Jeff Flake threatens to block Trump's appellate court nominees over Cuba travel, tariffs

Sen. Jeff Flake is warning that he may block votes on the nominations of all of President Donald Trump's pending appellate court nominees unless he gets favorable action on two issues unrelated to the judiciary.

According to one source, Flake wants to spur discussions on travel restrictions to Cuba as well as issues related to tariffs.

"We're discussing it," the Arizona Republican said in a brief interview with CNN as he came out of an immigration negotiation.

Flake sits on the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans have a slim 11-10 advantage over Democrats. If he does not relent, he could bring the work of the powerful committee to a halt as it applies to appellate court nominees, who are often voted out on party lines.

Confirming these influential circuit court nominees has been a top priority and bragging point for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump.

So far, the Senate has pushed through an unprecedented number of appeals court nominees. Indeed, McConnell tweeted publicly in January: "@potus was able to seat more Circuit Court judges in the 1st year of his presidency than anyone in history."

On Wednesday night, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, acknowledged that if Flake moved to block the nominees, his hands could be tied.

Grassley told CNN he will not schedule votes on these nominees until Flake's issues are resolved and he is on board.

"If it is a controversial one, we probably would have to have all 11 Republicans. So if one Republican wouldn't vote, and it's 10 to 10, then we're not going to take it up," he said.
But Grassley added that the Senate nominations calendar is so full right now he doesn't feel any pressure for the Judiciary Committee to move anyone out until September.

"I could probably wait for a month to vote any more judges out, so there is nothing immediately of concern to me as far as the work of the committee is concerned," he said.

Grassley noted he hadn't spoken directly with Flake on the matter.
"So we can just delay and delay and delay," Grassley said. "If we don't vote for any more judges that Flake doesn't want to vote for until September, we still probably got plenty to do."

Flake, who has announced he will not be seeking re-election, has been an outspoken critic of Trump. He could exercise rare leverage over the President by holding up these nominees.

In addition, GOP leaders recognize that at this point, because of the absence of Sen. John McCain, his fellow Arizona Republican, Flake has extraordinary power to affect the confirmation of nominees not just in committee but on the floor too.

Even if these nominees were voted out of committee -- or if leaders used procedural tools to move them to the floor without a vote of approval from the Judiciary Committee -- Flake could help block them on cloture, the procedural motion to end debate that needs a majority of senators.

If Flake voted with Democrats on cloture, he could defeat the motion to advance the nominee 49-50.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is the second-ranking Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he was not aware of Flake's specific concerns but wanted to talk to him to see if they could be resolved.

A source familiar with Flake's issues complained that it is a "bizarre situation where a senator is holding nominations hostage for his pet projects."

Kristine Lucius, a longtime Democratic staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee who is now the executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, welcomed the news of Flake's hesitation.

"Senators are supposed to be making independent decisions about the suitability of any nominee for a lifetime appointment, " she said and criticized Republicans for voting in "lockstep" for every one of the President's nominees.

"There would be nothing inappropriate for a senator to start weighing those decisions more carefully," she said.

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President Diaz-Canel Visits Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba, June 20 (Prensa Latina) Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel is currently on a tour of the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, where he is visiting places of socio-economic interest.

In the town of El Cobre, located in the surroundings of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, some 20 kilometers from this city, the president witnessed the execution of works aimed at tourism development, including the hotel named after the town.

El Cobre is home to the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, a place visited daily by thousands of Cubans and foreigners.

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Senate Farm Bill Contains Amendment to Enhance Trade With Cuba

The farm bill passed by the Senate Ag Committee includes an amendment that would enhance agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba. It authorizes the USDA Market Access and Foreign Market Development Program funding to go toward trade servicing in Cuba, as well as technical assistance and trade promotion activities. North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne says that will help his state’s farmers.

The biggest problem trading with Cuba has been financial barriers and Watne says this amendment helps clear that up.

He’s hoping the Senate farm bill gets full approval soon and pushes the House to pass their measure.

Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and John Boozman of Arkansas sponsored the Cuban amendment.

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Local youths to go on a baseball mission to Cuba this summer

Youth Futures International will partner with Boston nonprofit The Base to create “Building Bridges through Baseball,” an international program that will send a baseball team to Cuba this summer with the hope of fostering leadership and diplomacy.

Youth Futures International announced the joint partnership Tuesday, and the inaugural Building Bridges through Baseball will begin Aug. 20, when youngsters will spend 10 days in Cuba completing a variety of leadership and baseball activities. YFI founder and executive director David Butler hopes to create a lasting partnership between the two nonprofits.

“The future is about having long-term relationships,” said Butler. “Long-term is always the goal because of the impact we know can make [rather] than just doing a one-time program.

“I feel real synergy with Robert Lewis Jr. [president of The Base] as we hope we can partner more throughout the year in volunteering in different levels.”

The joint partnership was spearheaded by former Red Sox and Phillies relief pitcher Wayne Gomes, who was coached by Butler in 1982 when he was a military dependent on an Air Force base in Germany. Gomes and Butler reunited last summer with the goal of creating an international baseball program.

“Putting two organizations that are so like-minded can only benefit the kids in masses,’’ said Gomes. “Both programs have grown and I have no doubt they will continue to grow together and the effect will be changing lives in the community.”

Gomes is one of seven former major leaguers who will be coaching with the organizations this summer.

“The major league baseball players provide not only experience from [a] baseball standpoint and instruction they can’t get anywhere else, but they also provide the opportunity to share life lessons,” said Gomes. I [wanted] our coaching staff to be diverse, familiar with working with kids, and having the ability to teach the game like I know it can be taught.”

YFI has created partnerships with England and Ghana, but the partnership with Cuba poses some difficulty because of the United States’ less-than-cordial relationship with the island nation over the years.

“Through sports, our program hopes to generate a positive response with our youth coming together with youth from other nations, whether we’ve had great relations with other countries or not,” said Butler. “Students want to be a part of making a difference positively, and we have safe conduits like baseball and soccer that help create a ripple effect.

“We want them to know they can make a difference now versus just waiting for the problem to be solved.

“Each and every youth, no matter where they come from, can bring relevance, credibility, and value to our global story.”

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Chinese entrepreneurs see huge potential in Cuban market

Entrepreneurs from east China's Zhejiang Province believe Cuba's economic market shows great potential and it could be a gateway for expansion into Latin America, a continent increasingly connected to Beijing.

At the first-ever Cuba-Zhejiang business forum held in Havana, which runs until Tuesday, 32 Zhejiang-based companies searched for business opportunities.

"We are here to explore the Cuban market in order to introduce our products and make our contribution to Cuba's electricity sector and its energy saving efforts," said Nan Ronghe, general manager of Yueqing Blue Sky Hi-Tech Co. (Lintin), a manufacturer of smart electricity meters.

Nan said that the two-day meeting allowed them to understand Cuba's needs and offer the country the chance to establish partnerships with Chinese companies.

Huang Huiqi, business manager of Huayi Electric (Heag), a company dedicated to renewable energy, said that Cuba is seen as a "brother country" and that his company wants to play a role in Cuba's development.

"Cuba's potential in this sector is huge and we can offer support for wind energy with efficient generators. We would really like to join the Cuban market," said Huang.

Heag, a market leader in China, already has presence in Latin America with ties to Chile. The company considers Cuba as a further connection with Latin America.

"Our company represents a new trend in the sector. Cuba will develop its renewable and clean energy sector in the future and that is why we are here," he said.

Meanwhile, Wu Huisheng, general manager of Golden Bridge Optical, a manufacturer with 20 years' experience in the eyewear industry in Zhejiang, believes the forum offers the opportunity to enter not only the Cuban market, but also the rest of the continent.

"Cuba hopes to open (its markets) as China has done, and we see this business forum as an opportunity. Tourism is very well developed and we believe that our products will have a great advantage here," he said.

Promoted by the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) and the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba (CCC), the forum is intended to give Chinese companies an understanding of Cuba's legal regulations and investment possibilities.

Cuba has a broad portfolio of opportunities with more than 450 projects amounting to 10.7 billion U.S. dollars.

Ruben Ramos, vice president of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, told Xinhua that ongoing exchanges with Chinese businessmen will contribute to the economic development of the Caribbean nation.

"The Chinese market offers great opportunities for Cuba due to its ongoing growth, as well as its need to import products for the development of its economy," he said.

Ramos said Cuba currently exports nickel, sugar, cigars and biotechnological products to China and that new possibilities are emerging.

"We have to continue opening up our export opportunities. Our priority is to promote our economy in order to continue its development," he said.

In order to seek new possibilities and market opportunities for Cuba's exports, Ramos will participate in the China International Import Expo in Shanghai later this year.

The forum preceded the signing of a memorandum of understanding aimed at strengthening economic relations, signed by Wu Guiying, president of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of CCPIT, and Ramos on Monday.

According to the document, both parties agreed on "the cooperation of their respective organizations in the areas of business development, bilateral exchange and information, investments and commercial activities to benefit both sides."

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Cuba expresses full support of Puerto Rico's inalienable right to self-determination and independence

United Nations, June 19 (RHC)-- Cuba's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Anayansi Rodríguez, reaffirmed her country's full and unconditional support for Puerto Rico's independence and sovereignty. 

On Monday, the Cuban diplomat spoke before the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, reiterating Puerto Rico's inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 1514, on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples. 

In a draft resolution adopted by consensus, the Special Committee once again urged the United States to assume the responsibility of promoting a process that allows Puerto Rico to take sovereign decisions to address its urgent economic and social needs. 

Promoted by Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, Russia and Syria, the text was added to the 36 resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico adopted by the Committee since 1972. 

A press release on the UN news site highlights that this year’s document refers to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, which exacerbated unemployment, marginalization and poverty, in addition to aggravating problems related to education and health. 

The resolution calls on the General Assembly to comprehensively examine the question of Puerto Rico and decide on the issue as soon as possible. 

According to the resolution, the United States must guarantee the protection of the human rights of the Puerto Rican people, and to return the territory occupied by its military bases, in particular the Vieques and Ceiba islands, and to assume the costs of cleaning and decontamination of these areas. 

The text also expresses concern about actions carried out against pro-independence activists and calls for rigorous investigations. 

The first speaker was former political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, who highlighted the accelerated depopulation of Puerto Rico, to the point that there are just over three million people on the island and over five million have migrated to the United States. 

He highlighted the high number of professionals and young people who have left the island in search of employment and a better future. He reiterated his criticism of the Fiscal Control Board, which manages the finances of the government of Puerto Rico and orders the austerity measures to be implemented. 

Oscar López Rivera expressed his hope that the General Assembly take up the case of Puerto Rico, as the only body with the power to end colonialism. 

Edited by Pavel Jacomino
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Gilberto Santa Rosa and El Canario in Festival in Cuba

Havana, Jun 19 (Prensa Latina) Puerto Rican Gilberto Santa Rosa and Dominican Jose Alberto El Canario are heading the poster for the artists to attend the Josone Varadero Beach Jazz and Salsa Festival in Cuba, from July 12 to 15 in Varadero Beach.

The event will also count on the attendance of Salvadoran singer Alvaro Torres and US jazz trumpet player Nicholas Payton among the foreign musicians and singers that have been convoked.

Twenty foreign and national artists will perform in the Festival, organized by Cuba's Musical Recordings and Editions Enterprise (EGREM), Cuban music agency MusiCuba and cultural organization Paradiso, among others.

Cuba will present artists such as Gente de Zona, legendary rumba group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, El Septeto Santiaguero, los piano players Ernán López Nussa, 'Cucurucho' Valdés and Alejandro Falcón, and tres player Pancho Amat.

Other Cuban artists will be drummer Horacio 'El Negro' Hernández, female singer Daymé Arocena, female drummer Yissy García and saxophonist Michel Herrera, with their respoective groups, among others.

After four days of concerts, there will be a fair of Cuban cultural products that will also take place at the Josone Park, at Varadero resort, about 150 kilometers east of Havana.

The Josone Varadero Jazz & Salsa Festival will be an opportunity to learn first-hand about the musical variety that is cultivated on the island, and how jazz has become one of the leading genres in the Cuban sound scene.

  • Published in Culture

SIX TEAMS LINE UP FOR VOLLEYBALL CHALLENGER CUP AND ONE OPEN BERTH IN 2019 MEN'S VNL

Portugal, Chile, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia and Kazakhstan gather this week in Matosinhos, just north of Porto, where Portugal host the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Challenger Cup, starting Wednesday, to determine one team to gain promotion to the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

The winner of the Volleyball Challenger Cup, a new competition to complement the Volleyball Nations League, gets promotion to next year's edition, replacing the bottom-ranked of the Challenger teams in the VNL.

Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Korea are this year's Challenger Teams in the VNL. After Week 4 of the VNL, Korea are bottom of the table, with no chance of catching up with any of the other contenders in their last three remaining matches of pool play.

The six participating teams in the Volleyball Challenger Cup (1 host and 5 teams from continental VCC qualification tournaments - two from Europe and one each from Asia, South American and North Central America & Caribbean) will be divided into two pools of three. The top two of each pool will meet in crosswise semifinals, followed by the bronze medal match and final.

Pool A: Portugal, Estonia, Kazakhstan.
Pool B: Chile, Cuba, Czech Republic.

Full schedule of the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Challenger Cup in Matosinhos (all times local, GMT+1):

Wednesday, 20 June:
18:00 - Cuba v Czech Republic
21:00 - Portugal v Estonia

Thursday, 21 June:
18:00 - Estonia v Kazakhstan
21:00 - Czech Republic v Chile

Friday, 22 June:
18:00 - Chile v Cuba
21:00 - Kazakhstan v Portugal

Saturday, 23 June:
15:00 - Semifinal 1A v 2B
18:00 - Semifinal 1B v 2A

Sunday, 24 June:
15:00 - Bronze medal match
18:00 - Final

  • Published in Sports
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