Thursday, February 10, 2011

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U.S. Intelligence Briefing on Cuba

Thursday, February 10, 2011
From today's briefing to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper:

The continued deterioration of Cuba's economy in 2010 has forced President Raul Castro to take unprecedented and harsh economic actions that could spark public unrest over the coming year. Havana announced last September that it will lay off 500,000 government employees by spring, with another 500,000 to follow. The government employs about 85 percent of the total work force of 5.1 million. In a probable attempt to consolidate his reforms, Castro is planning a Party Congress for April, the first in 14 years.

The economic situation is dire. Major sources of foreign revenue such as nickel exports and tourism have decreased. Moreover, a decline in foreign currency reserves forced dramatic cuts to imports, especially food imports, and we have seen increases in the price of oil, food, and electricity. As a result, Havana has become even more dependent on subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela and earnings from over 40,000 health workers, teachers and advisers in that country. We doubt that the Cuban economy can quickly absorb all the dismissed state workers given the many bureaucratic and structural hurdles to increased private sector employment.

There is little organized opposition to the Cuban Government and Cuba's security forces are capable of suppressing localized public protests, although a heavy-handed Cuban putdown of protests could spark wider discontent and increased violence which could lead to a level of political instability.

Watch This Video Carefully

The video clip below captures the violent arrest -- this past Monday -- of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera.

It shows the Castro regime deploying five state-security thugs to man-handle one courageous woman.
Her crime?

Perez Aguilera was arrested -- along with five other dissidents -- for visiting Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, a founding member of the Ladies in White, who is on hunger strike demanding the release of her husband, political prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez.

For those that don't understand Spanish, she's screaming: Down with Fidel!

Where is the international outrage?

Protesting is a Right

Here's the image of the week.

The caption reads: Protesting is not a crime, it's a right.

Courtesy of Tony Garcia.
S:Capitol Hill Cubans
Welcome to the new Venezuelan National Assembly
Feb. 10 - For years, Venezuela's National Assembly has been an assembly of seals, where everyone was there simply to applaud and approve whatever Chávez ordered.
The Venezuelan dictator still has a majority in the new assembly, but not a 100% majority as he used to have, after the opposition won 52% of the vote in the last parliamentary election.
And as can be seen in this video taken today, things get pretty hot sometimes between the "chavistas" and the opposition.
Castro's regime fear of the Internet
Feb. 10 - There is now an English translation of the video ""Enemy Campaigns and The Politics of Confrontation with Counterrevolutionary Groups," where an officer of Cuba's Ministry of the Interior (MININT) explains the danger that the Internet represents to Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship.
The video made its appearance in the Internet last week and now there is an English translation of what the Cuban agent, identified as Eduardo Fontes Suárez, said.
Wait a few seconds for the video to download:
La ciber policia en Cuba from Coral Negro on Vimeo.
Click here to read the English translation made by Translating Cuba of what Fontes Suárez said in the video.
Cuba gets fiber-optic cable link from Venezuela
Feb. 10 - The cable was laid from a ship by the French company Alcatel-Lucent and came in near the city of Santiago de Cuba in eastern Cuba. The $70 million project was financed by the communist regional group ALBA which includes Cuba and Venezuela. It will not be connected until July and Cuban officials have said it will take time to link up the island due to poor infrastructure (Santiago de Cuba is 540 miles southeast of Havana).
Cuban dissidents have accused the government of stalling Internet access because it wants to control the islanders' access to information, only 14 out of every 100 Cubans used the Internet in 2009, one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere.

WikiLeaks: US opinion about Cuba's economy and Raul's "reforms"
Feb. 9 - Cable from the US Interests Section in Havana dated August 9, 2009 about the "reforms" announced by Cuban dictator Raúl Castro:
"Amidst a flurry of activity starting with Raul Castro's July 26 speech and ending with the August 1 National Assembly, Raul and his ministers painted a desperate picture of the Cuban economy.
The Government of Cuba (GOC) lowered its GDP growth projection for the second time in three months and Raul promised to cut expenditures to bring them in line with expected revenue.
The GOC approved measures to address the "tense financial situation," without offering any details, and predicted an equally difficult 2010.
Expectations for any meaningful reform have been delayed along with the Sixth Party Congress (Ref A).
Instead, we can expect the GOC to continue to offer only marginal steps (forward and backward) including Raul's latest suggestions to improve the productivity of Cuban land by farming with oxen instead of tractors and sending young communists out to plant trees. Meanwhile, it remains too early to tell if or when earlier reforms, such as the leasing of idle farm land, may impact Cuba's bottom line."
 Read more at the realcubablog
Guido Sigler Amaya denies what Cuba's Catholic Church said
Feb. 8 - Guido Sigler Amaya, the Cuban prisoner of conscience who was released last week, denied that he had agreed to leave Cuba as a condition for his release.
When Cuba's Catholic Church announced that Sigler Amaya was going to be released from prison, it said that he wanted to come to the US to receive medical attention.
According to what he and his family informed Babalu blog, this is not true.
"“That is completely false. They are miserable rats. Never at any moment did I speak with them regarding that matter. Cardinal Jaime Ortega on repeated occasions insisted that I abandon my country and accept forced exile, to which I always refused. I remember that on one occasion I told him that only in a casket would I be forced into exile to another country directly from prison, and for them to release me so I could go home since only in liberty can a man decide his destiny, not imprisoned.
The Archdiocese of Havana and Cardinal Jaime Ortega announced the release of Angel Moya Acosta and me, even though the last ones to find out were us and our family members.”
I believe that what most bothered the Castros and their accomplice Cardinal Jaime Ortega was that I remained firm and did not accept any of their despicable proposals, and I obligated them, risking my own life, to release me from prison to my own home.”
Read more at Babalu
Wall Street Journal: Will Cuba be the next Egypt?
Feb. 7 - Article by Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Monday's Wall Street Journal.
The most striking difference between the two countries is Internet access.
Developments in Egypt over the last two weeks brought Cuba to my mind. Why does a similar rebellion against five decades of repression there still appear to be a far-off dream? Part of the answer is in the relationship between the Castro brothers—Fidel and Raúl—and the generals. The rest is explained by the regime's significantly more repressive model. In the art of dictatorship, Hosni Mubarak is a piker.
That so many Egyptians have raised their voices in Tahrir Square is a testament to the universal human yearning for liberty. But it is a mistake to ignore the pivotal role of the military. I'd wager that when the history of the uprising is written, we will learn that Egypt's top brass did not approve of the old man's succession plan to anoint his son in the next election.
Castro has bought loyalty from the secret police and military by giving them control of the three most profitable sectors of the economy—retail, travel and services. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to them every year. If the system collapses, so does that income. Of course the Egyptian military also owns businesses. But it doesn't depend on a purely state-owned economy. And as a recipient of significant U.S. aid and training for many years, the Egyptian military has cultivated a culture of professionalism and commitment to the nation over any single individual.  Read more at the realcubablog
The Castro brothers response to Obama's gift: Will ask for a 20 year sentence for Alan Gross
Feb. 4 - The Castro brothers are worried that Obama is becoming "too friendly."
The US president recently relaxed the travel restrictions to the island and the amount of money that can be sent to people living in Cuba.
The two measures represent a windfall for the Cuban regime.
As always, the Castros are willing to take the money, but they want to make sure that no more friendly gestures are coming for now.
They cannot exist without having the US as their enemy.
To make sure that there are no more friendly gestures from Obama, the Castro brothers announced on Friday that Alan Gross, the American contractor who has been held in a Cuban prison since December of 2009, will be tried as a spy and could receive a 20 year sentence.
"The prosecution is asking for 20 years in prison," said the statement in the Communist Party newspaper Granma. "A trial date will be fixed soon."
When will we learn that brutal dictators do not respond to nice gestures from democratic governments? It has taken 52 years and we still have not learned that lesson.  FoxNews

Cuba gets fiber-optic cable link to Venezuela

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HAVANA (Reuters) – A 1,000-mile undersea fiber-optic cable, trumpeted as a blow against the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, has been strung from socialist ally Venezuela to the communist-led island, officials said on Wednesday.
The cable, which will one day improve Cuba's slow-paced Internet, was laid from a ship by the French company Alcatel-Lucent. It came in near the city of Santiago de Cuba in eastern Cuba, where Cuban officials including Vice President Ramiro Valdes awaited.
According to Prensa Latina, Cuban Information and Communications Minister Medardo Diaz said the cable was "a breach" in the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the island, which Cuba has blamed for not having better Internet service.
He said it would "strengthen national sovereignty in telecommunications."
The cable is a $70 million project financed by the left-wing regional group ALBA which includes Cuba and Venezuela.
It will not be connected until July and Cuban officials have said it will take time to link up the island due to poor infrastructure.
Santiago de Cuba is 540 miles southeast of Havana.
Cuban dissidents have accused the government of stalling Internet access because it wants to control the islanders' access to information.
But Deputy Information and Communications Minister Jorge Luis Perdomo said at a Havana conference this week there were no "political obstacles" to making the Internet more widely available.
When operational, the cable will provide download speeds 3,000 times faster than Cuba's current Internet and be capable of handling millions of phone calls simultaneously.
Currently, Cuba gets its Internet through a satellite connection that is slow and expensive.
According to government figures only 14 out of every 100 Cubans used the Internet in 2009, one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere.
Another segment of the cable will be strung from Cuba to Jamaica, officials said.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Jackie Frank)
Egypt protests Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Egypt's Mubarak stays in post, hands powers to VP

Anti-government protesters react with anger and sadness to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's televised statement to his nation in Tahrir Square in do AP – Anti-government protesters react with anger and sadness to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's televised …

CAIRO – Egypt's Hosni Mubarak refused to step down or leave the country and instead handed most of his powers to his vice president Thursday, enraging protesters who warned the country could explode in violence and pleaded for the military to take action to push him out.
The rapidly moving events raised the question of whether a rift had opened between Mubarak and the military command. Hours earlier, a council of the military's top generals announced it had stepped in to secure the country, and a senior commander announced to protesters in Tahrir Square that all their demands would soon be met, raising cries of victory that Mubarak was on his way out.
Several hundred thousand had packed into Tahrir Square, ecstatic with expectation that Mubarak would announce his resignation in his nighttime address. Instead, they watched in shocked silence as he spoke, holding their foreheads in anger and disbelief. Some broke into tears. Others waved their shoes in the air in contempt. After the speech, they broke into chants of "Leave, leave, leave."
Organizers called for even larger protests on Friday. After Mubarak's speech, around 2,000 marched on the state television headquarters several blocks away from Tahrir, guarded by the military with barbed wire and tanks. "They are the liars," the crowd shouted, pointing at the building, chanting, "We won't leave, they will leave."
Prominent reform advocate, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, whose supporters were among the organizers of the 17-day-old wave of protests, issued a Tweet warning, "Egypt will explode."
"The army must save the country now," he said. "I call on the Egyptian army to immediately interfere to rescue Egypt. The credibility of the army is on the line."
Hours before Mubarak's speech, the military made moves that had all the markings of a coup.
The military's Supreme Council, headed by Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, announced on state TV that it was in permanent session, a status that it takes only in times of war. It said it was exploring "what measures and arrangements could be made to safeguard the nation, its achievements and the ambitions of its great people." That suggested Tantawi and his generals were now in charge of the country.
The statement was labeled "Communique No. 1," language that also suggests a military coup.
Footage on state TV showed Tantawi chairing the council with around two dozen top stern-faced army officers seated around a table. Mubarak and Suleiman, a former army general and intelligence chief named to his post after the protests erupted Jan. 25, were not present, the strongest indication during the day of a rift.
But there was no immediate reaction from the military following Mubarak's speech, and their position remained ambiguous.
In his address on state TV, Mubarak showed the strategy he has followed throughout the days of upheaval, trying to defuse the greatest challenge ever to his nearly three-decade authoritarian rule. So far, he has made a series of largely superficial concessions while resolutely sticking to his refusal to step down immediately or allow steps that would undermine the grip of his regime.
Looking frail but speaking in a determined voice, Mubarak spoke as if he were still in charge, saying he was "adamant to continue to shoulder my responsibility to protect the constitution and safeguard the interests of the people." He vowed that he would remain in the country and said he was addressing the youth in Tahrir as "the president of the republic."
Even after delegating authority to his vice president, Mubarak retains his powers to request constitutional amendments and dissolve parliament or the Cabinet. The constitution allows the president to transfer his other authorities if he is unable to carry out his duties "due to any temporary obstacle."
"I saw fit to delegate the authorities of the president to the vice president, as dictated in the constitution," he said.
Suleiman was already leading the regime's efforts to deal with the crisis, though he has failed to ease the protests, which have only escalated in size and ambition, drawing crowds of up to a quarter-million people. In the past 48 hours they have spiraled even further out of control, with labor protests erupting around the country and riots breaking out as impoverished Egyptians attacked and set fire to several police and governor headquarters in cities outside Cairo.
Mubarak insisted on the continuation of a government-dominated process for reform that Suleiman drew up and that protesters have roundly rejected because they fear it will mean only cosmetic change and not real democracy. Under that system, a panel of judges and lawyers put together by Suleiman recommends constitutional changes, while a separate panel monitors to ensure that state promises are carried out.
Suleiman has also offered dialogue with the protesters and opposition over the nature of reforms. He has not explained how the negotiations fit in if the judges panel, which is led by Mubarak supporters, is recommending amendments. In any case, the protesters and opposition have resolutely refused talks until Mubarak goes.
Mubarak called the protesters' demands legitimate and promised that September presidential elections — in which he says he will not run — will be "free and fair" with supervision to ensure transparency.
He said that on the recommendation of the panel, he had requested the amendment of five articles of the constitution to loosen the now restrictive conditions on who can run for president, to restore judicial supervision of elections, and to impose term limits on the presidency.
He also annuled a constitutional article that gives the president the right to order a military trial for civilians accused of terrorism. He said that step would "clear the way" for eventually scrapping a hated emergency law but with a major caveat — "once security and stability are restored."
The emergency law, imposed when Mubarak came to power in 1981, gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest.
Before the night's dramatic developments, protests had gained a spiraling momentum, fueled by labor strikes that erupted around the country. Protesters had been gearing up for even more massive demonstrations on Friday, when they planned to march from squares around Cairo into Tahrir.
After the speech, some protesters drifted out of Tahrir, tears of disappointment and anger in their eyes.
But the majority of the crowd remained, camping through the night and vowing to continue their campaign.
"We are waiting for a strong reaction from the army to Mubarak's speech," said Mohammed Mustapha, a protest spokesman. He said "huge numbers" of protesters were expected Friday and that many wanted to march on the Oruba palace, Mubarak's main presidential palace several miles away from Tahrir — though so far organizers had not made a formal call to do so.
The mood among protesters was a mix of fury, disappointment, determination to go on and a grim realism that they should have expected little else from Mubarak.
"This will push the country to the edge of the abyss. Tomorrow, the army will intervene, if it does not, there will be chaos," said one activist, Waleed el-Korumi. "We will lay waste to our country if we march on the palace. It's a case of both sides sticking to its guns and at the end we will lose our nation," he said, though he added that marches would remain peaceful.
Muhammed Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old lawyer who had joined the protesters for the first time Thursday called Mubarak's speech a "provocation."
"This is going to bring people together more, and people will come out in greater numbers," he said.
The shock of Mubarak's speech came after a roller-coaster day for the protest movement. In the past two days, what began as an Internet campaign that swelled into mass protests had seemed to tap into the deep well of anger among Egyptians over economic woes like corruption, rampant poverty, unemployment and vast disparities between rich and poor.
Labor strikes spread furiously across the country in wide breadth of sectors — postal workers, electricity staff and service technicians at the Suez Canal, in factories manufacturing textiles, steel and beverages and hospitals. A strike by bus drivers and public transport workers Thursday snarled Cairo's traffic.
Slum dwellers angry over housing shortages stormed the police headquarters and set it ablaze in the Suez Canal city of Port Said. In the south, farmers angry over bread shortages blocked roads with flaming palm trees.
The unrest grew to the extent that Suleiman and his foreign minister warned a coup could take place. And Thursday evening it seemed that was happened. Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, went to Tahrir and told protesters, "All your demands will be met today,"
The protesters lifted al-Roueini onto their shoulders and carried him around the square, shouting, "the army, the people one hand." Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs.
But Mubarak's words came as a splash of cold water.
"The speech showed contempt for the demands and wishes of the youth," said one activist, Khaled Sayed. "People took it very objectively. We will keep up the pressure continue in Tahrir until we get what we want."
AP correspondents Maggie Michael, Hadeel al-Shalchi, Paul Schemm, Lee Keath and Marjorie Olster.
Defiant Mubarak refuses to resign
Egyptian president vows to remain in office until his term ends in September, and not bow down to 'foreign pressure'.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2011 23:23 GMT

Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, has refused to step down from his post,
saying that he will not bow to "foreign pressure" in a televised address to the nation on
Thursday evening.
Putting to rest widespread speculations that he will quit, Mubarak announced that he
was delegating some authorities to his new vice-president, Omar Suleiman, a close
In a much anticipated speech, Mubarak said he had put into place a framework that would
lead to the amendment of six constitutional articles (including articles 77, 88, 93 and 189,
and the annulment of article 179).
"I can not and will not accept to be dictated orders from outside, no matter what the
source is," Mubarak said.
He said he was addressing his people with a "speech from the heart".
Click here for more of Al Jazeera's 
special coverage
Mubarak said that he is "totally committed to fulfilling all the promises" that he has earlier made regarding constitutional and political reform.
"I have laid down a vision ... to exit the current crisis, and to realise the demands voiced by the youth and citizens ... without undermining the constitution in a manner that ensures the stability of our society," he said.
Mubarak said he had "initiated a very constructive national dialogue ... and this dialogue has yielded preliminary agreement in stances and views".
A state of emergency, which has been in place since Mubarak took power 30 years ago, remains in place, though the president promised to lift it as
some unspecified point in the future.
"I will remain adamant to shoulder my responsibility, protecting the constitution and
safeguarding the interests of Egyptians [until the next elections].
"This is the oath I have taken before God and the nation, and I will continue to keep
this oath," he said.
Mubarak said the current "moment was not against my personality, against
Hosni Mubarak", and concluded by saying that he would not leave Egyptian soil until he
was "buried under it".
Mubarak's comments were not well-received by hundreds of thousands gathered at
Cairo's Tahrir [Liberation] Square and in other cities, who erupted into angry chants
against him. Pro-democracy protesters had been expecting Mubarak to resign, and
their mood of celebration quickly turned to extreme anger as they heard the president's
Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Liberation Square said the "mood completely
altered as the president progressed with his speech", with protesters expressing "frustration
and anger" at him.
Hundreds took off their shoes and waved them angrily at a screen showing Mubarak's speech,
shouting "Leave, leave!"
Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition figure and former chief of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, responded to the speech by saying "Egypt will explode.
Army must save the country now", on the microblogging website Twitter.
'Go back home'
Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, addressed the nation in a televised address shortly after
Mubarak's speech, and called on protesters to "go back home" and "go back to work".
Angry protesters waved their shoes at screens
as Mubarak delivered his speech [EPA]
He said he had been delegated by the president "the responsibilities to safeguard the stability of Egypt, to safeguard its ... assets ... to restore peace and security to the Egyptian public, and to restore the normal way of life".
He said that a process of dialogue with the opposition had yielded positive results, and that "a roadmap has been laid down to achieve the majority of demands".
The vice-president said that steps had to be taken to "safeguard the revolution of the youth", but also called for protesters to "join hands" with the government, rather than risk "chaos".
He told Egyptians "not [to] listen to satellite television stations, whose main purpose is to fuel sedition and to drive a wedge among people".
Army meeting
Earlier, the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces had met to discuss
the ongoing protests against Mubarak's government.
In a statement entitled 'Communique Number One', televised on state television,
the army said it had convened the meeting response to the current political turmoil,
and that it would continue to convene such meetings.
Thurday's meeting was chaired by Mohamed Tantawi, the defence minister, rather
than Mubarak, who, as president, would normally have headed the meeting.
"Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people
and its keenness to protect the nation... and in support of the legitimate demands of
the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to
be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people,
" the statement.
Tens of thousands poured into Tahrir Square after the army statement was televised. Thousands
also gathered in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, our correspondent there said.
Earlier, Hassan al-Roweni, an Egyptian army commander, told protesters in the square that
"everything you want will be realised".
Hassam Badrawi, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), told the
BBC and Channel 4 News earlier on that he expected Mubarak to hand over his powers to
Omar Suleiman, the vice-president during his address.
"I think the right thing to do now is to take the action that would satisfy ... protesters,"
Badrawi told BBC television in a live interview.
Ahmed Shafiq, the country's prime minister, also told the BBC that the president may step down
on Thursday evening, and that the situation would be "clarified soon". He told the Reuters
news agency, however, that Mubarak remained in control, and that "everything is still in the
hands of the president".
However, Anas el-Fekky, Egypt's information minister, denied all reports of Mubarak resigning
from early in the day.
"The president is still in power and he is not stepping down," el-Fekky told Reuters.
"The president is not stepping down and everything you heard in the media is a rumour."
Mubarak met with Suleiman, the vice-president, at the presidential palace ahead of his address.
Protesters expected resignation
Mahmoud Zaher, a retired general in the Egyptian army, told Al Jazeera earlier in the day that
Mubarak's absence from the army meeting was a "clear and strong indication that
[Mubarak] is no longer present", implying that the Egyptian president was not playing a
role in governance any longer.
There was a festive atmosphere amongst protesters ahead of the speech, as they expected
Mubarak's resignation[Reuters]
Protesters had earlier responded to statements from political leaders as indicating that they had been successful in their key demand of wanting Mubarak to step down.
Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has played a key role in helping protesters get organised, said on the microblogging site Twitter on Thursday evening: "Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians."

Ahead of the speech, Jacky Rowland, our correspondent in Tahrir Square, described the atmosphere as "electric", with "standing room only" in the central Cairo area. She said that thousands gathered there were "celebrating a victory which has been anticipated, rather than actually achieved".
In Alexandria, Jamal ElShayyal, our correspondent, said the atmosphere turned "from joyous
to now furious" as Mubarak completed his speech. S:Aljaseer Web Site