Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Away From “The Honey Of Power” Carlos Lage Focuses On Fighting Mosquitoes

Away From "The Honey Of Power" Carlos Lage Focuses On Fighting
Mosquitoes / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 30 May 2016 – Every evening he emerges
with his briefcase from the place where he purges his fate of being
ousted. Carlos Lage, former vice president of Cuba's Council of State,
works on the campaign against the Aedes aegypti mosquito at the 19 de
Abril polyclinic. Seven years ago he was removed from office and accused
by Fidel Castro of being addicted to "the honey of power," but today he
is an employee of the Ministry of Public Health and avoids talking about
his past.

At 64, Lage barely practices the pediatrics that he specialized in after
studying medicine. His activities as president of the University
Students Federation (FEU) and subsequent responsibility as secretary
general of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) left him no time to
attend patients. After his political downfall, in 2009, he went through
several minor administrative positions in which he has had little
contact with the public.

Currently, the man who is also the former secretary of the Council of
Ministers works in the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology in a
polyclinic that often receives visits from foreign delegations. More
than once, in the hallways, he has run into former colleagues and
diplomats who revered and honored him when rumors suggested he might
become the first vice president.

The name of Lage was among the successors mentioned in the proclamation
with which Fidel Castro announced his departure from power due to health
problems, read out on national media on 31 July 2006. In paragraph six
of that text Lage is called out for his accomplishments, such as being
the "driving force of the energy revolution program" and the management
of its funds. Off the Island, the vice president was seen as a civil
figure with whom it might be possible to negotiate a future transition.

Between 1993 and 2009, from his high position, Lage represented Cuba at
several Latin American summits, in speeches before the United Nations
and at the inaugurations of numerous presidents. Popular humor baptized
him as "the administrator of the madhouse," for showing a certain sense
in the midst of the political delusions that characterized those moments
in Cuba.

However, rather than promote him to the position of first vice
president, in February 2008, Raul Castro named the orthodox Jose Ramon
Machado Ventura, thus sending a clear signal of strengthening the power
of the so-called "historic generation" and avoiding potential
reformers. A Reflection published by Fidel Castro confirmed the
disgrace, when he accused Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque
of having played an "undignified role."

Now, every morning, el benjamín—the youngest son—separated from power
imparts guidance to workers in the campaign against the mosquito that
transmits dengue fever and chikungunya. The rest of the day he receives
complaints from residents of Nuevo Vedado about the fumigators and
medical personnel linked to the inspections for mosquito breeding sites.

Lage's relations with the rest of the polyclinic workers are cordial,
according to what several of his colleagues told this newspaper. Few
dare to remind him of the times when his order was sufficient to appoint
a director or remove an administrator. Often, after work, he offers a
colleague a ride in his red-wine Russian made Lada, a replacement for
the car he kept in his time in power.

In the corridors of the healthcare center he is called "the goodies bag
man," an allusion to his order at the beginning of this century that put
an end to the bags with products like soap, frozen chicken and detergent
that were distributed among healthcare personnel. Scornfully, his
current compañeros remind him of that cut.

Not even in the domino games regularly organized at his home, where he
invites other polyclinic workers, does Lage speak of that 3 March 2009,
when Raul Castro removed him from his position as vice president. He was
also dropped from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and lost
his position as a deputy in the National Assembly of People's Power.

"He will not mention his previous life," an employee of the 19 de Abril
laboratory told 14ymedio. "At first they maintained a visible
surveillance operation" on him, said the employee, but "over time it has
been lessened."

An attempt to obtain statements from Lage himself received no
response. "That man knows that silence is what keeps him alive,"
commented his colleague.

Source: Away From "The Honey Of Power" Carlos Lage Focuses On Fighting
Mosquitoes / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba -

Without Haste and With Many Pauses

Without Haste and With Many Pauses / Somos+, Joanna Columbie

Somos+, Joanna Columbié, 24 May 2016 — The Cuban economic model, one
that is imprecise, vague, and very particular to Cuba, does not manage
to meet the needs of the Cuban people. The nominal wage does not come
close to the actual salary that a Cuban citizen needs to cover their
basic necessities and, in this respect as in many others, the Guidelines
set forth in the previous Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba have
failed to be implemented effectively; according to official figures,
only 21% of the proposals have actually been carried out.

In Cuban president Raúl Castro's own words, this whole process should be
carried out "without haste but without pause," however we should ask
ourselves whether this phrase can ever be realistic for the Cuban
people. Having to wait over 57 years for the promises made by Fidel
Castro in his speech known as "History Will Absolve Me" to be put into
effect puts this current wait into question.

It is not the first time that a similar process has been implemented in
Cuba. Appearing to recognise the mistakes that have been made, necessary
rectifications of mistakes and negative trends have been set out on more
than one occasion, in each case with the apparent objective of
distracting the population, making sure that their attention is diverted
away from the serious economic and social situation that has plagued the
country at various points in history.

And now Raúl is back at the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba
(known as the PCC) with the same discourse. Nothing has changed and in
his speech he repeats this same fateful phrase that has led to many a
frustrated hope for the people of Cuba and many a useless plan.

Part of the population hoped that this 7th Congress would bring change,
change that has to happen sooner or later, but we did not think that it
would come via a party that has lost its reason for being in this
society, if it ever had one. Remaining in the same political confinement
to which we are accustomed will not be a sufficient reason for the
opposition movements in Cuba to walk step by step towards necessary
change, even though the communists finish their congress in the same way
it started: without haste and with many pauses.

Translated by E Hill

Source: Without Haste and With Many Pauses / Somos+, Joanna Columbie –
Translating Cuba -

Campaign Against the Mosquito

Campaign Against the Mosquito / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 30 May 2016 — On my planet, Cuba, dengue fever has been
brought on by unsanitary conditions, which in turn were brought on by
the revolution. Neglect and abandonment have caused the Aedes aegypti
mosquito to proliferate from buildings abandoned due to collapse, from
leaks in water mains, from uncollected piles of trash, and from plastic
bottles and cans accumulating in roofless houses and open spaces in the
Now the public relations campaign to eradicate the mosquito has almost
become a joke. The government blames citizens, attacking the symptoms
rather than the causes.


Infestatations Detected

– In the Cimex currency exchange office on Santa Catalina between
Parraga and Poey streets in the Tenth of October district, three larvae
and two adults (in a plastic water bottle).

– In the Camilo Cienfuegos workplace, an Inder branch, on First between
8th and 10th streets in the Plaza de la Revolucion district, three
adults (in bathroom walls and the building entrance) eliminated.

– In the Comunales office in the Santiago-Rincon people's council at
194th between 407th and 409th in the Boyeros district, one adult
captured in flight.

Please carefully read the notice above, published in the weekly
Tribuna, and tell me honestly if this is serious or a joke that "got out
of hand."

Source: Campaign Against the Mosquito / Rebeca Monzo – Translating Cuba
- http://translatingcuba.com/campaign-against-the-mosquito-rebeca-monzo/

Soldiers in Business - Bad Deal

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Cubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 May 2016 – The survival of
the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals
who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the
general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez
Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro's grandsons, invoices more
than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard
Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive
taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills,
telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that
were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it
governs tourism, one of the country's main sources of foreign income.

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in
FAR's enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning
and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the
Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company "Ernesto
Guevara," in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the
Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept
General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries
throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called "the
most profound and transcendent change to the economy," copied capitalist
forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock
companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special
Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of
its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed
that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter
the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an
economic strategy. After Raul's succession, the extension of business
improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term
strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that
implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs
and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to
general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to
extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the
unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not
compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their
businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to
face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state
resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying
orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal.
Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for
unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to
learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not
governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and
managing a country's economy efficiently is something else, although
both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects
the system's wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the
not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they
contribute to the system's continuity. But they will always be stalked
by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and
corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the
proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their
successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez

*Translator's note: An allusion to Cuba's hero of independence José
Martí's words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle:
"A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded."

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez –
Translating Cuba -

Colombia Repatriates Undocumented Cuban Couple Who Arrived From Ecuador

Colombia Repatriates Undocumented Cuban Couple Who Arrived From Ecuador
/ 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 May 2016 – A Cuban couple who arrived
from Ecuador, were repatriated to the island by the Colombian
authorities this Sunday, after being detained in the center of the
country without proper documentation.

Leira Valle Piedra and Yoandy Boza Canal, ages 19 and 23 respectively,
entered Colombia through its border with Ecuador with the intention of
joining the Cubans who are in the town of Turbo, in Antioquia
Department, but they were discovered two hours from Medellin and
transferred to Pereira, where they were informed they would be returned
to Cuba.

"They told us it will be the same for all Cubans who are in Colombia
without a visa," Leira Valle told 14ymedio. She said that they decided
to cross into Colombia with the aim of continuing the journey to the
United States, where they have family. "They refused to renew my
husband's visa in Ecuador so we had to leave there," she said.

The deportation to Cuba happened after Colombia Migration issued a
statement on 25 May in which it expressed that the new measures that the
country was taking in the face of human trafficking are beginning to
show good results.

The new actions consist of an increase in checkpoints both along
highways and at border points. The authorities referred to the new
irregular migration routes they detected in the departments of Nariño,
Huila and Amazonas.

The communiqué also said that more than 150 migrants were deported in
recent days to their countries of origin or to the location where they
had entered Colombia.

With regards to hundreds of Cubans who are being housed in a warehouse
in Turbo the text was categorical: "Colombia Migration and the National
Government will not facilitate any aircraft to transport them to a
different place that is not the border where they entered Colombia or
their place of origin. To do otherwise would be contributing to the
criminal bands of human traffickers.

In 2016 alone, the town of Turbo has discovered more then 3,700
irregular migrants. Most of them obtained a safe conduct giving them 10
days to pass through the country but, after the closing of the border
with Panama to the avalanche of Cubans and migrants from other
continents, the Colombian government has decided to deport the
undocumented to their countries in origin.

In response to the request for information on the case, the
communications office of Migration Colombia told this newspaper that,
due to the internal policies that manage the institution, they can not
address the issue only from the Cuban problem, "every time, for the
Colombian state these people are victims of migrant trafficking networks
and we would be 'revictimizing' them."

Source: Colombia Repatriates Undocumented Cuban Couple Who Arrived From
Ecuador / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -

Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream?

Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream?
May 31, 2016
By Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) - For half a century after Fidel Castro's 1959
revolution, Cuba's marketing was limited to patriotic propaganda and its
most ubiquitous brand was not Coca-Cola but late revolutionary hero
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, daubed on walls across the island.

Now, market-style reforms to expand the private sector mean a blossoming
of small businesses from cobblers to barbers and bars seeking to haul in

Havana streets that used to be pitch dark at night are lit up by neon
signs advertising restaurants or spare rooms in private homes.

"It was unknown territory, going through the steps of opening up a
business, where promotion is key," said Erick Carballo, 26, who opened a
beauty salon in Havana last August.

Outside, a sign reads "Kerabana" in blue and the walls inside are
painted cheerful orange. Mirrors create an airy feel while flyers list
the prices of manicures and waxes.

In a stark sign of the change, Martin Sorrell, the fast-talking boss of
the world's biggest advertising group WPP, gave aspiring creatives a
master class on the industry and how they can develop it on the
communist-run island.

He brandished data, graphs and drawings of wine labels to explain the
value of brands to a rapt audience that grew up insulated from the 20th
century's branding revolution.

"Cuba has amazing beaches, and produces excellent rum. But many other
countries have beaches and make rum. So the question is 'why Cuban?'"
asked Sorrell. "The answer, again, is investment in the brand."

But tourists who see the absence of gaudy hoardings as boosting the
appeal of its graceful cities and rolling countryside should not worry
just yet.

Local firms' tight budgets and a lingering distrust of capitalist
consumerism in Cuba means agencies such as WPP, which last year became
the first global communications group to set up shop here, are unlikely
to make big money any time soon.

Businesses can only advertise on their own premises and Havana's
handsome architecture is still free of billboards. Along roads, pictures
of Castro or "Che" and slogans like "Homeland or death" remain the norm.

Newspapers and broadcast media are state-controlled and do not run
commercial spots. Only the state and its joint ventures with foreign
firms like Havana Club rum are running integrated advertising campaigns,
mainly abroad.

Restricted and expensive Internet access means few businesses, even
those in the tourism sector generating dollar revenue, can afford to
advertise on the web.

So, young Cuban designers are coming up with "guerrilla" means of
promotion, like offline apps, tee-shirt branding and commercials on El
Paquete, a package of often-pirated media delivered across Cuba on USB

In one video, surgeons wearing face masks lean over, apparently
operating on a client. Yet the patient is a broken phone, not a human,
and the ad is for the "Cellphone Clinic".


All areas of marketing here are new. Before the reforms, businesses like
Carballo's beauty parlor existed but were illegal, so they did not
market themselves and hid in shabby living rooms.

State-run restaurants and shops faced no competition so made little
effort to differentiate.

"Marketing is tricky for us in Cuba because we did not grow up in a
world of supply and demand," Carballo said.

Cuba will likely try to keep advertising low-key and consumerism in check.

"The most important thing is that marketing does not invade our daily
space," said Sergio Pena Martinez, head of the Institute of Design that
teaches marketing, Cuban-style. He compared ads in the United States to
a "virus."

Cubans need information to make informed decisions about what restaurant
to go to for example but they do not need adverts interrupting
television or radio, endlessly generating more consumer wants, he said.

Some of the old guard already feel things have gone too far.

"Our country has turned into a store of adverts and signs," grumbled
Roberto Gomez, a 78-year old Communist Party member. "I would never have
imagined this."

So far, several global communications agencies have assigned teams to
Cuba but only WPP has opened up. It has yet to announce any business deals.

Experts say there is scope for the big agencies to step up marketing of
Cuban-foreign joint ventures in rum, cigars and tourism. The government
will also likely need market research as it seeks to boost exports and
foreign investment to revitalize the moribund economy.

"The pace is set by the government, we can't really take many
initiatives on our own," Sorrell said in an interview, adding that talks
with Havana were "very constructive".

Marketing may itself become a revenue earner in a country with a highly
educated workforce and low salaries. Freelance designer Fidel Lezcano,
28, said around 60 percent of his business came from abroad. Most
recently, he designed a website for a Mexican craft store.

Still, designers face challenges, such as Internet access. A decent
connection at home costs as much as $500 a month, so Lezcano works on
his laptop at an open-air Wi-Fi hotspot.

But in a country that some believe has the highest number of artists per
capita in the world, they hold an ace card.

"Expressiveness, creativity is intrinsic to Cuban culture," said
Lezcano. "That's our strength."

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Kieran Murray)

Source: Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream?

Cuba’s Greatest Problem

Cuba's Greatest Problem
May 30, 2016
Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — A person I hold in high regard recently expressed their
opinion which, at the time, I thought was a little bit too radical:
"Cuba's main problem is the Wet foot/ Dry foot Policy. Because of it, we
Cubans feel like we aren't responsible for changing for what negatively
affects us in our own country. We resolve everything by jumping into the

After reading the "The Ordeal of a Cuban Rafter" interview written by
Ivette de las Mercedes and the comments made by readers, I felt for the
first time that my friend's opinion was sadly true.

Jorge Mendoza Correa's story shook me to the point that I found myself
wondering how I could help him and other survivors of this horrible
experience. I don't believe it's impossible to organize a collection,
even amongst HT writers or readers, even though we're just ordinary
Cubans and each and every one of us only gives what we can.

However, the most serious problem we Cubans have is the misleading
temptation to believe that leaving is the only way to change our lives.
And it's becoming more and more disheartening as columnists (all Cuban)
attack each other in such a way that they lose sight of the real cause,
like always happens with politics.

A few days ago, I saw an excellent film which summarized this with
ruthless accuracy. "The Truth" is told by the actress who interprets
Mary Mapes, a US TV reporter whose prestigious career fell apart after
she questioned the then president George W. Bush's military record.

"Our story was about whether Bush fulfilled his service. Nobody wants to
talk about that. They want to talk about fonts and forgeries. Because
that's what people do when they don't like a story. They point and
shout, question your political beliefs, your objectivity, and hell, even
your basic humanity. And they hope to god the truth gets lost in the
fray. And by the time they've actually finished, after kicking about and
shouting as loud as possible, we can't even remember what the starting
point was."

If there has been mass emigration in Cuba since 1959 because of
"economic issues", it's surely an irrefutable sign of our government's
misguided strategy. Come on, who else are we going to blame? If a
company goes bankrupt, its director will be the first one to be
interrogated; whether he/she was directly responsible or just didn't
foresee the irregularities which led to the company's downfall because
he/she was responsible for supervising the company's business activities.

I've never understood why, in government terms, analysis can be
permeated with relativities, ideologies and even sentiments. It's a
mathematical equation. And supposing that the government's actions were
well-intentioned, because they are human after all, that doesn't
exonerate them in an administrative and political sense because the
presidency of a country involves great privileges as well as duties. You
can't enjoy some of them and shirk your duty on others.

Now we've finally recognized that emigration wasn't and will never be
the solution to the Cuban problem as has been proven by the undisputed
fact that it hasn't stopped.

When I read the news about the migration crisis caused by the recent
waves of Cuban emigrants in Central America, when I see their photos on
posters asking for help, I wonder how they've managed to put themselves
in such an orphan state. Also, when I hear stories like that of Jorge

If a child is born and grows up in a house they are entitled to, if
he/she leaves that house to not face up to arbitrary paternal authority,
if he/she puts himself/herself in the position of a beggar asking to be
let in a house that isn't his/hers, the first ones to blame for the
hardship are his/her parents who have the legal responsibility to ensure
that the child has the necessary conditions for their health and

In the case that the neighbor takes the person in, whether out of pity
or because they want to exploit their situation, does that absolve
his/her parents' negligence? I can't imagine a judge delivering a
sentence to a neighbor for having taking someone else's child in and
pardoning the child's biological parents.

Those immediately responsible in second place for the Cuban problem are
us Cubans for being prepared to leave our native island and to convert
ourselves into global outcasts. How have we got to the point where we no
longer feel like our country isn't our homeland, how our house isn't and
will never be home? Traveling and emigrating are our natural rights.
However, the dangers that Cubans face and the failure of many shockingly
reveals, and for too long already, that this hemorrhage isn't freedom
but an illness.

I disagree with the interviewee when he says that he'd never had
political problems before. How can it be that, a country's population
thinks traveling in rustic and unsafe boats in the 21st century is a
viable option, fleeing like criminals, is not a political problem?

The interviewee, who is a teacher, may have seen, even in our own media,
how teachers in other countries hold strikes in order to demand their
rights. In Cuba, a similar initiative can cost you your job (like it did
in the case of medical doctor Jeovany Jimenez Vega), interrupt your
studies in a specialist area, six years of unsuccessful legal
complaints, lead you to write a blog and carry out a public hunger
strike in order to recover what you lost without a pay rise.

Changes in doctor salaries, which in their own words are still not
enough, were made much later.

But let us analyze the situation a bit better: a country in economic
crisis, with "symbolic" salaries which pushes its citizens to commit
crimes by stealing state resources, a country with an aging population
and a long history of exile, will obviously have problems with its
social organization, and therefore, politics. And if somebody reacts,
which is natural, one person shouldn't be blamed. Those responsible for
this organization should be blamed. Reacting to a malfunction doesn't
prove that we're to be blamed for the situation, but are victims of it.
We shouldn't feel stigmatized for wanting to protest against what
directly affects us.

We don't get to decide prices, nor salaries, nor the fact that you can't
denounce shortfalls in the government, and now we can't even discuss it
according to "laws" recently announced in the official press.

Yes, it's definitely questionable whether the US maintains a law which
turns the "imperial enemy" into the North Star encouraging the dreams of
many desperate people. However, what can be said of a government who
allows its citizens, like it did back in '94, to throw themselves into
the sea in the same primitive conditions of uncertainty which makes such
an attempt nothing but suicide.

It's well known that during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, it was ordered
that boats sent to collect family members were instead filled with
strangers, including ex-prisoners and schizophrenics. These boats were
put in danger because of this and there are testimonies from those who
were part of the Mariel boatlift who tell us how they saw a whole crew
sink, not only because the boats were overcrowded but because the Cuban
government gave the order to depart once weather conditions started to
go bad.

But what does that matter; the facts don't matter when we can be
distracted with finger pointing and the villification of those writing.
And the worst thing is, even those who are supposedly concerned about
the island's future get involved in this neverending fistfight
(including the eternal socialism-capitalism dichotomy), while our fellow
citizens continue to die at sea. Statistics are not published and maybe
not even archived. The only ones to suffer this pain and loss are Cuban


Source: Cuba's Greatest Problem - Havana Times.org -

On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution

On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution
By Editorial Board May 30 at 7:58 PM

IDAEL FUMERO Valdés is not someone you'd expect to see as an honored
guest of the U.S. military. As chief of investigations for Cuba's
National Revolutionary Police, a part of the military-controlled
Ministry of the Interior, he plays a key law enforcement role in a state
where beating and arresting human rights activists is considered law
enforcement. Yet there he was at a U.S. naval air base in Key West,
Fla., on April 21, touring the facilities at the invitation of the U.S.
military command for Latin America.

Accompanying Mr. Valdés were senior officials of the Cuban anti-drug
agency and border guards, plus a diplomat. Separately, U.S. officials
have attended a security conference outside the United States with a
Cuban delegation headed by Gustavo Machín Gómez, who was expelled from a
previous diplomatic post in the United States 14 years ago due to his
involvement with a highly damaging Cuban espionage operation against the
Defense Intelligence Agency. Apparently the White House has decided to
let that bygone be a bygone.

Welcome to the brave new world of military-to-military contact with
Cuba, the Obama administration's latest idea for engagement with that
island nation. Direct communications between the two countries' security
forces have been going on for years, of course — in limited, operational
contexts such as avoiding clashes around the Guantanamo Bay naval base
and repatriating Cuban rafters plucked from the sea by the U.S. Coast
Guard. That's necessary and appropriate.

As the Key West visit suggests, however, the administration has a wider
agenda in mind. For the first time, the United States accepted Cuban
participation, alongside military officers from democracies, in this
year's Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Kingston, Jamaica. The
deputy secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, visited
Havana earlier this month to discuss law enforcement cooperation. At a
conference on the benefits of expanded contacts Thursday sponsored by
the American Security Project think tank, a retired Army colonel
suggested that the United States could seek information from Cuban
military intelligence about North Korea and other countries.

Latin American military and police crave the legitimacy that comes from
ties with their U.S. counterparts. A great bipartisan achievement in
U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America over the past three decades has
been to condition military cooperation and assistance increasingly on
respect for the rule of law and human rights — rather than turn a blind
eye to military abuses in the name of either anti-communism or the war
on drugs, as U.S. officials so often did in previous years.

Today, in a hemisphere where military dictatorship was once widespread,
no generals rule. The exception is Cuba, where Gen. Raúl Castro's word
is law. Normalizing military-to-military ties between the United States
and Cuba, for the sake of fighting drugs or other "common threats,"
would imply that civilian rule doesn't matter so much to us anymore —
that Cuba's military is morally equivalent to its hemispheric
counterparts — when, in fact, it is deeply complicit in political
repression and corruption.

Legislation pending in Congress would block full military-to-military
normalization until Cuba democratizes. At a time when Cuba's beleaguered
civilian democracy activists need unequivocal U.S. moral support, the
administration and outside supporters of its Cuba policy should not be
eager for potentially compromising relationships with the Cuban people's
uniformed oppressors.

Source: On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution - The
Washington Post -

A Cuba cruise travel guide: Everything you need to know before you go

A Cuba cruise travel guide: Everything you need to know before you go
Sun Sentinel

So you're thinking about taking a cruise to Cuba.

As the Fathom ship Adonia launches a schedule of biweekly cruises from
Miami to Cuba, passengers will find a few changes in scheduling and
activities from the inaugural May 1 trip, the first to the island by a
U.S.-based passenger ship in nearly four decades.

Four weeks ago, when the first cruise ship in more than 50 years sailed
from the United States and around Cuba, the Sun Sentinel's Mike Clary
was aboard. He shared the story of the historic journey aboard the MV
Adonia, and you can find the reports at SunSentinel.com/CubaCruise.

With the 704-passenger ship set to leave PortMiami every other Sunday
for a weeklong voyage to Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, here's
what we learned on the first cruise:


Question: Is traveling to Cuba by ship a good way to see the country?

Answer: In a seven-day trip around the island, passengers spend
two-thirds of their time at sea, and only about 50 hours on the ground
in Cuba.

So a more time-efficient way to explore Cuba is to take a charter flight
directly to Havana, Santiago de Cuba or one of several other Cuban
cities and begin exploring from there. There are several ways to get
around once in Cuba: Cuba's domestic airline, state-run train or bus
systems, or rental cars.

The journey from Havana to Cienfuegos by train, bus or car takes about
four hours or less. On the Adonia, the trip from Havana to the city on
the south coast takes a full day and a half at sea as the ship sails
around the western end of the island. During that time you could be
reading about Cuba, or practicing your salsa moves to live music
onboard, but you won't be seeing Cuba.

If you do decide the cruise option isn't for you, travel agents and
charter companies in the U.S. can make reservations for travel within
Cuba before you go.

Most Adonia passengers, however, are making their first visit to a
communist-ruled island that is just being opened up to American
visitors, and many said the cruise provided a good introduction for
subsequent exploration.

Q. What are the advantages of traveling by ship?

A. After a day of exploring a city on foot, many passengers appreciated
being able to return to a floating hotel at the dock where they could
find a hot shower, a good bed in a comfortable cabin and a cafeteria
that is almost always open. Although there are fine restaurants in
Cuba's major cities, finding light fare while on-the-go touring is not
always easy. There are no Starbucks, no fast-food franchises. So the
availability of consistent and plentiful food on board can be attractive.

The cruise line also will schedule optional onboard programs related to

For those not comfortable wandering the streets of Cuba on their own,
Fathom offers walking and coach tours to places such as national
historic sites, organic farms and artist studios, and outside of
Santiago de Cuba, the shrine to Cuba's patron saint in the town of El
Cobre. The cost of the tours is included in the price of the voyage.

Q. What changes has Fathom made as a result of the first cruise?

A. Cuban tour guides are to get more training after complaints they were
too inflexible and too stingy with information, and onboard programs on
Cuban art, architecture and music will be beefed up, according to
officials of Carnival Corp.'s Fathom brand.

Perhaps most importantly, passengers will be told they are free to leave
conducted tours to wander around on their own.

Travelers also will be offered more choices of activities and
restaurants in each of the Adonia's stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and
Santiago de Cuba.

Q. What is the ship like?

A. Launched in 2001, the Adonia has a capacity of 704 passengers, with a
crew of more than 350. It is smaller than many cruise ships, enabling it
to get into ports such as Havana, too shallow for bigger vessels. Many
of the senior officers are British, and the crew includes men and women
from more than 20 nations, including India and the Philippines.

The Adonia does not have a casino, and there are no Broadway-style
shows. What it does offer, in addition to cruise ship basics such as a
swimming pool, workout room, restaurants and bars, are various classes,
such as Spanish, yoga, Cuban history, meditation and storytelling.

Q. What is the difference between Adonia's three stops, Havana,
Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba?

A. Passengers spend two full days in the Cuban capital of Havana, a
sprawling city of more than 2 million. The historic attractions are
many, the restaurants and privately run "paladares" catering to tourists
first-rate, and there are plenty of taxis, tour guides and shows to see.
In a visit that lasts a total of 36 hours, passengers can get only a
taste of the largest city in the Caribbean, a dynamic cultural mecca
founded in 1514.

Cienfuegos, the Adonia's second stop, is a city of 150,000 residents,
filled with charm and French-influenced neoclassical architecture. Known
as the "Pearl of the South," Cienfuegos invites casual exploration, but
the stop here is brief – just six hours. Many travelers said they would
have enjoyed more time here.

Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba, on the island's eastern
end, is the home of rum and revolution. Flanked by the Sierra Maestra
mountain range, this is where Fidel Castro launched the revolution in
the early 1950s, and is a city with distinctive Afro-Cuban cultural
influences. There is much to see – the old Bacardi factory, and the tomb
of José Martí, for example – but Adonia passengers are on the ground for
only about eight hours. As in Cienfuegos, the stop here is brief,
forcing travelers to make hard choices about how to use their time.

Q. Can I plan my own trip to Cuba?

A. Yes. You can book a flight to Cuba through a charter service. The
flight from Miami to Havana takes about 45 minutes. The average
round-trip fare: $400. The U.S. and Cuba have agreed to license 20 daily
flights to Havana and 10 each to nine other Cuban cities. American
Airlines, JetBlue and several other airlines are applying for those
routes, but they have not been assigned. So you cannot yet call up an
airline and book a flight.

Q. Are hotel rooms available and what are they like?

A. Hotel rooms in Cuba can be in short supply, especially during the
winter season, from November through April. A room at Havana's famed
Hotel Nacional, for example, goes for about $300 U.S. a night. But there
are many rooms for rent in private homes for as little as $30 a night,
often with breakfast. Airbnb, a U.S. website that lists rental lodging,
also now operates in Cuba.

The big hotels in Cuba, including many operated by the Spanish firm
Melia, are very similar to big hotels anywhere. They offer restaurants,
bars, room service and Internet connections. But for a more intimate
look at Cuba, many travelers prefer to stay in private homes, known as
"casas particulares," which are licensed by the government. In these
casas, interactions with residents are often personal. The residents can
tell you about local eating places, share family stories, and talk about
the daily economic struggles of Cubans who have no access to visitors
and tourist dollars.

Q. What about car rentals and driving around Cuba?

A. Rental cars are available, but driving even Cuba's major highways can
be a challenge, thanks to potholes, roadside vendors and free-ranging
animals, not to mention trucks that frequently stop to pick up Cubans in
need of a ride. Signage is inconsistent, and finding your way around the
interior of maze-like cities such as Camaguey can be frustrating.

To explore a city or local region – especially for those without good
Spanish or experience on the island – hiring a car and driver might be a
better option. Negotiate the rate.

Q. Will I need to get a visa before I go to Cuba?

A. Visitors to Cuba are required to have a visa. When you book a trip to
the island, Fathom and other tour operators provide the visas at an
average cost of about $80. Cuban-born travelers who came to the U.S.
after 1970 are required by the Cuban government to have a Cuban passport
in addition to their U.S. passport. The cost of the visa and passport
for those travelers is about $430.

Q. Who can go to Cuba?

A. Americans can go to Cuba as a member of a tour group or as an
individual traveling under one of the 12 categories authorized by the
U.S. government. Those categories include family visits, religious,
educational or humanitarian activities, journalism and professional

Before leaving port, passengers are asked by Fathom to check a box on an
affidavit that most matches the purpose of their trip. But passengers
also may declare they are going on a Fathom-guided program, and agree
that they "will participate in the full-time schedule of educational and
people-to-people exchange activities arranged by Fathom."

This led to some confusion and complaints during the first days in
Havana when some passengers wanted to drop out of the walking tours and
return to the ship. Some tour guides, provided by Fathom's Cuban
partner, the state-run Havanatur agency, told travelers they could not
leave the group. Fathom quickly issued a clarification that passengers
could "self-certify" that they are following U.S. regulations and do
whatever exploring on their own they choose.

No one is watching individual travelers to see if they are engaging in
so-called "people-to-people" activities while on the ground in Cuba. In
effect, the only remaining U.S. ban is on tourist activities, such as
spending all your time at a beach resort.

Q. Is Cuba safe?

A. Yes. Although Cuba doesn't report crime statistics and state-run
media rarely cover crime, rates of violent crime on the island are
considered low, especially compared to the U.S. Violent crimes against
visitors are rare. Uniformed police are visible on the streets in areas
where tourists usually go.

At the same time, Cuba is governed by an authoritarian regime that
restricts speech and assembly. On its website, the U.S. State Department
warns that the Cuban government has detained U.S. citizens it suspects
of engaging in activities perceived as a threat to state security.

Q. Are Cubans welcoming to American visitors?

A. Yes. In all three cities, people greeted Adonia passengers warmly and
seemed eager to engage. The enthusiastic greeting from hundreds of
high-fiving Cubans at the dock in Havana was the highlight of the
journey for many passengers. At Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, there
were many fewer people at the dock, but there were groups providing
traditional music and dancing, and the welcomes were festive.

Q. Is not being able to speak Spanish a problem?

A. The state-run Cuban tourist agencies have guides trained in English,
French, Italian and other languages spoken by visitors from various
countries. Off the beaten tracks, especially in the Cuban countryside,
most Cubans do not speak English. But the friendliness and eagerness of
the Cuban people to engage with arriving Americans made for memorable
encounters even among those who did not have a common language. For
example, Fathom passengers stopped in at barber shops for haircuts,
bought fruit or souvenirs from street vendors far from the central
plazas, and were invited into the homes of people they ran into while
exploring on their own.

Q. Will my cellphone work in Cuba?

A. Some U.S. carriers have or are beginning to make agreements with
ETECSA, the Cuban national telecommunications company, to provide
roaming services in Cuba. Sprint and Verizon, for example, currently
offer roaming services in Cuba.

Specialized mobile phone companies such as Cellular Abroad, Cello Mobile
or Mobal rent phones for use in Cuba, according to the Federal
Communications Commission's website. Fees average $3 per minute of call
time and up to $1.50 per outgoing text message.

You can also rent a Cuban cellphone from Cubacel, ETECSA's mobile phone arm.

Q. What about Internet connections?

A. Many of the larger hotels and resorts across Cuba offer WiFi, as do
scattered Internet cafes, charging varying hourly rates. Increasingly
there are also government-provided hot spots on the street, marked by
groups of Cubans sitting or standing while working their cellphones.
WiFi access costs about $2 an hour, but you need to buy an access card

Aboard the Adonia, Internet service is available for 50 cents a minute
or through a package buy of 250 minutes for $62.50.

Q. Can I spend U.S. currency and use my credit cards in Cuba?

A. Cash is king in Cuba. Cuba has two forms of currency, the convertible
peso, called CUC and used by tourists, and the Cuban peso, used by
Cubans in the markets and ration stores. Money can be changed at the
airport, Havana's seaport and at CADECA exchange houses located in every
city in Cuba.

Although the exchange rate is about 1 U.S. dollar to one CUC, Cuba
imposes a penalty on changing U.S. dollars. Result: $1 U.S. equals about
87 cents in CUC. (Some travel websites advise changing U.S. dollars to
British pounds or Canadian dollars before leaving for a better exchange
rate in Cuba.)

With few exceptions, U.S. credit cards are not accepted.

Q. What can I bring back from Cuba?

A. Travelers returning to the U.S. from Cuba can bring home up to $400
worth of goods acquired for personal use. This includes no more than
$100 worth of alcohol or Cuba's famous cigars.

Q. So how much rum and how many cigars will $100 buy?

A. That depends. The best Cohiba and Montecristo cigars are pricey. But
for $100 you can come home with a bottle or two of Havana Club rum and a
handful of the less expensive smokes.

Q. What should I bring that I might not have thought of?

A. The availability of fast food and sanitary conditions of public
toilets in Cuba may not be what most Americans are used to. Tissues,
hand wipes, and easy-to-carry snacks such as granola bars are easily
packed. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. And it is hot, hotter than
Florida. Bring hats, sun screen. Bottled water is usually available for
purchase for about $1.

Q. Cruises can be susceptible to outbreaks of illness. What should I do
to stay healthy?

A. Wash your hands, thoroughly and often. A small outbreak of suspected
gastroenteritis was reported on the last full day of the Adonia's
inaugural cruise. Hand-sanitizing stations are available throughout the
ship, which follows U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
guidelines for reporting and combating any suspected contagions.

Q. What does a voyage to Cuba on the Adonia cost?

A. Fares start at about $2,700 per person for an interior cabin, and
rise to about $4,000 for an outside cabin with a balcony. Suites start
at about $8,000. While at sea, all meals were provided. In port,
breakfast and dinner were served onboard, while lunch at a Cuban
restaurant was included as part of a guided tour.

Q. So, in conclusion, how was the visit?

A. Cuba is complex, endlessly fascinating, and impossible to fathom in a
visit that is at least partially scripted and measured in hours. Yet
aside from some complaints about the scheduling and conduct of tours and
some confusion over what travelers were permitted to do on their own,
many Adonia passengers said they enjoyed the trip. And that was chiefly
due to their interactions with the Cuban people.

As Sherlock Robinson, a 66-year-old former New York City photographer,
said, "The warmth of the people of Cuba, the reception they gave us, and
then everywhere we went in Havana showed that they have a wonderful
spirit about them. And you don't see that anywhere else."

Source: A Cuba cruise travel guide: Everything you need to know before
you go | In Cuba Today -

Monday, May 30, 2016

“I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler

"I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today," says Berta Soler / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2016 – From early hours Sunday a major police
operation surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the
Havana neighborhood of Lawton, according to denunciations by several
activists from that organization. At least "13 women and four opponents
were brutally intercepted outside the house" and forced into police cars
in the last 13 hours, dissident Luisa Ramona Toscano Kendelan said by
telephone to 14ymedio.

The group that surrounded the property included, as has become
customary, a conga line with music through powerful speakers and signs
that use the opposition campaign slogan "We All March" together with the
phrases "with Fidel," "with the Revolution" and "with socialism."

At several points in the city similar operations prevented the women who
form part of the human rights organization from reaching Santa Rita
Church. Several on-scene witnesses report that at least two Ladies in
White had managed to reach the vicinity of the parish on the western
periphery of Havana.

Minutes before her arrest and in statements to this daily, Berta Soler,
leader of the Ladies in White, declared that she was ready to confront
the risks of leaving her organization's headquarters in order to
exercise the right of "peaceful demonstration." She explained that she
was prepared to go "to prison to await the trial" with which they
threatened her last week for a charge of resisting the authorities.

"I am prepared, I have my blood pressure monitor, my pills, shots,
personal hygiene articles, flip flops … I carry it all. I am again going
to commit the crime they accuse me of, so I expect to end up in the
Manto Negro women's prison."

In the morning hours in the Matanzas province, Lady in White Leticia
Ramos Herreria, who urged agents to take her directly to prison to await
trial, was detained. Nevertheless, the State Security officers responded
to her that "it was still not time."

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: "I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today," says Berta Soler /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -

UNPACU Activists Denounce Raid On Their Homes

UNPACU Activists Denounce Raid On Their Homes / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 28 May 2016 – This week has been one of surprises for
several activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who denounce
that they have been victims of a raid on their homes and the
confiscation of their belongings. The dissidents detailed that the
political police raided three houses in the city of Santiago de Cuba on
Saturday morning and a fourth in Havana on Wednesday.

Ermito Morán Sánchez, an UNPACU activist, confirmed to14ymedio that they
"raided the homes of Carlos Oliva Torres, Yusmila Reyna and Karel Reyes
where they seized printed materials, a camera, and other items in
response to our activities to disseminate the reality of this country
among the people."

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Yusmila Reyna said that at
six in the morning, while her family was sleeping, there was a "knock on
the door." It was the police with "a search warrant for subversive
activities." An officer showed her a paper, but did not allow her to
read it carefully or to take it in her hands. The incident occurred on
12th Street in the Mariana de la Torre neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba.

Reyna managed to read that the order specified that they came to "seize
methods of communication, money, and any other means of
counterrevolution." A total of ten uniformed officers plus two in plain
clothes, who supposedly came to witness the search (Cuban law requires
two civilians to witness such a search), participated in the operation.

The raid lasted over an hour and ultimately they seized working notes,
two laptops, an electronic tablet, two hard drives, a printer, a camera,
"and even receipts for items acquired abroad," according to Reyna.

The activist circulated a text where she says that "acts like these do
not prevent us from continuing our work in defense of human rights and
accelerating the process of democratization of our island."

During the search of her house they also seized a number of issues of
the magazine Coexistence, documents relating to the initiative Otro 18
(Another 2018)—in support of free multiparty elections—and documents
relating to the Roundtable for United Democratic Action (MUAD).

"They took two staplers and the boxes of staples, and a hole-punch. They
didn't leave any document I was working on and warned me that any demand
[for the return of the seized items] would have go to the 'Confrontation
Offices' but that they were not going to return anything."

Meanwhile the dissident Arcelio Rafael "Chely" Molina Leyva said that
Wednesday morning the police arrived to search his home, which serves as
the UNPACU headquarters in Havana.

"They came with several gentlemen in plainclothes and after a thorough
search took three laptops, a battery to recharge cell phones, two mobile
phones, office supplies, news from international agencies, printed civic
material and digital backups," Chely enumerated.

This is the fourth search of this nature by the political police on
UNPACU's Havana headquarters. As a part of the operation they arrested
Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, who despite having a temporary residence
permit for Havana was taken to the third station of the National
Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Santiago de Cuba, where he is still under

Source: UNPACU Activists Denounce Raid On Their Homes / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba -

Silver Airways has big plans for growth in and beyond Tampa

Silver Airways has big plans for growth in and beyond Tampa
Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2016 6:00am

Silver Airways became the only air carrier to offer nonstop flights from
Tampa to Nassau last week.

And they're just getting started.

Silver Airways CEO Sami Teittinen said the Fort Lauderdale-based
discount airliner is pushing forward on major expansion plans over the
next year. The airliner, which considers Tampa one of its main hubs,
wants to be a regular airline option in Cuba. The company wants to
expand beyond Florida and the Bahamas and be a top contender for quick
flights in the Southeast.

Right now Silver Airways operates more routes in Florida and between the
Sunshine State and the Bahamas than any other airline. The company
offers more than 120 daily flights to 26 destinations on a fleet of 22
Saab 340B Plus turboprop aircraft that seat 34.

Silver Airways was born from the ashes of Gulfstream International
Airlines, a small South Florida company that filed for Chapter 11
bankruptcy protection in 2010. The company was bought by a hedge fund
and rebranded as Silver the next year.

Teittinen was in Tampa on Thursday to celebrate the new daily flight to
Nassau from Tampa International Airport, where he spoke with the Times.

Why did Silver Airways want to offer nonstop service to Nassau from Tampa?

We focus on providing safe air travel at affordable fares. We looked at
Tampa and saw that there were a lot of destinations that just weren't
being served today. Nassau was one of them. Well, we used to service
Nassau from Tampa when we were still Gulfstream International Airlines,
but it's been a while since then and we wanted to bring that service back.

We already serve seven different destinations in the Bahamas so this
seemed like a natural extension. No one wants to have to connect in
Miami or Fort Lauderdale if you don't have to.

Silver Airways has been vying to be one of the airlines that will offer
flights to Cuba. Can you tell me more about that?

Our growth plan is going in two directions. The first is to offer
flights to 10 different destinations in Cuba. It is a lot but there are
10 international airports in Cuba. As the market is opening, the plan is
to be there. Right now we're waiting to see if our plans will be accepted.

So what's the other direction for growth?

We want to serve more destinations in the southern Caribbean and more
states surrounding Florida. You'll start to hear more announcements
about that in the next 12 to 18 months. That includes newer aircraft, too.

How does Tampa International Airport compare to other parts of Florida,
like Fort Lauderdale, where you're based?

Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are our key hubs. It's easy for us to serve
more traffic in Tampa for that reason. It's a very convenient airport
and we're very excited to be here during its expansion. It will be very
nice. The airport has been very supportive of our growth plans, too.
Everything in Tampa has been very easy.

When we first started looking at Tampa, we noticed that there are
opportunities to offer flights that are not being served today. That's
mostly because of airline consolidation over the years. Orlando, too, is
experiencing that. But it's great for us.

Tell me more about Silver Airways, for our readers who might not be
familiar with your name.

We're a full-service airline known for providing ultrashort flights. The
average flight time is an hour and 10 minutes, though most of our
flights are really an hour or less. We fly 34-seat aircraft today but
plan to expand that. We're known for our fair price point and nonstop
service. We have arrangements with United Airlines and JetBlue, so
travelers are able to accumulate points for those programs when they fly
with us. We don't offer our own loyalty program. We offer nonstop
service almost everywhere in Florida and the Bahamas, and soon beyond that.

Reach Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com. Follow @SunBizGriffin

Source: Silver Airways has big plans for growth in and beyond Tampa |
Tampa Bay Times -

Waves of Cubans are crossing into Texas

Waves of Cubans are crossing into Texas
By Lomi KrielMay 28, 2016 Updated: May 28, 2016 11:05pm

Cuba to Houston with a flight to Ecuador. From there, he traveled by
bus, boat and foot through Colombia into Panama, including a treacherous
trek through a jungle, before being airlifted to Juarez.
Rodolfo Peña trudged through the muggy Panamanian jungle, full of deadly
jaguars, insects and plants. He tried not to dwell on the murderous
Colombian guerrillas who hide out here, too, and concentrated on making
it to Houston.

Lithe and athletic, the 29-year-old was better equipped for this
dangerous trek last month through 100 miles of near impenetrable forest,
known as the Darién Gap, than many of the roughly 80 Cubans in his group.

"You put a price on your life and that price is way too low," Peña said.
"The jungle has everything."

Like Peña, more than 26,450 Cubans have crossed the Texas border since
October. Roughly 29,000 arrived in fiscal year 2015, 80 percent more
than the year before and quadruple that of a decade ago. The pace of
these northbound migrants has overwhelmed not just resettlement agencies
here but also governments across Latin America. Some countries,
including Panama and Nicaragua, have shut their borders to Cubans,
prompting a refugee crisis that shows no signs of abating.

"We don't have the capacity to serve them all," said Wafa Abdin, vice
president of immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities of
the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The organization has helped more Cubans in the eight months since
October, nearly 1,500, than it did for the 12-month period between
October 2014 and September 2015. It's more than double that was seen in
the same timespan the year before that, and other refugee agencies in
the area report a similar uptick.

Unlike much of the last century, the perilous currents of the Florida
Straits are no longer the forefront of Cuban migration. Instead, most
Cubans risk this harrowing journey from Ecuador to Colombia and up
through the Panamanian jungle to the Texas border. From there, many make
their way to Houston rather than Miami. The influx began seizing
national attention in 2014.

The rush prompted Nicaragua, a close ally of Havana, to close its
borders late last year, creating a bottleneck in Costa Rica. In January,
that country began airlifting as many as 6,000 Cubans to El Salvador and
busing them to Mexico before shutting its front, too.

The crisis simply moved south. In early May, the Panamanian government
similarly banned Cubans as it began daily flights bringing about 4,000
migrants to Juarez, from where they are rushing en masse into
neighboring El Paso. The traffic jam has since moved to Colombia, which
hasn't yet announced what it might do.


Much has changed since President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties
with Cuba in December 2014: An American flag now flies over Havana for
the first time in 54 years and commercial flights are expected to resume
this summer. Last week, Cuba said it would legalize small and
medium-sized private businesses - once unthinkable in one of the world's
last few communist strongholds, which regularly cracked down on
enterprises that competed with Cuba's state monopolies.

But what hasn't changed is the desperation of Cubans to leave the island
despite promises that their lives will improve alongside better
relations with Washington. Driving them is their unique immigration
benefit that makes them the only nationality to be almost automatically
admitted into the United States and receive legal residency after a year.

Resettlement agencies from Houston to El Paso say they have remained in
the dark about the newest wave of Cubans. Most refugees are screened and
admitted through the United Nations and various U.S. government
agencies, including the State Department and Department of Homeland
Security, and can take years to arrive at a destination, giving agencies
time to prepare and allot money. Cubans, on the other hand, simply cross
the border but are nonetheless immediately eligible for the same welfare
and benefits as other refugees. It has put agencies in a terrible bind.

"We have been using whatever resources we can in order to take care of
immediate needs, and there's just not enough," Abdin said. "The numbers
keep increasing."

Cubans say they're driven to come now because they worry about an
increased push to repeal the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives them
expedited path to citizenship. Intended to protect dissidents in the
Cold War, critics say most Cubans now come chiefly for economic reasons
and that it should be discontinued.

Indeed, Cubans say they still struggle to survive in a country where
average monthly salaries remain as low as $24 and perhaps most pressing:
They see no significant change imminent until Fidel and Raul Castro die.

For now, they say they'll keep betting on this path, which for many
means saving for years and traveling across Central and South America
for as long as 24 months and enduring numerous horrors.


For Peña, his exodus from Cuba began "the day I was born," he said,
describing a lifelong dream to come to America. The plan, however,
seemed attainable only once Cuba lifted travel restrictions for its
citizens in 2013, allowing them to fly elsewhere if they obtain a visa
for that country.

But many nations are reluctant to grant Cubans visas because of the
widely realized fear that they won't return to the island. Since Ecuador
in 2008 eliminated visas for all tourists, the throng of Cubans arriving
at the Texas-Mexico border has skyrocketed.

The Andean country rescinded that benefit late last year to stem Cuban
migration but tens of thousands of Cubans remain there or in Venezuela,
whose government has a close relationship with Havana.

As a carpenter with his own small business, Peña earned a relatively
good salary for the island, about $120 a month. But with a 5-year-old
son living with his mother in the poverty-stricken interior and dozens
of friends who had succeeded on the journey in Ecuador and the U.S.,
Peña decided he too would make the trek north. He saved for a year to
buy the $850 plane ticket and have a few hundred to spare before
boarding his flight in July 2015.

At first, Peña thought he would stay in Ecuador, where roughly 41,000
Cubans entered on commercial flights in 2014, up 70 percent from the
year before. He was living with friends, working construction jobs and
making five times as much as in Havana.

"My son could finally have toys," he said.

But when he saw he wouldn't be able to get a work visa, Peña decided to
go north, knowing he could get a green card in the U.S. He took a
five-hour taxi ride to Ipiales, a Colombian border city, an eight-hour
bus ride to Cali, another eight-hour bus ride to Medellin and finally a
six-hour bus ride to Turbo, a gritty town on the southeastern end of
Panama's Darién Gap on Colombia's last stretch of northern paved road.
This route has become infamous not only among Cuban migrants but also
Colombians themselves who have turned it into a lucrative enterprise.

"Cubans are walking money," Peña said, describing how he was harassed at
every stop by criminals knowing the migrants carry cash. Some Cubans
have recounted being beaten, and women have reported brutal rapes.

The worst and most dangerous part of his journey, however, was yet to
come: A three-hour boat trip in darkness to elude authorities to
Colombia's last frontier of Capurgana and another boat ride to Panama's
Puerto Obaldia. Then the dreaded trek through the Darién jungle.

It is here, in this desolate outpost off the Caribbean, home to
indigenous tribes, drug traffickers and guerrillas, where many Cubans
are stuck. Some run out of money and can't afford to pay a guide to lead
them through the jungle. Others are weak from the trip and can't carry on.

"It's not worth the risk," said Lorena Justiz, a 26-year-old Cuban who
arrived in Houston this month via this route.

Once through the ocean odyssey, migrants walk for 12 hours at a time
through the jungle, often without food and drinking water. They rely on
crabs and rivers for sustenance. Danger is everywhere, from
dengue-carrying mosquitoes to poisonous plants and tumbling ravines.

When Peña finally made it to Panama City in mid-April, he was exhausted
and nearly out of money. By that time the Panamanian government had
already arranged for migrants to stay in makeshift camps near Costa
Rica's border, so he was flown up there where he waited for weeks until
Panama decided to airlift the Cubans to Juarez at a cost of some $800
each. Several hundred migrants who didn't have that are still stuck there.

Arriving in the border city two weeks ago, Peña crossed into El Paso. At
the city's bus station, he stood, distressed. He didn't have money for
the trip to Houston. It's a dilemma faith and community leaders in El
Paso have been struggling with as Cuban migrants overwhelmed their city.

"It has been very difficult, and at first our only information was
coming from the refugees themselves," said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the
El Paso Catholic Diocese. "These people were totally lost on the streets
of El Paso and taken advantage of."


Though many were on their way to family and friends mostly in Houston
and Miami, at least 15 percent had nowhere to go.

El Paso's faith community rallied. Cuban migrants slept in church pews
and received donations and help to arrive at their final destinations.

"Four thousand refugees is overwhelming if you don't prepare for it,"
said Ruben Garcia, executive director of Annunciation House, an
immigrant advocacy group in El Paso. "But it's an overwhelming number
only if you don't get basic advance fundamental planning and notice.
Washington could have facilitated this immensely."

A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the airlifts
were coordinated between Panama and Mexico. A State Department official
similarly said the United States was not involved.

"We understand regional governments are working to find solutions to the
ongoing Cuban migration challenge," the agency said in a statement. "We
remain concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region."

The ripple effect in Houston has been immense.

Abdin, from the region's Catholic Charities, said about a dozen Cubans
landed on their doorstep nearly each day this month.

"These are not numbers we have proposed we can serve," Abdin said.
"Refugees, ones that go through the system, they are accounted for, we
prepare their apartments before they come. What happens with the Cubans
is that they come and that day they're homeless. They need a place to
stay, and the city does not have enough capacity in terms of shelters."

Last year, Cubans made up more than a third of all refugees settled in
Texas, more than 5,110. In all, the federal and state government spent
more than $255 million on services for refugees in Texas last year.

Some have called to end the Cuban Adjustment Act, arguing that it draws
migrants here at increasing harm to themselves and is unfair to other
immigrants fleeing persecution. This week, U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a
Democrat from El Paso, joined a small but growing chorus of voices
including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, saying that it should be

Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program
at the University of Texas at Austin, said as long as the Castro
brothers are in control, the island's policies will not change
significantly, and migrants will keep coming while the Cuban Adjustment
Act exists.

In Houston, Peña has signed up for job training and English classes at
the YMCA of Greater Houston, which so far in 2016 resettled more than
900 Cuban migrants. He is looking for work.

"Once you leave Cuba you feel the change," he said. "You can say to
yourself, 'I'm going to work hard for two months, and I'm going to buy
this,' and you can."

Lomi Kriel
Reporter, Houston Chronicle

Source: Waves of Cubans are crossing into Texas - Houston Chronicle -

Missouri delegation travels to Cuba

Missouri delegation travels to Cuba
May 30, 2016, 6:00am CDT

Gov. Jay Nixon is leading a group of Missourians representing
agriculture, business, education and government on a trade mission to
Cuba. The delegation will visit the island nation from May 29 to June 1.
The trade mission will focus on growing Missouri exports, especially
agricultural products, to the country.

Among St. Louisans represented on the trip are Thorstein Holt of Holtec
Gas Systems in Chesterfield and Jeffrey Fort, of MOM Brands Sales, a
division of St. Louis-based Post Holdings.

Other delagates include First Lady Georganne Nixon, Missouri Department
of Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce and Missouri Department of
Economic Development Director Mike Downing, Carlos Vargas, President of
Southeast Missouri State University; Gary Wheeler of the Missouri
Soybean Association; Silvia Hollis of Mid-Continent Aircraft in Hayti,
Missouri; Brady Moses of SatCommX in Lampe, Missouri; ; and several
representatives of Martin Rice Co. in Bernie, Missouri.

"Cuba represents a market of 11 million consumers that has been largely
untouched by U.S. exports for more than 55 years," Nixon said in a
statement. "Missouri is moving forward to take advantage of this
opportunity, particularly when it comes to rice, one of the staples of
the Cuban diet."

Cuba formerly was a significant export destination for Missouri-grown
rice, according to Nixon.

In addition to meeting with Cuban government officials in Havana, Gov.
Nixon will be briefed by Deputy Chief of Mission Scott Hamilton and
other officials at the U.S. Embassy on progress toward facilitating and
increasing trade between the U.S. and Cuba.

Travel costs for the Governor and First Lady will be covered by the
Hawthorn Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting
economic growth in Missouri.

Source: Missouri delegation travels to Cuba on trade mission - St. Louis
Business Journal -

Fathom Adonia returns to PortMiami following electrical difficulty

Fathom Adonia returns to PortMiami following electrical difficulty
Cruise ship was headed to Cuba
By Tasia Stone - Producer
Posted: 12:41 AM, May 30, 2016
Updated: 8:08 AM, May 30, 2016

MIAMI - The Fathom Adonia was on its way back to PortMiami Sunday
evening, following a power outage aboard the ship during the initial leg
of its journey to Cuba.

A cruise spokesperson sent a statement to Local 10 that read in part,
"The ship is fully operational and guests are being updated regularly.
The Coast Guard has been notified and the ship is returning to Miami for
further evaluation."

According to the Coast Guard, the electrical issue surfaced at about 5
p.m. Sunday, and the power outage lasted for approximately 30 minutes.

Port workers said the ship returned to PortMiami and left again at 3
a.m. Monday to continue a seven-night tour of Cuba.

In a second statement, released Monday morning, a cruise liner
spokesperson wrote, "Fathom will now arrive into Havana for the two-day
call at 7:30 a.m. May 31, and will depart at 18:00 (6:00 p.m.) on June
1. Unfortunately it has been necessary to cancel the call to Cienfuegos
and the ship will proceed to Santiago de Cuba as scheduled."

The Fathom Adonia hosts voyages to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. In
early May, roughly 700 passengers boarded the ship to cruise to the
island nation. It was the first time a U.S. cruise ship had done so
since President Jimmy Carter eliminated travel restrictions to Cuba in
the late 1970s.

Source: Fathom Adonia returns to PortMiami following electrical... -

Same Cuba, same Castro regime

Same Cuba, same Castro regime
By Silvio Canto, Jr.

Let's do a quick before and after President Obama normalized relations
with Cuba.

Before December 2014, there was a lot of repression in Cuba. Since then,
there is still a lot of repression in Cuba. The only difference is the
U.S. flag in an embassy in Havana.

We keep getting these reports from Cuba, as posted over at PanAm Post:

The Cuban police raided the national headquarters of the Patriotic Union
of Cuba (Unpacu), a civil dissidence group in opposition to Raúl
Castro's administration.

Without giving explanation, security confiscated three computers, two
cell phones, a hard drive, passports and other hardware and records.

Arcelio Molina, an activist and owner of the property, told the
newspaper Martí Noticias that police also seized the luggage of the
youth leader Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, who traveled from Santiago de
Cuba to Havana to take a flight to Argentina.

According to Molina, Oliva can't travel, and has since been arrested.

This is the fourth time this year that state security has raided and
confiscated Unpacu's equipment.

Molina added that what has transpired is a classic "trampling" of
citizens' rights in the country, "where there are no laws or respect for
the constitution on the part of the authorities."

It's hard to believe that the normalization supporters thought that you
could change Cuba by saving the Castro regime. Let's look at some of the
arguments for normalization:

1) Opening up Cuba will be good for the Cuban people. Really? Is that
why they continue to leave? There are now Cubans in Colombia looking to
travel to the U.S.

2) Allowing US businesses to operate in Cuba will bring prosperity to
the island. The idea is that Cubans would get a taste of capitalism and
demand more of it. Really? There is no evidence that the Castro regime
is allowing Cubans to play the capitalism game.

So where are we? We are watching the consequences of bailing out a
regime and demanding nothing from it.

We are where many of us feared that we'd be!

Source: Blog: Same Cuba, same Castro regime -

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Oscar Elias Biscet Says That Cuba Can No Longer “Bring Down” The Opposition

Oscar Elias Biscet Says That Cuba Can No Longer "Bring Down" The
Opposition / EFE (14ymedio)

EFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 26 May 2106 — Cuban dissident Oscar Elias
Biscet said Wednesday, on arriving at the Miami airport from Spain, that
the opposition on the island is "well defined" and that the regime "can
no longer bring it down."

Biscet, who was happy to be in "land of freedom" for Cubans, told
reporters that he would explain to the Cuban exile community in South
Florida his civic political project to end the dictatorship and promote
democracy, through a method of non-violent struggle.

The medical doctor said that the opposition is "very united" and that
part of the opposition is his initiative, the Emilia Project, which has
gathered the support of more than 3,000 signatures.

He noted that the signers are "brave people, who gave their names, who
gave their addresses, their identity card data, saying they do not want
more communism."

Biscet, 54, was optimistic that this group would become "a crowd that
would end the dictatorship in Cuba."

He said his initiative seeks to "make change by shifting the
superstructure" and he calls this "the revolution on non-violent human

The dissident was arrested in late 2002 and sentenced to 25 years in
prison for being part of the so-called Black Spring, where a group of
dissidents known as the Group of 75, were accused of conspiring with the
United States.

Biscet was released from prison in March 2011 during the process of the
release of political prisoners carried out by Raul Castro's government
after mediation by the Vatican.

The dissident, who visited Madrid to give a lecture and see friends,
admitted this week in Spain that he is afraid of reprisals in Cuba when
he returns.

Source: Oscar Elias Biscet Says That Cuba Can No Longer "Bring Down" The
Opposition / EFE (14ymedio) – Translating Cuba -

Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars

Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 7 May 2016 — A black helicopter hovers at low altitude over
Havana Bay. Meanwhile, dozens of pedestrians on the streets below wave
and try to capture the image on their mobile phones.

The aircraft makes an acrobatic turn and flies back towards the port.
"Mijail, hurry up and try to get a photo now," yells a girl almost
hysterically to her boyfriend, who wastes no time activating the camera
from his old Motorola phone.

At the bus stop near the cruise terminal in the old part of the city,
everyone has a story to tell about filming in Havana for the eighth
installment of Fast & Furious.

Adelfa, a peanut vendor, observes, "A friend of mine who collects empty
beer and soda cans told me that — at the Hotel Saratogo, where the
actors and some yumas (Americans) are staying — they were handing out
twenty dollar bills to everyone who was in the Fountain of the Indian
across the street. I missed out. Now I am trying to sell peanuts where
people from Hollywood might be to see if they will give me something."

A guy with the look of a government official says to several people,
"The film producers paid forty million dollars to the local People's
Power administration for any inconvenience that might be caused."

His comments open up a debate. "Would you happen to know what the
government plans on doing with this money?" asks a man who says he has
been waiting an hour for the P-5 bus. "Will they fix the houses that are
falling down or buy new buses?"

A black youth who is listening to music removes his ear buds and
replies, "You want me to tell you what I think they will do with the
money? They will put it in a bank account in an overseas tax haven for
Daddy's kids: Antonio or Mariela Castro."

Some of those present cast sideways glances, an instinctive gesture in
Cuba denoting fear, to see if someone from the "apparatus" (political
police) have heard the young man's outburst.

On Wednesday, April 20, rehearsals began and on Friday, April 22, they
started shooting. From then until Thursday, May 5, when filming is
scheduled to end, several streets of Central Havana and Old Havana were
closed to traffic, forcing people to walk or take long detours to reach
homes or workplaces in those areas.

Production trailers, parked on the corner of Infanta and San Lazaro
streets, are surrounded by local residents and curious onlookers. Cuban
security personnel hired by the studio are harsh with people taking
photos and recording cell phone videos.

"It's what the producers ordered," a security guard, justifying this
behavior. "They claim that anyone can film a bit of something and then
post it on the internet. These people pay a lot and pay well but they
always want to control the rights to the film. In Cuba we don't know
anything about this."

Rumors about Fast & Furious producers handing out money by the fistful
are spreading throughout Havana.

Osvel, a driver for a taxi collective who works the Vibora-Vedado route,
notes, "They gave ONAT (the government agency that regulates
self-employment) three hundred dollars to give for every private-sector
worker in the area where they are filming. But the workers only got
forty convertible pesos apiece. They're taking a big cut."

Arianna, a secretary for ONAT, says, "I cannot confirm how much
producers paid. My bosses have not said anything about that, but I do
not think the government got that much, as always turns out to be the
case with these things."

As usually happens when it comes to the subject of money in Cuba, the
government has remained silent, which has only fed the rumor mill.
Getting anything out of a movie studio spokesperson is a mission
impossible for a independent journalist.

"When filming is complete, there will be a press conference," says a man
with a Universal Pictures badge. Not even the United States embassy in
Havana knows what the studio's plans are nor anything about a
hypothetical press conference with the actors and director.

"Private companies do not necessarily have to contact the embassy to
carry out their work. We only have access to governmental agencies,"
says an embassy spokeswoman.

Nor can she confirm various Fast & Furious rumors circulating through
the city. It is said, for example, that old car owners were paid eighty
thousand dollars for the use of their vehicles in collision scenes and
that extras were paid fifty dollars an hour.

The fact is that not since Fidel Castro's revolution has Cuba seen so
much Hollywood paraphernalia or such a waste of money.

"The last time Americans filmed here was in the mid-1959s when they
shot Our Man in Havana. They paid me ten dollars to play a fruit
vendor," says Ramon, a seventy-six-year-old man who, six decades later,
sells corn tamales corn from a bucket of hot water.

The movie, starring Alec Guinness and Maureen O'Hara and based on novel
by Graham Greene, won a Golden Globe in 1960.

But the street vendor was mistaken. Our Man in Havana was not an
American film; it was British. To Cubans all English speakers look alike.

Source: Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars / Ivan
Garcia – Translating Cuba -

Norwegian company looks at running ferry from Key West to Cuba

Norwegian company looks at running ferry from Key West to Cuba
gfilosa@keynoter.comMay 28, 2016

Representatives of one of Norway's largest ferry operators met this week
with the city of Key West's port director, as city leaders say they
won't give up on the idea of landing a Key West-to-Cuba ferry.

The meeting between Norled executives and Port Director Doug Bradshaw on
Thursday was a courtesy meeting requested by the Norwegians, according
to city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.

But it's one more sign that Key West is doing what it can to once again
have a ferry service to Cuba, which sits nearly 100 nautical miles away.
Ferries between the two nations stopped when the countries broke off
diplomatic relations half a century ago. But relations were renewed in
late 2014.

Norled is "considering the startup of a regular 'day cruise service'
between Key West and a foreign destination, Ok-Hini Ronning wrote in a
company e-mail to the city obtained by the Keynoter. The company would
use a catamaran built to hold 300 passengers, the e-mail stated.

Crean confirmed the meeting took place but Norled has competition.

"Several companies are interested in doing a ferry service," said Mayor
Craig Cates. "I know there's three. I met with two six to eight months ago."

The city can eventually put out a request for proposals to find a
company to run the ferry service, Cates said. But first, the city needs
assurance from the federal government it would staff a new customs
office here.

Last November, the Key West City Commission ordered staff to figure out
if the existing ferry terminal, 100 Grinnell St., could be turned into a
customs facility. Such a project is estimated to cost $2 million.

"Some companies have said, 'We'll pay $2 million if you give us a
lease,' " Cates said.

Commissioner Richard Payne has pushed the Truman Waterfront as the best
location for a Cuba ferry, but the Navy closed the harbor to the public
in 2013 citing the need for military training as part of its national
security mission.

Cates said the Navy hasn't responded to requests by city leaders to sit
down and discuss reopening the harbor.

Source: Norwegian company looks at running ferry from Key West to Cuba |
News | KeysNet -