Human Rights Cuba Info about Human Rights in Cuba Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:30:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:05:45 +0000 Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The recent decision
by the president of the United States to limit commercial relations with
Cuban companies controlled by the military highlights a rarely explored
corner of the national reality.

Anyone who knows the Island minimally knows that there is nothing like
what can be called a “division of powers” here. It was demonstrated
recently when the deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power
unanimously raised their hands to “back” some program documents from the
Communist Party, documents that the deputies had no legal capacity to
approve but politically could not disapprove.

In other countries, it is to be expected that Congress will oppose what
the Executive has proposed or that the Judiciary will rule
unconstitutional what a Parliament has approved. In most nations, when
some measure, new policy, or any law is applied, analysts wonder how the
unions will react or what the students are going to do. In Cuba it is
not like that. Those who rule give the orders and the rest obey or go to

The ostensible presence of individuals from the military sector in power
structures, especially in economic management, may lead one to think
that the army enriches itself this way and that having so many resources
in its hands makes it easier for it to repress the people. This
reasoning thus forms part of the belief that there is some kind of
division of powers and that introduces a huge error in the analysis.

The presence of colonels and generals (retired or active) in charge of
tourism companies such as Gaviota, or powerful consortiums such as
Gaesa, Cimex and TRD among others, may not mean the militarization of
the economy as much as it means the conversion, the metamorphosis, of
soldiers into managers.

Devoid of or “healed” of an authentic “working-class spirit,” they
handle with the iron fists of ruthless foremen – loyal to the boss – any
dispute with the workers. Their habits of discipline lead them to do
what they are ordered to do without asking if it is viable or
absurd. They do not demand anything for themselves and anything that
improves their standard of living or working conditions (modern cars,
comfortable homes, trips abroad, food and beverage baskets…) will be
considered as a favor from the boss, a privilege which can be paid for
only with loyalty.

Although difficult to believe, they are not backed by their cannons or
their tanks, their influence is not determined by the numbers of their
troops or the firepower of the armaments they control, but by the
confidence that Raúl Castro has in them. It is as simple as that.

When we review the extensive documentation issued by the different
spheres of the outlawed political opposition, or by the officially
unrecognized civil society, we can barely observe any protest against
the dominance that the military has gained over the economy in the last

Civil society’s priorities are different. The liberation of political
prisoners, the cessation of repression, freedom of expression and
association, the right to choose leaders in plural elections… In the
area of ??economics, what is being questioned are the difficulties faced
by private entrepreneurs in starting a business, limitations on access
to the international market, excessive taxes, and the plunder to which
the self-employed are subjected to by the inspectors.

The most perceptible concern in this sense is that placing these
soldiers in key points of the economy is engineering the future economic
empowerment of the ruling clans in a virtual piñata, which implies
self-annihilation of the system by the heirs of power.

If it were not so dramatic it would be laughable to imagine the infinite
solutions that the Cuban rulers have to circumvent “the new measures”
announced by the president of the United States. All they have to do is
change the name of the current monopolies and place civilian leaders in
charge of supposed “second level cooperatives,” already foreseen in
Guideline 15 from the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This magic trick or, to use a Cubanism, “shuffling of the dominoes”
would force the mammoth American bureaucracy to make a new inventory of
entities with which trading is forbidden. “As the stick comes and goes,”
they reorganize their forces while remaining at the helm of the country
and watching Donald Trump’s term expire.

To perform this trick it will not be necessary to gather the Party
together in a congress, nor to consult the constitutionalist lawyers,
they would not even have to inform the Parliament. To make matters
worse, in the streets there will be no protest against the chameleon
gesture of the military exchanging their uniforms and their weapons for
guayaberas or business cocktails.

Source: Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba –
Translating Cuba –

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Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:04:23 +0000 Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The passenger complains
of the heat while frantically moving the fan. “In a few days I will
install an air conditioning,” justifies the taxi driver and adds that he
will charge “higher fares.” In summer everyone dreams of
air-conditioning their rooms or vehicles, but whether or not one suffers
the heat depends on the pocketbook.

In 2013, after eight years of prohibition, the government authorized
travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and
microwave ovens. It was the starting shot for an avalanche that invades
the airports, the port terminals and the shipping agencies to Cuba.

“Six ‘splits’ (air conditioners) came on that flight,” said an employee
of Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The plane
from Cancun, a route greatly appreciated by the mules, also brought a
dozen flat-screen TVs, eight minibars and two desktop computers.

Among the boxes that are piled around the luggage belt are the units
that will be placed inside rooms and others that will be placed on a
roof or an outer wall, a cruel irony, because in the main airport of the
country travelers complain about the heat and drip fat beads of sweat
while waiting for their suitcases.

“It is difficult to know the number of AC units entering each day,” says
the employee. “It is rare that a flight arrives from Panama, Mexico or
any other nearby country that comes without at least two devices.” In
the lines to pay for overweight luggage and the import of domestic
appliances one sees the new arrivals loaded with bundles.

Permanent residents in Cuba, national or foreign, can import two air
conditioners of up to one-ton capacity on each trip. On the first
occasion only – over the space of a year — they pay tariffs in Cuban
pesos at a price ranging from 150 to 200 CUP (roughly $6 to $8 US). For
additional imports they pay that amount in convertible pesos (CUC –
roughly $150 to $200 US).

The business is booming. Even paying in CUC the traveler can resell a
one-ton air conditioner on the black market for about 650 CUC, for a
device that originally cost less than 350 dollars. The brands that enter
most frequently are Midea, LG, Carrier, Royal, Daewoo and
Prestiger. Prices have fallen by up to 30% since the imports were
authorized and given the volume of supply that trend will continue.

State stores try to compete with the “under the counter” sales but have
higher prices, fewer models and shortages that make the supply unstable.

The air conditioners have slowly been incorporated into the landscape of
cities and towns. If before the economic relaxations they were installed
discreetly, now with a more open economy the tendency is to exhibit them.

“The people living there have cash,” says Igor, a pedicab driver who
waits for his clients in the vicinity of the Plaza de Carlos III. While
pedaling and showing some parts of the city, the cyclist glances at
these signs of families with money. “Wherever there is an air
conditioner they are affluent,” he muses. Not only does acquiring one of
these devices mark membership in a social group, the most difficult
thing is to pay for its operation.

Much of the electricity supply remains subsidized. “The average monthly
consumption in the residential sector in 2013 was approximately 180 KWh
per customer,” said Marino Murillo. For that amount a consumer pays
36.60 CUP, “while the cost to the state is 220 CUP,” said Cuba’s vice

Keeping a one-ton air conditioner on all night can trigger electricity
consumption above 400 CUP monthly, the entire salary of a
professional. However, many families decide to do so, overwhelmed by the
heat or because they want to rent rooms to foreigners.

“Air conditioning and hot water cannot be lacking in this business,”
says Rocío, who operates a colonial hostel in Trinidad with his
mother. With three rooms for rent, each with AC, minibar and television,
the entrepreneurs pay a four-digit electricity bill. They consider that,
even so, it “brings in business” in an area with a high occupation rate
throughout the year.

In November 2010, a new progressive electricity rate began to be
imposed, which imposes a penalty of up to 300% on households that
consume more than 300 KWh per month, a situation that has triggered
electricity fraud.

An engineer from the Electricity Company in Havana told 14ymedio about
the new ways in which citizens seek to steal electricity. Before there
were “visible” cables that were easy to detect or they tampered with the
meters in a way that technicians noticed right away, but now they
conspire with the workers who repair the streets and get the cables
installed underground.

In 2013 the Cuban government authorized travelers to import air
conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwaves. (J. Cáceres)
The specialist says that there are “people whose homes abut state
entities and they steal electricity from a company, a warehouse, a
carpentry workshop or even a polyclinic.” He says that almost always “it
is a cases of people who have some highly customer-based business, like
an electric oven to make pizzas, a body shop, a private restaurant or a
lot of air conditioners.”

The engineer recalls a family in which “even the youngest children had
AC in their room and left it on all day.” A neighbor reported the
situation when he learned that they paid a very low electricity
rate. The complaint brought the inspectors and they discovered that the
meter was tampered with. In addition to the fine “they had to pay
retroactively all that they owed.”

To counter fraud, analog meters were replaced by digital ones and in
some areas of the country they are being changed again for new ones with
infrared technology. But the tricks are inexhaustible.

“The upstairs neighbor lives alone and is retired, and he passes the
cable with electricity to me and in return I also pay for his
consumption,” says a prosperous entrepreneur who runs a coffee shop on
Zanja Street. “So I share the consumption and it’s not as expensive”
because it prevents all the kilowatts going on a single account with the
consequent progressive surcharge.

The customer has three air conditioners installed throughout the
house. “Without this you can not live here, because this house hardly
has windows to the outside and the kitchen of the business generates a
lot of heat,” he explains. He bought the devices in the informal market
and is waiting for them “to lower prices a little” to buy a room.

“It is not the same to be Cuban with a fan as it is to be a Cuban with
AC,” he reflects. “The first one is irritated but the second is less
stressed because he has air conditioning.”

Source: Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich – Translating Cuba –

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Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:03:14 +0000 Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — Economic hardships
turn many Cuban engineers to work as bartenders, doctors become taxi
drivers and innumerable professionals become alternative guides for
tourists. Among the latter, there are the experienced or the
just-getting-started, but all of them earn more money than they would
working in the state sector.

“When they change a picture I know instantly,” says Natacha, a Havana
city guide who says she has visited “the Museum of Fine Arts more than
300 times” with her clients. She graduated from the Teaching Institute
but she left the classrooms after five years of teaching in junior high.

“I had to think about what to do with my life and I realized that I
spoke Spanish very clearly, I knew the history of Cuba and I was good at
dealing with people.” A friend advised her to start offering tours to
foreigners who came to the country.

At first, Natacha stood in a corner of Old Havana and whispered her
services to travelers. Now, after the relaxations regarding
self-employment, she has been able to legalize part of her activities
and form a team. “We have a network that includes rental houses, dance
teachers, masseuses and chauffeurs,” she says.

With the increase in tourism, which last year exceeded 4 million
visitors, the guide has “a surplus of work,” but now fears that after
the announcements of US President Donald Trump that “the business will

Natacha accompanies her clients “to places where a state guide will
never take them…The program is flexible according to their tastes: from
exclusive areas to poor neighborhoods, trips in collective taxis, a
train ride and a santería party.”

She speaks English and French fluently and recently began studying
Italian and Japanese. “Japanese tourism is still small but they pay very
well and are very respectful people,” says Natacha. Most of her clients
end up recommending her services to a friend who wants to travel to
Cuba. “This is a chain of trust that has allowed me to have up to 200
customers a year.”

The prices of a walk with the former teacher vary. “They can go from 20
to 100 CUC (roughly $20 to $100 US) depending on the place, the time and
the complexity of the subject.” For years she included visits outside of
Havana but now she has left these to her younger colleagues because her
mother is very old and she doesn’t want to leave the city.

“This work is hard because it takes a lot of personal involvement,
learning something new every day and answering many questions,” she
explains. “I spend hours walking, most of the time under the sun, but I
would not give up my independence by going back to teaching.” She says
that being a tourist guide has allowed her to “put a plate of food on
the table every day… a good plate of food.”

A growing alternative is digital sites that advertise independent guides
and offer a wide variety of services or entertainment packages. Recently
a team of 30-something Cuban residents in Miami launched Tour Republic,
a website to sell recreational activities on the Island.

The site connects the traveler with urban guides with a marketplace –
similar to Airbnb – but instead of offering lodging it markets tours of
varied intensity and duration, from a ride in a classic car through
Havana, to an escape through the unique natural landscape of the valley
of Viñales.

Máximo, a 30-year-old Italian newcomer to Havana, was hesitant Tuesday
about whether to buy a three-day package worth $58 including visits to
the Ernest Hemingway Museum, the University of Havana, the old colonial
fortresses of the capital, and even an encounter with the sculpture of
John Lennon located in a Vedado park.

With Tour Republic the customer pays the online service and must be at
the site where the itinerary begins at the agreed-upon time. In the case
of the tour that interests Maximo, the guide is at the bottom of the
steps of the Capitol and departs every morning at ten.

The tourist says he prefers an independent guide because “the program is
more flexible and can be adjusted more” to what he wants. In a small
notebook he has noted some interesting places that escape the typical
tourist route: the town of San Antonio, the Superior Art Institute and
the Alamar neighborhood.

“In this arena there are people very prepared and with excellent
training,” says Carlos, an alternative guide who leaves the statue of
José Martí in Central Park every morning for a tour he has
baptized Habana Real. “I take them through the streets where tourists do
not normally pass, I have them try a drink of rum in a bar where the
Cubans really go,” he says.

The young man, with a degree in geography, has been “wearing out shoe
leather in the city for seven years.” At first “I did not know much
about history, architecture or famous people, but little by little I
have become an itinerant encyclopedia of Cuba,” he says.

The GuruWalk platform has also risen to the crest of the wave of tourist
interest in Cuba. The Spanish company runs an international website
for free walking tours and has chosen Havana as their preferred site to
begin operations.

Communications director, Pablo Perez-Manglano, told 14ymedio that “the
platform is completely democratic, anyone can join and create a
tour.” Site administrators check the offers one by one, but the reviews
are left to users after each visit.

“We are an open and free platform, we do not charge the guide or the
visitor anything, and therefore, we hope that each person understands
and takes responsibility to comply, or not, with the legality in their
respective cities of the world,” he clarifies.

The site already has seven free tours in Havana, one in Santiago and
another in Santa Clara. “In addition, we had about 200 registered users
in the last month, which is a lot for such a new platform,” says

Unlike Tour Republic there is nothing to pay online and the money is
delivered directly to the guide.

The perspectives that the web offers for entrepreneurs like Natacha
sound promising. GuruWalk does not deny “entry to someone for not having
an official guide qualification.” Rather, it seeks “people who are
passionate about culture and history, who also enjoy teaching and
transmitting that knowledge.”

One of the strategies of the company is to make itself known among “the
owners of private houses” because it is to them that more often the
foreigners ask: “What should we see in the city?”

Pérez-Manglano underlines that the cornerstone of GuruWalk is the
“collaborative economy.” Instead of “certificates, rules, rules, or
permits,” they are interested in trust, which “is built little by little.”

Source: Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides – Translating
Cuba –

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Thanks for Nothing, Trump Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:02:05 +0000 Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy,
Trump’s “new policy” toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric
expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture
towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who
expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy
toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday
June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be
more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite
limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced “punishment” for the
Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where
the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with
Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by
US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage.

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The
dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the
enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little
Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime’s hours are numbered.
Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami’s
“Dialogue Mafia” “have run out of bread,” that “the political actors (?)
are now where they should be” And that Trump’s speech was “friendly
towards the Cuban people.” If the matter were not so serious, it would
probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least
they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone
should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of
this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!)
could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the
construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from
opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that
each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put
into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because
its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality
in trying to “channel economic activities outside the Cuban military
monopoly, GAESA.”

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of
institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes “military” from “civil,”
defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic
structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not
related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the
State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with
which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a
challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years
ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s proposals carry another capricious
paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the
fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention
independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living
from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained
precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the
State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay
because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than
privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the
one relating to the merely political. It’s shocking to see the rejoicing
of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called “hardline
opposition” inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) “successful” speech by
the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old
politics of confrontation will bring “to the Cuban people” in the field
of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump’s
speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously
manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been
the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the
reinstatement of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot,” repealed in the
final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the
unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic
relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and
even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a
few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held
after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about
any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in
US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded
in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US,
and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition
projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump’s proposals is none
other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the
natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba.
Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly
published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with
plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of
sovereignty and against “the rude American interference”, which that
gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of
the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press
conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the “Cuban people” – with no voice or vote in this whole saga
— remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and
interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and
the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the
Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its
government — is hidden behind a mask, and the “solution” of Cuba’s ills
is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we
can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the
benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Thanks for Nothing, Trump – Translating Cuba –

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Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:01:01 +0000 Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 19 June 2017 — “Impotence.” This is the word that a
performer in the Guiñol Theater (located in the basement of the FOCSA
building in Havana’s Vedado district) uses when asked her opinion of the
new Trump Doctrine regarding Cuba.

On a day of African heat, a group of eight waits to navigate the
Internet in a hall administered by the state-run telecommunications
monopoly ETECSA. The performer exchanges opinions with the others
regarding the event of the week: the repeal by Donald Trump’s
administration of Obama’s policy of détente.

On the street, for those Cubans who earn only token salaries, breakfast
on coffee alone and complain constantly about the inefficiency of public
services and the government’s inability to improve the quality of life,
political machination is just an annoyance.

Human Rights, democracy and political liberties all sound good, but they
are not understood in their full context. At least, this is what can be
deduced from the opinions expressed by the people waiting in line. Some
make clear that they are speaking from their personal perspective, that
they watched Trump on Telesur but have yet to read the measures for

For lack of time, and the propaganda fatigue brought on by the barrage
from the official press–which has caused many compatriots to decide to
not keep up with news reports but instead take shelter in social-media
gossip–the group waiting to go online is shooting to kill in all directions.

“Everybody talks about ’the people,’ about the ’dissidents,’ about the
Cuban American congressmen over there, about the government over here,
but nobody has hit on the formula for us to derive benefits from a
particular policy. Obama tried, but the gerontocracy that rules us did
not allow private business owners to get ahead. I feel like a hostage,
to Castro and to Trump. A puppet,” the performer confesses.

One lady, a loquacious and chain-smoking housewife, asks, in a tone of
disgust, “What have the people gained from Obama’s policy? Nothing.” And
she explains to herself, “Those people (the government) don’t want to
change. They will not give up,” she says ironically, “the honey of
power. Trump is a crazy man, a clown. The guy is a pill. His speech was
pure theater. It’s all cheap politicking. And in the middle of it all,
we Cubans are–and will remain–screwed. Nobody can change this [regime],
and nobody can take it down, either.”

A self-employed worker affirms that he does not see a solution to
Cubans’ problems because “we haven’t had the balls to confront the
arbitrariness of the government. To hold on and and get screwed, that’s
our fate. With all his yammering, the only thing Trump will achieve is
that the ’revolutionary reaffirmation’ marches will start up again,
condemning ’yankee interference.’ You can already see that coming.”

At a park in Old Havana there are no optimists to be found, either. On
the contrary. “Damn, brother, I thought that The One was going to put
back the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot law. The only way this shit’s going to be
resolved is letting people leave Cuba. You think that over here the
folks are going to sign up with the Ladies in White to get beaten up?
No, man, people will mind their own business, getting by under the table
and trying to scrape together a few pesos. There is no way that Cubans
will take to the streets. Unless it’s to get in line at foreign
consulates, or if Gente de Zona put on a free concert,” declares a young
man in the Parque del Curita, waiting for the P-12 line to Santiago de
las Vegas.

Almost 60 years since the protracted and sterile political arm-wrestling
between the various US administrations and the Castro brothers, a broad
segment of the citizenry sees itself caught in a no-man’s land–in a
futile battle for which nobody, not the Cuban rulers nor the US, has
asked their permission. They think also that political naiveté has
always reigned supreme in the White House, given the oft-repeated
intentions to export democratic values to a fraternity of autocrats with
the mentality of gangsters and neighborhood troublemakers.

“It is a narrative replete with personal ambitions, pseudo-patriotic
elation and cheap nationalism, which has served only to consolidate a
history of sovereign and intransigent rulers who never allowed North
American interference. It’s fine for a tale, but this politics of
confrontation on both sides has left only one winner: the regime of
Fidel and Raúl Castro. The rest of us have been the losers. Those who
were not in agreement with the Revolution or who wanted to emigrate were
called ‘gusanos‘ [worms]. Families were split up and kept from having
contact with relatives in the US. The result of all this is what we see
today: a great number of Cubans who cannot tolerate those who think
differently from them, many who want to emigrate, women who don’t want
to have children in their homeland and, in general, a great indifference
on the part of citizens towards the problems of their country,” explains
a Havana sociologist.

The official reaction has been restrained. For now. A functionary with
the Communist Party assures me that “the government is not going to wage
a frontal campaign to discredit Trump. Yes, of course, the various
institutions of the State will mobilize to demonstrate that the
government has it all under control. But Trump’s speech was more noise
than substance. Except for the matter of US citizens’ travel to Cuba,
which undoubtedly will affect the national economy, the rest [of the
Obama-era policies] remains in place, because the military-run
businesses are only two hotels.

The owner of a paladar [private restaurant] in Havana believes that “if
the yumas [Cuban slang for Americans] stop coming there will be effects
on the private sector, because almost all of them stay in private homes,
travel around the city in convertible almendrones [classic cars], and
eat lunch and dinner in private paladares.”

The news was not good for Cubans who had plans to emigrate to the US.
“Many dreamers thought that Trump was a cool guy and would reinstate the
Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy. I was not expecting as much, but I thought at
least that the Cuban-American congressmen would influence Trump’s
allowing the exceptional granting of visas to Cubans stuck in Central
America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and reactivating the asylum for Cuban
medical workers who have deserted their missions,” said a engineer who
dreams of resettling in Miami.

The perception right now among Cubans on the street is that they are
back to a familiar scenario. One of trenches. Replete with
anti-imperialist rhetoric and zero tolerance for liberal thought of any
stripe. The scenario most favorable for the hierarchs who dress in olive

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García
– Translating Cuba –

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A Bad Bet Sat, 24 Jun 2017 16:59:49 +0000 A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 13 June 2017 — Of the real and supposed problems that
the Cuban Revolution proposed to solve, as the basis of its historical
necessity, after more than half a century of exercising absolute power,
many have not been solved, the majority have been aggravated, and others
have emerged that did not exist before.

The housing shortage, the thousands of families living in precarious and
overcrowded conditions, and more thousands housed in inadequate
locations, constitute a clear demonstration of the Revolution’s failure.
Insufficient and inefficient public transit, for years incapable of
meeting the minimum needs of the population, and the appalling and
unstable public services of all types, show another face of the failure.
If we add to this the loss of important agricultural outputs, the
obsolescence of the industrial infrastructure (lacking upgrades and
needed investments), plus a generalized lack of productivity, the
situation becomes chaotic.

Nor have the political and the social spheres achieved what was
promised, what with the continued absence of freedoms and basic rights
for citizens, as well as low wages and pensions, covert racial and
gender discrimination, street and domestic violence, incivility,
antisocial behaviors, corruption, and disregard for flora and fauna.

The blame for this string of calamities has always been cast upon the
embargo–but even back when it went unmentioned while the country was
benefitting from enormous Soviet subsidies* these problems went
unresolved. At that time, the abundant resources were squandered on
foreign wars, backed insurgencies, absurd and grandiose failed plans,
and other frivolities.

The socialist state and its leaders, albeit abusing the revolutionary
rhetoric, have reliably demonstrated in Cuba that the system does not
work and is unfeasible–just as happened in the other socialist countries
which erroneously bet on it.

To propose a “prosperous, efficient and sustainable socialism” is to
propose a negation, and it constitutes no more than another utopia to
deceive the citizenry and detain the march of time a little
longer–knowing that, at the end, it will fail as it has up to now.
Socialism, perhaps attractive in theory, is in practice a failure. A bet
on it, in any of its forms, is to ensure a loss.

Translator’s Notes:

*Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the start of Cuba’s
“Special Period.”

Source: A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso – Translating Cuba –

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The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree Sat, 24 Jun 2017 16:59:00 +0000 The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree / Iván García

Iván García, 24 May 2017 — May 20 of this year with mark the 115th
anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cuba. In the Throne Room of
the Palace of the Captains General, a building which now serves as the
City Museum, Tomás Estrada Palma — born in Bayamo in 1835, died in
Santiago de Cuba in 1908 — would go down in history as the first
popularly elected president of the republic.

With heat bouncing on the asphalt so intensely that even stray dogs seek
shelter under covered walkways, I go out to inquire about the May 20

Four pre-university students in their blue uniforms have skipped class
to go to Córdoba Park, a free wifi zone in the 10 de Octubre district.
They want to check out their Facebook wall, chat with relatives in Miami
and read the latest soccer blog from the Spanish newspaper Marca.

Though the heat is stifling, the young men do not even notice it. They
are eating ice cream cones, joking, gesturing and shouting at each
other. Striking up a conversation with them is easy. They are
seventeen-years-old and all four of them say that they hope to go to
college when they finish high school. When I ask them if they know on
what date the Republic of Cuba was founded, they hesitate and look at
each other, trying to come up with a correct answer.

“January 1, right?” two of them respond simultaneously.

“You guys are so dumb,” says another, mocking his cohorts. “Independence
day is 10 October, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves.”

Another justifies his ignorance with the excuse that he does not like
history. “That subject is a drag. You mechanically learn to answer exam
questions like that, but the next day no one remembers the dates or what
they commemorate.”

A man selling popcorn, who has been eavesdropping on the conversation,
sums it up by saying, “There are a lot of opinions on this topic.
Whether it was January 1 or October 10. But I think it was 1492, when
Christopher Columbus discovered the island.”

It seems only academicians, professors, students of history and
well-informed citizens can explain the significance of May 20, 1902 in
the context of national history. Most Cubans are unaware of it. Keep in
mind that around 70% of the current population was born after 1959.

For people over the age of sixty-five like Giraldo — from his wheelchair
he asks people walking along the side streets of the nursing home where
he lives for cigarettes and money — the date brings back fond memories.

“It was the most important day of the year,” he says. “The tradition was
to debut a new pair of shoes and a change of clothes. Cuban flags were
hung from balconies. I would go with my parents and brothers to Puerto
Avenue. In Central Park there were public concerts by the municipal
band. The atmosphere was festive. But this government erased it all from
popular memory. Now the dates that are celebrated are those that suit them.”

While Cubans living in Miami enthusiastically celebrate May 20, in Cuba
it is a day like any other. That is how the military regime wants it.

Dictatorships have a habit of manipulating events. Just as the official
narrative would have us believe that José Martí was an admirer of
Marxist theories, so too does a military confrontation take on aspects
of science fiction. This is what happened in 1983 in Granada. According
to the Castros’ version of events, during the invasion of the country by
U.S. forces, a group of Cuban workers sacrificed themselves while
clutching the Grenadian flag.

For Cuba’s ruling military junta, the past is something to be erased.
Economic, urban infrastructure and productivity gains achieved in the
more than half century that the republic existed do not matter.

In an article published in Cubanet, independent journalist Gladys
Linares recalls that in 1902, as a result of the war for independence,
“agriculture, livestock and manufacturing were in a disastrous state. In
a gesture of great sensitivity, Estrada Palma’s first action was to pay
members of the Liberation Army and to pay off the war bonds issued by
the Republic in Arms. To do this, he secured a loan from an American
lender, Speyer Bank, for $35 million at 5% interest, which had already
been repaid by 1943.”

For its part, EcuRed, the Cuban government’s version of wikipedia,
states that “Estrada Palma was noted for being extremely thrifty during
his presidency (1902-1906). In 1905 the Cuban treasury held the
astonishing sum of 24,817,148 pesos and 96 centavos, of which the loan
accounted for only 3.5 million pesos. The accumulation of so much money
compelled Estrada Palma to invest in public works. The government
allotted 300,000 pesos to be used in every province for the construction
of roads and highways as well as more than 400,000 for their upkeep and

The state-run press labels this period with the derogatory term
“pseudo-republic” or “hamstrung republic.”

“They have done everything imaginable to obviate or destroy it. From
producing television programs such as “San Nicolás del Peladero,” which
ridiculed the venal politicians of the time, to minimizing the advances
in material well-being achieved by various sectors of society. But when
you review economic statistics from the period 1902 to 1958, you realize
that, despite imperfections, there was more growth,” says a retired

He adds, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. The Republic
of Cuba was founded on May 20, 1902. In the future, setting ideology
aside, May 20 should be included in the schedule of national holidays
and should be celebrated once again. Everything began on that day.”

That remains to be seen. For the moment, new (and not so new)
generations are unaware of the significance of May 20.

This ignorance, a willful act of forgetting, is part of the late Fidel
Castro’s strategy of building a nation from the ground up, burying its
customs and values, rewriting history to suit his aims. And he succeeded.

Source: The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree / Iván García –
Translating Cuba –

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Independent journalist detained in eastern Cuba Sat, 24 Jun 2017 15:18:33 +0000 Independent journalist detained in eastern Cuba
June 23, 2017 5:12 PM ET

New York, June 23, 2017–Cuban authorities should immediately release
independent journalist Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez and return his
equipment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. State
security forces and Interior Ministry officials detained León Velázquez
around 4 p.m. yesterday in the eastern province of Guantánamo, according
to his news website Diario de Cuba and the Cuban Institute for Freedom
of Expression and the Press.

The journalist’s neighbor, Isael Poveda, told Diario de Cuba that he saw
authorities arrive at León Velázquez’s home with an order to confiscate
“counter-revolutionary” equipment. According to Poveda, who is an
opposition activist, police arrested León Velázquez and took a computer,
a Sony camera, a copy of the Cuban constitution, and work documents from
the journalist’s home. CPJ was unable to determine what documents were

“Independent journalists in Cuba should be able to work without the
constant threat of arbitrary detention,” said CPJ Senior Program
Coordinator for the Americas Carlos Lauría. “Cuban authorities should
release Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez and return his equipment

León Velázquez covers general news in Guantánamo and other eastern Cuban
states for the independent news website Diario de Cuba. Normando
Hernández, director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and
the Press, told CPJ today the organization is aware of the case, and has
spoken with León Velázquez’s editor, who confirmed the arrest.

León Velázquez has been detained on several occasions, including in
October 2016 while reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and
in February 2017, when police detained him for two hours at a checkpoint
on the border between Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba province, Diario
de Cuba reported.

A September 2016 CPJ special report on press freedom in Cuba found that
independent journalists there continue to face the threat of arbitrary
detention, and that vague and outdated laws and limitations on internet
access continue to slow progress on press freedom.

Source: Independent journalist detained in eastern Cuba – Committee to
Protect Journalists –

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Uncertainty whittles away hope for Cuban migrants stranded in Panama Sat, 24 Jun 2017 15:12:24 +0000 Uncertainty whittles away hope for Cuban migrants stranded in Panama

The color green seems to fill everything in Chiriqui, the western
province of Panama where the government is holding 124 undocumented
Cuban migrants. The morning’s quiet amid huge pine trees is broken only
by the hum of insects that torture at dawn and dusk.

“This place is beautiful, but everything gets tiresome. Being in limbo
is tiresome,” said Yosvani López, 30, who arrived in the Gualaca camp
after spending three months at a shelter for Cuban migrants in Panama
City run by the Catholic Church’s Caritas agency.

“Sometimes we start to talk about what we would do if we can get out of
here and go to another country. Some relatives tell us that a shelter in
Canada is being prepared to take us in. Others tell us that they have
everything ready to deport us,” López said. “That’s how we live, between
dreams and fears.”

The complex where the Cubans are being held was built by Swiss workers
in the 1970s who built the nearby La Fortuna dam. The 103-acre complex
is mostly forest, with a stream running through it. Located one hour
from the nearest city, the humidity here is so high that mushrooms and
other plants grow even on the fiberglass roof tiles.

The wood structures, worn with the passage of time, remain next to old
satellite antennas and electric heaters. The migrants say foreign coins
are sometimes found buried in the dirt.

López was born in Caibarién, on Cuba’s northern coast. He said he had
the chance to leave the island on a fast boat for Florida, but preferred
to try to reach the United States through Central America to sidestep
the Cuban regulation that migrants who leave illegally cannot return for
seven years.

“I wanted to be able to return before the seven years,” he said. “I have
my mother and my sisters in Cuba.”

In his homeland, he worked as a chef at a Meliá hotel in the keys north
of Villa Clara, earning about $25 per month. With the money from the
sale of his mother’s house, he traveled to Guyana and from there to
Panama, where he was stranded when President Barack Obama ended the
so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

“We spend our time here chatting with our relatives in Cuba and the
United States, and looking for hints in news reports that will tell us
what’s going to happen to us,” López said.

The Cubans in the Gualaca camp not only are banned from working but
cannot leave the shelter except for one day a week to go to a nearby
Western Union office, accompanied by officers that run the camp. Some
are making a little extra money by selling coffee or cutting hair. Local
residents also run a store that sells food and personal hygiene
products, paid for with money sent by relatives in the United States.

Authorities initially set a 90-day deadline for deciding what will
happen to the 124 Cubans who agreed to wait in Gualaca. But two months
later, their patience is running out. At least six have fled the shelter
since it opened. Most recently, four Cubans fled. Two returned and the
other two managed to cross the northern border into Costa Rica.

Alejandro Larrinaga, 13, and his parents have been waiting for weeks for
news of their fate. There is only one other child he can play with,
Christian Estrada, 11. They have not been to school since they left
Havana 18 months ago.

Alejandro said he spent more than 50 days in the jungle before he got to
Panama. He became dehydrated several times and suffered from
convulsions. “That was quite a trip. It’s not easy to tell the story.
One thing is to live it, and another is to tell it,” he said, the
seriousness in his voice making him sound like an adult.

“We had to see dead people, a lot of skulls. I was afraid of losing my
mother and father,” he recalled. His mother, Addis Torres, cried as the
recounted the tale, but he said that he feels safe in Gualaca and spends
his days playing chess.

“I want to be a chess master,” he said. “Some day I’ll get there.”

The family does not want to return to Cuba, because they sold everything
they owned there in order to pay for the trek to join the boy’s
grandfather in the United States. Although they applied for family
reunification visas at the U.S. embassy in Havana, the family doesn’t
want to even think about the possibility of returning to Cuba.

They get three meals a day at the shelter, but Torres said “that’s no
way to live.”

“Detained, with no future, afraid of returning to Cuba,” she said “We
need someone to take pity on us, even if we have to stay here.”

Liuber Pérez Expósito is a farmer from the town of Velasco in the
eastern province of Holguin, where he grew garlic and corn. After Cuban
ruler Raúl Castro opened the doors to more private economic enterprises,
he started to buy and sell products and eventually decided to head to
the United States to “improve” his life.

Pérez said he feels “desperate” to leave Gualaca and return to his farm,
but has put his hopes on a proposal recently offered by Panamanian
authorities that would allow them to return voluntarily to the island,
become self-employed entrepreneurs known as cuentapropistas and, in
exchange, obtain multiple entry visas and even start-up capital — still
to be determined — for investment purposes.

“I am here against the wishes of my family. I have my wife, a 9-year-old
son and my parents in Cuba. They want me to return, and they are pushing
me to do that,” he said. “But I am waiting for the opportunity to
recover at least part of the $5,000 I spent” getting to Panama.

His mother-in-law, and ophthalmologist who worked in Venezuela, loaned
him part of the money he needed for the trip. In debt, without money or
hope, he now spends his days thinking about when he might be able to
return home.

“During the day, we have nothing to do. Sometimes we play dominoes for a
while or we take a walk or we go to the stream, but we have 24 hours to
think about this difficult situation and the failure we’re facing,” he

Pérez chats with his relatives in Cuba on Imo, a video chat app popular
on the island. “A little while ago they installed wifi in Velasco and
they call me as much as they can,” he said.

“I hope this nightmare that we are living ends soon,” he said. “That
whatever has to happen happens, but that it ends now.”


Source: Cuban migrants stranded in Panama are losing hope | Miami Herald

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Could 1 million more Cubans be deemed ineligible for remittances? Sat, 24 Jun 2017 15:06:51 +0000 Could 1 million more Cubans be deemed ineligible for remittances?

William LeoGrande, an American University professor who specializes in
U.S.-Cuba relations, says it appears there might be a “poison pill” in
President Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy that potentially could cut off
remittances to more than 1 million Cubans.

The memorandum on strengthening Cuba policy that Trump signed last week
in Miami specifically states that regulatory changes shall not prohibit
“sending, processing or receiving authorized remittances” — the money
that’s sent to family members and friends in Cuba.

Currently remittances can be sent to almost anyone on the island — with
the exception of members of the Council of Ministers, which includes the
president, first vice president, seven first vice presidents, ministers
and a few other top officials, and high-ranking military officials.

But the Trump memo greatly expands the definition of so-called
prohibited officials.

It includes not only ministers, vice ministers and members of the
Council of State and Council of Ministers but also members and employees
of the National Assembly of People’s Power — Cuba’s parliament;
provincial assembly members; local heads of Committees for the Defense
of the Revolution; directors general, sub-directors and higher officers
of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of
the Interior and the Ministry of Defense; and members and employees of
Cuba’s Supreme Court.

The memo also lists secretaries and first secretaries of the
Confederation of Labor of Cuba and top editors of all state-run media
outlets as prohibited officials.

Such a sweeping category could potentially include a quarter of Cuba’s
labor force, LeoGrande said. “It’s literally a million people if you
count everyone who works for the military and GAESA that could have
their remittances cut off,” he said.

GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial) is a Cuban military
conglomerate that controls a broad swath of the Cuban economy, including
the Gaviota Tourism Group. One of the cornerstones of Trump’s new Cuba
policy is channeling U.S. money and businesses away from GAESA and
instead encouraging Americans and U.S. companies to develop economic
ties with small private business people in Cuba.

But widening the prohibition on who can receive remittances could
potentially hurt many Cuban families — those Trump has said he wants to
support with his new policy, LeoGrande said. Many Cubans are dependent
on money sent from friends and relatives abroad because state salaries
are so low. An estimated $3 billion in remittances is sent to the island

Among the questions, which may by clarified when regulations on the new
Cuba policy are written, is how literally to take the definition of all
employees of the Ministry of Defense.

All Cuban males must complete compulsory military service. “Does this
mean an active duty private is an employee of the Ministry of Defense,
and therefore a prohibited person?” asked Robert Muse, a Washington
lawyer. “There still has to be more definition of what this means.”

Also in question is whether a person who is a clerk or low-level
employee at an enterprise run by GAESA would be considered an employee
of the Ministry of Defense.

Trying to sort out such definitions about who is eligible to receive
remittances could potentially become a real headache for money transfer
companies, Muse said.

In response to a query, Western Union, which has provided money transfer
services to Cuba from the United States since 1999 and more recently
began to handle remittances from other parts of the world to Cuba, said:
“Western Union does not believe the changes are intended to impact the
sending of authorized remittances to Cuba.”

Said LeoGrande: “There are a number of things that need to be clarified.
The [memorandum] is so ambiguous in places.”

Cuba watchers also point to a section of Trump’s memorandum that
instructs the State Department to identify “entities or sub-entities”
under the control or acting on behalf of the Cuban “military,
intelligence or security services or personnel” and publish a list of
those with which “direct financial transactions” would
disproportionately benefit them “at the expense of the Cuban people or
private enterprise in Cuba.”

Some analysts have zeroed in on the word direct in the memorandum.
Previous OFAC directives usually refer to direct and indirect financial

“Does this mean you can’t go and book at a Gaviota hotel, but you can
give a Spanish tour company money and they can get you a room at the
Saratoga?” Muse asked. (The Hotel Saratoga is operated under the
umbrella of Habaguanex, which was recently transferred to the military.)


Source: American University professor says remittances to Cuba may be in
jeopardy | Miami Herald –

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Elliott Abrams: Has Trump Made the Right Move in Cuba? Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:59:13 +0000 Elliott Abrams: Has Trump Made the Right Move in Cuba?
Elliott Abrams, Newsweek • June 22,
This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

Congratulations to President Trump for a serious (though not total)
reversal of the terrible Obama policy toward Cuba.

Why? Because the Obama policy was values-free, granting all sorts of
advantages to the Castro regime in exchange for nothing.

That was no bargained-for exchange, winning more freedom for the Cuban
people. Instead it was a prime example of Obama’s ideological politics,
abandoning decades of American policy that he thought right-wing or
old-fashioned and wrong and in the process strengthening the vicious
Castro regime and paying little attention to the people of the island.

In the years since Obama acted, human rights in Cuba have gotten worse.
If Obama’s approach was an experiment, it has failed. Human Rights
Watch’s World Report 2016 said this of Cuba:

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public
criticism. It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish
its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders,
independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in
recent years.

The Miami Herald’s lead analyst on Latin America, Andres Oppenheimer,
wrote this in July 2016:

One year after Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on July 20, 2015,
Cuba’s human rights situation is much worse. It’s time for Latin America
and the U.S. to stop clapping, and demand that Cuba’s dictatorship start
allowing fundamental freedoms
On the first anniversary since Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington,
D.C., one thing is clear: The reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic
ties — which I have cautiously supported in this column — has not helped
improve by one iota Cuba’s human rights situation. On the contrary,
human rights abuses have worsened.

That’s a fair epitaph for the Obama policy: it made human rights in Cuba
worse. And that is why it was politically sensible and morally right to
end it.

Trump is maintaining diplomatic relations and allowing flights and
cruise ships to Cuba, but trying to end the phony individual beach
gambols that masquerade as something more serious. And he is ending the
bonanza for the Cuban military, which owns most of Cuba’s tourist industry.

The overall effect of Trump’s moves is logically to push Americans
toward group visits that have a serious purpose beyond tourism, and
toward individual Cuban economic efforts like Air BnB accommodations,
rooms in private homes, and small private restaurants—all of which help
the Cuban people.

And if the regime is caught between the people’s desire for economic
progress and the end of Obama’s foolish policy, perhaps this will push
Castro to allowing even more private economic activity.

Hats off to Senator Marco Rubio, a key architect of the new policy whose
pressure on the Trump administration has now put human rights in Cuba
right back at the heart of U.S. policy. And to the President, who made
the right decision just a few months into his administration.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. He served as
deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor
in the administration of President George W. Bush, where he supervised
U.S. policy in the Middle East for the White House.

Source: Elliott Abrams: Has Trump Made the Right Move in Cuba? –

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Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:51:51 +0000 Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns

The director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, the U.S. federal body
that oversees Radio and TV Martí as well as the Martí Noticias website,
resigned last week amid complaints by some dissidents and exiles about
OCB’s editorial line.

“Every pressure cooker needs an escape valve. With my resignation, I am
only trying to put an end to the speculations and false accusations by
some sectors that are interested in taking over this job,” OCB Director
Maria “Malule” Gonzalez told el Nuevo Herald.

“The campaign is not the only reason for my resignation,” she added.
“It’s [also] a matter of making way for whoever the [Trump]
administration wants to put in this job.”

Gonzalez, who will remain at the head of the OCB until a new director is
appointed, added that her resignation had been voluntary.

Her statement referred to a campaign of criticisms against her in social
media and on the Hialeah Gardens-based television channel América TeVé.
Facebook users published her personal contacts, and she said she
received multiple calls with complaints.

A video broadcast by América TeVé after President Donald Trump’s
election showed Cuban opposition activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known
as Antunez, urging Radio and TV Martí to “rethink the reasons why they
were created and again give some space to those of us who call Raúl
Castro a dictator.”

On the same program, Marcell Felipe, who founded Inspire America, an
organization that promotes the work of dissidents like Antunez, accused
the broadcasters of having “become practically a propaganda tool for the
Castro regime.” Felipe, a lawyer who also represents América TeVé, said
he was not speaking for the TV channel.

During the Obama administration, the Martí stations — first under the
direction of Carlos Garcia and since 2015 under Gonzalez — began making
a series of changes designed to bring their coverage in line with the
journalism standards of the Voice of America, another U.S. government
broadcaster, and expand their audience on the island through the
internet and the distribution of DVDs.

“In the last year we completed analysis and studies by third parties
that show the impact of the Martí stations on the island, and that our
decision to use the internet as an additional distribution channel was
right,” Gonzalez said. “On Sept. 26 and 27 we will hold the second Cuban
Internet Freedom conference that was so successful last year.”

But the shift of funds from the TV broadcasts — seldom seen on the
island because the Cuban government blocks them — to the digital content
and the decision to move away from propaganda and toward a more balanced
journalism have been criticized by some Cuban exiles as well as
opposition activists on the island.

“Those of us who called Fidel a tyrant rather than president, who were
totally opposed to the Obama policy [of engagement with Cuba], we had no
space there,” Antunez told el Nuevo Herald.

A quick search of the Martínoticias website turned up 347 reports that
mentioned Antunez. But the coverage has been “too favorable” to the
Obama policies on Cuba, he replied, and there has been supposedly
“little follow-up” to news developments on the island.

“That broadcaster went from being a weapon at the service of freedom to
a weapon for agreeableness,” he added. “I don’t criticize the
institution. Radio and TV Martí are very important. I criticize the last
two managements, which served the Cuban American National Foundation and
Barack Hussein Obama by falsifying and sabotaging its editorial line.”

The Cuban American National Foundation did not respond to a request for

The dispute over the Martí stations reflects the profound frustration
sparked by President Barack Obama’s decision to warm relations with Cuba
among some dissidents on the island as well as exiles abroad and renews
an old argument about the goals and efficacy of the broadcasters.

Felipe said he believes the stations should work clearly for “regime
change” in Cuba, and complained that there has been a lack of “political
will” at the OCB to implement new technologies that would make TV
Martí’s signal available in Cuba.

The lawyer added that Cuban exiles will be “very happy” when the name of
the next OCB director becomes known. It will not be him, he added.

Regulations issued by the Obama administration require the OCB director
to be appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Government, the agency that
supervises all U.S. government broadcasts, rather than the White House.
The BBG did not respond to a request for comments.

Gonzalez said she will be leaving behind “a more agile and efficient
organization that now has new distribution channels, one of the biggest
challenges of this institution. The three platforms are working as one …
with one voice.”

The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under Obama raised many questions about
the future of Radio and TV Martí, whose operations have long been
questioned by members of Congress and other agencies.

One bill that would have totally eliminated the Martí broadcasters was
submitted to Congress in 2015. And the Obama administration floated one
proposal to turn the OCB into a federal contractor, like the other
broadcasters under BBG supervision. That generated fears among its
employees that they would lose their federal benefits. The proposal has
not yet been adopted.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2018 includes cuts of $4
million to $5 million in OCB financing.

“I continued meanwhile to work strongly in OCB,” Gonzalez said. “Last
week, I announced the appointment of Wilfredo Cancio as news director …
and we are just weeks away from completing the revitalization plan that
we started at the beginning of the year.”

Source: Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns |
Miami Herald –

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Trump, Obama and subjugated Cubans Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:32:57 +0000 Editorial: Trump, Obama and subjugated Cubans
DDC | Madrid | 22 de Junio de 2017 – 14:21 CEST.

Cuba’s official television aired Donald Trump’s recent appearance at the
Manuel Artime Theater in Miami. That makes two speeches by US presidents
that Cubans on the Island have been able to watch recently.

In March of 2016, at his appearance in Havana, Barack Obama proposed a
policy based on the creation of opportunities, with an emphasis on the
empowerment of entrepreneurs. Brimming with optimism, Obama expressed
his belief that economic liberalization would spawn the democratization
of Cuban society – despite the examples of China and Vietnam. His words
sparked widespread popular support. At the same time, human rights
violations increased, and the military elite, now converted into a
business group, exploited the new scenario.

Barack Obama underestimated the degree to which independent
entrepreneurs are subjugated by the regime, and the military elite
stifles any kind of economic competition. With unintended effects, his
policy of empowerment ended up actually abetting the oppressors.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has just announced that he will be
relentless against this elite. His coercive turn in this regard is the
right move, but he has failed to generate broad support for it in the
US. And his speech at the Manuel Artime theater, rife with electoral
rhetoric, generated a counterproductive image for a people tired of the
confrontational gestures.

Those who advise the US president ought to take better advantage of the
Castro regime’s calculated decision to televise his speeches. Trump
should not only send a clear message to Cuban exiles in Miami, but also
to the several million Cubans on the Island who can see him.

Source: Editorial: Trump, Obama and subjugated Cubans | Diario de Cuba –

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The true face of GAESA in Havana’s Historic Quarter Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:31:48 +0000 The true face of GAESA in Havana’s Historic Quarter
ROLANDO MARTÍNEZ | La Habana | 22 de Junio de 2017 – 11:27 CEST.

“What has the change from Habaguanex to GAESA been like?”



“Because the military management is inept. They demand too much and want
to intimidate us. Imagine: if you refuse to work with them, or ask for
leave, they threaten to seize your passport for a year.”

So says Roberto, 41, a founded clerk at Habaguanex S.A. He says that
they worked very hard in the Historic Center. “We built something that
we can touch with our hands. We don’t need repressors, but better salaries.”

Almost a year after a commercial conglomerate of the Havana Historian’s
Office was absorbed by the military consortium GAESA, many workers at
the 20 hotels, 56 bars and cafes, 39 restaurants and more than 200 shops
– among them boutiques, perfumeries, florists, pharmacies, opticians,
jewelers, liquor stores and food establishments – feel uncomfortable
with their new bosses, and some are even considering leaving the entity.

“They are so bungling,” says Osmani, a 38-year-old worker, “that the new
management of the Santa Isabel hostel in the Plaza de Armas closed the
service entrance, so maintenance and other employees now have to pass
through the lobby on their way to their jobs.”

“Eusebio [Leal] made arrangements with families so that they could
manage some hostels and businesses, an experiment that yielded excellent
results,” says Mikhail, a 43-year-old custodian. “But at the Hostal
Valencia, for example, Gaviota already fired them.”

“Now there are more shortages than before,” says Yoslaine, 32, a cashier
at a grocery store. “There is also apathy, a lack of staff, and fewer
searches. There are long lines to pay, and the bosses couldn’t care less
if the customers complain.”

Even at the Puerto Carenas building, an entity that was not transferred
to GAESA, but is headed up by a brigade general, those in charge of the
restoration complain about a lack of materials and their bosses’
ignorance: “Instead of importing the required materials, we are ordered
to use common sand and cement, or any old pigment to restore frescos
that are more than 300 years old,” says worker Carlos, age 48.

The vast majority of those consulted believe that “the lesser evil”
would be for civilians to run the commercial conglomerate again, and for
the General Controller of the Republic to do its work, tackling
corruption. “The disaster of the paramilitary economy was demonstrated
in the change from Habaguanex to GAESA,” said one of them.

Cement, brick and corruption: the background of the military “occupation”

At the beginning of the ‘rescue’ of the Historic Quarter —Carlos
recalled— three construction companies were created: Puerto Carenas,
Restauradora del Malecón and Restauradora de Monumentos. The latter was
overseen by the architect Perla Rosales Aguirreurreta, Eusebio Leal’s
second-in-command today.

Years later the three companies were merged under the name Puerto
Carenas, headed by Rogelio Milián Lária, a former member of the Unión de
Empresas Constructoras Caribe (UNECA), which in mid-2012 was embroiled
in a major corruption scandal. Among other shady dealings, Milián
charged commissions for the purchase of construction materials from a
Spanish supplier (his son-in-law).

Milián was replaced by Brigadier General Conrado Echeverría, former head
of the General Staff of the Matanzas military region, who later headed
up a housing program for FAR (Armed Forces) officers attached to GAESA’s
Unión de Construcciones Militares (UCM).

The militarization of Puerto Carenas did not prevent corruption.
Instead, it prompted the exodus of a number of skilled workers to
non-agricultural cooperatives, where they reportedly receive “better

Jorge, a 58-year-old freelance civil engineer, says that in the Historic
Center tenders are awarded to “construction cooperatives.” The
professionals who run them operate as figureheads for some bigwigs who
benefit from the profits from these contracts. “Perla Rosales —daughter
of General Ulises Rosales del Toro— is part of that ‘gallery’,” he says.

Once upon a time in Habaguanex

The festival of corruption at the Office of the Historian reached its
peak “when Meici Weiss rose from the administrator of the Hotel Ambos
Mundos to the general manager of Habaguanex S.A.,” says a 62-year-old
former worker at the conglomerate, who requested anonymity and said she
had been a “victim of said administration.”

Weiss set up a bureaucratic model that functioned as a criminal
organization and “crushed” employees who refused to get involved in the
“shenanigans.” The manager surrounded himself with subordinates that
many called “the untouchables.” The bosses enjoyed impunity as they sold
their influence for personal gain, and obtained Schengen visas.

According to previous investigations, in mid-2012 Yoagniel Pérez Ramos,
then manager of the Cervecería Factoría, located in the Plaza Vieja of
the Historic Centre, was arrested right out on the street on suspicion
of “illicit enrichment”, among other crimes, unleashing a wave of
arrests that rolled through other divisions of Habaguanex.

Weiss and his entourage were dismissed and subjected to investigations
by the General Controller of the Republic and the Criminal
Investigations Division (DIC). “But shit was found at levels so high
that the process had to be swept under the rug,” according to an auditor
who asked not to be identified.

An old case was immediately dusted off against Yoagniel Pérez, for
embezzlement, after the carrying out of an audit – four years earlier –
at the facilities of Habaguanex S.A. (the former military headquarters
of San Ambrosio), where he was second in command.

According to Ruling number 47 of 2014, issued by the People’s Provincial
Court of Havana, in case 214/2013, Yoagniel was prosecuted for the crime
of bribery, for paying to obtain a dismissal of the case based on a
“lack of evidence” in case 635/2008.

The lawyers bribed with payments of between 2.000 and 200 CUC, other
favors, and gifts at Factoría, were Osvaldo Fernández Guerra, deputy
director of the Dirección de Bufetes Colectivos (Directorate of
Collective Law Firms) in the capital; Lucía Pérez Fernández, provincial
coordinator of the Centro de Desarrollo de Bufetes Colectivos (Center
for the Development of Collective Law Firms); Mildreda Planas Durruthy,
chief prosecutor of Old Havana; and Marisol García Castillo, prosecutor
of the Old Havana municipal prosecutor’s office.

Along with Yoagniel, those involved were sentenced to between 5 and 15
years in prison, property seizures, suspension of their professional
activity, and the retention of their passports until their sanctions
expire. Today Yoagniel is the only one who remains behind bars.

“If Yoagniel, a simple culinary manager, was able to bribe a group of
justice system officials, then what could have been achieved by others
with better positions? People like Meici Weiss, also the mother of Meici
Bolaños Weiss, Deputy Minister of Finance and Prices?” asks Ricardo, 54,
a former clerk at Habaguanex.

The official press refrained from informing the public about the
fissures in the justice system and the corruption at Habaguanex. Ten
months later, Eusebio Leal Spengler, incredibly untouched by the
scandal, ceded control of the commercial conglomerate to the Council of
Ministers, via Decree/Law 325/2014.

Two years after the handover, the real estate company Fenix ??S.A. –
under the command of the military – took charge of the administration of
the San José Cultural Center, where, according to complaints by the
self-employed artisans there, there were irregularities in the sale of
stands, with prices ranging from 8,000 to 120.000 CUC.

Lázaro, age 42, a former worker at the store at Neptuno and Águila,
cites another example of the corruption at the commercial conglomerate,
where Communist Party higher-ups looked the other way and let the
mischief continue, at the same time taking on roles as “sales agents,”
demanding from management the purchase of a bust of José Martí for 240
CUC, to erect a corner honoring the historic figure in each unit (more
than 315), for a total investment of 76.000 CUC. The purchase was to be
made at the store of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
Cuba, located at Belascoaín and Desagüe, in the center of Havana.

“There are no surprises,” Lázaro says. “When GAESA applies coercive
measures against those who serve drinks at bars, make up the rooms at
hostels, charge customers at markets, and shovel concrete at building
sites, it is because that is the nature of the system: taking advantage
of the weakest and then turning a blind eye to the worst offenders, who
are daddy’s boys, crooks dressed up fancy, and card-carrying members of
the Party.”

Source: The true face of GAESA in Havana’s Historic Quarter | Diario de
Cuba –

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Trump Gets It Right Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:30:25 +0000 Editorial: Trump Gets It Right
DDC | Madrid | 22 de Junio de 2017 – 11:23 CEST.

In his speech in Miami, US President Donald Trump rightly divided Cuban
society into two groups: the military and the people. And his criticism
of the regime did not center on its ideology, on the single party, or
even on Raúl Castro. Rather, he pointed directly at the military junta,
and therein lies the greatest difference with Obama’s policy.

As he acknowledged, the aim of his new policy is to benefit the people
of Cuba by depriving the military of opportunities, an approach that
recognizes the corruption in Cuba’s army and Cuban intelligence and
security services, capable of dominating all the economic exchange
between Cuba and the US in its effort to establish a monopoly.

Referring to the need for Venezuela to democratize, the US president
conveyed another message to the Island’s military by referring not only
to its economic corruption, but also its responsibility for the
political repression in the South American country.

Donald Trump declared his respect for Cuba’s sovereignty, made clear
that his Administration has cards in its hands, that the US embassy
remains open, and that it is willing to sit down at the negotiating table.

Source: Editorial: Trump Gets It Right | Diario de Cuba –

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Trump’s Cuba Travel Policy Leaves Heads Scratching Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:00:22 +0000 Trump’s Cuba Travel Policy Leaves Heads Scratching
Andrew Bender , CONTRIBUTOR
I delve into the business of business travel, and often the fun too.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Just as travel and tourism to Cuba from the United States was heating
up, President Donald Trump made an announcement last Friday that will
cool it down, probably way down. He said he was “canceling the last
administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”

While it’s not exactly a cancellation, what it is is, at this stage,

“There are a zillion contradictions,” says Julia Sweig, senior research
fellow and Cuba expert at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
at the University of Texas. “There is no policy or legal coherence to
what they have announced.”

For example, American tour operators, cruise ships and airlines will
still technically be able to operate into Cuba, and U.S. citizens can
still purchase and bring home Cuban products like rum and cigars; both
of these were off limits before the Obama administration relaxed rules
in 2014. But the new policies put in two important restrictions:
– Make it illegal for Americans to patronize facilities related to the
Cuban military, and
– Make individual travel to Cuba far more difficult for Americans.

Currently this is through a program known as people-to-people.
The military issue first. “The state-run tourism organization, GAVIOTA,
is owned by the Cuban military, and it owns the majority of tourism
infrastructure on the island,” says Marguerite Fitzgerald, a partner at
the Miami office of Boston Consulting Group in Miami and the author of
BCG’s report on Cuban tourism. “Americans will not be allowed to stay in
Cuban hotels, take Cuban buses or rent cars.”

Meanwhile, the cutback in individual tourism will mean that Cuba’s
growing network of home stays will take a hit. Airbnb says that 560,000
guests have paid some $40 million to private hosts around Cuba since the
company entered the market in April 2015. This in a country where,
Airbnb says, the average monthly wage is $30. This year, Cuba has been
Airbnb’s ninth-largest market for Americans heading abroad.

The announcement from the White House directs the Departments of
Commerce and the Treasury to come up with regulations within 30 days.
But, Sweig says, “I expect that when the regulators try to write the new
regulations, they will become mired down.”

“I guess the Trump people will publish a map of Cuba with all of the
places Americans won’t be able to go to buy a bottle of water, to sleep,
etc.,” she adds.

Meanwhile, tour and travel operators are in limbo. “It remains to be
seen which travel companies, cruise lines and tour providers will be
able to successfully navigate the new regulations and which will cease
their operations in Cuba,” says Jennine Cohen, managing director for the
Americas at San Francisco-based Geographic Expeditions, which has
operated tours to Cuba for 17 years.

“GeoEx works primarily with small and charming B&Bs, which have no
connection to the Cuban military and should not be affected,” she says.

More long term, Cohen says, “As we have successfully operated trips on
and off since 2000, we have adhered to [the U.S. government’s] changing
policies and enforcement over time and will continue to do so.”

Source: Trump’s Cuba Travel Policy Leaves Heads Scratching –

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Will New Cuba Travel Policy Hurt U.S. Airlines? Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:57:30 +0000 Will New Cuba Travel Policy Hurt U.S. Airlines?
Zacks Equity Research

On Jun 16, President Trump announced some changes to current U.S. policy
on Cuba, which were put into action by his predecessor Barack Obama. The
new policy is in line with Trump’s promise during the campaigning phase.
In fact, Trump had reportedly tweeted in November last year that he
might terminate the deal, inked by Obama, in the event of Cuba not doing
enough for its people.

Even though, he did not scrap the entire deal, the President announced
certain changes in inline with his “America First” principle. Moving
ahead, the new administration aims to restrict the flow of US money
flowing into the oppressive Cuban military regime. Also, the new policy
is dedicated to betterment of the Cuban people by pressurizing the
island’s government to broaden the private sector and reduce the
military’s interference in every profitable unit of the country.

In fact, to keep the Cuban military at bay, the President’s policy aims
to do away with travel directed toward benefitting the military,
intelligence or security services of the island nation. Under the new
restrictions, travel to Cuba on an individual basis would not be
allowed. Even though individual travel has been banned, group travel is

A Brief Flashback

In 2014, President Obama had called for the restoration of diplomatic
ties with Cuba after more than 50 years. As part of that process, travel
restrictions were eased. Subsequently, many U.S. airlines started
operating commercial scheduled flights to Cuba.

In Jun 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation authorized six
U.S.-based carriers to operate scheduled flights to nine second-tier
Cuban cities. The first scheduled commercial flight to Cuba from the
U.S. was operated by JetBlue Airways JBLU.

JetBlue Airways carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete
list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Notably, the approval to fly to Havana came two months later in August.
The Havana routes were highly in demand among the US carriers as they
collectively applied for the approval to operate nearly 60 flights to
Havana on a daily basis. The erstwhile agreement with Obama allowed for
only 20 daily roundtrip flights between the nations.

Would Individual Travel Ban Hurt Airlines?

Currently, the likes of American Airlines Group AAL, United Continental
Holdings UAL, Delta Air Lines DAL, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines
LUV and Alaska Air Group ALK operate scheduled commercial flights to
Cuba. But following the revised order on Cuba, the carriers have adopted
a wait and watch policy regarding their operations to the nation.

Airline heavyweights like Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have
reportedly said that while their existing operations to the nation would
continue, they would abide by any changes that might take place
following the announcement of the new policy.

We note that the travel demand to Cuba had fallen short of expectations.
Consequently, the likes of American Airlines trimmed their services to
the nation. Lower-than-expected demand also caused the likes of Spirit
Airlines SAVE and Frontier Airlines to terminate flights to the nation.
Despite this factor, the new policy to ban individual travel is likely
to hurt the top line of the US carriers operating in the country to some

In fact, a recent Reuters report had suggested that cruise operators and
airlines in the US could lose approximately $712 million in revenues on
an annual basis, if Obama’s policy was entirely reversed. While the
entire policy has not been consigned to flames by the new US government,
the prohibition on individual travel to the country might still shrink
the revenues of carriers (through lower travel demand) operating in
Cuba, a popular tourist destination.

However, only time will tell the extent to which revenues are actually
hurt. Consequently, we expect investor focus to remain on the issue,
going forward

Source: Will New Cuba Travel Policy Hurt U.S. Airlines? –

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Trump’s travel changes for Cuba won’t take effect soon Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:55:13 +0000 Trump’s travel changes for Cuba won’t take effect soon
Bart Jansen , USA TODAY Published 4:29 p.m. ET June 16, 2017 | Updated
5:49 p.m. ET June 16, 2017

Travel to Cuba won’t be changing soon.

While President Trump announced Friday that he is “immediately”
canceling Obama’s deal with Cuba, the reversal relies on regulations
that could take months — or years — to finalize.

Trump said he will strictly enforce the prohibition against Cuban travel
for tourism using rules that provide only 12 reasons, such as family
visits, educational activities and athletic competitions, for
entering the country.

“Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law,” Trump said.
“We will enforce the ban on tourism.”

Ultimately, Trump proposed to block travel that benefits the Cuban
military, intelligence or security services. In order to accomplish
that, individual travel would be prohibited — people visiting the
country would need to go in groups.

The detailed regulatory proposals weren’t released Friday. Trump’s
national security memo on Cuba asked the departments of Treasury and
State to develop regulations within 30 days. The rules would then be
published for public comment and possible revisions.

The Treasury Department, which licenses Cuba travel, said in a statement
that individual travel will no longer be allowed for purposes such as
education under pursuit of an academic degree. “The traveler’s schedule
of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess,” the
department said.

Instead, the department will authorize group travel under the auspices
of an organization that maintains a full-time schedule of activities
that enhance contact with Cuban people, support civil society and
promote independence from Cuban authorities.

Airlines competed to provide flights after the Obama administration
initiated a resumption in diplomatic relations between the countries for
the first time in more than 50 years. Airlines had provided charter
flights for decades, but the restoration of ties allowed the resumption
of scheduled service considered key for business and personal ties.

JetBlue Airways pioneered flights in August to Santa Clara and other
airlines followed suit, with the first flights to Havana in November.

“JetBlue is committed to continuing air service between the U.S. and
Cuba. We plan to operate in full compliance of the new president’s new
policy,” JetBlue said in a statement Friday.

But with sluggish sales, some airlines have reduced the number of routes
and three carriers – Spirit, Frontier and Silver – have abandoned the
routes for now.

The remaining airlines are studying Trump’s proposal while continuing to

“We are currently reviewing these policy changes and will continue to
follow this closely,” said Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for United Airlines.

Delta Air Lines said it would continue to fly non-stop to Havana from
New York’s John F. Kennedy, Atlanta and Miami.

“Delta Air Lines will adhere to any changes in the regulations announced
by the Trump administration regarding travel to Cuba,” the carrier said.

Leigh Barnes, regional director for Intrepid Travel, a tour company
which has brought 714 American passengers to Cuba in 47 trips since
2015, said tour operators would face stricter government audits about
travelers belonging to the 12 allowed categories. But Barnes expected
airlines to continue scheduled flights to Cuba, rather than revert to
charter flights, as travelers adapt their plans to join person-to-person
tour groups.

“While demand for commercial flights remains to be seen, historically,
the airlines have done well to manage their yields by shifting to
smaller planes or slightly lower frequency of departures,” Barnes said.
“There are still a lot of meaningful tourism offerings for American
travelers. We expect airlines to keep servicing these routes and we are
excited to continue welcoming American travelers to Cuba.”

Source: President Trump’s travel changes for Cuba won’t be immediate –

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How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:50:30 +0000 How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba
A trip to Santiago de Cuba should start with dinner at a paladar
(family-run restaurant) and end with drinks on the roof of the Hotel
Casa Granda.
By JENNIFER BAIN Travel Editor
Wed., June 21, 2017

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA-Ramon Guilarte welcomes us to his home and
restaurant with a cocktail full of vitamin R. Will it be a Cuba Libre,
rum and cola, or Estacazo, rum and lemonade? Rum is ridiculously cheap here.

Esta Caso seems more fun, thanks to our host’s animated explanation
(some of it lost in translation) about how drinking this is like getting
whacked with a stick. As we dig into platters of mango, papaya and
pineapple, Guilarte opens a bottle of rum and pours a little on the
ground as an offering to the saints for good luck, and then asks us each
how big a “stick” we want in our drinks.

“Don’t expect a common restaurant,” he warns with a theatrical flourish.
“Everybody that comes to the restaurant is a friend. I think it’s
important that you feel like home — and these are not empty words.”

La Fondita de Compay Ramon is a paladar, a family-run restaurant that
boosts the economy and gives tourists and locals the chance to connect.
At this farm-themed paladar we sit in cowhide “taburete” chairs found in
typical farms and our host is dressed like a traditional farmer.

In between a stunning red kidney bean soup and unpretentious platters
full of rice, pork, cabbage, shrimp, chicken and plantains, we learn
that Guilarte is a painter and empty nester with two daughters and two

“Painting, and the life of a painter, is very lonely. Painting is
totally opposite to this business.” He opened Compay Ramon in 2012 in
the Ferrerido neighbourhood of Cuba’s second largest city. His
neighbours don’t mind the nightly commotion, maybe because they often
get to share the leftovers.

“Best food in Cuba,” according to “the Intrepid Group” in one of the
many accolades scrawled artfully on the wall and dated Dec. 16, just
weeks after Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro died and weeks before my
first visit to Canada’s favourite Caribbean island.

You’ll find plenty of online accolades for our enthusiastic host. “Ramon
is a character,” allows our Cubatur guide and translator Ricardo
Zaldivar Rodriguez, “but this is not a show.”

I duck down the hall into the tiny kitchen to meet Guilarte’s smiling
wife Mayra Gayoso Romaguera and her helper, who is washing dishes by
hand. I peek at a modest bedroom.

My first night in Cuba ends with a stewed green papaya dessert and
Guilarte showing how to roast coffee beans and brew coffee the
traditional way and then sharing a cigar.

Santiago de Cuba, with half a million people, is often described as “the
hottest city in Cuba” because of its temperature and charm.

We cram a lot into a whirlwind day — historic sites like the Santa
Ifgenia cemetery, where Castro’s ashes are marked by a large rock from
the Sierra Maestra mountains, and where national hero/poet Jose Marti
has an elaborate mausoleum. People bring them red and white roses

We hit Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, a former fort/prison called
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, and a Catholic church with a sacred
Virgin of Charity statue called El Cobre near a copper mine. I buy a
bundle of copper-tinged rocks from a guy in the parking lot.

Cubans make the most of what they are given. There is virtually no waste
here — public garbage cans are nearly always empty.

I’m more curious about the present than the past and so relish the
chance to wander down Calle Enramada, a pedestrian street where I don’t
have time to join the lineup for hot churros.

“If you don’t mention this street name,” says Rodriguez, “it might be
said that you have never been to Santiago de Cuba.”

At La Barrita Ron Caney, a bar by a rum factory, I sample seven-year-old
rum, smelling it with closed eyes, tilting the glass to see the body and
holding a sip in my throat while the house band plays traditional Cuban

There is music everywhere, in Plaza de Dolores, in Casa de la Trova Pepe
Sanchez, and at Tropicana, an outpost of Havana’s famed cabaret.

“When we hear music, we start dancing,” says Rodriguez, who sings and
dances throughout our week together.

At Restaurante Matamoros, the chef pops out of the kitchen to join the
band while we enjoy a soupy meat and vegetable stew called ajiaco. After
dinner we have coffee nearby at Café Constantin, where my Bembito Bomban
is a cheeky reference to Afro-Cuban women and combines coffee, cacao
liqueur and cinnamon.

Cuba is changing, so you will mix and match old and new.

Melia Santiago de Cuba is new, glitzy and a short drive from the
historic centre, with decent Wi-Fi (a very big deal), a pool, and a
breakfast buffet, where I wrapped thin slices of cheese around chunks of
guava paste.

In the heart of downtown, Hotel Casa Granda oozes colonial charm, with a
breezy rooftop restaurant and sweeping city views. For my last meal, I
had a Cuban sandwich (an American invention) and a local spin on
pepperoni pizza (forgive me).

It was no Fondita de Compay Ramon, but it was still equally, magically

Jennifer Bain was hosted by the Cuba Tourist Board, which didn’t review
or approve this story.

When you go

Get there: I flew Cubana de Aviacion airlines ( ) direct to
Santiago de Cuba and flew home with a stop in Camaguey. WestJet, Air
Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing all fly to various spots in Cuba.

Get around: It’s easy to take taxis around Santiago de Cuba, but if you
have a driver and guide (like I did with Cubatur), you’ll have the bonus
of a translator/fixer.

Stay: I stayed at the modern Melia Santiago de Cuba (

Eat: Find La Fondita de Compay Ramon on Facebook.

Know: You can only buy Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) in Cuba and can’t
exchange them at the end of your trip. Get them at the airport and
foreign exchange shops. Wi-Fi is limited to public squares and some
hotel lobbies. Buy a 60-minute Wi-Fi card for 2 CUC (about $2.75
Canadian) at the airport or your hotel. North American plugs don’t work
so bring an adaptor for the European 220-volt system.

Source: How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba | Toronto
Star –

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Vancouver skateboarder helps spread sport in Cuba Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:45:11 +0000 Vancouver skateboarder helps spread sport in Cuba
Norma Ibarra is on her 2nd trip to Cuba to donate boards from Vancouver
CBC News Posted: Jun 20, 2017 7:55 AM PT Last Updated: Jun 20, 2017 7:55

For a country with no skate shops, Cuba’s skateboarding scene is
incredibly vibrant.

That’s what Vancouver skateboarder and photographer Norma Ibarra says.
She is in Havana to photograph the people who are part of that scene and
to donate 10 skateboards.

Contest brings world’s top skateboarders to Vancouver
“Skateboarding is still considered something rebellious. The kids get in
trouble if they skate in certain areas, so it’s sort of illegal,” she
told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

“The kids have to wait for people from all over the world to bring stuff
so they can skate. The kids who want to get into it have to wait until
someone decides to give them a skateboard. So it’s tricky.”

Port Alberni skateboarder raising money for new park
She says Cubans also have no way of replacing lost or damaged gear,
which means even when skateboards are donated, they sometimes don’t last

Few skate parks as well

Ibarra’s donated skateboards are from Vancouver’s skate community and
she plans to donate them mainly to girls in Cuba.

Skateboarding helped her in her own life, and she wants to pass that on
to girls in Cuba.

“The challenges, and the rewards that you get when you know that you’re
progressing, it’s really good,” she said.

Ibarra says she’s not the only one working to spread the sport in Cuba.
Some work on building do-it-yourself skateparks which are tricky to
develop in the one-party state.

Victoria skateboarding ban lifted
“There’s a couple of street spots, but they have to skate at certain
times when the police aren’t around,” she said. “You always find a way.”

With files from CBC Radio One’s On The Coast

Source: Vancouver skateboarder helps spread sport in Cuba – British
Columbia – CBC News –

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Trump’s Fault? Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:06:37 +0000 Trump’s Fault?
ARMANDO CHAGUACEDA | Ciudad de México | 21 de Junio de 2017 – 10:47 CEST.

Donald Trump’s announcement of an alteration of his country’s policies
towards Cuba caused a great stir. Despite its limited scope – in terms
of affecting Obama’s legacy and the foreseeable impact of the measures –
adversaries and officials in Havana were quick to applaud or condemn
Trump’s move. For some it represents a firm stance in the face of the
enduring communist dictatorship, while for others it constitutes an
imperialist aggression against national sovereignty.

However, it would be worth taking a good look at the Cuban government’s
recent decisions and actions in order to more fairly assess Washington’s
degree of responsibility for internal dynamics on the Island. Despite
the scant confidence in Cuba’s national sovereignty that this perception
denotes, an impression shared by both pro-government figures and members
of the opposition alike, the truth is that the facts speak for themselves.

Let us look at the socio-economic sphere. Is the Treasury Department
responsible for failing to achieve the promised monetary unification and
appreciation of the peso, the cause of the famous economic recession of
2016? Is the Federal Reserve to blame for the credit and tax policies
stifling the potential of Cuban entrepreneurs? Is the US National Park
Service responsible for Cuba’s ineffective measures and their failure to
reverse environmental degradation? Are Betsy DeVos and Tom Price to be
held directly responsible for the deficient coverage and low quality of
the island’s education and health systems?

Let us look at the political arena. Are Homeland Security agents
responsible for the regime’s repressive strategy that has imposed severe
prison stays (and not just brief detentions, as some Cubans claim) on
more than 150 opposition activists, including a large number of poor,
black peasant women? Was it the FBI that recently expelled faculty and
students from Cuban universities (including several socialists) because
they were critical of the government? Is the US Attorney General
providing counsel, in silence and without taking into account citizens’
demands and proposals, for the elite’s clandestine revision of the Cuban
Constitution and Electoral Law? Is the CIA, in a display of its
expertise in subversion and coups, supporting Nicolás Maduro’s current
assault upon the Bolivarian Constitution and democracy? Is it the
Pentagon and the NSA that are strengthening ties between the FAR and the
North Korean army (including the sale of UN-prohibited weapons) and
between the MININT and Russian intelligence services?

The above are just some of the actions and results of the Cuban
government in recent years in response to Obama’s less restrictive
policies. They indicate that Trump’s measures are not responsible for
the course chosen by Havana. The regime’s tightening of control,
vis-a-vis the opening up is, as a sociologist would say, an independent
variable. The recent crackdown has more to do with the fundamental
makeup of the Cuban regime than a set of sanctions that can be
summarized with a popular saying: much ado about nothing.

This article originally appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It
is published here with the author’s permission.

Source: Trump’s Fault? | Diario de Cuba –

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Being Rich Is Banned in Cuba Tue, 20 Jun 2017 17:51:24 +0000 Being Rich Is Banned in Cuba / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 8 June 2017 — The die is cast. At the special session of
the National Assembly of People’s Power held on May 31 and June 1 at the
Palace of Conventions, delegates have, as expected, approved the
economic plan for 2016 to 2021 and a national plan for economic and
social development for 2030.

Were it not so serious, it would seem like a sketch from the late night
American comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” especially since the
parliamentary debates were more farcical than rational.

Numerous “discussions” were televised. Not even Pánfilo — an elderly
character created by the famous Cuban comedian Luis Silva and a man
obsessed with his ration book — generates as many contradictions and

Committees made up of so-called peoples’ representatives held debates,
attempted to change one word in a paragraph, tweaked a concept and
championed trivialities in order to justify two days of meetings in an
air-conditioned facility where attendees were provided with breakfast,
lunch and dinner along with breaks for coffee and mineral water.

Mercenaries of a different kind. No parliamentarian asked the recently
reappointed economics and planning minister, Marino Murillo, to specify
just how much capital one would be allowed to accumulate in Cuba. In
other words, how rich could one be?

A few official reports offer some clues. The regime is already preparing
a series of measures aimed at limiting or restricting the prosperity of
citizens and small business owners.

Lucio, an economist, believes that, “in addition to legal restrictions,
they will issue repressive rulings and adopt tax provisions to curtail
wealth. Those who accumulate certain sums of money that the government
considers excessive will be subject to a severe fiscal knife. In the
worst cases, they will face forfeiture or criminal sanctions. I see no
other way to curtail the accumulation of capital.”

There is a dreadful incongruity to the new legislative stew. While the
island’s ruling military junta grants approval and legal status to
private businesses, it also uses a range of prohibitions to limit their
growth and to prevent them from prospering or making money.

The island’s chieftains are paralyzed by fear that the state will lose
its control over society.

They are worried that, as successful mid-size businesses grow, they will
move large sums of money that could exceed a million dollars and create
supply chains that will benefit society.

Or that the owner of a restaurant will open two or three branches,
expanding within the same city or into other provinces, and acquire a
million dollars or more in funding through bank loans or other sources.

Of course, if a private businessman plays his cards right, he will do
well, even earning annual profits in the six figures. That is the basis
of national economic growth. As long as they respect the law and pay
their taxes, bring on successful private business ventures!

But the government has a specific strategy. The only companies that may
accumulate millions of dollars and enter into joint-ventures with
foreign firms are state-owned enterprises. In other words, GAESA-style
military-run conglomerates or others of the same ilk. It is the state
playing with capitalism.

I did not hear any voices in the boring, monotone Cuban parliament
asking for explanations or details about how Gaviota and Rafin’s
multi-million dollar earnings would ultimately be used.*

By 2020 Gaviota will operate 50,000 hotel rooms as well as marinas, golf
courses and stores. Within the next ten years the military-run
conglomerate will become the largest hotel group in the Americas yet the
whereabouts of its revenues are unknown.

Rafin, which according to sources is an acronym for Raúl and Fidel
Investments, is an opaque corporation in a country with a planned
economy that has never stated publicly what its sources of capital are.

This mysterious company bought Telecom Italia’s stake in a joint venture
with the Cuban government that was intended to modernize the state-owned
telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. Rafin is now the sole owner of ETECSA.

What is it doing with its multi-million dollar profits? Are
parliamentary deputies not concerned that ETECSA has not created a
social fund to benefit primary, secondary and pre-university schools,
whose makeshift computer labs lack internet access?

Furthermore, they did not complain about the high prices ETECSA charges
for its mobile phone, wifi and internet services, a subject much
discussed in online discussions sponsored by official media outlets and
about which readers have expressed their frustration. Or about the
alarming prices for goods sold at hard currency retail stores. Or, even
more scandalous, the prices of cars on display in large, well-lit showrooms.

Nor did any parliamentarians demand that state-run companies lower the
prices of household appliances, televisions and smartphones at places
like the Samsung store on 3rd Avenue and 70th Street in Miramar in
western Havana, where a Galaxy S7 edge costs the equivalent of $1,300
and a seventy-inch 4K television goes for around $5,000.

The fact that the state is planning the lives of its citizens through
2030 seems like science fiction when no one knows how we will make it
even to year’s end. The average Cuban pays no attention to parliamentary
debates or to party politics.

People often look the other way. Apathy, dissimulation and indifference
to national affairs pave the way for regime’s excesses.

Workers attend labor union meetings where, without giving them any
thought, they approve economic proposals they do not want and do not
understand. And in their neighborhoods and districts, they vote
mechanically for candidates to the National Assembly who solve nothing.
Cuba has become a nation of domesticated zombies.

Everyone complains quietly at home to his or her family members,
neighbors and friends. But in workplaces and schools, they feign loyalty
to the government, especially when it comes time to have a document
approved or to vote in sterile elections. We have gotten what we deserve.

Deng Xiaoping, a diehard communist and father of China’s economic
reforms, understood that making money was neither shameful nor a crime.
“It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white. What matters is if
catches mice,” he said in 1960. In Cuba’s dictatorship, the cat wears
olive green battle fatigues.

*Translator’s note: Gaviota operates a chain of tourist hotels
throughout the island and offers other tourism related services.
According to Bloomberg, Rafin SA “operates as a diversified financial
services company.” In 2011 it bought Telecom Italia’s 27% stake in the
Cuban state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA for $706 million.

Source: Being Rich Is Banned in Cuba / Iván García – Translating Cuba –

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Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy Tue, 20 Jun 2017 17:50:17 +0000 Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2017 – Over the weekend the
official media have repeated ad nauseam the declaration of the
government in response to Donald Trump’s speech about his policy toward
Cuba. The declaration’s rhetoric recalls the years before the diplomatic
thaw, when political propaganda revolved around confrontation with our
neighbor to the north.

Beyond these words, many on the island are breathing a sigh of relief
because the main steps taken by Barack Obama will not be reversed. The
remittances on which so many families depend will not be cut, nor will
the American Embassy in Havana be closed.

On the streets of Cuba, life continues its slow march, far from what was
said at the Artime Theater in Miami and published by the Plaza of the

Julia Borroto put a bottle of water in the freezer on Saturday to be
ready for the line he expects to find waiting for him Monday outside the
United States Embassy. This 73-year-old from Camagüey, who arrived in
the capital just after Trump’s speech, remembers that Trump had said “he
was going to put an end to the visas and travel, but I see that it isn’t

The retiree also had another concern: the reactivation of the wet
foot/dry foot policy eliminated by Obama last January. “I have two
children who were plotting to go to sea. I just sent them a message to
forget about it.”

The hopes of many frustrated rafters were counting on the magnate to
restore the migratory privileges that Cubans enjoyed for more than two
decades, but Trump defrauded them. Hundreds of migrants from the island
who have been trapped in Central America on their way to the US were
also waiting for that gesture that did not arrive.

Among the self-employed, concern is palpable. Homeowners who rent to
tourists and private restaurant owners regret that the new policy will
lead to a decline in American tourists on the island. The so-called
yumas are highly desired in the private sector, especially for their
generous tips.

Mary, who runs a lodging business in Old Havana, is worried. “Since the
Americans began to come, I hardly have a day with empty rooms.” She had
made plans on the basis of greater flexibilities and hoped “to open up
more to tourism.”

On national television there is a flood of “indignant responses from the
people” including no shortage of allusions to sovereignty, dignity and
“the unwavering will to continue on the path despite difficulties.” The
Castro regime is seizing the opportunity to reactivate the dormant
propaganda machinery that had been missing its main protagonist: the enemy.

However, away from the official microphones people are indifferent or
discontented with what happened. A pedicab driver swears not to know
what they are talking about when he is asked about Friday’s
announcements, and a retiree limits himself to commenting, “Those people
who applaud Trump in Miami no longer remember when they were here
standing in line for bread.”

Of the thirteen activists who met with Barack Obama during his trip to
Havana, at least five expressed opinions to this newspaper about the
importance of the new policy towards Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was
at that table in March 2016 and was also mentioned on this occasion by
Donald Trump during his speech. The activist had planned to be in Miami
for the occasion, but at the airport in Holguin was denied exit and was
subsequently arrested.

“It is the speech that had to be given and the person who could have
avoided it is Raul Castro,” the former political prisoner asserts
categorically. Ferrer believes that Obama did the right thing whenhe
began a new era in relations between the two countries but “the Castro
regime’s response was to bite the hand that was extended to it.”

In the opinion of the opposition leader, in the last 20 months
repression has multiplied and “it was obvious that a different medicine
had to be administered” because “a dictatorship like this should not be
rewarded, it should be punished and more so when it was given the
opportunity to improve its behavior and did not do so.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was also prevented from
flying to Miami to attend the event. For her, the words of the American
president were clear and “if the Cuban regime accepts the conditions
that Donald Trump has imposed on it, Cuba will begin to change.”

Soler believes that the Cuban government’s response is aimed at
confusing the people, who “do not know exactly what is going on.” She
says that Trump wants to maintain business with Cuba “but not with the
military, but directly with the people,” something that the official
press has not explained.

Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who manages the platform #Otro18 (Another
2018), is blunt and points out that “returning to failed policies is the
best way to guarantee failure.” The measures announced by Trump, in his
opinion, do not help the changes, and they once again give the Cuban
government “the excuse to show its repressive nature.”

The dissident believes that the new policy tries to return the debate on
democracy on the island to the scenario of conflict between Cuba and the
United States, “just when it was beginning to refocus the national
scenario on communication between the Cuban State and its citizens,
which is where it needs to be.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia, Dagoberto Valdés, believes
that there is a remarkable difference between the discourse itself
“which seems a return to the past with the use of a language of
confrontation, and the so-called concrete measures that have been taken.”

For Valdés there is no major reversal of Obama’s policy. “The trips of
the Cuban Americans, the embassy, ??the remittances are maintained… and
the possibility of a negotiating table remains open when the Cuban
Government makes reforms related to human rights.”

Journalist Miriam Celaya predicted that the speech would not be “what
the most radical in Miami and the so-called hard line of the Cuban
opposition expected. What is coming is a process and it does not mean
that from tomorrow no more Americans will come to the Island and that
negotiations of all kinds are finished,” she says.

In her usual poignant style, she adds that “regardless of all the
fanfare and the bells and whistles, regardless of how abundant the
smiles, and no matter how much people laughed at Trump’s jokes, it
doesn’t seem that the changes are going to be as promising as those who
are proclaiming that it’s all over for the government.”

Celaya sheds light on the fact that the official statement of the Cuban
government “manifests its intention to maintain dialogue and relations
within the framework of respect.” This is a great difference with other
times when a speech like that “would have provoked a ‘march of the
fighting people’ and a military mobilization.”

Instead, officialdom has opted for declarations and revolutionary
slogans in the national media. But in the streets, that rhetoric is just
silent. “People are tired of all this history,” says a fisherman on the
Havana Malecon. “There is no one who can fix it, but no one who can sink

Source: Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy –
Translating Cuba –

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Trump Rolls Back ‘Completely One-Sided’ Cuba Policy Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:47:37 +0000 Trump Rolls Back ‘Completely One-Sided’ Cuba Policy

President Donald Trump Friday announced new restrictions on travel and
business with Cuba, reversing some of the relaxed new relations
instituted two years ago by President Barack Obama.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s
completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said.

“It’s hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior
administration’s terrible deal with the Castro regime,” he said “They
made a deal with a government that spreads violence and instability in
the region.”

“Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and the
United States of America,” he said. “Our new policy begins with strictly
enforcing U.S. law.”

He also called for the release of political prisoners and the scheduling
of free elections.

“We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo,” he said.

“We now hold the cards. The previous administration’s easing of
restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They
only enrich the Cuban regime,” he said. “The profits from investment and
tourism flowed directly to the military.”

The new moves primarily affect anyone doing business with the Cuban
military, which controls some of the major tourism infrastructure in the
country, as well as individual travelers who were able to visit the
country more freely under “people-to-people” exchanges.

Trump announced the changes in front of a supportive crowd at the Manuel
Artime Theater in the heart of Little Havana. The theater is named in
honor of a leader of Brigade 2506, who participated in the Bay of Pigs
invasion of Cuba in April 1961.

“We will work for the day when a new generation of leaders brings this
long reign of suffering to an end,” Trump said. “And I do believe that
end is in the very near future.”

He challenged Cuba to “come to the table” for a new agreement that was
in the best interest “of their people and our people and also

“Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic
freedoms,” he said. “Return the fugitives of American justice.”

“When Cuba is ready to take concrete steps to these ends, we will be
ready willing and able to come to the table to negotiate that much
better deal for Cubans and Americans,” he said. “Our embassy remains
open in the hope that our countries can forge a much stronger and better

Praise from Florida politicians

Sen. Marco Rubio praised his onetime rival for the Republican
Presidential nomination.

“You will no longer have to endure the spectacle of an American
president doing the wave with a ruthless dictator in a baseball game,”
Rubio said, referring to Obama’s historic visit to Cuba last year.

“This sends a strong message,” Rubio said. “We will work with the people
of Cuba but we will not empower their oppressors.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott also praised Trump’s changed position.

“Today we have a president that understands America must stand for
freedom,” Scott said. He said Obama’s deal with Cuba was “a capitulation.”

Trump’s new directive leaves many of the Obama-era policies unchanged.
The new embassies in Cuba and Washington, D.C. will remain open and the
wet-foot dry-foot policy will not be reinstated. Cuban-Americans will
continue to be able to travel to the island and send remittances to
their families still in Cuba.

The crowd at the theater in Little Havana were appreciative of Trump.
Fermin Vazquez was born in Cuba and has been a U.S. citizen for 40
years. He arrived at 6:45 a.m. to be first in line. “I would follow
Trump everywhere,” he said.

At Versailles, the restaurant on Calle Ocho that has become a
traditional gathering point when Cuba is in the national news, some
exiles passionately debated the U.S. policy toward the island:

Oswaldo Inguanzo, 80, a veteran from Brigade 2506, was part of the group
that met with candidate Trump last year to discuss Cuba and America’s
approach to the island.

“The Brigade had never supported a presidential candidate before,” he
said. “But we sent two letters, one to the then-President Obama, who
didn’t even acknowledge us, and the other to Trump, who immediately

“He didn’t disappoint me,” Inguanzo said after Trump’s speech. “I felt
he was sincere, so I came here today to see that he fulfills his promise.”

Outside near the theater, people began gathering hours before Trump
arrived. Some waited out the rain under awnings and overhangs. Others
allowed themselves to be soaked.

‘The Cuban people are the ones that are going to be harmed’

Marla Recio said she has a business in Cuba called Havana Reverie. It
organizes weddings, birthday parties and corporate events for visiting
Americans in Cuba.

“If he decreases travel and cuts that out completely, that means the end
of my business. I’ll have to do something else in another different
industry. Right now, most of Cuban entrepreneurs are relying a lot on
American visitors,” she said. “The Cuban people are the ones that are
going to be harmed, the ones that are going to suffer. And all of the
families that depend on those businesses.”

Ernesto Medina is with the People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade.

“I think what President Trump is doing, rolling back the policy that
President Obama implemented, it’s going to hurt business in Cuba,” he
said. “A lot of jobs have been created in the private sector to serve
the people traveling to Cuba. That increases the prosperity of the Cuban
people, which is what we all should want to the Cubans.”

Medina said he also objects to what he called the “hypocrisy” of
Republicans who tout the benefits of small government.

“Now they’re going to be scrutinizing every single American citizen that
travels to Cuba, to see which category they fall under to go there,” he
said. “This is an infringement of personal freedoms. We should be able
to travel anywhere we want.”

‘More of a politician that what we expected’

Some of those gathered outside the theater supported Trump. But Laura
Vianello, a Cuban exile who has lived in Miami since 1960, said she
wished he was doing more.

“I noticed that Trump has become more of a politician than what we
expected from him — to be himself,” she said. “We really liked the man
because he has a mind of his own, but we expected more.”

Across the street, an anti-Trump protester disagreed.

Bernardo Guitierrez, 70, was also born in Cuba. He said Obama’s policies
had helped Cubans.

“I visit Cuba because I still have family there, and I know they’re
doing much better,” he said. “Little by little, but better.”

Cuban exiles also gathered at some of the restaurants on Calle Ocho that
have become synonymous with Little Havana. Jorge Naranja was at
Versailles. He said he voted for Trump in November — but he doesn’t
think the policy changes announced on Friday will lead to meaningful
change in Cuba.

He came from Cuba in 1994 and he hasn’t been back since, because he
thinks any kind of travel there will just “inject money into the
system,” he said.

He said he’d like to see the U.S. either close the door completely to
Cuba, or open up 100 percent if it gets a good offer from the Cuban
government — but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

Source: Trump Rolls Back ‘Completely One-Sided’ Cuba Policy | WLRN –

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Changes To Cuba Policy Met With Mixed Reactions Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:42:58 +0000 Changes To Cuba Policy Met With Mixed Reactions
Capitol Hill Reporter
3:52 PM 06/19/2017

President Donald Trump’s changes to the United State’s policy on Cuba,
which tightens restrictions on travel and business transactions between
countries, has been met with mixed reactions by congressional Republicans.

Proponents of the adjustments argue it’s necessary for the U.S. to take
a stand against the Castro regimes’ humanitarian violations. But critics
argue it will have a negative impact on the people of Cuba and the U.S.

an people are starting to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and
recognize capitalism — which he feels could be hindered once the new
policy is implemented, according to GOP Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas,
who recently traveled to Cuba. He noted the U.S. has relations with
multiple other countries with military-controlled regimes, adding he
believes the policy changes are reflective of a dated viewpoint.

“I think it’s in our strategic interest long-term, what we have there
now is a void of leadership, a void of economic direction that’s being
killed by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran and other nations,”
Crawford told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They don’t have the
interest of the United States or our well-being — in fact, they have an
invested interest in undermining the United States. So why would we
allow them to carve out a stronger niche every day in the absence of
U.S. economic engagement? We just can’t sit back and watch from the
beach in Key West.”

Crawford said while he wished former President Barack Obama has involved
Congress more while implementing his administration’s Cuba policy, it
largely had a positive impact on both countries.

“I think this [Trump’s changes] probably kind of built on the opinion of
a small minority — a very vocal small minority, but a small minority
nonetheless,” he said. “You know we feel like we’ve made some great
progress and building up support, making a pretty compelling case about
what our objectives were why, and so this seems a little obtuse.”

Supporters of the new policy say the change will have a positive impact
on the Cuban people since it’s aimed at preventing funds from going to
the Cuban military.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida dismissed the argument the
U.S. should continue to strengthen relations with Cuba due to its
business dealings with other repressive countries.

“It’s a dramatic change dramatic change from a policy that frankly was
helping to fund the Castro dictatorship’s military and intelligence
services to a policy that helps support the Cuban people and stops the
funding to those entities,” he told TheDCNF.”But here’s the interesting
thing, we have sanctions against North Korea, we have sanctions against
Iran — even though they were greatly weakened by the previous
administration — we have sanctions used in specific cases,” Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart said it’s “ludicrous” to have policies in place that fund a
government that is repressing its people.

“Here’s the interesting thing, we have sanctions against North Korea, we
have sanctions against Iran — even though they were greatly weakened by
the previous administration — we have sanctions used in specific cases,”
he continued. “In the case of this hemisphere, where democracy is the
only legitimate form of government according to the OAS [Organization of
American States], in this hemisphere it’s in our national security
interest not to fund what the Obama administration called the fourth
most aggressive, most-effective espionage network on the entire planet.”

Source: Changes To Cuba Policy Met With Mixed Reactions | The Daily
Caller –

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Cuba Won’t Negotiate Trump’s New Policy Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:37:16 +0000 Cuba Won’t Negotiate Trump’s New Policy
At a Monday news conference, the nation’s foreign minister called the
latest deal “a grotesque spectacle straight from the Cold War.”

Speaking at a news conference in Vienna, Austria on Monday, Cuba’s
foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said his nation was not interested in
negotiating with the Trump administration over a newly-proposed policy
to limit tourism and trade to the island. Cuba “will never negotiate
under pressure or under threat,” Rodriquez said, while also refusing to
return U.S. fugitives to whom Cuba has granted asylum. “Cuba conceded
political asylum or refuge to U.S. fighters for civil rights,” Rodriguez
said. “These persons will not be returned to the United States.”

At a Friday speech in Miami’s Little Havana district, President Trump
announced he was “canceling the last administration’s completely
one-sided deal with Cuba” in an effort to undermine the nation’s current
regime, led by President Raúl Castro. “With God’s help,” Trump said, “a
free Cuba is what we will soon achieve.” While many of the specifics
have yet to be worked out, the new policy intends to reinstate travel
restrictions that were loosened under the Obama administration. The
policy also aims to prevent U.S. companies from doing business with
Cuba’s Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA)— a conglomerate
tied to many sectors of Cuba’s economy, including tourism.

On Friday, Trump said the deal could be subject to negotiation—with the
exception of a few key demands. “To the Cuban government, I say, put an
end to the abuse of dissidents, release the political prisoners, stop
jailing innocent people, open yourselves to political and economic
freedoms, [and] return the fugitives from American justice,” Trump said.
“When Cuba is ready to take concrete steps to these ends, we will be
ready, willing, and able to come to the table to negotiate that much
better deal for Cubans, for Americans.”

Trump also used his speech to call for the return of “the cop–killer
Joanne Chesimard,” otherwise known as Assata Shakur. Chesimard, a black
nationalist, was granted asylum in Cuba in 1984 after receiving a life
sentence for the death of a New Jersey state trooper. On Monday,
Rodriquez directly responded to Trump’s order, arguing that the U.S. had
no “legal or moral basis” to demand Chesimard’s return or that of any
other U.S. fugitive.

While Cuba has previously expressed a willingness to negotiate bilateral
issues with the Trump administration, their tone changed dramatically
with the unveiling of the new policy on Friday. The Castro government
has since released a statement saying that the U.S. is “not in the
condition to lecture us” on human rights abuses, citing the GOP health
care plan and police brutality as examples of the U.S.’s own violations.
Rodriquez reinforced this message on Monday, stating that “Cuba will
make no concessions on its sovereignty and its independence, will not
negotiate over its principles, and will never accept [imposed] conditions.”

While Rodriquez admitted that Trump’s new policy “will wreak economic
damage” on Cuban companies and private sector workers, he argued that it
would only serve to further unite his government. Rodriquez also noted
that U.S. companies and citizens would suffer from limited economic and
cultural exchange with Cuba. Indeed, this very thinking motivated the
Obama administration to open the lines of trade and communication with
Cuba in 2014, following a 50-year-old embargo that did little to improve
conditions in the nation. As a result, the administration paved the way
for major companies like Airbnb and Starwood to access the Cuban market,
while spurring entrepreneurship among Cuban citizens.

Trump’s new policy threatens to stymie this growth while placing
high-level U.S.-Cuba negotiations on the chopping block. With Rodriquez
now calling Trump’s policy “a grotesque spectacle straight from the Cold
War,” it seems the lines of dialogue between top U.S. and Cuban
officials have already begun to close—and, with them, the chance to
witness the long-term results of improved diplomatic relations.

Source: Cuba Won’t Negotiate Trump’s New Policy – The Atlantic –

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You Can Still Visit Cuba—Here’s How Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:35:56 +0000 You Can Still Visit Cuba—Here’s How
Patrick Allan

President Trump recently announced that the U.S. will be re-instituting
travel restrictions to Cuba, partially canceling Obama’s previous policy
changes. So, can you still visit Cuba? It depends.

First, let’s clear up an important misconception real quick. Even with
the openings that Obama’s Cuba policy previously created, traveling to
Cuba from the U.S. for the sole purpose of tourism was and still is illegal.

Even before Trump’s announcement, U.S. citizens were only authorized to
travel to Cuba for one of twelve reasons: family visits, official
government business, journalistic activity, professional research or
meetings, educational activity, religious activity, public performances
or athletic competitions, humanitarian projects that support the Cuban
people, and a few other very specific purposes.

Trump’s Tightening of Cuba Travel Policies Closes a Loophole

Many travelers got around the no tourism rule with what’s called
“individual people-to-people” travel, which involves signing up with an
organized tour through a school, artist commune, or volunteer project.
It’s a legal loophole that took advantage of a law that wasn’t as
clearly defined as it could have been.

But Trump’s forthcoming changes will be closing that loophole for the
time being. Americans will no longer be able to visit Cuba without a
specific license from the U.S. government—issued for one of the reasons
mentioned above—or without traveling with an organized “people-to-people
group.” Basically, that means you and your partner can’t just book a
flight to Cuba, travel there on your own, grab a hotel room, hang out
with a tour guide for a day, then do whatever you want for a week.

Once the new Cuba sanctions go into place, you’ll only be able to visit
the country if you book trips through educational travel organizations
that offer group tours, like Cuba Educational Travel, Center for Cuban
Studies, and Smithsonian Journeys. Or you can book a cruise through
cruise lines like Carnival, Ponant, and Pearl Seas. But again, any time
you spend on shore will be with a guided group, and both group tours and
cruises will cost you a pretty penny (like, thousands of dollars).
You’ll also still need a visa (also known as a tourist card) to enter
Cuba, but that’s usually included with your group tour package.

You Can Still Visit Cuba for Specific Reasons and Buy Cuban Cigars (For Now)

The good news: if you’ve already booked a trip to Cuba (even using the
individual people-to-people loophole), the U.S. Treasury Department has
assured travelers that they may go ahead and follow through. And if you
qualify for one of the other non-individual-people-to-people reasons
previously outlined by the U.S. Treasury Department, you may still
travel there if you have a valid passport, you’re able to secure a visa,
and you acquire Cuba-specific travel insurance.

The better news: for those that legally qualify for travel to Cuba, you
may still bring back up to $400 worth of souvenirs—at least for now.
That does include Cuban rum and up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars as
well. There is still no official date for when these new sanctions go
into place, so time is of the essence for travelers desperate to set
foot on Cuba’s long-forbidden soil.

Source: You Can Still Visit Cuba—Here’s How –

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Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana Mon, 19 Jun 2017 13:10:47 +0000 Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three
private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners
of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private
restaurants – were rated “excellent” on Trip Advisor, one of the most
important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities
are acting against the more prosperous businesses.

The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in
the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure
of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which
operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had
previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the
Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred
to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was “under investigation with
other employees” for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the
entity, which operated with foreign capital.

That investigation ended without charges but according to the same
employee “the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the
embezzled money through El Litoral.”

Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to
the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó
and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the
version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor
of the three closed paladares.

“We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare,” said the mother of the
detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at
one time, but had sold it “a few months ago.”

In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time
that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he
was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora
Mendival, shot “himself in a patrol car,” a few yards from the restaurant.

The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by
the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police

The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar
newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to
remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that
they will never include an establishment that is “under a legal
investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law.”

This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word “Closed” was the only
visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L
where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The
area is now deserted.

The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the
premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. “I
saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had
in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away,” says a

According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took
everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be
inaugurated for “tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars.”

The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish,
soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the
flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro’s
Government as of 2010.

“From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not
in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the
service,” says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a
dozen times in the past decade, where he has “two daughters and many

However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the
large house with a view directly to the sea.

The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita,
specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana’s
Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is
now closed, lock stock and barrel.

At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over
the outside terrace and the interior area of ??Lungo Mare. Underneath
its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the
noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. “This is dead
and it will take a long time for it to rise again,” jokes a newspaper
salesman who mourns the situation.

“The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many
people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better
price,” he explains.

“This happened because it stood out a lot,” says Luis Carlos, a young
man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the
area. “El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and
diplomats came,” he explains. “Here they sold the best croquettes in
Havana and that’s not a joke.”

No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted
to comment on the case.

Source: Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In
Havana – Translating Cuba –

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The good, bad, and ugly of Trump’s new Cuba policy Mon, 19 Jun 2017 00:36:01 +0000 The good, bad, and ugly of Trump’s new Cuba policy
By Ilya Somin June 18 at 3:18 PM

Late last week, President Trump announced a change in US policy towards
the communist dictatorship in Cuba. Although Trump claimed he was
“canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with
Cuba,” his new approach actually leaves most of Obama’s policies in
place. It does not end normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba,
nor would it bar most US trade and investment there.

Trump’s new policy has some good elements, some bad ones, and one truly
awful perpetuation of the worst of Obama’s policy. On the plus side, the
new policy bars US trade and investment in enterprises owned by the
Cuban military and secret police. Even if you believe that trade and
investment are beneficial and likely to stimulate liberalization in
Cuba, that is surely not true of commerce that directly enriches the
very entities that perpetuate repression in one of the world’s last
largely unreformed communist despotisms.

Also potentially beneficial is the plan to convene a State Department
task force on increasing internet access for Cubans. This could make it
easier for dissidents to organize, and other Cubans to utilize
information sources not controlled by the state. Obviously, whether this
initiative actually achieves anything remains to be seen.

Much more dubious is Trump’s policy of tightening restrictions on travel
to Cuba by Americans. I can understand the point that such travel often
enriches the regime. On the other hand, travel restrictions are a
significant infringement on freedom, and it is far from clear that they
actually do much to undermine the government’s grip on power. Americans
are not restricted from traveling to other nations with oppressive
governments, including some that are as bad or almost as bad as Cuba’s.
At the very least, we should not restrict Americans’ freedom to travel
unless there is strong evidence that doing so really will have a
substantial beneficial effect on human rights in Cuba.

Contrary to the expectations of its defenders, Barack Obama’s
normalization policy has not resulted in any improvement in Cuban human
rights. Its onset actually coincided with an upsurge in repression, and
the liberal Human Rights Watch group reports that, in some ways, the
government has actually increased its harassment and persecution of
dissidents in recent years. Whether Trump’s policy brings better results
remains to be seen. They could hardly be much worse.

One one key point, however, Trump has perpetuated the very worst of
Obama’s approach. He has decided to maintain Obama’s cruel policy
reversal on Cuban refugees, which effectively bars the vast majority of
them from staying in the United States, ending decades of bipartisan
policy welcoming at least those who manage to make it to US soil.

Some defend Obama’s shift by arguing that the previous approach unduly
favored to Cuban refugees over those fleeing other repressive regimes.
But any such inequality should be cured by treating other refugees
better, not consigning Cubans to oppression. It is better that at least
some refugees be saved than that all be condemned to further abuse in
the name of equality.

In a speech in Miami announcing his new Cuba policy, Trump denounced
Cuba’s repressive policies, including its “abuse of dissidents” and
“jailing [of] innocent people.” But his crocodile tears about the plight
of Cuban victims of communist oppression ring hollow, so long as he bars
virtually all of them from finding refuge in the US, and instead
perpetuates Obama’s new policy of consigning them to the tender mercy of
their oppressors.

Sadly, Trump is not the only hypocrite here. To their credit, liberal
Democrats have rightly condemned Trump’s travel ban executive order, and
attempt to bar Syrian refugees. But most Democrats have either ignored
or actively supported the cruel new policy on Cuban refugees – perhaps
because that policy was initiated by a Democratic president (though now
also continued by Trump).

Here, as elsewhere, we should try to set aside partisan bias. The
barring of refugees fleeing brutal oppressors is unjust regardless of
whether it was done by a Democratic president or a Republican one, and
regardless of whether the rulers oppressing them are communists,
right-wing despots, or radical Islamists. In most cases, the US is not
responsible for the misdeeds of oppressive governments abroad. But we
are morally responsible for using government coercion to prevent them
from finding safety, and returning them to the control of the very
forces they are fleeing.

Source: The good, bad, and ugly of Trump’s new Cuba policy – The
Washington Post –

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Cuba’s small businesses say they will suffer under Trump’s policy changes Mon, 19 Jun 2017 00:33:50 +0000 Cuba’s small businesses say they will suffer under Trump’s policy changes
Alan Gomez , USA TODAY 3:33 p.m. ET June 18, 2017

HAVANA — When Julia de la Rosa heard President Trump’s speech
restricting Americans’ ability to visit Cuba, she immediately started
calculating how many workers she’ll have to fire.

De la Rosa, 49, has spent the past 20 years renovating an abandoned
family home and turning it into a private bed and breakfast in Havana.
She and her husband used to rent out five rooms, but expanded to 10
after then-President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December 2014, unleashing a flood of American travelers to
the long-isolated, communist island.

De la Rosa said the expected drop in visitors from the United
States, who account for two-thirds of her business, will force her to
let go of some of the 20 people she employs as maids, cooks, carpenters,
gardeners and drivers.

“For the first time, we thought our future had no limits,” de la Rosa
said of the period after Obama announced the opening with Cuba. “We
thought our history was being rewritten. Now I feel like everything is
crumbling around me. I never thought this would really happen. I’m in

In Trump’s speech Friday in Miami before a supportive group of
Cuban-Americans, the president said he would restrict American travel to
Cuba because U.S. dollars were going straight into the hands of Cuba
President Raúl Castro and his communist regime. Trump said too many
Americans were staying in government-run hotels, eating at
government-run restaurants and not helping Cuba’s growing class of
private entrepreneurs.

Nearly 300,000 Americans flocked to Cuba in the first five months of
2017, almost the same number as all of last year, according to the Cuban

“They only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said.

But Cuba’s growing class of private entrepreneurs, now more than 530,000
people working independently outside of the state-run economy, say the
opposite is true. Nereyda Rodriguez sells paintings by local artists out
of a renovated house in Old Havana and says her business has boomed
thanks to all the Yankees.

“These last two years have been great,” she said. “It’s been a beautiful
thing. We talk with the Americans, they learn about our lives, we learn
about theirs. Now? I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Trump’s restrictions are counter-productive because they will limit the
very kind of travelers who help Cuban entrepreneurs, said Augusto
Maxwell, who chairs the Cuba practice at the Akerman law firm in Miami
that represents airlines, cruise lines, Airbnb and other U.S. companies
operating in Cuba.

He described American travelers as independent people who don’t want to
stay in large government hotels, so he doesn’t understand why Trump
believes they’re propping up the Cuban regime.

“It’s these folks who tend to stay in private homes, who hire a private
car for the day, who eat at private restaurants,” he said. “And those
are the travelers who are now generally disallowed from traveling to Cuba.”

Some entrepreneurs in Cuba were so worried that the U.S. would shift
course that they tried to limit their reliance on American travelers.
Gilberto Smith Alvarez, who runs two pizza shops in Havana, said
he welcomed the rush of American visitors but tried to maintain a more
Cuban clientele. He said about 80% of those who eat at his restaurants
are Cuban — a plan he described as insurance against the kind of
reversal Trump just announced.

“I’m focused on Cubans precisely because this was a possibility,” he
said. “Tourism from the U.S. is too unstable for me, too politically

The rest of Cuba’s entrepreneurs are left to figure out how to recover
from the expected drop in American visitors. De la Rosa said she spent
the weekend fielding calls from workers and friends she had encouraged
to get private licenses and open their own businesses.

“They’re been calling and asking, ‘And now what?'” she said. “I don’t
know what to tell them.”

Source: Cuba’s small businesses say they will suffer under Trump’s
changes –

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Panama offers stranded Cuban migrants multiple entry visas if they return to island Sun, 18 Jun 2017 19:35:07 +0000 Panama offers stranded Cuban migrants multiple entry visas if they
return to island

The Panamanian government has a proposal for a group of Cubans stranded
in that country: return voluntarily to the island, become self-employed
entreprenuers known as cuentapropistas and, in exchange, obtain multiple
entry visas and even start-up capital — still to be determined — for
investment purposes.

The proposal — which would apply only to the 126 migrants who are in a
temporary shelter in Gualaca in western Panama — was revealed by
Panama’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Jonathan del Rosario, who
said that his country has done “everything possible” to help the
undocumented migrants.

The official made clear that there is no possibility that the 126 Cubans
in the Gualaca camp or the other dozens of Cuban migrants stranded in
Panama following the end of the U.S. Cuban immigration policy — known as
“wet foot, dry foot” — can stay in Panamanian territory.

The Cuban migrants were en route to the U.S.-Mexico border when former
President Barack Obama on Jan. 14 put an end to the policy, which
allowed most Cubans who made it to American soil to stay.

“We have been very frank. Their entry into the country in an irregular
manner makes it impossible for them to qualify for any type of
immigration status in Panama other than refugee status,” del Rosario
said, adding that what the Panamanian government is offering is not a
bad choice.

“We are doing the budget consultations and, of course, we have not done
it behind the backs of the government of Cuba,” he said. “We did not
take them to Gualaca to deceive them. The range of options we have is
not very wide and the countries we have consulted are not welcoming

Del Rosario said that since the migration crisis in the region began
last year, Panama’s government has carried out a “Controlled Flow”
operation to ensure that undocumented migrants entering Panamanian
territory “are properly controlled and enjoy their fundamental rights.”

According to data released by the General Directorate of Migration in
that country, more than 39,000 undocumented Cubans have been living in
Panama for the last five years.

Last April, the Panamanian government decided to close a temporary
shelter in the capital run by Caritas, a Catholic Church organization.
Relocation from Panama City to Gualaca in the western province of
Chiriquí was accepted by 126 of the more than 300 migrants who were
staying at the shelter.

The proposal for the migrants to return home and become cuentapropistas,
unveiled at a recent meeting with migrants in Gualaca, remains on the
table and is apparently one of the few solutions left to a government
team that committed to resolve the Cuban migrant issue within 90 days.

Under the proposal, Panama would grant a multiple-entry visa to the
future entrepreneurs so they could purchase products from Panamanian
markets needed for their businesses. It is not a crazy proposition,
considering that so far this year about 11,900 Cubans have entered the
country with stamped visas that allows for multiple entries for tourism
and business purposes.

The offer is limited to the 126 migrants in Gualaca and not those who
refused to go to the shelter, designated by the government as a
temporary refuge, who will be deported if arrested by the immigration

“If not Donald Trump, we hope that the Cuban community in Miami will
flex its muscle, that someone will help us because none of us left Cuba
to stay in Panama or be relocated in Australia,” said Yelisvaris Pargas,
one of the Cubans in the Gualaca shelter. “Our goal is to reach the
United States.”

Pargas, who is not opposed to returning to the island, said there is
hope among some Cuban migrants that the deputy minister’s proposal is

Others, however, are opposed to the measure.

“All the shops in Cuba belong to the government,” blurted one of the

“Those visas that are being proposed are of no use to us because
everything is illegal in Cuba,” said another of the migrants gathered in
a humid hallway at the shelter.

Yosvani López, a young man from Caibarién in the Villa Clara province in
central Cuba, said the option of a multiple visa would be the best if
there were no other alternative.

“Clearly, we do not want to return,” he said. “But if the choice is
between doing it obligatorily or with the option of leaving a door open
to return, I will stay with the second one.”

Ivo Torres said Cubans do not migrate because of economic problems, but
rather because they are “seeking freedom” and “want to become someone in

“The Cuban government does not value private initiatives because it
wants the population to be dependent on them,” said Torres, who also
questioned whether Raúl Castro would allow them to become self-employed.

Panama’s vice minister, meanwhile, said most of the Cuban migrants at
the shelter would not be able to prove fear of persecution if returned
to the island and cited economic woes as the primary reason for having
fled, which means they would not be eligible for refugee status.

“A refugee usually seeks refuge in the first country to which he
arrives. And since they have been through various countries before
getting to Panama, the window for refugee status generally closes,” del
Rosario said. “It’s not impossible but…that alternative is rarely viable.

“Panama’s position on irregular migration has always been to apply
strict control measures,” he said. “Before the end of the wet foot, dry
foot policy, if there were no outstanding warrants, migrants were simply
given an order to leave the country and were allowed to continue their
transit across the continent.”

Del Rosario also denied that the Cuban migrants are prohibited from
leaving the provisional shelter, essentially serving as a detention
center: “Gualaca is not a hotel or a guesthouse. The idea is not to
deprive them of their rights, but they must have patience.”

The migrants can only leave the camp accompanied by an escort once a
week to collect money transfers at a nearby Western Union and to make

“We are inviting them to embrace the option of self-employment because
it will guarantee them access to Panama and economic support,” del
Rosario said.

Following the change of immigration policy in the United States, Panama
airlifted some Cuban migrants to the United States but that, too, was
brought to a halt. So Panama reached an accord with Cuba, signed in
early March, and more than 90 migrants have since been deported.

As a result of intermediation from the Catholic Church, the Panamanian
government has agreed to try to resolve the Cuban migrant issue beyond
detention. However, they have made it clear that the current situation
will not be maintained forever.

“Just as with Cuba there are other countries in the region that threaten
to overflow in a migratory crisis and we are only four million
inhabitants,” del Rosario said. “We can not welcome everyone.”



Source: Panama to Cuban migrants: go home and get multiple entry visas |
Miami Herald –

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Russia compares Trump’s Cuba plan to Cold War-era ‘rhetoric’ Sun, 18 Jun 2017 19:29:48 +0000 Russia compares Trump’s Cuba plan to Cold War-era ‘rhetoric’
By Mark Moore June 18, 2017 | 12:50pm

Russia ?slammed ?President Trump’s ?plan to reverse? US policies on Cuba
?as? a return to Cold War-era “rhetoric.”

“The new line towards Cuba announced by US President Donald Trump takes
us back to already half-forgotten rhetoric in the style of the Cold
War,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The ministry?? said Trump’s actions show that “anti-Cuban discourse is
still widely in demand. This cannot but cause regret.”

During an appearance in Miami on Friday, Trump announced that he was
unraveling many of the policies put in place by former President Obama
to open relations between the US and Cuba, dismissing it as a “one-sided

The foreign ministry, which also reaffirmed its “solidarity” with the
Caribbean nation, said Obama’s easing of sanctions? ?was a
“well-thought-out political decision in which there were no losers
except marginal Castro opponents.”

Source: Russia compares Trump’s Cuba plan to Cold War-era ‘rhetoric’ |
New York Post –

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Better ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Miami’s Cubans are divided Sun, 18 Jun 2017 18:39:08 +0000 Better ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Miami’s Cubans are divided
Les Neuhaus

When President Trump scaled back President Obama’s pact that broadened
relations with Cuba, he said he was “completely canceling” a “terrible
and misguided deal.”

There was a time in Florida when the Cuban American community would have
reacted to such an announcement with almost uniform approval.

But a paradigm shift has occurred over the last 20 years. Younger
generations of Cuban Americans have been looking for opportunities to
capitalize on trade and business with Cuba. According to a 2016 poll by
Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute, a majority
of Cuban Americans oppose the U.S. embargo on the island and want better

Not surprisingly, Trump’s announcement, made in Miami’s Little Havana,
left some cheering but many in the business community disappointed.

Vicente Amor, vice president of ASC International USA, a Florida-based
commercial travel agency specializing in executive-service trips to
Cuba, said that aside from the drop in business expected from the Trump
doctrine on Cuba, the president’s action signaled another issue.

“The problem is not only the impact of the changes,” he said. When the
Obama administration forged the pact to improve U.S.-Cuban relations,
the work was done without input from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida
and what Amor called “the Miami extremists.” This time, he said, they
were “at the center of the deal,” along with the Treasury Department’s
Office of Foreign Assets Control. For Amor, that’s a bad development.

Contrary to Trump’s sweeping statements, he did not completely gut the
Obama administration agreement. However, it will affect a large
community of entrepreneurs — both in the U.S. and in Cuba — that had
been at the forefront of establishing economic ties between the two
nations, according to the Washington, D.C.-based group, Engage Cuba, a
coalition of pro-Cuban business companies that includes P&G, Viacom,
Honeywell and Choice Hotels.

“We are encouraged that the Trump administration wants to help Cuba’s
private sector, but unfortunately, the people who will be most
negatively impacted by this directive are Cuban entrepreneurs,”
Madeleine Russak, spokeswoman for Engage Cuba, said Saturday.

“The confusion that will surround this policy will undoubtedly stifle
U.S. demand to travel to the island,” she said. “Additionally, by
requiring Americans to travel in tour groups, the administration is not
only making it more expensive for everyday Americans to travel to the
island, but it pushes them away from staying in private homes, which are
unable to accommodate large tour groups, and into state run hotels.”

Albert Fox, a Cuban American from Tampa, which has a generations-old
Cuban community descended from the war for independence at the turn of
the last century, said that although commercial flights might continue
under the new policy, Trump’s decision will hurt American and foreign

“Overnight he’s eliminating hundreds and hundreds of people that were
going there on a daily basis,” said Fox, who serves as president of the
Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. “Do you
think Southwest could cancel flights eventually for a lack of passengers?”

On Saturday, Southwest Airlines responded to that very question.

“Southwest is now reviewing the president’s statements made in South
Florida and is assessing [the] impact any proposed changes could have on
our current scheduled service to Cuba,” airline spokesman Dan Landson
said by email Saturday.

Amor, the travel industry executive, said the trade embargo is patronizing.

“I don’t like President Trump’s policy,” he said. “It treats Cuba like a
colony and fails to recognize Cuba as a sovereign nation.”

Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to roll back Obama’s
Cuban initiative, and Rubio had lobbied Trump intensely to keep that
promise. Among other things, the new rules prohibit Americans from
spending money on businesses controlled by the military.

“Economic practices that benefit the Cuban military at the expense of
the Cuban people will soon be coming to an end #BetterDealforCuba,”
Rubio tweeted.

But in the Cuban community, the pact drew diverse opinions from
Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. On Saturday
he tweeted, “Whatever the intent, new Cuba regs help Cuban Govt and hurt
Cuban entrepreneurs.”

A day earlier, he suggested on Twitter that the Senate weigh in on
U.S.-Cuba ties: “There is overwhelming support in the US Senate to allow
all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba. Let’s vote!”

Despite the generation shift, many in Florida’s Cuban American community
resist any engagement with the Cuban communist government.

“The Obama administration’s policy towards Cuba consisted of a slew of
unconditional and unilateral concessions that placed business interests
over human rights and democracy,” said Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat,
co-founder and spokesman for the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a
Miami-based “resistance” group to the Castro government. “These
unilateral concessions to the Castro regime actually emboldened them to
increase their repression against the Cuban people. … Only [the] rule
of law in Cuba would guarantee American investment and protect the Cuban

Source: Better ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Miami’s Cubans are
divided – LA Times –

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How Trump’s Cuba policy impacts US travelers Sun, 18 Jun 2017 18:37:19 +0000 How Trump’s Cuba policy impacts US travelers
BY MELANIE ZANONA – 06/18/17 08:00 AM EDT 72

Americans may need to rethink their travel plans to Cuba in the wake of
President Trump’s effort to crack down on the communist regime.

The White House announced a slew of new restrictions on Friday aimed at
tightening travel and commercial ties between the U.S. and Cuba, which
comes after a nearly five-month policy review of former President
Obama’s historic opening with the island nation.

Trump didn’t fully reverse the rapprochement with Cuba. But the
significant policy shift will curtail Americans’ ability to travel
freely to Cuba, even as numerous U.S. airlines, hotels and travel sites
like AirBnb have begun offering services there.

Here’s how Trump’s new Cuba policy impacts U.S. visitors.

Legal types of travel

One of the biggest changes is what constitutes a legal form of travel to

Under Trump’s new restrictions, Americans will only be able to visit
Cuba as part of a tour group if they want to go to the island for
educational purposes.

Obama allowed U.S. visitors to travel to the country under 12 different
license categories, including for educational purposes, religious
reasons, journalistic activities and family visits. There was also a
general license. Tourism was still prohibited, however.
Trump is eliminating the so-called people-to-people trips, a
sub-category of education that enables Americans to design their own
trips and go to Cuba on their own. That method has been one of the more
popular ways that U.S. travelers have been seeing the island since Obama
announced his changes.

White House officials also said it’s the category most ripe for abuse,
with Americans using it to skirt the tourism ban.

Visitors will still be able to self-certify under a general license that
they are traveling to Cuba for one of the remaining legitimate
reasons. And Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their
family in Cuba and send them remittances, according to a fact sheet.

But those going for educational purposes will now need to apply with the
Treasury Department and go with a licensed tour group – a process than
can be far more lengthy and expensive, according to anti-embargo advocates.

“By requiring Americans to travel in tour groups, the administration is
not only making it more expensive for everyday Americans to travel to
the island, but pushing them away from staying in private homes – which
are unable to accommodate large tour groups – and into state run
hotels,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba.

Spending restrictions

Another major crux of Trump’s Cuba policy is prohibiting any financial
transactions that benefit the Cuban military’s business arm, Grupo de
Administración Empresarial (GAESA), in an effort to restrict the flow of
money to the oppressive elements of Raúl Castro’s regime.

That means Americans will be largely restricted in where they can spend
their money, given the Cuban government’s control of a large swath of
the travel and tourist economy, including hotels, restaurants and other

GAESA currently operates the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, one of the
first U.S. hotels to open on the island in decades.

The administration hopes that the ban on financial transactions with
companies linked to the Cuban military will help funnel more money
towards free and private Cuban businesses.

White House officials also noted that Americans can still bring back
Cuban cigars from their trips.

Stronger enforcement

U.S. visitors may face more questioning from authorities when they
return home from Cuba.

Part of Trump’s policy focuses on enforcing the existing ban on tourism,
which means travelers can expect to see stepped up enforcement, either
from customs agents at the airport or through audits later on.

“Our policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law,” Trump said during
his speech in Miami, unveiling the new policy. “We will enforce the ban
on tourism.”

All visitors are required to maintain full schedules while in Cuba and
keep detailed logs for five years – something that has been rarely checked.

The White House is now directing the Treasury Department to conduct
regular audits of travelers and calling on the Inspector General to keep
tabs on the agency’s effort.

Those who are caught violating Cuban sanctions could face civil or
criminal penalties, with individual civil fines that could reach up to
$65,000 per violation, according to the Treasury Department.

Commercial flights

Commercial flights, which resumed between the U.S. and Cuba for the
first time in over 50 years last summer, will be allowed to continue
uninterrupted under Trump’s Cuba policy.

Seven U.S. airlines now fly nonstop to Cuba, following an intense effort
to win a direct flight route to the island last year.

But facing lower than expected travel demand, a number of carriers have
already begun to scale back their Cuba operations.

If demand continues to decline once people-to-people trips are banned,
and with tour groups more likely to book charter flights, travelers may
see higher ticker prices and less commercial flight options.

“There was already a sense that there were way too many flights. I do
think you’re likely to see a fewer number of flights and higher fares,”
said Andrew Keller, a partner at Hogan Lovells focusing on international
trade and investment. “You may well see more of the airlines pulling
out, if it’s just not worth it.”


The Treasury and Commerce departments will now have 30 days to start
drafting new rules that fulfill Trump’s directive, but “then the process
takes as long as it takes,” said one senior official.

That means that travelers who have already scheduled a trip to Cuba can
still move ahead with their plans, as long as the new regulations have
not taken effect yet.

In writing new rules, the Treasury Department is expected to spell out
exactly what will happen to people who book trips before the new rules,
but travel after their release.

Source: How Trump’s Cuba policy impacts US travelers | TheHill –

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Citizen Kastro-Citizen Alcides Sun, 18 Jun 2017 14:32:41 +0000 Citizen Kastro-Citizen Alcides / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 14 June 2017– Jorge Enrique Lage interviews Miguel Coyula
(excerpts) 4

… at many times during the interview, Alcides interrupted himself and
began to speak to Fidel as if he were right in front of him. It’s
something one saw a lot in our parents’ generation: bothered by
something Fidel was saying on TV and arguing with him, but supposedly
there was no one listening inside the box. Documentaries offer that
opportunity, that fantasy secret for many.

For me the film is a love-hate story between two men and a woman. The
men are Rafael Alcides and Fidel Castro; the woman is the Revolution.
Alcides lost her, and deeply resents the man who snatched her from him
to dominate her, strangle her, and make her into an unrecognizable
ghost. But in spite of it all, Alcides continues loving her somehow.

When he died I said that one of my actors had died, but Fidel appears
in Memories of Development, Nobody, and Blue Heart. In the three films,
I had to listen to many hours of his speeches and conversations to be
able to edit and construct the dialogs in them. I can tell you it was
pretty exhausting to work with him, who’d succeeded in telling me the
lines I needed. But definitely he was one of the great actors of the
20th Century, including at the beginning of the 21st.

Supposedly, now one can read it as a great hallucination too, but when
Alcides speaks, he addresses him in the present, as if he were alive.
This doesn’t come out of nowhere. Anyone who reads Granma and reads the
recycled quotes from Fidel in every issue can, as in the persistence
embedded in all the talking heads you see on Cuban television, arrive at
the conclusion that we’re being governed by a dead man.

Translated by: JT

Source: Citizen Kastro-Citizen Alcides / Regina Coyula – Translating
Cuba –

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Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner Sun, 18 Jun 2017 14:31:44 +0000 Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 June 2017 – In less than 72 hours
President Donald Trump will declare in Miami the new basis for the
United States government’s policies towards Cuba. At that time the
decisions of his predecessor Barack Obama, during the process of
normalization of diplomatic relations with the island, could be paused
or reversed.

The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he
has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on
earth. He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit
enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and
the Island will fall off his agenda.

Why entrust the fate of this country to a man who has failed to keep a
single one of the election promises he made to his own people? Is the
policy toward Cuba the only thing that will turn out well from someone
who has behaved like a political bull in a china shop?

Trump will try to please the voices asking him to tighten the screws on
Havana. Sanctions, cutting back and revoking the measures taken during
the thaw are among the demands of those who bet on confrontation, a
strategy that has had half a century to demonstrate its ineffectiveness.

The president will especially address himself to those who insist on
“turning off the tap,” cutting off communication and shutting down
supplies to the longest dictatorship in the West, as if such measures
will cut off the electricity, water supply or internet access to the
homes of the Community Party elite.

It is symptomatic that demands for economic strangulation rarely spring
from those who wait long hours for a bus, depend daily on the bread that
is distributed in the rationed market and have to stretch a monthly
salary that is barely enough to survive on for a week.

On the other hand, blaming Obama’s “soft hand” for the wreck of
normalization leads one to forget that those in charge in Cuba did not
seize the opportunity for fear of losing control. They were more
frightened by Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana than by any
threat of military intervention.

Those who have aspired for decades to unconditional surrender, to
revengeful justice, and to “all or nothing” with Castroism, did not lose
any time in putting roadblocks in the way of the process started on 17
December 2014. Starting this Friday they will be forced to accept
everything that happens after Trump’s decisions, or to recognize this is
not the way to emerge from a dictatorship.

The figures for arbitrary arrests compiled by the Cuban Human Rights
Commission are unlikely to decline significantly, the Ladies in White
will still be unable to march down Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana,
and opposition groups will remain illegal and persecuted by the police.

What will be the foreseeable consequences on the Island of a return to
the politics of the cudgel? An increase in repression and a better
positioning of the more conservative sectors. The Plaza of the
Revolution, the tyranny of the Castros, the regime… or whatever you
prefer to call it, will not be alone in facing the tightening of the
screws from Washington.

Russia, China, Angola, Nicolas Maduro and comrades from North Korea,
Congo, Zimbabwe and Iran will rush to take sides with Raul Castro.
Meanwhile, in the streets of the Island the population will mark Trump’s
measures with renewed “marches of the fighting people,” shouting
anti-imperialist slogans and accepting the postponement of the old
promises of the Revolution.

Faced with “the new onslaught from the empire” the government will
reinforce its aptitude for entrenchment. In the upper echelons of power
there will be no cracks or disagreements. Persecutors will strengthen
their power and enjoy the impunity to crush any resistance.

Trump will not achieve, with his new measures, a new march by university
students with a “Down with the Dictatorship” poster, nor will the unions
call for a general strike against the government, nor will the farmers
march to the cities demanding land.

It is not even clear whether the president will serve out four years in
office, cornered as he is by political scandals, alleged Kremlin
intervention in the elections that brought him to power and his
unfortunate way of managing politics through incendiary treatises or

His decisions will not provoke another Maleconazo on the island like the
one of August of 1994. That popular protest was spurred by the desire to
escape the country, not change it. Those dramatic events were not
sparked by the opposition, nor did they generate political changes, just
the Rafter Crisis.

Such an outbreak would be a nightmare for a leader with a marked
nationalism and an evident anti-immigrant phobia.

This Friday the American president will have his moment in front of the
Cuban exile. The applause for him will be short-lived. The placebo
effect of his announcements will dissipate to give way to the stubborn
reality that no decision of a foreign government will change Cuba,
regardless of whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump is at the head of it.

Source: Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner – Translating
Cuba –

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Cuba cruises could become less flexible under new Trump policy Sat, 17 Jun 2017 21:03:33 +0000 Cuba cruises could become less flexible under new Trump policy
Gene Sloan , USA TODAY Published 12:20 p.m. ET June 16, 2017

Cruises from the USA to Cuba will be allowed to continue under President
Trump’s new Cuba policy, but the trips could become more restrictive,
industry and Cuba watchers say.

Passengers on voyages to Cuba operated by U.S.-based companies such as
Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean may no longer be able to get
off ships in Cuban ports such as Havana to explore on their own, says
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a
group that supported the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the
island nation.

While final rules won’t be written for several months, it is likely that
“only group tours will be permitted for passengers on the vessels,”
Kavulich says.

The new policy, which Trump announce today at an event in Miami, will
end individual “people-to-people” travel from the USA to Cuba, which has
been allowed for the past year under relaxed rules implemented by the
Obama administration. Travelers on “people-to-people” trips to Cuba once
again will be required to be part of a licensed group.

The new policy also could have an impact on the tours that are available
to cruisers. The policy will restrict U.S. businesses from dealing with
entities tied to the Cuban military and intelligence services, which
control a significant amount of the tourism infrastructure in the country.

Kavulich notes that many U.S.-based travel agencies and tour operators
contract for tours with Havanatur, which is a subsidiary of Cimex, which
is controlled by the FAR, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Republic
of Cuba.

Still, the extent of the impact on cruise companies, if any, from the
restriction on dealing with such entities is unclear. A U.S. Treasury
FAQ on the topic released Friday said U.S. businesses that already have
a relationship with such entities before the new rules take effect will
be permitted to continue with the relationship. A spokesman for industry
giant Carnival Corp., a pioneer in the new wave of cruises from the USA
to Cuba, told USA TODAY the company saw no issues with its tour partner
in the country.

Many in the cruise industry don’t expect the new policy to have a major
effect on cruises to Cuba, says longtime industry watcher Mike Driscoll,
editor of Cruise Week.

“The belief is ultimately Trump is pro-business, and he (is doing)
nothing here to undermine the cruise line business,” Driscoll says.
“Expectations are (for) cruise business as usual, once the media
spotlight fades away.”

Both Kavulich and Driscoll note the new policy’s group-tour requirement
should, if anything, help the cruise industry draw more business.

Demand for Cuba cruises has been “impacted by individuals using airlines
for independent travel” to Cuba, which now will be forbidden, Kavulich says.

In a statement, Carnival Corp. said it was “pleased that the policy
changes announced by the Trump administration will allow our ships to
continue to sail to Cuba.”

Carnival Corp. became the first cruise company to offer voyages from the
USA to Cuba in decades when its Fathom brand began trips from Miami in
May 2016. While Fathom has stopped sailing to the island nation,
Carnival Corp.’s much bigger Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America
Line brands are scheduled to start Cuba cruises in the coming months.

“Our experience in Cuba this past year has been extremely positive,”
Carnival said in its statement. “We look forward to the new cruises
being planned for Cuba with Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America
Line. We also have requested approval for our other brands to travel to

Carnival Corp. also owns Princess Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and
several other brands.

Also releasing a statement saying it was pleased that cruises to Cuba
could continue was Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the parent company of
Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
All three of the brands have started Cuba cruises in the last three months.

Norwegian said it would work with the Trump administration to comply
with any changes to regulations that are implemented.

“We were very concerned about any potential changes, given how popular
Cuba itineraries have proven to be with our guests, and we view this as
a win for the cruise industry, our valued guests and travel partners,”
Norwegian said in its statement, which was released after Trump spoke.
“Across our three brands, there are 70,000 guests booked to sail to Cuba
who would have been very disappointed if they were unable to experience
this spectacular destination.”

Passengers on cruises to Cuba departing in the next few weeks will not
be affected by the new policy, which won’t take effect until formal
rules are written over the next 90 days.

More than half a dozen cruise lines have launched Cuba voyages from the
USA over the past year. They include cruising giants such as Norwegian
and Royal Caribbean as well as smaller operators such as Oceania and
Azamara Club Cruises.

The companies have said the Cuba trips provide an opportunity for
“people-to-people” exchanges between Americans and Cubans as allowed by
U.S. rules governing visits to Cuba.

While the Obama administration loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba
in 2016, U.S. visitors still are limited in the activities they are
allowed to do in the country by the terms of the USA’s five-decade-old
embargo. The embargo specifies that activities fall within one of 12
approved categories. The categories include educational pursuits such as
people-to-people exchanges.

Source: Cuba cruises could become less flexible under new Trump policy –

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What does Trump’s new Cuba policy mean for travel to island? Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:59:45 +0000 What does Trump’s new Cuba policy mean for travel to island?

HAVANA (AP) — Here’s what’s changing with President Donald Trump’s new
policy on travel to Cuba, announced Friday:


Before former President Barack Obama launched detente with Cuba in
December 2014, most Americans without family ties to Cuba traveled to
the island on expensive guided tours dedicated to full-time “meaningful
interaction” with the Cuban people and — in principle at least —
avoiding activities that could be considered tourism, which is illegal
under U.S. law.

“People-to-people” tour companies needed special licenses from the U.S.
Treasury Department and were regularly audited and faced steep fines or
loss of licenses for allowing travelers to engage in tourism.

In Cuba, U.S. tour companies were required to contract guides, tour
buses and hotel rooms from the Cuban government, meaning U.S. travelers
were effectively under the constant supervision of the government. As a
result, they were often presented with activities and talks favoring
Cuba government positions on domestic and international issues.


Obama eliminated the tour requirement, allowing Americans to travel to
Cuba on individual “people-to-people” trips that were in reality
indistinguishable from travel to any other country in the world.
Travelers were legally required to maintain logs of their full-time
“people-to-people” schedules but the Obama administration made clear it
would not enforce the requirement.

Online lodging booker Airbnb was allowed into Cuba, and commercial
flights between the U.S. and Cuba resumed after more than half a
century. As a result, U.S. travel to Cuba roughly tripled by the time
Obama left office. U.S. travelers are engaging in what amounts to
illegal tourism, but they are also pumping hundreds of millions of
dollars into the restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts that are driving the
growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.


Trump will re-impose the requirement that “people-to-people” travelers
can only come to Cuba with heavily regulated tour groups. Many Cuban
entrepreneurs fear this will stifle the American travel that has allowed
so many of them to flourish since the start of detente.

The policy will also ban most American financial transactions with the
military-linked conglomerate that dominates much of the Cuban economy,
including dozens of hotels, along with state-run restaurants and tour buses.

This will almost certainly make all American travel to the island a
complicated maze of avoiding payments to military-linked monopolies
ranging from hotels to gas stations to convenience stores.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who claims credit for writing the Trump policy along
with a fellow Cuban-American and Florida Republican, Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart, tweeted Friday that individual American travelers will
still be able to go to Cuba for the purpose of supporting the Cuban
people, a category that includes helping human rights organizations and
non-governmental groups meant to strengthen democracy and civil society.


The new realities of U.S. travel to Cuba will be determined by the
regulations that federal agencies will produce as a result of the new
policy. A presidential memorandum gives the government 90 days before it
even starts to rewrite Cuba travel regulations, meaning it could be many
months before it’s clear what the change means for American travelers.

The Treasury Department said individuals who bought an airline ticket or
rented a room or car before Trump’s announcement could make additional
travel-related purchases for that travel under the Obama policy, even if
their trip to Cuba takes place after the new, stricter Trump regulations
go into effect.

Of course, the mere news of the change is likely to have a chilling
effect on travel to Cuba.


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

David Koenig on Twitter:

Source: What does Trump’s new Cuba policy mean for travel to island? –

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Trump rolls back some, not all, changes in US-Cuba relations Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:58:20 +0000 Trump rolls back some, not all, changes in US-Cuba relations
Darlene Superville, Michael Weissenstein and Josh Lederman, Associated
Press, Associated Press • June 17, 2017

MIAMI (AP) — Pressing “pause” on a historic detente, President Donald
Trump thrust the U.S. and Cuba back on a path toward open hostility with
a blistering denunciation of the island’s communist government. He
clamped down on some commerce and travel but left intact many new
avenues President Barack Obama had opened.

The Cuban government responded by rejecting what it called Trump’s
“hostile rhetoric.” Still, Cuba said it is willing to continue
“respectful dialogue” with on topics of mutual interest.

Even as Trump predicted a quick end to President Raul Castro’s regime,
he challenged Cuba to negotiate better agreements for Americans, Cubans
and those whose identities lie somewhere in between. Diplomatic
relations, restored only two years ago, will remain intact. But, in a
shift from Obama’s approach, Trump said trade and other penalties would
stay in place until a long list of prerequisites was met.

“America has rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors,” Trump said Friday
in Miami’s Little Havana, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to
Castro’s government. “Officially, today, they are rejected.”

Declaring Obama’s pact with Castro a “completely one-sided deal,” Trump
said he was canceling it. In practice, however, many recent changes to
boost ties to Cuba will stay as they are. Trump cast that as a sign the
U.S. still wanted to engage with Cuba in hopes of forging “a much
stronger and better path.”

In a statement released Friday evening on government-run websites and
television, Cuban President Raul Castro’s administration said Trump’s
speech was “loaded with hostile rhetoric that recalls the times of open

The lengthy statement went on to strike a conciliatory tone, saying Cuba
wants to continue negotiations with the U.S. on a variety of subjects.
“The last two years have shown that the two countries can cooperate and
coexist in a civilized way,” it said.

Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. U.S. airlines and
cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of
Florida. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which once let most Cuban
migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil but was terminated under
Obama, will remain terminated. Remittances from people in America to
Cubans won’t be cut off.

But individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by
Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the
U.S. government will police other trips to ensure travelers are pursuing
a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”

The changes won’t go into effect until new documents laying out details
are issued. Once implemented Trump’s policy is expected to curtail U.S.
travel by creating a maze of rules for Americans to obey. The policy
bans most financial transactions with a yet-unreleased list of entities
associated with Cuba’s military and state security, including a
conglomerate that dominates much of Cuba’s economy, such as many hotels,
state-run restaurants and tour buses.

Surrounded by Florida Republican officials, the president was unabashed
about the political overtones of his election victory and Friday’s

“You went out and you voted, and here I am, like I promised.”

Cheered by Cuba hardliners in both parties, Trump’s new policy is
broadly opposed by U.S. businesses eager to invest in Cuba.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, typically supportive of GOP presidents,
predicted the changes would limit prospects for “positive change on the
island,” while Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., said Trump’s policy was
“misguided” and will hurt the U.S. economically.

Trump’s declaration in a crowded, sweltering auditorium was a direct
rebuke to Obama, for whom the diplomatic opening with Cuba was a central
accomplishment of his presidency.

Yet it also exposed the shortcomings in Obama’s approach.

Unable to persuade Congress to lift the decades-old trade embargo, Obama
had used his power to adjust the rules that implement the embargo to
expand built-in loopholes. Obama and his aides argued that commerce and
travel between the countries, which has blossomed since he relaxed the
rules, would make his policy irreversible.

Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser who negotiated
Obama’s opening with the Cubans, said it was disappointing Trump was
halting the momentum that had built but added that it could have been worse.

“This is a limitation on what we did, not a reversal of what we did,”
Rhodes said in an interview.

For Cubans, the shift risks stifling a nascent middle class that has
started to rise as Americans have flocked to the island on airlines,
patronizing thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts.

“When he’s cutting back on travel, he’s hurting us, the Cuban
entrepreneurs,” said Camilo Diaz, a 44-year-old waiter in a restaurant
in Havana. “We’re the ones who are hurt.”

Granma, the official organ of Cuba’s Communist Party, described Trump’s
declarations in real-time blog coverage Friday as “a return to
imperialist rhetoric and unilateral demands.” Cuba’s government may not
formally respond to Trump’s speech until a speech Monday by its foreign

The Castro government is certain to reject Trump’s list of demands,
which includes releasing political prisoners, halting what the U.S. says
is abuse of dissidents and allowing greater freedom of expression.
Refusing to negotiate domestic reforms in exchange for U.S. concessions
is perhaps the most fundamental plank of Cuba’s policy toward the U.S.

Cuba functioned as a virtual U.S. colony for much of the 20th century,
and even reform-minded Cubans are highly sensitive to perceived U.S.
infringements on national sovereignty. Trump, on the other hand,
described his move as an effort to bring about a “free Cuba” after more
than half a century of communism.

“I do believe that end is in the very near future,” he said.

Cuba’s 1,470-word statement Friday night labeled Trump a hypocrite for
calling on Cuba to improve human rights, saying the U.S. government “is
threatening more limits on health care that would leave 23 million
people without insurance … and marginalizes immigrants and refugees,
particular those from Islamic countries.”

The statement reiterates Cuba’s commitment to “the necessary changes
that we’re making now as part of the updating of our socio-economic
model,” but says “they will continue being decided in a sovereign way by
the Cuban people.”

The U.S. severed ties with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution,
and spent decades trying to either overthrow the government or isolate
the island, including by toughening an economic embargo first imposed by
President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Obama announced in December 2014 that he and Castro were restoring ties.
Less than a year later, the U.S. Embassy in Havana re-opened, and Obama
paid a historic visit to Havana in 2016.


Weissenstein reported from Havana and Lederman from Washington.

Source: Trump rolls back some, not all, changes in US-Cuba relations ––politics.html

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Trump’s Cuba policy tries to redefine ‘good’ U.S. tourism. That includes putting them back on tour buses. Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:09:51 +0000 Trump’s Cuba policy tries to redefine ‘good’ U.S. tourism. That includes
putting them back on tour buses.
By Nick Miroff June 17 at 2:43 PM

The American traveler in Cuba — sweating, disoriented and probably a bit
woozy from the rum drinks — is once more at the heart of the struggle
for the island’s future.

Central to President Trump’s plans to peel back his predecessor’s
detente with Cuba is the idea that there is “good” and “bad” U.S.
travel. The United States, Trump believes, can tightly regulate American
vacations to deprive the Castro government of dollars and redirect the
money to the island’s growing class of entrepreneurs.

But it will be difficult to pick winners in Cuba’s state-controlled
economy, where government businesses and the private sector are
thoroughly intertwined. And even harder will be determining what sort of
travel constitutes the kind of “people-to-people” interactions the Trump
administration says it wants to preserve.

By reinstating restrictions on independent travelers, the Trump
administration’s new policy will hurt Cuba’s emerging private sector
that caters to American visitors, critics insist.

Instead, the new rules will herd Americans back toward the kind of
prepackaged, predictable group tourism that the Cuban government
actually prefers — and earns more revenue from.

“I think if you come here on a package tour, you see what the Cuban
government wants you to see,” said Andrew Sleyko, 36, a food scientist
from Chicago who was visiting the island for the first time as Trump
announced his new policy.

Sleyko and a friend had booked rooms through Airbnb and were spending
their days walking around the city in the muggy heat.

“We’re talking to people wherever we go,” he said. “Isn’t that the idea
of people-to-people?”

The Trump plan, announced Friday in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood,
asserts that the Obama-era rules facilitated what the White House called
“illegal” tourism by allowing U.S. travelers to rent rooms in Cuban
homes through sites such as Airbnb.

Americans will generally still be allowed to visit Cuba if they come on
cruise ships, for instance, or book with U.S.- approved tour agencies
that ensure travel itineraries do not include too much unstructured time.

The complication for Trump’s rules, however, is that large tour groups
are too big for smaller bed-and-breakfast rentals, and their
government-appointed guides tend to ply the well-trodden routes that
bypass the new galleries, restaurants and night spots opened by
enterprising Cubans and others after the openings spurred by Obama.

That, in turn, will cause a ripple effect.

“If independent American travel is cut off, you won’t only hurt the
bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also the construction crews, the private tour
guides, the taxi drivers, the restaurants and the artists selling
handicrafts,” said Andrea Gallina, an Italian entrepreneur who last year
opened a high-end boutique hotel, Paseo 206, with his Cuban spouse.

The 1934 mansion has an Italian restaurant on the ground floor, and
Gallina estimates two-thirds of his guests are American, booking rooms
through Airbnb, Expedia and other U.S. sites.

“To be honest, Americans don’t have time to go to the beach, because
they get absorbed into the city,” he said. “Independent travelers have
more contact with real Cubans.”

Gallina employs 22 Cuban workers. If his bookings decline because of a
travel crackdown, he said, he will likely turn to the European market
and “tighten our belts.”

American travel to Cuba has been a political battleground since the
early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union left the island’s
communist government starved for hard currency.

As its resort industry grew and more foreign visitors arrived, the
Castro government’s enemies in Miami and in the halls of Congress fought
to restrict Americans from going — knowing their dollars could undermine
efforts to choke the Cuban economy.

Instead, Cuba’s tourism industry grew on euros and Canadian dollars.

But that’s beginning to change.

The government says it received more than 4 million tourists last year —
a record number — of which about 615,000 were U.S. visitors. That
includes 330,000 Cuban Americans visiting relatives on the island, but
many of the rest were Americans taking advantage of Obama’s landmark
moves to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Travel by non-Cuban Americans has been on pace to double this year,
according to the latest government data.

But Trump’s rollback is expected to put a brake on that growth. U.S.
officials say the new restrictions have yet to be written and will not
take effect until then, and Americans who have already booked Cuba
travel won’t have to cancel.

Limited economic reforms by Cuban leader Raúl Castro, 86, have allowed
Cuban entrepreneurs to buy and sell property and run small businesses,
but it was Obama’s normalization measures that kicked the process into

In Old Havana’s tourist quarter, entire city blocks of crumbling
century-old buildings are being renovated and turned into boutique
hostels and chic cafes.

The work is being almost entirely carried out by private sector
tradesman and contractors.

“I’ve never been this busy,” said Roberto Claro, a dust-covered
construction foreman in Old Havana, whose crew was busy converting a
ruined, century-old building into a seafood restaurant. There were two
other buildings on the same block also getting an overhaul.

The new rules aim to ban or limit Americans from patronizing
military-linked businesses including Cuba’s gargantuan GAESA
conglomerate, which is estimated to control more than half of the
island’s tourist economy.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said
Friday it will provide Americans with a lists of prohibited hotels and
other businesses linked to the company so American travelers can steer

U.S. travelers will need to keep detailed records and receipts from
their Cuba trips in case of an audit by Treasury Department officials,
and that alone could be a deterrent if aggressively enforced.

“The real challenge is implementing will be this,” said Chris Sabatini,
a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public
Affairs and the director of the website Global Americans. “Monitoring
travelers, evaluating who is staying in military-owned hotels, tracking
license compliance — all that requires bureaucratic capacity and follow up.”

Because Treasury’s foreign assets division is the same office in charge
of enforcing sanctions against countries such as Iran and North Korea,
it has come under criticism for devoting resources to investigating the
vacation receipts of American travelers who visit Cuba. A bipartisan
Senate bill that would completely lift travel restrictions has 55

“You or I could travel to any country on the globe and there’s not a
federal government prohibition from us doing so — the only restriction
is Cuba,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told CNN as Trump announced the new
measures. “We’re not the Soviet Union. We don’t have to have ‘travel
papers’ for the government to decide whether or not you can travel.”

Treasury said it will issue new guidelines in the coming months.

Gallina and others in Havana said they have been flooded with calls and
emails from Americans in the past three days asking if they should
cancel their trips.

Source: Trump’s Cuba policy tries to redefine ‘good’ U.S. tourism. That
includes putting them back on tour buses. – The Washington Post –…

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Travel Industry Scrambles After New Cuba Restrictions Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:06:38 +0000 Travel Industry Scrambles After New Cuba Restrictions

As President Trump outlined a stricter policy toward Cuba on Friday,
travel industry representatives scrambled to decode new prohibitions and
reassure clients that the island was not off limits.

Hotel owners, tour operators and online booking agencies — who have been
at the heart of much-expanded contact between the two countries over the
last few years, culminating in early 2016, when President Barack Obama
eased restrictions — took what they saw as confusing signals from the
White House as a sign that the policy would be refined over the coming

“It appears to me that they are making this up as they go,” said Collin
Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which has been organizing
trips to that country for several years.

Mr. Laverty said he fielded “endless” calls during the past two days
from travel operators and travelers trying to figure out how they would
be affected by the new policy. On Friday, he wrote in an email to
clients that the organization was “very confident” the policy “will not
impact the fall trips to Cuba.”

Under the new regulations, individual Americans travelers will no longer
be able to visit the island on what are known as people-to-people trips,
a popular mode of travel introduced as part of Mr. Obama’s historic
thaw. People-to-people trips will now be permitted only for groups and
must be organized by a licensed tour operator.

Americans will also be barred from transactions with companies run by
the Cuban military — a potentially significant restriction, given that
many of Cuba’s branded hotels are managed by a military-owned conglomerate.

The Treasury Department went some way to clarify the new rules on
Friday, writing in a statement that the changes would not apply to
people who had already booked trips or to existing business deals with
the military.

But the new restrictions would put new properties like the Gran Hotel
Manzana, managed by Kempinski Hotels but owned by Gaviota, a Cuban
military-run company, off limits to American travelers. Travel
representatives said they would redirect American travelers to hotels
run by civilian tour organizations, including Gran Caribe and Cubanacan
— both of which own several properties in Havana.

Exactly how far those restrictions go, however, is unclear. Could a tour
organizer rent a bus from a military-run company? What about purchases
from a military-run retail store?

Prohibitions of that scope would make organizing group trips to Cuba
“impossible,” said Michael Sykes, president of Cuba Cultural Travel.

Tour operators and Cuba experts predicted that the Cuban government
would find loopholes. John Caulfield, who was chief of the United States
diplomatic mission to Havana from 2011 to 2014, said the government
could move tourism assets into the control of civilian ministries.

“In an economy like Cuba’s, they can rename things and change things
around,” he said.

Still, even if the new rules were workable, travel representatives said,
tighter regulation would put off Americans from traveling to a country
still struggling with its tourism infrastructure.

“We were finally getting to a point where there was a sense of normalcy;
people felt it was legal to come to Cuba,” Mr. Laverty said. “Now this
is pushing us back to a point where Americans don’t know if it’s legal.
That will dissuade a lot of Americans.”

Two sectors that were left apparently unscathed by the new policy were
cruises and flights: Fees paid by cruise lines and airlines will be
exempt from restrictions on doing business with the military.

Marriott International, whose subsidiary Starwood runs the Four Points
by Sheraton hotel in the Havana suburb of Miramar, may also have escaped
the crackdown, which the Treasury Department said did not affect
existing business deals.

The Havana Sheraton announced on its website on Friday that it would
require each guest to complete an affidavit at check-in certifying
authorization to travel in Cuba. Marriott said in a statement on
Thursday that it was “still analyzing” the policy directive, and its
“full effect on our current and planned operations in Cuba.”

The consensus is that those who will suffer most are smaller-scale
businesses that rely on individual travel — private bed-and-breakfasts,
cafes, restaurants, tour guides and taxis. And fewer individual
travelers would also affect commercial airlines, who last year began
operating dozens of daily flights to Cuba.

Cuba is Airbnb’s fastest-growing market, with 22,000 rooms registered to
its booking site and 70,000 arrivals every month on the island,
according to figures published by the company. About 35 percent of
Airbnb’s guests in Cuba are American; 12 percent of American travelers
to Cuba stay in an Airbnb-listed property.

The company said in a statement on Friday that it was “reviewing what
this policy could mean for this type of travel” but was pleased that it
would be able to continue to “support Airbnb hosts in Cuba.”

But those hosts are likely to see a decline in demand, travel
representatives said.

“Much of the growth has been from people booking from Airbnb and private
casas,” said Eddie Lubbers, president of Cuba Travel Network, using the
Spanish term for homes. “It’s not just casas — it’s restaurants, it’s
private tour guides.”

He added, “It’s going to have an effect.”

Source: Travel Industry Scrambles After New Cuba Restrictions – The New
York Times –

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Cuba Says President Trump’s Speech Was ‘Loaded With Hostile Rhetoric’ Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:04:21 +0000 Cuba Says President Trump’s Speech Was ‘Loaded With Hostile Rhetoric’
Associated Press
8:39 AM ET

(WASHINGTON) — The Cuban government is rejecting what it calls the
“hostile rhetoric” of President Donald Trump’s speech announcing a new
U.S. policy toward the island, but says it is willing to continue
“respectful dialogue” with the U.S. on topics of mutual interest.
In a statement released on government-run websites and television Friday
evening, President Raul Castro’s administration says Trump’s speech was
“loaded with hostile rhetoric that recalls the times of open confrontation.”
The lengthy statement goes on to strike a conciliatory tone, saying Cuba
wants to continue negotiations with the U.S. on a variety of subjects.
Cuba says “the last two years have shown that the two countries can
cooperate and coexist in a civilized way.”
Trump announced a series of changes to the Obama-era Cuba policy and is
challenging the Cuban government to negotiate a better deal.
Trump said in a speech in Miami that the U.S. will not lift sanctions on
Cuba until it releases all political prisoners and respects the Cuban
people’s right to freedom of assembly and expression.
Trump is also calling for the legalization of all political parties, and
free and internationally supervised elections.
The president says his new policy will also restrict the flow of
American dollars to the military, security and intelligence services
that are the core of the government led by Raul Castro.He has challenged
Cuba to “come to the table” to strike a deal that serves both country’s

Source: Cuba Rejects Donald Trump’s ‘Hostile Rhetoric’ | –

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Trump’s Cuba decision gives pause to U.S. companies doing business there Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:03:17 +0000 Trump’s Cuba decision gives pause to U.S. companies doing business there
by Julia Horowitz @juliakhorowitz
June 16, 2017: 7:03 PM ET

President Trump said he’s “canceling” Obama’s deal with Cuba. But that
agreement was good for a lot of American businesses.
Many U.S. firms have welcomed the opening of a new market roughly 100
miles from the U.S. coast.
Now, Trump wants strict enforcement of the tourism ban and will prohibit
commerce with Cuban businesses that are owned by military and
intelligence services.
That could hit travel and construction companies, which have started to
build a presence in Cuba. And many are speaking out.
On Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce decried the changes.
“U.S. private sector engagement can be a positive force for the kind of
change we all wish to see in Cuba,” Myron Brilliant, the chamber’s head
of international affairs, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, today’s
moves actually limit the possibility for positive change on the island
and risk ceding growth opportunities to other countries that, frankly,
may not share America’s interest in a free and democratic Cuba.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Cuba’s inaction on human rights is
a big reason for the policy shift.
Caterpillar (CAT), which has long called for the U.S. government to end
the trade embargo, also weighed in.
The maker of heavy equipment has been working to reenter the Cuban
market since the Obama administration announced that it would
reestablish diplomatic relations in 2014.
“Caterpillar believes that engagement with Cuba continues to represent a
strong opportunity — not just for American businesses, but to serve as
a powerful tool for change,” the company said in a statement. “We will
continue to work closely with policymakers on the best way to accomplish
these goals.”
Related: Google launches servers in Cuba to speed up YouTube and search
Many companies in the hospitality industry have already doubled down on
development projects, leaving them particularly exposed to the decision.
Airbnb said it plans to speak with the Trump administration and with
Congress in the coming weeks. The startup said it has hosted 560,000
guests in Cuba since April 2015.
“Travel from the U.S. to Cuba is an important way to encourage
people-to-people diplomacy,” the company said in a statement. “While we
are reviewing what this policy could mean for this type of travel, we
appreciate that the policy appears to allow us to continue to support
Airbnb hosts in Cuba who have welcomed travelers from around the world.”
Marriott (MAR) noted that the company has invested significant resources
to shore up its Cuba operation, with one hotel open and another in the
works. It said the effect of Trump’s order may depend on “forthcoming
“We continue to believe that increased travel between the United States
and Cuba would serve to strengthen an evolving bilateral relationship,
and Marriott remains ready to build on the progress that has been made
in the last two years,” the company said.
American Airlines (AAL) said it’s urging customers planning trips to
Cuba to closely watch for updates from the U.S. government.
“As a global airline, American is committed to continuing to operate
service to Cuba,” the company said. “We are reviewing the executive
order to understand any potential impacts to our customers or our
current service.”
The carrier has 10 flights from the U.S. to Cuba every day, according to
data from the Official Airline Guide.
CNNMoney (New York)
First published June 16, 2017: 7:03 PM ET

Source: Trump’s Cuba decision gives pause to U.S. companies doing
business there – Jun. 16, 2017 –

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Farmers Blast Trump’s Cuba Retreat as Bad for Trade Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:02:16 +0000 Farmers Blast Trump’s Cuba Retreat as Bad for Trade
June 17, 2017 4:55 AM

U.S. farm groups criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to retreat
from his predecessor’s opening toward Cuba, saying it could derail huge
increases in farm exports that totaled $221 million last year.

A trade delegation from Minnesota, one of the largest U.S. agriculture
states, vowed to carry on with its planned visit to Cuba next week.

“We’re going to continue to beat the drum and let them (the Trump
administration) know that trade is good for agriculture,” said Kevin
Paap, a farmer in the delegation.

Trump signed a presidential directive Friday rolling back parts of
former President Barack Obama’s opening to the Communist-ruled country
after a 2014 diplomatic breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes.

Farm groups saw the move as a step backward in what had been an
improving trade relationship between the two countries, which are 90
miles (145 kms) apart, even though agriculture is not directly targeted.

U.S. law exempts food from a decades-old embargo on U.S. trade with
Cuba, but cumbersome rules on how transactions were executed have made
deals difficult and costly.

Since Obama’s detente, substantial headway has been made with shipments
of U.S. corn and soybeans to Cuba soaring 420 percent in 2016 from a
year earlier to 268,360 tons, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows.

Through the first four months of 2017, total shipments of U.S. grain and
soy were 142,860 ton, up from 49,090 tons during the same period of 2016.

While the quantities are dwarfed by total U.S. exports — nearly 56
million ton of corn alone last year — the added volumes were welcome as
farmers face a fourth year of languishing grain prices and crimped incomes.

“At a time when the farm economy is struggling, we ask our leaders in
Washington not to close doors on market opportunities for American
agriculture,” Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers
Association, said in a statement.

The group sees an opportunity for $125 million more a year in trade to Cuba.

Trump’s move could cut off near-term sales and stymie economic
development that would drive longer-term demand growth, said Tom
Sleight, president of the U.S. Grains Council, a grain trade development
organization, in a statement.

“Neither of those outcomes is favorable for the U.S. ag sector or the
Cuban people,” he added.

Paap said the United States should be doing more to encourage exports.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve made some advances and built those
relationships,” he said.

Source: Farmers Blast Trump’s Cuba Retreat as Bad for Trade –

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National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba Sat, 17 Jun 2017 20:01:20 +0000 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of
the United States Toward Cuba


Section 1. Purpose.

The United States recognizes the need for more freedom and democracy,
improved respect for human rights, and increased free enterprise in
Cuba. The Cuban people have long suffered under a Communist regime that
suppresses their legitimate aspirations for freedom and prosperity and
fails to respect their essential human dignity.

My Administration’s policy will be guided by the national security and
foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as solidarity
with the Cuban people. I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and
free country for the Cuban people. To that end, we must channel funds
toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet
the most basic requirements of a free and just society.

In Cuba, dissidents and peaceful protesters are arbitrarily detained and
held in terrible prison conditions. Violence and intimidation against
dissidents occurs with impunity. Families of political prisoners are
not allowed to assemble or peacefully protest the improper confinement
of their loved ones. Worshippers are harassed, and free association by
civil society organizations is blocked. The right to speak freely,
including through access to the internet, is denied, and there is no
free press. The United States condemns these abuses.

The initial actions set forth in this memorandum, including restricting
certain financial transactions and travel, encourage the Cuban
government to address these abuses. My Administration will continue to
evaluate its policies so as to improve human rights, encourage the rule
of law, foster free markets and free enterprise, and promote democracy
in Cuba.

Sec. 2. Policy.

It shall be the policy of the executive branch to:

(a) End economic practices that disproportionately benefit the
Cuban government or its military, intelligence, or security agencies or
personnel at the expense of the Cuban people.

(b) Ensure adherence to the statutory ban on tourism to Cuba.

(c) Support the economic embargo of Cuba described in section
4(7) of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of
1996 (the embargo), including by opposing measures that call for an end
to the embargo at the United Nations and other international forums and
through regular reporting on whether the conditions of a transition
government exist in Cuba.

(d) Amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the
expansion of internet services, free press, free enterprise, free
association, and lawful travel.

(e) Not reinstate the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy, which
encouraged untold thousands of Cuban nationals to risk their lives to
travel unlawfully to the United States.

(f) Ensure that engagement between the United States and Cuba
advances the interests of the United States and the Cuban people. These
interests include: advancing Cuban human rights; encouraging the growth
of a Cuban private sector independent of government control; enforcing
final orders of removal against Cuban nationals in the United States;
protecting the national security and public health and safety of the
United States, including through proper engagement on criminal cases and
working to ensure the return of fugitives from American justice living
in Cuba or being harbored by the Cuban government; supporting United
States agriculture and protecting plant and animal health; advancing the
understanding of the United States regarding scientific and
environmental challenges; and facilitating safe civil aviation.

Sec. 3. Implementation.

The heads of departments and agencies shall begin to implement the
policy set forth in section 2 of this memorandum as follows:

(a) Within 30 days of the date of this memorandum, the Secretary
of the Treasury and the Secretary of Commerce, as appropriate and in
coordination with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of
Transportation, shall initiate a process to adjust current regulations
regarding transactions with Cuba.

(i) As part of the regulatory changes described in this
subsection, the Secretary of State shall identify the entities or
subentities, as appropriate, that are under the control of, or act for
or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services
or personnel (such as Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A. (GAESA),
its affiliates, subsidiaries, and successors), and publish a list of
those identified entities and subentities with which direct financial
transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel
at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.

(ii) Except as provided in subsection (a)(iii) of this
section, the regulatory changes described in this subsection shall
prohibit direct financial transactions with those entities or
subentities on the list published pursuant to subsection (a)(i) of this

(iii) The regulatory changes shall not prohibit
transactions that the Secretary of the Treasury or the Secretary of
Commerce, in coordination with the Secretary of State, determines are
consistent with the policy set forth in section 2 of this memorandum and:

(A) concern Federal Government operations, including
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and the United States mission in Havana;

(B) support programs to build democracy in Cuba;

(C) concern air and sea operations that support
permissible travel, cargo, or trade;

(D) support the acquisition of visas for permissible

(E) support the expansion of direct
telecommunications and internet access for the Cuban people;

(F) support the sale of agricultural commodities,
medicines, and medical devices sold to Cuba consistent with the Trade
Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7201 et
seq.) and the Cuban Democracy Act of 2002 (22 U.S.C. 6001 et seq.);

(G) relate to sending, processing, or receiving
authorized remittances;

(H) otherwise further the national security or
foreign policy interests of the United States; or

(I) are required by law.

(b) Within 30 days of the date of this memorandum, the Secretary
of the Treasury, in coordination with the Secretary of State, shall
initiate a process to adjust current regulations to ensure adherence to
the statutory ban on tourism to Cuba.

(i) The amended regulations shall require that
educational travel be for legitimate educational purposes. Except for
educational travel that was permitted by regulation in effect on January
27, 2011, all educational travel shall be under the auspices of an
organization subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and all
such travelers must be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring

(ii) The regulations shall further require that those
traveling for the permissible purposes of non academic education or to
provide support for the Cuban people:

(A) engage in a full-time schedule of activities that
enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or
promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities; and

(B) meaningfully interact with individuals in Cuba.

(iii) The regulations shall continue to provide that every
person engaging in travel to Cuba shall keep full and accurate records
of all transactions related to authorized travel, regardless of whether
they were effected pursuant to license or otherwise, and such records
shall be available for examination by the Department of the Treasury for
at least 5 years after the date they occur.
(iv) The Secretary of State, the Secretary of the
Treasury, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Secretary of Transportation
shall review their agency’s enforcement of all categories of permissible
travel within 90 days of the date the regulations described in this
subsection are finalized to ensure such enforcement accords with the
policies outlined in section 2 of this memorandum.

(c) The Secretary of the Treasury shall regularly audit travel
to Cuba to ensure that travelers are complying with relevant statutes
and regulations. The Secretary of the Treasury shall request that the
Inspector General of the Department of the Treasury inspect the
activities taken by the Department of the Treasury to implement this
audit requirement. The Inspector General of the Department of the
Treasury shall provide a report to the President, through the Secretary
of the Treasury, summarizing the results of that inspection within 180
days of the adjustment of current regulations described in subsection
(b) of this section and annually thereafter.

(d) The Secretary of the Treasury shall adjust the Department of
the Treasury’s current regulation defining the term “prohibited
officials of the Government of Cuba” so that, for purposes of title 31,
part 515 of the Code of Federal Regulations, it includes Ministers and
Vice-Ministers, members of the Council of State and the Council of
Ministers; members and employees of the National Assembly of People’s
Power; members of any provincial assembly; local sector chiefs of the
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; Director Generals and
sub–Director Generals and higher of all Cuban ministries and state
agencies; employees of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT); employees
of the Ministry of Defense (MINFAR); secretaries and first secretaries
of the Confederation of Labor of Cuba (CTC) and its component unions;
chief editors, editors, and deputy editors of Cuban state-run media
organizations and programs, including newspapers, television, and radio;
and members and employees of the Supreme Court (Tribuno Supremo Nacional).

(e) The Secretary of State and the Representative of the United
States to the United Nations shall oppose efforts at the United Nations
or (with respect to the Secretary of State) any other international
forum to lift the embargo until a transition government in Cuba, as
described in section 205 of the LIBERTAD Act, exists.

(f) The Secretary of State, in coordination with the Attorney
General, shall provide a report to the President assessing whether and
to what degree the Cuban government has satisfied the requirements of a
transition government as described in section 205(a) of the LIBERTAD
Act, taking into account the additional factors listed in section 205(b)
of that Act. This report shall include a review of human rights abuses
committed against the Cuban people, such as unlawful detentions,
arbitrary arrests, and inhumane treatment.

(g) The Attorney General shall, within 90 days of the date of
this memorandum, issue a report to the President on issues related to
fugitives from American justice living in Cuba or being harbored by the
Cuban government.

(h) The Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United
States Agency for International Development shall review all democracy
development programs of the Federal Government in Cuba to ensure that
they align with the criteria set forth in section 109(a) of the LIBERTAD

(i) The Secretary of State shall convene a task force, composed
of relevant departments and agencies, including the Office of Cuba
Broadcasting, and appropriate non-governmental organizations and
private-sector entities, to examine the technological challenges and
opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba, including through
Federal Government support of programs and activities that encourage
freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so
that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of

(j) The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland
Security shall continue to discourage dangerous, unlawful migration that
puts Cuban and American lives at risk. The Secretary of Defense shall
continue to provide support, as necessary, to the Department of State
and the Department of Homeland Security in carrying out the duties
regarding interdiction of migrants.

(k) The Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary
of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the
Secretary of Commerce, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall
annually report to the President regarding the engagement of the United
States with Cuba to ensure that engagement is advancing the interests of
the United States.

(l) All activities conducted pursuant to subsections (a) through
(k) of this section shall be carried out in a manner that furthers the
interests of the United States, including by appropriately protecting
sensitive sources, methods, and operations of the Federal Government.

Sec. 4. Earlier Presidential Actions.

(a) This memorandum supersedes and replaces both National
Security Presidential Directive-52 of June 28, 2007, U.S. Policy toward
Cuba, and Presidential Policy Directive-43 of October 14, 2016, United
States-Cuba Normalization.

(b) This memorandum does not affect either Executive Order 12807
of May 24, 1992, Interdiction of Illegal Aliens, or Executive Order
13276 of November 15, 2002, Delegation of Responsibilities Concerning
Undocumented Aliens Interdicted or Intercepted in the Caribbean Region.

Sec. 5. General Provisions.

(a) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or
otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an executive
department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of
Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or
legislative proposals.

(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with
applicable laws and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any
right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in
equity by any party against the United States, its departments,
agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other
(d) The Secretary of State is hereby authorized and directed to
publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


Source: National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the
Policy of the United States Toward Cuba | –

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Trump’s new Cuba policy is too much for some, not enough for others Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:44:17 +0000 Trump’s new Cuba policy is too much for some, not enough for others

If President Donald Trump did one thing during his Miami trip it was
stir up simmering passions about the best course for U.S. policy toward

Neither side in the emotional debate — those who favor a more hardline
approach and those who favor the former Obama administration approach —
got exactly what they wanted from Trump, although those who favor a
middle ground that aims at sanctioning the Cuban military while not
hampering Cuban Americans’ ability to travel and send money to relatives
on the island may be most pleased.

In the Manuel Artime Theater, which was festooned with American flags
and red-white-and-blue bunting, Trump told the enthusiastic crowd he was
“canceling completely” former President Barack Obama’s “one-sided deal
with Cuba.”

“The actual policy didn’t match the rhetoric in the theater,” said
Christopher Sabatini, a professor at Columbia School of International
and Public Affairs. “Many of the things that hardliners have denounced
will seemingly remain in place.” He said he was surprised that Trump
hadn’t instituted a further rollback of the Obama opening, perhaps
curtailing cruises to Cuba or restricting embassy operations.

Trump’s new Cuba policy left big chunks of the Obama policy of
engagement intact, while instituting a policy designed to economically
starve important Cuban military enterprises from cash they take in from
American visitors and, to a lesser extent, U.S. businesses.

The Cuba Study Group, which is made up of business executives and
professionals who support engagement, took a glass half-full view of the
new policy.

“President Trump’s announcement today indicates how far the Cuba policy
debate has moved, despite intense pressure from scarce Congressional
hardliners. Many of the gains of normalization remain intact,” the
organization said in a statement. “At best, this is a partial victory
for those who hoped to reverse increased bilateral ties.”

But instead of “half-measures” proposed by the president, the group said
Trump should pursue a policy of full normalization with the island.
“Restricting U.S. travel isolates Cubans from knowledge of American
political, economic, and human rights norms.”

For Everett E. Briggs, a retired U.S. ambassador, the new Trump policy
didn’t go far enough.

“I regret that he did not go further in adopting the changes to Obama’s
misbegotten actions I and a number of former State Department colleagues
advocated earlier this year — namely, to bring U.S. policy into line
with existing U.S. law — the Cuba Democracy Act and the Cuba Liberty and
Democracy Restoration Act,” he said. “Exempting Cuban ports and airports
from the prohibition on dealing with Cuba is a mistake.”

“Some will probably say this is not enough, but this is a good start,”
said Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.
“Today the dismantling of Obama’s outrageous orders have begun.”

Trump’s policy retained the Obama-era’s travel opening for Americans,
which allows them to visit Cuba if they fall into 12 categories of
travel such as family visits, and religious, humanitarian and
educational trips. It does, however, eliminate the ability for Americans
to pursue individual people-to-people educational trips.

Calzon said he would be watching closely how the new Cuba policy is
implemented.” Some people, he said, use religious exchanges as disguised
tourism and a pretext to go to nightclubs. One of the cornerstones of
the Trump policy is to allow travel but to strictly enforce “the
statutory ban on tourism.”

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez also called the new Cuba policy
“a step in the right direction.” He said he was pleased that the
president made the return of Joanne Chesimard, a fugitive from justice
now living in Cuba, contingent on future engagement with Cuba.
Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, is a former Black Panther who
escaped from a New Jersey prison where she was serving a life sentence
for murdering a state trooper.

“The president continues to refer to the Cuban people and Cuban
Americans, but ignores polls that indicate that 75% of Americans support
the rapprochement between Havana and Washington or that the vast
majority of Cubans on the island reject the policy of aggression that
has marked relations between the two countries during the last decades,”
stated Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

The headline in an article posted on CubaDebate, an official Cuban
website, took Trump’s speech rhetoric at face value: “Donald Trump
cancels Obama’s bilateral agreement with Cuba.”

On the streets of Miami, reaction was mixed.

Donald Trump supporter Dulce Martínez speaks about her past life in Cuba
under the Castro government during President Donald Trump’s visit to Miami.
Sebastián Ballestas
“Trump is the one who is going to take the communism out of Cuba,” said
Robert Linares, a 47-year-old warehouse manager whose parents were born
in Cuba.

But across the way outside the Manuel Artime Theater, Javier Lopez
Rodriguez, a Cuban-born substitute teacher who works in Miami-Dade,
protested Trump’s new policy, yelling his displeasure into a megaphone.

“It goes against the spirit of the constitution,” he said. “Maybe not
the wording explicitly, but the spirit when it was signed. In Saudi
Arabia, they violate more human rights than in Cuba.”

Humberto Arguelles, president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association,
said Trump showed he has “great interest” in pursuing improved human
rights in Cuba.

“What Trump did is of great value because it shows that the cause of
liberty in Cuba is still alive,” he said at a press conference at the
Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center following Trump’s event.

Although Trump said that “we will never turn our backs on the Cuban
people,” some analysts said his new policy could end up stifling the
small private businesses the president emphatically says he wants to

“We are encouraged that the Trump administration wants to help Cuba’s
private sector. Unfortunately, the people who will be most negatively
impacted by this directive are Cuban entrepreneurs,” said James
Williams, president of Engage Cuba.

“The confusion that will surround this policy will undoubtedly stifle
U.S. demand to travel to the island,” he said, and that in turn will
hurt private businesses that engage with Americans.

The prohibition on doing business with military enterprises is
far-reaching in the tourism sector. The military conglomerate GAESA
controls about 40 percent of hotel rooms in Cuba, the largest fleet of
Chinese-made tourism buses, most government shops and restaurants in
picturesque Old Havana, the HavanaAuto rental car company, gas stations,
and even the ServiCentro stores where visitors might pick up a bottle of

That could be the “poison pill,” of Trump’s new policy, said Pedro
Freyre, a Miami lawyer who represents U.S. companies that have done
business with Cuba or are trying to strike deals.

American travelers may be so confused about what they can and can’t do
and where they can stay or eat or which taxi to hail that they may
decide to stay home, he said.

Pro-engagement supporters criticized a return to sanctions and pressure
to force the Cuban government’s hand. Taking a sanctions approach, they
said, may backfire and won’t result in the United States getting a
better deal for Americans or the Cuban people.

“I think this reignites the confrontational dynamics between Cuba and
the United States,” said Freyre. “This fuels the extremes on both sides.”

“Reversing course on Cuba will dash the hopes of millions on the island
who felt empowered after Obama’s visit. It will be rejected by
two-thirds of the American public — Republicans and Democrats alike — as
well as by a majority of Cuban Americans in Florida,” said Jose W.
Fernandez, a New York lawyer who served as assistant secretary of state
for economic, energy and business affairs in the Obama administration.

“It goes against the advice of U.S. military experts,” he said. “And it
will open the door to Russian and Chinese influence while shutting out
American businesses.”

Trump has forged his policy in the name of his preoccupation with human
rights abuses and lack of religious freedom in Cuba. Although some Cuban
dissidents do favor pressure tactics, international human rights
organizations and some members of Congress aren’t buying the notion that
less engagement and pressure are the best way to achieve that goal.

“You can’t improve human rights by withdrawing from a relationship with
Cuba,” said Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, an early Trump
supporter who favors lifting the embargo.

“He [Trump] must be listening to a very small group of voices — perhaps
as few as three in Congress,” said Emmer. “Actually less than 10,” he

South Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz Balart and Carlos Curbelo and
Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Trump on the Air Force One flight from

“It is clear to us that there are real human rights abuses in Cuba and
there have been for many years, but a policy of isolation does nothing
to improve the human rights situation,” said Geoff Thale of the
Washington Office on Latin America.

“The only chance to really improve the record of the Cuban government is
by dismantling the embargo as a precondition, and to have the US
government, as well as European and Latin democracies exercising
multilateral pressure, not in the form of a multilateral embargo, but
through diplomatic pressure to expose the record of the Cuban government
on human rights,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the
Americas division of Human Rights Watch.

Trump’s new Cuba policy also comes at a time when the administration has
proposed dropping funding for Cuban democracy programs from $20 million
to $0 for Fiscal 2018.

“There is no money for Cuban democracy programs established by the Helms
Burton Act,” said José “Pepe” Hernández, president of the Cuban American
National Foundation and a director of the Foundation for Human Rights in
Cuba. “We need to make sure the opposition continues to be supported.”

Money that was budgeted this year for material support of human rights
and opposition activists inside Cuba also hasn’t been fully disbursed,
he said, and some organizations that bid for contracts to aid activists
on the island were turned down. “The money exists but not much has been
put into use,” he said.

On the surface, Trump has left most of the Obama administration’s Cuba
travel policies intact. One change that’s spelled out is that
individuals may no longer undertake educational trips whose purpose is
to interact with the Cuban people on their own. Anyone traveling under
that category must now be a part of a group.


Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

Source: Trump’s Cuba policy arouses passionate responses | Miami Herald

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President Trump’s ballyhooed Cuba travel policy is topsy-turvy Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:33:55 +0000 President Trump’s ballyhooed Cuba travel policy is topsy-turvy

My first reaction to President Donald Trump’s ballyhooed Cuba policy was
to message my millennial American daughter to let her know that she can
go ahead with her plans to visit Havana: “You can book your cruise.”

Turns out the supposedly big reversal of President Barack Obama’s
engagement policy — instigated by Cuban Americans Sen. Marco Rubio and
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart — exempts the airline and cruise ship industries,
which stood to lose $3.5 billion from a rollback of Treasury Department
regulations that allow them to add Cuba ports of call to their Caribbean

Just don’t call cruising “tourism.” Don’t sit on the beach. But sail
away to the otherwise forbidden island!

It’s the only clear part of the Trump-Rubio-Diaz-Balart travel policy
outlined in an eight-page directive obtained by the Miami Herald.

The rest is topsy-turvy.

Trump and his posse of hard-line helpers ended the real people-to-people
engagement — that of independent American travelers who stay in Airbnb
homes and apartments or casas particulares, dine in private paladares
all over the island, visit independent artists and cuentapropistas on
their own, and get to know Cubans one on one. This, to force Americans
to travel in groups organized by tour operators or organizations
approved by the Treasury Department.

The reason given at a briefing: Independent travel “is a category ripe
for abuse,” a Trump administration official said, a way to ensure that
travelers are “not sitting on the beach.”

This makes no sense.

The policy seems to work against the stated purpose of restricting the
flow of money to the Cuban military, which owns 60 percent of the
state-run tourism through its GAESA enterprise. When you require
travelers to go through tour companies, you’re sending the business to
state-run hotels and state-run institutions. I don’t see value other
than handing over a Cuba travel monopoly to U.S. tour operators.

“Anyone who has been to Cuba in the last 50 years knows that forcing US
travelers to go in tour groups is a guaranteed way to hurt
entrepreneurs,” tweeted Tomas Bilbao, managing director of Avila
Strategies. “Cuban Airbnb’s can’t accommodate group tours… Individual
travelers are [the] lifeblood of entrepreneurs.”

You can also tell policymakers haven’t studied the itineraries of travel
operators and organizations. They take people to state institutions,
visit official touristy areas, use official tour guides, and carry on
cultural exchanges with Cubans who are state-approved. And they can’t
supervise their travelers around the clock to make sure nobody runs off
to sit on the beach or dip their feet in enemy water.

Such control might help streamline the Big Brother work of the Treasury
Department, which will audit itineraries from now on instead on relying
on the Obama-era honor system that allowed people more open engagement
under the 12 categories of permitted travel. And it might help with our
trusty Homeland Security at the airport when they question you on
arrival … and maybe test your toes for any trace of salt.

This policy is window dressing, a way for Trump to save face with Bay of
Pigs veterans and his Cuban-American supporters, to whom he promised “a
better deal” than President Obama’s.

There’s no reversal of Obama’s restoration of relations and engagement
policy. President Trump’s fake indignation with his predecessor’s Cuba
policy didn’t go anywhere. He even kept in place the controversial rum &
cigar policy. You can’t swim but you can smoke and drink — and bring
back with you all you can carry.

Like his failure to improve healthcare, Trump’s clumsy political
maneuver doesn’t address the laundry list of real issues. It’s not an
improvement. Trump added bureaucracy and confusing regulation (so
un-Republican) to Obama’s clever but imperfect American invasion. He
rewarded Rubio and Diaz-Balart for their support in troubled times — and
called it new Cuba policy.

The Trump camp insists that this document is supposed to encourage the
Cuban people to take over the economy and clamor for political change,
while the prohibition to do business with GAESA “boxes in” the regime.
Just like magic, and because Trump says so, political prisoners will be
freed, free and fair elections will be held and wealth will rise.

But it’s hardly inspiring democracy and setting an example on human
rights when a president takes away from Americans their prized right to
travel independently.

Fabiola Santiago:, @fabiolasantiago

Source: President Trump’s new Cuba travel policy ends independent travel
for Americans | Miami Herald –

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Inside Oval Office, Rubio and Diaz-Balart pushed Trump to crack down on Cuba Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:32:23 +0000 Inside Oval Office, Rubio and Diaz-Balart pushed Trump to crack down on Cuba

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sat in the Oval Office last
month, surrounded by two Cabinet secretaries, the national security
adviser and an array of top White House staff, and asked President
Donald Trump to put his power behind their plans for Cuba.

The Miami Republican lawmakers had been pressing Trump for months to
unwind former President Barack Obama’s policies, bringing up Cuba at
every opportunity: Diaz-Balart when he and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met
in private with their former House colleague, Vice President Mike Pence,
in February; Rubio when he and his wife joined the president and first
lady for an intimate dinner two days later, and again when the senator
flew aboard Air Force One to Florida in March.

The administration had been waiting for deputies across Cabinet agencies
to review existing Cuba regulations. By the May 3 Oval Office meeting,
their recommendation was in: Keep Obama’s push to normalize U.S.
relations with the regime of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

That’s not what Trump wanted. As a candidate, he’d promised change to
South Florida’s Cuban-American hard-liners, including Bay of Pigs
veterans who endorsed him, a gesture that stuck with Trump and that he
repeatedly mentioned as president.

“The president said, ‘Look, I want to do this,’ ” Rubio said.

So Rubio and Diaz-Balart advised Trump to work from the top down and
impose his will over the reluctance of civil servants — including
employees of two of the men in the room, Homeland Security Secretary
John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“We had seen before that the administration and the president would push
for it, but every time it went down, the bureaucracy would torpedo it,”
Diaz-Balart said.

Trump agreed. So did National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and White
House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: Trump’s Cuba policy would be
written by the White House and National Security Council, with help from
Rubio and Diaz-Balart.

The result will be new restrictions on U.S. business dealings with the
Cuban military, which controls most of Cuba’s economy, and tighter rules
for non-Cuban Americans traveling to the island.

“It is my hope that in five to 10 years — or less — Cuba will look very
different, and people will point to this as the moment that kind of
triggered those changes,” Rubio said.

The policy rewrite, completed Wednesday ahead of Trump’s Friday
announcement in Miami, represents a major political achievement for
Rubio, who cited Cuba as one of the reasons for seeking reelection to
the Senate last year, and for Diaz-Balart, the only one of three local
Cuban-American Republican House members who endorsed Trump. (The two who
didn’t, Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, weren’t directly involved
in crafting the new policy.)

“This is an issue that was not getting a lot of attention,” Diaz-Balart
said. “Fortunately, we were able to get it from the back burner to the
front burner just by being persistent.”

The Cuban-American legislators had each enumerated their own ideas to
the White House separately earlier this year, keeping them so tightly
held that when the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald obtained
Diaz-Balart’s memo from another source in March, not even his own staff
had copies readily available.

The memo had been hand-delivered to the president by Gov. Rick Scott,
who saw Trump in Orlando and repeated what he’d suggested at a prior
February meeting at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

“My recommendation to him was that he have one person — whether it be
Secretary Tillerson or someone else — that was going to focus on Cuba
policy,” Scott said.

Rubio’s outline was never made public. As White House talks progressed,
his aides took to photographing hard copies of the proposed policy and
sharing them via text message to avoid using email, a platform where
Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is perennially a
target. The senator and his aides referred to the project as “Martí,”
after the Cuban patriot José Martí — only they anglicized the
pronunciation to “Marty.”

Diaz-Balart’s behind-the-scenes work spilled into public view in March,
when the White House courted his vote for the American Health Care Act.
Diaz-Balart used the attention to again bring up Cuba, seeking
assurances that Trump would follow through on revising Obama’s policy.
Diaz-Balart voted “Yes” on the legislation and denied getting any
promises from the White House. But now word was out that Cuba was in play.

Rubio’s critics accused him last week of protecting Trump — or whatever
Cuba deal was in the works — when Rubio grilled former FBI Director
James Comey during a Senate hearing. Rubio scoffed at the suggestion; at
that point, he’d been talking to the White House about Cuba for months.

Trump had first mentioned Cuba to Rubio in November, when Rubio
telephoned the Sunday after Election Day to congratulate his former
primary rival.

“He says to me, unprompted: ‘We gotta figure out what to do about
Cuba,’ ” Rubio recalled. “ ‘The Bay of Pigs guys were great to me.’ ”

(“That obviously really got to him, the heroes of Bay of Pigs and how
they had been betrayed,” Diaz-Balart said in a separate interview. “He
brings that up all the time.”)

Following their February White House dinner, Trump and Rubio discussed
Cuba again aboard Air Force One on March 3, when Rubio joined the
president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on a charter-school visit.
On April 27, Rubio and Priebus spoke by phone and came to an agreement:
no more waiting.

After that, things progressed quickly, with only a handful of people
inside the White House, NSC and Congress clued in. Some of the policy
framework had already been written: Two years ago, Rubio filed Senate
legislation prohibiting financial transactions with Cuban military and
security services. Last year, Diaz-Balart placed similar language into a
House budget bill before Democrats forced it out.

Word that Cuba changes were afoot didn’t leak until Memorial Day
weekend. Backers of Obama’s policy scrambled, releasing polls showing
support for Cuba engagement, writing letters to the White House, and
filing legislation in Congress in a show of force to Trump.

By then, it was too late.

Source: How Rubio and Diaz-Balart pushed Trump to crack down on Cuba |
Miami Herald –

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Americans will still be able to travel to Cuba, but rules will be stricter Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:29:54 +0000 Americans will still be able to travel to Cuba, but rules will be stricter

The good news for Americans who want to travel to Cuba is they still
can, but a draft of President Donald Trump’s presidential policy
directive indicates they shouldn’t even think of sneaking away for a day
on a Cuban beach.

And they better keep detailed information on their travels. The draft
emphasizes that travelers must keep a full record of every transaction
they make in Cuba and hold on to it for five years.

The major change from the Obama era in Trump’s Cuba policy draft: U.S.
travelers making educational people-to-people trips can no longer go to
the island on their own but must travel with groups accompanied by a
company representative.

A number of travel companies, airlines and cruise lines were reluctant
to comment on the draft details, preferring to wait until Friday when
Trump officially releases his new presidential directive on Cuba in
Miami. There are also no regulations accompanying the presidential
policy directive. Those are expected within 90 days.

But some are concerned that the new policy will dampen enthusiasm for
Cuban travel.

“Additional prohibitions and oversight on travel will only confuse
Americans and dissuade them from visiting Cuba, causing significant
economic hardship to Cuban entrepreneurs and average Cuban families, as
well as Americans working in the hospitality sector,” said Collin
Laverty, president of Cuban Educational Travel, which arranges group
travel to the island.

Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer for cruise lines and other businesses that
have deals with Cuba, noted that it’s hard to determine the scope and
precise nature of Trump’s new policy until the regulations are drafted.

“The devil is in the details. It will be critically important to engage
U.S. regulators as they go forward with the drafting of the guidelines
to ensure that these are not overly burdensome to U.S. business,” he said.

Because they haven’t been able to see a final draft and review the
details of the new regulations, most travel companies declined to comment.

In general, the president is trying to navigate a delicate line between
cracking down on money that goes directly to the Cuban military and not
taking measures that would hurt Cuban citizens who have embraced private
enterprise, opening restaurants, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels,
and other businesses that cater to the growing number of travelers to
the island.

Visits by Cuban Americans and other U.S. travelers in 2016 reached
614,433, a 34 percent increase over 2015.

On one hand, the draft says the president wants to increase support of
the Cuban people through expansion of internet service, free media, free
enterprise, free association and lawful travel.

But on the other, it prohibits direct financial dealings with GAESA
(Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA), which controls hotel brands
such as Gaviota. Its portfolio in early 2017 included 64 hotels and
villas with more than 27,000 rooms. It even runs discotheques and
hunting preserves.

The Trump policy also allows family travel to Cuba to continue without
restrictions and places no limits on remittances, according to the draft.

That’s good news for the Cuban community, said José “Pepe” Hernández,
president of the Cuban American National Foundation. “It wouldn’t make
sense to put sanctions on the people,” he said.

But he thinks sanctioning the Cuban military is a step in the right
direction. “One of the great problems we’re seeing is that most of the
really valuable assets are now the property of the military or under
management by the military,” Hernández said.

Under Obama, there were 12 categories of travel permitted, from
humanitarian and religious trips to people-to-people tours and travel
for athletic competitions. Travelers did not have to seek prior approval
from the U.S. government, although tourist travel wasn’t permitted.
Those travel categories will remain under the Trump policy directive,
which also bars sun-and-beach vacations.

It’s estimated that businesses run by GAESA control more than 40 percent
of the Cuban economy. GAESA’s holdings range from the Mariel Special
Economic Development Zone, gas stations, convenience stores,
telecommunications companies, and a commercial airline to the Cuban
Export-Import Corp. (CIMEX), a Cuban enterprise whose holdings include
rental car agency Havanautos, free zones and container ships.

After the regulations are issued, travelers won’t be able to book hotel
rooms at Gaviota hotels, which include the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski,
Havana’s newest luxury hotel. Some of Cuba’s best hotels are managed
under operating contracts with foreign hotel operators.

A full ban on business with military enterprises would have meant cruise
lines would not have been able to pay port fees, essentially cutting off
budding cruise travel to Cuba from the United States. But the draft
indicates that airport and seaport operations necessary for permissible
travel, cargo and trade are exempt from the prohibition on dealing with
military enterprises.

As recently as this week, Miami-based Victory Cruise Lines was approved
to sail to Cuba, making it the 10th U.S. line to get the green light for
Cuba. The luxury, all-inclusive line plans to sail to Havana, Maria la
Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba on its 202-passenger ships.

Victory President and Chief Executive Bruce Nierenberg said the cruise
line stands to win from the new regulations because all the shore
excursions it offers will follow U.S. guidelines.

“As an all-inclusive product, including all the tours, the tour guides
and arrangements on shore … we are perfectly positioned to be in full
compliance with any regulations covering how our guests use the Cuban
product,” Nierenberg said.

“While there has been a significant anxiety about this announcement from
the administration and its potential impact on travel and tourism to
Cuba, the actual adjustments being called for are constructive ways to
get everyone’s attention and bring Cuba and the U.S. closer together in
the long term,” he said.



Source: Air, cruise travel to Cuba will continue under new Trump policy
| Miami Herald –

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Trump recasts Cuba policy, takes harder line than Obama on military, travel Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:25:50 +0000 Trump recasts Cuba policy, takes harder line than Obama on military, travel

In an overhaul of one of his predecessor’s signature legacies, President
Donald Trump will redraw U.S. policy toward Cuba on Friday, tightening
travel restrictions for Americans that had been loosened under President
Barack Obama and banning U.S. business transactions with Cuba’s vast
military conglomerate.

Trump’s changes are intended to sharply curtail cash flow to the Cuban
government and pressure its communist leaders to let the island’s
fledgling private sector grow. Diplomatic relations reestablished by
Obama, including reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, will
remain. Travel and money sent by Cuban Americans will be unaffected, but
Americans will be unable to spend money in state-run hotels or
restaurants tied to the military, a significant prohibition.

Trump is expected to sign the presidential policy directive Friday,
surrounded by Cuban-American supporters at Miami’s Manuel Artime
Theater, a venue named after one of the late leaders of the Brigade 2506
Bay of Pigs veterans whose group offered Trump their endorsement last
October after he promised exiles a “better deal.” The Miami Herald
obtained a draft of the eight-page directive Thursday.

In his remarks, Trump plans to cite human-rights violations in Cuba as
justification for the new U.S. approach. Dissidents say government
repression has increased.

“The Cuban people have long suffered under a Communist regime that
suppresses their legitimate aspirations for freedom and prosperity and
fails to respect the essential human dignity of all Cubans,” says
Trump’s directive, which calls the policy a set of “initial actions” by
his administration.

While not a full reversal of Obama’s historic Cuba rapprochement,
Trump’s recast U.S. policy hews closer to the hard line espoused by
Cuban-American Republicans who derided Obama’s 2014 policy as a
capitulation. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was instrumental in drafting
Trump’s changes, with help from Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Other
Cuban-American lawmakers started getting briefed on the policy Thursday.

“If we’re going to have more economic engagement with Cuba, it will be
with the Cuban people,” Rubio told the Miami Herald.

He called the new policy a strategic, long-term attempt to force aging
Cuban military and intelligence officers to ease their grip on the
island’s economy as a younger generation of leaders prepares to take over.

“All the pressure comes from American business interests that go to
Cuba, see the opportunities and then come back here and lobby us to lift
the embargo,” Rubio said. “I’m trying to reverse the dynamic: I’m trying
to create a Cuban business sector that now goes to the Cuban government
and pressures them to create changes. I’m also trying to create a
burgeoning business class independent of the government.”

After decades of sanctions failed to push Fidel and Raúl Castro out of
power, Obama contended a Cuba more closely tied to the U.S. would no
longer be able blame its economic woes on yanqui “imperialism.” His
backers, including prominent Miami Cuban-Americans, implored the Trump
administration to give existing policy more time to play out. Like
Rubio, they argued only a flourishing Cuban private sector would
eventually lead to political change; where the two sides disagree is on
how best to encourage private growth.

Trump’s policy will not reinstate wet foot, dry foot, the policy that
allowed Cuban immigrants who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country.
It will not alter the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by
Congress. And it will not limit travel or money sent by Cuban Americans,
as former President George W. Bush did — though fewer Cuban government
officials will be allowed to come to the U.S. and receive money than
under Obama.“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent,” a
senior White House official told reporters Thursday. “It’s not that he’s
opposed to any deal with Cuba; he’s opposed to a bad deal with Cuba.”

Outright tourism to Cuba is prohibited by the embargo, but Obama had
relaxed travel rules, allowing non-Cuban Americans to go under one of 12
legally authorized categories, such as family visits, professional
research or educational activities. The Obama administration relied on
what was effectively an honor system in which travelers self-reported
their trip’s purpose.

Under Trump’s rules, travelers will be subject to a Treasury Department
audit of their trip to ensure they fall under one of the permitted
categories. Educational trips and so-called “people-to-people” group
exchanges will fall under greater scrutiny, with educational groups once
again having to travel with a guide from a U.S. organization sponsoring
the trip, a requirement the Obama policy had effectively eliminated.
Unlike under Obama, individuals will no longer be able to travel under
the “people-to-people” category.

Stays at hotels run by the Cuban military conglomerate — many brand-name
hotels — will be prohibited, but a senior White House official suggested
travelers who had already booked trips would be accommodated.

The Treasury and Commerce departments will have 90 days to start writing
the new rules, according to the draft directive.

Commercial flights and cruise trips to Cuba will be allowed to continue,
because paying landing fees at military-run airports and seaports will
be exempt from the Trump ban. (So will paying bank fees at the
military-run bank, to allow Americans to still send money and rent
private properties like those offered on Airbnb.) But the audit threat
could shrink demand for Cuban travel, and indirectly hurt private-run
bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants intended to benefit from the new policy.

The main target of Trump’s policy is the Cuban military’s umbrella
enterprise for state-run businesses, GAESA (short for Grupo de
Administración Empresarial, S.A.), the sprawling conglomerate that
experts estimate controls about 60 percent of the Cuban economy.
Americans and U.S. companies will be barred from financial transactions
with GAESA and any of its “affiliates, subsidiaries or successors.”

“That’s a huge deal — that’s pretty much everything,” Diaz-Balart told
the Herald. “That’s the entire tourism industry.”

U.S. companies have inked more than two dozen deals with the Cuban
government since 2015. Most involve exempt airline and cruise travel and
telecommunications, a sector not controlled by the military. The number
of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba surged by 74 percent from 2015 to
2016, according to Cuba.

The challenge for Trump’s administration will be enforcing the ban for
travelers who might unknowingly violate it. The State Department will
also have to identify, on an ongoing basis, the numerous organizations
tied to the Cuban military, made more difficult by the communist
regime’s lack of transparency. Cuba could also try to skirt the ban by
creating new state-run entities, separate from the armed forces, said
Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution who specializes in
U.S.-Cuba relations. The ban also applies to any other entities under
Cuban military, intelligence or security control identified by the U.S.

There are exemptions to continue operations at the U.S. naval base in
Guántanamo Bay, to expand telecommunications and internet access, and to
continue U.S. exports allowed by law of agricultural commodities,
medicines and medical devices.

The ban — and the possibility of accidentally violating it by doing
business with a military-run company unknown to the U.S. — might
discourage American companies that were considering Cuban ventures from
moving forward with their plans, Piccone said: “It’s too small a market
to go through all those hoops.”

Trump’s policy is not just limited to travel and business. His
administration will also oppose measures at the United Nations and
elsewhere that call for an end to the embargo. Last year, under Obama,
the U.S. abstained for the first time when the U.N. took a vote
condemning what Cuba calls a trade “blockade.”

Trump will also require federal agencies to report on human-rights
abuses and U.S. fugitives harbored by the government in Cuba.

Cuban-American proponents of further engagement, who have spent weeks
rallying Republican support on Capitol Hill to maintain the Obama
policy, questioned the extent to which Trump’s changes would cause an
impact, suggesting the new president’s actions could have been more drastic.

Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group, which promotes
more U.S.-Cuba ties, said if Trump’s policy is limited to not doing
business with the Cuban military and keeping better U.S. travel records,
its impact “will be minimal” for now.

“There are no major commercial relations with military enterprises
except in tourism,” he said.

The most obvious example is the Marriott-owned Starwood Hotels and
Resorts, which runs a Four Points by Sheraton in Havana owned by
Gaviota, GAESA’s tourism arm, which boasts it welcomed nearly half of
Cuba’s visitors in 2015 to its facilities. Trump’s policy could keep
Starwood’s operating license from getting renewed by the Treasury
Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Starwood delayed plans to run a second hotel, which John Kavulich,
president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said suggested
the company’s lawyers advised caution before expanding. For U.S.
companies, “it will be difficult to argue against these policies,” he
noted, given that they’re “trying to prioritize dealings with private

In preparation for what it considered a potential worst-case scenario
under Trump — severely restricted Cuba travel, including for
Cuban-Americans — the Cuba Study Group estimated one in nearly four
privately run Cuban businesses could close, since they’ve benefited from
the increase in U.S. travelers and international tourism.

Carlos Alzugaray, a retired Cuban diplomat who lives in Havana,
acknowledged that Cuba’s private sector is intricately tied to the state.

“There’s no way to hit the government without hitting the private sector
— and American interests,” he said.

Cuban political dissidents, including some who favored Obama’s approach,
have welcomed targeting military enterprises. Miriam Celaya, an
independent journalist who was part of a group that met with Obama in
Havana lasts year, said she wants the U.S. to lift the trade embargo but
“conditionally and gradually,” and in a way that “benefits Cubans and
not the dictatorship, which is what’s happening now.”

Celaya said it’d be “dangerous to keep giving dollars and empowering the
regime” when repression against opponents and activists has increased;
the government’s chief ally, Venezuela, is in crisis, and Cuban leader
Raúl Castro is preparing to leave power next year.

Castro, who has said he will step down in February 2018, said in January
he hoped “to pursue a respectful dialogue and cooperation on topics of
common interest” with Trump.

Obama surprised the international community when he renewed diplomatic
relations with Cuba in December 2014, easing travel and commerce with
the island by executive order. A policy directive and batch of
regulations issued last October were intended to make the Cuba changes
“irreversible,” Obama said at the time. Now, Trump’s directive will
replace it.

The Cuban government abstained from responding in recent weeks to
chatter about the upcoming Trump changes, which followed a nearly
six-month policy review by the new administration. Deputy secretaries
from a number of federal departments, including state, homeland security
and treasury, met last month and recommended sticking with Obama’s policy.

Their recommendation, however, was at odds with the political goals of
the White House and National Security Council, which were pressured by
Rubio and Diaz-Balart to deliver on Trump’s promise to Cuban exiles in

Early in the campaign, candidate Trump appeared to care little about
Cuba policy, characterizing Obama’s rapprochement as “fine” but arguing
he would have cut a better deal. As his attention turned to Florida, and
after an explosive report that his business had once violated the
embargo, Trump adopted the language of hardliners, citing Cuba’s lack of
reciprocity toward the U.S. opening as justification to seek changes.

“All the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime
were done through executive order, which means the next president can
reverse them — and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our
demands,” Trump said at a Miami rally in September. “Not my demands. Our

Alzugaray, the retired Cuban diplomat, countered that Cuba “allowed” the
U.S. to reopen its Havana embassy — in the same building that had
launched the U.S. interests section — and argued the embargo remains the
key obstacle between the two countries.

“One can’t forget this is an asymmetrical relationship,” he said. “The
Cuban government will surely adapt to the new reality.”

Here is a list of the main business entities linked to Grupo de
Administración Empresarial, S.A., or GAESA, the military-run holding
company that controls most of Cuba’s economy and will be targeted by
President Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy:

? ANTEX (staffing agency for joint ventures)

? AUSA (warehousing and customs at Port of Mariel)

? Banco Financiero Internacional (banking)

? CIMEX (financial services, high-end retail stores, import/export)

? ECASOL (cooking oil trade)

? GEOCUBA (mapping services)

? Grupo Bahía de La Habana (Havana Bay cleanup)

? Grupo de Turismo Gaviota (tourism, including hotels, hotel supplies,
marinas, car rentals, flights, tours and rentals)

? HABAGUANEX (Old Havana hotels, restaurants and shops)

? Inmobiliaria Almest (real estate)

? PETRAF (petroleum and gas trade)

? SASA (car services)

? SERMAR (ship repairs)

? TECNOIMPORT (technology import/export)

? TECNOTEX (technology import/export)

? TRD (hard currency stores)

? TRIMAGEN (film production import/export)

? Unión Agropecuaria Militar (military agriculture)

? Unión de Construcciones Militares (military construction)

? Unión de Industrias Militares (military industries)

Source: Trump recasts Cuba policy, takes harder line than Obama on
travel, military | Miami Herald –

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Cuba to President Trump: We need to continue to cooperate and coexist Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:21:09 +0000 Cuba to President Trump: We need to continue to cooperate and coexist

Noting the hostile rhetoric of President Donald Trump in his Miami
speech and saying the United States was in no position to be giving
lessons on human rights, Cuba still extended an olive branch and said it
wanted to continue a dialogue with its neighbor to the north.

“The government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to continue a
respectful dialogue and cooperation on themes of mutual interest, as
well as negotiations on pending bilateral matters, with the government
of the United States,” the Cuba government said in a statement issued
Friday night.

But it also made clear that any U.S. strategy aimed at “changing the
political, economic and social system in Cuba … will be doomed to failure.”

During the Obama years, the statement said, the two countries have shown
that they can “cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, respecting
their differences, and promoting that which benefits both nations and

The statement came on the heels of Trump’s Friday appearance in Miami
where he slammed Cuba’s human rights record and signed a presidential
policy directive on Cuba replacing that of his predecessor Barack Obama.

Although Trump kept in place many important Obama-era elements, such as
reestablishing diplomatic relations, reopening embassies and rescinding
the wet foot, dry foot policy, he did bar most U.S. business dealings
with companies controlled or owned by the Cuban military, made it clear
U.S. travelers to Cuba would be closely monitored to make sure their
trips to the island weren’t disguised tourism, and eliminated
individual, educational people-to-people trips to the island by Americans.

U.S. officials see that category as “ripe for abuse” by people who just
want to take beach vacations and engage in tourism instead of the
“purposeful” travel and exchanges with the Cuban people that are allowed.

Cuba denounced these new measures as “hardening the embargo” and said
they would fail.

In measured tones, the Cuban statement noted the changes and said
Trump’s announcement went against the wishes of the majority of
Americans who prefer lifting the embargo altogether and supported the
extremist view of a minority of Cuban Americans.

A recent Morning Consult poll found that 65 percent of Americans support
keeping the policy changes put in place since the rapprochement between
the United States and Cuba began on Dec. 17, 2014.

Trump’s policy directive used Cuba’s continued human rights abuses as a
justification for taking a harder approach in the relationship.

“The Cuba people have long suffered under a Communist regime that
suppresses their legitimate aspirations for freedom and prosperity and
fails to respect their essential human dignity,” it said. “In Cuba,
dissidents and peaceful protestors are arbitrarily detained and held in
terrible prison conditions. Violence and intimidation against dissidents
occurs with impunity.” It went on to cite other violations of human
rights and civil liberties.

Repeatedly chiding Obama’s opening toward Cuba, Trump said in the
speech: “You will no longer have to witness the embarrassing spectacle
of an American president doing the wave at a baseball game with a
ruthless dictator.” It was a reference to Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016
that ended with him and Cuban leader Raúl Castro attending a baseball game.

Noting Trump’s speech “laden with hostile rhetoric,” Cuba said the
events in Miami on Friday constituted a “step backwards in the relations
between the two countries.”

“The United States is in no condition to give us lessons,” the Cuban
statement said. “We have serious worries about the respect for and
guarantees for human rights in that country.”

It went on to cite police killings and brutality, racial discrimination,
child labor, high numbers of firearm deaths, a goal of imposing a new
U.S. healthcare system that would leave 23 million Americans without
health insurance, salary inequality between men and women, the
marginalization of refugees and migrants, the desire to wall out the
Mexican neighbors of the United States, and the U.S. withdrawal from the
Paris Agreement on climate change.

Some analysts say Cuba needs to improve its own human rights record, but
that rolling back U.S.-Cuba relations is not the best way to do it.

“It is inexcusable that the Cuban government could be holding anywhere
from 75 to 95 political prisoners,” said Jason Marczak, of the Adrienne
Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. “But pushing the
Cuban government into the hands of countries like Russia will not lead
to an improvement in human rights. Change comes through engagement.”

Source: Cuba to President Trump: We need to continue to cooperate and
coexist | Miami Herald –

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Trump: New policy on Cuba begins with enforcement of U.S. law Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:18:12 +0000 Trump: New policy on Cuba begins with enforcement of U.S. law

The new Cuba policy announced by President Donald Trump makes it clear
the president will be looking to the Cuban Liberty and Democratic
Solidarity Act of 1996 — also known as the Helms-Burton Act — in forging
his new take on Cuba.

“Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law,” Trump said
Friday during a Miami appearance to announce a policy that bans most
U.S. business dealings with the Cuban military and puts some limits on
travel. “We will enforce the embargo.”

Former President Barack Obama seemed more intent on what he could
legally do on Cuba policy despite the Helms -Burton Act, which among
other things sets strict conditions that must be met by Cuba before the
U.S. embargo against the island can be lifted. Before he left office,
Obama urged Congress to change the law to lift the embargo

In his memo on the new policy, Trump expressed support for the embargo,
including opposing any measures at the United Nations or other
international institutions calling for the end of the embargo, which has
been in effect for more than half a century.

In a signal of Obama’s desire to repair the United States’ fractured
relationship with Cuba, the U.S. abstained for the first time in October
2016 on the annual U.N. General Assembly vote condemning the embargo.
Before, the United States always voted against the U.N. resolution.

In his last month in office, Obama also suspended a section of the
Helms-Burton Act that allows former owners of commercial properties
expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign companies trafficking in those
confiscated holdings.

Every U.S. president has routinely suspended the lawsuit provision every
six months since Helms-Burton went into effect for fear of letting the
lawsuits go forward. The suits would alienate important trading partners
such as Canada and EU countries whose citizens have invested in Cuba.
It’s unclear if Trump will continue the practice.

Put forward in the super-heated atmosphere after Cuba shot down two
Brothers to the Rescue planes, resulting in the deaths of four South
Florida pilots, the 42-page Helms-Burton bill was signed into law in
1996 by President Bill Clinton.

Previously it was up to presidential discretion whether to lift the
embargo, but Helms-Burton set up a range of conditions that must be
satisfied before the embargo can be lifted.

It sets a high bar for Cuba. Among the conditions a transition
government in Cuba must meet are: legalization of all political
activity; release of all political prisoners; dissolution of the present
Department of State Security — including the Committees for Defense of
the Revolution; a public commitment to organize free and fair elections
for a new government that will be held in a period not to exceed 18
months; stopping any interference with Radio or TV Martí broadcasts; and
establishment of an independent judiciary and independent trade unions.

And any new government cannot include Raúl Castro or Fidel Castro, now a
moot point. In addition, civil liberties must be respected, private
property rights must be assured and steps must be taken to compensate
U.S. citizens and corporations for properties seized by the Cuban
government after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

During Congressional testimony last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson said the administration was in support of continued economic
development in Cuba “as long as it’s done in full compliance with our
existing statutes to not provide financial support to the regime.”

Pressed by Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, about whether
that could hamper development of private businesses in Cuba “if they
give a single dime to the government,” Tillerson responded: “Senator, I
know you’re not suggesting that we encourage private companies to
violate the law, but it does require perhaps a more thorough discussion
among the Congress and the executive [branch] over is that law still
useful. But the law is there and we cannot encourage people to violate
that law.”

In May, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced legislation to
lift the embargo. A bill to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba, and
one that would remove restrictions on private financing of agricultural
exports to Cuba and impose a 2 percent tax to compensate those who have
certified claims for seized properties also have been introduced. If
Congress were to pass any of that legislation, said South Florida lawyer
Pedro Freyre, it would supercede any executive order by the president on

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

Source: Trump says it’s time to uphold the law on Cuba | Miami Herald –

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Where is Socialism in Cuba? Thu, 15 Jun 2017 16:07:44 +0000 Where is Socialism in Cuba? / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 20 May 2107 — A downpour in May hits the corrugated metal
roof hard. Water filters in through several holes into the house of
Mireya, a blind, half-deaf seventy-one-year-old woman. She relies on
pieces of black rubber to cover and protect her most precious
possessions: an obsolete Chinese television with cathode ray tubes and a
foam mattress on her bed.

“Every time it rains, it’s the same old story. Water comes in through
every crevice. On a day I least expect it, the roof will collapse and
bury me under it. That’s really not what I want,” says Mireya.
Frustrated, she no longer remembers how many times she has asked for
Social Security subsidies to pay for construction materials to repair
her ramshackle shed.

“They drag their feet or they turn me down. They say my two sons should
be the ones to do it. They send money but they’re not doing well either.
Cuba stopped being a socialist society that gave help to those in need a
long time ago. We old people are the ones who are worse off. The state
does almost nothing to help the poorest people,” says the old woman.

A retired schoolteacher, Mireya receives a monthly pension of 225 pesos,
the equivalent of ten dollars. It all goes to pay the light, gas and
water bills and to buy a handful of vegetables at the farmer’s market.

To survive, she sells magazines and plastic bags on the street. “If I
walk two blocks, my feet swell. I am being treated for it but sometimes
I don’t have the money to buy the medication. And if I do manage to come
up with the money, the pharmacy tells me they’re out of it, that there’s
a shortage. If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Mireya says in disgust.

Sergio, a retired metalworker, recalls that “in the early years of the
revolution, if you produced good results at work, you could get a home.
They would give you a week’s vacation in a house on the beach. Medical
care was good. And though food was always rationed, you had a balanced
diet. What we have in Cuba today is capitalism in disguise. The old
slogan about socialism or death is only for poor people and fools. Those
with hard currency have access higher quality products. Managers live
just as well as any capitalist business owner.”

“In the Nordic countries and Switzerland, workers who earn the minimum
wage and who, by those countries’ standards, are living in poverty,
receive government assistance,” notes a sociologist who have been
studying social welfare programs for five years. His research is based
on interviews with Cubans living in developed countries. “When a Cuban
retires in the United States, he receives about $740 a month in aid plus
$170 dollars in food stamps, even if he has never worked in the country.
Additionally, he receives free medical and psychiatric care if needed.
And he can still work part-time. If he earns less than two thousand
dollars, he does not have to pay income tax,” he observes.

“Cuba ceased being a socialist society long ago. Being a poor
third-world country, the best it can offer is universal health care and
free education, but the quality of those has deteriorated substantially.
Costa Rica and Guyana, nations to which we should compare ourselves,
also offer these free services but they are of better quality,” adds the

Adalberto, a Cuban living in Washington, is currently visiting the
island. Due to diabetes and the onset of Alzheimer’s he had to retire at
age fifty-six. “I receive various medical benefits and, because I worked
for thirty years, a monthly pension of $2,400. I don’t have a life full
of luxury but have I have the essentials and can help my family in
Havana. Let me tell you, real socialism is over there, in the U.S.,” he

The quality of life in Cuba has fallen markedly. Salaries are among the
lowest in the world. The costs of food and other basic commodities are
high. Allegedly socialist businesses such as the telecommunications
monopoly ETECSA charge extremely high prices for internet and mobile
phone service. Most Cubans cannot afford to vacation in their own
country due to the high price of hotel rooms. The military controls 80%
of the nation’s economy and engages in the worst form state-sponsored
capitalism imaginable, taxing sales of goods by as much as 240%.

Cuban socialism can only be found in speeches by the military
bourgeoisie. The Castro regime has discreetly and without fanfare
abandoned the slogan “a revolution of the humble, by the humble and for
the humble.” Instead, it now manages luxury hotels like the Kempinski
Manzana, where a watch can cost four thousand dollars and a week’s stay
in Varadero is the equivalent of a year and a half’s salary for the
average worker.

What are the humble left with? A ration of seven pounds of rice and five
pounds of sugar, twenty ounces of dried beans, one small bread roll per
day and half a kilogram of chicken per month.

Health care and education are seemingly free (which is possible because
salaries are so low). With any luck, one can hope for a stay at a
campsite during summer vacation season. But little else.

Source: Where is Socialism in Cuba? / Iván García – Translating Cuba –

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The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos Thu, 15 Jun 2017 16:06:37 +0000 The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his
brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of
those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His
death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos
Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a
nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.

At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in
recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics
in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the
Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect
their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.

For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international
forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their
history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in
Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet
Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach.

Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between
Castro and Dos Santos.

The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of
African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes
men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37
years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38
years Equatorial Guinea.

Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six
decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a
minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as
president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and
both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.

Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the
banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho
Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the
country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from

What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s
closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in
Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on
the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in
that country.

Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted
no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants
her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a
fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head
of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important
economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.

She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving
statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who
has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a
modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper
thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.

Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically
advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages
5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many
credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to
seize sectors such as hotel management.

However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of
president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola
(MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A
figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to
continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a
country that is not experiencing good times.

Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba,
first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a
face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those
who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon
power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his
reliability and meekness.

Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos
Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as
healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology,
energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the
Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving
on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.

Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to
support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to
ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the
throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will
continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be
blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both

For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign
investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the
fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has
complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic
cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment.
The discontent is palpable.

On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of
the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes
are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the
mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times.
The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines

Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they
dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his
ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed
legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources
that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young
Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.

Source: The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos – Translating Cuba –

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Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership Thu, 15 Jun 2017 16:02:56 +0000 Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 June 2017 — The leader speaks for hours on
the platform, his index finger pointing to an invisible enemy. A human
tide applauds when the intonation of a phrase demands it and stares
enraptured at the bearded speaker. For decades these public acts were
repeated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, shaping the face of
revolutionary populism.

However, Fidel Castro’s extensive speeches constituted only the most
visible part of his style of governing. They were the moments of
collective hypnotism, peppered with promises and announcements of a
luminous future that allowed him to establish a close bond with the
population, to incite class hatred and to extend his growing power.

Castro has been the most complete product of Cuban populism and
nationalism. Evils that sink their roots into national history and whose
best breeding ground was the Republican era (1902-1958). Those winds
brought the hurricane that shaped a young man born in the eastern town
of Biran, who graduated as a lawyer and came to hold the military rank
of Commander-in-Chief.

The political framework in which Castro was formed was far from a
democratic example. Many of the leaders of that convulsed Cuba of the
first half of the twentieth century did not distinguish themselves by
presenting programmatic platforms to their constituents. The common
practice was horse-trading to obtain votes, along with other aberrations
such as stealing ballot boxes or committing fraud.

From his early days, the young attorney elbowed his way into the milieu
of those figures who relied on gangster like behavior, rather than the
transparent exercise of authority. He quickly absorbed many of the
elements of demagoguery that would be greatly useful to him later when
the time came to subject an entire nation.

Unlike republican populism, whose purpose was the conquest of electoral
favor, revolutionary populism had as its goal the abolishment of the
structures of democracy. From January 195,9 the civic framework was
systematically dismantled and the laws were subjugated to the
disproportionate will of a single man.

To achieve this dream of control, the Maximum Leader persuaded the
citizens that they could enjoy a high degree of security if they
renounced certain “bourgeois freedoms,” among them the ability to elect
their leaders and a system of power in which leadership alternates.

The so-called Moncada Program outlined in History Will Absolve Me, is a
concentration of these promises in the style of a tropical Robin
Hood. The pamphlet was presented as Fidel Castro’s plea of self-defense
during the trial in which he was indicted for the armed attack on the
Moncada Barracks, the main military fortress of Santiago de Cuba, in
July 1953.

Until that moment, this man was practically unknown as a political
figure. The boldness that characterized the action enveloped him in an
aura of heroic idealism that set him up as the leader of the
revolutionary alternative to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In his manuscript, where he described the problems the country faced, he
never warned that solving them would require the confiscation of
properties. He limited himself to detailing the necessity of an agrarian
reform that would eliminate the latifundio and distribute land to the
peasants. These were proposals that rapidly earned him sympathies among
the poorest.

Upon leaving prison, Castro was convinced that the only way to overthrow
the dictatorship was by force. He organized an expedition and opened a
guerrilla front in the mountains of the eastern region of the Island.
Two years later, his triumphal entry into the capital and his
charismatic presence made him the beneficiary of a blank check of
political credit, endorsed by the majority of the population.

The first populist ruse of the new regime was to present itself as
democratic and to deny any tendency that could identify it with
communist doctrine. At the same time that it presented itself as the
enabler of freedom, it expropriated the newspapers, the radio stations
and the television channels.

The regime struck a deadly blow to civil society by establishing a
network of “mass organizations” to bring together neighbors, women,
peasants, workers and students. The new entities had in their statutes a
clause of fidelity to the Revolution and perform – still to this day –
as transmission wires from the power to the population.

The first revolutionary laws, such as the Agrarian Reform, the rent
reductions, the Urban Reform and the confiscation of properties,
constituted a radical rearrangement of the possession of wealth. In a
very short time the State stripped the upper classes of their property
and became the owner of everything.

With the enormous flow of treasure, the new power made multi-million
investments in social benefits that allowed it to achieve “the original
accumulation of prestige.”

From its original proclamation in April 1961, the socialist system
declared the irreversible nature of the measures taken. Maintaining the
conquests achieved required the implementation of a system of system
backed by a legal structure that would make it impossible for former
owners to recover what was confiscated.

The new situation brought with it a powerful apparatus of internal
repression and a large army to deter any external military threat. The
most important bars of the cage in which millions of Cubans were trapped
were erected in those early years.

To the binomial of an irreversible conquest and an undisputed leader was
added the threat of an external enemy to complete the holy trinity of
revolutionary populism.


The main conquests in those initial years focused on education, health
and social security. Economic centralism allowed the new ruling elite to
establish ample gratuities and to distribute subsidies or privileges in
exchange for ideological fidelity.

Like all populism that rises to power, the government also needed to
mold consciences, impose its own version of history, and create from the
teaching laboratories an individual who will applaud greatly and
question little.

In 1960 the Island was already among the Latin American countries with
the lowest proportion of illiterates, but even so the Government
summoned thousands of young people to isolated areas to teach reading
and writing. Participation in this initiative was considered a
revolutionary merit and dressed in heroic tones.

The text of the primer to teach the first letters was openly
propagandistic and the literacy campaigners behaved like political
commissars who, on reading the phrase “The sun rises from the East,”
needed to add as a clarification “and from the East comes the help we
are given by the Socialist countries.”

At the end of the process, a massive plan of boarding schools operated
under military methods began, the goal of which was to remove students
from the influence of their families. Mass teacher training also began,
thousands of schools were built in rural areas, and privately run
schools were taken over by the Ministry of Education.

From this rearrangement the “New Man” was supposed to emerge, free from
“petty-bourgeois laziness.” An individual who had never known
exploitation by a boss, paid for sex in a brothel, nor exercised his

The fact that there was not a single child left on the island who didn’t
attend school became a dazzling paradigm that blocked the view of the
shadows. To this day, the myth of Cuban education is being used by the
defenders of the system to justify all the repressive excesses of the
last half century.

The state monopoly turned the education system into a tool of political
indoctrination while the family was relegated to the role of a mere
caretaker of the children. The profession of teacher was trivialized to
an extreme degree, and the costs of maintaining this giant apparatus
became unsustainable.

Many of the achievements that were put into practice were unworkable in
the context of the national economy. But the grateful beneficiaries had
no opportunity to know the high cost these campaigns imposed on the
nation. The country was plunged in an inexorable decapitalization and
the deterioration of its infrastructure.

For decades, the media in the hands of the Communist Party helped to
cover up such excesses. But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union
and the end of the massive subsidies that the Kremlin sent to the
island, Cubans came face to face with their own reality. Many of these
supposed advantages vanished or were plunged into crisis.

The Maximum Leader

One of the hallmarks of populism is the presence of a leader who is
given full confidence. Fidel Castro managed to turn that blind faith
into obedience and a cult of personality.

The merging of the leader with the Revolution itself and of Revolution
with the Homeland gave rise to the idea that an opponent of the
Commander-in-Chief was “anti-Cuban.” His flatterers called him genius
but in his long speeches it is difficult to find a theoretical nucleus
from which a conceptual core can be extracted.

In the oratory of the Maximum Leader, a preponderant role was played by
his histrionic character, the cadence of his voice and his playbook of
gestures. Fidel Castro became the first media politician in Cuba’s
national history.

Voluntarism was perhaps the essential feature of his personality and the
hallmark of his extended mandate. To achieve his objectives at the
necessary price, to never surrender before any adversary and to consider
every defeat as a learning opportunity that would lead to victory,
served him to conquer a legion of fidelistas.

The target dates for obtaining the luminous future promised by the
Revolution could be postponed again and again thanks to Castro’s
apparently inexhaustible political credit. The demand for people to
tighten their belts to achieve well-being became a cyclical political
stratagem to buy time.

There were some rather abstract promises, in the style of there would be
bread with freedom, and others more precise, such as the country would
produce so much milk that not even three times as many people could
drink it all. The largest zoo in the world would be built on the island
and socialism and communism would be constructed at the same time.

In December 1986, after 28 years of failed efforts, Fidel Castro had the
audacity – or desperation – to proclaim before the National Assembly the
most demagogic of all his slogans: “Now we are going to build socialism!”

The Enemy

Populist regimes often require a certain degree of tension, of permanent
belligerence, to keep the emotional flame burning. Nothing is better for
that than the existence of an external enemy. Even better if it is a
powerful one that makes alliances with the regime’s political opponents.

From the time he was in the Sierra Maestra commanding his guerrilla
army, Fidel Castro determined who that enemy would be. In a letter dated
June 1958, he wrote: “When this war is over, a much longer and larger
war will begin for me, the war that I will launch against them [the
Americans]. I understand that this is going to be my true destiny.”

Between April and the end of October 1960 there was an escalation of
clashes between Washington and Havana. The expropriation of large tracts
of land held by US companies, the suspension of the sugar quota enjoyed
by the Island, the nationalization of US companies based in Cuba, and
the start of the embargo on goods from the North are some of the most

During that same period, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan
visited Havana, diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR and
Fidel Castro met in New York with Nikita Khrushchev, who went on to say
in an interview: “I do not know if Castro is a communist, but I am a

In the eyes of the people Fidel Castro’s stature rose and he begin to
take on the outlines of a world leader. The exacerbation of nationalism,
another characteristic of the populists, reached to its fullest
expression when Cuba began to be shown as the little David facing the
giant Goliath.

Revolutionary arrogance, driven by the conviction that the system
applied in Cuba should extend to the whole continent, led many to
believe that fomenting the Revolution beyond the borders was not only a
duty but a right protected by a scientific truth.

The populist root of this “liberator of peoples” thinking led tens of
thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight in Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia and
Angola as part of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union in
Africa, although wrapped in the clothing of a disinterested
Revolutionary internationalism with other peoples toward whom there
supposedly was a historical debt.

The enemy was not only “American imperialism” but the South African
racists, the European colonialists, and any element that appeared on the
international scene that could become a threat to the Revolution.

Convinced, like the Jesuit Ignacio de Loyola, that “in a besieged plaza,
dissidence is treason,” every act of internal opposition has been
identified as an action to contribute to that enemy and by the official
propaganda every dissident deserves to be described as a “mercenary.”

However, the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the
United States in late 2014 has shaken the thesis of a permanent danger
of invasion. The death of Fidel Castro, the decline of leftist forces in
Latin America and the announced stepping down of Raul Castro by February
2018 diminish what remains of revolutionary populism.

On the other hand, younger Cubans have a less grateful and more critical
perception of those conquests in the field of education and healthcare
that were presented as a generous gift of the system.

The reappearance of notable social differences arising from the urgent
acceptance of the rules of the market and the growth of the economy’s
“non-state sector” – the authorities are reluctant to call it “private
sector” – have rendered unrepeatable the slogans of biased
egalitarianism espoused by the ideological discourse that justified the
obsolete rationing system for food products.

Haute cuisine restaurants and hotels of four or five stars, once
exclusively for tourists, are now within reach of a new class of
Cubans. The elimination of the exploitation of man by man, an essential
banner of Marxist-Leninist socialism, has not even been discussed.

The widely shared conviction that the country has no solution is one of
the main drivers of emigration in recent years. But this lack of hope
for the future, combined with fierce repression, also limits the work of
the opposition.

The system that once counted on enthusiasm is now supported by virtue of
reluctance. The so-called historical generation still in power is fewer
than a dozen octogenarians in the process of retirement and the new
offspring are more inclined to business than to the podium. Today’s
grandchildren of those populists have more talent for marketing than for


Editorial Note: This text is part of the collective book El Populismo
del Populismo , which will be presented this Tuesday at the Casa de
América, in Madrid. The coauthors are, among others, Alvaro Vargas
Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mauricio Rojas, Roberto Ampuero and
Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

Source: Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership –
Translating Cuba –

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Foreigners and Cubans: Princes and Paupers Thu, 15 Jun 2017 15:39:41 +0000 Foreigners and Cubans: Princes and Paupers
FRANCISCO ALMAGRO DOMÍNGUEZ | Miami | 15 de Junio de 2017 – 15:39 CEST.

A woman friend of mine who lives in Miami recently traveled to the
Island with her children. As her father is Cuban, she wanted her
children to meet the family members who are still there. She had
postponed the trip again and again, without knowing why. Something told
her that it could be an experience full of run-ins and incidents.
Fortunately, the family relationships unfolded with pleasantly
surprising spontaneity: the children and their Cuban relatives on the
Island got along as if they had known each other their whole lives.

The sad part of the trip was not the family, or the odyssey of
travelling to what was once the Paris of the Caribbean – today a
ramshackle city strewn with garbage. She was prepared, or at least
aware, of the blackouts, the potholes, the smell of kerosene, the jug
and pail of water for bathing, and the most elementary food
deficiencies. What she was not prepared for was seeing how Cubans treat
their own.

And she does not understand it, among other reasons, because only 90
miles away, Cubans are like “princes.” There, Cubans are able to do what
no other Latin American can in the US, or an Englishman, for that
matter: legalize his immigration status and become a citizen in a short
period of time. In the south of Florida they control politics and the
economy. In fact, upon marrying a Cuban, he achieved a different
migratory status, one allowing him to find good jobs and continue
studying. And offending or humiliating a Cuban citizen because of his
nationality can land an American in some very hot water.

She claims to have detected, beginning right at the airport, a culture
of apartheid, discriminating against those Cuban nationals who,
unmistakable with their suitcases, beads and hats, were returning to
their own country. They moved her and her children up in the line,
passing other mothers with small children, because she was “not Cuban.”
After that, and occasionally, it was harassment: the relatives who
accompanied her to restaurants and shops were considered potential
jineteros, or swindlers.

Very perceptively, she made a sad observation: despite all the snubbing
of Cuban citizens, who have nothing to give, and the fawning over
foreigners (outsiders thought to have it all, to be able to do it all),
Cubans are still, at heart, friendly people. They know how to love and
to give. They are, like Havana, a ruined city that is falling apart, but
that can still be rehabilitated.

Somehow, the Cuban capital today is faithful to my friend’s observation.
Cities, their buildings, parks, theaters, schools and hospitals resemble
their inhabitants, their people. It is they, and their spirit, that
shape the atmosphere, and this, recursively, returns to the people the
magic of living in peace, and hope. This is what anyone notices when
they go to Madrid, Paris, New York or Mexico City: tourism is not all
about the Gran Via, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire Estate or the Angel of
Independence. The essence of tourism is the local people, as foreign
visitors are often treated better than the country’s own citizens.

In an effort to expunge the legacy of the Gómez-Mena family (Cubans
whose crime was to be millionaires who actually got the country to
produce something), they have established a centenarian foreign company
just a few steps from the statue of José Martí in Central Park. The
luxurious Hotel Manzana – no longer belong to the Gómez clan, but rather
the Kempinski family – is surrounded by icons of Cuba’s republican
culture and politics, as well as dozens of buildings and houses propped
up to prevent them from collapsing. Allusions to the past, the slap in
the face perpetrated by the Marinesthat produced such outrage,are not
mere coincidences. We may always suffer from a strange neuroticism,
hating and loving all that is foreign at the same time.

Staying at luxury hotel in the middle of a city devastated by
abandonment, and a population suspected of being a band of rogues, is
not really tourism. There can be no true tourism where there is no
water, or street lighting, or care for the environment, because
everyone’s prime concern is to have a plate of food to eat. As my friend
said during her brief visit to Cuba: what most disturbs and pains the
tourist are the people who live on the island. They seem to be destroyed
inside. And yet, at the same time one can see that, with adequate
restoration, the Cuban people could shine. Like five-star hotels.

Source: Foreigners and Cubans: Princes and Paupers | Diario de Cuba –

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Cuba’s Castro sets elections timetable Thu, 15 Jun 2017 13:06:12 +0000 Cuba’s Castro sets elections timetable

Cuba is set to hold municipal elections on October 22, a precursor to
the handover of power from President Raul Castro in 2018. Accession in
one-party systems is never easy, and Cuba is no exception.

President Castro has said he will step down next February at the end of
his second five-year term, but has indicated he will stay on as head of
the Communist Party, the only legal party in Cuba.
The date for provincial and national assembly elections will be
published “at the corresponding time,” the ruling Communist Party
newspaper Granma said on Wednesday.
Municipal assembly delegates are nominated by neighbors and do not have
to belong to the Communist Party, although the path to the National
Assembly and ultimately to the presidency is controlled by the party.
Which way next?
The electoral notice coincides with a period of uncertainty for Cuba.
The group that has ruled the country since the 1959 revolution is dying
out and Cuba’s main political and trade ally Venezuela is in crisis. For
the past decade, Venezuelan oil subsidies have been crucial to Cuba’s

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is expected to announce his Cuba
policy on Friday.
Trump may roll back some of former President Barack Obama’s overtures to
the island, which included the restoration of relations and the
reopening of embassies.
Castro’s first vice president, the 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, is
widely tipped to assume Castro’s mantle, but there is also talk of a
radical break with the older generation and an embrace of the market
reforms that have been a feature of Castro’s nine-year rule.
Castro took over the presidency in 2008 from his ailing brother and
revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who died last November. As a cautious
pragmatist, many initially felt the younger sibling was a stopgap when
he formally assumed office.

Source: Cuba?s Castro sets elections timetable | News | DW | 15.06.2017

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US will ‘preserve some commercial activity’ with Cuba: Rex Tillerson Thu, 15 Jun 2017 13:04:53 +0000 US will ‘preserve some commercial activity’ with Cuba: Rex Tillerson
By Gabby Morrongiello June 13, 2017 | 1:46pm
Modal Trigger

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the
Trump administration will preserve some commercial activity between the
U.S. and Havana when it rolls back part of President Obama’s Cuba policy
later this week.

Puerto Rican Day Parade honors the terrorists who killed my dad
Tillerson told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that
Cuba “must begin to address human rights challenges” if it wishes to
continue normalizing diplomatic relations with the United States, a move
that began under the previous administration.

President Trump is said to be weighing a reversal of several reforms to
U.S.-Cuba policy that Obama enacted during his last two years in office,
including measures that eased restrictions on trade and travel to the
socialist-ruled island.

“The general approach is to allow as much of this continued commercial
engagement activity to go on as possible,” Tillerson told committee
chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), noting that the administration recognizes
“the benefits of that to the Cuban people.”

“But on the other hand, we think we have achieved very little in terms
of changing the behavior of the regime in Cuba and the treatment of its
people,” he said.

Tillerson said the Trump administration is still developing its
post-Obama Cuba policy and declined to confirm whether a formal
announcement will be made when Trump visits Miami on Friday.

Source: US will ‘preserve some commercial activity’ with Cuba: Rex
Tillerson | New York Post –

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Trump’s Cuba Policy Changes Could Mean Lost Opportunities For Texas Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:44:44 +0000 Trump’s Cuba Policy Changes Could Mean Lost Opportunities For Texas
The Port of Houston stands to benefit from increased energy and
agricultural trade with Cuba, if and when Congress lifts the U.S.
embargo on the island nation.

President Trump is soon expected to announce plans that could tighten
restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. Such a move would end the
thaw in Cuban-American relations, begun under President Obama.
The Houston Airport System would feel the pinch first, if Trump imposes
fresh travel restrictions on Cuba. United Airlines now flies one round
trip between George Bush Intercontinental and Havana each Saturday. The
U.S. trade embargo remains in place as a matter of law. But Houston has
been poised to gain if and when that changes.
“It would take away from what we thought would be another great customer
for the Port of Houston and for Texas, because of our agricultural base
in West Texas and our energy base,” says Democratic Congressman Gene Green.
Several of Green’s Republican colleagues recently sent a letter to
President Trump, arguing that reversing course on Cuba would hurt U.S.
national security. Jenifer Sarver agrees. Sarver previously worked in
the George W. Bush Administration. She now serves on the Texas State
Council of Engage Cuba.
“Any sort of tightening of sanctions on Cuba is not going to benefit
us,” Sarver says. “It’s only going to further isolate the island, and
it’s going to allow countries like Russia and China and others to
influence what’s happening kind of in our region of the world.”
Trump is expected to announce the policy changes in Miami on Friday.

Source: Trump’s Cuba Policy Changes Could Mean Lost Opportunities For
Texas – Houston Public Media –

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Race to influence the president on Cuba policy heats up Thu, 15 Jun 2017 11:01:48 +0000 Race to influence the president on Cuba policy heats up

With an announcement on Cuba policy by President Donald Trump apparently
imminent, those for and against engagement are jockeying to get their
positions before the president — even his daughter Ivanka.

There has been a flurry of letters to the president this week as Miami
awaits Trump’s possible arrival Friday in the capital city of Cuban
exiles to announce his recalibration of Cuba policy. Stakeholders who
haven’t penned letters to the White House also are trying to make their
positions known.

The letter writers range from Cuba dissidents to a group of professors
concerned that a new Cuba policy could hamper scholarly research and
educational exchanges with Cuba. A group of 55 Cuban female
entrepreneurs also sent their letter to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but they
addressed it to first daughter Ivanka Trump, appealing to her
businesswomen to businesswoman to make sure the Obama-era opening to the
island isn’t closed.

The Cuban American National Foundation hasn’t sent the administration a
letter or position paper, partly because with so many unfilled positions
in the Trump administration and uncertainty over who is really driving
Cuban policy, “the question is who do you talk to?” said José “Pepe”
Hernández, president and one of the founders of the exile organization.
“It’s very confusing, really.”

But the foundation is clear about what it would like to see Trump do on
Cuba: “The main thing we want is for him to reaffirm his commitment to
protect civil society and opposition activists inside the island,” he
said. “We are very concerned that the Castro regime is resolved to
destroy the opposition this year.”

Through May of this year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation has documented 2,240 arbitrary detentions in
Cuba for political reasons. That’s significantly less than the number of
arrests for the first five months of 2016, but Hernández said repression
is intensifying. “I presume they want to clear the way for a new leader
who will take power in 2018,” he said.

Still, Hernández said the foundation supports engagement with the Cuban
people and maintaining diplomatic relations with Havana.

“We would certainly see it as a negative move if the administration
decides to return to the isolation of the Cuban people from their
friends and relatives in the United States,” he said.

It’s unclear what measures the U.S. administration may adopt, but more
limitations on travel and trade — including limiting the ability of U.S.
businesses to strike deals with any enterprises controlled by the Cuban
military — have been discussed.

While Hernández said blacklisting Cuban military operations would send
an important message to the Cuban government, he said the foundation
doesn’t want the Trump administration to cut back on Americans’ ability
to send remittances and travel to the island.

The Cuban Democratic Directorate, however, said it would like a reversal
of the Obama administration policy “of unilateral granting of
unconditional benefits and concessions toward the Castro regime, a
regime that will never be a friend of the United States and which denies
all basic rights and liberties for the Cuban people.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott also chimed in on the Cuba issue during a
visit to Miami on Tuesday. “What President Obama did didn’t work. They
haven’t opened up democracy; they don’t have more freedom,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the president’s policy. It’s going to
open a new chapter.”

“The fact that Obama’s approach hasn’t led to political reform in Cuba
after just a few years isn’t reason to return to a policy that proved a
costly failure over many decades,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing
director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “The previous
administration was right to reject a policy that hurt ordinary Cubans
and did nothing to advance human rights.”

Some recent letter-writers to the president would like to see the policy
of engagement continue.

A group of nearly 150 American scholars and educators from institutions
across the United States signed a letter urging the president not to
reverse Obama-era policies. They said it is un-American to restrict
travel, that it could have negative hemispheric consequences, and that
further pressure on Cuban leader Raúl Castro could make it more
difficult for him to turn over the presidency to a successor in 2018 as
he has publicly promised.

Trump’s policy on Cuba, the letter said, “is not just about the freedom
of the Cuban people. It is about ours.”

The Cuban entrepreneurs — who own restaurants, boutique hotels, bed and
breakfasts, shops, and other businesses — told Ivanka Trump they feared
that Cuba policy might be “headed backward, in turn threatening our
economic livelihoods and the overall well-being of Cubans on and off the

A setback in U.S.-Cuba relations, they said, “would bring with it the
fall of many of our businesses.” They appealed to Ivanka Trump to
understand the importance that “the exchange of trade, people and ideas
represents for our businesses” and invited her to visit them in Cuba.

While there’s still much speculation about the final direction the
president’s Cuba policy might take, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may
have provided a clue Tuesday during his congressional testimony on the
State Department’s Fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

“The general approach is to allow as much of this continued commercial
engagement activity to go on as possible,” he said.

Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer who has represented cruise lines and other
U.S. businesses that have done deals with Cuba under the Obama opening,
said they, too, are trying to get the president’s attention.

“Business interests that have been active in Cuba in agriculture,
airlines, cruise lines, travel companies and pharmaceutical companies
have made their views known to the White House and are working hard to
make sure the president keeps the interests of American business in mind.”

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi.

Source: Race to influence Trump on Cuba policy heats up | Miami Herald –

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Amidst imminent Cuba policy announcement, dissidents express support for some change Thu, 15 Jun 2017 10:59:56 +0000 Amidst imminent Cuba policy announcement, dissidents express support for
some change

President Donald Trump’s anticipated announcement on Cuba policy changes
has unleashed an unexpected unity on the island: Cuban dissidents of
various political stripes agree that the United States must make changes
to apply pressure to the Raúl Castro regime.

The leader of Cuba’s largest opposition organization, the Patriotic
Union of Cuba (UNPACU), called on Trump to impose sanctions against
Castro’s government, just days before the president is expected to make
his announcement in Miami on Friday.

“We believe that this is the moment for a maximum reversal of some
policies that only benefit the Castro regime and does very little or
nothing for the oppressed people. It is time to impose strong sanctions
on the regime of Raúl Castro…,” José Daniel Ferrer wrote in a letter
to President Trump last week.

Ferrer, who supported the policy of engagement initiated by former
President Barack Obama, cited as justifications for a more restrictive
policy change toward the island’s government, “the criminal behavior
that Castroism is committed to maintain against the Cuban people; its
support for the repression against the Venezuelan people; their close
relations with other regimes that trample on the rights of their
citizens — such as Syria, North Korea and Iran —; their hostile
discourse against the U.S. and their lack of cooperation on issues such
as the extradition of fugitives from the American justice system.”

Another group of Cuban government opponents launched a petition on the platform to ask Trump to support CubaDecide, a citizen
initiative for a plebiscite seeking democratic changes in Cuba.

Obama’s Cuba policy strategy — favoring dialogue and betting on changes
promoted by the private sector and not necessarily by dissidents —
clearly divided the Cuban opposition. But many now support a policy
change that emphasizes human rights and reduces the flow of foreign
currency at a critical time for the Cuban government.

The White House has said that President Trump’s policy will focus on
human rights. Among the measures under consideration are possible
restrictions on authorized travel of Americans to Cuba, as well as the
imposition of restrictions on business deals between U.S. companies and
GAESA, the largest military conglomerate on the island.

This last measure “goes directly to the jugular of the regime, to the
economic power of the military,” opposition leader Guillermo Fariñas
told el Nuevo Herald.

Writer and activist Miriam Celaya agreed that the time is ripe for
applying pressure.

“Yes it is good to put a brake on the dictatorship and a brake on its
access to foreign currency,” when the government is preparing a “partial
transfer of power” in 2018.

Castro has said he will step down in February as head of the Councils of
State and Ministers, although he will probably remain at the influential
post as First Secretary of the Communist Party.

Dissident leader Antonio Rodiles has previously asked Trump to treat
Castro’s government “as a dictatorship,” a phrase echoed by Cuban
American lawmakers, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Marco Rubio, both
of whom have been involved in the lengthy review process that will serve
as the basis for Trump’s Cuba policy expected to be unveiled Friday.


Source: Cuban dissidents express support for changes in U.S. policy
toward Cuba | Miami Herald –

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Center for a Free Cuba petitions Trump to dismantle Obama Cuba policies Thu, 15 Jun 2017 10:58:17 +0000 Center for a Free Cuba petitions Trump to dismantle Obama Cuba policies

The Center for a Free Cuba sent a letter of gratitude to President
Donald Trump Wednesday for his decision to come to Miami and said it was
pleased that he would soon begin the “dismantling of Barack Obama’s
concessions to the Castro regime.”

The president is scheduled to announce his new Cuba policy in Miami on
Friday. The exact direction that policy will take is unclear but it is
expected to roll back some Obama-era executive orders that made it
easier to travel to the island and do business with Cuba.

“We welcome the visit of the president to Miami because we know this is
a first step,” Frank Calzon, the center’s executive director, said
during a news conference in the courtyard of the University of Miami’s
Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. In response to reports
that the president may not announce a complete reversal of Obama
policies, Calzon said, “Nothing is done in a day.”

Members of the media outnumbered the audience at the event, but more
than 100 Cuban Americans — including a number of former political
prisoners, human rights activists, former diplomats and others signed
the letter.

During the president’s time in Miami, the signatories urged him to meet
with the family of Mario de la Peña. who was aboard one of two Brothers
to the Rescue planes shot down on Feb. 24, 1996 by the Cuban Air Force
as the plane approached the island. The pilots volunteered their time to
search for Cuban rafters.

“It would be a beautiful gesture on the part of the president to embrace
that family and show support,” said Eduardo Zayas Bazan, a veteran of
the Bay of Pigs invasion and a professor emeritus at East Tennessee
State University.

The message that the center, an organization that works for a democratic
transition and defends human rights in Cuba, wants to get across is that
“Cuba is a lot more than a tourism destination,” said Calzon. “Cuba is
11 million souls 90 miles from the United States who are denied the most
basic and elemental human rights.”

Calzon said current policy is the result of executive orders issued by
Obama and secret negotiations with the Cuban government instead of
strict adherence to the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the 1996 Cuban
Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also known as Helms-Burton).

The pieces of legislation prevent the Castro government from benefiting
financially from economic activity with the United States and set
conditions, including a democratic transition in Cuba, before the
embargo can be lifted.

“American policy should be based on laws,” said Calzon.

Among the signatories to the letter was Cuban dissident leader Antonio
Rodiles, who arrived from Cuba on Tuesday. He said the United States
needs a new Cuba policy that keeps in mind the Cuban people.

“We need a new policy to pressure the regime so it will change,” Rodiles
said. Pro-engagement groups in the United States, however, say that
increasing pressure at this time when Cuban leader Raúl Castro says he
plans to relinquish the presidency to a successor in 2018 could
encourage Cuban hardliners and further crackdowns.

Asked if he thought the majority of Cubans on the island supported the
embargo, Rodiles responded: “Most of the Cuban people want freedom. I
know that people want pressure over the regime.” But he said some Cubans
may not understand the embargo is a tool to apply that pressure.


Source: Group supports potential dismantling of Obama-era Cuba policies
| Miami Herald –

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The Cuban visa business: murky but profitable Thu, 15 Jun 2017 10:56:33 +0000 The Cuban visa business: murky but profitable

Despite the recent start of regular commercial flights to Cuba by U.S.
airlines and a record number of passengers, the process of traveling to
the island can be murky and confusing to U.S. visitors.

After decades of charter flights, the U.S. commercial flights are slowly
educating visitors about the many issues involved, including how to meet
one of the 12 travel categories established by the U.S. Treasury
Department, whether to use cash or credit cards, stay in hotels or
private homes, and exchange dollars for pesos.

That might all change when President Donald Trump announces his new
policies on Cuba, expected Friday in Miami.

Regardless of any changes, however, within the labyrinth of details
about travel to Cuba there is one document that remains largely
unexplained: the Cuban entry permit, known as a visa or tourist card,
which all non-Cuban visitors are required to buy.

The visa is literally a card on which visitors write their names and
other personal information. It is valid for only one entry, costs $50 if
bought from the Cuban Embassy in Washington, and an extra $20 if
purchased by mail.

But the card is also sold at varying prices by the dozens of travel
agencies and airlines that handle tickets to Cuba.

The Cuban entry permits are totally separate from the U.S. government
requirement that passengers to Cuba fill out a questionnaire and check
off one of the 12 allowed categories for travel to the island, such as
educational or religious.

Only two of the airlines sell them to their clients at the $50 face
price. Others use independent providers, who can charge up to $100.

Cuban Americans who have U.S.-born children also must obtain Cuban visas.

Tampa resident Elaine Martínez, 34, said the Cuban visas are so
expensive “it’s an abuse.”

When Martínez visited her family on the island last year, she used her
Cuban passport but paid $80 to a Tampa travel agency for a visa for her
2-year-old daughter, who was born in the United States.

She flew on JetBlue and could have bought the girl’s visa at the
departure airport for $50, “but I was afraid there would be
complications,” Martínez said.

Which airlines provide the tourist card at what price
Delta and JetBlue are the only airlines that sell the tourist cards at
cost and directly to their clients, either online or at the departure
airport before boarding.

American Airlines uses Cuba Travel Services (CTS), a California company
that ran charter flights to the island before the commercial flights
started. It charges AA clients $85 online and $100 at the airport in Miami.

The extra is a “convenience fee,” said an American Airlines spokesperson.

CTS said it processes the visa requests for its own clients through the
Cuban Embassy in Washington.

“Travel Visas are processed and made available to authorized travelers
for cost plus processing and shipping fees. For direct sales, the cost
is $50 plus a $35 processing fee. Shipping cost varies depending on the
service they request,” said CTS general manager Michael Zuccato.

“Questions regarding the visa process for each airline should be
addressed to the airlines directly for comment,” Zuccato said.

It remains unclear whether CTS or American Airlines imposed the
convenience fee charged at MIA to AA clients.

Other airlines also use CTS to handle their Cuban visas, yet their
prices vary.

CTS handles the online visa requests for Southwest clients for $50, and
the airline hands them to the clients at the departure airport. Alaska
Airlines passengers pay $85 for the same procedure.

United also uses CTS and charges $75 for visas delivered at the airport.
“A Cuban entry permit costs $50 USD per person and is not included in
the price of your airline ticket”, United’s website explains. “An
additional $25 USD service charge will also be collected per person by
Cuba Travel Services (CTS), which administers the distribution of the
entry permits.”

CTS did not explain why it offers different prices depending on the airline.

“The tourist card should be the same price for everyone, whether an
individual or group,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council. “Having different pricing shows a lack of
interest in transparency, and the bilateral commercial relationship
between the United States and the Republic of Cuba should be transparent.”

“United States-based companies should reject variances and require one
standard,” he said.

How the airlines obtain the Cuban visas
Airlines and travel agencies that have an agreement with the Cuban
Embassy can buy the tourist cards in bulk.

The embassy’s website includes a list of the dozens of travel agencies
that handle consular services, such as visas and passports.

Some airlines, like Alaska Airlines, say they are not travel agencies.
“We refer our clients to our partner, Cuba Travel Services, which
specializes on travel to Cuba, or they can obtain the necessary
documents on their own,” said an airline spokesperson.

Jose “Pepe” Zapata, Delta Airlines general manager for Central America
and the Caribbean, said his company buys the visas from the Cuban
Embassy in Washington. “We have an agreement with them,” he said. “We
make an estimate of how many visas we need for, let’s say, one or or two
months, and we get supplies as we go along.”

The Cuban Embassy “will sell the visas to any airline,” Zapata added.

The embassy did not respond to el Nuevo Herald’s questions for this report.

Cruise companies also offer visas to their clients. Carnival Cruise Line
provides them for $75, said Jennifer de la Cruz, vice president for
communications. They are handed to the passengers before they board.


Source: Cuba’s required entry permit for U.S. visitors remains an enigma
| Miami Herald –

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Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections Tue, 13 Jun 2017 11:22:16 +0000 Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections

14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2017 –Authorities have taken a firm stand with
private transportation in Santiago de Cuba and have begun to demand
exhaustive proof of fuel purchases from the state gas stations to verify
that they are not from the black market.

“Last Friday there was a massive operation, and four drivers were
detained in the Micro 9 unit,” says activist Jose Antonio Lopez Pena,
who closely follows the transportation issue in the eastern province. At
least one of them had to sign a warning, to which this daily had access,
in which they confirm that he cannot operate as a carrier if he does not
buy fuel in the state gas stations.

The warning is issued by the Ministry of Transportation and signed by
Wilfredo Ramos, an official with the province’s State Traffic Unit (UTE).

The application of the rule, which was already widespread in Havana and
in the west, has been extended to the eastern zone since the end of May
and deeply disturbs the carriers who resort en masse to the black market
to buy fuel. Most of that gasoline comes from diversions from the state

“The police and inspectors know that we can’t make a living if we buy
oil and gasoline from the State,” explains Ramon, who drives an old
truck from the middle of the last century to make the route between
several Santiago municipalities.

Warning which confirms a private carrier cannot act as a driver if he
does not buy fuel in the service centers.
The private carriers complain about the large sums of money they spend
on licenses, taxes and vehicle repairs, so they try to make money by
acquiring fuel on the black market at a lower price than the official rate.

During recent months instability in the petroleum supply from Venezuela
caused significant cuts in distribution within the state sector. This
situation triggered the price of the product in the informal market
which is fed by diversions from businesses, entities and personal
allotment that is given to some professionals like doctors.

From eight Cuban pesos (CUPs) per liter, petroleum suddenly rose to 15
on the so-called black market, while in the state service centers the
equivalent is sold for 24 CUPs per liter (roughly 1$ US, or about $4 a

The government has responded by setting prices for private
transportation in some places like Havana and also started a cooperative
that tries to compete with individuals. However, the vintage taxis and
trucks managed by the self-employed continue to be one of the most
popular forms of transportation among the municipalities and provinces.

The carriers guild is quite big in the country but lacks its own union
which could press for an improvement in work conditions. More than 80%
of self-employed workers, according to official data, belong to the
official Workers Center of Cuba.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections
– Translating Cuba –

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Cuba to Trump: We are ready to deal Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:22:09 +0000 Cuba to Trump: We are ready to deal
By Jim Acosta, CNN
Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT) June 12, 2017
Source: CNN

Obama moved to normalize relations with Cuba
Trump has said he would rollback some of what Obama initiated
Washington (CNN)The Cuban government is signaling it is willing to enter
into detailed negotiations with the Trump administration as the White
House prepares to announce an expected rollback of former President
Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with the island.

Cuban President Raul Castro is open to a brokering a new agreement with
President Donald Trump, a high-level Cuban government official told CNN.
“We know they have a different view of the world. We understand that,”
the Cuban official said of Havana’s posture toward new negotiations.
In a tweet posted last November in the weeks following the US
presidential election, Trump warned he would scrap the Obama
administration’s diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba unless the Castro
government showed a willingness to reach a new agreement.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the
Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate deal,”
Trump said in a tweet.
A separate Cuban government official pointed to comments made by Raul
Castro in January.
“I wish to express Cuba’s willingness to continue negotiating pending
bilateral issues with the United States, on the basis of equality,
reciprocity and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our
country, and to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation on
issues of common interest with the new government of President Donald
Trump,” Castro said in a speech delivered less than one week after Trump
was sworn into office.
Nearly five months later, the Cuban government has yet to hear what
would constitute a “better deal” for Trump, the Cuban official said.
Havana, however, does not expect the Trump administration to completely
reverse the Obama administration policy and shutter the US Embassy in
the Cuban capital.
That would be the “nuclear option,” the Cuban official said.
The official raised concerns about news reports indicating the Trump
administration would clamp down on travel to the island for Americans, a
measure that would inflict more economic pain on cash-strapped Cubans
who are benefiting from increased US tourism to Cuba.
Trump is expected to announce his new policy toward Cuba on Friday in
Miami in the heart of the anti-Castro Cuban American community.

Such a move, the Cuban official cautioned, could destabilize improved
US-Cuban relations.
Either the US and Cuba will continue to normalize relations or not, the
official added.
“You cannot be half-pregnant,” the official said.
Another possible route for the Trump administration could be a return to
restrictions on American purchases of Cuban cigars and rum that existed
before the Obama administration.
That appears to be less of a concern to Cuba which would continue to
sell those popular items all over the world.
“We will sell them to somebody else,” the official said.
Havana is hopeful Trump will listen to pro-Cuban trade voices within his
administration, such as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
As governor of Georgia in 2010, Perdue traveled to the island to promote
agricultural commerce with Cuba.
But the Cuban official who spoke to CNN said Havana is concerned Trump
is instead listening to Cuban-American hawks in Washington, such as Sen.
Marco Rubio, R-Florida. Rubio has pressed Trump to roll back Obama’s
Cuba policies. Last week, Rubio was one of a handful of GOP lawmakers
invited to the White House for dinner with the President.
Asked to comment on Cuba’s willingness to negotiate, Trump
administration officials did not respond.

Source: Cuba to Trump: We are ready to deal – –

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Trump Expected To Restrict Trade, Travel With Cuba Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:11:35 +0000 Trump Expected To Restrict Trade, Travel With Cuba
Updated at 8:19 p.m. ET

President Trump is preparing to announce changes in U.S. policy toward
Cuba, possibly tightening restrictions on travel and trade that were
loosened under former President Barack Obama.

Trump is expected to announce the changes in Miami on Friday.

The move was confirmed by a congressional source with direct knowledge
of the situation.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been leading the push for a more
restrictive policy, along with his fellow Cuban-American, Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

The changes could make it more difficult for Americans to visit the
island and for U.S. companies to do business there. The Obama
administration ended decades of economic and diplomatic isolation of
Cuba, in hopes that renewed engagement would lead to reforms in the
communist country.

The White House declined to discuss the pending changes.

“When we have an announcement on the president’s schedule, we’ll let you
know,” said spokesman Sean Spicer. “But just stay tuned.”

Advocates for greater engagement with Cuba warn the administration’s
changes could be costly.

“This is the opposite of ‘America First.’ This is America last,” said
James Williams, who leads the nonpartisan lobbying group Engage Cuba.

He warns that reduced travel and trade with Cuba could cost thousands of
American jobs.

Travel to the island is already limited to visitors in 12 authorized
categories, but there is little enforcement. And with renewed commercial
air service, visits to Cuba have soared.

The administration is considering stepped up policing to discourage
pleasure travel and limiting visitors to one trip per year.

Williams says that would be especially hard on Cuban-Americans with
relatives on the island.

“Imagine, your mother is sick in Cuba,” Williams said. “You might have
to decide between going to see her in the hospital bed before she dies
or going to the funeral. And that is just tragic.”

Polls suggest a majority of Americans support greater engagement with
Cuba. Last month, 55 senators sponsored legislation that would further
relax travel restrictions.

The opening has also led to modest changes in Cuba, with increased
revenue for small-business owners and Internet hot spots in Havana.

“I think Cubans in Cuba will be terribly disheartened” by the renewed
restrictions, said Carlos Gutierrez, who served as commerce secretary
under former President George W. Bush. “This decision will not play well
anywhere, except for in those very cloistered spots in South Florida
where Sen. Rubio and Mario Diaz-Balart have constituents.”

Shortly before Trump’s inauguration, Rubio said in a statement that he
was heartened the new administration would reverse “the failed Cuba
policy of the last two years.”

When the Obama administration policy was first rolled out in late 2014,
Rubio blasted the move.

“Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with
Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all
levers of power. This administration’s attempts to loosen restrictions
on travel in recent years have only served to benefit the regime,” he
said in a statement. “But most importantly, the regime’s brutal
treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are
harassed, imprisoned and even killed.”

Source: President Trump Is Planning More Restrictive Cuba Policy : NPR –

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South Florida companies hoping to preserve Cuba gains await new Trump rules Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:02:50 +0000 South Florida companies hoping to preserve Cuba gains await new Trump rules
Arlene Satchell
Sun Sentinel

When U.S.-based airlines and cruise lines flew or sailed through former
President Barack Obama’s historic opening to Cuba, few expected that the
door might be slammed shut or partially closed by his successor in the
White House.

But that’s the prospect those and other American companies are likely to
face this week as President Donald J. Trump prepares to announce
policies that could reimpose curbs on travel and business with the
Communist island.

Citing little progress by the Cuban government to improve human rights,
Florida lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart have urged Trump to restore travel restraints under the
long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Havana.

South Florida could be the epicenter for fallout as the majority of
commercial flights and cruises that launched from the U.S. originate
from Florida airports and seaports.

A recent economic impact study by the advocacy group Engage Cuba
concluded that a complete rollback of the current policy on Cuba could
cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect 12,295 jobs nationwide
during Trump’s first term in office, according to a recent economic
impact study by the advocacy group Engage Cuba. Of that amount, airlines
and cruise lines would lose $3.5 billion with 10,154 jobs impacted. The
Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is seeking an end to the embargo.

After restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, Obama signed a
series of executive orders that gave U.S. businesses a small beach head
for doing business in Cuba.

Their reversal could have a “significant impact” in South Florida since
the region became a “jumping off place to Cuba,” said John Thomas, an
associate professor of hospitality law at Florida International
University. Business from visitors in transit to and from Cuba could
also be at risk if flights and cruises sharply declined or disappeared,
Thomas said.

In a blog post Sunday, John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade
and Economic Council in New York, said the Trump administration is
weighing “ending self-directed travel and returning to group-only travel
for educational and people-to-people programs.”

A snapshot of locally based services and other commerce with Cuba includes:

Airlines: JetBlue and Southwest offer regular nonstop service to select
Cuban cities including Havana from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood
International Airport. Delta and American fly from Miami International

Cruise lines: South Florida-based Carnival Corp., Norwegian Cruise Line
Holdings and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. offer Caribbean itineraries
with one or more Cuba stops from Port Everglades, PortMiami or Tampa.

Pearl Seas Cruises of Connecticut operated a series of 10-night voyages
to Cuba earlier this year from Port Everglades and has plans for more.

Finance: Since 2015, Stonegate Bank of Pompano Beach has maintained a
relationship with Banco Internacional de Comercio to provide money
transfer services for companies operating in Cuba. It also offers a
Cuba-enabled U.S. credit card to travelers visiting the country.

Freight: Since 2001, Crowley Maritime Corp. has provided container
freight service to Cuba from Port Everglades, transporting mostly
poultry and other food products.

Under Obama’s liberalized rules, Americans are allowed to visit the
island without a license and need not travel in organized groups
provided the purpose of their trips falls under one of 12 categories.
They include family visits, research, or educational activities for
“people-to-people” exchanges.

Since the diplomatic rapprochement, many companies used the rules as
leeway to set up businesses in Cuba and establish contacts with
government agencies.

“Our new relationship with Cuba has led to tangible results for American
companies, created U.S. jobs, and strengthened Cuba’s growing private
sector,” said James Williams, Engage Cuba’s president. “If President
Trump rolled back our Cuba policy, he would add job-killing government
regulations on U.S. businesses. Reimposing restrictions on traveling to
Cuba would force Americans to jump through even more bureaucratic hoops
to exercise their right to travel freely.”

Most local company representatives and South Florida legal advisers were
hesitant to discuss any damage tighter regulations might bring.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen at this point,” said David
Seleski, CEO of Stonegate Bank. He said the bank does not maintain
physical storefronts in Cuba and has no concerns about getting its money
out. Still, if U.S.-Cuba financial regulations were to change, fewer
money transfers and less spending on those credit cards might be the result

While Cuba represents a small percentage of the cruise operators’
business, trips have resonated well with consumers and represent a
long-term growth potential, cruise executives have said.

But the companies indicated they have the flexibility to stage a retreat.

“Because our assets are mobile, our ships can be rerouted as needed to
alternate destinations if there is ever an issue that arises with any of
our itineraries,” said Roger Frizzell, a Carnival Corp. spokesman

For some American interests, the uncertainty has caused them to place
future Cuba business plans on hold, said Hector Chichoni, partner at the
Duane Morris law firm in Miami.

Chichoni said he is advising clients to tread carefully and ensure they
follow existing rules. But he said some are “going for it,” enticed by
the prospects for profits in telecommunications, healthcare and hospitality.

Peter Quinter, a Miami lawyer at GrayRobinson who also counsels clients
on Cuba, agreed caution is merited.

“I remain concerned about the enforcement of contracts under Cuban law,
but executives and entrepreneurs interested in doing business with the
Cuban government already know that doing so is not for the timid,” he said.

Source: South Florida companies hoping to preserve Cuba gains await new
Trump rules – Sun Sentinel –

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Will Congress pass bills to encourage Cuba trade, farm labor changes? Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:00:54 +0000 Will Congress pass bills to encourage Cuba trade, farm labor changes?
The view from the Louisiana Secretary of Agriculture
David Bennett | Jun 12, 2017

With crop prices low and too many rural communities economically
sluggish, recent news out of the White House hasn’t helped disperse
lingering dark clouds. The Trump administration put forth a budget that
would slash USDA programs, has made rumblings that trade advances made
late last year with Cuba would be rolled back and hasn’t seemed to focus
on continuing calls from the U.S. agriculture sector for more foreign
farm labor.

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain – who also heads the
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) –
admits the cuts to USDA are troubling but something the White House is
open to revisit.

“If you look at the budget cuts to USDA, those are slated at 20 percent
discretionary and 8 percent overall. We’re just starting the discussion
on some of the things like the Market Access Program (MAP) and the
program for farm market development. We’re going to work to have money
put back into these programs. If you look at MAP, for every dollar spent
we get back almost $50 in sales. That’s all about trade.

“So, we’ll be working with (Agriculture Secretary) Sonny Perdue on that.
We already visited on this about two weeks ago when I was in Washington.
That was a topic of intense discussion along with Ray Starling, the
president’s advisor on agriculture and trade. Starling and I will talk
again (June 8).”

At the end of the day, “especially since the commodity section of the
agriculture budget is such a small portion of the overall federal
budget, we’ll make significant strides in putting some of those dollars
back. When you look at the value of those programs, they spur rural
economic development and that enhances the overall commerce of the
entire United States.

“Look at the Office of Rural Development. Producers will remember when a
number of offices were shut down a few years back. Right now, the
offices have to be within 30 miles of each other on average. Get farther
apart than that and people won’t take advantage of their services. They
don’t want to have to drive an hour.

“They’re also talking about cutting 970 positions from the Farm Services
Agency. But this is only where the discussions begin and the next farm
bill will likely take more than a year to draft. We all understand our
money must be invested wisely because the farm bill impacts agriculture,
which is the largest industry in America.”

As for Cuba, Kurt Guidry, an LSU agricultural economist, says there is
“definitely potential for trade impacting the Mid-South. For fiscal year
2014/2015, Cuba’s total agriculture imports were at $1.9 billion. The
United States had about a $300 million share of that, mostly in poultry.
We sold them about $30 million each of soybeans and corn.”

While no U.S. rice was sold to in 2014 “if you look at it historically,
we used to sell a lot to Cuba. In 2014, of that $1.9 billion in Cuban
imports, about 11 percent of that was rice. That would mean about a $200
million to $250 million market for our rice. That’s significant and
would mean a nice opening for Mid-South rice growers.

“If you take the ag commodities we were exporting in the late 1950s and
consider it in current dollars, it would about a $600 million market for
us. The credit restrictions are really hampering our export efforts. We
can’t sell to them on credit so they go elsewhere to find what they need.”

Strain’s belief agricultural trade with Cuba won’t be pushed back is
buoyed by action in Congress. “There has been a potential compromise
reached with (Arkansas) Rep. Crawford’s bill. That would allow private
institutions, not government, to enter into agreements and more
normalization of trade with Cuba.

“In return, there would be a 2 percent surcharge or export tariff or
duty paid for by the seller. That would go into a fund at the U.S.
Treasury for reparation claims to draw from. That’s on the table and
both sides are working on it.

“If we can start trade through that mechanism then I’ll support it. My
understanding is that is gaining strength in Congress.”

What about immigrant farm labor?

“There’s also a bill in Congress introduced by (Louisiana) Rep. (Clay)
Higgins addressing farm labor,” says Strain. “It would provide for a
three-year returning guest worker. The first year, the worker would
count against the cap (on numbers of workers allowed into the country)
and the last two years they wouldn’t count.

“I’m a supporter of that approach. I’ve long been an advocate of a
returning guest worker provision where you would have to go through all
the red tape only one time.”

Is the White House amenable to greasing the skids for farm labor?

“I think so. I don’t think it’s the White House’s intent, at all, to
restrict labor for agriculture. I think the White House understands that
without those laborers the work simply won’t get done. We all know that.
Those returning guest workers actually protect American jobs. They
average guest worker protects four American jobs.”

Source: Strain Louisiana Mid-South Cuba trade farm labor H-2B –

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Finnair seeks to connect China to Cuba via Helsinki Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:59:21 +0000 Finnair seeks to connect China to Cuba via Helsinki
Jun 8, 2017 Aaron Karp

Finnair believes it can compete with Air China in connecting Chinese
passengers to Cuba when it launches Helsinki-Havana flights in December,
CEO Pekka Vauramo said.

Finnair, which is the midst of a period of rapid expansion, plans to
launch 2X-weekly Helsinki-Havana flights with an Airbus A350-900 Dec. 1.
The service will be seasonal, operating until March 23, 2018.

Speaking to ATW on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Cancun, Vauramo said
Finnair is eyeing a larger market than just passengers traveling to
Havana from Helsinki. “We see market connectivity from China to Cuba
through Helsinki,” he said. “There is demand in China for service to Cuba.”

Finnair currently operates flights from Helsinki to Beijing, Shanghai,
Chongqing, Guangzhou and Xi’an.

Beijing-based Air China operates a weekly Beijing-Montreal-Havana
routing with a Boeing 777-300ER, and has indicated it will eventually
switch to a 787-9 on the route. Vauramo said Chinese passengers may view
connecting to Havana via Helsinki on Finnair’s A350s as a more desirable
way to travel between China and Cuba.

Finnair has nine A350s in its fleet currently and is scheduled to
receive two more this year, Vauramo said.

While the Cuba market has proved frustrating for US airlines,
“international traffic on non-US airlines has been very strong into Cuba
for the last few years,” IATA regional VP-Americas Peter Cerda said
during a briefing at the AGM.

Aaron Karp

Source: Finnair seeks to connect China to Cuba via Helsinki | Airports &
Routes content from ATWOnline –

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Trump policy change on Cuba coming, but he has not made decision yet Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:55:07 +0000 Trump policy change on Cuba coming, but he has not made decision yet

President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce a revised policy on
relations with Cuba on Friday in Miami, but a White House spokeswoman
told el Nuevo Herald that Trump had not yet seen the final
recommendations following a lengthy review and has not made a decision.

“The president has not seen the final proposal and has not approved it.
He is a very independent president in his way of thinking and it would
not be the first time he throws something back to be reviewed,” White
House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said.

She did say that the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana is one of
the places the White House has been looking at for events to be held in
the city.

The Miami Herald reported Monday that the theater canceled an event on
Friday from the Miami Royal Ballet apparently to make way for a White
House event.

Among the changes that would be considered by the Trump administration
are measures to limit business ventures between U.S. companies and Cuban
entities controlled by the military, in particular, those belonging to
the conglomerate known as GAESA, the economic arm of the Revolutionary
Armed Forces that controls nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy.

“The United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC) is expected to publish a list of Cuban entities
controlled by the” Cuban military, said John Kavulich, president of U.S.
Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Companies could be added to an OFAC
blacklist to ban financial transactions involving these companies, he added.

Asked about the alleged list on Monday, the Department of Treasury said
in a statement: “We don’t comment on investigations, and don’t have
additional sanctions to announce today.”

Aguirre Ferré said a proposal to prohibit business with GAESA, “is one
of the many possibilities discussed. It is being considered as one of
the many options.

“But almost everything is being looked at.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: President Donald Trump has not read Cuba policy review proposal
| Miami Herald –

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High on Cuba policy proposal: restricting U.S. business deals with Cuba’s military-run entities Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:53:45 +0000 High on Cuba policy proposal: restricting U.S. business deals with
Cuba’s military-run entities

Cuban-American members of Congress have been pushing the Trump
administration to restrict deals between U.S. companies and Cuban firms
controlled by the island’s military, as part of the new Trump policy
toward Cuba expected to be announced this week in Miami.

White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré confirmed Monday that the
proposal is under consideration, but added that it was “one of the many
possibilities under discussion.”

The possibility of restrictions put a spotlight on the military-run
companies, which are just about everywhere on the island.

If you’re a U.S. traveler in Cuba and you buy a bottle of water in the
supermarket or a souvenir in a store, or you rent a car or a hotel room,
it’s very likely that you’re putting money into the pockets of the
military-run GAESA, which experts say controls nearly 60 percent of the
Cuban economy.

GAESA, the Spanish acronym for Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.,
is the business conglomerate owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and
controls more than 50 enterprises, although the exact details are
difficult to establish.

GAESA operates in virtually every profitable area of the Cuban economy,
controlling hotel chains, car rental agencies and sales companies,
banks, credit card and remittance services, supermarkets, clothing
shops, real estate development companies, gasoline stations, import and
export companies, shipping and construction companies, warehouses and
even an airline.

Heading the conglomerate is army Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez
Calleja, who, according to various reports, is married or was married to
a daughter of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro.

One of the best known companies of GAESA is the Gaviota hotel chain,
which owns nearly 29,000 rooms around the country and serves an
estimated 40 percent of all the island’s foreign tourism.

Gaviota has signed management contracts for 83 percent of its rooms with
international hotel chains like Spain’s Meliá and the Swiss-based
Kempinski. It also has a deal with Sheraton’s Starwood chain to
administer the Four Points Hotel in Havana, a contract that was allowed
by policy changes under the Obama administration.

Gaviota also owns the Gran Hotel Manzana in Havana, Cuba’s first luxury
hotel, managed by the Kempinski group. Exclusive hotel shops that sell
Montblanc, Versace and Armani goods are owned by CIMEX, a Cuban business
conglomerate taken over by GAESA in 2010. CIMEX, founded by the Ministry
of the Interior, includes financial services, a chain of shops and
import and export agencies.

Restrictions by the Trump administration on doing business with Cuba’s
military-run companies, if imposed, would impact more than tourism
because GAESA operates in virtually every sector of the island’s economy
— with the exception of telecommunications and agriculture.

GAESA’s Almacenes Universales S.A., for example, controls the container
terminal in the Port of Mariel, which receives most of the cargo that
once arrived at the port of Havana. The terminal was built by Brazil’s
Odebrecht company, with funding from President Dilma Rousseff’s government.

Western Union has said that its operations in Cuba use the
infrastructure of FINCIMEX (Financiera Cimex) to send remittances to
Cuba. FINCIMEX also processes VISA and MASTERCARD transactions on the
island. FINCIMEX also handles remittances sent to Cuba through companies
like VaCuba.

And the room-rental company Airbnb, which saw its Cuba operations boom
after the Obama Administration approved it, may be affected by any
change because it pays home and apartment owners through VaCuba. Airbnb
declined to comment for this story.

The birth of GAESA goes back to the 1980s. But when Raúl Castro, who was
in charge of the military for more than five decades, replaced his
brother Fidel in 2006, military officers began taking more control of
the economy under the argument that they were more efficient than Cuban

Trump policy change on Cuba coming, but he has not made decision yet
GAESA expanded even further in 2016 when it took over Cuba’s
International Financial Bank (BFI) as well as Habaguanex, a corporation
that Fidel Castro had favored with a special license to run hotels,
shops and restaurants in Old Havana.


Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: High priority: restricting U.S. business deals with Cuba’s
military-run | Miami Herald –

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Trump’s announcement on Cuba could clash with Central American summit Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:46:27 +0000 Trump’s announcement on Cuba could clash with Central American summit

If President Donald Trump outlines his new Cuba policy in Miami on
Friday, it could upstage a Central American conference that is bringing
regional presidents and Mexican and U.S. Cabinet members to town this week.

Sources have told the Miami Herald that a presidential announcement of a
new Cuba policy could come as early as Friday, but a Friday announcement
would put the president on a collision course with the Central America
summit organized by the Department of Homeland Security and the State
Department. It’s also being held in Miami on Thursday and Friday.

It appears that the White House has already picked a venue for the
president to present his new take on Cuba: the Manuel Artime Theater.
Artime, who died in 1977, was a Cuban-American political leader with
Brigade 2506, the exile landing force that took part in the failed 1961
Bay of Pigs invasion. Brigade 2506, now largely a veterans organization,
endorsed Trump last October.

Scheduling the events for the same day would be “a strange juxtaposition
with enormous immediate implications in terms of migration and
narcotics,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at
American University.

The Central American conference will focus on security issues, drug
trafficking, and the violence and poverty that are pushing migrants out
of the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and
Honduras. It’s being co-convened with Mexico. Three Central American
presidents, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and top U.S. and Mexican
officials are scheduled to attend.

“We can’t solve these problems without Central American governments,”
said LeoGrande. If Trump were to roll back the Cuba opening while the
Central American presidents are in town, “he would be making an
announcement on Cuba policy that none of them support.”

Among steps Trump is reportedly considering are limiting travel by
Americans to the island and restricting American companies’ ability to
do business with entities controlled by the Cuban military. Sen. Marco
Rubio and Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the only two local Republican
members of Congress who backed Trump, have been pushing the president to
roll back the opening by then-President Barack Obama.

One of the reasons that Obama gave for the rapprochement that began in
December 2014 with Cuba was that continued isolation of the island by
the United States was hampering its relationships with other Latin
American countries.

“I think Mexico is more likely to criticize a change in Cuba policy
publicly [than the Central American countries],” said LeoGrande “It’s
very likely they will voice solidarity with Cuba in confronting the
administration and the United States.” The Central American countries,
which are scheduled to get far less American aid in Trump’s proposed
budget, might be a bit more reticent in public, he said.

A Friday announcement on Cuba still appears to be a bit up in the air.

During a call with reporters on Monday about the Conference on
Prosperity and Security in Central America, Deputy Assistant Secretary
of State John Creamer said the Trump-mandated review of Obama’s
executive orders on Cuba continues.

“I’m not going to speculate on when the policy review will be completed.
It will finish when it finishes,” said Creamer. “Once we have the policy
review completed, the president will announce the policy at the time and
place of his choosing.”

Trump has said that the United States should have gotten a better deal
in its rapprochement with Cuba and in recent months he has been highly
critical of the island’s human-rights record.

With the conclusion of the review appearing imminent, those on both
sides of Cuba policy were making last-minute cases for and against a change.

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas said he would support action to
prevent U.S. business dealings with GAESA, the military conglomerate
that controls much of Cuba’s tourism enterprises as well as distribution
of goods, the container port and special economic development zone at
Mariel, and scores of other enterprises.

High on Cuba policy proposal: restricting U.S. business deals with
Cuba’s military-run entities
Such measures, he said, would go “directly to the jugular of the regime,
to the economic power of the military.” In response to the Obama
opening, he said, the Cuban government, “intensified repressive measures.”

But not all dissidents favor a harder line against Cuba. More
restrictions, said independent journalist Miriam Leiva, could result in
even more suffering for the Cuban people and a further crackdown on
their rights, she said. “Restrictions on trips by Americans would hurt
fruitful people-to-people exchanges, primarily [exchanges} of knowledge,
experiences, the ventures of the self-employed workers, information,
culture, sports and other things.”

The Cuba Study Group, which includes Cuban-American business and civic
leaders who favor engagement, sent a letter to Trump on Monday saying
“we strongly believe it would be a mistake if the U.S. reversed the
steady progress made toward normalization. Returning to a policy of
isolation would only contravene the wishes of most Cubans and Cuban
Americans and threaten U.S. national security, commercial opportunities
and jobs.”

“They also warned that a reversal would be a “political error, one that
would reverberate in the mid-term Congressional elections of 2018 and

Engage Cuba also circulated a Morning Consult national poll on Monday
that showed 65 percent of American voters support maintaining Obama
administration Cuba policy and that six of 10 Republicans would like to
keep Obama-era policies, which relaxed travel and trade restrictions. It
surveyed 2,000 registered voters across and the country and has a margin
of error of 2 percentage points.

“The political and personal interests of two members of Congress should
not outweigh the will of the American people and the best interests of
Cubans on the island,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba.

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei and el Nuevo reporter Nora Gámez
Torres contributed to this report.

Source: Trump’s new Cuba policy could undermine Central American summit
| Miami Herald –

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From Worse to Impossible (and We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet) Mon, 12 Jun 2017 19:34:13 +0000 Cuba: From Worse to Impossible (and We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet) / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 3 June 2017 — In coming days when the administration of the
unpredictable Donald Trump, following four months of review, announces
its Cuba policy, it could be that Obama’s guidelines are retained save
for touch-ups of a few items such as doing business with military
enterprises that directly benefit the dictatorship.

Good news for the regime would be that the White House were to maintain
the status quo.

To appease the internal dissident movement and a segment of the historic
exile community that supported his election bid, Trump will demand
respect for human rights, economic liberty and freedom of expression,
and blah, blah, blah.

But the Castroite autocracy will counterattack with plausible and
powerful arguments.

And it will point a finger at the Trump administration, which accuses
his own country’s press of being his worst enemy and which makes
multi-million-dollar deals with the Saudi monarchy, a government that
violates innumerable human rights and reduces women to mere objects. All
of which makes it not the best moral paragon to speak of freedoms.

During the Obama era–my god, how the regime misses him–Castroism did not
allow small private businesses to access credit nor import products from
the US.

The Cuban government’s strategy is simple. They want to do business with
the powerful Norte, all comers, but with state–or military–run concerns
as the sole partners.

If Trump maintains the scenario unfolded by Obama, i.e., academic,
cultural, business and political exchanges between both nations, Raúl
Castro will probably make his move and grant greater autonomy to small
private businesses on the Island so as to placate the New York real
estate mogul.

Not a few small private entrepreneurs, perhaps the most successful ones,
are children or relatives of the olive-green caste, and they head up
successful enterprises such as the Star Bien paladar (private
restaurant), or the Fantasy discotheque.

If the panorama does not change, the regime will continue its diplomatic
and academic offensive, utilizing its agents of influence in the US to
continue efforts to bring down the embargo, or at least weaken it until
it becomes a useless shell.

For the olive green autocracy, the plan to counteract that “damn
obsession of US elites with democracy and liberties” involves conducting
sterile negotiations that only buy time.

The Palace of the Revolution wants to change, but only in the style of
China or Vietnam. It does not understand how those two communist
countries can partner with the US while Cuba cannot. Castroite strategy
is headed in that direction.

There are two subliminal messages coming from the military junta that
governs the Island.

First: With an authoritarian government of social control in place,
political stability is assured and there is no risk of a migratory
avalanche or of the Island becoming a base of operations for Mexican
drug cartels.

Second: Were there to be a change that provoked the people to take to
the streets, the Island could become a failed state.

Trump, who is not known for his democratic qualities and has the
discernment of an adolescent, could take the bait and do an about-face.
“After all,” he might think, “if we’re partners with the monarchies in
the Gulf, we continue to buy oil from the detestable Maduro government,
and I want to make a deal with Putin, what difference if I play a little
tongue hockey with Raúl Castro or his successor?”

But Trump is an uncontrollable reptile. And Cuba is not a center of
world power, and it has a small market and laughable consumer power.
Thus it could be that Trump will play the moralist and make demands that
not even he himself lives up to, just to satisfy the Cuban-American
political bloc in Miami.

Whatever happens, Trump has begun shooting tracer bullets. His
announcement of a drastic $20 million cut in funding for dissident
projects favors the Havana regime.

It is likely that this was not Trump’s intention. But remember that he
is not a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is a man in his third age with
the mind of a primary school student.

With all that the Island autocracy is going through–reductions in
petroleum from Venezuela and a crisis that could annihilate Venezuelan
President Nicolás Maduro, leaving Cuba bereft of an important economic
support; Russia supplied a shipment of fuel but is asking where will the
money come from next time; and a Raúl Castro who is supposedly destined
to surrender power–for the military mandarins the scene that is coming
into view at the moment is the worst possible.

Don’t worry about the repression. Hard-core dissidents will never want
for punches and slaps. But in a country at its breaking point, any spark
can give rise to a conflagration of incalculable proportions.

Right now, the average salary in Cuba is 27 dollars per month, but to
live decently requires 15 times that amount. And Havana, the capital of
the Republic, has gone for a week without water.

Food prices are through the roof. Public transit has gone from bad to
worse. And, as if we were living in Zurich, Samsung has opened on the
west side of the city a store (more like a museum) where a 4K Smart TV
goes for $4,000, and a Samsung 7 Edge costs $1,300, double its price in
New York.

Havanans, mouths agape, go to gaze and take selfies with their cheap
mobiles. This is the snapshot of Cuba. A mirage. And all during a
stagnant economic crisis dating back 27 years which few venture to guess
when it will end.

While we thought we were in bad shape, the reality is that we could be
worse off. And nobody knows when we will hit bottom.

Iván García

Photo: In the entryway of the Plaza Hotel, in the heart of the capital,
a beggar uses a nylon bag containing her belongings as a “pillow.” To
the side is an empty cigar box collecting coins from passersby. This
image is part of The Black Beggars of Havana, a photo essay by Juan
Antonio Madrazo published in Cubanet.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Cuba: From Worse to Impossible (and We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet) /
Iván García – Translating Cuba –

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How will President Trump change Obama’s Cuba policy? Mon, 12 Jun 2017 18:56:05 +0000 How will President Trump change Obama’s Cuba policy?
Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
Sunday, June 11, 2017 9:12pm

?President Donald Trump is expected to announce his changes on Friday.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to roll back parts of
President Barack Obama’s improvement of relations with Cuba, siding with
hawks who oppose detente and rejecting demands from U.S. businesses that
see the island as a ripe potential market.

The decision follows an interagency administration review of Obama’s
initiative and would be a return to some polices that date to the Cold War.

The review is believed to have been completed some time ago, with White
House officials waiting for the best time to release it. Trump could
make the announcement Friday in Miami, the Miami Herald has reported.

The action could dull a boom in tourism by Americans to Cuba and hurt a
burgeoning cottage industry of private enterprise on the socialist-ruled

The Tampa Bay area — home to the third-largest Cuban-American population
in the United States — has made full use of the Obama policy changes:

• There are cruises from Port Tampa Bay to Havana, and daily commercial
flights now link Cuba and Tampa International Airport.

• The Florida Aquarium has forged a partnership with the National
Aquarium in Havana on finding ways to restore dying coral reefs in the
Caribbean; cultural exchanges with the island nation involve interests
from both Tampa and St. Petersburg; local universities are involved in
educational opportunities in Cuba.

• Parishioners of St. Lawrence Catholic Church of Tampa raised $95,000
to construct the first new Roman Catholic Church in Cuba in nearly 60 years.

• Perhaps most importantly to those locals in favor of normalized
relations with Cuba — especially Cuban-Americans — has been the
opportunity to reconnect with the nation whose immigrants helped to
establish the city of Tampa, its culture and its cigar rolling industry
that when allowed to use Cuban tobacco was the largest in the world.

Some Trump supporters argue, however, that President Raúl Castro has not
improved human rights or expanded political freedoms and does not
deserve better relations with the United States.

Human rights is “something that’s very strong to him. It’s one of the
reasons that he’s reviewing the Cuba policy,” White House press
secretary Sean Spicer said in a recent briefing.

Two Cuban-American Republican lawmakers from Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio
and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have lobbied Trump against Cuba. Proponents
of continued dialogue and trade, including farm states, businesses, the
tourism industry and even a group of retired military officers, have
similarly lobbied Congress.

Two years before he left office, Obama revealed the results of what had
been a long series of secret negotiations: The United States and Cuba
were renewing diplomatic relations after half a century of hostility.

In the months that followed, American entrepreneurs, tourists and
congressional delegations beat a path to the shores of the island that
was for so long largely forbidden.

U.S. hotel chains signed deals, and airlines and cruise ships scheduled
dozens of tours to Havana and other Cuban cities. Chicken, grain and
other agricultural producers in Louisiana, Kansas and other farm states
exported tons of products to the island nation.

Cuba and the United States reopened embassies in each other’s capital,
which had been closed in 1961.

Ordinary Cubans, long denied access to the Internet, suddenly were able
to go online. Castro allowed Cubans to travel out of the country more
easily, and an estimated 20 percent of the economy is now in private
hands for the first time since Fidel Castro consolidated control after
the 1959 revolution.

Obama did not end the U.S. embargo imposed on Cuba in 1960. Only
Congress can do that, and Trump’s actions would stop the momentum to
repeal the embargo.

Trump is not expected to reverse all of the Cuba openings, according to
people familiar with the review process. He is not likely to close the
U.S. Embassy in Havana, nor would he reimpose restrictions on the
remittances that Cuban Americans in the United States send to their
families in Cuba, which would anger a large Florida voter base.

He would probably also leave in place Obama’s ending of the so-called
“wet foot, dry foot” special immigration status only for Cubans. Obama
scrapped the policy in January, saying that normalized relations meant
Cubans should follow the same rules as other migrants and refugees.

Trump would likely revert to pre-Obama restrictions on travel by
Americans to Cuba. The new policy allows Americans who are making
educational or cultural trips to Cuba to initiate their own travel there
without special permission from the U.S. government and without a
licensed tour company.

Reversing it, or intensifying enforcement to require travelers to show
evidence that their trips are legal, would probably slow the recent
influx of American tourism to Cuba to a trickle, leaving airlines that
have started direct flights there with fewer customers to serve.

Trump could also restore limits on the amount of rum and cigars that
American travelers can bring home.

And the president is weighing an increase in funding for the U.S. Agency
for International Development for programs that promote democracy in
Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as
covert efforts to overthrow it.

Leading Cuban dissidents say the situation for human rights has
worsened. José Daniel Ferrer García, head of Cuba’s largest opposition
group, said harassment and arrests of dissidents have increased in the
past year.

“The United States must continue to be the first defender of those who
lack rights and freedoms in the world,” Ferrer wrote in an open letter
to Trump. He called for sanctions against the Castro regime.

Rubio, one of the chief hard-liners on Cuba, said recently, “I am
confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by
making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the
Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty.”

As the White House labored in March to corral Republican votes for an
unpopular health care overhaul measure, Diaz-Balart asked for assurances
from Trump that he would hold to the hard line on Cuba he laid out in
his campaign. Diaz-Balart supported the measure and has played an
influential role in shaping the new Cuba policy.

“It is my duty to advocate for the issues that are important to my
constituents, and I will not apologize for using every available avenue
to effectively resolve them,” he said in a statement.

Among the measures the Trump administration is considering are proposals
pressed by Rubio and Diaz-Balart to block transactions between American
companies and firms that have ties to the Cuban military. Such a
restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals,
such as the one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to
manage hotels in Cuba.

“This is a return to the old playbook of creating ambiguity and
uncertainty so that nobody knows what is permissible and what isn’t, and
it would add another level of legal exposure to doing business in Cuba,”
said Robert L. Muse, a Washington lawyer who specializes in U.S. law
regarding Cuba. “It would add one more obstacle to the obstacle course,
which is already pretty complex.”

Times staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report, which contains
information from the New York Times.

Source: How will President Trump change Obama’s Cuba policy? | News
update, news roundup | Tampa Bay Times –

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Drug smuggling a risk if US relations with Cuba shift, officials say Mon, 12 Jun 2017 18:50:02 +0000 Drug smuggling a risk if US relations with Cuba shift, officials say
By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Updated 1005 GMT (1805 HKT) June 12, 2017

Havana, Cuba (CNN)For Cuban officials on the front lines of the fight
against drug trafficking, the Trump administration’s threat to roll back
improved relations between the United States and the communist-run
island comes at a dangerous moment.

In rare interviews, two officials in charge of Cuban drug enforcement
efforts told CNN they have seen an increase in smuggling just as US
cooperation seems to be wavering.
The officials, both with Cuba’s Interior Ministry, said that since
President Barack Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” provision in 2016
that gave Cubans preferential immigration treatment, smugglers who once
brought Cuban migrants into the United States aboard high-speed boats
are now increasingly bringing drugs across the Straits of Florida.
“There’s been a readjustment,” said Lt. Col. Héctor González Hernández,
head of Cuba’s Counterdrug Directorate, “We have evidence that the
criminal networks are changing from human trafficking to drug
trafficking or both at the same time.”
So far in 2017, Cuban officials say they have seized or recovered nearly
3 tons of marijuana and cocaine from drug traffickers, more than triple
the amount of drugs they seized during the first six months of last year.
‘We are waiting to see what happens’
At the same time, Cuban officials said, two meetings with their
counterparts in the United States scheduled to take place in 2017 to
discuss drug trafficking have either been canceled or postponed as the
Trump administration prepares to roll back US-Cuban relations that
thawed under the Obama administration.
“We are waiting to see if it happens,” Col. Victor Lopez Bravo, of the
Cuban coast guard and border patrol, said of the meetings in which law
enforcement officials from both countries discuss tactics and share
intelligence. “It’s up to the United States to announce and invite us to
the next meeting. We hope it happens because it really is beneficial for
both countries,” he said.
Trump is expected to announce in a speech before an anti-Castro crowd in
Miami on Friday that he will roll back parts of the Obama
administration’s opening with Cuba, the most significant improvement to
US-Cuban relations in decades.
Trump’s Cuba policy is being finalized, US officials said, but he is
expected to revert to a tougher line on Cuba and blast the Cuban
government for human rights abuses. One measure still being considered,
a White House source said, is barring Cuban officials and Communist
Party members from visiting the United States.
If adopted, the measure could potentially chill the nascent
collaboration on a wide range of issues, including drugs.

Castro decreed ‘zero tolerance’ on narcotics
Just 90 miles from Key West, Cuba’s 3,570 miles of coastline and more
than 4,000 keys have long made the island a favored area of operation
for smugglers, bringing alcohol during Prohibition and later drugs to
the United States.
Pre-revolution Havana was run by the American Mafia and awash in illegal
drugs. For many American visitors the city’s debauched nightlife was
their first opportunity to snort cocaine or visit an opium den. “One
could obtain anything at will,” wrote Graham Greene of the city,
“whether drugs, women or goats.”
But in 1959, when Fidel Castro took power, he decreed a policy of “zero
tolerance” on narcotics. Anyone in possession of drugs ensnared by the
revolution’s layers of police and informants faced a lengthy prison
sentence, or sometimes a firing squad.
Nearly overnight, drugs in Cuba — other than some marijuana grown deep
in the mountains or the rare kilo of cocaine that washed up from a
smuggling run gone bad — became impossible to obtain.
But in 1989, the Cuban government’s reputation for combating drug
trafficking was dealt a devastating blow when 13 military and interior
ministry officials were discovered to be conspiring with drug cartels to
allow shipments of cocaine through Cuban territory to the United States.
Four Cuban officials, including a highly decorated general named Arnaldo
Ochoa, were tried and executed for their roles in the scheme, and dozens
more were purged as part of a scandal that rocked Cuba at the highest
Since then, US officials say Cuba has stepped up efforts to crack down
on smuggling and cooperated with the United States, a rarity in the
Caribbean, where rampant corruption often means the officials tasked
with fighting drug trafficking benefit handsomely from turning a blind eye.

Tons of illegal drugs intercepted
Cuban officials told CNN that, despite political differences with the
United States, they have provided key intelligence to help capture
smugglers. According to Bravo, the Cuban Interior Ministry official, the
Cubans in the last 10 years have tipped off the United States to over
500 smuggling operations, and from 2003 to 2016 seized or recovered over
40 tons of marijuana, cocaine and hashish.
“We have prevented a huge quantity of drugs from coming into the US,” he
In 1996, Cuban officials turned over to the United States 6 tons of
cocaine seized from a Colombian freighter.
Since 2000, the US Coast Guard has based a liaison officer in Havana to
work with Cuban officials on maritime issues, including drug interdiction.
In December 2014, President Obama announced he would pursue a new policy
with Cuba that moved from Cold War-era confrontation to focus on areas
of mutual interest.
After the policy shift, Cuban and US drug enforcement officials began
holding regular meetings in Cuba and Florida and in 2016 signed an
agreement on law enforcement cooperation that for the first time allowed
US and Cuban boats chasing drug traffickers to be in direct contact
during those pursuits.
Previously, US and Cuban anti-drug units were not allowed to share
information without going through their superiors in Havana and Miami, a
delay that Cuban officials said often gave smugglers ample time to slip

Pipeline switches from Mexico to Caribbean
Cuba’s assistance, according to US officials, has been a rare bright
spot as drug traffickers shift back from smuggling through Mexico to
routes in the Caribbean.
“Despite its location between the largest exporters of illegal drugs in
the hemisphere and the US market, Cuba is not a major consumer, producer
or transit point of illicit narcotics,” said a 2016 US State Department
report on drug trafficking. “Cuba’s intensive security presence and
interdiction efforts have kept supply down and prevented traffickers
from establishing a foothold.”
Recently, Cuban officials said they have shared intelligence they
obtained with US counterparts on marijuana grow houses operated by Cuban
immigrants in Florida and on drug rings trying to smuggle synthetic
drugs into Cuba from the United States to supply the island’s
fast-growing tourist market.
Now Cuban officials worry that scaled back relations could degrade the
improved cooperation in the fight against drug traffickers.
“The biggest impact will be felt in the United States,” said Bravo.
“Cuba is not a country that the drugs are coming to. Fundamentally the
drugs go north. If there is a step backward in the cooperation the
impact will be felt in the US.”

Source: Drug smuggling a risk if US relations with Cuba shift, officials
say – –

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