Living in this world together

“We have to learn how to live in the world together.”

So said Fabelardo Arteaga, age eighty-nine, born in the U.S. and raised in Cuba, in a TV interview before he got onto a flight to Havana leaving from the Tampa International Airport.

On the weekend when we remember 9/11, we salute Mr. Arteaga and all the people who make the trip back and forth to Cuba.  They are forces for reconciliation between our two countries, especially when the two governments don’t speak to each other nearly enough.

Among the stories we cover this week:

  • Richardson rebuffed in effort to see Alan Gross
  • Tampa, Florida flights to Cuba begin
  • Ex-EPA administrator leads drilling safety delegation to Cuba

This week in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

In Cuba for talks on U.S. captive, Gov. Richardson unable to see Alan Gross

Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, traveled to Cuba on the invitation of the Cuban government, with hopes of discussing the case of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, AFP reports. However, following a press event with Richardson, the Associated Press reports that he had been denied his request to meet with Mr. Gross and did not provide details about his meetings with representatives of Cuba’s government.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated in regard to the trip: “We are aware of Gov. Richardson’s trip to Cuba and have been in contact with him,” adding that “While Gov. Richardson is traveling as private citizen, we certainly support his efforts to obtain Alan Gross’s release,” ABC News reports.

U.S. delegation travels to Cuba, urges cooperation on oil drilling safety

A delegation of energy and environmental experts, organized by the Environmental Defense Fund and the International Association of Drilling Contractors, traveled to Cuba this week to discuss Cuba’s plans to drill for oil offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, Reuters reports. Members of the delegation led by William Reilly, who co-chaired the commission that examined last year’s BP spill, has emphasized the dangers of not engaging with Cuba on issues of safety and emergency response in case of an oil spill, the New York Times reports.

In an interview on Wednesday, Reilly spoke of the group’s motives for travel, stating:

It seems to me to be profoundly in the interest of the United States to ensure that, if there should be a spill in Cuban waters, all efforts are undertaken by both government and private entities in the United States to assist in responding.

The delegation was criticized by Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), who said “By meeting with Cuban regime officials about their plans to drill for oil, U.S. officials are giving credibility to the regime’s dangerous oil-drilling scheme,” reports UPI.

During their trip, members of the delegation said they were impressed by the work that the Cubans have done thus far to ensure safety, including sending 200 technicians to work on Brazilian rigs, with others studying Norwegian and Canadian regulations.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas released this report on Cuba’s offshore drilling plans earlier this year.

Direct flights commence from Tampa to Cuba, flights from Fort Lauderdale begin September 17

The first flight from Tampa International Airport (TIA) to Havana’s José Martí International departed this Thursday, the Associated Press reports. Two travel service providers will offer weekly flights to the island. TIA was approved to provide direct flights to and from Cuba earlier this year, following a White House directive making it easier for airports to host such flights.

Direct flights from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba will begin on September 17, the Sun Sentinel reports. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood will operate one flight a week, with plans to expand to two flights per week pending the approval of Cuba’s government.

Along with the Miami International Airport, there are now three airports within Florida that can serve the state’s Cuban American population, along with other Americans seeking legal travel to the island under academic, people-to-people, religious, and other licenses.

Musicians from New York’s Lincoln Center travel to Cuba, donate instruments

Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra traveled to Cuba for the second time in a year, the Associated Press reports. The musicians brought along a planeload of instruments which they donated to students at four music schools in Havana as a part of the “Horns for Havana Project.”

The instruments donated by the group are enough for four complete acoustic jazz orchestras, and are valued at about $250,000. Carlos Henriquez, who organized the project, stated that on the previous trip, he and fellow musicians had been disturbed by the lack of good instruments. The group first visited Cuba in October of 2010 with famed jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

IN CUBA

Cuban Catholic Church condemns repression, government denies direct involvement

Last week, Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archdiocese, met with several representatives of the Ladies in White, who have alleged government complicity in recent acts of repression against their members, the Associated Press reports.   The Catholic Church in Cuba had been instrumental in curbing violence against the dissident group last year.

Following the meeting, Mr. Marquez said “Violence of any type against defenseless people has no justification…The Church at this moment, as in all circumstances, is pursuing the good of the Cuban people, reconciliation and peace through acts and gestures that favor the serene development that Cuba needs.”

This week, Cuba’s government denied involvement in the violent reactions and counter-protests through state media outlets, insisting that activities by government supporters are spontaneous, although state security is normally present, and that no assault orders were given from governmental decision makers.

However, more dissidents were arrested in Havana and Santiago de Cuba during the first island-wide procession for Cuba’s patron saint since 1959.   Dissidents shown in this BBC video were chanting anti-government slogans when they were detained and later arrested.

Human rights activists have reported that all  of those detained were later released, including Angel Moya and José Daniel Ferrer, two former political prisoners who were included in the group of 75 dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown and released earlier this year, the Associated Press reports.
Cuba revokes accreditation of Spanish journalist

Cuba’s government has withdrawn “irrevocably” the accreditation of veteran correspondent Mauricio Vicent for alleged bias and negative reporting, the Associated Press reports. Vicent has reported from Cuba for 20 years on behalf of Spanish newspaper El País and radio network Cadena SER. He is the latest of several foreign journalists who have not had their press credentials renewed in recent months.  Cuban authorities justify revoking press credentials for those who “have lacked journalistic integrity and/or do not conform to objectivity in their releases.”

El País has insisted that Vicent exemplified professionalism, impartiality and balance, declaring in an editorial piece that “Havana … imagines it has achieved an act of force. Rather, it has highlighted its weakness.” Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Trinidad Jiménez labeled the decision “unjust,” referring to it as a “great error,” EFE reports. Jiménez stated that she and representatives of the Spanish Embassy in Cuba had tried to petition the government to reverse the decision, but had not been successful.

Cuba announces lung cancer vaccine to extend life of terminal patients

Cuba’s government has begun production of a vaccine for lung cancer after 25 years of research, CNN reports. Trials of the vaccine, called CimaVax EGF, show that it extends the life of terminal patients by an average of four months, and in some cases by several years, in comparison with patients who only received traditional therapies. Cuban scientist Dr. Gisela Gonzalez has worked with her team at the Cuban Center of Molecular Immunology to develop the vaccine since the early 1990s. According to Gonzalez, more than 700 patients have received the vaccine over the years, including more than 400 advanced lung cancer patients.

CimaVax EGF is not a cure for cancer; it is a therapeutic vaccine which stimulates the patient’s body to create an antibody against the epidermal growth factor (EGF), a key driver causing the growth of lung cancer cells. In tests, the vaccine was used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The vaccine is still not available on the international market; however, one patient from Australia and another from Argentina have obtained approval from their national regulatory agencies to use the vaccine in their home country.

Cuban Defense Minister Julio Casas Regueiro dies at 75

Cuba’s Defense Minister Julio Casas Regueiro passed away last Saturday from heart failure, BBC reports. Casas was a guerrilla fighter under Raúl Castro’s command during the Cuban Revolution, who then climbed the ranks managing the financial and economic affairs of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. He was appointed Defense Minister in 2008 and served simultaneously as a member of the Politburo and as a vice-president of the Council of State.

The Cuban government announced three days of mourning following his death. A video from BBC shows thousands of Cubans lined up to pay homage to Casas. There has been no official statement yet as to who will be replacing him as Defense Minister, however, his death has caused some to raise questions about the future of Cuba’s aging political leadership.

Private gyms spring up throughout Havana, new signs have advertisements instead of slogans

Since the legalization of private gyms as a category for small businesses, more than 300 such establishments have sprung up in Havana, AFP reports. Some private gyms were tolerated by Cuba’s government before Raúl Castro increased the categories of legal private business in October of 2010.  Since then, such gyms have flourished throughout the city, making them more convenient and accessible as Cubans, especially young adults, involved in fitness culture seek venues for exercise.

Gladys Béquer, Director of Physical Education and Health Promotion of the state-run Institute of Sports (INDER) stated in an interview with newspaper Trabajadores that “Going to one of the more than 300 private gyms of the city where weightlifting and fitness are practiced could become an appealing option for some 20,000 pre-university students.” Statements came after Béque held a meeting with doctors and specialists on the subject of warning young people against the consumption of substances to increase muscle mass without medical consultation.

In another visible change since the legalization of new categories of private business, AFP reports that store-front advertising has increased across the nation, promoting newly opened private businesses. Javier Acosta, the owner of a paladar, or private restaurant, states, “Advertisements are associated with capitalism, but this is not being a capitalist, look at China and at other socialist countries. We, the small businesses, are creating employment, working, and fighting.” Another paladar owner confirmed that much business comes from such advertisements; however, Acosta stated that “like any Cuban, I know that the best publicity is word of mouth.”

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuban doctors perform 600,000 eye surgeries in Bolivia

As a part of the medical diplomacy mission called Mision Milagro, Cuban doctors have performed over 600,000 eye operations in Bolivia free of charge, reports teleSur.  Bolivia’s President Evo Morales applauded the efforts of the Cuban medical team in a celebration held this past Thursday, stating “We never imagined, in Bolivia, this effort that our Cuban brothers and sisters have made. An unpayable debt, an act of solidarity that is unattainable and unforgettable for all of those who benefitted.”

The Cuban medical mission in Bolivia began 5 years ago.

Cuba and Jamaica to cooperate against drug trafficking

Jamaica’s Security Minister Dwight Nelson will travel to Cuba this week with the aim of formalizing previously negotiated agreements on fighting drug and arms trafficking through joint maritime and police efforts between the two nations, AFP reports. Nelson stated that the agreements are intended to increase intelligence sharing about the “movement of guns and drugs and the groups involved in their movement between the two countries.” He also stated that the two islands have collaborated since 2006 in tracking Jamaican traffickers.

Information contained in a leaked 2009 cable recounted a group of Cuban officials expressing their frustration with Jamaican anti-drug officers for being unresponsive.  Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding responded to the cable by stating that his government had shaken up an anti-drug police unit that was being unresponsive, and that since then “no concern has been expressed by officials of the Cuban government.”

Iranian Vice President travels to Cuba for trade talks

Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi traveled to Cuba this week to meet with his Cuban counterpart José Machado Ventura and hold talks on trade relations, AFP reports. Rahimi, traveling with Iran’s industry, energy and economy ministers, also visited the monument to José Martí, Cuba’s independence hero together with Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister Marcos Rodríguez.  On Thursday morning, Rahimi met with President Raúl Castro, Granma reports.

Rahimi was expected to hold broad trade talks during his two-day trip. Bilateral trade between the two nations totaled $46.6 million in 2008 before dropping to $27 million in 2009 following the global economic recession.

Cuba recalls diplomats from Libya

Cuba’s government announced on Saturday the withdrawal of its ambassador and diplomatic mission to Libya, report the Associated Press and Havana Times. The press release (available in Spanish) denounces NATO intervention and argues that rather than protect civilian lives the organization has killed thousands, stating:

The Republic of Cuba does not recognize the National Transitional Council nor any provisional authority and will only give its recognition to a government constituted in that country, in a legitimate manner and without foreign intervention, through the free, sovereign, and unique will of the brother Libyan people.

Around the Region:

U.S. imposes sanctions on Venezuelan officials for alleged FARC connections

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has sanctioned four officials of Venezuela’s government for alleged connections with Colombia’s FARC rebel group, reports BBC. The four (an army general, an intelligence officer, and two politicians) are reportedly close allies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. They have been put on a U.S. Treasury list of people subject to sanctions, and are accused of aiding the Colombian rebels in smuggling cocaine and procuring weapons.  OFAC director Adam Szubin stated,

Today’s action exposes four Venezuelan government officials as key facilitators of arms, security, training and other assistance in support of the FARC’s operations in Venezuela…OFAC will continue to aggressively target the FARC’s support structures in Venezuela and throughout the region.

Venezuela’s government immediately condemned the action by OFAC as “abusive” and an act of aggression. Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro stated, “This is part of the agenda of permanent aggression against Venezuela.”

Venezuela’s relations with neighboring Colombia have improved significantly under President Juan Manuel Santos. Earlier this week, Venezuelan officials announced the completion of an operation targeting coca plantations and drug labs along the Colombian border. Venezuela has also handed over FARC suspects to Colombia.  In April, President Santos stated that Venezuela was no longer harboring the FARC.

U.S. to allow Honduran coup officials to reapply for visas

The U.S. State Department has begun to reissue visas to many of the more than 1,000 officials of the former government of Roberto Micheletti whose visas were revoked due to their involvement  in the June 2009 overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya, which placed Micheletti in power, reports the AP.

According to an unnamed U.S. Embassy spokesperson:

The Department of State has determined that some of the Hondurans whose eligibility for visas was restricted following the June 2009 coup d’etat are again eligible to be considered for visas.

In Honduras, violence connected to the core issues relating to the coup continues. On Wednesday, Mahadeo Roopchand Sadloo, a Zelaya supporter and protest leader, was shot five times inside of the shop he owned, reports the AP. Roopchand is one of the more than 200 members of the Honduran resistance that have been killed since the coup, according to Juan Barahona, a leader of the National Front of Popular Resistance.

Recommended Viewing:

Former college football star studying medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine, ESPN en Español

A report from ESPN follows Pasha Jackson, a former linebacker, who decided to study medicine in Cuba. Pasha discusses his motivations for studying in Cuba and his experiences so far living on the island and studying at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

Recommended Reading:

Lift the U.S. Trade Embargo on Cuba, Los Angeles Times

“President Obama will have to decide by next week whether to continue, for yet another year, provisions of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Without a presidential extension, these provisions –though not others that were instituted by Congressional action –will end this month. The ending of the embargo is long overdue.  The current economic crisis provides a useful rationale for doing so.”

U.S. Embargo of Cuba, Half a Century Later, Louis E.V. Nevaer, New America Media

“Fifty years ago this week, on September 4, 1961, the U.S. Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibited all aid to Cuba and authorized the President to declare a ‘total embargo upon all trade’ with that Caribbean island nation…Fast forward half a century, and both Castro and the embargo remain.”

Cuban player a hit in baseball heyday, the Miami Herald

“During a time when baseball stars went to war, the women took the field. Luisa Gallegos was among them, playing in the U.S. and her home country of Cuba.”

“Opening” of Cuba makes a Jewish Scrabble-lover feel more at home, Los Angeles Times

“He carries a dictionary under his arm and wears a very large Star of David around his neck. His name is Fidel Babani, but you can call him Senor Scrabble. Babani, in addition to being an active member of Cuba’s tiny Jewish community, is president of the also small, but growing, Cuban Scrabble Assn.”

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