Bankrupt cruise line begins canceling trips to bankrupt country

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USAToday

Cruise industry newcomer Haimark Line has canceled the first of a groundbreaking series of cruises it had planned between Miami and Cuba, Travel Weekly is reporting.

The travel trade magazine says the 10-night voyage to Havana and six other Cuban ports, scheduled to kick off Feb. 29, will not take place as the company’s bankruptcy stretches into a fourth month.

It’s just the latest in a string of cancellations at the small-ship line, which hasn’t operated sailings since October.

Haimark filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 30 under the Chapter 11 section of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and immediately began canceling voyages scheduled for its one ship, the 210-passenger Saint Laurent.

Initially offering trips along the Eastern USA and into the Great Lakes, Haimark had a troubled start last summer. The Saint Laurent crashed into a lock while navigating the St. Lawrence Seaway just weeks after its May 30 debut. It was out of service for a month, and four cruises were canceled. A 13-night sailing from Portland, Maine to the Bahamas scheduled to begin Oct. 30 also was canceled, with the line blaming poor weather. Sailings in November and December also were canceled in the wake of the bankruptcy.

In a statement in November, Haimark blamed the St. Lawrence Seaway accident for the bankruptcy filing, citing insurance issues that remain unresolved. The line charters the Saint Laurent from Clipper Cruises, which owns the vessel.

Haimark in July announced that the Saint Laurent would operate cruises to Cuba out of Miami starting this month, becoming the first ship to do so in decades.

The bankruptcy filing does not affect an affiliated company, Haimark Ltd., that operates river cruises in Asia.

Cuba: the untaught lesson on perils of socialism

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By Ron Hart in The Orange County Register

I’m Just back from Cuba, where I observed that, while they are realizing the futility of central command-and-control government, we are embracing it. Cuba and the U.S. are like ships passing in the night.

Desperate for a positive legacy item, Obama set about normalizing relations with Cuba. In that island nation, Obama is more popular than Castro – but so is loading your family members onto a Styrofoam cooler and floating them to Florida.

We knew Obama was embracing Cuba when, at a summit last April, he shook Raul Castro’s hand. Republicans were outraged to have to watch the biggest communist dictator in the world shaking hands with Castro.

My main takeaway: Cuba is a political and economics lesson not taught well enough to our schoolchildren. With the rise in popularity of Bernie Sanders, who is beating Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, it’s clear that Americans do not understand the dire lessons of socialism’s poisonous ideology and the devastation it brings to every country that has fallen prey to its hollow temptations. In a Pew Research Center survey, 43 percent of 18-29-year-olds had a positive reaction to the word “socialism.”

U.S. teachers, who generally lean left, romanticize Marxist revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Castro. Kids today wear iconic Che T-shirts, unaware of the 3,000 political murders and economic devastation he caused.

My trip was educational, and Cuba remains a story educators should teach kids. Yet they don’t. I asked five twentysomething kids what they knew about Cuba; had they been taught the economic lessons of the devastation wrought by communism? All said “No.” It is not a story the Left wants to tell, since their narrative promises free stuff for everyone that nobody has to pay for. It’s an easy sell to dopes, but it has never worked and never will.

Like Obama, Fidel Castro holds grudges. A Yale professor on our trip was denied his visa at the last minute because he once wrote that Fidel overstated his baseball prowess.

Continue reading Cuba: the untaught lesson on perils of socialism

Obama to restore commercial flights to Cuba

HAVANA, CUBA - JANUARY 19:  A charger jet, operated by American Airlines, is parked on the tarmac at Jose Marti International Airport after flying directly from Miami January 19, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Officials from the Cuban and United States governments will hold meetings this week in Havana to being establishing migration agreements and noramalized relations.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

CNN

In just a matter of days, U.S. airlines will begin a fierce bidding war to win routes and airport slots to a destination that’s been off-limits to them for more than 50 years: Cuba.

Starting Tuesday, U.S. carriers will have 15 days to submit applications to the Department of Transportation for routes they’d like to fly between the U.S and Cuba.

The development brings airlines and travelers yet another step closer to scheduled commercial flights between the two countries.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and staff from the State Department will fly from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., to Cuba to formally sign an agreement to resume flights between the two countries.

“You know it’s usually significant when the President made this announcement of re-establishing diplomatic relations more than a year ago,” Foxx told CNN. “It really means a great deal to the people of both countries. Leaving aside the political differences, there’s so many cultural connections between the two countries, in some cases family connections, the ability to have educational exchanges and things that happen as a result of resumption of this service, is really, really significant.”

The agreement was reached in December.

Continue reading Obama to restore commercial flights to Cuba

Cuba says Dominican officer helped slave ballplayers defect

yulieskyfidel

Fox News Latino

Cuba’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic said a Dominican military man was involved in the defection of Cuban baseball stars Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel during a tournament in this Caribbean nation.

The brothers, ages 31 and 22, respectively, on Sunday left the Cuban baseball team after it was eliminated in the Caribbean Series, which was won by Mexico.

In an interview published Thursday by Listin Diario newspaper, Cuban envoy Carlos De la Nuez Lopez said that a video exists in which Dominican air force officer William Solis can be seen arriving at the Cuban delegation’s hotel and making contact with the brothers, who then got into his vehicle and left for an unknown destination.

The video, De la Nuez Lopez said, was delivered to the Santo Domingo district attorney’s office.

“That is in the video. That is the complaint, that they left in the (official’s vehicle),” he said.

According to the ambassador, Solis on more than one occasion came to the hotel where the Cuban baseball team was staying.

A Dominican military source, who asked for anonymity, told EFE on Wednesday that the Defense Ministry and the National Investigations Department are investigating the officer’s alleged complicity.

The Gourriel brothers, according to media accounts, could now be in Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

Yulieski Gourriel is considered one of the Cuban ball players with the most talent to play in the U.S. Major Leagues, while his brother Lourdes has been praised for his talent as well.

During the Feb. 1-7 Caribbean World Series, the heads of the Cuban delegation complained that their players were being besieged by several “individuals” with links to “stealing athletes.”

Gov. John Kasich On Cuba

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Miami CBS4 News asked Ohio Gov. and  presidential candidate John Kasich: “Would you, when you became President, break diplomatic relations with Cuba?”

Kasich: “Well let’s see where we are when I come [into office] and what the administration has done,” he said. “I think [the Obama Administration] made a big mistake because I think Cuba needed to do something [before diplomatic relations was restored last year]. Why are we always reaching out? Why are we always moving? My sense is they haven’t made any compromises; they keep demanding things so I don’t understand what the administration is doing.”

Lawmakers Question U.S. Decision to Give Rum Trademark to Cuba

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The Wall Street Journal

Concerned it could undermine protections for American intellectual property rights holders

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers said they are concerned about the Obama administration’s decision last month to award a trademark for Havana Club rum to the Cuban government.

In a letter to Secretary of State  John Kerry and Treasury Secretary  Jacob Lew on Tuesday, Reps.  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) and  Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), along with 23 other lawmakers, said they feared granting the trademark could undermine protections for American intellectual property rights holders.

Most of the congressional signatories to the letter—17 of 25—are from Florida, where President  Barack Obama’s Cuba policy remains a divisive issue.

Of the Democrats who signed on, eight of 11 are from Florida. Ms. Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, hasn’t enthusiastically embraced Mr. Obama’s policy shift with Cuba. She has said previously that she is considering the policy shift and hopes Mr. Obama will use it to press Cuba to improve human rights.

“I’ve been firmly committed to protecting the intellectual property rights of American companies, and I was pleased to join this letter with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and many of my Florida colleagues,” she said in a separate statement, without singling out Cuba.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said the U.S. decision to grant the trademark to Cuba was “politically motivated” by the Obama administration’s move to normalize ties with Cuba.

“This original family’s factories and trademarks were confiscated by the Castro regime and the U.S. government should not take any action which would embolden any foreign entity that could confiscate U.S. trademarks and intellectual property,” she said.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control decided last month to grant a license to state-run Cubaexport to renew an expired trademark registration for Havana Club rum in a move that has reignited a decadeslong battle tension between Bacardi Ltd. and the Cuban government over the use of the Havana Club trademark in the U.S.

Bacardi left Cuba after the 1959 revolution and later acquired the rights to the Havana Club trademark from its prerevolutionary owner, whose distillery was nationalized. The U.S. previously had recognized Bacardi’s claim to the Havana Club name under a law that aims to protect owners of Cuban companies that were nationalized after the Cuban revolution.

The decision to grant Cubaexport the trademark would allow the Cuban government to sell Cuban-made Havana Club in the U.S. for the first time in decades once the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba is lifted.

That is unlikely to happen before President Barack Obama leaves office in 2017, but experts, lobbyists and lawmakers in favor of the shift have said they expect it will in the next five years.

Bacardi had been selling Havana Club-branded rum in the U.S. since 1994. That rum is made in Puerto Rico because of the economic embargo. Pernod Richard SA, which has a joint venture with the Cuban government, has been selling a Cuban-made version of the rum outside of the U.S.

Amy Federman, a Bacardi spokeswoman, said, “Bacardi is pleased to see that members of Congress are standing up for property rights and looking into this issue.”

The company has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records to explain why the U.S. decided to return the rights to use the name Havana Club back to the Cuban state company, which runs a joint venture with a global rival liquor company.

On Thursday, Rep.  Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), a signatory to the letter, will chair a hearing on the Havana Club trademark battle and property claims. U.S. and Cuban officials met to talk about billions of dollars of competing property claims for the first time last December.

The claims, valued on the U.S. side to be between $7 billion and $8 billion, are among the most contentious issues the two sides will address as they push for full normalization. Cuba, for its part, said at the United Nations this year it is owed about $121 billion for damages from the economic embargo.

Two of Cuba’s top players reportedly defect to pursue MLB career

Fox Sports

Two of Cuba’s top baseball players are believed to have defected from Cuba to pursue a career in Major League Baseball.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, and Yulieski Gurriel, 31, who are brothers, defected from Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following the Caribbean Series that concluded Sunday, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez — first reported by Miami’s El Nuevo Herald.

Lourdes is considered Cuba’s top prospect, while his brother Yulieski is considered the island nation’s top player. Both have repeatedly expressed a desire to legally leave the country with permission from the Cuban government with tensions easing between them and the United States.

Yulieski was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. As one of the nation’s most decorated players, he was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He has been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series. He is considered major-league ready, and possibly could find a spot on a MLB roster this season. Playing mostly third base, he has been a career .333/.414/.577 hitter during his professional career.

Yulieski was recently allowed by the Cuban government to play in Nippon Professional Baseball batting .305/.349/.536 with 11 home runs in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars.

Lourdes, the younger of the two brothers, could face more obstacles before finding himself on a major-league roster due to his age. Should he sign before his 23rd birthday, he would be subject to international bonus pools, limiting which teams could sign him. After Oct. 19, he would be free to sign with any club he chooses. During his short career thus far, Lourdes has batted .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances. His numbers have steadily increased every year of his playing career.

The brothers come from a family of famous professional Cuban baseball players. Their oldest brother, Yunieski, 33, has won two MVP Awards in 16 seasons with Serie Nacional, and has spent the past two seasons playing for Quebec in the Canadian-American Association. The brothers’ father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr., played for the Cuban national team for 15 years, winning a gold medal, two batting titles and an MVP award. More recently, he was a national team manager.

While the MLB will eventually be getting two top talents in the majors with the players defecting, both players will need to establish residency in a new country then be declared a free agent by MLB before any clubs and officially attempt to sign them. There is no specific amount of time the process can take, as each case presents a difference situation.

The Disastrous Cuba Deal—One Year On

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By Stephen Flurry, The Trumpet

When United States President Barack Obama reestablished full diplomatic relations with the Castro regime in Cuba in December 2014, he said it would advance U.S. interests and engage and empower the Cuban people. At the U.S. flag-raising ceremony in Havana in August, Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal would help ease restrictions on Cuban entrepreneurs, as well as improve family communications and travel. He urged the Cuban government to do its part in making it less difficult for Cuban citizens to start businesses, engage in trade, and access the Internet.

“The goal of all these changes is to help Cubans connect to the world and improve their lives,” Kerry said. It’s only been six months since Secretary Kerry made those remarks, and already the Washington Post editorial board is calling the Cuba deal a “failure.”

There is “scant evidence” of any sea change in Cuba, the Post wrote—“perhaps because Mr. Obama continues to offer the Castro regime unilateral concessions requiring nothing in return” (emphasis added).

The Obama administration used the same strategy on the Iran nuclear deal—unilateral concessions requiring little or nothing in return. How long will it be before the world awakens to the failure of the nuclear deal?

In Cuba, the deal that was supposed to help Cuban people has instead empowered a ruthless Communist regime. As the Washington Post noted, “Autocrats everywhere must be watching with envy the Castros’ good fortune.”

Over the past year, the Castro brothers have actually cracked down on dissidents promoting democracy in Cuba! And the only businesses benefiting from “improved” relations with the U.S. are state-run institutions.

Continue reading The Disastrous Cuba Deal—One Year On

Facts Prove Obama’s Cuba Policy Counter-Productive

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The World Post by Mauricio Claver-Carone, Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C.

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President Obama announced a new Cuba policy on Dec. 17, 2014. It gave diplomatic recognition to the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, unilaterally eased U.S. trade and travel restrictions, and commuted the prison sentences of three convicted Cuban spies, including one imprisoned for plotting the murder of three Americans shot-down by Cuban MIGs while flying over the Florida Straits.

When Obama announced his new policy, describing it as “what change looks like,” few believed that the “change” would be for the worse. Yet the policy has clearly proven to be counter-productive. Set aside the policy theories and debates. Instead, look simply at the irrefutable facts since the announcement:

•Political arrests have intensified. Throughout 2015, there were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba. In November alone there were more than 1,447 documented political arrests, the highest monthly tally in decades. Those numbers compare to 2,074 arrests in 2010 and 4,123 in 2011.

•A new Cuban migration is unfolding. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban immigrants since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans entering the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States; tens of thousands more are desperately trying to make the journey, via Ecuador and other South and Central American countries. When President Obama took office, the numbers were less than 7,000 annually.

•The number of “self-employed” workers in Cuba has decreased. The Cuban government today is licensing 10,000 fewer “self-employed” workers than it did in 2014. In contrast, Castro’s military monopolies are expanding at record pace. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota S.A., announced 12 percent growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year. Even the limited spaces in which cuentapropistas previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island’s travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.

•Internet “connectivity ranking” has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the world’s most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba’s ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world’s most infamous suppressors of the Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (127), Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).

•U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba have plummeted. Despite the Obama Administration’s easing of sanctions, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba declined by nearly 40 percent in 2015. In August alone, the value of U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84 percent to $2.25 million from $14.30 million in 2014. That’s one of the lowest numbers since the United States authorized agricultural exports to Cuba in 2001.

•Religious freedom violations have increased tenfold. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

•Castro reneged on the release of political prisoners and visits by international monitors. Most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama’s December 2014 announcement have since been re-arrested on multiple occasions. Five have been handed new long-term prison sentences. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch noted in its new 2016 report, “Cuba has yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by U.N. human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the United States.”

•International political and economic pressure on Cuba has eroded. Despite the Obama Administration’s prediction that the new U.S. policy would allow other countries to hold the Castro regime accountable for its repressive practices, the opposite is occurring. Presidents, foreign ministers and other dignitaries have flocked to Cuba to discuss business opportunities with Castro’s state monopolies. None has made even a minimal gesture of solidarity with Cuba’s civil society. International creditors have forgiven tens of billions in the Castro dictatorship’s debts.

Supporters of Obama’s policy point to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as a sign of “success” in itself. Yet no progress has been made on pressing diplomatic issues like the extradition of one of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists, who continues to be harbored by Cuba’s regime, or compensation or return of billions in Americans property confiscated by the regime. To the contrary, we’ve learned that throughout this process of negotiations and “changes” sought by the Obama Administration, that Cuba has had a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile in its possession and refused to return it. To make matters worse, defense experts fear Cuba may have shared information about this missile’s technology with nations like North Korea.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s “talking for the sake of talking” is proving only to be a useful distraction in this country and the world that is allowing the Castro regime to strengthen its political and economic grip over the Cuban people and their future.

Follow Mauricio Claver-Carone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@capitolcubans