Monday, February 27, 2017

Weakness, Fear And Inability Erode The Cuban Government

Weakness, Fear And Inability Erode The Cuban Government / 14ymedio,
Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 23 February 2017 — The recent
"diplomatic" action by the Cuban Government to try to prevent the
presence of foreign personalities in a private event in Havana to
receive a symbolic prize bearing the name of the late regime opponent
Oswaldo Payá, denotes the weakness, fear and incapacity that
characterize its actions since the visit of Barack Obama to Cuba and the
subsequent death of Fidel Castro.

According to the declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX)
in the newspaper Granma, the plan was to mount an open and serious
provocation against the Cuban government in Havana, generate internal
instability, damage the international image of the country and, at the
same time, affect the good progress of Cuba's diplomatic relations with
other states.

According to MINREX, Almagro himself and some other right-wing
individuals had the connivance and support of other organizations with
thick anti-Cuban credentials, such as the Democracy and Community
Center, the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America
(CADAL), the Inter-American Institute for Democracy, and a person they
call a CIA terrorist and agent, Carlos Alberto Montaner.

In addition, says MINREX, since 2015 there has been a link between these
groups and the National Foundation for Democracy in the United States
(NED), which receives funding from the US government to implement its
subversive programs against Cuba.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, which prevailed in Cuba 57 years
ago, has thus invented an "anti-Cuban" (against Cuba or against
themselves?), "imperialist", "counterrevolutionary" and "CIA" hoax
behind what could have been a small and simple limited ceremony; in
short, if they had been allowed to hold it without the presence of
foreign guests it would have served the Government to improve its image
with respect to the rights of Cubans as citizens and shown some tolerance.

Their response to this assessment is given by the MINREX note: "Perhaps
some misjudged and thought that Cuba would sacrifice its essence to
appearances," as if appearances are not an example of essence. It is the
ignorance of the dialectic relationship between form and content.

But in short, not one step back. According to MINREX the military state
is in danger from this provocation, without arms, without masses,
without leaders who enjoy wide support among Cubans on the island. We
cannot give ground to the "counterrevolution," — they say — as if it
were not precisely the defenders of the indefensible regime themselves
who prevented the revolutionary changes that would lead us to
prosperous, democratic Cuba, free of authoritarian hegemonies, with all
and for the good of all.

It is weakness, fear and incapacity that led the government to put its
repressive character on full display and to miss the opportunity to have
been hospitable to the Secretary General of the Organization of American
States and to have discussed with him the conditions for possible ties
to that Inter-American body.

If they were a little bit capable they could have "stolen the show," but
we already know that in Cuba 'counterintelligence' dominates in its
broadest sense.

The organizations and individuals who prepared the event have a vision
different from the government's on the ways in which politics and the
economy should be conducted in Cuba and, of course, it was an opportune
moment to promote the positions of change previously promoted by the
Leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá, who died in
circumstances demanding further explanation.

But if something like this can destabilize the regime, it should do the

The government's actions provoked exactly what it was trying to avoid,
creating more interest among Cubans and international opinion in the
Varela Project and in how Oswaldo Paya died, a man who might not have
been to the liking of the government and other cities, but who lived on
the island, worked there and from from within promoted a peaceful and
democratic change of the system, with all his rights as a Cuban citizen.
Something to respect.

The Cuban government's action, vitiated by extremism, Manichaeism,
intolerance and repression, favored what the organizers of the event
ultimately wanted to demonstrate: the absence of space in Cuba for
different thinking, the existence of a tyrannical regime that impedes
freedom of expression and association, and that it intends to continue
to govern based on jails, police and repressive security agents.

The repression of the opposition, socialist dissent and different
thinking, pressures against the self-employed, the stagnation of the
reforms proposed by the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba itself,
the voluntary efforts to try to control the widespread corruption
generated by statist wage system, in short, everything that is being
done by the senior bureaucratic hierarchy is generating chaos that
undermines and will burst the system from within from ignorance of the
laws of economic-social development.

They don't know where they stand! Don't try to put the blame on others

This service against a "socialism" that has never existed will perhaps
be the best historical legacy left to us by these 60 years of
voluntarism, populism and authoritarianism of Fidel Castro communism,
such that the most retrograde forces of international reaction will
eternally thank the "Cuban leadership."

Source: Weakness, Fear And Inability Erode The Cuban Government /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba -

Dismantling One of Fidel’s Houses and Saying Goodbye to His Bodyguards

Dismantling One of Fidel's Houses and Saying Goodbye to His Bodyguards /
Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2017 — They are dismembering the security
apparatus at the bunker that for years served as a spiritual refuge for
Fidel Castro: an apartment located on the third floor of 1007 11th
Street in Havana's Vedado district.

Little by little they are removing pictures, gifts and belongings along
with some trash. The metal security chain, floodlights and even the
guard post that prevented citizens from moving freely along the length
of the block where the building is located have already been removed.

More than fifty bodyguards have been retired, leaving only a small
temporary garrison of five men and one police officer, Colonel Nivaldo
Pérez Guerra.

Strategically located in District 13, a downtown neighborhood near the
Plaza of the Revolution, the building in question was one of the former
Cuban leader's three official residences. Though he had not visited the
place for several decades, it remained his legal residence from 1976
until the day he died.

These actions are, it seems, an attempt to remove any evidence that
media outlets and Cubans themselves, who have an excessive propensity
for constructing legends and creating myths, might use to craft a heroic
saga out of the daily habits and lifestyle of the late commander-in-chief.

"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. They are getting rid of anything with
even a whiff of age. In the case of #11 (as the building is known), the
country's leaders have sent us a message: 'The options are total
demolition or a complete remodeling of the place; if we leave it the way
it is, it could awaken the interest of an avid array of gossip mongers;
and, you guys, you are to be relocated,'" says one one disgruntled man,
who for years belonged to the tight inner circle of security personnel
guarding the late revolutionary leader.

"But they are not going to sack us," he adds. "What they are doing is
speeding up our retirement, which is not quite the same thing. At the
same time that they are removing Fidel's things from #11, they are
sending us to Personal Security, over there in Jaimanitas, where they
present retirement as compensation for a lifetime of loyal service. They
are giving us a Chinese car that looks a new Geely model CK but which is
actually a discontinued clunker, a used tourist rental car with a lot of
miles on it."

A disbanded and discontented elite military force can be a terribly bad
omen for a society on fire.

One need only go to the parking area of the Hotel Melia Cohiba or Hotel
Melia Havana and ask any of the former Cuban president's various
bodyguards where one might find a good botero (taxi driver).

They will tell you that a group of them, who are all now unemployed, are
planning to regroup and apply for licenses to operate a privately owned
cooperative offering security services to celebrities and fashionable
artists visiting the country.

A good business, I would think. No one can deny that, when it comes to
personal security, these men have plenty of experience.

Source: Dismantling One of Fidel's Houses and Saying Goodbye to His
Bodyguards / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -

Area businesses could benefit greatly from potential opportunities in Cuba

Area businesses could benefit greatly from potential opportunities in Cuba
Special to the Herald

Commerce between Manatee County and Cuba played a significant role in
our local economy up until the 1960 Cuban embargo.

During the 19th century, local ranchers and farmers regularly shipped
cattle and agriculture products from the banks of the Manatee River to
Cuba. With our community's long history of commerce with this island
country located just 90 miles from the Florida coastline, the Manatee
Chamber of Commerce's goal is to inform and educate our business
community regarding potential opportunities that result from
governmental policy decisions.

In 2015, after the United States and Cuba began efforts to normalize
relations between the countries, the Chamber hosted Cuban Ambassador
Jose Ramon Cabanas at a VIP luncheon. This was followed by a "Doing
Business with Cuba" workshop featuring keynote speaker Jorge Ignacio
Fernandez, a Cuban-born American and CEO of Havana Ferry Partners.

As a result of these popular events, strong interest developed among the
business community to learn more. With the assistance of Fernandez, we
planned a trade mission to Cuba.

The Chamber led a diverse group of local business leaders on this trade
mission earlier this month, with the goal of educating and better
positioning local businesses for future opportunities. Included among
our delegates were representatives from agriculture, entertainment, real
estate, food service supplies, road paving, building/construction,
engineering, economic development, tires and ferry passenger service.

Our delegation was welcomed by the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic
of Cuba and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, and we
received a comprehensive overview on how to do business with the country.

This was followed by face-to-face dialogue between Chamber delegates and
Cuban government representatives from various industry sectors aligned
with our individual delegates, including Alimport, the government agency
responsible for all imports and exports.

Also among our mission priorities was Feld Entertainment's examination
of some of Cuba's premier entertainment venues. We received a private
tour of the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball stadium and the Estadio
Panamericano soccer stadium, in addition to the elegant Gran Teatro de
La Habana, an historic performing arts theater.

The Cuban government was clear in recognizing the importance of U.S.
investment as they work toward creating the legal framework to invite
foreign business investment. Officials emphasized the important markets
of pharmaceuticals, agriculture, petroleum, tourism, food services and
construction, among others, and explained the process for obtaining a
license to do business in Cuba, which some U.S. companies already have

Although our delegation returned from Cuba with an understanding that
numerous obstacles remain until commerce between our two countries is
completely normalized, we believe our region and area businesses could
benefit greatly with our strategic location, history of trade with this
nation and convenient access to Port Manatee.

As communities around the country prepare to engage in business with
Cuba with an eye on how trade restrictions are addressed, we will
continue to keep our members updated on future possibilities.

I would not be too surprised if Cubans of all ages someday experience
the thrill of Monster Jam and discover the enchantment of Disney on Ice
or a stage performance of Sesame Street Live.

Robert P. Bartz, the president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can
be reached at

Source: Manatee County businesses could benefit greatly from potential
opportunities in Cuba | Bradenton Herald -

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Undercover American Tourists in Cuba

Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the
American Airlines' departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of
corridors and passages. That's why Noahn, an American living in
Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight's scheduled departure
time to Varadero.

He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son carried in an
arm-sling, and a dog with long floppy ears. In his luggage, professional
diving equipment and an electric skateboard. The couple speak in
carefully enunciated Spanish, with a hint of a Colombian accent. "It's
because I worked for an American company in Bogotá," explains Noahn.

To everyone who wants to listen to him, he describes his experiences as
a tourist in Cuba. He knows the Coco and Santa Maria Keys, located to
the north of Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara and Maria La Gorda, in the
western province of Pinar del Rio.

"But I was enchanted by Varadero. It's the third time in two years I've
been there since the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the
United States. Neither Miami Beach nor Malibu can compare with Varadero,
with its fine white sandy beach. The water is warm and there are hardly
any waves. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Copacabana in Rio de
Janeiro and The Bahamas may have just as good or better natural
conditions," he adds, while his wife gives the child some milk in a bottle.

Despite the prohibitions on tourism in Cuba, Americans such as Noahn
travelled to the island by way of a third country. "Before December 17,
2014, I travelled to Cuba via Mexico. After that date it's been easier.
There are twelve quite flexible categories, which they call the twelve
lies. You declare whichever pretext, and travel in a group or
individually. "In theory you can't go as a tourist, but I bet that's
what half of the American travellers are doing."

Out of more than 200 passengers on the flight heading to Varadero, only
six were Cubans going back to their country permanently or to visit
relatives on the island.

Judith, a biologist living in Georgia, is going to Cuba for the second
time this year. Why? "Half for professional experience, half tourism."
I'm interested in gathering information on the varieties of Cuban
vegetation. Once I finish my research, I'm going to stay a week in a
hotel full-board in Camaguey or in Holguin."

Asked if she felt any harassment or if any federal institution has
opened a file on her for violating the country's regulations, she
replies: "Not at all. Seems to me the wisest thing to do would be to
openly permit tourism in Cuba, because that's what in reality people are

After the re-establishment of relations between two countries that were
living in a cold war climate, many more Americans are travelling to the
Greater Antilles. In January 11, 2016, Josefina Vidal, an official
working in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and responsible for relations
with the United States, reported on Twitter that, in 2016, the island
received a total of 614,433 visitors from United States (Americans and
Cuban Americans), 34% more than in 2015.

Although on paper the Americans arriving are recorded as being part of a
religious or journalistic or a people-to-people exchange, it isn't
difficult to spot well-built blonds or redheads downing quantities of
mojitos in a bar in Old Havana or enjoying the warm autumn sun on a
Cuban beach.

When at 8:30 in the evening, the American Airlines plane landed at the
Juan Gualberto Gómez international airport in Varadero, after a quick
check, half a dozen air-conditioned buses were waiting for the
"undercover" tourists to take them to four and five star hotels along
the Hicacos Peninsula coast.

"Yes, the Americans are tourists." Many of them go to Havana, others
pass the time in Varadero. They prefer to stay in hotels. About 400 or
500 come every week. And many more are expected at New Year's," said an
official of the Gaviota chain, balancing on the stairway of a bus.

Private taxi drivers and those who lease vehicles from the state hang
around the terminal. "There are gringos who come as individual tourists.
I charge them the equivalent of $40 for the trip to Varadero, about 20
kilometers from the airport. Almost all give good tips. Unlike the
Spaniards and Mexicans, who are complete tightwads," says Joan, a
private taxi driver.

The majority of Cubans are convinced that Americans are rich. And have
more money than they know what to do with. They try to milk them as if
they were cows.

At the currency exchange outside the airport, they exchange dollars for
86 centavos, less than the official rate of 87. "The rate goes down at
weekends," he says.

An employee in the terminal, says "Here everyone is doing business. "The
lavatory cleaner charges, the café sells stuff on the side, and the
customs people get things off the passengers."

Tourism in Cuba is like a harvest. Everyone wants to squeeze the sugar
cane. And you can extract plenty of juice from the sneaky tourists

Translated by GH

Source: Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -

Cuban Activist Juan Goberna Arrested

Cuban Activist Juan Goberna Arrested / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2017 — Human rights activist Juan Goberna
Hernández was arrested around 9 am this Saturday when he left home to
attend a meeting of the Inclusive Culture Network, a project to defend
the rights of people with disabilities.

On Friday night Goberna, who is blind, was visited by two State Security
agents to warn him that they would not allow him to attend the
meeting. Two other agents named Brayan and Nacho were posted in a car
from early Saturday to stop him if he persisted in his decision to go to
the meeting.

In Aguada de Pasajeros, Goberna was taken from a bus on which he panned
to travel to Havana to attend the meeting.

Minutes before his arrest Goberna told 14ymedio by phone that it was his
"duty" and his "right" to participate in the activity.

So far it has not been possible to determine where he was taken.

The Network of Inclusive Culture tries to promote a greater sensitivity
towards the treatment of people with disabilities, working to make
visible the difficulties that such individuals face on a daily basis.

In addition to conducting workshops and seminars, members of the Network
provide support and advice in cases of violations of rights to anyone in
situations of vulnerability.

Source: Cuban Activist Juan Goberna Arrested / 14ymedio – Translating
Cuba -

Brothers To The Rescue - A Crime That Hurts “Like The First Day”

Brothers To The Rescue: A Crime That Hurts "Like The First Day"/
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 February 2017 – Members of the Cuban
exile remembered the anniversary of the death of four Cuban Americans
after the shooting down of two planes of the humanitarian NGO Brothers
to the Rescue by the Cuban Air Force in 1996.

The commemorative activities began with an act of homage to Manuel de la
Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales, at the
monument in Opa-locka that reminds them of the 21st anniversary of the

"Every year when we remember them, we feel immense pain," says Ana
Ciereszko, sister of Armando Alejandre, one of those murdered.

"When President Obama returned the spy responsible for the murder of our
relatives it was very hard because they gave their lives to save the
lives of others, Cuban rafters, many of whom have disappeared at sea,"
she added.

Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also recalled those
killed and lashed out at the Obama administration for the release of spy
Gerardo Hernandez, convicted of providing information to the Cuban
government that allowed the perpetration of the crime.

"Our nation must defend these murdered Americans and ensure that justice
prevails so that the families of these victims can have the final peace
they so deeply deserve," said the congresswoman.

Brothers to the Rescue emerged as an initiative of civilian aviators of
various nationalities and Cubans interested in assisting the rafters who
escaped from the island in fragile vessels during the migratory crisis
in the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union caused the greatest
economic crisis in the country's history and thousands of migrants threw
themselves into the sea in the hope of reaching the United States.

The two Cessna 337 Skymaster aircraft, from Miami, were shot down with
air-to-air missiles by a MiG-29UB 900 fighter and a MiG-23 fighter. A
third plane escaped and called for help from the US authorities, who
never gave it to them.

The Cuban government accused the organization of having "terrorist
purposes" and defended the demolition of light aircraft on the grounds
that they were over Cuban waters. Brothers to the Rescue, however, says
that the shooting down took place in international waters.

"There has been no justice because there was no clarification of the
truth. The facts were carefully hidden under the presidencies of Clinton
and Castro," says Jose Basulto, 76, president of Brothers to the Rescue
and one of the survivors of the tragedy.

"It was a joint action, complicit, because they wanted to resume
relations between both countries," he says. He adds that on the Island
there practice runs for shooting down the planes and that it was
suggested to American officials what was going to happen. "We were
exposed to the enemy fire and nobody helped us," he adds.

According to Basulto, the days before each commemoration of the
demolition are filled with memories and are "very sad."

"Brothers to the Rescue was an example of human solidarity with the
people of Cuba and to teach the world the harshness of the suffering of
the people, capable of committing suicide at sea in order to escape from
that dictatorship," he recalls.

At Florida International University (FIU) a commemorative event was held
with relatives of the victims and a broad representation of the
exile. The meeting has become a tradition to remember the four
Cuban-American youth and, as every year, silence was held between 3:21
pm and 3:28 pm, the time at which the planes were shot down.

"My brother was my first baby. He was just a boy when he was killed,"
says Mirtha Costa, sister of Carlos Alberto Costa.

"He loved being together with everyone in the family. He was also a very
cheerful person and always looked for how to make jokes to others," he

Both Costa and the other relatives are responsible for the CAMP
Foundation, named after the initials of each of the victims of the
shooting down.

The foundation supports diverse organizations that promote youth
education, such as Miami Dade College and the University of Miami.

The families of the victims will honor their memory with a Eucharist at
St. Agatha Church at 7:00 pm this Friday.


Source: Brothers To The Rescue: A Crime That Hurts "Like The First Day"/
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -

Little Old Communists

'Little Old Communists' / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 February 2017 — Many of those who
experienced the first moments of the Revolution when they were between
the ages of 14 and 20, became literacy teachers, young rebels,
militiamen, cederistas (supporters of the Committees for the Defense of
the Revolution) and federadas ( 'federated', i.e. supporters and
activists of the Revolution). They overachieved every challenge and
climbing five peaks or walking 62 kilometers ended up being credentials
of high social value.

It was common to see them with a pistol at their belts bragging about
their exploits at the Bay of Pigs or cleaning up the Revolution's
opponents in the Escambray Mountains. It was the time of the Schools of
Revolutionary Instruction, of a Marxism manual tucked under one arm and
simplified atheism. In those prodigious years of the 1960s they embodied
the true fervor of youth and, consequently, an ideological prejudice
against the elderly took root.

A poet, then (and still) unknown, would write fiery verses under the
provocative title of If the old woman in front took power where he
described in the purest colloquial style the retrograde measures that
would be dictated by this hypothetical lady, probably bourgeois and
resentful, in a word: a gusana, a worm. In fact the term "old worm"
already seemed a redundancy in the mouth of those tropical Red Guards…
But time passed and many vultures flew over monument in the Plaza of the

A new generation, with very different goals, today launches its
prejudicial darts against anyone over 70. But they no longer use the
expletive "old worm," instead they choose its diametrical opposite:
"little old communist."

A diminutive, as any good linguist knows, can be loaded with tenderness
or contempt. It is not the same to say "granny" as it is to say "little
teacher." And this epithet of "little old man," or woman, wrapped in a
false commiseration falls with its full weight of impairment on the line
of retirees who get in line early in the morning to buy the
newspaper Granma, or on any gray-haired person always ready to utter
some admonition to the teenagers who saunter out of the high schools
with their shirts untucked.

Destiny has these intrinsic twists. For a boy who spends most of his day
thinking about how to leave the country, anyone who passed up a historic
opportunity to leave this shipwrecked island must be an accomplice, if
not the one personally responsibly for all his angst.

If there is a space for a smile after the macabre grimace of death,
those "old worms" must be amusing themselves in the face of the painful
spectacle offered by their former dentists, who no longer dread the
future, but rather ruminate on a defeat they do not want to recognize.

Source: 'Little Old Communists' / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar –
Translating Cuba -

Americans skipping out on Cuba

Americans skipping out on Cuba
By The Washington Post By Justin Bachman

America, did you miss the travel industry's memo declaring Cuba the
hottest new destination?

Apparently. Service to the long-time U.S. foe began in September, but
after just five months the largest carrier to the island, American
Airlines Group Inc., cut daily flights by 25 percent and switched to
smaller jets on some routes. Meanwhile, Silver Airways Corp. reduced
weekly flights to six Cuban cities and JetBlue Airways Corp. downsized
its planes so as to match lower-than-expected demand.

"It's going to take a really, really long time for (Cuba) to become a
Caribbean destination that's as popular as some of the other ones,"
Andrew Levy, the chief financial officer for United Continental Holdings
Inc., told Bloomberg News in November.

While the rest of the Caribbean is hopping with the U.S. winter break
crowd, Cuba has some unique problems. The big one is that airlines, with
no real idea about demand, were overly ambitious when they jousted for
the limited routes allowed by U.S. regulators. With a mandate for only
110 daily U.S. flights-20 into Havana, the most popular destination-the
carriers tumbled over each other last year to get a piece of the pie,
leaving the island oversubscribed.

The air rush into Cuba "wasn't based on demand but speculation. They had
no history to look at," said Karen Esposito, general manager of Cuba
Travel Network, which specializes in tours to the island. Now they do.

Silver Airways described additional obstacles, pointing to the
complications accompanying U.S. travel arrangements to Cuba, along with
too much capacity from larger carriers. Still, spokeswoman Misty Pinson
said, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based airline "is optimistic about the
future growth potential in Cuba."

Former President Barack Obama announced an opening of relations with
Cuba in December 2014, calling previous U.S. policy, which sought to
isolate the communist government, a failure.

Despite Obama's efforts to spur U.S. engagement with the country,
including a state visit in March, the 54-year-old U.S. embargo remains
in place. The law prohibits tourism to the island by Americans and makes
financial transactions burdensome.

Today, most people traveling to Cuba individually classify themselves as
participants in "people-to-people" exchanges, one of the dozen
categories authorizing travel under U.S. Treasury regulations.

The policy thaw led to an immediate surge by "early adopters" who wanted
to see the tropical island, said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba,
a tour operator in New Rochelle, N.Y. "The number of passengers we were
sending tripled in very short order, and it lasted all of 2015 and most
of 2016," he said. "And much of that was just the extraordinary level of
awareness" of the Cuba policy changes.

But with liberalization has come a painful lesson in capitalism-for
tourists, anyway. The new interest in Cuba led to rapid price inflation
(as much as 400 percent) for state-run hotels, taxis, and other traveler
services-before any U.S. commercial flights had begun. Some rooms now
cost as much as $650 per night, serving as a major deterrent to
Americans hunting for novel warm-weather destinations.

Even the costs of classic car rides and dinners at popular paladares,
private restaurants run by families, have in some cases tripled, Insight
Cuba says. Prices have begun to moderate this year for the first time
since 2014, the company said this week. But beyond the high prices lie
additional difficulties for U.S. tourists.

"The airlines are also competing with limited hotel availability,"
Popper said. And "you cannot pay for a room with a U.S. credit card, so
you have to actually bring the cash. You're going to be carrying around
$2,500 to $3,000 in cash just to pay for the hotel room. And then you
need to carry more cash to pay for other things you want to do."

Cuba-curious Americans must also compete for winter lodging with
sun-seekers from Canada and the U.K., who face no bureaucratic hurdles
in booking their holiday.

The average round-trip airfare from the U.S. to Cuba did drop from $399
in September 2016 to $310 last month, according to data from Airlines
Reporting Corp. That compares with an average of $486 for Cancun, the
top Caribbean destination for U.S. travelers. But still, there are few
Yankees heading to Havana.

Some may be worried that a trip would fall under a murky area of the
U.S. law, unsure how much latitude is afforded by "people-to-people
exchanges," or cowed by the well-publicized aggressiveness of U.S.
customs employees of late. No one wants to worry about that sort of
thing while sipping an umbrella-adorned cocktail.

Barring a radical policy change by the new administration, such concerns
are probably unwarranted, Cuba travel experts said, adding that the
traveler counts this year are likely to top 2016. Said Popper: "There's
nobody from the federal government standing on the beach in Cuba."

That may not be reassuring enough for the airlines, though. They're not
pushing Cuba as a leisure destination because of the legal
uncertainties, said Michael Zuccato, general manager of Cuba Travel
Services, a Los Angeles-area company that offers visa assistance and
other traveler aid for customers of four carriers that serve Cuba. While
airlines bear no liability if customers fib about the real reason
they're visiting Cuba, in-house lawyers may not want to push their luck.

"Because of the U.S. restrictions," Zuccato said, "you really don't see
any advertising from the airlines promoting Cuba."

Source: Americans skipping out on Cuba -

Family, Freedom and the Oswaldo Payá Prize

Family, Freedom and the Oswaldo Payá Prize
BORIS GONZÁLEZ ARENAS | La Habana | 26 de Febrero de 2017 - 12:04 CET.

The home of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban political leader who was killed,
along with Harold Cepero, under murky circumstances in 2012, has a small
living room. It is a space consonant with a house of modest dimensions,
for a family whose social and political life, under normal conditions,
is lived through the appropriate institutions, with no other aspiration
than its domestic harmony and its children growing up healthy. It was
really not large enough to constitute an appropriate site for the
bestowal, on Wednesday 22 February, 2017, of the Oswaldo Payá Freedom
and Life Prize, awarded to Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS,
and Patricio Aylwin, the former Chilean president who was given it

Aylwin's honor was to be collected by his daughter Mariana. But the
Cuban government blocked both her and Almagro from entering the country,
in addition to Mexican president Felipe Calderón, who was nominated and
had accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony along with other
international guests.

The Government also foiled the arrival of an unverified number of people
from Cuba's civil society, either because they were stopped directly,
like Henry Constantín, or with the paramilitary cordon set up around the
house in the Havana municipality of Cerro, like Diario Las Americas
journalist Iván García.

The humble room still proved insufficient to accommodate the members of
civil society, diplomatic corps, and foreign media who were able to get
there. The chairs initially set up were stowed, and throughout the event
the attendees had to stand. It was a vivid example of how, thanks to
Castroism, private spaces have to assume the functions of public ones,
among other uses not corresponding to them.

The remarks by Rosa María Payá on the need for freedom for Cuba, a
reading by Saylí Navarro of a letter written for the occasion by Ofelia
Acevedo, Oswaldo's widow; the words of Ivan Hernández Carrillo, the only
nominee who made it to the event, and a taped speech sent by Felipe
Calderón to the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, dramatically
demonstrated the competence and political maturity of the organizers.

Rosa Maria's words, stating that the prizes would not be sent to their
recipients, but rather stored and given to them, in that same room, in a
free Cuba, expresses an aspiration instilling that small space with a
universal dimension.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro deserves praise for having accepted
the award and the invitation to travel to Cuba to receive it, in Cerro,
in a modest room, on an old and rickety chair.

The OAS was instrumental in distancing other Latin American governments
from Fidel Castro during the most lethal stage of his political
machinations, when he subjected the country to a succession of vicious
schemes. The estrangement occurred after the democratic government of
Rómulo Betancourt severed relations with Cuba and endorsed its
condemnation by the OAS due to the Communist nature of Fidel Castro's
government and its role in the subversion of the Venezuelan government.
It had taken a similar stance against Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the
tyrant of the Dominican Republic, and shortly thereafter, the same
commitment to democratic standards led it to break off diplomatic
relations with the Haitian government, then headed by François Duvalier.

For Fidel Castro to be treated like just another Caribbean despot was an
affront that he was unwilling to tolerate, sparking hostility towards
the OAS that remains today.

The fact that the Payá family's home was the venue for an event of this
nature honors the Cuban family. If in recent years there has been a bit
of an economic upturn for families, it has been due to, precisely, the
conversion of domestic spaces into facilities for private business and
industry, though the Castro regime has offered nothing but obstacles and
impediments to this growth.

The success of the event organized by the Latin American Youth Network
for Democracy evidences that, together with its management capacities,
and economic initiative, it is in Cuban families that there endures,
with astonishing vitality, our people's yearning for and commitment to
its political freedom.

Source: Family, Freedom and the Oswaldo Payá Prize | Diario de Cuba -

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro’s Departure From Power

The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro's Departure From Power / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2017 — On February 24 of next year Raul
Castro must leave the presidency of Cuba if he is to fulfill the
promise he has made several times. His announced departure from power is
looked on with suspicion by some and seen as an inescapable fact by
others, but hardly anyone argues that his departure will put an end to
six decades of the so-called historical generation.

For the first time, the political process begun in January 1959 will
have a leader who did not participate in the struggle against the
dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Nevertheless, Raul Castro can
maintain the control of the Communist Party until 2021, a position with
powers higher than the executive's and enshrined in the Constitution of
the Republic.

In the 365 days that remain in his position as president of the Councils
of State and of Ministers, the 85-year-old ruler is expected to push
several measures forward. Among them is the Electoral Law, which he
announced two years ago and that will determine the political landscape
he leaves behind after his retirement.

In the coming months the relations between Havana and Washington will be
defined in the context of the new presidency of Donald Trump and, in
internal terms, by the economy. Low wages, the dual currency system,
housing shortages and shortages of products are some of the most
pressing problems for which Cubans expects solutions.

Raul Castro formally assumed the presidency in February of 2008,
although in mid-2006 he took over Fidel Castro's responsibilities on a
provisional basis due to a health crisis affecting his older brother
that forced him from public life. And now, given the proximity of the
date he set for himself to leave the presidency, the leader is obliged
to accelerate the progress of his decisions and define the succession.

In 2013 Castro was confirmed as president for a second term. At that
time he limited the political positions to a maximum of ten years and
emphasized the need to give space to younger figures. One of those faces
was Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 56-year-old politician who climbed through the
party structure and now holds the vice presidency.

In the second tier of power in the Party is Jose Ramon Machado Ventura,
an octogenarian with a reputation as an orthodox who in recent months
has featured prominently in the national media. A division of power
between Díaz-Canel and Machado Ventura (one as president of the Councils
of State and of Ministers and the other as secretary general of the
Party) would be an unprecedented situation for millions of Cubans who
only know the authority being concentrated in a single man.

However, many suspect that behind the faces that hold public office, the
family clan will continue to manipulate through pulling the strings
of Alejandro Castro Espín. But the president's son, promoted to national
security adviser, is not yet a member of the Party Central Committee,
the Council of State or even a Member of Parliament.

For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies,
Raúl Castro leaves without doing his work. "There were many promises,
many pauses and little haste," he summarizes. He said that many hoped
that the "much-announced reforms would move from the superficial to the
depth of the model, the only way to update the Cuban economy, politics
and society."

Raul Castro should "at least, push until the National Assembly passes an
Electoral Law" that allows "plural participation of citizens," says
Valdés. He also believes that he should give "legal status to private
companies" and "also give legal status to other organizations of civil

The American academic Ted Henken does not believe that the current
president will leave his position at the head of the Party. For Henken,a
professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in
New York, Castro's management has been successful in "maintaining the
power of historic [generation] of the Revolution under the authoritarian
and vertical model installed more than half a century ago" and "having
established a potentially more beneficial new relationship with the US
and embarking on some significant economic reforms. "

However, Henken sees as "a great irony that the government has been more
willing to sit down and talk with the supposed enemy than with its own
people" and points out "the lack of fundamental political rights and
basic civil liberties" as "a black stain on the legacy of the Castro

Blogger Regina Coyula, who worked from 1972 to 1989 for the
Counterintelligence Directorate of the Interior Ministry, predicts that
Raul Castro will be remembered as someone "who could and did not
dare." At first she saw him as "a man more sensible than the brother and
much more pragmatic" but over time "by not doing what he had to do,
nothing turned out as it should have turned out."

Perhaps "he came with certain ideas and when it came to reality he
realized that introducing certain changes would inevitably bring a
transformation of the country's political system," says Coyula. That is
something he "is not willing to assume. He does not want to be the one
who goes down in history with that note in his biography."

Independent journalist Miriam Celaya recalls that "the glass of milk he
promised is still pending" and also "all the impetus he wanted to give
to the self-employment sector." She says that in the last year there has
been "a step back, a retreat, an excess of control" for the private sector.

With the death of Fidel Castro, his brother "has his hands untied to be
to total reformist that some believed he was going to be," Celaya
reflects. "In this last year he should release a little what the
Marxists call the productive forces," although she is "convinced… he
won't do it."

As for a successor, Celaya believes that the Cuban system is "very
cryptic and everything arrives in a sign language, we must be focusing
on every important public act to see who is who and who is not."

"The worst thing in the whole panorama is the uncertainty, the worst
legacy that Raul Castro leaves us is the magnification of the
uncertainty," she points out. "There is no direction, there is no
horizon, there is nothing." He will be remembered as "the man who lost
the opportunity to amend the course of the Revolution."

"He will not be seen as the man who knew, in the midst of turbulence,
how to redirect the nation," laments Manuel Cuesta Morua. Cuesta Morua,
a regime opponent, who belongs to the Democratic Action Roundtable
(MUAD) and to the citizen platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), reproaches
Raúl Castro for not having made the "political reforms that the country
needs to advance economically: he neither opens or closes [the country]
to capital and is unable to articulate another response to the autonomy
of society other than flight or repression."

Iliana Hernández, director of the independent Cuban Lens,
acknowledges that in recent years Raúl Castro has returned to Cubans
"some rights" such as "buying and selling houses, cars, increasing
private business and the right to travel." The activist believes that
this year the president should "call a free election, legalize
[multiple] parties and stop repressing the population."

As for the opposition, Hernandez believes that he is "doing things that
were not done before and were unthinkable to do."

Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello is very critical of Raul Castro's
management and says she did not even fulfill his promise of ending the
dual currency system. "He spoke of a new Constitution, a new economic
system, which aren't even mentioned in the Party Guidelines," he says.

"To try to make up for the bad they've done, in the first place he
should release all those who are imprisoned simply for thinking
differently under different types of sanctions," reflects Roque
Cabello. She also suggests that he sit down and talk to the opposition
so that it can tell him "how to run the country's economy, which is

Although she sees differences between Fidel's and Raul Castro's styles
of government, "he is as dictator like his brother," she said. The
dissident, convicted during the Black Spring of 2003, does not consider
Diaz-Canel as the successor. "He is a person who has been used, I do not
think he's the relief," and points to Alejandro Castro Espín or Raul
Castro's former son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, as
possible substitutes.

This newspaper tried to contact people close to the ruling party to
obtain their opinion about Raúl Castro's legacy, his succession and the
challenges he faces for the future, but all refused to respond. Rafael
Hernández, director of the magazine Temas, told the Diario de las
Américas in an interview: "There must be a renewal that includes all
those who have spent time like that [10 years]." However, not all
members of the Council of State have been there 10 years, not even all
the ministers have been there 10 years."

This is the most that the supporters of the Government dare to say.

Source: The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro's Departure From Power /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -

Qatar Complains About Cuban Care Providers With HIV

Qatar Complains About Cuban Care Providers With HIV / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 February 2017 — Qatar authorities presented an
official complaint before Eumelio Caballero Rodríguez, Ambassador
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Cuba, because
during the obligatory health exam of the Cuban health workers they
detected some cases of Cuban doctors infected with HIV.

This was expressed in an email from the Embassy of Cuba in the State of
Qatar, which landed like a tsunami in the office of the Minister of
Public Health of Cuba. Here are a few fragments:

"Beginning now, all [Cuban] care providers who leave for Qatar must
bring a certificate from the Provincial Center of Hygiene and
Epidemiology that shows the results of an HIV test."

"Urgent," says the message. "These 15 cases listed here arrived in Qatar
the past month of January without said document, and three of them
tested positive in the required check for entry to the country, and now
we are requesting an explanation for this."

"Gentlemen," continues the missive, "This must not happen again. It is
required that you take disciplinary measures against the provinces of
the implicated care providers."

It should be pointed out that Qatar is a State mediator and negotiator
in Middle Eastern conflicts, and its principal interest in Cuba is
concentrated in medical services, considered the backbone of relations
between both countries. This is why, in January of 2012, the Hospital of
Dukhan was created, which today has more than 400 Cuban professionals,
including doctors, nurses and technicians in the fields of
rehabilitation, odontology, medical laboratories, bio-medicine and

Furthermore, the incident puts at risk the confidence of the Arab
Emirates, which, with the third largest world reserve of natural gas and
the largest income per capita on the planet, has shown interest, in
addition to health, in exploring other spheres of business, for example:
financing the extraction and commercialization of Cuban marble, the
construction of five-star hotels on the island and the implementation of
an airlines operation between Qatar Airways and Cubana de Aviación.

Of course, I'm convinced that we won't read anything about this
disagreeable incident, absolutely nothing, in the official Cuban press.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Qatar Complains About Cuban Care Providers With HIV / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba -

The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector

The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector / Iván

Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2017 — Marino Murillo, the presumptive tsar of
economic reforms in Cuba, a prime minister with broad powers, passed up
a seat in the first row next to the senior staff of a long-lived
revolution governed by an exclusive club of elders who, as a group, have
lived almost 500 years, to take a seat in the third row, far from the
spotlight and the cameras.

In closed societies, where rumors are more truthful than the information
offered by the State press, you have to learn to read between the lines.
Lacking a government office that offers public information to its
citizens, academics, journalists and political scientists, you must look
with a magnifying glass at the most insignificant signs.

That morning in December 2015, when the autocrat Raúl Castro feigned
indignation before the more than 600 deputies of the monotone national
parliament about the abusive prices of agricultural products, was the
beginning of the end for Marino Murillo.

Castro II requested that measures be applied. And not very consistently,
alleging the law of supply and demand that governs the produce markets,
Murillo mumbled that he would try to implement different regulations to
try to curb the increase in prices.

Apparently this wasn't sufficient. The previous super-minister fell into
disgrace, and now not even his photo appears in the official media,
although theoretically he continues at the front of the agenda, charged
with implementing the economic guidelines, a kind of commandment that
moves at a snail's pace and with serious delays: In six years, only a
little more than 20 percent of the guidelines have been implemented.

With the fading-out of fatso Murillo, the dynamic of timid economic
reforms — together with openings in the obsessive defense of Fidel
Castro, who transformed Cubans into third-class citizens — the game
began to be directed by the most rancid and conservative of the military

It was essential to open to the world and repeal the feudal exit permit
needed to travel outside the island, to permit Cubans to rent hotel
rooms and to buy or sell houses, among other normal regulations in any
country in the 21st century.

There is no doubt that this was a leap forward, with barriers, absurd
prices and spite for people who make money. Yes, in Cuba they sell cars,
but a Peugeot 508 is worth more than a Ferrari, and you must pay cash.

The Internet and cell phones are not exactly tools of science fiction,
but the price for service is insane for a country where the average
salary is 25 dollars a month.

The supposed reforms were always incomplete. They were left halfway.
Cubans cannot invest in large businesses; professionals don't have
authorization to work for themselves, and the State claims the right to
establish a ridiculous list of jobs that are or are not permitted.

Of the 201 authorized jobs, there are at least 10 or 15 enterprises
where, with creativity and effort, you can make large sums of money,
always taking into account the Cuban context, where anyone who earns
10,000 Cuban pesos a month (about $400) is considered "rich." This is a
country where for almost 60 years, the average citizen is sponsored by
the State.

Of course the regulations, excessive taxes, harassment by State
inspectors and a deadly clause in the Government's economic bible, which
prohibits persons or groups from accumulating large sums of capital,
hinder prosperity and the boom in private work.

In a nation where the Government has been in charge of clothing,
shoeing, rewarding or punishing its citizens, a margin of liberalism, as
small as it is, was an oasis for a half million entrepreneurs who now
live on the margins of the State.

The starting shot that would put the handbrake on the reforms began on
December 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and General Raúl Castro,
of mutual accord, put an end to the incredible Cold War between Cuba and
the United States.

Once out of the trenches, Obama began to launch packets of measures with
the marked intention of favoring private workers. The Regime didn't like

They wanted to do business with the gringos but with their own State
enterprises, not to empower the private ones. Then, progressively, the
Castro autocracy started to slow down the dynamic sector, probably the
only one that was growing on the Island, that paid salaries from three
to five times more than the State, and which gave employment to some 20
percent of the work force.

In autumn of 2015, a negative dynamic began. Presently only 30 percent
of the supply-and-demand produce markets are functioning. The State
harasses and penalizes the cart vendors who sell meat, fruit and
vegetables, and they have declined by 50 percent. The State closed the
largest produce market in Trigal, south of Havana, and the Taliban
juggernaut expects to increase with regulations and taxes on all the
buoyant businesses in gastronomy, transport and hotel services.

What's this new "revolutionary offensive" about? I don't think it has
the reach of the confiscations of french fry stands and shoeshine stalls
of 1968, or the counter-reforms for certain openings in the 1980s and '90s.

But it's undeniable that the Regime doesn't want the train to derail.
Presently there's a small segment of Cubans, between 60,000 and 100,000
persons, who have amassed small fortunes thanks to their taste and
talent for business.

We're talking about 100,000 dollars going forward, an insignificant
figure in any First World country, but extraordinary in a country
impoverished by the poor management of the Castro brothers.

In addition to pleasure and social status, money engenders power. While
Castroism functions in Cuba, private businesses will not be able to
prosper. This is the reason for the brakes put on the private owners.

A word of advice to the olive green Regime: Be careful with excesses. In
December 2010, an abusive fine on the owner of a food stand, Mohammed
Buazisi, who out of contempt immolated himself, put a final end to the
Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali and unchained the Arab Spring.

In its present offensive against the private taxi drivers, the Cuban
authorities shouldn't forget what happened in Tunisia a little more than
six years ago. In societies of order and control, the devil is always in
the details.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector
/ Iván García – Translating Cuba -

Potatoes Return to the Rationed Market

Potatoes Return to the Rationed Market / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 February 2017 – The unrationed
distribution of potatoes, a symbol of Raul Castro's government, has
suffered a big setback. During the quarter of February, March and April,
the distribution of potatoes was returned to the ration market
throughout the country, with a limit of 14 pounds per person and
requiring the presentation of a ration book, according to announcements
made by the authorities in local media.

The measure has been taken to "ensure the population greater access to
the purchase of potatoes," says the official statement.

The purchase will be "recorded in the ration book and maintains the
value of one peso"

The user will receive "14 pounds per capita (two in the first month and
six in each of the two remaining months) at ​​state agricultural markets
(MAE) and bodegas." The purchase will be "recorded in the ration book
and maintains the value of one peso."

The areas that do not receive potatoes this month will be able to
acquire the pounds corresponding to February along with the six pounds
for March.

The potato was distributed exclusively in the controlled way until 2009
at a price of 0.45 Cuban pesos per pound, less than 2 cents US. After
that, sales were uncontrolled at a price of 1 Cuban peso ($0.04 US), an
amount the state described as subsidized.

Between the years 2014 and 2015, the potato harvest experienced
important growth, going from a little more than 53,000 tonnes, to
123,000 tonnes. But domestic consumption also grew with the greater
number of tourists coming to the country and the expansion of the
private sector, especially those dedicated to food services.

The distribution of the nationally grown potato, with a lower yield than
the imported, started this year in the municipalities of Artemisa, San
Antonio, Guira de Melena and Alquizar, where the potatoes are grown. In
the coming days potatoes will also arrive in the capital, where
consumers are anxiously awaiting them.

"Something had to be done because when the potatoes came, the only ones
who could buy them were the resellers and the hoarders," complains
Samuel, a retired resident of nearby Estancia Street, outside the Youth
Labor Army on Tulipan Street.

For the man, "the measure favors the poorest people," although he still
thinks that "the price is very high" for those who are living on a
pension. "I only get 180 Cuba pesos a month (roughly $7.20 US) and it's
not enough," he says.

"That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot of people here,"
an official told 14ymedio

However, María Victoria, a worker at a foreign exchange store, believes
that "this is a step back, because at this point the ration book doesn't
have them." The state employee is surprised by the return of the potato
to the ration market. "Instead of going forward, I think we're going
backwards," she said.

In the Ministry of Agriculture, all the workers who enter the imposing
building and the drivers who wait outside for some official are talking
about potatoes. "That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot
of people here," one of them tells 14ymedio, preferring to remain anonymous.

Last April, the Communist Party Congress ratified the Guidelines for
Economic and Social Policy, among which it was agreed "to continue the
orderly and gradual elimination of products on the ration
book." However, the decision has not been implemented so far.

Source: Potatoes Return to the Rationed Market / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
– Translating Cuba -

Are Bikes Coming Back to Cuba With the Economic Crisis?

Are Bikes Coming Back to Cuba With the Economic Crisis? / 14ymedio,
Marcelo Hernandez

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 February 2017 — When you look at
the photos of the most difficult years of Cuba's "Special Period," there
are several details that can be observed: how skinny Cubans were, the
deterioration of their clothing, and the number of bicycles that filled
the streets. Just like the dial phone evokes the first half of the
twentieth century, these pedal-powered vehicles remind many Cubans of
the most difficult times of their lives.

Despite the benefits to health and the environment, most of those born
in the last half century on this island see bicycles as a means of
transportation for times of crisis. It is no coincidence that the
decline in the use of these vehicles began with the opening to tourism
in the 1990s, and with the distribution of licenses for the operation of
a private sector.

Thousands of bike-focused parking lots, tire-patchers and bike-repairers
saw their clientele gradually diminish until they had to close. In
Havana very few of these places are left, though they once sprinkled the
landscape of the city. Also disappearing, along with them, is the
massive imports of parts from China to be assembled into bikes in Cuba.

However, with the economic difficulties of recent months, led by the
drop in oil shipments from Venezuela, some are making haste to reassume
the custom of pedaling. Late, missing and overcrowded buses, along with
the fallout from state-imposed price controls on private taxis – which
has even resulted in drivers going on strike – has led a resurgence of
problems in getting from place to place.

Resigned, some are dusting off their bikes and launching themselves into
the streets under their own power, on two wheels.

Source: Are Bikes Coming Back to Cuba With the Economic Crisis? /
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez – Translating Cuba -

Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners

Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio, EFE

Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro could not collect. (Networks)
14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 22 February 2017 — The presentation of the Oswaldo
Payá "Freedom and Life" Prize has led to a diplomatic conflict, after
the Cuban government vetoed the entry into the country of three of the
guests: OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Former Mexican President
Felipe Calderón, and Mariana Aylwin.

Almagro, Calderón and Chilean delegate Mariana Aylwin were unable to
travel to the Caribbean country on Tuesday to participate in the event
called by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, chaired by
Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá,
which the Cuban government Cuban has labeled a "provocation."

Around Payá's house, in the Havana municipality of Cerro, a police
operation deployed in the early hours of the day prevented activists
from reaching the home. From Manila Park, near the house, State Security
agents dressed in civilian clothes demanded documentation from any
dissident or independent journalists who approached.

Payá told this newspaper that her phone had been "out of service" in the
afternoon although "in the morning it worked." The ceremony was attended
by seven activists who had spent the night in the house "plus another 20
people who where able to reach it," said the dissident. Among them was
the head of the political-economic section of the US Embassy in Cuba,
Dana Brown, as well as diplomatic representatives from Sweden and the
Czech Republic.

Payá told this newspaper that her phone had been "out of service" in the
afternoon although "in the morning it worked"

Payá said that the award ceremony had been surrounded by a lot of
repression on the part of the regime, Cuban State Security and the
Foreign Ministry." She condemned the reprisals "suffered by civil
society members who wanted to participate in the ceremony, resulting in
many of them being arrested and others prevented from leaving their homes."

All of the leaders of the opposition groups on the island "were
invited," Payá told this newspaper. "There are some with whom we have
lost communication over the last few days because of everything that is
happening, and others who are not in the country and others who couldn't
get here."

"We hope that this aggression, this rudeness, will find a response and a
reaction in all the governments belonging to the Organization of
American States (OAS), in all the governments of our region and also in
the European Union," said Rosa María Payá.

Luis Almargo tweeted: Our interest: To facilitate #Cuba's approach to
Interamerican values/principles and to expand the country's achievements
in science, health and education.

The Chilean and Mexican Chancelleries regretted the decision of
Cuba, and Chile announced that it will call its ambassador on the island
for consultations.

Meanwhile, the only official response from Cuba has come from the
Cuban embassy in Chile, which issued a communication referring to the
matter as "a grave international provocation against the Cuban
government," with the aim of "generating internal instability" and
affecting Cuba's diplomatic relations with other countries.

According to this note, the act was created "by an illegal anti-Cuban
group that acts against constitutional order and that arouses the
repudiation of the people, with the collusion and financing of
politicians and foreign institutions."

The ceremony finally took place without the presence of the
international guests. "The chairs will remain empty" until the awardees
"can land in Havana" to pick them up in person, assured Rosa María
Payá. Other Cuban guests were prevented from leaving their homes or
arrested on the road.

Independent journalists Henry Constantin Ferreiro and Sol García Basulto
were detained in the airport of Camagüey at the moment that they tried
to board a flight towards the capital.

Constantín Ferreiro is vice-president of the Inter-American Press
Association for Cuba and remains in custody without his parents being
able to see him or provide him with personal hygiene supplies, according
to his father.

Havana's decision not to authorize the arrival of the head of the OAS
was known after a night of uncertainty in which it was not clear whether
Almagro had traveled to the Cuban capital, where he initially planned to
fly from Paris, where he had participated in institutional activities
yesterday. Rosa María Paya today called on the OAS to support the right
of the Cuban people to decide on their destiny.

"To the point that Cuba is democratizing, all democracies in Latin
America will also gain stability," said the opposition leader, who hoped
that "today is the beginning of an OAS commitment to the cause of rights
and freedom in Cuba."

She pointed out that they do not expect the OAS to "speak out against
anyone," but instead to put itself "on the side of all Cuban citizens in
their right to begin a transition process."

Source: Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio,
EFE – Translating Cuba -

A brave act in Cuba deserves American support

A brave act in Cuba deserves American support
By Editorial Board February 24 at 7:13 PM

BRINGING FREEDOM and democracy to totalitarian Cuba will be no easy
task. Two indispensable ingredients, though, must be courage on the part
of the country's dissidents and democrats, and international solidarity
with them.

Both were on display in Havana over the past week. At the center of
events was Rosa María Payá Acevedo, daughter of the late Oswaldo Payá, a
recipient of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of
thought who lost his life in a still-unexplained 2012 car crash. Ms.
Payá decided to pay tribute to her father by awarding a human rights
prize in his name and chose as the first recipient Luis Almagro, the
Uruguayan secretary general of the Organization of American States, who
has distinguished himself through forthright condemnation of repression
in Cuba's authoritarian ally Venezuela. Ms. Payá invited former Mexican
president Felipe Calderón, former Chilean education minister Mariana
Aylwin (daughter of a former president) and Martin Palous, a former
Czech ambassador to the United States, to attend.

Raúl Castro's regime blocked them all from entering the country, telling
Mr. Almagro that Ms. Payá's entirely peaceful program was "anti-Cuban
activity" and a "provocation." Officials also detained journalists
attempting to cover the planned ceremony, including Henry Constantin
Ferreiro, regional vice chairman of the Inter American Press
Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. No
doubt Ms. Payá's unauthorized attempt to honor an international diplomat
before such distinguished company did present the regime with an awkward
choice: to tolerate an elementary exercise of her rights, and the rights
of her invitees, or to deny it, and incur international political
damage. How revealing of Havana's true nature, and true priorities, that
it chose the latter. Indeed, Cuba's foreign ministry said the crackdown
showed its determination not to "sacrifice its fundamental principles to
maintain appearances."

And how revealing of the limits of U.S. "engagement" with Cuba. While
these European and Latin American leaders were supporting Ms. Payá's
assertion of freedom, a bipartisan delegation of six members of
Congress, headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), were on a visit to Cuba,
promoting business ties. After a visit with Mr. Castro, Mr. Leahy
blandly observed that the dictator "wants reform to continue, he wants
the movement forwards to continue" despite President Trump's uncertain
attitude toward the island's government. Mr. Leahy's spokesman told us
that the delegation's schedule was too "packed" with appointments such
as the Castro meeting to allow for any contact with Ms. Payá, and
declined to comment, pro or con, on the regime's refusal to admit Mr.
Almagro and company.

To be sure, Mr. Trump is hardly the ideal spokesman for democracy
promotion, in Cuba or anywhere else. All the more reason that members of
Congress supply on America's behalf the solidarity Cuba's democrats
need, and all the more reason to be disappointed that Mr. Leahy and his
colleagues did not provide more of it.

Source: A brave act in Cuba deserves American support - The Washington
Post -

Appeasement Never Works

Appeasement Never Works
by GEORGE WEIGEL February 25, 2017 4:00 AM

And it's making matters worse in Cuba.
At first blush, Luis Almagro would seem an unlikely candidate for the
disfavor of the current Cuban regime. A man of the political Left, he
took office as the tenth secretary general of the Organization of
American States in 2015, vowing to use his term of office to reduce
inequality throughout the hemisphere. Yet Secretary General Almagro was
recently denied a visa to enter Cuba. Why? Because he had been invited
to accept an award named in honor of Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo
Payá, who died in 2012 in an "automobile accident" that virtually
everyone not on the payroll of the Castro regime's security services
regards to this day as an act of state-sanctioned murder. Payá's "crime"
was to organize the Varela Project, a public campaign for basic civil
liberties and free elections on the island prison, and he paid for it
with his life.

The regime's refusal of a visa for the head of the OAS caused a brief
flurry of comment in those shrinking parts of the commentariat that
still pay attention to Cuba, now that Cuban relations with the United
States have been more or less "normalized." But there was another facet
of this nasty little episode that deserves further attention: While
Almagro's entry into Cuba was being blocked, a U.S. congressional
delegation was on the island and, insofar as is known, did nothing to
protest the Cuban government's punitive action against the secretary
general of the OAS.

According to a release from the office of Representative Jim McGovern
(D., Mass.), the CoDel, which also included Senators Patrick Leahy (D.,
Vt.), Thad Cochran (R., Miss.), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), and Tom
Udall (D.,N.M.), and Representative Seth Moulton (D.,Mass.), intended to
"continue the progress begun by President Obama to bring U.S.–Cuba
relations into the 21st Century and explore new opportunities to promote
U.S. economic development with Cuba," including "economic opportunities
for American companies in the agriculture and health sectors." I've no
idea whether those economic goals were advanced by this junket. What was
certainly not advanced by the CoDel's public silence on the Almagro
Affair while they were in the country was the cause of a free Cuba.

There were and continue to be legitimate arguments on both sides of the
question of whether the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba should be lifted.
And those pushing for a full recission of the embargo are not simply
conscience-lite men and women with dollar signs in their eyes. They
include pro-democracy people who sincerely believe that flooding the
zone in Cuba with American products, American technology, and American
culture will so undermine the Castro regime that a process of
self-liberation will necessarily follow. That this seems not to have
been the case with China is a powerful counterargument. Meanwhile, my
own decidedly minority view — that the embargo should have been
gradually rolled back over the past decade and a half in exchange for
specific, concrete, and irreversible improvements in human rights and
the rule of law, leading to real political pluralization in Cuba — seems
to have fallen completely through the floorboards of the debate.

But as pressures to "normalize" U.S.–Cuba relations across the board
increase, there ought to be broad, bipartisan agreement that Cuban
repression, which has in fact intensified since the Obama initiative two
years ago, should have its costs. If, as Congressman McGovern averred,
he and others want to move Cuba–America relations into the 21st century,
then let him and others who share that goal agree that Cuba should be
treated like any other country: meaning that when it does bad things, it
gets hammered by criticism and pressures are brought to bear to induce
or compel better behavior in the future.

"Opening up" without pressure has never worked with Communist regimes.
It didn't work when the Vatican tried it in east-central Europe in the
1970s; the Ostpolitik of Pope Paul VI made matters worse for the
Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. It didn't work vis-à-vis
the Soviet Union in the years of détente, which coincided with some of
the worst Soviet assaults on human-rights activists. It hasn't worked
with China, where, as in Cuba, repression has increased in recent years.

To will the end — a 21st-century Cuba where the government behaves in a
civilized fashion and economic opportunity is available to all Cubans,
not just those favored by the regime — necessarily involves, at least
for morally and politically serious people, willing the means: which
must include holding the current Cuban regime to account when "opening
up" does not extend to basic civil liberties for the Cuban people, and
when "opening up" does not include a decent respect for the hemispheric
proprieties, such that the head of the OAS is summarily refused entry
into Cuba.

That the Almagro Affair had to do with an award named for Oswaldo Payá,
a true martyr in the cause of freedom who was inspired by Christian
Democratic convictions, suggests that the Castro regime and those who
wish to inherit its power are nervous. Authoritarians confident of their
position would not have reacted so stupidly to an award being given to a
left-leaning, Spanish-speaking, Latin American politician — unless, that
is, they were afraid that the memory of Oswaldo Payá would be rekindled
in the ceremony in which Almagro received the Payá Award. All the more
reason, then, for congressional delegations and others to end the
Neville Chamberlain routine, stop appeasing the Castro regime, and start
taking steps to ensure that what Congressman McGovern called "the
progress begun by President Obama" is, in fact, progress in Cuba — and
not just economic progress, but progress in human rights and the rule of

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics
and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in
Catholic Studies.

Source: Luis Almagro -- Cuba Blocks Visa for Oswaldo Paya Award |
National Review -



According to Israel Radio, the injured, all in their 60s, suffered from
minor to moderate injuries. One went though surgery overnight.

One Israeli, named as 70-year-old, Nahum Heinken from Gadera, was killed
and eight others were injured in Cuba when their mini bus flipped over,
the Foreign Ministry released Saturday morning.

According to Reshet Bet, the injured, all in their 60s, suffered from
minor to moderate injuries. One went though surgery overnight.

Israel and Cuba have no formal diplomatic ties, and Israel and relies on
the Canadian Embassy to take care of their interests in Cuba, including
helping to transfer the body to Israel, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Cuba is one of the four Latin American countries with which Israel does
not have formal diplomatic relations, along with Nicaragua, Venezuela
and Bolivia. Jerusalem had diplomatic relations with Cuba until 1973,
when Fidel Castro broke them off when he was running for president of
the Non-Aligned Movement.

Havana has since been a constant and bitter critic of Israel.

Despite the lack of formal relations, the people-to-people contacts
between the two countries have continued, especially in the health,
culture and agricultural fields. In addition, it is a destination for
Israeli tourists, Modi Ephraim, the head of the Foreign Ministry's Latin
America and Caribbean division, said in April 2016.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

Source: One Israeli killed and eight injured in car accident in Cuba -
Israel News - Jerusalem Post -

Friday, February 24, 2017

Exile initiative aims to help hundreds of Cubans stranded in Mexico

Exile initiative aims to help hundreds of Cubans stranded in Mexico

A group of exile organizations and volunteers are trying to help
hundreds of Cubans who are stranded in Mexico following the end of the
so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy on Jan. 12.

Vigilia Mambisa, Democracy Movement, WWFE La Poderosa radio station and
other organizations and volunteers have set up a tent on Miami's Calle
Ocho at Southwest 13th Avenue, next to a monument dedicated to the Bay
of Pigs Invasion.

More than 4,000 pounds of food, personal hygiene products and other
donations have been collected so far. But much more is needed to fill a
tractor trailer headed to Mexico on Sunday.

"It's the people of the community who are mainly helping," said Ramón
Saúl Sánchez of the Democracy Movement. "They are arriving with clothes,
food, bedspreads, toiletries."

Miguel Saavedra, of the Vigilia Mambisa, said that "people from
different nationalities have come to make donations in solidarity with
the Cubans."

The donations will be transported in a 53-foot truck traveling by road
to a church in the border city of Laredo, Texas. The cargo will be
received by Sergio Pérez, a Cuban-American businessman who lives in Las
Vegas and who has organized similar operations elsewhere in the U.S.
Last month, Pérez temporarily closed his restaurant in Las Vegas, the
Florida Café, to gather donations for the stranded Cubans. Some 22 tons
of food and other basic necessities have been collected so far.

The supplies are transported from Laredo, Texas to several churches that
are assisting some 800 Cubans stranded in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Pérez

In late January, Cubans who were stranded in Mexico complained about the
"indifference of Cubans in Miami."

Pérez, who is flying to Miami on Saturday to finish the preparations for
the trip to Mexico, said the Cuban Club in California is also collecting
supplies for stranded Cubans.

The businessman said that he has noticed some "disunity"within the Cuban
community in exile and urged everyone to help the stranded Cubans.

"We need unity in the Cuban American community," he said.

Juan Cabrera, the owner and driver of the truck carrying the supplies,
said they need to raise about 40,000 pounds to fill the vehicle.

"I am doing this to help these Cubans because that's what my heart
dictates, because I went through the same thing," said Cabrera, who
himself was temporarily stranded in Bahamas in the 1990s.

"We need the support of the community," Cabrera said, adding that
donations also are being collected in Tampa and Orlando.

If organizers do not manage to fill the truck in Miami, Cabrera said he
will stop in Tampa and Orlando to load up more goods.

"This truck is going to leave full," Cabrera said.


Source: Miami collects donations for Cubans stranded in Mexico | Miami
Herald -

After frequent price hikes, cost of visiting Cuba coming down

After frequent price hikes, cost of visiting Cuba coming down

American travelers checking into Cuban hotels and dining at Havana's
more upscale private restaurants since the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba
have experienced more than a bit of sticker shock.

Since the Obama administration's opening to Cuba allowed more Americans
to travel to the island most travel-related costs have jumped 100 to 400
percent, said Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, which organizes
tours to Cuba.

But what goes up usually comes down.

Mandated prices for state agencies and hotels are scheduled to drop for
the spring and summer seasons, said Popper. Different tour operators
receive their rates from the Cuban government at different times, but
Popper said the new prices quoted to insightCuba will result on average
in a $250 savings per traveler on a six- or seven-day trip this spring
and summer.

"The question was for how long were prices going to increase or stay at
artificially inflated levels," he said. "This is the first time we've
seen costs come down, instead of up, in three years."

The trend had been up, up, up.

Rates for standard rooms, which averaged around $150 a night at some
popular Havana hotels before the Obama opening, climbed to more than
$600 last year. A junior suite at the Hotel Saratoga is listed at $605 a
night during the first week of March. And the new Kempinski luxury
hotel, which is slated to open in Havana later this year, recently
announced that rates at the Gran Hotel Manzana would start at $600
during the November to March high season and at $400 from April to October.

Though bargains exist for the traveler willing to seek them out, many
visitors are surprised to find South Beach prices when they dine at some
of Havana's better paladares, or private restaurants.

"Prices are still incredibly high, given the quality of the offerings.
However, they have come down about 25 percent for March/April/May
compared to November/December of last year," said Collin Laverty,
president of Cuban Educational Travel, which organizes group travel to Cuba.

At Road Scholar, a nonprofit that offers educational travel programs,
demand has slowed a bit this year because of the high hotel prices, said
JoAnn Bell, senior vice president of program development. But she said,
"Americans continue to be fascinated by the prospect of traveling to Cuba."

A Road Scholar representative is currently in Cuba, she said,
renegotiating rates. "If successful, we will pass along any savings to
Road Scholar participants," Bell said.

There's a lot of talk about pricing among foreign hoteliers in Cuba,
said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul, which offers tours and travel
arrangements to Cuba. "We see prices likely coming down in October (when
the next high season begins), and we are advising our clients of that,"
he said.

Guild said that a number of groups have canceled because of the high
prices, but others have come in and made up for it. Overall, he said,
Marazul hasn't experienced a drop in demand. "During the [winter] season
we've been running 100 groups a month," Guild said.

The price run-up began in 2015, said Popper, when the tourism minister
announced that hotel costs would go up 100 percent in the face of
overheating demand. "The intent of the price increases was not only to
get more revenue but also to tamp down demand. They couldn't keep up
with it," he said. Throughout 2015 and 2016, there were additional 15 to
20 percent price hikes.

Visitors are still coming to Cuba in record numbers, but tour operators
said a market correction was needed.

Cuban tourism officials are predicting that the number of international
visitors in 2017 will increase to 4.2 million, about 100,000 more than
last year. This January, the number of international visitors was up 15
percent, and the Ministry of Tourism is forecasting Cuba will finish the
high season with a 17 percent jump in international visitors.

Popper said he expects demand from the United States to cool off a bit
from the Obama heat wave when Americans rushed to take advantage of new
regulations that made it easier to travel to Cuba. They are permitted to
visit if they fall into 12 specific categories such as educational
travel, but aren't supposed to take trips to simply soak up the sun on
the beach.

284,937 Americans visited Cuba last year
Last year, 284,937 Americans visited Cuba, a 74 percent increase from
the previous year. Cuban Americans are counted in a separate category
for the Cuban diaspora, and they added nearly 330,000 to the total
number of visitors coming from the United States.

But it's possible that President Donald Trump, who has ordered a review
of all executive orders related to Cuba, could take action that would
affect U.S. travel to the island.

Last year, U.S. commercial airlines competed for the first regularly
scheduled routes to Cuba in more than five decades. Some airlines
received flight frequencies from the Department of Transportation that
would make sense only if travel to Cuba from the United States were
totally opened up and regular tourism permitted.

JetBlue recently decided to put smaller planes on its routes to Cuba,
and American Airlines cut its daily flights to Cuba from 13 to 10 in
mid-February. Silver Airways, which flies out of Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, also has reduced frequencies
on some of its Cuba routes.

"The airlines had no historical data whatsoever [on the Cuba market].
They made a huge guess," Popper said. "But all of them tried to gobble
up as much capacity as they could and now they are making adjustments."

Although passenger tallies out of some new gateways offering flights to
Cuba, such as Charlotte, are lagging, traffic to Cuba through Miami
International Airport is up since the first regularly scheduled flight
from MIA to Cuba took off on Sept. 7, 2016.

From Sept. 1, 2016, to Feb. 21 this year, total passengers coming or
going to Cuba through MIA increased from 466,213 during the previous
year to 620,592. The totals also include charter passengers.

620,592 passengers traveled through MIA coming or going to Cuba
The hotel price reductions are welcome.

On eight people-to-people tours planned by insightCuba for May through
October, prices will drop by $500 per couple, Popper said.

Other tour operators also have cut prices for trips during the latter
part of the year.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, which is organizing its 28th
people-to-people visit to Cuba since 2011, also recently reduced the
price of its May 22-28 trip by $400. Former state Rep. Annie Betancourt,
who will lead the trip, said the price reduction came from the tour
operator and she was unsure if it was related to lower hotel prices.

But she said travelers can still find accommodations in the $150 price
range at hotels such as the Sevilla, Presidente, Vedado and Florida. "We
usually plan these trips 6 to 8 months ahead of time," Betancourt said.
But demand is still such, she said, "that the hardest thing is getting
bookings for hotels."

Betancourt said she plans to recommend that the League consider putting
its travelers in casas particulares, private homes that offer rooms for
rent, on future trips. The casas generally cost from 20 CUC to 40 CUC
per night. For those exchanging U.S. dollars, that's about from $23 to
$46. Hotel accommodations outside the capital also are generally far
more economical than in Havana.

"Demand is still high," Laverty said. "However, travelers have started
to discover private homes, hostels, travel outside of Havana and other
ways to save money by not staying in overpriced hotels."

Private taxi drivers also jacked up prices, doubling fares for shorter
rides and charging 120 CUCs ($138) for an eight-hour shift.

But in early February the government imposed ceilings on fares for some
of the more popular fixed routes in Havana and said those who charged
more were in danger of losing their licenses.

Instead of improving the situation, it created traffic chaos, with some
drivers taking their cars off the road in protest and others saying they
could no longer earn a living with the price caps. Gasoline is in short
supply, and some of the drivers had been relying on higher-priced black
market gas and passing that increase on to their customers.

The result of the price caps: fewer taxis on the road and longer waits.
Some drivers also have refused to pick up passengers unless they want to
travel entire routes.

"This doesn't really affect tourists, who don't take route taxis on a
regular basis, but it has certainly made it difficult for Cubans who are
accustomed to taking shared taxis," Laverty said. "Not only did they put
price controls on that are below market rates, but they restricted
drivers that don't have Havana addresses from working in Havana, further
limiting supply."


Source: Overheated hotel prices in Cuba start to come down | Miami
Herald -