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Posts tagged ‘Cuban American’

Ros-Lehtinen: Venezuelan Regime Continuing ‘Assault on Democracy’.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says she is concerned there is going to be more bloodshed in Venezuela after three people died in fresh protests.

“[President Nicolas] Maduro is taking advantage of this to continue his assault on democracy. In fact, today, the latest is this: he’s called the peaceful protesters a name that you know is going to justify him taking further criminal action, an armed terrorist insurgency. Now these are peaceful student activists. They’re not armed. I fear the worst is going to be happening in the coming days,” the Florida Republican told Newsmax TV’s John Bachman and J.D. Hayworth on “America’s Forum” Friday.

Story continues below video.

Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 27th congressional district, became the first Cuban American and Latina in Congress when she was elected in 1989. She was also the first Republican woman elected to the House from Florida, and is currently the most senior Republican woman in the House.

She is highly critical of President Barack Obama’s policy on Venezuela, saying, “[Maduro] wants to take over Venezuela in the same way that the Castro brothers have, and that’s why this administration looking the other way is just not an answer. We have no foreign policy to speak of, no real policy direction, especially in Latin America.

“I’ve written a letter to the president and it was signed in a bipartisan manner, calling on the president to take action similar to the action that he’s taken against Russian human rights violators in the Ukraine, but knowing that the president will probably not take action on Venezuela. I have filed a bill that does the same thing. It would deny visas so that they can’t come to the United States, we’d be blocking property, we would freeze the assets, and prohibit all sorts of financial transactions to members of the Maduro regime who are responsible for the commission of serious human rights abuses against the citizens of Venezuela.”

Ros-Lehtinen continued, “The assembly of citizens in Venezuela is getting greatly curtailed. They’re limiting the access to print and broadcast media and what we’ve seen is that one of the things that we should do is reduce imports of Venezuelan oil. This would prevent Maduro regime from using the profits from the sale of petroleum to further oppress and further violate the human rights of the people of Venezuela. ”

She also had harsh words for the Organization of American States, calling it dysfunctional. “Even more so than the United Nations and we fund them — we fund 40 percent of this terrible body. They get 40 percent of their budget from you, the American taxpayer, and our bill says that our permanent representative to the OAS has got to use the voice, the vote, the influence, to defend what has long been the factor that has entered into U.S. and Latin American relations, which is the inter-American democratic charter,” she said.

“We’re doing all we can to help the folks who have been detained, the peaceful protestors, and just like the Cuban regime Maduro likes to blame the U.S. for his own failure. But the reality is that Maduro’s the one who has been responsible for the trampling of human rights. Do you know the economic situation, the food shortages, high inflation? This is a country that had all the natural resources and all the money and yet people don’t even have toilet paper. ”

Ros-Lehtinen said she is also concerned about organized crime from Latin America spilling over into the U.S. “What we have seen is that when the U.S. is looking the other way, when we’re looking at what’s happing in Ukraine, we’re looking at Syria, we’re looking at Iran—as well we should because those are problem areas for us— but what happens is that the drug traffickers and the cartels and the thugs, including terrorists, will make their way into the United States,” she warned.

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By Lisa Barron

Source: Beyonce, Jay-Z Visited Cuba With US Treasury OK.

A visit by American pop star Beyonce and rapper husband Jay-Z to Havana last week was a cultural trip that was fully licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department, a source familiar with the trip said on Monday.

The longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba prevents most Americans from traveling to the communist-led island without a license granted by the U.S. government.

Two Cuban American members of Congress, both Republicans representing south Florida and supporters of a firm stance on Cuba, had asked the Treasury Department for information on what type of license the couple obtained for their trip.

Beyonce and Jay-Z celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana and were greeted by big crowds as they strolled through the Cuban capital. Cubans recognized the music industry power couple as celebrities despite the past half-century of ideological conflict that separates the two countries.

The source told Reuters that the trip included visits with Cuban artists and musicians, as well as several nightclubs where live music was performed, and some of the city’s best privately run restaurants, known as “paladares.”

The visit was planned as a “people-to-people” cultural visit and involved no meetings with Cuban officials, or typical tourist activity such as trips to the beach, the source said. Even a walk around the Old City of Havana, mobbed by crowds of excited Cuban spectators, was led by Miguel Coyula, one of the city’s leading architects.

Publicists for the couple did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.

Beyonce and Jay-Z were the latest American stars joining actors Bill Murray, Sean Penn and James Caan who have also visited the Caribbean island in the past few years. But the pair were the first to cause such a stir everywhere they went.

The couple arrived in Havana unannounced for a four-day visit on Wednesday on a flight from Miami. But word of their presence spread like wildfire.

Beyonce, who sang at Obama’s inauguration for his second term in January, was instantly recognized when she and Jay-Z, and their mothers, dined at La Guarida, the city’s top privately run restaurant on their first night.

The next day a crowd of several thousand people swarmed around them in the main square of Old Havana, which prompted their security team to curtail the walk-about.

They also visited a children’s theater group called La Colmenita, where they saw a Cinderella-themed performance accompanied by Beatles songs.

On Thursday night, they visited another Havana venue to hear live Cuban music. On Friday, they toured Cuba’s art school, Instituto Superior de Arte, and met with some young artists, including Yoan Capote, before ending the evening at another nightclub.

U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart questioned the authorization for the couple’s trip arguing that isolating Cuba is the best way to force it to change its one-party political system.

Ros-Lehtinen, long a fierce critic of the Cuban government, called it a racist dictatorship that “harasses, beats, and wantonly jails” its opponents. She said she found it “very disconcerting that these two mega stars would go down to Cuba and vacation as if they were in a tropical paradise and not say one word about the brutality their hosts display against all pro democracy activists.”

Diaz-Balart’s office said on Monday he would not comment further until there was official confirmation of the license for Beyonce and Jay-Z’s trip.

The Cuban government was unaware of the participants on the trip until shortly before they departed for Cuba, the source told Reuters, adding that the Cuban media made no official mention of the pair while they were in Havana.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which handles licenses for travel to Cuba, said it does not comment on individual cases.

OFAC provides licenses to visit Cuba on a case-by-case basis for educational exchanges, and for programs to promote “people-to-people contact” and “contribute to the development of civil society in Cuba,” according to Treasury Department guidelines. Tourism is specifically prohibited by the guidelines, it states.

“It’s hard to imagine a more people-to-people contact visit than the scenes witnessed last week on the streets of Havana with two of the United States biggest music stars wading through crowds of fans they never knew they had,” said John McAuliff, executive director for the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, an organization working to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba.

He described the couple’s itinerary as “characteristic of licensed trips undertaken by thousands of Americans every year.”

While it has kept the embargo in place, President Barack Obama’s administration has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, religious or cultural programs.

An increasing number of Americans are taking officially sanctioned trips to Cuba, for academic, cultural and religious motives. Only licensed travelers and Cuban Americans visiting relatives on the island are allowed to board special charter planes from Miami for the 50-minute flight to Cuba.

Some U.S. citizens dodge those requirements by traveling to Cuba via third countries. Cuba does not stamp the passports of Americans who visit Cuba making it easy to avoid detection.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Puerto Ricans are key in Florida presidential vote.

  • South Floridians stand in line during the last day of early voting in Miami, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Despite record turnout in many parts of the state, Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected calls to extend early voting through Sunday to help alleviate long lines at the polls. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

    Enlarge PhotoAssociated Press/Alan Diaz – South Floridians stand in line during the last day of early voting in Miami, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Despite record turnout in many parts of the state, Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected …more 


KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama has a problem with Florida’s important Puerto Rican voters, and it has little to do with the immigration and deportation issues that dominate so much of the national debate involving Hispanic voters.

Florida’s two biggest Hispanic groups — Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans — have legal statuses not enjoyed by immigrants from other Latin American countries. This makes illegal immigration a tangential issue for them.

Their chief concerns center on Florida’s struggling economy, leaders of both parties say. And Florida’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates have hit Puerto Ricans hard.

That’s a dilemma for Obama. He’s counting on big Puerto Rican support to help offset Cuban-American precincts, mainly in Miami, where Republican Mitt Romney expects to do well. Some analysts say he may fall short.

“The Puerto Rican vote is going for Obama,” said Florida-based pollster Brad Coker. “But I don’t think it’s going by the same margin” as in 2008.

More than 1.5 million Hispanics are registered to vote in Florida, nearly 14 percent of the state total. About 592,000 are registered Democrats, and 463,000 Republicans.

Obama’s team is working hard to get Puerto Ricans to the polls. Along with the Spanish-language ads on TV and radio, the campaign is organizing raucous caravans with decorated car windows and loud speakers on trucks, a tradition in Puerto Rico elections.

“The issue is, can we motivate the base for a huge turnout,” said Bill Richardson, a Latino and former New Mexico governor, as he helped organize a caravan Friday in a heavily Hispanic Orlando neighborhood. Early reports are good, he said, “but we have to drag them out, like we’re doing here in this caravan, to motivate early voters.”

Richardson, who briefly ran for president in 2008, said Hispanics’ enthusiasm for Obama was lagging earlier this year. He thinks that changed in June, when Obama announced that about 800,000 young illegal immigrants with no criminal records could legally stay in the country.

“What has brought the Hispanic community enthusiastically back to the president has been his decision to halt the deportations,” Richardson said.

Others are less sure. Dario Moreno, a political scientist at Florida International University, noted that Puerto Ricans and Cubans “don’t have an immigration problem.”

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and can vote for president if they live in a state or the District of Columbia. Cuban immigrants have special legal standing that stems from the United States’ long-running tension with the Castro government.

Moreno said Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans take umbrage if political rhetoric reaches into emotional areas. He cited instances in 2008, when some GOP candidates said America was “losing its culture” because so many residents speak Spanish. Puerto Ricans and others see that “as not only anti-immigrant, but anti-Latino,” he said.

There have few such over-the-line remarks in this election, Moreno said. Even when Romney suggested illegal immigrants “self deport,” it didn’t resonate much with Florida’s Puerto Ricans and Cuban descendants, Moreno said.

Kelvin Soto, a Kissimmee lawyer who largely grew up in Puerto Rico, agrees that Romney “has done a very good job” of toning down contentious comments from the GOP primary, such as when he criticized Texas’ policy of granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. What most of his Hispanic friends recall, Soto said, is that Romney has promised to create 12 million jobs.

“People don’t want to investigate it, because they fear it might not be true,” said Soto, an Osceola County school board candidate who was campaigning Saturday at an early voting site.

Calvin Gutierrez, 18, said most of his friends support Obama, “but the economic situation has gotten worse,” and many are unenthusiastic. “There are a few who have stopped supporting him,” although they’re unlikely to vote for Romney, said Gutierrez, a college freshman hoping to go into medicine.

Two former Florida Republican governors, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush, said in interviews Saturday that Romney is making good inroads among Hispanics, including Puerto Ricans. They said these voters question why Obama didn’t push for immigration reform when Democrats controlled Congress in his first two years as president, Bush said.

Martinez, a Tampa native whose ancestors came from Spain, said “Hispanic” covers a wide array of Floridians with ties to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico and other places. They have different traditions, needs and motivations, he said, and no one-size-fits-all campaign approach will work.

Many Latinos work in the hard-hit construction and landscaping industries, he said. “The common denominator for everybody is the economy,” Martinez said. “There’s a passion in this election I’ve not seen in a long time,” he said, and Romney is benefiting.

Christina Martinez, 42, is a Puerto Rican Floridian sticking with Obama. He deserves more time to heal the economy she said as she waited to vote in Kissimmee on Saturday, the last day of early voting in Florida.

Martinez has four daughters and one grandson, and she doesn’t like Romney’s record on women’s rights, Medicaid, education or the economy. As for Obama, she said, “I think he did great.”

Martinez and others who live in struggling, largely Spanish-speaking communities may tip the balance for or against Obama in this, the biggest tossup state of all.


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By CHARLES BABINGTON | Associated Press

U.S.- Cuba travel snarled by regulations, politics.

HAVANA (Reuters) – The Obama administration‘s much touted “people-to-people” travel program toCuba has all but ground to a halt due to tighter regulations issued in May, apparently to placate Cuban-American lawmakers, travel industry professionals said this week.

The program, which began last year and requires the annual renewal of permission to bring groups to Cuba, allows for educational and cultural travel under the administration’s policy of constructive engagement.

The licenses of dozens of tour operators, who have carried an estimated 50,000 Americans to Cuba under the “people-to-people” banner so far, have not been renewed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

This has caused confusion in both countries as the trips must be planned months in advance and hotel rooms, very much in demand in Havana, blocked out for the Americans.

The problems began after the new guidelines were issued, the companies said.

“We’ve laid off 22 people, canceled 150 trips, and after only one year of operations we are unable to recoup our start-up costs,” said Tom Popper, president of New York-based Insight Cuba.

Popper, whose nonprofit business brought some 3,000 Americans to Cuba under the program, said he had applied twice to renew his license to no avail.

“We know of many licensees that are in the same predicament,” he said.

The travel program came under heavy fire from its inception from Cuban-American lawmakers, who oppose all contact with the Communist-run country and have lined up to denounce it.


“This is not about promoting democracy and freedom in Cuba. This is nothing more than tourism … a source of millions of dollars in the hands of the Castro government that they use to oppress the Cuban people,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida charged during congressional hearings last year.

Rubio then blocked the administration’s nominee for undersecretary of state for Latin American affairs, Roberta Jacobson, until it agreed in March to tighten the regulations, according to his office’s statements to the media at the time.

The new regulations quickly followed.

The Obama administration has denied any deal with Rubio, saying the regulations were tightened after it heard of potential abuses of the program, which essentially prohibits typical Cuba tourist activities such as salsa dancing or going to the beach.

“We revised the license application criteria to stress to applicants the seriousness of the requirements of the people-to-people licensing program, in part because of reports we received concerning travel under the licenses,” Jeff Braunger, OFAC’s program manager for Cuba travel licensing, said by email.

John McAuliff, executive director for the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, an organization working to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba, as it did with Vietnam, said he doubted that was the case.

“OFAC is accommodating Senator Rubio and other hard liners who oppose all travel because it undermines their narrative about isolating evil Cuba,” McAuliff said.

Hopes for a significant improvement in relations when Obama took office were soon dashed when Cuba arrested U.S. contractor Alan Gross in December 2009 for illegally bringing internet equipment into the country and setting up Wi-Fi networks. He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Since then hostile rhetoric between Washington and Havana has picked up and immigration and mail service talks have once more been put on hold.


The United States banned travel to Cuba under sanctions put in place soon after the 1959 Revolution, but has gone back and forth ever since on whether Cuban Americans and professionals should visit the “enemy” 90 miles away.

Obama lifted all restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting home, and in December 2010 reversed a Bush administration ban on professional research, religious and people-to-people travel.

An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2011, the vast majority of Cuban heritage.

The new regulations require detailed itineraries of each traveling group, reports upon their return and explanations about each member’s “meaningful interchange” with ordinary Cubans.

Applications can now run more than 100 pages, compared with fewer than 10 pages in the past.

Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, said the new regulations, while far more onerous than those issued when the program began, lacked the very transparency Braunger said they provided.

“What do they mean by such phrases as you must demonstrate travelers’ ‘meaningful interchange’ with Cubans during each of four activities, each day of the trip, and then give the result of that ‘meaningful interchange?'” asked Guild, in Havana this week to sort out hotel reservations for clients left waiting for licenses.

“When a group thinks they have complied with the restrictions in the applications, and we’re talking now about some of the most prestigious groups in the United States such as the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic, Treasury says no, we need more,” Guild told Reuters.

“What more do you need, the organizations ask, and OFAC says ‘we can’t tell you that but we need more,'” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Mohammad Zargham)


By Marc Frank | Reuters

New tax in Cuba threatens consumption in a hungry nation.


Cuba has slapped a new customs tax on everyday goods shipped from overseas in a drive that experts say could weaken the economy and sap consumption.

The levy took effect Monday and is payable in foreign currency. It targets goods imported by private citizens, often self-employed people who have started up businesses as part of timid reforms undertaken by the communist government in 2011.

Carmen Arias, deputy director of the customs service, said the taxes are “a way to counter this non-commercial means of personal enrichment.”

But economist Mauricio de Miranda disagrees, calling the measure disproportionate and saying it could act as “a self-imposed embargo with a damaging effect on people’s living standards.”

He was alluding to the trade embargo that the United States placed on Cuba half a century ago, after Fidel Castro came to power.

In Cuba, where the economy is 90 percent controlled by the state, hundreds of packages and parcels arrive every day, sent by exiled Cubans to their families back home or brought in by travelers who make a profit by reselling the merchandise.

Under the new measure, merchandise is taxed at the rate of 10 dollars a kilo after the first three kilos. Foodstuffs — exempted from such taxes after hurricanes hit Cuba in 2008 — are also taxed now.

That’s bad news for privately owned restaurants which, in the absence of a wholesale market in Cuba, relied on such shipments for products they cannot find within Cuba.

The new tax “could seriously raise prices of imported consumer goods, the supply of which is scant in the retail trade network,” said de Miranda, of the Pontifical Xaverian University in Cali, Colombia.

In other countries this kind of levy is imposed to protect local producers. But in Cuba “there is no need to protect any national producer, as the consumer goods industry is incapable of meeting local demand.”

“If the idea is to discourage the black market and get people to go to state-run stores, these stores would have to be sufficiently stocked at affordable prices,” movie-maker Eduardo del Llano wrote in his blog The average Cuban earns less than 20 dollars a month.

For the past few years, the website has offered those few Cubans with access to Internet a veritable bounty of goods imported tax-free by private citizens and resold at prices below those found on the official Cuban market.

“It is true that goods sent from overseas have often replaced the local market, to the detriment of the state and its stores, which are poorly supplied or empty”, said Cuban journalist Giselle Morales (

But most of the beneficiaries of this kind of parallel trade are “workers or retirees, whose needs exiled relatives try to meet with shipments of goods that most Cubans receive with relief,” Morales says.


By Carlos Batista | AFP

After 50 years, Cuba mulls scrapping hated travel restrictions, inspiring potential migrants.

HAVANA – After controlling the comings and goings of its people for five decades, communist Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to lift many travel restrictions. One senior official says a “radical and profound” change is weeks away.

The comment by Parliament Chief Ricardo Alarcon has residents, exiles and policymakers abuzz with speculation that the much-hated exit visa could be a thing of the past, even if Raul Castro‘s government continues to limit the travel of doctors, scientists, military personnel and others in sensitive roles to prevent a brain drain.

Other top Cuban officials have cautioned against over-excitement, leaving islanders and Cuba experts to wonder how far Havana‘s leaders are willing to go.

In the past 18 months, Castro has removed prohibitions on some private enterprise, legalized real estate and car sales, and allowed compatriots to hire employees, ideas that were long anathema to the government’s Marxist underpinnings.

Scrapping travel controls could be an even bigger step, at least symbolically, and carries enormous economic, social and political risk.

Even half measures — such as ending limits on how long Cubans can live abroad or cutting the staggeringly high fees for the exit visa that Cubans must obtain just to leave the country — would be significant.

“It would be a big step forward,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “If Cuba ends the restrictions on its own citizens’ travel, that means the only travel restrictions that would remain in place would be those the United States imposes on its citizens.”

The move would open the door to increased emigration and make it easier for Cubans overseas to avoid forfeiting their residency rights, a fate that has befallen waves of exiles since the 1959 revolution.

It could also bolster the number of Cubans who travel abroad for work, increasing earnings sent home in the short term and, ultimately, investment by a new moneyed class.

Scrapping exit controls should win Cuba support in Europe, which improved ties after dozens of political prisoners were freed in 2010.

But Peters and several other analysts said they doubt the new rules would bring about any immediate shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, which includes a ban on American tourism. Those restrictions are entrenched and enjoy the backing of powerful Cuban American exiles.

“I don’t think it would lead to a drastic change in U.S. policy, but an accumulation of human rights improvements could lead to an incremental change,” Peters said.

Cuba-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, said any discussion about immigration reform on the island is a peripheral issue.

“The kind of changes I’m interested in are not about immigration,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “I’m interested in changes that affect fundamental freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.”

U.S. officials said they have been watching for an announcement for months, noting there has been such talk as far back as August. But nothing has happened, and they are skeptical that the Castro regime is truly committed to such reform.

Asked about possible reciprocal measures, one U.S. official said the Obama administration can’t promise anything because it doesn’t know what exactly Cuba plans to announce. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. “would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.”

Rumours of the exit visa’s imminent demise have circulated on and off for years. The whispers became open chatter last spring after the Communist Party endorsed migration reform at a crucial gathering. But Castro dashed those hopes in December, saying the timing wasn’t right and the “fate of the revolution” was at stake.

Alarcon’s comments, made in an interview published in April, revived hopes that a bold move is coming.

“One of the questions that we are currently discussing at the highest level of the government is the question of emigration,” he told a French journalist. “We are working toward a radical and profound reform of emigration that in the months to come will eliminate this kind of restriction.”

But on Saturday, Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez told exiles not to set their hopes too high, vowing the government would maintain some travel controls as long as it faced a threat from enemies in Washington.

Havana residents say they are anxiously waiting to see what the government does.

“The time has come to get rid of the exit visa,” said Vivian Delgado, a shop worker. “It’s absurd that as a Cuban I must get permission to leave my country, and even worse that I need permission to come back.”

Added Domingo Blanco, a 24-year-old state office worker: “It’s as if one needed to ask to leave one’s own house.”

Many Cubans are reluctant to talk about their own experience with the exit visa. One woman named Miru, who has been trying to leave Cuba since 2006, shared her story on the condition her full name not be used for fear that speaking with a foreign journalist could land her in trouble.

“This has been a very long process,” she said of her odyssey, which began when her husband defected from a medical mission in Africa and sought asylum in the U.S.

First, she had to get a letter releasing her from her job at a government ministry — a process that took five years. Only then could she apply for the exit visa. That was three months ago, and Miru still hasn’t received an answer. Officials say her case is complicated but won’t give a specific reason for the delay.

“I am very anxious to see my husband again,” she said.

The exit controls are a Cold War legacy of Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union. They were instituted in December 1961 to fight brain drain as hundreds of thousands of doctors and other professionals fled, many for new lives in Florida. That was three months before the U.S. embargo barring most trade with the island went into full effect.

Over the years, it has become much easier for Cubans to obtain permission to travel, though many are still denied, and it is particularly hard to take children out of the country.

Also, the exit visa’s $150 price tag is a small fortune in a country where salaries average about $20 a month. In addition, the person the traveller wishes to visit must pay $200 at a Cuban consulate.

Those who leave get only a 30-day pass, and the cost of an extension varies by country. In the U.S., the fee is $130 a month. Those who stay abroad more than 11 months lose the right to reside in Cuba. Before 2011, any property would automatically go to the state.

“The Cuban government has monetized every part of the humiliating process of coming and going,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a
longtime Cuba expert and author of “Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington.” ”Getting out means running a gantlet, and it is all based on how much humiliation you can endure, and by the time they end up in Miami, people are filled with hate and dreams of revenge.”

Cuban officials have long portrayed the measures as necessary to counter Washington’s meddling. They accuse the U.S. of trying to lure away doctors by letting them walk into any American consulate and request asylum.

Cuban officials say even ordinary islanders are encouraged to leave by U.S. regulations that automatically grant asylum to any who reach American shores, a policy Cuba says has encouraged thousands to attempt the dangerous trip on leaky boats and makeshift rafts across the Florida Straits.

It’s not clear how emigration reform will affect dissidents, who are routinely denied permission to leave and could still find themselves on some form of no-exit list.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez called the exit controls “our own Berlin Wall without the concrete … a wall made of paperwork and stamps, overseen by the grim stares of soldiers.” She has been denied travel papers at least 19 times by her own count.

Some hardliners in Florida predict any change will be merely a sleight of hand designed to export malcontents, ease a severe housing shortage and fob off legions of superfluous state workers.

But for hundreds of thousands of Cubans like Miru, the exit visa is a personal matter, not political. After six years separated from her husband, she clings to hope that she will finally obtain permission or benefit from a change in the law.

“I have followed all the rules of my country,” she said. “I’ll be so happy to leave.”


Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi in Havana, Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.


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Associated PressBy Paul Haven, The Associated Press | Associated Press

Florida governor takes aim at firms with ties to Cuba, Syria.

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MIAMI (Reuters) – Florida Governor Rick Scott waded into foreign policy on Tuesday and signed a bill banning local governments from contracting with companies doing business in Cuba or Syria, but acknowledged the law could not take effect without Washington’s approval.

              The bill’s sponsors and strongest supporters are Cuban-American politicians from Miami who argue that Florida tax dollars should not be used to support dictatorships that oppress their people.

              The Republican governor, whose campaign slogan was “Let’s Get to Work,” dismissed criticism from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and others who said the law could discourage foreign firms from investing in Florida.

              He said that “principles matter” while conceding that 800,000 Floridians were still looking for work in the state. “We believe in freedom. That’s why we have bills like this,” Scott added.

The legislation, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1 but appears unenforceable for now, prohibits state and local governments from awarding contracts of $1 million or more to companies doing business with Cuba or Syria. Both nations are designated by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism.

It had broad support in the Republican-controlled Florida legislature despite warnings it is unconstitutional.

              Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert Cuevas said in a March memo that federal law does not authorize states to enact such restrictions, and that federal law trumps state law on foreign policy matters. He advised county commissioners to ignore the new law.

              Scott recognized as much in a signing statement issued on Tuesday, saying the new restrictions “will not go into effect unless and until Congress passes, and President Obama signs, a law permitting states to independently impose such sanctions against Cuba and Syria.”

Republican U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen later issued a statement disputing that Congressional approval was required before the law could be enforced.

“I believe the law isn’t contrary to federal law and is, therefore, effective. I don’t believe that further Congressional authorization is required,” said Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


A handful of groups supporting democracy for Syria were recognized at the bill-signing ceremony, but it was firmly focused on Cuba.

Florida is home to about 1.2 million Cuban-Americans and the ceremony took place at the Freedom Tower, a former newspaper building in downtown Miami that was used in the 1960s as a reception center for Cubans fleeing their homeland after former President Fidel Castro’s communist government took power.

Republican U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, also a Cuban-American, said the law would ensure that those who receive “blood money” from tyrants and murderers would not receive tax money from Floridians.

Republican U.S. Representative David Rivera said it would force companies to make a moral choice.

“You either do business with terrorist dictatorships or you can do business with the money and resources of the taxpayers of Florida. It’s one or the other, you choose,” said Rivera, a Cuban-American.

A 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo already prevents American firms from doing business with Cuba, and the United States has adopted a series of economic sanctions against Syria in the last eight years.

The pending Florida law would apply to foreign firms and their subsidiaries, and seemed aimed at Odebrecht USA, a U.S. subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

              The company’s U.S. subsidiary has won numerous construction, transportation and engineering contracts in Florida, including the American Airlines Arena and a performing arts center in Miami. It is bidding on a proposed $700 million hotel and office complex associated with the Miami airport.

              The company has drawn criticism from Cuban exiles in Miami for its involvement in a major upgrade to the Cuban port of Mariel, near the capital Havana.

              Manuel Marono, the Cuban-American mayor of the Miami suburb of Sweetwater and a driving force behind the new legislation, denied it would hurt employment in Florida, where the jobless rate of 9 percent stands above the national rate of 8.2 percent.

              “The jobs are still going to get done, the projects are still going to get done,” Marono said. “It’s just going to get done by people that care about people.”

              (Reporting By Jane Sutton; Editing by Paul Simao).


ReutersBy Jane Sutton | Reuters

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