U.S. and Cuba Failed to Come to Terms on Prisoners

Families on both sides of the Florida Straits have been denied homecomings after Cuba and the United States could not come to terms on a deal that would have allowed René González to return to Cuba after more than a decade of captivity and permitted Alan Gross to come home to the United States almost two years after he was detained.

According to multiple news sources, the United States offered to allow Mr. González to return to Cuba immediately, and not serve a court-mandated, three-year probation in the United States in return for the release of Mr. Gross, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison following his conviction for crimes against the state.

Although the U.S. did indicate that it would address other Cuban grievances – including Cuba’s listing on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, Cuba sought pardons for some or all of the other Cubans convicted with Mr. González, something the U.S. would not consider.

We have more coverage of this story as well as reports on Cuba’s economic reforms, the latest delay in Cuba’s plans to drill in the Gulf, and a new study on the Cuban diaspora.

This week in Cuba news.


Cuba rejected U.S. proposal to allow René González to return to Cuba in exchange for Alan Gross

According to sources cited by the Associated Press, the U.S. offered to allow René González, a Cuban spy released from prison last week but required to remain in the U.S. for three years of supervised release, to return to Cuba in exchange for the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross. Cuba rejected that offer, noting that González has already served most of his sentence. Gross was given a 15 year sentence earlier this year. According to the sources, the U.S. refused to consider Cuba’s requested pardons for at least some of the other four prisoners convicted with González.

According to the report, these issues were raised by Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, during his September trip to the island and by senior U.S. officials in meetings with Cuban officials at last month’s opening of the U.N. General Assembly session. A U.S. official added that an offer was also presented to address other Cuban grievances, including removing Cuba from the list of State sponsors of terrorism; however, the offer was only to discuss these issues after Gross was released and did not come with any guarantees as to the result.

Treasury Department approves new travel service and remittance providers to Cuba

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has approved 10 new Cuba travel service and remittance providers, and authorized existing providers to open eight new branches since August, Cuba Standard reports.  There are now more service providers to meet the growing demand for travel to Cuba from Cuban Americans and the increasing number of other Americans seeking to travel under people-to-people licenses, legalized by the White House in January.

Six months after Louis Armstrong International Airport received authorization from the U.S. government to serve the Cuban market with direct flights, Cuba’s government has indicated its willingness to receive the flights from New Orleans.   Service will begin once charter services ‘step forward,’ reports the Times-Picayune.

In addition, flights from Tampa to the city of Holguín in Eastern Cuba will begin on November 22, reports Tampa Bay Online. Upon arrival in Holguín, bus service will be offered to Bayamo and Las Tunas, the two closest cities. Flights between Tampa and Havana resumed last month.

Diaspora report released at event hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue

Last Friday, the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in conjunction with the Inter-American Dialogue released a report titled The Cuban Diaspora in the 21st Century. Its introduction states:

The authors of the report consider that both governments should prevent spillover from their bilateral conflict from inhibiting direct relations between Cubans living in these two countries. This issue should be approached in the same spirit that inspires international humanitarian legal principles against making innocent civilians the target of actions designed to cause collateral damage to the enemy.

The report argues that the Cuban diaspora could significantly contribute to improving the private economy on the island assuming both governments loosen restrictions on their abilities to do so by adopting better policies toward migrants.

Another report (in Spanish) from the September edition of Espacio Laical, the magazine of the Cuban Catholic Church, titled Cuba y su Diáspora poses additional questions about how Cuban nationals relate to the exile community.
Number of Cubans attempting to enter U.S. increases

Approximately 1,700 Cubans were interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard at high sea or reached U.S. soil extra-legally in fiscal year 2011, reports The Miami Herald, compared to 831 in fiscal year 2010. The number of Cubans arriving at U.S. border stations rose slightly, from 6,219 to 6,300, and legal migration out of Cuba rose 3%, from 36,564 to 38,165, according to Cuba’s government’s statistics. Under the 1994/95 migration agreements between Cuba and the U.S., the U.S. legally admits at least 20,000 Cuban immigrants per year.

Sister city visit between U.S. and Cuba; Cuban artists continue to tour the U.S.

This Sister-City Committee of Boulder, Colorado has announced plans to visit the city of Yateras, Cuba, a city with which it has had a sibling relationship for more than a decade without the possibility to visit, reports local newspaper The Daily Camera. The trip falls under an educational, people-to-people license and is open to Boulder residents.

In the U.S., the Creole Choir of Cuba, a group made up of Cuban descendants of Haitians who have maintained their language and culture, will perform at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland on October 19th, the Maryland Gazette reports. The choir, which is from the eastern province of Camagüey, was founded in 1994. They will be performing in cities throughout the U.S.; complete tour information is available here.

Finally, the theater group Teatro de la Luna de Cuba has arrived in New York, where it will perform its latest production, titled Delirio Habanero, EFE reports. The group previously performed in North Carolina in collaboration with Wake Forest University. The New York performance will be held at the Gramercy Arts Theater.


Arrival of oil drilling platform delayed until December

The arrival of Scarabeo 9, the Chinese-built oil drilling rig previously projected to get to Cuba in early November, has been delayed until the second half of December, Reuters reports. The rig left Singapore in late August. According to the article, people close to the project have stated that delays are not unusual for a new rig going to its first operations. The same sources predicted that the new arrival date would mean that the first well could not be sunk until January, and that further delays were possible. Reports vary on the current location of the rig, but it is said to be off the coast of West Africa.

Cuba releases base document for January’s Communist Party Conference

Cuba released the document which will serve as the foundation for January’s National Communist Party Conference today, the AP reports. The purpose of the January conference will be to evaluate the performance of the party and determine necessary changes within the organization, EFE reports. The document lays out several tasks for the Party to address, including a reform of organizational and administrative structures and processes. The document also reiterates the intent to implement a limit of two consecutive five-year terms for party leadership positions and stresses the need for the Party to engage women, afro-Cubans and young people.

Party representatives will discuss the tasks laid out in the pamphlet leading up to the Jan. 28th National Conference in Havana. The full text of the pamphlet is available, in Spanish, here.

Tax office to organize trainings and open website to educate, communicate with tax payers

Cuba’s National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) has announced plans for a communication strategy aimed at promoting a culture of tax payment, Cuban News Agency reports. The ONAT plans to provide training for taxpayers, for its own personnel, and for other institutions and organizations it works with, such as state administrative offices. Additionally, the ONAT plans to create a website, developed in collaboration with the University of Computer Sciences in Havana, aimed at facilitating interaction and improving the flow of communication between the ONAT and taxpayers. The website is expected to go online next year.

The necessity to create a taxpaying culture arises as Cuba’s current process of economic reform attempts to increase efficiency, cut down on the number of state workers and encourage small-scale private enterprise. An article from The Globe and Mail profiles three cuentapropistas, or self-employed workers, as well as a woman assigned the role of receiving applications and approving the licenses that all cuentapropistas must obtain before opening a business.


Cuba working with Vietnam on biogas

Cuban and Vietnamese specialists are collaborating to introduce new technology to generate energy using biogas, Cuban News Agency reports. According to Cuba Standard, the Hanoi-based Biogas Technology Center is currently setting up two midsize biogas generators on the island. The generators are projected to begin operations before the end of the year, and will have the capacity to meet the electricity demands of a small community according to Dairom Blanco, a member of the Biomas Cuba National Group.

Vietnam has provided Cuba with specialists, materials and technologies towards developing biogas plants on the island since 2003, according to Duan Thi Hai, an engineer for Biogas Technology. The company has previously donated at least four generators in the provinces of Las Tunas and Matanzas. Las Tunas publication Tiempo21 reports that there are already 31 plants functioning in that province. In 2010, such plants helped save Cuba the equivalent of an estimated 2,000 tons of fossil fuel.

Around the Region

Venezuela offers $3 billion in government bonds, opposition candidate Capriles launches campaign

Venezuela has issued a new, $3 billion offering in government bonds this week, the Financial Times reports. Analysts have speculated that this financing is an attempt by President Hugo Chávez to increase public spending before next October’s presidential elections. This year’s total issuance now reaches $15.2 billion, with $8 billion coming from state oil company PDVSA.

Questions remain as to how the health of President Chávez will affect upcoming elections. One of the leading opposition figures, Henrique Capriles, officially launched his presidential campaign this week before thousands of supporters in a Caracas stadium, AP reports. An article last month from Reuters  profiles the main opposition figures currently looking to face President Chávez in the October general election following a February 2012 primary.

Tibisay Lucena, president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, announced this week in a visit to Washington, DC that the country will invite international observers for the elections next year, stating:  “We want to invite people, institutions from all over the place, all over the globe,” reports the Washington Times.

Congress passes Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea

Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea passed by Houses of the U.S. Congress late Wednesday evening, the AP reports. Despite opposition from labor and human rights groups, all agreements passed with a substantial majority. President Obama has applauded the action by Congress stating:

Tonight’s vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label `Made in America,’ support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property. … I look forward to signing these agreements.

Opponents of the Colombia agreement have argued that it turns a blind eye to anti-union violence in that country. Colombia Reports quotes Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who opposed the agreement, stating: “Since 1986, some 2,800 trade unionists have been assassinated… Last year alone, more than 50 trade unionists were murdered, up 9% from 2009. ”

Recommended Reading

In Cuba, it’s Viva la evolucion!, Sonia Verma, The Globe and Mail

“Barbershops, beauty salons, restaurants and car washes have sprung up across Cuba in the year since the Communist Party allowed citizens to open small, private businesses in an effort to save the country from ruin.”

Will Washington or Havana Move Toward Warmer Relations?, Connie Mack, Jennifer McCoy, Christopher Sabatini, and Jerry Haar for the Inter-American Dialogue

“Will Washington or Havana make a move toward warming relations? Do hazards particular to Cuba’s government await Repsol or other companies seeking to do business in Cuba? How much is the United States pressuring companies to not do business in Cuba and is that likely to change any time soon?”

An oil-rich Cuba?, Robert Sandels, Progreso Weekly

“Cuba is about to begin drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. If it finds what it is looking for, oil wealth could snatch Cuba out of the century-old grasp of the United States before Obama leaves the White House. This possibility has brought out Miami’s congressional assault team led by the fanatical Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who essentially wants to criminalize drilling in Cuba’s section of the Gulf.”

Recommended Viewing

Nueva York: Episodio #97: Cuba – Leonardo Padura, TV Serrana, Pedro Ruiz, City University of New York Television (originally aired August 18th)

A special from CUNY TV interviews members of the Cuban-American community in New York to discuss contemporary art and culture. The video is in Spanish with English subtitles.

A familiar figure begs on the street, but not for himself, Corey Kilgannon, The New York Times

“He is a familiar sight, the old man who solicits change from drivers stopped at a red light on East 35th Street in Midtown Manhattan every day near Third Avenue….Holy cow! — it’s the legendary comedian Professor Irwin Corey. Mr. Corey said he gathers his daily take — usually about $100, though there have been $250 days — every few months and donates the money to a charity that buys medical supplies for children in Cuba.”

René González is released from prison, CubaDebate

A video filmed by the relatives of René González, at the moment that he was released from the prison where he was held in Marianna, Florida last Friday at 4:30 AM.

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