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Vol. 20, No. 4

In the News Advertising everywhere Competition heats up in Cuba’s rapidly decentralizing economy ................Page 3

SEC pressures Telefónica Spanish telecom giant is hounded over its business interests in Cuba ............Page 4

Political briefs Rubio lifts hold on Jacobson nomination; Miami-Dade proposal under fire ...Page 5

Manufacturing in trouble Manufacturing’s share of Cuba GDP takes a steep tumble ................................Page 7

Newsmakers Argentine master chef Guillermo Pernot brings Cuban cuisine to D.C., Philly, Atlantic City and Orlando ......................Page 8

Prieto calls it quits Cuba’s popular “hippie” culture minister is now an advisor to Raúl Castro ......Page 9

April 2012

Despite fall in U.S. food exports to Cuba, shipments of beans edge up every year BY VITO ECHEVARRÍA


he Cubans haven’t bought a single grain of American rice for years. But when it comes to U.S. beans, state purchasing agency Alimport can’t seem to get enough. According to USDA figures, dry bean exports to Cuba reached $7.7 million last year, up from $5.6 million in 2010 and $4.3 million in 2009. That’s still a lot less than the record $10.9 million worth of beans sold in 2006, though dramatically more than in 2007 and 2008, when U.S. farmers exported only $73,000 and $68,000 worth of beans to Cuba (see chart, page 3). Those dramatic ups-and-downs have to do mainly with Alimport’s consistent efforts to find the most beans for the money. The agency began buying beans in 2003, when Alimport’s then-CEO, Pedro Alvarez, signed a memo of understanding with the Port of Corpus Christi. That year, improving ties between the two nations resulted in nearly $1.2 million worth of dry beans shipped to Cuba from the Texas port.


Winners and losers from Benedict XVI’s historic 48-hour trip to Cuba ......Page 10


Latell’s new book claims Fidel knew about JFK assassination in advance .....Page 14

Chico and Rita Cuba’s first animated film a joy to watch, but not yet a box-office hit ..........Page 15 CubaNews (ISSN 1073-7715) is published monthly by CUBANEWS LLC. © 2012. All rights reserved. Annual subscription: $398. Nonprofit organizations: $198. Printed edition is $100 extra. For editorial inquires, please call (305) 393-8760, fax your request to (305) 670-2229 or email

See Beans, page 3

Is Castro’s Cuba a budding narcostate? U.S. officials clearly suggest otherwise

Pope’s pilgrimmage

Castro’s secrets

It was also the same year Pat Wallesen visited Cuba for the first time. Wallesen is managing partner of WestStar Food Co. in Corpus Christi, a major U.S. exporter of dry beans. “The Cubans are opportunistic buyers,” said Wallesen, telling CubaNews that global commodity prices have fluctuated not only for beans lately, but other crops as well. He put total annual dry bean purchases at 45,000 metric tons. “They buy when the time is right. They buy from the U.S. between November and February,” he said. WestStar Foods sometimes supplies the Cubans with its own inventory of beans; other times the Texas company sources those beans from elsewhere, usually from North Dakota suppliers. As much as 25% of dry beans eaten in Cuba come from the United States, he said, with the remainder imported mostly from China. Canada is also an alternate supplier. Contrary to public perception, the bulk of what’s being shipped from the United States

or years, certain Cuban-American lawmakers, so-called “sources” in Miami and officials of Florida’s judicial system have repeatedly accused the Cuban government and its leaders of being involved in drug trafficking. It didn’t matter that Cuba’s highest-ranking defector, Brig. Gen. Rafael del Pino, denied it. Nor did it matter when top officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration, including Gen. Barry McCaffrey, spoke favorably of Cuba’s cooperation with the DEA over the years. And it didn’t matter that key officials at Interpol have praised Cuba’s efforts at drug interdiction. The fabrication keeps getting repeated. More recently, during a Feb. 1 hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Sen. Dianne Feinstein singled out Cuba as a potential Caribbean drug smuggling leader. “I would be remiss not to mention Cuba,”

declared the Democrat from California. “Just 90 miles from Florida, Cuba has the potential to be a major transshipment point for illicit drugs.” Evidence? None. Primary or secondary sources to support this assertion? None at all. Imagination? A great deal of it. A few days later, University of Nebraska political science professor Jonathan C. BenjaminAlvarado questioned Feinstein’s statement. “It’s really irresponsible for her to say that,” he said. “It sets in motion that the Cuban government is doing nothing, which is absolutely not true, and it insinuates that it is descending into some sort of narcostate.” A U.S. senator lying? Impossible. But perhaps this professor is a leftist or a Castro sympathizer, as some folks in Miami might suggest. Look then at the U.S. government’s most recent assessment: the 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), submitSee Drugs, page 2


CubaNews v April 2012


Competition heats up in a rapidly decentralizing economy


f an expanding, fast-growing, vibrant microeconomy in the hands of private, family or cooperative ownership is a key indicator of progress, then Cuba is apparently on the right track. Billboards, brochures and leaflets are sprouting up everywhere. So are collective taxis known as “boteros” — or trucks loaded with passengers — whose owners are making fortunes on a daily basis. Some of the most thriving businesses involve real-estate transactions, and signs advertising houses and apartments big and small are becoming quite visible. Well-known dissident Vladimiro Roca, on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island, said “there are no changes in Cuba” — a comment that echoes similar accusations by the Obama administration. Yet hundreds of thousands of people are no longer dependent on state salaries, but rather on their own efforts and creativity. They may succeed or not, but that’s how a market economy works. By 2015, half of Cuba’s labor force will be working on their own. At present, the island boasts more than 360,000 self-employed people and small businesses registered and paying taxes. According to experts, for each of these officially registered people there are three or four more who have not registered because of mistrust or wait-and-see attitudes. And this is just in the urban economy. In rural areas, the changes are overwhelming. The amount of wealth among private farmers and coops is staggering; one such family recently bought a mansion in Havana for 750,000 CUC — and beach hotels in Varadero are packed with well-off, self-made Cubans. Thousands of restaurants, quarries, shops, empty lots and other former state establish-

Drugs — FROM PAGE 1 ted by the State Department. Recognition and praise for Cuba’s policies against illicit drugs and trafficking can be found in every single paragraph of the 466page report’s three pages devoted to Cuba. “Bilateral interdiction efforts and GOC [Government of Cuba] intensive police presence on the ground have limited the opportunities in or around Cuba for regional traffickers,” it says. “Cuba’s domestic drug production remains negligible. Its counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics traffickers from having a significant impact on the island.” According to the report, in 2011 the Cuban government interdicted 9.01 metric tons of illegal narcotics, including 8.3 metric tons in “wash-up events.” That’s a 360% increase from the previous year’s 2.5 metric tons. In addition, government anti-drug forces

ments— as well as equipment, vehicles and tools — are being leased to individuals, families and cooperatives. Likewise, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land have been allocated to finqueros and private farmers. Despite lingering examDOMINGO AMUCHASTEGUI


Cartoon chef beckons diners to Paladar La Unica.

ples of forced procurement at fixed prices, most goods and crops are now moving freely across state and private produce markets. While Cuba’s state banking entities are beginning to ease on credit and loans to support this economic surge — as well as granting special support for low-income families and their housing needs — private money lenders are surrepitiously financing startups. These include several recently opened, and very successful, paladares that got 35,000 to reported disrupting three smuggling events and captured six traffickers (three from the Bahamas and three from Jamaica). Statistics on arrests or prosecutions were not made available, but by the U.S. government’s own admission, last year Cuba reported 45 real-time reports of “go-fast” narcotics trafficking events to the U.S. Coast Guard. It said the Cuban border guard’s email and phone notifications of maritime smuggling to the United States “have increased in quantity and quality, and have occasionally included photographs of the vessels suspected of narcotrafficking while being pursued.” INCSR PRAISES ‘CONTINUED COOPERATION’

To combat the limited domestic production of marijuana, says the INCSR, Cuba set up Operation Popular Shield in 2003. Efforts to prevent any domestic development of narcotics consumption remained in effect and in 2011 and netted 9,830 marijuana plants and

40,000 CUC from such lenders. These private restaurants make anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 CUC per month. The same applies to another flourishing private business in Cuba: the renting of rooms, apartments and houses for foreign tourists. Competition is fierce. Getting the necessary supplies, funds and other resources is becoming a major headache for these newly established businesses. Logistics are subject to extreme tensions because of growing demand; prices are subject to more competitive standards than just a few years ago, and those who failed have learned the lesson. But this competition isn’t limited only to new ventures. In Cuba today, there’s a growing and fierce rivalry between private enterpreneurs and the state sector. Government-owned restaurants are losing their old customers. Fancy restaurants — even in Old Havana — sit half-empty or worse most of the time, while state-run hotels are no match for casas particulares in either price or quality. State-produced mattresses and furniture sell for prices 2-3 times higher than those made by the “non-state sector.” The UBPC (coops strongly subject to state control until the recent past and which are now being transformed) occupy 38% of the best farmland in Cuba, while producing only 18% of the food. At the same time, the private coop sector has 20% of the land but produces more than 60% of all food crops. Bureaucrats within the state sector might be thinking about retaliation, wondering how to stop the trend. But deep down, they know this is no longer possible. Only better quality, lower prices and more efficient services will allow the state to successfully compete with the new, emerging economy. And who said Cuba wasn’t changing? q 1.5 kg of cocaine, compared to 9,000 marijuana plants and 26 kg of cocaine in 2010. Elsewhere, the INCSR asserts that “Cuba continues to demonstrate commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities as a signatory to the 1988 UN Convention [and all previous agreements in this field].” Furthermore, it says, the Cuban government “continues to exhibit counternarcotics cooperation with partner nations” such as the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica and the Bahamas. In addition, the INCSR notes that “the Cuban government presented the United States with a draft bilateral accord for continued cooperation, which is still under review.” It concludes with the following paragraphs: “Cuba continues to dedicate significant resources to preventing illegal drugs and illegal drug use from spreading on the island, so far successfully. The technical skill of Cuba’s Border Guard, Armed Forces and police give See Drugs, page 3


April 2012 v CubaNews

Beans — FROM PAGE 1

for the Cuban market. Some of the others are commodity trader PS International, based in Chapel Hill, N.C.; St. Hilaire Seed Co., based in St. Hilaire, Minn., and another Minnesota entity, Anderson Seed Co. The latter two were owned by local businessman Ron Anderson until recently. Anderson, another active bean exporter to Cuba, went through serious financial woes earlier this year. In February, Legumex Walker, a specialty grain company based in Winnipeg, bought out his two firms. “Both our St. Hilaire Seed subsidiary and our Canadian-based parent, Legumex Walker, have sold dry beans into the Cuban market and expect to continue to do so under the right market conditions,” said Legumex spokesman Jon Austin. q GEORGE GONGORA / CORPUS-CHRISTI CALLER-TIMES

isn’t black beans but pinto beans. Wallesen says that’s because they’re usually cheaper. Also, because of Alimport’s long-standing sensitivity to prices, virtually none of the U.S. beans being consumed in Cuba are canned. “I doubt you will find any canned beans in Cuban supermarkets, since they’re so much more expensive,” Wallesen told us. The increase in dry bean sales comes after U.S. rice sales to Cuba have virtually dried up. Before the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, Texas and Louisiana rice farmers supplied the bulk of Cuba’s rice needs; rice now comes mainly from Vietnam. Overall, U.S. food exports to Cuba under

the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act fell 6% in 2011 from the year before, and Brazil emerged as the top food exporter to Cuba for the first time. Meanwhile, Wallesen wonders if the Cubans will keep buying significant quantities of U.S. dry beans in the short term because of higher global prices for beans and other farm goods these days (see chart, below left). “The drought in Mexico pushed their purchases up, and [world] prices have gone up,” he said. The Northarvest Bean Growers Association, a trade group headquartered in Frazee, Minn., said the price per cwt (100 lbs) was around $49.00, up $2.30 from February and $19.10 above the year-ago price. Aside from his own firm, said Wallesen, there are few major U.S. suppliers of beans

Corpus Christi, Tex., is a key port for U.S. dry bean shipments to Havana, 850 nautical miles to the south.

Drugs — FROM PAGE 2 Cuba a marked advantage against drug trafficking organizations attempting to gain access to the Caribbean‘s largest island in both size and population. “Greater communication and cooperation among the U.S., its international partners and Cuba, particularly in the area of real-time tactical information-sharing and improved tactics, techniques and procedures,” says the INCSR, “would likely lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal trafficking.” Clearly, the study casts little doubt on Cuba as a reliable partner in the war on drugs. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, ex-chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, is a promi-nent critic of current policy toward Cuba. The military man, who spent 31

years in the Army, recalling his latest trip to Cuba. “Two different Coast Guard attachés with the U.S. Interests Section in Havana told me that when it comes to terrorism, counter-narcotics and every other illicit activity, their relationship with the Cuban military is the best in the Caribbean, even better than with Mexico,” said Wilkerson, speaking during a Jan. 18 policy debate in Washington. “But our military wouldn’t like to publicize that.” Indeed, Feinstein’s accusations are reminiscent of those made by another lawmaker — Michele Bachmann (R-MN) — who suggested last November that Hezbollah terrorists were building missile sites in Cuba. Then, as now, these false charges are solely for political gain — without any consideration for ethics or credibility. q

RIP: Irving L. Horowitz Irving L. Horowitz, who was the Hannah Arendt Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Political Science at Rutgers University, died Mar. 21 from complications related to heart surgery. Among other things, Horowitz, 83, edited with Jaime Suchlicki 11 editions of “Cuban Communism” which became a standard work on Cuba and its post-1959 history. “Dr. Horowitz was a friend, colleague and contributor to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies [at the University of Miami],” Suchlicki said. “A towering figure in the humanities and social sciences, he was also a Cuban scholar, concerned with the violation of human rights in Cuba and the totalitarian nature of the Castro regime.” His loss, said Suchlicki, “leaves a vacuum in the social sciences and in Cuban studies. His brilliant mind and his commitment will be missed.”


CubaNews v April 2012


SEC pressures Spain’s Telefónica over Cuba business ties BY VITO ECHEVARRÍA


he U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is hounding Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica over its business dealings with Cuba. In a Nov. 29 emailed letter to Telefónica CEO César Alienta Izuel, Cecilia Blye — the head of SEC’s Office of Global Security Risk — cited a September 2009 news report in which Telefónica allegedly confirmed its interest in investing in Cuba. Blye, who asked Alienta if the liquidation of his company’s Cuba affiliate, Telefónica Data Cuba (TDC), was completed in 2005, advised him to “describe any equipment, technology or support that you have provided into Cuba, directly or indirectly, and any agreements you have had with the government of Cuba.” Even though Blye didn’t directly threaten Telefónica with legal action if it failed to comply with the SEC’s request, the letter’s very existence — and the fact that it mentioned Washington’s designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism — suggested that her agency would find a legal cause of action against Telefónica if necessary. TELEFÓNICA HAS NO IMMEDIATE CUBA PLANS

Meanwhile, the Madrid newspaper El País carried a report about the SEC’s legal harassment of Telefónica. That article included not only Blye’s letter to the company but also the Dec. 30 response by Telefónica’s chief financial officer, Miguel Escrig Meliá, who confirmed in writing that TDC had been liquidated in September 2005. “U.S. sanctions against Cuba permit, in varying degrees, activities in connection with the provision of telecommunications servic-

es,” Escrig Meliá wrote, noting that some of Telefónica’s subsidiaries in Spain and Latin America have roaming agreements with telecom providers in Cuba. The CFO also said that after having studied the potential purchase of Cuban state phone monopoly Etecsa, his company decided not to go ahead with the acquisition — and that it has no plans to do so. The timing of the SEC’s pursuit of information from Telefónica is curious, since that company has invested in telecom services throughout Latin America for years. More importantly, the SEC’s letter appears to contradict the Obama administration’s policy of encouraging open telecom links between the United States and Cuba. CUBA EXPERT SAYS POLITICS IS TO BLAME

In April 2009, President Obama exempted that portion of the U.S. trade embargo which prohibited American phone companies from doing business with the Marxist regime. Even though the new policy technically covered only prospective U.S. telecom deals with Cuba, even efforts by Spain’s Telefónica to modernize Cuba’s telecom infrastructure would have still worked toward achieving the White House’s goal of a more open flow of communications on the island. New York attorney Tony Martínez, who closely follows trade and regulatory issues affecting Cuba, said he saw this coming. “It is not surprising that the SEC made its inquiry to Telefónica,” he told CubaNews. “The designation of a country being on the State Sponsor of Terror List has wide-ranging implications for that country.” Martínez said Cuba’s continued presence

Cuba struggles to hit sugar projections


ncient mills and old equipment are taking their toll on Cuba’s sugar harvest, with scattered media and source reports indicating that many mills will have to remain open in May to meet output targets, Reuters reported Mar. 9. Fifteen mills opened in December, another 28 in January and three in February, in the first harvest since the Sugar Ministry was replaced in November 2011 by a staterun holding company. The industry hopes to reverse a long decline, with plans calling for output to reach 1.45 million tons, compared with the 1.2 million tons Reuters estimates Cuba produced during the previous harvest. While there appears to be enough cane to meet this year’s production plan, milling in May is costly as summer rains set in and yields drop due to hot and humid weather. Official media reported eastern Santiago

de Cuba was milling at just 60% capacity due mainly to mill problems and “the constant breakdown of harvesting equipment,” but was nevertheless performing better than all the other 13 sugar-producing provinces except Sancti Spíritus. In neighboring Holguín, mills produced just 52% of their daily target on Mar. 6, according to the provincial radio station. Key sugar-producing provinces such as Matanzas, where local media reported a 17,000-toe shortfall, and Camagüey, Ciego de Avila, Holguín, Las Tunas and Granma — where sources said there were similar deficits — will now have to mill through May to meet production targets. Cuba consumes 600,000 to 700,000 tons of sugar annually and has a 400,000-ton toll agreement with China. Cuban sugar is also sold for export on the spot market. – REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

on that list makes Obama’s telecom liberalization policy virtually meaningless, since under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, Cuba has no sovereign immunity in U.S. courts. That, in turn, makes prospective U.S. phone revenues destined for Cuban coffers vulnerable to seizure from American plaintiffs with multmillion-dollar default judgments (see CubaNews, June 2010, Page 11). Martínez recalled that at a Feb. 14 compliance conference in Washington hosted by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), officials warned that foreign companies doing business with countries on the terror list would be subject to more U.S. government scrutiny. In addition, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act effectively discourages foreign firms from doing business with both the U.S. and Cuba — even though in practice, it has been selectively enforced due to diplomatic pressure from Canada and the 27-member European Union. Martínez insists that Washington politics is behind the latest harassment of Telefónica. “It is irrelevant that the reasons for Cuba being on that list are domestic political reasons. It is on the list, and the enforcement agencies have to carry out the law until it is no longer there,” he told CubaNews by email. “The subtle and indirect manipulation to hammer Cuba comes from Capitol Hill, where the pro-embargo Congressional cadre presses executive agencies to do more on Cuba. “Rather than Congress doing an objective oversight of our failed policies with Cuba at the expense of both the U.S. and Cuban economies, this political manipulation ensures that scenarios like Telefónica will continue.” MARTÍNEZ TO COMPANIES: MAKE SOME NOISE

Martínez has a few suggestions for companies like Telefónica that find themselves under undue OFAC scrutiny. “Comply with U.S. laws by ensuring you have an active sanction compliance program in place, and expect that any foreign company in Cuba that happens to also do business in the United States to be under economic surveillance by U.S. agencies and embassies,” the lawyer advised. “Those companies who do business in the U.S. need to get politically active and inform their congressmen and senators. Foreign companies need to complain to their respective foreign ministries so this matter is brought up in the context of diplomacy as well.” El País noted that other Spanish companies such as Repsol-YPF SA and BBVA have been subjected to similar pressure from OFAC over its dealings with Cuba and Iran. El País didn’t disclose how it re-ceived copies of SEC’s correspondence with Telefónica, though it’s our guess that company attorneys or top officials leaked it to the newspaper in order to step up Spanish and EU pressure against the White House to back off. q


April 2012 v CubaNews

POLITICAL BRIEFS RUBIO LIFTS HOLD ON JACOBSON NOMINATION Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he’ll lift his hold on Roberta Jacobson’s nomination as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs — a job that includes overseeing U.S. relations with Cuba, the Miami Herald reported Mar. 23. Rubio’s change of heart comes “following months of negotiations with the administration in the hopes of cracking down on abuses of the people-to-people Cuba travel policy,” his office said. “This policy has been abused by some people who are more interested in profiting from tourism than in a meaningful effort to bring about democratic change in Cuba,” Rubio said in a statement. “In doing so, they have also undermined our entire Cuba policy by providing hard currency to a cruel regime that oppresses its people.” Rubio said that as a condition for lifting his nomination hold, he asked the administration to enforce its own regulations and stop what he called “the more egregious abuses.” The State Department agreed to make changes that will require applicants to show how their itineraries constitute purposeful travel that would support civil society in Cuba and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities, Rubio said. STATE BARS CUBAN DIPLOMATS FROM NYC EVENT The State Department says it rejected applications from two senior Cuban diplomats to travel to New York to attend the annual Left Forum, but not for political reasons, said the Washington Post. According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, they were denied because U.S. diplomats in Havana are routinely refused permission to travel outside the Cuban capital (see article on Left Forum, page 6 of this issue). LAWYER: COUNTY CAN’T ENFORCE FOREIGN POLICY Florida had no authority to enact a pending law that would prohibit local governments from hiring firms that do business with Cuba, Reuters reported Mar. 22, because federal law trumps state law when it comes to foreign policy. That’s the word from Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert Cuevas, who insists the country should not enforce the law now awaiting Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. The new law is the latest in a long-running series of attempts to set foreign policy toward Cuba at the local level in Florida, which is home to about 1.2 million Cuban-Americans. It would bar local governments from awarding contracts of $1 million or more to companies that engage in business with Cuba. It would also force firms bidding on such contracts to submit affidavits certifying they do not do business in Cuba. Cuevas told county commissioners that federal law does not authorize states to enact such restrictions and they need not enforce it. He cited several previous court rulings that state and local governments cannot interfere with the federal government's ability to set foreign policy nor can they adopt sanctions that exceed those set by Congress. “If the county were to violate federal law in this area, it would be exposed to liability under federal civil rights laws,” Cuevas said.

In their own words … “Let all those you meet know, whether near or far, that I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans. I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty.” — Pope Benedict XVI, in a Mar. 27 homily at the basilica housing the original statue of the Virgin Mary in Santiago de Cuba, the first leg of his three-day trip to Cuba. “I beg Your Holiness to intercede for those who are in prison because of their convictions. I implore Your Holiness to take up the defense of those Cubans who are demanding freedom at the risk of persecutions and humiliation.” — Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity movement and former president of Poland, in a Mar. 8 letter to Pope Benedict XVI on the eve of the pontiff’s visit to Cuba. “Our people welcome our beloved René to the country and will not cease in the struggle for his definitive return, along with his four dear brothers.” — Official Cuban TV announcer, in a Mar. 30 newscast following the return of convicted Cuban 5 spy René González. On Mar. 19, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard granted González permission to visit Cuba to see his brother, who is dying of cancer.. “He is going to follow that order to the letter. Like I said from the beginning, this has nothing to do with politics. It’s a humanitarian visit.” — Philip Horowitz,González’s Miami lawyer, saying his client will obey the order to return to Florida since he doesn’t want to jeopardize the cases of his four colleagues. “The Cuban government wages a permanent campaign of harassment and short-term detentions of political opponents to stop them from demanding respect for civil and political rights. Criticism of the government is not tolerated in Cuba and it is routinely punished.” — Amnesty International, which on Mar. 22 put four jailed Cubans on its global list of prisoners of conscience — the only inmates in Cuba to have such a designation. “We are updating our economic model, but not talking about political reform.” — Marino Murillo, Cuba’s minister of economy, speaking Mar. 27 in Havana to a room packed with foreign journalists covering the papal visit. “Anyone who can figure out how to keep a 1957 Chevy running is going to figure out how to organize online. I think you would be shocked at how quickly things would begin to unravel for the regime if the people of Cuba had unfiltered access to the Internet and social media.” — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of several speakers at a recent Heritage Foundation panel in Washington examining the role of Internet access and social media in Cuba. “I’ve had so many people ask for the posters. They want to hang them inside their homes, because if they put them on the door someone will steal them.” — Rev. Gustavo Cuñil of Santiago de Cuba, talking Mar. 31 about color posters of Pope Benedict XVI with Miami Herald’s visiting correspondent, Mimi Whitefield. “I’m very happy he’s coming. I was here when [Pope] John Paul came, and there were always plenty of tourists that followed.” — Juana de Armas, a shopkeeper in Old Havana. “Hofstra Law is excited to be one of the first law schools to take advantage of the government’s endorsement of educational exchange with Cuba, and we hope that our program will provide students with an academically and culturally enriching experience. This expansion of our study-abroad offerings also responds to the complexities of the legal field, which increasingly demands future lawyers to be prepared for an ever-more interconnected world.” — Nora Demleitner, dean of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at New York’s Hofstra University, 30 of whose students are now in Cuba studying export laws and controls. Hofstra is the first U.S. law school ever to apply for American Bar Association accreditation for a study-abroad program in Cuba.


CubaNews v April 2012


In-flight magazine now available on charter flights to Cuba BY DOREEN HEMLOCK


new in-flight magazine is now being distributed on U.S. charter flights to Cuba. The monthly magazine, OnCuba, is the brainchild of entrepreneur Hugo Cancio and his Miami-based Fuego Media Group. And the inaugural March issue is full-color and glossy, with 48 pages of articles, photos and charts. Features in that issue include the island’s patron saint Virgin of Charity, painter Bonachea, hurdle jumper Dayron Robles, Cuba’s Oscar film entry “Habana Station” and places to hear live music in major cities. All articles are published both in their original Spanish and in English. Cancio said he printed 22,000 copies for March, hoping to capitalize on a surge of travelers to Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI’s Mar. 26-28 visit. He aims to print an initial 15,000 to 20,000 copies monthly after that for the halfdozen companies that operate charter flights to Cuba from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, New York and other U.S. gateway cities. Cancio told CubaNews the idea for the new magazine came one day when he was at Miami International Airport and overheard a group of Americans on a National Geographic expedition discussing where in Cuba to go in between their programmed events. Some asked questions about how currency exchange worked on the island. “I love Americans traveling to my native country, so it came to me: It’s time for us to put together a magazine,” said Cancio, who

arrived in the United States in 1980 — at the age of 16 — and has been back to Cuba often. Cancio, a longtime anti-embargo activist, is a music promoter who’s brought big-name Cuban artists like Silvio Rodríguez and Los Van Van to the United States. One year ago, he and New York attorney Antonio Martínez formed a political action

Hugo Cancio and the April edition of his magazine.

committee to pressure Washington to lift the travel ban (see CubaNews, May 2011, page 6). To get OnCuba off the ground, Cancio assembled a team of writers, photographers, editors, designers and translators in Cuba led by veteran magazine editor Tahimi Arboleya. Their aim: to share the mystery and allure of Cuba, as Arboleya puts it in her first editor’s column. That includes culture, history, nature, daily life and travel. There’s a guide to currency exchange and Customs issues. Plans call for a business section soon. Advertisers in the first edition are charter

flight operators, Miami companies that ship freight to Cuba, restaurants in Havana including Paladar La Guarida and Café Laurel, and some of Cancio’s own ventures: consulting company Cuba Business Development Group and mobile telephone business Mascell. Cancio said a full-page ad in OnCuba now retails between $1,800 to $2,000, but prices will vary based on the number of editions booked and on magazine volume. He’s hoping to expand circulation to more airlines that serve Cuba and plans to speak with Cayman Airways, Cubana de Aviación and others for placement on their flights. “Our long-term goal is for this magazine to become the magazine for all travelers to Cuba,” he said. Initial reaction to OnCuba has been positive. Readers said they like the timely content and artsy photos. But questions surfaced about its financial viability. The magazine must print different versions for competing charter companies. It will depend on ads mainly from a limited pool of U.S. companies that serve tourism to Cuba. And some wonder how many Cuban enterprises can afford its glossy ads. Cancio says he’s looking beyond the print edition to draw readers and advertisers. His team has also launched a website, Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel to engage audiences. Details: Hugo Cancio, Fuego Media Group, 8010 NW 156th St., Miami, FL 33016. Tel: (786) 347-5244. URL:

Cuban diplomats sound off at New York’s annual Left Forum BY VITO ECHEVARRÍA


he Left Forum, an annual event hosted by New York’s Pace University, held a discussion titled “New Developments in Cuba” — yet the Mar. 17 seminar was overshadowed by the absence of its original guest speakers: Juan Lamiguero, deputy chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, and Patricia Pego Guerra, its first secretary. Event organizers explained that the State Department had denied their request to travel to New York (Cuban diplomats stationed in Washington must get explicit U.S. permission to travel beyond the Beltway). In their place came half a dozen members of Cuba’s mission to the United Nations, led by Pedro Nuñez Mosquera, Cuba’s envoy to the UN, and his deputy, Oscar León González. After his speech, Nuñez Mosquera contrasted Cuba’s gradual economic changes under Raúl Castro to the dramatic market reforms undertaken long ago by China and Vietnam. “We cannot be in a hurry. We must be careful to do what Cuba can do, because China is 10,000 miles away. It is not suffering an economic blockade. They have their own peculiarities,” he said. “We can never forget that we

are 90 miles from a country whose government has made it clear that they want to destroy the Cuban revolution.” Nuñez Mosquera added: “Our main objectiv is to save the Cuban system of social justice, that nobody will be abandoned. How we do that must be only through the Cuban way.” The diplomats also discussed Raúl’s ongoing campaign against corruption, which has landed several foreign businessmen in jail including Canadian entrepreneurs Cy Tokmakjian and Sarkis Yacoubian, and British realestate developer Amado Fakhre. CubaNews asked whether all this may hurt the government’s efforts to attract investors. Diplomatic functionary Jairo Rodríguez insisted that his government puts priority on transparency — and that regardless of what happens to the businessmen, Cuba’s economy will still have foreign input. “Should we allow foreign investors to enrich themselves through corrupt [Cuban] officials, without taking into account the national law?” said Rodríguez. “These challenges can only be answered by the Cuban people.” Speculation was raised on a possible “spy swap” — perhaps following Obama’s re-elec-

tion — in which the “Cuban Five” will be exchanged for U.S. prisoner Alan Gross, who’s serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for illegally distributing telecom equipment. “The Cuban Five should never have been incarcerated, because it was clear that they were fighting against terrorism,” said Nuñez Mosquera. “What will happen during the second term of Obama? I don’t know. Of course, Cuba will be interested in finding a solution that would be acceptable to everybody.” Just a few days after the diplomat’s statement, René González — who had been behind bars for 13 years and was on probation since last October — received permission to visit his seriously ill brother in Cuba. Rodríguez was also asked his opinion of Occupy Wall Street protesters, who were egged on during the forum by filmmaker Michael Moore and later arrested by NYPD officers after marching on Zuccotti Park. “It is curious these things are happening in rich countries, where they’re not supposed to happen,” he said sarcastically. “As Cuban diplomats, we’re not supposed to interfere in the internal affairs of other states. But what I see is a reflection of what’s going on in society.” q


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Manufacturing’s share of Cuban GDP takes a steep tumble BY ARMANDO H. PORTELA


uba’s manufacturing sector has performed poorly over the past decade (2003-11) when compared to what the nation achieved two decades earlier (1983-91). Manufacturing’s share of Cuba’s GDP is now 13.1% — down from 36.1% in the period right before the collapse of the Soviet bloc, when the island suddenly lost its economic umbrella, including markets, suppliers, financial guaranty and political patrons. For instance, fertilizer production — a key indicator in a country that was largely dependent on sugar exports for most of its history — is currently just over one-fifth what it was in the 1980s. This isn’t the only cause of problems in the agriculture sector, but certainly accounts for part of its downfall. It’s the same story with other industries, some of them essential to Cuba’s economy. Others aren’t so fundamental, but their failure forces Cuba to divert some of its surplus cash to imports, such as tires and batteries. It’s impossible to depict the collapse of Cuba’s manufacturing sector in a few graphics on one page, but the pattern is the same for many key products including cement (see CubaNews, March 2012, page 8), concrete prefabs, textiles, milled rice, petroleum products, chemicals, food preserves, home appliance, vehicle assembly and soap, to name a few. Exceptions do exist, such as electric power generation, which is 26% higher today than two decades ago. That’s thanks in part to natural gas usage by Energas, a Cuban-Canadian venture that currently generates 11.6% of the electricity produced in Cuba. Under current circumstances, it’s nearly unthinkable to return to previous output levels. It is not just a matter of investments, energy or the availability of raw materials. It also has to do with quality and competitiveness — factors generally disregarded by Cuba’s state-run manufacturing entities. Other factors holding Cuba down include the island’s enormous industrial investments of the 1970s and ‘80s which today cannot be saved, and an immense bureaucratic apparatus that prevents individual entities from making timely decisions about technology, freely using their income, receiving or disclosing information, or lobbying for their needs. Nevertheless, Cuba’s domestic market — strongly dependent on imports in a cashstarved environment — offers strong potential for manufacturing growth. And a globalized market would give Cuba’s manufacturing sector a chance to play a prominent role as a provider of goods and services. q


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Argentine chef brings Cuban cuisine to 4 U.S. restaurants BY LARRY LUXNER


model for the famous statue that graces the entrance to the University of Havana). “My wife said, ‘why don’t you go with María and spend the New Year in Havana?’ In a matter of a week, I got my papers in order and left. “While I was in Cuba, I started looking at

the best Cuban chefs to the U.S. for a visit. “I went back to Havana in March, brought all the chefs together and made a proposition: let me spend time in the kitchen with you and see exactly what you’re doing. Then I will pick five of you, take you to the United States and we’ll make a paladar there — three nights in Philadelphia and three in Washington.” A CROSS-CULTURAL CULINARY EXPERIENCE

Pernot selected five chefs, four of whom accepted immediately. The only one to decline was Lilliam Domínguez, proprietor of La Cocina de Lilliam — one of the most expensive yet highly regarded paladares in Cuba. “The U.S. Interests Section in Havana was very interested and offered to help me as much as possible to expedite their papers,” he said. “I try not to get involved with politics, but since it’s a good thing to bring artists and musicians, I thought, ‘why not chefs?’ Everything worked out, and the first chef to visit was Luís Alberto Alfonso Pérez — known as Lucio — of El Gijones, back in February. His signature four-course menu: lobster salad, pineapple sorbet and truffle oil-infused black sesame seeds, followed by eggplantwrapped raviolis, lamb ropa vieja filling, then “chuleta de jabalí lechal” — baby wild boar rib chop, sour orange-canela compote and yucca tamal — topped off with flan de queso. Pernot’s next Cuban visitor will be Alain Rivera of Doctor Café, who arrives in June. His four-course menu sounds equally mouth-watering: “merluza al escabeche” — fresh cod in vinegar-chili sauce, lamb tongue and beet salad — followed by fresh corn pasta PHOTOS BY LARRY LUXNER

ashington’s most popular Cuban restaurant is owned by two Jews from Philly and managed by an Israeli who’s never been to the island. Its chef is an Argentine whose sole connection to Cuba is his wife — a distant relative of the island’s third president. And its moderately expensive food, some critics say, is distinctly un-Cuban. Yet the Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar — located at 9th and H streets at the entrance to Washington’s Chinatown — continues to pack customers in night after night. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the Cuba Libre’s dining room magically becomes a stage where professional salsa dancers thrill patrons with their colorful exotic floor shows. And unlike any other restaurant we know of, this one has actually braved official bureaucracy on both sides of the Florida Straits to not only bring Cuban chefs to the United States, but American foodies to Cuba as well. “We’re sold out on the first trip, and starting to book the second one already. I think it’s going to be in October of this year,” said Guillermo Pernot, the restaurant’s Buenos Aires-born chef. “The New York Times is going with us, a lady named Marian Burros who wrote an article about food in Cuba, and now she’s going to revisit the island.” Pernot, 56, spoke to CubaNews last month, squeezing us in for a few minutes at his restaurant before the dinner rush. The award-winning chef, who came to the U.S. in 1975, is married to Lucia Menocal, a distant cousin of Aurelio Mario Gabriel Fran-

Top: Chef Guillermo Pernot of Cuba Libre in Washington, D.C. Above left: Duo of skirt steak with onion-lemon sauce, mushroom escabeche salad, pan-roasted mahi-mahi, black rice asopado and chipotle allioli. Above right: salmón con salsa de guindas with roasted sweet potato mash and fennel-cherry blossom salad.

cisco García Menocal, who served as Cuba’s president from 1913 to 1921. “We both used to work at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, 24 years ago,” he told us. “I was in the dining room, and Lucia was the night manager at the hotel’s front desk.” In December 2010, Pernot’s sister-in-law — a professor at Yale — announced she was going to Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, in order to gather research to write a book about her illustrious family (Lucia’s grandmother, Maria Wilson Menocal, was the

different restaurants. They have some lousy food and some great food,” he explained. “We came back with the idea of discovering these paladares and the beauty of the Cuban cuisine that has since been lost.” Pernot (no relation to Pernod-Ricard, the French conglomerate that produces Havana Club rum in a joint venture with the Cuban government) discussed his trip with one of the restaurant’s two owners, Barry Gutin. Together, they hatched a brilliant idea: Pernot would go back to Cuba, and arrange to bring

cannelloni and sweet crab meat enchilado filling, then a third course of grilled yellowfin tuna, malta-honey reduction, ruby red grapefruit and lavender supreme, finished off with chilled mango soup and Cuba Libre’s own fiver-year-old rum ice cream. Conversely, Pernot and his wife Lucia are bringing Americans to Cuba to sample those same dishes at the source, under a special “people-to-people” license provided by Insight Cuba, a division of Cross-Cultural Solutions. See Pernot, page 9


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Pernot — FROM PAGE 8 A large advertisement at the entrance to the restaurant, and on its website, proclaims: “Taste what Cuban cuisine is today. Meet the chefs that inspired Cuba Libre’s new menu. Dine at the premier paladares, hand-selected by Chef Pernot. Visit the Cuban Culinary Association and interact with students working to restore Old Havana.” At $4,000 per person, the trip isn’t cheap — but the whole concept of traveling to Cuba still has that forbidden fruit appeal, so it’s no surprise that all 18 slots quickly filled up. In fact, the cross-cultural culinary exchange has gone far more smoothly than Pernot anticipated. “The Cuban government has been very welcoming,” he told us. “Knock on wood, they haven’t given us any trouble so far.” Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about some restaurant patrons. “One woman came in here very upset, asking how come we arrange trips to Cuba, saying it’s obscene and why are we feeding the government,” Pernot said. “I told her we’re not interested in helping the Cuban government. We just want people to experience food in Cuba today. That’s all we care about.”

Amnon Pick, the restaurant’s Israeli-born general manager, joined the company in 2004 when it opened in Atlantic City. He helped open the Washington location in October 2010, working with Cuba Libre’s parent company, Guest Counts Hospitality. ‘CUBA LIBRE’ OWNERS LOOKING TO EXPAND

The D.C. restaurant seats 236, including 26 patrons in the main bar. In the summer, an additional 74 people can sit out on the patio. Pick says “business is pretty good, with lunches averaging 100 and dinners of 150-200 during the week, and 400-500 on the weekends.” The first Cuba Libre restaurant opened in Philadelphia, so it’s an 11-year-old concept. “We try to put you in the street scene of Old Havana and give you a high-energy dining experience,” said Pick, who grew up in the Mediterranean resort town of Caesaria. “Our servers are dressed in guayaberas to create the feeling that you’re in Havana. It’s always fun to see the impression of guests walking in here for the first time.” How Cuban is the food at Cuba Libre really, we asked Pick. “It’s what we call nuevo cubano,” he replied. “We do have traditional food, but we want to represent Cuba as it should have been al-

lowed to develop culinarily, but because of communism wasn’t allowed to. If their chefs were given the right tools, they’d be in a much more advanced stage today.” Pernot agrees wholeheartedly. “The Americans are eating Cuban food that is 50 or 60 years old,” he insisted. “Cuba has changed. It’s no longer just rice and beans, and ropa vieja. Our menu has a couple of classic dishes, but also new items, and for this reason some people say this is not Cuban food. My own brother-in-law refuses to eat here.” But business is business, and Pernot said the owners — who don’t discuss revenues or profits — want to open outlets next in Atlanta and Boston, and possibly Chicago, though not New York (“too expensive,” he says) or Los Angeles (“the West Coast is too far”). What about South Florida, home of the world’s largest Cuban exile community? “That’s something we’ve thought about in the past,” said Pick. “Miami already has lots of Cuban restaurants, so we’re not eager to go there. But if the opportunity is right, of course we would.” q Larry Luxner is a longtime freelance journalist and photographer based in Bethesda, Maryland. He has been editor of CubaNews since May 2002.

Prieto quits as culture minister, becomes advisor to Raúl


uba announced Mar. 6 that Culture Minister Abel Prieto will be replaced by his first vice-minister, Rafael Bernal Alemany, who has worked with Prieto for the last 15 years. Prieto, meanwhile, will become an advisor to President Raúl Castro. That means the long-haired politician is joining Raúl’s inner circle, which already consists of Marino Murillo (minister of economics); Leopoldo Cintra Frías (minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces); Gladys Bejerano (general comptroller) and Luís A. Rodríguez López-Callejas (CEO of GAESA, the holding company for the Cuban Ministry of Defense). Abel Prieto, 61, is without a doubt one of the most popular leaders in Cuba — especially among intellectuals, artists, scientists and large segments of the political class. With his typical ‘60s hippie look, he was always known as an open-minded, straightforward man who was not afraid to speak his mind. Generally regarded as a minor expert in literature by bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education, Prieto reluctantly joined the all-powerful Politburo in the early 1990s. But he never showed any particular interest in positions or titles. His eventual resignation from the Politburo was accepted during last year’s Sixth Party Congress, where Prieto insisted on dropping his ministerial post at some later date. Yet being chosen by Raúl as his advisor is a clear indication of how much the old leaders value Prieto. A lifelong fan of the Beatles, Prieto pushed for the construction of John Lennon’s statue in Havana’s Vedado district, in a park where many young people used to hang out. He persuaded Fidel Castro to attend the statue’s inauguration, where Prieto and his friends sang “Imagine” — and then listened to Fidel apologize for not having correctly understood the Beatles’ contribution to the world. Years later, in 1993, when Fidel starting blasting away at the many artists and intellectuals who were “betraying” their country, Prieto interrupted the old comandante to disagree. It takes a special kind of courage to do this, and everyone saw it. Prieto, who along with Fidel spent many hours in a meeting last month discussing current events with 100 or so intellectuals from Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean, is also responsible for promoting a wide range of debates, discussions and publications.

In other recent government appointments: Vice President José R. Fernández, 88, was replaced by Politburo member Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 51. Fernández has been a key military and political leader for more than 50 years. He’ll continue to work with Raúl Castro as a personal advisor. Díaz-Canel, formerly minister of higher education, has been characterized as a “rising star” among the younger generation. He’s been repeatedly praised by Raúl for his excellent performance as a Communist Party leader in Villa Clara and Holguín over the last 20 years. Díaz-Canel is being replaced as minister of higher education by his first vice-minister, Rodolfo Alarcón Ortíz. n Dr. José Miyar Barrueco, 79, is stepping down as minister of science, technology and the environment. He’s being replaced by Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, who is in her early 50s and has most recently headed the science department of the Party’s Central Committee. Miyar, for many years Fidel Castro’s personal assistant, secretary of the Council of State and a member of that body, will now be in charge of OSDE (Organización Superior de Dirección Empresarial), which oversees R&D, production and marketing for Cuba’s biotech and pharmaceutical industry. n Army Corps Gen. (ACG) Leonardo Andollo has been appointed first vice-chairman of the Comisión Permanente de Implementación y Desarrollo, next in line to Murillo. Andollo, 67, joined the revolution as a teenager. In 1989, when he was only 44, he was promoted to brigadier-general — the youngest in Cuba. A member of the Central Committee since 1986, he is a key figure in FAR’s economic activities and the implementation of Perfectamiento Empresarial.. n ACG Samuel Rodiles Planas, 80 and one of the oldest generals still on active duty, has been named chairman of the Institute of Physical Planning. His mission: to reorganize and regulate Cuba’s construction industry by individuals, state entites and foreign investors. Second-in-command of the Western Army in the early 1990s and then in charge of the Defense and Security Committee of Cuba’s National Assembly and Inspector Chief of the General Staff, this aging veteran has been on the Central Committee since 1965 and a member of the National Assembly since 1992. n



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Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage to Cuba: Winners and losers BY DOMINGO AMUCHASTEGUI


A political tug-of-war was sparked by something the pope said before arriving in Cuba: “It is evident today that Marxist ideology in the form it was conceived does not correspond currently with reality.” He added: “New models must be built with patience and in a constructive way.”

ast month, as the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba drew nearer, opposition forces in Miami and Havana staged an intense war of words by every means at their disposal. They urged no less than “rabo y orejas” (literally, maximum performance demanded of good bullfighters) from the Vatican. BENEDICT’S 48-HOUR WHIRLWIND VISIT TO CUBA Anything else, they said, and the pope would just be playing into the hands of the Castro brothers. Regarding the Catholic Church in Cuba, there was a real contest to see who would insult Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino and the church in general for its complicity with the Cuban regime. Condemnation of that regime and promotion Others in Miami and Cuba began rephrasof its downfall were its chief de-mands; nothing the pope’s comments, as a general stateing short of this was acceptable. Miami-based ment and not referring specifically to Cuba, exiles urged the opposition to take to the by quoting him as having said “Marxism is of streets and fight for what they believed in. A showdown was needed to expose the Castro regime; it was also necessary to “spoil the pope’s fun” in Cuba, in the words of Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the Washingtonbased US-Cuba Democracy PAC. ope Benedict XVI’s call for changes in In the minds of these hardline exiles, the Cuba and the world should also focus pope was obligated to meet with dissidents on churches, say members of Cuban and politicize his 48-hour visit at all costs. But civil society who, independently of their the Vatican publicly announced that the pope beliefs or ideologies, recognized the impact would not engage in any kind of talks with of the pope’s visit to this socialist nation. opposition forces, thereby following the Convinced many people “will not yet fully example set by John Paul II in 1998. comprehend” the real importance of Benedict’s Mar. 26-28 visit, Rev. Raimundo WHAT DID THE POPE ACTUALLY SAY? García told IPS that the Catholic Church is It is significant that Benedict — who ardemonstrating its power of renewal “amidst rived in Cuba directly from Mexico — did not very complicated circumstances.” hold talks there with opposition parties such “It is evident that Cuba increasingly does as the PRD, the PT or the Zapatistas, all of not match the image that many have of it which represent large constituencies. being frozen in space and time,” the retired Three days before Benedict’s arrival on the pastor of the Presbyterian Reformed island, an attempt to “occupy” churches in Church in Cuba said via email. Havana, Holguín and Pinar del Río failed comGarcía, who’s also director of the Chrispletely. Also unsuccessful was an attempt by tian Center for Reflection and Dialogue in the Ladies in White to stage protests. Cuba, acknowledged what he called the No significant incidents were reported in church’s “capacity for dialogue” with the Santiago de Cuba or the national sanctuary at government. “This might be the right time El Cobre. Few people took to the streets in to reach out,” he said. support of the opposition. Of course many Fourteen years after Pope John Paul II’s reasons exist for this. visit — which was considered a turning A special report published by The Econopoint in relations between the Catholic mist describes Cuba’s opposition as follows: Church and the Cuban state — Benedict “The traditional dissident groups are small, found a society that is increasingly heterofaction-ridden and heavily infiltrated by state geneous, Catholic intellectuals Roberto security. Some are opportunists and have Veiga and Lenier González acknowledged been easy for the regime to caricature as agents of the United States.” in a joint response to questions from IPS. Obviously enough, they were the losers.

no use anymore ... and has failed in Cuba.” This isn’t just a gross manipulation of what the pontiff had actually said, but overlooks the fact that similar statements can be found in 19th-century literature and the works of Max Weber and Antonio Gramsci — not to mention what Fidel Castro told visiting American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg a year ago. Benedict and his entourage expressed their satisfaction with the visit, particularly how at every occasion he was able to publicly convey key concepts and ideas criticizing “fanatacism” while advocating for “the strengthening of religious freedom.” The pontiff also spoke of “consolidating social bonds and securing the rights of future generations,” and the need to expand church freedoms in Cuba. The pope’s meetings with both Raúl and Fidel Castro were well-publicized, though no specifics were disclosed. All this makes the Vatican look great, with one notable exception. Conspicuously absent were any meetings or dialogue with other religious communities in Cuba, especially those with African religions and their well-known syncretic interactions with Catholicism. See Pope, page 13

The 2012 papal visit: A view from Havana


Espacio Laical, a magazine of the Havana archdiocese’s lay council, editorialized that by outlining “how much remains to be done to achieve a better country,” Benedict promoted truth and life, marriage and the family, freedom and justice, dialogue and social inclusion, forgiveness and reconciliation. This proposal, the magazine’s editors added, consists of the need for “a methodology of relating to and accompanying an extremely diverse society, in which movements are taking shape that defend agendas related to religious, environmental, immigration, sexual orientation, gender and political issues.” They also cited the need to include both Cubans on the island and in the diaspora. “Some émigrés do not want any ties with their homeland or political groups, on either end of the spectrum, and do not agree with dialogue and consensus as a methodology for building the country,” the two editors said in their response. The word “dialogue” is at the center of many analyses on this issue, including among communists and sexual rights activists like Dr. Alberto Roque, who published an article on his blog,, questioning whether or not the Catholic Church also “perceives itself as part of the world” that must change. – INTER PRESS SERVICE

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Federal officials are investigating Portlandbased Esco Corp. for using nickel obtained from Cuba in violation of the trade embargo, reported Mar. 17. Esco lawyers said they expect the company to face fines of no more than $5.5 million, but acknowledge penalties could be more, according to a public filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Disclosure of the violation by a Canadian subsidiary comes at a delicate moment for Esco, a company whose managers have been trying to take the manufacturer public on the Nasdaq exchange. Esco announced its plans in May for a $175 million public offering that has since languished. The Cuban disclosure was contained in a 317-page amended IPO document filed by Esco and appearing on the SEC’s website. “We learned that a foundry operated by one of our foreign subsidiaries had been purchasing and using material from a distributor that obtained the material from a supplier that procured the source material from Cuba,” said the statement. “We voluntarily reported the violation to OFAC, stopped purchasing from the distributor, temporarily halted production at the foundry and sequestered all inventory containing Cuban material. In July 2011, we resumed production at the foundry with material provided by another supplier and subsequently received a license to sell most of the inventory that contained Cuban material.” The OFAC investigation could take months to complete, said the company, warning that penalties could be significant because each purchase of Cuban material and each sale of a product containing the material could result in a fine of up to $65,000. Esco has four foundries in Canada, among about 30 plants worldwide. It’s possible a Canadian subsidiary of Esco did business with a Cuban supplier without perhaps realizing the ramifications. The Cuban connection could embarrass Esco, which makes parts such as teeth for gigantic mining shovels. But a $5.5 million fine would hardly set the company back. The SEC filing showed Esco’s net sales jumped to $1.12 billion in 2011, up 32% from $850 million in 2010. Gross profit grew 34%, from $223 million in 2010 to $299 million last year. FRENCH TRADE MISSION UPBEAT ABOUT CUBA

A business delegation that included executives of 17 French corporations spent three days in Havana March 5-7 to scout for investments in energy, transportation, telecom and agribusiness, reported The Mar. 5-7 mission followed a November 2011 visit by Foreign Trade Secretary Pierre Lellouche, who expects French investments in Cuba to rise from €150 million ($201 million) to €250 million ($335 million) this year. “Despite the U.S. embargo, the improvement of the economic situation since 2009

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grants some flexibility to Cuban authorities to update its economic model and the ministerial reorganization following the Party Congress in April 2011,” the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (Medef) said in an invitation letter to delegation participants. The delegation was headed by Pierre Pringuet, CEO of Pernod Ricard SA. The Paris-based liquor giant is the foreign partner in the Havana Club rum joint venture. The group met, among others, Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodríguez. This was the second Medef delegation to visit Cuba since 2008, said Lellouche was the highest-ranking French official to visit Cuba in nine years. France suspended bilateral government cooperation in 2003, after Cuba imprisoned 75 people in a crackdown. In December 2010, a week after Cuba announced it had freed all of the 75, France and Cuba resumed cooperation. Politics aside, the main stumbling block is Cuba’s debt and its falling behind on payments to French government agency Coface, which has not provided credit guarantees related to Cuba since 2006. A Cuban delegation traveled to France in January to discuss debt issues; neither Coface nor the Cuban government made an announcement about the outcome of the talks. In its latest Cuba risk assessment, Coface predicts “mediocre” growth for 2012, citing the slowness of reforms and a slow shift of workers from state to private-sector jobs. Coface expects rising unemployment, inflationary pressure, slowing tourism, and a fall in nickel prices to depress growth this year.


A microphotovoltaic system has been connected to the power grid in Santiago de Cuba, with a view to evaluating the technology under tropical weather conditions and leading feasibility studies before it is extended to the rest of Cuba, ACN said Feb. 18. Rubén Ramos, director of the Center for Solar Energy Research (CIES), said the new system — made up of 30 solar panels — will feed 7.5 kilowatts into the grid. During 2012, the system’s power should be doubled to 70 kw/day. Because of its climate, said Ramos, Cuba has great solar energy potential that would enable the development of technological solutions to replace fossil fuel. CUBAN MARINE SCIENTIST WINS PEW AWARD

Fabián Pina Amargós, a scientist with the Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research in Cayo Coco, Cuba, has been awarded a 2012 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation for his project to study and conserve goliath grouper populations in Cuba. The Pew fellowship — which gives recipients $150,000 for a three-year project aimed at addressing conservation challenges facing the oceans — is the first ever given for research in Cuba, and will be conducted under a U.S. Treasury Department license. Pina Amargós hopes to establish important scientific data and better management recommendations for goliath grouper in Cuba, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Details: Jo Knight, Pew Marine Fellowship, Ocean Division, 901 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20004-2037. Tel: (202) 552-2070. Fax: (202) 552-2299. Email:

Cuba: AIDS vaccine testing on humans?


uba will soon embark on testing a new AIDS vaccine on human subjects, reported Mar. 7. Speaking at a biotechnology conference in Havana, a leading Cuban researcher said Cuba’s top biotech teams have successfully tested a new AIDS vaccine on mice, and are ready to soon begin human testing. “We are now preparing a very small, tightly controlled Phase One clinical trial with HIV-positive patients who are not in the advanced stages of disease,” said Enrique Iglesias, who heads the vaccine development team at Havana’s Biotech and Genetic Engineering Center (CIGB). Iglesias, addressing the Havana 2012 International Biotechnology Conference, said the Teravac-HIV 1 vaccine was made from recombinant proteins aiming to “cause a cellular response against HIV.” However, he quickly downplayed high hopes for a long-awaited AIDS vaccine. “So far, there have been more than 100 clinical tests [on humans] with HIV” in Cuba and other countries, he said, “and all of them have failed.” Cuba spends more than $200 million a year on AIDS prevention and care pro-

grams, including free care with anti-retrovirals, some of them Cuban-made. The CIGB, which groups about 20 research units in Havana, drives exports of Cuban biotech products including vaccines and other drugs. Cuba exports $400 million a year in these products, making them its secondlargest export by value after nickel. Some 600 scientists from 38 countries attended the biotech conference, among them Nobel-winning U.S. chemist and molecular biologist Peter Agre. In related news, CIGB-300 — a synthetic anti-tumor, peptide-based drug designed to treat uterine cancer — received an award from the Latin American Society of Pharmacology. The drug, patented in 2001, is being mass-produced to be used in clinical trials that started in 2006 for stage one and two of uterine cancer. CIGB project leader Silvio Perea said the drug has been submitted to clinical trials to confirm its therapeutic efficacy. Details: Dr. Luís Herrera Martínez, Director-General, Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología, Ave. 31 e/158 y 190, Playa, Habana. Tel: +53 7 271-8008. Fax: +53 7 273-6008. Email:


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Red tape threatens international development aid for Cuba


xcessive delays by the Cuban government in evaluating foreign aid projects for their compatibility with the country’s economic planning policies have created uncertainty for aid organizations, which have sometimes even been forced to return funds to donors due to missed deadlines. “A lot of money is being lost simply because of bureaucracy,” an economist who asked to remain anonymous told IPS. Representatives from several NGOs with offices in Cuba said the most serious aspect of this problem is that many of these projects are related to food security. “We’ve been in an impasse for the last three years, where we don’t know exactly what role or part will be given to cooperation,” said Pepe Murillo of the Mundubat Foundation, a Spanish NGO that’s been working in Cuba in the areas of agriculture and rural development since 1996. A project by Mundubat and Japan to improve drinking water and sanitation services in the municipality of Isla de la Juventud, a small island off the southwest coast of the main island, has benefited almost 80,000 people in its capital, Nueva Gerona, and in the surrounding countryside since 2011. NGOs: WITH MERGER, IT’S LIKE ‘STARTING OVER’

Within the process the government calls the “updating” of Cuba’s economic model, all foreign aid received by Cuba must be included in the “national economic plan” to ensure that it is in line with economic planning goals. The “economic and social policy guidelines of the party and the Revolution,” Cuba’s road map for modernizing its economy, also state that it is necessary to “perfect and complement the legal and regulatory framework” for aid that is given and received.

Pope — FROM PAGE 10 Then who’s the net winner? According to Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, a professional dissident for the last 30 years, “the winner from this visit was the [Cuban] regime itself in terms of international legitimacy and public image. The Pope’s messages were extremely cautious not to bother the regime; it’s obvious that the Catholic Church, in Cuba and the Vatican, want to maintain and improve their relations with the regime.” Sánchez is right that the Cuban government is “the big winner,” but wrong about something else: The degree of international legitimacy that government has achieved isn’t thanks to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, or even that of Pope John Paul II in 1998. These were steps in a long chain of events linked to Cuba’s international standing over the years on key issues, and the degree to

Foreign aid has been regulated to date by Resolution 50, passed in 2008, which modified Resolution 15 of 2006, regarding the “norms for economic collaboration that Cuba receives.” These regulations primarily spell out the obligations and duties of NGOs and other organizations involved in cooperation. In 2009, the ministry for foreign investment and economic cooperation was merged with the ministry of foreign trade, which since then has overseen this sector. Some NGOs that operate in Cuba say it was LARRY LUXNER


EU’s Cuba mission fronts Quinta Avenida, Havana.

like starting over, with new experts, working methods and assumptions. “Trade relations have been thrown together with cooperation with civil society organizations from the European Union and countries from other regions that are here based on solidarity, which has nothing to do with foreign trade,” said Eva Fernández, of the Spanish NGO Acsur Las Segovias. In addition, the economic plan has become a straitjacket that is keeping projects from meeting deadlines. First they must be approved by the ministry of foreign trade, and then by the ministry of economy and planning — a slow-moving, complicated process. “We have projects that have been waiting which the world at large condemns the U.S. embargo. The current scope and pace of reforms in Cuba only adds more legitimacy while improving the regime’s public image. Before the pope it was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In a few days, Mexican President Felipe Calderón will arrive. And a few more days after that, the 46member Organization of American States will hold its annual summit in Cartagena, Colombia, where it’ll debate the need to incorporate Cuba as an active and legitimate participant in future OAS summits. All of this is what has given the Cuban government international legitimacy. Don’t blame the pope for this. q CORRECTION: In our March 2012 issue we ran a news brief about Sherritt’s earnings, but neglected to credit as the source of the information. We regret the error.

for two years for a decision on whether or not they will be included in the economic plan,” said Paola Larghi, of the International Committee for the Development of the Peoples, an Italian NGO that’s been working in Cuba for 20 years. Larghi says the process lacks clarity and transparency — and that delays in decisionmaking are having a major impact on NGOs with respect to planning and donations. “Because of this, cooperation funds are being sent back, for projects that could not be implemented,” Murillo said. Elio Perón, a consultant with the Dutch organization Hivos, the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation, said the philosophy of including aid projects in the economic plan is aimed at improving efficiency. “That is the Bible, full of good intentions,” he remarked. Perón said the problem is the result of administrative changes Cuba is trying to introduce, which “unfortunately” have not found the best channel. “It is a question of putting new concepts into practice; as I see it, it is an administrative problem, not a political position,” he said. BUREAUCRACY ENDANGERS FOOD PROGRAMS

On that point, NGO representatives agreed that the political stance toward them that existed in the 1990s has been replaced by a “technocratic and bureaucratic” approach, which especially affects projects related to food production. “That sector, which the government of Raúl Castro has made a national priority, is the one that is experiencing the greatest difficulties at this time,” Murillo explained. “We have pointed out that contradiction, but the response [from officials] is always the same: if it is not in the ‘guidelines’ or the economic plan, it does not go forward.” Sources with the EU delegation in Havana told IPS that a dozen European NGOs currently have aid projects in Cuba. In addition, the EU subsidizes plans implemented by European “non-state actors” that do not necessarily have offices in Cuba. The NGOs arrived on the island during the height of the 1990s economic crisis, to provide aid and show solidarity with the Cuban people. “Those were times when people were predicting the collapse of socialism here,” Perón recalled. In the opinion of the Hivos consultant, the authorities don’t seem to have realized that a reduction in aid from NGOs translates into decreased political potential, solidarity and international influence. “The most intelligent thing,” he said, “would be to especially support these organizations that are in solidarity with Cuba.” q Patricia Grogg reports regularly from Havana for Inter Press Service, a UN-affiliated, nonprofit progressive news organization based in Rome.


CubaNews v April 2012


‘Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine’ BY DOREEN HEMLOCK


id Fidel Castro have a moral responsibility to warn the Americans if he had a hint that communist sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald might kill President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963? That’s the thorny question former CIA officer Brian Latell leaves readers to ponder in his latest book, “Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine” (Palgrave-Macmillan; ISBN 978-0-230-62123-7; hardcover cost, $27; release date: Apr. 24). Latell gives no definitive answer, but suggests that since Castro knew the Americans were trying to kill him, the Cuban leader kept mum about Oswald’s possible intentions “acting in self-defense.” The 264-page book, including detailed notes, draws largely on interviews with Cuban spies who defected — and with former and current CIA officers — to construct a picture of Cuban intelligence mainly from the early years of the Cuban Revolution until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It describes Fidel as the supreme master in a top-notch spy system that the CIA long underestimated. “They were better than us,” Latell quotes an American intelligence officer

as saying. “In truth, we lost during most of the Cold War to the Cubans.” Havana’s spy network was particularly skilled in counterintelligence and the use of double agents. Indeed, Rolando Cubela — a top CIA contact who was supposed to provoke a coup to overthrow Castro — turned out to be a double-agent who told the Cubans all about the American plan, Latell said. The engaging book focuses on the early 1960s and specifically on two key incidents: the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. It relies heavily on testimony by ex-intelligence officer Florentino Aspillaga Lombard, the son on a Cuban security officer who reportedly worked with Fidel before defecting. On the missile crisis, Latell claims that Fidel, then only 36, pushed for a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States that could have proved catastrophic for both neighbors. Fidel believed a U.S. attack or invasion of Cuba was imminent and wrote to Moscow that “the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists launch the first attack against it.” That “Armageddon letter” hastened Moscow’s decision to broker a peaceful deal with

JFK to end the missile crisis, Latell wrote. In his memoirs, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev later described Fidel as “young and hotheaded.” Latell quotes Khrushchev recalling: “I told Castro…You wanted to start a war with the United States. If the war would have begun, we would somehow have survived, but Cuba no doubt would have ceased to exist. Yet you suggested a nuclear strike!” On JFK’s murder, the book claims that top Cuban authorities knew that Oswald went to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City three times between Sept. 27 and Oct. 2, 1963, seeking a tourist visa. Denied entry to Cuba, Oswald left the consulate saying, “I’m going to kill Kennedy for this.” Weeks later, just hours before JFK was shot, Cuban officers in Havana asked young spy Aspillaga to switch from his usual task of monitoring of CIA communications to listen instead for news in Texas. “Castro knew,” Latell said Aspillaga Lombard told him, recalling the orders given to him that morning of Nov. 22, 1963. “They knew Kennedy would be killed.” Details: Elisabeth Tone, Marketing Assistant, Palgrave-Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave. Suite #203, New York, NY 10010. Tel: (646) 307-5343. Fax: (212) 982-5562. URL:

Latell’s new book a fanciful attempt at rewriting history ater this month, Brian Latell’s newest work, “Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine,” will hit the bookstores. It’s his second book, actually. The first one, “After Fidel” — though essentially based on secondand third-hand versions, and Miami gossip — had a final chapter discussing the role of Raúl Castro. And that chapter, much more balanced than the others, upset quite a lot of exiles in South Florida. Now, “Castro’s Secrets” revists a number of episodes connected, in one way or another, to the CIA and Cuba’s intelligence service (DGI), which was under the direct orders and supervision of Fidel Castro. (Fellow comandantes Ramiro Valdés and Manuel Piñeiro, known as Redbeard, played minor roles). The problem is that this second book is based almost exclusively on secondary sources, including a huge number of public documents, books and testimonies. No primary sources, from either the CIA or the DGI, are quoted to support the alleged “secrets.” Nor are any new facts provided to substantiate any of Castro’s so-called secrets. Well-known episodes of the Cold War, and in particular of U.S. hostility and assassination plans against the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro, are the object of various reinterpretations, as are some of Cuba’s major intelligence operations. But these are entirely based on recent testimonies given to the author by agents who defected mostly in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The crux of these testimonies are aimed at proving one thing: that Fidel Castro knew in advance about the plot to kill John F. Kennedy. This is the backbone, the very essence, of Latell’s book. Compared to the JFK conspiracy, the other topics in “Castro’s Secrets” seem like minor anecdotes. At the time of their defection, those


agents were debriefed and squeezed to the last drop by the CIA and the FBI. But Latell — himself an ex-CIA analyst — seems unsatisfied with the work of his colleagues, so he goes back in time to ask the questions, and get the facts straight, something his colleagues apparently had not been able to do. Shame on Latell’s fellow spies who overlooked such crucial questions and stories. Shame on those experts at the CIA, the FBI, the Warren Commission and the Church Committee for handling the case so inefficiently. And from there, Latell draws the most fantastic conclusions ever made by a former U.S. intelligence man. It would be interesting to see if Latell could sustain his arguments in a federal court, where — most probably — his case would be dismissed for lack of substantial evidence, not to mention extremely biased testimonies from witnesses who 40 years later come up with versions that sound quite different from their exhausting debriefing sessions in the past. There’s another problem. More than 80% of his information attempting to prove Fidel knew in advance comes from just one source: Florentino Aspillaga Lombard, a DGI case officer who defected in 1987 in Bratislava. That agent, who previously worked for Cuba’s counter-intelligence services, claims that when he was a teenage rookie at CI, someone shared with him vital inside information on the JFK assassination — thereby allowing him to point the finger at Fidel. Latell needs to prove that this key source, Aspillaga, is even smarter than James Bond. For that sake, he states that this agent was “the most informed, highly decorated officer ever to defect from Cuban Intelligence.” See Latell, page 15


April 2012 v CubaNews

Latell — FROM PAGE 14 Not true at all. Other men and women with greater credentials are walking the streets of America as normal U.S. citizens. If Aspillaga was what Latell tells us, then why was he never sent abroad on risky, complex missions as others were? Why wasn’t it until 1986 that he got his first assignment overseas — and why in Bratislava of all places, working under the cover of Cubatecnica? Surely an agent with such brilliant credentials, as those portrayed repeatedly by Latell, should have been named to key intelligence posts like New York, Paris, Prague, Madrid or Mexico City. By any standard, Bratislava was a third-rate assignment within the DGI. JUST ANOTHER CHEAP CONSPIRACY THEORY

Most of the testimonies quoted by Latell as part of his “secrets” come not from direct participants but were rather overheard; indiscretions of other agents in gross violation of the norms of compartmentalization and source protection, things these defectors learned casually or by chance. If Cuban intelligence is, according to Latell, “one of the world’s best and most aggressive intelligence services” that regularly outperformed both the CIA and the FBI, then how is it possible these defectors were the beneficiaries of so many monumental indiscretions? It just doesn’t add up, to say the least Latell plays very well with words. He never states that Fidel Castro was behind JFK’s assassination. He’s more careful. He says Fidel knew in advance, quoting Aspillage in a “sensational revelation” that “Castro knew one hundred percent that they were going to shoot at Kennedy.” So Fidel was aware that Kennedy was going to be shot, and in Dallas? That can only lead to one obvious conclusion: if the Cuban leader really did know in advance, it’s because he was part of the conspiracy. Despite Latell’s efforts to construe an entirely new “conspiracy theory” in which Fidel Castro and Cuba are a guilty party in the murder of John F. Kennedy, he can’t hide from what is evident and factual. Grudgingly, he has to quote more qualified authors who have already dealt with this issue. “The overwhelming majority of Americans, as well as most conspiracy theorists, have discarded the theory that Cuba was behind the assassination.” The Warren Commission, the Church Committee and the House Assassinations Committee, along with five million pages of declassified CIA files and other government documents, have confirmed that “no smoking gun” points at Cuba. This is the official, well-documented position of the U.S. government. Latell’s efforts to prove otherwise smack of sheer manipulation and a total lack of credibility. – DOMINGO AMUCHASTEGUI

Former Cuban intelligence officer Domingo Amuchastegui has lived in Miami since 1994. He writes regularly for CubaNews on the Communist Party and South Florida’s Cuban exile community.


‘Chico and Rita’ not yet a box-office hit BY VITO ECHEVARRÍA


ast February’s Academy Awards had a surprise nomination connected to Cuba: “Chico and Rita” competed for best animated feature film, losing to the Johnny Deppvoiced movie “Rango.” “Chico and Rita” — which has received rave reviews worldwide — is an animated cartoon film about the romantic ups and downs of a talented Cuban jazz pianist and a sultry singer during the late 1940s who both trek to New York in search of fame and fortune. The movie — made on a $13 million budget — is a collaboration between Spain’s Fernando Trueba (whose film “Belle Epoque” won an Oscar for best foreign-language film in 1993); artist/designer Javier Mariscal, and the British animation company Magic Light Pictures. It uses the romance between the two main characters to bring to life Cuba’s vibrant musical scene during the pre-Castro days. At that time, Cuban bands were often in demand at concert halls and VIP nightspots in New York, Las Vegas and elsewhere. Some Havana-bound flights from U.S. cities back in those days even included Cuban musicians who entertained their fellow passengers. Financing came from U.K. sources and Spanish broadcasters TVE and TV3, while Grammy-winning Cuban musician Bebo Valdés — an innovator of his country’s mambo sound — performed the film’s soundtrack, which also incorporates the legendary Latin jazz music of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Chucho Valdés, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, Chano Pozo and Ben Webster.”


Even so, actual Cuban input for the movie was strictly musical. “We did not receive any help from the Cuban government. I neither asked for it nor had any agreement with them,” Trueba said. “What we received was much help and collaboration with Cuban musicians — both inside and outside the island.” It’s no surprise that Trueba and Mariscal worked together in this film. Back in 2000, they also collaborated on the Latin jazz documentary “Calle 54” – which brought together some of the same musicians highlighted in this film too.

The marketing of “Chico and Rita” revived the popularity of pre-Castro era Cuban culture to a European and American audience enthralled with bands like Buena Vista Social Club and spin-off acts like Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer during the late 1990s. They and the foreign tourists who visited Cuba in recent years helped fuel the film’s success in the two countries, Spain and England, where it was originally released. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film’s distribution in Spain by Walt Disney International resulted in more than $1 million of gross receipts at theaters in that country. And even though it lost out to Johnny Depp on Academy Awards night, “Chico and Rita” still won a Goya award in Spain for best animated feature film. Referring to the movie’s Oscar nomination, Mariscal told Reuters he was “very surprised, because normally animation is an American market. It’s very strange that Hollywood saw our film and liked it enough to nominate it.” Mariscal is right: “Chico and Rita” bumped off Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Pixar Animation Studios, whose “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Cars 2” were expected to be nominated in that Oscar category. “Chico and Rita won prizes internationally, but is not a success from an economic point of view,” says Trueba. “It’s more of an ‘art film’. Film animation for adults is something new, risky enough, unlike children’s animation, which is a very safe market, since parents are always looking for films to take their kids to.” One benefit of the movie’s Oscar nomination is its expanding audience in the U.S. market. Dave Jesteadt, director of the film’s U.S. distributor, GKIDS/LumaFilms, told CubaNews recently that “Chico and Rita” on the verge of going beyond the art-house crowd in New York and Los Angeles. “We are at around $150,000 in U.S. boxoffice revenues, but that is only after two weeks of release and in a small number of theaters,” he notes. “It’s continuing to open over the next few months, so this is just the beginning. The Oscar nomination definitely boosted interest in theaters and audiences, and sent the film from 10 or so theaters to over 100 [in the United States], and possibly many more.” Like Buena Vista Social Club more than a decade ago, “Chico and Rita” has proven once again that among Cuba’s most enduring exports is its music and culture. q


CALENDAR OF EVENTS If your organization is sponsoring an upcoming event, please let our readers know! Fax details to CubaNews at (3 0 1 ) 9 4 9 -0 0 6 5 or send e-mail to Apr. 1 7 : Panel discussion on the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Moderator: José Azel. Panelists: former CIA analyst Brian Latell and Pedro Roig, former director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Cost: $10. Details: Vanessa López, Institude for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, 1531 Brescia Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33146-2439. Tel: (305) 284-5386. Email: Apr. 1 7 : “Cuba in the 21st Century,” International Institute for the Study of Cuba, University of London. Keynote speakers: Carlos Alzugaray Treto (University of Havana) and Dr. Rafael Hernández, editor-in-chief of Temas magazine (Havana). Alzugaray, Cuba’s ex-ambassador to the EU, will speak on Cuban foreign policy economic reform. Hernández will speak on “Cuba: In Transition to What?” Cost: £25. Details: Olga Jiménez, IISC, PO Box 1406, Tring, Herts, Great Britain. Tel: +44 795 638-1640. URL: Email: Apr. 1 8 : “Cuba: Today and Tomorrow,” Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, The New School, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10011. Keynote speakers: Harvard University professor Jorge Domínguez and Bob Kerrey, former U.S. senator and governor of Nebraska. No charge; limited seating. Details: ASCE, PO Box 28267, Washington, DC 20038. Email: URL: Apr. 1 8 : “Flawed Trial of the Cuban Five as Described in Stephen Kimber’s Book: What Lies Across the Water,” UC-Washington Center. Host: Wayne Smith. Presenter: Stephen Kimber, Canadian journalist and author. Free. Details: Juanita Islas, Center for International Policy, 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: (202) 232-3317. Email: Apr. 2 0 -2 2 : Intensive Certificate Program in Cuban Studies, University of Miami. Three-day program “is designed for professionals and others interested in Cuba and its future.” Topics range from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to Cuban civil society today, the Cuban diaspora and current business challenges and opportunities. Professors: José Azel, Andy Gómez, Brian Latell, Vanessa López, Pedro Roig and Jaime Suchlicki. Cost: $495 (including recommended books for the course). Details: Vanessa López, Institude for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, 1531 Brescia Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33146. Tel: (305) 284-5386. Email:

CubaNews v April 2012

CARIBBEAN UPDATE You already know what’s going in Cuba, thanks to CubaNews. Now find out what’s happening in the rest of this diverse and fast-growing region. Subscribe to Caribbean UPDATE, a monthly newsletter founded in 1985. Corporate and government executives, as well as scholars and journalists, depend on this publication for its insightful, timely coverage of the 30-plus nations and territories of the Caribbean and Central America. When you receive your first issue, you have two options: (a) pay the accompanying invoice and your subscription will be processed; (b) if you’re not satisfied, just write “cancel” on the invoice and return it. There is no further obligation on your part. The cost of a subscription to Caribbean UPDATE is $277 per year. A special rate of $139 is available to academics, non-profit organizations and additional subscriptions mailed to the same address. To order, contact Caribbean UPDATE at 116 Myrtle Ave., Millburn, NJ 07041, call us at (973) 376-2314, visit our new website at or send an email to We accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

Apr. 2 0 -2 4 : “Culinary Tour of Havana.” Join Chef Guillermo Pernot and his wife Lucia on a trip to Cuba, meet the chefs that inspired the new menu at Washington’s Cuba Libre bar and restaurant. Dine at Bar Oviedo, El Gijonés, La Cocina de Lilliam, La Guarida. Travel provided by Insight Cuba, a licensed provider of people-to-people travel. Cost: $4,000 per person, double occupancy. Details: Emily Jarmuth, Sales & Marketing Director, Cuba Libre Restaurant, 801 9th St. NW, Washington, DC 20001. Tel: (202) 408-1600. Email: Aug. 4 -6 : “Where is Cuba Going?” 22nd Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, Hilton Miami Downtown Hotel. Speakers at this key event include Jorge Domínguez (Harvard); Richard Feinberg (University of California-San Diego) and Eusebio Mujal-León (Georgetown). “We are also working towards bringing Cuba-based economists and scholars to the conference.” Registration before July 15: $75 for members, $175 for nonmembers. Details: ASCE, PO Box 28267, Washington, DC 20038-8267. Email:


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April 2012 Issue  

Pope’s pilgrimmage Political briefs Prieto calls it quits Castro’s secrets Rubio lifts hold on Jacobson nomination; Miami-Dade proposal unde...