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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cuba's Labor Movement Concludes Soul Searching

by Circles Robinson

First Vice President Raul Castro made the closing speech Wednesday evening bringing an end to four days of intense debates and soul searching among Cuban labor leaders from throughout the island, gathered in Havana at the 19th Congress of the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC).

In a highly spirited atmosphere, for nearly a half hour before the final plenary session began, the more than 1,400 delegates sang, chanted slogans in support of the revolution and its top leaders, poked fun at their enemies in Washington, and made it clear that a united Cuban labor movement is ready to face any new challenges.

The event marked a turning point at a time when the island’s economy shifts gears from the lean years of struggle to survive to a period of rapid recovery that many outside observers thought would never happen.

The congress was attended by Cuba’s top government and Communist Party officials who spent long hours simply listening to hundreds of union representatives give their views and criticisms on the serious problems of indiscipline, low productivity and theft at the Cuban workplace and other issues.

To face the tasks of this new era, the CTC Congress elected a new national council and a 17-member secretariat headed by Salvador Valdes Mesa, who replaces Pedro Ross Leal as the CTC general secretary, a post Ross has held for 17 years.

In his customary concise and to the point manner, Raul Castro recognized the outgoing CTC leadership for having navigated the island’s ship through the turbulent waters of the Special Period (era that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and European Socialist Bloc).

However, he warned that “we can’t ignore the negative mark left by the material limitations and above all some of the measures adopted in the effort for the country to survive.” He noted that President Fidel Castro had clearly outlined the dangers involved in his speech last November at the University of Havana.

“I can say that the causes of an important number of problems and deficiencies are identified and that the CTC and each union has recognized its responsibilities as well as pointing to those corresponding to management,” said Raul Castro.

The first vice president said the topics discussed by the delegates are vital for the future of the country “because as we delve deeper into any of them we discover reserves that haven’t been exploited, deficiencies often coming from a lack of foresight, organization or slackness.”

The Cuban defense minister said the newly elected secretariat has its work cut out for it in the coming year to put the CTC Congress resolutions into practice.

Raul Castro said one of the most difficult challenges ahead is to achieve that the worker feels he/she is the owner of the means of production and act accordingly. That’s where the decisive work of the unions come in, he added.

He also noted that while Cuba deals with its internal problems, its powerful enemy to the North steps up its aggressive plans under the Bush Plan that seeks to destroy the revolution and wipe out the conquests of the Cuban people, won during so many years of struggle.

During the afternoon session Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage told the delegates that their voices had been heard by the government and Communist Party and that their criteria would be studied and acted upon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fidel Castro at Workers Congress in Cuba

by Circles Robinson

Amid chants of “Fidel is here” the 19th Congress of the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC) opened its final two days of plenary sessions with marked enthusiasm over labor’s resurgence as the leading force posed to lift the country out of a 15-year period of resistance and gradual recovery.

President Fidel Castro would no doubt have wanted to be on hand in person but since the Cuban leader is on doctor’s orders to continue his recuperation from surgery, the dais of the Havana Convention Center was headed by First Vice President Raul Castro, CTC General Secretary Pedro Ross Leal and several top brass of the government and Communist Party.

A standing ovation was given at the entrance of 85-year-old Melba Hernandez, heroine of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba led by Fidel Castro, which marked the beginning of five and a half years of struggle that ended with the fall of the Batista dictatorship.

Pedro Ross Leal gave the morning’s keynote address to the over 1,500 union representatives and guests. The CTC general secretary said the congress is the perfect time for the Cuban labor movement to analyze its strengths and weaknesses and determine what must be done.

Speaking on one of the forum’s most debated issues, inefficiency and a lack of discipline in the workplace, Pedro Ross said: “We workers must fight the brunt of the battle against our own insufficiencies and incompetence by facing, in an organized and determined manner, everything that puts the country’s socialist system at risk.”

“Everything that puts the revolution in danger is on the table. Now its in the workers hands,” he added.

While the CTC Congress has concentrated on the internal challenges, the union leader also warned of the stepped up threats and aggressions from the United States around the globe and specifically against Cuba, expressed in a detailed Bush administration plan to destroy the revolution. Ross said worker readiness to defend the country continues to be of maximum priority.

Ross went on to cite as advances in the nation’s economy last year’s 11.8 percent growth rate and the perception that the significant increases in the Gross Domestic Product will continue in the years to come.

Greater efficiency by making optimum use of the country’s resources, more effective accounting and controls at work centers, increased worker participation in production plans and the evaluation of the results, are themes that permeate the central CTC report.

Ross noted that salaries, retirement and social security benefits have been gradually increasing in recent years on the path to raising workers’ living standards, which he said will lead to the steady recovery and development of Cuban society.

Ross suggested that the delegates pay special attention to what is known in Cuba as the Energy Revolution, which combines unprecedented savings at the workplace and in homes with decentralized generating capacity and the maximum use of alternative renewable energy sources.

Advances in the participation of women within the Cuban labor movement was noted with pride by the general secretary. He said that in 1985, women totaled 16.5 percent of the union professionals and today they are at 58.9 percent.

Earlier Tuesday morning, delegates cast their ballots for a new CTC Secretariat, and Ross pointed out that 45.8 percent of the candidates are women.

According to the program, the voting results will be made known late Wednesday afternoon and the congress closing ceremony is set to be broadcast on national television and radio on Wednesday evening.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Cuba’s Unions Look Inward for Solutions

by Circles Robinson

Looking inwards for ways to make the Cuban economy reach its full potential was the tone of the second day of the Cuban Workers Federation’s (CTC) 19th Congress taking place through Wednesday in Havana.

The more than 1,400 delegates from throughout the island were paying heed to two burning issues posed by President Fidel Castro in the last year. One, the poor organization and low productivity in the implementation of some key social and economic programs of the revolution, and two, the most dangerous, widespread indiscipline and theft in the workplace.

The Cuban president had warned that while ten US administrations had been unable to destroy the revolution from without, the future of Cuba lies within.

Several commissions held hearings on Monday at the Havana Convention Center and other venues in the capital where candid exchanges showed a renewed resilience in a labor movement often ignored by the foreign corporate media, which writes it off as “pro-government.”

The most well attended session was the commission on employment, organization of the workplace and salaries chaired by Luis Manuel Castanedo, a CTC leader and worker’s representative in the Cuban parliament.

Improving accounting and other controls at work centers was cited by several delegates as essential to rectify errors produced by negligence. Several delegates said a combination of administrative laxness and worker passivity in recent years has led to many of the problems persisting in the fast growing Cuban economy.

Minister of Labor Alfredo Morales and Political Bureau member Jose Luis Sierra were two of several top level government and Communist Party leaders that joined the labor movement in the commission debates.

Morales pointed out that Cuban workers are the owners of the island’s economy and as such should defend it. He noted that Cuba’s worker-friendly labor laws and resolutions are tools that must be used, adding that with better organization and higher productivity, “we could advance much more with the resources we have.”

The minister said that in capitalist countries increased productivity leads to lay offs, noting that is not the case in Cuba, a country that maintains practically full employment (1.9 unemployment rate) of the working age population.

Jose Luis Sierra told the commission that thorough warehouse audits revealed deficiencies in control systems including bad practices in billing, orders and deliveries. He said this is one of the problems the labor movement must confront. He also called for an analysis of the workplace atmosphere to understand why it is common for workers to shift jobs and why there is a lack of workers in numerous sectors.

“What’s most important here is that the labor movement is becoming aware of the role it needs to play to correct its own inadequacies and participate in the solution to the country’s problems,” Sierra told Trabajadores after the days session.

The political leader sees the “inward focus” as positive for labor. “The problems being discussed [at the CTC Congress] are fundamental because we have to achieve efficiency if we want to develop. They are discussing efficiency, productivity, salaries, how to lower costs and expenditures and about worker participation in planning, and that’s important,” said Sierra.

Regarding salaries, chairman Castanedo said the raising of the low-end earners was just, even though some other workers complained that their wages didn’t keep pace. He insisted that greater controls are needed for there to be efficiency and productivity, opening the possibility to more salary raises.

The long day came to an end with the union representatives taking a break from discussions on the advances and problems in the island’s economy to attend an evening cultural gala at Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre.

The CTC Congress resumes on Tuesday morning in plenary session at 9:00 a.m. with the election of a new Secretariat followed by the official opening at 10:00 a.m. The next agenda item is the presentation and discussion of the main report expected to last the afternoon.

Cuba Workers Congress Tackles Key Issues

by Circles Robinson

The Cuban Workers Federation (CTC) opened its 19th Congress Sunday in Havana faced with the challenge to make the wheels of the Cuban workplace operate more efficiently to take full advantage of the upturn in the island’s economy.

Labor delegations arrived from around the country over the weekend to begin committee debates Monday. The plenary sessions are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Issues to be addressed include job productivity, energy savings, innovation, salaries, pensions, theft, housing construction, youth in the workforce and labor’s decisive participation in the hundreds of priority social programs and projects underway on the island. The internal workings of the CTC will also be reviewed.

The CTC was founded in 1939, but it was the revolution that took power 20 years later that put the majority working class, both urban and rural, in the drivers seat.

The revolution opened up a wide gamut of new educational, training and employment opportunities in the mostly nationalized economy, while worker’s rights reached new heights. A more egalitarian society was in part the result of the unprecedented political power in labor’s hands.

However, the beginning of the 1990s brought a sudden collapse of Cuba’s main trade partners, the Soviet Union and the European Socialist Bloc, and the bottom fell out of the island’s economy.

To make matters worse, the US stepped up its blockade and other aggressions against the island, hoping to force a “regime change” in today’s White House language.

Living standards decreased considerably as did the workers purchasing power, ambitious development programs were put on hold, and the survival of the revolution became the name of the game.

Analysts credit the determined Cuban work force as well as the government’s reorientation of the country’s economy and commercial ties, to making possible today’s resurgence from what is still called the “Special Period” or depression.

With the rebounding of the economy, Cuba’s workers –as in any country-- strive for increased salaries, benefits and better working conditions. More uniquely, they also take on a central role in areas such as production and profitability, issues that elsewhere would be considered the territory of management.

Over 1,400 delegates are on hand for the CTC Congress representing its 19 union affiliates from the construction, tourism, metallurgic, sugar, agricultural, and food, communications and transportation industries as well as education, cultural, science and public health workers.

At a time when union affiliation has decreased in many developed and underdeveloped countries, in part due to contract labor policies, in Cuba the vast majority of the work force belongs to a CTC affiliated labor organization.

The four-day CTC Congress takes place at the Havana Convention Center, recent venue of the 14th Summit of the Non Aligned Movement that hosted heads of state and government from around the globe.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Journalists on the take Defend Cuba Bashing

By Circles Robinson

Less than a week has passed since the cover of objectivity was blown for 10 journalist-agents receiving large sums of money from the US government for writing horrors about Cuba.

Instead of admitting their violation of standard journalism ethics, some of the reporters and commentators involved are actually trying to defend their actions.

Carlos Alberto Montaner, one of the best known of the agents, wrote to the Miami Herald to say that “All of those people [the journalists on the take] have a well-earned reputation for honesty and probity and would never sell their pens to anyone.”

Montaner, who says he resides in Madrid, even if his heart is in Miami, states that 60 publications in Europe the US and Latin America and some radio stations carry his column. His Firmas Press agency distributes his writings that attack Cuba and other progressive forces in Latin America.

Montaner says the money he receives from the US government via Radio Marti comes without “the slightest condition or suggestion, and if there had been one I wouldn’t have accepted.”

“The way which the information was presented, is as if some dark criminal plot had been uncovered,” laments the agent.

Now the question is whether Firmas Press clients want to continue running a column by a journalist-agent who sees no ethical problem in receiving money from one government to write “objectively” about others.


Another of the uncovered journalist-agents, Helen Aguirre Ferre, calls the funds she receives from TV Marti to bash Cuba “an expense stipend from a news organization” and therefore sees no conflict of interest in accepting such payment.

The fact that even the Bush administration doesn’t hide that Radio and TV Marti are part of a dirty war against Cuba don’t seem to register with Aguirre.

Could it be that the journalist hasn’t seen the 450-page May 2004 report on how to overthrow the Cuban government and annex the island drafted by the US State Department’s Committee for Assistance to a Free Cuba? Could she also have missed the 2006 follow up plans with a top secret appendix?

“The receipt of such payment may raise questions from members of our journalism community whom I respect and hold in high regard,” admits Aguirre. She then laments having her journalistic integrity questioned and tries to remedy the situation by saying she will donate her fees from the US government to the Cancer League.


Pablo Alfonso, who received over 175,000 dollars from the US government for slandering Cuba and was fired Friday from the Miami Herald, has yet to give his explanation of how “objectivity” in writing is not affected by wallets stuffed with greenbacks.

Olga Conner, a “freelance” colleague of Pablo Alfonso at the Herald did come forth to defend her role as a journalist-agent of the US government. Conner blamed the Herald as a silent accomplice to her well paid endeavors.

She told the press that the newspaper's managers have known since 2002 that she was a “contractor” paid by the U.S. government. She said the managers never made an issue of it before.

''At no time did any of the editorial management of the Herald indicate to me that this was considered a conflict of interest, and I continued writing,'' Connor wrote in a letter to executives of The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and the two newspapers' parent company, The McClatchy Co.

The issue apparently led to some internal controversy at the two dailies.

El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Humberto Castello said Monday in an e-mail responding to a reporter's questions that he did not dismiss Connor in 2002 because she was a freelancer.

Asked if he agreed with the company's decision last Thursday to terminate her contract, he answered in Spanish: “I don't agree with the decision taken,” states a Miami Herald article on Tuesday.

However, Jesus Diaz Jr., president of Miami Herald Media Company and publisher of both newspapers, said the decision was his.

"The reason I decided the freelance relationship should be terminated is because many of her assignments are made by us. Most of the articles she writes for El Nuevo Herald appear only in El Nuevo Herald. I wasn't aware of the article in 2002 [stating that Conner was a US government contractor], and if I had been this [her firing] might have happened sooner,'' Diaz said.

The 2002 story published in El Nuevo Herald described Connor as a ''columnist for El Nuevo Herald'' and said she was getting paid $45,770 a year by TV and Radio Marti.

It’s no secret that the U.S. government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting, runs Radio and TV Marti.
According to The Herald it has a $37 million budget and 149 employees this year. It reportedly spends millions of that money for contractors, including journalists already employed in private media companies, syndicated columnists, university professors and others with “expertise” on Cuba issues.

For decades Cuba has stated that successive US governments have maintained a prolonged campaign against the island that includes financing and assisting terrorist groups based in Miami, carrying out acts of sabotage and a blockade against the island’s people and economy, and waging a media war to distort US and world public opinion on life in Cuba.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cuba Proven Right Over Bogus Journalists

By Circles Robinson

Placing paid “journalist” agents in the media at home and abroad to bolster its attacks on countries or leaders that don’t share its views should barely be news for an administration that has scratched the word ethics out of the dictionary in order to pursue the goals of special interest groups.

Friday’s revelations that ten “reputable” Florida based reporters and commentators were receiving at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to use false information to stoke the anti-Cuba fire is just what the island’s government has been saying for decades.

One of the most frequently used agents, Carlos Alberto Montaner, was among those whose cover was blown by a freedom of information request, reported the Editor and Publisher journal.
The syndicated columnist’s opinions frequently appear in the pages of The Miami Herald, its Spanish language sister paper El Nuevo Herald and dozens of newspapers across the nation and Latin America. He is also often consulted on network TV.

The Cuban-born self-exile, poses as an expert on the island who also extends his print media and TV network commentaries to attack leaders that question US policy elsewhere in Latin America like Venezuela and Bolivia.

Montaner and a host of other journalist-agents have provided the media justification for the existence of several Miami based paramilitary groups that for decades have plotted and carried out terrorist attacks against Cuba and its leaders in the name of fighting communism.

On numerous occasions the Cuban government has alerted Washington about the terrorist plans of these groups who possess weapons stockpiles and training camps in Florida that also put US lives in jeopardy.

In a celebrated case involving a group of men known as the Cuban Five, Cuba provided the Clinton Administration in 1998 with enough information to shut down several of the terrorist groups and their civic fronts including the Cuban American National Foundation, and put a lot of people behind bars.

But instead of cracking down on terrorism the US government ignored the information and in September 1998 detained those, the Cuban Five, who had infiltrated the terror groups and uncovered their plans. The five men, considered heroes on the island, were railroaded into maximum security prisons with harsh sentences after a politically charged Miami trail in 2001.


Citing a violation of the “sacred trust” between journalists and the public, Jesus Diaz Jr., president of the Miami Herald Media Co. announced that three of its reporters, Pablo Alfonso, Olga Connor and Wilfredo Cancio Isla had been fired for receiving between them over a quarter of a million dollars from the US government.

''Even the appearance that your objectivity or integrity might have been impaired is something we can't condone, not in our business,'' Díaz said. “I personally don't believe that integrity and objectivity can be assured if any of our reporters receive monetary compensation from any government agency.''

Other journalists reportedly on the payroll of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs the well-budgeted anti-Cuba operations known as Radio and TV Marti, included: Diario Las Americas opinion page editor Helen Aguirre Ferre and reporter/columnist Ariel Remos; Channel 41 news director Miguel Cossio.

Journalism ethics experts told Reuters that the payments undermine the credibility of reporters to objectively cover issues affecting U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Ivan Roman, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, was quoted by The Herald as saying the payments from the US government posed a clear conflict of interest.

The journalists involved are among the most popular in South Florida, and many specialized on reporting on issues involving Cuba, said the Miami Herald report.

Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao received an extra $11,400 this year from the US government. ''There is nothing suspect in this,'' Cao said. ``I would do it for free. But the regulations don't allow it. I charge symbolically, below market prices.”

Others don’t see it that way. ''This is such an obvious textbook case,” University of Florida journalism professor Jon Roosenraad told the Herald. “This is exactly like a business reporter during the day going out and moonlighting as a public relations person for a local company at night and then going back to the paper the next day and writing about `his' company.''


Cuba is not alone in being the victim of US government journalist-agents paid to slander the island and/or distort its reality. This policy under the current administration even extends to other domestic issues like education.

“The Armstrong Williams case in 2005, revealed that the Bush administration had paid the prominent conservative pundit to promote its education policy, No Child Left Behind, on his nationally syndicated television show,” notes Reuters.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon paid a consulting firm, a host of reporters and Iraqi newspapers to plant favorable stories about the US occupation of Iraq and the administration’s favorite corporations reconstruction efforts. Once again, when caught in the act, Bush administration officials justified buying fabricated news stories with the logic that all is fair in love and the war on terrorism.


In an interview broadcast at a Hispanic media convention in June, Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's parliament, denied the often made claim by today’s disrobed “reporters” and “commentators” that more than two dozen “independent journalists” had been imprisoned on the island for speaking out against the government. Alarcon restated the island’s position that the persons involved were actually paid U.S. agents, noted AP.

In defense of the Bush administration tactics, Pedro Roig, director of the US government’s Cuba Broadcasting network defended the use of journalist-agents. Roig’s babies, TV and Radio Marti, bombard the island with transmissions containing false US government approved information about the island in a carefully orchestrated attempt to create internal discontent. They stepped up broadcasts after President Fidel Castro underwent intestinal surgery at the end of July.

Roig told the Herald that “among other things, hiring more Cuban exile ‘journalists’ as contractors improves the quality of the news.” While seeing no foul play he added, “it's each journalist's responsibility to adhere to their own ethics and rules.”
The US government official unabashedly said he considers the Cuban exile journalist-agents “to be excellent reporters who adapted to the game and made good.” He added: “In reality, I feel very satisfied.”

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Drooling over Pirating Cuba's Baseball Best

by Circles Robinson

The Olympic baseball qualifying tournament that concludes tonight in this capital is once again resurrecting the dream of US agents to get their hands on Cuba’s top players. The lust to drain the island of its athletes also extends to other fields such as science, medicine and musicians.

In an article in the Arizona Republic on Tuesday, Joseph A. Reaves writes: “The recent hospitalization of 80-year-old Cuban President Fidel Castro raised speculation about the future of the island nation's most precious commodity: its baseball players.”

He then goes on to add: “If a regime change in Cuba brings an end to the blockade, baseball fans everywhere will benefit.”

The mentality that the rest of the world should be content with its talent playing for the big bucks in the United States warps the thinking of Reaves and so many reporters like him who see the US as the center of the world.

Then there’s the Bush administration that has drafted a book-thick plan with a secret appendix to overthrow the Cuban government and replace it with one designated by Washington.

If someday the US falls from its superpower status, a growing possibility due to its ethical decline, would the people in that country be ecstatic to see their best athletes bought by teams in Europe, Asia or Latin America?

Likewise, would US citizens be overjoyed and proud to see their best doctors, scientists and artists leave the country for greener pastures?

The answer is no and rightly so. Why, because they would benefit in no way, just as Cuba would lose out if its national baseball league was culled of its best players.

The Arizona Republic goes on to note that since 1936, Cuba has won the World Cup of baseball 25 times. Of the four Olympic Games since 1992 including baseball as an official sport, the gold medallist was Cuba in three, including the 2004 Athens Games.

The article adds that “part of the reason Cuba has excelled in international competition is
because of the blockade,” imposed shortly after the island’s 1959 revolution.

It’s outrageous to make such a claim when the opposite is true. Cuba, an island nation of 11.2 million people, has excelled in some fields including sports, biotechnology and medicine because, despite the blockade, it managed to make long term investments in several areas to socially and economically develop the country under the siege imposed by 10 US administrations.

The Republic reporter, like many other mainstream journalists, has eaten the bait and the rod as well that says Cubans are just waiting for Fidel to pass on so that they can bend down and ask the White House to save them.

Quoting a few millionaires who left Cuba for the big bucks with the help of US agents is a far cry from determining a nation’s interests. The American Dream of someone from a poor upbringing being able to buy 10 luxury cars and live in a huge mansion is a sick way to judge what’s best for a country.

While you have to wade through the muck, the article, to its credit, does quote one of the many Cuban baseball greats –third baseman Omar Linares-- who turned down the millions on several occasions.

It may seem strange to many in the West, where individual wealth is often held as a human’s greatest possible achievement, that Linares, like so many other talented Cubans, sees life in a different light.

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