Cuba and Venezuela from Bloomberg

Castro’s Doctors-for-Oil Swap With Chavez Bolsters Bush’s Foes

By Guillermo Parra-Bernal

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) — By 10 p.m. on most nights, the sea wall alongside Havana’s main drag, El Malecon, a 10-kilometer- long highway bordering the sea, is standing room only. Young Cubans listen to street musicians strumming Cuba’s slow, sensuous guajira rhythms, swig from cartons of rum and discuss politics with foreigners out of earshot of the night police patrols.

For the first time in more than 15 years, some see a better future.

Danis Díaz is one. Unemployed right now because he broke his leg working on an oil rig, he says he doesn’t expect any trouble finding a new job once he recovers. “I am optimistic,” Díaz, 24, says. “It’s the first time in years I’ve felt that way. I’m sure that new job opportunities will pop up. I hear the Venezuelans are helping.”

These are prosperous times for the economy of the Republic of Cuba, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez does indeed have a lot to do with it. Gross domestic product grew at 12 percent last year, according to Cuba’s Economy and Planning Ministry, the fastest rate since President Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and turned the island into a communist state.

Though reliable data on the Cuban economy is hard to come by, and government figures are often out of date and impossible to confirm, anecdotal evidence backs up the Cuban claims.

“The Cuban economy is doing OK,” says Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington who spent 25 years as a U.S. diplomat focusing on Cuba. “I see it moving forward. I see important improvements.” Smith last visited Cuba in September.

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