• This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' blog "Generation Y" this is not dedicated to those with names starting with the letter "A". Instead, it draws from Douglas Coupland's novel Generation A which begins with a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut at a University Commencement that was brought to my attention by Andrew Johnston of Ottawa: ".. ... I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astounding triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

    The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on the economy of Cuba.

COMMERCE AND TREASURY ANNOUNCE SIGNIFICANT AMENDMENTS TO THE CUBA SANCTIONS REGULATIONS Ahead of President Obama’s Historic Trip to Cuba

Amendments Expand the Ability of Americans to Visit Cuba, Bolster Trade and Commercial Opportunities, and Reduce Barriers to Financial Transactions by Cuban Nationals

Original Document:  Amendments to to the Cuba Regulations

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Office of Public Affairs, 202-482-4883, publicaffairs@doc.gov

Today, the Department ofthe Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced significant amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR).  These changes, coupled with the arrangement recently announced by the Departments of State and Transportation allowing scheduled air service between the United States and Cuba, will significantly increase the ability of U.S.  citizens to travel to Cuba to directly engage with the Cuban people.  Additionally, these regulations expand Cuba and Cuban nationals’ access to U.S. financial institutions and the U.S. dollar from Cuba, and will expand the ability for Cubans legally present in the United States to earn stipends and salaries beyond living expenses.  These amendments further the new direction toward Cuba that President Obama laid out in December 2014.  The changes are outlined below and will take effect on March 16, 2016, when the regulations are published in the Federal Register.

“Today’s amendments build upon President Obama’s historic actions to improve our country’s relationship with Cuba and its people. These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba’s citizens,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

“Today’s steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations.  Since December 2014, the Treasury Department and our partners across the Administration have progressively reshaped our regulations in order to empower the Cuban people and enable economic advancements for Cubans and Americans,” said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.  “Today we are building on this progress by facilitating travel for additional Americans looking to engage with Cubans; allowing Cuban citizens to earn a salary in the United States; and expanding access to the U.S. financial system as well as trade and commercial opportunities.”

To see the Treasury regulations, which can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, please see here.  To see the Commerce regulations, which can be found at 15 CFR parts 730-774, please see here.  Major elements of the changes in the revised Treasury and Commerce regulations include:

Travel and Related Transactions–

  • People-to-people educational travel.  Individuals will be authorized to travel to Cuba for individual people-to-people educational travel, provided that the traveler engages in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.  Previously, the general license authorizing educational travel required such trips to take place under the auspices of an organization that was subject to U.S. jurisdiction and required all travelers to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring organization.  This change is intended to make authorized educational travel to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for U.S. citizens, and will increase opportunities for direct engagement between Cubans and Americans.  Persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities.  In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy those recordkeeping requirements.
  • Payment of salaries.  Cuban nationals in the United States in a non-immigrant status or pursuant to other non-immigrant travel authorization will be authorized to earn a salary or compensation, consistent with the terms of the particular visa, provided that the recipient is not subject to any special tax assessments in Cuba.  U.S. companies will be authorized to engage in transactions related to the sponsorship or hiring of Cuban nationals to work or perform in the United States similar to nationals from other countries, provided that no additional payments are made to the Cuban government in connection with such sponsorship or hiring.  For example, Cuban athletes, artists, performers, and others who obtain the requisite visas will be able to travel to the United States and earn salaries and stipends in excess of basic living expenses.  Transactions in connection with the filing of an application for non-immigrant travel authorizations will also be authorized.
  • Cuban-origin merchandise. OFAC will authorize certain dealings in Cuban-origin merchandise by individuals for personal consumption while in a third-country, and to receive or obtain services from Cuba or a Cuban national that are ordinarily incident to travel and maintenance within a third country.  This authorization will allow, for example, Americans traveling in Europe to purchase and consume Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products while abroad similar to the travel exemptions in other sanctions programs.

Banking and financial services –

  • U-turn payments through the U.S. financial system.  U.S. banking institutions will be authorized to process U-turn transactions in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest.  This provision will authorize funds transfers from a bank outside the United States that pass through one or more U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to a bank outside the United States, where neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
  • Processing of U.S. dollar monetary instruments.  U.S. banking institutions will be authorized to process U.S. dollar monetary instruments, including cash and travelers’ checks, presented indirectly by Cuban financial institutions.  Correspondent accounts at third-country financial institutions used for such transactions may be denominated in U.S. dollars.
  • U.S. bank accounts for Cuban nationals.  U.S. banking institutions will be authorized to open and maintain bank accounts in the United States for Cuban nationals in Cuba to receive payments in the United States for authorized or exempt transactions and to remit such payments back to Cuba.

Trade and commerce –

  • Physical and business presence.  OFAC will expand the existing authorization for “physical presence” (such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse) to include entities that engage in authorized humanitarian projects, entities that engage in authorized non-commercial activities intended to provide support for the Cuban people, and private foundations or research or educational institutes engaging in certain authorized activities pursuant to sections 515.575, 515.574, and 515.576 of the CACR, respectively.  OFAC will also expand the existing authorization for “business presence” (such as a joint venture) to include exporters of goods that are authorized for export or re-export to Cuba or that are exempt, entities providing mail or parcel transmission services or cargo transportation services, and providers of carrier and travel services to facilitate authorized transactions.  The revised regulations will also clarify that the physical and business presence authorizations permit exporters and re-exporters of authorized or exempt goods to assemble such goods in Cuba.  BIS will make conforming changes to the EAR to generally authorize exports and re-exports of eligible items to establish and maintain a physical or business presence that is authorized by OFAC.
  • Importation of software.  The CACR currently authorizes the importation of Cuban-origin mobile applications.  OFAC will expand this authorization to allow the importation of Cuban-origin software.
  • Shipping.  BIS will generally authorize vessels to transport authorized cargo from the United States to Cuba and then sail to other countries with any remaining cargo that was onloaded in the United States.
  • Cuban private sector.  BIS will adopt a licensing policy of case-by-case review for exports and re-exports of items that would enable or facilitate exports from Cuba of items produced by the Cuban private sector.

Grants and awards –

  • OFAC will authorize the provision of educational grants and awards, and clarify that an existing authorization applies to the provision of grants and awards for the humanitarian projects authorized in OFAC’s regulations.  This step will further enable U.S. support for educational projects in Cuba and U.S. participation in philanthropic efforts.
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U.S.-CUBA NORMALIZATION AND THE ZIKA VIRUS RISK: PROBABLE IMPACTS ON CUBAN AND CARIBBEAN TOURISM

By Arch Ritter, March 14, 2016

Tourism has been the spectacular growth sector for Cuba since the beginning of the “Special Period” in 1990.  Tourist numbers have increased 10-folds in the quarter-century from 1990 to 2015, as illustrated in Chart 1.  Foreign exchange earnings from tourism have increased correspondingly.  Canada has been by far the largest source of tourists. Indeed, Cuba’s best friend throughout the “Special Period” has been the Canadian winter.

Now with full normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations “en route,” huge prospective increases in U.S. tourism will have major impacts on Canada but also perhaps on other Caribbean tourist destinations.  What might these impacts be?

Chart 1. International Tourist Arrivals, 1990-2015, Thousands. y Source: Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Government of Cuba, various issues, Access3ed February 23, 2016

The Coming U.S. Tourism “Tsunami” to Cuba!

Full normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations in time will bring unrestricted travel for U.S. citizens to Cuba. This will lead to a deluge of US visitors. Among the varieties of U.S. tourists would be the following:

  • Curiosity tourists. There will be a huge tourist influx of US citizens wanting to see Cuba for the first time since 1961. Relatively few US citizens appear to have broken US travel restrictions so that the pent-up demand is enormous.
  • Family Reunification tourists. When all controls are lifted on the US side for travel to Cuba, a further increase in short-term visits by Cuban-Americans for family purposes is likely to occur – following major increases already.
  • Sun, Sea and Sand tourists. Many US citizens, especially from the North Eastern and Central parts of the country will likely follow the winter-escaping Canadians to Cuban beaches for one to two week periods.
  • “Snow-bird” tourists. Some US citizens, mainly retirees, will spend several of the winter months in Cuba.
  • Retirement tourists. With normal U.S.- Cuban relations, some citizens of the northern part of the United States, especially Cuban-Americans in new Jersey, may decide to reside for half the year or so in Cuba returning to the U.S. for the other half of the year or even the whole year in Cuba, if their pensions permit it.   Permitting the purchase of time share condominiums would facilitate both snowbird and part-time retirement tourism.
  • Medical tourists. There may be some travel to Cuba for access to medical services which will likely continue to be inexpensive relative to the United States.
  • Convention tourists. Short-term visits for conventions could increase significantly.
  • Cultural and Sport tourists. One might expect more visits for purposes of interacting with and experiencing Cuban art, music, cinema, and sports.
  • Educational tourists. It is likely that American students and teachers at various levels would enroll or visit Cuban institutions of higher learning or cultural and sports centers for courses, years abroad, sabbaticals, language training etc., in much greater numbers than have been possible under the embargo.
  • March-Breaker” tourists. Students from the US are likely to try a visit to Cuba for the March Break, instead of the Maya Riviera, Florida or elsewhere.

One can only guess at the future volumes of U.S. tourists to Cuba. One could imagine it quickly doubling the 2015 Canadian level (1,300,092 tourist arrivals) and then redoubling again to 5.2 million and then beyond, as Cuba’s capacity to accommodate more tourists expanded. The total number of tourists then could reach about 8 million by 2022 – or many more if tourism from other countries also increases and does not get “squeezed out.”  (However, U.S. “curiosity tourism” will peak and then subside over the next four or five years following complete normalization.)

This would perhaps lead to an increase Cuba’s total foreign exchange earnings from tourism to about $US 8.0 to 9.0 billion by 2022, up from the estimated level of $US 2.98 billion in 2015 (extrapolating from ONE’s 2014 statement of tourism earnings and 2015 total numbers of tourists.)  This would replace the foreign exchange earnings and the semi-obscured subsidization that Cuba has been receiving from Venezuela which looks totally unsustainable at this time.

The expansion of tourism is great news for Cuba, and will lead to

  • increased foreign exchange earnings for the country,
  • a construction boom in resorts and tourist facilities,
  • a major increase in incomes for the growing private sector servicing tourism (bed and breakfasts, restaurants, travel and guide services among others),
  • higher tax revenues of many sorts, and
  • generalized improvement as real incomes of citizens improve.

The downside is that success in the tourism sector may reduce the urgency of reviving the manufacturing sector which is still operating at close to 50% of the level it had achieved in 1988 before the economic meld-down.

 Will “El Cheapo” Canadian Tourism be Squeezed Out?

Will the increase in U.S. tourism to Cuba crowd out the Canadian tourists who constituted 37% of all tourists to Cuba in 2015%.  Maybe. But U.S. “curiosity tourism” will most likely focus on Havana and the historical areas of Cuba rather than the beaches so that the Canadians at the beach resorts would not be pushed out for some time, at least mot physically!

 yy Source: ONE Anuario Estadistico de Cuba, 2015 Table 15.3), Accessed February 23, 2016

 Most Canadian tourists head to the beach with a package tour – going to Havana or another city on a day’s excursion.  For this reason, they have been sometimes derided as “el cheapo” tourists who spend as little as they can in the Cuban economy.  There may be some truth in this, but most other tourists also are in similar package tours. If prices were to rise significantly with the influx of U.S. tourists, one could expect that some Canadian tourists would switch to other Caribbean destinations. This could indeed happen to some extent, especially if the winter-time “sun, sea and sand” tourism from the United States increases greatly.

Chart 3 Tourist Arrivals, Major Caribbean Countries, 1995 – 2013

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Table 1. Caribbean Tourist Arrivals and Earnings, 2010 and 2014 yyyy1

Source: United Nations World Tourism Organization, Annual Report 2014, p.6.  http://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284416899, Accessed February 29, 2016

Will Other Caribbean Destinations Lose Out to Cuba?

There has been some fear that other Caribbean tourist destinations would lose when U.S. citizens start flocking to Cuba.  This indeed is a legitimate fear.

A glimpse at the past 25 years suggests that the impacts on other Caribbean destinations in general may be mixed. A glance at Chart 3 indicates that some other major destinations, including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the other “Caribbean Small States” in general have been able to withstand the growing competition from Cuba and have continued to expand significantly in terms of tourist arrivals over the 1995-2013 period. The expansion of tourism in the Dominican Republic is especially notewortheyPuerto Rico is the major exception along with The Bahamas.  Both have lost its shares of tourist arrivals and of revenues in the brief 2010-2014 period as indicated in Table 1.  Surprisingly, Cuba increased its share of tourists in the region, but its share of tourist revenues actually declined.

There is one reason for optimism with respect to the other Caribbean destinations.  Much of the prospective U.S. tourism to Cuba will not be of the “sun, sea and sand” variety, but will be of the other varieties especially “curiosity tourism.”  But what most of the other Caribbean Islands offer is a beach “escape-from-the-winter” holiday. They may therefore be less vulnerable to a tourism “shifting to Cuba” effect.

A small compensation will be that if Canadians are squeezed out of tourism in Cuba with the onslaught of U.S. beach resort tourists, they will likely go to other Caribbean destinations. However, there is also great affection on the part of many Canadians for Cuba as a tourism destination, and the return again and again and again!

Furthermore, international tourism generally has been growing steadily in the post-World War II period and there is little likelihood that this will cease unless the world enters a deep and prolonged recession.  Tourism in the Caribbean generally has been increasing steadily as well.  The overall expansion of tourism in the region should help compensate for any diversion of U.S. tourists from the other Caribbean islands to Cuba.

Will the Maya Riviera be hit with a diversion of U.S. tourists to Cuba?  This may well happen to some degree.  However, the Mexican Yucatan region is a highly attractive tourist waterfront destination with other major attractions. A beach holiday can be combined with archaeological tourism with a visit to the ancient Maya cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza (both World Heritage Sites), Tulum, to less well-known but quite incredible Calakmul (another World Heritage Site) and Kohunlich and innumerable smaller sites. As well as this is the Colonial legacy in many small towns as well as Merida and Campeche (still another World Heritage site.)   In the long term, the Yucatan should certainly be able to hold its own.

 The Zika Virus Risk to Cuba’s Population and Tourism

While it is not known whether or not the  Zika Virus, linked to birth defects elsewhere in Latin America, has arrived in Cuba, there can be no doubt that it will. If, as seems increasingly certain, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti, then pregnant women in Cuba would be at grave risk. This would likely have a major impact on the tourist sector and the Cuban economy generally – as well as tourism elsewhere in the Caribbean and tropical parts of the world, as suggested by the accompanying map.

Cuba has had long and reasonably successful experience in containing the dengue virus that has affected many people and also the rarer Chikungunya virus, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain.  Both are also spread by some branches of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  This has been achieved with frequent fumigation of homes, public and buildings and clean-up of stagnant waters that are the breeding grounds of the mosquitos.

 Map 1. Probable Occurrence of Aedes Aegypti in the Caribbean Region zika 2

Source: Wikipedia, Zika Virus, accessed February 29, 2016

Note: Global Aedes aegypti predicted distribution. The map depicts the probability of occurrence (blue=none, red=highest occurrence).

 On February 23, a public program was announced to deal with the potential problem. This involves:

  • using the army to expedite fumigation spraying,
  • calling on the somewhat moribund neighborhood associations – the Comites por la Defensa de la Revolucion – to promote public education,
  • a general clean-up of the streets and stagnant waters and
  • improved garbage disposal arrangements.

Judging from recent reports from Cuba these programs have been implemented quickly and people are already adjusting their behavior to eliminate the mosquito vector of the disease and in their normal living arrangements (using mosquito nets at night for example.)

Cuba’s public health system is very strong and its actions already seem to be determined and serious.  Cuba will probably be able to deal with the mosquito and the disease very effectively. Obviously effective action is imperative to protect Cuba’s people and future generations.

What will be the effect on Cuba’s tourism and its tourism-dependent economy?  Already there are concerns on the part of young women and especially of course pregnant women regarding travel to Cuba. This will undoubtedly have an impact, very minor one hopes, on Cuba as well as on the rest of the countries in the region.  But it is probable that Cuba’s public health system will minimize and hopefully eliminate the problem. If so, tourism will not be affected that seriously.

 Conclusion

In summary, if managed wisely, Cuba can look forward to greatly expanded and economically beneficial tourist boom with full normalization of relations with the United States. This may generate some collateral damage for Canadian tourists who may face a crowding out and pricing out effect, but this will likely be modest and would likely benefit other Caribbean countries. Within the Caribbean region, some countries may feel pressure from the diversion of U.S. beach resort tourists, but most of the bigger destinations have held their own in the last few decades and will continue to do so.

A question mark and potential risk for the tourist sector – and more importantly for the whole population and for future generations in Cuba and many tropical regions is the Zika virus. This will likely hit Cuba in time if it has not already. But resolute policy, education and action have begun to deal with Zika.  Cuba’s past successful programs for controlling the dengue virus should facilitate rapid and effective action against Zika.

With respect to tourism in summary, the positive economic impacts of the coming U.S. tourism tsunami should far outweigh any possible effects of the Zika virus, which will likely be successfully controlled.

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Cuba’s Best Friend of the 1990s: The Canadian Winter

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Cuba’s Best Friend of the 2016 Onward: The Curious American Tourist !

> on February 26, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

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WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: OBAMA MAY INVOKE CUBAN EXILES IN HAVANA

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald, March 11, 2016.

Original here: Obama May Invoke…..

Expect President Barack Obama to invoke the ingenuity and success of Cuban-American exiles in his address later this month in Havana, a key White House aide said in Miami on Friday during a listening tour ahead of the president’s historic three-day trip to Cuba.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said there’s no agreement yet on whether state-run Cuban radio will broadcast Obama’s speech in Cuba, a first by an American president since the 1959 revolution. But Rhodes, a sometimes speechwriter for the president, said he has a role in the address, which is being influenced by his talks with South Floridians.

 “I’ve been struck by how much that speech is a focus for people,” said Rhodes, who spent the day in downtown Miami, mostly on the Miami Dade College campus, inviting input and trying to assure anxious or angry exiles ahead of the president’s March 20-22 visit to Havana.

He held a succession of meetings, many closed, with students, activists, journalists and religious and community leaders, where he reminded them that the White House goal isn’t to topple the Castro government but to open up society through renewed diplomatic relations, trade and other ties.

Of the speech, he said, “There has not been an opportunity for an American president to stand in Cuba, in Havana, and speak to the Cuban people, and to speak to the Cuban people in Cuba and in the United States. We feel that weight.”

So he laid out several themes to expect in the speech, from “some reckoning with history” to “the history and example of the Cuban-American people and the success they have had here in Miami and across the country.”

The two sides have not yet settled on a site for the speech. Rhodes, however, predicted the venue would be indoors, citing logistics and security reasons, and setting to rest the possibility that he would follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis’ September visit. The pontiff did his open-air Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución — with a huge portrait of Che Guevara staring down.

“I think he’ll want to speak to a very complicated history that kind of led us to where we are today,” said Rhodes. “How do we find ourselves at this moment. Some of that history is a powerful and positive shared experience. But some of it is a very painful and complicated and contentious experience.”

In one meeting hosted by Cuban American National Foundation chairman Jorge Mas Santos, Rhodes huddled with critics of the regime. “We are one people,” Mas declared, once journalists were allowed inside to listen. “Do not allow the regime to marginalize us.”

In the room at the time were dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, in town for just a few days, as well as Santiago Province activist Carlos Amiel Oliva Torres of the Union Patriotic de Cuba, and Leticia Ramos of the Ladies in White, both of whom arrived in Miami on Thursday and were returning to the island Saturday.

Rhodes cast the speech as proposing a vision for future relations between the two countries and the two peoples. “He’ll be saying this not as a president who wants to impose a political system on Cuba,” he said. Rather, he’ll show the Cubans “what we believe in.”

Rhodes sent mixed signals on how far the administration would go to ensure that Miami-based journalists, especially Cuban-born reporters who have been unable to get visas, would be allowed on the island to cover Obama in Cuba.

The schedule was still in flux but Rhodes said Obama would attend an exhibition baseball game put on by the Tampa Bay Rays. Rhodes said he expected Raúl Castro to attend, noting “baseball is a language that is shared by Americans and Cubans.”

Rhodes also disclosed in Miami that Obama would be accompanied by the first lady, and four Cabinet members — Secretary of State John Kerry, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the Small Business Administration. Rhodes pledged a bipartisan representation of Congress would also accompany the president, but said the list was not yet set.

“There is no question we have profound differences with the Cuban political system,” Rhodes said. But he insisted again and again that White House policy was to help empower a civil society by easing isolation and reaching out to the self-employed. “Our engagement is both with the government and people of Cuba.”

Rhodes said the topic of returning the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was not up for discussion in the three-day visit, although he said the Cuban government would no doubt raise it.

 

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WHY REPUBLICAN CRITIQUES OF OBAMA’S APPROACH TO HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA ARE WRONG

New York Times, MARCH 2, 2016

By WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE

Original Essay: Obama’s Long Game for Cubans’ Rights

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s announcement that he will visit Cuba this month has prompted a new round of criticism from opponents of normalizing relations. Their complaint: that the administration’s opening to Cuba has yet to yield any tangible progress on human rights.

“I think the president ought to be pushing for a free Cuba” instead of going there, said one Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Mr. Cruz’s rival, echoed the theme: “A year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever.” The United States, such critics argue, should insist on human rights concessions in exchange for normalization.

Election year hyperbole aside, this argument sounds compelling because it appeals to core American values of democracy and human rights. But the critics have it backward: Mr. Obama has not given up on human rights in order to pursue normalization; he is pursuing normalization as a path to improving human rights. Nor is this a particularly new or exotic strategy; it’s been American policy toward China since President Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972.

As President Obama said when he announced the opening to Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014, he chose engagement because the old policy of trying to coerce concessions from Havana had failed. If anything, it made things worse by giving the Cuban government a convenient enemy to blame for its problems and a ready excuse to suppress dissent.

Mr. Obama’s strategy is more subtle. He aims to weave a web of economic and diplomatic ties that create self-interested reasons for Cuban leaders to change. As the president explained to Yahoo News, “The more that they see the benefits of U.S. investment, the more that U.S. tourist dollars become woven into their economy, the more that telecommunications is opened up so that Cubans are getting information unfettered by censorship, the more you are laying the foundation for the bigger changes that are going to be coming over time.” In the meantime, he says, Washington will continue to “push, prod, nudge” Cuban leaders to do better on human rights in the near term.

While critics denounce engagement as a betrayal of the Cuban people, the Cuban people themselves overwhelmingly support it. Anyone who was in Cuba, as I was, on Dec. 17, 2014, can testify to the jubilation with which they greeted the announcement. People applauded, hugged one another and cried. Church bells rang across Havana.

In April 2015, an independent poll on the island found that 97 percent of the 1,200 Cubans sampled thought better relations with the United States would be good for Cuba. And lest anyone think people were afraid to speak honestly, the poll also found that Mr. Obama was more popular than either Fidel or Raúl Castro (80 percent positive and only 17 percent negative, as compared with 50 percent negative for Fidel and 48 percent negative for Raúl). Mr. Obama can expect a warm welcome in Havana.

To be sure, some prominent Cuban dissidents have criticized his approach. Jorge Luis García Pérez — also known as Antúnez — called the vision of promoting change through engagement “a farce promoted by the Castro regime in order to perpetuate itself in power.” The political activist Antonio Rodiles has argued that American sanctions failed because they were “anemically imposed.”

But the dissident community is not monolithic. Miriam Leiva, one of the founders of Ladies in White, a group of women related to jailed dissidents, applauded Mr. Obama’s policy as “a unique opportunity to assist the Cuban people.” Elizardo Sánchez, who founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation and reports monthly about political arrests, also endorsed engagement, saying, “It’s better to resolve differences in this way, not to make war, either cold or hot.”

Engagement has already borne some fruit. Expanding commercial relations are reinforcing the economic liberalization that began in Cuba in 2011. Internet access is growing. Debate within Cuban civil society about the island’s economic and political future is more robust than ever. As Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, who negotiated the 2014 agreements, noted, “We see everything that we’re doing as being in the net positive for the lives and human rights of the Cuban people.”

Mr. Obama’s visit is an opportunity to strengthen diplomatic and commercial ties, and to directly raise the issue of human rights both publicly and privately. He plans to meet with a broad range of civil society leaders and with a group of dissidents, as Secretary of State John Kerry did on a visit last August. In his public address, President Obama will undoubtedly speak with eloquence about the virtues of democracy and human rights, as former President Jimmy Carter did on his 2002 trip.

In short, human rights has never been off the agenda of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy, but experience has taught him that making imperious demands and issuing ultimatums did nothing to advance the cause. Instead, he is playing a long game, knowing that his strategy of engagement and persistent persuasion will not produce dramatic change overnight. Still, the president is gambling that his formula will create the conditions that draw Cuba inexorably toward a more open body politic and economy.

All gambles are uncertain, of course. But the president is on to something: Engagement has a better chance than the policy of hostility, which has been a losing bet for more than half a century.

William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., and a co-author, with Peter Kornbluh, of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

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William M. LeoGrande

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CUBA CONFRONTS THE ZIKA VIRUS

CUBA ANNOUNCES FIRST CASE OF ZIKA, IMPORTED FROM VENEZUELA

By Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press

HAVANA — Mar 2, 2016,

Original Article: First Zika Case

Cuba announced Wednesday that it had detected the first case of the Zika virus on the island, which had been one of the last nations in the Western Hemisphere free of the disease.

The Ministry of Health said in state media that a 28-year-old Venezuelan post-doctoral student in gastroenterology arrived in the country Feb. 21 and a day later came down a high fever and rash. The government says the woman was under medical quarantine in Artemisa province outside Havana with other newly arrived doctors when her symptoms were detected.

An initial test for Zika was negative but a second test on Feb. 28 was positive, health officials said. The woman remains hospitalized in good condition at Cuba’s main tropical disease hospital in Havana, officials said. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law had both come down with Zika in Venezuela in recent weeks. The medical professionals who had entered Cuba alongside the sick woman remain in quarantine with no sign of Zika, officials said.

The Health Ministry made no mention of any case of Zika transmitted inside Cuba.

President Raul Castro announced Feb. 22 that the country was militarizing its fight to kill disease-carrying mosquitos, assigning 9,000 soldiers to spray for the insects nationwide. Since then, soldiers, police and health workers have launched an intense door-to-door effort to fumigate for mosquitos.

Gaps had been increasingly obvious in the effort to spray homes and businesses for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has infected thousands of Cubans with the dengue virus and dozens with chikungunya, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain. Cubans frequently claimed allergies or asthma to put off fumigation crews composed of public health workers and teenagers completing obligatory military service.

Those days appear to be ending as troops deployed across the country with hand-held foggers are now armed with the threat of fines for anyone who resists fumigation and fog-spraying trucks and small airplanes are blanketing the capital and other cities with white clouds of pesticide.

In Cuba’s airports and cruise ship terminals, crews of white-clad doctors are monitoring incoming travelers for high temperatures or other signs of illness. Medical officials said the fight against Zika had taken on increasing urgency as Cuba’s hot, humid spring and summer draw near.

Cuba earns billions of dollars a year from programs that dispatch doctors to allied countries like Venezuela and Brazil and bring medical students to Cuba. Wednesday’s report appeared to imply that those medical professionals were now being quarantined on return.

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ZIKA VIRUS: PREGNANT WOMEN WARNED AGAINST TRAVEL TO AFFECTED AREAS

The Guardian, Sarah Boseley, Tuesday 1 March 2016 19.26 GMT

Original Article: ZIKA Virus

Pregnant women or those hoping to become so should stay away from Brazil and other regions of Latin America affected by the Zika virus, according to revised government advice.

The weight of evidence that Zika is to blame for the surge in babies with brain damage in Brazil has now tipped the balance, Public Health England (PHE) feels.

The previous guidance advised pregnant women to consider staying at home, consult their doctor if they intended to travel and take precautions against mosquito bites. Now it advises them not to go.

“It is recommended that pregnant women should postpone non-essential travel to areas with active Zika transmission until after pregnancy,” says the advice.

The update may cause some women who had hoped to travel to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in the summer to abandon their plans – even though the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has been blamed for transmission of the virus, does not breed or bite in the summer.

Prof Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said: “As our knowledge of the Zika virus, and the evidence linking microcephaly to Zika infection, becomes clearer, a more precautionary approach is warranted. This advice will be kept under review and updated as more information becomes available.”

The decision to upgrade the advice follows the emergence of an increasing amount of evidence linking the Zika virus to microcephaly – the small heads in babies growing in the womb that can cause brain damage.

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CUBA THROWS SOLDIERS INTO BATTLE AGAINST ZIKA VIRUS

Yahoo: Cuba Throws Soldiers…. against Zika

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ February 24, 2016 10:23 AM

HAVANA (AP) — Olive-clad soldiers are going door-to-door across Cuba, filling houses with mosquito-killing fog in a nationwide mobilization to keep the Zika virus out of one of the last countries in the hemisphere without it.

President Raul Castro announced this week that he was throwing 9,000 military personnel and hundreds of police into what he called Cuba’s “inadequate” fight against the mosquito that carries the virus linked to birth defects and paralysis elsewhere in Latin America.

“Our people will know how to demonstrate their ability to organize and maintain the public health achievements of the revolution and prevent our families from suffering,” Castro declared. “We must be more disciplined and demanding than ever before.”

Castro’s call to action included an unusual admission of deficiencies in Cuba’s vaunted free neighborhood-level health-care system, which has suffered in recent years from lack of equipment, short-staffing and low morale among poorly paid state health workers. It was also a test of the communist government’s once-legendary ability to marshal the entire country behind efforts ranging from civil defense to bigger sugar harvests to disease prevention.

The government announced Tuesday that it was activating the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a neighborhood watch organization that enforced government dictates for decades but has lost importance in recent years. The government said that committees across the country would distribute anti-Zika information to every Cuban and inspect at-risk sites for mosquitoes in coming days.

Gaps have been increasingly obvious in the effort to spray homes and businesses for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has infected thousands of Cubans with the dengue virus and dozens with chikungunya, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain. Cubans frequently claim allergies or asthma to put off fumigation crews composed of public health workers and teenagers completing obligatory military service. Unwilling to force homeowners to let them in, the crews often mark the residence as fumigated and move on to the next house or apartment.

Those days appear to be ending as troops deployed across the country with hand-held foggers are now armed with the threat of fines for anyone who resists fumigation.

“Cuba has a series of advantages: It’s an island, it has a homogenous population and a health infrastructure that generally reaches every street corner,” said Jaime Torres, director of tropical medicine at the Central University of Venezuela. “And its political system allows it to take measures, including imposing punishments, that are harder to impose in other places.”

Cuba Zika

Soldiers carrying a fumigating machine leave a home after spraying for mosquitos in Havana, Cuba,

In Cuba’s airports and cruise ship terminals, crews of white-clad doctors are monitoring incoming travelers for high temperatures or other signs of illness. Medical officials said the fight against Zika had taken on increasing urgency as Cuba’s hot, humid spring and summer draw near.

“The objective is to diminish the adult mosquito population ahead of the coming critical months,” said Reinaldo Garcia, head of anti-mosquito efforts for a neighborhood health clinic in Havana.

As soldiers fumigated Wednesday, medical students were knocking on doors alerting homeowners to watch for symptoms such as fever and conjunctivitis. State-run television and radio featured a constant stream of educational messages about Zika, which has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly.

“Although there is no sign of that disease, we want to eliminate the transmitter, eliminate the chain, so if it enters the country there is no way to transmit it,” Dr. Osvaldo Mendoza of the Public Health Ministry said as he supervised a crew of military fumigators.

Medical workers were ready to move into any area where a possible Zika case is detected, quarantining and testing anyone who lives within 500 meters, said public health official Dr. Lorenzo Somarriba.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” said Suset Valdes, a 19-year-old Havana resident who is six months pregnant. She said pregnant women in her maternity ward were protecting themselves with repellent-soaked mosquito nets.

Carlos Espinal, director of the global health program at Florida International University in Miami, said that while it was virtually certain that Zika would arrive in Cuba, he was hopeful the island’s health system would prevent the virus spreading as it has elsewhere in Latin America.  “It’s inevitable, but the Cuban disease-monitoring system is sure to greatly mitigate the negative impact in the community,” he said.

Valdes’ mother, Dolores Hernandez, 51, said she felt better with her daughter off the streets of their Old Havana neighborhood, where garbage had been piling up for weeks or months without any government reaction.  “It’s horrible how people threw trash in Old Havana,” she said. But now “they’re picking it up, running around, unclogging their drains. Now, they’re really getting going.”

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RIGHT AND LEFT, FROM A CUBAN PERSPECTIVE

Juan Antonio Blanco | Diario de Cuba | 2 Mar 2016

Original Article: Right and Left, from a Cuban Perspective

 zraulfamily28216iRaúl Castro, accompanied by a son and grandson. (Diario de Cuba)

From Havana I get an email seeking to address the challenges facing the country applying the binary axis of “Left” and “Right.” I imagine that two factors lead to this interest. One is an incipient ebb in regional populism. Another is the congress in April of the island’s only legal party – the same one that imposes on Cuba these dubious semantics and focus, exercising a monopoly over all State institutions.

But the language of the Jacobins and Girondins from the 18th century does not allow us to understand what is happening in the 21st century, in any geographical region.

The dilemmas facing humanity today cannot be solved applying the outmoded concepts of Left and Right. Neither do the labels of socialism or capitalism apply. As I stated in Tercer Milenio (Havana, 1993) what we are experiencing today is a change of eras, not an era of changes. This period is characterized by the rapid obsolescence of all that we knew. As Moisés Naim recently reminded us, everything is now extraordinary. From the fall of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, to Kodak being sunk by Instagram, and taxis by Uber.

Discussing the future of Cuba – or of any country – based on the conceptual coordinates of the last century is a futile and even dangerous exercise.  It is not possible to address and resolve these current challenges if they are not designated lucidly.

Cuba today is simply a poor country, disconnected from global processes; with a dreadful physical, communications and financial infrastructure; two decades behind in the acquisition of reliable and fast internet connections; public services (health, education, transport, water, electricity, sewage), whose quality is plummeting; degraded land, and the lowest wages in the hemisphere. It is also a closed society, where there is no basic freedom to exercise the right to free expression, association, movement, the forming of unions, or political choice, such that citizens have no way to peacefully alter this sorry state of affairs and achieve prosperity.

The policies that could resolve this mess are not socialist or capitalist, but rather good or bad, efficient or inefficient. Those in force today are terrible and counterproductive.

Revolution? The “Cuban Revolution” was already being quashed even as forces were fighting Batista, when a group of totalitarians yearning for a caudillo began to plot how to liquidate their comrades after their victory. Talking about this in 2016 is a big scam. What exists in Cuba is a totalitarian regime in the hands of a family, a clan.

Sovereignty? How can one uphold it in the 21st century to oppose citizens’ civil rights when Cuban society as a whole is deprived of the right to self-determination?

Nationalism? It is difficult to defend the government’s administration based on this outdated concept, nurtured in the late 18th century, when Havana prefers to negotiate with foreign powers and refuses to even dialogue with its own citizens.

I do not share the idea that the “bureaucracy” is the Big Culprit. Power in Cuba is held by two families with the same surname: Castro. Around them is a select military cadre. Together they constitute a permanent elite wielding power. Below them is a bureaucracy that serves only to “manage” their interests, not to make key decisions that benefit the country.

Lage, Robaina —and Díaz Canel today— were never members of the governing elite. They are simply CEOs, always expendable. Cuba’s real owners exercise their privileges as if the island were a private company registered under the trade name “Cuban Revolution.” They attach to this corporate appellation a series of qualifiers —”progressive,” “leftist,” “anti-capitalist” and others— which only serve to distract from reality.

I laugh when I think about Bernie Sanders and Podemos speaking, terrified, of a casta that represents 0.1% of the population but owns more than half of the economy. In this regard, as in others related to human rights, they suffer from a severe moral hemiplegia by selecting the victims they prefer to “defend.” When the offender is in their political camp, they choose to look the other way. In Cuba some 100 people rule the roost, lording it over the rest of the island. What percentage do they represent in relation to the 11.5 million citizens on the island, and the other two million off it?

Invoking the abstraction “state ownership of the means of production,” the “shareholders” of this dubious corporation, and the family presiding over it, claim permanent and unlimited exploitation rights over Cuba, not even needing to be the formal owners of work or recreational facilities, or real estate. They also have unlimited powers to do whatever they please vis-a-vis all other Cubans. The demand for freedom and human rights is the only solution that goes to the heart of the problem.

Modernity died in the ovens of Auschwitz. Absolute respect for the sovereignty of Germany allowed Hitler’s government, first, to deprive citizens of their freedoms and rights, and, then, under the shadow of a closed society, to undertake a forbidden process of rearmament. The Soviets and the Cuban government were able to secretly install nuclear missiles on the island because there existed no basic freedoms to denounce that operation in time. The Khmer Rouge initiated a national genocide —which rendered any dissent impossible, even within the party— and then turned on its former ally and neighbor: Vietnam. Hanoi, incidentally, did not hesitate to adopt a policy of “regime change” to install, at gun-point, a government that would be friendly to it in Cambodia.

The human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of 1948 take as their reference point those adopted by the French Revolution, but with a substantial difference: thereafter it was established that such rights were not just a national affair, but a good that was to be protected by the international community. It is not a question of moralizing. Respect for these rights is vital for international stability and security. The signers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various international agreements for the protection of citizens’ rights have recognized that their sovereignty in this regard has limits.

Without freedoms and rights Cuban society will be neither socialist or capitalist, left-wing nor right-wing, but rather remain a sort of disastrously managed private Estate, employing slave labor. And a country whose owners can again pose a serious danger to their neighbors.

This, I think, is what we need to talk about.

zCaptureJuan Antonio Blanco Gil

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WHY IS OBAMA VISITING CUBA?

KONRAD YAKABUSKI

The Globe and Mail, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016

Original Article: Why is Obama visiting Cuba?

Only two months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the conditions under which he would visit Cuba before he leaves office. “If, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and expression and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I’d love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress,” he said on the first anniversary of his historic announcement of the renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Communist holdout.

The world has become accustomed to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy flip-flops (see his “red line” in Syria) and desire to do away with the image of the United States as a meddling and moralizing superpower. But even critics of the five-decade U.S. policy of isolating the Castro regime were taken aback by news that Mr. Obama will next month become the first sitting president to visit to Cuba in 88 years.

In no material sense has Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, expanded the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Recent baby steps toward economic reform fit a pattern that seasoned Cuba watchers recognize all too well. The Castros are experts in diffusing the frustrations of average Cubans with their stultified economic conditions by offering up mini-reforms that, once the dust settles, never amount to much for average folk. Low expectations are now so integral to the Cuban condition that mere crumbs are welcomed.

There has been even less progress on human rights. Arbitrary arrests and detentions climbed steadily throughout 2015 and hit 1,474 people in January, according to the Cuban Observatory on Human Rights. Political repression has not eased. “The figures reflect only certain repressive actions, and therefore do not express all the violations of various human rights that occur in Cuba,” the Madrid-based organization noted. “But they serve to demonstrate the lack of political will to change on the part of the Cuban government, which remains stuck in intolerance and immobility.”

This has not stopped the Obama administration from unilaterally easing restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba and sending remittances to relatives on the island. It has reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana and announced plans for the resumption of commercial flights to Cuba by U.S. airlines. (Congress, however, has no intention of lifting the U.S. trade embargo.)

Mr. Obama plans to meet with dissidents, but under what conditions remains to be seen. The visit will be covered by Cuba’s state-run media, which will showcase to Cubans their censored version of it. It is not Mr. Obama’s style to deliver a Reaganesque ultimatum on foreign soil. The President hopes to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” Good luck with that.

The Castros have not held on to power for 57 years by taking friendly advice from neighbours on how to transition to democracy. If anything, Mr. Obama risks enhancing their legitimacy and strengthening their grip on the island’s economy. The Cuban military, also headed by Raul Castro, controls most of the economy (including its burgeoning tourist industry) and stands to benefit the most from increased U.S. trade and investment. The regime is desperate for hard currency, especially now that fast-spiralling Venezuela can no longer play Cuba’s benefactor.

Mr. Obama seeks to make his opening toward Cuba “irreversible” for a future president and prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. But it would be naive to believe the 84-year-old Raul, who plans to quit the presidency in 2018, has not planned for his succession. Many Cuban experts believe he has chosen 55-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a Communist hardliner and first vice-president of the Cuban Council of State, to succeed him as president. But the real post-Raul power may lie with his son and/or son-in-law; both are top military officials who run some of Cuba’s biggest businesses.

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s approach argue that human-rights violations and political repression have not stopped the United States from pursuing economic and diplomatic relations with China. So why apply a tougher standard to Cuba, especially when the United States continues to indefinitely detain and deprive of due process dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?

The answer is that Cuba is in North America’s backyard and the Castros head the longest-running dictatorship in the Western hemisphere. Their brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which Canadians often view them.

The world does not need more (of the Castros’) Cuba.

 

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ANOTHER SIGN OF PROGRESS: GEORGE ORWELL’S ‘1984’ IS TRANSLATED AND NOW SOLD IN CUBA AFTER HALF A CENTURY OF CENSORSHIP.

‘1984’, DE GEORGE ORWELL, VUELVE A CUBA DESPUÉS DE MEDIO SIGLO DE AUSENCIA

14YMEDIO, Febrero 16, 2016,  Zunilda Mata, La Habana

Original Article: ORWELL’S ‘1984’ NOW IN CUBA

En la tarde de este martes, se vendieron alrededor de 80 ejemplares a un precio de 15 pesos moneda nacional cada uno. (14ymedio)

Mientras la prensa independiente o las obras de Juan Carlos Cremata siguen prohibidas en la Isla, las autoridades cubanas levantan por fin la censura sobre la novela de George Orwell, 1984, uno de los libros más críticos de los sistemas totalitarios. La obra del escritor británico ha sido presentada este martes en la Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana.

El libro, que denuncia los regímenes totalitarios, se presentó en la fortaleza de la Cabaña, un sitio que para muchos evoca los fusilamientos masivos y el desmontaje de las libertades en Cuba. La sala Alejo Carpentier estuvo atestada de un público mayoritariamente joven. “Vas a ver que el libro no va a salir”, comentaban algunos de los asistentes ante el retraso del prologuista y presentador principal, el investigador Pedro Pablo Rodríguez.

A pesar de los temores, la obra fue lanzada y puesta a la venta bajo el sello editorial Arte y Literatura. La edición, en papel gaceta y carátula blanda, dista mucho de la calidad que merece un clásico de esa importancia, pero tiene el valor añadido de ser un evento editorial que trasciende la obra orwelliana.

La traducción de esta edición ha corrido a cargo de Fabricio González Neira y en la tarde de este martes se vendieron alrededor de 80 ejemplares a un precio de 15 pesos moneda nacional cada uno.

Rodríguez aseguró en sus palabras introductorias que  “este libro nos tiene que hacer pensar en nuestro país” y llevar a la pregunta “¿Qué cosa es la Cuba que queremos?”. El historiador clasifica de “muy bien” que finalmente se haya editado el volumen y espera que traiga “nuevas visiones” sobre esta “particular realidad” que se vive hoy en la Isla.

El prologuista del libro espera que su lectura abra  “un debate intelectual que ojalá sea público, y que al menos, cada lector sostendrá consigo mismo” y aludió a quienes han tenido la  “impresión de que las obras de Orwell eran inadmisibles” en Cuba “por sus diferencias con la Unión Soviética”. Rodríguez considera que la novela es ” atractiva, atrapa, si bien describe una realidad espantosa”.

Durante décadas las obras del conocido escritor y periodista británico han circulado de manera ilegal en Cuba, donde han sido muy populares otros títulos suyos como Rebelión en la granja. La recreación del universo totalitario, donde el individuo es permanentemente vigilado por un poder omnipresente, ha sido utilizada con frecuencia como paralelismo del sistema político cubano.

“Tanta prohibición y al final ha sido una de las novelas más leídas en Cuba por años”, asegura un asistente

“Ahora a ver si también publican a Vargas Llosa y a todos los autores exiliados que no hemos vuelto a ver en las editoriales del país”, comentó a 14ymedio Enmanuel, un joven que asistió a la presentación aunque no compró el libro. “Ya lo tengo y lo he leído varias veces, sólo vine a ver si era verdad que lo iban a publicar”, explicó.

Otros viven el momento como un hecho histórico. “Tuve un ejemplar que perdí y estaba gastado de tanta gente que lo había leído”, comenta un hombre que se identifica como profesor de inglés retirado. “Tanta prohibición y al final ha sido una de las novelas más leídas en Cuba por años”, asegura el hombre que ha venido con una nieta a la presentación.

z2El traductor Fabricio González Neira (izq.) y el presentador Pedro Pablo Rodríguez (der.) en la presentación de ‘1984’ este martes en la Feria del Libro. (14ymedio)

A las afueras de la sala, varios lectores se fotografiaban con su ejemplar, aún entre la sorpresa y el beneplácito de encontrar a Orwell en la Feria del Libro. “No sabía nada de la presentación, pasé por aquí y me llamó la atención tanta gente, así que entré”, comentó la empleada de una editorial para niños y jóvenes que expone sus producciones en un local cercano.

A pesar de que 1984 llevaba varios días vendiéndose en algunos locales de la Feria, cuando el presentador Pedro Pablo Rodríguez terminó de hablar muchos se abalanzaron sobre la pequeña mesa de plástico con los ejemplares en venta. Una señora tomó el micrófono y pidió poner orden en la sala para escuchar también las palabras del traductor. “Esto no es la cola de las papas”, sentenció la funcionaria del Instituto Cubano del Libro.

La experiencia de Orwell durante la guerra civil española, en la que combatió en el bando republicano, lo llevó a crear en sus más reconocidas obras una alegoría contra la corrupción de los ideales socialistas por parte de Stalin. El escritor profetizó entonces una sociedad totalitaria, gobernada por el Gran Hermano, bajo un régimen policial y de absoluto control a través de tecnologías como las telepantallas.

z1

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OBAMA SEEKS TO IMPROVE LIVES OF CUBANS IN HISTORIC MARCH VISIT

The Globe and Mail, Feb. 17, 2016 9:34PM EST

By Josh Lederman and Kevin Freking

Original Article: HISTORIC VISIT

Barack Obama, Raul CastroPresident Barack Obama said Thursday his history-making visit to Cuba next month was part of an effort to “improve the lives of the Cuban people.” He vowed to press the communist government on human rights and other policy differences.

“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world,” Obama wrote, as he announced the visit on Twitter.

The trip will make Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. In a series of tweets, Obama cast it as part of steady progression of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a communist nation estranged from the U.S. for over half a century until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved toward rapprochement more than a year ago. Since then, the nations have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, eased travel restrictions and barriers for business and have moved to restore commercial air travel. A presidential trip was held out as significant leverage in these talks.

“There is much more that can be done — by the United States, and by the Cuban government — to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is travelling to Cuba,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes wrote Thursday in a post on Medium, a blogging website. “We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travellers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement.”

Rhodes noted the ultimate aim is to persuade Congress to lift the trade embargo — an unlikely possibility in the near term.

In addition to meeting with Castro, Obama will interact with members of Cuban “civil society,” the White House said, referring to activists that advocate for various social causes. Prior to announcing the trip, Obama had said one of the conditions for a presidential visit would be the ability for him to speak to all kinds of groups — including those that oppose the Castro government.

Obama’s stop in Cuba will be part of a broader trip to Latin America that the president will take next month. From Cuba, Obama will travel to Argentina, where he’ll meet with the new president.

Word of his travel plans drew immediate resistance from opponents of warmer ties with Cuba — including Republican presidential candidates.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father came to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s, said Obama shouldn’t visit while the Castro family remains in power. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another child of Cuban immigrants, lambasted the president for visiting what he called an “anti-American communist dictatorship.”

“Today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever,” Rubio said on CNN. Told of Obama’s intention to visit, he added, “Probably not going to invite me.”

With less than a year left in office, Obama has been eager to make rapid progress on restoring economic and diplomatic ties to cement warming relations with Cuba that his administration started. Following secret negotiations between their governments, Obama and Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties, and months later held the first face-to-face meeting between an American and Cuban president since 1958.

But Obama, facing steadfast opposition to normalized relations from Republicans and some Democrats, has been unable to deliver on the former Cold War foe’s biggest request: the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo. Opponents argue that repealing those sanctions would reward a government still engaging in human rights abuses and stifling democratic aspirations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican born in Cuba, called the visit “absolutely shameful.”

“For more than 50 years, Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime,” said Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress. “Yet the country which grants them refuge — the United States — has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors.”

Obama and supporters of the detente argue the decades-old embargo has failed to bring about desired change on the island 90 miles south of Florida. Still, while Obama has long expressed an interest in visiting Cuba, White House officials had said the visit wouldn’t occur unless and until the conditions were right.

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody” — including political dissidents, Obama told Yahoo News in December. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

Officials didn’t immediately specify what had changed in the last few weeks to clear the way for the trip, first reported by ABC News. But on Tuesday, the two nations signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic as early as later this year, eliminating a key barrier to unfettered travel that isolated Cuban-Americans from their families for generations.

Hundreds of thousands more Americans are expected to visit Cuba per year under the deal, which cleared the way for the Transportation Department to open bidding by American air carriers on as many as 110 flights a day. Currently, there are about one-fifth as many flights operating between the two countries — all charters.

According to the State Department historian’s office, President Harry Truman visited the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay and its naval base on the southeast end of the island in 1948 and former President Jimmy Carter has paid multiple visits to the island since leaving office in January 1981. Not since President Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in January 1928 has a sitting U.S. president been to that city.

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NEW TALKS BEGIN WITH CUBA ON EXPANDING BUSINESS TIES

New York Times, FEB. 17, 2016

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS 

Original Article: Expanding Business Ties

WASHINGTON — Top Obama administration officials will open a round of talks on Wednesday in Washington aimed at expanding business ties between the United States and Cuba, pushing forward on President Obama’s directive to seek normalized relations, even while the American embargo continues to bar most trade and commerce between the two nations.  The regulatory discussions, to be hosted by Penny Pritzker, the commerce secretary, and attended by Cuban officials and their counterparts from the departments of Commerce, State and Treasury, come after the signing in Havana on Tuesday of an arrangement allowing scheduled direct flights between the United States and Cuba for the first time in decades.

American carriers can begin applying to the Department of Transportation to offer the service — up to 20 scheduled flights per day to Havana and 10 to each of nine other international airports in Cuba. The pact aims to substantially increase travel between the two countries, which are

But even as Mr. Obama makes progress in his drive to forge closer commercial ties with Cuba, the process is hamstrung by sanctions that have left American businesses wondering what they are permitted to do. Rodrigo Malmierca, the Cuban minister of trade and foreign investment, said on Tuesday that he had heard from many American companies that want to establish businesses in Cuba but are ensnared in regulatory limbo, awaiting special licenses from the United States government.

“The problem that we face today is that many companies want to do business, but we need to create the conditions for them to access the Cuban market,” Mr. Malmierca said in Washington at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  He repeatedly said that Cuba welcomed American investment and would not “discriminate” against United States companies. “Lifting the blockade is essential to advancing this,” he said.

With the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to lift the embargo soon, Mr. Malmierca called on Mr. Obama to do more unilaterally, including allowing the dollar to be used in transactions with Cuba, lifting the ban against imports of top Cuban products like rum and cigars and ending the prohibition against direct investment in Cuba.

Critics argue that with each move to foster better relations and American investment, the president is rewarding a dictatorial government that infringes on human rights and squelches democratic discourse.  But Mr. Obama, who has said he wants to travel to Cuba before leaving office, has argued that the best way to put pressure on the Cuban government is to expose its citizens to American values and ideals and through diplomatic channels re-established last year when embassies reopened in Havana and Washington.

This week’s technical talks are the second time since Mr. Obama announced the opening with Cuba in December 2014 that Ms. Pritzker and Mr. Malmierca have come together with officials from their governments to try to work out the complex details of harmonizing some aspects of their business regulations. Ms. Pritzker traveled to Havana in October to begin the discussions, which have been made even more labyrinthine on the American side by the statutory embargo.

The Obama administration announced last month that it was relaxing more restrictions on business with Cuba, including allowing United States banks to provide direct financing for the export of any product other than agricultural commodities, which are still walled off under the embargo.

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