Saturday, February 13, 2010

Update LPP...

Obama to Announce Nuke Plant Loan, Source Says

An administration official says President Obama next will announce the first loan guarantee for a nuclear power plant in nearly three decades, to the Southern Company in Georgia.
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's planned loan guarantee to build the first nuclear power plant in the United States in almost three decades is part of a broad shift in energy strategy to lessen dependence on foreign oil and reduce the use of other fossil fuels blamed for global warming.
President Barack Obama called for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants" in his Jan. 27 State of the Union speech and followed that by proposing to triple loan guarantees for new nuclear plants. He wants to use nuclear power and other alternative sources of energy in his effort to shift energy policy.
Obama next week will announce the loan guarantee to build the nuclear power plant, an administration official said Friday. The two new Southern Co. reactors to be built in the state of Georgia, are part of a White House energy plan that administration officials hope will draw Republican support.
Loan guarantees for other sites are expected to be announced in the coming months, the official said, who would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of Obama's announcement. The federal guarantees are seen as essential for construction of any new reactor because of the huge expense involved. Critics call the guarantees a form of subsidy and say taxpayers will assume a huge risk, given the industry's record of cost overruns and loan defaults.
Even with next week's announcement, actual construction of the first reactor is still years away. The Southern Co. has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a construction and operating license for the plant, one of 13 such applications the agency is considering. NRC spokesman Eliott Brenner said the earliest any of those could be approved would be late 2011 or early 2012.
The Southern Co. has begun site preparation in Burke but cannot begin construction without NRC approval.
Obama's budget for the coming year would add $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees on top of $18.5 billion already budgeted -- but not spent -- for a total of $54.5 billion. That's enough to help build six or seven new nuclear plants, which can cost $8 billion to $10 billion each.
The proposed new reactors would generate power for some 1.4 million people and employ about 850 people, the official said, adding that the Georgia project would create about 3,000 construction jobs.
Spiraling costs, safety concerns and opposition from environmentalists have kept utilities from building any new nuclear power plants in the U.S. since the early 1980s. The 104 nuclear reactors now in operation in 31 states provide about 20 percent of the nation's electricity. But they are responsible for 70 percent of the power from pollution-free sources, including wind, solar and hydroelectric dams that Obama has championed as a way to save the environment and economy at the same time.
Environmentalists and fiscal hawks oppose new nuclear plants and note that they come at the same time Obama has proposed eliminating a long-planned nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Obama has appointed a commission to find a safe solution for dealing with nuclear waste, but in the meantime the government has no long-term plan to store commercial radioactive waste.
Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham welcome the shift, but some pro-nuclear Republicans remain nervous about the heart of the Obama-backed climate bill -- a plan to limit heat-trapping pollution, which would raise energy costs.

US, Afghan troops sweep into Taliban stronghold

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In this handout photo released by Ministry of Defence via PA, soldiers of the AP – In this handout photo released by Ministry of Defence via PA, soldiers of the 1st Battalion the Royal …
MARJAH, Afghanistan – Thousands of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers stormed the Taliban stronghold of Marjah by air and ground Saturday, meeting only scattered resistance but facing a daunting thicket of bombs and booby traps that slowed the allied advance through the town. The massive offensive was aimed at establishing Afghan government authority over the biggest southern town under militant control and breaking the Taliban grip over a wide area of their southern heartland. Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, NATO commander of forces in southern Afghanistan, said Afghan and coalition troops, aided by 60 helicopters, made a "successful insertion" into Marjah in southern Helmand province. He said the operation was going "without a hitch." Thousands of British, U.S. and Canadian troops also swept into Taliban areas to the north of Marjah, seeking to clear a wide swath of villages that had been under Taliban control for several years. No coalition casualties had been reported more than 12 hours after the initial airborne assault, but NATO said three U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday in a bombing elsewhere in southern Afghanistan. At least 20 insurgents were reported killed in the Helmand operation, said Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai, the commander of Afghan forces in the region. Troops have recovered Kalashnikov rifles, heavy machine guns and grenades from 11 insurgents captured so far. The few civilians who ventured out to talk to the Marines said teams of Taliban fighters were falling back deeper into the town, perhaps to try to regroup and mount harassment attacks to prevent the government from rushing in aid and public services — a key step in the operation. The long-awaited assault on Marjah is the biggest offensive since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and is a major test of a new NATO strategy focused on protecting civilians. The attack is also the first major combat operation since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 U.S. reinforcements here in December to try to turn the tide of the war. President Hamid Karzai called on Afghan and international troops "to exercise absolute caution to avoid harming civilians," including avoiding airstrikes in areas where civilians are at risk. In a statement, he also called on insurgent fighters to renounce violence and reintegrate into civilian life. A Taliban spokesman insisted the insurgents were still resisting the allied assault and that the town remained under their control. "The Taliban are there and they are fighting. All of Marjah is still under Taliban control," Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press by phone. He declined to say how many Taliban fighters remained in the town but dismissed NATO accounts as "propaganda." Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, said U.S. troops faced sustained gunbattles in four areas of the town, including the western suburb of Sistani where India Company faced "some intense fighting." To the east, Kilo Company was inserted by helicopter but was then "significantly engaged" as the Marines fanned out from the landing zone. But the greatest threat came from the extensive network of mines, homemade bombs and booby traps that ground forces encountered as soon as they crossed a major major canal into the town's northern entrance. Insurgents appeared to have withdrawn from their frontline positions but left boobytraps and explosives in their abandoned positions and in the network of canals built by the Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. Marines safely set off numerous bombs, as the sound of strong detonations reverberated through the dusty streets. "It's just got to be a very slow and deliberate process," said Capt. Joshua Winfrey of Stillwater, Okla., a Marine company commander. The bridge over the canal into Marjah from the north was so rigged with explosives that Marines erected temporary bridges to cross into the town. Lance Corp. Ivan Meza, 19, was the first to walk across one of the flimsy bridges. "I did get an adrenaline rush, and that bridge is wobbly," said Meza, a Marine combat engineer from Pismo Beach, California, who is with the 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Several civilians hesitantly crept out of their compounds as the Marines slowly worked through a suspected mine field. The Marines entered compounds first to make sure they were clear of bombs, then called in their Afghan counterparts to interview civilians inside. Shopkeeper Abdul Kader, 44, said seven or eight Taliban fighters, who had been holding the position where the Marines crossed over, had fled in the middle of the night. He said he was angry at the insurgents for having planted bombs and mines all around his neighborhood. "They left with their motorcycles and their guns. They went deeper into town," he said as Marines and Afghan troops searched a poppy field next to his house. "We can't even walk out of our own houses." Saturday's ground assault followed many hours after an initial wave of helicopters carrying hundreds of U.S. Marines and Afghan troops swooped into town under the cover of darkness before dawn. Cobra helicopters fired Hellfire missiles at tunnels, bunkers and other defensive positions. Marine commanders had said they expected between 400 to 1,000 insurgents — including more than 100 foreign fighters — to be holed up in Marjah. The town of 80,000 people, about 360 miles (610 kilometers) southwest of Kabul, is the linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network. The offensive, code-named "Moshtarak," or "Together," was described as the biggest joint operation of the Afghan war, with 15,000 troops involved, including some 7,500 troops fighting in Marjah. The government says Afghan soldiers make up at least half of the offensive's force. Once Marjah is secured, NATO hopes to rush in aid and restore public services in a bid to win support among the estimated 125,000 people who live in the town and surrounding villages. The Afghans' ability to restore those services is crucial to the success of the operation and to prevent the Taliban from returning. Carter said coalition forces hope to install an Afghan government presence within the next few days and will work to find and neutralize improvised explosive devices — homemade bombs — left by the militants. Tribal elders have pleaded for NATO to finish the operation quickly and spare civilians — an appeal that offers some hope the townspeople will cooperate with Afghan and international forces once the Taliban are gone. Still, the town's residents have displayed few signs of rushing to welcome the attack force. "The elders are telling people to stay behind the front doors and keep them bolted," Carter said. "Once people feel more secure and they realize there is government present on the ground, they will come out and tell us where the IEDs are." ___ Associated Press writers Noor Khan in Kandahar, Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Stephen Braun in Washington contributed to this report.

Iran Human-Rights Legislation

Saturday, February 13, 2010
According to The Hill:

A group of bipartisan senators announced legislation Thursday aimed at imposing human-rights sanctions on Iran.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) introduced a two-part bill aimed at punishing Iran's regime for brutal crackdowns on dissidents, political opponents and journalists.

The bill has two parts. First, it would require President Barack Obama to compile a public list of individuals in Iran who are responsible for human-rights violations against Iranian citizens and their families anywhere in the world. Second, the bill would block U.S. visas and freeze any U.S. assets belonging to those individuals.

Meanwhile -- following the lead of Castro's Cuba -- the Iranian regime is now pursuing a seat on the soon to be renamed U.N. Human Rights (Violations) Council.
S:Capitol Hill Cubans

Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me and to write to me.


 By Yoani Sanchez 

Domestic life imposes unpleasant obligations. The faucet leaks, the lamp refuses to light the room, the lock on the door sticks, and one evil day, horrors!, the refrigerator breaks down. Terrified we discover that the freezer is dripping and the appliance’s typical humming sound is no more. My neighbor José Antonio lived through a tragedy of this magnitude last week.
Early in the morning he called the nearest Domestic Repair Unit, but either they didn’t answer or he got a busy signal. He decided to go there and was met by a girl who was meticulously polishing her fingernails. Distressed, he told her the story of his appliance and described its symptoms. He was about to venture a diagnosis but at that moment she interrupted him to say that surely it was the timer and that they didn’t have the spare part. She explained that the workshop had a waiting list that stretched a couple of months. Like an intelligent man with some real life experience, the needy client formulated the correct question in a suitable tone, “And is there no other way to resolve this?” The woman paused in her manicure and shouted to a mechanic.
After agreeing on a price, everyone was satisfied. By midday the refrigerator was working again and the repairman went home with the equivalent of nearly two month’s wages. That night, my neighbor, who is a barman at a five star hotel, took to work several bottles of rum purchased on the black market. With these, he dispatched the first of the mojitos and tasty piña coladas that the tourists drink. They did not suspect they were helping to fill the gap left by the refrigerator repair, an enormous hole in José Antonio’s budget.

Awaiting for a catastrophe

Crumbling Havana. (Image: Flickr - ChrisGoldNY)

Kenneth Chandler’s (a former editor and publisher of the New York Post) op-ed on the catastrophe in the making for Cuba.
Havana is a city of sorrow — a once elegant and prosperous capital brought to despair by 51 years of deliberate neglect and isolation. A country that has been plundered by a succession of foreign powers, homegrown dictators and mobsters imported from America now languishes in a bizarre time warp where little has changed in more than half a century.
Its people go about their daily routines bereft of consumer goods, nutritious foods, meaningful jobs or adequate housing — most of them born after the revolution that swept Castro to power in 1959 and now, thanks to rigid censorship, largely conditioned to accept their impoverished lot.
To listen to Castro’s cronies — those among the political and business elite whose loyalty is secured with perks unavailable to ordinary Cubans — the economic situation is solely the fault of the US embargo imposed after the revolution.
More thoughtful Cubans discreetly offer a different explanation: They blame Fidel’s feckless experiments with communism — his initial seizure of $25 billion worth of private property from Cubans and the nationalization of all businesses, forcing the middle class to flee to Miami; his bizarre decision to send 300,000 Cubans out of a population of only 11 million to fight wars in Africa in the 1980s; his Cold War alliance with the Russians that left his country bankrupt and saddled with antiquated technology when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Read the full story here.

Laying Down Markers


Pro and anti-reform sentiments surfaced last week.
Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (pictured above), was quoted in Spain:
When asked about the direction U.S. policy would take toward Cuba this year, Valenzuela said that Washington will seek “to resume some of the conversations” held with Havana “on matters of common interest.” “And in that sense, we have set conversations on immigration issues, postal issues ...” he said, emphasizing the “efforts” of the U.S. administration to “have a direct dialogue with the Cuban government.”
As an example of that dialogue, the official cited the earthquake in Haiti, where the United States has maintained “a conversation directly with the Cubans ... (about) the possibility of directly supporting Cuban doctors working in Haiti.”
Barack Obama’s administration in 2010 also wants “to reverse some of the measures taken by the previous U.S. government not to permit more fluid connections between U.S. citizens and their counterparts in Cuba,” Valenzuela added.
“We’re opening up those measures to have much more communication from one society to the other society,” he said.
If the Administration is finally serious about using its authority to open up non-tourist travel, it needs to move quickly so universities, World Affairs Councils, museums, elder hostel and others can incorporate Cuba into budgets and program plans for the 2010-2011 academic year. The devil will be in the details. Granting general rather than specific licenses to IRS recognized not-for-profits and eliminating the Travel Service Provider monopoly will avoid bureaucratic bottlenecks. Moreover, such a common sense initiative can inspire Congress to finish the job by enacting complete freedom to travel.

Continue reading "Laying Down Markers" »

Lincoln Diaz-Balart opts out of 2010

Updated: 2/11/10 9:44 PM EST

Lincoln Diaz-Balart speaks to supporters Nov. 2008.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced retirement this afternoon at press conference at Fla. International University. Photo: AP

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Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) announced his retirement Thursday at a press conference at Florida International University, a move that led his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), to announce he will switch congressional districts and run for the open seat in November.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart said he was leaving Congress so he can focus on democracy-promoting efforts in Cuba, an issue that has defined his political career. After his term ends, he said, he will be returning to private practice as an attorney in Miami.

“Today I am announcing that I will not seek a tenth term in the United States Congress this November,” Diaz Balart said, according to his prepared remarks.

“I am convinced that in the upcoming chapter of the struggle, I can be more useful to the inevitable change that will soon come to Cuba, to Cuba’s freedom, as a private citizen dedicated to helping the heroes within Cuba.”

Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who has served in the House since 1992, is the 18th House Republican who will not seek reelection in November. Most hail from solidly Republican districts, though Diaz-Balart’s Miami-based seat has the potential to be competitive—it delivered 49 percent of the vote to President Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Democrats made substantial gains in Diaz-Balart’s 21st District during the 2008 presidential election, paring down the 9-percentage-point voter registration edge the GOP enjoyed in 2006 to only three points after the November 2008 election.

Born in Havana, Diaz-Balart is one of the first Cuban-Americans elected to Congress and is a leading hardliner against the Castro-led Cuban government. In his retirement announcement, he trumpeted his legislative achievements to crack down on Cuba’s authoritarian regime, including the American embargo against the country.

“One of the achievements of which I am most proud was the codification, the writing into U.S. law, of the U.S. embargo on the Castro dictatorship, and the law’s requirement that before any U.S. President can lift the embargo, all political prisoners must be freed, all political parties, labor unions and the press must be legalized, and free multiparty elections must be scheduled in Cuba,” Diaz-Balart said.

On the political front, Diaz-Balart was safely ensconced in the heavily Cuban-American district. He faced his toughest re-election campaign in 2008 against former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, but comfortably defeated him with 58 percent of the vote.

Diaz-Balart, whose brother Mario currently represents the neighboring 25th Congressional District, was on the list of prospective Senate appointees to fill the vacancy created when former Sen. Mel Martinez resigned last year, but Florida Gov. Charlie Crist passed him over in favor of his chief of staff, now-Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.).

Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement Thursday that he will run for his brother’s soon-to-be-open seat, which would create vacancies in two competitive south Florida House districts. That move would allow Mario Diaz-Balart, who won only 53 percent of the vote in 2008, to run in a slightly more Republican constituency—and one with a more Cuban-oriented set of issues.

Under that scenario, state Rep. David Rivera, who has a close relationship with the Diaz-Balart family, would be a leading contender to run for Mario's seat since Rivera’s state legislative district overlaps with much of his Miami and Naples-based district. Known as a strong fundraiser, Rivera is currently locked in a competitive primary for the state Senate, and has raised over $1 million for that race. State Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla also expressed interest in the seat being vacated by Mario Diaz-Balart

Democrats believe they have a decent shot at picking up Mario Diaz-Balart’s seat, and are working to recruit former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia into the race for a second straight time. Garcia ran competitively against Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008, winning 47 percent of the vote. He now serves in the Obama administration, as the Department of Energy’s director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.

LPP Archive 2009...

A Cuban Space Program?


Moscow will help Cuba develop its own space program, a Russian Space official announced earlier this week.

Anatoly Perminov, chief of Russia’s Federal Space Agency, was in Caracas talking with Venezuelan and Cuban officials, Itar-Tass new agency reports. In recent months, Russia has been making moves to build ties with both countries, neither of which is on good terms with the Washington.
This isn’t the first time Russia and Cuba have teamed up on space. The USSR had a guest cosmonaut program and Arnaldo Tamayo-Mendez, a Cuban, was the first non-U.S. citizen to fly from the western hemisphere in 1980. The program also flew "research cosmonauts" from Afghanistan, the former East Germany, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam.
It’s unclear what Cuba’s space ambitions are. Perhaps they just want their own weather satellite to help them prepare for all the hurricanes that seem to bear down on them before hitting the United States.
Being closer to the equator, Cuba would be a more favorable launch location for Russia. However, Russia already has arrangements to begin launching their Soyuz rocket from the European Space Agency’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, which is even closer to the equator (Why do I feel like I am playing a giant game of Risk?). The new $516-million Soyuz launch pad is under construction with the first launch currently slated for 2009.
Russia to help Cuba build space center [Rueters]

Russia to Threaten North America with Brand-New Bombers? Think Again

Bear interceptIn 2007, Russia resumed its Cold War practice of sending long-range bomber patrols into international airspace along the North American coast. The patrols sparked a minor panic in certain quarters here. In an interview with The Washington Times, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney called the patrols practice for “coordinated attacks coming into our air defense identification zone.” They are “far more sophisticated than anything we had seen before,” he added. The panic only mounted when Russia put out feelers for bomber staging bases in Cuba and Venezuela.
Depending on whom you ask, Moscow’s bomber threat is about to get a lot more dangerous — or it was never all that dangerous to begin with.
Lately, Russia has had to make do with aircraft left over from the 1980s. The Russian strategic bomber force — 16 Tu-160 Blackjacks and 64 Tu-95 Bears — is roughly half the size of the U.S. bomber force, but more importantly, the Russian birds have not been significantly upgraded in 20 years. Most of them cannot use any kind of precision-guided bomb, making them mostly useless for anything but a full-scale nuclear war.
To remedy that, bomber-maker Tupolev is reportedly developing a new “fifth-generation” bomber for the Russian air force, for service after 2020. “The new plane will use a wide selection of high-precision weapons, and will have a whole range of new combat capabilities, allowing it to apply new methods to carrying out deterrence tasks,” Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin said.
Before you start building a bomb shelter in your backyard, consider this: in the impoverished Russian aerospace industry, talk is cheap. Moscow has been promising to show the world an F-35-like stealth fighter prototype for years, but so far no one has seen so much as a Testors model kit. An order placed this summer for 64 older Sukhoi fighters by 2015 represents the biggest Russian aircraft buy in 15 years. In the same time-frame, the Pentagon will buy probably 10 times that many fighters, of more modern design.
And according to one Russian general, new bombers aren’t even a wise investment. Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, who has commanded many of the North American flights, told Air Forces Monthly just a few weeks ago that no new bombers were needed. Instead, he said, his existing bombers require “deep upgrades” to improve flight safety, navigation and bombing accuracy. He said he wanted his bombers to be able to drop unguided munitions to within 60 feet of their targets. U.S. bombers, you might recall, can reliably put guided bombs through windows and air shafts.
At the end of the day, Moscow has just one over-riding military priority: to maintain and modernize its fleet of nuclear-missile-armed submarines. Everything else, bombers included, is a luxury.
[PHOTO: via Ares]

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Fidel Castro's Cuba full of his offspring after years of womanising by El Commandante

Fidel Castro, Cuba's long-standing dictator, has fathered at least 10 children by a string of women, according to a new book.

FIDEL CASTRO: Fidel Castro's Cuba full of his offspring after years of El Commandante's womanising
The Cuban leader with female admirers in New York, 1959 Photo: GETTY

Fidel Castro is renowned in Cuba for his verbosity and longevity. But his long-suffering compatriots know little about another sphere where El Commandante has proved prolific - his private life.
Discussing his womanising ways is strictly taboo on the Caribbean communist outpost, even on an island where the gossip grapevine flourishes in the absence of a free press.
But a long-time Cuba-watcher has now revealed the scale of his philandering and the existence of at least 10 offspring. That is more than previously believed - but very possibly not the full tally.
When journalist Ann Louise Bardach asked Castro how many children he had during an interview with Vanity Fair in 1993, he smiled and answered "almost a tribe".
During the research for Without Fidel, her new book chronicling the lives of Castro and his brother, Raul, to be published by Scribner, she discovered how true that observation was.
Castro, now 83, was a dashing young man whose good looks and rebel swagger clearly leant him a strong sexual allure during the years before and after the 1959 revolution. Indeed, media reports describe female fans swooning after he arrived triumphantly in Havana and during early trips to the US.
He had one child, Fidelito (Little Fidel), with his first wife Myrta Diaz-Balart in 1949 and five boys between 1962 and 1974 with Dalia Soto del Valle, a little-seen companion whom he is said to have secretly married in 1980. Remarkably, she was first shown on Cuban television in 2003 - "so forbidden" was Castro's personal domain, Ms Bardach observes.
But there have been many more paramours and several other children along the way - most notably from the time when the 29-year-year old rebel leader celebrated his release from prison in 1955 for a failed uprising.
For three Castro offspring were born to three women during 1956. Most famously, there was Natalia Revuelta, an aristocratic beauty who became a fierce defender of his revolution - she bore him a daughter, Alina Fernandez.
Ms Bardach, an investigative journalist and a member of the Cuba Study Group at the Brookings Institution think-tank, had previously reported the existence of another illegitimate 1956 child, Panchita Pupo. She was not even known to his other offspring and her mother remains unidentified.
And in this book, she reveals the identity of the mother of Jorge Angel, the third Castro child of 1956 - Maria Laborde, an admirer who Castro met just after was he freed.
She also discloses another apparent addition to the brood - a son known as Ciro, the early 1960s product of another brief fling. He was previously unknown outside the family inner circle, but a close relative of Celia Sanchez, Castro's closest confidante and yet another rumoured lover, revealed his existence to the author.
Ciro, named after a revolutionary martyr and whose mother's name is still secret, is said to have "movie star looks", with green eyes and dark complexion. He went into sports medicine after studying physical education at college, married a minor party official and lives in a Havana suburb where nobody knows his provenance.
And if claims made earlier this year by a Cuban intelligence defector that he sired another son in 1970 are true, that would take the count to 11 children by seven women - and counting.
Castro's first name is derived from the Latin for "faithful", but while he has remained true to his politics, the same cannot be said of the women in his life. His offspring have however largely adhered to their father's instructions not to flaunt their privileged backgrounds and are rarely seen in public, His first son, Fidelito, has received the highest prominence. But when he mishandled the country's nuclear power programme, his father ordered his dismissal. "He was fired for incompetence," Castro said. "We don't have a monarchy here."
Many Cubans would, however, disagree with the last point - and with good reason. After the crippling intestinal disease of diverticulitis nearly killed him in 2006, Fidel's brother Raul was anointed to replace him. The younger Castro was confirmed as president last year in a handover which appeared almost feudal.
Ms Bardach predicts that the most likely member of the family's next generation to emerge as a future leader is Raul's son, Alejandro, 43, a colonel and rising star in the powerful interior ministry The book also discloses the explosive inside story of how Raul Castro purged two close lieutenants of his older brother. Carlos Lage, the economics czar, and Felipe Perez Roque, the foreign minister, had both been considered possible future leaders, but were ousted after a year-long surveillance operation.
In classic old communist style, the two men were forced to write mea culpas for political sins which are still unclear. Raul, the veteran defence minister, has moved allies from the armed forces into virtually all areas of government and the economy - apparently inspired by the commercial success of the People's Liberation Army in China.
And Ms Bardach reveals that Fidel Castro's pride and obstinacy almost proved fatal when he rejected the recommended surgery in 2006 - a colostomy. Castro insisted on a much riskier operation as he did not want to suffer the perceived indignity of living with an attached bag.
The bolder procedure failed and Castro was nearly killed by a peritonitis infection as a result. After a life-saving colostomy was finally performed, Ms Bardach reports that Castro was distraught. "Fidel was crying," a source present in the hospital told her. "He cried several times that day. He was devastated."
From her contacts within the Cuban medical system, she also learns that Castro was fed intravenously for five months after the surgery and lost 45 pounds. A Spanish doctor brought in to treat him feared he was "starving to death" and gradually restored solid foods to a highly restrictive diet.
In his occasional photo shoots with visiting left-wing Latin American proteges, Castro has abandoned his old uniform of olive fatigues.
Instead, he opts for garish track suits because they hide the hated colostomy bag - emblematic of his transformation from hirsute heart-throb to frail octogenarian.

Moderate quake hits eastern Cuba

HAVANA – A magnitude-5.4 earthquake hit eastern Cuba early Friday, rattling nerves but causing no reported injuries or damage. The temblor hit just after 7 a.m. Friday, centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Baracoa, near the easternmost tip of the island, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That is just 160 miles (255 kilometers) from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where a Jan. 12 quake destroyed much of the city and killed countless thousands. "Yes we felt it. We felt it strong," said Maira Legra, whose son runs a home offering lodging to tourists in the colonial beach-side city of Baracoa. "There was no problem. I was in bed because it was early, but I didn't get up."

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Eastern Cuba jolted by moderate earthquake

HAVANA (Reuters) - An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.4 rattled eastern Cuba on Friday but there were no reports of injuries or damage, authorities said.
The quake was centred 60 miles (95 km) east-southeast of the city of Guantanamo, where the United States has its Guantanamo Naval Base. The U.S. Geological Service said the quake was centred about 6.2 miles (10 km) below ground.
The area is 160 miles (257 km) from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 that levelled much of the city and killed more than 200,000 people.
The Haitian quake last month shook eastern Cuba but not badly enough to cause injuries or damage.
In the town of Baracoa, at Cuba's eastern tip and about 35 miles (56 km) north-northwest of the epicentre, employees at the Communist Party headquarters described Friday's earthquake, which struck at 7:09 a.m. EST (1209 GMT), as strong but brief.
"The ground shook strongly but it happened faster than the Haitian earthquake. Luckily, it passed quickly," a party worker said in a phone interview.
"So far, there are no known injuries or collapses, nor are they evacuating people," he said.
(Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Franks and Pascal Fletcher)