CUBA BRIEF: President Trump: Put Cuba back on list of supporters of terrorism, Venezuelan oil collapses, Cuba scrambles, Dissidents urge more pressure

The Miami Herald, June 14, 2017

Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba, during a press conference at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, asks President Donald Trump to start dismantling former President Barack Obama’s executive orders on Cuba. Roberto Koltun

By Mimi Whitefield

The Center for a Free Cuba sent a letter of gratitude to President Donald Trump Wednesday for his decision to come to Miami and said it was pleased that he would soon begin the “dismantling of Barack Obama’s concessions to the Castro regime.”

The president is scheduled to announce his new Cuba policy in Miami on Friday. The exact direction that policy will take is unclear but it is expected to roll back some Obama-era executive orders that made it easier to travel to the island and do business with Cuba.

“We welcome the visit of the president to Miami because we know this is a first step,” Frank Calzon, the center’s executive director, said during a news conference in the courtyard of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. In response to reports that the president may not announce a complete reversal of Obama policies, Calzon said, “Nothing is done in a day.”

Members of the media outnumbered the audience at the event, but more than 100 Cuban Americans — including a number of former political prisoners, human rights activists, former diplomats and others signed the letter.

During the president’s time in Miami, the signatories urged him to meet with the family of Mario de la Peña. who was aboard one of two Brothers to the Rescue planes shot down on Feb. 24, 1996 by the Cuban Air Force as the plane approached the island. The pilots volunteered their time to search for Cuban rafters.

“It would be a beautiful gesture on the part of the president to embrace that family and show support,” said Eduardo Zayas Bazan, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and a professor emeritus at East Tennessee State University.

The message that the center, an organization that works for a democratic transition and defends human rights in Cuba, wants to get across is that “Cuba is a lot more than a tourism destination,” said Calzon. “Cuba is 11 million souls 90 miles from the United States who are denied the most basic and elemental human rights.”

Calzon said current policy is the result of executive orders issued by Obama and secret negotiations with the Cuban government instead of strict adherence to the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also known as Helms-Burton).

The pieces of legislation prevent the Castro government from benefiting financially from economic activity with the United States and set conditions, including a democratic transition in Cuba, before the embargo can be lifted.

“American policy should be based on laws,” said Calzon.

Among the signatories to the letter was Cuban dissident leader Antonio Rodiles, who arrived from Cuba on Tuesday. He said the United States needs a new Cuba policy that keeps in mind the Cuban people.

Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles during a press conference asking President Donald Trump to start dismantling former President Barack Obama’s executive orders on Cuba. Roberto Koltun

“We need a new policy to pressure the regime so it will change,” Rodiles said. Pro-engagement groups in the United States, however, say that increasing pressure at this time when Cuban leader Raúl Castro says he plans to relinquish the presidency to a successor in 2018 could encourage Cuban hardliners and further crackdowns.

Asked if he thought the majority of Cubans on the island supported the embargo, Rodiles responded: “Most of the Cuban people want freedom. I know that people want pressure over the regime.” But he said some Cubans may not understand the embargo is a tool to apply that pressure.

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi


CubanetDiario de las AmericasMarti Noticias also reported in Spanish on the press conference and the letter to Trump.

A link to the letter:


The Miami Herald,  June 13, 2017

Amidst imminent Cuba policy announcement, dissidents express support for some change

By Nora Gámez Torres

President Donald Trump’s anticipated announcement on Cuba policy changes has unleashed an unexpected unity on the island: Cuban dissidents of various political stripes agree that the United States must make changes to apply pressure to the Raúl Castro regime.

The leader of Cuba’s largest opposition organization, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), called on Trump to impose sanctions against Castro’s government, just days before the president is expected to make his announcement in Miami on Friday.

“We believe that this is the moment for a maximum reversal of some policies that only benefit the Castro regime and does very little or nothing for the oppressed people. It is time to impose strong sanctions on the regime of Raúl Castro…,” José Daniel Ferrer wrote in a letter to President Trump last week.

Ferrer, who supported the policy of engagement initiated by former President Barack Obama, cited as justifications for a more restrictive policy change toward the island’s government, “the criminal behavior that Castroism is committed to maintain against the Cuban people; its support for the repression against the Venezuelan people; their close relations with other regimes that trample on the rights of their citizens — such as Syria, North Korea and Iran —; their hostile discourse against the U.S. and their lack of cooperation on issues such as the extradition of fugitives from the American justice system.”

Another group of Cuban government opponents launched a petition on the platform to ask Trump to support CubaDecide, a citizen initiative for a plebiscite seeking democratic changes in Cuba. [More]


OilPrice.Com, June 14, 2017

Cuba Scrambles As Venezuela’s Oil Industry Collapses

By Haley Zaremba – Jun 14, 2017, 12:00 PM CDT

As Venezuela’s oil industry goes down it flames, it’s looking like it may just take Cuba down with it. Venezuela, once the crude powerhouse of South and Central America, is no longer able to produce enough oil to sustain its own economy, much less those of other countries. Cuba is frantically drilling in search for new reserves and reaching out for new suppliers, but there is no guarantee they’ll be able to stabilize their oil income any time soon.

Cuba became dependent on Venezuelan oil in the 1990’s, when they were sold cut-price crude in exchange for the services of skilled laborers in order to bail them out of economic collapse in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union. Currently, Cuba relies on foreign oil for more than two thirds of its daily consumption, with over 100,000 barrels of crude flowing from Venezuela every day for years. Now, quite suddenly, their dependence on Venezuelan oil has been forced to come to a bitter end.

In the midst of political unrest and economic devastation, Venezuela’s oil exports have plummeted by 40 percent in the last 3 years. During an export drought that lasted the better part of last year, the Cuban government has been combatting the stemmed fuel flow with regular energy rationing. In an attempt to avoid blackouts, the government has ordered cuts in electricity and fuel consumption to most state-run companies and entities (a huge pool in a communist country) by 50 percent, resulting in workers hours slashed and access to vehicles severely restricted. This April, they also began restricting sales of premium gas to government officials and diplomats.

After this eight-month moratorium on exports to Cuba, Venezuela once again began to export light oil to Cuba and Curacao in March, but at a great cost to their own refineries. As of this month, the 187,000-barrel-per-day Puerto la Cruz refinery is running at just 16 percent of its capacity thanks to a deficit in light oil and a lack of maintenance in ill-funded refineries. With this unsustainable model and no sign of improvement in the country’s economy, Cuba is looking for new sources of crude, and quickly. [More]