Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beat goes on at Office of Cuba Broadcasting

Click to enlarge. Source: Federal Data Procurement System
The Office of Cuba Broadcasting, or OCB, has signed more than 100 contracts worth nearly $1 million since the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17 announced they would begin renewing diplomatic ties. (List of contracts is below).
Records show that $8233.34 went to the Phoenix Air Group, which is paid to store Aero Martí, a plane that doesn't fly anywhere.
Aero Martí was meant to broadcast a TV station into Cuba, but the Cubans jammed the signal and the plane was grounded (See "Grounded TV Marti plane a monument to the limits of American austerity").
The OCB has paid the Phoenix Air Group $4,087,706 since June 1, 2010.
The agency continues spending tax dollars on the storing Aero Martí at a time when the national debt is more than $18 trillion and the federal budget deficit exceeds $478 billion (See National Debt Clock).
Money spent on the Aero Martí is a tiny fraction of the OCB budget, which was $26.3 million in fiscal year 2013.
On Jan. 28, Cuban President Raúl Castro demanded that the U.S. government stop broadcasting TV and radio signals into Cuba in violation of international law. Castro told the Third CELAC Summit in Costa Rica:
As I have repeatedly stated, Cuba and the United States must learn the art of civilized co-existence, based on respect for the differences which exist between both governments and cooperation on issues of common interest, which contribute to solving the challenges we are facing in the hemisphere and the world. However, it must not be supposed that, in order to achieve this, Cuba would renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fidel Castro: "I do not trust U.S. policy"

Fidel Castro's signature
Below is a message from Fidel Castro to Cuba's Federation of University Students. Castro seems to distance himself from his younger brother Raul Castro's moves to renew diplomatic ties with the United States.
The former Cuban president writes:
I do not trust U.S. policy nor have I exchanged a word with them.
Mensaje de Fidel a la FEU
El líder de la Revolución Cubana, Fidel Castro, le hizo llegar un mensaje a la Federación Estudiantil Universitaria

Autor: Fidel Castro Ruz |
26 de enero de 2015 20:01:21
Para mis compañeros de la Federación Estudiantil Universitaria

Queridos compañeros:

Desde el año 2006, por cuestiones de salud incompatibles con el tiempo y el esfuerzo necesario para cumplir un deber —que me impuse a mí mismo cuando ingresé en esta Universidad el 4 de septiembre de 1945, hace 70 años—, renuncié a mis cargos.

No era hijo de obrero, ni carente de recursos materiales y sociales para una existencia relativamente cómoda; puedo decir que escapé milagrosamente de la riqueza. Muchos años después, el norteamericano más rico y sin duda muy capaz, con casi 100 mil millones de dólares, declaró ―según publicó una agencia de noticias el pasado jueves 22 de enero—, que el sistema de producción y distribución privilegiada de las riquezas convertiría de generación en generación a los pobres en ricos.

Desde los tiempos de la antigua Grecia, durante casi 3 mil años, los griegos, sin ir más lejos, fueron brillantes en casi todas las actividades: física, matemática, filosofía, arquitectura, arte, ciencia, política, astronomía y otras ramas del conocimiento humano. Grecia, sin embargo, era un territorio de esclavos que realizaban los más duros trabajos en campos y ciudades, mientras una oligarquía se dedicaba a escribir y filosofar. La primera utopía fue escrita precisamente por ellos.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cuba: U.S. must lift blockade

Gustavo Machín, deputy director general of U.S. Department at Minrex
Here's what Cuba's delegation said after talks ended today:

On January 22, 2015, talks between delegations of the United States and Cuba were held to define the steps to take in order to formalize the decision announced by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama on December 17, 2014, to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. The US delegation was led by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department, Roberta S. Jacobson, and the Cuban delegation by the director general of Foreign Ministry's United States' Department, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.

In the meeting, which took place in a respectful and constructive climate, the Cuban delegation said that diplomatic relations must be based on the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter, including it sovereign equality, equal rights and self determination of peoples, and non-intervention in the internal affairs of states. They must also abide by the Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, which regulate the conduct of diplomatic and consular missions and their staff.

Hi-res photos of U.S.-Cuba talks

Josefina Vidal leads the Cuban delegation
CubaDebate's Flickr photostream has high-resolution photos of the historic talks between the United States and Cuba. The talks continue today.
The Cuban delegation
Capturing the moment
The U.S. delegation

U.S.: "Respectful and thoughtful dialogue" with Cuba

Alex Lee. Photo: Reuters
Here's a brief statement from Alex Lee, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs:
Today, January 21, 2015, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss technical issues related to the Migration Accords of 1994 and 1995 between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban delegation was chaired by the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro. I led the delegation for the United States. The United States hosted the last round of these semi-annual talks in July 2014 in Washington.
The United States and Cuba restated their commitment under the Migration Accords to ensure that migration between the two countries remains safe, legal and orderly. They also agreed to regularly review the implementation of these Accords. Continuing to ensure safe and legal migration between Cuba and the United States is consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and increased respect for human rights in Cuba.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Group sends 25 tons of food and medicine to Cuba

Form 990
A Miami organization sent 50,000 tons of food and over-the-counter medicines to Cuba, according to tax forms filed in 2014.
Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia, or GAD, relies on the federal government for most of its support. In 2013, it received $1,026,621 in government grants, plus $105,586 in non-cash contributions.
GAD reported that the most its resources - $958,391 - went toward helping the families of political prisoners and others in Cuba (see Form 990).
The group said:
During 2013, GAD sent approximately 50,000 pounds of food and over-the-counter medication supplies to the families of political prisoners and civil societies in Cuba.
GAD said its expenses totaled $172,214. That included office rent and modest salaries - the organization's director Frank Hernandez-Trujillo reported earning $36,600.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Updated Cuba regulations

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, has released updated regulations on travel and other activities related to Cuba. Download PFD.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fidel Castro, bags of nickels and more

Castro's birthplace in Birán
I've been working on a project about the legacy of Fidel Castro. I've interviewed a range of Cubans, including some who joined Castro on the Granma yacht when it journeyed from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 carrying 82 fighters, 21 of whom were killed in battle after reaching the island.
While in Cuba working on the Castro project, I did some reporting for an unrelated story published this week by the South Florida Sun Sentinel (See "Plundering America: The Cuban Criminal Pipeline").
Pedro Sevcec
On Tuesday night, Pedro Sevcec asked me to talk about the Sun Sentinel project on his show, "A Fondo," which is broadcast on Channel 41 in Miami.
The show was behind schedule and time was short, so Sevcec asked me to keep my answers short. Then I think I kept my answers so short that I barely answered any of his questions. But anyway, Sevcec wanted to know more about my encounter in Cuba with a man named Angel Eduardo Mendoza, accused of stealing $180,000 in nickels from the Federal Reserve in 2004.
Mendoza, 52, is wanted in the U.S. I caught up with him in Santa Fe, near Havana. He impressed me as being someone who was generally honest and hard-working, but one day came upon bags and bags of nickels and could not resist the temptation to steal them.
He was a truck driver and his employer had been hired to haul the nickels. Mendoza said he had just had a dispute with his employer over money. He was upset and decided to swipe the nickels, but had to return to Cuba to escape prosecution and left the money behind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lift embargo? Not so easy

Bobby Rush
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., introduced a bill on Monday to lift the embargo on trade with Cuba. It has a 1 percent chance of getting through House committees and a 0 percent chance of being enacted, according to the website GovTrack.
From 2011 to 2013, only 11 percent of bills made it past committee and 3 percent were enacted, GovTrack says.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

56 years later

Caravan marks Fidel Castro's arrival in Havana after revolution. Photo: EFE
A caravan rolled into Havana on Thursday to commemorate Fidel Castro's arrival after the triumph of the revolution in 1959, EFE reported. See story.
"Fidel is biding his time (to make a statement) because he is a great prophet who waits for the right moment to say something," said Lt. Col. Hugo Perez Silva, who came to Havana 56 years ago with the revolutionary leader as is known as the "Caravan of Freedom".
The arrival of the delegation to the capital comes amid a new wave of rumors and speculations on social networks about the death of Fidel Castro, 88 and removed from power since 2006 by a disease.
His last public appearance was a year ago today when he attended the opening of an art studio of the painter Alexis Leyva "Kcho" in a neighborhood of Havana, while his last articles in the Cuban press last were published October.

U.S.-Cuba meeting set for Jan. 21-22

Jen Psaki
U.S. and Cuban officials plan talks in Havana on Jan. 21-22. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. That and other information are in this transcript of Psaki's briefing with reporters today.


MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have you any update on the so-called mysterious 53?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s a mysterious 53, James. But --

QUESTION: Well, they’re mysterious because no one will tell us who they are.

QUESTION: How many have been freed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, as I’ve talked about a little bit in here, on days where you weren’t actually in attendance, we --

QUESTION: Have you listed the names of the 53?

MS. PSAKI: We have not.

QUESTION: I didn’t think so.

What legacy does Fidel Castro leave?

I shot this photo of Fidel Castro marching for Elián González' return
Six years ago this month, I wondered if Fidel Castro's health might have slipped after he wrote an extraordinarily brief column in Granma, the Communist Party newspaper (See "Fidel Castro's 16 words").
Rumors about Castro's health have surfaced regularly, especially after he fell ill in 2006. And those rumors are flying once again.
One of these days, the rumors will be true - we'll learn that Castro is gone.
What legacy does he leave? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lawmakers to help launch agricultural coalition

Tom Vilsack
A press release on a new agricultural coalition is below:

U.S. Agricultural coalition launches push to lift Cuban embargo

Washington, D.C. – More than 30 prominent U.S. food and agriculture companies and associations have formed a coalition that seeks the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and to advance trade relations between both nations. The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), founded in early 2014, is united around the opportunity presented by a deeper U.S.-Cuba relationship and committed to ending the embargo and allowing open trade and investment to occur.

What: Public Launch of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC)

Featuring: The Honorable Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary Agriculture (confirmed)
The Honorable Jay Nixon, Governor of Missouri (confirmed)
The Honorable Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senate (confirmed)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Un Dia Para Cuba

Human rights activists and others are hoping to collect 1,440 videos lasting a minute each to tell the world what they want for the Cuban nation.
Already, they've recorded more than two dozens videos and uploaded them to a YouTube channel called #UnDiaParaCuba.
They didn't choose 1,440 at random - that's the number of minutes in a day.

From a street corner in Havana

Deysi Mata Nuñez: "We love the American people."
While in Havana few weeks ago, I asked a woman what she thought of news that the U.S. and Cuba were renewing diplomatic ties.
"Enough blood, enough hate," said Deysi Mata Nuñez, as tears streamed down her cheeks. "We need peace."
Nuñez, 66, thanked President Barack Obama for releasing three Cuban intelligence agents — Antonio Guerrero, 56, Gerardo Hernandez, 49, and Ramon Labañino, 51 — who had been jailed since 1998.
"I've prayed for them every night," said Nuñez, who sat on a street corner selling homemade cloth dolls for about a dollar each. "I've asked God for their freedom. I have to shout it out to the world because justice was done at last.
“We love the American people. We love people who want peace, no matter what country they’re from or what color they are.”
A sign behind the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos, or ICAP.