Abbreviated Cuba Central News from Rio

Dear Friends:

This week, the Cuba Central Team compiled our news summary at the meeting of the Latin America Studies Association (LASA) in Rio de Janeiro.

LASA´s conferences have convened in Montreal (2007) and now in Rio after the Bush administration used its visa policies to thwart participation by Cuban scholars at its meetings in the U.S.

Here in Rio we are enjoying a vibrant debate and discussion on a stunning variety of matters relating to the region – from security to income inequality to how Hip Hop is changing culture – in a climate of openness and with full contributions by academics and experts from Cuba and throughout the region.

We look forward to the time when LASA can decide to host one of its upcoming International Congresses in the U.S. with the knowledge that all of its members and invited guests can attend without obstacles put in place by our government.

This week in Cuba news…


U.S. POLICY

Couple arrested for spying for Cuba

A retired State Department official and his wife were arrested last week for allegedly spying for the Cuban Intelligence Service for nearly three decades.

Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested after a three-year joint investigation by the FBI and State Department. The grand jury indictment unsealed by federal prosecutors came just days after Cuba accepted a U.S. offer to renew talks on immigration.

Kendall and Gwendolyn, both in their 70s, are also being charged with fraud and could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

According to the affidavit, Myers has worked for the State Department since 1977, where he obtained access to classified information, which he passed on to Cuban agents. The couple allegedly met with Fidel Castro in Havana in 1995. Castro did not deny the fact, but said that at that time he met with thousands of North Americans individually or in groups, for various reasons, and could not be expected to remember Myers and his wife.

The Miami Herald reported that some Members of Congress are saying the administration should halt immigration talks and other reforms in Cuba policy due to the arrests.

Sen. Mel Martinez said he may ask President Barack Obama for a briefing on “this issue, as well as counterintelligence efforts in regards to Cuba,” and suggested that the administration postpone talks between diplomats.

“We don’t know how those talks could have been compromised by what has been disclosed to the Cubans. I think it would be foolish for us to be in negotiations with one arm tied behind our back.”

However, Joe Garcia, a board member of the Cuban American National Foundation, said the case should not used as an excuse to stall changes in policy.

“The United States does the same thing with countries we classify as a terrorist state – I expect there are hundreds of others out there,” he said. “This is just an excuse for the fearful not to take action.”

“Declining to engage with Cuba on specific issues that affect U.S. national interests – as President Reagan demonstrated when he defended his engagement with the Soviets – will do nothing to stop Cuban espionage, but it would ensure that we leave those interests unattended,” said Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute in comments on his Cuban Triangle blog.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered a review of security and vetting procedures following the arrests, CNN reported.

Clinton told reporters she directed State Department security personnel to review “every possible security program we have, every form of vetting and clearance that we employ in the State Department, to determine what more we can do to guard against this kind of outrageous violation of the oaths that people take to serve our country here in the State Department.”

Castro describes the case as “ridiculous little story”

Fidel Castro was among the first to react to the case of the two alleged spies. “It is interesting that this news has come to light only 24 hours after the defeat of U.S. diplomacy in the General Assembly of the OAS,” the communist leader said in an article circulated in the press yesterday, El Pais reported.Castro, who will turn 83 in August, neither confirmed nor refuted the allegation that he personally met the couple, but mocked the timing of the arrests, pointing out that news of the arrest was made public only a few hours after the decision in the OAS to end Cuba’s suspension.

“Doesn’t the little story of the Cuban espionage seem a little ridiculous to all of you… Why weren’t they arrested earlier, why at this moment?” Castro questioned.

According to the Department of Justice, the couple met with Fidel Castro in 1995. Castro did not deny the claim, but wrote that at that time he met with thousands of people from the U.S. for various reasons.

“Those who in some way or another contribute to protect the life of Cuban citizens from terrorism… from the imperative of their own consciences deserve the entire honor in the world,” Castro added.

Could the travel ban end this year?

Two Washington think tanks believe it is possible that the U.S. travel ban on Cuba will be totally lifted this year, the Jamaica Observer reported.

The U.S. Congress will vote this fall on lifting the ban according to Daniel Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue and Sarah Stephens for Center for Democracy in the Americas, who attended a conference on Caribbean Studies and presented on U.S.-Cuba Relations.

“I think it’s possible by September or October that Congress will lift the travel ban for all Americans to Cuba,” said Stephens, whose think tank opposes the U.S. government’s policy of blocking legal travel by Americans to the island. “It will be very tough to get to that final ending of the embargo anytime soon. But I think that the lifting of the current travel ban is real. I think that can happen and part of the reason is that it is in Congress’ hands and they want to do it.”

“I think that the lifting of the travel ban is exactly right. The debate in the U.S. today is about lifting the ban on ability of ordinary Americans to travel to Cuba and I see this as being the thread that if you pull it, it can unravel the whole sweater,” Erikson added.

Stephens, in her remarks, identified both the obstacles and the positive developments that are shaping the debate in Congress on Cuba policy this year.

You can read Sarah Stephens’ conference presentation here.

Shannon on the region – see how the tone has changed

On June 8, 2009, Tom Shannon, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, gave an address titled The Future of Inter-American Relations at George Washington University.  The address itself contained at least one passage that symbolizes how the Obama administration is shifting at least the tone of U.S. policy toward the region in positive ways as compared to what we saw and heard from the previous administration:

I believe that the display of multilateralism that we’ve seen recently, both in Trinidad and Tobago and in San Pedro Sula are going to position us as a hemisphere to play a much more important role.
It’s not going to be a role in which the United States is a dominant player or determinant of how the rest of the hemisphere engages, because what we’re seeing in developments in Brazil, in Mexico, in the Pacific Rim countries, are a series of Latin American, both Central American and South American countries, that have a capability of being effective, successful players in an international environment, that have an interest in engaging in that international environment, and have been devising the tools both bilaterally and in larger subregional groupings to play effectively. And this is something we should be supporting.

A link to the entire text can be found here.

DIPLOMACY

Cuba not interested in rejoining the OAS

Cuba responded officially for the first time to the OAS decision to lift their suspension from the group. A statement published in the Cuban state newspaper Granma said that Cuba is not interested in rejoining the organization.

”It is an organization with a role and trajectory that Cuba repudiates,” the statement said.

Alex Main, an advisor for the Venezuelan government, said the resolution was mainly symbolic and not about Cuba rejoining.

”Cuba isn’t interested in going back to the OAS,” he said. “This wasn’t about the OAS, it was about the assertion of Latin American sovereignty. It is primarily symbolic.”

”Ever since the triumph of the revolution, the Organization of American States has taken an active part in support of Washington’s policy of hostility toward Cuba,” the statement concluded.

Spain defends policy towards Cuba

The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, is quoted saying that the current U.S. policy towards Cuba is similar to the one adopted by Spain in 2004. Defending Spain’s Cuba policy amid criticism from the opposition party, he described Spain’s policy as “appropriate and adequate,” El Pais reported. He also described the end of Cuba’s suspension from the OAS as a “historic decision,” representative of how much consensus on a new policy has arrived.

“Nobody expected that the U.S. position could change so fundamentally, so fast after the takeover of the Obama administration,” he said.

Moratinos further defended Spain’s policy towards Latin America, based on what he described as “respect, dialogue and involvement.”  He highlighted the recent agreement between the Santander Bank and the Chavez administration and announced plans to visit Venezuela and Brazil at the end of July.

President Morales visits Cuba

President Evo Morales of Bolivia traveled to Cuba to meet with the Cuban President, Raul Castro, and to participate in a “wide program of activities,” Cuban state media reported.  His visit had been planned over a month ago, but was repeatedly postponed by the Bolivian leader due to events in Bolivia.

Morales last visited Cuba in May 2008 and met with Fidel and Raul Castro, resulting in the signing of a number of cooperation agreements. Morales is the eleventh Latin American president to visit Cuba since the beginning of the year. Fernando Lugo, the President of Paraguay, was in Havana last week.

IN CUBA
Restrictions on energy consumption underway

El País reported that authorities interrupted the electric service last week to hundreds of companies and production sites in Havana in an effort to reduce electric consumption.

The use of computers, fans, air-conditioning and lights is being restricted during certain hours in many workplaces. The government has said they cannot waste a single dollar more than planned on fuel for energy production. In the first four months of the year, Cuba used 40.000 tons more than anticipated and this “waste” has provoked an emergency situation, government officials have said.

The situation is serious – if the state sector does not reduce its energy consumption by 12%, it might be necessary to reinstitute planned blackouts in the residential sector, Vincente de la O Fernandez, director of Union Electrica, told El Pais.

Venezuelan oil deliveries to Cuba increase

Venezuela’s shipments of crude oil and refined products to Cuba grew by 32 percent in 2008, Bloomberg news reported.

According to an annual report by Venezuela’s state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), deliveries to Cuba climbed by 28,000 barrels a day to 115,000 barrels a day. Cuba also received twice as much crude oil in 2008 as 2007 due to a new joint venture with Venezuela that restarted a refinery in the Cuban city of Cienfuegos.

Cuba pays for much of its oil from Venezuela by sending doctors, sports trainers and other advisers to Venezuela and its allies.

More Cash Woes in Cuba

Cuba is facing a serious liquidity crunch, which has forced them to roll over 200 million (Euros) in bond issues that were due in May, the Reuters news agency reported.

Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at London-based brokerage firm Exotix, said that the bondholders involved in the rollover were consulted prior to the announcement.

“Cuba had been talking to holders in advance to negotiate rollover and was believed to have achieved a high rate of participation before the maturity date, but the exact terms are not clear,” Culverhouse said.

Around the Region:

Peru Amazon conflict exposes rift over economic policy, Reuters

Weeks of tribal protests against government plans to open up communal lands to oil drilling, mining and logging boiled over last week into violent clashes with police that killed more than 60 people.

“We live in misery while others come in and take our natural resources and we don’t get anything in return,” said Sirilo Awachi, a 42-year-old farmer who lives near the poor Amazon town of Bagua Grande.

Venezuela’s PDVSA says net profit up 50 pct in 2008, Reuters

Net profits at Venezuela’s PDVSA rose 50 percent in 2008 to $9.4 billion, the oil company reported late on Saturday, driven by windfall oil prices that also financed a jump in spending by President Hugo Chavez.

“The results obtained during 2008 confirm PDVSA as the most important company in Venezuela, a fundamental pillar for the construction of 21st century socialism,” the company said on its website.

Recommended Reading:

Cuba’s spies and our interests, Cuban Triangle Blog

As discussed above, Phil Peters wrote about the arrest of the Myers couple on spying for Cuba and remembered other big espionage cases and the responses that followed from the United States and other countries.Cuba could supply oil to U.S. in post-embargo era, the Miami Herald

Cuba has launched a bold policy of oil development that could turn the country into an important supplier of fuel in the Caribbean ­- and the United States, should the embargo be lifted in the future.

Until next week,
The Cuba Central Team
www.democracyinamericas.org
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