Friday, July 31, 2015

A Chavez Supporter Denounces “The Castros’ Deception”

A Chavez Supporter Denounces "The Castros' Deception" / 14ymedio
Posted on July 30, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 29 July 2015 — On June 30, 2015, the pro-Chávez
website Aporrea posted a disturbing testimonial about the Cuban
healthcare system, with a title that says it all: "Ninety Days in
Havana: You Have to be There to Know The Truth." The Venezuelan Nelson
Jesús Lanz Fuentes, a regular contributor to Aporrea, and a great admire
of Hugo Chávez, narrates the ordeal he went through first in his
country, and later in Havana, where he accompanied his son with the hope
that Cuban doctors could save his leg.

A traffic accident left the son of Lanz Fuentes, a resident of the
Venezuelan city of Guarenas, with severe injuries to one of his legs.
His tibia factured in three places and the doctors from Venezuela's
public health system inserted a plate in his leg to help regenerate the
bone. However, the operation caused an infection resulting in a terrible
diagnosis: infected pseudoartrosis and osteomyelitis of the right tibia,
and a dermoepidermal ulcer with bone exposure. Venezuelan doctors in
private practice recommended a very expensive treatment that did not
guarantee good results.

Lanz Fuentes, who in recent years has been very critical of Nicolás
Maduro's administration (which he accuses of false socialism) posted an
open letter to the President on Aporrea, complaining bitterly how
Venezuela dares call itself a socialist country when his son might lose
his leg "because of commercialized private healthcare and an ineffective
public health system."

In the same missive, he asked the Venezuelan government to give him
permission to exercise his right to travel with his son as stipulated in
the healthcare agreement between his country and Cuba because Lanz
Fuentes sincerely believed that "Cuba is the only country in the world
where the leg could be saved." He was convinced that "socialism only
really exists in Cuba, where every citizen receives free healthcare
regardless of medical condition."

Lanz Fuentes wish came true when on March 30, 2015 he flew to Havana,
after being "fast tracked" with the backing of a bureaucrat for the
Cuban–Venezuelan Healthcare Agreement.

Like all Venezuelans, Lanz Fuentes' son was sent to La Pradera
International Healthcare Center (built as tourist center at the
beginning of the century), which receives patients in accord with the
Cuban–Venezuelan agreement. From there, patients are dispersed to
different medical facilities according to their pathology. Upon being
diagnosed with acute osteomyelitis and infection of the tibia, Lanz
Fuentes's son was transferred to Havana's Frank País Orthopedic Hospital
where he was to undergo emergency surgery as per the Cuban doctors'
recommendation. The diagnosis was completely confirmed at the center,
but the urgency ended there.

Thirty days after being admitted, Lanz Fuentes' son had yet to be
operated on. His treatment was reduced to treating the infection with
antibiotics. The official rational was a lack of a bed in sterilized
room. After complaining for several days and promises broken, Lanz
Fuentes reports that a doctor finally confessed that "the truth is my
son will have to wait between three and five months. Foreigners who pay
in cash and in US dollars get preference."

Disillusioned, Lanz Fuentes admonished the doctor for his response, and
argued that the Venezuelan people already pay the Cuban government with
their oil. So since Cuba has incurred a debt of billions of dollars with
his country, Venezuelans should receive care first. Lanz Fuentes' angry
reaction resulted in his son being transferred to Havana's Fructuoso
Rodríguez Orthopedic Teaching Hospital in El Vedado.

"We spent 45 days locked up in a beautiful resort. We were allowed to
move around freely within the compound, but we could only leave it on
Saturdays, from 2:00 to 6:00 PM, and on Sundays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
From Monday to Friday we were locked in there," protests Mr. Lanz as he
recalls the days he spent at La Pradera International Healthcare Center.
On top of being confined, Lanz Fuentes had to accept the fact that
patients who paid in cash and in U.S. dollars enjoyed priority over
Venezuelans, since their care was "free of charge."

But with all that, the worse was the "bill." Although he had been
assured in Venezuela that the agreement with Cuba guaranteed free
healthcare, Lanz Fuentes was charged for antibiotics, medications and
vitamins, as well as for all meals and hospitalizations. He was handed
two bills for US$7,800 each his son's expenses, and another one for
US$4,800 for his. Lanz Fuentes states: "What this means is that, for the
stays of all of us who turn to Cuba, the Cuban government is very well
compensated by its principal ally and pimp, our Venezuelan government."

It took just a few months in Cuba for Lanz Fuentes to fully understand
"the absolute truth about the current Cuban reality, all the lies that
the Maduro Government tells us about the Cuban government, and the
fantastic propaganda machine that the Castros use in order to keep
deceiving the rest of the world."

Translated by José Badué

Source: A Chavez Supporter Denounces "The Castros' Deception" / 14ymedio
| Translating Cuba -

Examination of the Latest Ministry of Public Health Crusade

Examination of the Latest Ministry of Public Health Crusade / Jeovany
Jimenez Vega
Posted on July 30, 2015

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 3 April 2015 — The gods of Olympus have spoken. In
their eyes we, miserable creatures, must simply obey and resign
ourselves to complying with their divine whims. I will try to translate
into the language of mortals the outrageous coercive measures ordered by
the Cuban government, through the Minister of Public Health, to try to
stem the current exodus of healthcare professionals. In the same order
in which they were set out, it would read something like this:

4. Stop the increase of individual contracts* in Angola: Because the
African country is forever indebted to Cuba since the 1980s war, it goes
without saying that it is obligated to comply with everything that
Havana orders. In other words: Cubans in Angola as cannon fodder, yes;
Cubans in Angola to work honestly, without being exploited by the Cuban
government, never.

5. Confiscate the official passports of all employees upon their arrival
at the airport: Here we have the Ministry of Health taking measures
that, apart from their obvious illegality, really belong under the
jurisdiction of the Directorate of Immigration of the Interior Ministry,
in Cuban Customs. This shows, if anyone still doubted, that in this
little country everything converges in a single, centralized, and
despotic power, which has no qualms about treating all of us, without
distinction, as common criminals.

6. Promote agreements with private clinics: Here we have that
slavery-promoting monster, the Distributor of Medical and Health
Services, trying to wrap its tentacles of control around each private
clinic in every country where Cuban doctors have decided to emancipate
themselves from its networks. This shows how sick and delusional its
obsession is to block the personal success of our professionals.

7. Review the interministerial agreements so they don't allow freedom of
contract: This proposal, which the leaders of Havana hope to establish
in half the world, covering both public and private institutions, is
nothing more than a subconscious reflection of what Cuban medical
missions have always been: a lucrative method of emotional blackmail.
That is, if I provide you with doctors at bargain prices, who are
willing to go into those dreaded favelas (off-limits even to the
police), exposed to dangers that your own doctors would never accept,
you are obligated to comply when I "renegotiate" with you the terms of
the contract.

8. Explicitly reflect the commitment of no individual hiring in the
individual agreement with the employee: This is actually nothing new.
Until now it has always been an uncompromising principle that not only
is individual hiring prohibited, but even something as simple as an
employee in a foreign country just talking with someone who is an actual
or suspected opponent of the "regime friend." Cuban employees will never
be allowed freedom of movement, such that they are prohibited from
leaving their assigned place even for something as nearby and ordinary
as shopping, for example, without the consent of their bosses—meaning
the political hitmen, who are officially and completely in control,
placed there by Cuban State Security.

10. Disqualify those who dare to disobey Caesar from practicing their
profession: The professionals who today work abroad, for wages far more
appropriate than they received in Cuba—including those on official
medical missions—are not willing to be used like toilet paper. It is
ridiculous to claim that there are only 211 cases countrywide of those
who decided to work outside Cuba "without authorization," when in fact
the number is in the thousands.

12. Deem the failure to comply with the requirement of giving advance
notice to terminate the employment relationship as a serious
disciplinary infraction: If there is some reason in this, then common
sense dictates that timely notice should be given of any decision to
abandon a certain place in order to timely look for a substitute. But
that raises the question—why have thousands of professionals refused to
comply with something so basic? Are we Cuban doctors so irresponsible?
Or is it that ultimately we cannot rely at all on the "goodwill" of our
leaders, after being subjected for many decades to all kinds of
arbitrariness, abuse, and despotism, and to our most basic needs being
ignored? Aren't these the same ministerial and governmental authorities
who for more than a decade applied the unprecedented policy that
required us to wait for more than five years if we wanted to travel
abroad, waiting for the "release" from our minister? Finally could it be
that these authorities no longer have any credibility in the eyes of
their workers? Here I recall the old saying of grandfather Liborio: when
there is revenge, there are no grievances.

13. Issue disqualification notices to workers who violate procedures for
leaving the country: Professionals who take the irrevocable personal
decision to work temporarily or permanently abroad, for wages far more
appropriate than those they receive in Cuba including those on official
medical missions—are not willing to be used like toilet paper.

14. Relocate those returning to Cuba after working abroad under an
individual contract to a lower-status position—never to the position
they originally occupied: The punishment, not as a vindicating end, but
as an inviolable fundamental principle, as the cardinal sign that never
fails in the mind of the despots. This section shows that those who
today are exporting as authentic their pretensions of "change" and
sweetened "reforms" remain the same miserable characters as always.

16 and 17. Organize, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, meetings
with the relevant foreign ambassadors in Havana, and direct the team
leaders and Cuban ambassadors in their respective countries to
discourage individual contracts: Once again they reveal the long
tentacles of the political mafia of Havana. Here we have the incredible
act of the Cuban government, through its Ministry of Health, taking an
openly interventionist position, dictating measures inside other
countries, trying to impose decisions about their healthcare policies.
It's a good thing that, with evil US imperialism interfering in the
internal politics of other countries, the immaculate Cuban Revolution is
there to stop it! Where would these poor people be without this greatest
Revolution of ours?

*Translator's note: A contract made directly between a host country and
a Cuban doctor, without payment to the Cuban government.

Source: Examination of the Latest Ministry of Public Health Crusade /
Jeovany Jimenez Vega | Translating Cuba -

Cuban migrants reach upscale Florida Keys

Cuban migrants reach upscale Florida Keys: report

Five Cuban migrants landed in an upscale town in the Florida Keys
earlier this week, after making the treacherous crossing in a rustic
open boat, the Miami Herald reported Thursday.
Alighting in Key Colony Beach before dawn on Tuesday, they accosted a
policeman and were turned over to US Customs and Border Protection for
"They were probably wet. You pretty much know they just got here,"
police chief Kris diGiovanni told the Herald.
"If they don't speak English and they don't have a car, you can pretty
much guess they're migrants."
Under US law, Cubans who make it to dry land are allowed to stay in the
United States. Those intercepted offshore are sent back to Cuba.
There has been a surge of Cubans attempting the dangerous crossing since
October, driven by fear that the US rapprochement with Havana may spell
the end of the special treatment.
According to the US Coast Guard, about 3,000 Cubans have tried to slip
into the country by sea since October.
The United States and Cuba this month restored full diplomatic relations
after more than 50 years as Cold War foes.

Source: Cuban migrants reach upscale Florida Keys: report - Yahoo News
India -

How Will Cuba's Real Estate Market Adjust to a New Era?

How Will Cuba's Real Estate Market Adjust to a New Era?
Thursday, July 30, 2015, by Curbed Staff

"Come on, this is bullshit, this is for show, it can't actually be real."

When travel journalist Nick Watt was told that travelers to Havana's
Paseo del Prado could find not just snack vendors and tourists on the
famous promenade, but a thriving, open-air real estate market where
Cubans buy and sell homes, he was a bit incredulous. But as he
discovered during filming of his Travel Channel show Watt's World, the
promenade plays host to a key part of Cuba's nascent real estate market,
a recently unleashed aspect of capitalism in the socialist country that,
as relations with the United States normalize, opens up a host of
questions and possibilities.

"Consider real estate in the same way people look at classic cars on the
street here," he says. "People like me love Cuba, we think the cars held
together with Band-Aids and the old colonial buildings are amazing. But
once the money comes in, will Cubans want up-to-date buildings? In 20
years, will there be old, dilapidated buildings here?"

Watt's trip to the market provides just a small glimpse at a larger
shift happening in Cuban real estate. In 2011, Raúl Castro allowed his
countrymen to buy and sell real estate for the first time in decades,
revolutionizing a socialist system that previously only allowed citizens
to trade property, like for like. It set off a small boom in home
renovations, as well as interest in acquiring and fixing up potential
hotel properties that could house an influx of new tourists.

The prospect of a more open market, even incrementally so, raises the
possibility of massive foreign investment in prime beachfront real
estate and the country's classic housing stock. Currently, Americans can
invest by sending money to a Cuban relative or associate who acts as a
frontman, but legally the deed remains in the name of the Cuban buyer,
adding a degree of risk. A potentially bigger question around foreign
investment may be the right-of-return issue; Fidel seized all
foreign-owned property in 1962, and the U.S. government currently
estimates that American citizens and corporations may have up to $8
billion in property claims to sort out as relations normalize

So far, Castro has held strong to his decision to limit real estate
sales to Cubans only. Considering that a few years in, the market is
still in a bit of an embryonic stage, that makes sense.

The sea change in property law has also encouraged entrepreneurial activity.
Seizing the opportunity in Raul's policy shift, Sandra Arias Betancourt
decided to become a residential real estate agent in early 2013. Not
surprisingly, she believes Cuba's market is unlike any other. A lack of
regular internet access means information sources American buyers and
sellers use every day are non-existent, and only about half of sellers
feel the need to involve an agent. Most just place handmade signs
outside their property and negotiate themselves, Betancourt says. But
still, she sees a booming market and increased opportunity.

"The market has exploded, especially since the beginning of this year,"
she says. "We have a lot of people buying."

Right now, transactions are 95% cash, she says, and she takes a standard
five percent commission for any sales. To succeed, she says agents have
to understand the people and what they really want. She sees a day
coming soon when Americans will begin to buy more property.

"People have been sniffing around this for years," says Watt. "I was
being asked by my American friends 10 years ago to buy property. People
have been trying to find ways for years."

Tom Miller, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through
Castro's Cuba and a writer who has made annual trips to Cuba since 1987,
also believes that Cubans are just starting to get a sense of how the
market functions. Its evident in new online property sites, such as, which are still in their early days (founder Yosuan
Crespo, a computer programmer, launched the site in 2012).

"There's a certain amount of speculation," says Miller, "but you need a
certain amount of funds to do that, and Cuba's not a country where
people have the money for that kind of investment. What people are
mostly talking about is foreign investment. You can buy things with a
frontman, and Cuban-Americans are already doing it, but the whole
phenomena hasn't played out yet."

Miller believes a few serious issues need to be resolved before
Americans are snapping up homes. The mortgage system in Cuba is
currently non-existent—it's all "cash on the barrelhead"—and Cuba needs
to push through planned reforms of its financial system (currently,
prices are listed in CUC, the Cuban Convertible peso unit). Both legally
and financially, it's impossible for foreigners, he says.

"Calling it a potential real estate gold rush is a little too
optimistic," he says. "It's still iffy as far as Cuban immigrants
purchasing land and homes. Maybe in five or ten years, Crespo could be
the man with a Century 21 Blazer."

Castro has said he'll be in office until 2018. Miller believes that with
the right financial and banking reforms, the Cuban market could open up
by then; the country's rate of reform will control the real estate
market. But who knows what happens when Raul leaves office, and if his
successor will follow the same policies? It's another one of the quirks
of business in Cuba.

"What's happened in Cuba since 1959 has never happened anywhere else,
and won't happen again," says Miller. "It's a totally unique situation."

Source: How Will Cuba's Real Estate Market Adjust to a New Era? - Curbed
National - Curbed SF -

Congressman calls for extradition of alleged murderer Charlie Hill from Cuba

Congressman calls for extradition of alleged murderer Charlie Hill from Cuba
By Candace Hopkins
Published: July 30, 2015, 7:23 pm

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE)- He's accused of killing a New Mexico State Police
Officer, then hijacking a plane from the Sunport and fleeing to Cuba.
Now a California lawmaker, with personal ties to the incident, wants
Charlie Hill back in the U.S.

Hill was granted asylum by the Cuban government in 1971. This past
winter, as relations with that government started to thaw, Governor
Martinez called for his extradition. Now California Congressman Jerry
McNerney is doing the same.

It has been 43 long years but California Congressman and Albuquerque
native, Jerry McNerney, says that November day is one he will never forget.

"They just walked in with guns and took control of the airplane", said

They were Charlie Hill, Michael Finney and Ralph Goodwin. McNerney was
just 20-year-old at the time of the hijacking from Albuquerque's
Sunport. The passengers were flown to Tampa and let off the plane. The
crew was forced to fly the TWA jet to Havana.

McNerney said, "Even though no one was harmed I think the potential for
that mass of people dying was there, so, we don't want to say in any way
shape or form that we would condone or let that sort of thing go."

In the spirit of not letting go, McNerney is the latest leader to call
for Hill's extradition, to face charges for the hijacking and the murder
of State Police Officer Robert Rosenbloom. Suspects Finney and Goodwin
have since died in Cuba. Only Hill remains a fugitive from New Mexico

Last week, Congressman McNerney wrote Secretary of State John Kerry
urging the administration to compel Cuba to extradite Hill.

"You may or may not consider that terrorist activity but it certainly is
grave criminal behavior that needs to be brought to justice", said McNerney.

McNerney says now that relations have been re-established with Cuba, he
hopes the extradition can finally become reality.

McNerney said, "I think the Secretary of State should make that an
important part of the agenda, that we establish extradition."

Hill's attorney says the Congressman's letter condemns Hill as a "cop
killer" and he says it is inappropriate for McNerney, a witness to the
hijacking, to be speaking out about it before giving testimony.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas has also called for Hill's extradition.
He even said he would personally pay for his return.

Source: Congressman calls for extradition of alleged murderer Charlie
Hill from Cuba | KRQE News 13 -

Cuba - Transforming a Revolution

Cuba: Transforming a Revolution
Castro and Obama balance gradual normalization with showing benefits for
both US and Cuba
Patricia Alejandro
YaleGlobal, 23 July 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MA: During the 1990s, the popular assumption was that most
Cubans, if they had a choice, would leave their country for the United
States in a heartbeat. Today, while many Cubans still try to cross
international waters to reach the United States, many more are looking
towards developing Cuba, from inside and outside. US tourists are drawn
to the mythical colonial Cuba, of antique American cars and fine cigars,
and investors hope to rebuild golf courses and resorts. Cubans want to
move into the future as quickly as possible, craving electronics,
accessible internet and new cars.
Cubans and Americans are equally curious about exploring the other side
since December when President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro made the
surprise announcement on restoration of full diplomatic relations
between the two countries. Both sides concede the process will be
gradual, yet changes in leadership that paved the way for rapprochement
are inevitable – Obama leaves office in January 2017, and Castro, now
84, announced intentions to retire in 2018. Normalizing relations ends
near six decades of hostility that began in 1956 after Raúl's older
brother, Fidel Castro, led an army of guerrilla fighters into Havana and
became prime minister. The United States broke off relations and imposed
a trade embargo in 1960 after Cuba nationalized US businesses without
Cuba has been reluctant to allow foreign direct investment and
relinquish control – less than 1 percent of GDP – at 0.1 percent. US
businesses are eager to return to the island nation. US congressmen,
governors and corporate leaders have traveled to Cuba to discuss trade
opportunities. Other countries, such as Canada, have had a head start in
doing business in Cuba. China, a leading creditor for Cuba and its
second largest trading partner after Venezuela, already invests heavily
in the tourism industry and oil drilling.
The United States could benefit from its community of Cuban Americans,
more than 1 million in all, connected and aware of Cuban culture and
ways of doing business. Despite excitement about the potential for
reviving commerce, barriers remain including the US embargo and Cuban's
dual-currency system. The Cuban government plans to unify the system
before 2016. Currently, most Cuban wages are paid in pesos, but commerce
and tourism rely on convertible pesos, pegged to the US dollar and equal
to 24 pesos. Cuban Central Bank officials have told foreign businesses
that devaluation of the convertible peso will progress gradually.
Meanwhile, tourists currently cannot use credit cards or conduct
internet transactions with Cuban vendors. Airbnb, the online service
that matches visitors with residents willing to rent out all or parts of
their home, opened in Cuba this year and conducts transactions using a
middleman agency.
Ditching the dual-currency system will ease tourist transactions, but
reduce Cuban salaries, already considerably low. The government still
controls most salaries in Cuba, so future raises depend on what the
government can afford. Doctors recently had a 150 percent pay raise,
from around $25 to more than $60 per month, but the average Cuban
continues to earn around $20 per month. Meanwhile, Cuban foreign debt is
in the billions, even after Russia forgave $32 billion of Soviet-era
debt in 2014.

The UN General Assembly has voted 23 times to end the US embargo, with
the United States and Israel typically opposed and a handful abstained.
Obama has chipped away at the embargo, contributing to more agricultural
trade and people-to-people exchanges. Each year at the Summit of the
Americans, members criticized the United States, but only Congress can
eliminate the embargo in its entirety. Congressional ranks and Cuban
Americans are divided. Demographics have shifted, with most
Cuban-American constituents supporting restored relations. Surveys
conducted by the Institute of Public Research and the Cuban Research
Institute of Florida International University show that 68 percent of
Cuban Americans support dialogue with the Cuban government compared with
40 percent in 1991. Groups like Engage Cuba lobby Congress and
businesses to support the normalization of relations and reforms in US
travel and trade restrictions.
Cuba's pristine white sand beaches and preserved colonial architecture
are already a lively tourism destination, with near 3 million visitors
last year, most from Canada and Europe. In the first quarter of 2015,
one million tourists visited the island, including more than 50,000
Americans. With Cuba in the news, tourism has surged and the numbers
could strain accommodations and services. Since January, Americans no
longer need to obtain special permission to travel directly to Cuba and
need only declare that they fall into one of 12 special categories
including family visits, official government business, journalism,
professional research, and education and religious activities.
Self-employed entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas, have increased since
the Cuba government loosened restrictions a few years ago. Still, many
struggle to find supplies required to run their businesses. Restaurant
owners make do without ingredients as basic as wheat, milk or butter,
let alone high-end ingredients expected by tourists. The country still
imports more than three quarters of its food, and business owners lack
capital, with many relying on remittances and supplies sent by family
members abroad.
Only 200 occupations are open for Cuban entrepreneurs, who are barred
from opening private retail or imported-clothing stores, private medical
practices, or private martial arts studios. Retail stores are
government-owned, and US investors will proceed cautiously, assessing
the stability of the Cuban market and political risks before opening
operations in Havana. The US Department of Commerce is preparing small
business owners for the intricacies of global markets with programs like
the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship.
With an entrenched black market and associated corruption, the road is
not easy for foreign investors or small businesses in either market.
Most Cubans have never been abroad, with a plane ticket costing more
than what the average Cuban earns in a year. In 2013, the Cuban
government eased restrictions on Cubans leaving, allowing travel with
passport and national identity card and removing the requirement of a
re-entry permit. But Cubans must still obtain entry visas from other
countries. In 2013, the United States began issuing multiple-entry visas
that last five years.
Recently, Cubans have increased educational and professional development
trips to Miami, but the government remains concerned with a brain drain
and will monitor if economic development and improved relations
encourage professionals, particularly health care workers, to remain in
Cuba or seek lucrative positions overseas. Notable defectors in recent
years include US Major League Baseball's Yasiel Puig, physician Ramona
Rodriguez, and six dancers with the National Ballet of Cuba.
Rapid economic development could interfere with the tourism industry's
attachment to 1950s-era Cuba, a tropical paradise of beaches, casinos
and nightclubs. For now, Obama and Castro express determination for
gradual improvements in diplomatic relations, economic development and
the tourist sector to avoid social disruption.
With embassies reopened, the US and Cuba anticipate the appointment of
ambassadors soon. The policy will help US ties with other Latin American
nations. The United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors
of terrorism, and negotiations progress steadily. The United States
expects freedom of movement for its diplomats and greater respect for
human rights, while Cuba remains wary about US intervention in its
internal affairs, including assisting dissidents and democratic initiatives.
More than 11 million Cubans along with thousands more who left their
homeland since 1956 anticipate normalization of relations to proceed
with benefits for all involved.
Patricia Alejandro studies international relations and human rights law
at Harvard Law School and is a former editorial assistant for YaleGlobal

Source: Cuba: Transforming A Revolution -

Cuban Tourist Arrivals Up 16 Per Cent In 1st Half

Cuban Tourist Arrivals Up 16 Per Cent In 1st Half

HAVANA, July 31 (BERNAMA-NNN-Xinhua) -- Cuba received 1,923,326 tourists
between Jan 1 and Jun 30 in 2015, up 15.9 percent over the same period
in 2014, an official report said.

Cuba's National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) announced on
Thursday that 218,635 tourists visited the Caribbean island in June
alone. This represents a 20.6-percent increase from the same month last

The United Kingdom, France and Italy are still the main sources of
foreign visitors in the first quarter, and all of them have witnessed a
growth of between 10 percent and 28 percent in the number of tourists to
the island country.

Three Latin American countries -- Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico --
trailed behind the above European states. Among them, Venezuela has seen
the biggest increase, or 61.5 percent, in the number of visitors in the
first half of 2015.

The notable increase in tourists visiting Cuba came after the historic
diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, which was
announced in December 2014.

Even though the ONEI did not mention the number of U.S. holidaymakers,
they are likely to increase as U.S. President Barack Obama loosened
travel restrictions in January, which, as part of a U.S. blockade
policy, are still in force for U.S. citizens who want to visit Cuba.

Tourism is the Caribbean island's second source of foreign exchange
earners, which stood at more than 1.8 billion U.S. dollars.

In 2014, Cuba received a record three million tourists, an increase of
5.5 percent over 2013.

Source: BERNAMA - Cuban Tourist Arrivals Up 16 Per Cent In 1st Half -

A warning on doing business in Cuba

A warning on doing business in Cuba
Timothy Belevetz and Ronald Oleynik, Holland & Knight law firm
18 Hours Ago

The restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba is
sure to bring new opportunities for U.S. businesses seeking to gain a
foothold in a market of more than 11 million potential consumers who
have had little access to American products and services for more than
50 years. The opportunities are not unlimited, however, and they do not
come without risks, particularly those related to corrupt payments to
government officials prohibited under the federal Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act.

While the regulatory changes that have followed the December 2014 White
House announcement of a rapprochement may not seem as spectacular as
initially believed, there are significant openings hidden in those
regulations that are likely to expand as time goes on. The Obama
administration appears to be taking the same measured approach to
removing the sanctions as it has to tightening the Ukraine sanctions,
that is, a phased approach to test the reaction on the other side (in
this case, the Cuban government) and the reaction of Congress and the
American people. The administration appears to be getting positive
reactions; therefore we should look for a further loosening of
restrictions in the months to come.

Regardless of how quickly the next round of changes comes, it is
important to keep in mind that doing business in Cuba will involve
special risks inherent in a state-controlled economy. Because the state
runs virtually all significant business enterprises, it raises the
possibility that any payment of a bribe related to not only traditional
government functions such as permitting, licensing, and government
contracting but also business deals that in other places would be
strictly between private parties will be a violation of the FCPA. That
law makes it illegal to pay an official of a foreign government, or any
"instrumentality" thereof, to obtain a business benefit. It also
requires U.S. public companies to keep accurate books and records and
adopt an adequate system of financial and accounting controls. Both the
Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission enforce
these requirements.

In a place where state workers earn an average of only $20 per month,
finding additional sources of income becomes essential to survival. This
creates the foundation for government bureaucrats, business managers,
and even high-level government officials to become accustomed to
boosting their income through an illegal use of their position.
Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that
monitors international corporate and political corruption, has given the
country a score of 46 (just below Ghana and above Oman) on an index
where 0 is most corrupt and 100 is transparent.

Although Cuba has not experienced the type of drug-trade related
corruption that besets many other Latin American and Caribbean nations,
reports indicate that it is burdened by widespread graft related to
trade and commerce. As U.S. sanctions open up beyond the current phase
where most allowable transactions must be with Cuban private sector
enterprises, to do business in Cuba, foreign companies likely will need
to partner with the government, which leads to a heightened risk that
illegal payments will be solicited. State ownership of business, coupled
with tight controls on the media and little compliance oversight, has
also led to a lack of transparency and accountability. In this type of
environment, a bribe paid to an official to obtain a commercial benefit
may be less likely to be discovered and disclosed but is no less
illegal, at least under U.S. law.

The good news on the anti-corruption front is that President Raul
Castro, with an eye toward liberalizing the Cuban economy, has initiated
a crack-down on public corruption since taking over from his brother
Fidel in 2008. And those efforts have produced some high profile
results. In 2011, several senior executives at Etecsa, a state-run
telecom company, were arrested on corruption charges and its president
and most of its vice presidents suspended.

That same year, 14 Cuban public officials and businessmen along with a
Chilean executive, all employed by either the state-owned Cubana de
Aviacion airline or Sol Y Son, a tourism company jointly owned by the
Cuban government and Chilean investors, were convicted for receiving or
paying bribes.

This past October, 17 Cuban government officials, including the vice
minister of the sugar ministry, executives of joint venture partners,
and a Canadian businessman were sentenced to as many as 20 years in
prison for their role in a scheme to steer lucrative contracts to a
Canadian transportation equipment company.

There is a question as to whether these high-profile cases are having a
positive effect on the "culture." Critics contend that charges are often
brought to eliminate competitors of a favored business concern. But
there is no question that the threat of criminal penalties — in Cuba and
in the United States — exists for those who are not prudent.

Read MoreDoes killing lions help save them?
U.S. businesses hoping to enter the Cuban market must understand that
the state-owned businesses with which they will likely have to interact
will be considered to be "instrumentalities" of the Cuban government.
Not only do they have to exercise great care to avoid paying off public
officials, they must also steer clear of providing money or perks to
business partners that could be construed as bribes.

Although the FCPA itself does not define the full contours of who
qualifies as a foreign official, the widely-publicized 2014 decision
from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Esquenazi makes
the prohibition on corrupt payments to "instrumentalities" of foreign
governments applicable to officials of state-owned businesses. That
case, which involved bribes from two Miami businessmen to employees of a
state-owned telecom company in Haiti, is the first appellate court
decision to uphold the Justice Department's long-held position that the
FCPA reaches companies under state ownership and control. It should be
seen as a clear warning for companies looking to take advantage of new
opportunities in Cuba.
Companies should implement vigorous FCPA compliance programs with
training designed to educate employees about the special challenges of
dealing with state-controlled businesses – even where they do not
fulfill a function traditionally performed by government agencies. Those
programs should include tight controls on recording and reporting
payments to business partners, government agencies, and third-party
vendors and intermediaries. (Companies cannot shield themselves by
having third parties pay their bribes.)

There should be close oversight of interactions with Cuban officials,
including, of course, managers of state-owned business partners. An
effective compliance program must also include due diligence at the
front end of a deal and regular audits during and after the execution of
a contract.

Opening the door to trade with Cuba should provide U.S. businesses with
new and profitable opportunities. But it also presents significant
risks. Managing those opportunities by watching for and mitigating FCPA
risk is the best way to keep the DOJ and the SEC from derailing efforts
to establish a beachhead in Cuba.

Commentary by Timothy D. Belevetz and Ronald A. Oleynik. Belevetz is a
partner in Holland & Knight's National White Collar Defense and
Investigations practice and a former federal prosecutor and U.S.
Securities and Exchange Commission attorney. Ronald A. Oleynik chairs
Holland & Knight's International Trade Regulatory practice and is a
member of the firm's Cuba Action Team.

Source: A warning on doing business in Cuba—commentary -

Alabama has a proud, rich history with Cuba, we should capitalize on it

Alabama has a proud, rich history with Cuba, we should capitalize on it
Print Email By John Hammontree |
on July 30, 2015 at 11:25 AM, updated July 30, 2015 at 1:25 PM

No one would ever confuse us with communist sympathizers, but Alabama
has a surprisingly strong relationship with Cuba. In fact, over the last
several decades, Alabama has spearheaded efforts to reopen trade and
deepen the US relationship with Cuba.

As President Obama and the rest of the nation move to normalize trade
relations with the communist country, Alabama introduced limited trade
and developed education exchanges more than a decade ago. According to
the Foreign Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama shipped
approximately $32.8 million worth of goods, all categorized as food
products, to the island nation in 2014.

With an American embassy re-opening in Havana and the potential for
increased exports to the Caribbean, Alabama should do everything
possible to reap the huge economic benefits that we have primed by
establishing early trust with the Castro brothers and the Cuban government.

Sister Cities

Geographically speaking, Cuba is one of Alabama's closest international
neighbors. Less than 600 nautical miles from our ports, Havana shares a
common history with Mobile. In 1993, the two cities officially became
"Sister Cities," the first official twinning between an American and
Cuban city. However, the relationship between the two cities has spanned
more than three centuries.

In 1702, French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville founded the city of
Mobile, the first capital of French Louisiana. The explorer quickly
established trading routes from the new port city, including opening
shipping lanes between Mobile and Havana. When d'Iberville died in
Havana, a few years later, the two cities erected twin statues. If
you've ever been to Mobile, you may have noticed the nine-foot monument
to d'Iberville alongside the Mobile River. What you may not have known,
however, is that d'Iberville's eyes are directed toward Cuba and that a
duplicate Cuban statue returns his gaze.

Alabama is also directly responsible for a huge part of Cuban culture:

In the early 1860s, Cuban-native Nemesio Guillo returned home to the
island nation after completing his degree at Mobile's Spring Hill
College. At the time, it was common for Cuban students to further their
studies in the United States and Alabama's close proximity to the Cuban
ports established it as a natural partner. In his return voyage from
Mobile, Guillo packed a baseball bat and ball – he had learned the sport
from American sailors based in the Alabama city – and effectively
introduced the sport of baseball to the country. Popularity spread
quickly and America's pastime quickly also became a Cuban pastime.

Alabama continued to have strong trading ties with Cuba until Fidel
Castro's communist revolution in the 1950s. In 1962, President Kennedy
imposed a harsh trade embargo on Cuba, an ally of the Soviet Union.
Quickly, the lucrative routes between Mobile and Havana shut down.

Commissioner Ron Sparks opens trade avenues

In 2000, President Clinton authorized the United States to amend its
four-decades-old embargo on the communist-run country to allow the
shipment of food, medicine and humanitarian aid.

Given Alabama's proximity to Cuba and our poultry and lumber industry,
Ron Sparks, then the assistant commissioner of Agriculture and
Industries, quickly recognized an economic opportunity. In 2002, Sparks
was elected commissioner and set Alabama on a path to reopen relations
between Alabama and the island nation.

In 2003, Sparks met with the US Interests Section in Cuba – the
alternative to the then-closed Cuban embassy. Sparks voiced his interest
in reestablishing trade and says that he met with Cuban President Fidel
Castro on five different occasions.

"We were certainly one of the trendsetters going into Cuba"
"He always treated me with respect," Sparks said in an interview. "He
was very cordial. Fidel Castro has the ability to talk for hours but he
never once put me in an awkward situation. We discussed the benefit of
trade to our port and our farmers."

Once trade was reopened, about 60% of country's poultry and 90% of
Cuba's utility poles were being imported from Alabama, according to
Sparks. That number has decreased as other states have gotten involved
with Cuban trade, but in 2012 nearly a fourth of chickens entering Cuba
came from Alabama.

A friendly, respectful relationship developed and Sparks said that
Cubans continue to have a very favorable view of Alabama. In the wake of
Hurricane Katrina, Castro called Sparks and offered to send as many
Cuban doctors as required to provide aid, but Sparks said the ongoing
embargo prevented that from happening.

"We were certainly one of the trendsetters going into Cuba," Sparks
said. "We carried an awful lot of industry into Cuba."

Sparks said that Alabama can't rest on its laurels. Other states are
scrambling to enter the newly opened market and Alabama's share of the
business could decrease over time. However, Sparks points out that
states like Tennessee and Kentucky lack the easy access that the port of
Mobile provides Alabama. While Florida is geographically closer, it has
a more controversial relationship with Cuba due to their large refugee

If travel restrictions are lifted, the economic opportunities for
Alabama are even stronger. Sparks suggested that there could be cruise
departures to Havana from Mobile and flights from Birmingham. There
would also be the opportunity to manufacture and ship products to fuel
the revival of the Cuban hospitality industry.

"I do believe that the decisions the President has made are going to
give Alabama an opportunity," Sparks said.

University of Alabama pioneers educational travel to Cuba

The University of Alabama was also an early pioneer in reestablishing a
connection between the United States and Cuba.

According to Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, the
school's Center for Cuba Collaboration and Scholarship is one of the
first of its kind in the country.

"Harvard and North Carolina also have legitimate centers but both would
tell you that the University of Alabama is head and shoulders above what
they're doing," Olin said.

Around the same time that Commissioner Sparks was re-establishing trade
between Alabama and Cuba, Dean Olin was setting the stage for an
academic exchange.

"I arrived on campus in the fall of 2000, it amazed me in my first year
how many faculty had ties with Cuba. There were lots of random acts of
progress. I just attributed it to the water."

While the embargo restricted trade, educational licenses for travel were
still attainable through the Treasury Department, but required mountains
of paperwork. However, Olin and his team pressed through, with an
inaugural team of twenty faculty members visiting the island in 2002.
Since then, more than 150 faculty members have visited Cuba for
educational purposes, and more than 40 Cubans have come to the
University of Alabama.

When the University first began interacting with Cuba, there were at
least 40 other programs in the country that had Cuban exchange programs.
However, during the George W. Bush administration, restrictions on
interactions with Cuba became increasingly stringent until the number
dwindled to four – Harvard, North Carolina, American University and
Alabama. In recent years, programs have begun reappearing around the
country but Alabama's commitment to maintaining the program has set it

"It was a real headache to get it done," Olin said. "But several
agencies recognized how diligent and supportive UA was committed to this
activity. We still have great recognition across the island."

The school began sending students to study abroad in Cuba in 2009 and in
2012, Dr. Gustavo Jose Cobreiro Suarez, the president of the University
of Havana, presented a medallion and resolution to Dr. Olin recognizing
the 10th anniversary of the project.

Naturally, the cultural differences can, at times, prove a strain and
Olin says that the "do talk about the difference in politics but we're
not zealots. We do it from a scholarship perspective."

Olin agrees that improving relations between the United States and Cuba
could be great for Alabama and it looks like his counterparts at Auburn
concur. They announced educational and cultural tours of Cuba for later
this fall.

Future economic opportunities for Alabama

Alabama's current political leaders appear to be on the fence. Senator
Richard Shelby met with Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, in 2012 in
negotiations over imprisoned American Alan Gross.

Congressman Bradley Byrne, who represents the district containing
Mobile, fears that Cuba may be a "staging ground against us for Russia."
He said in an earlier interview with "If Cuba would get that
mindset, they truly would explode in growth, and we could benefit being
a port for them. Right now, they don't have any money...They're not
ready for us."

However, he recognizes that Mobile has a unique opportunity to be an
"international city." He also has pointed out that 558,000 Alabama jobs
are supported by trade and more than 3,900 Alabama businesses exported
goods or services in 2014.

With a population of 11 million and an infrastructure and economy that
has seen little progress since the 1950s, Cuba is brimming with
untapped, economic potential. In addition to our thriving poultry
exports, imagine modern cars manufactured in Alabama and shipped through
Mobile; Internet infrastructure provided by Huntsville-based
telecommunications companies; medical technology exports from
Birmingham; lumber to provide telephone poles and other structural support.

By all accounts, national trends indicate that a normalized relationship
with Cuba is imminent. Alabama has built a solid foundation with Cuba
and now should do everything it can to capitalize on it.

Source: Alabama has a proud, rich history with Cuba, we should
capitalize on it | -

Americans have new hopes to reclaim property seized by Cuba 50 years ago

Americans have new hopes to reclaim property seized by Cuba 50 years ago
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY 7:44 p.m. EDT July 30, 2015

MIAMI — Across the country, thousands of Americans are storing fading
documents that represent a piece of Cuba taken from them by Fidel Castro
in the 1960s. They could be worth billions.

For U.S. companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and
Texaco, those papers list properties nationalized by the bearded Cuban's
revolutionaries after they took control of the island. For movie studios
such as Universal and 20th Century Fox, they detail hundreds of
confiscated film reels.

In many cases, the documents have been passed down to children and
charities. They meticulously itemize homes, ranches, farms, vehicles,
cattle and horses seized by the government. A Holocaust memorial library
in New York City preserves a document listing paintings by Van Gogh,
Picasso, Monet and Renoir that were taken from the Havana apartment of
its founder, author Olga Lengyel.

In Miami Beach, a woman has stored away the stock certificates that
certify her father's partial ownership in a manganese mine in eastern
Cuba. "I didn't suspect anything would happen with this in my lifetime,"
said Holly Wallack, 69, whose father held a 30% stake in the Cuban mine.
"I thought maybe it was something for my children."

That way of thinking quickly changed after President Obama's surprise
announcement in December that the United States would re-establish
diplomatic relations with its longtime foe. Now that both countries have
reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, the chance of reclaiming
their property, or getting some kind of compensation, is finally possible.

Shortly after Castro's takeover, the U.S. Justice Department established
a Foreign Claims Settlement Commission for American citizens and
companies whose properties were confiscated. The commission approved
5,913 claims worth $1.9 billion, roughly $7 billion today. The U.S.
State Department says it has approached the Cuban government to begin
those talks.

"Reaching agreement on resolving outstanding claims is often a lengthy
process, but the department is committed to pursuing a resolution," said
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy Gonzalo Gallegos.

As in most negotiations with the Cubans, this one faces many obstacles.

For one thing, Cubans claim they are due a big payday from the U.S.
government that dwarfs the U.S. claims against Cuba. In 1999, a Cuban
court estimated that the U.S. embargo on Cuba had cost its citizens $181

The United States is sure to reject claims of that magnitude. Even so,
at a historic joint news conference in Washington by U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to highlight
the new relationship, the Cuban diplomat made clear his country will
pursue them. "The U.S. government has recognized that the blockade
against Cuba is a wrong policy, causing isolation and bringing about
humanitarian damages and privations and deprivations to our people,"
Rodriguez said.

Another problem: the $7 billion U.S. claim doesn't include thousands of
Cuban Americans whose property was confiscated before they fled to the
USA. The U.S. State Department will negotiate only on behalf of people
who were U.S. citizens at the time of the confiscations; Cuban Americans
will have to negotiate on their own.

Nicolas Gutierrez says he represents more than 550 Cuban-American
families whose properties were taken. Though only a small fraction
actually want to reclaim their old homes, he said all deserve some form
of compensation.

"Many of these people are old, and their kids and grandkids aren't
necessarily interested in going back," he said. "But the owners should
be recognized. They should be able to decide if they want the property
back or get some compensation for it."

There are also billions of dollars in court rulings handed down by
American judges against Cuba's government for the death and injuries of
American citizens. Andrew Hall, a Miami attorney who specializes in
foreign property claims, won a nearly $3 billion ruling for a client
whose family was allegedly tortured by Cuban forces.

Hall said the U.S. government would face intense public pressure if it
successfully negotiated property claims but did not secure money for
American victims of Cuban terrorism. "A congressman doesn't want to be
the guy that told American victims of terrorism, 'Tough luck' but
Americans who owned forfeited property, 'You're fine,' " Hall said.
"That would be a hard sell."

Even if it were willing, there's the question of whether Cuba can
afford to pay off massive debts to people in the USA. Matthew Aho, a New
York-based consultant with the Akerman law firm, said Cuba has settled
many of its property claims with countries such as Spain, France and
Canada, but those cases took years to resolve and resulted in meager

"Those claims have been settled for pennies on the dollar," he said.
"Many of these countries decided a long time ago that full diplomatic
and commercial relations was in their national interest more than
holding out for some future resolution of the property claims."

Aho said that could lead to arrangements where the monetary loss is
forgiven in exchange for access to the burgeoning Cuban market. Patrick
Fraizer, senior vice president of the New Orleans-based Pan-American
Life Insurance Group, said the company would consider that kind of
arrangement rather than pressing for the full $9.7 million worth of
property taken from it.

"If the opportunity presents itself, we certainly would not be opposed
to dealing with the Cuban government about other ways to resolve the
issue," Fraizer said.

As the two sides begin negotiating the financial terms, some Americans
want something simpler.

Fred Swetland III spent so much of his childhood on the family's ranch
on Cuba's Isle of Pines that he calls himself "half-Cuban." Castro's
government seized the 9,510-acre ranch and its 800 head of cattle,
forcing the Swetland family to return to the USA.

Swetland, who runs a furniture store with his wife in Bradenton, Fla.,
says he misses his adopted home but has no desire to take it back. He's
looked over Google Earth satellite images of the property and can't
recognize anything. The house is gone. The river running through the
property has run dry. Instead, he simply wants some kind of compensation
and an acknowledgement from the Cuban government of what it did.

"In some way or another, I want revenge," Swetland said. "I'm always
talking about the Isle of Pines. I'm always talking about my memories
there. I think this might give me closure."

Source: Americans have new hopes to reclaim property seized by Cuba 50
years ago -

Economists ask what’s next for the Cuban economy

Economists ask what's next for the Cuban economy

The Obama administration has outlined an economic opening designed to
increase engagement with the Cuban people, but speakers at the 25th
annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy
said Thursday that the policy's success depends on the Cuban
government's response and the pace and breadth of its ongoing economic

The theme of the three-day conference at the Miami Hilton Downtown Hotel
was "Cuba — What's Next?" On Thursday, the theme generated more
questions than answers.

Vegard Bye, of the University of Oslo's Center for Development and
Environment, said there have been dramatic changes in Cuba in the past
10 years but "today there is more pausa (pause) than prisa (speed) in
the reform process, a play on Cuban leader Raúl Castro's declaration
that economic reforms would occur "without haste but without pause."

"I think there is change, but the question is, of course, is it
transformative," he said.

The Obama opening, which comes with the embargo still in place, allows
more trade with Cuba and travel by Americans as well as increases in
remittance allowances.

It has raised high expectations, said Carlos Seiglie, president of ASCE
and a Rutgers University economics professor. But he said those
expectations "are not consistent with the fundamentals underlying the
Cuban economy." Among the factors undercutting opportunities, he said,
are an unwieldy dual currency system, an overvalued Cuban Convertible
Peso (CUC), restrictions on Cuba's self-employed and on resource
allocation, and price distortions.

Emilio Morales, president and chief executive of the Havana Consulting
Group, added a few more barriers to the list: foreign companies'
inability to directly contract Cuban workers, no free access to the
Internet, a scarcity of hard currency, weak international reserves, lack
of judicial security and Cuba's non-payment of international debt.

"The Cuban government is the only one that can convert these barriers
into opportunities," Morales said.

Such restraints, said Seiglie, could force Cuba to undertake
"substantially more radical reforms" in the next couple years.

Cuba will be entering a "decisive period, beginning with the Communist
Party Congress next April and extending through the January 2017
National Assembly meeting, Bye said.

In 2018, Castro has said he plans to retire and has already named an
heir apparent. But Bye said the new generation of political leaders
"will not have the historical legitimacy that the older generation has."

In his opinion, the "changes have only one direction — they will continue."

Even if Cuba decides to adopt the Vietnamese model of authoritarian
capitalism, "it would require a tremendous change in the speed and
character of economic reforms," Bye said.

Ernesto Hernández-Catá , an economist and former associate director at
the International Monetary Fund, said Cuba should bite the bullet and do
its currency unification in one fell swoop, rather than gradually
because it fears it would have a chaotic effect and lead to high inflation.

It won't be an ongoing inflationary process, he said. Unifying the
currency and exchange rate "has to be done and has to be done rapidly,"
Hernández-Catá said.

Luis R. Luis, an economist and consultant, said the measures outlined by
President Barack Obama could contribute .5 percent to the Cuban economy
in the first year, mostly because of an increase in remittances and in
American visitors.

But he said, "Cuba needs to make economic changes to accompany these

Longer term if there is no longer an embargo, interaction with the U.S.
economy could result in a significant boost for the Cuban economy, said
Luis. But that, too, will depend on Cuban economic reforms, he said.

Among the participants at the conference were about a dozen academics,
journalists and an entrepreneur from the island and a group sponsored by
the Korea Institute for National Unification. The Koreans will discuss
how issues surrounding the integration of North and South Korea might
have parallels with the rapprochement between Cubans on the island and
the Cuban diaspora.

Source: Economists ask what's next for the Cuban economy | Miami Herald

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Drivel and Anniversaries - Cuban Television is a Wreck

Drivel and Anniversaries: Cuban Television is a Wreck / 14ymedio, Yoani
Posted on July 29, 2015

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 July 2015 — Twenty minutes after the
start of the news, the only things they had announced were the
anniversaries of historic events and obituaries. As if nothing has
happened in the country now. For the evening prime time news, the world
stopped fifty years ago and remains only something to remember and
honor. Even the weather has mothballs. A "good night" concludes the
broadcast and we viewers hold out unfounded hope for what could be the
best part of the line-up. But nothing.

Cuban television is experiencing one of its worst moments. Programming
oscillates between the stiffness of ideology and American programming
taken without any regard for copyright. So, we go from a tearful
documentary about the birth of Hugo Chavez, to the intrigue of the
series Castle, where a murderer manages to escape at the last second.
One channel re-broadcasts Machado Ventura's soporific 26th of July
speech, and on another some kids learn to cook recipes that could never
be made in Cuba because of the lack of ingredients.

Bleeding-heart vampires alternate with martyrs fallen in who knows what
battle. Soap operas of more than 100 episodes made in Brazil, Mexico or
Colombia try to recover an audience that for the most part already knows
that the bad guy married the good girl, because they already watched the
series through the illegal "weekly packet." Audience participation
programs try to transmit freshness from a studio where even the applause
is recorded and the dubbed music kills all the charm of a live performance.

Without any concept or order, TV is shaped by whatever comes to hand,
what can be stolen from some foreign channel, and the stagnation of
domestic productions

The comedy shows are not spared either, with the exception of the
popular Vivir del Cuento (Surviving by Your Wits), the others range from
vulgar to easy. Jokes copied from outside sources are the most abundant,
given the impossibility of broadcasting on the small screen what really
makes us laugh. Can you imagine a comic in front of the camera saying,
"It happened once in hell that there were the presidents of the United
States, Russia and Cuba…"? No, no you can't. The humor we see on TV has
become as boring as the news.

Without any concept or order, TV is shaped by whatever comes to hand,
what can be stolen from some foreign channel, and the stagnation of
domestic productions. The worst part comes when the domestic scripts try
to compete with Hollywood, the Discovery Channel or History. That's when
they come out with these messes like "On the Trail," where the police
are always so right, honest and effective that you end up wondering how
there can be so much crime in a country with such perfect police forces.

Nor are we saved by the sports broadcasts. You have to listen to the
commentators who, for long minutes, assure you that the medal was stolen
from some Cuban athlete "who did so well, but the referee favored the
challenger," while avoiding offering even one compliment to the hosts of
some sporting event taking place abroad. The chauvinism takes the form
of the pole, the ball, the bat or the hammer. The athletes become the
spearhead of politics.

It's been an hour since the end of the news broadcast and channel
surfing confirms that Cuban television is a wreck. How many people,
right now, are looking at one of the broadcasts on the national
channels? I suspect very few.

Source: Drivel and Anniversaries: Cuban Television is a Wreck /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba -

Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion

Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion / 14ymedio
Posted on July 29, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 28 July 2015 — Experts have just confirmed what
peasants in Las Tunas Province already knew due to the declining yields
of their harvests and the degradation of their land. Eighty percent of
the province's arable land has already eroded, and another 28% is facing
desertification. According to reports appearing in the official Cuban
press on July 28th, this problem is a result of "changes in rain
patterns, and inadequate management of the province's farmable lands."

Specialists from this eastern Cuban province's Communist Party
Agricultural Affairs Committee estimate that 445,000 acres of previously
fertile land are now ruined, accounting for 11.67% of the of the
island's deserts. According to the report, climate change combined with
a growth in farming in the so-called "vulnerable zones" will only
exacerbate and spread the environmental damage.

Top and subsoil erosion, poor drainage, salinization, and compaction are
among the negative results of soil degradation. Consequently, the
region's agricultural output has dropped significantly.

The government experts stress that uncontrolled forest fires, the
burning of harvest leftovers, the absence of crop rotation,
deforestation, and the excessive use of machinery are some of this
situation's other causes. Las Tunas Province has a naturally dry
climate, from where it takes name.* Nevertheless, this reality has only
been worsened by the current predicament.

The loss of arable land is worse on the northern border with Camagüey
Province. According to Amado Luis Palma, an expert from the Ministry of
Science, Technology and the Environment, "(northern) Las Tunas Province
is beginning to resemble Cuba's only semi-arid region, the desert
corridor between Caimanera and Maisí, in Guantánamo Province."

*Translator's note: "Tunas" are a type of native Cuban cactus that grows
wild in the province.

Translated by José Badué

Source: Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion /
14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

The Customer as Criminal

The Customer as Criminal / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on July 29, 2015

Rebeca Monzo, 27 July 2015 — One of the most annoying problems in our
country, as far as services and treatment of the public is concerned, is
the humiliation to which we are subjected on a daily basis. This is
especially true for women. We are required to leave our handbags, with
all our personal belongings inside, in bins set aside for this purpose
at the entrances of every store and commercial establishment, even
though many of them have no security. This has led to instances of
theft, for which the victims receive no compensation.

A few days ago a friend of mine went into a shoe department — located on
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Miramar — that was practically outside
the shopping complex to which it belonged. Under the circumstances and
keeping in mind that she was only looking for footwear, she went inside
with her handbag. As soon as an employee noticed this, she told my
friend she must leave and deposit the handbag in a bin. My friend
replied that she did not see why this was necessary since there was only
one of each brand and model number of shoe on display and that she, as
anyone could see, had two legs and two feet. Given the employee's
insistence, my friend asked to speak to the manager of the department to
explain the situation.

The manager came over and my friend tried to reason with him, offering
the same rationale she had given to the employee. He replied with a
logic very "a la socialista" that it was his understanding that someone
could steal a shoe — one of a certain color, size and model number —
then go to another store that carried the same shoe, also on display,
with exactly the same features but for the other foot, thus completing
the pair. Something completely implausible!

My friend stood there stunned by this explanation and decided to leave
the store immediately lest she contract the idiocy virus so common in
these places. But before doing so, she let it be known to both the
employee and her boss that she, like many others, were fully aware that
the majority of such thefts were, unfortunately, inside jobs.

In the old days, during the capitalist period, there was a saying that
became famous precisely because it was so sensible: "The client is
always right." Now under socialism the customer is unfortunately treated
like a potential criminal.

Source: The Customer as Criminal / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba -

The Umbilical Cord

The Umbilical Cord / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on July 30, 2015

Rebeca Monzo, 25 July 2015 — The majority of Cuban emigrants, those of
the last three decades, seem to leave with the remains of their
umbilical cords hanging from their bodies.

They barely arrive, be it as wet foots or dry, by raft or by plane, and
just start settling in, but that they start asking their families who
stayed on the island for medicines, Vita Nova tomato sauce, dry wine and
other silly things. They don't seem to realize they've arrived in
another country, which they themselves chose to start a new life, and
they try to continue depending on their families and friends with scant
resources, those they left behind.

Nor have they given any thought to the first emigrants from the sixties
and seventies, who were forced to put their whole lives into one
suitcase, and start from zero to open the way, alone, without any
contact with those they left behind, an era when it was absolutely
prohibited to have any kind of contact with those who decided to live in
a country where they spoke another language.

Emigrants of today seem to forget that medicine is scarce here and, in
addition, if you can find it you have to pay in CUC on the black market
where it's available, or acquire it for hard currency in the few
pharmacies that exist in the city at astronomical prices. I think it
would be very convenient for everyone to assume with responsibility and
bravey the decisions made, and to detach themselves from the remains of
this appendage to which they are still attached, that limits their growth.

Source: The Umbilical Cord / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba -

Time for Compensations

Time for Compensations / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on July 29, 2015

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — After the media foreplay
stirred by the opening of the Cuban and US embassies in their respective
countries, some outstanding issues on the agenda of negotiations between
the two governments begin to surface as matters that should, in short
order, get the attention of the media and of public opinion.

Statements by senior officials on both sides have made reference to
cardinal issues that marred the Cuba-US relations for half a century,
whose solution – requiring very complex negotiations and agreement —
will depend on the success of the standardization process that has been
occupying headlines and raising expectations since this past December 17th.

One such point refers to compensation claims from both sides. On the US
side, for the expropriations suffered by large American companies in
Cuba, whose assets have remained in the hands of the Cuban government,
and the demands of Cuban citizens who emigrated to the US, who were also
stripped of their properties under laws introduced by the Revolution in
its early years which remained in place for decades. The total amount of
compensation demanded by those affected is estimated at about 7 or 8
billion dollars.

The Cuban government, in turn, is demanding that American authorities
"compensate the Cuban people for over $100 billion in human and economic
damages caused by US policies," referring to economic constraints
imposed by the commercial and financial embargo that has weighed on the
Island (the so-called "genocide"), as well as other damages resulting
from "terrorist attacks". The total that the Cuban Government has
established exceeds $100 billion, although it is not known how or who
came up with the process of quantification of the damages.

Up until recently, Cubans "in Cuba" have feared the supposed danger of
the nearly 6,000 compensation claims registered in the US at the Office
of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC, its acronym in English). A quasi-war
cry that emerged from the official discourse, when stating that those
once termed "siquitrillados"* — hat despicable gang of "bourgeois and
stateless softies" who stole the wealth that belonged to the humble
people and then took refuge under the shadow of Cuba's worst enemy —
were trying to recuperate what they had lost under the weight of
revolutionary justice. That is to say, in the event revolutionary power
might cease, thousands of Cuban families would be left homeless when the
former owners took back their real properties and evicted them from
their buildings. At the same time, children would be left without
schools and there would not be enough hospitals, jobs, etc.

And, while that was the message to Cubans on the island in the late
90's, the government, with its exhausted coffers, sent reassuring
signals to foreign investors interested in Cuba as a market, reassuring
them that they would be willing to negotiate "fair" compensation with
the victims of those old expropriations.

But fear, that indispensable tool of every totalitarian power, had
penetrated so deeply into the common people's psyche that, to date, the
specter of eviction, of unemployment and of some other possible losses
worries not just a few of the families who live in properties built
before 1959 or who work at establishments and factories that Fidel
Castro's government seized decades ago. It is expected, therefore, that
the issue of "claims and compensation" of the current negotiating agenda
will awaken a higher expectation among Cubans than the modicum of
(harmless) novelties that have been presented so far in the framework of
political strife currently taking place.

Every Cuban is familiar with those huge posters displaying mysterious
mathematical calculations which, however, nobody understands. Such
language is often seen declaring how many books, notebooks, medicines or
sport equipment have not been acquired for each number of days of the
"blockade" (embargo) against Cuba.

The figures are usually astronomical, but the basic criteria and
indicators are completely unknown. That is, exactly what is the
equivalent of one day of US embargo if measured in notebooks? What are
these notebooks and how are their prices calculated? Something similar
happens with even more subjective issues, such as the amounts the US
owes Cubans who have been victims of violence or terrorism in acts of
sabotage taking place during these years.

However, it is absolutely fair to demand compensation for damages in
either case. For this reason, and because the scenario seems conducive
to reconciliation, Cubans should be getting our calculators ready to
determine exactly what amounts of compensation the "Revolutionary"
government should pay us for all the wars they got us involved in, where
thousands of our fellow countrymen died, how much for the destruction of
the national economic infrastructure, how much for the waste of public
funds based on ideology, how much for the parades, for the poverty, for
the emigration, for shattering our country and the Cuban family, for so
many useless "battles," for the fraud they call Revolution, for the
lives lost in the Florida Straits, for the sinking of the 13 de Marzo
tugboat, for the repression, moral damages, persecution, exclusions,
prohibitions, low wages, inflation, monetary duality, for snatching our
freedom, and for the curtailment of our rights.

Let's test it out, and in the style of those experiments the beloved
General-President loves so much. I propose that we prepare, slowly but
surely, a list of our losses over 56 years of dictatorship, and
calculate their cost. Our list of demands is sure to be endless, but the
sum of the total compensation they owe us is simply beyond price.

*Translator's note" Siquitrilla: wishbone. Those who lost property in
early years of the revolution, or who "ended up with the short end of
the (their own) wishbone."

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Time for Compensations / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya | Translating
Cuba -

Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II)

Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II) / Cubanet, Ernesto
Perez Chang
Posted on July 29, 2015, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 28 July 2015 – Between the
years 2004 and 2007, 65 children from the Los Sitios neighborhood in
Central Havana, 7 to 10 years of age, underwent testing in order to
determine their degree of lead poisoning. The research, conducted by a
team of researchers from the Cuban National Institute of Health,
Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM), found that 46.2% of the children
exceeded the acceptable levels for adults according to the World Health
Organization (10.0 mg/dl) and that 67.7% already were demonstrating
learning difficulties associated with poisoning from this heavy metal.

According to the scientists, who recommended extending the investigation
to other areas of the capital, the group of those affected presented
with "diminished reading abilities, more limited vocabulary, poor
reasoning, very slow reactions and poor psychomotor coordination." Also,
concern about the long term consequences was raised due to lead exposure
being associated not only with reduction in academic performance but
with changes in hearing, behavior, low self esteem, suicide attempts,
depressive syndromes, aggression, and even mental retardation or death.

Perhaps because the research involved some "taboo topics" in the
official public debate like childhood, health and the poor living
conditions of Cubans, the results were not repeated in national press
outlets, even though they were published in issue number 47(2) of 2009
of the Cuban Magazine of Health and Epidemiology [found at; most of the studies mentioned here are available
on the internet], and years before, in 2003, the INHEM magazine itself
had brought to light a study1 by several of its researchers about lead
levels also in children in the Central Havana township, perhaps one of
the most affected by the poor health-sanitation conditions and by its
location in a highly contaminated area.

Works like the foregoing join a list of investigations developed by
Cuban scientists who belong to official institutions which signal the
catastrophic effects of the island's ineffective environmental policy,
especially because of the link they observe with direct damage to human

Official Sources Note the Problem

In early 2015, the first issue of the digital magazine Science on Your
PC, corresponding to January-March, published the extract from a
dissertation2 by a group of researchers from the University of the East
in Santiago, Cuba, about the low risk-perception and disinformation on
the part of the residents of fishing communities about heavy metal
contamination in the waters of the bay and surrounding areas.

According to the study, even though the Santiago Bay ecosystem is highly
contaminated, there exists no government strategy to curb the negative
effects of the heavy metals on the health of the residents of the city.
Similarly, the inhabitants and even the fishing cooperative workers
receive no information about the toxicity of the waters and the foods
that they extract from them.

Santiago is, after the bay of Havana, the most poisoned on the island,
and several sources discharge contamination into it such as the Antonio
Maceo Thermoelectric Center, the November 30 Forming Company
Electroplating Plant, the Celia Sanchez Textile Company, the repair
workshops of the Electric Company and the Polygraphic. All use the
principal rivers and their tributaries to discharge wastes without any
effective filtration.

Despite this, according to the research, in the area "everyone claims
that they have never been kept from fishing (…) This prohibition on
fishing has been imposed only in the event of an outbreak of diarrheal
illnesses and, of course, in the case of a closed season as with shrimp.
(…) None of those interviewed from the fishing grounds knows about the
heavy metals; they have not even heard this term."

People from other regions of the country, also visibly affected by
pollution, demonstrate equal ignorance about the phenomenon. The
government's policies of concealment in most cases are due to economic
strategies, as deduced by those investigations that link cancer levels
to the degree of contamination of the waters in mining or highly
industrialized areas.

In the research report "Cleaner Production Strategy for the INPUD
Galvanic Factory" (2006)3, the authors, belonging to the Central
University of Las Villas, recognize that the main factor that impeded
the design of a filtration system for heavy metals and toxic residues in
the galvanic factory of the National Industry Producing Domestic
Appliances (INPUD) was the impossibility of developing means of
environmental protection because these raised the costs of production, a
luxury that the Cuban economy could not afford, much less in the middle
of the program called "Energetic Revolution" promoted by Fidel Castro,
where he required them to commit to producing 350,000 pressure cookers
benefitting the "Battle of Ideas."

According to the researchers, at that time, "the treatment at the end of
the pipe [filtration of pollution discharged into rivers and reservoirs]
was improving the contamination problem but not reducing the costs [of
production]," in a factory that employed Czech technology from 1964,
"with very deteriorated technology and obvious obsolescence."

In 2001, the factory had put into operation a wastewater treatment
plant, but at the same time, it encountered construction problems
because of which chrome and nickel wastes continued to be discharged
directly into a small stream and from this to the Arroyo Grande dam,
belonging to the Rio Sagua watershed with an area of more than 2,000 km².

This discharge into the groundwaters of the region could be related to
the high levels of cancer that was reported by the province of Villa
Clara where the highest incidence of cases on the island is recorded,
according to statistics from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health itself.

In that regard, a report entitled "Contribution to Environmental
Management in the Context of Urban Agricultural Production in the City
of Santa Clara," carried out between January and February of 2009 by a
group of authors from the Provincial Meteorological Center and the
Agricultural Research Center of the Central University of Las Villas,
found high concentrations of lead, cadmium, nickel and other harmful
substances in the soils and waters of several urban agriculture
production systems in the city of Santa Clara. On comparing them to the
standard established by Cuban regulation NC-493, from 2006, it was
observed that "in organic gardens the concentrations of heavy metals
were greater (…) with possible risk in some cases for human health."

Similar studies, but focused on the petroleum areas of Boca de Jaruco in
Santa Cruz del Norte and in a town near a goldmine on the Island of
Youth, show that one of the fundamental reasons that the investigations
are not disseminated and that urgent measures are not taken is the
government's economic interests.

In 2003, the magazine Earth and Space Sciences [Vol. 4, pp. 27-33],
published the study "Arsenic and Heavy Metals in the Waters in the Area
of Delita, Island of Youth, Cuba," by a group of scientists from the
Geophysical and Astronomical Institute and from the National Hydraulic
Resources Institute."

The text speaks of "a reduction in the maximum permissible limit for
arsenic in drinking water," which had unleashed the onset of chronic
illnesses like cancer in people who had ingested drinking water with
lethal concentrations of arsenic for long periods.

Populations from Batey de la Mina and from the Delita goldmine in the
southeast of the Island of Youth, were and are exposed to arsenic
concentrations higher than the detectable limit. In the Manantial La
Mina station alone were recorded values that exceed the Cuban regulation
of 50 mg/L-1 as well as the World Health Organization guideline of 10

The "Benign" Purpose of the Studies

In spite of these alarming measurements, according to what the
investigators themselves expressed, all the clinical studies that have
been carried out in the area by governmental agencies interested in the
territory's tourist development were for the express purpose of
demonstrating the "therapeutic benefits of Delita's waters and sludges"
and not to connect the appearance and behavior of diverse illnesses with
the ingestion and external use of arsenical waters.

The group of Cuban researchers is aware of the toxic impact on
residents' health in the so-called "special township" that, in recent
years, has demonstrated a rising trend in mortality rates from
cerebro-vascular diseases, notably exceeding other regions of the
country: "The clinic where the residents of Batey de la Mina, the
Argelia Victoria People's Council No. 6, are treated, has shown a marked
increase in the years 1994, 1996 and 1999."

"If one considers," continues the final report of the study, "the
transit time of the underground waters from Delita, which is 13 years
(…) and subtract those years from the date of the first increase in
deaths from this cause (1994), the resulting date is 1981, which marks
the beginning of the decade in which the most important exploration
studies were carried out in the mine, as well as the drainage and direct
dumping of the underground waters on the surface (1982), showing some
possible relationship between these events. (…) Furthermore, although
there exists no detailed study by clinics and areas that indicate the
behavior of those dead from malignant tumors, this condition constitutes
the main cause of death in adults as well as of premature death in the
township, also with an upward trend in the last decade. Lung cancer (…)
has shown a startling increase between the years 2000 and 2001 for the
whole township."

According to other researchers, Delita's reservoir area is regarded as a
uranium mining prospect, a considerable concentration of this element
having been identified in a sample from the deep part.

The thousands of facts offered in the studies carried out by state
scientific institutions themselves exceed the limits of these pages, and
at the same time, contradict many aspects of the Cuban government's
official discourse that speaks of health programs and educational
strategies but persists in ignoring a true environmental catastrophe
that threatens to transform into another nightmare that new chapter of
the Cuban revolution that has been referred to as "prosperous and
sustainable socialism."


1Aguilar Valdés, J. et al., "Niveles de plomo en sangre y factores
asociados, en niños del municipio de Centro Habana", Revista Cubana de
Higiene y Epidemiología, 2003; 41(1).

2 Rodríguez Heredia, Dunia et al., "Educación ambiental vs. baja
percepción acerca de la contaminación por metales pesados en comunidades
costeras", Ciencia en su PC, 2015, enero-marzo, 1, 13-28. Centro de
Estudios Multidisciplinarios de Zonas Costeras (CEMZOC), Universidad de
Oriente, Santiago de Cuba.

3 Cachaldora Francisco, Isidro Javier et al., "Estrategia de producción
más limpia para el taller galvánico de INPUD", Universidad Central
"Marta Abreu" de Las Villas (2006).

Source: Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II) / Cubanet,
Ernesto Perez Chang | Translating Cuba -