Forbidden, But Possible

The smoke gets in my hair, my clothes, and overnight I take on the smell of tobacco although I am one of those Cuban adults who has never smoked. The man at the next table has consumed a pack and a half of Hollywoods in the short time he’s been here, using an empty beer bottle as an ashtray. On the wall there is a sign showing a cigarette with a red line through it; the white background of the poster is stained with nicotine. There is no remedy, I’m a passive smoker even though my country adopted a decree in 2005 that should protect my lungs in.

I passed unscathed through that first “drag” — shared while sitting in a circle — that kids try to prove how grown up they are. Thirty-two percent of my compatriots, however, ended up hooked from this youthful prank, and today spend a good part of their personal resources on Criollos, Populares, or H. Upmanns. This is one of the highest smoking rates in the region, perhaps comparable to the high levels of alcoholism, although the latter is not officially declared. Though half the homes on the Island are exposed to smoke, in our house we have an ex-smoker, a teenager who doesn’t seem interested yet, and this humble servant who used to dunk the packets in water to discourage her father from the vice.

The resolution to protect those who don’t smoke is strict and very modern, but in practice it only worked for a couple of weeks. I don’t know anyone who has been fined for violating the rule against smoking in public places or on public transport, and you can still see people selling different brands of cigarettes close to elementary and secondary schools. Notwithstanding my abstinence, a couple months ago I was diagnosed with emphysema and the doctor gave me a wink while saying, “You smoke, right?” I feel like buying myself a dozen of the strongest cigars, taking long drags, and blowing the smoke on the damp paper of a law that is not complied with, or on those who have ensured that these regulations aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. But I don’t know, I suspect that if I did I would received one of the few fines imposed in the last five years.


18 thoughts on “Forbidden, But Possible


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  2. For those who are here in support of Castro’s dictatorship!

    Can you provide a substantiated argument that justify Castro’s ANTICUBAN policies?

    The violent and brutal policy of intolerance towards those who criticize their ineptitude as a government.

    The RACIST AND SEGREGATIONIST policy of tourist APARTHEID imposed to Cubans, and implemented through a double monetary policy that rejects the Cuban pesos as a form of payments in tourist zones, while demanding a payment in CUC., an artificial currency valued at an unjust exchange rate against the Cuban peso, that does not reflect the acquisition power of the Cuban people and it was created and imposed to disguised this policy of segregation to Cubans.

    The “foreign investment act”, a DISCRIMINATORY policy that promotes the economic growth of foreign investor, while forbidding Cubans the same opportunities of economic development.

  3. Yubano,

    Our “REVOLUTIONARY RAT” friend is back, but this time he had one of those FREE sex change operations that Raul’s daughter Mariela Castro fought so hard for! He is dainty Karina now! Ciao Bella!

  4. Karina

    The slanted crap seems to be coming from you. In what other country in the world is a foriegn citizen held (ransomed) for more than 90 days because of a traffic accident? The laws in the banana republic of cuba are ignored, distorted, suspeneded or enforced in whatever way is financially or politically expedient for the thugs running the show. Canadians and citizens of other countries should look elsewhere when considering their vacation plans. Every foriegner is one “misunderstanding ” away from being extorted or from spending time in one castro’s jail cells …room service not included.


    Do you bother to read even the slanted crap you are reproducing?
    The alleged $30,000 is mostly made up of his CHOSING to stay in a 90CUC/day resort whilst his case was being processed.
    Every major government travel advice e.g. Canada, UK and Australia make it clear that being involved in a traffic collission that results in injuries may mean the driver is confined to Cuba whilst the case is processed.
    Who would allow an inexperienced 19 year old driver to drive in a foreign country anyway? This mother did. And illegally to boot.


    TORONTO SUN:Cody, mom celebrate first day at home-By CHRIS DOUCETTE, Toronto Sun- August 7,

    WALSH — It will likely take Danette LeCompte many years to recover financially from her 19-year-old son’s detention in Cuba, but the elated mom couldn’t care less.

    Cody is home and that’s all that matters right now.

    The Simcoe woman and her son, who was stranded in the Communist country since April because of a traffic accident, arrived at their home just west of Simcoe around 11 p.m. Friday and they were met by about 150 friends and family.

    They stayed awake into the wee hours catching up with everyone and then fell into the deepest sleep they’ve had in several months, feeling as though the weight of the world was finally lifted off their shoulders.

    But now both mother and son must begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

    “This has been a horrible ordeal, but it’s over!” an obviously relieved Danette told the Sun Saturday, smiling from ear to ear.

    The single mother said she slept peacefully for the first time in 3 1/2 months knowing her son was safe at home.

    “I keep looking at Cody and thinking, ‘Are you really home?’” she said. “It just seems like it was all a bad dream.”

    Danette splurged on a two-week vacation for herself and Cody as a way of rewarding him for getting accepted into an aviation program at Sault Ste. Marie College.

    But just three days into their trip tragedy struck.

    The mother and son rented a car at their resort, the Gran Club Santa Lucia, registering Cody as the driver. They had no idea you must be 21 to rent a car in Cuba and the rental agency employee never mentioned the age requirement.

    The age discrepancy is actually a non-issue but some readers have wrongly assumed it is what led to Cody’s troubles.

    The pair were heading to nearby Camaguey for a day of shopping, accompanied by Danette’s cousin and his Cuban fiance, when they were T-boned by a truck.

    The rental car was totalled and all four occupants sent to hospital, including the fiance, who needed surgery to repair her liver but is now fine.

    Soon after, Cody was told he could not leave the country until the investigation into the accident was complete — a process that can take more than a year in Cuba.

    And even though he faced absolutely no charges, the teen’s Cuban lawyer warned him he could be imprisoned for up to three years.

    Danette returned to Canada near the end of May for about a month to get her finances in order as best she could and she alerted her local newspaper, the Simcoe Reformer, of her son’s plight while she was home.

    The distraught mom then returned to be at her son’s side.

    Just over two weeks ago, Cody’s story ran in the Toronto Sun and it soon swept across the country causing outrage among citizens from coast to coast.

    With Canadians vowing never to travel to Cuba and complaining about the apparent lack of action from foreign affairs, the Harper government stepped in and a deal was worked out within days.

    Cody was ultimately allowed to return home after paying 2,000 pesos bail and signing an order stating he would return to the Caribbean island if there is ever a trial.

    “We can get back to our lives now,” Danette said.

    They both plan to take a few days to catch their breath before heading back to work — Danette at the courthouse in Simcoe and Cody at a marina and boating supply store in Port Dover.

    Cody also has to have a doctor check out his hand, which was mangled in the accident.

    “I’m just glad to be home,” Cody said.

    He doesn’t have much time, but he hopes to still be able to go to college this fall if he can get the money together and get his hand fixed in time.

    His college attendance was one of the reasons Cuba was willing to allow him to leave, Danette said, explaining officials in the impoverished consider education a high priority.

    Between lawyer fees, the cost of renting cars to deal with the legal process, and their stay at the resort, among other things, Danette now owes well over $30,000.

    “My credit cards are all pretty much maxed out,” she said. “But it’s only money.”

    Her cellphone bills alone have been run up to about $6,000.

    “I just received my latest monthly bill from Rogers and it’s for $1,900,” Danette said.

    Her phone was her lifeline back to Canada and she used it many times a day just to talk to the media, who were instrumental in helping them.

    “That’s what got us home,” Danette said. “So it was well worth it.” “It’s going to take a long time for me to pay it back, but seeing Cody here says it all,” she added.

    Danette has made it clear that she is not asking for financial support from anyone.

    However, a trust fund has been set up with TD Canada Trust by a concerned citizen.

    And Kevin McCart, who started the Facebook group Bring Cody LeCompte Home, is finalizing the details for a benefit concert that will be held in Hamilton on Sept. 3.

    Check out the Facebook group for details on the concert and the trust fund.

  7. Varadero Beach,

    The facts are that there are no lights, good roads, signals etc. in Cuba, something for the safety of not just the tourists but more important the Cuban People. I think those Canadians that are mad at the kid are really giving the Cuban Goverment another GO FREE CARD! This family should be suing the Cuban goverment instead!

  8. Humberto

    Im Canadian and let me tell you that 1/2 the ppl here are mad @ Cuba but the other half dont care about the case for the simple fact that he did break the law. He is 19 driving in Cuba when the legal age is 21.


    GUELP MERCURY: Cuba’s one-party rule has become out of date-
    By Andrew Hunt-August 07, 2010 –

    The ordeal of 19-year-old Simcoe resident Cody LeCompte, detained in Cuba since April, has put the Caribbean island nation in the spotlight. LeCompte’s crime was accidentally side-swiping a pickup truck with his rental car.
    His experience has been a nightmare for his parents, who have spent tens of thousands of dollars and flown back to Cuba repeatedly.

    LeCompte’s story has also been something of a wake-up jolt for Canadians about the harsh realities of Cuba.

    In previous columns, I’ve criticized Washington for its embargo against Cuba, which is a dinosaur of a bygone era. The misguided policy has only hurt ordinary people and solidified the government’s power. History will judge it as a failed policy.

    If the U.S. government has treated Cuba too harshly since the 1959 revolution, Canada has done the opposite. We’ve given Cuba a free pass too many times. For the most part, Canadians have shrugged off Havana’s terrible treatment of dissidents.

    Our collective indifference is rooted in Canada’s close relationship with Cuba. About a million Canadians travel to the island nation each year, often staying in luxury hotels far from where the suffering is occurring. Cubans rely heavily on Canadian tourist dollars. Canadians who go to Cuba are a vital part of its economy.

    But that should not blind us to Cuba’s long history of human rights abuses.

    We will never know exactly how many prisoners of conscience are still locked up in Cuba’s jails. Fortunately, there have been encouraging developments in recent weeks. In July, Cuba released 52 political prisoners, a move praised by human rights groups and world leaders.

    These prisoners were locked up as part of Cuba’s “Black Spring” of 2003, when the government cracked down on dissidents and arrested 75 of Fidel Castro’s critics.

    Thankfully, Cuban officials are now trying to curtail some of the worst human rights abuses. But the testimonies of the political prisoners freed last month are shocking. They’ve described rat-infested windowless cells, where prisoners ate inedible soup and faced routine abuses at the hands of guards.

    As independent journalist Ricardo González Alfonso put it, “Kafka couldn’t have written it worse.”

    When plastic surgeon José Luis García Paneque was locked up in 2003, he entered his jail cell weighing 190 pounds. Seven years later, leaving Cuba for a safe haven overseas, he had dropped to a skeletal 101 pounds and he received no medical attention in prison. “I was constantly moved from prison to prison and my family couldn’t visit me,” he said.

    To complicate matters, some of Castro’s imprisoned foes have resorted to violence and probably should be in prison. As the Washington Post noted on July 23: “If Cuba releases 52 prisoners of conscience as promised, it will still hold more than 100 people listed as political prisoners by the island’s leading human rights group. But a closer look will find bombers, hijackers and fallen intelligence agents mixed in with those jailed simply for insulting Fidel Castro.”

    With this round of summer prisoner releases, Cuban authorities now claim there are no more prisoners of conscience. Amnesty International says they continue to hold at least one political prisoner, while Human Rights Watch speculates the number might be in the “hundreds.”

    The situation in Cuba has improved over the summer. But the country remains governed by one-party rule, at a time when much of the rest of Latin America has been freed from the tyrannical grip of military dictatorships. And as long as this remains the case, the situation on the island could take a drastic turn for the worse at any time.

    Andrew Hunt is an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo.

  10. BLOOMBERG: Obama Said to Consider Easing Educational Travel to Cuba
    By Jens Erik Gould and Nicole Gaouette – Aug 6, 2010

    President Barack Obama may ease travel restrictions on Cuba, allowing more Americans to visit the island on educational and cultural trips, said a U.S. official who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.
    Obama first loosened travel rules on Cuba last year, making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to relatives on the Caribbean island in a bid to help “promote the freer flow of information,” according to a White House statement. The official didn’t give additional details on what the changes would be.

    Current rules allow Americans to travel to Cuba on educational and cultural trips if they are students or employees at qualifying universities and meet a set of additional requirements, such as doing research toward a graduate degree. All Cuba travel must be approved by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    Asked if the administration is considering easing the travel rules, Michael Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in an e-mail: “We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their country’s future.”

    A move to allow increased educational travel may encourage lawmakers to repeal a wider ban forbidding American travel to Cuba if Obama signals his support for the measure, said Ted Piccone, a Latin American specialist at the Brookings Institute, a policy research organization in Washington. Co-sponsors of bills in both houses of Congress to end the 47-year ban say legislation may pass this year.

    White House Support

    “The Democrats need cover from the White House,” said Piccone. “If they can’t do it now they’re never going to do it.”

    If Obama remains silent on whether he would welcome such legislation, lawmakers may not be willing to take the political risk to pass a bill repealing the travel ban, Piccone said.

    Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said in a March 25 interview that 1 million U.S. tourists may visit the island annually if the ban on travel is ended.

    Travel and trade restrictions on Cuba have been adjusted by nearly every U.S. administration since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower established trade limits in 1960, following Fidel Castro’s revolution against the U.S.-backed Batista regime. Former President George W. Bush banned some educational exchanges not directly related to academic coursework in 2003, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

    Fidel Castro, 83, handed formal power to his brother Raul, 79, in 2008.

    Pending Legislation

    Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said in July that a bill he is co-sponsoring with Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi to repeal the travel ban may move to the Senate floor by next month. The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill in June that would end the travel ban and simplify rules governing cash transactions with Cuba.

    The U.S. exported $532 million worth of goods to Cuba last year, most of it wheat, corn, meat and other farm goods. That total could be higher if rules governing cash payments were made simpler, U.S. farm groups say.

    Groups such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based organization of companies and trade associations, have called for a repeal of the ban, which is designed to isolate the Castro regime and keep hard currency out of the country.

    Dorgan and Enzi’s bill on the travel ban is S. 428.

    To contact the reporters on this story: Jens Erik Gould in Mexico City at; Nicole Gaouette in Washington at

  11. I guess when “laws” are passed for appearances sake or for political posturing but lacking the “spirit’ of it these laws seem more often than not … useless.
    ack to the old saying a law without spirit has no worth, the leeret of that lwa is just that … letters.
    Like many things after over 50 years of “law” … starting w/a coup by force of arms till today’s dictatorship the “law” any law can be a laugh … if it wasn’t so sad … when it is dictated …


    TORONTO SUN: Careful betting on love in Cuba-By JOE WARMINGTON,

    Nicola Mastrangelo knows what its like to gamble in Cuba and lose.
    He bet on love, a game on the communist island where the house often wins.

    In his case, after betting the farm, he actually lost a house he built for his Queen of Hearts.

    Fidel Castro may have banned Batista’s casinos in 1960 but there is still high risk gambling going on, especially if you decide to put money on any Cuban deal.

    The deck is stacked.

    Cody LeCompte’s family found out the pitfalls of this in renting a car.

    They are $30,000 in debt after officials forced the teen to stay in Cuba while they — nudge, nudge, wink, wink — investigated.

    Unless there is one more Cuban card trick up their sleeve, his nightmare should come to an end tonight as he is set to fly home Friday.

    However Mastrangelo’s nightmare continues.

    “I feel for the kid because I know how it is to get a bad deal in Cuba,” says Mastrangelo, a well known, well-liked, happy-go-lucky Woodbridge coffee truck operator. “They say with that car accident, they were investigating a crime. I wish sometimes they would investigate some of their own people.”

    So far, his wager cost him $40,000 in life savings on a relationship with a now 38-year-old woman named Dagnery Tita Abreu. In Cuba, that could end up as a sucker’s bet.

    “I really fell for her,” he says of a woman he met in the village of Santa Marta, near Veradero, in 2001 and married in 2004. “I wanted her to feel like a queen.”

    He worked hard at that.

    First there was a $6,000 beach wedding, then the purchase of land, the hiring of tradesmen, the hunt for building materials and eventually a state-of-the-art house with a custom kitchen and bathroom.

    The problem is you can’t officially own property in Cuba.

    And you certainly can’t put your name on it if you are not from there.

    But in Cuba anything can be done for a price — the old Havana Hustle.

    In this case, it was the Santa Marta Shuffle.

    “I was given building permits and I was told since she was my wife, it was my house,” says Mastrangelo, who was admittedly naive.

    Divorced 25 years, lonely and enjoying the company of an attractive woman 25 years his junior, he fell into the tropical trap so many others have, hook line and sinker.

    Mastrangelo is a gullible but lovable type, the kind of guy who will do anything for you.

    He did lots for the love of his life.

    He built the house, moved her in and started making plans for her come here.

    Missing her in 2007, Mastrangelo jumped on a plane to surprise her.

    In Cuba, a surprise can often lead to exactly that.

    “I caught her with a Cuban guy,” he says. “I understand I should have known better but I really trusted her.”

    To add insult to injury, the guy was living with Mastrangelo’s wife in the house he built.

    She is certainly able to tell her side of the story if she chooses but Mastrangelo doesn’t hate her as much as he feels violated. “I am over it now but I took it pretty hard at the time,” he says.

    Duped and full of understandable Veradero Vengeance, he set out to change the game and win some of his losses back.

    But the game was rigged.

    He hired local lawyers, sought help from the Canadian consulate and Cuban government authorities. He wanted her out of his house.

    “Sorry, no can do,” was always the answer.

    The house is in her name and she still lives there.

    He divorced her in 2008 and tried to get some of the money out of his house with no luck.

    “I have been offered $300 for the house,” laughs Mastrangelo. “In the end it’s my own fault and a lesson was learned.”

    His buddies tease him.

    “I was thinking with my heart,” he says.

    For Mastrangelo, the issue now is trying to prevent it from happening to someone else.

    Keep your eyes wide open, he says.

    There are many good Cuban people and many solid marriages, but there are many trap doors, too.

    Heck, the Latin-love-two-step is practically an industry down there. They look not only for the naive but the kind.

    And it’s not just men. Women have been duped by Cuban men too and same goes for same-sex relationship-frauds.

    Truth is if you go even the slightest bit off track in Cuba, you could find yourself in a real jackpot.

    As Mastrangelo and Cody experienced, when you’re playing the Cuban shell game, it’s a real risky roll of the dice.

  13. WASHINGTON POST:Fidel Castro, present and past- By Yoani Sánchez-Thursday, August 5, 2010

    HAVANA Fidel Castro’s return to public life after a four-year absence provokes conflicting emotions here. His reappearance surprised a people awaiting, with growing despair, the reforms announced by his brother Raúl. While some weave fantasies around his return, others are anxious about what will happen next.

    The return of a famous figure is a familiar theme in life as in fiction — think Don Quixote, Casanova or Juan Domingo Perón. But another familiar theme is disappointment — of those who find that the person who returns is no longer the person who left, or at least not as we remember him. There is often a sense of despair surrounding those who insist on coming back. Fidel Castro is no exception to this flaw inherent in remakes.

    The man who appeared on the anniversary of “Revolution Day” last week bore no resemblance to the sturdy soldier who handed over his office to his brother in July 2006. The stuttering old man with quivering hands was a shadow of the Greek-profiled military leader who, while a million voices chanted his name in the plaza, pardoned lives, announced executions, proclaimed laws that no one had been consulted on and declared the right of revolutionaries to make revolution. Although he has once again donned his olive-green military shirt, little is left of the man who used to dominate television programming for endless hours, keeping people in suspense from the other side of the screen.

    The great orator of times long past now meets with an audience of young people in a tiny theater and reads them a summary of his latest reflections, already published in the press. Instead of arousing the fear that makes even the bravest tremble, he calls forth, at best, a tender compassion. After a young reporter calmly asked a question, she followed up with her greatest wish: “May I give you a kiss?” Where is the abyss that for so many years not even the most courageous dared to jump?

    A significant sign that Fidel Castro’s return to the microphones has not being going over well is that even his brother refused to echo, in his most recent speech to parliament, the former leader’s gloomy prognostication of a nuclear armageddon that will start when the United States launches a military attack against North Korea or Iran. Many analysts have pointed out that the man who was known as the Maximum Leader is hardly qualified to assess the innumerable problems in his own country, yet he turns his gaze to the mote in another’s eye. This pattern is familiar, with his discussions of the world’s environmental problems, the exhaustion of capitalism as a system and, most recently, predictions of nuclear war. Others see a veiled discontent in his apparent indifference toward events in Cuba. Yet this thinking forgets the maxim: Even if he doesn’t censure, if Caesar does not applaud, things go badly. It is unthinkable that Fidel Castro is unaware of the appetite for change that is devouring the Cuban political class; it would be naive to believe that he approves.

    For years, so many lives and livelihoods have hung on the gestures of his hands, the way he raises his eyebrows or the twitch of his ears. Fidel watchers now see him as unpredictable, and many fear that the worst may happen if it occurs to him to rail against the reformers in front of the television cameras.

    Perhaps this is why the impatient breed of new wolves do not want to stoke the anger of the old commander, who is about to turn 84. Some who intended to introduce more radical changes are now crouching in their spheres of power, waiting for his next relapse.

    Meanwhile, those who are worried about the survival of “the process” are alarmed by the danger his obvious decline poses to the myth of the Cuban revolution personified, for 50 years, in this one man. Why doesn’t he stay quietly at home and let us work, some think, though they dare not even whisper it.

    We had already started to remember him as something from the past, which was a noble way to forget him. Many were disposed to forgive his mistakes and failures. They had put him on some gray pedestal of the history of the 20th century, capturing his face at its best moment, along with the illustrious dead. But his sudden reappearance upended those efforts. He has come forward again to shamelessly display his infirmities and announce the end of the world, as if to convince us that life after him would be lacking in purpose.

    In recent weeks, he who was once called The One, the Horse or simply He, has been presented to us stripped of his captivating charisma. Although he is once again in the news, it has been confirmed: Fidel Castro, fortunately, will never return.

    Yoani Sánchez is a writer in Cuba. Her awards include the 2009 Maria Moors Cabot Prize. She blogs at This column was translated from Spanish by M.J. Porter.


    ASSOCIATED PRESS: Freed Cuban political prisoner arrives in Chile-
    By CARLA CANDIA – 8/4/2010

    SANTIAGO, Chile — A Cuban dissident released from prison by Raul Castro’s government arrived Wednesday in the Chilean capital, where he and his family have been given political refugee status, a house and jobs.
    Holding flags of both nations, Jose Ubaldo Izquierdo thanked Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and other officials for receiving him in a country that “has set an example in human rights, freedom and democracy in the last 20 years.”

    “I feel a rare mix of joy and sorrow,” Izquierdo told reporters at Santiago’s international airport, accompanied by his wife, two children, a nephew and his in-laws.

    “Joy from being in such a great nation … and sorrow for the extraordinary family I left behind in Cuba,” he said, referring to nine other relatives still on the island.

    Izquierdo is one of the so-called Group of 75 political prisoners arrested and imprisoned in 2003 during a crackdown on dissidents. Twenty-three had been freed previously, and under a deal brokered last month by local Roman Catholic Church leaders, the government agreed to release the rest. So far 20 have been sent with their families to Spain, with subsequent releases expected to take months.

    In Cuba, Izquierdo was an “independent journalist,” one of a small group of opposition activists who report on the island for media overseas in defiance of the government’s monopoly over the domestic press. He had been sentenced to 16 years in prison for violating an article of the penal code that calls for 10- to 20-year sentences for those “who, in the interest of a foreign state, commit an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state.”

    Cuban authorities tolerate no organized opposition and routinely dismiss all dissidents as paid “mercenaries” of the United States.

    Upon release, Izquierdo traveled first to Madrid before moving on to what will be a more permanent residence in a five-bedroom house in Santiago — a far cry from the windowless, cockroach- and rat-infested cell where he said he spent the last years.

    He will receive a $700 monthly stipend from the Chilean government for several months and be given an unspecified job at a neighborhood city hall.

    Izquierdo accused Cuba’s communist government of being a repressive, “Stalinist dictatorship that survives thanks to the support of populist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.”

    Pinera — a conservative who took office this year, ending 20 years of leftist governments following Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship — has been critical of the government in Havana and said he is willing to give refuge to multiple Cuban dissidents.

    Chilean Sen. Patricio Walker said officials have been talking to other ex-prisoners who want to come to Chile, but nothing has been decided yet.


    BLOOMBERG: Fidel Castro’s Return to Public Life Could Signal Slower Changes in Cuba-Jens Erik Gould – Aug 4, 2010

    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s request for an extraordinary session of parliament to discuss foreign affairs was granted today, signaling the retired leader of the 1959 revolution may be taking a greater role in government and recent efforts to open up the economy.

    The National Assembly will meet Aug. 7 to “analyze various issues of interest in the internationa-l situation,” state-owned newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported today. Castro, dressed in a military-style green shirt, said during an appearance at a July 27 celebration of Cuba’s Revolution Day that he would request such a session.

    Castro, 83, returned to the public eye last month, giving his first television interview in at least three years on July 13 and releasing an autobiography this week about the years leading up to the revolution. Fidel began transferring control to his brother Raul in July 2006, when he underwent intestinal surgery, and officially stepped down as president in 2008.

    Fidel’s reemergence suggests he has a hand in recent economic changes announced by his brother and may be ensuring government controls aren’t loosened too much in one of the world’s few remaining communist countries, said Eusebio Mujal- Leon, a professor of Cuban studies at Georgetown University.

    “Fidel is to his core opposed to anything that smacks of capitalism,” Mujal-Leon said. “His return makes deeper and faster economic reforms more improbable.”

  16. MIAMI HERALD:USAID is seeking proposals for a new aid program to Cuba that would promote grass-roots economic development.-BY JUAN O. TAMAYO-Wednesday, 08.04.10

    A new U.S. aid program is offering $3 million to promote grass-roots economic development in Cuba — an apparent attempt at a more indirect approach to encouraging change on the island.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development said in a document that the program is aimed at “marginalized groups,” such as those living in rural areas, ethnic and religious minorities, orphans and vulnerable children, rural women and people with disabilities.

    In another document, USAID added that the program also could benefit groups of private farmers and privately run bed-and-breakfasts, as well as the barbershops, beauty salons and taxi businesses recently handed over to some of their employees by the government.

    The new program coincides with efforts by the Raúl Castro government to expand private economic activity in order to increase productivity, trim the overloaded state payroll and ease Cuba’s economic crisis.

    USAID in the past has funded a few small and very low-profile efforts to foster economic development on the island, veterans of the agency’s pro-democracy efforts in Cuba said.

    It’s not clear how the new program compares with the previous ones, but a USAID statement e-mailed to El Nuevo Herald said it “is limited to groups that are particularly marginalized and will help empower them to participate in civil society.”

    Cuba has sometimes regarded USAID programs on the island as “subversive” and jailed dissidents who received some of the U.S. aid as Washington “mercenaries.”


    A USAID letter describing the new program said it is designed to aid “self-employment and entrepreneurial activities” and explore the possibility of establishing small-scale lending arrangements known as microfinancing. Cubans who benefit from the program could later pool their savings under the microfinancing agreement, and USAID grantees could match those funds, according to the letter.

    Jose Cardenas, who headed USAID’s Cuba programs during the later years of the George W. Bush administration, said the programs he managed were designed to be “catalytic — to stoke or accelerate positive change.” He described the Obama administration approach as “laying the groundwork for more gradual, evolutionary change.”

    The USAID letter included a caution: “Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of the USAID Program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID grant funding.”


    Alan P. Gross, an agency subcontractor who delivered satellite communications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community, has been jailed without charges in Havana since Dec. 3.

    USAID’s official description of the program was contained in a letter known as Request for Applications, seeking proposals by private firms or non-government groups that want to run the $3 million, 36-month program. The RFA was dated June 18 and set a July 19 deadline for applications. There was no indication when USAID would make its selection.

    In a speech Sunday to Cuba’s legislature, Castro announced the government would soon allow an expansion of self-employment in jobs such as plumbers and wedding photographers and ease restrictions that limit employees of those businesses to family members.

    The government also has approved a step-by-step process for cutting down state payrolls, he announced. He had previously estimated the number of state workers in unnecessary jobs at more than one million.

    Castro’s government also has loaned 2.5 million acres of fallow state lands to private farmers, in hopes of trimming food imports that now account for 60 to 80 per cent of the island’s consumption.


    The state media in Cuba has published several stories on the need to provide production credits to the new farmers.

    The $3 million is part of $15 million for USAID’s so-called Cuba Democracy programs that became available in June, after Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., lifted the “hold” he had put on the money until he obtained more information on how it was to be spent.

    Kerry has argued that while he favors U.S. aid to civil society groups in Cuba, some of the more aggressive parts of past USAID programs were inefficient and sometimes even counter-productive.

    Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute in suburban Washington, said he welcomed the program’s goal of promoting small-scale economic development.

    Its aim differs from the George W. Bush administration’s “assumption that it’s in the U.S. interest to hold down the Cuban economy,” said Peters, who first published the RFA on his blog, The Cuba Triangle.

  17. I totaly understand what you are saying. I smoke cigars (puros) but non-smokers have the right not to be exposed to smoke against their will. I find it ironic though, that a state like Cuba, which the gov pays for all health care for its citizens refuses to stop second-hand smoke, or does nothing to crack down on public smoking. The high-cost alone might motivate them, but it does not. Strange and ironic.

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