Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Cuban Adjustment Act and Future Emigrants

The Cuban Adjustment Act and Future Emigrants / Ivan Garcia
Posted on January 30, 2015

One of the few Havanans not happy with the historic agreements of
December 17th between President Obama and General Raul Castro was
Dagoberto, a guy approaching forty who got out of jail six months ago
after serving a six-year sentence for marijuana possession.

"I have family in la yuma (US), but because of my drug possession record
I don't qualify for the family reunification program. My only option is
to throw myself into the sea and make it to the Mexican border," he said
while drinking a Corona beer in a Havana bar.

A couple of times in 2014, Dagoberto tried to reach the United States.
"The first time the American Coast Guard intercepted me. I spent $3,000
to buy a motor and gas and with a group of friends we prepared a wooden

"The second time I boarded a plane for Ecuador. But customs in Quito
sent me back to Cuba. It's rumored that with the new policy, the
Adjustment Act's days are numbered, for people who plan to leave on a
raft or enter through a third country. I have to hurry if I want to get
to the North."

In a park in Vedado, two blocks from the United States Interests Section
(USIS) in Cuba, where from the early hours in the morning people line up
for visas, the topic of discussion is the Cuban Adjustment Act.

In the past two years, Ihosvany has been denied a visa four times. But
he keeps trying. "A cousin in Orlando invited me and they denied me a
tourist visa. Now I'm doing the paperwork to leave for family
reunification, to see if I have more luck."

USIS consular officials insist that for those people who want to travel
or emigrate to the United States, the strategy of applying over and over
for a visa is not the best.

Yulia, desperate to leave the country, openly ignores them. In a house
near USIS, she fills out the paperwork to take to the consulate again.
"Three times they've told me no. We are going to see if the fourth time
is lucky, because a friend in Chicago got me into a university program.
If what they say is true, that the Adjustment Act will be repealed in
2015, there will be another Mariel Boatlift. There are tens of thousands
of people who want to leave Cuba."

Every year, the Interests Section awards more than 20,000 visas under
the Family Reunification program. In the last 20 years, about half a
million people have left the Island through the migration accords signed
by Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro in 1994.

But demand exceeds supply. Those who don't have relatives or spouses
resort to any trick or simply opt to launch themselves into the
turbulent waters of the Florida Straits in a rubber raft.

In an attempt to discourage the worrying growth in illegal journeys from
the Island, the US authorities have reiterated that the immigration
policy and the Coast Guard operations will continue without changes and
insist that only Congress can repeal the current laws on Cuban refugees.

The Coast Guard issued a government warning, after an unprecedented
growth in the illegal flow of emigrants from Cuba during the second half
of December and the first days of January, coinciding with President
Barack Obama's announcement of the normalization of relations with Havana.

According to analysts in the United States, the steps taken by Obama
don't alter the Cuban Adjustment Act and it is not a priori in danger of
being repealed by a presidential act. It is a Federal law, Public Law
89-732/1966, approved by the U.S. 89th Congress. Being a public and
general interest law — unlike a "Private Laws" — it can only be amended,
revised or revoked by the Congress of the United States of America.

But the Cuban rafters appear to have deaf ears. A total of 890 Cubans
have been intercepted in the Straits of Florida and in the Caribbean
zone, or have managed to make it to the U.S. coast since the beginning
of the 2015 Fiscal Year, last October 1. Of them, 577 have done so
during December and the first days of January in an escalation that has
set off alarms in Washington and Miami.

After Obama's announcement, the Cuban side captured 421 people at sea.
Everything seems to indicate that the flow could increase.
Cuban-American members of Congress and Senators are questioning the
letter and spirit of the law.

Many Cubans say they are politically persecuted and so they flee,
invoking this when they decide to seek asylum in the United States. But
in a few months they return to Cuba, as tourists. Incongruities that are
difficult to explain.

A majority of Cubans, on both shores, demanded the normalization of
relations with the United States and the end of the embargo. But,
according to a recent survey conducted by Florida International
University, 85% of Cuban-Americans in south Florida favor the
continuation of the Adjustment Act. Even among the generation that left
Cuba between 1959 and 1962, only 36% favor its elimination, while 64%
are opposed.

It doesn't look like a winner. If the relationship between the
governments goes down the path of good neighbors, the White House will
have no reason to give special treatment to Cuban citizens.

If the Adjustment Act was created to legalize the status of thousands of
Cubans who fled from the Castro autocracy, then it should be applied
that way. And Cubans who take shelter under this law, should only be
able to travel to the Island in exceptional cases. Not to spend time
with their families or have a beer with friends in the neighborhood.

This is privilege enjoyed by no other citizen in the world, to settle in
the United States. Either the laws are abided by or their existence
makes no sense.

Iván García

Photo: One of the lines that forms daily outside the United States
Interest Section in Cuba to request visas. Taken from "Voice of America."

20 January 2015

Source: The Cuban Adjustment Act and Future Emigrants / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -

Cubans risking lives for the 'American Dream'

Cubans risking lives for the 'American Dream'
Al Jazeera

It was 3:00am, dark outside, and nobody on the streets.
And it was the perfect moment for Abel Mesa, 22, to risk his young life
to try to reach the United States.
He had been preparing for this day.
When he wasn't working as a waiter, he spent much of his free time in a
garage near his house secretly building a makeshift raft out of rubber
tubes that line the inside of tractor tires.
He has been discussing this day with his girlfriend, who said she'd go
with him. They planned to make it to the US, find work, settle down, and
make a better life for themselves.
"Life is tough in Cuba," he said. "We work a lot but make little money."
New life
Mesa stepped out of his bedroom quietly so as to not wake anybody in his
house which he shared with his parents.
His mum knew he was building a raft, but he didn't give her any advance
warning as to when he was going for fear she would be so scared it could
affect her health.
"At that moment I felt a little sadness because I was leaving my family
in Cuba," he said. "But I wanted a new life, to get [to the US] and help
my family that is behind in Cuba."
That morning he met up with his girlfriend and four other members of her
Not wanting to be spotted by police, they carried the raft as fast as
they could until they reached the beach.
"We arrived at the beach, took off our shoes and changed clothes, pushed
the raft into the water, got on top, and then started to row," he said.
In Cuba it is illegal for private citizens to own outboard boat motors
without authorisation precisely to try to limit the number of people who
make the short, but dangerous,144km journey to Florida.
They each had a backpack with snacks and a change of clothes stuffed
inside. Abel also had a hand held compass. The plan: Keep rowing, follow
the compass, in two days and two nights spot Florida, and make a final
mad dash to land.
Once Cubans step foot on US soil they are not deported, and can apply
for residency after 12 months, under a special policy the US only grants
to Cubans. But if they are intercepted before they make landfall, they
are usually deported.
Last year alone, the US coastguard intercepted more than 5,000 Cubans
trying to reach the US by raft. Thousands more avoid detection and make
it to the US each year.
Doomed trip
The Cuban government has long said the US policy only encourages Cubans
to make the dangerous journey, putting lives at risk.
Havana is pressing the US to drop the policy as part of ongoing talks to
re-start diplomatic relations, however so far the US has refused.
As for Abel, he thought he had prepared for everything for the journey,
but was doomed by something out of his control: the weather.
"For two days we were rowing, but it rained and there was thunder," he
said. "There were a lot of dangers to pass to reach our destination."
Unexpected ocean currents pushed his raft back to Cuba before he could
make it to the US. As he drifted back to his homeland, he was picked up
by the Cuban coastguard, forced to pay a fine, and released.
It is only after three unsuccessful attempts to make the water journey
to Florida that Cubans are put in jail.
Now back in Cuba, when asked about the new diplomatic talks between his
country and the US, Abel shrugged his shoulders. He's impatient for change.
"These relations are between [governments]," he said. "I want to go, I
don't want to wait. I think some things will be better, some not, who
Finally he was asked if he planned to try the risky journey again.
"If I find another raft that is in good enough condition and I think I
can make it, I'll try again," he said, with little hesitation.
"I could lose my life doing it," he said. "But I could also make it."

Source: Cubans risking lives for the 'American Dream' - Yahoo Maktoob
News -

Cuba Expert - Obama Might Give Guantanamo to Russians

Cuba Expert: Obama Might Give Guantanamo to Russians
Thursday, 29 Jan 2015 04:38 PM
By Sean Piccoli

President Barack Obama's eagerness to cut deals with Cuba at almost any
cost could yield a "strategic disaster" in which the Russian military
winds up controlling Guantanamo Bay, Cuba scholar Jaime Suchlicki told
"MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV Thursday.

The historic re-start of diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba ordered
by Obama does not alter the fact that the communist nation's rulers
neither want nor feel they need improved relations with the United
States, said Suchlicki, director of the Cuban Institute at the
University of Miami.

Just look at all the demands issued by Cuban leader Raul Castro, said
Suchlicki: a handover of Guantanamo Bay; embargo reparations to the tune
of $2.5 trillion, and no U.S. "interference" in Cuban policies at home
or abroad.

"If they were interested in helping the Cuban people they would've done
a deal with the United States many years ago," said Suchlicki. "Neither
[previous Cuban leader] Fidel [Castro] nor Raul are really interested in
better relations with the United States."

The Castros want concessions, not relations, he said, and Raul is
"raising the bar so high that he's going to preclude any normalization."

How much Obama will indulge him should be a concern, said Suchlicki,
alluding to a prisoner swap that freed Cuban spies — a deal that even
Hillary Clinton said she opposed as Obama's Secretary of State.

On reparations, "Raul Castro is talking about $50 billion for the 50
years of the embargo," said Suchlicki, adding, "that's nonsense, and I
don't think the U.S. will pay that."

But on another key demand, "giving away Guantanamo — this president is
liable to do that," he said of Obama.
Special: GMO Food: It's Worse Than We Thought . . .
Castro, in turn, would "probably" turn the territory over to Russia as a
naval base.

Pressed by Berliner on this scenario, with its overtones of the Cuban
missile crisis, Suchlicki said, "I don't know what the president can get
away with," meaning the political limits, if any, on Obama's willingness
to placate Castro.

"My concern is that Guantanamo is one of the deepest bases in the
Caribbean — ideal for submarines," he said. "And if Cuba were to turn
that base [over] to the Russians, or tell the Russians that they can use
that base, it would be a strategic disaster for the United States."

From Cuba's point of view, shunning the U.S. despite the overture from
Obama after a half century of mutual hostility is not a tactical
mistake, said Suchlicki.

"The point here is that [former Cuban leader] Fidel Castro is an ally of
Venezuela, Iran, Russia and China," he said. "So for Cuba, the United
States is not important. What is important is the [connection] with
those countries that provide significant amounts of aid without any
condition and without requesting anything."

Between the money Cuba brings in from tourism, remittances from Cubans
working abroad and a thriving export market for Cuba's well-regarded
medical professionals, the Castro brothers are convinced they can still
continue on as they please, and maintain absolute political control, no
matter what the U.S. says, said Suchlicki.

Raul Castro is also betting that American tourists will bring in more
money, that petro-state allies Venezuela and Russia will continue to
supply crude even through the worldwide plunge in oil prices, and that
other countries including China will keep aid coming, he said.

Castro also wants military weaponry, and Russia will give it to him,
said Suchlicki.

Nor is it time to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of
state sponsors of terrorism, he said, even though Obama probably will.
Special: Does Obama Belong to This Secret Society? (Shocking)
"I'm almost sure that they're going to get Cuba out of the terrorist
list, despite the fact that Cuba harbors terrorists, supports Hezbollah
and Hamas," he said. "It's an ally of Iran, so I don't think Cuba should
be removed, but the president and Secretary [of State John] Kerry have
indicated that they're willing to give Raul Castro another concession."

Naval base in Cuba would be Russia's best response to US hawks - English -

Source: Obama Might Give Guantanamo to Russians, Cuba Expert Tells
Newsmax TV -

In Havana, a renovation in marble — and maybe in spirit, too

In Havana, a renovation in marble — and maybe in spirit, too
By Nick Miroff January 30 at 10:40 AM

HAVANA — Like any revolution, the one that upended this island 56 years
ago tried to break with the past by burying symbols of the old political

None stood larger than the resplendent Cuban capitol building, "El
Capitolio," that towers over the heart of Old Havana and was inspired by
the U.S. Capitol in Washington. To Fidel Castro and his rebel followers,
the Capitolio's opulence and grandeur reeked of waste and wannabe

Castro took power in 1959 and dissolved Congress, emptying the
Capitolio's soaring marble and granite halls. The building, too, was
demoted, repurposed as the new headquarters of the humble science
ministry. Just 30 years after its completion, Cuba's grand temple of
democracy and patriotism was virtually abandoned to the bats and the dust.

Today the building is undergoing a rehabilitation that is not only
physical but symbolic too. Its landmark dome — slightly taller than the
one in Washington — is draped in safety netting. Hundreds of Cuban
laborers are busy preparing the Capitolio for a return this year to its
original purpose, as the home of Cuba's legislative branch.

"After the Revolution, co-habitation with a structure of the past was
impossible," said Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal, whose office is in
charge of renovating the building, as well as countless other faded
architectural wonders throughout the city's long-neglected historic core.

"The time has come for the Capitolio to reclaim the great symbolism that
it was built for," said Leal in an interview.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has insisted his country's one-party system
is not up for negotiation, even as the United States and Cuba move to
restore diplomatic relations.

But in a quieter way, his decision to re-occupy the Capitolio is at
least a symbolic step toward a potentially different relationship
between Cuba's government and its citizens.

Cuba's lawmaking body, the National Assembly of People's Power, has long
been a rubber-stamp legislature that typically convenes twice a year,
voting unanimously to approve a top-down agenda with no debate or dissent.

The 614-member body meets in the Havana Convention Center, the Palco,
set in a remote, heavily guarded suburb that is almost entirely removed
from ordinary Cuban life.

Making the Capitolio the legislature's headquarters once more places it
right back in the throbbing, crowded heart of the city, adjacent to some
of Havana's poorest neighborhoods.

It is as Cuba's forefathers intended. Work on the Capitolio began in
1926, after previous attempts to erect a capitol building failed or were
abandoned. President Gerardo Machado ordered the palatial structure
built on the swampy site of the city's old railway station. The Cuban
Treasury was flush with sugar money.

An American firm with an extensive portfolio on the island, Purdy and
Henderson, was hired to execute the project, along with Cuban architects
and some of Europe's most famous designers and craftsman. The building
took 5,000 workers, $17 million and just three years to complete, a feat
that is still used to chastise today's notoriously less-efficient Cuban
construction crews.

No expense was spared. Framing the Capitolio's grand entrance are twelve
massive stone columns, each five feet thick, and two 21-foot bronze
figures representing Work and Virtue, by the Italian sculptor Angelo
Zanelli. Inside, under the soaring steel-and-stone dome, is Zanelli's
48-foot bronze Statue of the Republic, an Athena-like female figure
plated in gold that weighs 30 tons and remains one of the largest indoor
statues in the world.

Directly beneath the dome was a giant 24-carat diamond set into the
floor to mark the zero-kilometer for Cuba's national highway system.
According to Cuban lore, the gem once sat in the crown of Russian czar
Nicholas II.

The splendor didn't end there. The main hall, The Hall of Lost Steps, is
so called because its arched ceiling is so high and so ornate that it
muffles any echo from footsteps. Sculpted bronze panels depicting Greek
classical scenes and key episodes of Cuban history are everywhere. The
main library — dedicated to national hero Jose Marti — is paneled from
floor to ceiling in three stories of mahogany and cedar, beneath four
one-ton Tiffany chandeliers.

"Still smells like a cigar box," said Marilyn Mederos, the chief
architect for the rehabilitation project, offering a behind-the-scenes
tour of the restoration effort. "Even after all these years."

The Capitolio's extravagance has made it difficult and costly to
renovate, and Leal declined to give a cost estimate. But much of the
building remains in good shape. The rehabilitation work is projected to
continue until 2017, but the City Historian's office said it will
re-open parts of the structure to guided tours this year to allow
visitors to see progress made so far.

On the lower floors one recent day, crews winched out corroded 1920s
electrical cables as thick as a baseball bat. In workshops along the
roof, students in gloves and safety goggles scrubbed grime from bronze
door fixtures using acid-dipped brushes. Hard-hat workers on ropes
power-washed the exterior granite walls until they glowed white again.

The building is not a copy of the U.S. Capitol. Though the domes are
similar, the two structures are different in shape. The older U.S.
Capitol, whose dome was completed in 1866 and is now under repair, is
slightly larger and more angular.

Cuba's Capitolio was also designed as a bicameral structure, but it's
more of a monolith, with rounded ends and several interior patios meant
to circulate air in the stifling Caribbean heat.

The two structures are siblings in spirit, though, built as
awe-inspiring shrines to New World democracy that could rival the
greatest European cathedrals and palaces.

Cuba's pride in the building was not universal. In 1933, with the
country dragged into the Great Depression along with the United States,
an angry crowd rioting on the Capitolio steps directed its rage at the
bronze bas-relief door panel depicting Machado, who had turned
increasingly despotic. They chiseled off his face.

"But it should be noted," Leal said, "they left all the other panels alone."

By the 1950s, many Cubans had come to resent the building, viewing it as
a white elephant of corruption and misplaced priorities in a country
with just one university and too many living in poverty.

As his crews work to restore the building, Leal, too, has tried to
rehabilitate the Capitolio's legacy. He notes that the Cuban
Constitution of 1940 — widely considered a high-water mark for Cuban
democracy — was signed in the building.

Leal is also preparing a ceremony next year that will dedicate the Tomb
of the Unknown Mambi, honoring the 19th-century independence fighters
who rose up against Spanish colonialism with little more than machetes
and old muskets.

The original intent of the Capitolio's designers was for the building to
edify Cuban patriotism by glorying its founding fathers, and today those
19th-century figures, especially Jose Marti, remain sacred to both sides
of the Castro-era ideological divide.

It is not hard to imagine that they could some day play a unifying role
again. The Capitolio's cavernous halls should be large enough even for a
reconciliation of that magnitude.

"For me, what it represents is the possibility for Cubans to make things
that are beautiful, that are great," said Marisol Marrero, the project's
chief civil engineer. "It shows what the Cuban people have done, and are
capable of doing in the future."

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

Source: In Havana, a renovation in marble — and maybe in spirit, too -
The Washington Post -

Tourism was Cuba’s way out of lean times

Tourism was Cuba's way out of lean times
It's anybody's guess how locals will handle changing relationship with US
Sat, Jan 31, 2015, 01:00

Cuba's new tourism was the child of despair.
For most Cubans, malnutrition is no distant memory. Its sugar economy
went south overnight after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The loss of its
Russian "sugar daddy" subsidy triggered years of shortages. Public
transport was – and remains – elderly and groaning. Prostitution
returned in force.
Things have loosened since Raul Castro took over in 2006, even over the
last two years. But at the drop of a hat, Cubans tell you about the
1990s "Special Period," when they starved. "I went to bed with a job but
awoke with sugared water for food."
Or "Luckily, I found a pig and ojalá, she had piglets."
Without oil, horses were a rural family's lifeline. They still dominate
the roads as hardworking family retainers, sometimes in quirky hats.
Tourism was the only answer. As former president Fidel Castro once said,
Cuba has it all: bays, beaches, mountains, rich farmlands, music, dance,
art. But Cuba has been isolated by the US embargo. It is a place where
things often don't work – no spare parts, very little wifi – and where
educated people earn €20 a month.
By partnering with Spanish Melia hotel group and other big chains, Cuba
introduced sun, sand and salsa in "all-inclusive" luxury resorts in the
Mafia's old watering hole on Varadero. This is a peninsular cayo; Cubans
were nervous about tourists mingling with locals. Worried about their
staff's inexperience and lack of customer relations savvy, they brought
in Spanish and Austrian trainers.
'Camp Fidel'
Now 35,000 tourist beds are available, and host three million tourists
annually, of whom two million are from Canada, Europe, and Latin America.
By the mid-1990s, Canadians were flocking to "Camp Fidel", swapping snow
for bottomless mojitos and the Buena Vista soundtrack. At 500 Canadian
dollars (€350) for a weekend with all the rum you can swim in, it's
irresistibly win-win.
Cuban families holiday in Varadero as well, so it's possible to chat and
interact with them as they, eager to try out their English, are pleased
to see you.
What do they talk about? The low wages of doctors and engineers and the
difficulty of getting travel visas.
These days the highest earners are the bands serenading in the
restaurants and bars with Chan Chan and Guantanamera, selling CDs and
scoring tips. Artists earn in CUCs or tourist bucks.
Restrictions were relaxed as more visitors came to Cuba, and homestays
with families (casas particulares) and home dining (paladares) became a
cottage industry.
When my college anthropology class comes to Cuba, it's under the "P to
P" licence, or "people to people citizen ambassador" programme which was
begun by Bill Clinton, then blocked by George W Bush, and later revived
by Barack Obama.
This waiver was to encourage contact, giving American educators a chance
to get around the US embargo.
Our last trip studied roots of Afro-Cuban religion, the syncretised mix
of saints and old santeria gods of Africa.
We visited a babalawa or santeria priest again this time, and travelled
1,000km to study rural cultures. In remote El Guijito near Baracoa at
the eastern tip of Cuba, we met resourceful villagers part-descended
from Taíno indians and Haitian slaves.
Their water is from wells. Food is cassava or yukka and pigs or chickens
running around the village, where historian Theresa Roger helps revive
old-school French-influence dances. Theresa rediscovered the steps and
songs from archives, and also helped fashion the smock-style 19th
century dresses.
After they politely asked us to dance, Theresa's village hosted a
banquet in coconut shells. At another village, we went to see Tumba
Pompadour, a dancing troop in their late 80s and over. Arriving late, we
discovered they'd gone home to nap. "Come back again," they said. "But
Sacred baseball shirts
Most Cubans are Catholic or santeros or both. At Virgin of Caridad del
Cobre shrine, shirts of baseball heroes are kept sacred by the candles.
An underweight baby in yellow with a tiny cross in her bonnet was being
taken for intercession. We took nuggets of copper for sexual health. To
a Cuban, this is not an odd confluence of prayer.
Our homestays were in Remedios, a sleepy town celebrating its 500th
anniversary, where the usual horse-traps, pedicabs, Plymouths and Dodges
in jelly-baby colours, bicycles and hysterical dogs lined up to greet
us. Next day, a dozen gleaming new jeeps joined them.
At New Year's Eve Mass in its newly restored church, we took in the
blend of santeria and Christian icons. Then, with host mothers Imaida
and Paloma, we went to nearby Sorgueta, where an enormous parranda
fiesta or New Year's Eve mock-battle was under way. Rival teams had
built floats in secret, stockpiled fireworks, mustered drumming
cabildos. The fiesta went on till late and we danced ourselves into a
This intimacy may change soon. Already Carnival and Princess cruise
ships are poised and jostling to dock.
I gave two small boys a sandwich at a Pina Colada stall. They were about
eight and six, and said "somos pobres" to me, eyeing my phone.
"To share," I said, and they began splitting it carefully into three,
handing me a piece. Lovely kids. Hungry kids. How will they handle the
new changes?

Source: Tourism was Cuba's way out of lean times -

Could Houston be the U.S. hub of trade with Cuba?

Could Houston be the U.S. hub of trade with Cuba?
Yes, say experts: Houston exports things that Cuba needs
By Olivia P. Tallet January 30, 2015 Updated: January 30, 2015 3:02pm

Could Houston become the major trading hub between the U.S. and Cuba?
Experts say that if Washington finally lifts the embargo that restricts
trade between the two countries, the city would have definite advantages
over competitors: Put simply, Houston exports things that are in demand
on the island.

President Obama has said that he would like to eliminate the Cuban
embargo, and talks between the two countries began last week in Havana.
Lifting the trade ban would require approval by Congress.

At first glance, Florida, not Houston, seems the more natural major hub:
That state is not only close to the island, but it's where most Cuban
exiles live. And definitely, says Ricky Kunz, the Port of Houston's
managing director of trade development, Florida will have an edge over
Texas when it comes to cruises to the Caribbean islands.

But otherwise, he says, "there is an important difference that puts
Houston at an advantage over Florida: We have the industry to support
what Cuba needs. Florida does not."

Cuba critically needs infrastructure, Kunz says. And Houston could
provide goods ranging from building materials to drainage and water
supply systems, as well as services for the gas and oil industry.

The Port of Houston could also link Cuba to the middle and western
United States. Agriculture states such as Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and
Nebraska are much closer to Houston than to Florida, so shipping through
Houston would be cheaper.

Currently, the Helms-Burton Act penalizes any ship sailing from the U.S.
that stops at a Cuban port. Only one U.S. company, Crowley Marathon of
Florida, has a transport license to ship to Cuba, says Parr Rosson, of
the Texas A&M department of agricultural economics and a boardmember of
the Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance.

But even without that special license, Rosson says, the Port of Houston
and other Texas ports have exported products to Cuba for a decade -- in
particular, grains, soybean meal, corn and frozen chicken, as well as
rice, cotton and processed foods.

A report from Texas A&M already lists Cuba as the twelfth largest
agricultural trading partner of the U.S. in the Western hemisphere.

If the embargo is lifted, Houston wouldn't just ship exports to Cuba,
says Steven R. Selsberg, a partner in commercial litigation firm Sidley
Austin LLP, which represents several Latin American firm. There would be
imports too: The U.S. needs metals such as nickel, and Cuba has the
world's second largest nickel reserve.

Cuba, too, seems to be preparing for greater trade. The Port of
Houston's Kunz travels frequently to Havana, and he hopes soon to
explore opportunities at the new commercial port of Mariel, built 30
miles from Havana. The island government has described that port, built
as a collaboration between Cuba and Brazil, as Cuba's new international
trade hub.

"The question isn't what products we [could] trade with Cuba," Kunz
says, "but rather what we cannot!"

Source: Could Houston be the U.S. hub of trade with Cuba? - Houston
Chronicle -

U.S. senator seeks free flow of agricultural products to Cuba

U.S. senator seeks free flow of agricultural products to Cuba
Published January 30, 2015 EFE

Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin said Friday that he is working on
legislation to ease the U.S. embargo on agricultural and
telecommunications exports to Cuba as a step toward normalizing
relations between the two countries, a goal announced earlier by
President Barack Obama.

"The President's announcement is just one step of the many we must
take," Durbin told a press conference, adding that the bill he and a
bipartisan group presented this week will end restrictions on U.S.
citizens traveling to Cuba.

He said the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would also eliminate the
existing red tape required for banking transactions related to such trips.

"I am hopeful that we will see legislation shortly that allows the free
flow of agriculture and other products to Cuba - including the use of
modern banking mechanisms to ease such trade," the lawmaker said.

The senator cited figures from the Illinois Farm Bureau, which estimates
that the state could export corn and soybean seeds to Cuba for $6.6
million, and add $11 million in other business as the market opens.

So that Cuba stops blaming us for all their problems, said Keith
Mussman, president of Kankakee County farmers, we can help them increase
their production instead of importing all the food they consume.

Also attending the press conference was the professor of Cuban origin,
Maria de los Angeles Torres of the University of Illinois at Chicago,
who said no one can deny that the situation in Cuba is repressive and is
"economically precarious and politically precarious," but added that
"the Castro brothers' days are numbered."

Therefore, she said, any easing of the embargo would contribute to a
more positive political transition.

"The American people are ready for this change and my colleagues and I
are committed to getting it done," Durbin said. EFE

Source: U.S. senator seeks free flow of agricultural products to Cuba |
Fox News Latino -

Canadians suddenly racing not to squander head start in Cuba

Canadians suddenly racing not to squander head start in Cuba
Peter Kuitenbrouwer | January 30, 2015 7:43 PM ET

Mark Entwistle could not resist a smile at lunch time Tuesday as he
gazed out over a packed room at Gowlings' head office in Toronto's First
Canadian Place office tower. He had not seen some of these lawyers and
business leaders in many years.

"In the mid 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba was the new
frontier," Mr. Entwisle, Canada's ambassador to Cuba from 1993 to 1997,
recalls in a later interview. "We had almost an invasion of junior
Canadian mining companies. We were doing all kinds of deals. Then Cuba
stopped experimenting as much with foreign investment. Bre-X happened on
the mining side, and all the juniors left because the money dried up."
The U.S. Helms Burton Act of 1996, which penalized foreign (such as
Canadian) companies trading with Cuba, also scared companies off.

The world shifted again Dec. 17, when Raúl Castro, president of Cuba,
and Barack Obama, president of the United States, restored diplomatic
relations after 55 years. On Bay Street, Cuba is sexy again.

"You can tell Cuba's kind of moved its way up the food chain," Mr.
Entwistle joked to the assembled at the Gowlings lunch, "The new Cuba
equation: the Cuban economy, Canada's opportunity and America's new
place," organized by the Canadian Council for the Americas. A think tank
with a 40-year history, the council holds events to discuss politics and
business in the Western Hemisphere.

On the surface this interest in Cuba seems paradoxical. Canada never
broke diplomatic relations with Cuba after its revolution in 1959, and
Canadians have longstanding and deep connections with Cuba, as tourists
and as investors. Why show interest in Cuba now that the U.S. is thawing

To some extent, with the exception of Sherritt International Corp. —
which generates about 75% of its income from nickel it mines in Cuba —
Canada has squandered its opportunity to solidify its place as the
premier business partner with Cuba during the many years when U.S.
policy froze out American companies. But that is just half the story.

Cuba has been reluctant to let anyone invest very much in its economy;
foreign direct investment in Cuba is less than a tenth of 1% of gross
domestic product. That policy of going it alone has kept out many
Canadians, too. U.S. laws have also frightened off Canadians. Now, with
Cuba and the U.S. playing footsie, investors sense that Cuba may be
opening up more generally, offering renewed opportunities for Canadians,
who already know Cuba well, to make some money.

"The interest is rising again, getting back on the radar screens where
it had been off," Mr. Entwistle says, sipping an espresso macchiato in
Nespresso, a grand coffee shop near his office that feels more like a
Mercedes dealership. He arrived home from Havana on the very day of the
US-Cuba deal. "I got off the plane on Dec. 17, my BlackBerry was
exploding with stuff," he says.

Mr. Entwistle has teamed up with Belinda Stronach, the former MP and
Magna International Inc. executive, and Anthony Melman, a former
managing director at Onex Corp., among others, to form a boutique
merchant bank, Acasta Capital. One investment that interests the firm:
Cuba. In the past month Americans have started calling him, seeking his
advice on investing in Cuba, he says.

At the Cuba lunch, Mr. Entwistle warned Canadians not to be smug about
their connection to that country.

"There is this mythology that we have a special influence with the Cuban
government. That does not give Canada a free ride in Cuba. Cuba is
already a bustling, crowded place. Canadians will have to compete
head-on." Despite Canada's world-class expertise in telecom, he noted,
Orange SA, the French telecom company active across Europe and Africa,
recently signed a deal to help Cuba's telephone system.

"It's the kind of deal we could have done," he says. "We just didn't
bother to go there and do it."

And there was one consensus in the room: Cuba is poised for takeoff.

Juan Triana Cordoví, an economist at the University of Havana, spelled
out the potential of his country. Cuba's health care system is among the
best in the Americas; its infant mortality rate is below that of the
United States. Of its 10.5 million people, 11% have a university
education. Cuba has 14 universities. At the same time, he did not seem
overly optimistic about the possibility of more foreign investment.

Mr. Triana also noted the impressive bond between Cuba and Canada: 1.2
million Canadians visited Cuba in 2014, compared with just 90,000 Americans.

"That was one of the best things about Cuba," a lawyer at the lunch in
Toronto remarked ruefully. "No Americans."

Now the Yanks are coming. By one estimate, with the Obama administration
relaxing rules on travel, a half-million Americans will visit Cuba this
year. "Too many Americans in Cuba," one Cuban remarked at the lunch.

The Canadian Council for the Americas brought the same panel to a
Wednesday event at the Borden, Ladner Gervais law firm in Ottawa.
Diplomats from Switzerland, Indonesia, Korea and the Dominican Republic

Ken Frankel, who runs the Canadian Council for the Americas out of
Washington, D.C., says Canadians' current interest in Cuba is partly
motivated by fear. "Does this mean that U.S. business is going to flood
into Cuba and push out the Canadians?" he asks.

Americans are certainly keenly interested. Devry Boughner Vorwerk,
vice-president of legal affairs at Cargill, Inc., the agricultural
giant, heads the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, and spoke to the
Toronto lunch from Washington via Skype.

Agriculture in Cuba has a lot of upside potential, thanks to rich soil
and an educated workforce, experts agree.

"You throw seeds in the ground and things grow," says Mr. Entwistle.
"You have a professional agronomist class." However, historically Cuba
has focused on growing sugar, and the country has little farm equipment.
"Conceivably Cuba could become a major exporter of fruits and vegetables
to the U.S.," he suggests. "There is a perfect storm of untapped
ingredients for agriculture." Brazil has already begun to invest in
agriculture in the island nation.

"I am working with people in agriculture," Mr. Entwistle said, declining
to name them. "I think it's a big strategic sector for Canadian interests."

Ricardo Alcolado Perez, who grew up in Cuba, runs his own law practice
in Toronto and helps Canadian companies invest in Cuba. But many
investors are gun shy. Historically, Cuba defaulted on some of its debts
to Canadians, he says. U.S. laws pose another obstacle. It may seem odd,
given the flood of Canadian tourists, that Canadians have not invested
in hotels in Cuba, as the Spanish have. "The Four Seasons are not going
to go to Cuba, over fear of losing business with the U.S. They also face
the risk of being incarcerated," he notes.

"I am working on a few projects," Mr. Alcolado Perez adds. "One is a
Canadian company who would like to raise funds in B.C. to build a hotel
in Cuba." He also has U.S. clients who do business in Cuba through
Canadian firms.

Information technology also offers opportunity, he adds.

"In the last 10 years Cuba has invested in training high-tech
specialists. There are a lot of young guys who are very skilled," says
Mr. Alcolado Perez. "Already companies in Canada outsource software
development to Cuba."

Tom Timmins, a partner at Gowlings, heads the firm's global renewable
energy law practise. Like many Caribbean countries, Cuba produces
electricity with generators powered by imported bunker oil, he says —
even though wind energy costs 6.7¢ per kilowatt-hour, compared with up
to 35¢ for diesel. Mr. Timmins is working with Carbon War Room, a
charity founded by Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, to help
Caribbean islands generate power from wind, solar and biomass.

"Cuba has a goal of 40% renewables and I think they will exceed that,"
he says. "Because of [Ontario's] feed-in tariff program, we've gotten
really good at renewable energy and integrating it into the grid. A lot
of the solar panels and wind turbines will be coming from China, but we
can supply Canadian project developers, Canadian equity and Canadian debt."

Cuba also has reserves in gold, silver, copper, other metals, as well as
oil and gas.

Not much will change overnight, though. Polls show Americans favour
lifting the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, but Mr. Obama, a Democrat,
will face challenges getting a bill through the Republican-controlled
Congress. And Cuba, concerned about social cohesion, will move
cautiously to expand its small private sector.

Even so, the stars are aligning for major change in Cuba, and Canada
will be there, says Mr. Entwistle.

"This not a hermit kingdom," he says. "It is not an isolated place, but
it's one of the few markets around with a sense of untapped potential.
There are a lot of ingredients for an economic takeoff in Cuba."

National Post

Source: Canadians suddenly racing not to squander head start in Cuba |
Financial Post -

Normalizing Relations With Cuba -The Unfinished Agenda

Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda

On January 22, U.S. and Cuban diplomats concluded the first round of
talks to implement President Barack Obama's and President Raúl Castro's
decision to normalize bilateral relations. A second round of talks is
scheduled for February.

Much of the first round was devoted to the mechanics of re-establishing
full diplomatic relations and setting out the long agenda of other
issues the two sides want to discuss.

A number these are issues of mutual interest on which the United States
and Cuba have already built some level of cooperation over the
years—migration, counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, law enforcement,
Coast Guard search and rescue, disaster preparedness and environmental
protection, to name the most prominent.

But on many other issues, Cuba and the United States have sharply
different views and interests. As the two sides embark on what promises
to be a long series of meetings to carry the normalization process
forward, the guide below offers a capsule sketch of the issues in
conflict that will comprise the toughest part of the negotiating agenda.

The list is lop-sided, mostly involving programs and policies that are
vestiges of the old U.S. policy of hostility. For its part, Cuba doesn't
have any sanctions against the United States that it can offer as quid
pro quos. There are, however, a number of things that Washington will be
seeking from Havana.

Normalizing Diplomatic Relations

Presidents Obama and Castro have already agreed on this, and only an
exchange of diplomatic notes is required to formalize it. Obama's
nominee to be ambassador to Havana will need Senate confirmation, however.

Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has sworn to block the nominee and will probably
have the support of Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, another member of the
Foreign Relations Committee.

But even if Rubio and Menendez keep the nomination bottled up, they
can't prevent Obama from re-establishing full diplomatic relations with
Cuba. Article II of the Constitution vests that power exclusively with
the president. For their part, Cuban diplomats have said that normal
diplomatic relations are incompatible with Cuba's inclusion on the list
of state sponsors of terrorism, so even the reestablishment of
diplomatic relations is not yet a done deal.

The Terrorism List

Obama has ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba's
inclusion on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
He will almost certainly conclude that Cuba should be removed, since
there is no reasonable basis for its designation.

But removing a country from the list requires notification of Congress,
which will give Republican critics another opportunity to blast Obama's
policy. Nevertheless, they won't have the votes to block Cuba's removal,
since they would need to override a presidential veto.

Removal of Cuba from the list is important symbolically, but it won't
have much practical effect. All the sanctions applied to countries on
the list are already included in the Cuban embargo. The financial
sanctions that have made it so difficult for Havana to conduct business
abroad will not end with removal from the list.

The Embargo

Obama punched a number of holes in the embargo, but the core of it
remains intact. U.S. companies cannot invest in Cuba, nor do business
with state enterprises except to sell food or medicine. Cuban businesses
cannot sell anything to the United States.

Obama relaxed regulations governing educational travel, but tourist
travel is still banned. To lift the embargo in its entirety will require
legislative changes to the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA), which prohibits
sales of goods to Cuba by the subsidiaries of U.S. corporations abroad;
the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton), which
wrote the embargo into law; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export
Enhancement Act, which bans tourist travel.

With Republicans in control of Congress, the embargo is not likely to go
away any time soon.

Property Claims

The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission ratified 5,911 property
claims by U.S. corporations and citizens for $1.85 billion in losses
suffered when Cuba nationalized all U.S. property on the island. With
accumulated interest, the total claims stand at over $7 billion today.

In addition, Cuban exiles who became naturalized U.S. citizens are
eligible for compensation for lost property under the Helms-Burton law.
The State Department estimates there could be as many as 200,000 such
claims, totaling "tens of billions of dollars."

Cuba acknowledges the legitimacy of U.S. claims, but rejects
compensation for Cubans who fled the island. Moreover, Cuba has asserted
counter-claims of $181 billion for the damage done by the U.S. embargo
and the CIA's secret war in the 1960s.

Cuba does not have the resources to pay even a fraction of U.S. claims,
let alone Cuban-American claims, and Washington would never agree to
Cuba's enormous counter-claim. A compromise could conceivably be built
around debt-equity swaps or giving claimants preferential terms for
future investments.

Cuban Membership in International Financial Institutions

The Helms Burton law requires the United States to vote against Cuban
membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
To become a member of the World Bank, a country must first join the IMF,
which requires approval by a supermajority of 85 percent of the vote by
existing members.

Since the United States holds 17 percent of the voting stock, U.S.
opposition effectively bars Cuba from both the IMF and the Bank.
Although Cuba has not applied for membership, the economic restructuring
underway would benefit significantly from IMF and Bank financial
support. Resolving this issue will require amending or repealing

U.S. Democracy Promotion Programs

The United States continues to spend between $15 million and $20 million
annually on covert democracy promotion programs designed to strengthen
Cuban civil society and promote opposition. Cuba reportedly sought an
end to these programs during the secret negotiations, but Washington

These programs could be refocused to promote more authentic cultural and
educational exchanges that operate openly. Such a reform was
contemplated shortly after Alan Gross was arrested in 2009, but the
White House backed down in the face of congressional opposition.

The latest request for proposals from the Department of State suggests
that the programs' confrontational approach has not changed. That could
threaten progress toward normalization. "Our U.S. counterparts should
not plan on developing relations with Cuban society as if there were no
sovereign government in Cuba," Raúl Castro warned in a speech after the
talks concluded.

The Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program

This program, designed during George W. Bush's presidency, offers Cuban
health workers serving abroad on humanitarian missions a fast track to
U.S. residency if they defect. Each year, more than a thousand Cubans
take advantage of it.

Cuba asked the United States to end the program to facilitate
cooperation rebuilding Haiti's health care system after the 2010
earthquake. Washington refused and cooperation fizzled. More recently,
Washington and Havana have been cooperating on the fight against Ebola,
but the Medical Professionals Parole Program remains an obstacle to
sustained U.S.-Cuban cooperation in the field of public health.

It doesn't make sense for Washington to praise Cuba's humanitarian
health programs on the one hand while trying to subvert them on the
other. Cuban diplomats raised this issue in the January talks, but as of
now, Washington has no plans to review the program.

TV and Radio Martí

The United States government still spends millions of dollars annually
broadcasting TV and Radio Martí to Cuba, even though the television
signal is effectively jammed and the radio has a diminishing audience.
Cuba objects to the broadcasts as a violation of international law.

A recent report by the State Department Inspector General found serious
management deficiencies and low employee morale at the stations. The
programs continue to be funded more as pork barrel legislation than as
effective instruments of foreign policy. Years ago, Cuba offered to
carry PBS and CNN news broadcasts on its domestic television if TV and
Radio Martí were halted. Could a similar deal be struck now?

The Cuban Adjustment Act

This 1966 law allows Cuban immigrants who are in the United States for a
year to "adjust" their status to that of legal permanent residents—a
privilege no other immigrant group enjoys. Since the 1990s, the Attorney
General has routinely paroled into the United States any Cuban who
reaches U.S. territory, making them eligible for residence under the act.

The Cuban government has long complained that this encourages illegal
departures from the island and human trafficking. The Attorney General
has the authority under the law to refuse to parole illegal Cuban
immigrants into the country, thereby denying them the benefits of the
Cuban Adjustment Act, but no president thus far has been willing to
change existing policy because the status quo enjoys broad support among
Cuban Americans.

The Obama administration does not intend to change the law or its
interpretation for fear of touching off a migration crisis.

Cuban Trademarks

A number of famous Cuban trademarks, including Havana Club rum and
Cohiba cigars, have been appropriated by U.S. companies after a 1998 law
prohibited Cuba from renewing its trademark rights. Cuba has sought to
safeguard its trademarks in the courts, without success.

As U.S.-Cuban trade expands, U.S. brands will want protection in the
Cuban market, an issue which has been largely moot until now. If there
is to be a cease-fire in the trademark war, it will have to be mutual.

Cuban Visitors to the United States

Since Cuba abolished the "tarjeta blanca" exit permit required to travel
abroad, Cuban visitors to the United States have jumped by almost 100
percent to 33,000 in the past year. But Cuban scholars coming to attend
professional meetings in the United States still run afoul of a 1985
presidential proclamation issued by Ronald Reagan that bars visas for
employees of the Cuban government or Communist Party. George W. Bush
invoked this proclamation to deny all Cuban academic visits as a matter
of policy.

The Obama administration has been more lenient, but it still denies
visas to prominent Cuban academics for no obvious reason, even though
the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) prohibits denials on
political grounds. Obama could solve this problem by simply withdrawing
the Reagan-era proclamation.

There are ample grounds in section 212(a) of the INA for denying visas
to applicants who may pose an actual threat to U.S. security because of
involvement in terrorism, crime, or intelligence activities.

Guantánamo Bay Naval Station

Established by the United States in 1903 following the Spanish-American
War, the base at Guantánamo has long been a thorn in the side of Cuban
nationalists. Cuba claims it as sovereign territory and wants the United
States out. Washington insists on the validity of a 1934 treaty leasing
the base to the United States in perpetuity.

Since the 1990s, U.S. military forces on the base and the local Cuban
military have had a cooperative working relationship that Raúl Castro
once described as a model for relations between the two governments.
Disposition of the base is low on the agenda of both governments, and
nothing is likely to change until Obama is able to close the detention


The Obama administration has said that it will seek the extradition of
some 70 U.S. fugitives currently living in Cuba, including high profile
political exiles like Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, who was
convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper.

Cuba has been willing to return common criminals who have sought shelter
on the island, but it has consistently refused to return anyone granted
political asylum. The Foreign Ministry reiterated that position shortly
after the two presidents announced the normalization of diplomatic

Moreover, Cuba has a long list of Cuban Americans guilty of violent
attacks on the island who Washington refuses to extradite, foremost
among them Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of a series of hotel
bombings in Havana in the 1990s and the bombing of a Cuban civilian
airliner in 1976.

Law enforcement cooperation in pursuit of common criminals is likely to
improve, but on the issue of returning fugitives who have been given
political asylum, neither side is likely to give any ground.

Human Rights and Democracy

In his speech to the nation, Obama promised to continue the U.S.
commitment to democracy and human rights in Cuba. Speaking to the
National Assembly, Castro noted that Cuba had "profound differences"
with the United States on these issues but was nevertheless willing to
discuss them.

Havana continues to regard questions of democracy and human rights as
internal matters and sees foreign demands as infringements on its
national sovereignty. Nevertheless, Castro was willing to negotiate the
release of 53 political prisoners, expanded Internet access and
cooperation with the International Red Cross and UN as part of his
agreement with Obama.

Although there may be some glacial progress from conversations around
democracy and human rights, for the most part, the two sides will
continue to disagree.

The unfinished agenda of issues in conflict is long and daunting,
requiring tough negotiations, not only between Washington and Havana,
but between the White House and Capitol Hill. Many of these issues will
linger unresolved beyond the two years remaining in Obama's presidency.

But by changing the frame of U.S. policy from one of hostility and
regime change to one of engagement and coexistence, Obama has already
made more progress than all ten of his predecessors.

William M. LeoGrande is professor of Government at American University
and coauthor with Peter Kornbluh of the recent book, Back Channel to
Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana
(University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Source: Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda -

What Cuba-U.S. Relations Means For U.S. Industry

What Cuba-U.S. Relations Means For U.S. Industry
By Alison L. Deutsch | January 30, 2015 AAA |

President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December after 54 years of isolation. Ties with the
island-nation were severed in January of 1961, one year after the first
trade embargo was imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The historic announcement with Cuban President Raúl Castro was
established amid a prisoner exchange brokering the release of dissidents
detained on espionage charges. Obama has agreed to release three Cuban
agents held in the U.S. for the last 15 years in exchange for Rolando
Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban national who operated as an intelligence agent
for U.S. Cuba also agreed to release 53 political prisoners.

The discussions prompted the immediate release of Alan P. Gross, an
American government aid contractor held for five years in Havana. Gross
was sentenced to 15 years by the Cuban government on espionage charges
but was released on humanitarian grounds.

As part of the diplomatic normalization process, the U.S. will reinstate
its embassy in Havana. High-level exchanges between the two governments
have already begun. The U.S. will address matters of Cuban domestic
policy such as improvements in human rights conditions and advancing
democratic reforms. (For more, see: How To Invest In Cuba.)

Cuba is motivated to thaw relations with the U.S. as instability in
Venezuela mounts and a looming credit default threatens the Venezuelan
economy. Venezuela serves as one of Cuba's main economic supports
through its subsidized oil supplies. To preserve its economic integrity,
Cuba is setting its sights on outside economies.

The decades-long American policy of isolationism has failed both
economically and politically. Normalization of relations – and an
eventual lifting of the embargo – will allow the U.S. to enter a nearby,
untapped market of 11 million people, and U.S. travel, agriculture, and
financial services sectors are looking to gain. (For more, see: The
Economic Impact of Better US-Cuba Relations.)

Travel restrictions have kept American tourists out of Cuba for decades.
The new White House policy will relax travel constraints, granting
access to a wide range of travelers in the process. The reopening of
America's embassy in Havana will also facilitate travel for Americans
seeking to travel to Cuba.

Included among the authorized types of travel are visits to family,
business trips, and visits for educational or religious purposes.
However, despite a dozen authroized travel types, tourism is still banned.

The U.S. travel industry sees a breadth of business possibilities for
the sector as a number of American tourists inevitably take advantage of
this new travel destination.

Carnival (CCL), the U.S. cruise liner, has already showed interest in
bringing tourists to Cuba's nearby ports. Among a handful of other
airlines, United Airlines (UAL) has announced plans to serve direct
flights to Cuba once kinks in government regulations are sorted out.
Additional opportunities could exist for American hotels as Cuba
currently houses a dearth of tourist accommodations.

The policy shift could prove lucrative for American food companies who
will no longer face burdensome restrictions on exports. Though exempted
from the trade embargo, agriculture companies have encountered
regulatory barriers and have been required to finance through third parties.

Cuba is the largest importer of wheat in the Caribbean and has not
imported the grain from the U.S. since 2011. The freer trade guidelines
could potentially raise the U.S. share of wheat imports from zero to
90%, creating a $150 million business in the process. There is also
greater room in the marketplace for soy products and corn, the latter of
which hasn't been traded since 2008.

The uptick in American goods will also benefit Cuba by boosting Cuban
food security. The country currently imports about 80% of its food

American banks will finally be able to conduct business in Cuba for the
first time since the trade embargo barred U.S. banks from doing business
there. American financial institutions will now also be able to open
correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to process direct
transactions, eliminating the need to search for a banking intermediary
in Cuba to sell products or process trade.

Individuals will also feel the effects of relaxed financial
restrictions. Remittance levels to Cuban nationals will be raised,
allowing Americans to send more money to Cuba. Remittances pertaining to
humanitarian projects and the promotion of private businesses will be
authorized without limitation.

Americans traveling in Cuba will no longer be limited to cash
transactions and will be able to use their credit and debit cards on the
island. American Express (AXP) is the latest American credit card issuer
to announce its plans to conduct business in Cuba. MasterCard (MA) also
recently announced it would stop blocking Cuban transactions.

Congressional approval is needed to lift the current economic embargo.
Without full legislative access to Cuba, any significant American
economic gain would not materialize. However, the swift progress of
Cuban-American diplomatic relations suggests an eventual—and perhaps,
forthcoming—embargo lift which in turn, would bring considerable success
to the travel, agriculture, and financial services sectors.

Source: What Cuba-U.S. Relations Means For U.S. Industry

Cuba to build first new Catholic church since Castro

Cuba to build first new Catholic church since Castro
By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT) January 30, 2015

Cuban Catholics start building their first churches since 1959
Religious believers had been seen as suspicious under the Castro regime
The new churches are desperately needed, Cuban Catholics say
Sandino, Cuba (CNN)A neglected, weed-strewn field in a small Cuban town
where there are more horses than cars seems an unlikely setting for a
major shift in government policy.

But in the isolated town of Sandino, Cuba's first Catholic church since
the 1959 revolution took power is set to be built.

"There is money to start, there is the construction material to start,
there are the permissions to start, so everything is ready," said Bishop
Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez, who oversees the diocese where the new church
will be built.

The Sandino church has been 56 years in the making, ever since Fidel
Castro took power and Cuba became an officially atheist state.

Religious people fell under suspicion by the new revolutionary
government, but none more so than those who belonged to the Catholic
Church, which was seen as being overly sympathetic to the Batista regime
that Castro had driven from power.

In the first years of the revolution, thousands of Catholic priests were
jailed or forced into exile, and church property, including the Jesuit
school that Castro attended, was seized by the Cuban government.

Only with the visit in 1998 of Pope John Paul II to the island did
relations between the Cuban government and Catholic Church begin to
thaw. Christmas again became a national holiday, and Cubans faced less
official discrimination for practicing their faiths.

In December, Cuban President Raul Castro thanked Pope Francis for his
role in the secret talks that led to a prisoner swap between Cuba and
the United States and the start of negotiations to restore full
diplomatic relations.

In 2015, church officials said requests to build new churches that had
long been ensnared in red tape began to receive government approval.

While church officials said several new Catholic houses of worship are
in the works, the first will be built in Sandino, a remote town at the
end of a pothole-cratered road in Cuba's westernmost province.

The Rev. Cirilo Castro drives that road to Sandino once a week to
officiate Mass in a converted garage in the back of a house the church
rents. He has lost count of the miles he has put on his green Russian
Lada as part of his ministry to towns throughout the province.

When the new Catholic church is built -- the first in Sandino's history
-- Castro said he would move to minster there full time.

"I hope the church doesn't stay within the four walls," he said "That it
will go farther than that. That with the building of the new church,
there will be more people of faith," Castro said.

The Cuban Catholic Church desperately needs more followers in Cuba,
where in recent years the syncretic religion Santeria, that mixes
African religions with Catholicism, has exploded in popularity.

The church in Sandino will take about two years to build and when
completed will hold 200 people, Castro said.

Most of the $50,000 collected so far for the new church comes from
fund-raisers held by the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida.

"Much of Tampa's history and culture comes from Cuba," said the Rev. Tom
Morgan, St. Lawrence's vicar. "It's absolutely fantastic they are
building a new church, and I hope to be able to visit one day."

Morgan said he was optimistic that recent changes in U..S Treasury
Department regulations would make it possible for his church to send
supplies and building materials to Cuba to help with the construction of
the new church.

As she makes her way down a path to attend Mass in Cirilo Castro's
converted garage, Digna Martinez said she has waited more than five
decades for a church to be built in Sandino.

Martinez said she, her husband and two children were those relocated to
the town during early 1960s when a triumphant Fidel Castro was still
battling what he called "bandits," holdouts against his revolution
waging guerrilla warfare in the countryside.

While there is no official tally, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people
suspected of plotting against the revolution were shipped to Sandino to
live in a form of internal exile.

"It was a process to make a community for political prisoners," Martinez
said. "They took our farm away and brought us here."

A lifelong Catholic, Martinez said one of the most devastating things
about being forced to move 500 miles away from her home to a town she
had never heard of was that there was no church.

"Having a church is very important," she said. "Many of the people here
were brought up Catholic and need a church. We were baptized and prayed
when we went to bed and woke up, just like our parents and grandparents
taught us."

Source: Cuba to build first new Catholic church since Castro - -

“Doors open” for Cuban dissidents to possibly attend summit in Panama

"Doors open" for Cuban dissidents to possibly attend summit in Panama
01/30/2015 9:48 PM 01/30/2015 9:48 PM

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela endorsed the reestablishment of
relations between the United States and Cuba and said the doors "are
open" for Cuban dissidents to potentially attend a key forum during the
upcoming Summit of the Americas.

Both President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro are
scheduled to attend the April event in Panama.

In an interview with el Nuevo Herald, Varela avoided confirming whether
the Cuban dissidents — who have been repeatedly classified by the Cuban
government as mercenaries at the service of "the empire" of the U.S. —
would be invited by the Panamanian government to the civic society forum.

Varela said Ruben Castillo, former president of Apede (the Panamanian
Association of Executives), would be the person in charge of the forum.

But asked whether that debate would include the dissidents, he signaled
it was a possibility that would be debated. "When a country seeks unity,
if things are done the right way, when a country seeks unity and
dialogue, well, then that's the path to follow,'' he said. "So, the
doors are open."

Varela, who spoke at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States summit this week in Costa Rica, said that the joint announcement
that Cuba and the U.S. had initiated a process to normalize relations
after 46 years of hostility "consolidates peace in the continent and
restores social peace within the different countries."

For the first time since the founding of the Summit of the Americas, a
Cuban government head has been invited to attend. Panama invited Castro,
who accepted the invitation. That means that in an act unprecedented
since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the presidents of
Cuba and the U.S. will sit at the same table of an Inter-American
summit. The Organization of American States (OAS), from which Cuba was
expelled in 1962, is sponsoring the summit.

However, Cuba has not shown any signs of wanting to be reincorporated
fully into the inter-American system.

During the first meeting among delegates of both nations held last week
in Havana, Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal held a press conference in
which she stated: "The Cuban government doesn't consider dissidents to
be 'representative of civil society in Cuba.'"

In his CELAC speech on Wednesday, Castro also avoided addressing whether
he thinks the dissidents should attend the Summit of the Americas but he
voiced a range of questions about that possibility.

Castro largely used his time at the podium to chastise the U.S. for its
immigration policies and the recent string of protests against police
brutality held across the country. The Cuban leader also said he
supports "the popular movements and the non-gubernatorial organizations
that advocate nuclear dismantling, that are environmentalists, against
neo-liberalism, the Occupy Wall Street of this region."

Source: "Doors open" for Cuban dissidents to possibly attend summit in
Panama | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

Early Farewell to the CUC

Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on January 30, 2015

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 January 2015 — It was barely 10:00
am Wednesday, January 28th, and the currency exchange (CADECA) at
Belascoaín had no national currency (CUP)*. One of the tellers explained
that he had only several 50 peso bills and that was it until the "cash
truck" arrived. Some customers, leaving because they could not transact
business, stated that this has become the norm, not only at this
currency exchange, but also at the one on Galiano Street, across from
the Plaza del Vapor.

These are virtually the only two currency exchanges operating in the
municipality of Centro Habana after most of them were converted to
ATM's, so both exchange of hard (i.e. foreign) currency to Cuban
convertible currency (CUC) as well as CUC to CUP implies traveling to
some CADECA or to Banco Metropolitano, both located at some distance,
and the likelihood of having to stand on long lines before being able to
complete the desired transaction.

Another difficulty that has become common in both CADECA and ATM
locations is the absence of bills in denominations smaller than 100 or
50 CUP, which also distresses the population, especially the elderly,
who receive their pensions in debit cards and are often unable to
withdraw all of their money, since there are no 5 or 1 peso bills
available. In these cases, they need to wait a whole trimester or
quarter until enough funds accumulate in their accounts to cover the
minimum denominations of 10 or 20 CUP, a ridiculous amount compared to
the high price of any market product, but what is significant is that
the affected individuals depend almost entirely on this income.

Since the start of 2015, Cubans who receive remittances from abroad or
convertible pesos by other means are quick to exchange their money into
the national currency. Those who receive larger amounts – on the order
of 100's of CUC, in general the owners of more thriving private business
— prefer to use the black market to exchange their funds into US
dollars. The common denominator is that nobody wants to hold CUC money,
which, until recently, was in high demand and CADECAS would even often
run out of.

Announcement of a new national currency bill being issued into
circulation in February, in 200, 500 and 1000 peso denominations,
coupled with the ability to access the former "hard currency market"
with either money, has sounded the drum-roll in people's psyche as a
prelude to the much anticipated monetary unification. People fear that
an official changeover will take place that will carry penalizing fees
that will cause serious losses to people's pockets.

The expectation is felt, by osmosis, in the capital's agricultural trade
networks, especially in meat markets that are not "state-owned", where
either one of the two currencies was accepted a few weeks ago. "Mother
of Mercy, give me national currency!" is the butcher's cry at
Combinadito de Sitios in Centro Habana when a customer brings out 20 CUC
to pay for a cut of pork meat whose price these days of non-ration cards
has risen to 45 Cuban pesos per pound. "Country farmers don't want CUC,
my brother, they have a lot of money** and are really afraid of the
monetary unification. They won't sell me meat unless I pay in national

Something similar is happening with peddlers with street carts, who
still accept payment in "convertible" currency for retail sales, but
their wholesale suppliers are demanding payment in national currency for
their products. A street peddler in my neighborhood states "farmers have
high incomes and almost all producers have accumulated large sums. None
of them wish to lose when the currency is unified".

It is evident that, once more, the lack of information and clarification
on the part of the official media are causing uncertainty and spreads
speculation throughout the population, giving way to obstacles such as
the (unexplained) shortage of cash in the CADECA, increasing the demand
for US dollars in the black market foreign exchanges.

With the imminent introduction of the new denomination bills, clear
evidence of the very high inflation rate in Cuba, nothing is known about
a monetary unification that -according to official notification- will be
gradual and will "not affect" Cuban pockets. For now, it is expected
that, when it takes place, the official exchange rate of 25 pesos in
national currency for each CUC will not continue, a transaction with
which the CADECA and the state commercial networks have operated to
date. Our experience, after decades of deceptive monetary maneuvers, has
motivated the popular wisdom so that, already, before the dreamed about
monetary unification, Cubans are shedding was has been the last few
years' supreme sign of Cuba's status: the CUC.

Translator's notes:

*See here for a longer discussion of the history of Cuba's currencies
and the plan to move to a single currency. Briefly, Cuba has two
currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional (national money),
abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. In theory
CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is illegal to take them out of
Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other countries. Cubans receive
their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs, with wages roughly the
equivalent of about $20 US per month, and pensions considerably less.
The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American dollar, but exchange fees make
it more expensive. The CUP trades to the CUC at about 24-to-1.

**It has been a common practice in other tightly controlled countries,
when new currencies are introduced, to limit the total amount of money
people are allowed to exchange and/or to require documentation of the
sources of larger sums. As the old currency becomes instantly worthless
domestically and internationally, people who have been 'hoarding' it can
see almost all their savings disappear. Cubans fear this could happen
with the elimination of the CUC.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba -

Free American travel puts the burden of opening up on the Cuban government

Fabiola Santiago: Free American travel puts the burden of opening up on
the Cuban government
01/30/2015 6:26 PM 01/30/2015 9:39 PM

Congress, about to take up free travel to Cuba as a bipartisan bill
introduced Thursday makes the rounds, might want to consider the
laughable scenarios resulting from current U.S. policy.

Americans traveling to Cuba can't legally dip a toe in warm Cuban
waters, can't stroll on soft white sands, and perhaps, say, come upon
the opportunity to strike up an unscripted conversation with locals.

But American visitors can, for example, dine and drink at the
state-owned venue Cabaret Le Parisien at the historic Hotel Nacional and
gawk at erotic dancers shimmying like wild weeds in a windstorm.

Going to the beach is considered by the U.S. government a purely
touristy activity, and is forbidden, even under the relaxed travel
conditions set forth recently by the Obama administration.

Watching a Las Vegas-style show of scantily clad men and women, on the
other hand, falls under the scope of cultural enlightenment, and is
permitted as an educational experience.

Topsy-turvy, isn't it?

Such are the idiosyncrasies of U.S.-Cuba travel rules, which often times
end up having the opposite effect of what the American government
intended: throngs of Americans engaging with ordinary Cuban citizens,
breaking down the stronghold the Cuban government has on information,
and countering the negative image of five decades of anti-Yankee propaganda.

"I think it's important that more people go and get sense of the
enormity of the problem," says a Florida academic who has made two trips
and will soon travel again to the island. "It's not just a simple, 'Oh,
let's open it up.' There's a lot to sort out and no one has the answers."

But, as he and many other Americans who have traveled to Cuba have
assured me, there's no substitute for the perspective gained by going at
this point in history, even with the restricted movement of tightly
organized trips.

In a week when a defiant Raúl Castro put a major damper on the
cautiously optimistic mood of U.S.-Cuba talks with a litany of demands —
most of them quite ridiculous, he being the dictator in the diplomatic
equation — the outlook for positive change on Cuba's end is almost

But the Freedom to Travel Act of 2015 could be a way forward.

Truly free travel will depend on bilateral talks with Cuba to iron out
issues like air service agreements so that airlines can offer routine
scheduled service. But it certainly doesn't require any agreement with
the guardians of the Cuban island-fiefdom for the American government to
act and lift an unwarranted prohibition on its own people.

About 100,000 Americans travel to Cuba a year via charter flights booked
by travel groups that have over the past few years come to add Cuba as a
destination. Add to this 400,000 Cubans and Cuban-Americans who live in
the United States and travel to Cuba every year, and the numbers are
already substantial.

Allowing American citizens the right to freely travel to Cuba would put
the burden of opening up where it belongs — with the Cuban government.

Most of the Miami congressional delegation will dutifully object to the
free-travel bill on grounds that most of the money Americans spend goes
to state coffers. There's no getting around that now and maybe not ever:
Although there are small numbers of cuentapropistas — self-employed
entrepreneurs — practically every business, facility, or attraction in
Cuba is state-owned.

But the opponents of free travel are missing the larger picture — not
only that a democratic government shouldn't be in the business of
prohibiting its citizens' travel, but also that there are unquantifiable
benefits to engagement.

"We saw how well Cuban government officials live in western Havana — in
neighborhoods that might have been in Coral Gables," another traveler
told me. "And we saw areas of Old Havana with poor Cubans living with
garbage on the streets. We also ate in some very nice private
restaurants. We saw the buses ordinary Cubans rode in — such a contrast
to the upscale, Chinese-made buses for foreign visitors. Etc. etc. I'm
grateful that I got to see a little of Cuba, and I'm under no illusion
about the nature of the Cuban government."

For my American academic friend, the Cuban travel experience began with
a premise: "It's Cuba, so it's hard to know how much you're being fed
and how much is real."

But despite his tour guide's futile attempts to praise the Revolution
("everyone would roll their eyes," he said) the disastrous results were
in plain sight: a once stately Havana in ruins, a harbor without boats,
palpable repression.

At a museum showcasing priceless masterpieces, the air conditioner was
broken, yet the "stubbornly proud guide" in a white pressed guayabera
walked around "as if they were living in Paris."

"There wasn't one night when we sat down to dinner that someone didn't
cry when we discussed our experiences," he said. "All the destruction is
the result of the ego of that man [Fidel Castro]. How can you ride
around and watch your country fall apart around you — and not do
something to at least slow down the catastrophe?"

The reward of travel — even more so of free travel — is that no one has
to tell you what it's like. The regime's apologists notwithstanding,
those who keep their eyes open can see it all.

Source: Fabiola Santiago: Free American travel puts the burden of
opening up on the Cuban government | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

Why Castro's demand for reparations from US could backfire

Why Castro's demand for reparations from US could backfire
Cuban President Raúl Castro demanded this week that the United States
pay hundreds of millions of dollars in economic reparations for damages
caused by the US embargo on Cuba. But Cuban-Americans have claims on
Cuba, too.
By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer JANUARY 29, 2015

WASHINGTON — Cuban President Raúl Castro had a surprise for the Obama
administration when he issued a new and considerably tougher set of
demands this week for reaching normalized relations with the United States.

Return of the Guantánamo Bay naval base to Cuban sovereignty was perhaps
the most stop-and-take-notice condition Mr. Castro set in a speech
Wednesday. But it was the brother of Fidel Castro's demand concerning
reparations that could end up stirring the bitterest pot and posing the
highest obstacle to normalization.

Castro said United States payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in
economic reparations for damages caused by the five-decade-old embargo,
and indeed a lifting of the embargo Cuba considers a "blockade," would
also have to take place before the two adversaries can renew relations
that were severed soon after the Cuban revolution of 1959.

But Castro's reparation demands also carry a risk. That's because they
virtually guarantee reawakening the sensitive issue of the estimated
billions of dollars in reparations that US citizens, American
businesses, and Cuban-Americans claim are owed for properties and
businesses seized from them in the revolution.

The eye-catching demands, delivered in a speech to a Latin American
summit in Costa Rica, seemed aimed in part at burnishing Cuba's image as
a tough adversary of Yankee imperialism even as bilateral talks on
reestablishing diplomatic ties proceed.

In a further sign of the momentum behind President Obama's opening to
Cuba, a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation
to lift the travel ban on Americans going to Cuba. It was the first
piece of legislation to be introduced in the wake of Mr. Obama's
executive orders easing trade and travel restrictions with Cuba.

The tough stance Castro assumed appears aimed at calming concerns – both
domestically among Communist Party stalwarts, and among Cuba's leftist
supporters throughout Latin America – that the US-Cuba rapprochement
announced in December might suggest Cuba was going soft on its longtime foe.

The speech followed on the heels of Fidel Castro's first pronouncement
on the new direction in bilateral relations. In a letter published
Monday, the former leader signaled his cautious approval by saying he
would "always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of
the world, including with our political adversaries."

He also said that while "I don't trust the policy of the United States
... this does not mean I reject a peaceful solution to conflicts."

But Raúl Castro's demand for US reparations for the economic embargo
seemed likely to stir a pot that has never stopped simmering since 1960.

In 1961 the US Commerce Department put a price tag of $1.8 billion on
the Cuban property seized without compensation from Americans, who
ranged from small vacation homeowners to giant corporations like
Coca-Cola, Texaco, and Freeport-McMoRan. Today, conservative estimates
place the value of the 6,000 property claims at $7 billion.

Further complicating the compensation issue are the thousands of cases
of Cubans who saw their homes and businesses seized by the Cuban state
when they fled the revolution, largely for Miami.

Indeed a recurring fear among Cuban families that were given a house as
seized residential properties were redistributed following the
revolution is that the day will come when the Miami Cubans will return
to claim their property.

In the weeks since Obama and Raúl Castro announced their intentions to
move toward normalized relations, much has been made of the fact that it
would take an act of Congress to lift the trade embargo. But the same US
law that codifies the embargo, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, also
requires compensation for confiscated properties before the trade
embargo can be lifted.

Resolving Americans' property compensation demands won't be any easier
than meeting Cuba's condition that it be paid reparations for the
economic impact and "human toll" of the trade embargo – a cost Cuban
authorities last year estimated at $1.1 trillion.

But in his speech Castro did seem to allow himself an out for advancing
relations even if the prickliest bilateral issues are left unresolved.

The new course the two old adversaries have embarked on might lead to
renewed diplomatic relations at some point in the near term, Castro
said. But normal ties and exchange between the two countries won't be
possible, he added, until all the complicated issues of six decades of
rancor and distrust have been addressed.

Source: Why Castro's demand for reparations from US could backfire
(+video) - -