Caribbean-wide disaster preparedness

At the onset of the 2005 hurricane season, Cuba and other Caribbean nations are laying plans to deal with expected damage and threats to human life. Cuba hosted the 10th meeting of the Special Committee on Natural Disasters of the Association of Caribbean States that opened May 31 in Havana. Representatives of 25 Caribbean nations and the United Nations were on hand.

Cuban Civil Defense chief Ramon Pardo reaffirmed his nation’s firm support for regional measures taken to minimize damage to persons and property from this year’s expected onslaught of severe storms. He urged national representatives to take advantage of the Committee’s loan program designed to protect populations at risk. Pardo placed special emphasis on measures taken to counter the damaging effects of torrential rains.

Cuba holds international conference on anti-terrorism

Prompted by U.S. government reluctance to extradite terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela, plus its failing to acknowledge his terrorist crimes, Cuba has launched an international campaign highlighting decades of terrorist attacks against Cuba and U.S. hypocrisy on terrorism. Toward that end, the Cuban government June 2 through June 4 staged an “International Meeting against Terrorism, for Truth and Justice.”

The gathering was intended as a forum for growing, worldwide resistance to U.S. sponsored terrorism. Approximately 700 political leaders, journalists, historians, writers, and labor leaders from 60 countries were present at the assembly held at Havana’s main convention center.

President Fidel Castro, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, and Foreign Affairs minister Felipe Perez Roque each pointed out the crucial importance of Posada’s extradition to Venezuela. They declared that Miami-based terrorists were instrumental in wrecking havoc in South America during the 1970’s through Operation Condor.

Referring to recently available declassified FBI, CIA, and State Department documents, speakers described an all but worldwide campaign of bombings in the 1970’s directed at embassies, diplomats, and friends of Cuba. Cuban leaders suggested that Washington is still intent upon carrying out the objectives of “Operation Mongoose.” That was the name given to 1960’s U.S.- backed guerrilla activity inside Cuba that by destabilizing Cuban society would prepare the way for a U.S. military invasion.

At a panel called “Terrorism: Memories” children of the victims of the 1976 airplane bombing engineered by Posada and Orlando Bosch offered heart wrenching testimony. Cuban spokespersons asserted that Miami resident Orlando Bosch must now be brought to justice. At the opening session of the assembly, Cuban President Fidel Castro declared that nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki represent the most horrendous terrorist attack ever inflicted on humankind.

End of an era? Cuba reduces dependence on foreign entrepreneurs

The Cuban government, bolstered by growing economic ties to Venezuela and China, appears to be cutting back on autonomy granted in the 1990s to state-run companies and foreign corporations.

Cuba opened up its economy to foreign investment as a recovery measure after losing 85 percent of its foreign trade with the fall of the Soviet Bloc. The Cuban government has retained more than 50 percent control over joint ventures with foreign companies at that provide machinery, credit, and supplies in return for shares of the profits realized by joint ventures.

In recent speeches, Castro has testified to fond memories of an earlier era when the Cuban State controlled most of the economy. Cuba’s Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation Ministry (MINVEC) announced recently that foreign investment in sectors such as energy, mining, biotechnology and tourism is still welcome. But the atmosphere has apparently become far less favorable to small and medium-sized businesses.

Cuba reported that the number of joint ventures had dwindled to 313 at the end of 2004, down from 412 in 2002. Another 67 will be closed this year, according to a MINVEC source. Of the 313 joint ventures operating in 2003, only 133 were still functioning at the beginning of this year.

Cuba has done away with free-trade zones that formerly harbored 400 companies. Joint ventures accounted for more than half of Cuba’s exports last year and a third of all hard-currency earnings, or $1.3 billion and $2.3 billion respectively.

Cuban Americans’ right to visit Cuba is on the Congressional docket.

A Florida Republican Congressman reintroduced a bill May 25 to ease Bush administration restrictions imposed last year on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba to visit family members. Rep Jim Davis found bipartisan support among the 36 co-sponsors for his bill. His office issued a press release to the effect that H.R. 2617 will “overturn Bush administration’s Cuba policies which undermine families and jeopardize innocent Cubans who rely upon visits from their Cuban American relatives” for support.

Under Davis’ bill, Cuban Americans would be able to visit Cuba once a year, instead of once every three years; stay there for up to 30 days, rather than be limited to 14 days; and take $3000 in remittances, up from $300. They would once more be able to visit cousins, aunts, and uncles, and bring them money – family categories that the Bush Administration has put off limits.

Last September Davis introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have cut off funding for enforcing the Bush regulations. Although the House of Representatives passed the amendment 225 to 174, but it was left out of the final version of the law.

Hemingway enthusiasts gather in Havana

Scholars and devotees of Ernest Hemingway gathered for the 10th time May 24 to examine anew the historical and literary significance of the author’s life in Cuba from 1939 through 1960. An international cast of researchers and specialists attended a four daylong colloquium held at the Jose Marti Institute of Journalism in Havana.

Some of those on hand from the United States have been working with the Cuban government to restore the author’s estate La Vigia, located on the outskirts of Havana. So far, the Hemingway Preservation Foundation, based in Concord, Massachusetts, has made little headway in securing U.S. government approval for millions of dollars needed to refurbish estate buildings to be sent to Cuba.

Conference participants visiting La Vigia commented upon clear signs of advancing deterioration of the facilities, which the Cuban government operates as a museum. Cuban authorities have undertaken to restore a few rooms in the main building of the former Hemingway estate. Those in attendance at the conference learned that Cuban and U.S. preservationists have been successful in protecting documents, letters, and photographs found at La Vigia and microfilming them for research use both at the Museum and at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

Dissidents assemble in Havana, no restrictions imposed

Cuban dissidents gathered May 20-21 for a meeting in Havana to express anti-government opposition. Some foreign observers and organizers of the gathering had predicted heavy police surveillance or a government crackdown, but the proceedings went on without incident.

One hundred twenty-five delegates representing 360 organizations took part in the so-called Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, far short of the 500 advertised as planning to attend. Meeting organizers had reportedly asked for $130,000 from supporters in Florida to cover expenses.

A few prominent dissidents stayed away, among them Osvaldo Paya, organizer of the 2003 Varela Project, a petition calling for constitutional change in Cuba. Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo of Cambio Cubano, and Manuel Cuesta Morua, shunned the meeting because of apparently close ties between assembly organizers and the U.S. government.

Two of them recently provided Congressional Committees with telephone testimony affirming their support for harsh U.S. measures against Cuba. U.S. Interests Section Chief James Cason joined the meeting to play a taped message from President Bush identifying the delegates as Cuba’s future leaders.

Cuba’s decision to disallow entry into Cuba for several past or present European government officials heading for the meeting elicited criticism from planners of the event. Reportedly those excluded had used tourist visas to enter Cuba and had allowed the Spanish branch of the Cuban American National Foundation to pay their travel expenses. The Cuban action may provoke European retaliation this summer as Cuba seeks to upgrade its relations with European Union nations