Tragic news: Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez killed in a boat accident

fernandez

The Miami Herald

Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernandez, an electric fan favorite who eight years ago fled Cuba on a speedboat, was killed early Sunday along with two friends in a violent boat crash off South Beach. He was 24.

Fernandez’s shocking death, the details of which are still under investigation, rocked Miami and Major League Baseball and caused the team’s game in Miami against the Atlanta Braves — in which Fernandez was originally scheduled to start before his appearance was moved back to Monday — to be canceled.

“When I think about José, I see such a little boy. The way he played, there was just joy with him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said with tears in his eyes Sunday during a press conference on Fernandez’s death.

According to authorities, the 32-foot center-console SeaVee in which Fernandez and two male friends in their 20s were traveling was spotted overturned on the unlit jetty that juts into Government Cut from South Pointe Park at around 3:15 a.m by a U.S. Coast Guard crew on routine patrol out of Miami Beach. The boat’s navigation lights were still on, and debris was scattered everywhere.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue divers rushed to the jetty, located on the north side of Government Cut, and found two bodies beneath the boat. They found a third in the water to the south of the jetty. After searching for hours, they believe no one else was on board.

Investigators say they’re not sure where Fernandez and his friends were headed, or where they’d come from. But they say the boat, which belongs to a close friend of several Miami Marlins players, was was traveling south at full speed when it struck the jetty and flipped.

None of the three on the boat were wearing their life vests. There’s no evidence that alcohol or drugs played a role in the crash.

“It’s a tragic loss for the city of Miami, for the community, for baseball, and for anyone who ever met Jose,” said Wildlife Commission Officer Lorenzo Veloz, who had met Fernandez several times on the water. “I’m sorry. I’m getting goosebumps right now. It’s really hitting home.”

Autopsies will be conducted by the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office. Authorities have not released the names of the other two men on the boat as their families have not yet been notified.

Fernandez, who leaves behind a pregnant girlfriend, was considered one of the Marlins biggest stars and one of the best pitchers in baseball. He was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011 and the National League rookie of the year in 2013. He was finishing up on his finest season in the majors, and expected to make his final start of the season Monday after his appearance Sunday was pushed back.

The death leaves his family, the team, league and Miami in shock. On their way into the stadium Sunday, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton and AJ Ramos walked with their heads lowered and said nothing. Second baseman Dee Gordon had tears in his eyes. Mourning fans came to leave flowers. In New York, Cuban player Yoenis Céspedes taped a Fernandez jersey in the team’s dugout.

During a press conference, Marlins President David Samson said the team was asked to confirm Fernandez’s address Sunday morning when they received a call about the crash. Fernandez’s number 16 was stenciled at the mound in Marlins Park, and his number displayed prominently around the stadium.

“When you talk about a tragedy like this, there are no words. There is no playbook,” Samson said. “We will play tomorrow.”

Politicians around Miami and the state also took to social media to offer condolences to Fernandez’s family and celebrate his life.

“His death is a huge loss for our community,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said in a statement.

Athletes shared their memories as well.

“Hermano, wherever you are, you know how much I loved you,” tweeted Yasiel Puig, who like Fernandez was a Cuban athlete and one of baseball’s most exciting, rising stars in recent years. “Sin palabras. My heart is with the families.”

Growing up in Cuba, Fernandez was jailed after failing on one of several attempts to flee the nation. When he finally managed to defect successfully, it was only after he escaped gunfire and jumped into the Gulf of Mexico to rescue his mother after their boat capsized. They crossed the border from Mexico, stepping foot in Texas, on April 5, 2008. He was 15.

“I’ve been in jail. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in the water,” Fernandez told the Miami Herald in 2013. “I’m not scared to face [New York Mets slugger] David Wright. What can he do?”

Fernandez also appears to have regularly enjoyed boating. His Instagram account includes a number of pictures on the water, fishing with friends or relaxing. One includes a picture of a boat named Kaught Looking, with the “K” facing backward and lined in Marlins colors. Veloz, the fish and game officer, said the boat Fernandez was traveling in Sunday morning belonged to a close friend of several Marlins players, and was well-known to authorities.

Veloz said he had even stopped the boat several times with Marlins players aboard, including Fernandez, to conduct safety inspections.

Still, even though it sounds like the captain of the boat had experience, and navigational equipment, nighttime brings the most perils for boat operators. Hazards can be impossible to spot without the aid of a GPS device or careful attention to navigation lights designed to identify safe channels and flag obstructions.

While darkness presents its own challenges, lights ashore cause problems, too. The brightness of South Beach at night can obscure lights on markers and buoys that indicate safe passage, said one local rescue captain.

“When you’re facing the city those lights are very hard to discern from the street lights and car lights,” said Rand Pratt, owner of the Sea Tow operation based in Key Biscayne. “It’s pretty significant, especially if you’re coming in from the ocean to the city.”

Leonel Reyes, a supervisor at the county’s rescue-boat squad, said Miami-Dade’s rescue-boat squad received notification of the crash at 3:50 a.m., just 45 minutes before high tide, a time that added to the risk since the unlit jetties can be even harder to spot. The north jetty also juts out about 1,000 feet further to the east than the south jetty, which sometimes catches boaters off-guard.

“They just stick out a foot,” at high tide, Reyes said. “They’re very dangerous at night. The visibility is not very good.”

None of the victims were wearing life jackets, authorities said. That’s frowned upon by safety advocates but also typical. “That’s every boater in Miami,” Reyes said.

Photos of the vessel show damage to the hull near the front of the boat, in a spot that would have been underwater during operation. Veloz said the boat is believed to have struck the jetty. But Omar Blanco, a lieutenant in the county fire department and head of its union, said it’s not just the jetties that can cause boaters problems, but the submerged rocks around them.

“We’ve seen that happen all the time,” Blanco said of boating mishaps near Government Cut. “There are rocks underwater you don’t see. People run aground there.”

Cuba volleyball players jailed for rape in Finland

CubaVolleyball

BBC News

Five members of Cuba’s national volleyball team have been convicted of raping a Finnish woman during a World League tournament in Tampere.

Four of the men, including the captain, were given five-year jail sentences while a fifth is facing a prison term of three and a half years.

They were detained in the southern Finnish city on 2 July after a woman said she had been raped at a hotel.

Eight men were originally held. Two were released soon afterwards.
Another of the players was released from detention at the end of August and acquitted by the court in Tampere.

The men given the longer sentences included 27-year-old captain Rolando Cepeda Abreu, Alfonso Gavilan, 21, Ricardo Calvo Manzano, 19, and Osmany Uriarte Mestre, who is also 21. Luis Sosa Sierra, 21, was given a shorter sentence.

Cuba had been taking part in a Volleyball World League tournament in Tampere
The team had been taking part in a tournament ahead of the Rio Olympics when the rape took place at the hotel in which the players were staying.
Lengthy ordeal
The court heard that two of the players had met the woman in a nightclub in the hotel basement. She later went to the room of one of the men, Uriarte Mestre, and consented to sex.

However, Uriarte Mestre was then said to have texted the other men without the woman’s knowledge. They entered the room and subjected the woman to a lengthy ordeal and held her by the hair to prevent her leaving.

When she was eventually allowed to leave, she complained to the hotel receptionist who called police.
The men had denied the accusation, insisting the woman had given consent.
The court in Tampere rejected the players’ evidence as partly contradictory
However, the court ruled they were guilty of aggravated rape and ordered the men to pay €24,000 (£20,500; $27,000) in compensation to the victim.

As the allegations emerged, two of the team coaches were sacked.
Despite its depleted squad, Cuba fielded a team in Rio and lost all five of its matches.

Rubio says administration lied about security on Cuba flights

marcorubio1

Fox News

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is accusing the Obama administration of “lying” to Congress about the security on U.S.-Cuba commercial flights — saying officials have failed to follow through on a commitment to place federal air marshals on board those routes.

In a letter to President Obama on Monday, the Florida senator noted that at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last week, Transportation Security Administration official Huban Gowadia confirmed there are no air marshals on board commercial flights to Cuba.

Yet at a May 17 Homeland Security subcommittee hearing, Department of Homeland Security official Seth Stodder said an air marshal agreement was being negotiated and flights would not begin without one.

“You and your administration’s lack of concern for the American people’s safety — as evidenced by allowing commercial, non-charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba to commence without the presence of federal air marshals, and lying about it to Congress — is further proof that you are putting your legacy ahead of the safety and security of the American people, including the people of Florida,” Rubio wrote.

Rubio, who is locked in a tough re-election race, said Gowadia’s revelation contradicts earlier claims by the administration that an agreement to include air marshals was finalized.

“Simply put, your administration has been caught in a bold-faced lie that has put American lives at risk,” Rubio said.

Rubio, along with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, introduced legislation earlier this month — the Cuban Airport Security Act — that would stop flights to Cuba until a study was completed regarding the security measures at Cuba’s airports.

Commercial flights to Cuba began at the end of August, and Rubio called it “astonishing” that this was allowed to happen “under the false pretense that there would be federal air marshals on board.”

“You have created an opportunity for our worst fears to become reality, just as they did on September 11, 2001,” he wrote.

Rubio asked Obama when he expects the Cuban government to sign the agreement on air marshals, what the TSA is doing to mitigate security risks, and if any White House official instructed the TSA to allow flights before “appropriate security procedures” were in place.

He also requested copies of the draft federal air marshal agreement with Cuba.

In a statement to FoxNews.com, a TSA spokesman said while it does not comment on particular security arrangements, the agency is working with Cuba to ensure there is a federal air marshal presence on flights when necessary.

“Based on several years of security assessments and routine public charter air service between the United States and Cuba, TSA is confident that all commercial flights from points of origin in Cuba to the United States meet international standards and additional security measures that are required by the United States Government,” the spokesman said.

American Airlines, one of the airlines running flights to and from Cuba, objected to the assertions in Rubio’s letter.

“We don’t speak about security, but the safety of our passengers, our people, and our equipment is of the utmost importance and we do not use use airports that do not meet the highest standards of safety for scheduled or chartered flights,” a spokeswoman for American Airlines told The Miami Herald.

Trump’s new Cuba position provokes anxiety on the island

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Fox News

Donald Trump’s threat to undo President Barack Obama’s detente with Cuba unless President Raul Castro abides by Trump’s list of demands is provoking widespread anxiety among ordinary Cubans, who were paying little attention to the U.S. presidential campaign until now.

Trump had been generally supportive of Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic ties and normalization of relations, saying he thought detente was “fine” although he would have cut a better deal.

Then, in Miami on Friday, the Republican nominee said he would reverse Obama’s series of executive orders unless Castro meets demands including “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.” Castro said in a speech the following day that Cuba “will not renounce a single one of its principles,” reiterating a longstanding rejection of any U.S. pressure.

While Hillary Clinton maintains an electoral college advantage, Cubans are suddenly envisioning the possibility of a U.S. president who would undo measures popular among virtually everyone on the island, from hard-line communists to advocates of greater freedom and democracy.

“I don’t think he’d make such a drastic decision. Or would he?” Bernardo Toledo, a 72-year-old retired state worker, asked nervously. “It would be disgraceful.”

While the detente announced on Dec. 17, 2014 has had limited direct impact on most ordinary Cubans, it has created feelings of optimism about a future of civil relations with Cuba’s giant neighbor to the north. An Univision/Washington Post poll of 1,200 Cubans taken in March, 2015 found that 97 percent supported detente.

For most ordinary people in a country that’s had only two leaders over nearly six decades, and where the president’s word is law, Trump’s unexpected reversal was a reminder that a single election might wipe away those closer ties.

“All we want is to be left in peace. Isn’t he thinking about our families?” complained pharmacist Heidi Picot. “How could he do something like this, make everybody worried?”

Still, some Cuban experts on relations with the U.S. saw the candidate as merely pandering to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in South Florida, and don’t believe a President Trump would follow through with his campaign pledge. Detente is increasingly popular among Cuban-Americans and South Florida pollsters say Trump is not ahead with them by the margins managed by previous Republicans who’ve won Florida.

Hillary Clinton has declared her support for continuing Obama’s policy, which has reopened the U.S. Embassy, re-established direct flights and removed Cuba from a list of state terror sponsors. It also has done away with most limits on cash remittances from the U.S and increased cooperation on topics ranging from law enforcement to public health.

“I don’t think it will be very easy for Trump to reverse some things,” former diplomat Carlos Alzugary said. “Break diplomatic relations? Put Cuba back on the list of terrorist states? Those things are almost impossible.”

Cuba’s state media had been virtually silent on the U.S. presidential campaign, seemingly uncertain of how to square the polarizing and highly competitive race with the oft-repeated Cuban assertion that U.S. democracy offers false choices between nearly identical corporate pawns.

Trump’s statement generated an unusual amount of official coverage over the weekend. State radio stations and other government-run media accused the Republican of pandering to Cuban-Americans in an attempt to win Florida’s electoral votes.

A Trump reversal would fit a historical pattern, started under Jimmy Carter, in which Democratic presidents build ties to Cuba and their Republican successors largely undo them.

Obama has worked hard to make the opening irreversible by building popular and corporate support at home. In Cuba, the government has welcomed some new ties, like scientific cooperation and commercial flights. It has stalled on others, like ferries from Florida. Some observers believe that’s because Castro’s government fears building ties that a hostile future U.S. administration could use in the interests of regime change.

The Cuban government has given no indication of whether Trump’s statement will give new impetus to U.S.-Cuba normalization, or cause the process to stall in what could be its last three months.

Meanwhile, Cubans remain hopeful, but increasingly worried.

“It’s a way to move the economy forward, to diversify,” said Yenitsia Arango, a 34-year-old nurse. “The door’s been opened to better relations and it’s not a good idea to go in reverse.”

American Airlines discriminates against Cuban-American crew members to satisfy the Castro regime

americanairlines

Another American company violating the right of Cuban-Americans in order to obey the stupid laws of Cuba’s dictatorship.

Shame on you American Airlines!

The Miami Herald

Cuba won’t allow Cuban-Americans flight crews to stay overnight, so an airline grounded them

When American Airlines launched the first of an unprecedented 12 daily commercial flights from Miami to six cities in Cuba, the company rolled out the Cuban-American brass to mark the milestone at Miami International Airport.

At a pre-flight ceremony, the executives evoked their emotional connection to the business at hand — winning the bid to fly the largest number of commercial flights to Cuba.

“Today is historic not only for American Airlines, but also for Miami, the heart and soul of the Cuban-American community in the United States,” said Ralph Lopez, American vice president of Miami hub operations, before the Sept. 7 departure to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of the island.

Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing, spoke of the “pride and excitement” he felt.

“This flight is not only important to our airline, to our 12,000 employees here in Miami — many of them Cuban-American — but also… this is of huge importance for Miami-Dade County, home to so many Cuban Americans like my parents.”

Behind the scenes, however, another story played out.

When doing business with Cuba, all those American Airlines employees of Cuban origin Fernandez heralded in his speech don’t have the same rights as their U.S.-born counterparts, or their Latin-American counterparts, or their counterparts born anywhere else in the world for that matter.

That first “historic” flight brought home the point.

A Cuban-born crew member arrived in Cienfuegos without a Cuban passport — required for anyone born there who left the country after 1970, even as babies — and a brouhaha ensued with Cuban authorities on the ground. The crew member was not allowed entry, much less the required overnight rest stop after a crew member flies 12 hours.

Questions were posed by AA to authorities: What happens in the future if there’s a flight with a mechanical delay and the crew that includes a Cuban American is grounded overnight? What will happen, routinely, with the two Varadero flights that require the overnight stay of the crew?

The answer: Only in the most “extenuating circumstances” would Cuba allow an exception to its separate set of archaic travel requirements for Cuban Americans. No overnights for Cuban-American crew members. Period.

Now the Dallas-based airline, which makes its schedules far from Cuban politics in Texas, had to identify Cuban-American employees and take them off Cuba flights that required an overnight stay.

“Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crewmembers,” says an AA memo to managers that a source shared with me.

And I have to ask: Can you imagine in your company a staffing memo that says, “Please remember that those who are Israeli born should be removed?”

Or, please remember that those who are (fill in the blank any other place of origin) should be removed?

The Cuban government’s long arm is cherry-picking the assignments of employees of an American company. How is that for a historic development?

Sounds as outrageous as when Miami-based Carnival Corp. denied bookings to Cuban Americans on its cruises to the island because of an archaic Cuban maritime law that said Cuban Americans could not arrive by sea.

Now with commercial flights, an American company once again finds itself in the position of having to discriminate against a class of people — their employees of Cuban origin.

“No crew member born in Cuba is allowed to enter Cuba unless they meet immigration requirements,” American spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello confirmed. “That’s a Cuban government demand. That’s not something we’re saying. We are abiding by the laws of the Cuban government.”

Cuba’s discriminatory rules also apply, of course, to the flight crews of JetBlue and Spirit, which also recently began commercial flights, and to the others that will soon follow them.

This is the price of doing business with the still-repressive and antiquated Cuban government: Giving up American ethics for a piece of the action.

Complying with the Cuban government’s discriminatory policies against Cuban Americans — spelled out in the U.S. Embassy’s website as a warning to travelers — is a choice. Airlines need to negotiate harder. Enough of an uproar from the traveling public convinced Cuba to change its maritime rule and allow Cuban Americans to travel there on cruise ships.

On the American side, strides have been made in the last 18 months since President Barack Obama announced an end to hostilities between the two countries. But the Cuban government remains stuck in anti-exile, anti-American bellicose mode despite documented evidence that a growing number of Cuban Americans strongly support President Obama’s engagement policy and the reestablishment of relations. For the first time since 1991 Florida International University began surveying Cuban Americans, a new poll shows that a majority — 54 percent — said support the lifting of the Cuban embargo.

Cuba, however, has a long way to go to show it is seriously interested in being a travel destination for all Americans.

Perhaps customer response, if not companies, might help move the needle: Saturday’s flight on American to Cienfuegos had 53 out of 120 seats empty as of this writing. It may be the slow season, but were it not for Cuba’s restrictive policies, there might not be a single seat left.

As Americans know well, discrimination is bad for business.

Cuba dissident: Fake site duped me into ending hunger strike

farinas

Fox News

Guillermo “Coco” Farinas became one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents by starving himself — launching two dozen hunger strikes demanding government concessions on human rights.

He started his 25th strike in late July with the demand that President Raul Castro halt what Farinas called the worsening repression of dissidents since Cuba and the United States declared detente in December 2014.

As the strike entered its second month, the dissident’s backers claimed he was close to death. On Monday those worries evaporated. Farinas announced he was ending his protest because the European Parliament had just voted to link improved ties with Cuba and progress on human rights. Also on the table: naming Farinas a special parliamentary adviser on civil society on the island.

The only problem: Not a word of it was true.

The “Farinas Amendment” was the creation of a faked website that masqueraded as the blog of the European Parliament for nearly a week, issuing reports widely distributed by anti-Castro Spanish-language media including the U.S. government-funded Marti news network.

“It’s really weird,” said Kristof Kleemann, the chief of staff for German member of parliament Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, whom the bogus site described as the sponsor of the “Farinas Amendment.” ”Our people tell us that the website that published this article, that this website is a fake website.”

Farinas charged that the site was a dirty trick by the Cuban government aimed at fooling him into ending a protest that was drawing too much attention. There’s no public evidence of a tie to the Cuban government or, indeed, anyone else. Because it was hosted on WordPress, a widely used blogging platform, the page’s individual registration is impossible for the public to trace.

“Creating this page was an act of espionage,” Farinas said. “They were under pressure from the hunger strike and the possibility of my dying and they created a fake page so that I would stop.”

Farinas and his camp frequently speak directly with European diplomats based in Havana but did not check Monday’s report with them before declaring an end to the strike, according to Jorge Luis Artiles, a dissident from the central city of Santa Clara who has served as Farinas’ spokesman during much of the protest. Artiles said Farinas’ camp had learned of the report in a call from backers in Miami. He declined to provide further details.

The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment, but it has long accused Farinas and fellow dissidents of being charlatans focused on winning support from anti-Castro exiles in South Florida. Hunger strikes have been the target of particular skepticism, with government backers accusing strikers of secretly eating and drinking away from the public eye.

“There’s no precedent for Cuban authorities publishing false information of this type or imitating established institutions as we see in this case,” said Iroel Sanchez, a Havana opinion columnist and blogger with close ties to the Cuban government. “Mr. Farinas himself has been a systematic source of false information about himself and his ‘activism’ for profit, inventing all sorts of myths.”

Artiles said Farinas had been on a total “hunger and thirst” strike at home but was given intravenous nutrition and hydration after he was rushed unconscious to the hospital five times during his strike.

Farinas said the discovery that the report was fake would not cause him to restart his protest.

“In a hunger strike, once you start to drink water again, going back would be madness,” he said.

Farinas’ strike came at a critical time for Cuba’s small, factionalized community of outspoken government opponents. Once a centerpiece of U.S. policy on Cuba, traditional dissidents have found themselves on the sidelines as the U.S. abandons its support for swift regime change in favor of gradual reform. On issues from economic ties to environmental cooperation, the Obama administration is talking directly, amicably and frequently with Castro’s government.

The fake webpage has been taken down, but at least one archived copy remains available. The page was loaded with genuine articles taken from the Spanish-language section of the European Parliament site, giving a casual or inattentive reader the impression that the page was well-established. The content that is still visible was added on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 — suggesting the site may have been built in about 24 hours or less.

“It looks very professional, but then they make all sort of technical mistakes,” Kleemann said. “They cite a certain report in that article and that report is actually a report from the trade committee in the parliament on Jordan.”

The reports about the “Farinas Amendment” were shared on social media dozens of times directly from the fake WordPress site. The first share appears to have been on Artiles’ Facebook account.

The account appears to have been active throughout the strike, posting articles supporting Farinas and bitterly criticizing the Castro government.

Artiles told The Associated Press Tuesday evening that he had not been on Facebook for nearly two months. He said he only discovered in the last week that hackers had long been in control of his account, and he alleged that the government was responsible.

“They stole my page and it’s a fraud because it’s been 56 days since I’ve been online,” he said. “They’re publishing fake news.”

Toronto man ‘scarred for life’ in robbery at Cuban resort

torontomanrobbed

Toronto Sun
A violent robbery at a Cuban resort ended Paul Sampalean’s dream vacation before it even started.

The 33-year-old construction worker also had to pay a $3,000 hospital bill before he could return to Toronto with a nasty gash on his head.

“He’s scarred for life,” Antonia Sampalean told the Toronto Sun on Friday — hours before her brother was expected to arrive back in the city.

She said the Toronto resident enjoyed his first visit to Cuba last year and decided to return to the popular vacation destination for Canadians.

“Obviously he won’t be going back there — ever again,” Antonia said.

Paul Sampalean landed in the communist country on Sept. 2 to learn his luggage was lost.

“Air Transit told him to go wait in the lobby of his hotel and his luggage would be dropped off,” Antonia said, recalling her brother’s version of events.

She said Paul remembers chatting with locals in the lobby of Sol Sirenas Coral, a four-star all-inclusive resort in Veradero.

“The locals tried to grab his wallet,” Antonia said. “There were three of them and he was alone, but he fought back.

“I wish he would have given them his wallet, but he’s not like that,” she said, adding her brother is about 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds.

Paul was knocked unconscious, but witnesses later helped him piece together some of the ordeal.

“Hotel security staff intervened,” Antonia said, adding the crooks took off with the $100 or so Paul had in his wallet.

She said her brother thinks he may have fallen and hit his head. His forehead was split open.

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where medical personnel used a mere four stitches to close his 13-centimetre cut. Antonia said her brother is unsure what other tests were conducted during his two-day stay.

“But the hospital issued him a $3,000 dollar bill and threatened he’d be sent to jail if he refused to pay,” she alleged.Another

Her brother also told her that the initial police report allegedly stated he was “found wandering in the streets of Varadero.”

But Paul alleges that report mysteriously disappeared after four witnesses provided statements noting “the ambulance was called directly to the hotel,” she said.

After the attack, Antonia said her brother was uncomfortable having a large amount of cash on him, so she sought help from Global Affairs Canada.

Antonia sent used her credit card to send the government agency $3,100, which included a $75 special consular fee. The money was forwarded to consular officials in Cuba who then paid the hospital bill.

Paul’s luggage finally arrived at the resort four days after the robbery.

Air Transat, Global Affairs Canada and the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto never responded to the Sun’s request for comment.

Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

CUBA CASTRO

Skift

One could easily argue that nothing is hindering progress more in Cuba than its government and its military’s lack of skill and experience to do even the simplest things well. It is not competent enough to run a simple tour bus or tiny restaurant, let alone a UNESCO site. — Jason Clampet

At the height of Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis, a man with the obscure title of city historian began transforming Havana’s crumbling historic center block by block, polishing stone facades, replacing broken stained glass and repairing potholed streets.

Over a quarter century, Eusebio Leal turned Old Havana into a painstakingly restored colonial jewel, a tourist draw that brings in more than $170 million a year, according to the most recent available figures. His office became a center of power with unprecedented budgetary freedom from the island’s communist central government.

That independence is gone. Last month, the Cuban military took over the business operations of Leal’s City Historian’s Office, absorbing them into a business empire that has grown dramatically since the declaration of detente between the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

The military’s long-standing business wing, GAESA, assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military’s tourism arm, is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism. The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector. The armed forces this year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions, according to a bank official.

“GAESA is wisely investing in the more international — and more lucrative — segments of the Cuban economy. This gives the military technocrats a strong stake in a more outwardly oriented and internationally competitive Cuba deeply integrated into global markets,” said Richard Feinberg, author of “Open for Business: The New Cuban Economy.”

Castro has never publicly explained his reasoning for giving so much economic power to the military, but the armed forces are widely seen in Cuba as efficient, fast-moving and relatively unscathed by the low-level payoffs and pilferage that plague so much of the government. Economic disruption also is viewed as a crucial national security issue while the government slowly loosens its once-total hold on economic activity and renews ties with its former Cold War enemy 90 miles to the north.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has said detente was meant partly to help ordinary Cubans develop economic independence from a centrally planned government that employs most of the island’s workers, the Cuban government says the U.S. should expect no change in Cuba because of normalization with the U.S.

The takeover of Old Havana shows how the Cuban government is, so far, successfully steering much of the peace dividend into military coffers.

The announcement nearly two years ago that the U.S. and Cuba were restoring diplomatic relations set off a tourism boom with Old Havana at its epicenter. The cobblestone streets are packed with tourists browsing souvenir stands, visiting museums and dining in trendy private restaurants. World figures and celebrities from Madonna to Mick Jagger to Pope Francis and Obama have all visited. Hotels are booked well through next year.

The largest business arm of the historian’s office, Habaguanex, named for a pre-Columbian indigenous chief, directly runs some 20 hotels and 30 stores and more than 25 restaurants in Old Havana.

Under a special exemption by the ruling Council of State, the office has been allowed to use its revenues as it sees fit rather than returning them to the national treasury and receiving a yearly budget allocation from the central government. That 1993 measure is widely credited for giving Leal the power and flexibility to restore Old Havana to international standards while much of the rest of Havana suffers from neglect that has left buildings collapsing and streets rutted with big potholes.

A towering figure in Cuba’s intellectual and political life, Leal, who turns 74 on Sept. 11, is often chosen to deliver meditations on Cuban history and culture at major public events. He has never groomed an obvious successor. He has appeared frail and thin in some recent public appearances and close associates say he has been receiving treatment for a serious illness.

“I’m giving up everything that I think should be, under current conditions, better directed,” Leal told The Associated Press when asked about the military takeover of his financial operations. “There’s a reality. I was trained and educated to work in cultural heritage, and that’s my calling.”

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Cuba airport security causes senators to call for pause in U.S.-Cuba flights

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CBS News

Last week, regularly-scheduled commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba took off for the first time in more than fifty years. Now, a bipartisan pair of senators has submitted legislation to ground those planes over what they say are airport security concerns.

Senators Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, have submitted legislation to that would pause the Cuba-US routes until an assessment of Cuban aviation safety could be completed.

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“With so many serious security threats around the world, it is irresponsible to leave key aspects of our airport security in the hands of anti-American, repressive regime in Cuba,” Rubio said in a statement.

But the Transportation Security Administration says it has reviewed operations at eight of the 10 Cuban airports set to provide commercial flights to and from the U.S. and that all met international standards.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who was to meet with members of Congress Thursday, told CBS News earlier this summer that his agency “will ensure that they in fact meet all of those requirements that we put in place at last points of departure.”

Currently, the United States and the Republic of Cuba have an agreement allowing federal air marshals on board certain passenger flights between the two nations. But Menendez says it’s not enough.

“Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship that continues to harbor American hijackers and terrorists as heroes…and remains a strategic ally of some of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations,” he said. “Every airport worker is employed directly by the regime, and its airports lack the technology and security capabilities we’ve grown to expect in the United States.”

Excitement over first flights from U.S. to Cuba

While Cuba, a nation of more than 11 million about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, has been largely off limits to the United States for 55 years, it is a major tourist destination from Canada, Europe, Latin America and Russia. Dozens of international airlines serve Cuba each day.

Scheduled commercial airline service from the U.S. ended in 1961 after the communist government of Fidel Castro rose to power, and nationalized foreign assets (many of them belonging to American companies). The Cuban missile crisis brought the world to brink of nuclear war, after the Castro regime allowed Russian missiles to be set up, prompting the ongoing U.S. embargo.

But even before Jetblue flight 387 left Fort Lauderdale with 150 passengers August 31st bound for Cuba, on average 17 charter flights travel between the U.S. and the island nation daily. The charter flights have existed for years, and all of the passengers on those flights passed through Cuban airport security without legislation from Congress to stop it.

CBS News was on that first commercial flight to Santa Clara, Cuba’s fifth largest city. Our experience was far from a comprehensive review of airport security. We found it to be similar to screenings at airports around the world, but with a few quirks.

Upon arrival in Cuba, our bags were x-rayed with equipment resembling those seen in American airports. Each passenger passed through a magnetometer. Some were also “wanded” with a handheld metal detector. Security officers would not allow bottled water past the checkpoint and held a safety razor (used for shaving) for no clear reason. When asked why water couldn’t enter the terminal, the officer simply said it wasn’t allowed.

Our photojournalist was allowed to keep his water. Prior to heading for customs, the razor was returned, and we were screened again. At the Santa Clara airport, we did not see body scanners.

After checking into our return flights and clearing immigration in Havana, the security checkpoint at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminal 3, looked a lot like security at many small airports in the U.S. There were several lanes closed — and just one screening passengers. While the line wasn’t long, the process was slow. Bags were x-rayed, passengers passed through metal detectors, and in some cases were also ‘wanded’ by a handheld scanner. This terminal appeared to have one body scanner station.

Our CBS News crew was selected for additional screening, our bags were emptied and examined. Security officers express particular concern over several old books we purchased.

The senators’ Cuban Airport Security Act follows a similar measure introduced by Congressman John Katko, R-New York, in July. Earlier in the summer members of the House Homeland Security Committee were denied visas to enter Cuba for a trip to examine airport security there.

On the day the senate bill was announced American Airlines began rolling out its service to Cuba with a flight to Cienfuegos. The Department of Transportation has authorized up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba on 10 carriers. Flights to the island’s capitol city are expected to begin in November.