Wednesday, November 26, 2014

American Agency Will Operate Direct Flights Between New York and Havana

American Agency Will Operate Direct Flights Between New York and Havana
/ 14ymedio
Posted on November 26, 2014

14YMEDIO, Havana/November 21, 2014 — The American agency Cuba Travel
Services announced last Thursday that it will operate a direct flight
between New York's J.F. Kennedy Airport and Havana. It is envisioned
that the trips will occur daily in the afternoon, although company
workers have not been able to confirm either the departure days or the
frequency of the flights.

Cuba Travel Services has not provided information about the date the
service will begin, but it has announced that the price for a round trip
ticket on the inaugural flight will start at $849.

The company organizes travel to popular destinations like Cienfuegos,
Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, with flights
operated by Sun Country Airlines.

The Turbo News site explained this afternoon that "in the spirit of the
recent New York Times editorial published October 11, 2014, entitled
'Time to End the Cuban Embargo,' the agency Cuba Travel Services chose
to provide an important cultural and social link between the two cities."

The agency maintains that the expansion of its offering will permit
travelers who leave from New York to save as compared with the current
options on the market, avoiding the delays of connections and the cost
of additional fares for stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.

The company, which organizes daily flights between the US and Cuba,
asked for permission to operate flights also from Newark Liberty
International Airport, but that request was rejected.

The US government suspended direct air links with the Island at the
beginning of the 1970's and resumed them in 1999 with a flight between
New York and Havana. After a slight opening by President Bill Clinton,
Barack Obama also opted to soften restrictions on travel by Cuban
Americans visiting the Island; now they can travel every year instead of
every three and stay as long as they like.

In 2012 the Cuban government suspended landing rights on the Island for
two airlines from Miami, Airline Brokers and C&T Charters, explaining
the reason for the decision "as over capacity of seats and other
operational issues," although the travel agency operators revealed
suspected payment defaults with Cuban authorities. Airline Brokers
operated weekly flights to Havana and Cienfuegos from Miami and Fort
Lauderdale, while C&T Charters traveled to Havana and Camaguey from
Miami, New York and Chicago.

Translated by MLK

Source: American Agency Will Operate Direct Flights Between New York and
Havana / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

An Epidemic of Editorials

An Epidemic of Editorials / Fernando Damaso
Posted on November 25, 2014

A few days ago the sixth editorial by the New York Times appeared
regarding relations between the Cuban and North American governments. I
believe that never has a country so small and relatively unimportant
merited so much – and such sustained – attention. This smells of strange
interests on both shores.

The editorial writer who undoubtedly pulls down an annual salary in the
five figures, must feel fulfilled. It is said, although I cannot confirm
it, that he was over here seeking official information for his writings.
This would not be surprising.

To cast blame on the embargo for all of Cuba's problems — even for the
exodus of our professionals lured by United States government policies —
lacks originality. It is merely repeating the same worn arguments made
by the Cuban government during almost 56 years in order to sweep under
the rug its own errors, economic failures, misguided adventures,
blunders, etc., which have resulted in the prolonged political, economic
and social crisis that Cuba endures.

It is true that artists, sports figures, doctors and many other
professionals seize the slightest opportunity to leave the country in
search of better living conditions. The majority of our youth do this,
too. But this does not occur only because North American government
policies offers them incentives them do do so.

Rather, it is the terrible situation in their country: no housing,
miserable salaries — even after raises — and, what's worse, no real
opportunities for bettering their circumstances. Every human being has
but one life to live, and it cannot be squandered believing in outdated
lectures about the future — always about the future — when what is truly
important is the present. This is a concept that apparently eludes the
editorial writer.

What's more, if we truly look at reality, only a portion of Cuba's
medical missions abroad are provided freely. The majority are paid-for
by the governments of countries that benefit — a juicy business for the
Cuban authorities, who even describe them as better revenue-generators
than sugar harvests because they provide greater sums of foreign
currency. Between 60 and 75 per cent of the total salary payments made
by these governments for the services of Cuban doctors remain in the
hands of the State, which then apportions the remainder as wages — and
even that comes not entirely as hard cash, but rather as rights for
obtaining housing or consumer goods, at the artificially high prices set
by the State. Something similar happens with artists and sports figures
working abroad.

In any event, although many of these professionals leave the country,
the Cuban authorities never lose. This is because after the emigres
settle in other countries, they begin sending monetary remittances to
their relatives, who then spend them primarily in government
establishments where the prices are set high, the stated objective being
to maximize the collection of foreign currency.

The editorials will continue and the official Cuban press will go on
reprinting them in their entirety, down to the last comma and period. It
would be helpful if those who influence public policy and public
opinion, whether from the inside or the outside, would not allow
themselves to be misled.

Nobody is against change, and even less so if such change were to lead
to the restoration of normal relations between the governments. However,
this cannot be achieved on the backs of the Cuban people without their
true and complete participation.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

21 November 2014

Source: An Epidemic of Editorials / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba -

Kill, Already, If You Are Going to Kill

Kill, Already, If You Are Going to Kill / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Posted on November 25, 2014

Cuban State Security — that is, the Castroist assassins of the State —
just as in Havana, have not ceased from monitoring and stigmatizing me
for even one minute since I have been in the US.

It is the sole legacy of a dictatorship that from its inception
disintegrated our nation in an irreversible manner.

But we Cubans are free. But we Cubans do not fear Evil. Castro has no
more Cubans left. And now we are going to relaunch another country,
another Cuba with no traces of Castroism, be it on the Island or in some
other spot. There are plans. It is enough to merely awaken the political
imagination, to break the bonds of our thinking that the dictatorship is
the dictatorship.

And the page of Castroism will remain congealed as a sort of North Korea
of the Caribbean, barbaric, abusive, unnecessary.

There will be another Havana, Brothers and Sisters.

Our children will be handsome, gorgeous and free. Never will they know
the horror of so many generations destroyed by the person of Fidel and
his blackmailed and salaried agents, as well as those already thirsting
for lives that are whole, and the hopes of living them. Castroism is a
criminal habit.

A Cuba will come that manifests permanent values: Good, Beauty, Truth,
Kindness, Love — that which comes easily, which is common, which is natural.

If the assassins of visionaries do not permit me to arrive alive on that
shore, there will be another Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo who will love all
free Cuban men and women as much as I love them.

Castroism's crimes are numbered.

Cubansummatum est!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 November 2014

Source: Kill, Already, If You Are Going to Kill / Orlando Luis Pardo
Lazo | Translating Cuba -

The Nation or Marabou

The Nation or Marabou / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez
Posted on November 25, 2014

14ymedio,ELVIRA FERNANDEZ, Ciego de Ávila, 21 November 2014 – Seven
years after Raul Castro, in a speech, criticized the spread of the
marabou weed, this thorny plant continues to gain prominence in our
fields. On that occasion, marking the 26th of July, the General said,
"Arriving here by land I was able to see if everything is green and
beautiful, but the most beautiful, which I could confirm with my own
eyes, was how beautiful the marabou weed is all along the entire
highway." Today he could repeat these identical words.

The invasion of what is scientifically known as Dichrostachys cinerea
has set off all the alarms. In the middle of the country, its dominion
extends across the planes that once served to cultivate cane, the
planting of vegetables, or the pasturing of cattle. Nothing is safe from
its dense thorny bushes that defy the most intrepid peasants.

Two months ago a troop of men was gathered in Ciego de Avila, armed with
rustic tools to fight the marabou weed. The new "Battle of the
Revolution" takes place in very fertile lands, but ones which have
suffered long neglect from their only owner: the State. Thus they now
are drowned under the thorns that have led to enormous weedy thickets.

Something more than 400 men, with axes and machetes in hand, have the
arduous mission as their charge. The objective is, that at the end of
2014, all the lands in the upcoming sowing plan will be ready for
planting cane. An undoubtedly difficult task, because of the 50,000
acres needed, 32,000 are greatly affected.

Leaders of the territory have promised that the campaign will be
recorded in history as "The Epic Against Marabou." They are unaware,
perhaps, of all previous attempts to eradicate a plant that was
introduced into our country in the mid-nineteenth century, a plant with
the great capacity to reproduce in our country's climate and natural

The only advantage of the undesirable marabou is its wood – very hard –
which is extremely suitable for firewood, as it burns well and creates
little smoke and ashes. However, its collection for these purposes
requires strict protection for the farmworker who may be subject to
frequent wounds and punctures.

The cost of any collection or eradication of marabou tends to be very
high. However, in the new battle against the plague, begun in the center
of the country, the savings to the State are guaranteed with the
sacrifice of the men who must sweat and bleed, with no right to expect
mechanical reinforcements. The directors of the Sugar Company Group have
clarified that "because of objective economic conditions we can't use
bulldozers in this confrontation."

Those who remember, recall that there was no lack of heavy equipment to
address other initiatives. Among them two campaigns that have indeed
been recorded in history for their disastrous consequences, while
opening the way to any plague that invaded the Cuban countryside. The
first of these was in the 1970s when the forests were bulldozed and
dynamited to sow sugarcane in abundance, with the intention of
satisfying the demand from Communist Europe. More recently, many of the
sugar mills were dismantled and exported piece by piece to the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the cane fields were left to the
mercy of the plagues.

The great results of such "socialist epics" — in addition to villages
and towns left lifeless, dead — is the health enjoyed by the marabou
weed. In their branches is concentrated our economic collapse, in the
abundance of their thorns is the result of the excessive nationalization
of our lands.

Source: The Nation or Marabou / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez | Translating
Cuba -

Elian Gonzalez, 15 Years Later

Elian Gonzalez, 15 Years Later
Jennifer Latson @JennieLatson Nov. 25, 2014

Nov. 25, 1999: Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez, just shy of his 6th
birthday, is rescued off the coast of Florida

Elian Gonzalez' mother was so desperate to escape Cuba and raise her son
in the U.S. that she risked the 90-mile ocean crossing in a rickety
aluminum boat. When it capsized, drowning her and nine others,
5-year-old Elian clung to an inner tube until he was rescued by
fishermen on this day, Nov. 25, in 1999, and later reunited with
relatives in Miami.

Elian's father, meanwhile, wanted to raise his son closer to Castro.
What followed was an international tug-of-war between Elian's father,
Juan Miguel, and the relatives who struggled to keep him in the country
his mother had died trying to reach.

Elian became a poster child for the troubled relationship between Cuba
and the U.S. — and, some said, a pawn in their political posturing. The
drama made headlines because it combined a bitter political divide with
a fundamental parenting question: Is it possible to be both a good
father and a communist.

After more than four months of legal wrangling and a one-on-one meeting
between Juan Miguel and Attorney General Janet Reno, the U.S. government
reluctantly conceded that yes, it was possible. According to a 2000 TIME
story about their meeting, Reno wanted to give Miguel every possible
opportunity to recant: "She wanted to see for herself: Was he really a
loving father — and did he really, truly want to raise his child in a
country where milk is rationed for children over 7 and soldiers drown
citizens who try to flee?"

But Miguel managed to convince her of both his love and his genuine
desire to raise his son in Cuba. Elian's return was a new trauma for the
boy, who had already suffered unthinkable trauma. To get past the crowds
of protesters who surrounded the Miami home where he was staying with
relatives, armed federal agents were sent to forcibly seize the boy.

He was separated not just from his Miami relatives — and a new puppy —
but from an American lifestyle that included unlimited chocolate milk,
trips to Disney World and a growing collection of toys. His relatives
feared that when he returned to Cuba, he would be subjected to
high-pressure political indoctrination. According to the BBC, Cubans
countered that "Elian ha[d] already been indoctrinated in the U.S., and
[was] being turned into a 'toy-obsessed' capitalist."

Back in Cuba, however, he quickly put capitalism behind him. By age 12,
he addressed Fidel Castro as "my dear Grandpa Fidel," according to a
get-well letter he sent the Cuban leader in 2006. At 14, he was inducted
into the Communist Party.

And last year, at age 20, he railed against the American embargo of
Cuba, which he blamed for his mother's death.

"Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic
situation in Cuba," forcing people like his mother to flee, he
proclaimed at a youth rally in Ecuador.

When a CNN reporter at the rally asked Elian what his life had been like
since his repatriation, he answered: "magnificent."

Source: Elian Gonzalez, 15 Years Later | TIME -

Cuba sells medicines and health technology to more than 50 countries

Cuba sells medicines and health technology to more than 50 countries
Published November 25, 2014 EFE

Cuba sells medicines and health technologies to more than 50 countries,
including vaccines, generic medications, equipment and diagnostic
systems, the official daily Juventud Rebelde reported Tuesday.

"About 30 new products from Cuba and a group of generics are being
exported to Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA)
member countries and other nations of Asia, Africa and even Europe,"
said the director of Pharmaceutical Services at the Public Health
Ministry, Victor Faife, in remarks published by the daily.

Figures compiled by state-run "BioCubaFarma," a biotechnology and
pharmaceutical industry group, show that the communist island is
exporting "technologies and diagnostic equipment that allow early
detection of congenital deformities, hereditary illnesses and other

According to the vice president of the group, Gustavo Sierra, Cuba has
factories on several continents and among the key products manufactured
at those facilities are hearing aids and Heberprot-P, a medicine for
treating diabetic ulcers with an eye toward preventing amputations.

The Cuban pharmaceutical industry produces 70 percent of the 888
medications sold in the country, according to official figures.

The newspaper emphasized that the island imports 290 of those medicines
and currently is doing research on 150 of them "to replace the imports." EFE

Source: Cuba sells medicines and health technology to more than 50
countries | Fox News Latino -

Spain urges Cuba to up pace of economic reforms

Spain urges Cuba to up pace of economic reforms
The Associated PressNovember 25, 2014

HAVANA — Spain's foreign minister urged Cuba on Tuesday to accelerate
economic reforms designed to expand private enterprise and attract
foreign investment to the communist-run island.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo's two-day visit to Cuba was
the first by a minister in the Cabinet of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano
Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party has long been critical of Cuba's

Cuba's economic reforms were launched by President Raul Castro in 2010
to kick-start a centrally planned economy starved for cash and hamstrung
by inefficiency. But the country has been slow to unify its currencies
and potential investors have complained of the pace of change, the lack
of supplies and the slowness of what should be simple decisions because
of overlapping government agencies.

"Spain would like to see a more rapid pace to the economic reforms that
give more space for private initiative and foreign investment ... which
advance monetary unification and allow for decentralization," said
Garcia-Margallo, who met Tuesday with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez and Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Garcia-Margallo urged Castro to attend an Ibero-American summit of
Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations to be held in Veracruz, Mexico,
in December. Cuba in recent years has focused on sending officials to
more left-leaning regional summits.

The foreign minister also asked Cuba to allow a group of former
political prisoners to leave the country, something not permitted under
the conditions of their release and the island's migratory laws.

Garcia-Margallo did not say how Cuban officials had responded to his

Source: HAVANA: Spain urges Cuba to up pace of economic reforms | World
| FresnoBee.com -


25 November 2014

by Thomas Leroy

"I started out seven months ago. I have some foreign customers, but most
of them are Cuban. You make more money working for yourself," says
Maykol, a hairdresser in the centre of Havana.

"But it means more responsibilities too. We are not sure what income
we'll have at the end of the month," he warns.

Maykol is one of the 28,000 Cubans that have become self-employed since
the beginning of the year.

According to the latest official figures, almost 500,000 people are now
self-employed in Cuba, which represents an increase of around 3000
people a month.

It is a record figure, but it is still far below the number of state
employees on the island.

This number has, however, been falling since Raúl Castro came to power
in 2008.

According to the annual report of the national trade union centre
Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), there are almost 600,000 fewer
state employees than in 2009.

It is a shift that is not yet over. During the sixth Congress of the
Communist Party of Cuba, the authorities foresaw that 1.8 million people
would move from the public to the private sector.

Four years on and a third of this figure has already been covered,
significantly improving the finances of the state, which now has less
money going out and more coming in, thanks to new income taxes of up to
50 per cent.

Growing liberalisation

Having initially been limited to tourism-related activities, the right
to set up a small business has been extended to retail and more manual
trades, such as farming or plumbing, and now covers large sectors of the

And the population is following. "I make a better living now," says
Fidel, a cobbler with a very critical opinion of the former Líder Máximo.

"Under Fidel, we couldn't do anything. We have more freedom now and I
get what I should from my work."

Amongst the Cubans interviewed by Equal Times, the most common reason
given for becoming self-employed was to earn more for the same amount of

"The woman whose terrace I rent for my hair salon is retired and she
only receives a pension of 300 Cuban pesos (US$12) [one of two national
currencies in Cuba] a month," says Maykol. "It is far too little to live
on here. I do much better."

Although he does not want to reveal his exact monthly income, he
explains that a foreigner pays him three Cuban convertible pesos [CUC,
Cuba's other, foreign exchange currency) for a cut, which is US$3.

It is a significant improvement for some, as nominal pay has been
increased by over 100 pesos since 2005. But several economists and
citizens contest the method of calculation.

The CTC reports that the purchasing power of Cubans in terms of real
wages has fallen considerably over the last ten years, due to inflation.
By contrast, the purchasing power of those working with tourists is
rising substantially.

"I can earn up to 500 CUC a month (US$500) with my taxi," says Rudi, who
provides a taxi service between tourist destinations at prices lower
than the cost of travelling by coach.

Home-based restaurants and catering, taxi services and guest houses – in
that order – are the most common activities in the private sector.
Cubans who work as guides, waiters, or rent out motorbikes also make a
good living in comparison to their compatriots.

"Dry feet" and well-heeled

Some did not wait for this liberalisation to make money, but followed a
different path: exile.

"I left in 2008. There were 35 of us in a small boat with two powerful
motors. The sea was rough and we had to stop at an island between Cuba
and Florida, but we got there safe and sound the next day," recalls
Ermel, a proud man in his fifties, showing off his gold chains at Playa
Larga, overlooking the Bay of Pigs.

He went to Florida, home to one and a half million Cubans – three
quarters of the Cuban diaspora.

Every year, around 40,000 Cubans attempt the journey to the United
States, where the wet-foot, dry-foot policy is still in place.

Once on US soil, they have a good chance of receiving one of the 20,000
visas (at minimum) issued to Cubans by lottery every year.

Naturalisation is also relatively straightforward: his wife already has
been given US citizenship and he also expects to have it soon.

Meanwhile, he can come back to the island whenever he likes and
continues to send money to his family from Florida, as many others do.

Although the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they are
difficult to verify, remittances are thought to be Cuba's main source of
hard currency, ahead of tourism.

According to a consulting group specialising in Cuba, remittances
amounted to US$3.5 billion in 2013 alone.

"I have no problem here. I can help my family by giving them money, I
can wear my watch and my jewellery, something I wouldn't dare to do in
Miami." And live the good life, judging by the number of cocktails he
happily treats himself to.

He has already paid off the US$8000 a head for the dangerous sea
crossing. Now he is building up some capital so that, one day, he can
come back to the island, where he son and his sister still live.

"This is where I want to live once I'm retired. It's the most beautiful
place in the world."

"Why did you leave then?" he is asked.

"I earn a gross income of US$3500 a month in the United States, as a
gardener. I could never earn that here," he explains, while rubbing his
gold chain.

Source: Cuba's fast-growing private sector - Equal Times -

Spain asks Cuba to grant free travel to dissidents

Spain asks Cuba to grant free travel to dissidents
HAVANA Tue Nov 25, 2014 5:13pm EST

(Reuters) - Spain's foreign minister asked Cuba on Tuesday to grant free
travel rights to dissidents arrested in the "black spring" of 2003 and
released years later under strict conditions.

Spain mediated historic talks between the Cuban government and the Roman
Catholic Church that freed 75 political opponents in 2010 and 2011. They
had been sentenced in summary trials to terms ranging from 6 to 28 years.

Cuba granted exile to 63 on the condition they be barred from returning,
and most went to Spain. Twelve others who refused to leave jail under
those conditions were released on parole and prohibited from leaving the
Caribbean island.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters at
the conclusion of a two-day visit to Cuba that he requested that the 12
"be authorized to travel outside of Cuba."

"At the same time, I have requested that those released from jail in
2011 on parole who are currently in Spain be authorized to travel to
Cuba," Garcia-Margallo said in a prepared statement and without taking
questions from reporters.

Former President Fidel Castro's crackdown on dissidents in 2003 became
known as the "black spring" and strained Cuban relations with Western
powers. The dissidents were released after Castro became ill and handed
power to his brother Raul Castro, at first provisionally in 2006 and
definitively in 2008.

(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editng by Daniel Trotta and Andre Grenon)

Source: Spain asks Cuba to grant free travel to dissidents | Reuters -

Spain's foreign minister visits Cuba, urges more rapid reforms to expand private enterprise

Spain's foreign minister visits Cuba, urges more rapid reforms to expand
private enterprise
Published November 25, 2014 Associated Press

HAVANA – Spain's foreign minister urged Cuba on Tuesday to accelerate
economic reforms designed to expand private enterprise and attract
foreign investment to the communist-run island.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo's two-day visit to Cuba was
the first by a minister in the Cabinet of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano
Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party has long been critical of Cuba's

Cuba's economic reforms were launched by President Raul Castro in 2010
to kick-start a centrally planned economy starved for cash and hamstrung
by inefficiency. But the country has been slow to unify its currencies
and potential investors have complained of the pace of change, the lack
of supplies and the slowness of what should be simple decisions because
of overlapping government agencies.

"Spain would like to see a more rapid pace to the economic reforms that
give more space for private initiative and foreign investment ... which
advance monetary unification and allow for decentralization," said
Garcia-Margallo, who met Tuesday with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez and Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Garcia-Margallo urged Castro to attend an Ibero-American summit of
Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations to be held in Veracruz, Mexico,
in December. Cuba in recent years has focused on sending officials to
more left-leaning regional summits.

The foreign minister also asked Cuba to allow a group of former
political prisoners to leave the country, something not permitted under
the conditions of their release and the island's migratory laws.

Garcia-Margallo did not say how Cuban officials had responded to his

Source: Spain's foreign minister visits Cuba, urges more rapid reforms
to expand private enterprise | Fox News -

Is Obama contemplating unilateral action on Cuba?

Is Obama contemplating unilateral action on Cuba?
The Spanish foreign minister's recent statement that he would bring
'concrete messages' from the US government to Havana has some
Republicans speculating that President Obama is looking to move further
away from decades-old policy on Cuba.
By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer NOVEMBER 25, 2014
Stringer/ReutersView Caption

WASHINGTON — Is President Obama about to take unilateral steps to ease
US relations with Cuba?

A number of recent developments – from Mr. Obama's recourse to executive
action on immigration to the Spanish foreign minister's enigmatic
statement that he would be carrying "very concrete messages" from the US
government when he visits Havana this week – have some Republicans
fretting that the White House aims to move even further from decades-old
policy of isolating communist Cuba.

Obama last took action on Cuba in 2011, when he eased travel
restrictions on Americans visiting the island. But a year ago in
Florida, he raised eyebrows – and the hopes of supporters about a new US
direction with Cuba – when he spoke of wanting "to continue to update
our policies."

It makes no sense, the president said, to continue with policies from
1961 "in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel."

Some advocates of liberalized relations with Cuba are pressing the
administration for concrete steps before April. That's when Obama is
slated to take part in the Summit of the Americas in Panama, which is
expected to be the first such hemispheric gathering to include Cuba.

In the past, the United States has vetoed Cuba's participation on the
grounds that the gathering is limited to the hemisphere's democracies,
but a number of countries have said they would not attend next year's
summit if Cuba were once again barred.

But supporters of the status quo on relations with Cuba counter that if
the US has stuck with policies from the 1960s – notably an embargo –
it's because the Castro regime that came to power in that era continues
today to deny the Cuban people the democratic governance and human
rights that most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere enjoys.

Last week Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio used a confirmation
hearing for Antony Blinken, Obama's deputy national security adviser and
his choice to become deputy secretary of State, to grill Mr. Blinken
about "chatter" in Washington that Obama intends to make "unilateral
change" on US-Cuba policy.

Ending the embargo would require congressional action, but there are
other steps the president could take to redirect US policy on Cuba.

After several attempts to get Blinken to rule out executive action on
Cuba, Senator Rubio said, "The thing that concerns me is that I haven't
heard you say point-blank that, absent democratic openings, we're not
going to see actions on the part of this administration to weaken the
current embargo and sanctions on Cuba."

In response, Blinken said Obama has ideas on how to "help Cuba move in a
democratic direction," and he added, "If [Obama] has an opportunity, I'm
sure that's something he would want to pursue." But he emphasized that
"it depends on Cuba and the actions that they take."

One action the administration is looking for is the release of US aid
worker Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009
for bringing satellite phones and computer equipment into Cuba without a
permit. Mr. Gross was handed a 15-year sentence in 2011 after being
found guilty of "acts against the state" for his role in US efforts to
set up a communications network in Cuba free of government control.

Speculation has swirled in Washington over the past week that the
Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, could be
delivering to officials in Havana this week a list of actions the US
could take if the impediment of Gross's incarceration were out of the way.

On Monday at the State Department, spokesman Jeff Rathke was asked at
the daily press briefing what Mr. García-Margallo was referring to when
he spoke of having "very concrete messages" from the US government to
take to Cuban officials.

"I have nothing to confirm about that," Mr. Rathke responded.

Source: Is Obama contemplating unilateral action on Cuba? -
CSMonitor.com -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Activists denounce acts of repudiation during a child’s birthday party

Activists denounce acts of repudiation during a child's birthday party /
Posted on November 25, 2014

14ymedio, Manzanillo, 22 November 2014 – This morning several activists
reported an act of repudiation against the members of the Community
Network of Journalists and Communicators in the eastern city of Manzanillo.

According to the testimony of those whom this newspaper had access,
Leonardo Cancio had organized a celebration in his home for a
six-year-old niece and invited his colleagues from the Network. From the
previous day, there were several women surrounding the house, whom the
activists said were summoned by State Security, to communicate that they
would not allow "a party for children organized by the
counterrevolution," and they also visited the homes of neighbors to warn
them not to send their children to such an activity.

Since the early hours a crowd, estimated by the Network to be some three
hundred people, surrounded Cancio's house to block access to the guests.
However, some activists like Tania de la Torre, accompanied her daughter
and granddaughter, had managed to arrive well in advance. De la Torre
explained that "the State Security agents names Alexis and Julio" on
seeing them leave the house, "pushed us into the crowd" where they were
beaten and threatened with future retaliation.

In statements given to 14ymedio by Martha Beatriz Roque, leader of this
group of independent journalists, the dissident commented that, "this is
the Cuba that the Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo is coming to visit,
where human rights are trampled without consideration."

Source: Activists denounce acts of repudiation during a child's birthday
party / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana

Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 24, 2014

Just as with most successful businesses in Cuba, the owners of Leyenda
Habana, an elegant restaurant in El Cerro, surrounded by ranch houses,
are white.

Two miles to the east of Leyenda Habana, in the poor and mostly black
neighbourhood of San Leopoldo, the iconic private La Guarida restaurant,
where US congressmen and the Queen of Spain have dined, also has a white
proprietor. And, unless something has changed, the chef is black.

I invite you to visit glamorous bars like El Encuentro in Linea and L,
Vedado: Shangrilá, in Playa, or El Slopy's in Vibora Park, very near to
La Palma; central crossroads in Arroyo Naranjo.

Apart from being comfortable and with efficient service, the common
denominator is that the owners are white. Black people work in the
kitchen, or, if they are very qualified, and look good, they dispense
daiquiris and mojitos behind the bar.

The waitresses usually are white, young girls with beautiful faces and
spectacular bodies. Could be pale-skinned mulattas who spend a fortune
on straightening their hair to be similar to many white women.

The owners of rental properties with swimming pools or luxury apartments
are also white. Or the owners of fleets of American cars and jeeps from
the 40's and 50's, fitted with modern diesel engines, used as private
taxis in Havana.

Ignacio, who has sun-tanned white skin, owns six automobiles and three
Willys jeeps, made sixty years ago in the Detroit factories. Every day
he turns over 600 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

"Part of the money I invest in gasoline and in maintenance of the cars.
I make juicy profits, but my business is in a judicial limbo as it is
not something envisaged in the self-employment regulations. For the
moment, the government lets us do it," he indicated while he drinks a
German beer.

When you ask him why it is that in the most successful private
businesses, 90% of the owners are white, he replies: "Several reasons,
ranging from subtle or open racism on the part of many business people,
to economic reality, in that black Cubans are the ones with the lowest
standard of living and receive fewer remittances from family abroad."

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that not all of the blame for negroes
and mestizos not occupying prominent positions in private businesses can
be attributed to the Fidel Castro regime.

"This is a long-running story. When in 1886 they abolished slavery in
Cuba, the negroes and mestizos started off at a disadvantage. They
didn't have property, knowledge or money to invest in businesses. They
moved from being slaves to wage earners. They gained prestige and a
better position in society by way of sport, music and manual trades."

According to the sociologist, "The Revolution involved the negroes in
the process, dressing them up in olive green and sending them to risk
their lives in African wars. But in key positions in the economy,
politics or audiovisual media, there was an obvious white supremacy."

For Orestes, an economist, "We cannot overlook the detail that 80% of
the Cubans who have done well in exile are whites. The first wave of
emigrants to Florida were educated white people, nearly all business
people with capital. And those who left without money, thanks to their
knowledge and hard work, moved forward and triumphed in the US society.

And he adds that, in the subsequent waves in 1965, 1980 and 1994, there
was a larger percentage of negroes and mestizos, but they were
ill-prepared and they worked in poorly paid jobs in the United States.
"And because of that, they sent less money to their poor families in
Cuba," the economist explained.

The situation was capable of change. Now, dozens of sportsmen, mulattos
and negroes, play abroad and some earn six figure salaries.

Although José Dariel Abreu, who plays for the Chicago White Sox and
earns $68 million over seven years, in theory cannot invest one cent in
Cuba, because of the embargo laws, one way or another, thousands of
dollars get to his relations in the island and they are able to open
small businesses in their provinces.

In spite of the fact that the majority of the owners of currently
successful businesses in the capital are white, reggaeton singers, jazz
players, musicians who commute between Cuba, the United States and
Europe, have opened businesses or have provided finance for their family

The reggaeton performer Alexander, the write Leonardo Padura or the
volleyball player Mireya Luis, among others, have opened bars,
restaurants and private cafes with part of their earning in hard money.

But they are the few. Most of the negroes or mestizos who have permits
to work for themselves, work twelve hours filling matchboxes, repairing
shoes or open up a small shop in the the entrance to their house, with
no grand pretensions, trying to earn 200 or 300 pesos a day.

Nearly always the competition from white people with bigger wallets
gobble up the self-employed negroes or mulattos. Leonardo, a negro
resident in La Vibora, in 2010 put up a jerry-built stall made of sheet
metal painted ochre in the garden of his house.

"Things went well. Until in the corner, by the house, a relation of a
general opened a modern, well-stocked cafeteria. From then on, my
earnings have collapsed. I am thinking of closing," he says. The owner
and employees of the business competing with Leonardo are white.

Although in this case, the advantage didn't lie in skin colour. Because
in Cuba, if, apart from having money, you have a relative who has the
medals of a general, that will open many doors. Including those which
should remain shut.

Iván García

Translated by GH

13 September 2014

Source: Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -

Spanish foreign minister - Visit to Cuba is going "well"

Spanish foreign minister: Visit to Cuba is going "well"
Published November 24, 2014 EFE

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Monday that
his first official visit to Cuba "is going well," after meeting with
Cuban authorities and speaking with them about the state of Spain-Cuba
relations and relations between Cuba and the European Union.

"The visit is going well, how could it be otherwise? ... We've talked
about cooperation projects and we're speaking, as is natural, with Cuban
political authorities," said Garcia-Margallo in a brief appearance
before the media after heading a conference on the Spanish transition
from dictatorship to democracy.

The head of Spain's diplomatic corps on his first day of meetings in
Cuba held discussions with Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and
with State Council Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas.

In his discussion of Spain's transition to democracy, during which he
made no comparison with Cuba's situation, Garcia-Margallo said that "one
of the wise decisions" made during the process was that "first the
freedoms of association and expression were recovered and after that the
right to vote."

"These freedoms exercised during the year-and-a-half prior to the first
democratic elections of 1977 facilitated a national exchange of opinions
and a mature public opinion was created that went to vote with full
awareness," said the foreign minister.

Garcia-Margallo said that the keys that made Spain's transition to
democracy possible were respect for legality, consensus and the common
desire to avoid confrontation in the pursuit of agreement.

He also emphasized the importance of the 1977 amnesty as one of the
factors that contributed most toward clearing the way for the
promulgation of the 1978 Constitution.

Garcia-Margallo's official visit will continue on Tuesday with a meeting
with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, and he is also scheduled to
be received by President Raul Castro.

He also said he would meet with Spaniards who live in Cuba, whose
numbers will increase "from 40,000 to 400,000" with the Historical
Memory Law that will grant Spanish citizenship to the grandchildren of
Spaniards who emigrated to Cuba. EFE

Source: Spanish foreign minister: Visit to Cuba is going "well" | Fox
News Latino -

Bringing ‘Rent’ to Cuba

Bringing 'Rent' to Cuba

Havana once had a thriving musical theater tradition, but since the
revolution of 1959, fully staged shows have been rare in Cuba, and
Broadway hits have been entirely absent. But that may be changing.

In June, the British director Christopher Renshaw tested the waters with
a workshop production of "Carmen Jones," Oscar Hammerstein II's 1943
adaptation of Bizet's "Carmen," with a Cuban cast and an updated,
salsa-tinged score.

That experiment helped revive a taste for Broadway musicals in Cuba, and
now Havana is about to have its first full-fledged production in more
than half a century: Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment announced on
Monday that it will stage Jonathan Larson's "Rent" – a work that, like
"Carmen Jones," has its roots in opera (the Puccini classic "La
Bohème"). The production opens on Christmas Eve, and is expected to run
for three months at the Bertolt Brecht Theater.

The staging, a collaboration with the Cuban National Council of
Performing Arts, will be directed by Andy Señor Jr., who made his
professional debut playing Angel in the Broadway production of "Rent,"
and later became the assistant director to Michael Greif, the work's
original director, in an Off Broadway revival of the work. The work will
be performed in Spanish with a cast of 15 Cuban actors.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Nexus

The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Nexus
The West underestimates the growing threat from radical Islam in the
Nov. 23, 2014 5:11 p.m. ET
Oranjestad, Aruba

Regular readers of this column will remember that in July the U.S. asked
local officials here to arrest Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal and to
extradite him on suspicion of drug trafficking with Colombian
guerrillas. He was detained but the Netherlands stepped in, refused the
extradition request and let him go.

The general had been sent here to become Venezuelan consul and spread
Bolivarian propaganda. He would have been an important intelligence grab
for the U.S. So it wasn't too surprising that Venezuelan foreign
minister Elias Jaua and Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan strongman
Nicolás Maduro, celebrated the Dutch decision by meeting his plane when
he returned to Caracas.

The third person in the high-level greeting party at the airport—the
governor of the state of Aragua, Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah—seemed
out of place because he is not in the national government. That is until
you consider his résumé: One part master of Middle-Eastern networking,
one part honorary Cuban revolutionary, and one part highly ambitious
chavista, Mr. El Aissami is a dream come true for Tehran and Havana.
That makes him a powerful man in Venezuela.

Tareck El Aissami Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Although President Obama is being lobbied by left-wing activists to
change U.S.-Cuba policy before the next Summit of the Americas in Panama
in April, his options are limited by laws that require congressional
action to change. But one important decision in his hands is whether to
remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of
terrorism. Before the president does that, Americans ought to learn
about allegations by a regional security analyst of Cuba-supported work
by Mr. El Aissami on behalf of radical Islam.

The West is well aware of the growing presence of Islamic fundamentalism
in the Americas, but policy makers may be underestimating the threat.
Joseph Humire is a security analyst and co-editor of "Iran's Strategic
Penetration of Latin America," a book published earlier this year. In an
interview in New York last week, Mr. Humire described Iran's significant
progress, over three decades, in setting up operations in the region.

The earliest stages of the process have featured clandestine operatives
using mosques to make connections inside Muslim communities and then
using those connections to access wealth and gain political prominence.
Where these initial forays have been successful, says Mr. Humire, Iran
has opened embassies and established commercial agreements that allow
operatives to create businesses, which can be used as fronts for covert

In Venezuela and Bolivia, Iran has moved to the next level, developing a
military presence through joint ventures in defense industries. In
Venezuela, the state of Aragua, where Mr. El Aissami is now governor, is
ground zero for this activity.

Havana applauds this Islamic intervention. Since the rise of chavismo,
Cuba has supplied intelligence services to Venezuela and its regional
allies, notably Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. Mr. Humire says it has
also supplied passport-information technology to allow these countries
to process individuals from the Middle East, hand out new documents and
maintain the secrecy of true identities. Cuba has used this capacity to
exchange information with like-minded nations, including Russia and Iran.

Raised in Venezuela by a Lebanese-born Muslim father and mentored in the
"Utopia 78" left-wing student movement at the University of the Andes,
he was Venezuela's interior minister from 2008-12. According to a June
2014 paper from the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society,
where Mr. Humire is executive director, "regional intelligence
officials" believe that Mr. El Aissami's office used information
technology developed by Cuban state security to give some 173
individuals from the Middle East new Venezuelan identities that are
extremely difficult to trace.

The paper, "Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Threat of Iran,
Venezuela and Cuba," says that regional intelligence officials believe
that "of the more notable persons of interest" who received false papers
from Caracas was Suleiman Ghani Abdul Waked, an important member of
Lebanese Hezbollah. The same paper, citing interviews with unnamed Latin
American intelligence officials, says Mr. El Aissami has built "a
criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela
and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds from Latin America
to the Middle East." Mr. Humire told me the Venezuelan government
dismissed the report as U.S. propaganda.

Mr. El Aissami's Aragua state is where Parchin Chemical Industries (PCI)
and Qods Aviation, two Iranian military-owned companies, have joint
ventures with Venezuela's military industry, according to "Iran's
Strategic Penetration of Latin America." PCI is a maker of explosives,
ammunition and rocket propellant for missiles. Qods is a maker of
unmanned aerial vehicles. Both companies have been sanctioned by the
U.N. Security Council under Resolution 1747.

The chapter written by Mr. Humire says Havana is now "trying to clear
its debt to Iran" in order to receive economic assistance from Tehran.
This aid will doubtless be conditioned on greater Iranian access to
nations under Cuban influence, including Venezuela, he says. They will
likely turn to Mr. El Aissami for help.

Write to O'Grady@wsj.com.

Source: Mary Anastasia O'Grady: The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Nexus - WSJ -

Spain to relay "very concrete messages" from U.S. to Cuba, daily reports

Spain to relay "very concrete messages" from U.S. to Cuba, daily reports
Published November 23, 2014 EFE

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo will travel from
Bogota to Havana on Sunday bearing "very concrete messages" for the
Cuban government from the U.S. administration, the daily El Pais reported.

In its Sunday edition, the Spanish newspaper, citing diplomatic sources,
emphasized the "very fluid communication" between Garcia-Margallo and
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Although the sources did not reveal what the U.S. message or messages
might be, the daily added that Garcia-Margallo could be tasked with
transmitting to Cuba a missive related to the Summit of the Americas,
which will be held in April in Panama.

Cuban President Raul Castro was invited to that summit for the first
time after, at the most recent of those periodic gatherings, held in
Cartagena, Colombia, in 2012, several Latin American countries including
Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, had warned that they would not attend
the Panama conference if Cuba were not present.

Before leaving Spain for Colombia, last Thursday the Spanish minister
said that the Ibero-American Summit in Veracruz, Mexico, which will be
held in early December, "is going to revolutionize" relations with Latin
America and that Cuba "is going to participate" for the first time in
the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

He noted, moreover, that from the international point of view the
situation had changed because the stance of the European Union vis-a-vis
Havana had shifted to provide the possibility of exploring an
association agreement including clauses pertaining to defense of human
rights on the communist island.

"When circumstances change, it's obvious that relations have to change,"
he said.

Garcia-Margallo is the first member of the government of Mariano Rajoy
to visit the Caribbean island, where, the daily reported, he is
scheduled to meet with officials involved in the negotiations between
the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
guerrillas, or FARC, which have been under way in Havana since November

Those talks have been suspended by Colombian President Juan Manuel
Santos until the FARC releases several hostages, including Gen. Ruben
Dario Alzate, three other soldiers and a civilian. EFE

Source: Spain to relay "very concrete messages" from U.S. to Cuba, daily
reports | Fox News Latino -

Visiting Communist Cuba beguiling, bedeviled with problems

Visiting Communist Cuba beguiling, bedeviled with problems
22 hours ago • By JEANNE BAER / For the Lincoln Journal Star4

Only 93 miles, the distance from Lincoln to Grand Island, separate the
United States from "the great unknown" floating in the Caribbean -- the
mysterious island of Cuba.

Cuba is not so mysterious to Canadians and Europeans; several million of
them flock there each year to play golf, frolic on the beaches, gulp
mojitos, savor authentic ropa vieja, salsa-dance the night away …
basically to enjoy all this sun-drenched country has to offer.

But to most Americans, Cuba is simply a big Communist question mark.
That's because, until recently, it's been off-limits to us, except in
special cases.

A couple of years after Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries
overthrew Batista's dictatorship (1959), Cuba began expropriating
everything that the U.S. had built or bought since the turn of the
century -- sugar mills; petroleum interests; telephone, electricity and
insurance companies; hotels; casinos; and banks. Some put the value of
this colossal property grab at $7 billion in 2014 dollars.

In short, what had been a fairy-tale marriage between Cuba and the U.S.
in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, turned into an acrimonious,
winner-takes-all, divorce. And who could blame the U.S. for slapping a
trade embargo on Cuba in 1962?

In the half-century between then and now, the strength of the embargo
has ebbed and flowed. Most of that time, the only approved travel to
Cuba has been for academic, medical, religious and humanitarian
missions. Nonapproved Americans (who could and still can reach Cuba by
flying from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean) may face a fine of several
thousand dollars and/or criminal prosecution, for contributing tourism
dollars to the regime.

But although vacation activities like golfing and scuba diving are still
off-limits to Americans, we now legally can travel there to build
bridges of goodwill. In 2011, the Obama administration began allowing
U.S. citizens to take guided tours designed to encourage interaction
with locals and an understanding of Cuba's culture.

That's fine with me; a people-to-people tour is my idea of the perfect
vacation. As a part-time documentary photographer with photgenic hopes
and dreams, I relished the opportunity to interact with "real" people,
whether they are schoolchildren, farmers, artists, Santeria priests,
professional dancers or cab drivers.

I was fortunate enough to spend a week in and around Havana last April
with 13 other photographers from all over the U.S. I did one double-take
after another, as I tried to reconcile Cuba's juxtapositions: The lush
tropical beauty and the deterioration of its architecture; Cuba's
joyful, resourceful people and the repressive government that keeps them
from fulfilling their potential.

But through the trip's greatness and grimness, every hour was fascinating.

At this point, about 100,000 Americans annually are exploring Cuba
through these people-to-people tours. If you go, here's a small sampling
of what you may see.

A rich diversity of architecture styles. For a century, Havana was
spectacularly wealthy and has the architecture to prove it. In the
cities, you'll see buildings designed in Spanish colonial styles --
often with Moorish touches -- of the 15th and 16th centuries, Cuban
baroque, neoclassical, art nouveau, art deco and all sorts of eclectic
styles with international influences.

The bad news is that due to their age, plus salt spray, humidity,
termites, hurricanes and overcrowding, they are crumbling. Seven out of
every 10 houses need major repairs, according to official statistics.
Some 7 percent of housing in Havana has formally been declared
uninhabitable, yet people still inhabit it. The good news is that
finally the government is beginning to restore some of these
once-elegant structures (especially in the tourist-frequented areas,
naturally enough).

Scores of classic cars from the 1940s and '50s, confiscated from their
American owners after the Cuban revolution. Although Cubans can't get
U.S. parts to maintain them, most have managed to keep them running with
the help of coat hanger wire, duct tape, super glue… who knows? But the
considerable expense of restoring these vintage beauties is a good
investment; a cab driver in one of these popular vehicles makes more
than a doctor in Cuba, due to the tips he gets. (One of my favorite
experiences was riding around Havana in Hemingway's own bright yellow
1957 Plymouth Star Chief.)

A ballet school. The one we toured is to prepare dancers for the
National Ballet of Cuba. Once a mansion, the school has also been a
hospital and before that, the U.S. Army Cavalry HQ during the
Spanish-American war. It's depressingly run-down, but its young dancers
are hopeful and hardworking. Cuban dancers are coveted worldwide for
their discipline and skills, and thus, when dancers defect while touring
out of the country, getting a new dancing job is not difficult. (Last
year six dancers defected when the National Ballet was touring in Puerto

A tobacco farm. The Vinales Valley is home to some of the richest
tobacco-farming land in the world. The area is also famous for its
mojotes, giant limestone outcrops that dwarf the curing barns and little
"creole cottage" houses of the farmers. It was fascinating to learn how
tobacco is carefully grown, cured, processed and, finally, lovingly
hand-crafted into a cigar through a complex combination of artistry and
skill. I no longer think that $50 is an outlandish price for a premium
cigar, all things considered.

In rural areas, you'll see some rusty farm equipment putt-putting along,
but most of the work is done by horses and oxen. I spent some time
photographing one field where the farmer was planting corn by
broadcasting it – something we haven't done in this country for centuries.

An artist's studio, cooperative, or community project. Like many tours,
ours stopped at the home of Jose Fuster, a ceramicist who has slathered
his entire neighborhood with mosaics. His own property is a labyrinth of
whimsical, bright-colored mosaic sculptures and includes a gift shop and
lunch spot for tourists. Capitalism has found a home in Cuba and is
encouraged by the government, in some cases.

So much more. You may dine at the famous Hotel Nacional (home of
big-boss mafia meetings in the '50s) or stroll through the world-famous
Colon Cemetery with its blindingly white marble statues. You may visit
an orphanage or Ernest Hemingway's home, or even a Santeria house with
its altars to Catholic saints, African deities and Cuban revolutionary
heroes. One of my favorite subjects was Namibia, a powerful athlete who
is Cuba's only woman boxer -- amazing. Another was a baseball game with
players from a church league (only recently allowed), wearing uniforms
donated by an American Legion team from Sedalia, Missouri.

Every Cuban we met was friendly, helpful and seemed sincerely glad we
were there. Although Cubans may seem exotic to Americans, we are not a
novelty to them; most have friends and/or relatives in the U.S., and our
radio and TV signals reach Cuba loud and clear.

In short, I have been fortunate enough to visit 30 countries, but found
Cuba the most interesting.

Jeanne Baer is an author and speaker who has owned Creative Training
Solutions for 24 years. But her lifelong passion has been photographing
people around the world and telling their stories.

If you go

* "People to people" tours are available from more than 100 licensed
travel companies at this point. A few of the best and most reputable are
found at abc-charters.com, destinationcuba.com, roadscholar.org and
authenticubatours.com. This last company offers many special-interest
tours, so if you'd like to focus on photography, dancing, art, jazz,
baseball, nature or many other topics, they've probably got a tour to
fit your interests. And often these specialized tours are smaller than
the more general tours are.

* Cuba is expensive, especially compared to the rest of Latin America. A
weeklong tour almost always costs around $5,000 per person. That
includes the flight from Miami, good-to-great hotels, most meals and
transportation and guided tours every day. So if you find a tour
advertised for much less, it may not include these things.

* Cuba hosts many festivals throughout the year, so you might want to
build your trip around one, but it's fascinating all year 'round.
Remember that the climate is like southern Florida, only even hotter and
more humid. Go when it's cold in Nebraska, so you can appreciate the heat!

Source: Visiting Communist Cuba beguiling, bedeviled with problems : The
(402)/411 -

Bay of Pigs Vet, Families Seek Billions From Cuba

Bay of Pigs Vet, Families Seek Billions From Cuba
MIAMI — Nov 23, 2014, 11:12 AM ET
By CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs Writer

Since the day in 1959 that Cuban government agents blackmailed his
father into committing suicide, Gustavo Villoldo has been on an
anti-Castro mission that included co-piloting a B-26 bomber during the
ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, infiltrating Cuba for the CIA
numerous times and tracking down Fidel Castro lieutenant Ernesto "Che"
Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.

Now, at age 78, Villoldo is fresh off another clash with the Cuban
government, this time with a tentative success: He and family members of
other two men ? American Bobby Fuller and Cuban Aldo Vera ? each won
separate lawsuits in Florida seeking billions of dollars in damages
combined from the Cuban government, which defaulted after never
responding to the lawsuits.

"Money to me in this case, it doesn't mean anything. My family tragedy
is sacred ground," Villoldo said in a recent interview. "I am continuing
to fight Castro in a different arena."

The fight now, though, is less with Cuba than it is with the banks where
the U.S. Treasury froze Cuban government assets that the families now
want to seize. The banks are resisting turning the money over, insisting
the U.S. families have yet to prove they should be allowed to seize it.

Earlier this year, Manhattan U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled
that the Florida decisions must be honored as attorneys for Villoldo and
the others try to get at accounts with ties to Cuba held by the 19
banks, including Bank of America, Barclays Bank, Citibank, Wells Fargo
and JPMorgan Chase.

"The judgments granted by the Florida circuit court in favor of the
plaintiffs and against Cuba are entitled to full faith and credit,"
Hellerstein wrote in an Aug. 22 order.

At stake is as much as $3.5 billion; the families have agreed to share
any proceeds they get out of the New York accounts.

Villoldo attorney Andrew Hall, who previously represented Watergate
figure John Erlichman and families of sailors killed in the USS Cole
terror attack, said the Hellerstein ruling was a watershed moment in the
case. The exact contents of the accounts and the account holders are
sealed by court order, and the legal question now involves whether the
money truly belongs to Cuba.

"That's the battle: Is this Cuba's money or is this someone else's
money?" Hall said. "This is the green light that opens the door for us."

In a nutshell, the money was halted by the Treasury Department as it
passed back and forth electronically through the New York banks between
entities in Cuba and banks in other countries overseas.

Based on the rulings so far, Hall estimated more than $20 million could
be paid out by the banks within the next six months. Another $20 million
to $40 million, he said, could be obtained depending on upcoming legal
decisions on precisely when an electronic funds transfer, or EFT, should
be considered Cuban property that could be seized.

In October, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EFTs were
subject to seizure only if Cuba itself, or a state-owned entity,
transmitted the funds directly to the bank. Lawyers on all sides are
still sorting out that decision's impact. An attorney for several big
banks, James Kerr, suggested that no money be turned over to Villoldo
and the other families right away.

Source: Bay of Pigs Vet, Families Seek Billions From Cuba - ABC News -

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects / Rebeca Monzo
Posted on November 22, 2014

In Nuevo Vedado — according to popular opinion one of Havana's best
neighborhoods — something has been happening for several years that
would have been unthinkable in the past: assaults with firearms, knives
and even bare hands. It does not matter who you are; you can be targeted
by criminals even if you have only one CUC to your name. Recently, this
happened to a friend of mine, who carelessly answered a call on her
cell phone one night. She was attacked, jabbed in the buttocks and
stripped of all her belongings by some youths who could not have been
more than sixteen-years-old.

Two weeks ago all the outdoor furniture at a house in a neighborhood
just outside Herradura was stolen. The owners — an elderly man in his
eighties and his daughter, who was at work at the time — filed a report
at their local police station.

A few days after filing the report, the man, who stays home all day — a
fact known to his neighbors and friends as well as to the robbers —
received a visit from a uniformed police officer. Once inside the house,
the officer told the victim that the robbers had been apprehended but
that the police were unable to recover the stolen items and gave him a
form to sign stating that he was being giving 3,000 CUCs in
compensation. The man in question then signed the form and was handed a
roll of bills by the officer, who immediately left the premises. Once
alone, the man began calmly counting the money and was astonished to
find there were only 2,000 CUCs.

How is it possible for an officer of the law, acting on his own, to show
up and settle the criminal's debts without a trial being carried out, a
sentence being handed down, and the amount and means of compensation
being determined by a magistrate?

Could it be that, out of fear of being discovered or a desire to protect
a close family member, the officer decided to handle things himself and
in the process stiff the victim?

This remains an open question.

21 November 2014

Source: The Usual Suspects / Rebeca Monzo | Translating Cuba -

What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana?

What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel
Posted on November 22, 2014

14ymedio, Victor Ariel González, Havana, 18 November 2014 — I have spent
several days trying to digest the mass of information coming out of the
first TEDxHavana, where I was present as just another spectator.
However, no matter how much I ruminate on it, I just can't seem to
swallow it. So before it gets too old, I must write this article,
especially before its content becomes more toxic — because the more I
consider the issue, the uglier I find it, and the worse I make it out to be.

To give the reader the opportunity to escape from this article early on,
I will break the ice now with a phrase that sums up my general
impression: the first TEDxHavana was, in essence, a fiasco. I don't call
it a disappointment, only because it is not surprising that in Cuba it
is possible to distort the proper concept behind such an event. In the
final analysis, more important and lasting things have been spoiled than
the five hours of TEDx in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre.

Paradoxically, if each presentation is considered separately, it can be
said that there were more positive aspects to the event than negative
ones. The diversity of topics discussed lent comprehensiveness to the
program, although I still did not encounter Cubans there willing to say
anything truly daring. On a personal note, I found interesting the
presentations by Yudivián Almeida, X Alfonso and Natalia Bolívar, not to
mention others that also shone, for the most part.

Nonetheless, there were various elements that detracted greatly from the
proceedings. As the hours went by and it became evident that there would
not be much more to the event, it was obvious that the plurality of
discourse was limited to those differences that have been deemed
acceptable by officialdom — nothing more. Thus, the first TEDxHavana
failed to cross the frontiers of political censure.

Now, going on to the details, some of the talks were quite poor or made
use of quite unfortunate phraseology. One example was when the
architects Claudia Castillo and Orlando Inclán, in a presentation that
they obviously had not rehearsed sufficiently, called the inhabitants of
Havana an "elitist vanguard" because they get around in boteros — taxis
— ("those incredible machines"), or that it is a "luxury" to look in the
eyes of "he who brings the packet" instead of downloading movies from
the Internet. In other words: "It's so cool to be backward!"

According to them, "all Cubans, when they hop aboard a botero, are aware
that they are becoming a statistic." The hushed derisive laughter
emanating from the public seated behind me – who had their peak moment
at the statement, "we invented 'vintage'"– did not cease until those two
inhabitants of a Havana that I don't know, but that intrigues me, left
the stage.

Eugene Jarecki added another bit of fantasy. The documentarian stated,
in English, that Cubans are, above all, proud of their educational and
healthcare systems, and very happy to live here. Of course, the more
than half a million souls who in the past 20 years have emigrated to the
US alone do not count. The same speaker said that he would not like to
see how "savage capitalism" might arrive here and turn us into "just
another Puerto Rico." As he displayed postcards of Cuba such as those
sold to tourists, Jarecki pretended to give me a tour of my own country.

Another North American suggested that there should be many, many
independent film festivals; that "every individual should get a camera
and produce a film" and show it "in his own cinema" or, simply, project
it "onto the largest screen he can find." This was Richard Peña, who
obviously does not know that just very recently a government decree
prohibited private video screens.

If anything tarnished the event, it was also its emcee, supposedly
charged with threading together the various presentations and providing
some dynamism to the endeavor. More than that, Amaury Pérez bestowed
hugs and kisses upon almost everyone who arrived to give a talk. Few
were able to escape his incontinent expressions of affection. As if that
were not enough, we also had to endure his jokes in poor taste.

With all that occurred that Saturday afternoon, I was left with many
unanswered questions because the organizers left no room in the program
for voicing doubts. This was, above all, because neither CuCú Diamantes
nor Andrés Levin wanted to pay any attention to me – first, to keep the
matter under a "low profile" and second, because they wanted to have
pictures taken. Frankly, I, too, would have ignored some nobody who
might suddenly shout the question, "What would it take to be a presenter
here next year?" – the beginner's mistake of an amateur journalist.

The gathering served to market a sweetened image of Cuba, and its misery
as a souvenir; as a forum for some political campaign or other; and,
according to Amaury Pérez, to demonstrate that "yes, there can be
dialogue between Cubans and North Americans." It turns out that some
still need such demonstrations.

TEDx Havana was, among other things, an elite event orchestrated by show
business denizens, as well as an opportunity to sell national beers as
the "modest" price of 2 CUCs (which is 10% of the median monthly
salary). Ingenious idea of the sponsors of this event! If at the next
one these people give a talk titled "How to Cheat the Thirsty" I will
applaud them until I burst.

The fact of a TEDx in Havana does not lack a certain transcendence, in
spite of it all. An architecture student told me that she had not liked
several presentations, but that it was "magical" to see the enormous
sign with its red and white letters, the organization's logo on an
actual stage and not on a screen. Upon the conclusion of that inaugural
gala of TED in Cuba, where a couple of extemporaneous versifiers
improvised a rhyme for "our five heroes, prisoners of the Empire," I ran
into a friend who calls himself a "compulsive consumer of TED Talks" who
confessed, visibly annoyed, that he "expected more from TED in Havana."

May I be honest? I expected nothing more.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana? / 14ymedio,
Victor Ariel Gonzalez | Translating Cuba -

Fees for Americans a sore spot in Cuba travel

Fees for Americans a sore spot in Cuba travel
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: November 23, 2014

TAMPA — The battle for the Cuban charter flight business out of Tampa
International Airport has landed in federal court, exposing what U.S.
citizens must pay the secretive Cuban government for use of Havana's
José Martí International Airport.

The annual total is somewhere between $31 million and $62 million — more
than any other nation pays, said one Cuba analyst — enough to make
critics question whether the fee is covering actual costs or going to
support Cuba's ruling Castro regime.

Tampa International Airport, by comparison, received $14.6 million in
landing fees during 2014 for flights from airlines based in every nation
that lands here.

On a per-flight basis, the same U.S. plane that pays $275 for landing
fees at Tampa International pays up to $24,000 in Havana.

The cost estimates on U.S.-Cuba flights is based on two factors: the
revelation in court documents that landing fees range as high as $148
for each U.S. passenger, coupled with the projection that two-thirds of
the 635,000 Americans traveling to the island nation in 2014 are
destined for the capital city of Havana.

"It is a way to get more money off the U.S. since the U.S. government
blocks it from making money in other ways," said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a
policy analyst for the Cuban government from 1992-94 who now is an
academic in Denver and an advocate for better relations between Cuba and
the U.S.

Lopez-Levy said the U.S. is the only nation in the world that pays such
high fees to land in Havana.

The $148 figure is included in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in
Miami pitting one company that offered flights between Tampa and Cuba
against another.

Miami-based Island Travel & Tours alleges in the suit that Cypress,
California-based Cuba Travel Services sets ticket prices artificially
low to drive out competition, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Island Travel Tours began offering charter flights to Cuba from Tampa in
October 2011. Cuba Travel Services entered the market in December.

In May, Island Travel Tours ceased flights out of Tampa. It continues to
fly to Havana out of Miami.

At that time, in an interview with the Tribune, company President Bill
Hauf blamed saturation of the charter flight industry from Tampa
International Airport to Cuba coupled with predatory pricing by his

Now the court will take up the allegations.

❖ ❖ ❖

In its lawsuit, Island Travel Tours lays out all fees charged to U.S.
citizens traveling to Cuba in an attempt to demonstrate that Cuba
Charter Services undercut prices:

♦$58.90 per passenger in United States passenger fees;

♦$148 per passenger for a José Martí International Airport landing fee;

♦$46 per passenger for a Cuba required medical insurance fee.

The suit says the airplane typically used for such flights is a Boeing
737-800, with a capacity of 162 seats. The rental fee for travel
companies using the aircraft, according to the lawsuit, is $25,608 — for
a per-passenger cost of about $158 on a sold-out flight.

Costs alone, then, adding the Cuban government fees and airplane rental,
amount to about $411 per person, the suit says, not counting an
commission of $30 to $50 per ticket sold through authorized travel agents.

Yet Cuba Charter Services was charging $399 to $529 for round-trip
tickets from Tampa to Havana, according to a survey of prices in
December, the suit says.

For flights next month, Cuba Travel Services is selling tickets at $469
to $529, which includes a travel agent commission of $30 per child and
$50 per adult ticket, according to a check by the Tribune last week.

"Island Travel welcomes fair competition in the marketplace as this
ultimately benefits the flying public," company attorney Richard L.
Richards says in an email to the Tribune.

"Cuba Travel Services is blatantly charging below cost in an unfair
attempt to put competitors out of business. This action is against the
law and public policy for obvious reasons — i.e. once all the
competitors are out of business — then Cuba Travel is free to charge
uncompetitive rates to the detriment of the flying public."

Lisa Zuccato, president of Cuba Charter Services, also responded via
email, saying, "We have always endeavored to provide the best service to
our customers at the lowest possible price."

Zuccato said prices are set based on seasonal demand, competitors'
prices, assigned routes, customer demand and "other economic factors."

"To think that we have engaged in monopolistic activity is absurd," she

Cuba Travel Services would not comment on the fees charged by the Cuban

Another company offering flights from Tampa to Havana, ABC Charters
Inc., was selling tickets for as low as $399, including a $50
commission, according to a price list from April, before the lawsuit was
filed. ABC Charters is not listed in the lawsuit and did not respond to
requests for comment.

ABC is selling tickets to Havana for $449 to $549, which includes
commissions of $30 for children and $50 for adults.

Cuba Travel Services and ABC Charters also offer services to Cienfuegos,
Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago.

❖ ❖ ❖

The $148 figure listed in the lawsuit is consistent with a U.S. charter
company contract for landing rights in Havana obtained by the Tribune.

That is the price charged for adults. The fee for children, according to
the contract, is $100, and the price is lower for group rates — $94 for
adults and $73 for children.

Group rates are charged to those traveling on educational tours under
what are called people-to-people licenses.

Each charter plane must pay fees for a minimum of 60 passengers, the
contract says. Any empty seats needed to reach the minimum of 60 are
charged at the $148 rate.

"All that money goes to the government, who then decides where it is
spent, including military and security forces for surveillance," said
Jim Cason, mayor of Coral Gables, who was chief of the U.S. Interests
Section in Havana from 2002 to 2005. "Anyone who believes otherwise is
very naive."

Landing fees are supposed to help cover the cost to an airport for
maintenance and operations of the runways and terminals, said David
Plavin, a member of the board of directors for Eno Center for
Transportation, an industry think tank based in Washington.

Airports around the world follow a United Nations recommendation to set
fees based on each 1,000 pounds of an aircraft's landing weight.

Tampa International charges $1.49 to $1.577 per 1,000 pounds, depending
on each airline's specific deal.

And Cuba follows that standard for companies from other nations.
Canada's Sunwing Airlines, for example, confirmed it is charged per
1,000 pounds for Havana landings, but CEO Mark Williams would not say
how much.

A Boeing 737-800 has a maximum takeoff weight of 174,200 pounds,
according to the manufacturer's website. At Tampa International, the
plane's landing fee is a maximum of about $275.

That compares with at least $4,380 for same-plane landing in Havana
carrying 60 passengers. A full plane, with $162 passengers, would pay as
much as $23,976.

Cuba Travel Services, defendant in the federal lawsuit, would not reveal
the fees it pays but said they are justified. The reason: The the travel
and trade embargo the U.S. has imposed against Cuba for more than 50
years prevents U.S. companies from placing their own employees in the
Havana airport.

Jobs such as ticketing and baggage must be performed by Cuban citizens,
who are paid by the airport, said Michael Zuccato, general manager of
Cuba Travel Services, husband of CEO Lisa Zuccato.

This doesn't explain the high fees, though, said Mauricio Claver-Carone,
director of the Washington-based U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which
advocates stopping travel between the U.S. and Cuba.

❖ ❖ ❖

The average Cuban, Claver-Carone said, receives pay of just $20 a month
— a number confirmed by Cuba's National Statistics and Information
Bureau website.

"It doesn't take an economist to see that Cuba doesn't need a lot of
money to pay those employees," he said.

But Cuba must also charge extra so it can operate a separate terminal
serving U.S. travelers for security reasons, said Albert A. Fox Jr.,
founder of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.

The U.S., Fox said, has a history of sending people to Cuba to inspire

"The U.S. lands in Terminal 2," he said. "We are the only ones who use
it. All the staff there is designed to screen people coming from the
United States. It costs more money to maintain that type of terminal."

Even this falls short of explaining the high fees for U.S. travelers,
said Lopez-Levy, the former policy analyst for the Cuban government.

"The quality of the service is in fact lower than for the rest of the
world in the other terminals," Lopez-Levy said. "I don't find convincing
the official reasons for the higher landing fee costs charged to the
U.S.-based flights."

One component of the fee Cuba charges U.S. travelers is health insurance
— $46 per passenger, good for the 30-day limit of a travel visa,
according to the contract obtained by the Tribune.

Because of the U.S. embargo, no U.S. health insurance is accepted in Cuba.

The Cuban policy covers up to $25,000 in medical fees for emergencies,
according to a copy provided the Tribune by Suzanne Carlson, president
of Tarpon Springs-based Carlson Maritime Travel, which arranges trips to

Governments other than Cuba's charge higher fees to passengers from
certain nations, said Plavin of the travel industry's Eno Center.

"It happens in the Middle East and other parts of Latin America," he
said. "Typically a fee that has nothing to do with operational costs of
an airport and everything to do with politics would be buried in ticket
prices, and usually no one notices unless it is leaked publicly."

Cuba might even charge different fees to different U.S. charter
companies, said Cason, the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in

"There is a tremendous amount of bribery in all of this," Cason said.
"If someone offered Cuba money for lower rates, they would take it. The
system is totally open to corruption."

Cuba needs to rethink its fees to encourage more travel between the
countries, said Lopez-Levy, the former policy analyst for the Cuban

"I am a believer, for the relations to improve between the countries we
need more Americans to visit Cuba," he said. "Lower ticket prices would
mean more could afford to go."


Source: Fees for Americans a sore spot in Cuba travel | TBO.com, The
Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times -

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shadow Market

Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on November 21, 2014

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the
doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of
sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly
known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that
can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice:
"Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne."

Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles,
as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their
step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait.
Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a
stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat
the inspectors and the police.

They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being
detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines
for "hoarding." The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur
debts because they get the merchandise from a "wholesale" supplier to
earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.

On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state
officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any
supermarket, together with the "mules," each day more hounded, who
manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities.
The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. "We live
daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live
for food you can't buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can't
eat," they contend.

She has a bachelor's degree in nursing, and her identity card places her
at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get
hired as a nurse in the capital: "I think that from Pinar del Rio to
Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no
address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country." But she does
not complain: "The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job
as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy
myself, for example, a pair of shoes."

For his part, he has a tailor's license and is authorized to sell
homemade clothes. "The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell
ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you
bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always
wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the
licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices
that they fix for raw materials. That's why we have to buy and sell on
the black market," he explains. The earnings for selling homemade
ready-made clothes are minimal.

In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported
clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor's
license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready
to run from the authorities. "I get these glasses at five CUC for two,
sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police
come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me
about three times." In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful
reason to continue going out to sell: "If I lie down to sleep, we die of
hunger at home."

Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. "The
whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon,
running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or
the surveillance cameras."

According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they
suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is
watching them. The girl indicates a column: "That wall covers the camera
that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them
figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the
camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black
blouse, which can be me." In this atmosphere of tension and fear of
being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.

The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big
companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those
who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally.
That's why so many young people want to leave the island.

Translated by MLK

Source: Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz | Translating Cuba -