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Cuba Notes for June 2009
By Tom Whitney
Russia returns as ally
RIA Novosti reported Russia and Cuba will resume nuclear power cooperation broken off in 1992. Scientists of both nations will work at Cuba’s nuclear research center. The announcement came during ceremonies last week in Moscow bestowing Russia’s highest nuclear research award upon Cuban physicist Fidel Angel Castro Diaz-Balart.
Castro studied in the Soviet Union and once headed Cuba’s nuclear research team during early phases of joint efforts during the 1980s to build a Cuban nuclear plant.
Other signs of tightened relations include: permission granted last March for Russian oil prospecting in the Gulf of Mexico, arrival last month in Havana of the first installment on 200,000 tons of Russian wheat, and high profile Russian condemnation of the U.S. anti-Cuban blockade.
New economic difficulties
Economy and Planning Minister Marino Murillo explained last week that because of reduced export and tourist income caused by the global economic crisis, Cuba’s economy would expand by 2 percent this year, not 6 percent as predicted earlier.
Diminished foreign currency reserves and heavy costs for hurricane recovery compound matters. Additionally, electricity use during January through April ended up 3 percent above projections. Generating plants required 225,000 extra tons of imported fuel oil costing $90-100 million. State institutions accounted for 10 percent of the excess, while residential use fell 1.2 percent.
Juventud Rebelde newspaper indicated electricity conservation measures are on the way, also new authority for inspectors and measures against private diversion of electricity.
Relations with EU under study
In Brussels for discussions on EU-Cuba relations, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez took encouragement from EU negotiator Louis Michel, who remarked that “if the European Union does not consolidate the normalization of relations with Cuba, the Americans will do so before us.”
Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout, pleased at “a real dialogue, not just two monologues,” expressed continuing concerns over human rights in Cuba. EU nations placed sanctions on Cuba in 2003 after it imposed penalties on government opponents taking U.S. pay. The sanctions were suspended in 2005 and removed last year. In June, EU foreign ministers will consider normalizing relations.
Foreign ministers hear from Raul Castro
At the Non-Aligned Movement’s ministerial meeting in Havana late last month President Raul Castro discussed the upcoming UN Conference on the world economic and financial crisis with UN General Assembly President Miguel D´Escoto. He also engaged with representatives of the Group of 77 nations to further that organization’s coordination with NAM.
The ministerial meeting was held in anticipation of the 15th NAM summit in Egypt July 11-16. There, Cuba will end its three-year term as chair in favor of Egypt.
President Castro greeted the ministers. Calling “a global order inspired in hegemonic pretenses and the selfishness of privileged minorities neither legitimate nor ethically acceptable,” he said “a system that destroys the environment and promotes unequal access to riches cannot last.”
Castro contrasted worldwide annual military spending of over $1 trillion with an annual outlay of $80 billion for 10 years that the UN estimates “would be enough to eradicate poverty, hunger and the lack of health and education services and houses all over the world. That figure is three times lower than what the South countries spend every year to pay their foreign debt.”
Blockade affects Internet access
Cuban representatives at the World Telecommunication Policy Forum late last month in Portugal again denounced U.S.-imposed limitations on Internet access.
Under the U.S. blockade, underwater Internet cables are off limits to Cuba, even those running close to the island. Nor does Cuba’s necessary reliance upon satellites escape U.S. rules. Limitations on broadband width leave all Cuba with access similar to that available to individual companies or private users elsewhere.
The Cuba News Agency reports the International Telecommunications Union has ruled against unilaterally-imposed restrictions. Internet access within Cuba will expand next year when fiber optic cables from Venezuela are in place.
Internet availability presently reaches 12 percent of Cubans with social uses being prioritized.
Prisoner exchange to free the Five
Raul Castro asked at the ALBA summit, “Why don’t they release our five heroes that posed no danger to the United States?” Once more the Cuban president was suggesting freedom for the Cuban Five in exchange for Cuba releasing and sending to the U.S. government opponents jailed for taking U.S. moneys. Convicted Guatemalan and Salvadoran mercenary terrorists were added to the package, the Granma newspaper said.
Observers recall that President Carter liberated jailed Puerto Rican independence fighters to secure the release of CIA operatives from Cuban prisons.
Support reform of UN Security Council
Contributing to intergovernmental negotiations on much-sought changes in the Security Council, Cuban UN Ambassador Abelardo Moreno presented recommendations April 7 to improve Security Council integration and work methods. That body, he was quoted by Prensa Latina, “is neither transparent, nor democratic, nor efficient.”
Moreno called for a series of public and private discussions. The ambassador emphasized that the Security Council’s functioning should be adjusted to the needs and interests of underdeveloped nations. He also noted that after 60 years, it is high time to make regulations governing Security Council operations official rather than provisional.
The India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum has elaborated recommendations for comprehensive reform, while Washington has agreed only to expand permanent African representation.