Gustav and Gorki in Cuba, Two Platforms – and two directions – on Cuba

Dear Friend:

This week, we’re casting a wary eye toward the Caribbean as Tropical Storm Gustav begins to strengthen to hurricane status as we mark the third anniversary of Katrina. The safety of the people in the region concerns us all.

We’re also watching Cuba’s economy with reports this week that the import-dependent nation is running short of cash in this period of high energy and food prices. Our summary this week also covers the arrest of Gorki Aguila, detained for “social dangerousness,” but the news stories contain no explanation from the government as to the basis for his detention.

In the United States, we’re between the two parties’ political conventions, and so we’ve reprinted the paragraphs from the parties’ platforms on Cuba in our section titled “Florida’s Foreign Policy.”

You will see clear distinctions between the Republican and Democratic platforms on Cuban-American family travel and the prospects for normalization. Neither party comes to grips with the failure of U.S. policy, but they do offer a clear choice on the issue of U.S. relations with Cuba.

And now – without preconditions – here’s this week in Cuba news.


Cuba may need to restructure debt payments

Cuban creditors and suppliers said this week that there is concern that Cuba, hit hard by soaring prices for its main imports, food and fuel, and a sharp decline in the price of its main export, nickel, may be facing a shortage of cash, the Reuters news agency reported.

Cuba notified Japan and at least one other foreign government that they would like to renegotiate official debts and did not have the funds to meet fully debt payments to them or their companies.

At the beginning of the month, Cuba failed to pay Japan exporters and notified the Japanese government that high fuel and food prices meant Havana needed to restructure its official debt.

Cuba restructured many of its debts five years ago after a payment crisis in 2002, and its payments performance has strongly improved since. Also, Cuba’s foreign exchange earnings have more than doubled since then, thanks to trade with Venezuela, nickel exports and revenue from pharmaceutical projects abroad.

However, President Raúl Castro warned his countrymen in speeches last month that Cuba was being hit hard by the “international economic crisis” and rising food and fuel prices.

President Castro said that plans to increase salaries would likely be delayed and the strong economic recovery Cuba has seen over the last few years might slow. Vice President Lage announced in June that spending on many of the main investment projects had been significantly reduced and would continue being reduced if necessary, the news agency reported.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that U.S. pressure on banks not to deal with Cuba and the international credit crunch also may be affecting Cuba’s cash flow.

You can read the Reuters article here.

Punk rocker on trial for “social dangerousness”

Gorki Aguila, lead singer of a rock group called Porno para Ricardo, will be tried for “social dangerousness” today because of his music denouncing the Cuban leadership, the Associated Press reported.

Police arrested Aguila at his home on Monday and he has been in custody ever since. He will appear at the Playa municipal court in Havana, where he could be sentenced to up to four years in prison for subverting “communist morality.”

The government often uses the charge of “social dangerousness” to detain offenders before they have a change to commit a crime, in cases of public drunkenness, rowdiness and in cases of drug addiction and other “anti-social behavior.”

Ciro Diaz, the band’s guitarist said that there were rumors over the last few months that police might break up one of the group’s concerts after neighbor’s complaints about excess noise during rehearsals.

Aguila has a history of run-ins with the law and served time in prison in 2003 on drug charges.

The band’s website announced plans for the band to gather with supporters on the Malecón to protest the arrest. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said that Aguila had not committed any specific crime but had infuriated the authorities with some of his latest lyrics.

Aguila asked for “diplomatic observers” to attend his trial. The US-based Cuban American National Foundation offered to pay for an attorney but he refused, saying on his website that he “accepts no funding from political groups.”

You can read the Associated Press article here.

Cuba hopes to open more private farmer supply stores soon

The government of Raúl Castro has opened 15 stores to sell supplies to farmers in hard currency since authorizing the stores in April as part of a restructuring of the farming sector, reported the Cuban newspaper Trabajadores.

In an interview with Trabajadores, the vice-minister of Agriculture Joaquín Lezcano López said that one store has opened in each of the 14 provinces and one in la Isla de la Juventud, but that they hope to soon open one in each municipality.

“The objective is to bring the supplies to the cattleman where they produce or as close as possible,” said the vice-minister.

Prior to the opening of the new stores farmers and ranchers were obliged to buy supplies from the state, limiting who could buy them and often creating long delays.

Lezcano said that the stores will undergo there first evaluation in September and they will be adjusted to better fit the needs of the producers if necessary.

A recent report at the National Statistics Office (ONE) found that milk production in the first semester of this year was 203.3 million liters, compared to 162 million liters over the same period in 2007, the Associated Press reported. The report also found that cows are yielding 3.4 daily liters compared to 3.2 liters in the previous cycle.

You can read the Trabajadores article here (in Spanish)

You can read the Associated Press article here (in Spanish)

Petro Vietnam looks to speed up oil exploration in Cuba

The Petro Vietnam state oil company is looking to accelerate its onshore and offshore exploration work in Cuba, representatives of the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry (MIC) told Cuban authorities at meetings this week, reported the Cuba News Agency.

Cuba’s Minister for Basic Industry (MINBAS), Yadira Garcia Vera, and MIC’s minister Vu Huy Hoang, met with executives of the energy sectors of both countries on Wednesday in Havana.

The two countries signed a new cooperation accord that outlines increased collaboration in the areas of oil, electricity, chemicals, mining and the metallurgical industry.

Garcia Vera said that Cuba plans to intensify activities in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009 and 2010. Petro Vietnam began risk exploration in that area and on blocks located onshore in mid-2007.

You can read the Cuba News Agency story here.

You can read the Financiero story here (in Spanish)

Remains of exiles sent to Cuba for burial

Miami funeral director Rafaiy Alkhalifa says he has been shipping deceased Cuban exiles across the Florida Straits to Cuba since 1994 in an airborne burial business that is exempt from the U.S. trade embargo imposed on Cuba, the Reuters news agency reported.

Alkhalifa, a 64-year-old native of Guyana, says the business is about “family first” and he has been shipping between 12 and 20 exiles to Cuba by charter flight every month since he was given permission by U.S. and Cuban authorities to transport cadavers between the two countries.

“They want to go home because it’s the fatherland,” he said, speaking of why dying exiles chose to return to Cuba.

He said that many exiles have family in Cuba and want to be buried where people can visit.

“It’s reconciliation even in death,” Alkhalifa said.

In the case of Alberto Andres Mena, an exile who left Cuba for the United States along with 125,000 other Cubans during the Mariel boat-lift in 1980, he wanted to be buried in Cuba because he had left four children there and had not seen them since he left the island.

“He had gone almost 29 years without seeing them,” said his wife Teodomira Mena. “He suffered a lot in this country.”

She said he missed his children but also never really seemed to feel at home in Miami.

“He was full of complaints,” Teodomira Mena said. “He always lamented being here.”

According to Alkhalifa, it is also cheaper to be buried in Cuba with the coffin, shipping and everything else costing only $4,600 and no charge for a grave in Cuba, compared to at least $7,000 for burial services in Miami. He said it usually takes less than two weeks to get the paperwork approved to ship a body to Cuba.

You can read the Reuters’ report here.


The United States sought political asylum for Posada Carriles in Honduras

EFE, theSpanish news agency, has reported that the United States approached then-newly elected president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, in 2006, about offering political asylum to accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.

Zelaya said, eight days after becoming president, the United States ambassador requested that Honduras grant Posada Carriles political asylum.

“Ambassador Charles Ford came to ask me, through the chancellery, that I give Posada Carriles a visa for Honduras,” revealed Zelaya.

The United States sought to deport Posada Carriles to a third country after he was arrested in 2005 for entering the United States illegally and it was decided he would not be extradited to Cuba or Venezuela where his extradition is requested so that he can face terrorism charges.

He is accused and has in the past admitted his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airlines civilian airplane that killed 73 people.

“I told him that it wasn’t possible to give a visa to Posada Carriles, for diplomatic asylum, when he was a person seriously questioned throughout the world for terrorist acts,” he explained.

This month, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that Posada should face charges for his immigration violation. The ruling is expected to take pressure off the Bush administration to respond to Venezuela’s extradition request.

“They (the Americans) defend this type of terrorism, they defend it, that’s how it seems to me,” said President Zelaya.

You can read the EFE report here (in Spanish):

Between two conventions – where the parties stand on Cuba

2008 Republican Party Platform: Cuba

The other malignant element in hemispheric affairs is the anachronistic regime in Havana, a mummified relic from the age of totalitarianism, and its buffoonish imitators. We call on the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean to join us in laying the groundwork for a democratic Cuba. Looking to the inevitable day of liberation, we support restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba as a measure of solidarity with the political prisoners and all the oppressed Cuban people. We call for a dedicated platform for transmission of Radio and Television Marti into Cuba and, to prepare for the day when Cuba is free, we support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. We affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communist tyranny, and support efforts to admit more of them through a safe, legal, orderly process.

You can see a review of the Cuba language in the GOP platform by Phil Peters on his Cuban Triangle Blog.

2008 Democratic Party Platform: Cuba

And we must build ties to the people of Cuba and help advance their liberty by allowing unlimited family visits and remittances to the island, while presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.

Around the Region:

In the Washington Post, columnist Marcela Sanchez examines the Obama-Biden ticket and what this new role for the current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee might mean for U.S. policy toward Latin America.

Recommended Reading:

Read more about the New England little leaguers’ trip to Cuba

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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