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Could 1 million more Cubans be deemed ineligible for remittances?

The Miami Herald

William LeoGrande, an American University professor who specializes in U.S.-Cuba relations, says it appears there might be a “poison pill” in President Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy that potentially could cut off remittances to more than 1 million Cubans.

The memorandum on strengthening Cuba policy that Trump signed last week in Miami specifically states that regulatory changes shall not prohibit “sending, processing or receiving authorized remittances” — the money that’s sent to family members and friends in Cuba.

Currently remittances can be sent to almost anyone on the island — with the exception of members of the Council of Ministers, which includes the president, first vice president, seven first vice presidents, ministers and a few other top officials, and high-ranking military officials.

But the Trump memo greatly expands the definition of so-called prohibited officials.

It includes not only ministers, vice ministers and members of the Council of State and Council of Ministers but also members and employees of the National Assembly of People’s Power — Cuba’s parliament; provincial assembly members; local heads of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; directors general, sub-directors and higher officers of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense; and members and employees of Cuba’s Supreme Court.

The memo also lists secretaries and first secretaries of the Confederation of Labor of Cuba and top editors of all state-run media outlets as prohibited officials.

Such a sweeping category could potentially include a quarter of Cuba’s labor force, LeoGrande said. “It’s literally a million people if you count everyone who works for the military and GAESA that could have their remittances cut off,” he said.

GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial) is a Cuban military conglomerate that controls a broad swath of the Cuban economy, including the Gaviota Tourism Group. One of the cornerstones of Trump’s new Cuba policy is channeling U.S. money and businesses away from GAESA and instead encouraging Americans and U.S. companies to develop economic ties with small private business people in Cuba.

But widening the prohibition on who can receive remittances could potentially hurt many Cuban families — those Trump has said he wants to support with his new policy, LeoGrande said. Many Cubans are dependent on money sent from friends and relatives abroad because state salaries are so low. An estimated $3 billion in remittances is sent to the island annually.

Among the questions, which may by clarified when regulations on the new Cuba policy are written, is how literally to take the definition of all employees of the Ministry of Defense.

All Cuban males must complete compulsory military service. “Does this mean an active duty private is an employee of the Ministry of Defense, and therefore a prohibited person?” asked Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer. “There still has to be more definition of what this means.”

Also in question is whether a person who is a clerk or low-level employee at an enterprise run by GAESA would be considered an employee of the Ministry of Defense.

Trying to sort out such definitions about who is eligible to receive remittances could potentially become a real headache for money transfer companies, Muse said.

In response to a query, Western Union, which has provided money transfer services to Cuba from the United States since 1999 and more recently began to handle remittances from other parts of the world to Cuba, said: “Western Union does not believe the changes are intended to impact the sending of authorized remittances to Cuba.”

Said LeoGrande: “There are a number of things that need to be clarified. The [memorandum] is so ambiguous in places.”

Cuba watchers also point to a section of Trump’s memorandum that instructs the State Department to identify “entities or sub-entities” under the control or acting on behalf of the Cuban “military, intelligence or security services or personnel” and publish a list of those with which “direct financial transactions” would disproportionately benefit them “at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Some analysts have zeroed in on the word direct in the memorandum. Previous OFAC directives usually refer to direct and indirect financial transactions.

“Does this mean you can’t go and book at a Gaviota hotel, but you can give a Spanish tour company money and they can get you a room at the Saratoga?” Muse asked. (The Hotel Saratoga is operated under the umbrella of Habaguanex, which was recently transferred to the military.)

How Fidel Castro Supported Terrorism in America

The Wall Street Journal, By  Zach Dorfman
The decision to honor Oscar López Rivera, a terrorist who spent 35 years in federal prison, at New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday unleashed a firestorm. Organizers named López Rivera—released in February under an 11th-hour clemency from President Obama —the parade’s first-ever “National Freedom Hero.”

In response, major sponsors such as Goya, Coca-Cola , Univision, Jet Blue and the Yankees pulled their support. New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill is refusing to march, as are several Democratic politicians, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

The wariness over López Rivera—who’ll still march, though he’s said he’ll forgo the “hero” designation—is well-founded. The group he helped lead, the pro-independence Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña, or FALN, was one of the most prolific terrorist organizations of its time. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the FALN perpetrated more than 130 bombings. It was responsible for the 1975 explosion at Fraunces Tavern, which killed four and wounded 63; a bombing spree in New York City in August 1977 that killed one, injured six, and forced the evacuation of 100,000 office workers; and the purposeful targeting and maiming of four police officers, among many other vicious crimes.

Carnage on this scale was possible because of the FALN’s organizational and operational sophistication—including its numerous connections to communist Cuba and its intelligence services. Those connections have been known to law enforcement for decades.

According to court documents, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, who is believed to have helped co-found the FALN, told an undercover NYPD officer in 1983 that he had received explosives training in Cuba. And the FBI estimated that by 1973, roughly 135 Puerto Rican militants had received “extensive instruction in guerilla war tactics, preparation of explosive artifacts, and sophisticated methods of sabotage” from Fidel Castro’s intelligence services.

The full extent of the FALN’s Cuba connections is unknown. But they may be more enduring than has been publicly reported. According to an NYPD document I discovered at the Hoover Institution archives at Stanford—undated, but apparently circa 1977—by that time officials had come to believe that “the FALN was started in the mid-1960’s with a nucleus of Puerto Rican terrorists that received advanced training in Cuba. . . . After their advanced training in Cuba they returned to Puerto Rico and a wave of bombings and incendiary incidents struck the [latter] island. Within the last few years they have shifted their activities to the mainland. . . . It is believed that they have maintained close links and may in fact work closely with Cuban intelligence operatives.”

That training would help explain the FALN’s professionalism, as well as its ability to bedevil law enforcement. An FALN instructional manual, which I also found at Hoover, includes sophisticated directives for compartmentalized clandestine communications between different “cadres,” or cells, as well as espionage and countersurveillance techniques. “One must observe religiously the rules and regulations of security in order to protect the organization, its cadres, its secrets, its documents, its arms, [safe] houses, and other instruments of work,” the document says. According to the manual, this hyperattention to security even extended to meetings of the MLN, the FALN’s above-ground political organization.

Viewed from this broader perspective, the FALN was not merely a “highly motivated and intelligent adversary,” as the NYPD document I found puts it. It was an instrument in the decadeslong shadow war between the U.S. and Cuba.

This is not to minimize the pro-independence sentiment in Puerto Rico, or the historical, cultural and emotional bonds that tie the two islands together. The Spanish-American War, which gave Cuba its independence, also led to Puerto Rico’s annexation by the U.S. But from Castro’s perspective, training a group of dedicated Marxist militants, whose actions would then destabilize major American cities such as New York and Chicago (as well as Puerto Rico itself), would help form a relatively low-cost, and covert, strategy for weakening his greatest antagonist.

On May 17 López Rivera was released from house arrest, 3½ months after departing prison. The Cuban regime applauded. “Please accept our fraternal congratulations on behalf of the Party, government and people, who share the joy of your liberation,” said President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother. “We await you in Cuba, with all the honors and affection you deserve, whenever it may be possible for you.”

Mr. Castro neglected to mention that Cuba already plays host to another FALN leader: William Morales, one of the group’s bomb-makers, who after escaping from a U.S. prison in 1979 found his way to Havana. Much of the story of Oscar López Rivera and the FALN takes place far from the streets of Spanish Harlem, Humboldt Park or San Juan.

Mr. Dorfman is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Cuban state-run media confirms gasoline shortage

Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Townhallby Humberto Fontova

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

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

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

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

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

Cuba’s premium gas shortage leaves diplomats stuck

Newsweek

When they are not tending to international affairs, diplomats based in Havana can be found these days stewing in interminable lines at gas stations and concocting ways to increase the octane in fuel as Cuba’s premium gasoline shortage takes its toll.

Cuba sent around an internal memo last week advising that it would restrict sales of high-octane, so-called “special fuel,” in April. That is not an issue for most Cuban drivers, whose vintage American cars and Soviet-era Ladas use regular fuel.

But it is for the embassies that use modern cars whose engines could be damaged by the fuel at most Havana gas stations. So the diplomats are taking a leaf out of the book of Cubans, used to such shortages, and becoming resourceful.

Given the U.S. trade embargo, Cubans have for decades had to invent new ways to keep their cars on the road, replacing original engines with Russian ones and using homemade parts.

“I bought octane booster, and the embassy has bought lubricants, meant to help the motor deal with rubbish gasoline,” said one north European diplomat, who got a relative to bring the booster in his luggage given it is unavailable in Cuba.

“At the moment we are using the car that runs on diesel, so we can ‘survive’,” said an Eastern European diplomat.

Cuba has not announced the measure officially yet. According to the memo, “the special fuel remaining in stock at gas stations from April will only be sold in cash and to tourists until the inventory is depleted.”

“It’s very serious. I have already suspended a trip to Santiago de Cuba for fear of lack of gas,” said one Latin American diplomat, adding that it seemed like the problem would last. “Diplomats are very worried.”

Some embassies in Havana have people scouting out which stations still have some higher-octane fuel and are sending around regular updates to staff. One gas station worker said they were getting small deliveries of fuel each day still.

The embassies are also advising people to carpool or use the diplomatic shuttle.

Meanwhile the European Union has requested from the ministry of foreign affairs that one or more service centers be set aside for diplomats with special gas, according to a European diplomat.

Cuba has become increasingly reliant on its socialist ally Venezuela for refined oil products but the latter has faced its own fuel shortage in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Communist-ruled island cannot easily replace subsidized Venezuelan supplies as it is strapped for cash.

Although the memo referred to April, it is not clear how long the shortage will last. Cubans joke that once something disappears in Cuba, it is never to return, referring to products that have disappeared from their ration book like cigarettes, beef and condensed milk.

The Peugeot dealership in Havana has sent its clients lists of technical tips on how to protect their motors while using lower-grade gasoline, including more frequent maintenance and ensuring vehicles at running at optimum temperature before driving.

The shortage is also impacting others using modern cars such as taxi drivers, tourists and workers at joint ventures.

 

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.

Cuban Interior Minister Fernández Gondín just became a “good communist”

International Herald Tribune

Cuban Interior Minister Carlos Fernandez Godin died on Saturday in Havana after a lengthy battle with a “chronic illness,” authorities announced. He was 78.

Fernandez Godin, who fought in the Cuban Rebel Army before the Revolution, was promoted from first deputy interior minister to head the ministry in October 2015, replacing Abelardo Colome, who had served in that capacity since 1989 but who had resigned due to health problems.

According to his will, Fernandez Godin will be cremated and his ashes will be honored at the Pantheon of Veterans in Havana’s Colon cemetery until they are interred in the Second Front Mausoleum in Santiago de Cuba, where the minister will receive military honors.