Opinion

The Great Debate

Cuba’s uneasy Internet connection

Last week, an Associated Press article, “US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest,” sparked an uproar. The U.S. Agency for International Development had funded a Cuban version of Twitter called ZunZuneo , the AP reported, that attracted more than 40,000 users before ending in 2012, according to the story.

Commentators have derided the program as boneheaded, dangerously absurd and disrespectful to Cubans. Analysts have discussed its pros and cons. The White House maintains that the program was not “covert.” USAID contests aspects of the AP story.

The article, however, is a propaganda windfall for the Cuban government, which tends to label bloggers critical of it as U.S.-funded mercenaries. Cuba’s media has been having a field day, running gleeful headlines like “ZunZuneo: the Sound of Subversion.”

The ZunZuneo debacle highlights the difficulty of bringing connectivity to Cuba. It has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the Western hemisphere. Only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, according to 2012 estimates. Some connect through hotels, schools, workplaces or illegally. A greater percentage of Cubans access a domestic “intranet.”

Though Cuba censors Web content, the public’s major obstacles are unavailability, slow connections and high prices. Cubans generally don’t have Internet access at home, and connecting at a hotel for an hour can cost more than an average state worker’s weekly salary.

Post Chavez: Can U.S. rebuild Latin American ties?

The funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this month was a massive celebration of a vitriolic foe of the United States. This tribute should make Washington take a fresh look not only at its relations with Venezuela but also with all of Latin America.

Virtually every Latin American country sent a high-level delegation to show its esteem for Chavez, who, during his 14 years in office, regularly vilified the United States, disparaged its leaders and campaigned tirelessly to end the U.S. role in the region. The presidents of Latin America’s six largest nations — including the closest U.S. regional allies, Mexico, Colombia and Chile — traveled to Caracas for the burial ceremonies. Never in Latin America, as many commentators noted, has a deceased leader been given a grander memorial — not even Argentina’s adored Juan Domingo Peron back in 1974.

This extraordinary acclaim for Washington’s most virulent adversary in the Americas was probably not intended as a deliberate snub. There were other reasons that so many of Washington’s friends ended up applauding a committed antagonist of the United States.

A helping U.S. hand to Cuba’s market reform?

– Boston University Professor Susan Eckstein is author of “The Immigrant Divide: How Cuban Americans Changed the U.S. and Their Homeland” and “Cuba under Castro,” and past president of the Latin American Studies Association. The views expressed are her own. –

Raul Castro announced that 10 percent of Cuba’s state employees, half a million people, will be dismissed from their public sector jobs and free to pursue work in the private sector.  The near-fiscally bankrupt state no longer can afford to pay inefficient workers.  But the Cuban leadership remains a reluctant reformer.  We Americans have a vested interest in facilitating a deeper market transition 90 miles off shore.

This is not the first time Cuba under the Castro brothers has launched market reforms, having introduced minor openings over the years.  After paying nearly all workers equally and distributing most goods equitably through a ration system in the ‘60s, it began to tie earnings to work performance, expand private economic opportunities in agriculture and the service sector, and allow goods to be sold off the ration system on an ability to pay basis.  It has also permitted private foreign investment since the ‘90s.   But measures introduced during economic troubles proved too meager to fuel significant economic growth and many were reversed when priorities shifted.

A change of course in Cuba and Venezuela?

The following are excerpts from STRATFOR’s geopolitical weekly column by George Friedman, chief executive officer of STRATFOR, a global intelligence company. He is the author of numerous books and articles on international affairs, warfare and intelligence. His most recent book is “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.” The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Strange statements are emerging from Cuba these days, with Fidel Castro reportedly saying that “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” There is little hiding that Cuba’s socialist economy has run out of steam. More interesting is what Cuba is prepared to do about it.

For decades, Fidel has maintained power by monopolizing the island’s sources of wealth. The Cuban leadership has controlled social welfare, using that power to secure loyalty and neutralize dissent. But that control has come at a cost: For the revolution to survive, Cuba must have sufficient private investment under state control. That private investment has not been forthcoming.

Cuba and twisted logic, double standards

It is time for the United States to stop trading with China and ban Americans from travelling there. Why? Look at the U.S. Department of State’s most recent annual report on human rights around the world.

“The (Chinese) government’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas,” the report notes. “Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated (in 2009).”

U.S. relations with Egypt should also be frozen, because “the government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas…Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity.”

from The Great Debate UK:

A bet against Castro’s immortality

REUTERS-- Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - "Practically everyone who follows Latin American events agrees that Castro's end is near." Thus one Laurence W Tuller, writing in 1994 in his manual on high-risk, high-reward investing. Defaulted Cuban government bonds had jumped on hopes of a settlement to allow the country back into the international capital markets.
Today, former leader Fidel Castro's end is 15 years nearer, but he's still there, albeit in semi-retirement, and holders of these pre-Castro bonds with a face value of around $200 billion are still waiting. Castro's regime kept good records, but have paid no interest, and ignored redemption dates since his revolution half a century ago.
Few Americans can remember why their administration has been so beastly to Cuba for so long.
Those who can mostly live in Florida, a key swing state, and many risked everything to get out of Cuba. They do not want to see their investment devalued by hordes of their former compatriots simply walking off the Delta Airlines flight from Havana.
Last week U.S. President Barack Obama eased the squeeze somewhat. Americans can now visit Cuba, but only if they have relatives there.
This gesture has re-ignited the bondholders' old hopes. Past settlements of defaulted sovereign bonds have tended to pay about half the total of accrued interest plus principal, so the buyers see plenty of upside.
Exotix, a specialist trader in "frontier markets", says its price for a typical Cuban bond instrument has risen from around 9 cents on the dollar at the start of this month to 14 cents on April 23.
Mind you, the spread is wide, the market thin and as events crowd in on the President, he might feel there are more pressing problems than to risk upsetting those key-voting Floridian Cubans.

In Cuba, low-hanging fruit for Obama

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

A look at a list of the foreign policy problems facing U.S. President Barack Obama could send the sunniest optimist into depression.

The Arab-Israeli conflict: no solution in sight. Afghanistan/Pakistan: the outlook is bleak. Iran and its nuclear plans: tricky. No easy wins here. Iraq: the war is not over.

After Obama win, goodbye to Cuban embargo?

–Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

By Bernd Debusmann

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If votes in the United Nations serve as a gauge of global opinion, 98.9 percent of the world opposes the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, a measure imposed 46 years ago to isolate the communist-ruled island and bring down its leaders.

It failed on both counts. As far as international opinion is concerned, the country that is isolated is the United States, not Cuba. In the latest of 17 successive U.N. General Assembly resolutions on lifting the embargo, Washington mustered only two allies — Israel and Palau, a Pacific island nation difficult to find on a map. It has a population of 21,000.cubans

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