Wednesday, May 31, 2017

POISONED IN PARADISE Brit family’s dream £6,000 Thomas Cook trip to luxury Cuban resort turns into holiday from hell after they are struck down by crippling stomach bug

POISONED IN PARADISE Brit family's dream £6,000 Thomas Cook trip to
luxury Cuban resort turns into holiday from hell after they are struck
down by crippling stomach bug
Mum claims sewage leaked near swimming pool and they were served RAW chicken
By Neal Baker
30th May 2017, 4:04 pm

A MUM has told how a holiday of a lifetime was ruined when her family
were struck down with a crippling stomach bug at a "dreadful" resort.

Debbie Wood said her family's dream trip to Cuba turned into a nightmare
when their hotel served them raw chicken and sewage leaked near the
"filthy" pool.

Daughter Talia, 10, had to get emergency medical help and was bed-bound
for much of the holiday after getting ill
Her ten-year-old daughter Talia got so ill that she needed emergency
medical treatment and was bedridden for much of the two-week stay at the
Memories Varadero Beach Resort.

Their harrowing story will form part of a group lawsuit being brought by
several families who say they suffered holiday hell at the venue.

Debbie jetted off from Leeds with her ex and their three kids to the
Memories Varadero Beach Resort with Thomas Cook on March 31 hoping for
all-inclusive family fun at a cost of over £6,000.

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But all five family members fell ill from a suspected food poisoning

Their plight was made worse by "dreadful" bathroom facilities and a
hotel said to be in a general state of disrepair.

Foster carer Debbie compiled an alarming list of hygiene failings,
claiming that her family was served raw chicken on at least two occasions.

She said the outdoor buffet selection was often left uncovered, inviting
birds and bugs to feast on prepared dishes.

She claimed that cutlery, crockery and glassware were frequently chipped
and not properly cleaned, with drinks appearing watered down and mains
water used.

Talia before she was struck down with illness. Her family claim to have
been served raw chicken twice

What appears to be a speck of blood on a bedsheet at the Cuban resort
Debbie, 46, said: "The swimming pool was simply filthy.

"It was horrific and was not once cleaned properly. You could see green
algae on the tiles.

"Whilst we were there, there was even a raw sewage leak behind the bar
in the pool."

Debbie also slammed cleaning standards inside the hotel, and remains
angry that her daughter Talia's bedding was replaced with what appeared
to be blood-stained linens.

Debbie said: "It was terrifying seeing how ill my daughter was.

"She had a raging fever as well as gastric issues but she was too poorly
to go anywhere so we had to call the doctor to the room.

"There she was given an injection, antibiotics and analgesics.

"She was in bed ill for at least four days, too ill to go out. She then
spent the rest of the holiday resting in the shade or spending time in
the room as she was so ill."

The Wood family say they have still not returned to full health with
both Debbie and Talia attending their GP at home.

Debbie added: "I have been told that it is likely we contracted food
poisoning, possibly salmonella.

"My daughter and I are still suffering ill effects weeks after we have

"It could have ended in a tragedy due to the unhygienic food practices.

"My advice to other holidaymakers would be to avoid Memories Varadero
Beach Resort at all costs.

"We spoke to experienced Cuban holidaymakers who advised us this was the
worst hotel they had ever stayed in.

"According to reviews, sickness has been a long running issue at
Memories Varadero Beach Resort with reports stretching back as far as 2012.

"We booked almost a year before going so Thomas Cook had ample time to
contact us regarding the problems that I can only assume they must have
been aware of."

Sue Robinson of Your Holiday Claims, part of Farnworth Rose Solicitors,
said: "We have reported on outbreaks of illness at Memories Varadero
Beach Resort for a number of years.

"This latest sickness saga is especially worrying – illness coupled with
disrepair is a recipe for disaster and I sincerely hope that the hotel
and tour operators work together in order to fully investigate the cause
or causes of illness.

"Contracting food poisoning on holiday is not only unpleasant but can
have lasting and even life-altering consequences if any number of
post-infective conditions are developed.

"For this reason, it is imperative that anyone affected by illness at
Memories Varadero Beach Resort seeks both medical and legal advice."

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook said: "We want our customers to have the
best possible holiday, so we are sorry to hear that Ms Wood and her
family became ill while in Cuba.

"We take all reports of sickness very seriously and will look into this
case thoroughly with the hotel as soon as we receive it."

Source: Brit family's dream £6,000 Thomas Cook trip to luxury Cuban
resort turns into holiday from hell after they are struck down by
crippling stomach bug -

Former ambassador recounts tense clash she had with Fidel Castro in 1991

Former ambassador recounts tense clash she had with Fidel Castro in 1991
Twenty-six years ago, Vicki Huddleston was brand new in her job as a
U.S. diplomat to Cuba — and her dramatic first test came from none other
than the country's charismatic and infamous dictator

The year was 1991, the place was the Palacio de la Revolución in Havana,
Cuba, and my interlocutor was Fidel Castro, one of the most
consequential figures of the 20th century, and one of the most
commanding and charismatic men I have ever met.

A member of the U.S. foreign service, I had recently taken a job to
manage U.S. government relations with Cuba. It was a politically
sensitive position reserved for senior officers, but many of my fellow
diplomats avoided it because the powerful Cuban-American lobby dictated
a punitive policy toward Cuba. If you got on the wrong side of the
exiles ousted by the Castro regime, they could ruin your career.
Although I didn't have the rank required, the State Department had
decided to make an exception, perhaps because of an ongoing legal
challenge on behalf of women foreign service officers that claimed
discrimination in awarding high-ranking jobs. Whatever the reason, I was
delighted and seized the opportunity, despite the risks.

One of my first duties was to accompany a U.S. delegation to Havana. At
the time, U.S.-Cuba relations were frosty, at best. We'd imposed a
destructive unilateral embargo on Cuba; a CIA-organized invasion at the
Bay of Pigs was a disastrous failure; and the Missile Crisis brought us
to the brink of a nuclear Armageddon. Nevertheless, the United States
and the Soviet Union had played critical roles in negotiating what was
called the Tripartite Accord, which resulted in Namibia's independence
and Cuba's withdrawal of 50,000 troops from Angola. Fidel Castro had
invited to the Palacio de la Revolución ambassadors to Cuba from around
the world and additional delegations from five countries. Among the
200 guests there were only three women, Castro's young, beautiful
interpreter, the Soviet ambassador's spouse, and myself.

Immediately after the treaties acknowledging the successful completion
of the Tripartite Accord had been signed, Castro made a beeline for me.
I knew Castro preferred female interlocutors, assuming his formidable
charisma would work in his favor, but America was also his sworn enemy.
So I was not sure how he would react when we met. He was still handsome
at 65 with a long face made even longer by his heavy grey-black beard.

Castro smiled, clearly enjoying a moment where he could hover over the
petite representative of the "empire," as he called the United States.
He then asked in English, "Who are you, someone's spouse?"

I was furious. Fidel knew exactly who I was; he knew everything about
those of us who managed U.S. policy, and I had visited the island
several times when I was the deputy in the Cuba office. As I drew myself
up for an appropriately outraged reply, I realized that the entire room
was listening. No matter. I stood as tall as possible — at 5-feet,
5-inches — and announced boldly, "No. I am the director of Cuban affairs."

Fidel, now purring with pleasure, surveyed the room to ensure that no
one would miss his next words. He boomed, "Oh? I thought I was." Laugher
filled the great hall. My delegation was speechless; I was angry and
embarrassed. Fidel moved on, having skewered me. But just as I was
thinking that perhaps this job wasn't the right fit, security guards
asked me to accompany them. Fidel was waiting at the entrance to the
buffet. He offered me his arm. I swallowed my pride and took it.
Diplomats gasped.

Fortunately, there were no media on hand and no cellphones to record
Castro and me, arm in arm. Had the ever-wary Cuban diaspora seen this, I
would have been fired instantly. But diplomats live in a world where
personal relations count and, at that moment, I decided the better
course was to accept his calculated gesture of graciousness.

At the same time, I realized that, without even trying, I'd become
Castro's foil. Fidel gave a slight bow, indicating that I should lead
the guests in filling their plates with traditional Cuban delicacies. I
hesitated, uneasy, then took a few shrimps from the sumptuous display.
The impact of our embargo and dwindling Soviet subsidies meant that most
Cubans did not have enough to eat. Many survived on the tinned meat and
root crops they bought with their government-issued ration cards in
tiny, dingy, stores with unhappy clerks. Some were so desperate that
they raised pigs in their apartments, cutting their vocal cords to avoid
problems with the neighbors.

As I left the buffet table, a security guard again appeared, this time
to escort me to Fidel and his simultaneous interpreter, who were
standing alone on the far side of the room. By the time I'd reached him,
he was talking rapidly and passionately, throwing up his hands. The
American "Bloqueo" — Castro's name for the embargo — was cruel to Cuba's
children. They were suffering. It was all the fault of my uncaring

The other delegations were keenly watching this pantomime. They couldn't
hear Fidel, but they could see his passion. They must have been
wondering how Fidel intended to humiliate the new American diplomat
next. Castro's calculating brown eyes scrutinized me, like a cat toying
with a mouse. With plate, fork, and napkin in my hands, I felt at a
distinct disadvantage. I felt trapped and detected a fleeting smile
cross Fidel's lips. I was on my own. This moment would determine whether
I was up to the job.

Fidel pushed closer to me, forcing me to step back. "Your Bloqueo is
killing our children. Not one aspirin to stop their suffering. How can
you be so cruel?" I took a deep breath. In fact, I disagreed with
American policy on exactly this point. Our embargo hurt the Cuban people
far more than its Communist leaders.

But as much as I disliked the embargo, I wasn't going to be Fidel's
patsy. It was my job to defend U.S. policy, no matter my personal
feelings. I looked him squarely in the eyes. "That's not true," I almost
shouted. "The embargo is not a blockade. Cuba can buy aspirin from any
country it wishes, except the United States. If there is a medicine your
children need that is only made in the United States, we will sell it to

Fidel scoffed. "You know it takes years to get permission."

"When Cuba holds free and fair elections with international
observation," I continued, "we will lift the embargo." Castro moved
closer; he was intense, and seemed to be searching for a sign of
softening in my position. I stood my ground. "There is no change in U.S.
policy. Cuba must change first."

Fidel fumed, "You will never give up the Bloqueo; the Gusanos won't
allow it." Gusanos, or worms, was the spiteful term he used to describe
Cuban exiles in America. Turning away, he stomped off. Relieved, I set
down my still full plate and poured myself a glass of Cuban rum. I had
not succumbed to Fidel's forceful personality. I'd stood up to him and
proven to myself and my delegation that I could handle my new position.
I didn't like the embargo, but I loved the job. By doing it well, I
hoped I might help craft a policy that would empower — rather than harm
— the Cuban people.

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston is a retired career senior foreign service
officer whose last assignment was as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of
defense for African affairs in the office of the secretary of defense
from June 2009 through December 2011. Before that she was chargé
d'affaires ad interim to Ethiopia, U.S. ambassador to Mali, principal
officer of the U.S. interests section in Havana, deputy assistant
secretary of state for African Affairs, and U.S. ambassador to
Madagascar. She is a member of Women Ambassadors Serving America. Her
book Our Woman in Havana: A U.S. Diplomat's Chronicle of America's Long
Struggle with Fidel Castro's Revolution, The Overlook Press, is due out
in 2018.

Source: Former ambassador recounts tense clash she had with Fidel Castro
in 1991 – Women in the World in Association with The New York Times –

'Freak': meet Cuba's last self-infected HIV punk rebel

'Freak': meet Cuba's last self-infected HIV punk rebel
Héctor Velasco

Like many young punks, Gerson Govea saw himself as a misfit. But few
embraced the role as self-destructively as this Cuban rocker: he
deliberately infected himself with HIV.

He is considered the last of the most hardcore members of the "frikis,"
or "freaks," as the communist island's unique breed of hippy-punk
dropouts is known.

Beyond the rum, free love and forbidden rock 'n' roll music, they took
their rebellion a stage further: infecting themselves in order to get
into the relative safety and comfort of a state AIDS clinic.

"I found a friend who gave me his (infected) blood," recalls Govea, a
long-haired 42-year-old with earrings and tattoos. "I extracted it
myself and injected it into me."

That was 17 years ago. He has since seen friends die of AIDS and his
wife Yohandra Cardoso, 44, lose both her legs to the disease.

Meanwhile Govea, still standing but in fragile health, is rocking his
way into middle age.

- Best of worlds -

Sleeping in parks, listening to music and taking drugs, the "frikis"
would not have been such an unusual sight in many world cities.

But their lifestyle was a particularly bold statement in communist Cuba,
where rock music was outlawed during the Cold War and drug-taking
severely policed.

"They shared everything: women, men, food and pills," said Jorge Perez,
a doctor and the former director of an AIDS sanatorium in Havana.

Cuba plunged into poverty after the allied regime in the Soviet Union
fell in 1989, and as the AIDS pandemic unfolded.

Amid such misery, a state-run AIDS clinic was a haven.

"It was the best of all possible worlds for them," says Maria Gattorno,
director of the Cuban Rock Agency, a state music promotion body.

"They had everything guaranteed there: they had medicine and great food
and were looked after."

Govea says he infected himself so that he could get in a clinic and
avoid the police harassment he suffered for being a "friki."

Others infected themselves "so that they could be with the person they
liked" who already had the disease, he says.

- AIDS in Cuba -

Cuba's first case of AIDS was in a soldier returning from Africa, where
the country supported various sides in proxy conflicts during the Cold War.

Just over 3,800 people died of AIDS in Cuba between 1986 and 2015,
according to the government. Some 20,000 were living with HIV at the
last count.

It is not known how many "frikis" the island has had, nor how many of
them willingly got infected.

Gattorno reckons those who infected themselves "miscalculated," thinking
a cure for AIDS would quickly arrive.

"They went to live in the sanatoriums, but naturally a lot of them died
very quickly."

Gattorno has mentored frikis, helping them find rehearsal space and
arranging gigs in sanatoriums.

Govea himself set up a band in the clinic. But their illness prevented
them from playing in public.

"When one of us felt alright, another would be in bed sick," he said.
"When they were, it meant they were dying."

- Gettin' freaky -

Antiretroviral drugs slowed down the killer impact of AIDS. Cuba's
internment clinics closed in 1994.

But Govea and Cardoso in her wheelchair still live in the west of the
island in the house that once was the Pinar del Rio sanatorium, where
they met in 2000.

On top of a small state allowance, Govea earns a living selling manicure

When they have time, the couple go out and "get freaky," singing and
headbanging with other young rockers near their home.

The house is filled with posters of punk bands such as the Sex Pistols
and The Ramones.

The state let them keep the place and continues to give them their
medicine for free.

"They lived better in the sanatorium" than outside it, says Perez, who
wrote a book about his work.

"What's more, they were scared to leave."

Source: 'Freak': meet Cuba's last self-infected HIV punk rebel -

Hard-up Cubans snub graduate jobs for higher pay

Hard-up Cubans snub graduate jobs for higher pay
Rigoberto DIAZ • AFP May 29, 2017

Havana (AFP) - As a trained nurse, Jose Antonio Torres can help save
lives -- but in Cuba's labor market, he finds riding a bicycle rickshaw
a surer way to feed his four children.

"I can earn the same in a day doing this as I would in one month working
as a nurse," says Torres, 38.

The communist island's gradual economic opening-up has created an
earnings gulf between the few private workers and the many employed by
the state.

Torres and others like him -- even television actors -- are turning to
the private side to work as waiters, taxi drivers and more.

- Free training, low pay -

Torres owes his nurse's training to the system of free universal
education and healthcare introduced after Fidel Castro's communist

In a country hailed for the quality of its healthcare, he was employed
in one of the best hospitals -- for just $20 a month.

Meanwhile more and more foreign tourists started arriving with cash in
their pockets to pay for rickshaw rides. The economic pull was too
strong to resist.

"It was not an easy decision," he says. "But I had to find another way
to keep supporting my family."

- Fairy tale -

Beatriz Estevez, 26, is about to finish her state-funded university law

But instead of heading to work in a law firm, she is dressing up as a
fairy and going to stand still for hours while tourists put money in her

"In a law firm I will not earn even half what I earn right now as a
living statue," she tells AFP.

She can earn $20 a day as a fairy. The average monthly wage for a public
sector worker -- which includes lawyers -- is $29.

- Private earnings -

UNESCO says 3,300 out of every 100,000 people went through higher
education in Latin America overall last decade -- but the figure for
Cuba was five times that.

Yet university enrollments have since plunged, from more than 600,000 in
the 2009 academic year to 173,000 in 2014, according to the national
statistics office.

The Caribbean island is facing historic changes. Fidel Castro died in
November and his brother Raul has announced he will step aside as
president in February 2018.

Following the gradual reforms of recent years, about half a million of
the island's 11 million inhabitants are now self-employed.

They earn four times as much as state employees on average, official
data indicate.

"I do not mind admitting that I studied law but don't want to practice
it," says Estevez, as she puts on her makeup in front of the mirror.

"Everyone knows why these things happen."

- Low wages -

Defenders of Cuba's communist system say its social security provisions,
with food subsidies and ration books, protect the poor.

But experts warn ordinary Cubans are suffering from a wonky economy.

Despite Raul Castro's reforms, Cuba is lagging in its search for foreign

Its dual currency system fuels inflation.

"Buying a pair of shoes takes up your whole month's salary," says Torres.

Raul Castro himself admitted in April 2016 that current salaries and
pensions "are not sufficient to satisfy basic needs."

Salaries have never fully recovered from the economic crisis sparked by
the collapse of the Soviet Union, says Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at
Pontifical Xaverian University in Colombia.

"I cannot imagine how any worker in Latin America can survive on $25 a

- Boosting production -

Another economist, Pedro Monreal, estimates that to regularly afford the
basic necessities, a Cuban would need to earn four times the current
average wage.

Experts are skeptical about the government's hopes of boosting the
island nation's state-controlled industries to get out of trouble.

"It is not about sitting down to wait for production to drive up
salaries," said another Cuban economist at Xaverian University, Mauricio
de Miranda.

"Production is not rising due to restrictions the government itself

Source: Hard-up Cubans snub graduate jobs for higher pay -

U.S. Lawmakers Want to End Cuba Travel Restrictions, But May Face Trump Opposition

U.S. Lawmakers Want to End Cuba Travel Restrictions, But May Face Trump
Reuters • Newsweek May 26, 2017

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators reintroduced legislation on Thursday
to repeal all restrictions on travel to Cuba, this time attracting far
more co-sponsors in a sign of growing support for U.S.-Cuban detente
even as its future looks uncertain.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act was introduced in 2015 by eight
Republican and Democratic co-sponsors but never made it to the floor.
The latest measure attracted 55 co-sponsors.

While efforts to ease the decades-old U.S. embargo against Cuba have
been gathering strength and 55 votes would be a majority in the
100-member Senate, that number falls short of the 60 needed to advance
the legislation. There was no indication the chamber's Republican
leaders would allow the measure to come up for a vote.

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Republican President Donald Trump threatened during his 2016 election
campaign to reverse a normalization of ties with the Communist-run,
Caribbean island initiated in 2014 by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump's administration is reviewing U.S. policy toward the country's
former Cold War foe.

Obama eased trade and travel restrictions, fueling a boom in American
visits to Cuba, although tourism was still not officially allowed.

Cubans walk near the Manzana Kempinski Hotel, the first luxury five star
plus tourist facility in Cuba, on May 22. Former U.S. President Barack
Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, but President Donald Trump has
threatened to reverse the move. YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty

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On Wednesday, more than 40 U.S. travel companies and organizations urged
Trump not to roll back expanded U.S. travel to Cuba.

"It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban
government," said U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who with
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy led the group that co-sponsored the bill.

Flake added that lifting the ban would give Americans more freedom but
also benefit the Cuban people.

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"This is certain to have positive benefits for the island's burgeoning
entrepreneurial and private sector."

The number of U.S. visitors rose 74 percent last year, boosting business
for Cuban hotels, BnBs, restaurants and taxis but also U.S. cruise
operators and airlines that entered the market over the past year.

"We applaud Senators Flake and Leahy for their leadership in supporting
the American and Cuban people by eliminating archaic, outdated policy,"
said James Williams, president of the Washington-based Engage Cuba group.

There is still strong congressional opposition to any ending of Cuba's
isolation, led by anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers including
Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.

They say the United States should not make travel to Cuba easier before
the Havana government moves toward democracy.

Source: U.S. Lawmakers Want to End Cuba Travel Restrictions, But May
Face Trump Opposition -

Obama has no shame

Obama has no shame
By Ed Rogers May 26

In the age of President Trump, liberals love nothing more than to pine
for the glory days of President Barack Obama. But Obama was always
better in theory than he was in reality. His recent trip to Europe
reminded us all of that phenomenon. Still, liberals would have you
believe that today's problems began on Jan. 20, 2017, with Donald
Trump's inauguration — as if the plague of Obama's foreign policy
blunders and failed economic initiatives had never occurred. And so the
story goes, with Obama retired from the White House, the liberals and
their allies in the media are trying to recapture the near-godlike
status he had attained during the summer of 2008.

But some things never change. Obama continues to hold himself in high
regard. He still loves the sound of his own voice, and his
self-congratulatory ramblings mirror the inescapably pretentious tone of
his campaign and presidency. Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, Obama's
supporters continue to swoon behind him — seemingly blind to the chaos
caused by the past eight years of mishaps, inaction and distorted truths.

Former president Obama has no shame. After all, it was Obama's
arrogance, inexperience and misguided worldview that fractured our
relationship with key allies. It was Obama who retreated from the world
stage at a time of increasing conflict and uncertainty. As Israeli
President Reuven Rivlin asserted this week, under President Trump's
leadership, "America is back again." For Obama and his supporters, that
has got to hurt.

And it was Obama who capitulated to Iran, saluted Cuba, and walked back
on the American promise to retaliate against the Assad regime's barbaric
use of chemical weapons in Syria. It was Obama who undermined U.S.
leadership and signaled to our allies that America was not the reliable
actor they previously knew. But even with the benefit of hindsight,
Obama has not come to terms with the impact of his foreign policy
blunders. Rather than remain silent and humbly accept the consequences
of his misguided actions, Obama incredibly announced in a recent
interview, "the issue that required the most political courage was the
decision not to bomb Syria after the chemical weapons use had been
publicized." In his mind, reneging on a commitment made to the world
should be glorified as an act of political courage. And perhaps most
chillingly, the truth is neither Assad's refusal to turn over his entire
supply of chemical weapons nor the fact that he took a green light from
Obama to continue slaughtering his own people seem to have made any
impression on the former president.

And here at home, Obama has contrived notions of reality that serve to
build only the facade he desperately wants us to see. Rather than remain
on the sidelines for a gracious period of time like most other former
presidents, Obama is taking shots at his political opponents. While
cozying up with a host of euro-elites in Berlin yesterday, Obama
pronounced in a pompous and self-righteous fashion, "We can't hide
behind a wall." Thankfully, the homeland security secretary, retired
Gen. John F. Kelly, pushed back against Obama's childish jab, arguing,
"We're not hiding behind a wall, and you can't defend anything by hiding
behind something."

With a flock of unquestioning liberal enablers cheering on his every
word, Obama can continue to obfuscate reality and advance the narrative
that all was good and well under his reign in the White House. But Obama
invited mayhem around the world, fostered a depressed, crippled economy
at home, created racial divisions, and imposed a PC culture that hangs
like a dark cloud over Middle America. Remember, Obama did more to make
the conditions ripe for a Trump presidency than anything Hillary Clinton

Regardless of what happens at home or abroad, our former president can
hop on his private jet and escape the unfortunate realities of today's
crises. Obama can bask in self-delusion and embrace the collective
amnesia of his pious followers while living the life of a .01 percenter,
but feeding his own ego does not help solve any of today's problems.
Obama can afford to walk away from his blunders, but the rest of us can
only hope that today's leaders do a better job than he did.

Source: Obama has no shame - The Washington Post -

Trump weighs shift on Cuba

Trump weighs shift on Cuba
BY MELANIE ZANONA - 05/31/17 06:00 AM EDT 70

President Trump is weighing whether to take a harder line with Cuba,
potentially risking the thaw in relations started by the last

But it's unclear just how far Trump is willing to go in reversing former
President Barack Obama's historic opening with the island nation — an
effort that has been widely popular with the U.S. business community and
a growing number of GOP lawmakers.

The White House is vigorously debating how to approach its policy with
Cuba. Trump is facing pressure from Cuba hard-liners in Congress to
scale back Obama's policies, but there are divisions in the
administration about what to do, according to two sources familiar with
the matter.
The Trump administration said it is near completing a review of Cuba
policy and that an announcement will likely be made in the "coming
weeks," but emphasized that a decision has not yet been finalized.

"As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It
does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba," a spokesperson for
the White House said in a statement.

"We are in the final stages of our Cuba policy review. However, a final
decision on a path forward has not yet been made. We anticipate an
announcement in the coming weeks, but do not have a date for any
specific announcements."

Since Obama opened diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba in 2014, the
U.S. has carried out a string of regulatory changes aimed at bringing
the two countries closer together.

Embassies in Havana and Washington reopened, and the U.S. removed Cuba
from a list of state sponsors of terror while resuming commercial air
service with the island for the first time in more than 50 years.

U.S. tourism to the island is still banned, and the trade embargo has
not been lifted, but the U.S. has also removed or lessened most
licensing requirements for permitted travel to Cuba, authorized U.S.
individuals and businesses to have bank accounts on the island and
allowed Cuban textiles, coffee and pharmaceuticals to be imported to the

But Trump has threatened to reverse Obama's opening with Cuba if the
communist government doesn't adopt changes.

A source in touch with the administration on the issue described an
internal struggle in the Trump administration between "policy and
politics" when it comes to Cuba normalization.

During an interagency deputies meeting involving all the relevant
departments, some agency officials expressed support for keeping the
current policies intact, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Another source said Trump's economic team is likely aware of the
potential growth and business opportunities associated with Cuba and
pointed out that some Trump officials have close ties to major U.S.
business CEOs. The president's national security advisers, meanwhile,
may be warning Trump about the danger of driving Cuba back into the arms
of Russia.

But there are other competing voices in the administration that want to
take a harder line with Cuba. Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive
director of Cuba Democracy Advocates and an outspoken Cuban government
critic, advised the Trump administration when he was on the transition team.

Adding another wrinkle to Trump's Cuba decision is an apparent
behind-the-scenes effort from members of Congress to pressure the White
House into rolling back Obama's Cuba policies in exchange for their
support in other areas.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — two
lawmakers staunchly opposed to normalizing Cuba relations — have sought
assurances from the administration on Cuba, according to two sources
familiar with the matter.

Diaz-Balart's office said he never received any written promises from
Trump on Cuba but added that the lawmaker has raised the issue directly
with the White House.

"It is my duty to advocate for the issues that are important to my
constituents, and I will not apologize for using every available avenue
to effectively resolve them," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I am
grateful that, unlike the previous administration, senior members of the
current administration are responsive and willing to work with Members
of Congress."

"I will never waste an opportunity to fight for the interests of our
community and our country," he added.

Diaz-Balart was on the fence about supporting the House's healthcare
legislation but ultimately voted for it last month after an intense
lobbying effort from the White House.

One change that Trump seems likely to make is restricting the financial
transactions that benefit Cuban military entities, according to two
sources and the nonpartisan U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council

Rubio has been vocal on that issue in particular, having introduced
legislation in the past that would prohibit U.S. financial transactions
with Cuban military and security services.

An opponent of the Cuban trade embargo says Trump might reverse Obama's
policy that made it easier to travel to Cuba for 12 permitted reasons
under a general license.

The new policy could also include tougher language on human rights and
stepped up enforcement to ensure U.S. visitors to Cuba are traveling
there legally, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

But while questions remain about Trump's Cuba policy, lawmakers in favor
of engaging with the island are already going on offense.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reintroduced a bill
last week that would allow Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism purposes.

The legislation has a total of 55 co-sponsors, including 10 Republicans.
When the bill was introduced in the last session of Congress, it had
eight original co-sponsors.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, hopes the swell of support
ramps up pressure on the administration to reconsider cutting commercial
and diplomatic ties to the island nation.

"This could not be sending a stronger signal that a bipartisan majority
in the U.S. Senate not only doesn't want Trump to roll back [Obama's
Cuba policies], but to even go further and fully lift travel
restrictions," Williams said in a telephone interview last week.

"As the Trump administration continues to think about what it's going to
do, it would be pretty shocking they would thwart 55 bipartisan senators."

Source: Trump weighs shift on Cuba | TheHill -

Officials: Trump may roll back Obama opening with Cuba

Officials: Trump may roll back Obama opening with Cuba
By Patrick Oppmann and Elise Labott, CNN
Updated 0903 GMT (1703 HKT) May 31, 2017

Story highlights
Officials: Trump may reverse Obama-era policies softening relations with
Gesture would fulfill campaign promises to Cuban-American voters and
anti-Castro Congress members

Havana, Cuba (CNN)President Donald Trump is expected to roll back
portions of the Obama opening with Cuba as early as June, according to a
US government official involved in the review of current US policy
toward the communist-run island.

The official and other current and former administration officials and
Cuba experts expect that as early as June, Trump could announce that the
United States would no longer make unilateral concessions to Cuba -- as
critics accused the Obama administration of doing.
They also expect that Trump will demand US fugitives of justice, such as
Assata Shakur, who received political asylum on the island after being
convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper and escaping from US
prison, be extradited. And they believe the President will bar American
companies from making deals with the Cuban military, which controls much
of the state-run tourism industry.
Trump is not expected to reverse all of the Obama changes -- seen as the
most significant relaxation of tensions between the United States and
Cuba since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.
But, current and former US officials say, Trump is looking to make a
symbolic gesture that will fulfill his campaign promises to conservative
Cuban-American voters and anti-Castro members of Congress without
closing the door on Cuba's emerging market for US businesses.
"I'm 1,000 percent sure the president is going to deliver on his
commitment," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida), who has lobbied the
White House to reverse the Obama policy, told the National Journal in
May. "I have no doubt that you're going to see in short order a
different policy."
Cuban officials have refrained from direct comment.
The expected new policy comes as Raul Castro appears to be finalizing
his term as president. Castro has said he will step down in February 2018.
Although Castro is expected to hand pick his successor, the changing of
the guard on the island would give the opportunity for the Trump
administration to soon deal with a less polarizing figure if relations
don't significantly worsen.
Before running for president, Trump had explored the possibility of
opening hotels in Cuba. But on the campaign trail he took a much tougher
line, threatening to cut diplomatic ties unless the government made
concessions on human rights and religious freedoms.
US officials said the administration was still looking at placing
tighter controls on Americans visiting the island and possibly
reenacting a ban on US travelers bringing back Cuban cigars and rum,
which was lifted by Obama.
While the US prohibits tourism to Cuba, the US Treasury Department
currently allows travelers to "self-license" under 12 different
categories of travel, such as educational tours and participating in
sporting events. But the sources said Trump could end that practice,
which has created a loophole that allows almost anyone to travel to the
island legally.
Tightening up on those categories would likely impact earnings for the
US airlines and cruise ship companies that began service to Cuba in 2016
and go against a rising anti-travel sanctions sentiment.
In May, 55 US senators said they supported a bill to scrap the travel
ban altogether.
Trump also could overturn former President Barack Obama's Presidential
Policy Directive, which laid out general parameters for the US of a
policy of engagement with Cuba. But sources said such a move would be
largely cosmetic and would not have much impact.
Earlier this month, acting Assistant Secretary Francisco Palmieri, the
State Department's top diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, told
reporters a focus of Trump's revamped policy "will be a high priority"
to ensure that "Cuba makes further substantive progress toward greater
respect for human rights in the country."
For months, Cuban officials adopted a wait-and-see attitude to Trump,
with Raul Castro congratulating Trump on his electoral victory and
saying he hoped to work with the new US president to continue to improve
But on May 20, considered by many Cubans in exile to be the island's
independence day, Trump issued a statement saying, "The Cuban people
deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic
liberties, religious freedoms, and human rights, and my Administration
is committed to achieving that vision."
Later that day, a Cuban state broadcaster read a statement saying
Trump's views on Cuba were "poorly advised" and "clumsy."
Patrick Oppmann reported from Havana and Elise Labott reported from

Source: Officials: Trump may roll back Obama opening with Cuba - -

Americans are visiting Cuba, but not in the numbers expected

Americans are visiting Cuba, but not in the numbers expected

HAVANA, Cuba -- It's been nearly a year since direct commercial flights
began from the U.S. to Cuba -- and Americans are making trips to the
communist nation long off-limits, but not in the numbers expected.

Claire Jerome from Boston is among the surging number of Americans
visiting Cuba. Last year, nearly 300,000 went, up 74 percent.

U.S. names airlines, cities hosting first flights to Cuba
"I thought there were many more Americans here, it seems like a good
time to come visit the country," Jerome told CBS News.

U.S. carriers rushed to launch service to Cuba in August after the U.S.
government approved 110 daily non-stops. But many are already cutting back.

Collin Laverty, who runs Cuba Educational Travel that organizes high-end
tours, addressed a possible gold rush that never happened.

"I think it didn't happen as fast as people thought," he said.

"I think a lot of that has to do with confusion about the legality,"
Laverty said. "Once you book your ticket what do you do? How do you book
a hotel, how do you book a tour? What support system is there here?
There's a lot of confusion. It's a tough country to navigate."

Some analysts expect two million Americans to visit Cuba annually by
2025. But a new survey finds only 2 percent are likely to plan a trip in
the next six months.

Several airlines see long-term potential, but American Airlines reduced
the number of flights to several cities, and JetBlue is using smaller
planes, dropping 300 seats a day.

On Wednesday, low-cost carrier Spirit will become the third U.S. airline
to end all service to the island.

Cuba is lacking in tourist infrastructure and conveniences like Wi-Fi.
Cruise ships seem to be the early winner as they bring the
infrastructure with them.

Source: Americans are visiting Cuba, but not in the numbers expected -
CBS News -

Reagan: Won't visit Cuba until people are free

Reagan: Won't visit Cuba until people are free
May 30, 2017
Michael Reagan Perspective

Expedia is now booking hotels in Cuba.

American Airlines is flying American tourists from Miami to Havana.

For more than a year American-owned cruise lines have been hauling U.S.
citizens by the thousands to the Castro brothers' beautiful socialist
paradise 90 miles off the tip of Florida.

Thanks to President Barack Obama's decision to liberalize relations with
Cuba in 2015, the island is now open to direct visits by American tourists.

I can't believe how excited so many Americans are to get a chance to see
some '57 Chevys and Buicks and visit a country that has been wrecked and
essentially frozen in time by a dictatorship since JFK was president.

I'd love to see Cuba, too. Its people, culture and beaches are
beautiful. Its pre-Fidel history and Spanish heritage are rich.

My wife is in the travel business, so I could go on a cruise to Havana
for peanuts anytime I wanted.

But as long as Raul Castro and the other thugs in the Communist Party
remain in power in Cuba, I promise I'll never go there.

Half a century of Castros-style Communism turned Cuba into a backward,
open-air gulag that American liberals unconditionally adored or made
excuses for because everyone in the country got free education and free
health care.

Meanwhile, it didn't matter to most liberals that Cubans were also kept
dirt poor and had no free speech, no free vote, no free press or access
to the Internet, no freedom to start a business and no freedom to travel.

Since the Obama administration's liberalization efforts and the invasion
of American tourists, things have not improved for the average Cuban.

Their country is still run by a socialist communist dictatorship, and
they're still third-class citizens.

They still can't go to the fine tourist hotels or pricy tourist shops.
They can't go to the tourist beaches. They sure can't afford a new car
or even a motorbike on their $25 a month, which is about the national
average income.

To this day, Cuba's oppressive government continues to treat 11 million
human beings like animals in a rundown socialist zoo.

And if you go there as a tourist from New York or London, all you're
doing is putting hard currency into the coffers of Raul and the other

The Americans who cruise to Cuba with their dollars and debit cards
don't understand, or don't care, that they are propping up a despotic
government, and the liberal and conservative media aren't making a stink
about it.

You'd think the free Cuban community in Florida would be making a bigger
deal out of American tourist money being used to keep their family
members in a large cage called Cuba.

But they aren't saying much, either.

As for me, I will never visit Cuba until its people are truly free. I
hope it doesn't take too long.

But until I can go to Havana, befriend an ordinary Cuban and be able to
buy him a plane ticket so he can visit me in Southern California, I
won't spend a dime to help pay for the upkeep of the Castro brothers'
human zoo.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political
consultant and the author of "The New Reagan Revolution."

Source: Reagan: Won't visit Cuba until people are free | Columns | -

‘It’s Not Charity’: Russia Questions Cuba’s Ability to Pay for Russian Oil to Replace Venezuela’s

'It's Not Charity': Russia Questions Cuba's Ability to Pay for Russian
Oil to Replace Venezuela's
by FRANCES MARTEL 29 May 2017

The government of Russia has expressed skepticism that the communist
regime controlling Cuba would be able to afford oil shipments from its
former patron to replace the free shipments from Venezuela that have
largely ended as that nation descends into socialism-driven poverty and
While Cuba has turned to Russia to purchase oil following an end to the
copious free shipments of Venezuelan fuel, a report in Russia's TASS
news agency quotes the nation's Minister of Energy as confirming the
demand for Russian oil, but not the ability to pay for it.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters Russia is willing
to sell the oil if they are properly compensated for it. "Cuba really
wants more supplies, but the question is in financial sources. If
financial resources are found – the companies will deliver," he said.

"It's not charity," he added.

For decades following the Cuban Revolution, the island nation depended
on the Soviet Union for much of the stability of its meager communist
economy, particularly for oil. As the Soviet Union approached collapse,
its ability to maintain colonies like Cuba began collapsing, ushering in
what Cubans know as the "special period," when the government could no
longer rely on the Soviet Union for its necessary goods and basic food
supplies became hard to come by. Cuba was economically devastated, with
the "special period" rivaled only by its North Korean analog, the famine
known as the "arduous march."

The "Bolivarian revolution" of late dictator Hugo Chávez in Venezuela
largely contributed to the Castro regime's survival at the tail end of
the decade. Venezuela, which boasts the world's largest known oil
reserves, began buying allies throughout the continent, from the
socialist leaders in Argentina and Bolivia to the smaller Anglophone
Caribbean island states. Few nations benefitted from Venezuelan crude
oil the way Cuba did, however, trading diplomatic support on the
international stage and its alleged medical expertise for oil. Cuba also
refined the Venezuelan oil, reselling it at a profit.

While the strict price controls, food rations, and oil giveaways to
fellow "Bolivarian" nations had sealed the fate of the Venezuelan
economy long before Chávez's death, the result of these destructive
policies began to snowball under successor Nicolás Maduro.

According to a recent Forbes piece, Petróleos de Venezuela (PSVSA), the
state oil company, has seen its revenue drop $55 billion between 2014
and 2017. Maduro has largely blamed the United States for Venezuela's
economic woes, accusing the Obama administration of waging an "economic
war" against socialism.

Venezuela has had to rely on the United States in part, however, as
Maduro was forced to import American oil last year due to PDVSA's
inability to harness Venezuela's oil reserves at a speed to satisfy demand.

The result has been a steep decline in the amount of oil Venezuela can
ship to Cuba and a sharp decrease in the profit Cuba could previously
generate from refining it. In May, Miami's El Nuevo Herald reported that
Cuba had experienced a 97 percent decline in exports of refined oil,
representing hundreds of millions of dollars. A particularly important
oil refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba, was forced to cut its production in
half in October 2016 after Venezuela failed to ship oil to the communist
country for eight months.

The Cuban government filled the void by returning to its original patron
state: Russia. Cuba received its first shipment of Russian oil in the
post-Soviet era in May 2017, part of a larger deal with the Russian oil
company Rosneft to purchase $105 million worth of oil. Rosneft has also
filled a void in Venezuela, buying PDVSA assets and offering Venezuela
loans to maintain its facilities open.

Source: 'It's Not Charity': Russia Questions Cuba's Ability to Pay for
Russian Oil to Replace Venezuela's - Breitbart -

Cuba to close 2017 cigar harvest with nearly 30,000 tons of tobacco leaves

Cuba to close 2017 cigar harvest with nearly 30,000 tons of tobacco leaves
Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-30 11:27:02

HAVANA, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Cuba will conclude its current tobacco
harvest with almost 30,000 tons of leaves, which is expected to increase
incomes of one of the island's main exports and have a positive impact
on its economy.
The state-owned Tabacuba business group on Monday reported a "favorable"
harvest as all cigar companies in the country fulfilled the plantation
process. However, not all of them will complete the scheduled productions.
Gonzalo Rodriguez, agricultural director of Tabacuba, said to local
media that the western province of Pinar del Rio, where the best leaves
are planted, contributed about 70 percent of the national production and
will try to reach 19,000 tons.
"We'll advance on a project to promote tobacco plantations in the
eastern and central areas of the island in order to supply the Holguin
cigar factory which has a demand of more than 8,000 tons of leaves," he
Rodriguez highlighted the "significant" increase in "covered tobacco,"
which is a method to grow the crop inside a cloth covered house that
filters sunlight and retains the heat allowing bigger and thinner leaves.
"These thin leaves collected at these plantations are used to cover the
outside layer of premium cigars to give them the finest taste of all,"
he said.
In addition, he said the island hopes to complete the harvest in
mid-July and then start planting seeds for the next tobacco campaign.
Last year, Cuba reached 24,000 tons of leaves during its tobacco
harvest, according to official data provided by Tabacuba.
Tabacuba runs 96 cigar factories in the nation, 46 of which are
dedicated exclusively to producing cigars for exports and are entirely
rolled by hand.
This industry employs about 200,000 workers in the island, and the
figure rises to 250,000 at the peak of the harvest.
Cigar exports are the fourth source of revenues to Cuba's gross domestic
product, which reached 445 million U.S. dollars in 2016.
Currently, the main clients of Cuban cigars are customers in Spain,
France, China and Germany.

Source: Cuba to close 2017 cigar harvest with nearly 30,000 tons of
tobacco leaves - Xinhua | -

Do we Cubans still need permission to enter state establishments?

Do we Cubans still need permission to enter state establishments?
JORGE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ | La Habana | 31 de Mayo de 2017 - 07:34 CEST.

I recently went to buy cigarrettes at the Ruinas del Parque
bar-restaurant, located on the corner of Obispo and Aguacate, in Old
Havana. I said "good afternoon" to the doorman, and headed towards the
bar, but I was intercepted. Without the least demonstration of courtesy,
the doorman asked me where I was going.

Flustered by both his question and rude tone, I asked him whether I
needed permission to frequent an establishment open to all.

"The Cubans grew ignorant, and now they want to trample everything," was
his reply. Sporting a guayabera and with a martial bearing, he failed to
explain what my ignorance consisted of, or what exactly I was trampling.

Ruinas del Parque, a bar-restaurant with open-air tables, is part of a
whole series of state-owned businesses located within Havana's historic
center. Decades back they served foreign tourists almost exclusively,
the high prices of their products and services making them inaccessible
to everyone else.

As I shared my anecdote with workers at several private bars and
restaurants, also located within the historic quarter, I recalled an
often-overlooked reflection: the rise of Socialist Cuba entailed a
tradition of vague and ambiguous laws and regulations.

When they are not applied due to ineffectiveness or political
disagreement - in the best cases - they are subject to individual
interpretation, and serve the interests of the higher-ups of the
Communist Party (PCC), who run corporations and ministries as if they
were principalities.

"Let's not forget that, even though the ban restricting access to hotels
and tourist services was repealed years ago, we are still not seen in
these places as customers, but rather as a nuisance, or as potential
hustlers," said chef Rogelito Linares.

According to Dalia Ferrer, an expert soda maker, the reasons for the
doorman's attitude range from incompetence to prejudice and racism.

"In any case, the question was offensive, as well as counterproductive
in this type of profession. The elegant way is simple: establish a
cordial dialogue by returning the greeting, and informing the potential
customer about the products that can be enjoyed at the business," she said.

Gauging how deeply our social fabric has been damaged by the wedge
driven by the Government between Cubans and foreigners (even going so
far as to incarcerate Cubans who tried to breach it) is no simple
exercise. The doorman's question and tone serve as a reminder: the
abolition of a law that discriminated against us is all for naught if we
do not stand up for ourselves and speak out.

"What is sad is that we have become accustomed to this relationship as
if it were something natural, an idiosyncrasy of ours," explained
bartender Abelito Santana as he prepares a sangría for two Cuban customers.

"We know in advance that in certain places we are going to be
mistreated, or discriminated against, and we somehow participate in this
vicious circle, like docile children of abuse...that doorman is also a

Government perceptions of tourism, which can be found at the
pro-Government site Ecured, evidence this obfuscation by restricting and
manipulating the population's destinations: "Occasionally it has been
pointed out that tourism could have positive benefits by allowing
different cultures to interrelate. However, the socio-cultural impacts
detected tend to be negative for the host society, which is why Cuba
pays special attention to the development of this sector and its
influence in Cuban society."

Along with the rise of tourism as a leading source of foreign currency
in the country, it was also destined to consolidate (as many Cuban
sociologists and essayists indicated) class discrimination, exacerbated
by the emergence of a private sector in which the military and oligarchy
owns or controls the most prosperous and lucrative businesses.

Trying to restrict my access to Ruinas del Parque was, perhaps, a
personal (though not isolated) decision by the doorman. But, without any
doubt, it reflects, along with racism, a set of attitudes, prohibited by
the Constitution, whose existence and profusion are still denied by the

Source: Do we Cubans still need permission to enter state
establishments? | Diario de Cuba -

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Donald Trump to reverse Barack Obama's Cuba policies after breakthrough of decades-old stalemate

Donald Trump to reverse Barack Obama's Cuba policies after breakthrough
of decades-old stalemate
The administration has been reviewing the US-Cuba relationship since
taking office
Mythili Sampathkumar New York @MythiliSk

Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro visit during an exposition
game between the Cuban national team and the Major League Baseball team
Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Havana, Cuba March 2016 Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Donald Trump is likely to reverse the Obama administration's policy on
better relations with Cuba - the latest overturning of his predecessor's
work, according to The Daily Caller.

After a late 2014 breakthrough with President Raul Castro, Barack Obama
was able to reestablish diplomatic relations with the communist
Caribbean island nation the next year after nearly 60 years of hostility.

Travel restrictions were lifted and opportunities to do business also
opened up - much of it done through executive orders signed by Mr Obama
that avoided the need Congressional approval. However, Congress voted
not to lift the US economic embargo.

However, on the campaign trail Mr Trump. touted as the pro-business
candidate - said he would "terminate" any deals Mr Obama made with Cuba,
a fact that may not sit well with the airline and hospitality industries.

In what has become a commonplace occurrence, Mr Trump took the opposite
position as well. In 2015 he told the Daily Caller that the "concept of
opening with Cuba is fine."

Reuters reports that the Trump administration will probably bring back
some restrictions on trade and travel, but will "stop short of breaking
diplomatic relations."

Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey were the members of Congress who
pushed for the reversal.

American Airlines opens office in Cuba despite Trump uncertainty
Cuba sets up free internet for Havana residents in pilot scheme
This was despite 54 of their Congressional colleagues introducing
legislation last week that supported easing remaining restrictions on
Cuba travel.

Pope Francis actually precipitated better US-Cuba relations for Mr Obama
and the report of reversing the policy comes on the heels of Mr Trump's
Vatican visit.

The White House had put the Cuba policy under review as soon as it took
office in January and is set to announce its position sometime in June 2017.

Source: Donald Trump to reverse Barack Obama's Cuba policies after
breakthrough of decades-old stalemate | The Independent -

Russian energy minister: Cuba wants to increase purchases of Russian oil

Russian energy minister: Cuba wants to increase purchases of Russian oil
May 29, 2017 TASS

Cuba wants to increase the supply of oil and oil products from Russia,
but it is a matter of financing, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak
told, TASS reports.

"Cuba really wants more supplies, but the question is in financial
sources. If financial resources are found - the companies will deliver,"
he said.

Earlier it was reported that Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft
will supply with about 250,000 tons of oil and diesel fuel to the Cuban
company Cubametales. Terms of supply were not specified.

According to media reports, in late 2016, Cuba's President Raul Castro,
asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure the supply of oil and
oil products to the republic after the country experienced some problems
with raw materials from Venezuela.

Source: Russian energy minister: Cuba wants to increase purchases of
Russian oil | Russia Beyond The Headlines -

In Cuba, nothing is allowed but everything happens

Derek B. Miller: In Cuba, nothing is allowed but everything happens
By Derek B Miller
Published: May 24, 2017 10:00 a.m.
Updated: May 23, 2017 1:21 p.m.

Utah business and community leaders recently visited Cuba on a
fact-finding mission and discovered a beautiful country with welcoming
people. Asked at every turn where we were from, the answer "America" was
met with warm smiles and sincere interest in our visit. That is not
always the case around the world these days.

Describing Cuba beyond "warm and welcoming" becomes exponentially more
difficult because there is no corollary, no reference point, no
effective example that does justice to this singular destination.
Perhaps that is the reason for the cliché that visiting Cuba feels like
going back in time 60 years.

Yes, Cubans really do drive around in vintage 1950s Plymouths, Buicks
and most commonly Chevy Bel Airs. Yes, cigars are rolled by the skilled
hands of workers seated row upon row listening to the newspaper read
aloud. Yes, Fidel and Che are revered, not just as heroes of the
revolution but as saviors of the country from corruption and capitalism
(described often in Cuba as two sides of the same coin).

And yes, things are starting to change in Cuba, fueled by the lifting of
limits on remittances from Cuban-Americans to their families in the
homeland. This "investment" is sowing seeds of free enterprise with
private business ownership in the form of families opening restaurants
in their homes, entrepreneurs using their grandfathers' 1957 Chevys as
taxis, and artisans starting privately owned businesses.

In one such business, student apprentices learn the art of melting Cuban
silver coins to make exquisite jewelry. The business owner explained
that some of the students are now opening their own jewelry stores. When
asked how she felt about the "competition," her response was telling.
She is happy that customers will have somewhere else to shop because she
does not want the government to think she is becoming too successful or
her neighbors to think she is accumulating wealth. Success apparently
has its price in a country that is still controlled by communists.

The phrase "accumulating wealth" captures both future opportunities and
risks for the Cuban economy. In the short term, small amounts of foreign
remittances will facilitate small business growth. Increasing tourism
will fuel economic development. Government investment rebuilding
infrastructure will provide a necessary economic foundation. By degrees,
the country can begin to emerge from the hole created by collapse of the
Soviet Union when Cuba lost 85 percent of imports and exports. Over
time, Cuba has the potential to restore the middle class lost in the
revolution and join the global economy with opportunities for trade with
places like Utah, something the $30 average monthly wage does not
currently accommodate.

Challenges in Cuba are illustrated by the empty display cases in a local
Havana grocery store. A third of the shelves in the store are completely
empty. Another third are sparsely stocked. And the final third are
filled inexplicably with rows of canned tomatoes and mayonnaise. The
tiny store in the Miami airport has more selection and variety. Your
local Costco may as well be on Mars for comparison's sake.

The desire for economic opportunity is evident in the Cuban people.
Whether economic growth continues depends on the government's tolerance
for free enterprise, or the people's tolerance for the government. We
heard repeatedly in Cuba that nothing is allowed but everything happens.
Time will tell if this applies to free enterprise and individual liberty.

Derek B. Miller
Derek B. Miller is the president; CEO of the World Trade Center Utah.
Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and

Source: Derek B. Miller: In Cuba, nothing is allowed but everything
happens | Deseret News -

Can We Progress in Cuba under the Current Model?

Can We Progress in Cuba under the Current Model?
May 29, 2017

HAVANA TIMES — I couldn't help but think about the analogy of a popular
Cuban saying when reflecting upon the prospects we have of our economy
progressing by 2030, while reading about a case in the Juventud Rebelde
newspaper last week.

The article talks about the solution of a rice farmer's complaint
because of outstanding payments for his sales to the State, which had
been overdue for a ridiculously long amount of time. And they still want
to pick up this country by 2030! At the rate the government is going,
and with its dysfunctional system, this won't happen even in 2230.

According to the newspaper, solutions only appear once a public
complaint has been made that is covered by the media, which don't appear
spontaneously. Yusbel Valera Mesa, from Campechuela, is the farmer who
complained. However, it's very common to experience delays of months
(and even years) in receiving payment for a harvest you've sold to the

It's common at my cooperative and we always hear "we're working on
resolving this issue"; not only at a local level, but at a central level
too. However, they've been "working on this" for 58 years and it still
isn't working. Maybe it just doesn't work? Another laughable phrase at
this stage is: "so many thousands of tons are being produced, but we are
still unable to satisfy the population's demands."

Tell me, with only 10 million inhabitants in a country with the
agricultural capacity to feed over 100 million people more than enough,
what would happen if the Revolution had inherited resources from
capitalism like Mexico City, which has almost double the Cuban
population? The queue to buy tortillas would be a kilometer long and a
child would be able to cross Paseo de la Reforma without any trouble at
rush hour.

The emancipating ideology of these "socialists", which takes away the
sovereignty of its people behind the guise of a noble ideal, is like an
herbicide: wherever they act everything dries up. Their ways are
arbitrary, bureaucratic and unnatural. They are so far from the real
socialist ideal! I see more socialism in the Scandinavian countries and
in Canada than in any Marxist-Leninist system, the ones that called
themselves "real Socialism". In my opinion, this is just radical
socialism or pseudosocialism.

I can't help but think about the parallel between the way of tackling
the problem of outstanding payments for rice farmers and the tobacco
farmers' struggle to receive a fair price for tobacco. The solution in
the rice farmer's case and the problem being dealt with, in our case,
only appears once we complain to the press. Nothing comes out of, nor
can we hope for solutions from official channels of action.

The farmer from Granma reported his problem in Juventud Rebelde; I
reported my problem on alternative digital media platforms, such as
Havana Times (How can you fight injustice in Cuba?). After more than
four months of complaining and forging agreements at meetings that are
then archived, Cubatabaco finally came to the cooperative to analyze the
price problem we have. However, they didn't go to the Farmers Assembly,
the came directly to the farmer, the one who publicly denounced the
problem, which was me in this case.

Of course, I pointed out the fact that this wasn't a personal problem,
that it was something all tobacco farmers were suffering. However, the
unfair price for tobacco continues. Resolving injustices in Cuba is a
titanic task, especially if whoever should be defending us by law (the
National Association of Small Farmers in Cuba ANAP) admits that
"defending farmers is our responsibility, but our first and foremost
task is to defend the Revolution." These were the words of a politician
who gave an speech on May 17th at the party for Cuban Farmers' Day. If
there is a dichotomy, farmers interests fade away into the background
and we are the ones who pay the ANAP a high tax on our incomes.

Furthermore, defending the Revolution isn't "changing everything that
needs to be changed" according to them. This idea, which doesn't cease
to be a concept of pure propaganda, is never implemented because it
might be the case that the ones who are raising this flag might be the
same ones who need to be changed. That's why everything is the opposite:
they try to keep this concept static, under the mistaken concept that
highlighting this or that mistake and trying to rectify it, is a
dissident and counter-revolutionary act.

So of course I must be considered a "counter-revolutionary" for wanting
a fairer price for tobacco. If I were robbing the Cuban people or giving
manipulative-coercive political speeches to make them work for measly
salaries, then they would consider me to be a true revolutionary.

I'll put it like Hatuey did: If those men are true revolutionaries I
don't want to be like them, nor do I want to go where they are heading.
But, of course, I won't stop being a socialist, nor believing in the
struggle for a better world, because of the simple fact that this noble
ideal is being abused. If we were to stop dreaming of this and fighting
for it, we would also stop being human: this was the spirit that got us
out of the caves and brought us to the skyscraper era.

These examples aren't an exception: if we were to analyze any example
taken from Cuban daily life, it would irrefutably prove the fact that
the Cuban system is unfeasible. There isn't any chance of progressing
under this current model. There won't be any improvements, without more
profound changes, that need to stem from a democratizing process of
society as a whole.

Of course Raul Castro wanted to leave a legacy of a growing and
developing Cuba, if he really is going to step down next year: but this
is already impossible. Cockroaches also wanted to sit down, but they
don't have buttcheeks. That's how the saying goes: What does the
cockroach have? It isn't enough to want it; we have to do the right
thing to ensure success.

Source: Can We Progress in Cuba under the Current Model? - Havana -

Agricultural exports to Cuba would help compensate those whose properties were seized

Agricultural exports to Cuba would help compensate those whose
properties were seized

The congressional battle between lawmakers from farming states and Cuban
American colleagues on funding food exports to Cuba could be coming to
an end thanks to an "elegant" solution that is part of proposed
legislation: a 2 percent user fee on agricultural products sold to the
island that would be used to compensate those who have certified claims
of properties confiscated by the Cuban government.

"We know there are a significant number of Cuban Americans who are
aggrieved because they had their properties thieved years ago in the
revolution," said Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford, the bill's sponsor. "We
have come out with a vehicle by which they actually receive
compensation, which is a key component of the legislation.

"Every transaction will have a two percent excise fee that would be
collected and administered to certified claimants through the Treasury
Department," he said.

"The 2% user fee functions like an excise tax on the total sale, and it
is paid by the seller of the agricultural product," added a staffer from
Crawford's office.

More than 6,000 certified claims from U.S. companies and citizens are
currently worth about $8 billion. However, thousands of Cuban-American
claims are not certified.

The bill, which has not yet been submitted, proposes to remove
restrictions on the financing of exports of food, dairy products and
other agricultural products to Cuba. Under current policy, it is legal
to export these products but they can only be paid in cash and it is not
possible to offer credit to Havana. The bill, which would only authorize
private credit, would be supported by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny
Perdue, according to his testimony at a hearing before the House
Committee on Agriculture on May 17.

The Arkansas representative said he has been working closely with Cuban
American members of Congress on the proposed legislation.

"We are trying to keep their perspective in mind and trying to be as
respectful to their sensibilities as possible and do something that is
meaningful not only for the American farmers but also to Cuban
Americans, too, who are obviusly personally involved in this issue,"
Crawford said. "We think we have arrived at a very elegant solution for
both problems.

"To my knowledge this approach has never been attempted," he added. "Our
friends in Florida will be interested in this because it does provide a
significant policy change," toward Cuba.

However, while Florida Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart is at the
negotiating table, on his end "there is no deal yet," a spokeswoman for
his office told el Nuevo Herald. Diaz-Balart did not respond to a
request for further comment on the subject.

The bill could be an advance of the position that the Trump
administration ultimately adopts after the Cuba policy review currently
underway is completed in the coming weeks. Crawford said he is also
working in coordination with the White House and that the bill will come
to light as part of a package of measures that will come following the
conclusion of the review.

Last July, Crawford withdrew an amendment to lift the restrictions on
financing agricultural exports to Cuba from the Financial Services and
General Government Appropriations bill. Instead of forcing the vote, he
got a commitment that the House Committee on Agriculture will give floor
time to a bill with similar language -- and that Cuban American
representatives, especially Díaz-Balart, would sit down and negotiate.

In January, Crawford introduced the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, with
39 co-sponsors. But the bill does not include the 2 percent fee,
although it does prohibit investments in agriculture if a Cuban company
is tied to the government, the island's armed forces or the Ministry of
the Interior.

The agricultural sector has been strongly lobbying Congress to remove
barriers to access to the Cuban market. The island imports almost 80
percent of the food it consumes and it is seen as a modest but desirable
market for U.S. producers.

However, the idea that some money paid for food import would go to go to
U.S. companies and citizens whose properties were confiscated by the
Castro regime probably would not be to the liking of Havana.

Following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the
administration of former President Barack Obama and the government of
Raúl Castro sat down to discuss the thorny issue of claims, although
they did not make much progress.

But Crawford said he is not trying "to write this bill to satisfy the
Cuban regime."

Experts have also questioned whether the Cuban government would be
inclined to accept American credit when it already receives "soft"
credits from allied countries like Vietnam, from which Cuba buys rice.

Crawford said U.S. companies offer better quality and more accessible
products. If the bill becomes law, he added, U.S. companies "will have
to search on their own" ways to offer credit to Cuba.

"That's the beauty of the free market," he said. "What we are trying to
do is level the playing field and allow access to the market."

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Proposed bill would levy 2 percent fee on agricultural exports
to Cuba | Miami Herald -

More than 50 senators support eliminating restrictions on travel to Cuba

More than 50 senators support eliminating restrictions on travel to Cuba

As the Cuba policy review reaches its final stage, politicians,
companies and organizations that support the policy of engagement are
making an extra effort to send this message to Donald Trump: Mr.
President, don't eliminate opportunities to travel to the island.

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)
reintroduced a bill Thursday to eliminate all prohibitions on travel to
Cuba. The bill, which had only eight cosponsors when first filed in
2015, now has the support of 55 senators from both parties.

"As the administration is finalizing its Cuba policy review, it is
important to show that a bipartisan majority in the Senate supports not
only not rolling back the measures that President Obama took to expand
travel, but to go even further and remove all restrictions," James
Williams, president of Engage Cuba, told el Nuevo Herald. Engage Cuba is
a coalition of companies and organizations that lobby to eliminate
sanctions on Cuba.

The bill would remove all restrictions for U.S. citizens and residents
on travel to Cuba, and will authorize associated banking transactions
made by travelers. A similar proposal was presented in the House but
with fewer sponsors.

Even if the bill is not discussed on the Senate floor, said Williams, it
sends a strong message to the White House that there is support for the
current policy of engagement.

In a separate move to push the agenda forward, another piece of
legislation was introduced on Friday to lift the trade embargo. The
Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Leahy,
Flake, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming).

"This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people of both our
countries by boosting American exports and creating opportunity for the
Cuban people," said Klobuchar. "We need to turn the page on the failed
policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up
engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all."

On travel to the island, former President Barack Obama expanded to 12
the number of authorized categories under which travelers may visit
Cuba. But the removal of all travel restrictions requires an act of

As a result of Obama's measures, the number of Americans who traveled to
the island soared. Cuban authorities reported 118-percent growth through
March, compared to the same period last year. In 2016, more than 280,000
Americans traveled to the island.

But those who support the current policies fear that travel to Cuba may
be in jeopardy. Although the review of the Cuba policy is being carried
out by different federal agencies and coordinated by the National
Security Council, Cuban-American lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep.
Mario Díaz-Balart — who favor the elimination of what they see as
concessions to the Cuban government — are playing a significant role in
the process.

"Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn't a
concession to dictators, it is an expression of freedom. It is Americans
who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government," said Flake.

"Lifting the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba can pave the way to
meaningful change by increasing contact between Cubans and everyday
Americans, and it is certain to have positive benefits for the island's
burgeoning entrepreneurial and private sector," he added.

In a statement in support of the bill, the Cuban Study Group, a
Cuban-American nonprofit organization that backed Obama's changes,
stressed that the elimination of the restrictions would have a
"substantial" effect on the lives of Cubans, especially those who have
joined the private sector.

"Instead of being forced to use the government as an intermediary,
hundreds of thousands of Cubans who work in independent restaurants, bed
and breakfasts, and a wide range of other service professions would have
direct access to U.S. currency," the organization said.

Some 40 companies and associations organizing trips to Cuba also sent a
letter to Trump asking him to prioritize economic "growth and job
creation" in the policy review.

The letter signers, including former charter flight companies as well as
the American Society of Travel Agents, the National Tour Association and
the United States Tour Operators Association, say the increase in U.S.
visitors to Cuba has allowed them to "hire more American employees," in
a nod to Trump's America First theme.

"U.S. travelers are the best representatives of American beliefs, ideas
and values," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel,
who coordinated the letter. "The Trump administration should put U.S.
companies and travelers in a position to compete with Chinese, Russian
and Venezuelan influence on the island."

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: More than 50 senators support eliminating restrictions on travel
to Cuba | Miami Herald -

No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal

No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal

USAID programs in Cuba, which have been highly controversial in recent
years, aren't funded under the Trump administration's proposed State
Department budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

"As we work to streamline efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness
of U.S. taxpayer dollars, we acknowledge that we have to prioritize and
make some tough choices," said a USAID spokesperson. "Focusing our
efforts will allow us to advance our most important policy goals of
protecting America and creating American jobs."

There are no economic support funds for Cuba in the State Department's
2018 budget proposal, which was released Tuesday. Such funding, which is
appropriated by Congress and provided to USAID by the State Department,
reached $20 million in fiscal year 2016 under the Obama administration.

Aid to Venezuela and Ecuador also has been cut completely and funding
for Nicaragua was whittled from $10 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to
$200,000 in the proposed budget. All are leftist governments.

The Trump administration proposed slashing the overall State Department
and USAID budget by around 30 percent to $37.6 billion. In his letter to
Congress justifying the 400-page budget proposal, Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson said the budget addresses "the importance of defending our
national security interests" but also acknowledges that "U.S. diplomacy
engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective."

The proposed budget cuts are expected to face a tough slog through Congress.

"The White House is obligated to provide Congress its budget request but
Congress ultimately has the power of the purse," said South Florida
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "This budget is very troubling when
it comes to democracy funding for countries in Latin America. It is
imperative for the United States to continue to support civil society
and human rights activists in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua."

Ros-Lehtinen said she would work with her "colleagues in Congress in a
bipartisan manner to ensure that we rectify this problem."

Assistance to Cuba is governed by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the 1992
Cuban Democracy Act, which among other things, authorizes donations of
food to non-governmental organizations or individuals as well as other
assistance to individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent,
democratic change in Cuba.

Cuba has always said the USAID programs aren't welcomed.

Cuba programs that USAID advertised last year included $6 million in
grants offered over a three-year period to organizations to "provide
humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and
politically marginalized individuals and groups in Cuba," and a $754,000
program to bring Cuban young people to the United States for internships.

Among USAID programs for Cuba that have caught flak in recent years were
a failed effort to co-opt the Cuban hip-hop scene to spark a youth
movement that would speak out against the government, a program to
create a secret Twitter-like network called ZunZuneo and an event billed
as an HIV prevention workshop that brought young Latin Americans posing
as tourists to Cuba with a mission of scouting for "potential
social-change actors."

The Associated Press, which first disclosed these projects in 2014, said
the goal of ZunZuneo was first to create a program for Cubans to speak
freely among themselves and then funnel political content that could
create political unrest.

USAID said ZunZuneo's goal was to connect Cubans so eventually they
could engage on topics of their choice and that only tech news, sports
scores and trivia were sent out on ZunZuneo. But a report by the Office
of Inspector General found some early messages, which mocked Cuban
leaders, contained political satire.

ZunZuneo was starting up just as USAID subcontractor Alan Gross was
arrested in Havana in December 2009 for distributing satellite equipment
in Cuba to link with the internet. Gross was sentenced to 15 years by a
Cuban court that ruled his intent was to undermine the government, but
he was released after serving five years Dec. 17, 2014. It was the day
the United States and Cuba announced a rapprochement after more than a
half century of hostilities.

There are few direct references to Cuba in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

But under Migration and Refugee Assistance programs in the Western
Hemisphere, which are budgeted for $51.3 million, is this reference: "In
Cuba, resources enable the State Department to support the Migrant
Operations Center at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay. Under 306 Executive
Order 13276, the State Department is responsible for the care of
migrants interdicted at sea, determined to be in need of protection,
while they await third country resettlement."

Amid all the cutting, the budget proposes a $40,00 increase to $2.41
million for the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC). This
quasi-judicial agency within the Department of Justice adjudicates
claims of U.S. nationals against foreign governments. The proposal says
the agency's budget would go for the continued evaluation of claims, to
maintain the decisions and records of past claims programs and to
modernize such records by creating and updating databases.

While the FCSC deals with outstanding claims around the world, it is the
repository of 5,913 certified claims against Cuba valued at more than
$1.9 billion. In today's dollars with interest added, those claims for
sugar mills, ranches, utilities, corporate holdings and personal
property would be worth around $8 billion.

However, Cuba claims the United States owes it billions in reparations
for economic damages caused by the U.S. embargo and for human damages
for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the bombing of a Cubana airliner and other
deadly U.S.-supported incursions on Cuban soil.

The two sides met to discuss the claims during the Obama administration
but at this point they have said little more than they hope their claims
can be resolved in a "mutually satisfactory manner."


Source: No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump's FY 2018 budget | Miami Herald