Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cuba has given private farmers nearly 2.5M acres

Official: Cuba land reform has redistributed 2.47M acres, 56 pct of all land to be given out

, On Friday June 25, 2010, 4:57 pm EDT
HAVANA (AP) -- Cuba has distributed nearly 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of unused state land to private farmers and others trying their hand at farming, more than half the territory it hopes to give out in an effort to revitalize an agriculture sector hampered by decades of government mismanagement.
Pedro Olivera, director of the National Office for Land Control, told The Associated Press on Friday that the land has been distributed to 110,000 farmers as well as 1,715 cooperatives and agricultural organizations.
The figure represents 56 percent of the 4.36 million acres (1.76 million hectares) of fallow state land authorities want to turn over to private interests.
"The process is advancing," Olivera said in an interview following a tour of a small fruit, vegetable and livestock cooperative on the outskirts of Havana.
According a National Office of Statistics report from 2008, the most recent figures available, the state controlled 16.3 million acres (6.6 million hectares) devoted to "agricultural exploitation," of which about 9 million (3.6 million hectares) was fallow or underused.
Under reforms begun in September 2008, the state retains title to the land but leases it to approved individual farmers, cooperatives and others who can prove they will put it to good use.
Landless Cubans can apply for about 33 acres (13 hectares), while established farmers can increase current holdings to 100 acres (40 hectares). Private citizens qualify for leases of up to 10 years, renewable for 10 more, while cooperatives and companies can seek 25-year renewable terms.
Those receiving land must sell nearly everything they produce to the state at prices set by the government.
Olivera said Friday that under the terms of the reform, those receiving land must begin production quickly enough to sell crops to the state within two years -- but that officials will decide how well the land is being used on a case-by-case basis.
"Evaluating the program's results is a bit premature. ... There are 110,000 people with land, and we should see their productive impact in two years," he said.
Those conciliatory comments contrast with statements last month from Economy Minister Marino Murillo, who said private interests that get state land but fail to produce may lose their plots. In many cases, however, farmers say authorities have failed to distribute seeds and other basic materials unavailable from other sources.
Olivera acknowledged that authorities need to do more to help farmers.
"Those people who have gotten land, the great majority of them don't have experience," he said.
Thousands of small farmers kept their holdings after Fidel Castro took power on New Year's Day in 1959 and remain the source of much of Cuba's food. But at large farms taken over by state planners decades ago, output has dwindled.
Prior to the reform, just 29 percent of state land was fully exploited by government-run farms.
The reform is Cuba's biggest in decades and was designed by the government of Raul Castro, who succeeded his older brother Fidel -- first temporarily, then permanently -- in February 2008.
The island has been hit hard by the global economic crisis, and officials are scrambling to reduce spending on food imports. That tally fell from more than $2 billion in 2008 to $1.6 billion last year, due more to spending cuts officials than to increased local production.

Restaurant Review | Cuba Libre

Caribbean flavors at budget prices? Sí

By Marty Rosen • Special to The Courier-Journal • June 26, 2010

It's hard to get through the queue at Cuba Libre without getting excited about the meal to come. The kitchen range, covered with sizzling skillets, is right on the other side of a glass panel, and while you're waiting to place your order and pay your bill, the smell of garlic and pork and poultry and rice and beans hangs in the air with the promise of good things to come.

Leonardo Lopez, who opened this outpost of Cuban cuisine in April, is new to owning restaurants -- but not so you'd notice. Lopez worked for a while as a bartender at Mojito Tapas Restaurant, Louisville's much-prized Spanish-themed restaurant. He counts Fernando Martinez, co-founder of Mojito and its Cuban sibling, Havana Rumba, as his best friend.
But with Cuba Libre, Lopez has gone his own way, and that's all to the good.
The narrow dining room has a Spartan, strip-mall feel that's unashamedly rustic. The decorating scheme consists mostly of scribbled graffiti that bears witness to happy diners who've left behind testaments like "best meal ever," "loved the food" and "can't wait to come back."
That graffiti may not be as detailed as a published restaurant review, but the substance is right on.
Lopez and chef Rafael Hernandez, both natives of Cuba, have put together an inexpensive menu of Cuban standards that mark this little spot as one of Jeffersonville's most attractive eateries -- especially for those who love Caribbean flavors and like to dine on a budget.
Pressed Cuban bread -- sizzling hot, crunchy and gleaming with a light sheen of oil from the press -- serves as the platform for hearty sandwiches like the classic Cubana (roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard; $7.25) or pan con lechon (moist slices of roasted pork sluiced with loads of caramelized onions and a delectable mojo sauce made from lime juice, onion, garlic and olive oil; $6.50).
A grilled grouper sandwich comes on that same bread, dressed with plenty of onions and paper-thin slices of tomato -- but the sauce is a thick, spicy aioli made from chili and tomatoes ($9.25).

Storm could be latest problem in spill cleanup

Florida Beach Shutdown Play Video FOX News  – Florida Beach Shutdown
Related Quotes
Symbol Price Change
BP 27.02 -1.72
XOM 59.10 -0.97
Shrimps boats skim for oil just off the beach in Gulf Shores, 
Ala., Friday, June 25, 2010. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster 
continues to wash a AP – Shrimps boats skim for oil just off the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., Friday, June 25, 2010. Oil from the …

NEW ORLEANS – A tropical storm churning in the Caribbean could be the latest bad news for BP crews trying to contain and clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf, an effort that has been plagued by setbacks for more than two months.
It is still too early to tell exactly where Tropical Storm Alex might go, or how it might affect oil on and below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters said. An armada of ships is working on the spill. That includes those drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by mid-August, which are the best hope for halting the crude that has been gushing since an April 20 explosion touched off the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
BP's effort to drill through 2 1/2 miles of rock is on target, the oil giant said Friday. But BP's stock tumbled anyway over the mounting costs of the disaster and the company's inability to plug the leak sooner.
The crew that has been drilling the relief well since early May ran a test to confirm it is on the right path, using a tool that detects the magnetic field around the casing of the original, blown-out well.
"The layman's translation is, 'We are where we thought we were,'" said BP spokesman Bill Salvin.
Once the new well intersects the ruptured one, BP plans to pump heavy drilling mud in to stop the oil flow and plug it with cement.
Despite the encouraging news, BP stock tumbled 6 percent in New York on Friday to a 14-year low on news that BP has now spent $2.35 billion dealing with the disaster.
BP has lost more than $100 billion in market value since its deep-water drilling platform blew up, and its stock is worth less than half the $60 or so it was selling for on the day of the explosion.
If the bad weather heads toward the Gulf, it could add to BP's problems.
Forecasters can't say yet if Alex — which blew into a tropical storm early Saturday — will hit the northeastern part of the Gulf, where the spill has spread over the past 10 weeks.
Somewhere between 69 million and 132 million gallons of crude have spewed into the water since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.
Most storm prediction models show it traveling over the Yucatan Peninsula over the weekend and into the southern Gulf by Monday. Where it goes next is the question.
Jack Bevins, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said early prediction models Saturday morning no longer had it going across the oil spill. But Alex's track could quickly change in the coming days as conditions shift.
The effort to capture the oil gushing from the sea bottom could be interrupted for up to two weeks if a storm forces BP to move its equipment out of harm's way, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the crisis.
BP would need about five days to secure or move all its equipment to safety from an approaching storm but is working to shorten that to two days, Salvin said. The equipment includes ships that are processing the oil sucked up by the containment cap on the well and the rigs drilling the two relief wells.
In other news:
• A financial disclosure report released Friday shows that the Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf has sold many of his energy investments. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman still owns eight energy-related investments, including stock in Exxon Mobil Corp. Among the assets he sold was stock in Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court Friday to delay Feldman's ruling "to preserve the status quo" during the government's appeal.
• Labor Secretary Hilda Solis slammed BP — along with Massey Energy, owner of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died in an explosion in April — saying they need better safety measures. "We are not saying go out of business," she said. "Do your job better. Make an investment in your employees. We want you to make a profit, but not at the expense of killing your employees."
• Vice President Joe Biden will head to the Gulf on Tuesday to visit a command center in New Orleans and the oil-fouled Florida Panhandle.
• The IRS said payments for lost wages from BP's $20 billion victims compensation fund are taxable just like regular income. Payments for physical injuries or property loss are generally tax-free.
BP is capturing anywhere from 840,000 to 1.2 million gallons of oil a day. Worst-case government estimates say 2.5 million gallons a day are leaking from the well, though no one really knows for sure.
BP is working to develop a different containment system that would be easier to disconnect and hook back up if a storm interrupted the work.
Associated Press writers Lisa Leff and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans, David Fischer in Miami and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.