- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CUBA

Customers mob cell-phone stores

HAVANA — Lines stretched for blocks outside phone stores yesterday as Cubans were allowed to sign up for cellular-phone service for the first time.

The contracts cost about $120 to activate — half a year’s wages on the average state salary. That doesn’t include a phone or credit to make and receive calls. Still, lines formed before the centers opened, and waits grew to more than an hour.

Cuba’s government has limited access to cell phones as well as kitchen appliances, hotels and other luxuries in an attempt to preserve the relative economic equality that is a hallmark of social life in communist Cuba.

President Raul Castro has pledged to do away these small but infuriating restrictions on daily life, and his popularity has surged as a result, defusing questions about whether his relative lack of charisma would make governing Cuba more difficult after his older ailing older brother Fidel formally stepped down in February.

The new phone contracts allow Cubans to make and receive overseas calls.

MEXICO

Leftists stall oil reform

MEXICO CITY — Leftist lawmakers erected makeshift barricades yesterday around the podium in Mexico’s lower house of Congress, where they have been camped out for days to protest the president’s oil-reform proposal.

They piled heavy chairs around the speaker’s platform, while their colleagues in the Senate began fasting to demand that Congress schedule a national debate on the energy bill backed by President Felipe Calderon.

The coordinator of Mexico’s ruling conservative party in the Senate, Santiago Creel, said yesterday it was unlikely Congress would be able to approve the bill by April 30, when the legislative session ends.

Oil production in Mexico, one of the top suppliers to the United States, is declining, and reform advocates say state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, needs outside resources to explore for reserves. The bill would allow Pemex to work with private companies for exploration and refining.

Opponents claim the bill would lead toward selling off parts of Pemex and threaten national sovereignty. Sen. Carlos Navarrete, leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party bloc, vowed disruptions would continue.

BRAZIL

Gunmen attack federal prison

SAO PAULO — Armed men firing from pickup trucks and flying in a helicopter attacked a maximum-security prison holding some of Brazil’s highest-profile inmates but were repelled by guards, authorities said yesterday. No inmates escaped.

The federal prison attacked late Sunday houses Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia and Brazilian gang leader Luiz Fernando da Costa — and authorities were investigating whether the gunmen were trying to free either of the men.

All of the attackers got away, and no one was injured.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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