years ago in Miami.

What is the situation now? After 9/11, the US promoted a resolution that is mandatory at the Security Council that, among other things, establishes that arguments of a political nature may not be admitted to deny extraditions to individuals associated with or allegedly associated with terrorist actions. And that is exactly what the US is doing at this moment. They do not have any option, according to international law, either to extradite Posada to Venezuela to continue the trial he was going through there twenty years ago or to prosecute him and present him to an American court of law, but on those real crimes, not on phony migratory charges, and that's in a very summary fashion.

But let me tell you something else. Last week, a number of documents were declassified. They appear now in the National Security Archive's website, especially documents coming from the authorities from two governments in the Caribbean: Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. Remember that this man and his group were not just involved in destroying a Cuban plane, a Cuban plane, by the way, in which a number of young Guyanese were traveling and were killed. Before the plane attack, these same individuals attacked several Trinidadian buildings, institutions, several Barbadian buildings and institutions, Jamaicans and so on. In other words, what the US is doing by not prosecuting Mr. Posada on that is not only a bilateral matter with Cuba or with Venezuela, it's also an insult to the Caribbean nations, which together we worked, we cooperated in the '70s, and we decided collectively at an international conference that was held in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, that Venezuela will prosecute and have the trial.

Barbados investigated the technical aspect of the destruction of the plane, and they succeeded in determining that it was the result of bombs that were exploded at the passengers' cabin of the plane. Trinidad and Tobago, on its part, had detained the two material authors of that act, and they made the criminal investigation and provided plenty of evidence that were submitted to the Venezuelan tribunal. In other words, it was an example of international cooperation involving the whole Caribbean area.

And now the US is insulting the Caribbean nations, the Cuban people, of course, the victims of that heinous act, but also the American people, because it is ignoring its very clear obligations either -- I repeat, either -- to extradite or to prosecute, according to the Montreal convention on crimes against civil aviation. There are only two choices, not a third one. You cannot find in that convention a third option. Having your friend walking around in Miami, that's completely illegal. It's an insult to humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly. He is sitting outside in Havana, Cuba. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation, and then we'll go to Washington, D.C., from terror in the skies to terror in the seas, and talk about a man selling weapons to the US government who was involved in the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. That was the Greenpeace ship in 1985 in Auckland Harbour in New Zealand. He is living in McLean, Virginia. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our exclusive interview with Ricardo Alarcon by satellite outside in Havana, Cuba. Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, long talked about as the number three man in Cuba. We're talking about the release of Luis Posada Carriles, the actual dropping of all charges against him. He was supposed to stand trial in El Paso, Texas, tomorrow on immigration fraud, long implicated in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana civilian airliner flight that killed all seventy-three people on board, among those dead, the entire Cuban fencing team.

Ricardo Alarcon, one of the bits of information that came up in the lead-up to the trial that now will not happen is the discussion to try to stop Posada from talking about his CIA connections, the fact that he was on the CIA payroll. What do you know about this?

RICARDO ALARCON: Well, the government presented a motion asking for complete exclusion of any reference to Posada's connections with the CIA, arguing that those links were finished in 1976. Mr. Posada himself, on a legal document in reply to that motion, rejected that, and he said that he has been working for the CIA beyond that date. To quote him, more or less, he said, "I have been involved with them for more than twenty- five years." That means that -- and he made, as a point of reference -- he recalled -- he said, as a matter of history, that the Iran-Contra affair, that was well in the '80s, and he was working for the CIA and -- not only the CIA -- the White House, remember, at that time. That means that according to him, he was a CIA agent at the time he masterminded the destruction in midair of a civilian airplane. And I imagine why the US government, the prosecutors, didn't want any discussion about CIA connection at that trial, at that phony trial, by the way, that now doesn't exist anymore due to the decision of the judge.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And also, President Alarcon, the issue of whether he is retired from his activities in terrorism -- clearly, about two years ago in Miami, one of his major backers -- Santiago Alvarez is one of his financial backers -- was arrested with a huge cache of weapons and explosives, so it would seem to indicate that at least that there is still some continuing activity of those who are seeking to foment terrorism against Cuba and other progressive movements in Latin America.

RICARDO ALARCON: More than that, Juan. I don't know if you followed some news that came out from Miami this week. Santiago Alvarez and Mr. Mitat found an agreement with the prosecutors, the federal prosecutors, to reduce their very low sentences. They got three years and four years. Now, that will be reduced -- do you know at the exchange of what? A few dozens of automatic weapons, some C4 explosives, some bombs, some other weaponry. That means these guys were found with a lot of weaponry, illegal weaponry; now -- obviously they have more -- they give another amount and, in exchange of that, their sentence will be reduced. How much do they still have in hiding in Miami? And that's a news of this week. That's Monday, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcon, what about the FBI coming to Cuba and the congress members and senators who are objecting to the FBI going to Cuba to gather information about Luis Posada's crimes and links to terrorism?

RICARDO ALARCON: Well, let me tell you, first of all, that it is true that they came here, and they got information that they were seeking. And I would like to add that that was not the first time. We have always been prepared and advocating international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. Remember that in 1997, '98, a delegation from the FBI came down here after some bombings in Havana hotels and some tourist resorts down here in Cuba. At that time, we got in contact with President Clinton. We warned him that part of the plans that existed at that moment, which, by the way, have been confirmed by some of the declassified documents that you may find at the National Security Archives, that they were planning again, Amy, again the destruction of civilian airplanes in midair, not Cuban planes, but foreign planes bringing foreign tourists to this country. [inaudible] was '98.

Nothing happened. No one was indicted. No one was prosecuted. And instead of that, the US authorities, the FBI, arrested five Cubans who were peacefully, without harming anybody, unarmed, were gathering precisely the information we transmitted to the FBI. They had been doing that since that time and very recently down here in Havana, and we are still waiting. What it the US going to do? Are they going to abide by their international obligations, or again we'll have to wait and see until another attack, another destruction, happens?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, your intelligence activities in the past have uncovered several plots. I seem to recall that back in 2000, when President Castro was in Panama for the Iberian Summit, that he then announced that your intelligence had discovered that Posada Carriles was in Panama at that very moment plotting more attacks, and some explosives were found. Your sense of -- do you feel that your country basically is having to continue to ferret out these terrorists with no assistance from the United States or any other major nations?

RICARDO ALARCON: I didn't get completely the question, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Is it your sense that your country is being forced to try to do its own intelligence to ferret out, to discover these plots with no assistance at all from the United States or other major countries?

RICARDO ALARCON: Of course. Of course. The whole process around Mr. Posada is the best demonstration of the innocence of our five comrades now arrested or in prison in the US. It's the best proof of the need of defense that we have. It's a principle of national and international law, the so-called "doctrine of necessity." In some circumstances, you need to violate some minor regulations, that they did, in order to save a more important value -- in this case, human lives. Certainly, you have Mr. Posada back in Miami, together with his old pal Mr. Orlando Bosch, who was part of a President Bush -- in a few weeks, maybe, they will be joined by Mr. Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat to continue playing with the rest of the C4, with the rest of the weaponry that they kept.

And what can we do? Well, on the one hand, we tried -- we have tried time and again to persuade the US authorities to recall then their obligations: please try to stop this, please try to avoid that incident to take place. And how could we do that? By human intelligence, by having people that sacrifice their lives, that at a very high price, in terms of their individual welfare, abandon their families to penetrate those groups to find out, to learn and to help us communicate with the FBI authorities to see if they would stop those actions. I think it's absolutely clear. We have not only that right, we have that need. The US now is -- I think everybody there accepts the concept of human intelligence, that if somebody had to learn about 9/11, you may have been able to avoid that. And the five comrades, the five compatriots that are in prison in the US saved many lives. They helped us to know in advance and to reduce the consequences, in some cases sharing the information with the FBI.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly. He's in Havana. What about President Fidel Castro? How is his health right now? Many expected to see him at the May Day celebration. He didn't show. He hasn't been seen in public since July 31, 2006, since handing over power to his brother Raul. How is his health, Mr. Alarcon?

RICARDO ALARCON: He continues to recover, Amy. I can tell you that he's doing pretty well. He has -- you can see in the most recent photograph, he has gained weight. He's -- physically speaking, his situation has improved a lot and continues to improve. And at the same time, well, he has just published his fifth article in a row. He's reading a lot, writing, and very much involved in the affairs of the country and the world. And he didn't show up on May 1, but -- you have said I am in the outside in Havana. It is just 8:30, a little bit more. At that time was the parade, and I can assure you that the temperature down here is very, very high. To be standing there for a couple of hours perhaps was not the appropriate thing to do for a person that is following a certain discipline of advice by his doctors. I wish I would have been also reading a book instead of supporting this tremendous sunshine.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen him recently? And what actually is wrong with Fidel Castro?

RICARDO ALARCON: Well, I will not move from what we have said. Remember that this is the man against whom more attempts on his life has been made. Mr. Posada is a good example. He has spent decades trying to kill him. We have to be very discreet on what happens to him. But he, himself, explained in his first document, his proclamation, that he had suffered a serious and risky surgery. But he is in the process of recovering from that. That takes time, according to the doctors, and after all, he continues to be the leader of this revolution, continues to be contributing to it in a different manner than the one many people were accustomed. He is less present. He's not present in demonstrations, and so on, but you can read, you can communicate with him, you can see how he is thinking about certain important issues of today's world, which implies also that he's reading a lot and meeting with people to handle certain important issues. It's a matter of priorities, rather than abandoning responsibilities.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I'd like to ask you also about the situation in Cuba vis-Ã -vis the rest of Latin America. Clearly, the wave of popular elections bringing in left-of-center governments in Latin America has continued, with the exception perhaps of the Mexican elections and Colombia, but how is Cuba faring in all of this, given the long period of -- the special period, the economic problems that the country faced about a decade ago? How is the economy of Cuba faring, given all these changes that are occurring in Latin America?

RICARDO ALARCON: Well, we never had a better relationship with Latin America than at the present time. For many years, we only had diplomatic relations and friendly relations with the small Caribbean nations and Mexico. Now, we have, of course, with the whole Caribbean and practically everybody in Latin America. And it is not only a matter of diplomatic, formal friendly relationships. It's also an increase in trade, investments, economic cooperation, cultural cooperation. Venezuela, of course, in a very important place, but not only Venezuela, also Brazil, also Argentina, Chile, the rest. That is a reflection of something that goes beyond Cuba, that maybe some people in Washington should begin to think about it.

Latin America is changing, has changed a lot, and is changing. What has happened that the model that was imposed upon our peoples, the so-called neoliberal economic model with its political reflection, has failed, has completely failed and has provoked the eruption of masses of people, reclaiming for a new life, for better conditions, that has led to those changes in the area. And I am sure more changes will come, and that process will not be stopped. In the middle of that, of course, Cuba is enjoying, as I said, the best context than in any other moment of our history.

But apart from that, Cuba has excellent relations with a very important nation in this world named China and with other countries, including Russia, some Europeans and -- this legend about isolating Cuba, and so on, reminds me the other lies of the administration about the weapons of mass destruction or an al-Qaeda link with Saddam, and so on. It doesn't make sense. The US is being defeated, is being isolated on that particular issue. You come down here, you will see investors from other countries, you will see partners from every part of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcon, we just have a minute, but I have a quick question about Guantanamo. Reports that in a post-Castro Cuba, it will be turned into an immigration center for Cubans to come to the United States, but, more importantly, how it's being used right now as a prison for hundreds of men from around the world. We have thirty seconds.

RICARDO ALARCON: This prison should be closed down immediately, and Guantanamo should be returned to its rightful owner, the people of Cuba. And when we get -- it won't be necessarily after this or that. When justice is made and returned to Cuba, for the first time the Cuban people will be able to use the best, the largest bay in the southern part of our country, which is Guantanamo, which has never been under Cuban control.

AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcon, I want to thank you for being with us, president of the Cuban National Assembly, speaking to us from Havana.