Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cuba to compensate Spanish firms that stayed loyal in “difficult years”

Cuba to compensate Spanish firms that stayed loyal in "difficult years"
Havana makes pledge to Spain's top trade official as he leads investors'
JUAN JESÚS AZNAREZ Havana 17 ABR 2015 - 14:47 CEST

The Cuban government has told Spain that it plans to pay compensation to
Spanish companies that continued doing business with the island "in the
difficult years," in spite of the US trade embargo against Havana.

The pledge was made to Jaime García-Legaz, Spain's secretary of state
for trade, who this week has been leading a delegation of Spanish
business people representing 43 companies to Cuba in search of
investment opportunities.

The Economy Ministry approved new financial incentives for people who
want to invest in Cuba
Although he did not mention the names of the companies penalized because
of the US embargo – the Meliá hotel chain was one of them – García-Legaz
said some of the firms lost "a considerable amount" by continuing to
operate in Cuba knowing they could be sanctioned.

"Top government officials have underscored something very important,
which is that they are not going to forget the companies that were
working here during the difficult times," he said during a farewell
reception at the Spanish Embassy in Havana. "I think that says a lot on
their behalf."

Buoyed by the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the
United States and Cuba and with hopes that the more than 50-year-old
trade embargo will be lifted, some Spanish chains are looking to open
new four- and five-star hotels on the Caribbean island and modernize
their existing facilities.

A massive influx of American tourists is expected in the coming months
when Washington starts lifting more restrictions on the decades-old Cuba
travel ban it imposed on US citizens. But the Cuban government is
unlikely to have enough hotel rooms to accommodate all these new visitors.

Spain's Economy Ministry approved new financial incentives for people
who have wanted to invest in Cuba but lacked the necessary funds,
García-Legaz explained. He described his delegation's visit as "very
productive," and said the final results would be ironed out in the
coming weeks or months. Cuba and Spain also agreed to hold periodic meetings

Along with the Economy Ministry's new incentives, the Bank of Spain has
also lifted restrictions on lenders who finance Spanish investments in Cuba.

Cuba reportedly owes the CESCE (Spanish Company for Insured Credit for
Export) around €2.3 billion, according to Spanish government sources.
CESCE has resumed short-term coverage for Spanish businesses in Cuba
after it stopped covering investors in 2000 because of the size of the debt.

García-Legaz said the final figures over Cuba's debts with Spain and
other nations would be negotiated through the Paris Club. Both
delegations will have two weeks to come up with their own numbers.

Source: Cuba to compensate Spanish firms that stayed loyal in "difficult
years" | In English | EL PAÍS -

Banks Will Profit From Cuba's Removal From Terrorism Watch

Banks Will Profit From Cuba's Removal From Terrorism Watch
ByLuis EscobarFollow | 04/17/15 - 04:02 PM EDT

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Banks will be keeping a close eye on U.S.
Congress over the next 42 days. If the legislative body fails to act, it
could open up a $68 billion economy to levels of financing it has never

We're talking about Cuba, of course. For almost five decades, the island
nation of 11 million has been excluded from the international credit
markets, and its access to financing from international banks and
institutions has been limited -- mostly due to being on the U.S.
government's list of state sponsors of terrorism

Earlier this week, President Obama recommended that Cuba be removed from
the list. This follow's the State Department's recommendation a week
prior. Congress has 45 days from the day of the President's announcement
to block the move. If Congress does nothing, Cuba will leave Syria, Iran
and Sudan as the three remaining members of the list.

The initial benefits of leaving this list will mostly be in the banking
sector. Most banks won't do business with states on the list for fear of
reprisal from the U.S. Treasury Department. Countries on the list face
"miscellaneous financial and other restrictions," according to the State
Department Web site. That vague threat has been enough to keep most
banks away from Cuba. As Alex Sanchez, president and CEO of the Florida
Banking Association told TheStreet last month in reference to this
issue, "Capital does not go where there is risk."

Once Cuba is off the list, banks and other financial institutions will
have flexibility to open accounts and establish limited banking
relationships and credit card processing activities with Cuban
counterparts, according to the changes and updates of rules in the
Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department. OFAC
is in charge of administering and enforcing economic and trade sanctions
against countries and organizations that engage in activities that
threaten the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United

Bankers at large national banks who didn't want to have their names or
employers identified for fear of Treasury Department reprisal said they
were excited at the opportunity to enter the market and are eager to be
the first ones to establish normal banking infrastructure in the
country. Two of these banks are already considering plans to bring
refurbished ATM machines to Cuba. Tourists don't like to travel with
cash and the banks are eager to be the first to provide in Cuba the
kinds of financial services they expect when they travel anywhere else.

Businesses, too, could use the services of banks in Cuba.

"Businesses depend on a banking system that conforms to international
rules," says Milton V. Vescovacci, head of international business
practices and the Cuba sub practice at GrayRobinson, a law and
consulting firm based in Miami. "With the further relaxation of the OFAC
regulations that exist now, trade will be financeable and people will be
able to buy things with credit from institutions based in in the U.S."

Of course, perhaps the largest beneficiary of having access to capital
markets would be Cubans themselves and the Cuban government.

Currently, large development projects are often financed by China,
Russia, Venezuela and others. The Mariel port rehabilitation project is
being financed in part by Brazil and China. That limited source of
financing means that many projects that could get done, don't.

Business leaders in the U.S. seem to be in favor of this recent small
but important step toward normalization of relations.

"For too long, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has
been defined by its differences and burdened by its past, while lacking
a clear path forward," Jody Bond, vice president of the Americas at U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, says of the development.

Not everyone in a position to comment on the move is in favor of it.

"They should have remained in the list of states sponsors of terrorism,"
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, said in a
statement. "The White House is not longer serious about calling
terrorism by its proper name." Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba shortly
before Castro took over in 1959, announced his bid for the presidency in

Source: Banks Will Profit From Cuba's Removal From Terrorism Watch -
TheStreet -

Good Luck Reversing Obama’s Cuba Policies - Big Business Won’t Allow It

Good Luck Reversing Obama's Cuba Policies - Big Business Won't Allow It
[17-04-2015 14:36:50]
James Bruno

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- Following is my latest article in POLITICO
Magazine on U.S. domestic politics surrounding President Obama's
initiative to normalize relations with Cuba:
On Tuesday, the White House announced its intention to remove Cuba from
the U.S. government's list of nations that sponsor terrorism. This news
is in keeping with the Obama administration's normalization of relations
with Cuba—an effort strongly supported by the U.S. business community
and a growing number of Cuban-Americans but vigorously opposed by
Republicans on the campaign trail.

For the first time perhaps in 50 years, Cuba, after Iran, portends to be
a dominant and contentious foreign policy issue in the 2016 presidential
campaign. But, unlike the 1960s, two Republican politicians of Cuban
ancestry hold center stage in the race. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the son
of a Cuban exile father. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who threw his hat in
the ring earlier this week, has Cuban parents who settled in the U.S.
before Fidel Castro seized power. Both candidates adamantly oppose
normalization on Obama's terms.

Rubio has condemned President Obama's Cuba initiative as a "concession
to a tyranny." In taking a hardline stance, Rubio, 43, is out of sync
with his generation of Cuban-Americans. A 2014 poll by Florida
International University of Cuban-Americans in Miami showed that 78
percent of those aged 33 to 44 favor restoring diplomatic relations and
45 percent are for lifting the embargo. In response to such numbers,
Rubio remarked, "I don't care if the polls say that 99 percent of people
believe we should normalize relations in Cuba…This is my position, and I
feel passionately about it."

Ted Cruz echoed Rubio's denunciation of Obama's move, saying, "America
is, in effect, writing the check that will allow the Castro's to follow
Vladimir Putin's playbook of repression."

Rubio has said he would seek to block the appointment of a U.S.
ambassador to Cuba and funding for a new embassy. Beyond that, neither
he nor Cruz have laid out a plan of action to deal with the White
House's rapprochement with Havana.

Entertaining for a moment a President Cruz or a President Rubio in the
Oval Office, what could either realistically do once the genie is out of
the bottle, assuming Obama succeeds in restoring full relations,
abolishing travel restrictions and ending the embargo? Once relations
have normalized, the business community, eager to enter an emerging
market close to their shores and long denied them, will fight the return
to the former status quo. Big bucks are being mobilized by Big Business
in a concerted effort to change politicians' minds on Cuba policy. And
political shifts within Congress are resulting in the removal of old

Sen. Robert Menendez's decision to step down as ranking member on the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the face of corruption charges
sidelines a major obstacle to moving ahead with normalization. The
61-year-old Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey is adamantly opposed
to granting concessions to the Castro regime in return for full
diplomatic and trade relations. His replacement as ranking member is
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a moderate centrist. His spokesman told me,
"Senator Cardin believes we should continue to push Cuba on their human
rights record but the recent diplomatic changes are positive."

Cardin has signed on as a co-sponsor to Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.)
travel bill, which would end all travel restrictions for Americans who
wish to visit Cuba. Committee chairman, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker,
has promised to hold "robust hearings" on the president's Cuba
initiative, but has also gone on record declaring the embargo ineffective.

Outside of the political realm, key players in the U.S. business
community with an interest in Cuba are coming into alignment toward
normalization. The April 1st Cuba Opportunity Summit sold out early,
with 100 waitlisted, a clear indication of corporate enthusiasm. At the
event, some 250 CEOs and other senior business leaders convened at
NASDAQ's Times Square headquarters to "formulate a strategic roadmap for
entry into the [Cuban] market," according to the conference's sponsor,
the University of Pennsylvania. The Cuban-American CEO of Norwegian
Cruise Lines, Frank del Rio, told CNBC, "We've got to get past this
acrimony about Cuba. It's time to move on." He added that a healing
process is needed to "bring relations between our two countries back to
where they should be." A follow-up business summit will be held in
Havana later this year.

The big roadblock to normal economic relations is the U.S. embargo, in
place since the Eisenhower administration. Lifting it requires
congressional legislation, which Republicans, who currently control both
houses, have so far opposed. But there is movement within corporate
circles to change that. A Cuba Opportunity Summit organizer told me that
"a lot of those discussions—lobbying Congress—are going on. They [CEOs]
are discussing strategies."

U.S. agribusiness is already pressing for greater access to Cuban
markets. In January of this year, over 30 companies and farm trade
associations, ranging from the multinational conglomerate Cargill to the
Dairy Farmers of America, formed the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for
Cuba, dedicated to the immediate end of the trade embargo. Cuba, which
imports 80 percent of its food, is a $1.7 billion market for
agricultural products. U.S. farm exports to Cuba in 2014 amounted to
over $290 million under no-credit, cash-only trade rules allowed by U.S.
law. Missouri's Republican governor Jay Nixon called the opening up of
Cuba "a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our farms and our economy."
Other Republican politicians can be expected to echo this call as
heartland farm interests press their case.

Opposition to normalization, however, remains strong among many
Cuban-Americans. The three Cuban-American U.S. Senators and four
Cuban-American House members are on record opposing President Obama's
normalization initiative. This opposition reaches into the ranks of
Cuban-Americans holding elective office at the state level as well. The
New Jersey and Florida state legislatures recently passed symbolic
resolutions against normalization. Mauricio Claver-Carone, a 39-year old
Cuban-American activist who serves on the board of the U.S.-Cuba
Democracy PAC, which purports to be the largest Hispanic political
action committee, asserted to me that "there is no light between
Cuban-American politicians at any level of government" regarding U.S.
Cuba policy, irrespective of party affiliation. He criticized those
business interests pressing for opening with Havana as driven by "money
first, democracy later."

Claver-Carone cited a Republican-affiliated poll taken in March which
showed 54 percent of Cuban-Americans opposing normalization versus 41
percent in support; and 71 percent against lifting sanctions in contrast
to 20 percent in favor. But two recent surveys conducted by independent
pollster Bendixen & Amandi International painted a different picture.
Those surveys found Cuban-American support for normalization surging
from 44 percent last December to 51 percent this March. Furthermore,
according to Bendixen & Amandi, Cuban-Americans in favor of continuing
the U.S. trade embargo dropped from 40 percent to 36 percent and support
for easing travel restrictions rose from 47 percent to 56 percent.

The Cuban American National Foundation was a powerful force on Cuba
policy in years past, holding great sway on the Hill as well as with
mainly Republican presidents. Its founder, the late Jorge Mas Canosa,
was considered the principal architect behind a U.S. policy of
incrementally tightening the screws on Fidel Castro, culminating in the
1996 Helms-Burton Act, which expanded the embargo's reach to include
foreign-owned companies that traded with Cuba. But the foundation's
hardline position has softened. Its current president, Bay of Pigs
invasion veteran and POW Francisco José Hernández, told me, "We welcome
opening talks with the Cuban government." The 600,000 Cubans who have
arrived in the United States since 1995, he said, "want to build
bridges." He cited a generational change as underlying the shift toward
normalization. CANF, however, supports lifting the embargo only after
firm concessions are secured from Havana in the area of human rights.

If the Obama administration were able to end the embargo with Cuba,
Republicans like Cruz and Rubio would undoubtedly denounce it. But they
might not be able to do much about it. Would a Republican president
close our new embassy in Havana and Cuba's in Washington? Re-impose
travel limitations and the trade embargo? Such a scenario is highly
unrealistic. The U.S. has backtracked on no similar policy in the past.
Add to that the changing views within the Cuban-American community, as
well as among other Americans, and the picture that is emerging is one
of inevitability.

Source: Good Luck Reversing Obama's Cuba Policies - Big Business Won't
Allow It - Misceláneas de Cuba -

Boost Mobile selling prepaid cards for Cuba calls and texts

Boost Mobile selling prepaid cards for Cuba calls and texts
04/17/2015 7:16 PM 04/17/2015 7:17 PM

Sprint's Boost Mobile business is offering prepaid calling cards for
Miami customers who want to call Cuba.

Boost Mobile said Thursday that customers can pay $50 per month for a
card that includes 5 gigabytes of high speed data and $60 a month for 10
GB of data. Both cards will give consumers the ability to talk on the
phone for 15 minutes with unlimited texting.

For a limited time, the company is also offering $15 cards with 50
minutes of talk time.

Cuba charges some of the world's highest rates for long-distance
calling, and calls into Cuba are also among the world's most expensive.
In March a New Jersey-based company that sells discount international
calling cards to immigrant communities said it started handling direct
calls between the U.S. and Cuba. IDT Corp. previously struck a deal with
Cuba's state telecommunications company.

The U.S. and Cuba said in December that they would move to restore
diplomatic relations after more than 50 years. The two nations announced
a prisoner exchange, and on Tuesday the White House said President Obama
will remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Source: Boost Mobile selling prepaid cards for Cuba calls and texts |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Friday, April 17, 2015

To the Government supporters - “You showed your trashy ways”

To the Government supporters: "You showed your trashy ways" / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on April 16, 2015

Rebeca Monzo, 15 April 2105 — The 7th (of April) arrived. The Summit of
the Americas in Panama and, with it, the invited and participating
delegations started to arrive in the Central American country. The
official Cuban delegation, one of the largest, had a good time
organizing and preparing, under the optics of the totalitarian regime,
making up a series of NGO officials, with the objective of making
themselves look like the only Cuban civil society.

The inconceivable and unacceptable thing was to send characters
well-known as loyal to the regime, pretending to make them pass as
members of this civil society. Among them, just to mention the most
known, was Dr. Eusebio Leal, the historian of Havana, Miguel Barnet,
President of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and Abel
Prieto, Adviser to President Raul Castro who, along with many others
chosen, lended themselves to serve as bullies in the famous meetings of
repudiation against the Cuban opponents, real members of nascent civil
society, insulting them and even sometimes, hitting them and preventing
them from leaving through the front door of where they were staying,
having to remove them safely from the hotel by the kitchen and the
backyard of the property.

These acts, absolutely unacceptable, have set a terrible precedent in
front of governments of other countries, the international press, who
have remained amazed before similar acts of marginality, vulgarity, and
lack of respect to the host country. As my friend Mary would say: "They
showed their trashy ways," confirming with their deplorable attitude
what the opposition from within the island has been condemning for years.

As if these abuses of power were not sufficient, they have tried to
monopolize Jose Marti, as if he doesn't belong equally to all of those
born on this battered island.

Translated by: BW

Source: To the Government supporters: "You showed your trashy ways" /
Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba -

Many Voters Will Not Vote for Me

"Many Voters Will Not Vote for Me" / Cubanet, Orlando Freire Santana
Posted on April 17, 2015

"Some do not know me well, some are prisoners of fear." Interview with
opposition member Hildebrando Chaviano, candidate for delegate to the
People's Power.
Cubanet.org, Orlando Freire Santana, Havana, 15 April 2015 – Independent
journalist Hildebrando Chaviano is one of the opposition candidates
nominated by districts in the capital with a view towards the midterm
elections to be held this coming April 19. In order to learn of the most
recent events surrounding his nomination, we visited him in his
apartment on the 28th floor of the Focsa building in the El Vedado

Q: Have you noticed any change recently in your neighbors' treatment of you?

A: "I can tell you yes, indeed. But a change for the better. Neighbors
approach me and greet me cordially. Even those who have never had a
close relationship with me, now I notice they are friendlier.

"However, the neighbors from the building are one thing, and another is
the workers of the State establishments located here in Focsa. Many of
them, due to the extent of their working hours — especially those in the
food business – will vote at this polling station on the 19th. And
certainly, I am aware that they have distanced themselves from me. I am
convinced that they have been told categorically that they may not vote
for me.

"Even recently there occurred a telling event. Some reporters from the
German television station Deutsche Welle visited me. When they were
leaving we came to the building's reception area where they wanted to
take some pictures of me. The receptionist, very startled, left the
place, because according to her own words, 'Not for anything in the
world could I appear in those photographs.'"

Q: What has been the popular reaction to the exposure of your
biographical data, full of insults for being a "counter-revolutionary?"

A: "My perception, basically through conversations with my neighbors, is
that this time the biographies have been more widely read than in prior
elections. They have even told me that they have seen passersby, who
have nothing to do with this polling station, stopped in front of the
photos and biographies.

"Most of the neighbors are convinced that the insults placed in my
biography are revenge by the authorities for a nomination that they did
not expect."

Q: Do you believe that voters are ready to support an opposition candidate?
"It is undeniable that there are many voters who are not going to vote
for me. I am not referring to neighbors from my building but to people
in the rest of the district. Some because they do not know me well, and
others are prisoners of fear. Among the latter ideas are entertained
like 'what if there is a hidden camera that films the voting,' 'what if
each ballot has a password that identifies the voter'… Nevertheless, it
is no less certain that people want something different, and many see me
as a brave person who has decided to confront the machinery of power."

Q: Do you believe that an opposition delegate can adequately carry out
his work in the midst of the bureaucratic structures of the People's Power?

A: "I think so, as long as you have a program of action. Because, look,
here almost all the delegates that enter office do it without a defined
program, and therefore they become simple 'errand boys' between their
voters and the municipal governments. Under those conditions, obviously,
they end up swallowed by the governmental bureaucracy, and they also
lose the trust of the voters.
"I appreciate that my trips abroad have given me insights about
initiatives that could be implemented at the community level.

Q: What message do you send to Cuban voters a few days before the election?

A: "The voters must lose the fear of voting for an opposition candidate.
They should be convinced that it is possible to vote for a candidate who
does not represent the interests of the government. Because even in the
hypothetical – and almost impossible – case of finding out the identity
of the voters, it would not be possible to repress so many people

Translated by MLK

Source: "Many Voters Will Not Vote for Me" / Cubanet, Orlando Freire
Santana | Translating Cuba -

Obama Cares More About Legacy Than Strong Deals for the U.S. - Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush: Obama Cares More About Legacy Than Strong Deals for the U.S.
Apr 17, 2015 3:54 AM CEST
Bush isn't a fan of the deal with Cuba or Iran.
Michael C. Bender

CONCORD, New Hampshire—Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush took aim at
current President Barack Obama on Thursday, saying the two-term Democrat
has put his own legacy ahead of securing strong international pacts on
behalf of the country.

"This president wants to get deals for his legacy, whether it's Iran or
Cuba," Bush told about 100 Republicans on Thursday at the Snow Shoe Club
in Concord, New Hampshire. "He's negotiating without getting any
concessions in return."

Bush criticized the deal with Obama struck with Cuba to normalize
relations saying "we're basically going to perpetuate the regime" while
"we get nothing." Bush said Obama instead should have forced regime
change in the communist country, or required open elections.

Bush said Obama was banking on a miracle in Cuba, "similar to Ayatollah
in Iran."

"This was not about proper negotiations," Bush said. "This was about a

Obama has defended both deals. He has said that sanctions on Cuba have
not worked, and normalizing relations will create new opportunities for
both countries. The president says the preliminary agreement with Iran
is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to keep Iran from getting a
nuclear weapon.

Obama has become a top target for Bush as he campaigns around the
country ahead of his expected presidential announcement in the coming

Bush and other Republicans who are either presidential candidates or
expected to soon join the race will meet with Republican voters on
Friday in Nashua, New Hampshire for the "First in the Nation Republican
Leadership Summit." The event's name refers to the state's status of
holding the first presidential primary every four years.

Source: Jeb Bush: Obama Cares More About Legacy Than Strong Deals for
the U.S. - Bloomberg Politics -

Banks not rushing to Cuba as fear of entering a legal minefield still lingers

Banks not rushing to Cuba as fear of entering a legal minefield still
Off the terror list, Cuba represents a less risky proposition but for
bankers it's been tough to get over the hefty fines that once came with
violating sanctions
Thursday 16 April 2015 17.08 BST Last modified on Thursday 16 April 2015
18.06 BST

Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terror
list after 30 years is many things: a symbol of the cold war's end, a
negotiating tactic to dispel distrust, and – most practically – an
assurance to bankers wary of rushing into a legal minefield.

Nearly four months after Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro announced
a historic rapprochement and a softening of sanctions against doing
business on the island, few companies have tried to take advantage of
the changes. Lodging company Airbnb set up with locals and streaming
site Netflix made a mostly symbolic entrance there, but the most
powerful forces in finance, the banks, have watched from afar for fear
of getting caught up in a web of sanctions.

The bankers have cause to be concerned. The US has actively pursued
banks who violate sanctions agreements, in 2009 forcing Credit Suisse to
pay a $536m settlement for its dealings with Cuba, Iran and others, and
then drawing a $8.9bn fine from BNP Paribas last year for working with
Sudanese clients. Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria are the only nations on
the state sponsors of terrorism list. Also last year M&T Bank, the only
institution that had been available to Cuban diplomats in Washington,
suspended that service.

"You really had an enormous exposure to that risk, from US regulators
who have imposed very substantial fines on financial institutions," said
Pedro Freyre, an international practice attorney for a Miami law firm.

"It made it impossible for Cuba to do anything in the international
banking system with US dollars," agreed Antonio C Martinez II, an
attorney with the Gotham Government Relations Firm, a New York law firm.
"Any bank that touched that sanctions web would get caught in it and fined."

Since the December changes to US rules, the State Department has tried
to persuade banks to get involved in Cuba, including by inviting
executives to meet with officials in Miami a year ago. But bankers felt
no safer after the discussion, said professor Christopher Sabatini, a
Cuba scholar with Columbia University, who attended that meeting.


Because banks and telecoms have to clear nearly all activity on Cuba
with the Treasury and Commerce departments, complying with US rules
became a losing business in and of itself, Sabatini continued. "The
executives would say, 'There's no way we can go to the board, it's not
profitable for us. We have to staff up all these lawyers, and do all
this paperwork and conform to all these regulations, and simply the
return isn't there.'"

Taking Cuba off the list changed that, he said: "It's removed the fear
of having their profits sort of seized for having done business with a
terrorist-supporting state, and it also makes compliance costs much less."

Banks by nature are very risk-averse
Off the list, Cuba represents a far less risky and expensive proposition
to bankers and other companies, the attorneys said, although that did
not mean bankers would rush to the island. "Just because something is
allowed doesn't mean that it will happen, and these banks are by nature
very risk-averse," Freyre said.

Bankers and most companies have stayed cautious because although January
changes allowed them transactions with Cuban banks, congressional
sanctions remain.

On 1 March, MasterCard removed its block on US-issued cards in Cuba, the
only credit card company to do so. Rob Rowe, vice-president of the
American Bankers Association only offered a cautious statement: "banks
are certainly watching for further developments, but the US government
has a lot more steps to take until the industry can take action."

American Express, Citi and JPMorgan Chase have said they are still
waiting to for more details about how the US and Cuba actually start
applying rules.

The wrangling over banks – an issue Cuban negotiators have repeatedly
raised in talks – also suggests that the US and Cuba in some ways plan
to improvise as they feel their way through the uncharted territory of
rapprochement after 50 years apart.

Major obstacles on both sides are the nations' respective bureaucracies,
for instance. In the US, regulators of byzantine American system can
sometimes be at odds with both officials and businesses. Cuba's highly
centralized system on the other hand treats almost everything on a
case-by-case basis, with decisions made by a select few. Somehow, the
two sides will have to work out ways for the systems to work in tandem.

"They haven't been living completely isolated from the universe – it's
not like North Korea," Freyre said, "but it's not going to be easy."

Freyre said he has seen "a real commitment on the part of the Cuban
authorities to make changes" that can accommodate the US, and Sabatini
noted that the US rules in turn have been written fairly broadly,
"organized more around general principles of US foreign policy" than
specific politics between nations.

With that broad language, the US can adjust how it implements the new
rules as Cuba in turn tries to make its system more flexible. Sabatini
described the State Department's strategy of promoting democracy through
capitalism by saying, "it basically throws it open to more of a market
question than a regulatory one."

Taking Cuba off the list is also a negotiating tactic, Martinez said,
that could help convince Cuba to drop the 10% surcharge it imposes
against the US dollar – another deterrent to doing business there, and
main reason why phone calls to the island are so expensive.

"Think of it as a pipeline," Freyre said. "The United States has one
control valve and Cuba has the other, and the US slowly opens the valve
and gets Cuba to slowly open its valve. It's going to take a while, but
they're beginning to ramp up the flow."

The embargo imposed by Congress still prohibits most investing and
financial transactions on Cuba, and senators and representatives could
still try to fight off the White House's attempt to take Cuba off the
list. Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio, for instance,
openly opposes detente with Cuba, as does Florida representative Ileana

Cuba was placed on the list in 1982 for supporting leftist guerrillas in
Latin America, and more recently kept there for providing refuge to
Basque separatists. The Obama administration now says Cuba has not
supported terrorism in the past six months and is now eligible to be

Source: Banks not rushing to Cuba as fear of entering a legal minefield
still lingers | World news | The Guardian -

Obama says Cuba has agreed to address cases of US fugitives

Obama says Cuba has agreed to address cases of US fugitives
04/16/2015 3:22 PM 04/16/2015 3:23 PM

Cuba has agreed to work on resolving the cases of U.S. fugitives
harboring from justice on the island as part of the effort to normalize
relations between the two nations, President Barack Obama told lawmakers
as he made the case for removing the former Cold War foe from the list
of state sponsors of terrorism.

In a message to Congress dated Wednesday, Obama acknowledged that Cuba
has gone so far as to provide housing, food ration books and medical
care to some of the fugitives wanted by the United States to stand trial
or serve sentences on serious charges. However, he argued that Havana
has been more cooperative with the United States in some recent cases,
returning two fugitives in 2011 and two more in 2013.

"Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement dialogue with the
United States that will include discussions with the aim of resolving
outstanding fugitive cases," Obama wrote. "We believe that the strong
U.S. interest in the return of these fugitives will be best served by
entering into this dialogue with Cuba."

Obama's move to remove Cuba from the terror list has been met with some
opposition over the fugitives. New Jersey's Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez
and Republican Gov. Chris Christie have both maintained that the terror
designation should remain, especially while refusing to return Joanne
Chesimard. Chesimard, a member of the Black Panther Party and Black
Liberation Army, has lived in Cuba since escaping prison after her 1977
conviction for killing a New Jersey state trooper.

"It is a national disgrace that this president would even consider
normalizing relations while they are harboring a terrorist murderer who
belongs in prison in New Jersey," Christie, a likely 2016 presidential
candidate, said at a town hall meeting Wednesday in New Hampshire.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest rejected the notion that
whether Cuba returns U.S. fugitives should be related to the decision to
remove the country from the terror list.

"The fact that a country may have some fugitives that need to be brought
to justice here in America does not merit their inclusion on the state
sponsor of terror list," Earnest said. "And I know that's the argument
that's made by some, but it's not an argument that withstands the
scrutiny that's required by a serious designation like being added to
the list of state sponsors of terror."

Another senior administration official said the administration intends
to raise not only high-profile fugitive cases with the Castro
government, but also pursuit of high-priority crimes like Medicare
fraud. The official spoke was not authorized to be quoted by name and
spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department said the fugitives Cuba returned in 2011 were
Denis Catania and Diana Camacho, who fled charges of murdering a
23-year-old man whose body was found in a burning car in Hammonton, New
Jersey. The Justice Department said in 2013, Cuba turned over Joshua and
Sharyn Hakken after they were charged with kidnapping their 2- and
4-year-old sons from the boys' grandparents, who had legal custody, and
sailing to Cuba.

Obama's message to Congress provides a more detailed argument after he
announced Tuesday that he will remove Cuba from the list after the
required 45 days have passed after notification. Lawmakers could vote to
block the move during that window of time, though Obama would be all but
certain to veto such a measure.

Source: Obama says Cuba has agreed to address cases of US fugitives |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Pope considering Cuba stop during US trip but no decision

Pope considering Cuba stop during US trip but no decision
04/17/2015 4:18 AM 04/17/2015 4:18 AM

Pope Francis is considering adding a stop in Cuba to his U.S. trip in
September but no decision has been made, the Vatican said Friday.

Francis has been credited with having helped the United States and Cuba
reach their historic rapprochement by writing to the leaders of both
countries and having the Vatican host their delegations for the final

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis "is
considering the idea of a Cuba leg" but that discussions with Cuba are
at an early stage. He said it's too early to say that a decision has
been taken or that there is an operational plan underway.

The possibility of a Cuban stop was first reported by the Wall Street

Francis is scheduled to visit three U.S. cities in the last week of
September. He will address Congress and meet with President Barack Obama
at the White House, address the U.N. in New York and attend a church
rally for families in Philadelphia.

If a Cuba stop is confirmed on either end of the U.S. trip, Francis
would become the third pope to visit the island nation after the
historic 1998 visit of St. John Paul II during which he said Cuba should
"open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba."

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI followed up with a 2012 trip during which he
voiced the Vatican's long-standing position that the U.S. embargo was
unjust and only hurt the most vulnerable on the island.

Francis also has spoken out against the U.S. embargo while also
condemning socialism.

Francis' personal intervention in the U.S.-Cuban thaw was one of the
most tangible signs that he wants the Vatican to be a greater player in
international diplomacy. A more controversial intervention was his
recent declaration that the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a
century ago was "genocide."

Source: Pope considering Cuba stop during US trip but no decision |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Thursday, April 16, 2015

“El Sexto” Awarded 2015 Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent

"El Sexto" Awarded 2015 Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent / 14ymedio
Posted on April 16, 2015

14ymedio, 15 April 2105 — The Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El
Sexto (The Sixth*), is one of three winners of the 2015 Václav Havel
Prize for Creative Dissent, as announced on Wednesday by the New
York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF). Also receiving the prize are
members of the Sudanese non-violent resistance movement Girifna, and the
Indonesian comic Sakdiyah Ma'ruf. The prize will be awarded in an Oslo
Freedom Forum ceremony on May 27.

The graffiti artist, who has been in prison since last December charged
with contempt, continues to await trial. He was arrested while
attempting to stage a performance with two pigs decorated with the names
"Fidel" and "Raul."

"Through his art, El Sexto reveals the intolerance of the Cuban regime,"
said the former Romanian president Emil Constantinescu. "A government
that is afraid of an artist and his work has a truly fragile hold on
power and is demonstrating its tyrannical nature," he added.

Girifna, whose name in Arabic means "we are fed up," is a non-violent
resistance movement in Sudan founded in 2010 by young pro-democracy
activists. Its members have become a constant target for repression by
the government of Omar al-Bashir.

Sakdiyah Ma'ruf is an Indonesian comic monologist who constantly
challenges Islamic fundamentalism. Television producers have tried
several times to censor her jokes, but Ma'ruf has always refused.

The three winners will receive a representation of the Goddess of
Democracy, the iconic statue erected by Chinese students during protests
in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and will share a prize of 350,000
Norwegian kroner (about $44,000).

The Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes
human rights worldwide, established this prize with the support of
Dagmar Havlová, widow of the late poet, playwright and statesman Vaclav
Havel to honor those who fight against dictatorships. Previous prize
winners include Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the Russian group Pussy Riot,
North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak and Burmese opposition
leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, among others.

*Translator's note: Danilo jokingly adopted this moniker in reference to
"The Cuban Five" also known, in Cuba, as "The Five Heroes"; five Cuban
spies formerly in prison in the United States.

Source: "El Sexto" Awarded 2015 Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent
/ 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Without dialogue and reconciliation, Cuba will go from bad to worse

Without dialogue and reconciliation, Cuba will go from bad to worse /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos
Posted on April 15, 2015

Does the fact that Raul Castro has met and shaken hands with Obama and
that both of their governments have engaged in a year and a half of
secret conversations commit the general-president to the aggressive
policies of the US government?

The Cuban government received billions of rubles in support and arms of
every kind from the former Soviet Union and supported it through
guerrilla and military actions in other countries. Does this make the
Cuban government the mercenary of the USSR?

Fidel Castro received from the former president Carlos Prio, the most
anti-Communist of all the presidents of the first half-century of the
Republic, $50,000 to buy the yacht Granma [on which he sailed to Cuba
from Mexico to start the Revolution]. Does this mean that Fidel
responded to the interest of Prio and was his mercenary?

The US government suspended its military cooperation with the Batista
dictatorship and that contributed to its fall. Did this make the
government of United States a mercenary of Fidel Castro's 26th of July
movement and a Castro agent, or vice versa?

The 26th of July movement and the guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra
received wide economic support from the national bourgeoisie and the
oligarchy. Did that make the leaders of the Sierra mercenaries of the
oligarchy and the national bourgeoisie?

Several governments of the continent gave military aid to the "bearded
ones" of the Sierra Maestra in their struggle against the Batista
tyranny. Did that make the anti-Batista movement the mercenary of those

Several reports from that time assert that CIA officials were supporting
in some ways the revolutionary movement against Batista. Among them is
the testimony of Liman Kirkpatrick, Inspector General of the CIA who
visited Havana in 1958, in his book The Real CIA. Could one, therefore,
accuse CIA mercenaries of being Cuban revolutionary fighters?

The US consulate in Santiago de Cuba Santiago widely collaborated with
revolutionaries who fought the dictatorship. Did that make those
revolutionaries mercenaries of Washington?

It is true that more than a few opponents and government officials have
lived for years off the business of confrontation. But most of them have
done it for their ideals

Does the fact that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has sent
economic aid to Cuban dissidents who fight peacefully for democracy in
Cuba make them mercenaries of the US? Does Coco Fariñas appearing in a
photo with Posada Carriles make him a terrorist?

It is true that Brigade 2506 that starred in the Bay of Pigs invasion
was trained, armed, supported and transported by the US government and
its intelligence agencies to overthrow the revolutionary government in
1961. But does that negate that the vast majority of the members of that
brigade had participated in these events to free their homeland from
Castro-Communism? Were they mercenaries of United States who came to
fight because of the money they were paid?

It is also true that more than a few of the opponents and the officials
of the Cuban government have lived for years on the business of
confrontation. But it is not true that most of them have defended their
positions, including with weapons in hand, for money or personal
benefits. Most of them have simply done it for their ideals. Neither one
nor the other can be classified as mercenaries.

Could the Government of the Castro regime label as mercenaries all of
the journalist, party functionaries, and officials of the Armed Forces
and State Security who defend that government and what it considers its
revolution and from which they receive high salaries and some perks? Absurd.

With biased, simplistic, and one-sided analysis of human history and its
realities, without taking into account the interests of other affected
parties and ignoring the most progressive values corresponding to each
era, it is not possible to reach an understanding.

"Justice must be served for the literacy teachers murdered, for those
dead in attacks on boats, economic facilities and official missions, for
the crime of the plane crash carried out in the Barbados, and an endless
list," say some.

"We must have justice for the hundreds killed in the fight against the
Revolution in the Escambray, for the thousands dead in the sea trying to
escape communism, for the children and women on the 13 de Marzo tugboat,
for the Brothers to the Rescue and the three young men who hijacked a
boat," say others.

I am not asking anyone to forget, but I believe that without
transparency of information, without truth, without integrity in
historical analysis, and without forgiveness, there will be no possible
reconciliation. At least until the disappearance of the generations
involved in Cuba's political struggles of the last decades.

To accuse all those who do not share a particular vision of the country
and all those who receive aid from others for their struggle of being
mercenaries, terrorists and assassins is nothing more than a pretext of
the extremes to continue the confrontation and to not enter into
dialogue because of various fears.

The old Cuban Communists were accused of receiving money from Moscow in
order to disqualify and discredit them.

It is not just, nor is it legitimate, nor isn't constructive for either
side to continue with these absurd accusations against everyone who has
been involved in these struggles from one side or the other.

Why don't we just recognize once and for all that the era of armed
military confrontation and the language of the Cold War is over and we
are in a time of peaceful democratic political struggles where everyone
can defend his or her ideas freely?

Let's be serious. How can the opponents of the Cuban government
objectively sustain a peaceful political struggle for their ideals
without any outside help, when everyone knows that we live in a country
where the government controls absolutely everything?

Has the democratic left itself have not been victims of this absolute,
absurd and counterproductive control that ends up leaving people without
life support and eventually turns them against their own operators?

How can we forget that high and medium level government officials of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior
(MININT) suspected of perestroikos and ideological weaknesses were
senten masse to retire and "perform other important missions" to limit
their access to information and decisions between 1989 and 1994?

How can we forget that some compañeros were removed from their posts and
lost their Internet or Intranet accounts because they used them to
spread articles critical of state socialism and to publicly propose ways
forward towards a participatory and democratic socialism after Fidel
Castro himself warned in late 2005 that these Revolutionaries were the
only ones who could destroy the Revolution by corruption and excessive
bureaucracy, and also called for help in this fight?

The attitude of the delegation sent by the Government of Cuba to the
Civil Society Forum of the recent Seventh Summit of the Americas was an
example of that old extremist, intolerant and neo-Stalinist mentality in
the leadership of political and mass organizations and of the Cuban
Communist Party (PCC) that pretends to be the only representative of
Cuban civil society.

Is it possible that the government of Raul Castro could emerge from the
current economic disaster with the collaboration of its historic enemy
without essential changes in the political economic model that starts
from a new national consensus that has the approval of workers, the
self-employed, cooperatives, Cuban entrepreneurs, opponents and dissenters?

Do we really believe the Cuban president that the 97% approval of the
Constitution in 1976 is the same level of approval that the government
and its policies have today? Are we forgetting that in the last election
almost 13% of the voters either did not vote or turned in a blank or
annulled ballot? Does the general president not know that in recent
years over 30,000 Cubans have left Cuba by different routes and does he
not know that perhaps more than one million Cubans would like to leave
the country?

Does the four-star general believe that the people don't know the high
level of nepotism and corruption that corrodes the system that he defends?

If the current government headed by Raúl Castro is unable to control its
extreme wing and enter into a process of dialogue, national
reconciliation and democratization of society, the country can hardly
steer its development in peace and have the professional and financial
aid from all Cubans, which it needs, no matter where they are, along
with external collaboration. In any case, Cuba can go from bad to worse.

It is time to understand that our political and ideological differences,
our sorrows over past events, leave us no choice but to overcome this
stage of confrontation and take on the reunification of the nation with
all its consequences.

Otherwise, we run the risk of turning our country into a failed state,
either because the economy continues to sink into the vacuum of the
inconsistencies of State management, of because of our inability to
dialog, ending up in fratricidal conflict provoked by those who from the
extremes would prefer that Cuba sink into the sea, rather than recognize
errors and sit at the negotiating table.

Those of us who want to solve the problems of Cuba, be we within or
outside of government and within or outside Cuba, need to set ourselves
to seriously working for dialogue and reconciliation in a framework of
democracy and rights, where the extremes are another bad memory of our

Source: Without dialogue and reconciliation, Cuba will go from bad to
worse / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos | Translating Cuba -

Cuba, Spain in talks over ETA fugitives - US

Cuba, Spain in talks over ETA fugitives: US

Cubans to open talks about US fugitives as ties warm Associated Press
Obama to remove Cuba from state sponsor of terror list Associated Press
What happens next with Cuba and the terror list CBS News
Obama tells Congress he plans to remove Cuba from terrorism list Reuters
Obama to decide in 'next days' on Cuba's terror listing AFP
The move was among assurances given to Washington by Havana as the Obama
administration seeks to strike Cuba from its list of state sponsors of

The White House announced Tuesday that following a lengthy review by the
State Department, President Barack Obama is planning to remove Cuba from
the blacklist which has hampered its access to the US and global banking
system and stymied arms exports and sales.

The step could pave the way to restoring US-Cuban diplomatic ties frozen
for half a century.

"The Cuban government provided the United States in writing official
assurances... that it will not support acts of international terrorism,"
acting deputy State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

Cuba was placed on the terror blacklist in 1982 amid concerns it was
seeking to foment revolution in Latin America, notably through
supporting the left-wing FARC guerrillas in Colombia, and also because
of suspected ties to ETA.

View gallery
President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Cuba's President Raul
Castro during their meeting o …
"There are some ETA members who have been in Cuba," Rathke said.

"The Cuban government has provided assurances that it would never permit
the ETA members living in Cuba to use Cuban territory for activities
against Spain or any other country."

And he revealed that "Cuba and Spain have agreed to a bilateral process
to resolve" a dispute over Madrid's demand for the extradition of two
alleged ETA members.

"That's now under way. The government of Spain has assured the
government of the United States that it is satisfied with this process."

The State Department review had also concluded that "there is no
credible evidence that the government of Cuba has, in the last six
months, provided material support... to members of the FARC."

Indeed, Havana has been hosting peace talks between Bogota and the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a bid to resolve one of
the world's longest running insurgencies.

"The government of Colombia believes that the government of Cuba has
played a constructive role in the peace negotiations," Rathke added.

Havana has also promised to launch negotiations, once diplomatic ties
are established, on the fate of several American fugitives living in Cuba.

"The return from Cuba of fugitives from US justice is an issue of
longstanding concern to the United States," Rathke said.

"We see the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of
an embassy in Havana as the means by which we'll be able, more
effectively, to press the Cuban government on law enforcement issues
such as fugitives."

The US has in particular been seeking the return of JoAnne Chesimard, a
former member of the Black Panthers accused of killing a New Jersey
policeman in 1973, and William Guillermo Morales, convicted in 1979 of
making bombs for an extremist Puerto Rican independence group.

Source: Cuba, Spain in talks over ETA fugitives: US - Yahoo News -

Next move in U.S.-Cuba thaw rests in Havana

Next move in U.S.-Cuba thaw rests in Havana
By Nick Miroff April 15 at 3:31 PM

HAVANA — The Cuban government offered measured praise for President
Obama's decision to clear the country from a list of
terrorism-sponsoring nations but gave no indication following the
announcement whether it would accelerate plans to normalize diplomatic

Though Obama's decision does not require congressional approval, it
gives U.S. lawmakers 45 days to introduce legislation to attempt to
block it.

White House officials do not expect that to happen, but it's not clear
whether Cuba plans to wait for the period to elapse before going through
the ceremonies of re-opening embassies in both capitals to end one of
the Cold War's last diplomatic estrangements.

In a brief statement Tuesday night, Josefina Vidal, the director of U.S.
relations at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, said her government "recognizes
the just decision made by the President of the United States to remove
Cuba from a list on which it never deserved to belong."

"As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba
rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism, in all its forms and
manifestations, as well as any act whose objective is to encourage,
support, finance or give shelter to terrorists," her statement read.

President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro met Saturday in Panama at
the Summit of the Americas, the highest-level encounter between the two
countries in nearly 60 years. With Obama seated beside him, Castro told
reporters: "We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be
patient, very patient."

U.S. and Cuban diplomats have held three rounds of talks on restoring
diplomatic relations. Cuban officials have insisted they want to ensure
an "appropriate context" for renewed ties, and they viewed their
inclusion on the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors as the biggest sticking

It is more than a matter of pride, they say. Cuba's inclusion on the
terrorism list has left its diplomatic missions in Washington and New
York without financial services for more than a year, because no U.S.
bank has been willing to take on the risk of possible U.S. fines related
to Cuban transactions. Cuban officials say they cannot be expected to
operate an embassy without a checking account.

But a senior U.S. official told reporters Tuesday that Cuba's banking
problems are nearly resolved. Other pending issues between the two
countries — including restrictions on the movements of U.S. diplomats in
Cuba — have also been mostly ironed out, according to sources close to
the talks.

That leaves the 45-day period for opponents of Obama's opening on Cuba
to try to keep the Castro government on the terrorism list, along with
nations such as Syria, Sudan and Iran.

They cite Cuba's recent weapons shipments from North Korea and the
Castro government's refusal to hand over U.S. fugitives long ago granted
political asylum on the island, especially Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a.
Assata Shakur, a militant activist convicted of killing a New Jersey
state trooper in 1973.

"How can we say Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism when the Castro
regime continues to harbor dozens of other American fugitives: cop
killers, plane hijackers, bomb makers, arms traffickers?" said a
statement from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the son of Cuban immigrants.

But such criticism would have to quickly jell into a successful
legislative push to halt Obama's Cuba opening, a policy that appears to
have a wide measure of public support, according to polls.

If Havana is confident enough that its removal from the terrorism list
won't be reversed, it may be willing to set an earlier date for the
embassy openings. But some observers are skeptical.

"I think what the United States wanted was to have an impact at the
Summit of the Americas, and it achieved that with the meeting between
Obama and Raúl," said retired Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray, who is
following the negotiations closely.

"It doesn't seem like either side is in a huge hurry," he said.
Facing new test, Cuba's revolution circles back

In Cuba, harassment of U.S. diplomats even extends to their pets. Will
that now change?

Today's coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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

Source: Next move in U.S.-Cuba thaw rests in Havana - The Washington
Post -

Obama Says Cuba Doesn’t Sponsor Terrorism. So What Are All These Hijackers and Bomb-Makers Doing There?

Obama Says Cuba Doesn't Sponsor Terrorism. So What Are All These
Hijackers and Bomb-Makers Doing There?

The White House says that Cuba has nothing to do with terrorism. But
Havana is like a Star Wars cantina of Cold War radicals—including some
of the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists.

If you happened to have found yourself in possession of a hijacked
airplane circa 1970, chances are that you would have steered it to Cuba.
From 1968 through 1972, over 80 American civilian jetliners were
hijacked to the communist island. So popular was Cuba as a destination
for airline hostage takers that the British Sun newspaper once featured
a photograph of a flight attendant with the caption, "Coffee, tea,
or—Castro?" on its front page.

This history is relevant in light of the Obama administration's
announcement Tuesday that it will remove Cuba from the State
Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Obama had called for a
review of the listing back in December, and the move comes as part of
his broader push for normalizing relations between the two countries.
De-listing Cuba will make it much easier for U.S. financial institutions
to conduct business in Cuba and for Americans to use their credit and
ATM cards on the island. It will also pave the way for Obama's ultimate
goal—the upgrading of the Cuban interests section in Washington to an
embassy—as Cuban diplomats were unable to open bank accounts due to the

To date, the United States has received nothing substantive in return
for the raft of concessions it has made to the Castro regime. Taking
Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list without any reciprocal
moves from Havana on human rights issues is a logical next step. But
removing Cuba is not only poor negotiating strategy, it's also wrong on
the merits. Havana is still harboring dozens of terrorists—including
several Americans.

On Wednesday, the State Department announced that "Cuba has agreed to
enter into a law-enforcement dialogue with the United States that will
work to resolve these cases." By "resolve," it must mean "ignore,"
because Washington has already lost nearly all leverage it has with
Havana. The Cubans have long stated that they will never turn the
terrorists they consider political refugees. Having been given nearly
everything they want by the Obama administration — short of the closing
of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which, considering the way these
"negotiations" have progressed, may be the next unilateral concession
Washington will make -- there is even less reason for them to give an
inch now. As long as President Obama wants normalization more than the
Cubans do — which he evidently does, given the secretive way he went
about the negotiations leading up to the announcement in December — then
normalization will occur, regardless of American national interests.

Cuba was originally placed on the terrorism list in 1982, as punishment
for its support of communist insurgencies in places ranging from
Nicaragua to Angola. In recent years, it shared a place on that list
with just Iran, Sudan, and Syria. (The Bush administration
controversially removed North Korea in 2008.) There are some 70 American
fugitives from justice living in Cuba today, though not all are
terrorists. And while Cuban soldiers may no longer be fighting
American-backed proxies in Southern Africa, Cuba remains something of a
Star Wars cantina of violent Cold War-era radicals.

The most prominent figure in this rogue's gallery is JoAnne Chesimard
AKA Assata Shakur, godmother to the late Tupac Shakur and a
distinguished member of the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List, where she
has the dubious honor of being the first and currently only woman. In
1973, Shakur, then a member of the Black Panther Party, participated in
the execution-style killing of a New Jersey State Trooper. In 1979,
members of another black radical nationalist group busted her from
prison; five years later she resurfaced in Cuba, where she had won
political asylum. According to a fellow at New York University's Center
for the United States and the Cold War who has met with her, Shakur
lives under the constant watch of Cuban security along with one of her
accomplices, Nehanda Abiodun. Though there exists a $2 million bounty
for her capture, a Cuban journalist who visited the American interests
section in Havana wrote several months ago that the FBI Most Wanted sign
beseeching her capture is no longer even posted in the building. It's
likely a signal that the Obama administration does not plan to make her
extradition a condition for improved relations.

"If anything went down, you went to Cuba," the hijacker said. He added
that he misses the French fries back home, but if he waits long enough,
he may be able to enjoy the glories of McDonald's in Havana.
Another terrorist assumed to be living large under the protection of the
Castro brothers is William Morales, a bomb maker for the Puerto Rican
FALN separatist organization. According to the FBI, the group
perpetrated over 100 bombings throughout the 1970s and 80s. In 1978,
Morales lost nine fingers when one of his projects blew up prematurely;
the following year he was convicted in federal court of possessing
illegal explosives and weaponry and sentenced to 89 years in prison.
Morales escaped to Mexico, and he is now believed to be hiding in Cuba.

Then there's Charlie Hill, a black power militant involved in the murder
of a policeman in 1971. On the run, he and two comrades stole a tow
truck at gunpoint, crashed it through the gates onto the runway of
Albuquerque airport, and hijacked a TWA plane. Told by the pilots that
it could not fly all the way to Africa—where the men originally wanted
to flee—they instructed the crew to take them to Cuba instead. "If
anything went down, you went to Cuba," Hill recently told CNN. He added
that he misses the French fries back home, but if he waits long enough,
he may be able to enjoy the glories of McDonald's in Havana, much to the
displeasure of Western leftists scrambling to visit the island prison
fast before American businesses and tourists "plague" the
poverty-stricken country with their money and infrastructural
investments, as MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry fretted.

It is not only American terrorists who find safe haven in Cuba. Over a
dozen members of the State Department-listed Basque terrorist group ETA
reside on the island, though the Cuban government has repatriated
several members back to Spain. Last month, however, the Spanish
government requested that the United States try to persuade Cuba to
extradite two ETA leaders; it's difficult to see how that will ever
happen now that Washington has surrendered even more leverage to Havana
by removing it from the State Department list. Cuba also shelters a
number of insurgents associated with the FARC, a Marxist-Leninist
terrorist organization long at war with the Colombian government. In
2013, the Panama Canal Authority seized a North Korean-flagged ship
ferrying undeclared weapons and armaments—including two Soviet-era MiG
fighters and surface-to-air missile systems—from Cuba. According to a
United Nations report on the seizure, commissioned in respect to
Havana's violation of a Security Council-imposed arms embargo on the
North, the shipment "constituted the largest amount of arms and related
materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People's Republic of
Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718," prohibiting the transfer
of various weapons.

North Korea is not the only rogue regime aided and abetted by Cuba. A
2014 report by the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society
alleges that Cuban state security had assisted Venezuelan officials with
passport technology information to help provide new identities to nearly
200 individuals from the Middle East. Cuban intelligence officers serve
as the Praetorian guard of President Nicolas Maduro's chavista regime in
Venezuela, where they were involved in the murderous crackdowns on
pro-democracy demonstrations last year that led the Obama administration
to issue sanctions on Venezuelan officials last month. The White House
statement announcing the measures declared a "national emergency with
respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security
and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in

When I visited Cuba recently, a massive campaign was underway,
orchestrated by the Venezuelan government with the support of its
lackeys in Cuba, to gain signatures for a petition protesting the
sanctions, to be hand-delivered by Maduro to Obama at last week's Summit
of the Americas in Panama. In a lame attempt at assuaging the feelings
of Latin American populist thugs, deputy national security advisor Ben
Rhodes, the point man for Obama's opening to the Castro regime,
explained away the Executive Order as just so much bureaucratic
language. "The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some
threat to our national security, we frankly just have a framework for
how we formulate these executive orders," he said, calling the wording
"pro forma." Last year, the administration similarly contradicted itself
with regard to the behavior of a rogue Latin American regime when
Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Cuba is "not cooperating
fully with United States antiterrorism efforts," only to look past that
declaration with this week's announcement.

After shaking Raul Castro's blood-drenched hand last week in Panama,
Obama explained his rationale for the change in relations he is seeking.
The Cold War, he said, "has been over for a long time, and I'm not
interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born."
It was a typically narcissistic remark from the president, whose
interest in diplomatic history extends only insofar as it can be used to
fault his own country. But history matters very much to the Castro
brothers, who have ruled over a tropical totalitarian dictatorship for
over five decades. Before legitimizing the Cuban government with
normalized relations, the Cuban regime ought first address this
"history" and extradite the American terrorists in its midst.

Source: Obama Says Cuba Doesn't Sponsor Terrorism. So What Are All These
Hijackers and Bomb-Makers Doing There? - The Daily Beast -

Barriers Remain for American Business in Cuba

Barriers Remain for American Business in Cuba

MEXICO CITY — It had become a political sticking point: As long as Cuba
remained on the American government's list of states that sponsor
terrorism, there would be no historic opening of America's first
full-fledged embassy in Havana in more than 50 years.

President Obama's decision, announced on Tuesday, to take Cuba off the
list unclogs the process of restoring diplomatic relations between the
countries and removes a much-resented stigma that has kept foreign banks
and investors away. It also opens the way for the poor island to access
multilateral loans.

But while the change in designation will make it easier for non-American
companies to do business with Cuba, in practical terms, it goes only a
short way to reconnecting American businesses, experts said.

American companies hoping to export televisions or cars to Cuba, or
build hotels there, still face the tangle of sanctions that make up the
United States trade embargo — a complex scaffold of statutes,
regulations and executive orders that only Congress can eliminate.

"It's a long road," said Philip Peters, president of the Virginia-based
Cuba Research Center. "Americans still can't invest in Cuba. They can't
trade in a whole series of goods and services."

That said, the economic impact of removing Cuba from the terrorism list
will be "very big," he said by telephone. That is because being on the
list created "the presumption that everything Cuba is doing is illicit,"
Mr. Peters said. "It makes Cuba radioactive in the financial world."

The United States labeled Cuba a sponsor of terrorism in the early 1980s
because of its support for leftist insurgent movements in Latin America.
The island also harbored a number of American fugitives, including
Joanne D. Chesimard, who is wanted in the killing of a New Jersey state
trooper in 1973 and is among the F.B.I.'s most wanted terrorists.

The State Department said Wednesday that Cuba and the United States
would open discussions about Ms. Chesimard and William Morales, a Puerto
Rican fugitive wanted in connection with a series of bombings in New
York during the 1970s, as part of talks on law enforcement cooperation.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
said that taking Cuba off the terrorism list "immediately lessens the
cost of doing business for the Cuban government."

"It will lower the interest rate they have to pay because interest rates
reflect risk, and the risk has now been reduced," he said by telephone,
adding, "This change is exponentially of greater value to the Cuban
government than it is to U.S. companies."

And there are plenty of restrictions on the Cuban side, he noted,
adding, "American companies need to be sober, not drunk, about this."

The terrorism designation added a separate layer of financial sanctions
to the trade embargo, introduced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in
1960 and strengthened by John F. Kennedy. In 1996 Congress passed the
Helms-Burton law — named for its sponsors, Senator Jesse Helms,
Republican of North Carolina, and Representative Dan Burton, Republican
of Indiana — that extended the reach of the embargo and passed authority
for ending the embargo from the executive branch to Congress.

Mr. Obama eased the embargo in January when the government announced
that Americans could travel to Cuba more freely and send more money to
ordinary Cubans. The government also allowed broader exports of
telecommunication equipment and services and said Americans could use
credit cards in Cuba.

But American companies still cannot invest in Cuba or do business with
the state, except for exporting goods intended to help Cubans, like food
or medicine.

Even those American exporters with a special licenses to sell to Cuba
cannot offer Cuban importers credit, which puts the exporters at a
disadvantage, said Paul D. Johnson, vice chairman of the U.S.
Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, and founder of Chicago Foods
International, which exports food to Cuba.

Food exports from the United States to Cuba, allowed under an exception
to the embargo, peaked at about $700 million in 2008 but slumped to $265
million last year as American exporters lost out to others who can offer
credit, he said.

Removing the terrorism designation was a positive step, he said by
telephone, but "we have to allow credit, two-way trade, investment
opportunities." He added, "What we're looking for is for us to be

In order to lift the embargo, Mr. Obama — or a future president — would
have to certify to Congress that a transitional, or democratically
elected, government was in power in Cuba, said Stephen F. Propst,
partner at Hogan Lovells, an international law firm, who has written
legal papers on the embargo. Alternatively, Congress could vote on its
own to change the law.

While it would take Congress to repeal the embargo, experts said, the
executive still has latitude to loosen the sanctions.

For example, Mr. Obama could establish a license that allowed American
ships to dock in Cuba, Mr. Propst said — potentially allowing travelers
and cargo to shuttle between Miami and Havana. He could also expand the
scope of goods and services that American companies can trade with the
island, he said.

Even with the embargo still in place, Mr. Peters said, the momentum that
will be created by renewed diplomatic relations and incremental changes
in policy will make it hard for future presidents to backpedal.

"We will have embassies, we will have more travel," he said.

"Trade will start to open up, even if it's limited, with broader U.S.
exports from many states. There will be visits of ministers in both
directions," he said, adding, "That will make a political dynamic that
would make it harder for a future president to reverse."

Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting.

Source: Barriers Remain for American Business in Cuba - NYTimes.com -

Cuba human rights bill introduced; State says Cuba will talk about return of fugitives

Cuba human rights bill introduced; State says Cuba will talk about
return of fugitives
04/15/2015 6:57 PM 04/15/2015 8:49 PM

A House bill was introduced Wednesday that would tie an improvement in
Cuba's human rights record to any further removal of sanctions, and the
State Department said the United States and Cuba planned to start a
dialogue about U.S. fugitives living on the island.

The developments came a day after President Barack Obama informed
Congress that there was no longer a justification for keeping Cuba on a
list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But in the 45 days until his directive takes effect, Congress may seek
to block the president's action by enacting a joint resolution, which
Obama could, in turn, veto.

South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met late Wednesday
with other members of Congress to discuss strategies about how to
reverse "Obama's unwarranted delisting of Cuba," her office said.

Also coming on the heels of the delisting was a bill introduced by New
Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican who is chairman of the House
global human rights subcommittee. The Cuban Human Rights Act of 2015
calls for the United States to vigorously oppose human rights violations
in Cuba and to maintain the status quo on sanctions, the embargo and
federal law regarding Cuba as long as human rights violations continue.

Sanctions against Cuba, the bill said, shouldn't be reduced until all
political and religious prisoners are released; Cuba respects freedom of
religion, assembly, association, expression, press and speech, and there
is progress toward repealing or revising Cuban laws that criminalize
peaceful dissent.

The bill also requires all sanctions to remain in place until Cuba
returns fugitives from U.S. justice, such as Joanane Chesimard, the
Black Liberation Army member convicted of killing a New Jersey trooper,
and Cuba stops providing refuge to terrorist organizations. It also
calls for the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Congress
on the human rights situation in Cuba.

Among the bill's co-sponsors are Ros-Lehtinen, and South Florida
Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

Smith, as well as members of the Cuban-American delegation, have
criticized the White House for not taking into account factors such as
Cuba's continued harboring of U.S. fugitives and members of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Basque Fatherland,
Liberty (ETA) and other groups in making the determination.

"The Castro regime is a state sponsor of terror and harbors known
fugitives from justice, including Joanne Chesimard," said Smith. "She
must be extradited to the U.S. before we can begin to talk about any
normalization in U.S.-Cuban relations, let alone removing Cuba from the
list of terror sponsors."

But in a surprise move, the State Department said Wednesday that the
United States and Cuba planned to hold talks about Chesimard, now known
as Assata Shakur; William Morales, a Puerto Rican nationalist who was
sentenced to 99 years for his role in a bomb blast that killed four
people before he escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, and other
fugitives from U.S. justice.

"We see the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of
an embassy in Havana as the means by which we'll be able more
effectively to press the Cuban government on law enforcement issues such
as fugitives," said Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman.

Despite the concerns about fugitives and terrorists living in Cuba, the
White House said its decision to seek the delisting was narrowly focused
on just two concerns: whether Cuba had provided any support for
international terrorism over the past six months and whether the Cuban
government had given assurances it would not support international
terrorists in the future.

"The assurances they provided were fairly wide-ranging and fairly
high-level," said a senior administration official.

Rathke said the Colombian government had told the United States that it
had "no evidence that Cuba has provided any political or material
support in recent years" to either the FARC or ELN and that the Cuban
government had "provided assurances that it would never permit the ETA
members living in Cuba to use Cuban territory for activities against
Spain or any other country."

Spain has requested extradition of two ETA members and Rathke said that
Cuba and Spain have agreed to a bilateral process to resolve the matter.

Ros-Lehtinen also noted that just before Obama's historic face-to-face
meeting with Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama over
the weekend, a group of Cuban pro-democracy advocates were attacked by a
group of Cuban government supporters.

"The Castro communist regime has been denying the Cuban people
fundamental human rights and basic freedoms for over 50 years but this
aggression is not limited to Cubans but also includes U.S. citizens,"
she said.

The human rights bill's sponsors also wanted it to serve as a rebuke to
Obama for unilaterally trying to alter U.S.-Cuba policy without the
"advice or consent of Congress." The president has used his executive
authority to make the changes.

At this point, no new formal talks have been set to discuss reopening
embassies and reestablishing diplomatic relations. How a U.S. embassy in
Havana would operate seems to be a sticking point. But both sides have
said they want to have more discussions as soon as possible.

The U.S. wants its diplomats to be able to move freely around the island
and "talk to lots of people," said a senior administration official. Now
diplomats must ask for special permission to travel beyond Havana, and
Cuba frowns on interactions with dissidents and activists.

"We're trying to get at the issue of obsolete equipment and facilities.
We're trying to get at the issue of staffing levels," the official added.

The U.S. side also would like unimpeded access to its embassy. Now
visitors to the U.S. Interests Section, which functions as a diplomatic
mission in the absence of an embassy, must check in with Cuban guards.

"We're still not quite there yet and so we're going to keep working at
those things," said the official. "But I think it's up to our Cuban
counterparts. These are ultimately decisions that have to be made by
mutual consent."

The official said that Secretary of State John Kerry, who plans to visit
Cuba for the embassy opening, "wants to get this right, not necessarily

Source: Cuba human rights bill introduced; State says Cuba will talk
about return of fugitives | Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Cubans to open talks about US fugitives as ties warm

Cubans to open talks about US fugitives as ties warm
04/15/2015 5:58 PM 04/15/2015 5:58 PM

The U.S. and Cuba will open talks about two of America's most-wanted
fugitives as part of a new dialogue about law-enforcement cooperation
made possible by President Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from a
list of state sponsors of terror, the State Department announced Wednesday.

Cuban officials and ordinary citizens alike hailed Obama's action to
remove the island from the list, saying it heals a decades-old insult to
national pride and clears the way to swiftly restore diplomatic relations.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Cuba had agreed to talks
about fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, who was
granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped from a U.S. prison
where she was serving a sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper
in 1973. The U.S. and Cuba will also discuss the case of William
Morales, a Puerto Rican nationalist wanted in connection with bombings
in New York in the 1970s.

"We see the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of
an embassy in Havana as the means by which we'll be able, more
effectively, to press the Cuban government on law enforcement issues
such as fugitives. And Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement
dialogue with the United States that will work to resolve these cases,"
Rathke said. The dialogue is also expected to address cooperation on
more routine crimes, officials said.

A Cuban government spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking
comment Wednesday, but Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for U.S.
affairs, recently ruled out any return of political refugees.

Still she said Tuesday night that "the Cuban government recognizes the
president of the United States' just decision to take Cuba off a list in
which it should never have been included."

Cuban and U.S. foreign-policy experts said the two governments appeared
to have taken a major leap toward the reopening of embassies in Havana
and Washington after four months of complex and occasionally frustrating

"This is important because it speaks to Obama's desire to keep moving
forward," said Esteban Morales, a political science professor at the
University of Havana. "Now there are no political obstacles. What
remains are organizational and technical problems, which can be resolved."

In a message to Congress, Obama said Tuesday that Cuba's government "has
not provided any support for international terrorism" over the last six
months and has given "assurances that it will not support acts of
international terrorism in the future."

Cuba will officially be removed from the terrorism list 45 days after
the president's message was sent to Congress. Lawmakers could vote to
block the move during that window, though Obama would be nearly certain
to veto such a measure.

Rathke said Cuba had also provided assurances that Basque nationalists
living in Cuba would never be allowed out to carry out future attacks
against Spain.

What remains to be seen is whether Cuba will allow U.S. diplomats to
move around Cuba and maintain contacts with citizens including
dissidents, the second point of contention in the negotiations on
restoring full diplomatic relations.

Cuba is highly sensitive to any indication the U.S. is supporting
domestic dissent and that issue could prove considerably tougher than
amending the terrorism list. The Obama administration made little
pretense in recent years that it believed Cuba was still supporting

Cuba was put on the list in 1982 because of what the U.S. said were its
efforts "to promote armed revolution by organizations that used
terrorism." That included support for leftist guerrilla groups including
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Basque separatist
movement ETA in Spain.

Cuba renounced direct support for militant groups years ago and is
sponsoring peace talks between the FARC and Colombia's government. Spain
no longer appears to be actively seeking the return of inactive ETA
members who may be in Cuba.

For Cubans, the terrorism list was a particularly charged issue because
of the U.S. history of supporting exile groups responsible for attacks
on the island, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight
from Barbados that killed 73 people aboard. The attack was linked to
Cuban exiles with ties to U.S.-backed anti-Castro groups, and both men
accused of masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one,
Luis Posada Carriles, lives to this day.

"It's really good that they finally took us off the list even though the
reality is that we never should have been there," said Rigoberto
Morejon, a member of the Cuban national fencing team who lost three
training partners in the bombing. He added that the hoped "we can keep
advancing in the re-establishment of relations."

Beyond the emotional impact, the terrorism list hobbled Cuba's ability
to do business internationally.

A 1996 law that strips sovereign immunity from nations on the list that
engage in extrajudicial killings exposed Cuba to huge judgments in U.S.
courts when mainly Cuban-American families accused the Cuban government
of responsibility for the deaths of loved ones, said Robert Muse, a
Washington-based lawyer who specializes in U.S. law on Cuba.

The perceived and real risks of doing business with a country on the
list also made it highly difficult for Cuba to do business with foreign
banks. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington has been forced to deal
in cash since it lost its bank in the U.S. last year. The ability to
reopen a U.S. bank account is one of Cuba's most urgent demands in the
negotiations to reopen embassies. While that decision falls to
individual banks, removal from the list will make it easier.

The listing also prevented U.S. representatives at the World Bank and
other global financial bodies from approving credit for Cuba, which is
increasingly strapped for cash.

Obama's decision was welcomed on the streets of Havana.

"Finally!" said Mercedes Delgado, a retired accountant. "The door's
opened a little more. That's always good."


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Source: Cubans to open talks about US fugitives as ties warm | Miami
Herald Miami Herald -