Thursday, June 17, 2010

BP CEO telling Congress he's 'devastated' by spill

BP CEO Hayward To Testify Play Video CNBC  – BP CEO Hayward To Testify
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Tony Hayward, Carl-Henric Svanberg, Bob Dudley AP – BP CEO Tony Hayward, right, followed by BP Managing Director Bob Dudley, back left, and BP Chairman Carl-Henric …

WASHINGTON – A day after agreeing to a $20 billion victims' compensation fund, BP's chief executive is ready to tell Congress that he was "personally devastated" by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and understands the anger that Americans feel toward him and his company.
CEO Tony Hayward's contrition isn't likely to save him from a bruising Thursday on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are preparing to channel constituent outrage over the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history.
In prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press, Hayward said the explosion and sinking of the BP-operated rig "never should have happened — and I am deeply sorry that they did."
Newly disclosed documents obtained by the AP show that after the Deepwater Horizon sank, BP made a worst-case estimate of 2.5 million gallons a day flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. That figure is far higher than the company had said publicly until this week, when the government released its own worst-case estimate of about that amount.
The undated estimate by BP, apparently made sometime last month, reflected the actual situation as it was understood by BP at the time, said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, obtained the documents as part of an investigation into the oil spill and its aftermath.
Grassley said it was not clear when exactly BP made the calculation. "Certainly Americans have a right to know that BP made these estimates, the date these estimates were determined and why they were not disclosed at that time," he said Wednesday.
In a letter to BP America President Lamar McKay, Grassley asked BP to explain when it calculated a worst-case scenario of 60,000 barrels a day and to provide documents justifying the figure.
In the course of the crisis in the Gulf, Hayward has irritated some with comments like "I'd like my life back." He strikes a more deferential tone in remarks prepared for the congressional hearing.
"To be sure, neither I nor the company is perfect," he said. "But we are unwavering in our commitment to fulfill all our responsibilities." He said the company has spent nearly $1.5 billion so far and won't stop spending until the job is done.
Hayward was to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which is looking into the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and unleashed a flood of oil that has yet to be stopped. He called it "a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures."
It's unlikely, however, that lawmakers — especially in an election year — will adopt President Barack Obama's more conciliatory tone toward BP. After accusing the company a day earlier of "recklessness," Obama and top advisers met Wednesday with BP officials, including Hayward and board chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. After the meeting, Obama announced BP concessions to pay a $20 billion fund. He said BP was "a strong and viable company," and its stock price rebounded.
Still, in perhaps a pointed snub, Obama on Wednesday described a "constructive meeting" with Svanberg but didn't mention Hayward. Last week, the president said he would have fired Hayward for comments such as when Hayward said he wanted his life back.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, and the full committee chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, wrote Hayward this week to expect questions on documents showing company decisions before the explosion "that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense."
Ahead of the session, Stupak said of Hayward's appearance, "I expect him to be sliced and diced."
Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.

In the Box...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cuban Dissidents Support H.R. 4645 [Updated]

Haven't seen this reported on Radio Marti yet.

Seventy-four Cuban dissidents have signed a letter in support of H.R. 4646, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. This bill was also supported by the Conference of Catholic Bishops [PDF of letter] and Human Rights Watch back in March.

The Havana Note and El Yuma blog have all the details. Ted Henken of El Yuma blog describes some of the names that stand out:
"The bloggers associated with DesdeCuba/ Juan Juan Almeida, Claudia Cadelo, Dimas Castellanos, Miriam Celaya, Martha Cortizas, Reinaldo Escobar, Eugenio Leal, Pablo Pacheco, and Yoani Sánchez; the well-known government critics and opposition figures Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Héctor Palacios, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Miriam Leiva, Guillermo Fariñas, and Félix Bonne Carcassés; leaders of Convivencia (the new on-line project of the original Vitral group) Karina Gálvez, Virgilio Toledo, and Dagoberto Valdés; and the Santiago priest José Conrado."


Radio Marti has provided not one but TWO reports concerning this letter of support by Cuban dissidents. The first one mentions the letter and some of its more popular signatories, and includes an interview with signatory Dagoberto Valdez, the director of the wonderful online magazine Convivencia (Co-Existence).

The second report is about the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) and their support of the letter. The report includes an interview with Sarah Stephens, executive director of the CDA.

Hooray for Radio Marti! Though they should report more often about how Cubans in general oppose US policy towards Cuba.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Last Chance

The Spanish presidency at the Council of the European Union ends this month, and before they leave they want one last chance to change the EU's "common position" towards Cuba. But, it won't be easy, especially when you still have South Florida's favorite Congressmen, Rep. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, ready to thwart any policy changes towards Cuba.

Of course, there are several factors that will result in any possible change to the EU's policy towards Cuba, some of which were outlined last June. But, the Spanish government is hoping that other European nations will take notice of recent events inside Cuba, namely the Cuban government's negotiations with the Catholic Church to alleviate the harsh conditions of a few political prisoners. Spain's minister of foreign affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, believes that the "common position" is not working and that increased dialogue between Cuba and European nations would yield better results to achieve changes inside Cuba. As an example, Moratinos highlights the decrease in the number of political prisoners since Spain's new policy of dialogue with Cuba. (In 2008, the release and exile of four Cuban political prisoners was attributed to talks between Cuban and Spanish diplomats.)

But, this past Saturday the debate over EU policy towards Cuba got a bit nasty.

The EU and the U.S. held their regular bi-annual meeting of the Transatlantic Legislators' Dialogue (TLD) over in Madrid. It was a three-day conference where European and American legislators could discuss important global issues and achieve the goals of "strengthening cooperation" (at least that's part of what the TLD mission entails). Miguel Angel Moratinos was present for Saturday's session on foreign policy which was titled "Reducing Tensions in Distinct Geographic Areas." One of those areas was Cuba, and tensions at the event increased.

Reports are not very clear, but during this meeting Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart made statements in opposition to changing EU policy towards Cuba. According to Lincoln, the statements were directed towards the EU representatives and not at Moratinos. But within the statements was a direct reference to Miguel Angel Moratinos and at some point Mario directs a question to Moratinos asking him a question related to Cuba.

At this point it seems that Moratinos interpreted the protest by the Daiz-Balarts as a personal attack and responded back loudly. Reports indicate that Moratinos described Mario as "ignorant" and later, after the session, continued to insult him. Lincoln's version of the story, which he also repeated for Radio Marti, says that Moratinos spoke with an "insolent and offensive tone." But, today on Radio Mambi, Lincoln told Ninoska Perez-Castellon that Moratinos was so angry he was shaking.

If I were Moratinos I would also have little patience with Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

When it comes to Cuba, both Diaz-Balarts are only capable of protest and not dialogue. It is very clear from Lincoln's version of the story that both Diaz-Balart brothers came only to protest Moratinos and not have a dialogue. Promoting dialogue and cooperation with the EU is the ultimate goal of the TLD meetings, and the Diaz-Balart brothers chose to ignore those ideals.

The offensive language by Moratinos towards U.S. Congressmen is unfortunate, but a typical response (familiar in Miami) when one meets an "intransigent" on Cuba policy. This incident should only remind us again that our political decorum should rise above insults and impatience.

--- [Addendum]---

On Thursday, Miguel Angel Moratinos is planning to meet with Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. After that meeting Moratinos will join Spanish president Zapatero at the Vatican where both Spanish diplomats will meet with Pope Benedict XXVI to discuss the human rights situation in Cuba, among other topics. These talks are in preparation for next week's EU decisions to possibly change the "common position" towards Cuba.

EFT Archive...

Hillary Clinton assures that the end of the Castros They undermine  Cuba Embargo

Cuban President Raul Castro  and his brother, former President Fidel Castro, have sabotaged the steps  United States to improve relations because they fear that this threatens  its power, said on Friday U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The official said that Cuba's response to  the efforts of the government of President Barack Obama to improve reveal cooperation "intransigent and entrenched regime" not are interested in making political reforms or end the imposed isolation for 48 years by the economic embargo Washington, Reuters said.
"My personal opinion is that the Castro  do not want to see the end of the embargo or want to see a normalization with United States, because they would lose all their excuses for what has not happened in the past 50 years, "said the head of diplomacy U.S..
"I find that very sad because Cuba should have an opportunity for a transition to democracy total and at some point going to happen, but not in the short term, " added.
Obama has said he wants to relaunch  U.S. relations with Cuba have been hostile since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.
Castro left the presidency for two years because of an illness and was replaced by his younger brother Raul.
Since Obama took office the year  past, the United States eliminated barriers to travel by Cuban Americans and also for sending remittances. Both nations without resumed full diplomatic relations also talks migration issues.
But Obama has said the United States  not lift the economic embargo until Cuba show progress in human rights and release political prisoners.
According to Clinton, there are signs that that will happen.
"If you see any opening to Cuba, one can almost sense how the Castro regime to do something trying to block, "Clinton said, answering questions in University of Louisville, Kentucky.
Clinton said that in 1996, when husband, former President Bill Clinton was trying to improve relations, Cuba shot down two small U.S. planes distributed pamphlets on Cuban territory. The incident ended with the opening.
In recent months, despite the willingness of Obama to improve relations, Cuba arrested a U.S. contractor under suspicion of espionage and imprisoned Orlando Zapata Tamayo politician died after 85 days on hunger strike to protest prison conditions, said Clinton.
"It's a dilemma," said Secretary of State.
"I hope they start to change. We have changed in relation to them, but do not know if that will happen to within one time, "he added.
Cuban President Raul Castro said that hunger strikes were blackmailing their enemies and not yield.
The communist authorities of the island see dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of United States and have rejected the criticism as a campaign against your system. S: New Cuba-/traduce LPP
Written by Stated in the field   
Thursday, June 17, 2010 12:33  

"We welcome the dialogue that is now underway and I hope also strengthens my visit,''he said.

The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, said Wednesday he hopes his presence in Cuba will strengthen rapprochement between the Church and authorities and welcomed the release  of a political prisoner.

By JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ This email address is protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view

However, areas of internal dissent and a spokesperson Washington State Department reacted cautiously and skepticism about the pronouncements of Havana on the result of conversations.
Mamberti arrived Tuesday in Havana shortly after the release Ariel Sigler Amaya, a paraplegic prisoner of conscience imprisoned since 2003. Also in recent days has occurred  transfer of 12 political prisoners to jails near their homes.
The secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States  met Wednesday with President Bruno Rodriguez. During the visit  four days participating in activities for 75 years of relations between the Vatican and Cuba, as well as the Social Week X Catholic.
Mamberti recalled that one of the goals of diplomacy Holy See is''to encourage dialogue between local churches and authorities in different countries.''
Rodriguez stressed the importance of the mediating role of the Church and called it a''constructive.'' It also reaffirmed the willingness of government to move forward in the analysis of the situation with Catholic hierarchy.
"We appreciate the constructive role of the Church,''said Rodríguez in a joint press conference in the chancellery Mamberti Cuban.
Historically, the Cuban government has denied the Church a role  as a partner in civil society.
However, Rodriguez emphasized that this time the conditions were given for a fruitful exchange.
"The Catholic Church in Cuba, the Cuban government and the Cuban state Lay have maintained smooth communication, deep and constructive,''Rodriguez scored.
In Washington, spokesman Philip Crowley, said the normalization of relations with Cuba will depend on the integrity of human rights and individual freedoms of its people.
"If Cuba takes such measures, we will respond appropriate,''said Crowley.

S:Cuba Libre Digital/  This information was supplemented by wire services The Nuevo Herald./Traduce LPP

June 15, 2010

Cuba rejects inclusion in 'trafficking' list

Statement issued Monday in Havana by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the Foreign Ministry's North America department. Translation by The Miami Herald.Cuba (jvf) categorically rejects, as false and disrespectful, the allegations in the [U.S.] Department of State report about the trafficking in persons and the unbelievable inclusion of Cuba in the worst of its categories.
These shameful calumnies deeply offend the Cuban people. In Cuba, there is no sexual trafficking in minors but an exemplary record in the protection of children, youths and women. Cuba does not qualify as a country of origin, or transit or destination of this scourge. The legislation and measures adopted by us on this issue place us among the countries in the region with the most advanced standards and mechanisms for the prevention of, and combat against, the trafficking in persons.
This can only be explained by the desperate need the U.S. government has to justify, with any pretext, the persistence of its cruel policy of blockade, overwhelmingly rejected by the international community.

Crist is willing to listen to campaign donors who advocate travel to Cuba by Americans

Asked why he would consider financial backing from individuals and organizations that advocate lifting the federal ban on travel to Cuba by Americans, Florida Governor Charlie Crist said he wants "to listen to what they have to say."
(fotx) As the Republican governor of Florida, Crist backed U.S. sanctions against Cuba and signed a state law hiking costs on agencies that book trips to the repressive regime, an article Tuesday in The Miami Herald points out.
But as a newly independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, Crist is slated to collect contributions at a fundraiser Friday in Miami Beach from some of the same people who successfully fought to overturn the law last year and who advocate opening a dialogue with Cuba.
His explanation sounds ambivalent.
"I think the current policy in place is responsible," Crist told Herald reporters. "I do support the embargo, and I think that what the current administration has done by allowing families to visit [Cuba] is compassionate."
For the reaction from pro- and anti-open-travel advocates, click here.
Posted by Renato Perez at 10:26 AM in Travel, U.S.-Cuba relations
Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) 
S: Cuban Colada

Political Prisoners Demand Peterson Apology

Over 250 former Cuban political prisoners, who've served a cumulative total of 3,551 years in prison and strongly oppose the unconditional lifting of U.S. sanctions towards the Castro regime, have sent a letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson demanding an apology for insulting democracy advocates and trivializing the human sacrifices that have been made on behalf of Cuba's freedom.

In a press release last week, Chairman Peterson -- who has introduced legislation (H.R. 4645) seeking to unconditionally lift sanctions towards the Castro regime -- insultingly stated, "…people who oppose this bill are not speaking on behalf of the Cuban people, regardless of what they say."

These courageous political prisoners, all of which strongly oppose H.R. 4645, remind Chairman Peterson that they are "living testimony of the unspeakable tortures, cruelty and deprivations of the military dictatorship of the Castro brothers," and have asked that he refrain from impugning "their suffering, deeply held beliefs and tragic experiences."

The signatories, which include 27 women, have served political prison sentences ranging as high as 29 years.

As regards H.R. 4645 in particular, the political prisoners stated, "should this legislation pass, Mr. Peterson, we trust that you will be prepared to assume the responsibility for the increased bloodshed it will cause the people of Cuba."

Click here to view the letter.


A Bitter Taste of the Peterson Bill

The authors of the letter to the House Agriculture Committee in support of Chairman Collin Peterson's Cuba legislation -- and those that pitched it to a group of dissidents in Havana (withholding important details from many) -- painted quite a rosy (and misleading) picture.

In the letter, they wrote:

"We believe, however, if the citizens of the United States, like those of the rest of the world, increased their presence on our streets, visited the families of political prisoners and other members of the nascent Cuban civil society they could: serve as witnesses to the suffering of the Cuban people; be even more sensitized to the need for changes in Cuba; and offer solidarity and a bridge to facilitate the transition we Cubans so greatly desire."

Doesn't that sound nice?

Unfortunately, though, here's what Chairman Peterson has in mind:
"It will also make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, allowing American agriculture producers to more easily conduct business with Cuba and boosting demand for U.S. products in Cuba at the same time."

That was the full extent of Peterson's remarks on travel at a March hearing on H.R. 4645 -- no mention of visiting the families of political prisoners, civil society, solidarity, etc. Only business with Castro.

The authors also forgot to mention (or perhaps are unaware) that current U.S. law already permits (and encourages) travel to support the families of political prisoners and civil society.

But that detail wasn't disclosed.

However, if that isn't [dis]comforting enough, here's what U.S. Congressman Leonard Boswell of Iowa, a co-sponsor of H.R. 4645, had to add:

"I, too, have been down there, Mr. Presidents (of the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union), both of you. I appreciate that but assume that you know who Mr. Alvarez is. I spent a lot of time with him. I spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Castro. Sometimes we would be entertained. I can tell you about that a little bit."

Mr. Alvarez is Pedro Alvarez, the head of the Castro's food and trade monopoly.

So did Congressman Boswell visit with the families of political prisoners and civil society while in Cuba?

Unfortunately not.

He was too busy with Messrs. Alvarez and Castro.

LPP Archive...

Cuba aims for one million US tourists if ban lifted

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Cuba could host up to one million US tourists in the first year its northern neighbor lifted restrictions on travel to the Communist island, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said Thursday.
"We can guarantee what's necessary for quality operations and our investments are increasing to improve comfort," Marrero said at a two-day meeting between Cuban tourism officials and scores of US tour operators in Cancun, Mexico.
Cuba received around 2.5 million tourists last year, mainly from Canada, Europe and Asia, according to Marrero.
Tourism is the second largest source of foreign currency for Cuba after its medical missions abroad, and the nation has been positioning itself as a down-to-earth tropical Caribbean island with gorgeous beaches.
The Cancun meeting aimed to discuss potential projects should the decades-old US travel ban be lifted - a move that would "benefit the interests and citizens of the United States," he said.
The gathering came amid heated US debate on the issue, and a proposal to lift the ban in Congress.
With Cuba having receded as a Cold War security threat, the country's human rights record is now at the center of US policy toward the country.
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday slammed Cuba for its continued political and human rights repression and called for an end to the Communist regime's "clenched fist" policy against its own people.
US Democrat Senator Byron Dorgan told the Cancun conference by telephone that Cuba's detention of an American accused of being an intelligence agent was an obstacle to the lifting of the travel ban.
Alan Gross, 60, was working in Cuba for a development contractor when he was arrested in December.
"Frankly, Alan in prison is a problem and impediment for changes of policies to Cuba," Dorgan said.
Cuba's Marrero refused to comment on the issue.

Cuba says jailed U.S. man still under investigation

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HAVANA (Reuters) – A U.S. contractor jailed in Cuba since December on suspicion of espionage activities has committed "serious crimes" but remains under investigation, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Wednesday. His comments indicated that Alan Gross, whose arrest has blocked improvements in U.S.-Cuba relations, has not yet been officially charged with a crime, but is likely to face trial at some point. "Alan Gross is detained for having violated Cuban laws and committing serious crimes in our country, at the service of the subversive policies of the government of the United States against Cuba," Rodriguez said in a press conference with visiting Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti. "He is under investigation. He has his defense assured, has received ongoing consular assistance and has had communications with his family," Rodriguez said in response to a reporter's question. He is being treated in "strict adherence" to Cuba law, said Rodriguez, whose comments about the case were similar to what he has said before, but were the latest confirmation of Gross' status. Gross, 60, was detained at the Havana airport on December 4 as he was attempting to leave the country and has been jailed at the high-security Villa Marista prison since then. Gross, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, has specialized in international development work including setting up communications services. The United States has repeatedly called for Gross' immediate release and said the Obama administration's modest efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations would be put on hold as long as he is detained. U.S. officials have said they will likely renew their demand for his release during talks with Cuban officials about migration issues on Friday in Washington. PROHIBITED EQUIPMENT Although he has not been charged with a crime, Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, have said Gross gave prohibited communications equipment to dissidents as part of the longstanding U.S. campaign to promote change on the communist-led island. The United States has said he was providing Internet access to Jewish groups but admitted he entered Cuba on a tourist visa and did not declare his true intent. U.S. government sources have said Gross was setting up Internet links through sophisticated satellite phones known as BGANs. He was in Cuba as an independent contractor for a Washington-area company Development Alternatives Inc., under a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy in Cuba. Havana views such U.S. programs as an attempt to subvert the Cuban government, which has been at odds with the United States since a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power. Fidel Castro, now 83 and ailing, was succeeded by younger brother Raul Castro in February 2008. U.S. diplomats in Havana have been permitted to visit Gross on five occasions but say the Cuban government has refused to discuss the case with them. He also has talked by phone with his wife, Judy, who lives near Washington. Rodriguez' comments overshadowed the appearance of Mamberti, who arrived in Havana on Tuesday for a five-day visit at time when the church is calling for change in financially troubled Cuba. One of the government's estimated 190 political prisoners was released and a dozen others moved to jails closer to their families in what was viewed as a concession to the church ahead of his visit. Mamberti said he did not plan to talk with prisoners or dissidents, but otherwise did not mention them in his comments. Rodriguez said his talks with Mamberti had been "productive, cordial and respectful." Relations between the Catholic Church and Cuba's communist government were contentious following the 1959 revolution but have improved since the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

After the controversial allegations of former Cuban president...

Israel angry with Castro for saying the swastika is the new Israeli flag
Castro's comments were issued by Cuba's diplomatic mission in Geneva in the middle of a debate debate  at the UN Human Rights Council.
Israel denounced the comments issued by former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who compared the treatment that Israel does to Palestinians to the Nazi extermination Jews, an example of the heated rhetoric in the middle of debate a United Nations agency.

Castro's words were issued by Cuba's diplomatic mission in Geneva amid  debate at the 47th United Nations Council for Human Rights Human.

The former Cuban president referred constantly to the Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories.

"The hatred feels the State of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send half a million men, women and children in this country to crematoria, where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis, "said former Cuban leader.

"It seems the swastika of the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, is who represents Israel,  being the flag "he said in the last of the series called "Reflections" to the media on the island of Cuba.

If  but their statements were not mentioned in the Council itself Diplomats said that Cuba had sent the comment to other Foreign Missions in Geneva, as well as journalists.

"With  these outrageous comments, Fidel Castro shames his colleagues  of the old days and the ideals that always intended to serve. Che Guevara must be rolling in his grave, "said spokesman Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, in Jerusalem.

Israel regretted the treatment received by the Council Human Rights, which in his opinion is biased against it.

Cuba  Block is a member of the board of developing countries, which protects its members and friends outside the body. Countries such as Iran  and Sri Lanka to permanently condemn and criticize Israel.

Fidel  Castro stepped down in 2008 after a long illness, after  nearly 50 years as the number one in his country. Castro as the leader handed over power to his younger brother Raul, 79. Since then,  his "Reflections" have remained in the limelight.

The  June 2 Council in Geneva condemned as scandalous Israel intercepted the fleet that were destined for Gaza.

Israel  has launched its own investigation with foreign experts and  currently has rejected the possibility of investigating the case with United Nations. S: Radio Jai/traduce LPP/

Cuba, Vatican say talks on dissidents continuing

HAVANA – Cuba and a top Vatican official expressed optimism Wednesday that landmark negotiations between the church and Raul Castro's government will continue and indicated they could produce more breakthroughs on the treatment of dissidents and political prisoners. The comments by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, and his Cuban counterpart were the latest signal that a month-old dialogue that has already led to the release of an ailing prisoner of conscience and the transfer of 12 others to jails closer to their homes is gaining strength. "The dialogue that is happening now makes us happy, and I hope that it will be strengthened through my visit," Mamberti said at a joint news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. "I think it is important ... to see the fruits" of such talks. Rodriguez applauded the role the Church has been playing on the island, and said all signs point to more dialogue. "We have held fluid and profoundly productive talks," he said. "We appreciate the constructive role of the Church in these matters and we think that all conditions exist ... for these fruitful exchanges to continue." Neither spoke of any concrete steps that would see the release of more of Cuba's 180 political prisoners. Mamberti said he had no plans to meet with dissidents, though he did not rule it out. The Vatican official arrived in Havana on Tuesday, ostensibly to celebrate the 75th anniversary of relations between Cuba and the Vatican. He is also scheduled to attend discussions on the island's economic plight and efforts to bridge the divide between Cubans and exiles in the United States and elsewhere. The church has traditionally been cautious in dealing with Cuba's communist government since relations improved in the 1990s. That changed dramatically in May, when Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega intervened in a standoff between the government and the Ladies in White, a group of mothers and wives of some of the 75 activists jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissent. On May 19, Ortega and another church leader held a four-hour meeting with President Castro, emerging optimistic that the government was prepared to make concessions to the dissidents. Prisoner transfers began June 1, and on Saturday Cuba released Ariel Sigler, a 44-year-old inmate paralyzed from the waist down who was serving a 25-year sentence for treason. Critics say the government's concessions have been underwhelming so far, but church leaders have consistently urged patience, saying there is no deadline for progress. While Cuba has welcomed the Church's role, it made clear this week that it did not appreciate a running commentary on the talks from the outside — particularly Washington. After State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a mostly upbeat statement saying the United States viewed the release of Sigler as "a positive development" and hoped it would lead to the release of others, Cuba reacted strongly. "Cuba doesn't recognize any authority by the State Department or its spokesman to pass judgments on internal matters," Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's North American affairs office, told The Associated Press late Tuesday. "Moreover, the United States doesn't have moral authority to give lessons to anyone." Cuba and the United States have been at odds since shortly after the 1959 triumph of Fidel Castro's revolution. Cuban authorities consider the dissidents to be a mixture of common criminals and agitators funded by Washington to destabilize the country. At Wednesday's news conference, Rodriguez also brought up the case of Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor arrested in December on accusations of spying. Gross has been held without charge for six months, and American officials have made clear that relations cannot improve until his case is resolved. Rodriguez said Gross had been detained for "committing grave crimes in our country at the service of the subversive policy of the United States against Cuba." He said Gross was still under investigation and gave no indication of when he might be charged, adding that the prisoner had been given repeated access to consular officials, offered legal representation and allowed to speak with his relatives. "The legal situation of Mr. Gross has conformed strictly with Cuban criminal procedures," Rodriguez said.