Monday, April 25, 2011

LPP Update News...

Libya massacre

How to report news from inside Gaddafi's Tripoli heartland ...

Jonathan Miller reports on the challenges journalists face in Libya as they are kept under house arrest in the Rixos Hotel, Tripoli.
REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Thousands of Syrian troops raid rebellious city

This video image taken from amateur video released by Sham News Network, a Syrian Freedom group, shows a man throwing an object at a tank in Daraa, Sy AP – This video image taken from amateur video released by Sham News Network, a Syrian Freedom group, shows …
BEIRUT – Thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and snipers moved in before dawn to the city where Syria's anti-government uprising began, causing panic in the streets when they opened fire indiscriminately on civilians and went house-to-house rounding up suspected protesters. At least 11 people were killed and 14 others lay in the streets — either dead or gravely wounded, witnesses said.
The military raids on the southern city of Daraa and at least two other areas suggested Syria is trying to impose military control on the centers of protests against President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades. Residents and human rights activists said the regime wants to terrify opponents and intimidate them from staging any more demonstrations.
The offensive was meticulously planned: Electricity, water and mobile phone services were cut. Security agents armed with guns and knives conducted house-to-house sweeps, neighborhoods were sectioned off and checkpoints were erected before the sun rose.
"They have snipers firing on everybody who is moving," a witness told The Associated Press by telephone. "They aren't discriminating. There are snipers on the mosque. They are firing at everybody," he added, asking that his name not be used for fear of retribution.
The massive assault on Daraa appeared to be part of new strategy of crippling, pre-emptive strikes against any opposition to Assad, rather than reacting to demonstrations. Other crackdowns and arrest sweeps were reported on the outskirts of Damascus and the coastal town of Jableh — bringing more international condemnation and threats of targeted sanctions by Washington.
Razan Zeitounia, a human rights activist in Damascus, said the widespread arrests — including of men along with their families — appear to be an attempt to scare protesters and set an example for the rest of the country.
The attack on Daraa, an impoverished city on the Jordanian border, was by far the biggest in scope and firepower. Video purportedly shot by activists showed tanks rolling through streets and grassy fields with soldiers on foot jogging behind them.
Witnesses said busloads of troops poured in before dawn and snipers took up positions on the roofs of houses and high buildings while other security agents searched houses for suspected protesters.
"They are entering houses. They are searching the houses," said one witness. "They are carrying knives and guns."
He said people were crying out over mosque loudspeakers for doctors to help the wounded and there was panic in the streets.
"We need international intervention. We need countries to help us," shouted another witness in Daraa, who said he saw five corpses after security forces opened fire on a car. He spoke to the AP by telephone.
The forces occupied two mosques and a graveyard.
"Let Obama come and take Syria. Let Israel come and take Syria. Let the Jews come," shouted one Daraa resident over the phone. "Anything is better than Bashar Assad," he said, playing on Syria's hatred for Israel to highlight how much town residents despise their leader.
All witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Daraa, a drought-parched region of 300,000 in the south, has seen some of the worst bloodshed over the past five weeks as the uprising gained momentum. The area was ripe for unrest: The grip of Syria's security forces is weaker on the border areas than around the capital, Damascus, and Daraa hasn't benefited from recent years of economic growth. Meanwhile, Daraa has absorbed many rural migrants who can no longer farm after years of drought.
The city of Daraa was where Syria's uprising began in mid-March, touched off by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall.
A relentless crackdown since mid-March has killed more than 350 people throughout the country, with 120 alone dying over the weekend. But that has only emboldened protesters, who started with calls for modest reforms but are now increasingly demanding Assad's downfall.
State-run television quoted a military source as saying army units entered the city to bring security "answering the pleas for help by residents of Daraa."
Another military raid targeted the Damascus suburb of Douma, where rattling, heavy gunfire could still be heard late Monday. Soldiers, masked men in black uniforms and plainclothes security forces were manning checkpoints made from mounds of dirt throughout the area, a resident said.
In Jableh, men who tried to leave their houses were shot at by soldiers and thugs, three residents said, and only women were allowed onto the streets to buy food. Some quietly managed to bury seven men and a woman who were killed by security forces the day before, witnesses said. Security forces banned them from conducting funeral marches that frequently morph into protests.
Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian, anti-Western regimes in the Arab world.
Syria is a close ally of Iran and a backer of the militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
There were conflicting reports about whether authorities sealed the Syrian border with Jordan, although the head of Syria's Customs Department said crossings at the frontier were open as normal.
A Jordanian taxi driver said the border was open, but the main highway linking Syria with Jordan was blocked.
"The situation on the highway is scary," he said. "Protesters are burning tires and hurling stones at the army, which is responding with live fire, shooting randomly at civilians."
Assad has blamed most of the unrest on a "foreign conspiracy" and armed thugs, and has used state media to push his accusations.
The violence has exacerbated sectarian tensions that had largely been kept in check under Assad's iron rule and secular ideology. The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, but Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam's Shiite branch that dominates in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain.
On Monday, Syrian TV repeatedly ran lingering, gruesome close-ups of dead soldiers, their eyes blown out and parts of their limbs missing, to back up their claims that they were under attack. The channel then turned to showing soldiers' funeral marches, with men waving red, black and white Syrian flags and hoisting photos of Assad.
Unrest in Syria has repercussions well beyond its borders.
Syria has a pivotal role in most of the flashpoint issues of the Middle East — from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran's widening influence. Instability has thrown into disarray the U.S. push for engagement with Damascus, part of Washington's hopes to peel the country away from Hamas, Hezbollah and Tehran.
The White House said Monday it was considering sanctions against the Syrian government in response to the brutal crackdown. The statement from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor was the first time officials had said publicly that sanctions were possible.
Syria already is subject to numerous penalties as it is deemed a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department, but it maintains diplomatic relations with Washington.
In recent days, there had been signs that the regime was planning to launch a massive push against the opposition.
Last week, Assad fulfilled a key demand of the protest movement by abolishing nearly 50-year-old emergency laws that had given the regime a free hand to arrest people without cause. But he coupled the concession with a stern warning that protesters would no longer have an excuse to hold mass protests, and any further unrest would be considered "sabotage."
When protesters defied his order and held demonstrations Friday — the main day for protests around the Arab world — they were met with a gunfire, tear gas and stun guns.
At the United Nations, France, Britain, Germany and Portugal were urging the U.N. Security Council to strongly condemn the violence against peaceful demonstrators.
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said Syria has turned its back on international calls to "stop killing its own people."
Hadid reported from Cairo. AP writer Jamal Halaby contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.
Washington Post Editorial: Nothing has changed in Cuba
April 25 - IT HAS NOW been five years since Raul Castro assumed control of the Cuban regime from his ailing older brother, Fidel. In that time, the younger Mr. Castro — an accurate, if strange, description for a man who will turn 80 in June — has repeatedly reflected on the economic failings of the Cuban Revolution and promised to correct them. Over the past year, in fact, Raul Castro has sounded almost apocalyptic. “Either we change course, or we sink,” he declared in December. “We have the basic duty to correct the mistakes we have made over the course of five decades of building socialism in Cuba.” Such rhetoric raised expectations that Raul would at last bring the free enterprise and political opening that Cuba so desperately needs.
But Cuba’s Communist Party congress last week, the first such meeting since 1997 and the first ever under Raul’s direction, confirmed that talk of reform in Cuba is mostly just that. Instead of liberating the economy, Raul sketched a program of limited privatization that could take “at least” five years to phase in. The most dramatic measure would authorize Cubans to buy and sell houses and cars for the first time since 1959, but Raul provided few details, except to assure Cubans that no one would be allowed to accumulate too much property. The plan calls for more licenses for small service businesses — a measure partly aimed at converting black market enterprises into taxable ones. 
Even more disappointing was the lack of political reform — or even a shake-up of the Communist hierarchy. Yes, Raul suggested choosing more non-Communists for government posts, but he offered no plan for elections or actual party competition. Instead, Raul promoted Jose Roman Machado Ventura, a longtime crony and fellow octogenarian, to the No. 2 spot in what is still the “vanguard” Communist party. Nor was there any indication that Cuba plans a conciliatory gesture toward the Obama administration, such as the release of Alan Gross, the 61-year-old U.S. aid worker recently sentenced to 15 years on trumped-up subversion charges.  Washington Post
Yoani Sánchez: Spaniards in the World
April 25 - The capitol, rum, salsa music played on street corners, cars that look like collector’s pieces although under the hood they are falling to pieces. This and more in the chapter, “Spaniards in the World,” filmed here in Havana. Fifty minutes with stories of immigrants from Asturias, Galicia, Andalusia, which have transported their dreams from the other side of the Atlantic. Everything is nice and blue, sprinkled with salt; but something doesn’t fit.
While I watch the serial I have the impression that what they’re showing me is another country, a distant dimension in sepia tints. The life stories of the seven main characters happen, for me, in a space far from the daily life I know. And though I repeat — to calm myself down — that the serial is about Spaniards spread across the globe and not about Cubans lost in their own geography, as the credits run I can’t escape the feeling of having been conned.
The writers cleverly hide the detail that those interviewed possess prerogatives unattainable for natives. They fail to say that spending a night at the Bodeguita del Medio, or at the Tropicana cabaret, renting an office in the Bacardi building, managing cosmetic or tobacco companies, dining on lobster and wine, are privileges accessible — almost exclusively — to the wallets of foreigners. Not to mention the beautiful sail on the yacht in one of the final scenes, prohibited by law to the nation’s 11 million people. It lacks, this modern and diverting program, the explanation of the imbalance, the story about the gap that separates the world of these Spanish who come here from the world of the Cubans who were born here. Watch the video: Españoles en el mundo - La Habana
Yoani Sánchez: Cuba's congress, a requiem for an old man
April 24 - and so I face the final curtain . . .
To say goodbye can be accomplished with just a brief note left on the table, or by a telephone call where we say our final farewells.
In the preparations to leave the country, at the end of a relationship, or of life itself, there are people who try to control the smallest details, draw up those limits that oblige the ones they leave behind to follow their path.
Some leave slamming the door behind them, and others demand before taking off the great tribute they think they deserve. There are those who equitably distribute all their worldly goods, and also beings with so much power they change the constitution of a country so that no one can undo their work when they’re gone.
The preparations for the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party and its sessions in the Palace of Conventions were like a great public requiem for Fidel Castro. The scene of his farewell, the meticulous ceremonial demanded by him and realized — sparing no expense — by his younger brother. In the organizational excesses of the military parade, held last Sunday, was seen the intention to “spare no expense” in a final tribute to someone who could not be there on the podium.
It was clear that the announcement of the names of those who would assume the highest positions in the Cuban Communist Party would not be read by the man who decided the course of this nation for almost 50 years. But he sat at the head table of the event to validate, with his presence, the transfer of power to Raúl Castro. Being there was like coming — still alive — to the reading of his own will.
Then came the standing ovation, the tears of this or that delegate to the party conclave, and the phrases of eternal commitment to the old man with the almost white beard.
Through the television screen some of us sensed the crackling of dried-up flowers or the sound of shovelfuls of dirt. It remains to be see if the General-cum-President can sustain the heavy legacy he has received, or if under the watchful supervision of his Big Brother he would prefer not to contradict him with fundamental reforms. It’s just left to check the authenticity of Fidel Castro’s departure from public life, and whether his substitute will choose to continue disappointing us, or to reject him.
Laughter is still an effective cure for the daily trials. Thus, on this island, we bend our lips into a smile more for self-therapy than for happiness. Then the tourists take our pictures and go home saying we are a happy people, that we haven’t lost our sense of humor before all the difficulties.
Ahh! The tourists and their explanations! We tour the world with the instant of that laugh on our faces — a laugh that preceded a gesture of disgust — or with the image of satisfaction that overwhelms us on resolving, after a year’s effort, a pair of graduated lenses for a child.
Splitting our sides laughing can also be preventative medicine to avoid disappointments to come. Perhaps for this reason, every time I ask someone about the possible reforms likely to grow out of the Sixth Communist Party Congress, they answer me with a giggle, an ironic “teeheehee.” Next they shrug their shoulders and come out with a phrase such as, “Well, no one should have any illusions… and maybe they’ll authorize the purchase of houses and cars.”
They end their words with another enigmatic grimace of pleasure, confusing me still more. It’s difficult to know if the majority of my compatriots today would prefer that transformations be approved at the Party Congress, or for it to be a fiasco to demonstrate the system’s inability to reform itself.
Although expectations have faded considerably in recent months, some part remains, especially among the most materially destitute and the most ideologically fervent. The image of a pragmatic Raúl Castro has been replaced by that of a hesitant ruler, trapped by a situation beyond his control. The Congress some assumed would lead to reforms has come too late and forfeited, with this waiting, many of the hopes it once unleashed. Behind the enigmatic smiles of the taxi drivers, pizza sellers, students, and even Communist Party militants, is now concealed the insolence of those who know how little things change, and who use silent mockery to vaccinate themselves — in advance — against the frustration.
Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban blogger who has received international awards for her critical portrayal of life in Cuba’s dictatorship, which has blocked her blog from public Internet sites on the island. She relies on friends abroad to post texts she sends by e-mail.
The Miami Herald
A video of Cuba before the Castros came in and destroyed it
A video of Cuba in the lat 50s. Interesting enough, it was produced by Carlos Franqui, who later became the director of the news rag "Revolución" after Castro came to power. He later moved to Puerto Rico after breaking with Castro and died there about a year ago.
  • Andres Oppenheimer
  • Mon Apr 25 2011

Economic reforms buy time for Cuba’s aging leaders

Cuba's announcement at the end of its much-awaited Communist Party Congress this week that it will allow Cubans to buy homes and cars for the first time in five decades proves the wisdom of an old joke — that communism is the longest road between capitalism and capitalism.
The congress of Cuba's Communist Party approved a wide array of pro-market economic reforms. Their details have not been fully disclosed, but some well-placed Cuba watchers say the new rules are likely to lead to an economic opening, much like China's economic reforms of 1978 or Vietnam's transition to a “socialist-oriented market economy” in 1986.
Hours after the conclusion of the Congress — where 79-year old military president Gen. Raul Castro was appointed head of the party's central committee and 80-year old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura was named his No. 2 — I asked several economists and legal experts whether the party congress will mark the official start of Cuba's economic opening.
Omar Everleny Perez, deputy director of the Centre of Cuban Studies of the University of Havana, told me in an email from the island that “we are witnessing a profound updating of the Cuban economic model, much like those of China and Vietnam, with the existing differences of each model.” He said the economic “transformation” of Cuba will give the private sector “a significant weight, which it has not had in the past.” Among other things, Cuba will eliminate more than one million jobs to reduce its “bloated" government payroll — the figure may be as high a 1.5 million — and that it will give land to private farmers so that they can increase food production.
Rolando Anillo, an attorney with the Miami firm Fowler, Rodriguez Valdes-Fauli who visits Cuba frequently, agrees that “for the first time, there's a deeper economic reform” that allows things such as private ownership of homes or cars.
Until now, Cubans could only “exchange” their state-owned homes, a mechanism that has triggered a massive housing black market because people wanting to move to a bigger house have to pay extra cash under the table to the person giving up the property.
“It will have a huge impact,” Anillo says. “It can unleash a big movement of capital because there are people who have money, and they will start to repair and improve their homes.”
Carmelo Mesa Lago, a University of Pittsburgh economist who is one of the most respected analysts of the Cuban economy, is more skeptical. Barring surprises once the congress's resolutions are published, this is not comparable with China's or Vietnam's economic openings decades ago, he said.
In China and Vietnam, the opening started with sweeping agricultural reforms that gave farmers virtual ownership rights over their land. In Cuba, farmers will only get usage rights of the land, which will be limited to 10 years and subject to stringent restrictions, he said.
Mesa Lago said that the most important steps for Cuba to solve its economic crisis would be — in this order — giving private farmers greater property rights, implementing the announced layoffs of up to 1.5 million government workers, and implementing the new rules allowing people to own homes and cars. “The latest reforms are very timid, and with too many strings attached,” he said.
My opinion: Unlike Cuba's previous economic reforms, which the regime quickly reversed as soon as it got new subsidies from the former Soviet Union or Venezuela, this one may go down in history as the first official move toward a market economy. The reason: The regime's octogenarian leaders are not likely to be around to convene a new Communist Party Congress in another 14 years.
But the new reforms will not be implemented by the current crowd of octogenarian political dinosaurs. As Cuba's military dictator, Raul Castro himself reminded the party's congress, “it is useful to clarify, to avoid misinterpretations, that the agreements reached at the congress are not automatically turned into laws, but are political and moral guidelines” that must be implemented by the government.
What Cuba's gerontocracy has done is buy time so that they don't risk opening a process of gradual freedoms that could land them in jail, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. They want to die in bed, peacefully, making sure that their successors will later credit them with having started Cuba's economic opening.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. (McClatchy-Tribune)

New leader overhauls US broadcasts into Cuba

MIAMI – A new generation of managers is taking the reins at the U.S. government's radio and TV broadcasts into Cuba, promising to overhaul the stations' programming in an effort to make them more relevant and reach a younger audience.
The overhaul coincides with broader policy changes, as President Barack Obama has shifted from the Bush-era tactic of advocating the overthrow of Fidel Castro's communist government to encourage more cultural and economic exchanges to bring about political change from within the island.
Carlos Garcia-Perez, a 43-year-old Cuban-American attorney, took over the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in October. Unlike the Marti founders and most directors since, he is from Puerto Rico, not the anti-Castro exile enclave of Miami. He wasn't even born when the last Marti director, exile Pedro Roig, participated in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.
Garcia-Perez insists the often-criticized TV and Radio Marti broadcasts still offer an important service in Cuba, where the government has an iron grip on the media and tries, often successfully, to block TV Marti.
"To enable the free flow of information to our audience (in Cuba), that's what we're all about. It would be great if other commercial broadcasts had complete access, but that's not the reality," he said, noting the Cuban government in January removed CNN's Spanish service from a package of channels provided to hotels and foreign companies. It gave no explanation.
The changes include longer news programs, overhauling entertainment shows with some lighter fare and adding services for mobile phones, which families in Miami are increasingly bringing to their relatives on the island.
One new radio show, "El Revoltillo" (The Scramble), features two hosts exchanging Regis and Kelly-like banter while reading off items and services for sale from a Cuban website. The program is more practical than overtly political because few on the island have computer access. Based on nothing more than a Cuban-style Craigslist, it seems to work, mixing useful information with humor. The hosts throw in an occasional jab at the island's government but not with the same derision of past shows, such as "The Boss's Office," which frequently featured a bumbling impersonator of Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's brother and the country's president.
Since it debuted this year, the show has received calls and even emails from Cubans looking to sell, rent or buy everything from a shower hose to the services of a private investigator. Unlike most previous Marti shows, callers aren't necessarily dissidents. Garcia-Perez said that fits the broadcasts' goal of facilitating more exchange among Cubans from all parts of the island.
Critics have for years questioned the Martis' management and standards, arguing the broadcasts reach few on the island and do as much harm as good for the U.S. image abroad. At least two recent congressional bills proposed dumping the roughly $28 million-a-year Martis, though they are unlikely to pass. And some critics particularly question the point of overhauling TV Marti, which gets most of the budget and is by most accounts successfully jammed by the Cuban government.
Harvard professor and Cuba expert Jorge Dominguez, who occasionally visits the island for research, said there's only so much the Martis can change given their low reputation inside the island and TV Marti's limited audience.
"Even the Cuban government no longer cares. It cared in the 1980s and 1990s, but I can't remember the last time I spoke to a Cuban official who brought it up," he said.
Garcia-Perez has tried to shore up the broadcasts' credibility since arriving, cutting more than a third of their roughly 100 outside contractors. Their positions were often derided as a way to dole out cash and curry favor with Miami's Cuban leaders.
Garcia-Perez also brought in another young Puerto Rican of Cuban descent from the Spanish-language network Telemundo to serve as the stations' general manager. And he hired Humberto Castello, former executive editor of Miami's Spanish-language paper El Nuevo Herald, to add meat and modernity to the Marti website.
Castello isn't exactly the new guard. Under his leadership, El Nuevo Herald faced an ethics scandal over payments a number of its reporters were receiving from the government-run Martis, but the paper also won journalistic prizes.
Traffic at the website is up 25 percent since February, with an average of 4,000 daily hits, according to an automated analysis provided to The Associated Press. Many of those are from the U.S., Canada and Argentina, as Cubans on the island often use foreign email addresses.
The changes at the Martis are part of a broader push among U.S. foreign broadcasts to remain relevant and do more with less. U.S.-funded broadcasters operate on a roughly $760 million budget, in 59 languages reaching an estimated 165 million people weekly, according to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees them.
Voice of America is ending shortwave radio broadcasts in China. And it is working especially hard to justify itself in the Western Hemisphere, where people in all but two countries — Cuba and Venezuela — have an array of local media, satellite channels and Internet sites to choose from.
Toward that end, the Martis and VOA are working more closely to pool resources, boosting the Martis' credibility.
Despite the changes, Garcia-Perez insists the fundamental mission of the Martis — to provide a counterpoint to the Cuban government — hasn't changed.
"We don't try to tell the people in Cuba 'Fidel and Raul are bad.' They know that," he said. "We want to be the number one station to bring the news to the Cuban people about what's happening inside the island first and then a window to the rest of the world."

Cuba denies fault in loss of Haiti-bound aid barge

HAVANA – Cuba's Transportation Ministry on Thursday denied claims by a U.S. housing company that the island nation is to blame for the loss of a barge carrying humanitarian aid to Haiti.
A Cuban tugboat received a distress call from the "Muheet" just before midnight Nov. 30, and responded promptly, the ministry said in a statement.
It says the tug began towing the ship and its two barges, but high seas prompted both captains to decide to head for port with the ship and return later for the barges.
One was deemed a total loss while the other was salvaged, the statement said. It added that an inspection found expired permits and insufficient anchor capability.
Georgia-based Harbor Homes LLC has claimed a line broke during the tow, causing one barge to sink. The company has sued its insurer for $1.3 million.
The company also claimed that Cuba refused a request from the U.S. Coast Guard to enter Cuban waters and attempt a rescue. The Coast Guard has said it never sought to enter Cuban waters.
Cuba said it has been in constant contact with the Coast Guard and the U.S. government about the matter. It said the salvaged goods are being stored in a customs warehouse.
Cuba has had humanitarian ties to Haiti for years. Well before doctors from around the world rushed to help Haiti after a massive 2010 earthquake, Cuba lent hundreds of doctors to provide medical services throughout the impoverished country.