Monthly Archives: September 2016

Toronto man ‘scarred for life’ in robbery at Cuban resort

torontomanrobbed

Toronto Sun
A violent robbery at a Cuban resort ended Paul Sampalean’s dream vacation before it even started.

The 33-year-old construction worker also had to pay a $3,000 hospital bill before he could return to Toronto with a nasty gash on his head.

“He’s scarred for life,” Antonia Sampalean told the Toronto Sun on Friday — hours before her brother was expected to arrive back in the city.

She said the Toronto resident enjoyed his first visit to Cuba last year and decided to return to the popular vacation destination for Canadians.

“Obviously he won’t be going back there — ever again,” Antonia said.

Paul Sampalean landed in the communist country on Sept. 2 to learn his luggage was lost.

“Air Transit told him to go wait in the lobby of his hotel and his luggage would be dropped off,” Antonia said, recalling her brother’s version of events.

She said Paul remembers chatting with locals in the lobby of Sol Sirenas Coral, a four-star all-inclusive resort in Veradero.

“The locals tried to grab his wallet,” Antonia said. “There were three of them and he was alone, but he fought back.

“I wish he would have given them his wallet, but he’s not like that,” she said, adding her brother is about 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds.

Paul was knocked unconscious, but witnesses later helped him piece together some of the ordeal.

“Hotel security staff intervened,” Antonia said, adding the crooks took off with the $100 or so Paul had in his wallet.

She said her brother thinks he may have fallen and hit his head. His forehead was split open.

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where medical personnel used a mere four stitches to close his 13-centimetre cut. Antonia said her brother is unsure what other tests were conducted during his two-day stay.

“But the hospital issued him a $3,000 dollar bill and threatened he’d be sent to jail if he refused to pay,” she alleged.Another

Her brother also told her that the initial police report allegedly stated he was “found wandering in the streets of Varadero.”

But Paul alleges that report mysteriously disappeared after four witnesses provided statements noting “the ambulance was called directly to the hotel,” she said.

After the attack, Antonia said her brother was uncomfortable having a large amount of cash on him, so she sought help from Global Affairs Canada.

Antonia sent used her credit card to send the government agency $3,100, which included a $75 special consular fee. The money was forwarded to consular officials in Cuba who then paid the hospital bill.

Paul’s luggage finally arrived at the resort four days after the robbery.

Air Transat, Global Affairs Canada and the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto never responded to the Sun’s request for comment.

Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

CUBA CASTRO

Skift

One could easily argue that nothing is hindering progress more in Cuba than its government and its military’s lack of skill and experience to do even the simplest things well. It is not competent enough to run a simple tour bus or tiny restaurant, let alone a UNESCO site. — Jason Clampet

At the height of Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis, a man with the obscure title of city historian began transforming Havana’s crumbling historic center block by block, polishing stone facades, replacing broken stained glass and repairing potholed streets.

Over a quarter century, Eusebio Leal turned Old Havana into a painstakingly restored colonial jewel, a tourist draw that brings in more than $170 million a year, according to the most recent available figures. His office became a center of power with unprecedented budgetary freedom from the island’s communist central government.

That independence is gone. Last month, the Cuban military took over the business operations of Leal’s City Historian’s Office, absorbing them into a business empire that has grown dramatically since the declaration of detente between the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

The military’s long-standing business wing, GAESA, assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military’s tourism arm, is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism. The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector. The armed forces this year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions, according to a bank official.

“GAESA is wisely investing in the more international — and more lucrative — segments of the Cuban economy. This gives the military technocrats a strong stake in a more outwardly oriented and internationally competitive Cuba deeply integrated into global markets,” said Richard Feinberg, author of “Open for Business: The New Cuban Economy.”

Castro has never publicly explained his reasoning for giving so much economic power to the military, but the armed forces are widely seen in Cuba as efficient, fast-moving and relatively unscathed by the low-level payoffs and pilferage that plague so much of the government. Economic disruption also is viewed as a crucial national security issue while the government slowly loosens its once-total hold on economic activity and renews ties with its former Cold War enemy 90 miles to the north.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has said detente was meant partly to help ordinary Cubans develop economic independence from a centrally planned government that employs most of the island’s workers, the Cuban government says the U.S. should expect no change in Cuba because of normalization with the U.S.

The takeover of Old Havana shows how the Cuban government is, so far, successfully steering much of the peace dividend into military coffers.

The announcement nearly two years ago that the U.S. and Cuba were restoring diplomatic relations set off a tourism boom with Old Havana at its epicenter. The cobblestone streets are packed with tourists browsing souvenir stands, visiting museums and dining in trendy private restaurants. World figures and celebrities from Madonna to Mick Jagger to Pope Francis and Obama have all visited. Hotels are booked well through next year.

The largest business arm of the historian’s office, Habaguanex, named for a pre-Columbian indigenous chief, directly runs some 20 hotels and 30 stores and more than 25 restaurants in Old Havana.

Under a special exemption by the ruling Council of State, the office has been allowed to use its revenues as it sees fit rather than returning them to the national treasury and receiving a yearly budget allocation from the central government. That 1993 measure is widely credited for giving Leal the power and flexibility to restore Old Havana to international standards while much of the rest of Havana suffers from neglect that has left buildings collapsing and streets rutted with big potholes.

A towering figure in Cuba’s intellectual and political life, Leal, who turns 74 on Sept. 11, is often chosen to deliver meditations on Cuban history and culture at major public events. He has never groomed an obvious successor. He has appeared frail and thin in some recent public appearances and close associates say he has been receiving treatment for a serious illness.

“I’m giving up everything that I think should be, under current conditions, better directed,” Leal told The Associated Press when asked about the military takeover of his financial operations. “There’s a reality. I was trained and educated to work in cultural heritage, and that’s my calling.”

Continue reading Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

Cuba airport security causes senators to call for pause in U.S.-Cuba flights

passengers

CBS News

Last week, regularly-scheduled commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba took off for the first time in more than fifty years. Now, a bipartisan pair of senators has submitted legislation to ground those planes over what they say are airport security concerns.

Senators Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, have submitted legislation to that would pause the Cuba-US routes until an assessment of Cuban aviation safety could be completed.

Is Cuba ready for a boom in U.S. tourism?

“With so many serious security threats around the world, it is irresponsible to leave key aspects of our airport security in the hands of anti-American, repressive regime in Cuba,” Rubio said in a statement.

But the Transportation Security Administration says it has reviewed operations at eight of the 10 Cuban airports set to provide commercial flights to and from the U.S. and that all met international standards.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who was to meet with members of Congress Thursday, told CBS News earlier this summer that his agency “will ensure that they in fact meet all of those requirements that we put in place at last points of departure.”

Currently, the United States and the Republic of Cuba have an agreement allowing federal air marshals on board certain passenger flights between the two nations. But Menendez says it’s not enough.

“Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship that continues to harbor American hijackers and terrorists as heroes…and remains a strategic ally of some of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations,” he said. “Every airport worker is employed directly by the regime, and its airports lack the technology and security capabilities we’ve grown to expect in the United States.”

Excitement over first flights from U.S. to Cuba

While Cuba, a nation of more than 11 million about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, has been largely off limits to the United States for 55 years, it is a major tourist destination from Canada, Europe, Latin America and Russia. Dozens of international airlines serve Cuba each day.

Scheduled commercial airline service from the U.S. ended in 1961 after the communist government of Fidel Castro rose to power, and nationalized foreign assets (many of them belonging to American companies). The Cuban missile crisis brought the world to brink of nuclear war, after the Castro regime allowed Russian missiles to be set up, prompting the ongoing U.S. embargo.

But even before Jetblue flight 387 left Fort Lauderdale with 150 passengers August 31st bound for Cuba, on average 17 charter flights travel between the U.S. and the island nation daily. The charter flights have existed for years, and all of the passengers on those flights passed through Cuban airport security without legislation from Congress to stop it.

CBS News was on that first commercial flight to Santa Clara, Cuba’s fifth largest city. Our experience was far from a comprehensive review of airport security. We found it to be similar to screenings at airports around the world, but with a few quirks.

Upon arrival in Cuba, our bags were x-rayed with equipment resembling those seen in American airports. Each passenger passed through a magnetometer. Some were also “wanded” with a handheld metal detector. Security officers would not allow bottled water past the checkpoint and held a safety razor (used for shaving) for no clear reason. When asked why water couldn’t enter the terminal, the officer simply said it wasn’t allowed.

Our photojournalist was allowed to keep his water. Prior to heading for customs, the razor was returned, and we were screened again. At the Santa Clara airport, we did not see body scanners.

After checking into our return flights and clearing immigration in Havana, the security checkpoint at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminal 3, looked a lot like security at many small airports in the U.S. There were several lanes closed — and just one screening passengers. While the line wasn’t long, the process was slow. Bags were x-rayed, passengers passed through metal detectors, and in some cases were also ‘wanded’ by a handheld scanner. This terminal appeared to have one body scanner station.

Our CBS News crew was selected for additional screening, our bags were emptied and examined. Security officers express particular concern over several old books we purchased.

The senators’ Cuban Airport Security Act follows a similar measure introduced by Congressman John Katko, R-New York, in July. Earlier in the summer members of the House Homeland Security Committee were denied visas to enter Cuba for a trip to examine airport security there.

On the day the senate bill was announced American Airlines began rolling out its service to Cuba with a flight to Cienfuegos. The Department of Transportation has authorized up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba on 10 carriers. Flights to the island’s capitol city are expected to begin in November.

The Sorry Tale Of Cuban Communism

By Dan Mitchell

Before communism arrived in Cuba, it was one of the most prosperous societies of the Americas. Now, its economy and society are both severely crippled by it.

Communism should be remembered first and foremost for the death, brutality, and repression that occurred whenever that evil system was imposed upon a nation.

Dictators like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the North Korean Kim dynasty either killed more than Hitler, or butchered higher proportions of their populations.

But let’s not forget that communism also has an awful economic legacy. The economic breakdown of the Soviet Empire. The horrid deprivation in North Korea. The giant gap that existed between West Germany and East Germany. The mass poverty in China before partial liberalisation.

Today, let’s focus on how communism has severely crippled the Cuban economy.

In a column for Reason, a few years ago, Steven Chapman accurately summarised the problems in that long-suffering nation.

“There may yet be admirers of Cuban communism in certain precincts of Berkeley or Cambridge, but it’s hard to find them in Havana. The average Cuban makes only about $20 a month— which is a bit spartan even if you add in free housing, food, and medical care. For that matter, the free stuff is not so easy to come by. Food shortages are frequent, the stock of adequate housing has shrunk, and hospital patients often have to bring their own sheets, food, and even medical supplies. Roger Noriega, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, notes that before communism arrived, Cuba “was one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies of the Americas.” His colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has documented that pre-Castro Cuba had a high rate of literacy and a life expectancy surpassing that in Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Instead of accelerating development, Castro has hindered it. In 1980, living standards in Chile were double those in Cuba. Thanks to bold free-market reforms implemented in Chile but not Cuba, the average Chilean’s income now appears to be four times higher than the average Cuban’s. In its latest annual report, Human Rights Watch says, “Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

The comparison between Chile and Cuba is especially apt since the pro-market reforms in the South American nation came after a coup against a Marxist government that severely weakened the Chilean economy.

Chapman points out that the standard leftist excuse for Cuban misery— the U.S. trade embargo— isn’t very legitimate.

“The regime prefers to blame any problems on the Yankee imperialists, who have enforced an economic embargo for decades. In fact, its effect on the Cuban economy is modest, since Cuba trades freely with the rest of the world.”

Since the U.S. accounts for nearly one-fourth of world economic output, I’m open to the hypothesis that the negative impact on Cuba is more than “modest.”

Continue reading The Sorry Tale Of Cuban Communism

Sen. Menendez: Flights to Cuba ‘Enriching the Castro Regime at the Expense of Human Rights and Democracy

bobmenendez

CNS News

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said last week that commercial flights from the United States to Cuba are “propping up a regime that oppresses its people” and “enriching the Castro regime at the expense of human rights and democracy.”

“All we’re doing is enriching the Castro regime at the expense of human rights and democracy. So, if we could create, for example, business opportunities with the average Cuban person — if the average Cuban person was free to decide, you know, that I want to start up a little business, a little barber shop or restaurant or a repair shop and be able to profit from that and then because of their economic freedom see greater freedoms from the government. That might be a catalyst.” Sen. Menendez said in an interview with NJTV.

“But all that’s happening here is that in Cuba there are only two main entities that you can deal with. Both are controlled by the Castro regime. One is controlled by Castro’s son. The other one is controlled by his son-in-law. Both of them part of the Cuban military, both of the profits from the proceeds go to the Cuban military,” Menendez said.

“So, we’re actually propping up a regime that oppresses its people and has actually been since the president’s initiative more repressive. More arrests have been taking place, more beatings of human rights activists and political dissonants, because they think the message is, ‘We want to do business with you. We want to go to your beaches, and we’re willing to let human rights and democracy fall by the wayside.’”

Menedez said in order for it to be acceptable to him for the United States to have relations with Cuba, Cuba must be willing to free political prisoners, permit independent journalists, and hold free elections.

Last month, Jet Blue flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Santa Clara, Cuba, was the first direct commercial flight from the United States to Cuba in a half-century.

Thousands of computers possibly infected after visiting Cuban government website

cubavirus

Caribbean News

En español Martí Noticias

After several weeks of analysis, it has been determined that the Cuban government information website (acn.cu) is dispensing a dangerous clipboard virus that aims to steal information from the computers of unsuspecting visitors to that site.

The analysis of the infection was done by the Guyana-based cyber security firm and regional anti-virus producer Computer Care, with some assistance from the international cyber security community.

Their analysis revealed that the virus launches a permission pop up (on the ACN website) that seemingly gives users an option to either allow it to control their computer clipboard data or to refuse permission. However, it is hoped that most users would instinctively click the “Don’t allow” option button.

But the team of analysts that examined the infection told Caribbean News Now that the virus can still be passed on to a computer even in cases where a user clicks the “Don’t allow” option, since the virus developer seems to have placed a reversed coding action on that option that will provoke a force install via vulnerable browsers.

The virus, which is unique in its programming structure, is functionally similar to other previously deployed clipboard infections, except that it uses more tricky options to take unauthorized control of a computer clipboard. Thereafter, it quickly creates a backdoor on a computer so as to allow for captured information to be sent out to a remote server, in the same way that internet traffic flows in.

It basically copies entries made by the user, including passwords, typed messages, and other data, and then funnels this back to a server, where the information can be accessed and processed by the unknown third party.

And because the infection uses and exploits a few known vulnerabilities of certain JavaScript functions, it is generally difficult for most anti-virus programs to locate and remove it from a computer.

The research, which was headed by Guyana-born software security analyst, Dennis Adonis, who is also the lead anti-virus developer and owner of Computer Care – Guyana, found that the infection could have either been planted by another foreign government or rogue group as part of a cyber warfare strategy or by Cuban cyber intelligence experts themselves.

But whoever has infected the website seems to have the ability to turn the infection on and off at will, ironically to the ignorance of the site owner, which happens to be the government of Cuba.

Questioned on why the virus may be hard for most anti-virus software to pick up, Adonis said that it will be foolhardy for anyone to believe that an anti-virus can actually protect against every infection on a computer.

He stressed that it is practically impossible for every virus to be identified as such because all anti-virus software relies on virus signatures in order to isolate and eliminate an infection.

And since virus planters and hackers are now engaging stealth technology to deploy infections, quite a handful of them were able to make a mockery of most anti-virus software by encrypting their virus signatures.

As in the case of the infection on the Cuban government website, Adonis explained that the virus was very complex to contain, since his initial attempts has showed that the virus immediately tries to replicate itself once you attempt to break into its algorithms.

This, he said, has shown the degree of intelligence that has been deployed into its algorithms, and the level of challenges that the infection can actually create for the average antivirus software.

The website in question generally attracts thousands of visitors’ daily; a percentage of whose browsers may fall into the vulnerability category.

Nonetheless, there is uncertainty surrounding the number of computers that may actually be infected as a result of visiting the website.