Cuba’s Soccer Fans Ready for the World Cup

Cuba will be one of the more than a hundred countries that won’t have its national soccer team playing in the World Cup in Russia, but that won’t stop soccer fever from taking over the island’s sports enthusiasts.

Traditionally, Cuban fans mostly choose to support Argentina and Brazil, because of the Latin blood they share apparently, but over time support grows for the teams of Germany and Spain, who have done well in previous events, as well as France and Holland, although Holland didn’t qualify for the Russian competition.

Fans of the different teams form groups to come together and cheer their squad as already happens with the different teams in the other national and continental soccer leagues. When the World Cup comes along you can see special initiatives to enjoy the matches.

This weekend, official Real Madrid and Barcelona clubs in Havana played a friendly game at the Eduardo Saborit sports center, to make it clear that even though they support different teams, there’s no bitterness between them. It was also a mixed affair as each team had to sign up one woman to their team.

Anyway, getting back to the World Cup… some places in Havana have already advertised to fans to come and enjoy their favorite team’s matches there; for example, restaurants 1830 and La Chorrera, whose managers are fans of the German team are planning to gather all their fans together there. Restaurant 1830 also has the German Embassy in Havana for support and will be the kind of “official” for their fans.

Tony, a Bayern Munich and German football fan, told us that he won’t miss one of the matches. “I go to 1830 a lot to watch Bayern matches throughout the year, especially on the weekend because of work. Now, I’ll also try to go every time Germany plays, if work allows me to. A group of people that we’ve all known for some time meet up there and we really enjoy the games.”

Meanwhile, another Bavarian supporter, Alfredo, told us a little bit about his expectations. “Germany hasn’t been playing very well in the lead up friendly matches up until now, but that’s because they’ve been up against big teams and they’ve played with a lot of different line-ups. When the World Cup starts, things will be different and I predict that they’ll finish first in their group. Afterwards, in the knockout stage, everyone knows that it’s very hard to beat them, so I think they can be the champions again.”

Raulito, an Argentina fan, has a very different opinion: “This World Cup belongs to (Lionel) Messi. It’s about time that Argentina won a tournament. It was really close to winning in another World Cup and in the Copa Americas, so I think it’s time has come. Messi needs the team to keep up with him more because he can’t do it all on his own.”

“This is a never-ending story, my brother,” Alfredo tells him. “It’s time you look for another team. Those Argentinians don’t have what it takes to win. When it counts, their legs get soft and nobody scores. That (Gonzalo) Higuain needs his head checked: he misses the easiest goals when it’s the final, and the same thing happens in the Champions League, both when he was at Real Madrid and now at Juventus.”

“I believe that Argentina is considered a favorite just because of Messi,” Alejandro says. “Because the truth is that as a team they aren’t that extraordinary. They at least need to put (Paulo) Dybala on the field and put aside that foolishness that he can’t play alongside Messi, because if they don’t, Argentina won’t go anywhere.”

“Forget about Argentina,” Ulises interrupts. “This World Cup is Brazil’s and the Golden Boot award is Neymar’s (da Silva). No other team has the Brazilians’ skill and they have been unbeatable for a while now, ever since Dunga was let go as trainer because they weren’t going to go anywhere with him. Neymar definitely doesn’t get rattled when the time comes and I’m sure he’ll be a champion with this team. Plus, they’re coming back with a vengeance after they lost in 2014, so I don’t think they will lose.”

“It’s true, Brazil is good,” Julita says, “but don’t forget Spain, who are also making their mark in the friendlies and kicked Italy out in the qualifiers. This team is also very good, with star players playing nearly every position. What they need is for Diego Costa to score goals with Spain like he does when he plays for Atletico, because if he did there’s no one who could beat the Spanish.”

“Guys,” Abelito says, “don’t forget about France. If we take a look at each and every player, I think they are one of the best bets and they have also really stood out in the exhibition matches, in spite of the line-up having been changed quite a lot.”

“But, it’s the same with France like it is with Argentina,” Alejandro cuts back. “If they weren’t able to win the UEFA European Championship at home, against Portugal which isn’t a particularly great team, and they didn’t even have Cristiano Ronaldo playing that day, then do you really think they can win the World Cup?

In my opinion, that (Antoine) Griezmann is a lot like Higuain, when the game gets critical, he gets nervous and they can’t win the World Cup like that.”

This improvised group didn’t end up agreeing, like what normally happens, and they each passionately bet on their own teams, just like they used to when they discussed baseball in the old days. We will see who’s right as time goes on, or there might even be a surprise and an unexpected team makes it all the way. In this sport, you never know…

  • Published in Sports

Spain: Mariano Rajoy Ousted as Prime Minister After No-Confidence Vote

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been forced out of office after a no-confidence vote was passed in the country's parliament.

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, who lead the motion after Rajoy's party was implicated in a corruption scandal, is likely to become prime minister.

Rajoy is the first prime minister in modern Spanish history to be defeated in a no-confidence motion.

The vote is the second advanced by Sanchez against Rajoy in a year.

The motion received the support of six parties, including the progressive bloc of Podemos, the Basque Nationalist Party, the Catalan European Democratic Party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, and United Left, among others.

During the debate Thursday, members of these parties demanded Sanchez ensures a national discussion on self-governance and pro-independence movements, respect civil liberties, and policies to protect Spain's welfare system and repeal neoliberal reforms.

Despite repeated calls by Sanchez for Rajoy to resign, Rajoy announced Thursday he would not step down. However, Rajoy conceded defeat before the no-confidence vote according to Reuters, telling according to  deputies: "Mr Sanchez will be the head of the government and let me be the first to congratulate him."

The Basque Nationalist Party, whose five seats were crucial for Sanchez securing enough parliamentary backing, withdrew support from Rajoy after dozens of people linked to his center-right People's Party (PP) were sentenced to decades in jail in a corruption trial.

Sanchez, who is expected to be sworn in by Monday and appoint his cabinet next week, has promised to start talks with the Catalans but said he would not give them an independence referendum.

  • Published in World

Spain: Over 500 African Migrants Rescued in the Mediterranean

About 300 individuals were picked up on nine boats on Saturday while another 250 were rescued from eight vessels on Sunday.

More than 500 migrants were rescued by Spanish authorities, in the Mediterranean, over a two-day period, from 17 boats – three of which eventually sank. According to Reuters, the migrants hailed from North and sub-Saharan African countries.

RELATED: Brazil Fishermen Rescue African, Guyanese Asylum-Seekers

About 300 individuals were picked up on nine boats on Saturday and another 250 were rescued from eight vessels on Sunday. Last August, Spanish authorities came to the aid of 593 people – including 35 children and a baby – traveling on 15 small paddle boats in one day.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that Spain appears to be facing “another very challenging year” regarding helping and protecting migrants.

“This situation requires urgent measures from the central government, which needs to coordinate with the relevant ministries as well as the Guardia Civil border police, the maritime rescue service, the police and NGOs,” Maria Jesus Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said.

“The solution to irregular immigration is necessarily a matter of creating opportunities in countries of origin and working to improve the paths of legal migration,” a spokesman for the interior ministry had explained in January.

The number of people crossing into Spain, from North Africa, has increased significantly in recent years while arrivals to Italy and Greece via Libya have dropped. At least 19,000 people arrived in Spain in 2017 – a 182 percent increase on the previous year.

International Organization for Migration, 6,872 people have been rescued – and 218 other died – while trying to enter Spain, by sea, since the year began.

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Cuba, Spain Express Willingness to Strengthen Cooperation

The governments of Cuba and Spain today expressed their willingness to strengthen cooperation, during a meeting between the Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas, and the Spanish Secretary of State, Fernando Garcia.

According to official sources, the meeting took place in the context of the 37th session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), hosted by this capital from May 7 to 11, a forum in which Garcia presides at the Spanish delegation.

During the exchange of criteria, the also Cuban Minister of Economy and Planning pointed out the good state of bilateral relations to the Spanish Secretary for International Cooperation and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean.

It is expected that both nations begin a new stage of collaboration with the negotiation, signature and entry into force of the new Country Partnership Framework, a tool that will establish the basis for the development of their cooperation over the next four years.

Spain is one of the largest partners of Cuba in the commercial and business areas, and one of the main countries with which the island works international cooperation.

  • Published in Cuba

Mariano Rajoy Congratulates New Cuban President

The head of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, today congratulated the recently appointed Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, whom he wished success in his new responsibility, and highlighted the relations between the two countries.

In a telegram sent to Diaz-Canel, Rajoy conveyed his 'most sincere congratulations and wishes to succeed' in his assumption to 'the highest post in the Republic of Cuba', in reference to his designation as the head of the Councils of States and of Ministers.

'Cuba occupies a special place for Spaniards: we are two brother countries, members of the same big Ibero-American family, united by strong historic ties and friendship,' the Spanish president noted.

In addition, he underlined that the Cuban people can always count on a sincere and loyal friend in the Spanish people. 'I expect that in this new stage that opens, Cuba succeeds in overcoming the challenges that it faces and achieves the prosperity, peace and well-being that we wish it so much,' concluded the text, published by the Palace of La Moncloa, the venue of the Spanish Executive.

Diaz-Canel was elected the Cuban president last Thursday, at a session of the People's Power National Assembly (Parliament).

  • Published in Cuba

More Than 150 Spanish Companies Attend FIHAV 2017

Havana, Nov 1 (Prensa Latina) More than 150 Spanish companies are exhibiting their products and services at the 35th Havana International Fair, FIHAV 2017, which takes place since Monday at ExpoCuba fairgrounds, in this capital, a source from that European country reported today.

The economic advisor at the Spanish embassy in Cuba, Federico Ferrer, told Prensa Latina that the ties between the two nations are very strong, in which some 400 companies of that Iberian nation are settled in this island.

He stressed that Spain has five of 25 pavilions of ExpoCuba -the largest Cuban exhibition site-, which is the most represented country, with a 20 percent.

According to the official, bilateral trade in 2016 exceeded 900 million Euros, and a fifth of that figure corresponded to Cuban exports to Spain, consisting of tobacco, rum, nickel and other metal products and traditional goods.

With regard to trade from Spain to Cuba, which favors the European country, it supplies food, machinery, special tools, water treatment machines, supply for hotels, among others.

Cuba is a very important country for Spain and our businessmen are comfortable on this island, where they are present in many sectors, Ferrer said.

Spain is Cuba's fourth commercial partner, after Venezuela, China and Russia.

The Day of Spain at FIHAV 2017 is celebrated today, occasion in which the pavilions of that nation will be opened, on occasion of the official visit to Cuba by Secretary of State for Commerce of that nation, Maria Luisa Poncela Garcia, to participate in the event.

About 3,400 exhibitors from more than 70 countries are participating in the fair, no less than 30 representatives from Chambers of Commerce and other organizations promoting this activity, as well as 300 Cuban companies.

  • Published in Cuba

Greatest Civil Rights Aggression Since Francisco Franco's Dictatorship: Spokesman

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is going to fire Catalan regional government and restrict its parliamentary freedoms.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont will lose all powers and income once the Senate approves Article 155, according to Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.

RELATED: Hundreds of Thousands Rally for Independence as Catalan Leader Defies Madrid

The triggering of Article 155 will result in Spain imposing direct central government rule on Catalonia. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who enacted the unprecedented move, announced plans to fire the region's government and restrict its parliamentary freedoms.

Following the Senate's approval – which is expected to take place on Friday – Madrid will install a representative to govern the region, de Santamaria said during a radio interview.

Catalonia's regional parliament will meet on Thursday to decide on its response. Puigdemont asked the parliament to vote on a suitable response to the central Spanish government's plan.

Lluis Corominas, the Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) spokesman in the regional parliament, accused Spain of acting "like a dictatorship" before referencing Article 155 as "an act of institutional violence without precedent.”

“In this parliament we won't be able to debate or vote any initiative without Madrid's permission," the lawmaker said. “That is not democracy.”

Corominas said Thursday's talk also has the support of far-left allies, Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP, party, which called for "mass civil disobedience" in response to Spain.

The party described Rajoy's move as "the greatest aggression against the civil, individual and collective rights of the Catalan people" since the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

RELATED: Nearly 850 Injured in Catalonia Independence Referendum

According to a BBC report which cited a senior Catalan official, the regional authorities will ignore any mandate issued by Madrid to reclaim Catalonia. And the Spanish government will reject any possibility of dialogue while Catalonia considers independence.

Catalan foreign affairs spokesman, Raul Romeva, said that the European Union will lose credibility if it allows Madrid to impose direct rule on Catalonia.

“How can the European Union live with that situation if it appears?” Romeva told BBC radio. “How can they be credible if they allow this to happen? Because what I can tell you is that the people and the institutions in Catalonia would not let this ... happen.”

He said only the Catalan people have the right to change the regional institutions and that the central government was acting against the will of the people.

The Catalan government reported that of the 43 percent of voters who took part in the Oct. 1 referendum, approximately 90 percent were in favor of independence.

  • Published in World

Spanish Official Threatens Execution for Leader Who Declares Catalan Independence

The comment, undoubtedly directed at Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, was received with indignation.

If Catalan declares independence, Spain will strike with an iron fist, Deputy Secretary of Communication Pablo Casado has warned, reminding Catalonia about the fate of its last leader who declared independence 83 years ago.

RELATED: Spanish Govt Apologizes for Violence but Blames Referendum

"Hopefully tomorrow nothing is declared because the one who declares it may end up like Companys," Casado said, referring to Lluys Comanys, the president of Catalonia who declared a republic in 1934, but was later exiled, handed over to Spain by the Nazis and shot in 1940 by the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The comment, undoubtedly directed at Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, was received with indignation. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist Podemos party, responded saying Casado is either “ignorant” or an “irresponsible provocateur.”

Puigdemont announced plans to proceed with secession from Spain at a scheduled meeting of the Catalan parliament Tuesday evening, in accordance with the over 90 percent of Catalans who voted for independence in an Oct 1 referendum marred by Spanish police repression.

"Credibility and dignity suggest making the declaration of independence tomorrow," director of the civil group, National Catalonia Assembly Jordi Sanchez, said.

The Popular Unity Candidacy, a pro-independence party, denounced an attack on its headquarters carried out in the early morning after a demonstration held in Barcelona by unionist and fascist forces. The attackers tried to burn the shutter at the entrance of the compound, in addition to filling the lock with silicon and painting words like "Terrorists," and "Scum" on the outside.

Madrid maintains its resolve, warning that the government will not stand for a declaration and will take all necessary measures to prevent it.

"If they declare independence, there will be decisions made to restore law and democracy," warned Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria in an interview, urging Catalan politicians who “still respect democracy and freedom” to abstain from the political session.

RELATED: Catalonia: Anti-Independence Protesters Give Fascist Salute

“Spain will not be divided and the national unity will be preserved. We will do everything that legislation allows us to ensure this," Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told Die Welt, "We will prevent this independence from taking place."

Meanwhile, France has signaled that it will not recognize an independent Catalonia, warning that the move will mean an automatic expulsion from the European Union.

Thousands protested outside municipalities across Spain Saturday against the government’s repressive response. The protesters dressed in white calling for a peaceful dialogue between Catalonia and Madrid, saying Spain is better than its political leaders.

Results from the independence vote show that, despite political repression, including confiscating millions of blank ballots and 100 ballot boxes and police violence against voters, 2.3 million citizens, or 43 percent of the Catalan population, cast their ballots. Of them, 90.18 percent favored a breakaway from Spain.

  • Published in World
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