Saturday, October 31, 2015

To March or Not to March… that is the Question

To March or Not to March… that is the Question / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on October 30, 2015

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The latest
cyber-skirmish unleashed around statements made by Eliécer Ávila, leader
of the opposition movement Somos+, about the #Todosmarchamos initiative,
once again focuses first, on the need for restraint in political
discourse and the importance of not allowing ourselves to be swayed by
the provocations of those who pursue only ratings and drama from the
comfortable security of their distant geographical locations, and
secondly, on the inability to weigh things at fair value, whether by the
so-called opposition leaders — regardless of their strategies, their
ideological orientation or their political proposals, if they happen to
have them — or by public opinion.

In this case, there are numerous myths contained in a sort of Theogony
of the opposition, a mirage created and sustained from abroad in an
absurd desire to hold on to an opposition epic — which should eventually
replace the current revolutionary epic — which, like the latter, creates
pockets of prestige and heroism, and even castes and lineages, depending
on whether the new heroes are willing to bleed or get slapped on the
head. It is a well-known fact that we Cubans are experts at repeating
our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and
shredding of vestments.

If there is anything I agree 100% on with Eliécer, it's the need for the
independent press in Cuba to cease to be complacent with the opposition
– sadly mimicking the stance of the official press towards the Castro
regime — and assume from this day (during the dictatorship) the usual
journalistic roles and functions in democratic societies. This includes
questioning absolutely everything and everyone, desecrating any public
figure whose effect should ultimately be to serve, not to rule. In this
regard, here are some observations I propose that might seem unbearable
to some extreme radicals. I suggest that the passionate stop reading at
this point so they can avoid the usual patriotic tantrums.

I shall not vent my sympathies or personal differences on the opposition
— not on a nonexistent "opposition movement" — an environment that I
know by heart, since it's been almost fifteen years since I delved into
it. What I know or believe about anyone is completely irrelevant.

I have found many of the most honorable, honest, generous and dedicated
people I've ever met in my life within the opposition, and also many of
the worst and most harmful: ambitious, hypocritical, opportunistic,
false patriots and, as Eliezer stated, some corrupt little characters
who have made the "struggle for democracy" a way of life. Over the years
I have come to understand that that reality is not unique to the Cuban
stage or that it is bound by the geography of the Island. There are good
and bad Cubans both in Cuba and in the Diaspora, there are those who
live for Cuba and those who live from it. Note that I am merely
reviewing the facts as a necessary and true evil. It is what it is, period.

Some people prefer to ignore that the Cuban dissidence is as varied in
its composition from the point of view of human quality as any other
social group. In fact, all the vices inherited from a corrupt and sick
system are present in our sector, including atavistic evils, such as an
autocratic government, authoritarianism and despotism. There is even
what we might call an opposition gerontocracy, firmly clinging to old
precepts and unchanging bad habits, incapable of evolving in the light
of new scenarios.

When I travel abroad, I'm always surprised to hear someone, perhaps with
the best of intentions, refer to dissidents in general, including
independent journalists, as "heroes." And what's worse, there are
characters who "modestly" accept the epithet, as if it were their true
right. I will never support a leader who perceives himself as worthy of
moral supremacy over the everyone else. In addition, such a
prefabricated pantheon of heroes will only serve to cement many present
and future ills.

Nevertheless, in those circumstances, and with those actors, we must
continue to open the way for Cuban democracy. We optimists believe in
the best of scenarios and, with the passing of time, many individuals
and proposals will surface which will expand and diversify the options
in the political and social milieu, thus covering all interests and
including all the trends and options for citizen participation And we
will need to learn to live with our differences.

Another one of the most notorious Cuban imaginary myths of all time is
based on measuring the value of people by their willingness to "shed
blood," to be beaten in the streets or locked in dungeons. To march or
not to march seems to want to establish itself as the moral question for
future politicians. It doesn't matter whether the event is repeated
again and again with the same result, and the dictatorial power
continues to not move one inch, or that one of those "common" citizens,
the ones who are trying to get free from the Castro yoke, has joined in
the martyrdom. It is known that no "leader" has attracted followers by
becoming the scapegoat of a dictatorship known to be repressive and
capable of the worst abuses.

It seems to be that what's truly important is that the more marches and
more beatings one gets, the more "courageous" one becomes, and that will
get you a place of privilege in the select club of the anti-Castro titans.

But given that no Cuban "peoples" are willing to suffer the already
traditional Sunday assaults, the organizers of this Antillean Via Crucis
have not only summoned the other dissidents –including those who have
been labeled a "naive" and even "traitors" for having acted in
accordance with the US administration policy of détente — but they
question the reluctance of those who do not abide by the summons.

And they see in this negativism, not the right of others to choose their
own methods of resistance or their own path to work for the Cuba we
want, but an alleged intention to divide the opposition or "to play into
the hands" of the dictatorship. It would seem that if the Castro regime
has not failed it is because some of us, whether absurdly or cowardly,
have refused to march after attending church. Not believing in God, in
the sponsors of the initiative or in their results, is secondary: a herd
must follow the alpha male, who — in the purest Castro sense — will
assume that those who do not follow him blindly are cowards and are
against him.

Thus, Eliécer Ávila's greatest sin was excessive transparency in a world
of masquerades, forgetting that to ignore provocations is the wisest and
most expeditious strategy that anyone aspiring for political leadership
could employ. The sponsor of Somos+ wasted a great opportunity to keep
his subtle silence.

There is no need to conquer freedom. Being free will suffice, though it
needs to be done intelligently.

I, for one, while enjoying the privilege that my status as an opinion
journalist grants me and my complete lack of commitment to leaders or
parties of any political color, take the opportunity to join the
commentary of a wise reader: there is no need to "fight" for democracy,
practicing it should be enough; there is no need to conquer freedom,
being free will suffice, though it needs to be done intelligently. It is
impractical to continue implementing strategies that lead to the same
result again and again… except when what we seek is that seal of
pedigree that has been repeated so many times throughout our history.

In Cuba's immediate future we will not hear that worn-out phrase that
marked our lives and legitimized the rights of the privileged few over
the rest of Cubans: "Did you by any chance fire shots in the Sierra
Maestra?" It will be replaced with "Did you by any chance march on
Sundays down La Quinta Avenida?" God forbid!

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: To March or Not to March… that is the Question / 14ymedio,
Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba -

The GAE, a Lie Transformed into Reality

The GAE, a Lie Transformed into Reality / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on October 29, 2015

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 October 2015 — Before the Special Period, the
financial capacity of the country had already been reduced to a minimum,
so reforms were being instituted that supposedly would "help" the nation
cope with the economic contingencies of the time.

And when the situation reached that almost invisible point at which
point any action or oversight could hasten the death of a terminally ill
patient, circumstances forced the Cuban military to become productive by
generating income from agriculture, transportation, tourism,
construction, finance and commerce.

The armed forces of the world are divided into three main services —
army, navy, air force — plus aerial defense.

Among the things the fall of the Communist bloc brought to Cuba was the
Special Period. No one can forget the famine, polyneuritis or dramatic
increase in illegal emigration, much less the events of 1994.

I think it is worth remembering that the crisis did not only affect the
civilian population. It also impacted the institutions of government,
especially those that were not productive, such as the Ministry of the
Interior (MININT) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which were
preparing for a cataclysm. They had already experienced their own
catastrophe in 1989, when soldiers, officers and even a few generals
(some of out of a sense of duty, some out of convenience) left the

Even before the Special Period, the economic capacity of the country had
already been reduced to a minimum, so reforms were instituted that
would supposedly "help" the nation cope with the economic contingencies
of the time.

No crisis in the world explodes without prior warning, or at least not
without some sort of clue. If instability had arisen, MINFAR would have
been facing the prospect of being in a weak defensive position.
Therefore, at a meeting of the Military Council, a well-known advisor to
Raul Castro suggested scrapping the traditional organizational structure
of the armed forces and consolidating the troops under one roof. As a
result, air defense — a force much more expensive than any army — was
merged with the ground forces while the various military headquarters
were centralized under a single command. Contrary to appearances, this
was more than just a word game.

Due to lack of supplies and obsolete technology, military maneuvers came
to an end and a period of invention began. On orders from Raul a group
of innovators emerged who used the nation's financial resources to
develop a radar system that did not work and a grotesque Cuban-made
aircraft that did eventually fly but ultimately crashed. As might be
expected, the crew died with no funeral being held.
And when the situation had reached that almost invisible point at which
any action or oversight could hasten the death of a terminally ill
patient, circumstances forced the Cuban military to become productive by
generating income from agriculture, transportation, tourism,
construction, finance and commerce.

It was at this time that the Business Administration Group (GAE) was
created in an effort to control the corruption that resulted from this
new military-commercial hybrid. While it did not function very well, it
did at least appear to function, allowing the FAR to feign operational
efficiency, safety and solvency.

To put it simply, any given screw factory has production costs which
include workers' salaries, equipment, electricity, raw materials and a
few other things. All these contribute the final retail price. But the
GAE screw factory — to use an example — has no fuel costs because this
item is already covered in its budget. Besides getting the fuel for
free, it can also avail itself of prisoners, soldiers and recruits in
precarious employment situations to manufacture its product. On paper a
military screw costs nothing to produce and is sold for hard currency.
The never-ending story.
The Cuban government is expert at deception, using its know-how of
illegal methods and its undeniable skill at fomenting gossip. These
techniques, referred to as "active measures," generate a fiction that is
picked up by the press (both foreign and domestic), and used to sway
public opinion, including our own. We then repeatedly echo the lie until
it becomes the precarious truth. Besides being used as tool to control
companies and ministries, its purpose is not only to generate profits
but also torrents of uncertainty.

Source: The GAE, a Lie Transformed into Reality / Juan Juan Almeida |
Translating Cuba -

Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue

Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany Jimenez Vega
Posted on October 29, 2015

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 October 2015 — Without a doubt the most complex
challenge Raúl Castro's regime has in the short-term is monetary
unification. The use in the country of two national currencies for the
last two and a half decades has ended up generating an inestimable
distortion in the internal finance system, which by itself would be
enough to illustrate the chaos reigning in the economy, of which this is
a sharp reflection.

The recent declaration of U.S. Senator Rodney Davis on the imminence of
change awakened expectations on the subject, which has been strikingly
absent in the speeches of the General/President and in the official
Cuban press, in spite of the fact that its persistence converted it some
time ago into something unique. If several contemporaneous countries
once permitted the indistinct circulation of a foreign currency together
with their own, I don't remember one that used two national currencies
together, like Cuba has done since the '90s: to wit, the Cuban peso, the
CUP — so withered, humble, poor — and the CUC, the all-powerful Cuban
"convertible" peso*.

For more than two decades, 90 percent of Cubans have received their
monthly "salary" in CUP, and when they shop in the "dollar" stores, they
have to pay in CUC, at a rate of 25CUP/1CUC. This is the biggest scam
suffered by our people since the arrival of Columbus. In the previous
period, before the arrival of the CUC at the beginning of the '90s,
there had already been quaint situations, since during the better part
of that phase Fidel Castro made the simple holding of foreign currency –
above all the American dollar — into an authentic body of crimes
reflected by all the letters in the penal code, and hundreds of Cubans
suffered in prison.

But it's worth little to dig up the past; today we need to turn over a
new leaf and write a new chapter. Like neophytes, we don't really hear
the intimate ins and outs of the economy, habitually plagued by obscure
nuances that we can't guess. But it's worth it anyway to ask concrete
questions about the unification of Cuban currencies. One indispensable
step would be to demand, starting now, every opportunity sighted on our

Today every proposal stipulates, as a prior condition, the coherence of
its financial system, since nothing else would earn the essential
credibility that international organizations and investors need. So,
since everyone is aware of this, why delay one more day with the
inevitable change? But this is where you would have to stop to avoid
this necessary step from ending badly and generating disastrous social
consequences in the short-term.

But all this supposes that the Cuban Government — the one definitively
responsible for having generated and maintained such an unusual policy —
assumes responsibility for the complete process in a way that mitigates
potential harm; and that it will happen in the least abrupt way
possible, without generating or minimizing possibly traumatic
consequences for the already-poor Cuban people.

I'm speaking concretely. I wonder if, instead of having an abrupt change
of currency right now, it wouldn't perhaps be possible to gradually
reevaluate the weaker money, through a programmed process and with
public knowledge — let's say lowering the exchange rate of the CUC in
the CADECA (the official exchange bureau) at a rhythm of 1 to 2 CUP
monthly — so that at the moment of exchange the rate would be less
pronounced than now, let's say 10 to 1, for example.

Another element to take into account is the time it would take for the
population to complete the change, meanwhile guaranteeing the
possibility of exchanging all the cash circulating without the
Government interposing senseless obstacles. Those in the old guard
remember the untimely way in which this process was carried out at the
beginning of the '60s, and all the absurd limitations imposed at that
time, which caused a considerable part of the money in circulation to
simply became void.

Right now there can't be any justification for the Cuban Government to
appear arbitrary. In its place, a period of some months should be
available to complete the change, during which both currencies would
continue to circulate at the fixed rate until the one destined to
disappear remains only a numismatic memory. After all, as any
grandfather will tell you, he who hopes for much can wait a little, and
something that has harmed us for so many years can't be reversed in a
few days.

On this point I'm beginning from the supposition that the currency that
will disappear will be the CUC. The untimely presence of this spawn,
"convertible," paradoxically, only inside Cuba, together with the Cuban
peso, would be something senseless and counter-productive in a Cuba that
is open to the world. No sane person would consider retiring the CUP
from circulation in place of the CUC. To do this suddenly, after
fomenting rumors during the last two years about the presumed permanence
of the CUP, which is still being exchanged for CUC in the street, would
be a miserably low blow.

Of course, for everything to succeed, or to put it another way, to be
something that doesn't imply huge domestic trauma, the political
goodwill of the elite Cuban Government would be necessary: something
that up to now hasn't exactly been celebrated. If it is economically
coherent, it should free up productive and commercial openings, which
would foster an immediate circulation of goods and services generated by
wealth, all of which would be possible in the short-term — an effort
which, although at the beginning wouldn't be achieved on a large-scale
or with all the urgency that circumstances demand, would be oriented,
without doubt, in the right direction, and would then be a comforting
first step in support of the stability of a future single currency.

Then in the short and mid-term, the positive result could be felt, but
only if the Government accedes to immediately freeing up the management
of the private sector of society and stops putting unreasonable
obstacles in the way of every private initiative. This would be, in my
humble and novice opinion, a variant to take into account. Studying to
see if this would be something practical and attainable now is a job for
the experts; it is only one more proposition.

*Translator's note: The Cuban "convertible" peso is not actually
"convertible" anywhere but inside Cuba. The exchange rate on the US
dollar is nominally 1:1, but a 10% "surcharge" is applied,
distorting the exchange rate. Exchanges with other foreign currencies —
for example the Canadian dollar or the euro — are not taxed.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Monetary Unification in Cuba, an Unresolved Issue / Jeovany
Jimenez Vega | Translating Cuba -

Reimbursement is Important

Reimbursement is Important / Fernando Damaso
Posted on October 30, 2015

Fernando Dámaso, 23 October 2015 — In Cuba, unlike other countries,
public services are totally centralized by the State through its
different companies: electricity, gas, telephone, water and sewer,
municipal and other.

Being part of the same thing, these entities are considered untouchable,
and they do things and undo them at their own whim, without considering
the effect on citizens and businesses, State as well as private. Thus,
they connect and disconnect the electricity according to their
interests. The same thing happens with the gas service, telephones and
drinking water.

Furthermore, in order to do maintenance and make repairs, they break up
the streets and sidewalks; they interrupt transit and create multiple
nuisances. Repairing what's destroyed takes a long time to execute, and,
in general, it's bad quality. All of this causes economic loss to all
types of businesses, for which no one answers.

It would be good if these consequences, when they aren't caused by
natural phenomena, were reimbursed economically by the companies causing
them, by handing over a sum for the harm inflicted on a factory or a
business: the value of what they lost when they had to stop producing or

In addition to being just, this would oblige these companies to be more
efficient in their work. Presumably, where they presently take 10 or 12
hours to repair a breakdown, with a brigade in which few work and many
talk or lounge about, if they had to make reimbursements, they would see
themselves obligated to do the work in less time and with only the
minimum, necessary personnel. Furthermore, the result of the work would
be better quality, since doing it poorly would affect the companies

It's something to think about; although, personally, I think that many
of these services could be leased out, with less cost, better quality,
less time and more efficiency, by private companies that contract for
them, a general practice with magnificent results in many countries.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Reimbursement is Important / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba

The Remake

The Remake / Fernando Damaso
Posted on October 29, 2015

Fernando Damaso, 28 October 2015 — The Cuban authorities applaud the
"victory" obtained in the vote for the lifting of the blockade-embargo
at the United Nations. It's actually their twenty-fourth Pyrrhic victory
since 1992, when they lost the substantial Soviet economic subsidies,
and began to be bothered by the blockade-embargo, which they previously
didn't care about and treated as a joke.

These 24 Pyrrhic victories have not advanced one iota the cause of
ending the blockade-embargo because the resolution that was approved is
not binding, that is, there is no mandatory compliance; the countries
vote according to their current interests, so a vote in favor of ending
it does not affect its relations with the United States, and a vote in
favor of keeping it would affect their relations with the Cuban
government. It's all nothing more than sheer political opportunism,
without much real significance.

Submitting the measure one more time as a remake, in a time when
meetings and talks are being held between the two countries, with the
aim of solving this and other ongoing problems, constitutes an error of
Cuban diplomacy. Progress in the lifting of the blockade-embargo and the
solution of other problems can only be achieved at the negotiating
table, where give and take is required. What happens at the UN every
year is pure comic theater: it only causes laughter.

But with this remake one wonders whether the Cuban authorities really
want to put an end to the blockade-embargo, or if they are doing
everything possible to see that it is maintained, so they can continue
using it as a smokescreen to hide their demonstrated ineptitude and

In this country of magical realism, everything is possible.

Translated by Tomás A.

Source: The Remake / Fernando Damaso | Translating Cuba -

How Cuba’s Mariel Boatlift Divided and United One Family

How Cuba's Mariel Boatlift Divided and United One Family
Lisette Poole Oct. 30, 2015
On the 35th anniversary of the boatlift's conclusion, a Cuban-American
photographer reflects

In 1980, Juan Cordero slipped into his 9-year-old daughter's room to
kiss her goodbye as he left for America. She pretended to sleep. She and
her mother had been the ones to urge him to go. They would be reunited
soon, she said. She didn't want to make it any harder for him so she
breathed even asleep breaths and kept her eyes closed. She never saw him

Juanito was my mother's cousin who, like thousands of other Cubans,
arrived to the U.S during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. The waters of the
Florida straits have split my family for the last half-century leading
up to the historic normalization of relations between the United States
and Cuba this year.

I'm a Cuban-American photographer, and though I grew up in the U.S.,
lately I spend most of my time in Havana. This year as my grandmother
grew ill with cancer in San Francisco, my family and I reminisced about
her life. As she passed away in May, we shared stories and photos (like
those in the slideshow above), and what surfaced was the depth of my
grandmother's impact on the lives of countless people.

Sira Cordero Mesa de Gonzalez—whom we all called Mima—was the youngest
of nine brothers and sisters. She left Cuba in 1960 and took my mother,
age 12, and her sisters. They left hundreds of relatives behind, many of
whom later crossed the water in 1980, fleeing Cuba. The Mariel Boatlift
began in April of 1980, when a group of Cubans stormed the Peruvian
embassy in Havana, killing a guard. Fidel Castro asked the embassy to
return the attackers, but he was refused. Within a few days 10,000
Cubans had filled the grounds of the Peruvian embassy, claiming asylum.
Soon after, Castro announced that anyone who wanted to leave the country
could do so from the Mariel port. Before the Boatlift ended on Oct. 31,
1980—35 years ago this weekend—some 120,000 Cubans came to the United

At that time, my grandparents in California took in anyone who needed a
home, giving both the new arrivals and their children in the U.S. a
semblance of togetherness. Their house on London Street was a welcome
place for anyone passing through. "It was lovely to have these cousins
around, to have family for the first time," my mother told me.

Six Marielitos, as the refugees were called, went to San Francisco to
live with my grandparents Sira and Manuel Gonzalez. There was Pepe
Cordero, a taxi driver in Havana. Chancing upon the riot at the Peruvian
embassy, he stopped his car to join the asylum-seekers and spent 18 days
inside the premises until being released to the U.S. All he knew was
that his aunt lived on London Street in San Francisco. The authorities
were able to locate Sira and reunite them; he was the first Marielito to
arrive in the Bay Area.

After Pepe came Juanito, also Sira's nephew. Like most of the Marielitos
in my family, he left behind a wife and two children, including his
daughter Mileydis. Juanito was the first in the neighborhood to
correspond with Cuba, says his daughter, sending a package to his family
with clothes, letters and photos. On Christmas Eve 1982, he was killed
in a small restaurant he owned in San Francisco's Mission District,
while preparing Noche Buena dinner. Mystery surrounded the death of
Juanito, whose brother and brother-in-law from Cuba had had brushes with
the law. His daughter recalls that he'd written home to Havana shortly
before his death, saying that, "he was going to do something and that
possibly would cost him his life."

Jorge Cordero, Juanito's brother, had been jailed at age 15, until he
was taken out of Cuba at 21 and sent to the U.S. "When we left Cuba we
had to forget that it existed because otherwise one would live their
life suffering here," he recalled during a recent conversation in San
Francisco. "You couldn't communicate with anyone there or anything."

Living in Havana now and working as a photojournalist, my family history
colors every experience I have. As I covered the announcement of renewed
relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the matriarch of our family was
home in California, receiving treatment and hoping to get well enough to
visit Cuba one last time. As I thought about my Mima, missing her and
wanting to be by her side, I worked even harder at the stories I
photographed, feeling the only way I could justify being away was to
make her proud. I was documenting a moment in history she thought she'd
never see, in her homeland, a place she never forgot and talked about
every day.

Cuba is a paradoxical place, almost impossible to describe any other
way. My family in Havana constantly says, "Isn't is crazy? All of us
wanting to leave, and you coming to live here!" No one seems to
understand what I'm doing living in Centro Habana when I could be
hanging out in Brooklyn or San Francisco. But I couldn't miss this.

For the Marielitos, life in the U.S. worked out better for some than for
others, but the London Street house was a landing point where they all
found the warm welcome of family. "My cousins did all the work, running
around to doctors to help me [with legalization paperwork]," says Silvio
Cordero, who also found refuge with his aunt Sira. "If I hadn't had
family here I wouldn't have made it."

But, even as Cuba and U.S. move toward a reunion of their own, one piece
of my family is still missing: Juanito's daughter Mileydis says that her
one wish is to find her little bother Omar, who, she's never met. After
her father's death, Omar's mother moved with him to Miami and lost
contact with my family.

Because my grandma's mission was to help those in need and keep family
together, and because now that role has been passed along to me, I hope
is that this story will find Omar, bringing him back into contact with
our family, all these years later.

Source: How Cuba's Mariel Boatlift Divided and United One Family | TIME

New exodus of Cubans headed to the U.S. is underway across the Americas

New exodus of Cubans headed to the U.S. is underway across the Americas

Hundreds of Cubans are crossing the river that separates Guatemala and
Mexico on their journey to the U.S.-Mexico border
Most travel in groups and pay thousands to smuggling networks
Border entries are at its highest since 2005

They line up on the edge of the water, their silhouettes barely visible
in the wee hours before the sun rises. Groups of 10 to 12 climb aboard
rafts mounted with plywood and pay less than $2 to be ferried to the
other side. Within the span of 20 minutes, at least 60 have crossed
aboard six rafts.

All of them are Cuban migrants en route to the United States. The
illegal crossing scene at the Río Suchiate — the body of water that
separates Guatemala from Mexico — is happening every day under the cover
of darkness.

A new exodus of Cubans is underway at this river in Ciudad Hidalgo in
the Mexican state of Chiapas. Over the past month, hundreds have come
across from the border town of Tecún Umán, Guatemala, and those making
the journey say many more are on the way.

"We're leaving in droves," said one Cuban as he rushed to get away from
the river and onto a van that would drive his group to the nearest
immigration center in Tapachula, about 18 miles away. "Everybody is
leaving Cuba."

"Another hundred are waiting to cross," shouted another young man as he
dismounted the raft from Guatemala and caught up with the group of new
arrivals in Mexico.

The migrants are from across the island, predominantly between 20 and 40
years old. Many travel with children. Most are headed to South Florida.

The migrants are Cubans who have either spent some time in third
countries such as Ecuador or who travel directly from the island to a
third country as tourists and immediately proceed on their journey
across South and Central America to make their way to the U.S.-Mexico

The migration route is not new for Cubans. But the numbers passing
through over the past month have grown to the point that human rights
activists in Mexico have labeled it a "migration crisis" that is adding
to the already high number of Central American migrants also using
Mexican land as a pathway toward America.

"A lot are coming through here," said Sister Maria del Carmen, who helps
run a Catholic migrant shelter in Tapachula. Since it opened its doors
in early September, more than 500 Cubans have been served at the shelter.

"But the figure is much higher," del Carmen said. "The immigration
center is full of Cubans."

Official data show a significant increase in the number of Cubans coming
across the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the latest figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection,
at least 27,413 Cubans have entered through the U.S.-Mexico border from
Oct. 1, 2014, through Aug. 31. Another 9,056 arrived without visas at
Miami International Airport during the same time frame.

The border entries are at its highest since 2005 with increases each
fiscal year over the past four years: 5,316 border entries in 2011;
10,315 in 2012; 11,932 in 2013 and 17,459 in 2014.

On a recent Wednesday morning at the immigration center in Tapachula,
dozens of newly arrived Cuban migrants collected their passports and
waited outside to get processed and obtain "safe passage" documents that
give them 20 days to leave Mexico. Many more were also inside the
facility. Immigration authorities declined to comment.

Among those waiting to be processed was Guantánamo resident Angel Reyna
Rojas, 30, who was traveling with his wife Yudisleidi Perez and
3-year-old son Angel Fabian.

Reyna Rojas and his wife left Cuba in August 2013 and traveled to Quito,
Ecuador, on a tourist visa and began to establish roots there. Reyna
Rojas returned to Guantánamo in December to pick up his son.

"We left Cuba always with the purpose of bettering our lives," he said.
"For some Cubans in Ecuador, things have gone well but not for us."

The family tried to emigrate legally through both the Mexican and
Nicaraguan embassies but their petitions were denied.

"So we decided to embark on the long journey," Reyna Rojas said.

Like many other Cubans taking the same route, the Reyna Rojas family
made contact with a well-organized smuggling network, made their way to
Cartagena, Colombia, and began their odyssey to the United States on
Sept. 26 aboard a sailboat that took them and other Cuban migrants on a
turbulent 36-hour ride to Panama.

They spent a month traveling across South and Central America, spending
money on smuggling fees, bribes to border agents and police,
transportation costs, visa fees and other incidentals. Along the way,
they replenished dwindling dollars with wire transfers from relatives in
the United States. On Thursday, after crossing seven countries and
spending about $7,000, they made it to their final destination: with
family in Hialeah.

"Thank God this nightmare is over," he wrote in an email upon arrival.
"I'm reborn."

Reyna Rojas said the number of Cubans making the same journey is astounding.

In Panama, during the early part of their travels, Reyna Rojas said
immigration authorities told him that by the time his family arrived,
thousands of Cubans had already passed through there.

"That is not counting the great number of people who got stranded
because they'd run out of money," he said.

In Choluteca in southern Honduras, where they spent a weekend awaiting
documents that would allow them to continue their journey, Reyna Rojas
said the hotels in town were teeming with Cubans making the same journey.

"More than 800 Cubans were there," he said. "All of the hotels were
full. All of them."

Those fleeing cited several reasons for abandoning the island, including
economic hardships and fear that restored diplomatic ties between
Washington and Havana will bring an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act,
which allows most Cubans who make it to U.S. soil to stay. But the
primary reason cited for fleeing, migrants said, is simply because now
they can.

New rules that took effect in 2013, which eased strict exit visa
requirements, allowing Cubans to travel more freely, have opened a new
way out for those who want to abandon the island.

"So long as there is a way for people to get out of Cuba, they will
continue to leave," said José Angel Jordan, 30, of Havana.

He, too, made it to Miami Tuesday night on a flight from Houston after
crossing the border into Texas from Matamoros, Mexico, and is staying
with family.

"We are very happy because it's not easy to get here across so many
countries," said Jordan's cousin, Dayron Orlando Alvárez, who fled Cuba
eight years ago. "It's a little risky but those who do it, take the risk
because they want to move forward and have a better life."

Yeniset Hernández Deschapelles, of Matanzas, who traveled with husband
Rafael Pino Espinosa and their 2-year-old son Shairas Zakir Pino, left
Cuba in 2014 by way of Guyana. They stayed 10 months, then went to
Brazil and spent another 10 months saving money for the journey across
Central America to the U.S. with help from family in Canada.

"Everybody wants to go to America," Hernández Deschapelles said in
strained English outside the immigration center in Tapachula. "A lot of
people have big problems in Cuba. … The salaries are very low so
everybody wants to move to a better future, also for their children, for
their family. All the people here want to help their family in Cuba."

"That's why people want to travel to another country like Ecuador,
Panama, Colombia," she said. "They make the big travel. … It's a little
dangerous to go to the big dream, the Cuban dream: to go to America."

Hernández Deschapelles said that during her journey, she also came
across hundreds of other traveling Cubans, including children.

Pinar del Río native Carmen Ordaz, 33, also was headed to Miami to join
her husband Orlando Cata. He was a doctor assigned to community service
in Venezuela, defected through Colombia and made the same journey about
five months ago.

Ordaz followed suit, arriving by bus to Miami a week ago after crossing
the U.S.-Mexico border in Reynosa, Texas.

"The fear is that the Cuban Adjustment Act will end," Ordaz said. "So
people are getting out."

Most of those interviewed after entering Mexico said they have little
hope for significant changes in Cuba under the Castro regime, despite
the restored diplomatic relations and some economic openings on the
island signed off by Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

"Everybody who leaves Cuba knows that nothing is going to change there,"
Reyna Rojas said. "And if there is going to be change, it will take 30
or 40 years. Perhaps longer.

"Now with the new relations [between the U.S. and Cuba], there might be
a little more flexibility but the situation in Cuba is not going to
change," he said. "That belongs to them and they will not change. I
blame them for everything we've been through — Fidel and Raúl."

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.

Source: New exodus of Cubans headed to the U.S. is underway across the
Americas | Miami Herald -

Stolen boats turning up in Cuba, Mexico

Stolen boats turning up in Cuba, Mexico
By: Kimberly Kuizon, FOX 13 News
UPDATED:OCT 30 2015 05:02PM EDT

LONGBOAT KEY (FOX 13) - Something big was missing from the backyard of
Nancy Guernsey's in-laws: Their 30-foot boat was gone.What do you think?

"I came over to check to see if the boat was here and it wasn't," she
said. "He said, 'The boat is missing! Call the police!'"What do you think?

"Nothing else seemed to be bothered. Just the boat," she continued.What
do you think?

As Longboat Key police began investigating, another attempted boat theft
was reported. They also soon discovered that two more boats were stolen
in Sarasota and two more in Hillsborough County.What do you think?

"The number of boats that we have out here put us on high alert," said
Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming.What do you think?

Officers began to suspect a crime ring from Miami that has a knack for
stealing boats. The craft often turn up in Cuba or Mexico.1

That is where this missing boat was spotted.What do you think?

"We learned that there is a group, an organization who's fairly
organized, that are stealing boats from Sarasota down to Naples and then
across to Miami and up to Ft. Lauderdale," said Chief Cumming.What do
you think?

Investigators said the group is responsible for thefts around Florida.
Fourteen boats were reported stolen from Levy County up north all the
way to Monroe County in the Keys.What do you think?

"This could happen anywhere, especially where we have the number of
boats we do along the canals and elsewhere," continued Chief
Cumming.What do you think?

Officers say an easy way to make sure you won't become the victim of a
boat theft is to keep your boat locked up and make sure your keys aren't
anywhere visible.What do you think?

"If you can disable the electrical power to the lift system, it would be
great. If you could wire it into your house, that would be even
better," offered Officer Dan Bidwell.What do you think?

Police want everyone to keep their eyes open.What do you think?

"It is a target of opportunity and if you take away the opportunity, you
take away the potential of becoming a victim of a crime," Bidwell added.

Source: Stolen boats turning up in Cuba, Mexico - Story | FOX 13 Tampa
Bay -

Fort Myers-to-Havana, Cuba, nonstop launches Monday

Fort Myers-to-Havana, Cuba, nonstop launches Monday
LAURA RUANE, LRUANE@NEWS-PRESS.COM 2:49 p.m. EDT October 30, 2015

On Monday, Southwest Florida International writes a new chapter in its
air service history.

The airport's first non-stop airline flight to Cuba departs at 2:15 p.m.

Choice Aire's service between RSW in Fort Myers, Florida, and Havana's
Jose Marti International will operate Mondays and Fridays on a Swift Air
737 with 126 seats.

Check Monday afternoon for stories, sights and sounds of
the inaugural flight from Fort Myers.

Connect with this reporter @Alvascribe (Twitter) and LauraPatrickRuane

Source: Fort Myers-to-Havana, Cuba, nonstop launches Monday -

Cash-strapped Cuba pursues oil-drilling pacts

Cash-strapped Cuba pursues oil-drilling pacts
Mayabeque province known as epicenter of energy search
Author: Andrea Torres, Reporter,
Published On: Oct 30 2015 09:35:01 AM EDT Updated On: Oct 30 2015
09:56:49 AM EDT

With Venezuela in crisis and a drought that is raising food imports,
Cuban officials are facing a liquidity shortage. Despite the low oil
prices, they continue to be open to foreign investment for crude

There is hope in an area west of the of Boca de Jaruco, officials said
earlier this year. The former fishing village is at the mouth of the Rio
de Jaruco, in the province of Mayabeque, where there is both oil and gas
exploration ventures.

State oil companies, Cuba's Union Cuba Petroleo (CUPET) and Russia's
Zarubezhnetf, drilled there in the 1980s and were reportedly working
there to recover oil wells. Canada's Sherrit International is also
active nearby at a gas processing plant. For years, the activity in the
area has concerned Cuban oceanologists.

"Spills that are far from the coast, under normal conditions, could
result in pollution in Florida ... spills on land could contaminate the
Florida Keys and during hurricane conditions increase the risk of
pollution increases to 92 percent," scientists Alina Gutierrez and
Amaury Alvarez said in a study published in Cuba last year.


The state's oil company is divided into 41 other companies. Five of
these are joint ventures with foreign companies such as China, Russia,
Venezuela, Canada and Australia.

Their voices are not dissuading CUPET. After U.S. reported high crude
oil inventories, oil prices continued to fall late October. Venezuelan
crude fell to less than $45 per barrel. Cuba refines and resells some of
it for cash.

Venezuela is part of Cuba's new Gulf of Mexico drilling campaign with
Angola's Sonangol.

"We will initiate a drilling campaign at the end of 2016 or the start of
2017," Osvaldo Lopez, Cupet's head of exploration, told Reuters late

Experts concluded that the prospects of offshore drilling explorations
in Cuba were low after failed joint ventures with Brazil's Petrobas and
Spain's Repsol, News Maritime reported in October.

Tourism is up 17 percent this year, but Cuba still doesn't have enough
cash to take advantage of the new purchasing opportunities in the U.S.
Near one of the most popular tourism destinations, Varadero, Cuba found
oil in 1971.

Follow reporter Andrea Torres on Twitter @MiamiCrime

Source: Cash-strapped Cuba pursues oil-drilling pacts | News - Home -

Research shows Cuba's Internet issues

Research shows Cuba's Internet issues
October 31, 2015 by Amanda Morris

In December 2014, President Barack Obama made history by reestablishing
diplomatic relations with Cuba, which included loosening its economic
embargoes. Two months later, American companies like Netflix and Airbnb
announced plans to expand into the once-banned island.

"Our first reaction was: 'Really?'" said Northwestern Engineering's
Fabián E. Bustamante. "As a business model, Netflix and Airbnb rely on
most people having Internet access. That's not quite the case in Cuba,
so it really didn't seem to make much sense."
Wanting to see if these business ideas were feasible, Bustamante,
professor of electrical engineering and computer science in Northwestern
University's McCormick School of Engineering, and his graduate student
Zachary Bischof decided to measure Cuba's Internet performance. They
found that Cuba's Internet connection to the rest of the world was
perhaps even worse than they expected.
Bischof presented their findings October 30 at the Association for
Computing Machinery's 2015 Internet Measurement Conference in Tokyo.
Cuba's history with computing and Internet is a complicated one. Its
citizens were not even allowed to own a personal computer until 2008. In
February 2011, Cuba completed its first undersea fiber-optic cable with
a landing in Venezuela, but the cable was not even activated until two
years later. Today, about 25 percent of the population is able to get
online and just five percent of the population has home Internet.
"If you're trying to connect anywhere, you either have to connect
through these marine cables or up to the satellite," Bustamante said.
"If you go up to the satellite, it would take significantly longer."
"For one, it's much farther to travel," Bischof added. "And the trip is
on a very interference-rich environment, which include cosmic rays."
Since March 2015, Bustamante and Bischof have been conducting
measurements from a server in Havana to observe Internet traffic going
in and out of Cuba. They measure the amount of time it took for
information to travel in both directions, taking note of the paths of
travel. In early results, the team found that information returning to
Cuba took a much longer route.
During their study, Bustamante and Bischof found that when a person in
Havana searched for a topic on Google, for example, the request traveled
through the marine cable to Venezuela, then through another marine cable
to the United States, and finally landed at a Google server in Dallas,
Texas. When the search results traveled back, it went to Miami, Florida,
up to the satellite, and then back to Cuba. While the information out of
Cuba took 60-70 milliseconds, it took a whopping 270 milliseconds to
travel back.
"It takes so long that it's almost useless," Bustamante said. "You can
start loading a webpage, go have coffee, then come back and maybe you'll
find it."
Bustamante and Bischof said this could be the result of a configuration
problem or routing policy and are currently exploring this further. For
now, they can only say—with certainty—that Cuba's Internet performance
appears to be among the poorest in the Americas, and its infrastructure
would struggle to support web services hosted off the island,
particularly network-intensive applications like Netflix. Understanding
the problems and diagnosing their causes will help Bustamante, Bischof,
and other teams propose future solutions.
"Beyond Internet services like Netflix, to continue societal progress in
Cuba depends on better connectivity," Bustamante said. "To better
understand how to improve it, we first have to better understand what is
available now."

Source: Research shows Cuba's Internet issues -

Milk from the state - Relying on Cuba's ration book

Milk from the state: Relying on Cuba's ration book
30 October 2015 Last updated at 23:01 GMT

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Earlier this week, the UN passed a vote overwhelmingly rejecting the US
embargo of Cuba. Now that the US has gone about normalising diplomatic
relations with Cuba, experts wonder how long the embargo will last.
For Cubans, the embargo has meant many products simply aren't available
on the island and they have to rely instead on the state ration book.
Set up shortly after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, the ration book
includes a modest quota of basic goods such as cooking oil, rice and
powdered milk.
Will Grant met one couple who depend on the ration book to survive. They
fear its demise amid the economic changes taking place in Cuba.
Additional editing by Olivia Lace-Evans

Source: Milk from the state: Relying on Cuba's ration book - BBC News -

Friday, October 30, 2015

Grimaldi Group bound for Cuba

Grimaldi Group bound for Cuba

Central America, and specifically the island of Cuba, will probably
become the next important step for the Grimaldi Group's business
development process. The ceo of the Naples-based shipping company,
Manuel Grimaldi, revealed to Splash: "We not only have received the US
government approval to operate a marine route between the US and Cuba,
but also we have been studying for two to three years now a project to
set up also a new cargo and passenger terminal on the island."

To obtain an 'ok' from the authorities – Grimaldi said – is quite
simple, much harder is to build up a successful line for passengers and
cargo and to realise a new port terminal. Grimaldi should have taken
part in the Italian political mission currently underway on the island
led by the premier Matteo Renzi, but he couldn't due to other business
commitments (among them the yearly Euromed Convention organized by his
group in Barcelona this week).

Grimaldi Group comprises seven main shipping companies, including
Atlantic Container Line (ACL), Malta Motorways of the Sea (MMS), Minoan
Lines and Finnlines. With a fleet of some 120 vessels (owned and
chartered), the group provides maritime transport services for rolling
cargo and containers between North Europe, the Mediterranean, the Baltic
Sea, West Africa, North and South America. It also offers passenger
services within the Mediterranean and Baltic Sea.

Source: Grimaldi Group bound for Cuba - Splash 247 -

The Used Clothing Business in Cuba

The Used Clothing Business in Cuba
October 29, 2015
By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — A Cuban company manager tells me that the government
spends US $5 million in used clothing every year, purchasing the
highest-quality products sold around the world. Cuban stores, however,
only sell the worst-quality garments.

Every pound of the clothing put on sale in Cuba costs US $0.68. A pound
is what a jean (one of the items included in a regular package) weighs.
Applying a 240% markup plus what the store adds on top, you can sell a
pair of Levis or Lees in good condition at 2 or 3 dollars.

At these prices, these items of clothing would be a very attractive
option for many low-income Cubans. What's made available to buyers,
however, are closer to rags than the "premium" garments bought at
markets such as Canada's.

To understand how these goods "deteriorate" so severely from the moment
they arrive in Cuba to the time they are put on sale, we need to follow
the bales down the old "port-transportation-domestic market" route.

The manager tells me that someone had the bright idea of having these
bundles opened at prison-farms and for the clothing to be inventoried by
inmates, most of whom have been imprisoned for economic crimes.

That's where the first "change of clothes" takes place: the inmates take
out the new garments and replace them with their own used clothing,
maintaining the original number. Of course, to be able to do this, they
have to grease the guards' palms.

Once the containers have been opened and the first "inventory" has been
completed, these are sent to central warehouses, where the process of
replacing new clothes with old ones is repeated to supply the capital's
thriving illegal stores with fresh stock.

Later, the containers are sent to provincial distribution centers to
undergo yet another inventory and another switch. This way, the local
black market is able to offer a clientele with fair purchasing power
varied, high-quality products.

Finally, the clothing reaches State stores in each locality.
Immediately, the clerks notify re-sellers and these buy whatever's left
that's worth their money. Thus, when buyers reach store counters, the
only clothing they find isn't even worth what it weighs.

A foreign supplier tried to gage how his product was being received by
consumers in Cuba. He approached one store at opening time and the
clerks told him they had sold everything, which was impossible, as the
goods had arrived the day before after closing.

Authorities at the Ministry of Domestic Trade want to suspend imports of
these kinds of products because people aren't buying them. In fact,
buyers never see these kinds of products at State stores. They only come
across the tattered rags that others have left behind.

The way this second-hand clothing is received by Cubans is evident at
underground stores: in 24 hours, they sell everything they get their
hands on. I went to one, located in one of Havana's poorer
neighborhoods, and saw a girl buy a pair of Columbia-brand pants for one
third the price of the Chinese pants sold at State stores.

Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea once said that socialism was a
great script made into a terrible film. Where the sale of used clothing
is concerned, we can clearly see the contradiction between
screenwriters, directors, actors and the audience.

Source: The Used Clothing Business in Cuba - Havana -

Cuba a Potential Market for North Dakota Wheat

Cuba a Potential Market for North Dakota Wheat
By KX News Today at 3:45 a.m.

Not long ago-- an American stepping on to Cuban soil was unheard of.

Now-- future trade opportunities are being discussed.
North Dakota Grain Growers Association President, Mark Formo paid a
visit to the communist country to explore the possibility of trade in
years to come.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner-- Doug Goehring also went on the trip.

They met with Cuban policy officials and visited local farms.

Formo says the trade possibility makes Cuba a big potential market for
North Dakota Wheat.

He says Cuba doesn't really grow much wheat but does import a lot of it
from other counties.

"They are importing a lot of wheat already so we would have to prove
that our wheat is better and then bring that in. They do have mills so
they can mill their own flour so there's a lot of things that they could
use. It all depends on how much they would use," says Mark Formo,
President of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.

Formo says this wheat trade could potentially bring in $40 million
annually for North Dakota agriculture.

Source: Cuba a Potential Market for North Dakota Wheat | WDAY -

Cuba Still America’s Champion, for Censoring Speech Online

Cuba Still America's Champion, for Censoring Speech Online
Worldwide Freedom on the Internet Takes a Dive for Five Years Straight

EspañolCuba is the clear top dog in the Americas for preventing access
to the World Wide Web, but the next worst offenders are Venezuela,
Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia — as documented by Freedom House and their
newly released Freedom on the Net 2015 report.

The worldwide trend has been a decline in Internet freedom for five
straight years, and the October 28 report shows that constituents of the
poorly rated countries, in addition to censorship, suffer from the
expansion of government surveillance and crackdowns on privacy tools in
2014. Further, most of the Latin American culprit nations have had
citizens arrested for simply sharing information concerning politics and

Freedom House describes itself as an "independent watchdog organization
that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around
the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights."

The NGO's project leader, Sanja Kelly, stated in a press release that
"governments are increasingly pressuring individuals and the private
sector to take down or delete offending content, as opposed to relying
on blocking and filtering."

Their report, which addresses 65 nations, also mentions the restrictions
that government officials impose on encryption and anonymity tools in
most countries around the globe. These privacy tools, they explain, help
protect Internet users from government abuse.

"Undermining online encryption and anonymity weakens the internet for
everyone, but especially for human rights activists and independent
journalists," Kelly added.

The report highlights that 61 percent of internet users live in
countries where any type of criticism against the government — or ruling
family — has been "subject to online censorship."

Among the most crucial findings reported were: an increase on the number
of censored topics and content removals, an escalation in number of
arrests and intimidation of writers or sharers of political content, and
a rise in the number of surveillance laws passed.

Latin America, a "Partially Free" Land

Cuba is the only Latin American country to earn the unenviable
categorization as "not free." The report mentions over 100 new Internet
access points on the island, but it states that the communist nation
"continues to have some of the most restrictive internet access in the

Another hostile country for online journalists and bloggers is Mexico,
where reporters there fall prey to both violence from organized criminal
organizations and cyber-attacks. Reporters without Borders, which does
related work, has ranked Mexico as one of the worst places to be a
journalist (148 out of 180), after a decade with more than 80
journalists killed and 17 reported as disappeared.

Freedom of the Net 2015 warns of misguided intervention: "a ruling by
the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Personal Data
Protection (IFAI) [of Mexico] may set a precedent for users to request
that search engines remove results that violate their privacy or harm
their reputation."

Regarding Ecuador, the document states that President Correa's Twitter
campaign against online critics led to an online confrontation that
"escalated to include hacking, trolling, and threats."

In Colombia, the main challenges involve infrastructure and high costs.
Also, "there are occasional cases of content removal; takedowns are
isolated rather than systematic and stem mostly from muddy legislation
rather than onerous governmental policies."

Cyber activist Luis Carlos Díaz from Venezuela tells the PanAm Post that
this report is useful because it contains verifiable data that enables
Venezuelans to place their lack of Internet freedom into perspective.

The activist says that the situation in Venezuela is "extremely
serious," and that in 2014 and 2015 the government blocked several
websites and performed arbitrary detentions for sharing content on Twitter.

"Detained Twitter users awaited several months in prison and were not
served with due process nor justice," he adds.

"In relation to technical infrastructure, we have seen an incredible
decline in Venezuela. The main company that provides the service has
stopped providing 10-megabits service and is now offering only 1 mega
or, at most, 2-mega-per-second speed in the majority of Caracas."

Díaz says that in Venezuela, their Internet bandwidth has not improved
in years. That has resulted in the slowest Internet connections in all
of Latin America.

"Venezuelans face a slow, expensive, restricted, and censored internet
environment," he concluded.

Belén Marty
Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos
Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab
Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local
office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.

Source: Cuba Still America's Champion, for Censoring Speech Online -

China-Cuba trade rises 57% in first three quarters

China-Cuba trade rises 57% in first three quarters
Updated: 2015-10-30 13:27

HAVANA - Trade between China and Cuba reached $1.596 billion between
January and September in 2015, up 57 percent year-on-year, the Chinese
embassy in Havana announced Thursday.

The growth confirms that China is now the island nation's second largest
trade partner after Venezuela, said Ma Keqiang, economic counsellor at
the Chinese embassy.

Ma added that Chinese exports to Cuba reached $1.33 billion in the first
three quarters, up by 82.4 percent.

However, Cuban exports to China have actually dropped, due to a decrease
in the production of nickel, which is the country's principal export,in
addition to tobacco.

Ma also said more than 40 Chinese companies will participate in the 33rd
Havana International Fair on Nov 2-7 to further promote trade relations
between the two countries.

The companies are mostly related to the automotive, home appliances,
machinery and light industry sectors, he said.

Source: China-Cuba trade rises 57% in first three quarters - Business - -

Cuba's new shark conservation could help Florida sealife

Cuba's new shark conservation could help Florida sealife
William E. GibsonContact Reporter
Washington Bureau

Cuba will restrict shark fishing for the first time.

— Sharks, the depleted top predator of the seas, will have a better
chance to survive and rebound in Florida waters because of a new
partnership between Cuba and marine scientists in the United States.

Their goal is to monitor and preserve vulnerable shark populations,
especially those that migrate from Cuba to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico
and along the Atlantic coast.

Cuban officials recently decided to restrict shark fishing and to
conserve their habitat in the island's pristine waters as part of an
action plan developed in collaboration with American scientists. They
signed a groundbreaking agreement with the Environmental Defense Fund, a
private American group that has been advising them for years despite
animosity between the two countries.

Marine scientists in both countries predict that a coordinated
management plan will revive some varieties of shark and other vulnerable
species that have been over-fished and harmed by pollution along
Florida's congested coastline.

"If we effectively implement those actions down in Cuba, we will
probably see an improvement in Florida," said Jorge Angulo-Valdés, a
Cuban scientist at the University of Havana and a visiting faculty
member at the University of Florida. "Some species will recover in five

The breakthrough was made possible by closer relations between the U.S.
and Cuban governments and a new agreement to protect the marine
environment straddling the Florida Straits.

Many sharks and other fish found in Florida were born and grew up in
Cuba before traveling along ocean currents for hundreds or thousands of

A team of Cuban and American scientists in February placed a satellite
tag on a longfin mako shark off the coast of Havana. By mid-July, it had
covered 5,500 miles and swam as far north as New Jersey.

"These animals don't respect any kind of political boundaries. They are
highly migratory fish, and many of the marine resources in Florida are
shared with Cuba," said Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark
Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. "So conservation in
Cuba will help conservation here as well."

Environmental Defense Fund
The shark habitat remains healthy in Cuba largely because its coast is
undeveloped and remains mostly unspoiled from pollution. But some
species have been over-fished by impoverished Cubans.

"People have to have food to eat, and they are looking for options,"
Angulo-Valdés said. "We can't just start prohibiting things. We have to
convince people that they would be better off by leaving those sharks

Sharks developed 400 million years ago as a top predator among sea
creatures, but they are falling prey to humans. Studies indicate that
shark populations have declined by 50 to 90 percent since the 1970s.

"They are adapted to be king of the hill," Hueter said. "They are not
best adapted to be preyed upon, and that's the role we play as fishers
of sharks. All of them are vulnerable to some extent, some more than

He and other American scientists have been quietly consulting with
Cubans for years, but attempts to coordinate research and management of
sealife have been frustrated by animosity between the United States and
Cuba and by the U.S. trade embargo. Some scientists at Florida
universities have been blocked by a state law that prohibits state
employees from traveling to Cuba.

President Barack Obama's outreach to Cuba and the restoration of
diplomatic relations this year allowed closer scientific cooperation and
paved the way for Cuba's pact with the Environmental Defense Fund.

"The most vulnerable shark populations are those that cut across
national boundaries, precisely because of a lack of coordination," said
Dan Whittle, director of EDF's Cuba program.

Scientists from both countries are intent on preserving Cuba's
environment before its coastline is overwhelmed by development. They
hope to foster an environment-friendly tourism that brings snorkelers,
scuba divers and nature lovers to the island.

"That is our best shot in the future," said Angulo-Valdés, the Cuban
scientist. "The Caribbean is full of sun and sand beaches, right? If we
want to make a difference, if we want to exploit natural resources in a
way that does not destroy them, eco-tourism and specialized tourism is
the way to go.", 202-824-8256

Source: Cuba's shark conservation could help Florida sealife - Sun
Sentinel -

Abortion Used as Birth Control in Cuba, One Woman’s Mom Had 4 and Her Aunt 10

SHOCK: Abortion Used as Birth Control in Cuba, One Woman's Mom Had 4 and
Her Aunt 10

I was vaguely aware that abortion is very common in Cuba. But until a
friend forwarded me a story from the New York Times, I had no idea that
abortion is rampant.

The narrative arc is build around an unmarried couple that has (as the
headline suggests) "An abundance of love" but no kids. And that's
because they've already aborted two.

The story, written by Azam Ahmed, strongly suggests she would abort
future pregnancies–a reflection of many factors, including

Abortion is legal, free and commonly practiced. There is no stigma
attached to the procedure, helping to make Cuba's reported abortion
rates among the highest in the world. In many respects, abortion is
viewed as another manner of birth control.

Tragically, abortion appears to be woven into the culture. Women in
Cuba, Ahmed writes,

speak openly about abortions, and lines at clinics often wrap around the

By the numbers, the country exhibits a rate of nearly 30 abortions for
every 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to 2010 data compiled
by the United Nations. Among countries that permit abortion, only Russia
had a higher rate. In the United States, 2011 figures show a rate of
about 17.

The epidemic of abortion is not new. The couple tell Ahmed that their
mothers each had four abortions. The man, "smirking," says the woman's
aunt had "undergone 10 procedures."

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pro-life news.

As you would expect, Cuba is in a demographic free fall. Already with
one of the oldest populations in all of Latin America, "Experts predict
that 50 years from now, Cuba's population will have fallen by a third,"
Ahmed writes. "More than 40 percent of the country will be older than 60."

Of course this being the New York Times the story must state the
political correct conclusion. That

experts caution that the liberal abortion policy is not responsible for
the declining population. Rather, it is a symptom of a larger issue.
Generally speaking, many Cubans simply believe they cannot afford a child.
I'm assuming no one is saying that abortion on demand and in huge
numbers is the SOLE reason for declining population. The country is run
by a dictator, is desperately poor, and many millions have already fled
the country.

But to explain how abortion has been routinized, destigmatized, and made
just another form of "birth control" and then dismiss its significance
in the graying of the population, is preposterous.

The Cuban government "recognizes" the problem, Ahmed writes. It has
"begun to circulate pro-pregnancy pamphlets and fliers to encourage
young couples to keep their children. Some women said that in recent
months, government doctors had discouraged them from having abortions…"

If we can judge by the final two paragraphs, having loosened the
abortion-on-demand juggernaut, the government's efforts are almost bound
to fail.

He giggled quietly and looped his arm through hers. Ultimately, he said,
they do want a family. The when of the matter would come in the
not-too-distant future, he hoped.

"We don't want to pressure ourselves," [he] said. "We want to live our
lives, day by day, each day in its own time." Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life
News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. This
post originally appeared in at National Right to Life News Today —- an
online column on pro-life issues.

Source: SHOCK: Abortion Used as Birth Control in Cuba, One Woman's Mom
Had 4 and Her Aunt 10 | -

Tampa firm clearing hurdles to open warehouse in Cuba

Tampa firm clearing hurdles to open warehouse in Cuba
Published: October 29, 2015 | Updated: October 30, 2015 at 07:10 AM

TAMPA — Exporter Florida Produce made history in 2001 when it became the
first company in the Sunshine State licensed to conduct food sales in
Cuba since the U.S. imposed a travel and trade embargo in the early 1960s.

Now, Florida Produce is seeking to become the first company in the U.S.
to establish operations on the island nation since the embargo was
imposed, with an eye toward distributing and storing a variety of goods
allowed under new federal regulations.

Such a venture is permitted under general U.S. trade licenses
established Sept. 18.

Florida Produce pitched a proposal Monday to representatives of the
Cuban government at the new Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"To my knowledge, we are the first to have actually met with the Cuban
government and are further along with our proposal than any other
company," said Tim Hunt an attorney with Tampa law firm Hill Ward
Henderson, representing Florida Produce.

Today, Florida Produce partners Manuel Fernandez and Mike Mauricio visit
Havana to continue negotiations.

In January, through executive orders, President Barack Obama expanded
the list of exportable items to Cuba to include telecommunications,
restaurant and agricultural equipment as well as construction supplies.
Florida Produce wants to store and distribute all of those goods.

"We know what our government will allow us to do," said Florida Produce
partner Fernandez. "Now we need to see what Cuba will allow."

U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba have been allowed since 2001.

Cuban officials with whom the local businessmen have met were receptive
and excited over the proposal yet sent a mixed message by steering
discussions into politics, attorney Hunt said.

"They candidly spent a lot of time talking about the embargo, or as they
call it the blockade," he said. "They are not happy that it continues.
And they are upset that U.S. companies are still forbidden from selling
anything to Cuba on credit and all deals are payment upon transfer of
goods. Other countries can extend credit to Cuba."

Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two
countries for the first time in five decades, the island nation is
buying fewer American goods than it has in years. The reason, in the
view of some analysts, may he the continuing embargo and denial of credit.

Through October, total Cuban purchases of U.S. goods for calendar year
2015 was $124.7 million, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade
and Economic Council Inc. That's on pace with 2002, the first full year
American agricultural products could be sold to Cuba again, when the
total was $138.6 million. But it's far below the peak of $710 million in

Still, ending the embargo or allowing sales on credit might not improve
trade, John Kavulich, president of the economic council, told the
Tribune earlier. Cuba may still prefer to do business with nations like
Vietnam that allow up to two years for payment of goods.

Kavulich said it is unlikely U.S. companies would allow such extended
credit lines.

Florida Produce is licensed to trade in agricultural products with Cuba
but hasn't done much lately because there has been little interest in Cuba.

But partners Mauricio and Fernandez have kept there hand in trade with
Cuba as founders of the Ybor City gallery Habana Art, which imports art
from Cuba for sale. In May, they promoted a dinner show in Havana's
Hotel Nacional featuring the Fabulous Rockers, a nine-piece Tampa rock
band from the 1950s and 1960s.

Improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba prompted Florida Produce to
take the initiative again.

"It made sense to have some sort of warehouse and distribution center
there," Hunt said, "as opposed to bringing a ship to Cuba and dropping
the stuff off on the dock."

Florida Produce applied for a warehousing license in March from the U.S.
Treasury Department and continued talks with the federal government over
the next few months. At the time, it was not yet legal to operate a
business in Cuba so they hoped to obtain a federal exception.

Then in September, the change in regulations allowed the business model
proposed, including maintaining bank accounts there, employment of U.S.
citizens working in Cuba, and employment of Cuban nationals.

Their endeavor might get another boost if Cuba decides to open a
consular office in Tampa.

Among duties of a consulate is helping with trade and other business in
the country it represents.

The Tampa City Council, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and
Hillsborough County Commission have approved resolutions to bring a
consulate to Tampa. So has the St. Petersburg City Council.

It's not clear when Florida Produce will hear back from the Cuban
government on its warehouse proposal.

While he prefers a warehouse in Havana, Fernandez said, the company
would not do any serious scouting for locations until the Cuban
government gives them a thumbs up.

Still, Fernandez is confident.

"We have an opportunity to change the course of history by further
opening up business between U.S. and Cuba. "Florida Produce wants to be
at the forefront."

(813) 259-7606

Source: Tampa firm clearing hurdles to open warehouse in Cuba |
and The Tampa Tribune -

Winds of change hit Cuba's Mariel port

Winds of change hit Cuba's Mariel port
Site of massive exodus in 1980s now free trade zone project
Author: Andrea Torres, Reporter,
Hatzel Vela, Reporter,
Published On: Oct 29 2015 06:42:25 PM EDT

Roberto Damas' beloved island was in the hands of Fidel Castro's
revolution, and after spending years as a political prisoner, he fled to
Miami in one of U.S. President Lyndon Johnson's "freedom flights."

Castro closed businesses and confiscated private property. Damas, 77,
was among an estimated quarter million Cubans, whom the U.S. welcomed as
political refugees by 1974. Leaving his family behind haunted him.

In the 1980s, Castro was allowing Cubans to leave the island. To help
rescue relatives, Damas and a few other families came up with $45,000 to
rent a 65-foot boat. They departed from Key West and arrived at the Port
of Mariel, west of Havana.

"I claimed 80 relatives," Damas said, but only three made it out. "Our
boat was big. It was called 'The Hurricane.'"

Officials made him wait for 11 days in the port. It was torture, he
said. After paying off officers, he was able to rescue his brother,
Carlos Damas, his sister-in-law, Consuelo Damas, and his niece Ileana.
There were at least 150 others in the boat, he said. They departed from
Felicia Vasquez Hernandez said the port was full of sadness, because
many knew that the families were not going to go back. There was also
fear about the dangers of crossing the Florida Straits.

Damas' boat was not the only crowded vessel. Castro also deported common
criminals. Nancy Lima Diaz said she remembers there were hundreds of
boats. The exodus of about 125,000 between April and October 1980 became
known as the Mariel boat lift.

A lot has changed since Damas rescued his brother from Cuba's Mariel
Harbor, now known as the $1 billion Mariel free trade zone project.
Castro handed over power to his brother, Raul Castro, and resigned in
2008. Container shipping was transferred from Havana to Mariel, though
the capital still receives fuel tankers.

Brazil helped to finance $682 million and Brazil's Odebrecht engineering
group got a contract. The Mariel dredging project has a target depth of
59 feet to welcome mega-ships coming from the Panama Canal and the
Nicaragua canal project.

But with Odebrecht's CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, jailed in Brazil over
corruption and money laundering, the project may be facing
complications. Former president Luz Inacio Lula da Silva was accused of
lobbying for the company in Cuba, but he denies allegations and has not
been charged, Brazilian magazine Epoca reported.

President Barack Obama eased economic restrictions, despite a trade
embargo that remains in place under U.S. law. This upset Damas, who
hasn't been back to Cuba since he rescued his brother in Mariel.

Damas, who lives in Miami-Dade County, has children and grandchildren
who were born and raised in the United States. He also has relatives on
the island whom he hasn't met.

"I am not going back there -- not while Communism still exists," Damas said.

Source: Winds of change hit Cuba's Mariel port | News - Home -

Cuba’s semi-untouched markets offer rare opportunity for U.S. businesses

Cuba's semi-untouched markets offer rare opportunity for U.S. businesses
BY VIKRAM MANSHARAMANI October 29, 2015 at 5:50 PM EDT

With the recent thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States,
expectations are running high for political normalization between the
two countries and the promising economic opportunities that should come
with it. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

On Tuesday, the United Nations issued its 24th annual condemnation of
the American embargo of Cuba. There was a silver lining. With the recent
thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States, expectations
are running high for political normalization between the two countries
and the promising economic opportunities that should come with it. While
much of this hope is warranted, so is caution. There is still a long way
to go before investors and businesses can fully enter the markets of the
Caribbean's largest island.

Over the past year, diplomatic ties between the two countries have been
restored, and some trade and travel restrictions eased. What happened?
Might the oil downturn have played a role? In recent years, Venezuela
has supported the Cuban regime by supplying subsidized oil in return for
medical services. Cuba leases out 30,000 Cuban healthcare professionals
to Venezuela, along with a variety of other service workers. In addition
to cash compensation, subsidized Venezuelan oil provides much of the
island's oil supply in return.

But oil demand has decelerated, in large part due to a global economic
slowdown led by China at the same time that fracking has dramatically
increased supply. This combination pushed oil prices lower, reducing the
compensation Venezuela provided to Cuba. Might the loss of Cuba's
economic safety net have played a role in its desire to liberalize and
negotiate with its neighbor to the north? I think so.
As the Cuban market opens, there will be many opportunities, and none is
bigger, perhaps, than medical tourism. Cuba has one of the most
concentrated supplies of doctors in the world, with 6.7 for every 1000
citizens. On this metric it is behind only Monaco and
Qatar, according to the World Health Organization. But in Cuba, labor
costs are extremely low: general practitioners make $44 dollars per
month. Thousands of Canadians and Europeans already travel to Cuba every
year for its affordable healthcare, but this may be a drop in the bucket
compared to the opportunity.

Let's not forget that a nonstop flight between Havana and Miami would
take less than 30 minutes. And with almost 4 million senior citizens in
Florida alone, conditions are ripe for a boom in outbound American
patients heading to Cuba for medical care.

General tourism from global consumers is also starting to boom. While
travel for Americans is still restricted, tourism from the United States
rose by more than 50 percent in the first half of this year. Total
inbound international tourism to Cuba was up almost 20 percent last
year. Not surprisingly, Airbnb recently entered Cuba, and the island
became the fastest growing new market launch in the company's history.

Despite these areas of optimism, Cuba has a long way to go before its
economy can boom. The U.S. still imposes strong sanctions on
the country, although public opinion has turned sharply against it.
Cuban debt trades for pennies on the dollar. The country has significant
infrastructure problems, including subpar roads, financial services and
information technology.

Is Cuba focused on addressing these needs? It ranks 135th in Internet
penetration in the world, putting it between Syria and Swaziland. Only 5
to 25 percent of Cubans have any access to Internet, and those that do
can only reach a small, censored subset of the web. But the country
plans to get 50 percent of households connected to the Internet over the
next five years.

It will also need to build out its infrastructure to support the swarms
of inbound vacationers that might flock to the island. It
currently has 62,000 hotel rooms — roughly the same as Phoenix — but
already has plans to build 13,600 more by 2016. Cruises to the island
have quintupled over the past three years, but its ports need to be
upgraded to host the biggest ships. And indeed there are billion dollar
plans to upgrade the island's Port of Mariel and set up a special
economic zone there, with much of the funding coming from Brazil.

More problematic concerns persist. The country does not have the solid
rule of law needed to make investors confident. It's not clear how
contract disputes will be handled, or for that matter, how basic
regulations will be applied. Ultimately, it's impossible to truly know
today how far Cuban liberalization will go. While some property laws
have been relaxed, most industrial activity in the country is still
centrally controlled.

In today's highly interconnected global economy, Cuba offers a rare
opportunity for businesses and investors to enter semi-untouched
markets. There's plenty of hype and excitement, but let's not lose track
of reality. Risks abound, but rewards could be plentiful — for the
patient and long-term oriented. Sooner or later, we'll be toasting a
free Cuba with a cuba libre.

Vikram Mansharamani
Vikram Mansharamani is a lecturer in the Program on Ethics, Politics &
Economics at Yale University and a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani
Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is
also the author of "Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before
They Burst" and is a regular commentator in the financial and business

Source: Cuba's semi-untouched markets offer rare opportunity for U.S.
businesses -

How does Colomé Ibarra's resignation fit into the regime's succession plans?

How does Colomé Ibarra's resignation fit into the regime's succession plans?
AIMEL RÍOS | Washington | 30 Oct 2015 - 11:49 am.

General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, who was the western hemisphere's most
veteran interior minister (and the only one charged with carrying out
political repression) has just resigned. What does his retirement mean
in the context of the generational succession sought by the regime from
now until 2018, when Raúl Castro announced that he will step down as the
president of the Council of State and Ministers?

First, we need to analyze what exactly "Furry" (as he is known in the
circle of power) is giving up. According to the article published in the
official newspaper of the Communist Party, Granma, Colomé Ibarra is not
only resigning from his position as interior minister, but also as a
member of the State Council. The letter does not specify whether he will
continue serving as a member of the powerful Political Bureau of the
Community Party Central Committee, which calls the shots in Cuban
politics, and as a representative in the Asamblea Nacional del Poder
Popular. In the absence of any clarification in this regard, we must
assume that he will retain these positions.

Although Colomé states his health impedes him from continuing in these
public offices, he will presumably retain those he nominally occupies,
and in the short term. One wonders if at the next PCC congress, to be
held in April 2016, Raúl Castro will relieve him of his position in the
Party's leadership, having another opportunity to honor one of his most
loyal confederates in Cuba's political-military apparatus.

Similarly, we can assume that he will not be a candidate as a
representative in the next elections to the aforementioned Assembly,
slated for 2017. In a country with the most rudimentary guarantees of
the rule of law, the members of said body and civil society
organizations would be calling for Colomé's immediate resignation as a
representative, in light of the fact that he is apparently in no
condition to continue performing his functions.

Raúl Castro has appointed another trusted ally to take General Colomé
Ibarra's place, a veteran of the armed struggle in the Sierra Maestra,
and one year older than his predecessor: General Carlos Fernández
Gondín. Also a representative in the National Assembly, Fernández Gondín
is not a member of the Political Bureau of the PCC or the State Council.
Promoting him to these positions, now or at the 7th

Party Congress, rather than a younger and less conservative figure, will
further retard the process of generational change.

For now General Raúl Castro is still stalling, maintaining a
conservative in one of the regime's most important posts. The changing
of the guard, then, remains intra-generational; that is, exclusively
reserved for members of the regime's historic generation. It is quite
clear that the Interior Ministry is too important to entrust its
leadership to some young upstart. As long as biology permits, it seems
the responsibility for suppressing Cubans' growing discontent will
remain in the regime's most decrepit hands.

With Fernández Gondín at the helm can we expect the ongoing repression
of dissent and tight control over all sectors of Cuban society by the
state security authorities directed by his nefarious ministry.

Source: How does Colomé Ibarra's resignation fit into the regime's
succession plans? | Diario de Cuba -