Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Travelers staggered by Cuba's new customs taxes

HAVANA (AP) — A steep hike in customs duties took effect in Cuba on Monday, catching many air travelers unaware and leaving some shocked at the new fees.
Nelida Diaz, a Cuban-American who arrived with her husband for a visit to the island where she was born, said she was astonished when officials docked her $588 at customs.
"We come every year, and they had never charged us like that," Diaz said outside the terminal at Havana's international airport, her blue, shrink-wrapped bags piled on a luggage cart. "There is a lot of irritation among the people."
Authorities have defended the measure as necessary to impose order in airports, which at times can look more like cargo terminals for all the baggage.
Experts say the measure targets so-called mules, who make frequent trips back and forth to places like Ecuador, Panama and Miami, carrying huge bags overstuffed with merchandise destined for resale or to supply the island's growing ranks of private entrepreneurs.
But some fear it could also hurt Cuban families that rely on goods imported five suitcases at a time, as well as the many islanders who are able to visit relatives abroad by agreeing to bring back heavy loads for others who pay the airfare.
Travelers are allowed to bring in 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of miscellaneous goods without being charged. Everything after that gets taxed at $4.55 a pound ($10 per kilogram).
Islanders get a once-a-year pass to pay excess baggage fees in the local peso, worth 24 to the dollar, but starting with their second trip they must pay the much higher dollar-based rates. Anyone who's not a permanent resident pays the higher rate from the start.
"They charged me 102 Cuban pesos ($4.25) because I'm a Cuban and it's my first time traveling to the U.S.," said Maria Roque, a resident of Matanzas province who was returning to Cuba from a trip to visit her son.
But Roque said she was put on notice at customs: "The next time, I'll have to pay in dollars."
While the new duty schedule was announced two months ago, many travelers said Monday they were taken by surprise. The terminal appeared normal on the outside, but passengers said operations seemed confused and sluggish at customs.
"There's a lot of disgust in there," said Roberto Suarez another Cuban-American, who reported paying double his usual customs fee. "There are people who came with a little money set aside to help family, and then they get hit with this."
Follow Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP


Cuba slaps its own business partner


Repsol, one of the largest oil exploration firms in the world, agreed in 2000 to invest millions of dollars to financially and technically underwrite Cuba’s search for oil and gas. Repsol invested heavily to avoid U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba by leasing an Italian deep-water drilling rig built in China and Singapore with less than 10 percent of U.S. components that flies the Bahamian flag. It is estimated that Repsol has since spent $150 million in its Cuba operation.
Four years later, in 2004, when its first well came up dry, Repsol did not abandon its efforts and continued drilling for 8 more years at an estimated cost of $150,000 per day. These are the operational and business risks inherent in oil exploration.
Cuba, with Hugo Chávez fighting terminal cancer and facing a contested election in October, desperately needs to find alternatives to the subsidized oil it currently receives from Venezuela. Recently, however, Cuba illogically acted to increase Repsol’s political risk.
In April, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández dramatically announced that the country was expropriating 51 percent of the interest in Yacimientos Petrolificos Fiscales (YPF) held by Repsol. Repsol, headquartered in Spain, was YPF’s parent company. No compensation has been announced for the expropriated assets.
In language reminiscent of the statist policies popular in the last century, the nationalization rhetoric spoke of recovering control of Argentina’s national patrimony. “Efficiency and the motherland are not incompatible,” noted President Fernández.
Cuba, in ideological solidarity with the expropriation, applauded the Argentinian decision and accused Repsol of having purchased its controlling interest in YPF for less than its “fair” value. The paradox is that Repsol was then a key Cuban partner in offshore oil exploration. Cuba’s joy at the misfortune of its business partner losing its Argentinian investment must have made Repsol executives cringe with the thought of “with a business partner like Cuba who needs enemies.”
In the calculus of current and prospective investors in partnership with Cuba’s government, what may once have been considered acceptable business operational risks must now be recalculated to include prohibitive host-country political risks.
Host-country risk refers to the risk of investing in a country where new adverse economic policies may be instituted such as expropriation of assets, nationalization of private companies, currency controls, inability to expatriate profits, higher taxes or tariffs, and more. Host-country risk requires a risk premium that must be added to the normal commercial risks.
For a commercial enterprise, country risk increases the cost of doing business and consequently requires a much higher return on investment to compensate for the additional risk. Cuba, with a commercial environment dominated by bureaucrats with little sympathy for private enterprise, ranks as one of the countries in the world with the worst investment climate and the highest level of country risk.
Given Cuba’s dire need for foreign investment capital, and the necessity to compete for such capital with other countries, what were these guys thinking in publicly praising the Argentinian expropriation? Cuba’s government officials did not have to comment publicly on the nationalization announcement. They could have simply kept their feelings private as a modicum of respect for Repsol’s partnership with Cuba.
In rushing to side with Argentina’s expropriation of Repsol’s assets, Cuba signaled to its business partners and to the world that, for Cuba, ideology trumps over economic rationality or business agreements, and that the Cuban government remains committed to the Marxist principle of eradication of all private property.
This does not bode well for the ability of Castro’s Cuba to attract international business partners, or in particular for its offshore oil exploration projects. But it is not so much a case of dry wells as it is a case of having an avowed ideological enemy as a business partner. Who needs that? Repsol decided to invest in less risky waters.
José Azel is a senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book, Mañana in Cuba.
Events allowing, this post will remain at the top of the page through Friday. To read newer posts, scroll down. For more Cuba-related news and information, follow Uncommon Sense on Twitter @marcmasferrer.
Lead by former prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) has in the year since it was formed become one of the most active opposition groups on the island.
And in response, the Castro dictatorship has reserved for UNPACU some of its most aggressive repression, arresting and detaining the group's members in a futile attempt to stamp out its efforts.
Most recently, activist Roelbis Coba Sendo on Aug. 29 was tried, convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison on supposed charges of "contempt" and "resistance."
Opposition activist Yordi Garcia Founier said Coba was jailed in retaliation for his participation in a June 15 protest outside a Guantanamo police station to demand the release of two members of the Damas De Blanco who had been deported from Havana.
Coba was tried and sentenced two days after receiving a subponea. During the proceedings, police arrested eight other activists while they were trying to enter the courthouse.
In a separate incide, Interior Ministry officials assaulted Dama De Blanco Yudislaidis Travieso Garlobo when they tried to take her cell phone while she was walking to the courthouse.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Spy case documents filed

The appeals lawyer for convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández has filed an affidavit and nearly 300 pages of exhibits in a bid to free his client from prison.
Lawyer Martin Garbus said the U.S. government "secretly and illegally" paid journalists during the spy's prosecution in Miami in 2001, making it impossible for him to get a fair trial.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five had announced that the affidavit was going to be filed on Aug. 20. The committee said the filing was delayed until Aug. 31 while the legal team worked to meet the U.S. District Court's technical requirements (See "Cuban Five and the incredible disappearing affidavit.")
Downloads are below:


Acuse de recibo: Seremos como El Che?

El mundo, sí, es un pañuelo
It is indeed a small world. 
I thought readers might like to take a peak at this brief e-mail exchange between me and Joshua, a "year 12 student" (which I think is the equivalent of a high school senior and not a 12-year old) from Australia. 
* * *
On Jul 19, 2012, at 11:06 PM, Joshua wrote:
Hello, I am a year 12 student in Queensland, Australia. I am currently doing my final assessment on a biography about Che Guevara. I have to present a Oral speech presentation about Che Guevara, using a biography as a basis. I have to present information about how Che Guevara was an agent of change in history, how he affected historical events and what historical opinions on him say.

The book I chose as my basis for this oral is the Che Guevara book in the Critical Lives series published by Alpha Books. I was wondering if you would be able to assist me with any information about Che Guevara. Such as what your opinion on him is, why you wrote in the book about him and any other information that could assist me in my assessment.

Any help you could provide would be much appreciated.
Yours Sincerly, Joshua

* * *
Wow!  It is quite enterprising of you to reach out to me as part of your project.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna is certainly a complicated and controversial figure even now 45 years after his death. To assess the impact of his life is difficult since he had so many different stages and phases. Another difficulty in assessing his life is that he tends to be either turned into a hero, saint, and martyr by his fans on the one hand; or a villain, terrorist, and murderer by his detractors on the other.

I myself am more of a detractor than a fan of his, but I can and do recognize his important contribution to Latin American political history and especially to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resistance around the world.

To be brief, I'd say that his most important positive contribution was to recognize, denounce, and confront the abuses of capitalism and U.S. imperialism; and to become a symbol across the world for others who fight for national self determination and social justice.

On the negative side, I'd say that his ideological rigidity, intolerance of dissent, and utopian messianism turned out to be a disastrous recipe both for Cuba and for the other countries and movements where his ideas were put into practice.

While his vision and example of the "new (altruistic and socialist) man" was inspiring to many, when applied on a national scale in Cuba it led to economic collapse, divisive and almost religious orthodoxy and sectarianism, and perhaps worst of all increasing alienation and cynicism (instead of inspiration and hope) on the part of new generations of children and grandchildren of the revolution.

It is quite instructive that the economic reforms currently being slowly put into place in Cuba today under the leadership of Raul Castro are the very antithesis of Guevara's ideas of revolutionary consciousness, voluntary labor, moral incentives, and the new man.

While Che, Fidel, and "socialism" are often celebrated as revolutionary, socialist "saints" today in Cuba (and even used to justify the need for an "updating" of Cuba's economic model), even the Cuban government has come to recognize that their economic ideas have been unworkable at best and ruinous at worst.

They still teach Cuban school children to shout "Viva Fidel!" (long live Fidel) and "Seremos como El Che!" (we'll be like Che), but almost everyone recognizes the irony and contradiction between these patriotic slogans that celebrate an idealized, defiant past and the "brave new world" that Cuba faces today.

Sandra Ramos - Seremos como el Che (1993)
I hope this helps and feel free to let me know if you have any follow up questions.


Ted Henken
Guantánamo: Authorities sentenced to 18 months in prison to a opposition activist PDF Print E-mail

Cuban authorities sentenced on Wednesday to 18 months in prison Roelvis Cuba activist Sendo, who resides at Guantanamo and is a member of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), sources of dissent on the island

Speaking on Twitter, former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer UNPACU coordinator, described the case against Cuba Sendo of "judicial farce" and said the Guantanamo detention of opposition and political prisoners are twelve of UNPACU in 2012 .

Sendo Cuba was accused by the Cuban regime in contempt and resistance, and received a police summons to appear in court on August 27, just two days before.

Ferrer also said that a dozen activists were arrested yesterday UNPACU to prevent them from attending the trial of activist, and still remained Thursday arrested three opponents.

"Repression against UNPACU is constant and brutal," said opposition leader, adding that currently are in prison and 17 activists UNPACU "occur almost everyday arbitrary detention" against members of the opposition group.
http://www.cubalibredigital - http://www.cubaencuentro.com

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