All posts by Gutset

21st Anniversary of the murder of the BTTR pilots by orders of Raúl Castro

On February 24, 1996, Mario Manuel de la Peña, age 24; Armando Alejandre, Vietnam War Veteran, age 45; Carlos Alberto Costa Pino, age 29 and Pablo Morales, age 29 were murdered when Cuban MIGs shot their small civilian airplanes over international waters.

They were flying in a group of three small Cessna airplanes on a humanitarian search and rescue mission for the non-profit organization “Brothers to the Rescue.”

Two occupants perished in each of the two aircraft destroyed; no remains were recovered.

Brothers to the Rescue flew thousands of volunteer missions to spot rafters at sea fleeing Cuba, notifying the U.S. Coast Guard of their location so they would be rescued.

The organization also took food, water and clothing to rafters held in detention centers in nearby countries.

The Cuban government’s actions were denounced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cuba and condemned by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The families of the victims obtained a judgment in U.S. Superior Court against the Cuban government for premeditated murder.

As expected, Raúl Castro denied visa for Almagro to visit Cuba

Jamaica Observer

Cuban authorities have denied a visa to the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to travel to the communist-ruled island to receive a prize from a dissident organisation, he said Wednesday.

Almagro had been invited to receive a prize named for dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in 2012 in a car crash under mysterious circumstances.

“My request for a visa for the official OAS passport was denied by the Cuban consulate in Washington,” Almagro said in a letter to Paya’s daughter Rosa Maria, who organised the ceremony to confer the prize.

Almagro said he was informed by Cuban consular authorities that he would be denied a visa even if he travelled on his Uruguayan diplomatic passport.

The Cubans conveyed to a representative of Almagro that they regarded the motive of his visit an “unacceptable provocation,” and expressed “astonishment” at the OAS’s involvement in what they deemed anti-Cuban activities, he said.

Almagro said he asked that the decision be reversed, arguing that his trip to Cuba was no different from events he had participated in other countries of the region.

Two other political figures who wanted to travel to Cuba for the award ceremony — Mexico’s former president Felipe Calderon and former Chilean education minister Mariana Aylwin — said they also had been denied visas.

Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, and has declined to return despite having been readmitted in 2009.

Since Cuba’s suspension, the only OAS secretary general to visit the island was Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean who attended a Latin American summit in Havana in 2014.

Chile demands explanation from Cuba after ex-minister denied entry

Reuters

Chile said Tuesday it was recalling its ambassador to Cuba for consultation and speaking to the Cuban government to establish why a prominent former minister was blocked from entering Cuba on Monday night.

Mariana Aylwin, a former education minister and daughter of ex-president Patricio Aylwin, was travelling to the island to receive a prize on behalf of her father. The event, planned for Wednesday, was organised by the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, which has been critical of the Cuban government.

The organisation has also invited Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba in 1962 for being Communist.

While the Washington-based OAS agreed in 2009 to lift the Cold War ruling, Cuba declined to rejoin the group, which it deems an imperialist instrument of its former Cold War foe the United States.

Aylwin was prevented from checking in to her flight in Chile’s capital, Santiago, apparently at the request of the Cuban authorities, she told journalists on Tuesday.

“Exercising the right (to travel between nations) should not be interfered with, especially given that Chile has recognised the feats of various figures in Cuban history and politics,” Chile’s Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement.

Mariana Aylwin served in Congress in the 1990s for Chile’s centrist Christian Democratic Party, and later as minister in the 2000s under centre-left president Ricardo Lagos, who is running for president in Chile’s 2017 elections.

She is seen as an ideological leader of the most conservative segment of Chile’s centre-left ruling coalition.

Her father was Chile’s first democratically elected president after the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and is credited with successfully overseeing the nation’s fragile political transition.

Top diplomat to accept award from democracy group in Cuba

Associated Press

A prominent diplomat is planning a politically sensitive trip to Cuba to accept an award from a pro-democracy group on the island.

Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, will travel to Cuba next week to accept the Oswaldo Paya Prize from the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy, a spokesman for the regional organization said Wednesday.

Spokesman Gonzalo Ezpariz confirmed Almagro’s plans but declined to disclose details of a trip that could touch a nerve in Cuba, which has opened its economy to a degree but remains a one-party state and has had a rocky relationship with the OAS. He did not know if Cuban authorities had issued a visa for the secretary general.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington had no immediate comment.

The prize is named for a leader of a movement that sought a referendum on free speech and other political freedoms. Paya died in a 2012 car crash that his family blames on the government. His daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, leads the group recognizing Almagro with an award intended to raise awareness about what it sees as abuses by the region’s governments.

Almagro, a former foreign minister of Uruguay, received the daughter in his office in October, when they signed an agreement in which the OAS offered support to young activists in Latin America and the Caribbean and to expand efforts to promote human rights and civic participation in electoral processes around the region.

Cuba was suspended from the Washington-based Organization of American States in 1962. The suspension was annulled in 2009 but Cuba has not moved to rejoin the organization, which was created to promote regional cooperation but has been viewed by Havana as dominated by the United States.

Given that history, it would be unprecedented for an OAS secretary general to travel to the island to accept an award named for a Cuban dissident, said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there are doubts about whether the Cuban government will admit a high official to talk about internal democracy and human rights, subjects that are still very sensitive,” Arnson said.

But Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, said Havana would likely provoke sharp reactions in Washington and elsewhere if it blocked Almagro’s visit when the government of President Raul Castro is opening up more to the world with economic reforms and amid the restoration of formal relations with the United States.

“To receive a human rights prize in no way threatens the Cuban government,” he said. “They won’t be happy and they will criticize it but they should let him in.”

Another one: JetBlue to trim Cuba capacity as airlines adjust to market demand

Sun Sentinel

JetBlue Airways is on the verge of becoming the second major U.S. carrier in recent months to dial back capacity on its new commercial passenger routes to Cuba.

Effective May 3, the New York-based carrier will begin operating smaller planes on routes from Fort Lauderdale and other U.S. cities to four Cuban destinations: Havana, Santa Clara, Holguin and Camaguey, a spokesman confirmed this week.

The changes are a continuing sign that the airlines that rushed to serve the Communist island after the restoration of U.S-Cuban diplomatic relations may have been too ambitious with their traffic expectations.

In December, American was the first to announce it would reduce service between Miami and Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily flight starting Feb. 16, “to remain competitive in the market.”

Since then, regional carrier Silver Airways is reportedly planning to slash flight frequencies on some of its eight Cuba routes from Fort Lauderdale, according to the industry publication Routes Online.

In an email Wednesday, Silver spokeswoman Misty Pinson told the Sun Sentinel that the carrier typically makes seasonal adjustments “to best match demand.”

“But we remain optimistic about the future growth potential in Cuba and believe that our 34-seat aircraft is the right size aircraft for this market,” she said. “And this will also continue to grow as distribution channels open.”

Silver is still slated to launch service this year to Cayo Largo, its ninth Cuban destination from Fort Lauderdale, pending receipt of TSA approval for the Cuban airport, Pinson said.

In all, the adjustments being made by JetBlue, American and Silver will result in about a 17 percent reduction in overall seats on U.S. carriers flying to Cuba, according to an analysis of flight schedule data by Airline Weekly, an industry trade publication.

Seth Kaplan, the publication’s managing partner, asserted the recent capacity cuts point to lagging consumer demand.

Kaplan said the decline could be partly attributed to confusion among Americans about what they can and can’t do in Cuba.

For example, Americans may face hurdles using U.S.-issued credit cards in Cuba due to the lack of infrastructure. In addition, many are apprehensive about possible modifications the Trump administration might make to the liberalized travel and remittance policies introduced by the Obama Administration.

Today, travel to Cuba from the United States is limited to 12 approved categories, such as educational and religious activities, family visits and humanitarian projects. A ban on leisure tourism to Cuba remains in force as part of the long-standing U.S.-imposed trade embargo against the Communist island.

“It’s becoming clear that Cuba is going to be a long-term play, not a source of instant profits for U.S. airlines,” Kaplan said. “One thing that’s interesting is that even Havana — the marquee market — might be weaker than airlines hoped.”

The lowered expectations are reflected in the use of smaller planes and fewer flight frequencies.

For flights between Fort Lauderdale and Santa Clara, Camaguey, and Holguin, JetBlue will operate 100-passenger Embraer 190 aircraft, instead of 150-seat Airbus A320s. Its Fort Lauderdale-to-Havana flights will operate with 150-passenger Airbus A320s instead of larger ones that accommodate up to 200 people.

The change in aircraft type will result in 50 fewer seats on each flight, JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said in an email..

JetBlue also serves Havana from Orlando and New York.

Stewart said it is “common practice to adjust schedules and fleet type, routes based on customer preferences, especially routes that are new to the network.”

Last August, JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to offer regularly scheduled flights between the U.S. and Cuba in several decades when it launched service from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara. In November, it began service from Fort Lauderdale to Holguin, Camaguey, and Havana.

JetBlue was among several U.S. carriers that won approval last year from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Cuban government to offer regularly service several U.S. gateways as part of the push to normalize relations.

Besides JetBlue, American and Silver, the others included Alaska, Delta, Southwest, Spirit, Silver, Frontier, Alaska, Sun Country and United.

The new slate of Cuba flights, which launched between last August and December, raised concerns among longtime Cuba travel specialists in South Florida as to whether there would be enough consumer demand to justify them.

“I think airlines sort of expected the secondary markets to take time to develop, but they scratched and clawed to be able to offer every flight they could to Havana,” Kaplan said. “It turns out they might have been too ambitious.”

U.S. sanctions Venezuelan vice president and accuses him of being a drug kingpin

The Miami Herald

The U.S. government added Venezuelan Vice President Tarek El Aissami to its sanctions list Monday, saying he “played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking” and freezing his access to a fortune estimated at $3 billion after a lengthy investigation of his alleged links to drug traffickers and Muslim extremists.

The measure also covers Samark Lopez — accused of being the principal front man for El Aissami — and nearly a dozen companies linked to Lopez, including some in Miami.

El Aissami and Lopez were the latest of several Venezuelan government officials and supporters listed as alleged drug traffickers by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency in charge of enforcing U.S. sanctions. The sanctions were authorized under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

“OFAC’s action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities,” OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith said.

“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States,” Smith added in a statement. “Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department.”

The sanctioned companies own three condos at the upscale Millennium Tower Residences at the Four Seasons hotel in Brickell. The companies paid nearly $7 million for the three units in 2012 and 2013, Miami-Dade County property records show.

South Florida’s real estate market is a known conduit for dirty cash. Since 2015, an anti-money laundering push by the U.S. Treasury Department has required extra checks on shell companies buying luxury homes in Miami-Dade County and Manhattan. (The heightened monitoring was later imposed on other pricey real estate markets around the nation.)

OFAC also identified and blocked properties held by 13 companies owned or controlled by Lopez or others “that comprise an international network spanning the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela,” the news release said. Lopez oversees an international network of petroleum, distribution and other companies, according to the release.

El Aissami, who has not hidden his presidential ambitions, has been under U.S. investigation for many months because he is considered to be one of the top leaders of drug-smuggling operations in Venezuela.

He was appointed vice president in January by President Nicolás Maduro after serving as governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state fromm 2012 to 2017. The Treasury Department news release said he “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela” by plane. The statement also said he “oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms” from Venezuela with a final destination of the U.S. or Mexico.

The U.S. also said he received payment for facilitating drug shipments from Venezuelan “drug kingpin” Walid Makled Garcia, and officials linked him to Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. They said he provided protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Palanco.

As vice president, El Aissami is first in line to replace Maduro if the president leaves office for any reason.

Most alarming for many Venezuela-watchers are his ties with radical Islamic organizations in the Middle East, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

El Aissami is one of the main contacts in Latin America for the extremist organizations, said Luis Fleischman, senior adviser at the Center for Security Policy (CSP) in Washington, D.C.

“He is one of Venezuela’s main contacts with Hezbollah,” said Fleischman, who keeps a close eye on the South American country. “He has been providing logistical and financial support to those organizations.”

A 2014 report by the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) highlighted allegations that El Aissami played a key role in efforts by Muslim fundamentalists to create a network in Latin America that would finance terrorism in other parts of the world.

“Over the years, Tarek El Aissami has developed a sophisticated and multilevel financial network that functions as a criminal terrorist pipeline for bringing Islamic radicals to Venezuela and its neighbors, and to send illegal funds from Latin America to the Middle East,” the report said.

The vice president “has used his political prominence to establish intelligence and financial channels with Islamic nations, especially Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iran,” the report added.

The investigation also concluded that when El Aissami was minister of the interior, he issued Venezuelan passports and other documents to members of the radical Islamic organizations.

“The majority [of 173 individuals] had Venezuelan passports,” said Joseph Humire, executive director of SFS and one of the authors of the report. “Others had identity cards and others had Venezuelan visas. In some cases, these people had birth certificates.”

The individuals “were from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. But the majority were from Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Seventy percent of them came from those countries and had some sort of ties to Hezbollah,” Humire told el Nuevo Herald.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was among the Miami-area politicians who welcomed the sanctions.

“The Venezuelan government is run by corrupt, incompetent and criminal thugs who have inflicted misery on their own people and routinely used violence to crush dissent,” Rubio said. “For years, I’ve talked about how Venezuelan regime officials are committing crimes in Venezuela, stealing from the Venezuelan people and then spending their riches living in the lap of luxury in Miami. Today’s announcement further confirms how true this is, and the extent to which corrupt and criminal Venezuelan regime officials have been allowed to freely travel and prance around U.S. soil with impunity.”

A £25,000 wedding from Hell in Cuba: Hotel roof collapsed on top of bride, groom and guests

Click here to se many more photos The Sun

WEDDING FROM HELL Couple left distraught after dream £25,000 Cuba wedding turns to disaster when hotel roof COLLAPSED leaving bride permanently scarred and groom with broken ribs
Sarah and John Wenham were both injured the day before the wedding of their dreams

A BRIDE and groom had their dream wedding destroyed after the roof of their hotel lobby collapsed – trapping their family and guests under debris.

Sarah and John Wenham had saved for years for ‘the wedding of their dreams’ in Cuba, costing more than £25,000 for themselves and 24 guests.

But they were left fearing for their lives when the lobby roof at Sol Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel, in Cuba, suddenly buckled and collapsed – trapping them underneath and injuring many members of the wedding party, including the bride.

Sarah, 35, said: “We were just about to meet with hotel staff to discuss our wedding plans in the lobby, when John pointed out the ceiling as it started to move.

“A loud ‘bang’ followed as the roof then suddenly collapsed and fell upon us, trapping us underneath.”

Tour company Thomas Cook have now apologised for the incident in August last year, saying they had done “everything we could” to support the family.

Sarah relived the horror, saying that roof debris knocked the group “clean to the ground”.

She said: “It was so heavy that I couldn’t move under it, and I was terrified because I couldn’t get to my daughters who I could hear screaming from somewhere beneath the debris.

“I saw the blood start to gush from my head and I genuinely thought in that moment that I was going to die.”

John, from Gravesend, Kent, says he looked up after they had been in the lobby for around ten minutes to find the ceiling moving.

He shouted at Sarah and their nine-year-old daughter Mia to run, pushing them out of the way.

But as the ceiling fell, he leaped in front of baby Penny, 20-months, to shield her from the debris, taking the brunt of the weight.

John added: “It was horrifying – sheer fright.

“When we eventually found Sarah, it took two people to lift the debris off her and I had to crawl underneath and drag her out.

“After the incident, we were all traumatised.

“We didn’t know what to do for the best.

“In one split-second everything we’d planned and saved for so long was gone.

“We felt terrible that so many people had spent so much money and had travelled so far to be with us for our special day and then this happened.

“So when we were told that the wedding could still go ahead at another venue at the last minute, we felt we had no option but to go ahead with it.

“Unfortunately, we’ll now always remember the wedding as being a distraction from the horrifying events of the day before.

“We couldn’t enjoy it and we just wanted to go home.

“That’s not how we should remember our wedding day.”

John was left with two fractured ribs, an injured spleen and severe bruising.

Sarah suffered head and eye injuries and required ten stitches to a deep laceration on her face, which is now likely to leave a permanent scar.

Several other members of the wedding party suffered serious injuries, including head and spinal injuries, a leg fracture and a deep head laceration, with one guest requiring 19 stitches across the top of her scalp.

John said: “The only way we could get over it was to have the wedding, to try and mask what had happened.

“Sarah won’t look at the pictures because she’s got stitches on her face – it shouldn’t be like that.

“I couldn’t walk properly, I couldn’t lift her over threshold and I couldn’t even pick the kids up for five to six weeks.”

When the couple did have their ceremony at a different hotel, Playa Pesquero, it was in the foyer, and not the beach wedding they had planned.

But this was far from the end of the couple’s problems.

Even before the roof collapse, on just the second day of their disastrous holiday, Sarah and John’s hotel room was flooded with sewage, damaging clothes, their children’s toys and un-opened wedding gifts.

The couple say despite their bags and clothing being ruined, their belongings were never replaced.

In other rooms there were exposed wires which John, an electrician, described as looking ‘deadly’.

John and many of the other guests, including Mia and Penny, also suffered from diarrhoea and sickness throughout the holiday – later confirmed to be salmonella.

The couple have now instructed personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to take legal action against tour operator, Thomas Cook.

Jennifer Lund, a partner in the specialist international personal injury team at Irwin Mitchell, representing the group, said: “Sarah, John and their closest family and friends should have been overjoyed on what was supposed to have been an incredible holiday, centred around a magical wedding day.

“Instead, the whole trip ended up being a terrifying ordeal that will forever be etched in their memories for all of the wrong reasons.

“We are investigating the cause of the roof collapse at the Sol Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel as well as the group’s other complaints.

“We are seeking to recover a settlement to help each of our clients with their recovery and to compensate them following the dreadful ordeal they have suffered.

“Our thoughts are with all of those injured, and we wish them a speedy recovery.

“We would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have witnessed the roof collapse or its aftermath or who can provide information about illnesses suffered by guests during stays at the Sol Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel, as they may be able to help with our enquiries.”

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said: “Clearly this is totally unacceptable and we are in close contact with the hotel to understand how it happened.

“We are very sorry and disappointed that this occurred on what should have been such a happy occasion.

“We did everything we could to support the Wenham family and all those affected after the accident, and we continue to take this matter very seriously.”

US detains 172 Cuban migrants following end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy

The Miami Herald

At least 172 Cuban nationals who tried to enter the United States following the end to an immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” are now in detention facilities, awaiting for the results of their removal proceedings, federal agencies have confirmed.

Exactly where they are being held was not revealed.

“Since January 14, there has been an increase of 172 Cuban nationals in ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention,” an ICE official said.

The official also said that two people had already been “removed” to Cuba but did not clarify whether they are the same two Cuban rafters that a Coast Guard spokeswoman said had been intercepted since the end of wet foot, dry foot.

The fact that only two Cubans have been interdicted by the Coast Guard since the end of the policy demonstrates how effective the change, implemented by former President Barack Obama, has been in stemming the flow of Cuban migrants.

In January 2016, a total of 3,846 Cubans arrived without a visa to the United States. But from Jan. 12-31 of this year, only 426 Cubans were considered “inadmissible” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at several ports of entry, according to a CBP spokeswoman.

Most of these “inadmissable” Cubans arrived in Miami (111) or Laredo (279) on the U.S.-Mexico border.

During the same period, 1,400 Cubans were legally admitted, according to figures obtained by el Nuevo Herald.

For many years, Cubans who arrived in the United States without a visa and asked to stay were not afraid of being detained. All that ended on Jan. 12 when, in the spirit of normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration eliminated the controversial wet foot, dry foot policy, which allowed most Cubans who made to U.S. soil to stay.

Those “inadmissible” Cubans who arrived after the change of policy “are either entered into removal proceedings or given the opportunity to withdraw their application” and voluntarily leave the U.S., the CBP spokesperson said.

An ICE source confirmed that there have not been deportations of Cubans from Miami as of yet.

CBP, ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to say if those 172 Cuban detainees had requested asylum, although a CBP source said that about half of the 426 “inadmissibles” had expressed fear of returning to Cuba and have begun the process of applying for asylum to avoid being removed.

Immigration proceedings for at least one couple detained in Miami and Broward have begun.

The hearing to introduce an asylum petition on behalf of Aquilino Caraballo and Georgina Hernández, 67 and 64, took place on Monday at the Krome detention center where Caraballo is being detained. His wife, Hernández is at Broward detention center, known by the acronym BTC.

They are the parents of a Hialeah resident Geidy Caraballo whom the couple had visited six times but were taken into custody upon arrival at Miami International Airport after apparently telling an immigration officer that they “wanted to stay.”

According to his lawyer, Wilfredo Allen, the couple will face trial on March 10, which in his opinion is quite “fast” for these types of cases. They will continue to be detained while the process evolves, a procedure authorities might follow from now on, he added.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump established “the detention of aliens apprehended for violations of immigration law pending the outcome of their removal proceedings or their removal from the country.”

What happens in these hearings will be critical for the future of many Cubans who are still stranded in Mexico or other countries and are pondering their limited options, including the request for political asylum in the U.S.

In the meantime, the possibility that Trump restores the wet foot, dry foot policy seems ever more remote, despite the circulation of false news reports making the rounds on social networks. On Thursday in Miami, Rep. Carlos Curbelo R-FL said that the end of the special treatment for Cubans was inevitable.

“We knew that the policy had many shortcomings,” he said. “We didn’t think that the Obama White House would act so unexpectedly, at the last minute, but I think that everyone recognized that the policy was causing a difficult situation here in the United States and in Cuba.”

 

Authorities rescue 10 Cubans allegedly kidnapped in Mexican border city

Cuban migrants say they prefer to try their luck through Central American than returning to Cuba

The Miami Herald

A group of 10 Cubans who had been kidnapped while traveling from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo in Mexico were rescued Wednesday, according to a high-ranking official from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ernesto Soberón, director of consular affairs at the ministry, known as MINREX, issued a Twitter post Wednesday evening stating that the Cubans were in contact with the Cuban Consulate in Monterrey and that they were in good health.

The Cubans were reportedly kidnapped in Reynosa, across the border from Hidalgo, Texas, last week, after being stranded in Mexico following the end of the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, which allowed entry to Cubans who made it to U.S. soil.

Several initial reports indicated that 11 Cubans had been kidnapped, including a child, but later reports said it was 10.

The kidnapping was allegedly carried out by organized crime gangs, which inspected buses where the migrants traveled. According to a relative of one of the victims who spoke to local Mexican media, the kidnappers were heavily armed.

Details of the rescue were not made public but reportedly involved negotiations. It is not known whether the Cubans or their relatives had to pay ransom or if any arrests were made in the case.

The Cubans were placed under the custody of Mexico’s immigration authorities, who then released them to the care of a nonprofit organization.

Local media reported that Héctor Silva, the director of the Casa del Migrante organization, said that all 10 wanted to return to Cuba because they “were scared.”

But Miami reporter Alejandro Condis, of Mega TV, who interviewed the Cubans, said the group did not want to return to the island and instead made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. However, as they neared the border crossing, the group was detained by Mexican authorities because the documents allowing them to temporarily stay in Mexico had expired.

Condis reported that the Mexican immigration authorities gave the Cubans the option to go back to Cuba or to remain in Mexico. The group petitioned for a humanitarian visa that would allow them to stay in Mexico.

 

Cuban health professionals who had been stranded in Colombia are allowed U.S. entry at MIA

The Miami Herald

Two dozen Cuban health professionals who deserted from medical missions abroad arrived in Miami Monday afternoon on a flight from Colombia.

The group is among professionals who were stranded in third countries following former President Barack Obama’s executive order that put an end to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, known by the acronym CMPP.

“This is a triumph for the entire Cuban-American community, our organization and the offices of Cuban-American congress members who have worked to get these folks treated correctly and their applications satisfactorily answered,” said Julio César Alfonso, president of the organization Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, which is calling for the restoration of the program.

The group allowed entry at Miami International Airport had managed to get their CMPP paperwork in prior to the Jan. 12 cutoff.

Yerenia Cedeño, a 28-year-old Cuban doctor, characterized the mission to which she was assigned in Venezuela as “horrible.” She deserted five months after arriving — citing insecurity and precarious living conditions as reasons for abandoning the post — and fled to Colombia.

“You constantly heard about someone being robbed of their phone or another person being attacked on the bus,” Cedeño said, adding that returning to Cuba was not an option because she would be treated as an outcast.

Cuba has long exported health services abroad, either charging a fee or in exchange for goods. Medical professionals receive a small stipend while most of the revenue, amounting to billions of dollars, goes into government coffers. Some 50,000 Cuban professionals are currently dispersed to more than 60 countries, the government has reported.

For a decade, the CMPP granted the right to apply for expedited U.S. visas to Cuban doctors who could prove their nationality and that they were working as part of a Cuban government mission in a third country.

Havana has complained that the program was draining the island of professionals they had educated.

Cedeño said she felt exploited in Venezuela, where she shared her work with her husband, also a doctor, who accompanied her on the trip to the United States, but declined to give any statements.

Cedeño said her mission now is to get her 3-year-old daughter out of Guantánamo to join her in the United States and resume an education so she can practice her profession.

“I want to work as a doctor here, or something similar,” she said. “It’s the beginning of a new life.”