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Posts tagged ‘Havana’

Putin Taunts Obama By Parking Russian Warship 90 Miles Off Florida Coast.



Havana (AFP) – A Russian warship was docked in Havana Wednesday, without explanation from Communist Cuba or its state media.

The boat, measuring 91.5 meters (300 feet) long and 14.5 meters wide, was docked at the port of Havana’s cruise ship area, near the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

The Vishnya, or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, Russian media sources said.

Neither Cuban authorities nor state media have mentioned the ship’s visit, unlike on previous tours by Russian warships.

The former Soviet Union was Cuba’s sponsor state through three decades of Cold War. After a period of some distancing under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, the countries renewed their political, economic and military cooperation.

The ship is reportedly armed with 30mm guns and anti-aircraft missiles.

Its visit comes as isolated Havana’s current economic and political patron, Venezuela, is facing unprecedented violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Cuban President Raul Castro’s Communist government is the Americas’ only one-party regime. source – Yahoo News

by NTEB News Desk

Bill Richardson Admits: I Screwed Up on Alan Gross Detainment.

Image: Bill Richardson Admits: I Screwed Up on Alan Gross Detainment

Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson has admitted to Newsmax that he “screwed up” in his 2011 bid to free American Alan Gross, who has been held in a Cuban prison for four years.

He spoke to the press when it would have been better for him to keep quiet, he said on Newsmax TV‘s “Steve Malzberg Show.”

“I screwed that one up,” Richardson said.

“I thought we had a deal. I went in and talked to the Cubans. The Cubans were changing their policy at the last minute.

Story continues below video.

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“Instead of shutting up and waiting for things to calm down, I was in Havana and I went to the press. I said ‘Alan Gross is a political prisoner, [and] the Cubans are not playing straight.'”

Richardson, Bill Clinton’s U.N. ambassador from 1997-98 and later energy secretary and governor of New Mexico, is the author of a new book, How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator.”

The book, he said, points out his successes, but in Gross’s case, he admits he made a mistake.

“The Cubans just dropped me off and I just wasn’t able to get Alan out.”

Richardson says he learned an important lesson: “Sometimes you can’t go public, you can’t show your emotion,” Richardson told Malzberg. “You’ve got to be very restrained and careful when you’re negotiating.”

And, he said, he’ll “always regret” going the press over Gross, rather than remaining quiet, “even though there have been many others trying to get Alan out.”

He said he feels “a lot for [his wife] Judy Gross. I met her, I talked to her. I mean, her husband has been unfairly incarcerated, but I wish I hadn’t lost my cool.”

At the time, Richardson said, he had not “been in negotiation in a while, and I was no longer governor, so I kind of lost my power base.”

Gross, 64, was working in Cuba as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, and charged with “actions against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.”

The Cuban government accused Gross of spying for carrying telecommunications equipment to the island and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. According to Gross, he was contracted by Development Alternatives Inc., as part of a contract with USAID, to establish wireless networks and Internet connections for non-dissident Cuban Jewish communities.

Cuba state prosecutors, though, accused him of performing a “subversive project aiming at bringing down the revolution” by disseminating distorted information about the government.

Gross wrote a personal letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment.

Judy Gross told Malzberg on Wednesday that her husband feels “abandoned” by the United States.

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“My hope is that the government is able to sit down and start talks and negotiate with the Cuban government,” she told Malzberg. “That’s how you start getting things done. You have to sit down sometime and start dialogue.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Former USAID Contractor Imprisoned in Cuba Appeals to Obama.

By Cathy Burke

A former U.S. government contractor imprisoned in Cuba for four years says he fears his country has “abandoned” him and is appealing to President Barack Obama to personally intervene in his case, the Washington Post reported Monday.Editor’s NoteHow China’s Air ID Zone Changes the Geopolitical Map of Asia 
In a letter to the president, sent via the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, Alan Gross, 64, describes his isolation from the world, adding that his daughter and mother have been stricken by cancer, his wife has had to sell the family home in Maryland, and “my business and career have been destroyed.”
Indirectly critical of what the family believes are lackluster efforts to secure his release, Gross notes the Obama administration and its predecessors “have taken extraordinary steps to obtain the release of other U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad.”
But unlike those cases, Obama has sent no special emissaries nor agreed to negotiate over him, The Post noted.
“Our view is that unless President Obama becomes personally involved in this matter, Alan Gross will die in jail,” lawyer Scott Gilbert told Reuters.
The letter, a copy of which was provided to The Post, is to be delivered to the White House Tuesday — the anniversary of Gross’s 2009 arrest in Havana, and is part of a new strategy by his family to direct pressure at Obama, including at a demonstration Tuesday outside the White House led by his Gross’s wife, Judy.
The vigil will be led by Jewish Council leaders and was to include the broadcast of a video recording from Gross, who has personally written to the president seeking his intervention in the case, Gilbert said.
Gilbert said Cuba had agreed to sit down with U.S. government officials, without any pre-conditions, to discuss possible terms leading to Gross’ release and return home.
But the State Department has rejected any negotiated settlement of the Gross case out of hand.
“It’s a great puzzlement to me why no decisive action has been taken on Alan Gross, particularly when Alan is imprisoned in Cuba solely because of his work on a U.S. government project,” Gilbert said.
Gross said he was in Cuba to set up communications equipment to give unrestricted Internet access to Jewish groups. A judge said that activity was a crime against the Cuban state and sentenced Gross to 15 years behind bars.
The Gross case has often been described as an obstacle to any serious improvement in U.S. relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of hostility.
But Gross’s disenchantment with the administration over his treatment is shared by a growing number of U.S. lawmakers, who see him as one of the last victims of the Cold War and the decades-long freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations that has persisted despite Obama’s early pledges to work toward a thaw, The Post reported.
In a Nov. 21 letter to Obama last month, a bipartisan group of 66 senators, spearheaded by Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., called Gross’s case “a matter of grave urgency” and urged Obama to “act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his release,” The Post reported.
The senators told Obama that they “stand ready to support your administration in pursuit of this worthy goal.”

And in another letter Nov. 15
, a separate group of 14 lawmakers led by Cuban American Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged Obama to continue his policy of demanding Gross’s “immediate and unconditional release,” The Post reported.
In a statement Monday, Leahy countered “instead of simply demanding Mr. Gross’ unconditional release — which has achieved nothing in four years, and which his family regards as a death sentence — they should not shrink from the obligation to negotiate for his freedom.”
Meanwhile, the State Department Monday pressed for the contractor’s release with its own statement, saying his continued captivity on the communist-ruled island was “gravely disappointing.”
“Tomorrow, development worker Alan Gross will begin a fifth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba,” the department said. “It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of [Cuba’s] professed goal of providing Cubans with Internet access, that the Cuban government has not allowed Mr. Gross to return to his family, where he belongs.

Editor’s Note: Domestic Pressure Drove Rouhani to Make Deal With West 

“Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to under-served communities in more than 50 countries,” the statement added.
“We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba’s allies, to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally.”
Reuters contributed to this story
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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Cuba’s Catholic Church Calls for Accelerated Reforms.

HAVANA — Cuba‘s Catholic Church urged the government Tuesday to move more swiftly on reforming the communist-ruled island’s Soviet-style economy.

“We cannot hope to build a prosperous country and society without prosperous citizens and without opening the doors to financial sources that generate prosperity,” Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archdiocese, wrote in an article published in the church’s “Palabra Nueva” journal.

Cuba has tinkered with pro-market economic change since President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2006.

But playing off the communist regime’s “slowly, but surely” slogan, Marquez said the government needed to move more quickly to stay ahead of demographic trends that show a bulging elderly population and not enough young people to support them.

In 2030, “30 percent of the population will be more than 60 years old,” he said, calling for “the creation of conditions that spur birth and discourage emigration of young people who would be ready to work and invest their capital and know-how in Cuba, including Cuban emigres willing to return.”

“It’s a waste of time to constantly insist on the long-proven ineffectiveness of state control on all production and services,” Marquez said, insisting that “our country’s technological backwardness puts us in a difficult situation in light of our need to join the global economy.”

“Accelerating reforms and generating wealth would be the best way to stop then reverse the deterioration of our society’s two most important sectors: health and education,” Marquez said.

In the absence of a legal opposition, the Catholic Church has emerged over the past three years as the sole organization with the standing to negotiate politically with the Havana government on social and economic issues.

© AFP 2013

Panama to Release NKorea Ship Held for Smuggling Cuban Weapons.

Image: Panama to Release NKorea Ship Held for Smuggling Cuban Weapons

The North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang at Manzanillo harbour in Colon, Panama.

PANAMA CITY — The North Korean crew and ship detained in Panama for smuggling Cuban weapons three months ago will soon be returned to the reclusive Asian nation, Panama’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The crew’s return would mark the end of a bizarre chapter between the three countries that provoked international controversy after the ship was seized in July for smuggling military-style arms under 10,000 tons of sugar.

Repairs to the ship are nearly completed so the crew can sail back in the same vessel, Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez Fabrega told Reuters.

While the U.N. Security Council has yet to decide on penalties against Cuba, given a 7-year-old ban against arms transfers to North Korea due to the country’s nuclear weapons program, the arms will likely be sold or given away, Nunez Fabrega added.

In July, the North Korean crew sabotaged its electrical system and bilge pumps after Panamanian investigators stopped the ship near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal on suspicion it was carrying drugs after leaving Cuba.

The North Korean flagged ship, known as the Chong Chon Gang, will be returned after the vessel’s owner formally signs off on the plan, Nunez Fabrega said.

Panama has issued visas for two North Korean diplomats to arrive shortly and complete the procedure.

Meanwhile, 33 of the 35 crew members, held at a former U.S. army base on charges of threatening Panama’s security, “appear to be ignorant of what was in the cargo,” Nunez Fabrega said.

“As a result, if the Attorney General determines they are not criminally responsible for their actions, they cannot be prosecuted,” he said.

Both the captain, who tried to slit his throat after Panamanian investigators seized the ship, and his deputy consistently refused to give statements during their detention, officials said. As a result, they might still face trial.

The whole crew refused efforts to put them in contact with their families, said Nunez Fabrega.

“Their families in North Korea must think they sunk with the boat,” he said.

After the ship was seized, Havana requested that Panama release it, claiming the vessel carried only the sugar cargo as a donation to the people of North Korea.

But once the arms were discovered beneath the sugar, the Cuban government acknowledged it was sending “obsolete” Soviet-era weapons, including two MiG jets, 15 MiG engines and nine anti-aircraft missiles, to be repaired in North Korea and returned.

An analysis by 38 North, a website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Maryland, found the weapons shipment was larger than Cuba acknowledged and that many of the weapons were in “mint condition”.

The analysis concluded the arms were intended for North Korea’s own use.

Inspections of the equipment show they were “obviously not obsolete” as Cuba maintained, said Nunez Fabrega.

“One of the jets had kerosene in them, showing it was recently used,” he said. “Of the 15 jet engines, 10 were in immaculate condition.”

Since then, Panama has had “zero” communication with Havana, although it made at least four attempts. Havana also canceled a scheduled meeting between government officials from both countries at the United Nations last month.

“It was like talking to a brick wall,” Nunez Fabrega said.

A six-member U.N. team inspected the weapons in August but still seeks answers from Cuba about the shipment to provide a U.N. sanctions committee a full report.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Cardinal Dolan: Pope Francis Has ‘Captured World’s Imagination’.

Catholics attending Sunday services around the globe said they were heartened by Pope Francis’ recent remarks that the church has become too focused on “small-minded rules” on hot-button issues like homosexuality, abortion and contraceptives.

Worshippers applauded what they heard as a message of inclusion from the man who assumed the papacy just six months ago.

“I think he’s spot on,” said Shirley Holzknecht, 77, a retired school principal attending services in Little Rock, Ark. “As Catholic Christians, we do need to be more welcoming.”

In Havana, Cuba, Irene Delgado said the church needs to adapt to modern times.

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The world evolves, and I believe that the Catholic Church is seeing that it is being left behind, and that is not good,” said Delgado, 57. “So I think that they chose this Pope Francis because he is progressive, has to change things.”

Francis, in an interview published Thursday in 16 Jesuit journals worldwide, called the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope’s words were welcome.

“He’s captured the world’s imagination,” Dolan said after Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. “Like Jesus, he’s always saying, ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.'”

But Dolan said Francis’ change in tone didn’t signal a change in doctrine.

“He knows that his highest and most sacred responsibility is to pass on the timeless teaching of the church,” Dolan said. “What he’s saying is, We’ve got to think of a bit more effective way to do it. Because if the church comes off as a scold, it’s counterproductive.”

In Brasilia, Brazil, the capital of the country with the largest Catholic population in the world, 22-year-old student Maria das Gracas Lemos said Francis was “bringing the church up to date.”

She said children of divorced parents used to be barred from some schools in Brazil. “All that has changed. In Brazil, people are no longer rejected because they are divorced,” Lemos said. “The church has to catch up with changes in society, even if it still doesn’t admit divorce.”

In Philadelphia, churchgoer Irene Fedin said priests “should be more focused on helping the person gain a spiritual connection to God instead of just condemning people because of certain actions that they believe are wrong.”

Outside a church in Coral Gables, Fla., Frank Recio said he was grateful that the pope is trying to shift the church’s tone.

“I’m a devout Catholic, always have been. I think the Catholic Church had gotten out of touch with the way the world was evolving,” said Recio, 69, who’s retired from a career in the technology industry.

Recio said he would support changes like allowing priests to marry. “It’s a natural state in life, for men and women to have a partner,” said Recio.

In Boston, Evelyn Martinez, 26, said she agrees with Francis that compassion should be one of the church’s main priorities.

“I don’t believe that someone’s sexuality should keep them away from any religion,” said Martinez, a graduate student at Emerson College who attended Mass on Saturday night.

Jose Baltazar, a 74-year-old vice president of an insurance company and longtime church volunteer in Manila, in the Philippines, said the pope has set his priorities mindful of stark realities.

“We have to give priority in working to bring those who have gone astray back to the fold,” Baltazar said. “We pray for them. Why did they go astray? What’s our shortcoming? What’s the shortcoming of the Catholic Church?”

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© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Miami’s Back, Thanks to Its Mayor and Pro-Growth Policies.

Image: Miami's Back, Thanks to Its Mayor and Pro-Growth Policies

By Andrea Billups and John Bachman

Less than a decade ago, Miami’s inner city was mangy. The tropical city could have become the next Detroit.

When businesses, law firms, and government offices downtown closed, few people remained in its seedy core, fleeing to suburban Miami-Dade and Broward counties for their gated, manicured subdivisions and soccer fields, or to the glamorous nightlife across the causeway in sleek South Beach.

But that’s all changed. Miami is booming again. Construction cranes dot the skyline as a new wave of baby boomers, international residents, and businesses converge on the city.

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Call it the tale of two cities: Detroit sought to fix its urban blight with high taxes, heavy regulation, and big salaries and pensions for government employees.

Much of the credit for the transformation of Miami falls to the city’s mayor, Tomas Regalado, who decided to take his city on the opposite path, one of lower taxes and economic growth.

Regalado, a Republican born in Havana, Cuba, was elected mayor in 2009 and soon after, set out on an ambitious path of improving city finances, cutting taxes, and welcoming new businesses with a regulation overhaul.

He is running for re-election this November.

“This coming budget, we are proposing to reduce taxes, maintain the level of services, and hire more police officers. Why? Because property values are coming back,” Regalado told Newsmax TV.

After forcing concessions from city workers, there is room in the budget for tax cuts, he said. And following a series of lawsuits from public unions that ended in the city’s favor, Regalado was also able to trim Miami’s budget without eliminating jobs.

City employees making more than $40,000 saw salary cuts, but those earning less did not have to share the pain. The plan kept all city workers employed as the city implemented tough reforms.

“I didn’t want to kill a city to save a government,” Regalado said, defending his choices, which included slicing his own salary by 36 percent.

“We broke all the contracts with the union, created [new] contracts with salary reductions, and capped the pensions at $100,000, because in the city of Miami, you had [young] people retiring with $150,000, $140,000 per year for life. [In Miami] … firefighters and police officers retired young,” Regalado, a former broadcast journalist, says of the bitter fight and lawsuit he weathered.

He said topping pensions at $100,000 helped to “reduce the deficit and taxes. The reason I proposed to reduce taxes was because the foreclosures were affecting Miami. Miami was ground zero,” Regalado said.

“I thought that by reducing taxes, you would bring new investment into the city of Miami and it happened. People are moving back. The message is very clear: You reduce taxes, people will come because it’s a good investment.”

Regalado also cited tax enterprise zones and Business Improvement Districts — where business people in a geographic area tax themselves and decide which projects to fund — as programs that helped turn the city around.

Today, the city once known for its “vice” in a hit TV show now reflects Regalado’s opportunistic message: chic high-rise condos, an emerging crop of world-class restaurants, high-end hotels, a growing expanse of luxury retail stores, and a burgeoning cultural scene.

“I’ve been in this position for five years now. When I first got here, the condos were 62 percent occupied,” says Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority. “We are at 95 to 97 percent occupancy now.”

The inner city, she adds, has become “its own destination,” making it an easier sales pitch for civic leaders seeking jobs for the city beyond those created by a service and tourism industry.

The city vigorously courted financial services companies from New York and Connecticut, tech industry jobs for the city’s South American Internet hub, and art groups seeking a friendly home.

“By the year 2025, we envision in our master plan a very vibrant, culturally diverse, walkable, livable downtown,” Robertson said.

After being hit hard by a foreclosure crisis that still lingers — about 41 percent of mortgages are still underwater in the Miami-Dade County region — real-estate experts say trendy areas like Miami Beach and Regalado’s downtown are flourishing with housing prices reaching levels last seen during the 2000 boom. Miami Beach is a separate municipality from the city of Miami.

The Miami arts scene is also in full tilt. In November, the world-class Perez Art Museum is set to open its doors alongside the premier Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

Other chic construction projects in the works for the Downtown-Biscayne corridor include an architecturally spectacular convention center and Marriott hotel with 1,800 rooms on the site of the old Miami Arena, adding to a changing landscape that also includes the elegant Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the state’s largest facility of its kind.

Miami still has its share of urban problems such as homelessness, income inequity and, according to National Science Foundation data, the lowest science and engineering workforce for major cities in the nation.

But a coalition of business and education leaders is focused on changing that.

“I think there is a renewed spark of energy and it is palpable in this community,” says Robin Reiter, the interim president of Miami’s The Beacon Council, a public-private nonprofit organization that helps increase economic development and facilitates job creation.

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“I think you see it in the day life as well as the nightlife. I think you see it in the vibrancy of all our downtown communities,” Reiter said. Other Miami-Dade County cities like Aventura, Coral Gables and South Miami have their own booming downtown areas.

“I think the real estate market is recovering,” Reiter adds. “The pendulum here swings once again. The price of housing is going up. There is a thrust to build more rental units to accommodate those who don’t want home ownership … Yes, we’re still seeing a high level of homes in foreclosure, but we’re seeing them move off the market very quickly.”

Broader international interest in Miami is also heating up the market, Reiter says.

“We have folks from all over the world buying property here,” she said, noting that delegations from China and Taiwan have recently visited to examine possibilities in the area.

“We have a huge influx of businesses from across the globe who view Miami as the gateway to the Americas and as such, our business is booming,” said Reiter.

Reiter points to the metro area’s thriving Miami International Airport and its bustling seaport and cruise ships as crucial economic touchstones that are driving growth.

“There isn’t a locale around the world that anyone can travel to and from that, you can’t get to and out of Miami with great ease. That has been a tremendous bonus.”

Seth Gordon, who runs Seth Gordon Initiatives, which advises global businesses on how to become productive in Miami, praises new inner-city projects as giving the area “a heartbeat.”

When he moved to Miami in the 1970s, the city “had no life, no pulse.” Now restaurants and businesses are leaving the beaches for the Brickell Avenue corridor, where the new energy is pushing development.

“It’s become like a horse race to see how quickly you can buy up empty lots and fill them with very expensive buildings,” he said of the growth.

The area’s international cache, Gordon adds, is growing. “You see people from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and also Russia, even New York. A lot of them don’t live here year-round, but this is one of their homes. They just want to have a place here,” and are willing to spend $2 million to $3 million on a pricey vacation spot.

For the wealthy, “it’s become one of their checkpoints,” Gordon observes.

But the challenge remains on how to create an economy that supports jobs for those who aren’t ultra-wealthy.

In terms of space, even as the city center explodes, Gordon said, “we’ve got another 95 percent of the county not exploited or built out yet: inland. We’ve got room to do whatever we want to do if people ever want to do it.”

Gordon adds, “There’s a huge opportunity for expansion, maturity and for growth — and all that comes with that. The last 10 years have been a good peek into the future of just what we can do. We’re on the right track now. We just have to keep doing more.”

Regalado Makes Case for Second Term

In the interview with Newsmax TV’s John Bachman, Mayor Regalado makes a strong case for re-election on Nov. 5, saying he helped bring the city back from a feared fiscal collapse.

“Miami is the poster child of what happens if you reduce taxes, reduce expenses, if you live like any other family in the United States,” says Regalado. “In bad times, you don’t spend what you don’t earn. In good times, you only spend what you have.”

“People will understand that this is the model for any city,” he says.

Story continues below video.

Regalado has done what many of the nation’s other big-city mayors have not had the courage to do: push back against costly union deals to stave off fiscal collapse and create a business climate favorable to private investment.

“I know that politicians always, always are really scared of unions because the unions do have great power, political power. They have the resources to go out and help you or hurt you,” Regalado says.

After a market boom from 2004 to 2006, property values were hot in the tropical mecca. But by 2008, the bottom dropped out of the housing market and foreclosures skyrocketed, leaving revenues sagging and city leaders searching for new ways to close the gap.

“The combination of having a lot of unemployed people, property values going down — which is [lost] taxes — and the fact that we overspent by giving unions huge increases in 2007 made us almost bankrupt,” said Regalado, describing the situation he says he inherited when he took office in 2009.

Regalado says Miami wasn’t fully into a fiscal emergency like Detroit, but the city was headed on a road to “fiscal urgency.” Thus, his need to make some difficult choices put him at odds with police and firefighters, whose union pension costs were cutting large slices of city funds.

Regalado said the growing pains of Miami can be an example to cities like Chicago, where mayors must wage similar union fights over pension and healthcare costs after years of fiscal malfeasance and high taxes.

“They only need the courage to do it,” Regalado tells Newsmax. “I know it’s difficult to fight unions. And in my case, I became persona non grata with the unions.”

ObamacareMassive New Rules Revealed for 2013

Regalado said winning the battle with the unions was the key to the city being able to stave off a tax increase, instead allowing for tax cuts.

“We would have made people leave Miami because of high taxes. And I thought that by reducing taxes, you would bring new investment into the city of Miami and it happened,” Regalado said. “The idea that you have to increase taxes to keep services is wrong.”

Such successful reforms will likely bolster the political future of Regalado, who until late August faced a serious challenge in his re-election bid from Francis Suarez, who was well-financed but dropped out of the race amid a series of miscues by his staff. He said the campaign was creating too much stress on his pregnant wife.

In his own life, Regalado was married for 37 years to Raquel Ferreiro, who died in 2008. He is the father of three and the grandfather of four, and lives in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Regalado said that when he was elected mayor in 2009, “[it] was the worst economic time for the United States and for the city of Miami, especially.”

“Unemployment was like 13 percent,” Regalado said. “The construction boom had ended but we had 20,520 empty condo units in the downtown corridor, which is five, six miles. All these buildings, they were empty.”

Regalado recalled “at the time, you looked at the skyline at downtown at night and it was dark. Today we have 98 percent occupation. People are buying, people are renting, people are moving back, and that has helped the revival of downtown.”

With new restaurants in places far from South Beach, many are reconnecting with the new lively downtown area.

Regalado praised the growth in other areas of the city as well. In Overtown, once the site of riots, a new wing of the University of Miami has brought an improved landscape and 500 new jobs.

“They’re doing medical research, [with] doctors that specialize in care,” Regalado said.

In Wynwood, the center of the city’s arts district renewal, technology has been invited as an emerging partner to bolster the growth.

“We have a lot of technology companies in old warehouses that house hundreds of small companies … Technology, it is the future of Miami,” he said.

Soon, search engine powerhouse Google will announce a partnership with the city’s parks, he said. “We believe that if we train children after school in programming and in computers, more companies will come to Miami,” Regalado says.

Tourism and the potential of new citizens and foreign investors are an important part of the success equation, Regalado added.

“We have more than 20 flights a day from Miami direct to Europe directly feeding tourism, but there are [also] a lot of business people coming to invest here,” he said.

He said the city has applied to the Department of Homeland Security to be “certified as an investor visa regional center,” where a foreign national who invests $1 million in certain businesses can obtain for themselves and some family members a “permanent green card if they create 10 jobs.”

Tax enterprise zones and a healthy Business Improvement District also have played a role in allowing private enterprise drive the economy of the city, Regalado says.

“They decide how to spend that money, either in lighting, more police presence, or in infrastructure, and it’s working spectacularly because the fact is, these people know better,” Regalado said. “Usually government doesn’t know better.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Cuban Bishops Call for Political Reform.

Jose Felix Perez
Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference, speaks to reporters in Havana. (Reuters/Desmond Boylan)

Cuba’s Roman Catholic church leadership in a letter to parishioners called on the communist-run country’s leaders to “update” the political system to allow more freedom similar to liberalization undertaken in the economy.

The statement by the Cuban Bishops Conference, presented to the press on Monday and read in churches on Sunday, praised “incipient” reforms such as allowing small private businesses, more freedom to travel and buy personal property and the release of political prisoners, while at the same time urging a broader economic and political opening.

“We believe an updating of national legislation of a political nature is indispensable, as has been occurring in the economic realm,” the bishops said in their letter.

“Cuba is called upon to be a plural society … There must be a right to diversity in terms of thought, creativity and the search for truth,” the statement added, without explicitly demanding a multiparty system and the restoration of capitalism.

The statement was by far the strongest issued by the Cuban Roman Catholic Church since Cardinal Jaime Ortega began a dialogue with Castro in 2010, which lead to the release of 115 political prisoners and its support for his reforms.

The Church issues such letters a few times a year.

Raul Castro, since replacing his ailing brother Fidel as president in 2008, has embarked on the most significant reform of the Soviet-style system since the 1959 revolution, even while insisting the country’s one-party political system was untouchable.

Last year former Pope Benedict said communism had failed in Cuba and offered the Church’s help in creating a new economic model, drawing a reserved response from the Cuban government ahead of an official visit to the island.

The latest statement was delivered to the government before being read out in Cuban churches, Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference, told the media.

“The letter was read with the same spirit it was written … constructively. With the desire for the improvement of peoples’ lives,” he said.

Cubans have expressed increasing frustration with the slow pace of reform and are emigrating in record numbers. Some have begun openly to question the political system through various Internet pages, a few connected to the Church.

“I want to elect the president through direct vote, and not another way,” musician Robertico Carcasses said last week as he improvised a verse during a televised concert.

Carcasses and his jazz-fusion band were quickly sanctioned for the outburst, in which he also called for freedom of information while condemning U.S. sanctions.

Call for Reconciliation
Since 2010 the Church has had more freedom to engage in public activities such as staging religious processions and offering adult education classes, as well as enjoying occasional coverage by official media.

Negotiations with the state over such issues as the return of confiscated property, the building of new churches and the opening of catholic schools, are ongoing, according to Church sources.

The bishops said that U.S. sanctions on Cuba and the more than half century of hostile relations between the two countries had “profoundly” affected Cubans’ lives.

The letter quoted remarks by Pope John Paul II during a 1998 visit. “The forced isolation impacts the population indiscriminately … The measures imposed from outside on the country are unjust and ethically unacceptable,” the letter quoted the pope as stating.



Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

 © 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

US, Cuba Talk About Resuming Direct Mail Service.

HAVANA — The United States and Cuba concluded on Monday their second round of talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service between the two countries after a 50-year ban, but left for later the most sensitive issue — Cuban planes landing on U.S. soil.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry said both sides had agreed to continue the talks in the near future and that it had emphasized, “working out the transportation of mail by regular direct routes in both directions,” was key to their successful conclusion.

The State Department said something very similar in a statement: “The goal of the talks is for the United States and Cuba to work out the details for a pilot program to directly transport mail between the two countries.”

Cuba said talks between the postal services of the two countries took place “in a respectful manner,” and the U.S. Interests Section said U.S. officials “described the discussions as fruitful.”

The U.S. delegation, led by U.S. postal service executive director for international postal services, Lea Emerson, was to tour Cuban mail facilities on Tuesday, the U.S. Interests Section said.

The two countries do not have diplomatic relations, but maintain lower-level missions in each other’s capitals.

Direct mail service between the United States and Cuba has been suspended since 1963. Despite the ban, letters and other mail still flow between the United States and the island nation 90 miles away through other countries, such as Canada, Mexico, and Panama.

Relations between the two countries have been frozen since soon after Cuba’s 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, and Washington has maintained economic sanctions on Cuba for more than half a century.

Monday’s talks took place amid a few signs the Obama administration and President Raul Castro have not completely given up on some improvement in the two countries’ hostile standoff.

Former British ambassador to Cuba, Paul Webster Hare, who lectures on international relations at Boston University, said Cuba’s decision not to allow fugitive former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden to fly from Russia to Cuba on the way to exile in Latin America, was significant.

“The Cubans recognized that for any prospect of better relations they needed to avoid more long-term irritants,” he said.


Obama restarted immigration and postal talks with Cuba in 2009, both were suspended by the Bush administration in 2004.

The separate talks were also seen at the time as a sign of further thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations under Obama, who had earlier relaxed restrictions on remittances and travel to the island for Cuban Americans.

Both the postal talks and immigration talks were suspended again soon after the arrest in December 2009 of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, sentenced in 2011 to 15 years for his role in setting up an underground Internet network in the communist-run country.

Cuba has hinted at a possible swap of Gross for four Cuban agents arrested 15 years ago and still being held in the United States on espionage convictions.

Cuba allowed a U.S. doctor to visit Gross in August, something it had refused to do in the past.

A significant improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations must include the release of Gross and the Cuban agents, according to some analysts, while others said progress on secondary issues could lead to more significant change.

“Their release may ultimately come from a process of improving relations between Cuba and the U.S., where both nations engage in a progressive tit for tat,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban American businessman who advocates engagement with Havana and heads the Cuba Study Group.

“Politically it is easier to conceive of their release as a consequence of a process than as the trigger,” he said.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Echoes Of The Syrian Conflict By Clement Chigbo.

By Clement Chigbo

The recent escalation of the fratricidal conflict in Syria has heightened security concerns in an already highly polarised and volatile region with the potential of a region-wide conflagration staring in the face of the international community with its far reaching consequences. Matters came to assume a more dangerous dimension in the more than two and a half years Syrian conflict when it was alleged that chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian military against the opposition forces in the outskirts of a Damascus suburb killing over one thousand people. While we do not wish to take sides in the conflict and genuinely wish to see a speedy resolution and an end to this internecine, fratricidal bloodbath, our objective in this article is to look at the issues involved and proffer our suggestions in the interest of peace in Syria and in the wider Middle East region.
It was against the backdrop of the foregoing that the United States, Britain, France, Turkey and some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc. have been calling for military  intervention against Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people in the suburb of Damascus so far described as “opposition held areas”. The perplexing thing about this allegation was that while the UN investigating mission had not even stepped their foot into Syria, it was being vociferously argued by the US and some of her allies that the Syrian military was responsible for this dastardly and sinister atrocity perpetrated against civilians in Syria. We find this approach of blaming one side to the conflict for the atrocious use of these banned weapons even before the UN investigating mission had completed their assignment ‘spurious’ and ‘discombobulating’.  We do not understand how and why the officials of the US government were saying that the mission of the UN inspectors was not to determine who used chemical weapons in Syria but whether such weapons were actually used thereby blaming the Syrian government for the alleged chemical weapons use in that conflict.

The US President, Barak Obama, who in recent months has started to exhibit incoherence and equivocation in his foreign policy was almost on the brink of launching a ‘punitive and deterrent attack’ against Syria, when he suddenly changed gear and decided to seek congressional authorization before embarking on his military intervention in Syria.  This must have been informed by the unexpected and disgraceful defeat suffered by his counterpart, David Cameron in the United Kingdom whose parliament strongly opposed the use of British military against Syria without clear and sufficient proof/or evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria and that it was used by the Syrian military. The British parliament would have recalled the tendentious and specious misinformation furnished to them a few years ago against the erstwhile President Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which led to the invasion of that country.

The rest of the story is well known to observers of international affairs when the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) were no-where to be found in Iraq. This writer, then a columnist with the Bahama Journal, a leading newspaper in the Bahamas, recalls interviewing the then British Ambassador to the Bahamas during that crisis and how he provided this writer with what he referred to as ‘the dossier against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq’.  The writer also recalls that he (i.e. the writer) doubted the veracity of that dossier against Iraq. As a member of the international peace movement and a freelance columnist in the Bahamas, this writer went to the Iraqi Embassy in Havana, Cuba where he strongly advised the Iraqi government through their diplomatic missions in Havana, Cuba to allow the inspectors to complete their work and not to give the so-called international community a pretext to attack Iraq which we feared will lead to many casualties in the event of war. Although our efforts to avert that avoidable war ended in fiasco, we were pleased to do our best in the interest of world peace and the need to avoid civilian casualties as inevitable consequences of war.

Recently, the potential for escalation of the conflict seemed to be looming over the horizon in Syria and plausibly in the wider Middle East region.  Thanks to the robust and pragmatic proposal by Russia, which requires the removal and placing of Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and which has been broadly welcomed by the international community, which we believe will avert military intervention if pursued and implemented with good faith by all the parties involved.

Prior to this latest proposal, US President Barak Obama was seeking the US Congressional approval before embarking on his intended ‘punitive’ and ‘deterrent’ military strikes on Syria. President Obama was overtly led to this route apparently owing to the fact that some few weeks ago, some members of the US Congress sent letters to him insinuating that under the US Constitution he is required to obtain congressional approval before beginning a military attack on Syria. The letter drafted by Congressman Scott Rigel had 140 signatures, 119 Republicans and 21 Democrats. We gathered that Congress-woman Barbara Lee also circulated a letter that had 53 signatories that called on the US president to seek congressional approval.  President Obama was seeking such congressional approval before military intervention in Syria when the Russian President, Vladmir Putin, changed the entire dynamics of the issue by his ingenuous proposal to give responsibility of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons to international control. This Russian proposal is also viewed by many as ‘saving President Obama from what no doubt would have been humiliation’ in the event of obvious failure by the US Congress to accede to his request to use the US military against Syria.

The Rigel letter ominously warned President Barak Obama that engaging in military action “would violate the Separation of Powers Clause that is ‘well entrenched’ in the Constitution.” The letter also noted that the justification for war in Libya also violated the Constitution.  The Lee letter warned that “we all swore to uphold and defend” the Constitution; and that we should not engage in an “unwise war – especially without adhering to our own Constitutional requirements.”   In their concluding paragraph they warn “Before weighing the use of military force, Congress must fully debate and consider the facts and every alternative . . .”.

President Obama, who in recent times seems to be losing his ‘once, well-noted acute sense of coherence and articulation’, knows full well the limits of his powers.  In fact, if there is an impeachment proceeding against him, his own words will be quoted.  We vividly recall that when he was running for president, the then senator Barak Obama told the Boston Globe that: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”  Suffice it to say that today the US is not under actual or imminent threat from Syria.

Vice President Biden, in the same vein, in a 2007 campaign event in Iowa, even went further not only stating clearly that the president does not have unilateral power to conduct military attacks, but actually threatening impeachment of erstwhile President George Bush Jnr. if he did so.  How times have suddenly changed.

The anti-war segment in the US has been calling on President Obama to exercise restraint and enhanced circumspection in dealing with the Syrian conflict in view of the volatile nature of the conflict and in the light of the experience of Afghanistan and Iraq where the US policy has not really achieved the desirable success.

It is indeed heart gladdening that the Russians have now come to the rescue of the US president from what would have been his Waterloo by coming up with this new proposal. The entire region would have slithered into an all-out war if the US had attacked Syria the way the right wing war mongers wanted President Barak Obama to act. The President who is presently not enjoying good will and popular support among some segment of the American people for whatever reasons would have blundered into the hands of his adversaries and faced possible impeachment proceedings against him.

The impeachment argument can be casuistically made that if President Obama had launched an attack without prior explicit authorization by Congress, he would have committed an offense worthy of impeachment.  If impeachment proceedings are held all of the doubts about the war will come out.  People in the military have protected themselves by telling President Obama that they have serious doubts about a military attack.  They have warned President Obama about potential blowback and that misusing the military to send a message with no clear strategy has the potential of drawing the US into a cauldron of cataclysmic vortex of a vexing and enervating war when they are already burdened by a complicated withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some have used words like “potentially devastating consequences” and an “uncontrollable regional conflagration”.  Reportedly, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has warned in great detail about the risks and pitfalls of US military intervention in Syria, warning “deeper involvement is hard to avoid”.

If the war goes wrong, and wars almost always go wrong, President Obama will see the memoranda of various members of the military who warned him.  In this day and age, war or use of force is no longer the veritable means of resolving conflicts and whenever any crisis arises, all options and alternatives must be vigorously and conscientiously explored and pursued before the thought of war is entertained. The era of state braggadocio in international affairs has hopefully become anachronistic and fallen into desuetude.

Again, military intervention in Syria is ominously fraught with unimaginable dangerous consequences. One might at this juncture ask the question, what could have gone wrong in the circumstances, if not for the Russian initiative?  Syria is a complex case in the region. It has the Hezbollah and Iran and it is a client state. It is also seen by many in the Arab world and the Middle East as the bulwark against ‘zionist’ Israel and the “only country that has stood and remains standing against the ‘zionist’ enemy”. Syria has the ability to defend itself and attack US military vessels and even allies in the region.  Iran and Russia have already indicated they will be drawn into the conflict.  Threats of retaliation were already being made and troop movements were occurring.  Russia was moving two additional naval ships, a missile cruiser and a large anti-submarine vessel, into the Mediterranean to strengthen its presence in case of a US attack when they offered the new proposal which, hopefully, has introduced a new momentum of the likely possibility to avoid escalation of the conflict in Syria.

Russia and Saudi Arabia have truculently recriminated and exchanged threats over Syria.  Russia is threatening an attack on Saudi Arabia if the US attacks Syria with President Putin ordering a “massive military strike” against Saudi Arabia in the event that the West attacks Syria.  Saudi Arabia is threatening Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia at the up-coming Winter Olympics in Russia.  Iran, Syria and Lebanon-based Shiite militant group, Hezbollah have vehemently threatened to retaliate against Israel and other US allies in the Middle East in the event of a US attack on Syria. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, told the Tasnim news website, that an attack on Syria “means the immediate destruction of Israel”.

President Barak Obama could have been starting a much larger war than he realizes and doing so without UN approval would render him more vulnerable to his enemies in the US and possibly open a tinder box in the Middle East region if not for this auspicious Russian proposal.

On another note, nobody knows with sufficient certainty which party in the conflict actually used the alleged chemical weapons in Syria. It is not impossible that the Syrian opposition could have contrived and fabricated this chemical weapons attack to draw the international community into the conflict which they believe will alter the course of the war in their favour. Factually speaking, there are a lot of gaps in the so-called intelligence community report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, including who ordered the use of chemical weapons and where those chemical weapons are now. An objective observer of international affairs might be legitimately concerned with the apposite question:  why would the Syrian government use chemical weapons against the opposition forces when the war is going in their favour?

Why would the Syrian government at this time risk the ire and inevitable reaction of the international community?  President Obama and his allies have provided no evidence to support their claim that the chemical weapons came from President Bashar Al Assad. In addition, people who turn off the corporate media and think about the situation realize that the claim that President Bashar Al Assad used chemical weapons makes no sense from President Assad’s point of view.  The Syrian government has vociferously denied any use of such chemical weapons.  As previously adumbrated, President Bashar Al Assad has been defeating the Opposition forces and so why would he take an action that would give the US an excuse to enter the war against him?

Some analysts are of the opinion that the United States is acting based on Israeli intelligence that supposedly intercepted communications in Syria. But we have also heard of German Intelligence intercepts in which some Syrian commanders were alleged to have sought authorization to use chemical weapons and such authorization was denied by President Bashar Al Assad and the Syrian High Command.  It should be noted that Israel is not a party to the Syrian conflict and Israel and Syria are bitter rivals and implacable foes and as such the supposedly intercepted communications on Syria by Israel can hardly command objectivity and reliability to say the least!  Israel has every reason to blame President Assad’s regime for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  How then can we trust a government that has its own conflicts with Syria over the Golan Heights and a government that has wanted President Assad replaced for a long time?  Given that Israel has its own agenda, one may objectively ask the question whether in the circumstances Israel should be trusted here?  What is the Obama administration doing to investigate the reports in some quarters that, in fact, it was Saudi Arabia that provided the chemical weapons which were used to the Syrian opposition forces?

Thankfully, all these questions and concerns are seemingly no longer relevant now. Not only has Britain backed out but Egypt has said the Suez Canal can’t be used, and Jordan has said their land can’t be used. Algeria and Iraq are not supporting intervention in the context.  What we need now is to ensure that the framework for the Russian proposal is clearly and succinctly worked out with pellucid clarity and detailed conciseness to avoid any equivocation and obfuscation in its implementation and above all, good faith on the part of all the parties involved in the conflict.  We urge the authorities in Damascus to make full and frank disclosure of all their stockpiles and allow unhindered, expeditious destruction and stringent verification of their chemical weapons stockpiles so that the US will not have any pretext to seek to trigger Article 42 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides that “Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.  Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations”.  Above all, we urge the international community to proceed with expedition and promptitude towards revitalizing the Geneva 11 negotiation so as to bring a speedy end to the conflict in Syria.  All efforts should be made to ameliorate the plight of the Syrian people and to bring the war to an end.  This is where the international community can assert itself fully within the framework of international legitimacy.

Clement Chigbo was former UK country manager African Views Organisation (AVO) and presently serves as   legal adviser, Global, African Views Organisation.  E-mail:

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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