Friday, February 27, 2009

Quote of the Day

"We are not China, but could be an important market close to home. Every little bit of trade would help struggling U.S. farmers and companies as well as Cuba in these hard economic times."

Pedro Alvarez, head of the Castro regime’s food importing agency, tells Reuters how lifting the US trade embargo will benefit “struggling” American farmers.


Ah, yes, let’s talk about Cuban rum ... new figures released by the official media show that despite the global economic downturn, sales of Havana Club outside Cuba grew by 13 per cent last year to a total of 3.4 million cases.

It seems the Germans in particular, have developed a taste for Cuban rum – sales there increased by about 26 per cent.

In fact, those thirsty Germans have now overtaken the Italians as the top overseas market for the Havana Club brand, which as with almost everything else in Cuba, is controlled directly by the Castro brothers, with a little help internationally from the French group Pernod Ricard SA.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quote of the day

"The Castro regime is one which, for romantic lefties living in comfort in the West, still represents the smiling face of revolutionary socialism ... There are many ... who prefer their illusions about Castro to remain unblemished."

Commentator Terence Blacker, writing in The Independent, London, about the enduring love affair between the Castro regime and Westerners who should know better. H/T Penultimos Dias.

That old embargo

The US House of Representative has just passed legislation to partially lift some of the trade restrictions imposed by Washington on the Castro regime.

Under the legislation, which is yet to be approved by the Senate, the Treasury Department will no longer demand that Havana pay cash in advance for agricultural goods purchased from US primary producers.

In other words, the Americans could soon be selling produce to Cuba on credit.

Those favouring the change believe that the lifting of the cash-for-goods rule will result in a huge increase in agricultural sales, which is good news for American farmers.

And they are right – after all, the US is already Cuba’s number one source for agricultural produce, including beans, corn and rice.

The only problem with this seemingly optimistic scenario is the fact that the Castro regime has a shocking record when it comes to paying its debts, almost always making late repayment or simply refusing to pay what it owes.

Perhaps the US lawmakers should have a chat to the Canadian multi-national Sherritt International, which has been dealing with Havana for decades.

According to this report, Sherritt officials have just confirmed that the cash-strapped Cuban government owes the Toronto-based minerals company about USD 393 million in (very late) repayments for oil and gas production and electric power.

But there is more: Cuba also owes about USD100 million to a second Canadian outfit, the Montreal-based corporation, Pebercan Inc.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Our Irish connections

The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, is on his way to Havana for the first ever visit to Cuba by an Irish government minister.

And to mark this historic occasion, the Irish press has published extensive background reports on Fidel Castro's island paradise, often repeating the same old lines about "free" education, "excellent" health care services, the US "blockade", blah, blah, blah ...

But among all the predictable silliness, there are some gems, including this commendable attempt by John Moran from the Irish Times to link the two island nations.

According to his research, Cubans see Ireland in "a very positive light" as both nations share a "similarly turbulent history in the shadow of a powerful neighbour".

"Ireland has another advantage in that we have prominent blood ties to the island – and not just Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Lynch)," an enthusiastic Mr Moran writes. "One of the founders of the Cuban communist party, Julio Antonio Mella, who is greatly revered in Cuba, had an Irish mother, Cecilia McPartland. And researchers have claimed that Eamon de Valera’s father emigrated from Cuba to the US in the 19th century."

So, there you go - from the Emerald Isle to the Caribbean. Just like that.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Buena Vista was the acceptable face of communism."

Simon Calder, travel editor for The Independent newspaper in London, explaining the success outside Cuba of the Buena Vista Social Club franchise.

Trading figures

For the record, new figures published overnight in the US confirm that food exports to Cuba increased by a massive 61 per cent during 2008.

According to data compiled by a Washington-based lobby group, the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, American primary producers exported more than USD710 million worth of food – up from USD437.5 million in the previous 12 months.

It means that the US has now become probably the Castro regime’s fourth largest trading partner.


When all is said and done, there is nothing particularly special about this week’s three-day visit to Cuba by Michelle Bachelet - the first such visit by a Chilean head of state since the days of Salvador Allende.

After all, democratically-elected Latin American leaders from right across the political spectrum have visited the island over the past few years to be dined and wined by those always-welcoming Castro brothers.

And yet … there is something inherently disappointing in Ms Bachelet’s visit, and in her inexplicable decision not to upset the semi-retired dictator by setting aside an hour or so to meet with a handful of dissidents.

As dissident Owaldo Paya put it: "It will be a sad paradox indeed that someone representing a country that has been through a dictatorship comes to a country where there is a dictatorship and fails to show a sign of respect for diversity of opinion.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The promotion and protection of human rights are guaranteed."

Maria Esther Reus, the Cuban justice minister, tells the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council that when it comes to human rights, all is well on Fidel Castro's island paradise. Shameless.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Quote of the Day

"We are not giving any money to Cuba."

A senior official at Moscow's Finance Ministry, Konstantin Vyshkovsky, explaining that while Russia had agreed to provide the Castro regime with another USD270 million "soft loan", the money would be used mostly to buy Russian agricultural and construction machinery.

Farming News

You may recall that some months ago Raul Castro announced plans to allow private farmers to lease State-owned agricultural land, injecting some much-needed, old-fashioned capitalism into a food production system that has been a colossal failure for … well, for close to 50 years.

Under the new system, farmers could apply to lease up to 99 acres of unused land for a period of 10 years, with the possibility of renewing the lease for a further decade, and do what farmers are supposed to do: grow food.

Now, the official Cuban media has reported that close to 96,500 applications have been received so far for the lease of some 1,300,000 acres of land.

However, for reasons that remain unclear, only about 45,000 – or less than half - of the applications have been approved by the bureaucrats in Havana.

For the record, about one third of all arable land in Cuba is worked by private or family farmers, with the rest of the land controlled directly by the Communist Party authorities through various ministries.

You won’t be surprised to hear that while half of the land controlled by the State remains unused, the private farmers produce about 70 per cent of all the food grown on the island.