Thursday, October 28, 2004


Afghanistan--have we really helped?

Have we really helped much in Afghanistan? Or did we do our job of getting rid of the Taliban and then basically abandon the country? Which, from my readings in various history books, we seem to do quite a lot, this help-then-abandon thing...
Grisly leap at freedom for Afghan wivesFaced with restrictions and violence, many opt for self-immolation
By Keith B. Richburg
The Washington Post
Updated: 7:46 a.m. ET Oct. 28, 2004

HERAT, Afghanistan - Zahara Mohamedi decided she couldn't take it anymore.

Last year, when she was 18, her family sold her for the equivalent of about $1,200 into a forced marriage with a man she had never met. She moved from the city to a village, where her new husband never allowed her to leave the house. She was treated as little more than a servant, taking orders from her in-laws — even from an 11-year-old girl.

Eight months ago, Mohamedi poured cooking oil over her head and chest and announced that she was going to set herself on fire. Her in-laws dared her to. They beat her and held her. She broke free and lit a match, immediately engulfing her face and upper body in flames.

"It was a kind of protest against the pressure," said Mohamedi, who survived the ordeal but carries its scars — her left arm is badly burned and her chin is bound to her chest by her own skin.

"I didn't care about my life," she said, speaking quickly and softly, tugging at the beige shawl that covers her disfigured features. "If I was killed, I would be free of him. If I survived, I would be free of him, too."

For Afghan women, many restrictions remainMohamedi's story is hardly unique here in westernmost Afghanistan, where, three years after the fall of the Taliban, women remain subject to many legal, religious and cultural restrictions and domestic violence is endemic. So far this year, at least 180 women and girls have been taken to the rudimentary burn ward in Herat's hospital. More than 100 have died.

All are believed to be victims of self-immolation, though many, in the presence of their husbands or relatives, later deny they were attempting suicide and blame their injuries on cooking accidents. The majority of them, like Mohamedi, have been in their teens or mid-twenties, sold into forced marriages and victims of constant abuse.

Last year, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, using records from the burn unit, recorded 300 suspected cases of women and girls setting themselves on fire; more than 80 percent of them died.

The commission says the actual number of women who have resorted to self-immolation is far higher than what is reflected in hospital records. In addition to those taken to the hospital, many more may be dying in isolated villages, rights workers say.

"Why does it happen? Because of poverty in society," said Qazy Ghulam Nabi Hakak, the Herat regional program manager for the human rights commission. "The families that can't survive engage their young daughters to older men. ... Another problem is the tradition of the people.

Conservative families don't allow their women to sit with men, to work with men in an office or to walk open-faced from their houses. Women feel like they are in prison, and under that pressure, they commit suicide."

Conservatism in rural areas

Herat province, which borders Iran, is more religiously conservative than many parts of Afghanistan. In rural areas, men expect women to stay indoors or to cover themselves with burqas when they venture outside.

Conditions for women improved after the Taliban was toppled in 2001, but "advances were tempered by growing government repression of social and political life," according to a report issued by Human Rights Watch late the following year.

Ismail Khan, a powerful faction leader who governed Herat before and after Taliban rule, imposed many of his own restrictions on women. "Ismail Khan has created an atmosphere in which government officials and private individuals believe they have the right to police every aspect of women's and girls' lives: how they dress, how they get around town, what they say," said Human Rights Watch's Zama Coursen-Neff in the report she co-authored. "Women and girls in Herat expected and deserved more when the Taliban were overthrown."

Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed Khan from the Herat governorship. But popular reaction to the move did not suggest widespread support for the lifting of social constraints. A mob stormed the human rights commission's office on women's affairs and set it on fire, destroying files and computers.

Busy burn wardLast Sunday, there were 10 burn victims in the Herat hospital's burn ward, all women, the youngest a 14-year-old. Nosh Afreen, a female physician, said 10 cases amounted to a slow day. Sometimes, she said, "we don't have one empty bed."

"Most of the women who want to commit suicide use this method," Afreen explained. "Actually, the women aren't aware of any other method to commit suicide. If they wanted to take pills, they don't know how many pills to take. So this is the only method they know."

As she spoke, a burn victim arrived, covered by a blue burqa, leaning on the arm of her husband and limping badly. When her husband saw a foreign journalist and his interpreter, he muttered, in an agitated voice: "These women ought to learn to be more careful when they're cooking!"

Later, the woman, 25, sat in a bed in the burn ward with most of her face swathed in gauze, only her eyes visible, and an intravenous drip in her arm. When questioned, her husband said that she had been preparing a meal in a pressure cooker when it exploded.

Afreen and members of the Human Rights Commission said husbands and other relatives of women who survive suicide attempts often try to cover up what happened out of shame and fear of criminal prosecution. In most self-immolation cases, police respond and file a report.
Afreen said that, despite the investigations, "nothing happens."

A typical story

In many ways, Mohamedi's story is typical.

She was born in Iran to parents who were refugees from western Afghanistan. They returned to Herat even before fall of the Taliban. The family was poor, with five girls and a boy. Her father tried to make ends meet by selling whatever he could find from a wheelbarrow. Mohamedi's education ended after the seventh grade.

Last year, a distant relative came with an offer: Two young men from a village an hour away would purchase her and her younger sister, then 15, to be their wives. When the money was paid, there was a lavish double wedding.

"Nobody asked me what I wanted to do, or did I like him or not," Mohamedi said. "When I found out they had engaged me to him, I said okay, if it's my family's wish, I'll do it for them."

From the beginning, she recalled, her life was hell. She was forbidden from going outside, even to see her younger sister, who lived 20 minutes away, or her mother in Herat. Her husband beat her regularly, sometimes for no reason, but most often for asking to leave the house.

Her in-laws, she said, were worse. She was treated like the family servant. At one point, her mother-in-law told her to take orders from her 11-year-old sister-in-law. "You should serve her like a servant," Mohamedi recalled the woman telling her. "Whatever she wants, you should do it."

Mohamedi constantly warned her husband that she was thinking of killing herself. But he only laughed, she said, and encouraged her.

"He thought I was just joking," she said. "I didn't know how to commit suicide. He was encouraging me, saying, 'Why not just burn yourself?' "

One night after dinner, she served tea to her father-in-law, returned to the kitchen, poured cooking oil over herself and set herself ablaze.

The family at first refused to take her to the hospital, instead placing her on a bed and fanning her scorched body. It was only when her sister found out what happened and came, and neighbors gathered outside, that the family took her to Herat's burn ward. At first, the in-laws said she had been in a cooking accident — that her scarf caught fire. But her mother, Sharifa Ghulani, said she started screaming until she learned the truth.

Mohamedi spent 23 days in the burn ward. While there, she said, she saw 56 other women, all of whom had done the same thing. The youngest, she said, was 13.

She and her sister are now divorced from their abusive husbands. Mohamedi said she feels bad about her appearance but that her scars may serve as a lesson.

"It's not only a lesson for my younger sisters," she said. "It's also a lesson for all of our relatives and neighbors."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Human rights groups outraged over arrest of priest

A Catholic priest has been arrested in Haiti, sparking outrage among human rights groups:

Rights groups denounce arrest of Haitian priest
By Michael Kamber The New York Times
Posted October 26 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti · Human rights groups in Haiti and abroad are protesting the detention of the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a well-known Roman Catholic priest and vocal supporter of the former Aristide government who was arrested Oct. 13 at his Port-au-Prince soup kitchen and accused of involvement in a wave of violence that has claimed more than 50 lives in recent weeks. During Jean-Juste's arrest, three children were wounded by police, according to witnesses and investigators.

"We consider the arrest arbitrary; it was purely political," said Morisseau Jean Rony of the Lawyer's Committee for Respect of Individual Liberty in Port-au-Prince. Amnesty International said recently that Jean-Juste "may have been detained solely for his political views and his political affiliation."

The Haitian government has denied that the arrest was politically motivated. Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said that Jean-Juste's name has been "associated with" those behind the recent violence in which 10 police officers have been killed. Other government officials have alleged that Jean-Juste organized meetings of chimères, the armed militias that have battled the police and are calling for the return of Aristide, who was forced into exile earlier this year.

Jean-Juste has been charged with disorderly conduct, which carries a maximum fine of 15 gourdes, or about 40 cents. Supporters say he is being held in indefinite detention. He has not been brought before a judge and no date has been set for his arraignment.

Jean-Juste is the former director of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami and was a prominent spokesman for Haitians during the 1970s and 1980s when he was in exile from the Duvalier and military governments in Haiti. He returned to Haiti in 1991 and became pastor of Ste. Claire's Catholic Church, where masked police officers arrived Oct. 13 during the twice weekly feeding of 600 children.

Witnesses describe scenes of mayhem as the police searched for the priest. Children screamed as officers smashed windows and doors, eventually locating the priest and dragging him from the rectory through a broken window.


More countries send help to Haiti

Yes, I am obsessed with Haiti, and always have been. This is the latest, and it's from a U.S. government website:

Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Morocco Reinforcing U.N. Mission in Haiti

U.N. says reinforcements "badly needed" in Haiti

By Eric GreenWashington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Chile and Ecuador will send a joint engineering company to Haiti to reinforce a United Nations stabilization mission in the Caribbean country, the U.N. announced.

In an October 22 statement, the U.N. said the engineering company will help in the construction, maintenance, and/or upgrade of major supply routes for the stabilization mission, known as MINUSTAH. Among other tasks, the engineering company will also build and maintain infrastructure.

The U.N. also said troops from Spain and Morocco are heading to Haiti to participate in MINUSTAH, while 70 Guatemalan soldiers have started deploying Guatemala's major equipment, which will be fully operational and able to help the mission in early November. In addition, the main body of a 750-member battalion from Sri Lanka will be arriving by the end of October, the U.N. said.

The U.N. said 95 police officers from China arrived in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince October 17 to join the MINUSTAH police unit. The police unit's main role is to help in crowd control, assist in the maintenance of public order, and participate in patrols and conduct verification check-points. Besides the officers from China, police officers in the MINUSTAH mission are from Nepal, Pakistan, and Jordan.

The new arrivals in Haiti will boost the number of personnel in MINUSTAH to about 4,100 people, the U.N. said. The U.N. expressed its hope that at full strength, MINUSTAH -- led by Brazil -- will have a force of 6,700 troops and 1,622 civilian police, 548 international civilian personnel, 154 U.N. volunteers, and 995 local civilian staff. More than 15 countries have pledged to contribute military personnel to the mission.

The additional personnel are "badly needed," said MINUSTAH official Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, reflecting on the latest political violence, instability, and natural disasters which have racked Haiti in the last several months. During that time, more than 50 people have died in political violence, while nearly 2,000 were killed and hundreds more remain missing due to floods caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

MINUSTAH's Kongo-Doudou called for U.N. member states to "continue to support Haiti by sending in more troops and civilian police."

MINUSTAH took over responsibility in Haiti from a U.S.-led multinational interim peacekeeping force that was sent to the country following the February 29 resignation of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Among its tasks, MINUSTAH is charged with establishing a secure and stable environment; fostering democratic governance and institutional development; assisting Haiti's transitional government in organizing free and fair municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections as soon as possible; strengthening the rule of law; and supporting the country's human rights institutions and groups.


Troops/aid to Haiti

Here are some examples of other nations that are doing whatever they can to help in Haiti. I find the names of these countries to be extremely interesting, because when you think of wealthy nations, the names of Nicaragua and Morocco do not normally come at the top of your list, I wouldn't think...

Nicaragua considers sending troops to Haiti

MANAGUA,10/23 - Nicaragua is considering sending a military contingent to Haiti for humanitarian mission, but a final decision will depend on the funds collected, Defense Minister Jose Guerra said Friday.

"We're considering the possibility of sending a contingent of the Nicaraguan army to contribute to keeping peace and stability in that region of the Caribbean, but we have to make it clear that we'll only be able to decide about our participation in the mission if we get external funding to finance the operation," Guerra said.

If sufficient funds were collected from international cooperation, Guerra said, Nicaragua will join other Central American countries in sending troops for the peace-keeping efforts carried out by the United Nations in Haiti.

Several Latin American countries have sent troops to Haiti, where they are collaborating in providing health care for civilians and guaranteeing the delivery of food aid in a country affected by both political crisis and natural disaster.

Nicaragua contributed troops to Iraq, sending sappers, doctors and nurses, who remained in the Arab country for a relatively long period.


Morocco sends military contingent to Haiti

Rabat, Morocco, 10/23 - A contingent of troops from the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) of Morocco Friday departed Agadir, 600 km south of here, for Haiti to join the UN stabilisation mission in that country.

The mission is helping the country's transitional government hold elections and establish democratic institutions.

Prince Moulay Rachid, younger brother of King Mohammed VI, read the King`s message indicating that the decision to send Moroccan troops to Haiti under the aegis of the UN was "an act of international solidarity".

He said the Moroccan presence in Haiti was a commitment to "the defence of human ideals and values, which is also part of the ancient traditions of our civilisation".

"We see the dispatching of your contingent as a new golden page adding to those previously written by FAR in Congo, Somalia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Côte d'Ivoire.

"On each of those fronts, the Moroccan soldier confirmed his courage and dignity, and proved his capacity to harmoniously adjust to the external environment. He was also able to fit into different forms of organisation while fully complying with legality and security norms," the monarch said.

The military attaché and general consul of Spain in Morocco attended the FAR departure ceremony.

Last July, Morocco and Spain agreed to deploy joint troops as part of the UN stabilisation mission in Haiti.

The Moroccan contingent is also carrying humanitarian aid for the Haitian people, according to the Moroccan News Agency.

Mandated by the UN Security Council resolution 1542, the Haitian mission will comprise 6,700 blue helmets and 1,600 policemen under the command of a Brazilian General.


Mexico and France to aid Haiti

Mexico City, Mexico, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Mexico and France will implement a humanitarian agreement to provide Haiti with sanitary and policy resources, the Mexican foreign minister said Friday.

Luis Ernesto Derbez, during a visit to France for the third binational meeting between France and Mexico in Paris, said that both countries have decided "to work jointly with Colombia and Venezuela" on a project slated to improve the health sector and the formation of health policies in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The program is planned to last four or five years and will focus on rebuilding hospitals training doctors and nurses, Derbez said.

According to the Mexican constitution, the country cannot participate in international peace missions or the dispatch of troops to countries in conflict or post-conflict, though the Haiti aid does not count as any of these. This law is considered a disadvantage for Mexico when the United Nations is considering an eventual widening of the Security Council to include new countries.


Canadian business mission in Haiti

Fri Oct 22,12:54 PM ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - Businessmen representing a dozen Canadian companies are in Haiti, battered by floods, riots and a change in government, to rebuild the Caribbean nation's infrastructure, a trade group said.

"Several letters of understanding and agreements will be signed with private and public Haitian entities," said Marie-France Lebreton of the Francophone Business Forum, an network of 55 member countries to exchange information on business opportunities.

The trade mission of businessmen from Quebec and New Brunswick began Tuesday and ends Saturday.

"These companies are specialized in road infrastructure, telecommunications, energy, urban planning, waste disposal, sustainable development, agroindustry, manufacturing, fishing, fish farming, the environment, renewable energy, water treatment, education and training," Lebreton said.

The mission is the first since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide was driven from office on February 29. However, the forum has held meetings and work sessions with government officials, notably with Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and trade minister Danielle Saint Lot.

Canada's ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher, and Latortue presided over the founding of a Haitian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, headed by Haitian Robert Tippenhauer.
Haiti's prime minister gave the trade mission a warm welcome, saying "It is trying times that one finds out who one's true friends are."


Find a way to help

This is a great article, full of hope. But, like I said, where will the violence actually end? And as Americans, what should we be doing to help? Because there is absolutely no question in my mind that we must help. We are one of the wealthiest nations on this planet, and people are starving while we grow fat on fast-food burgers. The article below shows what every true Christian could do to help--even a monetary donation to organizations like UNICEF would help. The United Nations isn't our enemy, no matter what Dubya says, and they are trying almost single-handedly to pull Haiti back from the brink of destruction. Get involved, if not in Haiti then pick a country, because there are plenty that need your help (including the homeless in our own country). Ethiopia is still starving, despite Bob Geldof's efforts 20 years ago this year, for instance. Get involved--as a human being, how can you not?

Merciful Mission In Haiti
Published: Oct 23, 2004

PALMA CEIA - In one of the poorest villages in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, there's no electricity and no running water.

Many homes are built with mud and sticks, their tin roofs tied down with twine.
There are hundreds of faces in the village hospital, a simple block structure that serves as a clinic.

But the Rev. John DeBevoise, pastor of Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, said their plight doesn't shatter the spirit of the roughly 35,000 people in and near Mombin Crochu, Haiti. They still smile. They still laugh. They still love.

Several South Tampa residents, including DeBevoise and some of his parishioners, spent nine days in Mombin Crochu in September to help in the clinic.

"When we go, people live who would die otherwise,'' DeBevoise said.

The 10-member crew included a surgeon, a cardiologist and an X-ray technician. Eight had been to the village before and knew to bring hiking boots and other practical items.

They treated patients from early morning until dark.

"It's terribly rewarding to go there and see the thanks on the faces of the people,'' said Charlie Stevens, a 75-year-old member of Palma Ceia Presbyterian who has traveled to Haiti 15 times to help.

The church sent two groups to Haiti this year, two last year and one the year before. For about 10 years, it has sponsored missions ranging from providing medical care to digging wells.
A medical trip scheduled for November was postponed because the U.S. government is advising against travel to Haiti due to concerns about violence.

Tim Lorenzen, an ophthalmologist from Palma Ceia who planned to go on next month's trip, said he likely will go when those concerns diminish. Lorenzen said no ophthalmologist has been to the village in two years.

"We're not going there for vacation,'' he said. "We're going there to help the people.''

The clinic generally has three physicians present--a veteran doctor and two recent medical school graduates. It is operated by the Medical Benevolence Foundation, a private foundation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA.

This year, DeBevoise said, the clinic might have a surgeon present a total of two weeks. With so many people requiring surgery and such antiquated equipment available, surgeons must be discerning about who they treat.

DeBevoise said every time he leaves Mombin Crochu he feels tremendous gratitude for living in the United States.

"It's fairly medieval,'' he said.

For information or to make a donation, call Palma Ceia Presbyterian at
(813) 253-6047, Ext. 227, or visit the Web at
Reporter Josh Poltilove can be reached at (813) 835-2105


Haiti continues to disintegrate

The violence in Haiti just continues to grow, prowling the streets like a lion on the hunt. Many countries have sent or are sending aid to Haiti, but you have to wonder just how long this tinderbox can smolder before it catches fire and explodes into war.

Peacekeepers move in on Haitian militants
Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Using armored cars and earth movers, U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police moved into an area early Sunday controlled by militants loyal to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, protecting workers removing burned out cars used as road blocks.

One police officer was shot and killed, said Brazilian Col. Luiz-Felipe Carbonell, apparently in early resistance that ended when scores of troops moved in.

The chant of hymns wafted from church services and a U.N. helicopter roared overhead as the operation got under way in Bel Air, an area of concrete homes on a hill overlooking the National Palace.

Dozens of Brazilian troops and police arrived two days after the government said it would root out gangs that have blockaded areas of certain neighborhoods.

On Friday, interim President Boniface Alexandre called the gangs "terrorists" and urged people in several troubled neighborhoods to cooperate with authorities to "expel these bandits."

Sunday's operation began at 5 a.m. and continued through the morning, becoming the first to last several hours in Bel Air since troubles began Sept. 30. Previous incursions into the neighborhood were brief because gunmen fired on authorities.

Violence has left some 56 people dead in recent weeks, including the officer killed Sunday.
Daniel Moskaluk, a spokesman for an international police force training Haitian officers, said Jordanian and Haitian riot police would remain in the neighborhood. He said his group would help set up a permanent Haitian police station.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has defended the government's decision to aggressively root out the pro-Aristide street gangs it blames for the violence.

Peacekeepers used a sledgehammer to knock down a second-story wall of a corner building in Bel Air that Gen. Americo Salvador said was used by snipers.

A bulldozer pushed burnt out cars down Rue Macajoux to the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where front loaders lifted them into garbage trucks. Graffiti scrawled across a church wall said, "Return Aristide" and "Long live Aristide."

Aristide fled Feb. 29, accused of corruption. He left Haiti on a U.S.-chartered plane as ex-soldiers leading a bloody rebellion neared Port-au-Prince.

Now in South Africa, Aristide has accused the United States of orchestrating his ouster and insists he remains Haiti's democratically elected leader. The United States denies his charges.
One officer in Bel Air struck the butt of a young woman several times as she walked down the street and crowded her into an alley where a group of officers giggled. He let her go when he saw a journalist watching.

Asked why he had done that, the officer said the woman's husband had been seen firing at police and that he wanted her to tell him where the man was.

Human rights lawyer Renan Hedouville said Sunday that his organization has received reports of women and young girls being raped in many of the troubled areas in Port-au-Prince, with the most reports coming from Bel Air. Many of the reports involve former Haitian soldiers who helped oust Aristide, he said.

At the top of Rue Macajoux, a group of young men jeered at police officers, calling them "bandits."

"All we want is to have President Aristide returned," said Aristide Carlo, a 20-year-old student. "The police accuse us of terrorism, but it is they who are the bandits."

One fearful family peered from behind a door in Bel Air. A woman, who said she was scared to give her name said she locks her doors at 6 p.m. every evening because bandits start shooting. She said the youngest of her four children — a 3-year-old — trembled each time gunshots crackled.

The woman, a widow, said she has resorted to prostitution to make ends meet, but the recent violence has prevented her from going out at night. With less than $1 left, she said her family has only bread, sugar and water to eat.

"All our neighbors have run away," she said. "We would run away too if we had somewhere to go."


Cuba in bid to rid itself of U.S. dollar

Cuba has now said that the U.S. dollar is no longer legal tender in that nation. I wonder what, if anything, this forebodes...

Cuba Moves to Stop Trade in U.S. Dollars
Mon Oct 25,11:07 PM ET
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer

HAVANA - Cuba announced Monday that U.S. dollars will no longer be accepted at businesses and stores on the communist island starting next month in a move that will radically change the way cash transactions have been done there over the past decade.

The resolution by Cuba's Central Bank seemed aimed at finding new sources for foreign reserves as the U.S. government steps up efforts to prevent dollars from reaching the island as part of a strategy to undermine Fidel Castro's government. Cuba's national currency, the peso, cannot be used with international partners.

"Beginning on November 8, the convertible peso will begin to circulate in substitution of the dollar throughout the national territory," Castro said in a written message read by his chief aide Carlos Valenciaga.

In his message, Castro asked Cubans to tell relatives living abroad to send them money in other foreign currencies, such as euros, British sterling or Swiss francs.

The U.S. dollar has been a primary form of currency in Cuba since the early 1990s, when the island government was forced to implement liberal reforms to cope with the loss of Soviet aid and trade. The possession of dollars was legalized in 1993 to draw hard currency from tourism and from family purchases at state stores.

The move announced Monday was likely to hurt mostly those Cubans who receive American dollars from relatives living in the United States.

Cubans and others on the island can still hold dollars in unlimited quantities and can change them into pesos before the new policy takes effect. But they will have to pay a 10 percent charge to exchange dollars afterward while there will be no such charge for other currencies.

"In the short term, there may be a slip in the remittances," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which tracks business between the two countries. Some estimates on annual remittances to Cuba are as high as $1 billion.

But Kavulich predicting Cuban Americans would resume sending money ahead of the holiday season.

He added that the timing of the announcement appeared to be aimed at influencing the U.S. presidential election in favor of Democratic nominee John Kerry.

"The Cuban government is hoping that Kerry will win and that by announcing this a week before the election it will keep Cuba in the news and relevant," Kavulich said.

The government said the change is necessary to protect its economy as the Bush administration seeks to punish banks and businesses that ship American dollars to Cuba, which has been under an U.S. trade and financial embargo for more than 40 years.

Those U.S. measures, which went into effect this summer, were designed to reduce hard currency on the island by limiting how often Cuban-Americans can visit relatives, decreasing how much they can spend, and prohibiting money transfers to Cuban officials and Communist Party members.

Castro looked animated, despite the bright blue sling he sported over his olive green uniform to support a broken right arm. Castro has made a point of remaining involved in government affairs since accidentally falling Wednesday at a speech, also shattering his left kneecap.
Cuba also has been seeking to draw attention to a U.N. General Assembly vote scheduled for Thursday on condemning America's trade embargo against the communist nation.

The measure was tied to the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision in May to fine Switzerland's largest bank, UBS AG, $100 million for allegedly sending American dollars to Cuba, Libya, Iran and the former Yugoslavia in violation of U.S. sanctions against those countries. UBS agreed to pay the fine without admitting the allegations.

Cuba also blamed stepped up American sanctions against the island in May when it increased prices from 10 percent to 30 percent on everything from cigarettes and cooking oil to refrigerators.

In another move aimed at capturing more foreign currency for government reserves, Cuban state companies last year stopped conducting business with each other in U.S. dollars. Any hard currency received from exports or sales had to then be sold to the central bank.

The U.S. embargo was imposed in 1963 in the wake of Castro's defeat of the CIA-backed assault at the Bay of Pigs two years earlier. Americans are barred from traveling to the Caribbean island nation except with a U.S. government waiver.

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