Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    U.S. secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest

    Posted on Thursday, 04.03.14 U.S. secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest BY DESMOND BUTLER, JACK GILLUM AND ALBERTO ARCE ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON — In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s […] Continue reading

    Oedipus in Havana

    Posted on Friday, 05.17.13 CUBA REFORMS Oedipus in Havana BY JOSE AZEL When Oedipus, the tragic hero of Greek mythology, realized in agony and shame the calamity he had brought his city, he could not bear to see the results of his hubris. Overwhelmed with the knowledge of his wrongdoings, Oedipus stabbed his own […] Continue reading

    Venezuela petro-allies nervous over Chavez’s death

    Posted on Wednesday, 03.06.13

    Venezuela petro-allies nervous over Chavez's death
    Associated Press

    HAVANA -- Cubans remember the so-called Special Period of the 1990s,
    when the Soviet Union's sudden collapse plunged the island into years of
    economic depression, with cars and buses disappearing from the streets
    for lack of fuel and rolling blackouts leaving the capital in darkness.

    Now Cubans fear a return of hard times following the death of Venezuelan
    President Hugo Chavez, whose billions of dollars of oil largesse helps
    the island's economy function. Some Havana residents were even talking
    about hoarding candles on Wednesday.

    Francis Gomez, a 22-year-old tourism student from the city of Pinar del
    Rio, said she was "scared and worried."

    "Ever since Chavez became ill, my parents have been saying, 'Please,
    God, don't let there be another Special Period," she said.

    While Chavez's party remains in power in Venezuela, and his political
    allies have said they won't change the program, at least not in the
    short term, a victory by the opposition in a presidential election
    expected in the coming weeks could change the game entirely. Opposition
    leader Henrique Capriles has said he would reevaluate the program if

    Cubans are not alone in having worries following Tuesday's death of
    Chavez, who used Venezuela's oil wealth to aid allies through a
    part-ideological, part-humanitarian program that gives out petroleum at
    preferential terms.

    More than a dozen other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean,
    many of them economic minnows, have benefited to the tune of billions of
    dollars from the Petrocaribe pact that was created in 2005 with the goal
    of unifying the regional oil industry under Venezuelan leadership and
    countering U.S. influence.

    Cuba alone receives about 92,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil a day to meet
    half its consumption needs, worth around $3.2 billion a year, according
    to an estimate by University of Texas energy analyst Jorge Pinon.

    Havana pays about half the bill through a barter exchange in which tens
    of thousands of doctors, teachers and other advisers provide services in
    Venezuela. The rest goes into 25-year credits with 1 percent interest.

    "There's no cash exchange. They don't have to write a check. That's the
    importance of this agreement," Pinon said. "It represents $3.2 billion
    of free cash flow to the Cuban economy."

    "If a new Venezuelan government turns that into a true commercial
    agreement where in 30 days you pay 100 percent in cash for what you owe,
    it would be a substantial economic impact to both Cuba and to
    Petrocaribe countries, no question about that," Pinon said.

    Nicaragua, perhaps the second-most dependent on Venezuelan oil after
    Cuba, gets nearly all its 12 million barrels a year from Caracas, worth
    about $1.2 billion, said Nestor Avendano, an economist and president of
    the consulting firm Consultores Para el Desarrollo.

    President Daniel Ortega, a staunch Chavez ally, pays about half up-front
    and finances the rest over 23 years at 2 percent annual interest.

    La Prensa, Nicaragua's leading newspaper, noted in an editorial that
    Ortega has been trying to shore up economic reserves in recent months
    and raised taxes in January, apparently in anticipation of a reduction
    in Venezuelan aid.

    The Dominican Republic gets just over 40 percent of its oil through
    Petrocaribe, and saves roughly $400 million a year from the arrangement.
    Struggling Jamaica, where debt is a whopping 140 percent of gross
    domestic product, gets roughly two-thirds of its crude through Petrocaribe.

    Across the Caribbean, it's the same story one island nation after another.

    "Petrocaribe saved several Caribbean economies from certain collapse,"
    said Anthony Bryan, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and
    International Studies in Washington and an expert on U.S.-Caribbean

    Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked successor and a firm ideological
    ally of Cuba, is seen by analysts as more likely to win the election to
    replace Chavez. But in the absence of Chavez, who kept his political
    base in line through pure politics of personality, Maduro might come
    under pressure as he tries to control factions that don't always agree.

    "I think that there's going to be a potential drop in Venezuelan
    willingness to sell oil (at preferential terms) because Maduro is going
    to be facing his own internal schisms," said Gregory Weeks, a political
    scientist specializing in Latin America at the University of North
    Carolina at Charlotte. "I think he's going to have to be paying more
    attention to directing resources to his own constituencies at home,
    rather than abroad."

    Weeks added that Maduro would likely try to maintain the Cuba subsidy as
    much as possible for symbolic reasons, and many analysts say the island
    is less dependent on Venezuela than it was on the Soviets.

    But Venezuela's economy has problems that Chavez's successor will have
    to deal with. Inflation is 22 percent, dollars for imports are scarce
    amid currency control and residents complain about sporadic shortages of
    basic goods.

    "Once Venezuela's budget deficit really begins to bite in a way that can
    no longer be ignored, then the government will have to make some tough
    decisions in term of spending," said Eric Farnsworth, an energy
    specialist with the Council of the Americas. "And one of the quickest
    ways to cut in any country is foreign aid."

    For some Petrocaribe beneficiaries that might simply mean tightening
    belts. For others it could mean rising discontent or even potential
    unrest as popular social programs wither.

    Nicaragua's Ortega, for example, has used the extra cash to put roofs on
    homes and finance health care and education in a country where 80
    percent of the people live on less than $2 a day. Economist Rene
    Vallecillo said the country could see a 1 percentage-point drop in GDP
    growth if Venezuelan aid disappeared.

    Haiti has used millions in Venezuelan aid to pay for fuel, renovate
    power stations and build low-income housing in the earthquake-torn nation.

    Jamaica has used the 22,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil it got every day
    in 2011 to produce 95 percent of its electricity.

    "If it's 95 percent of your power generation, that has broader
    implications in terms of your social well-being," Farnsworth said.
    "They're really going to hurt. ... This has been a lifeline."


    Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana; Luis Andres Henao
    in Santiago, Chile; David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica; Luis Manuel
    Galeano in Managua, Nicaragua; Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, the
    Dominican Republic; and Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
    contributed to this report. Continue reading

    UN Informs Cuba that Detention of Alan Gross Violates International Law

    UN Informs Cuba that Detention of Alan Gross Violates International Law December 5, 2012 8:49 pm 4 comments Josefina Vidal, head of North American Affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said in a press conference Wednesday that the United Nations W... Continue reading

    Will Latin America become a higher priority during second Obama term?

    Posted on Wednesday, 11.07.12 Latin American Policy Will Latin America become a higher priority during second Obama term? Issues such as immigration, the clout of the Hispanic voting bloc, trade, potential political change and security could raise ...

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    Inequality still haunts Latin America

    Posted on Thursday, 06.07.12 'SOCIAL INCLUSION' Inequality still haunts Latin America BY CHRISTOPHER SABATINI To talk of Latin America as if it were a meaningful unit has always been forced, if not artificial. But now, ...

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