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Cuban spy convicted of murder and released by Obama says he’s ready for his ‘next order’

March 2 - In the depths of his 16-year odyssey through the U.S. prison system, convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez was transferred to an underground cell at Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution that was known to inmates simply as “the cage.”
As Hernandez recalls it, he was stripped to his underwear, cut off from all human contact and tormented by toilet water seeping — drip by drip — from the cell above him into the sink in his cramped living space.
It was days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the federal Bureau of Prisons was taking no chances — “special administrative measures,” as they were called — with high-profile, politically sensitive inmates such as Hernandez, who was serving a double life sentence, with no possibility of parole, for conspiracy to commit espionage and murder.
“Hello,” he said when he was finally permitted to make his first phone call to his designated contact at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. “It is the Count of Monte Cristo calling.”
It was Hernandez’s impish allusion to the famous 19th-century novel by Alexandre Dumas, whose hero, Edmond Dantès, is imprisoned in a dungeon on a Mediterranean island for the rest of his life — only to miraculously escape and re-emerge years later, triumphant, as a wealthy member of French nobility.

Today, after a series of plot twists every bit as improbable as those in Dumas’ novel, Hernandez counts himself as the modern-day, real-life equivalent. His sentence commuted by President Barack Obama, he is now a free man in his native Cuba, reunited with his wife, Adriana, and his former spy comrades. Last Tuesday, Hernandez and his fellow spies — the Cuban Five, they are called here — were officially decorated by President Raúl Castro as national heroes in a grand celebration at Cuba’s National Assembly.
And, Hernandez tells Yahoo News in an exclusive interview, he’s ready to return for duty to advance the cause of his country’s communist revolution.
“What I’m telling you right now, I already told Raúl Castro: I’m a soldier,” said Hernandez, pounding his chest. “I’m ready to receive my next order. I can serve anywhere my country believes I am useful.”
Perhaps most astonishing of all, Hernandez, 48, is also the father of a 7-week-old baby, Gema. The girl (her name means “precious stone” in Spanish) was conceived last year while Hernandez was still in a U.S. prison: His frozen sperm was shipped to Panama for secret fertility treatments for Adriana, all facilitated by the Obama administration — at the urging of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — as part of its backdoor diplomacy with the Cuban government.
“We have to believe in miracles,” Hernandez said, gently rocking Gema, a glowing Adriana by his side as the couple sat in the courtyard of the foreign ministry villa where they now live, attended to by a government-supplied staff of nannies, cooks and servers.
The release last Dec. 17 of Hernandez, as well as the last two imprisoned members of his Cuban Five spy network, Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, was a huge propaganda coup for the Castro government. It also paved the way for a historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations that has already brought a wave of American tourists to the island and U.S. companies knocking on Havana’s door looking for new business opportunities.

But the freeing of Hernandez and the Cuban Five spies — coinciding with Cuba’s release of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and a jailed CIA spy — is continuing to stir raw anger among anti-Castro Cubans in South Florida and some members of Congress.
“Shameful,” wrote GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a recent letter to the Bureau of Prisons, describing Hernandez as a “convicted spy and murderer” and demanding answers about the medical treatments for his wife. Continue Reading Yahoo News

 

Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso "The Cuban Comet" is dead

March 1 - Baseball has lost another iconic ambassador.
Former White Sox star outfielder Minnie Minoso was found dead in the driver’s seat of his car early Sunday.
An autopsy performed Sunday afternoon determined Minoso died of a tear in his pulmonary artery caused by “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” The White Sox and his family said he was 90.
Just over a month after the death of Cubs legend Ernie Banks, Chicago fans and longtime followers of baseball worldwide now mourn the death of Minoso, known as the “Cuban Comet.”
Chicago’s first black major league player, Minoso was much more than a consummate ballplayer.
“I didn’t know Minnie until I bought the club in 1981, but the first time I met him I fell in love with his infectious personality and his love for the White Sox,” White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Sunday. “He was just one of the most genuine people that you would ever want to know.”
Minoso was driving home from a friend's birthday party when he apparently fell ill and pulled over in the Lakeview neighborhood, according to police and family.
He was found unresponsive in the driver's seat of his car near a gas station in the 2800 block of North Ashland Avenue around 1 a.m., according to police. There were no signs of trauma and Minoso was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:09 a.m., police said.
President Barack Obama, a lifelong Sox fan, released a statement that included the following:
“For South Siders and Sox fans all across the country, including me, Minnie Minoso is and will always be 'Mr. White Sox.' ... Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie’s quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could.”
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts issued a statement saying the team was “deeply saddened by the passing of Minnie Minoso. Having recently lost one of our all-time greats, Ernie Banks, we share the heartache with the White Sox organization and fans everywhere who were blessed to enjoy the talent, heart and passion of Mr. White Sox.”
Minoso’s son Charlie Rice-Minoso said: “He was an extraordinary person. He made many contributions to baseball and to Chicago. He'll be missed most by his family and closest friends.
“He had so many amazing relationships with people,” he added, choking up. “It was just amazing to see that, even so many years after he played, to see how he was respected. We're just eternally grateful.”
Billy Pierce, a former star White Sox pitcher and teammate of Minoso, said he could tell Minoso was not feeling well recently.
“I had been with him at SoxFest, and he had to stop two or three times when we were walking because it was tough getting his breath,” Pierce told the Tribune. “He wasn’t real well then, and from what I had been told, at Christmastime he had to go into the hospital because he had the same problem.”
Minoso’s birthday was listed on baseball-reference.com as Nov. 29, 1925, but some believed he was as old as 92. When asked about his age, he once said, “Look what they say in the Sox record book.”
Rice-Minoso said the family is going with 90.
“That's the number we have down in Spanish documents. That's the date,” he said. “It's kind of a running joke. That was the one topic he didn't want to focus on, so of course that's what everyone wanted to know.”
Playing left field on my sandlot baseball team, I always tried to emulate Minnie. He was my favorite baseball player when I was chasing fly balls. In my eyes, Minnie will always be a Hall of Famer! Rest in Peace Mr. Chicago White Sox.
Born in Cuba, Orestes “Minnie” Minoso came to the United States in 1945 and played three seasons for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues. Bill Veeck, then owner of the Indians, purchased his contract in September 1948. He made his major league debut in 1949, playing nine late-season games for the Indians.
After spending 1950 in the minors, Minoso came to the Sox in an early season trade in 1951. He became the Sox’s and Chicago’s first black player on May 1, 1951. Minoso wasted no time making his presence felt, getting two hits and two RBIs in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees. He quickly electrified Comiskey Park, hitting .326 to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
It was just the start for Minoso. In 1954, he had his second straight fourth-place finish in AL Most Valuable Player voting, hitting .320 with 19 homers, 18 triples, 19 stolen bases, 116 RBIs and 119 runs. He played in nine All-Star Games.
I'm proud of everything. I'm proud to be a baseball player.
“I felt Minnie was the one player in the American League who had that intangible quality of excitement that makes fans talk about him when they leave the park,” Frank Lane, the general manager who brought Minoso to the White Sox, once said.
The Sox retired his No. 9 in 1983. However, Minoso’s appeal went beyond Chicago. He was regarded as the first Latin American superstar, inspiring young players who dreamed of joining him in the big leagues.
Minoso spoke broken English, but his vibrant smile and enduring love for the game translated clearly everywhere.
“He and I would talk, and I had to say, ‘Minnie, what did you say?’ But I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly,” Pierce said. Read more The Chicago Tribune

 

Venezuela and Cuba: Partners in repression

Feb 24 - Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro paid a visit to Havana and met with Raúl and Fidel Castro, who have been his patrons and who helped to install him in power after the death of Hugo Chávez. Mr. Maduro’s political situation is desperate: As Venezuelans suffer severe shortages of staple goods and soaring inflation, his approval rating has dropped to 22 percent — and that’s before the full impact of falling oil prices hits a country dependent on petroleum for 96 percent of its hard-currency revenue.
On his return from Havana, Mr. Maduro turned to a familiar tactic. Intelligence agents stormed the residence of the elected opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and took him away to a military prison. Mr. Maduro then delivered a three-hour rant on television in which he accused the opposition leader of plotting a coup against him with the help of the Obama administration. Needless to say, he had no evidence to support this ludicrous charge.
If this sounds like a script borrowed from the Castro regime, that’s because it is. With Havana’s encouragement, Mr. Maduro is trying to shore up his crumbling support by concocting supposed threats from the United States and using them to illegally imprison his leading opponents. Mr. Ledezma follows several other mayors into captivity. With him at the Ramo Verde prison is Leopoldo López, the opposition leader who has been in military custody for more than a year.
The Castros, whose own crumbling economy depends heavily on supplies of discounted Venezuelan oil, are simultaneously trying to sustain their Caracas cash cow and line up new flows of dollars from the United States by restoring diplomatic relations. Intent on carrying out a policy of detente with Cuba that aides say was part of the ideological agenda he brought to office six years ago, President Obama ignores this double game.
To be sure, the White House spoke out sharply against the arrest of Mr. Ledezma and called the coup plot claims “baseless and false.” Following a mandate from Congress, the administration has sanctioned several dozen Venezuelan leaders for involvement in drug trafficking and human rights crimes and says it is considering additional steps. However, the core U.S. policy toward the unfolding disaster in a country that remains a major U.S. oil supplier has been to call on other Latin American countries to do something.
Predictably, they haven’t. Quick to pounce on right-wing governments that violate democratic norms, Brazil, Mexico and Chile have scrupulously avoided crossing the left-wing populist regime created by Chávez. A delegation of ministers from the regional group Unasur, which tilts toward Venezuela, is talking of returning to the country to promote a “dialogue” but has yet to call for Mr. Ledezma’s release.
The country with the most influence in Caracas is Cuba. U.S. officials ought to tell the Castros that they need to choose between Mr. Maduro’s anti-American-themed repression and the new relationship with Washington they say they want. As for Venezuela’s president, U.S. officials ought to seek his formal sanction under the Inter-American charter prohibiting violations of democracy — and challenge Venezuela’s neighbors to show where they stand. The Washington Post

 

Good news: Nancy Pelosi is in Cuba - Bad news: She is not staying there

Feb 17 - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of Democrats from her chamber on a visit to Cuba on Tuesday that her office said was aimed at further improving U.S. relations with the island nation.
Pelosi, D-Calif., and eight other Democrats were planning to meet with Cuban government, local and church officials, and with American officials representing U.S. interests there.
The visit comes two months after President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced steps toward normalizing relations between the two countries, which have been estranged for half a century.
“This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade,” Pelosi said in a written statement.
Democrats traveling with Pelosi included Reps. Eliot Engel of New York, top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Collin Peterson of Minnesota, lead Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee; and Nydia Velazquez of New York, senior Democrat on the House Small Business Committee.
Earlier this month, U.S. officials had said the Cuban government had postponed all congressional visits until April. But Cuban officials said only some had been delayed because of a large number of requests.
The U.S. has partially lifted the 54-year-old economic embargo on Cuba, easing restrictions on U.S. telecommunications exports and on American credit and debit card transactions on the island. Only Congress can fully lift the embargo, a move supported by Obama but opposed by congressional Republican leaders.   The Washington Times

 

The Truth About 'Tourist Apartheid' in Cuba

Feb 17 - Contrary to recent headlines, Cuba is not flinging open its doors for tourist travel. Although there have been recent changes in U.S. regulations, it is still technically illegal for an American to be a tourist in Cuba. In fact, during a recent art-buying trip I took to Cuba, I learned there is a term used to describe the visitor situation in the country: “tourist apartheid.” In other words, travelers still remain separate from the general population.
The purpose of my trip was to buy art, but the visit also allowed me to learn more about the lives of “real” Cubans — which is very different from what tourists see and experience. The people I interviewed whispered their answers while glancing over their shoulders. “Who could possibly be listening?” I asked.
The truth is that anyone can be listening.
I took a similar trip to Cuba last year. That was when I learned that freedom is still scarce in the country. During that trip, I was followed by a spy who somehow knew that I was carrying a book by a well-known dissident Cuban blogger — even though I hadn’t shown the book to anyone and had not left it in my hotel room. The ministry of tourism contacted my group leader, who made me surrender the “anti-government propaganda.”
We aren’t imagining that Cuba is an oppressive socialist regime — it is.
To get a job there, Cubans still need to be able to provide documentation that they are good socialists. Telling an American journalist the story of your life could jeopardize that. So for that reason, most names in this story have been changed. I spent my time on the ground trying to answer my own questions about the current situation in Cuba. Here is what I learned:
During a lunch at a popular tourist restaurant in Havana, a doorman pulled me aside. Under the guise of a “restaurant tour,” he told me his story. After completing six years of medical school and obtaining a prominent position in the hospital, he earns $52 per month — roughly the same amount it costs to eat lunch in the restaurant where he works. He stays in Cuba because he loves what he does. He continues to practice medicine because he loves what he does. When he met his wife’s family, they were disappointed that she was marrying a doctor; her last boyfriend had been a waiter. Right now, waiters and taxi drivers earn more than doctors and engineers, because they cater to tourists, whereas doctors and engineers cater to the general population. Yahoo News

 

Cuban Dissident Calls New US-Cuba Relations a Fraud

Feb 15 - He's been called the "Nelson Mandela of Cuba," and he takes that title and uses it to promote an agenda he says is the truth about what's happening in Cuba.
Jorge Luis Pérez Antunez, known on the island simply as "Antunez," spent 17 years and 38 days in a Cuban prison for what he says was his basic human right to have an opinion.
Antunez says in 1990, at age 25, he stood in a public plaza in Havana, listening to Communist propaganda over a loud speaker and chose to speak louder.
"I yelled as loud as I could that Communism was a mistake and Cuba needed reforms," he says.
He would not see his family again for nearly two decades.
Released in 2007, Antunez says he will not stop speaking out, knowing it could land him back behind bars at any moment. He claims the Cuban government routinely visits his home to ransack the house and has left a large hole in his front door for the purpose of being able to keep an eye on him.
On Feb. 2, Orange County Congressman Edward Royce, R-CA, who heads up the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, invited Antunez and his wife, Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, to Washington to testify in a hearing called "Human Rights in Cuba: A Squandered Opportunity."
While in D.C., Antunez met with outspoken Congressman (and son of Cuban immigrants) Marco Rubio as well.
Antunez says Cuba is not the romantic island so many foreigners believe it to be and he says the crimes of the Cuban government continue even after Obama's Dec. 17 executive order.
"We feel abandoned," Antunez says of the renewed relations, believing Obama has green-lighted the Castro regime's violations of human rights.
"The regime is stronger now," he says since the announcement, "and oppression is on the rise."
On the topic of the 50-year embargo against the island, Antunez says Obama is wrong that it's a failed policy.
Instead, Antunez says the embargo is the only proof that the U.S. backs those he calls the "true people of Cuba."
Antunez's wife calls the renewed talks a "farce," pointing to the lack of food and things as commonplace in the U.S. as soap and laundry detergent. But that's exactly the Obama Administration's argument for easing sanctions - that the Cuba government has blamed the U.S. embargo for the island's economic woes.
Antunez spent the morning admiring a statue at LA's Echo Park. The statue was placed there in the 1970s, the area once home to a growing number of Cuban refugees after the 1960s exodus.
It is a bust of Cuban Revolutionary Hero, Jose Martí. Antunez says seeing it gives him hope.
"So far from Cuba in a place like Los Angeles," he says. "It shows us the cause is not lost."
Antunez returns to Miami next week and to Cuba in March, where he says he believes the Cuban government may arrest him for having spoken out while in the U.S., but he says he's ready.
"I will not be silenced and I will not leave my Cuba," he says. NBC

 

In Cuba, prosperity will require changes to government control

Feb 15 -  When Cuba was hit with rolling blackouts a decade ago, Fidel Castro decided to save energy by ordering everyone on the island to switch from incandescent to fluorescent lighting. Millions, perhaps billions, of bulbs were ordered from China, and teams of students were dispatched to enter every home and business and make the switch.
It was, a former high-level government official said, “a typical Fidel thing.”
The grand gesture as a way of addressing economic crises, from the mass mobilization to harvest sugar in 1970 to the attempt to replace every light bulb in the country 35 years later, has disappeared under Cuba’s current leader, Fidel Castro’s brother Raul.
“What most people want now is prosperity that can be sustained,” said the former official, who did not want to be identified so he could speak candidly. “Fidel wouldn’t accept anybody telling him he was wrong. Raul is a hardline party guy. But he wants the opinions of experts.” And economists here have been telling their government that prosperity will require significant changes in the way Cuba does business.
Nearly a month after President Obama eased travel and trade restrictions against Cuba, it remains unclear whether Havana can or will take full advantage of new opportunities to buy U.S. products.
New categories of permitted U.S. exports, such as telecommunications equipment, are tied to expanding civil rights and freedoms for the Cuban people, and purchases will require political decisions by the government here. Critics of the new policy charge that Havana will not take advantage of the offer because it prefers to keep its population in the dark, with severely limited Internet and access to the outside world.
But more immediately, any purchases from the United States will require cash that is in short supply. Under the terms of the U.S. embargo, Cuba cannot buy U.S. products on credit.
“We don’t have enough money to buy what we need,” Juan Triana Cordovi, a government economist at the University of Havana’s Center for Cuban Economic Studies said in an interview. “The financial situation today in Cuba is strained.”
While the United States has long permitted export of agricultural goods to Cuba, last year’s shipments were the smallest amount in more than a decade. The difference, in an economy that imports up to 75 percent of its food, has been made up by Latin American and other countries that sell on credit.
“Many U.S. agricultural producers want to sell a lot to Cuba, but Cuba needs money to do it,” Triana said. “If these companies are willing to extend credit, fine. If not, it’s impossible for Cuba to increase its purchases.”
There is much about life here that most Cubans take for granted and are unlikely to want to give up. All receive free education and health care; housing is free or heavily subsidized for many. Each Cuban receives a ration book each month for food staples. Life expectancy and literacy are the highest in Latin America and among the highest in the world.
But government control of the economy extends far beyond such basics. Except for a relatively small number of allowed private enterprises and portions of the agricultural sector, all businesses and means of production belong to the government. Foreign investors, including those who have built many of the tourist hotels that draw more than 2 million visitors a year, must recruit their workers through the government and pay wages into government coffers in a dollar-pegged special currency.

The government then pays all workers, from doctors to tourism workers to janitors, in the far less valuable local money, the national peso, at an exchange rate of 24 to 1.
The dual currency system, and the average monthly wage of about 475 pesos, leaves most with a converted monthly income of about $20, even as it allows state enterprises to hide inefficiencies and corruption.
Many here receive overseas remittances, which totaled $2.7 billion last year from the United States, and new regulations the Obama administration announced last month quadrupled the amount that can be sent to individuals. Those in the tourist and restaurant industries receive tips in hard currency.
But even for those with disposable income to purchase consumer goods, few things are available to buy. Most imports must be paid for in “convertible” pesos. The Washington Post

 

Aggressive new HIV strain detected in Cuba

Feb 15 - Researchers said an aggressive HIV strain in Cuba progresses into AIDS so fast that treatment with antiretroviral drugs may come too late.
A new HIV strain in some patients in Cuba appears to be much more aggressive and can develop into AIDS within three years of infection. Researchers said the progression happens so fast that treatment with antiretroviral drugs may come too late.
Without treatment, HIV infection usually takes 5 to 10 years to turn into AIDS, according to Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a medical professor at Belgium's University of Leuvan. According to the study, published in the journal EBioMedicine, Vandamme was alerted to the new aggressive strain of HIV by Cuban health officials who wanted to find out what was happening.
"So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected," Vandamme explained to Voice of America. "And we know that because they had been HIV negative tested one or a maximum two years before."
None of the patients had received treatment for the virus, and all of the patients infected with the mutated strain of HIV developed AIDS within three years.
While fast progression of HIV to AIDS is usually the result of the patient's weak immune system rather than the particular subtype of HIV, what's happening in Cuba is different.
"Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [and] tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes."
The new variant, named CRF19, is a combination of HIV subtypes A, D and G.
HIV normally infects cells by attaching itself to what is called a co-receptor, and the transition to AIDS usually occurs when the virus switches -- after many years -- from co-receptor CCR5 to co-receptor CXCR4. The new strain makes the switch much faster.
The variant has been observed in Africa, but in too few cases to be fully studied. Researchers said the strain is more widespread in Cuba.

UPI News

 

Obama pleading with Raúl: "Please let me open an embassy"

Feb 5 - It seems that the one who is really interested in reestablishing relations is the United States, not the Castro regime, according to this story from Reuters. Obama doesn't want to admit that he made a huge mistake when he made a deal with terrorists:

The United States is pressing Cuba to allow the opening of its embassy in Havana by April, U.S. officials told Reuters, despite the Communist island's demand that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
A refusal by Cuba to allow the United States to quickly establish an official embassy for the first time in half a century could complicate talks between the Cold War foes, reflecting enduring mistrust as they move to end decades of confrontation.
It would also mark the first major setback since President Barack Obama's historic shift in Cuba policy in December, suggesting one of the biggest foreign policy moves of his administration is struggling to achieve even its first goal.
Striking Cuba from the terrorism list could take until June or longer, although the White House is pushing officials to move quickly, said two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the State Department's review to take Cuba off the list.
Washington is eager to re-establish diplomatic ties before a regional summit in Panama in April, when Obama will meet Cuban leader Raul Castro for the first time since 2013, the officials said.
The two leaders announced a historic deal on Dec. 17 to restore relations. U.S. and Cuban diplomats will meet this month or in early March in Washington for a second round of talks.
While renewing diplomatic relations could happen quickly, the process to normalize, including removing the U.S. trade embargo, will take far longer.
Cuba has not made removal from the list a condition for restoring ties, U.S. officials said. But Havana made clear during the first round of talks last month that it first wants to be removed from the terrorism list.
For Cuba, which considers its designation an injustice, getting removed from the list would be a long-coveted propaganda victory at home and abroad.
Washington placed Cuba on the list in 1982, citing then President Fidel Castro's training and arming of Communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. The list is short: just Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba.
But Cuba's presence on the list has been questioned in recent years. The State Department's latest annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" says Cuba has long provided a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.
But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm. And the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host.
Even the State Department acknowledged in its report that Cuba has made progress. "There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups," it said.
Cuba raised this issue before January's talks in Havana. A senior official from Cuba’s foreign ministry told reporters on Jan. 20 that it was "unfair" to keep Cuba on the State Department's list.
"We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It doesn't make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list)."
It is rare, though not unheard of, for the United States to remove entities or countries from its list of terrorist supporters. One entity which was removed following a lengthy and intense lobbying campaign was the Mujahiddin e Khalq, a controversial and cult-like Iranian group.
The designation also comes with economic sanctions, and can result in fines for companies that do business with countries on the list, such as a record $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year for doing business with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.
As part of the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba, the White House ordered a State Department review of Cuba's listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. officials said.
A U.S. national security official said intelligence agencies were under pressure from senior Obama administration officials to complete their role in the removal process by March.
"The process is under way," said the official.
To finalize Cuba's removal, Obama would need to submit to Congress a report stating Havana had not supported terrorism-related activities for six months, and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future. Cuba would be automatically dropped from the list 45 days later.
Getting the embassy open is also tricky.
Converting the six-story U.S. interests sections in Havana into a full-fledged embassy after 53 years would require ending restrictions on the number of U.S. personnel in Havana, limits on diplomats' movements and appointing an ambassador. It would allow the U.S. to renovate the building and have U.S. security posted around the building, replacing Cuban police.
Cuba also wants the United States to scale back its support for Cuban dissidents when the sides meet again. U.S. administration officials have stood firm both publicly and privately that they intend to keep supporting the dissidents.
"I can't imagine that we would go to the next stage of our diplomatic relationship with an agreement not to see democracy activists," U.S. negotiator Roberta Jacobson told a hearing chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal Republican opponent of Obama's new Cuba policy.

Reuters

 

Lawmakers slam Obama's 'secret' Cuba talks

Feb 4 - Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said President Obama left members of Congress and most of his administration in the dark when negotiating the plan to normalize relations with Cuba, and they criticized the deal struck between the U.S. and Havana.
“Instead of dismantling a 50-year-old failed policy, as it claims, the administration may have given a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life to continue its repression at home and militant support for Marxist regimes abroad,” committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said during a committee hearing Wednesday.
Had Obama consulted his staff, Royce said, he would have learned that Havana is at risk of losing its Venezuelan oil subsidies. At a time when the U.S. could have asserted leverage, he said, the U.S. offered a lifeline.
“Pro-democracy and human rights activists have lamented that human rights weren’t part of these secret negotiations,” Royce said. “We have no indication that the Cuban government intends to give ground.”
But Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Obama’s executive action was not a concession or a gift.
“It’s a channel of communications,” she said. “We believe that we can more effectively pursue the human rights policies and empower the Cuban people by having a direct channel with the Cuban government to address those concerns.”
The Obama administration issued regulations earlier this month that allow travelers who qualify under a dozen broad categories of authorized travel to visit the country without applying for a license.
Those categories include visiting family, conducting business, journalism, government meetings, research, education, religious purposes, public performances, athletic competitions and humanitarian projects. But Americans are still not allowed to travel to Cuba for tourism.
The policy change will also ease banking and export restrictions.
But Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) said he doesn’t see how the president’s actions will help the Cuban people.
“I just don’t see where we’re headed with this,” he said. “I know it’s the last two years of the presidency. I know he has a history to build, but I was disappointed that we’re not using this as a pressure point on a government that’s been so brutal.”
Though Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said Obama was within his rights to ease relations with Cuba, he said the Cuba government has to give certain concessions before the U.S. lifts it trade embargo.
The onus, he said, is now on the Cuban government to create free fair elections and a free press, release political prisoners and end the harassments of political activists. The Hill

 

U.S. Diplomat vows US won't curb support for activists in Cuba despite Castro demands

Feb 4 - The Obama administration will not stop supporting Cuban human rights and democracy activists as part of any deal to restore embassies between the two countries, a top U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.
"I can't imagine that we would go to the next stage of our diplomatic relationship without an agreement" to see democracy activists, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson testified during a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.
Her response came after vigorous questioning from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, chairing his first Senate hearing. Rubio read from an interview Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top negotiator, gave The Associated Press in which she tied the establishment of embassies to reduced U.S. support for Cuban dissidents.
Jacobson, the highest-level American official to visit Havana in several decades, said more talks on re-establishing full diplomatic relations are planned for later this month. Besides embassies, the talks focused on a range of concerns, from resolving fugitive and financial claims to managing immigration and more.
Lawmakers' response to the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has hardly fallen along traditional partisan lines. While Rubio voiced skepticism, Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake is pushing to end U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba.
Among Democrats, California Sen. Barbara Boxer defended the Obama administration's move. But Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is Cuban-American, argued the U.S. got a raw deal.
"Raul Castro is demanding the return of Guantanamo," Menendez complained. "A full list of U.S. concessions including compensations for the impact of the embargo, eliminating our democracy programs ... and he concedes nothing. So how much more are we willing to give? How much more are we willing to do to help the Castro regime fill the coffers of its military monopolies while the Cuban people still struggle to make ends meet?"
The two countries vowed to improve ties after a prisoner swap and the release of Alan Gross, an American aid contractor who had been held in Cuba for five years. The Obama administration has since relaxed several restrictions on Cuba under the American economic embargo and, as a sign of detente, Castro's government released 53 political prisoners.
Yet the Castros are not suddenly embracing democracy and freedom of speech. State Department human rights chief Tom Malinowski pointed to the roughly 140 short-term detentions in January as evidence the Castro regime has not changed.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a dissident human rights organization, puts the number of political detentions in January at 178, noting it was the lowest monthly total in more than four years. In 2014, the group says the Cuban government carried out 8,899 short-term detentions. That's a monthly average of 741. Those numbers cannot be independently verified.
One potential source of optimism about the possibility of reform on the island involves telecommunications. Jacobson said some firms have already visited and "many more" are now interested. She suggested it's unclear how the Cuban government will respond.
Though lawmakers like Rubio caution that an open Cuba means more money "in the hands of the repressive Cuban military and its officials," Jacobson sees the risk differently.
"We strongly believe that the benefits of what the Cubans get in resources through this policy outweigh any benefit to the Cuban government that may be gained in a policy like this," she testified. "And those will be greater, we think, than what the Cuban government gains."
The hearing comes the same day Cuba published the first photos of Fidel Castro in five months. The 88-year-old former leader is seen speaking with a college student.
The next round of talks is expected to take place in Washington.    Fox News

 

Two Cuban baseball players defect in Puerto Rico

Feb 4 - Two players from the Cuban team competing in the Caribbean Series have defected.
Heriberto Suarez, national director of baseball in Cuba, confirmed to USA TODAY Sports that shortstop Dainer Moreira and 19-year-old pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez had abandoned the team on Tuesday.
"They decided to leave the hotel," Suarez said. "We met today and we're going to continue forward. We remain united and confident."
The defections happened Tuesday night after the Cuban team returned to its hotel following its second loss in as many games in the tournament. Suarez did not provide details, but said the players' departures are especially painful because Cuba is in the middle of a competition.
"We are very disappointed," he said. "But this will serve as a platform for us to carry on stronger and more unified. We will continue giving our best and will return to Cuba together."
The defections are the latest blow to Cuban baseball, which has suffered a talent drain in recent years as All-Star-quality players like Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes have escaped from the Communist island to pursue their fortune in Major League Baseball.
Neither Moreira nor Gutierrez is considered to be in that level.
It's not clear whether the players were acting together. Moreira started and went 2-for-4 in Tuesday afternoon's 6-1 loss to the Dominican Republic, which dropped Cuba to 0-2 in the tournament. Gutierrez did not play.
Moreira, 30, is the starting shortstop for Matanzas but has limited experience at the international level and may be a longshot to make the majors. One longtime Cuban observer compared him with Aledmys Diaz, the infielder the St. Louis Cardinals signed for $8 million over four years in March. Diaz, 24, batted .273 in 47 games between Class A and AA last season.
Gutierrez, 19, is regarded as a better prospect even though he's not a hard thrower. The 6-1 right-hander won rookie of the year honors in the 2013-14 Cuban league season, going 5-5 with a 3.90 ERA both as a starter and reliever for Pinar del Rio. Gutierrez then looked sharp pitching out of the bullpen as Cuba swept to the championship in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mexico last November.
Five Cuban basketball players defected during a tournament in Puerto Rico in 2012, but no baseball players had left their team in this island, which is a U.S. commonwealth.
To gain free agency for MLB purposes, the players would have to establish residency in a third country. However, the process of becoming eligible to sign with a major league team has become less onerous since President Obama announced in December that the U.S. and Cuba would normalize relations. USA Today

 

Raúl Castro to Obama: If you want relations, I want money, Guantanamo and an end to Radio Martí

Jan. 28 - Raúl Castro has demanded that the United States return the US base at Guantánamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations.
Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba and the US are working toward full diplomatic relations but “if these problems aren’t resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn’t make any sense”.
Castro and the US president, Barack Obama, announced on 17 December that they would move towards renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The two governments held negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.
Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans who don’t depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.
The Obama administration says removing barriers to US travel, remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the United States’ unaltered goal of reforming Cuba’s single-party political system and centrally planned economy.
Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro’s government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the US to a set of longstanding demands that include an end to US support for Cuban dissidents and Cuba’s removal from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands, saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal relations with the US depend on a series of concessions that appear highly unlikely in the near future.
“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base,” Castro said.
He demanded that the US end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts and deliver “just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they’ve suffered”.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Castro’s remarks.  The Guardian

 

Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban migrants

Jan. 28 -  President Obama’s opening to Cuba has accelerated a surge in Cuban migration to the United States, the latest U.S. statistics show, as many on the island grow worried that America’s long-standing immigration benefits for Cubans are now in jeopardy.
Last month the Coast Guard intercepted 481 Cubans in rickety boats and rafts, a 117 percent increase from December 2013. But the boaters account for only a fraction of those attempting to reach the United States. At the Miami airport and ports of entry along the Mexican border, the number of Cubans who arrived seeking refuge jumped to 8,624 during the last three months of 2014, a 65 percent increase from the previous year.
Many Cubans have heard warnings for years that their unique immigration privileges — which essentially treat anyone from the island who sets foot on U.S. terra firma as a political refugee — would not last forever.
And they have seen Cuban American lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) increasingly object that too many recent arrivals make a mockery of their refugee perks by going back to the island for cheap dental work or Santeria ceremonies.
U.S. officials have repeatedly given assurances that these migration laws have not changed. But the surprise nature of Obama’s Cuba move — after 18 months of secret talks with officials of the Castro government — has reinforced the sense that any of the long-standing pillars of U.S. policy toward the island could fall without warning.
Cubans hoping to obtain visas to travel to the United States stand in line outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
“Anyone who is thinking about making the leap should do it as soon as possible,” said “Pupi,” one of the Web users offering advice on busy chat forums such as Cubans in Flight and Cuba in Miami where migrants trade tips and share the stories of their journeys.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not provide an up-to-date monthly breakdown of Cuban arrivals. But at U.S. border crossings with Mexico, 6,489 Cuban migrants arrived during the last three months of 2014, up from 4,328 the year before. The number of Cubans processed through the agency’s Miami field office rose from 893 to 2,135 over that same period.
Many of those Cubans flew straight into the Miami airport, having boarded flights in Madrid; Nassau, Bahamas; or elsewhere with passports from Spain and other third countries. Upon reaching U.S. Customs, they pull out their Cuban documents and request asylum, or ask to stay under the protections offered by the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which offers permanent residency to Cubans one year after arrival in the United States.
When U.S. diplomats traveled to the island last week for talks on migration with their Havana counterparts, they were emphatic that the benefits conferred on Cuban migrants were not up for debate.
“We explained to the Cuban government that our government is completely committed to upholding the Cuban Adjustment Act,” said Alex Lee, the State Department official leading the migration-related elements of the talks, which also paved the way for each country to reopen an embassy in the other’s capital.
Cuban officials at the talks repeated their adamant opposition to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy under which Cubans are eligible to stay in the United States if they touch U.S. soil. Those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.
Havana blames that policy for encouraging risky illegal migration and fueling a brain drain of the country’s professionals, who are enticed to take their training and talent to the United States after receiving a free education through the island’s socialist system.

Continue reading The Washington Post

 

Cuba's $6B debt to Americans for seized properties hangs over US talks

Jan. 27 - A $6 billion sticking point could create headaches for the U.S.-Cuba talks.
Though concerns over human rights, press freedoms and U.S. fugitives living free on the island have dominated debate over the Obama administration's negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties, the Castro regime also still owes Americans that eye-popping sum.
The $6 billion figure represents the value of all the assets seized from thousands of U.S. citizens and businesses after the Cuban revolution in 1959. With the United States pressing forward on normalizing relations with the communist country, some say the talks must resolve these claims.
"The administration has not provided details about how it will hold the Castro regime to account for the more than $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Fla., top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of historic talks in Havana last week.
Menendez urged the U.S. to "prioritize the interests of American citizens and businesses that have suffered at the hands of the Castro regime" before moving ahead with "additional economic and political concessions."
Beginning with Fidel Castro's takeover of the Cuban government in 1959, the communist regime nationalized all of Cuba's utilities and industry, and systematically confiscated private lands to redistribute -- under state control -- to the Cuban population.
The mass seizure without proper compensation led in part to the U.S. trade embargo.
Over nearly 6,000 claims by American citizens and corporations have been certified by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, totaling $1.9 billion.
Today, with interest and in today's dollars, that amount is close to $6 billion.
U.S. sugar, mineral, telephone and electric company losses were heavy. Oil refineries were taken from energy giants like Texaco and Exxon. Coca-Cola was forced to leave bottling plants behind. Goodyear and Firestone lost tire factories, and major chains like Hilton handed over once-profitable real estate for nothing in return.
Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, after leading the talks in Havana last week, did not mention the U.S. property claims at a press briefing. The department also did not respond to FoxNews.com's requests for comment on the matter. In Dec. 18 remarks, however, Jacobson said, "registered claims against the Cuban government" would be part of the "conversation."
She also noted Cuban claims of monetary losses due to the 50-year-old U.S. embargo.
"We do not believe those things would be resolved before diplomatic relations would be restored, but we do believe that they would be part of the conversation," she said. "So this is a process, and it will get started right away, but there's no real timeline of knowing when each part of it will be completed."
The billions are owed, in part, to an array of major companies.
U.S. banks ranging from First National City Bank (which became Citibank) to Chase Manhattan lost millions in assets. According to the list of claimants, the Brothers of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine even lost $7.8 million in real estate when they were expelled from the island.
According to a government study commissioned in 2007, however, some 88 percent of the claimants are individual American property and asset owners, many of whom would probably like to see some sort of compensation out of the diplomatic deal-making.
"I think this is a significant issue and it has more resonance today than it would have had 20 years ago," as nationalization has seen a resurgence throughout Latin America in recent years, said Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has represented corporate clients whose assets were seized. "You have to take seriously the notion that a government must support their companies when their [property] is expropriated. You have to have some consistency on that."
Experts who spoke to FoxNews.com agree that fully compensating everyone on the list would be a complicated, if not impossible, endeavor.
First, the Cuban government, even if it did agree in spirit to pay, probably would not be able to afford it.
Some individual claimants may be long dead. Further, some of the original corporations no longer exist, thanks to mergers, buyouts, and bankruptcies over the years.
Such is the case with the Cuban Electric Company, which has the largest claim -- $267.6 million in corporate assets (1960 dollars). The company was part of the paper and pulp manufacturer, Boise Cascade Company (which also has a claim for $11.7 million), at the time of the seizures.
But Boise Cascade has since spun off and the part of it that held a subsidiary with a majority stake in Cuban Electric became Office Max -- which later merged with Office Depot in 2013. Company officials reached by FoxNews.com had no comment on the original Cuban Electric claims.
Muse and others, like Cuba analyst Elizabeth Newhouse at the Center for International Policy, say that companies that still have an active interest in getting compensated might agree to more creative terms -- whether it be for less money, or tax breaks or other incentives on future investments if and when the U.S. embargo is lifted.
"My sense is that some corporations are more interested in having a leg-up in any trade arrangements than they are in getting their money back," Newhouse said.
Thomas J. Herzfeld, who heads the 20-year-old Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund which trades shares of firms that would have an interest in Cuba if the embargo is lifted, said his life-long goal has been "to rebuild Cuba." He has approached claimants about taking their claims in exchange for investment shares. He said his fund is "well-prepared" for when normalization resumes.
But others warn about popping the corks too soon, particularly if the Castro regime is unwilling to take the compensation seriously. According to the Helms-Burton Act, which enforces the sanctions, the embargo cannot be lifted until there is "demonstrable progress underway" in compensating Americans for their lost property. (Congress also would have to vote to lift the embargo.)
"This is an issue where they are going to have to put their heads together and figure out how to resolve it," Newhouse said. "I think everyone wants to see it resolved."
Jacobson, at the close of last week's opening talks, said there was some progress on opening up embassies, but there continue to be "areas of deep disagreement," particularly on Cuban human rights and fugitives from U.S. justice in Cuba.
"Let me conclude," said Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Cuba in more than three decades, "it was just a first step."

Fox News

 

As expected, the Castros want more concessions without making any changes

Jan. 26 - The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left President Raul Castro's government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country's struggling economy.
Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama's surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.
"One can't think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in," Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. "Changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."
It's not clear if Cuba's tough stance is part of normal negotiation tactics or a hardened position that could prevent the talks from moving forward.
The Obama administration has dedicated significant political capital to rapprochement, but closer ties with the economic giant to the north also could have major importance for Cuba, which saw growth slow sharply in 2014 and is watching with concern as falling oil prices slam Venezuela, which has been a vital source of economic support.
In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba was seeking more answers about Obama's dramatic of loosening the half-century trade embargo.

Measures put into effect this month range from permitting large-scale sales of telecommunications equipment to allowing U.S. banks to open accounts in Cuba, but Vidal said officials on the island want to know if Cuba can buy such gear on credit and whether it is now free to use dollars for transactions around the world, not just those newly permitted with U.S. institutions. Until now, at least, U.S. law and policy has banned most foreign dealings with Cuba.
"I could make an endless list of questions and this is going to require a series of clarifications in order to really know where we are and what possibilities are going to open up," Vidal said.
Obama also launched a review of Cuba's inclusion on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and Vidal said "it will be difficult to conceive of the reestablishment of relations" while Cuba remains on that list, which imposes financial and other restrictions.
Vidal also said full normalization will be impossible until Congress lifts the many elements of the trade embargo that aren't affected by Obama's executive action — a step seen as unlikely with a Republican-dominated Congress. Among key prohibitions that remain is a ban on routine tourism to Cuba.
Even a relatively simple measure such as granting U.S. diplomats freedom of movement around Cuba, she said, is tied to reduced U.S. support of dissidents, whom Cuba says are breaking the law by acting to undermine the government of behalf of U.S. interests.
"It's associated with a change in behaviour in the diplomatic missions as such and of the diplomatic officials, who must conduct themselves as our officials in Washington do, with total respect for the laws of that country," Vidal said.
She also said Cuba has not softened its refusal to turn over U.S. fugitives granted asylum in Cuba. The warming of relations has spawned new demands in the U.S. for the State Department to seek the return of fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army member now known as Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after she was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper.
Vidal said the two nations' extradition treaty "had a very clear clause saying that the agreement didn't apply to people who could be tied to crimes of a political nature."
But the opening already has led to some changes, at least in the short-term: Cuba significantly relaxed its near-total control of public information during the talks in Havana, allowing the live broadcast of news conferences in which foreign reporters questioned Vidal about sensitive topics including human rights. Cuban television even broadcast part of a news conference with Vidal's counterpart, Roberta Jacobson, to foreign reporters, state media and independent Cuban reporters who are considered members of the opposition.
Cubans said they were taken aback by the flow of information but wanted to know much more about what the new relationship with the U.S. means.
"We've seen so much, really so much more than what we're used to, about very sensitive topics in our country," said Diego Ferrer, a 68-year-old retired state worker.
Jesus Rivero, also 68 and retired from government work, sat on a park bench in Old Havana reading a report in the official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, about Jacobson's press conference.
"It's good that Granma reports the press conference in the residence of the head of the Interests Section," Rivero said. "But I think they should explain much more so that the whole population really understands what's going on."  The Canadian Press

 

The Obama-Castro show Chapter II

 

(Alan Gross sitting with his lawyers at their office. On the wall, a picture of mass murderer che Guevara)

Jan. 19 - Alan Gross, a subcontractor recently freed by the Cuban government after five years of imprisonment, will be one of first lady Michelle Obama’s guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address along with Mr. Gross’ wife Judy.
Mr. Gross’s release, part of a spy swap, came on the same day President Obama announced a large-scale normalization in relations between the United States and the communist island country.

Others who will be seated in the box include astronaut Scott Kelly, Ana Zamora, a student in the country as part of the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Capt. Phillip C. Tingirides of the Los Angeles Police Department, who has spearheaded a program intended to foster cooperation between the LAPD and the Watts housing developments.
Prophet Walker, an ex-convict and co-founder of Watts United Weekend who has collaborated with Capt. Tingirides, is also a guest, as is Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, who announced last year that the retail pharmacy was eliminating tobacco sales in its stores.
Others in the box include students, a doctor who was in Liberia fighting the Ebola crisis, and several people who have written letters to the president, including Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, a 13-year-old from the South Side of Chicago and a working mother from Minneapolis. The Washington Times

 

Socialism of the XXI Century: Venezuelans Throng Grocery Stores Under Military Protection

Jan. 10 - Shoppers thronged grocery stores across Caracas today as deepening shortages led the government to put Venezuela’s food distribution under military protection.
Long lines, some stretching for blocks, formed outside grocery stores in the South American country’s capital as residents search for scarce basic items such as detergent and chicken.
“I’ve visited six stores already today looking for detergent -- I can’t find it anywhere,” said Lisbeth Elsa, a 27-year-old janitor, waiting in line outside a supermarket in eastern Caracas. “We’re wearing our dirty clothes again because we can’t find it. At this point I’ll buy whatever I can find.”
A dearth of foreign currency exacerbated by collapsing oil prices has led to shortages of imports from toilet paper to car batteries, and helped push annual inflation to 64 percent in November. The lines will persist as long as price controls remain in place, Luis Vicente Leon, director of Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis, said today in a telephone interview.
Government officials met with representatives from supermarket chains today to guarantee supplies, state news agency AVN reported. Interior Minister Carmen Melendez said yesterday that security forces would be sent to food stores and distribution centers to protect shoppers.

“Don’t fall into desperation -- we have the capacity and products for everyone, with calmness and patience. The stores are full,” she said on state television.
President Nicolas Maduro last week vowed to implement an economic “counter-offensive” to steer the country out of recession, including an overhaul of the foreign exchange system. He has yet to provide details. While the main government-controlled exchange sets a rate of 6.3 bolivars per U.S. dollar, the black market rate is as much as 187 per dollar.
Inside a Plan Suarez grocery store yesterday in eastern Caracas, shelves were mostly bare. Customers struggled and fought for items at times, with many trying to skip lines. The most sought-after products included detergent, with customers waiting in line for two to three hours to buy a maximum of two bags. A security guard asked that photos of empty shelves not be taken.
Police inside a Luvebras supermarket in eastern Caracas intervened to help staff distribute toilet paper and other products.
“You can’t find anything, I’ve spent 15 days looking for diapers,” Jean Paul Mate, a meat vendor, said outside the Luvebras store. “You have to take off work to look for products. I go to at least five stores a day.”
Venezuelan online news outlet VIVOplay posted a video of government food security regulator Carlos Osorio being interrupted by throngs of shoppers searching for products as he broadcast on state television from a Bicentenario government-run supermarket in central Caracas.
“What we’re seeing is worse than usual, it’s not only a seasonal problem,” Datanalisis’s Leon said. “Companies are not sure how they will restock their inventories or find merchandise, with a looming fear of a devaluation.”
The price for Venezuela’s oil, which accounts for more than 95 percent of the country’s exports, has plunged by more than half from last year’s peak in June to $47 a barrel this month.
“This is the worst it has ever been -- I’ve seen lines thousands of people long,” Greisly Jarpe, a 42-year-old data analyst, said as she waited for dish soap in eastern Caracas. “People are so desperate they’re sleeping in the lines.”  Bloomberg

 

Cuban Dissident Leaders React to Obama's Announcement

Dec.18 - Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Cuban dissident leaders react to President Obama's announcement to normalize relations with Castro's dictatorship:

 

 "Sadly, President Obama made the wrong decision. The freedom and democracy of the Cuban people will not be achieved through these benefits that he's giving -- not to the Cuban people -- but to the Cuban government. The Cuban government will only take advantage to strengthen its repressive machinery, to repress civil society, its people and remain in power."

-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White.

"[Alan Gross] was not arrested for what he did, but for what could be gained from his arrest. He was simply bait and they were aware of it from the beginning... Castroism has won, though the positive result is that Alan Gross has left alive the prison that threatened to become his tomb."

-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio.

"The Cuban people are being ignored in this secret conversation, in this secret agreement that we learned today. The reality of my country is there is just one party with all the control and with the state security controlling the whole society. If this doesn’t change, there’s no real change in Cuba. Not even with access to Internet. Not even when Cuban people can travel more than two years ago. Not even that is a sign of the end of the totalitarianism in my country."

--Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of murdered Christian Liberation Movement leader, Oswaldo Paya.

"[Obama's announcement] is horrible and disregarding the opinion of [Cuban] civil society sends a bad message. The acceptance of neo-Castroism in Cuba will mean greater support for authoritarianism in the region and, as a consequence, human rights will be relegated to a secondary role."

-- Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de Sats.

"Alan Gross was used as a tool by the Castro regime to coerce the United States. Obama was not considerate of Cuban citizens and of the civil society that is facing this tyrannical regime. In Miami, Obama promised that he would consult Cuba measures with civil society and the non-violent opposition. Obviously, this didn't happen. That is a fact, a reality. He didn't consider Cuba's democrats. The betrayal of Cuba's democrats has been consummated."

-- Guillermo Fariñas, former Sakharov Prize recipient.

"The Obama Administration has ceded before Castro's dictatorship. Nothing has changed. The jails remain filled, the government represents only one family, repression continues, civil society is not recognized and we have no right to assemble or protest... The measures that the government of the United States has implemented today, to ease the embargo and establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the Cuban people. The steps taken will strengthen the Castro regime's repression against human rights activists and increase its resources, so the security forces can keep harassing and repressing civil society." -

-Angel Moya, former political prisoner of the Black Spring (2003).

"We are in total disagreement with what has transpired today. It's a betrayal of those who within Cuba have opposed the regime in order to achieve definitive change for the good of all Cubans."

-- Felix Navarro, former political prisoner and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

"It's discomforting that the accounts of the Castro regime can grow, as the first step will be more effective repression and a rise in the level of corruption."

-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, former political prisoner and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU)

"This is a betrayal that leaves the democratic opposition defenseless. Obama has allied himself with the oppressors and murderers of our people."
-- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," former political prisoner and head of the National Resistance Front.

"I feel as though I have been abandoned on the battlefield."
-- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, former Cuban political prisoner and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
 

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, talks about Obama's "wrongful decision"

 

Each time the Castro's are desperate for money, an ignorant with money shows up

Obama unmasked

Dec.17 - After the end of the Soviet Union, when the Castro brothers lost the subsidy of more than $4 billion a year, Hugo Chávez came in to their rescue.

Now, 15 years later when Venezuela is on the verge of bankruptcy thanks in great part for having become a colony of Castroland, Barack Obama steps up to the plate to save them once again.

The Castros are always lucky enough to always find an ignorant with money willing to save them

 

Obama gave the Castros everything they asked, and more

Dec.17 - Everything Obama said he wasn't going to do, he did today.

He traded Alan Gross, who had been a hostage in Cuba for 5 years, for 3 Cuban spies including one directly involved in the murder of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots.

He is re-establishing relations with  the Castro brothers without asking anything in return.

He will increase trade relations, travel, tourism, and everything that would bring money to the Cuban dictatorship, so they can continue to enslave, exploit, torture and oppress the Cuban people.

As Raul Castro said in his speech at the same time Obama was speaking to the American people: "We didn't make one single concession".

They didn't have to since Obama was willing to give them everything they wanted and more.

It is a shameful day for America.

 

Obama to speak later today about a "policy change" regarding Cuba

Dec.17 - President Barack Obama plans to talk today about the next steps in U.S.-Cuba relations, strained by a decades-long embargo, after Cuba released prisoner Alan Gross.
Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat close to Obama, said in a statement the president would announce the normalization of trade and travel relations with the island nation.
Gross, a 65-year-old American, left Cuba on a U.S. government plane this morning to fly to the U.S., said an administration official familiar with the release. The person spoke on condition of anonymity before Obama’s remarks, which are scheduled for noontime in Washington.
Gross, who has been in failing health, was released on humanitarian grounds under U.S. pressure, the person said.
Gross was arrested by Cuban officials while working to expand Internet access for Havana’s Jewish community. He was accused of undermining the Cuban state and in December 2009 was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Cuban President Raul Castro is scheduled to speak about the same time as Obama to talk about U.S.-Cuba relations, Agence France Presse reported. Bloomberg

 

Obama makes a deal with Castro to exchange the Cuban spies for Alan Gross

Dec.17 -  U.S. contractor Alan Gross, held by the Cuban government since 2009, was freed Wednesday as part of a landmark deal with Cuba that paves the way for a major overhaul in U.S. policy toward the island, senior administration officials tell CNN.
President Obama is expected to announce Gross' release at noon.
Gross' "humanitarian" release by Cuba was accompanied by a separate spy swap, the officials said. Cuba also freed a U.S. intelligence source who has been jailed in Cuba for more than 20 years, although authorities did not identify that person for security reasons. The U.S. released three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.
President Barack Obama is also set to announce a broad range of diplomatic and regulatory measures in what officials called the most sweeping change in U.S. policy toward Cuba since the 1961 embargo was imposed.
Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf. On December 17, Gross was released from Cuban prison.
Luke Somers, a photojournalist being held captive by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was shown begging for his life in a video released by the terror group. Somers was killed by AQAP militants during a raid conducted by U.S. forces on Friday, December 5. A U.S. official said that during the raid, one of the terrorists ran inside the compound and shot Somers and South African hostage, Pierre Korkie.
Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea in November. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime.
Matthew Todd Miller also was allowed to leave North Korea with Kenneth Bae in November. According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, he was convicted in September of committing "acts hostile" to North Korea and sentenced to six years of hard labor. He had traveled to North Korea after arranging a private tour through the U.S.-based company Uri Tours, which takes tourists into North Korea. He and Bae were released after U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper went to Pyongyang as an envoy of President Barack Obama, a senior State Department official told CNN.  Read more CNN

 

The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola Economy

Dec.11 -The communist government’s medical missionaries win praise for the regime, but they are victims, too.
If you ask most people what Cuba is famous for they probably will name two things: rum and cigars. But if you ask leftists what Cuba is famous for they will usually say something altogether different: healthcare and education.
Despite all the government oppression and poverty and the endless speeches by el líder maximo and his sibling, the Cuban healthcare and education systems are still held up as justification for the 1959 Cuban revolution in and of themselves.
So good is the healthcare system on the island supposed to be, and such is the abundance of skilled doctors, that Cuba can even afford to export medical personnel to disease- and crisis-stricken parts of the world in a gesture of international solidarity that the capitalist West does not begin to rival.
Estimates suggest that around 50,000 Cuban-trained health workers are spread across 66 countries, with many stationed in some of the poorest corners of the globe. In 2010 Cuba provided the largest contingent of medical staff during the aftermath of the huge earthquake that shook Haiti. Similarly, after an earthquake devastated Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005, there were more Cuban doctors on hand to aid the relief effort than there were medics from Pakistan proper. Who said socialist internationalism died in 1989?
The government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs of its health workers.
And so today, during the current Ebola crisis, while the rich capitalist countries pontificate selfishly about things like anti-Ebola border security, socialist Cuba has again come to the rescue, flying in 461 health workers to stricken West Africa—more than any first-world country.
Even John Kerry, secretary of state in a country that has spent decades trying to oust the Castro clan, described Cuba’s contribution to the fight against the Ebola outbreak as “impressive.”
This penchant for medical internationalism goes back to the greatest icon of the revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He was a doctor and envisioned a world in which a medic would use “the technical knowledge of his profession in the service of the revolution and the people.”
Yet like Guevara’s socialism, Cuba’s fraternal medical altruism has a dark side. Che may have felt a genuine affinity with the poor, but he was also a fanatic who locked up homosexuals and other “deviants” in labor camps. He wanted to “bring justice to the downtrodden” but he wanted to do it by launching a first nuclear strike on New York or Washington. The Cuban government, still led by some of Che’s former contemporaries, exemplifies a similar contradiction between idealism and brutal coercion.
There is in fact a great deal more to the Castro brothers’ medical diplomacy than the development of Cuba as, in the words of gushing Guardian columnist, a “beacon of international humanitarianism.” The government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs of its health workers. Most notably it receives cheap oil from the Chavez/Maduro autocracy in Venezuela, but it also gets a hefty sum of much-needed hard currency from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for every doctor it sends to Africa and beyond.
Not that there is any shame in that: socialist economies need hard currency to buy things on the international markets as much as any other country. But if there’s altruism here, it’s on the part of the workers themselves, since they rarely see any of the money they bring in for the dictatorship back home. All the available evidence suggests that they receive a measly stipend from the regime—about $20 extra a month—with the rest pocketed by the government to bolster things like Cuba’s omnipresent security apparatus.
Yet lavish praise is heaped on the supposed generosity of Havana’s elderly rulers—the same ones who for 50 years have stopped most Cubans from travelling abroad. “Cuba is a special case,” says José Luis Di Fabio, who heads the World Health Organization’s Havana office, told DeutscheWelle. “The country has the ability to react very quickly because of the experience of the physicians and the political will to do so.”
“Political will” in this instance is a euphemism, for there is ample evidence to suggest that Cuba’s medical diplomacy is far from voluntary for those sent abroad on their country’s international missions. Much like those who decline to attend the “voluntary” pro-government rallies which sporadically fill the streets of Havana and give a veneer of democracy to the one-party state, those medics who choose not to play ball with the Leninist Center can pay a severe penalty. As Madrid-based Cuban doctor Antonio Guedes told the same German website, “Whoever does not cooperate may lose his job, or at least his position, or his son will not get a place at university.”
This jibes with something Yanelis Ochoa, a university medical student in Santiago de Cuba, told me when I visited the country in 2011. Talking about the future, Yanelis said that when she eventually graduates she “may have to go to Venezuela or Brazil for a short time to work.” What about your boyfriend? I asked. Are you not getting married soon? “James,” she replied with unusual gravity. “You don’t understand how these things work. If they say I go then I go. It’s that simple.” The Daily Beast

 

This is how much the Castro brothers make from their slave doctors

Nov. 17 - No wonder the New York Times wants to make sure Cuban slave doctors cannot escape. The NYT partners in Havana make billions of dollars a year exploiting the slave doctors and other Cuban professionals.

The slave trade brings the Castro brothers almost four times more than tourism.

 

New York's Granma, wants to make sure that the slave doctors can't seek freedom

Nov. 17 - The New York Times, best known as the Castros' mouthpiece in New York, has a new editorial today, the sixth in as many weeks, in favor of the fascist dictatorship in Cuba.

This time, the NYT wants the United States to cancel the program that has allowed thousands of slave Cuban doctors flee their slave masters and seek refuge in this country.

New York's Granma knows that the Castro brothers make more than $9 billion a year in their slave trade with Cuban doctors and other professionals, and want to make sure that those doctors keep working for their partners in Havana.

If you have the stomach to read it, here is today's NYT editorial: A Cuban Brain Drain Courtesy of the US

 

Cuba's Abandoned Communist Nuclear Reactor

Oct. 10 - Just 90 miles off the tip of Florida lies a half-baked, abandoned relic of the Cold War-era arms race — what was once going to be a joint Cuban-Soviet nuclear reactor. Thank God it never panned out. Because not only do we now have these incredible shots from photographer Darmon Richter, but every last aspect of this thing would have been a total and utter disaster.

It all started back in 1976, when comrades in communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union, agreed to build two nuclear reactors near Juragua, Cuba. And if it had ever been finished, just one of these 440-megawatt reactors could have satisfied over 15 per cent of Cuba’s energy needs. As The New York Times explained when construction officially ceased, this wasn’t your everyday reactor:
The V.V.E.R. design, which was the most advanced at the time, was the first to be exported by Moscow for use in a tropical climate. It differs from the Chernobyl-style design in that the radioactive core and fuel elements are contained within a pressurised steel vessel.
Construction didn’t start until 1983, which gave Cuba 10 years to build their potential-livelihood, all thanks to the the steady flow of Soviet funds. Of course, when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the essential funds ceased, over 300 former Soviet technicians returned to the motherland, and all construction came to a standstill — despite the fact that 40 per cent of the heavy machinery had already been installed.
Still, it wasn’t over quite yet. The whole project spent nearly a decade in limbo, until finally, in 2000, Fidel Castro told Vladamir Putin that he was done with the two countries’ former joint-dream. Now, the power plant at Juragua was officially little more than a testament to what could have been — which is a very good thing. Because as it turns out, “what could have been” basically entailed wildly dangerous conditions and potentially a whole mess of destruction. Continue reading and see more photos Gizmodo

 

Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano Street

 

Videos: The Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín

Dec. 3 - Video of a protest by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police

 

 

Cuban lady is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions

Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.

 

Yoani Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit

October 26 - Yoani Sánchez explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the island.

Learn how you can help promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Learn about a new technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by the Castro regime and how you can help:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Video of another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU

Oct. 9 - This took place in Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013

Click here to see the video

 

 Video taken at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba

July 8 - Video taken in April of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.

Very different from the hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used by foreigners who pay with dollars.

Click here to see the video

 

Spanish daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare

Foto de la versión impresa del reportaje en ABC

March 17 - On Thursday of last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.

I was able to send her many of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the newspaper.

The article was published on Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at ABC.es  (Spanish)

 

Twit by Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Our new page: Fidel Castro, the World's oldest terrorist

 

My interview with Baseball PhD

March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to minute 25:35  Click here to listen

 

Listen to Fidel Castro

For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said and promised when he gained power Click Here

 

Satellite photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and more

 

A look at Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it Cuba B.C

 

Visit our updated page: The Useful Idiots

 

We have new photos of Havana taken in October of last year

Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took at the beginning of this month.

Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.

Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having "lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.

Click here  to see them

 

Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba

Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business, foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.

Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education, Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.

 

 

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