Monday, February 29, 2016

The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services

The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services / Ivan Garcia
Posted on February 28, 2016

Ivan Garcia, 26 February 2016 — In a hospital in East Caracas, a bronze
plaque records:"To the medical workers who died in Bolivarian lands
while doing their duty", as if they had fallen in battle.

But they didn't die in combat. They were victims of the street violence
which has converted Venezuela into a slaughterhouse with the highest
crime rate in the world. In April 2010, which was the last time the
Venezuelan government reported on the matter, 68 Cuban doctors had died
for that reason.

For doctors like Jorge (the names of the people interviewed have been
changed), Venezuela was a nightmare. "I spent two years in a slum in
Cerros de Caracas. Early in the morning you could hear fights and
gunfire. It seemed like the wild west. The embassy advised us not to go
out in the street at night. I have never felt so afraid. Not even during
the war in Angola".

Venezuela has ended up not just the most dangerous, but also the worst
paid by the olive green autocracy, which has made the export of medical
services the country's principal industry.

While he was in Caracas, Jorge was paid $200 a month and the Ministry of
Public Health (MINSAP) deposited 150 convertible pesos into a bank
account for his wife in Havana. "Cuban doctors go to places nobody wants
to go to. And with terrible salaries. The government wins both ways. It
gains propaganda and earns money from us".

"Why do Cuban medical professionals go to difficult locations, risking
their lives?", I ask him. Jorge looks up at the ceiling of the
dilapidated clinic in a poor neighbourhood in Havana and thinks for a
few seconds, before replying:

"Some go in order to emigrate, others see these journeys as a way of
earning some money in order to sort out personal problems. I don't know,
there are lots of reasons, but I can assure you that the last thing on
their mind is the altruism that Cuba talks so much about".

An investigation carried out by various independent journalists for the
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), published in Cubanet in
September 2015, revealed how Cuban personnel in the so-called
"international missions" are robbed of their salaries.

According to this investigation, the Asistencia Médica Compensada
programme has become a way of getting in foreign currency and a useful
diplomatic and public relations tool for the Cuban authorities.

Those who join the medical brigades abroad enjoy higher salaries and
have access to major perks. But they have to hand over at least 50% of
their income to the government, depending on their assignment. As an
example, the report indicates that the doctors located in Trinidad and
Tobago deposit half their salaries in an acount in the name of Rody
Cervantes Silva, coordinator of the brigade, who then transfers it to
the government.

"Supposedly, this is a voluntary 'donation' says Odalys, who is a
dermatologist, and who offered her services in South Africa and
Portugal, and explains that the payment system is different in each country.

"The contract you sign with MINSAP doesnt give you much detail. You sign
it more because you need the money than for any other reason, and you
hardly read the small print. In Pretoria they paid me $400 a month and
the bank deposited $1200 for me. Looking into it, I knew that my real
salary was $5,000. They kept hold of 70% of it. Even so, with the money
you get, you can sort out your house and even buy a second hand car,
said Odalys.

The international missions also are a basis for running parallel
businesses in the countries in which they operate. Oscar, a
gynaecologist, carried out under-the-counter abortions in a private
clinic in an African country. "I made $500 for each abortion. I was able
to buy a house and a modern car with the money I saved".

Irene, head of a group of nurses, went frequently to Venezuela, Brazil
and Ecuador, for work reasons. "Before I left, I bought three or four
thousand dollars. With this money I could buy flat-screen televisions
and cellphones, among other things, and I sold them when I got back.
With this investment I make two thousand convertible pesos profit".

But it is the government which makes the most out of these medical
services exports. Ten billion dollars annually. According to Yiliam
Jiménez, president of Cuban Medical Sales SA, Cuba has 51 thousand
health professionals serving in 67 countries.

This Services Retailer is a network of companies, research institutes
and high standard clinics which offer services at competitive prices in
the international market.

While many Cuban hospitals and medical centres are crying out for
repairs and and patients bring buckets and fans, towels and sheets when
they are admitted, clinics like Cira García, the La Pradera Medical
Centre and CIMEQ (Surgeons' Medical Research Centre) offer a la carte
menus, have air-conditioned rooms and 24 hour ambulance services.

The overseas medical squads have also converted themselves into a
migration option. It's an unusual week in which Solidaridad sin
Frontera, a Miami-based organisation, does not receive six or seven
calls from Cubans who want to join the Programme for Cuban Medical
Professionals, better known as Visas CMPP, offered by the US government.

Since 2000, about 6,000 medical workers have deserted their
international missions. And, up to 2010, 68 Cuban doctors have died in
Venezuela, victims of street violece. Six years later, the up to date
figure is not known. A plaque in a hospital remembers them.

Iván García

Martí Noticias, February 24, 2016.

Source: The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -

Covering the “Eyes” of Claudio Fuentes

Covering the "Eyes" of Claudio Fuentes / Luis Felipe Rojas
Posted on February 28, 2016

Luis Felipe Rojas, Miami, 15 February 2016 — Cuban photographer and
dissident Claudio Fuentes was once again arrested on Sunday, 14
February, by forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in
Havana. The Castro regime's gendarmes kept Fuentes from taking part in
the peaceful action #TodosMarchamos [We All March], which the Ladies in
White and dozens of activists put on in support of Human Rights.

Claudio Fuentes is an independent photographer who has been arrested on
numerous occasions for taking part in and photographing peaceful
activities of the internal dissidence in Cuba. His photographs reveal
victims of beatings, women who express their courage against the
threatening actions of the Cuban dictatorship, but he has also
photographed in an original manner life in Havana as he has lived it.

The information regarding the arrest of Claudio Fuentes was provided by
Ailer González, who in charge of artistic projects for State of SATS,
which is directed by Antonio Rodiles. The activist posted various photos
in which Fuentes can be seen being detained at the hands of the PNR and
officials from State Security. Similarly, González reproached the
journalist Fernando Ravsberg and others who blame the Cuban opposition
for not bringing together more people.

"…And how do you mobilize them under a totalitarian dictatorship where
there are these levels of control, harrassment and repression? Assisted
further by the Obama administration, the Vatican and even Kirill, the
czar of the Russian mafia?" asked the activist.

For over 10 months, diverse organizations and individual activists have
documented 41 consecutive Sundays in which the military forces have
violently repressed the Ladies in White during their march upon leaving
St. Rita Church, on 5th Avenue in the Miramar neighborhood in the Cuban
capital. The Forum for Rights and Liberties (FPDyL) has coordinated
support for the women.

Claudio probably is free at this hour, and frustrated because they did
not allow him to photograph that piece of Cuba not found in today's
tourist guides. If not, I send him all my solidarity — as on several
occasions he did with me, when the henchmen were detaining me and
minutely recording my life in a small town of eastern Cuba where the
tourists, businesspeople and celebrities did not, and still do not,
arrive to stroll impassively while looking the other way.

Source: Covering the "Eyes" of Claudio Fuentes / Luis Felipe Rojas |
Translating Cuba -

Pro-Castro Foolishness

Pro-Castro Foolishness / Luis Felipe Rojas
Posted on February 28, 2016

"There will be no impunity for the enemies of the fatherland, for those
who intend to endanger our independence." — Raúl Castro, 3 August 2010.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 February 2016 — Attention, all who rabidly applaud
the Obama-Francisco-Castro pact: it is worthwhile to make difficult
proposals, ask inconvenient questions, and bother the military beast
that has run the Island with the trembling hands of whisky hangovers.

Oh, no? Not in your plans? It must be said again and again, because
after the hugs have come the kisses, and who knows what else. Among
secretaries of agriculture, lady mayors, aide-de-camps, successful
businesspeople, and rock superstars, there must be somebody left with a
little shame who will make it known to Raúl Castro that his outstretched
hand should go in another direction, he should look the people in the
eye and quit posing for a photograph that will take on a sepia tone
faster than his egomania can stand it.

Muriel Bowser, Lady Mayor of Washington, visited Cuba last week and said
that she wants an educational system similar to that in Cuba for her
fellow citizens. Was she including among this the Study-Work method —
that she was taken to see — which Cuban instituted to put an end to the
family and turn common citizens into robots? Does Her Ladyship know that
Cuban children are obligated to shout that they want to be like Ché
Guevra, and that from repeating it so much they become so, barely out of

Those children who were so excited to be like Ché Guevara left the
country to kill Africans that they had never met, and returned bearing
all the traumas of war, turned into fat fifty-somethings, who today run
a plastics factory or a Rapid Response Brigade (those at-the-ready to
shout down — or even beat down — any display of non-conformance with the

Could it be that no superstar, before giving a concert or going out to
enjoy mojitos and pork chunks, will ask Castro to disarm the
surveillance mechanism that keeps an eye even on the intimate apparel of
every Cuban woman? The wizened stool-pigeon of the neighborhood, the
"honorary official," the "specialist" of State Security who controls
every provincial cultural center, even the thug who organizes a raid on
dissidents — they are all part and parcel of that magic that today
enthralls the political tourists when they gaze upon Raúl Castro. He is
the criminal with whom they pose and will be seen in the Times, the
Washington Post, or the now "spotless" and
in-the-running-for-an-Oscar Boston Globe.

It will never be to late to align oneself to infamy. So, start running
today to Havana, stroll around sporting your little container of bottled
water, take a whiff of that 21st Century dungheap that has been sold to
you as the best-educated nation of Latin America. Forget about the
penitentiary system, of the fear among neighbors, of the violence that
can just as easily decapitate with machetes as take a youth's life by
kicking him until his spinal cord is crushed in the police station at
Zanja and Dragones streets.

Go and tell the world that Cuba has changed, that the island is a paradise.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Pro-Castro Foolishness / Luis Felipe Rojas | Translating Cuba -

All-inclusive trip departure delay leaves vacationers upset

All-inclusive trip departure delay leaves vacationers upset
February 29, 2016

Two Mount Uniacke couples say they will not fly Sunwing again after the
departure of their seven-day, all-inclusive trip to Cuba was delayed
without explanation, causing them to lose most of a day of their vacation.

"We would have had a full day on the beach and meals and what all is
included," said Brian Stephen, who is travelling with his wife and a
neighbouring couple to the southern destination.

The couples were notified two weeks before their scheduled departure
that their flight would not leave at 6 a.m. as scheduled, but instead
would depart almost 11 hours later at 4:55 p.m.

"We should have been there having lunch but now we're going to get to
our room at midnight so we're losing an entire day," said Danielle
Weickert, as she prepared to check in at Stanfield International Airport
in Halifax, adding it's very disappointing because they were given no
reason for the change in their departure time.

Stephen said they "paid good money" for the trip, which cost them
$1250 each.

Departure changes possible

CBC News contacted Sunwing about the flight delay. In an email,
spokeswoman Rachel Goldrick said they try to avoid such schedule changes
as much as possible. She pointed out their terms and conditions state
"on occasion it is necessary to make schedule changes for operational

Sunwing's terms and conditions, which are eight pages long, says "all
flight times, airlines and type of aircraft, as well as itineraries are
subject to change with or without prior notice."

The document goes on to say "operational changes can occur which may
result in the need to reschedule or cancel flight" and
notes Sunwing does not accept responsibility for missed holiday time or
any other expenses.

Sunwing responded with 'blow-off letter'

Stephen emailed Sunwing saying this is the fourth time he has booked
trips with them where there has been some type of delay. He was told by
his travel agent that Sunwing offered a $50 voucher for future travel
but Stephen told Sunwing that was an insult.

"Contact Us Sunwing" emailed Stephen saying they understand his
frustration but flight changes are "periodically a necessary reality" in
their industry.

The email went on to say that while flight schedules are arranged many
months in advance of departure dates, "due to various operational
factors, it may become necessary to make amendments to the schedules."

Stephen calls that a terrible way to reply to his concerns.

"Their response is basically a blow off letter," he said. "They're not
saying any reason why the delay. You don't get a delay two weeks in

Advocate urges legal action

Air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs told CBC News in his opinion
the airline's terms and conditions don't apply because of the Montreal
Convention, an international treaty signed by Canada that governs
international air travel.

"They can put whatever conditions they want but they have no legal
effect under Article 26 of the Montreal Convention," he said.

"The Montreal Convention imposes a liability on the airline for damages
incurred by delay up to approximately $9,000 per passenger unless the
airline can show it has taken all necessary measures to prevent delay or
there were no such measures."

He's urging people whose international flights are delayed to take the
airlines to small claims court.

"Airlines will continue to do it and only stop if it's no longer
profitable," he said.

Source: All-inclusive trip departure delay leaves vacationers upset -

Why are Cubans seeking to live in US special?

Why are Cubans seeking to live in US special?
By Matt Welch
Los Angeles Times
Published: February 28, 2016

Now that the GOP presidential nominating contest is settling into a
three-way race between a would-be wall builder and two guys whose
families came from Cuba, a new immigration controversy is coming to the

Record numbers of refugees from Fidel Castro's failed communist
experiment are streaming into the United States — not just across the
Florida Straits, but especially over the U.S.-Mexico border. During the
last three months of 2015, more than 12,000 Cubans knocked on our
southern door. This year's migration is on pace to double the previous high.

In stark, resentment-sowing contrast to other migrants from Latin
America, Cubans are greeted in the U.S. with cash, access to welfare and
a path to citizenship. That's all thanks to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment
Act. But now many politicians are asking whether, during this period of
Washington-Havana thaw, it's time to revamp this Cold War-era preference.

"I don't think that's fair. I mean, why would that be a fair thing?"
Donald Trump told The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune this month. "You know, we
have a system now for bringing people into the country, and what we
should be doing is we should be bringing people who are terrific people
who have terrific records of achievement, accomplishment."

Is this another oh-no-he-didn't moment for Trump, daring to utter an
unmentionable in Florida, the way he supposedly did by going after the
locally popular George W. Bush in South Carolina? Not quite. America's
"wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, whereby Cubans who are interdicted at sea
are forcibly returned to their homeland, but the ones who make it to
shore are accepted as communism-fleeing refugees, is coming under
increasing attack by Cuban-Americans as well.

"We don't think the U.S. should be fleeced by people who claim to be
refugees, then take advantage of our welfare system," Rep. Carlos
Curbelo, R-Fla., recently told Fox Latino. Curbelo in December
introduced the Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act, requiring migrants
from the island to prove they suffered political persecution before they
can receive any government benefits.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Senate version of the bill in
January, saying that the increase in Cuban immigration is "becoming a
real crisis."

"We have people living in Cuba off Social Security benefits," he
lamented to a New Hampshire town hall last month. "They never worked
here. … This is an outrageous abuse."

The other Cuban-American senator battling for second place in the
Republican presidential primary, however, is comfortable with the status
quo. Ted Cruz of Texas, even while promising that all 12 million or so
immigrants in the U.S. illegally will somehow be deported and made
permanently ineligible for citizenship, thinks the Cuban Adjustment Act
should stay in place until Castro's decaying paradise is no longer
communist. Cubanos si, Venezolanos no.

This kind of political discord and uneven treatment is what happens when
immigration is managed from Washington on a patchwork,
country-by-country basis. As has been proved again and again in policies
about both immigration and Cuba, unintended consequences are the rule,
not the exception.

For instance: The renewed diplomatic relationship with the U.S., to be
crowned by President Barack Obama's historic visit to the island next
month, is one of the main reasons for the migratory surge. Cubans are
heading out now while the Cuban Adjustment Act is still in place,
fearing that they'll soon have to apply for documentation like everyone

Obama's removal last year of the cap limiting the amount of money
Americans can send back to their relatives in Cuba has also boosted the
outward migration, in conjunction with Raul Castro's elimination of an
exit visa. Suddenly, more Cubans have more access to more money, and no
longer require the government's blessing to get on a plane. No wonder
they're heading to Ecuador and Mexico with an eye turned northward —
because they can.

This is not a "crisis," this is a huge victory for personal and
political freedom of a long-suffering people. During my visit to the
island last month for the first time since 1998, the presence of new
money and personal latitude amid the socialist ruin was palpable and
heartening. As the embargo-hating Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who was part
of my group, pointed out, something like one-quarter of Cubans now make
their principal income from nongovernment sources. That's a horrendous
number in the free world, but downright miraculous in Havana.

At some point soon, Cubans should rejoin the line with other would-be
immigrants from the Caribbean and Central America. But policymakers
should be focusing on how to make that line shorter, not longer, with
simple rules that respect human aspiration and reflect supply and
demand, not the temporal whims of power-seeking pols.

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason and a contributing writer to the
Los Angeles Times' opinion section.

Source: Why are Cubans seeking to live in US special? - Opinion -
Stripes -

Cuba intensifies fight to fend off Zika virus

Cuba intensifies fight to fend off Zika virus
Source: Xinhua 2016-02-29 09:01:43

HAVANA, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- The Cuban government on Sunday announced
fresh measures to keep the Zika virus out of its borders.

In an address to the nation, Cuban President Raul Castro called on "all
Cubans to take on this fight as a personal challenge" by eliminating
environments which could help mosquito proliferation.

"The army has deployed over 9,000 soldiers, ... with the additional help
of 200 police officers," said Castro, adding that the government has
tasked the Ministry of Public Health with leading an action against
Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

As part of this campaign, Cuba has created a ministry-level management
center, which works around the clock to monitor information linked to
these diseases across the country and beyond.

Public Health Minister Roberto Morales said this week that while no case
of Zika has been found in Cuba, "the risk of introduction of Zika into
the country is high."

He attributed the high probability to "our international exchanges, the
high levels of infestation of the mosquito in 55 municipalities,
including the capital, and the high vulnerability of our population to
such diseases."

All around Havana, brigades of soldiers can be seen going from house to
house, fumigating along their way, while doctors and nurses attach
special attention to any potential symptoms in the population,
especially among pregnant women.

The battle has focused on a cleaning campaign, including the pruning of
trees across the city. A document listing preventive measures for
families has also been released.

Source: Cuba intensifies fight to fend off Zika virus - Xinhua | -

U.S. businesses slow to expand to Cuba

U.S. businesses slow to expand to Cuba
Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff Published: February 28, 2016

TAMPA — Through a series of executive orders by President Barack Obama
during the past year, U.S. citizens are finding it easier to do business
in Cuba than at any time in five decades.

Americans can now sell and export items such as materials, equipment and
tools for construction or agriculture, on credit if they choose, to the
Cuban private sector. They also can establish a presence on the island
nation and hire its citizens.

Still, no deals have been struck yet — raising concerns that without
brick-and-mortar progress on the ground, the U.S. president who will be
sworn in Jan. 20 could wipe away Obama's orders with a stroke of a pen.

The same clock is ticking on a measure by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the
Tampa Democrat, calling for Congress to lift the embargo on travel and
trade that Obama's orders have whittled away. There is pressure, Castor
has said, to pass her Cuba Trade Act during the term of a president she
knows would sign it into law.

An established U.S. business presence in Cuba, though, with millions
already invested, would prove a major obstacle if the next president
seeks to walk back the steps toward normalization that Obama has taken.

"I think the more skin the U.S. has in the game — diplomatically,
commercially, and at the individual level — the more difficult it will
be to undo things," said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the
Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy in the Americas. "As we
know, business is a powerful interest and can affect policy."

Still, can enough of an investment be made in the next 11 months?

❖ ❖ ❖

Two U.S. businesses seem close to finalizing a deal with Cuba —
Alabama-based Cleber LLC, which would sell tractors to farmers, and
Tampa's Florida Produce, which would operate a distribution warehouse
for all American goods that can legally be sold on the island nation.

Both ventures have been approved by the U.S. government.

Saul Berenthal, co-founder of Cleber, said the Cuban government verbally
OK'd his company's proposal to open a manufacturing and distribution
center in the Mariel special economic development zone, an area covering
180 square miles west of Havana.

Berenthal will formally file the necessary documents with the Cuban
government to receive official approval when he returns there March 11
for the International Agricultural Fair.

He expects the approval process to take 60-90 days. His company would
then begin building a $5 million to $10 million tractor manufacturing
center by end of the year with a goal of starting production in the
first half of 2017.

"We are not afraid," Berenthal said, considering the prospect of a new
U.S. president. "We believe this is an important step in improving the
relations with the two countries and is something that can help the
Cuban people. So it is worth the risk."

Florida Produce and its owners, Manuel Fernandez and Mike Mauricio, will
give their formal presentation to the Cuban government March 29, said
Tim Hunt, their attorney, with Tampa law firm Hill Ward Henderson.

Conversations he already had with Cuban government officials left Hunt
confident that Florida Produce will win approval of its proposal once
all the paperwork is filed and bureaucratic channels navigated.

Florida Produce would then lease a warehouse from the Cuban government
in Havana.

Hunt said he could not estimate yet how much his clients will invest,
but it would include installation of proper refrigeration and other
components of a warehouse. Nor did Hunt have a timeline for beginning
operations, except to say they prefer to open before Obama leaves office.

"I think the more we can implement, the harder it will be for the next
president to unwind the executive orders," Hunt said.

❖ ❖ ❖

Nothing would stand in the way of a president who wishes to rescind
Obama's orders in the view of another Cuba observer, Mauricio
Claver-Carone, director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S.-Cuba
Democracy PAC.

The president's job, Claver-Carone said, is to uphold the law and he
believes Obama's policies violate the law by circumventing the embargo.
Only Congress can change the embargo and allow even limited trade with
Cuba, he said.

The only trade Congress allows now is for U.S. companies to sell Cuba
agriculture and medical devices, and on a cash-only basis, Claver-Carone

Congress also allows U.S. companies to establish telecommunication
services with Cuba's state-run ETECSA, but sale of devices these
services require is prohibited, as are investments in the island
nation's domestic infrastructure.

Obama's executive orders permit commercial exports of limited
telecommunications to Cubans, those necessary for communicating with
people in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

In addition, telecommunications providers are allowed to establish in
Cuba the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, to provide
commercial telecommunications and Internet services.

"Some of the transactions that Obama is giving a wink-and-nod to today
can easily be considered sanctions violations tomorrow," Claver-Carone
said. "Many of the regulations altered already stretch the bounds of the

❖ ❖ ❖

The companies closing in on a deal with Cuba, Claver-Carone noted, would
establish small operations that a new president would feel little
compunction to honor. He doesn't envision any major corporations
investing in Cuba under current conditions.

Even American Airlines, with plans to take advantage of a non-binding
arrangement allowing as many as 110 commercial U.S. flights to Cuba each
day, has no plans yet for one of its signature Admiral's Clubs in
Havana's José Martí International Airport.

American Airlines is focused on applying for scheduled services through
the U.S. Department of Transportation, spokesman Matt Miller said.

That process ends March 21. Commercial service to Cuba is expected to
begin a few months later.

"We'll evaluate this after we've started scheduled flights," Miller said
in an email, speaking of an Admirals' Club.

Claver-Carone said he believes that once an evaluation is complete, the
decision will be, "No."

The location of the Jose Marti airport is property that was nationalized
by the government in the years following the revolution of Fidel Castro.
The last owners of airport property fled the island nation.

José Ramón López, heir to the land, now lives in the U.S.

Though his relatives were not American citizens when the land was
seized, the Helms-Burton Act that codifies the U.S. embargo says the
president can allow Cubans now living in the U.S. to seek legal recourse
if a U.S. business profits from the seized property.

This adds more potential consequence for Cuba to the question of who is
elected U.S. president.

And that makes operating a business anywhere on the island nation is
risky, Claver-Carone said, especially considering all the land
nationalized by Castro's government.

"If I am a compliance officer for a major company I am not signing off
any deal that could involve stolen properties," Claver-Carone said.

❖ ❖ ❖

Then there is the issue of civil judgments levied against the Cuban
government by American courts — $4 billion plus interest, primarily in
favor of Floridians whose families suffered from Cuba's actions while it
remained on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list from 1982-2015.

The plaintiffs may be able to freeze money transferred between a U.S.
company and Cuba if that cash makes its way through the American banking

Asked if he would attempt to do so, Andrew Hall, a Miami lawyer
representing a South Florida man who is owed the lion's share of the
judgments — $3.2 billion — sent a simple reply via email: "Yes."

"It is a real concern and something we have been following," said
Florida Produce attorney Hunt. "My impression is that it has been a
topic of much discussion between the U.S. and Cuban governments."

U.S. State Department and Cuban officials began negotiating in December
on settling the civil judgments as well as property claims made by
American citizens against the island nation.

There is also a logistics issue. Obama's executive orders say these new
deals can only be made with private Cuban entrepreneurs. But under Cuban
law, all imports must be sold to the state-run Alimport then re-sold to
private citizens and businesses.

Florida Produce is not concerned with this hurdle, confident that the
U.S. government will bend its policy.

"If we can come to an understanding that the Cuban government is not the
ultimate consumer and is the consignee transferring to the individual
entrepreneur, I don't see this as an issue we need to overcome,"
attorney Hill said.

Again, Claver-Carone said he sees this as a risk only a small company
would take.

"When something is based on what you think, it is not based on sound
business rationale," he said. "The only time I see big companies willing
to do business in Cuba is if Congress changes the law."

If he is correct, the question may be whether enough small U.S.
companies can strike deals before inauguration day in 11 months to apply
pressure to a new president pledged to rescind them.

❖ ❖ ❖

Deal or no deal, interest is high in doing business with Cuba.

From the Tampa area alone, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sent a
delegation to the island in May and leaders from both sides of the bay
are lobbying for a Cuban consulate.

Still, the Cuban government has been slow to react to the interest.

"You finish a meeting and it feels great and you think you have inked
the deal and then you hear nothing and are left wondering, 'Is it
something we said?" said Stephens, who as executive director of the
Center for Democracy in the Americas has organized trips for business

There are a number of theories to explain the lack of progress — the
Cuba government does not yet trust U.S. intentions, does not have the
capital to purchase American goods, prefers to remain loyal to
international companies that have done business with them for years, has
such a long bureaucratic chain of command that such decisions take time,
or will only reciprocate this renewed interest once the embargo is lifted.

Stephens believes it is a combination of all these factors.

Some business leaders have expressed hope that Obama's planned visit to
Cuba March 21-22 could inspire the Cuban government to act faster.

"Cuba understands there is a window of opportunity and they probably do
want to accomplish what they can while there is still time in Obama's
term," Stephens said.

Still, she added, Americans see Jan. 20 as more important than Cubans do.

"For us, the window of the end of the Obama administration is front and
center. And while the U.S. of course looms large in Cuba's future, we
are mistaken if we think we are all of it. They have other partners
who've been loyal to them for decades before President Obama's decision
to restore relations."

(813) 259-7606


Source: U.S. businesses slow to expand to Cuba | and The Tampa
Tribune -

MEO Australia Raises Funds for Cuba Exploration Program

MEO Australia Raises Funds for Cuba Exploration Program
by MEO Australia Ltd.|Press Release|Monday, February 29, 2016

MEO Australia Limited (MEO or the Company) reported Monday it has
executed a Private Placement Agreement with London listed Leni Gas Cuba
Limited (Leni Gas Cuba) to raise $1.4 million, with funds to be used to
advance MEO's exploration program on the Company's newly awarded 919
square miles (2,380 square kilometers) onshore oil block, Block 9 in Cuba.

Under the placement agreement, MEO will issue Leni Gas Cuba 140,716,573
shares at an issue price of $0.0071 (AUD 0.01) per share. The placement
of shares to Leni Gas Cuba falls within MEO's placement capacity and
will make Leni Gas Cuba MEO's single largest shareholder with a 15.8
percent interest in the Company.

Leni Gas Cuba is a specialist Cuban investment company listed in London
and has businesses in Cuba ranging from oil and gas interests, tourism
and import/export.

Cuba boasts exceptional oil and gas prospectivity. The Block 9 PSC area
is in a proven hydrocarbon system with multiple discoveries within close
proximity, including the multi-billion barrel Varadero oil field. Block
9 contains the Motembo field, the first oil field discovered in Cuba. An
ongoing technical review of Block 9 has confirmed the significant
prospectivity of the PSC (Production Sharing Contract) area, with
initial analysis identifying recovered oil from a number of previously
drilled wells and a number of structural leads and prospects. MEO
expects to complete its preliminary assessment of Block 9's
prospectivity and reprocessing of 2D seismic data by mid-year.

MEO is prequalified as an onshore and shallow water operator in Cuba and
was awarded a 100 percent interest in the Block 9 PSC on Sept. 3, 2015.
Petro Australis Limited holds a conditional 40 percent back-in option.

MEO's established position in Cuba provides a strong early mover
advantage ahead of ongoing strengthening of diplomatic relations between
Cuba and the US.

MEO's CEO and MD Peter Stickland commented:
"We are delighted to welcome Leni Gas Cuba as a cornerstone investor.
Leni Gas Cuba's focus on Cuba is strongly aligned with MEO's objective
of advancing its Cuban interests, particularly with the exploration
program at Block 9.

The placement is a strong validation of the significant value upside
potential of Block 9 and highlights Leni Gas Cuba's confidence in MEO's
assets and activities."

Source: NEWS | MEO Australia Raises Funds for Cuba Exploration Program
| Rigzone -

Sunday, February 28, 2016

He is Obama, Not God

He is Obama, Not God / Iván García
Posted on February 28, 2016

Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2016 — Neither American economic power nor
Barack Obama's oratorical skills seem to be enough to satisfy
exaggerated, unreasonable or personal demands from the diverse group of
Obama fans who make up Cuban society.

The national psyche is fixated on the underlying and widespread idea
among Afro-Cubans that foreign money, investment and commerce can put
the madness that is the national economy back on track.

After class at Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a high school located in
Havana's La Vibora neighborhood next to a steel mill, a group of
students are chatting. "Dude, I swear, when Obama comes in March, I am
going to ask him to buy me a pair of Nikes. My New Balance shoes are
worn out," says a boy amid chatter and laughter.

A teenage girl in the sixth grade says she would like to talk to Obama
about "fixing the school, which is dilapidated, and getting me a
scholarship to study film in the United States."

One might think of such trivial requests and fantasies as forms of
child's play. But speaking in a serious tone as he skillfully maneuvers
through a series of potholes on Tenth of October Avenue, Antonio's
comments suggest otherwise.

A taxi driver who works twelve-hour days driving an old car with a Ford
chassis, a Hyundai engine and a German transmission, Antonio observes,
"I think this visit will be very important. Obama will probably bring
some good things. The government is fixing the streets and replacing
vintage cars with new American ones."

Giorvis, a bricklayer, would like the Obama administration to approve
temporary visas for Cubans seeking short-term employment in the United
States. "I have a cousin in New York in real estate. He tells me that
they need workers. If they allowed temporary employment in the United
States, people would spend a few months there and then return to the
island. I assure you most people would not want to emigrate," he says.

If the government of Raul Castro were to open an office where people
could submit written proposals to President Obama, the number of letters
it received would be surprising.

Starting with Nora, a plump mulata who sells paper cones filled with
peanuts for a peso apiece at the bus stop on the corner of Ascosta and
Pey streets. She dreams of getting a small loan to repair her
dilapidated shack. Then there is Osniel, the owner of a cafe who wants
to import food supplies directly from Miami. Finally there is Sergio, a
first baseman on a junior league baseball team who would urgently ask
Obama to sign an aggreement between the MLB and the Cuban Federation to
halt the constant drain of players jumping the fence. In one way or
another, every Cuban wants something from Obama.

But Obama is not Houdini. Over the course of twenty-four hours he will
have to listen to the strident rhetoric of military dictators demanding
the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base, the lifting of the "blockade,"
billions of dollars in reparations and the closure of Radio Marti and
its television affiliate.

According to a Communist Party official in Tenth of October, the most
populous burrough in Cuba, "expectations are that there will be a huge
reception and that he will likely give a speech in the auditorium of the
University of Havana or the Palace of Conventions. But not in the Plaza
of the Revolution. Since it's the symbol of anti-imperialist resistance,
that would be a contradiction. Although, given the times in which we
live, anything is possible."

One sector that would also like to speak frankly with Obama is the
dissident community, if there is time in his schedule to meet with them.
Within the opposition there are a variety of views and differing opinions.

On March 21 in 2003 — the same day of the month on which Obama will set
foot on Cuban soil — Jorge Olivera, a poet and independent journalist,
was one of seventy-five dissidents sent to prison on orders from Fidel

For Olivera the visit by the U.S. president could mark a turning point.
"I hope he meets with members of civil society and the opposition, the
old and the new. At least that is what he has suggested in several
interviews. I am one of those who believes this could be a watershed."

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White — a group of women whose
peaceful marches led to three-way negotiations between the regime, the
Catholic church and the Spanish government to free prisoners of
conscience from the Black Spring of 2003 — is more skeptical.

"On January 28 the Ladies in White sent a letter to President Obama
describing concrete cases of human rights violations by the dicatorship.
[These involve] assaults Sunday after Sunday on our marchers demanding
the release of political prisoners, harassment, theft of money and
property by authorities, and threats to family members. We have as yet
to receive a reply from Obama. Our group will approve of Obama's visit
to Cuba if and when he meets with independent members of civil society
and the oppostion. Otherwise, Obama will be complicit in the
dictatorship's violation of human rights," says Soler.

One month before Air Force One lands in Havana and the stunning
presidential limousine known as "the Beast" rolls through the city,
Cubans have come up with every observation, request and piece of gossip

"They say an aircraft carrier and a submarine are coming as part of the
secret service detail protecting Obama," says a craftsman who sells his
products in the capital's historic district. "Several avenues will have
to be fixed just so the Beast can get around Havana. What we need once
and for all is food, construction materials and investments from the
U.S. that will benefit Cubans, not the government."

According to some polls, the U.S. president's approval ratings in Cuba
are higher than those of the Castro brothers. And he is more popular on
the island than in his own country. In spite of the complaints by
average citizens, dissidents and the government, Obama elicits positive
reactions among Cubans.

El Negro, as he is affectionately called by many here, could boast of
being able to fill a stadium or plaza voluntarily. But fulfilling a
litany of requests is another matter. He is Obama, not God.

Source: He is Obama, Not God / Iván García | Translating Cuba -

I’m Afraid That Ecuador Will Deport Me To Cuba

"I'm Afraid That Ecuador Will Deport Me To Cuba" / 14ymedio, Mario Penton
Posted on February 27, 2016

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 February 2016 — Sigfredo Ochoa is 40
years old. Six months ago he was one more "Palestinian" in Havana, a
Cuban from Holguin living "illegally" in the capital of his own country,
according to the authorities – a status that earned him that strange
moniker among native Havanans. He worked as an investigator, regulator
and auditor in the Provincial Trade Company, a state entity that, among
other things, manages the dwindling quotas distributed through the
ration book.

"The idea of coming to Ecuador arose mainly because of the state of
siege I experienced because of my homosexuality. At work it was
impossible not to be discriminated against, and on top of that there is
the economic situation we Cubans experience. My salary wasn't enough to
live on; if I ate I couldn't clothe myself, if I clothed myself I
couldn't eat; a question as existential as Shakespeare's 'to be or not
to be,' but in a tropical version.

Ochoa noted that it wasn't easy to get the money to leave the island.
His parents had to sell the old family house and buy a small apartment
in order to cover the cost of the trip. The passport cost him five
months salary, and adding the cost of the ticket and the first months'
living expenses, it wiped out the few dollars he had.

"My mother has Alzheimer's disease and has already been operated on for
colon cancer. My father is a retired old man. Together their pensions
don't total 30 CUC a month (under $30), tell me, who can live in Cuba on
that money? I had no option, I had to sacrifice myself for them… and for

Sigfredo's expectation was, like many Cubans who set off for Ecuador,
that he would be able to enter the labor market in the Andean country,
where the minimum salary is 366 dollars a month, more than ten times
that in Cuba, although the cost of living is higher in Ecuador.

"I thought getting a job would let me survive and be able to help my
parents, but everything here has wiped me out. These people do not want
to give us work and they don't want us in their country. We go out
looking for work and they simply tell us they don't want Cubans. In a
month we have no money left to pay the rent and we have to sleep in the
street. I don't know what I'm going to do," he laments.

On entering Ecuador with a tourist visa, Cubans have 90 days to try to
legalize their status in the country. For several years that have done
it through a professional visa, which in the interest of the nation's
human resources, allows professionals from the island to qualify for the
title previously legalized by the Cuban Foreign Ministry and certified
at the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana, and so to stay in Ecuador and
subsequently find work in areas such as healthcare and education.

Cuban doctors and professionals took advantage of the opportunity to
come en masse, which forced the Cuban government to come to an agreement
with Ecuador to suspend this right to university graduates coming from
the island. Over time, other alternatives to legalization were also
closed, such as the temporary visa, valid for six months, know as the
12-IX and the commercial visa.

"The only option now to legalize myself is to marry an Ecuadorian and
have children. It's the only possibility left to us Cubans. Ecuadorians
are asking between 3,000 and 4,000 dollars for a marriage of convenience
that enables us the privileges of a spouse," says Sigfredo.

Sigfredo is grateful to Ecuador as the country where he discovered
freedom. "What struck me most when I get here is that you can speak out
and say what you really believe without anyone controlling it." However,
just the fact of being Cuba, and in addition being undocumented, has led
to a lot of discrimination.

"One of the many times I've sought work a restaurant they wouldn't even
let me speak. 'There is no work for Cubans here. You and dogs are the
same thing,' they said. They kicked me out with these words, 'Get out of
here, you people come to this country to steal our jobs.' That hurt me
so much because I didn't want to take anyone's job, I simply had the
idea of helping my family and getting out of the nightmare that is life
in Cuba," he lamented.

Employers in Ecuador often take advantage of these undocumented migrants
as cheap or slave labor. "Once I worked in a bar for a week. I did the
cleaning and served as a barman for 20 dollars a day. I never say a
single cent. When I asked for my pay the owner said he would call the
police. We are completely defenseless."

Many Cubans are living in the center of Quito. "There are many who are
undocumented," comments Ochoa. "Recently there was a raid and they took
several. I live with fear, I try to go out only after sunset or very
early in the morning, in the hours when the police usually aren't in the
streets because I'm afraid they will deport me to Cuba."

For Sigfredo, in Ecuador, as in Cuba, there is nothing to hope for. He
does not believe he can obtain residency and, even though he has tried
to join other groups departing for the United States, the extremely high
cost – around 6,000 dollars – and the dangers of the jungle have stopped
him. Now he sees a hope.

A group of Cubans who share his fate have decided to give a voice to
those migrants who are surviving in the streets of Quito. He was one of
those who went to the demonstration at English Park. "It is the only
hope we have left, if they don't want us here, at least we can go where
we can grow as people and work honorably. That's all we are asking for."

Source: "I'm Afraid That Ecuador Will Deport Me To Cuba" / 14ymedio,
Mario Penton | Translating Cuba -

Cruise With Pittsburgh Sports Figures Aboard Picks Up 16 Migrants

Cruise With Pittsburgh Sports Figures Aboard Picks Up 16 Migrants

A Carnival Cruise ship hosting Pittsburgh athletes and sports fans
picked up 16 migrants believed to be Cubans in the Gulf of Mexico
Saturday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Carnival Corporation.

The Carnival Sensation, while hosting a group participating in the "2016
Legends of Pittsburgh Cruise," picked up 15 males and one female "from a
vessel in distress" while en route from Key West, Florida, to Cozumel,
Mexico, according to the cruise line.

The incident occurred approximately 50 miles off the northern coast of
Cuba, Carnival said.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said the migrants would be
transported to Cozumel "where Mexican authorities are waiting."

The incident got attention when Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who
was aboard the four-day cruise, posted pictures of the incident online.

"We just stopped for this boat with 16 people in the middle of the
ocean," Harrison wrote on Twitter. "Wild!!!"

Organizers said Steelers placekicker Chris Boswell, wide receiver
Antonio Brown and many former Steelers players would also be on board
the ship.

Source: Cruise With Pittsburgh Sports Figures Aboard Picks Up 16
Migrants - NBC News -

While Obama fiddles

Charles Krauthammer: While Obama fiddles ...
By Charles Krauthammer
Published: Sunday, Feb. 28 2016 12:00 a.m. MST

Since Obama began his "historic" normalization with Cuba, the repression
has gotten worse. Last month, the regime arrested 1,414 political
dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.
WASHINGTON — State of the world, Year Eight of Barack Obama:

(1) In the South China Sea, on a speck of land of disputed sovereignty
far from its borders, China has just installed anti-aircraft batteries
and stationed fighter jets. This after China landed planes on an
artificial island it created on another disputed island chain (the
Spratlys, claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam).
These facilities now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge
seven decades of American naval dominance of the Pacific Rim.

"China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea," the commander of
the U.S. Pacific Command told Congress on Tuesday. Its goal? "Hegemony
in East Asia."

(2) Syria. Russian intervention has turned the tide of war. Having
rescued the Bashar al-Assad regime from collapse, relentless Russian
bombing is destroying the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, Syria's largest
city, creating a massive new wave of refugees and demonstrating to the
entire Middle East what a Great Power can achieve when it acts seriously.

The U.S. response? Repeated pathetic attempts by Secretary of State John
Kerry to propitiate Russia (and its ally, Iran) in one collapsed peace
conference after another. On Sunday, he stepped out to announce yet
another "provisional agreement in principle" on "a cessation of
hostilities" that the CIA director, the defense secretary and the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs deem little more than a ruse.

(3) Ukraine. Having swallowed Crimea so thoroughly that no one even
talks about it anymore, Russia continues to trample with impunity on the
Minsk cease-fire agreements. Vladimir Putin is now again stirring the
pot, intensifying the fighting, advancing his remorseless campaign to
fracture and subordinate the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Obama still
refuses to send the Ukrainians even defensive weapons.

(4) Iran. Last Thursday, Iran received its first shipment of S-300
anti-aircraft batteries from Russia, a major advance in developing
immunity to any attack on its nuclear facilities. And it is negotiating
an $8 billion arms deal with Russia that includes sophisticated combat
aircraft. Like its ballistic missile tests, this conventional weapons
shopping spree is a blatant violation of U.N. Security Council
prohibitions. It was also a predictable — and predicted — consequence of
the Iran nuclear deal that granted Iran $100 billion and normalized its
relations with the world.

The U.S. response? Words.

Unlike gravitational waves, today's strategic situation is not hard to
discern. Three major have-not powers are seeking to overturn the
post-Cold War status quo: Russia in Eastern Europe, China in East Asia,
Iran in the Middle East. All are on the march.

To say nothing of the Islamic State, now extending its reach from
Afghanistan to West Africa. The international order built over decades
by the United States is crumbling.

In the face of which, what does Obama do? Go to Cuba.

Yes, Cuba. A supreme strategic irrelevance so dear to Obama's
anti-anti-communist heart.

Is he at least going to celebrate progress in human rights and democracy
— which Obama established last year as a precondition for any
presidential visit? Of course not. When has Obama ever held to a red
line? Indeed, since Obama began his "historic" normalization with Cuba,
the repression has gotten worse. Last month, the regime arrested 1,414
political dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.

No matter. Amid global disarray and American decline, Obama sticks to
his cherished concerns: Cuba, Guantanamo (about which he gave a rare
televised address this week) and, of course, climate change.

Obama could not bestir himself to go to Paris in response to the various
jihadi atrocities — sending Kerry instead "to share a big hug with
Paris" (as Kerry explained) with James Taylor singing "You've Got a
Friend" — but he did make an ostentatious three-day visit there for
climate change.

So why not go to Havana? Sure, the barbarians are at the gates and
pushing hard knowing they will enjoy but 11 more months of minimal
American resistance. But our passive president genuinely believes that
such advances don't really matter — that these disruptors are so on the
wrong side of history, that their reaches for territory, power, victory
are so 20th century.

Of course, it mattered greatly to the quarter-million slaughtered in
Syria and the millions more exiled. It feels all quite real to a
dissolving Europe, an expanding China, a rising Iran, a metastasizing

Not to the visionary Obama, however. He sees far beyond such ephemera.
He knows what really matters: climate change, Gitmo and Cuba.

With time running out, he wants these to be his legacy. Indeed, they
will be.

Charles Krauthammer's email address is

Source: Charles Krauthammer: While Obama fiddles ... | Deseret News -

Americans need to understand Cuba to do business there

Op-ed: Americans need to understand Cuba to do business there
By Sue Ashdown
First Published Feb 27 2016 03:12PM

With family ties in Cuba, I began traveling there not only before it was
fashionable, but when doing so was considered somewhat aberrant. I
helped Cubans peg me by explaining that Utah was sort of close to
California. Explaining my Cuban connection to Utahns was harder.
Ironically, both Utah and Cuba are considered red states, but not
exactly for the same reasons.

What always struck me about Utah and Cuba were not the differences, but
the similarities. As a Utahn, I had nothing to do with Miami's shrill
anti-Cuban rhetoric, so I always saw Cuba on a more personal level.
Having been raised a Mormon, I found that the best parts of my culture —
neighborly solidarity, collective effort — were prized in Cuba.

In recent years, as my visits to Cuba became more frequent and longer,
it seemed evident that the sound and fury of my country's bitter
antagonism toward Cuba had reached exhaustion. Looking at the situation
from a business perspective, the half-century of ceding the Cuban
marketplace to foreign competitors was no longer tenable for U.S. companies.

Together with a Cuban partner who'd performed professional market
studies for those foreign competitors, we opened a firm to provide
real-time, onsite Cuban market information for fact-starved American
businesses. The timing couldn't have been better. Several months later,
Presidents Obama and Castro announced their intentions to re-establish
diplomatic relations.

Over the past year, as we've met with U.S. business executives visiting
Cuba, my partner and I have been struck by the number of myths and
prejudices we hear repeatedly. Partly it's the result of more than 50
years of misinformation about a forbidden island. It's impossible to
help businesses get their bearings until the myths are swept away and
Cuba is approached realistically.

One of the most common misconceptions is the idea that Cuba is a banana
republic where who you know is more important than what you know, and a
little cash on the side never hurts.

Perhaps unwittingly, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker reinforced the
notion at the recent U.S./Cuba Regulatory Dialogue in Washington, where
she complained about "problems reaching people in [Cuba] to discuss
business opportunities, and difficulties identifying the relevant Cuban
laws and regulations." But Cubans have a process for this, which the
Spanish, French, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Brazilians and Chinese
clearly manage to maneuver. Where is the American hang-up?

The business approval process in Cuba is a collective one, not decided
in discussions with one or even a handful of influential people. It
involves a great deal of painstaking — some would say exhausting —
steps, in a certain order. High-level contacts, or bribes, are simply
not effective business tools. As for Cuban regulations, they're not
unintelligible, but U.S. companies will have to break their Miami
dependence in order to interpret them correctly. They need to conquer
their fear of dealing directly with Cuban entities and advisers who
actually have their feet on the ground in Cuba, regardless of their
national origins.

At a dinner in Havana recently, a Cuban woman seated across from me
leaned forward to ask how our work was going. Challenging, I answered.
"The Americans have a problem," she said, getting straight to the point.
"They're arrogant. And Cubans are very proud. They can't stand being
told what to do. The minute they sense things going that direction is
the moment it all goes wrong. It's a difficult combination. But not an
impossible one."

I know the problem. American executives, solidly convinced of the virtue
of the system that has worked so well for them, are often so mystified
by the Cuban way of doing things, and so carried away by first
impressions — Havana's dilapidated skyline, rickety antique Chevrolets —
that they can come off like missionaries to a benighted people.

Sometimes when we mention that there is something to be said for a
system that has allowed for Cubans to survive 55 years of crushing
economic sanctions, the response, with those first stark impressions in
mind is, "Well, but at what price?" The answer goes to the very heart of
Cuban identity. Exactly like the early Mormons who relocated to the
periphery of the United States, Cubans see their sovereignty as priceless.

The businesses we've seen that will prosper in Cuba are the ones that
fully grasp this concept and look for ways to work together rather than
focusing on differences and insisting that Cubans change to suit them.

Sue Ashdown is a sixth-generation Utahn and the president of the
Utah-based IcarusCuba LLC, in partnership with David Urra. Previously,
she directed the Washington, D.C., based American ISP Association and
was a partial owner of XMission in Salt Lake City. She divides her time
between Utah and Havana.

Source: Op-ed: Americans need to understand Cuba to do business there |
The Salt Lake Tribune -

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Limits of Obama's Trip to Cuba

The Limits of Obama's Trip to Cuba
125 FEB 23, 2016 8:00 AM EST
By Editorial Board

With all due respect to Mick and Keith, a Rolling Stones concert is no
longer a life-changing experience. Nor is a visit from a U.S. president,
necessarily. Change in Cuba -- where these two events are scheduled for
successive days next month -- depends most of all on the Cuban government.

President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba on March 21 is not, as its critics
contend, a vote of confidence in President Raul Castro's government. It
is simply an opportunity for Obama to acknowledge both the successes of
his policy and its limits.

More than a year after the normalization of ties began between the U.S.
and Cuba, there are tangible signs of progress. Commercial flights and
ferry service from the U.S. will soon resume, bringing even more
American travelers to Cuba. U.S. cellular companies now provide service
on the island, and Internet access has improved. The first U.S. factory
on Cuban soil in more than half a century will soon open. And serious
talks have begun on issues such as investor protections, telecom
regulations and environmental protection.

Like the hundreds of millions more dollars in U.S. remittances now
lifting the fortunes of ordinary Cubans and fueling small businesses,
these developments can have a powerful cumulative effect. For one thing,
they raise popular expectations and put the onus for change squarely on
Cuba's government. Moreover, even with the embargo intact, a visit from
a hugely popular American president may help to convince the Cuban
people that the U.S. is no enemy.

So you can expect an eloquent speech or two. But soaring rhetoric about
free expression is meaningless without support for those who depend on
it to criticize the Castro regime, which has increased its persecution
of them. Obama can also help his credibility by recognizing that, for
most Cubans, daily life is much as it was. The government retains
overwhelming control of the economy.

Bringing about positive change in Cuba won't be quick or easy. And a lot
of what counts as change in Cuba is something that came to the rest of
the world a long time ago (see: Stones, Rolling). But recent
developments in Latin America -- Chavismo's crackup in Venezuela, the
election of a new president in Argentina, and the cease-fire in Colombia
-- make change in Cuba more likely. So, too, will Obama's trip.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View's
editorials: David Shipley at

Source: The Limits of Obama's Trip to Cuba - Bloomberg View -

Padura Says Obama’s Visit Marks A Different Moment In Cuba-US Relations

Padura Says Obama's Visit Marks A Different Moment In Cuba-US Relations
/ EFE, 14ymedio
Posted on February 26, 2016

EFE (14ymedio), February 2016 — Cuban writer Leonardo Padura said today
that he views positively the upcoming visit of U.S. president Barack
Obama to Cuba, and he believes it marks "a different moment" in the
relations between both countries, which have always been "very traumatic."

"We are living at a unique moment: Obama is coming, the Rolling Stones
are coming, a baseball team is coming, Chanel is coming… This has become
like a theme park that everyone wants to visit," joked Padura to EFE in

The author of "The Man Who Loved Dogs" confessed that he was surprised
by the news of Obama's trip announced for 21-22 March, which he greeted
as something "very good."

"I think that everything that contributes to eliminating tensions,
building bridges, coming to a better understanding and, in the end, a
better life for Cubans. you have to greet this as a positive thing," he

The trip of President of the United States to the island "historically
is marking a different moment. The relations between the United States
and Cuba have always been very traumatic and, if that trauma is overcome
and we travel a path towards real normalization of relations, it will be
beneficial for everyone, especially for us Cubans," he added.

Leonardo Padura participated today in Havana at the "Cultural Thursdays"
colloquium organized by the Spanish Embassy in Cuba, held on this
occasion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the creation of his
character Mario Conde, the protagonist of his saga of police procedurals.

Along with Padura, speaking at the symposium was the actor Jorge
Perugorría, who plays Mario Conde in the film and television series "The
Four Seasons" which will premiere this year, directed by the Spanish
filmmaker Felix Viscarret.

Jorge Perugorría told EFE that Obama's visit has created "a kind of
expectation among Cubans" and he hoped that it will serve to change and
definitely improve relations between the two countries.

"I thought this [the visit of US president] was something I would never
see. However, it has been faster than we imagined. Since the famous
declaration of 17 December 2014 so much has happened, and so quickly.
Obama is coming and I think it's fantastic that this is happening and
that the two countries will follow the path of understanding and normal
relations," said the actor.

Source: Padura Says Obama's Visit Marks A Different Moment In Cuba-US
Relations / EFE, 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Tractors In Cuba, From Ghosts To Orishas

Tractors In Cuba, From Ghosts To Orishas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on February 26, 2016

"Do not put me in the dark to die like a tractor"
(popular parody of a line from José Martí)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 February 2016 – Two pieces of
news have raised hopes among Cuban farmers. One is that the United
States company Cleber LLC will install a tractor factory in the Mariel
Special Development Zone (ZEDM). The second is the announcement that
China will open a line of credit so that the island can buy YTO brand
Chinese tractors to use in the rice program.

To encourage more hopes, the newspaper Granma dedicated an article today
to an explanation of the situation of the 62,668 tractors registered in
the country, of which 95% have been in use for more than 30 years. The
article reports the number of these machines, their distribution by
area, what they are used for, and how many tires or tracks they had. But
they said nothing about the future of these obsolete vehicles nor the
new ones to come.

However, Cubans learned long ago that when the river is roaring it is
because it is carrying stones, but when you can't hear it it's doing the
same. It's been a long time since anyone has repeated from a podium or
in a meeting with senior officials that plowing with oxen is better than
doing it with farm machinery.

The thousand small tractors the US firm proposes to produce annually are
optimal for use with organoponic cultivation methods and they suggest
selling them to independent farmers in Cuba. The tractors will enter the
market under the name Oggún, one of the main orishas of the Yoruba
religion tied to technology and surgeons.

A rural legend, repeated by old already-retired tractor drivers, tells
that at the end on the seventies in the San Juan y Martinez nursery
area, a huge pit was dug to bury hundreds of destroyed tractors. Whole
machines buried as scrap before handing them over to the peasants. State
ownership "was ready to die" before making the transfer to the calloused
hands of the private producers.

Time passed and the "Special Period" arrived and only then was the
decision made to hand over whatever was unusable. Alfredo Perez,
operator of a '56 Ford belonging to La Isleña farm in Pinar del Río, who
tells how this transfer worked. "As far as I know, in the nineties the
state enterprises began giving the private farmers some farm machinery,"
he says.

The farmer remembers that in most cases the tractors involved were in
such poor condition, that in all the bureaucratic paperwork it appeared
as the sale of decommissioned equipment, not property. From there it was
up to the farmer to find a way to do what the state had failed to do
despite all its resources, which is what they did. "They handed over a
ghost that had to be resuscitated," remembers Perez.

Despite the poor mechanical condition of the equipment, it was necessary
to have an endorsement letter from the president of the cooperative and
a commitment to lend the vehicle to whatever entity needed it ,
including the police.

The current practice is that when a state enterprise receives a new
fleet of machinery, they hand over the old equipment to the
cooperatives. Sometimes the machines are in terrible condition, other
times in pretty good shape or even the company itself can help the
cooperative get the parts to make it work.

Another way to acquire a tractor is to have the great good fortune to
know the owner of a piece of American-made equipment that they want to
sell. The Soviets awarded by another system what they weren't allowed to
market. The price of these "agricultural almendrones*" could vary
between 100,000 to 150,000 Cuban pesos, depending on their condition and
the farm implements included.

Alfredo only knows one farmer to whom they sold "ten years ago, a new
tractor, and it was Alejandro Robaina," the famous tobacco farmer of
Vueltabajo. The farmer has some reservations and wonders if "the
Americans" are going to distribute through the state or market them freely.

With the wisdom of a man of the countryside who knows that nothing is
certain until the harvest is gathered in, Alfredo knows that tying the
tractors to Oggeun is very premature, "because it is not even confirmed
that they will build the factory," and "only time will tell."

Increasing food production is a priority for the State, so as to be able
to replace imports and meet demand. The shortages and consequent rise in
prices generate controversies of every kind, but there is something
everyone agrees on: the solution is to produce more and for this,
willpower isn't enough, tools are needed. The farmers need
better resources and marketing tractors puts to the test the old
governmental prejudices: the Cuban countryside, stuck in the 20th
Century, is facing the modernity it needs.

*Translator's note: "Almendrones" (from the word for almond) is what
Cubans call the pre-Revolution American cars still circulating in Cuba.

Source: Tractors In Cuba, From Ghosts To Orishas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo
Escobar | Translating Cuba -

The Unexpected Closure Of The Locale Thwarts A Meeting On Socialism

The Unexpected Closure Of The Locale Thwarts A Meeting On Socialism /
Posted on February 26, 2016

14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2016 — The meeting "Socialism And The
Society We Want, organized by several organizations for tomorrow at the
Omega Cinema in Havana, had to be postponed because at the final hour
the management of the site reported that the theater "will not open its
doors that day."

Scheduled to participate in the meeting are leftist independent
organizations such as Participative and Democratic Socialism (SPD),
Cuban Leftist Democratic Socialists and Cuban Socialist Refoundation
(ISDC-RSC) and the New Socialist Project for Cuba (NPSC).

In the article published in the SPD Bulletin this Friday, it said that
the meeting was postponed, given there is not enough time to find an
alternate venue. The organization assures that it will continue
preparing for the event and that the date, place and time will be
"announced promptly."

Speaking to 14ymedio, Pedro Campos, one of the organizers, said the
commitment was made ​​verbally a week in advance, with the idea of
paying the rent on the day of the event. "When we went by yesterday to
confirm the reservation, we were told that the place was closing that
day but were offered no explanation. It wasn't for fumigation for
because someone had forbidden it. They simply said it would be closed."

Campos did not want to speculate on the reasons for the refusal. "As
they say in the TV show Passage to the Unknown, everyone can draw their
own conclusions," he added.

Source: The Unexpected Closure Of The Locale Thwarts A Meeting On
Socialism / 14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Cleber Tractors is First US Company Authorized in Cuba

Cleber Tractors is First US Company Authorized in Cuba / 14ymedio
Posted on February 26, 2016

14ymedio, Havana, 15 February 2016 – The Cleber Tractor Company has
become the first U.S. company to receive authorization from the Office
of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the
Treasury to operate in Cuba, as reported Monday Associated Press (AP).

Last November, the Alabama-based company won a license of the Government
of Cuba to operate in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).

Cleber will built an assembly plant for up to 1,000 small tractors a
year, specifically designed to support and expand organoponic
cultivation methods. These products will be sold to independent farmers
in Cuba, according to the AP. The assembly plant will be called "Oggún,"
like the orisha of the Yoruba religion linked to technology and
surgeons, and syncretic with Saint Peter in Catholicism.

The company's partners, Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal – who was
born on the island – received notice from the Treasury Department last
week and plan to initiate their activities in the country in the first
trimester of the coming year.

"Everyone wants to go to Cuba to sell something, but we are not trying
to do that. We are studying the problem and how to help Cuba resolve the
problems that they believe are the most important to resolve," Clemmons
told AP. "We believe that we will both win long term if we do things
that are beneficial to both countries."

Among the biggest problems facing Cuban farmers is access to machinery
that will facilitate work in the fields. Currently, the tractors that
remain active are state-owned, are affiliated to a cooperative or have
decades of use in private hands, and have been preserved thanks to
ingenuity and spare parts purchased in the informal market.

Source: Cleber Tractors is First US Company Authorized in Cuba /
14ymedio | Translating Cuba -

Sunwing vacation ends in 20-hour travel ordeal for Halifax passengers

Sunwing vacation ends in 20-hour travel ordeal for Halifax passengers
Passenger says some on board sobbing and vomiting during aborted
landing, then faced long delay
By Stephanie vanKampen, CBC News Posted: Feb 26, 2016 2:06 PM AT Last
Updated: Feb 26, 2016 8:18 PM AT

A Sunwing flight from Cuba that was supposed to land at Halifax
Stanfield International Airport became a 20-hour ordeal described by one
passenger as a "gong show" that left some on board sobbing and vomiting.

Flight WG6735 was delayed leaving Cuba, and when it tried to land in
Halifax during high winds Thursday afternoon, the plane felt like it was
coming in sideways, according to Anne Giles, a passenger on board.

"We could see the ground," she said. "We thought we were going to land
and at the last minute he pulled up and he came over and said, 'We've
missed the runway.'"

Giles said many of the 136 passengers on board were stressed and scared
as the plane attempted to land in Halifax.

"The woman beside me was sobbing," she said. "Her husband was holding
her hand. The man across from me, you could see how white his knuckles
were. There were children throwing up."

'They were hungry and stressed'

From there, Giles said, the trip got worse. The flight continued to
Fredericton, where passengers waited on the tarmac for about four hours,
before the plane took off again for Moncton, N.B.

By the time the flight landed in Moncton, Giles said, passengers had
gone nearly 10 hours without food.

"They were hungry and stressed and people were yelling," Giles said.

She said passengers spent three hours waiting at the Greater Moncton
International Airport before the airline decided to put them on
five buses and send them to Halifax for the final leg of the journey.

"They did some things right and some things really, really wrong," Giles

'It was a gong show'

The airline said Friday that high winds were to blame and apologized to

"We regret the inconvenience this weather-related diversion has caused;
however the safety of our customers remains our paramount concern,"
Rachel Goldrick, corporate communications manager for Sunwing Vacations,
said in an email statement.

The airline said passengers will receive a $150 voucher for future
travel with Sunwing, but Giles said she won't be using it.

"No," said Giles. "It was a gong show."

Source: Sunwing vacation ends in 20-hour travel ordeal for Halifax
passengers - Nova Scotia - CBC News -

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Wrong Interlocutor

The Wrong Interlocutor / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on February 25, 2016

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 February 2016 — More often than
reason dictates – since the announcement of the restoration of relations
between the governments of Cuba and the United States – statements,
newspaper articles and even open letters have appeared taking to task
president Barack Obama for a decision that some consider a political
mistake, an excessive concession to the longest dictatorship in this
hemisphere or, at best, naïve. There have even been those who have gone
so far as to accuse the American president of orchestrating "a betrayal
of democratic Cubans," even if unaccompanied by arguments to support
such an affirmation.

Without wishing to discuss the sovereign rights of each person to say
what their own intellect dictates, it is noteworthy that the angriest
complaints rest on questions that are not attributes exclusive to the
president of the United States. Let's take, for example, the issue of
the relations themselves. Has this political rapprochement been more
beneficial to the Cuban government, perhaps, than the acceptance and
recognition it has had from other democratic governments? That is,
countries such as Germany, Great Britain, France and Spain, among
others, that have maintained relations with the Cuban dictator for
years, and yet to date their governments have not received so many
complaints on the part of those who indict president Obama for the same

Another interesting issue is the wave of anxiety over the lifting of
restrictions on Americans' visits to the island, and trading between US
producers and Cuban companies, when for decades we have received
millions of European and Canadian visitors and have traded with
businesses in numerous democratic companies without, so far, raising so
many hackles.

In fact, foreign investors have been active on the island since the
nineties – among them the well-known entrepreneurs from our stepmother
country, Spain, which have exploited native labor ad nauseam in flagrant
violation of the laws of international entities that defend the rights
of workers – and have offered the Cuban government greater profits than
all the relaxations of the embargo pushed by the US administration.

I wonder why Cubans' democratic longings have never been directed toward
the politicians and businessmen of that nation, culturally and
historically related to the island, and why it has never offered
vertical and openly declared – or at least convincing – support for the
struggle for democracy on the island.

Is the critical approach of Barack Obama to the Castro dictatorship
morally more reprehensible than the flirting of Madrid's Moncloa Palace
with the Palace of the Revolution, or than the entertainment received by
the general-president Castro II during his recent stay in France, cradle
of modern democracy?

Was it not the Holy Father himself, the humble Francis, who gave major
honors to the island satrapy by favoring the ex-president Castro I with
a personal visit, while deliberately ignoring the repression of the
dissidents, avoiding a meeting with representatives of civil society,
and conveniently omitting any criticism of the deplorable state of human
rights in Cuba?

However, with a persistence worthy of better causes, the critics of the
current US administration maintain a moral blockade against Barack
Obama, as if he should take responsibility for the history and destiny
of a people that has been sufficiency irresponsible as to allow itself
the sad eccentricity of supporting the longest dictatorship in memory in
the Western world.

Recently in this newspaper, a letter was published where a Cuban
directed four personal questions to President Obama (Four Questions For
You, President Obama). These four questions summarize approximately the
same complaints and demands of a great number of the resentful, who do
not understand why the president of our northern neighbor "has taken no
[effective] actions" to force the Cuban dictatorship to respect the
democratic rights of Cubans, or why he has not done enough to guarantee
the quality of life of the islanders since 17 December 2014, as if some
of these issues were priorities or key issues for the president of a
foreign country and not matters that we Cubans are capable of resolving

Paradoxically, this young Cuban who says he "does not want to emigrate
and dreams of a free, independent and democratic Cuba" has clearly
subordinated Cuba's national sovereignty to the will and decisions of
that foreign government. Indeed, some patriots show themselves to be so
passionately naive that one doesn't know whether to give them a round of
applause or burst into tears.

But this is how things are in these parts. There are also others
abstractly flying an exacerbated civicism that falters, however, when
they try to apply it to daily life. I wonder if this young man and so
many other "demanding" Cubans here – in particular those who attend the
meetings to nominate candidates or the so-called "Accountability
Assemblies" – have had the courage to ask their representative what he
or she is going to do to guarantee the human rights, freedom and
prosperity of (at least) their neighbors and the community.

And taking the matter to a more individual level, how many of them ask
themselves what they are doing to change the state of affairs in Cuba.

Personally, I have no demands of President Barack Obama nor to any
specific foreign government. Most likely if I were in his shoes I would
do the same: seek to safeguard the interests of my nation and my
compatriots, as well as the safety of my loved ones. It is what I aspire
to in a future Cuban president, when we live in a democracy. I suppose
that Mr. Obama has every right from his own discernment to think: If
Cubans in great enthusiasm applauded the installation of a dictatorship
from before I was born, if they have chosen to escape it or to tolerate
its excesses ad infinitum, who am I to assume the role of redeemer?

It seems cynical, and may be so, but if you look at it coldly, it's
reality. The Cuban dictatorship has done exactly what we have allowed it
to do. And it will remain on the throne of power as long as it wants,
not only for its own absolute power but because Cubans consent. For an
autocracy to succumb there doesn't have to be an assault on barracks or
the unleashing of a war; it is enough to stop obeying it.

Until that happens, we can bombard Barack Obama or the next occupant of
the White House with any questions we like; the truth is that the real
answer is among ourselves.

Source: The Wrong Interlocutor / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya | Translating
Cuba -

Cubans In Ecuador Come Together To Demand Their Rights

Cubans In Ecuador Come Together To Demand Their Rights / 14ymedio, Mario
Posted on February 25, 2016

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 24 February 2016 — Fifty Cubans met in
English Park, in the north of Quito, to request treatment similar to
their compatriots stranded in Central America. The anonymous call to the
meeting, which circulated among groups of Cubans on Facebook, asked all
Cuban immigrants living in Ecuador to agree to "ask and demand" that
they be sent to the United States, because, they say, they are fed up
with "the abuses and contempt" in the Andean country.

According to the event organizers, their goal for the "First Meeting of
Cubans in Ecuador" is to be heard about their "rights as human beings."
In addition, they affirm they do not want "any form of conflict within
in the country," and only want "to have a dignified life and to be able
to choose the ideal place to do so."

Pedro Sanchez, one of the participants, told 14ymedio via the Messenger
app that the protesters set three objectives. First, push for an
agreement between the Governments of Ecuador and Mexico to allow a safe
transfer to the United States of those Cubans who are undocumented in
the country; second to form a movement with a legal basis; and third, to
advocate for the nine Cubans who are imprisoned in the Hotel Carrion and
are also part of their struggle. The Hotel Carrion is an immigration
jail where undocumented Cubans are sent while awaiting eventual
deportation to the island.

"The main problem of the Cuban community is discrimination," says
Osvaldo Hernandez Cabrera. "Here they don't want to legalize us or give
us work.. We only ask that they give us a direct way to reach the United
States via Mexico as they have given our brothers. We are not illegal,
we are Cubans stranded in Ecuador," he claimed.

To get a work permit, he adds, there are many requirements and most of
the time, when they go in search of employment, they are rejected with a
resounding "no Cubans are hired here." "We are trying to send letters
and get them to listen to us, otherwise we are ready to throw ourselves
on the border with Colombia to get them to pay attention to us," he said.

Hundreds of messages of support have been sent to these Cubans from
different parts of Ecuador. "Some of us are not in Quito, but we are one
hundred percent for the cause. From other places we will be supporting
everything that is needed," said Yordey Betancourt, an app user. Another
young Cuban lamented the discrimination to which she is subjected.
"Today a lady told me on the trolley (bus) 'this is not your country.'
They mistreat us without reason, because Cubans are good. Give us an out
and Ecuador will see that we will never return. We've run out of money
and they no longer want us. Incomes, sales, taxis, trade… they all
increased with us and now they do not want us."

Vivian Hernandez Valdes supports the requests of the group: "What they
are asking for is fair. The living conditions of many compatriots here
are very poor and I think it is the right time for all Cubans who are in
Ecuador and want to travel to the United States to get the same
treatment as those in Panama and Costa Rica."

The Cuban community in Ecuador grew starting in 2008 when the country
lifted the visa requirement for travellers from the island. It is
estimated that there are about 40,000 Cubans residing in the country.
Ecuador was used as a springboard by Cuban migrants to reach the United
States to take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act. According
to official figures, in mid-2010 37,000 Cuban entered the country, a
trend that continued rapidly increasing until Rafael Correa's government
decided to re-impose a visa requirement last December, after the
immigration crisis that broke out in Central America.

Source: Cubans In Ecuador Come Together To Demand Their Rights /
14ymedio, Mario Penton | Translating Cuba -