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Daily Archives: March 9, 2013

With Worries for Its Economic Future, Cuba Bids a Sad Goodbye to a
Generous Ally
Published: March 6, 2013

Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, turned its red masthead to black
and white — a gesture Cubans said was rare — and dedicated six of its
eight pages to Mr. Chávez's life, his death on Tuesday, and his legacy.
In a statement that covered the front page and was read on national
television on Tuesday night, the government hailed Mr. Chávez as a Cuban
and pledged its "resolved and unwavering support for the Bolivarian
Revolution in these difficult days."

"The Cuban people consider him one of their most accomplished sons, and
they have admired him, followed him and loved him as one of their own,"
the government said in the statement. "Chávez is also a Cuban."

Flags at government buildings flew at half-staff after the government
declared two days of official mourning, and canceled concerts and other
public events on Friday. In Havana, where the Venezuelan leader battled
cancer at a military hospital enveloped in secrecy and spent much of his
last three months, some Cubans said they were deeply saddened by Mr.
Chávez's passing.

Even those who had little time for his brand of socialism wondered if
Cuba would descend into an economic chasm, much as it did in the 1990s,
after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Cuba receives more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela,
purchased on favorable terms as part of an exchange that has tens of
thousands of Cubans working in Venezuelan clinics, schools and
ministries. The subsidized oil accounts for about two-thirds of Cuba's
consumption and is credited by many Cubans with keeping the lights on
and the air-conditioners running during the brutal summer heat.

"A shudder ran through my body," Marina Suárez, 48, said of the moment
when she heard the news of Mr. Chávez's death. She added, "He has died,
but for me, he is as alive as ever."

Ms. Suárez was confident that Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's interim
president and a Chavista, would win election and retain close ties with
Cuba. "With everything that Chávez did for the poor, for his people, for
all peoples — how could they not vote for Maduro?" she asked.

Luis, a 39-year old engineer who did not want his full name to be
published because talking about politics in Cuba is very delicate, was
more skeptical.

"It's scary. If there is a change in Venezuela, they won't keep the deal
like it is," he said, referring to the subsidized oil.

The government would have to come up with a plan that did not depend on
another nation's largess, he said.

"You can't have what happens inside your home depend on your neighbor,"
Luis added. "If your neighbor dies, then what? You don't eat? We need to
be self-sufficient. But this system will never be self-sufficient."

Were Mr. Maduro to be defeated, or simply decide that Venezuela could no
longer afford to subsidize Cuba, the government would have to speed
economic reforms, added Luis, who recently began working for himself
under a two-year-old program to encourage private enterprise.

"Cubans remember the special period," he said, referring to the severe
economic hardships of the 1990s. "They won't put up with another special

Other Chávez allies around the world were grappling with his death as
well. The Iranian government declared a day of mourning on Wednesday and
local news media reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would
attend Mr. Chávez's funeral on Friday in Caracas. Through several trips
to Iran, Mr. Chávez forged a strong, if controversial, alliance that has
drawn Iranian construction companies to several projects in Venezuela
and deepened their financial ties.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said that Mr. Chávez would surely return to earth once
the Shiite 12th Imam, who according to the sect's beliefs is a messiah,
would come to liberate the world.

"I have no doubt he will come again along with all the righteous people
and the Prophet Jesus and the only successor of the righteous
generation, the perfect human," Mr. Ahmadinejad said, adding that Mr.
Chávez had died of a "suspicious illness" — a reference to theories
espoused by some Venezuelan officials and allies that Mr. Chávez's
cancer was somehow the work of the United States government.

In Cuba, state television and radio broke into regular programming on
Tuesday night to show an extended newscast about Mr. Chávez's death and
broadcast coverage from Telesur, the Venezuelan news channel. A Cuban
official said he could not yet confirm whether Raúl Castro or Fidel, who
is very ill, would go to Caracas for the funeral.

Members of the Venezuelan community, Cuban officials and diplomats,
meanwhile, gathered at the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana, on a wide
boulevard in an upscale neighborhood, on Tuesday to offer condolences.
Applause and shouts of "Viva Chávez" could be heard from the sidewalk
outside. But elsewhere, the streets were quiet; some residents of Old
Havana said they heard little music from the salsa bars on Tuesday night.

Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran. Continue reading
Mar 8, 2013, 2:53pm EST

Cuba travel agency hit with foreclosure by Citibank
The home of Informational Television Network in Boca Raton could be
seized in foreclosure.

Brian Bandell
Senior Reporter- South Florida Business Journal

A Coral Gables travel agency that specialized in trips to Cuba has been
hit with a foreclosure lawsuit and a U.S. government agency could be on
the hook.

C & T Charters' website proclaims that it's "Your bridge to Cuba" and
offers both academic and family travel there. The Miami Herald reported
in November that Cuba suspended the company's charter-flight permits. C
& T Charters has operated since 1991. Its phone lines didn't work.

The timing of Cuba's decision was most unfortunate for Citibank and,
ironically, the U.S. government. In July 2012, the bank (NYSE: C) made a
$1.5 million first mortgage and a $1.2 million second mortgage to JGAJ
Associates, managing member John H. Cabanas and C & T Charters. The
second mortgage was assigned to the U.S. Small Business Administration
through Florida First Capital Finance Corp.

Yes, a U.S. government agency subsidized a mortgage for a travel agency
promoting trips to communist Cuba.

JGAJ used the loans to pay $2.95 million for two units, totaling 5,959
square feet, in the 1300 Ponce Condominium in Coral Gables.

On Feb. 28, Citibank filed a foreclosure lawsuit against JGAJ, Cabanas
and C & T Charters over that property. The same day, the bank filed a
foreclosure lawsuit against the same three parties over two mortgages,
each $1.6 million, securing Cabanas' condominiums: two units in the Lexi
Condominium in North Bay Village and one unit in the Sterling in Miami

Miami attorney Alan Grunspan, who represents Citibank in the lawsuit,
couldn't be reached for comment.
Boca Raton TV production company faces foreclosure

Boca Raton-based Informational Television Network could lose its
headquarters to foreclosure.

Wells Fargo Bank (NYSE: WFC) filed a foreclosure lawsuit on March 1
against Learndawg Entertainment, Informational Television Network,
Multimedia Educational Television, Executive Producer Edward E. Lerner
and Executive Producer Ana C. Lerner. It targets the 15,494-square-foot
TV production facility/warehouse at 6650 Park of Commerce Blvd.

The company bought the property for $2.5 million in 2006 and used a
$2.65 million mortgage to redevelop it.

According to Informational Television Network's website, it was founded
in 1992 and has 40 employees. It creates documentary-style programs
about health and medicine that have run on networks like PBS, Discovery
Communications and ION Media. It has won numerous Freddie awards for
excellence in health and wellness programming.

Its programs include Waging War on Cancer with Paula Zahn, Disaster
Resistant Homes, and Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.

Edward Lerner couldn't be reached for comment.

Miami attorney Jose G. Sepulveda represents Wells Fargo in the lawsuit.
Stalled Miami Gardens retail project headed to auction

The stalled Palmetto Gardens Plaza project in Miami Gardens is headed to
auction after its owner lost a $13.3 million foreclosure judgment.

PNC Bank (NYSE: PNC) won the judgment against Palmetto Design Center
over an $8.3 million mortgage, plus interest and fees. The lawsuit has
been ongoing since 2010. Palmetto Design Center is managed by Zvi Shiff
and Daniel Shiff.

The 7.1-acre site at 3799 N.W. 167th Street is set for online auction
Aug. 5.

Located on the north side of the Palmetto Expressway (State Road 826),
the site had approval for a 107,669-square-foot shopping center.
Construction started in 2004, but it stalled out.

West Palm Beach attorney Alexander del Russo represented PNC in the lawsuit.

Check out our Foreclosure Database to view previous foreclosure filings
and search by county or property type.

Brian Bandell covers banking, finance, health care and education. Continue reading
Tampa International's flights to Cuba hit political, market turbulence
Jamal ThaljiJamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer
Saturday, March 9, 2013 3:30am

Cuba lies just 300 miles away. It was 50 years, though, that really
separated it from Tampa. ¶ That ended in 2011 when Tampa International
Airport was allowed to resume commercial flights to Havana for the first
time since the trade embargo took effect in 1962. ¶ The city coveted the
route, which boosted the airport's international portfolio and gave hope
to those who want to restore ties and trade with Cuba. In the 18 months
since, more than 57,000 people have traveled from Tampa International to
Cuba. Miami no longer had a monopoly on the Cuban travel market, and
Tampa's 80,000 Cuban-Americans could visit family without first driving
four hours south to catch a plane. ¶ The Cuba flights are considered a
Tampa success story. Yet to many key players, there's been a lot of
turbulence behind the scenes.

Supporters grumble that the Tampa-Cuba route needs to attract more
non-Cubans. The route was also hindered by an airline price war,
bureaucratic red tape and — no surprise — Cuban-American politics.

Ralph Fernandez, Tampa's most vociferous pro-embargo, anti-Castro
activist, epitomizes those politics. If the market for Cuban flights has
stalled, hey, that's just fine with him.

"I should not be as bad as I am and be delighted in their failure," said
Fernandez, a Tampa lawyer. "But let's be honest: I am."

• • •

Traveling to Cuba isn't like traveling anywhere else.

Operators must get U.S. government clearance to fly there, and the Cuban
government's permission to land. For decades the United States permitted
Cuba flights from only three airports — Miami, New York and Los Angeles.
In 2011, the government allowed eight more airports to serve Cuba,
including Tampa International.

U.S. citizens need the U.S. government's permission to travel to Cuba.
Cuban-Americans can get a special travel license to visit family. But
tourism is not permitted. Non-Cubans need a reason — cultural,
humanitarian, religious — to travel there on what is called a
"people-to-people" license.

The past two decades have been a political rollercoaster for U.S. travel
policy to Cuba. Bill Hauf has spent a decade on that ride. The
68-year-old California real estate investor has been leading tours to
Cuba since 2000.

But for the past year, economics, not politics, was Hauf's biggest
problem. An airline price war erupted when the first flight took off for
Havana, he said, leading all three of Tampa's airplane chartering
companies to lose money.

Now just two companies are left. Hauf runs Island Travel & Tours, Ltd.
His rival is Tessie Aral, president of ABC Charters Inc. of Miami.

Hauf said ABC tried to run him out of business by slashing its ticket
prices and operating at a loss. That forced him to set round-trip prices
under $400 and plunge his company into the red. It went on for more than
a year.

"It's as if people were lining up at the gate and I were handing
everyone $150 for everyone to fly with me," Hauf said.

Aral, 55, ridiculed her competitor's complaints.

"This is not an elementary school," she said. "You don't say 'Oh no, she
hit me. She pulled my hair.' "

Aral agreed that competition has been fierce. ABC recently suspended its
flight to Holguin, a city on the eastern tip of Cuba.

Last month the number of flights from Tampa to Cuba dropped from five to
three. ABC flies to Havana once a week and Island Travel flies twice a week.

But Aral said she's not trying to drive anyone out of business. She also
lobbed her own charge at Hauf, that he tried to undercut her baggage
fees. Baggage is a profit center for the charter companies because
Cuban-Americans take so much stuff with them to relatives in Cuba.

Hauf said that was just for six months. His baggage fees now match
ABC's, he said.

He also said he's done with the price war. Last month, he said he raised
ticket prices to make a modest profit. Tickets cost $499 on Friday.

"We're no longer going to engage in this market pricing war," he said.

But Aral has her own problems with the Cuban flight market in Tampa:
It's dominated by the city's Cuban-Americans, and that market has peaked.

Something, she said, is missing: non-Cubans.

• • •

The market won't take off, Aral said, until more non-Cubans start using
Tampa International as their departure point.

"I wanted to encourage some of the Americans who travel to Cuba to
travel through Tampa," she said, "and for some reason I have not been
able to do that."

Those travelers need "people-to-people" licenses. But supporters of
Cuban travel say getting those licenses is complicated by politics and
bureaucratic red tape.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba is overseen by the Department of Treasury's
Office of Foreign Asset Control, or OFAC. It's an acronym supporters of
Cuban travel use with little affection.

OFAC decides who can charter the planes, book the flights and who gets
to go to Cuba. The agency also enforces numerous — and critics say
onerous — rules. OFAC restricts how much Americans can spend in Cuba and
makes them file detailed itineraries before they leave.

"They're very arbitrary," said Al Fox, 68, an anti-embargo activist who
is also president of his own think tank, the Alliance For Responsible
Cuba Policy Foundation. "Politics plays a big role in this."

The political pandering that has neutered Cuban travel is ridiculous,
Fox said. He pointed to a 2006 state law that prohibits Florida's public
universities from funding travel to "terrorist states" — including Cuba.
Private institutions like the University of Miami can go, he said, but
not the University of South Florida.

"How ridiculous," said Fox, who has led 88 tours and counting to Cuba.
"Since when did a state set foreign policy for us?"

Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, who advocates strengthening
Tampa-Cuba economic ties, said she felt targeted b y OFAC when the
agency asked her to account for her time and spending after a legally
sanctioned trip in 2011. Mulhern refused.

"I felt that I was being harassed, and that it was clearly meant to
intimidate me," she said. "Since I never heard anything back from them,
I suspect that this was motivated by local opponents of opening up a
relationship with Cuba."

OFAC said it does not comment on individual cases. In a statement to the
Tampa Bay Times the agency said "applications are considered on their
individual merits."

The pro-embargo crowd believes as Fernandez does: Rather than bridge the
U.S.-Cuba gap, cultural travel is a guise for tourism that helps fund
and prop up a regime they detest.

"The influx of money will buttress the position of the (Cuban)
government," he said. "They will intercept the lion's share of it. It
will go to keep the system in control longer."

• • •

Despite all the politics and regulations and roadblocks, not everyone is
unhappy with the Tampa-Cuba route. There are local Cuban-Americans who
don't have to go through Miami anymore. And there's Tampa International

"The city worked very hard to be designated a gateway to Cuba," said
Chris Minner, airport vice president of marketing.

Tampa International has been intensely focused on boosting its overseas
portfolio. Cuba is one of two international destinations added in the
last two years. (Zurich, Switzerland, is the other.) And though the
passenger numbers for the Cuba flights are just a blip on the airport's
balance sheet, it is a prestigious catch. It comes up whenever airport
officials travel the world, marketing Tampa to international airlines.

Last month the airport's governing board, the Hillsborough County
Aviation Authority, was pleased with the latest passenger numbers. There
was a 64 percent jump in the number of passengers to Cuba from September
to December 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

That's 5,000 more passengers over a four-month span.

"And we took all that from Miami?" board Chairman Steve Burton asked.

"Yes, sir," Minner told the board.

Minner said that in April the airport will meet with its Cuban travel
partners to take a fresh look at what can be done to improve the
business. The airport is also planning to promote awareness of the
flights and educate more travelers about how to legally visit Cuba.

But much of what affects Tampa's Cuban travel market — OFAC's rules,
"people-to-people" licenses, the Cuban government, the politics — is
beyond the airport's purview.

Still, Minner said, the airport is focused on what it can control, and
believes Cuba flights will continue to be a success for Tampa International.

"My role is to make sure that the airport is the best gateway that it
can be and that it offers the lowest costs to the carriers," Minner
said, "and Tampa's Cuban-American community, which is the third largest
in the nation, is a good bedrock for us to build upon."

Times researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this
report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (813)

Tampa International's flights to Cuba hit political, market turbulence
03/09/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 6:49pm] Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 03.08.13

In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Cuba's bloggers are as sharp abroad as at home
By Fabiola Santiago

The Cuban bloggers, bold chroniclers of totalitarian rule, are traveling
in winter, an apt metaphor for the old order they're challenging back
home, and to a smaller but no less significant extent, for that of the
traditional exile.

Yoani Sánchez. Eliécer Avila. Orlando Luis Pardo.

The weather casts a gray patina on their photos from Europe and New
York, but their tongues are as sharp abroad as they are inside Cuba when
they denounce the arrests of dissidents or illustrate — as they're doing
now with Cuba's new travel policy — what it's like to live in their world.

In one word: Treacherous. Whether inside Cuba or out.

Their words are dissected: Do they call it "the embargo," as in the
United States, or "the blockade," as in Cuba?

Their motives are questioned: Are they true opponents of the regime, or
useful fools?

Criticism comes at the ready from all sides, including from
Cuban-government-planted bloggers and from those competing for attention
and prominence — some of them exiles who were once branded Communist
sympathizers themselves.

It's nasty and dangerous out there, yet the bloggers cross borders,
participate in panels, collect prizes for their work that they were
given years ago, when the government denied them permission to leave.

"Their humanity shines through," Ted Henken, a " cubanólogo" and
professor at Baruch College in New York, tells me. He knows the bloggers
well. He's hosting Pardo and Sánchez in New York, and pens the blog El
Yuma, titled after the affectionate street term in Cuba for the United

Along with their discoveries, the traveling bloggers retweet news that
the Spaniard Angel Carromero has confirmed that the deaths of opposition
leader Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in a car crash in Cuba were caused
by Cuban government operatives. Carromero, who was driving the car and
says he was rammed from behind by another car, told Payá's daughter and
The Washington Post that his trial in Cuba for negligent driving was a
sham, his confession coerced.

And the bloggers retweet news of new politically motivated arrests and
beatings in Cuba — 504, a record number, in February, according to the
Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission on the island
— evidence that, despite the image Raúl Castro wants to portray of
reform, the government crackdown on freedoms remains firm.

They're clever: They tweet and retweet each other and their cohorts,
staying on message and seldom respond to criticism.

"My only commitment is with the freedom of Cuba," Yoani Sánchez, the
best-known blogger, said when asked to define herself in Brazil, where
she faced pro-Cuban government mobs from the moment she landed.

Soon after that, she became the target of criticism in the exiled
diaspora when she said she was worried that the Cuban government was
spending too much money on promoting the freedom of five Cuban spies
serving sentences in U.S. prisons.

"Ouch," a Cuban colleague emailed.

But her commentary, obvious sarcasm to those who follow her closely, was

The war of words against her, however, had been unleashed.

On Facebook, a Cuban-American critic began to take apart Sánchez's
choice of words in Brazil. They were too similar to Cuba's officialdom
speech for her taste — as if the Cuban government has exclusive rights
to some verbs in the Spanish language. More criticism followed when
Sanchez said she favors lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

No doubt some of the ill will is a side-effect of fame.

Sánchez has written her way to prominence through her sharp Generación Y
blog, tweets, books, and column on The Huffington Post. After crossing
the Atlantic four times on her Europe-U.S. tour speaking at panels and
collecting prizes, she will speak at two forums in Miami on April 1.

The youngest of the roving bloggers, Avila, who is in his 20s, has
turned out to be quite a revelation.He became an overnight "dissident"
in 2008 when, as a student at the University of Information Sciences in
Havana, he publicly asked Ricardo Alarcón, then president of the Cuban
Assembly, why Cubans weren't allowed to travel freely. Alárcon's
ridiculously infantile answer — that there would be too many planes in
the sky if everyone were allowed to travel — all but finished his career
and turned Avila into a YouTube sensation.

And not long ago, in an interview with Sánchez taped in Havana, Avila
unveiled Operation Truth, in which he revealed how the Cuban government
uses the university's computer programs and its students to spy on
Internet users.

Avila became the first prominent dissident to get the passport that
allowed him to see the world for the first time — and it tugs at the
heart strings to see the map he updates on Twitter as one invitation
leads to another and he travels to Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, Paris,

The first one to make it to Miami was the funky and poetic Pardo, who
pens the blog Lunes de Post-revolución (Post-Revolution Monday) blog and
loves to show off, in an endearing way, in his tweets and writings his
knowledge of English. He can pen Spanglish like a Miamian.

He stopped off in Miami a couple of days to visit "the Cuba of the
heart, the one we're missing," before heading to New York to participate
in an academic conference about the impact of digital technology in Cuba.

He called Cuba's government reforms "a message of desperation and
survival…. I don't think it's a message [indicative] of an opening."

Likewise, Avila made his feelings clear from Paris in an interview
circulated widely: "We, the new generations of Cubans, don't want the
government to self-reform, we want them to abandon el poder [power]" so
that Cubans can choose their leaders democratically.

For me, of all the images the bloggers and others in their company are
posting on the Internet, one stands out: Sánchez and Avila sharing a
beer in Prague.

It was an ordinary moment, but for them and for us, it's the
counterpoint to an outdated, oppressive regime.

A small victory, and an affirmation of freedom. Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live