Friday, January 7, 2011

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Hiding Fidel's Fortune

Friday, January 7, 2011
A Wikileak-released cable from the U.S. Embassy in Chile, which profiles losing presidential candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami, includes the following sidebar:

Max Marambio: The Wealthy and Controversial "Friend of Fidel" Behind Marco's Campaign
(C) In a life studded with celebrities and fascinating characters, Enriquez-Ominami's chief campaign financier and political advisor, leftist revolutionary-turned-millionaire Max Marambio, is the most interesting of all. As a young man, Marambio joined the MIR and led Salvador Allende's presidential bodyguard team. He lived in the Cuban embassy in Santiago for 10 months following the coup, before fleeing first to Switzerland and then to Cuba, where he studied political science at the University of Havana and trained with the Cuban special forces. He participated in secret Cuban military and commercial missions to Angola, Lebanon, Korea, Central America, and Europe, allegedly including a role in hiding Fidel Castro's personal fortune. In the late 1970s, he began a joint venture food company with the Cuban government which eventually became International Network Group, a holding company which generates US $80 million in profits in Cuba each year from food products and tourism.

Marambio has since fallen-out with the Castro brothers, who have essentially begun an international manhunt for him, pursuant to a -- get this -- fraud and corruption probe.

In other words, he was probably skimming from the Castro's cut.

Meanwhile, Marambio's business partner was found dead in a Havana apartment last April.

"Here is the devil - and - all to pay."

-- Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605).

Foreign Banks Head for Cuban Exit

From Cuba Standard:

Banks reducing exposure to Cuba
Providing evidence of the credit crunch that is forcing Cuba into a tough adjustment program, foreign banks cut back their exposure on the island by 16.39 percent in the first half of last year, according to the latest statistics published by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).
Cuba is not a member of the Interamerican Development Bank, International Monetary Fund or World Bank and has little access to multilateral loans. Responding to a cash crunch that began in 2008, the government has begun layoffs of 500,000 state workers expected to be completed by the end of March and is cutting back subsidies for state companies and consumers.

According to the BIS quarterly report, foreign banks had outstanding claims of $1.581 billion in Cuba as of the end of June 2010. Fifty-five percent of that amount is due in one year or less; 26.7 percent is due in two years or more.
Cuba's by far biggest lenders are European banks (the BIS reports break down the data by nationality, not individual banks), accounting for 76.28 percent of total outstanding claims. French banks are leading the pack, with $475 million worth of loans and titles (or 30 percent of the total), followed by Spanish banks ($373 million), and German banks ($146 million).
A man carries a lamb on a motorcycle in Havana, ...

Man carries lamb on motorcycle

A man carries a lamb on a motorcycle in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Jan 6, 2011.… Read more »
(AP Photo / Franklin Reyes)
Spanish daily, El Mundo, is reporting Pedro Álvarez (once president of Alimport – Cuba’s principal food import corp. and the Cuban government’s top negotiator with American agriculture) defected  at the end of last December and is in the U.S.  Álvarez was under investigation by the Cuban government for corruption.
Apparently, there are more Cuban Communists in the U.S. than in Cuba.
(Image: Pedro Álvarez. Reuters.)
[H/T: TCM]
Last month, the Heritage Foundation issued a report on why U.S. broadcasts to Cuba are vital:
…the U.S. should maintain its steadfast commitment to the Cuban people by equipping them with the tools required to establish freedom and democracy. Any effort to eliminate international broadcasting to Cuba should cease and Radio/TV Martí should be retained as the chief vehicle for reaching out to the Cuban public.

Massive cruise liner docks in Cuba to much fanfare

British cruise ship Thomson Dream arrives in Havana Bay, Cuba, Wednesday Jan. 5, 2011.  The flagship of United Kingdom-based Thompson Cruises docked i AP – British cruise ship Thomson Dream arrives in Havana Bay, Cuba, Wednesday Jan. 5, 2011. The flagship …

HAVANA – A salsa band, dancing schoolchildren and showgirls in bikini tops and feather headdresses welcomed some 1,500 tourists on a British cruise liner that officials described as among the biggest ships to visit Cuba in years.
Once a frequent sight here, cruise ships have become a rarity since 2006, after then President Fidel Castro complained that the industry did little more than flood this communist-governed country with trash.
But the cash-strapped government now led by Fidel's younger brother Raul appears to have taken a rosier view of late. Tourism Ministry official Jose Manuel Bisbe said the arrival of the Thomson Dream underscored the recent resurgence of cruise traffic to the island.
In a brief address to journalists as passengers in shorts and flip-flops streamed off the ship, Bisbe said a number of deals have been signed with European cruise operators to add regular stops in Cuban ports, and more accords are in the works.
"We think that more than anything, this change reflects the operators' understanding ... of all Cuba's attributes as a destination," said Bisbe, the ministry's commercial director.
Each passenger spends an average of $50 to $200 a day on the island, he said, adding that officials hope increased traffic will pump "several million dollars" into the lackluster Cuban economy this year.
Bisbe did not specify how many cruise passengers were expected to dock in Cuban ports in 2011 but said about 10,000 visited the island last year. That was down from some 100,000 passengers in 2005, he said.
Bisbe blamed the downturn on the 2006 purchase of Pullmantur Cruises — a Spanish company that was among the biggest operator of tours to Cuba — by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Washington's trade embargo bars U.S. tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibits nearly all business between both countries, so dockings dried up after the company changed hands.
Cuba rolled out the red carpet to welcome the Thomson Dream, a nine-deck behemoth with four restaurants, two swimming pools, a casino and a disco.
Little girls in traditional white dresses and colorful sashes and others inexplicably decked out in bee costumes performed as waiters to hand out shot-sized samples of Havana Club rum to the disembarking passengers.
Four showgirls in towering headdresses and yellow spandex pants and matching sequin-covered bikini tops struck seductive poses as the tourists snapped pictures.
Richard Ring, a 40-year-old Briton, said he was amazed by the warm welcome.
"People were leaning out of windows waving at us and we were waving back. It was really enthusiastic," Ring shouted over the din of the salsa band.
He added that "it was nothing like that" at the other ports visited by the Thomson Dream during a 14-day cruise, which included stops on the Caribbean islands of Barbados, Grenada and Curacao.

Cuba Reportedly Doubles Trade Surplus

Published January 07, 2011
Cuba totaled a $3.9 billion trade surplus in 2010 as President Raul Castro’s efforts to reduce imports and earn more abroad brought results for a second consecutive year, according to the government’s statistics office.
The $3.9 billion figure is twice the $2 billion reported in 2009, and is a first step in getting the nation’s debt-ridden economy out of the woods, Reuters reports.
Hurricanes, the international financial crisis and internal inefficiencies left the country without funds in 2008.
Increased prices for Cuba’s main exports – nickel, petroleum derivatives and other medical and technical services accounted for the rise -- while revenues from tourism and communications were also reportedly up.

Parcel addressed to Napolitano ignites in DC

WASHINGTON – A package addressed to the U.S. Homeland Security secretary ignited Friday at a postal facility, and authorities said it was similar to fiery parcels sent to Maryland officials a day earlier by someone complaining about the state's terrorism tip line.
The suspicious package was discovered by an employee at the D.C. facility when it began popping and smoking and emitted "a brief flash of fire" before extinguishing itself, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said. The details were very much like what Maryland authorities described Thursday after workers at state government buildings opened the small packages about the size of a book. There, the workers' fingers were singed.
It's not clear what ignited the package at the D.C. facility because the worker didn't open the package, Lanier said. No one was injured.
Authorities were bracing for more packages to surface.
"Right now we don't have any other packages, but we're not taking anything for granted," Lanier said.
The D.C. package was addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, according to a department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing investigation. The parcel ignited in northeast Washington about 2:45 p.m. Authorities wouldn't say whether it contained a note.
In July, Napolitano launched a nationwide "see something, say something" campaign. Her recorded voice can be heard in Washington-area Metro stations, reminding commuters to report suspicious behavior.
The Maryland packages had a message railing against highway signs urging motorists to report suspicious activity by calling a toll-free number. The message read: "Report suspicious activity! Total Bull----! You have created a self fulfilling prophecy."
The state's terrorism tip line is widely shown on overhead highway signs along with information about missing children. To the ire of some drivers, the signs added real-time traffic estimates to major highways in March. Some commuters complained drivers slowed to read the signs and backed up traffic. At Gov. Martin O'Malley's request, the state studied the issue and removed the real-time postings from one congested area on the Capital Beltway. There are some 113 signs statewide.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray called the person who sent the packages "incredibly irresponsible" and said sending them was a "cowardly, reprehensible act."
The earlier packages, addressed to O'Malley and to Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, have been taken to the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., for forensic analysis, and Lanier said the D.C. package would also be sent there.
The packages did not contain explosive material. Maryland State Fire Marshal William Barnard declined to speculate Friday on whether the incendiary devices worked as intended.
They were opened within a 15-minute period Thursday at state government buildings 20 miles apart. Mailroom employees around the state were back at work Friday, and they had pictures of the packages and were advised to be vigilant about anything suspicious.
The Postal Service rereleased a safety talk on how to recognize suspicious mail Friday in light of these suspicious incidents, American Postal Workers Union spokeswoman Sally Davidow said.
"An incident can take place at any facility," she said.
Investigators had no previous indication the packages would be sent anywhere other than Maryland government buildings, FBI spokesman Richard J. Wolf said. While Maryland State Police has been the lead investigative agency, the FBI might now be forced to take a more active role, he said.
Police have not yet identified any suspects and were searching for disgruntled people who've made threats against state government. Anyone arrested would be charged with possession and use of an incendiary device, which includes a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, authorities said.
The state terrorism tip line averages about two calls per day, said Jim Newton, privacy officer at the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, where police officers field the calls. Any valid information related to terrorism is sent to the FBI.
Neither Newton nor police were aware of any repeat, angry callers to the tip line. In a sign of their continued confidence in the tip line, police urged people with information about the packages to call it.
The call volume typically doesn't spike when the phone number is displayed on highway signs, he said. Instead, calls tend to come in after terrorism cases make news in the U.S. or internationally, he said.
Speaking before the new package was found, Maryland State Police Col. Terrence Sheridan said Friday that authorities were expecting more packages to surface.
"We've got to make sure we go after this person and get them off the street and get them behind bars, because these kinds of things are very, very dangerous," Sheridan said. "We just don't know where this person is going with this. We don't know who it is. We don't know what they're thinking right now."
Nuckols reported from Pikesville, Md. Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell, Eileen Sullivan, Randolph E. Schmid and Brett Zongker in Washington and Sarah Brumfield in Baltimore contributed to this report.