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Analysis: Ukraine-Related Price Jolts Threaten Cuba’s Already Tepid Recovery

HAVANA — The Russian invasion of Ukraine is making Cuba’s three-year-old foreign exchange crisis worse as import costs jump, undermining an incipient recovery and threatening more hardship for residents, according to economic experts and businessmen.

Vital imports including fuel and grains have seen prices soar between 25 percent and 40 percent this year, putting new pressure on a government chronically short of dollars, said the businessmen, who include three foreigners with years of working in joint ventures as well as the head of a Cuban factory.

“The Cuban government is feeling the pain, as is the general population and the nascent sector of private Cuban entrepreneurs. Things are looking very difficult for Cuba in the short and medium term,” said Canadian lawyer Gregory Biniowsky, who has been a consultant on business and investment in Cuba for decades.

The Cuban businessman, who like his foreign peers requested anonymity, said state companies were already working in difficult conditions before Havana’s long-time ally Russia attacked Ukraine in February and those conditions were deteriorating.

“We are getting hit with power, fuel and other reductions to our allocated plans. We were already scraping the barrel to keep going and now it is getting worse,” he said.

Communist-run Cuba imports around 60 percent of the fuel and 65 percent of the food it consumes, according to the government. The spike in import costs risks worsening shortages already forcing citizens to line up for food, medicine and other basic goods.

Economy Minister Alejandro Gil in late March said higher prices were undermining plans to cut import costs, adding that gas shortage and power outages were in part due to higher fuel prices and shipping disruptions.

“Until the month before last … a 40,000-ton diesel tanker cost us $35-36 million,” he said, “and today that same ship costs $58 million.”

Cuban gasoline and electricity prices are fixed by the state which absorbs higher import costs. The same is true of some food, which the government distributes through a ration system, leading to shortages and soaring prices on the informal market when it is cash short.

“The collapse of the Russian economy will severely impact trade and financial relations with Cuba. And you also have more indirect impacts through increased prices,” said Cuban economist Ricardo Torres.

WHERE IS THE MONEY?

The price spikes caused by the war are just the latest blow to the country’s finances, which have already suffered from former U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions on U.S. tourism and remittances and from the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered tourism from elsewhere.

“They are taking one blow after another on the chin,” one of the foreign businessmen said.

The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund or any other global lending organizations from which it could seek aid to cushion the crisis.

Cuban pesos are not exchangeable outside of the Caribbean island nation, making it dependent on dollars earned from exports and services such as tourism to pay for everything from fuel, food and medicine to agricultural supplies, machinery and spare parts.

The cash crunch led to a 40 percent drop in imports during the 2020-21 period, the government reported, even as it failed to meet countless payments to creditors and suppliers more than a dozen diplomats and businessmen told Reuters at the time, and stopped exchanging foreign currency for pesos on the domestic market.

The Cuban economy shrank nine percent during the first two years of the pandemic, according to official numbers, with shortages caused by the government’s tight budget leading to blackouts and unprecedented protests last July.

The government forecast four percent growth this year, but tourism and some other sectors such as sugar fell well short of expectations the first quarter, according to state media reports.

“Investors are all very worried because higher prices can only worsen shortages, power outages, transportation woes and our state partners’ ability to pay us,” one of the foreign businessmen said.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Christian Plumb and Grant McCool

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Cuba Struggles To Buy Fuel As Imports From Venezuela Dwindle -Data Indicates

From The Thomson Reuters Trust

HAVANA — Cuba is struggling to cover a fuel deficit as imports from Venezuela and other countries remain below historical levels and global prices boosted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine make purchases almost unaffordable, according to analysts and data.

The Caribbean country, which is dependent on fuel imports mostly from political ally Venezuela to cover more than half of its demand, is since last month dealing with diesel and gasoline shortages leading to long lines in front of stations.

Insufficient fuel imports are another major hurdle for Cuba’s economy, struggling to recover following the coronavirus pandemic and harsher U.S. sanctions imposed by the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has provided Cuba with more than 32,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude since 2019 even amid U.S. sanctions on both countries. But fuel volumes sent to the island have fallen as Venezuela has struggled to produce refined products for its own needs, according to vessel monitoring data.

Cuba imported some 70,000 bpd of crude and fuel in the first quarter of the year, below the about 100,000 bpd the Communist-ruled island typically requires to meet normal demand, tanker monitoring data from Refinitiv Eikon showed.

More than three-quarters of the shipments came from Venezuela, but the OPEC-member nation has sharply cut fuel shipments to Cuba from almost 44,000 bpd in 2020 to 21,000 bpd in 2021 and 22,000 bpd in the first quarter this year, the data and internal documents from state-run oil company PDVSA showed.

Cuba’s information ministry and Venezuela’s PDVSA did not reply to requests for comment.

Cuba Struggles To Buy Fuel As Imports From Venezuela Dwindle -Data Indicates

Before the pandemic, Cuba’s fuel demand reached 137,000 barrels per day of fuel oil, diesel, gasoline, cooking gas and other refined products, according to Cuba’s National Statistics Office.

Even though the nation this year is consuming some 110,000 bpd of fuel, it still needs imports to make up for insufficient domestic production, said Jorge Piñon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program.

“Cuban refineries are not 100 percent operational. The Havana refinery, the only facility with a catalytic cracker, is running at around 70 percent of capacity, while Cienfuegos is doing sporadic runs of 10,000 bpd and Santiago is not in service,” he said.

Catalytic cracking units are key for motor fuel production.

Diesel demand for power generation in Cuba is growing, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil said last week. Cuba relies in part on small distributed generation plants that tend to consume more diesel than larger centralized facilities.

Since September, Cuba has not received any diesel cargoes from Venezuela, according to the tanker tracking data and internal PDVSA documents, which has forced Cuba to go to the open market for increasingly costly diesel.

The nation exceeded its imports budget by $49 million in the first two months of the year due to high fuel prices, Gil said. “A 40,000-tonne diesel shipment that last month cost $35 million-$36 million, now costs $58 million,” he said.

Cuba’s seven aging thermoelectric plants, which provide 62 percent of the country’s power, are the “Achilles Heel of Cuba’s energy sector,” Pinon said. “Outages due to delayed maintenance to the thermoelectric plants have caught them by surprise in a moment of low diesel inventories. That is causing a domino effect at gas stations.”

Hours-long lines in front of stations were visible in Cuba’s capital Havana in late March as the government began fuel rationing in at least one province.

Venezuela’s diesel provision to Cuba was among the arguments used by Washington to suspend in 2020 the authorizations it had extended for the South American country’s oil-for-fuel swaps with foreign oil producers.

The island’s energy and mining minister, Livan Arronte, said Cuba – which remains under a U.S. embargo limiting free trade with the country – is paying freight tariffs and other costs 20% higher than importers bringing fuel through the same routes.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston Editing by Marguerita Choy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Cuba Adopts Russian Narrative On Ukraine War

HAVANA — When Brent Renaud was killed covering the impact of the Ukraine war, state media in Cuba described the American photojournalist as a CIA agent.

The state-run news website Cubadebate cited an Iranian news outlet as the source of the story, which it ran on March 13. But it didn’t specify the name of the Iranian outlet.

Renaud, an award-winning photojournalist, was in Ukraine on assignment for TIME Studios, working on a documentary about refugees when he was killed. Fact checkers have debunked the claim about his being a CIA agent.

Independent analysts say efforts to link the journalist to the U.S. intelligence services illustrates the way Havana has adopted the Russian version of events on Ukraine.

The state-aligned media also seek to discredit Western reporting on the invasion.

Across Latin America, the Russian version of events has been promoted through social media and via RT en Español, the Spanish-language version of Russian state television.

VOA spoke to independent journalists and analysts in Cuba to assess why the communist government has replicated the Russian reports, thousands of kilometers from the front line.

The International Press Center, the Cuban government media center in Havana, and the Cuban Embassy in Madrid did not reply to emailed requests for comment.

Conflict downplayed

Juan Manuel Moreno Borrego, who works for the independent outlet Comunitario Amanecer Habanero, said that Cuban official media have downplayed the Ukraine conflict, which has dominated headlines around the rest of the world.

“The reports in the official media in Cuba of what is going on in Ukraine are minimal and superficial,” he told VOA in a telephone interview from his home on the Caribbean island.

“There is no mention that there has been an invasion. Instead it is called a ‘special military operation.’ Of course, there is no mention of the genocide that is going on in Ukraine.”

The terms reflect official directives Moscow issued to Russian media personnel, who can face up to 15 years in prison for not covering the war on Kremlin terms.

The United Nations on Thursday voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council over atrocities and human rights violations related to the war.

Despite limited coverage in state-run media, Moreno believes almost all Cubans are aware of the war.

“I am sure that 90 percent of the Cuban population know the reality of what is happening through access to social media,” he said.

Moreno said RT has an important presence in Cuba because it broadcasts in Spanish and is viewed widely.

“But independent journalists here are doing their best to inform the people of Cuba about the reality of what is occurring in Ukraine,” he said.

UN abstention

Alberto Corzo, director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP), a nongovernmental group that created a network of independent journalists, noted that Cuba had abstained in a recent United Nations vote on the Ukraine war.

“In my personal opinion, the abstention by Cuba shows the conduct of traitors because it shows [the Cuban government’s] fear to define its posture and which side it is on,” he told VOA.

“From the beginning, the Cuban government has said the only reliable source for information [about Ukraine] is Russia Today in Spanish, alleging that CNN and other media are at the service of the West. Official media reports justify the aggression of Russia towards Ukraine,” he said.

RT en Espanol, which reaches throughout Latin America, portrays the United States as a greater threat to world peace than Moscow. “Never forget who is the real threat to the world,” read a RT headline in February, The Associated Press reported this week.

Although many claims reported on RT en Espanol have been discredited, researchers say its Spanish-language content on Ukraine is the third most shared site on Twitter.

Ana Leon, a journalist who writes for the independent news website CubaNet under a pseudonym for her safety, believes Cuba repeats the Russian version of the Ukraine war because it cannot afford to fall out with a close ally on which it depends financially.

“Since the start, the official media in Cuba have been aligned to the Russian version of events. They have talked about the special military operation to protect the people,” she said.

Contrary to revolutionary principles

“The actions of Russia are contrary to all the principles which the Cuban revolution stands for, like the right of the people to determine their own future; however, Cuba has denied the brutality of Russia. Reports [in the state media] talk about the 2014 democratic election [in Ukraine] as a coup d’etat.”

The pro-European Petro Poroshenko won Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election on a platform that included a promise to stop the war in the eastern regions. He was defeated in 2019 by current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Leon said that when Russia softened a debt deal, this ensured Cuban loyalty in its coverage of the Ukraine conflict.

“Two days before the invasion of Ukraine, on 22 February, Russia changed the $2.3 billion debt deal for Cuba to relieve the economic pressure on the communist government,” said Leon.

Russia agreed to postpone the debt payments until 2027.

The loans, provided to Cuba between 2006 and 2019, helped underwrite investments in power generation, metals and transportation infrastructure, the Reuters news agency reported.

Russia’s decision to soften the loan terms came as Havana struggled to cope with a deepening social and economic crisis, which led to food shortages and lack of medicine and sparked widespread protests.

Since the 1959 Cuban revolution, Havana and Moscow have enjoyed strong military and economic ties.

This alliance faded after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 but Russia has continued to deliver humanitarian aid and offer loans.

Normando Hernández, the director general of the ICLEP in Miami, said the Cuban government fed its citizens an alternative reality over events in Ukraine.

“The Cuban state media is following the Russian line on Ukraine exactly. It refers to the invasion of Ukraine as a special military operation and there is no mention of massacres of civilians,” he told VOA in a telephone interview.

“They are trying to stop the people of Cuba from knowing what is really going on in this war, which was started by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”

SOURCE: Voice of America News

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Russian War Sanctions Mean A Struggle For Cuban Car Owners

ARTEMISA, Cuba (AP) — Francisco Pérez Rodríguez has a car problem — one that’s starting to be all too common for many Cubans.

He’s been rebuilding the engine of his father-in-law’s Moskvich — one of tens of thousands of cars and other vehicles that poured into Cuba from its Cold War allies in the Soviet bloc and later Russia over the past half century.

To run, it needs a new timing belt. But Pérez Rodríguez said that’s something only available these days in Russia. And flights there have been disrupted by Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Global restrictions on transport and trade with Russia pose an especially serious problem for Cubans, whose socialist government has lived since the early 1960s under an embargo imposed by the nearby United States. Much of the island’s fleets of trucks, buses, cars and tractors came from distant Russia and are now aging, in need of parts.

And much like Russian tourists, those parts are no longer arriving.

Transportation in Cuba can be difficult in the best of times. Buses have often been in short supply, cargo trucks are sometimes pressed into service for rural passengers and the streets are filled with Russian-made Ladas, Niva SUVs and Jeep-like Uazs.

Even many of the legendary 1950s-vintage American cars that roll along Havana’s waterfront have been modified over the years to use Russian engines and other parts.

Cuban statistics indicate the island has about 20,000 old American cars and 80,000 to 100,000 Ladas.

“For the Ladas, everything is brought from Russia. Many people are going to be affected,” said Pérez Rodríguez, 57, who operates a lathe workshop in Artemisa, just southeast of Havana.

Along with disruption of the key tourism industry and financial transactions with Russia, “the interruption of transportation is going to be a problem for Cuba in terms of spare parts,” said William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at the American University in Washington, D.C.

“This just makes life even harder, even if they find ways to work around these sanctions on Russia,” he said. “It is going to be more expensive; it is going to be more time consuming, and it is just going to make their economic situation worse”

Cuba’s economy already has been slammed by tightened U.S. sanctions under the Trump administration and by the coronavirus pandemic.

Manuel Taboada, a 26-year-old taxi driver in Old Havana, is already worried about his own Lada.

Now with the mess of the war, with everything that is happening, it will have a big effect because they can’t travel and they can’t bring things in,” Taboada said. “Honestly, we don’t know how we are going to end up because there are specific parts for this car.”

The exact scale of the problem is difficult to measure because much of the trade in parts occur in the informal market — exchanges between individuals, said Pavel Vidal Alejandro, an economics professor at the Pontifical Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia. “The Cubans have a lot of restrictions on travel without a visa to other countries, and Russia is one of the exceptions.”

“Even with the distance and the cost that implies in terms of travel, it was a market from which came goods” both for the formal market and for self-employed Cubans, he said.

Many found it easier to get the parts via trips to Florida, where some sellers specialized in importing Russian car parts specifically for people travelling to and from Cuba. Now sanctions on dealings with Russian banks and on shipping complicate that as well.

“There is more demand; it has risen about 80 percent,” said Roberto Hernández, owner of MZ Miami, a shop that sells parts for Ladas as well as motorcycles and bicycles.

Basilio Pérez is one of those in Florida who often make the trip back to the island to visit family — so often that he still has an old Moskvich there.

He said he’d been unable in recent days to find parts he needs to fix the car’s steering mechanism — either in Florida or in Cuba.

“Before, people (in Cuba) travelled and could find parts. Now there is nothing,” Pérez said.

Back in Artemisa, 69-year-old Humberto Santana turned up at Pérez Rodríguez’s workshop hoping to repair a crankshaft for his Russian-made truck. But with that apparently impossible, and no replacement parts, he said he’d try to find a Japanese engine instead and make it fit.

“The Cuban always invents,” Santana said.

By JUAN ZAMORANO and GISELA SALOMON for The Associated Press. AP journalists Milexsy Duran and Andrea Rodríguez contributed from Havana. Salomon reported from Miami.

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After Pandemic Peace, Fresh Swarms of Crabs Invade Cuba´s Bay of Pigs

BAY OF PIGS, Cuba — Migrating crabs around Cuba´s Bay of Pigs have emerged early and in unprecedented swarms, according to local residents, following two years of pandemic that allowed them to cross normally trafficked roadways and reproduce in peace.

After the island´s spring rains begin, millions of red, yellow and black landcrabs emerge at dawn and dusk and march from the forest across the road and down to the bay on Cuba’s southern coast to spawn in the sea.

Most years, untold thousands fall victim to the tires of passing motorists. But for the past two years, the crabs have had the place to themselves, residents say, boosting their size and numbers.

“There was very little traffic, and very little tourism,” said Angel Iraola, 46, who guards a parking lot off the winding, crab-infested road that tracks the bay. “There are more crabs now than there have been in many years.”

After Pandemic Peace, Fresh Swarms of Crabs Invade Cuba´s Bay of Pigs
Migrating crabs climb a wall while marching from the forest to cross the road and down to the bay to spawn in the sea, following two years of pandemic, around the Bay of Pigs, in Playa Larga, Cuba March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer

Scientists have yet to confirm initial reports of a pandemic-induced recovery, but Reinaldo Santana Aguilar, a scientist with Cuba´s environment ministry, said the onslaught of crabs this year speaks for itself.

“We have observed that the migrations have had an unusually high density of crabs,” Aguilar told Reuters. “It is very likely that the crab populations have recovered and that is why there is such a strong migration now.”

Tourists whose stay overlapped with a cold front that brought early spring rains to the region were treated to one of the world´s most spectacular, and largely intact, animal migrations.

At dawn and dusk the multi-colored crabs emerge with spawning on the mind, scuttling sideways toward the turquoise sea, climbing up house walls and carpeting the roughly paved coastal road.

“I have traveled quite a bit, but it is only here in Cuba that I have seen this,” said 36-year-old Italian tourist Dayana Zanona. “Their colors are so strong.”

For the crabs, however, the post-pandemic return of tourists, and the cars, buses and vans in which they travel, is a rude awakening.

As vehicles speed by, some swerving to avoid the 10-legged crustaceans, their rigid, fire-red carapaces crunch and crackle. The stench of crushed crab fills the air and their sharp shells often puncture car tires.

Giordanis Durán, 43, was surprised by the huge numbers of crabs this year, but came prepared.

With a homemade mop, he shooed crabs from the road ahead of his car as his family made their way to a local waterfront hangout to celebrate a birthday.

“We use the mop to scare off the crabs so as not to kill them. They are animals,” Duran said, who noted that the tactic also helps ward off flat tires.

The Bay of Pigs, where in 1961 U.S.-backed Cuban exiles landed in a failed attempt to end Fidel Castro’s revolution, lies within a national park where 80 percent of Cuba’s endemic birds, along with crocodiles and other wildlife, can be observed.

REUTERS

Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Mario Fuentes, additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Mark Porter

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Lies Dominate Social Media Battle In Cuba Over Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine

The Cuban state’s main priority is reaching out to young people through social media

HAVANA — The Russian invasion of Ukraine did not come as a surprise to the international community. The ongoing tensions between the two nations in recent years foreshadowed the worst that was yet to come: the superpower’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.  However, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Cuba, so far removed from Europe, a media battle is being waged, in an attempt to justify the Cuban government’s support for the aggressor.

Anyone familiar with the historic ties between the former Soviet Union and Cuba, would not be surprised that since the intensification of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Cuba has supported the policies of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Cuba’s support is not only based on geopolitics, but for pragmatic reasons as well; the country has racked up a considerable financial debt to Russia in recent decades.

Days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, members of the Russian State Duma, including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri I. Borisov and Duma Speaker Voldin Vyachaslar, visited the island and extended the debt incurred by the Caribbean nation between 2006 to 2019, currently valued at $2.3 billion, until 2027.

Lies Dominate Social Media Battle In Cuba Over Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
Fidel Castro presented as Jesus Christ in Cuba

Similar to other nations in the region, like Nicaragua and Venezuela, the Cuban nation did not stand with the vast majority of its Latin American neighbors, who condemned the invasion and refused to vote for the resolution condemning the military incursion.

Since the start of the war, there has been an open confrontation between the pro-government Cuban media discourse, and the independent media that proliferate on the islands (despite many of them suffering blocks to their internet access).

The media is considered a strategic area of influence by the Cuban regime, especially since the demonstrations of November 27, 2020, and the protests of July 11, 2021. Social media networks, in particular Facebook, are an area beyond government control, but in recent years, the regime has relied on journalists and officials pretending to be “influencers,” whose mission is to wage an ideological battle.

In this way, the questioning and even attacks are part of “cyberclarias,” a term that is derived from a fish found in the island’s lagoons, considered a predator, and which in Cuban slang refers to people who create fake accounts online to support the regime. The analogy is based on the fact that their mission online is to confront anyone who has a stance contrary to the Cuban regime.

After the invasion, many of these political operators undertook the task of trying to justify the invasion. They parrot the official media of the Cuban and Russian governments. The main narrative has been that the United States and NATO were to blame entirely, without condemnation of any Russian aggression. In accordance with the narrative coming from the Russian government, the “cyberlarias” legitimise the “special military operation,” with the pretext of “denazifying” Ukraine and protecting regions populated by Russian citizens. The reality is, it is an invasion of a sovereign nation.

While it is true that there are extreme right-wing nationalist groups in Ukraine, such intervention cannot be justified. Many of these government-affiliated communications have ignored the numerous civilian casualties and the extensive damage done to the country’s infrastructure since the Russians decided to invade.

Among the many people who tend to justify Russian discourse is author Sandra Guerra Maseda, who has been very active on Facebook in this regard. She is a contributor to the Cuban pro-government digital media outlet Cuba debate, which is considered a strategic piece in the Cuban media battle. It also shares the same opinion as the multinational “Telesur,” a communication ally of the Cuban government.

Here is an example of how Cuba shares Kremlin narratives without critical analysis:

“Caption: Russia denounced that the U.S. planned to “conduct work on pathogens of birds, bats and reptiles in #Ukraine in 2022″ as well as the “possibility of spread of African swine fever and anthrax.”

Cubadebate

Other government-affiliated and active journalists include columnist Ida Garberi, Orestes Gonzalez, who works for the Cuban News Agency, and Manuel David Orrio, a former Cuban intelligence agent who worked undercover for several years infiltrating independent journalism.

The pro-Russian narrative has been reinforced through television as well. The show Con Filo, broadcast at night, is aimed at younger viewers and is hosted by very young journalists, who tend to appeal to the language and communication codes of this important sector of Cuban society.

This new programme signifies a change of strategy to reach out to the youth, a sector considered a high priority for the Cuban state in its ideological battle as it is the most dissatisfied with the official ideology and has been the main player in the protests that have taken place in Cuba in recent years.

In the age of the internet, no totalitarian empire would give up influencing social networks or trying to exert control over them. However, Cuba’s pro-Putin official narrative has been met with resistance on social media, such as that of journalist Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo, who criticises Russia as “another empire,” or Elaine Diaz, founder of Periodismo de Barrio, who shares facts about the war on her Twitter account.

“In a world where several imperial powers are debating, instead of supporting one empire against another, I prefer to denounce all imperialisms and above all imperialist war.
Today my article “Russia: the other imperialism” is published in La Joven Cuba.”

Mauricio De Miranda Parrondo via Facebook

There are Cuban internet users who, like me, seek accurate information from international media such as CNN, El Nuevo Herald and The Washington Post (Cuban columnist Abraham Jiménez Enoa works for the latter and stirs up controversy). On the island, there is OnCuba and also blocked media channels, such as Cadal, CiberCuba, ADN, and 14ymedio, which is coordinated by blogger Yoani Sánchez and her husband, independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar. In the following tweet, Sánchez criticises the coverage of the pro-government newspaper Granma:

The newspaper ‘Granma’ surpasses itself in levels of abjection… the official organ of the #Cuban Communist Party has resorted to all kinds of formulas to avoid calling things by their name, to avoid saying “Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

— Yoani Sánchez  (@yoanisanchez)

As the events in Ukraine continue to develop, so does the divisive battle waging in the Cuban media: the battle to promote the truth about this unjust war that is threatening world peace.

This article was written by an anonymous author in Cuba under the pseudonym Luis Rodriguez.

Lies Dominate Social Media Battle In Cuba Over Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
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Cubans Split Over More Liberal Family Code As Referendum Nears

HAVANA — Cuba’s communist government is seeking to rally support for a new family code that would open the door to gay marriage and boost women’s rights, but experts and a recent survey suggest an upcoming referendum vote may not provide a rubber stamp.

Tepid support for the reforms, which clash with the island’s entrenched “machista” culture, threatens to hand state-backed supporters a defeat amid a government push to encourage open and frank debate.

The proposed 100-page code, under scrutiny in town-hall style meetings throughout Cuba, groups together a swath of new regulations on family conduct. It overhauls several 1975 laws from the era of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Castro in 2010 acknowledged the persecution of gays on the island, who were rounded up shortly after his 1959 revolution and placed in forced labor camps. Castro took personal responsibility and called it a “great injustice.”

The new code would legalize same sex marriage and civil unions, allow such couples to adopt children, double down on women’s rights, and promote equal sharing of domestic responsibilities. It also adds such novelties as prenuptial agreements and assisted pregnancy.

Parents would have “responsibility” instead of “custody” of children, and be required to be “respectful of the dignity and physical and mental integrity of children and adolescents.”

The code repeatedly states parents and courts should grant maturing offspring more say over their lives.

But the outcome of the referendum vote, slated for sometime this fall, is far from certain.

The Cuban Roman Catholic Church has lashed out against gay marriage, saying the proposal is riddled with “gender ideology” that threatens parental authority and would lead to “indoctrination of children in schools without parental consent.”

The Communist Party daily, Granma, reported in mid-March on a high level meeting where organizers said that with more than half of the scheduled meetings through April already complete, just 54 percent of participants had expressed support for the new code.

Referendums in Cuba typically pass by overwhelming majorities, but this one may face an uphill battle as the vote nears, three experts consulted by Reuters said.

Bert Hoffman, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, said the code was perhaps the most progressive in Latin America on gender and generational rights. But the text was largely compiled by state authorities, rather than being a grassroots movement, Hoffman added.

“All elections, all referendums, have been under the guidance of the Communist Party or Fidel Castro’s leadership, and the outcome was always a given, and now for the first time the outcome is uncertain,” Hoffman said.

Proponents argue that the 46,000 neighborhood meetings held on the issue so far constitute a model of democratic process.

“People have the possibility of raising their doubts or concerns,” said Rafael Ortega, who attended a night-time meeting earlier this year in the Havana neighborhood of Diez de Octobre. “I consider this to be a very democratic thing.”

The code reflects the growing clout of women on the island, where they are increasingly represented in political leadership, experts said.

Females already head nearly half of Cuban households, according to government statistics, and make up more than 60 percent of Cuban professionals.

Codifying those changes would be “revolutionary,” said Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban leader Raul Castro, adding she was convinced Cubans would approve the reforms.

“Anything new always brings with it uncertainty,” the long-time social activist said.

REUTERS

(Reporting by Marc Frank, editing by Dave Sherwood, Christian Plumb and Richard Chang)

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Cuban Fishermen Nurse Injured Baby Manatee With Cow and Goat’s Milk

PILON, Cuba — Cuban fishermen rescued an injured baby manatee in a bay in far southeastern Cuba and nursed it back to health with a concoction of cow and goat’s milk mixed with coconut water, until it could safely be delivered to a nearby aquarium.

Fishermen discovered the injured manatee with gashes on its head and body in Marea del Portillo Bay, a far-flung inlet in Granma Province, more than 850 km (528 miles) from capital Havana.

Upon arriving onshore, the fishermen recruited volunteers from a nearby farming village.

“People ran to help us,” said fisherman Victor Antonio Serrano. “We recognized it was a mammal, and the people who have cows gave us cow’s milk, those who have goats gave us goat’s milk.”

The manatee, an aquatic mammal akin to a giant, water-borne cow, is found in sheltered bays and estuaries throughout Cuba.

Adult manatees are herbivores that graze on seagrasses and other aquatic plants.

Officials at an aquarium in nearby Santiago de Cuba advised the fishermen to keep feeding the manatee, and eventually, veterinarians picked the mammal up and brought it to safety.

The island is widely known to have the best habitat for the manatees in the Caribbean, though the marine mammals are threatened by poaching, injuries from boats and are often found entangled in fishing gear.

Anmari Alvarez, a scientist with the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida that assisted in coordinating the rescue, said the group effort gave her hope for the future.

“What has given me the most joy from all this … is seeing how the community spared no effort or resources to save this baby manatee,” she said.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Russian Tourists Evacuated From Cuba On Charter Flights

HAVANA — About 900 Russians took chartered flights home from a Cuban resort town on Sunday as airspace bans imposed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine complicated travel for tourists around the world.

Dozens of countries, including European Union nations and the United States, have banned Russian planes from their airspace as part of sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy.

Russia retaliated by barring its airspace to multiple countries, including 35 European nations.

An airport official in Varadero, a resort town near Havana, told the press that 927 Russian passengers flew to Moscow on Sunday, among them a group from the Dominican Republic.

Another 940 tourists will depart today, the official said.

Russian Tourists Evacuated From Cuba On Charter Flights
Nordwind will operate four weekly charter flights from Moscow to the Cuban tourist resort towns of Varadero and Cayo Coco YAMIL LAGE AFP

Cuban media reported Friday that the 5,570 Russians on vacation in Varadero would return on Nordwind Airlines charter flights.

Nordwind has suspended their regular flights to Cuba, along with fellow Russian carriers Aeroflot and Azur Air.

VACATION INTERRUPTED

Alexei Nekrashevich, a 48-year-old tourist, told AFP that his trip ended abruptly “because of the situation over there (in Ukraine).

“It’s unfortunate that we had to fly a little early and that we didn’t get enough rest,” he said.

Nearly 15,000 Russian and 2,000 Ukrainian tourists are stranded in the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean country’s government said Wednesday.

Russian Tourists Evacuated From Cuba On Charter Flights
International sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine could have wide-ranging impacts on its Latin American allies such as Cuba, experts say YAMIL LAGE AFP

The Dominican Republic said it had reached a deal with hotel chains to guarantee the tourists’ accommodation until a solution is found.

Nordwind will operate four weekly charter flights from Moscow to the Cuban tourist resort towns of Varadero and Cayo Coco.

International sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine could have wide-ranging impacts on its Latin American allies such as Cuba, experts say.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Russian tourists have become the single largest group of visitors to the island nation.

The arrival of Russian visitors to Cuba increased almost 200 percent since 2019, helping the island’s battered tourism industry, which collapsed with the pandemic and the tightening of US sanctions.

—AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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Human Rights Abusers Cuba, Venezuela Toady Up Praise For Russia After Invasion Of Ukraine

HAVANA — In a carefully worded statement, the Cuban government is blaming the United States for the crisis in Ukraine and backed Russia’s right to “self-defense,” but said the conflict should be resolved diplomatically.

“We call on the United States and NATO to seriously and realistically address the well-founded claims for security guarantees of the Russian Federation, which has the right to defend itself,” Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement released late Tuesday and carried on Cuba media Wednesday. “Cuba advocates a diplomatic solution through constructive and respectful dialogue. We call to preserve international peace and security,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Russia has agreed to postpone some debt payments owed to it by communist-run Cuba until 2027, its lower house of parliament said on Tuesday, just days after the two countries announced they would deepen ties amid as the Russian invasion of Ukraine neared.

Human Rights Abusers Cuba, Venezuela Toady Up Praise For Russia After Invasion Of Ukraine
In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, a Russian soldier attends a military exercising at the Golovenki training ground in the Moscow region, Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Notably, the Cuban government was silent about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s armed incursion into Ukraine’s separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, which he recognized as independent, self-proclaimed republics. The rebel-controlled areas are not mentioned in Cuba’s statement.

“The Cuban position is that Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion are justified, but the Foreign Ministry conspicuously does not endorse Russia’s military action, instead emphasizing Cuba’s support for a diplomatic solution to the crisis,” said American University Professor William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuban affairs. “Cuba does not recognize the two breakaway states or even mention them.”

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel published his government’s statement on his Twitter account but unlike the authoritarian leaders of Nicaragua and Venezuela, who have weighed in on the crisis, has avoided commenting on the issue. In contrast, after Putin’s order to send troops to Ukraine’s separatist regions,

Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro announced on live television his country’s “full support for President Vladimir Putin in defending peace in Russia, in the brave defense of his people and his homeland.” And Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega made similar comments, stating that Putin was right in recognizing the separatist regions’ independence. “I am sure that if they do a referendum like the one carried out in Crimea, people will vote to annex the territories to Russia,” Ortega said.

Human Rights Abusers Cuba, Venezuela Toady Up Praise For Russia After Invasion Of Ukraine

Cuba’s declaration comes after intense courting by the Russian government, which recently agreed to postpone debt payments owed by Cuba until 2027. Putin spoke to Díaz-Canel last month, and the two countries said they would deepen ties following a visit from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov last weekend.

But even though Cuba is a close Russia ally and has approached Ukraine’s crisis as another chance to slam the U.S., the threat of military action in Europe is forcing Cuba to walk a fine line, as the European Union is an important trading partner and most of its members belong to NATO.

Under increased U.S. sanctions and facing international criticism of its treatment of anti-government protesters, Cuban authorities also face formidable economic challenges. Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has been a slippery goal, and the country needs an immediate injection of cash, a scenario that complicates the island’s political calculations.

“Cuba has always argued that Great Powers have no right to use force against small powers in order to maintain a sphere of influence — not surprisingly since they endured hostile relations with the United States for more than 60 years,” LeoGrande said. “The Cuban position tried to balance that principle with the realpolitik importance of its relationship both with Russia and the E.U.”

The statement avoids criticism of NATO members and blames the U.S. for “imposing the progressive expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation,” which the Cuban government sees as a “threat to the national security of this country and regional and international peace.”

Echoing Russian propaganda, Cuba’s foreign ministry said the U.S. was the aggressor and manipulated the international community to believe an invasion of Ukraine was imminent.

The U.S. “has supplied weapons and military technology, deployed troops to several countries in the region, applied unilateral and unjust sanctions, and threatened other reprisals,” the ministry said.

The statement made no mention of the 190,000 troops Russia has amassed on the borders with Ukraine, in line with other Cuban state media’s coverage of the crisis.

In the past two weeks, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma has been passing Russian propaganda along to its readers on the island, avoiding any details of the Russian military deployment surrounding Ukraine and replicating the narrative about alleged Ukrainian attacks on the territories controlled by pro-Russian forces.

The newspaper has insisted the U.S. was lying about a Russian invasion threat. As of Wednesday afternoon, the paper has yet to break the news that Putin ordered troops into eastern Ukraine.

SOURCE: Miami Herald