Saturday, June 24, 2017

Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba

Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The recent decision
by the president of the United States to limit commercial relations with
Cuban companies controlled by the military highlights a rarely explored
corner of the national reality.

Anyone who knows the Island minimally knows that there is nothing like
what can be called a "division of powers" here. It was demonstrated
recently when the deputies to the National Assembly of People's Power
unanimously raised their hands to "back" some program documents from the
Communist Party, documents that the deputies had no legal capacity to
approve but politically could not disapprove.

In other countries, it is to be expected that Congress will oppose what
the Executive has proposed or that the Judiciary will rule
unconstitutional what a Parliament has approved. In most nations, when
some measure, new policy, or any law is applied, analysts wonder how the
unions will react or what the students are going to do. In Cuba it is
not like that. Those who rule give the orders and the rest obey or go to
jail.

The ostensible presence of individuals from the military sector in power
structures, especially in economic management, may lead one to think
that the army enriches itself this way and that having so many resources
in its hands makes it easier for it to repress the people. This
reasoning thus forms part of the belief that there is some kind of
division of powers and that introduces a huge error in the analysis.

The presence of colonels and generals (retired or active) in charge of
tourism companies such as Gaviota, or powerful consortiums such as
Gaesa, Cimex and TRD among others, may not mean the militarization of
the economy as much as it means the conversion, the metamorphosis, of
soldiers into managers.

Devoid of or "healed" of an authentic "working-class spirit," they
handle with the iron fists of ruthless foremen – loyal to the boss – any
dispute with the workers. Their habits of discipline lead them to do
what they are ordered to do without asking if it is viable or
absurd. They do not demand anything for themselves and anything that
improves their standard of living or working conditions (modern cars,
comfortable homes, trips abroad, food and beverage baskets…) will be
considered as a favor from the boss, a privilege which can be paid for
only with loyalty.

Although difficult to believe, they are not backed by their cannons or
their tanks, their influence is not determined by the numbers of their
troops or the firepower of the armaments they control, but by the
confidence that Raúl Castro has in them. It is as simple as that.

When we review the extensive documentation issued by the different
spheres of the outlawed political opposition, or by the officially
unrecognized civil society, we can barely observe any protest against
the dominance that the military has gained over the economy in the last
decade.

Civil society's priorities are different. The liberation of political
prisoners, the cessation of repression, freedom of expression and
association, the right to choose leaders in plural elections… In the
area of ​​economics, what is being questioned are the difficulties faced
by private entrepreneurs in starting a business, limitations on access
to the international market, excessive taxes, and the plunder to which
the self-employed are subjected to by the inspectors.

The most perceptible concern in this sense is that placing these
soldiers in key points of the economy is engineering the future economic
empowerment of the ruling clans in a virtual piñata, which implies
self-annihilation of the system by the heirs of power.

If it were not so dramatic it would be laughable to imagine the infinite
solutions that the Cuban rulers have to circumvent "the new measures"
announced by the president of the United States. All they have to do is
change the name of the current monopolies and place civilian leaders in
charge of supposed "second level cooperatives," already foreseen in
Guideline 15 from the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This magic trick or, to use a Cubanism, "shuffling of the dominoes"
would force the mammoth American bureaucracy to make a new inventory of
entities with which trading is forbidden. "As the stick comes and goes,"
they reorganize their forces while remaining at the helm of the country
and watching Donald Trump's term expire.

To perform this trick it will not be necessary to gather the Party
together in a congress, nor to consult the constitutionalist lawyers,
they would not even have to inform the Parliament. To make matters
worse, in the streets there will be no protest against the chameleon
gesture of the military exchanging their uniforms and their weapons for
guayaberas or business cocktails.

Source: Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/trump-the-military-and-the-division-of-powers-in-cuba/

Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich

Sweating Is Not For Cuba's New Rich

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The passenger complains
of the heat while frantically moving the fan. "In a few days I will
install an air conditioning," justifies the taxi driver and adds that he
will charge "higher fares." In summer everyone dreams of
air-conditioning their rooms or vehicles, but whether or not one suffers
the heat depends on the pocketbook.

In 2013, after eight years of prohibition, the government authorized
travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and
microwave ovens. It was the starting shot for an avalanche that invades
the airports, the port terminals and the shipping agencies to Cuba.

"Six 'splits' (air conditioners) came on that flight," said an employee
of Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The plane
from Cancun, a route greatly appreciated by the mules, also brought a
dozen flat-screen TVs, eight minibars and two desktop computers.

Among the boxes that are piled around the luggage belt are the units
that will be placed inside rooms and others that will be placed on a
roof or an outer wall, a cruel irony, because in the main airport of the
country travelers complain about the heat and drip fat beads of sweat
while waiting for their suitcases.

"It is difficult to know the number of AC units entering each day," says
the employee. "It is rare that a flight arrives from Panama, Mexico or
any other nearby country that comes without at least two devices." In
the lines to pay for overweight luggage and the import of domestic
appliances one sees the new arrivals loaded with bundles.

Permanent residents in Cuba, national or foreign, can import two air
conditioners of up to one-ton capacity on each trip. On the first
occasion only – over the space of a year — they pay tariffs in Cuban
pesos at a price ranging from 150 to 200 CUP (roughly $6 to $8 US). For
additional imports they pay that amount in convertible pesos (CUC –
roughly $150 to $200 US).

The business is booming. Even paying in CUC the traveler can resell a
one-ton air conditioner on the black market for about 650 CUC, for a
device that originally cost less than 350 dollars. The brands that enter
most frequently are Midea, LG, Carrier, Royal, Daewoo and
Prestiger. Prices have fallen by up to 30% since the imports were
authorized and given the volume of supply that trend will continue.

State stores try to compete with the "under the counter" sales but have
higher prices, fewer models and shortages that make the supply unstable.

The air conditioners have slowly been incorporated into the landscape of
cities and towns. If before the economic relaxations they were installed
discreetly, now with a more open economy the tendency is to exhibit them.

"The people living there have cash," says Igor, a pedicab driver who
waits for his clients in the vicinity of the Plaza de Carlos III. While
pedaling and showing some parts of the city, the cyclist glances at
these signs of families with money. "Wherever there is an air
conditioner they are affluent," he muses. Not only does acquiring one of
these devices mark membership in a social group, the most difficult
thing is to pay for its operation.

Much of the electricity supply remains subsidized. "The average monthly
consumption in the residential sector in 2013 was approximately 180 KWh
per customer," said Marino Murillo. For that amount a consumer pays
36.60 CUP, "while the cost to the state is 220 CUP," said Cuba's vice
president.

Keeping a one-ton air conditioner on all night can trigger electricity
consumption above 400 CUP monthly, the entire salary of a
professional. However, many families decide to do so, overwhelmed by the
heat or because they want to rent rooms to foreigners.

"Air conditioning and hot water cannot be lacking in this business,"
says Rocío, who operates a colonial hostel in Trinidad with his
mother. With three rooms for rent, each with AC, minibar and television,
the entrepreneurs pay a four-digit electricity bill. They consider that,
even so, it "brings in business" in an area with a high occupation rate
throughout the year.

In November 2010, a new progressive electricity rate began to be
imposed, which imposes a penalty of up to 300% on households that
consume more than 300 KWh per month, a situation that has triggered
electricity fraud.

An engineer from the Electricity Company in Havana told 14ymedio about
the new ways in which citizens seek to steal electricity. Before there
were "visible" cables that were easy to detect or they tampered with the
meters in a way that technicians noticed right away, but now they
conspire with the workers who repair the streets and get the cables
installed underground.


In 2013 the Cuban government authorized travelers to import air
conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwaves. (J. Cáceres)
The specialist says that there are "people whose homes abut state
entities and they steal electricity from a company, a warehouse, a
carpentry workshop or even a polyclinic." He says that almost always "it
is a cases of people who have some highly customer-based business, like
an electric oven to make pizzas, a body shop, a private restaurant or a
lot of air conditioners."

The engineer recalls a family in which "even the youngest children had
AC in their room and left it on all day." A neighbor reported the
situation when he learned that they paid a very low electricity
rate. The complaint brought the inspectors and they discovered that the
meter was tampered with. In addition to the fine "they had to pay
retroactively all that they owed."

To counter fraud, analog meters were replaced by digital ones and in
some areas of the country they are being changed again for new ones with
infrared technology. But the tricks are inexhaustible.

"The upstairs neighbor lives alone and is retired, and he passes the
cable with electricity to me and in return I also pay for his
consumption," says a prosperous entrepreneur who runs a coffee shop on
Zanja Street. "So I share the consumption and it's not as expensive"
because it prevents all the kilowatts going on a single account with the
consequent progressive surcharge.

The customer has three air conditioners installed throughout the
house. "Without this you can not live here, because this house hardly
has windows to the outside and the kitchen of the business generates a
lot of heat," he explains. He bought the devices in the informal market
and is waiting for them "to lower prices a little" to buy a room.

"It is not the same to be Cuban with a fan as it is to be a Cuban with
AC," he reflects. "The first one is irritated but the second is less
stressed because he has air conditioning."

Source: Sweating Is Not For Cuba's New Rich – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/sweating-is-not-for-cubas-new-rich/

Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides

Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — Economic hardships
turn many Cuban engineers to work as bartenders, doctors become taxi
drivers and innumerable professionals become alternative guides for
tourists. Among the latter, there are the experienced or the
just-getting-started, but all of them earn more money than they would
working in the state sector.

"When they change a picture I know instantly," says Natacha, a Havana
city guide who says she has visited "the Museum of Fine Arts more than
300 times" with her clients. She graduated from the Teaching Institute
but she left the classrooms after five years of teaching in junior high.

"I had to think about what to do with my life and I realized that I
spoke Spanish very clearly, I knew the history of Cuba and I was good at
dealing with people." A friend advised her to start offering tours to
foreigners who came to the country.

At first, Natacha stood in a corner of Old Havana and whispered her
services to travelers. Now, after the relaxations regarding
self-employment, she has been able to legalize part of her activities
and form a team. "We have a network that includes rental houses, dance
teachers, masseuses and chauffeurs," she says.

With the increase in tourism, which last year exceeded 4 million
visitors, the guide has "a surplus of work," but now fears that after
the announcements of US President Donald Trump that "the business will
decline."

Natacha accompanies her clients "to places where a state guide will
never take them…The program is flexible according to their tastes: from
exclusive areas to poor neighborhoods, trips in collective taxis, a
train ride and a santería party."

She speaks English and French fluently and recently began studying
Italian and Japanese. "Japanese tourism is still small but they pay very
well and are very respectful people," says Natacha. Most of her clients
end up recommending her services to a friend who wants to travel to
Cuba. "This is a chain of trust that has allowed me to have up to 200
customers a year."

The prices of a walk with the former teacher vary. "They can go from 20
to 100 CUC (roughly $20 to $100 US) depending on the place, the time and
the complexity of the subject." For years she included visits outside of
Havana but now she has left these to her younger colleagues because her
mother is very old and she doesn't want to leave the city.

"This work is hard because it takes a lot of personal involvement,
learning something new every day and answering many questions," she
explains. "I spend hours walking, most of the time under the sun, but I
would not give up my independence by going back to teaching." She says
that being a tourist guide has allowed her to "put a plate of food on
the table every day… a good plate of food."

A growing alternative is digital sites that advertise independent guides
and offer a wide variety of services or entertainment packages. Recently
a team of 30-something Cuban residents in Miami launched Tour Republic,
a website to sell recreational activities on the Island.

The site connects the traveler with urban guides with a marketplace –
similar to Airbnb – but instead of offering lodging it markets tours of
varied intensity and duration, from a ride in a classic car through
Havana, to an escape through the unique natural landscape of the valley
of Viñales.

Máximo, a 30-year-old Italian newcomer to Havana, was hesitant Tuesday
about whether to buy a three-day package worth $58 including visits to
the Ernest Hemingway Museum, the University of Havana, the old colonial
fortresses of the capital, and even an encounter with the sculpture of
John Lennon located in a Vedado park.

With Tour Republic the customer pays the online service and must be at
the site where the itinerary begins at the agreed-upon time. In the case
of the tour that interests Maximo, the guide is at the bottom of the
steps of the Capitol and departs every morning at ten.

The tourist says he prefers an independent guide because "the program is
more flexible and can be adjusted more" to what he wants. In a small
notebook he has noted some interesting places that escape the typical
tourist route: the town of San Antonio, the Superior Art Institute and
the Alamar neighborhood.

"In this arena there are people very prepared and with excellent
training," says Carlos, an alternative guide who leaves the statue of
José Martí in Central Park every morning for a tour he has
baptized Habana Real. "I take them through the streets where tourists do
not normally pass, I have them try a drink of rum in a bar where the
Cubans really go," he says.

The young man, with a degree in geography, has been "wearing out shoe
leather in the city for seven years." At first "I did not know much
about history, architecture or famous people, but little by little I
have become an itinerant encyclopedia of Cuba," he says.

The GuruWalk platform has also risen to the crest of the wave of tourist
interest in Cuba. The Spanish company runs an international website
for free walking tours and has chosen Havana as their preferred site to
begin operations.

Communications director, Pablo Perez-Manglano, told 14ymedio that "the
platform is completely democratic, anyone can join and create a
tour." Site administrators check the offers one by one, but the reviews
are left to users after each visit.

"We are an open and free platform, we do not charge the guide or the
visitor anything, and therefore, we hope that each person understands
and takes responsibility to comply, or not, with the legality in their
respective cities of the world," he clarifies.

The site already has seven free tours in Havana, one in Santiago and
another in Santa Clara. "In addition, we had about 200 registered users
in the last month, which is a lot for such a new platform," says
Pérez-Manglano.

Unlike Tour Republic there is nothing to pay online and the money is
delivered directly to the guide.

The perspectives that the web offers for entrepreneurs like Natacha
sound promising. GuruWalk does not deny "entry to someone for not having
an official guide qualification." Rather, it seeks "people who are
passionate about culture and history, who also enjoy teaching and
transmitting that knowledge."

One of the strategies of the company is to make itself known among "the
owners of private houses" because it is to them that more often the
foreigners ask: "What should we see in the city?"

Pérez-Manglano underlines that the cornerstone of GuruWalk is the
"collaborative economy." Instead of "certificates, rules, rules, or
permits," they are interested in trust, which "is built little by little."

Source: Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-from-the-inside-with-alternative-tour-guides/

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy,
Trump's "new policy" toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric
expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture
towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who
expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy
toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday
June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be
more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite
limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced "punishment" for the
Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where
the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with
Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by
US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage.

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The
dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the
enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little
Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime's hours are numbered.
Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami's
"Dialogue Mafia" "have run out of bread," that "the political actors (?)
are now where they should be" And that Trump's speech was "friendly
towards the Cuban people." If the matter were not so serious, it would
probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least
they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone
should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of
this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!)
could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the
construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from
opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that
each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put
into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because
its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality
in trying to "channel economic activities outside the Cuban military
monopoly, GAESA."

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of
institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes "military" from "civil,"
defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic
structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not
related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the
State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with
which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a
challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years
ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump's proposals carry another capricious
paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the
fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention
independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living
from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained
precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the
State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay
because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than
privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the
one relating to the merely political. It's shocking to see the rejoicing
of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called "hardline
opposition" inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) "successful" speech by
the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old
politics of confrontation will bring "to the Cuban people" in the field
of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump's
speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously
manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been
the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the
reinstatement of the policy of "wet foot/dry foot," repealed in the
final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the
unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic
relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and
even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a
few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held
after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about
any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in
US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded
in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US,
and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition
projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump's proposals is none
other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the
natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba.
Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly
published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with
plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of
sovereignty and against "the rude American interference", which that
gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of
the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press
conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the "Cuban people" – with no voice or vote in this whole saga
— remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and
interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and
the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the
Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its
government — is hidden behind a mask, and the "solution" of Cuba's ills
is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we
can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the
benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Thanks for Nothing, Trump – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/thanks-for-nothing-trump/

Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump

Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 19 June 2017 — "Impotence." This is the word that a
performer in the Guiñol Theater (located in the basement of the FOCSA
building in Havana's Vedado district) uses when asked her opinion of the
new Trump Doctrine regarding Cuba.

On a day of African heat, a group of eight waits to navigate the
Internet in a hall administered by the state-run telecommunications
monopoly ETECSA. The performer exchanges opinions with the others
regarding the event of the week: the repeal by Donald Trump's
administration of Obama's policy of détente.

On the street, for those Cubans who earn only token salaries, breakfast
on coffee alone and complain constantly about the inefficiency of public
services and the government's inability to improve the quality of life,
political machination is just an annoyance.

Human Rights, democracy and political liberties all sound good, but they
are not understood in their full context. At least, this is what can be
deduced from the opinions expressed by the people waiting in line. Some
make clear that they are speaking from their personal perspective, that
they watched Trump on Telesur but have yet to read the measures for
themselves.

For lack of time, and the propaganda fatigue brought on by the barrage
from the official press–which has caused many compatriots to decide to
not keep up with news reports but instead take shelter in social-media
gossip–the group waiting to go online is shooting to kill in all directions.

"Everybody talks about 'the people,' about the 'dissidents,' about the
Cuban American congressmen over there, about the government over here,
but nobody has hit on the formula for us to derive benefits from a
particular policy. Obama tried, but the gerontocracy that rules us did
not allow private business owners to get ahead. I feel like a hostage,
to Castro and to Trump. A puppet," the performer confesses.

One lady, a loquacious and chain-smoking housewife, asks, in a tone of
disgust, "What have the people gained from Obama's policy? Nothing." And
she explains to herself, "Those people (the government) don't want to
change. They will not give up," she says ironically, "the honey of
power. Trump is a crazy man, a clown. The guy is a pill. His speech was
pure theater. It's all cheap politicking. And in the middle of it all,
we Cubans are–and will remain–screwed. Nobody can change this [regime],
and nobody can take it down, either."

A self-employed worker affirms that he does not see a solution to
Cubans' problems because "we haven't had the balls to confront the
arbitrariness of the government. To hold on and and get screwed, that's
our fate. With all his yammering, the only thing Trump will achieve is
that the 'revolutionary reaffirmation' marches will start up again,
condemning 'yankee interference.' You can already see that coming."

At a park in Old Havana there are no optimists to be found, either. On
the contrary. "Damn, brother, I thought that The One was going to put
back the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot law. The only way this shit's going to be
resolved is letting people leave Cuba. You think that over here the
folks are going to sign up with the Ladies in White to get beaten up?
No, man, people will mind their own business, getting by under the table
and trying to scrape together a few pesos. There is no way that Cubans
will take to the streets. Unless it's to get in line at foreign
consulates, or if Gente de Zona put on a free concert," declares a young
man in the Parque del Curita, waiting for the P-12 line to Santiago de
las Vegas.

Almost 60 years since the protracted and sterile political arm-wrestling
between the various US administrations and the Castro brothers, a broad
segment of the citizenry sees itself caught in a no-man's land–in a
futile battle for which nobody, not the Cuban rulers nor the US, has
asked their permission. They think also that political naiveté has
always reigned supreme in the White House, given the oft-repeated
intentions to export democratic values to a fraternity of autocrats with
the mentality of gangsters and neighborhood troublemakers.

"It is a narrative replete with personal ambitions, pseudo-patriotic
elation and cheap nationalism, which has served only to consolidate a
history of sovereign and intransigent rulers who never allowed North
American interference. It's fine for a tale, but this politics of
confrontation on both sides has left only one winner: the regime of
Fidel and Raúl Castro. The rest of us have been the losers. Those who
were not in agreement with the Revolution or who wanted to emigrate were
called 'gusanos' [worms]. Families were split up and kept from having
contact with relatives in the US. The result of all this is what we see
today: a great number of Cubans who cannot tolerate those who think
differently from them, many who want to emigrate, women who don't want
to have children in their homeland and, in general, a great indifference
on the part of citizens towards the problems of their country," explains
a Havana sociologist.

The official reaction has been restrained. For now. A functionary with
the Communist Party assures me that "the government is not going to wage
a frontal campaign to discredit Trump. Yes, of course, the various
institutions of the State will mobilize to demonstrate that the
government has it all under control. But Trump's speech was more noise
than substance. Except for the matter of US citizens' travel to Cuba,
which undoubtedly will affect the national economy, the rest [of the
Obama-era policies] remains in place, because the military-run
businesses are only two hotels.

The owner of a paladar [private restaurant] in Havana believes that "if
the yumas [Cuban slang for Americans] stop coming there will be effects
on the private sector, because almost all of them stay in private homes,
travel around the city in convertible almendrones [classic cars], and
eat lunch and dinner in private paladares."

The news was not good for Cubans who had plans to emigrate to the US.
"Many dreamers thought that Trump was a cool guy and would reinstate the
Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy. I was not expecting as much, but I thought at
least that the Cuban-American congressmen would influence Trump's
allowing the exceptional granting of visas to Cubans stuck in Central
America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and reactivating the asylum for Cuban
medical workers who have deserted their missions," said a engineer who
dreams of resettling in Miami.

The perception right now among Cubans on the street is that they are
back to a familiar scenario. One of trenches. Replete with
anti-imperialist rhetoric and zero tolerance for liberal thought of any
stripe. The scenario most favorable for the hierarchs who dress in olive
green.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García
– Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cubans-feel-like-hostages-to-both-castro-and-trump-ivn-garca/

A Bad Bet

A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 13 June 2017 — Of the real and supposed problems that
the Cuban Revolution proposed to solve, as the basis of its historical
necessity, after more than half a century of exercising absolute power,
many have not been solved, the majority have been aggravated, and others
have emerged that did not exist before.

The housing shortage, the thousands of families living in precarious and
overcrowded conditions, and more thousands housed in inadequate
locations, constitute a clear demonstration of the Revolution's failure.
Insufficient and inefficient public transit, for years incapable of
meeting the minimum needs of the population, and the appalling and
unstable public services of all types, show another face of the failure.
If we add to this the loss of important agricultural outputs, the
obsolescence of the industrial infrastructure (lacking upgrades and
needed investments), plus a generalized lack of productivity, the
situation becomes chaotic.

Nor have the political and the social spheres achieved what was
promised, what with the continued absence of freedoms and basic rights
for citizens, as well as low wages and pensions, covert racial and
gender discrimination, street and domestic violence, incivility,
antisocial behaviors, corruption, and disregard for flora and fauna.

The blame for this string of calamities has always been cast upon the
embargo–but even back when it went unmentioned while the country was
benefitting from enormous Soviet subsidies* these problems went
unresolved. At that time, the abundant resources were squandered on
foreign wars, backed insurgencies, absurd and grandiose failed plans,
and other frivolities.

The socialist state and its leaders, albeit abusing the revolutionary
rhetoric, have reliably demonstrated in Cuba that the system does not
work and is unfeasible–just as happened in the other socialist countries
which erroneously bet on it.

To propose a "prosperous, efficient and sustainable socialism" is to
propose a negation, and it constitutes no more than another utopia to
deceive the citizenry and detain the march of time a little
longer–knowing that, at the end, it will fail as it has up to now.
Socialism, perhaps attractive in theory, is in practice a failure. A bet
on it, in any of its forms, is to ensure a loss.

Translator's Notes:

*Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the start of Cuba's
"Special Period."

Source: A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/a-bad-bet-fernando-damaso/

The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree

The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree / Iván García

Iván García, 24 May 2017 — May 20 of this year with mark the 115th
anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cuba. In the Throne Room of
the Palace of the Captains General, a building which now serves as the
City Museum, Tomás Estrada Palma — born in Bayamo in 1835, died in
Santiago de Cuba in 1908 — would go down in history as the first
popularly elected president of the republic.

With heat bouncing on the asphalt so intensely that even stray dogs seek
shelter under covered walkways, I go out to inquire about the May 20
anniversary.

Four pre-university students in their blue uniforms have skipped class
to go to Córdoba Park, a free wifi zone in the 10 de Octubre district.
They want to check out their Facebook wall, chat with relatives in Miami
and read the latest soccer blog from the Spanish newspaper Marca.

Though the heat is stifling, the young men do not even notice it. They
are eating ice cream cones, joking, gesturing and shouting at each
other. Striking up a conversation with them is easy. They are
seventeen-years-old and all four of them say that they hope to go to
college when they finish high school. When I ask them if they know on
what date the Republic of Cuba was founded, they hesitate and look at
each other, trying to come up with a correct answer.

"January 1, right?" two of them respond simultaneously.

"You guys are so dumb," says another, mocking his cohorts. "Independence
day is 10 October, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves."

Another justifies his ignorance with the excuse that he does not like
history. "That subject is a drag. You mechanically learn to answer exam
questions like that, but the next day no one remembers the dates or what
they commemorate."

A man selling popcorn, who has been eavesdropping on the conversation,
sums it up by saying, "There are a lot of opinions on this topic.
Whether it was January 1 or October 10. But I think it was 1492, when
Christopher Columbus discovered the island."

It seems only academicians, professors, students of history and
well-informed citizens can explain the significance of May 20, 1902 in
the context of national history. Most Cubans are unaware of it. Keep in
mind that around 70% of the current population was born after 1959.

For people over the age of sixty-five like Giraldo — from his wheelchair
he asks people walking along the side streets of the nursing home where
he lives for cigarettes and money — the date brings back fond memories.

"It was the most important day of the year," he says. "The tradition was
to debut a new pair of shoes and a change of clothes. Cuban flags were
hung from balconies. I would go with my parents and brothers to Puerto
Avenue. In Central Park there were public concerts by the municipal
band. The atmosphere was festive. But this government erased it all from
popular memory. Now the dates that are celebrated are those that suit them."

While Cubans living in Miami enthusiastically celebrate May 20, in Cuba
it is a day like any other. That is how the military regime wants it.

Dictatorships have a habit of manipulating events. Just as the official
narrative would have us believe that José Martí was an admirer of
Marxist theories, so too does a military confrontation take on aspects
of science fiction. This is what happened in 1983 in Granada. According
to the Castros' version of events, during the invasion of the country by
U.S. forces, a group of Cuban workers sacrificed themselves while
clutching the Grenadian flag.

For Cuba's ruling military junta, the past is something to be erased.
Economic, urban infrastructure and productivity gains achieved in the
more than half century that the republic existed do not matter.

In an article published in Cubanet, independent journalist Gladys
Linares recalls that in 1902, as a result of the war for independence,
"agriculture, livestock and manufacturing were in a disastrous state. In
a gesture of great sensitivity, Estrada Palma's first action was to pay
members of the Liberation Army and to pay off the war bonds issued by
the Republic in Arms. To do this, he secured a loan from an American
lender, Speyer Bank, for $35 million at 5% interest, which had already
been repaid by 1943."

For its part, EcuRed, the Cuban government's version of wikipedia,
states that "Estrada Palma was noted for being extremely thrifty during
his presidency (1902-1906). In 1905 the Cuban treasury held the
astonishing sum of 24,817,148 pesos and 96 centavos, of which the loan
accounted for only 3.5 million pesos. The accumulation of so much money
compelled Estrada Palma to invest in public works. The government
allotted 300,000 pesos to be used in every province for the construction
of roads and highways as well as more than 400,000 for their upkeep and
repair.

The state-run press labels this period with the derogatory term
"pseudo-republic" or "hamstrung republic."

"They have done everything imaginable to obviate or destroy it. From
producing television programs such as "San Nicolás del Peladero," which
ridiculed the venal politicians of the time, to minimizing the advances
in material well-being achieved by various sectors of society. But when
you review economic statistics from the period 1902 to 1958, you realize
that, despite imperfections, there was more growth," says a retired
historian.

He adds, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. The Republic
of Cuba was founded on May 20, 1902. In the future, setting ideology
aside, May 20 should be included in the schedule of national holidays
and should be celebrated once again. Everything began on that day."

That remains to be seen. For the moment, new (and not so new)
generations are unaware of the significance of May 20.

This ignorance, a willful act of forgetting, is part of the late Fidel
Castro's strategy of building a nation from the ground up, burying its
customs and values, rewriting history to suit his aims. And he succeeded.

Source: The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-cuban-republic-buried-by-official-decree-ivn-garca/

Independent journalist detained in eastern Cuba

Independent journalist detained in eastern Cuba
June 23, 2017 5:12 PM ET

New York, June 23, 2017--Cuban authorities should immediately release
independent journalist Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez and return his
equipment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. State
security forces and Interior Ministry officials detained León Velázquez
around 4 p.m. yesterday in the eastern province of Guantánamo, according
to his news website Diario de Cuba and the Cuban Institute for Freedom
of Expression and the Press.

The journalist's neighbor, Isael Poveda, told Diario de Cuba that he saw
authorities arrive at León Velázquez's home with an order to confiscate
"counter-revolutionary" equipment. According to Poveda, who is an
opposition activist, police arrested León Velázquez and took a computer,
a Sony camera, a copy of the Cuban constitution, and work documents from
the journalist's home. CPJ was unable to determine what documents were
confiscated.

"Independent journalists in Cuba should be able to work without the
constant threat of arbitrary detention," said CPJ Senior Program
Coordinator for the Americas Carlos Lauría. "Cuban authorities should
release Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez and return his equipment
immediately."

León Velázquez covers general news in Guantánamo and other eastern Cuban
states for the independent news website Diario de Cuba. Normando
Hernández, director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and
the Press, told CPJ today the organization is aware of the case, and has
spoken with León Velázquez's editor, who confirmed the arrest.

León Velázquez has been detained on several occasions, including in
October 2016 while reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and
in February 2017, when police detained him for two hours at a checkpoint
on the border between Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba province, Diario
de Cuba reported.

A September 2016 CPJ special report on press freedom in Cuba found that
independent journalists there continue to face the threat of arbitrary
detention, and that vague and outdated laws and limitations on internet
access continue to slow progress on press freedom.

Source: Independent journalist detained in eastern Cuba - Committee to
Protect Journalists -
https://cpj.org/2017/06/independent-journalist-detained-in-eastern-cuba.php

Uncertainty whittles away hope for Cuban migrants stranded in Panama

Uncertainty whittles away hope for Cuban migrants stranded in Panama
BY MARIO J. PENTÓN
mpenton@elnuevoherald.com

GUALACA, PANAMA
The color green seems to fill everything in Chiriqui, the western
province of Panama where the government is holding 124 undocumented
Cuban migrants. The morning's quiet amid huge pine trees is broken only
by the hum of insects that torture at dawn and dusk.

"This place is beautiful, but everything gets tiresome. Being in limbo
is tiresome," said Yosvani López, 30, who arrived in the Gualaca camp
after spending three months at a shelter for Cuban migrants in Panama
City run by the Catholic Church's Caritas agency.

"Sometimes we start to talk about what we would do if we can get out of
here and go to another country. Some relatives tell us that a shelter in
Canada is being prepared to take us in. Others tell us that they have
everything ready to deport us," López said. "That's how we live, between
dreams and fears."

The complex where the Cubans are being held was built by Swiss workers
in the 1970s who built the nearby La Fortuna dam. The 103-acre complex
is mostly forest, with a stream running through it. Located one hour
from the nearest city, the humidity here is so high that mushrooms and
other plants grow even on the fiberglass roof tiles.

The wood structures, worn with the passage of time, remain next to old
satellite antennas and electric heaters. The migrants say foreign coins
are sometimes found buried in the dirt.

López was born in Caibarién, on Cuba's northern coast. He said he had
the chance to leave the island on a fast boat for Florida, but preferred
to try to reach the United States through Central America to sidestep
the Cuban regulation that migrants who leave illegally cannot return for
seven years.

"I wanted to be able to return before the seven years," he said. "I have
my mother and my sisters in Cuba."

In his homeland, he worked as a chef at a Meliá hotel in the keys north
of Villa Clara, earning about $25 per month. With the money from the
sale of his mother's house, he traveled to Guyana and from there to
Panama, where he was stranded when President Barack Obama ended the
so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy.

"We spend our time here chatting with our relatives in Cuba and the
United States, and looking for hints in news reports that will tell us
what's going to happen to us," López said.

The Cubans in the Gualaca camp not only are banned from working but
cannot leave the shelter except for one day a week to go to a nearby
Western Union office, accompanied by officers that run the camp. Some
are making a little extra money by selling coffee or cutting hair. Local
residents also run a store that sells food and personal hygiene
products, paid for with money sent by relatives in the United States.

Authorities initially set a 90-day deadline for deciding what will
happen to the 124 Cubans who agreed to wait in Gualaca. But two months
later, their patience is running out. At least six have fled the shelter
since it opened. Most recently, four Cubans fled. Two returned and the
other two managed to cross the northern border into Costa Rica.

Alejandro Larrinaga, 13, and his parents have been waiting for weeks for
news of their fate. There is only one other child he can play with,
Christian Estrada, 11. They have not been to school since they left
Havana 18 months ago.

Alejandro said he spent more than 50 days in the jungle before he got to
Panama. He became dehydrated several times and suffered from
convulsions. "That was quite a trip. It's not easy to tell the story.
One thing is to live it, and another is to tell it," he said, the
seriousness in his voice making him sound like an adult.

"We had to see dead people, a lot of skulls. I was afraid of losing my
mother and father," he recalled. His mother, Addis Torres, cried as the
recounted the tale, but he said that he feels safe in Gualaca and spends
his days playing chess.

"I want to be a chess master," he said. "Some day I'll get there."

The family does not want to return to Cuba, because they sold everything
they owned there in order to pay for the trek to join the boy's
grandfather in the United States. Although they applied for family
reunification visas at the U.S. embassy in Havana, the family doesn't
want to even think about the possibility of returning to Cuba.

They get three meals a day at the shelter, but Torres said "that's no
way to live."

"Detained, with no future, afraid of returning to Cuba," she said "We
need someone to take pity on us, even if we have to stay here."

Liuber Pérez Expósito is a farmer from the town of Velasco in the
eastern province of Holguin, where he grew garlic and corn. After Cuban
ruler Raúl Castro opened the doors to more private economic enterprises,
he started to buy and sell products and eventually decided to head to
the United States to "improve" his life.

Pérez said he feels "desperate" to leave Gualaca and return to his farm,
but has put his hopes on a proposal recently offered by Panamanian
authorities that would allow them to return voluntarily to the island,
become self-employed entrepreneurs known as cuentapropistas and, in
exchange, obtain multiple entry visas and even start-up capital — still
to be determined — for investment purposes.

"I am here against the wishes of my family. I have my wife, a 9-year-old
son and my parents in Cuba. They want me to return, and they are pushing
me to do that," he said. "But I am waiting for the opportunity to
recover at least part of the $5,000 I spent" getting to Panama.

His mother-in-law, and ophthalmologist who worked in Venezuela, loaned
him part of the money he needed for the trip. In debt, without money or
hope, he now spends his days thinking about when he might be able to
return home.

"During the day, we have nothing to do. Sometimes we play dominoes for a
while or we take a walk or we go to the stream, but we have 24 hours to
think about this difficult situation and the failure we're facing," he
added.

Pérez chats with his relatives in Cuba on Imo, a video chat app popular
on the island. "A little while ago they installed wifi in Velasco and
they call me as much as they can," he said.

"I hope this nightmare that we are living ends soon," he said. "That
whatever has to happen happens, but that it ends now."

FOLLOW MARIO J. PENTÓN EN TWITTER: @MARIOJOSE_CUBA

Source: Cuban migrants stranded in Panama are losing hope | Miami Herald
-
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article157719674.html

Could 1 million more Cubans be deemed ineligible for remittances?

Could 1 million more Cubans be deemed ineligible for remittances?
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

William LeoGrande, an American University professor who specializes in
U.S.-Cuba relations, says it appears there might be a "poison pill" in
President Donald Trump's new Cuba policy that potentially could cut off
remittances to more than 1 million Cubans.

The memorandum on strengthening Cuba policy that Trump signed last week
in Miami specifically states that regulatory changes shall not prohibit
"sending, processing or receiving authorized remittances" — the money
that's sent to family members and friends in Cuba.

Currently remittances can be sent to almost anyone on the island — with
the exception of members of the Council of Ministers, which includes the
president, first vice president, seven first vice presidents, ministers
and a few other top officials, and high-ranking military officials.

But the Trump memo greatly expands the definition of so-called
prohibited officials.

It includes not only ministers, vice ministers and members of the
Council of State and Council of Ministers but also members and employees
of the National Assembly of People's Power — Cuba's parliament;
provincial assembly members; local heads of Committees for the Defense
of the Revolution; directors general, sub-directors and higher officers
of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of
the Interior and the Ministry of Defense; and members and employees of
Cuba's Supreme Court.

The memo also lists secretaries and first secretaries of the
Confederation of Labor of Cuba and top editors of all state-run media
outlets as prohibited officials.

Such a sweeping category could potentially include a quarter of Cuba's
labor force, LeoGrande said. "It's literally a million people if you
count everyone who works for the military and GAESA that could have
their remittances cut off," he said.

GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial) is a Cuban military
conglomerate that controls a broad swath of the Cuban economy, including
the Gaviota Tourism Group. One of the cornerstones of Trump's new Cuba
policy is channeling U.S. money and businesses away from GAESA and
instead encouraging Americans and U.S. companies to develop economic
ties with small private business people in Cuba.

But widening the prohibition on who can receive remittances could
potentially hurt many Cuban families — those Trump has said he wants to
support with his new policy, LeoGrande said. Many Cubans are dependent
on money sent from friends and relatives abroad because state salaries
are so low. An estimated $3 billion in remittances is sent to the island
annually.

Among the questions, which may by clarified when regulations on the new
Cuba policy are written, is how literally to take the definition of all
employees of the Ministry of Defense.

All Cuban males must complete compulsory military service. "Does this
mean an active duty private is an employee of the Ministry of Defense,
and therefore a prohibited person?" asked Robert Muse, a Washington
lawyer. "There still has to be more definition of what this means."

Also in question is whether a person who is a clerk or low-level
employee at an enterprise run by GAESA would be considered an employee
of the Ministry of Defense.

Trying to sort out such definitions about who is eligible to receive
remittances could potentially become a real headache for money transfer
companies, Muse said.

In response to a query, Western Union, which has provided money transfer
services to Cuba from the United States since 1999 and more recently
began to handle remittances from other parts of the world to Cuba, said:
"Western Union does not believe the changes are intended to impact the
sending of authorized remittances to Cuba."

Said LeoGrande: "There are a number of things that need to be clarified.
The [memorandum] is so ambiguous in places."

Cuba watchers also point to a section of Trump's memorandum that
instructs the State Department to identify "entities or sub-entities"
under the control or acting on behalf of the Cuban "military,
intelligence or security services or personnel" and publish a list of
those with which "direct financial transactions" would
disproportionately benefit them "at the expense of the Cuban people or
private enterprise in Cuba."

Some analysts have zeroed in on the word direct in the memorandum.
Previous OFAC directives usually refer to direct and indirect financial
transactions.

"Does this mean you can't go and book at a Gaviota hotel, but you can
give a Spanish tour company money and they can get you a room at the
Saratoga?" Muse asked. (The Hotel Saratoga is operated under the
umbrella of Habaguanex, which was recently transferred to the military.)

FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI

Source: American University professor says remittances to Cuba may be in
jeopardy | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article157721249.html

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Elliott Abrams: Has Trump Made the Right Move in Cuba?

Elliott Abrams: Has Trump Made the Right Move in Cuba?
Elliott Abrams, Newsweek • June 22,
This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

Congratulations to President Trump for a serious (though not total)
reversal of the terrible Obama policy toward Cuba.

Why? Because the Obama policy was values-free, granting all sorts of
advantages to the Castro regime in exchange for nothing.

That was no bargained-for exchange, winning more freedom for the Cuban
people. Instead it was a prime example of Obama's ideological politics,
abandoning decades of American policy that he thought right-wing or
old-fashioned and wrong and in the process strengthening the vicious
Castro regime and paying little attention to the people of the island.

In the years since Obama acted, human rights in Cuba have gotten worse.
If Obama's approach was an experiment, it has failed. Human Rights
Watch's World Report 2016 said this of Cuba:

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public
criticism. It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish
its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders,
independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in
recent years.

The Miami Herald's lead analyst on Latin America, Andres Oppenheimer,
wrote this in July 2016:

One year after Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on July 20, 2015,
Cuba's human rights situation is much worse. It's time for Latin America
and the U.S. to stop clapping, and demand that Cuba's dictatorship start
allowing fundamental freedoms
On the first anniversary since Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington,
D.C., one thing is clear: The reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic
ties — which I have cautiously supported in this column — has not helped
improve by one iota Cuba's human rights situation. On the contrary,
human rights abuses have worsened.

That's a fair epitaph for the Obama policy: it made human rights in Cuba
worse. And that is why it was politically sensible and morally right to
end it.

Trump is maintaining diplomatic relations and allowing flights and
cruise ships to Cuba, but trying to end the phony individual beach
gambols that masquerade as something more serious. And he is ending the
bonanza for the Cuban military, which owns most of Cuba's tourist industry.

The overall effect of Trump's moves is logically to push Americans
toward group visits that have a serious purpose beyond tourism, and
toward individual Cuban economic efforts like Air BnB accommodations,
rooms in private homes, and small private restaurants—all of which help
the Cuban people.

And if the regime is caught between the people's desire for economic
progress and the end of Obama's foolish policy, perhaps this will push
Castro to allowing even more private economic activity.

Hats off to Senator Marco Rubio, a key architect of the new policy whose
pressure on the Trump administration has now put human rights in Cuba
right back at the heart of U.S. policy. And to the President, who made
the right decision just a few months into his administration.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. He served as
deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor
in the administration of President George W. Bush, where he supervised
U.S. policy in the Middle East for the White House.

Source: Elliott Abrams: Has Trump Made the Right Move in Cuba? -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/elliott-abrams-trump-made-move-145325141.html

Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns

Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

The director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, the U.S. federal body
that oversees Radio and TV Martí as well as the Martí Noticias website,
resigned last week amid complaints by some dissidents and exiles about
OCB's editorial line.

"Every pressure cooker needs an escape valve. With my resignation, I am
only trying to put an end to the speculations and false accusations by
some sectors that are interested in taking over this job," OCB Director
Maria "Malule" Gonzalez told el Nuevo Herald.

"The campaign is not the only reason for my resignation," she added.
"It's [also] a matter of making way for whoever the [Trump]
administration wants to put in this job."

Gonzalez, who will remain at the head of the OCB until a new director is
appointed, added that her resignation had been voluntary.

Her statement referred to a campaign of criticisms against her in social
media and on the Hialeah Gardens-based television channel América TeVé.
Facebook users published her personal contacts, and she said she
received multiple calls with complaints.

A video broadcast by América TeVé after President Donald Trump's
election showed Cuban opposition activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known
as Antunez, urging Radio and TV Martí to "rethink the reasons why they
were created and again give some space to those of us who call Raúl
Castro a dictator."

On the same program, Marcell Felipe, who founded Inspire America, an
organization that promotes the work of dissidents like Antunez, accused
the broadcasters of having "become practically a propaganda tool for the
Castro regime." Felipe, a lawyer who also represents América TeVé, said
he was not speaking for the TV channel.

During the Obama administration, the Martí stations — first under the
direction of Carlos Garcia and since 2015 under Gonzalez — began making
a series of changes designed to bring their coverage in line with the
journalism standards of the Voice of America, another U.S. government
broadcaster, and expand their audience on the island through the
internet and the distribution of DVDs.

"In the last year we completed analysis and studies by third parties
that show the impact of the Martí stations on the island, and that our
decision to use the internet as an additional distribution channel was
right," Gonzalez said. "On Sept. 26 and 27 we will hold the second Cuban
Internet Freedom conference that was so successful last year."

But the shift of funds from the TV broadcasts — seldom seen on the
island because the Cuban government blocks them — to the digital content
and the decision to move away from propaganda and toward a more balanced
journalism have been criticized by some Cuban exiles as well as
opposition activists on the island.

"Those of us who called Fidel a tyrant rather than president, who were
totally opposed to the Obama policy [of engagement with Cuba], we had no
space there," Antunez told el Nuevo Herald.

A quick search of the Martínoticias website turned up 347 reports that
mentioned Antunez. But the coverage has been "too favorable" to the
Obama policies on Cuba, he replied, and there has been supposedly
"little follow-up" to news developments on the island.

"That broadcaster went from being a weapon at the service of freedom to
a weapon for agreeableness," he added. "I don't criticize the
institution. Radio and TV Martí are very important. I criticize the last
two managements, which served the Cuban American National Foundation and
Barack Hussein Obama by falsifying and sabotaging its editorial line."

The Cuban American National Foundation did not respond to a request for
comments.

The dispute over the Martí stations reflects the profound frustration
sparked by President Barack Obama's decision to warm relations with Cuba
among some dissidents on the island as well as exiles abroad and renews
an old argument about the goals and efficacy of the broadcasters.

Felipe said he believes the stations should work clearly for "regime
change" in Cuba, and complained that there has been a lack of "political
will" at the OCB to implement new technologies that would make TV
Martí's signal available in Cuba.

The lawyer added that Cuban exiles will be "very happy" when the name of
the next OCB director becomes known. It will not be him, he added.

Regulations issued by the Obama administration require the OCB director
to be appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Government, the agency that
supervises all U.S. government broadcasts, rather than the White House.
The BBG did not respond to a request for comments.

Gonzalez said she will be leaving behind "a more agile and efficient
organization that now has new distribution channels, one of the biggest
challenges of this institution. The three platforms are working as one …
with one voice."

The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under Obama raised many questions about
the future of Radio and TV Martí, whose operations have long been
questioned by members of Congress and other agencies.

One bill that would have totally eliminated the Martí broadcasters was
submitted to Congress in 2015. And the Obama administration floated one
proposal to turn the OCB into a federal contractor, like the other
broadcasters under BBG supervision. That generated fears among its
employees that they would lose their federal benefits. The proposal has
not yet been adopted.

The Trump administration's budget proposal for 2018 includes cuts of $4
million to $5 million in OCB financing.

"I continued meanwhile to work strongly in OCB," Gonzalez said. "Last
week, I announced the appointment of Wilfredo Cancio as news director …
and we are just weeks away from completing the revitalization plan that
we started at the beginning of the year."

Source: Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns |
Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article157364084.html

Trump, Obama and subjugated Cubans

Editorial: Trump, Obama and subjugated Cubans
DDC | Madrid | 22 de Junio de 2017 - 14:21 CEST.

Cuba's official television aired Donald Trump's recent appearance at the
Manuel Artime Theater in Miami. That makes two speeches by US presidents
that Cubans on the Island have been able to watch recently.

In March of 2016, at his appearance in Havana, Barack Obama proposed a
policy based on the creation of opportunities, with an emphasis on the
empowerment of entrepreneurs. Brimming with optimism, Obama expressed
his belief that economic liberalization would spawn the democratization
of Cuban society – despite the examples of China and Vietnam. His words
sparked widespread popular support. At the same time, human rights
violations increased, and the military elite, now converted into a
business group, exploited the new scenario.

Barack Obama underestimated the degree to which independent
entrepreneurs are subjugated by the regime, and the military elite
stifles any kind of economic competition. With unintended effects, his
policy of empowerment ended up actually abetting the oppressors.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has just announced that he will be
relentless against this elite. His coercive turn in this regard is the
right move, but he has failed to generate broad support for it in the
US. And his speech at the Manuel Artime theater, rife with electoral
rhetoric, generated a counterproductive image for a people tired of the
confrontational gestures.

Those who advise the US president ought to take better advantage of the
Castro regime's calculated decision to televise his speeches. Trump
should not only send a clear message to Cuban exiles in Miami, but also
to the several million Cubans on the Island who can see him.

Source: Editorial: Trump, Obama and subjugated Cubans | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1498134062_32050.html

The true face of GAESA in Havana's Historic Quarter

The true face of GAESA in Havana's Historic Quarter
ROLANDO MARTÍNEZ | La Habana | 22 de Junio de 2017 - 11:27 CEST.

"What has the change from Habaguanex to GAESA been like?"

"Disastrous."

"Why?"

"Because the military management is inept. They demand too much and want
to intimidate us. Imagine: if you refuse to work with them, or ask for
leave, they threaten to seize your passport for a year."

So says Roberto, 41, a founded clerk at Habaguanex S.A. He says that
they worked very hard in the Historic Center. "We built something that
we can touch with our hands. We don't need repressors, but better salaries."

Almost a year after a commercial conglomerate of the Havana Historian's
Office was absorbed by the military consortium GAESA, many workers at
the 20 hotels, 56 bars and cafes, 39 restaurants and more than 200 shops
- among them boutiques, perfumeries, florists, pharmacies, opticians,
jewelers, liquor stores and food establishments - feel uncomfortable
with their new bosses, and some are even considering leaving the entity.

"They are so bungling," says Osmani, a 38-year-old worker, "that the new
management of the Santa Isabel hostel in the Plaza de Armas closed the
service entrance, so maintenance and other employees now have to pass
through the lobby on their way to their jobs."

"Eusebio [Leal] made arrangements with families so that they could
manage some hostels and businesses, an experiment that yielded excellent
results," says Mikhail, a 43-year-old custodian. "But at the Hostal
Valencia, for example, Gaviota already fired them."

"Now there are more shortages than before," says Yoslaine, 32, a cashier
at a grocery store. "There is also apathy, a lack of staff, and fewer
searches. There are long lines to pay, and the bosses couldn't care less
if the customers complain."

Even at the Puerto Carenas building, an entity that was not transferred
to GAESA, but is headed up by a brigade general, those in charge of the
restoration complain about a lack of materials and their bosses'
ignorance: "Instead of importing the required materials, we are ordered
to use common sand and cement, or any old pigment to restore frescos
that are more than 300 years old," says worker Carlos, age 48.

The vast majority of those consulted believe that "the lesser evil"
would be for civilians to run the commercial conglomerate again, and for
the General Controller of the Republic to do its work, tackling
corruption. "The disaster of the paramilitary economy was demonstrated
in the change from Habaguanex to GAESA," said one of them.

Cement, brick and corruption: the background of the military "occupation"

At the beginning of the 'rescue' of the Historic Quarter —Carlos
recalled— three construction companies were created: Puerto Carenas,
Restauradora del Malecón and Restauradora de Monumentos. The latter was
overseen by the architect Perla Rosales Aguirreurreta, Eusebio Leal's
second-in-command today.

Years later the three companies were merged under the name Puerto
Carenas, headed by Rogelio Milián Lária, a former member of the Unión de
Empresas Constructoras Caribe (UNECA), which in mid-2012 was embroiled
in a major corruption scandal. Among other shady dealings, Milián
charged commissions for the purchase of construction materials from a
Spanish supplier (his son-in-law).

Milián was replaced by Brigadier General Conrado Echeverría, former head
of the General Staff of the Matanzas military region, who later headed
up a housing program for FAR (Armed Forces) officers attached to GAESA's
Unión de Construcciones Militares (UCM).

The militarization of Puerto Carenas did not prevent corruption.
Instead, it prompted the exodus of a number of skilled workers to
non-agricultural cooperatives, where they reportedly receive "better
incentives."

Jorge, a 58-year-old freelance civil engineer, says that in the Historic
Center tenders are awarded to "construction cooperatives." The
professionals who run them operate as figureheads for some bigwigs who
benefit from the profits from these contracts. "Perla Rosales —daughter
of General Ulises Rosales del Toro— is part of that 'gallery'," he says.

Once upon a time in Habaguanex

The festival of corruption at the Office of the Historian reached its
peak "when Meici Weiss rose from the administrator of the Hotel Ambos
Mundos to the general manager of Habaguanex S.A.," says a 62-year-old
former worker at the conglomerate, who requested anonymity and said she
had been a "victim of said administration."

Weiss set up a bureaucratic model that functioned as a criminal
organization and "crushed" employees who refused to get involved in the
"shenanigans." The manager surrounded himself with subordinates that
many called "the untouchables." The bosses enjoyed impunity as they sold
their influence for personal gain, and obtained Schengen visas.

According to previous investigations, in mid-2012 Yoagniel Pérez Ramos,
then manager of the Cervecería Factoría, located in the Plaza Vieja of
the Historic Centre, was arrested right out on the street on suspicion
of "illicit enrichment", among other crimes, unleashing a wave of
arrests that rolled through other divisions of Habaguanex.

Weiss and his entourage were dismissed and subjected to investigations
by the General Controller of the Republic and the Criminal
Investigations Division (DIC). "But shit was found at levels so high
that the process had to be swept under the rug," according to an auditor
who asked not to be identified.

An old case was immediately dusted off against Yoagniel Pérez, for
embezzlement, after the carrying out of an audit - four years earlier -
at the facilities of Habaguanex S.A. (the former military headquarters
of San Ambrosio), where he was second in command.

According to Ruling number 47 of 2014, issued by the People's Provincial
Court of Havana, in case 214/2013, Yoagniel was prosecuted for the crime
of bribery, for paying to obtain a dismissal of the case based on a
"lack of evidence" in case 635/2008.

The lawyers bribed with payments of between 2.000 and 200 CUC, other
favors, and gifts at Factoría, were Osvaldo Fernández Guerra, deputy
director of the Dirección de Bufetes Colectivos (Directorate of
Collective Law Firms) in the capital; Lucía Pérez Fernández, provincial
coordinator of the Centro de Desarrollo de Bufetes Colectivos (Center
for the Development of Collective Law Firms); Mildreda Planas Durruthy,
chief prosecutor of Old Havana; and Marisol García Castillo, prosecutor
of the Old Havana municipal prosecutor's office.

Along with Yoagniel, those involved were sentenced to between 5 and 15
years in prison, property seizures, suspension of their professional
activity, and the retention of their passports until their sanctions
expire. Today Yoagniel is the only one who remains behind bars.

"If Yoagniel, a simple culinary manager, was able to bribe a group of
justice system officials, then what could have been achieved by others
with better positions? People like Meici Weiss, also the mother of Meici
Bolaños Weiss, Deputy Minister of Finance and Prices?" asks Ricardo, 54,
a former clerk at Habaguanex.

The official press refrained from informing the public about the
fissures in the justice system and the corruption at Habaguanex. Ten
months later, Eusebio Leal Spengler, incredibly untouched by the
scandal, ceded control of the commercial conglomerate to the Council of
Ministers, via Decree/Law 325/2014.

Two years after the handover, the real estate company Fenix ​​S.A. -
under the command of the military - took charge of the administration of
the San José Cultural Center, where, according to complaints by the
self-employed artisans there, there were irregularities in the sale of
stands, with prices ranging from 8,000 to 120.000 CUC.

Lázaro, age 42, a former worker at the store at Neptuno and Águila,
cites another example of the corruption at the commercial conglomerate,
where Communist Party higher-ups looked the other way and let the
mischief continue, at the same time taking on roles as "sales agents,"
demanding from management the purchase of a bust of José Martí for 240
CUC, to erect a corner honoring the historic figure in each unit (more
than 315), for a total investment of 76.000 CUC. The purchase was to be
made at the store of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
Cuba, located at Belascoaín and Desagüe, in the center of Havana.

"There are no surprises," Lázaro says. "When GAESA applies coercive
measures against those who serve drinks at bars, make up the rooms at
hostels, charge customers at markets, and shovel concrete at building
sites, it is because that is the nature of the system: taking advantage
of the weakest and then turning a blind eye to the worst offenders, who
are daddy's boys, crooks dressed up fancy, and card-carrying members of
the Party."

Source: The true face of GAESA in Havana's Historic Quarter | Diario de
Cuba - http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1498122564_32035.html

Trump Gets It Right

Editorial: Trump Gets It Right
DDC | Madrid | 22 de Junio de 2017 - 11:23 CEST.

In his speech in Miami, US President Donald Trump rightly divided Cuban
society into two groups: the military and the people. And his criticism
of the regime did not center on its ideology, on the single party, or
even on Raúl Castro. Rather, he pointed directly at the military junta,
and therein lies the greatest difference with Obama's policy.

As he acknowledged, the aim of his new policy is to benefit the people
of Cuba by depriving the military of opportunities, an approach that
recognizes the corruption in Cuba's army and Cuban intelligence and
security services, capable of dominating all the economic exchange
between Cuba and the US in its effort to establish a monopoly.

Referring to the need for Venezuela to democratize, the US president
conveyed another message to the Island's military by referring not only
to its economic corruption, but also its responsibility for the
political repression in the South American country.

Donald Trump declared his respect for Cuba's sovereignty, made clear
that his Administration has cards in its hands, that the US embassy
remains open, and that it is willing to sit down at the negotiating table.

Source: Editorial: Trump Gets It Right | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1498123431_32038.html

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Trump's Cuba Travel Policy Leaves Heads Scratching

Trump's Cuba Travel Policy Leaves Heads Scratching
Andrew Bender , CONTRIBUTOR
I delve into the business of business travel, and often the fun too.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Just as travel and tourism to Cuba from the United States was heating
up, President Donald Trump made an announcement last Friday that will
cool it down, probably way down. He said he was "canceling the last
administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba."

While it's not exactly a cancellation, what it is is, at this stage,
unclear.

"There are a zillion contradictions," says Julia Sweig, senior research
fellow and Cuba expert at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
at the University of Texas. "There is no policy or legal coherence to
what they have announced."

For example, American tour operators, cruise ships and airlines will
still technically be able to operate into Cuba, and U.S. citizens can
still purchase and bring home Cuban products like rum and cigars; both
of these were off limits before the Obama administration relaxed rules
in 2014. But the new policies put in two important restrictions:
- Make it illegal for Americans to patronize facilities related to the
Cuban military, and
- Make individual travel to Cuba far more difficult for Americans.

Currently this is through a program known as people-to-people.
The military issue first. "The state-run tourism organization, GAVIOTA,
is owned by the Cuban military, and it owns the majority of tourism
infrastructure on the island," says Marguerite Fitzgerald, a partner at
the Miami office of Boston Consulting Group in Miami and the author of
BCG's report on Cuban tourism. "Americans will not be allowed to stay in
Cuban hotels, take Cuban buses or rent cars."

Meanwhile, the cutback in individual tourism will mean that Cuba's
growing network of home stays will take a hit. Airbnb says that 560,000
guests have paid some $40 million to private hosts around Cuba since the
company entered the market in April 2015. This in a country where,
Airbnb says, the average monthly wage is $30. This year, Cuba has been
Airbnb's ninth-largest market for Americans heading abroad.

The announcement from the White House directs the Departments of
Commerce and the Treasury to come up with regulations within 30 days.
But, Sweig says, "I expect that when the regulators try to write the new
regulations, they will become mired down."

"I guess the Trump people will publish a map of Cuba with all of the
places Americans won't be able to go to buy a bottle of water, to sleep,
etc.," she adds.

Meanwhile, tour and travel operators are in limbo. "It remains to be
seen which travel companies, cruise lines and tour providers will be
able to successfully navigate the new regulations and which will cease
their operations in Cuba," says Jennine Cohen, managing director for the
Americas at San Francisco-based Geographic Expeditions, which has
operated tours to Cuba for 17 years.

"GeoEx works primarily with small and charming B&Bs, which have no
connection to the Cuban military and should not be affected," she says.

More long term, Cohen says, "As we have successfully operated trips on
and off since 2000, we have adhered to [the U.S. government's] changing
policies and enforcement over time and will continue to do so."

Source: Trump's Cuba Travel Policy Leaves Heads Scratching -
https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewbender/2017/06/20/trumps-cuba-travel-policy-leaves-heads-scratching/#2f5717966fef

Will New Cuba Travel Policy Hurt U.S. Airlines?

Will New Cuba Travel Policy Hurt U.S. Airlines?
Zacks Equity Research

On Jun 16, President Trump announced some changes to current U.S. policy
on Cuba, which were put into action by his predecessor Barack Obama. The
new policy is in line with Trump's promise during the campaigning phase.
In fact, Trump had reportedly tweeted in November last year that he
might terminate the deal, inked by Obama, in the event of Cuba not doing
enough for its people.

Even though, he did not scrap the entire deal, the President announced
certain changes in inline with his "America First" principle. Moving
ahead, the new administration aims to restrict the flow of US money
flowing into the oppressive Cuban military regime. Also, the new policy
is dedicated to betterment of the Cuban people by pressurizing the
island's government to broaden the private sector and reduce the
military's interference in every profitable unit of the country.

In fact, to keep the Cuban military at bay, the President's policy aims
to do away with travel directed toward benefitting the military,
intelligence or security services of the island nation. Under the new
restrictions, travel to Cuba on an individual basis would not be
allowed. Even though individual travel has been banned, group travel is
allowed.

A Brief Flashback

In 2014, President Obama had called for the restoration of diplomatic
ties with Cuba after more than 50 years. As part of that process, travel
restrictions were eased. Subsequently, many U.S. airlines started
operating commercial scheduled flights to Cuba.

In Jun 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation authorized six
U.S.-based carriers to operate scheduled flights to nine second-tier
Cuban cities. The first scheduled commercial flight to Cuba from the
U.S. was operated by JetBlue Airways JBLU.

JetBlue Airways carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete
list of today's Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Notably, the approval to fly to Havana came two months later in August.
The Havana routes were highly in demand among the US carriers as they
collectively applied for the approval to operate nearly 60 flights to
Havana on a daily basis. The erstwhile agreement with Obama allowed for
only 20 daily roundtrip flights between the nations.

Would Individual Travel Ban Hurt Airlines?

Currently, the likes of American Airlines Group AAL, United Continental
Holdings UAL, Delta Air Lines DAL, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines
LUV and Alaska Air Group ALK operate scheduled commercial flights to
Cuba. But following the revised order on Cuba, the carriers have adopted
a wait and watch policy regarding their operations to the nation.

Airline heavyweights like Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have
reportedly said that while their existing operations to the nation would
continue, they would abide by any changes that might take place
following the announcement of the new policy.

We note that the travel demand to Cuba had fallen short of expectations.
Consequently, the likes of American Airlines trimmed their services to
the nation. Lower-than-expected demand also caused the likes of Spirit
Airlines SAVE and Frontier Airlines to terminate flights to the nation.
Despite this factor, the new policy to ban individual travel is likely
to hurt the top line of the US carriers operating in the country to some
extent.

In fact, a recent Reuters report had suggested that cruise operators and
airlines in the US could lose approximately $712 million in revenues on
an annual basis, if Obama's policy was entirely reversed. While the
entire policy has not been consigned to flames by the new US government,
the prohibition on individual travel to the country might still shrink
the revenues of carriers (through lower travel demand) operating in
Cuba, a popular tourist destination.

However, only time will tell the extent to which revenues are actually
hurt. Consequently, we expect investor focus to remain on the issue,
going forward

Source: Will New Cuba Travel Policy Hurt U.S. Airlines? -
http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/topstocks/will-new-cuba-travel-policy-hurt-us-airlines/ar-BBCU9p2

Trump's travel changes for Cuba won't take effect soon

Trump's travel changes for Cuba won't take effect soon
Bart Jansen , USA TODAY Published 4:29 p.m. ET June 16, 2017 | Updated
5:49 p.m. ET June 16, 2017

Travel to Cuba won't be changing soon.

While President Trump announced Friday that he is "immediately"
canceling Obama's deal with Cuba, the reversal relies on regulations
that could take months — or years — to finalize.

Trump said he will strictly enforce the prohibition against Cuban travel
for tourism using rules that provide only 12 reasons, such as family
visits, educational activities and athletic competitions, for
entering the country.

"Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law," Trump said.
"We will enforce the ban on tourism."

Ultimately, Trump proposed to block travel that benefits the Cuban
military, intelligence or security services. In order to accomplish
that, individual travel would be prohibited — people visiting the
country would need to go in groups.

The detailed regulatory proposals weren't released Friday. Trump's
national security memo on Cuba asked the departments of Treasury and
State to develop regulations within 30 days. The rules would then be
published for public comment and possible revisions.

The Treasury Department, which licenses Cuba travel, said in a statement
that individual travel will no longer be allowed for purposes such as
education under pursuit of an academic degree. "The traveler's schedule
of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess," the
department said.

Instead, the department will authorize group travel under the auspices
of an organization that maintains a full-time schedule of activities
that enhance contact with Cuban people, support civil society and
promote independence from Cuban authorities.

Airlines competed to provide flights after the Obama administration
initiated a resumption in diplomatic relations between the countries for
the first time in more than 50 years. Airlines had provided charter
flights for decades, but the restoration of ties allowed the resumption
of scheduled service considered key for business and personal ties.

JetBlue Airways pioneered flights in August to Santa Clara and other
airlines followed suit, with the first flights to Havana in November.

"JetBlue is committed to continuing air service between the U.S. and
Cuba. We plan to operate in full compliance of the new president's new
policy," JetBlue said in a statement Friday.

But with sluggish sales, some airlines have reduced the number of routes
and three carriers – Spirit, Frontier and Silver – have abandoned the
routes for now.

The remaining airlines are studying Trump's proposal while continuing to
fly.

"We are currently reviewing these policy changes and will continue to
follow this closely," said Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for United Airlines.

Delta Air Lines said it would continue to fly non-stop to Havana from
New York's John F. Kennedy, Atlanta and Miami.

"Delta Air Lines will adhere to any changes in the regulations announced
by the Trump administration regarding travel to Cuba," the carrier said.

Leigh Barnes, regional director for Intrepid Travel, a tour company
which has brought 714 American passengers to Cuba in 47 trips since
2015, said tour operators would face stricter government audits about
travelers belonging to the 12 allowed categories. But Barnes expected
airlines to continue scheduled flights to Cuba, rather than revert to
charter flights, as travelers adapt their plans to join person-to-person
tour groups.

"While demand for commercial flights remains to be seen, historically,
the airlines have done well to manage their yields by shifting to
smaller planes or slightly lower frequency of departures," Barnes said.
"There are still a lot of meaningful tourism offerings for American
travelers. We expect airlines to keep servicing these routes and we are
excited to continue welcoming American travelers to Cuba."

Source: President Trump's travel changes for Cuba won't be immediate -
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/06/16/cuba-travel-airlines/102926572/