Photo New York Time
Le toca a Cuba mover ficha, dice el senador cubanoamericano Roberto Menéndez
El senador demócrata por el estado de Nueva Jersey, Robert Menéndez.
(Radio Martí) El senador Roberto Menéndez, democráta por el estado de Nueva Jersey, dijo a Radio Martí que tras las medidas tomadas unilateralmente por Washington, ahora le toca al gobierno cubano realizar cambios.
Menéndez manifestó que ahora el régimen no tiene excusas para continuar en el inmovilismo que le ha caracterizado por medio siglo.
Se refirió asimismo a la visita de la Subsecretaria de Estado adjunta para América Latina, Bisa Williams, quien tras la visita sobre el correo directo entre Cuba y Estados Unidos permaneció cinco días más en la isla hablando sobre temas bilaterales.
Preguntado sobre el contenido de esas conversaciones Menéndez declaró que él no fue informado por el Departamento de Estado sobre el contenido de las mismas pero que, no obstante, no cree que ello tenga que ver con un acercamiento al régimen de La Habana.
Desde Washington, Luis Alberto Muñoz, con más detalles.
HAVANA — President Raul Castro is taking a bold gamble to ease communist Cuba's cash crunch by eliminating a costly government lunch program that feeds almost a third of the nation's population every workday.
The Americas' only one-party communist government, held afloat largely by support from its key ally Venezuela, is desperate to improve its budget outlook; the global economy is slack, and Havana is very hard pressed to secure international financing.
Raul Castro, 76, officially took over as Cuba's president in February 2008 after his brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, stepped aside with health problems.
Though some wondered if Raul Castro would try to move Cuba's centralized economy toward more market elements, so far he has sought to boost efficiency and cut corruption and waste without reshaping the economic system.
And so far it has been an uphill battle, something akin to treading water.
But now, Raul Castro has moved to set in motion what will likely be the biggest rollback of an entitlement since Cuba's 1959 revolution -- starting to put an end to the daily lunch program for state workers, as announced Friday in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper.
In a country where workers earn the average of 17 dollars a month, and state subsidized monthly food baskets are not enough for families, more than 3.5 million Cuban government employees -- out of a total population of 11.2 million -- benefit from the nutritionally significant free meal.
The pricetag is a cool 350 million dollars a year, not counting energy costs or facilities maintenance, Granma said.
But that will come to a halt in four ministries experimentally from October 1, Granma said. As workers stream to the 24,700 state lunchrooms, the government "is faced with extremely high state spending due to extremely high international market prices, infinite subsidies and freebies," Granma explained.
Parallel to the cutback, workers will see their salaries boosted by 15 pesos a workday (.60 dollar US) to cover their lunch.
It is a dramatic shift in Cuba, where the government workers' lunchroom has been among the longest-standing subsidies, though even authorities have called it paternalistic.
And more troubling, especially for authorities, is the fact that the lunchrooms' kitchens have become a source of economic hemorrhaging, from which workers unabashedly make off with tonnes of rice, beans, chicken and cooking oil to make ends meet.
The Castro government is keen to reduce the 2.5 billion dollars a year it spends on food imports, which it has to buy on the international market in hard currency.
"Nobody can go on indefinitely spending more than they earn. Two and two are four, never five. In our imperfect socialism, too often two plus two turn out to be three," Raul Castro said in an August 1 address alluding to corruption problems.
Some Cubans were aghast at the idea of losing a free lunch.
"What am I going to buy with 15 pesos," asked a bank worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I cannot even make anything, even something horrible, at home for that little."
But Roberto Reyes, a construction employee, said sometimes the state lunch is so bad, he would rather not eat it -- and pocket the small monthly raise.
The president has said health care and education were not cuts he would willingly make.
But Cubans wonder how long it will be until the legendary monthly ration books with which Cubans receive limited basic food goods, such as rice and beans, for free, come under the budget axe.
U.S. envoy in Cuba met with officials, citizens
Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 12:37 AM
HAVANA (Reuters) - A senior U.S. diplomat who participated in recent talks in Havana about resuming bilateral mail service with Cuba stayed around to meet with Cuban officials and other Cubans in the latest sign of thawing U.S.-Cuba relations.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section in the Cuban capital said on Tuesday that Bisa Williams, acting deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, was in Cuba for several days after the September 17 meeting, holding the previously unannounced meetings.
The spokeswoman said Williams met with Cuban officials and with members of Cuba's "civil society," and went to the western province of Pinar del Rio to tour facilities there.
"The Cubans helped set things up for her," the spokeswoman said.
She would not confirm reports that Williams also met with Cuban dissidents.
U.S.-Cuban relations have begun slowly warming under U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said he wants to "recast" relations that have been hostile since a 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and led to Cuba's transformation into a communist state.
He has lifted limits on Cuban Americans traveling and sending money to Cuba, and initiated talks with Havana on migration and mail service, the latter aimed at reinstating direct postal service between Cuba and the United States suspended since August 1963.
The two governments issued positive statements after both meetings and said more would be held in the future.
EMBARGO STILL IN PLACE
The first round of migration talks was held in New York in July, and a second round is tentatively set for December in Havana. They had been suspended since 2004 by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.
The U.S. also has suggested to Cuba that travel limits currently imposed on their respective diplomats in both countries be lifted.
In a small but symbolic gesture, Washington also turned off in July a news ticker in the window of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that the Cuban government had viewed as an affront to its sovereignty.
Since the ticker was turned off, Cuba has mostly taken down large flags it placed in front of the interest section to block the ticker from view.
Despite the thaw, Obama has said he will maintain the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba until the Cuban government shows progress on human rights and democracy. Cuba has said it views those as strictly internal issues not subject to negotiation.
Two weeks ago, Obama signed a yearly renewal of the act that imposes the embargo, which Cuba blames for most of its economic problems.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that Cuba has long wanted normal relations with the U.S. and acknowledged that Obama had taken some positive, but small steps in the right direction.
But he said Obama has not yet done enough and he expressed concern that right-wing forces in the United States still wield great power.
"The crucial thing is that the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba remains intact," Rodriguez said.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Eric Walsh)
Full Legal Notice
Cuban artists are granted visas to the U.S.; permits issued for the first time since 2003The flow of artists and musicians between Cuba and the U.S., choked off since 2003, has begun to trickle again.
The most famous voice to hit stateside from the island is Omara Portuondo, the lone female artist from the Buena Vista Social Club, who has received a visa to perform in the U.S. in October. Omara, who just got a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Tropical Album for her album Gracias, will perform during the San Francisco Jazz Festival on Oct. 20 and at UCLA on Oct. 23. The Latin Grammys will be held on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas; no word yet on whether Omara will attend.
Also coming to the U.S.will be composer and conductor Zenaida Romeu who was granted a visa in early September to travel to Fargo, N.D., (of all places!) in mid-November to guest-conduct the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra. Back in the '90s, a number of Cuban groups made the rounds of college and community performance series across the U.S., garnering an audience in the heartland. Romeu is director of the all-female Camerata Romeu, a chamber music group I was lucky enough to hear on my first visit to Cuba in 1997.
The last name in this group is trovador Pablo Milanés, who'll go not quite to the U.S. but to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in October.
All this comes on the heels of Juanes' historic Havana concert on Sept. 20, but these visas have been in the works for months. Another mostly off-the-radar event, which saw a Cuban theater group collaborate with the University of Alabama on performances of Shakespeare, took place this summer. And the New York Philharmonic is planning performances on the island, though dates haven't been set yet.
Meanwhile, the king of Latin crooners, Julio Iglesias, recently said that he would play Cuba if asked. And René 'Residente' Pérez, outspoken frontman for alt-reggaeton act and multi-Latin Grammy nominee Calle 13, has said he'd like to do a concert in Havana. This summer, Ricardo Arjona complained that he had been planning a Cuba concert, but would pass on the idea since Juanes had announced his big event.
It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will throw its full support behind such cultural and people-to-people exchanges the way Clinton did, or whether the softening affect of the Juanes concert will move that process along. Juanes recently played the Clinton Global Initiative Gala in New York City, where the former president congratulated him backstage. I don't know, however, if Hillary was in the audience. And a new poll by Bendixen and Associates, which shows an about-face in Cuban-American opinion on the Juanes concert, was released at the Americas Conference in Miami Wednesday – which seems a clear attempt to show policy-makers' that exile opinions have changed enough to make those cultural exchanges politically palatable stateside.
Foreign firms can't access their own fundsMany foreign companies doing business in Cuba are barred by the authorities from removing funds from their bank accounts for no apparent reason, a Reuters report says. "Hundreds of millions of dollars" are unavailable, foreign diplomats and businessmen told the news agency.
"Representatives of some companies with investments or joint ventures on the island said they were bracing for the possibility of not being able to repatriate year-end dividends paid to their accounts in Cuba," Reuters said.
According to a foreign diplomat, suppliers "involved with tourism, foreign-exchange stores and spare parts and machinery for industry are negotiating partial payments [...] but the little guy, for example with supplies on consignment, has simply been abandoned."
For the full story, click here.
–Renato Pérez Pizarro. Posted by Renato Perez at 08:32
Source : Cuban Colada
Today we hear from New York that the Cubans are approaching the United Nations annual vote on the U.S. embargo, scheduled for Oct. 28, in a more cautious manner than they did when the Bush Administration was on the other side of the table. After seventeen years of running up the score, maybe they figure they can afford to be a bit conciliatory. In any case, they hardly seem ready to give away the store in negotiations. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez has said that Cuba is ready engage the United States in direct talks any time. However, Cuba would not address any "internal issues." And they would expect to talk about how the United States embargo is responsible for $223 billion of damage to the Cuban economy. And they want the United States to change its policy on Cuban immigration. And they want us to stop bombarding the island with Radio and Television Marti. And while they're at it, they want Guantanamo back.
Even in the context of the steady drumbeat of positive moves that the Administration has taken on Cuba, it is not quite conceivable that U.S.-Cuba talks could really brook these types of issues. But we're clearly in a better place in our relationship than we've been in a long time. The U.S. isn't breaking any speed records as it rolls out its review of Cuba policy, but then again, the infrastructure of the embargo was a long time in preparation. The process underway now is clearly what Denis McDonough was talking about when he told the New York Times' Mark Landler that "engagement should be judged as a means to an end, not as a policy goal in itself." That's what we are doing: talking about issues of mutual, practical concern.
This is all to the good, but of course it isn't going to lead to a quick resolution of our longstanding conflict. Most of the commentaries on this page have been highly critical of the Obama administration for not pushing ahead with an opening to Cuba many had hoped for during the campaign. It’s hard not to agree. From a big picture perspective, we have nothing to lose but the chains that have bound us to this anachronism. As we open to Cuba, and time marches on, Cuba will get freer.
If, however, in addition to the steady, quiet drumbeat of positive steps from the executive branch (freer travel for Cuban families, substantive migration talks, re-opening mail links, much more liberal rules around sending packages to Cuba -- this one for all Americans, not just Cubans) the president asked Congress to lift the travel ban, it would signal the end game. Some in Congress would put up a vitriolic fight. But it would be a fight without the broad implications of the many other difficult national debates we face, like on health care or immigration. The fact is, even though the failed Cuba policy has caused tremendous pain for those involved, most of the rest of us wonder what that’s all about and why, in an age when China finances our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we still care what kind of government Cuba has. When Ben Stiller introduced Juanes at the Clinton Global Initiative the other night, it was with an air of gratitude for the man who had brought a million people or so into Cuba’s main plaza. For the vast majority of Americans -- including those Americans who serve in Congress -- this is not a controversy. The vast majority of Americans, like Ben Stiller, think: yeah, why are we still embargoing that country, anyway?
Like it or not, given the packed agenda the administration faces, it would be a mistake to expect the president to jump in with both feet on Cuba. It is the pragmatic modus operandi of this administration to prioritize its challenges and spend its capital only when it's game time. From the Employee Free Choice Act to the public health care option, there’s a long list of issues where the President’s views are clear, but he hasn’t pushed them aggressively right from the gate. Time will tell whether that’s a good move or not; if, in a year or two, he hasn’t gotten anywhere on these issues, that will speak for itself. On the other hand, if he demonstrates progress on the truly difficult issues: Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, then he can turn to second-tier foreign policy problems like Cuba. And if things have gone reasonably well, Cuba will not be so a tough after all.
But where does that leave those of us who care about Cuba? It might not be Iraq, but its pretty painful for the families this terrible conflict has torn apart. And it won't get better without sustained, grown-up attention. And that means that, for better or worse, Congress is in the driver’s seat right now. We should hope Sam Farr is right – and not fatally premature – when he says the votes are there to pass the bill that would open Cuba travel to everyone. Keep watching this space! If the broad spectrum of actors from trade and travel spheres can rally around one bill, it is very conceivable that the Congress can let the president ride in the back on this one.