Another Cuban 5 spy released from US prison after more than 15 years; To be deported.

A second member of the "Cuban Five" spy ring has been released from a U.S. prison after spending more than 15 years behind bars, according to various U.S. news sources.
He was turned over to immigration officials for deportation to Cuba.
The five Cuban men were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S. As part of the propaganda that appears everywhere in Cuba, signs appear everywhere decrying the imprisonment of the Cuban Five, who Cuba says were unjustly tried and imprisoned in the U.S.  It has been said over the years that Cuba would trade American Alan Gross for release of the Cuban Five.

Cuban-American Exiles Shifting in Policy View?

A strong group of people who have historically rejected all travel to Cuba and have supported the Embargo may be shifting, according to an Associated Press article. The article also quotes people who do not support the supposed shift. (It's an AP article, but Associated Press itself has a shorter version)

Among exile elite, a shift over Cuba-US policy

Cuban-Americans reconsidering the five-decade economic and travel embargo against the communist country.

By Laura Wides-munoz 
The Associated Press
MIAMI – When Miami’s new art museum opened in December, namesake Jorge Perez spoke easily about a once-taboo topic among Cuban-American powerbrokers: his desire to increase artistic exchanges with those on the communist island.
click image to enlarge
Developer and art collector Jorge Perez, poses for a photograph in his office at the Related Group, in Miami.
The Associated Press
Then, this week, billionaire sugar baron Alfonso Fanjul – whose family’s business was seized by Fidel Castro in 1959 – spoke publicly for the first time about investing back in Cuba.
[See one of these links for the rest of the story]

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba #4 - People on the Street

In Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, people are always on the streets.  Transportation is a nightmare. Many walk. There are a couple of non-vehicular streets. Men play dominoes. People shop. It's a lively town.  Like everywhere in Cuba, people always complain of the time they spend in "la cola", the line.  We'll talk more about that when we review transportation and shopping.

The above two photos were taken by a good friend, who is a resident of Santiago, not by me.

We found the above mom and son at the top of Gran Piedra, waiting for a bus, 
so we drove them to Santiago

The school at Puerto Boniato had just been renovated after Hurricane Sandi. This girl ran outside.

This is a typical line ("cola") for a bus / truck ride

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba #3 - Street Views

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba is a beautiful city, with culture everywhere. Here are some views of different parts of the City.

Hotel Melia in the background - You can see this hotel from many parts of the City.  It has been completely repaired since the damage to it in Hurricane Sandi.

More Americans and Floridians Want Change in U.S.-Policy - AP Poll

The Cuban Conundrum - by Christine Armario for the Associated Press has posted the following story.

The report says:

MIAMI (AP) — A majority of Americans and even higher proportion of Floridians support re-establishing relations with Cuba, Washington's Cold War-era foe that remains blocked behind a five-decade economic embargo, results from a poll released Tuesday show.

The poll was performed by Atlantic Council, which also has information and interviews on its site:

The Daytona Beach News Journal posted a graph of the poll on February 16, 2014.  It may be from it, as it does not appear connected to the AP story per se.

Ms. Armorio often posts Associated Press Stories about Cuba and U.S. relations with it.

Venezuelans of Cuban Heritage Compare their Dilemma

A twenty-something year old Venezuelan compares the situation in Venezuela to her mother's having to flee Cuba as a child. Cubans have also commented that they don't know what's going on in Venezuela and are concerned. It's because Venezuela itself is clamping down on reporting of the dissension. These are quotes and photos from friends and relatives in Venezuela.

"Soy venezolana nieta de españoles y cubanos, si mi mama es cubana solo duro pocos años en su pais porque le toco huir y asi como ella miles de venezolanos hoy viven regados en el mundo no quiero ser una mas, yo me quiero quedar... resiste venezuela !!!"

"I am Venezuelan, with grandparents from Cuba and Spain. My mom is Cuban, but lived only a few hard years in her country before being forced to flee. Thus are the lives of thousands of Venezuelans who today live scattered around the world. I do not want to be one more. I want to stay ... Resist Venezuela!"

Other posts on the Venezuela issue in the past week:

"Donde estaran los comunicadores sociales de este pais (Venezuela), especialmente los periodistas de la tv .... sera que existe alguno con las suficientes bolas de hablar lo que sucede."

"Where could the journalists of this country (Venezuela) be, especially the tv reporters .... there must be some reporters with enough balls to speak what happens."
Here's an English UTube posted by a Venezuelan:

A Facebook Page about Venezuelan problem:

Young Venezuelan of Cuban heritage says:

"Venezuela pareciera que le cayo un cancer terminal que se lo ah comido en pocos meses, que mal esta el país"

"Venezuela seems to be dying of terminal cancer that has eaten away at it in a few months. How bad things are in this country!"
 — in Caracas, Venezuela.

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba #2 - Views of City Layout

The City of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba lies in the region called "El Oriente," meaning it's in the southeastern area of the country.  It is slightly westerly of Guantanamo. 

"The City of Santiago rises above a large, blue-water harbor, which, in years prior to the Revolution was always dotted with ships bringing supplies from afar, and picking up sugar, rum and other products to carry to foreign ports. The harbor and city are protected from the ocean by an immense area of bay water dotted with islands and interrupted by peninsulas and islands. In times past, industrial buildings and a few small homes stood along the shore of the harbor. The Bacardi Rum distribution warehouse sat immediately on the docks, so the ships could load directly from the plant. The city is bounded on three sides by the lush, green foothills and mountains of the Sierra Maestra mountain range."

- Quote from soon to be published novel, currently titled, Cuban Sugar

Photos of Santiago showing water, mountains and layout:

From Rooftop Restaurant of Hotel Casa Granda on Plaza Cespedes:

From the Civil Hospital, Saturnino Lora, in which Fidel Castro was treated and tried after the failed Moncada attack, at the Moncada army barracks, across the street:

From Balcon Velazquez, a balcony / viewing area at Velazquez' former home:

From the former Police Station, which was taken over in a coup, and is a museum called Museo de Lucha Clandestina "The museum was a former police station attacked by M-26-7 activists on November 30, 1956, to divert attention from the arrival of the tardy yacht Granma , carrying Fidel Castro and 81 others. It's up the slope from the western end of Diego Palacios.  Read more:":

 From a park near the inlet at Santiago, Cuba, looking towards the city.  It's a little misty:

From La Gran Piedra - a little misty:

From Puerto Boniato, which is an elevated area, not a port at all:

Historic Photos:

Travel to Cuba Opening Eyes, Hearts

Huffington Post has posted an AP Article on the benefits to people of both the U.S. and Cuba.  According to the poll, we are coming to appreciate and understand Cuba, and they are coming to appreciate and understand us. The article even says fewer Americans believe in the Embargo.

Will this free travel be curtailed under a new presidential administration.  I surely hope not, but I have fear.

Americans Leave Cuba With A New Attitude: Study

Posted: Updated: 
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HAVANA (AP) — When President Barack Obama reinstated "people-to-people" travel to Cuba in 2011, the idea was that visiting Americans would act as cultural ambassadors for a U.S. constantly demonized in the island's official media.
Two and a half years later, a survey shared exclusively with The Associated Press suggests the trips are not only improving Cubans' views of Americans. They are also changing U.S. travelers' opinions of the Caribbean nation for the better, and dimming their view of Washington policies that have long sought to pressure Cuba's Communist leaders.
"I think U.S.-Cuban relations should be open. People should be talking to each other. People should be sharing," said Ellen Landsberger, a 62-year-old New York obstetrician who recently visited on a people-to-people tour.
"We have this tiny little island that is no threat to the U.S. that we're isolating from the world," she said. "It doesn't make sense."
There's surely significant self-selection among people-to-people travelers; supporters of a hard-line policy against Cuba are unlikely to consider such a tour. And the people who run the trips tend to be more or less sympathetic toward Cuba, or at least to the idea of easing or lifting the 52-year-old U.S. embargo, which could potentially be a boon to their business.
Still, the results of the multiple-choice survey by Friendly Planet Travel, a company based in suburban Philadelphia that promotes legal tours of Cuba, are eye-catching. Three-quarters said they were drawn by curiosity about life in a nation that has been off limits to most Americans for decades.
Before travel, the most prevalent view of Raul Castro's government was "a repressive Communist regime that stifles individuality and creativity," 48 percent of respondents said. That fell to 19 percent after their visits, and the new most-popular view, held by 30 percent of respondents, became the slightly more charitable "a failing government that is destined to fall."
Most striking, 88 percent said the experience made them more likely than before to support ending the embargo against Cuba.
Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, said visitors are surprised at how hard it is to find many goods, even something as basic as an adhesive bandage.
Some leave Cuba blaming U.S. policy for the shortages — as the Cuban government does constantly, although analysts also point to a weak, inefficient and corruption-ridden economic system as a key cause of scarcity.
"In day-to-day life, it's so difficult for the average Cuban. When the travelers go and they see that, and they experience it themselves, it makes sense that they say (the embargo) doesn't make sense," Goldman said. "It hasn't toppled the government in all these years. We need to try a different way."
Goldman acknowledged that her informal poll, which surveyed 423 Americans who visited Cuba in December, was not scientific.
But others in the industry tell a similar story.
"Some people go back and say they want to write letters to their senators," said Jeff Philippe, a guide who has taken 34 groups to the island in just over a year for Insight Cuba, which puts on people-to-people tours for Americans. "I've had several people say to me, 'I want to make this my personal mission to end the embargo.'"
That could provide ammunition to the harshest opponents of people-to-people travel, who have argued from the beginning that the tours, partially organized in concert with Cuban state-run entities, let the Communist government put its best face forward and hide its warts.
"It's hard to imagine anyone being exposed to Cuba's reality and walking away with a more favorable view of the Castro regime," said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida. "But it's not surprising to hear that's the case with these tourist trips to Cuba, since they are specifically designed to expose people only to what the regime wants them to see."
"It's clear these tourist trips do little more than help the regime's image, fund its repressive machine, and undermine the courageous work of Cuba's democracy fighters," Rubio said.
In general, the tours tend not to include much contact with Cuban dissidents.
In a written response to an AP request for comment, the U.S. State Department said people-to-people travel has successfully "contributed to a more realistic and therefore more positive view of Americans and the United States by the Cuban people." It called the visitors ambassadors of democratic values, free-market economics and freedom of expression.
"Being favorably disposed to Cuba and ordinary Cubans should not be confused with endorsing a totalitarian system of government," it said of the returnees. "The people of Cuba have a rich and powerful culture that is rightfully appreciated by visitors to the island."
Tour operators insist any talk of Potemkin villages is wrong. They argue they're supporting local organic farmers, performers, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs who run private restaurants, adding that the Cuban government's involvement in scheduling is minimal and agendas carefully comply with U.S. rules barring sun-and-sand tourism.
"It's nothing like going to North Korea where you've got minders and there are only certain places you can go," Goldman said.
Most visitors report warm and seemingly open exchanges with Cubans from all walks of life. Some say they're aware that being shuttled around in air-conditioned buses and sleeping in luxury hotels differs greatly from most Cubans' reality.
"That part of it, you feel very separated. It's almost schizophrenic because you're treated very differently from the person who lives here," said Allan Kessler, a New York banker. "But, yes, we are meeting different types of people. We have no idea if everyone is pre-screened or not, but to our eye it seems rather candid."
He spoke on a recent morning after his Insight Cuba group visited a local youth dance troupe and a farmers market. Each traveler was given the equivalent of less than $1 in the local currency, about one-20th of the average monthly salary, to see how much they could buy. Afterward they discussed the experience.
"Overpriced," ''very little protein," ''it doesn't go very far" were among the comments. "Why are beans so expensive?"
Then it was off to lunch at an enormous outdoor state-run restaurant where just about every client orders the house specialty, roast chicken.
Estimates of how many Americans travel to Cuba legally on cultural exchanges range from around 70,000 to 100,000 a year.
Several Cubans interviewed by the AP said they've always been taught to separate people from politics, and valued the chance to meet Americans.
"We realize that they're just like us. They like to dance," said Glenda Quintana Carpio, a 20-year-old member of the dance troupe who coached visitors in basic steps after a performance in a Havana theater. "We're human beings from different countries with different idiosyncrasies."
Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report.

Cuba 2014 / Return to Santiago de Cuba #1

I've returned to Santiago de Cuba for the first time since 2010.  It's also been a year since I was in Havana. There’s a saying in Cuba – “Life is hard”.  It still is, but the odd mishmash of changes in finances imposed by Raul Castro over the past three years has resulted in some major and some minor changes in the lives of  Cuban people. Santiago is very different from Havana in many ways. I continue to see changes, while at the same time, I can say nothing has changed. I have met some new people on this trip, who have offered to write posts about Cuba, and Santiago. Some will be posted in Spanish and English, so I can capture exactly how the natives of Santiago converse about their city.  I have a great number of new photos, from the past and present. I visited many museums and met with a number of people who gave me books photos and other materials. Many historical events have occurred in and around Santiago. I am very grateful to the people who have shared their lives with me.

The first of the attached maps shows the eastern area of the island, El Oriente. You will note how close Santiago is to Guantamo. The second one shows a closer view.  You can see the harbor and how it protects the city. At the top right, the Vista Alegre neighborhood is where I stayed this time, in the home of relatives.  If you trace the highway on the right, coming down from the Vista Alegre neighborhood, it leads to the Granjita Siboney, or Siboney Farmhouse, which is close to Siboney Beach. An interesting historic event called the Moncada Attack began at the Siboney Farmhouse in 1953. Both the farmhouse and the Moncada fort are museums.  I visited both in 2010, but spent more time there this time. I have some great photographs of the whole area from a number of different locations, like la Gran Piedra, Boniato, and several others.

You can also see how the inlet opens into a large bay and harbor, and how the town is not built in front of the open mouth of the inlet. The Morro is a fort that guards the inlet. I have old and new photos of all the areas of the city, and the inlet area.  Surrounding the city on three sides is the Sierra Maestra mountaine range. It was in the hills to the west of the city that Che Guevara, Fidel and Raul Castro and many others camped and eventually succeeded in the coup that gave Castro control of the country in 1959.

Stay tuned for a series of interesting information.