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Cuban photographer asks world: 'Do you recognize this girl?'

August 18 - Twenty years after taking a photo of a girl on a makeshift raft, William Castellanos seeks to identify those he saw fleeing the island.

In this 1994 photo made by William Castellanos, a young girl looks out of a wooden raft. Thousands of Cubans built makeshift rafts after then-President Fidel Castro said anyone who wanted to leave could flee. Photograph: William Castellanos/AP
In the photo, a girl crouches on a wooden raft, surrounded by solemn men. Her large brown eyes stare intently at the camera. A few wisps of her dark hair float in the breeze.
In a moment, she will be pushed out to sea.
William Castellanos snapped the black and white photo in August 1994 when he was an art student in Havana, capturing the moment when 35,000 Cubans took to the sea in makeshift rafts.
Twenty years after President Fidel Castro encouraged a mass exodus from the island, the images still trouble Castellanos.
Did the rafters make it, or did their flimsy vessels break apart in the turbulent, 90-mile Florida Straits?
Do they have busy lives and jobs and families now? Or are his photographs the last testament of their existence?
“For me, this is a very difficult photographic record,” Castellanos said. “Maybe I have the only, or maybe the last, picture of that person.”
Especially, he wondered about the girl.
Cuba’s communist economy was in crisis in August 1994. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and the only way to get supplies was on the black market. He had just two rolls of black and white film left. But when he saw his neighbors carrying a raft to the sea, he rushed home to grab his Nikon F-3.
“I told myself, ‘I have to make pictures of this,’” he recalled. “I have to make a document.”
He captured a group of young men wading into the water on inner tubes covered in tarps. Childhood friends and neighbors building boats with thin slabs of wood and nails. Men and women carrying their boats out to sea on the tops of old Chevrolets, or balanced on outstretched arms above their heads.
And then the girl – staring back unflinchingly from a large raft of wooden planks.
He thought of his daughter, the long hours they would spend staring at each other when she was a baby, how she looked curiously into his eyes and at his camera.
They exchanged no words. He felt like he was intruding.
He took the photo and left.
For two months, Castellanos could only see the negatives. Printing paper was too expensive. A friend at a cartography institute later scrounged up some material. He dropped the paper into the developing tray, and the images appeared.
The girl with brown eyes gazed fearlessly at him again.
Castellanos eventually left Cuba and became a photographer in Argentina and the US. He lives now in Miami. For years, he was reluctant to show the images.
Then he realized that the only way to learn their fate would be to put them on display.

People began approaching him.
One identified a blonde woman, smiling as she sold peanuts in paper cones to the rafters, as her sister – alive and well in Cuba, she said.
Castellanos created a website, including numbered close-ups of the 85 people he is trying to locate.
Five others were identified as people who were rescued after their raft collapsed 11 miles from shore. They remain in Cuba today. A woman photographed waving goodbye to the rafters found her picture online, and wrote to say she lives in Spain. Two others, photographed in a truck, helped the rafters but didn’t join them. One is in Cuba and the other in Mexico.
The girl remains a mystery.
“Maybe today she is a woman,” Castellanos wonders. “Maybe she has children. I don’t know where she is just now, but this is a face that haunted me.”  The Guardian

 

Cuba: A country where toilet paper is rarer than partridge

August 17 - Years after the collapse of the USSR, Cuba remains a bastion of communism, central planning... and shortages of basic goods. Anyone returning from a trip abroad therefore takes as many of these as they can carry - even if they are flying from Moscow.
The bright orange bottle of cleaning fluid was probably the oddest item stuffed into my suitcase this time, wedged in beside the tennis shoes for one friend and pile of baby clothes for another. It's a ritual I've grown used to: every time you leave communist-run Cuba with its centrally-planned economy and sparsely-stocked stores, you go shopping.
But as I packed my bags last week to head back to Havana, I did a double-take. I was in Moscow, heading home from a work trip, and as usual carrying as many presents and supplies as I could. And yet it wasn't so long ago that I'd stock up in the same way for trips to Russia.
I was a student there in the early 1990s as the country emerged - very painfully - from seven decades of communism. The shops then were stomach-achingly bare.
My friends and I would head out each day with empty bags to scour the shelves of gloomy, musty stores. We got used to buying whatever there was, not what we wanted - pickled tomatoes, perhaps, or canned fish on a good day.
But the new Moscow I visited last week is chock-full of shopping malls, its streets lined with global brands and coffee chains. My closest friend there, Natasha, now makes most of her purchases with a few taps on her iPad.
When I told Natasha about my mad shopping dash for Cuba, we remembered her own first trip abroad, to Britain, a year before the Soviet Union disintegrated.
My mother had taken her out one day for the weekly food shop. "I remember there were all these different cheeses and 10 types of everything." Natasha laughed, recalling her first encounter with a Western supermarket. At first I was excited - then I started crying my eyes out.
"We've forgotten what things used to be like here," she admitted, as we stood chatting close to a branch of McDonald's and a mobile phone shop. "We definitely take all this for granted."
In Natasha's childhood, it was Soviet subsidies that kept Cuba's economy afloat: this tropical island was Moscow's ideological ally, right on America's doorstep. But in the post-Soviet 1990s, after that subsidy lifeline was severed, Cubans suffered badly.
A friend in Havana told me she wound up in hospital once. There was no fuel for public transport and she was eating so little she collapsed trying to pedal her bicycle to work.
In today's Cuba - if you have money - you won't go hungry. A series of economic reforms that began as a post-Soviet survival mechanism have slowly expanded. People are now free to run small businesses - creating a growing number of private cafes and restaurants.

And as farmers no longer have to sell everything they produce to the state, those restaurant owners can now get supplies straight from the source - bypassing a state distribution network that's notorious for its inefficiency.
Yet, despite Cuba's proximity to the US, Washington's 50-year-old trade embargo - which was designed to squeeze this island's communist government from power - means there's no American investment here. There's no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola plant.
Some might see that as a good thing. But they might not find shopping for essentials quite so quaint. I once approached my big local supermarket full of optimism. I now know I'm likely to find a mixture of half-bare shelves and ones stacked with a single product: cheap ketchup, say, or adult incontinence pads.
Basic items disappear whenever Cuba struggles to meet its import bills. For weeks there was no toilet paper or cartons of milk. Now even the delicious local coffee is "lost," as Cubans say - "esta perdido".
Mind you there's plenty of "partridge in brine," should anyone fancy that. I've seen the same pile of cans on display for more than two years at $25 apiece. Perhaps a central planner ticked the wrong order box.

But partridge aside, overseas travel can become one frantic shopping-run. There's so much demand for everything here, that travellers known as "mules" will carry all sorts of goods into Cuba for sale - though the government has begun cracking-down on this illicit shuttle trade.
On a smaller scale, having family and friends who can shop abroad has become a vital resource for many.
When I told our cameraman I was off to Russia he laughingly suggested I bring him back some spare parts for his ancient car, a Lada. Apart from the battered, beautiful American classics of 1950s, the boxy Soviet-made Lada is still the most common sight on Cuba's rutted roads. BBC

 

U.S. sees surge in rafters fleeing Cuba

August 16 - One early morning this April, Dairon Morera climbed onto a raft of aluminum tanks with 22 other people, revved up a Volvo car motor and pushed off the Cuban shore, joining a never-ending stream of islanders desperate to reach the United States.
“The biggest dream a Cuban has is to leave,” said Morera, who was frustrated by government limits on his pizza business. He had no money for airplane tickets or smugglers, so decided to risk his life at sea.
Morera’s journey was so turbulent that many people vomited, but all made it alive in just 20 hours. They ran ashore in the Florida Keys, hugging each other and shouting “Libertad!”
The number of Cubans trying this perilous journey is up sharply this year, with nearly 3,000 picked up by U.S. authorities so far, double last year’s pace.
The special status Cuban migrants have thanks to U.S. efforts undermine their communist government is a constant pull. While illegal U.S. immigrants fleeing poverty or violence in other countries are deported, Cubans are welcomed.
The trip can take two or three days if all goes well. But storms, strong currents, sharks and jellyfish abound. Without navigational tools or powerful engines, people can be swept far from any coast, running out of water and dying in the merciless sun.
“If we don’t find them and they don’t land, their chances of survival decrease every day they are out there,” said Capt. Mark Fedor, the Coast Guard’s enforcement chief in Miami.
Twenty years have passed since Fidel Castro eased political pressure on his communist government by telling Cubans they were free to leave. His declaration in August 1994 launched a sudden exodus of 35,000 islanders. Thousands were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and spent months behind barbed wire at the U.S. Navy base on Cuba’s eastern edge.
Finally, President Bill Clinton reached a deal with Castro: The migrants at Guantanamo could come to the U.S., and at least 20,000 other Cubans a year could get U.S. visas. But Cuban authorities would resume patrolling to keep people off unseaworthy rafts, and the U.S. would enforce a “wet-foot, dry foot” policy: Anyone intercepted at sea would be returned to Cuba; any Cuban reaching U.S. soil could stay.
It was a political compromise, meant to resolve a humanitarian crisis. But it never stopped Cubans from risking their lives to cross the 90-mile Florida Straits: Another 26,000 Cubans have tried it since 1995.
The death toll is unknown. Scholars estimate that at least one of every four rafters doesn’t survive.
That would mean at least 16,000 people have perished in the waters between Florida and Cuba since the 1959 revolution, said Holly Ackerman, a librarian at Duke University who has extensively studied the 1994 crisis.
A more accurate toll is possible, and even a list of the dead, since the U.S. knows who arrived and Cuba knows who left. But a real accounting has never been on the agenda of the governments’ migration talks held twice each year, she said.
“It is shameful that the two countries have not done this,” Ackerman said.
The latest arrivals come mostly on makeshift rafts, and have no close U.S. relatives, said Oscar Rivera, director of the Church World Service’s Miami office, which helps newly arrived Cuban migrants.
“They come smelling like fish and gasoline,” said Juan Lopez, associate director for Cuban and Haitian resettlement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Miami. “You can tell by looking at them how difficult, the things they have gone through to get here.”
Cubans come ashore as far north as the Carolinas, but more often reach the Keys, where empty rafts are often found with jackets, pants, shoes, bottles of water and backpacks on board, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Janette Costoya.
Most of the time, she has no idea what happened to those on board.
The latest rafts are often made of spray foam, wrapped in tarp and secured by metal rods. About half have engines, many adapted from cars or lawn mowers.
“They are unsinkable,” Costoya said.
The visa lottery was supposed to promise a safe alternative for Cubans who don’t qualify as refugees or immigrants. But the U.S. hasn’t called for new applicants since 1998, and most U.S. visas now go to reunify divided families.
After succeeding his brother as president, Raul Castro dropped a requirement that Cubans get exit visas. But safe escapes are far too expensive for most Cubans to afford.
“Those who don’t have close family ties are forced to migrate without papers or look for other routes,” said Jorge Duany, who directs the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.
Many rafters evade Coast Guard patrols, and a fraction caught with “wet feet” — federal officials won’t say how many — are brought to U.S. shores for medical treatment or to pursue political asylum.
In 2012, 32,551 Cubans obtained legal U.S. residency, while only 90 who made it to U.S. shores were returned to the island. The same year, 146,406 Mexicans got residency, 448,697 were apprehended and 131,818 were deported.
Immigrant rights activists it’s unfair, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American Republican, agreed with them on one point, saying last year that some Cubans abuse their refugee status by repeatedly visiting relatives back on the island.
But Rubio didn’t push for changes, and Cuban migration has hardly been mentioned in congressional debates on immigration.
Yakima Herald

 

When Nature Calls: Cuba's Public Health Infrastructure Exposed

August 16 - A disaster will not spontaneously trigger an outbreak of disease, unless, of course, a highly infectious disease such as Ebola is the reason for the emergency event. Countries are vulnerable to both newly emerging and remerging communicable diseases when collapsing infrastructure and continuing neglect threatens the health of residents and tourists visiting the country.
Cuba’s current challenges with cholera, dengue, and its viral relative, chikungunya, are good examples. Cholera and dengue continue to spread throughout the island, while the Cuban government claims that all the reported cases of chikungunya have been imported to the island from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. According to the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Update on Chikungunya Fever in the Americas (August 8, 2014), Cuba has officially reported 11 imported cases with no suspect or confirmed locally acquired cases since the start of the outbreak in the Americas. (1)
Chikungunya, a viral disease transmitted by an infected mosquito, has reached this hemisphere for the first time in history in December 2013 when it arrived on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin and spread throughout the region. Recent data shows local transmission of chikungunya has been identified in 29 countries and territories in the Caribbean, Central, South and North America, including the United States with a cumulative total of 508,122 suspected and 5,271 laboratory-confirmed cases, as of August 1, 2014. (2) Cuba rebuffs what independent journalists, rumors, and local health professionals describe on the island.
Here we go again.
Most likely Cuba’s failure to report chikungunya is intentional and not due to poor data gathering capabilities. Cuba has an advanced epidemiologic surveillance system with highly skilled scientists and dedicated health professionals. However, the government’s failure to release timely outbreak data threatens health security today.
A brief discussion on the relationship of climate change, failing infrastructure, and the frequency and intensity of natural disasters is considered below to identify both the challenges and realities with such diseases as cholera, dengue, and chikungunya in Cuba.
Climate Change
• Scientists project that climate change will impact both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather patterns. The Caribbean region, and islands like Cuba, could expect rise in sea levels, and this combined with more intense weather events will make flooding more common.
• Cuba’s coastal regions will be impacted the most, however, Cuba could experience protracted seasons of both droughts and flooding, and reliable potable water could become scarce.
•According to José Rubiera, top Cuban Meteorologist, the “seawater temperature is rising and the conditions in the upper atmosphere are favorable to rapid intensification. These cases are now somewhat more frequent; it means something is changing.”(3)
•The vibrio cholera bacteria has been known to survive in brackish waters and estuarine environments, attaches to zooplankton and moves along the ocean currents as it is carried into new areas,(4) continuing the threat to Cuba and Hispanola.
• This danger is especially problematic in countries where fragile water, sanitation, sewage, and housing systems are further threaten by climate change and rising water temperatures where the multiplication of the cholera bacteria has been documented.(5)
Continue reading   Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies University of Miami

 

Cuban defector says he has information about Payá’s death

August 16 - El Nuevo Herald (Spanish)

An officer in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior who claims to be related to former MININT chief Jose Abrantes and to have valuable information has defected and is being held in a migrant detention center in the Bahamas.
Ortelio Abrahantes Bacallao, 42, claims that fellow counterintelligence agents told him that dissident Osvaldo Payá was killed when intelligence agents rammed his car in an attempt to stop and search it, and not in a one-car accident as the Cuban government claims.
None of the claims could be independently confirmed. But he has documents identifying him as a member of MININT’s Technical Investigations Directorate, a police-like unit that investigates common crimes, and a graduate of MININT’s law school.
Abrahantes Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald he held the rank of major in MININT’s Directorate of Counterintelligence (DCI) and was last in charge of all the ministry’s land and sea transportation operations in the province of Ciego de Avila, in central Cuba. The powerful ministry is in overall charge of the island nation’s domestic security.
The defector said he launched his escape March 24 from a key off the northern coast of the province aboard a MININT-owned sailboat, but was picked up three days later by the U.S. Coast Guard and was taken to the Bahamas. He is being held at the Carmichael Road migrant detention center in Nassau.
Bahamian police and United Nations officials have interviewed him for his application for political asylum, Abrahantes Bacallao said. But he fears he will be murdered if the Nassau government repatriates him to Cuba before the application is processed.
“I know too much. They would love to have me in their hands,” Abrahantes Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald. His Miami lawyer, David Alvarez, said he “faces being executed if he returns to Cuba because he was involved in the military.”
The defector said his father was a cousin of Interior Minister Gen. José Abrantes, who was arrested in 1989 and charged with failing to stop the drug trafficking and corruption that led to the execution of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and three others that same year. He was serving a 20-year prison term when he died in 1991 in what friends described as mysterious circumstances.
Although Abrahantes Bacallao spells his surname differently from Jose Abrantes, he has claimed that his birth certificate spells it the same way and that the “h” was added when he joined the MININT. Official Cuban records often contain misspellings.
The defector said he heard details about the Payá case during a party with other DCI officers about one month after his death on July 22, 2012, in what Cuban officials portrayed as a one-car accident caused by his driver, Spanish politician Angel Carromero. The Spaniard has insistently alleged that he was rammed from behind by another vehicle.
One senior officer at the party told him that counterintelligence agents from the province of Holguin, east of Ciego de Avila, who were driving a red Lada vehicle model 2107 had tried to stop Carromero’s vehicle to search it an instead caused it to crash, Abrahantes Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald. The crash occurred south of Holguin and near the city of Bayamo.
Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero died at a hospital in Bayamo, according to the defector’s version. Cuban officials have said Payá died at the crash from massive head trauma and Cepero at a Bayamo hospital.
Abrahantes Bacallao said he was told the agents in the crash were from the KJ department, which specializes in surveillance, of DCI’s Section XXI, in charge of monitoring and repressing dissidents.
Friends at the party also told him that MININT rewarded the agents with medals and ordered the Lada chopped down to erase all evidence of a two-car crash, according to the defector. They knew about the accident in part because Cepero was a native of Ciego de Avila.
Abrahantes Bacallao added he was also told the Cuban government had claimed that Payá — 2003 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize and founder of the Christian Liberation Movement — died at the site of the crash in order to cover up its responsibility.
Carromero and another passenger, Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig, survived the crash. Modig has claimed he was asleep when they crashed. Carromero was convicted in Cuba of vehicular homicide for losing control of his vehicle and slamming into a tree. He was sentenced to four years, but is serving the sentence in Spain.
Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, said the family has spoken with the attorney for Abrahantes Bacallao but will not comment on the defector’s version of the deaths of her father and Cepero.
Family members have repeatedly alleged that Payá was tailed by government agents virtually everywhere he went, and that they have information showing Carromero was rammed from behind by another vehicle. They have urged several international bodies and Spanish courts for an independent investigation of the case.
Abrahantes Bacallao said he joined the MININT in 1998, earned a law degree in 2010 from a MININT college in Havana and a master’s degree in 2011 in business administration from the university in Ciego de Avila.
Another document shows he studied “DTI operative investigations” for five years at a MININT institution in Ciego de Avila, where he said he was recruited by counterintelligence. Such recruitments are not unusual in Cuba, where people in sensitive positions have dual responsibilities to their regular supervisors and their DCI chain of command. The Miami Herald
 

AP Story Renews Focus on Fulton Armstrong; Former Confidant of Ana Montes

August 14 - Recent articles by the Washington Free Beacon and other media outlets have challenged the credibility of the Associated Press. A central figure in the newswire’s use of suspect sources is Fulton Armstrong, the one-time National Intelligence Officer for Latin America.
Following the conviction of career spy Ana Montes, several administration officials – including Otto Reich – sought the reassignment of NIO Fulton Armstrong, one of the government’s senior specialists on Cuba. The New York Times cited critical officials as describing Armstrong as overly “soft” on Cuba threats to U.S. interests. Behind the scenes, they were deeply concerned not only with Armstrong’s strong ties to Montes, but how closely his analytic conclusions mirrored or endorsed hers.
In Newsmax, Kenneth Timmermann wrote that Armstrong would minimize or trivialize everything “derogatory to Castro, Venezuela, or to the FARC.” Several former U.S. intelligence officers confirmed that Armstrong, aided by Janice O’Connell, Senator Christopher Dodd’s top staffer, went so far as to continuously defend Montes “in closed-door sessions with top policy-makers” long after her arrest.
Armstrong is well-known for consistently minimizing Cuba’s ability to threaten U.S. interests and its continued support to terrorists. In one interview, Scott Carmichael – the senior Counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency – said Montes was “on a first name basis” with the Armstrong. In fact, Montes and Armstrong confided in one another by phone into the final stages of her investigation.
Dr. Norman Bailey, who previously served as the Issue Manager on Cuba & Venezuela for the Director of National Intelligence noted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Fulton Armstrong had something to do with Ana’s products not being pulled.”
In his book, Sabotage: America’s Enemies within the CIA, Rowan Scarborough recalled a meeting convened by Fred Fleitz, a CIA officer on an interagency tour with the State Department. Representatives from most of the Intelligence Community attended, including Fulton Armstrong. Citing the damage caused by Montes, Fleitz called for a review of all intelligence products on which she’d worked. He felt such a review might provide insights into disinformation and biases built into her analysis. Armstrong opposed any such review as wholly unnecessary. “He had worked on the same assessments as Montes and was sure she did not distort them,” wrote Scarborough.
Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was so repulsed by Armstrong’s openly biased stance that he banned him from his office. In a view shared by many, Noriega said: “I didn’t question his patriotism. I questioned his judgment.” Noriega went on to tell his assistant he “didn’t want to see a single scrap of paper he was involved in. I was not interested in a person with such a profound lack of judgment.”
In conclusion, a 2012 post by Capitol Hill Cubans reported the following: “During his three-year stint as a staffer to Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armstrong often forgot who was the elected Senator … and led a mostly unauthorized assault on all-things Cuba policy under the Senator’s name. This led to Armstrong’s retirement in 2011.”   Cuba Confidential
 

Venezuelan Energy Company Investigated in U.S.

August 10 -Derwick Associates Is Probed by U.S., New York Agencies for Possible Bribery, Banking Violations.

Federal and New York City prosecutors opened preliminary investigations into a Venezuelan company that became one of that country's leading builders of power plants during the administration of President Hugo Chávez, as well as into a Missouri-based company that played a key role in its success, according to people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Manhattan district attorney's office are probing Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan company awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts in little more than a year to build power plants in Venezuela, shortly after the country's power grid began to sputter in 2009, the people familiar with the matter said.
ProEnergy Services, a Sedalia, Mo.-based engineering, procurement and construction company that sold dozens of turbines to Derwick and helped build the plants, is also under investigation, these people said.
The probes are in their initial phases, the people said, and it is possible both investigations could be closed without criminal charges being brought.
Derwick Associates President Alejandro Betancourt in his Caracas, Venezuela, headquarters.
"Neither Derwick nor its principals have been contacted by any U.S. law enforcement agency," said Derwick President Alejandro Betancourt, in a statement provided by lawyer Adam Kaufmann. "We therefore question whether Derwick is the focus of any active investigation. In the event we are contacted by a law enforcement agency, we will cooperate fully. We are a transparent company and have nothing to hide."
A ProEnergy representative declined to comment on any investigation and said the company "is committed to doing business in full compliance with all applicable laws and to cooperating fully with regulatory and legal inquiries."
Manhattan prosecutors are investigating Derwick and ProEnergy for possible violations of New York banking law, people familiar with the matter said.
Meanwhile, people familiar with the matter said prosecutors in the Justice Department's criminal fraud section are reviewing the actions of Derwick and ProEnergy for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits offering foreign government officials improper payments in exchange for a business advantage.
Federal prosecutors are scrutinizing the difference between the prices ProEnergy charged Derwick for its equipment and the prices Derwick ultimately charged the Venezuelan government, one person familiar with the matter said. The person said that in some past FCPA cases, excessive margins have been used to conceal bribes to foreign officials.
A lawyer for Derwick voluntarily contacted and met with federal prosecutors last summer to discuss the FCPA investigation, a person familiar with the matter said. Those prosecutors haven't requested documents from Derwick, the person said.
"As we understand it, there has been a long-running investigation into ProEnergy, but that doesn't equate to an investigation into Derwick," Mr. Kaufmann wrote in a letter to the Journal.
In Caracas, Mr. Betancourt said Derwick didn't bribe any Venezuelan officials. He said Derwick won the contracts through competitive bidding because it made superior offers. He also said the company's margins were consistent with general industry practice and reflected the high financial risks taken on by Derwick during a difficult time to do business in Venezuela.
A spokesman at Venezuela's information ministry declined to comment, while spokesmen at the electricity and energy ministries didn't return calls seeking comment.
Mr. Betancourt and a cousin, Pedro Trebbau, registered Derwick in Venezuela in 2009 and drew the attention of opponents of the Chávez regime because of the large volume of business they did with the government.
Otto Reich, the top State Department official for Latin America during the administration of President George W. Bush, filed a civil lawsuit in New York federal court last year, alleging Derwick's founding cousins damaged his consulting business by falsely spreading the word that he was working for them. The lawsuit alleges Derwick and the company's owners, among others, obtained contracts to build power stations in return for paying multimillion-dollar bribes to senior Venezuelan officials.
Mr. Kaufmann, a partner with Lewis Baach PLLC, said the lawsuit is part of a smear campaign against Derwick, motivated by politics and family squabbles, and lawyers for Messrs. Betancourt and Trebbau have moved to dismiss it. "My clients categorically deny any allegations of paying bribes to anyone," Mr. Kaufmann said. "But for the damage it has caused, Reich's lawsuit is laughable, and his allegations are wholly without evidentiary foundation," he wrote in a letter to the Journal.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, which has jurisdiction over violations of New York state banking laws, is interested in Derwick's relationship with J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +0.77% & Co., according to people familiar with the matter. Investigators have interviewed potential witnesses about Eduardo Travieso, a childhood friend of Mr. Trebbau who worked at J.P. Morgan and served as Derwick's banker there, according to people familiar with the matter.
In March 2013, Mr. Travieso resigned from J.P. Morgan. In a report made public by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an industry watchdog, J.P. Morgan alleged Mr. Travieso had acted in a manner "inconsistent with the firm's policies and procedures and may have violated applicable regulatory requirements, including using his residential address as the mailing address for certain customer communications."
Finra, which reported this year that it has made a preliminary determination to bring disciplinary action against Mr. Travieso for "potential violations" of certain rules, declined to comment, as did J.P. Morgan.
Attempts to reach Mr. Travieso through his father, a Caracas lawyer, were unsuccessful. A message to Mr. Travieso sent through his LinkedIn account went unanswered. Mr. Travieso's lawyer declined to comment.  The Wall Street Journal
 

Fidel Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez visits Cuba to be with ailing mother

August 6 - Alina Fernandez, the rebellious daughter of Cuban former ruler Fidel Castro, has gone from Miami to Havana to be with her seriously ill mother. It’s her first trip back since 1993, when she escaped the island using a false passport and wig.
A woman who answered the phone Tuesday at the home of the 88-year-old mother, Natalia “Naty” Revuelta Clews, said Fernandez was out of the house but would be back in the evening. She later said the family was focusing on Revuelta and would not make a comment.
Max Lesnik, a Miamian who has friends high in the Cuban government and regularly travels to Cuba, reported in his El Duende column Tuesday that Fernandez, 58 and a Miami radio personality, has been spotted in Havana.
The visit by Fernandez, a regular and strident critic of Castro and his government, could mark another advance in the long-hostile relations between the Cuban government and Cubans abroad who oppose the communist system.
Her visit was presumed to have been approved by the Cuban government, whose security services control all who enter and leave the nation. Among other recent visitors have been wealthy exile businessmen Paul Cejas, Carlos Saladrigas, and Alfie Fanjul.
In her 1998 autobiography, Castro’s Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba, Fernandez criticized her father as a distant dictator and wrote that she was closer to his brother, current Cuba ruler Raúl Castro, describing him as a good family man.
“He was the person to whom you could go to and ask for help every time you had a practical problem,” she added in a 2008 interview with Foreign Policy magazine. On personal issues, she added, “Fidel was totally unhelpful.”
Just six weeks ago, Fernandez told the EFE news agency in Miami that it was not the right time for her to return to Cuba, even though it was “very sad” that she could not see her 88-year-old mother and described her father as cruel.
“I don’t want problems” in Cuba, Fernandez said in the interview. “It makes me very sad, because my mother is old” and “to see your mother and to want to do something for her is a law of nature, something visceral.”
Friends of Fernandez say Revuelta fell and broke a leg recently and has been in declining health for several months.
Fernandez was born in 1956 after Revuelta, a Havana beauty then married to Orlando Fernandez, had an affair with Fidel Castro, then a young revolutionary and lawyer divorced from Mirta Diaz-Balart.
She was raised by her mother but knew from the age of 10 that Castro was her father and worked variously as a model in a combination clothing shop-nightclub in Havana and as public-relations director for a clothing line.
Long known for her harsh croticisms of Fidel Castro, she fled Cuba for Spain in 1993 using false documents and a disguise arranged by Elena Díaz-Verson Amos, a Cuban-born woman married to a wealthy American and living in Georgia.
Asked in the EFE interview if she hated her father, she said, “No. Hate him, no. Hate is too strong a word. … I see him as having a pretty elevated level of cruelty, but I never reached the point of hating him. Never.”
Fernandez moved to Miami with her daughter, Alina “Mumín” Salgado. Fernandez wrote columns for el Nuevo Herald from 2009-2010, and for many years hosted a program on WQBA radio called Simplemente Alina (Simply Alina). She now has a short segment weekdays during the 3-5 pm slot on WWFE-670 AM.
Juanita Castro, sister of Fidel and Raúl, won a $45,000 judgment against Fernández in a Spanish court, arguing that the autobiography’s portrayal of the Castros’ parents, Angel Castro and Lina Ruz, libeled the family.
Two years ago, Fernandez filed suit to recover $100,000 she paid toward the purchase of a $1.6 million house in Kendall. Several Miami men have been arrested and charged with a real-estate scam.
Asked by EFE if she would ever like to meet with Fidel Castro again, she said, “That’s not a realistic possibility. … I believe that there’s an absolute lack of interest on both sides. I have nothing to say to him.”
As for how her father will be regarded years down the road, she said, “For Cubans, the legacy of Castro is a country ruined and with part of its people in exile, an experience very hard and very difficult to cure.”  The Miami Herald   El Nuevo Herald (Spanish)
 

Cuba, North Korea and Hamas?

August 2 - Let's add another one to President Obama's plate.
You always have to keep an eye on Cuba, specially when there are North Korean ships visiting the island.
This is an ominous story over at Capitol HIll Cubans:
"Last year, the Cuban regime was caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea. This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from North Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718 (2006).
The interdicted shipment, aboard the Chong Chon Gang, includedsurface-to-air missile systems (that can take down planes), missile components, ammunition, radars and other miscellaneous arms-related materiel.
What if these missile systems had ended up in the hands of Hamas or Hezbollah?
Other Cuban weaponry may have, as there were at least seven otherNorth Korean vessels that made similarly elusive trips (as the Chong Chon Gang) to Cuban in the last few years.
Regardless, this is another reason why Cuban officials and entities responsible arms trafficking with North Korea must face consequences for their illegal actions."
This is a very dangerous development and I hope that someone is keeping President Obama informed. We don't want to hear some day that he heard about it in news media reports.
More importantly, the idea of North Korean ships visiting Cuba and picking up weapons is further proof that no one is scared of the US, or the Obama administration. I don't believe that North Korea would be sending these ships if they feared some kind of retaliation from the US.   American Thinker

 

Imagining Cuba’s future

August 2 - Cuba is nothing like as central to U.S. policy as it once was, but that may change when the current regime either implodes or accelerates its tentative steps toward liberalization.
At present, Cuba survives only on massive hand­outs from Venezuela, which could be curtailed over­night. If and when Cuba leaves its bubble, it will undergo a rapid social and political transformation. What intrigues me is the question of how the nation’s religious landscape will change and how much we can learn about that from the experience of comparable societies.
When Fidel Castro began his rule, he declared Cuba an atheist state. Religious persecution has been commonplace ever since, though never as bloodthirsty as in, say, North Korea, and the degree of official intolerance has fluctuated over time. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998 significantly improved official relations with the Roman Catholic Church.
Unregistered groups, however, continue to suffer. The best statistics we have—and estimates vary widely—suggest that half of Cubans identify as Catholic, 40 percent are nonreligious or unaffiliated, and non-Catholic Christians make up 7 percent. Complicating the statistics is the issue of dual affiliation: at least 17 percent adhere to Afro-Cuban religions, chiefly Santería.
Just how matters would change in a postcommunist age depends largely on how the new era comes about. Will the change involve violence? Should we expect a massive return of exiles?
At the least, liberalization is likely to involve breakneck economic development, the end of foreign embargoes, and the collapse of rigid government controls and rationing. The immediate consequences would no doubt be a huge influx of foreign investment, an epochal building boom, and increased urbanization.
Cuba in five or ten years could pass through processes of development and globalization that elsewhere in Latin America have taken half a century. The winners and losers in this revolution would provide, potentially, the membership of revived churches.
Catholicism still retains a cultural hegemony. Traditional practices and pilgrimages—above all devotion to Cuba’s special version of the Blessed Virgin, the Virgin of La Cari­dad del Cobre—have never lost popularity. But if cultural Catholicism still flourishes, that does not mean the church will continue to attract worshipers. Attendance at mass and religious vocations have fallen dramatically across Latin America, and the Cuban church would have to struggle to avoid a similar fate.
By far the greatest mystery in Cuba’s future concerns the evangélicos, the Protestant and Pentecostal churches that have been so dazzlingly successful in such countries as Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala. By all rights, Cuba should join this list, for it possesses the conditions often cited to explain Pentecostal growth. Pentecostal congregations flourish during times of rapid social change and economic turmoil, and they appeal especially to excluded ethnic groups. At least half of Cubans claim African ancestry. And recent experience in China shows how attractive the Christian faith can be following the sudden evaporation of communist ideology.
Churches could play a vital role if working-class people suddenly found themselves cut off from a rationed economy and thrust into the rigors of a market system. Through social outreach programs, Cuban evangélico churches could well win support by supplying economic aid. Such efforts would likely be supported by well-funded foreign groups, chiefly from the United States, but also from Brazilian and other Latin American churches.
Cuban evangélico churches have grown powerfully in recent years, and some, like the Apostolic Movement, have experienced harassment from the government. It is likely that these groups would flourish in a free Cuba. In religious terms, then, the best analogy for a future Cuba would be what’s happened in Brazil, where Protestant churches are thriving.
But perhaps a better model for projecting the future of Cuba is to be found outside Latin America in a postcommunist society like the former East Germany. Secularization advanced to such a degree there that religious faith could not be reconstructed, and it still shows no signs of returning. It is possible that future Cuban churches would never be able to win back the loyalty of that sizable minority of people who presently affirm no religion. Also pointing to a secular future is Cuba’s extremely low fertility rate, a figure that often correlates to the decline of institutional religion.
The question, then, for anyone trying to project Cuba’s religious future, is whether to look to Pentecostals or secularists, to Brazil or Berlin.
Christian Century

 

 Think twice before vacationing in a totalitarian country: "Honeymoon in a Cuban Hell"

June 17 - A Cuban hotel, run by Raul Castro's military, charged a British couple 4,000 euros ($5,440) to replace a TV set in their room, that was allegedly damaged. They were not allowed to go back to their room to verify that the TV was not working.

The cost was 10 times the price of the TV.

They were told that the hotel was run by the military and if they didn't pay they'll go to prison.

Read their story in the Daily Mail
 

King Castro: How Fidel lived the life of luxury in Cuba, complete with his own private island

May 21 - Presione aquí para leerlo en Español: Infobae

Fidel Castro lived like a king with his own private yacht, a luxury Caribbean island getaway complete with dolphins and a turtle farm, and travelled with two personal blood donors, a new book claims.
In La Vie Cachée de Fidel Castro (Fidel Castro's Hidden Life), former bodyguard Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, a member of Castro's elite inner circle, says the Cuban leader ran the country as his personal fiefdom like a cross between a medieval overlord and Louis XV.
Sánchez, who was part of Castro's praetorian guard for 17 years, describes a charismatic and intelligent but manipulative, cold-blooded, egocentric Castro prone to foot-stamping temper tantrums. He claims the vast majority of Cubans were unaware their leader enjoyed a lifestyle beyond the dreams of many Cubans and at odds with the sacrifices he demanded of them.
"Contrary to what he has always said, Fidel has never renounced capitalist comforts or chosen to live in austerity. Au contraire, his mode de vie is that of a capitalist without any kind of limit," he writes. "He has never considered that he is obliged by his speech to follow the austere lifestyle of a good revolutionary."
Sánchez claims he suffered Castro's ruthlessness first hand when he fell out of favour, was branded a traitor, "thrown in jail like a dog", tortured and left in a cockroach infested cell, after asking to retire. Released from prison, Sánchez followed the well-worn route of Cuban exiles to America in 2008. "Until the turn in the 1990s I'd never asked too many questions about the workings of the system … that's the problem with military people … as a good soldier, I did my job and my best and that was enough to make me happy," he writes.
The book, published on Wednesday, has been written with French journalist Axel Gyldén, a senior reporter at L'Express magazine. Gyldén admits Sánchez has a large axe to grind with Castro, but insists he has checked the Cuban's story.
"This is the first time someone from Castro's intimate circle, someone who was part of the system and a first-hand witness to these events, has spoken. It changes the image we have of Fidel Castro and not just how his lifestyle contradicts his words, but of Castro's psychology and motivations," Gyldén told the Guardian.
This is not the first time it has been claimed that Castro enjoys great wealth. In 2006 Forbes magazine listed the Cuban leader in its top 10 richest "Kings, Queens and Dictators", citing unnamed officials who claimed Castro had amassed a fortune by skimming profits from a network of state-owned companies. The Cuban leader vehemently denied the report.
Castro's long reign ended in 2006 when he was stricken with what was believed to be diverticulitis, an intestinal ailment, and handed power to his younger brother Raúl, who had served as defence minister. He officially ceded power to Raúl in 2008.
Fidel continued penning columns for the Communist party newspaper Granma but gradually vanished from public view, fuelling rumours he had died, only to surface for occasional, fleeting appearances. Raul has made cautious economic reforms but kept tight control.
Visitors such as Ignacio Ramonet, the French journalist who has interviewed Castro at length, have depicted an austere lifestyle of reading, exercise, simple meals and modest home comforts.
But Sánchez, now 65 and living in America, claims Castro enjoyed a private island – Cayo Piedra, south of the Bay of Pigs, scene of the failed CIA-sponsored invasion of 1961 – describing it as a "garden of Eden" where he entertained selected guests including the writer Gabríel Garcia Márquez, and enjoyed spear-fishing.
The former bodyguard says Castro sailed to the island on his luxury yacht, the Aquarama II, fitted out with rare Angolan wood and powered by four motors sent by the Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev. Continue reading The Guardian
 

Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano Street

 

Freedom for Venezuela

 

Who said that brainwashing doesn't work?

Dec. 7 - Elian González after 14 years of brainwashing: "Fidel Castro for me is like a father. I don't profess to have any religion but if I did my god would be Fidel Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path"

 

Videos: The Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín

Dec. 3 - Video of a protest by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police

 

 

Cuban lady is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions

Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.

 

Yoani Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit

October 26 - Yoani Sánchez explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the island.

Learn how you can help promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Learn about a new technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by the Castro regime and how you can help:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Video of another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU

Oct. 9 - This took place in Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013

Click here to see the video

 

Yoani: Cuban authorities are worried about web paqs circulating inside Cuba

Sept. 13 - Tweet from Yoani Sánchez:

"Authorities worried because of "packages" or "combos" with a collection of audiovisuals in the black market"

As I have said before, projects like Web Paqs for Cuba are the best way to bypass the blockade at the Internet, put in place by the Castro dictatorship to prevent Cubans in the island from knowing what's happening inside Cuba and in the rest of the world.

You can learn more about Web Paqs for Cuba and how you can get involved in this project at La Singularidad Cuba (Español) The Real Cuba (English) Twitter and FaceBook

 

Video taken at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba

July 8 - Video taken in April of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.

Very different from the hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used by foreigners who pay with dollars.

Click here to see the video

 

Clandestine video shows Bahamian guards brutally abusing Cuban rafters

June 15 - June 15 - This clandestine video taking inside a Bahamian jail, shows a guard kicking and insulting Cuban rafters who were trying to reach the United States and ended up in the Bahamas.
There should be a tourism boycott of the Bahamas, unless the Bahamian government orders the arrest and prosecution of this brutal thug and stops abusing Cuban rafters who are risking their lives in search for freedom.
Click here to see the video

 

Tweet from Yoani Sánchez about the Web Paqs for Cuba project

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Learn more about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

Visit our page about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

You can also visit us on Facebook to find all information about the Internet Web Paqs for Cuba, a project to help the Cuban people have access to the websites that are blocked by the Cuban regime.

Make sure to click on 'Like" as a sign of support Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Spanish daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare

Foto de la versión impresa del reportaje en ABC

March 17 - On Thursday of last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.

I was able to send her many of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the newspaper.

The article was published on Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at ABC.es  (Spanish)

 

Twit by Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Our new page: Fidel Castro, the World's oldest terrorist

 

My interview with Baseball PhD

March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to minute 25:35  Click here to listen

 

Listen to Fidel Castro

For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said and promised when he gained power Click Here

 

Satellite photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and more

 

A look at Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it Cuba B.C

 

Visit our updated page: The Useful Idiots

 

We have new photos of Havana taken in October of last year

Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took at the beginning of this month.

Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.

Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having "lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.

Click here  to see them

 

Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba

Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business, foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.

Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education, Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.

 

 

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