Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Second chance for Africa's Buena Vista Social Club

Second chance for Africa's Buena Vista Social Club
By James Fletcher
BBC News

It might be one of the greatest musical missed opportunities.

In 1996, Malian musicians Djelimady Tounkara and Bassekou Kouyate were
due to travel to Cuba to record an album with local players. But visa
problems meant they could not go, so the session in Havana went ahead
without them.

The result was the Buena Vista Social Club, which became one of the
biggest-selling world music albums ever.

The album and documentary of the same name made stars of musicians like
Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez and Omara Portuondo.

Fourteen years later, the two men from Mali, one of Africa's musical
powerhouses, have carved out their own successful careers.

But there is a twinge of regret when Tounkara remembers how he felt
watching the Buena Vista Social Club take off.

"First of all, I'm a Muslim - it didn't work out and that was because of
God," he told the BBC World Service.

"I was a bit jealous because I should have been there, because they sold
a lot of albums and made money. Well, I don't know if I was jealous, but
I regretted it a lot."

'Music poured out'

Now he has got a second chance.

Producer Nick Gold was the man behind the original sessions, and
although the success of the Buena Vista Social Club kept him busy for
many years, he held on to his idea of a collaboration between Malian and
Cuban players.

Early in 2010, he was finally able to get the musicians together in a
studio in Madrid.

From Mali there was Tounkara, who plays guitar, and Kouyate, who plays
a type of West African lute called an ngoni.

The key Cuban player was guitarist Eliades Ochoa, who brought with him a
band of Cuban musicians.

"As soon as they started playing, it just gelled, and it flowed and
flowed," says Gold.

"We were only recording for a week, but this music just poured out, and
it was just incredible."

"They managed to fuse this Cuban music with a lighter edge. It's played
in this beautifully soft way that welcomes you in."

Shared history

Mali and Cuba may seem worlds apart, and the collaboration may not seem
obvious at first sight. But the two countries' musical paths are

When newly independent Mali became a socialist state in the 1960s, Cuban
music was actively promoted in Mali.

"We were very good friends with Fidel Castro," says Tounkara.

"Cuban music was on LP records, you took your guitar and you learned it.
There are bits where you feel that it's come from Africa, it's almost
the same rhythms."

In fact, you can hear the Cuban influence in much African music - from
Congo to Senegal.

While the Malian musicians were well schooled in Cuban sounds, Cuban
guitar player Eliades Ochoa admits his knowledge of Malian music is a
little shakier.

"I can't tell whether the music is from Mali or from some other part of
Africa, but I love African music," he says.

"In any African music we feel something, there is an atmosphere which
makes us think about Cuban music."

Another Buena Vista?

"A lot of the Cuban songs are humorous double entendre songs, which
was slightly lost on the Malians"
Nick Gold, Producer of AfroCubism

One stumbling block in the studio was language. The Malians speak French
and English, the Cubans Spanish.

Another player on the album was Toumani Diabate, the virtuoso master of
the kora, a West African harp. He explains how they found common ground.

"The note F on the guitar is the same F on the kora, same on the ngoni,
same on the balafon [xylophone]," he says.

"And it's the same in London, same in Bamako, same in Cuba. So the music
has created its own language, it doesn't have any borders."

The lyrical gap was harder to bridge.

"A lot of the Cuban songs are humorous double entendre songs, which was
slightly lost on the Malians," says Gold.

"And the Malian songs are all much deeper songs about fate and going
very in-depth into their legends, so there were raised eyebrows at each
others' songs."

The sessions have now been released as an album under the name
AfroCubism, and a world tour is underway.

So can they hope to replicate the success of Buena Vista Social Club?

That was the result of a perfect storm: The story of the veteran
musicians caught the world's attention, aided by the documentary film by
Wim Wenders.

The album was also released when music downloading was in its infancy,
and CD sales were at their peak.

But Tounkara is undeterred.

Talking about whether the original success can be repeated, there is a
twinkle in his eye and he laughs a long, warm laugh.

"This project is really good, and I want this one to sell more than the
first one."


Amid doubts, Cubans pursue private sector dreams

Amid doubts, Cubans pursue private sector dreams
By Jeff Franks Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) – For some, it is the pursuit of a dream, for most, a
necessity. Whatever the motive, a steady stream of Cubans are taking the
government up on its offer to let them work for themselves instead of
the state.

At municipal labor offices around the country, Cubans are filing in with
plans that include everything from opening small restaurants to renting
out rooms as they seek one of 250,000 self-employment licenses to be
issued in Cuba's biggest reform in years.

About 30,000 of the permits have been handed out, state-run press
reported, and another 16,000 are pending in the first few weeks of
President Raul Castro's plan to improve the Communist-led island's
economy by expanding the private sector and cutting government's role.

The licenses are key to Castro's gamble that he can slash 1 million jobs
from state payrolls, absorb the unemployed through private businesses
and keep Cuba on the socialist straight-and-narrow for years to come.

The government, which controls most of the economy and employs 85
percent of Cuba's workforce, has outlined 178 jobs or sectors where
self-employment will be permitted. It will retain a heavy dose of
control through regulations and stiff taxes of 25 percent to 50 percent
of net income.

The reform is criticized by some experts as being too limited, but
others view it as a reasonable first step toward greater change in one
of the world's last Communist countries.

Clutching a raft of government forms, license applicants wait in line
for an opportunity they say is welcome and, despite worries about their
chances for success, worth a try.

"I have always wanted to have my own business," said Ismael Hidalgo, who
plans to leave his construction job and do what he always wanted to do
-- raise animals for sale.

"I think the measures they are taking are very good. Let each one live
from what they are capable of doing. Let them live from their own
sweat," he said, standing outside a dimly lit government office in
Central Havana.

Maria Caridad Sulton, who will open a small cafeteria, said: "I hope
that everything goes better. I think that workers will be able to see
the fruit of their labor and a little more."


Like most of the applicants interviewed, Caridad said she does not
expect to make a lot of money, only enough to supplement a meager pension.

Cubans receive various social benefits, but they earn an average salary
equivalent to about $20 a month and insist that they need more to live.

"Necessity, necessity and more necessity. If I didn't have the
necessity, I wouldn't do this," said Caridad's husband, Pedro Sarracent
Belon, a retired weight lifting coach. "This is a plan for surviving."

He and others share a concern that taxes and regulation may be too big a
burden for the new entrepreneurs, particularly in a country where taxes
have been almost nonexistent under the Communist government installed
after the 1959 revolution.

"I was born in this revolutionary process and I don't know what taxes
are," said Sarracent, 56. "I'm doing this test, but I think there are
going to be a lot of failures."

Yudenia Artiles, who plans to sells snacks in the street, was equally
skeptical because of taxes, but also because she believes Cuba's
economic problems will get worse with the planned government layoffs.

"There's no money," she said. "Now the war is going to be in the street,
a lot of competition between vendors in the street, and you're going to
always see problems."

According to government figures, 20 percent of the licenses granted so
far have gone to people who want to sell food.

Like many other Cubans, Artiles has been plying her trade illegally to
make ends meet, so a license will allow her to do it without threat of
arrest or worse.

She pulled back her shirt sleeve to show a bruised shoulder that she
blamed on a whack from a baton-wielding cop.

"The police mistreat you a lot. I have a 'bastonazo' from a policeman
for illegally selling sweets," she said.

There are other worries as well.

Many people fear that the government will open the door to private
enterprise, then close it as it did during the economic crisis of the 1990s.

While that experience has discouraged some would-be entrepreneurs, it
helped Emilio Perez decide to seize the moment and seek a license to
rent out a room in his house and to sell food.

"You have to grab this chance. It's now or never," he said. "This is
Cuba, what will happen tomorrow, I don't know, but he who doesn't take
the risk neither wins nor loses."

(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by
Stacey Joyce)


Cuba to release last of Black Spring dissidents, cardinal says

Cuba to release last of Black Spring dissidents, cardinal says
Posted : Mon, 29 Nov 2010 14:52:27 GMT

Madrid - Cuba will release the final batch of dissidents jailed in the
so-called Black Spring of 2003, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega said Monday
during a visit to Spain.

Forty of the 52 dissidents who had remained in prison from the initial
group of 75 jailed in the Black Spring have arrived in Spain so far,
along with other released Cuban prisoners. One of the 52 stayed in Cuba
after being set free.

The 11 who are still behind bars have rejected Spain's offer to accept
them. Cardinal Ortega said he had a "clear promise" that the 11 would be
released, though he could not say when.

Some of them might choose to travel to the United States, Ortega said.

Ortega, who has mediated in attempts to persuade Havana to free
dissidents, met with some of the dissidents now living in Spain.

Following weeks of negotiations, the Roman Catholic Church and the Cuban
government made a deal in early July, for the release of the 52
dissidents jailed in the Black Spring.

A total of 75 dissidents were then handed prison terms of up to 28 years
on charges such as being "mercenaries" in the service of the United States.


Cuba Will Free Dissidents and Allow Them to Stay

Cuba Will Free Dissidents and Allow Them to Stay
Published November 29, 2010
Fox News Latino

Nov 25: Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, right, shakes hands
with Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, Cuba, during his visit.

Cuba will release 11 jailed dissidents to complete a July agreement to
free 52 people jailed since a 2003 crackdown – and it may happen before

Speaking in Madrid, Havana Archbishop Jaime Ortega said the 11 will be
allowed to remain in Cuba but that at least one of them may travel to
the U.S.

He did not say exactly when the release would take place. Ortega spoke
after meeting 15 former Cuban prisoners now living in Spain.

One of the ex-inmates, Juan Carlos Herrera, said the cleric had told
them the final 11 would be released by Dec. 25, but this could not be

Cuba agreed in July to release the 52 prisoners, and most of the 41
already freed have moved to Spain.

All the releases were supposed to be completed by Nov. 8, but the
deadline was missed.

Ortega said the former inmates he met in Madrid expressed concern about
some of their family members still in Cuba, their own legal status in
Spain and their future.

The release deal was negotiated by the church with help from Spain.
Ortega flew to Madrid last week to meet with Spanish Foreign Minister
Trinidad Jiménez.

Besides the dissidents, Cuba has also recently freed another 11 people
jailed for other crimes. They also went to Spain.


Effort underway to sell more ND beans to Cuba

Effort underway to sell more ND beans to Cuba
Monday, November 29, 2010 3:53 PM CST

North Dakota officials are working on finalizing an agreement for the
sale of an additional 1,000 metric tons of dry edible beans to Cuba.

"Five thousand tons will leave North Dakota next month and the Cubans
have bought another 5,000 tons from China," said North Dakota
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who recently returned from Cuba.
"This is an opportunity for us to build on our reputation as a ready
dependable supplier of high quality commodities."

Goehring led a seven-member North Dakota trade delegation on a four-day
trade mission to Cuba. The delegation included Randy Schneider,
president of the North Dakota Ethanol Producers Association; Alan
Juliuson and Todd Sorenson, directors of the Northarvest Bean Growers
Association; Ken Bertsch, state seed commissioner; and two North Dakota
Department of Agriculture staff members, Stephanie Sinner, a marketing
specialist, and Dave Nelson, state entomologist.

"Overall, it was a very successful trip in further strengthening our
trade ties with Cuba," Goehring said. "Members of our delegation said it
exceeded their expectations."

Goehring said negotiations for exporting North Dakota seed potatoes are
moving forward.

"It appears that we are in the final discussions for getting signatures
on the phytosanitary documents," he said. "Our potato growers have
donated and offered to ship 45,000 pounds of North Dakota potato
varieties to Havana for planting trials. We hope to ship this in time
for the 2011 planting season."

Goehring said he learned that Cuba is looking to source dry distillers
grains (DDGs), sunflower seeds for oil and barley malt.

"We were very surprised to learn that the Cubans already use 140 to 160
metric tones of DDGs each year from various sources and they would like
to source a portion of that from North Dakota," Goehring said. "We are
looking over the Cuban import specifications for supplying these DDGs
from North Dakota. This could be a huge boost to our state's ag exports."

Goehring said the demand for oil sunflowers and barley malt is also
exciting, since North Dakota dominates U.S. production of both crops.

In addition to meeting with high level Cuban officials, the North Dakota
delegation also met with officials from the U.S. Interest Section, which
represents the U.S. State Department in Cuba.


An Irish Tune-Up for Cuba

An Irish Tune-Up for Cuba

Una Corda -- The Soft Pedal
Sheila Langan
Irish America Magazine
Published Monday, November 29, 2010, 2:07 PM

National Piano Workshop, Havana, Cuba - From the portfolio Una Corda -
The Soft Pedal.

Since 2006, many visitors traveling from Ireland to Cuba have
carried slightly heavier than usual suitcases. In addition to their
clothes, toiletries and other necessities, they have been carrying piano
parts and tools for tuning and repair. They have transported a total of
more than 500 pounds, to date, all of which has been given to Havana's
National Workshop for Musical Instrument Repair.
This courier program is run by Una Corda, an Irish non-profit
organization, and is recognized by the Centre of Coordination for
International Collaboration of the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Una Corda,
which takes its name from the piano's soft pedal, is dedicated to
reinvigorating the National Workshop – to giving Cubans the tools and
skills to repair the many pianos that have started to deteriorate due to
Cuba's isolation and its hot, humid climate. In addition to the courier
program, the organization sends Irish musicians and piano tuners over to
Cuba with the aim of not only helping to repair pianos in the workshop,
but also of teaching people how to make repairs themselves and pass on
the knowledge.
When David Creedon went to Cuba in 2008, he carried his own
luggage, some glue and sandpaper from Una Corda, and an additional item:
a Canon 1ds Mark III camera. The Cork photographer has exhibited
internationally and received much critical acclaim for his last show,
Ghosts of the Faithful Departed: haunting, evocative shots of the
interiors of abandoned houses in Ireland. It first exhibited in Chicago,
with the help of Sarah McCarthy, a Chicago woman who was fascinated by
Creedon's work, and was one of the largest touring shows in Europe in 2008.
Creedon first heard about Una Corda when he caught the tail end of
a 3:00 a.m. radio program in his car. At the time, he was working on a
series of images of 57 Steinway pianos purchased by the Irish
government, so the snippet about the project in Cuba naturally piqued
Creedon's interest. He then got in touch with Ciaran Ryan, the
program's founder, who encouraged him to make the trip to Cuba. After a
long wait for his visa, the photographer was on his way. He fondly
recalls his first trip to National Workshop for Musical Instrument
Repair, located off the beaten track in Santo Tomás, between Árbol Seco
and Subirana in Centro Havana: "Not many tourists venture to this part
of town and when I arrived I felt unsure about the location as there
seemed to be nobody about, but my driver was insistent that this was the
right place. I was uncertain if I should stay in the car or get out when
a man peeked out of a doorway and quickly disappeared only to return
thirty seconds later waving the Irish Tricolor."
Creedon's latest exhibition, Una Corda – the Soft Pedal, features
photographs he took during his ten days at the National Workshop. His
arresting, large-scale images are on display at the Irish Arts Center in
New York until January 9th. The thirteen photographs take viewers inside
the workshop for an intimate look at the pianos in the midst of or in
need of repair. In one, dusty piano keys sit on a table in a crooked
line. In another, an old, ornate piano leg is just visible in a dark
corner, surrounded by tools and worktables. In other shots, Creedon
moves closer to the pianos, focusing on almost unrecognizable components
of the instrument that make for stunning abstract images. By featuring
the pianos both wholly and in pieces, his photographs almost mimic the
disassembling and reassembling that takes place in the workshop.
Surprisingly, Creedon hadn't initially considered exhibiting the
photographs he took in Cuba. But when Joanna Groarke, the program and
production manager at the Arts Center, saw the images, she encouraged
Creedon to consider collaborating on a show. Anyone who sees Una Corda
will be very glad she did. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m. -
6:00 p.m. Call 212-757-3318 ext. 203 for an appointment.



Cuba's Joint Venture Phone Company, In Bed With The Censorship

Yoani Sanchez - Award-Winning Cuban Blogger
Posted: November 29, 2010 07:10 PM

Cuba's Joint Venture Phone Company, In Bed With The Censorship

Dark night, a blackout in the vicinity of the Buena Vista neighborhood
in Playa. The dilapidated shared taxi I'm taking stalls, and with an
exhausted snort refuses to start again. A passenger and the driver are
trying to fix it, while on both sides of the street we see people are
sitting outside their houses, resigned to the power outage. I look in my
wallet for my mobile, wanting to tell my family I'm delayed so they
won't worry about me. It's an ugly picture: we are surrounded by
darkness, in an area where crime isn't child's play, and to top it off
my cellphone doesn't work. Every time I try to dial a number I get the
message, "Call Failed." Finally, the car is purring again and we manage
to advance, but the telephone service is not restored to the useless
gadget and I feel like throwing it out the window. When I get home I
discover that Reinaldo can't call from his, either, and that my blogger
friends can't even receive text messages.

Our only mobile phone company cut the service for all of Friday night
and part of Saturday, canceling for more than 24 hours a service for
which we paid in convertible currency. With its announcements of
"instant communication," Cubacel comports itself as if it is an
accomplice to the ideologically motivated censorship; supporting the
reprimand from the political police, it puts an error message on our
screens. It uses its monopoly power to punish those clients who deviate
from the official line of thought. Part of its business capital,
provided by foreign investors, is used to support the infrastructure of
a momentary or prolonged boycott of certain cell phone numbers. A
contradictory role for a company that should connect us to the world,
not leave us hanging when we need it most.

It is not the first time this has happened. Every so often someone flips
a switch and leaves us in silence. Curiously, it happens when there is
important news to report and urgent information to bring to light. The
forced cancellation of the concert by the group Porno Para Ricardo may
have been the trigger for the phone company to violate his own maxim of
keeping us, "in touch with the world." The possible cremation of the
body of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and everything that is happening around
that event could be another reason to turn off our voices. What is
certain is that on Friday night -- in the midst of the darkness and
worry -- Cubacel failed me again, showing me the military uniform that
hides beneath its false image as a corporate entity.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
Translating Cuba is a new compilation blog with Yoani and other Cuban
bloggers in English.



Cuba Legalizes Private Property Rental

Cuba Legalizes Private Property Rental
2010-11-30 10:46:19 Xinhua Web Editor: Zhangxu

Cuban authorities have allowed citizens to rent rooms, gardens, roofs
and swimming pools to help the establishment of small businesses, the
official daily Granma said in a Monday editorial.

The government has also authorized the rental of rooms and houses for
Cubans seeking to alleviate the shortfall of 500,000 homes.

"This will be considered as an alternative employment," Granma said, a
reference to the expected initial cut of half a million state jobs over
the next six months.

Owners must pay tax according to the space they rent, plus tax on income
and social security contributions. Landlords can also hire domestic
servants or gardeners.

The government will cancel the lease license or confiscate the property
of anyone found breaking the law.

"These kinds of activities will be monitored and controlled," Granma
said. "Total compliance with the law is required."

The Cuban authorities began discussing self employment as a method of
boosting the nation's ailing economy in October. Business proposals
include coffee shops, gyms, carpenters, locksmiths and watchmakers.

The new opportunities of self employment could provide a new source of
income to supplement Cuba' s current state salaries of about 20 dollars
a month.

Cuban leader Raul Castro described the salaries as insufficient in his
inaugural speech in July 2007.


American contractor nears 1 year languishing in Cuban jail without charges

Posted on Monday, 11.29.10
American contractor nears 1 year languishing in Cuban jail without charges

A request to release an American development worker on humanitarian
grounds was denied by the Cuban government, which has held the man for a
year without charges.

Alan Gross has dropped 90 pounds from his 250-pound frame, is losing
feeling in his right foot and spent most of his summer watching Cuban
baseball on TV.

The American arrested a year ago for illegally bringing Internet to
Jewish groups in Cuba kills time with musical jam sessions with his
jailers and by mapping out an economic recovery plan for the country
that has held him without charges.

Gross, 61, is an economic consultant and figures Cuba could use his help.

``He really means it -- he would like to work on that,'' Gross' wife
Judy told The Miami Herald. ``I would describe him as an idealist,
someone who has worked with kids, adolescents and the disadvantaged in
developing countries and has never lost his excitement for that.''

Judy Gross has other plans for her husband of four decades -- like
getting him home. Her husband's detention and the loss of 70 percent of
her household income forced the psychotherapist to sell her home of 22
years. She now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C.,
where she spends her evenings writing letters to the likes of Cuban
leader Raúl Castro and worrying about her 26-year-old daughter, who was
recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Despite the public appeals for his freedom and letters to Castro --
Gross and his mother wrote him, too -- Friday will mark exactly a year
since the world-traveling development worker found himself trapped in a
diplomatic conflict between two nations.

The Cuban government recently rejected the Gross family's plea for a
humanitarian release, and insisted that the case is moving forward like
any other.

``It remains in the same situation. It still hasn't concluded. It's
still being worked and when it finishes, the answer will be given,''
Maj. Gen. Darío Delgado Cura said at a news conference in Cuba. ``This
adheres to Cuban law. There's no problem. Everything moves ahead as was

``It's a normal case.''

Some have suggested that the Cuban government is holding out to pressure
the United States to release five intelligence agents jailed in federal
prison, a swap Judy Gross considers ``apples and oranges.''

``They were arrested and convicted for spying,'' she said. ``Alan is a

Gross has emerged as a pawn between two nations that severed diplomatic
ties decades ago. His arrest appears to have stalled any momentum that
may have existed for Havana and Washington to begin building bridges.
Experts say Gross now serves as a symbol of both a nation that lacks the
rule of law, and another's misguided efforts at promoting democracy.

Gross was arrested Dec. 3 at his Havana hotel on the tail end of a
weeklong trip. A consultant, he had been hired by Bethesda-based
Development Alternatives, Inc., (DAI) to help bring the Internet to
Jewish organizations. But Gross' five trips to Cuba were funded by the
U.S. Agency for International Development's Cuba program, whose mission
is to help foster democracy on an island ruled by the same pair of
communist brothers since 1959.

Or as Cuba sees it: counter-revolutionary regime change.

``I find it frustrating that Cuba has not charged Alan Gross but even
more frustrating that the U.S. has not taken the steps which could have
led to his release,'' said John McAuliff, who runs a foundation that
helped normalize relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. ``The
fundamental problem is mutual respect and sovereignty.''

McAuliff is also an anti-embargo activist in New York who follows the
case closely. ``The U.S. politically and culturally presumes it has the
right to intervene in other countries for their own good,'' he said,
``and to support our values whenever we can get away with it.''

The Cuban government has accused Gross of smuggling illegal satellite
equipment and being a spy. Whatever gear he was caught with -- U.S.
officials have said it was satellite gear -- was cleared by Cuban Customs.

Gross was interrogated daily, sometimes twice, for the first six months
of his detention, Judy Gross said.

``He did nothing wrong,'' she said. ``He is a great person who may have
been a bit naïve. He loves the Cuban people and does not want to hurt
the Cuban people.''

Gross has been assigned a Cuban attorney in Havana who visits him weekly
and brings him candy or cake. She said that while the U.S. State
Department has been supportive, the White House has yet to reach out to her.

The Cubans are trying to use Gross as a ``pawn'' in bi-lateral
relations, said a U.S. official who discussed the case on the condition
of anonymity, citing government policy.

``We are not going to play that game.''

In September, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela met with
Cuban officials during the opening of United Nations General Assembly to
push for Gross' release, said Philip Crowley, State Department spokesman.

``Unfortunately, that has not yet happened,'' Crowley told reporters,
later adding that ``we would hope that it would happen today, but that's
up to the Cuban Government.''

``DAI is profoundly disappointed by Alan's continued detention,'' DAI's
President and CEO James Boomgard said in a statement. ``As the
anniversary of his detention approaches, our thoughts are with Alan, his
wife Judy, and their two daughters, and our hope is that this loving
husband and father may be swiftly reunited with his family.''

Judy Gross was allowed to visit her husband for three days in July. She
saw him at the military hospital where he is now being held.

``I prepared myself for the worst, but I still wasn't prepared,'' she
said. ``He looked like a 70-year-old man all hunched over. He looked
pale, his cheeks were sunken in; his posture was humped over. He was
dragging one of his feet. That was pretty shocking.''

While he has generally been treated ``fairly,'' Judy Gross said her
husband developed a disk problem that is causing paralysis in one leg.
He had ulcers, gout and lost 90 pounds. When he was held in a cell, he
stayed in shape by walking around and around and around in circles.

``His letters vary from sounding hopeless, anxious and depressed to very
humorous,'' she said. ``I'm not sure what changes his mood.''

He has nicknamed two of his guards ``Cheech and Chong.''

In his last correspondence, he said he had just seen the moon for the
second time in a year.

``My plan is to see him again,'' Judy Gross said, ``when I go there to
bring him home.''


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Over 81,000 Cubans apply for permits for private work

Over 81,000 Cubans apply for permits for private work
English.news.cn 2010-11-28 10:06:43

HAVANA, Nov.27 (Xinhua) - More than 81,000 Cubans applied for licenses
to open small businesses or rent their homes since the government
decided in October to expand these activities as part of a plan to
eliminate 500,000 government jobs, the official daily Granma said on

A total of 81,498 Cubans had applied for permits to develope "self
employed" (private) work till Nov. 19, less than a month after the
announcement of new measures for the expansion and flexibility of that
activity, Granma said.

Granma stressed that already 29,038 permits have been delivered and more
than 16,000 requests are under study. 20 percent of the accepted "self
employed" licenses shall be used to produce or sell food, an activity
with great demand on the island.

Another six percent of the permits are for transport activities or
passengers transfer (private taxi drivers) and one percent is associated
with new ways of house renting.

Raul Castro's government in October allowed the opening of small
businesses to help absorb the half a million people, 10 percent of the
workforce, who will lose their jobs from the state bloated sectors.

The private work may be exercised in 178 activities, 83 of them are
allowed to recruit employees for the first time in 50 years of
revolution, a way for the creation of small private companies in the island.

The small private business were eliminated in Cuba on March 13, 1968, as
part of the then so-called "Revolutionary Offensive."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy fell to its
lowest point and the licences for private work were reopened, but with
the economic recovery the permits were frozen till Raul Castro' s new

The economic adjustment plan designed in Cuba is expected to be ratified
by the ruling Communist Party at its Sixth Congress, scheduled for the
second half of next April.

Editor: Wang Guanqun


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Evolution of Cuban revolution

Evolution of Cuban revolution
November 27, 2010

• 1959: In January, Fidel Castro forces out President Fulgencio Batista.
In February, Castro becomes prime minister of Cuba.

• 1959: Castro signs the Agrarian Reform Act in May, banning foreigners
from owning land.

• 1960: In March, US President Dwight Eisenhower orders the CIA to train
Cuban exiles for an invasion of Cuba.

• 1960: Cuba nationalizes US business assets in July.

• 1960: In October, US imposes embargo prohibiting all exports to Cuba
except food and medical supplies. (Full embargo starts 1961.)

• 1961: Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exile force is botched, a failure
blamed on the Kennedy administration.

• 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis and near nuclear conflict between the US
and Soviet Union averted.

• 1968: Castro nationalizes private businesses, ending small-business

• 1980: The Cuban government grants a one-time exodus, and 125,000
Cubans flee to the US in the Mariel Boat Lift.

• 1993: After dissolution of Soviet Union, Cuba announces it will permit
a degree of private ownership in the "special period."

• 1996: US passes the Helms-Burton Act, extending the embargo against
Cuba to foreign companies.

• 2003: In the "Black Spring" roundup, the Cuban government arrests 75
writers and dissidents, giving rise to the dissident women's group
Ladies in White.

• 2006: Raúl Castro temporarily takes over as president of Cuba after
his brother falls ill. He permanently takes over in 2008.

• 2008: Raúl Castro's administration relaxes restrictions on land
available to private farmers. He had earlier relaxed bans on cellphones
and other electronics.

• 2010: Dissident Orlando Tamayo dies in February after a hunger strike,
an event that many say prompted the biggest political prisoner release
in a decade in the summer of 2010.

• 2010: In September, the Cuban government announces layoffs of half a
million employees, the biggest economic overhaul since 1959.


China group's Cuba oil deal

China group's Cuba oil deal
Marc Frank in Havana, 0:23, Wednesday 24 November 2010

China National Petroleum Corp has won a bid to expand a Cuban oil
refinery in a deal that could be worth as much as $6bn, making it one of
the communist island's largest investments to date.

The refinery, jointly owned by state-owned Cubapetroleo (CUPET) and
Venezuela's Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is located in central
Cienfuegos province on Cuba's southern coast and forms part of Havana's
efforts to explore for offshore oil.

The refinery will be expanded from its current 65,000 barrels a day
capacity to 150,000 b/d and will eventually include a petrochemical
complex and a liquefied natural gas terminal.

Huanqiu Contracting and Engineering Corp, a unit of CNPC, will be the
manager of the project, which will be financed largely by Chinese banks
and backed by guarantees from Venezuelan oil revenues, people familiar
with the project said.

Chinese construction equipment has begun arriving, with earth moving
scheduled to begin next year, although Cuban projects are often delayed.

None of the parties involved have commented on the deal.

PDVSA is also expected to be one of several companies to drill
exploration wells in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters next year, after the
arrival of an Italian-owned but Chinese-built rig that gets around a US
ban on the use of more than 10 per cent of its technology in Cuban projects.

Spanish oil company Repsol YPF (Madrid: REP.MC - news) , Malaysia's
Petronas, Gazprom (GAZP.ME - news) of Russia (OMXR.EX - news) and
India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation also plan to begin drilling next
year. US oil companies cannot bid for Cuban drilling rights due to the
50-year embargo.

The US Geological Survey estimates that Cuba has about 5bn barrels of
oil offshore, although Havana says it could have 20bn barrels.

Venezuela is now a partner in almost all of Cuba's downstream
infrastructure through the 50-50 joint venture between PDVSA and CUPET,
called Cuvenpetrol, which includes a planned 150,000 b/d refinery in
Matanzas province, east of Havana.

Work has also begun on upgrading Mariel, a large port on the north coast
near the capital.

The Brazilian government has pledged $600m to develop Mariel over the
next four years, and COI, a subsidiary of Brazil's Grupo Odebrecht, has
been working there since 2009 to prepare it as the logistical centre for
offshore oil drilling.

Singaporean port operator PSA International has won a bid to be overall
project manager of Mariel's modernisation, which might include a
container terminal, and it is in negotiations with Cuba's military-run
Universal (Frankfurt: 859669 - news) , people familiar with the matter said.


As Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolution fade, is Cuba rising?

As Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolution fade, is Cuba rising?

Seismic changes in the communist economy built by Fidel Castro are
enriching some Cubans, scaring others, and sparking imaginations: Will
the Caribbean gem shine again?

As Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolution fade, a revolution of reform is
afoot in Cuba. Manuel Fernandez is a retired state employee who won a
rare private business license 20 years ago to operate a repair shop on
his front porch in Havana. The government is now pushing as much as 10
percent of its employees into such entrepreneurial work.

By Sara Miller Llana / Staff writer, with a correspondent, Photos by
Alfredo Sosa, / Staff Photographer
posted November 27, 2010 at 12:17 pm EST

Antonio Santana and Marina Suarez are children of Fidel Castro's
revolution – born into the communism that swept across this island of
mambo and mob ties in 1959.

Now thin and graying, with government-issue glasses, Mr. Santana – a
pseudonym he asked the Monitor to use out of concern he should not talk
to foreign journalists – has had a long career as a state barber.
Snipping no-nonsense cuts in a society that overthrew the glamour and
glitz of the corrupt Batista dictatorship for social egalitarianism, he
and his wife were able to raise twins, a boy and a girl now grown, on
his paltry $12-a month salary.

Ms. Suarez, who manages a tidy, crisp look in Cuba's tropical heat, had
a career as a government secretary and raised two sons – now 15 and 24 –
on her own. Though her $14-a-month salary was pitifully small, she
valued the job security.

IN PICTURES: Cuba Economy

Like all of their contemporaries who have been housed, fed, and employed
by the state, Santana and Suarez grew up as pawns in Mr. Castro's trial
of free health care and education, state-owned industry, and
collectivized agriculture.

As waves of their fellow countrymen fled, and as Castro raged against
the sea of capitalism that isolates this island – even providing the
stage for cold-war nuclear brinkmanship – the lives of people like
Santana and Suarez have been calm if grindingly poor. Never forced to
fret over college funds and health-care copays or contend with gaping
divides between rich and poor, they've never faced the dramas of
market-driven economies. Like most Cubans, they've earned little in
their lives – because they have needed little.

But now these children of the revolution have awoken to the hint of a
new revolution: In the waning days of Castro's power, a decided tilt
toward a market economy has shifted the paternalistic burden from the
struggling government onto individual citizens.

Ever since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and the decline of support
from Cuba's communist brethren, steady tinkering with the economy has
given way to the biggest economic upheaval the island has faced since
the revolution – the layoff of half a million workers and a push toward
private entrepreneurial activity.

The bottom line for Suarez, for example, was a pink slip and a sense of
betrayal: "I never thought Cuba could do this, because the government
always protected us."

But for Santana, being kicked off the government payroll has been
dazzling. Told to start his own business, he has to pay rent; and if his
scissors dull or clippers break, he shoulders the expense. But he's also
pocketing the pesos he earns – the equivalent of $40 a month, more than
three times his previous income.

"I am not a millionaire, but I am better off than others," says Santana.
"[I have] the liberty to have my own schedule, prices, and services. I
am the boss of myself. Everything that happens is my responsibility, and
that is a good feeling."

When The Atlantic magazine journalist Jeffrey Goldberg asked Castro in
September if the Cuban economic model was still worth exporting, Castro
answered: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."

Castro later cast it as a misunderstood offhand comment, but just a few
days later, his younger brother, Raúl Castro, who now runs the
government, announced layoffs of 500,000 state employees and programs to
encourage many of them to become part of a new retail business sector.
It is a radical step in this country where nearly 9 out of 10 people
work for the government.

Some believe it represents the largest crack in the communist structure
yet. Imagine, they say, Havana with billboards advertising competitive
prices on repairs for cars. Imagine those cars are not 1950s Chevys but
the newest models off a US assembly line. Imagine those same cars lining
up at a McDonalds takeout window.

For many Cubans who have lived their entire lives "making do" in a
nation without industry and entrepreneurial opportunity, this latest
fissure of reform is seismic – for better or worse.

But most observers say any opening, even after the 84-year-old Castro is
gone, would most probably follow a Chinese model that tolerates a degree
of free market with a heavy government hand.

No one expects a radical new landscape overnight. Other postcommunist
transitions have been slow evolutions. Reforms in China, which today has
one of the most dynamic economies in the world, were 30 years in the
making. In Vietnam, change was measured in decades, as the country
experimented first with opening the agricultural sector and later access
to microcredit, before making significant changes to the way the economy

Nor would Cuba probably follow closely any of those precedents. After
all, it is surrounded by market economies, and just 90 miles south of
the US, it is much more likely to be influenced by American investment
than other postcommunist nations have been. While Russia today has a
market economy, it is natural resources as much as any reform that have
buoyed its transition. Cuba and its flailing sugar industry are in no
such position. The denouement of the revolution would probably feature
the deep pockets of American tourists sunbathing and sipping cocktails
on Cuba's Caribbean shores.

Actual and anticipated change have Suarez reeling: Her days of typing
and filing in the halls of the communist bureaucracy are over. Without a
paycheck she has started to take in mending work.

"I have a lot of uncertainty about my future and that of my children,"
she says. "The state says that they will give us the opportunity to work
on our own but they do not say anything definitive about how that will
happen. Everything is up in the air."

The details of the September announcement of a layoff of 10 percent of
the 5 million workforce in Cuba are still not fully known. Layoffs will
not be completed until the spring and could eventually include a million
workers or more. New private cooperatives will be formed.
Self-employment licenses will be issued to 250,000 individuals in 178
new categories, from stonemasons to sports trainers. All will be
required to pay taxes.

It is a huge shift in a country that nationalized small businesses in 1968.

"The growth of this entrepreneur sector isn't just some insignificant
marginal issue in Cuban economics, it's linked to a central strategy of
Raúl's economic policy, which is to dump a million people off the
payroll that aren't producing anything," says Philip Peters, a Cuba
expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "They are also talking
about establishing cooperatives not in agriculture but in the service
sector and the retail sector. Pull this all together and the government
is completely envisioning the development of a small and medium business
sector in a communist economy, and that's significant."

So the normally languid streets of Havana are now on edge, as a new
notion – unemployment – is being felt by many for the first time.

Paternalistic egalitarianism is a cornerstone of the Cuban revolution.
Education and health care are provided and housing is highly subsidized.
Cubans are given rations of sugar and rice and other basic foodstuffs
listed in their monthly libretas, or coupon books. But state salaries
averaging $20 a month and food rations together are barely enough to
cover people's caloric necessities. Class divides have grown as Cubans
with access to remittances and jobs in dollar-dominated tourism outpace
those without access to either.

And so Cubans are forced to "get by" on the thriving black market. Walk
down the streets of Havana with any Cuban and you are bound to run into
a friend or "associate" who puts some kind of offer on the table.
Example: A box of toilet paper rolls – usually taken illegally from the
workplace – offered in exchange for the equivalent value of gasoline,
often also obtained clandestinely.

Still, black-market trade and barter doesn't directly translate into
successful entrepreneurialism, says Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch
College at The City University of New York who has studied earlier Cuban
ventures in private enterprise. He says the state must give more liberty
if it demands more economic independence. Cubans need training,
microcredit, and access to wholesale goods. "If they're going to require
more responsibility of the Cuban people, they have a lot they have to do
in terms of giving people more rights."

The whole situation mystifies Amaury Restrepo, a 24-year-old welder for
a railway repair factory in Havana who has suddenly found himself
unemployed. The Monitor interviewed him on a Havana Street in
mid-October when he said: "I never thought I'd be the one left
unemployed The directors said there would be possibilities to open up
our own business, but it is not so easy to open one.... To open a
business you need funds, and that is what I don't have right now. I
don't know what to do."

But apparently Mr. Restrepo decided there was only one thing to do: The
Monitor discovered, in an attempt at a follow-up interview, that he'd
left Cuba on a motorboat bound for Florida in early November.

These sorts of doubts and questions might be just the beginning of an
entirely new way of thinking here. Under Raúl Castro – who took over the
presidency from his brother in 2008 and has made clear that economic
adjustments are needed – limited but clearly defined reform has already

The new president privatized barbershops and beauty salons, allowed
taxis to obtain private licenses, and redistributed government land for
farmers. He has not minced words. Cubans, he said this summer, have "to
erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world
where one can live without working."

But Cuban observers, especially those in Miami, the heart of the
Cuban-American community in the United States, say this is driven by
necessity, not new thinking. The economy, struggling for decades, has
been battered in the past few years – hit by devastating hurricanes and
the global financial crisis, a drop in nickel prices, and the worst
sugar harvest this year since 1905. The state payrolls are filled with
staff who might show up for work – or not.

So long as Fidel Castro, who still heads the nation's Communist Party,
is in the picture, few expect Cuba to forge too far down a radical path.
"We have to wait and see – and I don't think this will happen until
Fidel Castro is completely out of the picture," says Andy Gomez, senior
fellow at the University of Florida Center for Cuban and Cuban-American
Studies. "Fidel Castro remains a powerful symbolic figure."

And that is why US policy on Cuba hasn't budged. The US embargo, imposed
nearly 50 years ago, has been supported by 11 American presidents. And
while the Obama administration has relaxed some rules, such as
remittances and travel to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, the president has
barely responded to both Cuba's release of political prisoners this
summer – the largest in more than a decade – and the more recent
announcement that some free markets will be tolerated. Despite growing
pressure from some lawmakers, the US maintains its longstanding demand
that free and fair elections and freedom of expression be implemented
before American policy will shift radically.

If the past is any indication, Cubans, analysts, and US officials are
right to be skeptical about the staying power of experimentation in
Cuba. In the early 1990s, known as the "special period," after the
collapse of the Soviet Union, which in turn took down the Cuban economy,
the Castro government grudgingly allowed some small businesses to
emerge. Many of those reforms were rolled back in the late 1990s and
early 2000s, after other players such as Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez stepped in with subsidies.

During the "special period," more than 200,000 Cubans were registered as
self-employed; today Cuba counts 143,000 such licenses. Many of the new
establishments, such as paladares, small restaurants usually off the
side of a private house, were so tightly controlled that many never had
a chance to survive. Part of the problem was that the very concept was
anathema in a country whose motto, sprayed across billboards, is
"socialism or death."

In a scathing piece last year, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, whose blog
Generacion Y openly criticizes the government, detailed the case of
Huron Azul – a well-known restaurant shut down, she wrote, for: "Selling
prohibited food such as lobster and beef; having more than twelve seats
in the restaurant; giving credit to the painters to eat there; becoming
a patron of the arts; paying a huge electricity bill; having a lot of
cash; and – what nerve – wanting to open a restaurant in Milan."

But many suspect Raúl Castro is finally fully exercising his reputation
as a pragmatist, ready to usher in change. "There was drive [in earlier
reforms of the 1990s] done out of necessity and mostly against will,"
says Paulo Spadoni, an expert on the Cuban economy at Augusta State
University in Georgia. "What differs from previous attempts is the guy
pushing reforms [now] isn't the same guy pushing reforms [during the
'special period' of the early 1990s]. Now they're pushing for reforms
because it's exactly what they want to do. It is a signal that those
reforms are here to stay."

Many Cubans, like Santana, the barber, are ready for change, to be their
own boss. His shop sits in the middle of a bustling office complex. No
sign advertises the shop – such investments are still prohibitive. The
tiny space, 20 feet by 13 feet, is simple: white walls, with a
floor-length mirror in front of a single barber's chair. A cement table
in the back holds all of his cutting tools.

Santana says that, except for the $40 in rent and tax he pays to the
government, he gets to keep the full 50 cents he charges for a cut. "It
gives me a better margin of earnings to feed my family," he says, noting
that his grown twins still live with him. This, he says, is "the best
thing that could have happened."

Yet Santana knows he is limited as a business owner. He can't invest in
his company – from putting up a new sign to hiring more staff to
renovating the space – because he simply has no capital.

That is where many see a role for the Cuban community in the US,
estimated at about 1.5 million. At least 1 million households in Cuba
receive remittances totaling $1.4 billion annually. The average amount
sent is $200 a month – 10 times the average monthly salary in Cuba.

Manuel Orozco, a remittances expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in
Washington, estimates that 10 percent of Cubans receiving remittances
could eventually use that to invest in small business – to upgrade tool
sets, fix car motors, or build extra bedrooms to rent to tourists.

But it depends on how far the government is willing to take reform.
Optimists point to positive change, including proposed access to
microcredit and hiring rules that allow Cubans to employ more than just
family members, so that they can form enterprises, says Mr. Spadoni.

Yet questions abound: Where will they buy their products? Who will be
able to pay for services? Will high taxes undermine businesses before
they even get off the ground? Will taxes dissuade many from taking legal
routes and drive entrepreneurs into the black market? Even the
government plan for private enterprise, leaked and circulating in a PDF
document, acknowledges that many new businesses "could fail within a
year" because of a lack of expertise and training, among other factors.

The Cuban exile community, once dedicated to the overthrow of Castro and
the triumphant return of capitalistic investment to its homeland, has
aged. And younger Cuban-Americans are more wary of investing too heavily.

"The Cuban-American community will help, but nobody here is going to
take out half a million dollars and plunk it into a business in Cuba
with the system as it is," observes Jaime Suchliki, director of the
Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of
Miami. "There's no equipment, so any business is going to be very
rudimentary, and who will buy their services? They are going to have a
high rate of failure."

Mr. Suchliki offers this example: "If you were an inspector of schools
in the Ministry of Education [and] they throw you on the street, you
don't know anything about business, you have no business planning. You
only have dollars if you have relatives in the US. There's a limit to
how much anyone will lend."

But if Havana hair stylist Zoraida Bustos is any example of the national
sentiment, Cubans will have no problem proving they have embraced their
newfound freedoms and are ready to prosper the capitalistic way.

True, her store just has a simple wooden sign with one word written in
red: "Hairdresser." She uses supplies sent from family and others
abroad. If she had her way, she'd hire two more women so that she could
offer pedicures and apply acrylic nails without clients facing endless

An electric sign, new supplies, and added staff, she says, are a long
way off. But she feels a momentum that could be hard to rein in: "I was
crazy to free myself. Even if the state begins to pressure me, this way
I will always be freer.

• Jacqui Goddard contributed from Miami. The Monitor's correspondent in
Cuba could not be named for security reasons.


Cuba to import raw materials for small businesses

Cuba to import raw materials for small businesses

Cuba's government will spend about $130 million next year to import raw
materials and equipment for independent businesses following its
decision to allow some kinds of self-employment, officials said Friday.

In a bid to increase the efficiency of its cash-strapped economy, the
communist government announced that it would lay off a half-million
state workers and in October authorized 178 kinds of self-employment
ranging from translator and teacher to shoe or watch repair.

Most of the newly permitted forms of self-employment require tools,
equipment and infrastructure, Maria Victoria Coombs, director of
employment at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, told Communist
Party newspaper Granma.

"The country will ensure, to the extent that it is possible, the supply
of raw materials and supplies needed for self-employment," Granma
reported Friday.

The granting of licenses in nine of the permitted forms of
self-employment had been suspended because of the impossibility of
legally obtaining the needed equipment and fears that those carrying out
the jobs were using material stolen from state centers.

Enrique Ramos, commerce director of the Ministry of the Economy and
Planning, said the state will supply independent businesses with the raw
materials through established retail networks, since economic conditions
don't allow it to create in the near future a wholesale market with
special prices for the self-employed.

Cubans often complain that state-run retail stores have elevated prices.
A wholesale market could give small businesses access to goods at lower

Ramos said "for 2011 it is projected that imported goods and materials
worth $130 million, of which food represents $36 million, will be
incorporated into the existing supply."

Earlier this year, President Raul Castro began announcing measures to
reform the island's socialist economic model to allow some forms of
private enterprise without giving up the state's firm control of the
economy. Laid-off workers could apply for licenses to run small businesses.

Castro said Cuba's labor laws and extensive subsidies had created a
culture of inefficiency that fed an economic crisis.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Lesbians Demand Fair Treatment from Health Providers

Lesbians Demand Fair Treatment from Health Providers
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Nov 25, 2010 (IPS) - Lesbian and bisexual women's groups in
Cuba, which welcome anyone who wishes to participate "with solidarity
and in a respectful, friendly and healthy manner," point to the need to
sensitise health personnel to the issue of female sexual diversity.

"We want to be treated as women, and we want to be able to openly tell
the doctor who we are, explain to the doctor whether or not we have sex
with intercourse, and tell the doctor about our fears," Argelia Felloue,
the facilitator of the Oremi group, an initiative supported by the
governmental National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), told IPS.

The main target of their demand is gynaecology, because lesbians and
heterosexual women have different needs.

"There are lesbians who have never had sex with penetration," said Nery
Lázaro, the coordinator of the Oremi collective, who advocates a
transformation in the doctor-patient relationship to ensure that
lesbians come in for important procedures, such as Pap smears.

Lázaro, a CENESEX psychologist, said "you don't choose your sexuality,
you just have it."

She pointed to the difficulties and discomfort suffered by a woman who
has never been penetrated, "when she is told: lay down on the exam
table, I'm going to put the speculum in."

Several workshops, carefully designed to have a friendly tone, have been
held in the public health and education systems to discuss "the
rejection, rudeness and even aggressive attitudes" that lesbians
complain about suffering at the hands of health providers, or the
vulnerability of women in prison as a result of homophobia on the part
of guards and prison authorities.

The Oremi group, founded in 2004 in Havana, was the second initiative of
its kind in this Caribbean island nation. The first emerged in the early
1990s in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba and gradually evolved
into the Las Isabelas collective, which is still functioning. And in
2008, a third appeared: Fénix, in the south-central city of Cienfuegos.

"When we go to the doctor, especially the gynaecologist, if we tell him
or her that we're lesbians, they're sort of taken aback, they tend to
treat you differently," Felloue complained.

Many lesbians who do not have sex with penetration avoid preventive
health care like pelvic exams and Pap smears, which are the only way to
prevent and diagnose cervical cancer.

In Cuba, women tend to take advantage of the free annual Pap smears,
with nearly 710,000 women over 25 having one in 2008, out of a total
population of 11.2 million, according to the National Statistics Office

But fear of the speculum or of insensitivity and discrimination from
health care providers can make lesbians especially vulnerable to
cervical cancer, because of the resulting reluctance to have regular Pap

"There are lesbians who have never had a Pap smear, and who develop
cervical uterine cancer," said Lázaro, who has carried out research in
the field of psychology on the broad spectrum of lesbian sexuality.

One 38-year-old woman, who has known she is a lesbian since the age of
14, only had the test done as a sort of indirect result of the HIV
epidemic: in the 1990s, a gay friend put her down as a contact, and she
had to take the exam, she told IPS.

The woman, who is from the north-central province of Villa Clara and
asked to remain anonymous, says the experience made a bad impression on
her, that it was strange to have "a foreign body inside me." She says
she rejects penetration in her sex life.

But she argued that "No woman likes to have a Pap smear. It has nothing
to do with lesbianism."

Lesbians want more sensitive treatment from health providers. "One of
the biggest problems is breaking down the hostility that you find in
politics and health," said Diarenis Calderón, who has a little girl and
lives with her partner Mirna Padrón, also a member of Oremi.

Padrón called for new guidelines for training health personnel on sexual
habits of lesbians that can affect their health. For example, with
respect to the use of sex toys for penetration, health providers should
explain the "limits to that practice," the activist said.

Health providers in Cuba often discriminate against lesbians, and can
even be antagonistic, she said.

The work of the women who gather together in Oremi, Fénix and Las
Isabelas is aimed at achieving respect for lesbians, not only in the
health system but in society as a whole.

Specialised sources say lesbians are subject to double discrimination --
they must fight for their rights as women and then for their rights as
non-heterosexual women.

"All of the institutions have to make a greater effort with respect to
women: lesbians are invisible, they face a great deal of
discrimination," said Tania Tocoronte, founder of the Fénix project.

This initiative, taken up by the health authorities in Cienfuegos, has
channelled its awareness-raising activities through the governmental
Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).

The local lesbian community "is suffering a kind of papilloma, and a
solution has not been sought," Tocoronte said.

The human papilloma virus or HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.
In 2008, the National Cancer Control Programme found 1,350 cases of
uterine cancer among women over 25, according to the ONE.

Networking between Oremi, Fénix and Las Isabelas has given rise to
projects with a broader scope, mainly focused on achieving greater
social acceptance of lesbians. "Tolerance means looking down on us, and
acceptance means looking at us face to face: we want acceptance," Lázaro


Church develops program to provide clean water

November 25, 2010
Water for Cuba
Church develops program to provide clean water

By David Owens, newseditor@laurelleadercall.com Laurel Leader-Call The
Laurel Leader-Call Thu Nov 25, 2010, 02:50 PM CST

LAUREL — Like Jesus Christ before them, the members of First-Trinity
Presbyterian Church of Laurel are providing the "living water" to people
around the world.

For two years, church members have traveled to Matanzas, Cuba, to
install water purifying systems in the island country.

Verniece Goode, team leader, said the church participates in Living
Waters for the World, a ministry of the Synod of Living Waters,
Presbyterian Church (USA).

Goode said the Synod of Living Waters includes churches in Mississippi,
Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. She noted that the local church has a
relationship with a seminary in Cuba, and realized that the seminary's
water was contaminated.

"The first water system that we put in was at the seminary," Goode said.
"Seminary officials took us to other sites including an orphanage in the
same town, and we found their water to be contaminated everywhere we

Goode said the church's team, which includes six trained members,
installed a water system there last summer, and plans to go back this
summer for a third installation.

While Cuba is a more developed nation than many other countries in that
region, Goode said it doesn't mean that they have needs such as clean water.

"They have a lot of water wells especially outside of the cities," she
said. "They have municipal water systems, but their infrastructure is so
poor. There are a lot of leaks, and at times, the electricity doesn't work.

"The water sits there and becomes contaminated," Goode added. "They also
store their water in cisterns on top of the building and all kinds of
things can get in there."

Goode said it costs approximately $10,000 including $5,000 for the water
system, along with trip expenses and replacement filters.

Louise Beidler, a church member who has taken the Cuba mission trip,
said the church members and other community residents have been very

"We can't get federal grants because of the embargo," she said. "So we
have to rely on the support of our church family and others."

Beidler said the team has hosted a number of fundraisers including an
"Entertaining with Spirit" event Saturday at the church.

"This is one of our fundraisers," she said. "We also have an
adopt-a-part program so people can take ownership of it and feel like
it's theirs as well."

Carol Davis, chair of the church's mission and outreach, said more than
200 people attended the "Entertaining with Spirit" event which featured
local decorator Tana Henderson.

"We had 14 tablescapes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, done
by local sponsors including Vic's, Corner Market, Quinn Pharmacy &
Gifts, The Emporium, City Home Center, Lovie's in Hattiesburg and
Scentsy," she said. "We gave out ideas for the holidays, how to set a
table and how to use many things in different ways."

Davis said the event also included a food tasting and everyone in
attendance received a recipe book just in time for the holidays.

For more information on Living Waters for the World, visit
www.livingwatersfortheworld.org or call First-Trinity Presbyterian
Church at 601-428-8491.


What's next for Cuba?

What's next for Cuba?

American journalist Jeffery Goldberg interviewed Fidel Castro in The
Atlantic's September issue, in which he quoted Castro saying that the
communist model no longer works for Cuba. The story immediately received
international attention and three days later, Castro retracted his
statement at the University of Havana, saying he meant "just the
opposite" of what was written.

Castro still maintains that the capitalist system will not work for
Cuba, and that it no longer works for the United States or the world,
"which steers from crisis to crisis, which are ever more serious, global
and repetitive, and from which there is no escape."

In the 1960s, Cuba nationalized all otherwise foreign-owned property,
and in turn, the US responded by freezing all Cuban assets in the US,
and severed diplomatic ties. In 1962, the U.S. tightened the embargo on
Cuba, which is still in place. In response, the Cuban government turned
to the Soviet Union in 1991, for support subsidies and as a trading
partner. The collapse of the Soviet Union greatly affected the Cuban
economy – its GDP declined by 33 per cent between 1990 and 1993.
However, since 2000 the country has seen an increase in tourism, which
spurred economic recovery.

Nevertheless, the statement raises the question: if an economic system
falters, how long does one cling to an ideology before it's time to jump

Global markets continue to converge and national politics are
increasingly becoming international affairs. The recession hit countries
in all corners of the globe, but capitalism as we know it remains
unchallenged. North America and Europe stayed loyal to the system when
they chose to bail out big businesses. If Cuba is looking for
alternatives in a modern world, perhaps the country could restructure
its system to emulate China and Vietnam, whose leaders control all
things political, but leave economies and markets alone.

Since the Cuban Revolution, the economy of Cuba has been largely
state-controlled, with a planned economy overseen by the Cuban
government. The Cuban government owns most of the means of production,
employs most of the labor force, sets most prices and rations goods to
its citizens. The government provides free housing, education and
healthcare. The average monthly salary for Cubans who work for the
government (nearly 80 per cent of the population) is $19.50 USD.

Despite Castro's defense of the system, there is evidence of reform of
Cuba's economic model. In 2007, Raul Castro legalized mobile phones and
decentralized agricultural ownership. The president has also stated that
Cuba will be restructuring the labor force to eliminate inefficient
jobs. To achieve this, small businesses have been allowed to operate and
foreign investors can now buy Cuban real estate.

Some speculate that Cuba's reason for beginning to open its economy is
its fear of a mass inflow of U.S. economic, political and social
influence on Cubans that would threaten the regime. While most Cubans
are not ready to give up free healthcare, education and housing for
full-on U.S. capitalism, many would be ready to accept a few reforms to
the system that would bring some economic opportunities.

Julie Sweig, the director for Latin American Studies at the Council of
Foreign Relations also accompanied Goldberg on his trip to interview
Fidel. She stated in a recent interview with PBS that Castro's
retractment of his statement was his attempt to clarify that "although
we are changing our model and it needs to change, that doesn't mean
we're importing their model – the American capitalist model."


Cuba-Texas Trade Is Languishing in Poor Economy

The Texas Tribune
Cuba-Texas Trade Is Languishing in Poor Economy
Published: November 25, 2010

When the global shipping giant CMA CGM announced in April that it had
obtained a license to ship container vessels to Cuba via the Port of
Houston, business executives and trade experts marveled: Unabashedly
Republican Texas would soon become the Communist island nation's leading
United States trade partner.

Seven months later, the relationship between two very different kind of
red states has not quite lived up to expectations.

As of September, fewer than 20 percent of the large containers that were
expected to leave Houston for Cuba had set sail, said George Armaos, the
director of strategic accounts at CMA CGM in Houston. Though the company
planned to move 200 to 300 containers by October, so far just 30 or 40
have gone — the result, Mr. Armaos said, of Cuba's insistence on
engaging only with like-minded governments in a foundering global economy.

"Venezuela may be influencing the Cubans not to buy too much from the
U.S. producers," he said. "We spoke with some shippers here in the U.S.,
and they do have some orders, but finances are coming very, very slow."

Countries like Venezuela, China, Brazil and Vietnam offer more trade
incentives to the Cuban government than the private sector in the United
States does, said John S. Kavulich, a senior policy adviser with the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a nonprofit based in
Washington that deals directly with the Cuban government. Cuba is
"focusing on countries that will give them substantial government
credits that they know they won't have to pay back," Mr. Kavulich said.

According to the economic council's latest report, those countries
provide more "favorable payment terms and less publicity when those
payment terms are not honored," which is expected given the lack of
foreign investment.

"There is absolutely no incentive for the government of Raúl Castro to
seek any re-engagement with the United States," Mr. Kavulich said,
"because any re-engagement with the United States has one guarantee, and
that is uncertainty."

Although Texas only recently got permission to ship large containers to
Cuba, it has consistently traded in smaller shipments. In 2009 it
trailed only Louisiana in terms of the value of cargo that left its
ports for Cuba. But trade with Cuba at both the state and national
levels has slipped in the last year.

C. Parr Rosson III, director of the Center for North American Studies at
Texas A&M University, said that in 2009, $85 million in goods left Texas
bound for Havana, compared with $143 million in 2008. These goods are
not necessarily manufactured in Texas but depart from there, Dr. Rosson
said, creating jobs and boosting the state's economy.

From January through September this year, Texas ports shipped $18.2
million to Cuba, but Dr. Rosson estimated that only $354,000 of that
left through large container shipments from Houston.

Meanwhile, the United States as a whole sent $528 million in goods to
Cuba in 2009, a dip from the $710 million shipped in 2008. Should the
trend hold for 2010, it would represent the third consecutive year in
which Cuba's trade with the United States has diminished. The U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council estimates total American trade with Cuba this
year through September is about $288 million — just slightly more than
half of last year's total.

Dr. Rosson said a contributing factor was the steady decline of the
price of nickel, Cuba's leading commodity, which makes the country less
likely to engage in trade.

Despite the downward trend, Todd Staples, the Texas commissioner of
agriculture, said the state should continue to expand the dialogue — and
trade opportunities — between Cuba and the United States.

"I support allowing Texas farmers and ranchers to engage in fair
competition when selling their agricultural products to Cuba," Mr.
Staples said in a statement. "Texans will benefit through job growth,
and Cubans can see the success of democracy and a free-market society."



Thursday, November 25, 2010

Electricity fraud drastically increases in Havana: official

Electricity fraud drastically increases in Havana: official

HAVANA, Nov 23, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The Cuban capital has
reported a drastic increase in electricity fraud this year, a municipal
government official said on Tuesday.

More than 5,800 cases of electricity fraud have been detected in Havana
in the first ten months of this year, greatly exceeding the number of
over 100 cases discovered in the same period of the previous year, said
Inaudis Mora, director of the Electric Union in Havana.

Under a law signed by the Council of Ministers, the violators are
punished with fines of 500 pesos (20 U.S. dollars), with their
electricity supply cut off 72 hours.

If the offender relapses, the fine is 1,000 pesos (40 dollars) and a
longer period of service suspension. A permanent file for electricity
fraud will be opened against the offender.

According to Rolando Hernandez, an expert from the electricity company
of Havana, more than 11 million megawatt-hours of electricity were
recovered after the exposure of the violations.

Havana consumes a quarter of the country's energy, while the residential
sector uses 50 percent of that proportion."


Fidel Castro returns to public stage in 2010

Fidel Castro returns to public stage in 2010
2010-11-25 08:56:20 GMT2010-11-25 16:56:20

HAVANA, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- The reappearance of former Cuban leader
Fidel Castro after four years of absence from public life was one of the
most highlighted events in Cuba in 2010.

When he announced the provisional handover of power to his young brother
Raul Castro due to illness in June 2006, many people in and outside the
country had thought it would be the end of the political life of the
leader of the Cuban Revolution.

Thus, his first reappearance in public, an unexpected visit to a science
center in July, was a surprise to many Cubans and even stirred the world.

After having seen images of an ailing Castro: lying down, thin and
haggard as a result of a "serious and sudden illness" that had taken him
to the "edge of death" as he said in his own words, the Cuban leader
surprised everyone by his remarkable physical recovery: bright face and
fluent speech.

First in plaid shirts and sports jackets and later returning to his
traditional olive green uniform, though without his emblematic insignia
of Commander in Chief, Castro held a dozen public appearances over a month.

He visited research centers and the Havana Aquarium, gave interviews,
met Cuban ambassadors in foreign countries and with Cuba's outstanding
young artists and intellectuals.

He presented his new books - "The Strategic Victory" and "The Strategic
Counteroffensive" which detail the 1958 fight of Cuban guerrillas
against the army of dictator Fulgencio Batista in the Sierra Maestra.

On his 84th birthday on Aug. 13, Castro was full of energy and
revolutionary spirit, like an eternal youth, vigorous and passionate.

As the target of more than 600 assassination attempts according to
reports from the State Security Department, Castro has been seen as the
most important political figure in Cuba during the second half of the
20th century.

Though Castro's supporters and opponents disagree on his socialist ideas
and his constant battle against the United States, or the "Empire" in
his words, and its hegemonic policies, they all agree that the world
pays constant attention to Castro's judgments and predictions.

In the eyes of many Cubans, their leader has gained another victory in
the "battle" for his health and seems ready to continue his public
agenda as a true revolutionary warrior.


Premature thanks in Cuba

Premature thanks in Cuba
The myth of Raul the Reformer
By Daniel Allott
The Washington Times
4:21 p.m., Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It has been more than four years since Raul Castro assumed the duties of
the presidency of Cuba and more than 2 1/2 years since he officially
took over for his older brother, Fidel.

In that time, words like "pragmatic," "practical" and "reformer" have
often been attached to Raul as a way of contrasting his governing
philosophy with his brother's and to signal that major political and
economic reforms may be imminent.

But a sober analysis suggests that meaningful change has not occurred.
In fact, given the conclusions of several reports on human rights in
Cuba, and based on our conversations with dozens of Cuba experts and
Cubans both inside and outside Cuba, it is clear that the regime's
tyranny is as entrenched as ever.

The Raul-as-reformer narrative began when he announced modest economic
changes early in his reign. These included privatizing some farmland,
denationalizing small beauty parlors and taxi-driving enterprises and
loosening restrictions on the use of cell phones and other electronics.

Then, in July, the Cuban government announced that it would release the
remaining 52 political prisoners it had imprisoned during the "Black
Spring," a mass arrest of nonviolent activists in March 2003. As of Nov.
12, 39 prisoners had been released and exiled to Spain.

In September, the Cuban labor federation announced a government plan to
fire more than 500,000 state employees between October and March. It
would mark the biggest shift of jobs from the public to the private
sector in nearly 50 years.

All of this has convinced many of the major players in Cuba's
relationship with the outside world that Raul is someone they can work with.

Even before the recent changes, President Obama talked about forging "a
new beginning" with Cuba. After a July meeting with Raul in Havana,
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos proclaimed the opening
of "a new phase in Cuba" and insisted "there is no longer any reason to
maintain the [European Union's] Common Position on Cuba," which calls
for normalizing relations with the regime once progress is made on human
rights and democracy issues.

Even the beleaguered Cuban Catholic Church - whose leaders were given
the cold shoulder by Fidel, who preferred to negotiate directly with the
Vatican on church matters - sees an opening. Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega
y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, announced a "magnificent beginning" to
a new relationship with the regime after talks with Raul last spring.

Journalists, too, see change they can believe in with Raul. The prisoner
releases promptedNewsweek's Patrick Symmes to write, "A half century of
repression [in Cuba] appears to be ending."

Such claims are contradicted by the findings of numerous human rights
groups. In a November 2009 study titled "New Castro, Same Cuba:
Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era," Human Rights Watch
documented more than 40 cases of Cubans imprisoned for "dangerousness"
under a Cuban law that allows authorities to imprison persons they
suspect might commit a crime in the future.

Scores of other Cubans have been sentenced under Raul for violating laws
that criminalize free expression and association. Cubans have been
imprisoned for failing to attend government rallies, for not belonging
to official party organizations and even for being unemployed.

Non-Cubans are not immune to such treatment. One of this piece's
authors, Jordan Allott, was detained briefly and interrogated by Cuban
police during a trip across Cuba in 2009 merely for asking a couple of
Cubans to talk about the Cuban Revolution on a street in Camaguey.

American contractor Alan Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for nearly a
year. He is accused of trying to provide unauthorized satellite Internet
connections to Cuba's tiny Jewish community.

In its report, Human Rights Watch concluded that rather than dismantle
Fidel's "system of abusive laws and institutions," Raul "has kept it
firmly in place and fully active."

Freedom House's 2010 Freedom in the World survey again designated Cuba
as the sole "not free" country in the Americas. It also placed Cuba
among its "worst of the worst" countries, which kept it on the shortlist
of "the world's most repressive regimes."

In an October 2009 report, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor rebuked Cuba for its lack of religious
freedom. "The Government continued to exert control over all aspects of
societal life, including religious expression," the report stated.
Violations of religious freedom included efforts to control and monitor
religious activities and fines against unregistered religious groups.

The Cuban government continues to be one of the few in the world that
prohibit the International Committee of the Red Cross access to their
prisons. The condition of those prisons was highlighted in February with
the hunger-strike death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Zapata, imprisoned for
nonviolent political activism, undertook the strike to protest prison
conditions. The international outcry after his death was partially
responsible for prompting the regime to agree to release prisoners
willing to be exiled.

The continued mistreatment of nonviolent political activists comes as no
surprise to those who remember Raul as the official who oversaw
thousands of executions of political prisoners in the early years of the

As with most tyrants, the Castros are skilled at sending mixed signals
about their intentions. It was months into the revolution before many
democrats realized that Fidel's repeated declarations that his
revolution was informed not by Marxism but by democratic and Christian
principles were lies.

Last year, the Cuban government invited Manfred Novak, the United
Nations' special investigator on torture, to inspect Cuba's prisons. The
invitation drew praise from the international community. But the
government rescinded the invitation last month, stating that an outside
investigation was not needed.

In spring, Raul was lauded for agreeing to end persecution of the Ladies
in White, a group of wives, mothers and other female relatives of Cuban
political prisoners who were being harassed, beaten and prevented by
government security agents from making their weekly peaceful protests.

But the government resumed its harassment in August. It deployed large
mobs to intimidate Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of deceased hunger striker
Zapata, preventing her from marching and attending Mass.

Even the prisoner releases are less than they appear. The Cuban
government pledged to release all its political prisoners without any
conditions by Nov. 7. But that deadline has passed, and 13 prisoners who
refuse to be exiled from the island remain incarcerated.

Last month, Berta Soler of the Ladies in White accused the government of
"applying psychological pressure to those remaining in prison because
they want to see them out of the country."

The prisoner releases and economic changes are not meaningful and
lasting steps toward reform. Instead, they are short-term measures
designed to extract economic concessions from the United States and Europe.

As Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy
at the University of Miami, put it to us in an interview, "It's wrong to
think that [Cuba is] now on this one-way road toward openness and
democracy. That's not the case at all. Cuba needs something. What the
regime is hoping for is to get some economic help."

Cuba's economy is in abysmal shape. Food production has slowed, and
tourism, foreign remittances and subsidies from Venezuela have plunged
with the global economy.

The Cuban government is laying off 500,000 workers not because it wants
to move toward a free-market capitalist system. It is doing so because
it can no longer afford to pay those workers' monthly $20 wages.

Similarly, the regime is exiling some of its political prisoners not
because it suddenly has seen the light on human rights and democracy.
Rather, it's exiling them because it's desperate for America and the EU
to relax economic sanctions, which both have made conditional
principally on the release of political prisoners.

The Castro brothers are experts at easing their grip on Cuba just enough
and just long enough to get what they want. On many occasions throughout
the Castro regime's 51 years, it has freed or exiled political prisoners
or made other "reforms" only to reverse course once it got what it needed.

Ms. Kaufman Purcell says, "The way [authoritarian regimes] often work is
that when things get bad, when there's a lot of external pressure, what
happens is that they release [prisoners], and at some point they get new

Armando Valladares, a Cuban-born former political prisoner and former
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, told us,
"The liberation of groups of political prisoners is a frequent practice
in Cuba. It has happened many times for the revolution's interests. [The
prisoner releases] absolutely should not be interpreted ... as a change
in the tyranny's repressive structure."

After foreign aid from the Soviet Union was cut off with the fall of
communism in the early 1990s, the Cuban government loosened controls on
private enterprise, allowing 200,000 workers to earn money as street
vendors and taxi drivers. But as soon as the economy recovered, many of
the new businesses were shut down.

When the government wanted some good publicity ahead of Pope John Paul
II's visit in 1998, it released 300 political prisoners. As soon as the
press attention subsided, the prisons were filled again with political

If fundamental political and economic reforms are to be made in Cuba,
the government's repressive legal system and security apparatus must be
dismantled. That didn't happen for more than four decades under Fidel.
And it's not happening under Raul.

Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values and a Washington
fellow at the National Review Institute. He also is associate producer
of "Oscar's Cuba," a documentary film about Cuban prisoner of conscience
Dr. Oscar Biscet. Jordan Allott is director and executive producer of
"Oscar's Cuba."


Cuba inspired by China's economic reform, top official says

Cuba inspired by China's economic reform, top official says
Published November 24, 2010

Beijing – Cuban parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon said Wednesday at a
meeting here with Chinese counterpart Wu Bangguo that Cuba wants to take
advantage of Beijing's experience in the process of economic reform and

"Cuba is prepared to take advantage of China's experience of development
in reform and opening," said Alarcon during the meeting, according to
the official Xinhua news agency.

The Cuban lawmaker said that "it is basic for Cuba to strengthen
bilateral ties with China."

Alarcon's six-day visit to China comes at the 50th anniversary of
bilateral relations between the two nations.

"China and Cuba enjoy a political foundation with deep bases for the
development of their links," Wu said during the meeting.

Cuba in 1960 became the first country in Latin America to establish
diplomatic relations with communist China and with the fall of the
Soviet Union it drew closer to Beijing, which in 2009 was the main
supplier of consumer and manufactured goods to the Caribbean island.

Before the meeting with Wu, Alarcon held a meeting with China's top
political advisor, Jia Quinglin.

Jia, the president of the Consultative Political Conference of the
Chinese People, thanked Cuba for its stance regarding Taiwan and Tibet
as parts of China, and he guaranteed the support of his government "to
the Cuban adherence to the socialist path."

The Cuban politician will conclude his trip to China on Friday, after
meeting with Vice President Xi Jinping, seen as likely to succeed
President Hu Jintao in 2012.

Alarcon's trip is significant because "it comes on the eve of the
meeting of the Cuban Assembly regarding economic reform on Dec. 15. That
proves that the bilateral relationship is very close," Xu Shichen, an
expert at the Latin American Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, told Efe.

Bilateral trade between China and Cuba totals about $1.6 billion a year,
of which 30 percent consists of Cuban exports such as nickel, sugar and
rum, and the rest is Chinese equipment, machinery and manufactured products.

This trade, which is not affected by the U.S. economic embargo on the
communist island, is augmented by commercial exchange in the health,
biotechnology, professional training and renewable energy sectors.