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Lettuces of Lead / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez
Posted on March 2, 2015

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its
curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is
an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the
Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to
get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the
products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their
health.

Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the
rigors of the Special Period. In the words of a humorist, "We Havanans
turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies." The
economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking
advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables.

The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has
many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different
from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together
with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the
contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas.

Nationwide, about 40,000 people work in urban agriculture projects on
some 83,000 acres (130 square miles) that are divided into 145,000
parcels, 385,000 patios*, 6,400 intensive gardens and 4,000 urban
organic gardens. These last under the leadership of the Ministry of
Agriculture, although with some autonomy for crop management.

With these lands planted in populated areas, it has been the goal to
reduce food insecurity, offer greater access to fresh produce and to
expand green spaces in urban zones.

Havana has 97 high yield urban organic gardens. One of the best known is
located in the Alamar neighborhood and is currently managed by a
cooperative of 180 members. The capital also has 318 intensive gardens,
with crops sown directly in the ground, in addition to 38 crops that are
semi-protected and in enriched soil.

The soil enrichment uses a technique known as vermicomposting, which
consists of transforming solid wastes by the action of earthworms and
micro-organisms. The problem is that many of the urban wastes that serve
as a basis for the process are gotten from residential trash and carry a
big load of heavy metals that with time accumulate in greens and vegetables.

A study carried out in 2012 by several researchers from the Institute of
Soils and that included samples from urban organic gardens in Havana and
Guantanamo brought to light that "the compost obtained from the urban
solid wastes originating in household trash extracted from landfills
without prior sorting, and the subsoils prepared from them, contain
heavy metals, especially cadmium and lead, above the maximum permissible
levels."

The lack of an effective system of trash sorting and processing works
against us, because much of the waste used for compost in the urban
organic gardens has had previous contact with materials like cans,
paints, and batteries, thrown indiscriminately into landfills all over
the country.

Furthermore, the process to achieve compost often is not carried out
properly, so that the pathogens contained in the wastes are not
destroyed. Although part of the material used in this process comes from
the garden itself, trash from nearby settlements, market wastes and
agro-industrial refuse are also added.

Family gardens account for close to 90% of the greens consumed by the
population, so ingestion of high doses of heavy metals could be
affecting a great number of Cubans.

Irrigation of the urban organic gardens aggravates the problem because
the water comes from the population's supply network and affects the
amount of water available for human consumption, besides also being
unsuitable for crops because of the high content of chlorine and other
purifying products.

The proximity of streets and avenues to the crops worsens the pollution
because heavy metals also arrive through the ground and the air. Add to
that the use of pesticides and fungicides for control of pests in the
urban organic gardens. An un-confessed but widespread practice.

Most alarming is that the Ministry of Agriculture keeps silent about
this matter and does not promote research into the presence of chemical
agents harmful to health in produce that consumers imagine fresh and
organic. Complicity or apathy? No one knows, but there are many reasons
to distrust that bunch of lettuce with its attractive green leaves.

*Translator's note: "Patios" in this context refers to home gardens
producing food primarily for family consumption.

Translated by MLK

Source: Lettuces of Lead / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/lettuces-of-lead-14ymedio-rosa-lopez/ Continue reading
Cuba, Uruguay aim to increase trade and investments
Published March 02, 2015 EFE

Uruguay's newly sworn-in President Tabare Vazquez met here Monday with
Cuba's Raul Castro and the two leaders agreed on "the importance and
necessity" of strengthening bilateral economic ties, according to a
joint statement.

The men met in private for about an hour and were then joined by members
of their respective Cabinets.

The talks contributed to continued progress on "an ever-wider and more
dynamic bilateral agenda," the joint statement said.

The two presidents reviewed successes of previous cooperation between
their countries and identified new goals in areas such as training and
education, health services, social development and science and
technology, according to the statement.

Vazquez and Castro also exchanged opinions on regional and multilateral
issues.

Castro traveled to Montevideo for the inauguration of Vazquez, who
previously governed Uruguay in 2005-2010. EFE

Source: Cuba, Uruguay aim to increase trade and investments | Fox News
Latino -
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2015/03/02/cuba-uruguay-aim-to-increase-trade-and-investments/ Continue reading
Family Code: Socialism's Straight Jacket / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Posted on March 2, 2015

The newspaper Granma insists that "it's a code for the rights of women".
But in 1919, as many women proportionally graduated from the University
of Havana as graduated from universities as in the U.S. And with the
Revolution, Cuban women are forced to raise their children under the
mores mores of socialism, with the slogan "We will become like Che."

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 February 2015 — In an extensive
full-page article published on February 14th, the newspaper Granma ("Un
Código de Amor para la Familia"), is full of praise for the 40th
anniversary of the Cuban Family Code, which – in the words of Dr. Olga
Mesa Castillo, president of the Cuban Civil Rights Society and of the
Family of the National Syndicate of Attorneys, and faculty professor of
and consultant to the Faculty of Law of the University of Havana — "is a
code about the love and the rights of women."

Paradoxically, not even the most politically correct academic discourse
of a second-hand law officer can hide certain flaws that reveal the
passive role of Cuban women since, with the arrival of F. Castro to
power, their autonomy was appropriated and, along with it, their ability
to freely associate to defend their gender interests, issues relating to
the family, the right to choose their children's education, etc. In
fact, it can be argued that the Revolution of 1959 put to rest even the
last vestiges of the Cuban feminist movement.

That explains why, when Dr. Mesa refers to "those who conceived and were
involved in [the code's] drafting," she mentioned ten people's names and
only one of them was a woman, which means that the Family Code, which
"enabled Cuban women to fly" was – just like the Revolution itself and
all of its laws — essentially conceived and drafted by men, though by
then 16 long years had elapsed under a system of supposed gender equality.

Nevertheless, we must be aware that this law, de jure, benefited the
interests of minor children born in or outside marriage, it favored the
allowing of divorce, and constituted a guarantee for families based on
informal (or consensual) marriages, and for the right of children born
from those unions. Another question would be to determine how effective
the law has been in practice, if it has been applied extensively, and
how the subject of civil law would be justified at a preset ideology,
when sanctioning the obligation to establish a family and raise children
"according to socialist standards."

Cleaning up history

So, beyond the official vice of collecting calendar anniversaries for
whatever reason, the issue moves us to question and to calling to mind,
not just because of the usual compliments to justice and female equity,
achieved thanks to the Revolution, or because of the monumental
tackiness of adopting the law on Valentine's day, but for the perversity
of intentionally misrepresenting the role of women in Cuban history,
omitting the unquestionable legal gains made by the women's movement
during the Republican period.

An in-depth historical analysis of the role of women since the Cuban
wars for independence in the nineteenth-century would be extensive, but
it is essential to recall the Republican period because it was then that
the foundations of legal conquests were seated, from a women's movement
that — while not claiming the participation of women in politics, as was
happening in developed countries, such as the US — at least was
struggling for a larger share, employment opportunities, and social
protection connected with maternity and family.

Thus, as early as 1914, discussions began about the relevance to
legislating divorce. In 1916, a legal bill was presented guaranteeing
married women self-management of their assets – managed by their
husbands, fathers or guardians until then – which was approved in May,
1918. That same year the divorce bill was passed.

As for educational and cultural strides, by 1919 Cuban women had reached
the same level of literacy as men and in the decade of the '20s
proportionately as many women graduated from the Cuban University as did
from American universities. [1]

Between 1923 and 1940, Cuban feminist groups influenced the political
forces in support of legislation for women's rights and founded several
associations and media publications to defend women's interests. There
were also women's associations that promoted class actions, such as the
Women's Labor Union, an organization that placed the issue of working
class women ahead of women's suffrage rights. [2]

At the same time, there was an increase in women's activism aimed at
influencing legislative decisions, partnerships were established with
various influential political and economic groups – entirely controlled
by men — there were street demonstrations, ideas about women's rights
were published in newspapers and the radio, obstetric clinics were
built, night schools for women were organized, women's health programs
were developed and contacts with feminist groups abroad were
established. [3]

It is true that women just took part in legislative debates, but the
demonstrations organized by activists and the first feminist groups of
the time were instrumental in modifying civil and property rights that
changed the rules of property management — a distinctly masculine role
until then — and along with them, of women within the family, thus
taking a significant step forward for women's rights compared to other
countries in the region over the same period.

New laws favored citizenship status of women, establishing their
autonomy and rights, which proved a decisive factor for the development
of women's movements in the following years.

In 1923, with the participation of 31 associations, the first women's
national congress was held; the second one in 1925, saw the
participation of 71 associations.
In 1933, a strong feminine campaign claimed the right to vote (which had
been proposed by Ana Betancourt since the previous century), which was
formally acknowledged in the

Interim Constitution of 1934

In 1939, the Third National Congress of Women was held, whose final
resolutions demanded "a constitutional guarantee for women's equal
rights," a demand which was discussed in the Constituent Assembly and
finally recognized in Article 97 of the 1940 Constitution: "Universal,
equal, and secret suffrage is established for all Cuban citizens as
their right, duty, and function." [4]

Thus, in spite of the traditionalist nature of the feminist movement in
Cuba, of the shortage of legal mechanisms and limitations of our
ancestral culture and idiosyncrasies, Cuban women could vote and be
legally elected to public office even before many suffragists in more
developed countries.

To summarize, important legal strides were attained during the Republic,
as important as the right to vote, full capacity to make decisions about
property, the paid maternity law (though that did not include domestic
or agricultural workers), recognition of the rights of "illegitimate"
children and a gradual increase in protection of the rights of women
workers. In fact, those gains during the Republican era were influential
in a notable increase in the incorporation of women into paid jobs,
especially in urban areas, a process that was becoming stronger in the
years before the arrival of the Castro regime.

Two readings of the same Code

Now the official press and its cohorts of useful shysters, in the style
of Dr. Olga Mesa, aim to score for "the Revolution" of 1959 what were
legal conquests of Cubans many decades before. While it is true that
those female fighters of the Republic did not free themselves of
patriarchal subjection – cultural patrimony that even today has not been
totally overcome — or participate actively in national politics, they
launched a new feminine social model and created favorable conditions to
advance to higher levels of emancipation, compared to many countries in
the world.

In the years following 1959, the ideology that hijacked the power
quickly appropriated all spheres of socio-economic and political life of
the nation, including domestic areas. Thus, the full potential and
aspirations of feminine equality became subordinate to the service of
regime.

The rich tradition of the struggle of Cuban women was finally limited to
"a present" on Valentine's Day of this outdated and anachronistic law
called "Family Code," mechanically repeated in every marriage ceremony…
as long as the ceremony takes place between Cubans.

I was able to evidence this these last few days, when I had the
opportunity to attend the wedding in Cuba of a young Cuban woman,
residing abroad for more than a decade, and her Spanish boyfriend. So,
here is where "the Family Code" which — microphone in hand — was read by
the celebrant before the spouses and guests, had been mutilated in its
essence: the legal imposition of "educating children on the principles
of socialist morality." Since this was the case of spouses who do not
reside in Cuba, they were released from such a legal aberration.

As an additional detail, there was no Cuban flag or Cuban coat or arms
presiding over the ceremony. Perhaps what happens in these cases is that
the services are paid for in foreign currency, and we already know that
socialism takes a step back in the face of capital. Or perhaps it is
just that, in family matters, capitalism really is "clueless."

[1] K. LYNN STONER. De la casa a la calle, p. 184
[2] CASTELLANOS, DIMAS CECILIO. Desentrañando claves (inédito), Havana, 2011
[3] CASTELLANOS, DIMAS CECILIO. Desentrañando claves (inédito), Havana, 2011
[4] PICHARDO, HORTENSIA. Documentos para la historia de Cuba. Volume IV,
Part 2, p.349

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Family Code: Socialism's Straight Jacket / Cubanet, Miriam
Celaya | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/family-code-socialisms-straight-jacket-cubanet-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
Radio Marti: The Voice of Cuban Dissidents / Ivan Garcia
Posted on March 2, 2015

Iván García, 24 February 2015 — One summer during a stay in Camaguey — a
province 340 miles east of Havana — the owner of a house where I was
staying listened from early morning to Radio Marti, a network created in
1985 under the administration of Ronald Reagan with the goal of
providing Cubans with information uncensored or manipulated by the
Castro government.

The woman told me that since 1985 she has been listening to radio soap
operas, news and a morning program geared to a rural audience. When I
travelled to other provinces, nearly all the people with whom I spoke
said they got their information from or followed big league baseball on
Radio Marti, which is probably heard more in the countryside than in the
capital.

There is a logical explanation: the regime jams the station's broadcasts
less here. In Varadero, located on the Hicacos Peninsula and along the
northern coast of Cuba, Radio Marti's programming can be clearly heard.

Given the new geo-political dynamic between Cuba and the United States —
two Cold War adversaries — various voices within the U.S. Congress are
questioning the effectiveness and impact of the "Martis," as they refer
to an entity that includes a radio station, a television channel and a
website.

Among the conditions for normalizing relations with the United States,
Raul Castro asked that the media conglomerate be dismantled. Since the
first broadcast in 1985 the government in Havana has used electronic
jamming to block its radio and television signals. And readers cannot
access the Marti Noticias website from Cuba.

Using the radio as a vehicle for informing citizens in totalitarian
countries, where news, films and books are controlled by a dictatorship,
is nothing new. During the Soviet era, the United States created Radio
Free Europe and Radio Liberty, broadcasters which disseminated
information the Kremlin was trying to suppress.

The so-called "asymmetrical war," which according to the regime is an
attempt by the United States to destabilize Cuba, is something of an
exaggeration.

With Fidel Castro's arrival in power in January 1959, revolutionary
propaganda became a powerful instrument of social control. One year
earlier, in February 1958, Radio Rebelde (Rebel Radio) had already begun
broadcasting from the Sierra Maestre, which contributed to the
dissemination of the insurgents' message.

A few months after becoming president, Fidel Castro completely did away
with a free press, nationalizing newspapers and magazines, and
establishing Prensa Latina and Radio Havana Cuba — media outlets that
would later have the task of selling the world on the alleged benefits
of the Cuban system, alternating between true and false propaganda.

Official radio networks in the United States, the United Kingdom, France
and Spain often make use of these tools to their advantage too, but the
storyline is different. In spite of being government entities, Voice of
America, BBC, Radio France International and Radio Exterior de España
air dissenting opinions.

I speak from personal experience. I have been a regular contributor to
Radio Marti since 1996. I have been a guest on its radio shows and have
had articles published in which I criticized both Cuban dissidents and
the government of the United States without any form of censorship.

If Radio Marti were shut down, dissidents and independent journalists
would not have a feedback channel to reach those living in Cuba. If the
government allowed dissident voices to be heard in the media, the
station nestled in Florida would lose its reason for being.

Before returning home after attending a workshop on investigative
journalism in San Diego in November 2014, I spent a few days in Miami.
There I met producers, directors and journalists who work for the Martis.

I have had frank conversations with Karen Caballero, a presenter on TV
Marti. I have debated with Alvaro Alba, Ofelia Oviedo, Hector Carrillo,
Amado Gil, Jose Luis Ramos, Rolando Cartaya, Margarita Rojo, Omar
Montenegro, Luis Felipe Rojas and Juan Juan Almeida about the future of
network.

I had a very productive meeting with Carlos Garcia Perez, director of
both Radio Marti and Television Marti, and with officials Humberto
Castello and Natalia Crujeiras. I argued that this broadcaster's radio
programs are crucial in providing a platform for the opposition and an
outlet for articles by Cuba's independent journalists.

It is a shame that jamming by the regime prevents TV Marti from being
seen on the island. Ideally, it should have a wider audience. We all
know the power of images.

In my opinion any reorganization that the Martis might go through should
be for the better. Giving a broader platform to independent journalists
and alternative bloggers is something that should be considered.

Programs on leisure and recreation could be improved. International news
programs could be made more attractive, especially in regards to
Venezuela, a country of great interest to some sectors within Cuba.

Thousands of housewives are regular listeners of soap operas. The
variety of programming could be increased to offer more shows for women.
Sports shows always gets high ratings so it should be given more air time.

Independent journalists in Cuba surely have entertaining stories. This
is the 21st century. Never before have humans had access to so many
sources of information as today. To reach them means having to be
innovative.

The government of Raul Castro prohibits the free flow of news and
information. It fears Radio Marti. That's why it is censored.

Travel Notebook VIII

Photo: Cuba Day, a Radio Marti news show that airs Monday through Friday
from 3 to 4 PM. Produced by Ofelia Oviedo, it is directed by Tomás
Cardoso, Omar Lopez Montenegro and journalist Cary Roque. Freelance
journalist Iván García is often invited to report from Havana. In his
last appearance on Friday, February 6, he talked about what Cubans can
expect from talks between Cuba and the United States (TQ).

Source: Radio Marti: The Voice of Cuban Dissidents / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/radio-marti-the-voice-of-cuban-dissidents-ivan-garcia/ Continue reading
Musings of a Blind Man (3) / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on March 2, 2015

At this point in the historic events that have taken place in recent
days between Cuba and the United States, it is not worthwhile to have
regrets, but rather to understand the reasons for these events, and try
to find a positive view of them.

I dare say that President Obama has passed the ball to the Cuban rulers.
Now they have in their court what they have been long been clamoring
for. We shall see what they are capable of doing with it. Most likely,
the Castro brothers will not know what to do with the new possibility
that can only lead to the path of liberty and democracy. This is
something that they are unwilling to concede, albeit knowing of the
great chance that the Republicans will assume power in the next U.S.
elections and will revoke a good part or all that Obama has given them –
which as a policy matter is never possible.

Barack Obama knows that he can play with these possibilities for another
year and, in a certain way, it is his personal vengeance against the
opposition party. Although in his speech he mentioned relations with
China and Vietnam, the question is whether the U.S. is willing to
tolerate human rights violations in a country so historically and
geographically close. I do not accord to Cuba the same status as those
other two communist countries. I am of the view that Cuba will
demonstrate to the world its inability to allow individual freedoms,
even though the Castro brothers will be unable to return to power – the
older one due to physical limitations, the younger because of the very
legislation that he himself approved.

Of course, we are all more than certain that the president who will be
installed will be no more than a puppet whose strings will be in the
hands of the Castro family if, by then, one of their own offspring is
not put in power so that the cycle of history can repeat itself.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

December, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Musings of a Blind Man (3) / Angel Santiesteban | Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/musings-of-a-blind-man-3-angel-santiesteban/ Continue reading
Spain asks US to press Cuba for return of Eta fugitives in talks on
terror blacklist
- Cuba hosts Basque separatists José Ángel Urtiaga and José Ignacio Etxarte
- Former Spain prime minister wants Cuba off terror list without conditions
Associated Press in Madrid
Monday 2 March 2015 21.05 GMT

Spain has asked the United States to use its talks on taking Cuba off
the blacklist of countries sponsoring terrorism to help obtain the
extradition of two members of the armed Basque group Eta from the
communist country.

The foreign minister, José Manuel García Margallo, said on Monday that
the government has been in talks with the US in the hope of getting Cuba
to extradite José Ángel Urtiaga and José Ignacio Etxarte to Spain.


US and Cuba hold second round of talks in bid to normalise diplomatic
relations
Read more
They have been wanted since 2010 in an investigation into alleged links
between Venezuela, Eta and Colombian rebel group Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia ( Farc).

Cuba's 33-year status on the terrorism list stems from its support
decades ago for Eta and Farc.

The list is a major hurdle in US-Cuban negotiations to end a
half-century diplomatic freeze.

Margallo said the extraditions have since been made more difficult by
the former socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who
last week called on the US to take Cuba off the list immediately and
without conditions.

Zapatero's comments in Havana after meeting the Cuban president, Raúl
Castro, during a private visit greatly angered the conservative Madrid
government.

Margallo said Zapatero had not informed the government of the meeting
with Castro and should have contacted the ministry before making such
statements.

Urtiaga and Etxarte are believed to have been in Cuba since the
mid-1980s. Spain's national court said the two sought permission from
Eta to carry out grenade- and mortar-launching tests in Venezuela in
cooperation with Farc.

Eta killed some 830 people in a four-decade-long campaign for a Basque
homeland. It declared a permanent ceasefire in 2011 but has yet to disband.

Source: Spain asks US to press Cuba for return of Eta fugitives in talks
on terror blacklist | World news | The Guardian -
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/02/spain-us-cuba-return-eta-fugitives-terror-blacklist Continue reading
What would Cuba do?
[02-03-2015 12:46:08]
José Azel
Investigador, Universidad de Miami

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- Editor's note: José Azel presented his
original testimony, "What Would Cuba Do?" to the US House Committee on
Foreign Affairs on February 26. Watch the full video of the hearing at
the bottom of this article, with Azel at 27:58.
Mr. chairman, ranking member, distinguished members of the committee, I
am honored to have this opportunity to share my analysis on the US
national security implications of the administration's new Cuba policy,
and I commend you on calling this hearing on what is often a
misunderstood threat to our national interests.

Last year, when the New York Times editorial board and others
intensified their campaign for a unilateral-unconditional change in
US-Cuba policy, I published an essay titled: WWCD; that is, What Would
Castro Do if the United States were to unilaterally and unconditionally
end economic sanctions?

I argued then that not probing how Castro would respond was an
irresponsible omission, since the formulation of US foreign policy is
often compared to a chess game in which every prospective move is
analyzed with an eye to what the adversary's counter move would be. A
foreign policy move always seeks reciprocity.

General Raul Castro has now provided a comprehensive answer to my "What
Would Castro Do" question.

On January 28, 2015, speaking in Costa Rica and addressing the III
Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC),
General Castro set his demands. Before the two nations can re-establish
normal relations the United States must:

Unconditionally eliminate all economic sanctions.
Return to Cuba the Guantanamo US naval base.
Stop all the transmissions of Radio-TV Martí.
Compensate Cuba for the supposed damages caused by the embargo — which
Cuba estimates at US$116 billion and growing.
Eliminate Cuba from the US "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list.

The general declared that "If these problems aren't resolved, this
diplomatic rapprochement wouldn't make any sense." And that "It would
not be ethical or acceptable to ask Cuba for anything in return… Cuba
will not negotiate on these internal matters which are absolutely
sovereign."
With the general's impossible preconditions now known, advocates of
unconditional concessions to the Castro regime will likely double down
and begin spinning all sorts of dangerous arguments as to why we should
stay the new course.

We will hear that: General Castro was just laying out a starting
negotiating position or that, since we tried economic sanctions for so
long, should we not give this new policy some time?
And more troubling, we may even begin to hear arguments that Cuba may
indeed be entitled to compensation from US taxpayers, or that the naval
base in Guantanamo is an unnecessary and expensive relic of the Cold War.

Distinguished members, when you hear these arguments, just consider for
a moment how Mr. Putin and the Russian navy would love to have a
warm-water port in the Caribbean of the quality of our Guantanamo naval
base.

Consider also that if we further remove travel restrictions, thousands
of small private vessels from South Florida will begin visiting Cuba on
a regular basis and may return with hidden cargo. We can all use our
imagination as to the nature of the cargo, whether drugs, contraband
goods, or human trafficking. Our overstretched Coast Guard would not be
able to effectively monitor thousands of private vessels traveling
regularly between South Florida and Cuba.

Given the long-standing and close links between Cuba and Iran, this
ocean travel possibility exposes our border security to new and serious
vulnerabilities to terrorism and contraband.

Moreover, the president's new measures will enrich primarily the Cuban
military, and will not impede General Castro's close alliance with Iran,
Russia, or Venezuela. It is hard to discern how fortifying a
totalitarian government promotes democracy.

The new Cuba policy has legitimized the Cuban military regime in the
eyes of the world. By sanctioning an oppressive regime that violates
human rights with abandon, the president has reversed our long standing
support for democratic governance in Latin America.

Since the 1970s, US policy toward Latin America has emphasized
democracy, human rights, and constitutional government. Arguably, US
policy in defense of democratic governance has not been uniform
throughout the world. But until recently, defending democratic values
was our long-established policy in Latin America. The gratuitous
normalization of relations with an oppressive military dictatorship
sends the wrong message to the continent.

Every Latin-American would-be dictator now realizes that suppressing
civil liberties in his country is not an impediment to having a good
diplomatic and commercial relationship with the United States.
Contrary to the argument of some that the new policy will help improve
relations with Latin America, our implicit seal of approval of a
military dictatorship further weakens US influence and prestige in the
region. It encourages anti-US leaders everywhere to take positions
inimical to US interests, as Cuba has done for decades. One unfortunate
visual the new policy has conveyed is that taking US hostages can be
very rewarding.

Finally, General Castro, in order to secure whatever advantages he may
be pursuing, may promise some minor concessions. But before embracing
his military dictatorship, we should understand the general has made it
clear that Cuba will not change its ways.

Source: What would Cuba do? - Misceláneas de Cuba -
http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/Article/Index/54f44d803a682e1644f34375#.VPWBXfnF9HE Continue reading
SA engineers condemn hiring of Cubans for water projects
BY PAUL VECCHIATTO, 02 MARCH 2015, 06:30

THE employment of 34 Cuban engineers by the Department of Water Affairs
and Sanitation has caused an uproar in local engineering circles and now
the Democratic Alliance (DA) is posing parliamentary questions over the
matter.

The estimated cost of employing the Cuban engineers, who arrived in SA
on February 17, is about R50m a year. SA has hundreds of unemployed
engineers, according to the DA.

Earlier this month Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula
Mokonyane welcomed the Cubans to SA to work on a number of projects to
refurbish crumbling water infrastructure.

However, the South African Institute of Civil Engineers has slammed the
recruitment of the Cubans, saying local engineers would have applied for
the jobs if they had been offered the same incentives as the Cubans in
rural communities, national and provincial infrastructure departments
and local authorities.

"The money spent on establishing and accommodating these engineers in SA
could possibly be better spent relooking at current salaries and working
environments in these areas to the benefit of civil engineering
professionals, a number of whom are unemployed, thereby creating
sustainable jobs within SA," the institute said.

Consulting Engineers SA (Cesa) president Abe Thela said his association
was appalled by the department's action.

The Cubans' arrival follows a bilateral agreement that SA and Cuba
concluded last year for co-operation in water resources management and
supply.

Mr Thela warned that the recruitment was worrying since Cuban
engineering skills were not recognised by the Engineering Council of SA,
because Cuba was not a party to the Washington Accord, which governs
international engineering qualifications.

"Our member firms are currently only being 60% utilised and have 40%
spare capacity, while they are waiting for the government to bring
projects on stream," Mr Thela said.

DA MP Leon Basson said he had asked the chairman of the portfolio
committee on water and sanitation, Mlungisi Johnson, to summon Ms
Mokonyane to the next committee meeting to explain why she had bypassed
unemployed South African engineers.

Mr Basson said the same amount of money could have been spent to employ
more than 60 local engineers. There were an estimated 500 unemployed
engineers in SA, making it nonsensical for Ms Mokonyane to look abroad
to fill contractual positions in her department.

He said the DA supported the South African Institution of Civil
Engineering (SAICE) view that Ms Mokonyane's decision acted as a
disincentive to local graduates.

"It is also counter to healthy levels of cooperation between the
government and the private sector. By tapping into the local pool of
unemployed engineers, unnecessary problems such as language barriers and
a lack of familiarity with South African design codes and practice can
be avoided," Mr Basson said.

The DA will also request the portfolio committee to invite the SAICE and
the Engineering Council of SA to deliver a presentation to the committee
on how they could help solve SA's water and sanitation crises.

Source: SA engineers condemn hiring of Cubans for water projects |
National | BDlive -
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With Raul Castro, Are the Poor Poorer? / Ivan Garcia
Posted on March 2, 2015

Iván García, 26 February 2015 — José lives with his wife and five kids,
crammed into a nine by twelve foot space with a wooden platform, in a
shack in Santos Suárez, a slum south of Havana.

The tenement is a precarious spot where the electric cables hang from
the roof, water runs down the narrow central passage from the plumbing
leaks, and a disgusting smell of sewage hangs in your nose for hours.

That shack forms part of a group of ramshackle settlements where more
than 90 thousand Havanans live, according to Joel, a housing official in
the 10 de Octubre municipality.

There are worse places. On the outskirts of the capital, shantytowns are
spreading like the invasive marabou weed. There are more than 50 of
them. Houses made of sections of aluminium and cardboard, without any
sanitation, where the occupants get their electricity supply by
"informal" means.

But, going back to Santos Suárez. José says he is forty, but his sickly
pale skin and his face puffed up from excessive drink, not enough to eat
and poor quality of life make him look like an old man.

José is in that part of the population which doesn't receive remittances
and can't get convertible pesos. He works at anything. Looking after
flowerbeds, carrying debris, or ice cubes. On a good day, he makes 70
pesos, about $3. "All of it goes on food. And the rest on alcohol", he says.

His family's typical diet consists of two spoons of white rice, and a
large spoon of stew once a week, a boiled egg and a quarter chicken or
chopped beef mixed with soya which is distributed once a month via his
ration book. "I just have a coffee for breakfast. My bread from the
ration book I give to my kids."

Ten years ago, he was imprisoned for stealing light bulbs and armchairs
from houses in his area. "I stole from pure necessity. I sold the light
bulbs or daylight colour tubes for 30 pesos. The iron chairs went for 10
CUC. I once got 25 chavitos (CUC) for a wooden chair. I was able to buy
a cot for my daughter with that money", José remembers, sitting in the
doorway of a pharmacy in Serrano Street.

When you ask him about Raúl Castro's economic reforms, or what he hopes
for from the new diplomatic change of direction between Cuba and the
United States, he puts on a poker face.

"What changes? With Raúl we poor people are even poorer. Here anyone who
hasn't any connections with the system or a family in Miami is in a
difficult situation. I don't even want to talk about the old people.
There are a lot of things wrong about Fidel, but when he was in charge,
the social services and what you could get through your ration book
allowed you to live better. Not now. Every day Cubans like me get less
from the government. Many people are happy to be on better terms with
the Americans, but what can Obama do? He isn't the president of Cuba,"
he points out, while he takes a long swig of the worst possible alcohol
out of a plastic bottle.

The streets of Havana swarm with hundreds of people like José asking for
change, pulling out scraps from rubbish bins, or sleeping on cardboard
boxes in uninhabitable buildings.

In the entrance of a building in Carmen Street, on the corner of 10th of
October, about 10 people are there selling second-hand books, old shoes
and junk. Nelson, a gay man about 60 years old, suffers from chronic
diabetes. He sells old magazines. As far as he is concerned, the
revolution can be summed up in a word: "shit".

"It's all just speeches. They said it was a revolution of humble people
and for humble people, but it was a lie. Poor people were always badly
off, but now we are more fucked than ever. What Raúl has brought us has
been capitalism, of the worst kind. Fidel didn't tolerate many things,
including the homosexuals, but we lived a little better. The poor will
always be poor, in a dictatorship or in a democracy", asserts Nelson.

Like in the film Goodbye Lenin, directed by Wolfgang Becker, where the
East Germans feel nostalgic about the Communist era, in Cuba, those
whose lives are stuck in a tale of poverty, feel longing for the decade
from 1970 to 1980, when the state gave you every nine days a pound of
beef per person, through your ration book, a can of condensed milk cost
20 centavos and the shelves in the stores were full of Russian jams.

For Havanans like Nelson and José, you can't eat democracy.

Photo: The conditions Yumila Lora Castillo, who is 8 years old and has a
malignant tumor, is living in. Marelis Castillo, her mother, told Jorge
Bello Domínguez, from the Cuban Community Communicators Network (who
took the photo), that they haven't even authorised the diet of meat and
milk that people with cancer in Cuba are entitled to. A mother of two
other children, Marelis lives in this inhuman situation in El Gabriel,
in the municipality of Güira de Melena, Artemisa province, some 85
kilometers southwest of Havana.

Translated by GH

Source: With Raul Castro, Are the Poor Poorer? / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -
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Seven Steps to Kill Orlando Zapata Tamayo / Luis Felipe Rojas
Posted on March 1, 2015

Luis Felipe Rojas — I published this post a few days after that needless
death. Now I again denounce the death and express the same ideas about
it. It's my homage to my brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

I am still experiencing the pain caused by that avoidable death, and I
feel impotent because I didn't attend the funeral honoring him due to
political impediments, but that hasn't stopped me from saying that in
any case, what I present here seem to be the seven final steps that
advanced the repressive machinery used to kill Zapata.

1. Setting up that para-judicial theater that imposed a sentence of 63
years on him for contempt.

2. The continuous beatings accompanied by obscene words and insults
about his race and the region where he lived (shitty negro, shitty peasant).

3. Putting him in prisons that were located far away from his mother's
home (Prison Kilo Cinco y Medio in Pinar del Rio, Prison Kilo 8 in
Camaguey).

4. The beatings in November 2009 in the Holguin jail when they knocked
him down smashing his leg with a steel bar, on his knee cap, and that
his mother saw again when she opened the coffin in her house in Banes
and also discovered that there were other marks of the beating with
clubs that he surely received months before.

5. The forced removal to Camaguey and the robbery of his belongings on
December 3 when they confiscated the only food he was eating in prison.
This was the fact that made in declare a hunger strike.

6. Taking away water for the 18 days in the middle of the strike even
when he had said that he was declaring a hunger strike but would drink
small amounts of water.

7. The maneuver of taking him to a hospital for prisoners in Camaguey,
west of Havana, and putting him in a room that was not set up for
treating prisoners in a grave condition.

I lack the power of analysis in this case, but please don't keep saying
that the government didn't have a hand in his death. The execution order
was given from the office of General Raul Castro Ruz.

Translated by Regina Anavy

23 February 2015

Source: Seven Steps to Kill Orlando Zapata Tamayo / Luis Felipe Rojas |
Translating Cuba -
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Cuban Civil Society Open Forum Holds Third Meeting / 14ymedio
Posted on March 1, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2015 – The Cuban Civil Society Open Forum
held its third meeting this Wednesday with 25 people attending, among
them activists, opponents and members of civic groups. The first point
on the agenda was the approval of a document titled "Ethical Path for
Cuban Civil Society," which lays out the basic principles that should be
supported. Also under discussion were internal organizational issues
relative to the inclusion and representation of the participants.

A motion of solidarity with Venezuela (see below) was passed during the
day and important agreements were made with regards to the attendance of
Cuban civil society at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, to be held
this coming April 10-11. Finally, those present were invited to make
proposals about the elements and improvements that should be included in
the next Elections Act, announced last Monday in an official note after
the Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

On this occasion there were new faces around the table, while other
activists weren't present as they were participating events abroad or
for other reasons. As has already been seen, a characteristic of the
Open Forum is that discussion are of a frank character, marked by
precise arguments and a thorough knowledge of the national reality.

Among those attending (see below), the idea prevailed that Open Forum is
emerging as a good opportunity for civil society to find new points of
consensus, but without the intention of becoming a political coalition.
The horizontality in which everyone keeps their own individual
personality is one of the most notable strengths of this organization,
which resists being considered a group to which people belong, because
it prefers to define itself as a place where people participate.

The participants confirmed that the Open Forum is "without hierarchies,
or party discipline, but moved by a common denominator, love of Cuba and
the stubborn will to seek solutions to the problems of the country."

Motion of Solidarity with Venezuela

The independent Cuban Civil Society Open Forum meeting in Havana on 25
February 2015, has a approved a motion of solidarity with Venezuelan
civil society and opposition victims of the repression unleashed by the
government of that nation.

We emphasize our support for the former member of the National Assembly
María Corina Machado; opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has already
served a year in prison; and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, elected by
the popular will, recently imprisoned.

Attendees

José Díaz Silva (UNPACU)
José Daniel Ferrer García (UNPACU)
José Conrado Rodríguez (Diócesis de Cienfuegos)
José A. Fornaris (Asociación por la Libertad de Prensa)
Guillermo Fariñas Hernández (FANTU)
Fernando Palacio Nogar (Partido Solidaridad Liberal Cubano)
Félix Navarro Rodríguez (Partido por la Democracia Pedro Luis Boitel)
Ernesto García Pérez(Unión Social Comunitaria Cubana)
Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz (CCDHRN)
Eliécer Lázaro Ávila Cicilia (Somos +)
Eduardo Díaz Fleitas (UNPACU)
Dagoberto Valdés Hernández (Director de Convivencia)
Belkis Cantillo (CXD) Ciudadanas por la Democracia)
Karina Gálvez Chiu (Proyecto Convivencia)
Laritza Diversent Cámbara (Cubalex)
Lázaro Báez (Movimiento ONR)
Librado Linares García (Movimiento Cubano Reflexión)
Mario Félix Lleonart (Instituto Patmos)
Miriam Celaya González (Periodista Independiente)
Pedro Campos Santos (Boletín SPD)
Reinaldo Escobar Casas (periodista)
René Gómez Manzano (Corriente Agramontista de Abogados Independientes)
Saúl Raúl Quiala Velázquez (PSC-Fundación Sucesores)
Yoaxis Macheco Suárez (Instituto Patmos)
Yusmila Reyna Ferrera (Periodista independiente)

Source: Cuban Civil Society Open Forum Holds Third Meeting / 14ymedio |
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Top Cuban spy released by Obama says he's ready for his 'next order'
from Castro regime
In an exclusive interview with Yahoo News, Gerardo Hernandez is defiant
about his role as ringleader of the Cuban Five spy network
By Michael Isikoff

HAVANA — In the depths of his 16-year odyssey through the U.S. prison
system, convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez was transferred to an
underground cell at Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution that was
known to inmates simply as "the cage."

As Hernandez recalls it, he was stripped to his underwear, cut off from
all human contact and tormented by toilet water seeping — drip by drip —
from the cell above him into the sink in his cramped living space.

It was days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the federal
Bureau of Prisons was taking no chances — "special administrative
measures," as they were called — with high-profile, politically
sensitive inmates such as Hernandez, who was serving a double life
sentence, with no possibility of parole, for conspiracy to commit
espionage and murder.

"Hello," he said when he was finally permitted to make his first phone
call to his designated contact at the Cuban Interests Section in
Washington. "It is the Count of Monte Cristo calling."

It was Hernandez's impish allusion to the famous 19th-century novel by
Alexandre Dumas, whose hero, Edmond Dantès, is imprisoned in a dungeon
on a Mediterranean island for the rest of his life — only to
miraculously escape and re-emerge years later, triumphant, as a wealthy
member of French nobility.

Today, after a series of plot twists every bit as improbable as those in
Dumas' novel, Hernandez counts himself as the modern-day, real-life
equivalent. His sentence commuted by President Barack Obama, he is now a
free man in his native Cuba, reunited with his wife, Adriana, and his
former spy comrades. Last Tuesday, Hernandez and his fellow spies — the
Cuban Five, they are called here — were officially decorated by
President Raúl Castro as national heroes in a grand celebration at
Cuba's National Assembly.

And, Hernandez tells Yahoo News in an exclusive interview, he's ready to
return for duty to advance the cause of his country's communist revolution.

"What I'm telling you right now, I already told Raúl Castro: I'm a
soldier," said Hernandez, pounding his chest. "I'm ready to receive my
next order. I can serve anywhere my country believes I am useful."

Perhaps most astonishing of all, Hernandez, 48, is also the father of a
7-week-old baby, Gema. The girl (her name means "precious stone" in
Spanish) was conceived last year while Hernandez was still in a U.S.
prison: His frozen sperm was shipped to Panama for secret fertility
treatments for Adriana, all facilitated by the Obama administration — at
the urging of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — as part of its backdoor
diplomacy with the Cuban government.

"We have to believe in miracles," Hernandez said, gently rocking Gema, a
glowing Adriana by his side as the couple sat in the courtyard of the
foreign ministry villa where they now live, attended to by a
government-supplied staff of nannies, cooks and servers.

The release last Dec. 17 of Hernandez, as well as the last two
imprisoned members of his Cuban Five spy network, Ramon Labanino and
Antonio Guerrero, was a huge propaganda coup for the Castro government.
It also paved the way for a historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations
that has already brought a wave of American tourists to the island and
U.S. companies knocking on Havana's door looking for new

But the freeing of Hernandez and the Cuban Five spies — coinciding with
Cuba's release of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and a jailed
CIA spy — is continuing to stir raw anger among anti-Castro Cubans in
South Florida and some members of Congress.

"Shameful," wrote GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Bob Goodlatte,
chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a recent letter to the
Bureau of Prisons, describing Hernandez as a "convicted spy and
murderer" and demanding answers about the medical treatments for his wife.

For his part, Hernandez is unbowed and unrepentant, a proud Fidelista,
although one with a wry sense of humor. "I have a new warden now," he
said at the villa, nodding toward a woman looming in the background. "My
mother-in-law."

As Hernandez describes it, he is a patriot who was dispatched by Cuba's
Directorate of Intelligence to perform what Cubans viewed as a vital
mission inside the United States: to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups
in South Florida that for years were plotting and conducting "terrorist"
attacks on their homeland.

"There were training camps in the Everglades in South Florida," he said.
"Those people used to go in speedboats to Cuba, do some shootings there,
place some bombs there and go back and give a press conference: 'Oh
yeah, we did this. We went to Cuba. Down with the Castro government.'"

Those attacks, which continued over a span of decades and are mostly
forgotten in the United States, are etched in the memories of most
Cubans. In 1976, a Cuban airliner was bombed over the Caribbean, killing
73 passengers, including the teenage members of the Cuban national
fencing team. As late as 1997, there was a series of bombings at Havana
hotels, aimed at disrupting the country's nascent tourism industry and
killing an Italian businessman — attacks that were said to be the work
of anti-Castro exile groups.

Hernandez compared his efforts to thwart those attacks to the CIA's own
attempts to disrupt terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic
State. Only unlike the United States, he said, Cuba "doesn't have
drones" to kill the terrorists.

"And even in the U.S., where you have drones, you are sending people,
dressing them up like al-Qaida people with beards" and infiltrating
their training camps. "That's exactly what Cuba did."

As FBI and federal prosecutors later alleged, Hernandez — using a false
"legend" as a graphic designer from Puerto Rico — was the case officer
for the project, overseeing more than a dozen Cuban spies in the United
States known as La Red Avispa, or the Wasp Network. Prosecutors charged
that their efforts weren't restricted to simply spying on the exile
groups: They also tried to penetrate U.S. military installations. Cuban
Five member Guerrero, for example, landed a janitor's position at Naval
Air Station Key West in order to count airplanes flying in and out from
the base, providing "an early warning" system in the unlikely event of a
U.S. invasion. (Hernandez says this was a small part of the Wasp
Network's mission and, in any case, didn't involve the theft of "secret"
information.)

And in Hernandez's case, prosecutors charged, he also tipped off his
Cuban handlers to flights by Brothers to the Rescue, headed by Bay of
Pigs veteran Jose Basulto — an exile group that rescued "rafters"
fleeing Cuba in the open seas and dropped anti-Castro leaflets over the
island, violating Cuban airspace and infuriating the Castro government.

In February 1996, after multiple warnings, the Cuban military shot down
two of the planes, killing four pilots — and resulting in Hernandez's
conviction for conspiracy to commit murder.

Hernandez's association with the shootdown remains the most inflammatory
part of his case. In the days since his release, the families of the
slain pilots have expressed outrage that Hernandez should walk free;
last week, the same day the Cuban Five were receiving their medals from
President Castro, hundreds of Cuban exiles marched in Miami's Little
Havana to commemorate the Brothers to the Rescue pilots, and a silent
vigil, with family members holding hands in a circle, was held at
Florida State University. "This is very emotional for every single
family member touched by this — to have what little justice you had
taken away from you," said Maggie Khuly, the sister of slain Brothers
pilot Armando Alejandre Jr., about Hernandez's release. "This is never
going to go away."

Hernandez adamantly denies that he had any advance knowledge of the
Cuban shootdown that day. (At least one of the federal appellate judges
who reviewed his case concluded that the principal evidence against him
— a message he sent warning one of his fellow spies who had infiltrated
Brothers to the Rescue not to fly that day — was inconclusive.) Still,
when asked what he would say to a still-grieving sister like Khuly, he
responded that her brother shouldn't have been flying anyway because
Basulto had once been a terrorist himself, even though he had long since
renounced violence.

"I'm not going to go into whether that was the right decision or not,"
he said about Cuba's decision to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue
planes. "That's not my call. I'm just explaining that Cuba has the right
to see Basulto and the Brothers to the Rescue not as a humanitarian
organization that they say they are. Can you imagine somebody like bin
Laden now" — and here Herandez held up his right hand, as if he were
taking an oath — "saying, 'From now on, I'm going to be a pacifist, and
I'm going to create an organization ... just to drop some food'? Can
you imagine a scenario like that?"

U.S. intelligence sources told Yahoo News that the FBI finally got onto
Hernandez and the Wasp Network through a cryptographer informant inside
the Cuban intelligence service — Rolanda "Roly" Sarraff, the very same
spy "asset" released by the Cubans in exchange for Hernandez. And after
Hernandez and the rest of the Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 and held
for 18 months in solitary confinement in a Miami detention center, the
FBI did everything it could to flip Hernandez and his colleagues,
repeatedly offering them deals to inform on their spymasters in Havana.

But Hernandez and his Cuban Five colleagues held firm, emboldened, he
said, by the words of Fidel Castro, who when asked about their arrest
told a CNN reporter, "I can tell you one thing: We will never leave them
behind."

"And that day, those statements reached us," Hernandez said. "That was
the day that changed everything for us. From that day on, we knew that
nothing would break us."

Hernandez's fortitude in the end seems to have paid off. He and the rest
of the Cuban Five are now rock-star celebrities in Cuba, instantly
recognized and cheered wherever they go. When they walked through the
streets of Romerillo, one of Havana's poorest neighborhoods, accompanied
by a reporter, they were mobbed: Women embraced and kissed them,
children beseeched them for their autographs and everyone wanted a
picture taken with them.

At one point, Hernandez and the group stopped by a small gold statuette
shrine to San Lazaro, a patron saint in Cuba — for miracles. It has not
gone unnoticed here in this communist, but still religious, country that
San Lazaro Day is Dec. 17, the same day that Hernandez, Labanino and
Guerrero were released from U.S. prisons.

"The fact that we came back on Dec. 17 — so many Cubans say that's not a
coincidence," Hernandez said, standing in front of the shrine.
"Remember, through 16 years, many Cuban people prayed and asked San
Lazaro for a miracle that the Five will one day come back. So who will
tell those people that the miracle wasn't granted by San Lazaro?"

Does he believe that himself, he was asked. The veteran spy laughed and
looked at the shrine. "All that matters to me is that I'm here. Who made
it possible," he said, looking up at the sky and throwing up his hands,
"congratulations! Thank you! Whatever."

Source: Top Cuban spy released by Obama says he's ready for his 'next
order' from Castro regime - Yahoo News -
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Red flags in Cuba slow investment
Alan Gomez and Rick Jervis, USA TODAY 12:49 p.m. EST March 1, 2015

MIAMI — After an initial wave of enthusiasm following President Obama's
decision to re-establish relations and expand trade with Cuba, American
businesses are hitting the brakes.

Although companies such as MasterCard, American Express, Netflix and
Twitter have announced plans to expand operations in Cuba, they can't
flourish on the island until two essential U.S. industries get on board:
banking and telecommunications. And so far, officials in those fields
are hesitant to jump into the risky Cuban market.

"Capital doesn't like to go where there's risk," said Alex Sanchez,
president and CEO of the Florida Bankers Association. "It's not going to
Iran, it's not going to Iraq and it probably won't go to Cuba for a
while because of the risk."

Ever since Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro made their historic
announcement in December that they would end 50 years of estrangement,
diplomats in both countries have been working to formalize that process.

The other part of the deal expands trade between the two countries.
American businesses can now sell more products to Cuba and Cuban
entrepreneurs can export their products to the U.S. market. American
businesses can establish corresponding bank accounts in Cuba to
facilitate those transactions, travelers can use their credit and debit
cards on the island, and U.S. telecom companies can help build up Cuba's
Internet infrastructure.

In the months since, however, lawyers and compliance officers at U.S.
companies have been raising red flags. The biggest is that Cuba remains
on the U.S. State Department's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism,
which severely limits the ability of American companies to do business
with the country.

That's just the start. Cuba has no independent judicial system U.S.
companies can turn to for settling disputes. The communist government
has a long history of seizing foreign property. American companies still
face restrictions because of the economic embargo the U.S. maintains on
Cuba. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and the U.S. recession,
American regulators have cracked down on financial institutions that
deal with customers involved in money-laundering, narco-trafficking,
terrorism and other high-risk fields.

"In the 1990s, we thought $50 million was a heavy fine. Now we're in the
billions," said David Schwartz, former vice president for international
compliance risk management at Regions Financial Corporation and now the
executive director of the Florida International Bankers Association.

Because of those fears, no U.S. bank has agreed to process transactions
conducted in Cuba. In the telecom industry, only one U.S. company — IDT
Corp. of New Jersey — has signed a deal with the Cuban government.

Bringing better connectivity to Cuba has been one of the main tenets of
Obama's renewed diplomacy with Cuba. Today, a mere 5% of Cuba's 11
million residents are estimated to have access to the Internet — one of
the lowest rates in the hemisphere.

Cuba's state telecom company, ETECSA, retains a monopoly on Internet
service that is slow and expensive to the average Cuban. Internet
service is mostly available through one of 155 cybercafes across the
island and an hour of connection costs around $5 an hour, equivalent to
a full week's salary.

IDT's agreement, which creates direct long-distance links between U.S.
callers and Cuba, represents a "first step," said spokesman Bill Ulrey.
Company officials hope the agreement will lead to more Cuba-related
services, he said.

Even if more U.S. companies rush to the island offering deals on
cellular towers and broadband equipment, it's still largely unknown how
much Cuban officials will accept, said John Kavulich, a senior policy
adviser at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Cuban officials will likely want assurances that the telecom equipment
they're offered hasn't been tampered with by the U.S. intelligence
agencies, or they may ask for "backdoor" access to monitor the Internet
after it's installed. Telecom companies may find those requests
difficult to meet, he said.

Cuba has tightly controlled Internet access since it first surfaced in
the mid-1990s.

Setting up an Internet system that allows Cuban officials to control its
usage would go against Obama's goal of using connectivity as a way to
empower Cuban citizens, Kavulich said. "The lack of statements by the
Cuban government should be a very large yellow caution flag," he said.

Until Cuba signals a willingness to connect its people, all the telecom
firepower and know-how in the USA won't make a difference, said Larry
Press, professor of information systems at California State
University-Dominguez Hills, who has studied Cuba's Internet.

"The ball's in their court now," he said.

Jervis reported from Austin

Source: Red flags in Cuba slow investment -
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On Cuba's Missions Abroad
February 27, 2015
Janis Hernández

HAVANA TIMES — For years, the Cuban State has been preaching that
so-called "internationalist missions" are a means of offering other
nations "selfless aid." Many of us know, however, that something else
hides behind this philanthropist spiel, that, over time, this fraternal
assistance has become one of the country's main source of revenues.

The sending of medical, sports, education, cultural and other
professionals to other nations is formalized through the signing of
agreements with the receiving countries. This personnel isn't offered
these countries free of charge – the Cuban government charges in hard
currency. According to some reports, by 2009 the main source of hard
currency revenues had already become the export of these services to
other countries, surpassing international tourism.

The Cuban government is paid the total monthly stipend agreed to for the
services rendered by each professional abroad, while the family back in
Cuba of this professional is paid 50 dollars a month and their salary in
Cuban pesos. Only after fulfilling their contract, after their files
have been officially sealed, can these professionals collect the money
in their frozen accounts. Coupled with the stipend they have received
during their stay abroad, the amount they collect is far less than what
the State pockets.

If these professionals wish to stop working before the agreed term – be
it for personal, health or other reasons – then that's that.

Venezuela is one of the main receiving countries. Cuban professionals
have been traveling to this country and working there for two or four
years for more than a decade.

For Cuban professionals, working in Venezuela means earning a bit of
money, with which they can later buy a house and/or some household
appliances that they would never be able to afford with their Cuban
salaries. It is also an opportunity to buy cheap trinkets to give to
relatives and friends and sell to others to make a little extra cash.

They don't really care that the government is exploiting them – it is
the only way they and their families can get ahead.

Getting people work abroad became a business for officials at the
Provincial Offices of the Ministry of Health, who would find jobs for
friends and relatives and sell them to others. In the Cuban on-line
classifieds page Revolico.com, I once came across an ad that read: "I'm
a doctor. I'm offering 300 CUC for a mission abroad."

From Venezuela, Cuban professionals were exporting all manner of
utensils and essentials. Anything from luxury fridges to fine china was
being shipped in containers (subject to preferential customs fees and
lax weight restrictions). One fine day, however, these perks were taken
away and those arriving from the sister nation of Venezuela were
required to pay duties as much as everyone else.

The economic and social crisis that Venezuela has been facing since
Chavez, exacerbated during Maduro's presidency, makes it more difficult
for Cuban professionals to purchase as many things as they could before.
Though they always claim to be proud of their selfless efforts in front
of the television cameras, in truth fewer and fewer professionals want
to go work in Venezuela. They prefer Brazil or African countries where
the pay is better.

To earn a bit more money and improve their quality of life, Cuban
professionals are willing to face all kinds of risks, from violent
deaths or accidents in remote areas, through contagion of deadly
diseases to acts of sabotage.

More than a hundred Cuban medical doctors working in Venezuela's Barrio
Adentro ("Into the Neighborhood") program have died since the program
began in 2003. Though Cuban authorities insist this is not the case, in
2010 El Nacional published an article that reported on the deaths of 69
Cuban medical doctors in the country.

The fact is that, be it as a means of making money, buying household
appliance or trinkets or finding a way to reach the United States, work
abroad has been an option sought out by the island's professionals that
has nothing to do with the much-advertised humanitarian gesture.

Today, I heard a conversation between two medical doctors. One was
saying to the other: "So here I am, pushing to get sent somewhere,
except Venezuela, you can't get anything out of that anymore. I prefer
to go to Africa, Ebola and all."

Just look at all that altruism.

Source: On Cuba's Missions Abroad - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=109646 Continue reading
Mexican company gets deal to invest in Cuba development zone
Sunday, 1 Mar 2015 | 1:27 AM ET
Justin Solomon | CNBC

A Mexican meat processing firm has become the first international
company to get approval for an investment project in Cuba's first
special economic development area, Mexico's foreign ministry said on
Saturday.

Richmeat de Mexico plans to invest in the processing and packing of meat
within the Mariel special development zone of the island, the ministry
said in a statement, without giving details of how much money was involved.

News of the investment follows December's agreement between the United
States and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties after more than five decades.
That spurred hopes that the communist-run island could be start to open
up its economy.

The Mexican government is keen to play a central role in the process of
ending Cuba's diplomatic and economic isolation.

The rules and regulations governing the Mariel area were first set out
in 2013, but companies have been slow to take advantage of the tax and
customs breaks it is meant to offer.

The special development zone covers 180 square miles (466 square km)
west of Havana and is centered on a new container terminal in Mariel
Bay, 28 miles from the Cuban capital.

Source: Mexican company gets deal to invest in Cuba development zone -
http://www.cnbc.com/id/102465800#. Continue reading
Entrepreneurs embrace new possibilities on doing business with Cuba
SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2015, 10:57 AM
BY HUGH R. MORLEY
STAFF WRITER | THE RECORD

One businessman was interested in the commercial possibilities of
helping Cubans renovate their homes.

Another had put together a $2 million investment fund, and was looking
for opportunities in the Caribbean country.

A third attendee, a Cuban-American, had no business plan, but he came to
see what the changes might mean for his native land.

The three reflected the diverse interests of about 100 people who
attended a lively forum Thursday night in Lyndhurst on doing business
with Cuba. The event sought to focus on opportunities in the communist
nation in the future, but it sometimes got tangled up in the past.

Related: N.J. business look to Cuba for a market, find difficulties

The event, organized by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of
New Jersey, was designed to provide information about the business
terrain in Cuba as a result of President Obama's executive orders in
December aimed at normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations. The orders took
effect in January.

Concerns ranged from caution at the possible risks to a desire to jump
in quickly. And some inquiries appeared to be shaped by Cuba's turbulent
history with the U.S. — especially after two representatives of the
Cuban government spoke of their belief in Obama's plan, and how it could
help the people in both countries.

A matter of risk

"There are laws in this country that protect me and protect my
investment," said Jose Sabater of Elizabeth. The Cuban-American said he
came to the forum to find out the effect of the changes on his native
country.

"What kind of guarantees does the Cuban government have in place" to
protect investments in that country? Sabater asked.

Marco A. Gonzalez, a Paramus attorney who gave a presentation on what
companies can and can't do under Obama's rules, replied that he has
helped clients do business in Cuba, and other countries, for years, and
hasn't found clients to be at greater risk of losing their investment in
Cuba than anywhere else.

Asked a similar question earlier, one of the Cuban government
representatives, Ovidio Roque, dismissed such concerns, and said his
country is very keen on making its relationship with the U.S. work, and
it wants to foster entrepreneurs and an independent business sector.

"If you ask an entrepreneur what is the main obstacle to a business in
Cuba, it's not the Cuban government," it's the difficulty of getting
materials to run a business, he said. He drew a laugh from the audience
when he said independent restaurants complain more that they can't get
Adobo Goya — a seasoning popular with Latinos that's made by the
Secaucus-based food manufacturer.

Cuba as a 'hybrid'

Frank Argote-Freyre, an assistant professor in Latin American history at
Kean University, predicted that Cuba would end up as a "hybrid" of
capitalism and communism, adding, "I think we will see economic reforms."

Some attendees were clearly motivated by the prospect of early entry
into a developing market with which they had personal ties.

Bill Borras, a general building contractor from Jackson, whose father
left Cuba in 1937, said he believed money could be made fixing up
dilapidated homes, or buying and selling them.

"I think it's going to be lucrative, not only in my industry," Borras
said, adding that whatever the U.S. was going to achieve with the
embargo had been achieved.

"It's time," he said of Obama's initiative. "I don't think we are going
to be getting anything more out of the embargo."

Mario Perez, a forensic accountant from Warren Township, said he came to
see if the business environment is ripe for him to invest a $2 million
venture fund he has put together.

"It's important to start peeling the onion, and really investigate
what's going on," said Perez, whose parents left Cuba in the 1950s.
"It's the initial stages of doing proper due diligence in our country."

He said he has no specific investments in mind, but he suggested that
putting money into real estate, a resort, or imports and exports could
be possible.

U.S. action urged

Some attendees, however, felt that U.S. businesses may need to move
quickly to seize a share of the market, a point underlined by the Cuban
representatives, who said investors in countries that don't have laws
restricting business with Cuba are already backing projects there.

"I don't think we have missed the boat," said Freddy Rambay, the New
Jersey representative for MAP Communications, a Virginia call center
company. "But we need to take steps to ensure we have our feet in the
water before it's too late."

Source: Entrepreneurs embrace new possibilities on doing business with
Cuba - News - NorthJersey.com -
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Why U.S. banks are keeping an eye on Cuba talks
by Nancy Marshall-Genzer
Friday, February 27, 2015 - 05:00

U.S. and Cuban negotiators will meet in Washington Friday. On the agenda: whether Cuba should be taken off the U.S.'s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba wants off that list, and American banks are watching the negotiations closely. So are U.S. travelers, who can’t use their credit or debit cards on the island.

Right now, Americans can pay for hotels and plane tickets to Cuba in advance.  But once you get there, "all of your expenses, you need cash for them,” says Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in Alexandria, Va., who was traveling in Havana when we spoke.

“You’re going to rent a car, you’re going to rent a cell phone, you’re going to feed yourself," he says. "You’re going need about $200 a day in cash.”

Peters says, if Cuba were taken off the terrorism list, U.S. banks would be more willing to do business there.

Geoff Thale, a Cuba analyst with the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America, says right now, banks are leery.

“What may seem like, to the bank, an innocent banking arrangement, could lead to substantial fines,” he says.

But Thale says, even if Cuba were taken off the list, U.S. banks would still be cautious.

Case in point: MasterCard is removing its block on U.S. card transactions in Cuba this Sunday. But, that doesn’t mean your bank will clear them. MasterCard says you should contact your bank before you go to ensure your card will be "supported on the island."

Source: Why U.S. banks are keeping an eye on Cuba talks | Marketplace.org - http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/why-us-banks-are-keeping-eye-cuba-talks Continue reading
An Ethical Roadway for Civil Society / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Posted on March 1, 2015

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2015 — This Wednesday,
February 25th, 2015, a new meeting of the members Espacio Abierto [Cuban
Civil Society Open Forum] of the independent civil society took place
with a broad representation of members of various pro-democracy projects
throughout the Island, as well as independent journalists. A total of 25
participants took part in the symposium, where, in addition, views on
issues of interest to the Cuban reality were exchanged.

On this occasion, among the most important points of the discussion
adopted by full consensus was the document "An ethical roadway for Cuban
civil society" which — as its name suggests — provides a guide for the
basic principles governing the conclave, and a Motion of Solidarity with
civil society and the Venezuelan opposition at a time when the
repression tends to flare up with a statement that emphasizes leaders
like Leopoldo López, who recently served a year in prison; Maria Corina
Machado, a former deputy who was attacked and removed from office by the
Chavista authoritarianism; and the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma,
elected at the polls by popular will, violently arrested in recent days
by the repressive forces of the government of that nation.

Whereas the document adopted at the conclave should be made known to the
public, especially Cubans from all shores, its contents are reproduced
here in their entirety:

An Ethical Path for Cuban Civil Society

As part of the independent Cuban civil society, we believe that every
moral choice is a strictly non-transferable decision, absent from all
imposition. We also recognize that, because of its relational character,
citizens seek to socialize and get incorporated into communities that
have received an established humus solidified with values and virtues
known as community ethos, whether family, group, national or
international. By agreeing to an ethical path, we reject a dogmatic
moral, prohibitive in itself, of frivolity and debauchery. We opt for
dialogical ethics against an authoritarian moral, ethics that
intrinsically link freedom and responsibility. We propose to educate
ourselves to assume, in our principles and in our attitudes, the
following ethical path, rooted in the best of our Cuban heritage:
1. We acknowledge that a human being is the central character of his own
story. Thus, the person must be the beginning, the middle and the end of
any institution or historical process. Human beings are not the means,
nor can they be an object in the hands of others, therefore they should
not be manipulated for scientific, social, political or economic
experiments.We believe that all human beings are equal before the law
and diverse in their abilities and personal choices.
2. We must encourage consistency between what we believe, what we say
and what we do. Any personal, civic and political engagement must be
inextricably supported by ethical behavior without which all individual
or community action loses value and meaning.
3. Cuba, that is, the nation known as the community of all its citizens
on the Island and in the Diaspora, its wellbeing, its freedom, its
progress and common good, is the inspiration and the end of all civic
and political action, banishing spurious interests.We consider that the
meaning and purpose of our ethical commitment to Cuba is to build a
peaceful, fruitful and prosperous coexistence in our country, rather
than a simple coexistence with those who are different or adversarial.
4. We opt for peaceful methods and for seeking nonviolent solutions to
both national and international conflicts and our interpersonal
relationships. We opt for the absolute respect for human life and
declare ourselves against all violence and the death penalty.
5. The discrepancy of opinions and political debate should leave no room
for personal or group attacks, insults or denigrating exclusions, or
defamation.
6. We believe that property, knowledge, and power are to serve and that
without agile and honest institutions there is no possible governance.
We believe that without civil sovereignty there is no progress,
articulation, or primacy of the governance of civil society as a valid
participant. Corruption, lies and excessive material interest are the
main enemies of civility in the world today, so, as part of the
independent Cuban civil society, we reject these evils and opt for
transparency, favor truth and the primacy of spiritual values.
7. We seek a modicum of ethics agreed to through a consensus building
process. We differentiate the processes of dialogue and negotiation.
Therefore, we believe that an ethical minimum must surface from a
dialogue leading to consensus agreements, while specific covenants
should surface from negotiations, which must be observed and followed by
the parties.
8. A civic ethic of minimums agreed to by consensus is an achievement of
pluralist humanity. Its basis is the full and utmost dignity of the
human person, achieved through acknowledgment, education and defense of
all rights for everyone, proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights resolved by the U.N. in 1948, which we fully embrace as our
inspiration and ethics program.
9. We adhere to the three fundamental values summarized by the best
aspirations of humanity: freedom, equality, fraternity and their
corresponding rights. First generation rights extol the value of
freedom, they are civil and political rights. Second generation rights
commend the value of equality, they are economic, social and cultural
rights. Third generation rights endorse the value of universal
brotherhood as ecological rights for a healthy environmental balance and
the right to a peaceful world.
10 Consequently, we wish to opt for inclusion and democratic
participation; moral authority, not authoritarianism; proposals, not
prescriptions; what ideas are expressed, rather than who speaks them;
programs and not just leaders. Unity in diversity, not uniformity.
Rational convictions, not fanaticism. The decriminalization of
differences, not intolerance. Decentralization and subsidiarity should
replace centralism and totalitarianism. Ethics must take precedence over
technique and science. Commitment must win over indifference. We opt for
the ethics of politics and economics, of national coexistence and of
international relations.
11. This ethical commitment should translate into attitudes and
proactive actions to heal the anthropological damage and overcome civic
and political illiteracy with the systematic labor of citizen
empowerment. Since we reject any moral imposition, we believe that
education is the only valid way. So we direct our efforts towards an
education liberating of ourselves and of all alienation, in order to be
able to contribute to the ethical and civic education of all Cuban
people, inspired by Human Rights and their corresponding Civic Duties.
Civic and political activists or intellectuals should not be society's
moralizers. Being chosen to represent does not confer moral authority,
but political commitment, subject to scrutiny and public willpower. We
believe in representation as a service to society. This representation
must be the product of popular choice, limited by time and succession.
12. Civic ethics is forged by each person, and it is the community's
responsibility to establish, educate, promote and safeguard the humus of
the ethics of the nation open to the world, based on the great values of
truth and freedom, justice and love.

By adopting this ethical pathway, we want to identify its roots in the
ethics of our founding fathers. The teaching of the Apostle José Martí
reminds us that: "For love we see, with love we see, it is love that
sees." We believe in civic friendship and in the reconciliation where
that righteousness should flow, which Maestro José de la Luz y Caballero
called the "sun of the moral world." Finally, we share Father Félix
Varela's philosophy that taught us that "There is no Motherland without
virtue or virtue without piety".

162nd anniversary of the death of Father Félix Varela

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: An Ethical Roadway for Civil Society / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/an-ethical-roadway-for-civil-society-cubanet-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
Blindness Leads the Way / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on February 28, 2015

Rebeca Monzo, 8 February 2015 — After reading an article from the
January 31, 2015 issue of the newspaper Granma about Cuba and the
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) entitled "Cooperation Leads
the Way," a ton of questions came to mind about the subject at hand.

It has been forty years since a UNDP office was established in our
country with the objective to collaborate with the island's government
on the promotion of social development and public well-being.

From my meager understanding, the only party to have benefited from
this has been the government itself, especially in terms of the
favorable publicity it has received. They make up a negligible partof
the population but the Cubans who work for this and other UN
organizations are paid in CUC (Cuban convertible peso), which surpass by
leaps and bounds the highest salaries of the most qualified
professionals in our society, who are paid in CUP (Cuban pesos).

According to the aforementioned article, Granma "chatted" with Mrs.
Jessica Faieta, Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America
and the Caribbean as well as the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN,
who discussed the improvement of the quality of life of our citizens.
She recognized the efforts of the Cuban government in regards to food
security and the strengthening of the agricultural and non-agricultural
cooperatives, pointing out, in addition, that the Cuban healthcare
system has been strengthened.

With all due respect, it strikes me that this official had only a
limited view of the situation, as is the case with everyone who visits
us. Guests are taken only to those organizations that have been prepared
in advance by the government and which serve as "display windows" for
foreigners.

Perhaps if she had to depend on the ration book for a while or to seek
medical help at one of our clinics — those used by the average citizen
— it is quite possible she might think differently. I do not understand
how UNDP, based in our country for four decades, has not been given the
task of investigating on their own — in closer contact with the
population — to verify the "wonderful statistics" provided by the
government, which does not at all reflect our reality.

One need only take a stroll through Central Havana, Old Havana (provided
one ventures beyond the historic center), Cerro, Tenth of October Arroyo
Naranjo, San Miguel del Padron and even Vedadao and other neighborhhoods
to see the poor sanitation conditions and overcrowding in which the
Cuban people must live. and the lack of specialists in our health
centers, for being these missions abroad, being replaced mostly by
students, many of them foreigners. There is also the issue of a shortage
of specialists in our health system due to the large number of them
serving abroad in medical missions. They are being replaced mainly by
medical students, many of them foreigners.

In terms of our society's standard of living, it should be pointed out
that the disappearance of the middle class — the very mark of a
country's wealth — has led to the emergence of an impoverished class
(with equality for all) with salaries that do not cover even the most
basic necessities. The contrast is made even more striking by the
emergence of a leadership class with an affluent lifestyle which only
accentuates the differences.

However, Mrs. Faieta and I are in full agreement when it comes to the
positive steps taken towards normalization of diplomatic relations
between the governments of the United States of America and Cuba. Once
there is a successful outcome — one hopes sooner rather than later — it
will be to the benefit of all Cubans. I believe that it is time to end
once and for all the blindness that until now has led the way.

Source: Blindness Leads the Way / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/blindness-leads-the-way-rebeca-monzo/ Continue reading
NJ business look to Cuba for a market, find difficulties
SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2015, 1:21 AM
BY HUGH R. MORLEY
STAFF WRITER | THE RECORD

* Telecom company, travel agency and tech-life science executives test
waters, but experts tamp down expectations

President Obama's actions late last year, beginning the process of
normalizing the United States' long-frozen relationship with Cuba, lit a
fire under some New Jersey business leaders eager to tap into a new market.

A Newark-based telecom company has already made a deal with Cuba's
telecom agency on long-distance phone service. A group of New Jersey
tech and life science executives, intrigued by the potential of Cuba's
educated population, will visit the island in April. And a North Jersey
travel agency with extensive experience planning trips to Cuba has seen
a dramatic increase in calls.

Yet experts say low income levels in Cuba, where the average worker
makes about $20 a month, the communist government's tight control of the
economy, and America's continuing, stringent trade embargo put the
island 90 miles from the U.S. coast a long way from becoming more than a
negligible part of the nation's or New Jersey's economy.

"This is just the first step," said Lawrence Diamond, a Newark attorney
who specializes in helping companies do business with Cuba. "This is not
something that's going to change in any great extent doing business with
Cuba. It's going to take time before American companies will be, on a
broad scale, able to do business in and with Cuba."

The possibility of closer business ties with Cuba is a sensitive issue
in New Jersey, home to the second-largest population of Cuban exiles —
after Florida — who have historically opposed better relations with Cuba
out of a belief that isolating the country would help spur the downfall
of former President Fidel Castro, and now his brother, President Raul
Castro.

That sentiment reaches the top political echelons — Sen. Bob Menendez is
a fierce critic of Obama's initiative. And it continues to divide the
Cuban community, said Carlos Medina, chairman of the Statewide Hispanic
Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, which met on Thursday night in
Lyndhurst to explore Cuban business possibilities.

"It's somewhat generational," said Medina, whose father and
mother-in-law are Cuban. "My mother-in-law is 82, and she still doesn't
want anybody to have any interaction with Cuba. And then you see more
folks in their 40s and 50s a little more open" and asking questions
about Obama's initiative, Medina said, adding, "Just the fact that they
are asking means they have some sort of desire. 'What can I do there? Is
it safe to invest?' "

Medina said he organized Thursday night's event after the chamber
received many member calls seeking information on what businesses could
and couldn't do in Cuba as a result of Obama's announcement.

Most of the changes are the result of executive orders announced by
Obama in December as the first step toward normalizing relations with
Cuba. Included were new regulations governing business and travel
between the U.S. and Cuba. Obama also said he would open an embassy in
Havana.

The overall effect was to limit, albeit in a modest way, the impact of
the 50-year-old embargo, which only Congress can remove.

Even with its limitations, Obama's action clearly allows more business
opportunities than in the past. Until the changes, U.S. laws allowed
American companies to do business in Cuba only in three areas that gave
humanitarian help to the country's population — pharmaceuticals,
agricultural products and health care devices, Diamond said.

According to the U.S. Treasury, the executive orders allow American
companies to create telecommunications links with Cuba, to travel and to
forge banking links with Cuban institutions, which will include allowing
the use of U.S.-issued credit cards in Cuba.

The orders also allow Americans to be involved in "certain
micro-financing projects and entrepreneurial and business training," and
the importing into the U.S. of "certain independent Cuban
entrepreneur-produced goods and services," the Treasury said.

IDT, the Newark-based telecom company, said it has reached an agreement
with Cuba's national telecom provider, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de
Cuba S.A., to exchange international long-distance voice traffic between
the United States and Cuba directly.

A statement by Bill Pereira, CEO of IDT Telecom, said the company had
been in contact with the Cuban agency for years, and then last year it
expressed a "desire to move forward on an agreement with us."

The agreement would allow IDT to route international long-distance calls
to Cuba directly into the Cuban provider's network, instead of a
third-party network, he said. The toughest part, he added, was
developing the relationship with the agency "to the point where they
were comfortable moving forward with us."

The deal fits IDT's business of providing prepaid and other call
services to first- and second-generation immigrants in the U.S., Pereira
said.

Perhaps the most lucrative area in the short term will be travel. Delta
Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways have
expressed interest in starting regular flights to Cuba, which now
receives only charter flights from the U.S. Since Obama's announcement,
Marazul Charters & Travel Agency in North Bergen, which has arranged
trips to Cuba since 1979, has been deluged with calls, said Robert
Guild, a company vice president.

The executive orders have dramatically reduced the amount of red tape
involved in traveling to Cuba, which previously required trip organizers
to give a detailed report on their itinerary before and after the trip.
The rules lifted the requirement that travelers obtain a license from
Treasury to visit the country, and only requires travelers to read, and
ensure that they meet, the requirements of one of 12 categories of
travelers' licenses allowed to go to Cuba, Guild said.

In the past, he said, it could take four to six months to get a license.
Now, "any organization can sponsor a trip," and no licenses are needed,
he said. Although Americans are still not allowed to visit Cuba solely
for tourism, travel to professional meetings and conferences, and to
complete "certain authorized export transactions" are allowed, according
to the Treasury rules.

"We already have requests from organizations through 2017, for hotel
space in Cuba," he said. The increased demand for travel to Cuba means
that Marazul, which has a headquarters in Miami and a workforce of 100,
of whom 20 are in New Jersey, expects to add at least 15 new employees
companywide, Guild said.

The trip by the tech and life science executives will be led by the New
Jersey Technology Council and is aimed at assessing opportunities for
hiring Cuban workers, said James Barrood, president of the NJTC, a
support and advocacy group for the tech industry.

"Cuba is one of the most-educated countries in the Western Hemisphere,"
said Barrood. "And there are a lot of smart people, especially in the
tech areas."

While workers there may not have state-of-the-art IT skills, Barrood
said, Cuba has a strong health industry, the country is well-known for
producing a large number of doctors, and the country's free education
system produces workers strong in math and science basics, who could be
trained, he said.

"There is a tech talent shortage" in the U.S., said Barrood, who visited
Cuba last year with a student group from Fairleigh Dickinson University,
where he was head of the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship. "And
it's only going to get worse. We want to make sure that our companies
can partner, collaborate or employ this talent in the near or long term."

The trip is being organized with The Latino Institute, a Newark-based
non-profit group that advocates for education among Hispanics.

The scope of business opportunities in Cuba will depend in part on what
happens next in Cuba, where independent businesses are a relatively new
phenomenon.

A description of doing business in Cuba drawn up by the Embassy of
Canada, which does not have an embargo on doing business in the
Caribbean country, makes the difficulties clear.

"The Cuban market is challenging and complex, and not suitable for the
novice exporter," the embassy statement said. "However, for those with
experience exporting, in particular to developing and emerging markets,
the medium- to long-term prospects look promising."

Although "the Cuban government has been gently reforming and
liberalizing the economy over the past few years," the embassy said,
"all imports to the country remain controlled by Government of Cuba
import agencies."

Cuban importers can deal only with "established companies" with at least
five years' experience, and "individual entrepreneurs or newly created
companies will not generally be considered." Companies seeking to sell
goods in Cuba cannot open an office there until they have three years of
selling in the country, and $500,000 in sales there, the Canadian
Embassy said.

Herb Ouida, director of the Global Enterprise Network at Fairleigh
Dickinson University, which has put together an April conference for
local businesses on "Opening the Door to Cuba," said he expects Obama's
move to be followed by other initiatives that will expand the areas of
business open to U.S. companies.

"It's incremental, I agree, it's very incremental," Ouida said. "But
it's in the right direction in terms of opening the door. … You go now
to do your research, to determine what changes will be prospective as
well as what changes are in place today."

Email: morley@northjersey.com

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Kelly: Ex-FBI chief tells of cop-killer swap that Cuba rejected
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2015, 11:11 PM
BY MIKE KELLY

Years before Joanne Chesimard was placed on the FBI's list of most
wanted terrorists and the bounty for her capture was increased to $2
million, federal authorities secretly reached out to their Cuban
counterparts with a plan to bring the convicted cop killer back to New
Jersey.

It was the fall of 1998. The FBI drew up a proposal to trade five
captured Cuban spies for Chesimard, who had been convicted two decades
earlier of killing a New Jersey state trooper in a turnpike gunfight but
had broken out of jail and fled to Cuba, where she was granted political
asylum.

The proposed 1998 trade, which has never been publicly acknowledged by
either the United States or Cuba, was described in detail in two recent
interviews with The Record by one of its originators, former FBI
Director Louis Freeh.

Why the plan failed may offer insight about the obstacles facing the
state police, the FBI and a host of political figures as they renew
efforts to bring back Chesimard. The story also illustrates the legacy
of suspicion that permeates U.S.-Cuban relations.

In New Jersey, however, the renewed discussion of Chesimard's fugitive
status has reopened old wounds that date to an unsettling time in
America — a time that was punctuated by a horrific confrontation on the
New Jersey Turnpike between state troopers and members of the Black
Liberation Army who were calling for an armed revolution.

Just before midnight on May 2, 1973, Chesimard, then 25, was traveling
south with two male compatriots when two troopers stopped their car.
Within minutes a wild gunbattle broke out, leaving Trooper Werner
Foerster dead and his partner wounded.

Chesimard, who also was wounded, was later caught, charged with murder
and sentenced to a life term. But in 1979, she escaped from the state
women's prison in Clinton and disappeared, only to turn up five years
later in Cuba.

Chesimard, 67, and reportedly living in the Havana area under the name
Assata Shakur, is regarded as a criminal by U.S. authorities. Cuba has
never shown any inclination to rescind her political asylum, which was
granted by Fidel Castro in the mid-1980s.

In the fall of 1998, however, Freeh thought he saw an opening for U.S.
authorities to get their hands on Chesimard.

As outlined by Freeh in two interviews with The Record, the FBI hoped to
start talks to extradite Chesimard and possibly other American
fugitives, including William Morales, a Puerto Rican nationalist who was
implicated in a series of U.S. terror bombings, including one at
Manhattan's Fraunces Tavern that killed a Fair Lawn resident.

Freeh, who grew up in North Bergen and was a student at Rutgers Law
School in Newark in the mid-1970s, said he had long harbored a special
interest in the Chesimard case. And with the September 1998 arrest of
the five Cuban spies in Florida, Freeh, who became FBI director five
years earlier, said he figured he might have enough leverage to persuade
the Cubans to return her.

"It always occurred to me that exchange would be a good one," he said,
recalling his enthusiasm.

But Freeh, who now runs a private security consulting firm, said the
Cubans wouldn't consider even the most ordinary of discussions.

"The response was no response," he said.

Today, that message from Cuba appears unchanged.

Days after President Obama announced plans on Dec. 17 to restore
diplomatic relations with the communist nation, Cuba's foreign ministry,
in response to questions from journalists in Havana, defended
Chesimard's status.

"Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political
asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted," said the
ministry's head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal.

"We've explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some
people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political
asylum," she said.

In a recent interview, Guillermo Suarez, a counselor at Cuba's U.N.
mission, said extradition of Chesimard was not part of the talks to
reestablish diplomatic ties with the U.S.

Suarez said Cuban officials were "quite surprised" to learn that the
announcement of Cuban-American détente was greeted with demands from law
enforcement officials and political figures in New Jersey and elsewhere
for Chesimard's return. He added that the $2 million bounty for her
capture made Cuban officials "very nervous" about whether an influx of
tourists would include bounty hunters.

By the fall of 1998, Cuban-American relations had grown very tense.

In February 1996, Cuban Air Force fighters shot down two civilian planes
and killed four members of the Miami-based anti-Castro group Brothers to
the Rescue, whose planes patrolled waters off Cuba to spot people trying
to escape to the United States. Although the Cubans maintained that the
planes had entered Cuban territory on the day they were shot down, an
investigation showed they were attacked in international airspace.

In June 1998, FBI agents flew to Havana at the invitation of Cuban
authorities to hear complaints about bombings in Cuba that had been
allegedly orchestrated by anti-Castro dissidents supported by Florida's
large exile community.

Three months later, when FBI agents in Miami arrested the five Cuban
spies who had reportedly infiltrated that exile community, Freeh saw an
opening.

The arrest of the spies, known as the Cuban Five or the Miami Five,
confirmed what the FBI and anti-Castro Cuban-Americans had long
suspected: Cuba's intelligence service had numerous operatives in the
United States. One of the alleged spies was later charged with passing
along information about Brothers to the Rescue flights.

Freeh sensed that the spies' capture might also offer an opportunity to
gain access to Chesimard. He approached U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno
with the idea of a trade.

Freeh said Reno approved the plan, which called for him to reach out to
his contacts in a nation with friendly ties to Cuba and the United
States. That nation, which Freeh declined to identify, agreed to
communicate the proposal to Cuba.

Because the plan was in its early stages, Freeh said neither he nor Reno
contacted the White House or the State Department.

"What I did is I contacted the chief of service in another country's
security service," Freeh said "We asked them to contact their
counterparts in Cuba to see if they were interested in a conversation
where we would exchange Chesimard for one or more of the Cuban Five. The
answer came back: 'No. Not interested.'Ÿ"

Freeh, who has never publicly discussed the rejected offer until now,
said he was doing so to raise awareness of the importance of extraditing
Chesimard. Reno could not be reached for comment.

Why the Cubans so hastily rejected Freeh's overture to trade for
Chesimard may have had something to do with how angry they were about
the timing of the spies' arrests — which came only months after the June
1998 meeting with the FBI in Havana to discuss concerns over violence by
anti-Castro dissidents.

"When these spies were arrested, from the Cuban point of view, they had
just been betrayed," said Stephen Kimber, a Canadian journalist who
wrote a book about them. "Why would they have been interested in a deal
at that point?"

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat and former chairman of
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has emerged as a vocal critic
of Obama's plan to restore ties with Cuba, said he was surprised the
Cubans had not agreed to exchange Chesimard for the spies.

"The Cuban government placed a high value on the spies," said Menendez,
the son of Cuban immigrants, noting that for years Cuba has campaigned
for their return. "If there had been a deal more than a decade ago that
they could have achieved the same thing, for them to say no just tells
you what Chesimard means to them."

Menendez called Chesimard "an enemy of the United States."

"We see her for what she is — a cold-blooded murderer, who had her day
in court and was convicted," Menendez said. "They see her in some
broader struggle for liberation. For them, she is a great propaganda claim."

Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the
National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute in
Washington, D.C., said the Cubans viewed the granting of political
asylum to Chesimard as a matter of sacrosanct honor.

"I've discussed these cases, particularly Joanne Chesimard," said
Kornbluh, who returned from Cuba recently. "Their focus is that they
made the political commitment of political asylum to her. They made the
decision to give her political asylum and they are not going to revisit
the issue."

Lennox Hinds, Chesimard's attorney and a professor of criminal justice
at Rutgers University, said he had been assured by Castro that his
client would not be sent back to the United States under any circumstances.

"In my view, Assata would not be viewed as someone who they would trade
off," Hinds said, using the name Chesimard calls herself

Freeh, who left the FBI in 2001, months before the 9/11 attacks, has not
given up on bringing back Chesimard.

"The issue is, will there be a point where they are willing to consider
exchanging her?" he said. "They clearly did not want to do that when we
contacted them."

Source: Kelly: Ex-FBI chief tells of cop-killer swap that Cuba rejected
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U.S. demand for travel to Cuba rises amid thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations
BY HANNAH SAMPSON HSAMPSON@MIAMIHERALD.COM
02/28/2015 9:58 PM 02/28/2015 10:27 PM

Cuba is facing a tourism tsunami as Americans who can more easily visit
the island rush to experience a frozen-in-time culture before it disappears.

More than two months after President Barack Obama first announced that
travel restrictions to the communist island nation would be eased and
several weeks after the release of less-stringent regulations, tour
operators say inquiries and bookings have shot up while more travel
providers have waded into the mix.

"There's a sense of urgency from travelers," said Collin Laverty, owner
of Cuba Educational Travel in Washington, D.C. "People feel that it's on
the verge of opening, so they want to get there right away."

Tom Popper, president of New York tour operator InsightCuba, said he
returned from a trip to Cuba last week and was amazed by the number of
Americans he encountered. The fresh interest comes during high season in
Cuba, adding pressure to an already strained tourism infrastructure.

"There were more than I've ever seen before," said Popper, whose company
has organized travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens since 2000. Since
mid-December, his company has seen six times the web traffic and three
times the bookings as normal for the same time of year, and the demand
has shown no signs of waning.

"We had the President of the United States talk about people-to-people
travel and the fact that you can go and that we want to make it easier,"
Popper said. "After Dec. 17, tens of millions of people said, 'Oh yeah,
President Obama said I could go to Cuba.'"


Tourism is still prohibited, which means Americans have to wait for all
travel restrictions to be lifted before they can lounge at a beach
resort in Varadero or spend a weekend sampling mojitos and Cuban cigars.
But on Jan. 15, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that citizens who
fall under 12 categories of authorized travel — including educational
activities, public performances, athletic competitions, support for the
Cuban people and humanitarian projects — would not need to apply for a
specific license to go to Cuba.

Travel agents and airlines can operate without a specific license from
the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, a process that
previously took months and mountains of paperwork, as long as travelers
are going for authorized reasons.

"It's kind of like a new normal," said Popper.

This is what the new normal looks like for travel companies across the
country: hundreds more calls every week, fresh rounds of questions and
increased bookings from travelers eager to witness the island's classic
cars, historic architecture and cultural riches.

Normal, in today's travel landscape, includes a Canadian cruise line now
booking Americans for Cuban itineraries; hotel rooms in Havana popping
up on Kayak.com and one-stop shopping for plane tickets to Cuba via
Mexico on CheapAir.com.

And, in Cuba, it means fewer hotel rooms, tour guides and buses
available to shuttle eager visitors around, not to mention a scarcity of
airplane seats on the way there.

Joe Diaz, co-founder of travel media company AFAR Media, left for Havana
on on a flight Jan. 16, the day the new regulations kicked in. Traveling
through Panama City, he arrived the next day with nowhere to stay
because hotels were full in prime tourist season. Cuba says it has about
63,000 rooms among hotels, motels, hostels and serviced apartments.

Diaz stayed at a private home for $30 a night — "clean, quiet, basic"
with hot water and a comfortable bed — and got to know the family who
lived there.

But he said he quickly realized that American travelers who are
accustomed to Wi-Fi, working credit cards and functional infrastructure
are probably not ready for the experience.

"Cuba is not for that luxury type traveler," he said. "It's for the more
adventurous, experiential traveler."

Bob Guild, vice president of travel agency Marazul Charters, said his
groups have had to stay in private apartments recently instead of hotel
rooms because beds are in such demand.

"There is more space than ever, but it's all been taken up," Guild said.
"What are they going to do next season?"

Guild said Marazul, which has been providing travel to Cuba since 1979,
is getting an average of 75-80 requests a day for information. In the
two weeks after the regulations were released in January, 1,300 requests
came in compared to 30 requests during the same time period in 2014.

"Nothing has really died down," he said. "We are generally telling
people that nothing is possible until next season, beginning in October.
And there are people still trying to get in right now."

Cuba Educational Travel's Laverty said he is fielding last-minute
requests, many from small groups of four to 10 people.

"Just in the last two days, we've booked three or four additional groups
in the middle of March," he said last week.

According to statistics from the Cuban government, 92,348 Americans
visited in 2013, though that number does not include Cuban-Americans
visiting family. About 3 million total visitors came to the country in
2014, and a new survey released Thursday indicates interest in future
travel is high.

According to the travelhorizons survey released by marketing services
firm MMGY Global, 46 percent of travelers from the U.S. who are likely
to visit a Caribbean destination during the next two years would be
willing to change their vacation plans to go to Cuba instead. And 19
percent of U.S. adults said they would consider taking a vacation to
Cuba during the next two years. Questions about Cuba had never been
included in the survey before.

Kim Cavendish, president and CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science
in Fort Lauderdale, has been thinking about making the short trip for "a
long time," she said. And just within the past week, she finally made
arrangements for a people-to-people trip in April.

"I like to travel, I like to visit other cultures and see new places,"
she said. "Cuba is something that's what, 90 miles away? And yet we
haven't been allowed to go there for some time."

With a small group, she will visit cultural sites, museums, community
projects, a dolphin preserve and other locations to scout out the
possibility of including Cuba in the museum's adventure travel program
in the next year or so.

She said she's seen firsthand that the easing of restrictions doesn't
automatically translate to easy planning.

"I think this idea that we're all going to be able to pop off to Cuba is
still going to be in the future," she said.

In the meantime, more travel companies are jumping in to help.

A spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents said there was
"immediate interest" from members who wanted more information about
selling travel to Cuba after the December and January announcements. The
organization has scheduled an online seminar for March 11.

When the United States Tour Operators Association hosted a webinar on
the subject in mid-February, more than 100 people listened in.

"I think everyone's very interested in how do we get a piece of the
action," said Terry Dale, the association's president and CEO.
"Absolutely the needle has moved."

With its partner ABC Charters, JetBlue is adding an additional weekly
charter flight from Tampa to Havana in June. Kayak.com is now listing
information on flights to Cuba and hotels, though it does not include
booking links. Cuba Cruise, a Canadian cruise operator that launched in
2013, now promotes its trips around Cuba to Americans and American
travel agents.

And the booking site CheapAir.com just added flights to Cuba to its
search engine on Thursday, packaging trips from the U.S. that go through
Mexico.

"Right after the announcements of the changes in regulation, we started
seeing a big uptick in searches for Cuba," from almost none to 50 or 60
searches a day, said CheapAir CEO Jeff Klee.

Still, travel agents say they expect demand to explode when travelers
can set their own agendas free of any restrictions. Michelle Weller,
director of operations for a Travel Leaders agency in Houston, wrote in
an email that most people asking about travel don't want a
people-to-people tour.

"When Cuba can offer an atmosphere where Americans can hang out at
all-inclusives or bar hop in old Havana, dancing to local Cuban music
and smoking Cuban cigars at Ernest Hemingway haunts like La Floridita,
you will see a massive wave of tourists flood the country," she wrote.

This report includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online
community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the
Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald. com/insight.

BY THE NUMBERS
The number of Americans* visiting Cuba has increased significantly since
2009, though there was a dip in 2013, the most recent year that
statistics are available. Overall, the number of visitors has steadily
increased.

Year United States Total
2009 52,455 2,429,809
2010 63,046 2,531,745
2011 73,566 2,716,317
2012 98,050 2,838,607
2013 92,348 2,852,572
Source: Cuba's National Statistics Office

* The figures do not include Cuban-Americans traveling to visit family.

VISITING CUBA TODAY
Under rules released earlier this year, U.S.-born individuals who fall
under one of 12 categories can visit Cuba without getting specific
advance permission from the U.S. government. Groups comprised of people
in those categories — such as professional and educational groups — can
create their town people-to-people style trips without U.S. government
permission.

Airline space and hotels are surprisingly easy to arrange using
guidebooks — as those from Moon and Lonely Planet — and the internet.
(And yes, some sites will take your credit card.) What isn't so easy is
finding space in hotels, so you're best to secure that first, then book
your air.

Here's the process:

Lodging:

Cuba Travel Network, cubatravelnetwork.com, books official hotels online
and accepts credit cards. (All hotels are owned either fully or partly
by the government.)
Many casas particulares — B&B rooms in private homes — can be reserved
online and paid once you arrive. One good, responsive source is
casaincuba.com.
Airlines:

Go to the website of a Cuba airline broker (you'll find a list at
http://cubatrips.org/charter-flights-to-cuba.html). (CheapAir.com. also
is offering flights, but via Mexico.)
Fill out a request. (You can't just pick a flight online.)
The broker will be back in touch with the OFAC authorization form. You
will need to check the qualifying category, sign and return, before the
airline can book your flights.
About three weeks prior to flight time, the broker will supply tickets
and a tourist card that allows entry into Cuba.
On the ground:

Recent visitors advise grabbing a good guidebook and asking at your
lodging for guides and taxis. Most recommend against renting a car and
driving yourself.
JANE WOOLDRIDGE

Source: U.S. demand for travel to Cuba rises amid thaw in U.S.-Cuba
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The Cuba Deal: How Raúl Castro Duped Obama
2/27/2015 @ 2:14PM
GUEST POST WRITTEN BY Néstor T. Carbonell

Mr. Carbonell is an international affairs consultant and author of "And
The Russians Stayed: The Sovietization of Cuba."

On December 17, following a year and a half of secret negotiations with
the Castro regime, President Obama trumpeted what many have called a
historic breakthrough—a new course to normalize relations with Cuba.

The course, however, is not really new. It was pursued by 10 previous
American presidents who tried to engage Fidel Castro directly or through
intermediaries both during and after the Cold War. The desired
rapprochement failed mainly because the Cuban dictator would not agree
to stop his subversive activities and open up the island, or offer a
modicum of respect for human rights.

What's new about President's Obama's détente is that he is engaging Raúl
Castro—not his ailing brother Fidel—and has not established any
preconditions for normalization.

How different is Raúl from Fidel? He is certainly less charismatic and
verbose than his older brother, but more focused and disciplined. While
Fidel roused and manipulated the masses, Raúl, with Soviet assistance,
quietly bolstered the armed forces and built the totalitarian
infrastructure of the regime. Despite their contrasting physique and
personality, they both share a visceral hatred of the United States,
cold-blooded ruthlessness and mastery of deceit.

Fidel's duplicity, combined with a fair amount of histrionics, is well
known. He bragged about tricking the Cuban people, who fell for his
promise to restore democracy, and unabashedly proclaimed in December
1961: "I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be one until the last day of my
life."

Fidel also was able to dupe U.S. presidents and senior government
officials into believing that he would be amenable to a fair settlement
of all outstanding disputes. Even David Rockefeller, a strong advocate
of engagement who had a good rapport with Fidel, felt that he could help
strike a deal with him.

Heading an impressive delegation of foreign policy heavyweights,
Rockefeller presented to Fidel Castro in February 2001 a proposal
developed by the Council on Foreign Relations to normalize U.S.
relations with Cuba. After five hours of marathon discussions which
ended at 4AM, Fidel rejected the "half-measures" proposed by the Council
and demanded the unconditional lifting of the U.S. embargo without
acquiescing to any significant economic and political reforms. A
disillusioned Rockefeller wrote in his memoirs: "Castro harangued us
continuously throughout the night…I think there is little possibility
for change while Castro remains in power…"

But that was Fidel Castro. What about with Raúl now calling the shots
and posing as a pragmatist? Even though Raúl had only introduced
non-systemic, revocable reforms to alleviate the appalling living
conditions on the island, Obama thought that he could be lured or tamed
with goodwill gestures and concessions. So shortly after taking office
in 2009, the President relaxed restrictions on travel and remittances to
Cuba and voted in favor of inviting the Cuban regime to rejoin the
Organization of American States, only to be rebuffed by both Castro
brothers.

Raúl then played the hostage trick on Obama, and it worked. He arrested
Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who was distributing computer equipment
to the Jewish community in Havana to gain access to the internet, and
sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Fearing that Gross, in poor health,
might die behind bars in Cuba, the President accepted the swap proposed
by Castro—Gross for three convicted Cuban spies, including one serving a
life sentence in the U.S. for conspiring to commit murder. Trying to
balance out the uneven swap, Castro released several dozen political
prisoners, a bargaining chip he uses when it suits his purpose.

To conduct the secret negotiations, which were broadened beyond the
exchange of prisoners, Castro assigned two of his sharpest KGB-trained
intelligence officers, fluent in English and well versed in diplomacy as
a cover for espionage in the U.S., Josefina Vidal and Gustavo Machin.
The deal they were able to extract from the American delegation is so
one-sided in favor of the Castro regime that it could well be called the
Cuban Munich.

Indeed, from a weak position, with Cuba in dire straits and facing the
possible loss of its Venezuelan financial lifeline, Castro got pretty
much what he wanted. And Obama, who surrendered the U.S. leverage of
continued economic pressure on the Cuban regime and support for the
dissident movement, got virtually nothing in return.


The U.S. will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba while repression
continues on the island, and will ship telecommunications technology
with no assurance that censorship will end. In addition, the Castro
regime will receive more dollars from U.S. "purposeful visits," which
will flow to the owners of the tourist industry in Cuba: the military.

But for Castro, more important than those concessions is the removal of
Cuba from the U.S. list of terrorist states which would open doors to
the IMF, World Bank and other international financial institutions. His
regime gets this provision despite smuggling 240 tons of heavy weapons
to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions, maintaining close links
to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and harboring dozens of fugitive
terrorists and criminals, including one of the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted
Terrorists, Assata Shakur.

To meet Castro's ultimate requirement for normalization of relations,
President Obama promised to seek congressional approval for the
unconditional lifting of the U.S. trade embargo. This would open the
floodgates for U.S. investments in bankrupt Cuba, but in a subordinate
position to the only authorized partner—the Cuban government—which
controls the economy, hires and fires the labor force, and pockets 92
cents on every dollar of each worker's salary. Not quite Deng Xiaoping's
model of capitalism.

Not content with that, the cagey Raúl Castro surprised the White House
last month with two additional demands that did not surface during the
negotiations: payment by the U.S. to Cuba of reparations for the alleged
damages caused by the embargo (his claim is for $100 billion), and the
return to Cuba of the U.S. Naval Base of Guantanamo. Moreover, he
declared that he will not change his Socialist system—not one iota, he
emphasized. So democracy, human rights and free enterprise are out.

The Cold War may be over but Raúl Castro seems intent on reigniting it.
Last year, he offered Putin an espionage listening post on the island,
and is currently training and equipping Venezuela's repressive forces in
support of President Maduro's plan to Cubanize his country.

The only way out of the President's one-sided deal with Cuba is not to
give the deceitful Cuban ruler a blank check, but to insist on a
step-by-step quid pro quo that would safeguard the interests and
security of the U.S., as well as the long-fought aspirations of
freedom-loving Cubans.

Source: The Cuba Deal: How Raúl Castro Duped Obama -
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FIU conference focuses on race in Cuba
BY NORA GAMEZ TORRES NGAMEZTORRES@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
02/27/2015 11:20 PM 02/27/2015 11:20 PM

Cuba's political future, the impact of renewed relations between the
United States and Cuba and its new policies towards the island, were the
focus of some of the discussions held on the first day of the 10th
annual Conference of Cuban and Cuban American Studies in Florida
International University.

A panel, which made up by FIU experts discussing the consequences of the
December 17th announcement in regards to diplomatic and financial
relations between the U.S and Cuba, seemed to generate great interest.

Professor Marifeli Perez-Stable's opening statement was: "Cuba is a
dictatorship." She focused on criticizing what she considers the
"weaknesses" of the Cuban government. Among them she mentioned its
"arrogance of power" and the fact that "Cuban leaders really don't know
what the people think, its ideology is more repressive and less
inclusive as time goes on, and that's a terrible weakness."

She added: "Human rights can't have a 'but' in front of them, they don't
belong to any government, you either respect them or plaster them."

Perez-Stable, who is also the sociologist of FIU's Department of Global
and Sociocultural Studies, highlighted the varying opinions within the
Cuban opposition in regards to the restoration of relations with the
U.S. but warned that national politics shouldn't interfere with these.

Dario Moreno centered on analyzing the impact of Barack Obama's
announcement and what it meant for Florida election politics. According
to Moreno, the President has benefited from the Hispanic non-Cuban vote
and "the idea is that any vote that he loses because of his policy
towards Cuba, can be won within other Hispanic groups, because of the
topic of immigration."

Moreno noted that this was only "a bet".

Professor Marcos A. Kernel, on the other hand, assured that from a
banker's point of view, "we won't see big changes until the embargo is
lifted" and that the measures announced make some transactions easier to
make but others are still observed.

"I don't think that the banks are going to create credit lines to
provide them to Cuba so easily," said Kernel.

Frank Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at FIU,
formed part of Obama's cabinet during his first term. He said that "some
people overestimate the role that the Vatican played in the
negotiations" which ran for 18 months.

According to Mora, the Vatican communicated with each side to promote
dialogue, but aside from that "didn't do much else."

He pinpointed Canada as having more of a protagonist role, hosting
several secret meetings, although he said that he considers negotiations
between the U.S. and Cuba took place "without much external influence."

In that panel as well as in another about ideology and reform in the era
of Raul Castro, philosopher and guest FIU professor, Alexis Jardines,
touched upon Cuba's financial motivations which are behind its
negotiations with its historic enemy. He noted that lifting the embargo
"would be the oh think that could save the country from collapsing."

Jardines things that the present government will resist the empowerment
if civic society and will attempt to "kidnap" this space and replace it
with "the organization of the masses" in the country. However, he
doesn't discard the "foreseeable construction of a fake opposition" or
even "bipartisanship among the loyals."

He also affirmed that "the potential to contest lies with the people,
not the opposition, the upstanding and middle class Cuban and those
people are more capitalist then internal dissidence."

However, Sebastian Arcos mentioned that small business owners who
operate on their own account have been extremely careful to not make any
political statement and referred to a list of "cosmetic reforms" created
to make the Cuban government appear as being "more tolerant". An example
of this is Mariela Castro's work with transvestites and transsexuals.

Arcos insisted that economic pressure being experienced by the current
government "has been left with no one to support it" and said that
"we're the ones running out of time, we're the ones who want to
recuperate our country."

The new voting law recently announced in Cuba's official press outlets
was also discussed although details are presently unknown. Several
panelists speculated that it could lead to an increased popularity
within the Communist Party of Cuba or the possibility of a
bipartisanship in which critical sectors could be defined as "loyal".

In the event's main session, organized by the Institute of Cuban
Studies, several investigations about the issue of race in the island
were presented.

Ada Ferrer, Historian at the University of New York, proposed a
rereading of Jose Antonio Aponte - a man condemned to be hung for
leading an abolitionist rebellion at the start of the 19th century. At
the same time, Alejandro de la Fuente, a professor at Harvard
University, analyzed the contributions of the Antillano Group and delved
into how forgotten it is in Cuba's cultural history.

Andrea Queely and Danielle Clealand, both professors at FIU, presented
some conclusions about their investigative efforts in Cuba about racial
prejudice and negro consciousness respectively.

Other panels involving similar topics included the development of the
racial problem since the time of civil rights movement in Cuba, social
integration, national identity, literature, cinema and dance, among others.

The conference concluded for the day with a welcome reception offered by
FIU president, Mark Rosenberg, in which he paid homage to Cuban Academic
Carmelo Mesa Lago.

The conference will continue to run until Saturday.

Source: FIU conference focuses on race in Cuba | Miami Herald Miami
Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article11413571.html Continue reading
US, Cuba cite progress on restoring diplomatic ties
BY BRADLEY KLAPPER ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/27/2015 9:39 PM 02/27/2015 9:39 PM

WASHINGTON
The United States and Cuba claimed progress Friday toward ending a
half-century diplomatic freeze, suggesting they could clear some of the
biggest obstacles to their new relationship within weeks.

After Friday's talks in Washington, the second round of U.S.-Cuban
discussions in the last month, diplomats of both countries spoke
positively about fulfilling the promise made by Presidents Barack Obama
and Raul Castro in December to restore embassies in each other's capitals.

The U.S. even held out hope of clinching a deal in time for April's
summit of North and South American leaders, which Obama and Castro are
expected to attend, however unlikely that appeared.

"We made meaningful progress," Roberta Jacobson, the State Department's
senior envoy to Latin America, told reporters, calling the negotiations
"open, honest and sometimes challenging, but always respectful."

Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, indicated she received assurances
that the U.S. would move on two of the biggest hurdles remaining: Cuba's
inclusion on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism blacklist and its
inability to conduct normal banking operations in the United States. She
expressed confidence of progress on both priorities "within the
following weeks."

Cuba's 33-year status on the terrorism list appeared the biggest hurdle,
with Vidal saying the issue needed to be resolved if the Cold War foes
were to improve ties. Washington is reviewing the designation, which
stems from Havana's support decades ago for the Basque separatist group
ETA and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, Latin America's
oldest and strongest rebel group.

The U.S. has yet to make a decision, but all signs point toward Cuba
being taken off the list. American officials say they should make their
recommendation ahead of the six-month schedule set out by Obama in
December. And the administration has supported Cuba's hosting of peace
efforts between the FARC and Colombia's government.

At a news conference earlier Friday with Liberian President Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized his
government's position that the discussions on re-establishing embassies
were technical and distinct from the U.S. legal examination of Cuba's
record on terrorism.

"That's one set of fairly normal negotiations with respect to movement
of diplomats, access, travel, different things," Kerry told reporters.
"The state sponsorship of terrorism designation is a separate process.
It is not a negotiation. It is an evaluation that is made under a very
strict set of requirements, congressionally mandated, and that has to be
pursued separately."

Cuba cannot get off the list immediately. If the State Department
recommends removal and Obama sends such a decision to Congress, the
communist country would only come off after a 45-day waiting period.
That makes it practically impossible for the embassies to be
reconstituted in Havana and Washington in time for the Summit of the
Americas in Panama, if Cuba sticks to its position.

The likelihood of prolonged talks on normalizing ties has dampened
somewhat the excitement generated when Obama and Castro announced they
were exchanging imprisoned spies and would chart a new course for
U.S.-Cuban relations.

Although the U.S. has eased some trade and travel restrictions, the
economic embargo on Cuba remains in force. Cuba still hasn't said
whether it will meet America's full demands for unfettered diplomatic
access on the island. And the same democracy and human rights concerns
that have long hampered the relationship remain.

Both sides are speaking of the embassies as a first step toward bridging
the historic divide between countries separated by only 90 miles.

But other efforts are afoot to improve cooperation. Jacobson and Vidal
spoke of U.S.-Cuban meetings in the coming weeks on human trafficking,
marine conservation, migration, civil aviation, Internet connectivity
and the always testy topic of human rights.

Source: US, Cuba cite progress on restoring diplomatic ties | Miami
Herald Miami Herald - http://www.miamiherald.com/news/article11336555.html Continue reading
New Electoral Law: New Wine in Old Wineskins? / Miriam Celaya
Posted on February 28, 2015

After the Tenth Assembly of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist
Party of Cuba (PCC) the news about the next "enactment of a new
electoral law; and the subsequent holding of general elections" has
begun to circulate in the official media. Such an important announcement
in a country where, for more than 60 years ago no general election has
taken place, is mentioned almost tangentially, just nine words in an
informational note on the above Assembly, whose "focal point" had to do
with issues related to the preparations for the celebration of the April
2016 Sixth Congress of the single party.

So this is how the casual style of the announcement turns out so very
misleading, downplaying a code whose nature would be essential in any
minimally democratic society.

It is unknown what motivates this renewal of the law in a country whose
government, until recently, boasted of having the most fair, transparent
and participatory electoral process in the world, able to summon an
overwhelming majority of voters to the polls. The case provokes many
questions, some very basic: Why change a law that is supposedly a
paradigm of democracy even for the most civilized nations on the planet?
Why does the proposal arise from the central committee and not from the
higher authorities of the People's Power, as might be expected? What
reason is there for the urgency in enacting a new Electoral Law?

Once again, we only have speculation in the face of official secrecy and
conspiracy. In fact, this time they have not announced the completion of
an extensive process of "popular consultation", though it was conducted
– at least in a formal manner — for several months in 2013, before the
creation of the new Work Code currently in effect. The time span between
the April 2015 "partial elections" and the enactment of the new
Electoral Law was not clearly established either, though judging from
the official information that was disclosed we can assume it will be brief.

In principle, the announcement has accomplished the government's
purpose: to not awaken dangerous expectations among Cubans, especially
after the wave of enthusiasm that seized many with the December 17th
announcement about the restoration of relations between Cuba and the U.S.

In that vein, subsequent statements by the General-President during the
last meeting of CELAC cooled the wildest fires, and, at the same time,
they have widened the gap between the Government and citizens. No doubt
that the olive green tower has proven that the hope for effective
changes for Cubans focuses more in the future steps of the "enemy"
government than in the "actualization of the model" endorsed by mediocre
Raulista reforms. The Revolution has become a succession of failures,
and today the old Sierra Maestra combatants and their side troops sense
that the smallest of openings could end in a loss of control.

It is fair to say that the fears of those in power are well founded.
Wouldn't it be right to expect that the multiparty system requirements
or, at least, a strong controversy about the one-party system would
emerge from an extensive debate by Cuban society? Are we not in a
favorable scenario for claiming genuine democratic participation and
transparent general elections to replace the electoral farce practiced
for the past 40 years? Obviously, the elderly leaders will not want to
take too many risks.

For now, it seems impossible to imagine what "new" democratic clauses
the same dictatorship that has dominated life and property for 56 years
has in store for us. In any case, the sacred scriptures say that you
cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.

Everything indicates that the new electoral law will yet another plot of
the power and its claque, just a hasty move to bolster up the makeup
that minimally covers the dictatorial nature of the regime, and to
silence the scruples and demands of the nations gathered at the Americas
Summit this fast approaching April. Presumably, the olive green cohort –
who might do away with uniforms and decorations and dress impeccably in
civil garb for the occasion — will brag about the partial election
results and offer the new electoral code as irrefutable proof of his
willingness to change and his democratic calling. If it weren't so
twisted, such a pathetic pantomime would be laughable.

However, we could be facing a dangerous move here that would entail a
high cost for the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people. Civic
orphan-hood and generalized apathy are the best cards the Havana regime
is counting on. It is urgent that public opinion be alerted about a
possible ploy that – in the style of "eternal socialism" style — would
only want to artificially postpone the end of the most persistent and
pernicious dictatorship of the many that have blossomed in this Hemisphere.

Source: New Electoral Law: New Wine in Old Wineskins? / Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/new-electoral-law-new-wine-in-old-wineskins-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks; no date for diplomatic ties
BY DAVID ADAMS AND ARSHAD MOHAMMED
WASHINGTON Fri Feb 27, 2015 7:11pm EST

After Cuba talks, U.S. optimistic embassies could open by April
Cuba says progress made at normalization talks with U.S.
(Reuters) - Cuba and the United States held a second round of talks on
Friday toward normalizing ties, and both sides said they made good
progress, although they did not set a date for renewal of diplomatic
relations that Washington severed 54 years ago.

Going into the talks, Communist-ruled Cuba pushed to be removed from a
U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. But Washington said that while
it was reviewing Cuba's place on the list, the designation should not be
linked to the negotiations on renewing relations and opening embassies.

The head of Cuba's delegation to the talks, Josefina Vidal, said
afterward that removal from the list was not a pre-condition for renewal
of diplomatic ties.

But it was "a priority" for Cuba, she said, adding it would be "very
difficult to say that we have re-established relations with our country
still on a list that we believe very, very firmly that we have never
belonged to and we do not belong to."

The talks in Washington stemmed from the historic decision announced by
the two Cold War era foes last December to work to normalize relations,
including opening embassies in each other's countries, and to exchange
prisoners.

"We have made progress," Vidal, chief of the Cuban foreign ministry's
U.S. division, told reporters. The discussions followed a first round of
talks in Havana last month.

She said there was no date yet for the next meeting on the renewal of
ties, but the two sides were going to maintain contact and she was
optimistic there would be more advances in coming weeks on the issue of
the terrorism list.

Havana says U.S. sanctions on banks that do business with designated
countries on the list impede it from conducting diplomatic affairs in
the United States. The two countries, politically at odds since soon
after Cuba's revolution in 1959, currently have diplomats working in
each other's capitals, but they operate from what are known as interests
sections.

The United States is hoping to reach agreement on reopening embassies in
time for an April 10-11 regional summit in Panama, where U.S. President
Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro could meet for the first
time since announcing their joint agreement on Dec. 17.

The head of the U.S. delegation at the talks, U.S. Assistant Secretary
of State Roberta Jacobson, told reporters in reply to a question: "I do
think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas."

'COOPERATIVE SPIRIT'

Jacobson called Friday's talks "productive and encouraging," and said
they were held in "a very cooperative spirit."

She said Cuba and the United States would hold a series of exchanges in
coming weeks on issues including increasing Cuba's Internet
connectivity. Only a tiny fraction of Cubans have access to high-speed
Internet though Cuban officials have lately promised wider service.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said re-establishing
diplomatic relations was a technical process involving "fairly normal"
negotiations, while the terrorism sponsorship designation was a separate
process and "not a negotiation."

"It is an evaluation that is made under a very strict set of
requirements, congressionally mandated, and that has to be pursued
separately, and it is being pursued separately," he told reporters.

The Obama administration is nearing completion of its review of Cuba's
place on the list, which must be submitted to Congress before it can be
removed, a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday.

Cuba was added to the terrorism sponsors list in 1982, when it aided
Marxist insurgencies during the Cold War. But it is currently aiding a
peace process with Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

Following December's announcement, the Obama administration lifted a
series of limitations on trade and travel last month and the U.S.
president, a Democrat, called for an end to the decades-old economic
embargo on Cuba. The embargo would have to be lifted by the
Republican-controlled Congress, overcoming resistance from some members
fiercely opposed to the rapprochement.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Havana and Warren Strobel in
Washington; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Dan Grebler and Ken Wills)

Source: U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks; no date for diplomatic
ties | Reuters -
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/28/us-cuba-usa-idUSKBN0LV0CN20150228 Continue reading
Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase / Cubanet, Roberto
Jesus Quinones
Posted on February 27, 2015

Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones, Guantanamo, 16 February 2015 — A rumor
is keeping the medical sector in Guantanamo euphoric, and it provokes
immediate outbursts of joy in hospital corridors, in homes and in every
place the supposedly good news is known. No one knows the origin of the
rumor nor its hidden intent.

According to those who are in charge of spreading it, very soon the
government will increase the salary for doctors. And, as happens with
every rumor, there are always those who know everything about it and
affirm that the new increase will be put into force to try to contain
the exodus of physicians abroad by way of a 30-day exit permit, a type
of safe conduct that helps them flee.

These experts assure that the new increase will raise physicians'
salaries to 5,000 pesos per month (200 dollars), an astronomical pay in
Cuba, but that they'll only receive it if they agree to sign a document
saying they will remain in the country for five or ten years without
asking for the exit permit.

However, a few days after the rumor appeared, the voices of others begin
to be heard. They speak clearly, affirming that not even with this
increase, which would place the doctors in the vanguard of the Castro
Communist labor aristocracy — now made up of Party and governmental
bureaucracy along with the sportsmen of high performance and the high
officials of the armed forces and the Ministry of the Interior — would
they be able to contain the massive exodus of these professionals
abroad. Above all to Ecuador, a country that doesn't request visas and
where there already exists a developing but prosperous Cuban medical
community that has taken care of communicating to its colleagues on the
Island the high lifestyle that is rapidly achieved in the land of Eloy
Alfaro.

Because 5,000 Cuban pesos are around 200 dollars, a sum very inferior to
what any Cuban doctor could earn abroad.

Between the well-being within reach and the promises of a prosperous and
sustainable socialism, which no one knows when it will arrive nor if
also there is another rumor or a new feverish chimera of the Cuban
leaders, you don't have to rack your brains to decide. Stupid people are
more scarce every day, and the ideological teque* has been in intensive
care for some time.

I don't know what the government will do to stop this flight of doctors,
which has a direct effect on one of its most trumpeted social
accomplishments — currently in a very precarious state, among other
things because of the lack of specialists — and on the export of health
services, which is perhaps, together with tourism, the most lucrative
activity of the Cuban economy at this time.

In case the rumor becomes a certainty, let's see what happens with the
other professionals, because the flight of qualified personnel is not
limited to the medical sector. Pandora's Box is open, and the government
doesn't give any signs that will let us believe it is possible to close
it and, above all, to convince us.

*Translator's note: "Teque" is literally a spinning top, and is used in
Cuba to mean old, worn out, political harangues.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase / Cubanet,
Roberto Jesus Quinones | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/salaries-for-doctors-on-the-island-will-increase/ Continue reading
U.S.-Cuba officials: Diplomatic ties could resume by mid-April
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
02/27/2015 9:55 AM 02/27/2015 10:51 PM

WASHINGTON
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson said enough progress was made in talks with Cuba on Friday that
it might be possible to reestablish diplomatic relations by the Summit
of the Americas in April.

"I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the
Americas," she said after the conclusion of the second round of
U.S.-Cuba talks at the U.S. State Department.

Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry's U.S.
division and the head of the Cuban delegation at the talks, said both
sides "had a good meeting today."

"We made progress in our discussions. For the second time, delegations
sat down at the negotiating table to discuss as equals the terms for
reestablishing diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies,"
Vidal said.

Jacobson said the United States viewed renewing ties and reopening
embassies "as critical early steps of the longer term process of
normalizing relations more than half a century after we severed relations."

Going into the talks, Cuba said it hoped for progress on two issues: the
removal of Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of
terrorism and the banking dilemma faced by its diplomatic missions in
Washington and at the United Nations.

For the past year, the Cuban missions have been without a bank, meaning
everything from receiving visa fees to paying their light bills must be
done on a cash basis.

After the closed-door meeting, Vidal said, "We feel confident that in
the following weeks we will see progress on both issues so we can move
on towards the resumption of diplomatic relations and the reopening of
embassies."

The two issues are tied because Cuba's continued presence on the list
has made banks wary of handling Cuban accounts and running afoul of U.S.
laws related to sanctioned countries. In recent years, other countries
have faced similar problems in finding a banker.

After the first round of talks, Cuba seemed to indicate that the
resumption of diplomatic relations couldn't go forward as long as Cuba
remained on the list and hadn't found a banker.

But Vidal said Friday the Cuban delegation hadn't linked the issues. "No
conditions but we believe this is important to solve in process toward
reestablishing diplomatic relations," she said.

The two sides also discussed nuts-and-bolts issues, such as assuring
that U.S. diplomats will be able to freely travel throughout Cuba and
talk to dissidents if they want, that Cuban citizens aren't impeded from
visiting the U.S. diplomatic mission and that shipments arriving at a
future embassy won't be hampered.

The United States has continued to insist that its diplomats be able to
see as "broad a slice of Cuban life as possible" as part of their jobs
and have access to all kinds of people, Jacobson said.

The talks are part of a shift in Cuba policy outlined Dec. 17 by
President Barack Obama aimed at bringing about change in Cuba through
engagement and support of the Cuban people. The United States has
maintained the best way of having impact on the differences that still
separate the two countries is through renewing diplomatic relations and
talking.

The United States might be feeling more time pressure than the Cubans
because the White House hopes to show progress on its rapprochement with
Cuba before it heads to the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama.

The United States' former policy of isolating Cuba has been a source of
much friction with Latin American nations who have rallied around the
island as a symbol against imperialism in the region.

"The president has to come to the summit with something in his hands,"
said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne
Arsht Latin American Center. "But the Cubans want slow, measured steps
[toward renewing diplomatic relations]. They are in no hurry."

Both Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro plan to attend the summit and it
would be their first time they've been in the same room since they
jointly announced in December that the two countries planned to resume
diplomatic ties. Their only previous encounter was a quick handshake in
South Africa at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in December 2013.

"To be sitting in the same room at the summit with Raúl Castro and still
have Cuba one of four nations on the list could really backfire on the
president," Marczak said.

An expedited review of whether Cuba should remain on the list of state
sponsors of terrorism is underway in Washington. If the president
decides to remove Cuba from the list, he must notify Congress 45 days
before the decision takes effect.

"For Cuba, it's a matter of justice. We think we should never have been
a part of this list," Vidal said.

The list also includes Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuba was added in 1982 at
a time when it was helping Marxist insurgencies, but now it is hosting
meetings to facilitate a peace process between the Colombian government
and FARC guerrillas in that country.

However, Cuba continues to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States
for decades. Among them are former Black Liberation Army leader JoAnne
Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur. She was convicted in the
shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 and fled to Cuba
after a prison break.

Cuba has granted her and other U.S. fugitives political asylum. Vidal
said the number of U.S. citizens in that group is small and that Cuba is
not open to discussions about them at the talks.

Earlier this week, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, sent
letters to both Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI Director James B.
Comey requesting a full list of the fugitives receiving sanctuary in Cuba.

"Before Cuba is removed from the list of state sponsors of terror, the
Castro regime must be held to account for these acts and American
fugitives must be brought back to face justice in the U.S.," Menendez
wrote in the letter to Kerry.

Jacobson said that no date had been set for a next round of talks but
said both sides have agreed to stay in "permanent communication'' on a
variety of issues.

"It makes it sound like we're not going to sleep," she joked.

Jacobson said the two sides had agreed to have a number of dialogues on
issues of mutual interest in coming weeks, including one on the
structure for a human rights conversation.

While human rights, she said, is "our most challenging, the most
difficult perhaps'' of any of the ongoing dialogues with Cuba, it is
also "one of the most important."

Source: U.S.-Cuba officials: Diplomatic ties could resume by mid-April |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article11332274.html Continue reading
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the
United States'

At a congressional hearing reviewing President Barack Obama's Cuba
policy, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told members of the Western
Hemisphere subcommittee that the Castro regime "undermines our national
security at every turn."

"Let me be clear," Ros-Lehtinen said in prepared remarks. "Cuba poses a
clear and present danger to the United States."

Read her complete remarks after the jump.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, for calling this important and timely hearing.
Let me be clear: Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United
States. The Castro regime undermines our national security at every turn
and reinforces instability in the entire region by exporting their Cuban
military and espionage apparatus across the region. The ALBA countries
have security advisors who are Cuban nationals. Some ALBA countries even
send diplomats overseas who are undercover Cuban agents. Cuba is an
avowed enemy of the United States and let me cite these bullet points
just in the recent years that the Castro regime done:
· has killed American citizens in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down,
19 years ago this week;
· has worked with the Russians to try to re-open the Lourdes spy
facility in Cuba;
· has allowed Russian spy ships to dock in Havana as recently as just a
few days ago;
· was caught sending arms and military equipment last year to North
Korea in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions;
· the Castro regime is hiding U.S. fugitives of law and has given asylum
to Joanne Chesimard who is considered a Most Wanted Terrorist by our FBI;
· it has given safe haven to terrorist groups such as the FARC and ETA;
· has sent military advisors to Venezuela who have caused the deaths of
many Venezuelans due to the violence perpetrated by the thugs of Nicolas
Maduro;
· the Castro regime has penetrated our own intelligence services with
spies working for the Castro regime like Ana Belen Montes and Kendall Myers;
· had Cuban agents torture and beat American POWs at a prison camp in
North Vietnam known as "The Zoo";
· has sent troops to Angola in the 1970's and 80's to further
destabilize the country and fight alongside leftist movements contrary
to U.S. interests;
· has ties with Iran, with Russia, with Syria, and the list goes on, Mr.
Chairman.

Yet, all these realities have been ignored by the Obama administration.
Tomorrow, as we have pointed out, the Department of State will roll out
the red carpet for officials from the Castro regime. The lead
negotiator, Josefina Vidal, who was a Cuban spy in the United States who
was actually kicked out, along with her husband, from the U.S. due to
their illicit espionage activities. And now, she's negotiating for the
Castro regime.

I firmly believe that the President's concessions to the Castro brothers
on December 17 poses a real national security threat. And here's why. It
is well known that Cuba has one of the world's more advanced espionage
apparatuses. And that apparatus is aimed right at our country and here
very much active in our nation's capital in Washington, DC. We know that
Cuba has had spies on the Hill and in many U.S. government agencies.

So the President's new policies provide an injection of new money to the
regime – millions of dollars. And this new money will go straight into
the pockets of the Castro brothers and the Cuban military which owns a
majority and operates the tourist industry in Cuba. of Cuba's tourism
industry. With this new infusion of capital, the Cubans will be able to
provide more resources towards their espionage activities directed at
us. And what will they do with the intelligence that they gather? They
will sell it to our enemies – to the highest bidder on the black market.
These are just some of the reasons Mr. Chairman of why Cuba does pose a
national security threat to the U.S. and why it should remain on the
State sponsor of Terrorism list. The White House must stop putting
politics ahead of our national security.

On January 3, 1961, President Eisenhower terminated diplomatic relations
with Cuba after the Cuban regime decided to expel several United States
personnel from Havana. President Eisenhower responded by stating, "this
calculated action on the part of the Castro government is only the
latest of a long series of harassments, baseless accusations, and
vilification. There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect
can endure. That limit has now been reached. Meanwhile our sympathy goes
out to the people of Cuba now suffering under the yoke of a dictator."
President Obama should learn from history that negotiating with the
Castro regime is a failed endeavor.

Posted by Miami Herald at 1:27 PM on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015

Source: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger
to the United States' | Naked Politics -
http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2015/02/rep-ileana-ros-lehtinen-cuba-poses-a-clear-and-present-danger-to-the-united-states.html Continue reading
Pope asked to intercede in Morgan's repatriation
Widow wants his remains in Toledo
Published: Wednesday, 2/25/2015
BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The widow of William Morgan, a Toledoan executed in 1961 Cuba for
treason against Fidel Castro, is hopeful that a letter to Pope Francis
will help bring her husband's remains home.

"I think this is the right moment, my heart tells me that," said Olga
Goodwin, who lives in West Toledo. "I have not heard anything, but my
heart says that."

Mrs. Goodwin is banking on a thaw in diplomatic relations with Cuba
initiated in December by President Obama to help the effort, which has
been aided by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

Before he left for Italy, Opie Rollison, a Toledo attorney who has
voluntarily taken up her cause, gave Mrs. Goodwin a copy of the letter
he wrote to the Pope, asking for intercession. The return of Mr.
Morgan's remains, it said, "would be one more step in the resolution of
humanitarian issues between Cuba and the United States."

Like Mrs. Goodwin, Mr. Rollison said he's hopeful. "I continue to work
with federal officials at all levels," he said.

In a Saturday article in the Miami Herald he was quoted as saying, "I
will say that I'm more optimistic now than I've ever been that we're
going to get this done."

He also said, "From congresspersons to senators to people in the
Treasury and State Departments, our efforts have gotten a friendly
hearing and those efforts are still going on."

He added that "within the confines of existing laws, there is a
mechanism that would allow the repatriation of William Morgan's remains."

In 2002, Miss Kaptur went to Cuba and met with Castro to request the
return of the Toledoan's remains. Miss Kaptur's staffers say her office
was aware that Mr. Rollison carried a letter to the Pope's office, and
they continue to support the effort.

Mrs. Goodwin, 78, was an idealistic college student in Cuba in the 1950s
when she discreetly boarded a bus to join rebel fighters in the
mountains. Their shared goal was to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio
Batista.

She soon met the tall, blond William Morgan, who spoke little Spanish.
He'd had a restless youth of petty crime, was kicked out of the Army,
worked as a Miami gunrunner, and in 1957, left his wife and two children
in Toledo for Florida. He admired the passion he'd seen in young Cubans
who were ready to fight to the death for their homeland. Talking his way
onto a boat, he joined them.

After Batista was overthrown, Mr. Morgan watched as Castro and
companions built a Communist system that left the pro-democracy rebels
he had fought with little better than before. Mr. Morgan stockpiled
munitions and planned a revolt, but was captured and executed by a
firing squad.

Mrs. Goodwin, whom he'd married and had two daughters with, was thrown
in prison for more than a decade. She eventually fled on a boat and
settled in Toledo. She befriended Loretta Morgan, her mother-in-law, got
a job, and married James Goodwin, with whom she lives.

A book about Mr. Morgan, The Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of
Courage, Passion, and One American's Fight to Liberate Cuba, was
published in January. Mrs. Goodwin is pictured with Mr. Morgan on the
cover, and features prominently in the dramatic tale, written by former
Blade reporters and Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com

Source: Pope asked to intercede in Morgan's repatriation - Toledo Blade
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http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2015/02/25/Pope-asked-to-intercede-in-Morgan-s-repatriation.html Continue reading
Relaxed Cuba Welcomes Visitors as Locals Wait for Economic Improvement
Anita Snow, Associated Press
Feb 22, 2015 12:00 pm

It's not all rainbows and sunshine in Cuba, but it's certainly the right
environment for change.
— Jason Clampet

Rolling toward customs with a 60-pound suitcase filled with clothing and
electronics for friends, my stomach clenched when a female agent in a
light green uniform approached. As a former longtime Cuba correspondent
returning after nearly six years, I thought I knew what would come next:
a search of my luggage by stoned-faced military men, a scolding, maybe
even a fine.

Instead, I got a pass.

"Pasa, mi amor," the agent said with a smile, directing me to the exit.
"Go right on through, my love."

It was the first sign of the more relaxed and hopeful atmosphere I found
during a brief visit back to Havana this month, a feeling that didn't
exist during my 1999-2009 tenure. The differences I saw and felt made me
realize how much my decade in Cuba had been characterized by anxiety and
isolation, and what a different country it is becoming under President
Raul Castro's modest reforms. Everywhere I traveled around Havana, hopes
were high for more change after Cuba and the U.S. announcement on Dec.
17 they would move toward a more normal relationship. Cubans seem
especially keen for more visits by Americans.

When I lived here as an American journalist, rigid government control
and suspicion reigned, especially during my early years. A uniformed
agent once demanded to enter my apartment in Old Havana to ensure I
didn't have a fax machine, considered a dangerous device. Although there
was little traffic or commerce in the streets, blue-uniformed members of
the National Revolutionary Police stood on almost every block, and they
certainly weren't smiling.

As a foreigner with access to dollars, my circumstances were far better
than those of average Cubans. But no one could escape all the
difficulties still lingering after the "special period" of the 1990s — a
time of economic austerity following the loss of Soviet subsidies.
Blackouts lasted for hours, resulting in sleepless, sweltering summer
nights without air conditioning, making bathing impossible in buildings
where water ran with electricity, and causing refrigerated food to
spoil. There were shortages of basic goods, such as toilet paper and eggs.

Cubans' economic desperation played out in their dealings with
foreigners. A middle-aged woman once trailed me for four blocks up Old
Havana's Obispo Street, begging me for a bar of soap I did not have.
Driving one night down the Malecon coastal thoroughfare, then pitch
black without public lighting, I nearly struck a young woman in a
low-cut evening gown standing in the middle of the roadway, waving at
motorists to stop.

Read MoreThe Caribbean Reports Record Number of Tourists and Spending in
2014
But going back to Havana, I didn't see any of the obvious sex workers,
known as jineteras, who once trolled the Malecon and lurked in hotel
lobbies. Cubans didn't trouble me on the street for money or anything
else, and I noticed few uniformed police officers standing on corners.

Buildings around the capital, some constructed more than two centuries
ago, remain in desperate need of a coat of paint, and in many cases
their facades are crumbling. Dangerous-looking tangles of electrical and
telephone wires still stretch across narrow streets pocked with
potholes. But tour buses now park along the Malecon's eastern end, with
tourists spilling out to roam Old Havana's colonial plazas. A string of
historic lampposts now illuminate the thoroughfare in the evening.

The majority of islanders still depend on government salaries that
average around $20 a month — about the same amount as when I left Cuba —
along with the universal subsidies for food, housing, utilities and
transportation. Many people continue to hustle to survive, working a
second job, or living "por la izquierda," literally "off to the left,"
supplementing their meager income by selling goods stolen from
government workplaces, or hawking products from their monthly food ration.

I found several older friends who were doing poorly, lacking the
resources or energy to profit from the reforms. A former female neighbor
in her mid-70s wept as she described the challenges of subsisting on odd
jobs and a monthly pension worth little more than $5. Numerous other
acquaintances had left the island for better opportunities not only in
the United States, but in Venezuela and Spain.

Cubans with their own businesses said the reforms mean they are now
harassed less and it is OK to try to get ahead. Jean Barrionuebo, who
worked as an illegal taxi driver for six years before getting official
approval two years ago, told me, "The pressure of trying to avoid a fine
prevents you from being productive."

"We Cubans are crazy to get ourselves out of this conflict with the
United States," said Barrionuebo, who drives an old Russian-made
Moskvitch sedan he bought after selling an apartment inherited from his
parents. "This has been going on for 56 years and it is the Cubans who
have to pay the cost."

The push to improve Cuba-U.S. relations has put the issue of human
rights in the spotlight for American officials and rights activists, but
most Cubans I talked to seemed far less interested in that than in
making more money to provide for their families. And most former friends
and acquaintances I saw seemed better off — or at least no worse off —
than before.

"A-NI-ta! Mu-CHA-cha!" a cleaning woman cried out as I entered the
renovated historic building where The Associated Press has its offices.
Several other cleaners, security guards and maintenance workers greeted
me with Caribbean enthusiasm, making me feel like I'd returned after
only six days, not six years. They sadly reported the death of Lazaro,
the elderly street vendor with a goatee who once sold gladiolas on the
cobblestone plaza. They told me Ernesto the electrician, who called on
me as a witness for his second wedding at a government "Matrimony
Palace," had moved to Miami, now on his sixth wife.

The economic changes I saw came from reforms that Raul Castro initiated
after taking over from ailing brother Fidel in early 2008. The first
thing he did was eliminate the "tourism apartheid" that prevented Cubans
from staying in hotels reserved for foreigners. Later, prohibitions on
the sale of private homes and cars were lifted, and permission was
granted for private taxis. The government lifted the despised "white
card" required for decades of Cubans who wished to leave their own
country, even on vacation.

Signs of the latest reform on its way — the merging of Cuba's two
currencies — are now in the government stores. Prices are listed in the
ordinary pesos worth about 4 cents each as well as the convertible pesos
tied to the U.S. dollar.

Furniture dealer Elia Rodriguez talked about how Cubans newly flush from
their private businesses buy more of the mahogany treasures I once
bought from her business of more than a decade. "Everyone wants their
house to look nice," Rodriguez said before excusing herself to greet a
group of customers.

Standing amid low-slung Cuban rocking chairs called "comadritas" and
antique armoires with brass pulls, Rodriguez told me that the inspectors
who used to come at least once a month, using up valuable time while
they reviewed her premises and records, haven't visited in more than
three years. Originally running the furniture renovation business with
just her husband, daughter and son-in-law, Rodriguez said she can now
hire non-relatives to refinish and sell the pieces faster.

The first private businesses the government allowed in the 1990s
included family restaurants called paladars. Tucked inside people's
homes like dirty secrets, they were restricted to just 12 chairs. Sales
of hard liquor, and "luxury" foods like shrimp, lobster and beef were
prohibited. At one of the dozen or so paladars operating back then in
the capital, my friends and I regularly asked a waiter for jibaro — wild
boar — a code to order an illegal steak.

Today, hundreds of private restaurants operate in Havana and can serve
whatever food or drink they want, as long as they can prove it was
purchased legally. They can also serve as many patrons as they want, and
can advertise. On a recent evening, a lively group of several dozen
Americans visiting the island on a licensed trip crowded the main dining
room at the hugely popular El Atelier. At La California restaurant,
daily specials were promoted on a blackboard outside the front door, in
English.

Farmers markets where vendors set their own prices were also first
allowed back in the 1990s, initially to ensure people got enough to eat
amid economic crisis.

Revisiting the 19th Street farmers market I once frequented, I found
fewer vendors, but more variety of produce. Broccoli and cauliflower
were on offer alongside Cuban sweet potatoes, taro roots, huge cabbages,
eggplants and assorted dried beans. While the products are cheap for
foreigners, they're still expensive for most Cubans, who carefully
select only a few items to buy each month: a few onions, a bottle of
homemade tomato paste.

During my time away, new private businesses had sprung up across the
street: a juice stand, a small pizza joint, a shop selling leather
purses and rustic metal coffee pots. Also new was the watch repair
stand, a plumber and a locksmith.

Inside the covered market, 51-year-old Leonardo Santos sold shredded
coconut for 35 cents a pound under a blue placard that announced "My
Name is Santos" in English for American groups that sometimes pass through.

Radames Betancourt, an 81-year-old who works for tips carrying shoppers'
bags, smiled when he recognized me from my earlier time in Havana, his
eyes scrunching up into half-moons. Betancourt told me he's thrilled
about the prospect of improved U.S.-Cuba relations, and more visits by
Americans.

"Let them come, let them come," he said excitedly. "We've been waiting
for them for a long time."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Anita Snow reopened The Associated Press office in Havana
in 1999 after the news organization's nearly three-decade absence.

Copyright (2015) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material
may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
This article was written by Anita Snow from The Associated Press and was
legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Source: Relaxed Cuba Welcomes Visitors as Locals Wait for Economic
Improvement – Skift -
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Cozying up to Cuba
12:31 PM, FEB 25, 2015 • BY JUDITH AYERS

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and eight other members of a
congressional delegation that recently headed to Cuba, the Dominican
Republic, and Haiti, spoke positively of the trip at a press conference
on Tuesday. They not only met with government officials in each country,
but they also visited the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, and
spoke with Cuban members of civil society. "People in the streets were
very enthusiastic," said Pelosi.

Members emphasized that the trip was based on conversations between the
leaders of each respective country. During the discussions, which were
reportedly especially "lively" in Haiti, there were agreements but there
were also disagreements -- especially when it came to discussing human
rights in Cuba.

The ball "is now in the Cuban government's court," said Rep. Eliot
Engel, a New York Democrat. "For us to move forward they need to make
some changes."

No topic was left untouched in any country, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a
Democrat from Connecticut. "Conversations were frank" and DeLauro, She
stated that the trip was ultimately a cultural exchange and that she
wanted to lead away from 'failed' policies of the past.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts encouraged establishing an embassy in
Cuba and admonished the U.S. to end the embargo. He said that we need to
"show Cuba and the world how a democracy functions, let us have a vote
and a debate."

While all the members of the delegation said that this was a historic
moment, Steve Israel, a New York congressman, said that it was only
"historic only if it leads to change."

But for all the positivity and steps forward, Pelosi did say that the
members of the delegation held "no illusions…it is a Communist country
with a centralized economy." Immediately after, she restated the need to
end the embargo, however, emphasizing that ending it would be mutually
beneficial in many respects.

Pelosi described the trip overall as "productive, it was positive, it
was candid."

Source: Cozying up to Cuba | The Weekly Standard -
http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/cozying-cuba_865956.html Continue reading
UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions
BY CARA ANNA AND EDITH M. LEDERER ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/26/2015 3:44 AM 02/26/2015 3:44 AM

UNITED NATIONS
A North Korean shipping company that famously tried to hide fighter jets
under a cargo of sugar later sought to evade U.N. sanctions by renaming
most of its vessels, a new report says.

The effort by Pyongyang-headquartered Ocean Maritime Management Company,
Ltd. is detailed in the report by a panel of experts that monitors
sanctions on North Korea. The report, obtained by The Associated Press,
makes clear the challenge of keeping banned arms and luxury goods from a
nuclear-armed country with a history of using front companies to duck
detection.

The U.N. Security Council holds consultations Thursday on the report,
which also says North Korea's government persists with its nuclear and
missile programs in defiance of council resolutions.

The council last year imposed sanctions on OMM after Panama in 2013
seized a ship it operated that carried undeclared military equipment
from Cuba. Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles
and live munitions beneath the Chong Chon Gang's cargo of sugar.

The council's sanctions committee said that violated a U.N. arms embargo
imposed in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. At
the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that imposing a global
asset freeze on OMM meant that the company would no longer be able to
operate internationally.

But the new report says that in the months after the sanctions were
imposed, 13 of the 14 ships controlled by OMM changed their owners and
managers, "effectively erasing" the company from a database kept by the
International Maritime Organization. Twelve of the ships "reportedly
stayed, visited or were sighted near ports in foreign countries," and
none were frozen by member states as the panel of experts recommends.

The new report explores the shipping company's global reach, using
people and entities operating in at least 10 countries: Brazil, China,
Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.
The report recommends updating the sanctions list with 34 OMM entities
and says all 14 vessels should be subject to sanctions.

No interdictions of the kind that Panama made in 2013 were reported in
the period between Feb. 8 of last year and Feb. 5 of this year. But the
new report warns that the panel of experts sees no evidence that North
Korea "intends to cease prohibited activities."

The report also says diplomats, officials and trade representatives of
North Korea continue to "play key roles in facilitating the trade of
prohibited items, including arms and related materiel and ballistic
missile-related items."

The panel of experts warns that some U.N. member states still are not
implementing the council resolutions that are meant to keep North Korea
from further violations.

North Korea also faces an embargo on luxury goods, but the report found
that it managed to bring in luxury goods from multiple countries,
including with the help of its diplomatic missions. Some items were for
the country's Masik Pass luxury ski report, which opened in 2013. China
told the panel of experts that the ski lift equipment it provided was
acceptable because "skiing is a popular sport for people" and that ski
items are not specifically prohibited.

In another case, a yacht seen alongside leader Kim Jong Un in 2013 was
sourced by the panel of experts to a British manufacturer, Princess
Yachts International, which the panel said did not reply to a request
for more information.

The panel also said it has opened its first investigation into a case
involving North Korean drones after the wreckage of three drones was
found in South Korea in late 2013 and 2014. The report says the drones
had been used for reconnaissance over South Korean military facilities
and that the drones contained components "sourced from at least six
foreign countries."

North Korea protests that the U.N. sanctions are harmful to its
citizens, but the report says it has found no incidents where they
"directly resulted in shortages of ... humanitarian aid." It does
recommend that the sanctions committee propose exemptions for purely
food, medical or other humanitarian needs.

Source: UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -
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Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Posted on February 25, 2015

While the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are
coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough,
chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had
never before been seen on the Island.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days,
Maritza thought that her four-year-old son's persistent cough was due to
a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had
started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had
escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer
running a fever. The pediatrician's diagnosis confirmed Maritza's
suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would
follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him,
give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines

But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that
Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so
that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms — could be
treated with oxygen. Almost by happenstance, an experienced doctor who
heard the child cough took an interest in the case, and, after a more
detailed examination, made her diagnosis as whooping cough, a disease
Maritza had never heard of and against which – at least in theory — all
Cuban children are protected, thanks to subsidized national health
system vaccination programs. Furthermore, according to official
statistical records, whooping cough (pertussis) was eradicated from Cuba
many years ago.

Thanks to that doctor's providential presence, Alain was treated with
the appropriate antibiotics and, following the advice of the doctor,
Maritza asked a relative who resides abroad for an emergency shipment of
a medication that does not exist in Cuba, pertussis suppositories, used
in the treatment to lessen the child's coughing crisis.

Alain is recovering now, but his convalescence may take up to three
months or more. Maritza has overcome her anxiety, but wonders how many
children will be in the same predicament, considering that this highly
infectious disease is circulating around the Island, and health
authorities have not sounded the alarm. In fact, she recently found out
that in the past several years the incidence of whooping cough has been
on the rise, not only among children, but also among adults.

The lack of information in the official media results in the population
not having a clear perception of the risk, and turns Article 50 of the
Constitution of the Republic of Cuba into meaningless babble. The
article establishes the right of all Cubans to medical care and health
protection, and points to the State as guarantor of that right.

Turning back the clock

Dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya (*), cholera …
With the reappearance of old diseases, the introduction of others that
did not exist on the Island and the lack of effective drugs, it would
seem that Cuba has regressed to the nineteenth century. However, the
Cuban national health system remains a prestigious benchmark for
international agencies, particularly since lending Cuban medical
services abroad has become the most important source of the government's
capital income and a powerful political tool, given that it allows
displaying as example of solidarity and altruism what is actually a
poorly disguised form of modern slavery.

So, while the government exports the service of tens of thousands of
medical professionals at the expense of a loss of attention to Cubans,
and the exposure of the Cuban population to multiple imported diseases,
the institutional bureaucracy of international organizations
congratulates itself on being able to count on a whole army of doctors
mobilized by the regime to deal with epidemics and other pathologies.
The government of any moderately democratic nation would never be able
to recruit doctors as if they were mercenaries.

The truth is that Cuba currently has two opposing systems: one of
"health", which only exists in theory and today is a sad imitation of
what it once was; and the other of "unhealth", much more efficient,
endorsed in a completely dismal hospital and services infrastructure,
and in the continuing incursion of exotic diseases, imported by our
doctors from the most infected corners of the globe, since, upon their
return home to Cuba, the practice of a rigorous quarantine plan and
infection risk control is not followed.

All this in a nation that, in the late 50s of the last century, stood
out among the top in terms of health care at the regional and global
levels, with a respectable hospital network in addition to membership
clinics, emergency clinics, maternity hospitals and other health
services, both free and private.

At this rate, it is likely that, when the Castro regime finally ends, we
may have to request emergency services from the World Health
Organization itself and from the International Red Cross in order to
address Cubans' health crisis, as occurred during the US occupation
after the 1898 War of Independence, which created the basis for what
would become, during the Republic, one of the most enviable health
systems of its time.

*A viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya | Translating
Cuba -
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Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba
/ 14ymedio
Posted on February 26, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased
considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published
today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with
headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to
freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by
criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty
International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the
re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the
United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of
human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last
year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The
Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of
repression, although Amnesty International also mentions the arrests
produced at the end of 2014 on the occasion of the Community Summit of
Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The annual report, which offers an overview of the human rights
situation in 160 countries and forecasts trends in this arena for the
next year, addresses the issue of the control that Raul Castro's
government exercises over all means of communication and the
difficulties of accessing information on the Internet. Among the
harassments that independent journalists have suffered, the organization
cites the case of 14ymedio, which, on the day of its launch last May 21,
suffered an attack on its web page. Since then this digital daily has
been blocked on the Island.

The report dedicates a special section to prisoners of conscience and
notes that laws that classify "dangerousness" and the likelihood of
future offense as crimes have been used frequently to incarcerate
citizens critical of the Government. Also, they point to the restriction
on travel outside of Cuba imposed on the 12 prisoners of the Black
Spring who were released without a clarification of their legal status.

Amnesty International appreciates the immigration reform of 2013 which
has permitted Cubans to travel abroad but points out that the government
has confiscated materials and documents from opponents and critics on
their return to the Island. The international organization complains
that Cuba has not yet ratified the International Treaty of Civil and
Human Rights or the International Treaty of Economic, Social, and
Cultural rights, both signed in February 2008. Also, the Government has
not responded to the petition made in October by the special rapporteur
on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments and
punishments. Cuban authorities have denied Amnesty International access
to the country since 1990.

A "cruel" year on a regional scale

Amnesty International stresses that 2014 was a "cruel" year in all of
the Americas, characterized by outbreaks of protests and impunity for
criminal networks.

"Last year, insecurity and conflicts grew on the American continent.
Protests exploded in several countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil,
Mexico and the United States, often violently repressed by state forces.
We also were witness to the tragic increase in violence by criminal
networks that acted with total impunity," Erika Guevara Rosas, director
of the organization's program for the Americas, asserts.

"From the disappeared students in Mexico through the revelations about
torture at the hands of CIA agents in the United States and the shooting
of protesters by Brazilian police, 2014 was a shameful year in the whole
region," she adds.

Amnesty International warns that, if significant structural changes are
not put in place, the region will see an increase of protests and
demonstrations, while organized crime and violence will continue
devastating countries like Mexico, El Salvador and the English-speaking
Caribbean.

The organization notes as positive the peace talks between the Colombian
government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the
purpose of putting a definitive end to the continent's oldest armed
internal conflict. Nevertheless, the report stresses that at the end of
last year both parties continued abuses and violations of human rights.

As for Venezuela, the report insists that security organizations
employed excessive force to disperse protests and emphasizes that dozens
of people were detained arbitrarily and denied access to doctors and
lawyers.

Amnesty International nevertheless harbors a certain hope that movements
in defense of human rights in the Americas may improve their form of
organization thanks to the help of new technologies and social networks.

Translated by MLK

Source: Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions
in Cuba / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -
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Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE
The Moscow Times Feb. 25 2015 15:59 Last edited 15:59

Russia may build a large international airport in Cuba with investors
from the United Arab Emirates, Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis
Manturov said in an interview with a newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

Manturov told newspaper The National that Russia is in discussions with
Abu Dhabi's Mubadala investment company to invest in building a hub in
Cuba for flights to Latin America. Russia is ready to invest $200
million in the project, Manturov said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Mubadala told The National: "The company is regularly
reviewing a number of different investment opportunities with its
Russian partners."

Manturov added that if the project goes forward, Cuba may provide a rail
link from the airport to the nearby seaport of Mariel, where Havana has
established a special economic zone to attract foreign investment.

Russia's interest in investing in Cuba comes amid a larger pattern of
courting Latin American countries in the face of Western sanctions over
Moscow's role in the conflict in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin made Havana the first stop on his tour of the
South American continent last summer, where he wrote off the majority of
Cuba's $32 billion debt to the Soviet Union. Under Moscow's new terms,
Cuba must now pay Russia $3 billion in 10 years time.

Cuba has historically denied that it owes Russia any money, asserting
that the nation and currency it was indebted to disappeared in 1991 with
the Soviet Union's collapse.

Source: Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE |
Business | The Moscow Times -
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/russia-eying-200-million-investment-in-cuban-airport-with-uae/516506.html Continue reading
Boxers fleeing Cuba seek freedom, fortune in Vegas
Reported by: Amber Dixon Email: adixon@mynews3.com
Published: 2/25 6:24 am Share Updated: 2/25 9:40 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV My News 3) – Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada said
of the 1,800 refugees it helps resettle each year in Las Vegas, 75
percent are Cuban.

Trained boxers are among the Cubans that move to Las Vegas, fleeing from
oppression, seeking freedom and drawn to a city where fighting is center
stage. They hope the sport will make them some money.

In 1992, Cuban boxer Joel Casamayor, won an Olympic Gold medal. In
return, the Cuban government gave him a bike.

"A Chinese bicycle," said Cuban boxing historian Enrique Encinosa. "He
says, 'Right then and there I understood, I had to get out."

And Casamayor did, in 1996, while he was training in Mexico for the next
Olympics. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum helped.

"They were in Mexico, and we smuggled them out of Mexico," said Arum.
"And he turned out to be a champion."

But success is not the norm. New-found freedom and money can kill the dream.

"They've been deprived of the luxuries of life so long, they only read
about them," said Arum. "They heard about them, and suddenly they're
available to them, and they go absolutely nuts."

"By the time he's had three or four fights, he figures, 'This is cake. I
don't really have to train that hard, and I've got this money in my
pocket, and I have 22 of 24 hours in a day to screw around,' and that's
where a lot of them go off the rail," said Encinosa.

Cuban boxing brothers Rances and Leduan Barthelemy fled Cuba, just like
their older brother, Olympic Gold medalist Yan Barthelemy. They chose to
live in Las Vegas, and now the boxing world is watching Rances.

Last year, he became the International Boxing Federation world super
featherweight champion. His journey to that point was filled with new
experiences, like going to the bank. "Finance, credit, numbers here,
numbers there, it was like a math class," said Rances Barthelemy.

They also learned what Listerine was. "When I saw Listerine, it smelled
good like mint, and I started drinking it," said Rances.

"Me too, when I opened it, I smelled it, and I said, 'Wow, this smells
good,' and I started putting it on like it was cologne," said Leduan.

But behind these happy moments in the United States are some sad
memories of home. "Leaving them was hard," said Leduan. "There were
times when I would cry at night because I needed the love of my mother
and of my brothers and sisters."

"I left my sister when she was only 8 years old, and now she's going to
high school, and I haven't been able to see her grow, to touch her, to
hug her and to tell her how much I love her," said Rances.

The pain of being apart, lessened by knowing that in at least in the
U.S., they can make money and send it to the loved ones they left behind.

"I don't have words to explain how grateful I am to be living here,
because I can help my family," said Rances.

There were several times during the interview with News 3 when an
adviser for the brothers interrupted, warning them to watch what they
said about Cuba. That's because if the brothers one day want to return
to visit, the Cuban government must approve, said the adviser and
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

The Cuban government reportedly monitors what high-profile refugees say
and do after they defect.

Those refugees typically must wait eight years before they can ask
permission from the government to return.

Source: Boxers fleeing Cuba seek freedom, fortune in Vegas - Las Vegas
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US pressures Cuba to turn over fugitives
By William E. Gibson
Washington Bureau

- Cuba claims the United States is harboring violent criminals and
terrorists and refuses to return them to Cuba
Cuba has indicated it would be willing to send common-criminal fugitives
back to the United States.
- U.S. officials will continue this week to pressure Cuba to turn over
fugitives wanted for Medicare fraud and other crimes in the United States.

Closer cooperation between the two old adversaries could disrupt a
criminal pipeline that has funneled ill-gotten gains from Florida to
Cuba, an organized crime network disclosed last month by the Sun
Sentinel after a year-long investigation.

Some members of Congress are demanding the return of fugitives, hoping
to halt Cuban crime rings and discourage scams.

"I would hope that if those who wish to violate American law understand
that they can't hide from prosecution in Cuba, it would help to deter
people from ripping off American taxpayers," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch,
a Democrat who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The issue will be raised Thursday when Cuba's alleged links to terrorist
groups are discussed at a House subcommittee hearing.

Chairman Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said Cuban spying and connections to
terrorists jeopardize U.S. security and facilitate "a criminal pipeline
spanning Cuba to Florida."

U.S. officials will get another opportunity to press for the return of
fugitives during diplomatic talks with Cuban leaders set for Friday in
Washington. This second round will focus on establishing embassies while
setting a timetable for separate talks on law-enforcement cooperation.

The hearing and diplomatic talks both stem from a startling change in
U.S. policy to end the isolation of Cuba, encourage communications and
re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

The change, announced in December, revived hopes of retrieving criminals
who fled to Cuba to evade justice, including crooks who bilked Medicare,
robbed insurers and preyed on other victims to the tune of more than $2
billion over two decades. Some live openly in Cuba, defying attempts to
apprehend them, the Sun Sentinel found.

Friday's talks will focus on establishing normal diplomatic relations,
which could pave the way for agreements on the extradition of criminals
holed up in Cuba and Cuba's acceptance of criminals in the United States
who were ordered to be deported.

Cuban leaders are demanding that the State Department remove Cuba from
its list of "state sponsors of terrorism." Cuba has been on the list
partly because it harbors fugitives wanted for terror-related acts. But
critics say the listing is an outmoded relic from a time when Cuba
backed leftist revolutions in other countries.

In the first round of talks last month in Havana, Cuba refused to return
fugitives who committed crimes of a political nature, notably Joanne
Chesimard, a former member of the Black Liberation Army convicted of
shooting a New Jersey patrolman in 1973.

"We've explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some
people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political
asylum," Josefina Vidal, Cuba's lead negotiator, told the Associated
Press. She and other Cubans accuse the United States of harboring criminals.

"We've reminded the U.S. government that in its country they've given
shelter to dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens — some of them accused of
horrible crimes, some accused of terrorism, murder and kidnapping,"
Vidal said. "And in every case, the U.S. government has decided to
welcome them."

But Cuban negotiators have indicated a willingness to turn over
fugitives wanted for non-political crimes — the kind who have bilked
Medicare and run scams in Florida.

"In general, they seem prepared and willing to fight common crime," said
Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who
met with U.S. and Cuban officials in Havana.

Some analysts say the Obama administration needs to show benefits from
the negotiations to blunt criticism from Republicans in Congress that
the United States is legitimizing the Castro regime without getting
anything in return.

Results could include an agreement to extradite criminals and to
cooperate on environmental preservation, including safeguards against an
accidental oil spill in Cuban waters.

"Florida benefits immensely from that," said Robert Muse, a Washington
attorney who specializes in Cuban legal matters. "That would start to
show some results from this thing."

U.S. officials say they are pursuing an agreement on both fronts.

"We'll have a separate conversation [with Cuban negotiators] on law
enforcement and fugitives basically as soon as we can set these up,"
Roberta Jacobson, the lead U.S. negotiator, testified at a congressional
hearing.

An extradition agreement would help put a dent in Medicare fraud in
Florida and elsewhere, anti-fraud experts say.

"That would certainly be a positive thing," said Louis Saccoccio, CEO of
the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. "Folks who do commit
these types of crimes and go overseas would be subject to return to this
country. That would be helpful. The big challenge is to get the foreign
country to cooperate in that effort."

wgibson@tribune.com, 202-824-8256

Source: U.S. pressures Cuba to give up criminal fugitives - Sun Sentinel
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Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America and the 'end of capitalism'
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER AOPPENHEIMER@MIAMIHERALD.COM
02/25/2015 7:00 AM 02/25/2015 9:33 PM

The saddest thing about outgoing Uruguayan President José Mujica's
statement this week suggesting that capitalism is agonizing is not that
he said it as the New York stock market was reaching its all-time high,
but the fact that it's an idea that is being happily repeated by many
Latin American presidents as if it were an indisputable truth.

Hardly a day goes by in which Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and
his counterparts in Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and several
other countries do not proclaim — some more explicitly than others — the
"end of capitalism." Former Cuba ruler Fidel Castro has been proclaiming
"the inexorable demise of capitalism" since the early 1960s.

Mujica, who ends his term on Sunday, was quoted by Cuba's official
Prensa Latina news agency as telling the Mexican daily La Jornada this
week that "capitalism is exhausted." His exact quote in La Jornada's
Feb. 22 interview was that capitalism "seems to have already given
everything it had," and that it is likely to be replaced by "democratic
socialism."

Trouble is, while U.S.-styled capitalism could and should be perfected,
many Latin American presidents are sitting idly by waiting for its
death. Meantime, China, India, Vietnam, and virtually all Asian
countries are growing and reducing poverty at record rates, and they
have been doing so precisely since they started embracing capitalism in
the 1980s.

Perhaps somebody should present Latin American leaders who keep talking
about the end of capitalism with a framed copy of a recent news story
about Apple's market value. They should hang it on their office walls to
remind themselves constantly of what's going on in the world.

According to a Feb. 11 news story, Apple reached a record market value
of $710 billion that day. To put that in perspective, that's more than
the entire GDP of Argentina ($610 billion), Venezuela ($483 billion),
Colombia ($378 billion), Chile ($277 billion), or Peru ($203 billion),
according to World Bank figures.

The presidents of Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia should be the first to
hang that framed news story on their walls. Apple alone is worth seven
times more than Ecuador's GDP ($94 billion), 12 times more than
Uruguay's ($55 billion), and 23 times more than Bolivia's ($30 billion.)
And that's just one capitalist company.

If that's not enough to convince them that we are living in a different
world — in which technological advances are becoming increasingly
lucrative, while Latin America's raw materials or basic manufacturing
goods are becoming increasingly cheaper — there are plenty of other
examples to learn from.

Uber, the 4-year-old company that created a smartphone application for
taxi services, has reached a market value of $41.2 billion. This amounts
to more than Mexico's total annual oil exports.

WhatsApp, the instant-messaging application for smartphones started by
two 20-somethings, was sold last year for $19 billion. That's almost 20
times the total value of Chile's wine exports.

Unfortunately, while they keep waiting for capitalism's definitive
demise, many Latin American countries keep relying on their commodity
and basic-manufacturing exports and are failing to invest in innovation,
research, and development.

Latin American countries invest only 0.8 percent of their GDP in
research and development of new products, compared with the world
average of 2.1 percent, according to World Bank figures. Not
surprisingly, Latin America has become increasingly dependent on raw
materials in recent years, and its high-tech exports have fallen as a
percentage of its total exports.

According to figures cited by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin
America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) head Alicia Bárcena at a Feb. 13
speech, Latin America's exports of high-tech products has fallen from
nearly 20 percent of the region's total exports in 2000 to about 10
percent of its total exports today.

My opinion: Capitalism has many faults that should be corrected, but
Latin American presidents should stop with this nonsense about its
imminent death and get to work — like Asian countries have been doing in
recent years — to become more competitive in the world economy.

Instead of talking rubbish about the "agony of capitalism," Latin
American presidents — especially now that their commodities' export
prices have plummeted — should be talking about improving education,
innovation, and science and technology to export increasingly more
sophisticated goods to world markets.

Their current ruminations about the collapse of capitalism are only
helping breed complacency, inaction, slower economic growth, and more
poverty.

Source: Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America and the 'end of capitalism' |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/andres-oppenheimer/article11152460.html Continue reading
U.S.-Cuba talks head to Washington
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
02/25/2015 5:30 PM 02/25/2015 10:59 PM

The second round of U.S.-Cuba talks, which will be held Friday at the
massive limestone Department of State building in a wintery Washington,
D.C., is expected to be a nuts-and-bolts negotiating session to restore
diplomatic ties between the two nations.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, who heads the Cuban Foreign Relations
Ministry's U.S. division, will lead their respective delegations as they
did in Havana during the first round of talks on Jan. 22.

During that historic closed-door meeting aimed at ending a 53-year
hiatus in diplomatic relations between the two neighbors, both sides
laid out their positions and it was clear there were differences.

A senior U.S. State Department official said Wednesday this round of
conversations will be devoted entirely to matters related to opening
embassies — unlike the Havana talks, which also included discussions
about human rights and areas of mutual cooperation such as the fight
against Ebola, environmental protection and combating human and
narcotics trafficking.

While the Havana talks were "historic," the official said Friday's talks
"may seem a bit disappointingly workman-like."

The U.S. side is hopeful that renewal of diplomatic ties and reopening
of embassies could take place before the April 10-11 Summit of the
Americas in Panama, but the State Department official added, "I'm not
sure" there's enough time.

Among the topics the U.S. delegation wants to discuss are ensuring the
ability of its diplomats to travel freely throughout the island,
unfettered access by Cubans to the future embassy and unimpeded
deliveries to it.

During the Havana talks, Vidal said the banking problem at Cuba's
missions in Washington and at the United Nations would have to be
resolved before embassies could be opened. For the past year, no bank
has wanted to handle Cuba's accounts, putting the missions on a
cash-only basis.

The United States has been trying to help Cuba find a banker but so far
there are no takers.

The State Department official said a Cuban embassy could open and
continue to operate on a cash basis, but added, "That is really
uncomfortable for them and frankly unsafe. They can [have an embassy
without a bank] but all of us would rather they didn't have to do this."

One reason U.S. banks are so hesitant to bank with Cuba is that the
country remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a
status that makes banks wary they could run afoul of U.S. law if they do
business with sanctioned countries. An expedited review of Cuba's status
on the list is underway.

The talks are part of a new direction in U.S.-Cuba relations announced
on Dec. 17 by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. As
part of the new policy, Obama also chipped away at the embargo with
measures allowing trade with Cuba's emerging private sector, more travel
by Americans and an opening for the U.S. telecom industry to do business
in Cuba if Havana chooses to engage.

Meanwhile, the rapprochement is continuing on other fronts.

The State Department's Office of International Communications and
Information Policy in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, for
example, hopes to meet soon with their Cuban counterparts to see what
will be possible in terms of a telecom opening, said Assistant Secretary
of State Charles Rivkin.

The new U.S. policy allows U.S companies to sell personal communications
equipment in Cuba as well as work on projects to improve Cuba's outdated
telecommunications system.

Cuba also has proposed having a separate dialogue on human rights with
the United States, which the U.S. delegation has accepted — although
Jacobson has conceded the two sides' ideas about how such a dialogue
should be structured are probably quite different.

While these topics won't be discussed Friday, it's possible that dates
will be set for various dialogues.

Earlier this week, New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on
the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said talking directly with Cuban
officials is important.

Engel, who accompanied House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on a recent
trip to Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, said the delegation
raised the issue of human rights at every meeting they had with Cuban
officials.

"I believe the ball is now in the Cuban government's court to respond by
ending the harassment of political activists and releasing political
prisoners," Engel said. "For our policies to continue to change, it's
going to take give and take on both sides, and frankly I'd like to see
some more changes on the Cuban side, and I said that in Havana."

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has been critical of the
Congressional delegation, saying members had sent "worrying signals to
the regime that human rights are, in fact, negotiable."

But in general, Engel said "average people that we met on the street
were all very, very positive" about the rapprochement.

South Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, elected to Congress in
2014, was hardly as sanguine. "It is quite an insult that on the week
commemorating the anniversary of the shoot-down, the State Department
will roll out the red carpet to Cuban officials who represent the
murderous regime that killed" four Brothers to the Rescue pilots,
Curbelo said in a statement. Tuesday marked the 19th anniversary of the
day Cuban MiGs shot down two civilian planes from Miami as they neared
Cuban territory.

Meanwhile, two bills have been introduced in Congress to lift the
embargo and further expand Cuba travel for Americans, but
anti-rapprochement forces in Congress, including the Cuban-American
delegation, want to roll back the opening toward Cuba.

Getting the two embassies open is just the opening salvo in the much
more difficult task of normalizing relations between two countries that
have been on hostile terms for much of the past half century.

"An embassy will be opened in the next few months, but this is perhaps
one of the easier topics of negotiation that the two countries will
face," said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's
Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. "The Cuban government needs to
maintain its anti-U.S. posture for domestic and international
credibility, so expect it to maintain a tough position at any negotiations."

Raúl Castro has said before any normalization in the relationship, the
five-decades old embargo against Cuba would have to be lifted, the
United States would have to return the Naval base at Guantánamo Bay,
there would need to be compensation for the "human and economic damage"
caused by the embargo and transmissions of Radio and TV Martí would have
to end.

SECOND ROUND OF U.S.-CUBA TALKS
Where: U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.

Delegations: Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Roberta Jacobson heads the U.S. delegation; Josefina Vidal, the Cuban
Foreign Ministry's chief of its U.S. division, heads the Cuban side.

Focus: Matters related to opening embassies in both countries.

Next round of talks: No date set. 'We will keep working until we get
this done,' said a senior U.S. State Department official.


Source: U.S.-Cuba talks head to Washington | Miami Herald Miami Herald -
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The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines
ROSA LOPEZ, La Habana | Febrero 24, 2015

The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They
were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn't even a line for seeking a
visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the
only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana's Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how
the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if
it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3
million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the
moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos,
businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and
international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues
to depend exclusively on paper currency.

"When the subject is money, people fume," says a young man whose
Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even
though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed
ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines
or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in
Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority
were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious
deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba
for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the
system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures
between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash
payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and
payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with
great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very
promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big
department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and
slow. "When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for
minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and
you have to try it several times," explains a cashier from the busy
market at 70 th Street and 3 rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are
practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse.
Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing
the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. "Why do they pay me on the card
if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make
purchases almost nowhere with this?" complains Marilin Ruiz, a former
elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for
the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing
recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with
another woman.

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to
collect their pensions. "I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about
$8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,"
explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age.
Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the
children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of
getting money before nightfall.

"We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using
plastic, now it is that we are trying it," laments Asuncion. The first
ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after
2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from
Madrid. "I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it
for my expenses." There are no public statistics about how many of the
country's residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit
cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative,
but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the
test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking
conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or
work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through
that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

"We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive
in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,"
says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits
in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank
branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco
Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were
partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks,
sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other
infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the
banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money "under the
mattress."
The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on
weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more
optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to
achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese
students who must, of course, pay in cash.
Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her
money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream
to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition
to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the
crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to
spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear
with the "out of service" announcement, nor was there a power outage
and, yes, the machine had cash.
Translated by MLK

Source: The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines -
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The Cuba-Iran-Venezuela Relationship: Implications for the United States*
[25-02-2015 06:23:26]
Jaime Suchlicki
Director del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos y Cubano-Americanos de la
Universidad de Miami

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- President Barack Obama's announcement on
December 17, 2014, about an improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations will
have little, if any, impact on General Raúl Castro's alliance with Iran,
Russia and Venezuela. The close relations that these countries have
developed with Cuba will not be affected. Their aid is not conditioned
on changes in Cuba. They share with Castro a virulent anti-Americanism.
They all share a belief that the world convergence of forces is moving
against the United States. Despite economic difficulties, Cuba is
unwilling to renounce these alliances and accept a role as a small
Caribbean country, friendly to the United States.
Since assuming formal power in Cuba in 2006 following Fidel Castro's
illness, General Raúl Castro has continued his close alliance with
Venezuela, Iran and China, and has expanded Cuba's military cooperation
with, and purchases from, Russia. Venezuela's vast purchases of Russian
and Chinese military equipment, the close Venezuela-Iran relationship
and the Cuba-Venezuela alliance are troublesome. Although it is not
known if Venezuela is transferring some of these weapons to Cuba,
Caracas remains an open back door for Cuba's acquisition of
sophisticated Russian weapons, as well as Cuba's principal financial
backer. The objectives of this alliance are to weaken "U.S. imperialism"
and to foster a world with several centers of power.

Given Cuba's military and intelligence presence in Venezuela, it is
likely that the Chavista revolution will continue its Cuban support.
Even at the current low prices for petroleum, Venezuela can continue,
with its vast resources, to help Cuba. Deliveries may be reduced from
the current 100,000-120,000 barrels daily to some 50,000-60,000, enough
to keep the Cuban economy afloat. A collapse of the Chavista revolution,
while unlikely at the present time, could lead to a curtailment of
Venezuelan oil. In that case, Cuba would have to look to other
allies--Russia, Iran, Angola--for help.

Cuba has renewed its military cooperation with Russia. Russia's economic
and diplomatic support are important to Cuba, especially if Russia's
support forces the United States to offer unilateral concessions to Cuba
beyond President Obama's executive order establishing diplomatic
relations with the island and particularly if the United States lifts
its embargo and allows American tourists to visit the island.

In 2014, Cuba and Russia signed agreements providing the Kremlin with
naval and aerial facilities in Cuba for the Russian military. Russia's
growing presence in the Caribbean, while not necessarily challenging the
U.S. militarily, allows for Russian power projection, forces the United
States to increase its defenses and monitoring capabilities on its
southern flank and reinforces the perception in Latin America and
elsewhere that the United States is being challenged in its own sphere
of influence by outside powers. This, in turn, further weakens American
influence in the region and encourages anti-American leaders to take
positions inimical to U.S. interests.

Enter Iran

After decades of expending military, financial and human resources in
support of a variety of Arab dictators, Islamic fundamentalist movements
and anti-Israeli terrorist organizations, (1) Havana recently has begun
to reap substantial returns on its long-term investment in the Middle
East. From Dubai to Tehran and via the Organization of Oil Exporting
Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, the political and ideological ties
cultivated by Fidel Castro's pro-Islamic foreign policy are now
generating tangible benefits for the successor regime of brother Raúl.
In the process of receiving nearly US$1.5 billion in foreign direct
investment, financing and aid from autocratic Muslim states, Cuba is
emerging as a strategic ally and outpost in the Western Hemisphere for a
wide range of Islamic regimes.

For Cuba, the infusion of Islamic capital strengthens the regime's
stability and diversifies the risk of economic collapse by adding a
fourth financial pillar alongside oil from Venezuela, bilateral trade
credits from China and Russia, and corporate capital from Canada, Latin
America and the European Union. As Cuba and its Islamic partners forge a
trans-Atlantic alliance of their own, what are the implications of the
increasingly free flow of trade and capital from the Persian Gulf to the
Caribbean?

Communist Cuba's alliance with the Iran of the Ayatollahs dates to 1979,
when Fidel Castro became one of the first heads of state to recognize
the Islamic Republic's radical clerics. Addressing then-Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Khomeini, Castro insisted that there was "no contradiction
between revolution and religion," an ecumenical principle that has
guided Cuba's relations with Iran and other Islamic regimes. (2) Over
the next two decades, Castro fostered a unique relationship between a
secular Communist Cuba and theocratic Iran, united by a common hatred of
the United States and the liberal, democratic West.

In the early 1990s, Havana started to export biopharmaceutical products
for the Iranian healthcare system. By the late 1990s, Cuba had moved
beyond pharmaceutical exports to transferring (licensing) both its
medical biotechnologies and, along with the technical know-how, implicit
capabilities to develop and manufacture industrial quantities of
biological weapons.(3) In addition to training Iranian scientists in
Cuba and sending Cuban scientists and technicians to Iran's research
centers, the Cuban state-run Center for Biotechnology and Genetic
Engineering established a joint-venture biotechnology production plant
near Tehran at a cost of US$60 million (Cuba provided the intellectual
capital and technology, and Iran the financing). With this facility,
Iran is believed to possess "the most modern biotechnology and genetic
engineering facility of its type in the Middle East."(4)

Geographically, Cuba's strategic location enabled Iran, on at least one
occasion, to clandestinely engage in electronic attacks against U.S.
telecommunications that posed a threat to the Islamic regime's control
and censorship. In the summer of 2003, Tehran blocked signals from a
U.S. satellite that was broadcasting uncensored Farsi-language news into
Iran at a time of rising unrest. Based on the location of the satellite
over the Atlantic, it would have been impossible for Iranian-based
transmissions to affect the satellite's signals. Ultimately, the jamming
was traced to a compound in the outskirts of Havana that had been
equipped with the advanced telecommunications technology capable of
disrupting the Los Angeles-based broadcaster's programming across the
Atlantic. It is well known that Cuba has continuously upgraded its
ability to block U.S. broadcasts to the island, and hence conceivably,
to jam international communications in general. Although the Cuban
government would later claim that Iranian diplomatic staff had operated
out of the compound without its consent, given that Cuba "[is] a fully
police state," as an Iran expert has noted, "it is difficult to believe
the Iranians had introduced the sophisticated jamming equipment into
Cuba without the knowledge of the Cuban authorities," much less utilized
it against U.S. targets without the knowledge of the Castro regime. (5)

For its solidarity and services to the Islamic Republic, Iran began
compensating the Cuban government directly. During the presidency of
Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Tehran offered Havana an initial
20-million euros annual credit line. (6) Then, following the election of
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the island emerged as a major beneficiary
of Tehran's foreign policy. Consequently, Iranian financing for Cuba
expanded exponentially from a modest 20 million euros in 2005 to 200
million euros for bilateral trade and investment projects in
2007. (7) At the same time, Havana was spearheading a campaign within
the Non-Aligned Movement to legitimize Iran's "peaceful" nuclear program
as an "inalienable right" of all developing nations. (8) In June 2008
Ahmadinejad approved a record 500-million euros credit for the Castro
regime. From Iran's perspective, Cuba deserves to be rewarded for its
"similarity in outlooks on international issues." (9)

In total, since 2005 Cuba has received the equivalent of over one
billion euros in credits from Tehran. With Islamic Republic financing,
Cuba has begun to make critical investments in the rehabilitation of
dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure. Iran is funding some 60 projects
ranging from the acquisition of 750 Iranian-made rail cars to the
construction of power plants, dams and highways.(10)

The election of Hassan Rouhani, the reduction in the price of oil and
Iran's involvement in the Middle East have precluded new credits to
Cuba. Yet the relationship, as evidenced by visits, cooperation in
international organizations and joint support for Venezuela, has continued.

Should Venezuela Worry the United States?

The emergence of an anti-American regime in Venezuela, first led by Hugo
Chávez and now, by Nicolás Maduro, represents the most important threat
to U.S. national interest and security in Latin America today.
Emboldened by Venezuela's vast oil resources and a close relationship
with Iran and Russia, Venezuela has laid claim to the leadership of the
anti-American movement in the region.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro's illness and Cuba's weak
economic situation thrust the leadership of the Latin American left onto
the Venezuelans. If Fidel was the godfather of
revolutionary/terrorist/anti-American groups, Chávez, and now Maduro,
are the trusted "capos," the heirs to "the struggle against Yankee
imperialism." Maduro's petroleum largesse toward several countries in
the region and his support for candidates in the Bolivian, Nicaraguan
and Ecuadorean elections are appreciated by leaders in these countries.

The Venezuelan Chavista leaders have no desire to relinquish power. They
have manipulated past elections, and will manipulate future ones, to be
re-elected for at least the next decade. They are increasingly deepening
their Bolivarian revolution by weakening and subverting Venezuela's
democratic institutions. In the process of consolidating their
authoritarian rule, they are now aiming their control at the
culture-conserving democratic institutions. The press, the church, the
education system and the family are all under attack in a relentless
move toward establishing a dictatorship loyal to the Chavista leadership.

Unhappiness with Maduro has grown in the past few years. Corruption,
drug trafficking, mismanagement and food shortages are all contributing
to social unrest. The possible increase of protests and tension may lead
to the replacement of Maduro. Yet the possibility of a total collapse of
the political system is less likely given the continuous support of
Cuba, the enrichment of the military in the drug business and the
weakness of the organized opposition.

Venezuela also threatens the democratic development of Latin America.
The Chávez regime purchased over $6 billion in Russian weapons. The
militarization of Venezuela and the ambitions of its current leader
represent a major threat to neighboring Colombia, which is currently
engaged in a peace process with the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas
Revolucionarias de Colombia). The border dispute between Guyana and
Venezuela also offers Venezuela an opportunity to flex its muscle with a
much weaker neighbor.

At best, Venezuela's weapon purchases are leading to an arms race in the
region, with Colombia acquiring U.S. weapons and Brazil turning to
France. Other countries, such as Ecuador and Peru, are also spending
their much-needed resources in the acquisition of weapons. A coalition
of Venezuela with its allies Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and naturally
Cuba has developed into a club of well-armed, anti-American regimes
capable of intimidating its neighbors and exercising significant
influence in the region.

As recent evidence has shown, Venezuela and Cuba have been strong
supporters of the FARC. The principal challenger to the Colombian
regime, the FARC is a guerrilla/narcotrafficking group operating
throughout the country. Venezuela has provided it safe haven and
political support. High-profile FARC operatives have used Venezuelan
territory with impunity. In the past, small arms from Venezuelan
military inventories have turned up in the hands of the FARC. FARC
guerillas and drug smugglers use Venezuelan territory for the
transshipment of drugs from the cocaine-producing regions of Bolivia and
Colombia to the markets in the United States and Europe. According to a
Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, cocaine flowing through
Venezuela grew fourfold (from 60 to 260 metric tons) between 2004 and
2007. (11)

Venezuela's alliance with the FARC has evolved into a major enterprise,
smuggling narcotics and laundering money through Venezuela's financial
institutions and state-run enterprises. Simultaneously, Venezuela ended
all U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operations, expelled U.S.
DEA officials and denied visas to U.S. anti-drug personnel. As Colombia
has taken the upper hand in its conflict with the guerrillas in the last
five to six years, FARC narcotics operations have been flushed out in
the open – as has Venezuela's complicity in these criminal activities.

Given the recent drop in the price of petroleum, Venezuela may be
turning to other ways of obtaining much needed resources. During the
past decade, the Grupo de los Soles, an elite Venezuelan military unit,
has been engaged in close relationships with the Colombian drug cartels
to transport Colombian drugs to the United States and Europe. That
effort may be redoubled in the near future.

In December 2014, Leamsy Salazar, security chief of Diosdado Cabello,
president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, defected to the United
States. Salazar accused Cabello of being the head of the Cártel de los
Soles. An indictment against Venezuela issued by the attorney general of
New York, claims that five tons of drugs are being transshipped weekly
from Colombia through Venezuela. The indictment also accuses Cuba of
protecting and helping the Venezuelans in bringing the drug to the
United States.(12)

Venezuela and Iran

The most remarkable and dangerous foreign policy initiative of the
Venezuelan regime has been its alliance with Iran. During the past
several years, the Venezuelans have allowed Iran the use of their
territory to penetrate the Western Hemisphere and to mine for uranium in
Venezuela. Venezuela's policy is aiding Iran in developing nuclear
technology and in evading U.N. sanctions and U.S. vigilance of Iran's
drug trade and other illicit activities. Venezuela's Mining and Basic
Industries minister, Rodolfo Sanz, acknowledged that Iran is "helping
Venezuela to explore for uranium." "Venezuela will soon start the
process of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" he added,
"not to build a bomb." (13) Chávez officially stated that Iran has a
legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports
Iran's nuclear technology." (14)

The concern is not necessarily that Venezuela will build its own nuclear
bomb. What, for example, would stop the Iranians, once they develop
their own weapons, from providing some to their close ally in Caracas?
Or worse, will the Iranians use Venezuela as a transshipment point to
provide nuclear weapons to terrorist groups in the hemisphere or
elsewhere? Or with the help of Venezuelans, would the Iranians smuggle a
nuclear weapon into the United States?

Given Maduro's erratic and irresponsible behavior such as his
mismanagement of the economy, his squandering of Venezuela's resources,
and his support of Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, these
possibilities should not be dismissed lightly. Not too long ago, Fidel
Castro helped the Soviet Union surreptitiously introduce nuclear weapons
into Cuba aimed at the United States. The October 1962 missile crisis is
a grim reminder that poor U.S. vigilance, a daring leader in the
Caribbean and a reckless dictator in Russia almost brought the world to
a nuclear holocaust.

Since 2004, Iran has created an extensive network of installations
throughout Venezuela. Most of these installations are designed to
provide cover for illegal and subversive activities and to aid terrorist
organizations in Latin America and the Middle East.(15) The Venezuelan
government established a binational Iranian-Venezuelan bank, an alliance
between the Banco Industrial de Venezuela and Iran's Development and
Export Bank, and facilitated the formation of an entirely Iranian-owned
bank, the Banco Internacional de Desarrollo. It also created a
binational investment and development fund and opened Iranian commercial
bank offices in Caracas. (16) These banks are being used for money
laundering and to help Iran violate U.S. sanctions.

In September 2014, Venezuela and Iran launched their eighth Joint
Commission intended to deepen cooperation between their two nations.
Venezuelan officials say this high-level commission will focus on
improving ties in different sectors including culture, sports,
education, industry, science and technology, health, energy, agriculture
and trade. Tehran and Caracas currently have more than 260 agreements.
The two countries also are involved in around 40 joint projects under
development in the oil sector and in 2012 they signed a slew of new
deals aimed at improving joint scientific research and agricultural
cooperation. (17) Iran's President Hassan Rouhani emphasized that the
relations between the two countries "need to increase to the highest
possible level." (18)

The Iranians have acquired "industrial" installations throughout
Venezuelan territory, including a "tractor" factory in the State of
Bolivar, a "cement" plant in Monagas, a car assembly plant in Aragua and
a bicycle factory in Cojedes. Some of these installations are used
primarily as warehouses for the storage of illegal drugs, weapons and
other items useful to Iran and its terrorist clients. In addition, the
Islamic Republic bought a gold mine in Bolivar that indeed produces
gold, but also produces uranium. (19) As part of a mineral survey in
Guyana, U308 Corp, a Canadian uranium exploration company, in 2007
recorded a substantial source of uranium in the Roraima Basin, which
straddles the border between Guyana and Bolívar. Iranian companies
operate mines in this region; at least two of these facilities have
their own ports on the navigable Orinoco River through which uranium and
other contraband can be smuggled to the Atlantic.

Iran is also providing Venezuela technical assistance in the areas of
defense, intelligence, energy and security. Iranians, as well as Cuban
personnel, are advising, protecting and training Venezuela's security
apparatus. Cuba is also handling the issuance of Venezuelan passports
and other identity documents. This gives Cuba the ability to provide
false documents to Iranian and Cuban agents to travel throughout the
world as Venezuelan citizens. A close relationship among the three
countries, with a clear anti-American tone, has developed. This triple
alliance represents a clear threat to U.S. security interests and to the
security of several countries in Latin America.

Of more strategic significance is the possibility that Iranian
scientists are enriching uranium in Venezuela for shipment to Iran.
Venezuelan sources have confirmed this possibility. Foreign intelligence
services consulted by the author acknowledged these rumors but are
unable to confirm them. If confirmed, these actions would violate UN
sanctions as well as U.S. security measures.

U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela

Since the initial years of the Cuban Revolution, no regime in Latin
America has challenged the national security interests of the United
States like Venezuela. Venezuela's close relationship with Iran, its
support for Iranian nuclear ambitions and its involvement in the affairs
of neighboring countries all pose a major challenge to the United States.

U.S. policy has either ignored or mildly chastised Venezuela for its
policies and activities. Removing visas for Venezuelan officials to
enter the United States or highlighting Venezuela's involvement in the
drug trade may not be enough. The United States needs to develop
policies that undermine the Venezuela regime, organize the opposition
and accelerate the end of Chavista rule. Covert operations to strengthen
opposition groups and civil society are urgently needed. Vigilance and
denunciation of Venezuelan-Iranian activities and Maduro's meddling in
Latin America are critical to gain international support for U.S. policies.

While regime change in Venezuela may be a difficult policy objective,
U.S. policy makers need to understand that the long-term consolidation
of Chavista power in Venezuela may present a greater threat than the one
posed in the 1960s by the Castro regime. Unlike Cuba, Venezuela is a
large country that borders on several South American neighbors. Its
alliances with Iran, Syria and other anti-American countries and its
support for terrorist groups, while representing a smaller threat, are
as formidable a challenge as the Cuba-Soviet alliance.

A comprehensive, alert policy is required to deal with the threat posed
by Iranian inroads in the hemisphere. Maduro is, after all, Fidel
Castro's disciple and heir in the region. The lessons of the Missile
Crisis of 1962 should increase our uneasiness about Venezuela's policies
and Iranian motivations in Latin America.

(1) Cf. Domingo Amuchastegui, "Cuba in the Middle East: A Brief
Chronology," and "Castro and Terrorism: A Chronology." Cuba Focus (Issue
57), July 29, 2004.

(2) Fidel Castro cited in Damián J. Fernández, "Cuba's Foreign Policy in
the Middle East" (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), p. 86.

(3) Cf. José de la Fuente, "Wine into vinegar — the fall of Cuba's
biotechnology," Nature Biotechnology, October 2001 (Vol. 19, Num. 11).
(4) See Cuba Transition Project, "Cuban Foreign Policy in the Middle
East: A Cuba-Iran Axis?" Cuba Focus (Issue 55), June 7, 2014,
http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/FOCUS_Web/Issue55.html.
(5) Safa Haeri, "Cuba blows the whistle on Iranian jamming, "Asia Times
(Hong Kong), August 22, 2003,
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EH22Ak03.html
(6) Raisa Pages, "Iran grants Cuba 20-million euro credit," Granma
Internacional (Cuba), January 17, 2005,
http://blythe-systems.com/pipermail/nytr/Week-of-Mon-20050117/012103.html.
(7) IRNA, "Iran, Cuba sign investment, trade MoU," Tehran, April 24, 2006.
(8) Cf. "NAM backs Iran's right to nuclear technology," Tehran Times,
August 2, 2008, http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=174294.
(9) Fars News Agency, "Iran, Cuba Sign Trade MoU," Tehran, June 20,
2008, http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8703310656.
(10) IRNA, "Envoy: Arak Pars Wagon has big share in Iran-Cuba
exchanges," Arak, Iran, August 15, 2007.
(11) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Report to Ranking Members,
Committee of Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, Drug Control: U.S.
Counternarcotics Cooperation Has Declined, 111th Congress, 1st
Sess. Washington D.C., July, 2009.

(12) "Jefe de seguridad del número dos Chavista deserta en los EE.UU. y
lo acusa de narcotráfico." ABC.es Internacional, January 27, 2015.
(13) Gustavo Coronel, "The Iran Nuclear Axis," Human Events, October 29,
2009.
(14) "Venezuela-Iran Foreign Relations," IranTracker. May 12, 2010.
(15) See Norman A. Bailey, "Iran's Venezuelan Gateway," The American
Foreign Policy Council, February 2012.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Press TV (Caracas), September 27, 2014.

(18) IRNA, September 24, 2014.

(19) Roger F. Noriega "Hugo Chávez's Criminal, Nuclear Network: A Grave
and Growing Threat," American Enterprise Institute On Line, October 14,
2009.


*Prepared for the Center for Hemispheric Policy's paper series,
"Perspectives on the Americas." University of Miami. February 2015.

Source: The Cuba-Iran-Venezuela Relationship: Implications for the
United States* - Misceláneas de Cuba -
http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/Article/Index/54ed5c4e3a682e05601b20d2#.VO27nvnF9HE Continue reading
McCaskill says Cuban officials worried after embargo lifted
BY LINDSAY WISE MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
02/23/2015 7:17 PM 02/23/2015 7:17 PM

WASHINGTON
The Castro regime is busy trying to tamp down sky-high expectations
among Cubans eager for a closer relationship with the U.S., Sen. Claire
McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters after a trip to the communist-run
Caribbean island.

The Democratic senator was among the first lawmakers to visit Cuba after
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in
December that the two countries would move to normalize relations.

"I think most Cubans really did feel like it was a turning of a page,"
McCaskill said Monday in a conference call with reporters. "They see
this opening as a way they can build on positive reforms."

That reaction apparently has made the Cuban government a little nervous,
the senator said.

"We heard some concerns by some that there were some in the Cuban
government working against this in spite of the fact that Raúl Castro
had made this announcement, that there were some doubters," McCaskill said.

She said she asked Cuba's foreign minister "point blank" over lunch:
"Are there people in the government who are working against this?"

He reassured her, saying, "There is no important government official
that I am aware of that is opposed to us going down this path."

Only time will tell, McCaskill said.

"The Cuban government has used our lack of relationship with them and
the embargo as an excuse for a lack of prosperity and progress in Cuba,"
McCaskill said. "It's a phony excuse, but it's an excuse that has been
fed to the Cuban people decade after decade."

That's why the Cuban people are so excited, she said.

"I think the government is worried," McCaskill said, "because they know
they've used this embargo as their excuse and once its gone, they have
no more excuses."

It's clear the 50-year-old embargo on trade with Cuba needs to end,
McCaskill said. She said she'll support the Freedom to Export to Cuba
Act, a bill that would lift the embargo that was introduced by Sen. Amy
Klobuchar, D-Minn. Klobuchar and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., traveled with
McCaskill to Cuba.

The bill has a few Republican co-sponsors but faces a battle in
Congress, where impassioned opponents include Cuban American Sens. Marco
Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., as well as Florida Republican
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart.

McCaskill said lobbying from agriculture and business interests will be
key if the bill is to have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled
Congress.

"I won't say all the agriculture interests in my state are Republican,
but I think the majority of them are," McCaskill said. "Certainly the
farm bureau is a Republican organization. I think the sooner the
agriculture interests put pressure on some of the Republican members of
the House, the quicker they will be able to get this passed."

The senator's visit was arranged by the Center for Democracy in the
Americas, a nonprofit group that advocates for lifting the embargo and
previously has paid for members of Congress to travel to Cuba. McCaskill
and her developer husband, Joseph Shepard, who accompanied her on the
trip, paid their own way.

McCaskill said the trip was a way for her to assess how farmers and
other businesses in her state might benefit from opening Cuban markets
to U.S. agricultural products.

Before traveling, she met with trade groups representing Missouri
producers of rice, pork, soybeans, corn and poultry. She also met with
Cuba's top representative in the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, the
chief of mission at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

In Cuba, McCaskill, Klobuchar and Warner met with Cuban government
officials and diplomats from Europe and Asia, as well as ordinary small
business owners, farmers, artists and religious leaders.

"The warmth and affection from the Cuban people was palpable," McCaskill
said.

McCaskill said she was able to speak to some Cuban citizens without any
Cuban government officials present, including hip hop artists who told
her they had produced songs about racism and other problems in Cuba.

"People were very forthright about their frustrations with the Cuban
government and their dreams and hopes for the future for their
families," she said.

McCaskill did not meet with any members of Cuba's dissident movement,
but she stressed that her support for lifting the embargo doesn't mean
she's selling out Cuba's dissidents in return for potential trade
opportunities.

"There is nothing about me wanting a market for Missouri agriculture in
Cuba that means I don't oppose human rights violations by the Cuban
government," she said.

There's precedent for the U.S. to cultivate relationships and deals with
countries "that don't live up to our standards" in terms of human
rights, she added, citing China as an example.

The senator posted photos to her Instagram account showing classic
American cars on the streets of Cuba and documenting her stops at an
individually owned farm, a church where she attended Mass and a Jewish
synagogue in Havana. The synagogue had an arch that made her miss St.
Louis, McCaskill said.

And yes, McCaskill and her husband did buy some Cuban cigars, at about
$10 a pop.

Email: lwise@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lindsaywise.

Source: McCaskill says Cuban officials worried after embargo lifted |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -
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