Fidel reacts to Guantanamo – now and what he said a generation ago!

Dear Friend:

President Barack Obama’s decision to begin closing the prison at Guantanamo is a first, important step in returning U.S. foreign policy to its basic values and offers a glimpse of how his administration can restore America’s broken image in the world.

For Cuba’s part, former President Fidel Castro and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque both demanded that the U.S. do more – return the territory to the ownership of the Cuban people.

In an exclusive interview with the CDA, Dr. Peter Bourne, a Fidel Castro biographer and leading advocate for medical cooperation between the United States and Cuba, recounted a conversation he had for the book in which the former Cuban president advocated using Guantanamo as an international medical center.

You can see our interview with Dr. Bourne here.  You can also read his essay on U.S.-Cuba medical cooperation in our recently released “9 Ways” report.

We cover the flap over Guantanamo and much more, this week in Cuba news.


Cuba: closing prison at Gitmo positive but insufficient

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque welcomed President Barack Obama’s order to close the detention center at Guantanamo, but demanded that the U.S. return the naval base to Cuba, the Associated Press reported.

“We have always said that Cuba expects to recover this territory,” Perez Roque said of the base. Obama’s decision to close the prison for terror suspects within a year is “positive,” but “insufficient,” the foreign minister said at a news conference.

The base is built on land that was permanently leased from Cuba to the U.S. under an agreement imposed during U.S. occupation of the island 105 years ago.

President Raúl Castro also said last week that U.S. should return the Guantanamo territory to Cuba.

You can read the Associated Press article here.

Fidel Castro criticizes Obama about Guantanamo

Fidel Castro published another online “reflection,” and this time criticized President Barack Obama about the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and the current situation in the Middle East, CBS News reported.

The new article, titled “Deciphering the Thinking of the New United States President,” criticizes Obama’s recent statement that returning the naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuban control would depend on whether doing so would have even a minimal impact on U.S. defense capacities.

Castro also condemned President Obama for “demanding a change in its political system, a price Cuba has fought against paying for the last half century.”

He reiterates Cuba’s position that the base “violates the most elemental principles of international law,” since it is occupied against the will of the Cuban people.

Castro also attacks statements made by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, which, he says, reflect a policy of total support for Israel, and therefore “sharing the genocide against the Palestinians.”

You can read the CBS news article here.

“Cuban Five” taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Attorneys for the “Cuban Five,” five Cuban agents imprisoned in the U.S. on charges related to espionage, say they will take their clients’ cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomas Goldstein, an attorney who specializes in presenting matters before the Supreme Court, has joined their defense team.  The Miami Herald reported that it could take the high court until the middle of the year to decide whether to hear the spies’ petitions.

The five’s attorneys are also working on a political solution that could see them exchanged for U.S. citizens being held as political prisoners in Cuba or for fugitives from U.S. justice living in Cuba.

One of the attorneys, Paul McKenna, said the proposal should not be ruled out.

“I’m not a politician nor do I want to get involved in political affairs, but it would be naive to say (the exchange) is not a possible option,” McKenna said. “It wouldn’t be the first time that prisoner exchanges have occurred. There are precedents during the Cold War era.”

You can read the Miami Herald article here.

Cuba maintains offer to exchange prisoners

The Cuban government said this week that it is still willing to exchange political prisoners in Cuba for the “Five Heroes,” five Cuban agents convicted of spying in the United States, El Nuevo Herald reported.

“Each and every one of the words said before by Raúl [Castro] are in play, “said Felipe Pérez Roque when asked by journalists if the offer is still on the table.

President Castro made the offer during a visit to Brazil in December.

“Let’s do gesture for gesture. These prisoners you talk about-they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow. We’ll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts,” said Castro.

You can read the Nuevo Herald story here.

Galveston Mayor headed to Cuba for talks on Hurricanes

Galveston’s Mayor, Lyda Ann Thomas, will lead a delegation of regional officials to Cuba to see if they can learn how to prepare and respond better for hurricanes by studying Cuba’s disaster preparedness system, the Galveston County Daily News reported.

Hurricane Ike hit Cuba hard before crossing over Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Seven Cubans died during the storm, as 2.6 million people – 23 percent of the island’s population – were evacuated to safety. The storm went on to kill 20 people in the U.S. and to cause hundreds of injuries.

“We have our differences to be sure,” said Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, which is organizing the trip.

“But both of us are in the path of these hurricanes that seem to be increasing in size, intensity and number. How can we cooperate? How can we better help one another in these circumstances?”

You can read the Galveston County Daily News article here.


Cuba to invite U.N. torture investigator to visit

Elaborating on plans for Cuba to testify next month before the U.N. Human Rights Council, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque said Wednesday that his country has invited the U.N. special investigator on torture to visit the island this year, the Reuters news agency reported.

Pérez Roque said that the U.N.’s torture investigator, Manfred Nowak, has been invited while explaining that “Cuba is a country where in the last 50 years there has not been a single person ‘disappeared’, case of torture nor extrajudicial execution.”

Anti-communist exile groups regularly accuse the Cuban government of torture.

Perez Roque made the remarks as he gave details about a report that the government will present to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Cuba has prepared for next month in a serious, broad and participatory manner that has included nongovernmental organizations,” Perez said.

According to the Associated Press, the report will be submitted on February 5th and a U.N. vote on the report is expected in July.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, said that inviting Novak appeared to be a positive step, but questioned the government’s sincerity.

“The visit could be positive if the government is sincere, something which I do not see at this time,” he said.

Cuba’s state newspaper, the Granma, reported that Cuba will “attend the Universal Periodic review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council with its head held high and a clean conscience, given its work in favor of human rights for all Cuban men and women.”

You can read the Reuters article here.

You can read the Granma article here.

President Castro in Russia

Cuban President Raúl Castro arrived in Moscow on Wednesday, marking the first time any Cuban leader has visited the Russian capital since Fidel Castro made a trip there 22 years ago, CNN reported.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed Castro on Thursday and the two presidents appeared together on Russian state television, in which Castro spoke positively about the last time he visited Moscow, which was almost 30 years ago.

The two are set to discuss bilateral issues today during an official meeting at the Kremlin.

“We plan to reach the signing of a number of agreements aimed at the promotion of interaction of our countries in the trade-economic, financial-investment and cultural-humanitarian areas at the talks,” Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

“In general, there is no doubt that Castro’s visit will contribute to the strengthening of the Russian-Cuban partnership,” he added.

Lavrov also said that the two will discuss “solving the issue of lifting the blockade from Cuba under the new U.S. administration,” referring to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

“We hope that the joint position of the vast majority of members of the international community on this issue will finally contribute to revising U.S. approaches in a realistic manner,” Lavrov told reporters.

Castro is scheduled to spend a whole week in Russia and will depart next Wednesday.

You can read the CNN article here.

You can see a Russia Today news video of Castro in Russia here.

The E.U. gives Cuba another two million Euros for repairing homes

The European Union (E.U.) will give Cuba an additional two million Euros in humanitarian aid to repair roofs of homes affected by three hurricanes that hit the island in 2008, the Agence France-Presse reported.

Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma caused damages estimated at 10 billion dollars. With this donation, the E.U. has now given Cuba four million Euros in aid for the hurricanes since renewing cooperation with the island in October.

You can read the AFP article here (in Spanish).


Improved Trade with Cuba good for South Florida economy

Travel, construction, exporting and warehousing are among the South Florida industries with huge growth potential if ties between the U.S. and Cuba improve, the South Florida Business Journal reported.

Full travel and unrestricted trade would produce the most growth opportunity for the industries, but some small steps could help right away. Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, an economist with Florida International University, believes that President Obama could make a significant impact by rolling back the Bush-era rule of requiring that shipments bound for Cuba be paid for in cash prior to departing.

“If [the credit restriction] is removed, I think U.S. exports will increase maybe 5 to 10 percent,” Salazar-Carrillo said.

Local business, seaports and airports stand to benefit the most from normalization, with a quick spike in goods from Florida to feed Cuba’s fast-growing economy.

“You have the possibility of establishing here what I like to call the twin cities,” Salazar-Carrillo said. “It would be like Miami and Havana being the twin poles of a relationship that would be really important to South Florida.”

Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of theCuba Study Group, says that any improvements in U.S.-Cuba relations will depend on what steps Cuba takes, but agrees that normalization would be great for South Florida’s economic prospects.

“I think it could really be a bonanza, in terms of creating a host of opportunities. Imagine a market of 11 million people opening up,” said Saladrigas, who also sits on the board of Advance Auto Parts and Progress Energy

You can read the South Florida Business Journal article here.

5k Tons of Beans headed to Cuba

About 5,000 tons of pinto beans are on there the way from the Port of Corpus Christi in Texas to the Port of Santiago de Cuba, the Caller Times reported. The shipment is the first from Corpus Christi to Texas to Cuba this year.

Pat Walleson, WestStar’s managing partner, said he expects to ship an additional 5,000 to 15,000 tons of pinto beans to Cuba this year.

“We would love to ship smaller tonnages of packaged beans,” said Walleson.

The shipment is being carried out by Register International, marking the 92nd time they have delivered to Cuba. The Corpus Christi port became the first U.S. port to sign a trade agreement with Cuba in 2003

“This is not only good for the Port of Corpus Christi but for America,” said Register International president, Sean Register.

You can read the Caller Times article here.

Cuba revokes oil sharing agreement with Sherritt and Pebercan

Cuba revoked a 16-year-old oil production sharing agreement this week with Sherritt and Pebercan, two Canadian oil producers, the Reuters new agency reported.

The Cuban government did not issue a statement, but Pebercan has said that Cuba’s national oil company, Cupet, has been late with payments in recent years.

The announcement led to a two-day drop in Sherritt Internationals’ shares value, as investors fretted that its oil concessions in Cuba could be revoked and the company’s chief executive took a leave of absence.

Cuba’s decision to revoke the agreement, which accounts for 26 percent of Sherritt’s Cuban oil production, raised concerns about the company’s other concessions on the island.

“The market is concerned that Sherritt will lose all of their exposure to oil in Cuba,” said John Hughes, an analyst at Desjardins Securities in Toronto.

You can read the Reuters article here.


Eight Cuban migrants detained in Mexico

Eight undocumented Cubans were detained this week in Mexico after a traffic stop in the state of Chiapas, close to the border with Guatemala, the Agence France-Presse reported.

The police also arrested two suspected traffickers, one of Russian nationality and the other presumably of Cuban descent, though his nationality has not yet been determined.

The two traffickers, both permanent residents of the United States, were each transporting four Cubans in separate cars, including a three year old girl traveling with her mother.  The eight Cubans presented false Mexican identification cards and were subsequently detained and turned over to migration authorities to be deported.

Last October, Mexico and Cuba signed a memorandum of understanding, which facilitates the deportation of undocumented Cubans back to Cuba.

You can read the AFP article here.

Cuba investing $500 million to improve transportation

Cuba has assigned over $500 million to continue renovating its transportation system, a sector left in crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s, the Reuters news agency reported based on local television reports.

“We have a program to repair bridges and railways that are in very bad shape,” said Bárbaro Martínez, an official from the Cuban Railway Union.

Venezuela gave Cuba a credit for $100 million in 2007 to modernize tracks and Iran gave Cuba another credit last year for $267 million to buy wagons for the trains.

The government said in December that it invested over $260 million between 2005 and 2008 to improve the transportation system, purchasing buses, trains and wagons from China, Russia and Belarus.

Cuba was one of the first countries in the world to have a railroad and according to official data; it currently has 9,300 kilometers of railroad tracks.

You can read the Reuters article here (in Spanish).

Hemmingway’s documents now at JFK Library

Thanks to an agreement between U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., and the Cuban government, more than 3,000 other documents from Ernest Hemingway’s time in Cuba are now available at the John F. Kennedy Library, the Associated Press reported.

McGovern, museum officials and scholars hailed the agreement with Cuba as historic cooperation between the two countries.

“It’s a turning point toward a more rational, mature relationship between our two countries,” McGovern said. “I think Hemingway can be the bridge to help move both sides to a point where we can have a good, solid relationship.”

You can read the Associated Press article here.

Recommended Reading:

U.S. policy toward Cuba isolates itself, Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

Over the past week, the Fidel Castro’s poor health or, better said, his status among the living, became grist for the rumor mill again. More than Castro’s condition, the speculation spoke to the counterproductive flaw in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Simply put, it is a policy waiting on a funeral.

Recommended Viewing:

In an exclusive interview with the CDA, Dr. Peter Bourne, a Fidel Castro biographer and leading advocate for medical cooperation between the United States and Cuba, recounted a conversation he had for the book in which the former Cuban president advocated using Guantanamo as an international medical center.

Around the Region:

Five Latin American Presidents attend the World Social Forum, the Associated Press

The presidents of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva; Venezuela, Hugo Chávez; Bolivia, Evo Morales; Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and Paraguay, Fernando Lugo attended the World Social Forum, the biggest anti-globalization event in world, which is being held in the Amazonian city of Belem, Brazil.

The organizers of the World Social Forum invited the five presidents to participate in a debate with social movements from around the world about the economic crisis, alternative models of development, the fight against climate change and other topics.

Until next week,
The Cuba Central Team

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