CUBA BRIEF: The Russians are back. Raul and North Korea. Havana is collapsing

CUBABRIEF:  MADURO PUNTS BUT PUTIN COMES TO THE RESCUE. Venezuelan subsidized oil shipments to Cuba have fallen, while the announced Russian oil shipments raise eyebrows in Washington.  Other potential new suppliers usually want cash because of Cuba’s poor credit rating. There is electricity and fuel rationing as well as gasoline shortages in Havana. No one remembers Havana’s much vaunted oil “reserves” which were little but regime’s disinformation.   

CBC Radio Canada, May 4, 2017 

Russia resumes sending oil to Cuba

News expects to raise eyebrows in Washington, D.C.

By Thomson Reuters

Russia has begun shipping large quantities of oil to Cuba for the first time this century, sources said, as supplies to the island from crisis-wracked Venezuela have dwindled.

A Russian oil tanker with 249,000 barrels of refined products is due to arrive in Cuba on May 10, according to Reuters shipping sources and others, bringing back memories of when the Soviet Union supplied all of the Communist-run Caribbean island’s energy needs.

More tankers apparently will follow.

Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, announced on Wednesday it had signed an agreement with Cuba’s state-run Cubametals to supply 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel fuel, without providing further details.

The news is sure to raise eyebrows in Washington as its tense relations with Moscow continue, despite President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to improve them.

The Russian company has already become a concern for the United States. Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA last year used 49.9 per cent of its shares in its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, as collateral for loan financing by Rosneft. [More]


CUBABRIEF: In his book “Heretics,” Cuban writer Leonardo Padura “sets his sights on transcending the island nation’s political system, rather than defying it.” A free person, he writes, “acts, lives, and thinks according to his conscience…” Hence, the desperate peregrinations of vessels like the St. Louis, or of the rickety rafts aboard which so many of Padura’s countrymen have escaped.

The Washington Post, May 4, 2017 

From a Cuban novelist, the story of mankind’s quest for safe haven

By Charles Lane

Some 1.5 million people have fled Cuba since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. But there was a time, not that long ago, when refugees flowed toward the Caribbean island.

In 1939, the ocean liner St. Louis left Hamburg, in Nazi Germany, bound for Havana — with more than 900 Jews on board. They hoped to enter Cuba en route to permanent places in the United States.

Corrupt and influenced by anti-Semitic public opinion, Cuban authorities of the time barred all but a handful of the St. Louis’s passengers. Of those turned away, none were admitted to the United States, some eventually found safe haven in Europe, and 254 died in the Holocaust.

This sequence of events, laden with irony as well as sorrow, opens the gorgeous, sweeping new novel from Cuba’s Leonardo Padura.

“Heretics” is part history, part detective story, but its overarching theme is the tension between the limitless yearnings of the human spirit and the limitations of geography and politics. Padura, born in Cuba in 1955 and still a resident there, possesses intimate knowledge of the matter. [More] 

CUBABRIEF:  What happened to the revolution’s wiping out racism? Or its much lauded educational system?  …[T]he difference in access to money in today’s Cuba, depending on the color of the skin, affects not only the possibility of opening a private business but also the possibility of acquiring other capital (cultural and social) that is then indispensable for economic success. “It’s not just one problem that affects business. If you do not have capital or a family abroad, you also stay mostly outside the educational system, because to get good grades and go to college you need private tutors and money to pay them.”



Starting a business in Cuba is more difficult for entrepreneurs of African descent


The first Cuban chef with a Michelin star, and the chef — and owner — of the private paladar where former President Barack Obama dined during his trip to Cuba, have something more in common than love of cooking: Both represent snippets of success that Afro-Cubans can find in the emerging private sector on the island.

Alberto González, owner of the artisan bakery Salchipizza, and Carlos Cristóbal Márquez, owner of the San Cristóbal paladar —along with the equally successful Mady Letamendi, who heads the family-owned Zulu leather handbags business, and María Ferrer, director of MAFA, an aesthetic and beauty center — spoke about the challenges they have had as private entrepreneurs known as cuentapropistas during a gathering with activists of the Afro-Cuban movement held at Harvard last month.

“I have had the opportunity to serve seven presidents at the restaurant, including Barack Obama” — who visited Cuba in March 2016 — said Márquez, owner of the San Cristóbalpaladar. “For me it was an honor to have him there. I don’t know if it was because it is the only successful restaurant in Havana … owned by blacks,” he added, hesitantly. San Cristóbal was selected the fourth best restaurant in the Caribbean in 2014 by TripAdvisor.

“I am the first Cuban with a Michelin star,” González, owner of the artisanal bakery Salchipizza, said proudly. “Today I make a bread that is called ‘grandmother’s integral bread.’ I am one of the few people who has the oldest masa madre (baker’s yeast) in Latin America, which is 87 years old,” he explained.

The exclusive leather handbags made by Letamendi and her family received a prize last year at the International Fair in Havana, and Ferrer says she has clients from as far as Europe and the United States and who travel to Alamar, a modest working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, for her products.

But their cases, while serving as a model for other Afro-Cubans on the island, appear to be exceptional in a sector where whites are far more represented, one of the most visible examples of increased racial inequality on the island. [More]   


CUBABRIEF:  NORTH KOREA AND CUBA, TWO BIRDS OF A FEATHER. Raul Castro continues to defend North Korea. In 2013 Havana was caught red handed attempting to smuggle war planes under a shipment of sugar to Pyongyang. Now Cuba and North Korea strengthen their alliance. 

PanamPost, May 4, 2017

Cuba’s Castro Defends North Korean Dictator from Trump Pressure


“Cuba conveys its total support to the Workers Party of Korea” (Twitter).

Raul Castro is ready to help his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un as he faces a crisis with the Trump administration, according to reports North Korean state media.
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), during the meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions held this week in Havana, Castro expressed his support for the North Korean union leader Ju Yong-gil.

The KCNA stated, “in reference to the current situation on the Korean peninsula, Raul Castro Ruz said that Cuba conveys its full support to the Korean Workers’ Party and the Korean people in their just struggle, and that it will always be aligned with them on the united Anti-American front.”

The Korean trade union leader’s trip to the Caribbean island took place amid high tension between North Korea and the United States over continued missile tests. Trump’s administration recently conducted an intercontinental missile test and suggested that it could strike preemptively.

Cuba and North Korea have maintained good relations since 1960 when they began diplomatic relations. However, in recent days North Korea has strengthened those ties after tougher sanctions imposed by the UN after its continued tests of weapons of mass destruction.

However, as Cuba and North Korea strengthen their alliance, the United States Air Force carried out further tests during the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 3rd, with a second nuclear-capable intercontinental missile launched from Vandenberg, California, according to the Pentagon.

Shortly after midnight, local time, the American army launched the intercontinental Minuteman III missile. According to Colonel Craig Ramsey, “efforts like these are what make nuclear deterrence effective.”

Cuba and North Korea remain one of a mere handful of hardline Communist dictatorships that remain in power, following the collapse of Communism a generation ago.

Source: El Nuevo Herald.

CUBABRIEF: “In 1953 Fidel Castro, contending that history would absolve him, stated that “a revolutionary Government would solve the housing problem by demolishing the hellish tenements and erecting modern buildings with many floors, and financing the construction of houses on the Island on a scale never seen…”. But now Havana is collapsing.


Havana is collapsing


In the municipality of Centro Habana, which for years has witnessed buildings collapse, what happened at the corner of Amistad and San Miguel, in the neighborhood of Colón, did not constitute news because of the collapse itself, but rather because there were no fatalities as a result of it.

In the early hours of Tuesday, April 18 the old building, about to turn 100 years old, and home to more than 100 families, gave way.  It is now to be condemned. The building’s staircase caved in, from the third floor on down, while the residents on the fifth to the tenth levels were trapped. To make matters worse, the staircase between floors five and six was separated from the wall, and the elevator had been out of commission for years.

Because of the fates suffered by people facing similar situations, several of the occupants were initially reluctant to abandon the building. They are now being evicted, from the upper floors to the lower ones, and relocated to dwellings and houses located in other parts of the city. Until last Sunday, 11 days after the collapse, residents on the ninth and tenth floors had been relocated, and they were in the process of emptying the eighth floor. Work will continue in the coming days to complete the eviction of all the building’s occupants.

What happened in Centro Habana is an indication of a national tragedy. Going back to the last century, population growth made housing a major problem to be addressed. In Havana, in parallel to the buildings erected in the center of the city, several urban developments were completed in Pogolotti, Boyeros, Luyanó and Guanabacoa, but this significant construction effort proved insufficient. [More]