Independence Day NewsBlast

Dear Friends:

This is the Independence Day edition of the weekly news blast.  Happy Holiday!

This week, we cover stories about Cuba’s economic difficulties and a new government reform to help Cuba’s workers make ends meet.  Cuba, which has offered to discuss drug interdiction with the United States under the aegis of the upcoming migration talks, announced the seizure of two tons of drugs thus far in 2009.

Costa Rica and El Salvador are moving forward with the restoration of their diplomatic relations with Cuba.  As his first official act, Mauricio Funes, the new president of El Salvador, announced that his country would recognize Cuba for the first time in fifty years.

Cuba Central is also happy to point out that Roman Mayorga, a dear friend, will represent El Salvador in Venezuela, and Francisco Altschul has also been named as El Salvador’s interim envoy to the U.S.  We wish them both well.

We also note, as other commentators have, that Timothy Broglio, the Catholic archbishop for the U.S. armed forces, was allowed to preside over a Mass in the Cuban city of Guantanamo.  He offered a message of reconciliation and his hopes that Cubans and U.S. citizens would have the right to worship together with nothing separating us.  We wholeheartedly agree.

Before presenting the news, let us say a brief word about the section on Honduras that we have prepared for you to read at the end.

We are carefully watching events in Honduras, the global reaction to the coup, the actions of the Obama administration, and the statements of its supporters and critics.  For us, how the U.S. is responding to this crisis will matter a great deal – not only because we can influence the result and help restore the constitutional order in Honduras, but also because what we say and do will indicate to the people of the region whether our policy toward Latin America will break from the patterns of our past and move in a new and more positive direction.

It’s not just us thinking this way.  The actors and officials, who always appear when events take an ugly turn in Latin America, have emerged once again to support the coup and attack President Obama for condemning it.  You’ll see what they’re saying about the crisis in our Honduras report as well.

So these events are not just about democracy in Honduras, but also about debate in the U.S. about the integrity and effectiveness of our role in the region. That is why we’re following what happens there so closely and with such concern.
This week in Cuba news…


Making Ends Meet: Cubans can now hold more than one government job

Cubans will soon be allowed to hold multiple government jobs under the latest reform to Cuba’s labor system, the Associated Press reported.

Official notes published in Cuba’s state media on Monday and Tuesday said a decree was passed by the Council of State permitting Cubans to hold more than one job.

According to the note, the move aims to “stimulate work throughout society, as well as the possibility that workers can increase their income” to “offset the effects of an aging population.”

“An important part of this ruling is linked to the rational use of human resources and hiring to ease the effects of an aging population, stimulate jobs throughout society as well as providing workers with the chance to increase their income,” the note said, according to the Spanish news agency EFE.

Banned from holding second jobs are health-care personnel, researchers, educators and auditors, “except for the exercise of teaching jobs, scientific research and other undertakings that are approved by the express decision of the authority or agency that designated or chose them.”

According to the Associated Press, “the measure seems aimed at filling necessary positions in a shrinking work force, and giving Cubans the chance to increase their income,” while encouraging them not to engage in non-sanctioned, black-market activities to earn money – a common practice in Cuba.

Cuba’s trade deficit jumps 65% in 2008

Three hurricanes, the financial crisis and a poor economic performance caused Cuba’s trade deficit to climb to 65% in 2008, said the Reuters news agency in a report based on Cuban government statistics. Cuba was hit hard by the high cost of food and oil imports, and by the decline in the price of its chief export, nickel.
Cuba’s main trading partner was Venezuela, followed by China, Spain and Canada.  The U.S. continues to be Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner, thanks to food sales permitted under an exception to the U.S. embargo.

Raises for teachers and other education workers

Salaries for workers in the education sector will soon be evaluated, and teachers and other professionals in that field can expect pay increases, Cuba’s state newspaper Granma reported Thursday.

“In spite of the complicated economic and financial situation the country is facing, the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministries ahs decided to recognize the sacrificing effort that workers in the education sector make and proceed with a modest evaluation of the monthly salary, beginning with the school year that begins in September,” stated the note in the Granma.

According to the note, the “decision recognizes the outstanding social responsibility that is assigned to teachers, professors, to all education workers…and is a just stimulation for those who, as [Raul Castro] said in April of last year, work in ‘a field of strategic meaning for the present and the future of the Revolution’.”

Workers will receive raises between 93 and 166 pesos (4 – 7.17 dollars) and will benefit over 545,101 workers, the Granma reported.

Cuba has seized over 2 tons of drugs this year

Cuban counternarcotics officials have seized more than 2 tons of drugs since the beginning of 2009, Agence France-Presse reported. That amount already exceeds what Cuba confiscated during all of 2008.

The Interior Ministry said that the majority of drug transport boats that were captured originated from Jamaica and were en route to the United States.  Additionally, 11.5 kilograms of cocaine and marijuana were confiscated from the Havana International Airport in 8 different cases.

Cuba proposed to the Unites States that drug fighting efforts be included on the agenda when the two countries hold talks on migration issues. The United States has not publicly responded to that proposal.


Costa Rica and Cuba Seek to Normalize Relations

Costa Rica and Cuba are making further strides towards normalizing relations, reports El Confidencial.  On June 26, top diplomats of the two countries exchanged letters signifying the intention of both nations to expand bilateral cooperation.  Additional cultural and education exchanges are planned, as are possible agreements on trade and migration.

Costa Rica also requested a bilateral agreement to settle debts that Cuban institutions owe Costa Rican exporting companies, reported La Nación.  In March, the two countries reestablished diplomatic relations but have not yet sent ambassadors.

El Salvador names first ambassador to Cuba in half-century

El Salvador nominated Domingo Santa Cruz as the first ambassador to Cuba after President Mauricio Funes reestablished diplomatic relations between the two countries, El País reported.

El Salvador has already requested approval from Havana for Santa Cruz, who is “a political scientist, with a long history in politics, therefore, we consider that he is an ideal person to begin relations with Cuba,” said Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez.

At the time of Funes’ election El Salvador was the only Latin American country that did not have diplomatic relations with the island.  El Salvador cut relations with Cuba in 1960 following the triumph of the Cuban revolution.


U.S. Archbishop preaches reconciliation to Cuban audience

Timothy Broglio, the Catholic archbishop for the U.S. Armed Forces, presided over a Mass in the Cuban city of Guantanamo on June 24th, EFE reported.

During the Mass, which was attended by officials from Cuban government and the Cuban Communist Party, Broglio called for reconciliation between Washington and Havana, the Cuban bishops conference said.

“Let’s pray to God that one day we can worship together, without anything separating us,” said Broglio, adding that his visit to Cuba “is an opportunity to affirm the affection of the people of the United States of America for you.”

Los Angeles-Havana flights return

New flight service from Los Angeles to Cuba began this week, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The once per week, 5 ½ hour flight is offered each Tuesday by Long Beach based Cuba Travel Services, which began offering Los Angeles-Havana flights in 2000 but suspended them in 2004 after the Bush administration tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Around 40,000 Cuban Americans live in Los Angeles County, but because Cuba Travel Services is the only Cuba tour operator on the West Coast, it will draw customers from a wider area, said Michael Zuccato, general manager of Cuba Travel Services Inc.

For more information you can contact Cuba Travel Services directly at (800) 963-2822.

Puerto Rico says it will accommodate Cuban athletes for 2010 CAC games

The Puerto Rican government is making all the necessary arrangements so that a Cuban delegation can participate in the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2010, which will be hosted in Mayagüez, reported the Associated Press.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, met last Friday with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to formally express Puerto Rico’s intent to allow the Cubans to participate. However, more logistical details must be worked out, such as permission to allow Cuban athletes to travel directly from Cuba to Puerto Rican.

“The government of Puerto Rico is doing everything within its power so that the greatest number of countries can participate,” said Kenneth McClintock, Secretary of State of Puerto Rico. He also said that Fortuna expressed Puerto Rico’s desire for the games to express a true change in relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Due to restrictions, the most complicated part of Cuba’s participation is the arrival of Cuban athletes. In 1996, Cuba’s participants traveled to Puerto Rico by boat, but U.S. authorities prevented the boat from entering the bay in San Juan, forcing Puerto Rican citizens to transport the Cubans to land on small boats.

Honduras Update

Cuba Central continues to follow developments in Honduras following the now week-old coup against the government of President Manuel Zelaya.

Since the coup took place, after Honduran soldiers stormed the presidential palace and forced President Zelaya into exile, world leaders have condemned the military coup, ambassadors from the region and the EU have been withdrawn, and the World Bank has suspended support for its projects in Honduras.

The coup government in Honduras has been denounced international for its overthrow of President Zelaya, the violence it has perpetrated against Hondurans, its abuse of human and political rights, and the suppression of dissent and of journalists reporting the news.

Emergency meetings were held by the Organization of American States, Central American Integration System, United Nations and the Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas (ALBA) to push for Zelaya’s return to the presidency.

In Honduras, thousands of protesters demonstrating in the streets of Tegucigalpa for Zelaya’s return were met by soldiers with tear gas, water hoses, billy-clubs and gunshots.  The military has shut down local television and radio stations and cut signals for international news channels, such as CNN en Español and Telesur, in a media blackout that has drawn condemnation from international press freedom groups.

President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and other officials have called the coup “illegal,” and said that Zeyala is the only President that the U.S. will recognize.

Conservative politicians and commentators have denounced the Obama administration for opposing the coup, supporting President Zelaya, and joining efforts by the OAS to restore the constitutional order in Honduras.  For example, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said in a statement:

President Obama’s call for the reinstatement of Zelaya is a slap in the face to the people of Honduras. And the resolution written by the Organization of American States tramples over the hopes and dreams of a free and democratic people.

The rule of law is working in Honduras. President Obama should not undermine the democratic institutions that guarantee freedom by forcing an illegitimate President back into power.

Similarly, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said this in a Tweet this week:

Did 2 radio shows tonite on illegal acts by ousted Honduran president. OAS allows Cuba in yet vows to kick Honduras out 4 abiding by constn.

The anti-Cuba industry is clearly mobilized, and drawing the connections between Honduras and other governments they oppose in the region, and adopting the peculiar line that ‘coups are okay,’ if they happen to be directed against allies of governments like Venezuela, whose leaders they oppose.

However, as conditions in Honduras continue to deteriorate, the administration is also being urged to do more to help return President Zelaya to power.  Congressman Jim McGovern, who leads the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress has written Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and urged her to announce an immediate cut-off of U.S. assistance to Honduras until President Zelaya is restored to power.

In a statement released this week, the Center for Democracy in the Americas said:

While we are encouraged by the reaction of the U.S. government to the coup against President Zelaya…strong words will be insufficient unless they are matched by equally strong deeds.  In addition to utilizing the tools of diplomacy, regionally and internationally, the United States should withhold aid and suspend trade to exert pressure on the coup government in Honduras, and to help speed the return of President Zelaya and the resumption of Honduras’s democracy and constitutional order.

President Zelaya will attempt to return to Honduras on July 5th.

To make it easier to follow the unfolding events, we have set up a page on our website with relevant news articles, Administration statements and links to live reporting. You can access that page here: CDA Reacts, Provides Resources re: Coup in Honduras.

Recommended Reading:

Video Sheds Light on Raúl Castro’s Strict Approach, IPS

In another demonstration that it is impossible to hide anything in this socialist Caribbean island nation, the hottest video in Cuba today appears to show President Raúl Castro’s determination to root out certain vices and disloyalties, regardless of the rank of the people involved.

Reggaeton fever shakes up Cuba’s culture, Reuters news agency

With little official support or air time on state-controlled radio, the songs Cuban reggaeton artists record in makeshift studios lined with egg cartons for sound insulation are mostly transmitted though homemade CDs and on computer flash memory sticks.

Hello from Havana: Nuanced but unmistakable stirrings of change in Cuba, Jorge I. Dominguez

President Raul Castro’s principal contribution thus far to the lives of ordinary Cubans has been that television soap operas now start on time. He often reminds his fellow citizens of this seemingly impossible accomplishment, after decades during which his elder brother commanded the airwaves and disrupted all public and personal schedules.

Summer Reading:

Periodically, we will be offering you our recommendations of new books by some of our friends and colleagues that you can add to your summer reading lists.

The first book that we would like to recommend, The Immigrant Divide: How Cuban Americans Changed the U.S. and Their Homeland by Susan Eckstein, sheds light on the most recent and fascinating change in relations between Cuba and its Diaspora.

This historically-grounded, nuanced book offers a rare in-depth analysis of Cuban immigrants’ social, cultural, economic, and political adaptation, their transformation of Miami into the “northern most Latin American city,” and their cross-border engagement and homeland impact.

You can learn more about the book and purchase a copy here.

Have a happy holiday.  Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: