After 62 years of dictatorship Cubans can finally enjoy the “exploding croqueta”

Havana resident Anselmo López Galves suffered burns all over his body when he tried to fry the croquetas. 

These croquetas in Cuba are explosive. Maker warns about ‘violence’ if not cooked right
The Miami Herald

Dozens of people in Cuba have complained in recent weeks that croquetas made by a state company are exploding when cooked and causing burns. Cubans have shared images of burned faces — and videos of the croquetas jumping out of hot oil — on social media.

After a multitude of complaints, the state company, Prodal, admitted its croquetas are prone to “violence” and warned customers to prepare them carefully.

“It is a common mistake when frying them. The oil should be about 180 degrees [356 degrees Fahrenheit] the croqueta should be at room temperature and you should not fry many at the same time. In the case of the Croqueta Criolla, they have a denser mass, and they open up with more ‘violence’,” Prodal posted on Twitter.
Havana resident Anselmo López Galves suffered burns all over his body when he tried to fry the croquetas. Other customers also shared videos and photos of the explosions and their consequences on their social media accounts.
López Galves said he started frying the croquetas after buying them at a state market on March 24.

“To my surprise, these croquetas began to explode in my face, causing burns all over my body and disfiguring my face,” López Galves said on Facebook.

López Galves said the doctor who treated him at the Calixto García hospital assured him that several people had come the same day with burns, victims of the explosive croquetas.

According to official data, Prodal produced 20,000 tons of food last year, including sausages, cold cuts and croquetas, which are sold in government stores.

Raúl Rodríguez, sports editor at Radio Havana Cuba, warned Cubans of the danger involved in frying croquettes, which he said blew up in a friend’s face.
“Be careful with the croquetas,” Rodríguez said on Facebook, and wondered if some of the ingredients in the popular item are the reason they can explode.

In Cuba, a country suffering severe food shortages, croquetas are popular, especially among lower income people.

Prodal has launched a campaign to teach Cubans how to fry its product.

“For your Croqueta Criolla Prodal to be perfect you have to fry them correctly. Before frying, bring them to room temperature. Heat plenty of oil to cover them. Take care that the oil does not blow away, ” the company said on Twitter.

Many users responded to the post with demands for an apology from the company and for the croquetas to be recalled.

“Make yourselves responsible and compensate the victims of your ineffectiveness, irresponsibility and lack of professionalism,” José Núñez Carvajal said on Twitter.

Tweeted Daniel Granda Fernández: “They should stop production until the problem is solved.”

New poll shows Cuban-American voters align with GOP

POLITICO March 16, 2021

A new poll of Cuban-American voters in Florida shows that an overwhelming majority is solidly opposed to the Biden administration reengaging with the island dictatorship — and their brief drift toward Democrats has been totally reversed.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, studies, exit polls and voting patterns indicated that the exiled community’s hardline positions about Cuba had begun to soften, prompting Obama to make a historic visit to the island in early 2016 — a move that brought a torrent of criticism from Florida Republicans including then-Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio.

But now 66 percent of those polled by Bendixen & Amandi International opposed reverting back to Obama policies toward Cuba. In a poll done by the same group in 2015, 51 percent backed the former president’s effort. The new poll also showed a major shift in support for keeping the decades-old trade embargo against Cuba. Six years ago, only 36 percent favored retaining the embargo. Now 66 percent say they favor keeping it in place. The poll also found a majority — 56 percent — oppose easing travel restrictions.

“We see the Cuban-American electorate has recalibrated and defaulted back to the hardline positions,” said Fernand Amandi, president of Bendixen & Amandi, who called it a “Back to the Future” moment for Cuban-Americans where their positions are similar to the ones they held in the 1980s and 1990s.

Cuban-Americans are one of the largest bloc of Hispanic voters in the state — and their support in the past for Republicans have helped the GOP maintain its winning record in the state. In the run-up to the 2020 election, Republicans successfully slammed Democrats as socialists, a message that resonated with Cuban-Americans and other groups that had fled Latin American countries led by dictators.

In 2016 in Florida, Trump won over an estimated 54 percent of Cuban-American voters to 41 percent for Hillary Clinton, who lost the state by nearly 113,000 votes. The new poll of 400 Cuban-American voters — all of whom voted in November — showed that 62 percent backed Trump this time around. And that support for Trump hasn’t cooled as 62 percent had a favorable opinion for the former president, compared to 45 percent who had a favorable opinion for Biden.

Trump’s surge due to support from Cuban-Americans was evident in Miami-Dade County. Four years earlier, Trump won only 34 percent of the nearly 1 million votes cast there. In 2020, he took 46 percent of the vote, losing the county by only about seven percentage points.

The Biden administration so far has taken a cautious approach to Cuba. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki earlier this month told reporters that a “Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” Psaki did say the administration was “carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.” The Trump administration made that change just days before Biden was sworn into office.

Scott, now a senator, said he was “not surprised” at the findings.

“The Cuban-American community rejected the Obama/Biden policy of dictatorship empowerment,” Scott said in a statement. “In contrast, the Trump administration implemented a policy of marginalizing the dictatorship to empower the Cuban people. The community has seen the direct impact of both policies and understands that now would be the worst time to throw another life-line to that murderous dictatorship.”

Rubio, in a statement, said Florida Democrats “naively believe” that the Cuba’s regime can be persuaded to change through tourism.

“Anyone that sides with this so-called ‘re-engagement’ doesn’t just play into the regimes hands, they also do so at their own political peril,” he said.

Amandi said the survey suggests that Democrats “are almost back to square zero when it comes to this group politically.”

“A lot of the gains Democrats were making and did make during the Obama years seemed to have been wiped out as a result of Trump’s four years in office,” said Amandi, who also works as a Democratic consultant.

The poll also had one other warning sign for Democrats: Some 40 percent of Cuban-Americans surveyed said they don’t believe the results of the 2020 election. Amandi called this finding an “ominous challenge” to win over Cuban-Americans in the future.

“As a Cuban-American it’s very troubling and disturbing that an uncomfortably high percentage of Cuban voters, many of who came to the United States to live in a democratic and free society, discounted the election results and buy into the big lie that the election was rigged,” Amandi said.

The latest poll was conducted March 8-11 among 400 registered Cuban-American voters and questions were asked in both Spanish and English. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

A note to consider for Cubans that have forgotten the facts of what a Dictator is :

  1. Wants military parades
  2. Holds huge rallies for no reason
  3. Is a narcissist who loves to see his name on buildings
  4. Appoints family members to important government positions
  5. Talks about jailing the press and his opponents
  6. Dreams about being president for life
  7. Keeps his finances a secret
  8. Enriches himself while in office
  9. Suppresses the vote

Remember Trump?

Biden’s No. 1 Task in Cuba? Find Out What Happened in Havana.

We still don’t know exactly how 26 American diplomats were injured in Havana in 2016 and 2017. But the evidence suggests Cuba at minimum failed to protect them.
POLITICO 03/11/2021
With President Joe Biden in the White House, Democratic lawmakers and Washington think tankers are bustling with ideas about how the United States might ease economic pressure against the Cuban regime. While the new administration has said U.S. policy toward Cuba is currently under review, Biden promised during the presidential campaign to reverse Donald Trump’s policies toward Cuba and return “in large part” to the level of engagement under his former boss, President Barack Obama, who took the step of normalizing relations with Havana.

But these are not normal times in which the United States has the luxury to debate the best approach to Cuba on normal terms—Republican or Democratic policies, sticks or carrots, maximum pressure or engagement. The starting point of any conversation about U.S. policy toward Cuba needs to be a piece of unfinished business from the previous administration: the still-unfolding mystery of how 26 American diplomats were injured in Havana in 2016 and 2017.

The exact origins of the injuries remain uncertain, but the known and emerging evidence suggests the Cuban regime is guilty, if not by commission then at least by omission, of injuring U.S. personnel. This episode represents a likely direct attack on one country’s citizens by another, and there has yet to be a full accounting of who is responsible and how it all happened, or a resolution. If the Biden administration is tempted to engage anew with Havana, it must first hold the Cuban government to account for what these American diplomats endured.

I had a unique window into the mystery of the Havana attacks while serving from 2017-19 in the State Department. A few months before my arrival, at least as early as December 2016, U.S. personnel in Havana began hearing loud, piercing sounds and feeling pressure in their heads. At first, American officials on the ground reasonably assumed this was another form of harassment or surveillance by Cuban security services, who had long antagonized U.S. personnel (and even their pets) in Havana—attempts to signal that the regime was watching and was fully in control.

But by early 2017, it became clear that what was happening to U.S. personnel was causing them injury. Their symptoms included headaches, balance problems, cognitive issues, hearing loss and sleep disruption. The U.S. chargé d’affaires in Havana raised the issue multiple times with the Cuban government starting in February 2017, including with then-President Raúl Castro. Yet the “incidents,” as they were called by State Department officials at the time, continued. As a result, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision to reduce U.S. staff in Havana and issue a travel warning in late September 2017, the month after the attacks became public.

Cuba consistently denied involvement. Instead, the regime has peddled the theory that the cause was mass psychogenic illness—aka. mass hysteria—among America’s diplomatic personnel. Conveniently, this theory absolves Cuba of blame, shifting it instead to the victims. Yet the theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny now, and never did.

For one, neurospecialists in Miami, as well as at a premier U.S. brain injury center in Pennsylvania, have documented physical injuries in the victims. The latter group published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 documenting that the 21 victims who were studied “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.” What’s more, it wasn’t just the cohort of Americans living in Cuba who were affected. U.S. officials who traveled to Havana on temporary duty, some for only a few days, also suffered injuries. So did at least 15 Canadian diplomats, who were working under less stressful conditions than their American counterparts, given that the Canadian government has long maintained a good relationship with the Cuban regime. Canada took the attacks so seriously that it, too, drew down its staff in Havana.

The most recent research—including a State Department-commissioned report released last year by the National Academy of Sciences—has concluded that the victims’ symptoms and experiences are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency energy on brain networks. The study concludes further that directed energy is the “most plausible” explanation for the symptoms suffered. Directed energy is not new as a tool of espionage; it has been used for years, including against the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in the 1970s.

The United States can draw three reasonable conclusions from the research suggesting pulsed energy was involved. First, the energy had to have been directed by actors, meaning at least one nation-state likely was involved. Second, U.S. and Canadian diplomats were deliberately targeted. Third, the “incidents” can appropriately be called “attacks” for which the Cuban government is at least partially responsible. Even if the original intent was spycraft and even if Cuba itself did not author the attacks, they continued for months after the United States had told the Cuban government that U.S. personnel were injured on Cuban soil, and Cuba failed to protect those Americans from injury.

It is possible that a third-country actor was involved in the attacks or was the primary actor. Media reports have pointed to Russia as the most likely perpetrator, or sometimes Iran or China. In 2017 and 2018, U.S. personnel in Guangzhou, China, experienced injuries consistent with those in Cuba. There also have been subsequent media reports of attacks against U.S. government personnel in Poland, Georgia, Australia and Taiwan.

Even if other countries were involved, however, it is impossible to conclude that dozens of attacks could have taken place in Havana without at least the knowledge—and tacit support—of the Cuban government. The Cubans are known for having air-tight control of the population in Havana, including closely tracking dissidents and foreign diplomats. Some of the American victims were staying in Cuban government-owned hotels, several of which were included in the travel warnings issued by the State Department in 2017 as a result of the attacks. In one case, a U.S. diplomat was attacked within hours of arriving in country. It is implausible that Cuban security services had no idea American travelers were attacked—and far more likely that the security services, or some factions within them, facilitated or carried out the attacks.

As to the Cubans’ potential motive, the timing is suggestive. Fidel Castro, the country’s longtime leader, died on November 25, 2016, just a month before the first attacks were reported to U.S. leadership at the embassy in Havana. Some observers have floated theories about internal tension within the Cuban regime after Fidel’s death, with different factions holding competing views about the opening with the United States, the Cuban economy and other policies. The attacks, the thinking goes, might have been the work of a faction that opposed warmer relations with Washington.

So, what should the new U.S. administration do now? The Biden administration recently signaled a continued focus on the Havana attacks by appointing a high-level coordinator in the State Department, mirroring the Trump administration’s tapping the deputy secretary of State to be the lead official coordinating the response. This is a good first step, but it is not sufficient. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are urging the new president to lift restrictions on Cuban travel and remittances, as well as the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. These calls demand nothing in return from the Cuban government—neither progress on human rights and democracy nor the cessation of support for the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, much less answers to how at least 26 Americans were injured in Havana.

Cuba almost certainly has information about the tools and method of attacks that could help the United States protect its personnel around the world. The United States should not ease economic pressure until that information is shared. If the new administration were to do so without first holding Cuba to account for the attacks, this would send the message that U.S. diplomats all over the world are fair game. The implication would be that there is no cost for injuring Americans, and in fact doing so wins you U.S. tourism and dollars.

The Biden administration has signaled that it will use a variety of strategies to hold other countries to account for their actions. The United States recently sanctioned Russian officials for the poisoning of a Russian opposition leader, for example, and launched airstrikes after rocket attacks against the U.S. facilities in Iraq. The administration must send a clear message that attacking or facilitating attacks on U.S. diplomats is not acceptable either. Accountability for the injuries of these 26 Americans must begin where the attacks started, in Havana.

‘I can’t buy food’: As Cuba’s economy worsens, desperate rafters risk their lives

The Miami Herald

Marisol Monteagudo’s son gave her a kiss goodbye as he headed out the door to spend a night out with friends in Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud.

What he didn’t tell her: That instead of grabbing a drink or watching a movie, they were planning to board a flimsy raft en route to Mexico.

That was three months ago. She hasn’t heard from him since.

“Only a mother can understand this pain,” Monteagudo, 62, said. “I know my son is alive. I just hope someone helps me find him.”

In recent months, U.S. Coast Guard officials have detected a new uptick in Cuban rafters, with the number intercepted at sea in the fiscal year that started in October already surpassing the total for the previous 12 months.

Though still vastly lower than previous surges, the recent increase has sparked concern that as economic and humanitarian conditions in Cuba worsen, more will risk their lives at sea. U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposal to transform the immigration system is also believed to be a driving factor.

“It’s a combination of the rising desperation of a good part of the Cuban population over deteriorating life conditions, as well as the illusion of getting to the United States under a president who is more tolerant of undocumented immigrants,” said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

According to U.S. Coast Guard figures, more than 100 Cubans have been caught at sea in the last five months, compared to 49 in all of the 2020 fiscal year.

Those rescued in recent weeks include three Cubans stranded on an island in the Bahamas for 33 days, surviving off of coconuts, rats, conch and snails. On Tuesday, authorities announced they’d rescued six men and two pregnant women aboard a raft made of Styrofoam and metal rods and apparently powered by a car engine.

“I threw myself into the sea because it’s not possible to live like this anymore,” said Beatriz, 28, who the Coast Guard found on a raft near Key West in January. “There’s nothing in the stores and with what I earn, I can’t buy food for my daughters.”

The mother of two daughters said she boarded a raft with eight neighbors after receiving a WhatsApp message indicating the new U.S. president would allow Cubans to enter.

After being returned, Cuban authorities told her she’d be fined 10,000 pesos – the equivalent of $416 – if she tried to flee again, said Beatriz, who asked only to be identified by her first name for fear of reprisal. On a recent afternoon, she said state security officials showed up to ask the neighborhood “Revolutionary Defense Committee” about her behavior.

“It’s as bad here as it has ever been,” she said.

Cuba is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nation’s GDP contracted 11% last year as the nation closed its borders to international travelers and tourism plummeted as a result of the pandemic. New economic reforms designed to boost the ailing economy have increased inflation. Many Cubans now wait in long lines to buy increasingly sparse supplies of basic goods like food.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, a Cuban exile who for decades has helped the “balseros,” described the current situation as “an exodus in slow motion that each day is more visible.”

He said Coast Guard figures don’t convey the full magnitude of the situation, since those who arrive go undetected, living as undocumented residents.

In 2017, the Obama administration ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy granting residency to Cubans who reached U.S. soil. The vast majority of those caught at sea are now returned, except those who can prove a well-founded fear of persecution.

“Those who reach land hide like any other undocumented migrant,” Sánchez said. “What is happening should send an alarm signal about Cuba’s situation.”

Duany said that “for the moment” he doesn’t expect to see a rise like that seen in 1994, when 35,000 people fled after Fidel Castro announced that anyone who wanted to leave could go, or in the lead-up to the end of “wet foot, dry foot.”

“The regime in Havana probably wouldn’t allow the flight of thousands of people without U.S. visas,” he said. “And Washington wouldn’t accept their arrival.”

For Monteagudo, the long days since her 32-year-old son’s departure have been marked by worry and futile efforts to locate her son, Yerandy Paz. His girlfriend has written to U.S. and Cuban authorities asking for their help in finding him.

“A mother will always wait,” Monteagudo said. “Gold and dollars are are worth nothing if you don’t have family and life.”

Sen. Bob Menendez asks for ‘tangible results’ in possible negotiations with Cuba under Biden

A group of senators, Cuban-American politicians, exile organizations, and members of the island’s opposition asked President Joe Biden Wednesday to condition any eventual negotiation with Cuba on improvements in human rights and political freedoms.

Cuban-American Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that one of his priorities is to restore the promotion of human rights and democracy as fundamental pillars of U.S. diplomacy.

“And that absolutely includes the policy of the United States towards Cuba,” he said in a video shown at an event in Miami, in which he switched from English to Spanish several times. The issue “is deeply personal for my family,” he noted.

Without referring directly to a possible policy change under Biden, Menendez, one of the most vocal critics within the Democratic Party of the thaw promoted by former President Barack Obama, said that U.S. policy toward the island should obtain concrete results.

“As the U.S. strives to strengthen respect for democracy and human rights in Cuba and around the world, we must make sure our efforts produce tangible results on these fundamental issues,” he said. “We must guarantee that the conduct of U.S. diplomacy, in turn, requires and demands that our adversaries and authoritarian regimes take steps to restore and respect the rights of their citizens.”

The Biden administration has said it is reviewing policy toward the island. Biden has vowed to reverse former President Donald Trump’s sanctions, starting with lifting restrictions on remittances and travel. But it remains unclear whether he would completely dismantle the previous policy to foster a new thaw in relations.

The event, organized by the Inspire America Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks regime change on the island, offered its vision for bipartisan unity on Cuba policy, which is not the prerogative of a single party, said the group’s president, lawyer Marcell Felipe. In the past, Felipe has organized events to rally support for Trump’s Cuba policies and other Republican politicians among Cuban exiles.

“Elected officials in this community have differences, but if something unites us, it is asking for the freedom of Cuba,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, former mayor of Miami-Dade County.

But the majority of Republican politicians at the event openly pushed back on pursuing normalization with Cuba or called for conditioning it on the release of political prisoners and the holding of free elections.

“It is important that we make it clear that any rapprochement with the Cuban regime will not change the future of Cubans at all,” said Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in a video recorded in Spanish.

“Trying to reestablish relations with [Cuban leader Miguel] Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s puppet, is not viable and much less reasonable considering his ties to terrorist groups such as the FARC, the ELN and the narco-regime of [ Nicolás] Maduro,” added Rubio, who was one of the architects of the sanctions against Cuban military companies under the Trump administration.

The Cuban dissident and leader of an island-based opposition group known as the Patriotic Union of Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer, also asked the administration “not to make concessions that oxygenate this iron grip dictatorship,” in a video sent from Santiago de Cuba. He was released from jail last year after an international outcry but sentenced to house arrest under charges that several human rights organizations labeled as political.

In other video messages, Miami Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart described the rapprochement promoted by Obama as “disastrous.” Florida Sen Rick Scott accused the Cuban government of sowing violence and destabilizing the region.

The organizer of the event, Felipe, said that he favored keeping Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

Wednesday’s event comes after several memos and letters published by groups that favor a rapprochement with Cuba, asking Biden to eliminate sanctions and resume the process of normalization of relations initiated by Obama.

The participation of Menendez, an influential voice in the Senate, and that of several mayors representing a large part of the Miami-Dade electorate, illustrates the obstacles that Biden will face if he decides to reverse Cuba policy. In past presidential elections, a majority of Cuban Americans supported Trump, in part drawn by his harsh rhetoric against the governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

BREAKING NEWS: Cuba Named a State Sponsor of Terrorism by Trump Administration

The Wall Street Journal January 11, 2021

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is putting Cuba on the list of countries that are considered to be state sponsors of terrorism, according to a person familiar with the decision.

The designation, which will be announced Monday, may complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to improve ties with Havana and is the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to try to lock in policies before President Trump leaves office.

The move rescinds the lifting of the designation under the Obama administration in 2015, during President Obama’s push to thaw relations with the island nation.