Monday, November 30, 2015

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway - Past and Present

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas
Posted on November 30, 2015

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the
Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth
Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power,
during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first
half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short
by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be
transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its
destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month
of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by
deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that
delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of
transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to
transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its
activity levels return to normal.

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer
evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners
at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose
introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro
Montalvo's first technical study journey, what most attracted their
attention was the steam engine. Arango y Parreño saw in that the
solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to
experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after
their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for
specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world
which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use
increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute
for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in
the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and
from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification
operation. All of this made Cuba into the world's largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons,
came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the
world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage
of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest
advances in the technology, understood the importance of its
introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years
after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That
day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana –
Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the
sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of
the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from
Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when
the railway started up between those two points (1838), the
transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic
considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island
which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar
physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the
emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern
Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the
railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process
was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo
Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar
industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General
José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana
and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was
understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of
transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which
united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary
government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149
km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened
the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly
always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: "We were
intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources
required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be
finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for
international problems which were arising. .." In the same speech,
delivered in 2006, he added: "Today we have just taken delivery of 12
locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best
we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most
efficient, and the most economical." [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides
information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration
due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track,
including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required,
in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of
550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing
in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented
by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in
the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools,
material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave
deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the
Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro
Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and
Construction Works of the railway, "The damage ws such that we had to
carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say,
to building a new line." [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of
accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of
railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino,
recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many
accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk,
and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And
frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and
wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal
to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised,
more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the
achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all
the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over
decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers) of Villa Clara
last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having
built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant.
There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties
with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making,
the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other
problems. and other problems. "For these reasons they failed to
complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of
track." (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they
are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having
not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers
over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked
efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual
timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news,
it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the
non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on
the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.


1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the
double-action steam engine
2: "The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex"
(Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio "We have
procured the best locomotives in the world", Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro "Clean up the mess next to the railway
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro "The railway is waiting for its time",
Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro "Investments which move trains" Friday
May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. "Opening the way for the Central Line" Granma,
Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. "Accidents keep happening on the railway".
Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. "Railway renovation moving on.", Granma,
Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. "Without linking things up, the railway won't
advance" Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

Source: The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present /
Dimas Castellano | Translating Cuba -

No Other Country Has Treated us Like Costa Rica

No Other Country Has Treated us Like Costa Rica / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 30, 2015

Iván García, Costa Rica, 29 November 2015 — In the last two weeks, the
authorities in Costa Rica have been forced to open new shelters to care
for the more than 3,000 Cubans trying to reach the U.S. who are stranded
on the border with Nicaragua.

Since November 15, thousands of Cubans have been sleeping in temporary
shelters because of the decision by Daniel Ortega's government to deny
passage to Cubans, after an outbreak of violence between the Cuban "land
rafters" and riot forces from Nicaragua.

In spite of this measure, the number of Cubans arriving in Costa Rica
through Panama continues to increase. In general they arrive at night,
in groups of 50 or 100 people, in a village named Paso Canoas, more than
600 kilometers south of San José.

There they stay in hostels that charge between 5 and 50 dollars a night.
Those who don't have money, after being fleeced by coyotes and
traffickers in Colombia, sleep on a boarding platform used by
interprovincial buses.

The number of Cubans who have entered Costa Rica by Paso Canoas now
exceeds 3,000, and it's said that more than 300 would be waiting in
Panama to cross the border. The shelters in the towns of La Cruz, Peñas
Blancas and San Ramon are spilling over with emigrants from the Island.

Days earlier, Costa Rican authorities, in cooperation with the Catholic
Church in San Ramon, an hour's drive from San Jose, decided to open
another shelter with the capacity of 280 people.

Cubans arriving by bus from Paso Canoas must pay 15 dollars for the
ticket. But at least three dozen migrants find themselves sleeping on
cardboard on the floor of the bus station. The uncertainty is the
biggest worry for the Cubans.

After 2:30 in the afternoon, an Immigration official returned passports
to the Cubans who wanted to go to one of the shelters, where the
authorities are guaranteeing them three hot meals a day. While some wait
in hostels or outdoors for a decision that is out of their hands,
others, who now are counting their money in pennies, decided to stay in
a shelter set up in the parish of La Pastoral, in the county of San Ramón.

During the six-hour journey, through steep hills and a mountainous
landscape crowned by dormant volcanoes, many of the Cubans were
snoozing, listening to music on their cell phones or talking with family
members in Cuba using the Internet from the telephone lines they access

Halfway there, the bus was stopped at a checkpoint. A Costa Rican
policeman reviewed the passports and, in a respectful tone, warned the
group not to try to enter Nicaragua illegally.

The other bus stop was at a business on the side of the road. This
allowed the immigrants to stretch their legs and look at the merchandise
that few could buy because of the high cost.

Around 10:00 at night, local time, the group of Cubans arrived at the
hostel. There, some 30 volunteers from the church, the Red Cross and the
priest, Gravin Hidalgo, were waiting to take care of them and offer them
a dinner (soup, white rice, scrambled eggs, salad, bananas, bread and
orange juice). Then they were shown to rooms with four individual beds
in each.

According to Father Hidalgo, they "want famlies and groups of friends to
stay together." But the unstoppable influx of Cubans escaping the
Castros' "tropical socialism" worries the Costa Rican pastor.

"We already have more than 280 people here. We've had to set up bunk
beds in a room to be able to take care of them." The exquisite treatment
and the detail of locating an image of the Virgen de la Caridad, the
patron saint of Cuba, brought congratulations on the part of the emigrants.

"Some, moved, have commented to me that they made the crossing with
necklaces of the Virgen de la Caridad as amulets. One of the Cubans gave
me a stone chosen by him in the Santuario del Cobre, in Santiago de
Cuba. A very valuable gift for me. We hope to take care of them the
whole time they stay in San Ramón. The civil society of the city, the
Church and the authorities are happy to give this help," the priest
pointed out.

But good will can flood humanitarian assistance in a small country,
which doesn't count on an army and has limited financial resources at
its disposal.

Meanwhile, in Paso Canoas, Cubans continue arriving.

Iván García, from Costa Rica

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: No Other Country Has Treated us Like Costa Rica / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -

The Language of the Enemy

The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera
Posted on November 29, 2015

Decades of stigmatization of the English language weigh on Cubans'
collective unconscious, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 27 November 2015 –
It was Saturday night at a restaurant located on the downtown corner of
O Street and Avenue 23. The bathroom was closed but, at least not
completely. A sign, placed on the door to one of the available toilets,
announced that it was out of order. As the Hotel Saint John is very
close by and the restaurant is in a tourist area, whoever placed the
sign tried to write it in Spanish and English.

But where it meant to announce closed was written "clouse."

Imperialism talked and sang in English

After 1972, the Russian language requirement became widespread at
various levels of education.

For years, repression of Anglo music, especially rock, marked more than
a generation of Cubans. According to the regime, imperialism spoke and
sang in English. As a result, classics of Anglo Saxon rock and pop from
the sixties and seventies were known in Cuba through Spanish versions by
groups from Madrid and Barcelona. Or there emerged on the island musical
duos like Maggies Carles and Luis Nodal, "translating" into Spanish
songs that were originally from Britain or the United States.

Ten years later, in some urban schools and high schools, English classes
were offered using the Spectrum manual. This coincided with the period
that followed the first Cuban law of foreign investment in 1982. The
1990's marked a radical change after the end of the Soviet Union. In the
midst of the crisis, language schools were filled with Anglo Saxon
language learners.

The Americans come. The Cubans go.

This time the US invasion seems to be serious. They are not the
"assassin marines" that, like the famous "Coco" of the horror stories
for children, the regime showed in its political cadre training schools.
The blondes do not disembark with M-16 rifles; they arrive with
sunglasses, cameras, dollars and an almost insatiable curiosity.

In the capital's private inns and restaurants knowledge of the language
pays well in order to cater to those potential visitors. Few reckon
that, when the current US president leaves the White House – Obama has
been the main promoter of rapprochement between the two countries –
things could take another turn between the two shores. A Republican
leader, winner of the November 2016 elections in the US, would have the
option of reversing the current process of detente.

Nevertheless, the perspective plans for "Yuma tourism" grow in the minds
of the small business owners. The closest thing to the fable of the
shepherdess and her jug of milk.

Meanwhile, other Cubans offer to sell their homes, cars, bodies,
whatever will bring them money. The first step is to fly to Ecuador,
then begin the odyssey en route to the United States which, recently,
has taken on dramatic overtones on Costa Rica's border with Nicaragua.

Talk to me in English

English language proficiency is essential for entering the US labor
market on good footing. Weighing over thousands of potential Cuban
emigrants from several generations is ignorance of that language that
opens doors and opportunities. Others reject it being in Cuba.

Arriving in the north, they need to double their effort in order to
adapt to another way of life which includes the need to communicate in
the language of the host country.

Misnamed a thousand times in Cuba as "the language of the enemy," it is
the most important commercial language in the world. The greater part of
music, movies and popular culture in general that is produced and
consumed at a worldwide level is of Anglo Saxon origin. Cognizance and
observance of federal laws of the United States and of each state also
require knowledge of English.

The United States has not only been the refuge for those who flee the
Cuban regime but also a challenge to creativity and self-improvement for
those who arrive from the Island. And the English language forms a
logical part of that necessary challenge.

Source: The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera |
Translating Cuba -

MoHSW orientates 118 Cuban Medical Personnel

MoHSW orientates 118 Cuban Medical Personnel
Health NewsTop Stories Nov 30, 2015 124

At least 118 medical personnel from Cuba were on Friday orientated by
the Ministry Of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW) at the Edward Francis
Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul.

Speaking at the event, Hon. Omar Sey, the Minister of Health and Social
Welfare, called on the medical team to respect the operational
activities of their health facilities, and urged them to deliver to the
best interest of their patients.

He disclosed that the new medical team will be deployed to the various
health facilities in the country, and that instead of serving in the
country for two years this batch would serve for three years.

Minister Sey pointed out that Cuba and The Gambia has a cordial
relationship and for the past ten years the Cuban government has been
complementing Government's effort in the area of health.

He assured the Cuban medical team that Government will give them all the
support they need in their work.

On behalf of the President of the Republic, His Excellency Sheikh
Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa, the Minister
thanked the Government of Cuba, the Cuban Embassy and the head of the
Cuban medical team in The Gambia for their support.

Professor Mustapha I. Khalil, the Chief Medical Director of the Edward
Francis Small Teaching Hospital, said the hospital has a very good
working relationship with the Cuban medical team.

He assured them that the hospital would provide support to them, while
urging them to work closely with the management of the hospital.

The Cuban Ambassador to The Gambia, Lazaro Herrera Martinez, thanked
Government for its support to the Cuban medical team over the years and
affirmed that the relationship between Cuba and The Gambia would
continue to grow.

by Momodou Faal

Source: MoHSW orientates 118 Cuban Medical Personnel | Daily Observer -

Cuba - Infrastructure, Information & Inspiration

Cuba: Infrastructure, Information & Inspiration
Kevin O'Marah

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
I just spent a week on an educational tour of Cuba that bounced through
social, cultural, artistic, and economic institutions all poised to
change radically as the possibility of an embargo-free relationship with
the United States looms in the near future. The bottom line is one of
great opportunity, but with deep caveats in emotional and philosophical


As of November 2015 Havana is both bursting with tourist spending and
creaking under the weight of consumer need. The inflow of foreign cash
crashes on the rocks of inadequate plumbing, telecommunications,
refrigeration and transport infrastructure. Tourists are generally
happy, but mostly because they accept compromised living conditions in
return for enchanting historical depth and a magnetic host population.

The colonial, art deco and soviet-heroic building stock are extensive
but almost all in a state of grim decay. The city had 96,000 residents
in 1810 which was then identical to New York and nearly three times
Boston. By 1950 it had grown nearly tenfold. Its historical district
is no mere quaint square but an entire city that was once among the
biggest and richest in the new world. Buildings spanning these eras are
everywhere and all in need of repair.

Imagine combining the tourist cravings, amazing architecture and unique
skill sets of Havana with the supply chains of Home Depot, Lowe's and
Grainger? An economic boom is ready to happen.


Much of Cuba's history is about agriculture, especially sugar. Today
the country can't even feed itself. Looking ahead to a revitalized
economy however has nothing to do with rebuilding an export-oriented
agricultural sector. The future is about information industries.

The first and for some time probably largest is tourism. Combining
colonial Caribbean attractions with a communist curiosity factor Cuba
will draw adventure tourists for decades. Stealing a page or two from
the likes of Disney could monetize what's there without destroying its
allure. The key will be pricing which should be kept high to constrain
demand within bounds that the infrastructure can support.

Related to tourism is a content business built around the arts. Music,
painting, sculpture and more are everywhere in Havana and most is
idiosyncratic enough to be refreshing to a largely saturated global
market from established arts hubs like Los Angeles, London and Paris.
Check with Google, Amazon and Nike for outlets to leverage this resource.

Bigger still, and potentially unique is the information intensive
biopharmaceuticals sector which includes some 60 laboratories around the
country that develop medicines including for example an 80% effective
cure for diabetic foot called Heberprot. In addition, dozens of
vaccines and medications that are made only in Cuba suggest a wealth of
new knowledge that could contribute meaningfully to the global
healthcare sector.

Medical services sold or traded to customers in the Amazon, sub-Saharan
Africa and central America are in fact the second biggest export earner
after tourism in Cuba. Add the large number of trained medical
professionals working domestically and the country looks like a
potential partner for global pharmaceuticals makers as a contract
development and manufacturing hub for everything from clinical trials
and laboratory work to API production.


Cuba is a sensitive topic for many people around the world. Its
inspiration is proudly linked to the Revolution and icons like Che
Guevara and Fidel Castro. The economic decisions made by this group of
leaders were unequivocally disastrous in terms of efficiency and output.
They are also still very much linked to a legacy of nationalization of
assets that left many furious and bitter. And yet, the confidence,
equanimity and initiative of today's Cuban people suggest that some
things worked out well enough.

The path forward will demand great generosity of spirit and a lot of
humility on all sides. Legal battles await on the road to normalized
relations and some, like Bacardi still deserve compensation.

Source: Cuba: Infrastructure, Information & Inspiration - Forbes -

Texas sees business potential in trade with Cuba

Texas sees business potential in trade with Cuba
Staff Writer
Published: 29 November 2015 10:52 PM

In true cowboy spirit, many Texans see Cuba as a new frontier.

Businesses in the state stand to generate jobs and millions of dollars
in trade with Cuba as the United States takes steps to open relations
with the communist country for the first time since 1961.

Texas could see $43 billion in total economic impact and 214 new jobs
from increased exports and other trade with Cuba, according to a new
report from Texas A&M University.

To jump-start efforts, Gov. Greg Abbott is leading a large state
delegation to Cuba on Monday, less than one year after President Barack
Obama re-established diplomatic relations with the island nation.

"With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S.
and Cuba … Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its
economic footprint at home and abroad," Abbott said in a statement.
Joining him in Cuba will be state agriculture and port representatives
and business people.

The Texas visitors will spend three days in Havana, the capital, meeting
with officials from Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, the
Port of Mariel, the Cuba Chamber of Commerce and two Cuban state
companies, Alimport and Cimex. TexasOne, the state's economic
development corporation, is paying for Abbot's trip.

Cuba is only about 90 miles southeast of the United States, yet the two
nations have been far apart ideologically, economically and
technologically for more than 50 years. Some of that is about to change.

Last December, Obama took steps to start normalizing relations with
Cuba. The U.S. government aims to increase travel, commerce and the flow
of information to and from Cuba, but it still has an economic embargo
against the island for now.

Since Obama's announcement, "the response in Texas for trade with Cuba
is really quite overwhelming," said Plano consultant Cynthia Thomas, who
was hired by TexasOne to coordinate Abbott's trip.

"I can't even describe the amount of calls I get from around the state
from all kinds of businesses with all kinds of ideas wanting to get into
the Cuban market," said Thomas, who helps companies export. "That's
Texas — they're very entrepreneurial."

Thomas, who has visited Cuba 39 times since 2000, estimates that she has
helped Texas companies sell $85 million in goods — mostly powdered milk
and some cotton — to Cuba in the last decade.

'The potential is there'

Texas exports to Cuba have plummeted since 2008 as Cuba has aimed to end
the U.S. embargo that has existed since 1962, said Parr Rosson, head of
the agricultural economics department at Texas A&M University. Other
factors have included a Cuban ban on U.S. poultry, better credit terms
from other countries and Cuba's own weak economy, he said.

Texas exported $131,327 in goods to Cuba in 2014, down from $96.2
million in 2008, according to the International Trade Administration.
U.S. exports to Cuba totaled $299 million in 2014, down from $711.5
million in 2008.

Today, Texas companies mostly export frozen chicken legs and thighs,
corn and soybean products to Cuba, Rosson said. The U.S. allows
medicine, food and agricultural products to flow to Cuba under a
humanitarian exemption to the embargo.

Rosson estimates that Texas exports to Cuba could rise to about $19
million a year through the addition of wheat, dairy products, rice,
animal feed, dry beans and beef.

"The potential is there because the market has been growing, but
unfortunately our products haven't been competitive," Rosson said.
"There's been an incursion of other countries, such as Brazil, China and
Canada, into the market. Anything we can do on a trade mission about the
benefits, the quality and the proximity of the supply chain will go a
long way to strengthening the market."

In all, Cuba imports between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion in
agricultural and food products a year, mostly from Europe, Brazil,
Argentina and Canada.

Lawler Foods in Humble, near Houston, is interested in selling its
frozen cakes and pies in Cuba but probably will stay on the sidelines
for a while.

"I would love to go to Cuba, but it's just not a big priority," said Wes
Stasny, vice president of sales for the family-owned company, who went
to Cuba on a state-sponsored trade mission in 2008. "There's bigger fish
to fry. Asia is huge. Cuba is just a little island.

'In the crawl stage'

It's not just food companies that are interested in Cuba.

American Airlines, the world's largest air carrier, flies to more than
50 countries and hopes to add Cuba next year.

The Fort Worth-based carrier, which has operated charter flights between
the United States and Cuba for 24 years, has said it's ready to start
scheduled service as soon as the two governments allow it.

American flies an average of 22 charter flights a week to Cuba from
Miami and Tampa. It plans to launch charter service from Los Angeles
next month.

Monday's trip will be Abbott's second international trade mission since
he took office in January. In September, he and Texas Secretary of State
Carlos Cascos visited Mexico on Abbott's first official international
trip, the first by a Texas governor since 2007.

Mexico is Texas' largest trade partner, accounting for $102.6 million in
exports from the state last year. In comparison, Cuba is Texas'
203rd-largest trade partner, out of 237 countries.

"We truly are in the crawl stage of this evolution," said Stephen
Colliers, a spokesman for the International Trade Administration.
"There's a lot of excitement around the possibilities of exporting to
Cuba. It's still pretty restricted, and for the foreseeable future it's
still going to be that way."

Twitter: @SJeanDallas

Source: Texas sees business potential in trade with Cuba | Dallas
Morning News -

American jailed for 5 years in Cuba made little attempt to disguise his work

American jailed for 5 years in Cuba made little attempt to disguise his work
Greg Toppo, USATODAY 10:54 p.m. EST November 29, 2015

American aid worker Alan Gross, who was imprisoned for five years in
Cuba, said he made little attempt to disguise his work setting up
Internet connections for the communist island's small Jewish community.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," Gross, a
communications specialist who has worked in more than 50 countries, said
he made five trips to Cuba as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for
International Development, the Associated Press reported. He was
arrested in late 2009 on accusations of spying and was later convicted
and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Gross, 66, was freed last December as part of a historic U.S.-Cuba
policy change in diplomatic relations.

A 2012 AP investigation found that Gross was using sensitive technology
typically available only to governments, and that the Internet
connections he was establishing were intended to bypass local
restrictions and be hard for the government to trace.

On "60 Minutes," Gross said he had no trouble bringing the equipment
into Cuba. The only precaution he took, he said, was to tape over a
model number on a satellite modem.

"They had every opportunity to stop me from bringing that equipment in,
they knew what that equipment was and if they didn't, you know, shame on
them," Gross said.

Gross lost more than 100 pounds in prison, AP reported. Five of his
teeth fell out because of malnutrition. He went on hunger strikes and
spoke of wanting to end his life. And he became disillusioned with the
U.S. government as he considered the possibility of dying in prison. "It
was ridiculous. I wasn't a spy. I wasn't a smuggler. I wasn't a
criminal," he said.

He added, "U.S. government, you want to send people to countries where
we have no diplomatic relations and run cockamamie programs? Go ahead,
but leave me out of it."

Source: American jailed for 5 years in Cuba made little attempt to
disguise his work -

Keep the Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers

Keep the Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers

'The spirit of the CAA continues to be relevant'
Many Cubans risk their safety and their lives to escape
Some come to reap U.S. benefits and return to island

In 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law,
President Lyndon Johnson said, "I declare this afternoon to the people
of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The
dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed
is going to be upheld."

Clearly, the spirit of the Act was to assist Cubans who had to flee
their homeland and could not return for fear of persecution.

However, unlike other immigrants seeking political asylum, Cubans can
return home without jeopardizing their status. In no other instance are
refugees or asylees allowed to return to the country they claim is
persecuting them without fundamental political change in that country
occurring first, or before becoming U.S. citizens.

This is an obvious inconsistency in the law, as several South Florida
newspapers have repeatedly pointed out. Ignoring this flaw is
detrimental to efforts to reform and preserve the law for those who
truly fear for their safety and security in Cuba. Moreover, those who
wrongfully take advantage of this law are abusing our country's
generosity and creating gross inequities in our immigration system.
Economic immigrants from many other countries in our hemisphere who
waited in line to come to the United States do not understand why
Cubans, who openly admit they have come for economic opportunities,
enjoy these privileges.

Reportedly, some Cubans qualify for public-assistance benefits in the
United States and then move back to Cuba. Many of them receive more in
benefits than retired Americans who have worked in this country for decades.

On Oct. 8, I met with senior White House staff involved in immigration
and Cuba policy. I requested that meeting in a good-faith effort for
cooperation to try to address abuses of the CAA and avoid a possible
migrant crisis. The goal was to find common ground for a legislative

While acknowledging the abuses, the officials echoed Secretary of State
John Kerry's words that the Obama administration, "has no plans
whatsoever to alter the current migration policy."

The president's refusal to do anything to address abuses of the CAA is
unfortunate. His inaction is inviting the Castro regime to instigate
another migrant crisis, when he instead should be working with Congress
to fix the law's deficiencies. That crisis may be quickly approaching.

According to reports, many Cubans have been fleeing the island via
government-owned and operated planes en route to Ecuador or Guyana,
where visas are not required of them. From there, they make the long
trek through Central America and Mexico in an attempt to enter the
United States through our southern border. In too many cases, they put
themselves at the mercy of despicable human-trafficking rings.

Additionally, the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua has likely
conspired with the Castro regime to close and militarize its southern
border, creating a refugee crisis in Costa Rica.

Just like Mariel in 1980 and the 1994 Cuban-migrant crisis, the regime
appears to be manufacturing a new crisis in order to extract even more
concessions from the Obama administration.

Since President Obama's Dec. 17 "engagement" announcement last year, the
Castro regime has been engaged in an unapologetic crackdown on its
people. Almost 7,000 political arrests have been made against dissidents
and pro-democracy activists. During the same period, there has been a
78-percent spike in Cubans arriving in the United States. Costa Rican
authorities have reported that the number of Cubans entering their
country illegally has grown to 15,391 so far this year from 5,400 in 2014.

It is clear that many Cubans are responding to the idea of a normal
relationship between their oppressors and the United States with fear
and desperation, leading many to risk their safety and their lives to
escape the prison that is Castro's Cuba.

I am concerned about what this may mean for South Florida. The spirit of
the CAA continues to be relevant and is needed to provide refuge for
Cubans fleeing the Castro regime. I will continue to work on curbing its
abuses while ensuring this important pathway to freedom remains
available so that, "Those who seek refuge here in America will find it."


Source: Keep the Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers |
Miami Herald -

Time to Bring Cuba Online

Time to Bring Cuba Online

Millions of Cuban citizens could have affordable access to the Internet
in a matter of months. The only thing keeping the island in the digital
Dark Ages is a lack of political will. Cuban officials have long blamed
the American embargo for their nation's obsolete telecommunications
systems. They no longer have that excuse.

Regulatory changes the Obama administration put in place this year
provide Havana with a number of options to expand Internet coverage
quickly and sharply. If the government took advantage of that, the
island's anemic economy could get a much-needed jolt, and young Cubans
who are determined to emigrate, a powerful reason to reconsider.

Cuba was among the last in the region to go online in the 1990s. Over
the years, the authoritarian government has moved haltingly in expanding
access to the Internet, which remains tightly controlled and censored.
The American government sought to establish clandestine connections, but
relatively few people benefited from those initiatives, and those who
did risked being branded as traitors. Since 2013, Cuba has been plugged
into the global cable network that enables high-speed connections, but
the Internet is still largely out of reach and prohibitively expensive
for those who don't have government-sanctioned access through workplaces
and universities.

Young Cubans, eager to connect with the world,have built ingenious ways
around the government's controls. In the past two years, a black market
data sharing system known as el paquete, or the packet, has enabled
Cubans to gain access to a menu of news sites, television shows, movies
and snapshots of websites that are bundled weekly and disseminated door
to door through hard drives and memory sticks. They also have used
wireless routers to create neighborhood networks that are not connected
to the Internet but that enable users to chat and share media.

Earlier this year, the government, responding to popular pressure,
established 35 wireless centers where Cubans can use smartphones and
laptops to go online for about $2 an hour. Although that amounts to
roughly 10 percent of the median monthly salary on the island, the
centers have been mobbed. Norges Rodríguez, an engineer and prominent
blogger in Havana, said that Cuban officials were wrestling with a
quandary. "They are aware that for the economy to advance, the economy
must be online," he said in a phone interview. "But our society, by
design, is like the one the Soviets had: a closed society."

Within Cuba's opaque power structure there is a split between
hard-liners who are worried that broader Internet access could fuel
dissent and more progressive leaders who see the embrace of technology
as a matter of economic survival. Google, which has recently made it a
priority to expand online access in some of the world's least plugged-in
societies, has invigorated that debate in recent months by offering to
rapidly upgrade the island's Internet infrastructure.

Google could help Cuba plug into at least one additional submarine
cable, which would vastly improve speeds, and develop a hybrid
distribution network that would include fiber-optic cables, cellular
data towers and Wi-Fi access points. The company's Project Link
initiative last year greatly improved connectivity in Uganda in a matter
of months, and it is now expanding to Ghana. It's unclear how the
financing of a Cuba project would work. Google could easily make an
upfront investment that could be paid off over time, and as more users
go online it would benefit from demand for Google products, which
generates advertising revenue.

Partnering with Google, which has enormous lobbying clout in Washington,
could advance Havana's goal of building enough political support in
Congress to repeal the embargo and would make it harder for a future
president to dial back the restoration of diplomatic ties that Mr. Obama
set in motion last year. Leading Republican candidates, including Marco
Rubio, have been critical of broader engagement with the Cuban government.

Cuba could also decide to do business with non-American technology
companies, as Myanmar did after it began opening its political system in
2013. Industry experts say there would be no shortage of bidders eager
to establish a foothold in a populous Caribbean nation with one of the
world's highest literacy rates — despite Havana's cumbersome foreign
investment laws and its inability to obtain credit to purchase American
equipment because of sanctions that remain in place.

Cuban officials pledged last December to expand Internet access "without
haste, but without pause." But that hasn't happened, and Cubans are
rightly demanding more. "The government had claimed the problem was the
inability to do business with American companies," Mr. Rodríguez, the
blogger, said. "That argument has disappeared."

Source: Time to Bring Cuba Online - The New York Times -

Is it a Crime to Go for a Walk with a Foreigner in Havana?

Is it a Crime to Go for a Walk with a Foreigner in Havana?
November 24, 2015
Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

HAVANA TIMES — I still haven't managed to let go of the anger or
overcome the surprise.

While strolling down a street in Old Havana next to a foreign friend of
mine, a police officer stopped me to ask me the most ludicrous questions
I've heard.

I don't want to embellish or distort the events with flowery prose. I
will try to offer a faithful transcription of the conversation I had
with this police officer, as I recall it.

"Good evening, citizen. May I see your ID, please," said the officer.

"Yes, of course," I replied.

"Is he your husband?" he asked, pointing at my friend, who was standing
nearby, unable to understand what was going on, as he doesn't understand


"Then, what are you doing with him?"

"We're walking around the city. Is that a crime?"

"Are you a tour guide?"

"No, I'm an art historian and he's an artist. We're preparing an
exhibition that will open in Cuba very soon."

"And how do I know what you're telling me is true? Do you have any
papers on you?"

"I don't have any documents on me, not even a student ID, because I'm no
longer a student. But, if you wish, we can head down to my place and I
can show you my degree. Or perhaps you can go to my place of work and
confirm all of this."

The officer remained quiet.

He hands my ID to another police officer, who asks me the same question
the first did:

"Is he your husband?"

"No," I replied, and proceeded to tell him the same story.

This officer tried to see if I had a criminal record over the radio,
fruitlessly, as they had communication problems.

He gave me back my ID and I stood there, waiting for a reply, perhaps
even an apology for having wasted my time, anything.

Nothing. Seeing I wasn't leaving, he told me I could "continue on my
way," with a tone suggesting he had nothing more to say to me.

I was left perturbed and confused. I think I need to read my country's
laws more carefully and see how much of a right they have to unjustly
question who I walk with or talk to.

Source: Is it a Crime to Go for a Walk with a Foreigner in Havana? -
Havana -

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Stories of Life on the Border

Stories of Life on the Border / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on November 28, 2015

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar (Special envoy), Liberia (Costa Rica), 28
November 2015 — A uniformed policeman guards the entrance to the shelter
in the church of Nazareth, in the Costa Rican region of Liberia. It is
there to protect 70 Cubans who are waiting for the Nicaraguan
authorities to allow them to continue their journey to the United
States. Journalists are not allowed access, not least because most
migrants prefer not to give interviews.

However, the Cuban accent opens all doors. Once inside, a young man from
Pinar del Rio explains that his family does not know he is in that
situation and he does not want to worry his mother. "She believed I was
going around the stores in Quito to buy clothes and then sell them back
home in San Juan y Martinez." Something similar occurs with Maria, an
enthusiastic and charismatic woman from Camagüey, who spurred by the
emergency has become the voice of the group.

Maria is the representative of Cubans who are there. Nobody gave her
that position, no one voted for her, but her way of expressing herself
and showing natural leadership have led her to speak for those who
prefer to remain silent. However she confessed to this newspaper that
she finds it a little frightening to make statements: "I don't want,
tomorrow, for the Cuban government not to allow me to visit my family."

The hostel recalls the Cuban schools in the countryside through which
passed the Maria's and the young Pinareño's generation. The difference
here is that they are not forced to work in agriculture, nor to listen
to the tiresome ideological propaganda of the morning assemblies. They
are free, but have one obsession: continuing the path to the "land of
freedom," they say.

Sioveris Carpio left on 3 September for Ecuador. He never imagined that
his journey would be complicated in this way. He arrived in Costa Rica
on 12 November when the border with Nicaragua was already closed. Now,
when asked if he wasn't tempted to turn around, he uses a slogan heard
thousands of times from Cuban officialdom: "Pa' tras ni para coger
impulso*." And he adds with a smile, "My objective is to get there."

He is an amateur musician, finished the 12th grade, and had worked as an
animator and audio operator in Trinidad, but he lives in Condado, a
corner of Escambray where the alzados – the anti-communists – were
active in the sixties. "I live near where there is a monument to Manuel
Ascunce, the literacy teacher killed by the alzados," he says, and
immediately clarifies, "the fact that I am going to the United States
doesn't mean that I'm against the Revolution." In the conversation there
is only this reporter and the impassioned young man, but at times he
speaks as if a thousand ears are listening."

"I was born and raised under a Revolutionary roof, what is happening is
that I am looking for an economic improvement," he says. He repeats the
litany of many about his decision, that he "isnot political", but admits
that he has chosen the United States" because it is a country where you
can find an opportunity to prosper."

If "things get bad" and he can not continue toward reaching his dream,
he will stay in Costa Rica. "Right here," he says and states that
"people are good and we have the same language, but life is expensive
and it is not easy to find work."

In Cuba he left his entire family and says that his parents "are
suffering a lot because they know I'm here." His dream, however includes
the goal of one day returning to Cuba. "Not now, because unfortunately
there are no opportunities, wages are minimal to the point that if you
buy a pair of pants you can not eat that month."

Carpio is a skeptic of the economic changes that have occurred on the
island in recent years. "The results will be seen only long term. We
will have to wait a long time and I am almost 40." The clock of his life
has marked a critical time and he prefers to spend the rest of it in
foreign lands.

But Carpio is only part of this drama. The people of Nazareht have seen
dozens of these migrants arriving on their territory and have come out
to help them. Mauricio Martinez has lived, from birth, across from the
Bethel church in the Nazareht neighborhood, although he is not a member
of the church. Now he dedicates many hours of his time talking to the

"I've never seen anything like what's happening here today. At first we
had some concern, but the people are very quiet and very well educated.
They are very friendly," he confirms.

The help that the community has given to migrants has been spontaneous.
People bring clothes or food, "according to what everyone can because we
are humble people," says Martinez. "But we've realized what is thay are
going through and so we are collaborating," he reflects.

The arrival of the Cubans is also leaving a deep impression in the way
many Costa Ricans see the world. "Knowing them has allowed us to learn a
very different reality to ours and also different from what we could
imagine," says a solicitous neighbor. "Here on the roof of my house I
have an antenna for television and they tell me that in their country
satellite dishes are prohibited, and thus I realize what they are
looking for in freedom" he says.

A vehicle from the firm Movistar is parked front of the shelter. Mr.
Benavides, a sales agent, is satisfied with his success in selling
phones, SIM cards and recharges to the Cubans. "Since we learned that
the shelters were filled with these migrants we assumed that they
probably wanted to communicate with their families."

The employee says that "there is a commercial interest, but the first
thing that got us here was the desire to help." He adds, "It's amazing
how they know the brand names, they are modern people and are eager to

It is not easy to win the confidence of those who have had to sneal
across several borders and fear that what little money they have left
will be taken away or that they will be deceived by traffickers, but
some speak to this newspaper with the familiarity of old friends.

Julio Cesar Vega Ramirez of San José de las Lajas, is not afraid of
anything. He left Ecuador heading to Colombia without knowing the way,
then by boat to Panama and then to Costa Rica, where he was given a pass
for seven days that has been extended for fifteen more. "With this visa
we can move around the country freely," he says.

The man says that "everyone here has helped us, the church's neighbors,
the organizations. They bring sacks of cassava or bananas without
charging a cent. The Cubans living in San Jose have also brought
donations. " Although he has also had the support of his family in
Miami. "They have sent me the money bit by bit because it is not
advisable to walk around with a lot of money," he explains.

Julio César operated a tire retreading machine. "I came here with my
wife but I left my four children, two grandchildren and my mother." He
said his family was aware of what was going to do. "Although I said
nothing at work for fear that someone would spill the beans and spoil
the plan."

His wife, Maritza Guerra, has a degree in nursing and a master's degree
in comprehensive care for children. For years she has been a nurse in
the pediatric ward of the Leopoldito Martinez Hospital in San José de
las Lajas. It is also pediatric intensive care nurse. "Here we
communicate with our families and friends thanks to wifi zone they
immediately established for us completely free. I would like to ask
those Cubans in exile and on the island to help us, please, do something
for us," she clamors insistently.

In the afternoon, when the sun goes down, the trees are filled with
birds. The noise they make is very different from the sparrows in the
parks of Cuba, because there is a lot of variety and they all sing
differently. Birds coexist with each other and fly freely from one side
of the border to the other.

*Translator's note: Para atrás, ni para coger impulso. Roughly: No going
back, not even to gain momentum (for another charge).

Source: Stories of Life on the Border / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
Translating Cuba -

A Matter of Law

A Matter of Law / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on November 28, 2015

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 November 2015 — The crisis that has
led to a bottleneck of more than 2,000 Cubans on the border between
Costa Rica and Nicaragua these last few days brings to the forefront the
issue of the incessant flow of émigrés from Cuba to the US, creating a
delicate collateral diplomatic situation between the two Central
American nations.

Belatedly, as it is usual for the Cuban government to react to important
situations that they would rather avoid, Cuba's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs has published a statement attributing all the causes for the
exodus to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the "wet foot/dry foot" policy
that the U.S. applies to those who flee the Island.

In short, according to the official Cuban version, responsibility for
the growing tide of migration from Cuba to that country belongs entirely
to the US administration, which is jeopardizing the process of
reconciliation and dialogue between the two governments which began in
December, 2014.

Here is a situation where a foreign power applies a law that incites in
Cubans the irrepressible urge to embark on an uncertain and dangerous
adventure. This portrayal, attributed to hundreds of thousands of Cubans
who emigrate to the US, or aspire to do so, depicts them with the
regrettable inability to reason for themselves, and, paradoxically,
calls into question the much-vaunted national sovereignty, since it
assumes that a law established by a foreign power is a necessary and
sufficient condition to cause what is becoming a gradual and constant
emptying of the Island.

Meanwhile, the official press ventriloquists have been ordered to
support their boss, so very astute comments from its analysts have
started to appear on television news programs and in newspapers. For
Castro-style journalism, all resources are valid, starting from the most
rude and cynic comment, offensive to the Cuban people, that mocks the
national misfortune that this never-ending escape represents: from
"Anyone who has $ 15,000 to pay a smuggler is not fleeing from poverty,"
was the comment of Oliver Zamora, a yeomen of the guard, on last
Friday's primetime broadcast of the National Television News; to the
reductionist, untimely and manipulative "opinion" article – "The Cuban
Adjustment Act. From the escape to the stockade" – by Ricardo Ronquillo,
in Sunday's Juventud Rebelde.

Both pawns stick to the Master's script that points to the Cuban
Adjustment Act – enacted and in effect since 1966 – as the cause and
continuation of the problem, and the government's defense is sustained
on that aspect, which motivates the challenge of debating from a legal

Thus, accepting that such a law affects the Cuban exodus to some extent,
and mercifully leaving aside the element that one of its greatest
beneficiaries is precisely the Cuban government, whose coffers swell
each year with the merciless tax it imposes on contributions sent from
emigres to their relatives in Cuba, it is unquestionable that the
resolution of this problem is in the hands of the Cuban authorities, as
well as from a legal perspective, that is, revamping the laws in our

The absolute power of the Cuban regime places it in a privileged
position when it comes to legislating, since the General-President is
not required to consult anyone nor to have the approval of any parallel
power to enact laws at will. If Castro II wants to defeat the formidable
power he attributes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, and if he wants to
avoid the shameful humiliation that a foreign law has greater
convocation capability for the Cuban people than does the Revolutionary
discourse of over half a century, he should make deep legal changes in
favor of the governed, so that they benefit from our laws and not from
the laws of others.

For instance, the Foreign Investment Law could be revised to acknowledge
the rights of Cubans to invest in their own country, given that, as
Oliver Zamora has stated, Cubans are not fleeing poverty, since they
have funds to pay traffickers. It is logical to offer them the
opportunity of a better way to invest their money in their own country.
Incidentally, tax laws could be relaxed to establish soft taxing for
Cuban investors, offer them low-interest, long-term credit, and enact
favorable import tariffs for to improve the performance of their businesses.

The labor codes could also be reviewed to grant Cuban workers the right
to strike, the right to unionize, and the right to enter into contracts;
a new agrarian reform could be enacted that places ownership of the land
in the hands of producers who work it; the period of time that Cubans
can remain abroad without losing the right to return to their home
country when they wish could be declared unlimited; provisions that
establish the loss of citizenship could be repealed and the full right
of all Cubans residing in Cuba or abroad to enter and leave the national
territory and to participate in elections could be recognized.

Other legal issues that are entirely dependent on the will of the Cuban
government and not on that of the U.S. are those concerning the
consecration of those rights intrinsic to democratic societies, such as
freedoms of expression, of opinion and of the press, and the multiparty
system, just to mention the most elementary.

I am convinced that the new scenario that would appear in Cuba from this
revamping would greatly discourage the disorderly stampede of emigrants
to the United States. The suitability of Cuban laws would eventually
defeat the evil power of the Cuban Adjustment Act and acknowledge the
Cuban establishment. It would ultimately become clear that, in effect,
the Cuban emigration problem is only a matter of law.

Source: A Matter of Law / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba -

Family of political prisoner in Miami refuses to visit Cuba

Family of political prisoner in Miami refuses to visit Cuba
Cuban politics continues to divide families across Florida Straits
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter,
Andrea Torres, Reporter,
Published On: Nov 20 2015 10:30:02 PM EST Updated On: Nov 23 2015
02:06:42 PM EST

The small town of Rafael Freyre, about a nine hour drive east of Havana,
has a painful history.

Local 10 News' William Damas has links to this town. He asked the crew
to visit the home where his mom grew up, and where his grandmother --
100-year-old Georgina Peña Ochoa -- was on her dying bed. He has never
met them.

His father, Roberto Damas, was a political prisoner, after Fidel Castro
took power. He found refuge in South Florida and returned during the
Mariel Boatlift to rescue relatives. He hasn't been back.

"It's very emotional, because it's like this family that I know, but
don't know," said the chief photographer, who was born in Miami and has
never been to Cuba.

The Local 10 News crew visited Damas' mom in Miami and her sister in
Rafael Freyre. He is the father of two boys born in Miami, so he asked
the crew to take a video message to introduce the boys to his family in

After Damas' aunt Rina Guerrero Peña saw the video she was in tears. She
hasn't seen her sister Idania Damas Peña in about 45 years.

"Even though they don't know me, I love them and every night I pray for
them," she said. "It's very difficult to explain."

In Miami, Damas said she too misses her sister. She talked about the
many sleepless and tearful nights that she experienced after leaving the
island with her first born son in 1970.

"I never abandoned them," she said about her continuous efforts to help
her relatives despite not being able to travel to Cuba.

She has missed birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals. Her
decision to not travel to to the island to say goodbye to her dying
mother was gut wrenching, she said.

"I just couldn't," she said. "Even though it hurts my soul, I couldn't."

A day after leaving the province of Holguin, the Local 10 News crew
drove through a storm and witnessed a sharp double rainbow. That was
when the phone rang and they learned that Damas' grandmother, Georgina
Peña Ochoa, was dead. And there were tears on both sides of the Florida

"It's very tough to have endured 45 years without seeing them," she said
in Miami. In Cuba, Guerrero said, "we haven't lost the hope of maybe one
day being able to see each other again."


In 1857, the Sanchez family, from St. Augustine, Florida, established
the Central Santa Lucia, according to Cuban historians. The sugar cane
mill grew into the Santa Lucia Company, S.A., and had a railroad
connection by 1880.

Georgina Peña Ochoa was a toddler when Cuba entered World War I and
there was a pause to the expansion of American businesses in Cuba.

She lived through six presidencies -- Mario Garcia Menocal, Alfredo
Zayas, Gerardo Machado, Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro and Raul
Castro, who outlived her.

She probably saw Santa Lucia's young dance to the Orquesta de Felix
Gonzalez, Cuban musicians who sold records in the United States. And
likely listened to beats of the hip Cuban Jazz bands. The U.S. and Cuba
had close ties.

Peña Ochoa probably never imagined that her daughters would be separated
by politics. That was until Fidel Castro's administration took over the
sugar mill in the 1960s and paranoia set in. Her son-in-law was a
political prisoner.

Her Santa Lucia changed names. Castro said he wanted to honor the memory
of Rafael Freyre Torres, whom he said followed him to the July 26, 1953
Moncada attack in Santiago de Cuba. The assault became known in Cuban
schools as the birth of the island's socialist revolution.

Freyre was born in Santa Lucia. He left school in fourth grade and
worked in construction. After learning how to use a weapon in Havana, he
followed Castro and died in Cejas de Limones.

Like many Cubans on the island, Peña Ochoa lived long, but not long
enough to see her family reunited.

Source: Family of political prisoner in Miami refuses to visit Cuba |
Cuba Coast to Coast - Home -

IMO, Person of the Year in Cuba

IMO, Person of the Year in Cuba
Yoani Sanchez - Award-winning Cuban blogger
Posted: 11/28/2015 2:14 pm EST Updated: 11/28/2015 4:59 pm EST

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 November 2015 - December will
soon be here and numerous lists of this year's protagonists will be
published in Cuba. A difficult task in a country that over the last 12
months was visited by a pope, a secretary of state and even by Mick
Jagger. However, the person who takes all the palms is not a politician,
a religious leader or a rocker. It is a mobile application with a short
name and a profound impact on our reality: IMO.

With over 150 million accounts worldwide, this video-call tool burst
into our daily lives mid-year to shorten distances and reunite families.
With its simple interface and capacity to adapt itself to the low speeds
of our internet connection, IMO has achieved what insularity and
politics has limited for so long: contact with the world.

Headquartered in Palo Alto, the startup responsible for this tool for
text chats, voice and video, was founded by one of the first ten Google
employees, who says that he likes working "on challenging projects." A
maxim that has been extensively tested in Cuba, where despite the
technological obstacles the app has spread virally through smartphones
and tablets.

Anyone who says that technology distances us and locks us in solitude,
can wander through the wifi zone on Havana's La Rampa and see the tears
and smiles this utility gives rise to when Cubans connect between here
and there. The emotions are very much as if they were face to face.
There is no coldness on the screen, nothing dehumanizing on the
keyboard, when they are the only chance of encountering the people we love.

The corner of Infanta and 23rd, any Saturday. A lady enjoys the son she
hasn't seen for two decades, checks out his latest hair dye, while the
emigrant's sister has brought the dog who also participates in the
moment. At their side, a young man no more than 20 insistently repeats,
while holding the phone in front of his face, "Don't delay, get me out
of here." Through IMO we have tackled, in recent months, our hopes and
our despair.

Even prostitution with foreigners has become more technological through
the new utility. Now "the merchandise" is evaluated before the customer
arrives in the country. The other day a young girl swept a tablet with a
camera over her whole body while, on the other side, someone with a
German accent asked if it was true that she was over 18.

However, IMO deserves the title of Person of the Year above all because
of the key role it has played in the migratory crisis facing close to
4,000 Cubans on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While the
official media remained silent about these rafters-on-foot, this tool
has kept their families on the island informed about the fates of their
loved ones trapped in Central America.

Source: IMO, Person of the Year in Cuba | Yoani Sanchez -

Cuban outflow unabated

Editorial: Cuban outflow unabated
Herald Staff Sunday, November 29, 2015

The resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and
Cuba shows that the Law of Unintended Consequences is still in effect.
The flow of emigrants from Cuba to the United States is surging.

Since 1966, Cubans have enjoyed — if that's the right word for a
grueling experience — unique treatment under U.S. immigration law, the
so-called "wet foot-dry foot" policy. If you're intercepted at sea,
you're sent back to Cuba; if you make it to shore, you can stay and win
legal residency after a year.

In the first nine months of 2015, more than 27,000 Cubans entered the
United States, a 78 percent increase over the same period of 2014.

The new flow results from a fear in Cuba that U.S. policy will harden,
though Secretary of State John Kerry said in July there were no plans to
do so. That's the correct policy right now, though some useful
amendments could be made.

Increasingly, Cubans are arriving through Mexico after flying to
Ecuador, which does not require entry visas. (The Cuban government gave
up its requirement for rarely granted exit visas three years ago.) From
Ecuador they move across Mexico to Texas, avoiding the dangers of an
ocean voyage though facing new ones of jungle territory and venal officials.

The Associated Press this past week sent a fascinating dispatch from
Costa Rica describing how cheap cellphones enable Cubans to warn
compatriots behind them of particular dangers and to stay in touch with
helpful relatives in the United States.

Some critics of "wet-foot, dry-foot" want to exclude Cubans who leave
for economic reasons, which would ignore Cuba's ongoing economic
persecution. Not only are there pitifully few ways to run a business,
it's the only country with a maximum wage, $20 per month ($30 for
certain professionals).

The most energetic, resourceful and resilient people in Cuba want to
benefit the United States with those valuable characteristics and skill
sets. Only the transformation of Cuba into a normal country where
entrepreneurship can thrive can change all that.

Source: Editorial: Cuban outflow unabated | Boston Herald -

Lawsuits muddle U.S.-Cuba thaw; nation still owes Florida man $3.2B

Lawsuits muddle U.S.-Cuba thaw; nation still owes Florida man $3.2B
Published: November 27, 2015

It has been six months since the United States removed Cuba from its
list of state sponsors of terrorism, but the legacy of that past
designation has lingered on, hurting attempts to fully normalize
relations between the two nations.

But one important roadblock in U.S.-Cuba relations might be coming to an

During its 33 years on the terror list, Cuba did not have sovereign
immunity, which protects foreign governments from civil lawsuits in U.S.
courts. In that time, U.S. courts have approved an estimated $4 billion
in civil judgments against Cuba and owed to U.S. citizens.

Once cleared of any terror ties by the State Department on May 29, a
six-month waiting period remained for any lawsuits that were in the
process of being filed. That statutory period ends Sunday.

Until paid, despite again having sovereign immunity, Cuban assets that
touch U.S. soil can be seized to settle the claims, holding up regular
commerce between the nations.

But Miami attorney Andrew Hall, who represents Gustavo Villoldo, a South
Florida man owed the lion's share of past judgments — $3.2 billion —
told the Tribune via email that "there is a global settlement in sight!"

Hall did not reply to further emails asking for clarification on when
the settlement would be finalized or what it would entail, so it is
unknown if the Cuban government is paying cash, if the over $200 million
in Cuban assets the U.S. government has frozen will be used or if the
Cuban government is paying the total amount owed or negotiated a smaller

Nor is it known if this global settlement includes the estimated $8
billion in property claims levied against Cuba by those who had their
land, homes and businesses nationalized by the communist government.

Under U.S. law, the Cuban embargo can only be lifted after the two
nations settle the property claims.

Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, an ardent opponent of the Castro-run
Cuban government, said he has heard judgments are being settled on a
case-by-case basis rather than as a whole.

The timing of a deal on the civil judgments could play a role in any
agreement between the United States and Cuba that would allow for
commercial airlines to fly between the two countries for the first time
in over five decades. Currently, only U.S. charter flights take
passengers to and from Cuba.

While not confirmed by either government, analysts believe a sticking
point on the negotiations has been Cuba's right to use U.S. airports.
Because Cuban airlines are state-run, any of its planes that land in the
U.S. could be seized to settle the civil judgments.

In 2003, when a Cuban plane was hijacked and flown to Key West, for
instance, Cuba demanded the plane's return, but it was instead
auctioned. The money was used to settle part of a $27 million judgment
won by a Cuban-American woman who said she unwittingly had married a
Cuban spy as part of his cover.

While none of the known civil suits against the Cuban government were
filed by Tampa-area residents, they continue to affect the area.

Tampa International Airport is a popular hub for charter flights to
Cuba. In fiscal year 2015, 71,462 passengers traveled between Tampa and
the island nation, an increase of 10,000 from the year before.
Commercial flights would likely further increase that business.

And St. Petersburg has sent two delegations to Cuba in the past few
months with an art exchange among the initiatives discussed. Much of
Cuba's iconic and historic art is owned and on display in state-run
museums, meaning the Cuban government would be reluctant to allow its
art to be displayed in the United States without guarantees it wouldn't
be seized to pay off civil judgments.

South Florida's Villoldo, who won a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against
the Cuban government, says his father was forced by Ernesto "Che"
Guevera, a leader of the revolution that seized Cuba in 1959, to commit
suicide to prevent the murder of his family. The family's businesses,
including a General Motors dealership, were nationalized.

Villoldo was awarded $2.8 billion, which has grown to $3.2 billion
because of interest.

Others still trying to collect include the families of Bobby Fuller and
Aldo Vera.

Vera was a high-ranking Cuban police official who attempted to organize
an anti-Castro political group in Puerto Rico, where his family contends
he was gunned down in 1976 by Cuban agents. Vera's family was awarded
$49.3 million.

Fuller was executed by Cuba in 1960 for "counterrevolutionary activity"
in a trial his family contends was a sham. His family was awarded $454

These judgments have remained controversial among the legal community,
with some attorneys pointing out that Cuba was not designated a sponsor
of terror when the crimes occurred, so the government was protected by
sovereign immunity at that time.

In each of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs won by default when Cuba chose
not to defend itself in court.

Because of what he calls "empty chair verdicts," Fernandez, the Tampa
attorney and a Castro opponent, believes that any settlement will
ultimately be for a "nominal percentage" of what was awarded.

Regardless of how much of the estimated $4 billion in civil judgments
against Cuba is paid out through a settlement, said Antonio Martinez II,
a New York-based attorney specializing in Latin America relations, he
expects the nation's government to find ways to recoup its losses.

"Every time we have seized or collected upon Cuban assets, Cuba
strategically responds to recover whatever it perceives was lost and
then some," he said.

For example, Martinez said, when the U.S. seized more than $100 million
in long-distance fees in 2002 to pay some of these judgments, Cuba
"jacked up the price of long-distance calls from 40 cents a minute to
more than $1 a minute."

Similarly, when the George W. Bush administration tightened sanctions
against Cuba to make it impossible for the country to use U.S. dollars
in the international banking system in 2003, "Cuba responded with the
annoying and costly 10 percent surcharge still being collected on all
U.S. dollar exchanges in Cuba, paid for mostly by Americans," Martinez said.

Some attorneys speculated that once Cuba was removed from the sponsors
of terror list and had sovereign immunity restored, it would be
protected retroactively against the existing civil lawsuits.

But according to an email to the Tribune from the State Department,
"Plaintiffs holding existing judgments against Cuba could continue to
pursue attachments to satisfy their judgments."

Source: Lawsuits muddle U.S.-Cuba thaw; nation still owes Florida man
$3.2B | and The Tampa Tribune -

Cuba Lobby Controversy - 4 Outspoken Critics of Cuba's Leadership in Washington

Cuba Lobby Controversy: 4 Outspoken Critics of Cuba's Leadership in
By Lea Terry | Saturday, 28 Nov 2015 09:55 PM

When Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba in 1959, many people fled,
either out of fear or opposition to the new regime. For decades, people
continued to abandon the country, with many seeking refuge in the United
States. Today, some of the country's most powerful people are of Cuban
descent, including several who hold positions as elected officials.
Sometimes referred to as the Cuba Lobby, they typically oppose loosening
restrictions against Cuba until that country improves life for its
citizens. There are some people, however, who have concerns about the
Cuba Lobby's influence on American policy.

The following people have spoken out against key members of the Cuba Lobby.

1. Noah Feldman, Columnist and Law Professor
Writing for BloombergView, Noah Feldman addressed U.S. President Barack
Obama's plans to normalize relations with Cuba. He argued that the
lobby's success hinged on the vigor with which it pursued its cause and
its generous support for politicians that shared its views. "The Cuba
lobby's success has reflected a deep truth of American politics: where
there's a concentrated interest on one side of an issue, and only a
diffuse interest on the other, the concentrated interest wins."

2. Representative Jim McDermott, D-Wash.
When 6-year-old Cuban Elian Gonzalez was rescued from the ocean off
Florida in 1999, Fidel Castro portrayed the incident as a kidnapping and
maintained the boy belonged in Cuba with his father. Those against the
Castro regime, however, depicted Gonzalez as a refugee who should be
given asylum. Speaking a year after the incident and just after the
boy's return to Cuba, Representative Jim McDermott, D-Wash., referred to
what's called the American-Cuban hard-liners, saying "They showed what
they were really all about. They were ready to sacrifice one of their
own kids, and they didn't really care about separating him from his
father," The New York Times reported.

3. Max Castro, Sociologist at the University of Miami's North-South Center
Also speaking just after the return of Elian Gonzalez, Max Castro said
that the boy's situation created doubt in the minds of some Americans
about the long-held hard-line policy against Cuba. The New York Times
quoted him saying: "Americans have basically said it's a policy that
hasn't worked, and it's inconsistent with the rest of our foreign policy.''

4. Christopher Sabatini, Editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, Senior
Director of Policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas
In a 2014 commentary for Foreign Policy magazine, Christopher Sabatini
criticized the Cuba Lobby's response to anyone who questioned the
efficacy and relevance of the decades-long embargo against Cuba:
"Unfortunately, but not unpredictably, these reasonable calls for a
public debate on Cuba policy have been met with distortions and personal
attacks, as if even daring to raise the question of the efficacy of the
monolithic 52-year-old embargo – the likes of which Washington has never
applied on any other country – is akin to treason."

Source: Cuba Lobby Controversy: 4 Outspoken Critics of Cuba's Leadership
in Washington -

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Alarm Bells on the Route of the Illegal Market

Alarm Bells on the Route of the Illegal Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma
Posted on November 28, 2015

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 27 November 2015 – Children's clothes
and sneakers were a part of the goods being called out by an illegal
vendor this Thursday on Galiano Street in Havana. Although it is just
four days until the migratory restrictions on Cubans announced by
Ecuador take effect, alarm has already spread among merchants and "mules."

The news of the new visa requirement for Cubans, starting on December 1,
has fallen like a bucket of cold water, and not just among those who
were planning to leave with Quito being the first step to their final
destination: the United States. The bad news also affects a wide network
in importing, distribution and sale of illegal goods that range from
cleaning supplies to sophisticated appliances.

This Friday, when there are still no tangible effects of the change, the
vendors already anticipate a drastic fall in their merchandise and
customers fear the loss of variety in clothing and footwear now
available on the illegal market. On the street, many speculate that the
probability that prices will rise in the coming days and will trigger
sales, especially so close to Christmas.

The mules who arrive in Havana on the Taca flight that landed shortly
after five in the afternoon on Thursday felt fortunate. Coming from
Quito, after a stop in San Salvador, the Cubans felt like shipwreck
survivors and were received with relief by their families outside the

The luggage belt was full of the so-called bolas – suitcases full of
clothes, shoes and home appliances, wrapped in nylon in the airport of
origin. The customs dispatch the bolas first and the passengers with
suitcases have to wait behind the priority of the obvious freight
traffic. Despite strict legislation approved in September 2014 on
non-commercial imports, a whole network of corruption guarantees that
the merchandise passes through the controls without major incidents.

A young man of 32, who asked to remain anonymous, was one of the
fortunate ones who ended his trip to Ecuador without legal holdups. "We
arrived just in time," he told 14ymedio on his arrival at Terminal 3 at
Havana's José Martí International Airport, where he heard about the
announcement of the new restrictions on Cuban nationals entering
Ecuador. "There was a rumor there that they were going to close the door
soon, but we never imagined it would be so soon," he added.

The boy's luggage contained everything from Christmas wreaths to a
carpenter's saw. "I should have risked bringing more stuff, because now
I don't know when I'll be able to travel," he lamented while his cousin
helped him to push two carts full of bolas and boxes between which a
flat screen TV also peeked out.

From now on Ecuador will apply the same restrictions as Panama, Mexico
and the other nearby nations, which already require Cubans to have a
visa to enter the country. Instead, holders of Spanish passports or
Cubans with five-year visas to the United States will be able to travel
freely, as before, to all those countries, including Ecuador. For
informal traders, this path was a safe route despite the high ticket
prices, which in the high season can exceed $1,000 US.

The buyers have also benefited from the use of this Ecuadorian trade
route. The high prices of products in state sores push many families to
buy their clothes and shoes in the illegal market, following an
unwritten maxim often shared on this island: priority to individuals,
rather than the State.

A pair of sneakers, which in the hard currency stores cost around 45
convertible pesos (roughly $45 US), can but got for half the price and
of better quality. "You see these Adidas? You can't find them here,"
says Victor Manuel, a high school student who says he lives for clothes.
"That's what matters most to me," he says.

The official press published a note this Friday on the new immigration
rules for Cubans going to Ecuador. In the same issue, an article
criticized the preference for foreign products among Cuban children and
youth. The main reproach is directed directly to backpacks and
accessories with the faces of Barbie dolls which are some of the
products the mules import from Ecuador.

Despite the fears, some traders seem confident that the situation will
be resolved. "We'll find another way, we always have done," assured the
young man who arrived on the Taca flight. The bolas that he brought on
his last trip from Ecuador barely fit in the family car that came to
pick him up at the airport.

Source: Alarm Bells on the Route of the Illegal Market / 14ymedio,
Orlando Palma | Translating Cuba -

Cubans Propose Paying for Air Transport Out of Costa Rica

Cubans Propose Paying for Air Transport Out of Costa Rica / 14ymedio
Posted on November 28, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, 27 November 2015 — A group of Cuban migrants stranded
in the Costa Rican city of La Cruz on the border with Nicaragua, have
sent a letter to the country's government in San Jose, and to other
countries involved in finding a solution to the crisis, asking them to
analyze the option of a "humanitarian corridor" by air, as revealed
Friday in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

Nearly 4,000 Cubans are in the north of Costa Rica where, as of November
14, Nicaragua has blocked their passage to continue on their way to the
United States. The signatories of the document, some 200 people staying
at the de La Cruz Night School assure that most of them have enough
money to meet the cost of the flight.

"Today in La Cruz, Guanacaste province, there are a significant number
of Cuban immigrants who are able to afford to travel without occasioning
any government expenditures," they say. They explain they sold their
homes and belongings before the trip and they have the support of family
and friends abroad.

This letter is in addition to other statements shared through the
Facebook page, "Let the Cubans pass." In a post published this Thursday
from Peñas Blancas, the migrants addressed the Nicaraguan people. "The
decision of President Daniel Ortego not only promotes human trafficking,
but creates a problem where none existed, putting political interests
above human rights," they write.

Just a day earlier, the Cubans sent their "heartfelt thanks" to the
institutions and people of Costa Rica. "At no time has it been our
objective to disturb your tranquility and daily routine, but given the
current circumstances we have been forced to stay longer than expected,"
they explain.

Source: Cubans Propose Paying for Air Transport Out of Costa Rica /
14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Cubans in Nazareht, Costa Rica

Cubans in Nazareht, Costa Rica / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on November 27, 2015

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar (Special envoy), Liberia (Costa Rica), 27
November 2015 — The morning was warm and the Nazareht neighborhood had
been listening for days to the distinctive Cuban accent. This point in
the geography of Liberia, capital of Costa Rica's Guanacaste province,
is now one of the places where dozens of our Cuban compatriots are
waiting to continue their journey to the United States.

At least 70 of them are housed in the premises of the Bethel Assembly of
God Church. This newspaper spoke with Gerardo Obando, Costa Rican and
pastor of the congregation, who detailed the current situation of the
migrants in his care.

Escobar. Have you had any previous experience with migrants?

Pastor Obando. This is the first time that we have had this kind of
emergency. When we were contacted by the authorities of the National
Emergency Commission (CNE) we didn't hesitate to say yes, to be able to
help our Cuban brothers. My wife and I came from a tour of Nicaragua two
Sundays ago and we couldn't cross because the border was closed. We had
to stay one more day on that side and it really bothered us, we were
very sorry for the Cubans.

Especially thinking that there were children, older people, and because
it was raining at the time. We were there, praying for them and it was a
surprise when we arrived here the same Monday and the CNE coordinator
contacted us to ask if we would lend our facilities.

Escobar. Is it a solitary task or are you being supported?

Pastor Obando. Several independent organizations and government
institutions are involved, such as the Red Cross, the National
Children's Trust, the Lions Club and the national Ombudsman, among
others. They have all been hand in hand here with us.

Escobar. Has there been any rejection by nearby residents to the arrival
of so many Cubans?

Pastor Obando. People living here have reacted in a very humane way,
there has been no opposition. They have been lending a hand, bringing
any kind of assistance that may be needed here. Even some who do not
come to the church have baked bread and brought it and milk for the Cubans.

Escobar. Are the migrants are being held here?

Pastor Obando. They are not prisoners here. They have complete freedom
and can come and go. We only have a time when we close the gates, for
reasons of security. On the other hand, they have visas and Immigration
came yesterday and extended their visas for 15 days.

Escobar. Nicaragua officials have hinted that these people are
criminals. Have there been violent incidents in the shelter?

Pastor Obando. We have not had any incidents. There is harmony and they
are very nice people, well educated and very helpful. They have
collaborated with us in fixing some things around the building, they are
eager to work.

Escobar. Do they participate in church services?

Pastor Obando. Yes, many are participating. We are also praying for them
that they may continue their journey to the United States.

Escobar. What have you heard them say they wish for most?

Pastor Obando. The biggest dream of all of them is to reach
freedom. Many of them have dreamt since childhood of a freedom they have
not had.

Source: Cubans in Nazareht, Costa Rica / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
Translating Cuba -