• 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. It includes analyses and observations of the author, Arch Ritter, as well as hyper-links, abstracts, summaries, and commentaries relating to other research works from academic, governmental, media, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.
    Commentary, critique and discussion on any of the postings is most welcome.
    This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' original 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:
    "... 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."

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, “Cuba’s Collapsing Capital”

January 31, 2012 |  Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, from Cubaencuentro, Jan 30 — The recent collapse of a building in the Centro neighborhood of Havana is sad news that speaks to us of dead, injured and homeless – tragic losers of the nation’s “updating” of its model.

But the news isn’t surprising.

The only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.

In fact, if this doesn’t happen every day in the Cuban capital, it’s because our architects and engineers left us with a solid housing stock, one proven by the test of time and generations of occupants.

The condition of housing has been complemented by of our fellow citizens, whose one-thousand-and-one ways of shoring up those crumbling buildings will someday have to be chronicled. They somehow manage to continue living in these structures until gravity finally catches up with them, these defiant challengers.

I’m not going to dwell on a balance of accomplishments and failures of the city over this long post-revolutionary era. I’m just saying that, even considering the usual benefits, the city lost much more than what it should have lost to achieve more balanced regional development across the nation as a whole.

It’s missing a lot because it lost the most dynamic segment of its middle and intellectual class; it lost its excellent infrastructure in the heat of neglect and carelessness; and finally it lost its particular metropolitan character due to the mediocre plebeian stoicism of its post-revolutionary political class.

To compensate themselves for their revolutionary efforts, a new leadership layer took special care to redistribute the best homes in the best places and to reserve exceptional sites for their own recreational pleasures.

Havana was sacrificed by a post-revolutionary elite who understood the change as anti-urban stubbornness and who saw the “new man” (to quote Emma Alvarez Tabio) as the noble savage laying constant siege to the city.

We still recall the Havana invaded by farmers, cattle fairs on the grounds of the Capitolio, Fidel’s failed coffee belt around Havana and his ridiculous idea of moving the capital to the small eastern town of Guaimaro.

However, the city ultimately suffered the conversion of architectural gems into rooming houses and government offices, to which were added makeshift garages, sheds in gardens and terraces, rooms where once existed gates and balconies, and the famous “barbacoas” (second floor additions), which have all pushed these buildings to the extreme limits of their physical tolerance.

Restored Old Havana Building. Photo: Caridad

If from the early revolutionary years we can point to a respectable architectural legacy along with achievements on behalf of the urban majority (as evidenced through accomplishments such as the Habana del Este planned community), the Pastorita city-garden, Cubanacan art school), what followed was pathetic: formalized overcrowding (whose most well-known expression is the Alamar “projects”) and one of the most ghastly buildings in the world: the Soviet Embassy.

Due to policing that prevented the growth of slums on the urban periphery, as occurs in almost all Third World cities, the city ended up swallowing its marginality. This is manifested in unprecedented overcrowding that gives life to about 10,000 tenements in which their occupants live in some of the most subhuman conditions.

My fear is that we are beginning to experience another phase of the history of this city. The  “socialist” city (mediocre and boring) is giving way to another city whose “brand” is precisely the metropolitan situation that was denied for five decades – with its glamor, mysteries and nights of sequins and sex.

This is precisely the Havana that City Historian Eusebio Leal restored to the extent of both his own Hispanophile and courtesan inclinations as well as to the present and potential tastes of consumers.

The Havana that’s being designed will lie along the coast with its extensive golf courses and exclusive marinas. It is a Havana that will have little to do with the poor people who lost homes and family members in the recent Infanta and Salud building collapse.

Havana is beginning its gentrification process in the heat of the legalized housing market, which while still lukewarm is nevertheless inexorable. Elegant Havana will again take shape where now live the old political elite and increasingly the new emerging elite, intimately tied together, in the metamorphic process given to us by the general/president with his “updating.”

This is the Havana of future Cuban capitalism.

“Havana A” will bypass those people who — like the victims living on Infanta and Salud — every night fear a disaster. For these people, like for the thousands of victims who exist in shelters, like the hundreds of thousands waiting for a new home or the repair of an already existing one in the capital, what will remain is “Habana B”: a city of the poor and impoverished, one with the worst services and the worst environmental conditions.

They no longer even have hopes for units in Alamar. The Cuban government, in the process of abdicating its social responsibilities, has left only one option to those who live on the island: cheap loans for housing repairs. What’s more, access to this assistance is only possible through this system of shared misery and monopolized power that the degraded Cuban elite insist on presenting as an option for the future.

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Brazil’s President Flexes Clout in Cuba Trip

Rousseff Offers Closer Economic Ties, Reflecting Nation’s Bid for Greater Regional Leadership; Human Rights Remain Issue

By JOHN LYONS And JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA

Wall St. Journal, 1 February 2012

SÃO PAULO, Brazil—President Dilma Rousseff offered closer economic cooperation to Cuba during a visit to the communist island on Tuesday, marking Brazil’s highest-profile bid to transform its growing economic might into diplomatic leadership in Latin America.

Brazil’s state development bank is financing a $680 million rehabilitation of Cuba’s port at Mariel. Work on the port is being managed by the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht SA, which may also provide support for Cuba’s sugar industry, Brazilian officials have said.

CUBA

Cuban President Raúl Castro, left, and his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, review the honor guard at Revolution Palace in Havana on Tuesday.

Ms. Rousseff’s closer engagement of Cuba—she is visiting the island before a trip to the White House— is the latest example of Brazil’s strategy to expand its regional influence by offering subsidized loans to poorer nations. In recent years, Brazil has disbursed tens of billions of dollars around Latin America, and as far away as Africa.

But none of these efforts have the same symbolic resonance as in Cuba, which has opposed the U.S. since shortly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution and remains a lightning rod in U.S. domestic politics and a sticking point for U.S. relations with other Latin nations.

“This is about growing Brazil’s soft power on the international scale and raising Brazil’s role in the world,” said Matthew Taylor, a Brazil specialist at the American University’s School of International Service. “Brazil is taking on a bigger role in the hemisphere in terms of aid and finance, and by helping out Cuba they really draw attention to this new role they are playing.”

Although the U.S. has been the predominant power broker in Latin America since the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, experts say the U.S. doesn’t oppose Brazil’s bid for regional influence. Many analysts say they believe Brazil could become a stabilizing force in a region known for political and economic volatility.

In Cuba, for example, Brazil may provide a more moderate alternative to the impoverished island’s main economic benefactor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Mr. Chávez, a self-described foe of the U.S., delivers some 100,000 barrels of oil and refined products to Cuba a day in exchange for the services of Cuban doctors for Venezuelans in poor neighborhoods, along with other barter arrangements.

Cuba, meanwhile, is desperate for economic lifelines. Raúl Castro, who has taken over the presidency from his ailing brother Fidel, has experimented with limited economic overhauls in order to bring life into a moribund economy, where citizens are still issued ration books that allow them access to some basic foods at subsidized prices.

“The more normal Cuba’s economic relations are, the easier normalization with the U.S. will be in the future,” said Archibald Ritter, an expert on the Cuban economy at Canada’s Carleton University.

“I would imagine that the U.S. would privately hope that Brazil will play a mediating role in issues that concern us, like human rights,” said Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Still, during Tuesday’s visit, Ms. Rousseff criticized the existence of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects are held, and the U.S. trade embargo, which she said contributes to poverty on the island.

And it is unclear how far Ms. Rousseff might go to nudge Cuba toward a more democratic society. She declined requests for meetings by Cuban dissidents, and has said she won’t press the Castro brothers on the island’s human-rights record.

“Human rights aren’t a stone to be thrown from one side to another,” she said in Havana on Tuesday. This week, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said human rights aren’t an “emergency” issue in Cuba. Last month, Cuban political prisoner Wilmar Villar died in jail after a 50-day hunger strike. Activists said he was protesting being jailed for taking part in a political demonstration. The Cuban government has said Mr. Villar was a common prisoner and wasn’t on a hunger strike when he died of complications from pneumonia.

As a young woman, Ms. Rousseff participated in a Marxist guerrilla group in Brazil that was inspired by the Cuban revolution. But the fact that she was jailed and tortured by Brazil’s military dictatorship had raised hopes that she might be more sympathetic to the plight of political prisoners than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who over the years disparaged Cuban hunger strikers.

Observers said the case of Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger who criticizes the Castro regime, may offer clues to changes in Brazilian human-rights policy. Brazil granted Ms. Sánchez a visa, and observers said if Cuba allows her to visit, then Ms. Rousseff may be using engagement to yield some human-rights advances.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Ms. Sánchez said she hoped Ms. Rousseff would meet with human-rights activists in Cuba and in so doing keep faith with “the many voices of democracy rather than opt for a complicit silence before a dictatorship.”

For generations, Brazilian leaders have yearned for prominence in foreign affairs commensurate with its population of 190 million and sprawling geography. The country has lobbied, unsuccessfully, for decades for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Such aspirations were the butt of jokes during generations of economic and political turmoil. That started to change a nearly a decade ago, when Brazil began an economic expansion that lifted millions out of poverty and transformed the resource-rich nation into what some economists estimate is the world’s sixth-largest economy—a notch ahead of the U.K.

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Castro Rights Record Intrudes on Rousseff Trade Mission to Communist Cuba (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg; 30 January 2012

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was inspired by Cuba’s revolution to take up arms against Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, is making the two-day visit to Havana as Castro takes steps to ease state control of the economy.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was inspired by Cuba’s revolution to take up arms against Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, is making the two-day visit to Havana as Castro takes steps to ease state control of the economy. Photographer: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will meet today with her Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, to promise more trade and investment as human rights issues intrude on her first state visit to the communist island.

Rousseff, who was inspired by Cuba’s revolution to take up arms against Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, is making the two-day visit to Havana as Castro takes steps to ease state control of the economy. Tomorrow she’ll travel to Haiti, where Brazil is leading a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Dilma Rousseff befor a military court, 1970

The death this month of jailed dissident Wilman Villar after a 50-day hunger strike has drawn attention in Brazil’s media to Castro’s rights record and the government’s refusal to criticize it. While Rousseff has so far ignored requests for a meeting from pro-democracy activists, her government last week granted a tourist visa to Yoani Sanchez after the Cuban blogger invoked the president’s experience surviving prison and torture in an appeal to be allowed to leave the island.

“Rousseff is going to be in a very awkward situation by choice,” former Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia said in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro. “She didn’t have to go to Cuba.”

Rousseff vowed to make human rights a priority of her foreign policy, and in condemning abuses in Iran distanced herself from the policies of her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Urged on by his Workers’ Party, some of whose leaders were exiled in Cuba, Lula refused to criticize Fidel Castro or his brother’s government while in power from 2003 to 2010. Following a visit in 2010, which coincided with the death of another hunger striker, the former union leader compared the country’s dissidents to “criminals” in Sao Paulo jails.

While Rousseff, 64, is unlikely to address Cuba’s human rights situation publicly, she’s able to talk productively to Castro about his government’s record behind the scenes, said Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“There won’t be the kind of back-slapping that we saw when Lula was there,” said Sweig, who is the author of several publications on Brazil and Cuba. “Precisely because of Dilma’s history and her explicit sensitivity to human rights I think she is well positioned for political dialogue.”

Cuba’s government relies on beatings, short-term detentions, forced exile and travel restrictions to repress virtually all forms of political dissent, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report this month. Cuba denies it’s holding any political prisoners and considers dissident activity to be counterrevolutionary.

In the run-up to Rousseff’s arrival, Brazilian newspapers published almost-daily interviews with Sanchez and activists from groups including the Ladies in White, in which they called for a meeting with the president’s delegation.

Any such requests will be studied by Brazil’s Embassy in Havana, the foreign ministry said in a statement. Rousseff’s agenda doesn’t include any meetings with activists, and underscoring the commercial nature of the visit, her human rights minister is not among the cabinet officials and business leaders making up her delegation.

Cuba’s rights record won’t necessarily improve if Rousseff speaks out, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said.

“There doesn’t appear to be an emergency in Cuba,” Patriota said Jan. 27 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “There are other situations that are very worrisome, including Guantanamo,” he said, referring to the U.S. detention camp for suspected terrorists on Cuba’s southeastern tip.

While Cuba isn’t among Brazil’s 30-biggest commercial partners, trade between the two countries has been expanding at a 30 percent annual pace since 2006, reaching $642 million last year, according to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry. Together with China and Venezuela, which provides the country with subsidized oil, Brazil has emerged as one of Cuba’s biggest foreign investors.

Rousseff will visit today the deepwater port at Mariel, which is undergoing a nearly $1 billion renovation led by Odebrecht SA with funding from the Brazil’s state development bank. The Salvador, Brazil-based construction and raw materials conglomerate said yesterday that it will also sign an agreement to expand a sugar-cane mill operated by state-controlled Azcuba.

Brazil’s role in helping Cuba create jobs, contrasting with longstanding hostility from the U.S., reinforces positive, albeit slow-paced changes taking place on the island of 11.2 million under Castro, said Sweig.

Since the 85-year-old Castro began handing power to his brother in 2006, the former defense minister has taken steps to open up the economy, which placed 177 out of 179 countries, ahead of only Zimbabwe and North Korea, in a ranking this month of economic freedom by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

For the first time in a half-century, Cubans can now buy and sell property and cars. After the 80-year-old Raul Castro began slashing state payrolls with a goal of eliminating 500,000 jobs, they’re able to seek self-employment as janitors and taxi drivers.

The overhaul comes amid declines in tourism and the price of nickel, the country’s biggest export, caused by a global economy whose prospects for recovery have dimmed, according to International Monetary Fund projections. The government expects Cuba’s gross domestic product to expand 2.7 percent this year, below the IMF’s 3.6 percent forecast for Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Political change has been slower. Speaking at a Communist Party summit on Jan. 29, Castro vowed to maintain single-party rule, adding that multi-party democracy would buoy U.S. “imperialism” in Cuba.

Still, the government last year freed the remaining 12 political prisoners that made up the so-called Group of 75 journalists and rights activists who were jailed during a 2003 crackdown. The Roman Catholic Church helped negotiate the release, and Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit the once anti-clerical island in March.

The 36-year-old Sanchez, a critic of Castro’s government on a blog called Generation Y, referred to Rousseff’s persecution by Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship in her appeal for a visa to attend a screening in Salvador of a documentary she appears in. Sanchez has been blocked from traveling abroad for the past four years.

“I saw a photo of young Dilma, sitting on a bench blindfolded as men accused her,” Sanchez wrote Jan. 24 on Twitter. “I feel that way right now

 Yoani Sanchez

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Cuba accepts Brazilian investment in its most emblematic economic sector: sugar

(Reuters).—The Brazilian giant Odebrecht plans to produce sugar in Cuba, the company reported Monday in the first injection of foreign capital in a sector so far closed in the communist-ruled island.

 

Steam Locomotives at the now defunct Australia sugar mill, November 1994, photo by Arch Ritter

Odebrecht Group signed with the state of Cuban Sugar Business Administration a “productive management contract” to wit “September 5” in the central province of Cienfuegos.

“The agreement for a period of 10 years is to increase sugar production and milling capacity and help the revitalization” of the industry, Odebrecht said in an email sent to Reuters through his press office.

The project would open to foreign capital, the underfunded Cuba’s sugar industry, whose production has plummeted from about 8.0 million tons in the 1970s to just 1.2 million tonnes in the last harvest. In addition, it will deepen Brazil’s role in modernizing the dilapidated productive infrastructure of the island.

Odebrecht did not elaborate.

But a Brazilian sugar industry executive told Reuters that the contract could be signed this week during a visit to Cuba, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Cuba allowed more than a decade, the inflow of foreign capital to develop other strategic industries such as tourism and oil recently, where a consortium led by Repsol-YPF this year will begin to explore Cuban waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Private companies from other countries have spent years negotiating its entry into the sugar industry in Cuba, nationalized shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. The opening comes after a major restructuring of the industry in late 2011 as part of the efforts of President Raul Castro to modernize the island’s socialist economy.

Do you also ethanol?

According to the director of the Brazilian sugar industry with knowledge of the project, Odebrecht also produce ethanol from biomass energy in Cuba. “Cuba is opening up the possibility of producing ethanol accompanied by power generation and Odebrecht will mount a distillery there,” said the businessman.

“It’s a similar project that Odebrechtis developing in Angola,” he added in reference to a joint venture of $ 258 million Angolan oil company Sonangol with to produce some 260,000 tons of sugar, 30 million liters of ethanol and 45 megawatts of power power.

Ethanol production on a large scale in Cuba has met with opposition from former President Fidel Castro, an ardent critic of the use of food crops like corn to make biofuels. Some experts believe that if Cuba could revive its sugar industry to become the third largest producer of biofuels in the world behind the United States and Brazil.

Ron Soligo, an economist at Rice University in Houston who has studied Cuba’s sugar industry, estimates that the island could produce about 7,500 million liters of ethanol annually. “But developing the ethanol industry in Cuba will take a while, since much of the land has been abandoned for years,” he said.

“Due to the centralized nature of the Cuban economy, a large Brazilian company can be the right partner,” he added.

Brazil, the second largest ethanol producer in the world, has provided technical assistance the Cuban authorities for the production of biofuels from sugar cane. “The issue is on the table. There is planned investment in sugar and there is a possibility that at some point this can be extended to the ethanol industry,” said a Brazilian Foreign Ministry source.

Odebrecht’s entry in the modernization of the depressed sugar industry expand its role in the infrastructure of the island. The company is currently one of the leading ethanol producers in Brazil through its subsidiary ETH.

Brazilian construction works executed for 800 million dollars to upgrade the container port of Mariel west of Havana. The project largely funded by the government’s National Development Bank of Brazil is seen as a key business platform if the U.S. lifts its embargo on the island.

Repairs, at the now defunct Australia sugar mill, november 1994, Photo by Arch Ritter

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John P. Rathbone “Lessons for Cuban business”: A Note on Problems of Micro-Ensterprises

“Lessons for Cuban Business” fromBeyondbrics” (Financial Times); January 30, 2012 8:19 am

John Paul Rathbone
President Raúl Castro wants the recent liberalisation of small businesses to bolster Cuba’s sagging economy and absorb the 1m state workers he says will eventually be laid off.

But Cuba’s budding micro-entrepreneurs – over 350,000 had registered as of November 2011 – lack almost everything that start-ups need, from premises and relevant skills to capital. Will they ever really get off the ground?

A bustling restaurant in Havana’s colonial centre – which opened in January 2011, is appropriately called “La Moneda Cubana”, the Cuban coin, and is run by Miguel Ángel, a 37-year old entrepreneur – suggests some answers.

First, the premises. The three-storey restaurant, which once belonged to Ángel’s grandfather, was nationalised in the 1960s. But the family has lived continuously at the premises since then – indeed, ever since 1924. As a result, Ángel was able to set up operations immediately.

And what a location it enjoys: La Moneda Cubana lies just a few steps from the cathedral, has a sweeping view of the Havana bay from its roof terrace, and enjoys a regular stream of tourists. Few are so fortunate. Indeed, the process of leasing state properties remains incipient.

Second, necessary skills. Ángel worked for several years in the state tourist sector, first at the Floridita, where Ernest Hemmingway once drank daiquiris; then in the kitchens of the nearby Hotel Sevilla. “I learnt there everything I needed to run my kitchen,” Ángel told beyondbrics.

However, similar backward linkages are rarer elsewhere. “A good restaurant also needs a manager and an accountant,” he adds. Such skills are hard to come by in Cuba’s Soviet-style economy – hence the business skills training program the Catholic church set up last year.

Third, funds. The usual supposition is that Cubans turn to their émigré relatives for start-up capital. This is entirely legal under Castro’s new rules – indeed, it is tacitly encouraged.

Be that as it may, the cagey habits of under-the-table informality that Cubans developed over decades socialism remain deeply engrained.

Ángel, for example, insists he restored the three-story building “all with my own resources”.

Be that as it may, Ángel says his operation is now self-financing. La Moneda Cubana’s intense footfall suggests this may indeed be so. That is just as well, as the notion of Cuba’s creaking banking system offering credit is entirely novel – although there is government talk it will do so.

Fourth, inputs. Cubans can now buy construction materials directly from the state. As for food, Ángel still buys from the state rather than private farmers. “They can’t ensure a steady and reliable supply,” he says.

That is changing fast, however. According to state media, 71 contracts have been executed between private farmers and state-run hotels – a huge change that will strip out the inefficient state-distribution system.

Cuba’s small business sector is still fragile and Ángel’s success will not be replicated everywhere. Business generally remains very small scale. Most entrepreneurs sell out of their homes, or from makeshift street stalls. Havana is far from becoming a neon-wrapped landscape.

But the popularity of the reforms and Castro’s mantra that they will be implemented “slowly, but without pause” also means they are irreversible. Ahead of the Communist Party’s conference over the weekend, even state newspaper Granma talked of the need “to leave behind prejudices against the non-state sector” and to overcome the “psychological barrier” of “obsolete dogmas”.

One of these is work habits. Ángel, for one, has already turned on its head the old socialist rubric of “everyone pretends to work and the state pretends to pay.” Compared to state wages worth around $20 a month but paid in Cuban pesos, his staff get a percentage of profits in hard currency. “They like that, very much,” he says.

As for his own workday: “I get here early in the morning and usually leave around 3am.” Does he mind? “One has to do what one has to or wants to do – and I do. This is as much an emotional adventure as a financial one,” he says, with a smile.

John Paul Rzthbone

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Human Rights Watch, WORLD REPORT 2012, Chapter on Cuba

Human Rights Watch published its WORLD REPORT 2012 on January 22, 2012.The full report can be seen here: Human Rights Watch, WORLD REPORT 2012.

The Chapter on Cuba is presented below.

Summary

Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2011 Raúl Castro’s government continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel restrictions. In 2011 the Cuban government freed the remaining 12 political prisoners from the “group of 75”  dissidents—human rights defenders, journalists, and labor leaders who were sentenced in 2003 in summary trials for exercising their basic rights—having forced most into exile in exchange for their freedom. Also in 2011 the government sentenced at least seven more dissidents to prison for exercising their fundamental rights, and human rights groups on the island said dozens more remain in prison.

The government increasingly relied on arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move about freely. Cuba’s government also pressured dissidents to choose between exile and continued repression or even imprisonment, leading scores to leave the country with their families during 2011.

Political Prisoners

Cubans who criticize the government are subject to criminal charges. They are exempt from due process guarantees, such as the right to a defense or fair and public hearings by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial protection. Dozens of political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons, according to respected human rights groups on the island. In June 2011 the Cuban Council of Human Rights  Rapporteurs issued a list of 43 prisoners whom it said were still incarcerated for political reasons. In May 2011, four dissidents from Havana—Luis Enrique Labrador, David Piloto, Walfrido Rodríguez, and Yordani Martínez—were prosecuted on charges of contempt and public disorder for demonstrating in Havana’s Revolutionary Square and throwing leaflets with slogans such as“Down with the Castros.” They were sentenced to three to five years in prison. The council estimates that there are many more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government does not let independent national or international human rights groups access its prisons.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

In addition to criminal prosecution, Raul Castro’s government has increasingly relied on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 2,074 arbitrary detentions by security forces in 2010, and 2,224 between January and August 2011. The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in meetings or events viewed as critical of the government. Security officers hardly ever present arrest orders to justify detentions, and threaten detainees with criminal prosecution if they continue to  participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. Victims of such arbitrary arrests said they were held incommunicado for several hours to several days, often at police stations. Some received an official warning (acta de advertencia), which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aimed to dissuade them from  participating in future activities considered critical of the government. For example, on July 24, 2011, state security agents arbitrarily detained 28 human rights activists for 4 to 30 hours in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba province, when they tried to participate in a religious service to pray for the release of political prisoners.

Forced Exile

The death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010 following his 85-day hunger strike, and the subsequent hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Farinas, pressured the Cuban government to release the remaining political prisoners from the “group of 75,” who were detained during a 2003 crackdown on dissent. Yet while the final 12 prisoners from the group  were released in March 2011, most were forced to choose between ongoing prison and forced exile. Since that time dozens of other prominent dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders have been forced to choose between exile and ongoing harassment or even imprisonment. For example, Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, an outspoken human rights activist, former political prisoner, and president of a dissident youth group in Guantánamo, was arrested in December 2010. Held for months while awaiting trial, he said authorities told him that unless he agreed to go into exile, he would be sentenced to five years of prison. He accepted forced exile to Spain in April 2011.

Freedom of Expression

The government maintains a media monopoly on the island, ensuring there is virtually no freedom of expression. The  government controls all media outlets in Cuba, and access to outside information is highly restricted. Limited internet access means only a tiny fraction of Cubans can read independently published articles and blogs.

Although a few independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for foreign websites or independent blogs, they must publish work through back channels, such as writing from home computers, saving information on memory sticks, and uploading articles and posts through illegal internet connections; others dictate articles to contacts abroad. Independent journalists and bloggers are subjected to short-term arrests and harassment by police and state security agents, as well as threats of imprisonment if they continue to work. For example, independent journalists  Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez and Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez were detained and beaten in Havana on February 23, 2011, as they walked to an event with two members of the Women in White—a respected human rights group comprised of wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners—to honor the one year anniversary of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death. They later said they were  transported to a police station, where they were assaulted and held incommunicado for roughly 14 hours.

Bloggers and independent journalists have also been the victims of  public smear campaigns, such as a March 2011 episode of a government-produced news program—broadcast widely on public television—which referred to independent bloggers as “cyber-mercenaries” and “puppets of the empire.”

The Cuban government uses the granting of press credentials and visas, which foreign journalists need to report from the island, to control coverage of Cuba and punish media outlets considered overly critical of the regime. In September, for example, the government refused to renew the press credentials of a journalist from Spain’s El Pais newspaper, arguing he presented a biased and negative image of Cuba.

Human Rights Defenders

Refusing to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity, Cuba’s government denies legal status to local human rights groups and uses harassment, beatings, and imprisonment to punish human rights defenders who try to document abuses. For example, Enyor Díaz Allen, Juan Luis Bravo Rodríguez, and Óscar Savón Pantoja—members of a human rights group in Guantanamó — were trying to enter a hospital on March 10 to visit a dissident on a hunger strike when security forces detained and transferred them without explanation to a police station and held them for three days in solitary confinement, Díaz Allen said.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

The Cuban government forbids the country’s citizens from leaving or returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which is often denied. For example, well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has criticized the government, has been denied the right to leave the island to accept awards and participate in conferences at least 16 times in the past four years. The government uses widespread fear of forced family separation to punish defectors and silence critics, and frequently bars citizens engaged in authorized travel from taking their children with them overseas, essentially holding the latter hostage to guarantee their parents’ return. The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba by enforcing a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents from traveling to Havana to attend meetings, and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners who criticize the  government, refuse to undergo ideological “reeducation,” or engage in hunger strikes and other protests are often subjected to  extended solitary confinement, beatings, and visit restrictions, and denied medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint  mechanism to seek redress, giving prison authorities total impunity.

Key International Actors

The United States’s economic embargo on Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on Cubans, and has failed to improve human rights in the country. At the United Nations General Assembly in October, 186 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US  embargo; only the US and Israel voted against it. In January 2011 US President Barack Obama used his executive powers to ease “people-to-people” travel restrictions, allowing religious,  educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba, and permitting Americans to send remittances to assist Cuban citizens. In 2009 Obama eliminated limits on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, which had been instituted during George W. Bush’s administration. In March US citizen Alan Gross—a subcontractor for the US Agency for International  Development—was sentenced to 15 years in jail for distributing telecommunications equipment for religious groups in Cuba. Gross was detained in December 2009 and accused by state prosecutors of engaging in a“subversive project aiming at bringing down the revolution.” Cuba’s highest court upheld his sentence in August. He remains in prison.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on its transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. At this writing Cuba’s government had yet to ratify the core international human rights treaties—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—which it signed in February 2008. Cuba is currently serving a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council, having been re-elected in May 2009

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Church Asks That Cuban Emigrants Are Allowed To Contribute To Island’s Economy

(AFP) 19 Jan 12

A publication from the Catholic Church on 19 January called on all Cubans, those on the island as well as the “diaspora,” to contribute to President Raul Castro’s efforts to promote the national economy, and it asked authorities to create the legal conditions necessary to favor that.

“It is not only necessary to strengthen the economy of the State, but that of each and every citizen who makes up this country, allowing them to participate in development, those who are here as well as those who are in the diaspora, for whatever reason,” read an editorial in Pasos magazine, from the archdiocese of Cienfuegos, in the central-southern part of the island.

“Everyone should contribute according to their talents, qualities, and gifts and to the extent that they believe it is fair and necessary, and government and legislative agencies should create the laws and conditions suitable for that to happen, it added.

The publication said we must cultivate a culture of peace, where fair commerce replaces confrontation of any kind so that it can lead us to a shared historical destiny.

Since taking power in 2006 in place of his sick brother, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro has promoted economic reforms that have broadened the private sector, approved by the 6th Communist Party Congress in April 2011, in order to bring the exhausted Soviet economic model up to date.

Those changes include extending private work, authorizing small private businesses and cooperatives, autonomy for state businesses, and eliminating subsidies, as well as putting an end to a half-century ban on buying and selling houses and cars, among other things.

The Church, which since May 2010 has been in dialogue with the government, which released approximately 130 political prisoners, expressed its support for the reforms, but until now it had not publicly asked for an opening-up to investments from Cuban emigrants.

At least two million Cuban emigrants and their descendants live in 40 countries, over 80% of them in the US. They currently contribute to the islands economy by sending approximately $2 billion a year in family remittances, according to UN estimates.

The Catholic publication pointed out that “old evils are reluctant to go away and make way for new initiatives. Those initiatives, to the extent that they are deepened and extended, will allow for developing production that will benefit everyone.”

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Oscar Espinosa Chepe, “SECRETISMO ESTADISTICO AL DESCUBIERTO”

La Habana, 16 de enero de 2012

En una sorprendente nota del periódico Granma del 14 de enero, las autoridades cubanas informaron que concluyeron la publicación digital del Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2010, con los capítulos sobre Cuentas Nacionales y el Sector Externo, así como datos faltantes de Finanzas Internas.  No se aclaró si también los cubanos tendremos derecho a conocer los montos de las zafras azucareras de 2009-2010 y 2010-2011, entre otros datos de suma importancia todavía omitidos en las estadísticas oficiales.

Se señala que en el capítulo Sector Externo se publicarán datos sobre la Balanza de Pagos y la Deuda Externa solamente hasta 2008, por tanto los cubanos seguiremos ignorando el estado de las relaciones económicas y comerciales con el exterior; un factor importante para saber que nos depara el futuro.  Por tanto, habrá que continuar procurando información mediante publicaciones extranjeras sobre lo acontecido en nuestro país. Una situación que está en franca contradicción con las reiteradas condenas de las autoridades a  las prácticas de ocultamiento de la información, el llamado “secretismo”.  Un tema hasta incluido para discutir  en el Proyecto de Documento Base para la Primera Conferencia Nacional del Partido Comunista de Cuba, Punto 66, donde se plantea suprimir “ …las nocivas manifestaciones del secretismo”.

Además del ocultamiento sistemático, las estadísticas cubanas adolecen de distorsiones y contradicciones que le restan credibilidad.  En ese sentido, el gobierno incluso ha adoptado métodos de cálculo del Producto Interno Bruto (PIB) alejados de los internacionalmente utilizados, o sea  el Sistema de Cuentas Nacionales de la ONU.  Así se dan cifras de crecimiento económico carentes de sustentación,  una sobrevaloración de los sectores de servicios en particular en lo referente a educación y salud pública, y son manipulados regularmente algunos indicadores, como los relativos a la  inflación y el desempleo para tratar de mostrar equilibrios inexistentes.

Después de sostener durante años la existencia de increíbles tasas de desempleo inferiores a 2,0%,  el gobierno se ha visto forzado a  reconocer que sobran más de 1,3 millón de trabajadores en el sector estatal, y que de 358 000 cuentapropistas existentes hoy, el  66,0% no tenía vínculos laborales anteriores. En Cuba se da la paradoja de que en el período 1996-2010 la economía ha crecido con una tasa promedio anual del 4,60%, mientras el consumo de energía eléctrica total lo ha hecho al 2,0%.  Si es tomada para el cálculo solo la energía eléctrica consumida en los sectores productivos y de servicios, la tasa de crecimiento promedio anual resulta de 0,6%, o sea 7,7 veces inferior al citado aumento promedio del PIB.   En el colmo del absurdo, en algunos años como 2005 se publicó un crecimiento del PIB nada menos que de 11,2%, “a nivel chino”,  y la disminución del consumo de energía eléctrica  en 1,9%, algo insostenible.  Como se conoce existe una correlación entre el crecimiento de la economía y el consumo de electricidad, que se modifica en función de una mayor o menor eficiencia,  pero nunca a los absurdos niveles de disparidad que muestran las estadísticas oficiales cubanas.

El gobierno en ocasiones ha señalado que el ocultamiento de los datos económicos responde al interés de no brindar elementos al  enemigo externo.  En realidad daña al país y resta credibilidad, el ocultamiento de la información u ofrecer datos no fiables. Difícilmente alguien se arriesga a otorgar créditos, si no conoce la situación financiera real del posible prestatario.  Mucho menos un país podrá atraer inversiones en esas condiciones.  Una nación con poca credibilidad si  logra financiamiento es en condiciones duras, con tasas de interés elevadas y condiciones de pago sumamente estrictas; y  cuando recibe inversiones, debe conceder enormes garantías.

Asimismo, el ocultamiento y la falsificación de la información no tiene sentido en un mundo tan interconectado, pues todo o casi todo se conoce más tarde o más temprano. Cuba ha ocultado durante años el monto de su Deuda Externa y sus Reservas Internacionales de Divisas, pero sólo se requiriere consultar algunas publicaciones serias, como The Economist Inteligence Unit (EIU), para conocer estimados bastantes cercanos a la realidad, realizados con datos no obtenidos mediante espionaje,  sino captados de las estadísticas u otras informaciones de los socios comerciales de Cuba.  El EIU ha situado la Deuda Externa de Cuba en 2011 -sin incluir la contraída con la URSS y otros países del este de Europa- en 21,0 miles de millones de USD, y ha señalado los intereses que deberían haberse pagado, con una proyección para esos datos  hasta 2013.

En conclusión puede decirse que continuar el ocultamiento es inútil.  Sólo conduce al descrédito.   En el actual mundo interconectado, la transparencia es mucho más ventajosa, a la par que resulta contraproducente mantener el afán de engañar al pueblo, ya escéptico ante tantas promesas incumplidas.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe

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Marc Frank: US Frets at Cuba Oil Exploration

Financial Times, January 18, 2012

By Marc Frank in Havana

A huge oil drilling platform will sink deepwater wells off Cuba next week in a move that has caused angst in the US at the prospect of significant oil discoveries that could alter Cuba’s economic future and Havana’s relations with Washington.

Cuba’s largely unexplored share of the Gulf of Mexico is thought to contain billions of barrels of oil and gas equivalent and has already drawn more foreign investment than any other sector of the economy.

“The discovery of even modest amounts of oil would be significant for Cuba,” said Ricardo Torres Perez, deputy director of Havana University’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

“Cuba would become less energy dependent and might eventually become an energy exporter; new credit and foreign investment would materialize, along with refining and service jobs.”

A significant discovery would almost certainly buy time for President Raúl Castro, as he works to reform the Soviet-style economy. In addition to environmental worries – as the drilling would unfold about 70 miles from Florida’s coast – this possibility has prompted vehement criticism from some US conservatives.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House foreign relations committee, has sought to introduce legislation that would place sanctions on participating foreign companies.

“A state sponsor of terrorism is poised to achieve a tremendous economic boon by entering the oil business and endangering US waters to boot,” the Republican congresswoman said this month.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Obama administration appears content to just watch that happen,” she added. Adding extra piquancy to the controversy is its timing: the Republican party’s Florida primary election take place on January 31.

The $750m platform is owned by Italian oil giant Eni’s offshore unit Saipem and assembled in China using less than 10 per cent of US technology to accommodate sanctions that also bar US companies from participating. It is contracted for at least six months.

A first consortium grouping Spain’s Repsol, Norway’s Norsk Hydro and India’s ONGC Videsh will drill two wells. A second consortium, made up of Malaysia’s Petronas and Russia’s Gazprom, will drill subsequent wells.

Despite the sanctions, Washington has engaged both with these foreign companies and the Cuban government after the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling recommended such co-operation to protect “fisheries, coastal tourism and other valuable US natural resources”.

US officials inspected the rig in Trinidad and Tobago this month before it left for Cuban waters, and in December held talks with Cuba, Mexico and the Bahamas in Nassau on emergency planning in the gulf. A second round of talks is scheduled for February.

Experts are divided on whether significant oil discoveries would spur or slow Cuban economic reforms.

“With or without oil, the Cuban economy sorely needs an environment in which businesses and individuals feel confident to invest,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban academic at the University of Denver.

But most agree the prospect has brought Havana and Washington closer as they look to safeguard their mutual economic and environmental interests.

“The meeting between US and Cuban officials on environmental co-operation … is an example of new bridges of communication, which if it wasn’t for oil and gas development would not have happened,” said Jorge Piñón, former president of Amoco Corporate Development Company Latin America and now a research fellow at Florida International University.

Just as “ping-pong diplomacy brought the US and China together, oil might very well bring Cuba and the US together”.

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Wikileaks on Canadian Relations with Cuba

Embassy of Canada in Cuba

VZCZCXRO0421

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ZNR UUUUU ZZH   R 252055Z NOV 09

FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0092

INFO ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000845

SENSITIVE   SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAN AND WHA/CCA

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PREL [External Political Relations], ETTC [Trade and Technology Controls], ETRD [Foreign Trade], CU [Cuba], CA [Canada]

SUBJECT: Canadian Relations with Cuba

1. (SBU) Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) interlocutors tell us that Canada continues to promote the advancement of democracy, good governance, and human rights in Cuba. Canada shares the U.S. goals of promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba, while maintaining its self-described policy of “principled engagement” with both the Cuban government and dissident elements. The GOC believes its approach allows it to have a positive impact on human rights and democracy in Cuba. Canada maintains a diplomatic presence in Havana and conducts aid programs worth about C$10 million/year.

2. (SBU) DFAIT Officials said that Canada has engaged and intervened on behalf of human rights and the advancement of democratization in Cuba a number of times over the past six months. According to DFAIT: — Canadian and Cuban officials meet regularly to discuss the harsh treatment of dissidents. Conversations were reportedly “firm and frank.” DFAIT officials said that meeting with dissidents is a normal part of Canadian diplomatic work in Cuba, with everyone from the ambassador downward engaging in human right outreach. DFAIT contacts assert that “Ambassador Juneau and other Embassy staff meet regularly with dissidents, journalists, economists” and that “the Ambassador also discusses human rights in his meetings with the Cuban government.” DFAIT contacts pointed to a Canadian embassy presence on the scene monitoring of “the siege of the house of dissident Vladimiro Roca” by a “Cuban government associated crowd” as typical of their on-going and continuous human rights outreach. DFAIT contacts did not have information on the status of the journalists and economists (independent versus government-affiliated) with whom embassy officers meet regularly. — The Canadian Embassy in Havana had been scheduled to open its eighth Canadian Studies Center in Cuba in July, but did not do so for budgetary reasons. These centers, funded by Canada and run by the Cuban Ministry of Education, reportedly inform the general populace about life in a democratic country with a market-based economy. The Canadian Government also regularly sends speakers to these venues, as well as funds economics professors teaching modern economic theory at the University of Havana. — the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL), a Canadian government-funded think tank, runs a series of programs (in Canada) on Cuba that focus on support for dissidents and democratization. FOCAL documents all Cuban government actions against dissidents, supports an active dialogue on planning for the post-Castro area, and assists civil society programs on human rights and democracy.

3. (SBU) According to DFAIT officials, high-level diplomatic visits between Cuba and Canada over the past six months have included a visit to Cuba by the Canadian Minister of State for the Americas Peter Kent. The Government of Cuba cancelled his previous visit, planned for mid-May, after Kent told reporters that he aimed to use his scheduled meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro to raise democratic reform and human rights. DFAIT contacts say the Cuban government had also taken offense at that time to strong pro-human rights statements by Prime Minister Harper.

4. (SBU) Kent visited Havana November 12-14, meeting with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Malmierca, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Dagoberto Rodriguez, and the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Ortega. He did not meet with dissidents because the Cuban government would not have permitted his visit to go forward if he planned to do so, according to DFAIT contacts. DFAIT contacts say Kent did engage in lengthy discussions on human rights with all three of the senior Cuban government officials as well as the Archbishop. DFAIT contacts described the discussions as “good, substantive” ones, covering the need for Cuba to release all political prisoners, accede to a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and sign on to the two primary UN human rights covenants.

OTTAWA 00000845 002 OF 002

5. (SBU) Minister Kent also met with representatives of Cuban government-sanctioned civil society organizations, including the Centro Felix Varela, Inter Press Service, and the Centro Nacional de Educacion Sexual (the organization head by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela).

6. (SBU) DFAIT interlocutors decline to provide us with information on specific Canadian companies operating in Cuba or confirm open source information about them. Media reports indicate that Canada remains Cuba’s third largest trade partner, with trade growing by 9.4% in 2008. Canadian companies operate in a variety of sectors of the Cuban economy, including tourism, construction, agriculture, bio-technology, and mining. According to Canadian Government statistics, annual two-way trade between Cuba and Canada was C$1.66 billion in 2008. Canadian exports to Cuba in 2008 were worth C$768,389,688. Canadian imports from Cuba amounted to C$895,242,425. Canadian merchandise exports to Cuba rose 36.3% in 2008 to $768.1 million and included machinery, inorganic chemicals, cereals, and vegetables. Imports from Cuba decreased 15.3% in 2008 to $895.2 million and included mineral ores, copper, tobacco, beverages, fish and seafood. Tourism is Cuba’s largest source of foreign exchange and Canada is Cuba’s largest source of tourists, with 818,000 Canadians visiting in 2008, nearly 35 per cent of all visitors to Cuba. Media reports indicate that leading Canadian firms doing business with Cuba: Sherritt International, Pizza Nova, Labatt. Sherritt is the largest foreign investor in Cuba, according to press reports.

7. (SBU) Canada has no bilateral trade agreements with Cuba. According to DFAIT, Canada and Cuba held exploratory talks on a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) in February 2009. Canada is currently consulting with Canadian investors in Cuba before deciding whether to go ahead with further negotiations. In November 2009, Canada and Cuba concluded an expanded air transport agreement. The new agreement provides for up to five designated Canadian airlines (an increase from two) and unlimited points of destination in Cuba, an increase from four points previously available to scheduled carriers. On April 22, 2008, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and his Cuban counterpart renewed an MOU on agricultural cooperation. This involves Canadian technical assistance in various areas of Cuba’s agricultural sector, for example providing Canadian expertise to train Cubans in livestock production practices and animal genetic techniques, as well as the management of irrigation systems.

8. (U) Canada has no formal exchange programs specific to Cuba. Canada has initiated academic exchanges, including scholarships for Cuban students under the hemisphere-wide C$18-million Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) announced by Prime Minister Harper at the Summit of the Americas in April. In the first ELAP competition, Canada awarded scholarships to 11 Cuban students for study or research in Canada. Selected ELAP students will have the opportunity to attend a Canadian government designed “Democracy Study tour” in Ottawa to expose students to Canadian models of good governance, including the rule of law, human rights, government accountability, freedom of the press, and multiculturalism. In addition, many exchanges occur informally between organizations such as high school sports teams and cultural groups.

JACOBSON

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