Whoa, Fidel Castro in the age of Twitter.
“In cryptic paragraphs of never more than 65 words, the former Cuban president has written about yoga poses, edible plants, a criticism by a Chinese leader who died 15 years ago and a former leader of communist East Germany who died even further back.”
Despite more contemporary concerns –such as this week’s meeting of bloggers in Cuba or the report that U.S. sanctions prevent Cubans from using Google analytics—it is no surprise that this development made news. What Fidel Castro says and how he communicates has been engaging some and enraging others since before the creation of the computer, the fax machine, or the U.S. embargo.
According to Lars Schoultz, political scientist and renowned Cuba scholar, the U.S. government has been tracking what Fidel Castro thinks and says since 1947 when he was in college, sixty-five years. That is longer than the time period extending from Morse to Marconi, from the invention of the telegraph to the invention of radio.
This preoccupation with Castro’s communications skills intensified after the revolution.
In 1959, as Schoultz records in his classic history on U.S.-Cuba relations, “That Infernal Little Cuban Republic,” the U.S. Embassy in Havana described one of his appearances as follows:
“Castro in his standard uniform of rumpled fatigues, radiating health and boundless energy, hunched over the table as he talks, waving his arms and hands, with the eternal cigar always at hand. Words pour from him like a ceaseless torrent. He appears literally capable of talking forever, on any subject under the sun.”
The volume of words was astonishing. “This is, after all, the man who gave the longest speech in the history of the U.N. General Assembly,” Joshua Keating observed in his foreign policy blog. But, of course, the effort to overthrow Castro and the Cuban system stemmed not from how much he said –or how he said it – but from his commitment to revolution and his resistance to the will of the U.S.
What followed has been decades of U.S. sanctions, and division between both countries, a collision between Cuba’s immutable faith in its right to self-determination and the immoveable desire of U.S. policy to upend its system.
Reporters inside Cuba tell us that Cubans are genuinely baffled by the former president’s messages on the Moringa tree, the cosmos, and yoga, published after his most recent full-length treatise on the use of drones by President Obama.
That’s probably right. This interest is clearly shared by the boo-birds in Miami who’ve waited so long for the embargo to bring Cuba to its knees that they are now reduced to snickering about Fidel Castro’s twitter length pronouncements.
One “Miami analyst” said the former president needs to stay in the limelight. “Like a mediocre starlet of cheap and superficial shows, [he] needs to feel like he’s in the center of the spotlight.” Prof. Jaime Suchliki, Director of Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, sniffs, “Evidently he does not feel coherent enough to write longer pieces.”
If the “Cuba wars” are now being waged with exchanges of snark and sarcasm, we suppose that’s progress. But, after 65 years, if we’re still worrying about how Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former president is expressing himself, we’d humbly suggest that the policy of not talking to the current president of Cuba about matters that actually concern us merits reexamination.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations released a statement in response to the $619 million fine levied against the Dutch bank ING for transactions with Cuba and other sanctioned countries, condemning the action as “an insult to the universal demand to the United States to end its policy of blockade against Cuba.” The statement also criticizes threatening language used by OFAC:
While announcing this decision, director of Treasury´s OFAC, Adam Szubin, used threatening and disrespectful language showing, once again, the extraterritorial and interfering character of the United States policy, when he stated that “our sanctions laws reflect core U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and OFAC polices them aggressively. Today’s historic settlement should serve as a clear warning to anyone who would consider profiting by evading U.S. sanctions.
The Obama administration has imposed steep fines on banks and other companies for doing business in violation of U.S. sanctions, including a $1.75 million fine to Ericcson’s Panama branch last month. In 2010 ABN AMRO bank, now the Royal Bank of Scotland, was fined $500 million and Barclays bank $298 million for illegal Cuba transactions.
Against the backdrop of a U.S. investigation of Medicare fraud, including charges that a Cuban-born U.S. citizen conspired to send proceeds from the fraud for deposit in a Cuban bank, a spokeswoman for Cuba’s government released a statement defending its banks and refuting charges that Cuba is involved in money-laundering, reports the Associated Press.
Johana Tablada de la Torre, Deputy Director for U.S. Affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, stated that Cuba has strict regulations in place to avoid money laundering, and works with banks to detect and deter fraudulent transactions. Tablada said “that while Cuba works with foreign banks to fight money laundering, Washington’s 50-year-old economic embargo prevents it from doing the same with American banks.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office clarified that the Cuban government is not suspected of any kind of involvement with the case. The alleged Medicare scam involves seventy Florida companies and more than $70 million in fraudulent Medicare billing. Phil Peters provides useful background and analysis of this story for his Cuban Triangle blog.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations has released a statement suggesting that Alan Gross’ health is normal and that he is being treated properly This came in response to claims by Peter Kahn, Gross’ lawyer, that his client’s health is deteriorating and that Cuban officials were refusing to release his medical records, Reuters reports.
Cuba called the claims a “campaign of distortions,” adding, “Even though Mr. Gross could be held at any prison facility due to the fact that his situation is not incompatible with that, he is being held at a military hospital. This is not because his health requires it, but to ensure for him the best conditions.”
Shortly after the statement was released, Gross’ lawyer said that Cuban officials had released the medical records and test results, reports the Associated Press.
Cuba has once again received the lowest ranking (Tier 3) in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. Cuba has consistently received this low rating from the State Department, which claims that Cubans are forced into labor and prostitution abroad, and that Cuba does not protect those between 16 and 18 years of age from prostitution, as 16 is the age of majority in Cuba.
Cuba’s government regularly dismisses the ranking as political. Josefina Vidal, Director of the North America division of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, stated:
United States is one of the main destinations for trafficking in persons in the world. Cuba strongly rejects the new inclusion in the list of countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons and are not making significant efforts to do so…Cuba is one of the countries in the world that exhibits an exemplary performance in the protection of childhood, the youth and women.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear a challenge, in its next term beginning in October, to a 2006 Florida statute that blocks state funding for university professors to travel to Cuba, according to The News Service of Florida. In a ruling expected before the Court’s term ends this week, policy watchers will look for clues on how this Court stands on matters relating to foreign policy decisions made at the state level.
In a decision issued in 2000, the Court used its preemption doctrine to strike down a statute enacted in Massachusetts that prohibited state agencies from doing business with the government of Burma.
The Florida professors’ argument against the Florida law is similar to the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht’s challenge to a recent Florida legislation banning local government agencies from contracting firms that also have contracts in Cuba and Syria. Both argue that the Florida laws are unconstitutional because only the federal government has the power to set foreign policy.
U.S. diplomats working at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana report that Cuban government officials have increased their verbal harassment in the past year, according to the Miami Herald. A senior State Department official said that the U.S. government is “concerned about the continued harassment and vilification of our diplomatic mission staff in Havana, who are simply performing their normal diplomatic duties.” According to the U.S. officials, harassment has included shouting insults from cars and publishing photos of diplomatic vehicles.
Eighteen farmers will travel to Cuba at the end of this month as a part of an Illinois Farm Bureau delegation, reports The News-Gazette. The Illinois Farm Bureau delegation’s primary goal is to promote normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. During the trip, the delegation will meet with the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and port authorities in Havana as well as the U.S. Interests Section. Participants will also visit the farmer’s markets, cooperatives and different types of farms including dairy and vegetable.
This coming Tuesday, Ballet Hispanico, a New York-based company, will perform a program entirely composed of works created by Cuban American choreographers and set to Cuban music at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts outside Washington, D.C., reports the Washington Post. Tuesday’s performance will be Ballet Hispanico’s first ever all-Cuban program.
Eduardo Vilaro, Ballet Hispanico’s Artistic Director, sees the program as an important opportunity for cultural exchange not only for Cuban Americans, but also for diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Geoff Thale, Cuba expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, commented on the necessity and difficulty of cultural exchange and diplomacy between the U.S. and Cuba, stating that “the cultural thaw is a long way ahead of the political thaw.”
The Russian state-controlled oil company Zarubezhneft has contracted a semi-submersible rig, Songa Mercur, to drill off Cuba’s coast, Upstream.com reports (h/t Cuban Triangle). The contract is with the Norwegian company Songa Offshore, for a period of 325 days, and is worth a minimum of $88 million. Drilling is scheduled to start in late November. The rig will leave on July 1st from Malaysia to Trinidad where it will remain moored until drilling begins.
The Songa Mercur is the second rig that will arrive off Cuba’s coast. The Scarabeo 9 began drilling at the beginning of this year for the Spanish company Repsol. After their exploratory well came up dry, the Scarabeo 9 was transferred to Malaysia’s Petronas and the Russian company Gazprom Neft for another probe, with results expected next month.
In a new development related to economic reform, Cuban officials are praising a new practice by the state that involves contracting out landscaping, construction and other services to the private sector. A report on contracting appeared in an article in the state-run newspaper Granma and was discussed by Reuters. A pilot project testing the concept is taking place in the province of Artemisa. Miguel Ángel Quijano, Economic Director of Artemisa, said “One of the most important benefits of this mechanism [subcontracting] is the speed and quality with which jobs are done.”
The province of Havana was divided into two rural provinces, Artemisa and Mayabeque, in 2010 as an experiment with government reform. President Castro is promoting the growth of the private sector to create jobs as the government begins to decentralize by decreasing the number of government employees. There are currently around 370,000 self employed workers in Cuba, reports Reuters.
Young Cubans ranging from ages18 to 35 represent just 19% or 73,118 of the 385,775 workers currently employed in the growing private sector, reports EFE. In an article on the subject in state newspaper Juventud Rebelde, Jose Barreiro, Deputy Labor and Social Security Minister, said that “Young workers are not the part of the Cuban population most represented in private jobs and most of Cuba’s youth continues to be employed by the state and in the student sector.”
According to the article, many of the young Cubans that do enter into the private sector work have chosen activities associated with the food industry such as selling farm produce or marketing household goods. Young people have also taken advantage of agricultural reform initiatives allowing new farmers to work on long-term land leases from the state. According to Pedro Olivera, head of the National Land Control Center, 26.7% of the 166,247 Cubans participating in this program are in the 18-35 age group.
Espacio Laical, a magazine published by Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church released a statement announcing the creation of a new Cuban think tank, “Laboratorio Casa Cuba,” reports Havana Times. Casa Cuba’s team of legal and social communications scholars, historians, and anthropologists, will study social and legal conditions on the island and investigate prospects for the “necessary updating of the nation’s socio-political management systems.” In July, Casa Cuba will employ university professors to teach a course called “The Cuban Constitution: Past, Present and Future,” which will examine Cuba’s constitutional system and its implications for the future of the nation.
The website Google Analytics has blocked access to its site from Cuba, displaying a message to those who try to enter the site that directs them to a page of the U.S. Treasury Department, reports RT. The Analytics site allows bloggers and site owners to view data about site traffic and the locations from which people are viewing their website. In a written response to an inquiry from AFP, Google indicated that it is complying with U.S. sanctions law limiting the provision of certain services in some countries, stating “to comply with these laws, our rules of service always prohibited the utilization of Google Analytics in sanctioned countries.”
Rosa Miriam Elizalde, editor of the state website CubaDebate, said that “by blocking this without previous notice, we are now without the possibility of using this service. It is yet another expression of how the U.S. embargo is executed, not only ignoring global public opinion, but also using all these policies to show that Cuba is an enemy of the Internet.”
Cuban bloggers and other social media users gathered in Havana on Thursday to begin a three-day festival to discuss social media, prompting state media to accuse the festival of attempting to form rebellious activities. The Click Festival will last three days, and is organized by Spain Blog Event, a group that organizes a similar event in its home country. CubaDebate stated that “The intention of the Click Festival is clear, to advance the strategy of constructing networks ahead of an aggression, as was done in Libya, Syria and before in Yugoslavia, and strengthen the idea of the counterrevolution linked to the United States as a promoter of freedom on the Internet.” Organizers and attendees of the social media forum insist that neither the festival nor purpose of the festival are political, reports the Associated Press.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Moutaz Quassia, Al Jazeera correspondent for Havana, has confirmed that Al Jazeera will be closing its Havana Bureau, reports Radio Martí. The decision is due to the bureau’s continued difficulties in performing their journalistic work, including the inability to register a car and open a bank account, as well as limitations on reporting and regulations imposed by Cuba’s government.
The Vatican Information Service announced Monday that Pope Benedict XVI received Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, this past Saturday. No details about what the Pope and Ortega discussed have been released, but possible topics include the Pope’s recent visit to the island and the Cuban Catholic Church’s apostolic work, reports Havana Times.
This week, President Raúl Castro attended Rio +20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, heading Cuba’s delegation to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, reports Havana Times. His remarks emphasized the importance of preserving the environment and criticized military spending and initiatives aimed at securing access to water and other non-renewable resources.
Around the Region
Tuesday marked the 100th day of the truce between El Salvador’s two largest street gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, with leaders of the gangs announcing that they will participate in negotiations with the government to forge a permanent peace pact, reports the Associated Press. Gang leaders als reiterated their request that the government offer job programs or some other sort of aid to gang members in exchange for upholding a permanent truce. As a result of the truce, El Salvador’s homicide rate has dropped from about 14 per day in March to 5 per day in June.
“Paraguay’s Senate is set to begin the trial of President Fernando Lugo today, after the House voted 76-1 Thursday to impeach him. Vice President Federico Franco, a strong critic of Lugo who reportedly was planning to run for office himself in 2013, would then take over. Lugo has called the process an “express coup attempt.” The secretary general of the presidency said it was “clearly a setup,” reports Reuters.” Read the complete coverage from the Pan-American Post here.
The ALBA nations today released a communiqué rejecting the trial as a maneuvering of rightist political sectors, and reiterating their support for President Lugo.
The truth and tales of Cuban healthcare, Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera
“If there is one thing for which Cuba has received praise over the years, it is the Communist government’s state-run healthcare system. Much of this praise is well-deserved. Despite its scarce resources, Cuba has one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates – just slightly lower than that of the US. Life expectancy is 77.5 years, one of the world’s highest. And until not so long ago, there was one doctor for every 170 citizens – the highest patient-per-doctor ratio in the world.”
Cuba aid peaked in 2008, Tracey Eaton, Along the Malecón
Tracey Eaton breaks down data from a USAID website, giving a partial picture of U.S. aid to Cuba spanning from 1946 to the present-day.
(c) 2012 Center for Democracy in the Americas. All rights reserved.