Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cubans see Castro comeback after lively radio chat

The Washington Post

By Anthony Boadle

Wednesday, February 28, 2007; 4:11 PM

HAVANA (Reuters) - After hearing his unmistakable voice in a good-humored chat played on state television, many Cubans are now convinced Fidel Castro is no longer at death's door and could even return to lead them.

The 80-year-old revolutionary, who has not been seen in public for seven months, unexpectedly called in to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's radio talk show on Tuesday night, telling his closest ally he feels stronger and more energetic.

It was Castro's first live broadcast since he fell ill and their chat was quickly played on Cuban state television, reassuring supporters that he is bouncing back.

"Everyone is so happy. He sounds very well. We had begun to think he was dying and slowly he is recovering," said Gertrudis Oliveira, a teacher in Santiago, Cuba's second city. "He is almost back to being the Fidel we were used to."

Castro was forced to hand over power temporarily to his brother and designated successor, Defense Minister Raul Castro, last July after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery.

His prolonged absence cast uncertainty over the Western Hemisphere's only communist society and raised hopes of economic reforms if not political change under Raul Castro.

Castro sounded stronger in his chat with Chavez, and said Cuba was running smoothly without him.

"I ask everyone to be patient and calm. I'm happy because everything is quiet and the country is going well, which is what matters," he said.

"I was so relieved to hear him. Although he is not officially in power, he can help fix everything that is wrong in Cuba," said Carmen Lopez, a 67-year-old retiree, as she bought her daily bread roll on the government ration book.

"Even if he can work from his room, that's enough. He can help improve our lives," said student Tatiana Vazquez who, like 70 percent of Cubans, has known no other leader.

Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua said Castro's recovery has dashed the hopes of opponents who expected rapid change once the leftist firebrand left center stage.

"I think the message is clear: 'Here I am, recovering, and it is only a question of time before I return to power'," Cuesta Morua said, although he doubts that Castro will have the physical strength to lead Cuba as effectively as before.


Cuban authorities insist Castro is recovering steadily, is back on the telephone calling his ministers and will resume a leadership role at some point.

A senior Cuban official said on Wednesday in Beijing that Castro will return to his duties in the "near future."

Fernando Remirez, head of the ruling Communist Party's international relations committee, slammed the U.S. government and anti-Castro exiles in Miami for predicting there would be chaos in Cuba without Castro at the helm.

U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, said: "This year will mark the end of the long domination of (Cuba) by Fidel Castro."

But McConnell said "significant positive change immediately following Castro's death is unlikely" since the long transition has allowed his brother to consolidate his position.

Cuba watchers see growing evidence that Castro is regaining his health and flexing his political muscle again.

"At the least, he no longer appears to be at death's door, although his very limited public exposure suggests that he remains quite frail," said Dan Erikson, an expert on Cuba at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.

"By demonstrating that he is alive and recovering, Fidel Castro is trying to rescue himself from a fate worse than death, which is irrelevance," he said.

U.S. Spook: More wishful thinking and misinformation about Cuba

Yesterday, a new U.S. intelligence spook testified before Congress. His testimony was more of the same crap that we have been hearing during the last 48 years.

His name is Mike McConnell and he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "in Cuba, this year will mark the end of the long domination of that country by Fidel Castro,"

This is coming to you from the folks that told you Fidel had cancer and that he would be dead by the end of 2006.

Senators were left wondering if the future cause of death was bird flu or an ingrown toe nail.

The spook also failed to mention the country where his new crystal ball was manufactured. It is rumored that it was some low-wage country like Mexico or China. The warranty is 90 days. After that, is back to inventing some other story.

I bet this spook is taking home more than $200,000 a year to come up with his “intelligence reports.” No wonder our fiscal deficits are so high. Thousands of bureaucrats that do very little work.

The Cuban Revolution and Sectarian Groups

Both Cuban Revolutions, the one headed by Jose Martí in the IXX century and the one under the leadership of Fidel Castro during the past one, were fought to benefit the total population of Cuba, they were not fought to advance the sectarian political agendas of small groups.

Recently, Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s National Assembly President declared that "We have to abolish any form of discrimination against [homosexuals.] We are trying to see how to do that, whether it should be to grant them the right to marry or to have same-sex unions."

Stop the bus! I want to get off!

I do not know where Alarcón gets the idea that small sectarian groups are deserving of special privileges. The Cuban people should have the final say.

Why doesn’t his National Assembly put before all the voters in Cuba a national plebiscite to decide the issue of homosexual marriage in Cuba?

Is he afraid that the voters might rebuff him?

I do not live in Cuba, but one of the things with which I do not agree is that in Cuba some of the extremely important decisions are imposed from the top by the one-party state. Let the people decide. And do not tell me that a one-party state is a democracy. It is not!

In November 2004 eleven states in the U.S. put that question before their voters in the general election. All of them, including super-liberal Oregon where I used to live, voted that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The overwhelming majority of the Hispanic communities in those states voted to include that decision in their state constitutions.

Cuba, Venezuela vs. Microsoft

The Guardian

28 February, 2007

Cuba and Venezuela have announced they will shake off yet another yoke of US hegemony — the Microsoft Windows computer operating system.

Both governments say they are trying to wean state agencies from Microsoft Windows to the open-source Linux operating system, which is developed by a global community of programmers who freely share their code.

"It’s basically a problem of technological sovereignty, a problem of ideology", said Hector Rodriguez, who oversees a Cuban university department of 1,000 students dedicated to developing open-source programs.

Other countries have tried similar moves. China, Brazil and Norway have encouraged the development of Linux for a variety of reasons: Microsoft’s near-monopoly over operating systems, the high cost of proprietary software and security problems.

Cuban officials, ever focused on US threats, also see it as a matter of national security.

Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes raised suspicions about Microsoft’s cooperation with US military and intelligence agencies.

He called the world’s information systems a "battlefield" where Cuba is fighting against imperialism. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates once described copyright reformers, including people who want to do away with proprietary software, as "some new modern-day sort of communists" — a badge of honour from the Cuban perspective.

Cuba imports many computers preloaded with Windows and also purchases software in third countries such as China, Mexico or Panama.

Richard Stallman is a computer scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Free Software Foundation created the license used by many open-source programs, including Linux.

He pointed out that copyright laws violate basic morality; he compared them to laws that would threaten people with jail for sharing or modifying kitchen recipes.

Stallman also warned that proprietary software is a security threat because without being able to examine the code, users can’t know what it’s doing or what "backdoor" holes developers might have left open for future entry. "A private program is never trustworthy", he said.

Cuba’s Cabinet also has urged a shift from proprietary software. The customs service has gone to Linux and the ministries of culture, higher education and communications are planning to do so, Rodriguez said. Students in his own department are cooking up a version of Linux called Nova.

Rodriguez’s department accounts for 1,000 of the 10,000 students within the University of Information Sciences, a five-year-old school that tries to combine software development with education.

Cuba is also training tens of thousands of other software and hardware engineers across the country, though few have computers at home. Most Cubans have to depend on the slow links at government internet cafes or schools.

Rodriguez shied away from saying how long it would take for Cuba to get most of its systems on Linux: "It would be tough for me to say that we would migrate half the public administration in three years."

But he said Linux use was growing rapidly.

"Two years ago, the Cuban free-software community did not number more than 600 people ... In the last two years, that number has gone well beyond 3,000 users of free software and it’s a figure that is growing exponentially."

Tampa businessmen plan increased trade with Cuba

Herald Tribune

February 28. 2007 12:00AM


TAMPA -- Two businessmen -- descendants of well known local families -- are increasing bay-area trade with Cuba, continuing a historic relationship dating back to the days of Hernando de Soto.

Monthly shipments of cattle feed and supplements from the Port of Tampa and Port Manatee to Cuba start in mid-March, pending negotiations and approval from both governments, said Arthur Savage, owner of Tampa shipping company A.R. Savage & Son Inc.

Five ships went to the island delivering pinto beans and phosphates last year.

Each shipment this year will deliver an estimated 3,000 tons of animal feed supplement and grain, according to John Parke Wright IV, director of J.P. Wright and Co., a cattle, feed and equipment exporter.

Wright and Savage, distant relatives by marriage, shipped cattle to Cuba in past years and could send more this year or next pending an agreement.

In the meantime, the cattle graze at Strickland Farm in Manatee County, where Wright raises crossbred Brahman and Black Angus cattle called Brangus.

On Friday, a cowboy hat-wearing Wright visited the herd -- dodging the attention of an ornery bull and discussing his visit for better relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

He's the great-great grandson of H.T. Lykes, who married Capt. James McKay's daughter. McKay, Savage's great-great-grandfather, started shipping cattle to Havana in 1858, establishing trade with Cuba. McKay and his family continued building a shipping empire, and the Lykes family's shipping, cattle and financial interests grew.

Because of a 45-year trade embargo, many Americans believe there's no trade with Cuba. But U.S. exports to Cuba have grown since 2001, after Congress allowed sales of agricultural products and medical supplies on a cash-only basis. No Cuban imports are sold here other than literature.

Over $3 million in fertilizer, animal feed and phosphates departed from the Port of Tampa to the island last year, according to Census figures.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, introduced legislation that would allow free travel by Americans to Cuba, and other lawmakers have touted the idea of more open trade with the island nation.

Since 2000, the U.S. has made $1.4 billion in agricultural sales, according to the Farm Bureau Federation. In 2006, sales to Cuba totaled $350 million.

The U.S. Department of Commerce regulates and authorizes trade to the island by issuing special licenses.

A majority of the food purchased in the U.S. goes to the ration program used to feed the 11.2 million people in Cuba, according to John Kavulich, senior policy analyst with the U.S.-Cuba Trade Economic Council Inc. in New York.

Attempts to open trade between the two countries -- what businessmen such as Savage and Parke Wright are calling for -- may not work in the long run, Kavulich said.

Cuba also purchases goods and receives financial support from Venezuela, China and other countries, Kavulich said. These countries are allies and share similar ideologies with the communist island nation.

"What that means is they provide long-term financing that Cuba may or may not repay," he said. "If the U.S. has a change from cash only, you are exposing businesses to almost certain default from Cuba."

Efforts to reach officials in the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and U.S.-based Cuban import agency officials for comment were unsuccessful.

Trade with Cuba stopped with a U.S. embargo in 1962, a couple of years after dictator Fidel Castro took power. But as soon as the restrictions loosened, Savage and Wright re-established their families' business relationship with Cuba.

Savage said he wanted to preserve his family's legacy. His mother had vivid memories of Cuba.

"She told me it was the prettiest island she had ever seen and the nicest people," Savage said, sitting in an office adorned with black-and-white photographs of ships launched from Tampa in the Havana ports.

Savage was selected by Alimport, Cuba's import agency, to be its shipping agent from the Port of Tampa and Port Manatee.

Savage envisions a day when ferry boats are going back and forth, where people can get in their cars and have the ferry shuttle them over to Cuba for a day and Cubans can come to Tampa Bay as well.

Wright, of Naples, also said he wants to keep the family tradition alive.

The Lykes and McKays were exporting 100,000 head of cattle to Cuba in 1879, he said. He sold 250 head to Cuba in 2004 -- soon after embargo restrictions began loosening -- the first sale of Florida cattle to Cuba in more than 40 years.

Wright said he plans to attend a cattlemen's fair in Cuba at the end of March to talk about possible future shipments to the island.

What Castro and Chavez spoke about


Wednesday, 28 February 2007, 12:06 GMT

The following is the transcript of the conversation between Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. It has been edited for brevity.

Chavez: Let's see who is calling from Havana. Bring me some coffee please.

Castro: Hello. Hello. Do you hear me?

Chavez: Who is calling?

Castro: Can you hear me?

Chavez: I hear you.

Castro: Distinguished and dear friend, how are you?

Chavez: [Words inaudible]

Castro: I am listening to you on Hello President. All the figures you have cited, I find your argument very good regarding the growth of the GDP, over the drop in unemployment. Many interesting things.

Chavez: How are you?

Castro: Go ahead, go ahead. Ask me.

Chavez: [In English] How are you?

Castro: [In English] Pretty well. [Laughter]

Chavez: You have no idea how happy it makes us to hear your voice and to know you are well.

Castro: Thank you.

Chavez: We are surprised. We are pleasantly surprised. We were, as almost always, talking about you a while ago. Now, you know that.

Castro: I always knew I would end up on Hello President.

Chavez: Now we broadcast daily.

Castro: No. [Words inaudible. Laughter] I am studying a lot, above all.

Chavez: What are you studying?

Castro: I see that you do not let go of the books. When do you sleep?

Chavez: I sleep a little in the early morning. I sleep some. I study a lot. That is one of the responsibilities of every revolutionary. We follow your example. I am now reading -

Castro: [Interrupting] Yes. You have been reading for a long while. You have great talent to keep it all in, to remember everything. The only thing you sometimes forget is figures.

Chavez: I forget numbers but not that much.

Castro: However, you have them all bookmarked and never miss one. It is not easy to keep up with you.

Chavez: Do you know how many hectares of corn are needed to produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: To do what?

Chavez: To produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: Ethanol. I believe you told me about that the other day. Somewhere around 20 million hectares.

Chavez:[Laughing] Just like that.

Castro: Go ahead, remind me.

Chavez: Indeed, 20 million. You are the one with an exceptional mind, not me.

Castro: Twenty million. Well, of course. The idea of using food to produce fuel is tragic, is dramatic. No one is sure how high the price of food will rise when soy is being used for fuel, with the need there is in the world to produce eggs, milk, to produce meat. It is a tragedy. One of many today.

I am happy to know that you have taken up the flag to save the species because... there are new problems, very difficult problems and therefore to see someone become a great preacher of the cause, a champion of the cause, an advocate of the life of the species. For that, I congratulate you. Continue fighting [words inaudible] to educate the people so they can understand.

There are things that I read and review every day. I am very aware of the threat of war, environmental threats and food threats. We have to remember that there are billions of people famished. These are realities, and for the first time in history, the governments are getting involved. Governments that are able and have the moral authority to do it, and you are one of those rare examples...

Forgive me for extending myself. I have stolen half of your show.

Chavez: No. Not extensive at all. It is 1949. We were remembering you today. As you know, today is 27 February. One of the reasons of the Caracazo is that when you came that time, you left here hundreds of agitators that set the flats on fire, as we say. We were analysing the causes including the topics of the foreign debt, Black Friday, the plundering of the country, the flight of capital, privatisation, inflation accompanied by a horrible recession, unemployment, the collapse of the middle class. Well, as Einstein said, we were reading it a while ago, I do not know if you heard it, when he reflects on socialism and concludes that capitalism generates chaos.

So, Fidel, we were remembering you in connection with the Caracazo [violent looting and disturbances in Caracas on 27 February 1989]. I was thinking that in those days I saw you from afar and I wanted to get close to greet you, but I could not, but we were already involved in the revolutionary movement. I wanted to tell the world I thought this Hello President programme, now that I am listening and talking to you, what an honour. Well, that day, the entire people rose against neo-liberalism. Fidel, as you know, the Caracazo was the first overwhelming and worldwide response to the neo-liberal plan as the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall were falling, and the onset of the end of history.

And 4 February stems from the Caracazo. You know that one does not make sense without the other. Then came this whole path, our revolution in which Cuba has always and will always be present, Cuba with you at the helm. There is so much to thank Cuba for. Without Cuba, the energy revolution would have been impossible. Now, we will continue to move forward with you...

Castro: I think it is all wonderful... Venezuela has a territory of nearly one million square kilometres. We are just a nut shell that the Gulf current pushed too close to our friends to the north. [Chuckles]

Chavez: [In English] Our friends Fidel, listen.

Castro: Well, you say that I know English. I did at one time.

Chavez: Did you forget it?

Castro: The trauma afterwards has made me forget it. This is why I no longer have that excellent memory you have, the capacity to summarise or your musical ear, your talent to remember songs. I cannot believe that you have partied so much as to remember all those songs.

Chavez: I never partied as much as you.

Castro: I envy you that.

Chavez: Not as much as you. Not as much as you.

Castro: I am talking about the essence of ideas. You have the right words. I have noticed that the [word inaudible] the exact words. In the end, you will be one of the greatest writers in this hemisphere. Do not worry, writers have increasingly more power with time.

Chavez: Can I ask you something?

Castro: Yes.

Chavez: What do you think of the latest news to have reached us? That 67% of Americans disapprove of Bush's policy in Iraq. You know that we are preparing to welcome Bush in South America?

Castro: Ah, you are going to welcome him. Yes, I have heard something. That there will be mass organisations all in a very peaceful and respectful spirit, but I bet that you do not know about two big news today.

Chavez: Tell me.

Castro: For example, the Shanghai Stock Market fell 9% today and the New York Stock Exchange, the queen of all stock markets, fell 4%. It is one of the greatest drops in recent years and that really proves our ideas.

Chavez: Well, those news -

Castro: [Interrupting] They lost there $800bn (£409bn). It is the queen of the stock exchanges. The fall was greater than during the South East Asia crisis. So, I do not know what will affect US leaders or whoever leads the US by Moto Propio, if the news of what happened there or his tour of South America.

Chavez: Yes. No. I tell you. I did not know the news of the fall of the Shanghai or New York markets. However yesterday, you should already know because you know everything, the [International] Monetary Fund is in a crisis. I said yesterday and today that they may have to ask [for] a loan from the Bank of the South. The Monetary Fund does not have funds to pay wages. They are selling their gold bars.

Castro: Yes. They are selling gold because that is the only thing worth anything today. What they should be selling is paper. Paper for the US to pay, or sell something. Well, the Bank of the South is a serious bank. It aspires to be a serious bank.

Chavez: It will be a serious bank.

Castro: The International Monetary Fund was never so, the crisis proves it. This happens three or more days before the fall of the stock exchange.

Chavez: It is the same crisis, as you already know, the crisis of the world economy, the capitalist system. Well, the alternative at the national level. Each one has its own model. We have socialism there in Cuba and here in Venezuela. [Words inaudible] at the international level, we have the Alba [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas]. As you know, we are moving forward quickly.

Well, everyone asks for you. Yesterday I was in Martinique, pardon, in Dominica. We went by Martinique. We were in Dominica and Saint Vincent. The prime ministers sent their greetings...

Everyone asks about you and I tell them what I know about your recovery, of your new Sierra Maestra [Cuban mountain range which Castro used as a base for starting revolution], of that struggle you are waging and in which we accompany you every day. Praying to God, whom as you said is helping Chavez and his friends, to continue helping you in your recovery. All of us. We are millions, as you know, in the world that want to see you again fully recovered as I am sure will be...

You are an example of resistance and now of offensive, Fidel. I do not want to let go of the opportunity of your surprising phone call that so encourages us and makes us happy to continue reminding our people of the courage of Revolutionary Cuba and your courage, your courage, your conscience. We were remembering that you were here in 1959 when the so-called democracy experience here, which failed miserably, was beginning. That failure led to the Caracazo and that to 4 February, and from there to what is happening here today. But you, Cuba and its example of dignity, of battle, courage and its infinite solidarity has always and will always be with us as an example.

Castro: Hugo, I wanted to tell you that I met the head of your delegation and we were talking when the news from over there arrived. So I am very happy. I will see if I can talk to him personally or some of the other figures later on. They are working a lot with great enthusiasm. Taking advantage of the short time we have left. Time cannot be overlooked. In my opinion, we have limited time.

Chavez: As you know -

Castro: [Interrupting] We are increasingly more aware of that. I thank you very much for your greetings, for your thoughts. Overall, I remembered to give you back the microphone because if I do not, I get going like you. I could not compete, but I can imitate you a bit. I also want to thank you for the greetings from the people of Venezuela, such heroic people that have undertaken the responsibilities that it has now.

History is being rewritten. Two hundred years ago everything was very different. The world has changed so much, especially in the last 70 years, that is the time we must take advantage of and over which we have to meditate a lot. I set time for that. I feel good because there is nothing more important...

I cannot promise you that I will visit you soon and accompany you one of these days, but I am gaining ground. I feel more energetic, stronger and I have more time to study. I have become a student all over again.

Chavez: Morals and Lights.

Castro: Morals and Lights. Those two words are stuck in my head. I do not forget that. This is the first time I see someone trying to win that moral battle on a foundation of winning the hearts and minds of the people. I do not know if you still have more time, but you were supposed to talk to Ramirez.

Chavez: No, I can talk to Ramirez tomorrow.

Castro: He is saying: what do I do?

Chavez: I can talk to Ramirez tomorrow. We are happily listening to you and we are happy to hear you and to hear about your recovery. Continue to recover. Do not forget about the tsunami.

Castro: No. No.

Chavez: Go ahead.

Castro: I almost forgot one thing. Everyone thanks you for relaying news about me. I speak and then silence. Total silence. I cannot be talking every day. They have to break the habit, the vice of having news every day. I appeal for patience and calm from everyone. I am happy. Everything is quiet. The country is marching along, which is what matters. I also ask for tranquillity for me so that I can fulfil my new tasks nowadays.

Chavez: Yes, Fidel. I have become, well, you have turned me into an emissary, a source. Anyone who wants to know how Fidel is doing, can come here, can call me, can talk to me. I always give them - Well, I tell them the truth about what is happening. Your recovery, your example, your perseverance. You have said that you cannot accompany me here soon on a trip, but it is not necessary because you are always here with us. I hope to return to Havana soon so we can continue talking, working, and gaining ground as you have said... Do you know how many people listen to the first hour of the programme? Forty per cent. As you know, the audience of Hello President is huge. Let's gain ground. We will win the battle for life. We will win that battle. Thank you for your call.

Castro: A million thanks.

Chavez: Let's give Fidel a round of applause. [Applause] A hug. Comrade, companion, and you know, I do not have any qualms about calling you father in front of the world. Onward to victory.

Castro: Onward to victory.

Chavez: We will prevail.

Castro: We will prevail. [Applause]


Juventud Rebelde

Fidel Castro: Me siento con más energía, más fuerza y más tiempo para estudiar

Cuba marcha bien y eso es lo más importante, aseguró el Comandante en Jefe en conversación telefónica con el presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez Frías, en el programa radial Aló Presidente de este martes

27 de febrero de 2007 21:30:04 GMT

«Les agradezco las pruebas de cariño y el aliento que me dan. No te puedo prometer pronto ir por allá a acompañarte en uno de tus viajes, pero sí voy ganando terreno en mi recuperación», afirmó Fidel en conversación telefónica con el presidente Hugo Chávez, en su programa radial Aló Presidente.

«Me siento con más energía, más fuerza y con más tiempo para estudiar», dijo el líder cubano, quien aseguró que ha vuelto a ser un estudiante, al referirse a lo que hace con su tiempo, aunque explicó que se mantiene al tanto de los asuntos más importantes del país.

Fidel elogió los esfuerzos de Chávez por educar a la población de Venezuela, de lo cual expresó: «Es la primera vez que veo a alguien ganando el interior, el corazón y la mente de la gente».

El jefe de la Revolución cubana también elogió el esfuerzo sobrehumano de Chávez por estudiar diariamente y le preguntó cómo le alcanzaba el tiempo para hacer tanto, cuándo dormía, a la vez que alabó su mente privilegiada, que le permite retenerlo todo.

Igualmente intercambiaron sobre la actual situación energética en el mundo, y al respecto Fidel expresó su convicción de que es trágico que ahora se piense en poner los alimentos a producir combustible, cuando lo que se impone es un uso más racional de este recurso.

El mandatario venezolano, quien anunció que pronto viajará a Cuba a conversar personalmente con el líder cubano, lo exhortó a que siguiera recuperándose.

Por su parte Fidel le agradeció que todo el mundo tenga noticias de él a través de sus conversaciones y encuentros con el líder bolivariano.

No obstante, el Comandante en Jefe reconoció que no puede estar hablando todos los días de su salud, pues no solo crearía un vicio, sino que además necesita tiempo y tranquilidad para él, para recuperarse por completo «y para poder cumplir mis nuevas tareas hasta este momento».

Chávez, quien reconoció el haberlo convertido «en una especie de emisario», aseguró que son millones quienes se preocupan en todo el mundo por la salud de Fidel, y que este ganará la batalla por la vida.

La conversación terminó con un «¡Hasta la victoria siempre! ¡Venceremos!», de ambos líderes revolucionarios.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fidel calls in to Venezuela's Chavez radio program

ABC News

February 27, 2007 20:19 EST

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Fidel Castro says he's happy and feeling good.

The Cuban leader called in to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's radio talk show today, declaring he's "more energetic, stronger" and that his country is running smoothly without him at the helm.

In a phone call to Chavez's weekday radio program, Castro said "yes, I'm gaining ground," and thanked Chavez for spreading news of his progress.

Speaking in a soft but steady voice, Castro said Cuba is marching along and that is what's important. He also thanks Chavez for spreading news of his progress.

The two leaders, who are close friends and allies, spoke for almost 30 minutes.

In the half-year since Castro announced he'd had intestinal surgery, Cuba's government has kept his exact ailment a secret. Last month, the government released a video which quelled growing speculation that he was gravely ill.

Buena Vista sings to Ibrahím Ferrer, in Cuba

Havana, Feb 27 (Prensa Latina) Ibrahim Ferrer is alive in the memory of millions of fans as showed by the concert that payed tribute to the deceased artist on his 80th birthday, with the orchestra that gave him world fame, the Buena Vista Social Club.

Musicians of several generations joined the eve for the show "Two Gardenias for you, Ibrahim", before an audience mainly composed by foreigners that filled the largest hall of the Havana Grand Theatre.

Amidst film images and immortal songs of Cuba´s popular music the evening began with Ferrer´s own voice mixed with pictures of his childhood and adolescence, since he began singing in his native Santiago de Cuba.

From the audience, octogenarian reciter Luis Carbonell, presented the audience with his Remembering Ibrahim, text of lyric prose evoking the ancestors of the artist, based on the gods of the Yoruba pantheon.

Winner of tour Grammy awards, Ibrahim Ferrer started his artistic life with the group Jóvenes del Son, when he was barely 13 years of age.

His presence in several groups of that period, among them the Wilson group, the Maravillas de Beltran and Los Modernistas of Pacho Alonso (renamed afterward as the Bocucos), took him to become a member of legendary orchestra Chepin-Choven.

With it he recorded in the 50s his first hit: El Platanal de Bartolo. From 1960 until 1980, he stayed as lead singer of the Bocucos, orchestra with which he developed a successful career.

After he retired in 1995, he played other star roles in international music with the Buena Vista Social Club, the same that launched him as emblematic figure of Cuban musical culture.

In the concert that payed homage to Ibrahim Ferrer participated Omara Portuondo, Elíades Ochoa, Miguel Angel Céspedes, pianist Roberto Fonseca, the feminine quartet Sexto sentido, Carlos Calunga, Idania Valdés and the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional.

Ignacio Ramonet talks about Cien Horas con Fidel

Foto: Angelito Baldrich

Juventud Rebelde

Una siembra que va a germinar

Cien horas con Fidel es la obra más vendida en la Feria del Libro 2007 en Cuba. A propósito del tema ofrecemos una entrevista a Ignacio Ramonet, autor del título

Por: Hernando Calvo Ospina*

27 de febrero de 2007 00:00:00 GMT

Además de ser director del mensual francés de referencia, Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet es una de las personalidades más prestigiosas de la intelectualidad progresista en el mundo. Hace menos de un año salió en España la primera edición del libro Fidel Castro. Biografía a dos voces, donde Ramonet entrevista largamente y sin cortapisas al principal dirigente de la Revolución Cubana. Además de venderse masivamente en Cuba, ya se preparan las traducciones en varios países. Esta entrevista tuvo lugar a escasas tres semanas de ser publicado en Francia.

—Ignacio Ramonet, yo repito la pregunta que quizá ya le han hecho muchas veces: ¿qué objetivos le llevaron a realizar estos extensos diálogos con Fidel Castro, los cuales caminan en forma de libro desde el año pasado?

—El objetivo central de estas conversaciones con Fidel Castro era darle la palabra. Porque si bien es mencionado muy regularmente en los medios de prensa del mundo, casi siempre ha sido para atacarlo, sin posibilidad de que presente sus argumentos, sus versiones.

«Fidel Castro es uno de los pocos hombres que conocen la gloria de entrar vivos en la historia y la leyenda universal. Es el último “monstruo sagrado” de la política internacional. Se puede pensar lo que se quiera de él, pero objetivamente es uno de esos personajes que se lanzó a la acción política tras un ideal de justicia, con la esperanza de realizar cambios en un mundo lleno de desigualdades y discriminaciones.

«Bajo su dirección los habitantes de esa pequeña Isla han resistido a las agresiones y presiones de todo tipo que Estados Unidos ha llevado a lo largo de la Revolución. Con su guía ese pueblo ha desarrollado una política de gran potencia en el ámbito mundial, al dar ejemplo por los niveles de educación, cultura, salud y de solidaridad internacional. En esto, increíblemente, supera a naciones como Francia y Estados Unidos.

«Fidel Castro está en la historia y pasará a la historia. Yo he dicho que es el latinoamericano más universal desde Simón Bolívar.

«Entonces me parecía que faltaba un libro donde se hiciera una síntesis de su obra, de su pensamiento y de su vida, pues ni él se había ocupado, ni en Cuba se había pensado. Para mí era un objetivo político y periodístico».

—Me ha parecido que los medios informativos que mencionan al libro lo hacen con menosprecio. Mientras que otros lo ignoran, como es el caso en Francia. ¿Por qué?

—A pesar de que la mayoría de los periodistas lo tratan duramente y lo tergiversan regularmente, todos han soñado con entrevistar a Fidel Castro. Ya estarían felices con tan solo estrechar su mano. Claro, esto no lo van a reconocer públicamente. Muchos colegas «vedette» en el mundo, que se han considerado con el «derecho» de entrevistar a Fidel Castro, que llevan años esperando una entrevista, sienten que les he robado. Y claro, ahora tratan de desacreditar este trabajo diciendo que no tiene objetividad porque Ignacio Ramonet es amigo de Fidel Castro.

«La mayoría de los grandes medios informativos han sido muy hábiles, porque la mejor manera de atacar un libro es no atacándolo. Si lo atacan, alertan a algunos lectores. Yo sabía que iba a ser boicoteado, particularmente en Francia. Y esa intuición me aumentó cuando Fidel reapareció a fines de enero muy restablecido, porque esperaban su muerte. Esto como que los defraudó a tal punto que han querido cobrárselo al libro.

«Pero tampoco puedes olvidar que en Le Monde Diplomatique siempre hemos criticado duramente a los medios y sus relaciones con el poder económico, estatal y político. Yo he publicado varios libros sobre el tema. Por tanto a mí no me pueden ver como un amigo. Entonces ha sido la ocasión para tomarse la revancha degradando a ese libro. Esto demuestra el poco profesionalismo que vive el periodismo.

«Los detractores de Fidel Castro, si en verdad son estudiosos y honestos, podrán comprobar que él no ha mentido en sus respuestas, que expone argumentos serios e importantes a tener en cuenta. Y creo que esto es lo que muchos grandes medios no soportan. Es decir, que en el libro se hayan abordado francamente todos los temas típicos de los que se acusa a Fidel Castro y a la Revolución Cubana. Se pensó que yo haría algo complaciente.

«Pero para realizar ese trabajo con profesionalidad tomé distancia de mi entrevistado. Y nunca iba a utilizar la concepción deshonesta practicada muy regularmente por muchos medios de prensa en el mundo, que manipulan y tergiversan las palabras del entrevistado cuando no es de su agrado político. Se le acuchilla por la espalda con el pretexto de que el periodista es libre de decidir lo que publica, y en eso basan la libertad de expresión. De manera bastante canalla se esconden declaraciones importantes, o se sacan del contexto».

—Pero estos medios e intelectuales que tienden a atacar o desconocer la obra por ser presuntamente «parcial», están ligados a las esferas del poder político y económico.

—Hoy existen muy pocos intelectuales serios, de respeto, en Francia. Los intelectuales de más renombre, los más mediáticos, se fueron en un 80 por ciento con el candidato a la presidencia Nicolás Sarkozy, que representa la derecha más dura, más neoliberal, más pro estadounidense, más pro israelí. Esto dice mucho de esos intelectuales.

«También debemos de tener en cuenta que los grandes medios de prensa en Francia —cuya propaganda volvió “intelectuales” a muchos pro-Sarkozy— pertenecen a poderosos grupos económicos, incluidos sectores del armamento. Lógicamente estos medios informativos no podrán decir cosas positivas sobre los proyectos políticos que se desarrollan en Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc. Ellos defienden la mundialización, esa que significa la prioridad del mercado sobre el Estado.

«En una gran cantidad de temas políticos importantes para la ciudadanía, hace años se estableció como norma lo que yo llamo “la censura del consenso”. O sea, una vez que se establece un consenso, funciona como una censura. La idea de hoy es que ni Cuba es buena, ni Fidel, ni Chávez, ni Venezuela. Si vas en contra de eso, si remas a contracorriente, apareces como alguien extraño, te acusan de todo: comprado, vendido, de ser espía. Y por consiguiente ninguno te acepta.

«El esfuerzo para establecer la verdad es de tal magnitud que mejor no se hace. Lo mejor, lo más cómodo, es aceptar la repetición antes que lanzarse en una demostración. Hoy existe ese espíritu “goebbelsiano” (del jefe de la propaganda nazi, Joseph Goebbels) de aceptar que la repetición funciona como una demostración. No vale la pena verificar la versión única y unilateral de los hechos, que algunos presentan como resultado de “revelaciones”, de “investigaciones”. Esto es una miseria del periodismo. Y es más miseria cuando se repiten desde hace lustros las mismas versiones de la gran prensa y de la derecha estadounidense».

—Ignacio, esta obra, que es como un hijo compartido entre usted y Fidel Castro, ¿qué camino puede tomar en este mundo hostil, agresivo? ¿Qué le deseas?

—Estoy convencido, tal como está, que tendrá prolongaciones. ¿De qué manera? Mañana o pasado, en un lugar de África, de Asia o de América Latina, un joven va a leer ese libro y le va a dar ideas, inspiración, para construir su vida al servicio de los suyos. Ese libro es una siembra. Estoy convencido de que ese pensamiento tan honesto de Fidel Castro a lo largo de las páginas, de acuerdo con una serie de planteamientos éticos y proyectos políticos, va a germinar donde menos se espera, ni lo pensamos.

«El objetivo de ese libro no son los medios de prensa. Son los espíritus de muchos jóvenes descontentos por la injusticia, la desigualdad y los abusos que viven en Francia, en Estados Unidos, en México, en casi todo el mundo. Ahí van a encontrar un proyecto de transformación de la sociedad, porque está lleno de convicciones. Esa es mi esperanza. Si tiene un porvenir, esta ahí. Porque lo que se necesita es tener convicciones que vayan en el sentido de transformar el mundo en beneficio de todos aquellos que están humillados, marginados y oprimidos. Porque en el libro existe una fuerza que se impone por las convicciones de Fidel Castro».

Periodista y escritor colombiano, residente en París.

Cuba's trade booms with China and Venezuela

Caribbean Net News

February 27, 2007

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): Cuba's trade with China more than doubled in 2006 to nearly $1.8 billion, the Chinese customs office said on Monday, as the Communist-run Island prioritised its new revolutionary partners China and Venezuela.

Since Cuba signed an agreement with Venezuela in late 2004 bartering and selling services for oil and also began receiving more credit from China, it has ordered all state companies to prioritise trade and investment with the two countries.

China reported bilateral trade was $1.792 billion last year, up 105.4 percent from 2005 and compared with just $526 million in 2004.

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage said in January that bilateral trade with Venezuela was $2.6 billion in 2006, compared with $2 billion in 2005 and $1.4 billion in 2004.

The Cuban government reported trade grew 27 percent in 2006, compared with the $9.5 billion reported in 2005, or to around $12 billion, meaning China and Venezuela accounted for more than 35 percent of all trade.

Chinese appliances now adorn most Cuban kitchens and Venezuelan snacks and canned goods are on supermarket shelves.

Chinese buses ply the highways and Venezuelan oil fuels them and just about everything else in the country.

Cuba sends sugar, nickel and medicines to China and mainly technical assistance and medicines to Venezuela.

Spain was Cuba's third trading partner in 2006 at just under $1 billion.

Since the United States began more strictly enforcing its decades-old trade embargo on Cuba in 2004, always scarce economic information has become even harder to come by. Data, when provided, often differs from official to official and report to report.

For the first time in many years, no information on Cuba's external finances or details on trade was provided at the annual year-end session of the National Assembly in December.

However, the trend is clear.

Economic growth over the last two years has been three times what it was during the first years of the century as the country finally began to put behind the crisis that followed the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, depriving it of massive subsidies and resulting in shortages of food, energy, transportation and capital.

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), basing its reporting on government provided figures, said imports were $5.5 billion in 2004 and nontourism service income around $1.5 billion, compared with imports just over $10 billion and nontourism service revenues of more than $5 billion in 2006.

"There was an increase in international reserves and a slight decrease in the foreign debt," ECLAC said, without providing details.

Miami Witch Hunts Continue

Prosecutors Want Max Sentence For Professor In Cuba Spying Case

POSTED: 8:01 am EST February 27, 2007

MIAMI -- A college professor who pleaded guilty in a federal case involving allegations that he and his wife spied for Cuba should receive the maximum five years in prison because he did "classic intelligence work" for Fidel Castro's communist government, prosecutors said Monday.

Carlos Alvarez, 61, and his 56-year-old wife Elsa were set to be sentenced Tuesday. Both pleaded guilty Dec. 19 to reduced federal charges in the case involving accusations of exchanging coded messages with Cuban intelligence services about Cuban-American exile groups and prominent figures in Miami.

Carlos Alvarez's lawyers have asked for a sentence of time served, or a sentence which would allow him to serve his time at home. The Florida International University psychology professor has spent one year and about two months at a federal detention facility.

The professor's attorneys argue he was never a Cuban intelligence agent or a supporter of Castro, and that he was trying to open avenues of communication between the two countries.

In Monday's filing, prosecutors argued the Florida International University psychology professor deserves a five-year sentence because the information he relayed was more sensitive than he said. Alvarez has downplayed the importance of the information.

"The reporting done by the Alvarezes contained substantially more than 'harmless gossip,"' Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Axelrod wrote. "Rather, the Alvarezes were engaged in classic intelligence work."

Carlos Alvarez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to become an unregistered foreign agent, while his wife admitted knowing about her husband's illegal activities but failing to report them to authorities. Both were charged previously with the more serious charge of acting as illegal Cuban agents.

Elsa Alvarez faces up to three years in prison on the revised charges. The government Monday requested a 21 month sentence for her, but her attorney Jane Moscowitz requested a sentence of no additional jail time. Elsa Alvarez served five months in a federal detention facility before she was released on bond.

Monday's filing by government prosecutors discusses evidence gathered from one of the couple's home computers concerning Cuban-Americans and other prominent figures.

A written report cited by prosecutors stated that one of Carlos Alvarez's contacts met personally with Richard Nuccio, then-President Clinton's special adviser to Cuba, in 1996. The report said Nuccio was "very depressed" and "devastated" by the signing of the Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Steven Chaykin, Carlos Alvarez's attorney, said his client never personally met with Nuccio and there was no proof that he sent the information found in the computer.

In 2005, Carlos Alvarez admitted in FBI interviews to being a "collaborator" with Cuba's intelligence service beginning in 1977, insisting he was mainly interested in opening dialogue with Cuba's government. His attorneys unsuccessfully tried to have that confession thrown out.

But Chaykin said Carlos Alvarez did not think he was disloyal to the United States and was trying to create dialogue concerning the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island.

"He naively believed the representations of the people with whom he had been in contact on behalf of the Cuban intelligence service that this was something they also were interested in promoting," Chaykin said. "He got ensnared in their web."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Where are the dancers now?

On July 31, 2006 Cuban exiles danced and partied along Calle Ocho in Miami.

And on August 8 PBS had a story from KCET reporter Jeffrey Kaye.

Here is a very interesting part:

JEFFREY KAYE: Other Cuban-Americans, such as attorney Nicolas Gutierrez, Jr., are planning legal strategies to reclaim properties and holdings seized by the Cuban government.

NICOLAS GUTIERREZ, Lawyer: My family owned two sugar mills, 15 cattle ranches, a rice mill, a coffee plantation and mill, a wholesale food distribution company, oil interests, hardware, a bank.

JEFFREY KAYE: Gutierrez says his father was one of the wealthiest men in Cuba. When political change comes to the island, he hopes to go there to recover his and his clients' properties or to receive compensation.

NICOLAS GUTIERREZ: For my own family, I plan to do whatever I can do to recover the assets that were stolen from us. I think I owe that to my dad and to my grandparents and great-grandparents. For my clients, professionally I will be involved in the same thing, because I represent well over 100 families and companies that lost significant properties in Cuba.


JG Comment: Keep on dreaming Nicolas. Short of a U.S. military invasion it is not going to happen.

It is all about property and money. The gullible and the uneducated keep on talking about "freedom" and "democracy." But it is all about property and money. That is the only thing that capitalists care about.

"Reading The Riot Act" In Cuba

CBS News

February 26, 2007

Posted by Portia Siegelbaum

Portia Siegelbaum is a producer for CBS News in Havana.Tap any Cuban on the shoulder and ask for their pet gripe and the answer is bound to be food, housing or transportation, if not all three. These are the main problems confronting the Cuban Government and there are signs that the government is scrambling to find solutions, least popular discontent upset what has so far been a smooth succession of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul.

A brief article in the official Communist Party daily, Granma Monday suggests authorities are reading the riot act to local authorities. It quotes Deputy Minister of Economics and Planning Magalys Calvo telling elected officials in predominately agricultural Camaguey province that the country must reduce its dependence on imported foodstuffs in 2007.

Cuba imports 84% of the food destined for the basic shopping cart at a cost of “some one billion dollars” with most of government spending going for these imported foodstuffs and petroleum, Calvo is reported as saying.

For a multitude of reasons, Cuba faces serious problems with increasing domestic food production, among them inefficiencies, bureaucratic hurdles, thievery, corruption and shortages of supplies and spare parts. Last December, Raul Castro, acting President since his older brother Fidel fell ill last July, said it was “inexplicable” that bureaucrats were holding up payments to the farm cooperatives that grow 65% of Cuba’s food. And he said he encouraged the Cuban press to take the unusually candid step of running a recent series of articles on corruption.

Although not reported in Monday’s article, Cuba has since 2001 paid cash totaling nearly $150 million to American farmers and agricultural producers for such basic products as rice, chicken, beans and eggs. These food sales are permitted under a 2000 Congressional exemption from the 45 year old embargo against the Castro government. And these sales are not limited to food. A Colorado businessman told me this week he’s hoping to obtain a contract for at least some of the 47,000 electricity/telephone poles made of treated yellow pine needed by Cuba as it upgrades its electricity grid.

Other goals reported set forth by Calvo include increasing exports and efficiency in the tourism sector. In the ‘90s tourism became the driving force in an economy brought to its knees by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries—until then the island’s main trading partners. However, the focus on tourism as a lucrative sector has waned in recent years as economic ties with Venezuela and China have supplanted it in importance. Cuba imports at little cost 90,000 barrels a day of petroleum from Venezuela and sources say it is reselling some 60,000 of them on the Caribbean market.

Despite this shift in priorities, more than two million tourists annually have vacationed in Cuba during the last three years. Most come from Canada and Europe, accounting for an estimated income of $2 billion a year. In addition, a decrease in tourism would not be welcomed by the thousands of lucky Cubans working in the industry. Hotel and resort workers, not to mention taxi drivers make up a privileged class, earning tips in convertible currency that gives them access to products from cooking oil to shampoo not available in Cuban pesos, the legal tender earned by the vast majority of the population employed by the State.

Cuba Set to Light Up Cigar Festival

CBS News

HAVANA, Feb. 26, 2007

By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press Writer

(AP) Cuba's annual extravaganza celebrating its world-renowned cigars, which began Monday, could be devoid of star power this year.

No Hollywood personalities have said they will attend the 9th Habanos Festival and acting President Raul Castro, who doesn't care for cigars, is not expected to show. His far-more-famous brother, Fidel Castro, may not even be well enough to autograph humidors for charity auction during the five-day event.

But the true stars of the festival _ premium, hand-rolled cigars _ are all that matter to the more than 1,000 aficionados from Spain, Canada, Russia and more than 40 other countries descending on the island, organizers say.

"There's not enough space to accommodate all those who were interested," said Manuel Garcia, vice president of Habanos S.A., Cuba's cigar marketing firm. "But specific celebrities, we don't have any."

Last year, British actor Joseph Fiennes of "Shakespeare in Love" fame attended, and Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons traveled to Havana for the festival in 2005.

At a news conference Monday to kick off the five-day festival, Garcia said Raul Castro could make a surprise appearance. But Raul is "a man who doesn't appear much at these kinds of activities and also he doesn't smoke," Garcia said.

The acting president, who shies away from limelight his brother embraces, took control of Cuba's government temporarily on July 31, when Fidel announced he had undergone intestinal surgery.

Fidel has attended the event some years, and has always signed a small number of finely crafted humidors auctioned off for charity during the festival.

"He's recovering very well and we think it will be possible they are signed," Garcia said of five humidors being put on the auction block this year. "But up to now, we've not had confirmation."

This year's festival will launch a new line of cigars for the island's signature Cohiba brand known as Maduro 5 or Mature 5, which are finished with a wrapper leaf that has been aged five years. Wrapper leaves represent the final stage of cigar-making and are essential to how well a cigar burns.

The Maduro 5 line is scheduled for limited production, but officials would not say how many they will produce or how much each will cost, citing competitive concerns.

Cuba sold $370 million worth of cigars in 2006, which Habanos said was an 8 percent increase over the previous year. Javier Terres, vice president for development, said that for strategic reasons the company could not divulge how many cigars it sold last year, though in 2005 it put the figure at 160 million.

Terres said the top markets for Cuban cigars are Spain, France and Germany, as well as Cuba.

Like fine wine, the taste of top tobacco depends much on the soil and climate in which it is grown. Sun-drenched plantations outside Havana and in the neighboring western province of Pinar Del Rio have made Cuban cigars famous for centuries, and most cigars produced here are hand-rolled and intended for the premium market.

Despite the U.S. trade embargo, Terres said Cuban cigars still account for as much as 35 percent of those sold worldwide. He said smokers consume up to 220 million top-end cigars a year in the United States _ a market officials here would love to crack.

"It's easily the principal market for premium tobacco in the world," Garcia said. "We are sure that if that market was opened to our products we would have great sales."

Officials acknowledged that some Cuban cigars are sold illegally in the United States, but said they could not estimate how many.

Both Garcia and Terres expressed concern about counterfeiters who try to pass off low-quality cigars as Cubans in the United States and elsewhere.

Cigar connoisseurs can spot a fake Cuban even before lighting up _ but novices are sometimes fooled.

"The new smoker is the one in danger," he said. "If you've never smoked before ... and they give you a Cohiba, you will not have the necessary skills to compare what is a Cohiba and what is not."

Cuba Culture Minister Awarded in Nicaragua


febrero 26, 2007

Masaya, Nicaragua, Feb 25 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto was granted the Ruben Dario Cultural Independence Order here, from the hands of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

"I receive this order as something that has to do with what Cuba has done for the cultural independence of our territory, Latin America, and the world", the official said when thanking the Sandinista government for its gesture.

The decoration took place Saturday in Monimbo, a native neighbourhood in Masaya, about 18.6 miles south of Managua, on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the region's uprising against the Somoza tyranny.

Prieto said in the act the distinction was also a recognition to the different Cuban cultural institutions and all the intellectuals on the Island.

Shortly after his arrival in Nicaragua yesterday, the minister visited the Las Brisas Power Plant, northwest of Managua, where he shared with Cuban experts putting in place the generators supplied by Venezuela.

Cuba treated differently than China and Ecuador

The Florida Times-Union

Monday, February 26, 2007


Last year, I spent a week in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with Jacksonville University students on spring break. One of our first stops was at the outskirts of a plush community where the city's well-off citizens lived.

But they had to bask in their prosperity behind a fence topped with razor wire. Their security was reinforced by an armed guard perched in a sniper's nest.

Such measures have to be taken to protect the wealthy in a place where vast income inequality has 60 percent of the people living in crushing poverty. Outside of those gates, the security takes a more brutal turn, as that country's security forces are known for torturing and killing suspects and prisoners in custody. They don't live under a totalitarian regime, but they suffer repression, nonetheless.

I bring all this up to talk about Cuba.

Each time I visit Cuba, I get accused of painting too rosy a picture of the Communist island. One reader wanted to know whether it was possible for me to ever see anything wrong with Cuba.

Some have demanded that I write about Cuba's dismal human rights record; about the fact that it routinely cracks down on dissenters; that the people there are too poor to enjoy the luxuries that visitors like myself enjoy; and that there is no freedom of the press.

Cuba is no paradise

People are jailed for disagreeing with the government. Journalists are jailed for publishing works that don't hew to the government's revolutionary goals. Political expression is limited. And despite an infant mortality rate that rivals ours, and a 97 percent adult literacy rate that leaves ours in the dust, its material poverty still keeps it confined to Third World status.

But then I look at Ecuador. I look at the State Department's own human rights reports about it and China - the world's largest Communist country and second-largest holder of our debt.

And I come away with this conclusion: That if we ended our economic embargo and travel ban against Cuba, and regarded it in the same way in which we regard Ecuador, a place where gross inequality, not socialism, feeds poverty; and China, whose press crackdowns and human rights violations are legion compared to Cuba's; then much of what is wrong with that Caribbean country might be made right.

Cold war politics

Of course, I don't expect my theory to be put to the test anytime soon. I've been visiting Cuba now as a journalist for seven years. It pains me to see many of my Cuban friends, most of whom look like me, struggle to get by on their government salaries, and who don't get decent toiletries and clothing items until my colleagues and I arrive.

But I also know that the U.S. embargo, which has been in effect as long as communism has, also hobbles Cuba's efforts to purchase adequate foodstuffs and medicines, and all the things that could ease the scarcity that dominates the lives of most Cubans.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned it as a human rights violation. Even the Cuban dissidents don't support it.

Alone with embargo

It's impossible to have an honest discussion about the lack of freedoms in Cuba without considering the impact of the embargo.

That's because history shows that any society that believes it is under siege will try and place limits on such freedoms, because of fears that any criticism will give comfort to the enemy.

We ought to remember calls for radio boycotts of the Dixie Chicks when, right before we went to war in Iraq in 2003, its lead singer, Natalie Maines, told a French audience they were ashamed that President Bush was from Texas.

Last year, The New York Times faced calls for it to be prosecuted under the 1917 espionage act when it reported that the U.S. government was tracking money transfers handled by a Belgium-based banking consortium as part of its counterterrorism efforts.

Then there's Cuba. A country which, for more than 40 years, has grappled with an economic noose wielded by the most powerful country in the world.

Undoubtedly, that feeds a situation in which it doesn't want any dissenter to give the United States any reason to tighten that noose.

Double standard

I'm not saying that's right. I'm just saying that's the way it is.

People are poor in Cuba, same as they are in Ecuador, and that's bad.

The press is restricted in Cuba, the same as it is in China - which, incidentally, shut down several newspapers and journals this past year. That's also bad.

But it's also bad that we continue to use Cuba's human rights record as an excuse for isolating it when we don't use that same standard in dealing with other countries with far worse records.

And if this country is serious about improving the lives of Cubans, the place to start is by ending the embargo and the travel ban.

At the least, we rob its government of an excuse for that country's problems.

The Cubans are waiting. As is the world., (904) 359-4251. Hear Tonyaa's podcasts on

Cuba opens experimental wind farm

Mon. Feb. 26 2007 7:57 AM ET

Canadian Press

HAVANA -- Cuba has opened an experimental wind farm, hoping alternative energy sources can one day ease occasional power shortages, while reducing the island's dependence on oil, state news media reported Sunday.

The C$4-million park, featuring six, 55-metre windmills and known as "Los Canarreos," was established on Isla de la Juventud, an island south of Havana, the Communist party youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported.

Exactly when the park was inaugurated was unclear but officials estimate during its first year of operation it could produce 1,800 megawatts of electricity. That would save Cuba about $160,000 in oil costs on the international market, the newspaper said.

The park was built using French technology and its windmills are designed to be disassembled quickly in case of hurricanes or tropical storms.

Officials hope to finish work on another wind park with six windmills located in the eastern province Holguin by the end of the year.

The collapse of the Soviet Union sparked widespread energy shortages in Cuba and while things have improved, blackouts are still sometimes a problem during the scorching summer months.

Cuba produces its own oil and natural gas but domestic production is not enough to meet its energy needs. An agreement with oil-rich Venezuela allows the island to buy nearly 100,000 barrels of oil a day under preferential terms, while Cuba sends thousands of volunteer doctors to Venezuela who offer free care to the poor.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gore climate change Oscar entry has Cuba's vote


Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:53 AM EST

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore doesn't know if his climate change documentary will win an Oscar on Sunday night -- but he has Cuba's vote.

Sunday's Union of Young Communist's newspaper reported acting Cuban President Raul Castro "recognized the effort of the former vice president to denounce" global warming during a two-hour meeting with youth leaders on Friday.

Cuba's official and only television media showed Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" on prime time this month and an update by Gore, giving the one-time presidential contender more positive publicity than any other U.S. leader in decades.

"Truth," a big-screen adaptation of Gore's slideshow lecture calling for urgent action to curb man-made greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, has been nominated for an Academy Award as a best documentary feature.

The nomination technically goes to the film's director and its producers, but Gore is the star and narrator of the film, which also profiles his efforts to raise environmental awareness. The book version of "An Inconvenient Truth" was published last year as a follow-up to his 1992 bestseller "Earth in the Balance."

Official praise of former U.S. presidents and vice presidents is rare in Cuba, which has considered itself at war with the United States since a trade embargo and other sanctions were slapped on the Caribbean island soon after Fidel Castro came to power in a 1959 revolution.

Defense Minister Raul Castro is second in the Cuban hierarchy after his older brother, Fidel Castro, 80, who temporarily ceded power to his brother in July.

DeWayne Wickham: U.S. would be wise to engage Cuba's next leaders now

HAVANA -- More than six months after Cuban President Fidel Castro "temporarily" ceded power to his brother, Raul, this country appears to be running on autopilot.

Tourists from Canada and Europe fill the rooms of upscale hotels in the Old Havana section of Cuba's capital. At night, there are few empty seats at restaurants in the once-fashionable neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar.

The Galiano shopping district in Central Havana has a steady flow of Cubans. Some have money to spend in the "dollar stores" that offer high-priced consumer goods. But most are there simply to window shop or buy whatever they can afford in the poorly stocked pesos stores where most Cubans shop.

The food shortages, the power blackouts, the desire for better conditions and the widespread disdain among Cubans for the long-running American economic embargo are all part of the matrix of life in this country.

The Cuban people are a resilient lot. Despite all that ails their country -- and the list is long -- they have life expectancy and literacy rates equal to those in the United States, and a lower infant mortality rate, according to the 2007 CIA World Factbook.

Castro, the world's longest ruling head of government, may be in failing health, but that hasn't put this nation in a tailspin, as many in Washington and Miami had hoped. Cuba's government is in transition. But for most of the country's 11.4 million people, Castro's slow exit from power has brought few changes.

While the Bush administration has created a commission to plot how to "hasten" Cuba's transition to a democracy, Cuban leaders call that effort wishful thinking -- and political pandering to Cuban Americans.

"The Cuban revolution is completely transcendental," Ruben Remigio Ferro, the head of Cuba's Supreme Court, told me. "The revolution is bigger than Fidel. It won't end when Fidel's life ends."

Remigio, 52, is part of the Cuban power structure that American politicians and anti-Castro Cubans rarely acknowledge. For them, Cuba and Castro have been synonymous for nearly half a century. But this country's political structure actually has many layers from which its next leader, looking beyond Fidel and Raul Castro, likely will emerge.

One of them is Ricardo Alarcon, the National Assembly president who told me that Cuba's enemies are wrong to believe that this country will come unglued after Castro leaves the political stage. Cuba, he says, already has successfully weathered that power shift.

"It was already proven when Castro gave power to Raul more than six months ago," Alarcon said. "The only noise, the only turbulence, was in Miami. ... The fact is that he (Castro) is recovering pretty well and the country is continuing to function pretty well without any interruptions due to his absence."

Alarcon is one of several members of Cuba's governing hierarchy who is believed to be a potential successor to the Castro brothers. Others who are often mentioned are Carlos Lage, the country's economic czar, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. These aren't household names in Washington, but they ought to be.

Few U.S. news organizations have bureaus in Cuba. That's despite the impact that U.S.-Cuba relations have on domestic politics in the United States (notwithstanding efforts by a succession of U.S. presidents to squeeze the economic life out of Cuba).

Cuba is approaching an important crossroad. Control of its government will soon pass from its revolutionary old guard to a new generation of leaders. The United States should seek to engage, not enrage, those leaders.

DeWayne Wickham is a Gannett News Service columnist. E-mail him at

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mining company profit soars on Cuba nickel output

Caribbean Net News

February 23, 2007

By Dale Crofts

CHICAGO, USA (Bloomberg): Sherritt International Corp., a miner of nickel in Cuba, said fourth-quarter profit rose more than eightfold to a record because of surging metals prices.

Net income rose to C$78.6 million ($67.8 million), or 47 cents a share, from C$9.1 million, or 5 cents a share, a year earlier, the Toronto-based company said Friday in a statement.

Complete Story

Cuba's Raul Castro seeks new generation of revolutionary leaders

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

February 23, 2007

HAVANA: Acting Cuban President Raul Castro promised Friday to lay the groundwork for a new generation of revolutionary leaders, adding that he was referring to true leaders, not factory-made ones.

Addressing the closing ceremony of a gathering of communist youth Thursday, Castro said that "our duty, that of our generation, is to open the way for new generations, new leaders."

"But I am referring to leaders, not assembly line" products, he said.

The event was not open to international media, but his comments were made public Friday night on state television.

Raul has been in power since July 31, when it was announced that Fidel Castro, 80, had undergone emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding.

Dressed in his tradition olive fatigues, the 75-year-old Raul called being a youth leader a "sacrifice," but said that those who work hard could be called upon to work for the island's Communist Party.

Cuba Deserves Respect, Says British Historian / 23-02-2007/ 2:30 p.m

British historian Asa Briggs said Thursday that Cuba’s nearly half a century resistance to US hostility is a major and admirable political act that deserves humankind’s respect.

"It is admirable that it has been able to confront the United States," Briggs told reporters during a brief visit to Cuba, where he arrived on a cruise ship.

He told Prensa Latina that the best part of his voyage was to visit Cuba for the second time. The first was in 1983. You don’t need to be in Cuba to express interest in what happens here, he said.

I visited Cuba at an interesting time of history, I always wanted to return, but it took me too long to do so, he added.

When Prensa Latina asked him about his stance on his country’s dispute with Argentina over the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, which led to a war in 1982, the prominent intellectual said that he never expected London would create that conflict.

"I know that upon returning to Great Britain, the media and my friends will want me to tell them about my experiences, because all eyes are set on Cuba at present," he said with emotion.

The prestigious academic, who was born in Keighley, Yorkshire, was the rector of Worcester College, in Oxford, and of the Open University. He won the Wolfson History Award in 2000.

(Taken from Prensa Latina)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Presidents to meet today

Ortega and Chavez during the investiture of the new Nicaraguan President.

Juventud Rebelde has reported that Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez will meet today in Caracas with the objective of evaluating the process of supplying inexpensive oil to Nicaragua and to discuss other cooperation projects between the two nations.

Miami's Culture of Intimidation

JG: Let's not forget that the legs of Emilio Milian were blown up by the Miami terrorists because he dared to challenge this intimidation mentality. Despite this report, I do not believe that much has changed in Miami.

Posted on Fri, Feb. 23, 2007


A new forum for exile discourse

The owner of Tinta Y Café on Calle Ocho hopes to provide a forum for Cuban exiles who want to challenge U.S. policy on Cuba.


Ink and coffee framed the countercultural debates in the cafés of San Francisco, New York and Paris, so Neli Santamarina figures her little joint on Southwest Eighth Street, Tinta Y Café, might help pry open exile Miami's Cuba discourse a half-century later.

Santamarina plans to begin monthly tertulias cubanas or talk sessions -- an old Spanish tradition -- at her coffeehouse so that people who disagree with U.S. policy toward Cuba can share their feelings with those who would never stray from the status quo. The first one is Sunday.

In any other city, an open talk about Cuba policy might not be a big deal. But in Miami, where thousands know of someone who was a political prisoner in Cuba or who died trying to flee the communist government, talk of softening U.S. policy toward Cuba is not always met kindly. It has drawn condemnation from talk radio, street protests and even violent attacks in the decades past.

''My parents didn't sacrifice themselves and come to this country so we would stay quiet and be afraid to speak out,'' Santamarina said. ``Everyone says things need to change in Cuba, and that's true. But they also need to change in Miami. There's a culture of intimidation in Miami that doesn't allow people to criticize U.S. policy toward Cuba. I'm not going to let that go on.''

With its own timbiriche window serving crispy croquetas and cortaditos with evaporated milk, Tinta reflects the anti-Versailles of exile thought. An art book featuring Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara on the cover sits on a book shelf -- placed there by Santasmarina to provoke conversation -- and the Cuban hip-hop sound of Orishas thump from speakers. Couches and threads of conversations critical of U.S. policy toward Cuba greet people as they enter.

''Miami is at a tipping point,'' Santamarina said on a recent afternoon as she tackled a plate with a plantain leaf-wrapped tamal, manchego cheese and arugula. ``I feel that we need to give a voice to the silent majority of people in Miami who are frustrated with the failures of U.S. Cuba policy.''

Santamarina and her friend, anti-embargo exile activist Sylvia Wilhelm, each invited ten people to Sunday's tertulia and asked them to bring someone who disagrees with them on U.S. Cuba policy.

Outside the famous Versailles Restaurant on Southwest Eighth Street, Miami's best-known tertulia on the Cuba issue thrives daily. Near the timbiriche that fronts Calle Ocho, casual groups form in the sparse shade of palms, always coming around to the topic percolating in Miami's collective consciousness for two generations.

On Wednesday, former political prisoner Dagoberto Venturita, 72, wandered into a conversation about the U.S. embargo of Cuba. He thinks Santamarina's tertulia plays into the hands of Cuba's ailing leader, Fidel Castro.

''Those people, that's leftism,'' Venturita said. ``Why do they come to this country if [the United States] is a democracy. Everyone has a right to talk, but there are a lot of sentiments and feelings in this community against their position.''

Cuban American lawyer Raúl Hernández-Morales, chatting in a group of three outside Versailles, snickered at the concept of a tertulia to discuss the U.S. embargo: ``What embargo? The embargo hasn't accomplished anything. The embargo has been an excuse for all of Fidel's tyranny.''

Santamarina believes recent changes in the leadership both in Cuba and Washington are cause to reexamine the strained U.S.-Cuba relationship. Fidel Castro's brother Raúl now runs Cuba, and Democrats, including many who want an opening with Cuba, now control Congress.

''You know what, I'm not a commie, so get over it,'' Santamarina said of those who disagree with her. ``We have to get beyond those ridiculous insults and talk this out. Lots of us feel that the best way to bring about change in Cuba is to increase contact.''

Earlier this month, Santamarina hosted a photo exhibit on the second floor of the building that houses Tinta, the Jóse Martí Building, known for amural of the island on a wall that can be seen from I-95. The exhibit was critical of U.S. policy that prohibits Cubans in the United States from visiting family on the island more than once every three years.

An awkward confrontation punctuated the night.

Alvaro Fernandez, chairman of the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, which aims to end restrictions on family travel, unveiled the exhibit. He said the photos captured ''some of the pain experienced by families who can't see each other just because of a policy,'' a woman in the small crowd interrupted.

''Excuse me, didn't we all know that we were going to be separated?'' she said. ``I don't understand your attitude, I'm sorry.''

Fernandez asked her to reserve her comments until he was finished. But the woman interrupted again.

''President Bush didn't divide us,'' she said. ``Fidel is the one that divided us. He kept us from going for 25 years.''

As the visibly upset woman left the building, she declined to provide her name to a Miami Herald reporter, saying the people giving the presentation were ''cabrones'' (bastards) and ''asesinos'' (assassins).

''They are just saying half the truth,'' she said. ``I came here in 1962 and for 20 years, I couldn't go to Cuba and there was no Bush. It was Fidel's decision to prohibit us.''

Santamarina, who also is a real estate investor, was not dismayed. In a way, the confrontation represented the kind of discussion she wants to promote -- but without raised voices, insults or hurt feelings.

''Let's stop talking like that,'' she said. ``It's not about attacking someone. We have to stop the fights. To quote a T-shirt my friend was wearing the other day, what we need is dissent without fear.''

The terrorist is knocking on the door

Planeta Porto Alegre

Domingo, 21 de maio de 2006

Luis Posada Carriles, the man accused of knocking down a crowded airplane, exploding a hotel and trying to kill the Cuban President asks the US for exile. What now, Uncle Sam?

Déborah Moreira

He has been trained by the CIA to hunt down Fidel Castro. He wanted to kill the Cuban President and would support anyone else that agreed with him. For that, he is considered a hero by the Cuban dissidents that live in Miami. But this 77 years old man is also a notorious terrorist, responsible for attacks that have taken away the life of many innocent people. He now wants to join his old admirers. Luis Posada Carriles has illegally entered the US and is now asking for political exile.

The incident took place last Tuesday when the request was registered by an immigration service in Miami. It was too late to avoid the disturbance. Posada was already inside the country as an illegal immigrant. Hosting him means, to the US justice, to expose the country’s tolerance towards terrorism– as long as it is committed against the “enemies”. Sending him to another country also means doing a good deed to a terrorist. Sending him back to Cuba means to forsake a friend in, who has been trained by the American Secret Service, and abandon him in his old age. That is not a problem, since the concerned person is a terrorist. But delivering him to Cuba would put a great part of Miami against the Bush government.

Bonds with the Empire

Posada has been trained by the CIA to take part in the disastrous invasion of The Bay of Pigs in 1961 - when Cuban exiles against Fidel Castro had the support of the John Kennedy government and arrived in the island willing to take the Cuban leader out of power. Posada was part of the group in charge of the explosives.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco has been like an open wound in the dissident’s soul. He repeatedly got involved in attacks organized by the enemies of the Cuban revolution – and has planned some actions himself. His name features in almost all legal processes and accusations for the authorship of big terrorist attacks against Cuba: the explosion of a Cuban airplane in 1976, when 73 civilians were killed, the explosion of one of the island’s hotel resulting in 12 victims (one of them fatal) and a secret plan to kill Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000.

As a good supporter of the CIA, Posada has also dedicated his life to persecute left wing groups that could get in the way of the plans the US had to the neighboring countries. He has been to Venezuela hunting guerrilla fighters. There, he ended up arrested for the explosion of a plane flying from Venezuela to Cuba, which carried Cuban athletes returning home after a competition. He escaped prison in strange circumstances, which may have involved bribes and money coming for his Miami supporters. He ended up in Nicaragua, where he persecuted Sandinistas, and later in Guatemala, where he hunted men presumed to be Cuban agents.

With a great deal of cynicism, he has given the New York Times interview admitting the authorship of many attacks to Cuban areas dedicated to tourism – an old target of those against Castro. These attacks aim at destroying one of the island’s profitable businesses.

The last steps

The terrorist’s most recent arrest took place in Panama, at the 10th Spanish-American Summit on November 2000. President Fidel Castro, who attended the conference, revealed he was the target of an assassination plan. The Panamanian police was warned and found a group headed by Posada, who was then 72 years old. They were carrying 8 kilos of explosives and a map indicating the location of the event.

Posada was convicted last year for taking part in the plot, but four months later he was granted amnesty by President Mireya Moscoso, who as at the end of her mandate in the government. Posada disappeared for a while. Now that he is old and frustrated with 40 years of failures, he wants to rest.

The request for exile faces political and international resistance, but the old CIA supporter is willing to knock on more than one door. He is also asking for a permanent Visa, which is granted to Cubans who have been living for more than a year in the country, as another alternative to stay in the US. For the white house, problems have just begun. But the bomb is already armed.

On the same day Posada asked for exile, a distressed letter was sent to the Foreign Relations Committee of the American Congress. The author of the letter was Republican parliamentary William D Delahunt. The document was published. It suggests an investigation to find how and when Posada entered the country. “I cannot imagine someone supporting a terrorist when there is undeniable evidence that he has been responsible, or at least co-responsible, for exploding a civilian airplane. I find it inconceivable”.

Delahunt supports Posada’s arrest and deportation as stated by international laws, and demands detailed explanations. “Due to the hostility between Cuba and the North-American government it is possible the US authorities have closed their eyes to Posada’s entrance in the country – or, even worse, they may have facilitated it. If that is true, and even if he is not allowed to remain in the country, the incident could harm the US’ credibility in fighting terror. It would give the world the idea that we share the vision of those that defend the Al Qaeda rebels and the Iraqi terrorists by spreading the concept that a terrorist is a freedom fighter”.

Translation: Ruby Zatz and Adriana Bosco

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Anti-Castro militant won't be released

Sioux City Journal

February 22, 2007 ONLINE EDITION

1:15 AM

EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by an anti-Fidel Castro activist to be released from jail while immigration officials figure out where to deport him.

U.S. District Judge Philip R. Martinez threw out Luis Posada Carriles' lawsuit after federal prosecutors said immigration officials could not release him because he is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Complete Strory

Cuba's known for cigars now, but oil could change that

USA Today

Posted 2/22/2007 1:34 AM ET

By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY

One day soon — possibly before the end of this year — an oil rig will maneuver into position in waters less than 100 miles from the coast of Florida. A drill will plunge into the inky sea and begin chewing its way into the ocean floor, hunting for oil.

But the drilling rig won't belong to an American company, and any petroleum it discovers won't do a thing to curb the USA's addiction to foreign oil. Instead, any new sub-sea gusher will belong to Cuba.

That's right: Cuba. The island nation long has been known for its aromatic cigars and sweet rums. But after years of limited oil production on lands around Havana and in neighboring Matanzas province, Cuba is poised for a significant expansion of its oil program into the waters that separate it from the United States. And thanks to U.S. law, Cuba's drilling partners will be working closer to Florida beaches than any American company ever could.

"Our studies … have shown there is a great potential, especially offshore," says Dagoberto Rodriguez, the senior Cuban diplomat in the USA. "Basically, we know that there is oil. The problem is just where it is."

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) agrees. Two years ago, after reviewing available data on the subterranean structures in the region, the agency estimated Cuba can lay claim to 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

With oil prices hovering around $60 a barrel and global supplies persistently tight, any new supply source could benefit the USA, the world's top oil consumer. Likewise, Cuba, which relies on Venezuela for more than half of its daily oil consumption, craves self-sufficiency. "In economic terms, it could be a win-win," says Daniel Erikson, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

There's just one problem: politics. Since 1962, the U.S. has maintained an economic embargo of Cuba, aimed at toppling the communist government of Fidel Castro. The ailing dictator, who has outlasted nine U.S. presidents, last summer handed power temporarily to his brother, Raul, while he recovers from abdominal surgery. Companies such as ExxonMobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and Halliburton (HAL), however, remain barred from the Cuban market, which a 2001 Rice University study said could be worth up to $3 billion annually.

The embargo also will increase the time and cost of the Cuban program by denying Havana access to the closest source of oil industry technology, spare parts and expertise. Likewise, U.S.-owned refineries in Aruba and St. Croix are off-limits for any of the heavy, sulfur-rich Cuban crude.

"The U.S. (embargo) presents them with significant barriers and obstacles," says Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska who studies Cuban energy issues.

Replacing the Soviets

Cuba is modernizing a dilapidated Soviet-era refinery at Cienfuegos with help from Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and refurbishing three other facilities, Rodriguez said. Within 18 months, Cuba will be able to satisfy all of its refining demand, he said. Independent analysts are less optimistic.

The Cuban oil fields were formed more than 50 million years ago in a slow-motion collision between Earth's tectonic plates, which entombed pulverized rocks, animals and plants. Over subsequent millennia, the resulting stew cooked into buried petroleum deposits, says Christopher Shenk, a geologist at the USGS in Denver.

Before Castro's 1959 revolution, U.S. oil companies such as Esso and Amoco carried out preliminary explorations. The following year, Cuba nationalized refineries belonging to Exxon, Texaco and Shell ( (RDSA,RDSB), and U.S. industry hasn't been back since.

In the modern era, Cuba's first significant oil find came in 1971 when Soviet engineers discovered the Varadero field, east of Havana. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba opened its oil program to foreign investment in 1993. Today, companies from Spain, Norway, India, Malaysia and China are involved, either drilling wells onshore or using horizontal drilling to reach reservoirs in shallow coastal waters.

Canada's Sherritt is the most active foreign company with nine fields operating onshore and five exploration or appraisal blocs being drilled, says Michael Minnes, a company spokesman. Daily output from the company's wells averages a modest 30,000 barrels a day, down from about 43,000 in 2004.

"It's like any other foreign jurisdiction or developing nation. There are challenges, and there are opportunities," Minnes said. "We see Cuba as a great environment to do business in."

So far, only one offshore well has been drilled, in July 2004 by Spanish oil company Repsol. The company said it found oil at the site 95 miles southwest of Key West, though not in commercially viable deposits. Since then, the Spanish company has teamed with Norway's Norsk Hydro, one of a select number of global oil companies with expertise in deepwater exploration, according to Jorge Pinon, the former president of Amoco's Latin American operations.

Offshore drilling this year

In an interview this week, Rodriguez, the chief of the Cuban interests section in Washington, said widespread offshore drilling could start by the end of this year. Cuban exploration, like drilling ventures elsewhere, has been slowed by a worldwide shortage of drilling rigs that has increased daily lease rates by more than 60% since fall 2005.

Offshore wells aren't cheap: Those envisioned in Cuban waters will cost $40 million to $50 million, says Pinon, the former oil executive now affiliated with the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. "This is a very high-risk, high-reward area," R.S. Butola, managing director of India's ONGC, said on the company's website.

Since 1981, the U.S. has observed a moratorium on coastal drilling, except for a portion of the Gulf of Mexico and limited areas off of Alaska. The drilling ban was enacted after a series of high-profile oil industry environmental disasters. Perhaps the most notorious: the 1969 Santa Barbara spill that released 3 million gallons of oil in waters off of California, coating 35 miles of coastline with oil up to 6 inches thick.

Last year, the House voted to relax the prohibition on offshore drilling, but the measure died in the Senate. There may be close to 95 billion barrels of oil affected by the ban, according to the Interior Department.

The House-passed bill still would have allowed individual states to ban drilling up to 100 miles from their shores. But Cuba's wells could eventually be as close to the USA as 60 miles from Key West. The two countries agreed in 1977 to a maritime boundary that evenly divides the waters between them.

Capitol Hill takes notice

The prospect of foreign oil companies drilling Cuban wells so close to American shores has unnerved some on Capitol Hill. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., last year introduced legislation to deny U.S. visas to executives employed by oil companies involved in the Cuban program. Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Nelson, says the senator plans to reintroduce the measure this year. Nelson also wants the United States to renegotiate the 1977 treaty that defines the U.S.-Cuban maritime boundary, a proposal Cuba's Rodriguez called "silly."

Others see the prospect of Cuban offshore oil rigs as a reason to relax the U.S. embargo. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., co-authored legislation last year that would have permitted U.S. firms to sell their services to companies drilling for Cuba or to drill themselves.

"U.S. companies should be able to bid on these oil leases. … If there are going to be oil rigs within 50 miles of Florida, … I'd rather see U.S. oil rigs than Chinese oil rigs, given technological and safety considerations," Flake said in a telephone interview.

For now, Big Oil is staying out of the political fray. But, at a time when unexplored terrain is rapidly shrinking, the oil industry would eagerly jump into Cuban waters if given the chance.

One year ago, a U.S.-Cuba Energy Summit attracted representatives from Exxon and a handful of smaller oil service companies to three days of meetings in Mexico City. Attendees viewed PowerPoint presentations from Cuban government ministries including state-owned oil company Cupet that invited American companies to help exploit "several giant oil and gas fields."

Events since July, when Castro's illness forced him to step aside, have rekindled industry interest in Cuba's future. "U.S. oil companies would love to do business there as soon as this thing opens up," says Ron Harper, an analyst at IHS Energy in Houston. "They're looking at it quietly. They'd be short-sighted not to."

Earlier this week, Rodriguez reiterated that Cuba remains open to the U.S. industry's involvement and may hold a second summit this year, either in Mexico or Canada. But he said time may be running out for the U.S. to change course. "In my opinion, if the American companies are not able to get something, some changes before no more than one year, after that it will be too late," he said.

For now, any U.S. involvement remains only hypothetical. Houston oilman Antonio Szabo, president of Stone Bond Technologies, says U.S. companies likely would require greater transparency, a commitment to the rule of law and market economics in Cuba before investing significant money there.

Some in the oil industry also have long memories when it comes to Cuba. At the 1997 World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, a Cuban official approached Lee Raymond, then Exxon's chief executive, and asked in a jocular tone when the U.S. oil giant might return to Cuba. "When you give us back our (expletive) refinery," Raymond growled.

Cuban officials note they already have willing partners from Canada, Spain, Norway, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Venezuela and China. Rodriguez made clear that the United States has no veto over Cuba's oil plans.

"Everyone knows how advanced is American technology," the Cuban diplomat said. "But we are going to continue with our programs — with American companies or without American companies."