Sunday, December 21, 2014

Things are not going to change overnight

"Things are not going to change overnight" / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
Posted on December 20, 2014

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 20 December 2014 — "Now when
they lift the blockade …" a student says jokingly to his friends sitting
in Mella Park at the University of Havana. His sentence ends mentioning
some a problem that has been solved, supposedly, by the foreseeable end
to the US embargo on Cuba. The group laughs and continues talking about
the next party of the Law School or the salary a computer engineer earns
at a company like Google.

Sitting on a bench to the side and eavesdropping on the conversation
doesn't feel quite right, but it is, perhaps, the only way to capture
accurately what the University feels about the latest news. Actually,
few agreed to answer questions for this report, and one group of young
people apologized with, "They've already been asking us a lot of
questions today, the foreign press has been around all day." On
presenting myself as a reporter, one of them got up to leave. So it's
impossible to get a face or a statement, even though two or three loners
are disposed – always in confidence and hurriedly – to offer their
particular vision.

Alberto, sitting on the side of the grand staircase waiting for his
classes to begin, is one. "We have to see if everything is not just
words, but I'd give it a greater than 50 percent chance that things are
going to go well." He is still wary, however, both of the changes to
come and of my identify, so he doesn't even want to say what department
he's in.

A recently graduated professor is less concise. "Everyone's talking now
about the approaches [between the governments]." And this seems to be
true, because near us three or four students are talking about it. She
confesses, "I believe that the reestablishment of relations is more
important than the return of the prisoners. At the end of the day, it's
what was expected. And of course it has much more influence on what will
happen from now on." She is also more positive than pessimistic about
the future.

Beyond University Hill, toward one end of the city, is the José Antonio
Echeverría Polytechnic Institute (CUJAE), the university for engineers.
Its students were less timid about offering their opinions for this
report, and in general were much more excited about the important
statements of Wednesday.

The first response of three of them, Telecommunications Engineering
students, about what to expect from the Cuba-US rapprochement, touched
on the improvement in connectivity. "Imagine, in our career," they
commented. "We hope that very soon we have more opportunities to access
the Internet and that there will be more advances in this. Even the
professors have talked about everything it [the announcement] could
mean. It's going to be good."

In the faculty of Civil Engineering, a young professor at the Hydraulic
Research Center (CIH) says he also has faith. "When I got the news via
SMS, before the announcement midday on Wednesday, I did not want to
believe it. And Obama's speech… it didn't match the summaries on Telesur
and I heard it again that night. I thought the translation was bad, but
it's true. It's wonderful."

Referring to the perspectives of his specialty in this new environment,
he notes that, "The rapprochement could facilitate our use of the CIH
equipment, which is in a pretty bad state. Right now, for example, we
can't test with the wave simulator." However, the interviewee said that
"things are not going to change overnight."

A little more than two days ago the nation suffered a political shakeup,
and Friday was the last day of classes for the year for many university
students, who start their Christmas vacations next week. The year 2015
is a great unknown for some; but unlike other times the answer, whatever
it is, seems to be really close. In a few words: the university students
don't know what to expect, but they are filled with expectations.

Source: "Things are not going to change overnight" / 14ymedio, Victor
Ariel Gonzalez | Translating Cuba -

We Shall Fight to the End for the Liberty of Cuba

We Shall Fight to the End for the Liberty of Cuba / Cubanet, Ernesto
Garcia Diaz
Posted on December 19, 2014

Leaders of the opposition call Obama's reconciliation with the Cuban
government a "betrayal" during a press conference in Havana
Cubanet, Ernesto García Díaz, Havana, 18 December 2014 — From the
headquarters of the Estado de SATS project in Miramar, on Wednesday
afternoon (12/17/14), Cuban opposition leaders held a press conference
for national and international media, to make known their positions
regarding the new political stance of the United States towards Cuba.

Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, winner of the European Parliament's
Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought and Coordinator General of the
United Antitotalitarian Front (FANTU), referring to the steps taken by
the governments of Cuba and the United States, stated the following:

"We can applaud the release of Alan Gross, who really was used by the
Island's government to blackmail the American administration. But Obama
has been inconsiderate with the civil society that is challenging Cuba's
tyrannical government In Miami, back in November of 2013, Barack Obama
promised Bertha Soler and me that any action he would take with respect
to Cuba would be consulted with the civil society and nonviolent
opposition. Obviously this did not occur. These actions are now
accomplished facts, they are reality, and Cuban democrats were not taken
into account.

This amounts to a betrayal of Cuban democrats. We must now adapt
ourselves to the new scenarios, which means that we must ask the
American government to keep in mind the demands that these negotiations
should require, to avoid colluding with the communist dictatorship of
the Island. If the United States government listens to us, I believe
that we can hope that this is not one more maneuver of complicity and
help towards a regime drawing its last breath."

The leader and opposition activist Antonio G. Rodiles, coordinator of
the Campaign for Another Cuba and of the Estado de SATS project, made
the following assertion:

"History has been made when, in 1994, the country [Cuba] was finding
itself in a profound crisis and the explosion of 5 August 1994 occurred.
The North American government's response was to accept the exodus and
later to sign the migration accords which provide for an annual cap on
[US] visas issued annually [to Cuban nationals]. The result has been
that during more than 20 years, the country's human capital has been
bleeding out and Cubans have opted to leave Cuba and not provoke change.
This truly has been a disaster and the United States government cast a
lifeline to the regime so that it may survive.

"The rancid Castro regime, as is common knowledge, in on the point of
ending from natural causes. Obviously what they are trying to do is to
cement the foundation for a mutation to Neo-Castroism, which is the
family and descendents, who are trying to continue to governing, which
is a grave danger for Cuba and for the entire region."

"Today's measures – without taking into account the opinion of Cuban
civil society, of the political actors in the Cuban opposition – is a
serious message, it is a bad message, and if the upcoming process of
negotiation does not include our participation, the results will not be
positive at all. We still have ahead of us the Summit of the Americas
[to be held in Panama City in April, 2015], but what happened today does
not make us feel optimistic.

Opposition member Ángel Moya Acosta, coordinator of the Democratic
Freedom Movement for Cuba, had the following to say:

"We rejoice at the liberation of Alan Gross. But the measures that the
United States government has implemented today, of relaxing the embargo
and reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way
benefit the people of the Island. The steps that have been taken will
reinforce the repression against human rights activists by the
government of the Castro regime. The regime will augment the resources
and sinecures to its forces so that they will continue to harass and
repress civil society activists. An example was the military
reinforcements exhibited by the regime in advance of anti-demonstration
activities on 10 December, 'International Human Rights Day.' "

Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Coordinator General of the Patriotic Union of
Cuba (UNPACU) and president of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for
Democracy, had this to say:

"The conditions that brought about the United States' embargo against
Cuba in 1961 have not changed. It is well known that the government is
totalitarian, dynastic, that it does not recognize the rights to free
expression, free assembly and freedom of the press. As long as the
political opposition, the different strains of political thought and a
multi-party system are not recognized and general free elections are not
called, we cannot point to anything beneficial for the people.

"We are in total disagreement with what has been produced today, because
we consider it a betrayal of those of us who, from inside Cuba, are
opposing the regime to obtain a definitive change for the wellbeing of
all Cubans."

Following the opposition leaders' statements, the floor was opened to

Associated Press (AP): "We walked the streets extensively today, and
found the people to be happy, beyond the message. It is notable that all
of you hold a position so different from ordinary people. Does this mean
that you will alienate yourselves from the will of many people now
living in Cuba?"

Antonio Rodiles: "People are disoriented, surprised by what has
happened. On the street, in the taxis, people were not excited, others
said that the pie was cut, the [Castro] family and the governing elite
are strengthening their business positions. It isn't the people, the
person in a small cafeteria who is being watched by inspectors, people
don't know what is going to happen."

Ángel Moya: "In the midst of the secret negotiations that were going on
between the two governments, on 10 December the Havana dictatorship was
repressing 75 Ladies in White and 35 human rights activists. In Cuba,
laws are in force that are designed to guarantee the impunity with which
the repressive forces act. What guarantee is there that the Cuban
government will recognize civil society?"

CubaNet: "Has the United States government or any of its officials,
following these declarations, contacted the leaders of the opposition,
in accordance with the commitments Obama made in 2013?"

Félix Navarro Rodríguez: "We have not been consulted. This has all
developed in strict secrecy between the two governments. There has been
no encounter with Cuban civil society nor with its leaders. Nor do we
know if they are willing to meet with us. As of today, they continue to
repress the Ladies in White and twelve of us prisoners from the [2003]
Black Spring; we remain on parole, deprived of our rights and liberties.

"The commitment by Obama to Berta Soler and Guillermo Fariñas was not
kept. In Cuba everything remains the same. Now, in the midst of this
avalanche, we will reorganize and will fight until the end, we will
press for the recognition of our civil rights and for democratic freedoms."

At the end of the press conference, Guillermo Fariñas, by way of
concluding remarks, asserted this:

"We need to channel our demands. The government of the United States has
a moral obligation to all democracies in the world. It gave to the Cuban
government a possibility to start instituting some democratic reforms.
Now, it will depend on the actions we Cubans take."

Attending, among various other officials of accredited diplomatic
missions on the Island, were diplomatic representatives of the European
Union, and of Sweden. Also present were human rights activists, among
them Gorki Águila Carrasco (artist in the group Porno Para Ricardo),
Hablemos Press, AP, and others.


Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: We Shall Fight to the End for the Liberty of Cuba / Cubanet,
Ernesto Garcia Diaz | Translating Cuba -

From Discontent to Joy in Twenty-four Hours

From Discontent to Joy in Twenty-four Hours / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva
Posted on December 20, 2014

Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, HAVANA, 18 December 2014 — President Barack Obama
announced a new direction in US policy toward Cuba, on December 17. The
Cuban population has expressed great joy at the news, both within the
archipelago and abroad. It is a brave and historic decision, because it
provides the opportunity to finally eradicate the existing environment
of confrontation of almost 55 years and initiate fruitful relations to
benefit of the Cuban people. The measures taken by the US president have
been greeted with enthusiasm and hope by millions, although other Cubans
remain cautious, because they commonly face harsh living conditions and

President Raul Castro announced he was open to extensive negotiations
with the United States, on all subjects, in a televised appearance
coincident with that of President Barack Obama. The reasons to promote
the rapprochement with Washington may be very extensive, including the
deepening of the Cuban economic crisis, the need for foreign investment
for recapitalization and development, social discontent over the
socio-economic deprivation, loss of public confidence, and the need to
improve Cuban's international image. To achieve freedom and democracy,
civil society will have to traverse the long and difficult path imposed
by a totalitarian regime that seeks to prolong itself through its heirs.

The exchange of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba in 2009, for 3 prisoners
sentenced as spies in the United States, was a necessary condition for
the US government to be able to initiate the process of normalization of
relations and to achieve results with new measures directed toward the
Cuban people. In addition, the island government agreed to release an
American citizen after some 20 years, and 53 other political prisoners.
The tradition of the American government is to not abandon any of its
citizens, and to provide for their exchange or rescue with military action.

The efforts of lawmakers from both parties, the diplomacy, and members
from all sectors of American society have had an important role in these
developments. Pope Francis has once again demonstrated his wisdom, aided
by nuncios accredited in Havana, and the Cuban Catholic Church, headed
by Cardinal Ortega and the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops who have
continued to accompany the nation and the people with their traditional
patriotic and religious vocation.

The measures announced include initiation of talks to restore diplomatic
relations; regulatory reform to empower the Cuban people with more
efficiency; favoring the expansion of general permits for travel to Cuba
and increases in the amount of remittances; expanded authorizations for
commercial sales and exports of certain goods and services from the US;
authorization for persons living in the United States to import
additional goods to Cuba; facilitating financial transactions between
the two countries; initiating new efforts to increase access to
communications in Cuba and people's ability to communicate freely;
updating the application of sanctions on Cuba in third countries;
establishment of negotiations with the governments of Cuba and Mexico to
discuss the unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico;
beginning of the process of reviewing Cuba's as a state sponsor of
terrorism; discussion of the participation of Cuba in the Summit of the
Americas in April 2015; a firm commitment to democracy, human rights and
civil society, including strong support for improving human rights
conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba (a summary of an extensive
Fact Sheet issued by the Office of the White House Press Secretary).

Source: From Discontent to Joy in Twenty-four Hours / Cubanet, Miriam
Leiva | Translating Cuba -

This is going to get good

"This is going to get good"
ROSA LÓPEZ, La Habana | Diciembre 19, 2014

The semester is ending at the University of Havana, a time when
everything shuts down until the middle of January. But this year is
different. Expectation runs through the corridors and the central plaza
on University Hill, and the high attendance, on days close to Christmas,
is surprising. Many have come to school these days just to talk with
their colleagues about the great news: the announcement of the
reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

In the humanities departments the debate is greater. "A couple of weeks
ago we held a conference about the dangers of American interference… and
now this," says a young sophomore studying sociology, who adds, "I never
thought this moment would come so soon." He has just turned twenty and,
when he says "soon," he is speaking in relation to his own life. For
others, the dispute between the two countries has lasted for an eternity.

In one of the rooms where some are using their "machine time" to check
their email, a young woman complains to a friend. "My inbox is full from
people asking me how things are over here." She is quiet for a moment,
realizing I'm listening, but then she continues. "How will things be?
The same as always," she concludes resolutely.

Below the Mathematics Department, in the so-called "park of the
pig-headed," the controversy sinks its roots deeper, given the privacy
of the place. But it's enough to ask a group of young people sitting on
a bench if they've seen any American students around, for them to bring
out the jokes and their thoughts. "No, I haven't seen any today, but the
way things are going we might see a lot of them pretty soon," spits a
girl wearing an iPod and Converse sneakers.

The others continue with jokes. They mock Martí's verses about his life
in the United States, "I lived in the monster and I know its entrails."
In a chorus they convert the phrase to, "I lived in the monster, how I
miss it!" [a play on words in Spanish]. "If you see some yumas [a term
for Americans that is softer than "gringos"] around here, let me know
right away, I'll be in the Great Hall," they promise, cackling.

The university remains one of the schools with the greatest ideological
control. From the departments located on Colina Hill, the students often
leave to participate in acts of repudiation against the Ladies in White
headquarters, a short distance from there. Tania, who came to find out
if there would soon be some open doors so that she can familiarize
herself with the site, believes that it will be her turn to climb the
steps "in a new era."

When asked how she knows this, she exclaims, surprised, "But didn't you
hear Raúl? The thing with the Americans is over. It's over!" It's
surprising that everyone here seems to be so well aware of it.
Especially if you take into account that people this age are the
greatest consumers of the audiovisual materials of the so-called "
packet." They watch little television and even make fun of those who
still stay home to watch "the Saturday movies" on the national
programming. However, everyone says they saw Raúl Castro's speech.

The classrooms are nearly empty. Exams are over and just a few remain
preparing for special meetings. On the wall there are still some old
announcements for activities of the University Student Federation (FEU),
along with a photo of the five spies who have already "returned to the
homeland." The expectations raised by some of the relaxations announced
by Obama are high. "I'm very interested in studying on a scholarship in
the United States, if all that is easier now then at least I can try for
it," says a girl who enrolled in the Law School just three months ago.

Everyone seems well adapted to the idea of the new policy change. If you
look closely, there's not much to distinguish them from young people at
a university in Los Angeles or Florida. They dress fashionably, some
have a tablet or laptop where they read or write, and their frame of
reference seems much broader than that of their parents' generation.
"What I want to see starting to come here are videogame championships…"
says one with a gleam in his eyes. Everyone agrees that among the most
important announcements made on 17 December is the one having to do with
telecommunications and connectivity on the island.

"Internet, now comes the internet," says a young woman looking at the
scant menu offerings in the university cafeteria. And so she remains in
her reverie, filling her head with the kilobytes that "Obama is going to
send over" and a bold prediction: "This is going to get good, you'll
see, you'll see…"

Source: "This is going to get good" -

Querido Raul, Dear Obama, Querido Pope Francis - English

Querido Raul, Dear Obama, Querido Pope Francis
Vatican City | Diciembre 19, 2014

First of all I congratulate you because a historic moment is what is
always expected of political men and this moment has been 17 December
2014. You have entered into history by arguing that the embargo/blockade
is an apparently empty word, by changing – with the reestablishment of
diplomatic relations – the meaning to 53 years of politics defined by
one side (U.S.) and used by the other (Cuba), to politicize Cubans'
daily lives, wherever they may be. I wonder if this gesture is also a
proposal to kill ideology. Cuba is now defined starting not from death,
but finally starting from life, but I wonder, what life and who has the
right to these new lives?

Now, querido Raúl:

Today as a Cuban I demand that you let us know what your plans are for
our lives, that you establish as a part of this new stage a process of
political transparency were we all have a space to participate and the
right to have a different opinion without being punished. That when we
have to deny many of the things that defined us, this process doesn't
come with the same intolerance and indifference which, up to now, has
accompanied the changes in Cuba, where acceptance is the only option.

Today as a Cuban I demand that there be no privileges or social
inequality The Cuban Revolution has distributed privilege as a reward
for a sense of trustworthiness, which is synonymous with fidelity to
those who are in the Government, or on its side. This has not changed.
Privileges have defined the social inequality that we have experience
since forever, an inequality that was clothed in Revolutionary
meritocracy and that today is transformed into loyal entrepreneurship. I
demand that the material and emotional rights of survival of those who
may not want to be part of this new stage be defended.

Today as a Cuban I demand that we not be defined by the markets, or the
use that the leaders can make of us. I ask for equality for that Cuban
who, due to the blockade/embargo gave his life, for example, working in
a factory to proudly arrive home with the title of Labor Hero, and who
today has no place in the world of foreign investments and can only
aspire to a retirement defined in socialist times and not in these times
of the market economy. What is the plan to not reproduce the mistakes of
the other countries of the former socialist camp? To not turn us into
the Cuba of 1958? To repair the emotional abuse that the Cuban people
have been subjected to under the politics of recent years. To ensure
that there will be social and material justice? To ensure that we will
not be a colony nor that we will have to unquestionably accept these
benefactors as it happened before with the Soviet Union and with Venezuela?

Today as a Cuban I demand to be able to demonstrate peacefully in the
street for or against a government decision and to be able to reclaim
political and social rights, without fear of reprisals. That
associations and political parties with points of view different from
the official be recognized. That civic activism, civil society and those
who have a different point of view be decriminalized. That political
parties born from popular desire be legalized. That direct elections be
established where all parties can participate and that ideological
differences be resolved with arguments and not with acts of repudiation.

Today as a Cuban I reclaim the right to be political beings, not just
economic entities or tokens of symbolic exchanges to make history.

Today as a Cuban I want to know what is the idea behind the nation we
are building.

Today as an artist I propose that Raul put the work Tatlin's Whisper #6
in the Plaza of the Revolution. Let's open all the microphones and let
all voices be heard; that it not be just the clatter of the coins we are
offered to fill our lives. That the microphones not be kept off. That we
learn to do something with our dreams.

Today I would like to propose to Cubans wherever you are that you take
to the streets this coming December 30 to celebrate, not the end of the
blockade/embargo, but the principal of your civil rights.

Let us make sure that it is the people who benefit from this new
historical moment. The motherland is what we grieve.

Source: Querido Raul, Dear Obama, Querido Pope Francis -

A necessary and useful change

A necessary and useful change
ELIECER ÁVILA, La Habana | Diciembre 19, 2014

The change in US policy concerning Cuba was necessary and useful,
although it did not happen with all the guarantees that many of us
wanted. Obama's cabinet did not act lightly, but made a thorough
analysis and came to the same conclusions that many of the actors of
civil society in Cuba, and the people in general, have been raising.

The policy of sanctions and isolation became the key currency of the
political discourse of the Cuban government. With that currency, the
government bought the support of the world, and especially of a Latin
America hurt by wrong approaches of the old US policy, as Obama himself
has acknowledged.

The United States helped Cuba turn into a "universal icon of struggle
and resistance in favor of the interests of the South". Cuban
intelligence took this position masterfully, in order to focus its
foreign policy on an international emporium of propaganda whose
effectiveness is worthy of study by experts in the field.

Havana managed to bring the debates in all international forums to its
own approach of innocent victim of the hegemonic interests of the
neighboring superpower. "The small island that achieves outstanding
indicators of health indicators and education and flies the flag of
solidarity as a principle" captured the hearts of millions of young, and
not so young, people across the planet.

The Cuban Executive has never been forced to talk about what was
actually happening in the country on issues of rights, participation and
democracy. The argument of the blockade has also represented the
backbone of the internal propaganda. A population without political or
civic culture deprived from access to free information for three
generations and plunged into a deep economic and values crisis is the
perfect environment for manipulation.

Some propose the argument that this change will result in a flow of
resources to the Cuban government. I think that those resources always
came in dissimilar ways, just as the nearly 3,000 billion annual
remittances did. If these resources would have had been transformed into
investment and businesses resources, they would have brought a different

However, other emerging powers, with very different values, are always
willing to supply the means and resources that the Cuban government
needs in order to control and repress, because Cuba is an indispensable
agent for the expansion of these economies and their geopolitical
interests in the area.

Isolation is the most confortable position for a totalitarian regime. Or
is there someone that believes that North Korea is about to achieve
freedom? Freedom is not the result of a decision made by a government,
of a negotiation, or of the signing of a treaty or law. Freedom is a
mental condition, a state of mind, a life expectation, a natural
conviction, a principle and an everyday practice. Without an internal
transformation of the thinking, formation and culture of Cubans, it will
never be possible to exercise real freedom.

With a dependent population, who survives thanks to what it receives
from the regime or what it steals from work, a sense of independence and
individual power, which are basic premises of every liberating action,
will never grow and develop. Therefore it is vital to support
entrepreneurship, creativity and self-management; the exchange between
producers, professionals, teachers, artists, housewives, students, and
so on.

A small population cannot openly interact with a different world without
suffering changes. That is absurd. I share the idea of a new approach
that focuses on the people and not on their rulers, who are definitively
not going to change now that they are in their nineties and covered with

The role to be played by civil society activists and the political
opposition in this new scenario will depend largely on their ability to
adapt to a new context and evolve, by looking for new ways of
self-management and by basing the survival or success of their projects
in terms of the support achieved by citizens, within or outside Cuba.

A more open political game can largely benefit civil society, if it does
not waste time crying over what is already a reality and rather decide
to "turn on their batteries" to take benefit from the possible
advantages that can arise from these new winds of change.

Today we have a clearer path to focus on the issues that we want to
promote and develop. The US policy never favored the civil society or
the opposition. The Government will get away with it if it locates the
forces of civil society as obstacles for progress and welfare, by taking
advantage of the limited notion that the majority of Cubans have about
these two goals. That is a luxury we cannot afford.

Source: A necessary and useful change -

Focusing on Future, Cuba Leaves Fidel Castro to History

Focusing on Future, Cuba Leaves Fidel Castro to History

At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the
Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro — he has said nothing about it,
and has not appeared in public for months — spoke volumes. For many
Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping
further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the
United States seems to be fading as well.

"It's a break with the past, and a transition," said Jorge Luis Rivero
González, 26, a master's student in information technology. "What we
have now is hope for a new path. We don't know what's coming, but it
better be good."

Fidel is still an imposing figure in the Cuban consciousness, a leader
so venerable and fiercely protected that many avoid talking about him at
all. Few here or in Washington, where the name Fidel is often shorthand
for communist revolution itself, suggested that détente with the United
States could have happened without his approval.

Some of the former leader's most loyal followers here have even
described Mr. Obama's recognition of Cuba with a Castro still in power
as a final triumph for Fidel — a formal nod of respect that the old
guerrillero has demanded since 1959.

There was even some Fidel-like braggadocio in the speech by his brother
Raúl, who celebrated the return on Wednesday of Cuba's three convicted
spies from the United States with a rare flair for theatrics. After
years of appearing mostly in a suit, Raúl was careful to wear his
military uniform, linking the prisoners' release to "Comrade Fidel" and
his promise years ago to bring the men home.

Some experts argued that it was yet another sign that on big,
geopolitical questions, the Castro brothers largely remain in sync.

"Raúl and Fidel have no daylight between them on things like this," said
Julia Sweig, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies
Cuba. "They have been in complete lock step on Cuban foreign policy."

And yet the new Cuba that Raúl is fashioning from the old is a far cry
from Fidel's youthful revolution. Today's Cuba seems less concerned with
ideals than dollars. It is a hatchery of private enterprise and nascent
inequality, where property can be bought and sold, along with cars and
filet mignon. It is a proud country, tired of struggling, where the poor
can see the rich rising along the way to Raúl's stated goals: economic
growth and stability.

Continue reading the main story
"Raúl is a pragmatist; he is not a mindless idealist," said Brian
Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who has written
books on the Castros. "Fidel has always been the heavy anchor on change
and reform."

Perhaps the difference is that now, with Cuba's economy still on the
edge of collapse, that weight seems to be lifting as Fidel fades further
from view.

Young Cubans like Honey Hernan, 14, who was walking home from school on
Thursday past the Museum of the Revolution, can hardly remember a time
when Fidel was a recognizable presence. "He's never really on TV," she
said. "It's really just Raúl."

Little of the gated, heavily guarded compound where Fidel lives in west
Havana is even visible from the street. Much of what is known of it
comes from the pictures and videotapes of buildings and landscaped
gardens that associates of the family have leaked over the years.

Some older Cubans, like Prospero Gamboa, 68, who was discussing the new
era with friends on a street corner in Old Havana, noted that the deal
with the United States had been set in motion with the economic changes
that Raúl established starting in 2006, when he first stepped in for an
ailing Fidel.

"This has been building," Mr. Gamboa said. "There's been a change in the

This waning of Fidel is the norm even in some of the places where he
defined his destiny. In the lobby of the University of Havana Law
School, a poster offered students a chance to study his famous defense
after being arrested for storming the Moncada barracks in 1953, when he
said, "History will absolve me." But the poster was only one of many
offerings, with others promoting live music or posting final grades and
student election results.

If anything, the university and a half-dozen other stops across Havana
on Thursday seemed to demonstrate what many Cubans describe as the new
reality: Fidel Castro is increasingly a figure of the Cold War, to be
celebrated, scrutinized, reviled — but almost never experienced.

It is not the principles that have changed, many students emphasized.
Equality and sovereignty are among the most cited virtues by young,
passionate Cubans following in Fidel's academic footsteps. But to many
of them, the relentless campaign against the ever-present enemy of the
United States — Fidel's lifelong mission — seems as dated as the tanks
that dot the campus and countless public spaces all over Havana.

Cubans of all ages now say that there are simply too many relatives in
the United States who come back to visit regularly to justify the idea
of perpetual conflict.

"It's the same revolution in a totally different phase," said Anabel
Bollet, 22, a fifth-year law student. The changes announced this week,
she said, amount to a historic but subtle "adjustment." It is not peace.
Rather, she added, "it's a way to resolve the conflict without guns."

To some degree, many Cubans argued, the openness of Mr. Obama and Raúl
to normalized political relations amounts to a classic case of
government catching up with the people.

Ever since Mr. Obama opened unlimited travel and remittances to
Cuban-Americans in 2009, followed by Raúl's easing of limits on travel
for Cubans, a steady flow of Cubans and dollars has strengthened the
filial bonds that were severed during the revolution between Cubans on
opposite sides of the Florida straits.

This is the United States-Cuba relationship that a growing number of
Cubans know, understand and cherish, no matter where they are. The
distrust and defiance that their leaders are only now addressing is more
of a backdrop.

It was no coincidence that on Thursday, when asked who would benefit
most from the new thaw, many Cubans answered "the Cuban people," even
before they were asked to choose between Raúl Castro and Mr. Obama.

That was true for loyal Fidelistas and for stiff-backed critics of
Fidel's government.

Nor was it a surprise that there was only one person outside the United
States Interests Section on Thursday morning: a woman with a broom who
was sweeping up outside a monument painted in large block letters with
the Cuban government's message declaring "patria o muerte" (fatherland
or death") and "venceremos" (we will overcome).

A block away, hundreds of Cubans of all ages gathered in a small park,
carefully holding folders of documents, waiting to be told where to
stand to get an American tourist visa to visit their sons and daughters,
brothers and sisters, or fathers and mothers in Miami and beyond.

Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting from Mexico City.

Source: Focusing on Future, Cuba Leaves Fidel Castro to History -
NYTimes.com -

Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know

Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know
Kristen Bellstrom @kayelbee Dec. 18, 2014

Yesterday's announcement that the U.S. will loosen restrictions on
visiting Cuba has some travelers in tizzy. By all means, pack your
bags—but read this first.

Why Smart People Send Stupid Emails That Can Ruin Their Careers
Did you hear that noise yesterday afternoon? It was the collective
squeal of travelers around the country, upon learning that President
Obama had announced the resumption of U.S diplomatic relations with
Cuba. For many American vacationers, Cuba—with its classic cars,
mojitos, and fine cigars—is a dream destination, but one that rigid
travel restrictions have made difficult to visit. Yesterday's
announcement didn't remove those strictures, but it did promise to relax

1. Don't expect anything to change overnight

While the new policy won't allow unrestricted tourism to Cuba (which
would require an act of Congress), it will loosen restrictions on
certain types of trips, according to a White House statement. So what
exactly does that mean? There's plenty of speculation, but no one really
knows the details just yet. On Wednesday afternoon, the Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the Department of the Treasury,
announced that it expects to issue its revised travel rules in "the
coming weeks." No changes will take effect until those new rules are

Currently, U.S. citizens who want to visit Cuba have a few options.
Cuban-Americans with close family in the country can visit as often as
they like, while other people may be permitted to go for professional,
religious, or educational purposes. However, for the typical traveler,
the most viable option is a "people-to-people" trip. These are
super-regulated group tours, which must focus on educational and
cultural interactions with Cubans. Many industry experts expect that the
new rules will focus on loosening the restrictions around these existing
forms of travel.

2. Some prices may fall…

According to Collin Laverty, president of trip provider Cuba Educational
Travel, the typical cost of a group tour to Cuba is around $4,000 to
$5,000. One reason prices are so steep, he explains, is that
people-to-people trips must be highly scheduled, meaning they include
all meals, guides, transportation, activities, and more. Plus, tour
providers must stay on top of their permits and licensing, which
requires manpower and lawyers' fees. (Katharine Bonner, who oversees
travel to Cuba for Tauck, says it took six months for the company to get
its paperwork renewed.) Tom Popper, president of operator insightCuba,
adds that Cuban travel suppliers tend to charge American firms a
premium, which drives up the price of the tour.

If the new rules allow less rigorously structured tours, prices are
expected to come down. And, should they allow for independent travel to
the country, vacationers will likely be able to choose their lodging and
itinerary, giving them more control over what they pay.

3. …but demand is likely to pick up quickly.

Travel to Cuba is already pretty popular. According to the Associated
Press, 170,000 Americans visited the country legally last year, while
Quartz reports that the island was the second most popular Caribbean
destination for international travelers during the first nine months of
2014. As U.S. travel restrictions ease, trip providers say they expect
demand to surge. For people who've always wanted to go but never managed
to pull the trigger, the idea that massive cruise lines could soon be
adding Cuba to their itineraries may be what it takes to get them to
book. "People want to go before it changes," says Popper. "The
collective travel consciousness says this isn't going to last forever."

4. The infrastructure isn't there yet.

For Canadians and other international travelers, Cuba is often seen as a
sun-and-sand getaway rather than a cultural destination, says Laverty.
As a result, "there are a sufficient amount of hotels by the beaches,
but once you get into Havana, there aren't enough rooms," he says. Until
the country's tourism infrastructure has a chance to catch up, Americans
looking to stay in the cities or countryside may have a tough time
finding accommodations. Flights are also tricky. Right now, the only
domestic commercial options are charters, all of which fly out of Florida.

5. New options are coming.

Under the current system, travel companies that are licensed to take
Americans to Cuba have something of a monopoly, says Laverty. While the
new rules are unlikely to completely erode that advantage, they should
make the industry more competitive and fuel new options for travelers.
In the case of Cuba Educational Travel, that may mean adding some more
independent, less full-service options. Says Laverty: "We're ready to
help people navigate these uncharted waters."

Source: Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know |
Money.com - http://time.com/money/3637911/cuba-travel-new-policy/

How to Tell Whether Obama Did the Right Thing on Cuba

How to Tell Whether Obama Did the Right Thing on Cuba
If the restoration of diplomatic ties leads to greater openness, then
the president's bold move will be justified.

A narrow selection of books on the Plaza de Armas (William Z. Goldberg)
On my most recent visit to Cuba this past March, I brought my family
with me, because I wanted my children to see what Cuba looked like
before everything changed. I didn't realize quite how quickly that
change would come.

In Havana, we stayed on the Plaza de Armas, a square that is in the
heart of the old city, a carefully restored neighborhood in a capital
that is otherwise collapsing on itself. Each morning, booksellers would
set up stands in the square, and each morning, my 13-year-old son would
roam about, talking to the booksellers and taking pictures of their
shelves. One morning, he rushed back to the hotel to report on a
fascinating conversation. One of the booksellers had asked him, "What do
you think of Communism?"

We had briefed the children on the nature of totalitarian societies, and
on the need to be discreet in public commentating—especially since I was
in Cuba as a journalist, and especially since the government had shown
interest in my movements. "What did you say?" I asked. He answered: "I
said, 'I think it's interesting,' and then he said, 'Well, I think it's

It is easy to understand why a bookseller on the Plaza de Armas would
think this way: Censorship laws, and custom, and the secret police,
guarantee that the only books sold on the square are mildewed Chomskys
and Che hagiographies.

There will be many ways to test whether the Obama administration, and
those who support its decision to reestablish ties with Cuba after a
half-century hiatus (including yours truly), are correct in arguing that
broad exposure to America, to its people and to its businesses, will
translate into greater openness and freedom for ordinary Cubans. One of
the most important ways to measure this will be to watch levels of
Internet connectivity—open, affordable, unfiltered connectivity. Many
Cubans I've met have quite literally never been on the Internet. In two
years, if rates of exposure to the Internet remain the same, then the
great Obama experiment could be judged, provisionally, a failure.

Critics of Obama's overture to Cuba argue that close U.S. ties with
Vietnam and China are proof that exposure to America does not translate
into political freedom—it translates into greater access to Coca-Cola
products, but not to the spread of American ideals of free speech and
pluralism. These critics have a point, of course (though critics of
these critics also have a point: If the U.S. can have normal diplomatic
and commercial ties with China, a terrible violator of human rights, why
should it not have normal diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba, a
country ruled by a government that is less malignant than China's?).

Cuba, of course, is not China, and it is not Vietnam: China is large
enough to create its own weather, and Vietnam is 8,000 miles away. The
U.S. will have influence in Havana—a 45-minute flight from Miami—in
profound and useful ways (and also potentially negative ways: I know, as
a patriotic American, that I'm supposed to argue for the uncomplicated
benefits of unfettered capitalism, but I would say that the Plaza de
Armas will not necessarily be improved by the presence of a Burger King).

Here is my modest Plaza de Armas test: If, in two years, the booksellers
on the plaza are selling books about something other than Che, and if
they're making actual money selling more of what they want to sell, then
the argument that engagement leads to openness will look credible. I'm
not expecting anything close to perfect freedom—I'd be surprised, in two
years, to find Marco Rubio's memoir for sale on the plaza—but I'll go
looking for some proof that change is actually happening. Internet
connectivity, the release of political prisoners, the establishment of
non-government newspapers—these are bigger tests. But the plaza test
will be telling nonetheless.

Source: How to Tell Whether Obama Did the Right Thing on Cuba - The
Atlantic -

Cuban-Americans deeply divided over opening to Cuba

Cuban-Americans deeply divided over opening to Cuba
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY 8:50 a.m. EST December 20, 2014

MIAMI — Christmas Eve dinner just got a little more interesting in this
South Florida city.

As Cuban-Americans soak in the news that the United States is
re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in
more than 50 years, it's rekindled a deep divide in the community — even
within families — over the best way to deal with the Castro brothers and
their Communist regime.

Dagoberto Garces was a teenager in 1959 when Fidel Castro's revolution
overthrew the Cuban government. He watched as his father's medical
clinic was seized by the new government, claiming it was needed by the
revolution. He saw the family's home ransacked, their savings taken.
Things got so bad that in 1962 his parents put Garces and his two
younger siblings on a plane for the United States, part of a wave of
children who came over in a program called Operation Peter Pan.

That's why it's hard for Garces to hear younger Cubans support President
Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba, establish an embassy
in Havana, allow more Americans to travel to the island and encourage
more commerce to flow into it.

"They didn't suffer what we suffered, so they can't feel what we feel,"
said Garces, 71, a surgeon in Miami.

Raúl Moas was born and raised in Miami after his parents fled Cuba in
the 1960s. He was ecstatic when Obama made his surprise announcement
because he has long felt that the strategy of isolating Cuba has done
nothing to overthrow the Castro regime.

Moas knows that older relatives in his family are having trouble
accepting the president's decision, and Moas' support of it, but he also
understands why they think that way.

"I don't have the scars of exile," said Moas, 26, president of Roots of
Hope, a group that helps young professionals in Cuba. "I'm able to
empathize with that. I'm able to slip on their shoes at times and,
through their stories and pictures, live that for a moment. But I'm also
able to remove myself from that and see it from a different perspective."

The divide between Garces' and Moas' generations is striking. Earlier
this year, 88% of Cuban-Americans under the age of 30 said they support
re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to a poll
conducted by Florida International University's Cuban Research
Institute. For Cuban-Americans over 65, that support drops to 41%.

Those numbers are easy to verify on the streets of Miami.

Jose Menendez, 76, who left Cuba by himself when he was 24 and later
helped the rest of his family escape, said he was shocked to see that
the Cuban government was not required to make any structural changes to
its system of tight government control as part of the deal Obama made
with Fidel Castro's younger brother, Raúl, who has ruled the island
after his ailing sibling stepped aside.

"What did they give? Nothing. What did we give? Everything," complained
Menendez, a retired ExxonMobil administrator.

What about Raúl Castro agreeing to release 53 political prisoners as
part of the deal?

"That night they probably arrested 53 more," said Julio Velasco, 77,
whose family left Cuba in 1956.

Garces called the deal "a crime."

"But coming from this president, I'm not surprised," he said.

Despite that deeply held animosity, many Cuban-Americans say there has
been one change in South Florida. In years past, merely mentioning the
end of the economic embargo on Cuba or pushing for more diplomatic ties
with the island would get you shouted down in Miami. Now, Natalia
Martinez says, that rage has given way to more nuanced, and quieter,

"I've seen a lot more of that rather than just yelling and being crazy,"
said Martinez, 28, who was born in Cuba before coming to the U.S., where
she graduated from Harvard University and then received a master's
degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University. "I very
much commend them for being able to have that conversation."

Ricardo Suarez knows very well how older Cubans feel right now. He was
just embarking on his career in Cuba when Castro's revolution triumphed.
He admits he was sympathetic to Castro's cause at first, but quickly
changed his mind once he saw how it was rolling out.

And as soon as he started speaking out against the new regime, he was
fired from his office. So he took his new wife and left the country,
never to return.

Now, he hears all the talk from younger Cubans who are thrilled over
Obama's decision to re-open discussions with the very regime that forced
him into exile at such a young age. And while he disagrees with them,
saying the changes by the U.S. won't change a thing in Cuba, he's
willing to hear them out.

"We have different histories, so I understand," said Suarez, 74, a
retired banker. "But we all want the same result in the end. So in the
end, I sympathize with any Cuban who wants to end that government."

Source: Cuban-Americans deeply divided over opening to Cuba -

Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more

Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more
12/19/2014 1:08 PM 12/19/2014 1:08 PM

In a historic move, President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that the
United States will begin talks with Cuba on normalizing relations after
five decades and re-open an embassy in Havana.

The announcement included Cuba releasing USAID worker Alan Gross and a
CIA agent who had been jailed in Cuba for nearly 20 years. Meanwhile,
the U.S. released three Cuban spies imprisoned in Florida.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to grant Americans unrestricted
rights to visit family in Cuba and send money. It is one of hundreds of
promises PolitiFact has tracked on our Obamameter.

In April 2009, Obama announced that he had taken steps to increase
remittances and make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba to see
relatives. We gave Obama a Promise Kept for those key developments at
the time, but his latest announcement takes that a step further.

Obama's recent announcement increases the allowable amount of non-family
remittances from $500 to $2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with
the exception of Cuba government officials or communist party officials.
Also, remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private
businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license. Remittance
forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a specific license.

In 2009, Obama made it easier for family members to travel; in 2011 he
expanded travel in several other categories, including for educational,
cultural or religious reasons and for journalists.

With the more recent announcement, the White House said it will expand
travel under the licenses for the 12 existing categories. (However, it
will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned
in federal law.) The change also means that Americans can use their
credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba,
including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

"We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of
information to and from Cuba," Obama said. "This is fundamentally about
freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of
people-to-people engagement. With the changes I'm announcing today, it
will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba."

Under the new policy, all categories will have general licenses which
means people won't have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government.
The .U.S. Treasury will release more details in the coming weeks.

"The Administration is signaling that it wants more of these visits
approved," Boston University Professor Paul Hare told PolitiFact. "But ,
that said, the prices of these visits are still high, and the control of
where people stay and what they see will still be in place. … But
permission for the use of U.S. credit cards and U.S. bank arrangements
in Cuba will make it much easier for NGOs (nongovernmental
organizations), universities, etc. to run fuller programs in Cuba and
for visitors to spend more beyond the cost of their formal visit

Obama's actions — increasing the amount of remittances and making it
easier to travel to Cuba -- mean that this remains Promise Kept.

In announcing this week that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic
relations for the first time since 1961, President Barack Obama eased
restrictions on a host of activities that include travel to Cuba, use of
credit cards in Cuba, remittances, to name a few. Below, some key
changes in U.S.-Cuba regulations:

▪ Increases the allowable amount of non-family remittances from $500 to
$2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba
government officials or communist party officials.

▪ Remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private
businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.

▪ Remittance forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a
specific license.

▪ Expands travel under licenses for 12 existing categories. (However, it
will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned
in federal law.) All categories will have general licenses which means
people won't have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government. The
U.S. Treasury will release more details in coming weeks.

▪ Americans can use their credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth
of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

Source: Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more |
The Miami Herald -

Q&A - Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules

Q&A: Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules
12/19/2014 6:11 PM 12/19/2014 10:00 PM

President Barack Obama announced this week a reset in the United States'
relations with Cuba, including establishing full diplomatic relations
and easing travel restrictions, among other things. None of the new
rules about Cuba take effect until they are published in the federal
register in the coming weeks. But based on information released so far
by the White House, the State Department and Treasury Department, here
are some initial answers to questions:

Does this mean anyone can travel to Cuba now?

Technically no — tourism is still banned according to federal law. The
12 categories of allowed reasons for travel — which existed before
Obama's announcement — are still in effect. Some of those reasons
include to visit family or for educational, religious or humanitarian
activities. It will be easier to travel to Cuba because none of those
categories will now require a general license, which means people won't
have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government (previously some of
them did). The Treasury Department will release more details in the
coming weeks.

How many cigars and bottles of rum can I bring back if I travel to Cuba?

Visitors can bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to
$100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

Can I use my American Express or Mastercard when I go to Cuba?

Yes. The federal government will release rules about this in the next
few weeks, but Obama's announcement will allow U.S. travelers in Cuba to
use American credit cards. None of the announced changes takes effect
until the new regulations are issued.

Is there a limit on how much money I can send to Cuba?

Obama raised the limit from $500 to $2,000 for nonfamily remittances per
quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government
officials or communist party officials.

Why can't President Obama lift the trade embargo on Cuba?

Under the federal law known as Helms-Burton, it would require a vote by
Congress to lift the embargo. The law says embargo stays in place until
Cuba holds free and fair elections, releases political prisoners and
guarantees free speech and workers' rights. The embargo has existed in
some form since 1960 but it was under the president's purview until
Congress, with the advocacy of Miami U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
Lincoln Diaz Balart, passed Helms-Burton in 1996.

However, while the embargo will remain, the U.S. will allow many items
to be exported, including certain building materials for private
residential construction, goods for use by private-sector Cuban
entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.

"The embargo the last 50 years as a concept is an eggshell. It's just
becoming more and more empty, but it's still a shell," said John
Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic

Can Americans open businesses in Cuba?

No, that is not allowed under U.S. law. (Though in reality some
Americans are de facto business owners in Cuba because they fund
businesses that are run by relatives there.)

However, Florida businesses in banking, shipping, trade,
telecommunications and travel are positioned to reap benefits — over
time — depending on how our government writes the rules.

American exports for cuentapropistas — the self-employed — will be
allowed, along with farming supplies and building materials intended for
the Cuban populace.

However, the details about exactly how exporting will work remains to be

Can a U.S. citizen buy a home in Cuba? Can Cubans buy homes in Cuba?

Americans are not allowed to buy homes in Cuba under Cuban or American
law, and nothing in Obama's announcement changed that. Again, in
reality, some Americans are de facto owners by providing the money to
relatives in Cuba.

A 2011 law permits Cubans to buy and sell residential real estate,
according to a February 2014 paper written by Philip Peters, president
of the Cuba Research Center. But that law only allows the purchase and
sale of residential property by Cuban nationals who reside in Cuba and
foreigners who are legal residents of Cuba.

Will Cuba have a consulate in Miami?

Miami boasts the country's largest Cuban population, so Miami would be a
logical choice for Havana to have a consulate. Miami Mayor Tomás
Regalado has said he would be concerned that it would create a safety
problem, but he added Miami would have no say on where Cuba might want
to establish consulates, "but we certainly would not support it."

Will we build an embassy in Havana?

A few things have to happen before they can change the sign from U.S.
Interests Section to embassy on the door. First, the two countries need
to establish full diplomatic relations through a series of letters or
notes (no formal treaty or agreement is required). Then the U.S. would
transition to having an embassy. Appointing an ambassador would be a
longer process subject to Senate approval.

The workers, about 350 of them, will stay in the same building — which
is the former U.S. embassy, built in 1953. (The six-story building was
reopened in 1977.)

The biggest distinction between an interests section and an embassy is
that the relationship will be directly with the Cuban government and not
under the protection of the Swiss.

Information was taken from Miami Herald articles, a factsheet from the
White House, a transcript from a State Department press conference,
information from the Treasury Department, a paper by the president of
the Cuba Research Center commissioned by Brookings Institute and
interviews with Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center;
Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates which consults with
businesses that want to do business with Cuba, and John Kavulich, senior
policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council and
administration officials.

Source: Q&A: Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules | The Miami Herald -

Settling U.S. business, property claims against Cuba poses challenges

Settling U.S. business, property claims against Cuba poses challenges
12/19/2014 7:33 PM 12/19/2014 7:33 PM

If the devil is in the details, one hellish issue along the road to
normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba will be finding a way
forward to settle claims by U.S. companies and individuals who lost
property in the Cuban revolution more than half a century ago.

After Fidel Castro swept down from the mountains to seize control of the
island, the new government, mostly between 1959 and 1961, expropriated
the lion's share of U.S. corporate and personal assets there. That
included some two million acres of land, such as sugar fields, plus
factories, utility companies, mining operations and docks.

U.S. nationals have about $7 billion in certified claims against the
Cuban government, based on proceedings by the Foreign Claims Settlement
Commission of the United States, a unit of the Justice Department that
is authorized to sort out such matters. The process did not cover
properties owned by Cubans who moved to the United States or who still
live on the island.

Claimants include Exxon Corp., Texaco, Coca-Cola Co. and
Colgate-Palmolive Co., among a host of other U.S. blue chip companies,
but they also include many individuals with small grievances, down to
the loss of a bicycle.

"It's going to be quite an involved process to find a way to settle
these claims, because Cuba doesn't have $7 billion," said Mauricio
Tamargo, a partner at the law firm Poblete Tamargo LLP, who chaired the
Foreign Claims Settlement Commission from 2002 to 2010 and more recently
began representing some big claimants. "There is going to have to be
some creative thinking to settle this debt.''

Many claimants have died. In the case of companies, some have been
acquired or merged into other entities.

After the revolution the U.S. froze Cuban funds in U.S. banks but over
the years legal cases won by default because the Cuban government chose
not to defend itself in U.S. courts have eaten away at the total.

Meanwhile, the Cuban government has counterclaims against the U.S. for
economic damage resulting from the long-running embargo.

Experts agree that if the Obama Administration's push to restore
diplomatic ties is to evolve into an eventual end to the embargo, the
claims issue will surely be a part of that process.

The Helms-Burton Act, which lays out terms of the embargo, mandates that
such claims must be resolved as an essential condition to resuming full
economic and diplomatic relations.

But it remains to be seen how and when the two governments will broach
that issue in the wake of the historic moves this week.

"Before we would get to the kind of relations we have with, say, China,
the claims issue will have to be dealt with one way or another," said
Patrick J. Borchers, director and professor of law at the Werner
Institute at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., who led a 2007 study
on Cuban claims.

Roberta Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for western
hemisphere affairs, referred in passing to the claims issue in a
briefing with reporters Thursday. She said the issue would have to be
addressed, but suggested the timing would likely be after diplomatic
ties are resumed.

In sketching out the process ahead, Jacobson said representatives of the
two governments will begin soon to work out details so that the U.S. can
transition to having an embassy on the island.

"But there are other things that need to be agreed upon that have always
been part of the discussion of diplomatic relations with Cuba, such as
registered claims against the Cuban government," Jacobson said. She
added: "We do not believe those things would be resolved before
diplomatic relations would be restored, but we do believe that they
would be part of the conversation."

The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, established in 1964, has
certified 5,913 claims, according to Timothy Ashby, a Florida attorney
now based in London who also has worked extensively on the issue. The
commission completed its initial process in 1972, then added two
additional claims in 2005.

The claims originally amounted to $1.7 billion, but soared in value to
about $7 billion based on 6 percent simple interest per year.

Cuba has already settled claims with a variety of countries, such as
Spain, Canada, France and Switzerland, concerning expropriation of assets.

Over the years, a variety of ideas have been put forth on how to settle
the massive dispute with U.S. firms and citizens.

In 2006, Ashby, who was then based in Miami, helped create a company
that set out to acquire certified claims at a discount with the goal of
swapping the debt for equity. Ashby said the Cuban government "was
willing to do equity and other joint ventures," in exchange for
satisfying debt.

But the effort, he said, was thwarted by the President George W. Bush's
administration, which said the process required a license from the
Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which was never

"It was Catch 22," Ashby said. "They shut us down by setting a licensing
requirement, and the company went dormant.''

Borchers, the Creighton law professor, said among the options for
settling claims would be providing the claimants with economic
opportunities on the island, such as development rights or tax-free
zones in lieu of cash.

"The big practical problem is Cuba certainly does not have hard currency
to pay any substantive portion of these claims," Borchers said.

Promoting economic development, he said, "would help lift the Cuban
economy and help Cuban people."

Source: Settling U.S. business, property claims against Cuba poses
challenges | The Miami Herald -

Cuban migrant missing after Cuban coast guard sinks boat

Cuban migrant missing after Cuban coast guard sinks boat
12/19/2014 9:06 PM 12/19/2014 9:06 PM

Cuba's Coast Guard sank a boat carrying 32 Cubans who were trying to
reach the Florida coast, according to a woman who survived and whose
husband is missing.

Masiel González Castellano told reporters in a telephone conversation
from Matanzas, Cuba, that her husband, Leosbel Díaz Beoto, is missing
after falling from the boat that was repeatedly charged and hit by a
boat manned by the Cuban Coast Guard.

"We were screaming and crying for help as the boat was sinking. But they
ignored us. Instead, they continued charging against our boat. Some
people dove in the water and others stayed aboard as the boat sank,"
said González, who was contacted during a press conference hosted in
Miami by the Democracy Movement. "They knew there were children aboard,
but continued to charge against us. They didn't care."

The boat, said González, was carrying 32 people, including seven women
and two children. One of the two children was her 8-year-old son. She
added that the boat pilot "was from Miami."

The group, González said, boarded the boat at around 4 a.m. Monday.
After being hit on Tuesday morning, the Cuban Coast Guard rescued most
of the survivors, who were then locked up by the State Security in
Versailles, Matanzas.

González said she was released on Thursday night with the rest of the
women and children. The men remain under custody, she added.

According to Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of Democracy Movement, the
people on the boat said the incident occurred in international waters at
about 22 miles from Cuban territory. "This is not the way to deal with
people who are just trying to flee a brutal tyranny," he said.

Sánchez and Sergio Díaz Alfonso, an uncle of the missing man, appealed
to the community to help find Díaz Beoto, 33.

Díaz Alfonso, of Homestead, learned of the incident and of his nephew's
disappearance in a phone call from the missing man's sister, Taily Díaz
Beoto, who lives in Italy and is visiting Cuba with her Italian husband.

"My niece told me that Leosbelito [Díaz Beoto] was missing and to call
911," said Díaz Alfonso. "I called and was told that the incident had
happened in Cuba."

On Friday, Sánchez said he contacted the U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson
in Miami who confirmed that they had received a call about a sunken boat
and that they reported the incident to the Cuban Coast Guard.

El Nuevo Herald could not reach the U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson on
Friday afternoon.

Source: Cuban migrant missing after Cuban coast guard sinks boat | The
Miami Herald -

Castroism has won — again

Castroism has won — again
12/19/2014 7:12 PM 12/19/2014 7:12 PM

HAVANA — With that pessimism that by now has become chronic in our
society, many of us Cubans thought that Alan Gross would leave Cuba only
"feet first," in an image depicting a fatal outcome. The obstinacy that
the Cuban government has shown in its relations with the United States
did not presage a short-term solution for the subcontractor.

However, on Wednesday, he was [released, as were] three Cuban spies
imprisoned in the United States, thus bringing to a close a long and
complicated political chapter for both parties.

Gross was useful only while alive, and his health deteriorated very
rapidly. Raúl Castro knew that very well. That is why in the past
several months he raised the decibels on his proposal to exchange him
for the agent Antonio Guerrero and the officers Ramón Labañino and
Gerardo Hernández, who served long sentences in prisons in our neighbor
country to the north.

As the 65-year-old subcontractor grew thinner and lost his sight, the
official campaigns insisted more loudly in the exchange. When Gross
threatened to take his own life, alarms rang throughout the government,
and the timetable for negotiation was speeded up.

For his part, President Obama clearly saw that any change in policy
toward Havana would run into the insurmountable obstacle of an American
imprisoned for "threats to the security of the State."

The New York Times itself had suggested the exchange in one of its
editorials on Cuba, and the publication of that article in such a
prestigious newspaper was read as a portent of what would happen.

As in every political game, we could see only one side while, in the
backstairs of power, negotiators tied the ribbons on the accord that was
made public this week.

For those of us who know the mechanisms of pressure used by Revolution
Square on its opponents, Gross' very arrest can be seen as a move aimed
at rescuing the Interior Ministry agents. The subcontractor was arrested
not so much for what he did as for what could be achieved through him.

He was a simple bait and was aware of that from the start. His crime was
not bringing devices for satellite connection to the Internet to Cuba's
Jewish community, but carrying in his pocket a passport that transformed
him immediately into a piece of exchange on the board of the tense
bilateral relations between Washington and Havana.

If we review the five years of captivity Gross endured, we will see a
well-researched news script that the Cuban government used to pressure
the Obama administration. Every image that came to the public eye, every
visitor who was allowed to see him was authorized with the single
condition that it should reinforce the theory of exchange.

In that manner, Castroism managed to achieve its purposes. It managed to
release a peaceful man enrolled in the humanitarian adventure of
providing connectivity and information to a group of Cubans and regain
intelligence agents who caused significant damage and pain with their

In the game of politics, totalitarian regimes manage to overpower the
democracies because they control public opinion inside their countries,
predetermine the legal outcomes at will and can spend 15 years spending
the resources of an entire nation to liberate the moles they sent into
an adversary's territory.

The democracies, in turn, end up giving in because they have to answer
to their people, to coexist with an incisive press that reproaches the
leaders for making — or not making — certain decisions and because
they're obligated to do everything possible to carry their dead and
their living back home.

Castroism has won, although the positive result is that Alan Gross has
emerged alive from a prison that threatened to become his tomb. Now we
can expect long weeks of cheers and slogans, during which the Cuban
government will proclaim itself the winner of its latest battle.

But there is no space in the national pantheon for so many breathing
heroes, and little by little the newly returned agents will lose
importance and visibility. The myth that was created for them will begin
to fade.

Now that the principal obstacle for the reestablishment of relations has
been eliminated, we wait to learn what the next step will be. Does the
Cuban government plan some other movement to be again in a position of
strength with the government of the United States?

Or have all the cards been put on the table, before the tired eyes of a
population that suspects that Castroism will again win the next round?

Source: Castroism has won — again | The Miami Herald -

US-Cuba deal to restore ties puts spotlight on island's human rights record

US-Cuba deal to restore ties puts spotlight on island's human rights record
Published December 19, 2014 Associated Press

HAVANA – To many exiles and their allies, President Raul Castro is a
brutal dictator who locks up dissenters in gulag-like jails, snuffs out
political discourse and condemns his people to socialist poverty.

Cuba's supporters see the government as heroic, its sins justified by
the behavior of its giant enemy to the north, and offset by the fact it
provides health care and education that most developing countries could
only dream of.

As often is the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.

President Barack Obama said on Friday that he began his historic call
with Castro earlier in the week by delivering a 15-minute lecture on
human rights and political freedom, adding: "This is still a regime that
oppresses its people."

Even so, he said that US policy had failed to change Cuba for more than
a half century and it was time to try something new.

Human rights activists welcomed the overhaul of US-Cuba relations, but
added that the Communist government has much to answer for, including a
denial of freedom of speech, the banning of independent labor unions and
a lack of fair and competitive elections.

"I believe that President Obama is making the right decision, but that
does not mean that our serious human rights concerns with regard to Cuba
have gone away," Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director for the
Americas division at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. He
said the abuses were "part of state policy, systematic and widespread."

Castro has defended the single-party political system, saying open
elections would be tantamount to "legalizing the party or parties of
imperialism on our soil."

Accusations of human rights abuses have dogged the Cuban government
since the beginning, starting with summary trials and executions after
the 1959 revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista, whose regime
committed its own abuses, including torture, executions and persecution
of the press.

In the years that followed, priests, gay people and others considered
socially dangerous were sent to labor camps in the countryside, and
political opponents were jailed or forced into exile.

The panorama has undoubtedly shifted in recent years, particularly since
Fidel Castro handed power to his brother in 2006.

In 2010, Raul Castro negotiated a deal with the Roman Catholic Church
and Spain to free the last of 75 political dissidents who had been
rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to long jail terms, and he has allowed
more church freedom on the island, building on the opening worked out
between Fidel and Pope John Paul II.

Amnesty International counts five Cuban inmates as "prisoners of
conscience," down sharply from years past, though Marselha Goncalves
Margerin, the group's advocacy director for the Americas, said Amnesty
has campaigned for others that don't meet its strict definition.

"Cuba has always used the excuse of the U.S. embargo and restrictions to
crack down on dissidents," she said. "Once this is removed, we do hope
this will generate human rights changes."

As part of this week's deal with the United States, Castro agreed to
free 53 people the White House describes as dissidents, though their
identities have not been released. It was not clear if any of those on
Amnesty's list were among them.

Elizardo Sanchez, one of the only independent human rights activists
tolerated on the island, said he has been getting calls from inmates
asking him if he has a list and whether they're on it, but he's had to
say he doesn't know. There's been no evidence of any mass release, he said.

Sanchez also welcomed the restoration of diplomatic ties with the United
States, despite what he described as a sharp increase in acts of
harassment and intimidation.

While the government has moved away from sentencing dissidents to long
jail terms, he said that short-term detentions have spiked under Raul
Castro, from 2,074 in 2010 to 8,410 through the first 11 months of this
year. Cuban authorities dismiss his findings as a fiction, and consider
the dissidents to be paid stooges of Washington.

While the Castro government has not budged on the issue of a one-party
state, Vivanco says that Cuba's rights problems aren't in the same
league as a country such as North Korea, and says there has been
movement on some key issues such as freedom of travel that was tightly
controlled under Fidel Castro.

Prominent dissidents such as the blogger Yoani Sanchez have been allowed
to travel under the reforms, using their trips to speak out against
government policy.

The younger Castro has opened the island to some private enterprise, and
allowed Cubans to own cellphones and computers. Rights for the LGBT
community have also advanced under Raul Castro, whose daughter is the
island's most prominent advocate for gay rights. The government's free
universal health care system now pays for gender reassignment surgery,
and gay pride parades are an annual fixture.

Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Center at Florida
International University, acknowledged progress on some issues like
freedom of religion, but added that Raul Castro largely shared the
attitudes of his brother.

"Since Raul took over, repressive strategies have become more subtle,
not necessarily less brutal," he said.

Elizardo Sanchez warned against believing that an improving relationship
between Washington and Havana would change much on the human rights front.

"I don't think there's a cause-and-effect relationship between the
normalization of relations between the countries and the necessary
implementation of reforms by the Cuban government," he said.

Obama concurred, saying he did not expect improvements overnight.

Source: US-Cuba deal to restore ties puts spotlight on island's human
rights record | Fox News -

Wait, Cuba has its own Internet?

Wait, Cuba has its own Internet?
By Nancy Scola December 19 at 3:06 PM

According to official Cuban government statistics, some 23 percent of
Cubans are on the Internet. But when the White House announced the
President Obama's new approach to Cuba, it railed against that country's
"Internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in
the world."

So what's with that considerable gap, which represents whether about 2
million Cubans do or don't go online?

It's a matter of definition. The Cuban Internet is different from the
Internet that most of the rest of the world knows. And on the Cuban
version of the Internet, there is no Twitter, no YouTube, few blogs or
publications from the United States or elsewhere beyond the boundaries
of that island nation. Instead, explains Internet researcher Sanja Kelly
of the pro-democracy group Freedom House, that Cuba-wide web is limited
to a national e-mail system, some government-approved Web sites, a Cuban
encyclopedia, and little else.

Indeed, Cuba has its own Internet, thought the better term is probably
Intranet, like you might have at work. Only an entire country is on it,
and can't break past its borders.

Given the relative paucity of content on the Cuban Internet, explains
Kelly, "most people just use it for e-mail."

Of course, there are other countries around the world that limit what
their citizens can see online, including Russia and China. But Cuba,
says Kelly, doesn't rely upon the same sort of technological filtering
to restrict where online Cubans might go. Instead, she explains, the
Cuban approach is uniquely far more binary. "The government prefers to
limit access" -- to the full, global Internet, that is -- "through a
total lack of connectivity and artificially high prices."

Who are the 5 percent of Cubans who can go where they'd like online?
Doctors, government lawyers, party officials, and a handful of other
"non-threatening" Cubans, reports Kelly. There are laws in place in Cuba
that make it illegal for online service providers to allow access to the
global Internet to those without a government-issued license.

Cuban officials have, in recent years, made public pronouncements about
the need for Cuba to enter the digital age. Beginning in 2009, the
Castro government began opening would become about a hundred Internet
cafés around the country. But even there, subtle and not so subtle
discouragements exist. Visiting international sites costs about seven
times what it costs to get on the national Intranet, or about $4.50 an
hour. Given that the average monthly salary in Cuba is about $20, those
price differences can be an effective nudge towards sticking in the
Cuban digital cul-de-sac.

And if that doesn't do it, explains Kelly, there are alerts that pop up
telling users that their visits to non-Cuban Web sites are being monitored.

Some resourceful Cubans have found ways around the restrictions.

"A family member from abroad will bring a WiFi set-up and patch into
someone else's 3G connection," explains Julia Sweig, director of Latin
America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Younger Cubans in
particular will hang around outside hotels -- where, inside, wealthy
Cubans and foreigners can go online -- and hop on wireless connections
using borrowed passwords. And, says Sweig, some Cubans have figured out
how to have some benefits of the modern Internet though what some in the
field call "sneakernets": they'll go online and download movies, music,
and other materials and pass them around among friends and family on USB

Will Obama's negotiations with the Cuban government, which includes the
promised loosening of restrictions on the import and sale of laptops and
other telecommunications equipment, actually make it easier for more
Cubans to roam far more freely online? At least one high-profile critic
of Obama's Cuba policy doubts it.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed the Obama administration this week for
failing to get any meaningful concessions that might bring more Cubans
truly online.

"The president said that the people of Cuba do not have access to
advanced, 21st century, modern technology for communications and
telecommunications because of the U.S. embargo. That is false," Rubio
said. "The reason why they don't have access to telecommunications, like
smartphones, like access to the Internet, is because it's illegal in Cuba."

"This notion that Cuba is going to allow the Cuban people access to any
Web site they want," said Rubio, "is ridiculous."

Nancy Scola is a reporter who covers the intersections of technology and
public policy, politics, and governance.

Source: Wait, Cuba has its own Internet? - The Washington Post -

Cuba's Coke and Hollywood among embargo's paradoxes

Cuba's Coke and Hollywood among embargo's paradoxes
By Francisco Jara

Havana (AFP) - Despite Cuba's reputation as an island cut off from all
things American, it is possible to drink Coca-Cola and watch Hollywood
movies here, one of the paradoxes of the five-decade embargo.

Cuba's postcard image of pre-embargo American cars rolling down Havana
streets that are so close yet so far from Miami belies the fact that the
United States is currently the communist island's ninth-largest trade

That is because the US Congress approved food exports to Cuba in 2000
under pressure from the domestic agricultural industry.

Cuba at first rebuffed the offer, but relented after Hurricane Michelle
swept the island the following year, and now imports much of its food
from the US -- $348 million in agricultural products last year, mainly
frozen chicken.

Cuban restaurants, hotels and supermarkets also carry Coca-Cola, one of
the most iconic products of American companies' global reach.

But they import their Coke mainly from other Latin American countries,
not the United States.

A can costs $1.20 -- double the price of the local competition, "Tukola"
and "Tropicola," whose affordability makes them more popular with Cubans.

Despite the island's reputation for hostility toward its northern
neighbour, state television is also known to broadcast Hollywood movies,
even while they are still on the big screen in the United States.

In March, for example, state TV showed "12 Years a Slave" five days
after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The embargo bans US film studios from selling movie rights to Cuba, and
the island's TV networks do not release details on where they get the films.

However, it is impossible to pay with American credit cards on the
island or find US pharmaceutical products.

View gallery
A sign shows the departure times for flights to Cuba at Miami
International Airport on December 19, …
Across the Florida Straits, the Cuban consulate in Washington has had
trouble maintaining day-to-day operations because no bank would accept
it as a client under the embargo's ban on financial transactions.

- Eying post-embargo future -

The embargo began as a partial export ban in 1960 and was expanded to a
full injunction on trade by president John F. Kennedy in 1962, in the
aftermath of the disastrous US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

"These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked," President
Barack Obama said Wednesday as he announced a historic rapprochement.

But it would take an act of Congress, which comes under the full control
of Obama's Republican opponents in January, to repeal the embargo.

Cuba says the embargo it calls a "blockade" has cost it $100 billion.

But even while the embargo remains in place, the new detente will have
beneficial economic effects for the island, said Cuban economist Pavel

"American companies can't invest, but others will, trying to position
themselves ahead of a future lifting of the embargo," he told AFP.

Already, some 400 flights per month connect the US and Cuba, though
legally they can only transport Cuban-Americans to see their families or
US citizens on educational, artistic, humanitarian or other approved trips.

For his part, Cuban President Raul Castro allowed Cubans to travel
without special permits in 2013.

Cubans with relatives in the US can currently receive money from them,
but that exception hinges on the goodwill of whoever occupies the White
House at a given moment.

On Wednesday, Obama again lifted the amount of remittances that can be
sent back to Cuba, from $500 to $2,000 every three months.

"Among the most immediate effects we're going to see is the increase in
money sent to families," a Latin American diplomat said, speaking on
condition of anonymity.

Source: Cuba's Coke and Hollywood among embargo's paradoxes - Yahoo News