Angola: Defence Minister Highlights Relations Between Angola And Cuba


Luanda — The Angolan minister of Defence, Candido Pereira Van-Dunen, emphasized in Havana, Cuba, that the relations between Angola and Cuba are an example of solidarity, friendship and brotherhood.

Speaking in Havana during a visit to the headquarters of the local Ministry of Defence (MINFAR), Candido Pereira said that “our people have written with blood and sweat, glorious moments that resulted in the consolidation of freedom, national independence and sovereignty of Angola after a heroic battles against the enemies.”

According to the Angolan official, the two countries’ armies were side by side in the battles of Kifangondo, Kangamba, Kuito Kuanavale, Tchipa and others and showed to the world beautiful lessons of internationalism, solidarity and mutual respect that led to the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Namibia independence and the beginning of a new era of development in the southern Africa region.

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WikiLeaks: Coast Guard officer is key U.S. man in Havana


Kansas City: MIAMI — The most effective official in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana may well be a U.S. Coast Guard officer who’s technically a counter-drug specialist but is sometimes approached by the Cuban government for some back-channel diplomacy.

Cuban officials have contacted the Coast Guard officer on sensitive issues such as migration negotiations and Washington offers of aid in the wake of hurricanes, according to U.S. diplomatic dispatches that WikiLeaks obtained and shared with McClatchy.

Contact between the drug interdiction specialist and Cuba’s Interior Ministry is “generally viewed as one of the more fruitful and positive between the U.S. and Cuban governments,” one of the dispatches noted.

That doesn’t surprise retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Randy Beardsworth, who first proposed basing a drug interdiction specialist in Havana and negotiated the terms with Cuba in 1998, when he was the chief law enforcement officer for the Coast Guard’s Miami-based 7th District.

“Both sides have discreetly and quietly used this relationship to communicate. … It’s in our national interest to understand their bureaucracy. In chaos, who do we talk to?” Beardsworth said.

Five decades of U.S.-Cuba tensions have led both countries to impose tight controls on each other’s diplomats. The countries don’t have diplomatic relations and maintain only “interests sections” in each other’s capitals, formally as attachments to other countries’ embassies.

In the United States, Cuban officials aren’t allowed to travel more than 25 miles from their bases in Washington or at the United Nations in New York without prior approval. U.S. officials in Havana are banned from leaving the city, and can meet only with Cuban Foreign Ministry officials.

But the Coast Guard drug interdiction specialist often travels outside Havana on drug and migration-related trips accompanying officials from the Foreign Ministry, known as MINREX, and the Interior Ministry (MININT), which is in charge of counter-narcotics, migration and domestic and foreign intelligence operations.

“They certainly had unique access, insights into people that we could not even see,” said James Cason, a career diplomat who was the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba from 2002 to 2005. Now retired, he recently was elected mayor of Coral Gables, Fla.

 

During a 2009 visit to a Cuban port for the repatriation of several would-be refugees whom the Coast Guard had intercepted at sea, a Foreign Ministry official gave the drug interdiction specialist “subtle insights” into Cuba’s approach to bilateral migration talks, which the Obama administration was about to restart after a break of several years, according to one dispatch.

The Foreign Ministry official, Armando Bencomo, told the drug interdiction specialist that the talks should focus on why Cubans want to leave the island and “would help both sides to develop a response to a potential mass migration scenario,” according to the cable.

The dispatch noted that Bencomo’s comments were a sign that Havana would use the meeting to “hammer” at the U.S. wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who reach U.S. land to stay. Cuba has long criticized the policy, but the cables didn’t indicate whether Havana indeed attacked the policy at the immigration talks.

During a second 2009 trip to witness the repatriation of Cubans intercepted by the Coast Guard, an unidentified Foreign Ministry official told the drug interdiction specialist that in his “personal opinion” Havana might reverse its rejections of U.S. aid after three hurricanes had devastated the island in 2008, another cable noted.

“Yet again, MINREX has utilized the DIS and the repatriation process as a forum” to float an idea past a U.S. official, the cable noted. That way, Cuba can pass a message “and still maintain its public image and propaganda campaign that lambaste the USG for its approach towards Cuba.” USG is short for United States government.

When Interior Ministry officials upbraided the drug interdiction specialist over an incident in 2009, it was taken as a sign that “MINREX, via MININT, is attempting to elicit a response from the USG … to maximize its interaction with USINT and the USG writ large,” another cable noted.

 

What’s more, Cuban officials meeting with the drug interdiction specialist referred to one of the hot-button issues between the countries: a mass exodus of Cubans like the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and the so-called “Balsero Crisis” of 1994.

According to one cable after the 2008 hurricanes, a colonel in the Interior Ministry’s Border Guard Troops asked the drug interdiction specialist whether the U.S. government was “planning an operation,” understood as asking whether Washington was concerned about a possible mass exodus by desperate hurricane victims.

The comment raised eyebrows because the colonel “inadvertently suggested himself that there was a fear on the part of the (Border Guard) that at least an increase in Cuban migration numbers was possible,” the cable added.

Cuban officials also use the Coast Guard’s man in Havana to voice complaints about U.S. policies and practices.

One cable noted that a top Interior Ministry counter-drug official had complained that U.S. cooperation on drug interdictions was “often one-sided” and that Cuba wanted to work more closely with U.S. officials in sharing information about trafficking in the region.

Another reported in 2009 that the drug interdiction specialist had received a tongue-lashing from five top Interior Ministry officers at a meeting to discuss an alleged U.S. Coast Guard violation of Cuban waters during the emergency assistance of a U.S.-registered sailboat.

The Cuban officers “questioned whether the DIS has the necessary influence with his bosses at USCG District Seven (headquartered in Miami Beach) to mitigate these kinds of incidents,” the cable added.

Beardsworth said Cuban agents at times also “fooled with” the Havana homes of Coast Guard officers who’d “poked their nose into areas the Cubans considered were not appropriate.” He gave no details, but U.S. diplomats in Cuba have complained of obvious burglaries in which food or worse was left on tables so that the occupants would know that someone had been inside.

But Beardsworth said the advantages far outweighed any problems with stationing a U.S. Coast Guard officer in Havana, which he proposed as a “confidence-building measure” between the countries after a year of graduate studies at Harvard in 1995.

The first drug interdiction specialist was sent to Cuba around 1998, he recalled, and five or six Coast Guard officers — all men — now have completed assignments of two or three years in Havana. All remain on active duty and aren’t permitted to comment on their Cuba experiences.

Cason recalled that while the drug interdiction specialist got to attend the repatriations of interdicted Cuban rafters about once a week and to travel around Cuba on drug-related trips with Interior Ministry officials, other U.S. diplomats could meet no one in the government other than the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, Dagoberto Rodriguez.

Cason said he thought the Cuban government favored the drug interdiction specialist’s relations with its Interior Ministry because it wanted to establish “a military-to-military” relationship, thinking that professional solders could understand each other better and lessen the risks of a crisis.

No doubt the Cuban government was “also trying to penetrate our side” — recruit the Coast Guard officers as spies — Cason added, though the Coast Guard was aware of that and “picked their best people, really sharp.”

The Cubans “always said they just wanted someone to talk to,” Cason said. “But I always asked why not the USINT? That’s why we were there, to talk to them.”

www.cubaluxuryrent.com

Peruvian President-Elect Visits Cuba


Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala is in Cuba, his last stop on a multi-nation tour.

The visit comes a little more than a week before Mr. Humala takes office on July 28.

The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma quoted Mr. Humala as saying he had come to visit a “sister” country and share an open agenda with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Mr. Humala was elected last month in a runoff election. The leftist former army officer narrowly beat Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. He has promised to give poor Peruvians a greater share of the Andean nation’s considerable mineral wealth and to honor the free market.

Since his election, he has traveled to several other countries, including Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico. He also visited the United States earlier this month, where he met with President Barack Obama.

Mr. Humala takes office after two previous unsuccessful attempts. In 2000, he launched a failed military coup against then-president Fujimori. And in 2006, Mr. Humala lost the presidential election to Alan Garcia, the current president who leaves office July 28.

In 2006, Mr. Humala was seen as a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who publicly endorsed him for president of Peru at that time. Some reports alleged the Venezuelan government helped finance that campaign. Mr. Humala has since distanced himself from Mr. Chavez.

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Chinese Vicepresident in Cuba to meet on economic ties


HAVANA (Reuters) – Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived in Cuba on Saturday for a three-day visit expected to accelerate fast-growing economic relations between the two communist-run countries.

One of Cuba’s six vice presidents, Esteban Lazo, was at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport to greet Xi, who is tipped to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2013.

Xi came to Cuba from Italy, where $3.2 billion in business deals were unveiled during his visit, and he was to go on to Uruguay and Chile.

China is in the midst of a massive expansion of economic activity in Latin America, where its trade last year totaled $180 billion, up 50 percent from 2009, official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

In a written statement to the press, Xi said he was in Cuba to “increase friendship (and) deepen cooperation” in pursuit of development.

Xi and President Raul Castro were scheduled to hold talks and preside over the signing of so far undisclosed accords on Sunday.

A Chinese official told Xinhua this week the two countries would begin negotiations on a five-year plan for bilateral economic cooperation.

China is Cuba’s second largest trading partner, trailing only Venezuela, with trade between the two increasing to $1.83 billion last year from $440 million in 2001, according to Xinhua. The 2010 figure fell from $2.2 billion in 2008.

China has become the lender of last resort for debt-ridden Cuba, which is carrying out reforms to modernize and strengthen its Soviet-style economy.

Last year, China restructured debt believed to be as high as $4 billion and agreed to extend new credit in what Havana-based diplomats said was a show of support for Cuba’s reforms.

In his statement, Xi praised a recent Cuban Communist Party congress affirming the economic changes, which are timid compared with the market economy China has embraced.

Castro, who succeeded ailing older brother Fidel Castro in 2008 and turned 80 on Friday, is slashing government payrolls, expanding the private sector, putting more agriculture in private hands and giving state companies greater autonomy.

He has said the goal is to make sure Cuban socialism survives once the current generation of aging leaders is gone.

China’s involvement in Cuba’s economy is increasingly evident, with Chinese-made goods filling the stores and Chinese buses and cars a common sight on Cuban roads.

A unit of China National Petroleum Corp is expected to begin work later this year on a $6 billion project to expand and upgrade an oil refinery in Cienfuegos on Cuba’s southern coast, with plans including construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal.

China buys nickel, sugar and other products from Cuba and jointly produces pharmaceuticals in China.

After Sunday’s meeting with Castro, Xi will visit a Havana medical clinic on Monday, then leave for Uruguay from the beach resort of Varadero on Tuesday.

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Cuba’s politburo threatened by senility


Miami Herald: It is not difficult to understand that the discourse of the Cuban revolution has been manipulating dreams for 50 years in a delirious frenzy of unfulfilled promises.

Fidel Castro, the elderly Marxist dictator, appeared briefly at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, looking very fragile, not speaking, raising the arm of his brother Raúl, now confirmed as First Party Secretary, and surrounded by the 15 members of the Politburo, half of whom are generals between the ages of 72 and 83.

Fidel himself, 84, appeared weak and walked with difficulty, but it was clear that, despite his precarious health, he is dying stunningly slowly, which, some analysts say, hinders Raúl Castro’s work.

Half a century into the failure of the revolution, the Sixth Congress concluded with an incoherent report that contained contradictory signals about five-year plans to establish bank credit, decentralize the state’s economy, set up commercial contracts to solve conflicts and give Cubans the right to own their homes and buy and sell cars. But at the end, the hard line of the decrepit Marxist socialist imposed itself.

Arteriosclerosis clung to power. The visceral intolerance of an “irreversible” socialism, along with the crushing presence of the military high command and the absence of a generational relay, formed the framework of the Sixth Congress of the PCC that ended with the delegates singing the Internationale, whose lyrics mention “the poor of the world and the slaves without bread.”

These concepts are applicable to socialist Cuba, which in the past 50 years has become one of the world’s poorest nations, without civil liberties. Perhaps this was the Congress’ most lucid moment.

Pervaded by a high dose of senility, the Politburo admitted only three new members and confirmed José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, the hardest of the dogmatic leaders, as Second Secretary, with the support of the hardline generals, including Ramiro Valdés, another veteran of the Sierra Maestra.

Machado Ventura refuses to abandon the Marxist-Leninist model and, like Fidel Castro, only admits economic concessions of a superficial and cosmetic nature.

There’s no room for doubt. The Old Revolutionary Guard remained in charge of the Cuban government — something like socialist control of Jurassic Park.

In his report to the Sixth Congress, Raúl Castro referred to his Marxist-Leninist commitment, describing the guidelines as the way “to actualize the economic and social model for the purpose of guaranteeing the irreversibility of socialism.”

Reaffirming the dogma’s hard line, Raúl Castro invoked the memory of Lenin, saying: “There are some very well-defined concepts that, in essence, are just as valid as when Lenin formulated them almost 100 years ago. These must be taken up again.”

How can anyone generate prosperity and emerge from the misery in which the Cuban nation is mired by insisting on the continuity and irreversibility of socialism? That’s simply impossible.

About the generational relay, Raúl Castro stated that the revolution does not have “a reserve of trained substitutes.” That pessimism reminds us of the case of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, which led to the process called “the rectification of errors.”

After the execution of Ochoa, Fidel Castro expressed his concern about the evident failure of the schools that trained the new socialist leaders. Everything is the same. Fifty years of revolution, and the state still doesn’t have “a reserve of trained substitutes.”

Two years ago, Carlos Lage, Fernando Remírez de Estenoz and Felipe Pérez Roque, three young promises of the revolution, were eliminated from the line of succession by being removed from their positions.

However, Raúl Castro has found safety in his sons-in-law, Lázaro Expósito Canto, party secretary in Santiago de Cuba, and Luis Alberto Rodríguez López Calleja, head of the Armed Forces’ business group.

That’s how things are going in Cuba under “irreversible” socialism. The good news out of the Sixth Congress is that they promised not to stay in power one minute beyond 10 years.

Pedro Roig is senior adviser at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies of the University of Miami.

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Cuba to consider term limits for leaders: Castro


HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba will consider placing term limits on its leaders to assure new blood in the goverment, President Raul Castro said on Saturday in a speech kicking off a Communist Party congress on the island he and his brother led for more than five decades.

He said the government does not have “a reserve of well-trained replacements with sufficient experience and maturity” to replace the current leaders, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s.

“We have reached the conclusion that it is advisable to recommend limiting the time of service in high political and state positions to a maximum of two five-year terms,” he told 1,000 delegates at the congress, where economic reform is the main agenda item.

Castro, 79, said he would not be excluded from the limits, which will be discussed not at this congress, but a party conference next January.

Cuba’s geriatric leadership has been a topic of concern for a government intent on assuring the survival of Cuban socialism and new faces could be elected to high party positions during the congress.

Long-tenured officials have been a trademark of Cuba since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

Fidel Castro, who is 84 and did not attend the congress, ruled for 49 years and younger brother Raul Castro was defense minister for the same amount of time before taking over the presidency in 2008.

In the line of succession, first vice president Juan Machado Ventura is 80 and second vice president Ramiro Valdes is 77.

“It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century,” Castro said.

“Although we kept trying to promote young people to senior positions, life proved that we did not always make the best choice,” he said.

Raul Castro was expected to be elected the party’s First Secretary, a post he has filled unofficially since Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006. Fidel Castro only recently disclosed that he had left the post.

NEW BLOOD

Closely watched for any signs of new blood will be the selections for Second Secretary, the post Raul Castro has held, and for the Central Committee and Political Bureau.

Due to the “laws of life,” this is likely the last party congress for Cuba’s aging leaders, President Castro has said.

He told the congress, the party’s first in 14 years, it would consider 311 proposed reforms during the four-day meeting, all aimed at remaking Cuba’s creaking, Soviet-style economy.

The changes will reduce the size of the state and expand the private sector, while maintaining central planning.

Many of the changes are already in place, including a program to slash more than a million jobs from state payrolls, cut subsidies and allow more self-employment.

He said more than 200,000 Cubans had taken out licenses for work for themselves since October.

Castro said more than 8 million Cubans had attended pre-congress meetings to give input on the reform guidelines, with a proposal to end Cuba’s universal monthly food ration getting the most comment.

Many Cubans fear the social and political consequences of ending the ration, or “libreta,” but Castro made it clear that eventually it will go only to those in need.

The ration has become “an unsupportable burden for the economy and a destimulus of work,” he said.

Before the congress convened, Cuba staged a military parade to mark the 50th anniversaries of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion and the declaration of Cuban socialism.

On April 16, 1961, fearing U.S. invasion was imminent, Fidel Castro finally told Cubans what the 1959 revolution he led from the Sierra Maestra mountains was all about.

“What the imperialists can’t forgive us … is that we have made a socialist revolution right under the nose of the United States,” he proclaimed in speech paying tribute to victims of pre-invasion bombing raids the previous day.

On April 17, a force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles, backed by U.S. ships and planes, came ashore at the Bay of Pigs 100 miles southeast of Havana in a bloody attempt to spark a counter-revolution.

Castro rallied tens of thousands of troops and citizens to the battle and two days later declared victory as the attackers fled or were killed or captured in the botched invasion.

The triumph by tiny Cuba versus the superpower 90 miles away won Castro favor at home and abroad and is portrayed by Cuban leaders as one of their greatest accomplishments.

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Former President Jimmy Carter to visit Cuba


HAVANA (Reuters) – Former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn will visit Cuba next week to meet with President Raul Castro and discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, a Carter spokeswoman said on Friday.

The visit raised the possibility that Carter would get involved in the case of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing illegal Internet access to Cuban groups.

Carter was to arrive in Havana on Monday and leave on Wednesday in a brief trip “to learn about new economic policies and the upcoming (Communist) Party congress and to discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations,” said a statement from Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo.

He was to meet with President Castro and “other Cuban officials and citizens,” the statement said.

It said the trip was a follow-up to the Carters’ May 2002 visit to the island 90 miles from Florida and was a “private, non-governmental mission under the auspices of the not-for-profit Carter Center.”

During his time in the White House, Carter took steps to improve relations with Cuba, but the island ultimately added to his re-election woes when the Cuban government allowed 125,000 boat people to flee to the United States in 1980.

Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in his bid that year for a second four-year term.

There have been persistent rumors that Carter would step into the Gross case to seek his freedom and help remove a major obstacle to progress in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Gross, 61, has been jailed in Havana since December 2009 for his work in a U.S.-funded program promoting political change in Cuba.

Cuba views the program as part of longstanding U.S. efforts to undermine the government.

After a two-day trial in the Cuban capital, a panel of judges sentenced him to 15 years in jail for “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state.”

Washington has said there will be no major attempts to improve relations with Cuba as long as Gross is held.

His wife, Judy Gross, has pleaded for his release on humanitarian grounds because both their 26-year-old daughter and his 88-year-old mother have cancer.

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