- - Monday, December 17, 2012

HAVANA — Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro has been nominated for a seat in the country’s parliament.

Sunday afternoon’s TV news broadcast announced that he heads a list of 25 names from the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. There was no indication whether he intends to accept.

Mr. Castro stepped down temporarily as president in 2006 because of a near-fatal illness and left the presidency for good in 2008. His younger brother Raul has been in charge since then.

The elder Mr. Castro spends most of his time out of the public eye and recently stopped penning his once-regular opinion columns.

The 86-year-old ended weeks of public silence this weekend by issuing a letter to a gathering of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) bloc of Latin American nations. In it, he praised ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba.

Oil rig arrives for new exploration

HAVANA — A Norwegian-owned platform arrived in waters off Cuba’s north-central coast for exploratory drilling by the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft, authorities said Saturday, renewing the island’s search for petroleum after three wells failed this year.

Drilling is to begin “in the coming days” and take six months, according to a notice published by the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The depth of the project was given as 21,300 feet.

The state-run oil company Cubapetroleo said in the announcement that the Songa Mercur rig, owned by Songa Offshore of Norway, was inspected to make sure it contains less than 10 percent U.S.-made parts. That allows the companies involved in the drilling to avoid sanctions under the 50-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The exploration block in question, near the gleaming beaches of a major tourist resort, is considered less promising than offshore areas to the west where earlier this year a super-deep-water platform drilled three wells deemed commercially nonviable.

The Scarabeo-9, a huge semisubmersible rig owned by Italy’s Saipem, left Cuban waters last month after sinking the three dud wells, and analysts said it could be years before drilling resumed in those deep-water blocks.

Geologic surveys say 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil may lie off Cuba’s coast. Island authorities hope there may be even more and have been banking on a big strike.

PARAGUAY

Farmers charged over land killings

ASUNCION — Paraguayan prosecutors filed charges Sunday against eight of the 14 farmers allegedly involved in a land dispute that left 17 people dead at a soy farm.

Politicians opposed to then-President Fernando Lugo seized on the deadly clash on June 15 to oust him for “mismanaging” the land conflict.

Prosecutor Jalil Rachid said in a news conference that the charges include land invasion, criminal association and murder.

But Mr. Rachid said it’s still not clear who fired on the police officers when farmers occupied a soy farm in Curuguaty, about 200 miles from the capital, Asuncion.

Six of those killed were police, and 11 were farmers.

Vicente Morales, a lawyer for the accused, told The Associated Press that Mr. Rachid’s murder charges have no basis because he couldn’t specify who killed the six policemen or who started the shootout.

The dispute that set up the deadly clash goes back decades.

Peasants allege that the land was stolen from the state by Sen. Blas Riquelme, a leader of the Colorado Party, which supported dictator Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989 and has dominated the nation’s politics ever since.

Riquelme, who died of a stroke in September at age 82, took over the property in 1964, benefiting from a Stroessner law that granted free title to any adult male willing to farm fallow land.

So many military officers, politicians and businessmen took advantage of the law that by the end of the dictatorship, all of Paraguay’s rural state-owned land was in private hands.

Local farmers challenged Riquelme’s claim, but after eight years of legal wrangling, the peasants lost patience and invaded a portion of the 135-square-mile ranch in May.

Mr. Morales, the lawyer, said land-invasion accusations must be discussed further because the justice system has not granted a property title yet to Riquelme’s heirs.

CHILE

More than 200 treated for food poisoning

SANTIAGO — More than 200 people are being treated for food poisoning in Chile after eating hot dogs during an outing at a park.

Local media in the South American nation said the adults and children ate spoiled sausages or bad mayonnaise during the affair, organized by a family benefit fund.

It was held at a park in San Jose de Maipo, a town about 30 miles southeast of the capital, Santiago.

The sick were being treated at local hospitals. Some children have been released, but others were being held for observation.

VENEZUELA

Opposition: Vice president broke election rules

CARACAS — Venezuela’s vice president has urged supporters to vote for President Hugo Chavez’s allies in gubernatorial elections, while opponents call that a blatant violation of electoral law.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro implored voters: “Let’s not fail Chavez.”

He addressed those who hadn’t cast ballots yet, saying “let’s not make a bad impression with our commander Chavez.”

Mr. Maduro spoke at a news conference while polls were open during Sunday’s elections.

The opposition said his remarks violated a prohibition on campaigning on election day, and they called for the National Electoral Council to take action.

Council member Vicente Diaz called for Mr. Maduro’s news conference to be halted. It ended shortly afterward, and Mr. Maduro left without addressing the issue.

From wire dispatches and staff reports