Saturday, August 15, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: Stapling Together This Post About Cuba

"US-Cuba thaw could bring Staples a windfall; Office Depot, in line for sale to office supply chain, holds claim to seized power company" by Taryn Luna Globe Correspondent  July 21, 2015

Staples Inc. knows the business of selling office supplies inside out. But it doesn’t have a clue how to keep the lights on in Havana.

Nonetheless, the Framingham chain of office superstores may soon become the unlikely owner of Cuban Electric Co., the latest twist in a strange business saga that stretches over half a century from the Caribbean to Idaho to Boca Raton, Fla.

The power utility, started by a Florida company, lost its assets when it was nationalized by the government of Fidel Castro in 1960. Cuban Electric may merely exist on paper today, but it still holds a compensation claim that could be worth more than $1 billion. 

Is that any way to ree$tabli$h friendly ties?

Staples is in line to take possession of the claim through its pending acquisition of rival Office Depot Inc. The fate of Cuban Electric, long an obscure corporate curiosity, and other seized assets has gained more relevance recently as the Obama administration moves to normalize relations with the island nation.

Altrui$tic AmeriKa at it again!

With the relationship between the two countries softening fast — the United States reopened its embassy in Havana on Monday — some legal experts consider resolution of the 5,913 claims for Cuban compensation by American companies and individuals to be an important step in the political process.

I $ee this screwing things up.

The US Foreign Claims Settlement Commission certified the Cuban Electric claim to be worth $267 million — an amount that, technically, has been collecting interest at a rate of 6 percent a year for 55 years and is by far the largest individual claim.

The current value of all claims combined is about $8 billion. But it’s unclear how much money, if any, will ever be collected.

“Unless [the Cuban government] buried a whole bunch of gold bars that we don’t know about, there isn’t money to pay,” said Patrick Borchers, a Creighton University law professor who led a study of the claims issue....


Btw, what ever happened to all the gold the Federal Reserve was supposed to be guarding?


Turns out they may not get the claim after all. They will have to turn somewhere else, and such things cut both ways.

So this whole opening to Cuba that is being trumpeted is basically all for corporations and to infect Cuba with fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs (the view being they are not harmful).

The opening of the CIA station, 'er, Embassy is much more important anyway:

"Cuba hopeful yet wary as embassies reopen; Questions linger after decades of rancor, mistrust" by Azam Ahmed New York Times   July 21, 2015

HAVANA — A litany of questions have yet to be answered, including: Will the US trade embargo that has crippled Cuba’s economy be lifted, and if so, when? Will the Cuban government improve its human rights record and incorporate outsiders into the political spectrum? How much, and how fast, will the lives of ordinary Cubans, who earn $20 a month on average, improve?

But for now, the reopening of the embassy on the Malecón waterfront in Havana, previously used as an interests section, or limited diplomatic outpost, stands as the most concrete symbol yet of the thaw set in motion last year when President Obama ordered the full restoration of diplomatic ties between the countries.

“It is sort of like a wedding,” said James Williams, the president of an advocacy group, Engage Cuba, which has been lobbying for improved relations. “You’ve spent all this time planning your wedding day. . . . Now you have the rest of your life together.”

Ever hear of divorce?

In Washington on Monday, Cuba’s flag — blue and white stripes, with a single white star on a red triangle — was hoisted at the country’s embassy in Washington.

In sweltering heat, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the flag-raising ceremony hours after full diplomatic relations with the United States were restored at midnight. Rodriguez later met with Secretary of State John Kerry, becoming the first Cuban foreign minister to set foot in the State Department since 1958.

‘‘We celebrate this day — July 20 — as a time to start repairing what has been broken and opening what for too long has been closed,’’ Kerry said in Spanish at a joint news conference with Rodriguez. Kerry said he would visit Cuba Aug. 14 to preside over a formal flag-raising ceremony at the US Embassy.

New signs also will be installed when Kerry visits. For now, the change at the US Embassy is imperceptible from the outside, but there will be operational differences. Diplomats will be formally registered, and, for the first time since the embassy was closed, they will be allowed to travel freely in the country. They will be invited to functions, too.

The US government is supposed to ease access for Cubans entering the embassy.

When announcing an end to the diplomatic freeze, Obama eased travel restrictions, opened the door for more remittances to Cuba, and expanded the quantity of goods that visiting Americans could take home, including Cuban cigars and rum. In May, he removed the country from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

President Raúl Castro has spent the past five years, before the thaw began with the Obama administration, trying to jump-start the nation’s economy, ordering that hundreds of thousands of government employees be laid off, encouraging Cubans into self-employment and entrepreneurship, and creating a special economic zone in the coastal city of Mariel to attract foreign investment.

But many of these changes have been confronted with bracing realities. A farm program to encourage crop cultivation struggled because of regulations and a lack of reliable transportation, and the mass public-sector layoffs Castro promised never really materialized. Real estate overhauls that now allow Cubans to sell their homes have run into a problem that vexes just about every segment of Cuban life: a lack of supplies.

Often, these initiatives have been ensnared by the mentality forged through years of anti-American sentiment that has defined the social, political, and economic lives of Cubans.

Can't imagine why they would feel that way?

Castro has said that change will be slow and that it will not come at the cost of stability or values. For many Cubans, though, there is reason to hope.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a former Cuban diplomat who is close to Castro and his brother Fidel, the country’s longtime president. “And once it’s out, you’re not going to be able to put it back in.”

Some Cubans fear their culture could be lost, devoured by US consumerism. But just as many, if not more, are fine with change if it means that they can earn enough to live on. Change that will have an effect on the wallets of normal Cubans is, by some estimates, many years away. It will require the lifting of the US embargo as well as state impediments that exist in everyday life, from communications to buying groceries....

What will happen to the free health and education systems that are the envy of the world?


"Cuba travel ban end advances; Senate panel backs changes" by Andrew Taylor Associated Press  July 24, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Senate Appropriations Committee 18-12 vote comes just days after the US and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by reestablishing diplomatic relations cut off during the Cold War.

‘‘We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them,’’ said sponsor Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. ‘‘I also would say that as Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can travel around the globe today without exception — no country is totally prohibited with the exception of Cuba.’’

What took so long?

The House Appropriations Committee has moved in the opposite direction, but the intraparty disagreement among Republicans makes it far less likely that the GOP-controlled Congress will try to use spending bills to challenge Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.

Because corporations want this. They don't want to be left behind regarding the loot, same as in Iran.

The Senate language goes beyond the administration rules, which lifted a requirement that US travelers obtain a license from the Treasury Department before traveling to Cuba.

Instead, all that is required is for travelers to assert that their trip would serve educational, religious, or other permitted purposes.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to repeal a law prohibiting banks and other US businesses from financing sales of US agricultural exports to Cuba....

And that means Cargill!


Let the fleet sail!

"Cuba plans boating boom as US luxury ships head to Havana" by Michael Weissenstein Associated Press  August 08, 2015

HAVANA — A $3 million yacht left Key West this week with two barbecue grills, 250 channels of satellite TV, and a just-in-case plan for rescuing stranded Cuban rafters encountered in the Florida Straits.

After four hours of smooth sailing, the Still Water tied up at Havana’s Hemingway Marina. The well-heeled passengers breakfasted on smoked salmon and pastries, then boarded an air-conditioned Cuban government bus for a day of touring the city. 

It's a richer's world.

The Cold War made the Florida Straits into a stage for nuclear showdown and a graveyard for thousands of Cuban rafters seeking better lives in the United States. Now, normalization of the long-tortured US-Cuba relationship is transforming the 90 miles between the United States and Cuba back into a playground for hulking cruise ships and sleek luxury yachts.

Interesting word choice, long-tortured, considering Gitmo is located in Cuba.

For the first time in decades, the US government is authorizing a wide range of large-scale sea travel to Cuba. Since declaring detente in December, the Obama administration has issued permits to dozens of sailboats, at least five ferry companies, four cruise lines, and the Palm Beach-based yacht broker that chartered out the Still Water. The 78-foot yacht features satellite Internet, four staterooms, and a wet bar.

‘‘It’s a little bubble. You can have the comforts of home in Havana,’’ said Jim Friedlander, president of Academic Arrangements Abroad, which helped organize the trip.

Cuban tourism officials and US boating aficionados and entrepreneurs are salivating about a possible return to the go-go days before Cuba’s communist revolution, when thousands of Americans a year sailed to Havana for long weekends of tropical leisure.

When the Mafia owned the island!

‘‘What’s the natural market for nautical tourism in Cuba? The United States of America — the No. 1 country in the international yachting market,’’ said Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, commodore of the International Hemingway Nautical Club of Cuba. ‘‘We’re talking about tens of thousands of yachts that might come.’’


Fidel Castro in 2005 called cruise ships ‘‘floating hotels’’ that ‘‘leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents.’’ But under his brother and successor as president, Raul Castro, the government appears to have no such reservations. Cuba has been rapidly approving port calls by US cruise ships and planning new marinas with thousands of slips for yachts in the polluted Bay of Havana and at the white-sand resort of Varadero, about a 90-minute drive away.

Cuban tourism experts seem confident about an imminent end to restrictions on boat travel to Cuba, which have been loosened and tightened in cycles since President Carter briefly legalized travel to the island in 1977. Many US yachters, including several docked at the Hemingway Marina on Thursday, have quietly stopped in Havana for years on their way to or from other ports, the same way US air travelers head to Cuba from Canada or Mexico in defiance of rarely enforced American laws.

The hottest point of discussion among such Cuba specialists now is whether the island can swiftly meet what they expect will eventually be strong demand for high-end boating facilities.

‘‘The elimination of restrictions on nautical tourism by the US government appears as if it will happen over the short term,’’ said Jose Luis Perello, a tourism professor at the University of Havana. ‘‘That won’t just open the doors to US yachters and other tourists, but [also] to many from other countries and yacht clubs.’’


Were you invited to the party?

"Guest list tricky for US officials hosting parties in Havana; Restoring ties with Cuba will be a delicate task" by Nick Miroff Washington Post  August 13, 2015

HAVANA — The Obama administration’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba is banked on the belief that the United States can do more to encourage change on the island through a soft-power strategy of ‘‘engagement.’’ And a big part of that, in Cuba, means figuring out how to change the profile of US diplomacy — and throw a good party again.

Havana’s festive atmosphere has long befuddled visiting American politicians fearful they could be accused of disporting themselves inappropriately in a repressive environment. Now it’s up to American officials to drop their guard a bit in an effort to get Cuba to do the same, and that engagement will win new US influence.

During the 38 years that the US mission here operated as a downgraded ‘‘interests section,’’ US officials hosted the types of events that they do elsewhere: Fourth of July receptions, dinners for visiting VIPs, and special-invitation parties to watch the Super Bowl. The palatial 35,000-square-foot residence in Havana’s former ‘‘Country Club’’ district has a reputation for good brownies — but parties that rarely last beyond 9 p.m.

With a few exceptions, though, Cuban officials have never been allowed by their own government to attend.

Cuba’s boycott only hardened as the United States began inviting government opponents to the receptions. It’s only been at times of improving ties — like the current thaw — that a few Cuban artists and musicians started showing up again.

Friday’s flag-raising ceremony put US diplomats in the same knot. According to the Associated Press, Cuban dissidents will not be invited to the embassy event Friday morning with Kerry, a sign of the degree to which US officials are shifting their attention to conventional diplomatic efforts with the Cuban government. Instead, the activists will be invited to a separate flag-raising ceremony Friday afternoon at the US diplomatic residence.

You have been cut loose, guys.

‘‘It’s a very difficult dilemma’’ for the United States, said Carlos Alzugaray, ex-Cuban ambassador to the European Union with close ties to top Cuban officials and US diplomats.

‘‘One of the reasons that the US has changed its approach to Cuba is the realization that government officials are going to shape what happens here next, while the dissidents will play only a marginal role,’’ he said.

Breaking through to Cuban officials can be difficult, especially for countries that Cuba views warily, according to Paul Webster Hare, who was British ambassador in Havana from 2001 to 2004.

‘‘Cuban officials, unlike in most other foreign postings, do not socialize with foreigners outside office time. They never invite you to their homes and are warned not to befriend diplomats, particularly from Western countries. So . . . there is always something of a veil,’’ said Hare, who teaches at Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies.

Hare recommends US officials use American ‘‘flair’’ to propose new joint cooperation programs in sports or medical diplomacy.

When Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrives here Friday for a ceremony to raise the Stars and Stripes once more at the US Embassy in Cuba, he will become the highest-ranking American official to set foot on the island in more than half a century....


Let the fun begin!

"US Embassy in Cuba officially reopens; Kerry makes visit to Havana, lauds end of separation" by Karen DeYoung Washington Post  August 15, 2015

HAVANA — Secretary of State John Kerry presided over the official reopening of the US Embassy in Cuba under a blazing Caribbean sun Friday morning as a US Army brass band played the American national anthem.

Crowds of several hundred Cubans, some of them waving small American flags, stood behind barricades outside the iron fence surrounding the embassy. When the Army band played the Cuban national anthem, some in the crowd outside shouted “Viva.”

Before an invited audience of about 300 US and Cuban officials, along with foreign diplomats, Kerry praised President Obama and President Raul Castro of Cuba for what he called “a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.” 

I'm sure Japan would like to know that.

Saying that “the time has come for us to move in a more promising direction,” Kerry warned Cuba’s communist leaders, “the United States will always remain a champion of democratic principles and reforms.

“We remain convinced that the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, and practice their faith; where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”

I can no longer take the self-adulating hypocrisy.

Kerry is the highest-ranking US official to visit Cuba since the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

“As two people who are no longer enemies or rivals, but neighbors,” he said in English and Spanish, it is “time to unfurl our flags, raise them up, and let the world know that we wish each other well.”

As long as those flags don't offend anyone.

Kerry also met with Cuban civil society leaders, including a selection of political dissidents. While many support the opening, others have joined some US lawmakers in charging that the administration gave up the principal US leverage in Cuba and got little in return from the repressive government.

Kerry has rejected criticism that Cuban dissidents were not invited to attend the morning embassy ceremony, describing it as a “government to government event.” Several senior administration officials, discussing the sensitive issue on condition of anonymity, said they were taken aback by the criticism.

“You don’t hold an official event to which the host government is invited and make it a forum for government opponents,” one said.

Kerry said human rights would be “at the top of our agenda” in discussions Friday with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He said the United States is committed to pursuing “tough” issues, including human rights, with the Cuban government, and that further progress will be necessary for normalization of relations to proceed.


In a late-afternoon meeting with reporters who traveled here with him, Kerry defended the administration’s handling of human rights issues. “Certain things are going to be required,” he said, “and one of them will be progress on that front.” He said he told Rodriguez that there would be little chance of persuading Congress to lift the embargo without human rights improvement.

It's getting to the point where the benefits aren't worth all the lecturing.

Under the new process for dialogue agreed upon Friday with Rodriguez, US-Cuban issues are to be divided into three baskets of increasing difficulty. The “easy” topics, Kerry said, include maritime issues, climate change, and an environmental dialogue. A second package, he said, is “a little more complicated,” dealing with issues such as civil aviation and Internet connectivity — which the Cuban government has been slow to implement.


The third package of issues, Kerry said, are the “toughies,” including human rights, law enforcement, fugitives from US justice in Cuba, and compensation claims on both sides. “There is no shying away from direct conversation” on tough issues, he said. The first round of talks on these issues, he said, would begin in Washington on Sept. 10.

I stapled the Staples article to this for posting.

Kerry, whose trip here was limited to one day, said he hopes to return to Cuba for a stay of several days sometime this winter, when he said he expected to meet with the Cuban president.

Spewing greenhouse gases all along the way.

Rodriguez said he appreciated US outreach but gave no quarter in Cuba’s complaints about US policy and insistence that the “Cuba reality” is not the antidemocratic regime described in Washington.

“We are very much willing to talk about any of these issues,” Rodriguez said of human rights and democracy, “except that in some of them it would be very difficult to reach an agreement.

“We also have our own concerns in the area of human rights in the United States,” he said, noting racial “discrimination and brutality” issues.

Like what? Torture?


Also seeCuban Jews manage with the kindness of strangers

It really is a self-centered newspaper in so many ways.

NDU: Havana’s hottest spots offer a crowded ramp onto the Internet

It's like a ‘‘water-slide parks in the middle of a desert, a dream come true,’’ so go ahead, log on!

Also see: Airlines Plan More Cuba Flights