Monthly Archives: January 2016

Marco Rubio: Obama not doing enough to stop Cuba migrant crisis



Sen. Marco Rubio used the Cuban migrant crisis approaching U.S. borders on Thursday to lambast President Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba as laughable.

The Cuban-American Republican senator from Florida was asked what he would do about Cuba as president on Thursday at an Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security forum in New Hampshire.

He attacked Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, saying the U.S. made “major concessions” and Cuba changed “nothing” in how they behave in return, including harboring fugitives, collaborating with U.S. enemies and oppressing its citizens.

“Cuba oppresses its people so bad that today we have a migratory crisis from Cuba that’s being under-reported,” Rubio said. “You literally have thousands of Cuban migrants who have gone to Costa Rica and are now working their way up Central America to cross the U.S. border because once they come into the United States, they’re legal.”

There are roughly 8,000 Cuban migrants who have been stranded in Costa Rica, and they recently began a journey through Central America to cross into the U.S. at the southern border, with the first batch of dozens arriving over the weekend.

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Continue reading Marco Rubio: Obama not doing enough to stop Cuba migrant crisis

Sen. Ted Cruz Seeks to Block Joint U.S.-Cuba Security Exercises


The Washington Free Beacon

Demands return of dummy Hellfire missile

Congress may consider blocking the United States and Cuba from conducting joint security exercises until the Obama administration can prove the communist regime has dialed back its anti-American efforts, according to a letter sent to the Pentagon and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a leading critic of the administration’s detente with Cuba, petitioned Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Wednesday, demanding that he disinvite Cuba from the upcoming Caribbean Nations Security Conference, which will be held later this month in Jamaica. Cruz is concerned about recent reports that Cuba is in possession of a dummy American Hellfire missile.

The inclusion of Cuba in these sensitive discussions is “reckless” and any invitation should be rescinded “at the very least until the Hellfire is returned to the United States,” Cruz wrote in the letter.

In the months since the Obama administration renewed relations with Cuba and removed it from the official state sponsors of terror list, the Cuban regime has continued to harbor fugitives from the U.S., including one who was convicted in 1977 of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper.

Cruz maintains that it is not in the national security interests of U.S. to include Cuba in the high-level security talks, which were announced by the Pentagon earlier this month.

It seems “recklessly premature to participate in a joint security exercise with Cuba this month, especially as they seem likely to only use it as a platform from which to demand the return of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay,” Cruz wrote, referring to recent indications by Cuba that it will push the Obama administration to return the land currently being used to house terror suspects.
Continue reading Sen. Ted Cruz Seeks to Block Joint U.S.-Cuba Security Exercises

Vacations on the toilet: Canadian travelers report illnesses at Cuban resorts


Global News

En Español Martí Noticias

Unsanitary washrooms, unsafe food handling practices, unrelenting stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea: these are some of the complaints being reported about popular Canadian vacations destinations in Cuba promoted and operated by Sunwing Vacations of Toronto.

“It’s very severe, and I am struggling a week later,” said Amanda Klein of Medicine Hat, Alta., who recently returned from Cuba and says she is still experiencing stomach problems.

Klein, 26, spent a week with her boyfriend and two other Canadian couples at the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Hotel in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba between Jan. 5 and 12.

But within days of the Canadians’ arrival, Klein says five of the six guests were violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea.

Klein says the group stopped eating at the all-inclusive resort–which they booked through Sunwing Vacations–after witnessing troubling food-handling practices.

“Numerous staff put their hands in food, licked their hands and put their hands in the food we were supposed to eat,” she said.

She said her group became alarmed when they watched staff members clearing tables in the buffet restaurant.

“They would collect the dirty dishes from the tables, and if it looked like they weren’t used, then left them on the table,” Klein told Global News, adding many of the dishes were dirty.

Continue reading Vacations on the toilet: Canadian travelers report illnesses at Cuban resorts

Rep. Diaz-Balart pushes Cuba to free dissident journalist on hunger strike


Centre Daily Times

Misael Canet has been on a hunger strike for 4 weeks
Miami congressmen says he’s being held with no mattress, clothes
Congressman says Cuba has arrested 8,000 since rapprochement began

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart called Tuesday for the Cuban government to release an independent journalist who stopped eating four weeks ago to protest his Dec. 17 arrest.

Diaz-Balart, a seven-term Republican from Miami, said Misael Canet Velázquez is being held “in abhorrent conditions in Camaguey’s notorious Kilo 8 prison without clothes or a suitable place to sleep, and has been provided limited access to water.”

The Cuban-American congressman’s appeal came three weeks after he demanded the release of another Cuban dissident, Vladimir Morera Bacallao, who had posted a sign on his front lawn last April calling municipal elections then taking place a sham. Morera has waged his own hunger strike while in prison.

Canet is a leader of the National Front of Civic Resistance Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a protest group based in southern Cuba. He’s also a reporter for the independent news agency Press Talk.

Kilo 8, one of a string of maximum-security prisons that dissidents liken to the former Soviet gulag system, is in Canet’s hometown of Camaguey, the third-largest city in Cuba, with almost 350,000 residents.

Along with other dissidents, Canet was arrested Dec. 17 during a demonstration in which they demanded the release of a human rights activist.

Canet had been one of 20 signatories to a Jan. 17, 2014, proclamation in which leaders of resistance organizations spelled out a common strategy for defeating Cuban President Raúl Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel when the revolutionary leader gave up the government reins in 2008 because of illness.

Canet, who has been detained multiple times, began a hunger strike after his most recent arrest.

Diaz-Balart said 8,000 dissidents had been arrested since President Barack Obama declared his intention to normalize relations with Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

“Shamefully, the dictatorship’s human rights record has not improved,” Diaz-Balart said. “In fact, several of the Obama-Castro 53 released political prisoners have been rearrested.”

Under a deal brokered by Pope Francis, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners whose names had been provided by the U.S. State Department. The two countries opened embassies in each other’s capitals in July, ending

Venezuela Is Still the Most Miserable Country on the Planet and they Can’t Blame the Embargo



South American Nation Tops the World Misery Index for Third Year Running

Venezuelans remained the most miserable people on Earth in 2015, according to the latest World Misery Index. This ranking is published annually by Johns Hopkins University economist Steve Hanke, who told the PanAm Post that Venezuela topped all other countries in the world in terms of misery while previewing the results for the Americas.

The Misery Index score is the sum of the unemployment rate, the lending rate, and the inflation rate, minus the annual percent change in real GDP per capita.

Hanke, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, who is considered to have been Ronald Reagan’s privatization guru, shared an exclusive preview of the results for 2015 in the Americas with the PanAm Post. The main source for the economist’s data is the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The case of Nicaragua is an exception, since the unemployment data was taken from the World Bank.


In this latest edition, Venezuela leads the world ranking for the third consecutive year, mainly due to this country’s rocketing levels of inflation. In Hanke’s view, the solution for Venezuela is to adopt the US dollar.

“The only sure fire way to permanently fix Venezuela’s money mess, which has been going on for many years, is to dollarize,” Hanke tells the PanAm Post. “The politician or political movement that does this will win the prize and will stand a good chance of remaining in power for many years,” he continues.

Moreover, Brazil has displaced Argentina and now follows Venezuela as the second worst performer in the Americas, increasing 23.8 points since 2014. The main reason for this, according to the index, is the country’s interest rates.

“When interest rates are the major contributing factor to the Misery Index, it implies that the banking system is either not competitive, or there is a great deal of credit risk and uncertainty about inflation — or both,” Hanke asserts.

He further states that Panama, El Salvador, and Ecuador — “the dollarizers,” as he calls them — continued to do relatively well this year, although Ecuador is showing signs of economic deterioration.

“The [Rafael] Correa government has adopted a socialist-interventionist model. This is a formula for failure. If Ecuador was not dollarized, it would be closely following Venezuela towards the bottom of the abyss,” he adds.

As for the 19 other countries on the Americas preview, Hanke explains that those who got Misery Index scores over 20 — such as Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, and Honduras — are in need of “serious structural economic reforms,” including a major overhaul of its money and banking regime, and “a good dose of free-market reforms.”

“In the world of economic reforms, one has to be big and bold. The best way to proceed is to adopt a foreign currency (i.e. dollarization), or clone a sound foreign currency via a currency board,” Hanke says.

Hanke also points out that Latin America “failed to make hay while the sun was shining.”

“Yes, Latin America failed to reform and modernize during the ‘boom’ years. Now, the region will pay the price,” he says.

“Indeed, there are many headwinds in the region. Indeed, 2016 could prove to be a very difficult year, and the 2016 Misery Index scores could be worse than this year’s. There will be exceptions, of course, like Argentina, where a Marxist-populist government has finally been thrown out after ruining the country,” Hanke concludes.

Report: Cuban Army Gets Lion’s Share of Foreign Investment



NGO Documents Suffocating Network of Military-Run Businesses

As the United States lifts restrictions and eyes investment opportunities in Cuba, Foresight Cuba is taking a look at the architecture of island’s economy.

On January 7, the organization published a report detailing the army’s monopoly on virtually all sectors of the economy, including the tourism industry, which the Cuban regime has previously claimed is the best way for ordinary residents of the island to gain economic independence.

Foresight Cuba offers independent measurements of the island’s economy, population, environmental issues, and other related issues. The group aims to contrast the picture presented by the Cuban government with data and analysis from experts.

Cimex Corporation and Business Administration Group (Gaesa), which control foreign-exchange operations and remittances on the island, are in the hands of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR). Both enjoy state funding and privileges that are unavailable to other Cuban entities.

Gaesa is a conglomerate with 18 corporations, each of which runs companies that dominate ports, tourist attractions, restaurants, hotels, real estate, and even transportation.

As for Cimex, it operates several departments that control wholesale commerce in beverages, communications, technology, and maritime shipping, as well as several retail businesses like coffee shops, jewelry stores, post offices, and photo and advertising services, among others.
Continue reading Report: Cuban Army Gets Lion’s Share of Foreign Investment

Cuban artists still condemned to silence



Dissident artists are no better off post-Fidel, and renewed relations with the US haven’t helped as many hoped or claimed they would

“[T]he fault of many of our intellectuals and artists is to be found in their ‘original sin’: they are not authentically revolutionary.”
— Che Guevara, Man and Socialism in Cuba, 1965

Last year was a good one for Cuban artists. With renewed diplomatic relations with the US, a boom in Latin American art and Cuba’s exceptional artistic talent — fostered through institutions such as the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana — works by prominent Cuban artists fetched top dollar at international auctions, and the Cuban film industry was firmly in the international spotlight.

While the end of the embargo brought with it hope for political liberalisation on the island, as with previous periods of promise in Cuban history cases of repression and censorship of dissident artists were rife in 2015.

So let’s begin again: Last year was a good one for Cuban artists who adhere to the country’s long-established revolutionary narrative and don’t embarrass the regime.

The fear of censorship for art that is critical of the government has been fostered through decades of laws and repression that limit freedom of expression. This can mean stigmatisation, the loss of employment and even imprisonment. Charges such as “social dangerousness” and insulting national symbols are so vague they make convictions very easy.
Continue reading Cuban artists still condemned to silence

Warning to tourists: Don’t get sick in Cuba

Barb Johnston, 54, from Oak Lake, Man., died on Dec. 29, 2015
Barb Johnston, 54, from Oak Lake, Man., died on Dec. 29, 2015

En Español Martí Noticias

Manitoba woman dies of mystery illness after trip to Cuba

CBC News

Family of Barb Johnston, 54, warns Canadian travelers to have emergency plan.
The family of a Manitoba woman who got sick in Cuba and died a day after getting back to Canada is warning travelers to be prepared for every emergency.

Barb Johnston, 54, of Oak Lake, Man., died on Dec. 29 at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, following a month-long illness that started in Cuba, where she and her husband, John, had travelled for one of their regular sun vacations.

Barb developed flu-like symptoms on Nov. 26 while staying on Cayo Santa Maria, said her husband, John. She took a turn for the worse and they headed to a medical clinic on Nov. 27, he said.

“The resorts are absolutely gorgeous where the tourists are, the facilities are beautiful, the beaches are amazing,” John said. “But once we got to the medical centre, it was a horrendous shock.

“It was very dirty, everything had rust on it, there was no doors on anything, everyone seemed to be in their street clothes.”

Staff at the clinic had her transferred later that morning to a hospital more than two hours away on mainland Cuba. She was admitted to the intensive care unit, put on a ventilator and treated for septic shock.

The hospital didn’t have food, water or public toilets that worked, the family said. Sinks were also few and far between. At one point, hospital staff asked the family to go and bring back orange juice and push it though Barb’s feeding tube, the said.

Continue reading Warning to tourists: Don’t get sick in Cuba

Shopping in Cuba


The New Yorker

A Spanish-English dictionary, sunscreen, insect repellent, a towel, chocolate ice cream: these are the items that eluded me during a recent trip to Cuba. For all the hoopla about the island’s opening and the more than three million tourists who swamped it last year, Cuba is no country for shoppers. The more mundane the object of desire, the more exasperating it can be to find.

I’m not saying that these common items are completely unavailable in Cuba—I’m sure they are for sale somewhere on the island—but I couldn’t locate them. And I did look. The problem might be that I spent half of my trip in Trinidad, a cobblestoned colonial city on the Caribbean coast. When I ventured out to the Galería Comercial Universo, which my Lonely Planet claimed featured “Trinidad’s best (and most expensive) grocery store,” it was closed due to lack of electricity. I was able to peer into the darkened grocery store to see considerable yards of empty shelves. Electricity woes might have accounted as well for my inability to obtain ice cream for my son. When we finally found it, on the menu of an expatriate beach club in Havana, it arrived melted. And the waitress couldn’t find a spoon.

At the Plaza de Armas in Havana, the large open-air market, my inquiry about a Spanish-English dictionary was met with “no es fácil,” an answer I heard often in Cuba. The bookseller did offer up a Russian-Spanish dictionary. At a kiosk in a suburban neighborhood, which the proprietor proclaimed “not just the best bookstore in Havana, but all of Cuba,” I found a Larousse dictionary from 1987, with yellowed pages that crumbled as I opened it. It was for sale for the equivalent of five dollars, a week’s salary for most Cubans. (After I returned from Cuba, I was told I could find a decent used dictionary at Cuba Libro, an English-language bookstore that opened in 2013.) I never found a state bookstore that was open.

Having been a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe in the nineteen-nineties, and more recently in China, I have some experience with Communist and post-Communist countries. In Cuba I saw elements of many of them, from Albania to Vietnam. Like Prague in the nineteen-nineties, Havana’s old city is swarming with tourists who gaze at the faded splendor of its Belle Époque architecture. Private restaurants inside these elegant wrecks, called paladares, beckon tourists with creative meals made out of the few ingredients available locally, mostly chicken, pork, cabbage, rice, and beans.

But Cuba also looks to me like a North Korea with palm trees. To be sure, Cuba has evolved politically, investing in education and health care rather than weapons of mass destruction. But the economic fundamentals in these last bastions of Communism are much the same. Like North Korea, Cuba maintains a distribution system in which citizens pay a low cost for inadequate rations of staple foods. (At one state shop, the provisions, listed on the blackboard, were grains, washing soap, bathing soap, toothpaste, sugar, salt, coffee, evaporated milk, eggs, and oil.) As in North Korea, archaic laws prevent the private sale of commodities that have been deemed strategic to the nation. Fishing is limited in both countries on the grounds that the bounty of the seas is the exclusive property of the state.
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