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HAVANA, sept 14th (AP) As American authorities search for answers into mysterious “health attacks” that began two years ago in Havana, U.S. and Cuban officials were renewing efforts to determine the method and motive behind incidents that have left some diplomats with brain injuries.

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Cuba grants visa to senior U.S. diplomat to lead Havana embassyHAVANA, Feb. 7th (Reuters) – Cuba has given a visa to a senior American diplomat to lead the U.S. embassy in Havana, a U.S. official said, in a sign both nations want to keep open lines of communication despite a sharp Read more

havana-live- Classic CarsHAVANA.  July  22 There are reportedly over 2,000 active Airbnb listings in Cuba.

With the Cuban Embassy reopening in Washington, D.C., this week, room-sharing service Airbnb says it will cover the cost for U.S. travelers booked to stay in the country.

The Cuba refund will apply to trips booked prior to July 20 for travel between July 19 and July 26.

A trade embargo was lifted and travel to Cuba has been allowed once again after President Barack Obama enacted policy changes at the end of last year.

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” the White House said at the time. “Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

Nathan Blecharczyk, a co-founder and CTO of Airbnb, recently wrote for Fortune about Cuba’s economy. He said that since Airbnb started allowing listings in Cuba in April, there are over 2,000 rentals available.

“For the first time in decades, authorized U.S. travelers will have the chance to experience authentic Cuban hospitality at homes across the island,” an Airbnb blog post announced at the time. “Despite its proximity to the U.S., Cuba has been off limits to most Americans for over 50 years. Part of Cuba’s appeal to visitors is that it offers an experience unlike anything else.”

Airbnb announced its plan to pay for guests’ stays via Twitter.

http://fortune.com/2015/07/22/airbnb-cuba-free/

SX2A9103-1000px-US-Interests-Section-Havana-Cuba-copyright-Christopher-P-BakerHAVANA, July 17  (EFE) Havana on July 20 will reopen its U.S. embassy with a formal and “very solemn” ceremony to be attended by about 500 people, headed by the island’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, who will be received in Washington later that same day by Secretary of State John Kerry.

After more than 50 years of enmity, Cuba and the United States will officially reestablish diplomatic relations on Monday, the day their respective “interests sections” in Washington and Havana will be transformed into embassies.

On that same day, Cuba will officially reopen its embassy in the U.S. capital, while the date of the similar U.S. ceremony in Havana is still to be announced with Kerry to be on hand on the island for the event.

In a meeting with reporters on Thursday in Havana, the assistant director for North America at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Gustavo Machin, said that Rodriguez will visit Washington at the head of a delegation comprised of about 30 officials, former diplomats and representatives of sectors such as culture, education, healthcare and science, along with other organizations and the Cuban Council of Churches.

Also attending the ceremony will be members of the U.S. Congress, non-governmental organizations, businessmen, representatives of activist groups with an interest in the island and members of various U.S. churches.

Machin said that the ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. and Rodriguez – the first Cuban foreign minister to visit the United States in more than half a century – will deliver the main speech.

With the reestablishment of diplomatic ties, the current heads of the Cuban and U.S. Interests Sections, Jose Ramon Cabañas and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, respectively, will become charges d’affaires until the two countries name their ambassadors.

havana-live-bush-tmagArticleHAVANA, July 9  Jeb Bush is not happy that the United States is planning to open an embassy in Cuba, and he suggested on Wednesday that if he became president it might not remain open for long.

In an interview with the editorial board of The Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., Mr. Bush was asked if he would keep the embassy up and running if he were elected.

“Probably not,” he said, adding that he would need to give the issue more thought.

Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida and a Republican presidential candidate, has made it clear that he disapproves of normalizing relations with Cuba and repeated on Wednesday that it was a “tragedy” to be negotiating with the country without getting anything in return.

“We’re basically legitimizing a regime that controls its economy and represses its people,” Mr. Bush said, warning against weakening the American embargo against Cuba.

Cuba’s government remains deeply unpopular in Florida among many Cuban emigrants.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another Republican seeking the party’s presidential nomination, has also been critical of President Obama’s plan to make amends with Cuba. He said the Castro government has so far failed to offer greater political freedom or budge on the release of American fugitives being harbored in the country.

“I intend to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed,” Mr. Rubio said in a statement last week. “It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”

 havana-live-marine-embassy-gardsHAVANA, July 5  The U.S. has formally announced its intentions to open an embassy in Havana, bringing the Marine Corps a significant step closer to deploying uniformed embassy security guards to the tropical Caribbean island.

The decision to open formal diplomatic facilities was announced by President Obama July 1. While U.S. officials said they have not finalized a specific date, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said embassies in both countries will be up and running on July 20.

When that happens, Marines will guard a formal embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961 when diplomatic ties were severed with Cuba’s communist government just two years after Fidel Castro’s rise to power. It is likely to be a plum assignment, with the island known for its vibrant culture and beautiful vistas. But only a few Marines will go. The Havana detachment will likely be on
the smaller side of a typical six- to 20-Marine team, a Marine official said in June. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the topic pending ongoing State Department negotiations.

More recently, a Marine officials said the call would be the State Department’s, but it is standard for all embassies to have a detachment. State Department officials did not answer specific questions regarding the imminent Marine presence in Havana.

The reason the detachment would be small, according to one Cuba expert, is because Havana will be a low-risk post.

A State Department official said on background following the announcement that they “are confident the embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies operating in restrictive environments.”

“Every U.S. embassy faces a different set of constraints, but we believe we’ve made sufficient progress to begin embassy operations,” the official added.

While the U.S. and Cuban governments have had antagonistic relations for more than half a century, Cuban citizens generally like the U.S., said William LeoGrande a professor of government at American University’s School of Public Affairs and a repeat traveler to Cuba.

“We’ve always had a cultural affinity and many Cubans would still like to come to the U.S.,” he said, correctly predicting in early June that an announcement to open an embassy would be made within in a month.

Many, in fact, rely on remittances to augment their income, sent by family that has already made it to the U.S.

So while protesters in hostile nations commonly burn U.S. flags outside embassy compounds, recent Associated Press photos show Cubans celebrating the incremental normalization of relations by sporting American flag-themed apparel or by flying the nation’s flags alongside one another.

That means Marines who go should have a great time when not on duty, LeoGrande said. And the State Department official hinted at the level of free movement U.S. personnel might expect, even in their official capacities.

“On the issue of travel for our diplomats, what I can tell you is that the travel … will be much, much more free and flexible than it is now,” the officials said.

For now, however, U.S. personnel will continue to notify the Cuban government of their travel within the country, even if they are able to travel without approval.

LeoGrande cautioned that like any place, there are low-level risks that include mugging. But the Caribbean island is absent the sort of post-9/11 threats U.S. personnel face in other counties.

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2015/07/04/marines-embassy-guards-could-be-in-havana-by-august/29584413/

 havana-live-DelaurentisHAVANA, July 2  (AP)   From his office high above Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis has a sweeping view of the cerulean Florida Straits and the blood-red letters declaring Cuba’s defiance of the United States.

“Homeland or Death!” reads the sign erected in front of the U.S. Interests Section, a declaration installed 15 years ago when DeLaurentis was a more junior officer working to defuse a standoff over the fate of child rafter Elian Gonzalez.

Now, on this third assignment in communist Cuba, DeLaurentis is the top U.S. diplomat on the island, working to bring an end to more than a half-century of hostilities between the two countries. Known for his low-key style and public discretion, the 61-year-old diplomat also is on a short list for U.S. ambassador to Cuba, if there is to be one.

On Wednesday, DeLaurentis hand-delivered a letter from the White House to the Cuban Foreign Ministry about converting missions known as interest sections in the countries’ respective capitals into full embassies.

Cuba said ceremonies to do that will be held July 20, though the U.S State Department said it does not yet have a date.

Several Republicans in Congress have vowed to block the appointment of an ambassador to Havana and hold up funding for the embassy.

“There aren’t many diplomats who could represent the United States in Havana during this sensitive, but promising chapter,” former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray said. “Jeff is one of them.”

DeLaurentis was a consular officer in Cuba in 1991-93, when the island was plunged into economic crisis with the Soviet Union’s collapse. As head of the U.S. Interests Section’s economic and political section in 1999-2002, DeLaurentis was a key negotiator in the fight over Elian Gonzalez’s custody.

Vicki Huddleston, who headed the mission then, said DeLaurentis’ quiet diplomacy helped dial down tensions when Cuban officials threatened a mass migration of rafters if the young castaway wasn’t returned to his homeland. President Bill Clinton’s administration ultimately backed the parental rights of Elian’s father in Cuba and returned the boy.

DeLaurentis also was “instrumental” in discussions with Cuban officials over the decision by U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration to use the Guantanamo naval base in eastern Cuba to house prisoners held on terrorism charges following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“He always sort of quietly pushed the envelope with Cuban officials, but they always gave him a lot of credit,” Huddleston said. “He was always spot-on in interpreting Cuban motives and actions.”

Huddleston recalled that she and DeLaurentis attended Mass at a local Roman Catholic church and he worked to get computers to the parish at a time that such technology in the hands of a non-governmental entity was viewed suspiciously.

Huddleston was succeeded as head of mission by James Cason, who enraged Fidel Castro by meeting with government opponents at a dissident’s home in 2003. Seventy-five dissidents were arrested several weeks later.

Negotiations to free USAID contractor Alan Gross were under way for months before DeLaurentis returned to Havana as head of mission last August. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba announced a deal on Dec. 17 to free Gross and three Cuban prisoners in the United States and to work toward renewing diplomatic relations.

The tall, lanky DeLaurentis is a distinctive figure around Havana, dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and tie for meetings with other foreign diplomats, business people and Cubans he has known for years.

As in his earlier stints, DeLaurentis “gets out of the building and talks with people,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst who travels to the island regularly. “He knows the country very, very well.”

True to form, DeLaurentis declined to speak on the record because of the U.S.-Cuba negotiations. He has spoken very little with major media since Dec. 17. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that a new U.S. exception to the trade embargo would allow exchange of Internet technology that could be a “game changer down the line” by connecting Cuba to the world and “lighting up the island.”

DeLaurentis is a graduate of the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs. He was a senior official at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York before joining the U.S. State Department and has worked at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, and in Washington, including as deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Most recently, DeLaurentis was a deputy to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations, where a former colleague said he was known as “the person who turned on the lights in the morning and was the last to leave at night.”

DeLaurentis’ online presence is minimal, mostly written texts of addresses to the U.N. Security Council. In one rare speech carried by YouTube, the graying diplomat with dark-rimmed glasses told students at a 2013 International Model U.N. Conference that international diplomacy “can be frustrating, even maddening.”

He didn’t elaborate on the challenges of being a diplomat in Cuba, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. since 1961.

“He’s trying to rebuild a relationship that has been in shambles for 55 years,” Dutch Ambassador Norbert Braakhuis said.

The United States needs “someone who is very cautious – but also very knowledgeable and with sharp insights,” Braakhuis said. DeLaurentis, he added, is “clearly the right person at the right time and place.”

http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/07/02/top-american-diplomat-in-cuba-in-line-to-head-new-embassy