Monday, April 12, 2010

Obama at Nuclear Summit

Obama, world leaders work to stop nuclear spread

Al-Qaeda would use nuclear bomb on US: Obama AFP – US President Barack Obama makes a statement during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Obama has …
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and presidents, prime ministers and other top officials from 47 countries start work Monday on a battle plan to keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands. Confronting what he calls the "single biggest threat to U.S. security," Obama is looking for global help in his goal of ensuring all nuclear materials worldwide are secured from theft or diversion within four years. On the eve of what would be the largest assembly of world leaders hosted by an American president since 1945 — the San Francisco conference to found the United Nations — Obama said nuclear materials in the hands of al-Qaida or another terrorist group "could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come." While sweeping or even bold new strategies were unlikely to emerge from the two-day gathering, Obama declared himself pleased with what he heard in warm-up meetings Sunday with the leaders of Kazakhstan, South Africa, India and Pakistan. "I feel very good at this stage in the degree of commitment and a sense of urgency that I have seen from the world leaders so far on this issue," Obama said. "We think we can make enormous progress on this, and this then becomes part and parcel of the broader focus that we've had over the last several weeks." He was referring to what had gone before this, the fourth leg of his campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The United States is the only country to use the weapons, two bombs dropped on Japan to force its surrender in World War II. The high-flown ambition, which the president admits will probably not be reality in his lifetime, began a year ago in Prague when he laid out plans for significant nuclear reductions and a nuclear-weapons-free world. In the meantime, he has approved a new nuclear policy for the United States, promising last week to reduce America's nuclear arsenal, refrain from nuclear tests and not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them. North Korea and Iran were not included in that pledge because they do not cooperate with other countries on nonproliferation standards. That was Tuesday, and two days later, on the anniversary of the Prague speech, Obama flew back to the Czech Republic capital where he and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed a new treaty that reduces each side's deployed nuclear arsenal to 1,550 weapons. Medvedev also arrives Monday to sign a long-delayed agreement to dispose of tons of weapons-grade plutonium from Cold War-era nuclear weapons — the type of preventive action Obama wants the summit to inspire. Obama welcomes the assembled world leaders at a Washington convention center late Monday afternoon, but begins the day with a morning meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose intelligence apparatus is deeply involved in the Afghan war. He then will sit down one-on-one with the leaders of Malaysia, Ukraine, Armenia and China. National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said Obama would squeeze in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is a key NATO ally, and relations have been difficult recently, particularly over Iran. Rhodes said there were additional "pressing issues," including normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. Throughout the two-day gathering, Iran will be a subtext as Obama works to gain support for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to shut down what the United States and many key allies assert is a nuclear weapons program. Iran says it only wants to build reactors to generate electricity. In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Medvedev agreed that Iran's nuclear program must be watched closely, but he said sanctions on the regime would have to be smart and effective because they often don't work. "They should not lead to humanitarian catastrophe, where the whole Iranian community would start to hate the whole world," the Russian president said. He rejected the idea of imposing sanctions on Iran's petroleum industry. "I don't think on that topic we have a chance to achieve a consolidated opinion of the global community," Medvedev said. Support from Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao, who sees Obama privately Monday, is critical, but neither is firmly committed to a new sanctions regime.

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Cuba's government may have more than one million excess employees on payroll, Castro says

By Juan O. Tamayo El Nuevo Herald
Posted: 8:49 a.m. Monday, April 12, 2010  

The stunning figure was revealed by Cuban leader Raúl Castro himself: The Cuban government and its enterprises might have more than one million excess workers on their payrolls.
That's more than one million unproductive workers, out of what official Cuban figures show is a total of 4.9 million people working in formal jobs in a country of 11.2 million people.
And that's part of the explanation, several economists said, for a calamitously over-centralized and unproductive economy that, for example, forces a tropical island to import an estimated 60 percent of the food its people consume. The Cuban government has historically insisted on keeping people officially employed, even in unproductive jobs. Unemployment was last reported at 1.6 percent by the National Statistics Office (ONE).
About 95 percent of the jobs in Cuba's formal sector are with the government — ministries, their agencies and enterprises — though salaries are so low, averaging about $20 a month, nationwide, that many Cubans also have off-the-books work to make ends meet.
But the figures on excess jobs in the government and its enterprises mentioned by Raúl Castro surprised even some Cuban economists.
"We know there's an excess of hundreds of thousands of workers in the budgeted and enterprise sectors (and) some analysts calculate that the excess of jobs is more than one million,' he said Sunday in a speech to the Cuban Communist Youth.
There are "inflated payrolls, very inflated payrolls, terribly inflated payrolls,' Castro said before adding a reassurance: "The revolution will not forsake anyone. I will fight to create the conditions so that all Cubans have honorable jobs.'
It was not the first time that Cuban officials have publicly acknowledged the government has far too many employees.
The commerce and restaurant sectors alone in Cienfuegos, Cuba's smallest province, have 1,400 too many employees, according to a recent report in the newspaper Trabajadores, run by the government-controlled Cuban Confederation of Workers (CTC).
The province's education sector also is overstaffed by 1,025, and the sports sector by 500, the newspaper added, quoting Marlén Jiménez, a provincial official of the CTC.
What's more, public health facilities like hospitals and clinics in eastern Granma province alone have 3,000 unnecessary employees, the newspaper quoted Luis Muñoz, a member of the CTC's provincial secretariat, as saying.
"All will remain in their jobs, but depending on the possibilities many will be reassigned to useful and productive jobs,' the newspaper noted. "Cuba will never resort to the easy and inhumane formulas of neoliberalism, based on massive dismissals.'
Gary Maybarduk, who served as counselor for political and economic affairs at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana from 1997-1999, said Castro's comments indicate that he's aware of the massive problems facing an economy battered by the global crisis, three hurricanes and its own massive inefficiencies.
"The government is beginning to recognize its problems, but isn't ready to do anything about it yet because it has neither the capital nor the ability to create significant numbers of new jobs,' he said.
"It indicates an incapacity to generate productive jobs that is Olympian, Guiness Book of Records,' said Jorge Sanguinetty, former president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. "But that's been the Cuban government's problem since 1962.'
"And that's why underemployment is ridiculously high there,' said Archibald Ritter, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who specializes in the Cuban economy.
Many day-care centers and even some two-star hotels in Cuba have their own nurses and doctors — not on call, but full time — Ritter said in a telephone interview.
What's more, when the government shut down more than 70 sugar mills beginning in 2002, their 100,000 employees kept 40 percent of their salaries while they trained for other jobs, said Jesús "Marzo' Fernandez, a former top Cuba government economist now in Miami.
Fernandez added that while he was initially surprised by Castro's one-million figure, it made sense in light of recent reports that some Cuban enterprises have shut down because of the lack of foreign supplies needed for production.

Castro's Armageddon

Last week, Cuban dictator Raul Castro declared that his country prefers to "disappear," rather than be "blackmailed" by the U.S., Europe, dissidents and their "manipulations" regarding human rights.

"This country will never capitulate. It would prefer to disappear, as we demonstrated in 1962," said Castro in allusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In other words, Fidel and Raul Castro prefer to kill all 11.5 million Cubans (and whomever else might be necessary), rather than allow the Cuban people to freely choose their own leadership and destiny.

Such psychopathy is -- in itself -- a threat to U.S. interests.

An Important Contrast

In Friday's top post, the Cuban pro-democracy movement recommended a peaceful, non-violent referendum to decide the fate of Cuba's political prisoners.

Meanwhile, the day before, the Castro regime exhorted Cuban workplaces to violently confront critics with sticks, pipes and chains.

Reason vs. Barbarism, indeed.

Cuban police stopped Sunday's march by the Ladies in White (UPDATED)
Associated Press report about today's incident

April11 - The Ladies in White attempted to march on Sunday after attending Mass at a Havana church, but were stopped by Cuban police and returned by force to their homes.
Bertha Soler, one of the leaders of the group, said they were stopped from conducting their weekly march, after refusing to accept arbitrary restrictions placed by Cuban authorities.
"We will continue our peaceful fight because the streets belong to all Cubans and we should be able to walk peacefully wherever we want," said Soler.
Soler said that about 2 weeks ago Cuban authorities visited them and said that from now on they would have to ask for permission at least 72 hours in advance, if they intended to march after attending Mass at the Santa Rita Church in Havana, as they have been doing for several years.
Cuban police also limited their march to half a kilometer or about one third of a mile.
According to Soler, a state security officer visited the home of Laura Pollán, leader of the Ladies in White, on Saturday and told her that they could not march today because they had not asked for permission.
"Why do we need to ask for permission to be able to walk?," asked Soler.
She said that police officers in full uniform and others dressed in civilian clothes, prevented several of the ladies from reaching the church.
Soler said that only about 5 of the Ladies in White were able to attend the Mass and when the service ended and they tried to walk out of the church, they were forced inside a bus and taken to their homes.
Carlos Alberto Montaner answers Silvio Rodríguez
April11 - Carlos Alberto Montaner, a renowned Cuban author and a critic of the Cuban regime, has exchanged a series of open letters with Silvio Rodriguez, a singer who has become a millionaire thanks to his support for that same brutal regime, which denies 11 million Cubans the same opportunities he has enjoyed  The Miami Herald
Only "a few hundred" Cubans attended the "concert for the homeland" in support of the Castro brothers
April11 - A surprisingly small crowd sweated and sang along to performances by Cuban rock, folk and salsa stars Saturday, at what the communist government billed as a politically important "concert for the homeland."
According to Spanish news agency EFE, only a few hundred people attended the free concert.  AP reports that approximately 1,400 showed up. 
Organizers had said the show would be headlined by Cuba's most famous folk singer, Silvio Rodriguez. But instead the pro-Castro government activist made fans wait for an hour in unrelenting afternoon sun before he took the stage, read a letter defending the single-party communist system — and then left without performing. 
Immediately after the 63-year-old Rodriguez's appearance were performances by top artists from the "Nueva Trova" movement, a genre that mixes folk music and pro-Castro politics. But many in the already sparse crowd drifted away, missing later performances by other musicians and poetry recited by Cuban film stars. 
State-controlled media said the concert would prove Cuba's artists and intellectuals support the government. But the approximately 1,400 Cubans who turned out to watch were nothing compared to the thousands who routinely jam the plaza for free concerts, including a show in March by Puerto Rican rockers Calle 13. NPR  EFE (Spanish)

Cuban diplomat who defected in Mexico is now in the US with her husband
April 9 - A Cuban diplomat who defected with her husband in Mexico last month has told relatives in Cuba they are in the United States, an uncle said Friday, adding that she was likely being debriefed by U.S. intelligence agents. 
Yusimil Casañas had worked in the personal office of former Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, ousted last year along with former Vice President Carlos Lage and others in a purge that some Cuba analysts perceived as a sign of instability within in the island's ruling class.
The Miami Herald
Hillary and Obama finally realize what we knew all along: The Castros don't want relations with the US
April 9 - Cuba's leadership does not want to normalize ties with Washington because they would "lose their excuses" for the country's lack of development and openness, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.
Despite US efforts to "enhance cooperation," President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel "do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States because they would then lose all their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years," Clinton said.
"The people of Cuba should have democratically elected leaders and a chance to chart their own future. But unfortunately, I don't see that happening while the Castros are still in charge," the top US diplomat said. 
Clinton also pointed to what she said was a growing acknowledgment from the international community that Havana was cracking down on human rights.
"For the first time, a lot of countries that had done nothing but berate the United States for our failure to be more open to Cuba have now started criticizing Cuba because they let people die," she said.
"Many in the world are now seeing what we have seen for a long time, which is a very intransigent, entrenched regime that has stifled the opportunity for the Cuban people." More


Courtesy photo

Tower School eighth-graders Eliot Gregory, Emma Kahn, left, and Grace Murray hide among the jagüey trees of Havana.

More Photos

By Caitlin Rung / Special to the Reporter
Posted Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:42 PM
On a five-day trip to Cuba, nine eighth-graders from the Tower School got a rare glimpse of the seldom-visited country and its people who will likely never leave.
Tower School Spanish teacher Victoria Dosch and her husband Steve Dosch led the trip. Knowing that Cuba is a country to which Americans are usually not allowed to travel, Victoria Dosch had to gain permission to bring her group there. Dosch pledged to bring medical supplies and toys to the Cuban hospitals and received clearance on humanitarian grounds.
The students, all from Marblehead, Swampscott and Nahant, were Ben Clark, Harry Cohen, Eliot Gregory, Caroline Hooper, Drew Jacobs, Emma Kahn, Grace Polk, Grace Murray and Emily Willis.
To raise money for the supplies to be donated on the trip, the Tower School students ran a bake sale and organized a “jeans and T-shirt day,” where students who could buy relief from the school dress code with a small donation. In total, the kids and Dosch raised $1,028. The kids spent the weeks before their trip shopping for supplies and packing.
When the exhausted travelers reached the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, native musicians were playing the Beatles “Yesterday.” Dosch recognized the poignant ballad immediately and realized what a perfect welcome to Cuba it was.
“I couldn’t have scripted it better,” she said.
With only a few short days in Cuba, the group got started immediately on its humanitarian work in the country.
While visiting a Cuban school, the Tower School students tried to engage the kids in a game of world trivia, but after the first question, in which the students were asked who the American president is, the principal of the Cuban school put a stop to the game.
“We were told that the kids wouldn’t know about things other than Cuba,” Dosch said.
Instead, the kids talked to the Cuban children, played volleyball with them and helped them make cards for those back at the Tower School.
“[Cuban President Fidel Castro] values sports and education,” Emily Willis said. “When the [Cuban] students wrote cards for the students at Tower, they wrote drafts and drafts to make sure their writing was perfect.”
The Tower School kids also participated in a scavenger hunt that required them to ask strangers questions about Cuba. They soon found that the Cuban people would literally drop everything to help them and often would walk them all the way to their destinations.
“They lacked a sense of urgency,” said Dosch. “They were very relaxed, and we found it refreshing.”
The scavenger hunt was also a perfect way for the kids to test their Spanish, but they quickly found that the Cubans wanted to test their English as well.
“We were talking Spanish, and they were talking English,” Gregory said. “As soon as they found out we were from America, they just wanted to talk to us in English.”
Added Dosch, “[The Tower students] did a really good job with the Spanish and reading social cues. The kids were very mindful of the atmosphere.”
Taking advice from Dosch, the students also learned not to discuss politics.
“It is more despondent there than it was,” Dosch said.
Gregory added, “They didn’t want to talk about Fidel. They didn’t want to put a damper on their day.”
During their time in Cuba, the students noticed that things are rarely what they seem. The smiling faces of the Cuban people were often covering the hopelessness of their living conditions.
“I was struck by how poor Cuba is,” Gregory said. “The buildings were all run down and hadn’t been painted in years. It was like they were trapped in a bubble.”
Dosch added, “They are so close to us [geographically]. But they seem so far and so foreign. There are two very different worlds, and they are not supposed to meet.”
The kids were especially surprised to realize that they weren’t allowed into the hospital to give their donations. They were told that Fidel Castro is extremely proud of Cuba’s medical system, so he does not accept donations. Also, because one Cuban is not allowed to have more than another, they cannot even accept medical supplies or medicines that could save their lives.
In order to make sure their donations did not go to waste, the students had patients come out and get the supplies to sneak them into the hospital. Castro’s reign has brought hard times on many of the Cuban people, but as Dosch told her students, “Most of the people in Cuba have no idea what existed before him.”
Carlos Varela, a controversial Cuban singer and someone who longs for life without Castro, is one of the few brave enough to sing publicly about freedom for the people of Cuba. Varela wears all black in protest of Castro, who wears all green. Marblehead residents are working to bring Varela to America to perform a concert.
Jonathan Farrar, an American and another ally in the fight for a free Cuba, is the unofficial ambassador to Cuba.
“The waiting list for Cubans to come to America is two years,” Dosch said. “Jonathan Farrar’s goal was to lower the wait time by offering visas in the mornings and afternoons.”
Farrar’s plan backfired when Cubans took the afternoon opening to mean that the United States was offering more visas. Hundreds more Cubans applied, and now the wait is two years and four months, but Farrar is still working to bring the wait time down to one year.
To insure the students had a little break from their humanitarian efforts before they left Cuba, Dosch took the kids to a museum dedicated to every supposed assassination attempt on Castro. The kids saw everything from an exploding Quaker Oats box, to a camera implanted in a highlighter, to a bomb hidden in a rock.
The Cuban government assures tourists and the Cuban people that Castro’s life is threatened every 20 seconds, and portraits hang in the museum of every “known” person to have made an attempt to murder Castro.
After five short days in Cuba, the students and the Doschs flew home.
Three weeks after the trip, on March 9, Dosch gathered eight of the nine students to discuss their trip at Tower School. Their presentations included Cuban music, a slideshow of photographs from the trip and the students’ own explanations about life in Cuba.
“It takes about three weeks to digest the trip,” Dosch explained.
The slideshow told the story of the Cuban people. The pictures of people dancing in the streets were followed by messages stating, “Things get better or worse, but the Cubans can never leave” or “In Cuba, nothing is taken for granted.”
“It still kind of seems like a dream,” Dosch said. “But it’s a dream we will never forget.”

Police Bar Cuba's 'Ladies in White' From Marching

Cuban police break up traditional weekly protest march by 'Ladies in White' dissident group

Police broke up a weekly march by wives and mothers of imprisoned Cuban opposition leaders Sunday, forcing them onto a bus and driving them home as a pro-government crowd screamed insults.
Uniformed police and plainclothes security agents blocked a sidewalk along Havana's Fifth Avenue, stopping five members of the "Damas de Blanco," or "Ladies in White," from following their traditional march route, said Bertha Soler, one of the group's leaders.
"There was a mob of government people shouting things," Soler said when reached by phone later at the home of Laura Pollan, who co-founded the group. Soler's husband, Angel Moya, is in jail for dissident activities.
The "Ladies in White" traditionally attend Sunday Mass at Santa Rica Church in the upscale Miramar neighborhood, then march silently down the swank boulevard to demand the release of their relatives — top political activists, community organizers and independent journalists. They were rounded up during a government crackdown on dissent in 2003 and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for allegedly conspiring with Washington to topple Cuba's communist system.
The women dress all in white, carry pink gladiolas and, after a few blocks, stop to chant "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!"
They have marched every Sunday for years and are usually allowed to do so without incident. Pollan said a state security official visited her home Sunday morning to warn the group not to demonstrate, saying they did not have government permission.
"It's every woman's right to decide if she will march or not," Pollan said.
She said the group would demonstrate as usual next Sunday unless the government produced a document stating that they are not allowed to do so.
"I don't understand why we have to ask permission to march," Soler said.
The Cuban government had no immediate comment.
The mass arrests of dissidents began March 18, 2003, when the world's attention was focused on the start of the war in Iraq. All of those arrested deny the charges against them.
Of the 75 imprisoned, 53 remain behind bars, with the rest either paroled for health reasons, freed into forced exile in Spain or released after completing their sentences.
The scene Sunday was reminiscent of a march last month that, after several peaceful protests to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the prisoners' detention, degenerated into a shouting match between "Ladies in White" members and government supporters. The confrontation ended with authorities again forcing the women onto buses and driving them home.
That sparked an outcry in the United States and prompted sympathy marches in Miami and Los Angeles.
Cuba's human rights situation has been a cause of renewed international tension since the Feb. 23 death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a long hunger strike in jail. The case was decried by the U.S. government as well as European leaders.
It also prompted another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, to refuse food and water for weeks. Farinas remains alive thanks to periodic intravenous feedings at a hospital near his home in central Cuba.
The communist government says the dissidents are part of an international campaign to defame Cuba fueled by foreign news media and the U.S., saying it will not to buckle to what it calls international "blackmail." It brands all opposition activists as common criminals and lackeys of Washington and says every country should have the right to jail those it deems traitors.

LA HABANA, 11 (ANSA) - Integrantes del grupo opositor Damas de Blanco fueron interceptadas por la policía cubana antes de comenzar una marcha por una avenida de La Habana y conducidas a sus respectivas casas en un ómnibus.
    Fuentes opositoras locales dijeron que un representante policíaco informó con anticipación al grupo, ilegal antes las leyes nacionales, que no podrían más desfilar unidas por la ciudad sin un permiso oficial.
    Miembros de las Damas no pudieron llegar a la iglesia donde se habían citado con el fin de realizar una marcha, después de la misa. Otras que lo lograron fueron trasladas a sus residencias por agentes, dijeron las fuentes.
    Las Damas de Blanco, agrupación formada por familiares de presos que fueron juzgados y encarcelados en 2003 por delitos de "mercenarismo", según las acusaciones, solían asistir cada domingo a la iglesia y después regresar a sus casas en marchas públicas pidiendo su libertad.
    Al cumplirse el mes pasado otro aniversario de los juicios contra sus parientes, las Damas llevaron a cabo en una semana siete caminatas públicas durante las que fueron rodeadas y abucheadas por centenares de personas simpatizantes del gobierno.
    Dedicaron, además, las protestas a Orlando Zapata, fallecido en febrero pasado a causa de una huelga de hambre.
    Denuncias cubanas consideraron la huelga de Zapata, otra similar que desarrolla aún otra persona, Guillermo Fariñas, en Santa Clara, en el centro del país, y esas marchas como parte de una "conspiración anticubana" lanzada por Estados Unidos "con la complicidad" de Europa.
    El presidente de Cuba, Raúl Castro, en un discurso ante jovenes comunistas hace una semana, advirtió que el gobierno "no retrocederá un milímetro" ante esas acciones. GAT

11/04/2010 23:53