27 February 2007

New U.S. Policy toward Cuba: Play Dumb

From the Congressional Quarterly, Representative Serrano questions Bush’s man before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

The 2/16/07 hearing was on the U.S. Visit Border Security Program

Mochny’s incompetence is chilling:

See, this may not fit here, but I've been for a while trying to figure out how a known terrorist by the name of Luis Posada Carriles was wanted both in Venezuela and in Cuba for different acts, including blowing up a plane carrying the Cuban Olympic fencing team in the 1970s, showed up in Florida, gave interviews to the local press saying, if he could do it again, he would do it again.

He's never been deported. He's being held on immigration charges for illegal entry into the country. And while we tell the world that we are in a war on terrorism, this man sits there because we won't deport him back to Venezuela, which was his last citizenship and the place where he escaped from jail.

Was US-VISIT, first of all, to your knowledge, in place when he entered the country recently? And secondly, what role did you play, or what role would you have been charged with playing, in looking after a situation like this?

I don't know if we were in place. I don't know when he came into the country. We began operations at 115 airports on January 5th of 2004. So if he came in before that time, then he would have come in without having gone through the finger scan process.

Well, I believe he came in after that, that he was smuggled into the country. But have you heard of this case, incidentally?

I can't say that I have. I mean, I had not heard of that, but I can look into it.

Well, maybe that's one of the problems that we have before us, folks who are involved in monitoring who enters the country. And your agency -- and I'm not giving you a hard time -- your agency wouldn't know that there's an ongoing controversy over a guy who is not an alleged terrorist. I mean, five, six, seven countries in Latin America know that he is a terrorist.

He was in prison for it and escaped from prison. He was in another prison in Panama, and he was let go on the last day of the former president's tenure as president, and he showed up illegally in the country, and he says he'll do it again if he has to. In his late 70s, and I suspect we're going to hold him and not deport him. And I just thought you would know something about it. Is there a possibility you could get back to the committee?

And then at a recent state department press conference, where ordinarily Bush’s band never misses a beat :

A man who represents three Cuban boxers says that they have been denied entry to the United States. They apparently applied for visas from Colombia. And they were -- according to their representative, they were denied visas because they don't have a permanent residence. The reason they don't have a permanent residence is that they defected from Cuba, so it's kind of a catch-22.
Do you have anything on this? Is this true? Were these men denied visas? Are you reviewing the case?

You know, I think I had some stuff in here earlier. But I can't seem to find it.
My guess here is that this new Play Dumb policy is in preparation for Bush’s upcoming visit to Left leaning Latin America.

At least, I certainly hope the Director in charge of US visit has access to information on how and when known terrorists cross our borders!

23 February 2007

Cuba does not renew journalists's visas

Although I think Julia Sweig is one of the smartest American talking-heads on Cuba, I think she has it wrong here. from wsj.com:

The Tribune quoted Mr. Marx as saying the Cuban government said it had revoked his visa because he had been on the island too long, and didn't give any examples of stories to which they objected.

Julia Sweig, a Cuba specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Cuban government often exhibits a contradictory pattern of opening up in one area and battening down in another. "It's like, 'Just in case someone is getting too excited that we might have process of reform, we'll take a whack at the foreign press to show who we are -- a closed society,' " she said.

The Cuban government takes (and has taken) a consistent and predictable stand on who shall control representations of their society.

And the Cuban government is well within its rights to do so.

It’s not about Cuba “battening down” or “taking a whack,” anymore than it is when K-Mart files a lawsuit against someone infringing on their corporate identity. As with K-Mart, Cuba is protecting her identity.

And she will continue to do so.

Is there an internal security interest served in doing so? Absolutely.

But Cuba not only takes control over representations where they perceive a security threat, as this story details, but also where the government perceives commercial interests at stake, profits or, as the socialists might say, surplus value.

February 23, 2007; Page A5

MEXICO CITY -- The Cuban government refused to renew the visas of at least two resident foreign journalists, dimming hopes it will move forward with reforms as Fidel Castro fades from power.

The refusals were "part of a political tightening in the expectation that when Fidel dies they will have total control and there won't be any opposition or resistance," said Jaime Suchlicki, an expert on Cuba at the University of Miami.

Mr. Castro, 80 years old, handed power over to his brother, longtime Defense Minister Raúl Castro, 75, on a provisional basis after undergoing surgery in July. Since then, many analysts have speculated that the younger Castro, who is believed to be more pragmatic than his brother, would experiment with reforms and fresh thinking.

Since the younger Castro assumed power, there have been some signals of a domestic thaw. In one speech, Raúl Castro urged university students to question authority. On another occasion, intellectuals took the unprecedented action of demanding an apology from the government for seeming to bring back a hard-line official who had been involved in censuring writers decades ago. The younger Castro also has called for negotiations with the U.S. to resolve the differences between the two countries.

While Raúl Castro has sounded like a moderate, Ramiro Valdez, a hard-line former interior minister who is information and technology minister, has been cracking down on the use of parabolic antennas used by Cubans to pick up television signals from the U.S. He also defended the restrictions Cuba places on its citizens to access the Internet.

Cuba recently announced regulations that it would require correspondents to renew permits every 30 days, enabling the government to keep a tighter leash on journalists.

Gary Marx, who has been based in Havana for the Chicago Tribune since 2002, and Cesar Gonzalez Calero, a reporter for the Mexico City daily El Universal, were told this week by Cuban officials that their visas wouldn't be renewed and they could no longer report from the island, according to the Chicago Tribune and El Universal.

The Chicago Tribune said a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel will continue to staff the Tribune Co. bureau in Havana, and the Cuban government had told Mr. Marx that the government would welcome an application from a new Chicago Tribune correspondent.

The Tribune quoted Mr. Marx as saying the Cuban government said it had revoked his visa because he had been on the island too long, and didn't give any examples of stories to which they objected.

Julia Sweig, a Cuba specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Cuban government often exhibits a contradictory pattern of opening up in one area and battening down in another. "It's like, 'Just in case someone is getting too excited that we might have process of reform, we'll take a whack at the foreign press to show who we are -- a closed society,' " she said.

16 February 2007

Fiber for Cuba

The key word here is actually China. From wsj.com:

Cuba-To-Venezuela Fiber-Optic Line To Expand Cuban Web Access

February 15, 2007 7:29 p.m.

HAVANA (AP)--A new undersea fiber-optic cable from Cuba to Venezuela should be finished within two years, a Venezuelan communications official said Thursday, dramatically expanding Cuba's Internet and telephone capacity.

Julio Duran, president of state-run Telecom Venezuela, told The Associated Press that the deal signed in late January calls for a line with a capacity of 160 gigabytes per second.

That's well over 1,000 times the capacity of Cuba's current satellite-based Internet link, which was listed as 65 megabytes per second on upload and 124 megabytes a second on download by Cuban Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes.

It will break through what Cuban officials describe as choking restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which they blame for blocking possible connections with existing privately owned fiber-optic lines in the region.

"It's a very important project, not only for Venezuela and Cuba, it's for all Latin American countries," Duran said during an interview at an informatics convention in the Cuban capital, Havana.

The project was part of a series of agreements signed late last month as Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez moved toward firmer political and economic ties with his Cuban ally.

Duran declined to give a possible cost for the 1,552-kilometer link, saying it was still under study. But he said officials were speaking with companies from China and Europe for fiber-optic line or other assistance.

He said contracts could be signed by the end of April and the project itself should be finished in "less than two years."

Interconnect points should allow other countries in the Caribbean or Central America to hook up as well.

Duran, whose company is partnering with a Cuban state enterprise, said cable "is going to bring Venezuela a lot of benefits" by making communications with Cuba easier.

"We already have benefited from the health, education and cultural support of the Cuban people," he said, referring to some 20,000 Cuban workers carrying out medical, education and other projects in the South American nation.

Cuba has one of the region's lowest rates of Internet usage. Officials say that is because the current bandwidth restrictions and U.S. threats against foreign suppliers of technology to Cuba force them to give priority to schools, researchers and essential businesses. Critics have accused the government of restricting Internet access to limit Cubans' exposure to criticism or information from abroad.

Duran also said that Venezuela's decision to nationalize the country's main telecommunications company, Compania Anonima Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, or CANTV, might eventually lead to a merger with his own company.

CANTV focuses services along the heavily populated coastal regions while Telecom Venezuela has aimed at expanding service to more rural regions. "We're complementary companies," he said. "We can work in parallel and then be merged later on."

Venezuela's government this week signed a deal to buy the CANTV stake owned by U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ).

A beachhead in Cuba gives the Chinese better proximity to U.S. nodes.

15 February 2007

Cuba reports 12.5% GDP growth in 2006

But they calculating growth somehow including social services.

from wsj.com,

Rodriguez acknowledged that the communist government's method of counting output "has an influence" on the high rate of growth. Cuba includes social services not counted in U.N.-standard measures of economic output.

But he said that difference "is not the only thing that determines those rates of growth." He said that if social services and commerce were dropped from the count, Cuba still would have shown 9.5% growth last year.

It claimed growth of 11.8% in 2004.

Cuba was aided last year by high prices for nickel and cobalt and by a continuing flow of tourists.

Rodriguez put the number of tourists for 2006 at 2.22 million - a slight drop from the 2.3 million Cuba reported for 2005 to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Mexico to thaw relations with Cuba

From the WSJ.com, it appears that in retaliation for the U.S. border fence, Mexico is going to warm things up with Cuba:

... Espinosa said the government will work with diverse sectors of U.S. society to fight a planned 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) of fencing to be built along on the U.S.-Mexico border. Calderon, a conservative who took office in December, has opposed the proposed border fence.

"Mexico has a border with the Caribbean and it is a top priority to relaunch dialogue and political understanding," Patricia Espinosa said in a speech before the Senate on Tuesday. "With Cuba, we have had diplomatic contacts with the aim of promoting a rapprochement."

06 February 2007

PetroVietnam Eyes Cuba

It looks like the Vietnamese are getting a cut of the oil action in Cuba.

From the DowJones newswires :

"We got one onshore block, and they offered the data for review. So
after the review, depending upon the economics, we'll go for direct
negotiations," the official said.

But he said it is difficult to get exploration agreements with other African countries such as Libya and Sudan, due to a lack of regulatory structure.

"It is a very complicated story. We have the data, we submitted a proposal to Libya, but we haven't heard from them," Truong said.

PetroVietnam's deep-water exploration contract offshore Cuba is likely to be signed in middle of this year.

It is still unclear how much estimated reserves there are in the exploration block assigned to PetroVietnam, but the official said the geology is promising.

"It's an exploration contract, and we still have to see how much we discover," he said. Cuba produces about 80,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

The country, in an effort to exploit its offshore reserves, divided its offshore area into 59 exploration blocks in 2000. Of this, about 20 blocks have been leased to international companies including Spain's Repsol YPF S.A. (REP), Norway's Norsk Hydro ASA (NHY.OS) and India's Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (500312.BY).

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the North Cuba Basin could contain about 4.6 billion barrels of crude in proven reserves, with a high-end potential of 9.3 billion barrels.

It is estimated that output in this area alone could bump up Cuba's daily production to 300,000 barrels.