Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cuba's quiet revolution

Cuba's quiet revolution

At a privately run farm west of Havana, Cuban farmer Jesus Rodriguez is
looking for some changes.

Private farmers like Rodriguez would commonly wait for their supplies to
be allocated by the state, often leaving their farms short of much
needed materials that would routinely compel them to look elsewhere.

"Sometimes in order to get seeds we need it would take up to two
months," he said standing amid a thatch of corn he planted a few months
earlier. "The seeds just wouldn't get here in time."

The country's fledgling agricultural sector and massive distribution
machine have been a source of concern for many of the country's private
farms and cooperatives.

"We've used substitutions for the necessary supplies that we seldom
receive from the government because of the economic situation," he
explained while taking shade beneath the crop's thick, green stalks.

In May the Economy Minister, Marino Murillo, heeded farmers' calls for
more autonomy and announced that private farms will be permitted to
purchase goods directly from suppliers.

"It looks like [Cuba] is going to try to take apart this big bureaucracy
that's in charge of distribution and purchasing of food from the
farmers," said Phil Peters, Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in
Washington D.C.

"[That would] allow farmers to have a more direct connection with
consumers of all kinds."

A similar initiative in 2008 permitted some farmers to purchase supplies.

But the cash-strapped island nation faces mounting debt and routine
shortages, leaving the questions of where to buy supplies, how to
acquire credit, and how to improve transport to market largely unanswered.

Still, analysts praised Cuba's economic potential.

"That potential can be realized if their government gets out of the
way," Peters said. "And they don't have to abandon the socialist model.
They can adapt it and use more market mechanisms in a lot of ways."

The country's association of roughly 350,000 private farmers has been
central to recent reforms and often the focus of President Raul Castro's
attempts to address chronic food shortages on the island.

Cuba's private farmers and cooperatives use only about 40 percent of the
nation's farmland, but produce roughly 70 percent of the food grown on
the island.

"I think the reason [for the high productivity among private farmers] is
the sense of property that the person has," one farmer explained who
declined to provide his name.

"Because where you work you have the feeling that it belongs to you and
you fight and defend it because it's your own."

Raul Castro assumed power from his ailing brother and former president
Fidel Castro in 2006, at first temporarily then permanently in 2008, and
has long considered food security integral to national security.

Murillo's recent announcement also comes on the heels of a series of
small liberalization measures aimed at improving production, while
attempting to maintain the communist nation's egalitarian doctrine.

Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero in May announced plans to open up real
estate on tourism-related projects, laying out plans for new hotels
across the country.

And Cuba instituted a pilot program in April that turned over hundreds
of state-run barbershops and beauty salons to employees.

"I think both Fidel Castro and Raul Castro have both recognized problems
in the economy," explained analyst Peters. "But Fidel Castro's
prescription was always for people to work harder and for the government
to enforce the law."

President Raul Castro "is looking at incentives," he said. "He's looking
to fix the model."

Whether this latest move is a part of broader market reforms or a narrow
effort to make farms more productive is not clear. But for now Cuba
still imports a majority of its food.

Cuba: Yes That IS Your Great Grampa's Chevrolet

Yoani Sanchez
Award-Winning Cuban Blogger
Posted: July 31, 2010 01:06 PM

Cuba: Yes That IS Your Great Grampa's Chevrolet

There is a detail of our reality that fascinates tourists and surprises
collectors around the world: the number of old cars still running on the
streets of the country. Right now, on some Havana street, a 1952
Chevrolet purrs along, and a Cadillac, older than the Minister of
Transportation himself, is in use as a shared taxi. They pass by us,
rusting out or newly painted, on the point of collapse or winning a
contest for their excellent state of repair. These rolling miracles make
up a part of our country, just like the long lines, the crowded buses,
and the political billboards.

At first, visitors show surprise and pleasure on seeing the theme park
created by these vehicles. They take pictures and pay up to three times
as much to sit in their roomy interiors. After asking the driver, the
astonished foreigners discover that the body of that Ford from the early
20th century hides an engine that's just a decade old, and tires adapted
from a Russian Lada. As they earn the trust of the owner, he tells them
that the brake system was a gift from a European friend, and that the
headlights are originally from an ambulance.

Summer people marvel at the taste of Cubans in conserving such relics
from the past, but few know that this is more by necessity than choice.
You can't go to a dealership and buy a new car, even if you have the
money to pay for it, so we are forced to maintain the old. Without these
artifacts of the last century, our city would be less picturesque and
more immobile every day.

Cuba readies to dive into offshore oil exploration

Cuba readies to dive into offshore oil exploration
Sat Jul 31, 2010 5:24pm GMT

* Offshore drilling rig expected in Cuba in early 2011
* Oil companies preparing for full-scale exploration
* U.S. companies forbidden by U.S. trade embargo

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA, July 30 (Reuters) - A Chinese-built drilling rig is expected to
arrive in Cuban waters in early 2011, likely opening the way for
full-scale exploration of the island's untapped offshore fields.

Companies with contracts to search for oil and gas in Cuba's portion of
the Gulf of Mexico have already begun preparations to drill once the
Scarabeo 9 rig gets to the communist-led island.

An official with Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni SpA ENI.M
told Reuters on Friday the massive semi-submersible rig should be
completed at the Yantai Raffles YRSL.NFF shipyard in Yantai, China by
the end of this year.

The journey to Cuba will take two months, and once it arrives it will be
put into operation almost immediately, said the official, who asked not
to be identified.

It will be used first as an exploratory well for a consortium led by
Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF (REP.MC: Quote) (REP.N: Quote), which
drilled the only offshore well in Cuba in 2004 and said at the time it
had found hydrocarbons.

Cuba has said it may have 20 billion barrels of oil in its offshore, but
the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 4.6 billion
barrels and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Repsol has been mostly silent on the long delay in drilling more wells,
but it is widely assumed in the oil industry it was due to the
longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The embargo limits the amount of U.S. technology that can be used, which
complicates finding equipment because U.S. companies have long dominated
the offshore oil business.

Construction of the Scarabeo 9 was begun by Norwegian firm Frigstad
Discoverer Invest Limited in 2006, but the company was purchased by
Saipem in 2007. The rig was due to be completed by September 2009, but
has been delayed because of modifications requested by Saipem, the
Saipem official said.


The official said it was also slowed because the shipyard "had taken on
too much work" with other projects.

Repsol is said to be planning at least one exploration well and possibly
another. The rig will then be passed to other companies with contracts
to drill in Cuban waters.

Cuba's portion of the Gulf of Mexico has been divided into 59 blocks, of
which 17 have been contracted to companies including Repsol, Malaysia's
Petronas PETR.UL, Brazil's Petrobras (PETR4.SA) (PBR.N), Venezuela's
PDVSA and PetroVietnam.

Repsol is partnering with Norway's Statoil STL.OL) (STO.N and ONGC
Videsh Limited, a unit of India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.BO: Quote).

Diplomats in Havana have said Malaysia's Petronas will get the rig next,
after Repsol completes its drilling.

Petronas, which has four exploration blocks, has conducted seismic work
and built offices for a battery of employees who will come to Cuba for
the project, sources said.

It also is talking to a possible partner in Gazprom Neft (SIBN.MM:
Quote), the oil arm of Russian energy company Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote),
whose chief told shareholders last month the company wants to join
Petronas in the Cuba project.

ONGC Videsh, which has two blocks of its own, separate from its
consortium with Repsol and Statoil, has already solicited bids for
equipment including sub-sea wellheads and casing pipes for its planned

Russian oil firm Zarubezhneft has two nearshore blocks it said it plans
to drill next year, but also has an agreement with Petrovietnam to
participate in exploration of its three offshore blocks.

Zarubezhneft opened an office in Havana in June, according to Russian
state news agency Ria Novosti.

A number of international oil service companies have solicited
information about Cuban regulations on issues ranging from safety
equipment to finance and taxes, diplomats said.


Cuba's state-owned oil company Cupet has been silent about the offshore
activity and rejected requests for interviews. A government official
said the requests were denied because Cupet did not want to speak during
the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

The spill has never reached Cuba, but it has heightened safety concerns
both in the government and among oil companies with offshore blocks,
sources said.

The prospect of drilling in Cuban waters has also raised pollution fears
in Florida, which is just 50 miles (80 km) away from the island's
maritime boundary.

The Saipem official said the Scarabeo 9, which is capable of operating
in water depths up to 3,600 meters (11,811 feet), is built to Norwegian
standards, meaning it has extra equipment to shut off blown-out wells
not required in the United States.

Due to the U.S. trade embargo, U.S. oil companies are not allowed to
operate in Cuba.

Later this month a group from the Houston-based International
Association of Drilling Contractors is scheduled to visit Cuba. The
group has said it wants to discuss offshore safety issues with Cuban
officials and get an overview of deepwater prospects.

Despite five decades of hostile relations, Cuba has said it would
welcome the involvement of U.S. companies in developing its offshore fields.

Oil expert Jorge Pinon at Florida International University in Miami said
U.S. oil service companies would like to enter the Cuban market because
it is a new market close to home.

"For the U.S. offshore oil industry, Cuba is basically an extension of
the Gulf of Mexico. It's not like Angola -- they can provide service
from Houston or Freeport or Mobile." (Editing by Todd Eastham)

U.S. urges Cuba to free unwell detained contractor

U.S. urges Cuba to free unwell detained contractor
Posted Friday July 30, 2010 1 day ago
By Linda Hutchinson

PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) - The United States urged Cuba on Friday to free
a U.S. contractor held in Havana for nearly eight months on suspicion of
espionage and subversion, saying he was unwell and had still not been
formally charged.

The arrest of Alan Gross, 60, at Havana's airport in December has added
another bone of contention between the U.S. government and
communist-ruled Cuba, obstructing moves to thaw half a century of
confrontation and hostility.

Havana says Gross, who worked for a Washington-area company contracted
under a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy in Cuba, committed
"serious crimes" in aiding U.S. efforts to destabilize the Cuban government.

Cuban officials said Gross gave restricted satellite communications
equipment to local dissidents. U.S. officials say he was providing
Internet access to Jewish groups after entering Cuba on a tourist visa.

"We consider the arrest of Alan Gross ... to be an unacceptable act. He
was not violating any laws and has not been charged as far as I know,"
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo
Valenzuela, told a news conference in Trinidad and Tobago, where he was

"He is not well, he has lost 80 pounds (36 kg), it's been more than six
months (since his arrest) and we're encouraging the Cuban government to
release him," he said.

Gross has been held at Villa Marista state security headquarters in
Havana. Cuban officials say he has been assured defense counsel, has
received consular assistance from U.S. diplomats and has been able to
communicate with his family.

Cuban President Raul Castro's government has started releasing the first
of 52 Cuban political prisoners to be freed under a recent deal struck
with the Roman Catholic Church.

The United States, along with many other foreign governments, has
cautiously welcomed this move, but has demanded the release of all
political detainees.

President Barack Obama's administration has made clear that its modest
efforts so far to improve U.S.-Cuban ties will be put on hold as long as
Gross remains detained.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this month that Washington
was working "every single day through every channel" to obtain Gross'
release and safe return home.

Some analysts have speculated that Cuba may want to use the detained
U.S. contractor as a bargaining chip to try to secure release of five
convicted Cuban intelligence agents serving long U.S. sentences for

The U.S. government linked the five to Havana's 1996 shoot-down of
private planes piloted by Cuban exiles near Cuba.

Havana remains entrenched in Cold War, push for change must come from the outside

Havana remains entrenched in Cold War, push for change must come from
the outside
Story posted 2010.07.31 at 03:02 AM EDT

Yes, by all means, take your time. What's the hurry? After 50 years, why
should Cuba rush to make any reforms?

The economic situation in Cuba remains desperate. Popular sentiment for
reform is widespread. And the world has spent the past few months
condemning the regime's callous treatment of political prisoners.

In his July 26 speech, however, Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado
Ventura made clear neither he nor the Cuban leadership are in any hurry
to make any cambios . "We will proceed, step by step, at the rhythm we
determine, without improvisations or haste so as not to make mistakes,"
said Machado Ventura, 79, echoing what we've repeatedly heard from the
other septugenarians and octogenarians running Cuba.

One wonders whether the Cuban Revolution would have been victorious if
it had been fought with the same stale, risk-aversive and uninspired way
the revolutionaries govern today. It wouldn't have, but then again, the
Castro-led regime isn't interested in governing, just holding their grip
on power.

So don't look for any meaningful changes from Havana, other than
"freeing" political prisoners by jettisoning them to other countries.
Mind you, these are individuals that should never have been jailed in
the first place.

Faced with such intransigence, it's clear to anyone no longer living in
the mid-20th century that a break in the Cuba logjam must come from the
outside. Fortunately, some U.S. lawmakers in Congress are pushing to end
the counterproductive ban on travel to Cuba. Lifting the prohibition on
travel to the island would do much to promote democratic efforts in Cuba.

Why? For starters, it would put more dollars directly into the hands of
the Cuban population, making them less dependent on the state. And it
would allow a much broader spectrum of people to go to Cuba, and not
just those who are generally sympathetic to the regime — and apologetic
about its dismal human rights record.

Those who oppose lifting the travel ban say it will provide resources to
the Castro government, and effectively toss the regime a lifeboat. What
they don't understand is that the Titanic that is the Cuban economy sank
decades ago and no lifeboat can spare the regime the judgment of history.

BOTTOM LINE: Cuban regime promises more same-old — really old.

The hardest life: surviving Cuban jail

Posted on Friday, 07.30.10

The hardest life: surviving Cuban jail

During their seven years in Cuban prisons, former prisoners say they
were confined to tiny windowless cells, fed inedible food and abused

MADRID -- Boiled plantain-flavored water as soup. A greasy scoop of
bland, yellowing beef fat as a side dish. A stew dubbed ``the giraffe''
because ``you had to stretch your neck to find something in it.'' A
hairy heap of ground pig eyes, cheek, ears, and other unidentifiable
parts served as a main course.

The meal, nicknamed patipanza, is one of the typical dishes served in
Cuban prisons, according to political prisoners freed and expatriated to
the Spanish capital under an agreement negotiated by the Roman Catholic
Church and the Spanish government.

``They didn't even bother to take the hairs off the animal's skin and it
stank,'' says Mijail Bárzaga, 43, who spent seven years in four Cuban

In the Havana prison El Pitirre, where he spent two years, the food was
more edible than in the others, Bárzaga said, but the portions of rice,
watery picadillo and pea stew served to the prisoners kept getting
smaller and smaller.

``The guards would steal from our portions, they would steal from the
prison ministry to feed their families and to sell in the black
market,'' Bárzaga said. ``To steal from a man in prison who can't do
anything about getting himself nourishment is denigrating -- the lowest
point of humanity.''

Often there was dirt at the bottom of the boiled concoctions. Other
times, worms and bugs in the food.

``Kafka couldn't have written it worse,'' said Ricardo González Alfonso,
an independent journalist sentenced to 20 years after his arrest in the
Black Spring of 2003.

Two of the released prisoners in Spain -- José Luis García Paneque and
Normando Hernández -- suffer from life-threatening illnesses due to
malnutrition and confinement. So does Ariel Sigler Amaya, a healthy
athlete when he was imprisoned in 2003 and now in a wheelchair, his body
decimated. Flown from Havana to Miami this week for medical treatment,
Sigler is being treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

In Madrid, all of the ex-prisoners interviewed by The Miami Herald said
they suffer from some type of severe digestive disorder. One is under
psychiatric care because he suffered a severe post-traumatic stress
episode at the hostel where some of the Cubans are being temporarily
housed in an industrial suburb of Madrid.


According to human rights organizations -- among them Amnesty
International and the United Nations, which have monitored Cuban prisons
for decades -- conditions have been harsh and inhumane throughout the
51-year-old regime of the Castro brothers.

The Cuban government, however, denies allegations of widespread abuses
and in 2004 sponsored an unprecedented media tour through selected areas
of the Combinado del Este prison. Photos distributed by Getty Images
show well-fed and dressed inmates (white polos and royal blue sports
pants) wearing matching new sneakers, taking classes on computers,
partaking in outside activities and being housed in ventilated cells.

But the newly freed prisoners -- most of them independent journalists
who went to prison for gathering facts about life in Cuba and publishing
and broadcasting their stories abroad -- paint a far different picture.
Their detailed, first-hand accounts support the charges of abuse,
corruption and unsanitary facilities.

The ex-prisoners, accused of plotting against state security because
they reported on events in Cuba and sentenced from 15 to 27 years after
summary trials, were kept in maximum security facilities alongside
hardened criminals.

Rounded up on March 18 and 19, 2003, in a massive crackdown across the
island, the men went to prison under Law 88, known as la ley mordaza or
the muzzle law, which allows the government to jail anyone suspected of
engaging in an activity that authorities perceive to affect Cuba's

The men were shipped to prisons hundreds of miles away from their
hometowns and families in a country where most people don't have cars
and public transportation is overcrowded -- and nonexistent in rural towns.

Small prison cells became filthy with overflowing feces. Rats,
cockroaches and scorpions shared their jail cells, Julio César Gálvez said.

Just when the prisoners and their families adjusted to a prison, they
were transferred.

``I was constantly moved from prison to prison and my family couldn't
visit me,'' said José Luis García Paneque, a plastic surgeon who was a
burly, 190-pound man when he was sent to prison and now weighs 101 pounds.

Paneque takes a reporter's notebook and drew a sketch of one of his
prison cells -- a hole on the floor that served as toilet and shower, a
sink with a spigot turned on only a few minutes a day, a metal bed with
a thin foam mattress.

``The cells are all the same -- tiny, windowless,'' he said.

The solitary cells, used for punishment, were even worse.

Being among criminals posed a threat, but the political prisoners said
they earned their respect by explaining to them why they were in prison.

``We gave them a political education and they were helpful to us,''
Bárzaga said.

When he first arrived in a Villa Clara prison, he added, there were no
utensils available. The presos comunes -- those in prison for common,
rather, than political, crimes -- made him a spoon from a can and a cup
from a cut-up water bottle.

Some of the common prisoners helped the political ones smuggle out
letters and documents denouncing conditions.

The political prisoners also witnessed how common prisoners resorted to
drastic measures, making themselves ill -- setting fires to their
mattresses and wrapping themselves in them, cutting their eyeballs -- to
get a guard's attention to be sent to the infirmary.

``I saw a prisoner inject excrement in his veins. Nobody told me this, I
saw it with my own eyes,'' said Omar M. Ruiz Hernández. ``They sewed
their mouths with wire. They do all this to protest the conditions, to
get something they've been denied.''

Despite the unsanitary conditions and the bad food, the hardest part of
prison life were the psychological effects of confinement.

Family visits and phone calls were scarce and suspended arbitrarily.
Letters were delivered to the prisoners three to four months after they
were written. Several went on hunger strikes to protest the mistreatment.

Two of the ex-prisoners, Léster González, 33, and Pablo Pacheco, 40,
said they smuggled out prison diaries that they've brought to Spain and
hope to publish.

With the help of outsiders, Pacheco published the blog ``Voices Behind
the Bars.''

In standard journalistic fashion, he attributed his information to
``this reporter'' -- meaning himself -- or ``prisoners who were
witnesses'' on posts about overcrowding at Canaletas, a case of
tuberculosis, a prisoner who cut himself after he was denied medical
attention and almost bled to death in his cell. He also wrote of how
authorities quickly confiscated a player with music and family pictures
his wife had brought him, and how he was not allowed to attend a concert
trovadour Silvio Rodríguez gave at the prison.


For some, the prison sentence meant the end of love affairs and friendships.

``The mother of my daughter came to see me and said our relationship was
over,'' Léster González said. ``I felt defeated, my whole life had been
ruined. I wanted to die.''

That night, he said, a guard was posted in front of his cell. He was on
suicide watch for a long while.

Omar Rodríguez, a graphic journalist whose photographs depict a Havana
in ruins and its people living in stark poverty, used his street savvy
to survive in prison. He was serving a 27-year sentence for launching a
news agency from Havana.

Survival, he said, entailed relating to the prison guards ``with dignity.''

``I treated them as members of a people who are suffering,'' Rodríguez
said. ``I never directed toward them what they directed toward me -- hate.''

Expand the modern tools of liberation

Posted on Saturday, 07.31.10
Expand the modern tools of liberation

Information has always been a liberating force, and throughout history,
authoritarian regimes have always attempted to control it -- Cuba is no

Still, Cuba's recent liberalization of communication and technology has
had a great impact.

In March, the mothers, daughters and wives of Cuban prisoners of
conscience -- known as the ``Ladies in White'' -- marched in Havana and
were beaten by State Security in broad daylight.

Camera phones, illegal up until 2008, captured many of the images that
mobilized the outside world in solidarity within a scant matter of minutes.

Later, news that Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas had agreed to abandon
his hunger strike following news that the Cuban government had agreed to
release 52 political prisoners was first announced by Cuban blogger
Yoani Sánchez via Twitter, where she later posted the first photo of
``El Coco'' drinking his first sip of water in 135 days.

Traditionally, these regimes have resorted to isolation and the outright
banning of information media to achieve their goals.

Yet these closed societies have often faced a different kind of dilemma:
the positive impact of technology on economic activity versus its
liberalizing powers.

Attempting to deal with this dilemma, modern dictatorships have opted
instead for controlling information media rather than banning it.

However, modern information and communications technology has presented
two serious and fundamental challenges to dictatorial regimes.

• It has democratized information in an unprecedented manner by
empowering every citizen to be a producer, rather than a simple
consumer, of information.

• For those regimes that seek to prioritize economic growth, they are
forced to balance the politically liberating forces of technology with
the need to be competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.

Cuba is not exempt from these challenges; rather, it is attempting to
balance these challenges.

The Cuban government needs to fundamentally reform the island's economy
but deeply fears the political impact of widespread access to
communication and technology tools.

How it pursues that balance can be greatly facilitated or hindered by
U.S. policy toward Cuba.

As little as five years ago, there were just a few thousand mobile
phones in Cuba, almost all of them in the hands of government officials,
foreigners and members of the elite.

Since Raúl Castro's announcement lifting the ban on cellphones, the
number of cellphones is rapidly approaching one million by the end of 2010.

The reason is simple: the economic benefits outweighed political concerns.

It is unreasonable to expect the development of other forms of
communication tools and technology in Cuba, such as the Internet and
social media, without economic models to make them work.

Current U.S. regulations restrict the access necessary to make this
happen. In fact, the restrictions on Cuba are significantly more onerous
and tough than those applied to countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria
and Burma.

Expanding the opportunities for U.S. telecom companies to provide
cellphone and Internet service to the island will help ensure that Cuban
citizens possess the tools they need in order to become agents of change.

To say this does not deny or minimize the real controls that the Cuban
government places on its own citizens' access to the Internet.

But expanding citizens' access to even the most rudimentary technology
in Cuba would be a giant step forward in empowering a new, independent
generation of Cuban citizens.

The Cuba Study Group in collaboration with the Brookings Institution and
the Americas Society/Council of the Americas recently released a white
paper, Empowering the Cuban People Through Technology: Recommendations
for Private and Public Sector Leaders, which outlines specific steps the
American government and private sector actors can take to facilitate
Cuban's access to technology.

The report is the result of work of the Group's Cuba IT & Social Media
Initiative, which brought together more than 50 IT and
telecommunications experts in an effort to identify ways to ensure that
Cubans on the island have access to the technology they need to acquire
and share information and communicate with each other and the outside
world. The report is available at

Carlos Saladrigas is co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group.

Expecting little, Cubans got nothing

Posted on Saturday, 07.31.10
Expecting little, Cubans got nothing

Below are excerpts from Yoani Sánchez's Generation Y blog.

The July 26 event started early, in fear of the evening rains and to
avoid the sun that makes the neck itch and annoys the audience. It had
the solemnity that is already inherent in the Cuban system: heavy,
outdated and at times dusty. Nothing seemed to jump out of the script;
Raúl Castro didn't take the podium, nor was the speech addressed to a
nation waiting for a program of changes. His absence at the microphone
should not be read as an intention to decentralize responsibility and
allow someone else to speak at such a commemoration. The general did not
speak because he had nothing to say.

In previous speeches, on this same date, the phrases of the Cuban
Communist Party's second secretary have created more confusion than
certainty, so this time he avoided analysts reinterpreting them. Enough
doubts have already been created with his 2007 predictions of mass
access to milk, his unfulfilled forecast of having Santiago de Cuba's
aqueduct completed and the unfortunate phrase ``I'm just a shadow,''
with which he began his speech last year. Perhaps because of this he
preferred to remain silent and leave the address to the most unyielding
man of his government: José Ramón Machado Ventura.

What we saw today is pure State secretiveness. To make no public
commitments to change, no visible implications of transformation, can be
a way of warning us that these do not respond to [Raúl's] political
will, but rather to a momentary despair that -- he thinks -- will
eventually pass. By saying nothing, he has sent us his fullest message:
``I owe you no explanations, no promises, no results.''

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cubans Turn to Marriages of Convenience for Citizenship


Cubans Turn to Marriages of Convenience for Citizenship - Part 2
By Gonzalo Ortiz*

QUITO, Jul 29, 2010 (IPS) - Cuban nationals can be found every day at
the busy corner of Amazonas and Naciones Unidas avenues in the
Ecuadorean capital, where the National Civil Registry Office is located.

Hundreds of weddings between Cubans and Ecuadoreans have taken place in
the building. In addition, people from Cuba have to visit the National
Civil Registry Office to apply for or renew their national identity
document or "cédula", whether as residents or naturalised citizens.

Under Ecuadorean law, foreigners who marry natural-born citizens of this
country or who can prove that they have had a stable cohabiting
relationship for at least two years with an Ecuadorean citizen can
become naturalised citizens.

This has given rise to a surge in marriages, many of them marriages of
convenience, which end in divorce shortly after the Cuban member of the
couple becomes a citizen.

"In the last few weeks, the number of marriages involving Cubans has
dropped," a National Civil Registry Office employee who requested
anonymity told IPS. "I think they were scared by the reports of forged

He was referring to the annulment of 199 marriages, mainly involving
Cuban men and Ecuadorean women, as well as the revocation of the
national identity documents granted to 170 Cubans. The decision was made
by the left-wing government of Rafael Correa after authorities
discovered that the weddings and identity cards were based on forged

Foreign Minister Raúl Patiño and the government's Transparency
Secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, announced the measure on Jun. 30, when
they also requested the removal and prosecution of two notary publics in
Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

Marcos Díaz Casquete and Julio Olvera Espinoza are accused of certifying
that certain couples had lived together for more than two years. But in
some of the cases, the Cuban citizens involved had been in the country
less than three months.

An investigation by El Comercio, a Quito newspaper, reported that in
nearly all of the cases of forged documents, the papers had been issued
in Guayaquil by two Chilean lawyers who live in Quito. They disappeared
after Roldán first referred publicly to the case on Mar. 30.

The parties involved reportedly paid the Chilean couple a minimum of
2,600 dollars for work visas and 3,500 dollars for Ecuadorean
nationality via recognition of civil unions.

Of that total, 1,500 dollars were paid up front, and the documents were
available within a month.

The investigations by Mónica Rivera, the prosecutor handling the case,
found that none of those involved had even been to Guayaquil or had met
the women who testified that they lived with the men.

"We feel cheated," one of the men involved, who was not identified, told
El Comercio. "We thought things were done here like they are in Cuba,
where you give your papers to a lawyer and he arranges everything legally."

Ecuadorean citizenship enables Cubans to travel back and forth to their
country of origin without having to meet complex requirements, like a
letter of invitation.

According to government figures on the number of entries and departures
by foreign nationals in Ecuador, some 7,800 Cubans are currently living
legally or illegally in this country of 13.5 million people.

Hundreds of Cubans residing here legally are involved in trade, carrying
clothing and accessories back to their home country. They are frequently
seen in busy markets lugging enormous canvas suitcases full of garments.

"The Cubans are really good customers, although they're not buying as
much from us as they did before," Raúl Tipantaxi, who sells printed
T-shirts in the Centro Comercial Granada, a shopping complex in the
historic centre of the Ecuadorean capital, told IPS. He said other
vendors have the same impression of Cubans.

Sales of clothes from Ecuador to Cuba began to surge when restrictions
for visits to Cuba were tightened on Cubans living in the United States.

But in Havana, people tend to prefer clothing items from the U.S., which
they say is of better quality, and now that President Barack Obama has
eased some of the travel restrictions, it is easier to obtain.

To apply for an exit permit in order to settle in Ecuador, Cubans need a
cédula, a work card or student I.D. card, a marriage certificate issued
at least 90 days earlier if the aim is to be reunited with a foreign
spouse, and a letter of invitation.

Because of the pressure to obtain residency papers, there are now Cuban
intermediaries in Quito. A Cuban dressed in a suit and tie and carrying
a briefcase can usually be found outside the National Civil Registry Office.

One morning, IPS saw three women and a man contact him separately in the
space of three hours. They gave him names, I.D. numbers and telephone
numbers of contacts in Ecuador willing to be listed as employers or even
to get married. Cubans who spoke to IPS commented that in these
marriages of convenience, the Ecuadorean partner receives between 500
and 2,000 dollars, which comes on top of the lawyer's charges.

The intermediary serves his clients right there, on the sidewalk. He
works with at least four other Cubans, to whom he hands the information
he gets from the Cubans who approach him. The National Civil Registry
Office official who spoke to IPS, watching the same comings and goings,
says he hopes everything is done legally.

The policy of not requiring visas from any foreign nationals is part of
the concept of "universal citizenship" laid out by the constitution
approved in 2008 in Ecuador.

But in a modification of the policy, since 2009, Colombian citizens have
been required to provide a certificate issued in their country and
registered with an Ecuadorean consulate showing that they have no
criminal record.

The new policy was adopted in response to the huge influx of Colombians
forced to flee that country's decades-old armed conflict.

An estimated 300,000 Colombians are now living in Ecuador, 58,000 of
whom have been granted official refugee status by the state. However,
the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
considers that 130,000 other refugee applications should be approved.

Cubans Find Door Half Open

Cubans Find Door Half Open - Part 1
By Gonzalo Ortiz*

QUITO, Jul 29, 2010 (IPS) - Carlos sold his house, Juana got a divorce
so she could remarry and obtain resident status, and Pedro bought a
"letter of invitation" with 10 years of savings... These sorts of
stories are common amongst Cubans anxious to make a new life in Ecuador.

What does Ecuador have that they want? It is perhaps the only country in
the world that does not require Cubans to obtain an entry visa, and
offers the chance -- after some paperwork -- to settle there permanently.

The government of President Rafael Correa declared a policy of free
entry into the country in 2006 and abolished the visa requirement for
citizens from any country. All visitors are authorised to stay 90 days.

The Ecuadorean Embassy in Havana does not track how many Cubans have
travelled to this Andean nation, because most do so as tourists, and if
they stay fewer than 90 days there is no record of their visit. But
migration officials in Quito state that subtracting the entries and
departures of Cuban citizens since 2006, the immigrants -- documented or
not -- number around 7,800.

Although the influx of visitors from Cuba began in 2006, the boom
occurred in 2008 and 2009 when 38,000 Cubans travelled to Ecuador. In
the first half of 2010 there were already more than 13,000.

Even so, it is not easy for a Cuban to get to Ecuador. To begin the
process to travel from the socialist-run island requires an up-to-date
identity card, a letter of non-objection from one's employer or school,
and a letter of invitation meets the set requirements.

Such letters must be written personally by family members or friends
residing in Ecuador, in a document duly certified by a notary public,
which costs 100 to 200 dollars. Then it has to be legalised at the Cuban
consulate, which is entrusted with sending it to Cuba, at an additional
cost of about 200 dollars.

In Cuba, it is delivered to the recipient through an official
international body of the Ministry of Justice and is valid for one year
from the date it was granted. The word in Cuba is that there are many
"friends" who will send the letter of invitation -- for a price.

With those papers, the traveller can obtain an exit permit from Cuba, a
document known as the "tarjeta blanca" (white card), which costs 150
Cuban convertible pesos (known as CUCs). On top of that, a passport is
needed, valid for two years, which costs 55 CUCs, and an extension costs
20 CUCs. The total comes to about 222 dollars, based on the official
exchange rate.

The fact that nearly 60,000 Cubans have visited Ecuador since 2006 shows
that all those obstacles are surmountable. And there are plenty of seats
on the five direct flights from Havana to Quito weekly, and 12 more via

In this Andean capital it is easy to pick out what has become the
stereotype of Cuban immigrants: new white training shoes, dark-coloured
jeans, and heavily decorated T-shirts, which seem to be popular among
Cuban men and women alike.

Cubans have become part of the urban landscape in the three
neighbourhoods where they have concentrated. Most live near the Quito
airport in La Florida district.

"Pure coincidence -- it has nothing to do with the United States," Quito
historian Alfonso Ortiz said, referring to the southeastern U.S. state
of Florida, where Miami is located, home to nearly one million Cubans
and their descendants. Here, Florida "is the name of an old estate
dating back to the Spanish colonial era," he explained.

Today this neighbourhood has many bars and restaurants, salons,
bakeries, tailors and other businesses -- all run by Cuban men and women.

"When I arrived, I stayed with a Cuban friend here in the neighbourhood,
and then I was able to rent a place in this area," said Diocles, 46, who
spoke with IPS in the doorway of one of the restaurants.

He talked about trying to obtain his official papers to stay here. "I
have to move forward however I can," he said, directing the statement at
another Cuban, in his fifties, who asked not to be identified.

Just then, a small van from the refrigeration company "Quba" pulled up
in front of the restaurant. Its two occupants entered the restaurant.
Both Cuban, they said they have their documents in order, which allowed
them to open a workshop. They didn't give their names, but said they are
working "very happily."

However, there are others who have stayed in Ecuador illegally. "I'm
working as a security guard, with 48-hour shifts," said another man
dining in the restaurant, who had been hesitant to speak from the
beginning. "I don't have papers, which I know is risky, but I have to
make a living," he said.

In a grocery on Mañosca Street, in north-central Quito, IPS interviewed
two more Cubans. This is another area where many Caribbean families have
settled, though Cuban-run businesses are not as visible here.

They preferred to give only their first names. "I've been in Ecuador two
years and haven't yet sorted out my papers," said Juan Antonio. However,
Pedro has obtained Ecuadorean citizenship by marrying a citizen of this

This channel for obtaining legal residency has led to hundreds of
"marriages of convenience," which end in divorce as soon as the
citizenship documents arrive.

"I paid 1,000 dollars for the marriage, and have to pay another 500 for
the divorce," admitted Pedro, adding that he has not seen the Ecuadorean
woman he married since the wedding. "It's all done through a lawyer," he

Cuban blog says Fidel Castro spotted in public

Cuban blog says Fidel Castro spotted in public
By Jeff Franks, Reuters July 10, 2010

HAVANA, (Reuters) - Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro made his
first known public appearance since falling ill four years ago in a
visit this week to a Havana scientific facility, a blog reported on

Photographs taken with a cell phone and posted with the pro-government
blog showed a smiling Castro, 83, chatting with people said to have
gathered around him as he was leaving the National Center of Scientific

The blog and photos can be found on the Internet at:

The blogger, Rosa C. Baez, wrote that Castro was spotted making a
"surprise visit" to the center on Wednesday and stopped to greet and
"throw kisses" to the group that waited for a chance to see him.

"He is thin, but looked good and, according to our director, is very
good mentally," said Baez, whose blog appears on a website entitled
"Bloggers and Correspondents of the Revolution."

In the photos, the white-bearded Castro wore an athletic jacket, as he
has in virtually all photographs published since he went into seclusion.

Castro has been seen only in occasional photographs and videos since he
underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and ceded power
provisionally to his younger brother, Raul Castro.

Last year, Venezuelan President and close ally Hugo Chavez said Castro
had been going for walks near his Havana residence, but they were never
confirmed by the government and there were no known photos of him out
and about.

A government spokesman said on Saturday he could not confirm Castro had
gone to the scientific center, which he created in 1965 to conduct
research in areas including natural science and medicine.

Castro, after leading the 1959 revolution that toppled a U.S.-backed
dictator, ruled Cuba for 49 years and, with his many long, televised
speeches and numerous public appearances, dominated Cuban life.

He resigned the presidency in February 2008 and Raul Castro, 79,
officially took over as president in a vote by the National Assembly.

Even though he has stayed out of sight, he has maintained a public
presence through opinion columns written for Cuba's state-run media, and
still plays a role behind the scenes.

For more than a year, his columns have dwelt almost exclusively with
international topics. He has said he was told his columns on domestic
issues were interfering with the government's work.

In the past few weeks, Castro has predicted in his columns that the
world is on the verge of nuclear war, to be sparked by conflict between
the United States and Iran over international sanctions against Iran's
nuclear activities.

Embassy to Cody: 'We're sorry'

Embassy to Cody: 'We're sorry'
Officials meet teen day after he's told he can leave Cuba
Last Updated: July 30, 2010 8:57am

SANTA LUCIA, CUBA — Better late than never.

After more than three months of feeling "alone" while waiting for news
on his Cuban detention, Cody LeCompte, his mom and his uncle finally had
their first face-to-face meeting with Canadian embassy officials Thursday.

And although the meeting came a day after the Simcoe teen learned he may
be free to go home as early as next, the officials apologized.

"They looked at Cody and they said, 'We're sorry,'" the 19-year-old's
mom, Danette, told The Sun after the 90-minute sit-down.

The embassy staffers, who work in Havana, also admitted to the
LeComptes: "We know we made mistakes along the way," during the meeting
at the Gran Club Santa Lucia.

Cody has been trapped at the resort for more than 13 weeks because of a
car accident that allegedly wasn't even his fault.

The 19-year-old and his mom, who racked up $30,000 in debt fighting to
bring her son home, pleaded for help from the embassy for months, hoping
they could reassure them everything was okay.

Instead they received only sparse phone calls, asking the LeComptes for
updates, and maintaining Canada couldn't interfere in another country's
justice system.

"I think it's ironic," Gary Parmenter said with a chuckle, not because
the issue with his nephew is funny but because the notion consular
officials would choose to finally visit Cody after his crisis has all
but been resolved is laughable.

He said they also offered the officials advice during the meeting on how
the government could "do things better" in the future.

"They need to be more proactive and educate Canadians, and not just on
the government website, so they're not blind-sided when they travel to
certain countries," Parmenter said.

With the federal government under heavy fire from outraged Canadians
across the country, political opponents criticizing the apparent lack of
action from foreign affairs, and mounting media pressure over the last
week or so, the PMO ultimately stepped in Tuesday.

The next day, Cody and his family received the news they'd been waiting
to hear since the end of April — that they could leave the Caribbean
island, likely next week, and return for his trial if one is deemed

Cody, who had been under tremendous stress, has been all smiles since
receiving the good news.

Like any young man his age, there's one thing he's especially looking
forward to when he gets home.

"For the longest time, I've been craving a bacon cheeseburger ... from
Harvey's," Cody said, before sheepishly adding that he's also looking
forward to seeing his girlfriend.

John Arsenov, owner-operator of Amberlea Executive Limousine Service,
has kindly offered to pick up the LeComptes at the airport the day they
arrive back in Canada.

And he has told Cody he'll pull the stretch limo into Harvey's
drive-thru just for him."

Cuba freed teen to protect tourism: Minister

Cuba freed teen to protect tourism: Minister
Posted By JENNY YUEN, QMI Agency

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Americas Peter Kent said
Cody LeCompte's release was expediated by the Cuban government's desire
to keep a shiny tourism image.

Kent confirmed Thursday that LeCompte, the 19-year-old Simcoe teen who
has been held in Cuba by police since April after his rental car was
involved in a crash, will return home next week.

Click here to find out more!

"It's a reality that the Cuban government saw the media coverage of
Cody's situation as something - if prolonged, would have a negative
impact on the tourism industry," Kent told reporters.

"The local police who have been conducting the investigation contacted
the family and told them the investigation will be closed, but there are
still some formalities to be worked through, which are being assisted by
counsellor officers from the Canadian Embassy in Havana."

Kent said he personally became involved in the case when he and
Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai were at the African Union Summit
in Kampala, Uganda, last week, meeting with senior Cuban officials.

"We made it clear we didn't want to interfere in the judicial process in
Cuba, but we encouraged them to complete the investigation and resolve
it as quickly as possible," he said.

In addition, Kent said he sent a diplomatic note to the Foreign Affairs
ministry in Havana last week and this week he called the Charge
d'Affaires for Cuba into the department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.

"I issued a statement yesterday, which recognized the fact that many
millions of Canadian tourists visited Cuba over the years and I
mentioned in a supportive way that it would be unfortunate that
prolonged limbo of Cody and his family were to discourage future
Canadian tourists to visit that island," he said.

Canadian Consular officials have been talking to the Cuban officials on
the police and prosecutors' side of the case as well as in the foreign
affairs ministry in Havana since April, when the accident occurred, Kent

Canada presses Cuba on cases of detained Canadians

Canada presses Cuba on cases of detained Canadians

Canada has called in Cuba's envoy to voice concern at the detention of
seven Canadians in the Caribbean …
Wed Jul 28, 7:28 pm ET

OTTAWA (AFP) – Canada has called in Cuba's envoy to voice concern at the
detention of seven Canadians in the Caribbean nation, warning Havana it
could lose tourists its economy needs, the foreign affairs ministry said.

Peter Kent, Canada's top diplomat for the Americas, said Ottawa called
in Havana's representative in Ottawa to a meeting Tuesday on Canadians
now detained in Cuba, including Cody LeCompte, a 19-year-old Canadian
man who has been unable to leave after a car accident in April.

Seven Canadians at the moment are either detained or unable to depart
from Cuba, a diplomatic source said.

"While aware that Cuban law allows for a lengthy period of
investigation, Canadian officials expressed their concern that the
investigation into this matter is taking so long," Kent said.

"Canadians have long appreciated Cuba as a tourist destination. The
delays faced by Canadians awaiting resolution of such cases could affect
the choice by fellow Canadians of Cuba as a tourist destination in the
future," he also warned.

Canada is the chief source of tourists in Cuba, ahead of Italy and
France. Tourism is Cuba's top hard-currency earner.

Ballet Company Sets a Trip to Cuba

Ballet Company Sets a Trip to Cuba

American Ballet Theater announced Thursday that it will travel to Cuba
to dance in the International Ballet Festival of Havana in November. The
company last visited Cuba in 1960, at which time ABT was celebrating its
20th anniversary.

The upcoming festival is in honor of the Cuban-born dancer Alicia
Alonso, the director of the National Ballet of Cuba, who danced with ABT
in the 1940s. Ms. Alonso visited New York this spring to celebrate her
90th birthday with ABT, which held a tribute performance during its 2010
spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. The company's invitation
to the Havana festival came from Ms. Alonso.

"ABT has for many years seen itself as a cultural ambassador, bringing
American ballet to the world," executive director Rachel Moore said.
"Alicia is part of our past, and remains part of our family. There is a
special tie with the National Ballet of Cuba."
[BALLETjp] Gene Schiavone

Alicia Alonso is flanked by Jose Manuel Carreo and American Ballet
Theater artistic director Kevin McKenzie at American Ballet Theatre's
salute to her 90th birthday on June 3.

The New York dance community has made consistent efforts to strengthen
ties with Cuba. This will be a return trip for ABT's artistic director,
Kevin McKenzie, who traveled to Cuba in 1986. Since the mid-1970s,
dancers from ABT, New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American
Dance Theater have made visits to the country.

In 1998, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now known as Ailey II)
traveled to Cuba for the Havana festival. Ex-NYCB dancers Damian Woetzel
and Lourdes Lopez hold leadership positions with the Cuban Artists Fund,
a New York-based nonprofit that fosters exchange programs.

When Ailey II attended the festival, the dancers were invited to take
class with Ms. Alonso's company. "All of the festival people were there
taking class," said Ailey II's director, Sylvia Waters, who traveled
with the company.

"We did a piece by Lar Lubovitch, called 'Marimba,' with a score by
Steve Reich," she recalled. "People would come up after and say, 'What
was that music?' I'm not sure how much they could express, but they
would come up after, like it was their secret."

"The Cuban people need to be able to have contacts with the outside
world," said Francisco Jose Hernandez, president of the Cuban American
National Foundation, adding that travel to Cuba that offers "help,
support or cultural relations is welcome and necessary. The isolation of
the Cuba people imposed by the Castro regime needs to be changed."

Dance is effective in that way, said Andrea Snyder, executive director
of Dance/USA, a professional-service organization: "Because dance is a
nonverbal art form, it carries a unique and precious ability to break
down barriers and promote shared experiences."

To that end, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural
Affairs teamed up with the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year to create
DanceMotion USA. The program sent three companies to tour countries
within separate regions: South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. "The
feedback was off the charts," said BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins.
"The idea of this kind of diplomacy is to connect with people on an
emotional level."

The State Department is not funding or involved with ABT's trip. The
costs will be covered by the company's touring budget. In order for the
tour to take place, ABT must obtain a license from the Department of
Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which monitors and enforces
U.S. trade sanctions. Special consideration is given to arts and
athletic groups.

The company is currently in talks to determine what activities it will
engage in while in Cuba Nov. 3-6. Given the short duration and the
demands of performance, the visit's value may be highest in its
symbolism, said Margaret Ayers, president of the Robert Sterling Clark
Foundation, which studies and funds arts-based international exchange.
"While a four-day tour is unlikely to forge the deep links
characteristic of longer engagements, the symbolic impact of American
Ballet Theater's participation in the upcoming International Ballet
Festival of Havana cannot be overstated," she said.

During the festival, ABT will dance George Balanchine's "Theme and
Variations," Alexei Ratmansky's "Seven Sonatas" and Jerome Robbins's
"Fancy Free." Dancers will also participate in two gala performances.

Ms. Moore said the company will focus on ballet, not politics: "We're
trying to stay out of the political area and have it be a dialogue
between artists."

Rebellious Spain stands firm in pursuit of change to EU Cuba policy

International Relations | 28.07.2010

Rebellious Spain stands firm in pursuit of change to EU Cuba policy

Officially, the European Union has a Common Position on relations with
Cuba. In reality, Spain has deviated from that position to such an
extent that it sees itself as a lone force pushing for change in the
EU's stance.

How does one solve a problem like Cuba? Even the United States, which
has had a very clear Cuba policy for the past 50 years, finds it
increasingly difficult to understand the real motives behind the
contradictory actions and words coming from the regime in Havana. The
political climate seems to change daily; strong hints of democratic
reform and the upholding of human rights are often followed by a return
to bellicose anti-capitalist statements and crackdowns.

Despite the ambiguous nature of Cuba's current international persona,
the US position remains clear. Since April 2009, President Barack Obama
has been implementing a less strict policy toward Cuba and has stated
that he is open to dialogue with Havana. Some economic sanctions and
travel restrictions have since been eased but the trade embargo, which
has stood since 1960, will only end when Cuba shows real political change.

If only the European Union's stance was as clearly defined. Until
recently, it looked as though it was. But in the last few months,
divisions have started to appear and the bedrock on which Europe's Cuba
policy is built has started to show some cracks.

Complicated bloc agrees on Cuba position in 1996

While the US has the luxury of speaking with one voice, the EU has 27
which have to be singing from the same song sheet for anything of any
consequence and credibility to be unanimously agreed upon. It looked as
though the EU choir was on the same page when, in 1996, the member
states all agreed on the Common Position in regard to relations with Cuba.

Before the US under Obama came to the same decision, the EU agreed that
the best way to encourage a change in political direction in Cuba would
be through offering incentives. The EU would normalize relations with
Havana if there was progress on human rights and democratization. The EU
would not inflict sanctions as such but its constructive engagement with
Cuba would be implemented as part of its third world aid policy which
would benefit the population, not the regime.

"The EU seeks to assist the people of Cuba to develop their society and
the EU believes that democratic values, respect for human rights and
economic freedom are part of this development," Dr. Juan Diaz, the
director of the CSS Project for Integrative Mediation, a Berlin-based
conflict resolution project financed by the German Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, told Deutsche Welle. "The EU does not necessarily believe that
sanctions are the most appropriate ways of achieving these goals."

The Common Position survived two rounds of EU enlargement in 2004 and
2007, with the new eastern states signing up to the 1996 agreement.
However, EU solidarity on Cuba began wavering when Spain elected a
socialist government in 2004 and then took a substantial blow when that
same government took over the EU presidency at the start of this year.

Spain pushes own case for Cuba dialogue

As holder of the rotating EU Council presidency, Spain tried to
massively influence the EU position on Cuba by pushing for increased
dialogue and a normalization of relations despite Cuba not yet meeting
the benchmarks set out in the Common Position.

"The relationship between the EU and Cuba has always been superficial,"
Thiago de Aragao, Latin American senior research associate at the
Foreign Policy Center, a London-based European think-tank, told Deutsche

"The only difference has been the relationship between Cuba and Spain,
which due to history has been deeper. Spain has always had closer ties
with Cuba. Spain has always been the most active EU state in encouraging
talks between the countries in the hope of democratic openings."

Spain's argument that a more relaxed EU position would actually help
achieve the human rights and democratic reform it sought took a massive
blow in February with the tragic death of Cuban dissident Orlando
Zapata, who died as a result of a hunger strike while in prison. Spain
was forced to condemn Cuba along with the rest of Europe and the
international community and reinforce the EU position on standing firm
until human rights abuses ended.

Moratinos strikes blow for Spanish policy with prisoner release

However, the struggle around the Common Position went on. Outside of EU
structures, Spanish Foreign Secretary Miguel Angel Moratinos continued
to pursue his own Cuba policy, much to the annoyance of fellow EU
members, particularly Germany, France and Sweden.

"Germany holds strong to the Common Position and has been quite critical
to the Spanish efforts to change it," Professor Guenther Maihold, the
deputy director of the German Institute for International and Security
Affairs, told Deutsche Welle.

"German Chancellor Merkel has been quite clear that she wants to see
changes in the human rights record on the island before Germany would
accept discussing a change in the European politics with respect to the
Castro regime.

The criticism from fellow EU member states toward Spain became more
muted in early July, however, when Moratinos, working with Cuba's
Catholic Church, managed to get the Cuban government to agree to the
release of 52 political prisoners.

Despite the apparent breakthrough brought about by Spain's brokering of
the deal, and the acceptance of a number of the released dissidents by
Madrid, the release did not get universal praise. Some of the
dissidents, forced to leave Cuba as part of the release deal, accused
the Cuban government of a shallow act to gain temporary favor.

They also called on the EU to remain firm in its Common Position to
withhold support to Cuba until human rights and democracy were
respected; a slap in the face to Spain which was hoping to promote its
own approach to Havana through its successful negotiations.

"While Spain seems to see in the release of the prisoners a moment of
change in the Cuban regime, many observers see heavy economic problems
as a future trigger to some opening of the economic system of the
island," Professor Maihold said. "After the release of prisoners we have
always seen the arrest of new people and no change in the general
politics of the regime."

It seems likely that the debate over the EU's Cuba policy will continue
once the bloc's political summer break is over. Many in the EU see the
release of the political prisoners by Cuba as a step toward Havana
meeting the criteria Europe has set for the normalization of relations
but not as a justification for increased dialogue or ties.

Author: Nick Amies",,5844471,00.html

Teen trapped in Cuba to come home: mother

Teen trapped in Cuba to come home: mother
Last Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 9:09 PM ET
CBC News

Ontario teen Cody LeCompte, seen here with his mother, Danette, has been
stranded in Cuba since April after he was involved in a traffic
accident.Ontario teen Cody LeCompte, seen here with his mother, Danette,
has been stranded in Cuba since April after he was involved in a traffic
accident. (Submitted by Gary Parmenter)

The mother of an Ontario teen stranded in Cuba for months after he was
involved in a traffic accident says the family has struck a deal with
Cuban authorities for his safe return.

Cody LeCompte, 19, of Norfolk, Ont., was in a car accident in Santa
Lucia in April that sent him, his mother and other family members to

He has been forced to remain in the country since that time because,
under Cuban law, foreigners involved in car accidents must remain in the
country until the matter is dealt with in court.

Cody LeCompte is not the first Canadian to be detained in Cuba over a
traffic accident. One Ottawa-area woman spent nearly a year on the
island after a car she was riding in was involved in a lethal crash.

"The car rolled for 70 metres," said the woman, who asked not to be
identified. The vehicle hit a post and two of the four passengers were
killed. When police began to question her and a Cuban friend who had
been driving, things turned ugly.

"My friend told police I was driving because obviously he knew what was
going to happen," she told the CBC. "So the police took my passport."

She was eventually cleared by forensic evidence, but it was another
several months before the Cuban bureaucracy authorized her to leave the

In a statement, Canada warned Cuba that if things don't change,
Canadians may soon start choosing different travel destinations.

His mother, Danette LeCompte, told CBC News on Wednesday they paid his
bail on Tuesday — about $100 Cdn — and are now awaiting word on when he
can leave the country.

She said the family would likely know by Friday when LeCompte could leave.

The news of the agreement comes after Peter Kent , the federal minister
of state for foreign affairs for the Americas, issued a statement
pressing Cuban authorities to speed up the LeCompte case.

"While aware that Cuban law allows for a lengthy period of
investigation, Canadian officials expressed their concern that the
investigation into this matter is taking so long," Kent said in a
statement Wednesday.

Kent's office said Canadian Embassy officials were meeting with Cuban
authorities on Thursday to confirm that an agreement had been reached."

$30,000 and months later, Canadian able to leave Cuba

$30,000 and months later, Canadian able to leave Cuba
Teen stuck in Cuba to return Tuesday
Published On Thu Jul 29 2010
Liam Casey and Peter Edwards Staff Reporters

Canadian tourists should think twice before getting behind the wheel
during trips in Mexico, China, Guatemala and Cuba, the Foreign Affairs
Department warns.

"Canadians involved in traffic accidents may face serious legal
problems, including imprisonment," the department website says.

The caution comes as 19-year-old Cody LeCompte prepares to leave Cuba
after being detained since April 29. He is expected to return Tuesday to
a welcoming party planned by family and friends.

LeCompte, of Norfolk County, was detained by Cuban authorities after the
rental car he was driving collided with a truck on a pockmarked road
near rural Camaguey, sending himself, his mother, uncle and a female
Cuban friend to hospital.

LeCompte was never charged in the crash, but was forced to stay at the
Gran Club Santa Lucia in Cuba until the investigation was completed. The
family must now deal with a crushing debt of $30,000 that it spent on
lawyers, flights and hotel rooms.

"It doesn't feel real," LeCompte said from his hotel room in Cuba. "I
can't believe I've been here for three months for a car accident."

Similar sad fates could await tourists bold enough to rent vehicles in
Mexico, China and Guatemala. Foreign affairs warns Canadians involved in
traffic accidents shouldn't expect to be treated like they are innocent
until proven guilty.

"They could be taken into custody until responsibility for the accident
is determined and until all penalties are paid," the website warns. "If
you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you could be prevented from
leaving the country until all parties agree that adequate financial
satisfaction has been received."

LeCompte's treatment may have surprised his family, but it is not
uncommon. According to foreign affairs, 108 Canadians have been arrested
or detained in Cuba since 2005; about 10 per cent of the cases are

Currently, about 10 Canadians, including LeCompte, are being held there.
Last year, almost a million Canadians visited Cuba.

"Traffic accidents are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of
Canadians in Cuba," the website notes. "Accidents resulting in death or
injury are treated as crimes, and the onus is on the driver to prove

Canadians also shouldn't feel protected by insurance policies they take
out during their Cuban vacation.

"If the traveller is in any way at fault in an accident, rental agencies
will nullify coverage and seek damages to cover the cost of repairs,"
the website notes. "Contract agreements do not cover occasional drivers,
and the signatory is responsible for all people driving the vehicle.
Rental agencies are government-controlled and can prevent your departure
from the country unless payment is obtained."

LeCompte's mother, Danette, said Canadian officials will now help them
deal with their insurance policies, but adds they should have helped
resolve the ordeal much sooner.

"We needed their help from the beginning, not just this past week,"
Danette LeCompte said.

In some countries like Brazil, Canadians are warned about the drivers,
if not the laws.

"In Rio de Janeiro and in São Paulo, it is common to let motorists treat
red lights as stop signs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to
protect against holdups at intersections," the website continues.

Meanwhile, the LeComptes are excited for the big party when they return
Tuesday. Another family member was also exiled during this tribulation:
their big black Labrador retriever, Raven. She may even greet the family
at the airport.

LeCompte's mother is sure of one thing: "We will never come back to
Cuba." Unless, of course, LeCompte is finally charged.

The Castros blink

Posted on Friday, 07.30.10

The Castros blink

Finally, someone in Cuba went eyeball to eyeball with the Castro
brothers, and they blinked.

On July 7, Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident on a hunger strike for more
than four months, achieved what no one has done before. Through a
combination of careful confrontation, personal fortitude and
international support, Fariñas forced Raúl Castro to negotiate with
Cuba's Roman Catholic Church -- which led to the immediate release of
five political prisoners, with 47 more to follow over the next four months.

Of course, this is not the first time that the Cuban regime has freed
political prisoners. The many other instances were almost always in
exchange for political and economic concessions.

In 1978, Fidel Castro allowed more than 3,000 jailed dissidents to leave
for the United States after a group of exiled Cubans from Miami visited
Havana. Many in the Miami group subsequently advocated for ending the
U.S. embargo against Cuba.

In 1984, Castro freed 26 prisoners; in 1996, three; and in 1998, more
than 80, after visits from, respectively, Jesse Jackson, Bill Richardson
and Pope John Paul II, according to The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer.

Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos desperately tried to
play a role in the Fariñas case. But this time, the circumstances were
different. Fariñas was willing to die for his demands; he saw how they
were, in a sense, reinforced by the death of another hunger striker,
Orlando Zapata, last February.

The Castros knew that Fariñas would die, too, if they didn't accept his
demands, and that his death would make any improvement in relations with
the European Union or President Obama even more difficult to acheive.

The island's economic situation has gone from dire to worse in recent
times. Raúl Castro recognized that, without a rapprochement, he couldn't
achieve whatever changes he might hope to make -- hence the dialogue
with the church and the release of the prisoners.

Despite Fariñas' courage and political skill, the significance of the
agreement between Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Raúl Castro is modest.

• First, circumstances may change during the four months that will pass
before all the prisoners on the list are freed. Meanwhile, the remaining
prisoners are still hostage to the Castros' dealings with the church and
possibly the European Union.

• Second, an additional 100 political prisoners in Cuba, and perhaps
many more, are not included in the agreement. [The government has since
indicated it may free all political prisoners, but that has not been

• Third, articles 72 and 73 of the Cuban criminal code, which establish
the notion of ``dangerousness'' -- an outrageously inexplicit word that
has been denounced by Human Rights Watch -- are still on the books.

According to Cuban law, anybody can be jailed at any time, even before
committing a crime, if they are perceived to have a penchant for doing
so. And political opposition to the regime is a crime.

• Finally, it is unclear whether the 52 dissidents will be freed in Cuba
or deported to Spain and elsewhere. Fidel Castro has used expulsion from
his homeland as a political instrument for more than half a century,
with great success.

Whether the church and Spain should lend themselves to this ploy is
debatable. Even ``voluntary'' exile is a non sequitur: Asking political
prisoners in poor health to sign a statement that they will willingly
accept exile is hardly magnanimous or ethical.

Most important, however, is whether small gestures like the new
agreement alter the human-rights situation in Cuba and represent the
beginning of a transition in Cuban politics.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, hit
the mark when he said that he could not congratulate a government for
freeing people who should never have been jailed.

The real issue is whether there is any justification for the survival of
a regime that acknowledges the existence of political prisoners, uses
them as bargaining chips and needs to be forced by dead or dying hunger
strikers to liberate any of them. Little can be done to change this
situation until the Cuban people decide they have had enough. Meanwhile,
voters should question their leaders' having any dealings with the Cuban

Jorge G. Castaneda is Mexico's former foreign minister, Global
Distinguished Professor at New York University and fellow at the New
America Foundation.

Cuban ex-hunger striker Farinas home from hospital

Posted on Thursday, 07.29.10
Cuban ex-hunger striker Farinas home from hospital
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Cuban opposition activist Guillermo Farinas returned home from
the hospital Thursday three weeks after ending a 134-day hunger strike
that left him sluggish, with neck pain and difficulty walking.

The 48-year-old psychologist and freelance journalist said he was in
good spirits and happy to be at his house in the central city of Santa
Clara, but that his health remains poor and he leans heavily on a cane
when walking.

"We feel a bit run down physically, with a lot of neck pain because of
the blood clot, difficulties in walking and using a wheelchair," Farinas
told The Associated Press by telephone.

Farinas drank water on July 8, ending a strike that began after the Feb.
23 death of fellow dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who passed away
following a lengthy hunger strike behind bars.

Farinas was not in prison during his strike but has been jailed numerous
times previously for activism in opposition to Cuba's single-party
communist government.

He had been kept alive through periodic intravenous feedings at a Santa
Clara hospital, but began accepting food and water a day after an
agreement between the government of President Raul Castro and Cuba's
Roman Catholic Church to release 52 political prisoners.

So far, 20 political prisoners have been freed and flown with their
families into exile in Spain. Freedom for the others is expected to take
months and it is not clear if they will leave the country.

Castro said in April that if Farinas died, it would be his own fault.
But the president didn't mention Farinas during Monday's celebration of
Revolution Day.

Shortly before he gave up the hunger strike, state media detailed the
potentially life-threatening blood clot Farinas had suffered in his
neck, but claimed he had actually gained weight due to intravenous feeding.

That report was unusual since government-controlled media outlets
traditionally ignore those who openly oppose Cuba's communist system.

Farinas said Thursday he would be willing to leave Cuba and have surgery
in another country to ensure he fully recovers from the blood clot. He
said he was "in high spirits" and was looking forward to spending more
time with his 8-year-old son, Diosangeles, and to reporting anew for the
Cubanacan Press website once his strength returns. He plans to write a
book about his plight.

Because the government said it could take up to four months to free all
the political prisoners, Farinas said he was prepared to again refuse
food and water starting in November.

"I'm giving the government until November 7, we'll have to wait and see
how the government reacts starting then and analyze whether they have
met their objectives," he said.

Farinas said that rather than giving up his strike, he considers it
"postponed since there are still many political prisoners who decided
not to leave (Cuba), and we'll have to wait and see after more decisions
have been made."

"The liberation makes us happy, but we would have liked for it to have
been to their homes, not from prison to the airport," Farinas said.

If it holds, the promised prisoner release would mean Cuba has emptied
its jails of all of the remaining 75 opposition leaders, community
activists and journalists who report on the island in defiance of state
controls on media who were rounded up in a March 2003 crackdown on dissent.

Twenty-three members of that group had previously been released. Cuban
authorities had said they were "mercenaries" who took money from the
U.S. government to destabilize Cuba's way of life.

According to Cuba's leading human rights group, even if Cuba releases
all 52 prisoners, it will still hold more than 100 people it considers
political prisoners. But that list includes bombers, hijackers and
fallen intelligence agents mixed in with those jailed simply for
insulting Fidel Castro and other politically motivated crimes.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fidel Castro will take his secrets to the grave

Fidel Castro will take his secrets to the grave

Few people know as many explosive geopolitical secrets as Fidel Castro –
but don't expect to find them in his memoirs
Stephen Kinzer, Thursday 29 July 2010 16.00 BST

At the end of the 1980s, when the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega had
emerged as an international figure, he cast around for someone to
ghost-write his autobiography.

One of his aides casually asked me if I might be interested. I told him
no – not because Ortega didn't have a fascinating life story, but
because he was certainly not going to tell it honestly in a book.

Ortega never produced an autobiography, but now, according to reports
from Havana, Fidel Castro is about to publish a memoir. It is no more
likely to be candid than Ortega's would have been. Few living figures
could contribute as much as Castro to our understanding of the second
half of the 20th century. Don't expect him to do it, though.

Castro has lived almost his entire life as a clandestine revolutionary.
To such figures, truth is always malleable, always subservient to
political goals.

Whatever Castro's goal now, it is certainly not confronting difficult
and complex truths or reflecting deeply on the course of his life.
Castro's career has been about myth-making; there is no reason to
believe his memoir will be any different.

Presumably Castro will describe his revolutionary war in the 1950s as
intense and full of heroics, as no doubt it was. Some historians,
however, marvel at how little fighting Castro's men actually had to do
and how easily the old dictatorship collapsed. Nor are we likely to find
new insights into Castro's relationship with his brother, Raúl; with
their highly popular comrade Camilo Cienfuegos, who died in a plane
crash that Castro described as an accident but that some Cubans suspect
was a political assassination; or with Che Guevara, who by many accounts
broke with him over his decision to lead Cuba into the Soviet bloc.

Castro cannot be reasonably expected to renounce his beliefs or
implicate himself in killings or atrocities. Nonetheless it would be
fascinating to learn whether he still believes it was necessary to
execute hundreds of his countrymen without trial in the first weeks
after his victory in 1959; whether he wishes the Soviet Union had taken
his advice and launched a nuclear first strike against the United
States; and whether he regrets the repression and mass imprisonment of
gay people, other "lifestyle dissidents", and intellectuals who
supported his cause but broke with him after his first years in power.

Was Castro sincere when, during his guerrilla war, he swore that he was
not a Communist? If so, when did he change, and why? Looking back, does
he believe he might have chosen a better course?

Although Castro is built on a larger-than-life scale, he has never been
known as reflective or self-aware. His ideology has evidently not
changed in half a century. For much of that time he was widely said to
hold more direct personal control over his people than any leader in the
world. How did that feel? Was it necessary? Don't buy Castro's memoir
expecting insightful reflection on questions like these.

Revolutionaries who come to power by force of arms usually have great
crimes in their background. Leaders who survive campaigns by great
powers to destroy them do not survive because they observe the niceties
of law. Subversives who shape world events by covert action and violence
work in shadows and detest the light of day.

Few people in the world know as many explosive geopolitical secrets as
Castro. Within him he is carrying a blockbuster best-seller. He is
unlikely ever to write it. Like the disciplined militant he is, he will
take his trove of secrets to the grave.

Deficit lower than expected for 2010

Cuba: Deficit lower than expected for 2010

HAVANA – Cuba says its budget deficit came in far below forecasts in the
first half of 2010, evidence that tax increases and deep spending cuts
on food imports may be helping the communist government weather a severe
economic crunch.

Cuba reported on Thursday a deficit of nearly $410 million for the
six-month period, less than a quarter of the $1.7 billion that central
planners originally predicted.

Lina Pedraza, minister of finances and prices, said Cuba generated a bit
more than $21.2 billion. Over the same period, it spent $21.6 billion —
creating the smaller-than-expected shortfall.

The figures were made public in the Communist-party newspaper Granma.
They were approved by the nation's Economic Affairs Commission, a slate
of lawmakers that huddled prior to a full session of parliament Sunday.

Cuba has slashed imports to deal with its economic problems,
particularly in the areas of food and agriculture.

But Pedraza attributed the lower deficit to higher taxes and improved
collection methods, as well as a new law that pushed back the retirement
age from state jobs while upping the amount government employees
contribute to, and receive from, state pension funds.

The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and pays
employees about $20 per month, but also provides free education through
college and health care. Subsidies also are provided for housing,
transportation and some food through monthly ration books.

The outlook remained unexpectedly rosy, according to Pedraza, despite a
roughly $198 million deficit created by ordinary Cubans, who have fallen
behind on payment plans to reimburse the state for refrigerators, air
conditioning units and other appliances authorities have distributed in

The government provided them as part of an effort to save energy and
relieve strain on the island's creaking electric grid, but requires that
Cubans pay back the costs of the appliances over time. But many
consumers have been unable to keep up with their payments, pushing state
budgets further into the red.

Sales also were weak for Cuba's world-famous cigars and the domestic
consumption of industrial goods, beer and eggs.

President Raul Castro is expected to preside over a twice-annual
parliament session. The 79-year-old often uses the session to announce
new policies, and many are expecting him to make a speech since he did
not do so at Monday's Revolution Day commemoration — the top event on
Cuba's official calendar.

His brother Fidel, who turns 84 on Aug. 13, has made a spate of recent
public appearances, but has refrained from talking about Cuban current
events, and it was not clear if he would attend parliament.

The gray-bearded Fidel gave up Cuba's presidency, first temporarily,
then permanently, after a health crisis in July 2006. He remains head of
the island's Communist Party and is a parliament deputy, however, though
he has not attended a session since December 2005.

On Cuba, it's freedom vs. free trade

On Cuba, it's freedom vs. free trade

The true policy differences between Reps. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, and Todd
Tiahrt, R-Goddard, can be counted on one hand with a few fingers left
over. But their sharp disagreement on U.S. policy toward Cuba says a lot
about what matters to them, potentially mattering to Kansas Republicans
still deciding between the two in Tuesday's primary for U.S. Senate.

Moran wants closer trade ties, arguing that the 50-year-old embargo has
failed and is denying Kansas farmers full access to the Cuban market.

Moran co-sponsored legislation approved last month on a 25-20 vote by
the House Agriculture Committee — with the support of only four
Republicans — that would repeal a broad ban on American travel to Cuba
and allow commodities to be sold directly to Cuba, as well as some
direct financial transactions with Cuban banks. The full House has yet
to vote on the bill.

Tiahrt is guided by the anti-communist principle, loudly promoted by
many Cuban-Americans, that any loosening of trade or travel restrictions
will only help the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro and be bad for U.S.
national security.

Tiahrt noted to The Eagle editorial board this month that the United
States already exports a large number of agricultural products to Cuba
and that the disagreement comes down to how Cuba pays for imports (or
rather fails to pay for them, he said). The United States should insist
on human rights, free speech and free elections in Cuba before opening
up trade and travel, he has argued. Until then, a better place to expand
agricultural markets is Colombia, he said.

"I don't think giving the Castro brothers a credit card and propping up
their regime is good," Tiahrt told the editorial board.

In Moran's interview with the editorial board a week later, he noted
that Tiahrt's argument doesn't seem to apply elsewhere: "So we shouldn't
sell Boeing aircraft to China?" Moran asked.

Moran had expanded on the point in a House hearing in March: "We deal
with communist countries and offer them credit. Who is the biggest
creditor? China? What a double standard we have created in this country.
We don't worry about selling Boeing aircraft to China, but we don't want
to sell wheat to Cuba."

Moran isn't indifferent to human rights, but he believes open trade and
access to higher-quality food and medicine will raise the standard of
living and lead to regime change. "Personal freedom follows economic
opportunity," Moran wrote in The Eagle last year.

The editorial board has sided with Moran on this issue, because the
trade restrictions mostly just hurt Kansas farmers. The Republicans
running to replace Moran and Tiahrt in Congress are divided: In the 1st
District, state Sens. Jim Barnett and Tim Huelskamp and Tracey Mann and
Rob Wasinger have expressed support for easing trade restrictions, as
has state Sen. Jean Schodorf in the 4th District. Those who oppose more
trade with a Castro-ruled Cuba include 4th District candidates Wink
Hartman, Mike Pompeo and Jim Anderson.

Moran and Tiahrt both want a free Cuba and a free market in Cuba for
Kansas agricultural products. But where Tiahrt falls in line with GOP
orthodoxy in refusing to compromise on one to achieve the other, Moran
favors what's best for Kansas farmers right now.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

Hero's welcome for Cuban dissident

Hero's welcome for Cuban dissident
NZX Company Announcements
Last updated 12:01 29/07/2010

A crippled Cuban dissident freed as part of an agreement between
President Raul Castro and the Roman Catholic Church has flown to the
United States, where he received a hero's welcome from Cuban exiles.

Ariel Sigler, released on June 12 after seven years in prison on the
communist-ruled Caribbean island, was greeted by a crowd of supporters
when he arrived on a charter flight from Havana at Miami's international
airport. He will receive medical treatment in the United States.

The 48-year-old former physical education teacher and boxer, now
emaciated and in a wheelchair, was the first prisoner freed following a
May meeting between Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, which led to an
agreement on the release of 52 other prisoners.

On his arrival in Miami, supporters slipped boxing gloves stamped with
the Cuban flag on his fists, which Sigler raised in the air, shouting
"Down with communism."

"I'm going to keep on fighting against the Castro dictatorship ... . The
Castro brothers tried to beat me, but couldn't," he said, amid cheers
from dozens of exile supporters who greeted him, waving Cuban flags.

Sigler and the other prisoners being released were among 75 dissidents
arrested in a 2003 crackdown on government opponents. Cuban authorities
describe them as US-backed mercenaries working to subvert socialist rule.

So far, 20 of the 52 have been released and gone to Spain. Sigler is the
only one to go to the United States, where authorities gave him a
humanitarian visa.

Before he flew out of Havana, Sigler told reporters it pained him to
leave Cuba, but he hoped to return. "When you go from the country where
you were born, really you feel a mix of happiness and pain."

"I leave a country in the hands of a dictatorship that for 50 years has
oppressed and repressed the Cuban people," he said.

The dissidents being freed represent about a third of all Cuba's
political prisoners. The United States and human rights groups have
called for the release of all of those still in jail.