miércoles, 30 de septiembre de 2009

Bogged down by financial woes, in the midst of a financial meltdown the Cuban economy doe's not need more "ideals" but, they subsist.

Bogged down by financial woes, in the midst of a financial meltdown the
Cuban economy doe's not need more "ideals" but, they subsist.
Written by: Staff, on September 30th, 2009

Cuba´s economy, fundamentally dependent on tourism, continues to ruin
relations with Travel professionals and foreign operators located on the
island or worldwide. The primary motives being the dreaded "stop sales"
emanated by Cuban firms and tourist enterprises to their foreign
partner's months before the next high season approaches with apparently
no sales concluded for the said future season. Such is the need for
direct cash into government and "non disclosed" coffers that some
tourism professionals are reporting that just as they emerge from high
season they are informed that no bookings will be accepted for the next
high season. This year has been acutely affected. One Cuban agency
manager stated - "on the 1st of June we were blocked from selling many
services by Cubanacan only to find that Hotels and Car Bookings were non
existent". A second operator commented on September 3rd that she had
already been blocked from selling almost all vital services in December
while also learning from a confidant at her local representative agency
that they had no pre-bookings…

One operator commented - "MINTUR (Cuba´s tourism Ministry) has its
golden boys, people who they support and to whom they give cart blanche
depending on how the wind blows. Some of these foreign agencies with
local "power" tie up all services through friendships and acquaintances
in MINTUR depriving us of services. Only weeks before high season do
they release occupancies and unsold inventory to agencies like ours" - A
very odd move for a country requiring revenue.

It seems though that the age old communist favoritism is brewing massive
collapse in the Cuban travel network. Companies are leaving in their
droves and local suppliers are finding it increasing difficult to
fulfill pre-agreed quotas with MINTUR. Instead of allowing free access
on the "first come first served" notion, requiring prepayment for
services, even months in advance, Cuba´s MINTUR sustains a "preferred
agent base", included in which, are a select few agents provided with
the golden egg of future tourism only to be released to "menial agents"
and international foreign operators when their cohorts have failed to
fulfill, sadly, weeks before high season and too late to rectify the

This scenario appears year-on-year since 2004 and has become more acute
under Raul Castro. Basically, Cuban officials hold back services giving
its "chosen few" first pickings only to release countless untold
inventories of Hotels, cars and other services weeks before main season,
ultimately remaining unsold.

This is having a catastrophic effect on Cuba´s tourism message via
foreign operators plus, a compounded effect relating to lost revenue for
Cuba´s tourism industry.

The upcoming holiday seasons of Christmas and New Years seems to be
shaping up in similar fashion. Christmas and New Year being "sold out"
since July 30th for cars and Hotels with actually almost no bookings
existing for these periods.

Messing up the countries income?

The Cuba Blog - Cuba News, Politics, Events, Travel Info, International
Affairs, Local Gossip featured writers » Blog Archive » Bogged down by
financial woes, in the midst of a financial meltdown the Cuban economy
doe's not need more "ideals" but, they subsist. (30 September 2009)

Seeds of change in Cuban farming

Seeds of change in Cuban farming
By Michael Voss
BBC News, Camaguey

It could be a scene straight out of the Wild West: a homesteader
struggling to tame a wilderness and turn it into productive farmland to
provide a living for himself and his family.

But this struggle of man against the land is happening in the central
province of Camaguey in Cuba.

Jorge Alcides has no electricity in the simple wooden home he built for
his pregnant wife and two children.

He milks his three dairy cows by hand, sitting on a handmade stool. He
and his son plough the fields using oxen. But he is not complaining.

" If you don't work the land you should lose it and let someone else
take over "
Jorge Alcides

"I'm really happy, it's different when you work for yourself rather than
being paid a wage," he said.

Communist Cuba is undergoing one of the largest land redistributions
since Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959; only this time it is leasing
state-owned farmland to the private sector.

In a bid to boost production and reduce costly imports, President Raul
Castro is offering small plots of unproductive state land to family
farmers and private co-operatives.

Around 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) are up for grabs. So far
about 86,000 applications for land have been approved, with tens of
thousands more Cubans hoping to participate.

Back-breaking work

Last year, Mr Alcides received an extra 13 hectares of land, with a
promise of more if he makes it work.

The catch was that all of it was covered in a thick, impenetrable shrub
called "marabu".

It is like a bramble on steroids - a nightmare to get rid of. The weed
can grow up to 4m (13 feet), has deep roots and is so dense that once it
takes hold nothing else can grow.

Mr Alcides is part of a private co-operative which gives him access to a
1960s Soviet-built tractor with a locally built rotary cutter attached.

It's still back-breaking work. After the shrub is cut, it must be burned
and its roots dug out.

The fields had been part of a state-run collective farm which had been
allowed to go to waste.

"If you don't work the land you should lose it and let someone else take
over," Mr Alcides said.

He has managed to clear about three-quarters of the plot and so far this
year he has produced some 10 tonnes of meat, fruit and vegetables.

Private markets

The Renato Guitart Co-operative is a collection of individual
smallholders: 187 private farmers who have joined together for
investment and to share equipment such as tractors.

It has grown by almost a third over the past year and now covers about
520 hectares (1,300 acres) in the green fertile plains of Camaguey.

Mostly this is cattle country, dominated by large state-run farms. But
the co-operative produces a wide range of fruit and vegetables, along
with meat and dairy.

Agustin Perez, a member of the co-operative, is working hard to meet the
demand for fresh lettuce.

His grandfather first worked this land, concentrating on salad crops
such lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and onions.

In the past private farmers were tolerated; now Mr Perez believes they
are being actively encouraged.

It is not just about extra land. Another key reform is that private
farmers are now legally allowed to take on hired labour.

"There has been an enormous difference in the last two years. The
authorities are paying a lot more attention to us. Now we earn more
money because we are selling more food," he said.

Mr Perez is able to sell everything he grows to privately run farmers'

Early every morning, stall holders arrive to collect whatever is freshly
picked .Some come on horse and carts, others on converted bicycles with

Other members of the co-operative though, like pig farmer Jorge Viera,
still have to sell to the state and rely on inefficient state transport.

Mr Viera recently cleared almost 30 hectares of marabu and has planted
maize and root crops to use as animal feed. He hopes to boost meat
production by 20% this year.

"We sell our basic quota to the state at a not very good price," he
explained, "but for anything above the quota the state pays a much
higher price."

Food imports

Agricultural reform was at the heart of the Cuban revolution. Shortly
after taking power in 1959, Fidel Castro nationalised the large estates
and sugar plantations, many of them US-owned.

Small-scale family farmers were allowed to keep their land but
increasingly the island turned towards huge Soviet-style state-run
collective farms.

It has not worked.

Last year, Cuba spent $2.4bn (£1.5bn) on food imports, much of which
could have been produced on the island.

The large state farms have proved highly inefficient, and allowed as
much as half of the land to become overrun with weeds like marabu.

Today, about a third of Cuba's farmland is in the hands of small-scale
private farmers and co-operatives, yet they produce about two-thirds of
the food.

Handing over unproductive land is only part of the equation. Farmers
still need access to tools, seeds, fertilisers and other necessities.

It is starting to happen but is often bureaucratic and unwieldy.

In Camaguey, part of what the state pays private farmers for their
produce is in the form of accumulated credits or bonus points. These can
then be exchanged for goods at newly created special farm shops.

According to the local small farmers' association, average earnings have
risen to around $200 a month, roughly 10 times the national average.
Some are making significantly more.

Incentives, like the profit motive and productivity-related pay, are
reappearing after half a century of an idealistic experiment in
egalitarian socialism.

It is too early to tell whether these reforms will be far-reaching
enough to make a dramatic impact on food shortages.

But if private farmers are seen to be successfully boosting production
and earning a better living, then President Raul Castro is likely to
face increasing pressure to push through similar free-market reforms to
the rest of the economy as well.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/09/30 12:21:16 GMT

'Palabra Nueva': El exceso de dirigentes y de personal no productivo paraliza la economía

'Palabra Nueva': El exceso de dirigentes y de personal no productivo
paraliza la economía

Agencias | 30/09/2009

Una población laboral dedicada a actividades de dirigencia o servicios y
un excesivo control estatal paralizan la productividad que el gobierno
dice querer impulsar, opinó la principal revista católica de Cuba,
reportó la AP.

"Es urgente destrozar viejos moldes que no funcionan", expresó la
columna de opinión de la publicación mensual Palabra Nueva, órgano de
difusión de la Arquidiócesis de La Habana.

La revista hizo un recuento de los discursos realizados por Raúl Castro
y sus anuncios para incrementar la productividad del país, así como de
las medidas que ha tomado el régimen en esta dirección.

"¿Cómo satisfacer las necesidades básicas, porque efectivamente 'las
básicas' no han sido satisfechas, de la población? Creando mayor
riqueza. ¿Y cómo generar mayor riqueza? Con más producción. ¿Y cómo
producir más? Con más trabajo. ¿Y cómo trabajar más? Aquí está el
dilema", expresó el texto.

La última de las disposiciones gubernamentales fue hace algunos meses la
autorización del "pluriempleo", que permite a los cubanos a tomar más de
un puesto de trabajo y a los estudiantes dedicarse a actividades lucrativas.

Sin embargo, Palabra Nueva desestimó que la normativa fuera a lograr que
la gente trabaje.

"Mayores ingresos tal vez compensen los gastos en alimentos... pero no
necesariamente estimularían las fuerzas productivas", consideró la
publicación. Más aún mientras "las otras ofertas (vivienda, transporte,
distracción) sigan siendo nulas", agregó.

Palabra Nueva analizó además las cifras poblacionales y de empleo
ofrecidas recientemente por la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas, según
la cual el año pasado más de cuatro millones de cubanos estaban empleados.

"De ellos 381.000, el 7,6% ocupaban la categoría de 'dirigentes'", y un
millón más de personas realizaban actividades no productivas como
administrativas, docentes, artísticas o deportivas.

"Faltaría añadir las fuerzas policiales y otras del orden, que no dejan
de crecer, algún que otro empleo de servicio no productivo, y quizás
varios miles de estudiantes universitarios municipales que acuden a
clases, si acuden, un día a la semana y pasan los otros seis sin hacer
nada", lamentó.

A ello debe sumarse "el exceso de centralización económica y la
estatización generalizada no sólo genera una burocracia aplastante y
excesivo gasto público", manifestó Palabra Nueva.

© cubaencuentro.com

'Palabra Nueva': El exceso de dirigentes y de personal no productivo
paraliza la economía - Noticias - Cuba - cubaencuentro.com (30 September

Foreign suppliers in Cuba fret over payments crisis

Foreign suppliers in Cuba fret over payments crisis
Tue Sep 29, 2009 12:20pm EDT

* Many foreign business accounts remain blocked in Cuba
* Businessmen complain government offers no explanations
* Cash squeeze after global downturn, hurricane cleanup

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Many foreign suppliers and investors in Cuba are still unable to repatriate hundreds of millions of dollars from local accounts almost a year after Cuban authorities blocked them because of the financial crisis, foreign diplomats and businessmen said.

The businessmen, who asked not to be identified, said they were increasingly frustrated because the Communist authorities refused to offer explanations or solutions for the situation, which stems from a cash crunch in the Cuban economy triggered by the global downturn and heavy hurricane damage last year.

"I have repeatedly e-mailed, visited the offices and sent my representative to the offices of a company I did business with for years and which owes me money, and they simply refuse to talk to me," a Canadian businessman told Reuters.

Delegations from foreign banks and investor funds holding commercial paper from Cuban state banks have repeatedly traveled to Cuba this year seeking answers from the central bank or other authorities -- without success -- the sources said.

Representatives of some companies with investments or joint ventures on the island said they were bracing for the possibility of not being able to repatriate year-end dividends paid to their accounts in Cuba.

The sources said the lack of official information had resulted in many rumors, including one that the government may seek to close accounts at a discount or is preparing a three-year payment plan.

The Cuban government, after running up a huge trade deficit in 2008, has cut imports by at least 30 percent this year, but was still expected to purchase more than $10 billion in goods and services abroad. Most of the business is reportedly taking place offshore as Cuba's partners seek to avoid local banks.

Some 90 percent of the country's economic activity is in state hands. Cuba has a dual monetary system under which a foreign exchange equivalent called the convertible peso (CUC) circulates along with the domestic Cuban peso.

Foreign businesses must operate within the country using the CUC, pegged at 1.08 to the U.S. dollar and 24 times the domestic peso's value, depositing them in state banks, where they are available as foreign exchange for transfer or withdrawal.

Since last year, the country has been faced with scarcer credit as the global crisis increasingly hit home and has been burdened with the cost of cleaning up after three hurricanes last year. As a result, the state banks began informing foreign businesses their funds were simply not available for the time being.


Foreign economic attaches and commercial representatives in Cuba said most of their nationals doing business with the Caribbean island still faced payment problems.

"Suppliers to the military and its companies, public health and a few other areas are having the fewest problems being paid," one Western diplomat said.

"Those involved with tourism, foreign exchange stores and spare parts and machinery for industry are negotiating partial payments in exchange for more supplies, but the little guy, for example with supplies on consignment, has simply been abandoned," he said.

In July, the central bank issued what it called instruction No. 3, which allowed the transfer or payment of foreign exchange from the frozen accounts with the approval of a government ministry, effectively removing the responsibility of the state banks.

While renewed access to accounts was welcomed by businessmen in Cuba, even if it was only partial, the sources said it was offered with the proviso that they continue to do business and with the payment due date for new goods and services provided extended from 360 days to up to 720 days.

They said the government and state-owned firms appeared to be reaching out because of mounting supply problems in the country as foreign traders and companies balked at doing new business unless accounts were unblocked.

"Despite our firm desire to honor every obligation, we have been forced to renegotiate debts, payments and other commitments with foreign entities, something quite common these days all over the world," President Raul Castro told the National Assembly last month.

"As a rule, we have found understanding and confidence in our partners, to whom we now reaffirm our recognition and the security that we will meet the agreements reached," he said.

Raul Castro, who took over the Cuban presidency from his older brother Fidel Castro last year on health grounds, has announced a series of austerity measures in recent months and said the country must learn to live within its means.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Foreign suppliers in Cuba fret over payments crisis | Markets | Bonds News | Reuters (29 September 2009)

Cuba's black market moves online with Revolico.com

Cuba's black market moves online with Revolico.com
By Tim Elfrink

Mateo Velazquez might just be the best mecánico in Havana, Cuba.

The cars that roll into his little garage — tucked into a crumbling building on Calle Ocho amid Guanabacoa's decrepit colonials — would make an American mechanic laugh like hell.

There are '53 Chevys, lime green and the length of a school bus. Nearby are rusty Russian-made 1972 Ladas and late-'50s Buicks with tail fins like surfboards.

Mateo keeps them all running — a jerry-rigged gas tank in the trunk here, a duct-taped exhaust pipe there.

He learned to do it while growing up in Cienfuegos and Havana, where the embargo has kept new American cars off the roads for almost a half-century. The 55-year-old with a scratchy voice was a boy the last time a fresh Caddy rolled into Cuba.

He is a damn good mechanic, but Mateo, like most of his homeland, is struggling today.

Three hurricanes tore through the island last summer, pummeling his ground-level shop with floodwater and cutting power to his second-floor apartment. Now the global financial meltdown has left the capital city short of bread, toilet paper, and cash to fix old cars.

But two months ago, Mateo got a glimpse of the future. One of his three kids, 23-year-old Manuel, wanted to join some friends on a trip to the north coast. For months, father and son tried to unload some expensive rims to raise money. Though Manuel thought they were worth 300 pesos — about $325 — no one was biting.

"Dad," Manuel finally said, "have you heard about Revolico?"

Revolico? In Cuban slang, it means "a mess." Mateo had no idea what his boy was talking about.

So Manuel took his father to the house of a friend, an engineer with spotty Internet access at home. They logged onto revolico.com and discovered a capitalist Valhalla. There was everything for sale: cars, tires, motorcycles, diapers, cell phones, laptops, massages, Chinese lessons.

"This was my first time on the Internet," Mateo says in Spanish, using the international term for the web. New Times agreed not to publish his real name because selling on the site is illegal on the island. "But I can see that it is great. Like all Cubans, I want to use it more."

Revolico, in fact, is Craigslist for the world's last Marxist-Leninist state. On an island where selling almost anything on the street, over the airwaves, or in the newspaper is forbidden by the socialist constitution, Revolico offers tens of thousands of items. Legions of Habaneros shop on the site every day, making it the most obvious crack yet in the foundation of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Scores of Revolico users interviewed over the past month include a wide swath of island dwellers — from first-time Internet users such as Mateo to web-savvy college kids. By bringing Cuba's huge black market online, the site has changed the way residents think about buying and selling.

"Revolico absolutely blows my mind," says Jose Gabilondo, a Florida International University law professor who has spent years studying Cuba's economy. "It shows how Castro's era will end with a whimper. His control is failing there one online deal at a time."


The Founders

Jose Rodriguez was born in Havana a few years before his homeland's messy divorce from the imploding Soviet Union. It wasn't an easy time to be a kid in the capital city. When the Berlin Wall fell and Moscow shrugged off Communism, millions of Russian rubles stopped flowing into Castro's coffers. American leaders tightened their embargo on the island — making life even more dire for ordinary Habaneros.

Buying and selling almost anything outside state-owned stores had been illegal ever since Castro grabbed control of nearly the entire economy in 1968. But even during those early years of socialism, people sold cigarettes, food, and shoes in Havana's alleys and backrooms.

During Jose's childhood, that market exploded. From 1989 to 1993, the mercado negro grew sevenfold, from 2 billion pesos to 14.5 billion, according to a study by the semi-independent Cuban forum Editorial Ciencias Sociales.

Jose's parents were both ordinary, state-employed professionals, so he grew up depending on the black market for food and clothes. He was always good at math and science. So was his best friend, another nerdy city kid, Juan Sanchez.

During the long, sweltering summer of 1997, a friend introduced the two 16-year-olds to a middleman with an original Pentium computer. They were fascinated. Personal computers were forbidden. Jose and Juan bought it for a few dollars.

"We were like many others in Cuba," Jose says. "The computer interested us because it was foreign and modern."

The two disassembled the hard drive and put it back together. A few weeks later, they bought a keyboard. Days after that, they purchased a grainy black-and-green pixel monitor. "We started with this outdated trash, and we taught ourselves how it all worked," Jose says.

By the time the friends enrolled at the University of Havana (where Fidel once attended law school) in 2000, they understood computers better than many of their teachers. The embargo had kept high-tech American PCs off the island, and the recent influx of Chinese computers to Cuba hadn't kept pace with technology. The two friends also knew pretty much every black-market computer geek in Havana.

Around 2003, Jose joined an email list that circulated among his hacker pals and back-alley electronics sellers around the capital. A few days later, he bought a hard drive someone advertised in one of the emails.

But as the list's users invited friends and family — and computer access slowly spread in Havana — the emails began selling more than just computer parts. Soon cars, services, food, and motorcycles were being hawked. The emails reached hundreds of people around Havana, well outside Jose's group of friends.

"We knew this one black market, for computers and electronics, but we were surprised at how quickly all these other sellers came together," he says.

Jose and Juan decided to organize the email lists by product. One list was for computers, another for cars. But there was just too much. The lists, Jose decided, had become a revolico — a big mess.

So in December 2007, the two friends — both done with college and working as programmers — built a website for all the ads. Jose modeled it on Craigslist, a site he'd studied at the university.

The project was a colossal risk. Jose and Juan were putting a black market on the web and offering Cubans an open forum on the Internet. The site is registered through DomainsByProxy.com, a company based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Jose says the state didn't approve the site, and he hosted it on servers outside Cuba to minimize the risk of authorities linking him to the site. If he censored political posts, he believed, they might not shut it down.

However, Jose declined to give New Times his real name or to identify his partner. His story is impossible to verify independently.

He clearly never intended the site as an act of defiance. He says he simply wanted to make things a little better in Havana. "Everyone in Cuba uses the black market because you have to. We wanted to make it a little easier," he explains. "At least for those who have Internet."


Young Cubans

Sasha Rodriguez squirmed in the thick, wet air of the Havana summer of 1999, her tanned face ghostly in the blue and white light glowing from an ancient monitor. "Isn't it time yet?" she whispered to a friend. Four others who had crammed into the stifling, cluttered room nodded and grumbled.

"No," her friend whispered back. "We have to wait till midnight or it won't work."

A flash of excitement shot up Sasha's spine. The teenagers were breaking not only their parents' rules, but also Cuban law. They'd used even older computers at school to type essays about the revolution, but Sasha's friend, Enrique, a daring boy who was good with computers, had promised something special tonight.

Just past midnight, Enrique double-clicked an icon and held his hand over the modem. The teenagers held their breath as the dial-up tone beeped, clicked, and hissed. But Enrique's parents, snoring in the next room, didn't stir.

"Here we go," he breathed, as the screen slowly loaded a teen chat room.

Sasha held her breath as her friend typed a message on the screen: ¡Hola! ¿Quién está en Miami?

A boy their age named Mike chatted back. He lived in Miami, he said. ¿Como está la Habana?

The friends gasped and laughed. They spent hours in that room, waiting as their tenuous dial-up died and reconnected. They asked their new friend about life in the Magic City. "For me, it was like, 'Oh my God. Miami actually exists outside of my imagination. There are kids like me living there," Sasha says. "It was life-changing."

The chat nearly a decade ago now seems a lifetime away to the erudite 22-year-old Michigan State law student, who left Cuba for South Florida in 2005. (She asked that her first name be changed because she frequently returns to the island to see family.) But it's exactly the kind of experience that has shaped a generation of young Cubans who are connected to the world outside their totalitarian island. It's something their parents and older siblings never knew.

Only about 200,000 Cubans have regular access to the Internet, according to a 2007 study — the most recent available — by the International Telecommunications Union. That amounts to just 2 percent of the population — by far the lowest percentage in Latin America.

Most people log on at schools or businesses, where the web is tightly restricted by censors. But, as Sasha discovered, many young, savvy Cubans have found illegal hookups. Some hack into phone lines or buy legit Internet time from journalists or lawyers who receive state web access and earn a few bucks by selling off the bandwidth.

That's only the latest development in the black market. Sasha recalls its long history in the area she grew up — Ernest Hemingway's crumbling neighborhood, which is now called 10 de Octubre. Her father worked at a state-controlled bakery, and at home her mother made and sold illegal pastelitos, pan, and empanadas to neighbors.

These days, Sasha says, her friends and relatives living on the island have turned to the web for some of the transactions that used to happen on street corners and in living rooms. "My friends are all on Facebook, they're emailing, and they're talking online," she says. "Cuba used to be a place where you connected to your neighbors, your classmates, but that was it. You were walled off. Not anymore."

Of course, there's a dark side to that growing access. Just ask Giselle Recarey Delgado. She grew up in one of the most dangerous places in Havana — a house with two dissident parents. Her father, Hector Palacio, spoke out frequently about Fidel Castro's human rights abuses. Secret police raided Giselle's home more than five times and dragged her dad to jail. Once he stayed there for four years. Her mother, Gisela Delgado, still runs Cuba's Independent Library Project, a group that hosts reading sessions of banned books at its members' homes.

Throughout her childhood, Giselle felt the heat from her parents' activism. At school, teachers segregated her from other students, and secret police followed her home. Despite her high marks, the University of Havana refused to admit her, until her father threatened to talk to foreign media.

At the university, where she enrolled in 2003, she studied computer science — and got a front-row seat to Cuba's rapidly changing online culture. "It's not a major where they can just ram party politics down your throat," Giselle says, laughing. "So it's a natural place for change."

But in 2007, just before Giselle was due to graduate, the university expelled her. The stated reason: She refused to sign a form condemning her parents' activism.

But she suspects it had as much to do with the government's rising fears. Someone so untrustworthy couldn't be allowed access to government-run computers and the Internet. "They understand what the web can do to them. You can't control it," says Giselle, who earned political asylum after her expulsion from school and now studies at the University of Miami.

"It scares them," she says. "And it should."


The Sellers

What follows are a few examples of the ads and sellers on Revolico. New Times has withheld some information about the sellers to protect them from possible prosecution by Cuban authorities. Ads and interviews, which were conducted by phone, have been translated.

Subject: I give Chinese classes

Date: August 21, 2009

I teach Chinese — phonetics, grammar, writing, and everything about the language. If you're interested, call after 9 p.m.

Name: Mileidys and Ernesto

Twenty-eight-year-old Ernesto is overeducated and underpaid. The Havana native has degrees in psychology and sociology. His wife, Mileidys, has degrees in psychology and Chinese.

They're more comfortable than most — Ernesto works at a cultural center and as a part-time professor at the University of Havana. Mileidys heads a human resources department for a telephone company. But in July, they decided they needed some extra cash.

So twice a week in the living room, after she returns home at 8 p.m., Mileidys coaches students in Mandarin grammar and spelling. As the Chinese invest millions in the production of nickel and the telecom industry in Cuba, interest in the language has spiked. She charges two dollars a meeting.

On a recent summer day, Ernesto answers the phone after the third ring. The line crackles over the Florida Straits.

"My wife has a class of about five pretty advanced students, which started about three months ago. It's mostly grad students, but a few middle-age ladies are doing it too. There aren't a huge number of people studying Chinese in Cuba, but I think the number is growing — people want to travel there and to work with Chinese business.

"You know, the black market has always been in Havana. Revolico, it's the same market, just online. You'll find more on the street corners, of course. People are scared, for good reason, to put too much stolen stuff out there on the web.

"Just remember: All the important business in Cuba is done by the state.

"Castro owns the bread. Revolico just moves the crumbs."

Subject: Guitar lessons: all ages and skills welcome

Date: August 12, 2009

I give classes in acoustic, popular, and electric guitar. I have a music degree and can teach in your house. Call 05293**** or write to me at ***@gmail.com. Thanks!

Name: Jorge

Jorge, a music teacher in central Havana, answers his cell phone on a busy street.

"I charge three dollars a lesson. You want to learn? I can teach anything: folk, classical, electric, concert. I studied guitar for years, my friend.

"I produce music also, so if you're good, I can help you put a record together.

"Revolico? Yeah, I've been using it for a while now. I don't know when I started. You know what? This isn't the kind of conversation I can really have on my cell phone out in the open. Maybe email me later. Bye."

Subject: Convertible Ford, 1956, luxury!

Date: August 26, 2009

This, friends, is the only place to find this car. Very hot, very exclusive, great engine, good upholstery and painting (white and green). All original, V8 motor. I'll put photos on the web soon. Interested? Call 203****, ask for Enrique or Juan. We'll show it to you whenever you want.

Name: Enrique and Juan

Juan is a government engineer with some cash to burn — and his ride shows it. Most Cubans make 20 bucks a month; Sanchez wants 13,000 pesos, or more than $14,000, for his '56 Ford.

It's worth it, he says, for a pristine classic in a country full of barely running Yank tanks.

"Yeah, it's a lot of money. But I already had one guy call today wanting to see some photos. It's a beautiful car — classic and in great condition.

      Interested in a cherry-red 1955 Plymouth? It's listed for 5,000 pesos ($5,300).
      Interested in a cherry-red 1955 Plymouth? It's listed for 5,000 pesos ($5,300).
      This über-mod '63 German scooter is a steal at 1,600 pesos, or $1,782.
      This über-mod '63 German scooter is a steal at 1,600 pesos, or $1,782.

Revolico.com, Cuba, Fidel Castro, Craigslist, Revolico

"I've never used Revolico before, but I'm impressed in what it can do. A car this expensive, you can't easily sell it to people you'd meet in everyday life. I needed to reach more people.

"I'm selling it because I need the money. That's all I really want to tell you.

"As far as I know, this is all legal. If someone finds me on this site, we'll go through the legal process to transfer the car title. It's not something bad; it's positive. It's just a tool to do transactions you'd do anyway, and it's making life better."

Subject: Rent a new car with a driver — trips to anywhere in Havana

Date: August 10, 2009

Want a friendly new car with excellent comfort so you can make a trip anywhere you want, 24 hours a day, in Havana? We have reasonable prices according to your destination. We've got an experienced girl who's a great driver.

Name: Enrique

The guy who placed the ad doesn't answer the phone. But his driver, Fany, a young woman with a high-pitched, urgent voice, picks up.

"We've got a nice car, a white Lada. Yeah, I'll drive for anyone. I don't care if you're not Cuban. We can pick you up at the airport when you get to town. Just give me two days' notice, I'm there."

Subject: Hello, I'm looking for the woman of my dreams, a girl both beautiful and mature

Date: August 26, 2009

I live in Havana. I'm a very romantic and tender boy. I like to enjoy life every moment and to dance. I'm well off financially, and I'm spontaneous and natural. I'm searching for a woman to share her life with me. I work in the Hotel Nacional. Chat with me on my MSN account, or call my cell phone.

Name: Michel

Revolico also includes boys looking for girls and vice versa, ladies looking for ladies, dudes looking for dudes, and even a whole section for relaciones ocasionales.

There are plenty of earnest young Cubans like this 23-year-old with an anthropology degree and a boring job manning the desk at one of Havana's most exclusive hotels. The towering Art Deco jewel on the Malecón next to Havana Harbor caters to the wealthiest foreign tourists and dignitaries.

Michel, a sharp-featured man with square glasses and spiked black hair, proudly wears bulbous headphones and a grim expression in his profile photos. (New Times has changed Michel's name and some personal details; otherwise his ad would be easy to identify.) He wants to find a wife.

"I posted on Revolico to get to know people. The site's very popular right now. I posted only a few weeks ago, but one Cuban girl wrote to me. We've had trouble staying in touch, though, because she doesn't have much Internet access. Most Cubans don't. I'm lucky to work at a hotel with Internet for the guests.

"But as far as the tourists, I can't talk to them. We're forbidden from asking where they're staying or what they're doing in Cuba."

Subject: Diapers and baby wipes

Date: August 13, 2009

We charge by weight. Huggies and Pampers.

Name: Leonela

A middle-age-sounding woman answers the phone in what sounds like a busy kitchen. It's difficult to hear her over the banging pots and yelling. But it's clear she has a serious black-market-diaper hookup. In fact, she might just be the hot-diaper queen of Havana.

"Send me an email and I'll answer your questions. I've been able to exchange things on this site before. We're cooking lunch right now, so I don't want to talk."

Subject: Single women and girls, check this out, babes: I'm looking for a hot Cuban

Date: August 31, 2009

Hello, I'm a young man with eyes the color of coffee. My name is Pablo. My telephone is 796***. Send me a message.

Name: Pablo

The tan, rangy 19-year-old with a long face wears a goofy, crooked smile in all of his online photos.

He lives with his parents in Guanabo, a small beach town an hour northwest of Havana, and works in a hospital, massaging the stiff joints and tight backs of his town's elderly pensionistas.

It's not easy to meet girls there, so his sister, who lives and works in Germany, sent him a computer last month. He buys black-market Internet time, and posts almost every day in Revolico's personal sections.

"I'm off today, but I work six days a week at a hospital as a massage therapist. I've been making new friends on Revolico. It's a great site. I make decent money at my job, and we began renting out rooms in our house to tourists after my dad's heart attack.

"I have a lot of friends who use Revolico. It brings you connections to people, but you have to be careful. One friend ordered some parts, and when they brought them over, they were all broken. Some people use the site just to take advantage, to defraud people."

Subject: American car, '55 Plymouth
Date: August 23, 2009

American '55 Plymouth in mint condition. The motor and upholstery are good. I've put photos here for you to check it out. My telephone is 05** for Julio, or 765*** for my neighbor Silvia, or 765*** for my other neighbor, Maria. I want 5,000 pesos [$5,300] for the car. But the price is negotiable.

Name: Julio

The seller has posted photos of a gleaming cherry-red Plymouth with red-and-black leather seats. Asked if he'd consider sending the car to Miami, he doesn't react well.

"I'm selling it for 5,000 pesos. Miami? No! It's impossible to sell it to you in Miami! I don't know how to make that work. Call the authorities, idiot." Click.


Cuba's Wired Future

When Jose and Juan moved their messy email lists onto the web, they began with a few hundred posts. On an average day, one or two dozen new ads would appear.

A year and a half later, the site's explosive growth has stunned its founders. Revolico nets more than 2 million page views a month, according to Jose — 90 percent from inside Cuba. More than 50,000 new ads appear each month, which means around 2,000 Cubans post every day.

"We can't believe it," Jose says. "It's not something we could have imagined being possible."

The site's exponential growth mirrors the breakneck pace — at least by Cuban standards — of growing Internet access. Last year, after decades of living behind a virtual Iron Firewall, Cubans with enough money could legally buy personal computers thanks to Raúl Castro's decree. Just this month, Raúl allowed post offices around the country to build Internet kiosks where ordinary people can check email and surf a handful of approved sites.

The government tightly regulates the IP addresses of sites allowed on state web access and has established hefty punishments for violators. Under Article 91 of the criminal code, Cubans can get slammed with 20 years in jail for posting "counter-revolutionary" works online, according to a report this year by Reporters Without Borders. Getting caught on a black-market Internet hookup can carry a five-year term, according to the study.

But still, as access spreads, a few free-speech pioneers have used the web to talk openly about their country. Young bloggers such as Yoanni Sanchez — who writes a blog called Generación Y, a play on the popularity of Cuban first names beginning with the penultimate letter of the alphabet — criticize the government and write freely about about problems in Havana.

"There is a window beginning to crack open," says Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. "But you have to remember that Yoanni and others are blocked in Cuba. We're reading what they're writing, but most Cubans can't."

So, will Revolico cause real change?

Many doubt it. Several experts questioned the backstory the site's founder gave New Times. Jose was contacted through an email sent to the site's administrator.

Some say he's working directly for the regime, testing a small free-market reform for the government. "The Cuban government has always been very good at alleviating some of the people's needs without fundamentally changing the communist system," says Antonio Jorge, a Cuban finance vice minister who broke with the Castros and now is a professor emeritus at Florida International University.

Others say Jose, even if he lacks official permission, is likely bribing government censors.

"Someone in the Cuban government must have OK'd this site, because there's no way it's flying under the radar," says Sebastian Arcos, a former Cuban political prisoner now in charge of community outreach in FIU's Department of International Studies. "The question is: What are his connections exactly?"

Jose denies any government link. The regime, he says, has nothing to fear from a long-standing black market moving online. "There's no way this would last if there was a political slant to it," he says. "There's nothing political about Revolico."

The pair moved to Spain last year, just a few months after Revolico went live. Jose speaks to New Times from a cell phone with a Spanish area code.

They moved mostly for jobs, he says, declining to name what Spanish city he's speaking from. Revolico brings in only a few hundred dollars a month with Google ads, he explains, so the founders have to keep working.

Jose says he has already received offers to buy the site, but most have come from Americans who want to use Revolico as a political tool against Castro.

That's not Jose's dream. His biggest hope is that when the United States and Cuba normalize relations, the site will become a sensation. In the free-for-all certain to come, the most-visited online trading site on the island could be worth some serious cash. In fact, the two partners say they're working on a new site that will equally test their homeland's boundaries. Jose won't talk about the project except to promise it will "help Cuba emerge in the Internet age."

"When I left, I heard so many people say that Castro has made Cubans lose their entrepreneurial spirit. But it's not true," he says. "We're more entrepreneurial than anyone else on Earth because we must be to survive."

Published on September 29, 2009 at 11:25am
Miami News - Cuba's black market moves online with Revolico.com - page 1 (30 September 2009)

Chamber planning trade mission to Cuba

Chamber planning trade mission to Cuba
By INDERIA SAUNDERS ~ Guardian Business Reporter ~ inderia@nasguard.com:

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce is casting its eyes west to neighboring
Cuba to explore trade opportunities — a move set to establish
connections in that market well ahead of expected growth in that economy.

The Chamber has planned a meeting timed for the first week in November,
around Havana's 27th annual Trade Fair, said its Executive Director
Philip Simon.

"Over time there is the expectation that the market of Cuba will be more
liberalized," he told Guardian Business. "Whether in services or in
trade of goods, there are opportunities for commerce to explore between
The Bahamas and Cuba as it was in many years past."

It's one of many BCC missions to target trade with emerging markets,
said Simon, indicating the purpose of the mission was to examine, assess
and access trade opportunities. While he said the level of interest in
the mission cannot be confirmed at this time, the chamber executive
points to real potential for trade with Cuba for Bahamian businesses.

That's centered around the close proximity of that communist country to
The Bahamas. It's a short distance that should facilitate shipping and

"It makes sense then that with a market the size of Cuba being in close
proximity to us that the possibility of relations be further explored,"
Simon added.

The move comes as concerns arise from foreign suppliers and investors in
Cuba about a block the government in that country has placed on them
from retrieving funds from local accounts that were set up to facilitate
business. It's an issue springing up around the global cash crunch and
Cuba's government subsequently blocking any repatriation of those funds.
Suppliers and investors in that nation have been unable to get official
information on the matter ever since, according to global reports.

It's a problem Gershan Major, the BCC's chairman of Globalization and
Foreign Relations Committee, said the group is willing to face head on.

"This is not dissimilar from other trade missions we've had," he told
Guardian Business. "Part of what we are intending to do is examine
opportunities and barriers that may exist as well as solutions to those
barriers so we can take advantage of opportunities."

The Chamber's move to establish business ties with Cuba follows a
similar move by the national airline. Just several months ago,
Bahamasair ramped up its flights to Cuba, a deliberate attempt to
capitalize on a recent lifting of U.S. restrictions on Cuban-American

"If you look at our summer schedule, starting June 19 we're adding a
third weekly flight, so instead of two we'll have three," Bahamasair
Managing Director Henry Woods told Guardian Business in an earlier
interview. "We're putting that third flight on in anticipation of
greater demand by Cuban-Americans given the changes introduced to U.S. law."

The Chamber is now working out details around the trip — factors that
may also see the Bahamian business delegation winging its way to Cuba on
one of Bahamasair's new flights.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Nassau Guardian Online Guide (30 September 2009)

Cuba lobbying

Cuba lobbying
By Kevin Bogardus - 09/29/09 08:02 PM ET

Expect a renewed lobbying push to remove the travel ban to Cuba.

About 60 activists from 12 states are meeting on Capitol Hill on
Wednesday morning before they start a planned lobbying blitz of
lawmakers. The activists want legislation that will repeal the travel
ban for all Americans to their island neighbor off Florida's coast.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), is expected to
speak to the group. In addition, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the bill's
other main sponsor, might be in attendance.

Organized by the Latin American Working Group and the Washington Office
on Latin America, the lobbying push will also be assisted by a call-in
effort at the same time advocating for the travel ban's repeal.

Cuba lobbying - TheHill.com (29 September 2009)

Cuba's agriculture shows promise, expert says

Posted on Tuesday, 09.29.09
Cuba's agriculture shows promise, expert says
El Nuevo Herald

Cuban agriculture has such a big potential that if it were to be totally
developed it could surpass the volume of production of the Free Trade
Treaty, an expert said Tuesday.

William A. Messina Jr., of the University of Florida's Agriculture
Science Institute, said that the communist island ``has such good soil
and it represents a challenge of such magnitude that, with the end of
the embargo, the agricultural market impact on the continent would be
larger that of the Free Trade Treaty.''

``The Cuban climate is very good, has good resources, and an
agricultural system with potential,'' Messina said. ``But the truth is
that we don't see big trends toward its development in terms of

The UF expert mentioned the fact that last year the hurricane season
inflicted huge harm on Cuban agriculture after the island was hit by two
hurricanes and a tropical storm. Cuba's losses amounted to $10 billion
and it lost all of its crops for the year.

The tragedy coincided with a decrease in food imports, said John
Kavulich, president of Cuba-U.S. Economic and Trade Council.

``Food and agricultural exports went down approximately 20 percent so
far this year due to the consistent lack of foreign currency in Cuba,''
Kavulich said. ``They have always opted to use that type of currency to
buy food.''

Messina and Kavulich came to Miami to take part in the annual conference
of the Americas, hosted by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. With
them was Carlo Dade, director of the Canadian Foundation for the
Americas, who will travel to Havana next week at a time in which the
trade links of his country with the communist island have suffered a
significant contraction.

``At this time we see Cuba's future in terms of new opportunities,''
Dade said. ``We must continue to explore possibilities in economic
terms, since many of our joint projects have nearly disappeared.''

In his opinion, since the '90s, Canadian investments in Cuba diversified
in the areas of oil and mineral extractions, but now they are decreasing
due to the fall in prices in the case of minerals, and the lack of Cuban
investments in the case of oil.

``Our businesses have had a presence, but I can't say it's significant
at this time,'' Dade said.

According to the expert, when agricultural imports opened in Cuba, the
United States had an advantage over Canada.

``Canada is a good exporter of agricultural products, but when the
United States began to sell to Cuba, our business with Cuba changed. Our
entrepreneurs turned to other Latin American countries such as Peru and
Ecuador. ''

Cuba's agriculture shows promise, expert says - Americas -
MiamiHerald.com (29 September 2009)

Resaltan potencial agrícola de la isla

Publicado el miércoles, 09.30.09
Resaltan potencial agrícola de la isla
Especial para El Nuevo Herald

La agricultura cubana es un terreno con un potencial tan grande que
totalmente desarrollado podría sobrepasar el volumen de producción del
Tratado de Libre Comercio, dijo el martes un especialista del tema.

Según William A. Messina, Jr., del Instituto de Ciencias Agrícolas de la
Universidad de la Florida, la isla comunista ``tiene un suelo tan bueno
y representa un reto de tal magnitud que, con el fin del embargo, el
impacto del mercado agrícola en el continente será mayor que el Tratado
de Libre Comercio''.

``El clima cubano es muy bueno, tiene buenos recursos, un sistema
agrícola con potencial, pero lo cierto es que no vemos grandes
tendencias hacia su desarrollo en términos de regulación'', añadió Messina.

También se refirió al hecho de que el año pasado la temporada ciclónica
haya perjudicado enormemente la agricultura cubana, con el paso de dos
huracanes y una tormenta tropical. Cuba sufrió pérdidas por $10,000
millones y perdió toda las siembras del año.

La tragedia coincidió con un decrecimiento en las importaciones de
alimentos de la isla, recordó el presidente del Consejo Cuba-Estados
Unidos de Economía y Comercio, John Kavulich.

``Las exportaciones de comida y productos agrícolas han bajado
aproximadamente 20 por ciento en lo que va de año, dada la continua y
cada vez mayor falta de moneda convertible por parte de Cuba y ellos
siempre han decidido usar ese tipo de moneda para comprar alimentos'',
explicó Kavulich.

Messina y Kavulich vinieron a Miami a participar en la Conferencia de
las Américas 2009, organizada por The Miami Herald y El Nuevo Herald.

Junto a ellos estuvo Carlo Dade, director de la Fundación Canadiense
para las Américas, quien la próxima semana viajará a La Habana, en un
momento en que los nexos comerciales de su país con la isla experimentan
una contracción significativa.

``En estos momentos el futuro con Cuba lo vemos en términos de búsqueda
de nuevas oportunidades. Hay que seguir explorando posibilidades en
términos económicos, porque muchos de nuestros proyectos conjuntos han
desaparecido prácticamente'', dijo Dade.

En su opinión, desde los años 90 las inversiones canadienses en Cuba se
han diversificado, como ha sido la extracción de petróleo y minería,
pero ahora se están reduciendo por la bajada de precios, en el caso de
la minería, y la falta de inversiones cubanas, en el terreno petrolífero.

`Nuestros negocios han tenido una presencia, pero no puedo decir que sea
espectacular en estos momentos'', precisó Dade.

Agregó que con la apertura del mercado de la isla a la importación de
productos agrícolas, Estados Unidos logró ventaja sobre Canadá.

``Canadá es un buen exportador de productos agrícolas, pero cuando
Estados Unidos comenzó a venderlos a Cuba, cambió totalmente nuestra
percepción de negocios con Cuba'', dijo Dade. ``Nuestros empresarios se
viraron para otros países de Latinoamérica, como Perú y Ecuador''.

Resaltan potencial agrícola de la isla - Cuba - El Nuevo Herald (30
September 2009)

En marcha nuevas formas de envíos a Cuba

Diario Las Americas
Publicado el 09-29-2009

En marcha nuevas formas de envíos a Cuba

• Western Union aclara dudas sobre los trámites para las transferencias
monetarias de acuerdo con las actuales regulaciones

Por Iliana Lavastida Rodríguez
Diario Las Américas

Desde abril pasado, fecha en que el presidente Barack Obama anunciara
que se flexibilizarían las medidas para el envío de remesas familiares a
Cuba, la población interesada se mantuvo con una alta expectativa
respecto al tema, hasta que el 3 de septiembre último se dio a conocer
en qué consisten estas medidas.

Western Union, como empresa líder para la emisión de dinero a los
diferentes países de Latinoamérica y el resto del mundo, así como de
otra serie de trámites que requieren transferencia monetaria, ha tenido
el interés de aclarar dudas respecto a las nuevas regulaciones, de
manera que se puedan satisfacer las preocupaciones de los clientes.

Victoria López Negrete, vicepresidente senior de Western Union, en
declaraciones para Diario Las Américas explicó que en el contexto de las
funciones ofrecidas por esta compañía, el cambio en las regulaciones se
concreta en que ahora no existe un límite en el monto que se puede
enviar por concepto de remesas. Además que no hay limitaciones en
términos de frecuencia de los envíos, y tampoco que para hacer llegar
dinero a algún familiar en Cuba, éste deba estar considerado entre los
de primera línea de consaguinidad, es decir, padres, hijos o hermanos.
Ahora están incluidos además, tíos y primos, en primer y segundo grado,
haciendo la salvedad de que sean de origen cubano.

López Negrete también se refirió a los niveles de confiabilidad y
credibilidad que representan para alguien que decida utilizar los
servicios de Western Union, los diez años de trayectoria en que se han
venido desempeñando en estas funciones, con más de 380 mil puntos en las
diferentes áreas geográficas del mundo, y de estos, unos 46 mil en los
Estados Unidos.

"En el caso específico de Cuba, quienes residen en la nación
estadounidense y deciden emplear los servicios de Western Union para
enviar dinero a sus familiares, pueden tener en cuenta que distribuidos
en las catorce provincias cubanas, la compañía tiene 153 agentes", según
puntualizaba la ejecutiva.

En cuanto a términos de garantía y seguridad para los envíos, la
entrevistada se refirió al hecho de que Western Union responde a una
transferencia enviada desde cualquier lugar del mundo en cuestión de
horas o minutos, dependiendo de la distancia.

La vicepresidenta López Negrete aseguró que Western Union pudo asumir de
inmediato estos cambios en la regulaciones para el envío de dinero a
Cuba, aprobadas por el Departamento del Tesoro el 3 se septiembre
pasado, teniendo en cuenta que durante sus años de desempeño se han
guiado por estas regulaciones de carácter legal y en estos momentos
habían estado preparando sus sistemas, desde que se hizo público el
anuncio de flexibilizar las regulaciones, en el mes de abril.

Diario Las Americas - En marcha nuevas formas de envíos a Cuba (29
September 2009)

Empresarios extranjeros, preocupados por crisis de pagos en Cuba

Empresarios extranjeros, preocupados por crisis de pagos en Cuba
Tue Sep 29, 2009 4:16pm EDT

* Muchas cuentas de empresas extranjeras siguen bloqueadas

* Empresarios se quejan que Gobierno no da explicaciones

* Escasez de efectivo tras desaceleración global

Por Marc Frank

LA HABANA, sep 29 (Reuters) - Muchos empresarios extranjeros en Cuba aún
no pueden repatriar cientos de millones de dólares de sus cuentas
locales, casi un año después de que las autoridades cubanas las
bloquearan por la crisis financiera, dijeron diplomáticos y empresarios.

Los empresarios, que pidieron no ser identificados, dijeron que estaban
cada vez más frustrados porque las autoridades de la isla se niegan a
dar explicaciones o soluciones a esa situación, derivada de una crisis
de liquidez local tras la caída económica global y los efectos de los
huracanes del 2008.

"En reiteradas ocasiones he enviado correos electrónicos, visité las
oficinas y envié a mi representante a las oficinas de una compañía con
la que hacía negocios por años y que me debe dinero", dijo a Reuters un
empresario canadiense. "Simplemente no quieren hablar conmigo".

Delegaciones de bancos extranjeros y de fondos de inversión que tienen
papeles comerciales de los bancos estatales cubanos han viajado a Cuba
en varias ocasiones este año en busca de respuestas del Banco Central o
de otras autoridades, pero no han tenido éxito, dijeron las fuentes.

Representantes de algunas compañías con inversiones o emprendimientos
conjuntos en la isla dijeron que se preparan ante la posibilidad de no
poder repatriar los dividendos de fin de año depositados en sus cuentas
en Cuba.

Las fuentes dijeron que la falta de información oficial ha dado lugar a
muchos rumores, incluyendo uno de que el Gobierno podría tratar de
cerrar las cuentas con un descuento o preparando un plan de pago a tres

El Gobierno cubano, después registrar un elevado déficit comercial en el
2008, ha reducido las importaciones en al menos un 30 por ciento este
año, pero aún se espera que compre más de 10.000 millones de dólares en
bienes y servicios en el extranjero.

Alrededor del 90 por ciento de la actividad económica del país comunista
está en manos del Estado y Cuba tiene un sistema monetario dual. Junto
al peso cubano circula una moneda local llamada peso convertible (CUC).

Las empresas extranjeras deben operar en el país utilizando el CUC,
equivalente a 1,08 dólar estadounidense y 24 veces al peso doméstico,
depositándolos en los bancos estatales, donde se encuentran disponibles
como divisas para las transferencias o su retiro.

Desde el año pasado, la crisis financiera internacional empeoró las
condiciones de crédito para la isla, que fue golpeada fuertemente por el
azote de tres huracanes. Como resultado, los bancos estatales comenzaron
a informar a las empresas extranjeras que sus fondos simplemente no
estaban disponibles por el momento.


Empresarios y representantes comerciales extranjeros en Cuba dijeron que
la mayoría de sus nacionales que tienen negocios con la isla todavía
enfrentan problemas con los pagos.

"Los proveedores de las compañías militares, la Salud Pública y algunas
otras áreas, son las de menos problemas en relación con los pagos", dijo
un diplomático occidental.

"Los empresarios involucrados en el sector turístico, las tiendas de
divisas, la venta de piezas de repuesto y maquinarias industriales están
negociando pagos parciales a cambio de más suministros, pero los más
pequeños, por ejemplo con suministros en consignación, simplemente han
sido abandonados", dijo.

En julio, el Banco Central emitió lo que llamó la instrucción número 3,
que permitió las transferencias o pagos de divisas de las cuenta
bloqueadas, con la aprobación de un ministerio estatal, básicamente
eliminando la responsabilidad de los bancos estatales.

La renovación del acceso a las cuentas fue bien acogida por los
empresarios en Cuba, pese a que tiene un carácter parcial.

Las fuentes dijeron que el acceso a sus cuentas de divisas fue ofrecido
con la condición de que continúen haciendo negocios con la isla, y la
fecha de pago para nuevos productos y servicios prestados se amplió de
360 días a un máximo de 720 días.

Las fuentes dijeron que parece que el Gobierno y los empresas estatales
permitieron el acceso a las cuentas debido a que las empresas
extranjeras no quisieron hacer negocios con Cuba después del bloqueo de
sus cuentas bancarias, lo que le trajo problemas de abastecimiento a la

"A pesar de la firme voluntad de honrar cada obligación contraída, nos
hemos visto forzados a renegociar deudas, pagos y otros compromisos con
entidades extranjeras, algo que es bastante común en estos días en todo
el mundo", dijo en agosto el presidente cubano, Raúl Castro, en un
discurso ante el Parlamento.

"Como regla, hemos encontrado comprensión y confianza de nuestros
socios, a quienes les ratificamos hoy el reconocimiento y la seguridad
en el cumplimiento de los acuerdos alcanzados", agregó.

Raúl Castro, quien reemplazó en la presidencia de Cuba a su enfermo
hermano Fidel el año pasado, ha anunciado una serie de medidas de
austeridad en los últimos meses y dijo que el país debe aprender a vivir
con lo que tiene.

(Editado por Luis Azuaje)

Empresarios extranjeros, preocupados por crisis de pagos en Cuba |
Reuters (29 September 2009)

martes, 29 de septiembre de 2009

Russian Lada gets Chinese rival on Cuban roads

Russian Lada gets Chinese rival on Cuban roads
Tue Sep 29, 2009 1:13am EDT
By Esteban Israel

HAVANA (Reuters) - After three decades as the favored car of Cuban
nomenklatura, the austere, Russian-built Lada has spotted a Chinese
rival in its rear-view mirror.

Ministers, communist officials and police are switching their Ladas,
with its stiff manual steering, for the smooth hydraulics of the
Chinese-made Geely CK, a modern sedan that symbolizes the island's new
alliance with Beijing.

China, now Cuba's second-largest trading partner behind only Venezuela,
has shown an ability to quickly penetrate and dominate markets around
the world with many of its products.

But Cubans say their love for Ladas, which are probably the most visible
legacy of the country's Cold War alliance with the Soviet Union, will
keep the cars on Cuban roads.

"I do not think it will be easy to displace the Lada," said David Pena,
a 39-year old mechanic who recently founded Cuba's Russian Automobile
Club. "For us this car is like a family member."

Cuba is well known for the vintage American cars that prowl its streets,
relics of pre-revolutionary Cuba and rolling tributes to the islanders'
mechanical inventiveness.

But the truth is they are greatly outnumbered by Ladas, of which there
are an estimated 100,000 in Cuba, compared to somewhere around 60,000 of
the old U.S. cars.

The Geelys, based on a Daewoo design and powered by a 1.5-liter engine
licensed from Toyota Motor Corp, have begun showing up with increasing
frequency on Havana streets.

They have a sleek and stylish look and come with air conditioning,
electric windows and CD players.

The Chinese cars are so far showing up in very limited numbers, as
government vehicles and rental cars, but their ranks are expected to
increase in a sign of China's growing economic relationship with Cuba
and business interests on the island.

Geely, China's biggest privately owned car maker whose worldwide
strategy has been founded on exporting low-cost vehicles, shipped more
than 1,500 cars to Cuba this year through June, the Miami Herald
reported on its website.


But the no-frills Lada, based on the Fiat 124 from the 1960s, has become
a cult object in Cuba for both its utility and its enduring presence.

Pena and dozens of other Lada die-hards gather every month in Lenin Park
on the outskirts of Havana to talk about and show off their cars.

The Soviet Union took Cuba under its wing in 1961, two years after Fidel
Castro rose to power in a 1959 revolution, and until its implosion in
1991 showered the communist-led island with billions of dollars in
subsidies and goods, including the Lada.

From the time it arrived in the 1970s, the car, so spartan it does not
even have hubcaps, was a good fit for economically challenged Cuba.

It was inexpensive, and earned a reputation as a durable car that, when
repairs were needed, was easy to repair.

"Anyone can fix it with just a piece of wire," said Carlos, a veteran
mechanic in Havana. "If you ask a Cuban he will tell you he does not
want to exchange his Lada for anything in the world."

There are those who doubt that the new Geelys, flashier but not imbued
with the Lada's image of tank-like solidity, will last as long on Cuba's
pot-holed streets.

"They are changing (our Ladas for Geelys) but I don't think the Chinese
cars will be as resistant as the Lada," said a police officer leaning
against his white Lada patrol car along Havana's sea wall. "Only time
will tell."

Cars tend to be cherished in countries where they are not easy to get,
which is the case in Cuba.

A government minister must give approval for someone to buy a car
legally, and in most cases even when it is purchased, it still belongs
to the state.

Only people who bought a car before the revolution or those who
afterward were granted the right to purchase one for personal or
political achievements actually own their vehicles.


For those who get permission, a new, basic Lada can be bought for the
equivalent of about $5,000 U.S. A black market exists, where the
purchaser buys the car for about three times the normal price, but it
remains registered in the name of the original owner.

Cubans show their love for Ladas by making them a showcase for creativity.

Some have covered their dashboards with precious woods, installed
powerful engines with souped-up carburetors or even reinvented the
original Soviet design by welding together two cars to build an
improbable Lada limo.

"Our wives often complain because we dedicate so much time and money to
our Ladas," said Manuel Ares, who is vice president of the Russian
Automobile Club.

The cars on Cuban streets reflect Cuba's political history, with the
long Soviet presence, a lingering American influence and, currently,
growing ties with China.

Russia and Cuba have been warming their old friendship, which may soon
show up on Cuban roads.

Russia has talked about building a Lada plant in Cuba to sell cars
throughout Latin America, but the project has been put on hold by the
global recession.

In the meantime, there are plans to import thousands of new Ladas to
Cuba, the Russians have said.

For Carlos the mechanic, that only confirms what he already believes.

"The Lada will never die (in Cuba)," he said, "It has become a classic."

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)

Russian Lada gets Chinese rival on Cuban roads | Special Coverage |
Reuters (29 September 2009)


Tania de la Torre Montesinos, Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- "En el parque de Vallepín en el municipio
de Manzanillo, provincia Granma, está ubicada mi carnicería, llamada "El
Zancarrón", Unidad 3654, sita en la calle Mercedes entre Rafael Oro y
Joaquín Oro. Todos los alimentos que llegan a mi carnicería se echan a
perder, porque no tienen nevera y los venden en mal estado".

Así nos comunica Xiomara Moncada Almaguer, y además señala que en la
última semana del mes de agosto el picadillo de soya estaba con una
coloración verde y fétido y que el pescado de septiembre no lo pudieron
vender, porque no lo pueden guardar, por la falta de una nevera que
impediría la descomposición de los productos cárnicos.

PORQUE NO TIENEN NEVERA"... - Misceláneas de Cuba (29 September 2009)

lunes, 28 de septiembre de 2009

Chinese hotel project in Cuba eyes U.S. market

Chinese hotel project in Cuba eyes U.S. market
Mon Sep 28, 2009 1:54pm EDT
By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Hemingway Hotel may have an American ring to it,
but it is the name of a Chinese-Cuban venture scheduled for
groundbreaking this year with an apparent eye on the U.S. market,
tourism industry sources said.

State-run Suntine International-Economic Trading Company of China and
Cuba's Cubanacan hotel group are partners in the project, which will be
a 600-room luxury hotel, the sources, who asked not to be identified,
said over the weekend.

Future U.S., not Chinese, tourists appear to be the target market for
the hotel that will be built on the grounds of the sprawling Hemingway
Marina just west of Havana.

Renovations are already underway at the marina, named after famed U.S.
author Ernest Hemingway who resided in Cuba for many years, with the
expectation that U.S. boats will soon be coming to the island just 90
miles south of Key West, Florida.

The United States has long banned most of its citizens from visiting
Communist-led Cuba, under a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the
island, but U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants improved ties
between the two countries.

Obama has lifted restrictions on Cuban American travel to Cuba and bills
are pending in the U.S. Congress that would eliminate the ban on travel
to Cuba, a popular U.S. tourist destination before the island's 1959

The passage of the travel bills is not assured because of opposition,
particularly among Cuban Americans, to renewing ties with the current
Cuban government.

Citic Construction, the main contractor for the Beijing Olympic Games,
and the Cuban Construction Ministry will build the proposed Hemingway hotel.

At a Havana meeting this month, the Chinese and Cuban partners set a
November start date for construction, diplomatic sources said, although
such plans are often delayed for logistical reasons.

Neither Suntine International nor Cubanacan were immediately available
for comment on the project.

With the prospect of better relations between Havana and Washington, and
President Raul Castro widely seen as more pragmatic than his ailing
brother Fidel Castro, other foreign investors are positioning themselves
for a new era as well.

Raul Castro, 78, took over the Cuban presidency from Fidel Castro, 83,
last year.

Tourism industry sources said they had noticed an increased interest in
hotel construction and that representatives from some major U.S. hotel
companies had quietly visited this year.

Qatar and Cuba signed an agreement in May to build a $75 million luxury
hotel on Cuba's Cayo Largo.

China's Suntine, with a 49 percent stake, is providing $150 million for
the Hemingway Hotel project. Cubanacan, with 51 percent ownership, is
providing the land and other resources, the sources said.

Suntine and Cubanacan also are joint venture partners in a 700-room
luxury hotel in Shanghai's Pudong business district, managed by Spain's
Sol Melia.

China is Cuba's second-largest economic partner after Venezuela. There
have been a number of Chinese-Cuban ventures in other sectors like oil,
pharmaceuticals, health care and telecommunications.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Pascal Fletcher)

Chinese hotel project in Cuba eyes U.S. market | International | Reuters
(28 September 2009)

The Land Is There, the Cubans Are There, but the Incentives Are Not

The Land Is There, the Cubans Are There, but the Incentives Are Not
Posted by Juan Carlos Hidalgo

The Washington Post has an interesting story today on the program of the
Cuban government to transfer idle state-owned land to private farmers so
they can resurrect the dilapidated agricultural sector on the communist
island. As Ian Vásquez and I wrote in the chapter on U.S. policy toward
Cuba in Cato Handbook for Policymakers, before this reform, the
agricultural productivity of Cuba's tiny non-state sector (comprising
cooperatives and small private farmers) was already 25 percent higher
than that of the state sector.

At stake is an issue of incentives. Collective land doesn't give farmers
an incentive to work hard and be productive, since the benefits of their
labor go to the government who distributes them (in theory) evenly among
everyone, regardless of who worked hard or not. While with private
property, "The harder you work, the better you do," as a Cuban farmer
said in the Post story.

The country's ruler, Raúl Castro, recently declared that "The land is
there, and here are the Cubans! Let's see if we can get to work or not,
if we produce or not… The land is there waiting for our sweat." However,
it's not a matter of just having land and lots of people. It's also a
matter of incentives to produce. Failing to see this, as in the case of
Cuba's failed communist model, is a recipe for failure.

The Land Is There, the Cubans Are There, but the Incentives Are Not |
Cato @ Liberty (28 September 2009)

Cuba admits failure to pay farmers on time

Posted on Monday, 09.28.09
Cuba admits failure to pay farmers on time
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Cuba on Monday acknowledged a failure to pay cash-strapped
farmers on time and said some local officials lied to cover up the
problem - a blunt admission from the communist government that crucial
agriculture reforms lauded by President Raul Castro have so far fallen

The public mea culpa came in a full page spread Monday in the state-run
Granma newspaper, which acknowledged that the issue is a main cause of
discontent in the countryside.

It said that after an enormous effort to repay farmers that began in
2004, the problem has come up again.

"We ought to admit that provincial agriculture officials, local
governments and the Agriculture Ministry itself have not taken
responsibility," Agriculture Minister Ulises Rosales de Toro is quoted
as saying.

The minister said that some local officials have falsified records to
hide the lack of payments, something that he described as "unconscionable."

"Anybody who acts in this way calls into question his moral authority to
lead," the report quoted him as saying.

Despite a warm climate and rich soil, Cuba lacks the ability to feed
itself and must import more than $2 billion worth of food a year, much
of it from the United States.

Cuban markets offer a grim selection of basic products, and often run
out. Many complain that it is hard to get by on government ration books
that grant only about 15 days worth of food for an entire month.

Raul Castro, who took over from his elder brother Fidel in February
2008, has made agriculture reform one of the main goals of his
administration. He has handed over 80,000 parcels of fallow government
land to private farmers and exhorted his countrymen to produce more.

The government says the program is working, although it acknowledges
progress is slow. Farmers say they often lack the equipment and
fertilizer to plow the new fields, and that inefficiency has caused some
food to rot before it can reach supermarket shelves.

According to the Granma report, the government owes farmers about
$95,000 - not much by international standards, but a windfall in a
country where farmers get by on well under $100 a month and must sell
most of their production back to the state.

The payment problems "constitute an immorality in that they make
producers think that the state is not willing to pay them," the
newspaper said.

Cuba admits failure to pay farmers on time - World AP - MiamiHerald.com
(28 September 2009)

Gobierno cubano lucha contra el impago a campesinos

Publicado el lunes, 09.28.09
Gobierno cubano lucha contra el impago a campesinos
The Associated Press

LA HABANA -- Las autoridades cubanas reconocieron que han vuelto a
enfrentar el impago estatal a los productores agropecuarios, pese a los
esfuerzos realizados por el gobierno.

La deuda ascendía a 2 millones de pesos cubanos (unos 95.000 dólares) en
los primeros ocho meses del 2009, informó el periódico Granma, órgano
oficial del Partido Comunista de Cuba.

La cifra había llegado a los 192 millones de pesos (9,1 millones de
dólares) en 2004, pero a partir de toda una reestructuración del agro y
algunas medidas firmadas por el presidente Raúl Castro "se logró en el
2008 reducir el monto anual de los impagos", dijo Granma.

"El impago a los productores agropecuarios, ineficiencia que parecía
solucionada, ronda de nuevo como un fantasma en algunas provincias y
municipios, lo que tiende a dañar la autoridad y el orden requeridos en
las finanzas del país", agregó el rotativo.

Castro reconoció al asumir su mandato de manera definitiva en 2008 que
los problemas del campo y la producción agrícola, incluyendo salir de
las abultadas deudas, eran una prioridad de su gobierno. Desde entonces
comenzó una reestructuración del sector.

"Constituye una inmoralidad propiciar que el productor piense que el
Estado no tiene voluntad para pagarle", consideró Granma.

Según el ministro de la Agricultura, Ulises Rosales, se descubrió algo
"inconcebible": "muchos en la base, al informar a las instancias
superiores, ocultan los impagos gracias a un acuerdo que toman 'por la
libre' la empresa y el productor". Señaló que en estos casos se tomarán
medidas disciplinarias.

Otras empresas para omitir los impagos colocan el debe como "deudas en
litigio", comentó por su parte el presidente de la Asociación Nacional
de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP), Orlando Lugo Fonte.

Según las normas legales, los campesinos deben recibir su pago a los 30
días de haber entregado su producción.

Actualmente, los productores le venden su mercancías al Estado y sólo un
remanente es colocado por ellos en los llamados "agromercados",
autorizados a mediados de la década de 1990 en medio de una fuerte
crisis económica y en los cuales los precios los fija la oferta y la
demanda, aunque cuentan con supervisión estatal.

Castro arrancó también una campaña para eliminar miles de parcelas
llenas de maleza e improductivas y aseguró que el tema alimentario y su
producción son un problema de seguridad nacional.

Paralelamente se comenzó un proceso de descentralización del agro, se
liberó la venta de herramientas para los campesinos, se incrementó el
precio de sus cosechas y se vinculó el pago a los trabajadores a cuánto
estos realmente producían.

Cuba gasta más de 2.000 millones de dólares en importaciones de
alimentos para la población y busca sustituir también las compras al
exterior del sector.

Gobierno cubano lucha contra el impago a campesinos - Negocios AP - El
Nuevo Herald (28 September 2009)

Vietnam dona a Cuba arroz, 500 televisores, 500 computadoras y 600 sandalias

Vietnam dona a Cuba arroz, 500 televisores, 500 computadoras y 600 sandalias
Por Agencia EFE – Hace 1 minuto.

La Habana, 28 sep (EFE).- El presidente de Vietnam, Nguyen Minh Triet,
entregó hoy a Cuba una donación de 3.000 toneladas de arroz, 500
televisores, 500 computadoras, 8.000 cuadernos y 600 pares de zapatos y
sandalias, informaron medios oficiales.

Nguyen Minh Triet dijo que el donativo es una "muestra de solidaridad y
amistad" del partido comunista, el estado y el pueblo vietnamitas, al
entregarlo a Ricardo Cabrisas, vicepresidente del Consejo de Ministros
de la Isla.

"Traemos en esta visita el mejor mensaje de solidaridad, de apoyo y de
amistad constante del pueblo vietnamita al cubano", manifestó el
mandatario de Vietnam en la inauguración de un foro de negocios binacional.

Cuba mantiene unas relaciones especiales con Vietnam, uno de los pocos
países oficialmente comunistas de Asia (pero con un emergente
capitalismo de estado), aunque el intercambio comercial entre los dos
países ronda solo los 400 millones de dólares, según dijo recientemente
el embajador de Vietnam en La Habana, Vu Chi Cong.

Cuba y Vietnam han suscrito anteriormente pactos para la protección
recíproca de inversiones y la colaboración y el intercambio comercial en
sectores como la biotecnología, construcción, el petróleo, la educación,
la industria ligera y el turismo.

epa - european pressphoto agency: Vietnam dona a Cuba arroz, 500
televisores, 500 computadoras y 600 sandalias (28 September 2009)

Cuba Pins Hopes On New Farms Run for Profit

Cuba Pins Hopes On New Farms Run for Profit
Program Part of 'New Socialist Model'
By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 28, 2009

CEIBA DEL AGUA, Cuba -- Faced with the smothering inefficiencies of a
state-run economy and unable to feed his people without massive imports
of food, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has put his faith in compatriots like
Esther Fuentes and his little farm out in the sticks.

If Cuba is searching for its New New Man, then Fuentes might be him. The
Cuban government, in its most dramatic reform since Castro took over for
his ailing older brother Fidel three years ago, is offering private
farmers such as Fuentes the use of fallow state lands to grow crops --
for a profit.

Capitalism comes to the communist isle? Not quite, but close. Raúl
Castro prefers to call it "a new socialist model." But Fuentes gets to
pocket some extra cash.

"The harder you work, the better you do," said Fuentes, who immediately
understood the concept.

Castro's government says it has lent 1.7 million acres of unused state
land in the past year to 82,000 Cubans in an effort to cut imports,
which currently make up 60 percent of the country's food supply.

The United States, which has maintained a diplomatic deep freeze and a
punishing economic blockade against the island for almost 50 years, is
the island nation's largest supplier of food and agricultural products,
selling it an average of $350 million worth of beans, rice and frozen
chickens each year since 2001, when Congress created exceptions to the
trade ban.

At a major speech honoring the revolution in July, Castro smacked his
hand on the podium and announced: "The land is there, and here are the
Cubans! Let's see if we can get to work or not, if we produce or not, if
we keep our word. It is not a question of yelling 'Fatherland or Death!'
or 'Down with imperialism!' or 'The blockade hurts us!' The land is
there waiting for our sweat."

In an August speech, Castro said that the Cuban economy, walloped by
three hurricanes last year as well as global recession, grew just 0.8
percent in the first half of 2009. The hurricanes decimated crops and
caused $10 billion in damage.

Critics of Cuba's communist-style collectivist agriculture system say
that the country should be a virtual Eden, given its rich soil and
abundant rain, and should not have to import tons of dried peas from the
imperialist aggressor to the north.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of subsidies from
Moscow and Eastern Europe, Cuba abandoned its huge farms devoted to
sugar cane -- and that land was quickly taken over by marabu, a
tenacious, thorny weed that now covers vast tracts of Cuba the way kudzu
blankets the American South.

"If they really wanted to solve their problem, they could solve it in a
minute, with the stroke of a pen," by allowing private ownership and
free markets, said José Alvarez, a professor emeritus and authority on
Cuban agriculture at the University of Florida.

Although he has stepped out of his brother's shadow since taking office,
Raúl Castro told the Cuban National Assembly in August: "I was elected
to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not destroy it.
We are ready to talk about everything, but not to negotiate our
political and social system." Those who hope that Cuba will crumble
after "the death of Fidel and all of us," Castro said, "are doomed to

Brian Latell, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami and author of
"After Fidel," said: "This farm reform is one of Raúl's highest
priorities. He talks about it constantly. But the steps have been more
reluctant, slower, more tentative than many Cubans would probably like."

The 78-year-old former brigadier general has signaled that the
paternalistic Cuban system may include a little more tough love and a
bit more free enterprise. The government is in the process of
eliminating subsidized beer for weddings, holidays for exemplary
workers, hotel rooms for newlyweds and free chocolate cakes for Mother's
Day. In one of the most watched pilot programs, Cuba is beginning to
shutter state-run cafeterias and instead give workers 15 pesos, or about
65 cents, to buy lunch from state-run cafes or private food stalls. The
average monthly salary in Cuba is about $20.

Out in the countryside, Castro's farm reform has set the villages
buzzing. Chewing on an unlit cigar, Fuentes took a visitor on a tour of
his new domain. Last year, he worked nine acres of land, mostly for
self-consumption, "plus a little left over to sell." This year he
applied for and was quickly granted another 20 acres. The plot is his to
farm for 10 years, and the only requirement is that he plant crops.

Fuentes pointed to his new fields of sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes,
cassava and beans. He's also growing flowers to sell. Chickens were
running around, and trees bore monster avocados. The future looks better.

"This is big change," he said. "Everyone wants in."

His adult daughter Marta works for the local farm cooperative, where
Fuentes and other private farmers sell their crops. The state still sets
the price -- but the more the farmers produce, the more they sell. They
also try to grow better-quality produce, which fetches a higher price.
They are paid in cash, which Fuentes appreciates, and they are not told
what to plant.

"Right now, there are shortages of everything," Fuentes said, "so there
is no risk of overproduction."

Marta Fuentes said the local cooperative now has 44 farms as members, up
from 31 a year ago. "And not only are there more farmers, the farms
themselves, like ours, are bigger," she said. There are more fresh
fruits and vegetables available in local markets, she said, and a recent
report from the Associated Press said that some commodities appear more
abundant in Havana these days.

So depressed is the Cuban economy that the government is pushing farmers
to use oxen to plow the fields. "Let's forget about tractors and fuels
for this program, even if we had them," Castro said.

The Fuentes family uses a couple of oxen. "Not having any machinery
might seem backward, but in some ways the oxen are better," Fuentes
said. He can borrow a tractor from the cooperative if he needs one. But
the fuel costs are prohibitive.

One of the challenges facing private farmers is the lack of credit and
investment. They can work their new farms, but they often don't have
enough fertilizer, seed or fuel. There's not enough electricity to run
water pumps, Fuentes said, and no one has pesticides.

"This a big problem," said Alvarez, the University of Florida professor.
"The government gives the farmers some land, which is good, but they
don't give them any inputs. So they tell them, 'Take your old machete
and go and fight the sun and weather and save us.' "

"It's not much extra money, but believe me, every little bit helps us,"
said Marta Bobadilla, a retired shop clerk who was given the use of 1.5
acres behind her house on the outskirts of Havana, which she has
transformed into an urban garden filled with bananas, okra, sweet
potatoes and leafy vegetables to feed her rabbits.

Asked if the cute little white bunnies might be sold as pets, Bobadilla
thought that funny. This is Cuba. "These are to eat," she said.

Cuba Pins Hopes on New For-Profit Farms - washingtonpost.com (28
September 2009)