|By ANITA SNOW|
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; 5:47 AM
HAVANA -- An ailing Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president Tuesday after nearly a half-century in power, saying he was retiring and will not accept a new term when the new parliament meets Sunday.
"I will not aspire to nor accept _ I repeat, I will not aspire to nor accept _ the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief," read a letter signed by Castro published early Tuesday in the online edition of the Communist Party daily Granma.
The announcement effectively ends the rule of the 81-year-old Castro after almost 50 years, positioning his 76-year-old brother Raul for permanent succession to the presidency. Fidel Castro temporarily ceded his powers to his brother on July 31, 2006, when he announced that he had undergone intestinal surgery.
Since then, the elder Castro has not been seen in public, appearing only sporadically in official photographs and videotapes and publishing dense essays about mostly international themes as his younger brother has consolidated his rule.
A new National Assembly was elected in January, and will meet for the first time Sunday to pick the governing Council of State, including the presidency that Fidel Castro has held since the assembly's 1976 creation. Before 1976, Castro was president under a different government structure, and previously served as prime minister.
There had been wide speculation about whether Castro, Cuba's unchallenged leader since 1959, would continue as president.
"My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That's what I can offer," Castro wrote. But, he continued, "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama."
Castro said Cuban officials had wanted him to remain in power after his surgery. "It was an uncomfortable situation for me vis-a-vis an adversary that had done everything possible to get rid of me, and I felt reluctant to comply," he said in a reference to the United States.
The resignation opens the path for Raul Castro's succession to the presidency, and the full autonomy he has lacked in leading a caretaker government. The younger Castro has raised expectations among Cubans for modest economic and other reforms, stating last year that the country requires unspecified "structural changes" and acknowledging that government wages that average about $19 a month do not satisfy basic needs.
|By ADRIAN SAINZ, Associated Press Writer|
8:13 am EST Tuesday 19 February 2008
The streets of Little Havana came alive with chatter Tuesday as people in the heart of the Cuban exile community awoke to the news that Cuban President Fidel Castro had officially resigned power.
Motorists honked vigorously at police patrol cars and television reporters as they waited for local eateries to open. Small groups chatted on the streets.
Ulises Colina, a 65-year-old electrical technician, said he was not certain if the resignation would bring any change to the communist island or the U.S. "I think it was a foregone conclusion that his political career would be over soon," Colina said.
Colina theorized that any change in Cuba would have to come from within the military.
"Changes? Well, he's the leader of the gang but he has a bunch of auxiliary gang members who don't want to see change," Colina said.
Most exiles view Castro as a ruthless dictator who forced them, their parents or grandparents from their home after he seized power in a revolution in 1959. Authorities said the community's reaction so far was calm, peaceful and not as boisterous as when thousands took to the streets after Castro temporarily handed power to his brother Raul in July 2006.
Police said they were "keeping a sharp eye" on Little Havana, but residents weren't gathering in large numbers to celebrate. Nothing indicated a need for increased patrols off Florida or that a mass migration was imminent, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil.
About 1.5 million Cubans and Cuban-Americans live in the U.S., two-thirds of them in Florida, and the majority in Miami-Dade County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Since they began arriving, the Miami area has become a mostly Hispanic, bustling city that is a hub for international trade and finance, but also deals with poverty. What was once a city marked by Southern drawls in English transformed into a place where Spanish is spoken everywhere.
The first wave of Cubans who fled the island immediately after Castro took power, often sending their children ahead of them on so-called "Peter Pan" flights, generally support the most hardline U.S. policies toward the island. With few family ties to the island, they are among the most vocal backers of the U.S. embargo.
The views of the successive waves of Cuban immigrants are more complicated. Those who came over since 1980 are more likely to have grown up under the Castro government and still have family on the island. They chafe under the Bush administration's 2004 restrictions, which limit the money that can be sent home as well restrict island visits to once every three years for immediate relatives only.
| Castro's resignation won't change U.S. policy, official says|
updated 10:34 a.m. EST, Tue February 19, 2008
# NEW: No plans to lift U.S. embargo on Cuba, State Department official says
# President Bush: "Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections"
# U.S. help would depend on a transitional government that's committed to democracy
# Activist in Florida: Castro's resignation doesn't mean Cuba's any closer to democracy
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. embargo on Cuba will remain in place despite Fidel Castro's announcement that he's resigning as Cuba's leader, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Tuesday.
Asked whether Castro's resignation would change U.S. policy, Negroponte said, "I can't imagine that happening any time soon."
President Bush said the move should spark "a democratic transition" for the communist island nation.
"The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections," Bush said at a news conference in Rwanda during his five-nation tour of Africa.
"I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin ... a democratic transition," he said. "The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."
|From Times of London Online|
March 1, 2008
IF HAVANA is one of those places like Rangoon or Tbilisi that you've always vaguely been meaning to visit but never quite got round to, better make it sooner rather than later. Change is in the air as Fidel Castro steps down as Cuba's leader. The capital is perched on that delicate cusp between the engagingly ramshackle and the ruthlessly packaged, with the telltale signs of its inevitable decline into mass tourism already apparent.
At the restaurant we were in one night in the old town, the crooner chose to give us Beatles rather than Cuban songs and, on the streets, sleek people-carriers with air-con and tinted windows are beginning to replace the famed, vintage American, gas-
guzzling taxis bristling with chrome and fins - and fenders that are as wide as shop fronts.
It isn't just the cars that fix Havana in its relaxed 1950s time warp. Since the revolution in 1959 little in the old town has changed, whereas the hotels in resorts such as Varadero can and do compete with five-star establishments anywhere in the world. What's more, they're pretty much interchangeable with every other resort hotel from Fiji to Fuengirola. Next time I go I shall stay in Havana.
On the whole cities are not my first choice for a holiday. I'm a Londoner, I know about urban culture, theatres, art galleries, museums, posh restaurants. That's why we opted for a two-centre break, three days in Havana to see the sights followed by four days on the beach in Varadero.
The only official sights we got round to seeing in Havana were a couple of tombs in the Necropolis, one of a famous bridge player, the other of an alleged miracle worker, and the outsides of the Museum of the Revolution and a cigar factory. I was content to wander through the streets around the cathedral breathing in the atmosphere, often pretty whiffy, and people watching.
Substitute the Shwedagon pagoda for St Christopher's Cathedral and it's what I did on my first visit to Rangoon. Rangoon reminds me of Havana: because they don't run into many tourists, the locals retain their national identity, which for Cubans and Burmese alike means warmth without sycophancy and friendliness that neither imposes nor intrudes. Even the beggars in Cuba are laidback.
One old lady with an enormous red flower in her hair that doubled as a sunshade gently tapped my elbow as I was choosing my postcards and proffered a palm. I said I would have some change later, after I'd bought them, but she just shrugged, smiled, wished me “felicidad” and wandered off, the red flower bobbing jauntily.
When Cuba's subsidies from the Soviet Union dried up with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Castro swallowed his ideological pride and allowed the tour operators in. Tourism has revolutionised the island's economy; it is now Cuba's biggest money-spinner. So far Havana has been spared. In the 1930s our hotel, The Inglaterra, with its vast lobby, marble floors and chandeliers, would have been described by its mainly American clientele as “swell”.
I wish I could describe its present condition as “shabby chic”. It isn't, it's just shabby. Our room had a curious smell, somewhere between dry rot and wet dog. The huge antique air-conditioning apparatus blocked the door to the balcony - but maybe just as well. It looked dodgy - though you'd get a good view of the Opera House next door as you fell. For all its discomfort and appalling food (you don't go to Cuba for the cuisine) I'd rather have stayed at The Inglaterra, which is after all the oldest hotel in Cuba and a national monument, than a new place with all mod cons.
Schoolchildren toting satchels, shoeshine boys, street musicians, strikingly beautiful girls in bright, tight pedal pushers outlining their big, bouncing bottoms, canary-yellow scooter taxis, two-tone saloons that might once have been driven by Bonnie and Clyde, old men selling cigars, young men flogging toy cameras made from drinks cans, nuns moving from brilliant sunshine to shadow, minimal traffic, palm trees, statues of martyred heroes - from my table on the pavement outside The Inglaterra I could see it all.
Havana has the best schools and hospitals in the Caribbean. It has glorious Spanish colonial architecture and a pace of life that encourages ambling. It has had the world's longest-serving and probably most admired (except by America) revolutionary leader. Who knows how far and how fast things will change now that Castro's gone? Enjoy it while it lasts.
Need to know
A seven-night holiday with Caribtours (020-7751 0660, www.caribtours.co.uk) starts from £1,312pp, based on two people sharing. The price includes three nights at the Saratoga in Havana in a deluxe patio room with continental breakfast and four nights at Paradisus Varadero in a junior suite on an all-inclusive basis, as well as flights and transfers.
|It seems Raul Castro is making steps to get rid of the 3-tiered economy in Cuba. Basically for some time Cuba's economy has been split into 3. There was one economy for most of the citizens, based around unconvertible pesos from government set monthly salary. There has been the convertible peso economy, for Cubans who either had access to family money from abroad or who worked in tourist-related industries. And then on top of that was a dollar economy, for tourists. Aside from the money separation, there were restrictions on what most Cubans could do which prevented them from going into certain stores, staying in tourist hotels, riding some taxis, etc.|
Simply lifting these restrictions isn't going to change the fact that most Cubans are very poor, but they were nonetheless a rather ugly feature of the place, making Cubans second class citizens in their own country.
|Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 00:06 UK - BBC News|
Cuba has challenged the US to respond to accusations that its top diplomat on the island passed funds to dissidents.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque repeated allegations that top US envoy Michael Parmly had channelled funds from Miami-based exiles.
The US state department said this week that it had done nothing illegal.
Mr Roque also dismissed President George Bush's announcement on Wednesday that US residents would be able to send mobile phones to relatives in Cuba.
Cuba has accused Mr Parmly of passing money to leading dissident Martha Beatriz Roque from an exile it accuses of plotting an attempted bombing campaign.
Speaking at a press conference in Havana, Mr Perez Roque said that evidence including videos and emails proved that Mr Parmly and others at the US Interests Section in Havana had broken laws in both countries.
He said the US had directed actions by what he called mercenary elements aimed at destabilising the country.
"We hope the United States ... takes the pertinent measures to correct the conduct of its diplomats in Cuba," he said.
The BBC's Michael Voss reports from Havana that the comments are the latest move by the Cuban authorities in a campaign that also appears aimed at discrediting opposition groups on the island.
The US response so far has been to say it has a long-standing policy of providing humanitarian assistance to Cuba, including to those whose relatives are considered political prisoners.
Mr Perez Roque said President Bush's announcement that the US trade embargo would be relaxed to allow mobile phones to be sent was "ridiculous propaganda".
The decision came after Cuba's move to relax rules on mobile phone ownership.
|truthdig - Posted on Jun 19, 2008|
As a symbolic gesture, the European Union has lifted sanctions against Cuba. The United States was irked by the decision, which had no practical effect since the sanctions have been suspended for years.
AP via Google:
The largely symbolic decision takes effect Monday. The diplomatic sanctions, which banned high-level visits to EU nations by Cuban officials, have not been in force since 2005. They were imposed in 2003 following the arrests of dozens of dissidents but suspended two years later.
As part of its action, the EU approved a set of conditions on Cuba in return for sanction-free relations. They include the release of all political prisoners; access for Cubans to the Internet; and a double-track approach for all EU delegations arriving in Cuba, allowing them to meet both opposition figures and members of the Cuban government.
Officials said the bloc will evaluate Cuba’s progress in a year’s time and could take new measures if human rights do not improve.
|Getting more and more isolated on the world stage….heckuva job, Bushie.|
|Well, what do you know: We finally found a Republican who's willing to acknowledge that the myth that China is drilling for oil off American shores is, well, a myth.|
We previously noted that Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican facing a tight re-election battle this year, made the false claim in June. His offices didn't return our calls.
But the Chicago Tribune asked Kirk's office for clarification, and has now gotten a retraction. "While the Cubans may have issued offshore drilling rights, Congressman Kirk has publicly agreed that the Chinese are not currently drilling for oil near Florida," Kirk's chief of staff told the paper. Score one for reality.
|The Cuba Syndrome|
A hat tip to Progress Illinois, a new political blog based in Chicago, for busting North Shore congressman Mark Kirk when he spread the rumor that China is drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba.
During an interview on WLS-AM, Kirk said, "It makes no sense to allow the Chinese to drill on the Cuban side of the line in Florida without us tapping into the very same oil fields."
Progress Illinois posted the audio clip along with references exposing the claim as an urban legend favored by those wishing to lend urgency to proposals to ramp up off-shore drilling.
Vice President Dick Cheney advanced the claim in a speech in early June but retracted it nearly a week before Kirk's radio interview.
Monday, Kirk spokesman Eric Elk acknowledged the bloggers were right:
"While the Cubans may have issued offshore drilling rights, Congressman Kirk has publicly agreed that the Chinese are not currently drilling for oil near Florida," he said.
|Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 18:07 UK - BBC News|
Cuba is to put more state-controlled farm land into private hands, in a move to increase the island's lagging food production.
Private farmers who do well will be able to increase their holdings by up to 99 acres (40 hectares) for a 10-year period that can be renewed.
Until now, private farmers have only been able to run small areas of land.
The BBC's Michael Voss, in Havana, says this is one of President Raul Castro's most significant reforms to date.
President Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in February, considers reducing costly food imports as a matter of national security.
Since the 1959 revolution, some Cubans have been allowed to run small family farms. But most agriculture has been placed in the hands of large, state-owned enterprises.
Our correspondent says these have proved highly inefficient - half the land is unused and today Cuba imports more than half its needs. Rising world food prices will cost the country an extra $1bn this year.
The presidential decree was published in the country's Communist Party newspaper, Granma.
In it, co-operatives are also allowed to add an unspecified amount of additional land for 25 years, with the possibility of renewing the lease.
Grants cannot be transferred or sold to third parties.
"The maximum to be handed over to individuals who do not hold land is 13.42 hectares (33 acres), and for those who hold lands, as owners or designated workers, the amount can rise as high as 40.26 hectares (99 acres)," the decree said.
"For various reasons there is a considerable percentage of state land sitting vacant, so it must be handed over to individuals or groups as owners or users, in an effort to increase production of food and reduce imports," it added.
The decree also said that farmers would have to pay taxes on their production, but it did not say how much.
The reform has been promised for some time by President Castro.
Since taking over the presidency, Raul Castro has signed the UN human rights accords and lifted restrictions on Cubans owning mobile phones and computers.
He has also announced that workers can earn productivity bonuses, doing away with the egalitarian concept that everyone must earn the same, our correspondent says.
|The New York Times|
July 27, 2008
Cuban President Warns of Tough Times Ahead
By MARC LACEY
SANTIAGO, Cuba — President Raúl Castro used a speech Saturday on the 55th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban revolution not to unveil any new changes but to call on everyday Cubans to prepare for tough times in the days ahead.
Citing the global economic downturn and the rising cost of oil, Mr. Castro said Cuba and other countries in the developing world face severe challenges that would require belt-tightening and patience.
“We must bear in mind that we are living in the midst of a true world crisis which is not only economic but also related with climate change, the irrational use of energy and a great number of other problems,” he said.
There was speculation that Mr. Castro, who officially took over the presidency in February from Fidel Castro, his older brother, would use Cuba’s important July 26th holiday — which commemorates a failed raid on a military barracks here — to extend the rash of modest changes he had announced in recent months. But he seemed eager to dampen expectations.
“We are aware of the great number of problems waiting to be solved, most of which weigh heavily and directly on the population,” he said, adding later, “Regardless of our great wishes to solve every problem, we cannot spend in excess of what we have.”
Citing one bright spot, he said that tourism had grown 14.8 percent in the first half of this year compared with last year, with nearly 1.3 million people visiting the island.
And the president, a former defense minister, said the country was as prepared as ever for any invasion that might be planned by the United States.
“We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States,” he said.
Mr. Castro used last year’s July 26th speech to acknowlege that wages were too low in the country and pledge reforms to energize the economy. In 2006, Fidel Castro gave the speech, which turned out to be his final address before he underwent emergency intestinal surgery, from which he has never completely recovered.
|Tropical storm (not even a major hurricane) Fay has killed 28 people across the Caribbean, including five in Florida. None of those deaths were in Cuba, where the state is already organizing reconstruction efforts.|
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, three years after Hurricane Katrina, George Bush is talking about "hope."
|By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer|
10:23 am EDT Sun 31 August 2008
Cubans returned from shelters to find flooded homes and washed-out roads Sunday, but no deaths were reported after a monstrous Hurricane Gustav roared across the island and into the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.
About 250,000 Cubans were evacuated before Gustav made landfall on Cuba's Isla de la Juventud, then again on the Cuban mainland in the region that produces much of the tobacco used to make the nation's famed cigars.
It was just short of top-scale Category 5 hurricane with screaming 140 mph (220 kph) winds as it moved across the island, toppling telephone poles and fruit trees, shattering windows and tearing off the tin roofs of homes.
A Cuban television reporter on the Isla de la Juventud said the storm had felt like "the blast wave from a bomb."
"Buildings without windows, without doors," he said. "Few trees remain standing."
Cuban Civil defense chief Ana Isa Delgado said there were "many people injured" on the island of 87,000 people. Nearly all the island's roads were washed out and some regions were heavily flooded.
"It's been very difficult here," she said on state television.
But there were no reports of deaths, there or on the mainland.
Gustav earlier killed 81 people by triggering floods and landslides in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
The hurricane weakened slightly after crossing Cuba, slowing to Category 3 status before sunrise Sunday. But it still packed top winds near 120 mph (195 kph) and forecasters predicted it would increase to a Category 4 before making landfall Monday along the U.S. Gulf coast.
More than 1 million Americans made wary by Hurricane Katrina took buses, trains, planes and cars as they streamed out of New Orleans and other coastal cities, where Katrina killed about 1,600 people in 2005.
Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, which was devastated by Katrina, issued a mandatory evacuation order and warned that anyone found off their own property after it takes effect can be arrested. Police and National Guard troops were on the streets, preparing to patrol evacuated neighborhoods.
Nagin called Gustav the "mother of all storms" and told residents to "get out of town. This is not the one to play with."
Cuba's top meteorologist, Jose Rubiera, said the storm brought hurricane-force winds to much of the western part of Havana, where power was knocked out as winds blasted sheets of rain sideways though the streets and whipped angry waves against the famed seaside Malecon boulevard.
But Sunday morning no flooding could be seen in central Havana, and state radio said the damage was "minimal" in the capital of 2 million people, although southeastern Havana remained without power and natural gas.
Public transportation began running again Sunday morning, as did buses and trains from Havana to the provinces. State radio said schools would open Monday everywhere except Pinar del Rio.
In the fishing town of Batabano, 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of Havana, evacuees returned to their pastel-colored homes to find many surrounded by knee-deep water.
"My house is full of water," said Aldo Tomas, 43, pulling palm branches from his living room. "But we expected more. We expected worse."
Tourist Lidia Morral of Barcelona, Spain, said Gustav forced officials to close beaches the couple wanted to visit earlier this week in Santiago, on the island's eastern tip. The storm also prevented them from catching a ferry from Havana to the Isla de la Juventud on Saturday.
"It's been following us all over Cuba, ruining our vacation," said Morral, who was in line at a travel agency, trying to make other plans. "They have closed everything — hotels, restaurants, bars, museums. There's not much to do but wait."
At 8 a.m. EDT Sunday, the U.S. hurricane center said Gustav was centered about 375 miles (605 kilometers) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving northwest near 16 mph (26 kph).
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Hanna was projected to move north of the Turks and Caicos Islands by late Sunday, then curl through the Bahamas by early next week before possibly threatening Cuba.
As it spun over open waters, Hanna strengthened slightly and had sustained winds near 60 mph (95 kph) early Sunday. The hurricane center warned that it could kick up dangerous rip currents along parts of the southeastern U.S. coast.
|Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 11:46 UK - BBC News|
By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana
As the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba knows all too well the destructive power of hurricanes.
In the western province of Pinar Del Rio, grandparents like to tell tales of the Great Hurricane of 1944.
Now there is a new legend in the making - Gustav.
Juan Fuentes is one of the thousands left homeless by Hurricane Gustav, his house flattened by the 240km/h (150mph) winds and surging seas.
"My God, this has been the most horrible thing that happened in my life," he said.
"I went through the hurricane of '44 and have never seen anything like this. It destroyed everything."
Mr Fuentes lives in the coastal town of Los Palacios, which is where Hurricane Gustav first hit mainland Cuba.
In this one small town alone, 7,000 homes have had their roofs torn off, and the walls of many simply collapsed.
Just a few kilometres down the road, in Paso Quemado, Evangelina Torres was huddling under the kitchen sink, hanging on to her husband for dear life, as the roof of her house was blown off.
"I shouted and I wept," she said. "It was pure terror for I don't know how long."
But miraculously the roof of her small kitchen remained intact and already she is planning how to move forward.
"We'll rebuild the roof from there... Little by little I'll save enough money. With government help, we can make it."
Before hitting the mainland, Gustav swept across Isla de la Juventud - the Isle of Youth - just off the southern coast of Cuba.
Today, it is a scene of devastation. Roads are flooded, homes, schools and factories severely damaged.
A transport ferry was lifted from its moorings and left on a street in the main town of Nueva Gerona.
A Cuban television reporter said Gustav's arrival felt like "the blast wave of a bomb".
In all, about 100,000 houses, schools and workplaces were damaged by the storm, with at least 6,000 homes considered beyond repair.
Much of the region is still without electricity, as electricity poles and pylons toppled like matchsticks.
One weather station in Pinar del Rio recorded gusts of 340km/h, a new record for this hurricane-swept island.
About 300 Cubans were killed in the Great Hurricane of 1944. This time some 19 people are reported injured but, so far, not a single person is known to have died.
The only communist state in the Americas, Cuba prides itself on having developed a world class disaster-preparedness organisation.
Every year there are dress rehearsals before the hurricane season begins.
Each community knows in advance which building will be used as shelters, how to arrange transport, additional food and medical back up.
In Cuba when the authorities say it is time to evacuate, almost everyone does what they are told.
Compare this to somewhere like Haiti, where Gustav claimed more than 80 lives.
There, many often refuse to leave their homes for fear that they will be looted while they are gone.
In his younger days Fidel Castro used to take personal charge of overseeing the response to hurricanes.
Now his brother Raul Castro is president and has a very different style. There has been no public address to the nation.
Instead, state television has shown the president telephoning the regional civil defence teams both before and after Gustav struck.
It has been down to the string of vice-presidents to hit the road, reassuring people and overseeing recovery efforts in the Isle of Youth and across Pinar del Rio province.
But Raul Castro is known as an effective organiser, and government actions appear to have been as efficient as ever.
According to the Cuban authorities, some 467,000 people from across the entire island were evacuated, including 77% of the population of Pinar del Rio province and the Isle of Youth.
Restoring electricity appears to be one of the main priorities, with teams called in from all over the island.
State television also showed trucks arriving with corrugated roofing material.
Fidel Castro continues to make his presence felt through regular newspaper editorials.
In Monday morning's edition of the communist party newspaper Granma he praised the way everyone had responded to the disaster.
"It's lucky we had a revolution! It guarantees that nobody will be forgotten," Fidel wrote.
Once Gustav had moved out into the Gulf of Mexico en route to Louisiana, the emergency teams started to move in.
There are no figures yet as to the cost of the damage. Pinar del Rio is a mainly rural area with little industry apart from its famous tobacco fields.
The harvest was already in but the valuable leaves were being cured in flimsy thatched wooden sheds.
They were desperately trying to move half a million sacks of leaves to safer places before Gustav arrived.
But almost 1,000 tonnes of tobacco leaves still got soaked in the rain.
The price and availability of Cuban cigars could be another casualty of Hurricane Gustav.
FIVE: Winds over 155mph (249km/h). Storm surge more than 18ft (5.4m) above normal. Only three such US landfall hurricanes - Labour Day 1935, Camille 1969 and Andrew 1992
FOUR: Winds 131-155mph. Storm surge 13-18ft
THREE: Winds 111-130mph. Storm surge 9-12ft. Katrina hit New Orleans as a three.
TWO: Winds 96-110mph. Storm surge 6-8ft
ONE: Winds 74-95mph. Storm surge 4-5ft
Source: Saffir-Simpson Scale/US National Hurricane Centre
|By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer|
Sun Sep 7, 6:37 PM ET
The Bush administration said Sunday it sees no wisdom now in ending an economic embargo against Cuba, a longtime demand the Havana government renewed as a way to speed aid after Hurricane Gustav swamped the island.
A U.S. offer to send a disaster assessment team was declined Saturday by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, which did not mention the $100,000 in humanitarian assistance that Washington also offered through nonprofit groups.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, wrapping up a trip to North Africa, told reporters that President Bush consistently has said the U.S. would be responsive "to a Cuban regime that is prepared to release political prisoners (and) has a process to get to free and fair elections." But, she added, "we can see nothing that suggests that has come about."
Cuba said Saturday it would rather Washington suspend restrictions on travel and the sale of food and other materials it needs to recover.
With another powerful storm, Hurricane Ike, bearing down, the Cuban ministry contended that "the only correct, ethical (action) ... would be the total and definitive elimination of the harsh and cruel economic, commercial and financial blockade applied over nearly a half century against our nation."
Rice said that did not seem possible under current conditions, with Raul Castro in charge after replacing his brother, Fidel, who stepped down in February.
"What we can't do is to have the transfer of power from one dictatorial regime to another," Rice said. "That is not acceptable in a Western Hemisphere that is democratic and it is not acceptable for the Cuban people. So I don't think in the context that we see now that the lifting of the embargo would be wise."
Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a statement expressing sympathy for Cubans who had been hit hard by Gustav. He asked Bush "to immediately suspend restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans for a minimum of 90 days."
Also last week, five Cuban-American members of Congress urged the Bush administration to provide direct assistance to Gustav's victims in Cuba. They said, however, that aid could be provided without changing U.S. law to lift the restrictions.
Currently, people of Cuban origin living in the U.S. can visit the island only once every three years and can send money only to members of their immediate families, excluding cousins, aunts and uncles.
Fidel Castro wrote this past week that recovery from Gustav could cost billions of dollars on an island where the average state salary is only about $20 per month. Gustav damaged 100,000 homes on Cuba.
|Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2008|
By Frances Robles | Miami Herald
Dec. 31, 1958, in Havana began as a low-key New Year's Eve. Back then, explosions sometimes went off in theaters, and police trying to quash an insurrection often stopped and searched folks on the street.
Everybody looked to avoid trouble. Nobody expected history to unfold so most Cubans stayed in to celebrate safely at home. Many of the people who would become Miami's top civic and political leaders were teenagers huddled at home with parents too afraid to let them revel outside.
Rebel leader Fidel Castro was in the eastern Sierra Maestra Mountains, fixing to attack the city of Santiago de Cuba while he negotiated with top military commanders and dictated memos through the night. Argentine doctor and rebel leader Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara had just defeated the Cuban army in the central city of Santa Clara, and Castro's younger brother Raul was poised to take the far eastern city of Guantanamo.
Castro did not know that dictator Fulgencio Batista had spent the day gathering up cash and friends in preparation to leaving the country. Top army generals frantically tried to come up with a new president by lunchtime.
"It's like a hurricane is coming: 'I need to buy this and do that,' '' said former Miami Herald journalist Roberto Fabricio, who with Miami Herald staff writer John Dorschner co-authored the 1980 book Winds of December, a recounting of Batista's final days. "You know it's coming some day. The hurricane had come.''
Fifty years ago, a new chapter emerged in Cuban history: A weary army was no longer willing to die to support an unpopular regime. A growing rebel militia was winning important victories as top generals secretly negotiated with Castro and his men. With military aid from the United States cut off, Batista found himself a defeated dictator presiding over rivers of blood.
Seven years after taking power in a coup, it was time for the former sergeant who dominated Cuban politics for three decades to go. He gathered his allies for a subdued New Year's Eve party at Camp Columbia, just outside Havana, where he shared the decision to flee with only his closest advisors.
Winds of December describes ladies tripping over their silk gowns in the rush toward waiting black limos.
At 12:35 a.m., Batista quit. At dawn, a plane with 44 people aboard, including Batista, took off for the Dominican Republic, triggering a mad scramble in Havana. Batista's allies fled by plane or yacht as the news spread by shortwave radio. They were in mortal danger, and they knew it.
"I got a call about 3 or 4 in the morning saying, 'The man has left,' '' said Cuban historian Enrique Ros, father of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican. "I honestly thought Fidel Castro had withdrawn. Everyone was surprised.''
Huber Matos was the rebel leader who led troops in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. He had represented Castro days earlier in negotiations with Maj. Gen. Eulogio Cantillo, the head of the army's forces in Oriente, on the eastern end of the island, who had reneged on a deal to surrender.
Matos had orders to take Santiago by force. He had been up until 4 a.m. mapping out plans to seize the city.
"I woke up at 7 in the morning after making plans all night and said to the men, 'Listen, the national radio is mute. Something is going on.' Not a single station was transmitting anything,'' said Matos, who later fell out of favor with Castro and was jailed.
With no time to consult Castro, former guerrilla journalist Carlos Franqui, a member of Castro's July 26 Movement directorate and head of Radio Rebelde, took to the airwaves. Messengers ran to tell Castro, who was positioned in a sugar mill some 40 miles north of Santiago.
''I had to start making decisions that were the directorate's or Fidel's to make,'' said Franqui, who left Cuba in 1968 and now lives in Puerto Rico. "It would have been fatal for Radio Rebelde to have been silent. I decided to take responsibility and make logical decisions.''
Batista had fled, but the guerrilla war was not won.
Gen. Cantillo was busy in Havana finding a senior magistrate to take Batista's place, as the constitution dictated. Cantillo enlisted an unwilling judge in his bathrobe.
Castro wanted to fill the power vacuum himself. Furious and fearful that the rebels would be shut out, he started barking orders.
''Naturally the first of January was also a terrible day,'' Castro said in Franqui's 1976 book, Diary of the Cuban Revolution. "We were betrayed, and an attempt was made to snatch victory from the people. We had to act very swiftly.''
Castro hustled to the eastern town of Palma Soriana to record radio broadcasts.
Guerrilla commander Camilo Cienfuegos went to Camp Columbia near Havana, while Raul Castro was sent to force Guantanamo's surrender. Guevara was dispatched to the La Cabana fortress in Havana harbor.
''Revolution, yes!'' Castro proclaimed over the airwaves. "Military coup, no!''
''It was a plan that was made and executed with such precision that Batista fell practically on the day we thought he would fall, and Santiago de Cuba was taken more or less on the day that we thought we would take it,'' Castro said in the 1976 book. "They attempted to snatch the triumph from us, and if there hadn't been swift action, the consequences would have been serious.''
Some people in Havana acted fast, too: Jubilant crowds looted casinos and ransacked the homes of Batista loyalists.
''I could see people running carrying drapes, lamps, air conditioners,'' Fabricio, then 12, recalled watching from his apartment building across the Riviera Hotel on Havana's famed seawall. "They took doors off the hinges. The other unpopular part of the regime was the parking meters, and people were taking bats to them.''
Brothers to the Rescue founder Jose Basulto, then 18 and heading off for college, remembers people preparing Molotov cocktails at the long-shuttered University of Havana while slot machines tumbled down city streets.
"There was an atmosphere of trouble. Everybody was thinking: 'What's next?' '' Basulto said. "I remember that I walked into a police station and took a gun for myself. The police were there, looking at us. They were on the job, but not acting on it.''
Matos' attack on Santiago never materialized, as military leaders easily gave in. Raul Castro took Moncada barracks without firing a shot.
That evening, Castro declared victory from the balcony of Santiago de Cuba's City Hall. Franqui remembers the thousands who rushed to greet Castro and touch his scraggly beard.
''It was a bit cultish,'' Franqui said. "It disgusted me.''
With lawyer Manuel Urrutia named president, Castro began a week-long trek to Havana, where he was greeted like a messiah. He did not arrive until Jan. 8, and did not officially appoint himself to the top job for another 45 days.
''I don't remember anyone who was unhappy, or sad, or concerned about what had just happened. It was just the opposite,'' remembers Eduardo Padron, who was 14 at the time and is now the presdient of Miami Dade College. "On that date, Jan. 1, we really did not imagine the whole magnitude of what would transpire years to come. At that moment, it did not occur to us that this would turn into something we would dislike or actually hate or that it would last this long.
"Fifty years is a long, long time.''
|By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer|
Sat Jan 17, 2:56 pm ET
HAVANA – William Potts calls himself the "Homesick Hijacker." U.S. authorities have another name for him: fugitive harbored by an enemy government — one of dozens of Americans hiding in communist Cuba.
Almost 25 years ago, he smuggled a pistol onto a commercial flight, diverted the plane to Havana, and spent 13 1/2 years in a Cuban prison for air piracy.
Now the Mount Vernon, N.Y., native has written to President-elect Barack Obama seeking a pardon and hoping U.S.-Cuba relations will improve and he'll be able to come home.
Others among the more than 70 American fugitives in Cuba fear the opposite — that a thaw in the nearly 50-year-old freeze between neighbors will put them within the reach of U.S. law.
"It's not a good time to raise my name up there," said Charlie Hill, who was accused in the slaying of a New Mexico state trooper and hijacked a plane to Cuba in 1971. "Things are going good. I don't want to be in the limelight."
Neither government would comment on the subject because these are sensitive times — a change of U.S. administrations, and indications that both Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro are ready to make tentative moves toward detente.
Among other issues, U.S. officials are hoping Cuba will cooperate in apprehending a ring of Cuban-Americans who fled here from Florida in a Medicare scam. And Cuba continues to insist that the U.S. return five Cuban agents it says were wrongly convicted of spying in Miami.
But a former U.S. diplomat says better relations could give the FBI more freedom to go after the fugitives.
"In my time, we always got more of those kinds of people back from them when things were going a little better," said Brookings Institution scholar Vicki Huddleston, who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1999 to 2002.
In the 1960s and early '70s, there were dozens of American hijackings to Cuba — so many that they became fodder for standup comedians. As a way of discouraging them, both sides signed a 1971 agreement under which each government agreed to prosecute hijackers or return them to the other country.
Still, periodic tensions with Washington often pushed Cuba to suspend the deal, and many fugitives reaching Cuba got asylum — bank robbery suspects, Puerto Rican independence fighters, Black Panthers leaders such as Eldridge Cleaver. They were treated as political refugees — a key reason why the U.S. still labels Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The remaining fugitives enjoy the same free housing, health care and other subsidies as Cubans.
The U.S. has no extradition treaty with this country, and in some ways, they have become wanted Americans whom no one is after. Washington can't even provide updated information on who is believed to be in Cuba, referring The Associated Press to an outdated FBI list of 78 U.S. fugitives — at least four of whom are known to be dead.
Cuba stopped giving new arrivals sanctuary in 2006, so far returning four wanted Americans who recently had fled to avoid prosecution.
But some famous ones are thought to remain, such as Victor Gerena, a Puerto Rican separatist. He is still on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" fugitive list for a 1983 armed robbery of an armored car company in Connecticut.
Another is Assata Shakur, aunt of slain rapper Tupac Shakur. A black separatist, she was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1973 killing of a New Jersey police officer and had ties to former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers, who became a campaign issue for Obama because he and Ayers served on the same Chicago community board.
Shakur escaped from prison and made it to Cuba. Though she remains underground, Potts says he ran into her at a Havana book fair last year. Gerena and Shakur still have $1 million bounties for their arrest. As recently as 2005, Fidel Castro said U.S. racism made Shakur a "true political prisoner."
But Potts, who got to Cuba a year after Shakur, was not celebrated — instead, he ended up in the fearsome Combinado del Este prison just outside Havana. Now 52, he argues he has paid his debt — and that prison time-served here should allow him to head back to America a free man.
"I am no terrorist. Not even at the height of my sophomoric idealism could I ever condone terrorism of any kind," he wrote in his pardon request, which he plans to send to the White House through his sister in Georgia.
He still faces an indictment for air piracy in Florida federal district court that could carry a 20-year prison sentence. Alicia Valle, special counsel to the U.S. Attorney for the district, refused to say whether prison time in Cuba could mean a reduced U.S. sentence.
In March 1984, on a Miami-bound Piedmont Airlines flight that originated in Newark, N.J., Potts pushed his call button and gave the flight attendant a note saying he had two accomplices aboard with explosives. He now says he told the lie to "avoid confrontations."
He claimed to be Lt. Spartacus, a soldier in the Black Liberation Army. But now he says he was never actually a formal member of the violent Marxist group, and that he knew the hijacking would be nonviolent.
He was so infatuated with Cuba's communist way of life that he was willing to hijack a plane, even though he spoke no Spanish, knew no one on the island and expected to go to prison.
Potts has married twice since being released from prison, but is now going through his second divorce. His wife took his Cuban-born daughters, ages 7 and 4, and nearly all the furniture in their scruffy Havana apartment, leaving him only a bed, pile of books and CDs, Muslim prayer rug and a small table on which is a single bowl and chopsticks.
Until recently, he ran an illegal Internet cafe on his aging home computer, netting about $110 a month after expenses, but now he is planning to move out of Havana, hoping to put the divorce behind him.
Potts says if pardoned he will go to the U.S. to help care for his elderly parents, but return to live in Cuba.
His U.S. relatives have visited him twice in recent years as part of family-visit programs designed for Cuban-Americans, and he took them with him to the U.S. Interests Section, Washington's Havana mission, seeking visas for his daughters.
On the walls were wanted posters for Shakur and other Americans, but not for Potts.
When he met the officials there, "I asked them, 'Look, are we going to have some trouble in here?'" he recalled. "And they said, 'No. We could subdue you if we wanted to.'"
They didn't, but his visa requests were denied.
|By William Booth|
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 7, 2009; A08
On the front page of Cuba's state newspaper Granma last week, the lone star on the Cuban flag had mysteriously faded away in an old black-and-white photograph announcing a celebration of patriot José Martí. Copies quickly sold out as rumors flew across the island. What did it mean? Was it a portent? Had the inevitable finally happened?
As it turned out, Fidel Castro was not dead. Just as he has not been dead for more than 50 years, ever since the United Press reported that he had been killed by government soldiers on Dec. 2, 1956, hours after returning to Cuba to wage guerrilla war.
The missing star? Apparently a printing error.
But over the past two years, the subject of Castro's health has become an obsession among Cubans and Cuba watchers, and the fever peaked last month as word circulated that he was on his deathbed, which turned out not to be true. In fact, he was apparently up late Wednesday night, blogging about President Obama. Castro informed Obama that previous U.S. governments had pursued policies of criminal aggression, not that he was blaming Obama.
"On the contrary," Castro posted, "being born of a Kenyan Muslim father and a white American Christian deserves special merit in the context of U.S. society and I am the first to recognize that."
The speculation about his continued viability is fueled by the fact that Castro, 82, has not been seen in public since the summer of 2006, when he underwent what is believed to have been intestinal surgery. The whereabouts and medical condition of the reformed cigar smoker are state secrets, even though he formally transferred power to his younger brother Raúl last year.
"The fixation about the health of Fidel is without parallel," said Daniel P. Erikson, an analyst at the policy group Inter-American Dialogue and author of a new book, "The Cuba Wars," whose first chapter is titled "Die Another Day."
"The death speculation, the death obsession, about Castro is varsity league; nothing else is close," said Erikson, adding that interest in North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who disappeared from public view for months after reportedly suffering a stroke last summer, pales in comparison. "And this could go on for a very long time, for clearly Fidel is getting good health care, and it is, after all, Fidel Castro we're talking about. He does not give up easily."
Some Cuba experts say that the long, slow fade of Castro, rather than being a disaster for the communist government of Cuba, might serve to preserve the power of the ruling elite by easing the transition -- first from Fidel to Raúl, then from Raúl to a younger generation.
"It is as if Fidel has turned an actual crisis -- his inevitable death -- into another opportunity," said David Scott Palmer, a Cuba scholar and professor at Boston University, who says that Castro, in his essays, blogs and "reflections," is preparing the country for his final exit. "Little by little, Cuba gets used to the idea of life without Fidel. . . . He seems to be skillfully managing his own departure."
Palmer and his colleagues stress that no one can predict what will happen when Castro dies. It is the same lack of information that has made it impossible to know much about Castro's health -- which leaves Cuba watchers with only the faintest clues to work with. So they peer at official photographs released by the government after state visits and parse his blog entries, looking for signs of gathering frailty or renewed vitality.
"For so long, for half a century, the stability of Cuba has depended on Fidel to manage the country's affairs. And his government doesn't want to break the spell. He is the talisman," the protective charm, Erikson said.
And though many Cuban exiles will party in the streets of Miami on the day of his death, what happens on the island is the great unknown.
Being wrong about Castro's health is almost a tradition among U.S. officials. In 2005, CIA analysts concluded that Castro was suffering from Parkinson's disease. A few days later, Castro gave a five-hour speech to a group of Havana University students and said he never felt better.
In 2006, Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte said Castro was knocking on death's door. "Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer. . . . Months, not years," Negroponte said at a meeting of Washington Post editors and reporters.
Journalists have also had a tough time predicting the end. One of the most dedicated Cuba watchers, the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer, foresaw a relatively rapid conclusion in his book "Castro's Final Hour." The book was published in 1992.
Writing about the recent rumors of Castro's imminent death, the Chicago Tribune in an editorial got the mood right with the headline: "Castro is dying, again."
In a commentary published Sunday about the latest rumors, Manny Garcia, a senior editor at the Miami Herald, wrote that "Fidel Castro is the journalistic equivalent of a kidney stone -- a constant pain who never seems to go away, and you pray that he passes, soon." Last month, based on the rumors, the Herald sent reporters to cover Castro's death, again.
Though he has not been seen in public, Castro does meet with visiting world leaders. He has been shown at undisclosed locations in photographs released by the government. Is he in a hospital room? A house? A government office?
In November, he was pictured with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Castro, as is his custom now, was wearing his zippered track suit. He looked okay. But then the photographs stopped.
Castro did not attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the revolution in Santiago on New Year's Day. Instead, he penned a very short note congratulating the Cuban people for their heroism. Then silence.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is a close ally and frequent flier to Cuba, appeared to be saying something significant when he told his radio and television show audience last month: "We know that the Fidel who used to walk down streets and through towns at dawn, looking like a warrior, wearing his uniform and embracing his people, will not return." Instead, the Cuban leader "will remain in our memories."
On Jan. 21, Castro met with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Afterward, Raúl Castro accompanied her to the Havana airport, where he told reporters, "Now you know that Fidel is fine." He said his brother spends days "exercising, thinking and reading a lot, advising me, helping me."
A few days later, a photograph was released showing Fidel Castro greeting Fernández de Kirchner. He is standing and wearing his Adidas track suit. Fernández de Kirchner told reporters that she and Castro spoke for an hour, that he seemed healthy and that they talked politics.
Later, Chávez admitted that, "sure, there are once again some rumors that Fidel died" but that his Cuban ally was still "alive and kicking."
So it seems. Because then Castro himself wrote one of his essays, explaining that he has been rereading all of his articles and other materials, reminiscing. "I have had the rare privilege to follow events for such a long time," he wrote. "I get information and think quietly about events.
"I don't expect to enjoy that privilege in four years, when Obama's first presidential term ends," he wrote. "I feel fine, but insist that no one should feel bound by my reflections, my state of health, or even my death."
|2:53 pm EST Mon 02 Mar 2009|
HAVANA (Reuters) – Some of Cuba's leading politicians lost their jobs on Monday in a high-level reshuffling of the government that President Raul Castro said would make it more efficient.
Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage, a vice president who many considered an economic reformer, were among the biggest names to lose posts.
Raul Castro, who was elected president on February 24, 2008, to succeed older brother Fidel Castro, had said for months that he would restructure the government to make it leaner and more responsive.
He ousted Lage from his post as executive secretary of the Council of Ministers, but it was not clear if Lage would stay on as one of the vice presidents of the Council of State.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks, editing by Kieran Murray)
|Ex-Leader Comments on Cabinet Shuffle|
Wednesday, March 4, 2009; A10
HAVANA, March 3 -- Fidel Castro said Tuesday that two of his closest lieutenants had been seduced by "the honey of power" and hinted that they were demoted because their angling for leadership roles in a post-Castro Cuba had become unseemly.
The article Castro published on a government Web site provides the first official hint of why two of the most powerful and public faces of the Cuban government were abruptly removed Monday in Cuba's largest leadership shake-up in decades.
Castro sniffed at suggestions that President Raúl Castro is putting his personal stamp on the government he inherited from his older brother a year ago. He wrote that officials sought his advice on the newcomers "even though there was no law requiring those who named them to do that."
He said the "two most mentioned" among those dismissed had been too eager to advance. "The honey of power, for which they had not sacrificed at all, awoke in them ambitions that led to an undignified role," he wrote.
The highest-profile demotions were the ouster of Felipe Pérez Roque as foreign minister and the dismissal of Vice President Carlos Lage as cabinet secretary.
Twenty other officials were also shifted, demoted or promoted in what the government called a streamlining effort.
Castro's column, carried on the CubaDebate Web site, suggested that maneuvering for possible talks with President Obama's new administration was not a major factor. Obama has said he is willing to talk with Cuban leaders and wants to loosen restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban Americans.
Both Pérez Roque and Lage remain on the Council of State, Cuba's top governing body, but Castro's column leaves their future in doubt. No new post was specified for either man, although Lage remains vice president.
Both are far younger than most others in the Castros' inner circle and have been popular among Cubans.
Cuba policy 'showdown' is far from over
Congress OK'd a bill making it easier for Americans to trade with and travel to Cuba. The White House says it will not enforce the changes. The lawmaker who wrote the amendments vows to fight.
|Posted on Wednesday, March 11, 2009|
By Lesley Clark and Frances Robles | The Miami Herald
Facing strong opposition from lawmakers with large Cuban-American constituencies, the Obama administration pledged – in writing – that changes to U.S.-Cuba policy tucked into the giant 2009 spending bill will have no teeth.
The promise worked: Lawmakers Tuesday night approved the $410 billion spending bill, which included the controversial provisions that make travel and trade to Cuba easier by cutting off the funding for enforcement of restrictions.
It cleared the Senate by a voice vote, after senators voted 62 to 35 to end debate.
In a quest to secure two of the votes from senators who had vowed to block the entire budget bill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner assured Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey that the government would interpret the new law so strictly that it will be ineffective.
Geithner's letter to the two senators persuaded them to change their votes and approve the spending package. Rep. Jose E. Serrano, the New York Democrat who wrote the Cuba amendments in the bill, warned that the law is not subject to "creative interpretation" and vowed "a showdown."
"The Treasury Department is going to try [to find loopholes], and the [House] appropriations committee will have to remind them who Congress is," Serrano toldThe Miami Herald. "Treasury will be in violation of the law. There will be a showdown. The bigger issue will not be Congressman Serrano. It will be that they are behaving just like the Bush administration did."
The budget bill, which already passed the House, creates a general travel license for Americans who want to travel to Cuba to cut agricultural and medical sales deals with the communist government. It also lets Cuba pay for goods on arrival – instead of before the products leave U.S. ports – and removes funding for enforcement of family travel restrictions enacted by former President George W. Bush.
To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.
|Posted on Friday, March 13, 2009|
By Frances Robles | Miami Herald
Cuban Americans are now free to visit relatives on the island once a year and stay as long as they like, using a new license issued by the Obama administration.
The general license for travel by Cuban Americans removes a tricky loophole Congress created in its 2009 budget bill, which removed funding for enforcing travel restrictions but did not lift the restrictions.
That meant traveling to Cuba would have been illegal, but a passenger was not likely to get caught.
With the new license, created late Wednesday, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control officially lifted the tightened restrictions enacted by President Bush in 2004, which had limited trips to every three years and only to see immediate relatives.
"This is going to do wonders for my father," said Arlene García, a Chicago saleswoman who joined the campaign to lift travel restrictions so she could visit her dad, who lives in Camaguey and has lung cancer. "The fact that I am able to see him is the best medicine. Every time I go, I'm adding time to his life."
Read more at MiamiHerald.com
|AP 6:40 am EDT Sat 14 Mar 2009|
MOSCOW – A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered an island as a temporary base for strategic Russian bombers, the Interfax news agency reported.
The chief of staff of Russia's long range aviation, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, also said Cuba could be used to base the aircraft, Interfax reported.
Zhikharev said Chavez had offered "a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers," the agency reported. "If there is a corresponding political decision, then the use of the island ... by the Russian Air Force is possible."
Interfax reported he said earlier that Cuba has air bases with four or five runways long enough for the huge bombers and could be used to host the long-range planes.
Two Russian bombers landed in Venezuela last year in what experts said was the first Western Hemisphere touchdown of Russian military craft since the end of the Cold War.
Cuba has never permanently hosted Russian or Soviet strategic aircraft. But Soviet short-range bombers often made stopovers there during the Cold War.
Russia resumed long-range bomber patrols in 2007 after a 15-year hiatus.
|By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer|
Sat Apr 4, 4:33 pm ET
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration intends to allow Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send money back to their families on the communist island nation, senior U.S. officials said Saturday.
President Barack Obama plans to announce the policy change before the Summit of the Americas April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made.
Although some restrictions have been eased temporarily in legislation Obama signed last month, lifting the bans would meet a pledge he made during the presidential campaign and could signal a new openness with Cuba.
"The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can get Cuba to move in another direction," one official said. "One way of getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel, increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island."
The official said there is no plan to lift the decades-old embargo on the island and that the move "is just the president fulfilling a campaign promise."
As a candidate, Obama promised to allow unlimited family travel and remittances to Cuba. "It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and their brothers," he said in a speech last May in Miami. "It's time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent on the Castro regime."
There are growing calls in Congress to repeal restrictions on Cuba.
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed appointing a special envoy to look into reshaping the overall relationship. Officials said Saturday that Lugar's idea would be considered.
On March 11, Obama signed legislation that rolled back rules imposed by the Bush administration that limited Cuban travel to just two weeks every three years by Americans and confined visits to immediate family members.
Now, Americans with relatives in Cuba can visit once a year, stay as long as they wish and spend up to $179 a day. Those changes, which affect an estimated 1.5 million Americans, remain in place until the current budget year ends on Sept. 30.
Some lawmakers backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba are advocating even broader revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.
Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Lugar, proposed legislation that would prevent the president from stopping travel to Cuba by all Americans except in cases of war, imminent danger to public health or threats to the physical safety of U.S. travelers.
There is an identical bill in the House with 120 co-sponsors.
The efforts have until now made little headway because of strong political resistance led by Florida's influential Cuban-American community. But the situation has changed over the past year after Castro ceded power to his brother Raul and Obama won the White House.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on the policy change.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven and Mark S. Smith in Strasbourg, France, contributed to this report.
On the Net:
State Department background on Cuba: http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/cu/
U.S. sanctions: http://tinyurl.com/7luh7e
|Saturday 04 April 2009|
by: Esteban Israel | Visit article original @ Reuters
US Representative Barbara Lee led a congressional delegation to Cuba this week. (Photo: Reuters)
Havana - U.S. lawmakers met with Cuba's foreign minister and laid flowers at a Havana memorial to slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King on Saturday during a visit aimed at improving relations between Washington and the communist-ruled island.
"The entire world is very optimistic about a shift in direction in terms of U.S. foreign policy throughout the world," U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, who headed a seven-member congressional delegation, told reporters in the Cuban capital.
"Personally I believe and many believe it's time to talk to Cuba," said Lee, who added that the delegation was in Cuba to find out what issues should be discussed between the two countries.
She did not disclose what they talked about with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, but said, "the discussions have been very well received."
"We've had open, honest dialogue and we look forward to continuing discussions up until we depart on Wednesday," she told reporters in a small park with a black stone memorial to King.
The delegation placed flowers at the memorial's base to mark the 41st anniversary of King's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.
The delegation is the first from the United States since President Barack Obama took office in January. The U.S. Congress is preparing to consider bills lifting most restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba.
Most U.S. citizens are barred from visiting the island 90 miles from Florida under a 47-year trade embargo imposed shortly after Fidel Castro took power and allied Cuba with the former Soviet Union.
Abolishing Some Restrictions
A White House official confirmed on Friday a Wall Street Journal report that Obama would abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba, but the official said the move was not a policy shift or imminent.
Obama promised during his presidential campaign to lift the restrictions, which were tightened by the Bush administration. The new U.S. leader has called for steps toward normalizing relations, but Vice President Joe Biden said a week ago that the United States would not lift the embargo.
Lee said the delegation had not brought any message from Obama. They met with Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's parliament, after arriving in Havana on Friday.
U.S. Representative Mike Honda said Cuban officials have played it close to the vest in discussions so far, with much of the talk about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations.
"I'm sure they would like to say a lot of things, but what they've told us is history from their point of view, and the feeling that they want you to sense that," he said.
Lee said the delegation, which is all Democrat and mostly of African-Americans, had not been told yet whether they would meet with President Raul Castro.
Obama is due to meet with Latin American leaders later this month in Trinidad and Tobago. His tone on Cuba, different from the tough policies under Bush, has sparked hopes for change on both sides of the Florida Straits and in Latin America.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Mohammad Zargham)
|By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer|
6:14 pm EDT Mon 06 Apr 2009
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will soon move to ease travel and financial restrictions on Cuba as his administration conducts a broad review of its policy toward the communist nation, a senior American official said Monday.
"We can expect some relaxation, some changes in terms of the restrictions on family remittances and family travel," said Jeffrey Davidow, the White House adviser for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which Obama will attend.
Davidow said Monday that the changes — which officials say would allow unlimited visits to Cuba by American families and remove caps on money transfers — are intended not only as a moral step for the estimated 1.5 million Americans who have relatives in Cuba, but also to foster change there.
"Cuban-Americans are the best possible ambassadors of our system and our values," Davidow said. He added, however, that the high hopes that some have for reforms since Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul last year have not yet been realized.
Davidow and other officials say the administration is also looking seriously at calls from some lawmakers to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba, appoint a special envoy to oversee policy toward the island and possibly end U.S. opposition to Cuba's membership in the Organization of American States.
"We are engaged in a continual evaluation of our policy and how that policy could help result in a change in Cuba that could bring about a democratic society," Davidow said.
He said he "would not be surprised" if a presidential announcement of the changes came before the April 17-19 summit being held in Trinidad and Tobago.
Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.
Obama signed legislation last month that temporarily eased the restrictions so Americans with relatives in Cuba could now visit once a year, stay as long as they wish and spend up to $179 a day.
Davidow cautioned that the president is not now contemplating lifting the decades-old U.S. embargo on the island and has not yet seen any significant improvement in Cuba's human rights record.
"The fact remains that the situation in that country as it relates to the freedom of its own citizens does not seem to have changed with the departure of Fidel Castro from the presidency," Davidow said.
He declined to comment on whether Obama would go beyond taking the steps he had promised during his presidential campaign. But some officials said other incremental measures were likely.
"We're not going to see anything on lifting the embargo, it won't be an abrupt sea change, but things are moving in a different direction," said one official.
Some lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.
In late March, a bipartisan group of senators, including Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed legislation that would prevent the president from stopping travel to Cuba by all Americans except in cases of war, imminent danger to public health or threats to the physical safety of U.S. travelers.
There is an identical bill in the House and seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus are visiting Cuba this week.
|Posted on Monday, April 13, 2009|
By Lesley Clark | The Miami Herald
The Obama administration on Monday will lift travel and gift restrictions for Cuban Americans, allowing them to travel more freely to the island and send additional financial help to family members.
The policy change marks the most significant U.S. gesture to Cuba in decades and comes amid efforts in Congress to lift all travel restrictions to the island.
"This is an effort to reach out to the Cuban people in an effort to support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future," a senior administration official told The Miami Herald. "The president has said this is the most direct means to open up the kind of space that is necessary to see democratic change in Cuba."
The changes also include licensing steps to open up greater communication to the island and expanding the items that can be sent to the island, including clothing, personal hygiene items and fishing equipment.
Still prohibited: sending items to senior government officials and Communist Party members.
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