Friday, October 31, 2008

Pastors for Peace Construction Team Ignores Embargo and Travel Ban

October 31, 2008

Solidarity Without a Visa: Pastors for Peace in Pinar del Rio

Once again members of the Pastors for Peace organization defy the US
blockade against Cuba, this time to help out with the recovery effort
in Pinar del Rio.


With the same determination that they have handled the most absurd and
brutal pressures of the US government to keep them from delivering
humanitarian aid to Cuba, members of the Pastors for Peace
organization have joined the recovery effort in Pinar del Rio.


They have come without the permission of their government because they
believe that nobody has the right to impose limits on the fraternal
love between sister peoples. The decision could wind them up in jail,
but they assure that their commitment with Cuba is above any risk.

The still fresh memory of the tragedy lived in New Orleans after
Hurricane Katrina brought a uneasy feeling about what they would find
here; nonetheless, the reality of the island has once again surprised

"We were expecting to find the streets covered with mud, dejected
people, but everything is organized. We've seen clean towns, houses
and schools being rebuilt, children receiving classes, the health
centers operating. It's been a great surprise to see that Cuba is
standing," said Rev. Manolo de los Santos Gonzalez, who heads the
brigade of 20 including masons, carpenters, plumbers and electricians
who responded to the call from the interfaith religious organization.

Based on our experience in other parts of the world where there have
been similar disasters we thought the situation would be similar.
After Katrina, Pastors for Peace went to New Orleans. "We were there
gathering bodies," he said.

The reverend said that even today in New Orleans it looks like a
hurricane just hit. "Everything is the same. The houses are ruined.
The people are dispersed throughout the country. The only thing that's
been rebuilt is the tourist zone, which serves to continue enriching
the government."

Here, in contrast, you wouldn't think two hurricanes had hit, said
Manolo de los Santos. "Despite the destruction, everybody is working.
They haven't stopped to lament the damage, but instead are
concentrated on what needs to be done to advance. It's something we
want to take back to the United States so that people know that the
recovery after a natural disaster depends above all on the will of the
government and the people."

When a little over three months ago Manolo visited Puerto Esperanza as
part of the Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan he never imagined he
be back so quickly.

"When we saw the news of the hurricanes we knew we had to do
something. We sent letters to progressive organizations and the people
responded immediately. The goal was to obtain 20 persons and more than
50 offered. This demonstrates the affection felt by people in the US
for Cuba," said Manolo de los Santos.

Since their arrival in Puerto Esperanza on October 21 the brigade
members have worked in the reconstruction of the Santos Cruz Special
Education School, a center that was severely damaged by the winds of
Gustav and Ike.

"Today you see things that a week ago weren't there: a roof, the pipes
and the electric systems ready," said Manolo, noting however that the
greatest inspiration is communicated by their presence alongside the
victims, at the risk of facing severe punishment when they return to
their country.

"Those of us that are here did not ask the US government for a license
because we believe that no administration can regulate the way one
people shares with another.

"We believe that the blockade is the most immoral and diabolical
instrument conceived against a country and must end. For that reason
Pastors for Peace comes each year without asking for authorization.

"It's true that each time they cause more problems. They threaten us
with fines. They tell us that they are going to take us to court, that
they will imprison us. But nothing will make us renounce our
commitment with Cuba," concluded Manolo de los Santos.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Coping with Food Shortages

In food crisis, Cuba limits sales so all can eat

By ANNE-MARIE GARCIA – 20 hours ago

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba is limiting how much basic fruits and vegetables people can buy at farmers' markets, irritating some customers but ensuring there's enough — barely — to go around.

The lines are long and some foods are scarce, but because the government has maintained and even increased rations in some areas, Cubans who initially worried about getting enough to eat now seem confident they won't go hungry despite the destruction of 30 percent of the island's crops by hurricanes Gustav and Ike last month.

"Of the little there is, there is some for everyone," 65-year-old Mercedes Grimau said as queued up behind more than 50 people to buy lettuce, limited to two pounds per person.

"I'm not afraid that I will be left without food, but it's a pain to think about all the work we are going to have to go through," Grimau added. "Two or three months ago the farmers markets were well-stocked."

Cuba's government regularly stockpiles beans and other basics, and Economics Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said authorities are ready to increase the $2 billion they already spend on food imports annually. The world credit crisis won't affect much of those imports because U.S. law forces communist Cuba to use cash to purchase American farm goods. But imports from other countries bought with credit could become more difficult or expensive.

The government is delivering all items distributed each month on the universal ration that provides Cubans with up to two weeks of food — including eggs, beans, rice and potatoes — at very low cost. In some hard-hit provinces, extra food has been added.

But the rest of the food Cubans supplement their diets with at supply-and-demand farmers markets and government produce stands has dwindled, prompting the government to limit consumer purchases and cap prices on items including rice, beans, root crops and fresh greens.

Rodriguez has sought to dispel speculation about a replay of the desperate early 1990s, when shelves were bare and people survived for weeks on one small meal daily. Cubans who lived through deprivation after the Soviet Union's collapse say the current food situation doesn't come close.

"It is true that it will take us some time to bring the agricultural production up to the levels that existed before the hurricanes," Rodriguez told state television this week. "Nevertheless, there is no reason to speculate or assume that there will be any hunger."

Although Cuba's relative financial isolation partially protects it from the jolts of the world economy, an extended credit crisis could stunt the island's foreign currency income if Cubans living abroad lose jobs and stop sending family remittances, or if potential tourists can no longer afford to travel.

But now, Cuba's top challenge is to increase local production of fruits and vegetables sold at the farmers' markets.

Waiting at one market on a recent morning, 55-year-old homemaker Regla Suazo said, "At least with the measures I know I can buy something." Shortly thereafter, the first truck of the day pulled up with green beans, green onions, guavas, avocados, corn, squash, cassava root and sweet potatoes.

But quantities were much smaller than usual. Vendor Nadia Gomez, who received nothing that day, said police checkpoints leading into Havana now turn away trucks unauthorized to market produce in the capital or have been ordered send their goods to harder-hit areas.

Cuban agricultural officials expect six months of food shortages, and are increasing short-cycle crops such as salad greens and taking other measures to ensure everyone gets enough to eat.

At Cuatro Caminos farmers market, among Havana's largest and most varied, vendor Juan Carlos Martinez lamented he had only papayas, guavas and pineapples to sell. "This isn't the business it used to be," he said.

Friday, October 10, 2008

US Blocks Direct Family Assistance Through CANF

Cubans in Florida frustrated that U.S. cut off their aid to island

Foundation appeals decision by government,0,1640950.story

South Florida

By Alexia Campbell

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

October 9, 2008

Click here to find out more!

One man wants to send his niece in Cuba money to rebuild a room of her flattened home. Another man wants to get arthritis medicine to his aunt, who moves around in a makeshift wheelchair. One woman looks for ways to send food to a cousin who waits for promised government aid.

For two days in September, it was easy. Cubans in the United States could send money directly to hurricane victims on the island, thanks to a temporary easing of federal restrictions on remittances.

But federal officials last month amended the license they granted to the Cuban American National Foundation.

Now it prohibits direct aid to people on the island.

As the foundation appeals the decision, South Florida Cubans struggle to keep hope alive in their homeland.

"It's completely frustrating," said Pedro Abigantus, a Pembroke Pines resident whose niece was left homeless in eastern Cuba after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike plowed through her house more than a month ago.

Current U.S. law limits Cubans in America to sending no more than $300 every three months to immediate family members in Cuba.

Abigantus, 71, can't send money to his niece unless someone travels there.

He wants to help his niece and her husband piece together a room for themselves and their little girl.

"To find one nail — it's impossible," Abigantus said. "They straighten out the same old nails and use the same old wood."

About 1,200 people wired money to Cuba through the foundation after the U.S. Department of Treasury first granted the license and after hurricanes damaged more than 100,000 homes on the island.

Two days later, the $250,000 limit the license allowed was hit, the foundation said.

Federal officials didn't explain why direct aid was briefly allowed and then taken away, said Sandy Acosta Cox, spokeswoman for the foundation.

The Treasury Department now won't publicly confirm or deny that the license was ever issued.

"There are no words to describe this," said Acosta Cox.Fred Valdes, 60, of Hollywood, heard news that part of the roof at his aunt's house near Santa Clara blew off. His aunt, who lives alone and suffers from arthritis, moves around in a wheelchair made from a chair mounted on two bike wheels. Her house has no power and she drinks water from a well in her yard, he said.

"Enough is enough," said Valdes, who wants to send her medicine and money. "Forget the politics, let the help go in."

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food Shortages

Cuba bolsters food rations to counter shortages
Wed Oct 8, 2008 4:33pm EDT

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Fruits and vegetables are getting hard to find across Cuba after hurricanes wiped out crops, but the government is tapping food reserves to bolster the monthly food ration that Cubans have received for decades.

It said it would step up imports when needed to make sure no one goes hungry, a situation that could arise by December when diplomats estimate Cuba's reserves will run out.

A survey of major cities and the hardest-hit provinces found that supplies of vegetables and fruits had dried up, even in the usually well-supplied black market. But starches and proteins could still be found with an effort.

"The problem is you have to be at the markets when something comes in, because supply is irregular," said Carlos Pena, a state worker in Holguin province.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the communist-run island in a 10-day period starting August 30, causing $5 billion in damage and wiping out of 30 percent of Cuba's crops.

Cubans say the monthly ration usually provides enough basic food to get through about two weeks, and then they have to supplement it with purchases.

Across much of the country the ration has been increased with additional rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil, a few cans of fish and meat, crackers and other basics, according to people interviewed.

They said they had been told the additional food would be provided through March, which is when the government has said it expects the shortages to ease.


In the few provinces where there was little storm damage, which includes Havana, rations have not been increased and some food that normally would have gone to the Cuban capital was being diverted to needy parts of the country.

As a result, Havana food markets have been more barren than before the storms.

At one of the city's urban gardens begun to increase food supply during the deprivation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, at least 100 people stood in line on Wednesday to buy the day's primary offering, lettuce.

"I don't think we'll have enough lettuce for everybody in line," one of the vendors said.

In measures that some critics say have only worsened the storm-induced shortages, the Cuban government has slapped price controls on staples and limited how many pounds of rice, for example, an individual can purchase.

It also has cracked down on sales outside the state-controlled distribution system and pressured farmers to sell only to the state.

Street vendors have disappeared across the country and what is available at private markets has dwindled.

Camaguey resident Evelio Cisneros said he got basics such as rice and beans at a state store on Tuesday, then found pork and avocado at a private market.

"There is much less since the storms, but there is food at a decent price to buy," he said.

(Editing by Jeff Franks, Michael Christie and Xavier Briand)