Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign Correspondent

Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign Correspondent /
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 January 2017 — The controversy between
the most radical wing of Cuban officialdom and the correspondent of
Uruguayan origin resident in Cuba, Fernando Ravsberg, is rising in tone.

The latest blasts from the most orthodox defenders of "revolutionary"
journalism call out nine alleged false pieces of news from the
communicator. The list is preceded by a phrase resuscitated from former
leader Fidel Castro, who in 2006 called the then BBC correspondent in
Havana "the greatest liar," for daring to question his energy revolution
in the midst of blackouts.

The animosity toward Ravsberg is not new; he was fired from the BBC and
is now a correspondent for the leftist Spanish publication Publico. Last
August the vice president of the Journalists and Writers Union (UPEC),
Aiza Hevia, launched the first darts against the journalist for his
defense of the ousted official journalist José Ramírez Pantoja, of Radio
Holguin. On that occasion she even floated the idea of ​​expelling him
from the country.

"The pack is coming, hungry for revenge," said Ravsberg through his
blog, Letters from Cuba.

"They shout that I am part of conspiracy of the international
information monopolies against the Cuban Revolution but they omit that I
work on a leftist publication because it doesn't help their defamation
campaigns," he said

The latest controversy arose when Ravsberg published a critical note
about the Cuban economy on his blog, accompanied by a caricature of a
tortoise leaving a trail with the colors of the Cuban flag. This led to
several official journalists feeling especially offended.

Carlos Luque Zayas launched the first stone from a blog. Under the title
"Ravsberg: From Insult to Manipulation," the journalist wrote an article
to "protest" the use of national symbols. Next, from Granma, the
official organ of the Communist Party, Pedro de la Hoz wrote, "You can
agree or disagree with the contents of the controversial note, but the
grotesque manipulation of one of our patriotic symbols cannot be

Ravsberg counterattacks saying that in the Cuban media the image of the
flag is used indiscriminately. He offers as an example the case of the
"thousands of flags" which everyone walks over in every parade organized
by the authorities in the Plaza of the Revolution.

For the Uruguayan journalist, who spent more than 20 years working on
the island as a correspondent for foreign media, "there is a lot more
than offended patriots" behind the attacks on his work.

"There is a campaign organized by the extremists," he says, with the
Cuban government's intention "for years" to expel him from the country.

"They do not support a different voice, nor different optics. For
extremists the only truth is 'their truth' and all other criteria must
disappear or at least remain in a fearful silence while they become the
only voice, "he adds.

In the revolutionary blogosphere, there are those who even questioned
his seriousness as a journalist. Iroel Sánchez, one of the most
sectarian (and official) bloggers on the island and also a staunch
critic of Ravsberg, accuses him of being "promoter of apocryphal
interviews with anonymous subjects."

Ravsberg, who was criticized in the past for his closeness to the
regime, defends himself by saying that "no matter how much the
obscurantist forces do," Cuba advances.

According to the journalist, with regards to the alternative digital
media that has emerged during recent years on the Island, "a way of
doing a journalism has emerged that is already far removed from the
infantile topics of the extremes."

"They call on the government to use force because they know they are
incapable of participating in a battle of ideas, where they would have
to fight with arguments and proposals."

Source: Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign
Correspondent / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -

Rick Scott rechaza invitación para ir a Cuba

Rick Scott rechaza invitación para ir a Cuba

El gobernador de Florida (EE.UU.), Rick Scott, dijo hoy que no piensa ir
a Cuba hasta que no haya "libertad y democracia", en respuesta a una
invitación informal que le hizo en EE.UU. una funcionaria cubana la
semana pasada.

Durante un evento en el Puerto de Palm Beach, al norte de Miami, la
directora general de la ZEDM (Zona Especial de Desarrollo de Mariel),
Ana Teresa Igarza, cursó el viernes pasado la invitación al republicano
Scott, que el día anterior se había pronunciado en contra de que las
terminales marítimas del estado hicieran negocios con Cuba.

"Nadie puede hablar de algo que no sabe. Ver es creer. Yo invitaría al
gobernador Scott a visitar nuestro país. Venga a ver nuestra realidad.
Vea lo que sentimos para que pueda formar su propia visión", expresó Igarza.

La directiva hizo parte de una comitiva oficial cubana que visitó la
semana pasada varias autoridades portuarias estadounidenses con la
intención de llegar a acuerdos de entendimiento sobre futuros negocios
entre ambos países.

Sin embargo, el gobernador Scott, quien amenazó la semana pasada con
recortes del presupuesto a los puertos que "trabajen" con Cuba, señaló
hoy a Martí Noticias, por medio de un portavoz, que no tiene intenciones
de ir a la isla.

"No hemos recibido ninguna invitación oficial, pero hasta que haya
libertad y democracia en Cuba el gobernador Scott no prevé trabajar con
la dictadura castrista", respondió la Gobernación a Martí Noticias.

Entre tanto, la Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana aplaudió hoy la
posible restricción de fondos a los puertos que "hagan negociaciones con
la dictadura castrista".

"La Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana celebra y agradece que
funcionarios electos de nuestra comunidad tengan conciencia de que la
vida humana y su derecho a ser libre, esté por encima de cualquier
motivo económico", señaló el grupo del exilio en un comunicado.

El viernes pasado, los puertos floridanos Everglades y Palm Beach
cancelaron la firma de sendos acuerdos de cooperación con Cuba tras la
advertencia de Scott de impulsar los recortes en la Legislatura.

Scott, uno de los primeros en apoyar la campaña de Donald Trump,
comparte con el ahora presidente de EE.UU. el rechazo a los
acercamientos comerciales y diplomáticos alcanzados por el expresidente
Barack Obama (2009-2017) con Cuba en sus dos últimos años de Gobierno.

Source: Rick Scott rechaza invitación para ir a Cuba | Telemundo 51 -

Waiting for change in Cuba

Waiting for change in Cuba

When I took up my assignment as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in
Havana in 2011, my biggest question was how had Cuba survived as one of
the world's last remaining Marxist Leninist systems? Strong and
sometimes brutal internal controls were important, but in my experience,
not sufficient.

When I started my U.S. foreign service career in 1975, generals who came
to power by force ruled almost every country in Latin America. Many of
those governments used brutal methods to suppress dissent, but
ultimately transitioned to civilian rule. Today, only one Latin American
leader wears a general's uniform. It is Cuba's Raul Castro.

When the Cuban Revolution triumphed in January 1959 and imposed a
Soviet-style system, the United States attempted to remove that
government by subversion, assassination, and even invasion. After the
Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 brought the United States and the Soviet
Union to the brink of nuclear war, we settled into an uneasy standoff
and a policy of isolating Cuba from the United States, and as far as
possible from the rest of the free world.

Unlike the other nations of the Soviet bloc, Cuba allowed hundreds of
thousands of citizens who disagreed with their government or were simply
seeking a better life to leave for the United States on one-way tickets.
This served as a continuing release valve during times of tension. The
U.S. isolation policy complemented Cuba's state-controlled information
system and the restriction of normal economic, cultural, and political
contact with the non-communist world.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, many wondered when
Cuba would change. Islands by their geography are naturally insulated
from outside influences. Our efforts to squeeze Cuba to force change
caused no hardship to its leaders. Desperate Cubans risked their
lives—not to overthrow their government—but to begin a new life in the
United States by launching a raft.

In 2009, the Obama administration began relaxing the U.S. isolation of
Cuba, ending the limitations on visits by Cuban-Americans and on
financial remittances to their families. These measures began to break
down Cuba's isolation. Hundreds of thousands of family members who
visited Cuba were a credible source of information about the outside
world, and most of that information contradicted the vision offered by
Cuba's state-controlled media. They dramatically changed the way
ordinary Cubans looked at their country.

The normalization of bilateral relations in 2014 and the visit of
President Obama in 2016 have accelerated the awareness by most Cubans,
even within the Communist Party, that Cuba needs to make fundamental
changes to its economy and society to improve the lives of its people.

The death of Fidel Castro marks the beginning of the transition to a new
generation of leaders at least 30 years younger than the Comandantes who
have ruled for nearly 60 years. Although these leaders do not represent
a political break with the Revolution, they see the world differently
and will begin the process of bringing Cuba forward into the 21st century.

But how should we respond to brave Cubans who demonstrate in the streets
for change at the risk of their liberty, publish their views despite
censorship, and seek to engage their fellow citizens in a public
dialogue about the future of Cuba?

We should respect their views, defend their honor, engage with them, and
encourage Americans of good will to meet with them. Cubans have a right
to find their own path to a better future, and all of its citizens
deserve to participate in that journey. The United States will speed
that transition and be able to influence it by ending the isolation of Cuba.

John Caulfield is a retired U.S. career diplomat who spent nearly 40
years managing complex U.S. relations in Latin America. He most recently
served as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Source: Waiting for change in Cuba | TheHill -

Airlines gearing up to protect flights to Cuba

Airlines gearing up to protect flights to Cuba
BY MELANIE ZANONA - 01/31/17 06:00 AM EST 4

U.S. airlines began lobbying Washington on Cuba last year as they fought
to win commercial flight routes to the island nation for the first time
in 50 years.

But travel advocates expect to see an even bigger lobbying push around
the issue this year, with questions hanging over the new
administration's policies, including whether President Trump will
reverse the historic opening of relations with Cuba.

Those concerns have the powerful airline industry, which invested a
significant amount of time and resources into competing for and setting
up the new flight routes, ramping up their efforts in Washington to
preserve those changes.
"The airlines will not cease their advocacy with respect to Cuba, but
they're going to change their strategy from focusing on seeking more
[concessions] to focusing on preserving what they have," said John
Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

More than a year after former President Barack Obama announced he was
restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. struck a deal with
the Cuban government in February 2016 to allow scheduled air service to
resume between the two countries.

The announcement sent the airline industry scrambling to secure slots —
activity that was reflected in their year-end lobbying disclosure forms,
filed last week.

JetBlue Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines
and Alaska Airlines all lobbied on Cuba at some point last year, as did
the trade group Airlines for America (A4A).

"Our members serve new and emerging markets all over the world, and our
focus is on ensuring an adequate framework is in place to help
facilitate the movement of people and goods between our two nations,"
said a spokesman for A4A, which represents most of the nation's major
air carriers, with the exception of Delta Air Lines.

None of the companies had previously mentioned lobbying on the issue in
the last five years, with the exception of Alaska Airlines, which
started working on the "topic of renewal of U.S. commercial air carrier
service between U.S. and Cuba" in 2015.

"There was a time when U.S. companies, not just airlines, would do
whatever it took legally to avoid the 'C' word in the lobbying
disclosure forms," Kavulich said. "It does show quite a bit of evolution
to see ... the types of industries that haven't been afraid to show that
they have an interest in Cuba."

Delta didn't specifically mention Cuba in its disclosure forms, but said
it lobbied on "International Air Service Rights Issues (U.S. Government
Bilateral Negotiations)." A spokeswoman for the airline said that
includes, but is not limited to, efforts around Cuba.

The competition for a limited number of slots turned fierce as airlines
submitted their proposals and took aim at their rivals. Delta, for
example, called American's "request for ten (10!) of the 20 flights ...
out of proportion," while American called Southwest's application
"seriously flawed."

The biggest Cuba lobbying push from airlines came in the third quarter
of last year, which is when the Transportation Department finished
divvying up the 110 daily flights to the island.

Ultimately, 10 airlines were awarded flight routes, which included 20
daily round-trip flights to Havana and 10 flights to nine smaller
airports around the communist country. The carriers are: Alaska,
American, Delta, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit Airlines,
United, Sun Country Airlines and Silver Airways.

But being granted a flight route wasn't the only hurdle for those
seeking air service to Cuba. Traveling to Cuba is still subject to
numerous restrictions, despite the new U.S. policy toward the island.

While the Obama administration loosened travel restrictions for
Cuban-Americans who are visiting family, as well as government
officials, journalists, students and volunteers on humanitarian
projects, tourism is still prohibited.

The airlines also found themselves playing defense against legislation
in Congress that would have halted commercial flights to Cuba until an
airport security review was conducted. U.S. airlines and A4A all
reported lobbying on that bill last year. The measure was advanced by
committee but never considered on the House floor.

"U.S. airlines have been critical in helping to lift 55 years of failed
policy," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. "Now, with newly
re-established direct commercial service to 10 Cuban cities, we expect
the airline industry will continue to push for changes that will get rid
of arbitrary restrictions on traveling to Cuba."

The industry could face even tougher battles this year, however.

Trump has threatened to reverse the opening of relations with Cuba if
the communist government doesn't adopt changes, though he has not yet
revealed specific plans to change the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

"I have to follow up with you. We've got nothing that we're ready to
announce at this point," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer
when he was recently pressed on the issue.

Any regulatory rollbacks could mean fewer aircraft passengers, hotel
guests and travel customers, which could all result in less revenue for
the airlines.

As a result, Kavulich expects air carriers to ramp up their lobbying
efforts — especially with lawmakers who represent their headquarters or
have Trump's ear — in an effort to convince the new president to keep
the current policies in place.

"Last year, they were excited about the potential of getting more,"
Kavulich said. "This year, they're hysterical over losing what they have."

Source: Airlines gearing up to protect flights to Cuba | TheHill -

U.S. refugee program for citizens of all countries will be suspended for 120 days

U.S. refugee program for citizens of all countries will be suspended for
120 days

Amid court orders and airport demonstrations against a presidential
order banning entry into the United States of citizens of seven Muslim
nations, another aspect of President Donald Trump's immigration order
has been overshadowed: It suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions program
for all nations for 120 days.

In fiscal 2015, 70,000 people from around the world arrived in the
United States under the refugee program and since 1975, more than 3
million refugees have taken advantage of the resettlement program
because they have "a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion,
race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular
social group," according to the State Department.

Under the executive order issued by Trump on Friday, the refugee program
is on hold for four months while the secretary of state and the
secretary of homeland security review the process and application
procedures to see if additional measures are needed "to ensure that
those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the
security and welfare of the United States."

In 2015, the United States accepted the most refugees from Burma
(18,385); Iraq (12,6760); Somalia (8,858); the Democratic Republic of
the Congo (7,876); Bhutan (5,775); and Iran (3,109).

But the numbers change from year to year depending on where the
political hot spots are and where persecution escalates. Three of those
countries — Iraq, Somalia and Iran — are on the list of seven countries
whose citizens — refugees and non-refugees alike — will be excluded from
entering the United States for the next 90 days.

In the same fiscal year, 2,300 refugees from Latin America and the
Caribbean were admitted with most coming from Cuba (1,527) and Colombia

When the refugee program is reinstated, barring any additional changes
to the current directive, the number of refugees who may enter the
United States is capped at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017. A higher figure,
according to the order, "would be detrimental to the interests of the
United States."

Refugees still might be admitted while the program is under review but
only on a "case-by-case basis" and only if it is determined that their
admission is in the "national interest."

"We find these measures cruel, inhumane and in violation of
international law," said Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Amnesty
International's advocacy director for the Americas. "The United States
has obligations when it comes to refugees. Accepting refugees has always
been a part of what the United States stands for morally."

The United States is a signatory to the Hague Convention, "and it
requires signatories to accept refugees," said Wilfredo Allen, a Miami
immigration attorney. But he said a temporary suspension of the refugee
program might not be enough for the United States to be in violation of
the treaty.

Those who have already applied for refugee status could still be
admitted when the review is completed and under any new procedures that
might be implemented. When the refugee program resumes, the secretaries
of state and homeland security are directed "to prioritize refugee
claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution,
provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in
the individual's country of nationality."

Although a specific religion isn't mentioned, it is presumed that the
order would give priority to Christian refugees over Muslims.

The abruptness of the president's order and its scope caught many off
guard and is causing lots of confusion.

Although both refugees and asylum seekers may be fleeing persecution,
"they are two different things," Allen said.

Refugee status applies only to an individual abroad who seeks protection
from persecution, for example, at a U.S. Embassy or diplomatic mission,
said Eduardo Soto, a Coral Gables immigration lawyer. "Asylum is a
different policy and a different process," he said.

Cubans, for example, arriving at a U.S. border point may still apply for
asylum if they can establish a "credible fear" of persecution if they
return to their homeland. A Cuban arriving at a U.S. airport with a
visitor's visa also could ask for asylum.

"I have a Cuban client now, detained at the border," who told me by
phone that he fears returning to Cuba," said Soto.

Neither the suspension of the refugee program nor the end of the "wet
foot, dry foot" policy, which permitted Cubans who reached U.S.
territory without a visa to enter the country, will affect the Cuban
family reunification program or a visa lottery program that allows at
least 20,000 Cuban migrants annually to come to the United States. Those
applications are processed through the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

But thousands of Cuban doctors and other medical professionals currently
stranded in Colombia or other countries, after leaving international
missions where they worked on behalf of the Cuban government, could get
caught up in the refugee suspension. In the latter days of the Obama
administration, a special Cuban Medical Professional Parole program was
eliminated, throwing their future into limbo.

With Trump's suspension of the refugee program that avenue appears
closed to them — at least temporarily. "The suspension of the refugee
program may affect these Cuban doctors. It's a big question on how it
[Trump's order] will be applied," Allen said.

But he said to him it's clear that permanent U.S. residents from the
seven countries — Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen —
cannot just be sent back when they arrive at U.S. airports: "A lawful
permanent resident stopped at the airport has every right to come into
the United States and fight their case before a judge."

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson sent a letter to Trump on Monday
expressing concern that "numerous people were detained at U.S. ports of
entry, including an Iraqi interpreter who served alongside our troops."
While he said protecting the United States from the "diabolical threat
of terrorism is imperative to our national security," he urged the
president "to develop policy that keeps America safe, builds trust with
our partners, and demonstrates compassion to those who need our help."

South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she, too, was
opposed to the president's action.

"In no case," she said, "should the order be applied against individuals
who have already received U.S. visas, that are permanent and legal
residents of the United States, or those who have been given legal
status as refugees."


Source: Trump's immigration order affects citizens of all nations |
Miami Herald -

Yachting to Cuba — a ‘beautiful’ exception to the embargo

Yachting to Cuba — a 'beautiful' exception to the embargo

The 107-foot mega yacht has four cabins with private bathrooms, a
jacuzzi, two jet skis, two auxiliary boats and a crew of four, including
a chef.

With all those amenities, the flamboyant vessel named Reflections
recently departed from Key West to Havana, its second voyage to the
island in less than a year.

Reflections is just one of hundreds of yachts that have been sailing
from the United States to Cuba since September 2015, when the U.S.
Department of the Treasury issued a new set of regulations approved by
the former Obama administration that opened the door to passenger
transportation to the island by sea.

Those in the industry say the number of yacht excursions is multiplying
quickly even as passenger cruise ships, which operate under the same
regulations, have gotten the most attention.

"Since Dec. 17, 2014, almost nothing has happened in Cuba except
tourism, and much if not most of the tourism is illegal," said Coral
Gables attorney Michael T. Moore, referring to the reestablishment of
U.S.-Cuba relations.

"By this I mean that it does not comply with the embargo exceptions," he
said. "But there's one exception, and it's beautiful: yacht trips."

Although Americans who visit the island can't go simply as tourists,
which is prohibited under the still intact embargo, luxury trips like
what Reflections offers are legal — at least for now. It is not yet
known if President Donald Trump will reverse the relaxed measures
imposed by the Obama administration.

American travelers to Cuba, by sea or air, are required to comply with
one of 12 categories approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control
(OFAC), which oversees embargo regulations over Cuba. Moore's firm has
facilitated more than 100 yacht trips to Cuba.

"Of the 12 exceptions for Americans to travel to the island, we focus on
the environment," Moore said.

During their stay, passengers partake in a busy itinerary, including
classic car rides accompanied by a guide, dinners at restaurants known
as paladares and visits to several keys where they can dive, interact
with Cuban scientists who do research and collaborate with the
International Society of Seakeepers, a nonprofit organization that
supports educational programs and marine studies.

"The Seakeepers organization is a scientific community that works
together with the yacht community," said Moore, who is a member of the
board. "Scientists do not act alone, they need a sponsor. We do not
donate money, but we provide the yacht."

Moore said that Seakeepers is not tied to the Cuban government: "It's an
effort to establish relationships with the Cuban people."

Moore said that most of the customers interested in traveling by boat to
Cuba contact his firm, Moore & Co.

"They tell us 'we want to go to Cuba', and we guide them in the process.
We take them by the hand," he said.

Last year, Moore & Co. handled the permit process for 55 U.S. yachts
that participated in the Ernest Hemingway Fishing Tournament, an event
that has been taking place since 1950, but for decades did not include
U.S.-based vessels.

Moore's firm also handles permits and insurance for mega yachts —
vessels more than 79 feet with a crew — traveling to Cuba. But customers
usually contract a concierge to charter the yacht, prepare the itinerary
and handle the logistics in Cuba, such as land transportation, guided
tours and other details.

María Romeu, a Cuban American who for decades worked on cultural
exchange events that brought Cuban artists to perform in the United
States, now serves as a yacht concierge. Romeu, who worked as a yacht
crew member for years, said she had been preparing for the time when
sailing to the island would be allowed.

"We all had the idea that door was going to open. The conditions were
already there," Romeu said.

Cuba has about a dozen marinas run by the state-owned company MARLIN S.A
and at least one from the Gaviota group, which belongs to the military.
Seven of the marinas serve as international port entries.

Following the 2015 regulations, the U.S. Coast Guard inspected the
island's marinas and gave the OK for U.S. vessels to make the trip.

"It all opened up like a faucet," Romeu said. In October 2015, she
launched VIP Yachts, a branch of Cuba Tours & Travel, a California-based
travel agency that has been organizing trips to Cuba since 1999.

In June 2016, Romeu organized the company's first trip to Cuba aboard a
157-foot mega yacht that sailed along the perimeter of the island — from
Cayo Largo del Sur on the south central coast to Havana.

"Since then, it has been one after another. We have been very
successful," said Romeu, who also organized the recent trip out of Key
West on Reflections, which accommodated eight passengers.

Romeu already has 65 yacht reservations booked for this year, all of
which will include scientific exploration.

In the Canarreos Archipelago, along the southwest coast of mainland
Cuba, "there is a conservation program in each key," Romeu said. "There,
the clients get involved, they dive with the scientists, and they keep
everything within the law."

As part of her work, Romeu is responsible for making sure that
everything goes as planned: guided tours, drivers, classic cars,
restaurants, diving expeditions and other logistics. Seakeepers deals
with the nautical part of the trip.

"Logistics are complicated in Cuba," Romeu said. "There are a lot of
things that can't be found on the island, so you have to take everything
needed for the trip."

Romeu said her customers "are very wealthy people, those within the 1 or
2 percent of the population," who expect exclusive service of the
highest quality. Many have private jets and prefer to fly to the island
and board the yacht there.

"Very few hotels in Cuba could accommodate the level of luxury demanded
by this type of customer, so yachts also serve as a hotel," Romeu said.

A trip to Cuba on a luxury yacht can cost from $50,000 to $1 million,
depending on the yacht, the stay and other factors, Romeu said. Just
refueling a yacht like Reflections can cost about $20,000, she said.

Some customers own their own yachts, and according to current
regulations, they can take more passengers than the 12 passenger limit
for chartered trips.

In January, Romeu made an exploratory trip to Cuba with a delegation of
24 people from the International Yacht Travel Organization to show them
the Cuban marinas. She also is handling the logistics for 25 yachts from
the Ocean Reef Club, in Key Largo, that have a trip planned for April.

Gerald Berton of Cuba Seas, an organization that offers yacht charter
services to Cuba, has organized 85 trips to the island since September
2015. His company offers insurance for boats, submits all the required
paperwork and ensures that OFAC regulations are complied with.

"People want to know first that everything is authorized," Berton said.

According to Berton, docking fees on Cuban marinas, although cheap
compared to the price of U.S. marinas, provide a a good revenue for
Cuba. The berth price per foot is about $1.60 at Havana's Hemingway
Marina, compared to $7.50 in Miami. So a 79-foot yacht would pay at
least $126 per day. Unlike other countries, Cuba does not charge entry
fees for yachts, Berton said.

Berton said he had prepared for 10 years for the opportunity to travel
to Cuba by yacht.

"It seemed natural that one day the restrictions would be lifted," he
said. "We're only 90 miles away."

Follow Abel Fernández on Twitter @abelfglez

Source: Luxury yachts are sailing to Cuba in higher numbers | Miami
Herald -

Cuban emigrants declare a hunger strike in Panama

Cuban emigrants declare a hunger strike in Panama
JUAN ARTURO GÓMEZ TOBÓN | Turbo | 31 de Enero de 2017 - 11:13 CET.

A group of six Cuban emigrants, including several identifying themselves
as members of the Movimiento Prodemocrático Pedro Luis Boitel, declared
themselves on a hunger strike in the locality of Laja Blanca,
Darien (Panama)

Another group of 13 men and five women launched a similar protest at a
shelter for undocumented émigrés, at which they claim they are
prisoners, according to a video distributed via the Internet.

One of the six Cubans from Laja Blanca, Arnaldo Pérez Aguilar, said that
he made the decision to leave Cuba due to persecution by the regime. He
added that he joined the hunger strike due to persistent abuse by the
Panamanian authorities, deportations to Colombia by means of deceit, and
other violations of his rights by the National Borders Service
(SENAFRONT) of the Central American country.

"We have resorted to this for our freedom, because we cannot return to
Cuba," said Pérez Aguilar.

Those detained in Laja Blanca stated that the facility where they are
being held is not a shelter, as the authorities contend, but rather a
prison, where counts are conducted. They stated that their passports
have been confiscated and, under the pretense that they will be
transferred to Panama City, the Panamanian military takes them back to
the Colombian border.

"They are putting us on trucks and releasing us in the middle of the
jungle," said Andy Mora, another member of the group.

"They ditch us there without any food or water. They could care less if
anyone is injured or sick. We are searching for our freedom. We want to
keep going. We don´t want to stay in Panama," José Alberto Llanes
Rodríguez told DIARIO DE CUBA, also identifying himself as a firm
opponent of the regime.

"A hunt of Cubans"

"A genuine hunt has been unleashed by Panamanian border agents against
Cuban emigrants. They deport only our people, letting those from other
countries continue," complained Danilo Páez Cárdenas, age 32, in the
Colombian town of Sapzurro.

On both last days dozens of Cubans were abandoned in the jungle-covered
mountains between Colombia and Panama. Informed to "go back where you
came from, we don't want you here in Panama," armed Panamanian military
force Cubans to return to Colombia, without any kind of deportation
proceedings with the Colombian authorities.

The Cubans, by their own means and crossing a jungle teeming with
guerrillas and bands of drug traffickers, were able to reach Sapzurro, a
small fishing village.

On the nights of 27 and 28 January, 84 Cuban citizens were deported
there from Panama. The community welcomed them with humanitarian aid,
providing them with shelter and food.

"Some arrived ill, or with their feet sore and wounded, and were
attended to by the only nurse in the town. One arrived with a knife cut
in the veins of his hands, which required suturing. The people of
Sapzurro have even taken them into their houses. Our community stands in
solidarity with them, offering aid to whomever needs it, regardless of
their nationality, race or religious creed. Our elders have taught us to
show solidarity. If this keeps up we won´t have the capacity to handle
it," local police inspector José Escobar told DIARIO DE CUBA.

Escobar confirmed that the deportations were carried out without any
proceedings between the authorities of the two countries.

Among the deportees was Roberto Rojas, who tried twice to leave Cuba by
raft, but was intercepted by border authorities on both occasions. His
last attempt was in 2006. He spent four years in jail.

Rojas said that when he realized that the Panamanian authorities were
putting him on a plane, he tried to commit suicide by cutting his veins.
"The guards were deaf to my pleas. I told them that if they were sending
me back to Cuba, I'd rather die. In a moment of despair I cut my arms,
so they just put me in the plane, without any medical attention," he said.

"Thank God, here they immediately took me to a health center, where a
nurse attended to me and gave me stitches," he added.

Roberto Rojas said that among the Cubans deported from Laja Blanca some
have returned to the jungle. Others, who had money, headed for Turbo,
Colombia, where they will look for a way to reach Panama via the Pacific
Ocean. Only two have decided to return to Cuba.

"I don't know what to do anymore. There are thousands of Cubans like me
scattered all across South and Central America," said Rojas.

Source: Cuban emigrants declare a hunger strike in Panama | Diario de
Cuba - http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1485857623_28554.html

Monday, January 30, 2017

Americans who visit Cuba struggle with conflicting feelings

Americans who visit Cuba struggle with conflicting feelings
By Kari Paul
Published: Jan 30, 2017 4:36 p.m. ET

Recently, I took one of the first commercial flights from the U.S. to
Cuba to spend a week in Havana and Cienfuegos, taking in the sights and
sounds of a country relatively few Americans had been able to explore
over the past 50 years because of an American trade embargo.

I reveled in the experience of a place unlike any other I'd seen, with
amazing waterfalls and beaches, beautiful, brightly-painted homes and
friendly residents eager to speak to us, many of whom had never met
Americans before. But while I treasured the trip — the knowledge I
gained, the people I met and the country's colorful cars, cigars, music,
happy people and mojitos — I also saw up close an undercurrent of
sadness I couldn't quite shake, making it difficult now to answer other
Americans asking me if they should visit, too.

This disquieting reality reared its head when our government-approved
tour guide told us Cubans are very happy, have plenty of food and access
to internet, and have old cars because "it's a point of pride" there to
collect them (not because there is a longstanding trade embargo
preventing them from getting new vehicles). It was evident when a friend
I met there, an emerging musician, showed me music videos he made that
existed only on his computer; he was unable to upload and share them
without reliable access to the internet. The same friend later told me
to speak quietly when passing government officials because he feared he
would get in trouble for talking to tourists without a license. One day,
I stood with locals in Havana at an underground internet hot spot
provided by a black market Wi-Fi dealer at a lower price than the
government's access points, who fled on a motorcycle when the police
arrived. The oppressive atmosphere was impossible to ignore when I
offhandedly told people I met to visit me in New York sometime, and
watched them shake their heads, "No," one said. "I will never get off
this island." (Going to the U.S. as a Cuban is costly and requires a
difficult approval process)

A record number — 4 million — visited Cuba last year, up 13% from 2015.
The surge was largely due to U.S. travelers as the first commercial
flights in more than 50 years were approved between the two countries in
2016. To visit, tourists still have to fall under one of 12 approved
categories, which include religious activities, humanitarian projects
and journalistic activities. Many people choose another reason," support
for the Cuban people," a broad category that allows the average
Americanvacationer to travel to the country with little questioning.
With six airlines now carrying Americans to Cuba, it is easier than it
has been in decades to make the trip — but does that mean you should go?

Aaron Harnick, a Broadway theater producer who visited the country two
years ago, said while he encourages anyone considering traveling to Cuba
to try it, they should be aware of what they are getting into.

"Certainly people should go visit if they can, but I am not dying to go
back any time soon," he said. "There is a party culture there, and it
was a great place to visit, but when you speak to the local people there
is a stifling, invisible wall keeping them there. To me, it just reeked
of sadness."

A recent report from the New York Times found the influx of tourists is
causing major food shortages for locals, who under the socialist
government are given a book of rations each month that allows for rice,
sugar, eggs and meat while supplies last. Demand from tourists has sent
prices for basic goods like tomatoes, onions and peppers soaring as
restaurants scoop them up in bulk and leave locals with empty plates.
Tourists have also overwhelmed local hotel capacity and put a general
strain on local infrastructure, nonprofit free trade forum Americas
Society/Council of the Americas reported.

When José Portela returned home to Havana in December to research a
dissertation he is writing on LGBTQ culture in the country, he saw the
country already being quickly transformed by tourism. "Tourists are
going to be tourists — they're going to go and drink their mojitos, and
listen to salsa, and eat their nice food — and the ethics of that are
questionable," Portela, 27, says. "There is part of me, and it's a very
emotional part, that feels disgusted by how people go to Havana and stay
in these fancy places and eat nice food and have an experience that is
manufactured for them. You're riding in old cars and taking photos of
people's homes that are literally crumbling around them."

This is the Catch-22 of visiting Cuba, said Jeff Greenwald, executive
director of Ethical Traveler, a community website dedicated to traveling
responsibly. Only when the trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba fully
ends, allowing supplies to arrive freely for locals and visitors, will
these problems cease, he said. "More tourists will ultimately mean more
prosperity for many Cubans, but there will be huge short-term hurdles,
like the food shortages, in the interim," Greenwald said. "If tourists
stop coming there may be short-term relief in food supplies, but it will
be far more difficult for the country to equalize salaries, raise taxes
and reward entrepreneurship."

However, President Donald Trump has said he would reverse actions taken
by the Obama administration toward thawing relations with Cuba, casting
doubt over the outlook of such a change.

Even Portela sees the upside of a growing tourism industry, with members
of his family who rent out rooms in their homes to tourists benefiting
from the influx. The government has allowed citizens to rent out rooms
of their homes since 1997 through a program called 'casas particulares,'
in which homeowners pay a tax to the government to operate a kind of
bed-and-breakfast for visitors. Airbnb co-opted this program when it
came to Cuba in 2016, and the country has since become the startup's
fastest-growing market.

Other locals who drive taxis, conduct tours or otherwise participate in
the tourist economy benefit largely from being paid and tipped in CUCs,
the tourist currency that is pegged at the equivalent to the dollar (the
local peso is at $0.04 to the dollar). With the average monthly salary
$25 in the country, many Cubans rely on tourism-related side jobs to get
by (the average taxi ride at $5 to $6 in CUCs, for example, is 25% of an
average salary for a short trip).

But this emerging tourism economy too frequently benefits only Cubans
who already have the resources to participate in it, Portela said, many
of whom are white, live in gentrified parts of Havana, and have family
in the U.S. who can send them information and supplies. Others who don't
have a home they can rent out to foreigners or skills applicable to
tourism are getting left behind, often pushed into the black market and
sex work.

"Many Cubans have become third class citizens in their own country,"
Portela said. "The influx of tourism is calcifying an even greater
difference between classes and between black and white Cubans and,
ironically, perpetuating a lot of the same situations the revolution
stood against in its early years."

Also see: How losing my phone in Cuba helped me reconnect with the world

For people who do choose to travel to Cuba, Sarah Faith, a spokeswoman
from Responsible Travel, an online travel agency that focuses on ethical
tourism, suggests avoiding forms of travel like the cruise industry,
which she said in many cases can exploit the environments of different
destinations and offer very little economic benefit to local communities.

Instead, she suggests staying at local homes like an Airbnb or the
"casas particulares." Cuba also has a form of restaurant called
"paladares" a special kind of food spot run out of a local's home that
offers a unique and authentic experience and ensures more of the profit
sticks with the family selling the meal.

"Traveling with respect earns respect," Faith said. "We believe that if
you treat people and places fairly and with respect it pays back by the
bucket load because well cared for locals let you get closer to their
culture, their people and their nature, which is good for them and good
for you."

Another way to travel ethically: Bring as many supplies as possible to
share with the Cuban people, especially school supplies for children,
paper products, and over-the-counter medication like aspirin, Portela
says. Even paint supplies and other mundane items make a world of
difference, he said, citing one artist who hadn't been able to get
access to new paintbrushes in five years and was instead using a tuft of
dog hair affixed to a rusty nail. "Some of the most mundane things that
you think people have everywhere are a luxury in Cuba," he said.

There are a number of other ways visiting Americans can support the
Cuban people, Portela said, including leveraging the privilege they have
as Americans to intervene in situations of injustice. For example,
stepping in if an official or police officer is harassing a local or
asking honest questions of people in power there to "reveal what is
underneath this nostalgic image America has of Havana," he said. Many
guide books suggest avoiding talking about politics with Cubans but
Portela said in most cases he would err on the side of challenging the
status quo.

For Harnick, connections he made with the people of Cuba were the
greatest part of the trip. "That was the best part for me — more
memorable than the cigars, the bad food, the experience of being in Cuba
— was the look on a child's face when he got a box of crayons. That will
always stick with me."

Portela suggested Americans form and maintain relationships with locals
while visiting and keep in touch after leaving, as usually only affluent
people maintain connections in the U.S. and other countries. This is
something I tried to do on my trip, recognizing that the Cubans who
shared their homes and their stories with me were what made the
experience so unforgettable: the local who took me on a motorcycle tour
of the city, the woman at the small house on our street corner who sold
us beer and coffee from her window, and our taxi driver who spoke few
words to us but invited us to his home to share a meal with his wife,
daughter, and granddaughter on our last day in Cienfuegos.

"If people are going to visit, I would encourage them to dig deeper and
really talk to people as honestly as they possibly can — and above all
to listen," he said. "Cubans are so willing to engage. Don't be afraid
to get off the beaten path — listen, look, and observe."

Source: Americans who visit Cuba struggle with conflicting feelings -
MarketWatch -

How much has Cuban productivity increased since 1960?

How much has Cuban productivity increased since 1960?
01/27/2017 Vincent Geloso

Is it possible for two equally rich countries (on a per capita basis) to have different level of output per worker? The answer is obviously yes, and it matters in the case of measuring growth in Cuba since the revolution.

A country with a very young population will tend to have fewer workers than one with an older (but not too old) population. Let's say that countries A and B have a median age of 22.5 in year one.  However, in year ten, country A has a median age of 35 but country B has seen a more modest increase to a median age of 25. This will bias any estimates of growth comparison between both country. The increase in the median age suggests that there are more and more workers in country A (people of prime age) than in country B. As a result of that, output per capita will increase faster in country A than in country B even if both countries have equal rates of growth in output per worker.

Well, countries A and B are basically Cuba and most of the rest of Latin America. Since the 1950s, Cuba's population has aged rapidly but birth rates have plummeted so fast that families shrunk. With fewer kids in the population, it means that the share of the Cuban population that are of prime working age increased rapidly. This is what biases the comparison of Cuban living standards with other Latin American countries.

In the figure below, I took the GDP (the Maddison data) of Cuba since 1950 (indexed at 1960 to see the arrival of Castro) and divided it by the total population, the population above 15 years of age and the population between 15 and 64.

As one can see, with the GDP per capita series, Cubans saw a 50% increase in their incomes between 1960 and 2005 (the Maddison data stops at 2008). However, when you look at GDP per working age adult in order to capture the growth in productive capacity, you get moderately different results whereby the cumulative increase is three-fifths to half as small.

In light of this, it seems like Cuba's living standards are less and less impressive.

Source: How much has Cuban productivity increased since 1960? | Notes On Liberty - https://notesonliberty.com/2017/01/27/how-much-has-cuban-productivity-increased-since-1960/

Jose Marti’s Birthday Is Marked By House Arrests

Jose Marti's Birthday Is Marked By House Arrests / 14ymedio

14ymedio, 28 January 2017 – On the 164th anniversary of the birth of
José Martí, the day was marked by house arrests of several activists and
the arrest of the regime opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa. The most intense
operation has been against those involved in a global action to demand
the release of political prisoners and demand access to the internet.

The initiative is promoted with the slogan "Occupy Your WiFi Point,"
urging Cubans to use the wireless internet connection areas as spaces to
claim greater freedoms. One of the main promoters of the campaign,
scientist Oscar Casanella, was warned by the police early in the day
that they would not let him leave his house.

Opposition leader Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a member of the Democratic Action
Roundtable (MUAD), was arrested on Saturday afternoon outside the home
of an activist from the organization at Neptuno and San Francisco, in
Central Havana, as reported to this newspaper by Ileana Hernandez
program director Lens Cubano .

Hernandez said that the arrest occurred around 4:30 in the afternoon
when Cuesta Morúa interceded for her before two men in civilian clothes
who were preventing her from accessing the house of dissident Aída
Valdés Santana, a member of MUAD.

"They threw him on the ground and called a police patrol to take him
away," Hernandez says.

"It was not political at all what was going to happen here, we were just
going to eat," says the activist.

A witness later spotted Cuesta Morúa when he was transferred to the
police car on San Lázaro Avenue. This newspaper called the official
telephone number where Cubans can inquire about people arrested, but was
told that Cuesta Morua is not registered.

The leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement, Eliécer Ávila,
denounced that fact that as of Saturday morning three members of State
Security had warned him that they would not allow him to leave his
house. "They have been been in the hallway to the outside to prevent us
from going to the street," the activist said.

"They told me that although they had no confirmation that there was
going to be a public event, they were here for safety," Ávila
explains. Officers told him that this January 28 was "a very important
day for the Revolution" and they would not allow "provocations."

A similar situation was experienced by Luis Alberto Mariño, known as
Tito, a member of the initiative Cuba Decides and one of the most
visible faces of the call for civic action this January 28.

"Yesterday an officer came to warn me that I could not go out, and he is
now out there and says if I go out he will arrest me," he told 14ymedio.

Activist Lia Villares also reported that "two state security agents on a
motorcycle" visited her to threaten her and they remained "on guard" to
prevent her from leaving her home in Vedado.

From Matanzas the ex-prisioner of the Black Spring, Iván Hernández
Carrillo, reported the arrest of regime opponents Sayli Navarro, Félix
Navarro and Francisco Rangel, who also participated in the campaign.

In Palmarito del Cauto the coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba
(Unpacu), Jorge Cervantes García, was arrested according to a report in
the Twitter account of the dissident Carlos Amel Oliva.

Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests
throughout the country. A figure that "puts the Government of Cuba in
first place in all of Latin America," said the report of the independent

Source: Jose Marti's Birthday Is Marked By House Arrests / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba -

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — As if by magic, the irreverent and
prosaic Donald Trump is the man of the hour for Cubans who have plans to
emigrate. "He's the guy; there's no one else. If he orders it, the
United States will open its doors," says Miguel, emphatically, while he
drives a ramshackle collective taxi down Infanta Avenue.

His comment intensifies the polemic of five passengers who shout above
the odor of gasoline that filters through the old car's patched-up
exhaust pipe and the unbearably loud music.

"Obama is a real son-of-a-bitch. If Cubans allow their Government to
step all over them it's because they have the possibility of hauling ass
out of Cuba. Tell me who here doesn't have a family member in the
States?" asks a corpulent mulatto.

Everyone wants to talk at once and give their opinion on the subject.
Some analyses are puerile; others border on political science fiction,
like that of Magda, a primary school teacher, who, from the back seat of
the taxi, advises Trump to "accept all the Cubans who want to leave.
Most will work at anything. You think there isn't space in the U.S. for
11 million Cubans?" she says, and the other passengers smile.

Right now, the fashionable subject in Havana is the repeal of the wet
foot-dry foot policy. A collection of sad, crushed people react to the
announcement as if they received a direct blow to the chin by a heavyweight.

"Listen, brother, I sold my house to go to Guyana. My plan was to cross
the Mexican border and enter the U.S. Now it's impossible. But I'm going
to get out anyway I can. Even through Haiti, I'm telling you," says Jean
Carlos, a veterinarian.

At Christmas time, Diego flew to Uruguay with his wife to travel to
Laredo and cross the border into El Paso. "I'm devastated. I didn't
leave with much money. Now I'll look for a job in Uruguay and see later
where to go. But I'm not returning to Cuba. I have nothing there. I sold
everything. If I'm going to start all over let it be in any other
country," he says by Internet.

The same thing happened to Yosvani and his wife, Mildred. The couple
flew to Rome in November, on a tourist package. With a one-month visa
they crossed the border and settled in Spain.

"Here we're together with a group of illegal Cubans. My wife found a job
taking care of an old man. I worked for a week cleaning a bar, but the
owner paid me only four euros. My mother already sold my apartment in
Havana and sent me the money that I wanted to use to go to Cancun,
Mexico. But now with this news I have to stay here. My hope is that
Trump will reverse the measures that Obama approved," he says, through
Instant Messenger.

The new panorama, presumably, will not put the brakes on those who have
plans to emigrate. "It can change everything. But then people will try
their luck in another country or will come to the U.S. through marriage
or by other tricks. I have my eye on Panama. I liked the city and the
people when I went to buy junk to sell in Havana. The one place I can't
be is Cuba. You can't do anything here. You can't move. The last person
who leaves, please turn off the lights in El Morro," (the castle
fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay) confesses Maikel in a wifi park
in Vedado.

Even those who have relatives in the U.S. don't think they have enough
patience to get there by family reunification. "My father has been in
Miami for five months and is already working. When he has his residence
papers he's going to claim me. But how long will all this paperwork
take? Three, four years can go by. If I can, I'll leave before. Here in
Cuba I have no future," comments Germán, a university student.

Obama has passed from being a hero to being a villain. From that
president, who 10 months ago in Havana gave a memorable speech, saying
that Cuba should change and bet on democracy, to being persona non grata.

It's the opposite with Donald Trump. The Cuban who drinks only coffee
for breakfast, indoctrinated by the international press, always saw the
wealthy New York businessman as an extravagant weirdo. A rich guy who by
pure caprice got into the world of politics.

"The guy's a time bomb. When he explodes, no one knows what's going to
happen. Trump thinks that politics is a reality show. It would be a
miracle if in the next four years the world equilibrium doesn't change.
He's poorly educated, an egomaniac with the soul of a tyrant; and
thousands of Cubans who are thinking of emigrating are placing their
faith in him," says Norge, a political science graduate.

Like in an Agatha Christie crime novel or a suspense film, the roles
have been reversed. Goodbye Barack Trump. Welcome Donald Obama. The
world has been turned upside down, and not only for Cuban emigrants.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -

With Feet on the Ground

With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 5 January 2017 — In the face of the new scenario
created by the death of the "historic leader," many representatives from
the fragmented Cuban dissidence see a chance that the authorities,
looking at a very complicated situation, will invite them to dialog, in
search of a exit concept.

I am not optimistic about this, because for it to happen the dissidence
must, first, create a unity it does not possess, achieve recognition and
credibility among the citizenry, and present a comprehensible, concrete
and viable project, that attracts majorities, all of which needs time.

Right now, the Cuban dissidence is better known outside the country than
within it, because some of its members have dedicated themselves to
"political tourism," rather than work among the people, trying to
attract adherents to their cause. This reality, in addition to the
fragmentation already mentioned, makes it such that the authorities
don't need them to realize economic, political and social changes.

Rather than seek a currently impossible dialog, the first task should be
to achieve unity in everything shared, and set aside what separates
them, dedicating themselves to working with the citizens to make
themselves known and gain credibility, and for be part of a project of
national solutions, that involves everyone without distinctions,
including the authorities.

The problems of Cuba are so immense and complex that they need everyone
working together, without exceptions, to resolve them.

Starting with the ability of Cubans to set aside fifty-seven years of
dogma and confrontations, and putting their feet on the ground,
abandoning the absurd idea that someone from outside will come to
resolve things, and that success or failure will depend on him.

Translated by TFW

Source: With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso – Translating Cuba -

Why We Don’t Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba

Why We Don't Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 January 2017 — I recently had the
opportunity to participate as guest in a forum held at Florida
International University. Among other topics, the issue of labor rights
in Cuba and the role of journalism in the defense of these rights were

At first glance, the proposal does not seem incongruous. The
relationship between journalism and workers in the struggle for the
exercise of labor rights in Cuba had its beginnings as far back as the
second half of the nineteenth century, when the first trade union
periodicals of the region were founded in Cuba – La Aurora and El
Artesano – (Castellanos, 2002), an indication of both the worker's
recognition of the importance of the press and the timely proficiency
they developed in union organization.

On the other hand, labor rights of domestic workers is one of the most
recurrent and polarized issues of current official and independent Cuban
journalism, though from two opposite ends. Contrary to the official
monopoly of the press, in charge of praising the supposed guarantees of
the State-Party-Government labor rights – though the new Labor Code does
not even recognize such universal achievements as the right to strike,
free recruitment and free association – the independent, press denounces
the constant violations of all rights, including the most basic one:
earning a deserved living wage.

Numerous independent journalists have addressed the issue of labor
rights. Among them are the articles of historical analysis on the Cuban
trade union movement, its achievements and errors, developed by the
researcher Dimas Castellanos, some of which are cited here.

However, while the independent journalism sector has had the most
sustained growth within the Cuban pro-democratic civil society in the
last decade, its scope and real possibilities should not be
overestimated. Much less can we hope that the press works the miracle of
transforming society separate from the human beings who compose it.

Journalism can support and complement the actions of individuals in
their struggle for the full exercise of their most legitimate rights,
but it cannot assume the functions of the institutions that those same
individuals must create. Neither is it capable of changing reality all
on its own. Thus, just as the triumphalist discourse of the official
press does not turn into practice the rights it touts as "conquests of
the Revolution," neither is the independent press able to function as an
intangible union, apart from the collective workers.

Unions, as organizations created to defend workers' interests from
employers (State, managers, companies), cannot be replaced by the press
or, as in the case of Cuba, by the State. It is worth noting that nor is
it the role of the (marginal) political parties of the opposition is not
to assume such a demanding mission, especially considering that, under
the Castro regime, opponents don't usually have any labor ties nor have
they have successfully influenced large sectors of the population, and
even less so in workers' State or private labor collectives.

In other words, the demand for labor rights is the responsibility, first
and foremost, of the workers themselves within the extent of their
groups, as subjects with the capacity to organize spontaneously and
autonomously in defense of their interests as a group, developing a
strong trade union movement capable of dealing with the powers that
restrain those rights. It is the essential premise for the press – in
this case, the independent press – to expand, thus increasing the effect
of the workers' labor demands or for the opposition to rely on trade
union movements.

The working social base is so significant in mobilizing changes that a
prominent union leader who counts on its support could become a
political leader, such as the well-known case of Lech Walesa, or the
well-known union leaders of the Latin American left, Lula Da Silva and
Evo Morales, who eventually reached the presidency of their respective
countries. But the inverse does not take place: political leaders do not
usually become trade union leaders.

In fact, the powerful Solidarity trade union, with its effectiveness in
overthrowing the puppet government of Moscow in Poland and putting an
end to the so-called "real socialism" in that country, is an essential
reference point when we are talking about which path the Cuban
transition should follow: A great working organization with strong
leadership, able to face and bend the Power.

Regrettably, such practice is not possible in Cuba, where sufficiently
strong or autonomously organized labor groups in key positions in the
economy do not exist, where the relatively better paid jobs are in the
hands of joint venture foreign capital companies and in those of local,
dominant military caste where, in addition, the deep national and civic
feeling characteristic of the Polish peoples has never existed.

This leads directly to the historical fragility of the civil society in
Cuba, demolished completely, especially in the 60 years after the
arrival of the Castros to power, and hijacked by the leaders of the
Revolution to put it at their service, subordinating it to the ideology
of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The official policy of manipulating the different social organizations,
which operated autonomously and were self-financed before 1959, has
abolished the possibility of the existence of true trade unionism in
Cuba, whose dependence on the political will of the Government is
equally evident, since numerous calls for plenary meetings and "workers"
congresses stem from the Political Bureau of the PCC and not from
so-called trade union organizations, and the workers' laws and "rights"
are also stipulated by the political power.

But even though political manipulation of Cuban trade unionism became
absolute after the "revolutionary triumph," pre-1959 alliances of some
trade union leaders with political parties had already strongly
undermined the trade union movement, detracting from its autonomy,
undermining its foundations and fragmenting it into its structures.

This is how Castellanos summarizes it in one of his writings on the
subject: "The subordination of trade union associations to political
parties, which began in 1925, intensified in the 1940's with the
struggle between workers in the Authentic and Communist Parties for
control of the labor movement. In 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then General
Secretary of the labor movement, after ordering the general strike
against that year's coup d'etat, ended up accepting an offer from
Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC*."
(Castellanos, 2013)

The death of Cuban trade syndicates was sealed in 1959, when the CTC was
dissolved and replaced by the (CTC-R). The 10th Congress of the workers'
organization took place that year, and its Secretary General, David
Salvador Manso, said during his speech that "workers had not attended
the Congress to raise economic demands but to support the Revolution."
At the 11th Congress, held in November 1961, the loss of autonomy of
trade unionism was enshrined, when delegates renounced almost all the
historical achievements of the labor movement, among others, the 9 days
of sick leave, the supplementary Christmas bonus, the 44-hour work week,
the right to strike and a raise of 9.09%. The CTC became, in fact, a
mechanism of government control of the workers. (Ibid)

Needless to say this has been maintained until now, with the aggravating
fact that the Cuban autocratic regime has achieved the positive
recognition of all the international organizations responsible for
ensuring compliance with labor rights, which increases Cuban workers'

In fact, far from improving the situation, the exploitation of Cuban
workers has diversified and consolidated since the arrival in Cuba of
foreign-funded enterprises – which employ Cuban workers indirectly,
entirely through contracts signed with the State rather than with the
workers themselves – and with the leasing of professionals, especially
health workers, who are sent abroad under collaborative projects in
countries allied to the Castro regime.

Raúl Castro's rise to the head of the government, as successor to his
brother, the so-called historic leader of the revolution, seemed to open
a brief period of expectations, encouraged by a reformist speech
followed by a set of measures meant to bend the extreme centralism in
Cuba's domestic economy.

Such measures allowed for the emergence of small sectors of private
entrepreneurs, grouped under the generic name "self-employed," which
have faced a number of constraints – such as high taxation, harassment
by corrupt inspectors, absence of wholesale markets to provide their
businesses, among others – and initially constituted an opportunity to
encourage autonomous venues that could eventually pave the way for the
emergence of groups of workers organized in defense of their interests,
independent of the State.

However, the private workers were quickly absorbed by the government's
political officials who run the sole Cuban workers pivotal labor shop.
The self-employed also meekly accepted the official "unionization" that
represents the interests of the boss: the tower of power.

Thus, though Cuba has been a signatory of the United Nations Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights Covenants since 2008 – which recognize, among
others, the right to work and the choice of employment – and the Civil
and Political Rights Convenants – whose written text includes freedom of
the Press, expression, association and assembly, which are also
essential for the existence of trade syndicates – there are no real
trade union organizations in the country or areas of freedom to make
them possible. The Cuban government has not ratified the signatures of
these Covenants, and United Nations officials responsible for ensuring
compliance with their contents are often extremely complacent with the
Cuban authorities.

A long road traveled and a longer one yet to go

In spite of the historical shortcomings of Cuban civil society, the
reality is that labor movements demanding workers' rights began
relatively early in Cuba. The strength achieved by the workers during
the Republican period, organized and grouped in unions, determined
political transformations as important as Gerardo Machado's departure
from power after a powerful workers strike that paralyzed the country.

During the same period, collective bargaining was another struggle
method that gave trade unions the ability to influence the enactment of
laws based on workers' demands. Politicians recognized in the working
masses a social fiber so powerful that the governments of Grau San
Martin, Carlos Mendieta, and Federico Laredo Bru promoted labor
legislation that included such rights as the eight-hour day, labor
striking, paid and maternity leave, and collective bargaining. (Decrees
276 and 798 of April of 1938). (Castellanos, 2002)

Later, the 1940 Constitution legally recognized the results of previous
years' union struggles by dedicating 27 articles of Title VI to the
collective and individual rights of workers. These ranged from the
minimum wage to pensions due to the death of the worker. Paradoxically,
once the government "of the poor, with the poor and for the poor" came
to power, not only were unions lost by a stroke of the pen and absorbed
by the new dictatorship of a supposed military "proletariat",
but Chapter VI of the 1976 Constitution reduced labor rights to six
minimal articles, omitting almost all the gains of the trade union
movement of the previous periods, endorsed in the Constitutions of 1901
and 1940.

Currently, the Cuban socio-political and economic situation is extremely
complex. Not only because an economic crisis has taken root permanently,
but there has been a wave of layoffs and no salaries in Cuba are
sufficient to even acquire basic foodstuffs. Social actors capable of
reversing that scenario cannot be found in our country.

The opposition has proposed a few attempts for independent unions.
However, such proposals have not made progress, not only because of the
repression that is exerted against any manifestation of dissidence
within Cuba, but because these alternatives have no social bases or real
support. In fact, since they are marginalized by the system, Cuban
opponents do not usually have any labor ties – if they had held a state
job they would generally have been fired — so they have no chance of
representing Cuban workers.

The constant Cuban exodus, mainly composed of working age individuals,
is another factor that contributes to the weakening of the work force,
the result of the system itself but one whose solution is already beyond
the reach of a government to which any deep change might cost the loss
of its power.

So far, it does not seem that the vicious circle that keeps Cuban
workers and the whole of society in a motionless state will be broken in
the short term. The road to recovery will be long and tortuous, and will
only begin when the omnipotent power that has hijacked the nation for
almost 60 years disappears. Because without rights, there will be no
unions, and without unions there will be no force capable of
legitimately representing the interests of that endangered species that
was once called "the Cuban workers."

*(CTC): The Central Union of Cuban Workers [Central de Trabajadores de
Cuba] originated as the Confederation of Cuban Workers [Confederación de
Trabajadores de Cuba] in 1939. The original leaders of the organization
were forced to flee after Castro's seizure of power in 1959.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Why We Don't Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba / 14ymedio, Miriam
Celaya – Translating Cuba -

Studying abroad in Cuba is about to get easier

Studying abroad in Cuba is about to get easier
By Emily DeRuy

The announcement that the United States will normalize relations with
Cuba is good news for students who want to study on the island.

After decades of restrictions and bureaucratic bickering, it will likely
become much easier for American students to study abroad in Cuba—and
perhaps even more importantly, for Cuban students to pursue an education
in the U.S., according to educators and researchers who have closely
followed Cuba's relationship with the U.S.

"I do think this will make a difference," said Brian Whalen, president
and CEO of the Forum on Education Abroad, which has advocated for the
easing of study abroad regulations. "It's still more difficult right now
than it needs to be."

It's been difficult for a while. During the Bush administration in the
early 2000s, the U.S. imposed restrictions that forced most American
universities operating programs in Cuba to shutter. In 2011, under
Obama, the U.S. opened the door for schools to resume study abroad
programs in Cuba, but the process still required navigating a web of
paperwork and licenses. And third-party study abroad providers like
Academic Programs International, which received a license to operate a
Cuba program for academic credit only in 2013, were largely left out of
the resurgence. About half of the students who go abroad do so through
such third-party programs, Whalen said, so the inability of those
programs to operate has severely impeded study abroad opportunities in Cuba.

"It's not like studying in Spain," he said, adding that some
organizations have complained about backlogs and roadblocks to starting
programs in Cuba. "Bottom line…there's greater demand, but we don't have
the supply in place. I have no doubt the normalization of the
relationship will help that."

Duke University may consider reestablishing a program it closed in 2004
if there is enough faculty interest. Wednesday's announcement would
"certainly make it easier," said Amanda Kelso, executive director of the
Global Education Office for Undergraduate Students.

Under the new diplomatic thaw, the Obama administration will expand
travel allowances for 12 categories, including educational activities.
American credit and debit cards will also work on the island, which will
make it easier for the university and students to move money, Kelso said.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment
regarding how study abroad might be impacted. A spokeswoman for the
State Department, which has been encouraging more student exchanges with
Latin American countries in recent months, declined to comment.

For now, the numbers of students exchanged between the U.S. and Cuba is

During the 2013-14 school year, just 69 Cuban students studied in the
United States, down from 76 students the year before, according to the
Institute of International Education, which tracks study abroad figures.

In the 2012-13 school year, the U.S. sent 1,633 students to Cuba. Prior
to the Bush administration's restrictions, more than 2,000 students
studied in Cuba, a figure that tanked to fewer than 300 following the

Peter Hakim, a Cuba expert with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank
in Washington, D.C., agrees the news is positive for people hoping to
study in Cuba.

"I think there will be more exchanges with Cuba," he said, "and there
certainly will not be the kind of ridiculousness whereby a professor at
Harvard has to prove he's going to Cuba to do research or a student has
to prove they're taking courses or fulfilling a degree requirement to go
to Cuba."

The benefits stand to be numerous, Whalen said. The changes will allow
more students to learn Spanish and gain cultural knowledge about an
island that is geographically close but about which many young people
know very little. There will be opportunities to study musical
traditions and the arts, as well as immigration and politics.

"I have a good friend…who is an expert on community gardening," he said,
"and Cuba is apparently quite a leader in that, so there are certain
content areas where students stand to benefit in learning in Cuba."

Hannah Levien, a current senior at Marist College in New York, studied
in Havana last fall, and said she gained a cultural understanding of
Cubans and their take on the embargo.

"There is no animosity against Americans and that's something I wasn't
sure of when I went there," she said, adding that she knows many young
Cubans who will likely be interested in studying in the U.S.

"All the Cuban students I talked to," she said, "would joke about coming
to the U.S., but it wasn't really a joke. They'll be excited with the
prospect of maybe coming."

The easing of restrictions could be even more eye-opening for Cuban
students, provided the government allows them to travel, Hakim said, a
move that could be risky for the island.

Source: Studying abroad in Cuba is about to get easier | Fusion -

East Coast ports, including Charleston's, debate Cuban trade

East Coast ports, including Charleston's, debate Cuban trade
By David Wren dwren@postandcourier.com Jan 29, 2017
El Nuevo Herald via Associated Press

The first legal exports from Cuba to the U.S. in more than 50 years
arrived at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week. The
shipment aboard the K-Storm included two containers of artisanal charcoal.

Cuba is a relatively small player in global trade, but the country
presents some big opportunities - and, in some cases, headaches - for
maritime facilities along the East Coast, including the Port of Charleston.

The first legal export of goods from Cuba in more than a half-century
arrived last week at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The
arrival of two cargo containers of artisanal charcoal, the type used in
pizza and bread ovens, kicked off a firestorm as Gov. Rick Scott
threatened to cut funding from ports in the Sunshine State that do
business with the island's communist government.

"I don't believe any port in our state, none of them, should be doing
business with a brutal dictator," Scott said during a news conference,
referring to Cuban President Raul Castro.

That attitude contrasts with the Port of Virginia, which has signed a
memorandum of agreement with Cuban officials aimed at improving trade,
particularly in agricultural products.

"Virginia enjoys a uniquely productive economic relationship with Cuba,
and this (agreement) will generate additional opportunities for economic
and cultural exchange," Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, said he
doesn't yet share Virginia's enthusiasm for trade with Cuba, in part
because of that country's poor maritime infrastructure. But the SPA
wouldn't turn away any cargo coming from Cuba.

"We don't make trade policy, so if the cargo comes here we would handle
it unless instructed not to by a relevant government entity, such as
Customs and Border Protection or other trade policing authority,"
Newsome said.

A series of executive orders issued by former President Barack Obama
eased some trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, but the
1960s-era embargo still exists. President Donald Trump has vowed to
reverse some of Obama's policies, but it is not clear whether he will
target Cuban trade.

"We've got nothing that we're ready to announce," Sean Spicer, Trump's
press secretary, told the Miami Herald last week.

Cuba is the world's 140th-largest exporter, according to government
statistics, with $1.74 billion worth of goods leaving that country for
foreign markets. Cuba's top exports are raw sugar, refined petroleum and
rolled tobacco. The country's top trading partners are China, the
Netherlands and Spain.

Terminal tryout

The SPA is testing a new automated gate system at its North Charleston
container terminal and plans to make its use mandatory for truckers
beginning Feb. 11. The tests, which started Saturday, will be conducted
on one entrance lane at a time and truckers can choose whether they want
to participate in the trial runs.

This is the same technology the SPA installed last year at its larger
Wando Welch container terminal in Mount Pleasant. In the weeks after
implementation there, computer glitches and other problems clogged roads
leading to the terminal and brought traffic throughout much of the
Charleston area to a standstill.

Those problems have been resolved and the SPA said it hopes there won't
be a repeat when the system goes live in North Charleston.

"We'll do everything possible to make sure this is as smooth a launch as
possible," said Barbara Melvin, the SPA's vice president of terminals
and operations. "I can't promise no hiccups, but we certainly are
looking for a much better outcome than what we saw at the launch at the
Wando terminal."

If there are problems, she said, "we hope for much less endurance time."

The gate system, called Go!Port, is used at most major U.S. maritime
facilities. The system uses an electronic kiosk where truckers are given
a slip of paper telling them where in the terminal they need to go for
their cargo. Computers and cameras then guide truckers through the
terminal as port workers view the action in a nearby control room.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

Source: East Coast ports, including Charleston's, debate Cuban trade |
Business | postandcourier.com -

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Is Cuba Heading Towards Virtual Annexation to the US?

Is Cuba Heading Towards Virtual Annexation to the US? / 14ymedio, Pedro

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 28 January 2017 — Guided by the current
political-military leadership, the Cuban economy could be heading
"without pause, but without haste*" towards virtual annexation to the
United States.

There would be no Platt Amendment, nor Marines landing on any Cuban
beach, no any formal agreement or formal treaty that would make Cuba an
associated state or one more star on the US flag, but everything
suggests that, sooner rather than later, capital from the United States
will disembark big time on the island and consume our trade.

The United States will be turned into our number one trading partner,
the biggest source of tourism to Cuba, as well as the number one foreign
investor, hotel towers will flourish on the beaches and keys of the
Cuban paradise along with golf courses and low-wage factories making
consumer goods, cars, buses and equipment for construction, agriculture
and light industry.

No, it's not a play on words. It's a real possibility. The explanation
is quite simple: the Cuban state economy is in crisis, the state owns
the land and the beaches and has no interest in disposing of them for
Cubans to exploit, be it private, cooperatives or emigrants, but they
have all the delight of sharing them with foreign capital, especially
American, consistent with a simple reading of the "menu of opportunities."

Add to that the geographic and cultural proximity and the expressed
desires of many American businesses: the president of the United States
Chamber of Commerce just left the island.

Realizing an annexation would demand some arrangements between both
governments: the Cuban government should improve its image with respect
to human rights and allow free contracting with labor, although under
the table it would be allowed "to guarantee its interests."

The United States should move clearly to lift the embargo in a way that
there are no obstacles for investment and businesses.

Foreign business interests would not fight the government for political
power, they would only share economic power and Cuba would be widely
penetrated by the great American capital. Possibly the dollar would
circulate as the medium of exchange, remaining economically tied to the
United States like never before, which would imply a kind of virtual

The road has been forged long ago, because the Cuban economy now depends
in great measure on remittances from the United States, on the tourists
from that country and on the trade in food.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world with the
capital to undertake the investments Cuba needs in infrastructure,
construction and services to bring the country up to the standards of
modern economies and to create conditions for housing, mobility,
Internet access and markets to ensure the prosperity of its business.

Until now, the full penetration of US capital has been impossible
because the Cuban government has always conditioned it on the lifting of
the embargo, which could not be fully lifted during the Obama
administration because Republicans opposed giving the Democratic
president the chance to crown his policy towards Cuba with that measure,
with the real justification that Havana violates human rights.

Now there are the conditions for the rapprochement initiated by Obama to
advance in the direction of the lifting of the embargo, because there is
a Republican president characterized as a businessman who was already
exploring the possibility of investing into hotels and golf courses in Cuba.

Trump is a friend and admirer of Putin, the one time friend of Raul
Castro, and there is a congress dominated by Republicans and the Cuban
government is "making noises" because of its recession and already
destroyed economy and the effects caused by the situation in Venezuela
and the reversal of the populist wave in Latin America.

Trump has just named Jason Greenblatt as special representative for
international negotiations, and he is a supporter of the rapprochement
with Cuba, ex-president of the Trump Consortium and its current legal
director. According to specific information, he is the same person who
visited Cuba to explore the possibilities of investing in hotels and
golf courses.

The Mariel Special Development Zone is fully included in the interests
of making the United States Cuba's main trading partner, and it is no
coincidence that with Trump as president a government delegation headed
by Ana Teresa Igarza, the Zone's director general, is visiting the US to
explore the possibilities of entering into contracts with six US ports.

Raul Castro congratulated Trump on his electoral triumph. A Cuban
delegation attended the inauguration. So far, the Cuban government has
not made any negative statements to the new president (and there have
been no lack of reasons to!) in the newspaper Granma or as gossip.

It's a secret to no one that the Trump team was consulted by Obama on
the rescinding of the wet foot/dry foot policy, demanded by the Cuban
government, which could contribute to the effort to "normalize" relations.

If they continue along this path, virtual annexation could be realized
soon. All this contrasts with the broad-based political and economic
projects of the opposition, the socialist dissidence and the different
thinking all of which prioritized the participation of Cubans in the
control of the economy, but instead have been accused by government
extremists of serving the imperialist enemy.

*Translator's note: A phrase commonly used by Raul Castro and others in
relation to the government's implementation of planned changes.

Source: Is Cuba Heading Towards Virtual Annexation to the US? /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba -