Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

Cuban People


Obama Listens to Castro, Changes American Foreign Policy without Consulting Congress

By – Onan Coca
Do you still really not believe that President Obama thinks and acts as if he is some kind of banana-republic dictator?

Just a couple of weeks ago Obama told the nation that he would unilaterally change our immigration laws, precedent be damned. Now, acting on the advice of a REAL third-world dictator, he is moving to change our legal relationship with a nation that we’ve not had normal relations with in some 60 years. Against the advice of Congress (which would never give the President the go-ahead to normalize relations with Cuba) and with pressure from Raul Castro, the President is swapping prisoners with Cuba and reestablishing relations with them.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stood up and took the lead on condemning the White House for their decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

It’s absurd and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established.” — Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Rubio later added in a written statement that, “Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”

Castro Loves ObamaIt wasn’t just Republicans speaking out against the move; the Cuban-American Democrats in Congress roundly attacked the White House too. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) spoke for them when he said,

“President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation. One spy was also convicted of conspiracy to murder for his role in the 1996 tragedy in which the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes, killing several American citizens. My heart goes out to the American families that lost love ones on that fateful day. Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”



No longer controlled by global ‘sugar daddies,’ island enters ’21st century identity crisis’

by Anthony C. Lobaido
”Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

– German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: 1844-1900

“If the light in thine eye be darkness, how great is that darkness.”

– Jesus Christ, Gospel of Matthew 6:23

HAVANA, Cuba – “Nobody has ever taken a boat from Miami to Cuba,” so the saying goes when speaking of “los balseros” or “the rafters.” Simply put, there is a plethora of reasons why Americans don’t defect to the Caribbean nation, just as South Koreans don’t defect to North Korea and West Germans didn’t defect to East Germany.

Yet in past centuries people have defected to Cuba – white French agriculturalists fleeing the slave rebellion in nearby Haiti and black sugar cane cutters from Curacao searching for a post-slavery future. Several covetous American presidents tried to buy Cuba outright in cash. Former Soviets and modern Russians come to Cuba, as do millions of foreign tourists. The reasons for coming are legion, as are the recriminations and accusations Cubans and Americans lob at one another like errant missiles.

Despite the rhetoric of a socialist paradise, complete with unrelenting sunshine, pristine white sandy beaches, exotic women, first-rate nationalized health care, universal education, racial harmony, sweet cigars and lively music, Cuba is only now coming to terms with her 21st century identity crisis. How can the island become a true utopia to which the best and the brightest people around the world permanently defect? How does it escape the shadow of the giants that have fought over Cuba for the past four centuries – meaning the Spanish, French, British, Soviet and American empires?

Cuba’s exports include coffee, sugar, oil, nickel, medical doctors, Olympic athletes and Major League Baseball stars. Yet Cubans living on the island these days are struggling to understand the direction its national soul should plot and follow. How can Americans, Westerners and others around the world understand Cuba if Cubans don’t even understand themselves? Where does this confusion come from, and how can it be circumvented?

The answer must begin with a re-examination of the national and transnational hero worship relating to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro that has long since been synthesized within the hyper-militarized, Marxist nexus dominating daily life in Cuba for six decades. This ethos has resulted in a mythologized series of ancillary cultural products which limit intelligent discourse and analysis of the island nation. The real Cuba is something unimaginable, undefinable and ever-changing – a multidimensional jigsaw puzzle where multiple realities are all simultaneously coexisting.
Che was once a medical doctor as popularized in the film, “The Motorcycle Diaries.” His image is prominent all around Cuba. (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
On one hand, Cuba is an amazing place filled with lovely people who simply want the best for their children. On the other hand, Cuba is an unmitigated disaster – facing agricultural problems, failed central planning, an inflexible one-party system, world condemnation for human rights abuses, an education bubble producing many (but not all) worthless degrees, a lack of entrepreneurial courses and business schools, few market-oriented mechanisms, a reliance on domestic and international subsidies, a lack of foreign investment, temperamental policy shifts that remind one of a drunken teenaged cheerleader on a Friday night binge, defaulting on its national debt, cut off from credit, the bane of the IMF and World Bank, set adrift by the old Soviet Union, kangaroo courts and show trials, local snitches and informants, beholden to mainland China and Venezuela to run international interference, faced with an aging and declining population, brain drain and an exodus of 30,000 people every year. This is the reality.

Cubans are, of course, quite confused about how all of these factors will impact their individual and collective futures. Money, the search for meaning and the next extrapolation of the Cuban matrix form a fluid and ethereal triangulation. As Mark Steyn wrote in his book, “After America,” “What is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-nationalist, postmodern Europe has no answer to this question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them can’t make the math add up.” Similarly, Cuba has its own work and age gap. Cuba also features a severe form of cognitive dissonance as Cuba’s citizens are willing to fight and die for a system that both enslaves and impoverishes them. Why is this so?

Beyond the hyper-militarized, socialist nexus

More than a million state workers will need to be retrenched over the next few years. Cuba’s total workforce is only about 4 million, and giving each one a modest pension of $10 per month is a huge drain on the national coffers. How could Fidel Castro’s paradise have come to this? Cuba could be a Caribbean version of Israel, or it could be another North Korea or Myanmar.

The question is simple: Will the Cubans embrace the Spirit of 1776 or cling to the revolution of 1959? Communism has killed hundreds of millions while enslaving much of the world. It need not enslave Cuba even one more day. “Don’t tread on me” and “Live free or die” are not only slogans for Americans. Like the stories of Noah, Lot, Samson, Daniel, King David and Ruth in the Old Testament, they are for all people, everywhere, all the time, right now, today and forever.

Help for Cuba could come from better access to technology, dialogue with the U.S. State Department, greater largess from China, more food aid (almost a $1 billion in foodstuffs is sold to Cuba each year) free cell phones, a “Cuban Spring” in line with the “Arab Spring” and/or Cubans finding the initiative to throw off the shackles of the welfare state. Cubans need America to lift the long-standing embargo against the island enacted 50 years ago by JFK. America and Cuba work together as equals on issues such as drug interdiction, keeping Guantanamo Bay from blowing up into a military conflict, hurricanes and the back-and-forth travels of Cuban exiles who live and work in Miami, yet like to send money home and bring along American goods when returning to Cuba as staples of their dualistic existence.

Then there is the issue of the Internet and its vast, heady potential to transform totalitarian societies and challenge statist ideologies. Cubans are cut off from high-speed Internet. A Russian satellite echoing Sputnik gives Cubans a very slow connection to the Internet. Blogging, Twitter, YouTube and WikiLeaks, along with other social media, are virtually unknown to Cubans. Yet there is no great national longing to embrace the digital world in a Bill Gates-Harvard-Steve Jobs-Stanford sense of the term.

Claudia Mendez, a Cuban posada (guest house) owner, said, “It is well-known that the Internet is a rare luxury in Cuba. But we don’t have to worry about stalkers on the Internet, or cyber parasites who never go anywhere, contribute nothing to society, have no talent, courage or wisdom yet launch cowardly attacks from the shadows. We don’t have people addicted to Internet pornography or wasting their lives online. Is there anything more pathetic than someone trolling around the Internet desperately trying to be relevant? I say, ‘Grow up, be a real man or a real woman.’ But Cubans, like Americans, do in fact slander others over the Internet … especially those using the Internet as a tool in the cause of freedom.” (A few Cuban bloggers have gained a massive following through postings distributed through Spain.)

Cubans also have an “Intranet.” They can use email, but the cost is prohibitive at about $2 for an hour at participating post office locations that actually do have computers. This leads directly to another problem in that there aren’t many computers on the island – less than half a million. If you think you can hook up on the sly to a high-speed satellite link, you might well find yourself in prison. The government of Cuba seeks to control information in a USSR kind of a way. It tolerates diverse opinions, but there is no question of who is boss. There are loose yet definitive boundaries to dissent, as politically correct people don’t like to be challenged or even questioned with facts. Clinically, this is a form of mental illness that is not unique to Cuba but, rather, permeates all societies controlled by forms of political correctness that warp reality. The “reality” that held Cuba together since 1959 has been under siege since 1991 due to the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its tremendous influence over satellite outposts ranging from Angola to Cuba. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s progenitor and touchstone.

Marxist-Leninism was officially dropped from the Cuban national constitution after the Soviet empire disintegrated, leaving an ideological vacuum waiting to be filled. What remain steadfast are the myths surrounding Cuba, the feelings of ordinary Cubans toward Cuban defectors, latent animosity toward ordinary Americans and, of course, their own government – all of which persist, mutate and extrapolate.

Cubans are a proud people who genuinely believe in and love their country. The Soviet Union is gone, but the Cuban Communist Party rolls on. (“How big is the Party? Huge, 50 kegs of beer,” young Cubans like to say.) The state-directed ebb and flow of life, Communist Youth Movement (numbering almost three-quarters of a million, with many more unofficial fringe sympathizers) is strong. Changes in the one-party system are discussed in a nuanced way. Stalinism is still fashionable, a personality cult not unlike North Korea. The Politburo needs new blood. Women’s rights, gay rights and even the rights of Catholics and evangelical Christians are emerging issues. Censorship is rife – magazines, books and the arts. Still, there is that strange yearning to be free in Cuba, busy percolating like a vector with both speed and direction.

Jaime Ortega, the well-known Catholic cardinal towering over the Church in Havana, is a key figure holding Cuban society together and moving it forward into a new paradigm. He has access to top leaders in Cuba, including el jefe Raul Castro. But only one in 20 Cuban Catholics is an ardent churchgoer who uses the Bible as a guide to life. Many are social or cultural Christians for the purposes of establishing a social identity or celebrating various festivals. There are Cubans who see all religion as merely “guilt with different holidays.” Still, Cuban Catholics are a potent force because roughly 66 percent of Cubans have been formally and ritually baptized into the Church. Events in Poland under Solidarity have not been lost on Cuba’s elites, nor has the role of evangelical Christians in overthrowing and efficiently executing Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. Cuba’s top leaders understand Christians are difficult to control because of their long-term view of eternity, a willingness to die for something greater than themselves, disdain for worshiping the state, adherence to the sanctity of life as well as opposition to abortion, drugs and other vices that cause various addictions and enslavement and destroy both human and spiritual potential. In the past, Christians in Cuba could be sent to camps – but no longer.

If change does come to Cuba – political, economic, moral, spiritual, technological – the Catholic and evangelical churches will provide key linkages comforting Cuba’s communist elites that such change is to be embraced and not feared, and that there will be a place for them in “The New Cuba” free of recrimination, blame and demonization. The Cuban Communist Party itself is the battleground where this war will be fought and won or lost for the sake of ordinary Cubans.

People who doubt such a change can happen should look no further than the power of the Cuban-American lobby in Washington, D.C. Cuba has more than 180 foreign embassies overseas. Then there are Spain and other Asian allies, which have assisted in offshore oil exploration via Cuba’s “Scarabeo 9.” Add to that Brazil – whose regime sympathetic to Marxist ideals mutes any criticism of Cuba. Even the Vatican and Cuban-Americans with a heart for Cuba’s people can be allies. Cuba is building a new port near Mariel, which will give it better access to the shipping benefits offered by the Panama Canal. (It is influenced by the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which has links to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.) Cuba is no longer interested in bringing communism to the entire world – a world more interested in “Bay Watch,” pornography, beer and sports than it is in the writings of Lenin and Karl Marx.
The UJC logo touts three things around which a young revolutionary’s life is expected to be centered: “estudio,” “trabajo,” “fusil,” meaning “study,” “work,” “rifle.” (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
The future is wide open. Cuba could turn out like Mexico – for so long a one-party state. Or Cuba could stumble along and become an economic colony of China and/or a micro-version of 2012 Argentina. A Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi could emerge, or even someone like an ascetic Vladimir Putin. Cuba’s multicultural melting pot could, in theory, turn on itself or bring humanity a new example of racial love, cooperation, admiration and achievement.

Cubans, like their Russian big brothers, know autocracy rather than democracy. They can plainly see the American dream has decayed into the American nightmare of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Dennis Rodman, MTV values, racial discord, financial ruination, the trade gap, political dysfunction, selfishness and indulgence, gangs, poor public education, pornographic habits, video-game obsession, pharmaceutical addictions and homelessness. But just as the ability of America to slowly change course like a massive cruise ship should not be underestimated, neither should people underestimate the flexibility and ingenuity of the Cuban people. They want change.

Cuba requires a way forward. And this new arc could emulate Sweden as a capitalist-funded, social-welfare state, an economy with elements of central control such as the chaebols in South Korea or the Chinese model. Regardless, Cuba could be a gateway to the Caribbean, much in the way Panama is a gateway to the world and Egypt as well because of the Suez Canal. Cuba could be an American ally in an uncertain region, in the way that Thailand has checked Islamic radicalism, the Burmese junta, the Pathet Lao and the Khmer Rouge. Ordinary Americans are ready to embrace Cuba as a friend, not to be demonized or lectured, but as a country that can embrace the best of what America can offer while somehow escaping the worst.

Cuba must decide if it wants to go its own way like Malaysia under Dr. Mahathir, join forces with the elites setting up the emerging world government, stay Stalinist and navigate a post-communist world while maintaining outright and/or nuanced Marxist features or become a rogue nation like Zimbabwe or Myanmar. All of these scenarios are possible. Raul Castro’s son, Alejandro, is his top adviser on national security issues, so astute Cuba watchers can be assured family discussions about Cuba’s future direction are commonplace. A billion Catholics around the world also will keep a close eye on Cuba. Like Vietnam, a country split into 13 economic zones each controlled by the military, Cuba’s armed forces have a stake in the economy. This stake is managed by Col. Luis Rodriguez, Raul’s son-in-law.

Raul’s daughter, Mariela, is a champion of gay rights in Cuba and represents another coalition in waiting – homosexual people around the world interested in Cuba’s treatment of gays – which involved, at one point, Cuba’s gays being put into re-education camps. As a communist and Stalinist nation, Cuba struggled to follow the Bolshevik line of legalizing both homosexuality and abortion. Joseph Stalin recriminalized abortion and homosexuality during the 1930s under his “Article 121,” which included prison time with brutal hard labor. Article 121 remained on the books in the USSR until 1993. Sodomy laws were repealed in Cuba back in 1979. Mariela Castro has pushed for civil-union legislation in Cuba, thus elevating her profile.

Today, homosexuals and transgender people live mostly at peace and can be seen around Havana in a low-key way. No overt harassment in the public sphere is readily apparent. One reason may be that Cuba, according to the United Nations, has a 0.1 HIV-positive infection rate, the lowest in the world. The U.S. rate is six times more prevalent. After the 1959 revolution, the Cuban government was anti-gay, but with the increase of AIDS and the return of Cuban soldiers from the Angolan war in Africa (many were infected with HIV/AIDS after sleeping with Angolan prostitutes) the government’s position changed to endorsement of various programs aimed at helping homosexuals and people with the disease. Cardinal Ortega of Havana has condemned homophobia but officially deplores the “First World ideologies of ‘anything goes.’”

One of Cuba’s most famous homosexuals was Rienaldo Arenas. He wrote a novel titled, “Singing from the Well.” Arenas fled Cuba in the Mariel Harbor boatlift and later contracted HIV/AIDS. He committed suicide in New York in 1990. Fidel Castro had once proclaimed, “In this country of Cuba, there are no homosexuals.” Echoing the anti-gay death squads that roamed around Bogota, Colombia, Castro embraced Latin Catholic and Latin machismo attitudes, while in the fashion of Mao and Pol Pot proclaimed agrarianism as the ideal way of life. Arenas paid a great price fleeing Fidel’s gay persecution. He tried to escape Cuba on a raft but was recaptured and sent to the horrific El Morro prison. Arenas was then made to sign an affidavit claiming his own writings were “deviant.” Ironically, many Cuban homosexuals had backed Castro’s Revolution, believing he would bring cultural, sexual and artistic freedom to all Cubans. How sadly mistaken they were. The reality was that a dark chapter in Cuba’s history was about to unfold.

Under Fidel, gays in Cuba were rounded up in nighttime raids. Children perceived to be homosexual were to be reported to the government by their own parents. Gay sex was criminalized. One prominent re-education camp for homosexuals was the barbwire and machine gun-laden outpost called Camagüey. Gays in positions to influence the youth and the culture through universities, TV, radio, theater, plays, novels and other areas echoed by the Antonio Gramsci philosophy of cultural power were chastised, stripped of their titles, made to dig graves, murdered or driven to suicide. They were called “pathological” and “unsuitable for the ideal socialist family.”

Still, homosexuals cannot (at least openly) join the Communist Party of Cuba. Gay nightclubs can still be raided, moderately harassed and the owners fined. But homosexuals are thankful for the help they’ve received from international organizations, thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and East German doctors who came to Cuba during the Cold War and helped the Cuban elites in government and medicine to see their lifestyle in less severe terms. Additionally, the “ultimate male Cuban warriors” who returned to Cuba with AIDS after fighting the apartheid South African regime in Angola, rotated AIDS from a homosexual issue into a human-oriented issue that could affect any Cuban regardless of sexual orientation. The proliferation of prostitution in Cuba will no doubt influence the HIV infection rate and attitudes about the disease in the island nation.

Regardless, Alejandro, Luis and Mariela all lack officially authorized posts in the Cuban government. They lack the prestige a Politburo member in North Korea or Beijing might hold. Still they form a troika of power and control, for better or for worse, in which Raul Castro trusts. But is this really a position of strength? Or does this represent another form of political correctness, dysfunction and nepotism? As in Soviet times, when many of the USSR’s officials were viewed as rude and swinish in their behavior, the system in Cuba is not producing trustworthy officials. Corruption is endemic, and Raul Castro is forced to use his family and army friends in some of the most important positions in the nation. This is troubling. In America, a trade official negotiating with China may well have their place at the table because of race or gender. A Communist Party official in China leading that same trade negotiation will have won a ruthless competition of academic and tactical brilliance to sit across from the American trade official. An official sitting in the same position in Cuba might be Raul Castro’s beer-drinking buddy or his crazy aunt Judy normally chained up in the basement.
The Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana (Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception), a Roman Catholic cathedral and the seat of Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the cardinal archbishop of Havana. It is also called Cathedral of Saint Christopher. (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
Sugar daddies: New lies for old

Since the colonial era of the Spanish Empire, Cuba has relied on sugar for its income. And Cuba has seen a series of sugar daddies come and go. There was, of course, the Soviet Union, then Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and, more recently, mainland China. The Soviet Union knew it could use Cuba as an unsinkable aircraft carrier and strategic weapon against America – and also as a listening post (based at Lourdes) before (some say) the NSA, CIA and FBI became so infiltrated by the KGB/FSB that Lourdes was no longer needed. Venezuela has received sports advisers, thousands of well-trained doctors and military experts in exchange for Caracas’ oil. China, through infrastructure development, TV programming and the brotherhood of anti-Americanism, is trying to gain a foothold in Cuba and continue making inroads in the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Argentina, just as it has in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Cuba positions itself accordingly. Unlike Afghanistan, Cuba has no rare earth metals (such as lithium) and few natural resources. But like Myanmar, wedged in between China and India, Cuba offers the three keys to real estate: location, location, location. Both Russia and China could wipe America off the face of the earth with nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. Both Russia and China could use Cuba (and/or Venezuela) as a forward operating base for strategic nuclear bombers, submarines or theater-based missiles. Yet America has openly stated in recent years that this is a “red line” not to be crossed. As a tactical entity, Cuba is still a major strategic player. This fact shouldn’t be discounted or minimized. It was not that long ago when Americans actually built bomb shelters because of Cuba’s communist affiliations and affections.

In an Associated Press report dated March 14, 2009, the triangulation of Russia, Cuba and Venezuela was detailed thusly: “Russia can ‘possibly’ use Cuba to station its strategic bombers, while Venezuela has offered Moscow to do the same on its territory, said a senior Russian strategic air force commander. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has also offered to let Russia use his country’s territory to station Russian strategic bombers, Major General Anatoly Zhikharev told Interfax. ‘Yes, such a proposal from the president of Venezuela exists. If there is an appropriate political decision it is possible … [and] it is possible with Cuba. There are four or five airfields with runways 4,000 meters long which suits us quite well. If there is a will of heads of the two states, a political will, we are ready to fly there,’ he said.”

Those who thought the Cold War was over and that nuclear war has become unthinkable might want to think again. Not much is known about the nuclear capabilities of mainland China. Only a handful of American experts even bother to study China’s nuclear weapons capability (this analysis was given a jolt last year by students at Georgetown University), but the threat remains because of Cuba’s proximity and its kinship with America’s mortal enemies – the central power base in Moscow and Beijing, as well as the outposts in Harare, Pyongyang, Rangoon and Tehran. This analysis should be sober, poignant and not hyperbolic. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot murdered more than 100 million people. Would those who embraced their vision of the world hesitate to annihilate America, long seen as a bastion of freedom and anti-communism? Whether one speaks of realpolitik or wildly sensational biblical prophecies, the issue of Armageddon and nuclear war is quite real. And Cuba is still a focal point.

There are still those alive today who recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when a Soviet submarine captain named Vasili Arkapov saved the world by preventing a rogue nuclear weapons launch against Fortress America. Yet Armageddon and nuclear war took a backseat to Fidel Castro, the mafia, Lee Harvey Oswald and the Bay of Pigs. These elements combine to form a rubric of an unknowable black hole in recent history. Films like “The Good Shepherd” with Matt Damon, as well as Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” gloss over Cuba yet present the nation as a bête noire. Does such an amateur view of history provide a telescope, a microscope or a kaleidoscope?

The loss of Cuba, from the American perspective, was a major strategic blunder and equals the loss of mainland China to Mao, Eastern Europe to Stalin after World War II, Nicaragua, Rhodesia, the morally flawed Old South Africa and the more recent debacles in the Middle East and Central Asia. Yet as previously inferred, Cuba could once again become a part of America’s orbit, which would be a more natural existence considering the Catholic and evangelical population, geography and the Cuban-American beachhead in Miami, Fla.

In a reminder of the importance Cuba played in the espionage capabilities of Russia, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, one might study a Novosti article published on Feb. 8, 2008, which states, “The electronic monitoring and surveillance facility near Havana at Torrens, also known as the Lourdes facility, the largest Russian SIGINT [signals intelligence] site abroad, was shut down in October 2001 by then-president Vladimir Putin. The Lourdes facility reportedly covered a 28 square-mile area, with 1,000-1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel working at the base. The complex was capable of monitoring a wide array of commercial and government communications throughout the southeastern United States, and between the United States and Europe. Lourdes intercepted transmissions from microwave towers in the United States, communication satellite downlinks, and a wide range of shortwave and high-frequency radio transmissions.”
Russia claimed it shut down the facility because the $200 million Moscow paid in rent could buy and launch 20 satellites into outer space. Some say the Russians were spending more than $300-$350 million on Lourdes. Still, others say Putin and Castro simply don’t get along and that’s why Lourdes was shut down. The base was closed in back in 2001 just 10 months after Putin visited Cuba and promised to keep Lourdes open.

America pressured Russia to close the base, and this had a rippling effect on Russia’s relations with Cuba. The Security Council of Russia cooperates with Cuba in regard to oil production, tourism, health care, nickel production, telecommunications and even nanotechnology – but for now, Lourdes is a relic of the Cold War. Tangential reports on the issue state, “China would like to expand its electronic intelligence capability on the island. China is reported to operate at least one small listening post and ties between the Cuban and Chinese militaries have been expanding.”

Cuban identity

Cubans cannot seem to “get over” the revolution of Fidel Castro. His photo, along with Che’s, is everywhere, the ubiquitous “Big Brothers” peering down at the interloper every 10 feet in Havana and elsewhere on the island. There is a latent undercurrent of anti-Americanism lurking amid the redacted deep structure of Cuban lexis and dialogue concerning the American government’s policies toward Cuba. The U.S. dollar gets a 10 percent penalty during arbitrage. The moneda nacional (Cuban pesos, or CUP, which are rarely used) and convertible Cuban currency, or CUC, are weak. It is better to have Canadian dollars or euros. America has no embassy in Cuba and uses a section of the Swiss embassy to carry out its operations.

The nation of Cuba is about the size of Pennsylvania and has no long rivers. This is problematic in terms of generating hydroelectric power. Cuba does have the world’s third largest supply of nickel, and there is also the new jewel of offshore oil. It is a large island, which makes it militarily difficult to defend. Friendly nations like China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and other trading partners, such as Canada and Spain, cannot create a normalized economy. The poverty is real and tangible.

When visiting Cuba, it can be reminiscent of Myanmar or North Korea. There are rich enclaves for elites, both domestic and international, like Miramar and Siboney. But there is no utopia or anything remotely like it. Havana has its unattractive slums. Yet most of the beaches are pristine (the BP oil spill notwithstanding), filled with white sand and jade green water (like Veradero, where armies of Canadians fly in directly from the Great White North). Other beaches have more rocks than an archetype high-school baseball field.

The idea of Cuba as a utopia is more than half a millennium old. When Columbus approached Cuba in the fall of 1492, he called it, “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.” Columbus named Cuba “Juana” after a rich heiress back in Spain. Finding no gold or silver, he abandoned Cuba quickly for what is today known as Haiti. Still, the oldest statue of Columbus in the Western Hemisphere can be found in the sleepy city of Cardenas, right in front of the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion. The statue dates back to the early 1860s and refers to Columbus as “Colon,” who stands astride a globe.

Down the street from that statue is a gigantic flagpole, which commemorates the exact spot where a group of American mercenaries (foreshadowing Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders) led by Naricso Lopez, a flamboyant adventure-seeking soldier from Venezuela, first raised the Cuban flag in 1850 in a failed attempt to free the colony from the dominion of the Spanish Empire. Flags are all the rage in Cuba. A visitor can find more flags in Cuba’s history than at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York – the flags of the British Empire, Spanish Empire, American colonialists, Soviet Empire and, finally, an independent Cuba. Flags show ownership – and just who has owned Cuba over the last 500 years is about as confusing as can be imagined.

The Cuban identity goes back to the time when the island was controlled by Spain. Of course, that’s the reason Spanish is spoken. But then came the British, who entered in the summer of 1762 with 20,000 troops and occupied the island for almost a year, before trading Cuba like a baseball card to the French in exchange for Florida in 1763 at the Treaty of Paris (thus saving the Cuban people from 250 years of bad food, including cholesterol-laden breakfasts after which even 7-year-olds have been known to have heart attacks). Cuban sugar and tobacco are legendary commodities, and this was not lost on the fledgling American nation after the War of Independence in 1776. By the 1820s, Cuba had become the largest sugar-producing nation in the entire world – everyone else’s “sugar daddy” in the most literal sense. America approached Spain several times about buying the island outright. Thomas Jefferson and James Polk tried to purchase the island – the latter even put down a deposit of $100 million – about the same amount the New York Yankees will pay Alex Rodriquez to play third base for the next four seasons.

Cardenas’ most famous citizen, however, is Elian Gonzales, who sparked a horrendous battle between then-Attorney General Janet Reno, anti-Castro Cubans in the U.S. and the Cuban government back in 1999. This occurred when the 5-year-old child was taken from his home by militarized police at gunpoint on Easter Sunday. (The “South Park” episode depicting Janet Reno as the Easter bunny is considered one of the definitive moments in cartoon history.) As an aside, Cardenas also hosts sandlot baseball pickup games (held near the aforementioned flagpole) featuring perhaps the single worst collection of baseball players in the history of human civilization.

Pope Benedict: communism no longer working in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI has called for freedom of conscience and religion in Cuba. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI, flying to Cuba for a historic visit, has said that Marxism was out of place in the contemporary world and urged Cubans to find “new models”.

His remarks on Friday were at least as forthright as any made by his predecessor, John Paul II, on a groundbreaking trip to the country 14 years ago. Answering a question about his visit to Cuba, which has remained a communist bastion for more than 50 years, the pope said: “Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.”

He told reporters accompanying him on the papal plane: “In this way we can no longer respond and build a society. New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way.”

Benedict also said that his church wanted “to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society”. But his comments are likely to cause irritation in Havana.

The pope’s use of the word “trauma” reflected fears in the Vatican of a disorderly transition after the death of Cuba’s 85-year-old revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. In 2008, the ailing Castro handed over power to his brother, Raul.

The pope himself will turn 85 next month, and Friday saw him with a walking stick for the first time in public. He used the cane to cover the 100 metres or so from his helicopter to the plane that would fly him to Mexico on the first leg of his journey.

Papal aides said he had been using the stick in private for about two months because it made him feel more secure, and not for medical reasons. Last year, he began using a wheeled platform during ceremonies in St Peter’s.

Cuba to Drill Five New Oil Wells in View of Key West

By Carlos Batista (AFP) – 1 hour ago

HAVANA — Cuba on Tuesday announced plans to drill five deepwater oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico beginning this summer, expressing confidence that its efforts will be rewarded with major new energy finds.

“We’re about to move to the drilling phase,” said Manuel Marrero, an official with the government authority tasked with overseeing Cuba’s oil sector.

“We’re all really hopeful that we will be able to discover large reserves of oil and gas,” said Marrero, who added that the ventures would be undertaken with the help of unspecified foreign companies.

He said the deepwater wells were to be drilled between 2011 and 2013, and would be in waters ranging in depth between 400 meters (a quarter mile) and 1,500 meters (1.6 miles). He did not specify which countries would be among the foreign partners working with Havana on the project.

Some studies estimate Cuba has probable reserves of between five and nine billion barrels of oil in its economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Cuban authorities have said their crude reserves are as high as 20 billion barrels.

In 2010, Cuba produced 21 million barrels of oil, about the same as it had extracted the previous year, representing a little less than half of its annual energy needs.

Cuba depends on Venezuela for the rest of its oil imports of about 100,000 barrels per day. Any cut to Venezuelan supplies could spell political and economic disaster for Havana.

The only one-party communist regime in the Americas, Cuba has long been plagued by energy dependence that amounts to its economic Achilles’ heel.

Havana used to depend on the eastern bloc for cut-rate oil, and plunged into economic chaos and blackouts when it was cut off after 1989.

Locking in energy independence, aside from potentially turning Cuba from a cash-strapped developing nation into a flush oil exporter, could help project its current regime years into the future.

On Monday, Rafael Tenrreyro, the head of state oil form Cupet’s exploration branch, said Cuba was anxiously awaiting a platform made in China for one of its offshore efforts.

“At some point this summer it should be getting here,” Tenrreyro told reporters, referring to the next few months’ time.

Despite the BP oil spill tragedy in the gulf, Tenrreyro insisted “safety is more than guaranteed. Cuban institutions have made sure that is the case.”

Cuba’s economic zone in the Gulf, just a stone’s throw from the US state of Florida, is divided into 59 blocs. Of those 20 are ventures with Repsol (Spain), Hydro (Norway), OVL (India), PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrovietnam and Petronas (Malaysia). Petrobras (Brazil) recently pulled out and Sonangol (Angola) recently signed on.

Obama assures that they will sell the oil to the US.


Be thankful this holiday weekend that you don't live in Ireland or Greece.

U.S. Issues New Rules on Offshore Drilling; Cuba begins deep-water drilling 2011

The Interior Department tightened its rules on offshore oil and gas operations on Thursday but left in place the moratorium on deepwater drilling that has left oil executives frustrated and Gulf Coast officials fuming.

The new rules — governing well casing and cementing, blowout preventers, safety certification, emergency response and worker training — provide offshore drillers with clarity on the terms under which drilling will resume when the current freeze ends.

The main conditions had already been telegraphed by the department in a safety report issued in May and in two notices to offshore operators handed down in June in response to the blowout of a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20…

…Interior Secretary Ken Salazar presented the new rules in a speech Thursday morning, calling them a fundamental change that will guide all future leasing and development decisions in the gulf, the Arctic and elsewhere.

“We are raising the bar for safety, oversight and environmental protection at every stage of the drilling process,” he said in the speech, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here.

The rules take effect immediately under emergency rule-making powers…

…Because of current U.S. policy, U.S. companies are prohibited from developing oil fields that lie in Cuban waters and come within 50 miles of Florida. However, Cuba is exploring and potentially developing these oil fields, estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to possess more oil than the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and Cuba is partnering with China and other countries, such as Spain, France, and Canada.

The Castro Regime will begin drilling off the coast of Florida next year and will go deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April The Miami Heraldreported…

Someone Tell Soros and Obama - Fidel Castro says Cuba's Communism Not Working

HAVANA — Cuba’s communist economic model has come in for criticism from an unlikely source: Fidel Castro.

The revolutionary leader told a visiting American journalist and a U.S.-Cuba policy expert that the island’s state-dominated system is in need of change, a rare comment on domestic affairs from a man who has taken pains to steer clear of local issues since illness forced him to step down as president four years ago.

The fact that things are not working efficiently on this cash-strapped Caribbean island is hardly news. Fidel’s brother Raul, the country’s president, has said the same thing repeatedly. But the blunt assessment by the father of Cuba’s 1959 revolution is sure to raise eyebrows.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, asked Castro if Cuba’s economic system was still worth exporting to other countries, and Castro replied: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” Goldberg wrote Wednesday in a post on his Atlantic blog.

The Cuban government had no immediate comment on Goldberg’s account. a Cuba expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations who accompanied Goldberg on the trip, confirmed

The Cuban leader’s comment, which he made at a private lunch last week.

She told The Associated Press she took the remark to be in line with Raul Castro’s call for gradual but widespread reform.

“It sounded consistent with the general consensus in the country now, up to and including his brother’s position,” Sweig said.

In general, she said she found the 84-year-old Castro to be “relaxed, witty, conversational and quite accessible.”

“He has a new lease on life, and he is taking advantage of it,” Sweig said.

Castro stepped down temporarily in July 2006 due to a serious illness that nearly killed him.

He resigned permanently two years later, but remains head of the Communist Party. After staying almost entirely out of the spotlight for four years, he re-emerged in July and now speaks frequently about international affairs. He has been warning for weeks of the threat of a nuclear war over Iran.

But the ex-president has said very little about Cuba and its politics, perhaps to limit the perception he is stepping on his brother’s toes.

Goldberg, who traveled to Cuba at Castro’s invitation last week to discuss a recent Atlantic article he wrote about Iran’s nuclear program, also reported on Tuesday that Castro questioned his own actions during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, including his recommendation to Soviet leaders that they use nuclear weapons against the United States.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has clung to its communist system.

The state controls well over 90 percent of the economy, paying workers salaries of about $20 a month in return for free health care and education, and nearly free transportation and housing. At least a portion of every citizen’s food needs are sold to them through ration books at heavily subsidized prices.

Cuba says much of its suffering is caused by the 48-year-old U.S. trade embargo. The economy has also been slammed by the global economic downturn, a drop in nickel prices and the fallout from three devastating hurricanes that hit in quick succession in 2008. Corruption and inefficiency have exacerbated problems.

As president, Raul Castro has instituted a series of limited economic reforms, and has warned Cubans that they need to start working harder and expecting less from the government. But the president has also made it clear he has no desire to depart from Cuba’s socialist system or embrace capitalism.

Fidel Castro’s interview with Goldberg is the only one he has given to an American journalist since he left office.

Cuba's Cash-for-Doctors Program

The Wall Street Journal
AUGUST 16, 2010
Cuba’s Cash-for-Doctors Program
Thousands of its health-care missionaries flee mistreatment.
For decades, Cuba has “exported” doctors, nurses and health technicians to earn diplomatic influence in poor countries and hard cash for its floundering economy. According to Cuba’s official media, an estimated 38,544 Cuban health professionals were serving abroad in 2008, 17,697 of them doctors. (Cuba reports having 70,000 doctors in all.)
These “missionaries of the revolution” are well-received in host countries from Algeria to South Africa to Venezuela. Yet those who hail Cuba’s generosity overlook the uglier aspects of Cuba’s health diplomacy.
The regime stands accused of violating various international agreements such as the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and ILO Convention on the Protection of Wages because of the way these health-care providers are treated. In February, for example, seven Cuban doctors who formerly served in Venezuela and later defected filed a lawsuit in Florida federal court against Cuba, Venezuela and the Venezuelan state oil company for holding them in conditions akin to “modern slavery.”
They claim the Cuban regime held the funds Venezuela remitted for their services and then paid them—an arrangement they say is a form of “debt bondage.” They also say they were forced to work extremely long hours in dangerous areas, including urban zones with high crime rates and the jungle. (The Venezuelan government and its oil company are challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case; Cuba hasn’t responded.)
Starting in 2002, Hugo Chávez agreed to pay—mostly with subsidized, cheap Venezuelan oil—for Cuba to provide health care to marginalized populations in Venezuela at no cost to patients. But in the past several years he has expanded the effort to other countries, helping to build support for his regional Marxist agenda while keeping the Cuban economy afloat.
Cuba won’t release its agreements with host countries, but details have emerged in open sources, including in Cuba’s official media. These show that typically the host country pays Cuba hard currency for each health worker and provides accommodations, food and a monthly stipend generally between $150 and $350. Cuba covers airfare and logistical support, and it pays salaries to the health-care workers out of the funds it holds.
Cuba’s global health projects also receive support from the developed world. In 2005, at least $27 million was donated to Cuba’s Haiti mission, including from France and Japan. International goodwill also translates into direct aid. In 2008, Cuba received $127 million from OECD countries. These transfers explain the recent rise in Cuba’s export of services, to $8.6 billion in 2008 from $2.8 billion in 2003. Representing 75% of GDP, they generate far more income than any other industry.
Cuban doctors go abroad because at home they earn a scant $22-$25 a month. When they work in other countries, they typically get a small stipend in local currency while their families back home receive their usual salary plus a payment in hard currency—from $50 to $325 per month.
But with the state as sole employer and the citizens forbidden from leaving the country without permission, the system is tailor-made for exploitation. Several Cuban doctors who have served abroad tell me that in addition to very long hours they may not drive a car, leave their dwellings after a certain hour, or speak to the media. In some countries they are only allowed to associate with “revolutionaries.” Thousands of Cuban health professionals have deserted world-wide. Almost 1,500 have made it to the U.S. alone since 2006, according to a Department of Homeland Security report in March.
Cuba’s profitable global business has ramifications for its own health-care system. It’s been extensively reported, by Cuba’s independent journalists as well as by the occasional Westerner who ends up in a hospital for the common people, that Cubans face a chronic shortage of doctors and dilapidated health facilities. Patients or their families must even bring their own food and linens to the hospital.
Meanwhile, the mass production of Cuban doctors for export has led medical associations in host countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Portugal to question their experience and credentials. Some Venezuelan doctors have complained of being fired and replaced by Cuban missionary physicians. And a few years ago the Bolivian press reported that the country’s medical association was complaining about thousands of unemployed health professionals who were earning considerably less than what Mr. Chávez was paying for Cubans.
Humanitarianism cannot be selective. Cuba’s health workers deserve full protection of local and international laws, its citizens deserve access to adequate health care, and patients everywhere deserve accountability from their health-care providers.
Ms. Werlau is executive director of nonprofit Cuba Archive, a human rights organization.

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