Saturday, April 30, 2016

Central Bank Denies Rumor About Devaluation Of Cuban Convertible Peso

Central Bank Denies Rumor About Devaluation Of Cuban Convertible Peso /

A line outside a currency exchange (Cadeca) Friday, amid rumors of a
reduction in the value of Cuban convertible pesos CUC. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, 29 April 2016 — The Central Bank of Cuba on Friday denied a
possible reduction in the value of the Cuban convertible pesos. State
financial institution reported that "the exchange rate remains at 24
Cuban pesos per one Cuban convertible peso for sales of CUC by the
population at banks and Cadeca (currency exchanges)."

For several days the lines in front of currency exchanges had been
lengthening due to the growing rumors of a fall in the value of the CUC.
However, the Central Bank says the rumor as "false information about the
reduction in the exchange rage that is currently applied."

The explanatory note published in the official press notes that "the
report to the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party confirmed, once
more, the decision to guarantee bank deposits in foreign currency, Cuban
convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP, as well as cash held by
the population."

Source: Central Bank Denies Rumor About Devaluation Of Cuban Convertible
Peso / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -

Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico

Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign
Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in
the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of
their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand
Cubans, most stranded on the border with Costa Rica, will also benefit
from this operation, the last of its type, according to the Panamanian
president, Juan Carlos Varela on Thursday.

"Starting from the completion of transfer operation of the Cubans
counted in the census, those who enter later will have to make a
decision about what country they want to return to; we can't become a
permanent logistical support for the trafficking of migrants," warned
the Panamanian president.

According to the regional director of migration, commissioner Alfredo
Cordoba, the transfer of more than 200 migrants in various shelters to
the Los Planes encampment began yesterday afternoon. "This mainly
involved pregnant women and families with children, who need to be
brought to a place with the attentions they deserve," he said.

The official told this newspaper that the purpose of this measure is to
"concentrate all the migrants in one area where their basic needs can be
met, taking into account their rights as people."

Cordoba said that right now there are 3,704 Cuban migrants in the
Republic of Panama, who should be gradually transferred to Gualaca,
where a joint task force–which includes the National Civil Protection
System (SINAPROC), the Panama National Migration Service, the State
Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National Police–have mobilized to
address the humanitarian crisis.

"I believe we are in the final stretch, at least they are already making
photocopies of our passports, and that's something," said Angel Chale,
one of the stranded who came through Ecuador. Chale decided to abandon
the old Bond warehouse, in San Isidro, a mile from the Costa Rican
frontier, where she shared the floor with 400 other Cubans in the most
precarious conditions.

Both Angel and Leslie Jesus Barrera have spent a week at the Los Planes
shelter. "This place where we are now is pretty fun. Usually we play
baseball, dominoes or we dance," says Barrera. "We help when they ask us
to collaborate with some chore and for the rest, it's like camping." He
added that he is very grateful for the treatment he has received from
the Panama government, which right now includes free medical care.

The godmother of Cubans

Angela Buendia is the director of community organizing for SINAPROC, but
migrants have dubbed her "the godmother." As she herself says, "They
call me that because I identify with their needs and all the pain they
have gone through."

Buendia says she learned to deal with migrants from the island in the
last crisis and since then sympathizes with the plight of "these
thousands of people who have to leave their land and often go through
very intense trauma." She stresses that, even after spending weeks in
Panama, many still live in fear.

According to her, the migratory flow does not seem to stop, although
official statistics indicate a decline. "Every day we receive between 20
and 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriqui. This is why we decided to prepare
this camp."

Buendia explained that Los Planes was originally built to shelter Swiss
workers who worked on a local dam. "It's a ten acre site with a fresh
landscape and all amenities," she added. She also stressed that "the
only prohibition is not to leave at night, and this is for their own
security." She said they will have free WiFi, but right now they can use
data connections on a local network.

"The biggest problem I've had with the Cuban people is that when they
come here, having come from a place without freedom, they feel
completely free and clear, sometimes confusing liberty with license,"
she said.

Not everyone wants to be in the shelter

But not everyone wants to go to the shelter in Los Planes. "The problem
that I see to this place is that it is very far away. From the Milennium
one can at least work 'under the table' and earn a few bucks," said
Dariel, who prefers to omit his last name for fear of discovery. His
work as a carpenter, a trade he learned in Cuba, allows him to cover his
expenses and at the same time, he confesses, save something "for the end
of the journey."

"Here there were even Cubans who were whoring and charge less than the
Panamanians. Those were the smart ones, because in the end, they managed
to get together the money and now they're in the [United States]," says
the migrant.

In overcrowded rooms, hallways, or simply in tents put up at dusk in the
doorways of neighboring houses, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to
stay near the Costa Rican border.

"It's a problem that affects communities that often find themselves
overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving," says Commissioner Cordoba.

Many of the local inhabitants, from Puerto Obaldia to Paso Canoas, have
seen a business opportunity in the Cubans. With the flow of migrants,
businesses have flourished from hostels to simple restaurants where the
prices are usually double for inhabitants of the island.

"I don't want to go to the Gualaca shelter because it's very far away, I
prefer to stay here because I'm in a village and at least I can fend for
myself," says Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who arrived in Panama
from Guyana. "It's hard, sure, but if I want to go with a coyote
tomorrow, there will be no one to stop me."

The coyotes prowl…

Juan Ramon is one of those Cubans stranded in Panama who decided not to
wait any longer to reach the United States. After collecting $1,400 from
family and friends in Miami, he left one night sneaking across the Costa
Rican border, along with six other companions under the guidance of a
coyote. "In each country a coyote handed us off to another, and we have
gone all the way: through the jungles, rivers, lakes… it is very hard,"
he said.

The worst thing for the young man was the moment they ran into a
military checkpoint in Nicaragua, where "a thug assaulted us, sent by
the same guide, who robbed us of everything we had. He even took our
cellphone. It was a terrible experience because it could have cost our
lives and nobody would have known about it," he told this newspaper.

After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramon found himself at the
border crossing station of El Paso, Texas, hoping they would process his
documents to enter the United States under the "parole" program.

To try to circumvent the army and police control on the borders of Costa
Rica and Nicaragua the migrants use unique measures such as hiding
themselves in a water pipe or hiding in a boat to pass through the
dangerous coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean.

In November of last year, Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government closed
the borders of his country to Cuban migrants using Central America as a
path to the United States.

The measure worked like a plug, leaving 8,000 people stranded in Costa
Rica, which in turn also closed its border transferring the problem to
Panama. Following an agreement with Mexico, both countries managed to
build a humanitarian bridge that allowed the orderly exit of a great
part of the migrants.

The coyotes, or human traffickers, have turned the migration to the
north into a huge business that generates millions of dollars. From
October of 2014, almost 132,000 Central Americans and around 75,000
Cubans reached the southern border of the United States.

The Cuban government has reiterated that all the migrants have left Cuba
legally and so can return to the country.

Source: Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico /
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -

Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices?

Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices? /
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 26 April 2016 — All of my life I've
heard from mouth of the main leaders of the country that the high prices
for many of the products sold in Cuba are caused, among other variables,
by the "high cost of fuel on the world market." This, according to them,
raises the price of production processes inside and outside the country,
creating an upward spiral that affects the price of goods and services.

"What small and underdeveloped economy can grow with prices of 126
dollars barrel of oil? Only rich countries can pay that, those who want
the world to continue to be the same so that the South can't develop.
The imperialists are like this, they want to dominate the world
according to their own desires." Phrases like these were heard everyday
on TV programs like The Roundtable.

Today, oil prices have fallen by nearly 75 percent, and the newspaper
Granma acknowledges that this affected the recently announced "price
adjustments" of certain products the government sells in Cuban
convertible pesos (CUC).

Then, I wonder: What are Oliver Zamora Oria and all official Cuban
journalists who speak on the subject doing accusing U.S. and Saudi
Arabia of "not cooperating" with the intention of some OPEC members to
increase prices ? Isn't Cuba, a net importer of fuels, greatly
benefited, like most of the planet, by the current prices?

In my opinion, we should be jumping for joy, because I assume that if we
can afford cheaper crude oil, then the agricultural sectors , transport,
energy, industry etc. will be stimulated… What is the point of the
strange anger of the Cuban Government press about the failure of the
last meeting held in Doha, Qatar?

Many can be the interests that move the editorial decisions of the media
monopoly in Cuba. But, definitely, the general interests of the nation
and a greater benefit for the public are not part of them.

Translated by Alberto

Source: Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices? /
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila – Translating Cuba -

19 Cuban migrants make landfall in the Keys a day after 23 do in Key West

19 Cuban migrants make landfall in the Keys a day after 23 do in Key West
BY LARRY KAHN April 29, 2016 Updated 13 hours ago

With the calming seas this time of year come more migrants trying to
make it across the Florida Straits from Cuba.

Friday, 19 more arrived on Keys shores. Twelve men landed their homemade
sailboat at 4 a.m. at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier around mile marker
92.5 oceanside and seven others landed around 11 a.m. on an island off
Geiger Key in the Lower Keys. They followed a Thursday landing about 2
a.m. at Smathers Beach in Key West, where 21 Cuban men and two women alit.

"During the calm season and with the weather patterns" of the summer,
more migrant trips are expected, U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent
Adam Hoffner said.

He said that with the U.S.' rapprochement to the Cuban government after
half a century of having no diplomatic ties, some Cubans fear that the
wet-foot, dry-foot policy that allows Cubans who make it to American
soil to stay will go away. That's driving many to try to make it the 90
miles across the sea.

Hoffner said it's a bad idea.

"Smuggling organizations oftentimes put these migrants in perilous
situations," he said.

Early Friday, the 12 who landed in Tavernier were being interviewed at
the Border Patrol's Marathon office. Hoffner said this wasn't
necessarily a case of smuggling.

"They made a long journey in that sailboat," he said. "They had been
traveling at sea for approximately five days on that rustic vessel.
They'll go through their processing, go before an immigration judge."

Jo Holcombe, 71, who lives across the street from Harry Harris Park, was
awakened by her dogs, who "kept barking." She said the migrants were
under a light pole in the park and her husband Will called 911.

Deputies from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, firefighters and an
ambulance crew arrived and gave them water, Jo Holcombe said.

"They were still standing under the light pole when I went back to bed,"
she said.

They were in good health and had no medical emergencies, Hoffner said.
The ones who landed in Key West were at sea for three days.

Don Rhodes contributed to this report.

Source: 19 Cuban migrants make landfall in the Keys a day after 23 do in
Key West | News | KeysNet -

Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring

Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring
April 30, 2016

Havana (AFP) - Visiting British Foreign Secretary Anthony Hammond
reached an agreement on restructuring Cuban debt payments in a meeting
with President Raul Castro, officials in Havana said.

The agreement deals with Cuba's mid and long-term debt with Britain,
according to a Cuban government statement.

The agreement "should contribute to the development of economic,
commercial and financial relations between the two nations," the
statement reads.

At the meeting, Castro and Hammond "verified the advances" in bilateral
relations and "the potentials" in areas of mutual interest.

Neither the British embassy in Havana nor Cuban officials gave a figure
for the debt, nor any further details on the agreement.

In December, Cuba reached an agreement with its creditors in the Paris
Club -- which include Britain, France, and Spain -- to pay $2.6 billion
in debt unpaid to foreign creditors for the last 25 years.

In exchange, the Paris Club is writing off the interest accumulated of
$8.5 billion.

Hammond is the first British foreign secretary to visit Cuba since the
1959 revolution.

The visit also follows meetings in recent months between Castro and
other top officials and leaders from the European Union.

Castro met with French President Francois Hollande on a visit to Paris
in February.

In March, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini became
the highest-ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba when she travelled to

She signed a deal to normalize relations with Cuba, including an
agreement on human rights.

Cuba's leaders have rejected criticism of their human rights record by
the United States and Europe, warning that they will not tolerate
meddling in their country's internal affairs.

Britain was the second-biggest source of foreign tourists to Cuba last
year after Canada, with 160,000 Britons making the trip.

Hammond's visit comes one month after US President Barack Obama's
historic visit to the Caribbean nation, which is opening up to warmer
ties with its old Cold War rivals.

Although Havana and Washington restored diplomatic ties last year, the
US trade embargo on Cuba dating to the 1960s remains in place.

Source: Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring -

With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for Cuba

With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for Cuba

Carnival's Fathom line makes history Sunday with first U.S. cruise to
Cuba in more than 50 years
Protests, two lawsuits, exile ire over a Cuban policy threatened to
scuttle the cruise
After Cuban policy shift, about a dozen Cuban-born passengers will be aboard

The change in Cuban policy came too late for Francisco Marty and Amparo
Sánchez, who were born in Cuba and had been denied bookings on Carnival
Corp.'s first cruise to Cuba, to shift their travel plans.

So when Carnival's Fathom line ship Adonia steams out of PortMiami
Sunday afternoon on the first U.S. cruise to the island in more than
half a century, they won't be aboard even though Cuba relented, dropping
a decades-old policy on April 22 that prevented those born there from
entering or leaving by vessel.

After Marty and Sánchez were thwarted in trying to book a Fathom voyage
to celebrate a special occasion, they filed a class-action suit, since
withdrawn, against Carnival and Fathom alleging the companies were
violating civil rights by denying tickets to Cuban-born individuals and
going along with the Cuban policy.

But Tucker Ronzetti, one of their lawyers, said the pair would like to
go on a future cruise to Cuba.

"We filed our case with one, simple goal: to end discrimination against
Cuban-born Americans who were being denied cruises to Cuba based on
their place of birth," said Ronzetti when the suit was dropped Thursday.
"We look forward to all U.S. citizens, Cuban-born or otherwise, now
equally enjoying cruises to Cuba."

There will be about a dozen travelers born in Cuba, including several
Cuban-born Carnival executives, making the seven-day trip that
circumnavigates the island and includes stops in Havana, Santiago de
Cuba and Cienfuegos, said Roger Frizzell, Carnival's chief spokesman.

Arnie Pérez, Carnvial's chief legal officer, and his wife Carmen, both
born in Cuba, are expected to be the first ones off the ship when the
Adonia docks in Havana, its first port of call, at 10 a.m. Monday. The
arrival will be marked with pomp and circumstance, including a
traditional exchange of plaques with Fathom's Cuban partner, Havanatur.

"Our arrival in Havana will be a special moment in history that
contributes to a more positive future," said Frizzell. "We are extremely
excited and very humbled by this historic opportunity for our guests to
experience Cuba."

But in recent weeks, it has been anything but smooth sailing for
Carnival and Fathom. Protests, two lawsuits, exile ire and condemnation
by politicians threatened to scuttle the cruise indefinitely. In the
face of it, Carnival said the Adonia wouldn't sail until Cuba dropped
its discriminatory policy and all its potential passengers would be able
to travel on an equal footing.

Then on April 21, Carnival got a phone call from Cuban authorities
saying it was "likely" they would be ending the policy barring vessel
arrivals and departures by those born on the island, said Frizzell. But
Carnival didn't learn of the actual shift in policy until around 5:30
a.m. the next morning after a statement about the change was published
in Granma, the Communist Party's newspaper.

It capped intense negotiations by Carnival to hasten the end to the
Cuban policy. Pérez, Carnival Chief Executive Arnold Donald, and Fathom
President Tara Russell made several trips to the island to try to break
the impasse.

Amidst the controversy, Adonia reservations slowed to a trickle, said
Frizzell. But after Cuba's announcement, he said, "We saw the floodgates
begin to open."

All the cabins on the 704-passenger-capacity Adonia have been sold out,
but the actual passenger count is 600 because of higher numbers of
single occupancies.

There will be full refunds or the ability to book on a future Fathom
cruise for anyone who couldn't get the proper credentials in time, said

Fathom will send off the Adonia with Cuban flair. Passengers can pick up
a café Cubano at a coffee kiosk and the cruise line will be handing out
hand fans. As the Adonia heads out to sea from PortMiami, a band will
play and the ship will be saluted with a water spray canon on a tugboat.

Before the Fathom imbroglio was resolved, it bubbled over into what
lawyer Pedro Freyre called "a quintessential Cuban drama. It was
definitely a very Cuban, very emotional issue."

Although some people referred to the vessel restriction as a Cuban law,
it wasn't.

"We believe it was an executive action," said Ronzetti. "It had the face
of a law but it wasn't a piece of legislation."

And that meant Cuban leaders could change it at will.

It had its genesis in security concerns that date back to a time when
Cubans were stealing boats to come to the United States and there were
fears they might return by sea for sabotage or people-smuggling
operations. In 2003, a group of armed Cubans, for example, hijacked a
passenger ferry west of Havana, holding nearly 50 hostages, until they
ran out of gas in international waters. Three of the hijackers were
charged with terrorism and executed after a quick trial.

But by 2016 when the United States and Cuba had renewed diplomatic ties
and were trying to forge a new relationship, and both sides had given
their approval for the new cruise service, the policy had "become an
illogical anachronism," said Freyre, an engagement proponent who serves
as a lawyer for Carnival and two other cruise lines.

As the issue of discrimination galvanized the Cuban exile community, it
also created some strange bedfellows.

Some hardliners saw protesting the policy as a way to possibly stop the
Fathom cruises altogether; others simply didn't like the idea that those
born on the island would be treated differently from other cruise
passengers and the hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who take
charter flights to the island every year.

Some of the protestors had no intention of ever returning to the island,
and still others saw it as a triumph of the new policy of engagement.

"There's never been a mechanism before for the Cuban government to
respond to demands to change something and then to have the change
actually happen. I think it speaks volumes about the new process," said

But others looked at Cuba's dropping the vessel restriction as only a
partial victory because passport and visa restrictions remain in place
for some Cuban-Americans.

Organizers of a flotilla that was being organized to protest the vessel
policy said they still planned to sail Sunday afternoon. Cubans should
have the right "to freely enter and leave the national territory without
there being a discriminatory visa process," Ramón Saul Sánchez, national
executive of the Democracy Movement, said in a statement.

Dr. Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, co-founder of the Cuban Democratic
Directorate, remains a cruise opponent. "Thousands of Cubans are lying
at the bottom of that sea, which the cruise ships will sail on, and the
money from those cruises will simply enrich that regime, which forced
[them] to their deaths," he said.

But for Marty, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, it was a victory. "I once
landed on the beaches of Cuba to fight for its liberty," said the Bay of
Pigs veteran. "I did this with a rifle. I was not successful. I engaged
Cuba again by sea, this time armed with the law, and I won."

Source: With rough legal seas behind it, Fathom cruise will set sail for
Cuba | Miami Herald -

U.S. deports 11 Cubans from long list who arrived during 1980 exodus

U.S. deports 11 Cubans from long list who arrived during 1980 exodus

The 11 people who were repatriated to Cuba were on a list of 2,746
Cubans with criminal records who were tagged to be returned to the
island as part of a 1984 agreement between Havana and Washington

The U.S. government has deported 11 Cubans whose names were on a list of
almost 3,000 people who arrived in the country around the time of the
Mariel boatlift.

Nestor Yglesias, an ICE spokesman in Miami, said the "removal was in
accordance with the 1984 U.S- Cuba migration agreement that lists
specific individuals to be repatriated to Cuba."

The reference is to a list of 2,746 Cubans to be sent back to the island
that Havana and Washington agreed to in 1984, during the Reagan
administration. Those on the list have criminal records and likely
arrived during the 1980 Mariel exodus or a few years earlier or later.

Thursday's repatriation of 11 Cubans did not mark any new policy or
immigration agreement with Cuba. It was a continuation of a policy of
periodic deportations of Cubans whose names are on the 1984 list.

While there are more than 35,000 Cubans with final deportation orders,
for now there is no new bilateral agreement with Cuba to repatriate
them, nor has there been any public acknowledgment on new talks with
Cuba on an expansion of the 1984 repatriation agreement.

Nevertheless, there is wide speculation in Miami's Cuban community that
a new deportation agreement is imminent because of the recent
restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

Under the 1984 repatriation agreement, if ICE encounters a Cuban with a
final order of removal who fits the parameters of the accord, then ICE
will present an official diplomatic note, along with additional
documentation, requesting that the Cuban government accept return of the
individual aboard an ICE repatriation flight.

The group was repatriated to the island on a chartered plane that
departed from a cargo area at ​​Miami International Airport (MIA), a
source who asked not to be identified told el Nuevo Herald.

In its statement, ICE did not identify any of the 11 deportees, but
Coral Gables immigration attorney Eduardo Soto said that one of his
clients — Roberto Alejo González — was deported to Cuba on Thursday.

Alejo González, 61, who was an anti-Castro activist, had been held at
the Krome immigrant detention center awaiting deportation. He had a
criminal record and had come to the United States during Mariel. Soto
asked federal court in Miami to stop the deportation, but all his
judicial pleas were rejected.

"The deportation of our client, besides destroying a beautiful family,
jeopardizes the life of a recognized opponent of the regime," Soto said
in a statement. "Let this unfortunate fact serve as a warning to the
more than 35,000 Cubans in danger of deportation that they are indeed
handing over Cubans to human rights violators."

It is unclear how many more Cubans will be deported from the 1984 list.

ICE said that by January 2015, 1,999 had already been deported. People
familiar with the process said Thursday that at present there are only
"a few hundred" left on the list.


Source: U.S. deports 11 Cubans from long list who arrived during 1980
exodus | In Cuba Today -

Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops

Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops
First Published 4 hours ago

Florida citrus farmer Dan Richey is worried about a Cuban fruit invasion.

"They have a better climate than us and the same growing season," said
Richey, who farms 4,000 acres of mostly grapefruit near Vero Beach.
"They could become the low-cost competitor, right at our doorstep."

While a diplomatic thaw is just beginning, President Barack Obama is
seeking closer U.S. trade ties with Cuba, signaling an end to five
decades of sanctions that left the country starved of cash and little
changed since Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959.

That's clearing a path for more agricultural investment on a Caribbean
island just 90 miles south of Florida.

Cubans have been more buyers than competitors because they eat mostly
imported food and already get grain from the Midwest.

But expanded farming in the country poses a new threat for Florida, the
top U.S. grower of sugar cane, oranges and fresh tomatoes. Cuba was once
a major supplier of sugar, fruits and vegetables, and with land
untouched by modern chemicals or genetically modified seed, it is
drawing the attention of organic food producers.

"The opening of full trade and commercial relations with Cuba will have
a more significant impact on Florida agriculture than anything else in
the history of our state," said William Messina, an agricultural
economist with the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Trade agreements have been a lightning rod in this year's presidential
campaign. Candidates from both parties have decried the impact on jobs
when domestic industries are forced to compete with cheaper imports,
especially those subsidized by foreign governments or produced with
fewer workplace or environmental rules than in the United States.

U.S. farmers were early and enthusiastic advocates for closer ties with
Cuba. Congress in 2000 authorized humanitarian exports, including
agricultural products valued at $685 million in 2008.

Since 2014, when Obama moved to re-establish normal diplomatic ties --
an effort that included a trip to Havana to meet Raul Castro, who
replaced his brother Fidel as Cuba's leader -- agriculture groups have
streamed south. Cuban purchases could mean $1.1 billion in annual sales
for American farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. But
the prospect of more grain sales has overshadowed concerns from growers
who may eventually compete with the island once crop output is expanded.

"Exports to Cuba are always a huge economic opportunity," said Janell
Hendren, national affairs coordinator with the Florida Farm Bureau
Federation in Gainesville. "Imports from Cuba we are not really keen on."

The state is the biggest U.S. producer of oranges and sugar cane, and
ranks second to California in vegetables and third in fruit. Florida
sold $4.2 billion of crops in 2014, exporting $3.6 billion of them,
according to USDA data.

Cuban agricultural production struggled as its economy sputtered. In
1989, the island was the largest sugar producer behind Brazil and India,
growing 8.12 million metric tons, USDA data show. With the collapse of
the Soviet Union, its biggest buyer, production plunged. By 2011, it was
1.1 million tons, the lowest since before the revolution.

"They don't have much money, but they have land they could give away to
farmers," said Messina, the University of Florida professor. "That makes
production much less expensive."

It's also a lure for U.S. investors. Agricultural equipment maker Deere
& Co., soybean processor Bunge Ltd., and several state farm bureaus are
all in favor of opening Cuba trade, according to lobbying records.
Cargill Inc., the world's largest agribusiness, is bankrolling the U.S.
Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, a consortium of commodity growers, farm
lenders and exporters.

Members of an organics-focused group that includes food companies like
Stonyfield Farm plan to visit Cuba for several days starting May 3. They
see the island's land and farming practices as a potential fit,
especially with expanding demand for food that isn't produced with
pesticides or genetically modified seeds.

"We as an industry need to start to developing new supply chains," said
Dave Alexander, president of Global Organics, the biggest seller of
organic sugar in the U.S. and Europe. "We're rapidly approaching the
time when demand is far outstripping supply."

Any competition with Cuba is still years away, and its agricultural
exports to the U.S. probably will never evolve beyond niche-market
status, said John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council.

Crop diseases may be a bigger immediate concern, especially if the U.S.
moves too quickly ease limits on food imports. Citrus greening, which is
destroying fruit trees, has cut Florida's production of oranges, its
biggest crop, by 46 percent since 2013, according to a USDA forecast in
April. Meanwhile, fruit flies have damaged crops in Dade County.

"Some of the insects and disease that we got in citrus came from
abroad," including South America, said Dean Mixon, 64, who grows citrus
on 50 acres in Bradenton, Florida, that his grandfather started in 1930.
"There are large plantations with citrus in Cuba, and they don't have
all the rules and regulations we do, that's when it becomes unfair."

The White House is sensitive to grower concerns but sees plenty of room
for more supply, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Cuba is in a position to be a supplier, especially in organic," Vilsack
said by telephone on April 20. "But that doesn't necessarily mean
they're competing against us when there's so much demand."

Source: Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops | The Salt Lake
Tribune -

Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of modernity

Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of modernity

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Friday praised Cuban
President Raul Castro for embracing the realities of the modern world
after a meeting with the Communist leader that marked a further step in
Cuba's thaw with the West.

He is the first British Foreign Secretary to set foot on the Caribbean
island since its 1959 revolution, and his visit follows one by U.S.
President Barack Obama in March.

Hammond said he had a "long and interesting discussion" with Castro
about the octogenarian leader's push to update one of the world's last
Soviet-style command economies.

"He is espousing a program of gradual change, embracing the realities of
the world we live in," Hammond said in an interview at the British
ambassador's residence in Havana.

"I was very struck by the fact that he described the Internet as the
reality of our world, spoke positively about the benefits the Internet
could bring."

Cuba still has one of the world's lowest Internet penetrations with
access expensive and restricted.

The state says it wants to expand access and has been installing Wi-Fi
hotspots throughout the country. But change is slow and critics suggest
the government fears losing control of media and seeing new avenues of
political opposition open up.

Castro has vowed to "update" Cuba's socialist model but market-style
reforms have been implemented haltingly and even reversed in some areas.
A Communist Party Congress this month proposed little new to tackle the
country's economic woes.

"Castro is seeking to position himself in the middle between those who
are resisting change and those who want much faster, more radical
change," said Hammond, adding that Britain hoped to foster reforms
through cooperation in certain sectors.

The Foreign Secretary said the government recognized its financial
services sector was underdeveloped.

"Castro said to me directly 'we lack management expertise in banking
services' and this is an area where the UK (United Kingdom) has
something very clear to offer," he said.

The main sectors where Britain sees opportunities for its companies to
do business in Cuba were financial services, tourism and renewable
energy, Hammond said.

Challenges to doing business in Cuba remain however, he said, not least
due to the U.S. trade embargo.

"We have also had discussions with the U.S. about the challenges for
British and other European banks in doing business with countries that
face U.S. sanctions," said Hammond.

"There are some problems here but we are working through them with the
U.S. and hope to make progress in a way that will enable British
businesses to do more business with Cuba."

Exports of British goods to Cuba rose 32 percent in 2015 compared with
the previous year but the government deems there is scope for growth as
other European countries export far more to the island.

(Editing by James Dalgleish)

Source: Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of
modernity | Reuters -

Cuba backtracks on food reforms as conservatives resist change

Cuba backtracks on food reforms as conservatives resist change

Cuba decided at a secretive Communist Party congress last week to
reverse market reforms in food distribution and pricing, according to
reports in official media, reflecting tensions within the party about
the pace of economic change.

President Raul Castro unveiled an ambitious market reform agenda in one
of the world's last Soviet-style command economies after he took office
a decade ago, but the reforms moved slowly in the face of resistance
from conservatives and bureaucrats.

At the April 16-19 congress, Castro railed against an "obsolete
mentality" that was holding back modernization of Cuba's socialist
economy. But he also said the leadership needed to respond quickly to
problems like inflation unleashed by greater demand as a result of
reforms in other sectors.

In response, delegates voted to eliminate licenses for private wholesale
food distribution, according to reports over the past week in the
Communist Party daily, Granma, and state television.

Delegates said the state would contract, distribute and regulate prices
for 80 to 90 percent of farm output this year, compared to 51 percent in
2014, according to debates broadcast in edited form days after the event.

Reuters reported in January that Cuba had begun a similar rollback in
some provinces, increasing its role in distribution again and regulating
prices. The decision at the congress will extend that program.

Data released in March showed that Cuba's farm output has barely risen
since 2008, when Castro formally took over from his brother Fidel,
contributing to a spike in food prices blamed on supply-demand mismatch.

Cuba imports more than 60 percent of the food it consumes.

The Union of Young Communists' newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, reported
late last year that the price of a basket of the most common foods
increased 49 percent between 2010 and early 2015.

There are no government statistics on food inflation.

While hurricanes and drought have played a part in poor farm output,
some experts and farmers say Cuba did not go far enough in allowing
farmers freer access to seeds and fertilizers to increase production.


But demand is rising fast. Relaxation of restrictions on self-employment
has led to a boom in small restaurants, at a time when Cuba's detente
with the West is leading to record numbers of tourists and an emerging
consumer class.

According to the reports, there was no discussion at the congress of
moving ahead with plans to allow farmers to buy supplies from wholesale
outlets, instead of having them assigned by the state.

Nor was there mention of another reform, also adopted five years ago and
never implemented, to have cooperatives join forces to perform tasks
currently in state hands, for example ploughing fields.

The state owns nearly 80 percent of arable land in Cuba, leasing most of
it to cooperatives and individual farmers. It has a monopoly on imports
and their distribution.

"They never fully carried out the reforms and gave them time to work.
They stopped half way and appear unable to come up with any other
solution than backtracking," said a local agriculture expert, who asked
to remain anonymous.

He said farmers often had no equipment and few supplies such as seed.

The government reported leafy and root vegetable output at 5 million
tonnes in 2015, similar to 2008, and unprocessed rice and bean
production of 418,000 tonnes and 118,000 tonnes, compared with 436,000
tonnes and 117,000 tonnes eight years ago.

Cuba produced 363,000 tonnes of corn last year, just 3,000 more than
when Castro took office.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: Cuba backtracks on food reforms as conservatives resist change |
Reuters -

Cuba’s Ambitious Fashion ‘Cuentapropistas’

Cuba's Ambitious Fashion 'Cuentapropistas'
Economic reforms, improved relations with the US and even Chanel's
upcoming Cruise show are all encouraging signs, but the future of the
Cuban fashion market still remains uncertain.
Havana, Cuba | Source: Shutterstock
APRIL 29, 2016 18:40

MIAMI, United States — Prowling around the boutique at Havana's Hotel
Nacional de Cuba, well-heeled tourists would probably never suspect that
the lustrous jewellery on display by Cuban brand Rox 950 is churned out
from a makeshift factory in a charming but chaotic Havana apartment
overflowing with 35 employees.

Rosana Vargas, the ambitious designer behind the brand, produces upwards
of 500 artisanal pieces a month from her space in Cuba's capital city,
bringing in monthly revenue of about 20,000 Cuban convertible pesos
(CUC). Given that the currency is pegged at a 1:1 exchange rate to the
US dollar, the scale of Vargas's silver jewellery business is an
impressive feat in a country where capitalism was until recently a dirty

Vargas explains that regulations on property operated by private
businesses in Cuba means that, for now, she is confined to her
three-bedroom apartment-turned-factory. After five years on the market,
Vargas is sold in over 10 locations across Cuba, including resort hotels
and the state-run Artex chain. Now, she is in talks with a US-based

"We're currently only selling about 50 percent of what we're producing,
and production is not yet where I need it to be. The main objective is
to keep scaling production in order to have sufficient inventory to
export. I can't show up to a meeting with a potential distributor with
empty hands," explains Vargas.

A New Era for Business

The US trade embargo — known locally as "el bloqueo" — has blighted Cuba
for over half a century and, despite the recent thaw in relations
between the two countries, is still active. However, after President
Obama began amending certain economic sanctions last year, some goods
produced by independent Cuban cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) are now
authorised for export.

Nevertheless, the flow of consumer goods leaving the country is still
minimal and cuentapropistas must abide by certain constraints, says
Marguerite Fitzgerald, a partner at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
and author of the firm's most recent report on Cuba.

"They must be able to prove that they are, in fact, independent
businesses — they can't have any connection with the Cuban government
[and] there are restrictions on the type of goods that they can export,"
she says. Artisanal products like clothing, shoes and accessories are
permitted, she explains, while prohibited items include food products,
vehicles and machinery.

Vargas is representative of a growing entrepreneurial spirit in Cuba,
which until a few years ago, presented a much more challenging business
environment. A series of market-based reforms kicking off in 2010 meant
that cuentapropistas could hire up to 25 more employees across an
expanded range of businesses and that some government regulations have
been relaxed.

According to BCG's report, the number of cuentapropistas has more than
tripled since the new regulations. The firm estimates that Cuba's
economy will grow by 2 to 4 percent over the next five years. If
meaningful reforms continue and US restrictions are further eased, there
is potential for faster growth over the long term.

Cuba's economy is small — about the size of Sri Lanka or the US state of
Hawaii — and although it is still dominated by state-run enterprise, the
reforms represent a major shift for a country that ran a planned, closed
economy and whose communist government had a hostile relationship with
the US for decades.

According to some market analysts, Cuba's growing engagement with the
outside world is not only a new era for local entrepreneurs but also for
multinational brands hoping to one day enter the market. Behind the
scenes many big firms are carefully exploring their options or making
quiet overtures. One of the most open and symbolic gestures from the
fashion sector so far is by the luxury brand Chanel, which is set to
show its cruise collection in Havana on May 3.

"I think it's great that Chanel is coming to show in Cuba [and] I'm
looking forward to seeing what [Karl Lagerfeld's] vision of the island
is, [but] if you stop someone on the street, there's a high chance they
wouldn't be able to tell you who Chanel is, and they probably wouldn't
know that Chanel is coming here to do a runway show," says Cuban fashion
designer Rolando Rius.

Rius, who owns a womenswear brand called Ryo, won't be among the band of
international celebrities, fashion editors and supermodels attending the
much-anticipated spectacle. Indeed, the vast majority of the 11 million
Cubans on the tropical island would never dream of purchasing from a
brand with Chanel's stratospheric prices. Most industry experts agree
that the show will treat Cuba as a backdrop rather than as a market to
enter any time soon.

Yet, Cuba isn't exactly a stranger to luxury fashion. Before Fidel
Castro took power in 1959, the Caribbean island attracted couturiers
like Christian Dior to open one of his first boutiques in the Americas
at the El Encanto department store in Havana. But following half a
century under communist rule, the opulence that once characterised Cuba
is no more. In its place is an island of faded grandeur, marketed as a
country somehow frozen in time, attracting the global fashion industry
as a location for glamorous and charming photo shoots.

While Vanity Fair, W Magazine, Marie Claire, and now, Chanel all flock
to Cuba to take delight in its picturesque settings, enterprising Cuban
designers such as Vargas and Rius have been hustling for decades to keep
Cuba's fashion industry alive and incubating a fashion ecosystem that
industry leaders abroad would find both foreign and familiar.

Unique Challenges and Obstacles

One of the biggest obstacles facing Cuban entrepreneurs like José Luis
González is the high price of materials. González started his own
womenswear brand, Modarte, following 25 years working for Cuba's state
textile industry sector specialising in the embellishment and painting
of fabrics.

"Buying fabric from state-owned stores is extremely expensive. I often
work with chiffon because I like the way it drapes, and it will cost
about five CUC per metre for a solid colour. When I have the chance to
go to Italy, which is the last importation I did, it costs a fraction of
the price, maybe a few cents per meter," González explains.

Complicated import tax regulations, duty increases and a lack of
distinction between retail and wholesale operations by some Cuban
authorities are a few challenges cuentapropistas face, he says.

González, Rius and Vargas sell to a small, exclusive group of high
spending customers in Cuba. González's collections can be purchased at
state-owned stores Artex and El Fondo Cubano De Vienes Culturales.
Working with a small staff of sewers, González produces roughly 100
pieces every two or three months which he claims sell out fast due to
presales and high demand.

Rius' collection also includes accessories, ranging in price anywhere
from 40 or 50 CUC for jewellery and up to 80 or 90 CUC for a handbag.
Such prices may seem reasonable or even a bargain to shoppers in the US
or Europe, but in a country where the World Bank estimates GDP per
capita to be around $6,000, they are out of reach for the majority of
Cubans. Fashion cuentapropistas serve a small market niche who recognise
or at least follow international luxury brands but are limited by
access, information and price.

"[Watching] the latest runway show [online] for example, can be
difficult. To be informed 100 percent is difficult, but there are a lot
of people who do and try their best [though] it's a minority," Rius
explains. While up to 30 percent of Cubans have access to
government-regulated intranet, only a small fraction of these can access
the global internet, according to a 2015 report by US watchdog
organisation Freedom House.

The cultural gap left by decades of relative isolation makes life harder
for some fashion cuentapropistas but, for others, it is a business
opportunity in Cuba's close-knit and underdeveloped fashion industry.

Juan Carlos Urquiola, a former model himself, trains aspiring models in
his school, La Academia de Modelaje de Actuar. Besides coaching his
students on walking, posing and how to wear a dress or a suit, "a big
part of it is teaching them how to act properly and telling them that
the world of fashion is different. Once they enter it, things will
change and they won't think the same way as some of their friends from
their neighbourhoods," says Urquiola, who is in charge of castings for
major cultural events like the state-sponsored FIMAE, a convention for
the fashion, furniture and interior industries, which will take place in
Havana in June.

The Seeds of Brand Awareness

"With all the recent changes, people sometimes look at Cuba and sort of
think that we were completely shut off from the world before, which
isn't true," says González, who believes that affordable multinational
brands do have a future in the market. Fast fashion brands such as
Mango, Benetton and Zara have brand recognition because their
merchandise can be found at state owned stores — apparently via
intermediaries. Meanwhile, branded clothing has long been available from
vendors in Havana's famous black markets, like La Cuevita.

A young population is also readily influenced by Cuban rappers and
baseball players who may be seen sporting designer brands. "The regetón
singers who make a lot of money and travel [abroad] are kind of like the
role models for a lot of young people. They go out and buy Gucci and D&G
and Armani, and those young people see them and regard them as the best
dressed people. So some recognise these brands," says Rius.

A more recent phenomenon called El Paquete ("the package") is rapidly
increasing Western brand awareness in Cuba through entertainment. A
weekly compilation of US and other foreign television shows, series,
movies and fashion magazines are delivered to Cubans' homes on a hard
drive or USB disk for the equivalent of US $2 to $5. Although illegal,
it has been largely tolerated by the government and, according to some
estimates, reaches around 70 percent of the population.

Hugo Cancio is the Cuban-American entrepreneur who founded Fuego
Enterprises and OnCuba, two widely distributed Cuban media outlets. He
sees El Paquete as an important indicator of changing tides in Cuba.
"Cubans…are now starting to know how people dress abroad [and] worry
about their personal image and [how] they improve it. So when you have
family members bringing a gift [from abroad] they might say…bring me
some Calvin Klein Jeans or some Gucci," Cancio explains.

Cancio describes a "completely new Cuba" of private businesses,
restaurants and bars, the majority of which procure investment from the
Cuban diaspora abroad, returnees or relatives and friends in places like
Miami whose families fled Cuba in earlier years. This new commercial
atmosphere is one where ambitious local cuentapropistas like Vargas,
Rius and González are now able to build small but substantial businesses
despite the many barriers they face.

Continued progress is dependent on foreign investment, market
liberalisation, rising wages, retail and infrastructure development and
economic growth — none of which is a foregone conclusion in this new
Cuba. With Cuban leader Raúl Castro expected to step down in 2018, it
creates further uncertainty not only for the pace of domestic reforms
but also for Cuba's complex, evolving relationship with the United
States and the halo effect of its international partners.

"I have no idea what all of these changes with the US will lead to,"
says Rius. "We can hope for some sort of exchange of information and
ideas, but I really don't know."

As the authors of the BCG report concluded, Cuba's market evolution is
"intriguing" although there has not been enough progress yet to present
"a momentous opportunity." But this hasn't dented optimistic
cuentapropistas like Rius, González, and Vargas, who are for the first
time in decades witnessing the world get excited about doing business
with their country.

Source: Cuba's Ambitious Fashion 'Cuentapropistas' | Global Currents |
BoF -

Friday, April 29, 2016

“The opposition has not matured,” Laments Martha Beatriz Roque

"The opposition has not matured," Laments Martha Beatriz Roque /
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 28 April 2016 — Martha Beatriz Roque
has returned from Miami after receiving a permit from the Cuban
government in late February, which authorized her to leave the country
one time. The activist was one of the seven former prisoners of the
Black Spring of 2003 who benefited from this permit. She returns with a
certain pessimism and a critical impression of the state of the Cuban

Lilianne Ruiz. You returned from abroad after permission from the Cuban
government, which allowed you to make only one trip. What impressions
did you bring back from your stay outside the country?

Martha Beatriz Roque. I come back with a tremendous pain in my heart
about what I have seen there. In Miami there is the historic exile, who
love their country, their fatherland, who talk about democracy, who
think about Cuba constantly and who have a great nostalgia for the
island, but this historic exile, unfortunately, is getting old and some
of its members have died.

However, many people who are coming to Miami through different
countries, including now through Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama, are
turning their backs on Cuba, they even want to forget that they are
Cubans. These are people who are a part of a social fabric here that is
broken, who have no ethics, no formal education and they are
contaminating Miami.

LR. What do you think has been the outcome of Barack Obama's visit to Cuba?

MBR. Obama has his agenda and within it is defending the interests of
American citizens, as is natural, because that is his country. He has
made it clear that the problems of Cuba have to be solved by Cubans and
that is important. The people had a great lesson with Obama's visit: for
the people it has meant hope, which the Communist Party Congress
subsequently tried to annihilate.

LR. And the opposition?

MBR. In Cuba there are opponents, but an opposition, as such, does not
exist. An opposition exists in Venezuela, because it has been capable of
uniting despite its disagreements. We are not capable of something like
that yet. Here the unity lasts seconds.

LR. Did the 7th Congress of the Communist Party frustrate you, or were
you were expecting something like what happened?

MBR. The Party Congress was going to be postponed to another date but it
was held to try to counter what Obama said to the Cuban people, and
because of this they didn't have any finished [guiding] document. Some
said, after the Congress was over, "We were right, Obama has achieved
nothing." Others say that the Congress was a way of demonstrating the
failure of what Obama is doing, but I would not say that. Much less do I
think it is a failure, because there are things that have been
accelerated with Obama's visit.

LR. Like what?

MBR. In the specific case of the eleven members of us from the [Black
Spring] group of 75 who remain in Cuba, we were not allowed to leave the
country and, at least in this moment, they allowed us one trip abroad.
There have been solutions to some problems that you couldn't say are
changes, without the reestablishment of rights. This has to be seen as
something satisfactory, not as something negative. In the not so distant
future other solutions will have to come, because the economic, social
and political situation of the country is unbearable.

LR. Will it be the self-employed who change Cuba?

MBR. The Cuban regime will not allow any self-employed to export,
because that, they will say, is reserved for the businesses of the
Ministry of Foreign Trade. The United States government is trying to
have direct relationships with the self-employed, but that is not going
to be allowed. Right now, when some self-employed turn their faces just
slightly to the north, they're going to cut off those businesses they're
going to stop everything.

LR. Can access to the internet help make the changes occur?

MBR. The regime does not allow it because they know that the internet is
a source of knowledge, of the transmission of news and possibilities.

LR. What is the Cuban opposition lacking to be able to call forth the

MBR. First of all, it lacks leadership. Unfortunately, here everyone
wants to be a leader, no one wants to be in the line, everyone wants to
be at the head of it. It also lacks the exile,, which is capable of
manufacturing a leader and putting forward a project with resources, but
this does not solve anything.

LR. Do you see any chance for the opposition to influence the
constitutional referendum announced by the government?

MBR. The opposition has not matured, it is still the same, generating
documents, projecting itself abroad, meeting abroad, telling people what
they have to do. But if the opposition doesn't take advantage of this
moment to work jointly with the people, it's simple, nothing is going to
happen. If they don't work with the people, if they don't raise
awareness among the people, what does it matter that they go to meet the
Pope in Rome, it's all the same, it is simply not going to solve anything.

Source: "The opposition has not matured," Laments Martha Beatriz Roque /
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz – Translating Cuba -

Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough

Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 25 April 2016 — It is a Black Friday of a different sort.
In the United States the morning after Thanksgiving marks the beginning
of the Christmas discount season, where people wait in long lines to buy
electronics, computers and clothing. But in Cuba on Friday, April 22 — a
date when the military government has reduced prices by 20% on a variety
of grocery items — there are no lines

As usually happens at Brimart, a grocery store in the heavily populated
Tenth of October district where products are sold for hard currency,
employees open the doors fifteen minutes late.

Seven people are waiting outside. Four of them know about the sale on
chicken and ground meat but are only planning on buying their usual
items, which in the case of Mireya, a housewife, consists of a kilogram
of chicken thighs, two packages of ground turkey and, if available,
three containers of natural yogurt smoothies. "With the 0.70 centavos I
save on the chicken and ground turkey," she says, "I plan on buying my
granddaughter a piece of candy."

Arnaldo, a carpenter, found out about the sale before going into the
store. "I'm going to buy chicken, ground beef, cooking oil, detergent
and soap," he says. "With what I have left over, I'm going to buy two
Planchaos (small cardboard containers with two quarter bottles of rum).
The only way to disconnect from this country is by getting plastered and
watching the paquete."*

Among the products listed as being on sale, Brimart only has chicken
thighs, whole chickens, ground beef and one-liter bottles of cooking
oil. Shortages are noticeable. However, the shelves are full of rum,
whisky, wine, beer, canned tomato puree and plastic bottles of vegetable

"I was expecting a big crowd, but it is as slow as ever," says Olga
Lidia, a state worker. "A lot of people are happy about the sale. It
has a positive impact on the household budget. But the reality is that
the discounts are on items sold in a currency to which a lot of people
don't have access."

Rachel, a store employee, confirms they are waiting on shipments of a
wide assortment of canned goods, cookies and cold cuts but, she notes,
"according to the manager, they have not arrived yet due to the
transportation problem."

On the lower level of the Carlos III shopping mall, there are people
eating hamburgers and drinking draft beer in the food court, while in
the meat and cheese department a man with a furrowed brow is looking at

"What sons-of-bitches," referring to government officials, he says.
"They lower the prices by a few centavos on ground meat and chicken —
the food of the poor people — but beef, good fish and imported cheeses
still cost an arm and a leg."

Noel, an economist, believes this is new measure is a populist move. It
is more a political ploy than anything else," he notes. "They know how
disgusted people on the street are. The price reductions they have put
in place won't even put a dent in the 240% to 400% markups on goods sold
in convertible pesos. These twenty-percent reductions are a way to curb

Although Susana, a professor approves of the reductions, she claims they
will be of no benefit to her. "We teachers earn between 500 to 600 pesos
(twenty to twenty-five dollars) a month. That is barely enough to eat
on. The government should be thinking about raising salaries and
lowering prices of household appliances," she says as she eyes a washing
machine costing 757 CUC, the equivalent of three-years salary for an
elementary school teacher.

Gilberto — the manager of a market inside a store in the Flores
neighborhood in Miramar, a suburb west of the capital — cannot guarantee
that people will always be able to find the lower-priced items on sale.

"Because supply outstrips demand," he explains," and generally owners of
food and hospitality businesses buy in large quantities. All this
suggests the government reduced prices after taking into account its
stores' inventories."

Selma, the proprietor of a cafe, does not think prices will be lowered
at food service establishments.

"If the price of these foods stays low and the prices of other items are
gradually reduced, then that might lower the costs for family
businesses, but we'll have to wait and see. In Cuba prices are lowered
on things that are in short supply, like potatoes. They used to sell
them by the pound and now you can only get them once a year," says Selma.

In several of Havana's hard currency stores, things have been in short
supply for the last ten months. Chicken breasts, yogurt and domestically
produced cheese are scarce almost everywhere.

Dariel, the head of business that occupies one floor of a building in
the old part of the city, sees the glass half full. "They say that there
will be ships coming into port loaded with food and other things to sell
in stores," he says.

It seems Cuba is always waiting for its ship to come in.

*Translator's note: the "package," a weekly compendium of foreign TV
serials, soap operas, sports shows and films sold illicitly throughout Cuba.

Source: Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan
Garcia – Translating Cuba -

Two Russian Deputies Propose Reestablishing Signal Intercept Station in Cuba

Two Russian Deputies Propose Reestablishing Signal Intercept Station in
Cuba / 14ymedio

Two Russian Deputies put forward a proposal to President Vladimir Putin
to study the reestablishment of the Lourdes signals interception center
in Cuba, as well as the deployment of Russian missile launchers on the
island "to protect the interests of Moscow and its allies," as local
media reported this Wednesday.

The initiative comes as a response to the agreement between the United
States and Turkey which will allow the deployment in May of high
mobility tactical missiles (Himars) in the Southeast part of the Ottoman
country, near the border with Syria, to deal with attacks by the
jihadist group the Islamic State.

"We believe it is possible to use the Soviet experience to contain the
current expansionist intentions of United States," said Valery Rashkin
and Sergei Obukhov, members of the Communist Party, in explaining the

The center for signals interception, located near Havana, was shut down
in 2002. However, the director of the Department of Latin America in the
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an interview last February
that Moscow had no intention of opening military bases on the island.

Translated by Alberto

Source: Two Russian Deputies Propose Reestablishing Signal Intercept
Station in Cuba / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -

Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring Their Families From Cuba

Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring Their
Families From Cuba / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 28 April 2016 – Former
Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera, Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge
Ramirezmet Thursday in Miami with staff for Representative Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen for help in bringing their relatives from Cuba.

The three were part of the group of 53 dissidents released as part of
negotiations between Cuba and the United States that allowed the return
to the island of the Cuban spies still in American prisons. But shortly
after their release, the opposition members had been returned to prison.

Days before US president Barack Obama's visit to Cuba on 20 March, they
were released and taken to US territory in less than 72 hours, which
some interpret as a goodwill gesture by Raul Castro's government, and
others as an attempt to hide the presence of political prisoners in
Cuban jails.

According to the dissidents, US officials who mediated their release
promised them that their families would also leave for the United States
in less than a week. But to date, they remain in Cuba.

The opponents are threatening to return to the island "on a raft" if the
process of reunification is not accelerated.

"We feel betrayed," said Jorge Ramirez, an independent labor unionist
from Villa Clara who claimed that the American embassy in Havana, the
Catholic Church and the Cuban government had all gone back on their word.

"The American staff told us that our families would be here in a week,"
commented Riviaux, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), who
spent nine years in prison charged with the crimes of assault, contempt
and dangerousness.

"It's been a month since our relatives went to Havana, and this is good.
If we do not see any progress, we will be the next rafters, but heading
in the direction of Cuba," he said.

For Jorge Ramirez it's "a trick" which they played on them to get them
to leave the island. According to him, "possibly it involved officials
of the American government and even the Vatican."

According to Ramirez, the main problem is that while the Cuban
government is putting obstacles in the way of the families leaving Cuba,
they have no way to help them economically.

"Some exile groups have helped us modestly, but this support doesn't
reach our families. We have no official documents that allows us to send
money to Cuba. We don't have permission to work," he commented.

Ramirez's wife, Nelida Lima Conde, is also a human rights activist in
Cuba, and was self-employed when the release came through. As she told
this newspaper, officials at the US embassy promised that she would be
with her husband in a week, so she quit her job and took her children
out of school.

According to the activist, fifteen days after her husband left for the
United Stated she was notified that she should ask the Cuban immigration
authorities for her passport, but because she was under sanction by the
courts, they didn't give her one. After the annulment of the sentence,
the next obstacle was that her husband had to send permission for the
children to leave the island. The document has to be stamped by the
Cuban consulate to allow the minors to emigrate.

According to Ramirez, the government is putting these obstacles in their
way "in revenge."

Yudislady Travieso, the wife of Rivera, confirmed that she is in the
same situation and that she feels "deceived."

"What they really wanted was to get them to leave Cuba. They never said
anything to us about the permits they're asking for now," she added.

Travieso and her four daughters, who live in Guantanamo, spent almost a
month in Havana, where they have no family, while making arrangements
for the trip, but did not resolve anything.

"They are going from home to home," Rivera said, adding that the
situation is very difficult for his family, who are "humble people."

Source: Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring
Their Families From Cuba / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton –
Translating Cuba -

Cubans getting bolder in acts against government

Cubans getting bolder in acts against government

They call it "The Valley of Prehistory," an odd park with oversized
sculptures of dinosaurs and other ancient animals in the Baconao
National Park on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba. And that's where
hundreds of dissidents, neighbors and supporters turned up recently, in
what was designed as a fun outing for children as well as a show of the
growing popularity of Cuba's largest opposition group.

A video of the outing shot by the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union, known
as UNPACU, shows images unthinkable only a few years ago in an island
where the government systematically dismisses its opponents as
microscopic groups of "mercenaries" financed by the U.S. government.

Ignoring the official propaganda, hundreds of people took part in the
outing and listened to UNPACU leader José Daniel Ferrer detail the
activities planned for the children, which also included a free lunch
and stops at a nearby beach and an aquarium.

Ferrer said UNPACU organized the outing as a "symbolic" message on the
same weekend the Cuban Communist Party held its VII Congress, and to
show what most Cubans would prefer to do if given the chance: go out and
have fun. No one really expected that the Congress would discuss issues
of real importance to the Cuban people, the dissident added.

Ferrer claimed nearly 1,000 people participated in the UNPACU outing
because the organization hired 13 trucks, each capable of transporting
up to 70 people. His numbers could not be independently confirmed, but a
video of the gathering clearly showed an unusually large crowd of
dissidents and other participants.

Ferrer said the outing was organized "with the utmost discretion" to
avoid any government efforts to block it.

"They found out nevertheless, and six of the 15 trucks we had contracted
withdrew at the last minute. They took away six, but we found another
five," he said.

The unusually large crowd at the UNPACU outing may be the most
significant part of the event; perhaps in indication that Cubans may be
losing their fear of the government.

It has not been a sudden change. But in recent months, and thanks to the
growing use of cellular phones and Wifi access around the island, social
networks have circulated several videos showing that Cubans are starting
to complain against abuses, including arbitrary police crack downs on
dissidents and non-state workers.

The circulation of those videos may well be what government officials
refer to when they have repeatedly warned about the "dangers" of the
Internet and the need to prepare for a "cyberwar."

UNPACU, which is very active in social networks, has published several
videos of these types of anti-government protests, many of them
spontaneous — and unlike the protests regularly scheduled by the
dissident Ladies in White group and other opposition activists to
highlight the lack of civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

#TodosMarchamos — We All March — a campaign launched by several
opposition groups to demand an end to repression and the release of
political prisoners, posted a You Tube video in early March showing the
silent protest of a young Havana man, his mouth taped over, whose
bicycle-powered taxi had been confiscated by police. When two policemen
try to arrest the man, people in the crowd are heard shouting, "down
with the dictatorship" and "abusers."

Another video published in March by Univision 23 reporter Mario Vallejo
shows a crowd protesting when police try to arrest a woman in the El
Cerro neighborhood of Havana. When three police officers tried to force
the woman into a patrol car, people in the crowd drag her away and free
her, leaving the police clearly bewildered.

"It is no longer just the political dissidents protesting and pushing
back against police repression but now the people who live alongside
them," said sociologist Ted Henken, a Baruch College professor who
studies Cuba. Until now, he added, the government has succeeded in
isolating the dissidents from the everyday concerns of the general
population, but that may be changing.

Unclear is how many of the protests are due to an expanding
dissatisfaction or a loss of fear, or both issues combined. And perhaps
more protests are being reported only because it's easier to record them
and transmit the images abroad.

"It's very hard to know if there's more protests and frustration, or
we're simply seeing more because of the technologies," said Henken.
"What is important is the fact that inexpensive and ubiquitous
technologies allow both activists and bystanders to film and publish
acts of repression with an ease and immediacy that we have never seen

Sebastian Arcos, deputy director of the Cuban Research Institute at
Florida International University, said that the protests are the result
of the "ideological and economic breakdown of the Cuban regime" that
started with the collapse of the Soviet Union and resulting crash of the
Cuban economy.

"If the regime can no longer hand out economic privileges like it used
to, and no longer has an ideological justification for its existence, it
begins to lose support. People are frustrated and start to make
spontaneous gestures of rejection toward the regime," Arcos said. "It is
a natural part of the breakdown of a totalitarian or authoritarian
regime," he said, that parallel the events that preceded the fall of the
Berlin Wall.

Arcos stressed he does not link the increase in anti-government protests
exclusively to the new Obama administration policy of easing U.S.
sanctions on Cuba.

Henken said, however, that "the Obama charm offensive, masterfully
deployed during his visit to the island," may have played a role. The
changes in U.S. policy, combined with the reforms launched by Cuban
ruler Raúl Castro, may have helped to generate high hopes among the
island's population for economic and political improvements.

He added that Castro's reforms "the internal reforms of the government
have not kept pace with the rising expectations of the people leading to
more frustration and more public protests - a simultaneous loss of fear
of repression or punishment and a growth of discontent and frustration."

Henken used sociology's concept of "relative deprivation" to explain the
events. "People don't protest when things are bad, but instead when they
perceive their situation has worsened compared to their expectations or
the situation of other groups," he said.

The recent Communist Party congress, which made no significant changes
to Cuba's economic or political policies, "must have disappointed some
people who had some hope for improvement," Arcos said.

Increasingly daring complaints against the government also have appeared
among bloggers, activists and journalists, especially those who write
for non-government publications.

Isbel Díaz Torres, a biologist and LGBT rights activist, recently wrote
in the Havana Times web page that Castro's opening speech to the
Communist Party Congress "made me cringe" because it showed "such grave
gaps in knowledge and so few diplomatic abilities" when the Cuban leader
touched on the issues of human rights.

Ferrer, Arcos and Henken cautioned against excessive optimism.

Although Cuba's economic crisis may be limiting the resources devoted to
security forces at the Interior Ministry and other state agencies, "the
government still has control of the domestic situation," Arcos said.

Henken noted the government also can use the new technologies to control
and repress the population in a more effective manner.

Ferrer said that although UNPACU managed to gather hundreds of Santiago
area residents for the kids' outing, the opposition has limited
financial resources and "the repression still frightens many people. Our
mission is to start reducing that fear, and the regime's mission is to
keep that fear in the heart of all Cubans."

"It is a slow and lengthy process" but an inexorable one, said Arcos,
adding that the process might well be described with Castro's famous
phrase about the pace of his economic reforms: "Without haste but
without pause."

Source: Cubans getting bolder in acts against government | In Cuba Today

Cuba travel lawsuit against Carnival withdrawn

Cuba travel lawsuit against Carnival withdrawn

The suit was originally filed when Cuban-born travelers were denied
bookings on Carnival's Fathom line
The suit stemmed from a Cuban policy that discriminated against
travelers born in Cuba
Last week Cuba changed its long-standing policy on boat travel

In the wake of a reversal in a Cuban policy that prevented those born in
Cuba from taking cruises to the island, a class-action lawsuit against
Carnival Cruises and its Fathom line was pulled Thursday.

A notice of voluntary dismissal was filed in U.S. District Court in
Miami on behalf of Francisco Marty and Amparo Sanchez, who previously
had been refused bookings on Fathom's maiden voyage from PortMiami to
Cuba because of a Cuban regulatory policy. They claimed the cruise
company was violating their civil rights by denying tickets to those
born in Cuba.

The cruise line later announced it would delay sailing to Cuba until the
regulations were changed to allow Cuban-born Americans to sail.

Last week, Cuba said it was dropping the Cold War-era policy that
prevented those born in Cuba from arriving in or leaving the island by
vessel, clearing the way for the Fathom trip to proceed as scheduled. It
is slated to leave PortMiami at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on a seven-day voyage
with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago.

"We filed our case with one, simple goal: to end discrimination against
Cuban-born Americans who were being denied cruises to Cuba based on
their place of birth," said Tucker Ronzetti, a lawyer for the
plaintiffs. "The practice has ended, first by Carnival changing its
discriminatory policy, and then by the Cuban government's agreement to
allow Cuban-born Americans to arrive by ship.

Because "Cuban-born and other Americans alike can now take Carnival's
cruises," the notice said, the suit has been withdrawn. "We look forward
to all U.S. citizens, Cuban-born or otherwise, now equally enjoying
cruises to Cuba," said Ronzetti.

Marty, a Bay of Pigs veteran, said he left his native Cuba "because
there was no respect for the rule of law."

"When I was denied passage by Carnival to my native land, I was shocked
that such an action could be taken by a company that calls the Miami
port its home. Discrimination for any reason is not tolerated in the
United States," he said. In effect, Marty said, the "company was
treating me like a second-class citizen of the United States based on my
national origin."

He said he was gratified by the Cuban reversal. "I knew we would prevail
because this is the United States of America and the rule of law always
wins," Marty said.

A second civil suit seeking equity for travelers born in Cuba was
dismissed when Cuba changed its policy.

Source: Cuba travel lawsuit against Carnival withdrawn | Miami Herald -

British foreign minister visits Cuba in first such trip since

British foreign minister visits Cuba in first such trip since
AFP | London
April 29, 2016 Last Updated at 05:22 IST

Britain's foreign minister has arrived in Cuba in the first such visit
since 1959, to hold talks on cooperation in "financial services, energy,
culture and education", London announced.

It follows last month's landmark visit by President Barack Obama to the
Caribbean nation as part of a historic rapprochement between Cuba and
the United States after 50 years of enmity stemming back to the Cold War.

"As the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Cuba since before the
Cuban Revolution in 1959, this is an opportunity to hear for myself what
Cuba thinks about its present challenges and where it sees its future,"
Philip Hammond said in a statement yesterday.

He is to hold a series of meetings with his Cuban counterpart Bruno
Rodriguez and other government leaders, according to Britain's Foreign
and Commonwealth Office.

Hammond is also to sign a "bilateral agreement restructuring Cuba's debt
to the UK" and agree on future cooperation in a range of areas from
financial services to energy and education.

The foreign minister also hopes to raise the issues of social and
economic changes in Cuba, human rights, trade, and the response to
health issues such as the Zika virus.

"Britain and Cuba have outlooks on the world and systems of government
that are very different," Hammond said in a statement.

"But as Cuba enters a period of significant social and economic change,
I am looking forward to demonstrating to the Cuban government and people
that the UK is keen to forge new links across the Atlantic.

"That is why Cuba and the UK are set to reach new cooperation agreements
on energy, financial services, education and culture, to the benefit of
both our nations."

Hammond will also meet representatives from Cuban civil society and the
British business community in Havana, according to the ministry.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini became the
highest-ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba when she travelled to
Havana in March.

During her trip she signed a deal to normalise relations with Cuba,
including an agreement on the delicate issue of human rights, in yet
another step towards ending the communist country's status as a pariah
in the West.

Source: British foreign minister visits Cuba in first such trip since |
Business Standard News -

Cuba finds it hard to dampen afterglow of Obama visit

Cuba finds it hard to dampen afterglow of Obama visit
By Michael Weissenstein | AP April 29 at 9:30 AM

HAVANA — Thursday morning was looking bad for Lazaro Martinez, who makes
his living playing trombone for tourists on the Malecon, the sweeping
boulevard overlooking the jewel-clear Florida Straits.

Police shunted everyone onto side streets as a sleek black helicopter
filmed scenes for the eighth installment of "Fast and Furious," the
multi-billion-dollar car-chase and bank-robbery franchise. The promenade
was deserted but Martinez said he didn't mind.

"I never thought I was going to see a Hollywood production passing right
in front of my eyes," he said. "This is the start of what Obama said in
Cuba. Step by step, we're seeing the change. If Obama hadn't come to
Cuba, this never would have happened."

More than a month after ordinary Cubans jubilantly welcomed President
Barack Obama to Havana, the communist government is finding it hard to
dampen the afterglow.

On the morning of March 22, Obama declared from the stage of the Grand
Theater in Old Havana that "I have come here to bury the last remnant of
the Cold War in the Americas." Calling for freedom of speech and
democratic elections, Obama told Cubans live on state television that
"it is time for us to look forward to the future together."

The next day, President Raul Castro watched a baseball game with Obama
and cordially saw him off at the airport. Then after days of official
silence, the Cuban government began to take a harder line.

Fidel Castro, who handed power to his brother in 2008, wrote a
1,500-word editorial on the front pages of the state-run press advising
the man he sarcastically called "Brother Obama" to "not try to develop
theories about Cuban politics."

"We don't need the empire to give us any charity," he wrote.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez was blunter, telling Communist Party
members on April 19 that Obama's visit was "a deep attack on our
political ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols."

Cuba's public sphere appeared to getting chillier.

But few people interviewed around the capital this week showed signs of
accepting government arguments that Obama was simply the expertly
packaged spokesman for U.S. corporate interests that want to
economically recolonize Cuba.

"The response that's been given is the government's, not the people's,"
said Barbara Ugarte, who runs a small shop selling party supplies in
Central Havana.

She watched Obama speak live on March 22 and said she welcomed his words
as a sign that things might be changing in a country where entrepreneurs
like her find it hair-pullingly frustrating to run a business.

A month of tough government talk has alienated her from Cuba's leaders
more than from Obama, she said.

"With this government, I don't think there are going to be big changes,"
she said. "I don't think they want to open. They want to tighten down.
We're still very closed."

"They don't let you sell, they don't let you get a license to import. We
aren't changing."

Other people were more optimistic, saying the government's actions since
Obama's visit show that it remains open to normalization with the United
States even as it warns its people that Washington remains a threat.
Last Thursday, the government lowered the prices of basic items like
chicken and cooking oil denominated in convertible pesos, a currency 25
times stronger that the Cuban peso that the majority of workers earn.
The move made some highly priced goods slightly more affordable.

A day later, Cuba dropped a decades-old ban on Cubans traveling by
cruise ships, with a prohibition on private boat travel to be dropped at
an unspecified future date.

For Yolanda Mauri, a 26-year-old computer programmer, it all feeds a
mood of post-Obama optimism that has her hoping to start a family and
find a well-paying job in Cuba rather than emigrating like so many of
her friends.

"Two years ago, one couldn't imagine even 30 percent of the things that
have happened," she said. "There's an optimistic mood. It's obvious."

She said, however, that she disagreed with the government's vision of
Obama's visit as an attack.

"That's going against the whole process of normalization," she said.
"I'm not going to try to get closer to you and maintain the perspective
that you're still my enemy. That's the traditional discourse of the past."

Events on the ground are making it harder for Cuba's leaders to portray
the United States and global capitalism as dire threats to the island's
most dearly held values.

On Sunday, May 1, Cuba holds nationwide marches celebrating
International Workers' Day. Twenty-four hours later, the first U.S.
cruise ship in more than a half-century arrives in Havana, heralding
what is expected to become a new era of mass U.S. travel when regularly
scheduled flights begin as early as this summer.

On Tuesday, the city's grand Paseo promenade will be shut to local
traffic, converted into a giant runway for French luxury goods label
Chanel to show its 2017 cruise collection.

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For many loyal Cuban communists, it's not a betrayal of the past, but a
transformation of Cuba to a nation that draws desperately needed
investment and income from the global market while maintaining state
control of key industries and guaranteeing its citizens basic rights
like health care and education.

"I don't see any contradiction," said Esteban Morales, a Communist Party
member, economist and political scientist. "We're aware that these
relationships and links implicitly carry dangers, but they're necessary
for the country."


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Source: Cuba finds it hard to dampen afterglow of Obama visit - The
Washington Post -