We return to the subject of reform this week in our news blast about Cuba.
Amidst a debate described as “fierce,” Cuba’s government is contemplating changes in subsidies, the iconic ration book, and overall incentives for work, changes that go to the core of its definition of what a socialist economy can be. Here, we feature important reporting from The Financial Times.
The reform debate has swept beyond the economy and into Cuba’s classrooms. Changes in staffing and teacher pay aim at making improvements in Cuba’s primary and middle schools that were demanded by Cubans in a debate triggered by Raúl Castro last year.
In Beijing, as the Olympics draw to a close, performances by Cuba’s baseball and boxing teams are drawing the world’s attention. Cuba is currently in 12th place in overall medals, leading all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. See our report.
Accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is ordered to stand trial for immigration violations by a U.S. Appeals Court while a convicted terrorist may benefit from a pardon campaign directed at President Bush. Is Senator Joe Lieberman really offering to help set the killer of a diplomat free?
These issues and more, this week in Cuba news…
Cuba is studying how to adjust its generous social welfare system, hoping that changes will lead to more incentives for work and increased production, the Financial Times reported.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Alfredo Jam, head of macroeconomics analysis in the ministry of the economy, said that Cuba’s welfare system has “over-protected” Cubans by subsidizing many products, including food, and limited the amount that people could earn, leading to labor shortages in vital sectors.
Raúl Castro recently removed a limit on salaries that individuals can receive and Cuba will introduce a production-based bonus system for certain industries. He has also decentralized the country’s agriculture system and offered idle land to private farmers and co-operatives. Both moves are aimed at increasing production and allow for individuals to receive higher earnings.
So far, there have been no major changes to the welfare system. However, in early July, Raúl Castro warned the Cuban people of a switch to a more “realistic” form of communism that is economically viable and will do away with excessive state subsidies designed to promote equality. He reiterated his belief that “socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income,” and that “equality is not egalitarianism.”
Mr. Jam’s comments show that the government has identified excessive subsidies, along with low pay, as a cause for minimal incentives to work in agriculture, construction and manufacturing. “There isn’t motivation to work in these sectors,” he said.
It remains to be seen what subsidies will be cut. High level officials have said that the restructuring or elimination of the ration book, which provides monthly food and hygiene products, is being discussed. “There is very fierce debate about these things,” one leading government adviser told the Financial Times.
More than 4,000 retired teachers have come out of retirement and will return to the classrooms in Cuba for the beginning of this school year. The move is in response to Raúl Castro’s call to confront the teacher deficit and an offer of increased pay, local Cuban media reported.
On July 11th, Raúl Castro called on retired teachers to return to their profession, and days later the Council of State approved a decree authorizing to pay returning teachers full salaries while they still received their full pensions.
The majority of the returning teachers will work in primary education, and 80% are women, reported the Mexican daily el Comercio.
Since Raúl Castro started a debate among Cubans about the economy and their government, the education system has come under much criticism.
In April, the Education Minister, Luis Ignacio Gómez, was fired after serving for eighteen years. He was highly criticized by Fidel Castro for frequently traveling abroad and “losing energy and revolutionary consciousness.”
The biggest complaint heard in the national discussion was the lack of qualified teachers, many of whom have left the education sector for more profitable jobs. Many parents and the official media have expressed concern about the “integral teacher model,” which has recent high school graduates teaching general studies classes at the middle schools.
The new Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Veláquez, announced this week that the model for “integral teachers” working in secondary teaching will change. Starting in September, they will have two weekly four-hour preparation sessions led by senior teachers, and there will be two veteran educators assigned to each school in order to prepare the young professors. The “integral teacher” program was introduced by Fidel Castro in 2000 to address the shortage of educators following the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
The Minister also announced that “tele-classes,” where young children learn through video programs, will be reduced from 45 to 30 minutes and teachers will provide instruction for the remaining 15 minutes.
You can read the El Comercio article here.
ALSO IN CUBA
Miriam Leiva leaves the Damas de Blanco
Miriam Leiva, one of the leaders and founders of the “Women in White,” a group of wives, mothers and sisters of jailed dissidents, announced in a statement this week that she is leaving the group to dedicate more time to independent journalism, reported Inter Press Service News.
Although Leiva said she would continue to consider herself one of the group’s founders, she said she would no longer be committed to the decisions and statements of the Women in White. She affirmed that she will continue fighting for the release of the 55 dissidents that remain imprisoned on charges of conspiring with the United States to overthrow the Cuban government.
Leiva’s decision comes amid rumors of a split within the membership of the group. Leiva is considered to be tactically more moderate. According to the Associated Press, Clara Lourdes Prieto, a fellow member of the group, said she did not think that Leiva would announce her intentions to leave the group so publicly.
“If that was her decision, we respect it,” Prieto said. When asked about the group’s leadership, she replied, “We don’t have any boss.”
The Ladies in White march peacefully along Fifth Avenue in Miramar every Sunday, but some members of the group have called for stepped up public protests and more open opposition to Raúl Castro’s leadership over the last few months.
In April, the ladies were removed by female police officers from Revolution Plaza outside of Raúl Castro’s office, shortly after arriving to protest the imprisonment of their loved ones. Leiva did not attend that demonstration.
Shortly after that incident, the Cuban government released evidence that allegedly showed that the (then) head of the U.S. Interests Section, Michael Parmly, ferried money from violent anti-Castro terrorists to dissident groups in Cuba, including the Women in White.
Group spokesman Laura Pollán, who signed off on the money sent through the U.S. Interests Section and also attended the April protest in Revolutionary Plaza, denied that there was any split in the group.
“There have been no clashes or disagreements among us, I want to make that clear,” she told IPS.
You can read the IPS article here.
The storm dumped heavy rain in parts of Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus, reported the Granma. The rainfall caused rivers and creeks to overflow and thousands were evacuated.
The town of Falcón, located between Santa Clara and Placetas, was the most affected by the rain, which caused the river to rise more than 10 meters, and seriously damaged more than 200 homes, leaving many of them underwater.
More than 4,000 people were evacuated in Villa Clara and some 8,000 people were evacuated in Cienfuegos.
Fay has claimed the lives of 28 people. The storm killed twenty-two people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and six in Florida.
You can read the Granma article here.
Cuba beat the United States to advance to the Olympic baseball finals, in what could be the last time that the two countries ever meet in Olympic baseball, reported Agence France-Presse.
Cuba was leading 4-2 in the eighth inning when Alexei Bell and Ariel Pestano each hit 3-run home runs to put the Cubans up 10-2. Frederich Cedpeda and Alfredo Despaigne both hit solo homers and Hector Olivera had an RBI triple in the third, helping Cuba get off to a quick lead. U.S. pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who may be the first pick in the 2009 MLB draft, allowed three runs in four innings. Cuban pitcher Norge Luis Vera gave up two runs in six strong innings.
Cuba will face South Korea on Saturday in the gold medal game and the U.S. will take on Japan for the bronze.
Meanwhile the U.S. surprised Cuba with a major upset in women’s volleyball, winning in three straight sets, NBC reported. Cuba beat the Americans in the preliminary round in three sets, but made vital mistakes throughout the rematch.
Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles easily won the gold medal in Thursday’s 100-meter hurdles race as many expected, the Granma reported.
Robles finished just six-hundredths of a second under his own world record time (12.93), outrunning David Payne and David Oliver of the United States, who came in second and third.
In boxing, Cuba has eight boxers in semifinal matches today, which means they will walk away with eight bronze medals at the very least, reported the Granma.
Eight of the Cuba’s ten participating boxers will go home with a medal, although in 2004 Cuba had a boxer make it to the semifinals in all 11 divisions. Due to defections and other problems, Cuba has a much younger team than usual and expressed excitement with their current standing.
“It might be difficult for some to understand how such a young team, reorganized in one year after well-known situations, has come this far, but it is because a lot of hard work has been done,” said Pedro Roque, head coach of the Cuban boxing team.
FLORIDA’S FOREIGN POLICY: THE WAR ON TERROR
A federal appeals court ruled last week that Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles should stand trial for entering the United State illegally and lying to immigration officials, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Venezuela has repeatedly requested his extradition to prosecute him for terrorism in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner. This ruling in effect blocks his extradition to Venezuela to face terrorism charges.
The bomb planted aboard the plane, en route from Venezuela to Havana, killed all 73 people aboard. Posada was acquitted in Venezuela on a technicality but escaped from prison while waiting for a retrial. Declassified documents show that Posada told the CIA of plans to “hit” a Cuban airliner days before the Oct. 6, 1976, explosion.
He was convicted of conspiracy in Panama to assassinate Fidel Castro during a visit, but received a pardon from the outgoing Panamanian president along with three other Cuban exiles from Miami in what was perceived as a favor to President Bush in an election year. A new government in Panama is planning to apply for his extradition.
Posada was arrested in May 2005 for illegal entry to the U.S. but his case was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso on grounds of government misconduct. This ruling overturns that and he will now face trial.
A U.S. immigration judge ruled in 2005 that can’t be sent to Venezuela or Cuba because of the possibility of torture. The State Department has tried to deport him elsewhere, but seven countries have refused to accept him.
The Miami Herald’s Cuban Colada blog reports that more than 30 Cuban exile groups are pushing for President Bush to pardon convicted assassin Eduardo Arocena.
The exile groups have formed a “Committee in Support of a Presidential Pardon for Eduardo Arocena” and held a rally in South Florida last weekend. They have been reaching out to South Florida Members of Congress and other influential politicians to try to influence President Bush.
Arocena was arrested in Miami on July 22, 1983, in Little Havana, where investigators found an arsenal of illegal weapons. He was later convicted of murdering Felix Garcia Rodriguez, Cuba´s diplomat at the United Nations and attempting to plant bombs in New York at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Madison Square Garden and the Cuban Mission at the United Nations, among other crimes.
According to the Associated Press, Arocena’s wife, Miriam, had a meeting with U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman in July, in which Lieberman accepted letters to President Bush and his wife, Laura, requesting a presidential pardon for the convicted terrorist.
“I will carry it back,” he said referring to the pardon requests, briefly embracing Mrs. Arocena. “I think of you like you were my family.”
Miriam Arocena, says the 65-year-old suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, but a 2007 Justice Department report lists him in good physical and mental health.
Lieberman’s spokesman has since said that the Senator “does not intervene in criminal proceedings” and the “correspondence was merely forwarded.”
The White House and the Justice Department have declined comment on the matter.
You can read the Cuban Colada Blog post here.
Around the Region:
Ecuador. From the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, to the halls of Congress, some in the U.S. sometimes have trouble distinguishing between governments in the region and the policies they are choosing to pursue. We feature an article by Alonso Soto on Ecuador’s distinctive course on energy policy.
In Cuba, surf’s up (our thanks to Jeff Franks and Esteban Israel for this gem).
Rum and Revolution focuses on the Bacardi family. We conclude with this book review:
Until next week,
The Cuba Central Team