Obama’s pick as ambassador to Cuba has ‘0% chance’ of approval, union says

delaurentis

The Guardian

While Havana welcomed the move, Republican senators pledged to block any ambassador nomination, citing lack of progress in democracy and human rights
Barack Obama has a “0%” chance of getting his nomination for ambassador to Cuba approved by Congress, according to the union representing US diplomats.

The president this week announced Jeffrey DeLaurentis as his choice to become the first American ambassador to Cuba in more than half a century, aiming to put the seal on his detente with the communist island nation.

But while Havana welcomed the move, Republican senators including Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have pledged to block any ambassador nomination, citing a lack of progress in democracy and human rights.

Asked to rate the chances of DeLaurentis being approved, Ásgeir Sigfússon, spokesman for the American Foreign Service Association, said: “I would say 0%. With Marco Rubio on the Senate foreign relations committee, it’s never going to happen.”

Rubio and Cruz are both sons of Cuban immigrants. “They have sworn to do anything they can against the normalisation of relations,” Sigfússon added. “He might not even get a hearing.”

It is therefore a seemingly futile gesture on Obama’s part, Sigfússon said. “The president is exercising his right to be a late lame duck president trying to do everything he can. It’s symbolic. He drove through the normalisation of relations and gets to claim he’s the one who did it.”

The US and Cuba severed diplomatic ties in 1961, deep in the cold war. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba made a surprise announcement in December 2014 that they had secretly agreed to restore diplomatic relations, including reopening embassies in each other’s countries. Obama made a historic visit in March, and commercial flights resumed last month.

Obama called the naming of an ambassador a “commonsense” step toward more productive relations and said DeLaurentis – currently the top diplomat at the US embassy in Havana – is the best person for the job.

“There is no public servant better suited to improve our ability to engage the Cuban people and advance US interests in Cuba than Jeff,” the president said in a statement. “Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba.”

He added: “Having an ambassador will make it easier to advocate for our interests, and will deepen our understanding even when we know that we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an ambassador.”

On Wednesday, Gustavo Machín, deputy director for US affairs in the Cuban foreign ministry, described the news as “welcome” but said he will use a bilateral commission meeting in Washington on Friday to push for more.

“The Cuban delegation will point out the lack of advances in the economic, commercial sphere,” Machín said in Havana. “We consider the measures adopted by President Obama’s administration are positive but still insufficient and limited.”
Obama should also use his executive power to further narrow the trade embargo imposed on Cuba after its 1959 revolution, Machin said. “If the president could … allow investment in telecoms, why can’t he authorise investments in other areas?”

Cuba’s top diplomat in Washington, José Cabañas, was given the rank of ambassador last year.

But the battle over “our man in Havana” is already under way. Rubio said: “Just like releasing all terrorists from Guantánamo and sending US taxpayer dollars to the Iranian regime, rewarding the Castro government with a US ambassador is another last-ditch legacy project for the president that needs to be stopped.

“A US ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial and closed regime. This nomination should go nowhere until the Castro regime makes significant and irreversible progress in the areas of human rights and political freedom for the Cuban people, and until longstanding concerns about the Cuban regime’s theft of property and crimes against American citizens are addressed.”

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the state department and foreign operations, took a different view. “[DeLaurentis] is a career diplomat who is universally respected by his peers, and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, for his intellect, his integrity, and his thoughtfulness,” he said.

“The decision to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba has been widely supported, and the number of Americans traveling to Cuba is increasing dramatically. We need an ambassador who knows Cuba, who is respected by the Cuban government, and who will stand up for US interests and values. Jeff is that person. The Cuban people have their ambassador in Washington. The American people need their ambassador in Havana.”

Since diplomatic relations were restored on 20 July last year, DeLaurentis has led negotiations with Cuba on issues including the billions of dollars in US claims against Cuba for properties that were confiscated during the revolution.

The Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, said earlier this month that, if elected, he would undo Obama’s efforts at rapprochement unless Cuba permits religious freedoms and releases political prisoners.

After a logjam last year that left numerous would-be ambassadors in limbo, the situation has much improved with eight awaiting confirmation, of whom five are expected to be approved this week, according to Sigfússon.

Newsweek: How Donald Trump’s company violated the US embargo against Cuba

Newsweek

newsweekdonaldtrumpcover

A company controlled by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, secretly conducted business in communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump executives, internal company records and court filing.
Documents show that the Trump company spent a minimum of $68,000 for its 1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval. But the company did not spend the money directly. Instead, with Trump’s knowledge, executives funneled the cash for the Cuba trip through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation. Once the business consultants traveled to the island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows instructed senior officers with Trump’s company—then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts—how to make it appear legal by linking it after-the-fact to a charitable effort.The payment by Trump Hotels came just before the New York business mogul launched his first bid for the White House, seeking the nomination of the Reform Party. On his first day of the campaign, he traveled to Miami where he spoke to a group of Cuban-Americans, a critical voting bloc in the swing state. Trump vowed to maintain the embargo and never spend his or his companies’ money in Cuba until Fidel Castro was removed from power.
He did not disclose that, seven months earlier, Trump Hotels already had reimbursed its consultants for the money they spent on their secret business trip to Havana.
At the time, Americans traveling to Cuba had to receive specific U.S. government permission, which was only granted for an extremely limited number of purposes, such as humanitarian efforts. Neither an American nor a company based in the United States could spend any cash in Cuba; instead a foreign charity or similar sponsoring entity needed to pay all expenses, including travel. Without obtaining a license from the federal Office of Foreign Asset Control before the consultants went to Cuba, the undertaking by Trump Hotels would have been in violation of federal law, trade experts say.Officials with the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization did not respond to emails seeking comment on the Cuba trip, further documentation about the endeavor or an interview with Trump. Richard Fields, who was then the principal in charge of Seven Arrows, did not return calls seeking comment.But a former Trump executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said the company did not obtain a government license prior to the trip. Internal documents show that executives involved in the Cuba project were still discussing the need for federal approval after the trip had taken place.
OFAC officials say there is no record that the agency granted any such license to the companies or individuals involved, although they cautioned that some documents from that time have been destroyed. Yet one OFAC official, who agreed to discuss approval procedures if granted anonymity, said the probability that the office would grant a license for work on behalf of an American casino was “essentially zero.”
Prior to the Cuban trip, several European companies reached out to Trump about potentially investing together on the island through Trump Hotels, according to the former Trump executive. At the time, a bipartisan group of senators, three former Secretaries of State and other former officials were urging then-President Bill Clinton to review America’s Cuba policy, in hopes of eventually ending the decades-long embargo.
The goal of the Cuba trip, the former Trump executive said, was to give Trump’s company a foothold should Washington loosen or lift the trade restrictions. While in Cuba, the Trump representatives met with government officials, bankers and other business leaders to explore possible opportunities for the casino company. The former executive said Trump had participated in discussions about the Cuba trip and knew it had taken place.The fact that Seven Arrows spent the money and then received reimbursement from Trump Hotels does not mitigate any potential corporate liability for violating the Cuban embargo. “The money that the Trump company paid to the consultant is money that a Cuban national has an interest in and was spent on an understanding it would be reimbursed,’’ Richard Matheny, chair of Goodwin’s national security and foreign trade regulation group said, based on a description of the events by Newsweek. “That would be illegal. If OFAC discovered this and found there was evidence of willful misconduct, they could have made a referral to the Department of Justice.”Shortly after Trump Hotels reimbursed Seven Arrows, the two companies parted ways. Within months, Trump formed a presidential exploratory committee. He soon decided to seek the nomination of the Reform Party, which was founded by billionaire Ross Perot after his unsuccessful 1992 bid for the White House.
Trump launched his presidential campaign in Miami in November 1999. There, at a luncheon hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization of Cuban exiles, he proclaimed he wanted to maintain the American embargo and would not spend any money in Cuba so long as Fidel Castro remained in power. At the time, disclosing that his company had just spent money on the Cuba trip, or even acknowledging an interest in loosening the embargo, would have ruined Trump’s chances in Florida, a critical electoral state where large numbers of Cuban-Americans remain virulently opposed to the regime.“As you know—and the people in this room know better than anyone—putting money and investing money in Cuba right now doesn’t go to the people of Cuba,’’ Trump told the crowd. “It goes to Fidel Castro. He’s a murderer, he’s a killer, he’s a bad guy in every respect, and, frankly, the embargo must stand if for no other reason than, if it does stand, he will come down.”‘Its Stock Price Had Collapsed’By the time Trump gave that speech, 36 years had passed since the Treasury Department in the Kennedy administration imposed the embargo. The rules prohibited any American person or company—even those with operations in other foreign countries—from engaging in financial transactions with any person or entity in Cuba. The lone exceptions: humanitarian efforts and telecommunications exports.The impact of the embargo intensified in 1991, when the collapse of the Soviet Union ended its oil subsidies to the island and triggered a broad economic collapse. By 1993, Cuba faced extreme shortages and Castro was forced to start printing money solely to cover government deficits. Three years later, the U.S. Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which codified the embargo into law and worsened Cuba’s economic decline. With many financial options closed off, Cuba attempted to find overseas investment to modernize its tourism industry and other businesses.
The first signs that American policy might be shifting came in March 1998, when President Bill Clinton announced several major changes. Among them: resuming charter flights between the United States and Cuba for authorized Americans, streamlining procedures for exporting medical equipment and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to send small amounts of cash to their relatives on the island. However, Americans and American companies still could not legally spend their own money in Cuba.That fall, as critics pressured Clinton to further loosen the embargo, Trump Hotels saw an opportunity. Like the communist regime, the company was struggling, having piled up losses for years. In 1998 alone, Trump Hotels lost $39.7 million, according to the company’s financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Its stock price had collapsed, falling almost 80 percent from a high that year of $12 a share to a low of just $2.75. (After multiple bankruptcies, Trump severed his ties with the company; it is now called Trump Entertainment Resorts and is a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises, run by renowned financier Carl Icahn). The company was desperate to find partners for new business which offered the chance to increase profits, according to another former Trump executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. The hotel and casino company assigned Seven Arrows, which had been working with Trump for several years, to develop such opportunities, including the one in Cuba.On February 8, 1999, months after the consultants traveled to the island, Seven Arrows submitted a bill to Trump Hotels for the $68,551.88 it had “incurred prior to and including a trip to Cuba on behalf of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc.”The 1999 document also makes clear that executives were still discussing the legal requirements for such a trip after the consultants had already returned from Cuba. The government does not provide after-the-fact licenses.“Under current law trips of the sort Mr. Fields took to Cuba must be sanctioned not only by the White House but are technically on behalf of a charity,’’ the bill submitted to Trump Hotels says. “The one most commonly used is Carinas Cuba.”The instructions contain two errors. First, while OFAC is part of the executive branch, the White House itself does not provide licenses for business dealings in Cuba. Second, the correct name of the charity is Caritas Cuba, a group formed in 1991 by the Catholic Church, which provides services for the elderly, children and other vulnerable populations in the Caribbean nation. Caritas Cuba did not respond to emails about contacts it may have had with Trump Hotels, Seven Arrows or any individuals associated with them.The invoice from Seven Arrows was submitted to John Burke, who was then the corporate treasurer of Trump Hotels. In a lawsuit on a different legal issue, Burke testified that Trump Hotels paid the bill in full, although he denied recognizing the document.
The Cuba venture was one of two assignments given to Seven Arrows at that time, and the second has already emerged as an issue in the GOP nominee’s bid for the presidency. Trump Hotels also paid the consulting firm to help develop a deal with the Seminole tribe of Florida to partner in a casino there. Knowing that the Florida governor and legislature opposed casino gambling in the state, Trump authorized developing a strategy to win over politicians to get the laws changed in an effort named “Gambling Project.” The law firm of Greenberg Traurig was retained to assemble the strategy. A copy of the plan prepared by the lawyers showed the strategy involved hiring multiple consultants, lobbyists and media relations firms to persuade the governor and the legislature to allow casino gambling in the state. The key to possible success? Campaign contributions.The plan states “the executive and legislative branches of Florida government are driven by many influences, the most meaningful of which lies in campaign giving.” For the legislature, it recommends giving to “leadership accounts” maintained by state political parties, rather than to individual lawmakers, because “this is where the big bucks go and the real influence is negotiated.” Records show that Seven Arrows also incurred $38,996.32 on its work on the Gaming Project, far less than it spent for the Cuba endeavor.Aside from deceiving Cuban-Americans, records of the 1998 initiatives show that Trump lied to voters about his efforts in Florida during that period. At the second Republican presidential debate in September, one of Trump’s rivals, Jeb Bush, said the billionaire had tried to buy him off with favors and contributions when he was Florida’s governor in an effort to legalize casino gaming in the state. “Totally false,’’ Trump responded. “I would have gotten it.”The documents obtained by Newsweek give no indication why the $39,000 spent on Seven Arrows’ primary assignment—arranging for a casino deal with the Seminole tribe—was so much less than the $68,000 expended on the Cuba effort. The former Trump executive could not offer any explanation for the disparity.Though it has long been illegal for corporations to spend money in Cuba without proper authorization, there is no chance that Trump, the company or any of its executives will be prosecuted for wrongdoing. The statute of limitations ran out long ago, and legal analysts say OFAC’s enforcement division is understaffed, so the chances for an investigation were slim even at the time.And perhaps that was the calculation behind the company’s decision to flout the law: the low risk of getting caught versus the high reward of lining up Cuban allies if the U.S. loosened or dropped the embargo. The only catch: What would happen if Trump’s Cuban-American supporters ever found out?

Cuba must shift before embargo is lifted

Damas4

The Miami Herald Editorial Board

The embargo on Cuba, one of the pillars of U.S. policy toward the island for more than half a century, now teeters on collapse, it seems — at least in terms of public support.

For some time, there has been a movement in Washington, Congress and President Barack Obama’s White House to eliminate the old Cold War blockade — launched by President John F. Kennedy after Cuba cozied up to the Russians. More than five decades later, it has only failed to oust the Castros from power. Despite its ineffectiveness, a majority of Cuban exiles, for the majority of those 50 years, has stood firm in demanding that it remain in place.

But a recent study takes note of a shift: According to a poll by Florida International University, the majority of Cuban-Americans appear to want the embargo lifted.

This is a first, and an ironic one. With the United States’ normalized relations with Cuba, which have given Americans far easier access to the island, and the flights and cruises to take them there, the restrictive embargo seems archaic.

However, the Castro regime has yet to do much of anything to warrant its elimination: The state of human rights remains abysmal; freedom of expression is a nonstarter; and democratic elections are nowhere on the horizon.

The latest outrage is Cuba’s refusal to allow Cuban-American flight crews on U.S. airlines to overnight on the island.

Still, the FIU study found that among Cuban-Americans more than half of respondents (54.3 percent) are in favor of removing the embargo. It should be said that many are likely to be Cubans who arrived here in recent years and that the population of more staunchly anti-Castro exiles dating from the early ‘60s is getting smaller.

In addition, a high figure of 74.4 percent of survey participants think the embargo has not worked or has not worked very well.

In 2014, only 45 percent opposed the embargo. Much has happened since it was imposed in October 1960, then went into full effect in 1962, blocking American firms from doing business with Cuba.

The dynamic between Cuba and the United States has changed, especially since the Dec. 17, 2014, when President Obama announced the thawing of relations between the two countries and began a process of rapprochement.

But the study’s most telling factor is that young immigrants, born long after the explosive first stage of the Castro regime, want something different.

This group favors lifting the embargo and ending all travel restrictions supported by those who preceded them here by several decades.

However, the younger group wants to maintain the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy, which many consider the reason for the recent waves of Cuban migrants trying to reach the United States across several Central American countries before the door closes — as it inevitably will.

In Cuba, the Castro regime remains mired in its worn rhetoric tied more to the bygone era of the Cold War, unwilling to make concessions and, frankly, reaping rewards without having to do so.

Though the shift in Cuban-American sentiment against the U.S. embargo of Cuba is an intriguing sign of the times, the shift that really matters here is the one that the Castro regime has yet to make.

And that, alone, mandates that the embargo remain in place. It’s the only leverage the United States has left.

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.”