Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 9, 2013

The Snitch / Yusnaby Perez
Posted on April 8, 2013

In Cuba, and only in Cuba, there is a profession that is learned very
young; we all know it as "chivatón" (or "chivatona" if you want to brag
about gender equality), and it means "snitch." This "work" is even more
important for the government of Cuba than any doctor serving on a
foreign "mission" or the architects associated with Eusebio Leal, the
man in charge of restoring Old Havana. For someone who is not familiar
with the term, a chivatón is nothing more than the person responsible
for betraying to the police or the authorities any doubtful action
undertaken by a neighbor or a co-worker, simply for the benefit of
watching them fall.

This is learned in school, where to continue on to the university you
need more than good grades. Careers in Cuban are awarded through a
comprehensive roster. This roster includes scores based on each
student's participation in revolutionary marches, political activities,
whether they hold positions in the Young Communist Union, and if they
attend and participate in all the political and cultural activities held
by their school or the Cuban government. After being scored on these
activities, then come the grades in subjects like math and literature,
but the leading role is played by the political character of each student.

Now, how to accumulate these points? Each student gets the maximum
points by standing up in an assembly with their classmates and exposing,
or snitching on, things that a person didn't do. For example, I stand up
and I say, "Juanita didn't go to the Anti-imperialist Bandstand two
years ago for the rally to support the Five Heros, and I did." Then
Juanita loses 5 points. Then Pedrito stands up and says, "On May 24,
2010, Juanita came to school wearing the uniform incorrectly." Juanita
loses another 5 points. So everyone stands up and exposes Juanita and,
in the end, they give her the final score. Then going on to the next
person, Juanita, indignant, stands up and snitches on Pedrito, because
he said something bad about her.

Thus, they create envy and hatred among the students themselves, and
this is extrapolated to each and every one of the country's workplaces.
I remember when they distributed the Chinese-made Panda TVs to all
schools in the country. There was one TV per school and it would be
given to one teacher. So all the "contestants" had to debate who would
be the chosen one by saying bad things about all their opponents.

Then we have the example of the Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution (CDR) which is the "university of snitching," for the Party
members in each area, workplace, municipality, province, etc. After all
this we become natural snitches; the neighbor who has lived his whole
life unable to earn more than 10 CUC (a little over $10 US) a month and
who calls the police because he can smell the aroma of beef cooking
coming from the house of a neighbor. I experienced this particular
example in Santiago de Cuba.

I don't know what is more dangerous on the island: the police, Castro,
or the network of snitches.

These people are going to have a big problem the day the system changes.
I even know Cubans who, after leaving the island, continue snitching at
their respective capitalist jobs, and it has caused them big problems.
It's like a sickness, like going into a zombie state, like not having a
life. They become snitches to the point of emptiness.

We have to live with these people day after day and they are nothing
more than a kind of parasite created by the Cuban government to repress
Cubans from within. A source of self-drowning, self-censorship, of
collective fear and envy of your neighbor.

26 January 2013 Continue reading
Another Dark Chapter
April 8, 2013
Francisco Castro

HAVANA TIMES — After 54 years of Cuba's revolutionary government being
in power — during which time the most radical changes in all of the
nation's history took place, both positive and negative — we've begun to
take a critical and constructive look at the mistakes made by the
government that Fidel Castro turned over to his brother Raul.

However, in the middle of this new "revolution within the revolution,"
often mentioned and combated remnants of the past endure. This time
these involve the past of that very same 1959 revolution, one under
which any opinion against it was suppressed in the name of maintaining
an unblemished reputation in the eyes of world public opinion.

This turned into a harmful and habitual vice because of the long period
over which it was practiced, though it's now being severely criticized
by President Raul Castro, who encourages Cubans to tell the truth
"without fear of reprisal," to help straighten out what for so long has
grown crooked.

Here I'll refer to the episode of the dismissal of Cuban essayist
Roberto Zurbano from his position as director of the Fondo Editorial de
Casa de las Americas, one of the most prestigious publishers in the country.

The decision made by the government was taken because of his criticism
in the New York Times of racism in Cuba, according to the Diario de Cuba

None of the excerpts published by Diario de Cuba of the views of the
essayist seemed distant from reality; rather, they came across as brave,
even consistent with the appeal for constructive honesty made by Raul

The lingering of discrimination in Cuba is no secret, despite the
campaigns and programs carried out for its elimination. Veiled or open,
the exclusion of minorities is a daily practice, many of which are
carried out by "a power that's exercised by individuals who are
incapable of restraint," to paraphrase Ingmar Bergman.

Specifically, the issue of racism, anchored to blacks in Cuba, is a
special matter. At this stage of the game, opportunists and extremists
are mixed with those who are genuinely interested in the struggle for
its elimination, though many of these would find their interests
endangered if that ever happened.

Lies, accusations, posturing, low blows and gossip occur whenever people
are compelled to speak out in front of those who choose the winners of
awards and those allowed to go on trips. The fight against racism in
Cuba isn't exempt from all this.

Given this state of affairs — it's not outrageous to mention that the
government has been "unable to overcome" racism — it's time to lay it on
the line.

I wish to express my support for Roberto Zurbano and with all those who
are persecuted for their courage to speak the truth about what they
honestly believe in and who fight for a more just society. Continue reading
Cubans and Logging In to the Future
April 8, 2013
Alfredo Fernandez

HAVANA TIMES — Having left Cuba less than a month ago has proven a major
revelation for me. Yes, because for a Cuban crossing the limits of the
island for the first time brings with it a peculiar significance to the
trivial act of traveling in today's world.

Shortly after arriving to Ecuador, which is far from being a developed
country, the unnecessary sacrifice that Cubans are subjected to daily
becomes all so clear.

It's impossible for me to understand why in Cuba we don't have full
Internet service, a tool that interweaves much of the daily life of the
inhabitants of the planet.

I also can't understand always having to search for something to eat on
the island? A brief visit to any market in Ecuador and you will find a
diversified and affordable offer, even for the less fortunate pocketbook.

I'll never forget that "conversation" between Eliecer Avila [then a
student leader at the Computer University] and Ricardo Alarcon [the
former chair of the Cuban parliament], where Alarcon, in one of his
usual statements answered the student by saying, that "travel would be
the best way to end the doubts of the people on the legitimacy of the
Cuban system."

To be honest Mr. Alarcon, now that I can verify what I always imagined,
I reassert what I invariably thought: the difficulties faced by people
in Cuba are absolutely unnecessary.

Twenty days ago I left Havana and to this day I cannot find the
slightest reason for complicity with what Alarcon defends to the limit.
To the contrary, thinking of Cuba I can only feel sorry for my country,
even more so for those who have not yet traveled, enabling them to enter
into the future and see like me, that which they have known for a long time. Continue reading
Why Socialism for Cuba?
April 8, 2013
Armando Chaguaceda

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago I shared an evening with a young couple of
compatriots to discuss the ideological colors of the island's future.
Though these were sensitive and well-educated people, children of the
fine educational legacy of the Cuban Revolution, these friends were
pessimistic about the chances of a socialist alternative being a
solution to the problems in Cuba.

"No way," they told me. "Though it will take its toll, it seems that the
solution will be to hit bottom and then accelerate the capitalist
reforms to resolve the accumulated clutter and backwardness."

Such a reflection by people who I admire and respect for their values
??and social commitment — shown in inspiring everyday pursuits ranging
from ecology to free-software — got me thinking about the discrediting
of the socialist idea among many Cubans.

Living (and suffering) the rigors of a state centralized model that has
lasted half a century, it's understandable that some residents in
neighborhoods like Marianao or Placetas would be horrified with the
thought of giving this "ism" another chance.

On the other hand, a non-negligible sector of the population (aging,
resigned) is making the decision to continue living under the current
model out of their fear of change. Frightened by the East European
experience, their concern is that here too, a new direction would
certainly be traumatic. Neo-liberalism or neo-Stalinism: this seems to
be the restricted menu of options for our island.

However, given the problems of the present (ranging from the accumulated
material shortages to undermined freedoms and human rights) and those
approaching (increasing inequalities of all types) I believe that — far
from giving up — our task is to battle for the future of the socialist

This is certainly difficult to sustain under the expansive capitalist
hegemony to which the island is subjected, hegemony that weighs on
cultural consumption, the devaluation of self-organized solidarity and
the visible leadership role of economists and technocrats from Cuban
academia and politics.

But if we want Cuba not to become a "market without a republic" (as
predicted in the dismal prophecy of one prestigious Cuban intellectual),
it seems to me we'll have to fight.

To do so implies abandoning abstract utopianisms, far from what some
proclaim. It's about defending viable proposals for managing social
services, regulating fundamental businesses and bringing up for
discussion state spending at all levels. It's about promoting
cooperatives, participatory budgeting and independent unions.

It means demonstrating with examples — which exist like islands of
self-determination within this capitalist world — that what's collective
isn't the same at what's state-owned and run. What's truly participatory
is not a mere guise for what's actually authoritarian, and "socialist"
inefficiency can't be remedied by privatization.

We need to look to real and virtuous experiences, like the Nordic social
protection systems, the social economy networks in Uruguay and the
public policy of the current government of Ecuador.

In the specifically political realm, it's about building a substantive
(representative, participatory, deliberative) democracy, where there are
no exclusions for ideological reasons, and hegemony is achieved with
reason and debate not through force nor accompanied by irreversible
bouts of institutional sclerosis.

This would mean trans-institutional democracy in which the citizenry
rules through political and social organizations, and the arrogance of
bureaucrats is not merely replaced by new and refurbished
self-referencing party and business elites. This would be where battles
of ideas were not supplanted by marketing campaigns.

The history of pre-revolutionary Cuba was a long sequence of
authoritarian governments that began with our colonial status and
included two ironhanded anti-communist dictatorships supported by

Notwithstanding, today there's no shortage of Cuban liberals, democrats
and patriots — an unavoidable part of the nation — who are reintroducing
the legacy of the pluralistic press (such as the Republican press) and
progressive constitutionalism (like the one of 1940) to continue
striving towards the establishment of a state of rights with the
tri-partition of powers and multi-partyism, akin to the classical canons
of representative democracy.

Therefore, if others have all the energy and right to dream a different
future, why should we on the left refuse to aim for a different form of
socialism as an alternative to the current regime and to any neoliberal

In a few weeks we'll be marking five years since that Mayday march when,
despite threats of repression, a small group of comrades went out to
Revolution Square to march in the Labor Day parade carrying a banner
reading: "Down with bureaucracy! Long live the workers! More socialism!"

In light of this, I can only recognize the relevance of that action,
where we overcame our fears to defend national and popular sovereignty.

I remember how we began to detect — in the joy, surprise and warm
acceptance of other marchers — for the possibility of a socialist future.

If there's something (I think) should distinguish a socialist, it's not
seeking a pure and unreal world, but the reasoned, free and collective
construction of better ways and places for living, here and now, as
human beings.

This is a search in which we will need to accompany (and join) the
struggles and contributions of all movements – pro-democracy,
environmentalist, feminist and anti-imperialist.

Anything that threatens the happy advent of this emancipatory plurality
— be they the holy words of a messiah or the preaching of merchants —
is, in the crudest sense, profoundly reactionary. Continue reading
Professor compares visiting Cuba to Nazi Germany

Treasury Department: Jay-Z, Beyonce received cultural license to visit Cuba
Published On: Apr 08 2013 05:39:18 PM EDT
Show Transcript

A University of Miami professor compared Jay-Z and Beyonce celebrating
their wedding anniversary in Cuba to visiting Nazi Germany to enjoy
Adolf Hitler.

"I feel disgusted," said Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, the former director of the
University of Miami's Research Institute for Cuban Studies. "Very few
people went to Nazi Germany to enjoy Hitler."

"It's not a place to have a vacation," said U.S. Rep. Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen. "They have to know that they're going to be used by the
Cuban regime to try to portray a sense of normalcy on the island."

"Despite the clear prohibition against tourism in Cuba, numerous press
reports described the couple's trip as tourism, and the Castro regime
touted it as such in its propaganda," Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Mario
Diaz-Balart wrote in the letter to the Treasury Department's Office of
Foreign Assets Control.

The couple had a license to travel to Cuba for cultural purposes,
according to the Treasury Department.

"You can go to Cuba as an American if you're going with a religious
group, with a humanitarian group, or with a cultural group," said Suchlicki.

"Pay attention to what human rights abuses are occurring in the very
island where you're partying," added Ros-Lehtinen. Continue reading
Henderson: Castor has no illusions about Cuba

"That's the difficulty, elevating Cuba on the to-do list," said Rep.
Kathy Castor.
By Joe Henderson | Tribune Staff
Published: April 9, 2013

- If you expected U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor to return from her trip last
week to Cuba with a glowing outlook about the possibility of normalized
relations with the United States, well, that didn't happen.

Actually, there was an eye-opening moment when she stepped out of her
hotel in Havana, only to be slowed by a large crowd of locals desperate
for a glimpse of Beyonce and Jay-Z. Somehow, that couple's trip to the
isolated island attracted a little more national and international
attention than did Castor's.

"They sure know who Beyonce is, I'll tell you that," Castor said. "We
walked outside the hotel, huge crowds – Be-yon-ce! Be-yon-ce!"

Hopeful as she may be for better ties between U.S. and Cuba in more
significant areas, though, Castor's eyes are wide open.

"America, and this community, cannot enter into greater engagement with
blinders on," she said Monday during a meeting with The Tampa Tribune
editorial board.

"This government continues to be repressive. It does not recognize many
of the fundamental human rights that everyone around the globe strives
for, and we share as Americans, to self-determine what you do with your

Friendly relations with Cuba could have big implications for Tampa,
economically and socially. Getting past long-held hostility toward the
Castro regime isn't easy, though. Congress has to approve any major
policy change.

With the world threatening to explode in places like North Korea, the
Middle East and other molten hot spots, a policy change toward Cuba
isn't a high priority.

"That's the difficulty, elevating Cuba on the to-do list," Castor said.

And this is a political fight.

"If you represent a district in Nebraska or one in Washington state,
Cuba is not so much on your radar," she said.

I talked about this subject the other day, while Castor was in Cuba,
with U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross. They are Hillsborough County's two
representatives to Congress; Castor is a Democrat, Ross is a Republican.
As you might imagine, they approach this issue from different points of

Ross said he'd love to see things improve with Cuba, but it wouldn't
happen until "regime change" that would allow Cubans to freely choose
their leaders. I asked Castor about that.

"How do you define regime change?" she said. "We've had the embargo and
travel restrictions in place for 50 years. Fidel (Castro) was there most
of the time; he's gone now. Raul (Castro) is there (as president). He's
more of a moderate. There has been a little bit of regime change.
They're on a path.

"I don't think at this point it would be in America's best interests to
invade the country," she added with a laugh, "to demand (change). The
people of Cuba should determine that. What is changing now is their
economic system, and I think that will lead to greater engagement that
will lead to change in their political system."

And if things still move too slowly, ask Beyonce to stop by for another
visit. From the sound of things, she engaged the people well. Continue reading
Exclusive: Beyonce, Jay-Z Cuba visit had U.S. Treasury Department OK -
By David Adams
MIAMI | Tue Apr 9, 2013 12:06am EDT

(Reuters) - A visit by American pop star Beyonce and rapper husband
Jay-Z to Havana last week was a cultural trip that was fully licensed by
the U.S. Treasury Department, a source familiar with the itinerary said
on Monday.

The longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba prevents most Americans
from traveling to the communist-led island without a license granted by
the U.S. government.

Three Cuban-American members of Congress, all Republicans from Miami and
supporters of a firm stance on Cuba, have asked the Treasury Department
to look into the licensing of the trip, prompting officials to seek more
information from the organizers.

Beyonce and Jay-Z celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana
and were greeted by big crowds as they strolled through the Cuban
capital. The music industry power couple were instantly recognized as
celebrities despite the past half-century of ideological conflict that
separates the two countries.

The source told Reuters that the trip included visits with Cuban artists
and musicians, as well as several nightclubs where live music was
performed, and some of the city's best privately run restaurants, known
as "paladares."

The visit was planned as a "people-to-people" cultural visit and
involved no meetings with Cuban officials, or typical tourist activity
such as trips to the beach, the source said. Even a walk around the Old
City of Havana, mobbed by crowds of excited Cuban spectators, was led by
Miguel Coyula, one of the city's leading architects.

Publicists for the couple did not return emails or phone calls seeking

Beyonce and Jay-Z were the latest American stars, joining actors Bill
Murray, Sean Penn and James Caan who have also visited the Caribbean
island in the past few years. But the pair were the first to cause such
a stir everywhere they went.

The couple arrived in Havana unannounced for a four-day visit on
Wednesday on a flight from Miami. But word of their presence spread like
wildfire, by text messaging and word of mouth.

Beyonce, who sang at President Barack Obama's inauguration for his
second term in January, was instantly recognized when she and Jay-Z, and
their mothers, dined at La Guarida, the city's top privately run
restaurant, on their first night.

The next day a crowd of several thousand people swarmed around them in
Old Havana during a walk-about.

They also visited a children's theater group and several clubs where
they heard live music, and occasionally took to the dance floor. On
Friday, they toured Cuba's top art school and met with some young artists.


U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart
questioned the couple's trip, saying it was being used for Cuban
government propaganda. Ros-Lehtinen, long a fierce critic of the Cuban
government, said it was "very disconcerting that these two mega stars
would go down to Cuba and vacation as if they were in a tropical
paradise and not say one word about the brutality their hosts display
against all pro democracy activists."

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said the Obama administration's cultural
exchange programs "have been abused by tourists."

If the Treasury Department had licensed the trip "the Obama
Administration should explain exactly how trips like these comply with
U.S. law and regulations governing travel to Cuba," Rubio said.

The Cuban government was unaware of the participants on the trip until
shortly before they departed for Cuba, the source told Reuters, adding
that the Cuban media made no official mention of the pair while they
were in Havana, at the request of the singers.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which
handles licenses for travel to Cuba, said it does not comment on
individual cases.

OFAC provides licenses to visit Cuba on a case-by-case basis for
educational exchanges, and for programs that promote "people-to-people
contact" and "contribute to the development of civil society in Cuba,"
according to Treasury Department guidelines. Tourism is specifically
prohibited by the guidelines, it states.

"It's hard to imagine a more people-to-people contact visit than the
scenes witnessed last week on the streets of Havana with two of the
United States' biggest music stars wading through crowds of fans they
never knew they had," said John McAuliff, executive director for the
Fund for Reconciliation and Development, an organization working to
normalize U.S. relations with Cuba.

He described the couple's program as "characteristic of licensed trips
undertaken by thousands of Americans every year."

While it has kept the embargo in place, the Obama administration has
eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, religious or cultural

"People-to-people" visits, first promoted under President Bill Clinton
in the 1990s, but reined in under President George W. Bush, have been
revived by the Obama administration to encourage more contact between
Americans and Cubans, separated by just 90 miles of ocean, but over half
a century of ideological differences.

A number of U.S. firms are sponsoring Cuba trips, ranging from National
Geographic to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the American
Automobile Association, resulting in a steadily growing stream of
Americans to the island.

Only licensed travelers and Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the
island are allowed to board special charter planes from Miami for the
50-minute flight to Cuba.

Some U.S. citizens dodge those requirements by traveling to Cuba via
third countries. Cuba does not stamp the passports of Americans who
visit Cuba, making it easy to avoid detection.

Criminal penalties for violating OFAC regulations range up to 10 years
in prison and $250,000 in individual fines.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Franks and Nelson Acosta in Havana;
Editing by Leslie Gevirtz, Frances Kerry and Vicki Allen) Continue reading
How to get in trouble traveling to Cuba
Published April 08, 2013

It appears that Jay-Z and Beyoncé's trip to Cuba is above board after
all. That's at least what Reuters is reporting, citing a source close to
the couple.

The two music stars were in Cuba last week, where they toured Old
Havana, posed for pictures with local schoolchildren and dined at the
renowned restaurant La Guarida. The trip also sparked the interest of
two Republican congressman from Florida who questioned what kind of
license – or special permission – allowed them visit to the island.

Traveling to Cuba is technically not illegal, but the United States does
prohibit its citizens from spending money in Cuba without the proper

While it's true that travel to Cuba has gotten a whole lot easier due to
easing of travel restrictions for Americans, travelers must take part
in tours to Cuba that encourage "people to people" contact. There are
exceptions for students, journalists, Cuban-Americans and others with
legal reasons to travel there.

Getting caught can result in 10 years in prison and $250,000 in
individual fines.

While most people's trips won't garner the public scrutiny of Jay-Z and
Beyoncé, here are some ways you might still catch some heat if you don't
follow the rules.

1. Don't Get a License

You can't simply book a flight and a hotel and head to Cuba. To get
into the country legally, you need to travel with a Cuba travel
organization that has an official license from the U.S. State Department
Americans. There are about a dozen of these licensed organizations now.

2. Hang Out On The Beach

Tourist activities -- like visiting the beach or scuba diving -- are
prohibited from itineraries. According to Treasury Department
guidelines: "Each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational
exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between
the travelers and individuals in Cuba." This means your days will be
spent going to museums, a hospital or a local Communist Party block meeting.

3. Purchase Tickets From a Local Travel Agent

You can find anything on the Internet, including contact details for a
local agent who will be more than happy to sell you a ticket directly --
by cash. Also, there are other third party agents that arrange travel
to Cuba, usually through a third country. (By the way, the Cuban customs
and immigration officials know not to stamp the passports of Americans
entering the country.) You can do the same if you want to book a hotel
room or a car.

4. Ignore the U.S. government if it comes a calling

Say you're busted by U.S. customs official when bringing something back
to the U.S. that you bought in Cuba. If you get a questionnaire from
Treasury Department's office, which oversees financial dealings with
Cuba asking for details –ignore it. That's what happed to Zachary
Sander. After a protracted to and from in which Sanders sued the U.S.
government, he finally agreed to settle the case and pay a fine of $6500." Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 04.08.13

Freed Cuban spy seeks return for father's death
The Associated Press

MIAMI -- A convicted Cuban spy still serving probation in the U.S. is
asking a federal judge to allow him to return to Cuba temporarily for
his father's memorial service.

Rene Gonzalez says in court papers that his 82-year-old father Candido
Gonzalez died April 1 following a stroke. Gonzalez is asking for
permission to attend a family memorial service in Havana.

Gonzalez is one of the so-called Cuban Five convicted of spying on Cuban
exiles in Florida and attempting to infiltrate military installations
and political campaigns. They are celebrated as heroes in Cuba.

Gonzalez completed a 13-year prison term in October 2011 but is still on
three years' probation. He has visited Cuba one time since.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard wants prosecutors to respond by
Wednesday whether they oppose the trip. Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 04.08.13

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor: Lift Cuba embargo, travel restrictions
By Richard Danielson
Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA -- Saying "it's time to try something new," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor
on Monday called for the Obama administration and Congress to lift
travel restrictions and the 51-year-old trade embargo on Cuba.

"Cuba is changing," said Castor, D-Tampa, who left on a fact-finding
trip to Cuba Wednesday evening and returned on Saturday. "They have
embarked on economic reforms that the United States of America should
promote. The United States of America now should normalize relations and
begin a constructive dialogue with the island nation."

Castor said Fidel Castro is no longer in power, described his brother,
President Raul Castro, as "a much more practical ruler," and said there
is a generational change underway in Cuba's government.

"They are still a hard-core communist nation, but they are embarking on
market reforms in their economy that deserve encouragement," said
Castor, who traveled with members of her staff and representatives of
the nonprofit, non-partisan Center for Democracy in the Americas.

As a result of her trip, Castor said she plans to reach out to President
Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry "to open talks to lead to
greater trade and travel opportunities."

"This should not be done with blinders on, however," she said. "There
are still very significant human rights challenges in Cuba. It is still,
to many extents, a repressive regime that does not allow citizens to
enjoy all of the human rights that we all enjoy. But after 50 years of
an embargo and isolation that's proved that it hasn't worked, it's time
to try something new and refresh our relationship."

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813)
226-3403. Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 04.08.13

Beyoncé, Jay-Z may claim culture trip
By Juan O. Tamayo

Superstar couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z might have had a legal permit for
their controversial trip to Cuba, but they and their retinue might still
face trouble with the complex U.S. sanctions on the island, U.S.
government and travel industry officials say.

Their visit to the communist-ruled island last week led two
Cuban-Americans in Congress to ask the Treasury Department's Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces sanctions on Cuba, if the
couple had an OFAC license for the trip.

Cuba's official media reported the couple was on a tourist visit, which
would be illegal under the half-century-old U.S. embargo. They
celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana and took along
their mothers and at least one bodyguard.

But while U.S. laws and regulations allow Cuban Americans to make
unlimited trips to the island for family reunification visits, U.S.
residents and citizens who are not Cuban American face a tangled web of
OFAC restrictions.

They can travel under "specific licenses" approved in advance by OFAC,
for instance, for educational visits known as 'people to people" trips.
Or they can go under "general licenses" for purposes such as journalism
or cultural research, which do not require prior approval but can be
challenged and punished by OFAC afterwards.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z did not obtain individual OFAC approvals for "specific
licenses" in advance of their trip, according to one person in
Washington. He asked to remain anonymous to protect the source of his

The Reuters news agency reported Monday that the couple and their
retinue travelled on a legal people-to-people license held by a group
that was not required to report to OFAC the names of the individuals on
the trip.

Beyoncé and her husband visited the Superior Institute of the Arts and
watched performances by the Modern Dance Troupe and a children's theater
group in Havana between their arrival Wednesday and their departure Friday.

Still unclear is how much money the group spent while in Cuba. Although
OFAC regulations cap spending in Cuba at $140 per day, the group stayed
at the Saratoga Hotel in Old Havana, where the cheapest room goes for
$148 per night and the most expensive suite costs $324.

Also unknown is how the group travelled to Cuba. Any private planes
flying between the United States and the island must have a special
permit from the U.S. Commerce Department. The fine for violating that
requirement can run up to $250,000.

Beyoncé is not new to political controversies, and in 2009 was paid $2
million by a son of Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi to perform at a New
Year's Eve bash on the British-run Caribbean island of St. Barts. She
later donated the money to Haiti earthquake relief.

OFAC spokesman John Sullivan said he could not comment on any individual
cases. The U.S. State Department referred all questions to OFAC. And
Beyoncé publicist Yvette Noel-Schure did not reply to El Nuevo Herald
requests for a comment.

Dozens of famous U.S. entertainers have visited the island in the past
under OFAC general and specific licenses, including Robert Redford, Will
Smith, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Jodie Foster, and Danny Glover.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans
and Cuban Americans, asked OFAC last week what kind of license Beyoncé
and her traveling party had used for the trip to Havana, if any.

The state-controlled CubaDebate Web page shot back Monday with a column
repeating that Beyoncé and Jay-Z were "tourists" and accusing the two
Congress members of persecuting the couple "in the style of McCarthy
from the dark decade of the '50s."

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said the people-to-people trips
have been "abused by tourists who have no interest in the freedom of the
Cuban people and don't realize ... that they are essentially financing
the regime's systematic abuses of human rights."

Mauricio Claver-Carone, an anti-Castro lobbyist in Washington who has
denounced the couple's visit to Cuba, said he only wants the
entertainers to hear the arguments of people such as Berta Soler, leader
of the dissident group Ladies in White.

"The point is not to get them fined or reprimanded," he said. "I just
hope they can take five minutes to meet with someone like Berta Soler
and hear their side, and I will be a happy camper." Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 04.08.13

Missing Florida couple, kidnapped sons reportedly in Cuba
The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- A Florida couple suspected of kidnapping their two sons
from the woman's parents are in Cuba, authorities said Monday.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office received information that the
Hakken family had arrived on the island nation, according to a news
release. Investigators say they're working with the FBI and the U.S.
State Department to verify their reports.

It wasn't immediately clear what, if anything, authorities could do to
retrieve the family from Cuba.

A State Department official said the department is aware of the case and
is in contact with local authorities. The official said a high priority
is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas, especially children "who are
our most vulnerable citizens."

"The Department works with parents and foreign governments to resolve
these difficult cases," the official said.

The sheriff's office alleges that Joshua Michael Hakken entered his
mother-in-law's house north of Tampa early Wednesday, tied her up and
fled with his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase.

Federal, state and local authorities had been searching by air and sea
for a boat Hakken recently bought. The truck that Hakken, his wife
Sharyn and the boys had been traveling in was found late Thursday,
abandoned in a parking garage in Madeira Beach. Authorities say they had
been looking up and down the entire Gulf coast from Pensacola to the
Keys and the Intracoastal Waterway. An Amber Alert for the boys has been
issued in Florida, Louisiana and other states.

The boys had been living since last year with their maternal
grandparents, who were granted permanent custody Tuesday. Joshua Hakken
lost custody of his sons last year after a drug possession arrest in
Louisiana, and he later tried to take them from a foster home at
gunpoint, authorities have said. Authorities have previously
characterized the Hakkens as "anti-government."

The Hillsborough Sheriff's office has issued an arrest warrant for
Joshua Hakken on charges of kidnapping and several other counts. Continue reading
April 05, 2013

A week after his promised release, Cuban political prisoner Calixto
Martinez still in jail

A week after Cuban prisoner of conscience Calixto Ramon Martinez ended
his hunger strike when his jailers promised his release was imminent, he
remains in jail.

Not a surprise in the least -- a promise from the Castro regime is worth
nothing, until we know whether they have kept it. But it remains
important to keep paying attention to Martinez's plight, to hold his
jaiers accountable.

Friday evening, Cuban independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra
reported via Twitter that Martinez had been transferred from the
Combinando del Este prison in Havana to the Valle Grande prison, also
near the capital.

Does this mean Martinez, who has been unjustly jailed since Sept. 16, is
about to be released?

Only actions, not promises, will tell.


The International Press Institute this week renewed its call for the
Castro regime to release Martinez." Continue reading
Cuban editor starts hunger strike to demand release of his reporter from
Castro gulag (UPDATED)

UPDATED, 8 p.m. EDT -- Via Twitter, Roberto Guerra reports that Calixto
Martinez has resumed his hunger strike.

Cuban independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra on Monday started a
hunger strike to force the release of his imprisoned colleague, Calixto
Ramon Martinez.

Guerra, director of the Hablemos Press news agency and himself a former
political prisoner, had warned last week that several activists were
prepared to go on hunger strike on Martinez's behalf if the regime did
not release Martinez within days after on March 28 he ended a 22-day
hunger strike. (For what it was worth, his jailers had promised Martinez
that if he ended his protest, he would be released within days.)
Over the weekend, it was reported that three activists in Camaguey had
started their own hunger strikes to show support for Martinez. And on
Monday, Guerra took to Twitter to announce his protest:

'I have declared myself on hunger strike because the authorities have
not fulfilled their promise to free the journalist Calixto Ramon Martinez'

Martinez has been imprisoned since Sept. 16, when he was arrested while
investigating why a shipment of medical supplies at the Havana airport
had been allowed to spoil.
"Though he was never formally charged or faced court, the police are
accusing him with 'disrespect' toward President Raul Castro and former
president Fidel," Amnesty International said in February when it
designated Martinez as a prisoner of conscience.
While in jail, Martinez has carried out two lengthy hunger strikes, the
second of which he ended after officials told him he would soon be
released. Last week, he was transferred from Combinando del Este prison
in Havana to another jail -- far short of what Martinez and his
supporters had been lead to expect.

Guerra's patience with the dictatorship has reached its limit.
"Six months is sufficient," he said last week." Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live