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Cuba News Extracts - Various Sources Cuba's flirtations in the mid 1990s with market-style reforms were emergency measures designed to meet the crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main trading partner. Today its economy is on the verge of another round of economic liberalization, analysts say, similar in many ways to the measures of the 1990s. "I don't have any doubt there will be economic changes. The question is how profound they will be," said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Cuban-American expert on the Cuban economy at the University of Pittsburgh. Cuba's new president, Raul Castro, 76, is expected to introduce the first reforms in the coming weeks, from new micro-business licenses to redistribution of idle state land to small farmers. Despite surrounding himself with old guard hard-liners, Castro used his inaugural speech last month to reiterate a commitment to improving the standard of living of Cuba's 11-million citizens.
Attention to such practical matters is why many Cubans find themselves reassessing the younger Castro, once considered little more than a ruthless enforcer for his brother. "Raul has shown he is different," said Rafael Diaz, a state taxi driver. "He calls things the way they are and wants to make them better." Even so, Castro says he needs time to come up with the right policies. "A mistake brought about by improvisation, superficiality or haste could have substantial negative consequences," he said in his speech, a seeming reference to the political and economic chaos in the former Soviet Union a decade ago. Cuban officials continue to reject the Chinese or Vietnam model of broad economic liberalization under one-party rule. "Its socialism will undoubtedly alter - but not in the manner of a China or Vietnam. Cuba will continue to go its own way," according to Ignacio Ramonet, co-author of Fidel Castro's recent official biography, My Life. "The new regime will initiate changes at the economic level, but there will be no Cuban perestroika - no opening up of politics, no multi party elections."

The eastern Cuban province of Granma has greatly improved the quality of tourist services, as a result of large investments in the sector. According to local tourism authorities, the hotels' rooms, restaurants and kitchens were improved, and establishments were painted and equipped with new air-conditioning systems and power generators. Works benefited the hotels Marea del Portillo and Villa Punta Piedra, in Pilón, and the hotels Sierra Maestra, in Bayamo, and Guacanayabo, in Manzanillo. Remodeling works also included Villa Balcón de la Sierra, in the municipality of Bartolomé Masó, and 55 percent of extrahotel centers run by Grupo Palmares. In addition, several trails devoted to nature tourism have been improved at the national parks Desembarco del Granma and Turquino, among other actions.

Cuba's iron and steel industry is working to increase exports of finished products. In 2007, exports totaled 140 million dollars, accounting for a 19-percent growth compared to the previous year. The iron and steel sector, which has 187 companies, reported a production of 2.52 billion pesos. As in previous years, the main income in hard currency came from the iron and steel, recycling and mechanic sectors. The main markets for Cuba's iron and steel products are the Caribbean and Europe, including Holland, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Venezuela, Honduras, Canada and Jamaica.

This Saturday, in the 10th Terry Fox Run for cancer research, 2.5 million Cubans are espected to walk, run, ride, rollerblade – do whatever they can – remembering a young Canadian who has become a hero in their own country. Camacho, who heads Cuba's National Oncology Group, says Terry's message echoes the objectives of the island nation's national health program: "If you don't accept cancer as a common disease you will not fight against it." He's watched as participants swelled from about 800 in 1998 to 2.3 million in 2007, becoming the world's largest outside of Canada. The Terry Fox Run was introduced to Cuba in the 1980s by staff at the Canadian embassy in Havana but it took a few years to capture the public's imagination.

Cuba's food industry reported a 15-percent increase in production in 2007, as a result of authorities' efforts to develop the sector. According to statistics, the industry grew at an annual average of 8 percent from 2003 to 2007. Last year, international economic associations grew 26 percent in contrast to 2006. Over the past five years, 11 products have reported the largest increase in production, including pork, cheese, pastas, canned fruit, wines, soft drinks and beer. The official strategy is aimed at reducing imports and increase sales to the tourism sector and hard-currency shops, which rose 15 percent last year. Exports of Havana Club rum grew considerably, accounting for 97 percent of net revenues.

Perez Roque said Bush's view that nothing had changed in Cuba was acknowledgment of the failure of his Cuba policy, which has tightened sanctions to financially undermine the one-party state. "President Bush's words show that he is just a furious and impotent spectator," the minister said, in the first official Cuban comment on Bush's statement. "I enjoyed listening to the frustration in his words." Perez Roque said Bush's lament that more of the world's major democracies had not joined the United States in isolating Havana was also recognition that Washington's policy on Cuba had itself become isolated. He spoke at a news conference with the European Union's top development aid official, Louis Michel, who was in Havana to try to relaunch EU ties with Cuba. Washington had opposed the visit.

The lawsuit filed by Vermonters against Washington seeking to allow more frequent family visits to Cuba illustrates just one opportunity represented by the change in leadership in the last Cold War standout in our hemisphere. The opportunity lies with the United States. With Fidel Castro stepping aside after five decades as the country's leader, and brother Raul taking over, this country has the opportunity to make gestures that signal a possibility of change. The first steps can include easing some of the more nonsensical tightening of restrictions in recent years such as limiting family visits.

The Vermont plaintiffs want to visit Cuba so that grandparents can attend a wedding ceremony, or to visit an aging aunt. This is playing politics -- outdated geopolitics, at that -- with families as pawns. Allowing these kinds of visits are neither appeasement nor a threat to U.S. security. Easing restriction on family visits is also the kind of move that can be easily reversed if the policy causes an unforeseen problem. Cuba and the United States seem to be locked into decades-old roles based on hard-line ideologies. At least on the U.S. side, the strident stand against a tiny Communist dictatorship hardly reflects the overall policies of this nation, given our relations with Communist China.

At this point, the U.S.-Cuban situation seems more like a schoolyard row that has festered too long than a relationship between neighboring countries. And given the difference between the two countries, it is too easy to cast the United States -- bigger, richer and more powerful by far -- as a bully. The Bush administration tightened restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba in 2004 saying the move was meant to push Cuba toward democracy. But that goes against the policy of constructive engagement, the idea that we would have more influence for good from within, which drove this country's continued relations with apartheid South Africa. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we engaged the Soviet Union and China. Yet we continue to shun Cuba. >From a humanitarian, political or security standpoint, or even for encouraging democracy, keeping families apart makes no sense.

The historic heart of the city of Camagüey, the capital of the eastern Cuban province of the same name, will benefit from the inauguration of new cultural facilities. One of the new institutions is the gallery-workshop of painter Orestes Larios, which is housed in an 18th-century building in a city sector proposed to be declared Humankind's Heritage. The new cultural center is on a pedestrian street, less than a block from the commercial Maceo Street, and two blocks from the former Arms Square. Experts noted that the Orestes Larios gallery-workshop would exhibit artworks and promote creation, teaching and plastic arts in general. The building, which was restored recently, will contribute to highlighting the importance of that part of the city of Camagüey. Precisely, that area of Camagüey has more than 2,500 buildings and covers 16 percent of the historic heart of the city.

Is Google blocking Cuba? – Posting by Cuban Internet User - The greatest and the most used internet explorer has closed some of its services without a clear explanation which are inaccessible from Cuba. When requesting the Google bar, a brief sign in English says “We are sorry, but this service is not available for your country”. The same answer appears when requesting known services like Google Earth, Google Desktop Search, Google Code or Google Toolbar. The site which is famous throughout the world for providing a simple and fast way to find out information in more than 8168 millions of web sites is consulted more than 200 millions of times a day. In addition, it offers to users other opportunities like searching free codes font, see maps and aerial pictures, locate online publicity or find what it’s lost in our computers. These options however are not available for Cuban people.

Although its apparently liberal philosophy, Google is placed in United States, therefore, not only follows the law but increases the denunciations of collaborations with its policies that include espionage to supposed terrorist people. A simple request to access specific Google services from a Cuban server results in a polite but sharply denial in some of them.

Representatives from 23 different Dutch firms are heading to Cuba this week in the hope of doing business on the island, the NRC Handelsblad reports. 'It is the biggest Dutch economic delegation ever to visit Havana,' Gerard Vaandrager, director the trade promotion group NCH told the paper. The mission comes just one month after Fidel Castro said he is handing over the leadership of the communist country to his brother Raúl. 'There are enough signs that a more liberal wind is going to blow on Cuba,' Vaandrager told the NRC. 'Our visit comes at an extremely strategic moment.' At present foreign companies which do business with Cuba run the risk of ending up on a US blacklist. America has operated a trade embargo on the island since 1961.

Banking concern ING stopped its lucrative activities on the Caribbean island last year under US pressure, the NRC points out. The names of the companies taking part in the mission is being kept secret, the NRC said. But Rabobank did admit it is on the list. 'We are curious about the new economic possibilities,' spokesman Raymond Salet said, adding that the bank was not afraid of US sanctions. Three Rotterdam shipping companies are also among the delegates, the NRC says. Agriculture is another important sector where Dutch firms can play a role in reforming the Cuban economy, Vaandrager told the paper.

In 1999, OFAC (The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C.) confirmed that it had previously issued an opinion in 1994 which stated that a U.S. company or individual could make a secondary market investment in a "third-country company" that had commercial dealings with the Republic of Cuba as long as that investment in the "third-country company" was not a controlling interest. (Therefore, under that criteria, U.S. citizens and companies can invest in a private or public Canadian company doing business with Cuba)

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