Saturday, September 20, 2008

Raul Comes Out to Play

Nearly 20 days after Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud were battered by hurricane Gustav and subsequently thrashed by Ike, Raul Castro FINALLY visited these devastated areas.

His audience appears to be happy to see him. Some suggest that this is because people view Raul as Cuba's executioner--literally and figuratively. They think he can get things done. He did, after all, establish the FAR, Cuba's most successful apparatus.

These devastated people think that if Raul is there, if the government is there, they will receive aid, and right now, that is all that they care about. For most, politics becomes a quick second to survival--if politics doesn't stand in the way of that survival, that is.

In this case, the sight of Raul Castro gives people hope (it must be really weird for him). Some expected that there might be riots, heckling, or at least some booing for all the time the people had to wait before Raul arrived, but there appeared to be none of that. Faults are quickly forgiven when there is hope for a better future.

But what of all the places he has not visited? Do they have hope? Will they receive aid? The government has already stated it simply does not have the resources to deal with this $5 billion catastrophe. Will these forgotten people feel abandoned, betrayed, or disregarded? and if so, will they just conform?

All my thoughts point to a 'yes.' A Freedom House survey, taken in April, says that most of their respondents stated that so long as their living situation was not as difficult as it was during the Periodo Especial, that they would simply conform.

On a brighter note, though, Raul might feel forced to institute reforms at a faster pace than he has been. Unfortunately, these reforms will likely deal exclusively with economic decentralization and increased economic freedoms. On a larger scale, though, any freedom from the government is a step in the right direction.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cuba Says "NO"

The US increased its no-strings-attached offer from $100,000 to $5 million and the Cuban government hastely refused it, instead insisting that the US lift, at least temporarily, its embargo on Cuba and give Cuba access to credits to purchase much-needed food and reconstruction supplies.

Having said "no" to the US indicates the government's unwillingness to put the Cuban people first. Raul's administration is showing profound similarities, to Fidel's by chosing to play politics at a time like this...the only problem for Raul is that he is not nearly as good as Fidel when it comes to playing politics. By chosing to emulate his brother instead of walking his own path, I believe Raul condemns his himself. Hopefully, he will not at the same time condemn the Cuban people (more than they've already been).

Cuba rejects U.S. aid, asks embargo rules be lifted
Posted on Mon, Sep. 15, 2008
Cuba has rejected a $5 million offer for relief assistance from Washington, saying it cannot accept help from a country with an economic embargo against it, and instead renewed its request to allow the communist country to make purchases with credit.

In a statement made public Monday, the Cuban government asked Washington for a six-month reprieve on embargo rules that prohibit the communist country from making purchases from American companies, saying devastation from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike make it critical.

Washington and Havana have been embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over hurricane aid since Hurricane Gustav smashed into western Cuba on Aug. 30. Washington offered $100,000 and a humanitarian assessment team, and the Cuban Foreign Ministry answered by saying what it needed was purchasing credits.

Havana sent a second, more harshly worded note last week when Washington made the same offer after Hurricane Ike devastated eastern Cuba. The statement released Thursday called U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos GutiƩrrez a hypocrite, and said U.S. diplomats were cynical liars.

Washington's decision to limit the offer to $100,000 was criticized in some circles, who noted that the U.S. government normally spends millions in such disaster relief.

On Saturday, U.S. diplomats met in Washington with Cuban counterparts, and upped the offer to $5 million.

''We regret that they have not accepted this offer,'' State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke said. ``We are considering Cuba's request to purchase other reconstruction materials on case by case consistent with U.S. law.''

United States law allows Cuba to make cash agricultural purchases, but does not allow Cuba to buy with credit. Cuba's request for a six-month reprieve would likely require an act of Congress.
Cuba's diplomatic note Sunday, released Monday, takes a much softer tone.

''The Cuban Interests Section in Washington wishes to communicate to the government of the United States that our country cannot accept a donation from the country that blockades us, although it is willing to purchase the indispensable materials that the North American companies export to the markets, and requests authorization for the provision of same, as well as the credits that are normal in all commercial operations,'' the statement said.

``If the government of the United States does not wish to do so permanently, the government of Cuba requests that at least it do so during the next six months, especially if the damage caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike is taken into account, as well as the fact that the most dangerous months of the hurricane season are still ahead.''

Last week GutiƩrrez said the Cuban government is behind on payments to many of its creditors, and suggested that the request for credits was a pretext.

''Do they really want us to extend their credits?'' he said.

Recaps of Destruction

Dispute delaying U.S. aid to Cuba
A diplomatic confrontation has mired efforts to provide aid for the victims of Hurricane Ike in Cuba, and many say U.S. assistance is falling short.
Posted on Fri, Sep. 12, 2008

"Diplomatic spat slows U.S. storm aid to Cuba
In contrast to millions of dollars in relief aid sent to Haiti, the U.S. government has funneled just $100,000 to Cuba so far -- even as reports surface that the communist country's hurricane wreckage is far worse than the Castro government is letting on.
Cuba suffered island-wide destruction when Hurricane Ike smashed buildings and homes in 169 municipalities coast to coast. A new report by a Miami-based group made public Thursday indicates that 537,000 homes were damaged across the island, and 3.2 million people remain without power.
Haiti, also hit in the past weeks by a devastating string of storms that left hundreds dead and one million homeless, has received $20 million in U.S. aid.
The funding discrepancy comes as a diplomatic spat between Cuba and the United States mires relief efforts.
Although the U.S. government said Cuba's refusal to accept a disaster assesment team prevents it from doing more, criticism against Washington is beginning to mount."

Cuba says sugar cane damaged across country
HAVANA, Sept 12 (Reuters) - "Hurricane Ike flattened 156,000 hectares of Cuban sugar cane and flooded more when it churned along the island for two days this week, state-run radio reported on Friday.
Cuba harvested 330,000 hectares of cane during the 2008 harvest, producing almost 1.5 million tonnes of raw sugar.
There are 700,000 hectares devoted to sugar cane in the country.
The president of the Cuban sugar technicians said the preliminary figures would no doubt increase as workers gained access to plantations where roads were washed out. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by John Picinich)"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How You Can Help

The Federation of the International Red Cross will be sending aid to Cuba. They started a petition for $5.8 million USD to support operations in Cuba as a direct responce to hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

These funds will be used to support 8,000 families that have been devastated by either, or both, hurricane for the next 9 months.

The IFRC has issued a press release, where you can find more information. The page for donations is here.

It is a time to be generous. Cuba has been completely devastated from not one, but two hurricanes. There are rumors that during preparations for Gustav, the government distributed food from stores for people, and now there is nothing. Certainly this would only be in Western Cuba, but if it is true, it would likely have been repeated during Ike in the East.

Our Cuban brothers and sisters need our help; it is time for us to offer it without regard to politics.
Las Hijas de la Caridad are also petitioning for supplies to send to Cuba. They are asking for primary necesities like powdered milk, canned salchichas, dry beans of any variety, and cooking oil. Donations can be taken to 500 NW 63 Ave. Call 305-266-6485 if you would like more information.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Declaration from Consenso Cubano about Hurricane Gustav

As we all know, Hurricane Gustav demolished many parts of Cuba. Cubans are in dire need of aid. Policies in place by both the US and Cuban governments make then sending and receiving of such aid difficult. In this light, Consenso Cubano has issued a declaration about what it has agreed should be done during these trying times.

Declaration of Consenso Cubano

Regarding the Present Humanitarian Emergency in Cuba
In relation to the disaster caused by Hurricane Gustav and the possibility this situation can get even worse during the present season, Consenso Cubano declares the following:

1) Consistent with the foundational Pillars of Consenso Cubano, we consider ourselves called upon to extend unconditional and generous solidarity to our sisters and brothers on the island, guided exclusively by a humanist and humanitarian spirit.

2) We call on Caritas, and other institutions that enjoy credibility before all parties, to assum the leadership in these works. We also call upon the rest to offer their support in obtaining the donations and to facilitate the deliveries and distribution. No one should attempt to politicize the aid.

3) Inspired by our Humanitarian Agenda for the Cuban Family, we identify ourselves with and wholly support the initiatives soliciting the President of the United States to lift, at least temporarily, all U.S. restrictions that could impede these humanitarian efforts and create difficulties for affected families to communicate and support one another.

4) We solicit the Cuban Government to lift, at least temporarily, all restrictions in place that could hinder or impede these humanitarian efforts and impose difficulties for affected families to communicate and support one another. We also ask that, in the same manner, they support the gestures of Caritas and other humanitarian organizations without reserve, accepting their disinterested donations, taking any other measures that further this solidarity among Cubans.

With the highest spirit of national unity, we exhort all sectors of the Cuban Diaspora to further these humanitarian gestures. We ask all Cubans, everywhere, along with all peoples of the world, to do the same.

September 2008
Miami, FL. United States

Gorki! Gorki! Gorki!

As we know, during to Pablo Milanes concert, many of Gorki's friends started shouting his name, after which they received blows from State Security. Well, although no video of that has yet been made public, Yoani has posted a link on her blog to a youtube clip of audio from that moment. About two minutes long, it is long enough to get some sense of what was occurring.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gustav's Wrath Unfolds

The damage left by Hurricane Gustav is slowly beginning to unfold. As reported in today’s Granma (, Pinar del Rio’s Provincial Defense Committee's preliminary assessment reveals that 120,000 homes are without roofs or have otherwise been severely damaged…that’s more damage than the last four hurricanes to have hit Pinar del Rio, total.

Restoring energy to Pinar del Rio will also be challenging, with 80 electric towers and 600 electric posts down. The situation is actually worse in Isla de la Juventud, which is completely without power. ''100 percent of the electrical grid is damaged,'' de la O (head of Cuba’s electric company) said. ``Totally destroyed.'' Officials have said that it may take over a month to restore power to the island.

Thankfully, no casualties have been reported. Homes have been demolished. Places of work have been crippled. The damage is evident now, but it might be even more evident in the future. The agricultural sector (the prime target of Raul’s reforms) has been severely damaged by Gustav. For the data on the damage to this sector, see Juventud Rebelde’s article on the subject:

The only place to go from here is forward. Obviously, Isla de la Juventud’s electric grid will need to be completely rebuilt. This is actually something that ALL of Cuba needs. This catastrophe is forcing the government to do things that it should have done ages ago, which is a good thing. Maybe they’ll take the initiative with other provinces.

For now, the Cuban people face a monumental clean-up effort and also a monumental task of trying to recuperate their losses in the agricultural sector. Let us keep them in our hearts, minds, and prayers.

The Cuban people are strong, they have endured 50 years of totalitarian rule, they will certainly be able to survive this.