Thursday, April 29, 2010

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Gulf oil spill could reach shore Thursday night

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This April 28, 2010 image made from video released by the 
Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command, shows an in situ burn in the
 Gulf of Mexico, in AP – This April 28, 2010 image made from video released by the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command, …
NEW ORLEANS – The edge of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was expected to reach the Mississippi River delta by Thursday night and a new technique to break up the oil a mile underwater could be tried, officials said.
As of this morning, part of the slick was about 3 miles from the Louisiana shore, said National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration spokesman Charles Henry said. It's too late to stop some of the spill from reaching the coast, but BP PLC said it might attempt to break up some of the oil spewing from a blown-out a mile under water.
The company also has asked the Department of Defense if it can help with better underwater equipment than is available commercially, said BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles.
In addition, he said the company has been reviewing research on using chemical to break up the oil, which has been done before, but never at these depths. The well is almost a mile underwater off the Louisiana shore.
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry called it "a novel, absolutely novel idea."
Meanwhile, Louisiana Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and announced that BP had agreed to allow local fishermen to assist in the expected cleanup. Under the agreement, shrimpers and fishermen could be contracted by BP to help. Jindal said the state was also training prison inmates to help clean up wildlife harmed by oil slicks moving toward shore.
The federal government sent in skimmers and booms Thursday. BP operated the rig that exploded and sank 50 miles offshore last week, which led to the spill, and is directing the cleanup and trying to stop the leak.
If the chemical technique is approved, work could start tonight, Suttles said.
"We want to pursue every technique we can find," he said.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said at the White House that the government's priority was to support BP as it fights to hold back the oil surging from the seabed in amounts much higher than previously estimated.
BP was operating the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling in 5,000 feet of water about 40 miles offshore when it exploded last week. Eleven crew members are missing and presumed dead, and the government says 5,000 barrels of oil a day are spewing from the well underneath it.
Those who count on the Gulf for their livelihoods fretted about the oil that will reach the coast soon.
In Empire, La., Frank and Mitch Jurisich could smell the oil coming from just beyond the murky water where their family has harvested oysters for three generations.
"About 30 minutes ago we started smelling it," Mitch Jurisich said. "That's when you know it's getting close and it hits you right here."
They spent Thursday hauling in enough oysters to fill more than 100 burlap sacks, stopping to eat some because it might be their last chance before oil contaminates them.
President Barack Obama has dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to help with the spill. The president said his administration will use "every single available resource at our disposal" to respond.
Obama directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
A third leak at the well site was discovered Wednesday, and government officials said the amount coming out is five times as much as originally estimated.
Suttles had initially disputed the government's estimate, and that the company was unable to handle the operation to contain it.
But early Thursday, he acknowledged on "Today" that the leak may be as bad as the government says. He said there was no way to measure the flow at the seabed and estimates have to come from how much oil makes it to the surface.
If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.
As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about 75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply boat at Bud's Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government's response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials.
"We're not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana.
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill Michael Kunzelman and Brett Martel in New Orleans, Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge and Holbrook Mohr in Empire contributed to this report.

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Castro Provided Refuge to Pablo Escobar

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In an interview today with RCN Radio, retired Col. Victor Boitano, a former high raking Sandinista military officer, described the links between Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Cuba's Fidel Castro and Medellin Cartel drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Boitano revealed how Ortega and Castro even provided refuge to Escobar, when he didn't feel safe in his native Colombia.

Escobar, who was killed in 1993, would "appreciate" such protection with a $300 million donation, plus another $50 million in necessary expenses to avoid detection by the U.S. authorities.

The Cuban People Are Not Morons

Havana-based blogger Ivan Garcia has written a great analysis on the poor state of the Castro regime's centralized, command-economy.

In it, Garcia notes:

"To justify their failures, the Castros have their favorite weapon: the Yankee embargo. But no one but a fanatic or a moron could seriously blame only the U.S. embargo for the poor performance of the local economy. It doesn't take a think-tank, or an expert in economic matters, to point out those responsible for sending the Cuban economy back to the stone age."

Unfortunately, many Washington-based think tanks and self-described Cuba policy experts seem to believe the Cuban people are fanatics or morons, for this is their favorite talking point in favor of unconditionally lifting sanctions.

Read the whole analysis here.
S: Capitol Hill Cubans
Italian journalist and international criminal issues expert Luca Rastello has written the book, Yo Soy el Mercado: Teoría, Métodos y Estilo de Vida del Perfecto Narcotraficante (I Am the Market: Theory, Method and Lifestyle of the Perfect Narcotrafficker), that details the ingenious strategies Colombian and Mexican narcotraffickers have implemented for years to grow their business in transporting tons of cocaine. Spanish daily La Razón has published an excerpt (pdf) of the book; describing his work as “a thrilling story about how to transport cocaine from Latin America to the United States and Europe. A business in which the Castros’ Cuba very discretely participates in.”
[H/T: Penultimos Dias]
Chinese DefMin Liang Guanglie (R) meets with ACG Alvaro Lopez Miera
 in Beijing on 26 APR 2010. Image: Global Times
Chinese DefMin Liang Guanglie (R) meets with ACG Álvaro López Miera in Beijing on April 26, 2010. Image: Global Times
Via Global Times:
China pledged to further develop military ties with Cuba during a meeting of senior military officials from the two countries on Monday.
“The years since China and Cuba forged diplomatic ties in 1960 have witnessed a stable development of bilateral relations and fruitful cooperation in various fields,” Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said when meeting with [Army Corps General] Álvaro López Miera, vice minister and chief of the General Staff of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.
The armed forces of China and Cuba have maintained frequent high-level visits and good communication, Liang said, citing the expansion of exchanges and cooperation in personnel training.
China has always believed that the development of China-Cuba relations and their military ties are in the fundamental interests of both nations’ people, he said.
Liang, also a state councilor, said he would like to work with Cuba to further upgrade military ties.
[ACG] Lopez praised China’s achievements in social and economic growth, adding that Cuba is willing to learn from China’s experience.
He also offered his condolences to the the victims of the 7.1-magnitude earthquake jolting northwest China’s Qinghai Province on April 14, expressing his hope the two countries can enhance military cooperation in disaster-relief work.
Arriving in China April 24, [ACG] Lopez is scheduled to conclude the official goodwill visit on April 29.
He held talks with Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, here on Sunday.

April 27, 2010

Press group denounces jailing of blogger after swift trial that led to a 20-month term

The Inter-American Press Association has denounced the arrest and imprisonment of Cuban blogger Dania Virgen García, a member of the support team for the Ladies in White.
(fot) García was arrested on April 22 on undisclosed charges, tried and sentenced to 20 months' imprisonment within 48 hours. Her destination was Manto Negro (Black Cloak) women's prison, outside Havana.
García did not have a particularly high profile in the dissident movement, so her arrest might be a warning to bloggers in general and the Ladies in White in particular.
In her website, El Blog de Dania, she identifies herself as an independent journalist and the representative in Havana of the Freedom and Democracy Party of Holguín.
She is associated with the Commission for Attention to Political Prisoners and their Relatives, (CAPPF) and the Center for Human Rights and Democracy (CDHD).
An editorial on García's arrest and the implications for the Ladies in White, titled "Women Who Brave Mobs," appears in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. Click here.
[UPDATE: Dissident sources in Havana told El Nuevo Herald on Wednesday that García, 41, was arrested for striking her daughter Suzy, 23, and tried on charges of "abuse of maternal authority." For details, click here. For an Associated Press account, click here.]
Posted by Renato Perez at 04:33 PM in Dissidents, human rights
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A look at conduits for trade with Cuba

Joaquín F. Monserrate, Political and Economic Counselor at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba, made some intriguing statements during an address in Puerto Rico to members of an advisory trade organization.
Speaking Thursday in San Juan to the Puerto Rican Institute for Mutual Aid to a Democratic Cuba, Monserrate said that "Cuba could open to business a lot earlier than it could become democratic. In fact, that's a big possibility."
(pic) Although "opportunities [for trade] are very limited today, everything points to the fact that, from one moment to another, more profound changes will occur. The big question is when. Truth is, I don't know. Nobody knows."
Monserrate's comments were reproduced Tuesday by the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día.
The State Department official told the businessmen that they should "look for experiences that will help you penetrate into Cuba." One conduit is the Dominican Republic, he said.
"If you have no presence in the Dominican Republic, you have nothing to look for in Cuba. The Dominican Republic, after concluding its free-trade treaty with the United States, becomes a barrio of Mayagüez. You're going to have investment terms almost as if you were almost in the United States. Explore that market, because it will be useful to you," he said, according to El Nuevo Día.
"Use the government of the United States, which is your government," Monserrate told his audience. "In all embassies in the world, the Department of Commerce has an Office of Foreign Commercial Services that does nothing but find markets for you.
"The Department of Agriculture also has offices of Foreign Agricultural Services, which find markets for farm exporters."
Monserrate cautioned the businessmen that "Cuba has an extremely leonine and unattractive investment climate." The government is always the majority partner and takes a lion's share of the profits, even though it contributes little to the business, he explained.
As a point of reference, until last year Monserrate was deputy chief of the Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, a communist country that does business with the United States.
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.
Posted by Renato Perez at 10:14 AM in Economy & Trade, U.S.-Cuba relations
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

"A call to dialogue"

Palabra Nueva published an interesting interview with Cardinal Jaime Ortega last week; the complete text is here, AP’s coverage is here, and Cuban Colada translated excerpts here.
At the Havana Note, Tom Garofalo wrote a very useful explanation of the meaning behind some of the terms the Cardinal used when he expressed his desire for dialogue in the interest of the common good of the Cuban nation.
Cardinal Ortega focused mainly on the situation inside Cuba, discussing Cuba’s sharp economic difficulties, and stating his view that there is basically a “kind of national consensus” on changes that are urgently needed to address them.
He is not swooning over President Obama. He makes a modest assessment of the new President’s actions toward Cuba, saying that “important steps were taken that modified some counterproductive measures imposed by the previous Administration.” But when it comes to dialogue, he said:
“…with time the campaign proposal was changed. The old policy prevailed again: to begin at the end. I am convinced that the first step should be to meet and talk and, as the dialogue advances, steps could be taken to improve difficult situations or to overcome the most critical points.”
In other words, President Obama has it backwards.
And Cardinal Ortega gives the issue of U.S.-Cuba dialogue more importance than one might guess.
The remarks cited above came in response to this question: “Do you truly believe that the conflict with the United States affects the lives of Cubans in a decisive way?” His answer began, “I believe a Cuba-United States dialogue would be the first step needed to break the critical circle in which we find ourselves.” That sounds as if he’s saying that the state of Cuba’s relationship with the United States affects the country’s internal dynamics. He wouldn’t be the first Cuban to express that opinion, but it would be interesting to know why he thinks that is the case.
Finally, the Cardinal described the coverage of Orlando Zapata’s death as a “war of words of the communications media of the United States, Spain, and others.” He went on to say that the coverage constituted “a form of media violence” to which the government reacted “in its own way.” I understand and support the Cardinal’s idea that dialogue all around would be a good idea. But news is news, and coverage of it isn’t “violence.”

Fariñas Cuban opposition rejects request to stop strike

The dissident said that their actions put Cuba on the look world

Havana .- A group of 88 Cuban dissidents asked the journalist Guillermo Fariñas to lift the strike keeping hunger from 64 days ago, but rejected the dissident application because it says it must sustain "the pressure on the government."

"We take responsibility to approach you once again In order to put down your hunger strike, "says Farinas 88 dissidents who signed the text "Call of the Motherland", delivered to Hunger striker in hospital in Santa Clara, where he served since 11 March, and the international press in Havana, said AFP.

"They ask me to stand before a project to ask  amnesty for political prisoners, but I refused to accept that request, because it is a viable project, "said Fariñas from hospital.

The psychologist also, 48, stressed that at this time international public opinion has turned to what happens in Cuba on human rights "and" is not the time to withdraw the pressure on the government "but" marked. "


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Obama turns off pro-democracy news ticker on U.S. building in Havana to improve relations with Cuban government

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:28 AM on 28th July 2009

The Obama administration has turned off an electronic sign at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana that displayed pro-democracy and human rights messages to Cuban passers-by.
The news 'zipper' on the fifth floor of the American Interest Section in the Cuban capital had riled the government for the past three years.
But it is now shut down amid the administration's efforts to engage with Cuba's leadership that has already seen some U.S. sanctions eased.
The news ticker showing messages across the American Interest 
Section building in Cuba has been switched off
The electronic news ticker showed messages across the building which the Cuban government tried to obscure with flags opposite
'We believe that the billboard was really not effective as a means of delivering information to the Cuban people,' spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
He noted that since the sign was first erected in 2006, the Cuban government had taken steps to obscure it from view and questioned whether it was serving its original purpose.
'It was evident that the Cuban people weren't even able to read the billboard because of some obstructions that were put in front of it,' he said.
He added that President Barack Obama's decision in April to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to do business with Cuba would do more to boost the flow of information to the island.
The sign, which frequently displayed quotes from leading human rights activists and pro-democracy supporters, outraged Cuban authorities who had in 2005 erected billboards outside the mission emblazoned with photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners and a huge swastika overlaid with a 'Made in the U.S.A' stamp.
Mr Kelly noted that the Cubans had dismantled 'a few very negative billboards and graffiti' around the facility and the United States viewed their removal as 'a positive gesture.'
'We're trying to do all we can to promote the free flow of information between the U.S. and Cuba,' he said.

'We are looking for ways that we can do that in the best way possible. And we just felt that these dueling, disparaging - well, disparaging is the wrong word - but these dueling billboards, if you will, were not serving the interests of promoting a more productive relationship,' Mr Kelly said.
In front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuban authorities blocked the sign with large flags and billboards on a platform that was used for many protests against U.S. policy during the Bush administration.
Marianela Rojas, 52, who passes by the Interests Section on her way home each day, said the flags and billboards made it difficult to read the electronic sign.
'When they first put it up I read it whenever I passed by because I could see it,' Rojas said. 'But later I stopped paying attention to what it said and I'd be lying if I told you what the final message was. Politics doesn't interest me much.'
Since he came into office, Obama has sought to reach out to Cuba by easing travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family in Cuba. But he has said he wants to see political or economic reforms before going further.

The plight of Cuba's hunger strikers

Cuba's neighbours should tell Castro's regime that if it wishes to avoid isolation it needs to improve its human rights record
Today marks the seventh anniversary of a vicious crackdown on opponents of the Castro regime in Cuba. In the spring of 2003, the news agenda was dominated by the preparations for the US-led invasion of Iraq. In Havana, 90 so-called "agents of the American enemy" were arrested. Among those incarcerated were teachers, doctors, union organisers, journalists, human rights activists and dissidents. Seventy-five of those arrested were tried in circumstances which fell short of international standards. They were given jail sentences ranging from six to 28 years. As bombs fell on Baghdad, few voices were raised in protest at events in Cuba.
The anniversary this year is likely to receive more attention. One of those arrested in 2003, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died last month following an 80-day hunger strike. Another dissident, Guillermo "Coco" Farinas, who began a hunger strike on February 24, is perilously close to death. A third political prisoner, Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been in prison for 20 years, is in extremely poor health in a Havana hospital and, according to his family, is receiving inadequate treatment.
These developments have not gone entirely unnoticed. The European parliament has condemned the "avoidable and cruel death" of Tamayo and called on the communist dictatorship to release its political prisoners. Governments closer to the Caribbean island, however, have been more muted in their criticism. Leaders in the region find it more convenient to call for the United Kingdom to cede sovereignty over the Falklands than to denounce the human rights abuses of their neighbour. A new regional grouping, provisionally called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, will hold its first meeting in Caracas next year and has the enthusiastic support of Raul Castro. There is no chance that this body will speak out against the persecution of Castro's opponents. Latin American leaders are caught in a trap of their own making, believing that to criticise human rights abuses in Cuba is somehow to support Washinghton's embargo.
The despots in Havana seem to think that they can pursue the "China model" of modern development – reaching out with one hand for economic ties with foreign countries, while crushing internal dissent with the other. Cuba's neighbours need to tell Castro's regime that if it wishes to avoid isolation it needs to improve its human rights record. As the brave Cuban men and women who dare to speak out against their rulers are harassed, imprisoned and worse, the prospect remains shamefully remote.
Thursday 18 March 2010 12.30 GMT-LPP Last Update