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Cuban News Digest – Aug. 9, 2010

Financial Times – “Seeing is believing,” said Diana, as she stared at the television set in her Havana living room. There was the commandante, who turns 84 on August 13, back from the dead in his olive-green military fatigues as he spoke from a podium to the National Assembly. Fidel Castro’s appearance on Saturday before parliamentary deputies, the diplomatic corps and foreign journalists marked the first time Cubans had been offered a glimpse of the bearded, iconic figure since he underwent surgery in July 2006 and then suffered complications. His speech lasted 11 minutes, not hours, and Mr. Castro walked slowly, bent over and with the help of aides. After an hour of back and forth with deputies he tired and the special session was ended.

Mr. Castro used the expected publicity he would garner to deliver a message that was hardly reassuring to those, like Diana, who consider him a prophet. The most recent UN sanctions on Iran would trigger a nuclear holocaust if the US inspected the country’s ships come September, as called for in the June resolution. Only world pressure on US President Barack Obama could avert the conflagration that would bring all leading economies to a stand still, he warned. The leader of Cuba’s revolution, who retains his parliamentary seat and the post of first secretary of the Communist party, emerged in July from four years of seclusion, preaching his apocalyptic views to small gatherings of Cuban economists, diplomats, war veterans, intellectuals and artists, his recorded activities repeatedly broadcast by state-run media.

Before July, Mr. Castro occasionally met guests at his home, wrote essays mainly on international affairs and appeared only sporadically in photographs and video clips. “Does anyone believe the powerful empire will back away from the sanctions’ demand that Iranian merchant vessels be inspected,” Mr. Castro asked rhetorically on Saturday, as he defended his doomsday forecast that has raised eyebrows at home and abroad. “Does anyone think the Iranians, a people with a culture of thousands of years and which is much more intertwined with death than ours, will lack the courage we have shown in resisting the demands of the United States,” he continued, predicting Iran would respond by sinking the US fleet and events would then spiral out of control.

“I doubt Fidel believes what he is saying. He is being dramatic, trying to stay relevant,” a European diplomat quipped. “The question we all have is what this means in terms of Cuba’s domestic politics,” he added. Indeed, ever since Mr. Castro became ill and resigned the presidency in favour of his brother Raul, there has been speculation over who is really calling the shots in Havana and whether the slow progress of Raul Castro’s efforts to reform the state-dominated economy signals his brother’s opposition. Mr. Castro’s sudden reappearance and the leadership’s penchant for secrecy have added to the fog.

“Raul’s legitimacy as president will now be increasingly in doubt even if Fidel remains fixated solely on these truly eccentric themes,” said Brian Latell, former Cuba analyst at the CIA. “What we are witnessing is unbridled narcissism,” he said. But, it has been 18 months since Fidel Castro strayed from international issues and uttered or wrote a word about Cuba’s domestic situation, an indication some believe that the brothers are working together and have divided up turf. “It seems that Fidel is looking to cut the figure of statesman, but not head of state. Raul set forth his domestic agenda at the National Assembly a week ago and by all accounts is governing at every turn,” said Julia Sweig, senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations and author of the recently released Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. “The big issues of international affairs have always riveted Fidel. What he didn’t say – a word about domestic matters – is as revealing as what he did address – heady matters of war and peace, hardly those his brother has made a priority other than as they relate to Cuba.”

HAVANA – (Reuters) – A Chinese-built drilling rig is expected to arrive in Cuban waters in early 2011, likely opening the way for full-scale exploration of the island’s untapped offshore fields. Companies with contracts to search for oil and gas in Cuba’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico have already begun preparations to drill once the Scarabeo 9 rig gets to the communist-led island. An official with Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni SpA ENI.M told Reuters the massive semi-submersible rig should be completed at the Yantai Raffles YRSL.NFF shipyard in Yantai, China by the end of this year. The journey to Cuba will take two months, and once it arrives it will be put into operation almost immediately, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

It will be used first as an exploratory well for a consortium led by Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF (REP.MC) (REP.N), which drilled the only offshore well in Cuba in 2004 and said at the time it had found hydrocarbons. Cuba has said it may have 20 billion barrels of oil in its offshore, but the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 4.6 billion barrels and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas. Repsol has been mostly silent on the long delay in drilling more wells, but it is widely assumed in the oil industry it was due to the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The embargo limits the amount of U.S. technology that can be used, which complicates finding equipment because U.S. companies have long dominated the offshore oil business. Construction of the Scarabeo 9 was begun by Norwegian firm Frigstad Discoverer Invest Limited in 2006, but the company was purchased by Saipem in 2007. The rig was due to be completed by September 2009, but has been delayed because of modifications requested by Saipem, the Saipem official said. The official said it was also slowed because the shipyard “had taken on too much work” with other projects.

Repsol is said to be planning at least one exploration well and possibly another. The rig will then be passed to other companies with contracts to drill in Cuban waters. Cuba’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico has been divided into 59 blocks, of which 17 have been contracted to companies including Repsol, Malaysia’s Petronas PETR.UL, Brazil’s Petrobras (PETR4.SA) (PBR.N), Venezuela’s PDVSA and PetroVietnam. Repsol is partnering with Norway’s Statoil STL.OL) (STO.N and ONGC Videsh Limited, a unit of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.BO). Diplomats in Havana have said Malaysia’s Petronas will get the rig next, after Repsol completes its drilling. Petronas, which has four exploration blocks, has conducted seismic work and built offices for a battery of employees who will come to Cuba for the project, sources said.

It also is talking to a possible partner in Gazprom Neft (SIBN.MM) the oil arm of Russian energy company Gazprom (GAZP.MM), whose chief told shareholders last month the company wants to join Petronas in the Cuba project. ONGC Videsh, which has two blocks of its own, separate from its consortium with Repsol and Statoil, has already solicited bids for equipment including sub-sea wellheads and casing pipes for its planned exploration.

Russian oil firm Zarubezhneft has two near shore blocks it said it plans to drill next year, but also has an agreement with Petrovietnam to participate in exploration of its three offshore blocks. Zarubezhneft opened an office in Havana in June, according to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti. A number of international oil service companies have solicited information about Cuban regulations on issues ranging from safety equipment to finance and taxes, diplomats said.

Cuba’s state-owned oil company Cupet has been silent about the offshore activity and rejected requests for interviews. A government official said the requests were denied because Cupet did not want to speak during the BP oil spill in the Gulf. The spill has never reached Cuba, but it has heightened safety concerns both in the government and among oil companies with offshore blocks, sources said. The prospect of drilling in Cuban waters has also raised pollution fears in Florida, which is just 50 miles (80 km) away from the island’s maritime boundary

The Saipem official said the Scarabeo 9, which is capable of operating in water depths up to 3,600 meters (11,811 feet), is built to Norwegian standards, meaning it has extra equipment to shut off blown-out wells not required in the United States. Due to the U.S. trade embargo, U.S. oil companies are not allowed to operate in Cuba. Later this month a group from the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors is scheduled to visit Cuba. The group has said it wants to discuss offshore safety issues with Cuban officials and get an overview of deepwater prospects.

Despite five decades of hostile relations, Cuba has said it would welcome the involvement of U.S. companies in developing its offshore fields. Oil expert Jorge Pinon at Florida International University in Miami said U.S. oil service companies would like to enter the Cuban market because it is a new market close to home. “For the U.S. offshore oil industry, Cuba is basically an extension of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not like Angola — they can provide service from Houston or Freeport or Mobile.”

People’s Daily Online – In a significant easing of state-control over nearly all facets of Cuban economy, Cuban leader Raul Castro has announced that his government will alleviate or scale back its controls on small businesses, lay off unnecessary workers, and allow more self-employment. In his summary address to the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventh National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) at Havana’s Convention Center, Raul Castro, President of the Cuban Council of State and President (or Premier) of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, said that the role of the state would be reduced in some areas.

Raul made it clear that his government will do away with half-a-century invariable secured employment and urgent measures will be taken to cut the “overloaded” state payroll. Among other measures, he said, the Cuban government is to reduce staff of the state-owned institutions, to ease or alleviate its control in service sectors, to encouraging self-employment, to allow certain commodities trading, and to open up the labor service market.

Meanwhile, President Raul Castro reiterated that Cuban will adjust and further improve its socialist economic growth mode in strict compliance with its set policy and its economic setup optimization will neither be done rashly or in haste nor given in to pressure from outside. According to figures Cuba has released, the state-owned sector accounts for the majority of the national economy and its able-bodied population has amounted to 4.9 million, some 20 percent of which are those redundant staff members in government departments. Currently, there are up to 1.3 million staffers hired in the most developed public education and health sectors, who currently consume 60 percent of the Cuban budget. And there are also acute labor shortages in the construction and agriculture sectors.

In contrast of the situation 14 years ago, noted Vice-President Jose Ramon Fernandez Alvarez of the Cuban Council of Ministers, the ranks of teachers in Cuban rose by 117,000, whereas the students body has trimmed by 1.1 million, and there is an imbalance or an unsymmetrical phenomena between the establishments and actual needs. Hence, the government would cancel tens of thousands of faculty jobs in the education sector as of September. Noting that the secured employment and rigid job management has resulted in the overstaffing and a low efficiency, Raul pledged that Cuba will not take an indulgent attitude so that the Cuban people will have, through their honorable work, “sufficient resources for a decent life.”

In order to make adequate, appropriate arrangements for those lay-off employees from the state-owned departments, the Cuban government has approved the specific self-employment tax system. This system, President Raul Castro added, will “provide a new way out” for the workers to re-employ in the future. Speaking to reporters before Raul Castro’s speech, Minister of Economy and Planning Marino Alberto Murillo Jorge said that while the state would reduce its role in small business, the Cuban government will continue to direct a centralized economy. “We are studying an updating of the Cuban economic model in which the economic priorities will be at the forefront, not the market,” he said.

A scheme launched in April this year under which some hairdressers are to work for themselves is likely to be extended to many other areas, according to BBC’s Michael Voss, in Havana. Regardless of what required adjustment measures the government has resorted to, they will never alter the nature of the Cuban economy, Minister Murillo explained, and these adjustments will only optimize its socialist nature instead of changing the attribution of the public ownership since the Cuban government has only “let loose hands and feet” appropriately in some aspects. In another development, after half a century of icy bilateral relations between the two countries, Cuba and the United States had resumed direct talks on migration and on re-establishing direct mail service in 2009.

On the subject of Cuban-US bilateral ties, President Raul Castro harshly denounced the policy of the U.S. government toward Cuba although he acknowledged that both sides have been conducted dialogues on certain “limited” topics. Fundamentally speaking, he said the U.S.-Cuban relations have not undergone any change. Moreover, he underscored that the Cuban government and people are now united as one, and said this kind of unity has “led us to arrive today from the past and proceed to go on building and further improving socialism in the future.”

The National Assembly of the People’s Power, or ANPP, is the highest form of state power in Cuba; it convenes two regular meetings every year. And a series of economic structural adjustment programs determined at the current plenum of the General Assembly is of great practical significance of extricating Cuba from its current economic predicament as soon as possible and successfully opening up fresh and brand-new prospects for the nation’s economic development.

Havana – DTC – The preservation of Cuban beaches is a top priority by local experts, in order to preserve the country’s natural beauty for tourism. Eastern Holguín province is one of the regions where measures have been taken to stop the negative effects of erosion on beaches. As part of the project, some 5,000 cubic meters of sand were poured on the zone of Don Lino, in addition to 40,000 cubic meters poured on Pesquero Viejo, as a result of which some 14,000 square meters of beach were recovered. The sand is taken from submarine sources using dredgers and it is later poured on the coast. Similar projects are underway regularly in Varadero beach, Cuba’s major coastal resort.

Guantánamo – (Solvisión) – Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla received in Havana his Chinese Yang Jiechi counterpart, who arrived in Cuba on an official invitation. We recognize in you a lifelong friend of Cuba and your visit give us great pleasure in this year that marks the 50th anniversary of relations between our two countries, said Rodriguez Parrilla upon receiving the visitor at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry. He recalled his visit last year to Beijing and dubbed it as fruitful, and the current progress of the ties between both nations as excellent. Yang Jiechi said that Cuba was an important nation in the Caribbean and also in the Latin American continent, which is playing a positive role in achieving peace, stability and development.

He stressed that his visit is part of the purpose of his Government to promote further cooperation with Cuba. “China is willing to continue helping Cuba in its social and economic development”. He spoke of the decision to strengthen the high-level exchanges, strengthen bilateral economic and trade cooperation, increase cultural exchanges and advance common interests of the Third World. After the official talks between the two foreign ministers, Chinese ambassador to Cuba Yuqin Liu and Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment first deputy Minister Orlando Hernández Guillén signed an agreement for the economic and technical cooperation between both states.

Havana – DTC – The company Happy Cruises is preparing its return to the Cuban market during the peak tourist season, when the ship Gemini will dock in the port of Havana. The cruise program “Treasures of the Caribbean” will take place from November 13 to May 2011, with weekly departures from Havana. The program includes stopovers in Cozumel (Mexico), Grand Cayman, Paraíso Island (Cuba) and back to Havana, where the ship will dock for two nights. Passengers can board the ship on Saturdays in Havana and on Mondays in Cozumel. They can also extend their stay for another week in any of those two destinations. The program also includes flights from Madrid (Spain) and transfers from the airport to the port and vice versa.

Bloomberg – President Barack Obama may ease travel restrictions on Cuba, allowing more Americans to visit the island on educational and cultural trips, said a U.S. official who declined to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak on the subject. Obama first loosened travel rules on Cuba last year, making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to relatives on the Caribbean island in a bid to help “promote the freer flow of information,” according to a White House statement. The official didn’t give additional details on what the changes would be. Current rules allow Americans to travel to Cuba on educational and cultural trips if they are students or employees at qualifying universities and meet a set of additional requirements, such as doing research toward a graduate degree. All Cuba travel must be approved by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The broader travel ban is designed to isolate the Castro regime and keep hard currency out of the country. Asked if the administration is considering easing the travel rules, Michael Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in an e-mail: “We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their country’s future.” A move to allow increased educational travel may encourage lawmakers to repeal a wider ban forbidding American travel to Cuba if Obama signals his support for the measure, said Ted Piccone, a Latin American specialist at the Brookings Institution, a policy research organization in Washington. Co- sponsors of bills in both houses of Congress to end the 47-year ban have said legislation may pass this year. “The Democrats need cover from the White House,” said Piccone. “If they can’t do it now they’re never going to do it.”

If Obama remains silent on whether he would welcome such legislation, lawmakers may not be willing to take the political risk to pass a bill repealing the travel ban, Piccone said.

Travel and trade restrictions on Cuba have been adjusted by nearly every U.S. administration since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower established trade limits in 1960, following Fidel Castro’s revolution against the U.S.-backed Batista regime. Former President George W. Bush banned some educational exchanges not directly related to academic coursework in 2003, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Fidel Castro, 83, handed formal power to his brother Raul, 79, in 2008.

The move to ease educational travel restrictions would help groups such as Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based organization that arranges trips for Americans to visit countries including Cuba. Global Exchange took fewer than 400 people to Cuba last year, compared with the more than 2,000 a year it took before Bush tightened regulations in 2003, said Pam Montanaro, who runs the group’s Cuba programs. That’s because few Americans can meet the requirements enforced by the Treasury Department, she said. “It’s extremely difficult to qualify,” Montanaro said. “We have a lot of people who call and they just don’t apply.” Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said in a March 25 interview that 1 million U.S. tourists may visit the island annually if the ban on travel is ended.

The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill in June that would end the travel ban and simplify rules governing cash transactions with Cuba. Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said in an interview today that a bill he is co-sponsoring with Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi to repeal the travel ban may move to the Senate floor by next month or after the November elections. “We’re confident we can get it passed,” Dorgan said in a telephone interview today. “Restricting the right of Americans to travel to Cuba means you are punishing the American people for transgressions of the Cuban government. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Obama’s move to expand contact with Cuba at this level would be in keeping with his administration’s overall approach to foreign policy, even with countries with which the U.S. has poor relations, said Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has emphasized the importance of “people to people” exchanges in meetings with leaders from Pakistan to Georgia, promoting study-abroad programs and taking business delegations to the Middle East.

“It’s a way of expanding opportunities for outreach and possible dialogue, even with those seen as hostile to the U.S.,” said DeShazo. The U.S. exported $532 million worth of goods to Cuba last year, most of it wheat, corn, meat and other farm goods. That total could be higher if rules governing cash payments were made simpler, U.S. farm groups say. Groups such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based organization of companies and trade associations, have called for a repeal of the ban.

Dorgan and Enzi’s bill on the travel ban is S. 428.

Guantánamo – Rainfalls during July so far favored the increasing of water level in Guantanamo dams, storing 230 million cubic meters (m3) of water.  According to the Water Resources Branch reports in Guantánamo, recent rainfalls raised by nearly seven million cubic meters (m3) the overall volume of these installations. Consequently, the two largest reservoirs in the regions of Guantanamo, Yaya and Jaibo, store together 200 million m3 and is at 70 percent of its capacity. As important is the increased level of these large dams, it is La Esperanza reservoir, which supplies water to this populous city, and now has water for the next quarter.

Also the water transfer from Jaibo to Camarones continues, with the operation of new pumping stations in various parts of the city. Juan Carlos González of Water Resources explained that favorable rainfalls propitiated the recovery of the main supply sources, except Maisi, the archipelago´s easternmost extreme. Although July rainfalls are closer to the historical average, so far this year exceed the usual average, its distribution has not been leveled, he added. He also explained that relative humidity has been absent in the southern fringe were they are located, including Maisi, Imías and San Antonio del Sur and other oasis of the unique Cuban semi-desert.

Havana – DTC – The Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport, in the western Cuban province of Matanzas, provides high-qualities services and is one of the best terminals in the country. The airport, which handles passengers en route to Varadero beach, reported an average stay of 17 minutes per passenger during the first semester of 2010. Airport executives pointed out that this achievement resulted from the interaction of several agencies responsible for checking luggage, migration, ground operations and pilots, among others. In that regard, they recalled that when travelers arrive at the airport, they want to leave quickly to rest after a long flight. The airport, the second largest terminal in Cuba, will undergo remodeling works to meet the growing demand from travelers. Designed to handle all airplanes operating in the world, the airport will benefit from investments to upgrade technology and double its capacity.

The Miami Herald – Democratic Senate frontrunner Jeff Greene is backtracking on his claim that he had visited Cuba as part of a Jewish humanitarian trip, and a former deckhand says he’s still not telling the truth. Greene spokesman Luis Vizcaino said that the real estate mogul’s 145-foot yacht Summerwind docked for two days in Havana’s Hemingway Marina in 2007 while awaiting repairs. In a debate against Democratic rival Kendrick Meek, Greene said he went to Cuba on a Jewish mission.

“During the debate, Jeff misspoke,” Vizcaino said after receiving media inquiries about the trip. “What he meant to say was that in 2007, he went on the boat from Honduras to the Bahamas, and en route the boat had a hydraulic problem…The captain said we could wait for the part at Hemingway Marina.”  But a deckhand on that trip tells a different story. John Walenczyk said the boat traveled from Fort Lauderdale directly to Cuba and docked for about one week. “It was their total intention to go to Cuba,” he said Tuesday. “We never went to Honduras, not even close. I figure it was the glamour of wanting to go to a banned country.”

Travel to Cuba is an explosive issue in Miami’s Cuban-American community, where some exiles view visiting the repressive regime as tantamount to treason. This marked the second time that Greene tried to clarify the trip since a St. Petersburg Times story quoted former deckhands recounting a lot of partying aboard the yacht. When Meek grilled him about the incident during the debate televised in St. Petersburg, Greene insisted he had not personally taken the yacht to Cuba in five years. After the debate, though, Greene acknowledged he may have gone in 2007. He said the Jewish Federation had obtained a visa for him to visit Cuba and that he and other members of the federation visited a synagogue. “There’s still a Jewish community there, I don’t know if you know that,” he said. “There’s still two synagogues. But there was no partying going on. Who would you party with?

Vizcaino said of the Jewish Federation visa, “again, he misspoke.” Vizcaino said the captain cleared everyone aboard the yacht through Cuban customs officials. Greene went to visit a synagogue while he was there because he had heard about a Jewish humanitarian mission. “He didn’t meet up with them,” Vizcaino said. “He wanted to observe . . . What he came away with was firsthand knowledge of the plight of the country.”

Under U.S. law, Americans are not allowed to freely travel to Cuba unless they receive permission from the federal authorities. Last month, the Herald/Times reported that Greene’s yacht had severely damaged a valuable coral reef off the coast of Belize during a trip five years ago. Greene wasn’t aboard the boat and told the Herald/Times that the incident had never happened despite eyewitness accounts and scientific surveys.

Guantánamo – (Solvisión) – Cuban Minister of the Basic Industry Yadira Garcia Vera said that Cuban oil industry performed well in terms of production in the first six months of the current year. Garcia Vera spoke to the deputies of the Committee on Energy and Environment of the Cuban Parliament on the efficient use of resources and human capital are the main weapons that that industry has today. She explained that they are working in conjunction with other entities and agencies to ensure the protection and care of the environment. Raúl Pérez de Prado, director of the CUPET oil enterprise, said that they are working in exploration, drilling and exploitation of new wells, with technologies used in developed countries. Perez de Prado highlighted that they are that paving the way for making better use of domestic products, which used to be wasted, based on the use of secondary recovery techniques.

Havana – DTC – The Ultra-Microanalytical System (SUMA), created at the Cuban Immune-Essay Center, has allowed performing some 60 million tests since the early 1980s. According to experts, that technology has allowed testing about three million pregnant women to detect congenital malformations between 1982 and 2009. In addition, the SUMA technology has contributed to testing patients for congenital hypothyroidism to diagnose the disease in an early stage. A network of 267 laboratories allows detecting 19 diseases included in the list of top priorities of the Ministry of Public Health. Experts at the Immune-Essay Center are also working on the early diagnosis of kidney disorders, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, diabetes and prostrate cancer.

The Miami Herald – U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell 35 percent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2009, largely because of the island’s shortage of hard currency, according to a recent report. The report by a New York-based group that monitors bilateral trade, showed U.S. sales to Cuba from January to May of this year hit $182 million, compared with $278 million for the same period last year. U.S. exports to Cuba already had seen a 24 percent drop in 2009 — $528 million, compared with 2008, when they hit a record of $710 million, according to the report.

Cuba imports an estimated 60 to 80 percent of all the food its 11 million people consume, but its U.S. purchases must be paid in cash because U.S. laws bar giving credit to the island. The main reason for the drop-off was the island’s shortage of the hard currency it needs to pay for the imports. Cuba faces an economic crisis sparked by a steep drop in the price of nickel, its key export and hard-currency earner, damage caused by three hurricanes in 2008 and the higher food prices and sagging incomes from tourism and remittances caused by the global economic crisis.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would provide Cuba with a gusher of U.S. tourism dollars by ending all restrictions on travel to the island. It would also ease some of the limitations on U.S. exports to Cuba. The bill was approved by the House Agricultural Committee, with strong backing from farm and business lobbies. It must still be approved by the full House and then the Senate, where Cuban-American Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has vowed to block it.

Havana – DTC – The refinery of Cabaiguán, in central Cuba, supplied 3,315 tons of liquid asphalt to repair the country’s roads. Liquid asphalt is used as a raw material to produce asphalt, which is used to pave roads. Production exceeded this year’s plan, and another 2,500 tons will be produced in 2010. Plant executives pointed out that the increase in production resulted from a steady supply of crude oil from fields in Varadero. The refinery also produces dielectric oil, which is used in transformers.

HAVANA – Cuba says its budget deficit came in far below forecasts in the first half of 2010, evidence that tax increases and deep spending cuts on food imports may be helping the communist government weather a severe economic crunch. Cuba reported a deficit of nearly $410 million for the six-month period, less than a quarter of the $1.7 billion that central planners originally predicted. Lina Pedraza, minister of finances and prices, said Cuba generated a bit more than $21.2 billion. Over the same period, it spent $21.6 billion — creating the smaller-than-expected shortfall. The figures were made public in the Communist-party newspaper Granma. They were approved by the nation’s Economic Affairs Commission, a slate of lawmakers that huddled prior to a full session of parliament.

Cuba has slashed imports to deal with its economic problems, particularly in the areas of food and agriculture. But Pedraza attributed the lower deficit to higher taxes and improved collection methods, as well as a new law that pushed back the retirement age from state jobs while upping the amount government employees contribute to, and receive from, state pension funds. The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and pays employees about $20 per month, but also provides free education through college and health care. Subsidies also are provided for housing, transportation and some food through monthly ration books.

The outlook remained unexpectedly rosy, according to Pedraza, despite a roughly $198 million deficit created by ordinary Cubans, who have fallen behind on payment plans to reimburse the state for refrigerators, air conditioning units and other appliances authorities have distributed in homes. The government provided them as part of an effort to save energy and relieve strain on the island’s creaking electric grid, but requires that Cubans pay back the costs of the appliances over time. But many consumers have been unable to keep up with their payments, pushing state budgets further into the red.

Sales also were weak for Cuba’s world-famous cigars and the domestic consumption of industrial goods, beer and eggs.

Cuba and Venezuela signed 139 bilateral cooperation agreements in northeastern Cuba. The agreements were signed during a meeting between Cuban leader Raul Castro and Venezuelan Vice President Rafael Ramirez in Cayo Santa Maria, 350 km east of the Cuban capital of Havana, the official news channel NNTV said. The cooperation projects, which focus on food, energy, mining, healthcare and light industries, will be launched immediately.

Xinhua – Trade between Venezuela and Cuba reached 3.138 million U.S. dollars in 2009, according to Cuban figures. Caracas supplies Havana with 100,000 barrels of oil daily, while receiving services from about 30,000 Cuban doctors and specialists in other branches. Castro and Ramirez also attended a ceremony in Santa Clara, commemorating the assault led by former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. The date marked the beginning of the armed struggle against the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Ramirez was representing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the meeting with Raul Castro. Chavez canceled his planned trip to Cuba because of a diplomatic spat with neighboring Colombia. Venezuela broke off relations with Colombia after Bogota accused Caracas of supporting 1,500 Colombian guerrillas in its territory, a claim rejected by Venezuela.

Havana – DTC – The packing company El Miño, also known by the commercial name Oro Rojo, has increased supplies of sausage, and fresh and frozen food to the domestic market. Experts from the firm pointed out that Oro Rojo supplies special beef and pork cuts, ham, mortadella, sausage, salami and blood sausage. The company also supplies mince of different quality and pork hamburgers. Oro Rojo’s major clients are hard-currency shops and tourist resorts, as well as Cubana de Aviación. Oro Rojo is one of few Cuban companies that has implemented the System for the Analysis of Dangers and Critical Control Issues on exclusive standards for the reliability and harmlessness of products.

The Wall Street Journal – American Ballet Theater announced that it will travel to Cuba to dance in the International Ballet Festival of Havana in November. The company last visited Cuba in 1960, at which time ABT was celebrating its 20th anniversary. The upcoming festival is in honor of the Cuban-born dancer Alicia Alonso, the director of the National Ballet of Cuba, who danced with ABT in the 1940s. Ms. Alonso visited New York this spring to celebrate her 90th birthday with ABT, which held a tribute performance during its 2010 spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. The company’s invitation to the Havana festival came from Ms. Alonso.

“ABT has for many years seen itself as a cultural ambassador, bringing American ballet to the world,” executive director Rachel Moore said. “Alicia is part of our past, and remains part of our family. There is a special tie with the National Ballet of Cuba.

The New York dance community has made consistent efforts to strengthen ties with Cuba. This will be a return trip for ABT’s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, who traveled to Cuba in 1986. Since the mid-1970s, dancers from ABT, New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have made visits to the country. In 1998, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now known as Ailey II) traveled to Cuba for the Havana festival. Ex-NYCB dancers Damian Woetzel and Lourdes Lopez hold leadership positions with the Cuban Artists Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that fosters exchange programs.

When Ailey II attended the festival, the dancers were invited to take class with Ms. Alonso’s company. “All of the festival people were there taking class,” said Ailey II’s director, Sylvia Waters, who traveled with the company.  “We did a piece by Lar Lubovitch, called ‘Marimba,’ with a score by Steve Reich,” she recalled. “People would come up after and say, ‘What was that music?’ I’m not sure how much they could express, but they would come up after, like it was their secret.” “The Cuban people need to be able to have contacts with the outside world,” said Francisco Jose Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, adding that travel to Cuba that offers “help, support or cultural relations is welcome and necessary. The isolation of the Cuba people imposed by the Castro regime needs to be changed.”

Dance is effective in that way, said Andrea Snyder, executive director of Dance/USA, a professional-service organization: “Because dance is a nonverbal art form, it carries a unique and precious ability to break down barriers and promote shared experiences.”

To that end, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs teamed up with the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year to create DanceMotion USA. The program sent three companies to tour countries within separate regions: South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. “The feedback was off the charts,” said BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins. “The idea of this kind of diplomacy is to connect with people on an emotional level.”

The State Department is not funding or involved with ABT’s trip. The costs will be covered by the company’s touring budget. In order for the tour to take place, ABT must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which monitors and enforces U.S. trade sanctions. Special consideration is given to arts and athletic groups.  The company is currently in talks to determine what activities it will engage in while in Cuba Nov. 3-6. Given the short duration and the demands of performance, the visit’s value may be highest in its symbolism, said Margaret Ayers, president of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, which studies and funds arts-based international exchange.

“While a four-day tour is unlikely to forge the deep links characteristic of longer engagements, the symbolic impact of American Ballet Theater’s participation in the upcoming International Ballet Festival of Havana cannot be overstated,” she said. During the festival, ABT will dance George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas” and Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” Dancers will also participate in two gala performances. Ms. Moore said the company will focus on ballet, not politics: “We’re trying to stay out of the political area and have it be a dialogue between artists.”

Havana – DTC – Apiculture in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus is expected to grow over the next few months. Local authorities are working on the efficient handling of beehives to benefit from the flowering period and compensate for the decrease in honey production during the first few months of the year. According to experts, 76 percent of the production plan has been fulfilled, considering that production began to increase in April. Private producers, cooperative farms and state-own organizations supply honey to a processing plant in Sancti Spiritus. As part of actions to increase production, some 5,000 beehives were moved to coastal areas to benefit from the flowering period of mangroves. Moreover, mango crops are expected to contribute to increasing honey production in July.

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – The National Assembly of People”s Power (Parliament) has approved changes to the political/administrative division law in effect since July 1976, including one that creates the provinces of Mayabeque and Artemisa out of the former La Habana province. The changes were approved on Sunday, August 1, during the fifth session period of Parliament’s seventh legislature. Artemisa province includes the municipalities of Caimito, Guanajay, Mariel, San Antonio de los Baños, Güira de Melena, Alquízar and Bauta, along with those of Bahía Honda, Candelaria and San Cristóbal, which were part of Pinar del Rio province until now. Artemisa’s provincial capital will be the city with the same name.

Mayabeque’s capital will be the city of San José de las Lajas, and the province includes the municipalities of Santa Cruz del Norte, Jaruco, Madruga, Nueva Paz, San Nicolás, Güines, Melena del Sur, Batabanó, Quivicán and Bejucal. Like Artemisa, Mayabeque will work to produce food to meet its own demand and help to meet Havana’s. These changes allow the national capital, which is its own province to recover its historic name — Havana — and under the changes, it acquires the east side of the Cacahual plateau, where independence hero General Antonio Maceo is buried. Also, Varadero will no longer be a municipality in Matanzas province. Instead, it is now merged with Cardenas municipality, and the Hicacos Peninsula comes under the direct administration of the Council of Ministers, given its importance to the nation’s economic development.

Lastly, in Guantanamo province, the municipality of Manuel Tames absorbs parts of the neighboring municipalities of Guantánamo and Yateras, and its new municipal capital is the locality of Jamaica. These changes are aimed to meet the needs of the country’s social and economic development, and were approved after a broad process of consultation in the Provincial and Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, with representatives of state agencies, mass organizations, and residents of the areas involved. Cuba is now divided into 15 provinces and 168 municipalities, including the special municipality of the Isle of Youth. Its provinces are: Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Mayabeque, La Habana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. Parliament is also debating new traffic bill. The law goes into effect as soon as it is published in the official legal publication, “Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba.”

Cienfuegos, Cuba – (Prensa Latina) – The University of Medical Science in Cienfuegos graduated about 800 specialists, including 104 young people from 22 Latin American and African countries. With the 787 graduates of the twenty-eighth graduation of the institution, more than 7,500 professionals have been trained over three decades of work, said Dr. Roberto Baños, rector of the institution. On behalf of the foreign graduates, Paraguayan doctor Arnaldo Barrios, selected as the best student of this group, thanked the Cuban people and its leader Fidel Castro “the ideologue of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) project”.

Of the 208 physician who received their diplomas, 20 Cubans did their final year’s teaching practice in Venezuelan hospitals as members of the contingent Mario Munoz Monroy. One of them, Maikel Espinosa, was the best in his class and also set the record of 6.31 academic points. Baños told Prensa Latina that eight of the graduates, during the last semester, completed a diploma in intensive care and within weeks they will go to Venezuela to perform in this clinical area.

Havana – DTC – The city of Santa Clara, in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, is hosting an Exhibition of Textile Handicrafts. The pieces on display are made of cotton fabric and are decorated with lace and ribbons. The exhibition is held every summer to promote the creative work of local artisans.  On this occasion, 25 experts, including several award winners at national cultural projects, are participating in the exhibition. The exhibition is marked by the use of white in the clothes and traditional elements such as openwork, tucks and geometric patches.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Vice Admiral Pedro Pérez Betancourt, head of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR), said that that entity implements measures to strengthen the performance of their agents. These measures aim at maintaining control at the border, which translates into a tighter national security, to continue thwarting smuggle, said Perez Betancourt during the third day of work for Members of Parliament, in the current legislature, meeting in the Havana´s Convention Palace. He added that they have prevented the entering of subversive material, drugs and hard currency, as well as the illegal export of medicines and items to make fake Cuban cigars abroad. He said that Customs continued developing its software for trading activities and to reduce the time people spend at the airport terminals, one indicator of quality of services that travellers demand. The measures implemented include the presence of a customs supervisor, which started at the Jose Marti International Airport Terminal Two, an experience generalized to other facilities and it has improved the work at the airport.

Havana – DTC – The Casa de la Trova (Singersong Writer’s House) in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín has promoted the development of music in the region over the past 35 years. The institution was inaugurated in 1975, in a ceremony attended by Cuban lyric singer Blanquita Becerra and Faustino Oramas, popularly known as El Guayabero. According to experts, the greatest achievement by Casa de la Trova is the defense of Cuban traditional music and the promotion of artists. The center also promotes exchanges between singer songwriters from different generations. Casa de la Trova is one of the places of reference in the province’s cultural programs, due to the musical history, popularity and high-quality services.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Cuban deputies in the parliamentarian commission on Energy and Environment described as complex the situation of the soils in the island due to the current vulnerability of ecosystems. The earth is the natural resource with the highest damage in Cuba, with 77 percent of the agricultural surface declared as poorly productive and water as the most threatened. Dagoberto Rodriguez, general director of the Soil Institute, announced a national program that will mitigate the incidence of climate change, erosion, acidity, compaction and low fertility, among other degrading processes.

Rodriguez explained that the project requires an increase in the national production of technical minerals, bio-fertilizers and bio-stimulants, as well as the incorporation of green fertilizers. Rodriguez said the deterioration must be faced with comprehensive solutions covering both forest development and the protection of water resources. On the other hand, Water Basins Office Director Jorge Mario Garcia said almost 600 million cubic meters of water are lost in the canals, and 58 percent of the water pumped in aqueducts leaks away.  Jose Miyar, minister of Science, Technology and Environment reaffirmed the government’s will to guarantee, from a systemic point of view, the sustainability and preservation of the natural heritage.

Havana – DTC – Experts from the company Suchel-Fragancia are developing new fragrances for perfumes for the domestic market and for export. The work is being done at the company’s applied research laboratories, as part of a strategy to increase cosmetics production in the country. The firm has an inventory of more than 100 fragrances to make the necessary combinations for detergent, toilet soap, perfumes, etc. Suchel-Fragancia has signed agreements with China, from where it imports the raw materials.

American Statesman – EGYPT, Texas — Tributes to Fidel Castro, statues of Che Guevara and photographs of Elian Gonzalez might not line the streets of this rice-growing town, but make no mistake about it: The farmers here are pro-Cuba. Texas rice farmers have been watching intently as Congress ponders a bill that would lift restrictions of a decades-old trade embargo and allow tourists to travel to Cuba. Passage of the bill also would open the communist island country’s market to U.S. agriculture. Farmers in and around Egypt, a tiny agricultural community near Houston , generally describe themselves as conservative (with a few exceptions), but they are more than willing to speak favorably about opening up trade to a communist country. “Farmers are bottom line-oriented,” said Thomas Wynn, an economist and rice farmer from Egypt.

Members of Wynn’s family have been working their land in Egypt since the 1800s. They are solid Texas A&M Aggies , and they’re glad to pepper conversations with jokes about the University of Texas Longhorns. These days, one of the big topics of discussion in the Wynn household — and throughout rice-growing country in the southeast part of the state — has been the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2010, a bill in Congress that would lift the travel ban and allow the sale of more American goods to Cuba. Wynn said the bill could be a key to sustaining the Texas rice farming business, which has been hit lately with diving prices and rising production costs. “The impacts would be enough to ensure the survival of a significant percentage of Texas agriculture,” Wynn said. He added that family operations in the Southern states with easy access to the Gulf of Mexico could benefit, in particular, if the bill becomes law.

Members of Congress recently passed the Cuba bill out of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee. Similar efforts have failed in previous Congresses, but this just might be the year farmers have been waiting for, said Parr Rosson, a professor and economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M’s Texas AgriLife Extension. A weak U.S. economy, a new presidential administration and heavy lobbying pressure from the Texas Farm Bureau and other organizations give the bill a reasonable shot at passing. “This is the best chance in the last several years,” he said.

A travel and trade embargo was established in the early 1960s as U.S. relations with the new communist country and its leader, Fidel Castro, deteriorated. Cuba had been a primary market for Texas rice, but after the embargo, the tiny nation was forced to begin buying rice from places as far away as Vietnam. Dwight Roberts, president and CEO of the U.S. Rice Producers Association, said the bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee could be a step toward restoring Texas’ place as a main supplier of rice to Cuba. “It just makes so much sense,” he said. About 10 years ago, some U.S. trade was permitted with Cuba, but there was a thorny twist: All payments had to be passed through a third country, which added cost and complication.

If the bill lifts the cumbersome restrictions, agricultural exports from Texas to Cuba would jump by $18.4 million annually — nearly doubling Texas’ 2009 figure of $20.6 million, according to a report Rosson co-wrote for AgriLife Research, which conducts studies that support the state’s agricultural and natural resource industries. Trade with Cuba would represent a small piece of Texas’ agricultural business, but exports to Cuba would generate $16 million in new business activity and 320 jobs in Texas, according to AgriLife. On the national level, a policy change would lead to $365 million more a year in U.S. exports, which would come with $1.1 billion in new business activity and 6,000 new jobs, Rosson said. “At a time when we are struggling to create jobs, this is a bill that would help solve at least part of the problem,” he said. Texas rice farmers, like the Wynns, are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of a policy change that would open up Cuba.

Some Texas rice farmers are barely profitable now, and they have said that trade with Cuba would allow for periods of consistent solvency. For the past several years, many people in Texas rice country have been complaining about how difficult it has been to make any money. They said they see Cuba as a way to increase profits and allow them to continue growing rice for people in the U.S. and around the world. Wynn said Cuba’s hunger for rice is so great that the country could take every single grain of rice that Texas produces in its two harvests each year. Texas produces about 475,000 tons of rice a year, and Cubans eat an estimated 800,000 tons of the white grain every year. Rice is one of the staples in Cubans’ diet, making the country the biggest consumer of rice in the Caribbean region.

Dan Gertson, a neighbor by country standards of the Wynns’, has been one of the area’s most vocal proponents of trade with Cuba. Such trade would help farmers maintain or increase the amount of rice-growing acres in Texas, Gertson said from his office in the shadows of his towering grain bins. There are now about 170,000 acres of rice farms in the state, and expanded trade with Cuba could lead to as much as 200,000 productive acres, he said. Conversely, if Cuban trade remains limited, then the industry will continue to suffer and shrink as farmers close down their operations, Wynn said.

John Wynn, Thomas’ father and a former college president with gray hair and a professorial tone, said his family’s business is well-diversified with cattle and other crops, so he would be OK if the Cuba bill does not pass. “Without Cuba, we will probably keep muddling along,” he said. “With Cuba, our noses will be a little higher above water.”

Farmers with only rice paddies might have a harder time, he said. The rice industry wouldn’t be the only segment to see a pop with freer trade with Cuba. Corn growers and people in other parts of the agriculture community would also thrive, Wynn said. But as with most things in Washington, politics can be a hurdle. The possibility of upsetting politically active Cuban Americans in Florida has contributed to upholding the embargo in past years. And that fear very well might have been an issue for former President George W. Bush, who narrowly beat Democrat Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 presidential race. Stephen Pringle, a legislative director at the Texas Farm Bureau, said the current administration appears to be more willing to trade with Cuba, compared with the Bush administration.

As for members of Congress who represent Austinites, the support for the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2010 is mixed. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said that lifting restrictions with Cuba should be considered only “after Cuba institutes concrete reforms that limit the significant human rights abuses that occur in that country.” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said in a statement that he supports the measure passed by the Agriculture Committee. And Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, took a position somewhere in between. He said he’s open to lifting U.S. agricultural restrictions with Cuba but believes the travel ban should remain in place.

Until Congress passes a measure to help the farmers in Egypt, the maroon Chevy Suburban parked at John Wynn’s house will continue to display an argument for keeping the rice business alive and well. “Eat Rice,” a sticker reads. “Potatoes make your butt look big.”

Luanda – Angola – The association of the former students in Cuba, “los Caimaneros”, said that it intends to set up a museum in the facilities of ex-secondary school  nº 42, on the Island of Youth, which hosted for many years thousands of Angolan students and from other nationalities. The institution’s chairperson, Alberto Jerónimo said so Sunday while speaking to the press at Luanda’s “4 de Fevereiro” International Airport, where the ex-director of the school Rodi Figueredo and the mathematic lecturer António Sorzano have landed.

The implementation of the project will enable the preservation of all history related to life experience in Island of Youth and also to thank Cuba for its contribution. Created in 1977, the school nº 42 was among four school units based on the Island of Youth and which accommodated foreign students including the Chief of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), Francisco Pereira Furtado, the Secretary of Cabinet Council, Frederico dos Santos Cardoso and Secretary of State of Construction, Joanes André.

HAVANA – (Itar-Tass) – Russian air company Transaero has resumed flights from Moscow to Varadero in Cuba, the Cuban media reported.  The flights will be made twice a week on the Boeing-767 planes from August to October. A more spacious Boeing-777 will go into operation in November. Aeroflot is another Russian air carrier that makes regular flights to Cuba.  According to official reports, 22,900 Russians visited Cuba in the first six months of 2010, which is 24.9% up compared to the same period last year. Russia has outdone Argentina by the number of tourists to Cuba and is second only to Mexico (33,200 tourists). Tourism is one of the main sources of revenues for the Cuban budget apart from exports of nickel ore and biotechnological products.  More than 300,000 Cubans work in the tourist sphere. A record number of foreign tourists (2.42 million) visited Cuba last year. However, revenues from tourism have dwindled by 11%.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Cuban Parliament passed the draft of the new Road Safety Code, in its third version, after consulting deputies, drivers, lawyers and specialists in branches such as medicine, metrology and traffic. Cuban Transportation Minister Cesar Ignacio Arocha, explained that traffic accidents are the fifth leading cause of deaths in Cuba, making it necessary to update the existing regulations in order to reduce mortality and other consequences in such events. He cited among other priorities for this purpose, the improving of the road conditions throughout the country and the technical condition of vehicles, as well as to increase education campaigns and measures against those who drive under the influence of alcohol.

With this project we intend to mobilize the whole society on a different concept of road safety, to preserve the lives of drivers and pedestrians, particularly children and youth, said the Minister. President of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs Jose Luis explained that the imposition of fines resulting from traffic violations, and the system of points earned by the offenders, was the issue that generated more opinions on citizenship because of deficiencies or irregularities in its implementation. “Although there are provisions to make by some agencies, we believe that the law must begin to take effect with all its rules already issued” Toledo said, stressing that it will be in force180 days from its publication in the Official Gazette of the Republic. Deputy Manuel Caceres Fernandez from Pinar del Rio province proposed tougher measures against those who drive under the influence of alcohol and other harmful substances, and to spread the new Road Safety Code, to which the Transportation Minister said that both suggestions are to be implemented immediately.

The Independent – UK – An antiques dealer who planned to sell a stolen copy of a rare first collection of Shakespeare’s plays was jailed for eight years. Raymond Scott, 53, took the 387-year-old book, which was stolen from Durham University in 1988, to the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC where he asked to have it verified and valued, claiming he had found it in Cuba. The book had been damaged in an apparent attempt to make it look like a different copy than the one that had been taken from Durham. But staff at the library recognised the book and notified the FBI, the British Embassy and British police.

Last month a jury at Newcastle Crown Court found Scott guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain. He was acquitted of stealing the book from Durham University. Passing sentence, Judge Richard Lowden said Scott – who drove a Ferrari and posed as an international playboy, despite being £90,000 in debt – was a “fantasist” and had attempted to make money from the book in order to fund a lavish lifestyle to impress a woman he had met in Cuba. The judge said the harm to the first folio, of which only 228 still exist, amounted to the “cultural vandalisation” of a “quintessentially English treasure”. He said that Scott, an alcoholic who has 25 previous convictions, had either deliberately damaged the book or was party to the damage.

The judge also spoke about Scott’s attempt to fool the experts in Washington. He added: “This was an attempt by you to take on the world’s experts at their own expertise. You were confident that that balance had been achieved. You were, however, over-confident.”

During the trial the court heard that Scott was unemployed and living with his mother in Washington, Tyne and Wear, at the time of his arrest. But previously he had met Heidy Garcia Rios, a 21-year-old dancer, while in Cuba. He showered her with gifts and at one point even had his elderly mother, Hannah, send the girl’s family £10,000 to repair a roof. It was while he was at a party with Ms Rios and another friend, Odieny “Denny” Perez Leon, that he came up with the plan to split the proceeds of the sale of the first folio, which contained 36 Shakespeare plays. Copies of the book in mint condition are worth about £3m. But when he took it to the Folger library, minus its front and back board and some pages, the head librarian became instantly suspicious.

The first folio is one of the most-catalogued books in the history of publishing and each individual copy has every blemish, typographical error and stain recorded. When independent expert Stephen Massey examined the book he confirmed that, mainly due to its measurements, he was sure that it was the stolen Durham copy. Mr Massey said the book, even in its damaged state, was worth about £1m. Scott did not give evidence at the trial, but the jury was told of his denials in an interview with the police. He told officers: “Do you seriously think I’m going to walk into the foremost Shakespeare library in the world and, using my own name and address, with my fingerprints all over it, hand them a copy knowing and believing that it’s got a doubtful provenance?”

Chris Enzor, Durham chief crown prosecutor, welcomed the sentence, saying: “Raymond Scott is a dishonest conman and serial thief who found himself in possession of a national treasure. Even after being caught with the folio he continued to deny knowing it was the copy stolen from Durham University 12 years ago. “The priceless folio was mutilated in a bid to remove anything that might identify it as the Durham copy, pages and the binding was removed. The sentence reflects the seriousness of his crime, handling a book recognised across the world as one of the most important literary works ever published and removing it from the UK with a view to selling it.”

Havana – DTC – Cuba reported a 1-percent increase in tourist arrivals during the first semester of 2010. According to the National Statistics Office, 1,389,712 foreign tourists visited Cuba from January to June 2010, accounting for an increase of 13,519 foreign vacationers, compared to the same period last year. However, 163,967 travelers arrived in the country in June, a 0.6-percent drop in contrast to the same month in 2009. According to statistics, 2.4 million foreign vacationers visited Cuba in 2009, an increase of 3.5 percent compared to 2008. In that regard, analysts recalled that Cuba ranks ninth among tourists destinations in the American continent.


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