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HAVANA, July 18 (AP) With the United States and Cuba inching closer to fully restoring diplomatic ties, including re-opening embassies for the first time in 54 years, the future is murky for tens of thousands of Cuban immigrants who have been ordered by immigration authorities to leave the country.
As many as 25,000 Cubans living in the United States have outstanding deportation orders, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They include people who pose a threat to national security or have serious criminal convictions and are considered priorities for immigration enforcement agents.
Despite being an enforcement priority, those immigrants haven’t yet been sent back to Cuba because the government of President Raul Castro has not given them permission to return. It’s unclear whether the Cuban government’s position will change.
Sisi, a 50-year-old grandmother who moved to Miami with her family when she was 4, is one of those waiting and wondering what the future holds.
As a teenager in the 1980s, Sisi married a man involved in South Florida’s booming cocaine trade. By the middle of the decade she’d become involved in the business herself and eventually served 2 ½ years in prison, cutting ties to her brief life of crime in 1989.
Though she served her debt to society for the drug conviction, what she didn’t know at the time was that her criminal record would prompt immigration authorities to issue a deportation order in 2000.
“I was young, stupid. It’s hurting me,” said Sisi, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition that she only be identified by her nickname because of her pending deportation order. “It’s coming back now, a lot.”
For decades deportation to Cuba has been complicated by the lack of diplomatic ties and the Cuban government’s decision not to provide travel documents for most immigrants facing deportation.
A 1984 repatriation agreement includes a list of 2,746 people who had come to the U.S. in 1980 as part of the Mariel boatlift who should be deported. The mass migration from Cuba to Florida started when then-President Fidel Castro announced he would allow anyone who wanted to leave the Communist island nation. An estimated 125,000 Cubans made the perilous trip between April and October 1980.
ICE records show that 1,999 people on that list have been sent back to Cuba, including 1,093 since 2001. ICE is responsible for finding and removing immigrants living in the country illegally and those who have been ordered to leave.
More than 35,000 Cubans have outstanding deportation orders, and as of the end of March, more than 2,300 other Cubans have open cases pending in U.S. immigration court. ICE said of those, about 25,000 are considered deportation priorities because of their backgrounds, including criminal histories.
Sisi’s lawyer, Grisel Ybarra, said the Cuban community is on edge amid the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Havana and the uncertainty about what renewed relations will mean for immigrants.
“Everybody in Miami right now is shaking like a leaf,” Ybarra said. “People are really worried. The Americans and the Cubans are not in bed together, but they already have the room. It’s happening.”
Ybarra said she represents several clients who could face deportation, including Elias, a 71-year-old retiree whose deportation was ordered in 1991. Like Sisi, Elias agreed to speak about his immigration case only on the condition that his full name not published.
Elias said he has two drug-related convictions dating to the 1970s and 1980s. He moved to Florida in 1961, followed by other family members a decade later after his father spent about 10 years in a Cuban prison for being part of a union that opposed Communism. If he is forced to go back to Cuba, he said, he would be alone in a country he would barely recognize.
“I’m going to meet a new country,” Elias said. “I’ve got nobody in Cuba. All my family is here. Anything that I love in this world is here.”
Though the future of migration agreements between Washington and Havana have yet to be laid out publicly, under any circumstances the tens of thousands of Cubans with outstanding deportation orders aren’t likely to be quickly sent home. That’s because ICE already struggles to find and deport immigrants living in the United States.
During the first six months of the 2015 budget year that started in October, the agency has removed about 127,000 immigrants. If that pace holds, ICE will deport the fewest immigrants since the middle of President George W. Bush’s second term in 2006.
If the Cuban government does begin accepting more deportable migrants, they would likely just be added to the ever-growing list of people who risk being expelled from the United States if ICE can find them, according the Migration Policy Center’s Marc Rosenblum.
“There’s definitely going to be a randomness to it,” Rosenblum said.
HAVANA, July 15 Picture restored vintage Chevys and Fords brought back to life by the hardworking hands of dedicated Cuban mechanics, the arduous quest of inventing new spare parts and the tropical backdrop of Havana. Then, add in the dreamy looks of Cuban-American telenovela and movie star William Levy, who will tell you the story behind these American classics stranded in Havana before the revolution.
Sounds like a pretty cool concept, doesn’t it?
The Discovery en Español television channel thought so and has brought this timely concept to life through “Cuban Chrome,” a docu-series about classic automobiles, filmed exclusively in Cuba and narrated by Levy.
“There’s no better feeling than finding a car that’s in total disrepair and transforming it into one of the most beautiful cars in all of Havana,” said Fernando Barral, a master mechanic who owns a 1934 Model A hot rod, The Washington Post reported.
The docu-series, which kicked off on July 13, gives an inside look into the fascinating culture of vintage automobiles on the once-forbidden Caribbean island.
The show also zeroes in on the lives of the men and women who restore these “1950s American roadsters,” which is no easy task. As you can imagine with no spare parts available, improvisation, experience and skills come into play.
The “passionate mechanics, restoration experts and vintage car owners” congregate and share their creative genius and experiences at the A Lo Cubano Car Club, EFE reported.
Helmed by executive producer Craig Piligian, who’s known for “Survivor” and “American Chopper,” the series chronicles the “day-to-day” lives of the members of the A Lo Cubano Car Club, where they face highs and lows yet experience joy from their Cuban culture.
The project didn’t get the typical thumbs up from Hollywood, The Washington Post pointed out, but instead “had to be greenlighted by the U.S. government, specifically by Treasury Department officials responsible for policing the trade embargo against Cuba.”
While the idea for the project nixed in 2013, the producers later revisited it and were granted the license to shoot under the exception of “professional research for an educational documentary.”
“Cuban Chrome” will air at 10 p.m. Mondays on Discovery en Español as well as the , which will broadcast it in English.
HAVANA, July 7 A recent agreement between the United States and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties by the end of July has further bolstered interest among U.S. investors who started scrutinizing business opportunities in Havana as soon as the country was crossed off the U.S. terrorism list almost a month ago.
But U.S. investors are not alone in looking to benefit from the improvement in ties between the two countries. Investors worldwide are anticipating a boom in the tourism and real estate sectors in Cuba once the 53-year old trade embargo imposed on the country by the U.S. is lifted.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama has relaxed the embargo in terms of restrictions on imports and telecommunications, Americans are still banned from traveling to Cuba. Sanctions that remain in place also limit banking transactions, making it enormously hard for Cubans to access overseas financial markets and do business with the international community.
Almost a year ago, the flow of foreign investments into Cuba rose after the government passed a more relaxed foreign investment law in 2014, easing restrictions on foreign investments and providing tax incentives to attract overseas funds.
Among the newcomers were a number of Lebanese businessmen who are now looking to capitalize on the warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba, says Ali Kazma, president of the newly formed Lebanese Cuban Business Council.
The LCBC, an organization affiliated with the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, was established in May with the aim of promoting Lebanese investment in Cuba.
The council, which brings together 20 businessmen, kicked off its activities with a visit to Havana in early June.
During their visit to Cuba, Lebanese business leaders met with their Cuban counterparts and government officials to review investment and business opportunities in the Caribbean country.
“The visit culminated in the signing of several agreements between theLebanese Chamber of Commerce and its Cuban counterpart,” Kazma says.
Discussions between Cuban officials and the Lebanese delegation, which included a representative from the Economy Ministry, also touched on the amendment of a trade agreement signed between the two countries in 1998.
While several members of the LCBC are already invested in Cuba, Kazma says the council is particularly looking to capitalize on Havana’s overture to foreign investments against the backdrop of improving Cuban-U.S. ties.
Investment opportunities cover a variety of sectors, including tourism, hospitality and infrastructure development. Kazma says some 254 business opportunities across Cuba have been outlined in a booklet prepared by the LCBC based on information provided by the Cuban government. To further shed light on these business opportunities, the council is preparing for the Lebanese-Cuban Economic Forum that will take place in Beirut on Sept. 29.
Belal Malas, vice president of the LCBC, says the council is working to actively engage businesses through sustained outreach, regular meetings, active communication platforms and networking forums.
“At present, we are working on strengthening relations with potential investors and working to attract new investors,” Malas adds.
The Lebanese-Cuban Economic forum will provide an opportunity to introduce businessmen to investment laws in Cuba, Kazma says.
“The Cuban government is wisely opening up its economic system to foreign investments as new laws and regulations have been passed to create a more favorable business environment,” LCBC treasurerMarwan Dimas says.
Cuba’s new foreign investment law allows 100 percent foreign ownership, eliminates labor tax and cuts the tax on profits from 30 percent to 15 percent for most industries.
In addition to foreign ownership, foreign investments in Cuba can take the form of joint ventures with the Cuban state or associations between foreign and Cuban companies. Investors in joint ventures get an eight-year exemption from all taxes on profits.
Of the many interesting ventures that the Cuban government has embarked on is the creation of the first Special Development Zone in Cuba, known as ZED Mariel.
Dimas explains that ZED Mariel, which retains its own favorable tax laws, has succeeded – thanks to its business-friendly environment – in attracting numerous investments since its establishment in 2013.
Every year, the government establishes a portfolio of foreign investment opportunities across Cuba.
The latest portfolio issued by the state covers 11 sectors open to foreign investment and comprises a total of 246 business opportunities including 25 projects in the special economic zone of Mariel.
Lebanese businessmen are hoping to secure some of those deals by the end of 2015, says Kazma, who is currently in talks with Cuban officials to launch a boutique hotel and Lebanese restaurants in Havana. “Hopefully, the deal over the hotel will be secured by the end of the year,” he adds.
By Elias Sakr
HAVANA LIVE is a Website with daily coverage that provides cutting-edge information about Cuba and especially about its capital. Through our platform it is possible to have an approach to the most popular arteries, places and protagonists of the Greater Antilles, especially we focus on making visible their cultural heritage, gastronomy, history, events, etc. All with accurate and updated information, a modern and creative design and high quality photos resulting from the work of a small team of professionals.
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