Are Fidel Castro's Days Numbered?

Written by Angelique van Engelen - 4/25/2005

Continued from page 1

Cubans changed their pesos en masse taking advantage ofrepparttar exemption ofrepparttar 135902 commission. They propped uprepparttar 135903 country's foreign exchange reserves up by more than USD1,476 million. Last month,repparttar 135904 Cuban leader revaluedrepparttar 135905 peso with 8% and people were given another chance to swaprepparttar 135906 cash they apparently still had lying around. This indicates there is a level of desperation not witnessed before.

The recent changes inrepparttar 135907 economy are believed to be evidencingrepparttar 135908 Cuban leader's despondency atrepparttar 135909 loss of hope thatrepparttar 135910 embargo is ever likely to be lifted. "Inrepparttar 135911 past two or three years, Cuban economic policy has been on a kind of seesaw; when things looked so desperate as to threatenrepparttar 135912 regime seriously with street demonstrations or acts of civil disobedience,repparttar 135913 regime grasped at a few straws of economic reform. The momentrepparttar 135914 crisis seems to have passed,repparttar 135915 government has sought to reassert control", according to Mark Falcoff, a scholar atrepparttar 135916 American Enterprise Institute.

Another sign thatrepparttar 135917 Cuban leader is serious in effecting changes to his economy is his attempt to improve people's spending power by doublingrepparttar 135918 minimum wage to around USD10 a month. To outsiders, this is more important as a sign of willingness that he is working on making real tangible changes, rather thanrepparttar 135919 measure's contents. As a measurerepparttar 135920 improved minimum wage is not really making all that much difference torepparttar 135921 average worker in this country, which has seen productivity drop to incredibly low levels mainly due to poor organizational structures.

Cubans sayrepparttar 135922 recent economic changes to benefit them are a drip inrepparttar 135923 ocean. Their economy really is atrepparttar 135924 end of its tether. Hampered by outtages in electricity, parts ofrepparttar 135925 Cuban population also do not even have access to running water. Transportation is a big problem in nearly every industry and vegetable crops more often than not are rotting away onrepparttar 135926 field.

This is not to sayrepparttar 135927 Cuban leader is not hoping for health - his wish forrepparttar 135928 trade embargo to be lifted so his country can trade withrepparttar 135929 US is an expression of this, even though it must underminerepparttar 135930 very reasons forrepparttar 135931 Cuban revolution.

In estimating how people are likely to cope inrepparttar 135932 near future, withrepparttar 135933 Cuban system that impoverishes and controls every aspect of their lives, there are two options. The short answer is in this case more correct thanrepparttar 135934 long one; it simply doesn't. The highly controlled dictatorship rule which does not allow for anyone to speak their mind might however have seen its better days, even ifrepparttar 135935 people of Cuba are unlikely to effect this.

The long answer looks to be as slow as it is long. It is real change. If this is coming about it might just be very slow and prone to misinterpretation from all sides. Even though corruption will be taken for positive moves and vice versa, it is well worth keeping up with what's going on in this country.

It is likely that evenrepparttar 135936 staunch anti capitalist Castro who abhorrsrepparttar 135937 workings of market rule, is not entirely able to avoid introducing some capitalist elements into his country's economy. The fact that in contrast to over a decade ago,repparttar 135938 recent Cuban decree barring use of dollars inrepparttar 135939 Cuban economy, falls short of penalisingrepparttar 135940 possession of dollars as well could be taken for a sign. As a matter of fact, anyone who has an official dollar bank account will be "fully guaranteed" byrepparttar 135941 central bank. Andrepparttar 135942 funds can be withdrawn inrepparttar 135943 form of greenbacks orrepparttar 135944 local currency at any date without charge, according to Joseph Potts.

The convertible peso is mainly aimed at established businesses inrepparttar 135945 country which are compelled to conduct trades in pesos rather than dollars. The currency ban also affects cash remittances and tourism.

The government also announced that Cuban state companies would have to sellrepparttar 135946 central bank any hard currency received from exports or domestic sales.

It is estimated that annually, some USD1 billion is sent to Cuba fromrepparttar 135947 US. The 10% commission fee on dollar conversions are likely to make Cubans remitting cash back to Cuba to change dollars into Euros or Swiss Francs prior to sending them on. The move that is aimed at hurtingrepparttar 135948 US dollar, but which is also enrichingrepparttar 135949 leadership ofrepparttar 135950 country atrepparttar 135951 same time.

Castro is hoping that forcingrepparttar 135952 population to depend onrepparttar 135953 home currency might also help domestic investment which is so low that companies are almost invariably unable to raise enough capital to keep their operations afloat. This leads to a high number of unfinished investment projects, excess productive capacity (factories forced to close or work only a few days or hours per week) due to lack of raw materials and supplies, progressive deterioration ofrepparttar 135954 industrial base, as well as major transportation problems for workers.

The transportation and communications infrastructure is in shambles and continues to deteriorate. Impoverishment and environmental degradation are spreading. There is a huge and widening housing shortage. The only good commodity Cuba has are its people, who often turn out to be surprisingly well-educated even though their educational system is highly ideologically tinted.

There is a lack of almost everything in Cuba and this is translated in a scarcety of domestic financial assets in which people can save without throwing their money away. Hencerepparttar 135955 huge amounts of dollars that were changed last year, which dwarfedrepparttar 135956 country's second largest foreign exchange earner, tourism, which brings in little more than USD2 million a year and is relied on heavily.

What remains a mystery hidden beneathrepparttar 135957 restrictions on freedom of speech is whyrepparttar 135958 Cubans are so keen forrepparttar 135959 Americans to lift their embargo. It is no doubt likely that once US companies are allowed to trade with Cuban companies,repparttar 135960 first effect will be tonnes of US tourists floodingrepparttar 135961 Caribbean beaches. One can't help but deduct thatrepparttar 135962 revolution's original goal of gettingrepparttar 135963 Yanquis out of Cuba somehow is conveniently being forgotten. Perhapsrepparttar 135964 next phase inrepparttar 135965 relationship betweenrepparttar 135966 US and Cuba is going to be entitled 'Cuba-US, geriatric harkings' - Ifrepparttar 135967 Cuban people don't rise up first, that is.

Angelique van Engelen is a former Middle East correspondent and currently runs a writing agency She also participates in a writing ring

The Repercussions Of Bringing Former Terrorists To Mainstream Politics

Written by Angelique van Engelen

Continued from page 1
Some viewrepparttar moves ofrepparttar 135901 radicalists to mainstream politics as a positive transformation and it is surely to be hoped thatrepparttar 135902 organizations involved inrepparttar 135903 decades-long strife inrepparttar 135904 region that are now close to becoming involved in mainstream politics, will ultimately disarm. Yet their popularity might be evidencing real hardship onrepparttar 135905 ground. Aside from what’s drivingrepparttar 135906 islamist vote, Israel’s reaction to a possible Hamas inclusion intorepparttar 135907 PA might not be favorable and it might be unwilling to negotiate with Hamas leaders. But then, this might not turn out to berepparttar 135908 case. Prime Minister Sharon who is said by some to favor a peace process that is open ended might think he has a better negotiating partner in a Hamas partipated PA. It is also going to be interesting what is going to be happening with Hizbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah leaders have expressed opposition to disarmament that’s as strong asrepparttar 135909 the Palestinian Hamas leaders. So far, this issue,repparttar 135910 groups’ status as terrorist and their unwillingness to recognize Israel as a state has always deterred countries likerepparttar 135911 US to deal with them as mature political entities. This is changing. Word inrepparttar 135912 diplomatic corridors has it thatrepparttar 135913 State Department might acquiesce in Hizballah's entry into Lebanese politics if it abandons terrorism and severs its political and operational ties with Syria. This US recognition of Hizballah could serve as a precedent for US acceptance of a political role for Hamas.

So far it looks like every major move thatrepparttar 135914 islamist groups make by definition will continue to go accompanied with pledges to hold onto arms. But one ought to bear in mind that oftenrepparttar 135915 public rhetoric is different than any private action. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, recently reiterated that his group will not give up their weapons. In an interview with Reuters he said that his party will keep its weapons and will not give it up, noting that this decision is because ofrepparttar 135916 continued Israeli occupation andrepparttar 135917 risks of occupation against his country. He even snubbedrepparttar 135918 UN, saying that its Security Council resolution demanding Hizbullah to hand over its weapons is ‘meaningless’ and ‘of no value’.

Meanwhile, in Iraq Al Qaeda’s Jordanian-born leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi also recently publicly rejected a call fromrepparttar 135919 new Iraqi president for militants to lay down their arms. Callingrepparttar 135920 new Iraqi leader President Jalal Talabani an agent ofrepparttar 135921 US and Jews,repparttar 135922 rebels said they would continue their strife until Sharia law was established inrepparttar 135923 country and never forgiverepparttar 135924 leader for his "infidelity" and "spilling ofrepparttar 135925 blood of Muslims". It is not clear whetherrepparttar 135926 statement, posted on a website used by Islamist militants is authentic. It is a smack inrepparttar 135927 face however of Mr Talabani, who has been quite lenient to those Iraqi’s who have taken to violence overrepparttar 135928 past few years, saying a peaceful solution should be found with Iraqis who were ‘led astray’ by terrorism. He even invited them in to participate inrepparttar 135929 democratic process and offered some convicted terrorists an amnesty.

Angelique van Engelen is a freelance writer who's lived in the Middle East for over three years. She runs, a writing agency based in the Netherlands. She also contributes to a writing ring

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