Happy New Year from Cuba Central!!!

Dear Friend:

Happy New Year.  This is the last news summary of 2008, and it is an edition that highlights the media’s coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of Cuba’s Revolution.
But before we get to the big events of the week, we’d like to offer a few words of thanks to people who really deserve them.
First, our readers.  We thank you for your passionate interest in Cuba and U.S. policy toward the island.  We hope that you will remain engaged with us in 2009, which will surely be a watershed year for our efforts to transform the U.S.-Cuba relationship.
Second, a shout-out to the journalists whose work we summarize every week.
Many of the best reporters we know live in Cuba and cover events there, objectively and thoroughly, in an environment where it can be difficult to develop sources, cover events, and unearth information.  Many of them have talk to our delegations, and they all are generous with their ideas and insights.  We thank them.
We also deal with reporters in the United States who in covering Cuba recognize that distance can be distorting.  They work extra hard to get to the underlying truths of what is a very complicated and difficult story to report.  We thank them, too.
Most of all, we want to express our gratitude to the Cubans we have met along the way.
In a debate where people on both sides – supporters and opponents of the embargo alike – so often speak for Cubans, we feel very strongly that Cubans of all stripes should be able to speak for themselves, what they hope for their lives, and what they’d like from U.S. policy.  When we publish this news summary, do our research, bring fact-finding delegations to Cuba, or conduct video interviews of Cubans to upload on the web– we try and amplify their voices.  We cannot change U.S. policy in an honest and effective way unless they are heard.  We hope our work is resonant with them.
To these and others, named and unnamed, let’s hope 2009 will be the year of change and hope that we all want it to be.

This week, Cuba will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the revolution that swept Fulgencio Batista from power and ushered in the government of Fidel Castro.
Thousands, if not millions of words, will be devoted to coverage of this event – from the history of the Revolution, to Cuba’s storied resistance against U.S. policy, to the accomplishments of the government and the failures of its system, and to the prospects for Cuba to open and reform and for the United States to finally accept the sovereignty of its neighbor.
Our intention, this week, is to let that coverage speak for itself.  To that end, we offer an array of articles that have been published recently about Cuba’s Revolution, where things stand now, and the prospects for change moving forward.
The BBC offers a timeline here, a gallery of pictures here, and key facts here.
An extensive account of life in Cuba as reported by the Associated Press can be read here.
A sampling of what Cubans want – ‘an end to hardship but not to revolution’ – can be read here.
The opinions of younger Cuban-Americans and exiles living in South Florida are written about here.
A foreign journalist reflects on how Cuba has adapted to a changing world here.
The Wall Street Journal discusses what it calls “the power of myths” here.
The Miami Herald has devoted extensive coverage which is indexed here.
Time Magazine asks here if we’re about to see the end of the Cold War.
Granma’s editor-in-chief, Lázaro Barredo Medina, addresses the Revolution from Cuba’s perspective, “50 Years On.”

Cuban officials ended the annual meeting of the National Assembly with speeches outlining Cuba’s economic problems in 2008, and forecasting economic growth in 2009, according to reports published by the Associated Press, the AFP, and the Reuters news agency.

President Raúl Castro and Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez made remarks addressing Cuba’s economic conditions, discussing cuts in spending, and stating that previously announced but delayed economic reforms would still be undertaken in 2009.
The officials cited the impact on Cuba’s economy of hurricanes and tropical storms, which caused at least $10 billion in damage, and resulted in a sharp increase in Cuba’s import bill for food and other expenditures, as well as the impact of the global financial crisis and slowdown, which has affected critical industries such as nickel mining.
“The year coming to an end has been without doubt one of the most difficult since the special period began,” the Economy Minister said, referring to Cuba’s economic crisis following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Economic growth, which had been forecast at 8 percent for 2008, came in at 4.3% for the year.  Cuba spent more than 6.7 percent more than it took in.  Prices for nickel, Cuba’s top export, fell 14 percent which, according to Reuters, which cost the Cuban government $250 million in expected revenues.
“The accounts don’t square up,” Raul Castro said, “two plus two always equals four, never five.”
Reuters reported that before President Castro’s speech, the National Assembly voted to raise the retirement age for workers to leave work with a government pension, up to 65 years for men and 60 for women.  The officials called for fiscal discipline to help Cuba see through its difficulties.
Although Cuba is now predicting its economy will grow by a relatively brisk 6 percent in 2009, President Castro said it would still take the island economy three to six years to recover from the problems it had experienced in 2008.
According to the AFP, President Castro called the lack of accountability in government spending and proper work oversight one of the “fundamental problems” of Cuba’s system.  He proposed setting up a government watchdog agency that would report to the State Council that he heads, and set out a goal of reducing official travel and bonuses for officials, government leaders and workers.
President Castro said that one of his high priorities for 2009 would be raising salaries and creating jobs for 180,000 people who neither work nor study.
You can read about Cuba’s prospects for growth here and here and about Raúl Castro’s call for austerity measures here and here.  The BBC reports on Cuba’s economy here.
We have previously reported that heads of government from Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico will visit Cuba in the first months of 2009 as part of President Raúl Castro’s intensifying diplomacy with the region and the strategy to pressure the United States to end the embargo.
It was reported this week, that the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Micheál Marti, will become the first Irish Minister to visit Cuba in an official capacity, according to the Irish Times.
Also the Cuban News Agency is reporting that Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, has once again called on the United States to remove the embargo against Cuba, in a congratulatory message on the island nation’s fiftieth anniversary of its Revolution.  That account of President Correa’s statement can be read here.
Barack Obama to relax Cuba travel rules; could seek major changes in U.S.-Cuba relations
The Sunday Telegraph, a British newspaper, quoted a Latin America adviser to President-elect Obama saying that the new administration will move “very quickly” after his inauguration on January 20 to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money back to relatives in Cuba.
“Cubans will be less dependent on the state for money and they will have greater contact with their relatives in the U.S.  That can only aid understanding,” the adviser said.
The Telegraph reviewed Obama’s commitment from the 2008 presidential campaign to repeal restrictions on Cuban-Americans.  But it goes on to say “Cuban experts expect him to negotiate to end the five-decade-long economic embargo during his first term in exchange for Cuba releasing political prisoners.”  The full text of the article can be found here.
Other voices have reached a similar conclusion.  The Reuters news agency writes, “Five decades after Fidel Castro toppled a U.S.-backed dictator to take power in Cuba, the Cold War rivalry with Washington could be thawing as President-elect Barack Obama looks to ease sanctions against the communist-run island.”
This report cites Obama’s campaign pledge to loosen restrictions on Cuban-Americans, the changing political climate in Miami, and renewed activity among business interests to seek trade with Cuba, as the principal drivers for Obama to change the nation’s foreign policy as regards Cuba.
The full text of the article can be read here.
Christian Leaders send appeal to Obama on Cuba travel policy and the embargo
In a letter released on Christmas Day, eighteen leaders from Christian denominations in the United States have urged President-elect Obama to take sweeping steps to change U.S. policy toward Cuba.  While they cite the “severe restrictions on religious travel” that have hindered, and in some cases blocked, church denominations, mission agencies, and ecumenical organizations from engaging with their Christian brethren in Cuba, the church leaders asked for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. policy including:
  • Lifting restrictions on religious travel
  • Liberally granting visas for U.S. travel to Cuban pastors and other religious leaders
  • Lifting the ban on travel for all Americans
  • Ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba
Leaders signed the letter from the following denominations and organizations: Church World Service, National Council of Churches, Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches of the USA, Christian Church in the United States and Canada, Church of the Brethren, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Presbyterian Church (USA), Progressive National Baptist Convention, Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church.
A copy of the letter was also provided to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Secretary of State-designate.
The World Faith News story about the letter can be read here.
Connecticut news report on phone call with Congresswoman DeLauro and others

Last week, we reported on the media call hosted last week by the Center for Democracy in the Americas with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3rd District) and several Cuba policy experts.
Media coverage of the phone call can be read here.  A transcript of the call can be read here.
Recommended reading:
In an editorial titled, “Cuba Embargo Didn’t Work,” The News-Leader, from central Virginia, published a tremendous editorial urging the administration to end the embargo, making a largely economic and foreign policy/image argument:
The Obama administration needs to have a foreign policy focused on making new friends instead of punishing old enemies with tired, worn out and failed policies of the past. It’s time to say hello to our neighbors again and find a new market for our cars, electronics and tourism industry.
The full text can be read here.
In a Canadian publication, The Record, we suggest “Time for a Thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations,” an editorial that urges President-elect Obama to make his promised changes in the rules regarding Cuban-Americans but urges him to go further to replace a policy it calls a failure.  It can be read here.
DeWayne Wickham, a columnist for USA TODAY, and a long-time critic of U.S.-Cuba policy, challenges Cuba and the United States to make the concessions needed that will bring their fifty-year conflict to an end.  His essay can be read here.
The essay offered by the Economist here, tough on the U.S. and Cuba, is titled “Time for a (long overdue) change”.
This article from the on-line edition of the Progressive magazine issues a similar call.
Coming soon:
In the next issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine, look for an important article by Peter Kornbluh and Bill Leo Grande, titled “Talking with Castro.”
In January 2009, the Center for Democracy in the Americas will publish our report, “9 Ways for US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to US.”  A summary is available for download here.  We recruited a team of scholars and experts to offer their ideas for cooperation in military affairs, migration, energy, trade, academic exchange and other fields which could help the U.S. and Cuban governments develop relationships of confidence and trust that are vital for bringing this conflict to an end.
Request for donations:
The Center for Democracy in the Americas, and our Freedom to Travel campaign, benefit from the support we receive from foundations and private individuals.  We expect that their budgets and ours will be stressed by the current economic conditions which affect us all.   For any of our readers who are still looking for a place to make a donation at the end of this taxing year, let us encourage you to visit our website here.  We appreciate your generosity just as we hope that you appreciate our work.
Happy New Year!
The Cuba Central Team

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