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Cuba Verdad

What Miami cruise ship passengers had to do to clear Cuban security

Booths were set up in the cruise terminal
Cruisers had to walk through metal detectors
And then they were greeted with a free rum and Coke
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

HAVANA
When passengers came ashore for the inaugural voyage of Carnival Corp.'s
Fathom cruise service to Cuba, they were unsure whether they'd encounter
a thicket of red tape before they could begin exploring the city.

But the Cuban immigration and customs process passed the test with
flying colors.

"It was fast," said Emma Pendergrass, an attorney from Alameda,
California, who organized the Cuba trip for a group of 41 of her friends
from all over the United States.

The only mishap was when one member of her group couldn't find the paper
visa that Cuba requires for entry. In other countries, visas are often
attached to passports.

Despite some anxious moments and "some delay," said Pendergrass, the
woman eventually found the visa and could clear Customs.

For most passengers, the entire Customs and Immigration process took
only about 15 minutes from entering the air-conditioned Sierra Maestra
cruise terminal to passing through a metal detector.

Booths like those that travelers encounter at airports were set up in
the cruise terminal. In my case, the immigration official spent a few
minutes staring at the picture in my passport and looking at the visas
in it, but she asked me no questions before finally stamping my arrival
in the passport. That was it.

The Customs check was walking through a metal detector and putting
purses, cameras and anything travelers were carrying for the day through it.

But lines moved quickly and soon passengers were greeted with a free rum
and Coke and dance performances by several Cuban troupes. At the end of
the cavernous terminal, which was painted white and sported large travel
posters on the wall, travelers could buy souvenirs and exchange money.

After taking an elevator or a flight of stairs, they could walk directly
on to the Malecón and begin their tours.

Across the street from the terminal, a large crowd of Cubans were
waiting to greet the arrivals. They shouted welcome, snapped pictures
and high-fived the Americans before spontaneously parting and forming a
corridor so the visitors could get through.

For many of the cruise passengers, that warm greeting was one of the
high points of their first day in Havana.

"They were all high-fiving us. It was just touching and very warm and
then the way they parted the sea to let us through," Pendergrass said.

Passengers could get on and off the ship at will during the day.

It was just a simple process of showing their passports and going
through metal detectors again to regain entry.

At the gangplank of the ship, one Fathom employee checked to see if
passengers had their small plastic boarding cards and a few steps away,
another employee swiped the cards through a machine.

On the Fathom passengers' second day in Havana Tuesday, they were
scheduled to have lunch at various paladares (private restaurants) and
talk with their owners, tour the city's landmarks in an air-conditioned
coach, and visit the Plaza de la Revolución, the National Museum of Fine
Arts and neighborhood art and organic farming projects before capping
the day with shopping at the San José crafts market at the port and a
trip to the small town of Cojímar to trace the footsteps of Ernest
Hemingway.

Source: What Miami cruise ship passengers had to do to clear Cuban
security | In Cuba Today -
http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article75279602.html Continue reading
Yes, the Castros can be pressured
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | La Habana | 3 Mayo 2016 - 8:39 am.

The Castro brothers' caving in and allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to
Cuba aboard Carnival cruise ships revealed that they are vulnerable.
Despite their efforts to conceal it, it is clear that they can be
successfully pressured.

Now it is time to demand an end to the outrageous requirement that
Cubans have a visa to visit their own country, while those who have US
citizenship can travel with their US passports, as the socialist
constitution's Article 32 actually prohibits dual citizenship.

The acquiescence to the Cuban exile community in the case of Carnival
would have been unthinkable back in the days when Moscow was subsidizing
Cuba with billions of dollars a year, or during the boom days of
chavismoin Venezuela, when oil prices were sky high and the Castros were
receiving some 36 million barrels of oil and billions of dollars in
cashevery year.

But the Chaves-sponsored boon is over, and in Latin America changes are
underway that have begun to erode that scenario of plenty and to
aggravate the regime's financial situation every day, already calamitous
due to its unworkable socio-economic system.

It is true that the reason for the Castros' consent had to do with the
fact that Cuba does not have enough hotel capacity to accommodate the
flood of tourists reaching the island every day, and the Government did
not want to lose out on the money provide by a floating hotel in Havana Bay.

In addition, there is the devastating crisis in Venezuela, the
increasingly likely fall of the professor of Marxism and former pro-Che
activist Dilma Rousseff as the president of Brazil, and the rise to
power in Argentina of Mauricio Macri, marking the end of the Kirchner
era and a turning point, spelling the decline of leftist populism,
dominant in Latin America since the beginning of the century, and a
possible return to liberal democracy.

It should also be added that Evo Morales lost his referendum and may not
be reelected in Bolivia, and Peru's next president will not be a
leftist, as neither of the two candidates on the ballot for the second
round of elections there on 5 June are of this ideology.

The man from Havana, in danger

Nicolás Maduro actually lived in Cuba in the 80s and studied at the
Communist Party's Ñico López Advanced School in Havana. There he was
recruited by the Castros' intelligence division and began working for
the Departamento América, headed up by Commander Manuel Pineiro (aka
Barbarossa, or Red Beard), a coordinator of leftist terrorist groups in
Latin America, many of them trained in Cuba. That is, Maduro had
stronger personal ties to the Castroist cadre than Hugo Chávez. That's
why they requested that Maduro succeed him.

Well, apparently Maduro's days at Miraflores are numbered. And, whoever
replaces him, he won't grovel to the Cuban dictatorship like Nicolás did
– even if he is a Cháves disciple. Given the appalling crisis Venezuela
is suffering, the subsidies for Cuba are bound to decrease, or even
disappear, if the devotees of the late Chaves lose power. With these
ominous signs on the horizon, and it being clear that neither Russia,
China, Brazil or any other country is going to replace Caracas as a
patron of the Castros, they need the United States.

If the Venezuelan and Brazilian subsidies (in Brazil there are thousands
of Cuban doctors, the regime retaining 70% of their salaries) abate or
disappear, the Island's economy will depend on its northern neighbor;
that is, on remittances and packages, and Cuban and American tourism,
the only thing that can really grow, and quickly, if the embargo is
ended, which would also allow Cuba to obtain international loans, and
trade with the US.

But with all the bravado in the US Congress, it is unlikely that there
will be enough votes to lift the embargo. And there's the rub: the
insolent rhetoric of Raúl and Fidel Castro, and the entire ruling elite
at the recent VII Congress of the Communist Party lacks any economic or
political foundation – much less a moral one.

Such posturing is really just for domestic consumption. The Castros
should be pressured for them to tone it down. Sooner or later they will
have to do, and at least to recognize the basic rights of their people,
and lift existing prohibitions against self-employed and ordinary Cubans.

More vulnerable than ever

The Castros are losing, or about to lose, the political and economic
protection provided them for decades by external subsidies and their
collusion with populist Latin American governments. Never before they
have they been so vulnerable.

This is something that the White House must now realize. With both
commanders in power there will be no structural reforms in Cuba, but
they are fragile. And Obama made all the unilateral concessions he could
do as US president to placate Havana. Therefore, his administration
should change course with its accommodating policies, based on turning
the other cheek.

Castro's return to his orthodox Stalinist rhetoric also shows something
that the White House and the State Department have failed to realize:
the tactic of embracing the Castros, to infect them with democracy, is
not working.

It is true that Obama's visit to the Island frightened the dictatorial
leadership, as it showed Cubans how their dictatorship pales in
comparison to a modern Western democracy. But we have already seen their
reaction: an attempt to erase the "counterrevolutionary" effects of that
visit, to the point of paralyzing the process for the normalization of
bilateral relations.

This largely spoiled the legacy the American leader wished to leave, as
a normalizer of relations with Cuba. It is one thing to have
re-established diplomatic relations – like there were with the Soviet
Union for almost 60 years – and quite another is a return to relations
without political tension and pugnacious speeches against the United
States. This has not been achieved.

"...or the game is over."

The good intentions and optimism of Obama, the Democrats, and American
businessmen, their desire to forget the past and focus on the future of
bilateral relations, for the benefit of the Cuban people, clash with the
retrograde nature of the Castroist hierarchy, only interested in staying
in power. The welfare of Cubans has never been a priority for the
Government.

But that same civil-military elite is obliged to reach agreements with
Washington in order to continue governing. It's a question of life or
death. Of course, the regime still has enough strength left to control
and repress the Cuban people. And that should also be the focus of both
international and internal pressure.

The members of the Cuban diaspora, by demanding their right to travel to
the island by sea, also demonstrated their strength, when properly
channeled. This, and the increasing and admirable struggle of dissidents
and political opponents, constitute a formidable weapon. The able
coordination of joint efforts by these three factors could yield
additional victories against Raúl Castro and his military junta. In the
past this was not a possibility, but today it is.

And the White House should tell them, once and for all: "Move ... or the
game is over."

Source: Yes, the Castros can be pressured | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1462261199_22095.html Continue reading
The Next Day / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 2 May 2016 — The owner of the media owns the country as
well: This phrase is corroborated daily here in our "captive island." We
must make an extraordinary effort to follow radio and television
newscasts, and to try to interpret the other side of the news. It is
really an insult to the intelligence, the repetitive crass way of
manipulating information they exercise.

Of course, a large part of the population stay away from it "not to
complicate their life" but the saddest thing is that, when faced with
cameras and microphones of reporters on the streets, fear paralyzes them
and unscrupulously, they lie to "caress the official ears" and stay out
of trouble. Unfortunately this is a comfortable attitude, lacking of
civility and within their inner circles, usually express themselves
critically against the regime.

Every year on May 1st, meek like frightened lambs, they will act like
professional simulators, smiling when facing the cameras, showing off a
false joy and support for the regime and its "eternal leader," an
attitude that will change drastically when at the end of the parade,
back at home, they meet with an empty refrigerator and begin to rummage
through their meager pockets, looking for some coins in CUC (hard
currency) to buy a bag of milk powder in the "black market" to ensure a
glass of milk for next morning, for their children (if they are still in
Cuba) or for their elderly parents , aware that the present is slipping
through their hands, in a country WITH NO FUTURE.

Source: The Next Day / Rebeca Monzo – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-next-day-rebeca-monzo/ Continue reading
Mexico-Cuba Chamber formed to be ally to firms doing business on island
Published May 02, 2016 EFE

The Binational Mexico-Cuba Chamber of Commerce was created with an eye
toward being an ally to Mexican companies wanting to expand trade and
investment on the communist island at a historic moment after the
strengthening of bilateral relations.

"We're seeking to become an ally of companies in closing business
(deals). Also having greater participation in the Mexican business
sector, and not only in the export area, but also in the ...
opportunities for investment that turn up" in Cuba, the president of the
organization, Beatriz Barreto, told EFE in an interview.

In this way, the private organization, which began operations in 2015,
is seeking "to strengthen commercial relations" between nations and
foster "strategic associations" within the framework of the relaunching
of relations by the two governments in 2012, when Enrique Peña Nieto
came to power in Mexico and put an end to more than a decade of tension.

The organization functions as a civil association and received
government - although not financial - support so that it could establish
itself in just a year.

It is looking to expand its influence and last November, for example,
members of the Chamber visited Havana and signed three "important"
letters of intent in the health, culture and education sectors.

The tourism opening on the island, which was visited in March by U.S.
President Barack Obama, implies a trade benefit not only for Mexico and
other countries seeking to do business in Cuba, the head of the
organization - which has several offices in Mexico - said.

During this new phase in Mexico-Cuba diplomatic relations - which date
from 1902 and, although they have never been interrupted, have gone
through highs and lows - Barreto said she did not want to focus only on
the economic realm.

In 2014, Mexico and Cuba achieved a trade balance of $374 million, 89
percent more than a decade before, but Mexico's share of that total was
$362 million in exports. EFE

Source: Mexico-Cuba Chamber formed to be ally to firms doing business on
island | Fox News Latino -
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2016/05/02/mexico-cuba-chamber-formed-to-be-ally-to-firms-doing-business-on-island/ Continue reading
Cuba says defectors still will not be allowed to play in 2017 WBC
11:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Cuba decided to maintain its ban on baseball players who defected the
country and will not allow them to represent Cuba in the 2017 World
Baseball Classic.

Despite some encouraging sounds and the recent reopening of borders with
the United States, Cuba is not yet ready to forgive those who left for MLB.

The decision excludes big league stars such as Yasiel Puig, Aroldis
Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu from participating in the next WBC.

Antonio Becali, president of Cuba's National Institute of Sports, said
his country will be using only those players who have remained in their
native land for international events.

"Cuba will continue with our athletes. That's something we will keep as
indissoluble principle," Becali said during a news conference about
Cuba's Olympic team. "Our athletes that are within the Cuban sporting
system and our National leagues are those that will continue to
represent us at international events."

This ruling applies to all players who have defected -- not just those
who ended up in the U.S. There was an all-time high of 150 player
defections from Cuba in 2015.

Becali said Cuba will continue to work with MLB to reach an agreement
that allows players to play in the league without defecting from the
country.

Cuba participated in the three editions of the World Baseball Classic,
with its best finish coming in 2006, when Cuba lost the final to Japan
by a score of 10-6.

Source: Cuba maintains defectors will not be able to play in World
Baseball Classic -
http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/15450052/cuba-maintains-defectors-not-able-play-world-baseball-classic Continue reading
Carnival cruise from Miami arrives in Cuba
Adonia becomes first cruise to depart from US to Cuba in nearly 40 years
By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor , Associated Press , Hatzel
Vela - Reporter
Posted: 10:02 AM, May 02, 2016
Updated: 11:25 PM, May 02, 2016

HAVANA, Cuba - An historic cruise from Miami to Cuba has arrived at the
first of three Cuban cities on its voyage.

Passengers on the Adonia, a Carnival Cruise Line operating under its
Fathom brand, left PortMiami on Sunday afternoon and arrived Monday
morning in Havana.

The cruise is the first to depart from a U.S. seaport for the island
nation in nearly 40 years, restarting commercial travel on waters that
served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

Carnival's gleaming white 704-passenger Adonia became the first U.S.
cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually
all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to
Cuba only become possible again after President Barack Obama and
President Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Adonia's arrival is the first step toward a future in which
thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed
to most U.S.-Cuba traffic.

Stops are also scheduled in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba during the
seven-day cruise.

Dozens chanted "Cuba" as passengers disembarked from the Adonia.Some
Cubans could be seen waving American flags as the ship arrived at port.

Arnie Perez, a Cuban-born attorney for Carnival, was on the cruise and
shook hands with a member of the waiting Cuban delegation.


Perez and his father, who died in October, had long been waiting to
return to the island nation. He was also the first Cuban-born passenger
to disembark from the ship.

To honor his father, Perez brought his father's driver's license on the
voyage.

"He's with me," Perez said. "He's with me here."

Vickey Rey was 5-years-old when she left Cuba, a moment she still remembers.

"It was the middle of the night," she said. "We were leaving and just
looking back at the house as we were leaving...and just all of us
huddled together in the back seat of a cab."

As soon as passenger Ana Garcia, who is the city manager of North Miami
Beach, told the crowd that she was Cuban, the group erupted into cheers.

Garcia said she was thinking of the day she left Cuba 48 years ago.

"I'm blessed to be here today," she said. "I'm hoping a better tomorrow
for Cuba and my Cuban brothers and sisters."

Source: Carnival cruise from Miami arrives in Cuba -
http://www.local10.com/news/cuba/carnival-cruise-from-miami-arrives-in-cuba Continue reading
Panama prepares to transfer some 3,000 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants to Mexico

Panama has started to conduct a census of U.S.-bound Cuban migrants
stranded in that country and will soon be sending them to Mexico, where
they can resume the journey north. More than 3,000 Cuban migrants are in
Panama and the president said no more will be allowed through.
BY MARIO J. PENTÓN
staff@InCubaToday.com

Panama's Foreign Ministry has started a census count of the more than
670 Cuban migrants currently housed in the Los Planes shelter in
northern Chiriquí province, in anticipation for their expected transfer
to Mexico in coming days.

Another 3,000 Cubans, most of whom are stranded on the border with Costa
Rica, also will be allowed into the Los Planes shelter, counted and then
transferred to Mexico — the final such airlift for Cuban migrants on
trek to the United States, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said
last week.

"Once the transfer of those Cubans included in the census is completed,
those who arrive later will have to decide which country they want to
return to," Varela told local media as the country's borders shut down
to migrants in transit to the U.S. "We cannot become the logistical
support for an irregular migration route."

At least 100 Cubans making the trek are now in detention in Puerto
Obaldía, on the border with Colombia, awaiting for immigration
authorities to determine their fate. Many more Cuban migrants are likely
to face detention as they continue to travel from third countries
through Central America as part of their route to reach the U.S.-Mexico
border.

The census and relocation of migrants from hotels to the Los Planes
shelter began last week.

"This is mostly pregnant women and families with children, who should be
taken to a place that has the services they deserve," Regional Migration
Director Alfredo Cordoba said in a telephone interview, adding that the
goal is "to concentrate all the migrants in an area where their basic
necessities can be met."

Cordoba added that the more than 3,000 Cuban migrants currently in
Panama will be transferred by groups to Los Planes, where the government
has mobilized a joint task force to handle the humanitarian crisis. The
task force is made up of officials from the agencies in charge of civil
emergencies, migration, border controls and the national police.

Angel Chale, one of the stranded Cubans, said he was hopeful he would
soon resume his journey to the United States.

"I think we're at the end of the process. At least they're not still
making photocopies of our passports. That's something," said Chale, who
moved to Los Planes from an old warehouse about one mile from the border
with Costa Rica, where he slept on the floor with another 400 Cubans.

"This new place is kind of fun. We usually play baseball or dominoes or
we dance," said Leslie Jesús Barrera, who arrived with Chale to Los
Planes and said he was grateful for the treatment provided by Panama,
including medical care. "We help out when we're asked to help with some
task, but otherwise it's like camping."

GODMOTHER TO THE CUBANS

Ángela Buendía is the director of the National Civil Defense System
(Sinaproc), but the migrants at Los Planes have nicknamed her "the
godmother."

"They call me that because I identify with their needs and all of the
pain they suffered," she said.

Buendia said she learned to deal with the Cuban migrants during the
crisis that erupted in November, and since then she has sympathized with
the drama lived "by these thousands of people who have to leave their
country and often suffer intense traumas."

Although official statistics indicate that the numbers of migrants
traveling through have dropped, Buendia said the flow continues: "Each
day we receive 20 to 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriquí. That's why we
decided to prepare this shelter," she said.

Los Planes was originally built to house Swiss workers who worked on a
nearby dam.

"It's about 10 acres, with nice landscaping and all kinds of amenities,"
Buendia said. "The only prohibition is that they cannot go out at night,
for their own security."

The complex will soon offer free Wifi, but for now the migrants must
connect on a local data network.

"The biggest problem I've had with the Cubans is that when they get
here, because they come from a place without freedom, they feel
completely free. And of course they sometimes confuse freedom with
debauchery," she added.

But not all the undocumented Cuban migrants want to move to Los Planes.

"The problem I see with that place is that it's too remote. From the
Milenium Hotel, you can at least work under the table and earn a few
pesos," said Dariel, who declined to give his full name for fear of
losing his job. His work as a carpenter, a skill he learned in Cuba,
allows him to survive and, he confessed, to "save something, in case I
can continue the trip north."

"We even had Cuban prostitutes here, and they're services were cheaper
than the Panamanians'. They were smart, because in the end, they managed
to save some money and today they are in the Yuma," he said, using Cuban
slang for the United States.

Even though they sleep jammed in hallways, or in tents put up in private
homes as night falls, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to remain close
to the border with Costa Rica.

"It is a problem that affects communities that many times are overcome
by the numbers of migrants who arrive," said Cordoba.

Many of the local residents have seen an opportunity for profit with the
Cubans. Along with the increase in the flow of migrants, there's been
increases in the number of hostels and restaurants, usually at prices
double what Panamanians would pay.

"I don't want to go to the (Los Planes) shelter … because that's too
far. I prefer to stay here because I am in a town and at least I can
take care of myself," said Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who
arrived from Guyana. "That's difficult, of course. But if tomorrow I
want to go off with a coyote (people smuggler), there will be no one to
keep me from doing it."

COYOTES ON THE PROWL

Juan Ramón is one of the Cubans in Panama who decided he did not want to
wait. He gathered $1,400 from friends and relatives in Miami and crossed
the border with Costa Rica one night, with six other Cubans and a coyote
as guide.

"In each country one coyote handed us over to another. We went through
all kinds of things on the road — jungles, rivers, lakes … It's very
hard," Juan Ramón said.

The worst part of the trip, he said, came as they tried to walk around a
military outpost in Nicaragua. "A thug sent by the smuggler himself
robbed us, took everything we had. He took even the cellular phone. It
was a terrible experience, because we could have lost our lives and no
one would have known," he recalled.

After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramón reached a U.S.
immigration station in El Paso, Texas, where he waited for documents
allowing him to remain in the United States under parole.

Trying to evade the controls on the border between Costa Rica and
Nicaragua, the Cuban migrants have used unique methods such as hiding in
water trucks or in boats for short hops on the Pacific ocean.

After Costa Rican authorities cracked down in November on a crime ring
that was smuggling undocumented Cuban migrants on their way to the
United States, the Sandinista government of Nicaraguan President Daniel
Ortega closed its borders to the Cubans.

The two measures cut the flow of migrants and left at least 8,000 Cubans
stranded in Costa Rica, which in turn closed its border with Panama and
left thousands of other Cubans stranded in Panama. Mexico eventually
agreed to a humanitarian airlift and allowed most of the migrants to fly
to Mexico and move by land to the United States.

People smugglers have turned the northward flow of migrants into a
business that generates millions of dollars in profits. Since October of
2014, nearly 132,000 Central Americans and about 75,000 Cubans have
crossed the U.S. border, according to immigration data.

Source: Panama prepares to transfer some 3,000 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants
to Mexico | In Cuba Today -
http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article75161897.html Continue reading
May Day In Cuba: Many Commitments, No Demands / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 1 May 2016 — With the slogan "For Cuba:
Unity and Commitment," massive Labor Day parades were held across Cuba.
The march in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution started at 7:30 in the
morning, with the presence of some 600,000 people and was marked by
references to the recently concluded 7th Communist Party Congress and
ex-president Fidel Castro's 90th birthday, coming up in August.

Among the thousands of posters on display, none addressed workers'
demands or wage increases. A peculiarity of the May Day parades that
have taken place on the island for the last half century has been that
their principle motivation was to show the commitment of professionals
and workers to the political system.

On the podium greeting participants in the parade, which lasted about an
hour and a half, were Cuban president Raul Castro, recently re-ratified
in position as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC); first
vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez; Jose Ramon Machado Ventura,
second secretary of the PCC Central Committee; and Ulises Guilarte de
Nacimiento, director of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the only union
organization permitted in the country, with a membership of 3.4 million
state, private and retired workers.

In the speech that began the parade, Guilarte de Naciemiento, also a
member of the Politburo, described as "maneuvers" the problems
threatening several of the leftist governments of Latin America. In
particular, the protests or legal processes challenging the executives
in Venezuela and Brazil, as well as Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and El
Salvador.

The union leader also referred to the process of normalization between
the governments of Cuba and the United States, which he said could not
be completed as long as "the economic, commercial and financial blockade
against our country continues," and as long as there is a US presence at
the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

From the early hours of the morning, Havana workers from the city's
various districts and areas close to the Cuban capital began to gather.
The majority of them were brought on buses belonging to their workplaces
and some 3,257 vehicles that serve urban transport routes in the city.

References to the upcoming 90th birthday of former President Fidel
Castro also marked the day. (14ymedio)
The march was opened by a representation of 40,000 teachers in reminder
of the Literacy Campaign which is celebrating its 55th anniversary this
year. According to the official Cuban press, also participating were
1,600 guests representing 68 countries and 209 trade union
organizations. However, unlike previous years the event was not attended
by any foreign leader and on the foreign grandstand the highest ranking
figure was a deputy of the Venezuelan ruling party, Elias Jaua.

"We will not forget history," different speakers repeated at several
moments to encourage the parade, a direct reference to Barack Obama's
speech in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, when the US president said he
knew the history between Cuba and the United States but refused to be
"trapped by it." A reference that especially bothered the Cuban officialdom.

The parade proceeded as planned at the close of Party Congress last
April 19, when Raul Castro called on workers to show "the world" through
an "enthusiastic and massive participation," their "unity and support
for" the agreements reached at the Congress and "the socialist and
independent course of the Fatherland."

Source: May Day In Cuba: Many Commitments, No Demands / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/may-day-in-cuba-many-commitments-no-demands-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
Living Near A Wifi Area Is Like Winning The Lottery / 14ymedio, Yosmany
Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 30 April 2016 – Like an
arbitrary lottery, Havanans dream of having a WiFi zone installed near
their homes. These outdoor places to connect raise the price per square
foot of real estate in the immediate vicinity and help local businesses
flourish. Speculations about where the new wireless antennas will be
placed absorb everyone's interest.

The local division of the Cuban Telecommunications Company SA (ETECSA)
told local media on Thursday that they are currently working in
different districts in the capital to open ten new public WiFi areas, in
a first step to meet the commitments for this year.

Engineer Iris M. Duran Fonseca, a specialist in ETECSA's Marketing,
Communication and Business Management Support division, said the new
service will benefit the municipalities of Plaza de la Revolucion, La
Lisa, Centro Habana, Habana del Este, Arroyo Naranjo, Boyeros and 10 de
Octubre.

Arroyo Naranjo currently has one of these areas in Santa Amalia Park,
where hundreds of people connect to the internet daily to communicate
through social networks or by Imo, an application that lets you chat in
real time with family abroad.

Alejandro, a young student in high school, told 14ymedio the advantages
offered by this connectivity, despite the high price, which is 2.25 CUC
(about $2.25 US) per hour of navigation. "I come every day," he claimed,
since he discovered that he could connect near his house. "Always in the
evenings, because I go to school in the mornings and then I communicate
with la pura (his mother) who lives in Spain," he said.

The Mantilla Council in Arroyo Naranjo has been one of the outlying
areas visited by ETECSA's WiFi implementation specialists. El Parque de
la Leche, on Caballero Street, between Pizarro and Ponce de Leon, is
where the new technology will be installed. To that end, the park is in
the first phase of a total refurbishment.

Yolanda, a retired teacher and resident of the area, says that since
they put the first WiFi antennas in the capital she has been able to
communicate with her son who lives in the United States. "Now with this
Samsung phone he sent me I can see and talk to him; he left in 1994 and
since then has not come over to the island," she explains.

Neighbors near the park highlighted the need to rescue this completely
abandoned place. "This may be a better option," said Sergio Mendez, who
feels happy because the "area is coming alive."

"They will have to light the place well and also fix the access roads,
because they are in poor condition," insisted Elena, an executive member
of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).

The custodian of Mantilla park criticized the instability of the
builders in this first phase. "They come one day then don't come the
next, and so the work scheduled to be completed later this year will
never be completed. If they aren't consistent in their work, the effort
will be in vain," he said.

Food vendors see the WiFi zone as a chance to improve their businesses.
"There will be more people here, so soft drinks, food and the navigation
cards will be in greater demand," said Rosi, who sells sandwiches and
milkshakes a few yards from the park.

The ETECSA communication specialist said it was necessary to "evaluate a
set of elements according to the Board of Management of each territory
and other agencies such as the National Police, the Electric Basic
Organization and local representatives of Communal Services." However,
she said that neighboring towns have been included, some rural, in order
to improve the communication services of their residents.

A director of the Arroyo Naranjo Council of the Municipal Administration
told this newspaper that Mantilla Park was selected because it was
located in a marginal area and has considered very dangerous. "Now we
have to take steps to eliminate crime a little, lighting the area,
putting surveillance cameras and constant control of the police in the
area, which will reduce the tragic reports quite a bit," he said.

So far, in Havana there are 17 public WiFi areas already equipped with
lighting and with improved amenities. In early February, the
newspaper Granma reported that the capital will have 30 new WiFi areas
this year, two more for each municipality.

ETECSA also announced that in the coming months it will enable
connectivity in at least three parks for each province and in other
sites with a large influx of people, such as recreational and cultural
centers. However, managers clarify that it will be done when the
conditions exist to install the necessary technology and when they can
guarantee both the comfort and security of Internet users.

Source: Living Near A Wifi Area Is Like Winning The Lottery / 14ymedio,
Yosmany Mayeta Labrada – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/living-near-a-wifi-area-is-like-winning-the-lottery-14ymedio-yosmany-mayeta-labrada/ Continue reading
RCI Becomes First Timeshare Exchange Company to Offer Travel Packages in
Cuba
RCI to offer tours to the sought-after destination for RCI Platinum®
members residing in the U.S.
RCI

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., May 2, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- RCI, the global leader in
vacation exchange, has opened doors to a new frontier for timeshare
owners. The company is offering travel options to Cuba through a new
alliance with Cuba Travel Services, an established travel tour company.
This relationship is a first in the timeshare exchange industry.

RCI Platinum® members in the U.S. will now have access to unique
"people-to-people" educational tour packages designed and operated by
Cuba Travel Services. With an initial pilot of the tours providing two
customized itineraries, RCI Platinum members and their guests can book
five-night and seven-night rental packages with departure dates starting
this summer. The packages include charter flights from Miami to Havana,
accommodations in Havana and Varadero, educational people-to-people
activities, select meals and assistance with travel documents and
license requirements.

The itineraries bring travelers to important historical and cultural
sites, providing great opportunities to interact with the Cuban people,
including visits to Revolution Square, the studio of famous artist José
Rodríguez Fuster, Ernest Hemingway's museum at Finca Vigia, local farms
and sugar cane fields, the marina at Cayo Blanco and more. Travelers
will enjoy further insight into Cuban culture through a taste of Cuban
cuisine and interactions with dance instructors, musicians and local guides.

"We are so excited to be entering a new destination with our foray into
Cuba," said Gordon Gurnik, president of RCI. "With recent changes to
travel regulations, there is an amazing opportunity for Americans to
visit Cuba and experience a new culture.

"We know people are looking for ways to visit, with new data from MMGY
Global reporting that 19 percent of all U.S. adults said they would
consider taking a vacation to Cuba within the next two years," Gurnik
continued. "With that type of enthusiasm, we wanted to give RCI Platinum
members a way to experience this new destination with this initial tour
program."

Cuba Travel Services is a travel service provider headquartered in
Cypress, California, and is one of the leading providers of
"people-to-people" educational tours to Cuba. "People-to-people" travel
is one of the educational activities that are approved forms of travel
for Americans visiting Cuba. Cuba Travel Services has significant
experience in managing and operating tours, as they have been sending
travelers on memorable trips for more than 16 years.

"We were so happy to join RCI in offering specially designed Cuba
itineraries to RCI Platinum members," said Michael Zuccato, general
manager of Cuba Travel Services. "For years, our team has been creating
amazing travel experiences in Cuba, and we are so excited to begin
offering these options to vacation exchange members. The Cuban culture
and the beauty of the country make for truly memorable trips, and we are
confident RCI's members will love traveling there as much as we do."

With the pilot program offering dates for travel beginning this summer,
RCI Platinum members in the U.S. will be contacted about travel
opportunities. As the program gains popularity and demonstrates
successful travel experiences for RCI Platinum members, additional
travel dates may be added to expand the opportunity to a larger RCI
member base.

About RCI
RCI is the worldwide leader in vacation exchange with approximately
4,300 affiliated resorts in more than 100 countries. RCI pioneered the
concept of vacation exchange in 1974, offering members increased
flexibility and versatility with their vacation ownership experience.
Today, through the RCI Weeks® program, the week-for-week exchange
system, and the RCI Points® program, the industry's first global
points-based exchange system, RCI provides flexible vacation options to
its 3.8 million RCI subscribing members each year. RCI's luxury exchange
program, The Registry Collection® program, is the world's largest
program of its kind with approximately 200 affiliated properties either
accessible for exchange or under development on six continents. RCI is
part of Wyndham Destination Network and the Wyndham Worldwide family of
brands (WYN). For additional information, visit our media center. RCI
can also be found on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

About Cuba Travel Services
Cuba Travel Services (CTS) is the leading authorized air charter and
travel company providing a diverse set of services to, from and within
the Republic of Cuba. As the premier indirect air carrier, CTS arranges
flights from Miami, Los Angeles, New York (JFK) and Tampa to Havana,
Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba using
next generation Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320 aircraft. The largest US
based tour operator and destination management company serving the
country, Cuba Travel Services offers hotels bookings, transportation
services and specialized tour programming all consistent with US
Government travel restrictions. CTS has been arranging flights and
travel services to Cuba for more than 16 years and is widely regarded as
the most trusted and respected travel company in the industry. For more
information follow us on Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube
or visit www.cubatravelservices.com.

Source: RCI Becomes First Timeshare Exchange Company to Offer Travel
Packages in Cuba - Yahoo Finance -
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/rci-becomes-first-timeshare-exchange-130000166.html;_ylt=AwrC0wwyZidXX1EA_0jQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBydWNmY2MwBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM0BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg-- Continue reading
Foreign Investment Law: More Apartheid
JORGE A. SANGUINETTY | Miami | 2 Mayo 2016 - 12:02 pm.

At first glance, the Cuban Foreign Investment Law (Law 118, April 2014)
seeks to attract capital to the country in order to raise its production
level, especially as regards exportable products. Attracting foreign
capital is perfectly legitimate for any economy, but in the context of
Cuba several observations are in order.

All countries, even the richest, benefit from foreign investment; that
is, the flow of capital from other nations to increase the productive
capacity of the country (direct investment) or acquiring existing
properties or equity instruments (financial investment). The Cuban
economy needs these forms of investment, but especially direct
investment, not only to solve its chronic production crisis, but for
other reasons, all of them vital. One of them is to create an investment
capacity capable of increasing the nation's meager capacity to generate
resources for investment. That is, the Cuban economy under the Castro
regime has been unable to generate investments sufficient to ensure the
replacement of those in place when they were expropriated, or to create
enough well paid jobs. In other words, so-called Cuban socialism has not
even been able to bring about the "simple reproduction" (Marxist term)
of its economy, which should scandalize those who still believe in this
type of economic organization.

Another reason to attract foreign capital to Cuba goes beyond what is
seen with the naked eye, and consists of attracting managerial talent of
all kinds to an economy that not only lost a catastrophic proportion of
its endowments of capital - physical financial, human and social - but
also their management capacity.

Expropriations of companies in 1960 were followed by a massive loss of
managerial, administrative and technical staff, which affected all their
operational aspects. These operations included their technical and
production processes; the management of personnel and wages; financial
administration and the handling of investments; and the organization of
sales, inventory, distribution and marketing, among others. To keep the
businesses running and prevent production stops, and the consequent mass
unemployment they would entail, the expropriations were followed by the
replacement of executive staff with people politically and ideologically
aligned with the revolutionary government. But the new executive staff
generally lacked their predecessors' technical and administrative
qualifications, the effect being immediate drops in production and
efficiency levels at virtually all businesses. This deterioration of the
nation's productive capacity was the main reason that Cuba would need
substantial subsidies from the Soviet Union, first, followed by
Venezuela. Over time this dynamic of managerial degradation, in which
loyalty to the Government took precedence over the quality of
administration, worsened, and Cuba gradually lost the culture of
production efficiency that had made it solvent and relatively prosperous
until 1959.

This was part of the legacy of inept economic management that Fidel
Castro dumped on his brother Raúl. The Cuban economy now must recover
not only a portion of the investments that have been mishandled and lost
due to more than 50 years of administrative negligence, but also restore
a substantial part of its degraded administrative capacity. Otherwise
Cuba will once again lose the resources invested in physical capital, as
it not complemented by the technical and managerial human capital needed
– as has already occurred in several cycles since the beginning of the
Castro era. Hence, the Foreign Investment Law not only serves to attract
physical capital, but also the human capital to manage it, as has been
the case with foreign investments in Tourism, which has important
implications for Cubans.

A notable feature of this law is that it excludes, subtly but
categorically, Cuban residents on the island from participating as
investors in the economy, but not necessarily those who reside off it.
In this regard the law is ambiguous and subject to being applied at the
Government's discretion. The problem is that such a prohibition affects
all Cuban citizens in many ways, whether or not they are entrepreneurs
or investors. Castro's expropriations were not limited to the private
properties that existed before 1960, but included the rights of citizens
to invest in their country, to create the wealth needed for development,
to make decisions that directly affect them, and to enjoy the benefits
of active participation in the nation's economic affairs. But the new
Foreign Investment Law excludes Cubans, who are not only to be barred
from being investors in their own country, but also from being
executives of these investments for an obvious reason: foreign investors
will prefer to take their own executives to Cuba, because they trust
them more than those assigned by the Cuban government, as called for by
the Law.

The Law's Article 30.1 states that the employees under these foreign
investments will be hired "by an employing entity proposed by the
Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and authorized by the
Ministry of Labor and Social Security." With these restrictions Cubans
are destined to not only be employees of state or foreign companies, but
also to occupy lower-ranking jobs in their country's economy. "The
tourism apartheid that existed in Cuba for several years resurges, and
legally, through this new official disposition."

Under these conditions the effects of the normalization of relations
between Cuba and the US will depend on the degree to which the Cuban
economy liberalizes, as determined by Washington and Havana. The
unconditional lifting of the US embargo without Cuba liberalizing its
economy will only aggravate the economic apartheid to which Cubans are
subjected. As Cuban citizens are economically weaker, this means that
they will have fewer opportunities to acquire political power. In other
words, the Foreign Investment Law tends to confirm President Obama's
dilemma, as described in a a previous article in this publication: if he
liberalizes too much (lifting the embargo) without Castro introducing
internal reform, he will not achieve the (secondary) objective of
improving political conditions for Cubans. Even worse, he'll end up
lining the pockets of the Castro family and its entourage, bolstering
their political power and possibly dismantling the self-employed sector,
which they won't need if new investments generate sufficient employment.
The US Congress may want to consider these points before lifting the
embargo without getting anything in return.

Source: Foreign Investment Law: More Apartheid | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1462186972_22069.html Continue reading
Cuba May Day rally defends embattled Latin American left
AFP
May 1, 2016

Havana (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched Sunday in the
country's annual May Day rally, which condemned a campaign to
"destabilize" leftist governments around Latin America.

The communist island traditionally holds enormous, festive
demonstrations to mark International Workers' Day, which this year comes
at a turbulent time for the left-leaning governments that have dominated
the Latin American political scene for more than a decade.

"This May 1 is also a day to condemn the maneuvers aimed at... reversing
the gains achieved in social policy in our America and destabilizing the
leftist and progressive governments in power," keynote speaker Ulises
Guilarte, the secretary general of the Workers' Central Union of Cuba,
told a massive crowd on Revolution Square in Havana.

As examples, he cited Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff is facing
impeachment proceedings she condemns as a "coup"; Bolivia, where
President Evo Morales recently lost a referendum to allow him a fourth
term amid a scandal over whether he fathered a love child; and
Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro's opponents are seeking to
oust him in a recall referendum.

The leftist parties that have governed most of Latin America since the
2000s have stumbled lately as the region's economies have slowed.

The left recently suffered election defeats in Argentina, where
conservative President Mauricio Macri won office in November, and
Venezuela -- Cuba's key regional ally -- where the ruling Socialists
lost the legislature by a landslide in December.

Cuban President Raul Castro presided over the rally on the capital's
iconic square, which state media said drew 600,000 people.

Guilarte also repeated Castro's call for the United States to lift its
more than half-century embargo on Cuba and return the "illegally
occupied territory" of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, major
sticking points in the old Cold War foes' rapprochement.


Source: Cuba May Day rally defends embattled Latin American left -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cuba-may-day-rally-defends-embattled-latin-american-155121583.html?ref=gs Continue reading
CUBA: THE GREAT ESCAPE
May 01, 2016 By SURFING Magazine

"You came here from Los Angeles?" asks Arnan between a lull in the sets.
"I have a cousin that works at a cheese factory in Santa Monica."

Arnan Perez Lantigua is one of the better surfers around Havana — which
pretty much means all of Cuba, too. There's not a whole lot of regulars.
For just 25 years old, however, he looks gaunt and fragile as I'd come
learn that Arnan's just recovered from a very recent battle with cancer.
He's wearing a wetsuit that fits loosely over his slight frame to fight
the wind-chill but smiles wildly just to be out in the water again.
Probably, just to be alive.

But I'm still stuck on the cheese factory in Santa Monica-thing. I'd
been living in Venice and I was unaware a place existed on the other
side of Rose Ave.

"The Cheesecake Factory?" I probe.

"Yes! That one!" he beams, turning for a chest-high right, working it
into the shallow inside reef.

Arnan is one of two-dozen or so consistent surfers here at this peaky
little right off the city known as Calle 70. The break is so close to
the shore that a few of Arnan's friends who've pulled up on motorbikes
hoot and heckle him, maintaining lively conversations from just 50 yards
away on the exposed low tide reef. Behind us in the distance, the
bizarre Russian Embassy building observes our every move like some kind
of giant, concrete, post-modern watchtower.

I found my way into the water here at Calle 70 via the de facto
president of the Cuban Surfing Association, Yuniel Valderrama Martinez.
I say de facto because the Cuban government doesn't really recognize
surfing as, well…a thing. Recreational? Maybe. But [officially]
athletic? Nah. To the government, boxing and baseball — those are
athletic. Surfing, however, is a bit too akin to floating on an
unauthorized watercraft in the sea a little too far from shore. Yuniel
told me that to the government, surfing is a bit too close to,
well…fleeing. Police still not savvy to the concept of wave-riding still
hassle Arnan and others to this day when they're venturing to new breaks
along the Cuban coast.

Coincidentally, Yuniel looks like he could be a professional baseball
player. Broad shoulders, fit as a fiddle, home-run biceps and a head
shaved bald with a thick dark beard below the cheeks. Yuniel is also
walking, talking, grinning charisma and when not handling affairs for
the quasi-official C.S.A., he makes a living as a tour guide/driver for
a company hired by ultra rich Saudi princes. And famous New York fashion
designers. And Silicon Valley tech-dudes. And British sitcom actors. He
showed me a picture on his phone of some actual princesses — the
European wives of the princes — frolicking in a waterfall he'd driven
them to. He shook his head and chuckled to himself, "That one ate way
too much — how do you say it — marijuana-chocolates?"

The last time SURFING did a trip to Cuba was actually 10 years ago with
Ozzie Wright and Taylor Steele who were filming Ozzie's stunning part in
Sipping Jetstreams. But now that Americans can legally fly from the US
to Cuba, we wondered, had this changed that beautiful portrait Steele
painted a decade ago? Have the chain restaurants and tour groups and big
banks invaded? We came to have a look…and a surf, of course.

But even in the Age of Internet, current information isn't always easy
to find about Cuba. Their government still runs the banks, the WiFi,
most stores, a lot of things there. I'd been told by some guys who
visited a few years back that there were still no ATMs, so to bring in
all cash and I thought, surely, that's changed. Nope. In the airport
just having arrived from Cancun, I prayed I'd brought in enough greenbacks.

This one worry, however, vanished once Yuniel picked us up in a white
1960s VW bug with surf racks on top en route Calle 70, only hours
earlier. Forgotten, because your first time driving through Havana feels
like driving through a dream.

Barely in second-gear, we zip past a giant billboard with an army of
uniformed youth staring out bravely into the future with huge font
hovering over them that reads: The Revolution is Invincible. All around
us, bygone era Chevys and Fords and Soviet Moskvitches sputter about,
stopping for anyone they can cram into the backseat, farting thick black
soot in their wakes.

No one's wearing much in the clothing department and the women
practically burst out of their skin-tight jeans and tops that cling on
to them for dear life. There's not a supermarket in sight, but there's a
line of Cubans snaking around the block — and then another — for what
seems like a mile-long and I ask Yuniel what that's all about and he
says, "Egg day."

"Egg…day?"

"Jes, the eggs come today," he replies matter-of-factly.

And the buildings…God, the buildings. Brilliant, columned colonial
mansions, sea-worn and mildewed in every color of the spectrum.
Beautiful fading, pastel ruins.

Yuniel sees me gawking at the homes and explains how after a rain storm,
you have to be careful walking the streets because the sun dries the
buildings and pieces of them break off and drop to the ground before
your very eyes. We pass another giant billboard, this one of Fidel
Castro, Hugo Chavez and Nelson Mandela standing side-by-side, smiling
about something profound with words above them that read: Big Men Believe.

Then suddenly, we round a corner and the streets start singing. An old
man with a mic in one hand, dragging along a dolly with a mounted
speaker in the other, croons old Cuban songs to anyone that'll listen. A
couple dances an intricate salsa beneath a storefront awning. A random
dude blows a kiss to my woman from his bicycle. The malecon seawall
beside us explodes intermittently with crashing waves like foamy, white
fireworks.

I rub my eyes, snap out of the daydream and moments later we're hopping
into the Strait of Florida, trading wind-blown, rampy peaks, with
America somewhere out there, just over the horizon. Chatting about
cheese factories in Santa Monica. And how not that long ago — due to the
absence of any surf shop in the nation — Yuniel and Arnan were making
surfboards out of foam pulled from old refrigerators, hand-glassed with
marine-grade boat resin. Or leashes fashioned from jump rope cords and
book-bag buckles. And how some Cuban surfers are still making equipment
today like that, over on the far less-visited but wave-rich southeast
corner of the island.

And yet.

Regardless of the sport's not-so-official-status in Cuba, nor the
association's recognition by the government, Yuniel and the few dozen
other surfers are doing their best to change that. They want to be able
to travel and compete. They've had a few contests in the last five-odd
years, but American surf brands sponsoring them…is still untraveled
territory.

Has the Cuban surf scene changed much since Sipping Jetstreams shined a
light on the place ten years ago? According to the boys — sadly — not
really. Or, even since flights finally resumed from the States? Not yet.
And they actually wouldn't mind a little change to possibly make some
money around a lifestyle they love.

But also it's difficult-to-impossible for many Cuban surfers to leave.
And there is definitely some talent here and there are some waves, but
there are also still "egg days," with surely even longer queues to get a
passport. Yuniel and Arnan hope surfing will be a way for the younger
generation to leave and see the world. A way to drift away on watercraft
that isn't mistaken for escaping. Plus, there is cheese to taste in a
factory somewhere in Santa Monica.

Source: Cuba: The Great Escape | SURFING Magazine -
http://www.surfingmagazine.com/originals/cuba-the-great-escape/#AcG2ALqZOK6EGLQm.97 Continue reading
U.S. businesses' money can be frozen because of references to Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff Published: May 1, 2016 Updated: May 1,
2016 at 07:51 PM

Nothing from his inventory originates from the island nation nor does
any of the business's money come from or go to Cuba.

Still, over the past year, financial transactions involving online
payment giant PayPal have been frozen again and again, sometimes for
weeks, until PayPal verifies they don't violate U.S. policy on Cuba.

The same thing happens at Island Travel and Tours, a company that does
conduct business with Cuba. Financial transactions were delayed so long
by banker J.P. Morgan Chase that the charter air company had to cancel
eight flights to Cuba over the course of a week.

The U.S. is moving to normalize relations with Cuba, but that isn't
always making it easier for Americans to do business there. One reason
is fear linked to policies of isolation from the past, hard for
financial intuitions to overcome, combined with complicated new policies
plus an unprecedented surge of customers interested in Cuba.

"This is a problem we're having in a changing environment," said Dan
Zabludowski, an international business attorney in Miami with Hinshaw &
Culbertson. "Some banks are still operating like it's two years ago.
They need to update how they operate."

The U.S. government is adding ways for its citizens and businesses to
engage in commerce with the island nation after more than five decades
of largely prohibiting it.

U.S. credit cards can now be used in Cuba, for instance. And where only
agriculture and medical supplies could be sold to Cuba two years ago,
today, the list has expanded to telecommunications devices, restaurant
equipment and construction supplies.

Before the new engagement, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control,
OFAC, aggressively administered and enforced economic and trade
sanctions on the island nation. With its enemy status, most transactions
were illegal.

Now, to promote U.S. commerce with Cuba, OFAC has been directed by the
White House to let up.

But for financial institutions, it turns out, that's easier said than done.

"It has been difficult to absorb," said John Kavulich, president of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "There has been a cautiousness
that has provided an increasing amount of pain to small and medium sized
businesses."

PayPal appears to be a case in point.

❖ ❖ ❖

In March 2015, OFAC fined PayPal $7.7 million for failing to screen
properly for potential subjects of U.S. sanctions in transactions that
it processed.

The violations included 136 transactions involving Kursad Zafer Cire, a
Turkish man on a U.S. list of weapons of mass destruction proliferators,
and 98 transactions for more than $19,000 in goods from Cuba or in which
Cuba had an interest.

In response to the fine, PayPal instituted a new screening solution,
according to OFAC documents, although the company did not elaborate.

PayPal acknowledged it received a request for comment from the Tribune
but never replied otherwise.

The PayPal screening now includes an algorithm that freezes any
transaction containing certain words associated with Cuba, said David
Brown of New Jersey-based online store FolkCuba.com, which sells items
needed to practice the religion known as Santeria.

Santeria originated in Cuba, but the religious items sold by Brown did
not. Still, like MyCubanStore.com, some of Brown's transactions have
been frozen — something that never happened before.

Whenever it does, PayPal emails him a notice saying it will take up to
72 hours to vet a transaction. It can actually take weeks. He shared one
of the emails with the Tribune.

Martin of MyCubanStore.com said he receives the same notice. His funds
have been held up for as long as a month. It did happen before, a few
years ago, but the issue was resolved. It started again a year ago.

On "any given day," he said, he can have as many as three to five
transactions held up, as much as $1,000 all told.

Martin provided the Tribune with a copy of a statement from early April
showing it took PayPal 15 days to clear transactions totaling around $150.

He said he fears customers will grow weary of doing business with him
because money is immediately deducted from their account but the product
arrives days or weeks late. Confounding him more is that the suspensions
are random. Some go through without trouble.

As a small businessman, said Brown of FolkCuba.com, he needs the
suspended funds to pay bills. During the last holiday season, he had
trouble replenishing his stock because PayPal took weeks to release
transactions worth around $1,500.

Antonio C. Martinez II, a New York attorney, has a client who provides
consultation on licensed travel to Cuba.

That client has been waiting for PayPal to unfreeze a transaction of
about $5,000 for six months.

"The business took place between a U.S. citizen and a U.S. entity yet
they still haven't released the money," said Martinez, who did not share
more information on the matter.

❖ ❖ ❖

PayPal is just one of the institutions suspending transactions with Cuba
in the name.

The founder of mobile app company Fueled.com, Ryan Matzner of New York,
uses online payment system Venmo.

In February, Venmo flagged his payment for a meal at New York restaurant
Cafe Habana because of the word "Habana."

Matzner provided the Tribune copies of two notices emailed to him by
Venmo that read, "We were hoping you could provide us details for your
reference to 'Habana' as well as give us some insight on what this
payment was specifically for."

A second read, "We are required to follow-up on potential items that may
be related to policies pertaining to OFAC sanctions."

When the Tribune asked Venmo how it screens transactions with a mention
of Cuba, even in product or company name only, a spokesperson replied
via email with a link to OFAC's online resource page for Cuba sanctions.

Attorney Zabludowski has a client who also sells goods marked Cuban that
have no direct relationship with the nation. Yet the client's former
bank was regularly freezing the funds. He said he could not share
further details on the matter.

Attorney Peter Quinter of Miami, head of the international trade-law
group for Orlando-based GrayRobinson, said he still frequently
represents clients with money wires to Cuba that have been frozen by a
U.S. bank even though the transaction meets all legal requirements.

In order to land in Cuban airports, Island Travel must first pay fees to
the island nation's government by wiring money through a bank in a third
nation.

Still, in November, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. suspended more than $250,000
in payments sent to Cuba, resulting in the cancellation of flights, said
Island Travel President Bill Hauf.

Asked how J.P. Morgan Chase flags transactions containing the word Cuba,
a bank spokesperson responded via email, "As a matter of policy, we
screen all payments for violations of U.S. sanctions, applying to all
sanctions programs."

Ultimately, said Hauf, it was OFAC that resolved the issue, nearly three
weeks after the transactions were suspended.

❖ ❖ ❖

Island Travel has experienced random suspensions since then but the
money has been released faster, so no flights were affected. Still, it
makes conducting business difficult.

Hauf said other charter companies have had the same problem.

"This all started six to nine months ago," he said. "I've been doing
this without a problem for five years. Why is this an issue now when
business in Cuba is supposed to be getting easier?"

For starters, attorney Zabludowski said, financial institutions might be
overwhelmed. Two years ago, a limited number of Americans were doing
business with Cuba. Today, U.S. citizens are lining up for commerce
opportunities there.

Then add confusion over new regulations.

Doing business in Cuba still is influenced by the travel and trade
embargo. Some forms of commerce are legal. Some are not.

For instance, Cuba can only buy U.S. agriculture products with cash but
can buy items like construction supplies on credit.

Also, before the U.S. engaged with Cuba again, OFAC licenses to a
specific company or individual were required for any financial
transaction in Cuba and for the sale of any goods and services to the
island nation. Today, some of these deals are covered by
easier-to-obtain general licenses.

Charter flights are one such enterprise, Hauf said, yet his bank keeps
asking him for a specific license before it will transfer his funds.

Regulations are also vaguely written and open to interpretation.

A U.S. company may think a venture is covered under a general license
but is not. The enterprise, unknown to the company, might not be legal
at all.

"Now a banker has to make an interpretation on a general license as to
whether it is legal or not," said David Seleski, CEO of Pompano
Beach-based Stonegate Bank, the first U.S. bank to allow customers to
use its credit cards in Cuba. "So it is trickier for banks that do not
specialize in Cuban banking."

Seleski said Stonegate has created a specific Cuba department staffed
with people who stay updated on U.S. policy and personally vet
transactions on a case-by-case basis.

In the past, a financial institution was required to fully police all
customer transactions involving Cuba. Even if there was nothing
suspicious about a transaction, failure to demonstrate proper vetting
means a fine for a financial institution.

If it was illegal, but expertly hidden, the financial institution could
still be penalized.

"In large measures that is what led to fines," said Kavulich of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "Banks couldn't control every
facet of the transaction."

Now, generally, financial institutions will no longer be found at fault
if a transaction with Cuba is not obviously a violation of U.S. policy.

"What the regulation says is reasonableness now applies," Kavulich said.
"If someone is trying to engage in a transaction that isn't lawful and
is smart enough to do everything possible to cover their tracks, the
bank may not be held liable."

❖ ❖ ❖

Attorney Quinter advises that individuals and companies doing business
in Cuba through an American financial institution become proactive until
banks and online payment systems can better grasp changes in U.S. law.

Quinter suggests sending the financial institution copies of the general
or specific license, an explanation of the business, plus any
correspondence with OFAC or the State Department verifying that a type
of commerce with Cuba is allowed.

"Contact the bank and make sure they know what is going on," he said.
"That is the smart thing to do."

Brown of FolkCuba.com sent PayPal an itemized list of everything he
sells plus invoices to prove their origin.

On April 5, PayPal replied to him with an email he shared with the
Tribune crediting his diligence with the approval of an exemption "which
should prevent your payments from being put on hold."

On April 21, according to a notice he shared with the Tribune, more
transactions were held up by PayPal. The money was released within 24
hours rather than in days or weeks, but it caused financial strain
nonetheless.

Brown has removed the words "Cuba" and "Cuban" from his products but
does not want to change his company name.

"You can't separate Cuba from Santeria," he said. "Besides, why should I
have to? They should have to change."

For PayPal, that may be coming.

By the end of the year, the company hopes to launch its international
transferring service Xoom in Cuba for U.S. citizens to send remittances
there.

And as Western Union can attest after working in the Cuban remittance
business since 1999, such a venture requires a loosening of restrictions.

Western Union uses algorithms to screen money transfers, said Tyler
Hand, the company's head of global sanctions and interdiction, but the
word Cuba alone will not stop one.

Instead, the company keeps an up-to-date list of Cuban nationals and
businesses, Cuban government officials, and members of the Communist
party whom the U.S. government restricts from partaking in certain
transactions. If one of those names appears on the transaction
affidavit, the transaction could be suspended.

Before joining Western Union in 2014, Hand was OFAC's assistant chief
counsel of designations and enforcement.

Still, he said, even with that experience, it isn't easy for him to
navigate the new Cuba regulations.

"We don't always know what they mean when they make rule changes," he
said, "and often times we do our best to balance the risk. It's tough."



pguzzo@tampatrib.com

Source: U.S. businesses' money can be frozen because of references to
Cuba | TBO.com and The Tampa Tribune -
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With calmer seas, 42 Cuban migrants make it to the Keys

'Smuggling organizations oftentimes put these migrants in perilous
situations'.
LARRY KAHN

With the calming seas this time of year, more migrants are trying to
make it across the Florida Straits from Cuba.

On Friday, 19 more arrived on Keys shores. Twelve men landed their
homemade sailboat at 4 a.m. at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier around
mile marker 92.5 oceanside and seven others landed around 11 a.m. on an
island off Geiger Key in the Lower Keys. They followed a Thursday
landing about 2 a.m. at Smathers Beach in Key West, where 21 Cuban men
and two women alit.

"During the calm season and with the weather patterns" of the summer,
more migrant trips are expected, U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent
Adam Hoffner said.

He said that with the U.S.' rapprochement to the Cuban government after
half a century of having no diplomatic ties, some Cubans fear that the
wet-foot, dry-foot policy that allows Cubans who make it to American
soil to stay will go away. That's driving many to try to make it the 90
miles across the sea.

Hoffner said it's a bad idea.

"Smuggling organizations oftentimes put these migrants in perilous
situations," he said.

Early Friday, the 12 who landed in Tavernier were being interviewed at
the Border Patrol's Marathon office. Hoffner said this wasn't
necessarily a case of smuggling.

"They made a long journey in that sailboat," he said. "They had been
traveling at sea for approximately five days on that rustic vessel.
They'll go through their processing, go before an immigration judge."

Jo Holcombe, 71, who lives across the street from Harry Harris Park, was
awakened by her dogs, who "kept barking." She said the migrants were
under a light pole in the park and her husband Will called 911.

Deputies from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, firefighters and an
ambulance crew arrived and gave them water, Jo Holcombe said.

"They were still standing under the light pole when I went back to bed,"
she said.

They were in good health and had no medical emergencies, Hoffner said.
The ones who landed in Key West were at sea for three days.

Source: With calmer seas, 42 Cuban migrants make it to the Keys | In
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Cuba Will Lose One Million People In Next Decade / 14ymedio, Abel
Fernandez, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — By
2025, the Cuban population will be reduced to 10 million. The dramatic
demographic change on the island—from 11 million to 10 million
inhabitants—is propelled by the low rates of fertility and birth, and an
elevated emigration, a group of experts recently explained at Florida
International University.

In addition, Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin
America. Currently, 19% of its inhabitants are over 60, and forecasts
indicated that this figure will reach 30% in less than a decade.

"Life expectancy is not the same as aging," said Dr. Antonio Aja Diaz
from the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana. In
Cuba, life expectancy is high and infant mortality is low. But birth and
fertility are also low. These demographic characteristics, Aja said,
"are processes that occur in highly developed countries."

"In developed countries, mortality, birth and fertility are low, but
they do not lose population because they receive immigration," said
Aja. "But that is not the case for Cuba."

Until the late 1930s, the island was receiving immigrants. Since that
decade, emigration has been sustained, with large fluctuations during
mass exoduses of the past century—the Mariel Boatlift in the 1980s, the
Rafter Crisis of the 1990s—and most recently, the exodus through South
America that still continues.

According to Aja, "Cuba could not even compete from the point of view of
in-migration with the Dominican Republic," with regards to attracting
migrants. One of the main problems of the island is that people who
migrate are generally younger and in the fullest years of their
productive and reproductive capacity.

According to Dr. Sergio Diaz Brioquets, another panelist, emigration
from Cuba is a phenomenon that will continue. "The Cuban government has
for decades promoted emigration of the political opposition," he said.

As for fertility, between 2010 and 2015 Cuba had an average of 1.63
children per woman, the lowest fertility rate in Latin America and the
Caribbean.

The early years of the republic were years of high fertility and
population growth, a trend that continued until 1930. Then began a
process of decline until the years 1959-1960. In 1978, Cuba fell below
replacement level, which is usually established as an average of 2.1
children per woman. On the island, the downward trend has continued to
the present.

According to experts, the composition of the 10 million Cubans who will
remain on the island in 2015 will bring a number of challenges, among
them ethical values and interpersonal relationship. With regards to the
family, and in particular Cuban women, they will face a series of
responsibilities that will worsen with the aging population. "In Cuba,
the job of caring for the elderly falls mainly on the woman," explained Aja.

On the other hand, wages in the island have decreased to 73% of their
real value, said Dr. Carmela Mesa Lago, a renowned expert on the Cuban
economy. In addition, self-employed workers, a growing sector of the
economy, are at risk of not accumulating pensions and not receiving
social assistance.

Source: Cuba Will Lose One Million People In Next Decade / 14ymedio,
Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
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The Bridge / 14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez

14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez, Camaguey, 27 April 2016 – Some have
suggested I write about US President Barack Obama's recent visit to
Cuba. A great challenge after so much criticism about it. However,
despite the blockade I've suffered in international research, I lean to
two very attractive topics—and as far as my information sources permit
me to know—two that have been hardly discussed: first, the oratory style
of the American president who, according to what they are saying here,
"has the Cuban people in his pocket"; and second, "the bridge" between
the two systems and societies, which both presidents brought up.

With regards to oratory, I will not dwell too long on that of the
general-president, considering his having always been in the military,
his extreme longevity, and his usual approach of reading his texts.
Whether or not a man is an excellent orator has nothing to do with his
other aptitudes. Oratory is an art, an art that isn't learned, but that
one is born with and perfects or doesn't. But I propose to compliment
Obama's rhetoric, offering as a counterpart that of some contemporary
Cubans speaking live.

I don't think it was at Harvard where the American learned to launch
these clear and precise parliamentary arrows in the form of short
sentences; then he stops, tightens his lips and puts a brake on the
overflowing words, giving the audience time to digest his ideas and then
one phrase after another, repeats the pauses, often with a smile playing
on his lips and without losing the thread of his exposition, without
even looking at the script that guides him in his discursive ascent and
ending with the clear solidity of a prophet.

How different is the style of some Cubans who speak haltingly, breaking
their phrases as one who walks along a path strewn with large boulders
that must be leaped over, taking a breath in the middle of well known
phrases, seeking respite from the terror of making a mistake and
expounding something that could upset whoever dictated the script.

We appreciate the serene movement of President Obama's hands, always in
a lilting rhythm in sync with the idea of the phrasing. How different
from the immoderate flapping of other local speakers for whom the podium
must be cleared of ornamental objects, lest one of their swipes knock
the microphone to the floor or any other instrument on the set where
they are talking.

The people of Cuba saw a president in the flesh who proposes and
convinces, not the god who taught them to listen with meekness half a
century ago: powerful, imposing, unanswerably humbling and always
threatening.

But let's address the detail of the bridge. Nothing in the theme
surprises us, when many years ago the young Guatemalan singer Ricardo
Arjona wrote and performed a song with this name; watching the video
brings tears to the eyes of Cubans who have suffered a separation from
their loved ones. This time the initiative came from the Cuban
president: it is easy to destroy a bridge; it is difficult to build it
back again; a straightforward simile, but concise.

So the naiveté of the general-president in "mentioning the rope in the
house of the hanged man" surprises; and the condescension of the
northern president in seeking a convergence between the two governments
and not taking the bull by the horns and telling a story that surely he
knows.

The first foundations of that bridge were built by the Americans and the
mambises – Cuban independence fighters – at the end of the 19th century,
when they fought together to free Cuba from Spanish colonialism. Today
very subjective concepts are put forward about what led the United
States to invade Cuba, drumming on "the ripe apple" concept. It would be
good to detail when this apple ripened, with the two principals killed
in combat and the stubborn position of the Spaniards not to abandon the
island. In Spain to this day, when something goes badly for a citizen,
they seek solace in the classic phrase: "More was lost in Cuba." The
Spaniards were so attached to our native land that no one was able to
predict how many more years of fighting and how many human lives
independence would cost.

The first foundations for the bridge were built on solid ground after
the emancipation of the metropolis, and its horizontal beams were laid
when industrialized sugar cane production, the great electricity and
telephone companies and many others were brought to Cuba. Because on 20
May 1902, they lowered the American flag and raised that of Miguel
Tourbe Tolon and Narciso Lopez—names that barely appear in our schools'
current history books—and the Cuban nation had 10 people for every
square kilometer of the homeland.

Republican governments, despite the tyrannies of Machado and Batista,
thanks to close negotiations with the neighbor to the north, paved the
bridge with the building of the Capitol, the central highway and the
walls of the Havana Malecon, despite the aberration of the Model Prison
on the Isle of Pines.

They built hospitals, highways, local roads, and made our currency equal
to the dollar, and Cuba was the most developed country in Latin America,
thanks to a sugar quota with privileged pricing worked out with the
United States.

Projects for a 96-mile highway between Havana and Key West had already
begun: a physical bridge that would link the island to the continent.
Had this project been completed, the tens of thousands of compatriots
drowned in the Florida Straits would have completed their journeys with
greater safety and comfort.

But who broke the bridge? Who led to Washington establishing a
"blockade" against the revolutionary government for having confiscated
without compensation the billions of dollars the Americans invested in
the island during the Republican period?

Who destroyed the agricultural and urban infrastructure of this unhappy
country that today will have no other pillar to lean on if Venezuela
ceases to be socialist?

Who clings to refusing to see that without fundamental changes toward
industrial capitalism and development today's young people will continue
the exodus and we will be left in this beloved land with only feeble old
people, unable even to dig the graves of those who die first?

Source: The Bridge / 14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez – Translating Cuba -
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Cuba's budding businesswomen are learning as they build
Carole Sole, AFP

The six women came to Mexico City to participate in the Women's Forum on
Wednesday and Thursday, an international gathering of women, but also
men, from politics, business and civil society to discuss social and
economic issues.

They came with an arsenal of business cards with phone numbers, email
addresses and even Facebook pages or business websites.

While they use the Internet, web access is very expensive and hard to
come by in Cuba, where it is tightly controlled by the state.

Only 3.4 percent of households have Internet access, but the government
is opening public WiFi hotspots and President Raul Castro has promised
access to all Cubans by 2020.

"Our dreams and wishes include being able to export and through the
Internet you can not only buy but also sell," said Caridad Luisa
Limonta, who owns a workshop of seamstresses in Havana.

"If Cuba is opening up to the world, one of its potentials is to be able
to export," she said.

Gradual changes
In the meantime, like many Cubans who can afford to travel, they take
advantage of their trips to shop for the things they can't find in Cuba.

De la Rosa bought fabric for her children's decoration store, but it was
a "limited" quantity to avoid problems with customs in Havana.

It's nothing compared to the stuff that Nidialys Acosta buys and brings
on planes.

"For example, I've had car bumpers and fenders in my luggage," said
Acosta, who since 2011 has run a business that repairs the famous
classic American cars from the 1950s that are part of Cuba's street
landscape and which are used as taxis for tourists.

Most of the six women used to work for the government but they entered
the nascent private sector that Castro allowed after he succeeded his
brother, Fidel, in 2008.

This has helped them earn more money in a country where the average
monthly salary is $24.

Only 10 percent of the island's labor force, or nearly half a million
people, is in the private sector.

While the US-Cuba diplomatic thaw has raised hopes of change on the
island and a potential end to the US trade embargo, the Communist Party
Congress earlier in April suggested that Havana's opening to the world
would remain slow.

"I think that there were a lot of expectations of sudden, quick changes,
but I think the changes that are coming will be very gradual," Vicente said.

Source: Cuba's budding businesswomen are learning as they build -
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Cuba opens up to U.S., revealing its paradoxes
Much has changed during half-century embargo
BY S. AMJAD HUSSAIN
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

HAVANA — This city is a short 45 minutes from Miami, but until the
relaxation of travel between Cuba and the United States, it could have
been at the end of the world. Many travelers assume the flight to Havana
will be like time travel to a land frozen in the 1950s.

A ride on a burro for 5 pesos in Trinidad.
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE/S. AMJAD HUSSAIN Enlarge | Buy This Photo
That's true, but only up to a point. Havana is an endearing combination
of the old and the new. To an undiscerning eye it is the old that
captures attention — run-down buildings and vintage American cars from
the 1950s plying the streets as taxis. But a closer look reveals an
enchanting and vibrant city where, despite an autocratic government,
human spirit is alive and well in the form of music, arts, and sports.

Travel to Cuba from the United States is possible at this time only by
charter flights for about $500 round trip from several cities. Regular
commercial flights will commence in the fall. Recently, some cruise
lines have added Cuba to their destinations.

Contradictions abound when landing in Havana.

There are vintage American cars running on Japanese and Korean diesel
engines. They run side by side with new Japanese, German, and Korean
imports. There are buildings restored to old glory next to crumbling
buildings.

People on the street appear healthy and well fed, and obesity is rare.
The expected images of unhappy, grim-faced, half-starved people living
under the yoke of a Communist police state just do not materialize.

So to judge Cuba from the looks of run-down buildings and old Chevys is
to ignore the fact that this country of a little more than 11 million
people has, for more than 50 years, not only survived a crushing embargo
by the United States but has made significant progress in certain
sectors of the society, including health care for all its citizens and
medical achievements rivaling first-world nations.

Most Western visitors to the island, particularly from the United
States, unconsciously compare Cuba with other Caribbean destinations.
But it's not fair to judge the well-being of a society or complexity of
a culture by the coarseness of available toilet paper.

In Cuba the government owns everything. In 2008, aging Cuban President
Fidel Castro transferred power to his younger brother Raul Castro, who
in due course relaxed state control on the island's small-scale economy.
That has led to a proliferation of small restaurants and other
businesses in the country.

The relaxation of economic regulations makes it possible for people to
rent rooms in their homes to tourists. There are not enough quality
hotel rooms in Havana to accommodate an increasing number of visitors.
But the prices of food, lodging, and other necessities for tourists have
slowly crept up.

A dinner for five people at an upscale restaurant in Havana cost $180.
That is more than four times the monthly salary a Cuban is paid by the
government.

Cuba has two currencies: ordinary pesos and convertible pesos called
CUCs. The latter is pegged to and usually at par with the U.S. dollar.
Most tourist transactions occur in CUCs, whereas government salaries are
paid in ordinary pesos. Most street transactions by Cubans are conducted
in pesos. Twenty-four pesos equal $1, or one CUC.

The salaries paid to government employees are fixed. A janitor draws the
same monthly salary of just under 1,000 pesos (or 40 CUCs/$40) as a bus
driver, an accountant, or a surgeon.

Even though this salary is grossly insufficient for comfortable living,
the government subsidizes basic food items such as beans, rice, and
sugar. Gasoline is also sold at reduced rates.

For most Cubans trying to live on $40 a month, there must be a lot of
month left at the end of the money. However, looking at the well-fed and
healthy-looking and adequately dressed populace, there has to be some
other source of money.

That other source is the remittance of dollars by the Cuban émigré
community in the United States. According to some estimates, 80 percent
of Cubans receive money from relatives in America.

Havana Times, an electronic daily news website published from Havana,
reported that Cubans received $2.1 billion in cash from relatives in the
United States in 2012. Add to that in-kind remittance in the form of
medicines, electronics, and food items, and the total swells to $5.1
billion. This amount doesn't include money carried illegally onto the
island.

Cuba's government

Havana is a city of about 2 million people. It is a relatively clean
city, and even in poor neighborhoods the potholed streets are clean and
not strewn with garbage and refuse. Average life expectancy in Cuba is
78 years, placing it 38th on a list of 192 countries. By contrast,
average life expectancy in the United States is 79 years.

There is very little evidence of police or the military on the streets
of Havana. And when there were occasional interactions between the
police and a citizen, it always appeared civil and respectful. One
seldom sees speeding or reckless driving on the streets of Havana or in
the countryside. Traffic rules are enforced rather firmly.

Cuba is a police state where the government keeps close tabs on dissent
and protests. In everyday conversation Cubans exercise restraint in
discussing poverty or democracy. Public protest is tolerated, but only
up to a point.

Most Cubans I talked to would not openly criticize the government, and
neither would they embrace the restrictive government policies with
enthusiasm. They were very pleased with restoration of diplomatic
relations with the United States and hoped that lifting of economic
sanctions would bring prosperity to their country. Everyone I talked to
approved and appreciated the visit of President Obama to their country.

Honoring history

Havana is also a city of statues and green spaces. No area illustrates
this better than G Street, which is called Avenue of the Presidents. A
wide boulevard with an ample landscaped median that has statues of
various presidents from a number of Latin American countries that had
stood for a united Latin America. There are the busts or statues of
Salvador Allende of Chile, Omar Torrijos of Panama, and Benito Bolivar
of Venezuela, among many others.

Surprisingly, there are no statues of Fidel Castro or his brother Raul
in public spaces. There is no visible evidence of a cult of personality
of the Communist revolutionary leaders. The only exception is Che
Guevara, who has a large monument and mausoleum dedicated to him in the
city of Santa Clara.

But the biggest monument in Havana is dedicated to Jose Marti, a
revolutionary Cuban poet from the 19th century. He was exiled to Spain
by the colonial Spanish government in 1871 at age 17, and returned to
Cuba 24 years later having lived in Spain, Mexico, New York, and
Guatemala. Within a year of his return to Cuba in 1895, he was killed
during an uprising against the Spanish colonial rule.

Americans may be familiar with a song based on Mr. Marti's celebrated
poems, "Guantanamera." It has been sung by Joan Baez, Jimmy Buffett,
Bobby Darin, Jose Feliciano, and many others.

A grand monument to him stands in the northern part of Havana. President
Obama visited it on his trip to Cuba in March. Mr. Marti's likeness in
stone and marble is present all over the country.

To get a flavor for Cuba, the real Cuba, leave the capital and take to
the wide-open spaces to meet people on their own turf. During my travel
to the cities of Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santa Clara, I was afforded
that opportunity.

Travel in Cuba is comfortable on well-maintained roads. Most of them
have an outside lane for horse-drawn vehicles. Yes, horse-drawn buggies,
small flatbeds, and carriages are an integral part of the Cuban landscape.

The resurgence of horses as a means of transporting people and cargo in
Cuba was the result of the American embargo and the scarcity of
gasoline. On main highways there are signs of carriage crossings, not
unlike the signs we see in Amish areas of the United States.

The Cuban countryside is lush, green, and fertile. Along the roads are
wide swaths of agricultural land where most of the crops are grown in
collective farms. The crops include sugar cane, tobacco, potatoes, rice,
beans, fruits, and coffee. One third of the land in Cuba is under
cultivation, and the agriculture sector employs one in five working Cubans.

Villagers bring their products and sell them to passing motorists on the
side of the expressway — small slabs of homemade cheese, bunches of
bananas and plantains, and large garlands of onions and garlic.

Along the southern coast of Cuba, 160 miles from Havana, is the small
town of Cienfuegos. An important battle was fought here between the U.S.
Marines and Spanish forces in the late 19th century during the
Spanish-American War. In 1957, during the fighting between Batista
regime and the communists, the town was bombarded by Cuban air force and
badly damaged. Now there are hardly any visible scars of those battles.

At the outskirts of Cienfuegos, visitors are greeted by a large
billboard depicting Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Hugo Chavez of
Venezuela commemorating the visit of former president Chavez in 2007 to
attend a petroleum summit.

Mr. Chavez stayed at Palacio Azul, a small seven-room hotel where we had
booked our stay. Mr. Chavez left a handwritten note, displayed outside
the room, in which he expressed his "endless" love for Cuba.

From Cienfuegos, a one-hour drive to the east is the small town of
Trinidad nestled in the foothills of Escambray Mountains. The town is
known for its cobblestone streets, small boutique shops, and street-side
market where locally made wicker baskets, panama hats, cotton garments,
and trinkets of all kinds are sold.

Trinidad neighbors the Valley of the Sugar Mills, with the smokestacks
of sugar mills dotting the landscape. There are at least 70 historic
cane mills in this region.

Just 55 miles north of Trinidad is the provincial town of Santa Clara,
halfway between the northern and southern coasts. It is a thriving city
of 250,000 and ranks as the fifth largest in Cuba.

People of Santa Clara

Two people, both dead, dominate the history of this city. First is a
philanthropic woman by the name of Marta Abreu de Estevez (1845-1909),
who is credited with giving the city its present look by donating large
sums of money for construction of public buildings and a variety of
charitable causes.

The other is Ernesto Che Guevara, commonly known as Che. Born to an
aristocratic family in Argentina in 1928, Che studied medicine but was
attracted to Marxist revolutionary ideas.

He traveled extensively throughout South America and was deeply affected
by the poverty, disease, and deprivation among the poor.

He joined the Castro brothers in their struggle to overthrow the
U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and played a pivotal role in the
two-year guerrilla war that led to the Communist takeover of Cuba in
1959. Here in Santa Clara, Che led a crucial battle in late 1958 that
turned the tide in favor of the communists, compelling Batista to flee
the island.

In post-revolutionary Cuba, Che was a central figure after Fidel Castro.
As minister of industries he instituted agrarian land reforms.

His aim was to help bring about a worldwide proletarian revolution. He
left Cuba in 1965 for Congo and then Bolivia. He was captured in Bolivia
and was summarily executed.

Che is celebrated as a national hero in Cuba. In 1997 his remains were
brought from Bolivia to Cuba and were entombed in a large mausoleum
erected in his honor in Santa Clara, where there is a statue of Che atop
a column, with disheveled hair, wearing his trademark fatigues and
beret, and holding a gun.

The inscription on the column reads: Until the Eternal Victory.

Tomorrow: Health care in Cuba.

S. Amjad Hussain is an emeritus professor of surgery and humanities at
the University of Toledo. His column appears every other Monday in The
Blade. Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net.

Source: Cuba opens up to U.S., revealing its paradoxes - Toledo Blade -
http://www.toledoblade.com/World/2016/05/01/Cuba-opens-up-to-U-S-revealing-its-paradoxes.html Continue reading
Central Bank Denies Rumor About Devaluation Of Cuban Convertible Peso /
14ymedio

A line outside a currency exchange (Cadeca) Friday, amid rumors of a
reduction in the value of Cuban convertible pesos CUC. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, 29 April 2016 — The Central Bank of Cuba on Friday denied a
possible reduction in the value of the Cuban convertible pesos. State
financial institution reported that "the exchange rate remains at 24
Cuban pesos per one Cuban convertible peso for sales of CUC by the
population at banks and Cadeca (currency exchanges)."

For several days the lines in front of currency exchanges had been
lengthening due to the growing rumors of a fall in the value of the CUC.
However, the Central Bank says the rumor as "false information about the
reduction in the exchange rage that is currently applied."

The explanatory note published in the official press notes that "the
report to the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party confirmed, once
more, the decision to guarantee bank deposits in foreign currency, Cuban
convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP, as well as cash held by
the population."

Source: Central Bank Denies Rumor About Devaluation Of Cuban Convertible
Peso / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/central-bank-denies-rumor-about-devaluation-of-cuban-convertible-peso-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario
Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign
Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in
the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of
their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand
Cubans, most stranded on the border with Costa Rica, will also benefit
from this operation, the last of its type, according to the Panamanian
president, Juan Carlos Varela on Thursday.

"Starting from the completion of transfer operation of the Cubans
counted in the census, those who enter later will have to make a
decision about what country they want to return to; we can't become a
permanent logistical support for the trafficking of migrants," warned
the Panamanian president.

According to the regional director of migration, commissioner Alfredo
Cordoba, the transfer of more than 200 migrants in various shelters to
the Los Planes encampment began yesterday afternoon. "This mainly
involved pregnant women and families with children, who need to be
brought to a place with the attentions they deserve," he said.

The official told this newspaper that the purpose of this measure is to
"concentrate all the migrants in one area where their basic needs can be
met, taking into account their rights as people."

Cordoba said that right now there are 3,704 Cuban migrants in the
Republic of Panama, who should be gradually transferred to Gualaca,
where a joint task force–which includes the National Civil Protection
System (SINAPROC), the Panama National Migration Service, the State
Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National Police–have mobilized to
address the humanitarian crisis.

"I believe we are in the final stretch, at least they are already making
photocopies of our passports, and that's something," said Angel Chale,
one of the stranded who came through Ecuador. Chale decided to abandon
the old Bond warehouse, in San Isidro, a mile from the Costa Rican
frontier, where she shared the floor with 400 other Cubans in the most
precarious conditions.

Both Angel and Leslie Jesus Barrera have spent a week at the Los Planes
shelter. "This place where we are now is pretty fun. Usually we play
baseball, dominoes or we dance," says Barrera. "We help when they ask us
to collaborate with some chore and for the rest, it's like camping." He
added that he is very grateful for the treatment he has received from
the Panama government, which right now includes free medical care.

The godmother of Cubans

Angela Buendia is the director of community organizing for SINAPROC, but
migrants have dubbed her "the godmother." As she herself says, "They
call me that because I identify with their needs and all the pain they
have gone through."

Buendia says she learned to deal with migrants from the island in the
last crisis and since then sympathizes with the plight of "these
thousands of people who have to leave their land and often go through
very intense trauma." She stresses that, even after spending weeks in
Panama, many still live in fear.

According to her, the migratory flow does not seem to stop, although
official statistics indicate a decline. "Every day we receive between 20
and 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriqui. This is why we decided to prepare
this camp."

Buendia explained that Los Planes was originally built to shelter Swiss
workers who worked on a local dam. "It's a ten acre site with a fresh
landscape and all amenities," she added. She also stressed that "the
only prohibition is not to leave at night, and this is for their own
security." She said they will have free WiFi, but right now they can use
data connections on a local network.

"The biggest problem I've had with the Cuban people is that when they
come here, having come from a place without freedom, they feel
completely free and clear, sometimes confusing liberty with license,"
she said.

Not everyone wants to be in the shelter

But not everyone wants to go to the shelter in Los Planes. "The problem
that I see to this place is that it is very far away. From the Milennium
one can at least work 'under the table' and earn a few bucks," said
Dariel, who prefers to omit his last name for fear of discovery. His
work as a carpenter, a trade he learned in Cuba, allows him to cover his
expenses and at the same time, he confesses, save something "for the end
of the journey."

"Here there were even Cubans who were whoring and charge less than the
Panamanians. Those were the smart ones, because in the end, they managed
to get together the money and now they're in the [United States]," says
the migrant.

In overcrowded rooms, hallways, or simply in tents put up at dusk in the
doorways of neighboring houses, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to
stay near the Costa Rican border.

"It's a problem that affects communities that often find themselves
overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving," says Commissioner Cordoba.

Many of the local inhabitants, from Puerto Obaldia to Paso Canoas, have
seen a business opportunity in the Cubans. With the flow of migrants,
businesses have flourished from hostels to simple restaurants where the
prices are usually double for inhabitants of the island.

"I don't want to go to the Gualaca shelter because it's very far away, I
prefer to stay here because I'm in a village and at least I can fend for
myself," says Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who arrived in Panama
from Guyana. "It's hard, sure, but if I want to go with a coyote
tomorrow, there will be no one to stop me."

The coyotes prowl…

Juan Ramon is one of those Cubans stranded in Panama who decided not to
wait any longer to reach the United States. After collecting $1,400 from
family and friends in Miami, he left one night sneaking across the Costa
Rican border, along with six other companions under the guidance of a
coyote. "In each country a coyote handed us off to another, and we have
gone all the way: through the jungles, rivers, lakes… it is very hard,"
he said.

The worst thing for the young man was the moment they ran into a
military checkpoint in Nicaragua, where "a thug assaulted us, sent by
the same guide, who robbed us of everything we had. He even took our
cellphone. It was a terrible experience because it could have cost our
lives and nobody would have known about it," he told this newspaper.

After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramon found himself at the
border crossing station of El Paso, Texas, hoping they would process his
documents to enter the United States under the "parole" program.

To try to circumvent the army and police control on the borders of Costa
Rica and Nicaragua the migrants use unique measures such as hiding
themselves in a water pipe or hiding in a boat to pass through the
dangerous coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean.

In November of last year, Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government closed
the borders of his country to Cuban migrants using Central America as a
path to the United States.

The measure worked like a plug, leaving 8,000 people stranded in Costa
Rica, which in turn also closed its border transferring the problem to
Panama. Following an agreement with Mexico, both countries managed to
build a humanitarian bridge that allowed the orderly exit of a great
part of the migrants.

The coyotes, or human traffickers, have turned the migration to the
north into a huge business that generates millions of dollars. From
October of 2014, almost 132,000 Central Americans and around 75,000
Cubans reached the southern border of the United States.

The Cuban government has reiterated that all the migrants have left Cuba
legally and so can return to the country.

Source: Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico /
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/panama-prepares-the-final-transfer-of-cubans-to-mexico-14ymedio-mario-penton/ Continue reading
Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices? /
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 26 April 2016 — All of my life I've
heard from mouth of the main leaders of the country that the high prices
for many of the products sold in Cuba are caused, among other variables,
by the "high cost of fuel on the world market." This, according to them,
raises the price of production processes inside and outside the country,
creating an upward spiral that affects the price of goods and services.

"What small and underdeveloped economy can grow with prices of 126
dollars barrel of oil? Only rich countries can pay that, those who want
the world to continue to be the same so that the South can't develop.
The imperialists are like this, they want to dominate the world
according to their own desires." Phrases like these were heard everyday
on TV programs like The Roundtable.

Today, oil prices have fallen by nearly 75 percent, and the newspaper
Granma acknowledges that this affected the recently announced "price
adjustments" of certain products the government sells in Cuban
convertible pesos (CUC).

Then, I wonder: What are Oliver Zamora Oria and all official Cuban
journalists who speak on the subject doing accusing U.S. and Saudi
Arabia of "not cooperating" with the intention of some OPEC members to
increase prices ? Isn't Cuba, a net importer of fuels, greatly
benefited, like most of the planet, by the current prices?

In my opinion, we should be jumping for joy, because I assume that if we
can afford cheaper crude oil, then the agricultural sectors , transport,
energy, industry etc. will be stimulated… What is the point of the
strange anger of the Cuban Government press about the failure of the
last meeting held in Doha, Qatar?

Many can be the interests that move the editorial decisions of the media
monopoly in Cuba. But, definitely, the general interests of the nation
and a greater benefit for the public are not part of them.

Translated by Alberto

Source: Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices? /
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/why-is-the-official-press-crying-over-the-fall-in-oil-prices-14ymedio-eliecer-avila/ Continue reading
19 Cuban migrants make landfall in the Keys a day after 23 do in Key West
BY LARRY KAHN
lkahn@keynoter.com April 29, 2016 Updated 13 hours ago

With the calming seas this time of year come more migrants trying to
make it across the Florida Straits from Cuba.

Friday, 19 more arrived on Keys shores. Twelve men landed their homemade
sailboat at 4 a.m. at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier around mile marker
92.5 oceanside and seven others landed around 11 a.m. on an island off
Geiger Key in the Lower Keys. They followed a Thursday landing about 2
a.m. at Smathers Beach in Key West, where 21 Cuban men and two women alit.

"During the calm season and with the weather patterns" of the summer,
more migrant trips are expected, U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent
Adam Hoffner said.

He said that with the U.S.' rapprochement to the Cuban government after
half a century of having no diplomatic ties, some Cubans fear that the
wet-foot, dry-foot policy that allows Cubans who make it to American
soil to stay will go away. That's driving many to try to make it the 90
miles across the sea.

Hoffner said it's a bad idea.

"Smuggling organizations oftentimes put these migrants in perilous
situations," he said.

Early Friday, the 12 who landed in Tavernier were being interviewed at
the Border Patrol's Marathon office. Hoffner said this wasn't
necessarily a case of smuggling.

"They made a long journey in that sailboat," he said. "They had been
traveling at sea for approximately five days on that rustic vessel.
They'll go through their processing, go before an immigration judge."

Jo Holcombe, 71, who lives across the street from Harry Harris Park, was
awakened by her dogs, who "kept barking." She said the migrants were
under a light pole in the park and her husband Will called 911.

Deputies from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, firefighters and an
ambulance crew arrived and gave them water, Jo Holcombe said.

"They were still standing under the light pole when I went back to bed,"
she said.

They were in good health and had no medical emergencies, Hoffner said.
The ones who landed in Key West were at sea for three days.

Don Rhodes contributed to this report.

Source: 19 Cuban migrants make landfall in the Keys a day after 23 do in
Key West | News | KeysNet -
http://www.keysnet.com/2016/04/29/508171/19-cuban-migrants-make-landfall.html Continue reading
Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring
AFP
April 30, 2016

Havana (AFP) - Visiting British Foreign Secretary Anthony Hammond
reached an agreement on restructuring Cuban debt payments in a meeting
with President Raul Castro, officials in Havana said.

The agreement deals with Cuba's mid and long-term debt with Britain,
according to a Cuban government statement.

The agreement "should contribute to the development of economic,
commercial and financial relations between the two nations," the
statement reads.

At the meeting, Castro and Hammond "verified the advances" in bilateral
relations and "the potentials" in areas of mutual interest.

Neither the British embassy in Havana nor Cuban officials gave a figure
for the debt, nor any further details on the agreement.

In December, Cuba reached an agreement with its creditors in the Paris
Club -- which include Britain, France, and Spain -- to pay $2.6 billion
in debt unpaid to foreign creditors for the last 25 years.

In exchange, the Paris Club is writing off the interest accumulated of
$8.5 billion.

Hammond is the first British foreign secretary to visit Cuba since the
1959 revolution.

The visit also follows meetings in recent months between Castro and
other top officials and leaders from the European Union.

Castro met with French President Francois Hollande on a visit to Paris
in February.

In March, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini became
the highest-ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba when she travelled to
Havana.

She signed a deal to normalize relations with Cuba, including an
agreement on human rights.

Cuba's leaders have rejected criticism of their human rights record by
the United States and Europe, warning that they will not tolerate
meddling in their country's internal affairs.

Britain was the second-biggest source of foreign tourists to Cuba last
year after Canada, with 160,000 Britons making the trip.

Hammond's visit comes one month after US President Barack Obama's
historic visit to the Caribbean nation, which is opening up to warmer
ties with its old Cold War rivals.

Although Havana and Washington restored diplomatic ties last year, the
US trade embargo on Cuba dating to the 1960s remains in place.

Source: Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/britains-hammond-cubas-castro-agree-debt-restructuring-062254529.html?ref=gs Continue reading
Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops
By ALAN BJERGA AND MARVIN G. PEREZ Bloomberg News
First Published 4 hours ago

Florida citrus farmer Dan Richey is worried about a Cuban fruit invasion.

"They have a better climate than us and the same growing season," said
Richey, who farms 4,000 acres of mostly grapefruit near Vero Beach.
"They could become the low-cost competitor, right at our doorstep."

While a diplomatic thaw is just beginning, President Barack Obama is
seeking closer U.S. trade ties with Cuba, signaling an end to five
decades of sanctions that left the country starved of cash and little
changed since Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959.

That's clearing a path for more agricultural investment on a Caribbean
island just 90 miles south of Florida.

Cubans have been more buyers than competitors because they eat mostly
imported food and already get grain from the Midwest.

But expanded farming in the country poses a new threat for Florida, the
top U.S. grower of sugar cane, oranges and fresh tomatoes. Cuba was once
a major supplier of sugar, fruits and vegetables, and with land
untouched by modern chemicals or genetically modified seed, it is
drawing the attention of organic food producers.

"The opening of full trade and commercial relations with Cuba will have
a more significant impact on Florida agriculture than anything else in
the history of our state," said William Messina, an agricultural
economist with the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Trade agreements have been a lightning rod in this year's presidential
campaign. Candidates from both parties have decried the impact on jobs
when domestic industries are forced to compete with cheaper imports,
especially those subsidized by foreign governments or produced with
fewer workplace or environmental rules than in the United States.

U.S. farmers were early and enthusiastic advocates for closer ties with
Cuba. Congress in 2000 authorized humanitarian exports, including
agricultural products valued at $685 million in 2008.

Since 2014, when Obama moved to re-establish normal diplomatic ties --
an effort that included a trip to Havana to meet Raul Castro, who
replaced his brother Fidel as Cuba's leader -- agriculture groups have
streamed south. Cuban purchases could mean $1.1 billion in annual sales
for American farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. But
the prospect of more grain sales has overshadowed concerns from growers
who may eventually compete with the island once crop output is expanded.

"Exports to Cuba are always a huge economic opportunity," said Janell
Hendren, national affairs coordinator with the Florida Farm Bureau
Federation in Gainesville. "Imports from Cuba we are not really keen on."

The state is the biggest U.S. producer of oranges and sugar cane, and
ranks second to California in vegetables and third in fruit. Florida
sold $4.2 billion of crops in 2014, exporting $3.6 billion of them,
according to USDA data.

Cuban agricultural production struggled as its economy sputtered. In
1989, the island was the largest sugar producer behind Brazil and India,
growing 8.12 million metric tons, USDA data show. With the collapse of
the Soviet Union, its biggest buyer, production plunged. By 2011, it was
1.1 million tons, the lowest since before the revolution.

"They don't have much money, but they have land they could give away to
farmers," said Messina, the University of Florida professor. "That makes
production much less expensive."

It's also a lure for U.S. investors. Agricultural equipment maker Deere
& Co., soybean processor Bunge Ltd., and several state farm bureaus are
all in favor of opening Cuba trade, according to lobbying records.
Cargill Inc., the world's largest agribusiness, is bankrolling the U.S.
Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, a consortium of commodity growers, farm
lenders and exporters.

Members of an organics-focused group that includes food companies like
Stonyfield Farm plan to visit Cuba for several days starting May 3. They
see the island's land and farming practices as a potential fit,
especially with expanding demand for food that isn't produced with
pesticides or genetically modified seeds.

"We as an industry need to start to developing new supply chains," said
Dave Alexander, president of Global Organics, the biggest seller of
organic sugar in the U.S. and Europe. "We're rapidly approaching the
time when demand is far outstripping supply."

Any competition with Cuba is still years away, and its agricultural
exports to the U.S. probably will never evolve beyond niche-market
status, said John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council.

Crop diseases may be a bigger immediate concern, especially if the U.S.
moves too quickly ease limits on food imports. Citrus greening, which is
destroying fruit trees, has cut Florida's production of oranges, its
biggest crop, by 46 percent since 2013, according to a USDA forecast in
April. Meanwhile, fruit flies have damaged crops in Dade County.

"Some of the insects and disease that we got in citrus came from
abroad," including South America, said Dean Mixon, 64, who grows citrus
on 50 acres in Bradenton, Florida, that his grandfather started in 1930.
"There are large plantations with citrus in Cuba, and they don't have
all the rules and regulations we do, that's when it becomes unfair."

The White House is sensitive to grower concerns but sees plenty of room
for more supply, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Cuba is in a position to be a supplier, especially in organic," Vilsack
said by telephone on April 20. "But that doesn't necessarily mean
they're competing against us when there's so much demand."

Source: Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops | The Salt Lake
Tribune -
http://www.sltrib.com/home/3837406-155/food-fight-with-cuba-risky-for?fullpage=1 Continue reading
Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of modernity
HAVANA | BY SARAH MARSH

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Friday praised Cuban
President Raul Castro for embracing the realities of the modern world
after a meeting with the Communist leader that marked a further step in
Cuba's thaw with the West.

He is the first British Foreign Secretary to set foot on the Caribbean
island since its 1959 revolution, and his visit follows one by U.S.
President Barack Obama in March.

Hammond said he had a "long and interesting discussion" with Castro
about the octogenarian leader's push to update one of the world's last
Soviet-style command economies.

"He is espousing a program of gradual change, embracing the realities of
the world we live in," Hammond said in an interview at the British
ambassador's residence in Havana.

"I was very struck by the fact that he described the Internet as the
reality of our world, spoke positively about the benefits the Internet
could bring."

Cuba still has one of the world's lowest Internet penetrations with
access expensive and restricted.

The state says it wants to expand access and has been installing Wi-Fi
hotspots throughout the country. But change is slow and critics suggest
the government fears losing control of media and seeing new avenues of
political opposition open up.

Castro has vowed to "update" Cuba's socialist model but market-style
reforms have been implemented haltingly and even reversed in some areas.
A Communist Party Congress this month proposed little new to tackle the
country's economic woes.

"Castro is seeking to position himself in the middle between those who
are resisting change and those who want much faster, more radical
change," said Hammond, adding that Britain hoped to foster reforms
through cooperation in certain sectors.

The Foreign Secretary said the government recognized its financial
services sector was underdeveloped.

"Castro said to me directly 'we lack management expertise in banking
services' and this is an area where the UK (United Kingdom) has
something very clear to offer," he said.

The main sectors where Britain sees opportunities for its companies to
do business in Cuba were financial services, tourism and renewable
energy, Hammond said.

Challenges to doing business in Cuba remain however, he said, not least
due to the U.S. trade embargo.

"We have also had discussions with the U.S. about the challenges for
British and other European banks in doing business with countries that
face U.S. sanctions," said Hammond.

"There are some problems here but we are working through them with the
U.S. and hope to make progress in a way that will enable British
businesses to do more business with Cuba."

Exports of British goods to Cuba rose 32 percent in 2015 compared with
the previous year but the government deems there is scope for growth as
other European countries export far more to the island.

(Editing by James Dalgleish)

Source: Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of
modernity | Reuters -
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-britain-idUSKCN0XQ2ME Continue reading
"The opposition has not matured," Laments Martha Beatriz Roque /
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 28 April 2016 — Martha Beatriz Roque
has returned from Miami after receiving a permit from the Cuban
government in late February, which authorized her to leave the country
one time. The activist was one of the seven former prisoners of the
Black Spring of 2003 who benefited from this permit. She returns with a
certain pessimism and a critical impression of the state of the Cuban
opposition.

Lilianne Ruiz. You returned from abroad after permission from the Cuban
government, which allowed you to make only one trip. What impressions
did you bring back from your stay outside the country?

Martha Beatriz Roque. I come back with a tremendous pain in my heart
about what I have seen there. In Miami there is the historic exile, who
love their country, their fatherland, who talk about democracy, who
think about Cuba constantly and who have a great nostalgia for the
island, but this historic exile, unfortunately, is getting old and some
of its members have died.

However, many people who are coming to Miami through different
countries, including now through Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama, are
turning their backs on Cuba, they even want to forget that they are
Cubans. These are people who are a part of a social fabric here that is
broken, who have no ethics, no formal education and they are
contaminating Miami.

LR. What do you think has been the outcome of Barack Obama's visit to Cuba?

MBR. Obama has his agenda and within it is defending the interests of
American citizens, as is natural, because that is his country. He has
made it clear that the problems of Cuba have to be solved by Cubans and
that is important. The people had a great lesson with Obama's visit: for
the people it has meant hope, which the Communist Party Congress
subsequently tried to annihilate.

LR. And the opposition?

MBR. In Cuba there are opponents, but an opposition, as such, does not
exist. An opposition exists in Venezuela, because it has been capable of
uniting despite its disagreements. We are not capable of something like
that yet. Here the unity lasts seconds.

LR. Did the 7th Congress of the Communist Party frustrate you, or were
you were expecting something like what happened?

MBR. The Party Congress was going to be postponed to another date but it
was held to try to counter what Obama said to the Cuban people, and
because of this they didn't have any finished [guiding] document. Some
said, after the Congress was over, "We were right, Obama has achieved
nothing." Others say that the Congress was a way of demonstrating the
failure of what Obama is doing, but I would not say that. Much less do I
think it is a failure, because there are things that have been
accelerated with Obama's visit.

LR. Like what?

MBR. In the specific case of the eleven members of us from the [Black
Spring] group of 75 who remain in Cuba, we were not allowed to leave the
country and, at least in this moment, they allowed us one trip abroad.
There have been solutions to some problems that you couldn't say are
changes, without the reestablishment of rights. This has to be seen as
something satisfactory, not as something negative. In the not so distant
future other solutions will have to come, because the economic, social
and political situation of the country is unbearable.

LR. Will it be the self-employed who change Cuba?

MBR. The Cuban regime will not allow any self-employed to export,
because that, they will say, is reserved for the businesses of the
Ministry of Foreign Trade. The United States government is trying to
have direct relationships with the self-employed, but that is not going
to be allowed. Right now, when some self-employed turn their faces just
slightly to the north, they're going to cut off those businesses they're
going to stop everything.

LR. Can access to the internet help make the changes occur?

MBR. The regime does not allow it because they know that the internet is
a source of knowledge, of the transmission of news and possibilities.

LR. What is the Cuban opposition lacking to be able to call forth the
people?

MBR. First of all, it lacks leadership. Unfortunately, here everyone
wants to be a leader, no one wants to be in the line, everyone wants to
be at the head of it. It also lacks the exile,, which is capable of
manufacturing a leader and putting forward a project with resources, but
this does not solve anything.

LR. Do you see any chance for the opposition to influence the
constitutional referendum announced by the government?

MBR. The opposition has not matured, it is still the same, generating
documents, projecting itself abroad, meeting abroad, telling people what
they have to do. But if the opposition doesn't take advantage of this
moment to work jointly with the people, it's simple, nothing is going to
happen. If they don't work with the people, if they don't raise
awareness among the people, what does it matter that they go to meet the
Pope in Rome, it's all the same, it is simply not going to solve anything.

Source: "The opposition has not matured," Laments Martha Beatriz Roque /
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-opposition-has-not-matured-laments-martha-beatriz-roque-14ymedio-lilianne-ruiz/ Continue reading
Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 25 April 2016 — It is a Black Friday of a different sort.
In the United States the morning after Thanksgiving marks the beginning
of the Christmas discount season, where people wait in long lines to buy
electronics, computers and clothing. But in Cuba on Friday, April 22 — a
date when the military government has reduced prices by 20% on a variety
of grocery items — there are no lines

As usually happens at Brimart, a grocery store in the heavily populated
Tenth of October district where products are sold for hard currency,
employees open the doors fifteen minutes late.

Seven people are waiting outside. Four of them know about the sale on
chicken and ground meat but are only planning on buying their usual
items, which in the case of Mireya, a housewife, consists of a kilogram
of chicken thighs, two packages of ground turkey and, if available,
three containers of natural yogurt smoothies. "With the 0.70 centavos I
save on the chicken and ground turkey," she says, "I plan on buying my
granddaughter a piece of candy."

Arnaldo, a carpenter, found out about the sale before going into the
store. "I'm going to buy chicken, ground beef, cooking oil, detergent
and soap," he says. "With what I have left over, I'm going to buy two
Planchaos (small cardboard containers with two quarter bottles of rum).
The only way to disconnect from this country is by getting plastered and
watching the paquete."*

Among the products listed as being on sale, Brimart only has chicken
thighs, whole chickens, ground beef and one-liter bottles of cooking
oil. Shortages are noticeable. However, the shelves are full of rum,
whisky, wine, beer, canned tomato puree and plastic bottles of vegetable
oil.

"I was expecting a big crowd, but it is as slow as ever," says Olga
Lidia, a state worker. "A lot of people are happy about the sale. It
has a positive impact on the household budget. But the reality is that
the discounts are on items sold in a currency to which a lot of people
don't have access."

Rachel, a store employee, confirms they are waiting on shipments of a
wide assortment of canned goods, cookies and cold cuts but, she notes,
"according to the manager, they have not arrived yet due to the
transportation problem."

On the lower level of the Carlos III shopping mall, there are people
eating hamburgers and drinking draft beer in the food court, while in
the meat and cheese department a man with a furrowed brow is looking at
prices.

"What sons-of-bitches," referring to government officials, he says.
"They lower the prices by a few centavos on ground meat and chicken —
the food of the poor people — but beef, good fish and imported cheeses
still cost an arm and a leg."

Noel, an economist, believes this is new measure is a populist move. It
is more a political ploy than anything else," he notes. "They know how
disgusted people on the street are. The price reductions they have put
in place won't even put a dent in the 240% to 400% markups on goods sold
in convertible pesos. These twenty-percent reductions are a way to curb
discontent."

Although Susana, a professor approves of the reductions, she claims they
will be of no benefit to her. "We teachers earn between 500 to 600 pesos
(twenty to twenty-five dollars) a month. That is barely enough to eat
on. The government should be thinking about raising salaries and
lowering prices of household appliances," she says as she eyes a washing
machine costing 757 CUC, the equivalent of three-years salary for an
elementary school teacher.

Gilberto — the manager of a market inside a store in the Flores
neighborhood in Miramar, a suburb west of the capital — cannot guarantee
that people will always be able to find the lower-priced items on sale.

"Because supply outstrips demand," he explains," and generally owners of
food and hospitality businesses buy in large quantities. All this
suggests the government reduced prices after taking into account its
stores' inventories."

Selma, the proprietor of a cafe, does not think prices will be lowered
at food service establishments.

"If the price of these foods stays low and the prices of other items are
gradually reduced, then that might lower the costs for family
businesses, but we'll have to wait and see. In Cuba prices are lowered
on things that are in short supply, like potatoes. They used to sell
them by the pound and now you can only get them once a year," says Selma.

In several of Havana's hard currency stores, things have been in short
supply for the last ten months. Chicken breasts, yogurt and domestically
produced cheese are scarce almost everywhere.

Dariel, the head of business that occupies one floor of a building in
the old part of the city, sees the glass half full. "They say that there
will be ships coming into port loaded with food and other things to sell
in stores," he says.

It seems Cuba is always waiting for its ship to come in.

*Translator's note: the "package," a weekly compendium of foreign TV
serials, soap operas, sports shows and films sold illicitly throughout Cuba.

Source: Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan
Garcia – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/price-reductions-on-food-items-in-cuba-are-not-enough-ivan-garcia/ Continue reading
Two Russian Deputies Propose Reestablishing Signal Intercept Station in
Cuba / 14ymedio

Two Russian Deputies put forward a proposal to President Vladimir Putin
to study the reestablishment of the Lourdes signals interception center
in Cuba, as well as the deployment of Russian missile launchers on the
island "to protect the interests of Moscow and its allies," as local
media reported this Wednesday.

The initiative comes as a response to the agreement between the United
States and Turkey which will allow the deployment in May of high
mobility tactical missiles (Himars) in the Southeast part of the Ottoman
country, near the border with Syria, to deal with attacks by the
jihadist group the Islamic State.

"We believe it is possible to use the Soviet experience to contain the
current expansionist intentions of United States," said Valery Rashkin
and Sergei Obukhov, members of the Communist Party, in explaining the
request.

The center for signals interception, located near Havana, was shut down
in 2002. However, the director of the Department of Latin America in the
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an interview last February
that Moscow had no intention of opening military bases on the island.

Translated by Alberto

Source: Two Russian Deputies Propose Reestablishing Signal Intercept
Station in Cuba / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/two-russian-deputies-propose-reestablishing-signal-intercept-station-in-cuba-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring Their
Families From Cuba / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 28 April 2016 – Former
Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera, Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge
Ramirezmet Thursday in Miami with staff for Representative Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen for help in bringing their relatives from Cuba.

The three were part of the group of 53 dissidents released as part of
negotiations between Cuba and the United States that allowed the return
to the island of the Cuban spies still in American prisons. But shortly
after their release, the opposition members had been returned to prison.

Days before US president Barack Obama's visit to Cuba on 20 March, they
were released and taken to US territory in less than 72 hours, which
some interpret as a goodwill gesture by Raul Castro's government, and
others as an attempt to hide the presence of political prisoners in
Cuban jails.

According to the dissidents, US officials who mediated their release
promised them that their families would also leave for the United States
in less than a week. But to date, they remain in Cuba.

The opponents are threatening to return to the island "on a raft" if the
process of reunification is not accelerated.

"We feel betrayed," said Jorge Ramirez, an independent labor unionist
from Villa Clara who claimed that the American embassy in Havana, the
Catholic Church and the Cuban government had all gone back on their word.

"The American staff told us that our families would be here in a week,"
commented Riviaux, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), who
spent nine years in prison charged with the crimes of assault, contempt
and dangerousness.

"It's been a month since our relatives went to Havana, and this is good.
If we do not see any progress, we will be the next rafters, but heading
in the direction of Cuba," he said.

For Jorge Ramirez it's "a trick" which they played on them to get them
to leave the island. According to him, "possibly it involved officials
of the American government and even the Vatican."

According to Ramirez, the main problem is that while the Cuban
government is putting obstacles in the way of the families leaving Cuba,
they have no way to help them economically.

"Some exile groups have helped us modestly, but this support doesn't
reach our families. We have no official documents that allows us to send
money to Cuba. We don't have permission to work," he commented.

Ramirez's wife, Nelida Lima Conde, is also a human rights activist in
Cuba, and was self-employed when the release came through. As she told
this newspaper, officials at the US embassy promised that she would be
with her husband in a week, so she quit her job and took her children
out of school.

According to the activist, fifteen days after her husband left for the
United Stated she was notified that she should ask the Cuban immigration
authorities for her passport, but because she was under sanction by the
courts, they didn't give her one. After the annulment of the sentence,
the next obstacle was that her husband had to send permission for the
children to leave the island. The document has to be stamped by the
Cuban consulate to allow the minors to emigrate.

According to Ramirez, the government is putting these obstacles in their
way "in revenge."

Yudislady Travieso, the wife of Rivera, confirmed that she is in the
same situation and that she feels "deceived."

"What they really wanted was to get them to leave Cuba. They never said
anything to us about the permits they're asking for now," she added.

Travieso and her four daughters, who live in Guantanamo, spent almost a
month in Havana, where they have no family, while making arrangements
for the trip, but did not resolve anything.

"They are going from home to home," Rivera said, adding that the
situation is very difficult for his family, who are "humble people."

Source: Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring
Their Families From Cuba / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/former-political-prisoners-say-that-the-us-did-not-fulfill-its-promise-to-bring-their-families-from-cuba-14ymedio-abel-fernandez-mario-penton/ Continue reading
British foreign minister visits Cuba in first such trip since
AFP | London
April 29, 2016 Last Updated at 05:22 IST

Britain's foreign minister has arrived in Cuba in the first such visit
since 1959, to hold talks on cooperation in "financial services, energy,
culture and education", London announced.

It follows last month's landmark visit by President Barack Obama to the
Caribbean nation as part of a historic rapprochement between Cuba and
the United States after 50 years of enmity stemming back to the Cold War.

"As the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Cuba since before the
Cuban Revolution in 1959, this is an opportunity to hear for myself what
Cuba thinks about its present challenges and where it sees its future,"
Philip Hammond said in a statement yesterday.

He is to hold a series of meetings with his Cuban counterpart Bruno
Rodriguez and other government leaders, according to Britain's Foreign
and Commonwealth Office.

Hammond is also to sign a "bilateral agreement restructuring Cuba's debt
to the UK" and agree on future cooperation in a range of areas from
financial services to energy and education.

The foreign minister also hopes to raise the issues of social and
economic changes in Cuba, human rights, trade, and the response to
health issues such as the Zika virus.

"Britain and Cuba have outlooks on the world and systems of government
that are very different," Hammond said in a statement.

"But as Cuba enters a period of significant social and economic change,
I am looking forward to demonstrating to the Cuban government and people
that the UK is keen to forge new links across the Atlantic.

"That is why Cuba and the UK are set to reach new cooperation agreements
on energy, financial services, education and culture, to the benefit of
both our nations."

Hammond will also meet representatives from Cuban civil society and the
British business community in Havana, according to the ministry.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini became the
highest-ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba when she travelled to
Havana in March.

During her trip she signed a deal to normalise relations with Cuba,
including an agreement on the delicate issue of human rights, in yet
another step towards ending the communist country's status as a pariah
in the West.

Source: British foreign minister visits Cuba in first such trip since |
Business Standard News -
http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/british-foreign-minister-visits-cuba-in-first-such-trip-since-116042900078_1.html Continue reading
Poliquin, Pingree want to let Cuba-bound planes refuel in Maine
By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

Posted April 27, 2016, at 4:19 p.m.
PORTLAND, Maine — Maine's U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree
have introduced a bill in Congress to allow planes bound for Cuba to
stop and refuel at U.S. airports, such as Bangor International Airport.

In a joint statement, Maine's two U.S. representatives said Bangor's
airport loses out on refueling and restocking an estimated 200 flights
originating from other countries and bound for Cuba each year.

"Thousands of tourists are passing over the United States on their way
to Cuba every day, and if they have to stop somewhere, why not let it be
Bangor?" Pingree said in a news release.

Both lawmakers called the policy preventing such "technical stops" at
U.S. airports "outdated." Poliquin said that flights that might
otherwise choose to stop in Bangor or other East Coast airports are
landing instead at Canadian airports.

"In many cases, airlines would prefer to use American airports for these
stops, but are restricted because of current rules," Poliquin said.

In their statement, they added that airlines tend to prefer using the
same airport for their technical stops and many have moved those stops
to airports in Canada.

The representatives said the bill would not make any change to the
status of the trade embargo with Cuba and would not allow passengers
destined for Cuba to clear immigration or legally depart from the U.S.

The bill on Wednesday was given the number H.R. 5071.

Source: Poliquin, Pingree want to let Cuba-bound planes refuel in Maine
— Politics — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine -
https://bangordailynews.com/2016/04/27/politics/poliquin-pingree-want-to-let-cuba-bound-planes-refuel-in-maine/ Continue reading
This is the future: Cuba – broken country Malema wants to replicate in SA

Before relocating to Germany, Melanie Sergeant was one of South Africa's
leading financial journalists. Sister to famous investigative writer and
author Barry, she now writes under her married name of Haape, Melanie
visited Cuba this month – partly to see what lies in wait for South
Africa should the EFF's Julius Malema have their way. She discovered
that as Cubans have experienced, the EFF's utopian dream is nightmarish.
Those who can leave the country; those who can't jostle each other to
acquire tourist-generated CUCs by serving tourists as waiters, maids or
taxi drivers. Cuba's socialist agenda has stagnated economic growth and
delivered its highly educated population to financial penury. Haape
urges Malema and anyone else who buys into the EFF's economic claptrap
to follow in her footsteps. Like nearby Venezuela, Cuba is a broken
country. And a breathing example of what awaits South Africa if it
allows the failed Castro/Chavez example to be repeated. – Alec Hogg

By Melanie Haape*

During US President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba last month, a glimmer
of hope shone: talk focused on the Castro era seeing an end, and being
superceded by a younger, more market-driven leadership. But hopes were
dashed this week when the revolutionary vanguard announced that
84-year-old Raul Castro (Fidel's younger brother) is holding onto his
post of party secretary for a second term, and several of the other aged
revolutionaries will keep their top posts too.

So if the Economic Freedom Fighters' (EFF) Julius Malema is serious
about his threat to "crush white monopoly capital", there's still time
for him to see the results of capital flight up close – both monetary
and human.

Mr Malema will get a nasty shock. As romantic and nostalgic as the
island is, it's also broken in every way. And the slide has been long
and slow. Cubans have learnt to queue for hours in the searing heat for
bread, potatoes, or to get into their 50's-style non-computerised banks;
it's very few South Africans that I know who will show such patient
resignation if supplies of their own staple foods dry up.

Cuba is rife with shortages, smuggling, and bribery which is also
fuelled by its confusing "dual" economy. Wages and basic foods are paid
in Cuban Pesos (average wage is about $20/month with cleaners at about
$15 and doctors around $35) and the CUC – the "convertible Peso"
equivalent to $1 is used to charge for hotel rooms, "tourist"
restaurants – and everything else that the government can scrounge to
foot its forex bill – or to pay for the massive bureaucracy needed to
spy on citizens and on foreign companies who have joint venture deals to
operate there.

It's more than 50 years since Che Guevara, Fidel Castro & co. took to
arms, and rapidly overthrew the Batista regime, quickly turfing out
foreign oil companies and sugar barons. Yes, bad luck came in chunks –
like the high sulphur content of Russian oil which damaged the
refineries, the absence of spare parts for farm equipment which
relegated thousands of tractors to the scrap-heap.

Nuts and bolts didn't even fit because Russia's metric system wasn't
compliant with the US's Imperial system. Not to mention the mass exodus
of its citizens. Cuba has had spells of needing to import even sugar.
While SA is not a single-product economy, it's focus on building
shopping malls instead of factories is not indicative of an economy
striving to move past being a supplier of raw materials and into more
self sufficiency.

Cuba boasts free education for all: SA does not. It was a world-beater
in the medical field (boasting the highest average life-expectancy of
all third world countries), and medicine is free for all, but today its
doctors are emigrating to earn proper salaries while medicine shortages
are commonplace. Locals queue for hours on hard benches in dark halls at
hospitals which have "tourism" entrances for sick foreigners. The latter
boast clean rooms and VIP service – all payable of course in CUC along
with the meds from "international" pharmacies.

Cuba's government still spends heftily on fighting its many foes, and
home Internet is forbidden. Scarce public Wi-Fi hotspots offer an hour
online for 2CUC so that young teachers and lawyers are waitering to earn
CUC tips rather than working for pitiful Peso salaries. Doctors drive
taxis after-hours to earn CUC tips to supplement their pay cheques.

Housing may be cheap, along with water and electricity, but most homes
are broken – along with their sewer systems, water pipes and electricity
cables. Tap water has been undrinkable for two decades. Since the Raul
Castro-led government has allowed citizens to house tourists for meals
or overnights, some have managed to patch-up and paint – or they have
done it on dollars sent from foreign relatives. But even then bribes for
building permission are commonplace and materials are hard to come by as
all imports are handled by the State. Raul's promised economic reforms
have been slow in materialising and their benefits hardly show. Even the
hype around Obama's visit last month got less people on the street than
the Rolling Stones concert a few days later.

Cities like Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba or Cienfuegos are clean and their
inner "old-cities" are painted, statues and buildings partly-renovated.
But move a few streets out of the touristy, CUC-financed core, and the
housing is shanty-style, decorated only by spaghetti cables overhead and
filth underfoot.

Thanks to UNESCO's generosity in many parts of this land, its legendary
mix of architecture is being restored, but the sheer anomaly of seeing
grand mansions long-ago converted into smelly, over-crowded, ghettos
where the homeless live in fear of the building collapsing over their
heads, can hardly be Mr Malema's answer to housing South Africa's
homeless – or indeed his panacea for a nation which has not concentrated
enough on building a solid, educated middle-class. Cuba's legendary
brain-drain is evident, and even Castro's stricter rules on doctors'
emigration hasn't halted the flow of educated 20-40-year-olds fleeing to
Spain, Ecuador or the US. The Island now has a negative population
growth rate thanks to falling birth rates and emigration.

Another factor which Mr Malema will note is that Cuba has never tried to
scrub out its history. Whether that of its aboriginal Taino Inhabitants,
Christopher Columbus or the Spanish conquistadors. Even the oldest
statues, monuments, churches and street-names are intact and mostly
shining today. Che's "renaissance" 15-years after the Russian melt-down
25 years ago now shines through with billboards and flags, statues and
slogans dotted throughout the land reminding everyone of this
revolutionary spirit.

But while school kids are still taken to work on farms as part of their
curriculum and to remind them of that revolutionary spirit, many young
farmhands are turning their backs to the fields in favour of the mighty
CUC. Cowboys are itchy to find jobs at the massive hotels on the Cayo
Coco and other islands. These forex-earning factories which cater
largely to visa-friendly nations like Canada or Spain, have become home
to Castro's new army: thousands of waiters, cleaners and bartenders are
transported daily from their squalor to these glitzy "Fronts" in
old-timer buses spewing the worst kinds of gases into the tropical Cuban
air.

It's now common for Cuban teenagers to listen to the same music played
in the discos of Barcelona, while families have old-style CD-players to
beam US and Spanish sit-coms – all available cheap on the black-market –
to replace the boring state-beamed propagandist news.

In the first quarter of this year, Cuba attracted well-over 1-million
tourists. Hotel, coffee and meal prices are comparable to or higher than
those in Berlin while state-owned car-hire is way more expensive and
almost as unreliable as the inland flights. The state realised 15 years
ago that tourism was its cash-cow, but how long it can pay workers less
than $20 a month to serve this often overweight, luxury market and
expect ill-paid farmers to produce coffee, sugar and tobacco is
questionable.

Photographing is banned in the tobacco factories and one has "Brave New
World" flashbacks as propagandist news and readings are blared from loud
speakers to rows of poorly-paid cigar-rollers 8-hours a day. Just as the
massive scar-faced nickel and cobalt-mining area in the lush rainforests
of Moa are no-stop and no-photography areas for braver tourists wanting
to travel inland. Cuba has its half-century of brain-washing propaganda
and control firmly entrenched in its population: SA has not. Cuba is
forced to allow its citizens to travel in dangerous buses, trucks and
cars where SA has seat-belt and other regulations governing its road-users.

If Mr Malema wishes to look further and compare Cuba's development with
that of the former East Germany, he may also get some surprises. At the
end of the Cold War, Russia's rapid retreat from Cuba's economy, along
with the US's heightened sanctions (eg forbidding relatives to send over
cash) were dark-years indeed for the island's inhabitants. The former
DDR, by comparison, received more than €400bn in renovations,
modernization and other aid from the former West Germany.

Today, I live near Berlin, in the old DDR and have witnessed the
regeneration of cities and towns in this area which hosted almost the
same population number as Cuba's. The most modern telecoms networks,
highways and sewerage systems took over from the broken post-WWII relics
left behind. The ex-DDR has, nevertheless, still battled to compete with
job-creation for youngsters and only after more than two decades sees
some areas coming into their own.

And even the old DDR has not attempted to blot out its history. Streets,
statues and buildings are restored. Festivals and traditions which the
communists introduced are still practiced today. West Germany did not
need to "chase" big money anywhere: the money and the keen kids followed
the markets. Smart, high-tech factories built in the DDR to replace
their dilapidated forbears were soon dismantled and auctioned to
companies in the West which had educated labour forces to run them. Big
money, as SA has seen itself, finds its own way to "move", and while the
jury's out on how long the Castros can hold onto Cuba's status quo, the
population has started voting with its feet – either through emigration
or by serving tourists to earn "hard-currency" CUCs.

Born in Zambia, Melanie Sergeant-Haape grew up in Botswana before
studying at Wits and doing the Argus Cadet Course and joining The Star
Finance (where she worked with Biznews's founder). After writing and
editing at Business Day, the FM and several other leading publications
in SA and overseas, she left for Germany where she has lived and worked
for 20 years. Today she travels widely and remains an astute observer of
environmental and international affairs. She is the sister of
incomparable investigative journalist Barry and wrote this piece for
Biznews during her visit to Cuba this month.

ALEC HOGG
APRIL 28, 2016

Source: This is the future: Cuba - broken country Malema wants to
replicate in SA - BizNews.com -
http://www.biznews.com/leadership/2016/04/28/this-is-the-future-cuba-broken-country-malema-wants-to-replicate-in-sa/ Continue reading
Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, Florida, 13 April 2016 — The
video has gone viral in the internet in just over 24 hours — between
Monday afternoon, April 11th 2016, and the early hours of Tuesday night
— it had been shared 42,000 times, it had been viewed almost 4 million
times, and the count continued to rise exponentially. The images speak
louder than words: children as young as 7 or 8 years old, in school
uniform, contort in the frenzy of a lewd dance in what is obviously a
Cuban elementary school. Around them, voices can be heard (their
teachers or some other adult in charge of their care and their
education?) encouraging them cheerfully, obviously enjoying the spectacle.

The kindest adjectives that could describe those responsible for this
act are aberration, atrocity, perversity and depravity.

The children's bodies curl and bow with spasmodic thrusts to the rhythm
of music. The girl raises her slender leg up to the boy's waist or she
turns back, bringing her child's buttocks close to the boy's pelvis, who
also rhythmically imitates sexual gestures characteristic of adults in
full intimacy. At one point in the dance, the boy lays on the ground
while his "dance" companion crouches down with her legs open as she
continues her writhing over the boy's lower abdomen, while the general
revelry reaches its highpoint all around them.

Such unusual entertainment, worthy of a brothel or a nightclub of the
worst category, goes on for five and a half minutes to the distress of
any decent spectator, and to the delight of those who continue to
encourage the dancers, with not one teacher or school authority putting
an end the lustful dance.

These innocent children, with their bandanas around their necks, their
white shirts and their scarce few feet in stature are most likely the
very same ones that swear each morning to "be like Che," sing the
national anthem or salute the tri-color flag. It is difficult to imagine
what other, more responsible parents, who are committed to their
families might think about the peculiar "recreational and cultural
environment" that their children are being brought up in, and of the
benefits offered by the highly praised free education, supreme jewel of
the Cuban educational system, much hailed in international forums and
organizations as the role model to be followed, even by developed countries.

Here we have a single video that stands as irrefutable testimony to the
truth that the many voices of the independent civil society have been
reporting for years: the colossal loss of moral values in Cuban society,
the shocking deterioration of schoolteachers and "educators" that
directly affects the deformation of the younger generations, the
immorality invading countless homes and Cuban families, whose members
welcome their children's precocity and shamelessness, children who are
being deprived of the gentle naïveté of childhood before of their first
decade of life. Will defenders of the Castro regime reiterate this time
that this is a fabrication of the enemies of the revolution?

There are certainly numerous factors that have contributed to all this
moral collapse: the appalling housing conditions that make tens of
thousands of families live together in the greatest promiscuity — where
adults and children share the same tight spaces and sometimes even the
same beds — perennial material deprivation, despair, widespread social
corruption and the fight for survival. A characteristic degenerative
process of the socio-political system imposed on Cubans for nearly six
decades.

There might be some who will shrug their shoulders or label as prudes
those of us who have become disturbed and felt disgust at the images
displayed in the video, but these young children, thus exposed, have
actually been innocent victims of those who should look out for their
care and their education: their parents, their teachers and their
political system that hypocritically portrays itself as the guardian of
childhood.

The children's rights have been stripped of the protection of adults, as
have their rights to grow in a safe and dignified environment, to not be
exposed publicly, and to receive an appropriate education within the
parameters and universally recognized moral behaviors. Without
exaggeration, we are witnessing the consecration of a crime that should
be judged and condemned by peoples of all decent and civilized
societies. What do agencies and institutions responsible for protecting
children have to say now? Will they keep silent before this atrocity so
they can continue applauding condescendingly the amazing Cuban official
statistics and the fabulous "achievements" of revolutionary education?

However, the matter is not lacking in a strong symbolic charge. The
danse macabre of these lewd schoolchildren seems to embody the funeral
ritual that had had once been a solid educational system shaping
generations of professionals with highest qualifications and the
broadest of educations.

As for the Cuban authorities, we'll have to wait and see this time how
they will manage to endorse this despicable crime to some twisted
"maneuver of the right in collusion with Imperialism". Their work is
cutout for them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/danse-macabre-cubanet-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
/ 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, If the mid-seventies I had thought
to tell Minerva Salado, then my chief editor at Cuba International
magazine, that in some forty years she would write a book titled
"Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution," I would have caused
enormous problems for myself, only surpassed by that if I had predicted
to her my current status as an "unofficial" journalist.

Unveiling the framework of obscenities and subtleties that was woven
into the early years of the process called the Cuban Revolution in order
to implement strict censorship on the media is a very complex task; what
scholars would call "a multidisciplinary task." Minerva knows this, as a
writer, journalist and poet, so in the introduction she warns that her
efforts "will have to address the documentary research, personal
experience and memory of several generations of journalists and media."

The theme of this testimonial essay is the magazine Cuba International,
a medium that was designed to export a saccharine image of the country,
similar to other publications produced by all the members of the
so-called socialist camp.

To put makeup on the reality a team was formed where the reporters
wanted to be writers and the photographers artists, and it was precisely
in this situation that the contradiction arose between the militancy
that was intended and the quality demanded.

It will be very easy to rebut what is stated in this book, both from the
trenches of those who will call it a betrayal, probably paid for by the
empire, as well as by those who, from the opposite extreme, will read it
as a justification of the censorship imposed on the Cuban press. But
those who are looking for good arguments, irrefutable data and
convincing explanations will be grateful for its publication under the
imprint of Verbum Publishing in Madrid.

The book needed after this one is the one where someone tries to
demonstrate that in this last half century there has been no censorship
of the Cuban media, or where they at least try to justify it as a
necessary "loving gag." I already know that it will not be Minerva
Salado who will write that one.

Source: To End Censorship / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/to-end-censorship-14ymedio-reinaldo-escobar/ Continue reading
This Time I Reached Pinar de Rio / Somos+, Eliecer Avila

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 26 April 2016 — The last time I tried to meet
with several families in this province I was forcibly "deported" by
State Security agents, who told me I was "persona non grata" in the
territory. It is very likely that no citizens had heard of the action
taken against me, because today I noted the astonishment and indignation
of many upon learning those facts. "You are welcome here and
everywhere," I was told by the wonderful people who welcomed me this time.

Obviously, State Security and the Communist Party do not represent the
views of the vast majority of the Cuban people. I think they no longer
represent even those of their own members. So they try at all costs to
prevent the average Cuban from encountering the new proposals. This
repressive and fearful weapon can delay the process, but never stop it.

Those who think differently and want to work sincerely and responsibly
for the nation will always find a way to reach the people, because that
love, support, and popular respect energizes us to continue fighting for
a better future.

We have always been convinced that there are more of us, and that is now
becoming increasingly apparent. We are seeing a slow but steady loss of
fear. We are surprised by the number of people openly expressing their
views. Logic and reason are opening a path through the thorns of hatred
and unthinking force.

I congratulate the Center for Coexistence Studies for the work performed
during these 8 years of labor in the formation of civic consciousness
and human values.

We continue fertilizing the land with love and fresh, clean water, so
the most beautiful garden in the Caribbean will bloom again, for everyone.



Translated by Tomás A.

Source: This Time I Reached Pinar de Rio / Somos+, Eliecer Avila –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/this-time-i-reached-pinar-de-rio-somos-eliecer-avia/ Continue reading
A 'Bishop Of The People' For A Cuba In Transition / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2016 — After nearly 35 years as
head of the Archdiocese of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the only
Cuban cardinal and a crucial figure in the thaw with the United States,
has been replaced. Pope Francis decided to accept his resignation,
presented since 2011, and appoint in his place Juan de la Caridad Garcia
Rodriguez, Archbishop of Camagüey, a man who is considered a "bishop of
the people" and who is connected to the world of missions.

In an interview by telephone from Camagüey, a few hours after his
appointment was confirmed, Garcia said he hopes his episcopate will
serve to increase the dialogue with the Cuban government, so that "the
Church can be present in spaces that belong to it, such as education,
the media and prison ministry."

He also said that his ministerial service will be based on the final
document of the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting of 1986 in which the
Catholic Church said it wanted to be "praying, missionary and embodied"
in the reality of its own people.

Ordained as a priest in 1972 and consecrated a bishop in 1997, Juan
Garcia belongs to a new generation of bishops who act as bridge with
regards to the infighting among the ecclesial institution itself,
especially on issues related to its relationship with the government.

"With his discretion and centrism, he is the person less engaged in the
intestinal struggles of the Cuban Church," said Lenier González, deputy
director of the civic project Cuba Possible, who considers that with
this appointment "the historical cycle of old Cuban episcopate is closed."

A Surprise

The news was greeted with surprise within the Cuban Catholic Church. The
Vatican is very private with the selection process. Consultations with
the clergy and the faithful and decisions about whether or not the
candidate is accepted take place in the deepest secrecy.

The international press had referred to the possibility that Emilio
Aranguren or Dionisio García, the bishops of Holguin and Santiago de
Cuba respectively, would succeed Ortega. Also contemplated as a possible
candidate was Juan de Dios Hernández, a Jesuit like the Pope and one of
the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese.

Dagoberto Valdes, a Catholic layman who runs the magazine Convivencia in
Pinar del Río believes that "the Pope has appointed a pastoral and
missionary archbishop, which is what the Church needs at this time,
especially the Havana Church."

"The missionary work of Monsignor Juan has marked the Church in
Camagüey. I am sure that this identity will be very well received in
Havana," said Valdes, who also considers this appointment as "a gift
from the Pope to the people of Cuba." According to him, Juan Garcia is a
bishop who "truly smells of the flock," as the Pope wants.

For Arturo Gonzalez, Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Clara in central
Cuba, Juan Garcia is a man of the people, close to the faithful. "He is
a very good man, he is a man of much prayer. He is a man of few words,
but very clear," said the prelate.

The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, agreed and also described him as
"a man of few words." He adds that it is "very good news for the people
of the Cuban capital."

Wenski, who recently returned from a pastoral visit to the island, said
Garcia is a bishop who "has worked very hard for his diocese and is also
very close to his clergy."

Raul Castro loses an ally

Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been a key figure in the thaw that led to the
restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington. It
was he who, in 2011, negotiated the release and subsequent departure of
most of the prisoners of the Black Spring and it was he who was
responsible for hosting three papal visits in Havana, which helped to
strengthen an image of greater openness towards the outside.

Cardinal Ortega presided over the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba
during three successive periods and was one of the main architects of
the pastoral letter "Love Hopes All Things" of 1994, which harshly
criticized Fidel Castro's government in the middle of the so-called
Special Period.

In recent months, Ortega was criticized by sectors of the opposition,
especially after he made statements to the Spanish radio station Cadena
Ser in which he denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba.

The Archdiocese of Havana announced through an official note signed by
Juan de Dios Hernández, that the cardinal will have his retirement
residence in the Padre Felix Varela Cultural Center, a building that
formerly housed the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary.

A Cuban priest who asked not to be identified said that the departure of
Monsignor Ortega allows the placement of a figure that does not fear the
Cuban government, "because he owes nothing to them."

He recalled that when Monsignor Garcia was appointed Bishop of Camagüey,
"They had to go look for him in Cespedes because he went there on a
mission. He is a bishop of the people." And he said that by naming him a
door has been opened for a whole generation of priests who were his
compañeros in the seminary to acquire greater prominence within the
Church, although they had not been able to do it until now because of
the presence of the almost octogenarian cardinal.

The Challenges for the New Archbishop

Leinier Gonzalez believes that the new archbishop has before him
dissimilar challenges. Among his main challenges is "reconstructing the
pastoral work of the Havana Church" which, according to this analyst, is
in profound crisis. Another important aspect will be the massive exodus
of young priests and laypeople to foreign countries. In several parts of
the world, and particularly in Miami, there is a large community of
Cuban priests who were ordained on the island and who, for different
reasons, ended up emigrating.

Another obstacle the new archbishop could face is the fact of always
having worked in ecclesiastical areas outside of the capital, he said.
Camagüey is an extensive archdiocese, but it is predominantly rural,
while Havana is mostly urban.

Taking over the leadership of a territory where the national government
is located, as well as the nunciature and the different political actors
and embassies, the archbishop should also be more exposed to national
politics. All this along with the proximity of the former archbishop,
living just a few blocks away, and the figure of the president of the
Cuban Bishops Conference, which for now rests with Dionisio García.

After the replacement of the cardinal, several questions arise about who
will be the visible head who will carry forward the dialogues and
negotiations with the government.

Some analysts compare the appointment of the new archbishop with the
election of Francis in Rome, whom many see as a pope of transition.

Source: A 'Bishop Of The People' For A Cuba In Transition / 14ymedio,
Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/a-bishop-of-the-people-for-a-cuba-in-transition-14ymedio-mario-penton/ Continue reading
The Cuban Spice Route / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, San Miguel del Padron, 24 April 2016 — The
spice route of Purita Industries begins with the pruning camp a short
distance from the production workshop. It continues in the room where
the machine is, a heated dehydrator designed by a mechanical engineer
that processes 200 pounds of plants in 24 hours.

Located in San Miguel del Padron, to reach Purita's farm you have to
cross the Güines highway and continue down Dolores Street "until you can
sense the odor of the seasonings," as a nearby neighbor directs.

The aroma of the spices hits your nose before you enter the little
factory. They produce basil, celery, rosemary, chives, tarragon and
garlic, all "one hundred percent natural," according to the producers.
They also produce dried peppers, peanuts and shredded coconut.

Purita Industries is made up of a group of 11 professionals associated
in the form on a non-agricultural cooperative founded two years ago,
with a license to produce spices, condiments and dried fruits. "We are a
small group of people who, with great effort, are trying to produce a
highest quality product," says the computer engineer Liuder Raspall, who
became president of the entity.

The technology they work with is almost handmade. The dehydrator is
designed by a mechanical engineer but constructed "together" by the
workers, says Alfredo Gonzalez, farmer and partner. The equipment is
made from galvanized metal and steel with nickel, with thermal
insulation. Although currently it works off liquid glass and
electricity, it was designed to also work with biogas and solar panels.

Certified by the National National Institute of Hygiene and
Epidemiology, Purita products retain up to 60% of their organoleptic
properties, that is those those that stimulate the senses to identify
foods. A sample of them is taken to the laboratories of the institute to
be periodically evaluated.

"The key to getting a product that, after being dehydrated, continues to
have the aroma, the taste and the color is to maintain a temperature
between 60 and 70 degrees and a continuous flow of air in one
direction," Raspall explains as he shows a package of light green
chives, and describes that "the air supplied in a mandatory sense passes
over the plants, removes moisture and does not return to touch them,
because they would be rehydrated."

At least ten fresh plants are required to get 2.2 pounds of dehydrated.
Maintaining a stable volume of production is a challenge for Gonzalez,
who has convinced farmers like himself in the surrounding area to plant
herbs for culinary use. "We are starting to create direct partnerships
with farmers who want to grow healthily, to operate the field in a
certain way," he says.

Farmers who have engaged in this new experience have discovered how
profitable is to cultivate these herbs, because some, such as tarragon,
thrive so easily that they hardly need watering if there are normal
rains. "Science is pruning the branches in the right place," Gonzalez
said, pointing to a level in the basil. Plants are pruned every 21 days
and some can last up to 10 years. Another incentive to plant is that the
rational use of fields means that the crops never spoil.

The route of the spices, seasonings and nuts Purita ends in the stalls,
which until very recently were only allowed in agricultural fairs held
sporadically. Coming soon will also be a few sales points in the Ideal
markets in the capital, a network of state stores that sells in Cuban
pesos. A disadvantage in those places is that the lack the design of the
space and striking publicity graphics to attract clients; for now people
only look there for the cheapest deals.

"One of the things that we have in a difficult financial state is to
make the price affordable to consumers," says Raspall, who along with
the rest of the associates is expecting to gain sales volumes. The
Purita products sell for 15 Cuban pesos (about 60¢ US) for 20 grams. In
this way they compete with El Portro, a state company that sells
imported spices that cost up to 2.80 CUC (about $2.80 US) for 20 grams.

El Portro seasonings have not been available to suit all budgets, so the
challenge for Purita is to show its existing customers their quality and
the begin to promote their spices to the rest of the population, used to
using cheaper artificial seasonings, along with garlic, onion and chili,
which shouldn't be missing in the ailing Cuban cuisine.

Purita products are also sold on several digital pages that let people
buy them pre-paid from abroad for delivery to friends or family in Cuba.

In the workshop, very close to the current dehydrator, which has a 100
pound capacity and works two shifts a day, new opportunities are already
being conceived. The same formula will be improved in some detail and,
above all, the equipment is much larger and can produce a ton of
seasonings daily.

The technology could help strengthen the spice industry, for example by
introducing freeze-drying techniques. However, importing equipment is
difficult. "This cost us very little money compared to a Rational that
would cost about $75,000 (US), and the big difference would be that that
one would have temperature sensors and automatic regulators," he concludes.

Source: The Cuban Spice Route / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-cuban-spice-route-14ymedio-lilianne-ruiz/ Continue reading
Cubans on the Borders / Fernando Dámaso

Cubans are once again crowded along the border between Costa Rica and
Panama. the Cuban government, as usual, blames it in the "Cuban
Adjustment Act" and ignores, as always, the real causes: Cubans don't
believe in the promised "prosperous, sustainable and irrevocable
socialism" and, even less, in their old political leaders.

The political, economic and social situation, instead of improving, has
continued to deteriorate, without the appearance of any intelligent
measures that could turn it around. Everything goes back to words,
slogans, recycled speeches and empty promises, by the same "historicals"
responsible for the current crisis and their national and international
spokespeople.

None of this interests ordinary Cubans, who emigrate seeking the
realization of their life plans.

If President Obama's proposals awoke some hopes, the dogmatic and senile
responses of the Cuban authorities, which were sometimes even
disrespectful, managed to quickly squelch them. It is clear to everyone
that, with these "characters who are rancorous and hateful" by nature,
there is nothing to be done, other than to wait for them to physically
disappear according to life's inexorable laws.

It's just that many citizens are not willing to continue to wait and
lose time, and they decide to emigrate now. They are as Cuban as those
of us who stay, but somewhat less patient and, of course, expecting
nothing after the failure of the 7th Party Congress with the appearance
of "the shadow of the past" [Fidel Castro] in the new role of Señor
"Bossypants."

Source: Cubans on the Borders / Fernando Dámaso – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubans-on-the-borders-fernando-dmaso/ Continue reading
Carriers, Tanks And Trucks, The Ways To Get Water / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 April 2016 – Under the hot sun, while
passersby seek shade under the balconies, one hears the sound of truck
on Jovellar Street in Havana. It goes along loaded with tanks full of
water, and as it passes the residents look out their windows and run
inside their houses looking for a bucket to fill. The commotion in the
neighborhood is reminiscent of holidays, but there is no music, no fun,
just a water carrier selling his coveted merchandise door-to-door.

Idalmis, a young mother who lives on the route taken by El Primo, yells
from the balcony that she wants to fill her tank. She asks him not to
leave, that other neighbors need to store water in jars, pots and even a
fish tank. It's been months since the tanks in their homes have had a
drop of water to dampen everything.

El Primo is a modern water supplier. He doesn't carry buckets up the
stairs. In his truck he has a little motor and some hoses that reach out
to his customers and can fill any receptacle in a trice. Connected to an
extension cord that someone loans him, the purr of the pump can be felt.
He has the panache of a distant descendant of Francisco de Albear y Lara
(a Cuban engineer from the 1800s responsible for Havana's water supply),
but his name will never appear on a monument in the Cuban capital.

El Primo's method, despite its sophistication, has its limitations. His
hoses can't reach above the second floor, but, he says, "the buildings
in Central Havana aren't that high."

While filling a blue tank, which once held vegetable shortening and now
contains the water for a family of four, the waterseller explains that
since he settled in the city, coming from the east of the island, this
has been his work. "The police have confiscated by motor several times,
but the neighbors appreciate me so much that they themselves have come
and gotten me out of jail," he says.

In less than five minutes, a line has already formed in front of the
truck. Antonia, a retired woman who lives alone on the first floor,
tells about the time that a policeman prohibited the water-seller from
filling his tanks at the water cistern near the Pioneer Cinema. "The
whole block mobilized and we got him released from the station the same
day," recalls.

The supply cycles of the Havana Water Company have gotten longer in most
of the capital's districts. Areas like Old Havana are supplied almost
entirely by tanker trucks (rather than piped water), but in the poorest
neighborhoods, where there isn't the money to buy it on a more frequent
schedule, the trucks only show up "every seven days." They prioritize
"the schools, daycares, and the polyclinics," the driver of one of these
vehicles told 14ymedio on Monday, while supplying a building on Teniente
Rey Street.

Abel Salas, first vice president of the National Institute of Hydraulic
Resources (INRH), explained that about 70,000 people in Santiago de Cuba
get water by way of tanker cars, while in the capital the figure is
around 60,000. The deterioration of the water system aggravates the
situation. According to data provided by the official press, "companies
registered in the capital waste in one month almost 830,000 cubic
meters" of water. The latest reports published on the subject indicate
that 45% of the water pumped in the country is lost in breaks and leaks.

The contents of one tank can cost between 10 and 15 CUC, which is
usually paid for by collecting money among all neighbors. The owners of
B&Bs and private restaurants have the luxury of buying it for their
businesses, but for most residents in Havana the price is too high.

On the outskirts of the capital, in areas such as Mantilla and Arroyo
Naranjo, water comes through the pipes every other day but "with very
little force" residents complain. There are also abundant water carriers
like El Primo, and when their trucks show up in a street everyone crowds
around to fill any receptacle they can.

For these water carriers there will be a lot of work in the coming
months. Although the Climate Center at the Meteorology Institute
predicted a rainy season with "normal precipitation" also warned that
"the accumulated volumes will not solve existing deficits." The cry of
"water" will continue to ring in Havana neighborhoods.

Source: Carriers, Tanks And Trucks, The Ways To Get Water / 14ymedio,
Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/carriers-tanks-and-trucks-the-ways-to-get-water-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
Opinion: As U.S., Cuba normalize relations, time to change immigration
policies for Cubans
By Nelson Balido Published April 27, 2016 Fox News Latino

Presidents Obama and Castro during a joint statement in Havana, Cuba,
Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP)
As state visits go, President Obama's recent trip to Cuba was entirely
normal, and that is precisely what the Obama Administration is trying to
achieve – normalized relations between the United States and Cuba. Now
that he is pushing for travel and trade are getting back to "normal,"
it's important that we apply the same standard across all U.S. policies
toward Cuba. That includes immigration.

As the president is fond of saying, the Cold War is over. Agreed. Now
it's time to amend our immigration policies. If the United States is
going to treat Cuba like any other country, we should treat its citizens
like any other immigrants.
- Nelson Balido

Currently, the United States treats Cuban citizens like no others. The
Cold War birthed a U.S. immigration policy towards the island nation
that considered every Cuban citizen to be a political refugee as soon as
they touched American soil. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 was
designed to give asylum to the 300,000 Cubans who fled the communist
revolution, and the act is still used today to determine immigration status.

This law is accompanied by a minimum 20,000 visas handed out to Cubans
each year through a lottery system, as well as President Bill Clinton's
wet food/dry foot policy, which continues to shelter Cubans who make it
to the United States while repatriating those caught in the act of
immigration (such as in a makeshift raft traversing 90 miles of ocean
between Cuba and Key West, Florida).

Today, immigration from Cuba to the United States is accelerating
rapidly. In 2015, there was a 78 percent increase in the number of
Cubans entering the United States, and about two-thirds entered through
Laredo, Texas; and so as of March 2015 the number is already approaching
26,000 for the fiscal year.

This significant uptick owes in part to Cuban concerns that U.S.
immigrations laws may soon change. For decades, U.S. policies have given
Cubans a direct path to U.S. residency unavailable to any other
nationality of immigrants. Many families benefited from this, including
those of presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, former candidate Sen.
Marco Rubio, and this author.

My parents came to the United States from Cuba in the early 1960s,
fleeing Castro's communist regime. My father was the youngest of three
children, and his brothers fought in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in
1961. Growing up, I heard all the stories about a difficult journey and
adjustment in the United States. I heard about my grandfather hollowing
out the heels of my grandma and mother's shoes so they could secret some
the family jewels and heirlooms to their new home. I heard about my
father's struggles selling balloons on the street in New York City. And
I heard of how hard it was to simply acclimate into a foreign land that
was not used to many immigrants from Latino nations – yet fortunately
the Catholic church helped place many, especially the children that came
on their own through the "Peter Pan" flights.

My family was accurately given political refugee status, as were many
others. I appreciate the good that the U.S. immigration policy toward
Cuba has achieved for thousands of people. But I also see that since the
United States is now counting Cuba amongst nations with which we have
"normal" relations, we must extend that to our treatment of Cubans
arriving at America's doorstep. There are several reasons for this.

No Longer Political Refugees: The majority of Cuban immigrants arriving
in the United States are seeking economic, not political, relief. A
leaked 2009 U.S. State Department survey found that Cubans
"overwhelmingly" were economic migrants, not political refugees. The
whole point of the provision in the Cuban Adjustment Act that
fast-tracks Cuban residency was to grant liberty to people fleeing
communist persecution. That is not what the law is achieving. Instead,
it is giving a big boost to Cubans who are doing what many people around
the world try to do—live and work in the United States for the prospect
of a richer, freer future. That is a "normal" aspiration around the
world. If their motivations are the same as other immigrants, why should
Cuban citizens be treated differently?

Refugee Status Has Real Costs: American taxpayers are generous, offering
financial support to people who leave everything behind for a shot at a
life in America. Currently, Cuban immigrants enjoy about $700 million
each year in public benefits. That is a lot of good will and public
support that is in some cases going to people who don't need it. It has
been reported that some Cuban immigrants take advantage of government
aid programs (like food stamps and Medicare) while frequently traveling
back and forth to Cuba for commercial reasons. In essence, the U.S.
taxpayer is subsidizing a jet-set Cuban lifestyle and not advancing the
economic potential of an American resident. Aren't there other legal
immigrants who could legitimately use some of that public support?

Implications for the Rule of Law: While many Cubans arriving in the
United States are honorable and law abiding, some are not. Currently,
Cuba's travel policy allows its citizens to leave the country for up to
two years. This has led some criminal organizations to come to the
United States, turn an illicit profit, and then return to Cuba when
there is a threat of incarceration. At the same time, Cuba is one of the
few countries in the world that will not repatriate convicted criminals,
leaving the United States with no recourse but to take the good with the
bad. During my recent visits to Washington, Dc and Laredo, law
enforcement sources have reported privately that many of the people
arriving in the current wave of Cuban immigration are criminals, and it
appears that amid all the international good will, the Castro regime is
emptying its prisons on U.S. borders. Unfortunately, U.S. law
enforcement has no insight into the background of arriving immigrants
and so are unable to deny entry to criminals under existing law.

Despite these evident problems, Obama Administration officials, such as
Secretary of State John Kerry, have said repeatedly that they have no
plans to revisit U.S. policy. Fortunately, much of this matter is in the
sole province of lawmakers, and U.S. legislators are taking steps to
change the laws. In October last year, Rep. Paul A. Gosar introduced
"Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans
Act of 2015," which would repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act. And in March,
the bipartisan work between Reps. Blake Farenthold and Henry Cuellar
yielded the Correcting Unfair Benefits for Aliens (CUBA) Act, which
would also amend policies on asylum and public benefits.

As the president is fond of saying, the Cold War is over. Agreed. Now
it's time to amend our immigration policies. If the United States is
going to treat Cuba like any other country, we should treat its citizens
like any other immigrants.


Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates,
chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member
of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Follow him on Twitter:
@nelsonbalido

Source: Opinion: As U.S., Cuba normalize relations, time to change
immigration policies for Cubans | Fox News Latino -
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/opinion/2016/04/27/opinion-as-us-cuba-normalize-relations-time-to-change-immigration-policies-for/ Continue reading
Kuwaiti agency financing small hydro development in Cuba
HAVANA, Cuba
04/26/2016
By Michael Harris
Associate Editor

Cuba has signed a deal with the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic
Development that will see KFAED provide US$30 million in financing for
the construction of 34 small hydropower projects.

The agreement, signed this week in Havana, targets Cuba's rural areas
with the hope that improved energy supplies will decrease immigration
toward cities and stimulate agricultural production.
KFAED said the 34 small hydro projects will be constructed on existing
infrastructure and have a cumulative capacity of about 14.6 MW. The
initiative will also include the construction of three linking
substations that will transmit to Cuba's national grid, along with about
75 km of transmission line.
The organization also said the financing will lead to the "expansion of
scientific research centers and universities to enhance in general the
development of the hydropower sector, as well as the institutional
support and consulting services for the detailed designs, preparing
tender documents and supervision of the project."
The 21-year loan includes a grace period of seven years and is expected
to cover about 40% of the project's overall costs. The remainder will be
paid for by the Government of Cuba.
KFAED did not specify when it expects the first small hydro plant to
come on line, but that the initiative should be completed within seven
years.
Cuba has shown an interest in developing its hydro sector in recent
months, with the Caribbean island benefitting from an International
Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Fund
for Development (ADFD) in November. That partnership will also increase
the country's access to small hydro.

Source: Kuwaiti agency financing small hydro development in Cuba -
HydroWorld -
http://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2016/04/kuwaiti-agency-financing-small-hydro-development-in-cuba.html Continue reading
Leonys Martin, other players paid smugglers more than $15 million to
leave Cuba, according to records

The Dallas Morning News
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Martin Perez (33) thanks center fielder
Leonys Martin (2) on his running catch to end the top of the second
inning against the San Francisco Giants at Globe Life Park in Arlington,
Sunday, August 2, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning
News)
By Associated Press Contact Associated Presson Twitter:
MIAMI -- Cuban baseball players paid a South Florida-based smuggling
ring more than $15 million to leave the communist island in secretive
ventures that included phony documents, false identities and
surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic,
federal prosecutors say.
A recently unsealed grand jury indictment against three men provides
fresh details about the smuggling of 17 Cuban players, among them Jose
Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Leonys Martin of the Seattle
Mariners. Martin signed with the Rangers in 2011 and was traded to the
Mariners in November 2015.

The smugglers usually took a percentage of any Major League Baseball
contract a player signed.
The indictment names Bartolo Hernandez, a Weston, Florida-based sports
agent whose clients included Abreu; Hernandez associate Julio Estrada,
who runs Total Baseball Representation and Training in Miami; and
Haitian citizen Amin Latouff of Port-au-Prince, who is not in U.S.
custody and remains in Haiti. They are charged with conspiracy and
illegally bringing immigrants to the U.S.
Estrada, who was arrested last week, has pleaded not guilty and is free
on $225,000 bail. Hernandez pleaded not guilty when originally charged
in February and is also free on bond.
Estrada's lawyer, Sabrina Puglisi, said in an email Tuesday that he has
never been involved in illegal human smuggling.
"He has always taken care of his players, training them so that they
could achieve their dream of playing MLB in the United States," she said.
The case is an outgrowth of the previous prosecution in Miami of four
people for the smuggling of Martin out of Cuba, one of whom is serving a
14-year prison sentence. Martin is among the players named in the new
indictment as well. None of the players have been charged.
Prosecutors have said the investigation is focused on the smuggling
organizations and not on the players. As Cubans, under U.S. policy they
are generally allowed to remain in this country once reaching U.S. soil.
As part of the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, MLB is in talks with both
nations' governments on a potential deal that could make it easier for
Cuban ballplayers to play in the U.S. without having to sneak away at
international tournaments or risk high-seas defections with smugglers.
But beginning in April 2009, prosecutors say, the South Florida-based
smugglers ran a flourishing and lucrative illegal pipeline for Cuban
players who must establish third-country residency in order to sign as
MLB free agents.
The indictment says that Hernandez, Estrada and Latouff "recruited and
paid" boat captains to smuggle players from Cuba to Mexico, the
Dominican Republic and Haiti. The plot included use of fake jobs for the
players, such as welder, mechanic, body shop worker -- even one who was
called an "area supervisor for Wet Set Ski."
The conspirators also used fake foreign and U.S. documents, including
falsified passports and visa applications, to get the players to the
U.S., according to the indictment.
The case of Abreu, who set a White Sox rookie record with 36 home runs
in 2014 and was named American League rookie of the year, is fairly
typical although the money involved is higher than most.
According to the indictment, Latouff paid $160,000 in August 2013 to a
boat captain to smuggle Abreu from Cuba to Haiti. There a fraudulent
visa and false name were provided so that Abreu could fly from
Port-au-Prince to Miami.
A short time later, Chicago announced Abreu had signed a five-year, $68
million MLB contract. But the court documents show he still owed the
smugglers millions and sent them several wire transfers in 2014 totaling
at least $5.8 million.
Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of more than $15.5 million in total
payments from ballplayers to the smugglers, as well as forfeiture of
four pieces of property in South Florida, four Mercedes-Benz vehicles
and a Honda motorcycle.

Source: Texas Rangers: Leonys Martin, other players paid smugglers more
than $15 million to leave Cuba, according to records | SportsDay -
http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/texas-rangers/rangers/2016/04/26/leonys-martin-players-paid-smugglers-15-million-leave-cuba-according-records Continue reading
U.S. Tour Operators Rethink Future of People-to-People Tours in Cuba
Dan Peltier, Skift - Apr 26, 2016 6:45 am
@djpeltier

The tour companies that have been guiding U.S. tourists through Cuba up
to now will eventually evolve or go away, but right now when restaurants
are full and beds are, too, they may be more valuable than ever.
— Dan Peltier
Individual U.S. travelers can go to Cuba, though many U.S.-based tour
operators — even those helping organize individual travel — say going
solo spells disaster.

This milestone, announced last month, allows U.S. travelers to forgo
people-to-people group tours, those approved by the U.S. government that
meet restrictions for American travel to Cuba.

President Obama began relaxing rules for to travel in Cuba in 2011 and
momentum has been building since then to open up individual tourism for
Americans. Under the looser restrictions, people-to-people activities
such as seminars and cultural meetings with local entrepreneurs are
still required. And while U.S. travelers don't legally need a tour guide
by their sides, individual travel in Cuba creates a catch-22 for
Americans, at least until all restrictions are lifted. Many of the
people-to-people activities are exclusively offered to tour operators
who've built relationships and trust with Cuban businesses and cultural
organizations. Without a guide many U.S. travelers likely wouldn't find
these people or get meetings with them, making it more difficult to
justify their trips to the U.S. state department.

"A lot of positive things have come out of the mandatory cultural
restrictions," said David Lee, owner of Cultural Cuba, which leads
groups of fewer than 12 people from the U.S. to Cuba. "I've done several
'guys trips' and these trips have contained other things that no other
guys trip would have done. Usually with guys trips, their main concern
is trying Cuban cigars and rum. But, most of my clients end up saying
these people-to-people activities are the most memorable things they did
in Cuba."

"It's hard to get a bunch of guys to sit in a room for an hour and
listen to a lecture during their vacation. But one time we met with a
key renovator who's renovating Old Havana, this guy is fascinating and
it changed the whole idea of what my clients were thinking this would
be. They were totally engaged the entire time and loved it. That's one
of the concerns I have, that these kinds of experiences will disappear."

A video below this story shows a Havana-based dance company that Lee
takes his tours to see. Lee has worked with the company for several
years and also helped organize their first trip to perform in the U.S.

Challenges With Going as Individuals

In reality, some U.S. tour operators in Cuba provide little reassurance
to clients about their trips. Most Cuban hotel reservations are still
made through the Cuban government, for example, since the government
owns most hotels. Bureaucratic processes in both Havana and Washington,
D.C. make trip-planning particularly meticulous for tour operators, let
alone individual travelers.

Wendy Perrin, founder of WendyPerrin.com, is testing U.S. tour operators
in Cuba to find ones she'll recommend to clients. Perrin's found that,
"so many people are frustrated even working with tour operators in Cuba
because they can't get answers."

"A tour operator isn't necessarily the answer to all your problems.
There are a lot of travelers who will start the ball rolling with a tour
operator but then will never get any answers. They'll book their travel
but then never get any documentation. It's like this big abyss of
information, and then maybe a few days before you're supposed to leave
you'll finally hear back from the tour operator with documents and
confirmation. And on top of that, travelers may end up being charged a
much larger amount than they ever thought they'd have to pay."

Lee has received mostly positive feedback from Perrin's clients. He sees
individual travel as an opportunity rather than a threat to his tours
business and has had several requests for custom or private tours, for
example.

"Cuba isn't really ready yet to be an unguided destination," Lee says.
"Even if you could just completely go without restrictions, you're not
going to get as much out of going to Cuba right now without a good Cuban
tour guide and that goes for Europeans and Canadians, etc, as well. The
renovated section of Old Havana is quite small, only about 12 city
blocks. It used to be that summer months were the off-season, because
summer is hot in Cuba. Now what we're finding is that there is almost no
low season anymore. Even hurricane and rainy season during August to
October, most of our tours are sold out for months in advance. Before
you could plan more last-minute during those months"

Meals are challenging for individual and group bookings alike, even with
restaurants accustomed to serving larger groups.

"For the most part these places are small and have fewer than 10
tables," said Edward Piegza of Classic Journeys, which leads U.S.
travelers to Cuba and other destinations. "Big groups just don't fit and
you have to make reservations months in advance. I remember sitting down
with a group in one of these restaurants and the chef comes to the table
to tell me that they have 10 entrees available that night. I said,
'that's great.' Then he told me, 'no, I mean we only have 10 plates of
food available,' and there were more than 10 people in my group."

Lee said many Cuban restaurants are at a turning point, "With the
restaurants, there is a revolution right now. Restaurants all used to be
state-owned but now you have many that are privately owned by local
entrepreneurs. Some are great and some are untested. No one is coming
from Miami to help Cuban chefs build out these restaurants."

Cuba has some 108,000 hotel rooms in the pipeline through 2030,
announced by Cuba's ministry of tourism this week, but it's not clear
how many rooms Havana will add.

"Building 108,000 hotel rooms in 14 years is obviously an ambitious
goal," said Piegza. "With 10,900 added in the last five years in Cuba,
that works out to 2,180 per year. Adding 108,000 in 14 years would equal
7,714 per year, so about triple the current pace. Of course, with Cuba
tourism up 75 percent in the last year and infrastructure growth
significantly lower than that, a commitment to adding needed
infrastructure is welcome."

"Manuel Marrero, Cuba's minister of tourism, notes that these rooms are
going to be focused on areas with marinas and golf courses. So that
sounds a lot like the types of all-inclusive properties along Varadero
Beach and Cayo Santa Maria that typically cater to Europeans. Since the
trade embargo is still in effect for the U.S., beach and golf vacations
are still a no-no in Cuba."

Creating Itineraries for Individuals

Group tour interest hasn't subsided. According to data from digital
marketing firm iQuanti, U.S. travelers made about 6.2 million Google
searches for search terms related to group tours, travel agencies and
packaged deals in Cuba between March 2015 and March 2016. In comparison,
there were a little more than 741,000 Google searches during the same
window for search terms related to researching individual travel, such
as booking flights, hotels and activities.

Some tour operators, like Insight Cuba, are already adjusting their
offerings to create tour products designed for individual travel. Tom
Popper, president of Insight Cuba, said he's been "waiting for quite
some time" for individual travel to be approved and that he has many
clients looking to go individually. But most of his U.S. clients are
still confused with what's considered legal travel to Cuba.

"We're going to keep escorted tours exactly as is because they've been
so successful for us and still remain in high demand," said Popper. "But
we're also working with Cuban travel agencies and authorities to develop
a version of our product that works for the individual traveler. We're
hoping to have those released in the coming weeks."

"Last month the Obama Administration announced that any American tour
company can work with any Cuban tour agency. Before we could only work
with three, so that changes the landscape," Popper said. "The real
challenge that remains is being able to guarantee guests flights and
hotel rooms. Cuba won't just authorize something just because the U.S.
says it's ok to do now. Even some of the largest hotel chains in Cuba
are now starting to allow direct bookings on their websites. But because
of banking regulations, a lot of that is done through third party sites
so there are challenges with direct bookings to make sure that a booking
is really a booking."

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Unlike European and other tour operators in Cuba, U.S. tour operators'
future in Cuba is contingent upon the U.S. Congress lifting the five
decade-plus trade embargo. The tour operators Skift spoke to feel the
snowball effect makes stopping the current progress of U.S. hotels,
airlines, and cruises entering Cuba, nearly impossible to reverse.

"This is a movement that won't be turned back," said Piegza. "It might
go faster or it might go slower but we already have a direction in which
it is going. My gut is that we've gone so far now that regardless of
whoever wins on whichever side of the aisle, we'll keep moving forward."

More opening is inevitable, Popper said, regardless of which party
controls the White House next January, "The pendulum has really swung in
the direction that we're finally looking at a long-term solution to
travel to Cuba. In all the years past, it really hinged on presidential
politics. Everyone assumed that whenever a Republican got into office,
travel would be carved out and we'd take a bunch of steps backwards.
Regardless of who will be in the White House next year, there's so much
momentum going towards travel right now and things are really looking
bright. Although while things are moving quickly on the U.S. side,
things will move slowly on Cuba's end."

Source: U.S. Tour Operators Rethink Future of People-to-People Tours in
Cuba – Skift -
https://skift.com/2016/04/26/u-s-tour-operators-rethink-future-of-people-to-people-tours-in-cuba/ Continue reading