CUBA BRIEF: A plea to UM president. Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro visits Cuba. Venezuelan soldiers beg for food in Guyana

At CubaBrief we are still hopeful that UM president Julio Frenk and the faculty at UM will appeal to General Raul Castro to stop punishing Cuban university student Felix Llerena and to allow him to return to his Cuban university. Felix (20) is threatened by the police as a traitor. He spoke at the University of Miami back in March and has returned to the island. 

In this CubaBrief we are focusing on the ongoing Venezuelan tragedy. While President Maduro visits Cuba, press reports indicate that Venezuelan soldiers have crossed into Guyana asking for food.


Nasdaq, August 16, 201

Venezuelan president, in Cuba, pays homage to Fidel Castro

August 16, 2017, 12:01:00 PM EDT By Reuters

By Nelson Acosta

HAVANA, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro traveled to Cuba on Tuesday to pay homage to deceased leader Fidel Castro, in a surprise visit days after U.S. President Donald Trump warned of possible military action against Venezuela.

State-run television on Wednesday showed Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores, accompanied by Cuban President Raul Castro, visiting the stone monument in eastern Santiago de Cuba containing Fidel Castro’s ashes and placing flowers at the grave. Castro, who died last November, would have turned 91 on Sunday.

aduro’s surprise visit to shore up ties with a close ally coincided with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s tour of Latin America, where he has downplayed Trump’s threat last week to use military force against Venezuela. Pence argued economic sanctions and political pressure can restore democracy to the country.

Cuba and Venezuela see themselves united against what they call U.S. “imperialism.”

Over 120 people have been killed in Venezuela since anti-government protests began in April, driven by outrage over shortages of food and medicine.

The country last month, at Maduro’s behest, elected a “constituent assembly” that governments around the world say is dictatorial.

Cuba and Venezuela became strategic allies in 2000 with the rise to power of Socialist Hugo Chavez in the South American country, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves.

An agreement to exchange oil for medical and other technical services underlies their economic relationship and continues despite a drop in oil deliveries by Venezuela and payments to Cuba for services.

Maduro became president in 2013 after Chavez’s death. However, oil prices had fallen by more than 70 percent by 2016, throwing the country into crisis.

Mexico’s foreign minister Luis Videgaray, a fierce critic of Maduro’s government, is due to visit Cuba on Thursday, the Mexican and Cuban governments say.



The Miami Herald,  August 15, 2017

Armed Venezuelan soldiers caught in Guyana begging for food

By Jim Wyss

BOGOTA, Colombia

A handful of Venezuelan soldiers — armed and in uniform — were caught in neighboring Guyana last week begging for food, local police reported, another sign of Venezuela’s deepening hunger crisis.

Guyanese Police Inspector Christopher Humphrey said he’d gone to the border along the Amacuro river, which divides the two nations, to investigate reports that the Venezuelan military was stealing food from locals. But the three soldiers he encountered — two carrying military assault rifles — said they had come to beg for meals and hadn’t harmed anyone. 

Humphrey said the men had crossed into Guyana on a wooden raft and seemed genuinely hungry.

“They were desperate,” he told the Miami Herald. “They were here for some time and they showed me a can of sardines and the place where they had cooked it over a fire.”

Hunger is on the rise in Venezuela, amid triple-digit inflation and the government’s inability to import basic goods. And neighboring Colombia, Brazil and Guyana have seen a spike in Venezuelans looking for food.

But Humphrey, who has worked in the border region for a year, said this is the first time he had caught soldiers illegally crossing.

Venezuela’s armed forces — which are key to propping up the Nicolás Maduro administration — have always been perceived to have easier access to basic goods. Lately, though, there have been growing but uncorroborated reports of soldiers going hungry, particularly at far-flung border outposts. 

Venezuela’s military is under intense scrutiny for signs that its support for Maduro might be eroding. In July, a rogue police inspector lobbed grenades onto the Supreme Court from a helicopter, which did not result in injuries.

And on Aug. 6, former National Guard Capt. Juan Caguaripano announced he was launching a military revolt named “Operation David” to “rescue the country from total destruction.” A week later, authorities said they had detained him and other “ringleaders.”

That soldiers would cross into Guyana is telling. The two nations have been locked in a centuries-old border dispute over a swath of Guyanese territory known as the Esequibo and are not on good terms. In 2015, as tensions escalated, Venezuela sent troops and antiaircraft missiles to the border.

Humphrey said he thinks the men learned that they can’t count on crossing the border for food.

“But that doesn’t mean some other set [of soldiers] won’t come back,” he said.

Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss


14ymedio, August 14, 2017

The Teachings of ‘Don Castro’

By Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 14 August 2017 — With so much secrecy, so much myth and legend, it is not even known for sure if this August 13 was the actual date of the 91st anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. His life was so surrounded by exaggerations and lies that even the moment he was born and the name with which he was registered are open to question.

However, beyond any doubt, the day was propitious to reflect on the legacy of the former Cuban president, an imprint that has been reduced in officialdom’s Conceptualization of the Socialist Model to “his concept of Revolution” and the stubborn “conviction that yes we can achieve victory” with our own efforts.

That concept of “Revolution” – which is presented as his political will – is so ambiguous that it can be taken both as a result obtained and as a goal to be achieved. This theoretical hodgepodge is evidence of the lack of depth of the author’s thinking and his tendency to political opportunism, which allowed him to create slogans to encapsulate different moments.

Official media reproduce such a definition as a method for achieving dissimilar goals, the final fruit of a process or a tangle of moral values lose to the commandments of good behavior. However, in the absence of the violent component – which typifies any academic definition of Revolution – lies its main failure, to which is added the absence of the class approach that could be expected from a Marxist-Leninist.

The main teaching Fidel Castro has left us, which teachers warn their students they should pay attention to because “it will be on the test,” is voluntarism. The Commander-in-Chief instilled the idea that whomever is willing to defend a position at the risk of his own and others’ deaths, becomes invincible.

It does not matter if the cause to be defended is erroneous or valid. The cardinal rule, according to this theorem, is to accept a goal with unlimited enthusiasm and persevere in its realization at whatever price necessary.

Examples are the eradication of all vestiges of private property during the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the 1970 sugar harvest which attempted to yield 10 million tons of sugar, the idle effort to genetically transform livestock,or the purpose of combining study with work in the forgotten Schools in the Countryside. Along with these is a long list in which we should mention the energy revolution, the municipalization of universities and the extension of the cultivation of moringa.

Intensive grazing brought to Cuba by a French scientist, construction ‘microbrigades’, consecration in scientific research centers, special programs of rabbits, geese or buffalo, the doctor for 120 families, all called by the name ‘Plan Fidel’ and many other initiatives carried the personal imprint of one who considered himself an indisputable specialist on any subject he was superficially interested in.

Nothing and no one could stop Fidel Castro, except his own indiscipline and the sudden reluctance that came over him when he discovered some new object of obsession.

A monument recently erected in Crimea to his memory says that “victory is perseverance,” a bitter reminder that Fidel Castro was the worst disciple of his own teachings. He was only consistent in the act of never admitting that he was defeated, as defined in his favorite motto: “turning the setback into victory.”

Athletes may be able to inherit their legacy to win a competition seemingly against them, but in politics and economics it is nefarious to obsess over an apparently miraculous solution.

One should not persevere in the error, is also what we learned from Fidel Castro.


Reuters,  August 15, 2017

Cuban trade with Venezuela plunges over two years

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban trade with socialist ally Venezuela has fallen 70 percent since 2014 due to the South American oil producer’s inability to meet delivery contracts and purchase goods as it struggles with low oil prices and a resulting economic meltdown. 

A cash crunch and lower oil supplies from Venezuela have forced the Communist-run Caribbean island to slash imports and reduce the use of fuel and electricity, helping tip its centrally planned economy into recession in 2016 for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

Merchandise trade with Venezuela fell to $2.2 billion in 2016, compared with $4.2 billion the year before and $7.3 billion in 2014, the Cuban National Statistics Office reported on its website this week (

A strategic alliance formed by the two countries’ former leaders, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez – who have since died – resulted in the Caribbean island importing all its oil from Venezuela in exchange for medical and other professional services, with the oil factored in as merchandise in trade reports.

Under the agreement, Cuba also began exporting pharmaceuticals and other products to Venezuela.

Venezuelan exports to Cuba, almost exclusively oil-related products and reflecting both a 40 percent decline in deliveries and low prices, fell to $1.6 billion last year, compared with $2.8 billion in 2015 and $5.1 billion before the crisis began.

Cuban exports to Venezuela declined to $642,000 last year, compared with $1.4 billion in 2015 and $2 billion in 2014.

The government report said Cuba’s overall trade in goods last year was $12.6 billion, compared with $15 billion in 2015.

The economy expanded 1.1 percent through June this year, the government reported, but it added that continuing financial difficulties meant austerity measures remained in force and could be broadened.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Matthew Lewis


New Scientist, August 16, 2017

How US diplomats may have been attacked by sonic weapons in Cuba

By Timothy Revell

After several months of investigation, the US has concluded that its diplomats in Cuba have been “exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences,” reports the Associated Press

The effect was so severe that some of the diplomats had to return home from Cuba early due to hearing loss.

Last week, Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, elaborated that the diplomats had been the victims of “health attacks”. At least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba has also been treated for hearing loss.

The Cuban government has said it wasn’t responsible for any possible attack, but that it has launched an “exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation”.

Part of the difficulty in unravelling what may have occurred is that the history of the development of acoustic weapons is shrouded in rumour and conspiracy, says Steve Goodman, the author of Sonic Warfare.

There is some research showing that frequencies just outside the human hearing range can have effects including hearing loss, concussion and nausea.

Beyond detection

“There are basically two ways that hearing loss could be effected without people knowing,” says Toby Heys at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.

The first is through sound waves at a frequency below the range of human hearing. But at these frequencies, generating sounds loud enough to do damage would require a large array of subwoofers, which wouldn’t be very covert.

The other option is to use ultrasound, creating sound waves at a frequency above the range of human hearing. For this application, there are already a number of speakers available on the market. But while these can be directed into an ear quite precisely, “one needs a clear path to the target”, says Heys.

Exactly who might be behind the possible attack and whether it was directly aimed at the diplomats is far from clear.

Until more details are uncovered, it’s hard to shed much light on the events. “Overall, I would be pretty circumspect about the claims to be honest – it is all very Philip K. Dick territory,” says Heys. “That said, we are living in a fairly surreal world right now.”