Saturday, February 28, 2015

New Electoral Law - New Wine in Old Wineskins?

New Electoral Law: New Wine in Old Wineskins? / Miriam Celaya
Posted on February 28, 2015

After the Tenth Assembly of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist
Party of Cuba (PCC) the news about the next "enactment of a new
electoral law; and the subsequent holding of general elections" has
begun to circulate in the official media. Such an important announcement
in a country where, for more than 60 years ago no general election has
taken place, is mentioned almost tangentially, just nine words in an
informational note on the above Assembly, whose "focal point" had to do
with issues related to the preparations for the celebration of the April
2016 Sixth Congress of the single party.

So this is how the casual style of the announcement turns out so very
misleading, downplaying a code whose nature would be essential in any
minimally democratic society.

It is unknown what motivates this renewal of the law in a country whose
government, until recently, boasted of having the most fair, transparent
and participatory electoral process in the world, able to summon an
overwhelming majority of voters to the polls. The case provokes many
questions, some very basic: Why change a law that is supposedly a
paradigm of democracy even for the most civilized nations on the planet?
Why does the proposal arise from the central committee and not from the
higher authorities of the People's Power, as might be expected? What
reason is there for the urgency in enacting a new Electoral Law?

Once again, we only have speculation in the face of official secrecy and
conspiracy. In fact, this time they have not announced the completion of
an extensive process of "popular consultation", though it was conducted
– at least in a formal manner — for several months in 2013, before the
creation of the new Work Code currently in effect. The time span between
the April 2015 "partial elections" and the enactment of the new
Electoral Law was not clearly established either, though judging from
the official information that was disclosed we can assume it will be brief.

In principle, the announcement has accomplished the government's
purpose: to not awaken dangerous expectations among Cubans, especially
after the wave of enthusiasm that seized many with the December 17th
announcement about the restoration of relations between Cuba and the U.S.

In that vein, subsequent statements by the General-President during the
last meeting of CELAC cooled the wildest fires, and, at the same time,
they have widened the gap between the Government and citizens. No doubt
that the olive green tower has proven that the hope for effective
changes for Cubans focuses more in the future steps of the "enemy"
government than in the "actualization of the model" endorsed by mediocre
Raulista reforms. The Revolution has become a succession of failures,
and today the old Sierra Maestra combatants and their side troops sense
that the smallest of openings could end in a loss of control.

It is fair to say that the fears of those in power are well founded.
Wouldn't it be right to expect that the multiparty system requirements
or, at least, a strong controversy about the one-party system would
emerge from an extensive debate by Cuban society? Are we not in a
favorable scenario for claiming genuine democratic participation and
transparent general elections to replace the electoral farce practiced
for the past 40 years? Obviously, the elderly leaders will not want to
take too many risks.

For now, it seems impossible to imagine what "new" democratic clauses
the same dictatorship that has dominated life and property for 56 years
has in store for us. In any case, the sacred scriptures say that you
cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.

Everything indicates that the new electoral law will yet another plot of
the power and its claque, just a hasty move to bolster up the makeup
that minimally covers the dictatorial nature of the regime, and to
silence the scruples and demands of the nations gathered at the Americas
Summit this fast approaching April. Presumably, the olive green cohort –
who might do away with uniforms and decorations and dress impeccably in
civil garb for the occasion — will brag about the partial election
results and offer the new electoral code as irrefutable proof of his
willingness to change and his democratic calling. If it weren't so
twisted, such a pathetic pantomime would be laughable.

However, we could be facing a dangerous move here that would entail a
high cost for the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people. Civic
orphan-hood and generalized apathy are the best cards the Havana regime
is counting on. It is urgent that public opinion be alerted about a
possible ploy that – in the style of "eternal socialism" style — would
only want to artificially postpone the end of the most persistent and
pernicious dictatorship of the many that have blossomed in this Hemisphere.

Source: New Electoral Law: New Wine in Old Wineskins? / Miriam Celaya |
Translating Cuba -

U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks; no date for diplomatic ties

U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks; no date for diplomatic ties
WASHINGTON Fri Feb 27, 2015 7:11pm EST

After Cuba talks, U.S. optimistic embassies could open by April
Cuba says progress made at normalization talks with U.S.
(Reuters) - Cuba and the United States held a second round of talks on
Friday toward normalizing ties, and both sides said they made good
progress, although they did not set a date for renewal of diplomatic
relations that Washington severed 54 years ago.

Going into the talks, Communist-ruled Cuba pushed to be removed from a
U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. But Washington said that while
it was reviewing Cuba's place on the list, the designation should not be
linked to the negotiations on renewing relations and opening embassies.

The head of Cuba's delegation to the talks, Josefina Vidal, said
afterward that removal from the list was not a pre-condition for renewal
of diplomatic ties.

But it was "a priority" for Cuba, she said, adding it would be "very
difficult to say that we have re-established relations with our country
still on a list that we believe very, very firmly that we have never
belonged to and we do not belong to."

The talks in Washington stemmed from the historic decision announced by
the two Cold War era foes last December to work to normalize relations,
including opening embassies in each other's countries, and to exchange

"We have made progress," Vidal, chief of the Cuban foreign ministry's
U.S. division, told reporters. The discussions followed a first round of
talks in Havana last month.

She said there was no date yet for the next meeting on the renewal of
ties, but the two sides were going to maintain contact and she was
optimistic there would be more advances in coming weeks on the issue of
the terrorism list.

Havana says U.S. sanctions on banks that do business with designated
countries on the list impede it from conducting diplomatic affairs in
the United States. The two countries, politically at odds since soon
after Cuba's revolution in 1959, currently have diplomats working in
each other's capitals, but they operate from what are known as interests

The United States is hoping to reach agreement on reopening embassies in
time for an April 10-11 regional summit in Panama, where U.S. President
Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro could meet for the first
time since announcing their joint agreement on Dec. 17.

The head of the U.S. delegation at the talks, U.S. Assistant Secretary
of State Roberta Jacobson, told reporters in reply to a question: "I do
think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas."


Jacobson called Friday's talks "productive and encouraging," and said
they were held in "a very cooperative spirit."

She said Cuba and the United States would hold a series of exchanges in
coming weeks on issues including increasing Cuba's Internet
connectivity. Only a tiny fraction of Cubans have access to high-speed
Internet though Cuban officials have lately promised wider service.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said re-establishing
diplomatic relations was a technical process involving "fairly normal"
negotiations, while the terrorism sponsorship designation was a separate
process and "not a negotiation."

"It is an evaluation that is made under a very strict set of
requirements, congressionally mandated, and that has to be pursued
separately, and it is being pursued separately," he told reporters.

The Obama administration is nearing completion of its review of Cuba's
place on the list, which must be submitted to Congress before it can be
removed, a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday.

Cuba was added to the terrorism sponsors list in 1982, when it aided
Marxist insurgencies during the Cold War. But it is currently aiding a
peace process with Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

Following December's announcement, the Obama administration lifted a
series of limitations on trade and travel last month and the U.S.
president, a Democrat, called for an end to the decades-old economic
embargo on Cuba. The embargo would have to be lifted by the
Republican-controlled Congress, overcoming resistance from some members
fiercely opposed to the rapprochement.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Havana and Warren Strobel in
Washington; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Dan Grebler and Ken Wills)

Source: U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks; no date for diplomatic
ties | Reuters -

Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase

Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase / Cubanet, Roberto
Jesus Quinones
Posted on February 27, 2015

Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones, Guantanamo, 16 February 2015 — A rumor
is keeping the medical sector in Guantanamo euphoric, and it provokes
immediate outbursts of joy in hospital corridors, in homes and in every
place the supposedly good news is known. No one knows the origin of the
rumor nor its hidden intent.

According to those who are in charge of spreading it, very soon the
government will increase the salary for doctors. And, as happens with
every rumor, there are always those who know everything about it and
affirm that the new increase will be put into force to try to contain
the exodus of physicians abroad by way of a 30-day exit permit, a type
of safe conduct that helps them flee.

These experts assure that the new increase will raise physicians'
salaries to 5,000 pesos per month (200 dollars), an astronomical pay in
Cuba, but that they'll only receive it if they agree to sign a document
saying they will remain in the country for five or ten years without
asking for the exit permit.

However, a few days after the rumor appeared, the voices of others begin
to be heard. They speak clearly, affirming that not even with this
increase, which would place the doctors in the vanguard of the Castro
Communist labor aristocracy — now made up of Party and governmental
bureaucracy along with the sportsmen of high performance and the high
officials of the armed forces and the Ministry of the Interior — would
they be able to contain the massive exodus of these professionals
abroad. Above all to Ecuador, a country that doesn't request visas and
where there already exists a developing but prosperous Cuban medical
community that has taken care of communicating to its colleagues on the
Island the high lifestyle that is rapidly achieved in the land of Eloy

Because 5,000 Cuban pesos are around 200 dollars, a sum very inferior to
what any Cuban doctor could earn abroad.

Between the well-being within reach and the promises of a prosperous and
sustainable socialism, which no one knows when it will arrive nor if
also there is another rumor or a new feverish chimera of the Cuban
leaders, you don't have to rack your brains to decide. Stupid people are
more scarce every day, and the ideological teque* has been in intensive
care for some time.

I don't know what the government will do to stop this flight of doctors,
which has a direct effect on one of its most trumpeted social
accomplishments — currently in a very precarious state, among other
things because of the lack of specialists — and on the export of health
services, which is perhaps, together with tourism, the most lucrative
activity of the Cuban economy at this time.

In case the rumor becomes a certainty, let's see what happens with the
other professionals, because the flight of qualified personnel is not
limited to the medical sector. Pandora's Box is open, and the government
doesn't give any signs that will let us believe it is possible to close
it and, above all, to convince us.

*Translator's note: "Teque" is literally a spinning top, and is used in
Cuba to mean old, worn out, political harangues.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase / Cubanet,
Roberto Jesus Quinones | Translating Cuba -

U.S.-Cuba officials - Diplomatic ties could resume by mid-April

U.S.-Cuba officials: Diplomatic ties could resume by mid-April
02/27/2015 9:55 AM 02/27/2015 10:51 PM

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson said enough progress was made in talks with Cuba on Friday that
it might be possible to reestablish diplomatic relations by the Summit
of the Americas in April.

"I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the
Americas," she said after the conclusion of the second round of
U.S.-Cuba talks at the U.S. State Department.

Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry's U.S.
division and the head of the Cuban delegation at the talks, said both
sides "had a good meeting today."

"We made progress in our discussions. For the second time, delegations
sat down at the negotiating table to discuss as equals the terms for
reestablishing diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies,"
Vidal said.

Jacobson said the United States viewed renewing ties and reopening
embassies "as critical early steps of the longer term process of
normalizing relations more than half a century after we severed relations."

Going into the talks, Cuba said it hoped for progress on two issues: the
removal of Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of
terrorism and the banking dilemma faced by its diplomatic missions in
Washington and at the United Nations.

For the past year, the Cuban missions have been without a bank, meaning
everything from receiving visa fees to paying their light bills must be
done on a cash basis.

After the closed-door meeting, Vidal said, "We feel confident that in
the following weeks we will see progress on both issues so we can move
on towards the resumption of diplomatic relations and the reopening of

The two issues are tied because Cuba's continued presence on the list
has made banks wary of handling Cuban accounts and running afoul of U.S.
laws related to sanctioned countries. In recent years, other countries
have faced similar problems in finding a banker.

After the first round of talks, Cuba seemed to indicate that the
resumption of diplomatic relations couldn't go forward as long as Cuba
remained on the list and hadn't found a banker.

But Vidal said Friday the Cuban delegation hadn't linked the issues. "No
conditions but we believe this is important to solve in process toward
reestablishing diplomatic relations," she said.

The two sides also discussed nuts-and-bolts issues, such as assuring
that U.S. diplomats will be able to freely travel throughout Cuba and
talk to dissidents if they want, that Cuban citizens aren't impeded from
visiting the U.S. diplomatic mission and that shipments arriving at a
future embassy won't be hampered.

The United States has continued to insist that its diplomats be able to
see as "broad a slice of Cuban life as possible" as part of their jobs
and have access to all kinds of people, Jacobson said.

The talks are part of a shift in Cuba policy outlined Dec. 17 by
President Barack Obama aimed at bringing about change in Cuba through
engagement and support of the Cuban people. The United States has
maintained the best way of having impact on the differences that still
separate the two countries is through renewing diplomatic relations and

The United States might be feeling more time pressure than the Cubans
because the White House hopes to show progress on its rapprochement with
Cuba before it heads to the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama.

The United States' former policy of isolating Cuba has been a source of
much friction with Latin American nations who have rallied around the
island as a symbol against imperialism in the region.

"The president has to come to the summit with something in his hands,"
said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne
Arsht Latin American Center. "But the Cubans want slow, measured steps
[toward renewing diplomatic relations]. They are in no hurry."

Both Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro plan to attend the summit and it
would be their first time they've been in the same room since they
jointly announced in December that the two countries planned to resume
diplomatic ties. Their only previous encounter was a quick handshake in
South Africa at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in December 2013.

"To be sitting in the same room at the summit with Raúl Castro and still
have Cuba one of four nations on the list could really backfire on the
president," Marczak said.

An expedited review of whether Cuba should remain on the list of state
sponsors of terrorism is underway in Washington. If the president
decides to remove Cuba from the list, he must notify Congress 45 days
before the decision takes effect.

"For Cuba, it's a matter of justice. We think we should never have been
a part of this list," Vidal said.

The list also includes Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuba was added in 1982 at
a time when it was helping Marxist insurgencies, but now it is hosting
meetings to facilitate a peace process between the Colombian government
and FARC guerrillas in that country.

However, Cuba continues to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States
for decades. Among them are former Black Liberation Army leader JoAnne
Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur. She was convicted in the
shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 and fled to Cuba
after a prison break.

Cuba has granted her and other U.S. fugitives political asylum. Vidal
said the number of U.S. citizens in that group is small and that Cuba is
not open to discussions about them at the talks.

Earlier this week, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, sent
letters to both Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI Director James B.
Comey requesting a full list of the fugitives receiving sanctuary in Cuba.

"Before Cuba is removed from the list of state sponsors of terror, the
Castro regime must be held to account for these acts and American
fugitives must be brought back to face justice in the U.S.," Menendez
wrote in the letter to Kerry.

Jacobson said that no date had been set for a next round of talks but
said both sides have agreed to stay in "permanent communication'' on a
variety of issues.

"It makes it sound like we're not going to sleep," she joked.

Jacobson said the two sides had agreed to have a number of dialogues on
issues of mutual interest in coming weeks, including one on the
structure for a human rights conversation.

While human rights, she said, is "our most challenging, the most
difficult perhaps'' of any of the ongoing dialogues with Cuba, it is
also "one of the most important."

Source: U.S.-Cuba officials: Diplomatic ties could resume by mid-April |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Cuban cigar makers anticipate big bucks from US travelers

Cuban cigar makers anticipate big bucks from US travelers
02/27/2015 12:09 PM 02/27/2015 12:09 PM

Over six decades rolling premium cigars with his small, wrinkled hands,
Arnaldo Alfonso has taken pride in seeing his "habanos" sampled by
visiting heads of state and other dignitaries.

Now he's delighted by the idea of customers lighting them up in New
York, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States, where Cuban cigars
have been outlawed since the U.S. embargo took effect in 1962.

"It's a very beautiful thought," said a smiling Alfonso, a 78-year-old
worker at the tobacco shop of the Palco Hotel in western Havana.

Cuban cigar makers are licking their chops over new U.S. rules,
announced in December as part of a partial detente, allowing more
Americans to travel to the island and legally bring back small
quantities of the coveted stogies for the first time in decades.

As Havana celebrated the annual Cigar Festival that wraps up with a
gala-dinner bash Friday, officials said that this year alone they expect
to double on-island sales of hand-rolled cigars, known here as
"habanos," from 3 million to 6 million.

"This is an important jump in just one year," said Jorge Luis Fernandez
Maique, vice president of Habanos SA, a mixed venture between Cuba's
state-run Cubatabaco and the British company Altadis. "It's a boom for
the Cuban market."

The additional sales would represent a modest increase to the company's
overall annual production of around 90 million to 100 million premium
units to meet domestic and international demand, primarily in Europe and

But officials see it as just the tip of the cigar: If the U.S. embargo
were to fall amid a normalization of diplomatic relations, Habanos
believes it could capture nearly a third of the American market, the
world's largest for cigars.

Almost 600,000 visitors traveled to the island from the United States
last year, a figure that includes mostly Cuban-Americans on family
visits but also tens of thousands of people on legal educational and
religious exchanges. The number is expected to rise, though it's still
unclear by how much.

Many visit shops like the one where Alfonso works.

"They are aware that these are first-rate cigars," said Teresita Diaz, a
saleswoman at the store.

Under the new rules, U.S. travelers are now allowed to bring back up to
$100 in combined tobacco and alcohol products, a lot less than the
$3,000 to $4,000 sales that Diaz can ring up for some of the Canadian,
European and Chinese aficionados who shop there.

U.S. visitors can smoke as many cigars as they like while on the island,
and can now return with a few five-packs of Montecristo #4 (sale price:
$27.75) or Cohiba Siglo I ($34.50) without violating the cap.

If even half of the current number of U.S. travelers were to bring back
$50 worth of cigars each, that would add up to some $15 million in new
sales for the Habanos company this year.

Getting approval to export cigars to the U.S. would be the real bonanza
for Cuba.

Habanos, which reported global sales of $439 million last year,
estimates it could sell roughly 70 million to 90 million cigars there,
nearly doubling Cuba's current production, if the embargo were lifted.

That would be possible only with the approval of the
Republican-controlled Congress. After the initial buzz over the Dec. 17
announcement that Washington and Havana would move to restore ties,
progress has been slow on resolving far simpler matters such as
reopening embassies in each other's respective countries.

There are also questions about Cuba's ability to ramp up production to
eventually meet U.S. demand. The country suffers from major
infrastructure deficiencies, and tobacco farmers sometimes complain of
transportation delays following the harvest that can cause the leaves to
go bad.

"It's clear that even today, the amounts (harvested) are not enough,"
said Ricardo Salas, who distributes Cuban cigars in Cyprus.

While American aficionados would initially be intrigued by the
"forbidden fruit" aspect of Cuban cigars, many might find they prefer
something more familiar, and less overpowering.

Salas and other experts said milder Cuban brands such as Montecristo and
Romeo y Julieta would likely do better in the U.S. than the stronger
Partagas and Cohiba varieties.

After more than five decades of separation, "the average American
doesn't know the Cuban product," said Salas. "They have as a comparison
Central American or Dominican tobacco — they've become used to that kind
of flavor of a softer, more discreet tobacco."

Source: Cuban cigar makers anticipate big bucks from US travelers |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Cuba Flights Now on Sale on

Cuba Flights Now on Sale on
Feb 26, 2015, 10:35 AM ET
Travel & Lifestyle Editor announced today that it is now selling flights to Cuba to
American travelers on its web site.

But because the sale of direct flights to Cuba from the United States is
still not possible, the trip will involve a stop in another country.

The site sells tickets to Havana and requires American travelers to
purchase separate tickets, one from the U.S. to Mexico and another from
Mexico to Havana. American travelers will need to purchase a Visa in
Mexico City.

Why Cuba Isn't Ready For American Tourists Just Yet
Relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba announced earlier this year have
resulted in a renewed interest in a nation that's largely a mystery to
the vast majority of travelers.

"Since the rule change, we have seen a surge in search volumes for
travel to Cuba." said Jeff Klee, CEO of "Arranging flights
to Cuba is a little complicated, but it's the kind of thing we're good
at and our technology platform is flexible enough to make it possible.
Our team did a great job building it out in just a few weeks' time."

But there are still rules in place and criteria that needs to be met for
any American who wishes to travel to Cuba. Click here to have all your
Cuba travel questions answered. When a traveler books a flight to Cuba
on its site, they will be asked which of the 12 existing criteria they
meet before the purchase is complete.

It was already possible to book tickets to Cuba through a third country:
CheapAir simply makes the process doable on one travel site.

Last month, travel site kayak announced that American travelers could
now search for air travel and hotel accommodations in Cuba on its site.
However, booking is not possible.

Source: Cuba Flights Now on Sale on - ABC News -

Friday, February 27, 2015

Six Issues the U.S. Should Not Concede to Cuba During Normalization Talks

February 25, 2015
Six Issues the U.S. Should Not Concede to Cuba During Normalization Talks
By Ana Quintana

The U.S. and Cuba will hold the second round of normalization talks on
February 27 in Washington, DC. This follows the U.S.'s attempt in late
January to negotiate the terms of reestablishing diplomatic relations
with the Castro regime. In those talks in Havana, Cuban officials made
it clear that the regime will not change its political or economic
system, despite the Obama Administration's many overtures. The regime
also demanded an end to the embargo and removal of Cuba from the U.S.
list of State Sponsors of Terrorism before restoration of diplomatic
relations. Later in January at a summit of Latin American countries,
Cuban leader Raul Castro reiterated these points, conditioning further
openings with the U.S. on the lifting of the U.S. embargo, the return of
Guantánamo Bay naval base, and compensation for "human and economic
damage" incurred as a result of the U.S. embargo.[1]
In the midst of so many foreign policy disasters, the Obama
Administration is eager to finalize this deal. The Administration
prematurely set a deadline of April, presumably in time for Cuba's
undeserving participation at the seventh Summit of the Americas.[2] This
will be Cuba's first participation in the meeting of hemispheric
leaders, despite its violation of the summit's principle tenants of
democracy and free trade. By April, the Administration has declared that
both countries will have reciprocal embassies and that Cuba will be well
on its way off the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.[3] In the meantime,
the Cuban government has put significant hurdles in the way.
Six Key Issues
Heading into the talks, the U.S. should not waiver on six issues:
1. Guantánamo Bay. The U.S. should make no compromises on the Guantánamo
Bay naval base or agree to restitution to the Cuban government for its
use. The Cuban government is well aware of the President's dangerous
intentions to shut down operations at the naval base. They are also
aware of the Administration's desire to finalize the normalization
process. Via the Platt amendment, the U.S. government entered into a
perpetual agreement to lease Guantánamo Bay from the Cuban government.
The President does not have the authority to frustrate or impede this
existing law without congressional approval.
2. Cuba's democratic opposition and human rights activists. The U.S.
should continue to support Cuba's democratic opposition and independent
human rights activists. The Cuban government strongly opposes
Washington's support for dissidents and is raising it as an obstacle to
the President's much-wanted embassy in Havana. Most recently, Cuban
diplomats urged the U.S. not only to stop funding of independent groups,
but also to mandate the Cuban government's role in selecting which
organizations receive funding. The U.S. needs to make sure that U.S.
policy continues to support civil society groups on the island that
uphold U.S. values and are unaffiliated with the Castro regime and its
Communist ideology.
3. The State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The U.S. should not agree to
remove Cuba prematurely from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Removing Cuba from the list would ignore both the Cuban government's
inherently malicious nature and the utility of terrorist designations.
For more than three decades, the Castro regime has directly supported
terrorist organizations as designated by the U.S. government. Recent
activities include Havana's violations of U.N. Security Council (UNSC)
resolutions, its leadership role in directing Venezuela's military and
intelligence, and its steadfast support and intimate relationship with
countries such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Removing Cuba from the
list would also remove restrictions that preclude Cuba from receiving
preferential foreign aid and trade benefits. The U.S. cannot ignore the
implications of removing an undeserving regime from this list.[4]
4. U.S. exports and investment. The U.S. should reject policies that
support financing for U.S. exports and investments in business ventures
on the island that are owned or managed by the Cuban government,
military, or Communist Party. Business interests have been leading the
movement against the Cuban embargo, and the President's new policy has
emboldened them. Recently, the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba was
launched. Backed by large corporations such as Cargill, the coalition is
lobbying to end the embargo in order to receive U.S. taxpayer subsidies
for exports to Cuba. Business interests should not be allowed to dictate
foreign policy. The regime routinely defaults on foreign loans and is
guilty of the largest uncompensated theft of U.S. assets in recorded
history, valued at $8 billion. Negotiators should also recognize that
the Cuban military owns and operates about 80 percent of the Cuban
economy and that expanding trade relations would overwhelmingly benefit
the regime, not the Cuban people.[5]
5. The LIBERTAD Act. The U.S. should evaluate future overtures on the
principles enshrined in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity
(LIBERTAD) Act. The President's new Cuba policy has violated the
standards of existing U.S. law by not requiring the Cuban government to
modify its behavior one iota in exchange for a loosening of
restrictions. According to the LIBERTAD Act, the Cuban embargo cannot be
repealed until Cuba demonstrates that it will hold free and fair
elections, free all political prisoners, and guarantee free speech and
workers' rights. Regrettably, the Administration's new Cuba policy is
systematically chipping away at the embargo.
6. Reject any agreement that is tantamount to compensation for the
U.S.'s embargo against Cuba. The U.S. embargo was implemented to protect
U.S. businesses following the Castro regime's illegal seizure of U.S.
assets, which are valued at $8 billion. This is still regarded as the
largest uncompensated seizure of U.S. assets by a foreign government in
U.S. history. The President's negotiators should not overlook or concede
the more than 8,000 active property claims on the Department of
Justice's Certified Claimant List.[6]

The Obama Administration naively believes that granting the Castro
regime every item on its never-ending wish list will lead to improved
relations. Maximizing pressure, not unilateral concessions, is the only
way to pave the way toward a democratic and free Cuba.
—Ana Quintana is a Research Associate for Latin America in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and
Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.

Source: Six Issues U.S. Should Not Concede to Cuba During Normalization
Talks -

Senior U.S. lawmaker makes case against removing Cuba from terror list

Senior U.S. lawmaker makes case against removing Cuba from terror list
WASHINGTON Thu Feb 26, 2015 11:15am EST

(Reuters) - A senior U.S. lawmaker is pressing his case against any
Obama administration plan to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state
sponsors of terrorism, saying the communist-ruled island is harboring
dozens of U.S. fugitives.

In letters released on Thursday, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez wrote
about the fugitives to Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI director
James Comey, asking that the issue be raised in upcoming talks with
Cuban officials and contending that Havana should remain on the list.

"It is essential to recognize that the Castro regime has a long track
record of providing sanctuary to terrorists and harboring U.S. fugitives
who have murdered American citizens, while undermining international
security," Menendez wrote to Kerry.

Menendez asked Comey to provide a full list of fugitives from the U.S.
justice system who are in Cuba and information about their status.

Menendez, a Cuban-American who is the top Democrat on the influential
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out repeatedly against
President Barack Obama's moves toward normalizing relations with Havana.

Cuban officials have been pushing for Washington to quickly remove their
country from the list, which among other things prevents international
banks from doing business with Havana. Congressional and diplomatic
sources have said they expect the Obama administration to do so within
the next month.

A senior Cuban official said on Wednesday Havana would agree to restore
diplomatic relations with the United States in time for the April Summit
of the Americas if Washington removes Havana from the list quickly and

The official spoke to reporters ahead of a second round of negotiations
between the longtime adversaries in Washington on Friday, following
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro's agreement on Dec. 17 to exchange
prisoners and restore diplomatic ties for the first time in more than
half a century.

One of the U.S. fugitives in Cuba is Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted
of killing a state trooper in New Jersey, Menendez's home state.

Source: Senior U.S. lawmaker makes case against removing Cuba from
terror list | Reuters -

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the
United States'

At a congressional hearing reviewing President Barack Obama's Cuba
policy, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told members of the Western
Hemisphere subcommittee that the Castro regime "undermines our national
security at every turn."

"Let me be clear," Ros-Lehtinen said in prepared remarks. "Cuba poses a
clear and present danger to the United States."

Read her complete remarks after the jump.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, for calling this important and timely hearing.
Let me be clear: Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United
States. The Castro regime undermines our national security at every turn
and reinforces instability in the entire region by exporting their Cuban
military and espionage apparatus across the region. The ALBA countries
have security advisors who are Cuban nationals. Some ALBA countries even
send diplomats overseas who are undercover Cuban agents. Cuba is an
avowed enemy of the United States and let me cite these bullet points
just in the recent years that the Castro regime done:
· has killed American citizens in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down,
19 years ago this week;
· has worked with the Russians to try to re-open the Lourdes spy
facility in Cuba;
· has allowed Russian spy ships to dock in Havana as recently as just a
few days ago;
· was caught sending arms and military equipment last year to North
Korea in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions;
· the Castro regime is hiding U.S. fugitives of law and has given asylum
to Joanne Chesimard who is considered a Most Wanted Terrorist by our FBI;
· it has given safe haven to terrorist groups such as the FARC and ETA;
· has sent military advisors to Venezuela who have caused the deaths of
many Venezuelans due to the violence perpetrated by the thugs of Nicolas
· the Castro regime has penetrated our own intelligence services with
spies working for the Castro regime like Ana Belen Montes and Kendall Myers;
· had Cuban agents torture and beat American POWs at a prison camp in
North Vietnam known as "The Zoo";
· has sent troops to Angola in the 1970's and 80's to further
destabilize the country and fight alongside leftist movements contrary
to U.S. interests;
· has ties with Iran, with Russia, with Syria, and the list goes on, Mr.

Yet, all these realities have been ignored by the Obama administration.
Tomorrow, as we have pointed out, the Department of State will roll out
the red carpet for officials from the Castro regime. The lead
negotiator, Josefina Vidal, who was a Cuban spy in the United States who
was actually kicked out, along with her husband, from the U.S. due to
their illicit espionage activities. And now, she's negotiating for the
Castro regime.

I firmly believe that the President's concessions to the Castro brothers
on December 17 poses a real national security threat. And here's why. It
is well known that Cuba has one of the world's more advanced espionage
apparatuses. And that apparatus is aimed right at our country and here
very much active in our nation's capital in Washington, DC. We know that
Cuba has had spies on the Hill and in many U.S. government agencies.

So the President's new policies provide an injection of new money to the
regime – millions of dollars. And this new money will go straight into
the pockets of the Castro brothers and the Cuban military which owns a
majority and operates the tourist industry in Cuba. of Cuba's tourism
industry. With this new infusion of capital, the Cubans will be able to
provide more resources towards their espionage activities directed at
us. And what will they do with the intelligence that they gather? They
will sell it to our enemies – to the highest bidder on the black market.
These are just some of the reasons Mr. Chairman of why Cuba does pose a
national security threat to the U.S. and why it should remain on the
State sponsor of Terrorism list. The White House must stop putting
politics ahead of our national security.

On January 3, 1961, President Eisenhower terminated diplomatic relations
with Cuba after the Cuban regime decided to expel several United States
personnel from Havana. President Eisenhower responded by stating, "this
calculated action on the part of the Castro government is only the
latest of a long series of harassments, baseless accusations, and
vilification. There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect
can endure. That limit has now been reached. Meanwhile our sympathy goes
out to the people of Cuba now suffering under the yoke of a dictator."
President Obama should learn from history that negotiating with the
Castro regime is a failed endeavor.

Posted by Miami Herald at 1:27 PM on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015

Source: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger
to the United States' | Naked Politics -

Spain angry over ex-Socialist prime minister's Cuba visit

Spain angry over ex-Socialist prime minister's Cuba visit
02/26/2015 12:43 PM 02/26/2015 12:44 PM

Spain's conservative government has reacted angrily to a visit to Cuba
by former Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his
unannounced meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said Thursday the visit by
Zapatero and former Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos was
"disloyal" and "inopportune."

Cuba's Foreign Ministry said Zapatero and Moratinos met Wednesday with
Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The government had been told the two would make a private visit, but
wasn't aware they would meet with Castro.

Zapatero, who was premier between 2004 and 2011, will hold a news
conference in Havana later Thursday.

The visit comes as both the U.S. and the European Union work to
establish a new framework for relations with Cuba.

Source: Spain angry over ex-Socialist prime minister's Cuba visit |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Pope asked to intercede in Morgan’s repatriation

Pope asked to intercede in Morgan's repatriation
Widow wants his remains in Toledo
Published: Wednesday, 2/25/2015

The widow of William Morgan, a Toledoan executed in 1961 Cuba for
treason against Fidel Castro, is hopeful that a letter to Pope Francis
will help bring her husband's remains home.

"I think this is the right moment, my heart tells me that," said Olga
Goodwin, who lives in West Toledo. "I have not heard anything, but my
heart says that."

Mrs. Goodwin is banking on a thaw in diplomatic relations with Cuba
initiated in December by President Obama to help the effort, which has
been aided by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

Before he left for Italy, Opie Rollison, a Toledo attorney who has
voluntarily taken up her cause, gave Mrs. Goodwin a copy of the letter
he wrote to the Pope, asking for intercession. The return of Mr.
Morgan's remains, it said, "would be one more step in the resolution of
humanitarian issues between Cuba and the United States."

Like Mrs. Goodwin, Mr. Rollison said he's hopeful. "I continue to work
with federal officials at all levels," he said.

In a Saturday article in the Miami Herald he was quoted as saying, "I
will say that I'm more optimistic now than I've ever been that we're
going to get this done."

He also said, "From congresspersons to senators to people in the
Treasury and State Departments, our efforts have gotten a friendly
hearing and those efforts are still going on."

He added that "within the confines of existing laws, there is a
mechanism that would allow the repatriation of William Morgan's remains."

In 2002, Miss Kaptur went to Cuba and met with Castro to request the
return of the Toledoan's remains. Miss Kaptur's staffers say her office
was aware that Mr. Rollison carried a letter to the Pope's office, and
they continue to support the effort.

Mrs. Goodwin, 78, was an idealistic college student in Cuba in the 1950s
when she discreetly boarded a bus to join rebel fighters in the
mountains. Their shared goal was to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio

She soon met the tall, blond William Morgan, who spoke little Spanish.
He'd had a restless youth of petty crime, was kicked out of the Army,
worked as a Miami gunrunner, and in 1957, left his wife and two children
in Toledo for Florida. He admired the passion he'd seen in young Cubans
who were ready to fight to the death for their homeland. Talking his way
onto a boat, he joined them.

After Batista was overthrown, Mr. Morgan watched as Castro and
companions built a Communist system that left the pro-democracy rebels
he had fought with little better than before. Mr. Morgan stockpiled
munitions and planned a revolt, but was captured and executed by a
firing squad.

Mrs. Goodwin, whom he'd married and had two daughters with, was thrown
in prison for more than a decade. She eventually fled on a boat and
settled in Toledo. She befriended Loretta Morgan, her mother-in-law, got
a job, and married James Goodwin, with whom she lives.

A book about Mr. Morgan, The Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of
Courage, Passion, and One American's Fight to Liberate Cuba, was
published in January. Mrs. Goodwin is pictured with Mr. Morgan on the
cover, and features prominently in the dramatic tale, written by former
Blade reporters and Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

Source: Pope asked to intercede in Morgan's repatriation - Toledo Blade

Relaxed Cuba Welcomes Visitors as Locals Wait for Economic Improvement

Relaxed Cuba Welcomes Visitors as Locals Wait for Economic Improvement
Anita Snow, Associated Press
Feb 22, 2015 12:00 pm

It's not all rainbows and sunshine in Cuba, but it's certainly the right
environment for change.
— Jason Clampet

Rolling toward customs with a 60-pound suitcase filled with clothing and
electronics for friends, my stomach clenched when a female agent in a
light green uniform approached. As a former longtime Cuba correspondent
returning after nearly six years, I thought I knew what would come next:
a search of my luggage by stoned-faced military men, a scolding, maybe
even a fine.

Instead, I got a pass.

"Pasa, mi amor," the agent said with a smile, directing me to the exit.
"Go right on through, my love."

It was the first sign of the more relaxed and hopeful atmosphere I found
during a brief visit back to Havana this month, a feeling that didn't
exist during my 1999-2009 tenure. The differences I saw and felt made me
realize how much my decade in Cuba had been characterized by anxiety and
isolation, and what a different country it is becoming under President
Raul Castro's modest reforms. Everywhere I traveled around Havana, hopes
were high for more change after Cuba and the U.S. announcement on Dec.
17 they would move toward a more normal relationship. Cubans seem
especially keen for more visits by Americans.

When I lived here as an American journalist, rigid government control
and suspicion reigned, especially during my early years. A uniformed
agent once demanded to enter my apartment in Old Havana to ensure I
didn't have a fax machine, considered a dangerous device. Although there
was little traffic or commerce in the streets, blue-uniformed members of
the National Revolutionary Police stood on almost every block, and they
certainly weren't smiling.

As a foreigner with access to dollars, my circumstances were far better
than those of average Cubans. But no one could escape all the
difficulties still lingering after the "special period" of the 1990s — a
time of economic austerity following the loss of Soviet subsidies.
Blackouts lasted for hours, resulting in sleepless, sweltering summer
nights without air conditioning, making bathing impossible in buildings
where water ran with electricity, and causing refrigerated food to
spoil. There were shortages of basic goods, such as toilet paper and eggs.

Cubans' economic desperation played out in their dealings with
foreigners. A middle-aged woman once trailed me for four blocks up Old
Havana's Obispo Street, begging me for a bar of soap I did not have.
Driving one night down the Malecon coastal thoroughfare, then pitch
black without public lighting, I nearly struck a young woman in a
low-cut evening gown standing in the middle of the roadway, waving at
motorists to stop.

Read MoreThe Caribbean Reports Record Number of Tourists and Spending in
But going back to Havana, I didn't see any of the obvious sex workers,
known as jineteras, who once trolled the Malecon and lurked in hotel
lobbies. Cubans didn't trouble me on the street for money or anything
else, and I noticed few uniformed police officers standing on corners.

Buildings around the capital, some constructed more than two centuries
ago, remain in desperate need of a coat of paint, and in many cases
their facades are crumbling. Dangerous-looking tangles of electrical and
telephone wires still stretch across narrow streets pocked with
potholes. But tour buses now park along the Malecon's eastern end, with
tourists spilling out to roam Old Havana's colonial plazas. A string of
historic lampposts now illuminate the thoroughfare in the evening.

The majority of islanders still depend on government salaries that
average around $20 a month — about the same amount as when I left Cuba —
along with the universal subsidies for food, housing, utilities and
transportation. Many people continue to hustle to survive, working a
second job, or living "por la izquierda," literally "off to the left,"
supplementing their meager income by selling goods stolen from
government workplaces, or hawking products from their monthly food ration.

I found several older friends who were doing poorly, lacking the
resources or energy to profit from the reforms. A former female neighbor
in her mid-70s wept as she described the challenges of subsisting on odd
jobs and a monthly pension worth little more than $5. Numerous other
acquaintances had left the island for better opportunities not only in
the United States, but in Venezuela and Spain.

Cubans with their own businesses said the reforms mean they are now
harassed less and it is OK to try to get ahead. Jean Barrionuebo, who
worked as an illegal taxi driver for six years before getting official
approval two years ago, told me, "The pressure of trying to avoid a fine
prevents you from being productive."

"We Cubans are crazy to get ourselves out of this conflict with the
United States," said Barrionuebo, who drives an old Russian-made
Moskvitch sedan he bought after selling an apartment inherited from his
parents. "This has been going on for 56 years and it is the Cubans who
have to pay the cost."

The push to improve Cuba-U.S. relations has put the issue of human
rights in the spotlight for American officials and rights activists, but
most Cubans I talked to seemed far less interested in that than in
making more money to provide for their families. And most former friends
and acquaintances I saw seemed better off — or at least no worse off —
than before.

"A-NI-ta! Mu-CHA-cha!" a cleaning woman cried out as I entered the
renovated historic building where The Associated Press has its offices.
Several other cleaners, security guards and maintenance workers greeted
me with Caribbean enthusiasm, making me feel like I'd returned after
only six days, not six years. They sadly reported the death of Lazaro,
the elderly street vendor with a goatee who once sold gladiolas on the
cobblestone plaza. They told me Ernesto the electrician, who called on
me as a witness for his second wedding at a government "Matrimony
Palace," had moved to Miami, now on his sixth wife.

The economic changes I saw came from reforms that Raul Castro initiated
after taking over from ailing brother Fidel in early 2008. The first
thing he did was eliminate the "tourism apartheid" that prevented Cubans
from staying in hotels reserved for foreigners. Later, prohibitions on
the sale of private homes and cars were lifted, and permission was
granted for private taxis. The government lifted the despised "white
card" required for decades of Cubans who wished to leave their own
country, even on vacation.

Signs of the latest reform on its way — the merging of Cuba's two
currencies — are now in the government stores. Prices are listed in the
ordinary pesos worth about 4 cents each as well as the convertible pesos
tied to the U.S. dollar.

Furniture dealer Elia Rodriguez talked about how Cubans newly flush from
their private businesses buy more of the mahogany treasures I once
bought from her business of more than a decade. "Everyone wants their
house to look nice," Rodriguez said before excusing herself to greet a
group of customers.

Standing amid low-slung Cuban rocking chairs called "comadritas" and
antique armoires with brass pulls, Rodriguez told me that the inspectors
who used to come at least once a month, using up valuable time while
they reviewed her premises and records, haven't visited in more than
three years. Originally running the furniture renovation business with
just her husband, daughter and son-in-law, Rodriguez said she can now
hire non-relatives to refinish and sell the pieces faster.

The first private businesses the government allowed in the 1990s
included family restaurants called paladars. Tucked inside people's
homes like dirty secrets, they were restricted to just 12 chairs. Sales
of hard liquor, and "luxury" foods like shrimp, lobster and beef were
prohibited. At one of the dozen or so paladars operating back then in
the capital, my friends and I regularly asked a waiter for jibaro — wild
boar — a code to order an illegal steak.

Today, hundreds of private restaurants operate in Havana and can serve
whatever food or drink they want, as long as they can prove it was
purchased legally. They can also serve as many patrons as they want, and
can advertise. On a recent evening, a lively group of several dozen
Americans visiting the island on a licensed trip crowded the main dining
room at the hugely popular El Atelier. At La California restaurant,
daily specials were promoted on a blackboard outside the front door, in

Farmers markets where vendors set their own prices were also first
allowed back in the 1990s, initially to ensure people got enough to eat
amid economic crisis.

Revisiting the 19th Street farmers market I once frequented, I found
fewer vendors, but more variety of produce. Broccoli and cauliflower
were on offer alongside Cuban sweet potatoes, taro roots, huge cabbages,
eggplants and assorted dried beans. While the products are cheap for
foreigners, they're still expensive for most Cubans, who carefully
select only a few items to buy each month: a few onions, a bottle of
homemade tomato paste.

During my time away, new private businesses had sprung up across the
street: a juice stand, a small pizza joint, a shop selling leather
purses and rustic metal coffee pots. Also new was the watch repair
stand, a plumber and a locksmith.

Inside the covered market, 51-year-old Leonardo Santos sold shredded
coconut for 35 cents a pound under a blue placard that announced "My
Name is Santos" in English for American groups that sometimes pass through.

Radames Betancourt, an 81-year-old who works for tips carrying shoppers'
bags, smiled when he recognized me from my earlier time in Havana, his
eyes scrunching up into half-moons. Betancourt told me he's thrilled
about the prospect of improved U.S.-Cuba relations, and more visits by

"Let them come, let them come," he said excitedly. "We've been waiting
for them for a long time."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Anita Snow reopened The Associated Press office in Havana
in 1999 after the news organization's nearly three-decade absence.

Copyright (2015) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material
may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
This article was written by Anita Snow from The Associated Press and was
legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Source: Relaxed Cuba Welcomes Visitors as Locals Wait for Economic
Improvement – Skift -

Cozying up to Cuba

Cozying up to Cuba
12:31 PM, FEB 25, 2015 • BY JUDITH AYERS

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and eight other members of a
congressional delegation that recently headed to Cuba, the Dominican
Republic, and Haiti, spoke positively of the trip at a press conference
on Tuesday. They not only met with government officials in each country,
but they also visited the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, and
spoke with Cuban members of civil society. "People in the streets were
very enthusiastic," said Pelosi.

Members emphasized that the trip was based on conversations between the
leaders of each respective country. During the discussions, which were
reportedly especially "lively" in Haiti, there were agreements but there
were also disagreements -- especially when it came to discussing human
rights in Cuba.

The ball "is now in the Cuban government's court," said Rep. Eliot
Engel, a New York Democrat. "For us to move forward they need to make
some changes."

No topic was left untouched in any country, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a
Democrat from Connecticut. "Conversations were frank" and DeLauro, She
stated that the trip was ultimately a cultural exchange and that she
wanted to lead away from 'failed' policies of the past.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts encouraged establishing an embassy in
Cuba and admonished the U.S. to end the embargo. He said that we need to
"show Cuba and the world how a democracy functions, let us have a vote
and a debate."

While all the members of the delegation said that this was a historic
moment, Steve Israel, a New York congressman, said that it was only
"historic only if it leads to change."

But for all the positivity and steps forward, Pelosi did say that the
members of the delegation held "no illusions…it is a Communist country
with a centralized economy." Immediately after, she restated the need to
end the embargo, however, emphasizing that ending it would be mutually
beneficial in many respects.

Pelosi described the trip overall as "productive, it was positive, it
was candid."

Source: Cozying up to Cuba | The Weekly Standard -

UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions

UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions
02/26/2015 3:44 AM 02/26/2015 3:44 AM

A North Korean shipping company that famously tried to hide fighter jets
under a cargo of sugar later sought to evade U.N. sanctions by renaming
most of its vessels, a new report says.

The effort by Pyongyang-headquartered Ocean Maritime Management Company,
Ltd. is detailed in the report by a panel of experts that monitors
sanctions on North Korea. The report, obtained by The Associated Press,
makes clear the challenge of keeping banned arms and luxury goods from a
nuclear-armed country with a history of using front companies to duck

The U.N. Security Council holds consultations Thursday on the report,
which also says North Korea's government persists with its nuclear and
missile programs in defiance of council resolutions.

The council last year imposed sanctions on OMM after Panama in 2013
seized a ship it operated that carried undeclared military equipment
from Cuba. Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles
and live munitions beneath the Chong Chon Gang's cargo of sugar.

The council's sanctions committee said that violated a U.N. arms embargo
imposed in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. At
the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that imposing a global
asset freeze on OMM meant that the company would no longer be able to
operate internationally.

But the new report says that in the months after the sanctions were
imposed, 13 of the 14 ships controlled by OMM changed their owners and
managers, "effectively erasing" the company from a database kept by the
International Maritime Organization. Twelve of the ships "reportedly
stayed, visited or were sighted near ports in foreign countries," and
none were frozen by member states as the panel of experts recommends.

The new report explores the shipping company's global reach, using
people and entities operating in at least 10 countries: Brazil, China,
Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.
The report recommends updating the sanctions list with 34 OMM entities
and says all 14 vessels should be subject to sanctions.

No interdictions of the kind that Panama made in 2013 were reported in
the period between Feb. 8 of last year and Feb. 5 of this year. But the
new report warns that the panel of experts sees no evidence that North
Korea "intends to cease prohibited activities."

The report also says diplomats, officials and trade representatives of
North Korea continue to "play key roles in facilitating the trade of
prohibited items, including arms and related materiel and ballistic
missile-related items."

The panel of experts warns that some U.N. member states still are not
implementing the council resolutions that are meant to keep North Korea
from further violations.

North Korea also faces an embargo on luxury goods, but the report found
that it managed to bring in luxury goods from multiple countries,
including with the help of its diplomatic missions. Some items were for
the country's Masik Pass luxury ski report, which opened in 2013. China
told the panel of experts that the ski lift equipment it provided was
acceptable because "skiing is a popular sport for people" and that ski
items are not specifically prohibited.

In another case, a yacht seen alongside leader Kim Jong Un in 2013 was
sourced by the panel of experts to a British manufacturer, Princess
Yachts International, which the panel said did not reply to a request
for more information.

The panel also said it has opened its first investigation into a case
involving North Korean drones after the wreckage of three drones was
found in South Korea in late 2013 and 2014. The report says the drones
had been used for reconnaissance over South Korean military facilities
and that the drones contained components "sourced from at least six
foreign countries."

North Korea protests that the U.N. sanctions are harmful to its
citizens, but the report says it has found no incidents where they
"directly resulted in shortages of ... humanitarian aid." It does
recommend that the sanctions committee propose exemptions for purely
food, medical or other humanitarian needs.

Source: UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cuba: Medical Impotence

Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Posted on February 25, 2015

While the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are
coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough,
chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had
never before been seen on the Island.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days,
Maritza thought that her four-year-old son's persistent cough was due to
a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had
started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had
escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer
running a fever. The pediatrician's diagnosis confirmed Maritza's
suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would
follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him,
give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines

But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that
Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so
that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms — could be
treated with oxygen. Almost by happenstance, an experienced doctor who
heard the child cough took an interest in the case, and, after a more
detailed examination, made her diagnosis as whooping cough, a disease
Maritza had never heard of and against which – at least in theory — all
Cuban children are protected, thanks to subsidized national health
system vaccination programs. Furthermore, according to official
statistical records, whooping cough (pertussis) was eradicated from Cuba
many years ago.

Thanks to that doctor's providential presence, Alain was treated with
the appropriate antibiotics and, following the advice of the doctor,
Maritza asked a relative who resides abroad for an emergency shipment of
a medication that does not exist in Cuba, pertussis suppositories, used
in the treatment to lessen the child's coughing crisis.

Alain is recovering now, but his convalescence may take up to three
months or more. Maritza has overcome her anxiety, but wonders how many
children will be in the same predicament, considering that this highly
infectious disease is circulating around the Island, and health
authorities have not sounded the alarm. In fact, she recently found out
that in the past several years the incidence of whooping cough has been
on the rise, not only among children, but also among adults.

The lack of information in the official media results in the population
not having a clear perception of the risk, and turns Article 50 of the
Constitution of the Republic of Cuba into meaningless babble. The
article establishes the right of all Cubans to medical care and health
protection, and points to the State as guarantor of that right.

Turning back the clock

Dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya (*), cholera …
With the reappearance of old diseases, the introduction of others that
did not exist on the Island and the lack of effective drugs, it would
seem that Cuba has regressed to the nineteenth century. However, the
Cuban national health system remains a prestigious benchmark for
international agencies, particularly since lending Cuban medical
services abroad has become the most important source of the government's
capital income and a powerful political tool, given that it allows
displaying as example of solidarity and altruism what is actually a
poorly disguised form of modern slavery.

So, while the government exports the service of tens of thousands of
medical professionals at the expense of a loss of attention to Cubans,
and the exposure of the Cuban population to multiple imported diseases,
the institutional bureaucracy of international organizations
congratulates itself on being able to count on a whole army of doctors
mobilized by the regime to deal with epidemics and other pathologies.
The government of any moderately democratic nation would never be able
to recruit doctors as if they were mercenaries.

The truth is that Cuba currently has two opposing systems: one of
"health", which only exists in theory and today is a sad imitation of
what it once was; and the other of "unhealth", much more efficient,
endorsed in a completely dismal hospital and services infrastructure,
and in the continuing incursion of exotic diseases, imported by our
doctors from the most infected corners of the globe, since, upon their
return home to Cuba, the practice of a rigorous quarantine plan and
infection risk control is not followed.

All this in a nation that, in the late 50s of the last century, stood
out among the top in terms of health care at the regional and global
levels, with a respectable hospital network in addition to membership
clinics, emergency clinics, maternity hospitals and other health
services, both free and private.

At this rate, it is likely that, when the Castro regime finally ends, we
may have to request emergency services from the World Health
Organization itself and from the International Red Cross in order to
address Cubans' health crisis, as occurred during the US occupation
after the 1898 War of Independence, which created the basis for what
would become, during the Republic, one of the most enviable health
systems of its time.

*A viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya | Translating
Cuba -

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba
/ 14ymedio
Posted on February 26, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased
considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published
today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with
headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to
freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by
criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty
International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the
re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the
United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of
human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last
year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The
Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of
repression, although Amnesty International also mentions the arrests
produced at the end of 2014 on the occasion of the Community Summit of
Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The annual report, which offers an overview of the human rights
situation in 160 countries and forecasts trends in this arena for the
next year, addresses the issue of the control that Raul Castro's
government exercises over all means of communication and the
difficulties of accessing information on the Internet. Among the
harassments that independent journalists have suffered, the organization
cites the case of 14ymedio, which, on the day of its launch last May 21,
suffered an attack on its web page. Since then this digital daily has
been blocked on the Island.

The report dedicates a special section to prisoners of conscience and
notes that laws that classify "dangerousness" and the likelihood of
future offense as crimes have been used frequently to incarcerate
citizens critical of the Government. Also, they point to the restriction
on travel outside of Cuba imposed on the 12 prisoners of the Black
Spring who were released without a clarification of their legal status.

Amnesty International appreciates the immigration reform of 2013 which
has permitted Cubans to travel abroad but points out that the government
has confiscated materials and documents from opponents and critics on
their return to the Island. The international organization complains
that Cuba has not yet ratified the International Treaty of Civil and
Human Rights or the International Treaty of Economic, Social, and
Cultural rights, both signed in February 2008. Also, the Government has
not responded to the petition made in October by the special rapporteur
on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments and
punishments. Cuban authorities have denied Amnesty International access
to the country since 1990.

A "cruel" year on a regional scale

Amnesty International stresses that 2014 was a "cruel" year in all of
the Americas, characterized by outbreaks of protests and impunity for
criminal networks.

"Last year, insecurity and conflicts grew on the American continent.
Protests exploded in several countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil,
Mexico and the United States, often violently repressed by state forces.
We also were witness to the tragic increase in violence by criminal
networks that acted with total impunity," Erika Guevara Rosas, director
of the organization's program for the Americas, asserts.

"From the disappeared students in Mexico through the revelations about
torture at the hands of CIA agents in the United States and the shooting
of protesters by Brazilian police, 2014 was a shameful year in the whole
region," she adds.

Amnesty International warns that, if significant structural changes are
not put in place, the region will see an increase of protests and
demonstrations, while organized crime and violence will continue
devastating countries like Mexico, El Salvador and the English-speaking

The organization notes as positive the peace talks between the Colombian
government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the
purpose of putting a definitive end to the continent's oldest armed
internal conflict. Nevertheless, the report stresses that at the end of
last year both parties continued abuses and violations of human rights.

As for Venezuela, the report insists that security organizations
employed excessive force to disperse protests and emphasizes that dozens
of people were detained arbitrarily and denied access to doctors and

Amnesty International nevertheless harbors a certain hope that movements
in defense of human rights in the Americas may improve their form of
organization thanks to the help of new technologies and social networks.

Translated by MLK

Source: Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions
in Cuba / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Cuba, US at odds on ending Havana's terror blacklist

Cuba, US at odds on ending Havana's terror blacklist

Washington (AFP) - Just two days ahead of a second round of talks on
restoring diplomatic ties frozen for five decades, Cuba and the United
States staked out competing demands to ensure progress.

Cuban officials demanded that as a preliminary step to renewing
relations, Washington must remove the island from its list of state
sponsors of terrorism.

But a US official insisted the two issues should not be linked.

"It would be very easy to restore diplomatic relations if they would not
link those two things ... it's a delay of their own making, frankly,"
the senior State Department official told reporters.

A delegation from Cuba will meet with US counterparts on Friday at the
State Department to resume negotiations after a first historic round
held in Havana last month.

"This session will focus entirely on the restoration of diplomatic
relations," the US official said, adding the session would start at 9:00
am (1400 GMT) and end in the afternoon with press conferences by both sides.

"We will focus on just what we need to do and get resolved to open
embassies in each other's countries, or transition our interests
sections to embassies," the official said, adding "both sides have an
interest in doing that as quickly as possible."

Washington has insisted that American diplomats must be allowed to
operate freely and meet with dissidents on the communist-run Caribbean

But Havana has remained wary.

And even Cuba's dissident community has had mixed feelings about US
President Barack Obama's December agreement with Cuban leader Raul
Castro to seek normal ties.

Some have praised the move while others worry too much was conceded to
the communist regime without getting much in return.

Some observers believe that diplomatic ties could be restored before a
Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, to be attended by Cuba for
the first time in the history of the regional gathering. Obama is also
due to attend.

- Terror review moving forward -

But Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Gustavo Machin said opening the
embassies before then would "depend on America."

"It would be a contradiction" if Havana were still on the US list of
state sponsors -- which has made access to the international banking
system difficult for Cuba -- he told Cuban reporters.

The State Department official said however that restoring ties and
removing Cuba from the terror list, to which it was added in 1982, are
"two separate processes."

A review ordered by Obama on whether to take Cuba off the blacklist was
"moving forward as quickly as we can ... but we don't think that should
be linked to the restoration of diplomatic relations."

The recommendation will go to Obama, who will then have to notify Congress.

Everything depends "on how our counterparts come to the table prepared
to get things done and whether they are comfortable with the things we
need to run an embassy," the US official said.

The US delegation is to be led by Roberta Jacobson, the State
Department's top official for Latin America, who last month became the
highest-ranking US official to visit Cuba in 35 years.

She will sit down with Cuba's chief negotiator, Josefina Vidal.

Source: Cuba, US at odds on ending Havana's terror blacklist - Yahoo
News -

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

HAVANA (AP) — The jubilation that greeted the announcement of U.S.-Cuban
detente two months ago has faded to resignation for many Cubans who are
realizing they're at the start of a long process unlikely to ease their
daily struggles anytime soon.

Dreams of U.S. products flooding Havana stores and easy visits to family
members in Florida have dissipated, in part because of a coordinated
campaign by Cuban state media and officials to lower expectations and
remind people that the main planks of the half-century-old U.S. trade
embargo remain in place.

As Cuban officials head to Washington for a second round of talks on
restoring diplomatic relations Friday, many working-class islanders say
they no longer expect immediate changes in their lives regardless of
what emerges from the negotiations.

"The great expectations that surged with the news that first day have
been lowered a lot and now the man in the street barely talks about it
anymore," said Magali Delgado, a retired worker in the Ministry of
Foreign Commerce who subsists on a pension of $11 a month. "People are
so desperate ... they wanted immediate, concrete results."

It's a stark contrast to the giddy moments on Dec. 17 when Cubans
cheered in the streets after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro
announced that they were exchanging imprisoned spies, moving to reopen
embassies in Havana and Washington, and seeking to normalize their
countries' long-dysfunctional relationship.

"Expectations went far beyond what was in the announcements," said
Joaquin Borges, a sociologist and widely read cultural critic. "Some
people misunderstood things, particularly on the street, as if
everything was going to be solved and the shortages that Cuba has had
because of the embargo and the economic crisis were going to be resolved
from one day to another."

Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. relations, said the communist
government felt it needed to make clear to its people and the rest of
the world that an opening with the U.S. did not mean things would change

"I think that not just Cubans but Americans and the whole world needed
to be made clear about the reality of what was being announced and
unfortunately the expectations had to be lowered," Machin said.

But pessimism is far from universal.

Obama's easing of restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and the
quadrupling of limits on remittances are expected to have a dramatic
short-term impact on the privileged class of Cubans with links to the
global economy. There are also thousands of motivated, highly educated
young people who hope to seize on the opening with the U.S. as a chance
to move up into greater prosperity.

"I'm an optimist. I have a vision of a better future," Jose Torres, a
nurse, said as he stood on a street corner checking text messages on his
smartphone. "Better Internet, better in the sense of travel to other
countries, exporting Cuban goods, importing U.S. goods ... having access
to Facebook and Google."

The dour mood is strongest among Cubans who lack ties to the
tourist-fueled economy, family members abroad to send them money or a
sense that they can transition into one of the economic sectors boosted
by tighter ties with the United States. Virtually all the proposed new
economic links between the countries involve Cuba's private sector,
which has grown to as much as 40 percent of total employment, according
to a 2013 Brookings Institute study.

"There's a new generation that's mastered the Internet, that's mastered
computing, that, yes, has possibilities," bicycle-taxi driver Alberto
Rodriguez said as he cleaned dirt from his cab's gears and chain on a
street in Old Havana. "I'm older and I don't have what it takes to
compete in this market."

Alexis Ramos, a janitor in a medical clinic, said grimly, "I expect the
rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer."

A senior State Department official, who insisted on anonymity, said
Wednesday that U.S. officials would be delighted to reopen their Havana
embassy before April's Summit of the Americas in Panama, which both
Obama and Castro are expected to attend.

But the countries still appear far apart on some central issues,
particularly Cuba's presence on a U.S. list of state sponsors of
international terrorism. While Obama has all but said Cuba will be
removed from the list, the State Department official said Washington
sees the process as separate from the diplomatic talks with Cuba and any
holdup linked to the terror list is "a delay of their own making."

View gallery
Roberto Alvarez, 47, right, chats with friends backdropped by a wall
decorated with images of Cuban …
Officials in Havana disagree.

Machin, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. relations, said that while removal
from the list isn't a formal condition for the re-establishment of
relations, significant progress will be impossible without progress on
the issue.

"How can we explain to the Cuban people, to the U.S., to Latin America,
to the whole world, that Cuba and the U.S. are re-establishing
diplomatic relations and Cuba is still on the list?"


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia and Andrea Rodriguez
contributed to this report.


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Source: Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US - Yahoo
News -;_ylt=AwrBEiQr9O5Uu1QA2wXQtDMD

Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE

Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE
The Moscow Times Feb. 25 2015 15:59 Last edited 15:59

Russia may build a large international airport in Cuba with investors
from the United Arab Emirates, Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis
Manturov said in an interview with a newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

Manturov told newspaper The National that Russia is in discussions with
Abu Dhabi's Mubadala investment company to invest in building a hub in
Cuba for flights to Latin America. Russia is ready to invest $200
million in the project, Manturov said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Mubadala told The National: "The company is regularly
reviewing a number of different investment opportunities with its
Russian partners."

Manturov added that if the project goes forward, Cuba may provide a rail
link from the airport to the nearby seaport of Mariel, where Havana has
established a special economic zone to attract foreign investment.

Russia's interest in investing in Cuba comes amid a larger pattern of
courting Latin American countries in the face of Western sanctions over
Moscow's role in the conflict in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin made Havana the first stop on his tour of the
South American continent last summer, where he wrote off the majority of
Cuba's $32 billion debt to the Soviet Union. Under Moscow's new terms,
Cuba must now pay Russia $3 billion in 10 years time.

Cuba has historically denied that it owes Russia any money, asserting
that the nation and currency it was indebted to disappeared in 1991 with
the Soviet Union's collapse.

Source: Russia Eying $200 Million Investment in Cuban Airport With UAE |
Business | The Moscow Times -

Cuba’s Tech Start-up Sector: ‘People Are Hungry to Work’

Cuba's Tech Start-up Sector: 'People Are Hungry to Work'
Feb 24, 2015 Latin America

Growing up in Cuba, Jose Pimienta didn't see the Internet until 2006. He
and his friends taught themselves computer programming with a Russian
textbook on the Pascal programming language that had been translated
into Spanish. Even in university, when he finally had access to the
Internet, Pimienta, now 27, was limited to 20 megabytes per month of
data — a small fraction of what fits on a thumb drive today. Yet, in
2013 when PayPal hosted its first-ever global hackathon competition in
San Jose, Calif., with a $100,000 purse, Pimienta and two partners
placed third for developing a peer-to-peer lending app called LoanPal.

"In Cuba, you have a lot of people who have done things with limited
resources and no real access to knowledge," Pimienta, who emigrated to
Miami in 2009, says. "You have a lot of talent there." Pimienta is proof
of the level of talent Cuban universities are producing. He and his
Cuban partner won the regional PayPal hackathon in Miami two years
running, and he's now working with clients in the United States, Europe
and Cuba, building websites and brands from the ground up, while
employing former Cuban classmates.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro on December 17 made an historic
announcement that the adversaries, separated only by 90 miles, would
work to reopen diplomatic channels, ease travel and trade restrictions,
and allow for U.S. banks to start processing transactions on the island.
But even before the announced thawing of relations, Cuba was developing
sought-after computer programmers and a tech start-up community that has
drawn interest from entrepreneurs and industry giants like Google.

"You have a highly educated workforce, excellent programming talent and
a huge amount of opportunity for companies that want to invest in the
knowledge economy Twitter ," notes Faquiry Diaz Cala, CEO of Tres Mares
Group, a private equity investment firm in Miami that has partnered with
Pimienta. "There's already demand for these programmers. There are
full-blown projects that are being done in Cuba by guys who are working
underground because they haven't really opened up the sector yet."

There is no official number for the size of the information technology
sector in Cuba or the number of trained professionals. But Diaz says
Cuban universities are churning out large numbers of graduates who have
learned to program with limited resources

"These guys are sought after because their programming is so tight,"
Diaz notes. "And their programming is so tight because they have learned
with limited access to time on computers and limited access to the

That could change. New regulations announced by the U.S. Treasury
Department allow for the export of technologies to Cuba that were
previously banned under economic restrictions against the island. That,
coupled with economic reforms slowly rolled out by the Castro
government, has positioned the Cuban technology and start-up sector as
one of few areas of the Cuban economy truly poised for growth. Before
the island can transition into a tech hub, however, it has to overcome
serious hurdles including a lack of critical infrastructure, laws that
limit foreign investment and government control of access to the Internet.

"We know from previous transitions that a gradual transition — such as
the ones staged in China or Vietnam — were better than those that
followed the so-called shock-therapy recipes." –Mauro Guillen

Not an Overnight Process

While the joint announcements made by Obama and Castro were met with
much enthusiasm, analysts warn that the outcome of the thaw between the
two countries will largely rely on a long, arduous process of
negotiations, which began in January when assistant secretary of state
for western hemisphere affairs Roberta Jacobson traveled to Havana for
two days of discussions with the Cuban government. "The fact that they
were meeting at all is hugely significant," says Cynthia Arnson,
director of the Latin America program at the Washington-based Wilson
Center, a think tank. "But this is going to be a process, and it's not
going to happen overnight."

Even if the negotiations are successful, fully opening the Cuban economy
will take time, notes Wharton management professor Mauro Guillen, who is
also director of The Lauder Institute. "That process of transition from
all points of view — the legal, the economic, the financial, the
monetary, the regulatory — is going to be very complicated. It cannot
happen all at once. It cannot happen overnight," he says. "We know from
previous transitions that a gradual transition — such as the ones staged
in China or Vietnam — were better than those that followed the so-called
shock-therapy recipes."

Standing in the way of fully normalized economic relations between the
U.S. and Cuba is the economic embargo first instituted by John F.
Kennedy in 1962 and then later strengthened by Congress. There is a
near-zero chance of it being lifted. The U.S.Treasury has exercised its
limited ability to make exceptions to the embargo, but removing the
embargo completely needs Congressional approval. Republican lawmakers
are mostly opposed to loosening restrictions against Cuba. The
Republican-controlled Senate may even block Obama's nominee for the

To be sure, full normalization of the economy has the potential to bring
an enormous windfall. The Peterson Institute for International Economics
estimated in a 2014 paper that Cuba, which currently attracts about $500
million in FDI, could lure as much as its Caribbean neighbor the
Dominican Republic, which has $17 billion in FDI, including $2 billion
from the U.S.

And the Cuban government has identified information technology as one of
the sectors it is seeking to develop under the reforms to its economy
that President Raul Castro began to roll out in 2008. "Today's situation
does not allow computer activity to address many of the needs required
by the population," deputy minister of communications Wilfredo Gonzalez
Vidal said in an interview with Granma, the official newspaper of the
Cuban Communist Party. The government sees technology as "an industry of
strategic development for the nation, strengthening the economy and
providing broad access to contents of digital services," he said.

The government has a multi-part plan to develop the industry that
includes promoting training, focusing on government and electronic
commerce, allowing for new business models, and cooperating with
international actors to improve content and infrastructure and the
availability of equipment.

"There are full-blown projects that are being done in Cuba by guys who
are working underground because they haven't really opened up the sector
yet." – Faquiry Diaz Cala

Perhaps the most significant sign of both the Cuban government's
approach and the international interest in the island came on February
9, when Netflix said it would immediately begin offering streaming
service to the island.

Severe Limitations

Netflix's announcement drew headlines, but also exposed the severe
limitations that pose a threat to the development of the information
technology sector. Penetration rates for cellular telephone usage and
Internet connectivity remain uncommonly low: Only 5,360 home and
business broadband Internet connections exist in Cuba, according to the
International Telecommunications Union. Roughly one in 10 Cubans
regularly use mobile phones, according to Freedom House, citing 2011

Among the country's largest investments in telecommunications
infrastructure came in 2013 when it activated a $70 million undersea
cable laid by the Venezuelan government, giving the country a dependable
link to the Internet.

Still, most Cubans won't be able to afford to access the Internet or buy
a cell phone in the short term. An hour of access to the web eats up
roughly almost one fourth of the average Cuban's monthly salary. And
most Cubans can only check e-mail or visit government-approved sites
through a domestic intranet.

Pimienta knows the government-imposed obstacles well. He is currently
partnering with Cuba-based designers on jobs from international clients.
Due to restrictions on file sizes, his partner has to send large files
broken up into as many as 30 e-mails, which are then pieced back
together. Beyond that, he is not legally permitted to pay his Cuba-based
employees. "I supply them with equipment and technology instead," he says.

Pimienta hopes new regulations will make it easier to work with
Cuba-based designers. To that end, he and several partners have launched
a website that highlights the work of Cuban designers and programmers.
He hopes to bring together dozens of professionals from across the
island, showcasing their work. "We want people to know about the talent
that exists in Cuba," he says. "With these regulations changing, we want
to be able to provide companies with access to Cuba. You're an American
firm and you want to go to Cuba? We know the market both in the U.S. and
in Cuba. And we can help you build a brand."

Changing the Image

The popular image of Cuba, at least in the United States, is that of a
closed-off, tightly controlled island where the Castro regime has a hand
in nearly every facet of life. Miami-based entrepreneur Hugo Cancio sees
the potential of the Caribbean island, where he was born, beyond its
appeal as a tourist destination full of the robust cigars, vintage cars
and aged rum for which it has become associated. "Cuba is more than
that. You're talking about a country of 11.2 million highly educated
people. It's about more than just the Castros," he says.

"There was a Cuba here before 1959, and it's a Cuba that is still here
today." – Hugo Cancio

An understanding of Cuba is the message Cancio tries to relay to readers
of his magazines and websites, including the flagship OnCuba
publication. The magazine informs readers about Cuba's cultural
uniqueness, its history and current events. "There was a Cuba here
before 1959, and it's a Cuba that is still here today," he says. Yet,
perhaps more revealing than Cancio's message is how he built the
magazine and website with homegrown Cuban talent.

Cancio plucked some of the island's best and brightest, trained them to
produce a bilingual publication, and hired a handful of programmers to
maintain the website. "The talent here is extremely highly trained," he

Cancio says he has worked with U.S. companies that have expressed
willingness to get into the Cuban market when it opens. "It's amazing to
see how interested American businesses are in Cuba," he notes. "We
believe there is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars flowing
from the U.S. to Cuba and Cuba back to the United States, eventually."

The potential is so large that it could attract major U.S. companies,
such as AT&T, Verizon and Google, the latter of which has already said
it is interested in expanding its reach on the island.

How quickly investments proceed likely depends less on U.S. regulators
and more on the rules that Cuba sets for investment. The
state-controlled ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.) and
its subsidiary Cubacel (Telefonos Celulares de Cuba S.A.) currently have
a monopoly on the telephony sector.

Welcome News

However, the early signs in the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba
are welcomed news for entrepreneurs. "I think that you'll see a lot more
direct assistance to the private sector … in the form of technical
assistance so that they can grow and prosper and perform at a high
level. That's what's happening on the black market already anyway,"
notes Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who
follows Cuba. "Creating institutions that respect property rights — this
kind of thing is a whole new concept in Cuba. A major transformation is

Regardless of how quickly reforms take place, Pimienta says there is
already buzz around the potential for change in Cuba. Greater access to
knowledge from U.S. companies and the ability to import needed
technology and equipment can only benefit the start-up industry in Cuba,
he adds.

"The reality is that there are people hungry to work. They're creative
and they are just waiting to show what they can do," he says. "If this
happens, it would be wonderful for the people of Cuba."

Source: Cuba's Tech Start-up Sector: 'People Are Hungry to Work' -