Cuba 19/12/2011

Anti-corruption efforts indict Tecnotex execs, record number of tourists welcomed, U.S. Congress debates rescinding relaxation on travel, Castro and Chávez celebrate 17 years of friendship.

As part of the ongoing anti-corruption efforts on the island, Cuba detained executives of the powerful military-run Tecnotex company, on allegations of graft. Among those arrested was the company’s director, Fernando Noy.

Tecnotex is one of the island’s most important trading companies, purchasing equipment, construction materials, technology and other good from abroad for the island’s military complex. The anti-corruption probe has already resulted in the closing of three foreign businesses, and the arrest of a number of executives.

This week, official media announced that the National Assembly will dedicate its second and last session of the year on 23 December to ‘economic and legal matters.’ In part, they will evaluate the affect of a number of economic reforms undertaken this year, including the buying and selling of real estate and cars.

Juventud Rebelde reports that the use of notaries has increased 62 percent compared with the first half of the year, due largely to the new laws guiding real estate and cars. The paper praises this as part of the new ‘legal culture and mentality’ brought on by the reforms.

Government newspaper Prensa Latina announced that the government will prioritize foreign investment in tourism, refining, mining, and energy. Their goals are to increase efficiency, see GDP growth, and to substitute for costly imports in energy and food.

It was also reported this week that Cuba welcomed a record 2.5 million tourists to its shores in 2011. This is the fourth record-breaking year for the Cuban tourist industry, with the majority of foreign tourists coming from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Spain. The market experienced strong growth this year in visitors from Russia and Argentina.

This week, the U.S. Congress almost undid the Obama administration’s easing on travel and sending of remittances to Cuba. Cuban-American Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart (Republican – South Florida), introduced a rider to a $1 trillion Congressional spending bill that would have returned restrictions to those set by former president George W. Bush in 2008.

The bill would have restricted Cuban-Americans to one ‘family reunification’ trip to the island every three years, and capped remittances to $1,200 per year. President Obama disapproved of the measure, but many worried that he would be reluctant to veto the entire bill over the Cuba issue alone.

In the end, Congressional leaders agreed to drop the measure from the spending bill, in exchange for also dropping a measure that would make it easier for Cubans to buy U.S. goods by dropping the requirement that Cubans pay cash in advance when buying from the United States.

On 14 December Cuba noted the seventeenth anniversary of the first meeting between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. On 14 December 1994 Castro welcomed Chávez to Cuba, while Chávez was traveling around Latin America after being released from jail for a failed coup attempt in 1992. The meeting resulted in the close, personal relationship the two maintain to this day.

The anniversary was marked by the opening of a photographic exhibit of the Castro-Chávez friendship on display at the Venezuelan embassy in Havana.

On 15 December former President Fidel Castro was honored by the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the record for assassination attempts on his life. According to the data by the Guinness Committee, there were 638 attempts on Castro’s life, most of them by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency or U.S.-based Cuban exile groups.

And finally, on Friday 17 December Cubans celebrated the saint day of San Lázaro. San Lázaro is an important saint in the Afro-Cuban santería tradition, where he is known as Babalú Ayé. He is one of the most important santos in the tradition, and is associated with health and disease. Thousands of Cubans went to the church in El Rincón, in the suburbs of Havana, on Friday to pray to San Lázaro.