Raul Castro receives US lawmakers on visit to Cuba

Cuban President Raul Castro received a bipartisan delegation of US lawmakers, who are visiting the island with the alleged "acoustic attacks" against US diplomats on their agenda.

"During the meeting they discussed matters of interest to both countries," the Cuban government said in a statement.

The delegation, led by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, arrived in Cuba Sunday to address various issues including the mysterious supposed attacks in Havana.

The issue has hit US-Cuba relations, with Washington withdrawing half of its diplomats from Cuba and expelling 15 officials from the Cuban embassy in the US capital.

The Cuban foreign ministry's US director, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, met with the congressmen Monday assuring them that "no evidence that attacks occurred against US diplomats in Cuba exists," according to his deputy Johana Tablada.

Accompanying Leahy on the visit are senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michigan's Gary Peters, along with representatives Kathy Castor of Florida, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Susan Davis of California.

Leahy has been one of the most active politicians inside the Capitol in advocating the improvement of US-Cuba relations, which defrosted somewhat in 2014 under Barack Obama after half a century of tension.

The US delegation will end its stay in Cuba on Wednesday with a press conference.

At least 24 Americans, a mix of US embassy personnel and their dependents -- suffered headaches, hearing loss, disorientation and some loss of cognitive ability between November 2016 and August 2017.

Some recovered from the most acute symptoms, but the severity, range and recovery time was mixed and it's not yet clear whether any have suffered permanent injury.

US press reports suggest that FBI agents dispatched to Havana have been unable to find any evidence to support a theory that the staff were attacked with an acoustic or sonic weapon.

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Cuba Prepares For March 11 Elections

Cubas 24,470 polling stations will be administered by more than 200,000 polling stations for the country's March 11 national elections. 

Cuba is assuring the quality and transparency of its upcoming elections by training some 200,000 people to administer the over 24,000 polling stations where voting will take place March 11.

RELATED: 
US Congressmen Arrive in Cuba to Address 'Sonic Attacks'

In total, there will be 24,470 polls set up throughout the country for citizens to cast their ballots, 141 of which will be set up to attend to an above average quantity of voters. 

National Electoral Commission spokesperson, Marina Capo Ribalra, says the stations will include full lists of candidates, ballots and computer equipment to facilitate people's voting.

Cuba's 8 million people will vote for 605 national parliamentary delegates and 1,265 representatives to represent its 15 provinces in the Popular Power Assembly. 

The country's current parliament has the world's largest number of women representatives. Candidates for this parliamentary cycle are over 40 percent mestizo or Black. 

Cuba's newest president will later be elected by a parliamentary committee.

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St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.

The relaunch of the maritime competition cancelled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under President Barack Obama.

The event returns for a second consecutive year on Feb. 26 and again mirrors the political climate, but on the opposite end of the spectrum.

More than 70 vessels competed in last year’s event.

This year, 20 will start the journey, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and ending 278 miles later at Havana’s Marina Hemingway.

"We were hoping for more but the political scene caused by our president impacts what happens," said George Pennington, race chairman and regatta general of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club that hosts the race.

No policy has been passed forbidding Americans from participating in athletic competitions in Cuba, under which the regatta falls. But relations are more strained under President Donald Trump than his predecessor.

For instance, Trump has banned Americans from staying at hotels managed by the Cuban government, a decision limiting lodging options in a nation where the armed forces control up to 70 percent of the tourism industry.

Plus, the State Department issued a travel warning on Cuba due to the mysterious health attacks against American diplomats in Havana.

These decrees coupled with the Trump’s harsh words for the former Cold War enemy, according to leaders in the Cuba travel industry, have been enough to diminish the number of Americans visiting the island in recent months.

The "new approach of the Trump administration to U.S.-Cuba policy based on rumors and unproven accusations" has created enough confusion and fear to chase away boaters, said Vicente Amor, Cuba-born vice president of the Tampa travel company ASC International USA working with the yacht race.

Those "accusations" to which he referred are the health attacks. Amor is among those who believes the Cuban government’s assertion that they did not target the American government workers.

Tony Barrett, one of 11 captains who competed in 2017 and will do so again this year, admits politics likely played a role for some who won’t return. But not, he said, in all cases.

That the 2017 race was the first since 1959 likely drew increased interest from those who were not avid racers but rather just wanted to be part of history, said Barrett, who will helm the 33-foot Soverel yacht named Back Off.

"They could have lined up 150 last year if they allowed it," he said.

He predicts that in time the race will average 30 to 40 yachts like other local distance races. St. Petersburg’s 50th Regata del Sol al Sol to Mexico’s Isla Mujeres held this April, for instance, currently has 30 entrants.

Regardless, chairman Pennington promised the Havana race will be back next year, though "cannot state in what format it will be."

Due to the lighter lineup, competition classes will be limited to spinnaker and cruising. In 2017, there were also non-spinnaker and multi-hauling classes.

Politics has a history of affecting local yacht races to Cuba.

The first St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race in 1930 featured 11 boats and was meant to be a promotional event to help St. Petersburg recover from the Great Depression. It grew to include more than 30 vessels a year and succeeded in bringing international acclaim to the city. But the contest was canceled after the rise of communism in Cuba.

From the late 1990s through the early 2000s, a different race known as the Havana Cup was run from St. Petersburg to Havana and drew more than 200 vessels each year. But that was cancelled when — under political pressure from hardline members of the exile community — the U.S. government issued cease-and-desist orders to the event’s organizers.

Among the regular entrants in the Havana Cup was Barrett, who said that during those trips he made friends in Cuba. But it was not until last year when the St. Petersburg-Habana Race returned that he went back to the island.

While there, he stopped at a restaurant he once frequented and whose owner was a friend. Despite it being 16 years since Barrett last ate there, the owner recognized him and called common friends to join them for drinks.

"We were a little grayer, but it felt like we’d never missed a day," Barrett said. "The people in Cuba are so friendly. I can never get over that."

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U.S.’s ‘Cuba Internet Task Force’ exposed as attack on Cuban sovereignty

Washington, D.C. — This Workers World reporter was able to intervene in favor of socialist Cuba as the new Cuba Internet Task Force held its inaugural public meeting on Feb. 7 in the U.S. State Department headquarters here.

The task force’s conclusions are set up to promote the same violations of Cuba’s sovereignty practiced since Cuban revolutionaries toppled the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959.

Those U.S. tactics, aimed at regime change, have failed. The mission description of the State Department’s task force admits its goals in euphemistic language: “The task force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba including through [U.S.] federal government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom.” This means the U.S. aims to encourage those hostile to the Cuban government to use the internet for these goals.

It’s no surprise the U.S. Agency for Inter­national Development sits on the task force. USAID contracted Alan Gross to install military grade covert communication devices in Cuba in 2009. Gross was arrested in December 2009 and spent 5 years of a 15-year sentence in a Cuban prison.

The U.S. government initiated and funded the TV/Radio/Internet propaganda media, given the misappropriated name of Cuba’s national hero, José Martí. This media group has a seat on the task force, as does its oversight agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Initially, 10 slots for 3-minute public comments were planned for the Feb. 7 public meeting. Five speakers of the original 10 opposed the task force objectives and its attack on Cuban sovereignty.

WW reporter speaks at meeting

Besides covering the public meeting, Workers World participated; this reporter’s remarks are published here:

“Even after the last presidential election, Pew Research polls demonstrated that 75 percent of people in the U.S. support diplomatic relations with Cuba and 73 percent support ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba. I am one of them. The statistics hold for Cubans in the U.S., too. One hundred and ninety-one of 193 countries voted to oppose the blockade just last November at the United Nations General Assembly.

“The Federal Register announcement says the purpose of the Cuba Internet Task Force is ‘to examine technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba.’

“Have any of you been to Cuba? When you go, you will see as I have with my own eyes the Cuban people communicating using smartphones at the expanding number of hotspots. They are talking with friends and relatives in the U.S. and other countries. Home internet is beginning. Public notice is given about the plans for reducing internet prices. And the prices really do go down. Cubans use Facebook and Twitter and email.

“In 2009, I was with a group of British union officials in Havana when their cell phone rang — their phones worked in Cuba, but mine did not. Canadian phones worked in Cuba. Now my phone works in Cuba, too. The Cuban telecom company ETECSA has agreements with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Google. Those agreements became possible when this government — not the Cuban government — this government stopped blocking them.

“After 120 years, the United States must come to grips with the fact that Cuba does not belong to the United States. How is it proper to sit in the U.S. State Department and discuss this matter as though Cuba is not a sovereign country?

“Do you want to assess challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access? Let’s start with my city, Detroit. The FCC reported as recently as 2015 that 40 percent of my city’s residents have no access to the internet. Let’s use the budget for this Task Force and the previous radio/TV and internet regime change projects dreamed up in Washington for infrastructure to bring quality, affordable internet access to all in cities like Detroit and rural areas, too.

“So to improve internet access in Cuba, negotiate with the Cuban government in a respectful and equal way, end the blockade and travel restrictions, and return the occupied Guantánamo territory to the Cuban people.”

  • Published in Cuba

Coleman breaks world indoor 60m record at US Indoor Championships in Albuquerque

Hopes for a new world record over 60m were met—and then some—on the third day (18 February) of the USA Indoor Championships as Christian Coleman roared to a 6.34* clocking in the dash, cutting a half-second off the previous best.

American Maurice Greene first set the accepted 6.39 mark in 1998 and then tied it at the 2001 indoor nationals. But Coleman’s first final of the 2018 indoor campaign showed the record’s days likely were numbered when he sped 6.37 on January 19.

But that mark, set in Clemson, South Carolina, never would have received record ratification since there were neither wired starting blocks used nor drug testing done immediately after the race.

At the U.S. nationals, staged in the helpful thinner air of 1507m Albuquerque, Coleman showed he had plenty of speed to burn as he clocked 6.46 in Saturday’s heat and then 6.42 in Sunday’s semi-final. He eased back noticeably in the final meters of both his preliminaries. Defending champion Ronnie Baker had taken his semi with a PB 6.45, setting the table for a climactic final.

More than three hours later, Coleman lined up for the title race in lane 5 with Baker to his left in 4 and veteran Mike Rodgers inside both in lane 3. After a false start eliminated one sprinter, the field got away on the second attempt.

Baker got an excellent start, but led for only a few steps as Coleman was right with him. Coleman never surrendered the lead he grabbed and opened distance over the field in the final 10m. He threw his arms wide as he crossed the line, his speed taking care of Greene’s official record as well as settling any questions about Coleman’s own earlier record claim.

Christian Coleman and his world record numbers in Albuquerque (Victah Sailer)Christian Coleman and his world record numbers in Albuquerque (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

The 21-year-old Coleman hopped and skipped in glee as he ran back up the sprint straight before turning to accept the accolades from the Albuquerque Convention Center crowd.

“I wanted to go get it, but it pretty much felt like a blur,” Coleman said of the record. “I just wanted to be the first to get to the finish line. I had put in a lot of work on my start, so it feels pretty good to do it.”

Baker distinguished himself as well, clocking a PB 6.40 to become the third fastest ever. Rodgers claimed third in 6.50, just 0.02 off the PB that won him the 2011 national title, also in Albuquerque.

In the women’s 60, first-year professional Javianne Oliver sped to career-bests in both her qualifying heat at 7.11 and then to claim her first national title with a convincing 7.02 in the final. She trimmed down the 2018 world lead by 0.01 as she came home comfortably ahead of the PB 7.19 for second-placer Destiny Carter. Outdoor 100 champion Tori Bowie didn’t appear for her prelim.

Said Oliver, “Even after getting the 7.11, I just told myself to stay relaxed. I didn’t know what to expect for a time in the final. Now I’ll just go home and train for the indoor Worlds.”

Nelvis hurdles 7.70, third fastest of all-time

Speed also was in abundance over the hurdles, especially on the women’s side. Outdoor 100H World Record holder Kendra Harrison had tied the 7.72 U.S. indoor best earlier this winter and paced the semi-finals at 7.77. Harrison and other semi winner Christina Manning got out together in the final and traded strides the entire race.

But right with the pair was 27-year-old veteran Sharika Nelvis, who had placed eighth over the 2015 outdoor worlds 100 barriers. Nelvis kept bearing down the entire race and off the last hurdle, she leaned sharply to cross the line first—and with a US record of 7.70 as a bonus. Harrison (7.72 to match her PB) and Manning (7.73 PB) followed.

From left: Sharika Nelvis, Christina Manning and Keni Harrison in Albuquerque (Victah Sailer)From left: Sharika Nelvis, Christina Manning and Keni Harrison in Albuquerque (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

“I’m so excited!” Nelvis bubbled after claiming her first-ever U.S. title, indoors or out. “There were such great women in this race, yet I told myself just to treat it like any other race and not put pressure on myself.”

Nelvis becomes the No. 3 performer in history, trailing only world record setters Susanna Kallur (7.68) and Lyudmila Engquist (7.69).

Over the men’s barriers, 2016 champion Jarret Eaton matched strides all the way with Aries Merritt and Devon Allen before edging ahead off the fifth barrier to win in 7.43, just 0.01 off the 2018-leading time posted by U.S. collegian Grant Holloway. Merritt ran 7.46 for second, his fastest since his all-conquering 2012 season, while Allen cut his PB to 7.49 in third.

Nageotte clears four PBs en route to 4.91m world lead

Vying for attention with all this speed was the leading field event, the women’s pole vault. Olympic and outdoor worlds silver medalist Sandi Morris rebounded from a sore back at the early-February Millrose Games to clear 4.86m on her first attempt. Defending world indoor champion Jenn Suhr had made 4.81m on her first, but missed her initial try at 4.86m, then passed to 4.91m.

But both veterans were trailing new face Katie Nageotte, who had first-attempt makes through seven heights, including an =PB 4.76m and then lifetime highs at 4.81m and 4.86m. The 26-year-old Ohio native then was the only jumper to top 4.91m, again on her first effort.

Katie Nageotte - world-leading 4.91m in Albuquerque (Victah Sailer)Katie Nageotte - world-leading 4.91m in Albuquerque (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Then Nageotte had the bar elevated to 5.04m, 1cm above Suhr’s world indoor record from 2016. While that setting proved unattainable, Nageotte had become only the third American ever to top 16-feet (4.88) and only the fourth all-time.

Clay, Reese and Cunningham prevail

In other jumping events, multiple international medalist Will Claye triumphed in his debut competition this winter, bouncing a victorious 17.28m in round 4 to outdistance the PB 17.20m by Chris Carter from the third frame. Omar Craddock also exceeded 17.00m with 17.11m to take third.

In the women’s long jump, outdoor world champion Brittney Reese won her eleventh U.S. title overall, and fourth indoors, as she twice reached a 2018-pacing 6.88m and heads to Birmingham to defend her world indoor title. Another 2016 global titlist who will return to defend is Vashti Cunningham, who high jumped 1.97m to claim her third consecutive U.S. crown.

Back on the track, the two-section format for the 400m finals produced intriguing finishes. First, outdoor world champion Phyllis Francis clocked 51.19 to take the first women’s section, only to see Courtney Okolo just outlean Shakima Wimbley in the second, 51.16-51.17. In the men’s races, Aldrich Bailey clocked a PB 45.59 to take section I, but Michael Cherry claimed the title with his own indoor best of 45.53.

In the 800s, Donavan Brazier became the second-fastest American ever with his PB victory of 1:45.10, while Ajee' Wilson led the entire women’s race to win in 2:01.60, 0.16 ahead of Raevyn Rogers, who had run sub-2:00 in her heat.

Successful 1500/3000 double victories were claimed by 1500 champions Paul Chelimo (3:42.91 from the 3:43.09 by Ben Blankenship) and Shelby Houlihan (4:13.07 ahead of the PB 4:13.21 by Colleen Quigley).

  • Published in Sports

Leahy leads congressional delegation to Cuba

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) heads a bicameral congressional delegation that is visiting Cuba this week, during the congressional recess.

Leahy for two decades has been centrally involved in efforts to replace the failed 50-year-old U.S. Cuba policy of isolation with a new path toward normalization. Leahy is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and also serves as the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, which oversees the State Department’s budget. Other congressional leaders who accompany Leahy are two other senators and three members of the House of Representatives.

The purpose of the visit is to meet with U.S. and Cuban officials, officials of other governments, and Cubans in the emerging private sector to discuss: the presidential transition in Cuba; U.S. and Cuban investigations of health incidents involving U.S. government personnel in Cuba; cooperation on maritime security, search-and-rescue, narcotics and human trafficking, and migration issues; the impact of the withdrawal of U.S. Embassy and Cuban Embassy personnel and of revised Treasury Department regulations on U.S.-Cuban relations; and opportunities for public health, law enforcement, scientific, environmental, commercial, educational, cultural, and other engagement with Cubans.

The delegation departed the United States on Saturday, Feb. 17, and return on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

  • Published in Cuba

Delegations from Cuba and the United States hold exchange on trafficking in persons

On February 13, 2018, the Fifth Exchange on the Trafficking in Persons was held in Washington D.C. between multi-sectoral delegations from Cuba and the United States. Both parties gave updates on the advances made, experiences gained and the challenges they face in the prevention of and combat against the trafficking in persons and in their work to protect victims. 

The Cuban delegation was led by Johana Tablada, Deputy General Director for US Affairs of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was composed of officials from the Peoples’ Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministries of Justice, the Interior, Education, Labor and Social Security, Public Health, Tourism and the Federation of Cuban Women. The U.S. delegation was led by Joel F. Maybury, Acting Director of the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and was composed of representatives from the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

The Cuban party ratified the zero-tolerance national policy against human trafficking and shared new and important actions that were undertaken in the years 2016 and 2017, which contribute to strengthening further the response of the State and the society in the face of this scourge of global incidence.

Underlined as part of these new steps were the adoption of a National Plan of Action for the 2017-2020 period to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons and to Protect the Victims thereof, the setup of a Commission to implement the multidisciplinary actions contained in said Plan, and the results of the visit to Cuba by Ms. María Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children. 

During the exchange with the U.S. counterpart, the Cuban officials talked about concrete actions and results that, as part of their work, contributed to enhance the prevention, detection and perception of risks in the face of a crime that has become increasingly complex worldwide. 

Standing out in this regard are the establishment of a Family Protection Division and the operation of a Unique Telephone Line of the Attorney General’s Office. In addition, the specialized training seminars for prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers, the workshops and training courses for educators, and the celebration of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons were also highlighted, among other measures that will continue to be implemented.

Underlined in this exchange were the preventive nature of the National Health System and the important role played by the Cuban medical doctors in the early detection and attention of potential victims of human trafficking, both in Cuba and in other countries where our nation provides medical cooperation. 

In 2016, 21 cases were prosecuted in Cuba for crimes with typical features of trafficking in persons, through the typified crimes of “Corruption of Minors” and “Procurement and Trafficking in Persons”. In this same period, Cuba maintained international collaboration for the investigation and solution of cases transcending the national territory.

The Cuban representatives proved that the low incidence of trafficking in persons in Cuba is associated with the social and public safety achievements, the equal opportunities and the policies and programs aimed at empowering women, providing free access to health services, education, culture and sports, which reduces the country’s vulnerability and strengthens its capacity to increase international cooperation in this field, as a State Party to the legal instruments signed on this and other related matters.

Both parties ratified the usefulness of the exchange, which took place in a professional and respectful ambiance, and agreed to continue holding these exchanges in the future.

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Cuba rejects OAS remarks on Cuba's democratic system

Cuba rejected on Tuesday recent statements made by Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of America States (OAS), on the island's democratic system, saying he had no "credibility" to speak about Cuba.

Speaking to local media, Rogelio Sierra, Cuba's deputy foreign minister, stated Almagro's remarks about Cuba were made in Miami city in U.S. Florida state where he met with a group of people who "defend, support and encourage aggressive actions" against Cuba, including terrorism and the U.S. economic blockade.

"Almagro has no credibility, moral or ethics, to judge what the Cuban government and its people do. He makes a big mistake in ignoring our decision to be sovereign and independent," said Sierra.

The OAS official visited Miami last Saturday to visit a Cuban dissident group. He used the occasion to call for "democratic reforms" and demanded that Havana hold Western-style elections to choose its next leader as actual president, Raul Castro, will step down in April.

Havana's deputy foreign minister pointed out that Almagro tried to delegitimize Cuba's sovereignty and independence to decide its political system while supporting "illegal opposition groups and their allies in the U.S."

"He met in Miami with a sector of the Cuban community in the United States, which still dreams of overthrowing the Revolution. On the contrary, he has not said a word about recent remarks made by the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who supported a military coup against Venezuela," said Sierra.

Despite being a founding member of the OAS, Cuba was suspended in 1962. In June 2009, foreign ministers of OAS member countries lifted Cuba's suspension.

Havana, however, has reiterated it would not return to the OAS.

  • Published in Cuba
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