Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

The Miami Herald

After much anticipation that an announcement on Cuba policy changes would be made no later than Saturday, President Donald Trump — in the midst of various political crises — has not decided what to do, officials said.

The White House had considered holding an event May 20 to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban Republic, but Trump will begin an international trip on Friday and the review of the policy toward the island has not concluded, a spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

“The issue of Cuba is extremely complex, and the president does not want to rush it,” said the spokeswoman. “Besides, he won’t be here on May 20.”

The Trump administration is carrying out a review of Cuba policy that involves several federal agencies and is being coordinated by the National Security Council.

Rumors of an imminent announcement circulated around Capitol Hill and even crossed the Florida Straits to the island, although Havana seems less anxious than before, when Trump’s presidential victory and strong statements raised questions about the so-called “thaw” in diplomatic relations initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014.

“Havana is confident that not much will happen,” said a businessman close to the Cuban government.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a drastic change would not make much sense because the Cuban communist government would quickly adjust to a policy of confrontation with its historical enemy, the United States, and because the island is in the throes of a significant transition — the expected retirement of Cuban leader Raúl Castro, 86, in February.

Continue reading Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

Christians in Cuba worry about student’s alleged persecution

Local 10 News

After trip to the U.S., Cuban pro-democracy student gets expelled

A 20-year-old history student dared to publicly criticize the Cuban government. He also defied them when he met with U.S. officials to try to influence President Donald Trump’s policy.

During a meeting with representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington, Félix Llerena wore a suit and tie. The ten members of the U.S. federal government commission make policy recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of State and Trump.
Llerena documented his trip on social media. He drank coffee under the U.S. flag and visited the Radio y Televisión Martí studio in Miami. The U.S. federal government has been financing the TV station’s programs in Spanish since 1990.

“I am returning to continue the struggle for your true liberation,” Llerena wrote on Facebook during his return flight to Cuba.

Cuban customs’ officials detained him for about four hours when he arrived April 27 at the Aeropuerto Abel Santamaría in Santa Clara. He reported they seized his tablet, flash drives, a pamphlet of the U.S. Constitution, a cap with the Bay of Pigs Invasion Brigade 2506 logo and cards. The alleged harassment didn’t stop there.

Cuban police officers later went to pick him up at his home in the province of Villa Clara’s town of Encrucijada. He told friends that state security agents called him a “terrorist,” accused him of having ties to terrorists living in Miami and threatened him with not being able to go back to the town.

“I am a young Christian, a Cuban, a patriot and a pacifist,” Llerena later said in a statement. “I would never approve of an armed or violent struggle, or of an armed foreign invasion that would hurt my people.”

On Monday, Llerena learned that the Universidad de Ciencias Pedagógicas Enrique José Varona’s administrators decided to expulse him. They attributed their decision to absenteeism.

“They told me that if I wanted to return I had to wait for two years … But of course everyone knows that my expulsion is due to purely political reasons,” Llerena wrote on Facebook.

Llerena traveled to the U.S. as part of a Christian delegation that included Baptist church leaders Mario Felix Lleonart, Yoaxis Marcheco and Raudel Garcia Bringas, and Apostolic Movement Pastor Yiorvis Bravo. They are part of the island’s Christian revival.

The Cuban constitution recognizes freedom of religion. As a result, clergy and academics estimate there are some 40,000 Methodists, 100,000 Baptists and 120,000 members of the Assemblies of God. About 60 percent of Cubans are baptized Catholic, with many also following Afro-Cuban syncretistic traditions such as Santeria.

Llerena also serves as the central region coordinator for the Patmos Institute, a Christian organization that promotes religious liberty on the island. He is also a promoter for CubaDecide, a campaign to request an electoral vote to begin a transition to Democracy on the island.

Mervyn Thomas, the director of the London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, released a statement asking the Cuban government “to cease its harassment of Felix and to turn its attention to addressing its ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief as a matter of urgency.”

The protests and the repression in Venezuela continue

TIME

It’s easy to see why huge numbers of furious Venezuelans have hit the streets in recent weeks. Years of mismanagement have left the country’s oil-export-dependent economy in a shambles. To appease the angry poor, President Nicolás Maduro announced a 60% increase in the minimum wage on May 1. That won’t reverse the decline of a country where production is in free fall, inflation is in the triple digits and hunger is now a common problem. It’s hard to find time for work while standing in line for the few remaining staples most of the public can afford.

The latest protests, and government response to them, have pushed Venezuela closer to the brink of collapse. Demonstrations have turned violent, with both protesters and police fueling the fire. There have been deaths, though there are few reliable estimates of how many. Riots have erupted even in working-class Caracas neighborhoods that have been loyal supporters of Maduro and his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez. These people are hungry too, and their continuing loyalty to the government can’t be taken for granted.
The nation’s political structure is also at risk. Maduro has effectively shut down the opposition-controlled national assembly and banned opposition leader Henrique Capriles from seeking office for 15 years. A bid by Pope Francis to broker a deal has gone nowhere.

In the past, the Venezuelan government’s main advantages were the strength of its grip on institutions of power, particularly the courts, and the inability of a fractious opposition to unite behind a single idea or candidate. Now that dominance of institutions gives the government full responsibility for a country close to a breakdown, and the opposition is united in desperation. Venezuela’s economy isn’t going to get better. The price of oil won’t move anywhere near the level that can keep this boat afloat anytime soon, and the government is running out of gimmicks.Maduro remains in power because the leftist Chavista movement has remained almost entirely united around the man Chávez anointed his successor. The police have kept the opposition contained, with help from state-backed gangs. The President hasn’t yet had to call in the army, which may not prove loyal enough to open fire on desperate civilians. That would prove the decisive moment. If the military becomes Maduro’s last option, he’s probably finished.

Social justice in Cuba? No racism? #FakeNewsCuba

Sun Sentinel

It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you think you know that just ain’t so … Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige paraphrasing Mark Twain.

It’s called fake news. For decades, Cuba has promoted a false narrative regarding its revolution. A receptive media have dutifully perpetuated this lie and Americans remarkably suspend all critical thinking regarding Cuba, accepting this deception categorically.

What Americans think they know about Cuba just ain’t so. Here’s the #FakeNews:

Cuba is a socialist country. Wrong. Cuba is a totalitarian white male military dictatorship that insulates itself from accountability to the Cuban people through the enormous bureaucracy of the Cuban government.

The Cuban government “owns” Cuba’s industries. No, the military owns these, particularly the tourist industry run by Raul Castro’s son-in-law (a general). Virtually every aspect of licensed travel by the U.S. Treasury to Cuba is controlled by the military (who are white). Tourism funds the repression.

There is social justice in Cuba. Nope. The dictatorship has institutionalized an apartheid between foreigners and Communist Party elites — Cuba’s 1 percent — and “ordinary” Cubans. How? Through two currencies, a valuable one for the former and a worthless one for the latter, who are mostly black and brown.

Tourists use one currency (CUCs) pegged to the U.S. dollar. Cubans are paid (by law) in the second worthless currency. The latter can pocket tips in CUCs. Consequently, neurosurgeons rush through brain surgeries to park cars, drive taxis and bus tables for tips. Most doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers leave their professions altogether. This slavery few Americans even notice. It’s disgraceful.

There is no racism in Cuba. Ha! As one white regime official put it on page 119 of UCLA professor Mark Sawyer’s book, “Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba,” “It is simply a sociological fact that blacks are more violent and criminal than whites. They also do not work as hard and cannot be trusted.” This was 2003; enough said.

Free health care and education for all. Sorry. University professors and managers in tourism are overwhelmingly white and connected to the generals. Most university students must join the communist party.

There are hospitals for foreigners and Communist Party elites and those for everyone else. The former are for medical tourism with Cuba’s best doctors. The latter have no sheets, soap, toilet paper, electricity, medicines or even Cuban doctors — they are imported from Africa.

Where are Cuba’s doctors? Those not driving cabs are “rented” to foreign countries for $10,000 monthly. The chattel slave doctors are paid a few hundred CUCs while their families are held in Cuba. Ditto for thousands of Cuban nurses, social workers and teachers. Human trafficking is the dictatorship’s largest source of hard currency — by far.

Opening Cuba represents a tremendous business opportunity. Really? Cuba is bankrupt. Moreover, everything in Cuba is stolen: land, homes, rum, cigars, even old American jalopies — in many cases from Americans. Every enterprise in Cuba will involve trafficking in stolen property. This isn’t a business opportunity; it’s criminal and immoral behavior.

The intent of U.S. law is to protect, not disenfranchise claimants as President Obama has done by allowing select companies to “do business” and traffic in stolen property. Sustaining this requires protection by the dictatorship and a U.S. administration that disregards property rights and the rule of law. It’s politically sanctioned organized crime.

History is replete with examples that economic engagement will not bring political liberalization or change (e.g., China). See Cuba before 1959, when American cronyism brought corruption and three dictators — Batista and the Castro brothers. Why would U.S. businesses “invested” in Cuba property want change? A democratic government will return property to the legitimate owners and these “investments” will be lost. Investment seeks certainty.

The embargo is “failed” policy. The teeth of the embargo, the ability to prosecute traffickers in stolen property, has been waived since its inception to “expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba,” a justification that is conclusively false.

It’s the definition of insanity: capitulating with another dictatorship and perpetually violating existing sanctions while expecting change.

Here’s a novel approach to Cuba policy: Enforce the law.

At least 12 people dead after night of looting and violence in Venezuela

The Guardian

At least 12 people were killed overnight following looting and violence in Venezuela’s capital amid a spiraling political crisis, authorities in Caracas said Friday.

‘We are like a bomb’: food riots show Venezuela crisis has gone beyond politics

Most of the deaths took place in El Valle, a working class neighborhood near the city’s biggest military base where opposition leaders say 13 people were hit with an electrical current while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.

Two days of massive protests on the streets of Caracas against the government of Nicolás Maduro spilled into a violent night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than a dozen businesses looted. Amid the confusion, mothers and newborn children had to be evacuated from a maternity hospital named after the late leader Hugo Chávez when it was swamped with tear gas.

The Public Ministry said the violence left 11 people dead in El Valle, all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Another death was reported east of Caracas in El Sucre. Six others were injured.

Opposition leaders blamed the government for repressing protesters with tear gas but standing idly by as businesses were looted.

Vice-president Tareck El Aissami said the country was facing what he calls an “unconventional war” led by opposition groups working in concert with criminal gangs.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pointed the finger at the opposition, saying armed groups controlled by them were responsible for the attack at the hospital.

Earlier Friday, officials reported that one of the dead was Mervins Guitian. The young Venezuelan man was fatally shot when he was returning home late from work on Thursday and got caught in the middle of late-night street clashes.

Vicente Paez, a local councilman, said Guitian was an employee of a Caracas-area city governed by an opposition mayor and didn’t join the protests. It wasn’t clear who shot him and there was no immediate comment from authorities.

Venezuelan social media was ablaze late into the night with grainy cellphone videos of light-armored vehicles plowing down dark streets to control pockets of protesters who set up burning barricades in several neighborhoods.

The opposition said they have no intention of pulling back on protests demanding new elections that were triggered when the government-stacked supreme court three weeks ago gutted congress of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism.

Protesters are angry at what they see as a government that has essentially become a dictatorship responsible for triple-digit inflation, rising crime and food shortages.

“Twenty days of resistance and we feel newly born,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara during an evening, outdoor press conference as residents looking out from balconies in an eastern Caracas neighborhood at the heart of the protest movement cheered loudly in support.

The next planned protest is Saturday, when opponents are being asked to dress in white and march silently to commemorate the victims of the demonstration. There’s also a sit-in to block major highways planned for Monday.

General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the escalating chaos engulfing the nation.

A number of major Latin American governments, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, called on Venezuela to take steps to increase democratic order and halt the violence that has been swirling around the protests. Across the country, clashes have been intense as protests grow in size and fervor.

The supreme court ruling reinvigorated Venezuela’s fractious opposition, which had been struggling to channel growing disgust with Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime.

Opponents are pushing for Maduro’s removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favored to win and it cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections scheduled for late next year.

Cuban state-run media confirms gasoline shortage

Reuters

Cuban media on Friday confirmed a three-week-old shortage of premium gasoline that has left embassies, tourists and others scrambling for fuel, and said it was not clear when it would end.

The online edition of the Communist Youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, published a story from Escambray, a central Sancti Spiritus province newspaper, explaining measures taken to deal with the shortage.

“Irregularities in the delivery of this fuel which is not refined in Cuba … led to its substitution with regular gasoline,” the Escambray story said.

In Cuba, where the government rarely directly addresses controversial issues, such round-about-forms of confirmation and explanation are not unusual.

The newspaper quoted provincial directors of the state-run CIMEX Corp, which, along with the state oil monopoly, operates most service stations, as saying that four stations have been set aside in the province for diplomats, tourists and others to buy high-octane gasoline for cash, while others were selling what was left in inventory for cash and lower-quality fuel.

Cash-strapped Cuba depends on crisis-racked ally Venezuela, an OPEC member, for about 70 percent of its fuel needs, including oil for refining and re-exports.

But socialist Venezuela’s subsidized shipments have fallen by as much as 40 percent since 2014. Potential new suppliers usually want cash because of Cuba’s poor credit rating. Most Cubans who own cars, mainly vintage American and Soviet-era models, use lesser-quality fuel that can damage modern engines.

Some Cuban state workers are assigned cars and receive gasoline ration cards, including for premium gasoline if they drive modern state-owned vehicles.

For April, the state issued ration cards only for regular gasoline and sent out an internal memo, leaked to social media, announcing that there would be no deliveries of high octane gasoline and that inventories would go only to cash-paying customers while they lasted.

Miguel Romero, head of CIMEX’s service station division in Sancti Spiritus, said that after an initial period of confusion, cash sales for premium were normal, while sales to state workers with premium ration cards had dropped to nearly zero, reducing overall consumption of high octane gasoline by 60 percent.

The head of CIMEX in the province, Melvin Ruiz Nunez, said there was sufficient premium in stock to continue sales at the present pace through the beginning of May.

“I do not know if current restrictions will continue,” he said.

When U.S. Airstrikes Could Have Destroyed a Terrorist Regime, Freed a Nation and Altered History—The Bay of Pigs

Townhallby Humberto Fontova

“Where are the planes?!” kept crackling over U.S. Navy radios exactly 56 years ago this week. The U.S. Naval armada (22 ships including the Carrier Essex loaded with deadly Skyhawk jets.) was sitting 16 miles off the southern Cuban coast near an inlet known as Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). The question — bellowed between blasts from a Soviet artillery and tank barrage landing around him — came from commander, Jose San Roman.

“Send planes or we can’t last!” San Roman kept pleading to the very fleet that escorted his men to the beachhead (and sat much closer to them than the U.S. destroyers Porter and Ross sat to the Syrian coast this week.) Meanwhile the Soviet artillery barrage intensified, the Soviet T-34 and Stalin tanks closed in, and San Roman’s casualties piled up.

By that date the terrorists who ran (and still run) Cuba had been operating terror-training camps for two years, had kidnapped, tortured and murdered dozens of American (to say nothing of tens of thousands of Cubans.) A year later they wantonly brought Western civilization a whisker from nuclear destruction. If foreign terrorists ever merited a MOAB, it was these– based 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Crazed by hunger and thirst the Cuban freedom-fighters had been shooting and reloading without sleep for three days. Many were hallucinating. By then many suspected they’d been abandoned by the Knights of Camelot.

Continue reading When U.S. Airstrikes Could Have Destroyed a Terrorist Regime, Freed a Nation and Altered History—The Bay of Pigs

Spirit Airlines Latest To Pull Out Of Cuba

Travel Pulse

Spirit Airlines became the fifth airline to either cut back or end service to Cuba when it announced it will discontinue flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International to Havana on May 31.
Spirit has had the service for just four months, ultimately learning – like other airlines – that demand for Cuba has fallen off coupled with initial high expectations by the airlines that Americans would embrace one of the last great travel frontiers.
The Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with Cuba two years ago and softened the travel restrictions to the island nation, leading to eight airlines chosen by the Department of Transportation to begin flying to Cuba last summer.
But after an initial surge, demand has waned.
Subsequently, American Airlines reduced service in November, Jet Blue announced it will switch to smaller aircraft next month and reduce the number of daily seats to Cuba, Silver Airways cut service altogether in March, and Frontier is eliminating its one route from Miami to Havana in June.
Spirit will offer once-daily service to Cuba from May 3 to May 24, and then twice-daily flights between May 25 and May 31. Passengers who booked flights after May 31 will receive a full refund.
“The costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the demand for service,” Spirit said in a statement. “Due to overcapacity and the additional costs associated with flying to Cuba, we don’t find it sustainable to continue this service while maintaining our commitment to pass along ultra-low fares to our customers.”