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HAVANA, July 6th (AFP) After making a fortune with his early antivirus software, then caught up in murder and drug cases in Belize, US millionaire John McAfee has added a new chapter to his tumultuous life story. Read more

Cuba and U.S. Exchange on Fighting Money LaunderingHAVANA, Feb 13 (PL) Authorities of Cuba and the United States met today in Washington for their second technical meeting to prevent and fight money laundering, informed today a note of the island”s Foreign Ministry.

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peloteros-cubanosHavana,22 julio (acn)  The national Cuban team and the national university squad from USA will hold the traditional friendly baseball match, agreed to five games from July 23 to 27, in several provinces in Cuba.

First they will play at Ciego de Avila´s José Ramón Cepero stadium (on the 23rd and 24 th), then at Havana´s Latinoamericano ballpark (25th) and finally at Pinar del Rio´s Captain San Luis field (26 and 27).

The American side recently lost three of five games against Japan, in match staged on that Asian country.

The Cuban-American baseball matches were continuously conducted between 1987 and 1996 until they were unilaterally suspended by US sports authorities.

A few years ago, in 2012, these events were resumed in Havana. Since then, the contests have been attended by first level players such as Kris Bryant, last season rookie of the year in the National League in the MLB.

That year, Cuba emerged victorious 3-2, however, the United States won 5-0 in 2013, a major blow for the Caribbean side, which competed with its elite team, similar to the one attending the Third World Baseball Classic.

In 2014, and eager for revenge, Cubans took resounding retribution and won 5-0; while in 2015, the United States returned to win, this time 3-2.

HAVANA, april 13th The story of America and Cuba — their decades of hostility, why it lasted so long, why it’s now finally ending — is often misunderstood in the US as a story about the Cold War. But in truth, it’s a story a full century older about slavery, clashing empires, and a long-running struggle within America to decide what kind of country we were going to be. When you see that, what’s happening today between Cuba and the US starts to make a lot more sense:


Americans don’t talk about this chapter in our history much today, but around the turn of the 19th century the country’s politics were divided over a question of national identity: Would the United States become an explicitly imperial power, joining the great powers of Europe in dividing up the world? Or would it champion its founding ideals of democracy by supporting independence movements around the globe?

This debate played out in the US just as the once-great Spanish Empire was crumbling. Cuba was a Spanish colony then; independence activists there rose up in 1895, and in 1898 the US declared war on Spain to help them.

But as the war progressed, American politicians argued: Should the US seize Cuba as its own colony, or should it stick to its word and support Cuban independence?

The Spanish-American War wasn’t just about Cuba. It was also over the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean; the island of Guam in the Pacific; and, largest of all, the Philippines, a series of large islands in Southeast Asia.

But debate in the US focused especially on Cuba. Partly this was because Cuba, so near to the US, inspired especially strong feelings in many Americans. And partly it was because there had been an earlier debate, in the 1850s, over whether to seize Cuba as a new US slave state.

By the time the war ended, both sides of the American debate had passed legislation in Congress meant to codify their preferred outcome. As a result, the US ended up with an odd quasi-imperial policy toward Cuba: The US would not seize it outright as a colony (something it did with Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines) but would take over Guantanamo Bay, control Cuba’s external affairs, and reserve the right to intervene on the island.

America’s imperial era in Cuba lasted only about 30 years. Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office in 1933 wanting to end America’s experiment with imperialism, and began unwinding US control over Cuba and the Philippines.

But within 20 years, the US would get involved in Cuba again, this time backing a military dictator who had seized power and was fighting a war with communist rebels.

Americans — who have never had much of a historical memory — saw this as just one of many proxy conflicts against communism’s global spread. But many Cubans saw it as a repeat of American imperialism. So when the US tried over and over to topple or even kill Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro, this felt, to many Cubans, like America trying to reassert its old colonial control over the island.

That’s far from the only reason the US-Cuba conflict lasted so long. As you’ll see in the video above, it’s also, as just one example, about the political conflict between Castro and Cuban dissidents that just happened to play out through American politics. But when you see that imperial legacy, and the way it’s been experienced by Cubans, the history starts to make a lot more sense. And this new era of normal relations looks even more historic.

http://www.vox.com/2016/4/12/11411358/cuba-opening-history-video

havana-live-havana-clubHAVANA,Feb.22th The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has accepted an application to renew a trademark for the term ‘Havana Club’ until 2026.

Drinks maker Pernod Ricard markets the spirit through a joint venture with the Cuban government’s export company Cubaexport.

In a statement on Friday, February 19, Pernod Ricard said it was “pleased to confirm” that the trademark had been renewed in the US for the next ten years.

In January, Cubaexport was granted an initial renewal until January 27. A further application to renew the trademark until 2026 was also submitted and has now been accepted.

“The renewal of the registration means that the dispute over ownership of the Havana Club brand in the US can be returned to the courts, where it can be decided on its merits,” Pernod Ricard said.

Cubaexport and drinks maker Bacardi have been in dispute over who owns the rights to market the spirit in the US, where Cubaexport does not currently sell its products.

Bacardi has sold Havana Club-branded rum in the US since 1994. It acquired the rights from Havana Club’s founding family, who fled Cuba around 1960. The rum is made in Puerto Rico due to the Cuban embargo.

Although plans are in place to lift the long-standing embargo, it is not known when that will be.

In 1976, Cubaexport was granted a US trademark but it was taken away by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2006.

Cubaexport pursued the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in 2012.

Earlier this month, WIPR reported that Bacardi had filed a freedom of information request with the US Department of the Treasury seeking information about Cubaexport and Pernod Ricard’s trademark renewal.

Bacardi said it wanted to see all documents, communications and files that were created, used or maintained in relation to the ‘Havana Club’ trademark registration.

Ian Fitzsimons, general counsel of Pernod Ricard, said: “We are confident that Cubaexport will prevail in defending its registration in the pending litigation.”

http://www.worldipreview.com/news/havana-club-trademark-renewal-confirmed-9601

havana-live-embargoHAVANA, Feb. 17th The Cuban government has begun a full-court press urging U.S. and American companies to step up economic investment in the island nation.

In one of the first public comments in the U.S. by a top Cuban government official since President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuban minister of foreign trade and investment, on Tuesday urged Congress to lift the decades-old economic embargo and promised that U.S. companies eyeing the Caribbean market would not be discriminated against.

“I believe the roads we have started to walk on is the right one,” Malmierca Díaz said at a press conference after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “No matter what, we’re going to maintain the disposition to normalize our relations with the U.S.”

The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was imposed in the early 1960s, remains in place, as only an act of Congress can lift it. But the Obama administration’s overtures have triggered loosening of business and investment restrictions on the island and have raised hopes for expansion-minded U.S. companies tempted by an untapped market with a reputation for quality education and advanced medical and engineering training.

The Treasury and Commerce departments have introduced a series of rule changes in recent months to encourage U.S. companies to consider investing in Cuba. And Malmierca Díaz said he plans to hold further talks with government officials for other rule changes that would accelerate economic investment and to meet with American business executives.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Tuesday in Havana with Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo to resume scheduled airline flights to the island for the first time in 53 years. Airlines will compete to provide up to 110 daily flights to Havana and nine other cities starting this fall, as long as travelers are visiting for one of 12 reasons other than tourism, officials said.

Still, the American re-engagement with Cuba, one of the last remaining communist governments, is a hot-button topic, particularly in the swing state of Florida. Several influential lawmakers, including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cuban Americans, as well as former Florida governor and presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, remain firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

During his speech in downtown Washington, D.C., Malmierca Díaz rattled off factoids aimed at wooing foreign investors. Cuba’s GDP grew 4% last year, with the sugar, manufacturing, construction and tourism industries leading the way. The island nation maintains trade relations with 75 countries, and some foreign debts have been renegotiated with creditors, he said. “We don’t want to be dependent on one market,” he said, referring to Cuba’s past ties with Russia.

Three cruise terminals are being built as is a new “special development zone” with tax incentives. Foreign companies’ net incomes on the island are generally taxed at 35%. But tax on income from new investment will be waived for eight years and taxed at 15% thereafter, he said.

Cuba needs about $2 billion annually in direct foreign investment to maintain its goal of raising its GDP by 5%, he said. Reflecting Cuba’s eagerness to interconnect further with the global economy, Malmierca Díaz said its view of foreign investment has shifted from a few years ago when it was merely considered a “complement” to domestic spending and “not important.”

Responding to a question about whether Cuba was moving quickly enough to adapt to the rule changes in the U.S., Malmierca Díaz said some delays may occur as American companies negotiate with their Cuban partners, but he affirmed that the Cuban government “was not creating more barriers.”

“It’d be stupid for us to delay,” he said.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/02/16/cubas-trade-minister-calls-end-embargo/80463656/

havana-live-gurrielHAVANA, Feb. 8th (AP)  Star Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel and his younger brother slipped away from their hotel in the Dominican Republic early Monday in an apparent effort to launch careers in Major League Baseball.

The departure of Yulieski and his brother Loudes was confirmed with remarkable swiftness byGranma, the Communist Party newspaper in Cuba that serves as an outlet for official government statements.

The paper said on its website Monday morning that the Gourriel brothers had “abandoned” their hotel in “an open attitude of surrender to the merchants of professional baseball for profit.”

The elder Yulieski has been one of the Cuban players most highly sought after by MLB scouts since he played in his first World Baseball Classic in 2006. His brother was also considered a good prospect.

The brothers took off before dawn hours after the close of the annual Caribbean Series, according to a baseball official in the country who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cuban sports officials contacted Dominican police for help in locating the 31-year-old Yulieski and his younger brother, Lourdes, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue.

The brothers did not publicly disclose their plans. But Cuban players in the past have established residency in the Dominican Republic and then signed contracts to play in Major League Baseball.

Yulieski Gourriel’s departure from Cuba is a major defeat for the country’s attempt to prevent massive flight of baseball talent by allowing players to sign professional contracts with leagues in third countries such as Mexico and Japan.

Gourriel was the most prominent example of the experiment that began in 2013, making $1 million playing for the Yokohama Dena Baystars, then returning to play a season with his pro team in Havana.

After accounting for Japanese taxes, he paid 10 percent to Cuba’s baseball federation (which acted as his agent). The Japanese team canceled his contract last spring after saying Gourriel had told them he was injured and needed to recuperate in Cuba.

Cuban and U.S. baseball officials are working to create a legal framework for Cuban players to join the major leagues, but for the moment both Cuban law and U.S. law contain restrictions that make it impossible.

Yulieski and Loudes were in the Dominican Republic to play for The Tigers of Ciegos de Avila. A 7-2 defeat Saturday against Mexico kept the Cuban team out of the finals of the series.

cuban-tourists-old-havana_onr4yhHAVANA, Jan. 26th  (REUTERS) Cuba’s tourism industry is under unprecedented strain and struggling to meet demand with record numbers of visitors arriving a year after detente with the United States renewed interest in the Caribbean island.

Its tropical weather, rich musical traditions, famed cigars and classic cars were for decades off limits to most Americans under Cold War-era sanctions, but those restrictions are fading.

Once a rare sight, Americans are now swarming Old Havana’s colonial squares and narrow streets along with Europeans and Canadians.

Entrepreneurs and hustlers have responded by upping prices on taxi rides, meals, and trinkets. Cuban women who pose for pictures in colorful dresses and headwraps while chomping cigars are now charging $5 instead of $1.

Cuba received a record 3.52 million visitors last year, up 17.4 percent from 2014. American visits rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.

Industry experts worry the island will be unable to absorb an even greater expected surge when scheduled U.S. commercial airline and ferry services are due to start this year.

As it is, foreigners face extreme difficulties booking hotels and rental cars, and those who hoped to discover Cuba before the hordes arrive realize they are too late.

“Cuba is over the top with tourists right now. I’ve seen so many Americans, it’s not even funny,” said Ana Fernandez, 44, of Nashville, Tennessee.

Gisela Hoiman, 46, a schoolbook editor from Berlin, hoped to see Cuba “before it changes” but was disappointed to find long airport lines, ubiquitous hucksters and masses of tourists. She was stranded in Havana when she was unable to get a spot on the bus leaving for the eastern city of Santiago.”It was too much to handle, too many other tourists. We stood in line and were sent back and forth to different counters,” she said from an Old Havana cafe with her large backpack parked on the floor. “I don’t think Cuba is prepared.”

The United States and Cuba agreed in December 2014 to end five decades of animosity and have since restored diplomatic ties, igniting international buzz about Cuba.

The opening has benefited Cuba’s small private sector, which offers restaurants and rooms for rent in family homes.

But the tourism infrastructure, with just 63,000 hotel rooms nationwide, is still largely a function of the state and has languished under decades of U.S. economic sanctions and underdevelopment.

“From offloading at the airport to restaurant availability, infrastructure is maxed out,” said Collin Laverty, founder of Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes tours for legally permitted travel for Americans.

A select number of foreign-run hotels, such as those of Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA (MEL.MC), fill up fast, leaving many visitors with little option but tired state-run motels or rooms in private homes.

Some have been priced out or bumped from hotels, especially in Havana, where high-end U.S. groups reserve blocks months in advance and pay higher prices.

“It is kind of a slap in the face as it has been the Canadian and European tourists who have helped keep the Cuban economy afloat for the past 25 years,” said Keri Montgomery, owner of Vancouver-based Finisterra travel.

The government is seeking more foreign investment and has plans to reach 85,000 hotel rooms nationwide by 2020, but the pace is slow and development has mostly favored beach destinations rather than Cuba’s cultural centers.

Cuban officials did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

FORBIDDEN FRUIT
American tourism is still banned under the U.S. trade embargo but U.S. citizens and residents are allowed to visit under 12 categories including for religious, sporting and educational exchanges.

In one of his first moves after rapprochement, Obama made it easier for those 12 categories of travelers to go to Cuba.

The increased presence of Americans is especially noticeable in Havana, and because there has been little enforcement of the tourism ban, some are also enjoying Cuba’s beaches and bars with little effort to disguise their intentions.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has not fined any Americans for visiting Cuba since Obama took office in January 2009, its database shows.

Under President George W. Bush, OFAC fined hundreds of individuals for embargo violations, mostly for travel. More than 800 people received penalties including nearly $1.1 million in fines in 2004 and 2005 alone, according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service.

California native Tony Pandola, 33, who has been leading Americans around Cuba for three years, said once-intimate experiences are now plagued by crowds.

“On this really beautiful, quiet farm there were six giant tour buses with their diesel engines running and a couple of minivans and taxis all waiting to have the same experience with the tobacco farmer,” he said from Viñales, a picturesque valley west of Havana.

While many budget travelers can usually find accommodations even without booking, some are left stranded.

“I talked to a cab driver in Viñales who said they were offering tourists to sleep in the back of their car for $10,” Pandola said.

Leonardo Diaz, 34, who has been working in tourism in his hometown of Viñales since he was a teen, said every room was booked in December.

“A lot of tourists have stayed in the park. That had never been seen before,” he said.

Havana’s international airport lacks sufficient infrastructure such as luggage trucks and passenger stairs to handle the influx, causing bottlenecks.

“It’s total madness,” said Roniel Hernandez, who works at the terminal receiving U.S. flights. “The airport employees are doing everything possible to satisfy visitors, but the equipment is very old and needs to be replaced.”

Retired teacher Joanna Sarff finally came to Cuba after dreaming about it for 50 years, so she refused to let the inconveniences spoil her trip, saying she was more focused on plans to dance on the tables at a Buena Vista Social Club concert than the crowds.

“For me, this is a great way to experience the culture, the people, the food, the mojitos, and the cigars!”

(Reporting by Jaime Hamre; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray)

havana-live-americanHAVANA, Dec. 16th (Reuters)  The United States hopes to conclude aviation talks with Cuba about the resumption of scheduled commercial airline flights “very, very soon,” a senior U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday.

The official was speaking ahead of Thursday’s one-year anniversary of the United States and Cuba’s agreement after 18 months of secret talks to restore diplomatic ties that Washington severed more than 50 years ago.

“We do hope to achieve a successful outcome of these negotiations very, very soon. It would be wrong of me to pinpoint exactly when, but we certainly hope before the end of the year, if not sooner,” said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

In September, a State Department official said among the key civil aviation issues that had to be discussed were aviation safety and security. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration must sign off on Cuba’s operations. Direct charter flights have served Cuban-Americans and specialist groups for travel to Cuba for years.

Even with a flight agreement, travel to Cuba by Americans would still be limited by the U.S. economic embargo that bans general tourism to the Communist-ruled island.
https://ca.news.yahoo.com/u-hopes-conclude-cuba-aviation-talks-very-very-192218381.html

havana-live-ghost-orchidHAVANA, July 30   (AP) – The diplomatic thaw with Cuba has led to a new collaboration with scientists in that country to study the ghost orchid, one of the world’s rarest flowers, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Ernesto Mujica of Cuba’s Ministry of Science ECOVIDA Research Center has joined researchers from Illinois College and the University of Florida in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to study ghost orchids, the delicate blooms that star in the book “The Orchid Thief” and the movie “Adaptation.”

Mujica’s participation “would not have been possible without years of persistence and the recent, history-making improvements in U.S. relations with Cuba,” said Tom MacKenzie, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s southeast region.

The five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island inhibited orchid researchers in both countries from sharing data, though a group of Illinois College researchers and students were able to visit Cuba’s Guanahacabibes National Park in 2013.

Mujica waited two years for a U.S. visa to visit Florida before his application was approved this year, MacKenzie said.

This month, Mujica helped document ghost orchids throughout the refuge and is helping implement long-term monitoring methods he uses to study the flowers in Cuba.

“In the future we hope to compare ghost orchid populations in southwest Florida to those in Cuba as a means of better understanding the species’ specific habitat requirements and needs for continued survival,” said Lawrence W. Zettler of Illinois College.

Just a few hundred ghost orchids bloom across the swampy landscape that feeds into Florida’s Everglades. Unique orchid varieties have made the region popular with both enthusiasts and thieves.

Only 11 ghost orchids previously had been catalogued in the panther refuge, but Mujica’s methods helped researchers identify and catalog over 80 new ones, MacKenzie said.

The collaboration shows “how cooperation between our two countries may help at least one rare species in peril,” Zettler said.

havana-live-vote-cubaHAVANA,  July  29 (By Brooke Sartin)  “El bloqueo,” as Cubans call the United States’ 1962 embargo, consists of commercial, economic, and financial sanctions, as well as restrictions on travel and commerce with the island.

 The 54-year policy has failed to achieve its goals, namely that Cuba adopt a representative democracy and shed its communist rule.  Further goals of the embargo include the improvement of human rights and resolving $8 billion worth of financial claims (mostly in confiscated property) by corporations and individual families against the Cuban government.

Cuba does not pose the same threat to the United States that it once might have during the Cold War.  The USSR dissolved in 1991, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report in 1998 stating, “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.”

 The embargo can no longer be justified by the fear of Communism spreading throughout the Western Hemisphere, especially given that Americans are free to travel to other communist countries if they obtain a visa, including China, Vietnam, and North Korea.  Further, the embargo unfairly burdens and even harms the Cuban people.

 Cubans are denied access to technology, medicine, affordable food, and other goods.  Because of the embargo, Cuba has access to less than 50% of the drugs on the world market. Bone cancer medical treatments and antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS are not readily available in Cuba because many are commercialized under United States patents.
The embargo has been successful in that it has impacted the Cuban economy, costing the country over $1 trillion in its five-decade history; however, it has not effectively ousted communist rule just 90 miles from Florida’s coast.havana-live

The embargo is not only a pointless punishment on Cuba; it also negatively impacts the United States.  Namely, the United States’ embargo on Cuba is estimated to cost the United States between $1.2 and $4.8 billion annually.
Further, a 2010 study by Texas A&M University calculated that lifting the embargo could create 5,500 American jobs, jobs that are desperately needed in an economy that is still bouncing back from a devastating recession.

Further, the United Nations has denounced the embargo for 22 straight years, and the United States’ stubbornness in maintaining the embargo makes the country look immature and vindictive.
Despite the embargo, the United States is still conducting minimal business with Cuba, making the embargo seem even more senseless.  The United States has become Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner since 2007.

 In 2001, after a devastating hurricane struck the island, the United States began exporting food to Cuba and is now the island’s second largest food supplier with sales peaking at $710 million in 2008.
The blockade has deprived United States citizens of Cuba’s many medical breakthroughs: the first meningitis B vaccine, treatments for the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, a preservative for un-refrigerated milk, the cholesterol-reducing drug PPG, and CimaVax EFG—the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer.

Now that the United States has reopened its embassy in Havana and Cuba has raised a flag outside its own embassy in Washington, D.C., negotiations for the resumption of full diplomatic relations can continue.
A major issue to be addressed is that of human rights violations of the Cuban people, which the 2014 Human Rights Watch report stated that Cuba “continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights” through detentions, travel restrictions, beatings, and forced exile.

The Congressional Research Service reported that there are an estimated 65,000 to 70,000 prisoners incarcerated in Cuba as of May 2012, which is the second highest incarceration rate in the world. However, this incarceration rate is less than thirty-six of the states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

The United States’ efforts are aimed at promoting independence of the Cuban people and their rights to speak freely and peacefully assemble.  Cuba, in turn, wants the United States to return the illegally-held Guantanamo Bay, end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts, and compensate the country of Cuba for damages suffered as a result of the embargo.
To begin the long process of restoring diplomatic relations, the United States has already removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism; however, such full resolution will likely require many more discussions with many more compromises.

The question that arises is to what degree will reestablishing ties impact the ordinary lives of Cubans and Americans?  What will the future hold for these two countries?  Regardless of what happens going forward, in the words of one Cuban-American, “You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.”

For now, one can only speculate on how and to what extent establishment of full diplomatic relations will have on both countries.  Likely, the United States will forcefully encourage Cuba to adopt some form of a representative democracy under the guise of maintaining good business practices.  However, such a guise is simply that, given that the United States’ business relationship with China, a communist country, is only growing.

Aerial Photograph of Oil Rig SCARABEO 9,  Photographed by Tommy Chia,

Aerial Photograph of Oil Rig SCARABEO 9, Photographed by Tommy Chia,

HAVANA,  July 24   A first-of-its kind oil summit in Cuba organized by U.S. energy-industry heavy hitters is expected in October.

The meeting, set for Havana from Oct. 18-21, comes amid loosening tensions and expanding diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

“The symposium is both historic and unique, the first-ever bringing together of high-level experts and leaders from the U.S. to join in discussion with parallel experts and leaders in Cuba and other Gulf and Caribbean nations,” reads the mission statement of the Safe Seas — Clean Seas conference.

It is organized by two former high-ranking executives of the International Association of Drilling Contractors — Lee Hunt and Brian Petty, respectively former president and executive vice president of global government affairs for the trade group.

Hunt and Petty said the purpose of the conference is to work on establishing uniform environmental and safety policies for offshore drilling throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

As things stand between the United States and Cuba, this is not possible now. The opening up of a U.S. embassy in Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., this week further signaled strengthening ties between the neighboring countries. But the more-than-50-year-old U.S.-imposed trade embargo against Cuba remains.

Because of the embargo, most American companies skilled in oil cleanup would be prohibited from providing immediate assistance if an oil spill occurs during a Cuban offshore drilling operation.

There are special U.S. government licenses available to American companies allowing them to do business with an oil rig drilling in Cuban waters, but not nearly enough to effectively deal with a disaster.

Based on the amount of equipment, vessels and services required to contain the 2010 DeepWater Horizon spill, Lee estimates less than 5 percent of these U.S. resources would be legally available to respond in Cuban seas.

The embargo also impacts the types of rigs and ships that can take part in an offshore Cuban operation. To comply with the embargo, a rig or vessel must have fewer than 10 percent of its parts made in the United States. If the ship is not compliant with the embargo, companies using it could face U.S. sanctions.

This was an issue in 2012 and 2013, when several international companies used an Italian-owned, Chinese-built semi-submersible rig to look for oil in the Florida Straits between Cuba and Key West.

The rig, the Scarabeo 9, met the specifications of the embargo. But there was concern among American officials, environmentalists and oil industry people that the embargo would hinder cleanup efforts in the event of a spill.

The operations largely came up empty, but the Cuban government thinks there are large supplies of oil and gas below the ocean floor in the deep waters of the Straits and Gulf of Mexico.

With that in mind, Hunt and Petty said it is necessary to “discuss the strategic and policy developments that would enable Cuba, and foreign upstream operators in Cuba, to trade with U.S. companies in certain areas of equipment and services, in particular those U.S. oilfield products and technologies that serve a dual purpose of not only enabling safe drilling practices, but also effective, successful emergency responses to oil spills to assure clean seas.”

More companies are looking to drill in the same area, according to industry sources. Media in Angola recently reported that country’s state-owned Sonangol oil company will be ready to drill in the Gulf between 2016 and 2017.

Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Cuba’s vice president of the Council of Ministers, stressed, however, that such operations will be difficult without the U.S. lifting the embargo.

But some industry watchers have their doubts that, even with the lifting of the embargo, Sonangol is ready to embark on such a large operation off Cuba.

“I think this is a very long shot,” said Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, Austin. “Sonangol recently announced a cutback of over $1 billion in their budget due to low oil prices. I believe it when I see it.”

http://www.keysnet.com/2015/07/24/503778/historic-oil-meeting-in-cuba-set.html

 This undated handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard shows US Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. Thirty-eight Cuban migrants caught trying to sail to the U.S. are stranded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, waiting for permission from the Cuban government to return home, The Associated Press has learned. The migrants were among about 96 Cubans who were intercepted at sea and taken aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. The Cuban government allowed the return of the other 58 people. (Coast Guard via AP)

This undated handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard shows US Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. Thirty-eight Cuban migrants caught trying to sail to the U.S. are stranded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, waiting for permission from the Cuban government to return home, The Associated Press has learned. The migrants were among about 96 Cubans who were intercepted at sea and taken aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. The Cuban government allowed the return of the other 58 people. (Coast Guard via AP)

HAVANA,  July  13 Calls are growing for the Obama administration to end the decades-long practice of allowing Cubans who make it onto U.S. soil to stay here.

The practice, which stems from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and is informally known as the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy, allows Cubans who make it to the United States to remain her legally.

They can obtain permanent U.S. residency after a year and a day.

The policy has been controversial for a long time, drawing criticism from some who view it as preferential treatment. Haitian-American groups, for instance, often contrast how much harder it is for their compatriots to get legal residency in the United States.

Now that Cuba and the United States are re-establishing diplomatic relations and recently announced that embassies would be reopened in Havana and Washington, D.C., before the end of July, many argue that it’s time to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“The politics of the issue have evolved,” Marc R. Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, told Fox News Latino.

There also have been published reports about how some Cubans obtain refugee status – presumably because they fear persecution in their native homeland – yet regularly travel between the U.S. and the communist nation after obtaining legal residency here.

“People see certain Cubans abuse the Cuban Adjustment Act, and travel back and forth, taking advantage of that privileged status.”

The Obama administration, mindful of the emotionally-charged debate around the special program – Cuban exiles have pushed hard to keep it in place – quickly noted after announcing the push to normalize relations that the wet-foot-dry-foot policy would remain in place.

Remberto Perez, vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation, one of the nation’s most influential Cuban exile lobbying groups, says the re-establishment of diplomatic relations has not meant an end to the human rights abuses that have driven many to flee to the United States.

“It’s still a brutal dictatorship, and if people are risking their lives to escape the regime, we should give them asylum,” Perez, a New Jersey businessman, told FNL. “Cuba is just giving lip service and window-dressing. Cuba cannot be compared with Haiti. Cuba is a police state.”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican and the son of Cuban exiles, has drafted legislation that seeks to modify the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Among other things, his measure requires people who want to stay in the United States via the Cuban Adjustment Act to prove they face political persecution.

It would also rescind the residency of refugees who return to Cuba before they complete the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

“When you do talk to other members of Congress about the abuses of the Cuban Adjustment Act,” Curbelo’s chief of staff, Roy Schultheis, told the Sun Sentinel, “everyone accepts that they exist.”

Some groups, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, want to see more than just a tweaking of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“With the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, our outdated Cold War immigration policies with that nation must end,” Dan Stein, FAIR’s president, told FNL.

“If we are treating Cuba like virtually every other nation on earth in terms of trade, cultural exchanges and diplomacy, then we should also treat Cuban citizens like everyone else when it comes to immigration to the United States,” he added.

Former Cuban political prisoner Luis Israel Abreu, a New Jersey resident who long has been active in pushing for democratic reforms on the island, says the practice should remain, although with some tweaking.

“Cuba does have conditions that are unparalleled in much of the world,” Abreu told Fox News Latino. “There continue to be dire human rights violations by the government, there continue to be people imprisoned merely for their political beliefs. Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is led by a brutal dictatorship.”

What could change about the policy, Abreu said, is tightening the screening for who gets to stay in order to make sure the policy provides relief to people who truly are fleeing persecution, not to those who are leaving for purely economic reasons.

Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute says it’s hard to continue to justify a blanket granting of U.S. residency to every Cuban who makes it ashore when no other group in the world gets the same privilege.

He said the double standard is particularly glaring given the efforts by the U.S. government to deport unaccompanied minors from Central America who arrived at the U.S. border in recent years, trying flee the soaring violence and poverty in their homelands.

“They’re treated very differently,” Rosenblum said.

He added that the Cuban Adjustment Act can be applied more fairly without doing away with it.
Rosenblum said the act does not require the U.S. to give every Cuban reaching the U.S. a path to refugee or asylum status.

“It authorizes [the U.S.] to grant a visa to arriving Cubans, but doesn’t require that it be given to everyone who arrives here,” he said. “But that is how it has been implemented. It shouldn’t be a blank check.”

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2015/07/13/calls-to-end-so-called-wet-foot-dry-foot-policy-grow-as-ties-between-us-cuba/

havana-live-hammerhead-shark-swimming

A great hammerheadshark

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark — a cousin of the storied great white — is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

In mid-July, that electronic gizmo should pop off, float to the surface and instantly transmit a wealth of data to eagerly awaiting marine scientists in Cuba and the United States.

How the mako became one of the first sharks ever to be satellite-tagged in Cuban waters is the subject of an hour-long documentary that is a highlight of Discovery Channel’s cult summer series Shark Week.

“Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba” marks the first time that TV cameras have recorded American and Cuban scientists working side by side to explore the mysteries of shark behavior, habitats and migration.

It also comes as Cuba and the United States renew full diplomatic ties, more than five decades after Fidel Castro’s communist revolution.

“The Caribbean has, I think, 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity of sharks and Cuba is the heart of that,” the show’s director Ian Shive said by telephone from Los Angeles.

What’s more, a half-century of isolation and limited development mean Cuba’s coral waters have largely escaped the kind of negative environmental impact seen elsewhere in the region, Shive said.

“The oceans surrounding Cuba are like time capsules,” he said. “You can go back and look at the Caribbean as it was 50 years ago.”

Inspiring the project was a shark of legend — “El Monstruo,” or “The Monster,” a great white caught by fishermen off the Cuban village of Cojimar, east of Havana, 70 years ago.

Reputedly 6.4 meters long and weighing in at 3,175 kg, it remains perhaps the biggest great white ever captured anywhere in the world.

“All the fishermen and their families came down. They were excited because they had never seen such a big animal in Cojimar,” fisherman Osvaldo Carnero, a young boy at the time, told the filmmakers.

Tagging a similar big shark was one of the goals of the 15-day expedition in February that brought together shark experts from Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research and Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory as well as Shive’s camera crew.

They found initial success along Cuba’s south coast in a pristine coral reef system known as the Gardens of the Queen, once visited by Christopher Columbus and now one of the Caribbean’s biggest marine parks.

There they successfully tagged two large silky sharks with help from veteran Cuban diver Noel Lopez Fernandez, who wrangled them underwater with his bare hands and then rubbed their bellies to sedate them.

Surprising data has already been received from the silkys, Robert Hueter, Mote’s associate vice president for research, said in a telephone interview from Sarasota, Florida.

Not only do they prefer to stay near the reef, the satellite tags — which measure sea depth as well as location — revealed that the sharks can dive as far down as 610 meters, much deeper than assumed for the species, Hueter said.

From the Gardens of the Queen, the scientists set off for Cojimar and struck it lucky by snagging the longfin mako, with top shark cinematographer Andy Casagrande underwater capturing video of the rarely seen oceanic creature.

It is only the second longfin mako to be sat-tagged, Hueter said. The first, in 2012, roamed from the Gulf of Mexico and around Florida before turning up in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, on the U.S. East Coast.

Hueter is hoping for the “pop-up” satellite tag, worth about $4,000, to come off the shark and commence its data dump sometime in mid-July.

“Everyone’s eager to get that data,” said Shive, who recalled the two years it took to get U.S. permission to go to Cuba and for Havana to green-light the first-ever satellite tagging of its sharks.

Hueter is hopeful that better relations between Washington and Havana will facilitate more joint projects between Florida-based scientists and their Cuban counterparts just 150 km away.

“In some ways (the February expedition) was the culmination of a lot of work, and in other ways it was the starting point for what will hopefully be a new age of cooperation between the United States and Cuba,” he said.

“Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba” premiered July 7 in the United States. Discovery Channel, which launched its 28th annual Shark Week on July 5, plans to air the show in other countries in the coming months.