Cuba in Brief: Archbishop meets with Ladies in White, Iran, Cuba fortify ties; Cuba open but Americans aren’t going; Trump and Rubio agree on Cuba

The Miami Herald, February 16, 2017  

Trump: Rubio and I have ‘very similar views on Cuba’

By Nora Gámez Torres

President Donald Trump said during a press conference Thursday that he shares Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s views on Cuba.
“We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba,” Trump told journalists.
“Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans,” he added in reference to the support of Cuban American voters. 


The Miami Herald, February 16, 2017 5:30 PM

Archbishop of Havana meets with Ladies in White leaders

By Nora Gámez Torres

For the first time since being appointed nearly 10 months ago to the highest Catholic post in Cuba, Havana Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez met privately with two representatives of the Ladies in White Movement, a civic organization of female family members of political prisoners.

Movement leader Berta Soler and María Cristina Labrada asked the archbishop to issue a public statement of solidarity on behalf of the Catholic Church. They also asked him to advocate for an end to repression carried out by the Raúl Castro government against activists across the island.

“The request was for him to make a pronouncement before the Cuban government, that the Catholic Church not be silent, and that it was very important for violence to cease and there be religious freedom,” Soler told el Nuevo Herald via telephone from Havana. Soler said she was hopeful because the archbishop was “very receptive” and said he would transmit the information to the Cuban government, although he could not guarantee a response.


Bloomberg News,  February 17, 2017

Now That Cuba Is Open, Americans Aren’t Going

Last year they couldn’t wait to see Havana. This year airlines cut service. What happened?

by Justin Bachman

February 17, 2017, 3:45 AM EST
America, did you miss the travel industry’s memo declaring Cuba the hottest new destination?

Apparently. Service to the long-time U.S. foe began in September, but after just five months the largest carrier to the island, American Airlines Group Inc., cut daily flights by 25 percent and switched to smaller jets on some routes. Meanwhile, Silver Airways Corp. reduced weekly flights to six Cuban cities and JetBlue Airways Corp. downsized its planes so as to match lower-than-expected demand.

“It’s going to take a really, really long time for [Cuba] to become a Caribbean destination that’s as popular as some of the other ones,” Andrew Levy, the chief financial officer for United Continental Holdings Inc., told Bloomberg News in November.


International Business Times, February 17, 2017

US Losing Power In Middle East? Iran, Cuba Fortify Ties With 12 Cooperation Agreements

By Vishakha Sonawane @VishakhaNS  

Iran and Cuba signed 12 new cooperation agreements Thursday fortifying ties at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Tehran and Havana have upset the two countries. The agreements have been made in areas such as agriculture, health, biotechnology and higher education.

Cuban Institute of Radio and Television and Iranian network HispanTV are also reported to have entered a memorandum of understanding under the agreement.
“In the political arena, we are two countries which have common positions on international issues. As non-aligned countries, we support each other mutually,” Iranian Health Minister Seyyed Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi said, according to TeleSur.


The Bakersfield Californian, February 14, 2017

Community Voices: Obama’s Cuba legacy is a sorry one

By Daisy B. Peñaloza
Former President Obama’s revocation of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy would have been a welcome change were it not for the fact that he violated yet another U.S. law — the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act — in the process.
“Wet foot/dry foot,” the brainchild of the Clinton administration, was a 1995 amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act that sought to accomplish two objectives: Pacify the Castro dictatorship and discourage the hazardous migration of Cuban rafters crossing the Florida Straits. The ill-conceived measure did not achieve the desired effect. Thousands of Cubans continued to migrate undeterred by the risks.

After Obama’s normalization with the dictatorship on Dec. 17, 2014, Cubans realized that the U.S. government, instead of promoting freedom, was now collaborating with a corrupt regime in the pursuit of profit. Human rights had ceased to be a priority. Hope was extinguished for many Cubans. Consequently, another mass exodus ensued, propelling an estimated 100,000 Cubans to the United States in just two years.

The intent of the Cuban Adjustment Act was to facilitate the entry of political refugees into U.S. society without the customary required visa. Cuba remains a suffocating totalitarian police state. Its citizens, deprived of liberty and agency, are incessantly persecuted, imprisoned and murdered. Obama’s normalization did nothing to erase that fact.

Absent “wet foot/dry foot,” the Cuban Adjustment Act once again became whole, and all its inherent legal powers were restored and enabled. In typical fashion, Obama, through executive order and without congressional approval, violated the CAA by declaring Cuban refugees without visas inadmissible. Expressing concern for Middle Eastern refugees, while rejecting victims of totalitarianism 105 miles from U.S. shores, smacks of hypocrisy.

The repeal of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which gave U.S. sanctuary to trafficked and exploited Cuban doctors, was another casualty of Obama’s unhealthy obsession with the Castro brothers. Living in squalor, Cuban medical personnel — the majority of their wages garnished by the regime — were reduced to slave labor in host nations. Obama’s dictatorial executive orders, rather than inspiring confidence, further weakened and undermined our republic and the ability to succor victims of human trafficking.

Callous indifference to the suffering of Cuba’s political prisoners, pro-democracy groups, dissidents and exiles will be Obama’s most sorrowful and grievous legacy. During the escalation of repression in Cuba and abroad, the Obama administration remained mute and unresponsive.

Ironically, the Castros’ tactics of censorship surfaced at a Washington, D.C., press conference acknowledging the opening of the Cuban embassy. On that occasion, Cuban activist Rosa María Payá, daughter of murdered dissident Oswaldo Payá, was threatened by a State Department spokesperson with expulsion if she asked a question or commented.

Obama’s myriad of unlawful concessions to the dictatorship, without any meaningful reciprocation, have exacted a human cost. The Ladies in White are routinely beaten and arrested. They are subjected to 24-hour surveillance and hounded by organized mobs. “I will never forget what they did to me,” said Aliuska Gómez, recalling the day she was arbitrarily detained, stripped, and thrown naked into a filthy prison cell, prior to Obama’s official visit to Cuba. Hoping to keep a school destined for closure open, Sirley Ávila León appealed to Cuban officials without success. For her efforts, she was attacked with a machete by a Castro thug who severed her hand and inflicted serious wounds to the rest of her body.

Numerous Cuban activists have been murdered by the regime during Obama’s tenure in office. However, the systematic butchery taking place in Cuba had no visible effect on Obama. Although unlikely given its populist leanings, the Trump administration should uphold current U.S. laws such as the Helms-Burton Act and the Cuban Adjustment Act until the Castro regime abides by its requirements. Government leaders must send a clear, unequivocal message to global allies that the United States still values freedom, justice and respect for human rights.

Political refugees fleeing Cuban totalitarianism merit the protections of the Cuban Adjustment Act and should not be returned to Cuba. Lacking legitimacy and concrete, positive results, Obama’s Cuba policy has failed. It is not too late to make things right.

Daisy B. Peñaloza of Bakersfield is a preschool teacher. She left communist Cuba on a 1967 Freedom Flight.