At the September 29 meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Paraguay led 29 countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., in presenting a statement that reiterated their “commitment to assist, within the framework of international law, to ensuring that Venezuelans fully enjoyed their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The disposition of the Holy See to contribute to facilitating dialogue was welcomed. Concern was expressed at reports of repression of the voices of the opposition and excessive force used against peaceful protesters and journalists.” The statement also urged all parties in Venezuela to hold a “timely and effective dialogue,” either directly or via facilitators, “to preserve peace and safety, to ensure the full respect of human rights, due process, the separation of powers and the consolidation of a representative democracy” and to release political prisoners.
Not surprisingly Venezuela opposed this statement. It alleged that “the statement [was] authored by the United States . . . [and] constituted a brazen interference into the internal affairs of Venezuela, which had been chosen as a new imperial target.”
Cuba, an ally of Venezuela and on behalf of another group of countries, opposed the statement and instead “called for respect for the sovereignty of Venezuela, in recognition of the right to choose one’s own political system, and expressed support for the Government of Venezuela in ensuring the democratic institutions of the country’s functioning. An appeal was made to all responsible members of the international community to refrain from manifestations of interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela.” In addition, Cuba alleged that “many countries were meddling into the internal affairs of Venezuela, and Cuba would continue to oppose such attempts and to support the Constitutional President Nicolas Maduro.”
Another opponent, Nicaragua, speaking on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, asserted, “Venezuela had been a victim of an unprecedented media campaign, which aimed to disregard and hide the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution. Those who promoted that campaign used human rights in a selective and political manner as an excuse to create conditions to destabilize the participative democracy in Venezuela. The Group demanded full respect for Venezuela’s sovereignty.”
Two other countries spoke on the Venezuela issue. Bolivia said Venezuela “had shown the world its ability to solve differences in compliance with the principle of sovereignty” and “warned against economic sabotage of Venezuela and guarded against violence and destabilization of that country.” Ecuador encouraged the “dialogue [already] underway in Venezuela,” which “should sovereignly and freely arrive at a solution.”
At the opening of this session of the Council on September 13, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein delivered his global update on human rights that included the following lengthy comments about Venezuela:
“For the past two and a half years, Venezuela has refused even to issue a visa to my Regional Representative. Its comprehensive denial of access to my staff is particularly shocking in the light of our acute concerns regarding allegations of repression of opposition voices and civil society groups; arbitrary arrests; excessive use of force against peaceful protests; the erosion of independence of rule of law institutions; and a dramatic decline in enjoyment of economic and social rights, with increasingly widespread hunger and sharply deteriorating health-care. My Office will continue to follow the situation in the country very closely, and we will state our concerns for the human rights of Venezuela’s people at every opportunity. Respect for international human rights norms can create a narrow path upon which the Government and the opposition can both tread, to address and resolve peacefully the country’s current challenges – particularly through meaningful dialogue, respecting the rule of the law and the Constitution. My Office stands ready to assist in addressing the current human rights challenges, and I thank the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States for recommending that Venezuela work with my Office on a Truth Commission, which could indeed offer the people an important voice.”
Any casual observer from the U.S. and elsewhere should know that Venezuela has been experiencing exceedingly difficult economic and political problems and that most of its people are desperate for food and other essentials. Its government’s attempt to gain international support by calling and hosting a sparsely attended Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, as discussed in a prior post, was an embarrassing failure.
For Cuba, he said, “non – alignment means the struggle to radically change the international economic order imposed by the great powers, which has led to 360 people possessing a higher income than 45% of the world population annual wealth. The gap between rich and poor countries is growing. Technology transfer from North to South is an elusive aspiration.”
“Globalization mainly favors a select group of industrialized countries. The debt of southern countries multiplies. . . . [Mamy] people are pushed into unemployment and extreme poverty; millions [of] children die each year from hunger and preventable diseases; almost 800 million people cannot read or write, while more than 1.7 [billion] dollars are devoted to military spending.”
Castro reported that it has been “21 months since we announced simultaneously with President Barack Obama, the decision to restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.”
“There has been some progress, especially in the diplomatic arena and cooperation on issues of mutual interest, but has not been the same in the economic and commercial sphere, due to the limited scope, while positive, of the measures taken so far by the American government.”
“Cuba will continue to demand the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade that [had caused] much damage and deprivation to Cuba and that also affects many countries for its extraterritorial scope.” Cuba also “will continue to demand that our sovereignty is returned to the territory illegally occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantanamo. Without [these and other changes by the U.S.] there can be no normal relations [between the two countries].”
Nevertheless, “we reaffirm the will to sustain civilized coexistence relations with the United States, but Cuba will not give up one of its principles, or . . . make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence. It will not relent in defending their revolutionary and anti-imperialist ideals, [or] in supporting self-determination of peoples.”
Castro also rejected any attempts to “regime change” and reaffirmed rejection of any country’s “resorting to aggression and use of force,” and “commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and International law; [to peaceful resolution of disputes] and full respect for the inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system as an essential condition to ensure coexistence among nations.”
More specifically Castro reaffirmed (a) Cuba’s “unconditional support for the government and Venezuelan people, the civil-military union and the constitutional President Nicolas Maduro Moros;” (b) Cuba’s rejection of the parliamentary “coup” in Brazil against President Dilma Rousseff; (c) Cuba’s support of Colombia’s “implementing the Agreement” with the FARQ; (d) Cuba’s support of “the people of the Syrian Arab Republic resolving their “without external interference aimed at promoting regime change, . . . “the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, . . . the self-determination of the Saharawi people, . . . the historical demand of the Puerto Rican people towards self-determination and independence, . . . [and] the claim of Argentina over the Falkland Islands, South Sandwich and South Georgia;” and (e) Cuba’s congratulations to “the Islamic Republic of Iran for his work in the recently concluded mandate.”
Castro’s concluded with this assertion: “The only alternative to the enormous dangers and challenges ahead is unity and solidarity in defense of our common goals and interests.”
The Summit’s Declaration concluded with a 21-point statement of NAM objectives: (1) consolidate and revitalize NAM; (2) consolidation of the international order; (3) the right to self-determination; (4) disarmament and international security; (5) human rights; (6) condemnation of unilateral sanctions; (7) condemnation of terrorism; (8) dialogue among civilizations; (9) support for Palestine; (10) reform of the U.N. Security Council and General assembly; (11) selection and appointment of new U.N. Secretary-General; (12) U.N. peace-keeping operations; (13) sustainable development goals; (14) promotion of education, science and technology for development; (15) climate change; (16) reforming the international economic governance; (17) South-South cooperation (18) international solidarity in combatting pandemics; (19) support for refugees and migrants; (20) young women, peace and security; and (21) new world order of information and communication.
These words of Raúl Castro were nothing new.
The real news from the NAM Summit was the low turn-out. Of the 120 NAM members only 13 attended, including the leaders of Cuba, Iran, Palestine, Ecuador, Bolivia and Zimbabwe and the Venezuelan host.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro called the meeting as an opportunity to increase international solidarity for his socialist government as the oil-dependent economy reels from widespread food shortages and triple digit inflation. However, according to observers, the low attendance indicates that almost all of the NAM members were not interested in engaging in such solidarity with this country under these circumstances.
Nevertheless, Maduro spoke defiantly at the Summit about Venezuela’s problems, blaming them on the country’s foreign enemies. “Venezuela is facing a global attack, which is against all of Latin America and Caribbean. An attack that aims to impose a political, economic and cultural reorganization of our countries with the old oligarchy.”
As repeatedly stated, this blog concurs that the U.S. should end its embargo (blockade) of Cuba and that the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the FARQ is to be applauded and hopefully will be approved in the October 2 referendum in that country. I also agree that Cuba and the other NAM members have the right to organize and advocate their many other positions.This blog, however, disagrees with Cuba’s allegation that the U.S. is illegally occupying Guantanamo Bay.
Finally soon after the NAM Summit, President Maduro met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when both were in Cartagena Colombia for the signing of the Colombia-FARQ peace agreement. The next day on his regular television show in his country, Maduro, mentioning his 40-minute meeting with Kerry, said, “I ask that God bless the results of the meeting [with Kerry] and that Venezuela opens a new era of relations with the United States.” He also said that veteran U.S. diplomat Tom Shannon, who has been the U.S. point man for the troubled relationship, will visit Caracas again soon and that an invitation was open to Kerry.
The U.S. State Department, acknowledging the meeting, said, “The Secretary expressed our commitment to the well-being of the Venezuelan people, and our willingness to work with all sectors of Venezuelan society to enhance our relationship. He also spoke of our concern about the economic and political challenges that have affected millions of Venezuelans, and he urged President Maduro to work constructively with opposition leaders to address these challenges.” In addition, the Department said that “Kerry stressed our support for democratic solutions reached through dialogue and compromise” and that the two men “agreed to continue the bilateral discussions begun in recent months.”
On September 22, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, addressed the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. The next day he repeated some of the themes of this speech while talking at a meeting at the U.N. of the G77 + China, the intergovernmental organization of 134 U.N.-member developing countries that promotes their collective economic interests, their joint negotiating capacity on such issues and South-South cooperation for development.
Foreign Minister’s Speech to the U.N. General Assembly
“The statistics could not be more eloquent. 80% of the world population owns only 6% of the wealth, while the richest 1%, enjoys half the heritage of the planet. No less than 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger. 18,000 children die daily because of poverty. More than 660 million use non-potable water and 780 million adults and 103 million young people are illiterate.”
“The huge nuclear and conventional arsenals and annual military spending of 1.7 billion million dollars, belie those who claim that there are no resources to eliminate poverty and underdevelopment.”
“The waves of refugees into Europe, caused by underdevelopment and NATO interventions, show the cruelty, the oppressive nature, inefficiency and unsustainability of the current international order . . . .”
“2015 was also the worst in terms of climate change, with increasing global temperatures, melting of polar ice, the ocean levels and volume growth emission of greenhouse gases. . . . While it is expected that the industrialized countries will make progress in fulfilling the obligations assumed with the ambiguous Paris Agreement, only tangible data on financing and technology transfer to developing countries may justify hopes of survival of the human species.”
“Peace and development are the raison d’être of the [U.N.] For the human species, it is imperative and urgent . . . to create a culture of peace and justice as the basis of a new international order. . . . For peaceful coexistence among States, it is essential to respect the [U.N.] Charter and international law.”
“The UN must [combat] unilateralism and . . . be thoroughly reformed in order to democratize it and bring it closer to the problems, needs and aspirations of peoples in order to make it capable of [moving] the international system towards peace, sustainable development and respect for all human rights for all. The reform of the Security Council, both in its composition and its working methods, is a task that can no longer be postponed. Strengthening the General Assembly and rescuing [its] functions that have been usurped by the Security Council should guide the search for a more democratic and efficient organization.”
Rodrigues also supported the rights of the people of Palestine, the Sahara, the Syrian Arab Republic, Russia (and against NATO), Venezuela, Colombia (and their agreement to end the conflict with the FARQ), Brazil (and against “the parliamentary coup d’eta against President Rousseff”) and Puerto Rico.
He praised Cuban medical personnel who are “working in [61 countries in] all continents . . . for the life and health of humans” and criticized the U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Medical Personnel that seeks to interfere with such beneficial medical programs.
On the other hand, he recognized that “just over a year has passed since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the reopening of embassies.” Since then “there has been some progress in our bilateral ties, especially in diplomatic affairs, dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest, as reflected in the high-level visits, including the visit of President Barack Obama, and the dozen agreements signed on issues that can bring benefits to both countries and throughout the hemisphere.
However, “the reality is that the [U.S. embargo] blockade remains in force, continues to cause serious damage and hardship to the Cuban people and continues to hamper the functioning of the economy and its relations with other countries. Executive measures adopted by the [U.S.}, although positive, are insufficient.” Therefore, the Cuban government “will present [this October] to the Assembly the draft resolution entitled ‘Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Tax by the United States of America against Cuba.’”
In the meantime, “the Cuban government [will continue to develop] a respectful dialogue with the [U.S.] Government, knowing that remains a long way to go to move towards normalization, which means building an entirely new bilateral relations [model].” For this to be possible some day, it will be imperative that the blockade [be] . . . lifted” and that the territory [allegedly] illegally occupied by the Naval Base of the United States in Guantanamo” be returned to Cuba.
“The Cuban people continues [to be engaged in updating [its] economic and social model . . . in order to build an independent, sovereign, socialist, prosperous and sustainable nation.”
Foreign Minister’s Speech at Meeting of G-77+ China
Rodriguez emphasized what he called “the historical debt owed to the nations of the South by the industrialized countries that built their wealth from centuries of colonialism, slavery and plundering of natural resources. This debt needs to be settled by [the industrialized countries] paying [the nations of the South] with financial flows and technology transfers.”
“The external [financial] debt [of the South] must be abolished because it already has been paid many times.”
The Cuban Foreign Minister of Cuba also advocated a direct and active participation of the South in global decisions.
He reiterated Cuba’s allegations against the U.S. economic, commercial and financial embargo (blockade) despite the recent rapprochement between the two governments. More will be heard on this subject when Cuba this October presents its annual resolution against the embargo to the General Assembly
There really was nothing new in these remarks, but it is heartening to hear again that Cuba continues to pursue normalization with the U.S. and to updating its economic and social model in order to build a more prosperous society.
On July 28, Cuba’s “Current Economic and Political Situation” was the opening session of the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, a U.S. non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting “research, publications, and scholarly discussion on the Cuban economy in its broadest sense, including on the social, economic, legal, and environmental aspects of a transition to a free market economy and a democratic society in Cuba.”
The presenters at this session were (1) Joaquín P. Pujol, International Monetary Fund (retired); (2) Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, Cuban Economist, Temas Magazine; and (3) Jorge R. Pińón, Researcher, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Texas at Austin.
Joaquín P. Pujol discussed “Cuba: Great Expectations, but How Real Are They?” Cuba is facing problems in servicing its foreign debt, unifying its unwieldy dual currency system, fixing its decrepit infrastructure and promoting sluggish foreign investment. “The Cuban government now finds itself again in need of foreign financing and they’re not going to get it. In fact, it has turned to Miami” as Cuban relatives and friends have become an important source of funding for small start-up businesses in Cuba.
Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva discussed “Cuba: Economia y Desafios” [Cuba: Economy and Challenges]. Although the government has projected the Cuban economy will grow by 1 percent this year, “I’m not sure it will reach that this year.”
Even though final figures for 2015 haven’t been announced yet, he said Cuba would show a deficit in goods and services trade. And even though tourism is growing briskly, he said taking into account expenditures in the tourism sector, the yield can be disappointing.
Jorge R. Pińón’s subject was “Cuba’s Energy Crisis: Truth or Fiction?” Faced with mounting energy problems, Cuban officials announced strict energy savings measures at state enterprises earlier this month in hopes of avoiding blackouts during the sweltering summer months. Officials have said Cuba will have to cut fuel consumption by 28 percent during the second half of the year.
Cuba produces about 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day and has relied on Venezuela for the other 80,000 to 90,000 daily barrels it needs. But with Venezuela on the ropes economically, continued oil supplies are uncertain. Indeed, over the last six months, he said, total Venezuelan oil production has come dangerously close to dropping below 2 million barrels a day. “In our business that’s catastrophic.”
“As of last week there was enough oil . . . [in Cuba] to keep the lights on,” Piñón said. “June and July deliveries were sufficient.”
Some analysts, looking only at declines in oil arriving in Cuba directly from Venezuela, have predicted an even worse outlook for the island, but Cuba also receives oil from offshore Venezuelan facilities.
Cuba also has been stockpiling oil, and there is an estimated 60-day supply on the island. The question is what happens with Venezuelan deliveries in August and September. “The [economic] hurricane is coming in Venezuela and it’s a Category 5 hurricane. The question is: Will it hit Cuba?”
Already hours have been cut for some state workers, fleets at nonessential enterprises have been parked and some neighborhoods have reported blackouts, drawing comparisons to the 1990s “special period” when after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its generous subsidies, there were severe shortages in Cuba in everything from fuel to food.
Indeed, Raúl Castro in his recent speech to the National Assembly said, “There is speculation and rumors of an imminent collapse of our economy and a return to the acute phase of the special period.” Raúl Castro said during a recent speech to Cuba’s National Assembly. But he said the island was “in better conditions than we were then to face them.”
The surge in Cuban tourism and the growth of private enterprise also is putting more pressure on Cuba’s energy sector. About 68 percent of oil consumption in Cuba is fuel oil for its inefficient electrical power sector. The government has said it will protect the tourism sector and private businesses from cutbacks.
If Venezuelan oil supplies dry up, it’s unlikely Cuba would be able to find another benefactor like Venezuela in Algeria, Angola, Russia, China or any other country, forcing it to go to the world market to buy about $1 billion worth of petroleum annually.
In recent years, Cuba has actually been receiving more oil from Venezuela than it needs and has been selling the excess on the world market as refined petroleum products. But Piñón suggests it would be cheaper and more efficient for Cuba to shut down its refineries and buy gasoline and jet fuel than buying crude and refining it.
An even gloomier outlook was voiced by Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank employee who is now a professor at Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali. He said, “Under current conditions, [Cuban] gross domestic product will dip into negative territory this year and decline 2.9 per cent in 2017. If relations with Venezuela fall apart completely, GDP could decline 10 per cent.”
Another economic negative is anticipated declines in Cuba’s export of medical services (its foreign medical missions), especially to Algeria, Angola and Brazil. In 2014 such medical services earned Cuba about $8 billion or 40% of its total exports.
Karina Marrón, deputy director of Granma, has warned of possible street protests. “A perfect storm is brewing . . . this phenomenon of a cut in fuel, a cut in energy. This country can’t withstand another ’93, another ’94.”Rapid response brigades in the 1990s were formed to quell social unrest; they are now reportedly on alert.
“Just when we thought we were going forward, everything is slipping away again,” says Havana retiree Miriam Calabasa. “I am worried people are going to decide enough is enough: then what?” A mechanic, Ignacio Perez, stated, “Nothing will get better any time soon; it can only get worse. The roads won’t be paved, schools painted, the rubbish picked up, public transportation improved, and on and on.”
But foreign businesses hope these great economic challenges may speed economic opening. “Venezuela’s problems increase the chance of Cuban reforms. This government only acts when it has to,” says one Spanish investor on the island.
 As mentioned in a prior post, Omar Everleny Perez was one of the Cuba’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies and a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms in 2011. This last April (three weeks after Obama’s visit to Cuba), he was fired by the University of Havana for allegedly having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university. Perez said he believed he was fired because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms.
 President Castro’s recent speech to the National Assembly was discussed in a prior post. His earlier speech to the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba also touched on Cuba’s economic problems; this speech was covered in another post.
Grim news over Cuba’s economy was delivered in July 8 speeches to the country’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power) by Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro, and by Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo. Naturally the Cuban people are worried. Here is a summary of those developments.
“In December 2015 I [projected that we would experience] financial constraints as a result of declining export revenue . . . [due to] falling prices for our traditional items as well as damages [to our] relations of mutually beneficial cooperation with various countries, particularly with Venezuela, which is being subjected to an economic war to weaken popular support for its revolution.”
“In the first half [of 2016] GDP grew by only one percent, half of what we had projected. This is the result of worsening external financial restrictions, driven by the decline of export earnings, coupled with the constraints faced by some of our major trading partners, due to falling oil prices.”
“There also has been a contraction in fuel supplies that had been promised by Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Nicolas Maduro and his government to fulfill that commitment. Obviously this has caused additional stress on the functioning of the Cuban economy.”
“Nevertheless, Cuba has managed to maintain compliance with the commitments made in the process of restructuring of debts to our foreign creditors. However, I must admit that there have been some delays in current payments to suppliers and I thank our partners for their confidence and understanding of this situation and reaffirm the commitment of the Government to meet the outstanding maturities and to continue restoring the international credibility of the Cuban economy.”
“Nor can we ignore the harmful effects of the US blockade and the US ban on Cuba’s use of the US dollar in its international transactions.”
“In these adverse circumstances the Council of Ministers adopted a set of measures to address the situation and ensure the main activities that ensure the vitality of the economy, minimizing the effects on the population.”
“As expected, in order to sow discouragement and uncertainty among citizens, there have been speculations and predictions of an imminent collapse of our economy with the return to the acute phase of the special period. These dire warnings have been overcome thanks to the resilience of the Cuban people and their unlimited confidence in Fidel and the Party. We do not deny damages that may occur, even higher than at present, but we are prepared and better able then to reverse them.”
“Faced with these difficulties and threats, there is no room for improvisations and much less for defeatism. In the short-term, we face the situation with great energy, fairness, rationality and political sensitivity; and we continue to strengthen coordination between the Party and the Government with much optimism and confidence in the present and the future of the Revolution.”
“We must reduce expenses of all kinds that are not essential, to foster a culture of saving and efficient use of available resources, concentrating investment in activities that generate revenue from exports, substitute imports and support strengthening of infrastructure, ensuring sustainability of electricity generation and better use of energy carriers. These programs will ensure the development of the nation, in short, non-stop.”
“At the same time, the social services that the revolution has obtained for our people and measures to gradually improve their quality are preserved. In the midst of these difficulties were made several measures aimed at increasing the purchasing power of the Cuban peso, including the decrease in prices of a set of products and articles of broad demand for our population.”
“Similarly, despite the prolonged drought plaguing us, we begin to see the fruits of other actions to ensure better collection and distribution of agricultural products, confirming greater presence of these markets and a slight but progressive reduction of selling prices. These measures have been welcomed by the population as relief to Cuban families.”
“In addition, these measures have guaranteed the internal financial balance through appropriate levels of supply in the retail market, while progress is being made in the implementation of pay systems linked to productive results, all of which has enabled us to avoid inflationary pressures.”
“This morning the National Assembly of People’s Power agreed to support in its spirit and letter the update of the Guidelines for Economic Policy and Social Party and the Revolution for the period 2016-2021 that were adopted by the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. This will entail the legislative development and adoption of legal standards required to continue improving the legal and institutional basis in the interests of economic changes in the country.”
“We reaffirm that we will continue updating our economic model at our sovereignly determined pace, forging consensus and unity of Cubans in the construction of socialism.”
“The rate of change will continue to be conditioned by our ability to do things right, which has not always been so. This requires ensuring the preparation of policy documents, training and mastery of content, conducting monitoring and implementation and timely rectification to any deviations.”
“As clear evidence of our strength and experience, we have had favorable results in implementing the plan of prevention and confrontation of mosquito-borne diseases.
“The complex circumstances of the national economy will not weaken in the least, the solidarity and commitment of Cuba to the Bolivarian Revolution and Chavista with President Maduro and his government and the Civic Union Military brother Venezuelan people. We will continue lending to Venezuela, to the best of our ability, collaboration agreed to help sustain the achievements in social services that benefit the population. True friends are known in difficult times and Cubans will never forget the support of Venezuelans when we faced serious difficulties.”
“In commemorating the Day of National Rebellion [on July 29] we will do so with the conviction that the Cuban revolutionary people will again face difficulties without the slightest hint of defeatism and full confidence in the Revolution.”
In his July 8 speech to the Cuban legislature, Marino Murillo, a member of the Politburo, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, essentially repeated the main points of President Castro’s report.
The 1% increase in Cuban GDP for the first half of 2016 stands in contrast to the 4.7% increase for the first half of 2015. According to Reuters, Venezuelan shipments of crude oil and refined products to the island nation decreased around 20% for this period.
As a result of these economic problems and challenges, Cuba is concentrating on reducing expenses, promoting conservation and efficient use of available resources; concentrating investments on activities that generate exports and replace imports; strengthening infrastructure; assuring the sustainability of electrical generation; and facilitating better use of energy resources. The plan is to reduce total electricity consumption by 6% while not cutting residential use and key revenue-generating sectors such as tourism and nickel production.
More than 450,000 U.S. citizens or residents were among the 3.5 million tourists to visit the island last year, when the total number of visitors rose 17% from 2014, and the number of U.S. visitors for the first half of 2016 was up 26% to 304,000 out of a total of 2.1 million visitors to the island. Those numbers are likely to rise further when commercial flights from the U.S. begin later this year.
Cuba’s future exemption from electricity restrictions for privately-owned businesses that cater to tourists could be seen as a Faustian bargain. Cuba desperately needs the hard currencies that tourists bring and spend on the island. On the other hand, the increasing numbers of U.S. visitors are tending to spend their money on Cuban bed-and-breakfasts, taxis, meals in privately-owned restaurants and other services that will increase demands for electricity and nurture Cuba’s nascent urban middle class and increase pressures for political and economic change.
Signs of these changes already can be seen. Public offices and state-run companies have cut work hours and are limiting the use of air-conditioning. Cinemas have cut the number of film screenings, and petrol stations are running out of fuel more frequently than in the past few years.
According to a New York Times journalist, many Cubans now fear “a return to the days when they used oil lamps to light their living rooms and walked or bicycled miles to work because there was no gasoline.” Regina Coyula, a blogger who worked for several years for Cuban state security, voiced one aspect of that fear: “We all know that it’s Venezuelan oil that keeps the lights on. People are convinced that if Maduro [the President of Venezuela] falls, there will be blackouts here.”
On May 26, a United Nations committee rejected, 10 to 6, an application for accreditation to attend U.N. meetings from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international, independent group that monitors attacks on journalists around the world and campaigns for the release of those who are jailed.
The 10 negative votes came from Cuba along with Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Venezuela. The yes votes came from Greece, Guinea, Israel, Mauritania, the United States and Uruguay. The abstentions were by India, Iran and Turkey, the latter two having reputations for persecuting journalists.
At the committee meeting U.S. Ambassador Sarah Mendelson made a lengthy statement advocating accreditation for CPJ, which, she said, is “a reputable non-governmental organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.” Such a group has shown that “a free press remains a critical foundation for prosperous, open, and secure societies, allowing citizens to access information and hold their governments accountable. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reiterates the fundamental principle that every person has the right ‘to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
Afterwards the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said, “It is increasingly clear that the NGO committee acts more and more like an anti-NGO committee.” She also said that the U.S. would appeal the committee’s decision to the full 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council.
CPJ stated, “It is sad that the U.N., which has taken up the issue of press freedom through Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and through the adoption of the U.N. Action Plan, has denied accreditation to CPJ, which has deep and useful knowledge that could inform decision making. A small group of countries with poor press freedom records are using bureaucratic delaying tactics to sabotage and undermine any efforts that call their own abusive policies into high relief.”
This April CPJ’s annual report ranked Cuba 10th on its list of the 10 Most Censored Countries. Key for this ranking was Cuba’s having “the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas. The print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state, which has been in power for more than half a century and, by law, must be ‘in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.'” In addition, CPJ stated, “The government continues to target critical journalists through harassment, surveillance, and short-term detentions.”
On April 26, the U.S. Department of State announced the launching of its fifth annual Free the Press Campaign “to highlight emblematic cases of reporters from around the world who are imprisoned, harassed, and otherwise targeted for doing their jobs, just by reporting the news.” This is a prelude to World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
This year the Department “will highlight journalists and media outlets that we have identified in previous years that were censored, attacked, threatened, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting whose situations have not yet improved. And we’re going to spotlight these various cases in three ways: one, by raising them from behind the podium at the top of each daily press briefing; two, by spotlighting them on http://www.humanrights.gov and social media; and then third, by using the hashtag #freethepress to spread the word and message on Twitter.”
The “campaign’s goal is straightforward. It’s to call the world’s attention to the plight of these reporters and to call on governments to protect and promote the right to promote – to – let me do that again – call on governments to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.”
The first case thus highlighted is “Jose Antonio Torres, who’s a journalist for Granma, the official communist daily newspaper in Cuba. And he was arrested in February of 2011, after Granma published his report on the mismanagement of a public works project in Santiago de Cuba, and subsequently [he was] sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly spying.”
“This is the kind of reporting that promotes transparency and makes government accountable to its people. We take this opportunity to call on the Government of Cuba to release him. You can learn more about this case and others involved in Free the Press on our website, again, www.humanrights.gov.”
The subject of this State Department announcement, Senor Torres, apparently published in Granma a 5,000-word article on the mismanagement of an aqueduct project. Afterwards President Raúl Castro reportedly wrote that “this is the spirit that should characterize the (Communist) Party press: transparent, critical and self-critical.” Four months later, Torres published another critical report, this about the installation of fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela. Torres noted that the Vice President Ramiro Valdės was responsible for the supervision of both projects.
On February 8, 2011, Torres was arrested and detained and put through intense interrogations. In June 2012, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the crime of espionage. Torres, however, has continued to maintain his innocence, called his imprisonment a “mistake,” and expressed confidence that the government would eventually realize its mistake. Torres reportedly has said that he “trusts in the revolution’s justice, and…does not want any relations with counter-revolutionaries.” 
World Press Freedom Day is a project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquartered in Paris, France. It “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.” The Day also is “a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom” and to “media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.” This special day was first proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993.