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Cuba Maintains Silence About North Korean Ship / Ivan Garcia

August 7, 2013 Leave a comment

cuba-barco-norcoreanoIf, from the island, a person wants to read about the rusty North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang, where the Cuban regime was caught with obsolete Russian weaponry, they must pay 4.50 CUC an hour — ten days of a worker’s wages — in one of the 118 Internet rooms opened on June 4.

They can also learn through a shortwave radio. But the daily worry about getting food and the indifference of many people to the comments from politicians, results in a soft landing for the-olive green autocrats.

The control is simple. It’s enough to silence the official media with regards to the news of the soap opera that occurred in the Panama Canal.

After Tuesday July 16, the Foreign Ministry issued a terse note, published in the State media, information about the cache of weapons on a North Korean ship, hidden behind a mountain of raw sugar, has been made invisible.

Cuban officials did not hold a press conference, explaining the reasons for the government to violate the arms embargo established by the UN on the impoverished Kim dynasty.

On July 26, contrary to what some Cubanologists expected, Raul Castro did not address the issue in his speech to mark the 60th anniversary of the assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

The internal information policy, for now, is to bear up under international criticism without replying. Even the multinational television broadcaster, Telesur, created with Venezuelan capital generously donated by the late Hugo Chavez, has given little impact to the event.

The news in Cuba must be learned by reading between the lines. Expecting on August 5th that the UN will impose a penalty on the island, the ideological Taliban who control the media, preferred to highlight the military parade held in Pyongyang July 27, celebrating 60 years of the Panmunjom armistice. Among the delegations invited to the celebrations for the ’end of the Korean War’ (1950-1953) was one from the Cuban government, led by José Ramón Balaguer, the ousted Minister of Public Health and the current head of the department of foreign relations for the Communist Party Central Committee.

It is a coded message intended for world public opinion. The regime in Havana doesn’t regret smuggling weapons into the rogue state of North Korea. Two weeks before the incident, a North Korean military delegation, headed by General Kyok Sik Kim was on the island and was received by Raul Castro. “I visit to Cuba to meet with colleagues in the same trench, which our Cuban comrades are,” said Kyok.

Democratic nations should take note. The tepid and insufficient Cuban economic reforms apply only to maintain the status quo.

It’s purely cosmetic. Political oxygen facing the international gallery. A strategy to attract investment and capital from foreigners or moderate Cuban residents in Florida.

A lifesaver to perpetuate the regime. The changes are not driven by an urgent need to push for democracy. No. They are a mechanism to buy time, recapitalize and strengthen state finances and reinforce the regime’s institutions.

The Castro philosophy remains. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Therefore, news of North Korean ship and its weapons will never occupy the island headlines.

While the Castro brothers hold power, Cuba can change some things, but its anti-imperialist essence remains: America is the enemy.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Search of one of the containers with weapons from Cuba, hidden under thousands of sacks of raw sugar on the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang, detained in the Panama Canal since July 10. Taken from EuropaPress.

6 August 2013

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Cuba: Eases Travel to the United States / Ivan Garcia

August 7, 2013 Leave a comment

parquecito-la-habana-cubaTwo days before multiple entry visas good for five years, for Cubans with relatives in the United States, I walked around the outside of the U.S. Interest Section in Cuba (USIS), a few feet from the Havana Malecon.

In the small triangular park located in front of the Rivero Funeral Home, at Calzada and K, where hundreds of people with appointments gather from Monday to Friday, the news spread like wildfire, despite not yet been released by the official media. People had heard through Radio Martí or emails and calls from family and friends across the pond.

As of August 1, Washington decided to extend from six months to five years the period of non-immigrant visas granted to residents on the island to visit the country as tourists. Until now, they had to apply for a permit for each trip and the process could take up to two years.

“With this visa, Cubans who qualify to be granted one would not have to renew and pay $165 each year, as was previously the case for a visa to the United States,” an official located in Florida who requested anonymity said by telephone.

With the new visa, Cubans could travel from the U.S. to a third country. The measure does not include business travel, cultural exchanges or other from Cuba to the United States.

For years, the little park at Calzada and K, has become a gauge of the opinions of many Cubans about the push and pull between the governments of Cuba and the United States.

Not only because every day there are hundreds, and because they come from all provinces. The number of those waiting to be approved for emigration to the United States, under the heading of family reunification, in force since 1994, is significant.

The place also is filled with citizens seeking temporary visas, with the intention of visiting relatives or wanting to settle in the northern nation as political refugees.

The daily grind has transformed the blocks surrounding the Interests Section into an emerging local industry for many residents, who have opened fast food cafes. Eating a lunch of rice and pork I met Eugenio, 43, and asked his opinion on the new measure.

“For two months I have been arranging to visit my daughter and my mother, who have lived in Hialeah for 15 years. It’s the first time I’ve tried. They say that for those who want to visit for three months and are under 45,  the Consulate automatically denies the visa. Apparently, it is for fear they will seek asylum on American soil. Young people are often not granted a visa. In the morning my mother called from Miami, she had read the story in the Journal de Las Americas. I’ll wait a few days and see if I can opt for a multiple entry visa.”

Among those waiting to be interviewed, are also those who say that the USIS officials are too demanding when granting visas to Cubans who are going to visit.

Jorge, 38, has another argument. “It’s because of the Cuban Adjustment Act. I’m crazy for them to repeal it. For three years I have been trying to visit my family in Tampa and have been rejected twice for potentially being a migrant, although I am married and I have two children. But when they look at my age, they are deaf to my reasoning.”

According to Jorge, among USIS officials there is an unwritten rule: to catalog all those who are younger than 50 as prospective emigrants. “I just want to see my family and return. I understand them, but repealing the Adjustment Act would make it easier. I hope this new measure makes the requirements easier for people who request temporary visas regardless of age.”

But also in line are citizens who travel unhindered repeatedly to see their children and grandchildren in Miami. “I guess it’s because of my age. I am 74 and the first time I traveled I had turned 50. The Americans know that I live in one of the best buildings in Havana and it would be crazy not to return,” he smiles.

Coinciding with this relaxation of U.S. immigration authorities, the National Bureau of Statistics and Information has reported that 46,662 people have permanently left the island (in the last year), the highest number since 1994, when due to the so-called “boat people crisis,” 47,000 Cubans took to the sea.

Meanwhile, according to data provided by the USIS, in the first half of 2013 they granted 16,767 temporary visas, versus 9,369 granted in 2012. The 79% increase is directly related to the entry into force on 14 January, a new Cuban migration law.

Although you have to give it time to see the results, respondents applaud the new measure. “Anything that is done to lower costs and facilitate family reunion is positive,” says Clara, a woman in her 60s queuing for free internet browsing on one of the two rooms fitted by the USIS that accommodates anyone requesting access.

In the August 2 online edition of the newspaper Granma, in an article titled New Tools, two specialists appeared, giving their points of view. “It’s a pragmatic decision that lightens the work of the Consular Office of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana”, said the researcher and former diplomat Carlos Alzugaray. For political analyst Ramon Sanchez-Parodi, “It does not change one iota the hostile policy toward Cuba, which remains the same. This measure does not cover ’people-to-people exchanges’ at all, nor does it address prohibitions on Americans traveling to Cuba. However, it can’t be described as a measure openly hostile; it’s convenient, practically and politically for the U.S. government.”

In the squabble that the olive-green autocracy has maintained for five years with eleven leaders in the White House, common sense has been a rare bird. And the openings and relaxations of both sides have been scrutinized with suspicion. Now, it couldn’t be any different.

In the scuffle that for five decades has remained olive-green autocracy with eleven leaders of the
Ivan Garcia

Photo: Miguel Iturria Savon. The little park Calzada and K and in the background the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba. Taken from Cubanet

Iván García

5 August 2013