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Posts tagged ‘Christila Island of Cuba’

Cuban evangelicals push back against gay marriage

February 01, 2019

HAVANA (AP) — A Cuban government push to legalize gay marriage has set off an unprecedented reaction from the island’s rapidly growing evangelical churches, whose members are expected to widely reject a state-proposed constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum this month.

The reform is almost certain to pass by a broad margin of Cuba’s 7 million voters – language opening the door to gay marriage is only one element of the reform – but the evangelical vote could shave hundreds of thousands of votes from its victory.

With many pastors promoting “no” votes from the pulpit, the swelling evangelical rejection of the constitution is a novel development for a state that prides itself on projecting an image of ideological unanimity. Cuban government-endorsed candidates and proposals typically receive ‘yes’ votes well above 90 percent.

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Cuban assembly approves draft of new constitution

December 23, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s National Assembly on Saturday approved an update of the country’s constitution, the final step before a national referendum expected to approve the new charter in February. The new constitution contains more continuity than change, although it recognizes the de-facto modernization of Cuban society over the last decade. The constitution maintains Cuba as a centrally planned economy ruled by a single Communist Party, but recognizes private property for the first time and paves the way for a separate referendum on legalizing gay marriage.

It also creates the role of prime minister alongside the current president, as well as provincial governors. Legalizing private property is a formal recognition of significant change in Cuban society since former President Raul Castro permitted home and auto sales, creating a booming real-estate market, and allowed more than half a million Cubans have permits to work as entrepreneurs. Hundreds of thousands more work full or part-time in the private sector without licenses.

The new constitution also recognizes worker-owned cooperatives for the first time as a legal form of production in every sector of the economy, while maintaining Cuba’s largely inefficient and stagnant state-run industries as the central means of production.

Closing the National Assembly, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the island’s economic challenges — including a weak 1.2 percent 2018 growth rate, and similar growth expected next year — required the acceptance of private business, joint public-private ventures and coops working together. He promised to fight widespread public-sector embezzlement and corruption that makes it virtually impossible to get anything done in Cuba without a series of small bribes.

“We’ve called a battle, and we’ll wage it, an ethical battle against corruption, illegality … and social indiscipline,” he said. The president also promised a more responsive government, part of an initiative that has seen almost all Cuba’s head of ministries start social-media accounts for the first time, some of which take questions from citizens.

“There are a lot of questions to pay attention and respond to,” Diaz-Canel said. “We’ll give responses to all of them as soon as it’s possible, and those that we don’t’ have an answer to for the moment, we’ll never stop searching.”

He did not mention Cuba’s unique two-currency system, which creates inefficiencies and distortions that are seen as one of the island’s most serious economic problems. Castro called monetary unification an urgent priority before stepping down in April, but the issue has barely been mentioned since Diaz-Canel took over.

The degree to which the new constitution will actually spur change is expected to be seen only after the National Assembly approves a raft of changes to the civil and penal codes and electoral laws next year.

Language seen as the immediate precursor to the legalization of gay marriage was eliminated after widespread public objection and protests by evangelical churches. Cuban officials say the question of gay marriage will be put to a nationwide referendum, something most gay activists oppose.

The constitution was drafted by a committee led by Castro, who is still Communist Party head. It was then subjected to months of public comment in workplaces and neighborhoods across the island. Some suggested changes were approved, others rejected.

As in virtually every vote in recent memory, the National Assembly unanimously approved the draft constitution.

Cuba’s Diaz-Canel receives Maduro in first act as president

April 21, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro Saturday in his first official act as the country’s leader. Maduro is the first president to visit Diaz-Canel since he was selected by outgoing President Raul Castro to lead the island’s government earlier this week.

The Associated Press was told that Castro did not attend the welcome ceremony for the Venezuelan president at the Palace of the Revolution. But in a marked change from the past, Cuban first lady Lis Cuesta was in attendance along with Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores.

Cuba had no first lady during the nearly six decades that the Castro family was in power. Castro was a widower when he took office 12 years ago and his older brother Fidel carefully guarded his private life.

The Cuban government selected 58-year-old Diaz-Canel as the sole candidate to succeed Castro on Wednesday in a transition aimed at ensuring the continuity of the country’s single-party system. The 86-year-old Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, but it is not clear how much power he will wield.

The meeting between Maduro and Diaz-Canel affirms the strong alliance between Venezuela and Cuba, which in essence receives oil for Cuban doctors and technicians who work in public health in the South American country.

But former President Castro has acknowledged that the political and economic crisis in Venezuela is having a negative spillover effect on the island’s economy, and Cuba has sought to strengthen its alliance with China and Russia.

Official media have reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin called Castro and Diaz-Canel to affirm their shared interests, but did not offer further details. On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to greet Diaz-Canel in Cuba.

First clues emerge about Cuba’s future under new president

April 20, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Miguel Diaz-Canel has been the presumptive next president of Cuba since 2013, when Raul Castro named the laconic former provincial official to the important post of first vice president and lauded him as “neither a novice nor an improviser,” high praise in a system dedicated to continuity over all.

Castro said nothing about how a young civilian from outside his family could lead the socialist nation that he and his older brother Fidel created from scratch and ruled with total control for nearly 60 years.

Exiles in Miami said Diaz-Canel would be a figurehead for continued Castro dominance. Cubans on the island speculated about a weak president sharing power with the head of the communist party, or maybe a newly created post of prime minister. No one who knew was talking. And no one who was talking knew.

The first clues to the mystery of Cuba’s future power structure were revealed early Thursday when Raul Castro handed the presidency to Diaz-Canel, who took office when the 604-member National Assembly said 603 of its members had approved the 57-year-old as the sole official candidate for the top government position.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded Cuba’s communist system along with his brother. Diaz-Canel said he would retain Castro’s Cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Perhaps more importantly, Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear plan for a president whom Castro seemed to envision as the heir to near-total control of the country’s political system, which in turn dominates virtually every aspect of life in Cuba. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, also for two five-year terms, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

State media struck a similar valedictory tone. The evening newscast played black-and-white footage of Castro as a young revolutionary, with the soundtrack of “The Last Mambi” a song that bids farewell to Castro as a public figure and was written by Raul Torres, a singer who composed a similar homage to Fidel Castro after the revolutionary leader’s death in 2016.

The plan laid out by Raul Castro on Thursday would leave Diaz-Canel as the dominant figure in Cuban politics until 2031. “The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Diaz-Canel pledged that his priority would be preserving Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people. “There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said.

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and Communist Party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel. “It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.” At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!” Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent.

International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

Raul Castro retires as Cuban president, outlines future

April 20, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island.

Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear vision for the nation’s future power structure under new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

In his own half-hour speech to the nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people. “There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said. “For us, it’s totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of the nation of Cuba.”

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel. “It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.” Most Cubans have known their new president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro’s declaration Thursday that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside the Cuban system.

“The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Cuban state media said Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country’s friendship with Cuba and expressed interest in deeper ties.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition” that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!” Diaz-Canel said his government would be willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes in the Cuban system.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he would retain Castro’s cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

As in Cuba’s legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.

The assembly also approved another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

EU, Cuba sign cooperation pact, vow Trump will not hurt ties

December 12, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union and Cuba signed a first-ever agreement on closer ties on Monday, and vowed that the arrival in office of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump would not impact on their future relations.

“This is a historic day, we’ve turned a page. Today we’re starting to write together a new chapter,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as the 28-nation EU’s top diplomats and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed the pact in Brussels.

The accord, aimed at supporting economic development and promoting democracy and human rights on the island, will form the legal platform for future ties between Brussels and Havana. The EU’s official stance toward Cuba dates from 1996.

Rodriguez said the priority would be to develop the Cuban economy, but he noted “one major obstacle to trade relations between the EU and Cuba” — the U.S. economic and financial blockade. “We’ll have to see how things develop. But we very much hope that relations between the European Union and Cuba will continue to grow and enrich both sides,” he said, adding that ties “between the EU and Cuba do not go by Washington.”

Mogherini said the agreement is the result of a long process and that Trump’s inauguration in January “will not affect in any way relations between the European Union and Cuba.” She also underlined that “the European Union has raised concerns about the extraterritorial effect of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. We will continue to do so because we believe that this is not only in the interest of the island and its people — all of them — but most of all in our case, it’s in the interest of Europeans to tackle this issue.”

Cuba puts the total cost of the 55-year-old embargo at $125.9 billion, including $4.6 billion last year. The new pact must now be ratified by national and regional parliaments in all EU member states before it can enter completely into force, although the bloc has decided to provisionally apply parts of it immediately.

Fidel Castro laid to rest in private ceremony in east Cuba

December 05, 2016

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) — A wooden box containing Fidel Castro’s ashes was placed by his brother and successor on Sunday into the side of a granite boulder that has become Cuba’s only official monument to the charismatic bearded rebel who seized control of a U.S.-allied Caribbean island and transformed it into a western outpost of Soviet-style communism that he ruled with absolute power for nearly a half century.

The private, early-morning ceremony was attended by members of Fidel Castro’s family, the ruling Politburo of the single-party system he founded, and Latin American leaders who installed closely allied leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Brazil.

After nine days of fervent national mourning and wall-to-wall homages to Castro on state-run media, the government barred independent coverage of the funeral, releasing a handful of photos and brief descriptions of the ceremony later in the day.

The ceremony began at 6:39 a.m. when the military caravan bearing Castro’s remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago. Thousands of people lined the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery, waving Cuban flags and shouting “Long live Fidel!”

The ashes were delivered to Castro’s younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro, who wore his olive general’s uniform as he placed the remains into a niche in the enormous grey boulder that will serve as his tomb. The niche was sealed with a green marble plaque emblazed with the name “Fidel” in gold letters.

The tomb stands to the side of a memorial to the rebel soldiers killed in an attack that Castro led on Santiago’s Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953, and in front of the mausoleum of Cuban national hero Jose Marti.

As the funeral ended, martial music could be heard outside the cemetery, where Ines de la Rosa was among the mourners gathered. She said she would have liked to watch the interment on television, but “we understand how they as a family also need a bit of privacy.”

The decision to keep the final farewell private came the morning after Raul Castro announced that Cuba would prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after his brother, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon, in keeping with his desire to avoid a cult of personality.

“The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult of personality and was consistent in that through the last hours of his life, insisting that, once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected,” Raul Castro told a massive crowd gathered in the eastern city of Santiago.

He said that Cuba’s National Assembly would vote in its next session on the law fulfilling the wishes of his brother, who died last week at 90. The legislature generally holds a meeting in December and under Cuba’s single-party system, parliament unanimously or near-unanimously approves every government proposal.

Fidel Castro, who stepped down in 2006 after falling ill, kept his name off public sites during his near half-century in power because he said he wanted to avoid the development of a personality cult. In contrast, the images of his fellow revolutionary fighters Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto “Che” Guevara became common across Cuba in the decades since their deaths.

Mourning for Castro has been fervent and intense across the country since his death, particularly in rural eastern Cuba, where huge crowds have been shouting Castro’s name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes.

“All of us would like to put Fidel’s name on everything but in the end, Fidel is all of Cuba,” said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a 70-year-old retired economist. “It was a decision of Fidel’s, not Raul’s, and I think he has to be respected.”

Castro’s reign over the island nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Castro, who outlasted a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after a life-threatening illness led him to turn over power to his brother.

Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades his defiance of the U.S. and dedication to social equality, free health care and universal education was a source of inspiration and support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa, even as Cubans who fled to exile loathed him with equal measure.

Michael Weissenstein reported from Havana. Fabiola Sanchez contributed from Havana.

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