Monthly Archives: November 2016

Too broke for boats, Cubans inflate condoms to find big fish

condomfishing

CBS News

Juan Luis Rosello sat for three hours on the Malecon as the wind blew in from the Florida Straits, pushing the waves hard against the seawall of Havana’s coastal boulevard.

As darkness settled and the wind switched direction, Rosello pulled four condoms from a satchel and began to blow them up. When the contraceptives were the size of balloons, the 47-year-old cafeteria worker tied them together by their ends, attached them to the end of a baited fishing line and set them floating on the tide until they reached the end of his 750-foot line.

After six decades under U.S. embargo and Soviet-inspired central planning, Cubans have become masters at finding ingenious solutions with extremely limited resources. Few are as creative as what Havana’s fishermen call “balloon fishing,” a technique employing a couple of cents worth of condoms to pull fish worth an average month’s salary from the ocean.

On any given night in Havana, dozens of men can be found “balloon fishing” along the Havana seawall, using their homemade floats to carry their lines as far as 900 feet into the coastal waters, where they also serve to keep the bait high in the water and to increase the line’s resistance against the pull of a bonito or red snapper.

“No one can cast the line that far by hand,” said Ivan Muno, 56, who was fishing alongside Rosello.

For four more hours, he sat silently as the dark sea pounded the rocks below the seawall, algae flashing green in the waves beneath an enormous creamy moon, the sounds of the city muffled by the wind and water. By midnight, he was heading home without a catch, but planning to return soon.

“This is the most effective way to fish,” Rosello said. “Someone got this great idea and I can be here all night with the balloons out.”

After six decades under U.S. embargo and Soviet-inspired central planning, Cubans have become masters at finding ingenious solutions with extremely limited resources. Few are as creative as what Havana’s fishermen call “balloon fishing,” a technique employing a couple of cents worth of condoms to pull fish worth an average month’s salary from the ocean.

On any given night in Havana, dozens of men can be found “balloon fishing” along the Havana seawall, using their homemade floats to carry their lines as far as 900 feet into the coastal waters, where they also serve to keep the bait high in the water and to increase the line’s resistance against the pull of a bonito or red snapper.

“No one can cast the line that far by hand,” said Ivan Muno, 56, who was fishing alongside Rosello.

For four more hours, he sat silently as the dark sea pounded the rocks below the seawall, algae flashing green in the waves beneath an enormous creamy moon, the sounds of the city muffled by the wind and water. By midnight, he was heading home without a catch, but planning to return soon.

“This is the most effective way to fish,” Rosello said. “Someone got this great idea and I can be here all night with the balloons out.”

The Miami Herald Editorial: Trump not a threat to Cuba, the regime is

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

The Miami Herald

Donald Trump’s victory has sent shock waves through the United States — and also to our nearest “frenemy” 90 miles away.

The president-elect clearly said during his campaign that he would reverse the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana unless Raúl Castro’s government granted more political freedoms to the population.

On this subject, the Cuban regime continues to be deficient: Granting the freedoms to which Mr. Trump referred is tantamount to going against the very essence of the system.

The Editorial Board, though supportive of normalization, has been disappointed with the pace of change in Cuba. In truth, the regime has conceded very little.

In the final days of his campaign, Mr. Trump was endorsed by the veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion — a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles who unsuccessfully tried to topple the Fidel Castro regime in 1961.

Rightly, the island government fears that when Mr. Trump moves into the White House, he will put President Obama’s though back on ice. After all, Cuba has seen an increase in the flow of capital it needs to keep its failing economy afloat.

And on the streets, Cubans who dream of coming to the United States see their goal at risk. They fear that Mr. Trump, who has often spoken of reducing the influx of immigrants to the nation, will eliminate migratory privileges, such as visas programs, that allow Cubans to resettle in the United States.

It is possible that before Jan. 20, when the real-estate magnate takes office, there will be increased attempts to cross the Florida Straits, or there will be a jump in the number of Cubans making their way to the United States through other countries.

No doubt, such a renewed exodus will have an impact on South Florida.

The restlessness on the island coincides with an announcement last week of military exercises in Cuba. Cuban authorities say the exercises will be held from Nov. 16 thru 18.

The objective is to “raise the country’s willingness to defend and prepare the troops and the population to deal with the enemy’s different actions,” according to a statement in the official newspaper Granma.

But who is the enemy the Cuban government refers to in the announcement?

Is it the United States, the so-called “Yankee imperialist,” the term the Castro regime used for the United States before President Obama set each nation on a road to cordiality? Keeping the population fearful and alert for a possible foreign invasion from the United States has long been a Castro tactic.

Just like previous Republican and Democratic administrations in the last half a century, Mr. Trump likely has no interest in launching a military operation against the old enemy. So ordering military exercises to confront the hypothetical “enemy actions,” is a sign of the paranoia that has characterized the Cuban regime.

It is possible that the real intention of the Castro government with these exercises is, as on previous occasions, to distract the people from the real threats facing the Cuban people, those from within: lack of freedoms, economic crisis, despair at the system failure.

The war maneuvers will be nothing more than a useless display of a military power that has dissipated since the Soviet Union pulled out of the island. Neither Mr. Trump nor anyone in the U.S. government entertains the crazy idea of invading Cuba.

The real enemy of the Cubans is not in Washington, but on the island itself.

Trump won over Cubans in Florida, in possible backlash against Obama’s Cuba detente

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)

The Washington Times

About half of Cuban voters in Florida backed President-elect Donald Trump, perhaps in a backlash against President Obama’s detente with Communist dictator Raul Castro’s Cuba.

Fifty-four percent of Cubans supported Mr. Trump, compared to 41 percent support for Hillary Clinton, according to National Election Pool exit poll data. In Florida, Cubans were about twice as likely as non-Cuban Latinos to vote for Mr. Trump, the report shows.

The Miami Herald earlier this month predicted Cuban Americans — many of whom voted for Mr. Obama in previous elections — may switch their vote to Mr. Trump because of Mr. Obama’s Cuban policies.

“Obama’s Oct. 14 decision to further relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba by allowing American tourists to bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars, as well as his Oct. 26 decision to abstain for the first time in a United Nations vote against the U.S. embargo on Cuba, have probably pushed many undecided Cuban Americans in Florida to vote for Trump,” Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer wrote on Nov. 2.

“In conversations with many Cuban Americans, I found that even among those who cautiously support Obama’s normalization with Cuba, many say he’s offering too many concessions to the island’s dictatorship without getting anything in return,” Mr. Oppenheimer wrote. “Resuming diplomatic relations was OK, they say, but why keep making unilateral gestures in the absence of any political opening on the island?”

Mr. Trump said he would “cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal,” and promised anti-Castro Republicans in a late state push that he would keep the decades-long U.S. economic embargo on the island and close the recently reopened US embassy in Havana.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of the nation’s 1.2 million eligible Cuban voters live in Florida, with many living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, Pew reports. As Puerto Ricans enter the state, the Cubans’ share of the Latino electorate is diminishing, and the National Survey of Latinos has found that Cuban registered voters have been shifting to the Democratic Party in recent decades.

Mr. Trump was able to stave off that shift, with the Cuban vote helping to give him the win in the Sunshine State.

 

New JFK assassination theory: Cuban double agent led plot

jfk

New York Post

More than 50 years after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, new evidence uncovered in the secret diaries of a Cold War spy and assassin implicates another clandestine figure believed to be working as a double agent for Cuba, an explosive new book claims.

The never-before-revealed diaries of Douglas DeWitt Bazata, a decorated officer for the United States Office of Strategic Services — the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency — claim that his longtime close friend and fellow spy, René Alexander Dussaq, was a “primary organizer and plotter” of Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

The diaries reveal that Dussaq might even have fired the fatal “shot or shots” that killed the 35th president of the United States, according to author Robert K. Wilcox’s latest book, “Target: JFK, The Spy Who Killed Kennedy?,” which goes on sale Nov. 14.

“Douglas Bazata was deeply embedded in the world of secrets, especially those surrounding JFK’s death,” Wilcox writes. “He was there at the birth of the CIA as an early and major player in that murkiest of worlds … He was an insider.”

In his diaries, Bazata wrote that the two men first met in Havana, Cuba, during the early 1930s, when Bazata, a US Marine, was given his first mission as a hitman: to assassinate a Cuban revolutionary. The mission failed, but the pair’s bond was sealed forever after Dussaq saved Bazata’s life.

The bond deepened in 1944, when both men were part of WWII’s Operation Jedburgh, in which more than 250 American and Allied paratroopers jumped behind enemy lines across France, the Netherlands and Belgium to fight against German occupation. Dussaq’s larger-than-life legend began here: He was nicknamed “Captain Bazooka” for demonstrating the Army’s new anti-tank rocket launchers to the Maquis, French resistance guerrillas. He’s also credited with bluffing a German general into believing he was surrounded by American troops, leading to the capture of up to 500 Nazis.

Dussaq — who was born in Buenos Aires and educated in Geneva and Cuba — became a naturalized US citizen in 1942. The son of a Cuban diplomat, he had tried to enlist after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor but was deemed a potential security risk. However, the US Army was desperate for infantrymen at the time and ultimately accepted him. Dussaq quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a lieutenant instructor for the elite 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles.”

Continue reading New JFK assassination theory: Cuban double agent led plot

Cloud of uncertainty hangs over U.S.-Cuba relations with a Trump presidency

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

The Miami Herald

Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States has cast a shadow over the Obama administration policy of warming relations with Cuba.

While Cuban leader Raúl Castro issued a short congratulatory message on Trump’s victory, the official Granma newspaper on Wednesday also announced five days of upcoming military preparedness exercises, a signal that the island is getting ready for a “hostile” U.S. administration.

Those exercises began during the Reagan administration in 1980 but had not been held for the last three years. A reporter on a Havana TV news program noted that Cuba has had “similar” experiences and maintains its “will to resist the big neighbor to the North.”

President Barack Obama’s legacy on Cuba could well be affected by whatever happens after Trump moves into the White House.

Obama announced dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward Havana starting in December 2014. Saying he wanted to end the last vestige of the Cold War, he decided to reestablish diplomatic relations, broken more than 50 years ago, and eased economic sanctions on the island.

U.S. residents can now travel to Cuba more easily, commercial flights have been restored and many companies are looking over the Cuban market, although the island’s government has been unwilling to give them more access so far. One month before Tuesday’s election, the president also lifted restrictions for travelers on the importation of Cuban cigars and rum for personal use and published a presidential directive that sketched out a path for fully normalizing relations.

But the directive could remain just a piece of paper if Trump honors some of the promises on Cuba policy that he made during the campaign.

As the Republican candidate, Trump started out saying he supported relations with Cuba but added that he would have negotiated “a better deal” with Havana. Later, to win the votes of Cuban-American Republicans in South Florida, he promised to reverse the Obama opening.

“We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom,” he declared in Miami just a week before the election.

Obama changed policy on Cuba through executive powers that were allowed by the trade embargo on the island, and can be reversed by the new president. The Obama administration tried to make them “irreversible” with written guidelines sent to federal agencies.

A senior administration official told reporters in October that a new president could issue a new directive on Cuba to reverse Obama’s directive, although that would “take a significant amount of time.” The Obama guidelines remain in place in the meantime, the official added.

Frank Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Latin America from 2009 to 2013 who now teaches at Florida International University, said the next president has several options for changing the Obama policies on Cuba.

On the day of his inauguration, Mora said, Trump “can simply write, although I doubt that would be one of his priorities, something that says that everything in the presidential directive related to U.S. policy on Cuba is invalid.”

The document would not have to be long, but must be explicit, Mora said.

Trump also could “totally freeze the process, and would not need a [new] directive or even something in writing. It could be an oral instruction to the secretary of state,” Mora said. “If he wants to, he can break [diplomatic] relations with Cuba.”

Even if Trump does not go to that extreme, Cuba watchers agree that he probably will make some gesture to fulfill his campaign promises and acknowledge the support of Cuban Americans whose votes might have helped him to win Florida.

“He has a political debt with the Cuban community, and perhaps feels that he has to pay it in some way, maybe not reversing everything … but signaling that he’s returning to the status quo before the Obama changes,” Mora said.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, agreed.

“As for President-elect Trump, his Cuban-American supporters will surely hold him to his commitment to reverse Obama’s executive orders,” he said. “Moreover, his election and the huge win of the Cuban-American Congressional delegation give Trump the clear mandate to do so.”

Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — all Cuban Americans from South Florida who oppose Obama’s policies on Cuba — were reelected Tuesday. And Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress.

Lawmakers have submitted bills to ease or strengthen U.S. sanctions on Cuba in recent years, but neither side has prevailed.

Supporters of the sanctions say the election of Trump and a Republican Congress has put an end to any possibility of lifting the embargo in the next two years.

“There was minimal chance that a new Congress would ease or remove [embargo] sanctions,” Claver-Carone said, “and those slim chances are now down to zero.”

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors business with Cuba, agreed that in the effort to ease or lift the embargo: “The legislative pathway is deceased. It passed at 3 a.m. [when Trump was declared president-elect].”

Kavulich added that the Obama administration must now focus on making as many regulatory changes as it can and “finish strong,” even though there’s no hope that the Cuban government will reciprocate by agreeing to a broader economic or any political opening.

Nevertheless, Engage Cuba, a group of companies and organizations that has lobbied against the embargo and promoted an expansion of U.S. travel and exports to Cuba, said it will continue with efforts to solidify ties with the island.

“Growing commercial and cultural ties that have been forged between our two nations have irreversibly altered our bilateral relations with Cuba,” the group’s president, James Williams, said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that Mr. Trump, who has previously supported engagement with Cuba as a businessman and a politician, will continue to normalize relations that will benefit both the American and Cuban people.”

Rick Herrero, who has long worked for organizations that favor improving relations with Havana, such as the Cuba Study Group and Cuba Now, said he’ll wait to see which side of Trump prevails — the pragmatic side that according to Newsweek and Bloomberg reports explored business opportunities on the island a few years ago, or the political side that would seek to retain Cuban-American support.

Either way, Herrero said, the chances of Congress making any changes in Cuba policy are minimal.

“The forces in Congress that want to isolate the Cuban people … have gained strength, and it will be very difficult to open ourselves to Cuba through Congressional action in the short run,” he said.

The Trump effect: Cuban regime launch military exercises to prepare for ‘range of enemy actions’

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)

The Guardian

Announcement of five days of nationwide maneuvers and tactical exercises across the country came nearly simultaneously with Trump’s surprise win

Cuba has announced the launch of five days of nationwide military exercises to prepare troops to confront what the government calls “a range of enemy actions”.

The government did not link the exercises to Donald Trump’s US presidential victory but the announcement of maneuvers and tactical exercises across the country came nearly simultaneously with Trump’s surprise win.

It is the seventh time Cuba has held what it calls the “Bastion Strategic Exercise”, often in response to points of high tension with the United States.

The first exercise was launched in 1980 after the election of Ronald Reagan as US president, according to an official history.

Trump has promised to reverse Barack Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the ongoing normalization of the relationship between the two countries.

An announcement by Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces in red ink across the top of the front page of the country’s main newspaper said the army, interior ministry and other forces would be conducting maneuvers and different types of tactical exercises from 16 to 20 November.

It warned citizens that the exercises would include “movements of troops and war materiel, overflights and explosions in the cases where they’re required”.

News of Trump’s victory hit hard among ordinary people and experts in US relations with Cuba, which has spent the last two years negotiating normalization after more than 50 years of cold war hostility.

Normalization has set off a tourism boom and visits by hundreds of executives from the US and dozens of other countries newly interested in doing business on the island. Trump has promised to reverse Obama’s opening unless President Raúl Castro agrees to more political freedom on the island, a concession considered a virtual impossibility.

Speaking of Cuba’s leaders, Communist party member and noted economist and political scientist Esteban Morales told the Telesur network: “They must be worried because I think this represents a new chapter.”

Carlos Alzugaray, a political scientist and retired Cuban diplomat, said a Trump victory could please some hardliners in the Cuban leadership who worried that Cuba was moving too close to the United States too quickly.

“There’s been a lot of rejection of what’s been done with Obama,” Alzugaray said. “Many Cubans think that a situation of confrontation is better for the revolution.”

Many Cubans said they feared that a Trump victory would mean losing the few improvements they had seen in their lives thanks to the post-detente tourism boom.

“The little we’ve advanced, if he reverses it, it hurts us,” taxi driver Oriel Iglesias García said. “You know tourism will go down. If Donald Trump wins and turns everything back it’s really bad for us.”

Another defeat for Obama’s Cuba policy

white flag

Cuba says no to Obama-promoted plans to assemble small tractors on the island

The Miami Herald

When President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March he said that a small Alabama company that makes tractors would “be the first U.S. company to build a factory here in more than 50 years.”

That was jumping the gun because although Cleber, based in Paint Rock, Alabama, had authorizations from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Commerce Department to pursue its dream of assembling small tractors in Cuba’s Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, the plan still needed Cuban approval.

After months of anticipation and just days before the company was scheduled to take part in the Havana International Fair, a massive trade show that attracted exhibitors from 73 countries, Cleber finally got its answer: No.

It was a disappointment for a high visibility project that had been touted as a potential example of how the rapprochement process that began on Dec. 17, 2014 was working for both countries.

But this week Saul Berenthal, who co-founded the company with Horace Clemmons, was busy working the Cleber booth at the Havana fair as a video of the tractor in action rolled in the background.

“We’re not giving up. We’re here for the long run,” said Berenthal. “We understand the process.”

But the company is changing its strategy.

Instead of pinning its hopes on assembling its Oggún tractors — named for the Santeria god of iron, tools and weapons — in the Mariel zone, it has begun manufacturing them in Alabama with the hope of exporting them to Cuba and elsewhere.

Cuban authorities “told us Mariel was not the proper venue,” said Berenthal. “They encouraged us and directed us to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies interested in importing tractors.”

Continue reading Another defeat for Obama’s Cuba policy

Trump could win Florida, thanks to Cuban Americans

The Miami Herald

If Republican candidate Donald Trump wins Florida, as some polls predict, and goes on to win the Nov. 8 election — a big if, but not an impossible outcome — he might have President Obama to thank for lending him a hand in the final stretch of the race.

Obama’s Oct. 14 decision to further relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba by allowing American tourists to bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars, as well as his Oct. 26 decision to abstain for the first time in a United Nations vote against the U.S. embargo on Cuba, have probably pushed many undecided Cuban Americans in Florida to vote for Trump.

“Cubans return to Trump,” read a sub-headline of the New York Times Upshot/Siena University poll released Oct. 27, which gave Trump a four-point lead in Florida. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was leading in the same poll only a month earlier.

The poll’s explanatory text by The New York Times’ Nate Cohn said that Trump’s surprising comeback in Florida — the most important swing state — might be thanks to Cuban-American voters. Trump’s support among Cuban-American voters in Florida was at 52 percent, up from 33 percent in September, the story said.

Pollsters say it’s hard to pin down what exactly caused the shift among Cuban-American voters, but Obama’s most recent decisions on Cuba most likely hurt Clinton in Florida.

Granted, a Florida International University Cuban Research Institute poll released in September showed that 54 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami support Obama’s — and Clinton’s — stand that it’s time to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. But the poll included recently arrived Cubans who aren’t yet eligible to vote.

If it had been a poll only of Cuban-American voters, the result would have been different. The same poll shows that older Cuban Americans — who tend to vote in big numbers — are more hard-line toward Cuba, and are at least twice as likely to oppose Obama’s normalization with Cuba than younger and recently arrived Cuban Americans.

In conversations with many Cuban Americans, I found that even among those who cautiously support Obama’s normalization with Cuba, many say he’s offering too many concessions to the island’s dictatorship without getting anything in return. Resuming diplomatic relations was OK, they say, but why keep making unilateral gestures in the absence of any political opening on the island?

According to a new report from the Havana-based independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a total of 9,215 people were arrested during the first 10 months this year for political reasons, already more than the 8,616 arrested during the 12 months of 2015.

And Trump — the ultimate political chameleon, who until recently was supporting a normalization of ties with Cuba and whose casino companies, according to a Newsweek report, had explored business opportunities in Cuba in violation of U.S. laws in 1998 — seized the occasion to present himself in Miami as a crusader for hard-line anti-Castro stands.

During an Oct. 25 visit to Miami, Trump met with the Bay of Pigs Veterans’ Association and accused Obama and Clinton of “helping” the Cuban regime. He obviously neglected to mention that he himself supported the same normalization policies until a few weeks ago.

My opinion: Obama — and Clinton, too — probably misread opinion polls showing that Cuban Americans in Florida increasingly support ever-growing ties with Cuba’s dictatorship. That may be true among all Cuban Americans, as the FIU poll shows, but not necessarily among Cuban-American voters.

I wonder what Obama was thinking when he signed the Cuban rum and cigars order — a largely symbolic measure — and when he voted to abstain on the embargo at the U.N., just a few weeks before the U.S. elections. What was the rush to press the normalization pedal just now?

Most likely, it was overconfidence in a Clinton victory, along with a selfish effort to continue exploiting what the Obama administration sees as one of its major foreign-policy triumphs. Whatever it was, it could end up helping the most unstable and dishonest Republican candidate in recent memory win Florida.

Cuban slave workers get paid one tenth of what imported foreign workers get for the same work

indian-workers

Cuba controversy over local and Indian wages
By Will Grant BBC News

Havana is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists
Walk along the leafy boulevard of el Prado in Old Havana and you’ll find it hard to escape the sounds of construction.
At least three major hotel building projects are under way along that stretch of the Cuban capital, including the renovation of the Manzana de Gomez, a former shopping mall being converted into a five-star hotel.
With tourist numbers hitting record levels this year, the need for new hotels is self-evident.
However, in recent days the Hotel Manzana building project has generated some controversy.
Not for its architectural style, which remains faithful to its early 20th Century European influences, nor for its budget or timing – it is due to be completed by spring next year.
Rather for the disparity in wages between different employees on the site.
Imported workers
The French industrial company, Bouygues, which is building the luxury hotel in partnership with the Cuban state, brought between 100 and 200 Indian labourers to Cuba to work on the project, Reuters reported earlier this year.

Tight regulations on how much foreign companies can pay Cuban employees mean that in essence the Indian labourers are being paid about 10 times the amount – estimated at between $1,300-$1,700 (£1,000-£1,400) a month – that Cubans are earning.
“It is normal practice for us to bring in our own teams to work on construction sites around the world,” a French foreman for Bouygues explained over coffee.
The foreman, who only gave his name as Franco, said he had travelled extensively with the company, particularly in the Middle East, and had almost always used teams of labourers who came into the country with the company.
But in Latin America employing such a foreign labour force is relatively rare and in Cuba it’s almost unheard of.

Continue reading Cuban slave workers get paid one tenth of what imported foreign workers get for the same work