Fidel in Chile

Fidel Castro in Chile


I’m late to this, but it’s a good time to look at Fidel Castro’s extraordinary 24-day visit to Chile in 1971, when Salvador Allende, a Socialist, was in office.  A couple of years ago, this blogger filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. government for documents on this visit, as it was something the Nixon administration watched rather closely.

Such documents can shed light not only on U.S. policy but on the events themselves, as witnesses tell diplomats things they do not tell journalists and academics.  How did Chilean and Cuban officials get along? What did the Chileans think of Castro’s extended visit?

But first, a brief recap. It was supposed to be a 10-day visit. Fidel arrived on November 10, 1971 and embarked upon an extensive tour, from the Atacama Desert to Tierra del Fuego, visiting copper mines, vineyards, gas and oil installations and meeting with laborers, trade unionists, students, fellow Marxists—and the military.  There are photographs of him alongside future dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who at the time was commander of the Santiago army garrison, so the two men must have engaged in some conversation.  And he gave Salvador Allende was an AK-47, with his name inscribed, which the Chilean leader would use to kill himself in the presidential palace during the brutal military coup on September 11, 1973.

Castro’s 10-day itinerary was extended to 24 days, creating a rather awkward situation for Chilean officials, none of whom wanted the job of telling Fidel to go home. Carlos Altamirano, who at the time was secretary general of the Chilean Socialist Party, said in an  interview that Allende had asked him to ask Castro to wrap up his visit, but Altamirano refused. It was not easy, he said, to say something like that “to a head of state of Fidel’s stature, ‘enough already, go.’ And I wasn’t the most appropriate person to say this to him.”

Back to my Freedom of Information Act request, which made the rounds of the U.S. State Department, the National Security Agency, Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. I got nothing from the State Department; the National Security Agency sent a letter in September of last year saying that my request had been reviewed and that the relevant material remains classified as TOP SECRET.

“The information is classified because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” the chief of the FOIA office wrote to me, then described the agency’s appeal process, which I then followed. Hopefully there’ll be more on this later.

In October of this year I received a polite letter from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) giving me a status update on my request. “Please by assured that our office is committed to processing your request as soon as possible as the DIA continues its efforts to eliminate the large backlog of FOIA requests.”  My request was #139 of 232 in the Awaiting Response Queue, and there was a telephone number if I had any questions.

But the biggest surprise was the relatively quick response from the Central Intelligence Agency, which sent me only lightly redacted weekly summaries from October 29 to December 4, 1971, a short daily presidential briefing plus an eight-page intelligence memorandum, “Castroism Clarified in Chile,” which had been downgraded from “secret” to “sensitive.” Here are some highlights:

The President’s Daily Brief said that Castro was apparently satisfied with his Chile trip and its impact on the rest of the hemisphere. The Cuban leader was “generally well-received by a curious public and frequently showed that he still retains the capability of capturing the acclaim of crowds.”  The length of his visit, however, “eventually bored many Chileans.”

The Weekly Summary dated 29 October 1971 is headed with the words, “Cuba Dusts Off Its International Image” and says that the Chile visit will be Castro’s first trip abroad since 1964. There was speculation that the Cuban leader might arrive in time to help Allende celebrate the anniversary of his electoral victory on 4 November (he didn’t) and that officials of both countries had refused to pinpoint the dates for the visit.

The Central Intelligence Bulletin dated 9 November 1971 said that Havana’s decision to publicize details of Castro’s arrival “probably stems from a desire to reap the greatest propaganda advantage from the outset of the visit, though the degree of real enthusiasm among Chileans for it remains uncertain.”  The length of the visit was not mentioned, the report says, and there is a redacted sentence, followed by the arrival of Castro’s advance party four days earlier.

The 12 November Weekly Summary mentions Castro’s arrival in Santiago and that aside from a few minor incidents, “his reception was warm and friendly and large crowds turned out to greet him.”  His four-member delegation, the report said, was “remarkably unspectacular and suggests the trip is not a business one.” The presence of the Havana army commander indicated that Cuba “realizes the importance of developing a “correct” professional relationship with Chilean military leaders.” One wonders whether the Cuban army commander had any contact with Pinochet.

The 19 November Weekly Summary said that Castro’s first week in Chile “reinforced early suspicions that the visit would be less a working trip than an attempt to improve Castro’s image” and that the Cuban leader had gone out of his way to be cordial and discreet in his public pronouncements, even going so far “as to moderate temporarily his attacks on the US.”  The report said that the Chilean media coverage of the visit had been generally factual.  The Chilean Socialist Party was praising Castro so effusively that “it reportedly provoked a complaint from President Salvador Allende that Socialist treatment of the visit emphasizes Castro’s stature at Allende’s expense.” There was a bomb explosion near the northern city of Antofagasta the day before Castro was due to arrive, blamed on “a small right-wing extremist group that has condemned Castro’s visit.” But overt opposition to Castro’s presence in Chile, the report said, “has been limited.”

The next CIA bulletin, dated 26 November 1971, said that the Castro tour “has been successfully demonstrating Cuba’s solidarity with Chile and improving his international image.”  Chilean Communist Party members were receiving him “cautiously,” and Castro “has been circumspect in his remarks, however, lest he be accused of meddling in Chilean domestic affairs” and that he was “even less bitter than usual about the US base at Guantanamo, saying only that Cuba “one day” would recover it without a shot being fired.”  He had spent relatively little time with Allende, other than a two-day cruise to Chile’s southernmost city, Punta Arenas.

The 2 December 1971 bulletin reports that a farewell rally in Santiago was scheduled for that evening and that Castro “probably believes that he has accomplished all his journey’s goals and now realizes that after three weeks his welcome is wearing thin.”

The last document, an intelligence memorandum on Castroism in Chile, is dated 27 December 1971 and reads like a summary of the earlier bulletins.  One of the more interesting passages:

“Castro has a lot going for him in this regard. His large physical appearance and his breezy informality contributes much to his charisma. To Chileans accustomed to the dour Allende, Fidel was quite a shock, pleasant to some, scandalous to others. Where the throngs could make a direct comparison of Castro and Allende, Castro’s proclivity to play basketball, kiss babies, don miners’ helmets, etc., captivated many. Moreover, his nonstop traveling and speaking must have left most Chileans gasping at the man’s stamina.” But the report also notes that Fidel also had to deal with antagonistic confrontations with students, especially from the Christian Democratic Party and that on occasion he lost his cool. These encounters with detractors and the failure to attract a large turnout at his farewell rally affected him and that he “was an unhappy militant when he left Chile.”



Raul Castro in Chile, 1959

Browsing the New York Times online archive, I found this curious item:

“Chile gives snub to Major Castro”

It is dated August 19, 1959 and describes how Raul Castro, commander-in-chief of the Cuban armed forces, landed a plane in Santiago after a conference of foreign ministers had ended, ostensibly to take Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa Garcia home.

“After a delay in debarking because no suitable ramp could be found, Major Castro was taken to the customs office like any tourist.

The only leading Chilean greeting Major Castro was Senator Salvador Allende, unsuccessful 1958 Presidential candidate of a coalition of extreme Left-wing parties.

At a news conference tonight Major Castro declared “We confess we made an error” in sending a military  aircraft here with soldiers.”









A Christmas story from Canada and Cuba

Cubans unload an anaesthesia machine from Canada

Cubans unload an anaesthesia machine from Canada

MEMO (Medical Equipment Mobilization Opportunity) is a charity based in Thunder Bay, Ontario which collects and ships redundant medical equipment and supplies no longer needed by Canadian hospitals to clinics in Cuba, El Salvador and Liberia. This blogger interviewed the charity’s director, Dr. Jerome Harvey, for my book, Cuban Health Care: Utopian Dreams, Fragile Future and one of the better quotes he gave me was that “the Cuban health care system is like a well-trained army with no weapons and no ammunition.”

The charity pays the shipping costs, which often include overland transport over Canada’s vast territory before the medical equipment can be packed into a shipping container and sent overseas. Run entirely by volunteers, MEMO receives shipping funds from private donors but has no other financial backing. In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a recent letter from Dr. Harvey about a serendipitous discovery:

“A year ago a little baby girl was born in Cuba.

Due to complications, she required a tracheostomy and ventilator.

She is a year old now, still needs the ventilator, but can go home with her parents who are doctors if they can obtain a ventilator.

On $60 a month salary her parents could never afford to buy a ventilator if one was even available.

It would have to be a special ventilator for an infant and run on electricity using room air, as oxygen would be impossible expensive.

Meanwhile, last year in Watson Lake, Yukon the little 50-bed worn out hospital was replaced with a brand new one.

Much of the hospital’s equipment was left behind being replaced with new equipment.

Now go back to June 2014.

Educational consultants with the EFCCM [Evangelical Free Church of Canada Ministries] John and Naomi Hall met me at Shalom Clinic in El Salvador.

They were teaching teachers at the Amilat Christian School and I was visiting to see how MEMO projects were going in El Salvador

John and Naomi just happen to live in Watson Lake, Yukon!

Fast forward to spring 2015. John and Naomi learn of all the used by still useful hospital equipment to be disposed of from the closed Watson Lake Hospital.

They contact me with a long list of medical equipment almost all of which would be extremely useful in overseas hospitals.

They get permission from the Yukon Health Authority to donate it to MEMO.

The problem: Trucking companies would charge $6000 to bring it to Thunder Bay.

Guess what?  The pastor of the EFCCM church in Watson Lake grew up in North Western Ontario and volunteered to drive his flat bed truck with all the equipment on it  to Thunder Bay while he visited his relatives. The  Halls paid for the cost of the diesel fuel.

The stretchers, delivery table, monitors and boxes and boxes of stuff arrived in October.

We have slowly been working at unpacking and checking all kinds of really useful medical equipment over the last three months.

Now we go to the first week of this November.

Martha Delgado goes to Cuba wit the team holding workshops on senior care in Havana and Santa Clara.

While there she meets Dr. Montiel Yumar who tells her about the baby needing a ventilator.

Back in Canada Martha asks me if MEMO could find a ventilator.

I tell her we don’t have one, but who knows.

The next week I am going through boxes from the Yukon.

You guessed it! There was a ventilator suitable for a child weighing more than 22 lbs. Runs on electricity 110V using room air with battery back p for power failures up to 10 hours long.

As well the Halls had included three brand-new breathing tubes to connect the machine to the baby’s tracheostomy tube.

It was compact weighing about 8 pounds.

The only thing it needed was a new back up battery which is now on order from “Amazon.”

We are looking for a tourist to take it to Cuba for us.”



On public hospitals in Chile and in Cuba

Some commentary on the state of hospitals in two very different Latin American countries:

Helen Cordery is a young blogger from New Zealand living in Santiago’s Recoleta neighbourhood, and her accounts of everyday life in the Chilean capital make excellent reading. Her most recent piece is a frightening account of rushing her 18-month old son to a local hospital when he stopped breathing, and the hellish week she and her husband spent at his bedside. While there was real kindness on the part of some hospital staff, Cordery and her husband Luis were told by a hospital nutritionist (!) that their son “should be drinking fruit juices instead of water, and that every meal needed to have a sweet treat afterwards.”

Over at the Blog de Medicina Cubana, there is an opinion piece in English on the neglected state of Cuba’s medical facilities.  It is a somewhat awkward Microsoft translation from the original Spanish, but worth a look:

A Cuba civil liberties round up

The New York-based Human Rights Foundation has issued a report on its inquiry into the death of Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya in a car accident three years ago, stating that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.” The complete report can be downloaded from the Foundation’s web site:

The Associated Press reports on how visiting US congressional delegations are ignoring Cuban dissidents during their recent visits to Havana, in order to meet Cuban officials:

Legislative staffers say Cuban officials have made clear that if Congress members meet with dissidents, they will not get access to high-ranking officials such as First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the man expected to be the next president of Cuba who has met with U.S. politicians like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

For a look at the Cuban legal system, here’s an interesting article published two months ago by the Daily Business Review, about Havana lawyer Osvaldo Miranda Diaz’s presentation to a delegation from the Florida Bar Association. An excerpt:

Miranda Diaz explained the criminal justice system in Cuba to the shocked Americans. When a Cuban is arrested, he can be jailed without the right to see a lawyer or make a phone call for 72 hours. After a week, the prosecutor decides whether to grant the person bail or not.

At that point, he or she has just five days to hire a lawyer and does not get access to his or her criminal file until the case is through. This is despite the fact the island country claims an “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy.

“They can keep you in jail for one week and do what they want—interrogate you, do anything,” he said. “It’s like the Soviet system.”

There’s a sidebar to this article. Julie Kay, a reporter who accompanied the delegation, wrote the article on the Cuban lawyer’s presentation, and “basically regurgitated everything the lawyer had said. I did no independent research, put no “spin” on the story.” She filed the story from her hotel and a short time later her group’s guide confronted her with the article, and told the lawyers in the group that she should be kicked off the tour. She was allowed to remain, but decided not to file any more stories until she returned home.

Someday Cuba will have an official inquiry into human rights abuses, but until that time the Cuba Archive Truth and Memory Project has been doing what it can with limited resources to document as much as possible. Its reports can be viewed on its website:

Opening day–and some Cuba links

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana is now the U.S. Embassy, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington is now the Cuban Embassy. Fingers crossed, and for any non-Spanish speakers wanting to follow developments in Cuba, here are some interesting links:

Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, publishes an online edition in English , as well as in French, German, Portuguese and Italian. Buzzfeed recently did a story on the paper, describing its newsroom as the slowest in the world, noting the paper’s lack of Wi-Fi but also the fact that Granma will be the first news outlet to report Fidel Castro’s death when it happens:

14ymedio, the digital newspaper set up by Cuban independent journalists, also has an English edition, though not all its articles get translated from Spanish:

Since 2011 Larry Press, a professor of information systems at California State University, has been writing an excellent blog on how the Internet is developing in Cuba . One of his more entertaining posts is an open letter to the anonymous Cuban official charged with monitoring his blog

Finally, there is a wealth of detail on everyday life in Cuba to be gleaned from the country’s bloggers, and Translating Cuba has over 60 blogs by independent commentators. Yoani Sanchez is perhaps the best known of these, but there are many other good bloggers such as Regina Coyula, who posted earlier this year on the return of bus conductors on Havana’s transport system:

Anniversary of a massacre

Pope Francis, who recently visited Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, is scheduled to visit Cuba and the United States in September. Needless to say, it will be an interesting trip and much has been made of his role in helping the two countries improve relations. But here’s a look at an earlier Vatican gesture in Cuba, in wake of an incident in the Florida Straits which took place 21 years ago, with a transcript of an ABC broadcast on the case, and thanks to the Cuba Archive project ( ) for making it available.

ABC / Nightline on the July 13, 1994 Tugboat Massacre

January 20, 1998 (From Havana)


TED KOPPEL Three and a half years ago, in the summer of 1994, something terrible happened out there, seven or eight miles out at sea, off the northern coast of Cuba. It was an incident that went all but unnoticed in the US media. The Cuban-American community protested but they protest a lot and as I say, we in the mainstream media all but ignored it. The Vatican, however, did not.

A letter of condolence speaking in the name of the Pope was sent by the Vatican’s secretary of state to Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, who passed it on to the survivors of the incident and to their families. And that created a ripple which caused a ground swell, the full impact of which is still building.

Liz Balmaseda is a columnist for “The Miami Herald” who specializes in Cuban affairs.

LIZ BALMASEDA What the letter from the Pope did was it really gave strength to the church in Cuba so the church, so that the archbishop could turn around and denounce this act.

TED KOPPEL (VO) What happened occurred at night at sea in the middle of July in 1994. The time is important because it wasn’t all that long ago, not, in other words, in the bad old days of mass arrests and widespread executions. Seventy two Cubans, men, women and children, slipped out of this harbor aboard a tug boat. They were bound for Florida. Their boat was followed out to sea by three Cuban fire boats. What happened next we learned from some of the survivors, two of whom ultimately made it to Miami, while the other two risked arrest by talking to us here in Havana.

SERGlO PERODIN (Miami) (through translators) This boat came directly for us, cut us off and attacked us without a word, without saying anything to us or telling us to stop.

MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) They told us stay here and show them the children so that they don’t shoot at us. One boat comes up behind us and they started ramming the boat.

JANETTE HERNANDEZ (Miami) (through translators) As we were showing them the children, they started spraying strong bursts of water at really high pressure, right at us.

SERGlO PERODIN (through translators) With the pressure hoses, they blew apart our boat’s windows, its doors, they wrecked our radio and we knew then that their intention was to sink our boat.

MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) Our tugboat started taking on water. We shouted to the crewmen on the boat, “Look at the children! You’re going to kill them!” And he said, “Let them die. Let them die.”

JANETTE HERNANDEZ (through translators) I remember the banging and the noises from inside as the boat was sinking. In the water, everything is louder. That is what I heard. And I still hear it at night in nightmares.

MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) I don’t know how to swim but I said I can’t sink with this boat. I was holding onto a pipe and I had my son right in front of me and I held him and then I went down. I sank. When I made it to the surface again I found a body floating that I know was Rosa.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Maria and her son held onto the body of her friend. lt was the only thing keeping them from sinking again.

REYNALDO CARRAZANA (Havana) (through translators) At the moment the boat sank, the survival instinct is the strongest. At that moment, I just thought of saving myself.

MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) There was a boat just in front of me and it’s showing its light on me and I said, “pull us up.” And it was the same crewmen. And I said pull us up, pull up the boat because he’s going to drown. And he said, “If you want to be rescued, wait for the Coast Guard boat.” And he turned the boat around.

SERGIO PERODIN (through translators) They started going around us in a circle fast creating a whirlpool that sucked the people down to get rid of everybody because they didn’t want to leave any witnesses to this tragedy.

REYNALDO CARRAZANA (through translators) I didn’t know how to swim. I just floated. It seems that the boat’s freezer was nearby and I hung onto it. And a number of people were there hanging onto it, too.

MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators)I tried to reach that group. When I get there I hold onto the board because they were holding onto a piece of wood. I tried to hold onto the piece of wood. It was the ice pot that had come off the tugboat. But there were many people hanging onto it and when I held onto it, it seems that my weight made the boat overturn and a lot of people fell on me. And it was then that I let go of my son and I tried to grab him again but I couldn’t. It was so fast, he just went and I couldn’t grab him.

SERGlO PERODIN (through translators) We saw in the distance a boat with a Greek flag that appeared to be what stopped them. lt looked like the boat was watching what they were doing, the murder they were committing. So they stopped and decided to pick us up.

JORGE GARCIA (Havana) (through translators) When I asked my daughter, “What about Juan Mario?” “Papa, he’s lost.” “And Joel?” “Papa, he’s lost.” And Ernesto? “Papa, he’s lost.” And then we knew that other members of the family were all lost, 14 in all.

JANETTE HERNANDEZ (through translators) Fidel is the only one who could have given the order to sink the boat. And soon after the boat sank, the captain of one of the fire boats was decorated as a hero.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Jorge Garcia lost his son. In this picture, you can see a chain around his son’s neck. Against all odds, it was brought back to the father.

JORGE GARCIA (through translators) This chain is a symbol for me. it preserves the sweat of my son. This chain was around his neck. lt was brought to me through the generosity of a survivor. I will keep it forever. My wife gave this chain to my son. lt has the image of the Pope. lt has double significance for me, the memory of my son and the image of the Pope, who very soon will come to Cuba. (Commercial Break)

ANNOUNCER ABC News Nightline continues. Once again reporting from Havana, Cuba, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL The Castro government had dismissed the tugboat sinking as an accident and insisted that no one in the government could have played any role. But then the church cleared its throat.

LIZ BALMASEDA I think the letter that came from the Pope really showed that there was an important international ring to this incident, that somebody at least, somebody as important as the Pope knew what had happened.

TED KOPPEL (VO) The letter from the Vatican’s secretary of state read, in part, “It profoundly saddened the Holy Father to hear of the deplorable death of the families on a boat,” and then, “I ask that you extend to the families the Holy Father’s deepest sympathy and to express his concern and feelings of closeness.”

JANETTE HERNANDEZ (through translators) He sent us his condolences for what had happened and when I received it, I said to myself, well, at least people knew about what happened.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Janette Hernandez and her husband, who also survived the sinking of the tugboat, went to sea again, this time on a raft, and made it to Miami, where they have created a new life. Maria Garcia, who lost 14 members of her family, also lost her job. She says she is under constant surveillance and risked arrest by talking to us.

MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) I will be happy if the Pope, among his many concerns, mentions the question about the tugboat. What has happened about the incident with the tugboat? What has been done? I would like the Pope to ask Fidel that question.

QUANA CARRAZANA (through translators) I see him as a messenger of God and since God always wants the best for human beings, he’s going to bring us that happiness we need, at least spiritually, so that little by little this comes to an end.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Quana Carrazana’s husband, daughter and granddaughter were among the dead. She lives with her son in poverty and says she is also harassed by state security.

QUANA CARRAZANA (through translators) The jails are full of political prisoners. As a result of this interview, I may be arrested. But I’m not afraid if they arrest me, because I live for my son. If they kill me, I don’t mind, because I’m already dead. If they actually kill me, I don’t mind.

REYNALDO CARRAZANA (through translators) He’s going to say mass. People are going to feel fine while he’s here and then things will go back to normal. People will go back to their daily grind, live their day to day difficult life, sweat and toil and everything will be the same.

TED KOPPEL (VO) Reynaldo, Quana’s son, had to leave school. He says he’s periodically picked up or threatened. He supports his mother by making furniture by hand. His mother is afraid that Fidel Castro will warmly greet the Pope.

QUANA CARRAZANA (through translators) I don’t want that moment to come. I would turn my face because it’s as if God were embracing the Devil. God cannot embrace the Devil ever. The Pope’s visit will help Fidel because it will look to the world as if Fidel has become more open. But for the Cuban people, nothing will change.

TED KOPPEL (VO) The men who survived were thrown into prison for several months. When they were released, Sergio Perodin made his way into exile in Miami.

SERGlO PERODIN (through translators) I have always been against those who travel to Cuba to attend one of the masses the Pope will say there. It has never occurred to me the idea of returning to Cuba as long as this dictatorship exists.

REYNALDO CARRAZANA (through translators) I’m planning to go. Let’s see if they let me. They can warn me. Here they can warn you. They see you around, they can simply arrest you and that’s it. They don’t tell you don’t go, but they say if you go, there might be consequences.

JORGE GARCIA (through translators) I’m planning to go see the Pope, go to the mass. Probably he will not know that I am there. I will just be one in the crowd. But I will go there because I have a debt of gratitude to the Pope that I want to pay.

TED KOPPEL I’ll be back with a closing thought in a moment.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL The Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, once mocked the power of the Pope with his famous rhetorical question how many divisions does the Pope command? Fidel Castro has a more subtle understanding of the Popes influence.

By welcoming John Paul to Havana tomorrow, Castro may believe that some of the Pope’s moral authority will rub off. But the newly revitalized Catholic Church of Cuba has already made it clear that the vicar of Christ will be here visiting the people of Cuba, not engaging in political dialogue with its leaders.

A simple letter of condolence from the Pope has already showed that it could make waves in this country. A Papal visit may yet stir up a storm.

That’s our report for tonight. I’m Ted Koppel in Havana. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.

A Fourth of July party in Havana

Ladies in White at the U.S. Interests Section 4th of July reception in Havana

Ladies in White at the U.S. Interests Section 4th of July reception in Havana

Who knew? The U.S. Interests Section in Havana , soon to become the U.S. Embassy, held a reception to celebrate the 4th of July on Friday and invited some 300 people. According to the independent Cuban news site Cubanet, the guest list was made up of “foreign diplomatic personnel accredited in Cuba, government functionaries, cultural figures, clergy of different religious denominations, the Ladies in White, government opponents, independent human rights observers, independent journalists and members of Cuban cooperatives and civil society.”

Foreign diplomatic missions normally hold receptions in their host countries, and sometimes these receptions provide a neutral space for leaders of opposing factions to mingle and sometimes even discuss their issues. But things can also go wrong. The Cubanet article said that two former political prisoners invited to the reception approached Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who agreed to a conversation, but when they raised the subject of other dissidents still in jail, the cleric became angry, told them there were no political prisoners in Cuba and threatened to call security guards.

Trading with Cuba

The United States and Cuba are going to reopen their embassies in Havana and Washington, though Cuban officials have stated that relations won’t be normalized until the U.S. Congress lifts the trade embargo, or what they call el bloqueo, the blockade. There has been a steady stream of congressional and trade delegations visiting Cuba, all looking for opportunities and hoping to be the first in line to sign new commercial and investment deals.

It should be pointed out that the U.S. already exports a considerable amount of stuff to Cuba, and has been doing so for years: food and health care products, which are not covered by the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, or the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act or the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act. There’s a cash-up-front, no credit requirement, but according to the U.S.- Cuba Trade and Economic Council the U.S. has exported $1.1 billion in medical equipment, instruments, supplies and pharmaceutical goods to Cuba so far this year, while agricultural sales totalled $83 million (with frozen chicken topping the list). The Council’s June newsletter, Economic Eye on Cuba, has a full breakdown of American exports to Cuba since 2001 can be downloaded from its web site

The newsletter observes that there are “meaningful exports of products from the United States to the Republic of Cuba that remain unreported/undocumented” and enter the country via charter flights from the U.S. and third country airlines. This seems like an oblique reference to Cuban-American visitors bringing goods to relatives on the island. The Obama administration has authorized exports to private Cuban enterprises, but for the time being it is the Cuban government that controls all imports. The Council also notes that

The government of Cuba may determine greater leverage exists from not increasing purchasing levels as a means of encouraging those impacted United States-based parties to seek further regulatory and legislative changes. Members of Congress, Governors and other political actors will increase their visits to the Republic of Cuba as media coverage of the visits will be generous. However, if too many visitors return without commitments for purchases of products manufactured in their respective states, the media’s generosity will lessen…as will the political actors and, eventually, companies.

Politico has this piece on U.S.-Cuba trade:

And a related piece on doing business with Cuba, pointing out that a future Republican administration could undo everything:

A Cuban health round up

Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader, has a blog piece on the Forbes web site praising the Cuban health care system, writing that

On two health-oriented trips to Cuba in the past year, what struck me was a systematically planned and organized primary care delivery system that captured the doctor-patient relationships of my father’s era of medical practice. Cuba treats healthcare as a human right, specifically stipulated in its constitution. Cuban nationals receive care for free, and have a neighborhood primary care physician who often knows them by name and sees them regularly.

Okay. That is what is supposed to happen. Here’s some more recent health news directly from Cuba:

14ymedio, the independent digital newspaper, reports on an outbreak of cholera in eastern Cuba

Translating Cuba, the English-language site for independent bloggers, reports on the reappearance of the dengue fever mosquito, saying around 30,000 people in the eastern city of Holguin have been exposed to the disease

Dr. Eloy Gonzalez, a Cuban physician residing in the United States, writes El Blog de Medicina Cubana, an invaluable source of information about health care in his native country. His most recent post contains disease statistics across the country compiled by the Pedro Kouri Tropical Disease Institute in Havana, revealing an increase in reported cases of syphilis, bacterial and viral meningitis, along with acute respiratory infections.