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HAVANA, Sept. 20th (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday ordered the expulsion from the United States of two members of Cuba’s delegation to the United Nations and restricted..

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HAVANA, Feb. 21th President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is militarily ready for a Cuban Missile-style crisis if the US is foolish enough to want one and that his country currently has the edge when it comes to a first nuclear strike.

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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

Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina SmithHAVANA, June 25th 35th Minnesota does little in the way of trade with Cuba, but Lt. Gov. Tina Smith believes last week’s trade mission to the island is likely to change that.

Smith spent much of last week touring Cuba with a group of state Read more

 Cuba Policy,TrumpHAVANA, June 12th As President Donald Trump weighs rolling back some of the Cuba normalization policies begun during the Obama administration, a new poll finds a majority of Republicans would oppose such a move.

The president is scheduled to speak about Cuba on Friday Read more

renewable-energyHAVANA,Dec. 18, The US Department of State says delegates from the United States and Cuba discussed regional developments related to clean energy during the first Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Working Read more

4027228w-640x640x80HAVANA, August 2th (Reuters) Cuba said on Monday it was not willing to rush talks with the United States over multibillion-dollar claims and counter-claims and would agree only to an accord that addressed the grievances of both sides.

Washington is seeking upward of $10 billion, Read more

 HAVANA, May (Reuters) 17th Cuba and the United States aim to reach new agreements on cooperation in law enforcement, health and agriculture over the coming months, a senior Cuban official said on Monday, as part of the former Cold War foes’ drive to normalize ties.

The Communist-ruled island and its northern neighbor reestablished diplomatic relations a year ago after decades of hostility and have since signed deals on the environment, postal services and direct flights.

A bilateral commission met on Monday in Havana to establish a roadmap for talks over the rest of this year, which would include more high-ranking official visits, said Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban delegation.

In March, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba.

“The agenda is quite ambitious,” Vidal told a news conference, adding that talks about intellectual property rights were also in the cards.

The two sides had discussed holding dialogues on human rights and claims, the U.S. embassy in Cuba said in a statement.

They already outlined their respective claims late last year, with the U.S. seeking upwards of $10 billion in compensation for nationalized properties and Cuba demanding at least $121 billion in reparations for the U.S. trade embargo and other acts it described as aggression.

“The United States looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future,” the embassy said. “Tomorrow (we) will discuss specific steps related to bilateral security during the law enforcement dialogue.”

Vidal, who is the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief of U.S. affairs, said the island was hopeful that whomever became next the U.S. president would continue to deepen the detente. The United States will hold a general election on Nov.8.

“When you look at the polls, the majority of the American population and the Cuban American community are in favor of the normalization of relations,” she said. “So I expect their opinion will be taken into account.”

president-obama-attends-tampa-bay-devil-rays-v-cuban-national-team-baseball-game-in-havanaHAVANA, April 19th On Monday, Cuban’s top leaders and officials have criticized the squeaking inefficiency of the state-controlled economy. They also took note of the vibrant private sector as potential source of US subversion.

According to News Journal Online, the Cuban government comments illustrated the commotion it is facing as it tries to modernize and maintain control of things now thatit’s in a new era with Washington. The Cuban Communist Party has ended the third day of its twice-a-decade congress with vote for a 114- member Central Committee. The vote turned to select the 15- member Political Bureau. The vote, just like Congress, was open only to 1,000 delegates, 280 selected guests and state journalists.

ABC News reported that Cuban President and First Party Secretary, Raul Castro, opened the meeting with evaluation of the state reforms he introduced after taking over in 2008. Castro blamed the ‘obsolete mentality’ and ‘attitude of inertia’ for the state’s failure to impose reforms meant to increase productivity.

To follow, Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel also repeated the criticism of the bureaucracy in his speech. He added that ‘lack of confidence in the future’ is the consequence of what Castro said. Diaz-Canel added that “Along with other deficiencies, there’s a lack of readiness, high standards and control, and little foresight or initiative from sectors and bureaucrats in charge of making these goals a reality.”

However, Yahoo published that state media focuses more on the need to protect Cuba’s socialist system from global capitalism and US influence in particular. It is notable that US President Barack Obama visited Havana, the first in over 90 years, and the move was interpreted as an attempt to seduce ordinary Cubans into abandoning the country’s socialist views.

Even Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez went to say that the visit of Obama is ‘an attack on the foundation of the history, culture and symbols of Cuba.’ Meanwhile, Rene Gonzales, former intelligence agent held in US and resolved by détente with Washington, said there should be consideration on the political reform in Cuba.
Read more at http://www.lawyerherald.com/articles/43087/20160419/cuban-leaders-criticize-ways-bureaucracy-private-sector.htm#UfyGtQSy5QRL3YX7.99

 

havana-live-FidelHAVANA, march 28  (AFP) – Cuba’s Fidel Castro signaled continued resistance to rapprochement between Washington and Havana, writing in an opinion piece on Monday that his country “has no need of gifts” from the United States.

The former president, 89, remained out of sight during last week’s historic visit to the communist island by US President Barack Obama which aimed to cement normalization.

In his first published remarks about the visit, Castro seemed unwilling to forgive and forget more than a half-century of enmity between the two countries, declaring in the Granma newspaper that Cuba “has no need of gifts from the empire.”

He made his remarks in a piece entitled “El Hermano Obama” — “Brother Obama.”

“Listening to the words of the US president could give anyone a heart attack,” Castro said, in an ironic barb.

“Nobody has any illusion that the people of this noble and selfless country will surrender glory and rights and the spiritual wealth that has come through the development of education, science and culture.”

Obama during last week’s three-day visit — the first by a US president in 88 years — thrilled Cubans by calling for democracy and greater freedoms, and took part in baseball diplomacy during a match between Cuban and American professional players.

The landmark visit was spearheaded by the US president and Cuba’s current leader Raul Castro, who has proven to be far more reform-minded than the revolutionary icon brother whom he succeeded as the island’s president a decade ago.

Since handing the presidency over to his younger brother, Fidel Castro has spent his time writing reflections which occasionally appear in the party press.

havana-live-Removal-and-DeportationHAVANA, March 14th (AP)  As Washington normalizes relations with Havana, nearly 30,000 Cuban nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. may face deportation.

The Miami Herald reports  that 28,400 Cuban nationals have served their prison terms and face automatic deportations. Some 18,000 live in Florida. For decades they’ve been released under supervision by immigration authorities because the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Authorities say there’s no imminent change planned for immigration policy toward Cuba. Republican Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo says dangerous criminals should be deported at the earliest date possible, while those convicted of minor offenses should be given the opportunity to stay.

Miami defense attorney Jose “Pepe” Herrera says many Cuban inmates didn’t anticipate any U.S. change toward Cuba when they signed waivers agreeing to deportations to avoid immigration detention proceedings.
read also: http://havana-live.com/tens-of-thousands-cubans-fear-deportation-after-july-20/

haVANa-live-havana clubHAVANA, Feb. 27th (EFE) After winning the court case for rights to the Havana Club brand in the United States, the maker aims to have its rum become the first Cuban product to be sold in the U.S. when the long-standing embargo is lifted, because the North American country is a market with enormous potential and almost half the worldwide sales of premium rum.

“We’re sure Havana Club rum will be the top Cuban product that is soonest to enter the U.S. market, which represents 40 percent of worldwide rum sales, so the challenge and the potential are enormous,” the director of market development for Havana Club, Sergio Valdes, told EFE.

Valdes said that with a market like the U.S. still off limits, Havana Club is already the third best-selling rum in the world, a position the brand could easily surpass once Cuban companies are allowed unrestricted exports to the neighboring country, eager as it is to buy “emblematic products” from the island that have been banned there for the last 50 years like rum and tobacco.

Without yet having full access to that rich market, the mixed Cuban-French company that markets Havana Club – made up of France’s Pernod Ricard and Cuba’s Cuba Ron – nonetheless took a giant step forward several weeks ago by finally winning the 20-year legal battle with Bacardi for rights to the brand in the United States.

From that legal tug-of-war arose an irregular situation: Bacardi marketed the brand in the U.S. while Pernod Ricard sold it in the rest of the world after 1993 when the mixed company was founded.

The rum conflict goes back to the Cuban Revolution’s 1959 victory, when Fidel Castro confiscated the Havana Club company, founded in 1935 by the Arechabala family from Spain, and the new government began to market the brand. In the 1990s, the family sold the rights to Bacardi in the United States.

In all the world’s markets and including all lines of rum, Havana Club in 2015 sold some 4 million cases, or 36 million liters of rum, a product that for the company’s management is more than just a drink, it is “a little bit of Cuban life and culture that we are bringing to the world.”

havana-live- Cubana  HAVANA, Jan. 6th  The Cuban government is considering different ways to bypass the potential expropriation of its aircraft, which the U.S. could impound on American soil as payment for billions of dollars in unpaid U.S. terrorism judgments against Cuba, a State Department official told Bloomberg BNA.

Meanwhile, several Miami attorneys who won multi-million dollar terrorism judgments for their clients against Cuba are watching how a civil aviation arrangement plays out between the U.S. and Cuba, in case there’s an opportunity to collect.

The Cuban government has shown interest in a code-share agreement with U.S. airlines so that American, not Cuban, planes land in the U.S., the State Department official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity under State Department ground rules for reporters.

Another option the Cubans are weighing is leasing airplanes from the U.S. or a third country to fly routes between Cuba and the U.S. All of the choices would give Cuba an opportunity to use more modern aircraft while protecting their own from seizure. The Cuban government owns the airlines based on the communist island, so if its airplanes land in the U.S., they may be confiscated for the balance of about $2 billion in unpaid judgments.

“The Cuban government is very well aware of that risk,” the State Department official told Bloomberg BNA.

The U.S. announced an informal civil aviation arrangement with Cuba in December to govern regularly scheduled flights and charter service between the two countries in the absence of a formal agreement. Both sides are expected to sign off on the arrangement in early 2016 (243 ITD, 12/18/15).

As the Cuban government figures out how to enter the U.S. market, Cuban air service to the U.S. is not scheduled for departure anytime soon, the State Department official said. Airlines interested in flying routes on Cuba’s behalf to the U.S. would have to secure licenses from the U.S. Commerce and Treasury departments, as well as authorization from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the State Department official said.

“We told the Cubans we were prepared to give positive consideration to such license applications,” the official told Bloomberg BNA.

Scheduled service from the U.S. to Cuba in American aircraft is expected to commence in the first half of 2016, after the Department of Transportation divvies up the Havana slots to U.S. airlines. Currently, there would be a maximum of 20 slots available.

“This is a completely new destination and origin, or at least it’s new for this generation of Americans,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters. “And so we’re going to work through it as quickly as we can.”

Behavior Going Back to 1959

Frozen Cuban assets in the U.S. have satisfied some of the judgment awards, but most of the balance remains uncollected while creditors sweep the U.S. for Cuban assets. A federal antiterrorism law lets the families of state-sponsored terrorism victims seek damages in U.S. courts. Total compensatory damages for the 11 judgments exceed $2.1 billion, while punitive damages account for nearly $1.8 billion.

Foreign governments are not required to pay punitive damages, Alfonso Perez, an attorney who in 2006 helped secured a $400 million judgment against Cuba for clients, said.

U.S. state and federal courts imposed the judgments against the Cuban government when it was labeled a state sponsor of international terrorism. The State Department placed Cuba on the terrorism blacklist in 1982, and, following a review, Secretary of State John Kerry scrubbed Cuba from the list last May.

Eight judgments seek compensation for executions, torture and other behavior that occurred prior to Cuba’s inclusion on the terrorism list. For example, Perez was one of the attorneys who represented the family of Robert Fuller, a U.S. plantation owner in Cuba. Fuller was tortured and executed in 1960. Other judgments are tied to the torture and execution of political dissidents and other U.S. citizens.

The U.S. discussed the judgments and other claims in a preliminary meeting with the Cuban government in December 2015. Both sides will reconvene for the next round of talks in the first quarter of 2016. In addition to the roughly $2 billion in judgments the U.S. is seeking, it also wants Cuba to compensate U.S. citizens for 5,913 certified claims over property and assets the Cuban government seized shortly after Fidel Castro took power.

Without interest, the certified claims total $1.9 billion. Cuban officials have countered that the U.S. owes Cuba more than $100 billion in reparations for human and economic damages they say the country suffered under the U.S. embargo.

‘Ear to the Ground.’

Attorney Arturo Hernandez represented Ana Margarita Martinez, a Miami woman who in 2001 won a $27.1 million judgment against the Cuban government, because her husband at the time, Juan Pablo Roque, was a Cuban double agent who once worked for the FBI.
She recovered $198,000 in exchange for waiving her right to collect $20 million in punitive damages. With 6 percent interest in the remaining $7.1 million, Hernandez said the Cuban government actually owes his client $14 million.

“I do believe that there are going to be, I think, opportunities presented in the future to be able to collect on these judgments based either on seizing Cuban property in the United States, whether that be funds or whether that be airlines, because we are a judgment creditor of the government of Cuba,” Hernandez told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 21. “We certainly have our ear to the ground with respect to these issues.”

Attorney Jorge Borron won a $253 million judgment for the family of Rafael del Pino Siero in 2008. Del Pino was an ex-friend of Castro who was imprisoned in Cuba shortly after Castro took over. Borron alleged that the Cuban government in the late 1970s tortured and hanged del Pino in his cell.

Airplanes aren’t Cuba’s only assets, but Borron, who has yet to collect on the judgment, is frustrated the Cuban government is looking for ways to protect their aircraft from the judgments. He said he is disappointed that the U.S. appears to be “bending over backwards” to help Cuba.

“That’s going to create a lot of backlash with many, many individuals objecting to this,” Borron said.

Perez isn’t surprised the Cuban government is trying to protect its assets. He said the larger issue is the absence of a process to resolve the judgments.

“I think the country, the Congress, the White House, who has shown tremendous leadership in this area, should really push to have a mechanism for resolving these claims,” Perez told Bloomberg BNA.

http://www.bna.com/cuba-may-middlemen-n57982065754/

how-a-startup-with-no-revenue-can-be-worth-a-billion-dollarsHAVANA, Dec.8th (REUTERS) Cuban and U.S. officials on Tuesday will begin to untangle one of the most complex obstacles to normalization of relations between the two countries: the claims of Americans whose property was nationalized after the 1959 revolution and Cuban counterclaims for damages caused by the U.S. trade embargo.

The talks in Havana are the latest in a series of bilateral meetings since the two former Cold War adversaries restored diplomatic ties in July this year.

Some 5,913 U.S. corporations and individuals have been awarded $1.9 billion worth of claims for factories, farms, homes and other assets that were nationalized in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power on Jan. 1, 1959.

Those claims, registered with the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, are now worth roughly $8 billion when including 6.0 percent annual interest.

Cuban law ties the settlement of the claims to U.S. reparations for damages resulting from the embargo and other acts of U.S. aggression against Cuba. Cuban estimates of that damage range from $121 billion to more than $300 billion.

Neither side is eager to pay the full value, setting up a negotiation.

“The meeting is the first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Monday.

Cuba nationalized all foreign businesses and reached settlements with owners from other countries. The government recognizes the U.S. claims but it cut off negotiations in response to the decision by former President Dwight Eisenhower to suspend Cuba’s sugar quota in 1960.

The claims sat dormant for half a century as a result of the U.S.-Cuba estrangement, which ended a year a ago when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced detente.

Many of the nationalized companies no longer exist and individual claims have been passed to heirs.

The largest claim, by the Cuban Electric Company for more than $267 million, has changed hands several times due to mergers and acquisitions and is held by Office Depot, itself a takeover target of Staples Inc pending antitrust review.

With interest that claim is now worth more than $1 billion.

Other major claimants include Starwood Hotels, Coca-Cola, the former International Telephone & Telegraph Co., now ITT Corp, and various oil, sugar and financial interests.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa-idUSKBN0TQ2W020151207#zJIplc7oYRhzaFGE.99

IMAGES SECTIONS-17HAVANA, Dec.5th  (New York Times) Representatives of Cuba and the United States will meet on Tuesday in Havana to begin negotiations on settling decades-old outstanding property claims for the thousands of American citizens and companies whose assets were confiscated after Cuba’s revolution, according to several people briefed on the coming talks.

The meeting is considered a major step because the United States’ trade embargo against Cuba was initially enacted after Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader at the time, expropriated land from American companies. Nearly 6,000 people and corporations lost homes, farms, factories, sugar mills and other properties totaling $1.9 billion.
Now, for the first time, Cuba has agreed to meet to consider settling those losses. The State Department is expected to announce the meeting on Monday. A Cuban Embassy spokeswoman declined to comment.

“This meeting is an enormously big deal,” said Mauricio J. Tamargo, the former chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an agency within the Justice Department that adjudicates claims against foreign governments.
“The Cubans have up till now never recognized these claims as legitimate or something they are even prepared to discuss. It has never happened in 56 years since the revolution began and they started confiscating American property.”

When Mr. Castro declared victory in 1959, many Americans were forced to flee their homes and give up their land. His government later started expropriating large companies, and eventually nearly 900 corporations filed claims.

The list of claimants includes Exxon, Texaco, Coca-Cola and Starwood Resorts. About half the value of the claims, now estimated at up to $8 billion, belong to just 10 companies.

The issue had long been a stumbling block to the re-establishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. But the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations last year, with the vague assurance that property claims would be on the long list of issues to be taken up in bilateral talks.

Cuba would be unlikely to accept any deal that did not include lifting the trade embargo, which has for years been the nation’s top priority, said Mr. Tamargo, a lawyer with the firm Poblete Tamargo, which represents people with claims. If the embargo is lifted, he added, the Cubans could pay off the settlements with the increased trade revenues.

The Cuban government has estimated that the American embargo cost Cuba about $121 billion in losses.

“If American properties are compensated, then the embargo should be lifted,” Mr. Tamargo said. “There is a window of opportunity for Cubans that will be gone in about a year.”

“Obama is a very good negotiating partner for them to have as opposed to President Trump or President Bush or even President Hillary,” he added, referring to Donald J. Trump, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton.

The talks would not include the thousands of claims of Cuban-Americans who lost property before they became American citizens, like Mr. Tamargo’s family, who lost a 3,500-acre farm.

Although many people assume that Cuba does not have the money to pay off settlements, it could pay claims by offering American corporations with outstanding claims a first shot at the Cuban market, said Richard E. Feinberg, whose Brookings Institution study on the issue will be released Tuesday.

If the payments were spread out over 10 years, Cuba probably has the money to pay the original claims, but perhaps not the 6 percent interest levied by the claims commission, Mr. Feinberg said.

“It’s a historic moment, if you consider that U.S.-Cuban relations collapsed in the early ’60s in large measure when Fidel Castro moved to expropriate the large U.S. holdings there,” he said. “Now 55 years later, the two sides are sitting down to say, how do we settle this?”

One person with a pending claim, Margery Leeder, 85, a retired real estate agent in Pompano Beach, Fla., said she never thought her family would be compensated after the Cuban government seized 72,000 acres of rice and sugar her father owned outside Havana.

“If you think about it, the Castro brothers have done the biggest heist in history,” Mrs. Leeder said.

Her father’s land was worth $3.9 million in 1959, and the family’s claim is now valued at $16 million.

“Overnight if you were American and had a bank account, it was closed; you had no money,” she said. “Eventually Castro did allow you to get some money, only about $1,000. Castro said nobody needed more than that.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Cartons of mail ready to be sorted sit on a shelf at the U.S. Post Office sort center on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The U.S. Postal Service is proposing to lay off 120,000 workers in order to deal with an $8.5 billion loss this year that has the agency close to insolvency. The layoffs, if approved by Congress, would take place over the next three years. In addition to layoffs, the Postal Service also wants to eliminate 100,000 jobs through attrition. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

HAVANA, Sept. 18 (AP) — The United States and Cuba should be able to transform their new diplomatic relationship into a deeper commercial partnership before the end of the year, with direct postal service to begin and an agreement on regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries, an American official said.

Washington also plans to publish new regulations soon making it easier for U.S. citizens to visit the island and do business with its growing ranks of independent entrepreneurs.

The official, who is familiar with the diplomacy, described significant progress in U.S.-Cuban discussions since the former Cold War foes reopened embassies in their respective countries in July. At a meeting in Havana last week, delegations from each side established a plan to settle a half-century of economic and legal disputes within the next 15 months.

While difficult questions related to human rights and compensation claims won’t be resolved immediately, the official said first steps toward a broader normalization of ties would come quickly.

First, the Obama administration intends to move on its own in the coming days by releasing a new set of rules designed to loosen the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to publicly lay out the process and demanded anonymity.

The goal is to pick up where President Barack Obama left off in January, when he eased economic restrictions on Cuba in potentially the most dramatic manner since relations between the countries broke down after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959 and the subsequent Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban missile crisis. The action sought to cut red tape for U.S. travel to Cuba, permit American companies to export telephones, computers and Internet technology, and allow U.S. firms to send supplies to private Cuban enterprises.

But efforts to expand business, tourism and other exchanges have run into an overlapping thicket of U.S. laws and hindrances, not to mention an uneven response from Cuba’s political leaders, the U.S. official said.

Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips. Routine airline service hasn’t satisfied various federal conditions. Cruise ships and ferries are still trying to finalize regular maritime routes with Cuban authorities. Credit card and other companies still can’t transfer payments to Cuba. Telecommunications companies haven’t been able to set up shop and get equipment to the island 90 miles south of Florida. And Cuba’s government isn’t even running its Internet connections anywhere near capacity levels.

The new U.S. rules should help cut through some of these bureaucratic hurdles, the official said, though he declined to describe all the legal changes in concrete terms. Only Congress can end the embargo, and much of the foreseen expansion of U.S.-Cuban economic ties rests on the cooperation of the island’s communist government.

The U.S.-Cuban political track moved ahead Thursday as new ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez presented his credentials to Obama at a White House ceremony. The pair briefly spoke, according to a Cuban embassy statement.

When Obama laid out his vision of improved relations eight months ago, he said his objectives were twofold: ease economic hardship in Cuba and spur its development of a private market outside of state control.

Some breakthroughs can be expected by the end of the year, according to the official.

Washington and Havana are slated to begin a “pilot program” allowing Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another, the official said. The governments have been speaking about re-establishing a postal link since Obama entered office, but the talks stalled when Cuba imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross. Direct mail service was halted in 1963, though letters and packages travel back and forth through countries like Canada and Mexico.

The postal program will use the Miami and Havana airports, the official said.

havana-live-US-Cuba-RelationsHAVANA, Sept 12  President Obama has reauthorized Cuba‘s listing on the Trading with the Enemy Act, a move that allows him to continue to use executive authority to improve ties with Cuba.

Obama’s action follows a unilateral decision last December to re-establish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, paving the way to embassies being opened in both countries.

The act, which must be reauthorized every year, gives the president the power to make changes to U.S. relations with listed countries, in this case that is Cuba.
Obama “continues to believe Congress should lift the embargo on Cuba and has already taken a number of steps to normalize relations and empower the Cuban people,” National Security Council spokesman Peter Boogaard told ABC News.

“That said, until the Congress acts, the Administration will continue to take prudent and responsible steps to allow commerce and travel, consistent with its authorities and within the continuing constraints of the embargo.”

Officials say that in order to do regulatory changes, like those taken by the administration in January to allow expanded travel under 12-specific licenses, the president needs the authority embedded in the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Without the act, the standing U.S. law with respect to Cuba is the Helms-Burton act, or the embargo, which limits nearly all transactions, travel and business with the island nation.

Congress has made no effort to change the embargo, although legislation was introduced to committee earlier this year that would allow for all travel restrictions to be lifted.

Last month, ABC News learned that the administration has plans underway to make it easier for people to visit and do business with Cuba, through regulation changes at the Treasury Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Those changes however, wouldn’t be possible without the power granted to the administration under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-reauthorizes-cuba-listing-trading-enemy-act/story?id=33690036

havana-live-cubaembargoHAVANA,  July 29   A Republican U.S. congressman filed a bill Tuesday to eliminate the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2014, filed the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, which would remove restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba and allow Americans to travel to the island.

According to a USA Today report, Emmer decided to pursue a full repeal of the embargo after he visited Cuba in June, where he met with Cuban government officials and other citizens who live on the island.

“I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand,” Emmer told a USA Today reporter.

“But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been in effect for 55 years.

 Move goes further than Obama administration’s easing of travel restrictions 
Appropriations committee also votes to end banking curbs for exports to Cuba

HAVANA, July 23  A Republican-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift a decades-long US ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Barack Obama’s moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with Cuba.

The Senate appropriations committee also voted to repeal a law prohibiting banks and other US businesses from financing sales of US agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time. The committee’s 18-12 vote comes just days after the US and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by re-establishing diplomatic relations cut off during the cold war.

“We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them,” said sponsor Jerry Moran, a Republican. “I also would say that as Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can travel around the globe today without exception – no country is totally prohibited with the exception of Cuba.”

The House appropriations committee has moved in the opposite direction, but the intra-party disagreement among Republicans makes it far less likely that the GOP-controlled Congress will try to use spending bills to challenge Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.

The House provision would block new rules issued in January that would significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time.

The Senate language goes beyond the administration rules, which lifted a requirement that US travellers obtain a licence from the Treasury Department before travelling to Cuba. Instead, all that is required is for travellers to assert that their trip would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes.

“Positive change in Cuba will take time,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. “But it will come not as a result of stubborn nostalgia by a vociferous few for the Batista years, but by visiting Cuba, listening to the Cuban people, and engaging with them.” Fulgencio Batista was Cuba’s dictator before he was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959.

The hospitality industry and other business sectors are still blocked from doing business in Cuba. The president of Marriot International, Arne Sorenson, just returned from Cuba and is representative of many companies eager to do business there, especially as more Americans travel to the island.

“With travel to Cuba now surging, existing Cuban hotels are full and hotel companies from other countries are racing to tie up as many of the new hotels as they can before the likes of Marriott and our US competitors show up,” Sorenson said.

The panel’s votes reflect growing sentiment, even among some GOP conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island, which have failed to move the Castro regime toward democracy.

“After nearly 60 years, we might try something different,” Moran said.

The panel also voted to lift restrictions on vessels that have shipped goods to Cuba from returning to the US until six months have passed.

The Cuba legislation was added to a $21bn measure funding the Treasury Department, which enforces the longstanding trade embargo.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/23/cuba-travel-ban-should-be-lifted-senate-panel

havana-live-hotel-nacional

Photo credit :Tole

HAVANA, July 22   A Florida bank established the first connection with a Cuban counterpart since President Obama’s December decision to open up relations between the two nations.

Stonegate Bank and Banco Internacional de Comercio S.A. (BICSA) signed a deal on Tuesday in Havana that would establish a correspondent account for the Florida-based bank on the island, making it easier for U.S. companies doing business in Cuba to process transactions directly,reported the Wall Street Journal.

Correspondent accounts allow banks to send money back and forth across international borders. Some U.S. business transactions in Cuba use U.S. treasury licenses, but all commercial deals end up going through banks in third countries, adding another step to the process.

These kinds of accounts have come under close scrutiny by federal regulators due to their historical ties to money laundering and other criminal activities, and banks have been hesitant to work with counterparts in other nations that don’t have strong oversight of their banking systems. Cuba has been labeled “high-risk” by the Financial Action Task Force, an organization that supports policies to prevent money laundering.

“We did an extensive risk-management approach to this,” Stonegate Bank CEO Dave Seleski, told the Wall Street Journal. “We feel very comfortable that we did something that is very low risk.”

The move could be the first step toward closer financial ties between the two nations, including the eventual approval of the use of credit cards in Cuba. U.S. credit cards don’t currently work on the island, though the companies have said they would start processing transactions this year.

http://fortune.com/2015/07/22/first-us-cuba-bank-agreement/

havana-live- jose manuel carenoHAVANA, July  22 Cuban dancers and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, founded by Alicia Alonso, are known all over the world. Now that diplomatic relations have been restored between the United States and Cuba, opening the island up for more cultural exchange, what will that mean for Cuba’s ballet scene?

Meghna Chakrabarti spoke with José Manuel Carreño, a Cuban-born former principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, who is now artistic director of Silicon Valley Ballet, based in San Jose.

“I see it as a good thing. I see it as a great opportunity for Cuban dancers also to explore and dance with other companies,” Carreño said. “Many dancers, they have been defecting and dancing in the United States and in other companies, but I guess this will open up the relation with Cuba, and I think it’s a great thing.”

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/07/22/cuba-ballet-carreno

In this photo taken July 16, 2015, attorneys Grisel Ybarra, left, and Monica Barba Neumann look over documents at their office in Miami. Ybarra and Neumann represent several clients who could face deportation. With the US 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 immigrants who have outstanding deportation orders live in the U.S. legally but are considered priorities for immigration enforcement agents, according to data maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those priorities include people with serious criminal convictions or who pose a threat to national security. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

In this photo taken July 16, 2015, attorneys Grisel Ybarra, left, and Monica Barba Neumann look over documents at their office in Miami. Ybarra and Neumann represent several clients who could face deportation. With the US and Cuba inching closer to fully restoring diplomatic ties, including many as 25,000 immigrants who have outstanding deportation orders live in the U.S. legally but . (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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.

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.

2014 file photo, Cuban students exit Marta Abreu Central University in Santa Clara, Cuba. Since the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2015, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba. Both sides are exploring research collaborations. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes, File)

2014 file photo, Cuban students exit Marta Abreu Central University in Santa Clara, Cuba. Since the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2015, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba. Both sides are exploring research collaborations. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes, File)

HAVANA, July 11   (AP)  As the U.S. and Cuba mend ties, colleges in both countries are forming partnerships that once were heavily restricted.

Only months after the U.S. eased travel restrictions, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba, and both sides are exploring research projects.

“I think there’s going to be an explosion in all of those kinds of collaborations,” said Mauro Guillen, director of the Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

At Auburn University in Alabama, the college of agriculture agreed to partner with the Agrarian University of Havana under a new five-year exchange agreement. The University of the District of Columbia and the University of California at Fullerton also signed deals with Cuban schools.

Leaders at Florida International University are making long-term plans to open at least one campus in Cuba.
Under previous travel rules, some colleges had gained permission to launch academic trips to Cuba, but college officials said the process was riddled with bureaucratic barriers. Even those who went through the lengthy application process often were denied.

But the U.S. eased those rules this year. Tourism is still forbidden, but the new rules make it easier to travel for educational purposes.

Those changes have stirred a “gold rush mentality” to form new academic ties, said Bruce Magid, dean of the Brandeis International Business School in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“I think it’s going to be significantly easier to plan trips,” said Magid, who has led several visits to Cuba in recent years.

The wave of academic interest in Cuba covers a wide range of fields, from architecture to agriculture. But business schools in particular have been quick to build ties with the island, both to study its evolving economy and to explore it as a potential business frontier if the U.S. lifts its trade embargo.

“A lot of my students, they want to go to Cuba not just because they can learn about this fascinating place, but they also see themselves potentially in the very near future doing business over there,” said Guillen, who has led student trips to Cuba.

For many U.S. colleges, Cuba also represents a largely untapped pool of future students.

There are still obstacles in the way, but admissions offices already are drafting plans to recruit students from Cuba, just like they do from Europe or South America.

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the graduate record exam in the U.S., recently announced that it will begin testing in Cuba.

“Cuba has probably the highest educational standards in all of Latin America,” Guillen said. “They have a relatively well-educated population and it would be wonderful to attract those students to the United States in big numbers.”
Financial constraints in Cuba would leave most students dependent on financial aid, but there is strong interest in a U.S. education.

“Here we take two years of English, so in terms of the language I think we are well-prepared,” said Omar Concepcion, who is in his last year in physics at the University of Havana, “and on the physics side (Americans) are very advanced, so it would be very advantageous for us.”

Colleges acknowledged that they would have to provide financial aid to Cuban students they recruit.

Despite progress, some experts are reluctant to herald a new era of open academic exchange between the countries. In many ways, there is still a wide void between them, said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

The U.S. trade embargo puts a clamp on much activity, Duany said, and could block professors from presenting or selling their scholarly works. He added that in Cuba, the state keeps a tight grip on universities and their scholars.

“U.S. academics are used to speaking their minds on any topic that they can think of, and usually nothing happens,” Duany said. “Cuba’s a different society.”

Other constraints include Cuba’s lagging infrastructure, Guillen said. Internet access, for example, is still relatively rare, he said. But Guillen is confident that new relationships between colleges will play a role in the larger reconciliation between the countries.

“Educational collaboration and exchange is a consequence of the opening,” Guillen said, “but it will also contribute to deepening and accelerating the opening.”

Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana also contributed to this report.

Former US diplomat  in Havana Wayne Smith

Former US diplomat in Havana Wayne Smith

HAVANA,  July 6  (AFP) – As the US diplomats headed out to sea, their embassy in Havana closed but still visible on the horizon, the lights in its windows flickered.

One of the travelers that day in 1961 was Wayne Smith, who would later become head of the US interests section in Cuba.

Smith has had a front row seat as Cuban-American relations have evolved and now head for restoration, with the opening of embassies later this month as announced last week by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

Now 83, Smith remembers that day of departure: helping close the embassy on January 3, 1961 after the United States severed relations with Fidel Castro’s newly communist Cuba, and embarking on a Florida-bound ferry.

“As we cleared the headland, we could look and we could see our embassy on the waterfront, and the lights were blinking on and off,” Smith told AFP in an interview.

“I thought ‘that must be our employees saying farewell’. And it was!”

Smith welcomes the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, and said the US embargo that Washington has enforced against Cuba for more than 50 years — aimed at forcing the regime’s collapse — backfired, if anything.

“We followed this policy, year after year, God almighty, that didn’t isolate Cuba — it isolated us,” Smith said, noting that as of last year, the United States was the only country in the hemisphere that did not have diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“Every year the embargo was condemned at the UN, it was ridiculous,” he said. “It was a great relief that Obama began to change the policy.”

Smith — a tall man who fought in the Korean War and now sports an elegant white beard — says US policy toward Cuba lasted so long because of the “incredible belief” that American power could achieve anything.

“The idea that, by maintaining the embargo and a hostile policy and refusing to negotiate anything, we were going to bring down the Castro government, was absurd,” Smith said in his office, crammed with books and papers, at a Washington think tank called the Center for International Policy.

“It was a delusion, if you will, on the part of the US and American leaders. To me it became increasingly embarrassing that leaders could so mislead themselves,” he added.

– Missed opportunities –

After the US embassy in Havana closed, the countries had chances to re-engage but they never came to fruition.

“I think that we could have reopened a dialogue and a relationship with Cuba had Kennedy not been assassinated, as early as that. But with Kennedy’s assassination, that ended,” said Smith, referring to John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963.

In 1977, the United States and Cuba established Interests Sections in each other’s capital, and Smith returned to Cuba. Two years later, he was named head of mission, a sort of ambassadorship without the title.

Jimmy Carter was president then and wanted dialogue with Cuba, Smith said, adding this was the reason he took the job.

But then-national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wanted nothing of that and “torpedoed any effort to bring one about,” he said.

Next came the conservative Ronald Reagan as president — “and then for sure we would not have any dialogue” — so Smith left the US diplomatic service in 1982.

Smith said it might take the United States a couple of years to lift the trade embargo and some “astute maneuvering” but is optimistic that “we can achieve it.”

– Lights on the horizon –

All these years later, Smith has vivid memories of that day the embassy closed and he and his colleagues left for Florida.

As a diplomat, he said, the closure of the embassy was a huge disappointment — a failure, even.

In his cluttered office, Smith’s photos include one of him and his wife in 1958 in a famed Havana watering hole called the Bodeguita del Medio, and one of him with Fidel Castro when Smith resigned from the Foreign Service.

Now, he is excited about the prospect of embassies re-opening, later this month, and hopes to be at the ceremony in Havana.

Looking back, when he returned to Cuba in 1977 and met one of those old local employees, he asked about the lights in the embassy blinking on and off.

“‘Were you saying goodbye to us?’ And one of them said ‘Yes, you did see it, then.’ It was very moving,” Smith said.

 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