Monday, April 24, 2017

Social justice in Cuba? No racism?

Commentary: Social justice in Cuba? No racism?
Javier Garcia-Bengochea
Guest Columnist

Privacy Policy
It ain't what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you think you
know that just ain't so ... Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige
paraphrasing Mark Twain.

It's called fake news. For decades, Cuba has promoted a false narrative
regarding its revolution. A receptive media have dutifully perpetuated
this lie and Americans remarkably suspend all critical thinking
regarding Cuba, accepting this deception categorically.

What Americans think they know about Cuba just ain't so. Here's the

Cuba is a socialist country. Wrong. Cuba is a totalitarian white male
military dictatorship that insulates itself from accountability to the
Cuban people through the enormous bureaucracy of the Cuban government.

The Cuban government "owns" Cuba's industries. No, the military owns
these, particularly the tourist industry run by Raul Castro's son-in-law
(a general). Virtually every aspect of licensed travel by the U.S.
Treasury to Cuba is controlled by the military (who are white). Tourism
funds the repression.

There is social justice in Cuba. Nope. The dictatorship has
institutionalized an apartheid between foreigners and Communist Party
elites — Cuba's 1 percent — and "ordinary" Cubans. How? Through two
currencies, a valuable one for the former and a worthless one for the
latter, who are mostly black and brown.

Tourists use one currency (CUCs) pegged to the U.S. dollar. Cubans are
paid (by law) in the second worthless currency. The latter can pocket
tips in CUCs. Consequently, neurosurgeons rush through brain surgeries
to park cars, drive taxis and bus tables for tips. Most doctors,
lawyers, teachers and engineers leave their professions altogether. This
slavery few Americans even notice. It's disgraceful.

There is no racism in Cuba. Ha! As one white regime official put it on
page 119 of UCLA professor Mark Sawyer's book, "Racial Politics in
Post-Revolutionary Cuba," "It is simply a sociological fact that blacks
are more violent and criminal than whites. They also do not work as hard
and cannot be trusted." This was 2003; enough said.

Free health care and education for all. Sorry. University professors and
managers in tourism are overwhelmingly white and connected to the
generals. Most university students must join the communist party.

There are hospitals for foreigners and Communist Party elites and those
for everyone else. The former are for medical tourism with Cuba's best
doctors. The latter have no sheets, soap, toilet paper, electricity,
medicines or even Cuban doctors — they are imported from Africa.

Where are Cuba's doctors? Those not driving cabs are "rented" to foreign
countries for $10,000 monthly. The chattel slave doctors are paid a few
hundred CUCs while their families are held in Cuba. Ditto for thousands
of Cuban nurses, social workers and teachers. Human trafficking is the
dictatorship's largest source of hard currency — by far.

Opening Cuba represents a tremendous business opportunity. Really? Cuba
is bankrupt. Moreover, everything in Cuba is stolen: land, homes, rum,
cigars, even old American jalopies — in many cases from Americans. Every
enterprise in Cuba will involve trafficking in stolen property. This
isn't a business opportunity; it's criminal and immoral behavior.

The intent of U.S. law is to protect, not disenfranchise claimants as
President Obama has done by allowing select companies to "do business"
and traffic in stolen property. Sustaining this requires protection by
the dictatorship and a U.S. administration that disregards property
rights and the rule of law. It's politically sanctioned organized crime.

History is replete with examples that economic engagement will not bring
political liberalization or change (e.g., China). See Cuba before 1959,
when American cronyism brought corruption and three dictators — Batista
and the Castro brothers. Why would U.S. businesses "invested" in Cuba
property want change? A democratic government will return property to
the legitimate owners and these "investments" will be lost. Investment
seeks certainty.

The embargo is "failed" policy. The teeth of the embargo, the ability to
prosecute traffickers in stolen property, has been waived since its
inception to "expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba," a
justification that is conclusively false.

It's the definition of insanity: capitulating with another dictatorship
and perpetually violating existing sanctions while expecting change.

Here's a novel approach to Cuba policy: Enforce the law.

Javier Garcia-Bengochea, a Jacksonville neurosurgeon, is a certified
U.S. Claimant for The Port of Santiago de Cuba.

Source: Social justice in Cuba? No racism? #FakeNewsCuba - Orlando
Sentinel -

Cuba’s foreign minister reiterates the island’s desire for dialogue with the U.S.

Cuba's foreign minister reiterates the island's desire for dialogue with
the U.S.

In another apparent attempt to get a high-profile message to Washington,
Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs during a swing through Europe
repeated the island's desire to maintain the level of dialogue and
cooperation that started under former President Barack Obama.

"The current government of the United States has said it is reviewing
its policy towards Cuba. We reiterate our readiness for dialogue and
cooperation on the basis of the absolute respect for our sovereignty,"
Bruno Rodríguez told Spain's RTVE in an interview televised Saturday.

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro made a similar offer of dialogue just a few days
following Trump's inauguration in January.

Rodríguez, who visited several European countries last week, did not
directly answer a question about whether his government has had any
contact with the Trump administration. But his cagey response indicates
that formal interaction between both nations has not yet occurred.

"Naturally, there are intense relations between the U.S. and Cuba, due
to our proximity," Rodríguez said. "There has been a significant
increase in travelers...Cooperation agreements that were signed during
the last period are being implemented and there are some contacts at the
level of the U.S. government agencies and its Cuban counterparts on that

The foreign minister also refrained from commenting on Trump's time in
office thus far.

"Trump is the president of the United States, I don't vote in that
country," Rodríguez simply stated, adding that he was hopeful that Cuba
and the U.S. could maintain "a civilized relationship despite the
profound differences — which are known — that exist between the two

Cuba's highest-ranking diplomat also declined to answer a question about
his government's succession plans in 2018, when general elections are
expected to take place and Castro himself has publicly stated that he
will resign from the presidency.

"We will have to wait for the election results," Rodríguez said.

"Indeed, there will be general elections. Municipal and provincial
representatives will be elected, and also deputies, to the National
Assembly, and they will elect the President of the State Council and
Council of Ministers," he said, without making a direct reference about
Castro leaving his post.

Asked if there would be changes on the island when Cuba finally has a
president without Castro as a surname, Rodríguez responded: "Cuba is
changing all the time...There is no revolution that is not permanently
undergoing renewal."

Rodríguez was also cautious with his words when asked about the ongoing
turmoil in Venezuela, a close ally. Cuba is monitoring the current
situation, he said, "with confidence in the Venezuelan people, in whom
we recognize have the full capacity to find solutions to their problems.

"We expect the international community to do the same," he added.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Cuba's Bruno Rodríguez reiterates its desire for dialogue with
the U.S. | Miami Herald -

JetBlue, American and Delta apply for more flights to Havana

JetBlue, American and Delta apply for more flights to Havana

While several U.S. airlines have cut flights to Cuba citing weak demand,
American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines are investing in
more service to Havana.

Monday, American filed an application with the U.S. Department of
Transportation requesting seven weekly flights between Miami
International Airport and Havana. Last week, JetBlue did the same,
applying for seven slots: an additional Havana to Fort Lauderdale flight
six times a week and an inaugural weekly flight from Boston to the Cuban
capital on Saturdays. Delta Air Lines requested seven weekly flights
from Miami to Havana.

If approved, American would start flying to Cuba on a 160-seat Boeing
737 on Oct. 5. JetBlue plans to use a 162-seat Airbus A320 aircraft for
its flights beginning Nov. 1.

The openings for new routes were made available after Spirit Airlines,
Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines announced they would completely
pull out of Cuba by June 4.

From Miami, American currently offers daily flights to Holguín,
Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Santa Clara, Varadero and Havana and Delta Air
Lines offers one daily flight to Havana. JetBlue operates 13 times
weekly service from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.

While flights to other parts of the island have been reduced in the
past, Havana routes seems to be profitable — but there were some growing

In February, JetBlue said it would move to smaller planes on several
routes, including Havana, to adjust for demand to the island. In all,
JetBlue is cutting capacity to Cuba by 300 seats a day beginning May 3.

"With these adjustments, Havana is performing well against our
expectations and we are seeing strength in our group's business," said
JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart, in a statement. "We hold an optimistic
long-term view as visitor levels grow at a record pace."

Since the initial frenzy to add service to Cuba began last year, some
airlines have cut some, if not all, of their flights to Cuba. The
changes, experts said, were likely due to overly optimistic forecasts
for demand.

American Airlines was the first to reduce its service to Cuba,
announcing in November that it would cut flights from Miami
International Airport to Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero from two
daily to one. In December, Silver Airways reduced the number of flights
on six of its nine destinations to the island before announcing in March
that it was cutting service to Cuba altogether on April 22. Last month,
Frontier announced it would completely eliminate its Miami to Havana
route on June 4.

Spirit is the latest airline to make a change, announcing earlier this
month that it would reduce flights to once daily, from its daily two
flights between Fort Lauderdale and Havana, from May 3 to 23, offer its
usual twice-daily flights from May 24 to 31 and then end flights
altogether beginning June 1.

Source: JetBlue, American and Delta apply for more flights to Havana |
Miami Herald -

An inside look at Cockfighting in Cuba

An inside look at Cockfighting in Cuba
Apr 23rd 2017 6:01PM

CIEGO DE AVILA, April 20 (Reuters) - Cuban farmer Pascual Ferrel says
his favorite fighting cock's prowess was "off the charts," so after it
died of illness he had the black and red rooster preserved and displays
it on his mantelpiece beside a television.

"He fought six times and was invincible," the 64-year old recalled
fondly, talking over the crowing of 60 birds in his farmyard in the
central Cuban region of Ciego de Avila.

Though it is banned in many parts of the world, cockfighting is favored
throughout the Caribbean and in Cuba its popularity is growing.

Last year, Ciego de Avila opened its first official cockfighting arena
with 1,000 seats, the largest in Cuba, to the dismay of animal rights
activists who see it as a step backward.

Cockfighting is a blood sport because of the harm cocks do to each other
in cockpits, exacerbated by metal spurs that can be attached to birds'
own spurs.

After the 1959 revolution, Cuba cracked down on cockfighting as part of
a ban on gambling, recalls Ferrel.

Over the years that stance has softened. Official arenas have opened and
hidden arenas are tolerated as long as there are no brawls.

"'People say: if the government is allowed to hold cockfights, why can't
we?" says Nora Garcia Perez, head of Cuban animal welfare association

Enthusiasts argue that cockfighting is a centuries-old tradition.
Critics say it is cruel, and they blame its popularity on lack of
entertainment options, poor education on animal welfare, and its
money-making potential.

In Ciego de Avila, there is a different clandestine arena for every day
of the week, some hidden among marabu brush or in sugarcane fields, down
dirt tracks with no signs.

People carrying cockerels in slings or under their arms travel to these
venues by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or in candy-colored vintage
American cars.

Arenas made of wood and palm fronds operate like fairgrounds. Ranchera
music blasts from loudspeakers, roasted pork and rum are sold and tables
are set up with dice and card games.

"You'll see how fun this is," says Yaidelin Rodriguez, 32, a regular
with her husband, writing in a notebook bets she has placed on her cock.

Gambling is outlawed in Cuba but wads of cash exchange hands at most
arenas. Enthusiasts wear baseball caps that read "Cocks win me money,
women take it away."

In the Ciego de Avila official arena, foreigners pay up to $60 for a
front row seat. At concealed arenas, mainly a local affair, seats are $2
to $8, a princely sum in a country where the average monthly state
salary is $25.

"We can earn about $600 a day from entrance fees and the sale of seats,"
says Reinol, who declined to give his full name.

He splits that sum with his business partner and still earns more from
it than from his regular job as a butcher.

Cuba also exports cockerels, breeders say, adding that cocks with proven
fighting prowess could sell for up to $1000.

At a secluded arena near Ciego de Avila one recent afternoon,
cigar-smoking, rum-swigging owners guarded their birds to make sure
noone hurt or poisoned them before the fight.

"Come on," "Go for it," onlookers screeched once it began, the cocks
flying at one another in rage.

"You have to train the cocks like they are boxers, so they are
prepared," says Basilio Gonzalesm adding they must also be groomed,
scarlet legs sheared and feathers clipped.

Some, like cockfighting enthusiast Jorge Guerra, dream of making more
money in countries where betting is legal.

Source: An inside look at Cockfighting in Cuba - AOL News -

USF scientists headed for Cuba to study what it looks like before any oil spills

USF scientists headed for Cuba to study what it looks like before any
oil spills
Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2017 10:40am

ST. PETERSBURG — Florida scientists will ride their research vessel to
Cuba next month to take measurements of its coastal waters before any
oil spill ruins them.

One of the major problems with the 2010 BP oil spill, say scientists, is
that no one — not the government, not the oil companies, not even
universities — had taken base line measurements of what conditions were
like in the Gulf of Mexico prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

So the University of South Florida's marine science department has been
trying to rectify that by taking readings all around the edges of the
Gulf over the past year or so. They even journeyed down to Mexico, where
they not only took readings but also found signs that oil still remains
from the 1979 Ixtoc I spill, a disaster that paralleled the BP spill.

And now in their ship the R/V Weatherbird II they're heading for Cuba on
May 9, according to David Hollander, a USF chemical oceanographer who
played a crucial role in the university's investigations of the BP
spill's effects.

They will be paying particular attention to conditions in the Florida
Straits, "because those are the ins and outs of the water coming into
the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

In addition to taking the baseline measurements of the water's chemical
composition, Hollander said, "we'll be looking at aspects of the
contamination levels and fisheries conditions, and comparing those to
what we found in Mexico and U.S. waters."

Cuba has tried repeatedly to drill for oil off its coast, where an
estimated 20 billion barrels of crude await. But all of their efforts,
including the most recent one led by Spain's Repsol, have come up dry.

But Cuba is now partnered with Angola's state-run petroleum production
company, Sonangol for yet another attempt. Meanwhile other companies
continue trying their luck. One, Sherritt International, announced last
month that its exploratory offshore wells were disappointing, but the
company intended to keep trying.

The thaw of relations between Cuba and the U.S. has opened the door for
scientific collaboration on issues of interest to both countries. For
instance, the Florida Aquarium has partnered with the National Aquarium
of Cuba on coral research.

That's why the USF contingent is expecting a warm welcome from its Cuban

The thirteen U.S. scientists on board will be joined by 30 graduate
students, professors and biologists from the University of Havana and
the Cuban Fisheries Agency to share information on their technology and
techniques, Hollander said.

Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.

Source: USF scientists headed for Cuba to study what it looks like
before any oil spills | Tampa Bay Times -

Growth returns to Caribbean Basin, but recovery is uneven

Growth returns to Caribbean Basin, but recovery is uneven

Economic performance in the Caribbean will be uneven this year: Some
economies will grow by 5 percent or more, but others will be lucky to
eke out even negligible economic growth.

"The Dominican Republic and Guyana are expected to remain the strongest
performers in the subregion," according to the U.N.'s Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. "The outlook is less
favorable in the Bahamas, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago — countries with
deep-rooted structural impediments and high vulnerability to external

The Dominican Republic is projected to have 5.1 percent growth, while
Guyana is expected to check in at 5 percent and St. Kitts and Nevis at
5.3 percent. On the other end of the spectrum are Trinidad and Tobago
(.5 percent growth), the Bahamas (1 percent), Suriname (1.4 percent),
and Cuba (1.5 percent).

Low global oil prices have dampened economic growth in oil-rich Trinidad
and Tobago. "Hopefully Trinidad will have bottomed out from last year,"
said Trevor Alleyne, Caribbean division chief at the International
Monetary Fund. "For the region as a whole, Trinidad won't be pulling
down the region's average as it was last year."

While some Caribbean economies have little more than tourism to sustain
themselves, even those with other resources can find themselves hurting.

"It goes back to undisciplined fiscal policies," Alleyne said. "When
things were great, when oil was $100 per barrel and gold was high, they
decided, 'OK it's time to party.' When these prices plummeted, they
found themselves without any buffers to manage that process."

Institutional problems and political uncertainty have buffeted a Haitian
economy already hit hard by natural disasters. Flooding from last year's
Hurricane Matthew and a prolonged drought have weighed heavily on
growth, and the country is still feeling the after-effects of a
devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

"Economic activity in Haiti and Jamaica was adversely affected by
drought conditions as well as structural obstacles, including
institutional weaknesses, tight fiscal budgets and high unemployment and
underemployment," ECLAC said in its annual forecasting report.

Although ECLAC estimates 2.1 percent economic growth for Haiti, the
World Bank is predicting the economy will decline by -0.6 as Haiti
continues to wrestle with double-digit inflation, a hunger crisis in the
region slammed by Matthew, a depreciating domestic currency and low
investment levels.

The Haïti Priorise project, which brings together a group of economists,
is looking at ways to not only perk up economic growth but provide
improved services to the Haitian population. It is run by the Copenhagen
Consensus Center, a think tank that has receive Canadian government funding.

Among the suggestions to boost economic growth are faster Internet
service and more digitization. Pantelis Koutroumpis, a research fellow
at Imperial College Business School in London, noted that it takes 312
days to start a business in Haiti and 97 days to register a property.
Both processes, he said, can be reduced significantly if the
infrastructure that powers the country's Internet is improved to allow
for digitized registrations.

The Cuban government is more optimistic about the island's prospects
than ECLAC is. It is predicting economic growth of around 2 percent with
an increase in tourism leading the way. But other economists aren't as
sanguine. Pavel Vidal, a professor at Javeriana University in Colombia,
is forecasting a decline of between .3 percent and 1.4 percent in the
Cuban economy.

Cuban tourism officials are predicting the number of international
visitors will increase to a record 4.2 million. The officials say
tourism arrivals for January and February were up 15 percent over the
first two months of 2016.

But as economic problems in Venezuela deepen, the future of crucial oil
supplies from Cuba's main benefactor are in question. The government
recently announced that premium gasoline wouldn't be available on the
island in April, and long lines at gas stations are becoming more frequent.

To achieve sustainable growth, analysts say Cuba needs to undertake
economic reforms such as unifying its unwieldy dual currency system and
creating a more attractive environment for foreign investors, including
allowing them to directly hire their Cuba workers, cutting through red
tape, making it easier to sign contracts, and offering better legal

Cuba has said it wants foreign investment to be a cornerstone of its
future economic development.

Meanwhile, high debt burdens, large government deficits and a lack of
competitiveness remain at the center of the economic challenges facing
the Caribbean, said Justin Ram, director of economics for the Caribbean
Development Bank.

The bank is projecting economic growth for the Caribbean region at 1.7
percent this year. But Ram said the Caribbean as a whole will continue
to lag other regions unless it addresses high levels of crime and
violence in some countries, unemployment and poverty and reduces its
high debt levels.

"We're not seeing the level of investments we need to boost growth," he
said. "Our economies have not kept pace with the kind of competitiveness
we are seeing in other parts of the world. We are lagging behind... with
respect to the types of economic reforms they are pushing through to
keep their economies competitive."

Caribbean nations also need to improve their "doing business"
environment, he said. "Investors look for these things," Ram said.

In the Dominican Republic, last year's brisk growth (6.8 percent) is
expected to ease somewhat as major construction projects are completed
and government expenditures drop. Tax evasion and a large informal
economy remain persistent challenges in the Caribbean's largest tourism
destination, according to the World Bank.

There are also questions about the future of the Dominican
Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, which also includes Costa
Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, now that it appears
NAFTA will be reopened.

"There is concern about what happens with DR-CAFTA if it becomes part of
the bulls eye in the Trump equation," said Jason Marczak, director of
the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Center's
Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Among the smaller Caribbean economies that have introduced reforms and,
as a result, are seeing economic growth is Grenada. Its rules-based
fiscal policy drives the budget process rather than the other way
around, and it also requires officials to report their assets.

Last year's growth rate was even higher than the 2.6 percent the
government had anticipated, said Prime Minister Keith Mitchell during a
recent visit to Miami to participate in a Caribbean growth conference
organized by the Miami Herald and World Bank.

"With what we are seeing on the levels of construction and business
activities in the country, and the further growth in the agriculture
sector and tourism... we believe we will, in fact, top" last year's
growth, Mitchell said.

Increased exports, more tourism arrivals and fiscal reforms in the
country known as the Spice Island have allowed Grenada to reduce its
unemployment levels from 40 percent to 28 percent in the last few years.
While that's still high, the reduction makes it clear "that things are
happening in the country," Mitchell said.

Another Caribbean country that may be turning the corner is Jamaica. It
has increased tax revenues and international reserves after years of
struggling with high debt and low growth. This year, the recovery is
expected to continue with "slow, incremental growth," Alleyne said.
Growth projections range from 1.7 percent to over 2 percent, thanks to
low oil prices and an improving Jamaican investment climate.

Follow Jacqueline Charles on Twitter: @jacquiecharles

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @heraldmimi

Source: Uneven economic recovery expected across the Caribbean in 2017 |
Miami Herald -

Theft and Subsidies, Not Exports

Theft and Subsidies, Not Exports
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | Los Ángeles | 24 de Abril de 2017 - 17:00 CEST.

Once gain former Economy minister José Luis Rodríguez has attempted to
pull the wool over everyone's eyes. Apparently the Castro dictatorship
has called on him to do its dirty work and cook the books to present a
more favorable picture of the regime's administration.

Rodríguez recently wrote, in Cubadebate, that the export of doctors,
nurses and other health professionals brought in revenue amounting to an
average of 11.543 billion dollars yearly between 2011 and 2015. False.
As a source he drew upon the 2016 Statistical Yearbook on Health – which
was so incomplete that it does not even mention how many health
professionals work outside Cuba, the most important factor of all. The
Ministry of Public Health acknowledges that there are about 50,000 in all.

I think it is appropriate to note that last February Rodríguez announced
that in 2016 Cuba paid its foreign creditors $5.299 billion, which is
also false. And, in 2006, as Minister of the Economy, he said, with a
straight face, that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Cuba had grown
12.5%, the greatest growth in the world, even surpassing China.

This time the former Castroist higher-up – who today serves as an
advisor at Cuba's International Economy Research Center (CIEM), and at
the aforementioned Yearbook of Public Health – is guilty of several more

To begin with, in order for the medical services that Cuba exports to 62
countries on four continents to have generated $11.543 billion, the
average salary of each contracted Cuban professional would have to have
been around $19,200 per month, which is impossible. His claim is even
more far-fetched when said yearbook indicates that 35 countries paid for
these services, and the other 27 paid nothing.

The key to all this is that the regime lies. It calculates Venezuelan
subsidies as a sale of medical services. Curiously, in his article
Rodríguez did not include the year 2016, in which Caracas slashed its
subsidies to the Island. Experts estimate that they have fallen by 40%,
and that oil deliveries were reduced from 110,000 to 55,000 barrels a
day, which would explain the current fuel crisis on the Island.

Cuba now depends and will depend more and more of the flow of foreign
currency coming from the "Empire" via remittances, packages and travel
to the island, which in 2016 came to more than 7 billion dollars. That
figure probably already equals or exceeds the subsidies from Venezuela,
and triples the gross revenue generated by tourism.

Moreover, even supposing that everything stated by the former minister
were true, it is immoral for the Castroist leadership to openly proclaim
that it steals salaries from doctors. That's called trafficking. Those
$11.543 billion belong to the doctors, who earned them with their work,
and then saw them confiscated.

According to the pact between the previous government of Brazil and
Cuba, negotiated with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the
Brazilian government pays Cuba $4,080 per month for each Cuban doctor.
Of this amount, the physician receives less than 25%, that is, less than
$1,000, according to doctors who have left Brazil, and complaints from
the National Federation of Brazilian Doctors, which describes the
contracts as "slave work." For every Cuban doctor in Brazil, Castro
pockets $3,000 a month.

The figures do not add up

There are now some 10,400 Cuban doctors and professionals in Brazil;
that is, 20% of those it has abroad. Venezuela, meanwhile, has more than
34,000 professionals, almost 70% of the total. That means that if the
average salary obtained, based on the figure cited by Rodriguez, comes
to $19,200 per month, and Brazil pays only $4,080 per doctor, then
Venezuela pays several times that monthly amount for each Cuban
professional, which is untrue.

Moreover, the $11.543 billion reported surely include the more than $720
million per year that Cuba was making by re-exporting gasoline from
Venezuela, or refined in Cienfuegos with crude given away by Caracas. Is
that not that a subsidy, like the one that was previously received from
the USSR, when the Island re-exported Soviet oil?

It is outrageous that the international community has not condemned the
export of Cuban doctors, essentially working as slaves in the 21st
century. Neither the International Labor Organization (ILO), nor any
government in the world has censured this abusive practice. The UN
Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Maria Grazia Gianmarinaro,
just visited Havana, but apparently apparently was satisfied with the
explanation provided by her hosts, masters of propaganda to protect the

In Brazil, for example, Article 149 of the Penal Code states that "slave
labor" exists when one is subjected to "forced labor, excessive shifts,
and remuneration that is dramatically deficient relative to the work
performed, justified by debts owed one's employer."

But the governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff wanted to favor
the Castros, and signed those shameful agreements. And the current
government has done little to fight this abuse.

Why no self-employed doctors?

The truth is that more than a third of the 90,161 doctors of the Island,
according to the yearbook, do not work in Cuba, but rather abroad, which
affects medical services on the Island. The regime graduates them, en
masse, to export and exploit them, as they are sent abroad for the
selfish aim of confiscating their wages. They are reminiscent of the
"talking instruments," as Marco Terencio Varrón called slaves in
classical Rome, 2,000 years ago.

If the Castro hierarchy allowed university professionals to enjoy
economic freedom, provide their services on their own, and doctors to
have private practices, they would render a valuable public service,
earn much more income, and not have to accept being exported as if they
were owned by the State, or the Castro family, to receive meager
remuneration, with which to make their lives and those of their families
on the Island more bearable.

Exported doctors have their freedom of movement restricted. They travel
alone, without their families. Their passports are held, and they are
enlisted in pro-Castro political campaigns with local populations, with
which they cannot interact privately. The whole system is like a modern
version of labor markets in the 18th and 19th centuries through which
masters rented out their slaves to third parties for given periods.

In short, the $11.543 billion cited by Rodríguez were not obtained just
through the "exported services." Rather, they mainly came from
Venezuelan and Brazilian subsidies. And the money confiscated from
doctors constitutes an international crime, which does not prescribe,
and ought to be punished.

Source: Theft and Subsidies, Not Exports | Diario de Cuba -

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Fidel Castro Fair

The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García

Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly
browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of
pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn

From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused
hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork fillets and sautéed rice, to
sell later in his small mobile shop positioned in a large car park, at
the main entrance to the International Book Fair in Havana.

A line of kiosks with aluminium tubes and coloured canvas tops offer
local favourites, like bread with suckling pig, ham and cheese
sandwiches, jellies, mineral water and canned drinks.

"My kiosk specialises in dishes from San Miguel de Padrón. But the
truth is that in this particular fair, sales are sluggish. Mainly
because the organisers prohibited the sale of alcohol. You can forget
about books and all that intellectual shit, you have to give Cubans beer
and reguetón if you want them to feel happy – the rest is secondary",
says Jesús.

Thursday February 16th started off rainy in Havana. Idelfonso, a
self-employed clown, looks up at the overcast sky and mutters, "if it
starts raining again, they'll have to take the circus and its tent away,
because no-one will bring their kids in bad weather. This fair has been
pretty bad for us. No-one has any money, and those who do prefer to
spend it on books and food", he says, in his bear get-up.

In different parts of the car park, private businesses rent
out inflatable toys for fifteen pesos for the kids to bounce about for
thirty minutes, and five pesos for a quick ride on a horse.

"Many families don't come to buy books. They would rather their kids
enjoyed themselves playing with the equipment. There are hardly any
amusement parks in the capital", says Rita, who deals with charging for
the horses.

Families and groups of friends lay towels out on the grass and picnic on
a hill from where you get a unique view of the city across the bay.

Gerard, a young man with tattooed forearms, feels uncomfortable. He
tells his wife to go off with the kid to play with the inflatable toys
while he complains about the lack of any beer.

"These people are really party poopers. Whose idea was it to stop
selling lager and nips of rum? I can't imagine it was because of Fidel
Castro's death, as the bloke has been pushing up daisies for over two
months now", moans Gerard, knocking back a lemonade as a temporary
solution to the matter.

Dora and Germán come from El Cotorro, in south west Havana, with two
enormous bags to buy "fifteen or twenty boxes of drink. We have a cafe
and we buy stuff here for ten pesos and then we sell them there for
twenty. If we have time, we buy a few books for our grandchildren".

The Book Fair always was a good excuse for thousands of Habaneros to
amuse themselves. Kids skipping classes looking over displays of foreign
books, inveterate bookworms, pseudo intellectuals who take the
opportunity to come over as writers, the peripheral catwalk of hustlers
and pickpockets selling tourists fake Cohíba cigars made in shacks in
deepest Havana.

But this time the organisers decided to put a stop to "sideshows which
have nothing to do with reading", says Idalia, a Editora Abril
bookseller, who adds:

"The fair has been turned into a mess. Like a strip club. Hustlers who
came to pull foreigners and people with money who have never read a book
and were downing beers 'til closing time. The number of people coming
here has definitely fallen, as nearly two million people came here two
years ago. Now the numbers have fallen to less than half" says Idalia,
who, in exchange for offering her opinions for Martí Noticias, asks me
to buy some books.

"The thing is, we get commission on our sales. And we aren't selling
much", she emphasises. From the books on display, I choose the biography
of Raúl Castro written by Nikolai Leonov, an ex high-up in the KGB and
personal friend of the Carribean autocrat.

The book, which looks good, costs 30 pesos, equivalent to three times
the daily minimum wage in Cuba. According to the official press, it is
the best selling book of the year. Idalia thinks differently.

"You can put any rubbish you like on paper. They give the book, just
like they did with Fidel's, as gifts to lots of people who attend
events, and then they record them as sales. And, being prioritised by
the printers, they have gigantic print-runs, and are on sale in all the
bookshops in the country. But, I haven't seen too much enthusiasm among
Cuban readers for Raúl's biography. Foreign lefties certainly do buy
books dedicated to Fidel", she tells me.

Although the present Book Fair is dedicated to Canada and the tedious
state official Armando Hart Dávalos, the dead Fidel Castro is the prime

There is no lack of sets of Fidel Castro's speeches on the local
publishers' stands, a revised edition of History will Absolve Me and
cartoon books eulogising the dictator from Birán.

"God help us! Fidel everywhere", says a lady walking through the Mexican
pavilion looking for a diary she has promised her granddaughter. The
foreign publishers are the busiest, in spite of the high foreign
currency prices.

They also sell pirate Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar teeshirts, as
well as a collection of Barcelona and Real Madrid posters. A Mexican
bookseller tells us that "We take advantage of the fact that Cubans like
football, and so we push this merchandise".

At midday St Charles Fort looks just like an informal flea market. A few
serious readers sit down, leaning against the ancient cannons which
protect the fort, in order to read George Orwell's 1984 or a Gabriel
García Márquez novel.

The less serious fill up nylon bags with books on spritual advice or
magazines about fashion and cooking. Then they form a little queue at
the exit from La Cabaña, to get the bus going to the centre of Havana.

Few visitors know the dark history of the fort, an ancient prison and
location of hundreds of firing squads for Castro opponents. The thing is
that in Cuba the disinformation, fear of knowing the truth, and amnesia
help people live apathetic and apolitical lives.

Translated by GH

Source: The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García – Translating Cuba -

Police Forces Raid Headquarters of ‘Captain Tondique’ Project in Matanzas

Police Forces Raid Headquarters of 'Captain Tondique' Project in Matanzas

14ymedio, Havana, 21 April 2017 — The headquarters of the Captain
Tondique project in the municipality Matancero de Colón, was raided
Friday by combined Police and State Security forces, according to a
report received by this newspaper from Yelena Marrero Burunate, daughter
of Caridad Burunate, the activist who owns the property.

The house, located at #163 Mesa Street, was raided from the early hours
of dawn until one o'clock in the afternoon, Marrero explained.

"From seven in the morning they undertook a search, they came for the
Tondique equipment and supplies, they took everything. The cauldrons,
our food, everything. They did not explain anything to us, they took the
benches we used. There were more than twenty people in here," said the
activist via telephone.

"We told them that without a search warrant they couldn't come in and
they were looking for it," the woman explained.

Caridad Burunate and Francisco Rangel, the mother and uncle of Marrero
are in custody. "Everything happened in the presence of my grandmother
Raquel Gomez, an 88-year-old woman," she added.

"The search lasted until one o'clock in the afternoon and they took away
our cell phones."

The Captain Tondique community initiative has been working since April
2013 to help those who live on the streets and people who are homeless,
offering them a plate of food every Thursday.

Felix Navarro denounced to 14ymedio that the search warrant alleged the
crime of "illicit enrichment and abetting" and that Francisco Rangel's
home, a few yards from the project headquarters, at #125 Calle Pedro
Betancourt, was also raided "at the same time."

Navarro explains that the operation was carried out at a provincial
level and included his home in Perico, which in the afternoon hours was
still "surrounded by members of the State Security."

According to the government opponent, when he tried to leave his house
he was told by Officer Darío Torres Barrios that if he "went out" he
would be arrested.

"Other activists of the province remain in their homes in the same
situation of being under surveillance," denounced Navarro.

The organization reported that on other occasions the political police
have placed loudspeakers in the vicinity of the headquarters or closed
the surrounding streets to prevent their work and intimidate the activists.

Source: Police Forces Raid Headquarters of 'Captain Tondique' Project in
Matanzas – Translating Cuba -

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Tell Us, General, What's Plan B?

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of "XXI
Century Socialism" is wavering and threatening to collapse. It's only a
matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the
economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the
government's grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable
demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his
mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature
of the regime: increase repression and "arm the people."

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street
protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also
by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future
poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet.
Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style
dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country.

Thus, "Maduro-phobia" has become viral, people have taken to the streets
and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands
are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional
thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro,
allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his
presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin
American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands
of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have
decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan
government are guided by and directed from the Havana's Palace of the
Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very
suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba's high command would drag
the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward
the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a
dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of
Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though
this would mean the end of the "socialist" regime in Venezuela -with the
consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula,
as well as the income capital sources from health professionals
services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro's significant absence at
the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support
for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly
accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against
the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the
suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban
official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually
circumscribed condemnation pronouncements "to the regional rightist
coup" – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government's
political and mass organizations and other non-governmental
organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the
possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba's part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know
the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as
it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in
various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and
intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro's
agents, so it may be assumed that the regime's political strategists
have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba's aid workers, which are in Venezuela in
the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by
Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work
in Venezuela as "collaborators" in ALBA programs, in the very probable
case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain
the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of
the Venezuelan regime? Why don't the official media offer more accurate
information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in
Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these
Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated
by the violence incited from power?

Cuba's past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the
same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same
subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were
sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and
other remote points of the world's geography. Fidel Castro, who was
never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de
facto – the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers
were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the
Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of
that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks
in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always
brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a
temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the "revolution" have
passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive
green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are
disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very "socialist
model "is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite
poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering
the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the
sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of
several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not
important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide
the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of "the stateless
ones who sold out to the empire" in Venezuela, to try to ignite some
spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and
to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in
Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in
a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes
it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It's true that times have
changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information
spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the
consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer
seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic
marches for "the boy Elian," to cite the most conspicuous example, but
neither should we underestimate the regime's histrionic capacity and
social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle
displayed during Fidel Castro's funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been
applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the
possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship.
That's how warped they are. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the
narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the
Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to
keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is
experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows
what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one
thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela
is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás
Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban
regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island's
destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Tell Us, General, What's Plan B? – Translating Cuba -

Should U.S. Companies Hit ‘Pause’ on Doing Business in Cuba?

Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba?
Apr 20, 2017

President Trump's government has yet to reveal its hand on the issue of
reconciliation with Cuba. There had been a lot of progress towards
greater ties following President's Obama's overtures in December 2014:
Some cooperation agreements were signed – particularly in aviation and
communications — and Google and Airbnb now have a presence on the island
nation. But only about two dozen U.S. companies have taken early steps,
and there has been limited progress on other fronts, such as the
reconciliation of Cuban-Americans with the Cuban people.

And while President Trump had supported more economic ties with Cuba in
the past, just before the presidential election he reversed course. That
makes it unclear what business should expect going forward.

The overarching issue is the ongoing U.S. economic embargo, noted
Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat at the recent 2017 Wharton Latin
American Conference. Arnavat, now a senior adviser at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, had a front-row seat on U.S.-Cuba
policy as an advisor to President Obama's team on the issue. He also
represented the U.S. in 2009 at the Inter-American Development Bank
(IDB), the largest provider of development finance in Latin America.

"It would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba,
even in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done
previously," he said. Adding further to the uncertainty, Cuban President
Raul Castro is scheduled to leave office in February 2018, with no clear
successor in the wings.

Arnavat took stock of the emerging state of U.S.-Cuban ties in a
discussion with Knowledge@Wharton at the recent Wharton Latin American
conference. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton: It was a historic time in the Winter of 2014 when the
U.S. government decided that a policy that had been in place for 50
years was no longer working, and that it was time to rethink how the
U.S. and Cuba were engaging with one another, and try to normalize
relationships at whatever level was possible. Could you describe why and
how you got involved in U.S.-Cuba relations before President Obama's
policy shift on December 12, 2014?

Gustavo Arnavat: The greatest variable contributing to my interest in
Cuba has to do with the fact that I was born in Cuba. I grew up in a
very conservative, Republican household in Hialeah, Florida, and there
wasn't a day that went by that a family member, or friend or visitor
didn't criticize some element of the Cuban revolution or talked about
Cuba. So, it was impossible for me not to be interested in Cuba and
U.S.-Cuba relations as I grew up. Later, I came to understand that the
world was not black and white, and that realization and complexity made
me even more interested in the topic.

After law school, I was a lawyer focusing on sovereign finance and
corporate finance, and eventually went over to investment banking on
Wall Street. I worked on many deals, but Cuba was never part of that,
for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, there was always a part of me that
wanted to be involved, somehow. Eventually, I became involved in several
projects examining U.S policy toward Cuba, but all of that came to an
end when I joined the Obama Administration because I was at the IDB, and
Cuba wasn't a member of the IDB, and I otherwise wasn't involved in
setting Cuba policy while I worked in the Obama Administration.

Knowledge@Wharton: The major policy shift occurred in December 2014.
What do you think motivated President Obama to make such a major change?

Arnavat: The primary reason is that this was something that I think
President Obama wanted to do for a long time. When he was a senator in
Illinois, he spoke about the futility of the embargo. At the annual
luncheon of the Cuban-American National Foundation in Florida in May
2008, he said that if Cuba began to open up, starting with releasing all
political prisoners, he would begin a dialogue that could lead to
normalized relations. This was startling and unprecedented for a
presidential candidate of either political party. Anyone from Miami
knows that advocating "normalized" relations and a "dialogue" with the
Cuban government just 15 or 20 years ago was a very dangerous thing to do.

He also faced pressure from other Latin American countries, particularly
in the context of the Summit of the Americas. A number of the countries'
presidents told President Obama during the Summit in Cartagena, Colombia
in 2012, that for the next summit (in Panama City in 2015, if Cuba is
not invited, they were not going to participate. That also weighed on
the White House

Related to this, there was a growing consensus in the region – and U.S.
foreign policy –that the primary issues affecting Latin America were not
the same ones from 20, 30 or 40 years ago, which chiefly included
unstable and undemocratic governments, drug trafficking, corruption,
etc. Instead, the focus has been on trade and economic development
through integration. If you are the U.S., it's difficult to make a case
for global economic integration and certainly regional economic
integration, when Cuba is prevented from being fully integrated from an
economic perspective. Finally, President Obama felt that since the
elections of 2014 were over, he had nothing to lose from a political
perspective, and the timing was right to do what he wanted to do all along.

But very little could be done while Alan Gross remained in Cuban
custody, and the Cubans knew this to be the case. [Editor's note: Alan
Gross, a U.S. government contractor employed by the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID), was arrested in Cuba in 2009.]

Knowledge@Wharton: What was your reaction to the policy shift and what
steps did you take?

Arnavat: I was shocked. After I left the IDB, I became aware of a
growing number of Cuban Americans, particularly in Miami, who were
successful lawyers, businesspeople and bankers, who wanted to promote
engagement between the U.S. and Cuba in order to help the Cuban people
more directly. We thought, what can we do? How can we try to convince
the White House to go in a different direction? But we were extremely
pessimistic because we had witnessed very little interest on the part of
the White House, especially because of the situation with Gross.

With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon, we thought U.S.-Cuba
policy would once again be the victim of domestic political
considerations. That was despite the fact that Hillary Clinton in her
book (titled Hard Choices, published in 2014), criticized the embargo in
a very open way, and in a way that was unexpected. Some of us in
retrospect thought that was her signal to the White House to encourage
it to pursue engagement.

When the announcement was made, the thinking was, we were finally going
to be able to sit down with the Cubans, and talk to them about all the
issues that two normal countries should want to engage in, on areas of
mutual interest. Little did I know that in fact, they had been
negotiating for about 18 months, but this was an opportunity to test the
waters and see to what extent it made sense to engage diplomatically and
commercially in ways that would benefit both countries.

So a number of us provided the White House with our insights, though few
of us had very high expectations over the short-term effects of an
opening toward Cuba, especially with respect to political matters.

Knowledge@Wharton: How would you assess the progress since the winter of
2014? Has there been real progress, or as somebody once said, is it a
triumph of hope over experience?

Arnavat: I break it down into three buckets. Let's call the first bucket
official U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations. The second bucket is commercial
relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The third is Cuban-American
reconciliation issues.

On the official bilateral bucket, a lot has been accomplished. After
more than 50 years of acrimony between the two countries, diplomatic
relations were reestablished. Embassies were reopened. As part of that
process, Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,
based on an analysis conducted by the State Department with input from
our intelligence community. Regular mail service was established between
the two countries.

Migration talks were regularized, and they've become much more
substantive and more meaningful. Agreements were entered into with
respect to cooperation in law enforcement, environmental disasters and
other areas. I believe close to two dozen such agreements were reached.
A lot was accomplished given the relationship the two countries had.
However, I know that Obama Administration officials were frustrated that
more wasn't accomplished on the human rights front, although the belief
is that civil society in general has benefited because of the new policy

On the other hand, the biggest issue is the embargo, which is still in
place. Another issue relates to property claims that U.S. citizens have
against Cuba for property that was expropriated in the first few years
of the revolution. Those have still not been resolved, and they're far
from being resolved. Keep in mind, this was the primary reason why the
U.S. broke off diplomatic relations in the first place. So in that
sense, very little progress has been made.

As far as the commercial relationship is concerned, the assessment
depends on whom you talk to; the Cubans believe that a lot of progress
was made given that the embargo remains in place. On the bilateral
front, commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba were reestablished.
U.S. Airlines, as part of a process led by the Department of
Transportation, competed for those routes, and six or seven airlines won
those routes.

A number of mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon have entered into
roaming agreements with the Cuban government. You may not think that's a
big deal, except that before, there were no such roaming agreements and
it made mobile phone communications very difficult. Airbnb is there,
which is very helpful for travelers who don't want to pay for relatively
expensive hotels in Havana. Google has a presence now, and U.S. cruise
ships are sailing into Havana and bringing Americans.

However, a lot more could have been done. One of the missed
opportunities is in fact that not as many deals were done. That's bad
for a number of different reasons. One, U.S. companies have missed out.
The Cuban people and the Cuban government have missed out on great U.S.
products and services. While the Trump administration is reviewing the
policy, instead of having a hundred companies advocating, you only have
25 or 30 or so going to their congressional representatives and saying,
look, we have this business now in Cuba.

When you ask the Cuban government, they will grant that a lot of
proposals were presented to the Cuban government. The pushback came for
a variety of reasons. In some cases, the companies were too small or
were startups. They want to be able to deal with the major players. The
problem with deals that were proposed by major global corporations was
that those proposals didn't necessarily fall into one of the priority
areas in Cuba's plan for economic development.

Then, even with the right kind of company, in a priority area, they
would site the embargo. They would say that even if we wanted to do
this, we couldn't, because there's no way that U.S. companies could pay
for a service or the other way around. They are right to an extent,
because of the continuing restrictions on financial transactions, but
more important, the way those restrictions and regulations have been
interpreted by legal counsel and compliance officers at major financial
institutions around the world, especially in the U.S. They're very well
aware that if you run afoul of those regulations, you get hit with a
multi-billion-dollar fine, as has happened, even recently.

At the same time, investment conditions in Cuba are very challenging for
U.S. companies that are not accustomed to working with foreign
governments in transactions normally involving private sector companies
as counterparts. But the reality is that doing business in Cuba
necessarily means doing business with the government, and not all U.S.
companies are prepared to do that at this point.

So those are in the first two buckets. In the third bucket, on
reconciliation, Cuban-Americans are going to play some role, just as
they have played an important role in shaping U.S.-Cuba policy in the
past. I know that many Cuban government officials are not comfortable
with that involvement, but the sooner we can start to engage from that
perspective and have reconciliation, the better it is both for Cubans in
the U.S. as well as Cubans on the island. Very little has been done, or
has occurred, on that front because of the lack of mutual trust.

Knowledge@Wharton: You've just returned from Cuba. Looking at things
right now, what are the biggest opportunities in Cuba, and what are the
biggest challenges or the biggest risks?

Arnavat: Imagine you discovered a country that you didn't know existed.
You realize that less than 100 miles away from the U.S. is a country
that, if it were a U.S. state, would be the eighth-largest in
population, right after Ohio, for example. It has 11 million people who
are very well educated, despite all of the challenges in Cuba, and lack
of resources. It has software engineers, for example, who graduate from
some of the best technology universities in Cuba, but they're
underemployed. A lot of people code quite a bit in Cuba. So from a human
capital perspective, it's a country that is enormously resourceful, and
this presents a huge opportunity for U.S. companies that will invest
when they are able to do so.

From a natural resource perspective, it's a very large Caribbean
island, so it will be an important destination for tourism, or for
second homes for Americans, whenever that becomes a possibility. It's
got a health care system that is, again, very poorly resourced, but
there is a high level of training on the part of medical staff there,
and access to knowledge and technology. Some presidents in Latin America
from the ALBA countries (the 11-member Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of Our America), when they get seriously sick, they go to
Havana. Medical tourism would be of great interest as an area to invest
in if that were possible.

It is also a country that has tremendous needs from an infrastructure
perspective. The roads are quite better than a lot of places I've been
in the Caribbean, and certainly Central America. But it's a country that
needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The question, of course, is
going to be how do you pay for it? That brings us to the challenges.
There is no access to capital. It has a legal system that was set up to
support a socialist economic model, which is anachronistic and foreign
to U.S. investors. They're beginning to figure that out, and are
struggling with how to emerge and how to evolve from that. But even
those who recognize the need for change don't want that change to be
forced on them from abroad. This is an essential point to keep in mind.

Cubans are increasingly getting comfortable referring to non-state
employees or entrepreneurs as the private sector, although officially
it's called the non-state sector. I am certain that when things do open
up, and the right incentives are in place, the human capital there is
going to be such that Cuba is going to be well-placed as a market for
Americans to investment.

I'm not sure how independent the judiciary is to resolve disputes
between, let's say a foreign company, a foreign investor and an entity
where the Cuban government may have an interest. So that's obviously a
risk for any U.S. company to consider. It's a risk in any country, but
especially in a country where the government plays such an important
role in the running of the society. There is also the political risk
associated with the fact that [President Raul] Castro is supposed to
leave office on February 24 of next year, and it's always unclear as to
who's going to take over and in what direction the country will go.

If you have to put a bet, Cuba is likely to continue on a socialist
trajectory for an indefinite period of time. You also have the immediate
risk of the Trump administration in trying to decide what to do. So it
would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba, even
in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done previously.

Knowledge@Wharton: How do you think U.S. policy towards Cuba will evolve
under President Trump? You were very complimentary about President
Obama, very optimistic about reading Hillary Clinton's book and what she
said about Cuba. What's your assessment of what President Trump will do,
and what that will mean for Cuban-American relations?

Arnavat: I honestly have no idea. And I don't think anyone has any idea.
People in Cuba have no idea. It could go in lots of directions. It seems
that President Trump is not going to come out any time soon and say
we're going to continue to engage without the Cubans making any
quote-unquote "concessions."

Trump has said very little about Cuba in his career. He appeared to
entertain launching a potential campaign in the 1990s, I believe it was
in Miami he talked about how he was such a strong supporter of the
embargo and he would never do business in Cuba while the Castro brothers
were in place, etc.

Two years later, as it turns out, he sent a consultant to Cuba — a paid
consultant, to figure out how to do business in Cuba. Beginning about
six years ago up until sometime last year, people in the Trump
organization had visited Cuba, exploring opportunities in golf and
hotels, hospitality, that sort of thing. So we know that from a
commercial perspective, he definitely has been interested in doing so.
And, it makes sense, given his investments in China and other countries
that don't adhere to U.S. standards of human rights and democracy.

When President [Obama] announced the policy shift, on a few occasions,
[Trump] said that he supported the engagement. One time, I think he was
in a debate in Miami, a primary, and he said something along the lines
of, "Come on, folks, it's been over 50 years. We've got to move on.
We've got to try something else." But then about six weeks before the
election, he began to tailor his message much more to the conservatives
and the hardliners in the community. He said, "Unless the Cubans take
steps to," and I think he said, "to provide for more political freedoms
and religious freedoms, then I'm going to reverse everything." Mike
Pence said that as well shortly before and maybe after the election.

But having said that, [Trump's policies regarding Cuba are] just not
clear. There are a number of individuals who worked on [Trump's]
transition team, who are involved in the administration, who have been
very focused the last 15-20 years on enforcing the embargo, on
tightening the embargo, on making life as hard and difficult for the
Cuban government. Those people are certainly weighing in very heavily on
the policy. A policy review is ongoing, but it is unclear when they'll
be done with that and what the outcome will be. I imagine an important
consideration will be the change in government that I mentioned previously.

Knowledge@Wharton: When you met people in Havana, what did you hear from
them about how they expect relations with the U.S. to shape up?

Arnavat: Shortly after the announcement of the policy shift, something
like 97% of the Cuban people expressed they were in favor of the
engagement, and of reestablishing diplomatic relations, etc. This makes
sense, because the more Americans that travel to Cuba and invest in
Cuba, the greater the economic benefits to the Cuban people in general.

Everyone is concerned that in fact, the policy will reverse, that there
will be fewer people visiting, fewer people making investments, as a
result of a decrease in remittances that are used as seed capital to
start new businesses on the island. Even if you stay at a state-owned
hotel, you hire private taxis, and you eat in private restaurants that
are allowed under Cuban law. So a lot of people who are private
individuals are in fact benefitting because of the increase in travel
between the U.S. and Cuba. And they're very concerned about that not

Source: Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba? -
Knowledge@Wharton -

Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution'

Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution'
By Will Grant
Cuba correspondent, BBC News
23 April 2017

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Slick new graphics, drum and bass theme music and young presenters: at
least in its presentation, Cuba's latest state television channel is a
break with the past.
Called Canal Caribe, it is an attempt to stand out from the stiffly
presented, heavily scripted newscasts that have aired on state TV for
The channel is trying out different formats. They include live link-ups
with international correspondents via Skype and the use of social media
sites like Twitter - simple devices that are common on most other news
channels but new for Cuban TV.
The channel's news director, Ovidio Cabrera, showed me around the station.
As one of the founders of another left-wing Latin American news service,
the Venezuelan-funded Telesur, he says this new venture will be unique
in Cuba because it will run outside the fixed midday and early-evening
"The key difference is that this will be a news and information channel
that's on air for 18 hours a day," says Mr Cabrera.
"And the vast majority of our coverage, around two-thirds, will be live."

'More revolution'
A live, round-the-clock television news channel might not sound
particularly innovative, but in Cuba such changes happen slowly.
The state-run newspaper and mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party,
Granma, has barely changed its typeface in 50 years of revolution.
The question is whether editorially Canal Caribe will be any different
from other channels on the Communist-run island and if criticism will be
"This is a channel for more revolution," says Mr Cabrera, immediately
squashing any suggestion that Canal Caribe will be anything less than
100% pro-government.
"We won't shy away from criticising what isn't working, from making
suggestions, from analysing and discussing social problems, but always
through the prism of supporting the revolutionary process, not against
it," he explains.
The young journalists at Canal Caribe insist that, despite the
restrictions on them, they will report issues that matter to ordinary
"As an intern [working in state media] here, I was told a lot of rules I
found to be nonsense," says news anchor Luis Miguel Cabrera in fluent
"And I'm really proud that I've experienced how those rules have been -
I can't say 'changed' exactly - but certainly made more flexible."
Not yet in his thirties, Mr Cabrera presents The World Now programme and
believes that Canal Caribe is evidence of changing media attitudes in Cuba.
"I have personally experienced that I could report the sort of issues
that one couldn't do in the past. So I think that we have that
responsibility to push hard in order to change things that we don't find
representative of what is going on, not only in Cuba but in the world as
That said, he is a realist and knows the editorial environment in which
he works.
"You have to keep in mind that this is a state-owned channel. But I
believe that we can responsibly show on TV what is going in Cuba and
what is representative of the Cuban people," he says.
Change under way
The way Cubans are consuming their news is undoubtedly changing.
"I haven't watched state TV in years", a young music video producer
tells me.
"I get all my information from the Weekly Package" he adds, referring to
an offline form of file-sharing in Cuba using hard-drives which is both
cheap and hugely popular.
There are also now about 100 public wi-fi spots dotted across the island
and most young people would rather pay for an hour of Internet access
than tune into the nightly news.
Canal Caribe may be the Cuban Government's attempt to tackle that, but
they will find it hard to engage the island's youth.
A pilot scheme has just ended to allow Internet connections in private
homes and theoretically should soon become more widely available.

Essential message
One Cuban blogger, Ariel Montenegro, thinks the days of the Internet
being perceived as dangerous by the authorities may now be numbered.
"I don't believe that the Cuban Government believes right now that the
Internet is bad and is going to be bad for the country and for the
revolution and for socialism and so on," he says, sitting in a public
wi-fi spot.
Although getting online is still slow and expensive, he says, he is
broadly optimistic about the future of the island's connectivity.
Part of the Canal Caribe newsroom is a building site as they construct a
completely new set while inside the on-air studio, the young team of
journalists is preparing to broadcast live again.

In a rapidly changing media environment, the Cuban government is acutely
aware that the slogans of the past no longer appeal to many young people.
With a round-the-clock news channel, they are hoping to become more
relevant to their audience again while still delivering the same
essential message.

Source: Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution' - BBC
News -

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water

Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze
when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his
wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar
Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated
neighborhood of La Victoria, in the heart of Havana.

A couple of cylindrical metallic tanks that can carry 55 gallons of
water each are attached to the truck. At seven o'clock in the morning,
when the city listens as a symphonized tune, a trail of alarm clocks,
and Havanans get ready to go to work or school, Antonio unloads dozens
of buckets to several customers in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo.

"Two years ago, for filling a 55-gallon tank, I charged 50 Cuban pesos
(equivalent to two dollars) but now, because of the drought which is
causing some scarcity, the price has risen to 60 pesos for each tank,"
Antonio explains, while lunching on a serving of congrí rice, pork steak
and cole slaw and cucumber in a private restaurant.

After five o'clock in the afternoon he goes back to the capital's
neighborhood to sell the water. In one day he can earn 500 pesos, about
20 dollars. "In addition to earning money, I keep in shape," he says,
and shows his trained biceps after almost twenty years carrying buckets
of water.

In Havana there are more than 170,000 units that do not receive drinking
water in their homes. Some of them due to breaks in the pipes and others
because with aluminum sheets and pieces of cardboard and veneers they
have raised frightening shacks without bathrooms and lacking the most
basic conditions for human life.

According to an official of the state-run Aguas de La Habana, "these
people are supposed to receive water in (state) tanker trucks. But
because of the lack of gasoline, the drought that affects the country or
simply corruption, the 'pipers' sell water to those who can pay, and
thousands of families do not receive water in a timely manner."

In Cuba, plagued with a dysfunctional government and low productivity
that generates scarcity, anything can become a business. Why not water.

From aguateros, like Antonio, who travel through the cracked streets of
the old part of Havana selling water, to the tanker trucks of the state
companies that also profit from the precious liquid.

"A full tank at this time costs between 25 and 30 pesos Cuban
convertible pesos (about 25-30 dollars US). And demand outstrips
supply. The buyers are business owners who have restaurants or rent out
lodging, those who have swimming pools in their homes and in buildings
where there is water shortage and people have a source of hard
currency," says the driver of a tanker truck.

The problem of the water supply in the capital is longstanding. For lack
of a coherent hydraulic policy, the regime has been overwhelmed by
something that is as essential as water.

With a population that exceeds two and a half million inhabitants,
Havana continues to have as its main source of supply the old Albear
aqueduct, a masterpiece of industrial engineering that began to be built
in 1858 and was inaugurated in 1893, for a city of 600,000 people.

When Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, and after the October 1963
passage of Hurricane Flora, which left more than a thousand dead in the
eastern part of the island, hundreds of dams and reservoirs of water
were built that multiplied the country's water storage capacity by a
factor of five.

In 1987 the construction of the El Gato aqueduct began in the
southeastern part of Havana. But because of lack of maintenance of the
aqueduct and sewer networks, more than half of the water that was
distributed was lost by leaks and ruptures of the pipes.

In the midst of the current drought, which plagues 81% of the country
and is considered the worst that Cuba has suffered in the last hundred
years, authorities that manage water resources have tightened measures
to prevent water being wasted.

Manuel Manso, Aguas de La Habana's ombudsman, explained that an
inspector squad of 108 workers is trying to interact more directly with
consumers, whether business or residential. One of the provisions is the
application of fines, with 870 already having been imposed on private
companies, in amounts of up to one thousand Cuban pesos (about 42 dollars).

Although the regime has invested nearly 9 million dollars in the
rehabilitation of 550 miles of water networks in the capital, the effort
appears to be inadequate.

"The company repairs a section, but then the water pressure damages
another section that has not yet been repaired. Also, the quality of the
repairs is not always good. And the technological obsolescence and
timespans between maintenance complicate things. It's like 'plowing the
sea,' (a complete waste of effort)," says an engineer.

A health and epidemiology specialist is worried that "the water deficit
in the residential sector could have an impact on the emergence of new
outbreaks of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, carriers of dengue fever,
chikungunya and other deadly diseases. Plus there is the proliferation
of rats and cockroaches. Water scarcity, poor cleanliness in streets and
public spaces, and the irresponsibility of citizens who dump garbage on
any street corner have made Havana one of the dirtiest cities in Latin

If the drought persists, along with poor hygiene in the city and
problems with water supply, which cause families to store water in
inappropriate containers without adequate protection, the arrival of
summer could bring the breeding ground for a huge epidemic of
mosquito-borne diseases.

"Every year we run the same danger, for not carrying out the necessary
preventative work and the lack of hygiene in the city," said one
official. And walking on the edge of a cliff always carries risks.

The worst has not yet come. But the conditions are given.

Note: Although this article is limited to Havana, the water shortage due
to drought has long been affecting all provinces.

Source: Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport
ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana's
pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the
municipality where they can operate.

The sticker carries the driver's license number and the name of the
municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained
to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will
ensure that "if you do not live in this municipality you can't put the
sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here."

The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a
poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell
into a crack in the building.

Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector's uniform, Tamara barely looks up
from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if
you don't have a license, don't come. "In addition, they have to bring
the acrylic."

The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated,
has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other
bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a
pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban
convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but
unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose
name comes from the "almond-shape" of the classic American cars used in
that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers
"to the door of their house." Most of them are young people without a
defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the
equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect

A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their
customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the
identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who
identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling
threatened by the new measure.

"I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro
district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don't have an address in
the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to
survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on
the front of the bike," he explains resolutely.

A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite
being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical
effort. "We are accustomed to occasionally 'inventing' something of this
type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I
have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there
for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to
take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I'll charge him what the
trip is worth and take him."

While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making
gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, "They are the
ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don't have to be an
engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It's fine to have
control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something
lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about
where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There's no one
who understands it," protests the pedicab driver.

Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike
and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. "I'm going
home. I don't feel like working."

*Translator's note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle
in their city "Palestinians" – a reference to the fact that without a
resident permit, they are "illegals" in the city.

Source: Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live – Translating Cuba

Elderly man in Cuba treats arthritis pain with scorpion venom – swears by it

Elderly man in Cuba treats arthritis pain with scorpion venom – swears by it
Published April 21, 2017 EFE

PINAR DEL RIO, CUBA – At age 71, Cuban peasant Pepe Casañas fends off
the typical aches and pains of his age in a unique, and effective, way.
His secret: letting himself be stung every now and then by a scorpion,
the venom of which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Although anyone who has been stung by a scorpion says that it hurts a
good deal, for Pepe it's "just a minor sting," which he endures at least
once a month using one of the three or four scorpions that he keeps
close at hand in his house.

"The sting doesn't hurt me a bit. And if they're using it as a treatment
for cancer in Cuba, it has to be good," said Pepe, who sometimes keeps a
scorpion in his hat in case he starts to feel a pain he needs to treat.

"About eight years ago, I started with this scorpion stuff. My bones
were beginning to hurt me, arthritis, and it helped me to feel
comfortable," Pepe told EFE at his home in the town of Los Palacios in
Cuba's far western province of Pinar del Rio.

"I couldn't brush my teeth, or comb my hair. I got a scorpion, squeezed
it, and it stung me twice, and look: My arm's doing fine."

Pepe, who comes from a family of beekeepers, began using insect bites –
starting with bee stings – as a remedy against pain. He even says his
brother cured himself of a disability thanks to bee stings.

Although Pepe's strategy might seem strange as a way to combat the aches
and pains that come along at his age, it is a fact that scorpion venom
is used in Cuba as the main ingredient in Vidatox, a homeopathic
medication that is prescribed mainly to alleviate pain and other
symptoms associated with cancer.

In 2006, Cuba started clinical trials to test the efficacy of scorpion
venom in cancer treatment and researchers quickly noted that patients'
quality of life was substantially improved.

In 2011, the Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam began manufacturing Vidatox.

"A very important use of Vidatox, which we want to promote, is that of
an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, for use against cancer, given that
any osteoarthritic process such as rheumatism can be treated with this
medication," Dr. Fabio Linares, who heads the Vidatox project, told EFE.

According to Linares, "it makes sense" that Pepe feels better after a
scorpion sting, since in addition to its analgesic effect, the venom
stimulates the body's natural curative mechanisms and immune system.

In a laboratory in the city of Cienfuegos, where the Vidatox project is
under way, Linares' team is raising some 7,000 "blue scorpions"
(Rhopalurus junceus, a species endemic to Cuba) and is taking 10 or 12
venom extractions from each of them every year before releasing them
back into the environment.

Some 17,000 bottles of Vidatox are produced and sold over the counter
every year in Cuba and in 15 other countries around the world.

In Cuba alone, an estimated 65,000 people have used the remedy to
alleviate cancer pain.

Source: Elderly man in Cuba treats arthritis pain with scorpion venom –
swears by it | Fox News -