Cuba Notes for August 2009
By Tom Whitney
Cuba exports oil, with Venezuelan help
Reporting recently on 2008 export revenues, the Foreign Trade Ministry indicated that oil exports had moved into second place, replacing pharmaceuticals. Nickel accounted for 39 percent of the $4 billion export total; oil, 22 percent; pharmaceuticals, 9 percent; sugar and tobacco products, 6 percent each. Also in 2008, oil imports from Venezuela exceeded the previous year’s total, rising from 87,000 to 115 barrels per day, including 45,000 bpd and 98,000 bpd respectively as crude oil. Observers say additional crude from Venezuela was processed at a refinery in Cienfuegos inaugurated in 2007 and operated as a bi-national joint venture. Reuters explained that sales throughout the Caribbean of oil refined there – on favorable terms - have served to expand oil exports.
Blockade restricts Internet availability
Last month Microsoft denied Cubans access to its Windows Live Messenger service. Google followed suit in early June, restricting use of its new Google Wave in Cuba. “You are accessing this page from a forbidden country,” the Google message reads. ” Google Earth, Google Desktop Search, Google Code, and Google Toolbar have intermittently been unavailable in Cuba. In February Reuters reported that to bypass Microsoft collaboration with the U.S. blockade and its use of codes available to U.S. intelligence, Cuba launched its own version of the Linux operating system featuring free and open source software. Reporting on rebellion.org, Carlos Martinez wonders if those protesting limited internet access in Cuba extend such criticism to the two corporations.
Cuban Five prisoner responds
Protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal recently to consider the Cuban Five case, Rene Gonzalez, one of them, declared, “Once more the judicial death mask … falls away, revealing the true face of North American imperialism and insulting the world’s conscience.” U.S. law does little to rein in terrorist impunity, he noted on rebelion.org. Cuba’s National Union of Writers and Artists last week called upon “U.S. colleagues” to back the Five. Citing support from Nobel Prize Winners, parliamentarians, lawyers’ groups, religious bodies, and human rights activists “throughout the planet,” the Union demanded that President Obama free them, as “an act of elemental justice.” Gonzalez, however, has less faith in “ethical considerations or universal clamor” than in the “price imposed by resistance.”
Economic crisis impinges upon agriculture
Granma newspaper last week (July 4) reported that the proposed return of oxen to planting and harvest operations would save money and improve capabilities of working small land parcels; some 265,000 oxen are presently available. Austerity planning necessitated by waning credit and falling export and tourism revenues has affected agriculture, already charged with building domestic production. Authorities have cut supplies of extra grains to consumers, despite pending recommendations for increased daily caloric intake. The Trade rather than the Agricultural Ministry now buys food from producers. Inter Press Service reported that almost 40 percent of Cuba’s large amount of idle land has recently been leased to farmers. Potato and tomato harvests are up this year, while pork and egg production is down.
Good living at low ecological cost
Issuing its annual Index of Planet Happiness on July 4, the London – based New Economics Foundation (NEF) awarded seventh place among 143 nations surveyed to Cuba. Societies were assayed in terms of life expectancy, citizen satisfaction, and ecological impact. Costa Rico ranked first in proving, as per the NEF web site, that “good lives don't have to cost the earth.” The top ten included nine Latin American nations. The United States was assigned 114th place. Analyst Pascual Serrano explained - see rebelion.org – the contradiction between Cubans emigrating to the United States and expressing satisfaction with their lives. Prior to the revolution, migration north was considerable. And the United States receives more immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Canada than from Cuba.
Call for vaccine is answered
The Finley Institute July 18 announced plans to increase production of its anti-meningococcal A-C vaccine in order to provide 50 million doses to the World Health Organization, Africa, and the Middle East. Cuba’s vaccine research, development and manufacturing center will be collaborating with a Brazilian counterpart, according to trabajadores.cu/news. Responding to a WHO request two years ago, Cuba sent 18 million doses to Sub-Saharan Africa where meningococcal meningitis has been endemic since 1996. Mortality is ten percent despite antibiotics; 20 percent of the survivors suffer disabilities. Cuba’s population has been vaccinated against type A and C Meningitis since 1979. In 1991, the Finley Institute developed the world’s first vaccine against type B meningococcal meningitis, still not available in the United States.
At a press conference in Havana on July 24, Rev. Lucius Walker, leader of the 20th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan declared that most U.S. citizens oppose the U.S. blockade against Cuba. Accompanying Walker were 130 “solidarity ambassadors” who, according to Granma newspaper, had worked to send 115 tons of U. S. humanitarian aid to Cuba. They purposefully defied U.S. regulations by not seeking permission to donate supplies or travel to Cuba. Walker called upon President Obama to apply his “concept of change” to normalizing U.S. - Cuba relations, returning the Guantanamo naval base to Cuba, and liberating the jailed Cuban Five prisoners. En route to Cuba, the visitors had collected donated material at solidarity meetings in 140 U.S. cities.
Communist Party Congress is postponed
The Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party announced in July postponement of what would have been its sixth Party Congress, the first since 1997. Prensa Latina indicated that a “deep process of analysis of the present situation” must come first. The reference was to mounting economic problems signified by successive downward revisions of economic growth forecasts for the year, from 6 percent, to 2.5 percent, and recently to 1.7 percent. An assessment is underway as to strategies, available resources, and further adjustments, according to President Raul Castro. For a Congress to be successful in “identifying solutions and looking to the future,” he explained, the Party must be prepared beforehand and analysis shared with the people.
Educating physicians for the United States
After six years of study, 17 U.S. students graduated in July from the Latin American School of Medicine. Residency training in the United States will prepare them for practice in underserved areas, an obligation assumed by each of the School's 1400 – 1500 graduates each year. Students enrolled at the School begun in 1999 come from 29 countries, over 100 of them from the United States."We have studied medicine with a humanitarian approach, explained Kenya Bingham of Alameda, California, quoted on ifconews.org. "Health care is not seen as a business in Cuba,” she added. Student Jose De Leon from Oakland, California savored no cost medical education; he avoids debt that for most stateside medical graduates exceeds $250,000.
Food imports from U.S. drop
Pedro Álvarez, president of the Cuban food import corporation Alimport, told a Cuban business weekly that food imports from the United States, worth $4.4 billion over eight years, have recently fallen. The report appearing Aug. 7 on opciones.cubaweb.cu/leer argues that because of U.S. proximity and high food quality, and Cuban needs for imported food, imports could exceed $21 billion over five years, especially if U.S. impediments disappeared.
Exporters require licenses for Cuban travel and are prohibited from granting credit to Alimport. Only third-country banks may dispense loan money that reaches exporters via U.S. banks. Food shipments must be licensed, ships must return empty from Cuba, and they undergo coastguard anti-terrorist inspections.