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The Cuban Adjustment Act and Future Emigrants / Ivan Garcia
Posted on January 30, 2015

One of the few Havanans not happy with the historic agreements of
December 17th between President Obama and General Raul Castro was
Dagoberto, a guy approaching forty who got out of jail six months ago
after serving a six-year sentence for marijuana possession.

"I have family in la yuma (US), but because of my drug possession record
I don't qualify for the family reunification program. My only option is
to throw myself into the sea and make it to the Mexican border," he said
while drinking a Corona beer in a Havana bar.

A couple of times in 2014, Dagoberto tried to reach the United States.
"The first time the American Coast Guard intercepted me. I spent $3,000
to buy a motor and gas and with a group of friends we prepared a wooden

"The second time I boarded a plane for Ecuador. But customs in Quito
sent me back to Cuba. It's rumored that with the new policy, the
Adjustment Act's days are numbered, for people who plan to leave on a
raft or enter through a third country. I have to hurry if I want to get
to the North."

In a park in Vedado, two blocks from the United States Interests Section
(USIS) in Cuba, where from the early hours in the morning people line up
for visas, the topic of discussion is the Cuban Adjustment Act.

In the past two years, Ihosvany has been denied a visa four times. But
he keeps trying. "A cousin in Orlando invited me and they denied me a
tourist visa. Now I'm doing the paperwork to leave for family
reunification, to see if I have more luck."

USIS consular officials insist that for those people who want to travel
or emigrate to the United States, the strategy of applying over and over
for a visa is not the best.

Yulia, desperate to leave the country, openly ignores them. In a house
near USIS, she fills out the paperwork to take to the consulate again.
"Three times they've told me no. We are going to see if the fourth time
is lucky, because a friend in Chicago got me into a university program.
If what they say is true, that the Adjustment Act will be repealed in
2015, there will be another Mariel Boatlift. There are tens of thousands
of people who want to leave Cuba."

Every year, the Interests Section awards more than 20,000 visas under
the Family Reunification program. In the last 20 years, about half a
million people have left the Island through the migration accords signed
by Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro in 1994.

But demand exceeds supply. Those who don't have relatives or spouses
resort to any trick or simply opt to launch themselves into the
turbulent waters of the Florida Straits in a rubber raft.

In an attempt to discourage the worrying growth in illegal journeys from
the Island, the US authorities have reiterated that the immigration
policy and the Coast Guard operations will continue without changes and
insist that only Congress can repeal the current laws on Cuban refugees.

The Coast Guard issued a government warning, after an unprecedented
growth in the illegal flow of emigrants from Cuba during the second half
of December and the first days of January, coinciding with President
Barack Obama's announcement of the normalization of relations with Havana.

According to analysts in the United States, the steps taken by Obama
don't alter the Cuban Adjustment Act and it is not a priori in danger of
being repealed by a presidential act. It is a Federal law, Public Law
89-732/1966, approved by the U.S. 89th Congress. Being a public and
general interest law — unlike a "Private Laws" — it can only be amended,
revised or revoked by the Congress of the United States of America.

But the Cuban rafters appear to have deaf ears. A total of 890 Cubans
have been intercepted in the Straits of Florida and in the Caribbean
zone, or have managed to make it to the U.S. coast since the beginning
of the 2015 Fiscal Year, last October 1. Of them, 577 have done so
during December and the first days of January in an escalation that has
set off alarms in Washington and Miami.

After Obama's announcement, the Cuban side captured 421 people at sea.
Everything seems to indicate that the flow could increase.
Cuban-American members of Congress and Senators are questioning the
letter and spirit of the law.

Many Cubans say they are politically persecuted and so they flee,
invoking this when they decide to seek asylum in the United States. But
in a few months they return to Cuba, as tourists. Incongruities that are
difficult to explain.

A majority of Cubans, on both shores, demanded the normalization of
relations with the United States and the end of the embargo. But,
according to a recent survey conducted by Florida International
University, 85% of Cuban-Americans in south Florida favor the
continuation of the Adjustment Act. Even among the generation that left
Cuba between 1959 and 1962, only 36% favor its elimination, while 64%
are opposed.

It doesn't look like a winner. If the relationship between the
governments goes down the path of good neighbors, the White House will
have no reason to give special treatment to Cuban citizens.

If the Adjustment Act was created to legalize the status of thousands of
Cubans who fled from the Castro autocracy, then it should be applied
that way. And Cubans who take shelter under this law, should only be
able to travel to the Island in exceptional cases. Not to spend time
with their families or have a beer with friends in the neighborhood.

This is privilege enjoyed by no other citizen in the world, to settle in
the United States. Either the laws are abided by or their existence
makes no sense.

Iván García

Photo: One of the lines that forms daily outside the United States
Interest Section in Cuba to request visas. Taken from "Voice of America."

20 January 2015

Source: The Cuban Adjustment Act and Future Emigrants / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Globalia proyecta un macrocomplejo en Cuba con hotel, chalés y golf
Actualizado 30 enero, 2015

Juan José Hidalgo, presidente de Globalia, se ha reunido en Fitur con el
ministro cubano de turismo, Manuel Marrero, a quien le une "una amistad
personal desde hace muchos años" y, tras ello, ha anunciado un tercer
hotel en la isla caribeña. También Meliá abrirá en los próximos meses en
Cuba el mayor hotel de todo su portafolio, el Meliá Jardines del Rey.

El proyecto de Globalia no se limita a un establecimiento hotelero.
También contará con un campo de golf y una zona residencial de alto
standing. Todo ello está previsto como un enorme complejo en Selimar,
localidad costera a 15 kilómetros de La Habana que cuenta con una de las
mayores playas cercanas a la capital.

"Llevamos veinte años en Cuba y estamos creciendo, vamos a seguir
incrementando nuestra operativa. Tendremos este tercer hotel, pero
seguimos explorando la posbilididad de buscar más", ha declarado Hidalgo
a la prensa regional desplazada a Madrid.

Aprovechando el encuentro con el Gobierno cubano, el empresario
salmantino ha propuesto un acuerdo entre su aerolínea, Air Europa, y la
isleña Cubana de Aviación. A colación, ha dicho: «Queremos llegar al
máximo de acuerdos en materia aérea, aportando nuestra experiencia
internacional y know how como aerolínea turística», informa Última Hora.

Meliá Hotels International, por su parte, ultima la apertura del Meliá
Jardines del Rey en la cayería norte de la provincia cubana de Ciego de
Ávila. Tendrá 1.176 habitaciones y será el establecimiento más grande de
la hotelera de la familia Escarrer, que controla el 39% de la cuota de
mercado en Cuba.

También Iberostar tiene intención de invertir en la isla tras la mejora
de relaciones con los EE.UU. "Aprovecharemos las oportunidades de
expansión que allí se nos presenten", ha dicho el CEO EMEA Aurelio
Vázquez. Mientras, en Barceló, su consejero delegado, Raúl González, ha
manifestado: "Cuba es terriblemente interesante, lo tiene todo para ser
un gran destino en el Caribe".

El Grupo Piñero ha descartado regresar a Cuba hasta que pueda ser
propietario al 100% de un hotel para su marca Bahía Príncipe, al tiempo
que Riu Hotels ha anunciado su retirada, cansada también del modelo
impuesto por los Castro. Por su parte, Palladium Hotel Group también
rechaza implantarse en la isla cubana por el mismo motivo que Piñero,
quiere tener los hoteles en propiedad.

Source: Globalia proyecta un macrocomplejo en Cuba con hotel, chalés y
golf | Noticias de Agencias de viajes, rss2 | Revista de turismo - Continue reading
Cubans risking lives for the 'American Dream'
Al Jazeera

It was 3:00am, dark outside, and nobody on the streets.
And it was the perfect moment for Abel Mesa, 22, to risk his young life
to try to reach the United States.
He had been preparing for this day.
When he wasn't working as a waiter, he spent much of his free time in a
garage near his house secretly building a makeshift raft out of rubber
tubes that line the inside of tractor tires.
He has been discussing this day with his girlfriend, who said she'd go
with him. They planned to make it to the US, find work, settle down, and
make a better life for themselves.
"Life is tough in Cuba," he said. "We work a lot but make little money."
New life
Mesa stepped out of his bedroom quietly so as to not wake anybody in his
house which he shared with his parents.
His mum knew he was building a raft, but he didn't give her any advance
warning as to when he was going for fear she would be so scared it could
affect her health.
"At that moment I felt a little sadness because I was leaving my family
in Cuba," he said. "But I wanted a new life, to get [to the US] and help
my family that is behind in Cuba."
That morning he met up with his girlfriend and four other members of her
Not wanting to be spotted by police, they carried the raft as fast as
they could until they reached the beach.
"We arrived at the beach, took off our shoes and changed clothes, pushed
the raft into the water, got on top, and then started to row," he said.
In Cuba it is illegal for private citizens to own outboard boat motors
without authorisation precisely to try to limit the number of people who
make the short, but dangerous,144km journey to Florida.
They each had a backpack with snacks and a change of clothes stuffed
inside. Abel also had a hand held compass. The plan: Keep rowing, follow
the compass, in two days and two nights spot Florida, and make a final
mad dash to land.
Once Cubans step foot on US soil they are not deported, and can apply
for residency after 12 months, under a special policy the US only grants
to Cubans. But if they are intercepted before they make landfall, they
are usually deported.
Last year alone, the US coastguard intercepted more than 5,000 Cubans
trying to reach the US by raft. Thousands more avoid detection and make
it to the US each year.
Doomed trip
The Cuban government has long said the US policy only encourages Cubans
to make the dangerous journey, putting lives at risk.
Havana is pressing the US to drop the policy as part of ongoing talks to
re-start diplomatic relations, however so far the US has refused.
As for Abel, he thought he had prepared for everything for the journey,
but was doomed by something out of his control: the weather.
"For two days we were rowing, but it rained and there was thunder," he
said. "There were a lot of dangers to pass to reach our destination."
Unexpected ocean currents pushed his raft back to Cuba before he could
make it to the US. As he drifted back to his homeland, he was picked up
by the Cuban coastguard, forced to pay a fine, and released.
It is only after three unsuccessful attempts to make the water journey
to Florida that Cubans are put in jail.
Now back in Cuba, when asked about the new diplomatic talks between his
country and the US, Abel shrugged his shoulders. He's impatient for change.
"These relations are between [governments]," he said. "I want to go, I
don't want to wait. I think some things will be better, some not, who
Finally he was asked if he planned to try the risky journey again.
"If I find another raft that is in good enough condition and I think I
can make it, I'll try again," he said, with little hesitation.
"I could lose my life doing it," he said. "But I could also make it."

Source: Cubans risking lives for the 'American Dream' - Yahoo Maktoob
News - Continue reading
Cuba Expert: Obama Might Give Guantanamo to Russians
Thursday, 29 Jan 2015 04:38 PM
By Sean Piccoli

President Barack Obama's eagerness to cut deals with Cuba at almost any
cost could yield a "strategic disaster" in which the Russian military
winds up controlling Guantanamo Bay, Cuba scholar Jaime Suchlicki told
"MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV Thursday.

The historic re-start of diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba ordered
by Obama does not alter the fact that the communist nation's rulers
neither want nor feel they need improved relations with the United
States, said Suchlicki, director of the Cuban Institute at the
University of Miami.

Just look at all the demands issued by Cuban leader Raul Castro, said
Suchlicki: a handover of Guantanamo Bay; embargo reparations to the tune
of $2.5 trillion, and no U.S. "interference" in Cuban policies at home
or abroad.

"If they were interested in helping the Cuban people they would've done
a deal with the United States many years ago," said Suchlicki. "Neither
[previous Cuban leader] Fidel [Castro] nor Raul are really interested in
better relations with the United States."

The Castros want concessions, not relations, he said, and Raul is
"raising the bar so high that he's going to preclude any normalization."

How much Obama will indulge him should be a concern, said Suchlicki,
alluding to a prisoner swap that freed Cuban spies — a deal that even
Hillary Clinton said she opposed as Obama's Secretary of State.

On reparations, "Raul Castro is talking about $50 billion for the 50
years of the embargo," said Suchlicki, adding, "that's nonsense, and I
don't think the U.S. will pay that."

But on another key demand, "giving away Guantanamo — this president is
liable to do that," he said of Obama.
Special: GMO Food: It's Worse Than We Thought . . .
Castro, in turn, would "probably" turn the territory over to Russia as a
naval base.

Pressed by Berliner on this scenario, with its overtones of the Cuban
missile crisis, Suchlicki said, "I don't know what the president can get
away with," meaning the political limits, if any, on Obama's willingness
to placate Castro.

"My concern is that Guantanamo is one of the deepest bases in the
Caribbean — ideal for submarines," he said. "And if Cuba were to turn
that base [over] to the Russians, or tell the Russians that they can use
that base, it would be a strategic disaster for the United States."

From Cuba's point of view, shunning the U.S. despite the overture from
Obama after a half century of mutual hostility is not a tactical
mistake, said Suchlicki.

"The point here is that [former Cuban leader] Fidel Castro is an ally of
Venezuela, Iran, Russia and China," he said. "So for Cuba, the United
States is not important. What is important is the [connection] with
those countries that provide significant amounts of aid without any
condition and without requesting anything."

Between the money Cuba brings in from tourism, remittances from Cubans
working abroad and a thriving export market for Cuba's well-regarded
medical professionals, the Castro brothers are convinced they can still
continue on as they please, and maintain absolute political control, no
matter what the U.S. says, said Suchlicki.

Raul Castro is also betting that American tourists will bring in more
money, that petro-state allies Venezuela and Russia will continue to
supply crude even through the worldwide plunge in oil prices, and that
other countries including China will keep aid coming, he said.

Castro also wants military weaponry, and Russia will give it to him,
said Suchlicki.

Nor is it time to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of
state sponsors of terrorism, he said, even though Obama probably will.
Special: Does Obama Belong to This Secret Society? (Shocking)
"I'm almost sure that they're going to get Cuba out of the terrorist
list, despite the fact that Cuba harbors terrorists, supports Hezbollah
and Hamas," he said. "It's an ally of Iran, so I don't think Cuba should
be removed, but the president and Secretary [of State John] Kerry have
indicated that they're willing to give Raul Castro another concession."

Naval base in Cuba would be Russia's best response to US hawks - English -

Source: Obama Might Give Guantanamo to Russians, Cuba Expert Tells
Newsmax TV - Continue reading
In Havana, a renovation in marble — and maybe in spirit, too
By Nick Miroff January 30 at 10:40 AM

HAVANA — Like any revolution, the one that upended this island 56 years
ago tried to break with the past by burying symbols of the old political

None stood larger than the resplendent Cuban capitol building, "El
Capitolio," that towers over the heart of Old Havana and was inspired by
the U.S. Capitol in Washington. To Fidel Castro and his rebel followers,
the Capitolio's opulence and grandeur reeked of waste and wannabe

Castro took power in 1959 and dissolved Congress, emptying the
Capitolio's soaring marble and granite halls. The building, too, was
demoted, repurposed as the new headquarters of the humble science
ministry. Just 30 years after its completion, Cuba's grand temple of
democracy and patriotism was virtually abandoned to the bats and the dust.

Today the building is undergoing a rehabilitation that is not only
physical but symbolic too. Its landmark dome — slightly taller than the
one in Washington — is draped in safety netting. Hundreds of Cuban
laborers are busy preparing the Capitolio for a return this year to its
original purpose, as the home of Cuba's legislative branch.

"After the Revolution, co-habitation with a structure of the past was
impossible," said Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal, whose office is in
charge of renovating the building, as well as countless other faded
architectural wonders throughout the city's long-neglected historic core.

"The time has come for the Capitolio to reclaim the great symbolism that
it was built for," said Leal in an interview.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has insisted his country's one-party system
is not up for negotiation, even as the United States and Cuba move to
restore diplomatic relations.

But in a quieter way, his decision to re-occupy the Capitolio is at
least a symbolic step toward a potentially different relationship
between Cuba's government and its citizens.

Cuba's lawmaking body, the National Assembly of People's Power, has long
been a rubber-stamp legislature that typically convenes twice a year,
voting unanimously to approve a top-down agenda with no debate or dissent.

The 614-member body meets in the Havana Convention Center, the Palco,
set in a remote, heavily guarded suburb that is almost entirely removed
from ordinary Cuban life.

Making the Capitolio the legislature's headquarters once more places it
right back in the throbbing, crowded heart of the city, adjacent to some
of Havana's poorest neighborhoods.

It is as Cuba's forefathers intended. Work on the Capitolio began in
1926, after previous attempts to erect a capitol building failed or were
abandoned. President Gerardo Machado ordered the palatial structure
built on the swampy site of the city's old railway station. The Cuban
Treasury was flush with sugar money.

An American firm with an extensive portfolio on the island, Purdy and
Henderson, was hired to execute the project, along with Cuban architects
and some of Europe's most famous designers and craftsman. The building
took 5,000 workers, $17 million and just three years to complete, a feat
that is still used to chastise today's notoriously less-efficient Cuban
construction crews.

No expense was spared. Framing the Capitolio's grand entrance are twelve
massive stone columns, each five feet thick, and two 21-foot bronze
figures representing Work and Virtue, by the Italian sculptor Angelo
Zanelli. Inside, under the soaring steel-and-stone dome, is Zanelli's
48-foot bronze Statue of the Republic, an Athena-like female figure
plated in gold that weighs 30 tons and remains one of the largest indoor
statues in the world.

Directly beneath the dome was a giant 24-carat diamond set into the
floor to mark the zero-kilometer for Cuba's national highway system.
According to Cuban lore, the gem once sat in the crown of Russian czar
Nicholas II.

The splendor didn't end there. The main hall, The Hall of Lost Steps, is
so called because its arched ceiling is so high and so ornate that it
muffles any echo from footsteps. Sculpted bronze panels depicting Greek
classical scenes and key episodes of Cuban history are everywhere. The
main library — dedicated to national hero Jose Marti — is paneled from
floor to ceiling in three stories of mahogany and cedar, beneath four
one-ton Tiffany chandeliers.

"Still smells like a cigar box," said Marilyn Mederos, the chief
architect for the rehabilitation project, offering a behind-the-scenes
tour of the restoration effort. "Even after all these years."

The Capitolio's extravagance has made it difficult and costly to
renovate, and Leal declined to give a cost estimate. But much of the
building remains in good shape. The rehabilitation work is projected to
continue until 2017, but the City Historian's office said it will
re-open parts of the structure to guided tours this year to allow
visitors to see progress made so far.

On the lower floors one recent day, crews winched out corroded 1920s
electrical cables as thick as a baseball bat. In workshops along the
roof, students in gloves and safety goggles scrubbed grime from bronze
door fixtures using acid-dipped brushes. Hard-hat workers on ropes
power-washed the exterior granite walls until they glowed white again.

The building is not a copy of the U.S. Capitol. Though the domes are
similar, the two structures are different in shape. The older U.S.
Capitol, whose dome was completed in 1866 and is now under repair, is
slightly larger and more angular.

Cuba's Capitolio was also designed as a bicameral structure, but it's
more of a monolith, with rounded ends and several interior patios meant
to circulate air in the stifling Caribbean heat.

The two structures are siblings in spirit, though, built as
awe-inspiring shrines to New World democracy that could rival the
greatest European cathedrals and palaces.

Cuba's pride in the building was not universal. In 1933, with the
country dragged into the Great Depression along with the United States,
an angry crowd rioting on the Capitolio steps directed its rage at the
bronze bas-relief door panel depicting Machado, who had turned
increasingly despotic. They chiseled off his face.

"But it should be noted," Leal said, "they left all the other panels alone."

By the 1950s, many Cubans had come to resent the building, viewing it as
a white elephant of corruption and misplaced priorities in a country
with just one university and too many living in poverty.

As his crews work to restore the building, Leal, too, has tried to
rehabilitate the Capitolio's legacy. He notes that the Cuban
Constitution of 1940 — widely considered a high-water mark for Cuban
democracy — was signed in the building.

Leal is also preparing a ceremony next year that will dedicate the Tomb
of the Unknown Mambi, honoring the 19th-century independence fighters
who rose up against Spanish colonialism with little more than machetes
and old muskets.

The original intent of the Capitolio's designers was for the building to
edify Cuban patriotism by glorying its founding fathers, and today those
19th-century figures, especially Jose Marti, remain sacred to both sides
of the Castro-era ideological divide.

It is not hard to imagine that they could some day play a unifying role
again. The Capitolio's cavernous halls should be large enough even for a
reconciliation of that magnitude.

"For me, what it represents is the possibility for Cubans to make things
that are beautiful, that are great," said Marisol Marrero, the project's
chief civil engineer. "It shows what the Cuban people have done, and are
capable of doing in the future."

Nick Miroff is a Latin America correspondent for The Post, roaming from
the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to South America's southern cone. He has
been a staff writer since 2006.

Source: In Havana, a renovation in marble — and maybe in spirit, too -
The Washington Post - Continue reading
Tourism was Cuba's way out of lean times
It's anybody's guess how locals will handle changing relationship with US
Sat, Jan 31, 2015, 01:00

Cuba's new tourism was the child of despair.
For most Cubans, malnutrition is no distant memory. Its sugar economy
went south overnight after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The loss of its
Russian "sugar daddy" subsidy triggered years of shortages. Public
transport was – and remains – elderly and groaning. Prostitution
returned in force.
Things have loosened since Raul Castro took over in 2006, even over the
last two years. But at the drop of a hat, Cubans tell you about the
1990s "Special Period," when they starved. "I went to bed with a job but
awoke with sugared water for food."
Or "Luckily, I found a pig and ojalá, she had piglets."
Without oil, horses were a rural family's lifeline. They still dominate
the roads as hardworking family retainers, sometimes in quirky hats.
Tourism was the only answer. As former president Fidel Castro once said,
Cuba has it all: bays, beaches, mountains, rich farmlands, music, dance,
art. But Cuba has been isolated by the US embargo. It is a place where
things often don't work – no spare parts, very little wifi – and where
educated people earn €20 a month.
By partnering with Spanish Melia hotel group and other big chains, Cuba
introduced sun, sand and salsa in "all-inclusive" luxury resorts in the
Mafia's old watering hole on Varadero. This is a peninsular cayo; Cubans
were nervous about tourists mingling with locals. Worried about their
staff's inexperience and lack of customer relations savvy, they brought
in Spanish and Austrian trainers.
'Camp Fidel'
Now 35,000 tourist beds are available, and host three million tourists
annually, of whom two million are from Canada, Europe, and Latin America.
By the mid-1990s, Canadians were flocking to "Camp Fidel", swapping snow
for bottomless mojitos and the Buena Vista soundtrack. At 500 Canadian
dollars (€350) for a weekend with all the rum you can swim in, it's
irresistibly win-win.
Cuban families holiday in Varadero as well, so it's possible to chat and
interact with them as they, eager to try out their English, are pleased
to see you.
What do they talk about? The low wages of doctors and engineers and the
difficulty of getting travel visas.
These days the highest earners are the bands serenading in the
restaurants and bars with Chan Chan and Guantanamera, selling CDs and
scoring tips. Artists earn in CUCs or tourist bucks.
Restrictions were relaxed as more visitors came to Cuba, and homestays
with families (casas particulares) and home dining (paladares) became a
cottage industry.
When my college anthropology class comes to Cuba, it's under the "P to
P" licence, or "people to people citizen ambassador" programme which was
begun by Bill Clinton, then blocked by George W Bush, and later revived
by Barack Obama.
This waiver was to encourage contact, giving American educators a chance
to get around the US embargo.
Our last trip studied roots of Afro-Cuban religion, the syncretised mix
of saints and old santeria gods of Africa.
We visited a babalawa or santeria priest again this time, and travelled
1,000km to study rural cultures. In remote El Guijito near Baracoa at
the eastern tip of Cuba, we met resourceful villagers part-descended
from Taíno indians and Haitian slaves.
Their water is from wells. Food is cassava or yukka and pigs or chickens
running around the village, where historian Theresa Roger helps revive
old-school French-influence dances. Theresa rediscovered the steps and
songs from archives, and also helped fashion the smock-style 19th
century dresses.
After they politely asked us to dance, Theresa's village hosted a
banquet in coconut shells. At another village, we went to see Tumba
Pompadour, a dancing troop in their late 80s and over. Arriving late, we
discovered they'd gone home to nap. "Come back again," they said. "But
Sacred baseball shirts
Most Cubans are Catholic or santeros or both. At Virgin of Caridad del
Cobre shrine, shirts of baseball heroes are kept sacred by the candles.
An underweight baby in yellow with a tiny cross in her bonnet was being
taken for intercession. We took nuggets of copper for sexual health. To
a Cuban, this is not an odd confluence of prayer.
Our homestays were in Remedios, a sleepy town celebrating its 500th
anniversary, where the usual horse-traps, pedicabs, Plymouths and Dodges
in jelly-baby colours, bicycles and hysterical dogs lined up to greet
us. Next day, a dozen gleaming new jeeps joined them.
At New Year's Eve Mass in its newly restored church, we took in the
blend of santeria and Christian icons. Then, with host mothers Imaida
and Paloma, we went to nearby Sorgueta, where an enormous parranda
fiesta or New Year's Eve mock-battle was under way. Rival teams had
built floats in secret, stockpiled fireworks, mustered drumming
cabildos. The fiesta went on till late and we danced ourselves into a
This intimacy may change soon. Already Carnival and Princess cruise
ships are poised and jostling to dock.
I gave two small boys a sandwich at a Pina Colada stall. They were about
eight and six, and said "somos pobres" to me, eyeing my phone.
"To share," I said, and they began splitting it carefully into three,
handing me a piece. Lovely kids. Hungry kids. How will they handle the
new changes?

Source: Tourism was Cuba's way out of lean times - Continue reading
Could Houston be the U.S. hub of trade with Cuba?
Yes, say experts: Houston exports things that Cuba needs
By Olivia P. Tallet January 30, 2015 Updated: January 30, 2015 3:02pm

Could Houston become the major trading hub between the U.S. and Cuba?
Experts say that if Washington finally lifts the embargo that restricts
trade between the two countries, the city would have definite advantages
over competitors: Put simply, Houston exports things that are in demand
on the island.

President Obama has said that he would like to eliminate the Cuban
embargo, and talks between the two countries began last week in Havana.
Lifting the trade ban would require approval by Congress.

At first glance, Florida, not Houston, seems the more natural major hub:
That state is not only close to the island, but it's where most Cuban
exiles live. And definitely, says Ricky Kunz, the Port of Houston's
managing director of trade development, Florida will have an edge over
Texas when it comes to cruises to the Caribbean islands.

But otherwise, he says, "there is an important difference that puts
Houston at an advantage over Florida: We have the industry to support
what Cuba needs. Florida does not."

Cuba critically needs infrastructure, Kunz says. And Houston could
provide goods ranging from building materials to drainage and water
supply systems, as well as services for the gas and oil industry.

The Port of Houston could also link Cuba to the middle and western
United States. Agriculture states such as Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and
Nebraska are much closer to Houston than to Florida, so shipping through
Houston would be cheaper.

Currently, the Helms-Burton Act penalizes any ship sailing from the U.S.
that stops at a Cuban port. Only one U.S. company, Crowley Marathon of
Florida, has a transport license to ship to Cuba, says Parr Rosson, of
the Texas A&M department of agricultural economics and a boardmember of
the Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance.

But even without that special license, Rosson says, the Port of Houston
and other Texas ports have exported products to Cuba for a decade -- in
particular, grains, soybean meal, corn and frozen chicken, as well as
rice, cotton and processed foods.

A report from Texas A&M already lists Cuba as the twelfth largest
agricultural trading partner of the U.S. in the Western hemisphere.

If the embargo is lifted, Houston wouldn't just ship exports to Cuba,
says Steven R. Selsberg, a partner in commercial litigation firm Sidley
Austin LLP, which represents several Latin American firm. There would be
imports too: The U.S. needs metals such as nickel, and Cuba has the
world's second largest nickel reserve.

Cuba, too, seems to be preparing for greater trade. The Port of
Houston's Kunz travels frequently to Havana, and he hopes soon to
explore opportunities at the new commercial port of Mariel, built 30
miles from Havana. The island government has described that port, built
as a collaboration between Cuba and Brazil, as Cuba's new international
trade hub.

"The question isn't what products we [could] trade with Cuba," Kunz
says, "but rather what we cannot!"

Source: Could Houston be the U.S. hub of trade with Cuba? - Houston
Chronicle - Continue reading
Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda

On January 22, U.S. and Cuban diplomats concluded the first round of
talks to implement President Barack Obama's and President Raúl Castro's
decision to normalize bilateral relations. A second round of talks is
scheduled for February.

Much of the first round was devoted to the mechanics of re-establishing
full diplomatic relations and setting out the long agenda of other
issues the two sides want to discuss.

A number these are issues of mutual interest on which the United States
and Cuba have already built some level of cooperation over the
years—migration, counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, law enforcement,
Coast Guard search and rescue, disaster preparedness and environmental
protection, to name the most prominent.

But on many other issues, Cuba and the United States have sharply
different views and interests. As the two sides embark on what promises
to be a long series of meetings to carry the normalization process
forward, the guide below offers a capsule sketch of the issues in
conflict that will comprise the toughest part of the negotiating agenda.

The list is lop-sided, mostly involving programs and policies that are
vestiges of the old U.S. policy of hostility. For its part, Cuba doesn't
have any sanctions against the United States that it can offer as quid
pro quos. There are, however, a number of things that Washington will be
seeking from Havana.

Normalizing Diplomatic Relations

Presidents Obama and Castro have already agreed on this, and only an
exchange of diplomatic notes is required to formalize it. Obama's
nominee to be ambassador to Havana will need Senate confirmation, however.

Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has sworn to block the nominee and will probably
have the support of Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, another member of the
Foreign Relations Committee.

But even if Rubio and Menendez keep the nomination bottled up, they
can't prevent Obama from re-establishing full diplomatic relations with
Cuba. Article II of the Constitution vests that power exclusively with
the president. For their part, Cuban diplomats have said that normal
diplomatic relations are incompatible with Cuba's inclusion on the list
of state sponsors of terrorism, so even the reestablishment of
diplomatic relations is not yet a done deal.

The Terrorism List

Obama has ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba's
inclusion on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
He will almost certainly conclude that Cuba should be removed, since
there is no reasonable basis for its designation.

But removing a country from the list requires notification of Congress,
which will give Republican critics another opportunity to blast Obama's
policy. Nevertheless, they won't have the votes to block Cuba's removal,
since they would need to override a presidential veto.

Removal of Cuba from the list is important symbolically, but it won't
have much practical effect. All the sanctions applied to countries on
the list are already included in the Cuban embargo. The financial
sanctions that have made it so difficult for Havana to conduct business
abroad will not end with removal from the list.

The Embargo

Obama punched a number of holes in the embargo, but the core of it
remains intact. U.S. companies cannot invest in Cuba, nor do business
with state enterprises except to sell food or medicine. Cuban businesses
cannot sell anything to the United States.

Obama relaxed regulations governing educational travel, but tourist
travel is still banned. To lift the embargo in its entirety will require
legislative changes to the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA), which prohibits
sales of goods to Cuba by the subsidiaries of U.S. corporations abroad;
the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton), which
wrote the embargo into law; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export
Enhancement Act, which bans tourist travel.

With Republicans in control of Congress, the embargo is not likely to go
away any time soon.

Property Claims

The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission ratified 5,911 property
claims by U.S. corporations and citizens for $1.85 billion in losses
suffered when Cuba nationalized all U.S. property on the island. With
accumulated interest, the total claims stand at over $7 billion today.

In addition, Cuban exiles who became naturalized U.S. citizens are
eligible for compensation for lost property under the Helms-Burton law.
The State Department estimates there could be as many as 200,000 such
claims, totaling "tens of billions of dollars."

Cuba acknowledges the legitimacy of U.S. claims, but rejects
compensation for Cubans who fled the island. Moreover, Cuba has asserted
counter-claims of $181 billion for the damage done by the U.S. embargo
and the CIA's secret war in the 1960s.

Cuba does not have the resources to pay even a fraction of U.S. claims,
let alone Cuban-American claims, and Washington would never agree to
Cuba's enormous counter-claim. A compromise could conceivably be built
around debt-equity swaps or giving claimants preferential terms for
future investments.

Cuban Membership in International Financial Institutions

The Helms Burton law requires the United States to vote against Cuban
membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
To become a member of the World Bank, a country must first join the IMF,
which requires approval by a supermajority of 85 percent of the vote by
existing members.

Since the United States holds 17 percent of the voting stock, U.S.
opposition effectively bars Cuba from both the IMF and the Bank.
Although Cuba has not applied for membership, the economic restructuring
underway would benefit significantly from IMF and Bank financial
support. Resolving this issue will require amending or repealing

U.S. Democracy Promotion Programs

The United States continues to spend between $15 million and $20 million
annually on covert democracy promotion programs designed to strengthen
Cuban civil society and promote opposition. Cuba reportedly sought an
end to these programs during the secret negotiations, but Washington

These programs could be refocused to promote more authentic cultural and
educational exchanges that operate openly. Such a reform was
contemplated shortly after Alan Gross was arrested in 2009, but the
White House backed down in the face of congressional opposition.

The latest request for proposals from the Department of State suggests
that the programs' confrontational approach has not changed. That could
threaten progress toward normalization. "Our U.S. counterparts should
not plan on developing relations with Cuban society as if there were no
sovereign government in Cuba," Raúl Castro warned in a speech after the
talks concluded.

The Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program

This program, designed during George W. Bush's presidency, offers Cuban
health workers serving abroad on humanitarian missions a fast track to
U.S. residency if they defect. Each year, more than a thousand Cubans
take advantage of it.

Cuba asked the United States to end the program to facilitate
cooperation rebuilding Haiti's health care system after the 2010
earthquake. Washington refused and cooperation fizzled. More recently,
Washington and Havana have been cooperating on the fight against Ebola,
but the Medical Professionals Parole Program remains an obstacle to
sustained U.S.-Cuban cooperation in the field of public health.

It doesn't make sense for Washington to praise Cuba's humanitarian
health programs on the one hand while trying to subvert them on the
other. Cuban diplomats raised this issue in the January talks, but as of
now, Washington has no plans to review the program.

TV and Radio Martí

The United States government still spends millions of dollars annually
broadcasting TV and Radio Martí to Cuba, even though the television
signal is effectively jammed and the radio has a diminishing audience.
Cuba objects to the broadcasts as a violation of international law.

A recent report by the State Department Inspector General found serious
management deficiencies and low employee morale at the stations. The
programs continue to be funded more as pork barrel legislation than as
effective instruments of foreign policy. Years ago, Cuba offered to
carry PBS and CNN news broadcasts on its domestic television if TV and
Radio Martí were halted. Could a similar deal be struck now?

The Cuban Adjustment Act

This 1966 law allows Cuban immigrants who are in the United States for a
year to "adjust" their status to that of legal permanent residents—a
privilege no other immigrant group enjoys. Since the 1990s, the Attorney
General has routinely paroled into the United States any Cuban who
reaches U.S. territory, making them eligible for residence under the act.

The Cuban government has long complained that this encourages illegal
departures from the island and human trafficking. The Attorney General
has the authority under the law to refuse to parole illegal Cuban
immigrants into the country, thereby denying them the benefits of the
Cuban Adjustment Act, but no president thus far has been willing to
change existing policy because the status quo enjoys broad support among
Cuban Americans.

The Obama administration does not intend to change the law or its
interpretation for fear of touching off a migration crisis.

Cuban Trademarks

A number of famous Cuban trademarks, including Havana Club rum and
Cohiba cigars, have been appropriated by U.S. companies after a 1998 law
prohibited Cuba from renewing its trademark rights. Cuba has sought to
safeguard its trademarks in the courts, without success.

As U.S.-Cuban trade expands, U.S. brands will want protection in the
Cuban market, an issue which has been largely moot until now. If there
is to be a cease-fire in the trademark war, it will have to be mutual.

Cuban Visitors to the United States

Since Cuba abolished the "tarjeta blanca" exit permit required to travel
abroad, Cuban visitors to the United States have jumped by almost 100
percent to 33,000 in the past year. But Cuban scholars coming to attend
professional meetings in the United States still run afoul of a 1985
presidential proclamation issued by Ronald Reagan that bars visas for
employees of the Cuban government or Communist Party. George W. Bush
invoked this proclamation to deny all Cuban academic visits as a matter
of policy.

The Obama administration has been more lenient, but it still denies
visas to prominent Cuban academics for no obvious reason, even though
the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) prohibits denials on
political grounds. Obama could solve this problem by simply withdrawing
the Reagan-era proclamation.

There are ample grounds in section 212(a) of the INA for denying visas
to applicants who may pose an actual threat to U.S. security because of
involvement in terrorism, crime, or intelligence activities.

Guantánamo Bay Naval Station

Established by the United States in 1903 following the Spanish-American
War, the base at Guantánamo has long been a thorn in the side of Cuban
nationalists. Cuba claims it as sovereign territory and wants the United
States out. Washington insists on the validity of a 1934 treaty leasing
the base to the United States in perpetuity.

Since the 1990s, U.S. military forces on the base and the local Cuban
military have had a cooperative working relationship that Raúl Castro
once described as a model for relations between the two governments.
Disposition of the base is low on the agenda of both governments, and
nothing is likely to change until Obama is able to close the detention


The Obama administration has said that it will seek the extradition of
some 70 U.S. fugitives currently living in Cuba, including high profile
political exiles like Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, who was
convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper.

Cuba has been willing to return common criminals who have sought shelter
on the island, but it has consistently refused to return anyone granted
political asylum. The Foreign Ministry reiterated that position shortly
after the two presidents announced the normalization of diplomatic

Moreover, Cuba has a long list of Cuban Americans guilty of violent
attacks on the island who Washington refuses to extradite, foremost
among them Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of a series of hotel
bombings in Havana in the 1990s and the bombing of a Cuban civilian
airliner in 1976.

Law enforcement cooperation in pursuit of common criminals is likely to
improve, but on the issue of returning fugitives who have been given
political asylum, neither side is likely to give any ground.

Human Rights and Democracy

In his speech to the nation, Obama promised to continue the U.S.
commitment to democracy and human rights in Cuba. Speaking to the
National Assembly, Castro noted that Cuba had "profound differences"
with the United States on these issues but was nevertheless willing to
discuss them.

Havana continues to regard questions of democracy and human rights as
internal matters and sees foreign demands as infringements on its
national sovereignty. Nevertheless, Castro was willing to negotiate the
release of 53 political prisoners, expanded Internet access and
cooperation with the International Red Cross and UN as part of his
agreement with Obama.

Although there may be some glacial progress from conversations around
democracy and human rights, for the most part, the two sides will
continue to disagree.

The unfinished agenda of issues in conflict is long and daunting,
requiring tough negotiations, not only between Washington and Havana,
but between the White House and Capitol Hill. Many of these issues will
linger unresolved beyond the two years remaining in Obama's presidency.

But by changing the frame of U.S. policy from one of hostility and
regime change to one of engagement and coexistence, Obama has already
made more progress than all ten of his predecessors.

William M. LeoGrande is professor of Government at American University
and coauthor with Peter Kornbluh of the recent book, Back Channel to
Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana
(University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Source: Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda - Continue reading
What Cuba-U.S. Relations Means For U.S. Industry
By Alison L. Deutsch | January 30, 2015 AAA |

President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December after 54 years of isolation. Ties with the
island-nation were severed in January of 1961, one year after the first
trade embargo was imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The historic announcement with Cuban President Raúl Castro was
established amid a prisoner exchange brokering the release of dissidents
detained on espionage charges. Obama has agreed to release three Cuban
agents held in the U.S. for the last 15 years in exchange for Rolando
Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban national who operated as an intelligence agent
for U.S. Cuba also agreed to release 53 political prisoners.

The discussions prompted the immediate release of Alan P. Gross, an
American government aid contractor held for five years in Havana. Gross
was sentenced to 15 years by the Cuban government on espionage charges
but was released on humanitarian grounds.

As part of the diplomatic normalization process, the U.S. will reinstate
its embassy in Havana. High-level exchanges between the two governments
have already begun. The U.S. will address matters of Cuban domestic
policy such as improvements in human rights conditions and advancing
democratic reforms. (For more, see: How To Invest In Cuba.)

Cuba is motivated to thaw relations with the U.S. as instability in
Venezuela mounts and a looming credit default threatens the Venezuelan
economy. Venezuela serves as one of Cuba's main economic supports
through its subsidized oil supplies. To preserve its economic integrity,
Cuba is setting its sights on outside economies.

The decades-long American policy of isolationism has failed both
economically and politically. Normalization of relations – and an
eventual lifting of the embargo – will allow the U.S. to enter a nearby,
untapped market of 11 million people, and U.S. travel, agriculture, and
financial services sectors are looking to gain. (For more, see: The
Economic Impact of Better US-Cuba Relations.)

Travel restrictions have kept American tourists out of Cuba for decades.
The new White House policy will relax travel constraints, granting
access to a wide range of travelers in the process. The reopening of
America's embassy in Havana will also facilitate travel for Americans
seeking to travel to Cuba.

Included among the authorized types of travel are visits to family,
business trips, and visits for educational or religious purposes.
However, despite a dozen authroized travel types, tourism is still banned.

The U.S. travel industry sees a breadth of business possibilities for
the sector as a number of American tourists inevitably take advantage of
this new travel destination.

Carnival (CCL), the U.S. cruise liner, has already showed interest in
bringing tourists to Cuba's nearby ports. Among a handful of other
airlines, United Airlines (UAL) has announced plans to serve direct
flights to Cuba once kinks in government regulations are sorted out.
Additional opportunities could exist for American hotels as Cuba
currently houses a dearth of tourist accommodations.

The policy shift could prove lucrative for American food companies who
will no longer face burdensome restrictions on exports. Though exempted
from the trade embargo, agriculture companies have encountered
regulatory barriers and have been required to finance through third parties.

Cuba is the largest importer of wheat in the Caribbean and has not
imported the grain from the U.S. since 2011. The freer trade guidelines
could potentially raise the U.S. share of wheat imports from zero to
90%, creating a $150 million business in the process. There is also
greater room in the marketplace for soy products and corn, the latter of
which hasn't been traded since 2008.

The uptick in American goods will also benefit Cuba by boosting Cuban
food security. The country currently imports about 80% of its food

American banks will finally be able to conduct business in Cuba for the
first time since the trade embargo barred U.S. banks from doing business
there. American financial institutions will now also be able to open
correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to process direct
transactions, eliminating the need to search for a banking intermediary
in Cuba to sell products or process trade.

Individuals will also feel the effects of relaxed financial
restrictions. Remittance levels to Cuban nationals will be raised,
allowing Americans to send more money to Cuba. Remittances pertaining to
humanitarian projects and the promotion of private businesses will be
authorized without limitation.

Americans traveling in Cuba will no longer be limited to cash
transactions and will be able to use their credit and debit cards on the
island. American Express (AXP) is the latest American credit card issuer
to announce its plans to conduct business in Cuba. MasterCard (MA) also
recently announced it would stop blocking Cuban transactions.

Congressional approval is needed to lift the current economic embargo.
Without full legislative access to Cuba, any significant American
economic gain would not materialize. However, the swift progress of
Cuban-American diplomatic relations suggests an eventual—and perhaps,
forthcoming—embargo lift which in turn, would bring considerable success
to the travel, agriculture, and financial services sectors.

Source: What Cuba-U.S. Relations Means For U.S. Industry
(CCL,UAL,AXP,MA) - Continue reading
"Doors open" for Cuban dissidents to possibly attend summit in Panama
01/30/2015 9:48 PM 01/30/2015 9:48 PM

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela endorsed the reestablishment of
relations between the United States and Cuba and said the doors "are
open" for Cuban dissidents to potentially attend a key forum during the
upcoming Summit of the Americas.

Both President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro are
scheduled to attend the April event in Panama.

In an interview with el Nuevo Herald, Varela avoided confirming whether
the Cuban dissidents — who have been repeatedly classified by the Cuban
government as mercenaries at the service of "the empire" of the U.S. —
would be invited by the Panamanian government to the civic society forum.

Varela said Ruben Castillo, former president of Apede (the Panamanian
Association of Executives), would be the person in charge of the forum.

But asked whether that debate would include the dissidents, he signaled
it was a possibility that would be debated. "When a country seeks unity,
if things are done the right way, when a country seeks unity and
dialogue, well, then that's the path to follow,'' he said. "So, the
doors are open."

Varela, who spoke at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States summit this week in Costa Rica, said that the joint announcement
that Cuba and the U.S. had initiated a process to normalize relations
after 46 years of hostility "consolidates peace in the continent and
restores social peace within the different countries."

For the first time since the founding of the Summit of the Americas, a
Cuban government head has been invited to attend. Panama invited Castro,
who accepted the invitation. That means that in an act unprecedented
since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the presidents of
Cuba and the U.S. will sit at the same table of an Inter-American
summit. The Organization of American States (OAS), from which Cuba was
expelled in 1962, is sponsoring the summit.

However, Cuba has not shown any signs of wanting to be reincorporated
fully into the inter-American system.

During the first meeting among delegates of both nations held last week
in Havana, Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal held a press conference in
which she stated: "The Cuban government doesn't consider dissidents to
be 'representative of civil society in Cuba.'"

In his CELAC speech on Wednesday, Castro also avoided addressing whether
he thinks the dissidents should attend the Summit of the Americas but he
voiced a range of questions about that possibility.

Castro largely used his time at the podium to chastise the U.S. for its
immigration policies and the recent string of protests against police
brutality held across the country. The Cuban leader also said he
supports "the popular movements and the non-gubernatorial organizations
that advocate nuclear dismantling, that are environmentalists, against
neo-liberalism, the Occupy Wall Street of this region."

Source: "Doors open" for Cuban dissidents to possibly attend summit in
Panama | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on January 30, 2015

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 January 2015 — It was barely 10:00
am Wednesday, January 28th, and the currency exchange (CADECA) at
Belascoaín had no national currency (CUP)*. One of the tellers explained
that he had only several 50 peso bills and that was it until the "cash
truck" arrived. Some customers, leaving because they could not transact
business, stated that this has become the norm, not only at this
currency exchange, but also at the one on Galiano Street, across from
the Plaza del Vapor.

These are virtually the only two currency exchanges operating in the
municipality of Centro Habana after most of them were converted to
ATM's, so both exchange of hard (i.e. foreign) currency to Cuban
convertible currency (CUC) as well as CUC to CUP implies traveling to
some CADECA or to Banco Metropolitano, both located at some distance,
and the likelihood of having to stand on long lines before being able to
complete the desired transaction.

Another difficulty that has become common in both CADECA and ATM
locations is the absence of bills in denominations smaller than 100 or
50 CUP, which also distresses the population, especially the elderly,
who receive their pensions in debit cards and are often unable to
withdraw all of their money, since there are no 5 or 1 peso bills
available. In these cases, they need to wait a whole trimester or
quarter until enough funds accumulate in their accounts to cover the
minimum denominations of 10 or 20 CUP, a ridiculous amount compared to
the high price of any market product, but what is significant is that
the affected individuals depend almost entirely on this income.

Since the start of 2015, Cubans who receive remittances from abroad or
convertible pesos by other means are quick to exchange their money into
the national currency. Those who receive larger amounts – on the order
of 100's of CUC, in general the owners of more thriving private business
— prefer to use the black market to exchange their funds into US
dollars. The common denominator is that nobody wants to hold CUC money,
which, until recently, was in high demand and CADECAS would even often
run out of.

Announcement of a new national currency bill being issued into
circulation in February, in 200, 500 and 1000 peso denominations,
coupled with the ability to access the former "hard currency market"
with either money, has sounded the drum-roll in people's psyche as a
prelude to the much anticipated monetary unification. People fear that
an official changeover will take place that will carry penalizing fees
that will cause serious losses to people's pockets.

The expectation is felt, by osmosis, in the capital's agricultural trade
networks, especially in meat markets that are not "state-owned", where
either one of the two currencies was accepted a few weeks ago. "Mother
of Mercy, give me national currency!" is the butcher's cry at
Combinadito de Sitios in Centro Habana when a customer brings out 20 CUC
to pay for a cut of pork meat whose price these days of non-ration cards
has risen to 45 Cuban pesos per pound. "Country farmers don't want CUC,
my brother, they have a lot of money** and are really afraid of the
monetary unification. They won't sell me meat unless I pay in national

Something similar is happening with peddlers with street carts, who
still accept payment in "convertible" currency for retail sales, but
their wholesale suppliers are demanding payment in national currency for
their products. A street peddler in my neighborhood states "farmers have
high incomes and almost all producers have accumulated large sums. None
of them wish to lose when the currency is unified".

It is evident that, once more, the lack of information and clarification
on the part of the official media are causing uncertainty and spreads
speculation throughout the population, giving way to obstacles such as
the (unexplained) shortage of cash in the CADECA, increasing the demand
for US dollars in the black market foreign exchanges.

With the imminent introduction of the new denomination bills, clear
evidence of the very high inflation rate in Cuba, nothing is known about
a monetary unification that -according to official notification- will be
gradual and will "not affect" Cuban pockets. For now, it is expected
that, when it takes place, the official exchange rate of 25 pesos in
national currency for each CUC will not continue, a transaction with
which the CADECA and the state commercial networks have operated to
date. Our experience, after decades of deceptive monetary maneuvers, has
motivated the popular wisdom so that, already, before the dreamed about
monetary unification, Cubans are shedding was has been the last few
years' supreme sign of Cuba's status: the CUC.

Translator's notes:

*See here for a longer discussion of the history of Cuba's currencies
and the plan to move to a single currency. Briefly, Cuba has two
currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional (national money),
abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. In theory
CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is illegal to take them out of
Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other countries. Cubans receive
their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs, with wages roughly the
equivalent of about $20 US per month, and pensions considerably less.
The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American dollar, but exchange fees make
it more expensive. The CUP trades to the CUC at about 24-to-1.

**It has been a common practice in other tightly controlled countries,
when new currencies are introduced, to limit the total amount of money
people are allowed to exchange and/or to require documentation of the
sources of larger sums. As the old currency becomes instantly worthless
domestically and internationally, people who have been 'hoarding' it can
see almost all their savings disappear. Cubans fear this could happen
with the elimination of the CUC.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Fabiola Santiago: Free American travel puts the burden of opening up on
the Cuban government
01/30/2015 6:26 PM 01/30/2015 9:39 PM

Congress, about to take up free travel to Cuba as a bipartisan bill
introduced Thursday makes the rounds, might want to consider the
laughable scenarios resulting from current U.S. policy.

Americans traveling to Cuba can't legally dip a toe in warm Cuban
waters, can't stroll on soft white sands, and perhaps, say, come upon
the opportunity to strike up an unscripted conversation with locals.

But American visitors can, for example, dine and drink at the
state-owned venue Cabaret Le Parisien at the historic Hotel Nacional and
gawk at erotic dancers shimmying like wild weeds in a windstorm.

Going to the beach is considered by the U.S. government a purely
touristy activity, and is forbidden, even under the relaxed travel
conditions set forth recently by the Obama administration.

Watching a Las Vegas-style show of scantily clad men and women, on the
other hand, falls under the scope of cultural enlightenment, and is
permitted as an educational experience.

Topsy-turvy, isn't it?

Such are the idiosyncrasies of U.S.-Cuba travel rules, which often times
end up having the opposite effect of what the American government
intended: throngs of Americans engaging with ordinary Cuban citizens,
breaking down the stronghold the Cuban government has on information,
and countering the negative image of five decades of anti-Yankee propaganda.

"I think it's important that more people go and get sense of the
enormity of the problem," says a Florida academic who has made two trips
and will soon travel again to the island. "It's not just a simple, 'Oh,
let's open it up.' There's a lot to sort out and no one has the answers."

But, as he and many other Americans who have traveled to Cuba have
assured me, there's no substitute for the perspective gained by going at
this point in history, even with the restricted movement of tightly
organized trips.

In a week when a defiant Raúl Castro put a major damper on the
cautiously optimistic mood of U.S.-Cuba talks with a litany of demands —
most of them quite ridiculous, he being the dictator in the diplomatic
equation — the outlook for positive change on Cuba's end is almost

But the Freedom to Travel Act of 2015 could be a way forward.

Truly free travel will depend on bilateral talks with Cuba to iron out
issues like air service agreements so that airlines can offer routine
scheduled service. But it certainly doesn't require any agreement with
the guardians of the Cuban island-fiefdom for the American government to
act and lift an unwarranted prohibition on its own people.

About 100,000 Americans travel to Cuba a year via charter flights booked
by travel groups that have over the past few years come to add Cuba as a
destination. Add to this 400,000 Cubans and Cuban-Americans who live in
the United States and travel to Cuba every year, and the numbers are
already substantial.

Allowing American citizens the right to freely travel to Cuba would put
the burden of opening up where it belongs — with the Cuban government.

Most of the Miami congressional delegation will dutifully object to the
free-travel bill on grounds that most of the money Americans spend goes
to state coffers. There's no getting around that now and maybe not ever:
Although there are small numbers of cuentapropistas — self-employed
entrepreneurs — practically every business, facility, or attraction in
Cuba is state-owned.

But the opponents of free travel are missing the larger picture — not
only that a democratic government shouldn't be in the business of
prohibiting its citizens' travel, but also that there are unquantifiable
benefits to engagement.

"We saw how well Cuban government officials live in western Havana — in
neighborhoods that might have been in Coral Gables," another traveler
told me. "And we saw areas of Old Havana with poor Cubans living with
garbage on the streets. We also ate in some very nice private
restaurants. We saw the buses ordinary Cubans rode in — such a contrast
to the upscale, Chinese-made buses for foreign visitors. Etc. etc. I'm
grateful that I got to see a little of Cuba, and I'm under no illusion
about the nature of the Cuban government."

For my American academic friend, the Cuban travel experience began with
a premise: "It's Cuba, so it's hard to know how much you're being fed
and how much is real."

But despite his tour guide's futile attempts to praise the Revolution
("everyone would roll their eyes," he said) the disastrous results were
in plain sight: a once stately Havana in ruins, a harbor without boats,
palpable repression.

At a museum showcasing priceless masterpieces, the air conditioner was
broken, yet the "stubbornly proud guide" in a white pressed guayabera
walked around "as if they were living in Paris."

"There wasn't one night when we sat down to dinner that someone didn't
cry when we discussed our experiences," he said. "All the destruction is
the result of the ego of that man [Fidel Castro]. How can you ride
around and watch your country fall apart around you — and not do
something to at least slow down the catastrophe?"

The reward of travel — even more so of free travel — is that no one has
to tell you what it's like. The regime's apologists notwithstanding,
those who keep their eyes open can see it all.

Source: Fabiola Santiago: Free American travel puts the burden of
opening up on the Cuban government | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
Congressional Oversight Needed as Obama Administration Moves to Remove
Cuba from State Sponsors of Terrorism List
By Ana Quintana

The Obama Administration has recently chosen to normalize relations with
Cuba. In addition to establishing embassies and expanding commercial
transactions, the White House has also declared that Cuba will be
removed from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
To remove Cuba from the list would be to ignore both the Cuban
government's inherently malicious nature and the utility of terrorist
designations. For over three decades, the Castro regime has directly
supported organizations designated by the U.S. government as terrorist.
Recent activities that warrant Cuba's place on the list include Havana's
violations of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions,
leadership role in directing Venezuela's military and intelligence, and
steadfast support and intimate relationship with such countries as
Syria, Iran, and North Korea. The Castro regime also continues to harbor
U.S. fugitives and subsidize their livelihoods. One fugitive has been on
the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list since 2013 for killing a New
Jersey State Trooper.
Removing Cuba from the list would also remove restrictions that preclude
their receipt preferential foreign aid and trade benefits. Repealing the
designation combined with further weakening of sanctions will not bode
well for U.S. taxpayers. The regime routinely defaults on foreign loans
and is guilty of the largest uncompensated theft of U.S. assets in
recorded history, valued at $7 billion. Congress cannot ignore the
implications of an undeserving regime's being removed from this list.

Why the Castro Regime Cannot Be Trusted
President Obama's new Cuba policy has been heavily criticized and
rightfully so. His predecessors, both Republican and Democrat,
recognized that a Cuba governed by the Castro regime will never be
receptive to genuine engagement.
Previous unilateral attempts by the Carter and Clinton Administrations
to reduce hostilities ended up backfiring on the U.S. In 1977, President
Carter reestablished diplomatic relations by allowing each country
reciprocal interest sections. The government in Havana responded shortly
thereafter by sending expeditionary forces and resources to Marxist
insurgencies in over a dozen African countries. The Clinton
Administration for years attempted to improve relations and was rewarded
by the Castro regime's shooting down of Brothers to the Rescue flights.
In what the U.S. determined to be an international act of terrorism, the
Cuban military, at the order of current leader Raul Castro, shot down
two American aircraft over international waters, killing three American
citizens and one U.S. resident.
According to the State Department's annual terrorism report, the
government in Havana continues to support the terrorist Colombia's
Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).[1] While the FARC have been weakened,
it is premature to assume that they have been defeated. Throughout the
past two years of peace talks in Havana, the FARC has continued to
kidnap and kill Colombian civilians and military alike. FARC strongholds
still exist throughout the country, and it is widely known that they
have sanctuary just across the border in Venezuela. Considering that the
FARC has relationships with Islamist terrorist organizations, has
murdered a quarter-million Colombians, and has established drug
trafficking networks spanning the globe, the threat that it poses is
Most recently in July of 2013, Havana was found to have violated UNSC
arms trafficking resolutions 1718, 1874, and 2094. Panamanian
authorities seized a North Korean freighter for attempting to transport
missiles and fighter planes through the Panama Canal concealed under
sacks of sugar.[2]
Cuba walked away unscathed, despite being the first country in the
Western Hemisphere to violate these resolutions. It should be noted that
the State Department's 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism made no mention
of the incident despite its release date of April 2014.

Cuba's Removal Would Violate the Law and Potentially Endanger U.S. Taxpayers
According to Section 6 of the Export Administration Act (EAA), the law
by which Cuba was added to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, the
country can be removed from the list only if:[3]
(A) (i) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and
policies of the government of the country concerned;
(ii) that government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and
(iii) that government has provided assurances that it will not support
acts of international terrorism in the future; or
(B) (i) the government concerned has not provided any support for
international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and
(ii) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not
support acts of international terrorism in the future.
It is easy to deduce that Cuba fails to meet the requirements of both
sections. Cuba's leadership has not changed, nor has its political
system. In spite of its new relationship with the U.S., Cuba's leader
Raul Castro claims the government will not democratize. While Cuba's
financial circumstances have curbed its ability to support international
terrorism, its alliances with Syria, Iran, and North Korea should remain
a source of concern. It is also unlikely that the U.S. could ever
receive genuine guarantees against future actions, as recent talks in
Havana proved. Cuba's top diplomat stated: "Change in Cuba isn't
Terrorism designations as determined by the EAA are a critical
instrument in foreign policy, as they carry restrictions on U.S. foreign
aid, commercial transactions, and participation in international
financial institutions.
Even though these restrictions and others are further reinforced by the
Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, a law
which strengthened the Cuban embargo, the Obama Administration is
systematically chipping away at the embargo until it becomes obsolete.
For example, the Administration recently expanded the allowable
exceptions on Cuban imports from the U.S. Items such as building
materials are now classified as agricultural products. It can be argued
that this new regulation is a violation of the law as Castro's military
controls much of Cuba's agricultural sector.

Congress Cannot Ignore the Dangerous Implications
While terrorist designations fall under presidential powers, Congress
can and should remain vigilant with respect to the White House's
dangerous rapprochements. The ultimate focus should be on promoting
policies that protect U.S. national security while simultaneously
promoting U.S. values such as freedom and democracy.
More specifically, Congress should:
-Urge the President to condition all future U.S. agreements with the
Cuban government upon significant, meaningful, and measurable changes.
The President's new Cuba policy has gone against the principle of
existing U.S. law by not requiring the Cuban government to modify its
behavior one iota in exchange for a loosening of restrictions. Many are
quick to point out that the regime released 53 political prisoners in
January, but that proved to be mistaken. Many of the prisoners either
had already been released or were close to being set free. They were
also subsequently put under strict house arrest or arrested shortly
afterwards for political reasons. In the 18 months the White House was
secretly negotiating with the regime, there were over 13,000 political
arrests on the island. Arrests in 2014 represented a 40 percent increase
from the preceding year. The White House has yet to impose any serious
conditions on Cuba.[5]
- Continue to support Cuba's democratic opposition and human rights
activists. Congress must make sure that U.S. policy continues to support
civil society groups on the island that uphold U.S. values and are
unaffiliated with the Castro regime and its Communist ideology. The
Cuban government is strongly against Washington's support for dissidents
and is painting it as an obstacle to the President's much-wanted embassy
in Havana. Congress has must continue its active support for these
- Ensure that current and future funding from the U.S. Agency for
International Development and State Department does not support the
Cuban government or military. While these groups have generally been
prohibited from receiving U.S. assistance, the Cuban government is
pushing the Obama Administration to fund its regime-sponsored Communist
groups. Members of Congress hold the purse strings, and prohibiting the
funding of these groups falls to them.
- Reject policies that support financing for U.S. exports. Business
interests have been leading the movement against the Cuban embargo, and
the President's new policy has emboldened them. Recently, the U.S
Agricultural Coalition for Cuba was launched. Backed by large
corporations such as Cargill, the coalition is lobbying to end the
embargo in order to receive U.S. taxpayer subsidies for exports to Cuba.
Business interests should not be allowed to dictate foreign policy.
- Keep the Focus on Cuba. Congress must stay vigilant with respect to
the President's naïve approach to the Castro regime. President Obama has
granted an undeserving dictatorship the prestige of being allowed an
embassy and an ambassador in the U.S. He continues to refer to Cuba's
leader and unelected dictator, Raul Castro, as president. The next move
appears to be removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Terrorism designation is not only about what the country is currently
doing, but also about the potential for future malicious actions.
Removing Cuba from the terrorist list is much more than a symbolic
gesture. It carries far-reaching implications that can endanger U.S.
national security interests.
—Ana Quintana is a Research Associate for Latin America in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and
Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.

Source: Cuba, Latin America, Alan Gross, Fidel Castro - Continue reading
Do Obama's measures promote democratic change on the Island? / Antonio
Posted on January 29, 2015

Diario de Cuba, Antonio G. Rodiles, Havana, 28 January 2015 — The recent
visits to Havana by American legislators and by Assistant Secretary of
State Roberta Jacobson, have reawakened controversy over the
transparency in the process of political dialogue between the Obama
administration and the Castro regime. So far, the aim of furthering a
previously determined plan has been evident, as well as raising the
profile of those political actors who support and conform to this policy.

Indispensable voices from the opposition movement have been
conspicuously absent from the meetings held. Equally apparent was the
reluctance to have a balance of opinions in these contacts.

On multiple occasions, in support of the new policy, the Obama
administration has posited the premise that the Cuban people should be
the ones who guide the process of change on the Island. This
pronouncement implicitly seeks approval for the new measures and opens
the door to strong criticisms of those of us who reject the
unconditionality — and the notable lack of transparency and consensus —
that have characterized the start of this process.

This premise, presented simplistically and with an added dose of false
nationalism, tries to label those of us who demand firm commitments to
the advancement of democracy and human rights,as individuals who are
incapable of assuming our political responsibilities — stuck in the past
or wanting foreign governments to come in and make the needed changes.
The administration's theory is curiously parallel to the old idea of
"national sovereignty" employed by the regime for so many years and
echoed as a part of the arguments of the self-declared "loyal" opposition.

Do Obama's measures promote the Cuban people's empowerment, insofar as
their civil and political rights are concerned? Can the opposition
generate a broad social compact, given the degrees of control,
repression and impunity with which the regime operates? Are there
guarantees that the new measures will generate a Cuban entrepreneurial
class in the medium term? Can Cuban society move toward a Rule of Law,
given the atomization, evasion and corruption in which the vast majority
of Cubans live?

If we are realists, the answers are obvious. The current Cuba only
functions through corruption and patronage. We lack the legal framework
that permits the empowerment of the people in any aspect. There cannot
exist any broad and extensive leadership by Cuban democrats and
entrepreneurs as long as the regime can maintain these high levels of
repression and social control without paying a large political price.
And a peaceful transition to full democracy requires such leadership.

Peaceful and sufficiently ordered transitions of despotic regimes to
democracies have occurred under intense international pressure coupled
with an effective internal push. Political results have emerged when
these regimes sense that their permanence in power is impossible and
they start to fear that a total social collapse will put them in
disadvantageous or dangerous situations.

The continued presence of the political heirs as a part of the new
system is one of the flashpoints in any transition. Experience also
shows that, in the majority of cases, this continued presence brings
with it an inheritance of corruption and a web of influences, and that
it ultimately hijacks the genuine interests in building full
democracies. To allow a transfer of power to the heirs correlates to
perpetuating the poverty of the Cuban people, and sacrificing the future
of our nation in the medium and long terms.

The dialogue conducted by the current American administration has not
achieved even the release of all political prisoners and the annulment
of their sentences. Many of the freed prisoners were released
conditionally and not to full liberty. Such is the case of the 12
prisoners from the wave of repression of 2003, released in 2010, who
decided to remain in Cuba and who now find themselves on parole and
prohibited from traveling outside the country. This dialogue also has
not managed to prevent further imprisonments and waves of arrests, such
as the ones that occurred at the end of 2014 and start of the new year.

To insist on the idea that Cubans don't understand fundamental rights
and that only basic necessities are their priority demonstrates
ignorance of our reality and gives a biased view of our genuine
democratic aspirations. Freedoms don't need to be explained; even when
they have not been experienced, the human being can recognize them. We
Cubans are not the exception.

A probable failure of this political process would be very harmful for
all concerned, but most of all for the Cuban people. The Obama
administration should combine effective pressure on the regime with the
consensual work of a large group of democratic actors from within the
Island and in exile. If the desired ultimate result is truly the
democratization of our nation, a change of direction is needed.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Do Obama's measures promote democratic change on the Island? /
Antonio Rodiles | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
"Our actions can make people lose their fears"
REINALDO ESCOBAR, La Habana | Enero 29, 2015

Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country
and leader of Cuba's most numerous opposition organization, is also a
compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing
with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast
in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts
about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern
psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him
behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance andthe years
he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered
some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation
of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the
negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks,
will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our
people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the
announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that
it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is
consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent
civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies.

Escobar: And the embargo?

Ferrer: Our people and the international community have in great part
been critical with regards to the embargo, which by now has lasted for
more than 50 years. In all this time, and especially following the
collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has placed the blame
for our economic woes on the embargo, and has even used it to justify
repression within the country. Obama's policies delegitimize these
justifications. Additionally, they are in tune with the sentiments of
Cubans and of the international community.

Escobar: During your encounter with various American members of
congress, you expressed the gratitude of your organization's activists
who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations. Can
you give us more details about them?

Ferrer: Of the 38 political prisoners that were freed between the days
of January 7 and 8, 28 of them were members of the Patriotic Union of
Cuba, in other words more than 70%. Of the 10 who were not members of
UNPACU, 4 have already reached out to us and vocalized their desire join
our organization. However, 14 of our activists are still imprisoned, 10
of them affiliated with our branches in eastern provinces and the other
4 belonging to organizations that are associated to our own.

Escobar: What type of activism does UNPACU carry out?

Ferrer: Our organization is not just a group of audacious and courageous
activists that protest peacefully on the streets. That mode of
operation, that type of battle, is just the tip of the iceberg. Our
strategy includes a great variety of means of peaceful combat, including
seminars, courses, disseminating leaflets when the wind is favorable,
putting up posters in public spaces… even better if it's at the
headquarters of the People's Power ( Poder Popular) or the offices of
the Communist Party.

In a society that has been paralyzed by terror for many years, our
actions can make people lose their fear.

Escobar: Do you see a disjunction between street activism and other
forms of dissidence?

Ferrer: Discrete activism also greatly annoys the regime. They, through
their intelligence apparatuses, know where we meet and with whom despite
our greatest efforts. As soon as they find out about someone who has
chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with
removing them from their jobs or even worse things. This is especially
true when it's someone who, because of his or her training or talent,
could be a strong protagonist. But, if that person chooses to defend
their rights, then the threats can be greater. That's the proof that
they fear these forms of activism more than the others.

Escobar: It has transpired that the organization you lead has lost
alliances with other groups. Is that true? And if so why is that?

Ferrer: Many factors come to play here. In the first place, when other
organizations merged with the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the oppressive
bodies of the government also multiplied their efforts to divide us.
Another issue is that some leaders believed at certain points that the
best way to accelerate the process of non-violent combat was by uniting
with UNPACU and later they changed their minds. Be it because attacks
multiplied or because there were also instances of disagreement, some
chose to return to their prior situations.

In fact, the relations between these groups and us remain good. Our
disposition to cooperate remains. If we had to choose what was more
important, for everyone to come under the same name and things not run
as smoothly as they should, or that each keep their organization's name
and that things work better, we would choose the latter. We have
separated but we did not become enemies.

Escobar: And has Obama's announcement of December 17th deepened those

Ferrer: With regards to the recent changes in policy announced by the
Cuban and United States governments, there are some who believe it is a
mistake. Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing
relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling
the embargo. However, we have to find what unites us. They want the same
as we do: the democratization of the country and that Cuba respect human
rights. They want us to be a just and prosperous nation "with all and
for the good of all*." The difference is in the means, not the
objective, which we hold in common.

Escobar: So, you propose finding consensus points?

Ferrer: Yes, we would work together to reach that common end, including
those who disagree with us today on topics like the reestablishment of
relations between Cuba and the United States. We hope that they too
understand that they can cooperate with us.

*Translator's note: A quote from José Martí who is honored by both the
Castro regime and its opponents.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Source: "Our actions can make people lose their fears" - Continue reading
El gran desafío de Cuba es la unificación cambiaria, según el BM
Agencia EFE

Washington, 29 ene (EFE).- El economista jefe del Banco Mundial (BM)
para América Latina, Augusto de la Torre, apuntó hoy que el gran desafío
que encara Cuba, dentro de su proceso de normalización de relaciones con
Estados Unidos, es la "unificación" del sistema cambiario para eliminar
la "gigante" distorsión macroeconómica actual.
"La unificación cambiaria es muy complicada, pero es el desafío más
importante y dominante", aseguró De la Torre en una conferencia para
comentar el proceso de restablecimiento de relaciones entre Estados
Unidos y Cuba en el Peterson Institute for International Economics, un
centro de estudios con sede en Washington.
En Cuba rige un sistema de doble moneda: el peso convertible CUC es la
divisa fuerte en la que se vende buena parte de los productos y
servicios de la isla, mientras que la mayor parte de los cubanos recibe
su salario en pesos cubanos CUP.
Actualmente, 1 CUC equivale a 24 CUP, mientras que el CUC mantiene la
paridad con el dólar.
Como consecuencia, el diferencial monetario en Cuba es del 2.400%, lo
que supone en la práctica un "ardid fiscal" a través de "un sistema de
subsidios e impuestos: impuestos al trabajador y subsidios al Estado",
indicó De la Torre.
Por tanto, para avanzar hacia la normalización económica es necesaria
"una gran reforma fiscal", que el funcionario del BM apuntó que sería
"dolorosa" en un primer momento, y solo "daría sus frutos en el medio
Así, abogó por un proceso de "transición" en el que se llevase a cabo la
unificación cambiaria de "un golpe y de manera transparente",
manteniendo la tasa por dólar a 24 pesos y eliminando la doble moneda,
pero ofreciendo un "fuerte amortiguador fiscal para suavizar el impacto".
No obstante, reconoció que uno de los problemas de la isla es su
incapacidad para acceder a los mercados internacionales y a las
instituciones financieras como el Fondo Monetario Internacional (FMI),
el propio BM o el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID), que podrían
suministrar estos fondos.
Para que Cuba se incorpore a estas instituciones, explicó De la Torre a
Efe, la iniciativa debería surgir desde La Habana y solicitar
formalmente su ingreso en las instituciones.
La conferencia del Peterson Institute for International Economics se
enmarca en los diálogos abiertos por el proceso de normalización
anunciado en diciembre entre Washington y La Habana, después de 50 años,
y cuyas primeras medidas entraron en vigor el 16 de enero.
Entre ellas, destacan la flexibilización de las restricciones de los
viajes de los estadounidenses a Cuba, la ampliación de 500 a 2.000
dólares por trimestre en el envío de remesas, así como el permiso para
la exportación de materiales de construcción y herramientas o de equipos
para la actividad agrícola privada.
Asimismo, Mastercard anunció este mes su intención de dejar de bloquear
a partir del 1 de marzo las transacciones en Cuba con tarjetas emitidas
por bancos estadounidenses y, en paralelo, American Express (Swiss:
AXP.SW - noticias) afirmó que planea operar en el país una vez que se
han levantado algunas de las restricciones económicas.
Desde Estados Unidos se ha subrayado el potencial económico de Cuba, un
país que se encuentra a solo 90 millas (140 kilómetros) de la costa de
Florida, especialmente desde el punto de vista de la inversión.
Según un informe de Barbara Kotschwar y Gary Hufbauer, investigadores
del Peterson Institute, los flujos de inversión directa extranjera en
Cuba como resultado del proceso de normalización comercial y económica
pasaría de los actuales 1.000 millones de dólares anuales a 17.000
millones de dólares.
Aunque el acercamiento entre Estados Unidos y Cuba se ha iniciado
gracias al empujón del presidente estadounidense, Barack Obama, y su
colega cubano, Raúl Castro, el gran reto es el levantamiento del bloqueo
comercial a la isla caribeña por parte de Washington.
La anulación del bloqueo solo la puede aprobar el Congreso de Estados
Unidos, donde el actual control en ambas cámaras de la oposición
republicana -que se opone a esa medida- dificulta el proceso.

Source: El gran desafío de Cuba es la unificación cambiaria, según el BM
- Yahoo Finanzas España - Continue reading
Cuba and the IMF: towards a new chapter?
By Jeremy Tordjman

Washington (AFP) - After its rapprochement with the United States, the
steadfastly communist Cuba could further dismantle nearly six decades of
isolation by shaking hands with another old enemy, the International
Monetary Fund.

The IMF, the world's crisis lender but also an economic policy
disciplinarian, does not have an especially good reputation in Havana.

Cuba, like a number of its allies -- Venezuela and Bolivia, for instance
-- regards the Fund as too married to a liberal capitalist ideology.

Cuba's now-retired strongman of 50 years, Fidel Castro, has never passed
up an opportunity to label it an "evil" dispenser of "lethal advice". He
went so far as to call for the Fund's "demolition" pure and simple in
the early 2000s.

The Caribbean island was a founding member of the Fund in 1944 when it
was established along with the World Bank.

But in 1964, five years after Castro's revolutionary forces seized
power, Cuba became the first country to turn its back on the IMF, as
well as the World Bank.

That makes Cuba one of the few countries -- North Korea and
Liechtenstein are others -- cut off from the two Bretton Woods
institutions that form the core of the world's powerful development
finance system.

- Times change -

View gallery
A women walks out of a shop with a poster wishing a happy 2015, in
Havana, on December 23, 2014 (AFP …
But the times are changing. "El Lider Maximo" has retired, letting his
less-obdurate brother Raul take over as president.

With that, and an effort by US President Barack Obama to clear away the
cobwebs of the past, lines have opened between Havana and Washington.
And a new generation of Cuban leaders seem less hostile toward the two
institutions, according to experts.

"Younger Cubans are more open to participating in the global economy,
indeed they are eager to do so, and that implies normal relations with
the major international agencies including the IMF and World Bank," said
Richard Feinberg, who advised former president Bill Clinton on Latin
America policy.

Cuba's economy has been choked by the US embargo on the country dating
to 1961, and joining the two institutions could encourage foreign
investors to take advantage of its opening to American tourism and other
formerly blocked sectors.

"It would be a good thing for Cuba," said Terry Maris, former executive
director of the Center for Cuban Business Studies at Ohio Northern

"There's just not sufficient infrastructure right now, it would cost
billions that are not going to come overnight. Cuba has to be stable to
attract foreign investment," he said.

- Struggling economy -

View gallery
US flags adorn a pedicab in Havana on January 26, 2015 (AFP Photo/Yamil
Tightly controlled by the government, the Cuban economy is struggling,
with growth of just 1.3 percent last year, the weakest since Raul Castro
arrived in power in 2006.

But because of its longtime focus on health and education, the country
ranks high in social indicators, according to the United Nations Human
Development Index.

Returning to the IMF fold is not a simple thing. Cuba would have to
submit a formal request, possibly contribute millions of dollars to the
Fund's financial resources, and then agree "to fulfill the obligations
of IMF membership," noted an IMF spokesman.

That includes having to lift a veil on the state of the country's
economy, supplying data on government accounts and submitting to an
annual IMF evaluation.

Carl Meacham director of the Americas Program at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the question is
whether they will take that step toward openness.

"Are they willing to play by the rules of the game by making their
economy much more transparent and cooperating with other countries?" he

The IMF has not yet received any request to join from Havana.

"We are just waiting and seeing," the Fund's Western Hemisphere
department chief Alejandro Werner said recently.

Also crucial is what Washington thinks, as the IMF's largest
shareholder. So far the US has not weighed in on the subject.

Asked about it Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki demurred.

"We're not even there at this point in time. We're far from there," she

"The road will be long," Juan Triana, a professor at the University of
Havana, told AFP.

He pointed to the need for the US Congress to remove its Cuba embargo
law, and for Cuba to be removed from the government's official list of
states which sponsor terrorism.

As long as those two issues remain unresolved, he said, the IMF and
World Bank "can do nearly nothing."

Source: Cuba and the IMF: towards a new chapter? - Yahoo News -;_ylt=AwrBEiS2dMtUzjQAXdbQtDMD Continue reading
U.S. has no idea how many fugitives Cuba's harboring
By Megan O'Matz and Sally Kestin
Sun Sentinel

The United States does not know how many fugitives are in Cuba.

Nobody tracks it. Nobody even routinely asks for the return of those
wanted on serious federal charges, much less more common state offenses,
the Sun Sentinel has found.

Law enforcement officials on state and federal levels say paperwork is
rarely filed in Washington to request diplomatic assistance out of a
sense that doing so would be futile. The United States has no working
extradition treaty with Cuba.

"I could request Mars send someone back and we'd probably have better
luck" said Ryan Stumphauzer, a former U.S. assistant state attorney in
Miami who prosecuted Medicare cheats, most of them Cuban-born. "We know
Cuba is not sending anybody back."

Since President Obama's surprise shift in December toward normalizing
relations with the Communist-led nation, some members of Congress have
demanded that Cuba hand over fugitives. The irony: law enforcement isn't
regularly seeking their return.

Last week, three U.S. senators, including Florida's Marco Rubio, asked
the FBI to produce the names of fugitives in Cuba and copies of their
indictments. No complete list is likely to be forthcoming.

There is no formal mechanism in use to request extradition, no centrally
collected records nationwide of how many likely are on the run in Cuba,
and no coordination among counties or states on the issue, the Sun
Sentinel has found.

Even in Miami-Dade County, where most Cuban-Americans live, state
prosecutors do not log or tally fugitives thought to be in Cuba.

"It's not like we send up to Justice our Christmas list of potential
felons," said Ed Griffith, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's

In recent weeks the U.S. Marshals Office in South Florida has been
scrambling to compile a list of people possibly hiding in Cuba, in case
the Castro government suddenly agrees to expel such fugitives.

"We want to be prepared," said Marshals Office spokesman Barry Golden.

The Sun Sentinel, in a recent far-reaching investigation into Cuban
crime rings in America, disclosed that Cuban nationals are taking
advantage of generous U.S. immigration laws to come to the U.S. and
steal billions from government programs and businesses.

Millions of dollars have traveled back to Cuba, and many individuals
flee there when police close in on scams the Cubans specialize in. These
typically involve health care, auto insurance, or credit card fraud;
cargo theft; or marijuana trafficking, the Sun Sentinel found.

The Sun Sentinel located one fugitive wanted in a million dollar Texas
credit card fraud case living in Santa Clara, Cuba. He'd written to the
judge in his case in 2013, saying he "went to the U.S. to steal" and
included his return address in Cuba.

Prosecutors had no evidence he was actually in Cuba and had not sought
his return. "We can't extradite from Cuba. We wouldn't reach out to the
State Department in a case like that," said Scott Carpenter of the
District Attorney's Office in Fort Bend County, Texas.

In the occasional diplomatic talks, high-level U.S. officials have
brought up the issue of fugitives in Cuba — usually the cases of
prominent violent offenders, such as New Jersey cop killer Joanne
Chesimard, a member the militant Black Liberation Army who fled to Cuba
30 years ago and was given political asylum.

How these appeals happen are a mystery to most street level
investigators and prosecutors who simply don't bother filing voluminous
records to Washington because the process is cumbersome, costly and
likely fruitless.

"As far as them putting together a package for extradition, I guarantee
that isn't happening," said Humberto Dominguez, a Miami criminal defense
lawyer. "It would be worse if they did: it would be such a waste of
taxpayer dollars."

Why send the paperwork to Cuba, he asked. "So they can utilize it as a
bathroom implement?"

No answers or records

John Caulfield, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until
2014, said that for many years, American officials figured "there was no
point in talking to the Cubans" because they didn't expect any cooperation.

But he said he'd tell individuals in law enforcement that if you don't
ask, you don't know what will happen. "We were surprised in some cases"
when the U.S. asked for someone's return and got it.

In the past decade, Cuban officials have returned a handful of
criminals: Kidnappers. Child abusers. An insurance fraudster and others.

Neither the Department of State nor the Department of Justice will
answer questions about how many fugitives the U.S. has sought to have
returned, who, or even whether, state and federal prosecutors request

In recent months, the agencies have provided the Sun Sentinel with the
same prepared statement three times: "The United States continues to
seek the return from Cuba of fugitives from U.S. justice, and repeatedly
raises their cases with the Government of Cuba."

Said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr: "We generally do not
disclose if requests are made or provide information on whether specific
cases have been brought before different foreign authorities."

In March, the Sun Sentinel filed a Freedom of Information request with
the Justice Department seeking copies of requests from prosecutors for
the return of Cuban nationals wanted for felonies since 2007. The
newspaper also sought records showing what efforts were made to inform
Cuban authorities or US diplomats in Cuba of a fugitive's possible
presence in Cuba.

The agency replied that it "failed to locate any responsive records."

The Sun Sentinel has received no records under a similar request made
nine months ago to the State Department.

American University Professor William LeoGrande, a specialist in Latin
American politics, said Cuba has had difficulty getting solid
information from the Justice Department on fugitives the U.S. wants.
"I've had a Cuban official tell me they couldn't even get confirmation
that this was the right person."

Teddy Roosevelt's treaty

It's widely assumed that the U.S. has no extradition treaty with Cuba.
In fact, one was signed in 1904 under President Theodore Roosevelt. Its
use was suspended in the 1960s after Fidel Castro came to power.

"You often hear that the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Cuba
has been abandoned. That's not so," said Robert Muse, a Washington
attorney and expert on Cuban-related law. "It's listed by the State
Department as a treaty in force. This agreement exists, it's just in

Requesting extradition from any country is a long, formal, onerous
effort, guided by the terms of each treaty.

Prosecutors must assemble affidavits stating the facts of the case;
texts of relevant criminal statutes; certified copies of arrest warrants
and indictments; evidence such as court transcripts, photographs and
fingerprints of the criminal; and any conviction papers.

An original and four copies must be sent to the Justice Department's
Office of International Affairs in Washington, which translates the
material and funnels it to the State Department. Prosecutors are warned
not to contact foreign countries directly.

Appeals are made by American Embassy officials through "diplomatic
note," accompanied by the thick bundle of documents —certified and
secured with an official seal and red ribbon.

Though federal officials in Miami know that dozens of Medicare fraud
fugitives who stole millions fled to Cuba, "Why would the government
file extradition requests when there isn't even a treaty to proceed
under?" said Stumphauzer, who left the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami
in 2011.

Asked what federal agents do when they learn a Medicare fraudster has
taken off to Cuba, one current investigator explained: they throw up
their hands and say: "Oh crap," knowing the likelihood of recovering
someone is low.

State and local officials, too, make no attempts at extradition.

Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Henry Sacramento, whose team repeatedly arrests
Cubans in marijuana grow houses, said: "We just put a warrant in the
system and hope they make a mistake in coming back into the country again."

"As far as extradition from Cuba," he said, "I don't know of anyone
that's tried to do that."

The Jan. 23rd letter Rubio and the two other senators sent to U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting a list of all fugitives the FBI
believes are living in Cuba, notes "there is little definitive
information about their cases available publicly."

The senators wrote that there are longtime murderers and airplane
hijackers in Cuba, but also "numerous others guilty of lesser but still
important crimes, including money laundering and health care fraud."

For years, members of Congress have accused Cuba of harboring 70 to 80
fugitives: most of whom fled there decades ago

More recently, the FBI in Miami has compiled a spreadsheet showing 20
Medicare fugitives thought to be hiding in Cuba.

The Sun Sentinel, in its investigation, found references in court or
police records to an additional 50 wanted in other frauds, cargo theft
or marijuana trafficking.

The count could be far higher.

There are 500 Cuban-born fugitives wanted on federal charges and at
least another 500 wanted on state charges in Florida alone. They could
be anywhere in the world, according to records provided by the U.S.
Marshals Service and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

FDLE does not require country of birth to be filled out consistently on
warrants, so it's impossible to fully determine exactly how many are
from Cuba or may have gone back there.

Proving a criminal is in Cuba can be difficult. At times authorities
know a fugitive boarded a charter flight for Cuba, but in other cases
they have only the word of a family member to go on — and that person
may lie to throw police off the track.

"There's no method of confirming that somebody has fled, either directly
to Cuba or indirectly through another country, because we don't have
communication with anyone in Cuba to verify that," said Golden, the
Marshals Service spokesman.

Some criminal defense lawyers representing Cuban offenders believe
thousands of fugitives may have returned there.

Fort Myers defense attorney Rene Suarez, who represents Cuban clients,
said public estimates of fugitives in Cuba are typically "big, federal
type cases."

"But most of these folks that have gone back, they're not federal cases.
The vast majority are just state charges that are tracked county by
county," he said.

Asked if there could be hundreds hiding in Cuba, he said: "No … there's
got to be thousands of them."

Staff writer William E. Gibson and correspondent Tracey Eaton
contributed to this report.

Source: U.S.-Cuba extradition treaty lacking - Sun Sentinel - Continue reading
The U.S. Will Not Return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, the White House Says
TIME Staff Jan. 29, 2015

U.S. has leased land on Guantanamo Bay since the 1903 Cuban–American Treaty

Despite the recent historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, the White House
said Thursday it had no plans to return Guantánamo Bay, the site of a
significant U.S. naval base and military prison on the island-nation's
southeast coast.

This announcement comes in response to Wednesday's statement from Cuban
President Raúl Castro that restoring Havana's control of the bay is a
prerequisite for normalizing ties with the U.S, Agence France-Presse

However, White House spokesman Josh Earnest indicated any such move was
off the cards. "The President does believe that the prison at Guantánamo
Bay should be closed down," he said. "But the naval base is not
something that we wish to be closed."

The U.S. currently controls over 45 sq. mi. of Guantánamo Bay as a
result of treaties dating back to the Spanish-American War. The military
prison has been embroiled in controversy for reports of torture and the
absence of trials for inmates accused of terrorism.

The U.S. and Cuba reopened diplomatic ties in December after over 50
years of nonacknowledgment. Obama issued an executive order to close the
Guantánamo prison in 2009, but so far this has not come into fruition.

Source: The U.S. Will Not Return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, the White House
Says | TIME - Continue reading
Obama won't meet Raul Castro's demands, but doesn't regret Cuba move
By Ben Wolfgang - The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Obama administration has no intention of meeting Cuban President
Raul Castro's various preconditions for normalizing diplomatic relations
with the U.S., officials said Thursday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the
administration, while not entertaining the idea of, for example,
returning the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba, does
not regret the historic decision to end 50 years of isolation and reopen
diplomatic avenues with Havana.

"I think what [Mr. Castro's] comments highlight is there are pretty
clear differences between establishing diplomatic relations and carrying
out the longer process of normalizing relations," Mr. Earnest said.

Mr. Castro this week laid out three central conditions for fully
normalizing relations with the U.S. — the lifting of the American
embargo on Cuba; the return of Guantanamo to the Cuban government; and
compensation for the "human and economic damage" suffered by the Cubans
as a result of U.S. policies.

It's not yet clear whether Congress will move to lift the embargo, but
the White House all but ruled out the other two conditions.

Still, Mr. Earnest said the decision to open diplomatic channels with
Havana was a good one, as it will allow the U.S. to have greater
influence over the country and provide a more formal way to express
displeasure with certain Cuban policies.

"There are a variety of concerns we have with the way the Castro regime
treats political dissidents, the way they treat individuals who are
trying to freely express their views, even the way they treat some
reporters," he said.

Source: Obama won't meet Raul Castro's demands, but doesn't regret Cuba
move - Washington Times - Continue reading
Cuba's dissidents and exiles seek a leadership role in the future of Cuba
01/29/2015 10:32 PM 01/29/2015 10:32 PM

The historic Dec. 17 announcement that Washington and Havana agreed to
restore diplomatic relations took members of the exile community and
Cuba's opposition movement by surprise.

But now that the shock has subsided, there is a new effort underway for
Cubans on and off the island to join forces and take on a greater role
in both the ongoing negotiations between the two governments and in the
future of Cuba. The dialogue between exiles and Cuban dissidents and
activists is happening in organized gatherings in Miami as well as at
homes across the island.

At a Convention for Democracy in Cuba event held Wednesday evening in
Little Havana, some 150 Cubans and Cuban Americans pledged to set aside
differences and sang Cuba's national anthem together before pitching
ideas for establishing a consensus that would help shape the future
political landscape of Cuba. Among the ideas was establishing a formal
Mesa de Diálogo (Roundtable of Dialogue) between government opponents on
and off the island and creating a citizens network tied to the
Roundtable to enhance the flow of information. The group also discussed
organizing a similar event in Cuba.

While much remains to be seen on how negotiations and civil society's
role will unfold, the Little Havana gathering illustrated how the new
Cuba policy has enhanced dialogue.

Many in the audience expressed support for dissidents in Cuba.

Elvira Casal, who left Cuba in 1961 as part of the exodus of children
during Operation Pedro Pan, said she attended the Convention for
Democracy in Cuba event at the Cuba Ocho cultural center to hear what
dissidents living on the island had to say and how exiles could help
their cause.

"These are the people we need to listen to because they are the ones
living there," Casal said. "If we want to be part of whatever happens in
the future — and I'm not necessarily overly optimistic in the short term
— we Cubans here and there need to take advantage of whatever spaces we
can because the United States is not going to solve our problem."

Ramon Saúl Sanchez, founder of the Democracy Movement, said the new
dialogue between exiles and Cubans breaks traditional patterns.

"It is the first time this happens at this magnitude," Sanchez said. "We
are eager to see how the Cubans can coordinate an effective instrument
and become protagonists of our own destiny, so that the absence of our
voices does not cause someone else to speak for us."

Convention participants also said they would like to develop a
comprehensive plan for changing the political landscape in Cuba to
present at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Roberta
Jacobson, the U.S. top diplomat on Cuba, has said that including a broad
range of civil society organizations — including Cuban dissidents — in
discussions at the Summit of the Americas is a priority.

But during his address at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States (CELAC) in Costa Rica on Wednesday, Cuban leader Raúl Castro
suggested that only Cuban NGOs with formal United Nations recognition,
in essence those with links to the Cuban state, should participate in
the Summit in Panama.

Follow Nora Gamez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

Source: Cuba's dissidents and exiles seek a leadership role in the
future of Cuba | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
Pekín aplaza el cobro de créditos a La Habana
AGENCIAS | La Habana | 30 Ene 2015 - 11:08 am.

Ambos gobiernos firman cinco nuevos acuerdos en agricultura,
telecomunicaciones y comercio

Los Gobiernos de Cuba y China firmaron cinco nuevos acuerdos en áreas
como agricultura, telecomunicaciones y comercio, en el marco de la XXVII
Comisión Intergubernamental bilateral celebrada esta semana en La
Habana, informaron medios oficiales, reporta EFE.

La ronda de negociaciones duró tres días y concluyó con contratos
comerciales para el grupo empresarial cubano Labiofam —que elabora
productos de uso veterinario, humano y fitosanitario a partir de
sustancias naturales— y convenios en agricultura y telecomunicaciones
sobre los cuales los medios no precisaron detalles.

En la reunión también se acordó oficializar el "aplazamiento" del inicio
de pago de un crédito otorgado por China a Cuba en materia de
cooperación económica y técnica.

Además, se gestionó la entrega de varios equipos chinos a la Isla, entre
ellos piezas de repuesto para autobuses de la marca Yutong importados
por Cuba en la última década para su transporte público.

China es el segundo socio comercial de Cuba y la Isla el mayor del país
asiático en el Caribe, con un intercambio que en 2013 alcanzó un volumen
de 1.880 millones de dólares, de acuerdo con datos oficiales.

Source: Pekín aplaza el cobro de créditos a La Habana | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Traffic to increase at BR port after U.S. lifts embargo on Cuba
Jan 29, 2015 2:09 AM RST
By Kiran Chawla

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana hopes to cash in on the United
States lifting a decades old embargo on Cuba by offering to them what
the Bayou State prides itself on --- it's crops.

Greater Port of Baton Rouge's Karen St. Cyr says the economic impact
will be tremendous to all of Louisiana's ports, especially Baton Rouge.

She said boat, train and road traffic will all be increasing thanks to
open trades now an option between the United States and Cuba. With
Louisiana so close to Cuba, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
Mike Strain said its a win, win for Louisiana.

"Currently, in the food products that are exported to Cuban, 40-50% of
that comes from Louisiana, and we are perfectly poised to increase that
market share as that market becomes more available," said Strain.

Strain said Louisiana has advantages other states do not such as the
Mississippi River, other ports like in Lake Charles and New Orleans,
availability of products such as rice, grain, corn and more and a
long-standing relationship with Cuba.

Strain said Cuba imports 600,000 metric tons of rice a year.

"If you look at what 600,000 metric tons could mean, that could mean a
third of our rice crop. We are an export state," said Strain. "The
Cubans will be importing 500,000 metric tons of wheat. That's twice the
size of our entire crop that we have in Louisiana."

Currently, anywhere between 900 and 1,200 ships come through the Port of
Baton Rouge. With this partnership, that means at least 200 more a year,
and with every ship, that means at least $1 million of economic impact
to the area.

Strain said barges have to rent tugboats and pilots, pay docking fees,
buy groceries and supplies while they're docked in Baton Rouge.

St. Cyr said river traffic is the most convenient method of exporting.
Plus, by next year, West Baton Rouge will have expanded its train system
and built a storage area for trains to stay over.

"The more we can export, the more we can move products. It creates jobs
for our farmers," said St. Cyr.

Strain said they have already started exporting to Cuba, but in the
coming years, he said there will be up to a 30% increase in exports.

Source: Traffic to increase at BR port after U.S. lifts embargo on Cuba
- WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports - Continue reading
"I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear"
El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison
14YMEDIO, La Habana | Enero 28, 2015

Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a
month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi
whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green
and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and
on the other, Raul.

The artist's intention was to release them in Central Park in order to
recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the
added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His
frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three
Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the
identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle's driver and took them to the
Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist
to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be
taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was
transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where
he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees
accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by
performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last
December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a
counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned
of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, "Freedom for
El Sexto."

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some
jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab,
shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in
Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was
carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not
seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my
chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived
here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care
at all that I am sick and asthmatic.

I am in Company Four. They call this place "the tank," and there are all
kinds of people. I met four dissidents from Alturas de la Lisa. Yorlay
Perez, Yusel Perez, Santiago Perez and Hanoy.


One day a boy came into the tank who said he knew me from the park and
that he followed my work on the streets. This swarthy young man of small
stature surprised me when he took off his pullover revealing on his back
a tattoo of the face of Fidel Castro. I explained to him that I am an
opponent of the Castro regime and that the gentleman he wore engraved on
his skin was the one responsible for me being a prisoner.

He responded that he had no family and that he was a "son of the
fatherland," for which reason Fidel had given him a home, and that was
not happening anywhere else in the world. I told him that was true, that
if he had been born in another country no one would have given him a
home, but maybe he could have sought it for himself and that really he
owed nothing to Fidel. I told him of the case of Amaury Pacheco, who
with a family of six children was harassed into an eviction from an
abandoned house in the Alamar suburb, where they had gone so far as to
refuse him water and electric service.

Later I found out through another boy, whom I met in Vedado, that it was
said that he was with State Security and that he always had a pistol
under his shirt. His acquaintances nicknamed him the Hoarse One, but I
called him Fidelito.

This son of the fatherland was prisoner for falsification of documents,
something he had done in order to leave the country. In a single night
he tried to hang himself twice.

Yusel, the Opponent

In one of the constant inspections that they carry out here, a major and
a second lieutenant thought that the fingernails of one prisoner were
too long and that he had to cut them. He explained that he had no nail
clippers, much less scissors. The major took a knife from his belt and
threatened to cut his nails by force. The boy resisted and then the
major told him that he had to bite them off.

When they passed by the place where the opponent Yusel was, they noticed
that he wore a white bracelet with the word Change on one of his wrists.
As he did not obey the order to take it off, they forcibly snatched it
from him. Then Yusel started yelling, "Down with the Castros, down with
the dictatorship." The second lieutenant cornered him against a bed to
beat him but the rest of the prisoners got in the middle and prevented
it. Things got hot but did not go further because the major started
screaming that they were not going to beat him. Only then did the
prisoners relax. Yusel was in a punishment cell for four days, but they
did not beat him.

'The Cigar' that urinates

The Cigar arrived without a noise. Strong, tall, he must be between 60
and 70 years old, and he does not sleep. He said that he was a prisoner
because he had threatened with a screwdriver some teens who were
throwing a ball against the wall of his house. No one got close to him
because he did not bathe. One day he urinated in the middle of the
hallway, which was understood as "blackmail" for the other prisoners who
would have to clean his filth. When they demanded that he wipe up that
puddle, he said that he would do it with his clothes but they did not
let him because that would mean enduring an even greater stench from
him. We understood that he was going crazy the day that they read out
loud the cards where our names and crimes appear. Then we learned his
case: child sexual abuse.

To my Facebook friends and blog readers

I want to tell you that I really miss finding out about your trips and
other events that are reflected in your accounts. I would also like to
thank everyone who supported my cause and confess that none of my crazy
things would have been possible if I had not known that I was not alone
and that I count on the support of many of you. It is possible to fill
hearts with hope. Evil will never overpower good. Retrograde minds will
never overcome free minds. Violence will never overcome art and reason.
Death will never overcome life and love.

I am going through an ordeal that has only been the legitimization of a
good work and the confirmation of an iron dictatorship, which must be
combatted with wit and cunning.

Believe me, sometimes I laugh alone in this dark place of 18 by 100 feet
with 37 triple bunks, that is to say between 118 and 190 people plus
those who sleep on the floor. I laugh even though the toilets are stuck
next to each other without any privacy. I live happy because I live
without fear and, although they persecute and harass my family, they
will never manage to make a dent in my creativity. This time I believe
they have been ridiculed like never before by anyone. Although they kept
the pigs from getting to Central Park, all of us who have an imagination
can see them running with their names engraved and people behind them
like a true Animal Farm.

Ha, ha, ha. Hugs to all, and I wait to be able to read you.

Danilo Maldonado Machado

Translated by MLK

Source: "I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear" - Continue reading
Fidel Castro in good health, Brazilian visitor says
HAVANA Wed Jan 28, 2015 6:44pm EST

(Reuters) - Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in good health,
appearing skinny but lucid, a Brazilian theologian who met with him told
official Cuban media on Wednesday.

Castro, 88, who stepped down from power in 2008, has not been seen in
public in a year and his photograph has not appeared in Cuban media
since August, giving rise to speculation about his health.

"The commander (Castro) enjoys very good health is in very good
spirits," the writer and activist Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo, better
known as Friar Betto, told Cuban state television on Wednesday after
meeting Castro in Havana on Tuesday.

The Cuban news agency Prensa Latina quoted Betto as saying Castro looked
thin and took copious notes during their conversation. Castro was lucid
and well-informed on national and international affairs, he said.

Though Castro periodically writes a column, he went silent for several
weeks after his younger brother and current president, Raul Castro, and
U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 they would restore
diplomatic ties.

On Jan. 12, Castro sent a letter to friend and retired Argentine soccer
star Diego Maradona to squelch rumors that he had died. On Monday he
finally commented on U.S. relations, offering lukewarm support for the
agreement his brother reached with Obama.

"I don't trust the policy of the United States, nor have I had an
exchange with them, but this does not mean ... a rejection of a peaceful
solution to conflicts or the dangers of war," Fidel Castro said in a
statement published on Monday on the website of Cuba's Communist Party
newspaper Granma.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alan Crosby)

Source: Fidel Castro in good health, Brazilian visitor says | Reuters - Continue reading
Raul Castro demands U.S. pay back Cubans for 'damages,' return Guantanamo
Published January 28, 2015 Fox News Latino

Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States
return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade
embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two
nations re-establish normal relations.

Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic
relations but "if these problems aren't resolved, this diplomatic
rapprochement wouldn't make any sense."

Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that they
would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening
embassies in each other's countries. The two governments held
negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of
embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.

Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed
to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans
who don't depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.

The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel,
remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the
United States' unaltered goal of reforming Cuba's single-party political
system and centrally planned economy.

Many Cuban exiles and U.S. lawmakers have stressed that the Castro
regime owes $6 billion for the assets seized from thousands of U.S.
citizens and businesses after the Cuban revolution in 1959, Fox News
recently reported. With the United States pressing forward on
normalizing relations with the communist country, some say the talks
must resolve these claims.

"The administration has not provided details about how it will hold the
Castro regime to account for the more than $6 billion in outstanding
claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by
the Castros," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Fla., top Democrat on the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State
John Kerry ahead of historic talks in Havana this month.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Fla.) who is chair of the Middle East
and North Africa Subcommittee, assailed the Castro regime's Guantanamo

"According to the legally binding agreement between the U.S. and Cuba
regarding Guantanamo: 'so long as the United States of America shall not
abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments
shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station
shall continue to have the territorial area that it now has,'" the
Cuban-American lawmaker said in a statement to the press.

"Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is strategically important for U.S.
national security...The President must not allow this strategic asset to
be extorted from the U.S. by the Castro brothers at any cost."

Ros-Lehtinen said the Castro regime needs to acknowledge the
compensation it owes to Cubans and Americans whose properties and assets
it confiscated.

"Noticeably absent from the regime's demands, not surprisingly, is any
offer to compensate the Cubans and Americans who had their land and
property seized by the Castro regime, any change in its oppressive
nature and abysmal human rights practices, and to halt its support for

Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing
its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro's
government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a
set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for
Cuban dissidents and Cuba's removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors
of terrorism.

On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands,
saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal
relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear
highly unlikely in the near future.

"The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process
of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while
the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory
illegally occupied by the Guanatanamo naval base," Castro said.

He demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and
television broadcasts and deliver "just compensation to our people for
the human and economic damage that they're suffered."

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for
comment on Castro's remarks.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: Raul Castro demands U.S. pay back Cubans for 'damages,' return
Guantanamo | Fox News Latino - Continue reading
Marco Rubio schedules Senate hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took the helm Wednesday of a
subcommittee -- and promptly scheduled a hearing on on President Obama's
new Cuba policy.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western
Hemisphere subcommittee, Rubio called for a hearing at 10 a.m. next
Tuesday to "examine President Obama's changes to Cuba policy, and its
implications for human rights in the island," according to a news release.

"Being from Florida, I've seen how events in the Western Hemisphere not
only impact our state but our entire nation. For too long, Congress and
the Administration have failed to prioritize our relations in this
hemisphere." Rubio said in the statement.

"As chairman of the subcommittee, I will promote bold measures that
improve U.S. economic and security interests by addressing the region's
growing calls for transparent institutions, access to quality education,
private sector competitiveness, and respect for political and economic
freedom for all."

Rubio, who has been taking steps toward a potential presidential
campaign, is also a member of three other Foreign Relations subcommittees.


Panel will hold its first hearing next Tuesday regarding Cuba policy

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was officially named
today as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's
Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian
Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women's Issues. He will
also be a member of the Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, and
International Cybersecurity Policy; the Subcommittee on Near East, South
Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism; and the Subcommittee on Africa
and Global Health Policy.

Rubio also announced the first hearing to be held in the Western
Hemisphere subcommittee will be next Tuesday, February 3 at 10:00 a.m.
EST. It will examine President Obama's changes to Cuba policy, and its
implications for human rights in the island.

In assuming this chairmanship, Rubio issued the following statement:

"Being from Florida, I've seen how events in the Western Hemisphere not
only impact our state but our entire nation. For too long, Congress and
the Administration have failed to prioritize our relations in this
hemisphere. This lack of attention has kept us from seizing the
opportunities of a rising middle class, emboldened tyrants and non-state
actors to erode democratic values, allowed global competitors to deepen
their influence in the continent, and diminished our ability to respond
to the proliferation of transnational organized crime and the violence
and instability associated with it.

"As chairman of the subcommittee, I will promote bold measures that
improve U.S. economic and security interests by addressing the region's
growing calls for transparent institutions, access to quality education,
private sector competitiveness, and respect for political and economic
freedom for all.

"I look forward to advocating for closer ties with Canada, Mexico, and
other regional partners such as Colombia as well as greater energy
cooperation and trade. The subcommittee will be a platform for bringing
light and solutions to rising problems in the hemisphere, such as
growing inhospitality for individual freedoms, deteriorating security
environments, lagging competitiveness, ineffective regional
organizations, the need for political stability and economic prosperity
in Haiti, and the promotion and support of democracy in places where
individual freedoms are all but a dream, such as Cuba and Venezuela.

"I hope to also continue my work on the U.S. government's efforts to
promote democracy and advance human rights around the world, to support
the fair and equitable treatment of women around the globe, and increase
religious freedom. This is another set of issues that has far too often
been neglected by this administration. I plan to continue to be a voice
for the oppressed, whether they be in our own hemisphere or on the other
side of the globe. I look forward to working to ensure that U.S.
programs aimed at advancing these freedoms are effective and achieving
results that are consistent with our values as a nation.

"I also intend to remain active on the East Asia and Pacific
subcommittee by supporting our strong alliances in Asia and working to
address the challenges confronting that vitally important region which
will play a significant role in shaping the 21st century. It's clear
that American leadership has achieved a great deal in this region in
recent decades, and now it's important that we take none of our gains
for granted and continue working with our allies to advance our
security, economic and human rights agenda."

Posted by Patricia Mazzei at 1:57 PM on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in
Cuba, Marco Rubio, Miami-Dade Politics | Permalink

Source: Marco Rubio schedules Senate hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy | Naked
Politics - Continue reading
Five ways Obama could make Castro pay Cuba's $6 billion debt to Americans
By Gregg JarrettPublished January 28, 2015

In his half century reign of terror, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro
committed manifold atrocities. Documented evidence reveals him to be a
ruthless tyrant who endlessly abused the most basic of human rights –a
man who played a pivotal role in bringing the world to the precipice of
nuclear annihilation for 13 harrowing days in October of 1962.

Beyond his crimes against humanity and the callous suffering he
inflicted on the people of Cuba, he ruined the lives and livelihoods of
thousands of Americans. He stole their land, homes, bank accounts,
possessions and businesses. He absconded with their property under the
guise of "nationalization." But he is, in truth, a thief.

Will his victims now be fairly compensated or otherwise see the return
of their confiscated property in the wake of America's first steps
toward rapprochement with Cuba? The answer is both legal and political.
Will his victims now be fairly compensated or otherwise see the return
of their confiscated property in the wake of America's first steps
toward rapprochement with Cuba? The answer is both legal and political.
President Obama holds the key. So, don't get your hopes up.

The Theft

In the first half of the 20th century, Americans and U.S. businesses
dominated Cuba. They accumulated vast holdings of property and operated
many of the most lucrative businesses. All of that ended with the Cuban
Revolution in 1959. Castro "nationalized" U.S.-owned industries and
seized much of the island's private property from Americans. There was
no restitution. One legal scholar called it the largest uncompensated
expropriation by a foreign government in history.

The U.S. retaliated with an embargo, prohibiting all trade. But the
Americans who were expelled from Cuba were left holding titles and deeds
to homes and businesses to which they had no access. Their property
rights were dissolved, and any legal judgments obtained were
unenforceable against an isolated nation that refused to recognize any
authority other than its own.

Thousands pursued legal recourse and sought reparations under
indemnification programs established by Congress. Others filed lawsuits
and secured judgments. But Castro didn't care. He repudiated the
legitimacy of the restitution programs, the valuation of losses and the
legal authority of the courts. This, even though Cuba admits their
renegade nationalization was, and is, compensable.

So what, then, does Castro consider fair compensation? Judging from his
payouts to other aggrieved nations, it is mere pennies on the dollar.

How do you value dirt?

In 1961, the U.S. Commerce Department valued American property seized by
the Cuban government at roughly $ 1 to 1.8 billion. Nearly 6-thousand
claims were legally certified. Other published reports placed the theft
as high as $ 9 billion. But the truth is, it's impossible to know
–especially inasmuch as the value of everything plummeted the moment
Castro took control of the island.

What would the same confiscated properties be worth in today's dollars?
$50 billion? $100 billion? How about nothing at all? Given how the
Castro brothers have driven their economy into the ground, making Cuba
one of the poorest nations in the world, valuation could be closer to
dirt than dollars.

Which invites another question: assuming a monetary value could somehow
be devised, how would Cuba pay for it? With the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the Castros lost their financial benefactor. The island is
blighted and broke. Even if it offered government bonds as compensation,
are they worth the paper upon which they are written? How could they be

Reclaim the property?

Theoretically, it is possible for the confiscated property to be
reclaimed someday by the original owners. But that would require a
dramatic Cuban transformation from socialism to democracy where private
property ownership is permitted. In a recent speech, Cuban President
Raul Castro insisted Cuba would not renounces its core socialist ideals
as part of the deal he negotiated with President Obama to renew
diplomatic relations.

Even if some semblance of democracy were to be restored to Cuba in the
distant future, what remains of the stolen property? No one knows how
many of the private residences that were seized have been divided or
fallen into decay. Some may no longer exist. And what of the current
occupants? Would they allow themselves to be kicked out?

The same may be true of the many farms, industries and commercial
businesses that were confiscated and have been put to other uses in the
last 5 decades. Yes, they have development potential in an open, free
market society. But, again, the future of Cuba is nebulous. How
realistic is the return of these vast holdings under a continuing Castro

What Obama should do

As a first condition to normalizing relations, President Obama should
demand that all American victims of stolen property be compensated
equitably. He is already obligated by law to do this under the
Helms-Burton Act. But Obama has a propensity to ignore or overrule with
impunity those laws he regards as misguided or inconvenient. This is one
law he should follow.

A second condition should be the establishment of a commission of judges
with legally binding authority to render compensation decisions. Several
reparation models can be studied and replicated, notably the tribunal
that dispensed claims in post-unification Germany.

Third, cash payments need not be derived exclusively from destitute
Cuban coffers. A system of "user fees" on U.S. money going into Cuba
could help fund the claims. Moreover, license and development rights in
Cuba could be conferred in lieu of cash. It would help stimulate the
moribund Cuban economy while compensating simultaneously the many
American victims of theft.

Fourth, Obama should order that frozen Cuban assets be used for
compensation. In 2012 alone, the U.S. Treasury Department seized $ 253
million in Cuban funds, slightly more than the previous year. It is
unknown precisely how much frozen cash is available, but it could be
enough to pay some of the claims fairly.

Fifth, and importantly, thousands of Cuban exiles living in America who
were also victimized by Castro's prodigious theft should be included in
any negotiated settlement.

President Obama has the power and leverage to force the Castro regime to
capitulate if Cuba wants to end the sanctions and restore economic
relations. But so far, he has uttered not a word about a desire to do so.

And when it comes to negotiations with adversaries, Obama tends to give
away the store.

Gregg Jarrett is a Fox News Anchor and former defense attorney.

Source: Five ways Obama could make Castro pay Cuba's $6 billion debt to
Americans | Fox News - Continue reading
In Havana's outskirts, a less sunny view of U.S.-Cuba ties
Rick Jervis, USA TODAY 7:16 p.m. EST January 28, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO DE PAULA, Cuba — Just an hour's drive from downtown
Havana, people in the rural outskirts tend to be more concerned with
crops, church and scraping together their next meal than politics. Yet
many intently followed last week's historic talks in the capital between
U.S. and Cuba to gauge how the diplomatic détente was progressing.

"This should have happened a long time ago," said Felix Pablo, a
musician in this rural neighborhood 10 miles southeast of central
Havana. "Politicians will always be politicians. But the people need to

President Obama has repeatedly stressed that a main objective of the
renewed diplomatic efforts with Cuba is to empower and better the lives
of average Cubans. In central Havana, residents are overwhelmingly in
favor of the new ties. Many rely on tourism dollars and see an influx of
American visitors as a direct path to improved lives.

But in the city's outer stretches, which tend to be poorer and less
reliant on tourism, the reaction was less predictable.

In Santa Fe, 12 miles east of downtown Havana, market stalls recently
sold clumps of cabbage, sweet potato and freshly-butchered hog —
including the head. A woman in one stall sold small cups of guarapo,
fresh sugar-cane juice, for a nickel a glass.

Evangelio Rodriguez, 48, a retired civil worker sipping on guarapo, said
the U.S. embargo against Cuba needs to be removed before Cubans see real

"I'm confident in the direction my government is headed," Rodriguez
said. "But I'd like to wait to see real results, palpable results,
before drawing any conclusions."

In nearby Cotorro, known for its large tire factory, Jordan Ferrer
Conde, 37, had far less trust in his government. He said the situation
in Cuba is so dire that he tried to leave on a makeshift raft six times.
All six times, his raft sprung a leak, and he was forced to return to
the island. He's saving for his seventh attempt.

The average Cuban makes $20 a month, yet a pair of good shoes cost
around $80 and a pound of meat $40, he said. He said he believed the
talks wouldn't lead to much change. He and his friends are most worried
that U.S. officials will change the Cuban Adjustment Act, which offers
immigration benefits to Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil.

"Tell Obama not to change that," he said. "At least not until I get there."

His friend, Yusiel Verdecia, 24, also said he didn't believe increased
ties with the U.S. will do much for the average Cuban. He's left the
island on rafts three times — returned each time by a U.S. Coast Guard
cutter. Cuba fined him the equivalent of $250 for trying to leave, or
about two years' salary.

"This is just going from bad to worse here," Verdecia said.

In Cotorro's main square, Javier Gonzalo Hernandez, 29, said he approved
of the talks and hoped the two countries could someday enjoy more
interaction. But changes to Cuba shouldn't be an objective, he said.

"Our problems are an internal issue," said Hernandez, a computer
programmer. "We'll resolve them ourselves."

A nearby group of men, all friends sitting on a bench, nearly all oppose
the new ties. One man, who gave his name only as Carlos, for fear of
repercussion for speaking out against the government, said the state has
failed to deliver to the Cuban people, regardless of its partners. He
said Obama is making a mistake because the Cuban people will gain nothing.

Precise musical timbres, not politics, was the topic for Grupo Ágape, a
seven-piece traditional Cuban son band, as they practiced in the living
room of a small house in San Francisco de Paula. The house was down the
road from Finca Vigía, the former home of Ernest Hemingway.

Bass guitarist Marcel Fernandez said renewed ties with the U.S. could
have an especially positive impact on Cuban musicians such as himself.
His bandmates would love to play in the U.S. but haven't yet because no
one's invited them. Maybe that'll change now, he said.

"Less restraints, more opportunity," Fernandez said. "Hopefully, this
benefits everyone."

Ocelia Perez, 45, spent a recent afternoon buying knickknacks — colored
plastic garlic cloves, tube socks, plastic buckets — at a market in San
Miguel del Padrón to resell them for a profit from her home in downtown
Havana. She said the diplomatic posturing is a good start, but Americans
need to remove the embargo to truly improve Cuban lives and allow more
Americans on the island.

"This is the most beautiful country in the world," Perez said. "Let the
people come and see it."

But the government recently confiscated $5,000 in clothes that she had
imported from Peru and planned to sell. It was the last straw in a
series of run-ins with the state regarding her legal resale business,
she said. Last month, she turned in her visa application and hopes to
soon migrate to the U.S.

Source: In Havana's outskirts, a less sunny view of U.S.-Cuba ties - Continue reading
U.S. Must Return Guantanamo for Normal Relations With Cuba, Raúl Castro Says
Demands Come as Two Nations Move Toward Renewing Full Diplomatic Relations
Jan. 28, 2015 8:23 p.m. ET

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica—Cuban President Raúl Castro demanded Wednesday that
the U.S. return the base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade
embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two
nations re-establish normal relations.

Mr. Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and
Caribbean States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full
diplomatic relations but "if these problems aren't resolved, this
diplomatic rapprochement wouldn't make any sense."

Mr. Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that
they would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening
embassies in each other's countries. The two governments held
negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of
embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.

Mr. Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures
designed to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of
Cubans who don't depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.

The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel,
remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the
U.S.' unaltered goal of reforming Cuba's single-party political system
and centrally planned economy.

Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing
its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Mr. Castro's
government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a
set of long-standing demands that include an end to U.S. support for
Cuban dissidents and Cuba's removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors
of terrorism.

On Wednesday, Mr. Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban
demands, saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal
relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear
highly unlikely in the near future.

The U.S. established the military base in 1903, and the current Cuban
government has been demanding the land's return since the 1959
revolution that brought it to power. Cuba also wants the U.S. to pay
hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for losses caused by the embargo.

"The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process
of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while
the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory
illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base," Mr. Castro said.

He demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and
television broadcasts and deliver "just compensation to our people for
the human and economic damage that they're suffered."

The U.S. State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for
comment on Mr. Castro's remarks.

John Caulfield, who led the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until last
year, said the tone of Cuba's recent remarks didn't mean it would be
harder than expected to reach a deal on short-term goals, such as
reopening full embassies in Havana and Washington.

In fact, he said, the comments by Mr. Castro and high-ranking diplomats
may indicate the pressure Cuba's government is feeling to strike a deal
as Cubans' hopes for better living conditions rise in the wake of
Obama's outreach.

"There is this huge expectation of change and this expectation has been
set off by the president's announcement," Mr. Caulfield said.

Source: U.S. Must Return Guantanamo for Normal Relations With Cuba, Raúl
Castro Says - WSJ - Continue reading
Raul Castro warns U.S. against meddling in Cuba's affairs
Wed Jan 28, 2015 6:42pm EST
By Enrique Pretel

Jan 28 (Reuters) - Cuba will not accept any interference from the United
States in its internal affairs, President Raul Castro said on Wednesday,
warning that meddling would make rapprochement between the two countries

His comments came after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta
Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit the
island in 35 years, held talks with Cuban officials on restoring
diplomatic relations. Jacobson also met Cuban dissidents, annoying Cuban

"Everything appears to indicate that the aim is to foment an artificial
political opposition via economic, political and communicational means,"
Castro told a summit in Costa Rica.

"If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement
between Cuba and the United States would be meaningless," he said.

Castro made it clear, however, that he was committed to the talks
despite his concern that Washington might try to stir up internal
opposition within Cuba through greater telecommunications access and the

Castro said during the visit with American diplomats that Cuba had
proposed that it be removed from a blacklist of state sponsors of
terrorism, and the return of the U.S. Guantanamo naval base.

The Cuban leader also urged U.S. President Barack Obama to use executive
powers to ease a decades-long embargo against Cuba, saying Washington
could extend measures like those announced for telecoms to other areas
of the economy.

While Obama can gut much of the embargo, only Congress can lift it
completely. Obama has asked Congress to do so, and has started by easing
restrictions on telecommunications companies in Cuba, among other measures.

Any U.S. companies would have to reach an agreement with Cuban
authorities before doing business on the island.

Castro reiterated that he has no plans to budge from Cuba's single party
political system, although observers have said that does not rule out
the possibility that independent politicians might be given space to run
for local elections in the future.

Castro said Obama's decision to hold a debate in Congress about
eliminating the embargo was "significant", adding that he was aware that
ending it "will be a long and hard road".

The historic high-level talks between United States and Cuba in Havana
are expected to lead to re-establishment of diplomatic ties that were
severed by Washington in 1961. (Additional reporting by David Adams in
Miami and Daniel Trotta in Havana; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by
Gunna Dickson, Kieran Murray, Christian Plumb, Toni Reinhold)

Source: UPDATE 3-Raul Castro warns U.S. against meddling in Cuba's
affairs | Reuters - Continue reading
Raul Castro: US must return Guantanamo for normal relations
01/29/2015 3:58 AM 01/29/2015 3:58 AM

Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States
return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade
embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two
nations re-establish normal relations.

Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic
relations but "if these problems aren't resolved, this diplomatic
rapprochement wouldn't make any sense."

Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that they
would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening
embassies in each other's countries. The two governments held
negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of
embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.

Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed
to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans
who don't depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.

The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel,
remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the
United States' unaltered goal of reforming Cuba's single-party political
system and centrally planned economy.

Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing
its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro's
government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a
set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for
Cuban dissidents and Cuba's removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors
of terrorism.

On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands,
saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal
relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear
highly unlikely in the near future.

The U.S. established the military base in 1903, and the current Cuban
government has been demanding the land's return since the 1959
revolution that brought it to power. Cuba also wants the U.S. to pay
hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for losses caused by the embargo.

"The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process
of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while
the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory
illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base," Castro said.

He demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and
television broadcasts and deliver "just compensation to our people for
the human and economic damage that they're suffered."

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for
comment on Castro's remarks.

Castro's call for an end to the U.S. embargo drew support at the summit
from the presidents of Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua and

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also praised the effort by the
leaders of Cuba and the U.S. to improve relations. "The two heads of
state deserve our recognition for the decision they made — beneficial
for Cubans and Americans, but, most of all, for the entire continent,"
she said.

John Caulfield, who led the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until last
year, said that the tone of Cuba's recent remarks didn't mean it would
be harder than expected to reach a deal on short-term goals like
reopening full embassies in Havana and Washington.

In fact, he said, the comments by Castro and high-ranking diplomats may
indicate the pressure Cuba's government is feeling to strike a deal as
Cubans' hopes for better living conditions rise in the wake of Obama's

"There is this huge expectation of change and this expectation has been
set off by the president's announcement," Caulfield said. The Cuban
government feels "the constant need to tell their people nothing's going
to change ... the more the Cubans feel obligated to defend the status
quo and to say that's nothing going to change, the more pressure it
indicates to me is on them to make these changes, partly on the economic
side but I would also say on the political side."


Associated Press writer Javier Cordoba reported this story in San Jose
and Michael Weissenstein reported from Havana. AP writer Andrea
Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.

Source: Raul Castro: US must return Guantanamo for normal relations |
The Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
Photographer's 'Unseen Cuba' gives unique view of island nation
01/28/2015 10:36 AM 01/28/2015 10:36 AM

Even with restrictions lifting on U.S. travel to Cuba, few of us will
ever see the island from the vantage point of Lithuanian photographer
Marius Jovaisa.

But we can look at his pictures - and marvel.

The first and only artist to receive permission from the Cuban
government to fly over the country and photograph it, Jovaisa is eager
to talk about "Unseen Cuba" (Unseen Pictures, $99.95).

"I put a lot of my heart into this project," says the photographer of
four other large-format books: "Unseen Lithuania," "Magic Cancun &
Riviera Maya," "Heavenly Yucatan" and "Heavenly Belize." "I hope to
evoke the feeling I did in my home country. People just don't have an
opportunity to see things from this angle."

Shot from an ultralight craft, with stunning aerial views of the island
from Cabo de San Antonio on the western tip to Baracoa in the east,
"Unseen Cuba" is the culmination of almost five grueling years of
Jovaisa's life. He came up with the idea after the success of "Unseen
Lithuania," which sold 70,000 copies in a country of less than 3 million

Having grown up under Soviet rule in Lithuania, Jovaisa expected to face
a certain amount of red tape getting permits for the project. But he had
no idea he'd spend 2 1/2 years wrestling with bureaucrats before he ever
got off the ground.

"At least three times I was seriously considering calling it quits and
going home," he admits. "It was just impossible."

He learned Spanish to communicate with officials. He traveled to Cuba
for meetings armed with his books and plans and promises to pay for
everything. He agreed to hire a Cuban pilot and not import one from
Lithuania, Australia or - God forbid - the United States. And he still
came away empty-handed.

"There would be 15 people sitting around a table with serious faces
making notes and producing minutes," he says. "In the Soviet Union there
was this phrase, 'imitation of activity,' that Soviet style approach
where you imitate that you're serious, but you know in your heart you're
not going to do anything once the meeting is over. They'd say after
every meeting, 'We're going to send you updates,' and I'd wait and wait
and then have to come back to the table."

With support from various cultural organizations and probably more than
a little luck, Jovaisa eventually got the OK, with stipulations. No
Cuban pilot was trained on the sort of ultralight he had shipped over
from Australia, but a Lithuanian pilot was allowed into the country to
help assemble it and to provide training. The government also provided a
map dictating where he was allowed to fly. At first, all major cities
were out of bounds.

Jovaisa, who admits he adapted a bit of a "ask for forgiveness, not
permission" attitude, decided to start shooting, show the officials his
work and apply for the permits again. The strategy worked: After a year,
he tried again and received permission to shoot all the cities except
Havana, which he was eventually allowed to photograph in April.

Jovaisa says his favorite sights were mostly around Baracoa and its
surrounding areas.

"When the sun is low, and you see those endless little islands going
toward the horizon with all the reflections, it's so mystical for me,"
he says, adding that he sought out the juxtaposition of manmade
structures against natural beauty and that "I am a huge fan of morning

Seeing the world from above is always exhilarating for the
self-professed adrenaline junkie, who is a triathlete and skydiver.
(He's also fond of bungee jumping and ran his first ultra marathon of 33
miles in Cuba.) But his experience on the ground in Cuba may have proved
the most thought-provoking.

"I was a kid growing up under Soviet rule," he muses. "I still have
those memories. I would go to Cuba and feel a little deja vu. You get
transported into another world, back 50 or 60 years. ... The Cuban
people are very, very friendly. A couple of times I brought my kids with
me, and it was amazing how resourceful the Cubans were, playing with my
family. It was great, absolutely incomparable."

Source: Photographer's 'Unseen Cuba' gives unique view of island nation
| The Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
Obama and Castro Are Playing in Different Leagues / Ivan Garcia
Posted on January 28, 2015

Events are moving quickly. At least that is what Nivaldo, a private taxi
driver who owns an outdated Moskovich car from the Soviet era, thinks.
"Don't slam the door or it will come loose," he tells the passengers he
drives from Playa to Brotherhood Park in the heart of Havana.

Nivaldo and a large segment of the Cuban population are trying to follow
the latest news on emigration and the negotiations taking place in
Havana's main convention center.

"This (the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the
United States) has been tremendous," he says. "Before December 17 the
United States was the evil empire and the cause of every malady
afflicting the country. The first thing to change was the tone of news
coverage. It's a healthy development that two women are leading the
negotiations. Political machismo has caused a lot of harm in Cuba.
People are tired of all the testosterone and the testicle-driven rhetoric."

Nivaldo continues talking as he stops to pick up a passenger. "I don't
know if this new situation will bring immediate improvements in the
lives of average Cubans or not. I hope so. I work twelve to fourteen
hours a day to support my family and save money to celebrate my
daughter's fifteenth birthday. If things change, maybe I can get rid of
this jalopy and buy a new Ford. The question that many on the street are
asking is how and in what way will the government implement a series of
measures that benefit people," he says as he raises the radio volume to
hear the evening news.

Average Cubans are following events with excessive expectations while
some express a die-hard optimism.

Rogelio, an umbrella repairman, is eating a hamburger at a McDonald's
with long lines. "When the embargo is lifted," he says, "stores will be
well-stocked with quality merchandise. I hope the government allows
direct imports by the self-employed and the banking system offers more
generous credit terms. Stores will allow customers to pay in
installments like in any modern society."

Others are more cautious. "Yes, it's all well and good to be able to buy
rice, chicken and smart phones from the United States, but by necessity
the Cuban system must change. There is too much centralization and
control, which stifles the economic independence of small private
businesses. Then there are the issues of low salaries and the dual
currency. How much will the average citizen be able to pay for a home
internet connection or an American-made computer?" asks Rosario, an
automated systems engineer.

A large segment of the Cuban dissident community considers the strategy
adopted by President Obama to be misguided.

At a 2:00 PM press conference announcement on January 23, the prominent
opposition figure Antonio Rodiles and a sizable group of dissidents
express disapproval of the White House's recent moves. "I would like to
know where they are getting their information," he says. "I am afraid
they have become disoriented. They are betting on a continuation of the
Castro regime and are concerned with national security.

"They have undertaken these negotiations without input from the island's
opposition. I don't see why a regime with a history of political rights
violations should change. Obama has given up a lot and gotten very
little in return. If the international community does not insist that
Cuba ratify United Nation Human Rights Conventions, there will be no
change in the status quo. This will translate into the arrests of
activists and some opposition figures could end up back in prison."

There are notable differences in outlook between dissidents and ordinary
Cubans. The average person on the street thinks it was time to bring an
end to the ongoing political chess game between the two countries.

Cuban citizens believe the new direction in U.S. foreign policy makes
perfect sense and pokes through the tired pretexts used by the country's
military overlords to justify the economic catastrophe and ideological
madhouse they created fifty-six years ago.

But there is one thing that "black coffee" Cubans and some members of
the opposition have in common: each is looking out for its own
interests. And the regime knows this. It hopes to perpetuate the system
by changing its methods.

President Barack Obama and General Raul Castro are clearly playing in
different leagues.

Ivan Garcia

24 January 2015

Source: Obama and Castro Are Playing in Different Leagues / Ivan Garcia
| Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The spy who never wanted to be one / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
Posted on January 28, 2015

The unusual story of 'Granma' journalist sentenced to 14 years in prison
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Santiago de Cuba, 27 January 2015 — Just
outside the building, a ditch carries sewage down the street. Several
children jump from side to side of the stinking canal which later runs
through Micro 7, a neighborhood in the José Martí district of Santiago
de Cuba. For a few years now the neighbors have pointed to number 9 on
one rough block and said, "That's where the Granma newspaper journalist
lives." Today the family bears the stigma of a journalist who is in
prison, where he is serving a sentence for espionage.

The steps are rough and uneven. At the top improvised bars cover the
door to the house. I knocked for long minutes, but no one answered.
Mayda Mercedes, José Antonio "Tony" Torres's wife, only received me
another day, with a certain tremor in her voice while looking up and
down the street. There I managed, for the first time, to see the court
ruling that twisted the fate of this man, as a bolero says, "like a weak
tin rod."

The official government reporter never imagined that on his 45th
birthday he would be behind bars. After graduating as a journalist in
1990, he'd known nothing but success in his career. He served as deputy
director for Tele Turquino, correspondent for the National Information
Agency, for the National News, and later for the newspaper Granma. He
was a sports commentator, secretary general of the Communist Party's
Santiago de Cuba Correspondents unit, and his work was even praised by
Raul Castro. Everything pointed to rising to professional heights closer
to power and to better remuneration.

All this ended, however, on 8 February 2011, when they arrested him and
– after three months in State Security's Villa Marista prison and
transfers to other prisons and exhausting interrogations – a court
sentenced him to 14 years in prison for the crime of espionage. In the
file of Case No. 2 of 2011, it says he is accused of having written a
letter to Michael Parmly, who was then the head of the United States
Interests Section in Havana (USIS). The document also states that the
accused wanted "to get a personal interview with this person to provide
him (…) sensitive information (…) that could endanger national security."

Tony says that the idea of writing this letter was the child of spite.
His wife had been a victim of injustice at work and, according to the
journalist, he decided to get revenge on the authorities. A revenge that
consisted of pretending to have secret data that would destabilize the
Cuban government. His defense attorney said later that there was "no
real danger to State Security," and Torres confessed that he "made
everything up."

A scaffolding of lies that ended up falling on him, because the crime of
espionage in the Cuban penal code includes "anticipated completion." The
mere suggestion to a foreign state of sensitive information carries a

From late 2005 until January 2007, he wrote a long text on a neighbor's
computer in which he claimed to have sensitive information about "the
Elián González case (…), classified materials of a military character
(…), information about government corruption (…), scandals in the ranks
of the Communist Party (…), original documents from the five spies (…),
defaults on economic contracts with China" and much more. An explosive
list of topics, to which he added his own resume as a journalist to give
the matter greater credibility.

With a meticulousness unusual in these parts, he also devised a
complicated code of passwords and keys that included "half of a moneda
nacional one peso note," that Michael Parmly could only complete when
the two of them were face-to-face. A postcard of the Casa de la Musica
in Miramar, also cut in half, would reaffirm the identity of each party.
On the brightly lit scrolling ticker across the top of the US Interests
Section building in Havana where headlines and news were displayed,
after the receipt of the document the US was to display the code
"Michael 2003" if the official accepted Torres's full proposal, and
"Michael 6062" is there was only interest one a part of it.

Reading, today, about this methodical system of alert and verification,
it's hard not to smile at this apprentice James Bond, who ended up a
victim of his own cleverness. But Tony didn't seem to calculate the
seriousness and danger of his actions. So in early 2007 he asked his
brother to travel to Havana and put an envelope containing two diskettes
with copies of the letter along with the halves of the peso and the
postcard, in the Interests Section's mailbox. The countdown that would
end in his disgrace had started to run, but he wouldn't know it until
four years later.

In a cell in Boniato Prison, one of the Cuban prisons with the worst
reputation, Torres has nurtured for years now the illusion that some
journalist to whom he could tell his story would visit him. He has
refused to despair because someone will shed light on his situation. In
the middle of last year he added my name to the list of those who could
visit him in prison, to personally narrate for me his version of a story
that at times seems taken from The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, and at
others from The Joke by Milan Kundera.

So far the meeting hasn't happened. The political police monitored the
calls and "accidentally" lost the list with my name on it to visit him
this weekend. So, after a long journey, I found myself in Santiago with
no opportunities other than to reconstruct the "Torres case" through
court documents, the testimonies of those who knew him and the letters
that he regularly sends me from prison. A jigsaw puzzle, which at times
seems more literary than credible.

Tony is punctilious when he tells his story over the telephone, his job
as a reporter shows in every detail. He has tight handwriting that fills
pages and pages that he dispatches here, there and everywhere. He soon
turned me into a recipient for his desperate writings. Phone calls
crossing the Island's geography ring in my fourteenth floor. "Sometimes
I have to buy access to the phone with cigarettes," he tells me.

The former official spokesperson is now clinging to independent
journalism and the opposition like the shipwrecked to a precarious life.
He has left behind the opinions expressed in an allegation that he never
read before the trial court and in which he claimed that he had
requested money for information that he would supply the United States
to make them believe he was an agent in the service of a foreign
government because "no counterrevolutionary is respected if he doesn't
look for or use the path of that conduit of dollars."

The rigors of prison later lead him to seek the support of the Patriotic
Union of Cuba and its leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. His disappointment in
the system of which he was a part has also been felt in his writings. In
the middle of last year, in one of his letters, he described the Cuban
people as "wounded by the disappointment, with their patience exhausted,
sick and tired of scarcities, badly fed, with a ton of postponed
demands, crammed into the eternal limbo of unkept promises.

Last week, his despair led him to write a letter to Barack Obama and
another to Pope Francis, asking them for help

Last week, his despair led him to write a letter to Barack Obama and
another to Pope Francis, asking them for help. The letters have already
begun their journeys to their destinations, but this time they do not
carry keys nor currency cut in half. The prisoner hopes, at least, to
see his name on the list of political prisoners of conscience, which
several groups among the Cuban dissidence have drawn up. However, his
case "is difficult to defend," say several human rights activists, while
others reproach him for his long official past.

On the morning when they began the release of the activists derived from
the secret talks between Washington and Havana, my phone rang early. "Do
you know about the releases," inquired the pompous voice of a television
announcer. I took a deep breath, and provoked him, "They are going to
release a spy who served the United States for years, but it's not you…
it will be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo." His scathing laugh barely let me
finish the sentence.

Ironically, when José Antonio Torres demands to be considered innocent
and not to be classified as an American intelligence agent, he is also
distancing himself from the possibility of being included in a spy swap.
His main argument in defending himself, and with which he demands
justice, could also be the greatest challenge to achieving his release
in the near term.

While I was knocking and waiting for Mayda Mercedes to open the door, a
neighbor climbed the stairs carrying a bucket of water. She walked
carefully and slowly, as if she was carrying a newborn in her hands. In
July 2010, Torres had written an extensive report for the newspaper
Granma where he denounced the irregularities, the "negligence" and the
"bad job" being done on the repair work of Santiago de Cuba's aqueduct.
The city was full of holes and broken streets, but the delivery of water
still hadn't stabilized after months of work.

A tagline from Raul Castro was published along with the painstaking
report, in which the general affirmed that he "disagreed with some of
the focus," but did "recognize the Santiaguan journalist for his
persistence in following the work." In government journalism circles it
is still rumored that it was that article, and not Torres's masquerade
as a spy, that marked the severity of the subsequent conviction against him.

While the world read the article as if it were a signal of information
glasnost in Cuba, State Security already had surveillance on the
journalist's house from four different angles. By then, Torres was
repenting of his absurd action and believed he would never be
discovered. Everything indicates that it was in that moment that the act
of revenge conceived by the writer of that missive in the past ran smack
into the vengeance of others. The journalist would have no chance to
walk out with an acquittal.

A couple of years later, from prison, Torres would analyze the official
press with the self-criticism that has been part of an artifice for a
long time. "In this country (…) the press doesn't know, nor do its duty.
The gagging is so strict that we have converted a force of pressure into
innocuous prisoners of repetition and compromise," he wrote in a letter
that managed to make it out of Boniato, when his hopes for release were
at their lowest.

The arrest occurred on a February morning. His youngest daughter was
crying while they conducted a thorough search of the house. They took
video cassettes, notepads filled with his precise handwriting, eight
sheets detailing the work on the Santiago de Cuba aqueduct, a work
notebook on the balance of the public health sector, weather reports,
documents with ideas delivered to the military sectors during Bastion
2004, photocopies of letters from the spy Antonio Guerrero to his son,
two letters from Torres to Raul Castro, among other materials.

His belongings didn't exceed what any journalist would have in his
files. None of the data collected by the court points to his possessing
"State secrets." According to what was shown, he didn't even have the
letter where he offered his services as an informant. It's not clear how
the letter "appeared" in a garbage can outside USIS and not in the
mailbox where Torres's brother had supposedly placed it. A prosecution
witness, an agent from the Specialized System of Protection S.A.
(SEPSA), said that he found the envelope there with the diskettes.

Torres tried to base his defense on the inviolability of diplomatic
correspondence, but the court focused the accusation on the "sensitive
information of interest to the enemy." Even today, the journalist
appeals that his act was only an attempt that would never have
transpired if the USIS mailbox was not "under observation by the Cuban
intelligence services." His self-defense does not claim innocence, but
poor procedures in obtaining evidence. But the appeal to reassess the
sentence was declared "without merit" in late 2012. A bucket of cold
water fell on his hopes of seeing a reduced sentence.

In Section 4 of the Boniato prison they call him "The Thermometer." The
prisoners have given him this nickname because he "is always hot"
because of the fights between the inmates and the violence that prevails
in the place. In the midst of this, a man who talks like a TV anchorman
now spends his days. Once, long ago, he narrated the socialist paradise
– and the stains that should be eradicated to perfect it – with his
voice and his writings.

At night, when the guards turn off the light and call for silence, he
places under his mattress the sheets filled with tight handwriting that
will later be put in improvised envelopes. On this passion for writing
letters from prison, he now hangs all his hopes of being set free.

Source: The spy who never wanted to be one / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez |
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on January 27, 2015

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2014 – It's been three years since
the Communist Party of Cuba's First National Conference. As can be
expected, few are the people, including a great part of that
organization's own militants, who remember what was agreed to at that
meeting and, to an even lesser extent, which of the adopted accords
remain unimplemented. But, who cares?

The "Work Objectives" approved by the Conference, point 62 of Chapter
II, titled "Ideological and Political Work," outlines the need to "work
especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical fundamentals of
the Cuban economic model." Eight months prior to that Conference, the
Communist Party of Cuba's Sixth Congress had revealed the Guidelines
(Lineamientos) that would govern the country's economic and social
policies. All pointed to the fact that, since conceptualization could
not be the source of inspiration for the Guidelines, it could at least
be its after-the-fact theoretical justification.

However, the task of theorizing seems to be more complex than the
practical application or, to say it in official jargon, "the
implementation" of the Guidelines, which have a structure led by Mr.
Marino Murillo, Minister of the Economy. Who is responsible for the
conceptualization? What entity is committed to undertake it? No one knows.

The term "update" has been chosen to define what, in less official
settings, is referred to as "reforms" to the Cuban economic model. The
genesis of said model was designed based on those economic theses which,
in 1975, during the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, put
in practice the so-called Economic Direction and Planning System. But,
that framework collapsed when in 1986 the comandante unleashed the
Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies. All that has
come since then has been a chain of improvisations filled with patches
intended to find momentary solutions — to keep "resolving." Today, when
speaking of "updating," no one explains clearly what has aged or where
the novelties have come from. That would be the task of conceptualization!

Today, when speaking of "updating", no one explains clearly what has
aged or where the novelties have come from

The first condition needed to achieve this mission impossible of
conceptualizing what has been outlined by the Guidelines would be that
the formulations bear some coherence to the principles of the
Marxist-Leninist doctrine or, at the very least, with one of the vague
statements made by the historic leader. Not even Cantinflas would be
able to do it. Unless, of course, some enlightened graduate of the Ñico
López National School of the Party has found the keys to the new
revelation. But the evolution of our reality demands another kind of
theoretical orchestration. To appeal to the conceptual tools that lie at
the origin of our problems cannot result in the emergence of solutions.
That would be like trying to uphold geocentric principles using string
theory or explaining Cuban "Bufo" Theater with the Stanislavski System.

We're a little over a year away from the Communist Party of Cuba's
Seventh Congress. If only as an elemental formality, the
conceptualization should be presentable before that event, so that it
may be discussed and approved. But, who cares?

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Source: And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
Congressional travel to Cuba surged last year

Travel by members of Congress to Cuba shot up last year ahead of
President Obama's December executive action normalizing relations with
the island nation.

Thirteen Democratic House members traveled to Havana in 2014 on at least
three separate trips sponsored by nonprofit outside groups, according to
travel reports members are required to file with the House Ethics Committee.

One of the trips, in which at least seven lawmakers participated, ended
just one day before Obama's Dec. 17 announcement of a détente with the
Castro regime.

The visits coincide with a furious behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign
from longtime advocates for normalizing relations with Cuba and pressing
Obama last year that the time was right to make a bold move and ease
sanctions and lift travel restrictions.

The surge in members' Cuban travel in 2014 is striking when compared to
just one member making the trip in 2012, and just five staffers and no
members who paid a visit in 2013. House members' participation
fluctuated from five visiting Cuba in 2011 to two in 2010, although
several staffers visited those years.

It is unclear how many senators also made the short flight from Miami or
Tampa to the island nation. Senate rules, unlike the House, don't
require reports to be as detailed.

In the years leading up to Obama's December announcement reversing 50
years of U.S. policy in Cuba, the State Department didn't sponsor any
trips to the island, so outside groups supporting re-engagement with
Cuba filled the void and sponsored the travel.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas, a nonprofit that advocates for
opening diplomatic relations with both Cuba and Venezuela, and closer
bonds with several countries in Latin America, has sponsored the most
travel since 2007, according to the latest records posted online.

"We really do believe that engagement is the answer — how you get a
conversation going and open up," said Sara Stephens, the center's
executive director, who has led dozens of congressional trips to Cuba
over the last 15 years.

"Do we believe it's going to change Cuba's policies tomorrow? No. But we
hope it exposes them to new ideas and vice versa."

While she said the number of visits the group sponsors each year
fluctuates depending on Washington's Cuba policies at the time, she said
2014 was a very big year in response to a renewed push to open relations.

Stephens also reports an explosion in congressional interest in the
trips over the last month after Obama's decision to re-engage and ease
Cuba sanctions.

The center already plans another Cuba visit for senators in February led
by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Last year, she said several Senate chiefs of staff traveled with her to
Cuba, including those from the offices of GOP Sens. Jerry Moran of
Kansas, Dan Coats of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Stephens is currently reaching out to more Republican members to
encourage them to join in this year to talk to Cubans in person and gain
first-hand experience of the U.S. policy shifts.

"We're really especially focused on inviting Republicans and newer,
younger members to Cuba now in this new context and new policies to see
what they think about it," she said.

Other members of Congress who vigorously oppose Obama's decision to ease
relations with Cuba have long argued against lawmakers' travel to Cuba
for trips orchestrated by the Castro regime.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, has slammed Americans who
visit Cuba, including some of his House and Senate colleagues, arguing
that they are helping perpetuate Castro's false claims and bolster his

"Cuba is not a zoo where you pay an admission ticket and you go in and
you get to watch people living in cages to see how they are suffering,"
Rubio reportedly told a pro-Cuba political action committee in 2013.
"Cuba is not a field trip. I don't take that stuff lightly."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a Cuban-American who has spent more
than two decades fighting the Castro regime in Congress, is equally
adamant about what she views as the fallacy of lawmakers' "fact-finding"
trips to Havana.

"The Castro regime puts on a Potemkin village sham tour for visiting
dignitaries," she told the Washington Examiner. "Visitors are allowed to
arrange a few meetings on their own, but the communist regime knows of
such meetings and usually has spies 'helping' the delegation who report
back to Castro."

She urged U.S. dignitaries and others to remember that Castro represents
a "murderous regime that denies human rights to 11 million people and
jails those who try to express their right to free speech."

She also pointed out that human rights activists, such as Rep. Chris
Smith, R-N.J., and former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., have been routinely
denied entry to Cuba because "they would have highlighted the abuses
perpetrated by the regime."

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is a division of the Center for
International Policy, a research and advocacy think tank founded in 1975
in response to the Vietnam War.

The center's mission, according to its website, is to advocate policies
that "advance international cooperation, demilitarization, respect for
human rights and action to alleviate climate change and stop illicit
financial flows."

It is also affiliated with several other projects, including Win Without
War, a coalition of 40 organizations, including groups opposed to
unilateral U.S. military responses throughout the world such as
Greenpeace and and the National Organization for Women.

Wayne Smith, a Johns Hopkins University professor who served as
President Jimmy Carter's top U.S. diplomat in Havana from 1979 to 1982,
joined CIP to start its Cuba policy program and remains a senior fellow
at the organization. He is one of Washington's leading critics of the
longstanding U.S. embargo on Cuba.

During a trip the Center for Democracy in the Americas sponsored in May
of last year, lawmakers met with Alan Gross, the former U.S. AID
contractor, at the hospital where he was serving his sentence, according
to an itinerary submitted to the Ethics Committee for approval.

The center noted that it was an "official meeting, organized by the
Cuban Foreign Ministry."

They also had breakfast with European Union ambassadors to Cuba and
other foreign diplomats to discuss their countries' approaches to Cuba,
and lunched with Cuba's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

During one night, the group dined with an owner of a "paladar," or
private restaurant operated out of the owners' home, what the center
described as the largest and fastest-growing parts of Cuba's "booming
private sector."

The three-day tour included a walk through Old Havana, where members
could converse with vendors selling art, music and books, as well as
lunch with Tom Palaia, the U.S.'s current top diplomat in Cuba. They
visited artists and students' homes and spoke about their challenges and
the changing economy and its impact on their businesses.

Another major sponsor of congressional travel to Cuba last year is
Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, or MEDICC, an Oakland,
Calif.-based group that works "to enhance cooperation among the U.S.,
Cuban and global health communities" and to share medical advancements,
according to its website.

In fact, MEDICC sponsored a trip to Cuba for seven House members that
focused on innovations developed in the island to help diabetics. The
trip ended Dec. 16, just one day before Obama's big Cuba executive action.

A spokeswoman said MEDICC's executive director was out of the office and
unavailable Tuesday. She said the group has contributed to the
diplomatic opening between the two countries by "showing the benefits of
mutual U.S.-Cuba cooperation in the specific field of health and medicine."

All but two of the members traveling to Cuba over the last three years
are Democrats, many of whom vocally support lifting the embargo or
travel and trade restrictions.

Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois is the only Republican to travel there
during that time frame, which he did in 2012, and Rep. Betty McCollum, a
member of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party who caucuses with
the Democrats, went last summer.

McCollum has pushed to end the trade embargo since coming to Congress in
2001. She also has sponsored a bill that would end U.S. taxpayer funding
for Radio and Television Marti, which has spent hundreds of millions of
dollars broadcasting news in Spanish from Florida to Cuba.

Other frequent Cuba flyers include Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who
visited the island three times last year, and Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.,
who went twice last year.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who has repeatedly introduced a series of
bills to end travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, was in
Havana Dec. 17 when Obama made his announcement, having lingered there
on the MEDICC-sponsored visit.

In applying to the House Ethics Committee to sponsor any travel, an
outside group must certify that the visit will not be financed in whole
or in part by a registered federal lobbyist or an agent of a foreign

Stephens says the money for the center's congressional trips come from
the group's general funding and does not earmark certain donations for
the travel.

She said the center receives roughly two-thirds of its funds from
private foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Christopher
Reynolds Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and Atlantic
Philanthropies. The other third comes from private donations, she said.

Source: Congressional travel to Cuba surged last year | - Continue reading
The Other Cuban Succession
[28-01-2015 12:00:11]
José Azel
Investigador, Universidad de Miami

( The Cuban succession conjecture pastime
began in earnest in 2006 when an aged and ailing Fidel Castro
transferred power to his younger brother Raul. With General Castro now
83 years old, the speculation continues as to whom, in the younger
generation of Cuban military officers and political apparatchiks, will
succeed him.
In Cuba, the elderly Castros are seeking to perpetuate the power of the
communist regime around a military-party-dynastic succession. It is a
succession my colleague Dr. Pedro Roig has labeled as "a supreme
manifestation of tragic insolence" that seeks to give continuity to the
Marxist catastrophe recycling its offspring. It is a fragile succession
of questionable legitimacy offering only freedomless lives. It is a
succession that presumes that the also aging historical exiles will
simply fade away.

They miscalculate; there is a less noticed Cuban succession taking place
north of Havana that juxtaposes the one on the Island. It is the
Cuban-American succession from first wave anti-Castro exiles to their
American sons and daughters.

My generation - of the aging heroes of the urban resistance of the
1960's, of the Bay of Pigs invasion, of the uprisings in the Escambray
mountains, of the Pedro Pan exodus- is also transferring its 56 years
old quest for a democratic Cuba to the next generation.

It is a generation in prime adulthood of U.S.-raised and educated
professionals exceling in every field of human endeavor. By way of
example, in the Washington political establishment, it is the generation
typified by the new cohort of Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz
(R-TX) and Representatives-elect Alex Mooney (R-WV) and Carlos Curbelo
(R-FL). Alongside Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representatives Albio
Sires (D-NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
there will be eight Cuban-Americans serving in the 114th Congress.

Cuban-Americans make up less than ½ of 1 percent of the U.S. population,
yet they make up 3 percent of the U.S. Senate and more that 1 percent of
the U.S. House of Representatives. They speak for four states and both
political parties. Even more remarkable is the fact that all
Cuban-American representatives, regardless of party affiliation or state
representation, speak with a single voice regarding Cuba and its future.

My generation may not have succeeded in ridding Cuba of the Castro
regime, but in our unplanned succession we have succeeded admirably in
transmitting love of country -for both the U.S. and Cuba- and democratic
values to our sons and daughters. Ours is a vision of a democratic Cuba
that they will continue to articulate, sometimes in broken Spanish, but
eloquently and passionately.

Those inheriting our struggle, unlike their counterparts in Cuba,
understand freedom as a state of being, and a state of consciousness.
They apprehend the free flow of information, economic freedom, human
rights, political liberty, transparency, freedom of speech, and
empowerment of the individual as a way of life. Their freedom fighting
tactics may differ from ours, but these are values they will not
repudiate by embracing Cuba's tyrannical collectivism.

We are passing the torch to a generation that understands instinctively
that economic well-being is a consequence of freedom, and that to value
freedom is an insightful philosophical and moral achievement. Also, in
dramatic contrast with their counterparts in Cuba, it is a generation
that has acquired the American ethos that public servants are not
enlightened messianic emissaries.

It is a generation that grew up listening to our stories of a lost
country and has learned from us the lessons of Pericles as he sought to
inspire the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War: "Make up your minds
that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being
courageous." Their love of freedom honors us.

Source: The Other Cuban Succession - Misceláneas de Cuba - Continue reading
Fabiola Santiago: Buddy-bear diplomacy falls short in Cuba
01/27/2015 7:53 PM 01/27/2015 8:58 PM

You could say that Lady Liberty — less statuesque, literally and
metaphorically — nevertheless has made an appearance in Havana.

Sort of…

Its re-interpreted image in the form of a cuddly, green chubby bear,
arms extended in solidarity with other bears, her torch not as high or
as grand as the original but oh-so-cute, is standing at St. Assisi
Square in Old Havana.

Painted cows in Miami Lakes, painted roosters in Little Havana — and now
an international "United Buddy Bears" in La Habana, dutifully making
their debut during the first round of historic U.S.-Cuba talks, and on
view through March.

Call it buddy-bear diplomacy —– the brain child of the Germans, who are
taking the traveling art exhibit of colorful bear sculptures around the
world where they're needed to encourage tolerance, understanding, and peace.

The show arrived in Havana just in time.

"Los osos buddy, anunciadores de un tiempo mejor," the official online
Habana Cultural magazine lavished praise on the installation. Buddy
bears herald better times.

A week later, unfortunately, it doesn't much look that way. Not in a
week's worth of agenda-setting discussions covered by the world's media,
and certainly not in the realm of the arts.

"It is not art, but publicity," New York-based Cuban art curator Elvis
Fuentes says of the government-sponsored bear show. "Look at Tania
Bruguera or any other case of political art. When an artist interferes
or uses the political sphere, they get jail time. When politicians
interfere and use the artistic sphere, nothing happens, they exploit it...."


While the bears were having their day to much pomp and circumstance from
the Cuban establishment, the high art of internationally acclaimed Cuban
artist Bruguera wasn't allowed to be.

The mere idea of giving a minute — one minute! — at the microphone for
any Cuban who wanted to speak at the historic Revolution Square on the
eve of the talks was rejected. Even though the experimental
#YoTambienExijo (IAlsoDemand) performance couldn't go on, the idea was
enough cause for Bruguera to be arrested three times. Three times
released, the New York resident now faces charges and can't leave the
country until a judge rules on her case. That won't happen for at least
60 days, her family says she was told Tuesday.

And the worldly buddy bears — particularly Siboney, the cigar-smoking
Cuban bear named after one of the indigenous tribes — are going to make
everything okay?

Not in Cuba.

A wishful kumbaya moment in an otherwise dismal reality: After the
initial excitement over news that the U.S. president was extending an
olive branch to Cuba, the island's government has made it clear that
there's no intention to democratize, nor respect basic international
human rights principles of freedom of speech and assembly.

Passing through Miami Saturday, the lead U.S. negotiator in the Cuba
talks, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, warned against
raising expectations of change too high. The "true normalization of
relations and change," she said, "will take a long time."

Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, was more blunt. She point-blank
told the Associated Press: "Change in Cuba is not negotiable."

Is Cuba back-pedaling on re-establishing relations?

By Monday, Cuba trotted out the allegedly moribund comandante himself,
not in person but by way of an also alleged rambling message to
university students recalling his triumphant entrance into 1959 Havana,
and by the way opining on the renewal of Cuba-U.S. relations after five

Turns out that Castro says he doesn't have any confidence in U.S.
policy, but is not against seeking "cooperation and friendship with all
the peoples of the world, among them our political adversaries."

Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya.

Meanwhile Cubans, known to vote with their feet, have been arriving in
rickety rafts by sea and crossing the Mexican border in dramatic new
numbers since the December 17 announcement by President Obama that he
would seek to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, and, as part of the
thaw, expand travel and trade with the island.

So much for Lady Liberty's cuddly bear debut in Havana.

Source: Fabiola Santiago: Buddy-bear diplomacy falls short in Cuba | The
Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
Cuban dissidents in Miami: 'This is the hour of Cuba'
01/27/2015 7:59 PM 01/27/2015 8:58 PM

With calls to take advantage of the "hour for Cubans" and build a
consensus to work on the democratization of Cuba, several dissidents and
activists from the island said Tuesday they will join forces with exiles
in Miami to take part in a Convention for Democracy in Cuba to be held

The call for action comes on the heels of historic talks in Havana last
week between Cuban and U.S. diplomats to restore relations between the
two nations after more than 50 years.

"Cubans inside and outside the island can and need to walk together to
build democracy, no matter what our differences may be," said Manuel
Cuesta Morúa, leader of a group called Arco Progresista (Progressive
Arc). "Differences make nations stronger, not weaker. Whatever
ideologies we hold can be set aside. The fundamental thing right now is
our nation."

Morúa was joined at the press conference at the University of Miami's
Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies by other prominent
activists, including Dagoberto Valdés, Eliécer Ávila of the group Somos
Más (We are More), attorneys Laritza Diversent and Wilfredo Vallín, as
well as Fernando Palacio of the opposition group Partido Solidaridad
Liberal Cubano (Cuban Solidarity Liberal Party).

The gathering at the Cuba Ocho center in Little Havana — taking place on
the birth date of Cuba's national hero José Martí — will serve as center
of dialogue among Cubans of varying backgrounds. The topics of
discussion will focus on four points of most interest to Cuba's civil
society: the release of all political prisoners and an end to political
repression; respect by the Cuban government of the United Nations human
rights covenants and other international agreements; the recognition of
Cuba's independent civil society as a "valid interlocutor"; and the
implementation of constitutional and legal reforms.

Morúa said that a similar discussion about the future of Cuba will take
place simultaneously at the homes of more than 400 activists across the

"It's a good time to forge a discourse about the nation and for that,
there can't be too many voices," he said, adding that what now matters
most is not the dialogue between the governments of the United States
and Cuba, but rather how Cubans will advance "toward democracy."

"It's time for Cuba; it's time for all Cubans," said Valdés, founder of
the Catholic magazine Vitral, which became a popular critical voice in
Cuba's Pinar del Río province. "No more unanimity; the new nation must
be built on diversity.

"Cuba is not Cuba without exiles and the diaspora," added Valdés, who
now heads another publication called Convivencia (Coexistence). "No
historical memory can be left out of this moment."

Cuban opposition leader Guillermo Fariñas, who joined the press
conference via telephone from the island, said he disapproved of "the
secret manner in which the negotiations" occurred between the U.S. and
Cuban governments that led to the Dec. 17 announcement to restore
diplomatic relations.

But he said the opposition must now focus on how to take part in
discussions already under way. When Fariñas and other dissidents met
with Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western
Hemisphere Affairs, in Havana, he asked: "When will the non-violent,
internal opposition be called to join the negotiations?"

Jacobson responded that the U.S. has no intention of abandoning
dissidents, a sentiment she repeated during a stopover in Miami en route
back to Washington.

Fariñas and others said an agreement that does not address the concerns
of civil society would be unacceptable.

"The population is seeking viable alternatives for a peaceful and
prosperous future," said Valdés. "We don't want a democracy of leaders
again; we want a democracy of programs and those exist within civil

"Some of us are not well known, but the current government's agenda is
completely exhausted," he said. "They are well known but outdated."

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on @ngameztorres

Source: Cuban dissidents in Miami: 'This is the hour of Cuba' | The
Miami Herald The Miami Herald - Continue reading
The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on January 27, 2015

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 January 2015 – The possibility that some
day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved,
the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively
postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the
disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can
all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a
socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in
the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in
the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western
hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the
hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived
from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of
the Cold War.

But, observed from within, the conflict could not be reduced to a brawl
between Cubans and Americans replicating the East-West conflict, rather
it starred Cubans with different ways of thinking. The imposition of the
Marxist ideology provoked an internal schism in Cuban society and in the
Cuban family. Under the guise of a growing class struggle, appeared
victims and victimizers, and an enormous quantity of silent witnesses.

To those who proposed to align the Island with the countries of the
Socialist Camp, it wasn't enough to confiscate all American-owned
properties, in addition, in less than a decade, they swept away the last
vestige of private property. They implanted a ferocious "scientific
atheism" and prohibited any political or ideological display that didn't
maintain absolute fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The enemies that process engendered, inside and outside, ended up
joining forces. There were armed landings, groups in the mountains,
bombings and sabotage. The prisons filled with political prisoners, and
the terror of suffering the consequences of dissent brought faked
obedience. The great majority of victims of the Revolutionary laws left
for exile, while socialism in Cuba continued to produce the dissatisfied.

One fine day, McDonald's arrived in Moscow before the flag of the
proletariat was hoisted in the capital of the empire, and as a
consequence, the construction of pure hard socialism on the Island
ceased to seem a Utopia to reveal itself as an absurd aberration. A
Special Period that nobody dares to put an end to, the uncertainty about
whether the leadership is a delirious dying man or a pragmatic
conservative, the inability to produce, the insolvency to buy, the lack
of an attraction for interested investors, the absence of an
understandable definition of the way forward, the total exhaustion of
old slogans, a crisis of values never before seen, an unstoppable
emigration, the decline and aging of the population, the insecurity that
Venezuela will continue its support with energy and financing, and a
thousand more reasons, have placed before the Cuban government the need
to sit down and talk with its oldest adversary.

These talks have found enthusiastic defenders, enemies and skeptics.
These tendencies, with all the imaginable gradations and with greater
and lesser visibility, are present in all environments: at different
levels of power in the United States, in the apparent unanimity of the
Cuban Government, in the exile, in the internal exile and, of course, in
the gagged protagonist that is the Cuban people.

The enthusiastic defenders can be localized easily in that group of
people on the Island who have as a priority achieving material
prosperity and being legitimated as an emerging middle class. In the
exile, there are those who would like to invest with guarantees in the
innumerable niches that can be opened; from government positions, those
who dream of recycling generals into managers; and from the environment
of the opposition, the few with the healthy naivety to believe that, as
a consequence of dialog, political dissent will be decriminalized and
they will soon be seated in parliament after winning the votes of their

The enemies of the rapprochement are found among the hawks of the U.S.
military sector and in that part of the exile that dreams of violently
overthrowing the Cuban Government and making them pay with blood for
their multiple and unpardonable crimes. They can be seen emerging in the
internal opposition among those who suspect that if the government is
sitting down to negotiate with the Americans, they will no longer have
to talk to them.

They argue that their demands, their just demands, particularly with
respect to Human Rights in Cuba, will fade into the background relative
to the claims prioritized by the American executive branch. In addition,
there is the group of those who aspire to be included in the refugee
program, or to be beneficiaries of "help" from the North, and fear that
all of this will disappear before the flowers that today adorn the
negotiating table wither.

Paradoxically, those in the Island's power structure who totally reject
the reestablishment of relations appear to be at the controls of the
repressive bodies; those who would be left without work and, still
worse, without privileges, on the day that, by virtue of the presumed
dismantling of the exterior harassment, Cuba can no longer be considered
besieged and, in consequence, dissidence ceases to be treason. Along
with this troop, are the gallant combatants who refuse to abandon their
trenches, the ones where they won their medals and merit points that one
day served to get a house, a car, a job and even public prestige.

Skeptics lack confidence in anything that some group of anonymous
negotiatorss have agreed to in secret. There are abundant reasons to
believe that the only thing the American government wants is to regain
its hegemony in the region, or that the only purpose of the Cuban ruling
elite is to save their heirs. They are everywhere, though they don't
speak up, or do so with due caution.

The issue of the reestablishment of relations, with everything that
rests on it, will be an election issue in the campaigns of Republicans
and Democrats; it could lead to political purges in the Communist Party,
the government and the parliament; it could rearrange alliances in the
exile; and delineate with greater precision the divisions in the
internal opposition. But it will be a reason for hope in the crowded
buses, in the lines for "chicken for fish," in the private taxis and
private restaurants, and among all those who have a relative on the
other side.

We Cubans should never find ourselves in this extemporaneous and foreign
dilemma. The real problem continues to remain unresolved and it is the
dispute between the people and its government.

Neither optimistic enthusiasm nor sterile skepticism is any use, much
less the intention to reverse what seems inevitable. The script is
written for four hands by those who are already quantifying gains and
losses. The only certainty is that there will be a new scenario where
new rules will come into force and every actor must rearrange his or her

Source: The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar | Translating Cuba
- Continue reading
Cuba's $6B debt to Americans for seized properties hangs over US talks
By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos Published January 27, 2015

A $6 billion sticking point could create headaches for the U.S.-Cuba talks.

Though concerns over human rights, press freedoms and U.S. fugitives
living free on the island have dominated debate over the Obama
administration's negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties, the Castro
regime also still owes Americans that eye-popping sum.

The $6 billion figure represents the value of all the assets seized from
thousands of U.S. citizens and businesses after the Cuban revolution in
1959. With the United States pressing forward on normalizing relations
with the communist country, some say the talks must resolve these claims.

"The administration has not provided details about how it will hold the
Castro regime to account for the more than $6 billion in outstanding
claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by
the Castros," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Fla., top Democrat on the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State
John Kerry ahead of historic talks in Havana last week.

Menendez urged the U.S. to "prioritize the interests of American
citizens and businesses that have suffered at the hands of the Castro
regime" before moving ahead with "additional economic and political

Beginning with Fidel Castro's takeover of the Cuban government in 1959,
the communist regime nationalized all of Cuba's utilities and industry,
and systematically confiscated private lands to redistribute -- under
state control -- to the Cuban population.

The mass seizure without proper compensation led in part to the U.S.
trade embargo.

Over nearly 6,000 claims by American citizens and corporations have been
certified by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, totaling
$1.9 billion.

Today, with interest and in today's dollars, that amount is close to $6

U.S. sugar, mineral, telephone and electric company losses were heavy.
Oil refineries were taken from energy giants like Texaco and Exxon.
Coca-Cola was forced to leave bottling plants behind. Goodyear and
Firestone lost tire factories, and major chains like Hilton handed over
once-profitable real estate for nothing in return.

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, after leading the talks
in Havana last week, did not mention the U.S. property claims at a press
briefing. The department also did not respond to's requests
for comment on the matter. In Dec. 18 remarks, however, Jacobson said,
"registered claims against the Cuban government" would be part of the

She also noted Cuban claims of monetary losses due to the 50-year-old
U.S. embargo.

"We do not believe those things would be resolved before diplomatic
relations would be restored, but we do believe that they would be part
of the conversation," she said. "So this is a process, and it will get
started right away, but there's no real timeline of knowing when each
part of it will be completed."

The billions are owed, in part, to an array of major companies.

U.S. banks ranging from First National City Bank (which became Citibank)
to Chase Manhattan lost millions in assets. According to the list of
claimants, the Brothers of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine even
lost $7.8 million in real estate when they were expelled from the island.

According to a government study commissioned in 2007, however, some 88
percent of the claimants are individual American property and asset
owners, many of whom would probably like to see some sort of
compensation out of the diplomatic deal-making.

"I think this is a significant issue and it has more resonance today
than it would have had 20 years ago," as nationalization has seen a
resurgence throughout Latin America in recent years, said Robert Muse, a
Washington, D.C., attorney who has represented corporate clients whose
assets were seized. "You have to take seriously the notion that a
government must support their companies when their [property] is
expropriated. You have to have some consistency on that."

Experts who spoke to agree that fully compensating everyone
on the list would be a complicated, if not impossible, endeavor.

First, the Cuban government, even if it did agree in spirit to pay,
probably would not be able to afford it.

Some individual claimants may be long dead. Further, some of the
original corporations no longer exist, thanks to mergers, buyouts, and
bankruptcies over the years.

Such is the case with the Cuban Electric Company, which has the largest
claim -- $267.6 million in corporate assets (1960 dollars). The company
was part of the paper and pulp manufacturer, Boise Cascade Company
(which also has a claim for $11.7 million), at the time of the seizures.

But Boise Cascade has since spun off and the part of it that held a
subsidiary with a majority stake in Cuban Electric became Office Max --
which later merged with Office Depot in 2013. Company officials reached
by had no comment on the original Cuban Electric claims.

Muse and others, like Cuba analyst Elizabeth Newhouse at the Center for
International Policy, say that companies that still have an active
interest in getting compensated might agree to more creative terms --
whether it be for less money, or tax breaks or other incentives on
future investments if and when the U.S. embargo is lifted.

"My sense is that some corporations are more interested in having a
leg-up in any trade arrangements than they are in getting their money
back," Newhouse said.

Thomas J. Herzfeld, who heads the 20-year-old Herzfeld Caribbean Basin
Fund which trades shares of firms that would have an interest in Cuba if
the embargo is lifted, said his life-long goal has been "to rebuild
Cuba." He has approached claimants about taking their claims in exchange
for investment shares. He said his fund is "well-prepared" for when
normalization resumes.

But others warn about popping the corks too soon, particularly if the
Castro regime is unwilling to take the compensation seriously. According
to the Helms-Burton Act, which enforces the sanctions, the embargo
cannot be lifted until there is "demonstrable progress underway" in
compensating Americans for their lost property. (Congress also would
have to vote to lift the embargo.)

"This is an issue where they are going to have to put their heads
together and figure out how to resolve it," Newhouse said. "I think
everyone wants to see it resolved."

Jacobson, at the close of last week's opening talks, said there was some
progress on opening up embassies, but there continue to be "areas of
deep disagreement," particularly on Cuban human rights and fugitives
from U.S. justice in Cuba.

"Let me conclude," said Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to
visit Cuba in more than three decades, "it was just a first step."

Source: Cuba's $6B debt to Americans for seized properties hangs over US
talks | Fox News - Continue reading
Cuba's Illegal Underground Internet Is Thriving
Adam Clark Estes

In Old Havana's last remaining internet cafe, an hour online costs about
almost a quarter of an average monthly salary. But armed with some
piecemeal networking equipment and rebellious sensibilities, some Cuban
youths have taken connectivity into their own hands.

Beginning in 2001, a small community of tech-savvy Cubans have been
building a sprawling mesh network that stretches across Havana. This
crowdsourced connectivity takes advantage of hidden Wi-Fi antennas and
broadband cables stretched across rooftops to network over 9,000
computers across different neighborhoods in Cuba's capital. The
resultant Snet, or streetnet, enables people to exchange news updates,
share files, and even play online games like World of Warcraft. But
there are rules.

"We aren't anonymous because the country has to know that this type of
network exists. They have to protect the country and they know that
9,000 users can be put to any purpose," Rafael Antonio Broche Moreno,
the 22-year-old electrical engineer pictured above who helped build
Snet, told the Associated Press recently. "We don't mess with anybody.
All we want to do is play games, share healthy ideas. We don't try to
influence the government or what's happening in Cuba ... We do the right
thing and they let us keep at it."

The young engineer explained that Snet has a strict zero porn policy.
Discussing politics or linking to the outside internet from Snet will
also lead to punishment in the form of being blocked from accessing the
network. Meanwhile, the very architecture of Snet is entirely illegal—in
part due to the unsanctioned use of Wi-Fi equipment—so keeping users in
check is integral to keeping them online.

The recent developments in the relationship between the United States
and Cuba is giving the Snet youth hope for a better connected future.
The sheer lack of Wi-Fi equipment, much of which comes from the United
States, limits how much the Snet architects can build. And while the
mesh network is limited to a few thousand users, the alternative is much
more analog. It comes in the form USB drives full of news articles, TV
shows, and movies that are passed from one person to the next. It's a
very pure kind of peer-to-peer networking if you think about it. "It's a
solid underground," a young Cuban blogger told The New York Times a few
years ago. "The government cannot control the information."

Well, at this point, it seems clear that the Cuban government sort of
can. With trade embargoes still denying people of proper equipment and
bans forbidding them from using what they have, the Cuban government is
doing a pretty good job of keeping most of its citizens quiet. But the
thousands of renegades who won't be silenced shine like a beacon of
hope. It's a new era for Cuba, and it's one that people like Snet users
are eager to shape. They've been splendidly impatient so far. Imagine
what will happen when the bans are lifted. [AP, NYT]

Source: Cuba's Illegal Underground Internet Is Thriving - Continue reading
Cuba needs power projects – Sherritt CEO
Toronto-based Sherritt has talked to the government about possible new
investments in the longer term.
Liezel Hill (Bloomberg) | 27 January 2015 11:40

The head of Sherritt International Corp., the biggest foreign investor
in Cuba, said industries from mining to infrastructure are ripe for
development as the island nation moves tentatively to open up trade with
the U.S.

The Toronto-based company, which has been mining nickel in Cuba for two
decades and generates about 75 percent of its revenue there, has talked
to the government about possible new investments in Cuba over the longer
term, Chief Executive Officer David Pathe said.

"There's huge opportunities for infrastructure in Cuba," Pathe said in
an interview in Bloomberg's Toronto office. "There's still a big
power-generating deficit in Cuba, and there are other resource

U.S. and Cuban diplomats concluded what both sides called encouraging
talks last week on restoring ties after the two countries unexpectedly
said last month they would begin steps to normalize relations after a
half century of U.S. trade and travel restrictions.

There are other ore bodies and "quite vast" nickel reserves on the
eastern end of the island where Sherritt has been operating, and the
Cuban government has indicated it's interested in foreign investment in
mining, Pathe said.

"We've talked to them about things that we might be able to do there
over the longer term," he said. "There could be more interest from
international companies."

Progressive Opening

For now though, it's business as usual for Sherritt. The company will
only see significant benefits if the U.S. president succeeds in getting
Congress to lift the full trade embargo. Pathe doesn't see "anything
happening quickly" on that, or on lifting the 1996 Helms-Burton Act,
which among other things restricts Sherritt executives and directors and
their families from entering the U.S.

There will be "a continued opening," Pathe said of Cuba. "What could
happen over a course of years is that this just occurs progressively."

The embargo has added a layer of challenges for Sherritt. It's meant no
metal sales to U.S. customers, no Caterpillar Inc. trucks at its mines
in the country, and definitely no trips to Disney World for Pathe and
his family, who've been banned from visiting the U.S. under Helms-Burton.

On the other hand, Pathe said the regulatory climate in Cuba has been
stable at a time when other countries have raised taxes and royalties,
squeezing profits for mining companies. And while decision-making in the
country can be frustratingly slow, investors can succeed if they can
convince government officials they can bring value to the country, he said.

Building Trust

"They've lived under the embargo for 50 years, which has led them to be
very resourceful," Pathe said. "They're very skilled negotiators and
will negotiate exhaustively."

A big part of succeeding on the Communist island is building
relationships with local authorities, Pathe said.

"It's not all about commercial outcomes," he said. "It's about who can
they trust, who do they believe in and who will be a good partner."

Some foreign companies will probably want changes in the Communist
nation before they invest, said Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the
Cuba Study Group, a Washington-based organization that backs a loosening
of sanctions.

"Foreign investors are going to be looking to Cuba to make much more
substantive reforms if it is to attract foreign investors, especially
U.S. foreign investors, and those include of course contracts, rule of
law, and especially labor reforms," Bilbao said by phone last week.

Madagascar Nickel

While Sherritt gets most of its revenue from Cuba, for the past few
years investors have been most concerned about a new company mine
halfway across the world. Sherritt's Ambatovy nickel and cobalt
operation in Madagascar, which started output last year, has been a drag
on the company's shares as it fell behind schedule and budget during

Sherritt has dropped 65 percent in the past five years in Toronto
trading, compared with a 24 percent decline in the Standard & Poor's/TSX
Composite Materials index.

The shares, which rose to C$2.19 on Monday, also have been buffeted by
the 25 percent slump in nickel futures on the London Metal Exchange in
the past eight months. The company's adjusted earnings missed analysts'
estimates in the first three quarters of 2014.

The Ambatovy mine, a joint venture with partners including Japan's
Sumitomo Corp. and Korea Resources Corp., uses a uncommon method to
extract the metals from ore, and similar facilities owned by other
companies have struggled to meet targets.

Convince Street

Sherritt is convinced that won't be the case at Ambatovy, Pathe said.
The company is using its own patented process that's been running
successfully for decades at its Moa joint venture with the Cuban
government, he said.

"This is the year that we will demonstrate to the world that the
Ambatovy project is the great long-life, low-cost nickel and cobalt
producing asset that we've been trying to convince the street that it's
going to be," he said.

Once that's accomplished, the company will be ready to consider the next
steps to grow its nickel business, potentially through acquisitions.
While that could mean more spending in Cuba, the company also will
consider entering a new country or region, Pathe said.

Sherritt would rather buy operations that are in or near production than
start from scratch on a new-mine project, Pathe said. The company also
is interested in partnering with others on potential acquisitions, he said.

'Greater Exposure'

"There is capital out there that is looking to get greater exposure to
resources and hasn't been able to figure out how to do it," he said. "If
we can prove what we believe we can do on Ambatovy, it makes us quite an
attractive partner from a technical perspective and an operating

Sherritt has slimmed down and simplified its structure in the past year,
selling Canadian coal assets, cutting staff and even putting its
head-office building up for sale. The company is now focused on the
nickel business, Pathe said.

Sherritt's stock has nine buy recommendations from analysts, three holds
and no sell ratings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Sherritt has agreed to sell its mid-town Toronto building to a
"long-term real estate investor," he said, and will announce details of
the transaction in its fourth-quarter earnings, which are scheduled for
release Feb. 12. Sherritt plans to move its headquarters into Toronto's
financial district, which Pathe said is emblematic of a cultural change
meant to engage more with the investor and broader economic communities.

"I think Sherritt for a long time has been seen as a bit insular and on
the outside of the mainstream," he said. "Moving our head office back
downtown is part of that cultural shift."

To contact the reporter on this story: Liezel Hill in Toronto at

Source: Cuba needs power projects - Sherritt CEO - Mineweb - Continue reading
U.S.-Cuba policy: Myth vs. reality
By Yleem D.S. Poblete and Jason I. Poblete

In announcing the move to "normalize" relations with the Cuban regime,
President Obama referred to U.S. policy as an "outdated approach." This
claim was reiterated in his State of the Union address, as if repeating
it enough would make it true.

A little history and clarification are in order.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower's response to Cuban aggression was
prompted by Havana's systematic assault on U.S. interests. One of the
early affronts was the unlawful confiscation and nationalization,
without compensation, of private property owned by Americans. Today,
those certified claims are valued at between $8-$10 billion. While it is
seldom mentioned in recent debates, this issue is the foundation on
which U.S. law and policy was constructed.
As the regime began to purchase weapons from the Soviet Union and
distance itself from the civilized world, there was a proportional
increase in foreign policy tools used by Washington to address growing
threats and policy challenges.

From missiles pointed at the U.S. and sending agents to Vietnam to
torture American POWs at a camp called "The Zoo", to exporting violence,
and destabilizing democratic allies, this pariah state has earned every
punitive measure imposed by the U.S. Havana helped create and grow the
Western Hemisphere drugs for arms network, as documented in numerous
official reports. Hostile acts carried out by Havana's spy recruits in
the U.S. government are linked to American deaths.

The regime also continues to collaborate with fellow rogues such as
Iran. It harbors terrorists, as well as murderers and other dangerous
fugitives of U.S. justice. Despite assertions to the contrary, Cuba
continues to earn its slot on the state sponsors of terrorism list and
that is one of many reasons why the embargo should remain firmly in place.

But the sanctions do not tell the whole story, as they are just one
component of a multi-prong U.S. strategy that aims to weaken and isolate
the regime, while supporting those struggling to free their island
nation from a totalitarian dictatorship.

U.S.-Cuba policy is both punitive, to hold Havana accountable for
actions against U.S. interests, and preventive, as it seeks to rein in
the regime's dangerous policies. It protects American property rights,
as well as the U.S. economy and financial system from the regime's
criminal activities. It has been formulated to ensure American
taxpayers are not implicitly or explicitly financing terrorism or
subsidizing bad investments. U.S.-Cuba policy is also formulated to
ensure the U.S. will have a privileged standing and relationship with a
future democratically elected Cuban government.

These priorities are again in jeopardy.

Leaders of the Cuban resistance movement, many former prisoners of
conscience as Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez), have called the Obama
administration's "normalization" efforts "a betrayal." Antunez,
described as the Nelson Mandela of Cuba, and his wife Yris, were present
for the State of the Union address, as guests of Speaker John Boehner.
They described the Administration's initiatives as benefiting only the
regime and creating further roadblocks to freedom.

This is not, however, the first Presidential attempt at rapprochement
with the Cuban regime. Under President Carter, for example, sanctions
were weakened or allowed to lapse. President Clinton was preparing to
go even further when two civilian humanitarian aircraft, piloted by
three Americans and a U.S. resident, were shot down by Cuban military
jets over international waters. President Clinton was left with no
other choice but to sign the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity
Act, known as Helms-Burton. This bipartisan law enshrined the
multi-track approach and codified existing prohibitions to ensure these
could not be unilaterally abrogated through Executive action.

What specific steps can Congress take to stop the Obama administration?
These could include but are not limited to:

- Resolutions disapproving of the president's December 17 proposals and
subsequent action pursuant to such announcement for potential violations
of U.S. laws;
- Adding Cuba matter to other legislative and legal action pertaining to
abuse of executive power;
- Cross-committee hearings and investigations with the use of subpoenas,
as necessary, for documents, U.S. government officials and those acting
as representatives thereof;
- Prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for the implementation of
proposals announced on December 17 or related subsequent action, as well
as holds on funds for other Administration priorities, until
Congressional review and investigations are completed;
- Prohibition on the use of any funds for the U.S. Interests Section in
Havana if the status of the mission or its personnel is altered, without
expressed Congressional authorization, from that in effect on December
16, 2014.

The 114th Congress must, as Winston Churchill used to say, "never
surrender" to totalitarianism.

Yleem D.S. Poblete is a PhD and former chief of staff of the House of
Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee. Jason I. Poblete is an
attorney and former co-chairman of the National Security Committee of
the American Bar Association's Section of International Law.

Source: U.S.-Cuba policy: Myth vs. reality | TheHill - Continue reading