Cuban Citizens "Emotional" Over Prospects for Future

Several Cuban citizens have told me how emotional they became on December17, 2014, when Presidents Obama and Castro announced sweeping changes to the relations of the two countries. Even Cubans who are cynical voiced elation and hope. One told me yesterday that she had watched Obama's entire speech and she wanted me to watch it too.

Many Americans are happy with the proposed changes. Of course, many are not. I spoke to an American citizen not of Cuban descent yesterday, who voiced what the radical Cuban exile communities would voice.

We, the editors of this blog, have long believed that helping Cuban people individually, within the strict rules that our country has imposed, was good, and that worrying that my help to them might somehow benefit their government was a secondary concern.  I generally stay in casas particulares or family homes, rather than government hotels. I generally eat in paladares rather than government restaurants. I take only the amount of money allowed by the U.S. government. We have given computers, Ipods, and other electronic devices to Cubans in Cuba. We have assisted a family member to purchase a better dwelling once that was permitted by Cuba law.

We know that Congress will have the final say on some of the proposed changes mentioned by President Obama. We know that will be difficult to achieve. The editors of this blog support what President Obama has done, entirely, and find no fault with any of his proposals. We are elated, and have not talked to a single Cuban citizen living in Cuba who is not elated.

Here is a link with a synopsis from the White House web site.

Here is the UTube video of the talk:

Here is the White House's Recap of the Talk (same as the first link above):

"President Obama Delivered a Statement on Cuba

We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. President Obama is taking action to cut loose the anchor of failed policies of the past, and to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Cuba that will engage and empower the Cuban people.

A Failed Approach

Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.
We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Next Steps, New Course

Since the President took office in 2009, he has taken steps to support the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future.
Now, the President is taking the next steps to renew our leadership in the Americas, end our outdated approach on Cuba, and promote more effective change that supports the Cuban people and our national security interests.
Here’s what the President’s new approach will do:
    Re-establish diplomatic relations
    Our diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed in January of 1961. The President is immediately reopening discussions with Cuba and working to re-establish an embassy in Havana in the next coming months. The U.S. will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.
    More effectively empower the Cuban people by adjusting regulations
    The President is taking steps to improve travel and remittance policies that will further increase people-to-people contact, support civil society in Cuba, and enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.
    Facilitate an expansion of travel to Cuba
    With expanded travel, Americans will be able to help support the growth of civil society in Cuba more easily, and provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers. Americans will also be able to provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.
    General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in 12 existing categories:
      1. Family visits
      2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
      3. Journalistic activity
      4. Professional research and professional meetings
      5. Educational activities
      6. Religious activities
      7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
      8. Support for the Cuban people
      9. Humanitarian projects
      10. Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutions
      11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
      12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines
    Authorize expanded sales and exports of certain goods and services from the U.S. to Cuba
    The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector and make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.
    Authorize American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba
    Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.
    Initiate new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications 
    and their ability to communicate freely

    Cuba has an Internet penetration of about five percent – one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited. Now, telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services.

Human Rights and Civil Society

A critical focus of these actions will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. The U.S. efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.
The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.
The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter."
Tweet from President on Twitter:
"To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship." —President Obama Watch the full video. "
To be fair, there are also opposing views on the Internet:

Yoani Sanchez, famous Cuban blogger did not act quite as enthusiastic as other Cuban citizens.

And there is a story on the Internet of 10 lies included in Obama's speech.  We don't like it, so we are not providing a link, but you can find it if you want to.

CNN Report on Obama / Raul Simultaneous Announcement of Resumption of Diplomatic Relations

"Historic thaw in U.S., Cuba standoff

By Alexandra Jaffe and Elise Labott, CNN
updated 4:31 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014

Washington (CNN) -- A political standoff that spanned five decades and 10 presidents began to crumble Wednesday with President Barack Obama's move to normalize relations with Cuba.
The announcement was the product of a year of clandestine back-channelling between the U.S. and Cuba, facilitated by the Canadians and the Vatican and with personal involvement from the Pope.
"Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world," Obama said in a statement announcing his decision.
He added: "It's time for a new approach."
Obama said he's instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, and that the U.S. will re-open an embassy in Havana. The administration will also allow some travel and trade that had been banned under a decades-long embargo instated during the Kennedy administration.
"Neither the American nor Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born," Obama said."
For entire article, see below link:

So All of Us Can Now Travel to Cuba, Right?

A friend who wants to go to Cuba, and knows I go under the Close Relative rule contacted me tonight and said, "Next time you go to Cuba, I want to go. We can go now, right?"

My answer was that having resumed diplomatic relations does not mean that all separation is suddenly eliminated. The Embargo still exists.  We haven't even had a chance to study what this might really mean.  

As we reported earlier today, Cuban people in Cuba were jubilant, crying, hugging.  We hope they have reason to be so elated.

Yoani Sanchez, famous Cuban Blogger, seems not to be so excited.  This is her translated blog of the day on the subject:

"Has D-Day Arrived?"
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 December 2014 — Today has been one of those days we imagine a thousand ways, but never as it finally happened. You prepare for a date on which you can celebrate the end, hug your friends who return home, wave a flag in the middle of the street, but D-Day is late. Instead, events arrive in fragments, an advance here, a loss there. With no cries of “Long live free Cuba,” nor uncorked bottles. Life obscures from us this turning point that we would mark forever on our calendars.
The announcement by the governments of Cuba and the United States of the reestablishments of diplomatic relations surprises us in the midst of signs that pointed in the opposite direction, and also of exhausted hopes. Raúl Castro just postponed the third round of talks with the European Union, scheduled for next month, and this December 10 repression fell heavily on activists, as it does every International Human Rights Day.
The first surprise was that, in the midst of the official bluster, of a certain turn of the ideological screw expressed in calls to redouble our guard against the enemy, the Plaza of the Revolution and the White House had been in talks for 18 months. Clear evidence that all this discourse of intransigence was just for show. While they made the island’s citizens believe that even to cross the threshold of the United States Interest Section in Havana turned them into traitors to the homeland, the leaders in their olive-green were working out agreements with Uncle Sam. The deceits of politics!
On the other hand, both Obama’s statements, as well as Castro’s, had a hint of capitulation. The US president announced a long list of moderating measures to bring the two nations closer, before the coveted and greatly demanded steps of democratization and political opening in our country would be achieved. The dilemma of what should have come first, a gesture from Havana or flexibility from Washington, has just been answered. However, the fig leaf of the American embargo remains, so that no one can say the resignation as been complete.
Raul Castro, for his part, limited himself to announcing the new gestures from Obama and referring to the exchange of Alan Gross and other prisoners of interest of the American government. However, in his address before the national television cameras, he gave no evidence of any agreement or compromise from the Cuban side, aside from the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. The agenda on the far side of the Florida Straits we know in detail, but the internal one remains, as it so often does, hidden and secret.
Still, despite the absence of public commitments on the part of Cuba, today was a political defeat. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro we would have never even reached an outline of an agreement of this nature. Because the Cuban system is supported by – as one of its main pillars – the existence of a permanent rival. David can’t live without Goliath and the ideological apparatus has depended too long on this dispute.
Do I listen to speeches or buy fish?
In the central market of Carlos III, customers were surprised midday that the big TVs were not broadcasting football or videoclips, but a speech by Raúl Castro and later one by Obama through the Telesur network. The first allocution caused a certain astonishment, but the second was accompanied by kisses launched toward the face of the US president, particularly when he mentioned relaxations in the sending of remittances to Cuba and the delicate topic of telecommunications. Now and again the cry of “I LOVE…” (in English!) could be heard from around the corner.
It is important to also say that the news had fierce competition, like the arrival of fish to the rationed market, after years of disappearance. However, by mid-afternoon almost everyone was aware and the shared feelings were of joy, relief, hope.
This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.
The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; the end of political repression; the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws; and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island. Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.
As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to think that the day we have longed for is not close. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles, and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day."

Cuba's Silvio Rodriguez to USAID: 'Go to Hell'

Earlier this week, AP new reports stated that the USAID agency had used Cuban Hip-Hop musicians to further anti-government language.

So the Hip-Hop stars left Cuba for the United States. The famous, musician father of one is in Cuba, blaming the U.S. Agency for messing everything up.  Yesterday, we quoted the Babalu blog of saying the reporting of such things is an AP ploy to cause trouble.

And today, before we posted this article, everything seemed to change quickly, so we didn't even post this till now.

AP reports reported:

"HAVANA — Dec 16, 2014, 7:11 PM ET
One of Cuba's most famous musicians is telling the U.S. Agency for International Development to "go to hell" for pulling his son and other island-based rappers without their knowledge into a scheme aimed at sparking a youth uprising against the Communist government.
Folk singer Silvio Rodriguez went onto his Segunda Cita blog this week to fill in his fellow Cubans with the details of the operation revealed by The Associated Press.
His defended his son, rapper Silvio Liam Rodriguez, and Aldo Rodriguez of the Cuban rap duo Los Aldeanos, who is not a member of their family. The two young musicians and a second member of Los Aldeanos now live in Florida because they say the Cuban government made it impossible for them to perform on the island.
"The AP's revelations about the insistent program of USAID are full of anecdotes, but more than anything they offer a clear lesson about manipulation and intervention" in Cuban affairs, Rodriguez wrote.

Alan Gross Freed! Remaining Three of Cuban Five Released!

I started received Facebook messages from a family member in Cuba about a speech that Raul Castro is giving today.  The family member said that he though Alan Gross had just been freed. I searched and learned that he has, this morning, and is on a plane to the U.S.  Also, the remaining three of the Cuban Five are released.  Here are news stories.

Alan Gross: Cuba Releases American After Five Years in Prison

Another Odd and Embarrassing U.S. Infiltration into Cuba

Over the past couple of years, media has reported that U.S. agencies have operated a number of ploys to alter the view of Cuban people.  This Associated Press article was published by media sources recently:

US Co-Opted Cuba's Hip-Hop Scene to Spark Change

Santiago de Cuba #8 The Siboney Farmhouse - Staging Area For Moncada Attack

On the Siboney Highway, which leads from Santiago de Cuba to Siboney, a small ocean-front town town and beach, there is a small, white house. The house was called, "Granjita Siboney," in English the Little Siboney Farmhouse. This was the main planning and preparation area for an attack on a fort named Moncada in Santiago by Fidel Castro and his followers in 1953.

Photos showing what the building is like now, as a museum:

I found this book, used, and bought it from a street vendor in 2010.  It does not contain nearly as
much factual data as a book written by a U.S. professor, and is a bit slanted, but very interesting.  The background cover shows the wall of the Moncada fortress, with the bullet holes actually shot at the time.

Old actual photos from book, Moncada:  

Old actual photo from Moncada Book of chicken coop and porch:

The small house was filled to the brim the night of the Moncada attack with Fidel, a great number of followers, and two well-known female followers, Melba Hernandez and Haydee Santamaria. Most of the rebels had driven hours from Havana, and arrived during the annual Carnaval

On the walls:
Newspaper article from the wall showing the Castro brothers under arrest with others:

The rebels kept rifles in a cistern outside, and hid cars from view in fake chicken coops.  The museum contains replicas of these items.

The plan was to wear fake army uniforms and infiltrate the fort in the nighttime, while the soldiers were intoxicated from attending the Carnival, and sleeping.  The women ironed the uniforms.

Other items in the home:

Bloody fake uniforms:

Fidel Castro made a speech in the driveway outside the home, which was said not to be very inspiring.

The attack failed, miserably, and Castro and many of his followers, those who weren't killed or escape, ended up in prison.  The bullet holes in the Siboney Farmhouse now were supposedly planted by the Batista government after the attack. Soldiers killed many at the Moncada, but they were said to have brought some bodies here after the fact and shot holes in the building to make it appear they had been more aware.

The people of Cuba celebrate July 26, the date of this failed attack as the commencement of the Revolution.  This depiction shows "Santiago is Santiago," since the Moncada attack occurred and thus the 26th of July Movement began in the city of Santiago.

U.S. Customs Officials Harass U.S. Citizen for Cuba Family Trip

I visited family in Cuba for the sixth time earlier this month. I first visited Cuba legally, when the U.S. laws were eased in 2010. I know the rules, and have always followed them. The U.S. Department of Treasury regulates travel to Cuba. One must have a license, or travel with a licensed, approved, tour group, or visit family, referred to in the Regulations as a "close relative." The regulations state that the U.S. person can visit family in Cuba within three generations of a common ancestor. And the U.S. regulations specifically state that the spouse of a person is considered a relative in exactly the same way. I have traveled to Cuba three times without my wife, and three times with my wife. She is the actual "close relative."

To travel to Cuba legally, one must use one of a handful of licensed travel agents that handle the flights via charters, although the flights are often on American Airlines or Delta Airlines planes, with their crew.  The licensed travel agent issues the Cuba visa and ascertains that the traveler meets the U.S. requirements. For all travel, including close relative travel, the traveler must sign an affidavit showing the qualification. The difference is that family travel requires only the affidavit, not a license.

On this trip, I might have been looked at more than usual by Cuban authorities. Cuban Immigration saw something in their computer system, probably that I had already been there once this year, and sent me to a separate official. But after talking to him for a while, I was in. My carry-on and checked bags were thoroughly reviewed while entering and leaving Cuba.  I understand it’s because my bags showed some wires, cables, flash drives and computer items. I also had to remove everything from my bags when leaving Cuba, and put my dirty clothes on the table. The Cuban officials were polite and cordial, while doing their jobs.

I returned to the U.S., arriving in Miami on an American Airlines Flight. I passed immigration via the Automatic Passport Control, which is an electronic system, that prints out the admission with one’s photo. The computer system told me which flight I had arrived on and which country I had been in, which I confirmed. I handed it in at the desk and had thus reentered the United States.

That’s when my difficulty began, making me wonder if I was really in my own country. I approached U.S. Customs. There were three men, one African American, one of Hispanic descent, who I presumed was Cuban-American and another of Hispanic descent. 

The first Hispanic man asked, “Where are you coming from?
            “Why were you in Cuba?”
            “Visiting family.”
            “Where’s your license to travel to Cuba?”
            “I was visiting family. There’s a different procedure. No license is issued.”
            “You must have a license to travel to Cuba.”
            “That’s not true. I signed an affidavit, as required by U.S. law.”
            The other Hispanic guard approached.
            “Sir, you know you are not allowed to travel to Cuba because we are not allowed to spend money there, because if we spend money we are giving it to Castro?”
            I realized then that both of these men were probably from Cuban exile families, and I knew that many Cuban exiles strongly disapprove of anybody returning to or visiting Cuba.  I’ve spoken to many who have the attitude in the past. I have never agreed with that concept.
            I answered, “Sir, the U.S. regulations for travel to Cuba are very specific. There is a dollar limit that one is allowed to take to Cuba, for the reason you mentioned, but I met a specific provision and I followed the law exactly, as I always do, and I only took the amount of money allowed by law.”
            The first man said, “You must have a license. You’d better not go again without a license.”
            “No, sir. I do not need a license. Have you ever read the law?”
            “How do I know you are Cuban? You don’t look Cuban. Where were you born? Do you have proof of your family relationship?”
            Fortunately, I had all of my wife’s documentation, my marriage license, and photos and Facebook pages of family in Cuba. I pulled it out.
            “I was born in the U.S. The law does not require that the person traveling be born in Cuba. I had to be visiting family, within a certain level of relationship, and I was.”
            “Where’s your wife?  You are only allowed to travel with her?”
“That’s not true.”
“You aren’t allowed to go to Cuba, because you aren’t allowed to spend money there.”
            “Sir, I already answered that. And anyway, how much money I take to Cuba has to do with when I’m leaving. I’m returning now. So that has nothing to do with it. And, I have already entered the U.S. through Immigration. You are not Immigration. You are Customs. You don’t know the Immigration law. I do. You are supposed to see if I am bringing anything I’m not supposed to bring. You haven’t even discussed that. Do you want to see my bag?”
            He said, “Get out of here,” moved away from me and took the next traveler’s Customs Declaration.
            As I passed the second man, I said, in Spanish, “I cannot believe you are taking this attitude with me, when I am a U.S. citizen, traveling exactly according to U.S. law. You guys ought to read the law.”

            “You need a license,” he said.
Shared from Cuba Libre Today Facebook Page

Cuba Allows The Building Of First New Catholic Church In 55 Years

"HAVANA (AP) — Cuba has allowed construction of the country's first new Catholic church in 55 years, the church said Monday. Experts said it's a sign of improving relations between the Vatican and Cuba's communist government.
The church, funded by donations from Catholics in Tampa, Florida, will be built in Sandino, a citrus and coffee-growing town in the far-western province of Pinar del Rio.
The church publication "Christian Life" said it will have space for 200 people.
"The construction of a church is a clear demonstration of a new phase, of an improvement, in relations between the church and the state," said Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor the history of religions at the University of Havana.
The Catholic Church had tense relations with what was long an officially atheist government for many years after the 1959 revolution, but they began to improve ahead of Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998.
The government revived observance of a Christmas holiday and began allowing masses or homilies to be broadcast on official media. It also dropped a ban on church membership for Communist Party members that had been adopted in the years after the 1959 revolution."

SANTA CLARA, VILLA CLARA, CUBA: Roman Catholic Church El Carmen and foundational monument of the city. The place is National Monument in Cuba and a tourist landmark. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images) | Jeremy Woodhouse via Getty Images

Cuban Salsa Singer Split Between Island and U

MIAMI — Sep 22, 2014, 3:58 PM ET

More Cuban Rafter Stories

It seems a bit odd that right now the number of escapees from Cuba have increased.  But there have been a couple of recent articles about it.

"Cuban rafters' secret journey from Camagüey to Key Biscayne took months of planning"
09/24/2014 5:43 PM 
 09/24/2014 6:46 PM

Read more here:

Read more here:

Cuban rafter Rene Morales, 53, the captain of the makeshift boat that included eight other rafters who landed on the beach in Key Biscayne, behind Mar Azul Condominiums, answers media questions outside Church World Service in Doral on Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2014.C.M. GUERRERO/EL NUEVO HERALD

Another ARticle

Cuban migrant: 10 days at sea 'worst of my life'


Quote from the article:  ""There's a fever right now," Jose Ramon Fuente Lastre, 23, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There are a lot of people making rafts, many people who want to come."

Read more here: