Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Christila Island of Cuba’

EU, Cuba sign cooperation pact, vow Trump will not hurt ties

December 12, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union and Cuba signed a first-ever agreement on closer ties on Monday, and vowed that the arrival in office of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump would not impact on their future relations.

“This is a historic day, we’ve turned a page. Today we’re starting to write together a new chapter,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as the 28-nation EU’s top diplomats and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed the pact in Brussels.

The accord, aimed at supporting economic development and promoting democracy and human rights on the island, will form the legal platform for future ties between Brussels and Havana. The EU’s official stance toward Cuba dates from 1996.

Rodriguez said the priority would be to develop the Cuban economy, but he noted “one major obstacle to trade relations between the EU and Cuba” — the U.S. economic and financial blockade. “We’ll have to see how things develop. But we very much hope that relations between the European Union and Cuba will continue to grow and enrich both sides,” he said, adding that ties “between the EU and Cuba do not go by Washington.”

Mogherini said the agreement is the result of a long process and that Trump’s inauguration in January “will not affect in any way relations between the European Union and Cuba.” She also underlined that “the European Union has raised concerns about the extraterritorial effect of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. We will continue to do so because we believe that this is not only in the interest of the island and its people — all of them — but most of all in our case, it’s in the interest of Europeans to tackle this issue.”

Cuba puts the total cost of the 55-year-old embargo at $125.9 billion, including $4.6 billion last year. The new pact must now be ratified by national and regional parliaments in all EU member states before it can enter completely into force, although the bloc has decided to provisionally apply parts of it immediately.

Fidel Castro laid to rest in private ceremony in east Cuba

December 05, 2016

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) — A wooden box containing Fidel Castro’s ashes was placed by his brother and successor on Sunday into the side of a granite boulder that has become Cuba’s only official monument to the charismatic bearded rebel who seized control of a U.S.-allied Caribbean island and transformed it into a western outpost of Soviet-style communism that he ruled with absolute power for nearly a half century.

The private, early-morning ceremony was attended by members of Fidel Castro’s family, the ruling Politburo of the single-party system he founded, and Latin American leaders who installed closely allied leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Brazil.

After nine days of fervent national mourning and wall-to-wall homages to Castro on state-run media, the government barred independent coverage of the funeral, releasing a handful of photos and brief descriptions of the ceremony later in the day.

The ceremony began at 6:39 a.m. when the military caravan bearing Castro’s remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago. Thousands of people lined the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery, waving Cuban flags and shouting “Long live Fidel!”

The ashes were delivered to Castro’s younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro, who wore his olive general’s uniform as he placed the remains into a niche in the enormous grey boulder that will serve as his tomb. The niche was sealed with a green marble plaque emblazed with the name “Fidel” in gold letters.

The tomb stands to the side of a memorial to the rebel soldiers killed in an attack that Castro led on Santiago’s Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953, and in front of the mausoleum of Cuban national hero Jose Marti.

As the funeral ended, martial music could be heard outside the cemetery, where Ines de la Rosa was among the mourners gathered. She said she would have liked to watch the interment on television, but “we understand how they as a family also need a bit of privacy.”

The decision to keep the final farewell private came the morning after Raul Castro announced that Cuba would prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after his brother, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon, in keeping with his desire to avoid a cult of personality.

“The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult of personality and was consistent in that through the last hours of his life, insisting that, once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected,” Raul Castro told a massive crowd gathered in the eastern city of Santiago.

He said that Cuba’s National Assembly would vote in its next session on the law fulfilling the wishes of his brother, who died last week at 90. The legislature generally holds a meeting in December and under Cuba’s single-party system, parliament unanimously or near-unanimously approves every government proposal.

Fidel Castro, who stepped down in 2006 after falling ill, kept his name off public sites during his near half-century in power because he said he wanted to avoid the development of a personality cult. In contrast, the images of his fellow revolutionary fighters Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto “Che” Guevara became common across Cuba in the decades since their deaths.

Mourning for Castro has been fervent and intense across the country since his death, particularly in rural eastern Cuba, where huge crowds have been shouting Castro’s name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes.

“All of us would like to put Fidel’s name on everything but in the end, Fidel is all of Cuba,” said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a 70-year-old retired economist. “It was a decision of Fidel’s, not Raul’s, and I think he has to be respected.”

Castro’s reign over the island nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Castro, who outlasted a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after a life-threatening illness led him to turn over power to his brother.

Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades his defiance of the U.S. and dedication to social equality, free health care and universal education was a source of inspiration and support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa, even as Cubans who fled to exile loathed him with equal measure.

Michael Weissenstein reported from Havana. Fabiola Sanchez contributed from Havana.

Cuba to prohibit naming of monuments, streets after Fidel

December 04, 2016

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) — President Raul Castro announced that Cuba will prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after his brother Fidel, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon in keeping with his desire to avoid a cult of personality.

The announcement late Saturday came after a week of national mourning for Fidel Castro that reached near-religious peaks of adulation and a half-day before his ashes are interred in Santiago’s Santa Ifigenia cemetery, ending the official mourning period.

“The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult of personality and was consistent in that through the last hours of his life, insisting that, once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected,” Raul Castro told a massive crowd gathered in the eastern city of Santiago.

He said that Cuba’s National Assembly would vote in its next session on the law fulfilling the wishes of his brother, who died last week at 90. The legislature generally holds a meeting in December and under Cuba’s single-party system, parliament unanimously or near-unanimously approves every government proposal.

Fidel Castro, who stepped down in 2006 after falling ill, kept his name off public sites during his near half-century in power because he said he wanted to avoid the development of a personality cult. In contrast, the images of his fellow revolutionary fighters Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto “Che” Guevara became common across Cuba in the decades since their deaths.

Mourning for Castro has been fervent and intense across the country since his death, particularly in rural eastern Cuba, where huge crowds have been shouting Castro’s name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes.

“All of us would like to put Fidel’s name on everything but in the end, Fidel is all of Cuba,” said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a 70-year-old retired economist. “It was a decision of Fidel’s, not Raul’s, and I think he has to be respected.”

Raul Castro, 85, spoke at the end of a second massive rally in honor of Fidel as Cuba neared the end of a nine-day period of public mourning. Castro’s ashes arrived Saturday afternoon in Santiago, ending a four-day journey across Cuba that began after a massive rally in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Thousands of people welcomed the leader’s remains to shouts of “Fidel! I am Fidel!” Hundreds of thousands more gathered in Santiago’s Revolution Plaza Saturday night, cheering speeches by the heads of state-run groups of small farmers, women, revolutionary veterans and neighborhood watch committee members.

The event was attended by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, along with former Brazilian presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva. Castro’s ashes will be interred Sunday morning in Santiago’s Santa Ifigenia cemetery, ending the official mourning period.

Cuba bids farewell to Fidel Castro, ruler for half-century

November 28, 2016

HAVANA (AP) — A nine-story portrait of a young Fidel Castro has joined the towering images of fallen guerrillas overlooking Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, the massive square where Cuba on Monday begins bidding farewell to the man who ruled the island for nearly half a century.

After 10 years of leadership by Castro’s younger brother Raul, a relatively camera-shy and low-key successor, Cuba finds itself riveted once again by the words and images of the leader who dominated the lives of generations. Since his death on Friday night, state-run newspapers, television and radio have been running wall-to-wall tributes to Fidel, broadcasting non-stop footage of his speeches, interviews and foreign trips, interspersed with adulatory remembrances by prominent Cubans.

“There’s a genuine feeling of mourning, that’s not a formality, that’s not showy, that’s not outward-focused, but rather completely intimate,” former National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said on state television Sunday.

Ordinary people have largely been staying at home, off streets hushed by a prohibition on music and celebration during the nine days of official mourning for Castro. For some, particularly younger Cubans, Castro’s death barely registered.

Yankemell Barrera, a 20-year-old student, said Castro wasn’t a strong presence in his life and that he wasn’t much affected by his death or planning to go to any of the memorial events. He said studying for finals would be a better use of his time.

“Even if I’m obligated to go, I’m not doing it,” he said. Tens of thousands of others, though, were expected to return to the streets Monday after 9 a.m., when simultaneous 21-gun salutes will sound in the capital and in the eastern city of Santiago, where Castro launched his revolution in 1953. At the same moment, Cubans are expected to begin filing through the monument to national hero Jose Marti in the center of the plaza, where the government said they would “render homage and sign a solemn oath to carry out the concept of revolution expressed by the revolutionary leader.”

The “concept of revolution” is a section of a 2000 speech in which Castro calls Cubans to believe in “the profound conviction that no force in the world is capable of crushing the force of truth and ideas.”

The government did not say if the ashes of the 90-year-old former president would be on display inside the monument. Virtually all schools and government offices were closing during the homage to Castro, which will stretch for 13 hours on Monday and take place again on Tuesday, ending in a rally echoing those that Castro addressed on the plaza for most of his time in power.

“It’s a terrible sadness. Everyone’s feeling it here,” said Orlando Alvarez, a 55-year-old jeweler. “Everyone will be there.” On Wednesday, Castro’s ashes will begin a three-day procession east across Cuba, retracing the march of his bearded rebel army from the Sierra Maestra mountains to the capital. Castro’s ashes will be interred on Sunday in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city.

Juan Zamorano, Andrea Rodriguez and Christine Armario contributed.

Celebration, sorrow mingle after death of Fidel Castro

November 26, 2016

The death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro prompted celebrations among the country’s exiles in Miami, and expressions of sorrow from some world leaders. Within half an hour of the Cuban government’s announcement of the death of the 90-year-old revolutionary leader, cheers were heard in Miami’s Little Havana. Thousands of people banged pots, waved Cuban flags and whooped in jubilation. “Cuba si! Castro no!” they chanted, while others screamed “Cuba libre!”

“Feels weird,” said Gabriel Morales, a 40-year-old financial executive in Miami, whose parents left Cuba after Castro came to power. “Been waiting to hear this news all my life. Seems unreal,” Morales said in a text message to an AP reporter.

However, Castro was mourned by some present and former national leaders. “Fidel Castro in the 20th century did everything possible to destroy the colonial system, to establish cooperative relations,” former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.

“Fidel survived and strengthened the country during the most severe U.S. blockade, while there was enormous pressure on him, and still led his country out of the blockade on the road of independent development.”

Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the president of El Salvador, said he felt “deep sorrow … of my friend and eternal companion, Commander Fidel Castro Ruz.” Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that “Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity.”

“India mourns the loss of a great friend,” Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi said on Twitter. The country’s president, Pranab Mukherjee tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences on sad demise of Cuba’s revolutionary leader, former president & friend of India, Fidel Castro.”

Peter Hain, a former member of the British Cabinet and anti-apartheid campaigner, tempered praise for Castro with criticism of some aspects of his long rule. “Although responsible for indefensible human rights and free-speech abuses, Castro created a society of unparalleled access to free health, education and equal opportunity despite an economically throttling USA siege,” Hain said. “His troops inflicted the first defeat on South Africa’s troops in Angola in 1988, a vital turning point in the struggle against apartheid.”

A statement from the Spanish government hailed Castro as “a figure of enormous historical importance.” “As a son of Spaniards, former president Castro always maintained close relations with Spain and showed great affection for his family and cultural ties. For this reason Spain especially shares the grief of Cuba’s government and authorities,” the government statement said.

2 Guantanamo detainees sent to Serbia in latest releases

July 11, 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A Tajik and a Yemeni national each held for roughly 14 years at Guantanamo Bay have been freed and sent to the Balkan nation of Serbia, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Monday.

The Pentagon said the two men were released from the U.S. base in Cuba after comprehensive security reviews. It identified the Yemeni as Mansur Ahmad Saad al-Dayfi and the Tajik as Muhammadi Davlatov.

The latest detainee releases come amid a renewed push by the Obama administration to whittle down the number of men held at the U.S. base in Cuba. On Sunday, another Yemeni prisoner was released and sent to Italy after more than 14 years in custody.

The Monday transfers leave 76 prisoners at Guantanamo’s detention center, which was opened in January 2002 to hold foreign fighters suspected of links to the Taliban or the al-Qaida terrorist organization. Some two dozen low-level prisoners are expected to be sent home or resettled in other countries in coming weeks.

President Barack Obama has been seeking to close the detention center amid opposition from Congress, which has prohibited transferring detainees to the U.S. for any reason. The administration has been working with other countries to resettle detainees who have been cleared for transfer.

Lee Wolosky, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo’s closure, said Washington is grateful to Serbia for accepting the two men. These are the first detainee transfers to that country.

“Serbia now joins other friends and allies in Europe in accepting multiple detainees for resettlement, bringing us closer to our shared goal of closing the facility,” Wolosky said in an email. Officials say that before any detainee is transferred, the State Department obtains security assurances from the receiving country. Defense officials, with the intelligence community, also review the receiving nation’s ability to mitigate any possible threat.

The two men’s Pentagon profiles released years ago both asserted they were of high intelligence value and were “likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests, and allies.” But they were never charged with a crime, and authorities ultimately decided they did not pose a security threat and could be freed.

The State Department said Monday that both detainees were unanimously approved for transfer by six U.S. government departments and agencies. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said Davlatov had filed a habeas corpus petition a decade ago challenging the legality of his capture and detention. He been approved for release and was slated to be released to Tajikstan in 2008. However, he obtained a preliminary court injunction against his transfer there due to his arguments that he faced a serious risk of torture or unjust imprisonment there.

In a Monday statement, the Center blasted the Obama administration for making “no meaningful efforts to transfer him” for years. He “never should have been brought to Guantanamo, and by the government’s own admission he should have been released six years ago,” said attorney J. Wells Dixon.

Obama planning historic trip to Cuba to cement warmer ties

February 18, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will pay an historic visit to Cuba in the coming weeks, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday, becoming the first president to set foot on the island in nearly nine decades.

The brief visit in mid-March will mark a watershed moment for relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a communist nation estranged from the U.S. for half a century until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved to relaunch more than a year ago. Since then, the nations have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana and moved to restore commercial air travel, with a presidential visit seen as a key next step toward bridging the divide.

Obama’s stop in Cuba will part of a broader trip to Latin America that the president will take next month, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the trip hasn’t been officially announced. The White House planned to unveil Obama’s travel plans Thursday.

Though Obama had long been expected to visit Cuba in his final year, word of his travel plans drew immediate resistance from opponents of warmer ties with Cuba — including Republican presidential candidates.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father fled to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s, said Obama shouldn’t visit while the Castro family remains in power. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another child of Cuban immigrants, lambasted the president for visiting what he called an “anti-American communist dictatorship.”

“Today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever,” Rubio said on CNN. Told of Obama’s intention to visit, he added, “Probably not going to invite me.”

With less than a year left in office, Obama has been eager to make rapid progress on restoring economic and diplomatic ties to cement the rapprochement with Cuba that his administration started. Following secret negotiations between their governments, Obama and Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties, and months later held the first face-to-face meeting between an American and Cuban president since 1958.

But Obama, facing steadfast opposition to normalized relations from Republicans and some Democrats, has been unable to deliver on the former Cold War foe’s biggest request: the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo. Opponents argue that repealing those sanctions would reward a government still engaging in human rights abuses and stifling of democratic aspirations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Democrat born in Cuba, called the visit “absolutely shameful.” “For more than 50 years, Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime,” said Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress. “Yet the country which grants them refuge — the United States — has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors.”

Obama and supporters of the detente argue the decades-old embargo has failed to bring about desired change on the island 90 miles south of Florida. Still, while Obama has long expressed an interest in visiting Cuba, White House officials had said the visit wouldn’t occur unless and until the conditions were right.

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody” — including political dissidents, Obama told Yahoo News in December. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

Officials didn’t immediately specify what had changed in the last few weeks to clear the way for the trip, first reported by ABC News. But on Tuesday, the two nations signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic as early as later this year, eliminating a key barrier to unfettered travel that isolated Cuban-Americans from their families for generations.

Hundreds of thousands more Americans are expected to visit Cuba per year under the deal, which cleared the way for the U.S. Department of Transportation to open bidding by American air carriers on as many as 110 flights a day. Currently, there are about one-fifth as many flights operating between the two countries — all charters.

For Obama, the diplomatic opening with Cuba reflects one of the crowning achievements of a foreign policy rooted in a belief that the U.S. should test opportunities to ease hostilities with its historical enemies. Last month, the Obama administration lifted economic sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, following a diplomatic deal that has raised hopes about warmer ties between the U.S. and Iran. Yet those achievements have been offset by deepening security challenges in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere as Obama nears the end of his term.

Not since President Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in January 1928 has a sitting U.S. president been to Havana, according to the State Department historian’s office. President Harry Truman visited the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay on the southeast end of the island in 1948, and former President Jimmy Carter has paid multiple visits to the island since leaving office.

Tag Cloud