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New on Charter Flight Roller Coaster: Eased Cuba Restrictions
BY MAX KUTNER 2/1/15 AT 5:20 PM

The people who have spent decades arranging flights between the United
States and Cuba compare the history of their industry to a roller
coaster. The half-dozen or so charter companies are subject to the
politics of two countries, plus opposition that is at times
explosive—literally.

Since President Obama announced the return of diplomatic relations with
Cuba in December, and the easing of travel and trade restrictions in
January, business at the charter companies has been on its way up. But
those cashing in on the detente fear that once commercial airlines start
regular service, charter profits will go into free fall.

The charter company names are well known in Cuban-American
circles—Gulfstream, Marazul, ABC, Xael, Wilson, Cuba Travel Services and
others. Most are based in Florida and fly from Miami or Tampa, though
some hold headquarters in New Jersey and California. Multiple companies
claim to have been the first in operation, and many of the founders have
had hands in politics for decades.

Air service agreements between the two countries date to 1953. Before
last month's changes, the U.S. limited air travel to Cuba to companies
holding special licenses and operating non-regularly scheduled flight
service. Starting in the late 1970s, when President Carter began easing
travel restrictions, Cuban-Americans, exiles and other people
established licensed companies to coordinate travel and charter flights.
Over the years, as various administrations made it easier for Americans
to visit Cuba under certain circumstances, those travel companies grew
their operations to include arranging tours, booking hotels and leasing
aircraft and crews from major airlines.

In the early 2000s, however, after President Bush put new restrictions
in place, the charter companies scrambled to fill airplane seats.

"He hit us really hard," Tessie Aral of ABC Charters says about Bush.
"We had to lay off half our staff."

Michael Zuccato of Cuba Travel Services says the company downsized to
smaller aircraft at the time, and John H. Cabanas of C&T Charters, which
stopped flying in 2012, says those restrictions made him go bankrupt.

Business began to improve in 2009, when President Obama eased
restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting family, and again two years
later, when the president restored "people-to-people" travel categories.

Last month, the U.S. announced that while regular tourism to Cuba
remains banned and travelers must fit into one of 12 categories, the
government would no longer require case-by-case approval for travelers.
Further, Americans visiting Cuba can now use credit cards there and
spend larger amounts of money.

In the two weeks since that announcement, people have flooded charter
companies with requests. "We have just been inundated," says Bob Guild,
vice president of Marazul, which has been around for three and a half
decades and flies mostly between Miami and several Cuban cities. "I have
gotten more than 1,500 requests for group travel in two weeks. That's
just way above the norm for us."

In fact, Guild says he's discouraging people from packing their bags
just yet. "We're telling everyone who is now licensed to travel to Cuba
to postpone their travel until at least April or maybe even May," he
says, "because Cuba is already filled, as far as their hotels go."

Zuccato, who runs Cuba Travel Services with his wife Lisa, says he
participated in a travel show last week and, "I'm just now getting my
voice back." He estimates that business has increased more than 100
percent since the 2011 changes. Responding to the rise in demand, Cuba
Travel Services will begin flying weekly from New York City to Havana in
March. It also flies from Miami and Tampa.

Still, major airports are waiting to see the excitement translate into
hard numbers. A spokesman for Miami International Airport says its
number of chartered flights to Cuba scheduled for February is actually
less than the number for last year. "For now we're just waiting as
everybody else is," he says.

A spokeswoman for Tampa International Airport wrote by email that it is
still reviewing the January numbers, but that "charter operators have
indicated that they are likely to add flights in coming weeks." The
spokeswoman also wrote that traffic on the website GoToCuba.org has
jumped since the government's announcements. Before those, she wrote,
the site received some 50 visitors per day; now the daily average is
more than 800.

The Department of Transportation issued a notice on January 15
explaining its plans to renegotiate the 62-year-old air travel agreement
currently in place. "The U.S. Government will engage with the Government
of Cuba to assess our aviation relations and establish a bilateral basis
for further expansion of air services," the notice states, adding:
"Nothing in this Notice is intended to interfere with U.S.-Cuba charter
services."

But introducing regular flights could spell trouble for the mom-and-pop
charters. Several major airlines have expressed interest in recent days,
including American Airlines, Delta, United, JetBlue and Southwest. Many,
if not all, of those carriers have flown to Cuba through the charter
companies.

Travel websites are also jumping on board. Kayak, a travel search
engine, added Cuba hotels and flight information to its search results
last week. "There was quite a bit of interest," Chief Marketing Officer
Robert Birge told Newsweek before announcing that addition.

Booking websites, however, must wait for the government negotiations to
be concluded. A spokeswoman for the Priceline Group, which oversees
Booking.com, Priceline.com and Kayak, says they're eager to facilitate
travel to Cuba as soon as they can. A spokesman for Orbitz, a
competitor, says the same.

"We are in contact with our suppliers, airlines, hotels, cruise lines
and others that are looking at getting into the Cuba market," says Chris
Chiames, vice president of corporate affairs at Orbitz. "We anticipate
being able to sell travel for Americans getting to Cuba by the end of
this year.

"It's been a place so close, but so far," Chiames adds.

When major U.S. providers make it easier to book flights and hotels,
what will become of the charter companies?

"The most logical scenario," says Lillian Manzor, a University of Miami
associate professor and expert on U.S.-to-Cuba travel policies, is that
the influx of options will drive down ticket prices and the charters
will struggle. However, Manzor says, cultural reasons may keep the major
airlines from succeeding in that market. "Conducting business with Cuba
is not simple. These [charter] travel agencies have a long experience
and tradition of working with Cuba," she says. "They have an
experiential know-how that they've already had to deal with for 20-odd
years that the [major] American companies don't have."

Zuccato also says major carriers may have trouble dealing with the
nuances involved with Cuba travel. "These charter flights into Cuba have
operated so efficiently over the past 20 years," he says. "They're able
to take kind of a complicated process and make it really simple and easy
for people…. We have the system down."

Other charter executives, Aral of ABC and Guild of Marazul, concede that
if necessary, they will focus on other aspects of their businesses, such
as running programs and tours.

History shows that the competition could get messy. Companies have gone
after one another in court; most recently, last October, Island Travel
and Tours filed suit against Cuba Travel Services for setting ticket
prices too low and therefore violating antitrust laws. That case is
ongoing and attorneys for Cuba Travel Services have called the claim
"meritless."

Politics have caused problems as well. It is suspected that Cuban exile
extremists were responsible for bombing the Marazul offices twice in
1988 and once in 1996, almost gutting the store and forcing the company
to install bulletproof glass.

Francisco Aruca, the founder of Marazul—"the first American company to
run charter flights to Cuba"—died in 2013. When he was a young man in
Cuba, according to biographies, authorities arrested him for
counter-revolutionary activities and sentenced him to 30 years behind
bars. He apparently escaped and fled the country, eventually settling in
Miami. There, he became a popular radio show host.

The name of another high-profile former charter company owner, John H.
Cabanas of the now-closed C&T Charters, elicits colorful off-the-record
responses from some, and praise as a "pioneer" from others. Cabanas, 72,
says his ancestors came to Florida from Cuba in the 1850s. He says he's
dined with Fidel Castro, and he calls Raul Castro, whom Cabanas says
once lent him 20 pesos for a haircut, "a terrific guy."

Cabanas grew up in a political family, and after an arson attack on
their home around the time he was 19, they fled to Cuba. Cabanas
returned to the U.S. in 1988. These days, he doesn't shy from talking
about his political beliefs, and he has contributed more than $100,000
to both Democrats and Republicans over the past decade. Thanks to the
renewed relations with Cuba, he says, now is a good time to be in the
charter business.

"It's a very romantic industry," Cabanas says, "and I think it's going
to grow into an indefinite size."

Source: New on Charter Flight Roller Coaster: Eased Cuba Restrictions -
http://www.newsweek.com/new-charter-flight-roller-coaster-eased-cuba-restrictions-303594 Continue reading
Cuba's not ready for prime-time tourism
Feb. 1, 2015 7:00 AM
by Rick Jervis, USA TODAY


HAVANA - It's no big deal to arrive in in this Caribbean city without a
toothbrush, sunscreen or guidebook.

Just don't come without a hotel reservation.

I arrived in Havana not long ago to cover the U.S. State Department
meetings here without a hotel reservation, figuring I'd find something
in town. My Cuban visa didn't come through until the day before I
departed from the USA, so I left thinking I'd find a room when I got there.

After arriving at José Marti­ International Airport, I watched in awe
and dismay as a very nice lady at the airport's tourist desk called what
appeared to be every hotel in Havana. All sold out. She told me she knew
someone who rents out rooms in her house. I took it, the thought of
sharing a bedroom in someone's home being only marginally better than
the prospect of sleeping on a park bench in Havana.

In the wake of President Obama's announcement last month that his
administration was renewing ties with Cuba and easing trade and travel
restrictions to the island, there's been a lot of buzz about Americans
visiting Cuba.

But is Cuba ready for a large-scale influx of new visitors? Even without
hordes of American visitors, Havana hotels already run at 80% capacity
during the high season (which is now), according to John Kavulich,
senior adviser to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. If U.S.
cruise ships dock at the Port of Havana, there won't be enough Cuban
taxis and restaurants to accommodate the throngs of new visitors, he said.

New U.S. regulations could pave the way for more U.S.-Cuba ventures,
including hotels and other tourism infrastructure. But don't count on
those anytime soon, Kavulich says.

"The Cuban government has to want it," he says. "They have not indicated
they are excited about U.S. property developers, U.S. unions and U.S.
hotel management companies assaulting the Cuban archipelago."

For now, it's up to the Cubans.

I was driven to the house where I'd be staying in the leafy Kohly
district of Havana, next to the incredibly lush Havana Forest and a
short drive to downtown. The three-story home belonged to a very nice
widow in her 50s named Tania Galeano, who lived there with her grown son
and daughter. My room was on the top floor. The shower was a trickle,
and I was awakened early each morning - ready or not - by a boisterous
rooster who appeared to be directly outside my window. The house also
had no Internet, so I needed to walk down the street to Hotel El Bosque
to check e-mail and file my stories.

It was less than ideal for a working journalist to be so effectively cut
off from the rest of the world. But it also offered an interesting
opportunity to chat and interact with a Cuban family. Over small cups of
strong Cuban coffee, Galeano told me how she had waited a long time for
Cuba and the U.S. to restore ties. She cried in December when she heard
the announcement on state TV.

Getting around town was also a challenge. Sometimes, Galeano's son,
Onyx, would drive me in his 1980 Russian-built Lada, which would stall
at every other stoplight. Other times, I would walk down to El Bosque
and hope to grab a taxi there. When there were no taxis around, which
was often, I would stick my arm out on a busy street and flag down a
passing motorist, who would take me to my destination for a few bucks.
Once, I managed to pull a ride with the owner of a pristine,
pink-and-white 1956 Chevy. Sometimes you just get lucky.

For all its rough edges, Havana remains a fascinating place. Its people
are generally friendly and skilled in the art of getting things done â??
resolviendo, they call it -- when life presents obstacles.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when the city's tourist numbers
suddenly double. Make sure to book your hotel well in advance.

If not, just call Tania. She'll take care of you.

Jervis is an Austin-based correspondent for USA TODAY.

Source: Voices: Cuba's not ready for prime-time tourism | Pacific Daily
News | guampdn.com - http://www.guampdn.com/usatoday/article/22466247 Continue reading
In Cuba-U.S. talks, the list of disagreements is still long
By TRACY WILKINSON January 31, 2015

- In the Cuba-U.S. talks, the moods and political will may have changed,
but the key issues have not
- The U.S. and Cuba remain far apart on many issues: Guantanamo, human
rights, embassies, the embargo

For all the talk about historic talks, the list of disagreements between
Cuba and the United States, which could trip up renewed ties after the
first round of official negotiations this month, looks a lot like it has
for many years.

The moods and political will on both sides of the Florida Straits may
have changed, but key issues have not, at least not in substantial ways.
And where there is significant agreement, it is on topics that were
already pretty much resolved.

Cuban President Raul Castro, in a regional meeting this week in Costa
Rica, emphasized the line between renewing diplomatic relations and the
"normalization" of relations, a much broader arrangement where the
disagreements are most stark.

U.S.-Cuba talks focus on embassies, diplomatic restrictions
Castro continues to insist that detente should not imply any changes in
Cuba's "domestic affairs," while the Obama administration continues to
insist its ultimate goal is changing Cuba's domestic affairs.

"The government of the Republic of Cuba will only accept what it feels
it can control," said John S. Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "The initiatives proposed by
President Obama are designed to tear at the social fabric of the
Republic of Cuba."

Here are some of the outstanding issues:

Embassies. Both countries seem determined to open embassies in each
other's capital, replacing the interests sections that have handled
diplomatic affairs for the last few decades. Both countries want travel
restrictions on their diplomats removed. Cuban diplomats can't venture
far from Washington, and U.S. officials can't leave Havana without
permission. Cuba remains wary about American diplomats being allowed to
travel the nation freely, possibly influencing antigovernment sentiment.
Havana wants a promise to end U.S. efforts to drum up dissidence against
the Castro government; the U.S. has refused.

Obama's renewed push to close Guantanamo prison is seen as promising
Embargo. This is the foremost demand by Cuba: an end to the embargo,
imposed during the Eisenhower administration, that forbids most American
business, private and individual dealings with Cuba. The Obama
administration, and others before it, lifted numerous restrictions that
eased travel and some trade. But an absolute removal of the embargo must
be ordered by Congress. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S.
lawmakers introduced legislation that would remove all travel
restrictions on American citizens going to Cuba, seen as a first step in
whittling away the embargo.

Terrorism. Cuba is also demanding it be removed from the U.S. list of
state sponsors of terrorism. This seems easier for the Obama
administration to do, and the president has ordered the State Department
to review the matter.

Fugitives. The U.S. is reiterating its long-standing demand for the
return of several American fugitives who fled to Cuba in the 1970s and
'80s, lured by the safe haven and the vision of a leftist utopia. Most
famous, and most in demand, is Joanne Chesimard, a former Black Panther
and member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in the 1977
killing of a New Jersey state trooper. She was sentenced to life in
prison but escaped and fled to Cuba, where she is now known as Assata
Shakur. Cuba continues to defend its policy of granting asylum to
criminals it considers victims of persecution in other nations. And it
counters with its own insistence that the U.S. hand over Luis Posada
Carriles,wanted by Cuba in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban
airliner that killed 73 people.

Human rights and dissidents. The talks this month highlighted the
continued differences over human rights. Cuba bristles at the suggestion
that Washington can take a higher moral road when it comes to human
rights. Cuba also wants U.S. officials to stop meeting with the island's
small dissident community and to end anti-Castro propaganda. The U.S.
says no.

Migration. Although there is much general agreement on eased travel
between the two countries and family reunification, Cuba insists on an
end to the special legal status that the U.S. grants Cuban immigrants.
The so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy — Cubans who reach American
shores are allowed to remain, but those intercepted at sea are not —
lures Cubans to the U.S. and is largely responsible for a brain drain,
Cuba argues. U.S. negotiators in Havana said the policy would not change.

Guantanamo. Although it didn't come up publicly in this month's talks,
Cuba says it wants the U.S. to close its naval base at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, and return the land to the Cuban government. Obama has said he
wants to close the U.S. prison there, but has not commented on the
larger demand.

Reparations and compensation. Both countries want monetary compensation
— for different reasons. On the U.S. list are billions of dollars in
private and commercial properties confiscated by the Cuban government
after the 1959 revolution. In his speech this week, Castro said the U.S.
owed unspecified reparations to Cuba for damage caused by the embargo.

Twitter: @TracyKWilkinson

Source: In Cuba-U.S. talks, the list of disagreements is still long - LA
Times -
http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-cuba-us-issues-20150131-story.html Continue reading
North America has 'enormous interest' in Cuba, Kerry says
BY TRACEE HERBAUGH ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/31/2015 7:00 AM 01/31/2015 10:37 PM

BOSTON
North America has an "enormous interest" in building diplomatic
relationships with Cuba, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday
during a weekend meeting with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico.

"This is an effort we believe offers the best opportunity for the people
of Cuba to improve their lives and to take part in the choices about
their lives," Kerry said during a news conference at Boston's Faneuil Hall.

A high-level U.S. delegation held two days of talks with Cuban officials
in Havana last week for the first time in decades.

In December, President Barack Obama announced plans to restore
diplomatic relations with the Caribbean island nation after more than 50
years.

"It's time to try something new," Kerry said of the five-decade economic
embargo against Cuba. He added that the Obama administration will
continue to press Cuban leaders on democracy, human rights protections
and civil society issues.

The Obama administration has said that goal is supported by removing
barriers to U.S. travel, remittances and exports to Cuba. In turn, Cuba
has said it welcomes those measures but has no intention of changing its
system.

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird and Mexico's Secretary of Foreign
Affairs Jose Antonio Meade joined Kerry in Boston to discuss issues
facing North America, among them climate change, trade and eliminating
global extremism.

Baird applauded the administration's willingness to engage in dialogue
with Cuba.

"The more American values and American capital that are permitted into
Cuba, the freer the Cuban people will be," Baird said. "Not only was it
about time, but it was the perfect time that this important change in
policy was made."

Kerry and Baird also discussed the fight against Islamic State
militants, which Baird referred to as a "death cult" and Kerry accused
of hijacking the Islamic faith.

Source: North America has 'enormous interest' in Cuba, Kerry says | The
Miami Herald The Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article8886587.html 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 -
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/Could-Houston-be-the-hub-of-U-S-trade-with-Cuba-6051515.php Continue reading
Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda
BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE 1/30/15 AT 4:48 PM

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
Helms-Burton.

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
refused.

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
center.

Fugitives

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
relations.

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 -
http://www.newsweek.com/normalizing-relations-cuba-unfinished-agenda-303232 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.)

WHY NOW?
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
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.

AGRICULTURE
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
requirements.

FINANCIAL SERVICES
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.

THE BOTTOM LINE
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) -
http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/013015/what-cubaus-relations-means-us-industry.asp Continue reading
… a number of lawmakers of Cuban descent, including Senator Marco Rubio … to Cuba. But ending Washington’s 54-year-old trade embargo against Cuba is … create a desire among the Cuban people for commerce, technology and … Gonzalez. “It’s not just Cuban-Americans and members of Congress who … 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
currency".

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 -
http://translatingcuba.com/early-farewell-to-the-cuc-14ymedio-miriam-celaya/ 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
obvious.
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
negotiable."[4]
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
groups.[6]
- 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 -
http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/congressional-oversight-needed-as-obama-administration-moves-to-remove-cuba-from-state-sponsors-of-terrorism-list Continue reading
… greeting, members of the visiting Cuban delegation got a close-up look … about the possibility of the Cuban team, the Industriales, displaying their … a good experience for the Cuban teams,” Ortero explained. Biloxi Shuckers … lifting the trade embargo with Cuba and lessening restrictions between the … Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38365" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)[/caption] 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. Fear is running throughout the population that an official changeover will take place suddenly, with extremely high fees that would produce serious loses to their 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 currency”. 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”. The lack of information and clarification from the official media creates uncertainty and speculation in the population. 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 [2]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 [1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Varias-personas-cambio-CADECA-EFE_CYMIMA20150129_0001_16.jpg [2] http://www.worldfinance.com/banking/cuba-to-ditch-complicated-dual-currency-system Continue reading
…  recent and current trends in Cuban imports of goods and services … on Cuba would have on US trade with Cuba, while identifying Cuba’s … of congressionally mandated sanctions against Cuba that are unaffected by an … will open an embassy in Havana, ease travel restrictions on US … Continue reading
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has taken the first step in a looming congressional battle over how far to expand trade and tourism with the Castro government. Continue reading
… benefits of increased trade to Cuba. "Missouri farmers and ranchers … . Nixon. "Expanded trade with Cuba is a tremendous opportunity for … he will be traveling to Havana from March 1-4 with members … U.S. financing restrictions require Cuban buyers of U.S. agricultural … 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
demands.

"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
terrorism."

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 -
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2015/01/28/raul-castro-demands-us-pay-back-cubans-for-damages-return-guantanamo/ Continue reading
Sens. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, wrote a letter signed by a handful of other GOP senators to President Obama offering general support for expanding trade with Continue reading
… , and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of … and maintain correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the … $100 of Cuban tobacco and alcohol products back home. Cuban Visas and … travelers to Cuba should contact the Cuban Interests Section of Cuba’s Ministry … Continue reading
Governor Jay Nixon (right) and Missouri Ag Director Richard Fordyce (left) in 2014 Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is taking commodity group leaders with him to Cuba for a trade trip in early March. Nixon Continue reading
… US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark … travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent on the … , Costa Rica, Castro said that Havana also wants to be removed … fast-track access to permanent residency. Cuba says the US migration policies … Continue reading
Marco Rubio schedules Senate hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy
@PatriciaMazzei

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.

RUBIO NAMED CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE'S WESTERN
HEMISPHERE SUBCOMMITTEE

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 -
http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2015/01/marco-rubio-schedules-senate-hearing-on-us-cuba-policy.html Continue reading
Five ways Obama could make Castro pay Cuba's $6 billion debt to Americans
By Gregg JarrettPublished January 28, 2015 FoxNews.com

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
secured?

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
regime?

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 -
http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/01/28/five-ways-obama-could-make-castro-pay-cuba-6-billion-debt-to-americans/ 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
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
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 -
http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-must-return-guantanamo-for-normal-relations-with-cuba-raul-castro-says-1422494617 Continue reading
Raul Castro: US must return Guantanamo for normal relations
BY JAVIER CORDOBA AND MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/29/2015 3:58 AM 01/29/2015 3:58 AM

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
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
Venezuela.

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
outreach.

"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 -
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… US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark … travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent on the … , Costa Rica, Castro said that Havana also wants to be removed … fast-track access to permanent residency. Cuba says the US migration policies … Continue reading
… said. Castro also said that Havana wants to be removed from … US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark … travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent in the … to respect Cuba's political choices and said Havana had no … Continue reading
… US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark … resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States would … travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent on the … Rica, Mr Castro said that Havana also wanted to be removed … Continue reading
Havana for the recent release of contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban … . Leaders of the opposition include Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida … of further overtures to Cuba. “Any policy addressing Cuba ought to have … terms of the Cuban regime’s treatment of the Cuban people, and … Continue reading
Cuban President Raul Castro demanded yesterday that the United States return the US 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... Continue reading
… intending to normalize relations with Cuba by easing travel and trade … a US embassy in Havana. On Tuesday, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro … station in regulation with the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. Since 1961 … and the Communist government in Havana. Continue reading
… US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark … travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent on the … , Costa Rica, Castro said that Havana also wants to be removed … fast-track access to permanent residency. Cuba says the US migration policies … Continue reading
Congressional travel to Cuba surged last year
BY SUSAN CRABTREE | JANUARY 28, 2015 | 5:00 AM

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
government.

"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 MoveOn.org 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
government.

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 |
WashingtonExaminer.com -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/congressional-travel-to-cuba-surged-last-year/article/2559384?utm_campaign=Fox%20News&utm_source=foxnews.com&utm_medium=feed Continue reading
Fabiola Santiago: Buddy-bear diplomacy falls short in Cuba
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO FSANTIAGO@MIAMIHERALD.COM
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...."

Indeed.

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
decades.

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 -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/fabiola-santiago/article8422200.html Continue reading
… people living under the authoritarian Cuban government. In July 2000, I … of the relationship between the Cubans and their repressive government. Allowing … to Cuba would further promote freedom and liberty by exposing Cubans to … growing Cuban economy would increase the standard of living for Cuban citizens … Continue reading
… against U.S. Embargo of Cuba BELEN, Costa Rica – The III … U.S. trade blockade of Cuba, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño … re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington, but pointed out … end of the sanctions against Cuba would mean even better conditions … Continue reading
Fortune Tuesday 27th January, 2015 The change comes as the Obama administration eases restrictions on trade with Cuba. For the first time in decades, Americans will be able to travel to the island, Continue reading
… eases restrictions on trade with Cuba. For the first time in … to just about anybody in Cuba. Related: The promise for American businesses if Cuba sanctions are lifted American Express … use their credit cards in Cuba starting March 1. Still, people … Continue reading
… eases restrictions on trade with Cuba. For the first time in … to just about anybody in Cuba. Related: The promise for American businesses if Cuba sanctions are lifted American Express … use their credit cards in Cuba starting March 1. Still, people … Continue reading
Cuba's $6B debt to Americans for seized properties hangs over US talks
By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos Published January 27, 2015 FoxNews.com

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
concessions."

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
billion.

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 FoxNews.com'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
"conversation."

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 FoxNews.com 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 FoxNews.com 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 -
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/01/26/cuba-6b-debt-to-americans-for-seized-properties-hangs-over-us-talks/ 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 -
http://gizmodo.com/cubas-illegal-underground-internet-is-thriving-1681797114 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
opportunities."

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
construction.

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
perspective."

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
lhill30@bloomberg.net

Source: Cuba needs power projects - Sherritt CEO - Mineweb -
http://www.mineweb.com/cuba-needs-power-projects-sherritt-ceo/ Continue reading
… is trying to forge with Havana. As part of a new … to leverage technology against the Cuban government. Contractor Alan Gross was … 's new Cuba policy. The so-called "Cuban Five" (L-R … front of a Cuban flag during a concert in Havana A separate … Continue reading
… sales to private parties, via Cuban import-export companies, of construction materials … institutions may open accounts at Cuban banks for transactions related to … products containing raw materials from Cuba. The announced measures constitute a … Continue reading
… for the first time since Havana and Washington announced they would … sides have since met in Havana to work through details including … banks to open accounts in Cuba and other measures promoting trade … the Cuban communist regime, and calls from the US side for HavanaContinue reading
George Santayana got it right when he said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." President Obama's latest move to normalize diplomatic and trade relations with the brutal Cuban Continue reading