Undercover Agent Emilio: “I have always been and will be a revolutionary”

Yesterday, feb 28, members of the Association of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC) paid homage, in Havana, to Carlos Serpa Maceira, agent Emilio of the State Security, who ratified that he has always been and will be a revolutionary.
Serpa, who was presented the condition of Member of Honor of the organization, had been working undercover since 2001 as independent journalist and spokesperson of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).

He expressed his satisfaction of having done his duty; he referred to sad moments in his life like being away from his family; and pointed out that even though he went through very difficult moments, he was always faithful to his country, to the Revolution, and to the example set by the five Cuban antiterrorists imprisoned in the US for trying to prevent terrorist actions against Cuba.

Serpa added that agent Emilio will continue in the struggle in a different battle field.

The president of UPEC, Tubal Paez, highlighted Serpa’s stoical and risky work, which contributed to prevent counterrevolutionary actions.

Colleague Maray Suarez talked about her indignation and hatred towards the supposed independent journalist, feelings that today have turned into gratitude and pride.

She added that he really confused us, and hoped for those who will replace him to be as true revolutionaries as he is. Carlos Serpa Maceira and Moisés Rodríguez, also agent of the State Security, were interviewed for the production of the documentary “Peones del Imperio” (Empire Pawns), broadcasted over the weekend by the Cuban Television.

The documentary condemns the plans of aggression by the US Government and right wing anti-Cuba groups based in Miami, against Cuba.

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The video released proofs obtained by collaborators of Cuban State Security services who infiltrated counterrevolutionary groups that operate on the island at the orders of terrorists based in US territory.

Moises Rodriguez, customs workers at Havana´s Jose Marti International Airport and Carlos Serpa, a young man that worked as “independent journalist” at the service of anti-Cuba media outlets, revealed the secrets of the alleged dissidents and defenders of human rights in Cuba.

The documentary film is posted in Spanish and in English at Las Razones de Cuba website

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Billboard to the Five in downtown Miami

MIAMI, January 11.—Right in the heart of Miami, on Northwest 37th Avenue and 4th Street, facing the entrance to the Flagler Dog Track, a billboard appeared today with portraits of the five Cuban anti-terrorists unjustly incarcerated on U.S. jails: Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino and René González.

The message reads “Free the Cuban Five” and is signed by the Martí Alliance, according to Radio Miami.

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50th Anniversary of ICAP Always open to the hearts of friends

An entity born and bred with the Revolution, fruit of the initiative of the leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro, the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), commemorated its 50 years of existence this Tuesday with an event in the presence of Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernández.
“When the revolutionary government created ICAP on December 30, 1960, our heroic resistance was amazing the world. The Revolution became a constant incitement to human curiosity in all corners of the earth,” affirmed Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
From that time the wall of silence collapsed and people began to come together from all over the world to share just one ideal: to divulge the truth about Cuba.

In that context, ICAP President, Kenia Serrano, stated that the international solidarity movement has grown stronger, with more than 2,000 organizations of friendship with Cuba in 152 countries.

During the event, the 50th Anniversary of ICAP Distinctions were awarded to outstanding workers in the institution. Friends of Cuba who, from overseas, have resisted hostility and have not yielded to threats, were also honored.

“ICAP’s commitments today include condemning and confronting the blockade imposed by the United States, a country in which a number of solidarity brigades, like Pastors for Peace, are taking risks to break that policy of siege,” Serrano commented.

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Cuban economic results of 2010 and proposed plan for 2011

Speech by Marino Murillo, vice president of the Council of Ministers and minister of economy and planning

Marino Murillo.- The deputies have been provided with a report, which they have had for several days, containing an estimate of the movement of the economy this year and the principal objectives of the plan for the coming year.

These are more or less the issues that we are going to touch on this morning: the economic indicators, commercial exchange as seen in the 2010 estimate; the internal financial balance; the performance of the balance of energy, investments and construction and the state budget.

You have in the report the selected economic indicators that we are going to discuss.

Now, in the course of the explanation, while we have been able to achieve the Gross Domestic Product growth in its structure as we anticipated in the plan, that is not exactly matched by the contribution of each of the entities in meeting that growth. Certain entities which should have contributed more to the GDP within the economy this year did not do so, and others experienced a growth.

I want to mention a concept that we will return to later. The shortfalls in relation to the plan are to be found in the material production sectors. Thus, if there is a shortfall in the productive sector, particularly in entities linked to the primary sector of the economy, that is where the material wealth is produced.

Exports. Exports are growing considerably, targets are being met, they have grown by 41.5%. But the situation is that, even though they have grown, they remain below the plan.

Here there is an element which is important to discuss and to be aware of: that the performance of some of our export products in the world market was above that anticipated in the plan; however, their physical production was not achieved, as in the case of nickel, which we forecast at $14,400 per ton, with the average price of nickel touching $20,000 per ton. What does that mean? That even when the price was favorable in comparison to that anticipated in the plan, by failing to meet the physical production we lost additional income, and that should be known. That cost us $120 million.

There was another product that had an average price well above the one we anticipated in the plan, which was the case of tons or pounds of sugar, however you want to put it and, given a significant shortfall in exportable sugar production, we were similarly unable to take advantage of the situation of market prices being higher than those that we planned. And, in the case of not meeting our sugar exports, we lost income in the order of $60-65 million which we would have seen if the physical production envisaged in the plan had been met.

And so, other things also happened.

I am saying this because it is important for 2011 to concentrate on the export commitments of all the entities and the productive base. It is not right that we were unable to take advantage by failing to meet the physical production targets in the plan, especially when international market prices are favorable.

Failing to meet physical production targets with a price growth in the international market denotes a symptom of little foresight within the economy in order to be prepared and be able to take advantage of situations that occur at a given moment.

In our analyzes of the economic management , we lack analyses and an integrated approach, and this is valid for all the entities involved and for everybody associated with productive commitments, and fundamentally, export ones. Because we can have much hard currency administration, much renegotiation of debts; but if we do not meet income targets, the possibilities of continuing administering that are going to be steadily more limited.

I emphasize that this year we could have had higher income in the context of exports, which we did not have due to productive shortfalls; in any event, as I said, exports grew.

The foreign trade outcome is positive, because the relation between export goods and import goods is negative. It is the export of services that has made the results of the country’s foreign trade positive.

Another important element is fulfilling the investment process.

At a specific moment, 12 months ago, we adjusted the investment plan, we cut close to $950 million of it halfway through the year, because these were investments that were not the most important ones at that moment and they were investments that were not associated with the policy that had been defined; in other words, the priority was for investments that would provide income in the short term and which could be recouped from the output of the investment itself.

But this year, while there were investments that did meet that policy, which gave income in the short term and which paid the debts and financing with money generated from the investment itself; however, neither are we going to fulfill the investment plan at an adequate level.

That demonstrates that discipline, organization and training in the investment process are needed in all sectors of the economy, without exception.

There is lot of improvisation in the investment plan and the tendency is to want to incorporate into the plan investments that have not been thoroughly prepared, and the tendency is to want to incorporate into the plan investments that have not passed through an integral analysis and the effect that this could have on an inducted investment beside it, and this leads to the fact that we are not going to fulfill the investment plan for this year.

It is true that some of them were not made, because external funding was not available at a given moment. It is also the result of a lack of integrality in the analysis, because if we do not have secure funding why would we incorporate the investment into the plan, because after you incorporate it into the plan, independently of external financing, in passing you throw out the balances of the economy, because you have to balance construction materials in order to assign them to that construction. And afterwards, the investment cannot operate because of lack of external financing, partial or total, but the materials have already been assigned, and I would like to see who checks every last bag of cement to ensure that it isn’t used for purposes other than that of the investment that we made.

In total contradiction to what should have happened, even in recent months, August-September, when we had realized that the investment plan wasn’t going to be met, what we had on top of the table was pressure from the entities to incorporate more investments into the plan, which could not be the case. And I am also saying that the Ministry of the Economy in particular is responsible for that, because that’s the Ministry that I head; because the guiding agency for efficiency in the investment process is the Ministry of the Economy, and we have lacked discipline and also an integral approach at the point of assessing the investment process; but a lot of money is being lost and many opportunities by failing to meet the country’s investment plan.

We have to get rid of the headstrong mindset that we have and sometimes being gaily content to put any investment into the plan without the analysis needed.

After explaining the way in which we have set up the investment plan for the coming year – I’m going to refer to that as well, because we have to criticize everyone and in particular ourselves for the little rigor that the investment process currently has, and if we don’t look at ourselves harshly, we’re never going to transform this panorama. That is how it is.

Well, in the energy sector, the economy is improving its efficiency. In terms of electrical energy consumption in the state sector the anticipated figures have been maintained slightly below the levels anticipated, but there is an over-consumption against the plan in the residential sector; however, it should be said that, starting from a set of savings measures and controls in the assignation plan for energy providers, the economy is a little bit more efficient than we anticipated in the plan and is more efficient than in the last period, which does not mean to say that there aren’t a lot more savings reserves in terms of energy providers in the country in general.

In the plan the mercantile circulation of goods and services was set at 31.571 billion pesos, we have an estimate of 30.979 billion: MINCIN (Ministry of Domestic Trade) 20,720 billion, and there is going to be 20.5 billion pesos in the year. MINCIN is going to be left with a deficit in the mercantile circulation plan – mercantile circulation is retail sales in pesos – of approximately 220 million.

If there had been a little better organization in the first quarter of the year in MINCIN sales and assured supplies from national producers to MINCIN in that quarter, the year plan could have been perfectly met, because they are selling 50-plus million pesos every day, and given that the shortfall is 220 million, with six days more than the year contains, they could have met the sales plan; but that’s not possible, the year has the days that it has, and it ends on December 31; it was the first quarter of this year that wasn’t good. In any event, liquidity in the hands of the population.

What is liquidity? it is the money that people have; what happens is that that money in the hands of the people; part of it is in the bank and the other part is in people’s homes – that is so-called money in circulation.

Part of the liquidity is also in savings accounts and that is a liquidity held by the population, but one which puts less pressure on demand, because it is being kept. Then there is also the risk, given that those accounts accrue interest, they grow over time; but the good news is that liquidity in the hands of the population did not grow and remains slightly below, that is synonymous with us having had a stable internal financial balance for 18 months. Imbalance in internal finances is not one of the disproportions that the economy has today.

Well, in terms of the GDP, we had calculated that liquidity in the hands of the population would be 43.2% of the GDP, and it is at 41.8%, exactly the same as it was in 2009.

Work productivity grew by 4.2% and the average wage grew by 4.4%.

In any event, the fact that one has neared 4.2% and the other 4.4% is a good sign because, as we explained last year, we were carrying that problem for a number of years without being able to solve it; and we explained that even with the two adjustments we made to the plan, in the year in which we adjusted the plan, we still couldn’t solve that problem, and we explained that the plan itself still hadn’t solved it, and now we are coming very close to a balance, and next year there will be improvements in the budget plan that we are making. For next year we are giving 1.95% – of course, that is also associated with the process of reducing inflated rosters and labor availability, because if employees leave the state sector and the economy grows, clearly that’s going to improve that relation.

In global terms, that is a favorable result for the movement of the economy in the year that is ending.

There is a group of global indicators which is improving and having achieved 2.1% signifies quite a major effort, even given what I was explaining in terms of shortcomings in certain sectors.

I said just now that, while the economy grew as anticipated, there were specific entities which did not meet their growth targets. In the case of agriculture, 12 areas of production failed to achieve the productive levels anticipated for the year, particularly in agriculture: meaning pork meat, eggs, rice for consumption, root vegetables, fresh vegetables, beans, citrus fruits and lumber. This shortfall in 12 productive sectors resulted in additional imports of $63 million above those anticipated. We had to rush to find a shipment of beans, we had to import more rice. Here there was everything: here there was a lack of water, one thing or another, but also there were many organizational problems and a lot of indiscipline on the part of producers.

These are the productions that have been most affected, here are the data. The rice target was 327,000 tons and the estimate that we are giving is of 247,000 tons. That meant that with this volume of rice produced we had to deliver 169,000 tons of rice to MINCIN to distribute via the household ration system or for social consumption, and the latest estimate we have is 81,000 tons, and that shortfall had to be imported, and is part of the $63 million figure that I already gave you.

It has to be said here with all honesty, that if we do not straighten out efficiency in the investment process and we do not straighten out efficiency in the primary sectors of the economy, we will not meet the economic production targets for 2015. Those things are determining factors in the movement of the economy: agriculture, MINAZ (Ministry of the Sugar Industry), the food industry and efficiency in the investment process. If these three things go badly, the economy is not going to function well. And that is what those entities are being called upon to do, they are going to play a determining role in the movement of the economy.

In the case of the food industry there is a knock-on effect, that if we are not capable of making it more efficient and producing what is anticipated in the plan, then we will have to import $1.6 billion in foodstuffs in the coming year: $200 million to meet the internal hard currency market and $1.4 billion to meet what we buy and distribute through the ration system, plus food for social consumption. And there, there is a lack of organization, a lack of precision and a lack of quality in contracting productions with the productive base. And everything catches us on the hop: either there is too much sweet potato or there is no sweet potato, either there are no beans or there are beans.

And there is also a lack of foresight in the plan for providing the resources to these entities so that they can produce in a stable way, as they must do, and not at the point when we do not have a specific product; in any event, given that we have to eat, we have to go out and buy it. Orderliness in the process of the plan and on the part of the Ministry of the Economy with the three entities associated with food production is a determining factor in the economic results which we want to have in the next few years.

In the case of milk, 10 million more liters than anticipated is going to be produced; but there was also indiscipline in milk distribution and consumption. In that way, the productive increase of the 10 million liters is not going to directly reflect in terms of replacing dried milk, because we are going to spend more on imported dried milk than anticipated in the plan. There were provinces out there which even changed the distribution policy and those that were due to receive 10 liters of milk per month, received 30 liters. Those are the country’s policies and you have to consult before changing them.

And likewise, even though there have been advances in fuel control, there are entities which did not meet their levels of activity but went over their fuel consumption allocations for the year; that happened as well. In the case of agriculture that cost us 17,800 tons; there are others as well, in a lesser quantity. But there has to be tight discipline, because if there isn’t, we are not going to put the economy in order. This is the time to support the objectives of the plan and not set about inventing anything outside of the plan.

Failing to meet the sugar harvest also comes into play; that also cost us a lot of money, with sugar prices being very favorable; there was a shortfall of 195,000 tons.

The structure anticipated in freight transportation was not achieved. This year we have to move 54-55 million tons and that freight transportation had an envisaged structure: motor transport, railroad, here as well as there, for specialized enterprises attached to agencies, for the Ministry of Transport. And the structure we envisaged in the plan was not achieved, and we have to be strictly disciplined with the freight structure, because if you were supposed to transport a sack by rail and then you loaded it onto a truck, where does the difference in fuel come from; because the railroad is much more efficient than motorized transport. The guiding institution and the one responsible for freight structures being met is the Ministry of Transport, and this issue also gives it a lot of work with the entities.

Now what is happening is that they are telling us, “Well, the Ministry of Transport was supposed to have transported x cargoes for me and I had to do it myself.” Well, you have to go there and say to the Ministry of Transport, “the fuel allocated for that has to go through here.” But we have to strictly comply with the freight structure.

And I will take advantage and say here that investments made in the railroad system in the Ministry of Transport are being paid for with fuel savings, and fuel savings are achieved by complying with the freight structure. This year, we are going to move 54 million tons of products with 222,000 tons, approximately, using diesel; and next year we have to move 2 million more with 182,000 tons. If that freight structure is not complied with and more fuel is wasted transporting the same amount, where are the savings for paying everything that we are doing on the railroads, the investments that have been made?

I insist on the idea that the concepts, the numbers and the costs of the plan have to be followed every day.

Internal financial balance. First, in order to have balance you have to have sales and, out of 20,720 million, MINCIN is making an estimated 20,500 million, and that gives us an acceptable balance. We have that situation controlled.

In the case of investments and construction, which I have already talked about, what is most outstanding here is the failure to fulfill the investment plan.

There is a shortfall of 22.4% in the component of construction and assembly and this is associated – as I said – with the lack of an integral assessment of the investment process and, on certain occasions, the availability of foreign financing.

We had envisaged 32,000 homes and 32,748 are going to be completed, but growth is being determined, which is also correct, by homes completed by individual effort.

In relation to water balances, a little less water is going to be consumed than the anticipated volume, but in many cases this consumption has been associated with the drought.

For the 2011 plan we are incorporating water balance as a category within the plan; and I am going to say something about that when we discuss the plan for 2011.

In relation to the state budget – which you also have in the report – a deficit of 2.466 million is anticipated, up 0.3% on that inscribed in law for this year. In that context, what is approved in the budget is a deficit of 3.5% and it’s going to 3.8%. That increase in the deficit is fundamentally associated with shortfalls in income, because there the reduction in expenditure was also lower than that anticipated.

On the next page, you can see the performance of budget income and expenditure.

There we are announcing that the Comptroller General of the Republic has audited the central budget and the budget in the provinces. There has to be an ordering of the central budget, including the accounting expression of the budget; but the tendency is toward many shortcomings in the administration of budgets at all levels, accounting indiscipline, diversions, appropriations, and there has to be an ordering, from the central budget to the budget at all levels and a superior administration of the budgets, because many resources are also lost in this way and all of us who have to administer the country’s resources have a responsibility in this.

Even so, we managed to decrease expenditure by more than one billion pesos; but what nobody knows is how much could still be saved in terms of the money diverted, waste and lack of control that there is in everyone who has to manage a budget. This is an audit of processes – as has been said – which has ranged from the central budget to the latest budgets, and we have received part of the report and are currently awaiting the other, and it is true that there is a lot of reserves and much disorder in the handling of budgets, which could produce savings… (He is told something)

The president is saying that here is the larger source of income that we could have if we did it well.

Raúl Castro.-…just by reducing waste or part of it.

Marino Murillo.-And we are also alerting on this issue of managing budgets, which we will be discussing in the next few days, in terms of the subject of the economic policy guidelines and the updating of the economic model, and given the participation that work under non-state formulas is going to have, if this is not well controlled in terms of budgeting, very strange phenomena could occur.

And some little things that we have done have not been well fulfilled and strict discipline will have to be applied to that.

There are other deficiencies.

The Ministry of Economy and Planning, with the plan’s current mechanisms, has not been able to comprehensively project the financing costs for imports needed to meet production expectations during the year and [insure] that the expenditure does not later become one spent to import finished products. We can’t have it that today we don’t have money available to import raw materials and tomorrow, when the final product is needed, the money appears, since the finished product, in a crisis situation, is much more expensive to import.

Those of us in the Ministry have to be more demanding within the investment process; sometimes, even when we make an adjustment to the plan, the adjustment is insufficient. We dropped 1.2 or 1.4 billion from the investment plan and we still need to have more difficult discussions with the entities in order to further reduce the plan to an estimate that we already knew wasn’t going to be met because, additionally, as I said, when you leave the investment in the plan, you leave the resources moving about in the economy and if the investment isn’t going to be executed, you need to pull the resources allocated.

It’s true that the way in which we receive income from abroad is not linear; and there are periods of time during which the money doesn’t get here and later on, it piles up. We need to identify precisely, ourselves and the bank, funds which are temporarily available, because production can’t wait for financing. It has its own rhythm and when it’s interrupted, the logistics become more complicated. For example, halfway through the year, the provisioning of raw materials for the production of medications was interrupted and we are still facing a shortfall in our central stocks of medicine and I can guarantee you that, from the middle of the year ’til now, the financing for both QUIMEFA and the Scientific Pole has been available, but at this point we are still not meeting the plan for the year. Since a bump in the road appeared and the provisioning cycle was disrupted, we are still facing a deficit in the central stocks of medications.

We need to find funds which are temporarily unencumbered, to have them in place and available, so that production is continuous. The same can be said for continuity from one year to the next, because it’s December 31st up until midnight but then January 1st is upon us. If we don’t prepare for the next year’s first quarter during the last part of the year, we lose three months of production.

This year, we managed to make these advance plans at the end of November, the beginning of December; but we’ve seen that, this coming year, we need to get started halfway through the year, so that the contracting process is timely.

Shipment alone from China takes 45 days and producers request 60 to 90 days to complete orders, but the economy can’t withstand this disruption of the production cycle; this has happened and when it happens, we don’t meet our goals and we have to import finished products.

This is truly a deficiency that the plan has not resolved, not in its development, or in its actual execution. We have to work on this. That’s why, as I explained, three times this year, financing was advanced.

So now, where are we? We are now at the point when the entities receive their figures for the coming year and they are identifying different parts of their business plan and what is expected is that, on January 1, everyone should have their plan in hand and everyone should know what they have to do and it’s a good thing that the deputies should know this.

There is not a single entity that can, in any way, justify an enterprise in Cuba not having a plan in hand on January 1. This is what the Council of Ministers agreed to. There can be no improvisations, because if you don’t have a plan on day one, what are you going to do during the first period of the year? Where are the resources coming from? Where are the funds coming from? What do you have to produce, at what cost, how efficiently? What effect does your production have on the next guy’s? So that what happened to us one day doesn’t happen. We were checking some of MINCIN’s sales and MINCIN said, “We didn’t meet the sales target because they didn’t give me the beds.” The bed people said, “We didn’t produce the beds because somebody else didn’t give us the pipe.” And the pipe people said, “We didn’t deliver the pipe because the raw material from China didn’t get here.” We can’t have it, it’s a chain reaction. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen.

To summarize, in 2010, the organization of the economy’s functioning has improved, despite what has been said.

I believe it’s important to talk about what remains to be done in terms of organization and not exactly what we have done. Debt is structured better; there is better control of hard currency income. This organization which has been achieved at certain levels is, however, not yet reflected within the system of enterprises and it really has to get to that.

Now then, we’re going to explain the main characteristics of what is described in the 2011 plan.

The gains in food production are modest considering the high volume of foodstuffs we will have to import this coming year. Even next year’s plan does not resolve the issue; despite the expected increase in food production within the country, we are going to be importing food worth approximately $1.6 billion. It’s growing, but we’re still importing a great deal of food.

Let’s look at rice. Next year, we will have to get 445,000 tons from Vietnam, which have already been signed for, contracted; now of these 445,000 tons, more or less, 50% must be paid for within 360 days and the rest within 540, but 445,000 tons of rice is going for around $231 million.

Therefore, everything that can be done in terms of rice production in Cuba, in an orderly fashion, not like we’ve been doing, with the comprehensive approach required, not like we’ve been doing, could save 200 and something million dollars every year. I’m saying, with the comprehensive approach required because we water the rice, but we lose 50% of what we apply and later we say we can’t plant rice because our water reserves are low and then later, the harvest is completed and the milling machinery isn’t there on time. There is a lot of potential to increase rice production in Cuba, but the rice program has not been comprehensive.

Let’s look at the issue of investment. Some 50% of investments are productive; 13% are in production infrastructure; 19.2 are social, which includes 43,000 dwellings; there is a 10.6% portion devoted to social infrastructure, of which 2.1% and 4.3% represent urban development and water supply respectively. This means that, 63% of the investment to be made by the country during the coming year is focused on production and production infrastructure. This reflects the policy that investments generating hard currency income for the country, and those which provide a rapid return, should be prioritized within the investment process. As you can see, the structure is favoring productive investments and, within the social sphere, we will have to make do with what we have for a few years.

Now, another explanation about the investment process. Works in progress are prioritized, representing 77% of the total. We need to maintain continuity with those investments that as of December 31 are in progress and will continue into the next year without interruption.

Well now, moving on to another issue. What new characteristics will MINCIN’s distribution of merchandise have this coming year? Those which have already been seen this year, but will be ratified next year: projected is the distribution for sale of agricultural supplies worth 493 million, that’s work tools: machetes, axes, barbed wire, everything associated with what is being demanded by those who have received land in usufruct and for established campesinos as well.

At this time, there is a program which we’ve called the Campesino Program – we check this every month – the sources of financing are clearly defined, just about all of this is produced by the steel industry, SIME, and some of it by MINIL, the light industry, and where the resources to produce all of this will come from has been taken into consideration. MINCIN’s responsibility to distribute these products, and the network of agricultural sales outlets where they will be sold, have been established.

Since the beginning of time, the general store has always existed in rural areas, where people go to buy what they need and those products need to be supplied. Ah, these products are not going to be subsidized, they will be sold without any subsidy and we are reviewing the prices now, too.

There are some products which have come out at a price that may be a little high; during the first quarter of the coming year, given that many of the general stores have a surplus of these products, we will begin to make some decisions about the prices, if we have to lower them, or raise others. What we have coordinated with ANAP – and Lugo agrees – is first to assure the supply of the products, and then later we can talk about the price; that the products are available in the market, and if, at a given time, it is necessary, we may have to lower the price of a certain product, we can do it. In principle, however, we are talking about the whole of these products, when you multiply the money produced, it doesn’t allow for a subsidy, although there may be some which create more income. Therefore, what we are talking about is the average, not each product exactly. I’ve seen that a few products are a bit expensive; we are going to review the structure of those prices.

In another area, MINCIN is also getting involved, with sales of construction materials this year already reaching 1.52 billion pesos, with no subsidy.

One group of products for building walls and dry goods are sold by MINCIN, in national currency, without subsidies, with all the instability we’ve seen, with all the instability! That the cement blocks arrive, but not enough, all this we know; that there were places where the blocks were produced and then confusion as to who was to transport them and there they were and MINCIN saying, we don’t have any gas and someone else saying, its not my job. All of this is perfectly delineated and reconciled with all the entities in the plan and exactly where everyone’s responsibility lies.

The other day, based on an article that came out in the Trabajadores newspaper, we had a meeting with MINCIN and the construction materials industry and we have this completely defined for the coming year.

Now we are presenting a problem. The country has been finishing some 32,000 dwellings a year, of these 32,000, there are approximately 8,000 which are finished every year, for which the population receives subsidized materials. And we are of the opinion that this has to be changed. Because then, what’s going to happen? We are going to have a cement block sold unsubsidized by MINCIN at five pesos and we’re going to have one sold by Housing and the government at around 48 cents and it’s the same block and right there what is being set up is the Dale al que no te dio [song by Juan Carlos Alfonso y su Dan Den] because the resources are going to find their way from one place to another; those who have materials assigned are never going to get them on time, and three or four people are going to profit from that 40-something cent block, selling it at five pesos, depositing the money and keeping the difference.

The idea we have is that this market should go to MINCIN’s distribution system, that it is the entity largely responsible for retail sales and should sell them without subsidy. And if someone needs a subsidy in order to buy materials, then let’s subsidize people and not cement blocks, so when we sell cement blocks, we do it for everyone, for those who have and those who don’t.

The numbers are, more or less, the following: of the 1.52 billion pesos worth of construction materials to be sold, one billion is going to the state budget, in terms of distribution tax and we have calculated that of this one billion, 888 million has to be set aside, to be given to low-income families who now receive subsidized materials, so that they receive a monetary subsidy and the cement block is sold in the market, at the same price for all. This policy has been approved and is in the process of implementation.

The 880 million will permit us to finish 5,000 or 6,000 homes and some 19,000 renovations, which is what is done today for the families who receive subsidized construction materials. There should not be, therefore, any impact. The only change is that instead of receiving a subsidized cement block, you are going to receive financing, which will have to be approved by the Municipal Administrative Council. So, if it’s 1.52 billion and we’re taking 888 million for this, that means, more or less, 50 cents for every peso in sales is devoted to this end, that we are going to distribute this proportionately through the provincial and municipal budgets. So that the number of cases which can be addressed will depend on the sales made within the territory and that the Administrative Councils will have to manage their budgets, even with all the limitations and all that we’ve talked about here. That’s why we spoke so forcefully about the kiosks this morning, because every time we go adding different items [for sale], if this is not well organized from the beginning, it can turn out badly. And it’s not a bad idea, what was bad was the implementation.

I’m saying this because delegates have already asked questions and lots of people are asking what’s going to happen to the hurricane damaged dwellings that are half done. They are going to be completed, what’s happening is so irrational, that, today, the same block costs 45 cents one place and five pesos someplace else, this doesn’t make the slightest sense, no sense whatsoever!

It is expected that the Administrative Councils, when they evaluate people in need of help, so that they are able to finish their homes with their own efforts, maybe, for Homer, the help has to be 100%, but perhaps, for his neighbors, it’s 50% because, “Look, you have a family income which indicates you need help for 50% of the costs you’ll have to take on.” He doesn’t need a 100% subsidy, it’s for 50% and when we subsidize blocks, it’s at 100%.

That is to say, that’s the policy, we have to work hard and we’re implementing it.

Inspections of the dwellings have been done with MINCIN and it is a test of what we’ve been saying as economists for 50 years now, enough of subsidizing products, subsidize people, and it’s a first that we’re going to do, as a very focused effort, in the sale of construction materials; but it has to turn out well and it has to be controlled, and it’s more advanced than what others are doing.

The same goes for a group of people who one way or another won themselves the right to build their home, they’re building their own home, they aren’t working and they’re paid their full wage. I visited one individual, not long ago, who was at home for five years. For practically four years he was not given materials, and he was there waiting for the materials and drawing his wage.

As for the issue of the municipal initiative and development, next year, a 20-million fund is being created to support investments and imports for local development. I won’t take long with this, it’s about, and every province knows the amount it has. I believe Camagüey has 1.1 million. Yesterday we discussed it with the provincial leaders and everybody knows. We are waiting for them to present their projects.

The difference between what we are going to do during the coming year and what we do now, is that now they send us their projects, we look over them here with the bank and it’s reconciled later with the provincial commercial banks. Now the allocation is going to be made to the province and when the proposal arrives, it comes with the bank’s opinion and what we all have to do is approve it or not. I need to forewarn that what should be proposed are productive projects so that the returns generated remain in the local area, partially or totally, as is approved for each project, which is the only thing that will allow for sustainable development in the municipalities, in accordance with the guideline we have there, that enterprises subordinate to national entities contribute to municipal development.

It’s important that the [provincial and municipal] presidents work on this and present us with projects as soon as possible. The plan is projecting a fund of 20 million to try out this kind of activity, income from which will later be incorporated into municipal budgets.

The state budget: for the coming year we are indicating a deficit of 3.8%. We would have liked to stay within 3.5%, but we couldn’t do it, although we are still reviewing it.

I thought it would be good for you to know that we are not only working on this year’s plan, but that work has been done on the future prospects of the economy and these are economic models which are run in order to go about achieving a more balanced economy.

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Lucius Walker Farewell Message

The Venceremos Brigade Mourns the Loss of Our Friend Rev. Lucius Walker

We sang to him in Cuba this past summer, acknowledging and celebrating his 80th birthday. We are shocked and tremendously saddened by his sudden passing.  Let us remember the life he lived till the very end: he took the higher moral ground at all times, he was always willing to do what needed to be done, and he embraced a true openness to work in collaboration and in friendship with all those who shared in his commitment to work towards a more just world.  May we all strive to be like him.

Rev. Lucius Walker: Presente!!

The Venceremos Brigade

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Travelers who defied Cuba travel ban return to US

Participants in the 41st Venceremos Brigade walk across the Peace Bridge plaza after crossing from Fort Erie, Canada into Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday, July 26, 2010. The group of Americans who went to Cuba in defiance of the United States’ ban on most travel there, returned Monday after flying to Cuba from Toronto. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press Writer, On Monday July 26, 2010, 3:43 pm EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Twenty-nine Americans who went to Cuba in defiance of the United States’ ban on most travel there were allowed to return to American soil without incident Monday, chanting as they arrived for an end to nearly 50 years of U.S. sanctions.

The Venceremos Brigade members walked from Canada across the Peace Bridge into Buffalo, where they cleared inspection by Customs and Border Protection before being escorted from the bridge plaza by a Buffalo police officer.

None was detained, according to CBP spokesman Kevin Corsaro, who had said no one would be held unless found to have contraband or improper travel documents.

The Venceremos Brigade, a nationwide organization, has sent groups of travelers to Cuba for 41 consecutive years to protest Washington’s 48-year trade sanctions and ban on American travel.

“We don’t even have to change our signs. We can have the same signs for 50 years,” said spokeswoman Ann Sparanese, who held a placard demanding the right to travel anywhere as she awaited the group’s arrival. “But we’re not going to give up. The policy will end. It has to end, it’s so insane.”

The House Agriculture Committee voted in June to lift the ban on American travel to the island and make it easier to sell U.S. agricultural exports there, something farm-state congressmen favor. Similar measures have died in recent years over concern that lifting the ban could prop up Cuba’s communist government.

President Barack Obama has said he will not support lifting general sanctions until the Cuban government improves human rights and political freedoms.

Liz Afton, 26, said she and the others were warmly received by Cubans as they traveled the country for two weeks.

“People were able to make a distinction between us as individuals and the actions of our government,” the New York City woman said.

Upon their return, the travelers were instructed by border agents to complete questionnaires, but several said they left blank anything that might be incriminating, such as what they had purchased.

Some past travelers have received letters and fines from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. Treasury Department office charged with enforcing economic and trade sanctions. The fines have almost always been dropped when appealed.

In all, 33 people made this year’s trip. Four travelers are expected to return to the United States later.

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