<![CDATA[NBC 6 South Florida - South Florida News]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC+6+LOGO+GOOGLE.png NBC 6 South Florida http://www.nbcmiami.com en-us Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:26:27 -0500 Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:26:27 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Vigil Held for Murdered Pakistan Students]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 23:24:13 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000016099384_1200x675_375334467526.jpg

Hundreds gathered at an Islamic school to remember more than 130 children who were killed in Pakistan this week by the Taliban.

"It's like our own kids that died right there," said Millat Tabassun. "I have no words to explain it."

The Islamic Foundation of South Florida organized the candlelight vigil to remember the victims of this week's school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan.

"We want to show the Pakistani people that even though we are here, we are still with them," Tabassun said. "We want to support as much as we can support."

Taliban militants sieged the military-run school early Tuesday, killing 145 people, most of them children. News of the eight-hour massacre spread quickly across the globe, sending shockwaves through this tight-knit South Florida community.

"It is as senseless as anything on this universe can be," said Dr. Sofia Khan, one of the speakers at the vigil.

Khurrum Wahid also spoke, sharing words of hope and togetherness with the large crowd. He said the tragedy struck him personally, as he reflected on a phone conversation with his friend's 12-year-old son in Peshawar.

"Just instinctively, I said, 'How are you doing, Towah?'" Wahid said to the crowd. "And he says, 'I don't know, I just buried four of my friends today.'"

Now, as the community works to draw attention to the massacre, many parents said they are holding their children a little closer.

"If I would check on my kids one time a night, now I'm checking on them like four times, five times a night, because it's just horrible," one parent said.

Another agreed, saying they couldn't imagine the ordeal parents in Pakistan are going through.

"I have a 12 year old and a 17 year old, and I think what would happen if they went to school one day and didn't come back."

Another vigil is planned for 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Torch of Friendship at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.

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<![CDATA[Heat Drop Another Home Game]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 22:29:43 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/460699172.jpg

The Miami Heat lost their fifth straight home game on Friday by falling to the Washington Wizards 105-103.

On the year, the Heat are now 4-9 in games played at American Airlines Arena. On the road, Miami has a winning record but its surprising struggles at home has the team at 12-15 overall. The home record for Miami ranks near the bottom of the league.

The Heat entered the fourth quarter with a lead and still had a chance to win in the final seconds. Turnovers and second-chance opportunities for Washington doomed Miami however. The Heat had 16 turnovers as opposed to nine for the Wizards. Washington had 13 offensive rebounds while Miami only had five.

Hassan Whiteside was a bright spot for Miami in his first extended action of the year. Whiteside gave Miami 16 solid minutes which featured six points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block. The 25-year old picked up five personal fouls but infused the Heat with energy and should see more playing time in the upcoming games.

Dwyane Wade did all he could as the main option for the Heat. With Chris Bosh continuing to nurse a calf injury, Wade saw nearly every play involve him. The guard had 28 points and eight assists along with four rebounds. One of Wade's biggest scores came with under 20 seconds left when he sank a three-pointer. At the time, the basket cut Washington's lead to only one.

Shawne Williams returned to the starting lineup and scored eight points in 24 minutes. The forward also had three rebounds and the team was +18 with him on the court. Williams could continue to start with Josh McRoberts out of action for the foreseeable future.

The Heat will stay home for another contest on Sunday with the Boston Celtics at 6:00 p.m.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Car Thieves Arrested at Hialeah Dealership]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 22:23:03 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/car+thieves+dealership+hialeah+121914.PNG

A car dealership in Hialeah helped police nab people suspected of fraudulently purchasing a vehicle.

Employees at Connection Motors said a woman by the name of Miskea Smith-Gray used someone else's identification to purchase a Cadillac from the dealership.

"Fantastic credit, which when we saw, we were astonished," said dealership employee Felipe Pereira. "We were like, 'wow, you know, they look like decent people and all.'"

The salesman said Smith-Gray handed over a driver's license with her picture on it. She passed all other checks and within an hour drove away in her new car. Only after she left did the dealership realize something went wrong.

"The bank contacts us and they figure out that that's not really the person that took the car," Pereira said.

The dealership got lucky. The next day after allegedly stealing the car, the same woman returned with a man to Connection Motors because they had a problem with the car key. Employees said they already knew by that point she had used fake identification.

"So we said, 'Sure, we'll take care of the problem,'" Pereira said. "We held them down at the dealer, we took the car, and we contacted the police. In a matter of five minutes, the police were there and we had them arrested."

This isn't the first time this dealership has had fraudulent customers. Just last week, another woman got away with an Infiniti G37. Dealership employees believe both cases are connected.

"We got to stay on the lookout and we got to make sure we verify that these people are actually who they say they are," Pereira said.

The Infiniti has not been located. The dealership is offering a reward. Anyone with information is urged to contact Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).

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<![CDATA[Family Pleads For Public's Help After Teen Gunned Down]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 17:57:55 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/julian+bryant+overtown+shooting.PNG

The family of a teenager gunned down in a drive-by shooting is asking for the public's help to find his killers.

Julian Bryant, 17, died on Wednesday from wounds he suffered in a drive-by shooting on December 14th. Detectives are still looking for the people who shot him and the other victims when they were standing near their homes in Overtown at NW 2nd Avenue and 13th Street.

"We're in shock," said Horace Bryant, Julian's father. "He was just hanging out. He wasn't doing anything."

Bryant's father and sisters called his death senseless, saying he had his entire future in front of him and didn't deserve to die this way.

"They took the only thing I had left," said Ortisha Holt, Bryant's sister. "He was all I had."

One man in his 50s who was also shot remains in the hosptial and three others are recovering. Detectives said a high-powered rifle and another weapon were both fired from a passing vehicle.

"People are very skeptical about telling us if they know who did it, or who did it, or if they saw a vehicle," said Detective John Rusinque. "We have no idea at this point."

The detectives know a black SUV was nearby but can't say if the shots came from it.

Bryant's family hopes by speaking out that those in the neighborhood who know something will come forward. His sister told us her mother was also a murder victim over a decade ago.

"Can you please just come forward," Holt pleaded. "You can remain anonymous. You don't have to give your name. Just come forward."

Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers is offering a reward up to $3,000. Anyone with information is urged to call them at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).

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<![CDATA[Teen Arrested in Vandalism of Arts Center]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 17:38:16 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/dakota+kiernan+coral+springs+mug.jpg

A teenager is behind bars after police say he vandalized the Coral Springs Center for the Arts. Police are still searching for a second suspect.

Coral Springs Police arrested 18-year-old Dakota Kiernan, charging him with burglary, grand theft and criminal mischief for breaking into the entertainment center at 2855 Coral Springs Drive on Monday.

Coral Springs Police Lt. Joe McHugh said employees coming into work on the morning of Tuesday, December 16th discovered the building had been ransacked the night before.

Police said fire extinguishers, flat-screen televisions, and electronic defribillators had been removed from their wall mounts. Several walls had been spray painted with profanity, and feces had been left on the floor. Snack stands, vending machines and audio equipment had also been damaged.

McHugh said they used fingerprints found on a can of spray paint left at the scene to link Kiernan to the crime. They are still looking for another vandal. Anyone with information is asked to call Coral Springs Police.

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<![CDATA[Robbers Followed Shopper Home: Miami-Dade Police]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 13:09:22 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121914+followed+home+robbery.jpg

Police are searching for at least two suspects who followed a woman home from shopping and robbed her at her Doral home.

The robbery happened back on Nov. 25 at a home in the 10000 block of Northwest 87th Terrace, Miami-Dade Police said.

The suspects followed the woman home and while she was inside unloading some bags, one suspect entered her garage and started taking property from her vehicle, police said.

When the woman returned to the garage, she got into a struggle with the suspect over some shopping bags. The suspect ran into a waiting car and fled with $3,000 worth of items, police said.

Police said the suspects were in a white newer model Toyota. The suspect is described as a white male between 17-21 years old.

Anyone with information is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.



Photo Credit: Miami-Dade Police]]>
<![CDATA[Broward Judge Found Guilty in DUI Trial]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 17:41:01 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/110613+judge+cynthia+imperato.jpg

A Broward judge facing DUI and reckless driving charges in Palm Beach County was found guilty Friday.

Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato, 57, faces up to a year in jail on the charges, which stem from a November 2013 traffic stop. Imperato had pleaded not guilty.

According to police, an officer spotted Imperato driving erratically and nearly hitting another car in Boca Raton. After she was stopped, the officer could smell a strong odor of alcohol coming from her breath and noted that her eyes were red and glassy, her speech was slow and slurred, and her face was red and flush, according to the arrest report.

Imperato refused to get out of her car and when the officer opened her door, she refused to walk to the front of the officer's car, the report said.

Imperato has been a Broward circuit judge since 2003 and ran unopposed in 2010. Her term is set to end in 2017.



Photo Credit: Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Life Sentence for Man in Killing of Politician Dad]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 18:47:33 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121914+jason+beckman.jpg

Jason Beckman was sentenced to life behind bars Friday for the 2009 shooting death of his father, South Miami Commissioner Jay Beckman.

Judge Rodney Smith said Beckman will serve a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison before he can ask for parole.

"This is who you are, you're very vengeful, your personality is a ticking time bomb," Smith told Beckman as he handed down the sentence.

Beckman, clad in orange prison clothing, expressed some remorse to Smith over the shooting.

"My father shouldn't be dead, I wish he was here and not because I'm here but because I loved him and I really feel like I could have improved my relationship with him just by doing a few things differently," Beckman said.

Sentencing in the case had been delayed several times in the past year. Beckman was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting in November 2013.

Beckman was originally charged with manslaughter with a firearm after he told police that he had just wanted to show the gun to his father, but he slipped and fell causing the gun to fire. The charges were upgraded to first-degree murder after friends and family came forward saying the then-17-year-old had talked of killing his father.

A search of the son's belongings showed the former South Miami High junior had compiled a hit list of enemies, with his dad's name on the top, authorities said. Defense attorneys had argued that Jason Beckman didn't shoot the gun intentionally.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Receives New Heart at Hollywood Hospital]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:38:50 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121914+kristen+bracken+kaiden.jpg

A baby is going home from a South Florida hospital with a new heart just in time for the holidays.

Kaiden, who is just 11 months old, underwent the procedure at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood.

Around Easter, he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and doctors gave him a mechanical heart while they waited for a real one.

Doctors were able to transplant the real heart last week.

"You think you have a healthy son, there's nothing wrong with him and you're told by doctors who grab your hand and say 'we'll do everything we can but we can't guarantee his life,'" mother Kristen Bracken said.

Kaiden will have to take medications so his body doesn't reject the new heart but otherwise, he's doing great.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Weather: Warm and Dry Friday, Weekend]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:52:49 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000016085259_1200x675_374945859771.jpg Weather Forecast -- 5 AM -- December 19, 2014]]> <![CDATA[Mixed Lawmaker Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Relations]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:34:11 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/216*120/gop+presser+cuba+121814.PNG

Wednesday's announcement of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba has shown a political and generational divide stretching from Miami to Capitol Hill.

The punches kept coming from South Florida Republicans as they argued against President Obama's plans to improve relations with Cuba.

"Let there be no mistake, what the President has done is give the Castro regime, a state-sponsor of terrorism, exactly what they've been asking for, not one thing less," said Republican U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart.

President Obama on Wednesday announced that the U.S. will seek to re-establish an embassy in Havana, as well as open travel and trade for Americans wanting to do business with the island nation.

"We are calling on Cuba to unleash potential by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social and economic activities," President Obama said. "In that spirit, we shouldn't allow US sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help."

While Republicans in South Florida are voicing their opposition, the president is getting support from the GOP outside of the state.

"For those who say that this is a concession somehow to the Cuban regime, these moves that are being made today, I think that that is the wrong way to look at it," said Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. "That is simply wrong."

And Havana resident Padre Perez believes the move will help his country.

"It is great news for the end of the year," Perez said. "The country's economy is going to grove, relations are going to improve."

The president will need many more backers from the other side of the aisle to lift the embargo, which requires an act of Congress.

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<![CDATA[Lauderhill Cop Injured in Crash]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:38:15 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/lauderhill+cop+crash+121814.PNG

A police officer was one of four people injured in a Lauderhill traffic accident Thursday night.

The accident happened around 8:30 p.m. in the intersection of 441 and NW 16th Street.

A police cruiser, two other vehicles, and a pedestrian were involved in the crash, said Lauderhill Fire Rescue Capt. Jerry Gonzalez.

The officer was transported to Broward Health Medical Center with serious injuries. Three others with minor injuries were taken to area hospitals.

According to police, the officer involved in the accident was on-duty at the time of the crash.

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<![CDATA[Panthers Notch 2nd Straight Shootout Victory]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 22:57:05 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/460648944.jpg

The Florida Panthers picked up a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in a game that ended in a shootout.

It was the second straight time that the Panthers headed to a shootout but this one was a bit shorter. On Tuesday, Florida set an NHL record when it went 20 round during its shootout with the Washington Capitals. This shootout only lasted six rounds before the Panthers came away victorious.

The win improved Florida to 14-8-8 on the season which kept it in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have been remarkably similar at home and away. When playing at BB&T Center, Florida is 7-4-2. On the road, the Panthers are 7-4-6 after this win.

Scottie Upshall scored towards the middle of the first period for Florida's first goal of the game. It was Upshall's fourth of the season and assists went to Tomas Kopecky and Dylan Olsen. This would end up being the only goal for the Panthers in regulation.

In the shootout, Brandon Pirri went first and scored. After Philadelphia matched that goal with a score of its own, Dave Bolland picked up a goal. The Flyers were unable to match that one and the Panthers skated off with the win.

Roberto Luongo was solid once again as he saved 25 of the 26 chances sent his way. The goalie also saved an additional two attempts during the shootout.

Brad Boyes and Vincent Trocheck were healthy scratches for Florida.

The Panthers will try to make it three wins in a row on Saturday in Pittsburgh when they take on the Penguins.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Elderly Woman Dies in Miami Beach House Fire]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:35:02 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/elderly+miami+beach+fire+121814.PNG

An elderly woman has died after a fire broke out early Thursday evening at a home on Miami Beach.

Violet Camacho witnessed rescuers pulling her 100-year-old neighbor out of the burning building.

"The fire trucks pulled in front of my driveway, there was a lot of smoke coming out," Camacho said. "As I'm trying to pull out of my driveway I saw them pull out the neighbor who lives next door."

Fire crews arrived to find flames shooting out of the two-story house.

"Our units made an interior offensive attack, and we were able to go ahead and locate the victim," said Jesus Sola with Miami Beach Fire Rescue. "We were able to bring her out, which we transported to Mount Sinai."

Officials said the woman died en route to the hospital.

Despite arson investigators at the scene, firefighters said the blaze appears to be an accident. Arson investigators are routinely called anytime there is a fatality as a result of a fire.

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<![CDATA[Reward Offered After Pitbull's Leg Is Mutilated]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:41:29 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/dog+hook+121814.PNG

A dog is recovering after he was discovered with a horrific injury: a hiking carabiner hooked straight through his hind leg.

Ziggs, a one-year-old pitbull, was discovered roaming through Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood Wednesday afternoon, dragging a severed leash behind him. That leash was attached to the carabiner, which Dr. Al Meilan at South Federal Animal Hospital said was forcibly and intentionally inserted into the dog's leg.

"The carabiner is a dull thing, so in order to get it, they had to use a drill or something sharp to make the hole first, and then stick the carabiner through his leg," Meilan said.

Members of the Forgotten Dog Rescue believe the dog's owners used the carabiner to restrain the dog.

"Someone actually went out of their way to do this to this dog," said Amy Blitz with the rescue group. "It ranks on the mutilation type of torture."

Meilan said it appears the ring had been lodged in Ziggs' leg for several months, with evidence of similar injuries in the past.

Forgotten Dog Rescue said they are offering a cash reward for any information that leads to the arrest of Ziggs' owner. The rescuers said they won't stop until there is justice for the injured dog.

"The person that did this, it's probably somebody that if they could do this to an animal, they could do it to a person or a child," Blitz said.

The animal hospital expects Ziggs to make a full recovery within two to three weeks. He will be made available for adoption once he heals.

Anyone with information about the dog's owners can leave an anonymous tip with the Forgotten Dog Rescue via email at forgottendogrescue@yahoo.com.

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<![CDATA[School Board Sued After Teacher Had Sex With Teen]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 21:55:58 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/school+board+sued+teacher+121814.PNG

A teenager has filed a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade School Board and her former teacher after she alleges her teacher had sex with her last year.

Bressnniel Jansen, who was arrested at South Dade High School earlier this year, admitted to having sex with one of his students. He pleaded guilty to five felony counts, including unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

The 16-year-old teen, who does not want to be identified, says the school district failed to protect her.

"What he did was entirely wrong," she said. "He took advantage of his position. As an adult he took advantage. You would think that someone twice your age would know better."

Back in 2008, school district officials investigated claims that Jansen had an inappropriate relationship with a female student. Five years later, he admitted guilt in this separate case.

The teen's lawyer said the district should have heeded the warning signs years ago. He claims the school received complaints about the teacher but still allowed Jansen to teach unsupervised.

"Does anybody think it is a coincidence that five years earlier, there was a complaint about the same teacher making inappropriate advances on another young student of his, and the school board did nothing about it," said attorney John Leighton.

The teen said the school did nothing to prevent the same thing from happening again.

"I am just in shock that after what occurred in 2008 happened again and they allowed him to stay there," she said.

The 22-page lawsuit against the district complains it was negligent in not providing a safe environment for the student, allowing Jansen "access to female students, privacy in his classroom, and no supervision. Female students at the school were at grave risk for sexual abuse."

When NBC 6 reached out to Miami-Dade Schools for a comment, a spokesperson responded, "The school district does not comment on pending litigation."

Jansen is serving 10 years of probation as part of his plea agreement. He was added to the state's list of registered sex offenders.

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<![CDATA[Gas Station Raided for Alleged Food Stamp Fraud]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:03:12 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/215*120/sunoco+gas+station+raid+ebt+fraud.PNG

A gas station worker in Davie was arrested for food stamp fraud after a store was raided Thursday.

Davie Police served a search warrant at the Food Mart America store at the Sunoco gas station at 4201 Davie Road. They arrested 37-year-old store operator Mohamed Yusuf Belim.

Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle said his department received tips from residents about a year ago that the operator of the store was giving cash for EBT cards, known as electronic benefits transfers or food stamps.

"He'd give you about 50 percent of the value you have on your card in cash, and then he takes that card and makes purchases elsewhere, essentially doubling his money," Engle said.

Police said they found synthetic marijuana during the raid, and detectives made a number of controlled buys from the store. Belim faces charges of fraudulent electronic benefits transfers as well as suspicion of the sale of a controlled substance.

Engle said they are working to determine how else the money in the scheme was used.

"It's a concern, not only the fact that they're stealing government money and selling illegal drugs, but where's that money going from here?" Engle said.

Detectives are asking anyone who may have been a victim of fraud to call Davie Police. Anyone with information is urged to contact Broward Crime Stoppers at (954) 493-TIPS (8477).

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<![CDATA[Cuban Adjustment Act to Spark Renewed Debate]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:53:29 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/wet+foot+dry+foot+cuba+121814.PNG

The Cuban Adjustment Act, which includes the well-known "Wet Foot/Dry Foot" policy, remains as-is, but both lawmakers and Cuban exiles in Miami know the President's announcement will spark a heated debate in Washington about changes to the law.

"The Cuban Adjustment Act is based on the premise that the Cuban people are fleeing tyranny and oppression," said U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio. "And now the U.S. government has said that we no longer consider Cuba to be repressive and a dictatorship."

Cuban-born Karel Suarez stepped foot on U.S. soil eight years ago. His immigration story is a common one: he flew to Mexico and crossed the border.

"I was only for like six hours at the border," Suarez said. "After six hours they gave me my papers and said 'Welcome to the United States.'"

Immigrants from other countries do not get the same greeting. Like most Cubans protected under the act, he was allowed to remain in the United States. In one year, Suarez had his residency. Five years later, he became a U.S. citizen.

"Most Cubans, we feel lucky and feel privileged for having that," Suarez said. "We know that there are other people and other Latin Americans that don't have this privilege."

Suarez said some change is better than no change at all for the island nation.

"It's a huge risk that I have to take if I want this for the greater good for the actual people of Cuba," he said.

But Suarez is torn, knowing that if the act is altered, his relatives in Cuba may never get to experience the freedom he's lived for the past eight years. It's a sentiment echoed by Rubio.

"I do think that's going to be an interesting question that will be posed in the months to come, primarily by many of my colleagues who have long questioned the Cuban Adjustment Act to begin with."

Many Cuban exiles in Miami would like to leave the Cuban Adjustment Act as-is. Some say the oppressive Castro regime will not switch gears simply because of the renewed dialogue with President Obama.

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<![CDATA[Broward Humane Society's Adoptable Pets: Dec. 18, 2014]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:14:47 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/181214Brownie+520738.jpg Broward Humane Society's Adoptable Pets Dec. 18, 2014]]> <![CDATA[No Bond for Cop Accused of Aiding Drug Traffickers]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:56:10 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/jose+maldonado+dick.jpg

A Miami Police officer accused of assisting drug traffickers appeared before a judge today, asking for permission to go home until his January trial.

Officer Jose Maldonado-Dick, a 7-year veteran who patrolled the Wynwood area, was charged with two counts each of armed cocaine trafficking, receiving compensation for unlawful behavior, official misconduct by a public servant and using a communication device unlawfully, according to an affidavit.

Prosecutors said Maldonado went to a McDonald's parking lot on two different dates to act as a lookout for a drug dealer.

"He had no problem wearing this badge and violating the law," said prosecutor Warren Eth. "Committing the second most serious felony that you can in the state of Florida. There's only one worse crime that this defendant didn't commit and that's a capital offense."

Maldonado's attorney argued that his client was not a flight risk.

"He's going to fight these charges to the end," said defense attorney Carlos Gonzalez. "He's not going anywhere until he's acquitted by a jury. He has no desire whatsoever to leave South Florida."

Family members and friends gave testimony trying to show that Maldonado was an asset to his community and should be allowed to go home until his trial. But after almost three hours, the judge ruled Maldonado will continue to be held without bond.

Maldonado will remain in jail until his trial starts on January 20, 2015.

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<![CDATA[Spy Released by Cuban Government Identified]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:18:30 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/rolando+saraff+trujillo+pics.jpg

A former United States intelligence officer has confirmed to NBC News that the U.S. spy who was returned to the U.S. yesterday is Rolando Sarraff Trujillo.

Trujillo was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Cuban authorities back in 1995. Chris Simmons, the former intelligence officer who worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), said Trujillo was almost certainly involved in agent communications.

President Barack Obama yesterday only identified Trujillo as "one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba."

In a press release, the Director of National Intelligence stated that the man "provided the information that led to the identification and conviction of Defense Intelligence Agency senior analyst Ana Belen Montes; former Department of State official Walter Kendall Myers and his spouse Gwendolyn Myers; and members of the Red Avispa network, or 'Wasp Network,' in Florida, which included members of the so-called 'Cuban Five.'"

The release added, "In light of his sacrifice on behalf of the United States, securing his release from prison after 20 years - in a swap for three of the Cuban spies he helped put behind bars - is fitting closure to this Cold World chapter of U.S.-Cuban relations."

A blog, reportedly set up by family who remains in Cuba, states they have not seen him nor talked to him recently despite regular communications.

"Nearly 24 hours [after] the news of the release of political prisoners by the Cuban government, the families of Rolando Trujillo Sarraff [is] still awaiting an official statement that reveals us the status and whereabouts of our brother," the blog said in a post. "While the families of Alan Gross and the 3 enjoy their loved ones at home, our family does not know anything about him."

The blog, written in Spanish, also includes images of him as a 32-year-old in 1995 along with images of him from earlier this year.

Neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the CIA would reveal Trujillo's identity yesterday or confirm NBC's reporting today. Both the New York Times and Newsweek have also identified Trujillo.



Photo Credit: rolandosarraff.wordpress.com]]>
<![CDATA[Lawmakers Discuss Cuba Policy Change]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:57:23 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121814+lawmakers+cuba.jpg

Prominent South Florida Republicans held a news conference Thursday to discuss the new change in policy on U.S.-Cuba relations.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart all spoke at the news conference. They also discussed Wednesday's release of American Alan Gross from a Cuban prison.

Rubio, a Cuban-American, called the opening in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba a misstep by President Obama.

"It colludes with America's enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear," he said. "But most importantly, the regime's brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed."

Ros-Lehtinen also denounced the policy change.

"The liberalization policies aimed at easing trade and remittances to Cuba is another propaganda coup for the Castro brothers, who will now fill their coffers with more money at the expense of the Cuban people," she said in a statement. "It is quite possible that this unilateral action by the President without Congressional consultation is in violation of the following U.S. laws: Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and the Trading with the Enemy Act."

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<![CDATA['I Want a Change Now': Mixed Reaction To Cuba News]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:14:06 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121814+outside+versailles.jpg

The debate among Miami's exile community continued Thursday, a day after President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was moving to normalize relations with Cuba.

"Obama, coward! Obama, coward!" one man chanted outside Versailles restaurant.

Some argue the Castro regime is now getting something for nothing under the new change in policy, and said they want to keep the embargo in place.

"The grip is gonna be tighter now in Cuba. Much tighter," Salvador Rodriguez said.

Others said it was time to do something different than what has failed to topple the regime in more than five decades.

"It is time to do something, and Obama is doing something," Cuban exile Santiago Portal said. "I want a change now."

But Rodriguez said softening the American stance toward Cuba is throwing the regime a lifeline.

"We're gonna have the Castros for twenty more years now," Rodriguez said.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Victim in Overtown Drive-By Shooting Dies]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:04:25 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121514+5+shot+overtown.jpg

One of the five people hospitalized after a drive-by shooting in Overtown this past weekend has died, police said Thursday.

Julian Bryant, 22, died Wednesday night, Miami Police said.

Bryant was among a group of people who were standing in front of 1311 Northwest 2nd Avenue when a black SUV drove by and someone opened fire Sunday night.

Witnesses said 20-30 shots were fired. Victims ranged in age from 17 to 54.

The motive for the shooting remains unknown. Police are still looking for the SUV.

Anyone with information is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Miami-Dade Animal Services Adoptable Pets - Dec. 19, 2014]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:48:29 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*120/Rosa+A1662032.jpg Miami-Dade Animal Services Adoptable Pets - Dec. 19, 2014]]> <![CDATA[Teens Arrested in Connection With Good Samaritan's Murder]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:01:16 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121814+jaquan+mejia.jpg

Two teens are behind bars in connection with the killing of a good Samaritan who was shot while trying to protect a group of kids in Miami.

A 16-year-old suspect is facing charges of first-degree murder and burglary, while 19-year-old Jaquan Mejia faces a burglary charge, Miami Police said Wednesday.

Police said a group of children were playing in front of an apartment building at 3293 Northwest 11th Court on Nov. 13 when a yellow Ford Mustang drove erratically around them.

Bradley Holt was nearby and shouted at the people in the car to try to protect the children, and that's when someone fired a shot from inside the car, hitting Holt, police said.

Holt, 24, was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center, where he later died.

Police arrested the 16-year-old suspect for the shooting on Tuesday night, police said. During the arrest, the teen and Mejia broke into a home while trying to flee officers, police said.

Mejia was being held on $7,500 bond Thursday. It's unknown whether he has an attorney. The teen was in juvenile detention.



Photo Credit: Miami-Dade Corrections]]>
<![CDATA[Weather: Cool Morning, Warm Afternoon Thursday]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:46:14 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000016066742_1200x675_374405187736.jpg Weather Forecast -- 5 AM -- December 18, 2014]]> <![CDATA[Sluggish Heat No Match For Lowly Jazz]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 22:17:48 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/460609154.jpg

The Miami Heat appeared to be a step slower than the Utah Jazz in their 105-87 loss on Wednesday.

An early morning arrival for Miami looked like it played a role in the loss to the 7-19 Jazz. The Heat seemed a bit off their game from the start of this one. The loss came a day after a win in Brooklyn over the Nets that ended late due to a leaky roof.

This was the first game of a stretch of seven straight at home where Miami is only 4-8 on the season. The Heat actually have a winning record on the road but their mark at American Airlines Arena has them sitting at 12-14 overall on the year.

Chris Bosh remained out with his strained calf and his timetable for returning is currently unknown. With Bosh out, the Heat had Chris Andersen join the starting lineup. The veteran just returned to action on Sunday and has been building his minutes up. Andersen had 25 minutes on the court in this one with six points and nine rebounds.

Dwyane Wade had a season-high 42 points to go along with three assists and four boards in 34 minutes. With Bosh on the bench, most of the plays are centered around Wade. Even with the defense knowing this, the guard has stepped up and has produced as much as possible.

Miami had trouble finding the bottom of the basket as a team in the loss. Overall, the Heat shot only 38.6% and they were even worse from downtown. Miami was 4-17 on trey attempts with Mario Chalmers and Shawne Williams combining for seven of those misses.

The Washington Wizards will visit Miami on Friday as the Heat look to turn things around at home.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Two Elderly Pedestrians Killed by Car in Deerfield Beach: BSO]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:36:03 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121814+deerfield+beach+elderly+couple+struck+and+killed.jpg

A car struck and killed an elderly couple as they were crossing the street Wednesday evening in Deerfield Beach, according to Broward Sheriff's Office.

The two pedestrians were hit at 633 Ocean Boulevard around 7 p.m., officials said.

A street light was out on the road when the couple was struck, according to BSO.

The victims were later identified as 85-year-old Philip Kendall and 80-year-old Francine Freedman. The couple had just moved to South Florida the day before they were killed, BSO officials said.

The 64-year-old driver stayed at the scene, and it was unknown whether he'll face charges.

Authorities and witnesses said the street light could have been a factor in the incident.

"It's possible that the location itself may have played a role in this incident, it is dark, there is no cross street here so it may have been difficult for the driver to see the couple as they crossed the road," BSO spokeswoman Gina Carter said.

"There's a light here but it's not on so it's very dark here and we've complained about that," witness Howard Comstock said.

The BSO is investigating the crash.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Shout Out on 6: "Are You in Favor of The Policy Changes with Cuba Proposed by Obama?"]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:34:33 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Shout+out+on+6THUMBNAIL.jpg

 

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<![CDATA[Influential Republicans Slam Opening to Cuba]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:30:26 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121714+marco+rubio+discusses+developments+in+cuba.jpg

Reaction to changes in U.S.-Cuba relations fell mostly along party lines on Wednesday, with prospective GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio denouncing the decision by the Obama administration.

Bush, the former governor of Florida, called the move toward easing ties with Cuba President Obama's latest misstep.

Though he said he was delighted that American Alan Gross had been released from a Cuban prison, he charged that Obama had again overstepped his executive authority.

"Cuba is a dictatorship with a disastrous human rights record, and now President Obama has rewarded those dictators," he said. "We should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba."

Rubio, a Cuban-American from Florida, called the opening the latest in a long line of failed attempts by Obama to appease rogue regimes.

The president’s decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba is inexplicable, Rubio said, while Cuba, like Syria, Iran and Sudan, remains a sponsor of terrorism.

“It colludes with America's enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear,” he said. “But most importantly, the regime's brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed.”

The new course announced by the White House, which covers diplomatic relations, cultural exchanges, economic engagements, religious travel and other policies, does not affect the longtime economic embargo. Only Congress can change that.

And said Rubio: “This Congress is not going to lift the embargo.”

Unlike many other Democrats, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is the second Cuban-American in the Senate, criticized the exchange of Gross for three Cubans in prison in the United States as a swap of an innocent American for three convicted spies.

"President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government,” he said.

With the exchange, the president established a dangerous precedent that invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans as bargaining chips, he said.

"This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba's opposition movement and the hardening of the government's dictatorial hold on its people,” he said.

Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, said that as attitudes toward Cuba have changed among younger Cuban Americans, opposition to the regime there comes with risks for politicians. Obama carried Cuban Americans in Florida in 2012, he said.

“People under 45 have a very different view than people over 45,” he said. “So it’s clearly a generational difference.”

Opinions shaped in 1960s, during the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion, do not necessarily still hold.

“So being opposed to the regime in Cuba is no longer a free ride for politicians,” he said. “There’s risks and costs.”

A poll done by Florida International University has tracked opinions of the Cuban-American community in South Florida for two decades. This year, it found that a slight majority of CubanAmericans in Miami-Dade County opposed continuing the embargo — 52 percent overall and 62 percent among those 18 to 29 years old. Sixty-eight percent favored diplomatic relations with Cuba and 69 percent backed lifting restrictions impeding all Americans from traveling to Cuba.

But 63 percent said they believed Cuba should continue to be designated a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” with Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Among registered voters, 53 percent said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to vote for a candidate who supported re-establishing diplomatic relations. Fifty-seven percent said they would be very or somewhat likely to vote for someone who backed replacing the embargo with a policy that increased support for independent business owners in Cuba.

Much other reaction from national politicians fell along party lines, though some politicians took neutral tones.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is to become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he was pleased Gross was being reunited with his family after years of mistreatment by the Castro regime.

"The new U.S. policy announced by the administration is no doubt sweeping, and as of now there is no real understanding as to what changes the Cuban government is prepared to make,” he said. “We will be closely examining the implications of these major policy changes in the next Congress."

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona released a joint statement on Obama's announcement.

"We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today's chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values it stands for in retreat and decline," the statement read. "It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama's watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?"

House Speaker John Boehner also denounced the president's policy change.

"Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom - and not one second sooner. There is no 'new course' here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies," Boehner said.

Florida Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that although he was happy for Gross and his family, the exchange made America less safe and emboldened the dictatorship in Cuba.

“This prisoner swap sends a signal to rogue regimes and actors that taking an American hostage can be leveraged into scoring policy concessions,” he said.

But two Republicans broke ranks, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Flake, who traveled with Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland to Havana to pick up Gross, said the policies in place had done more to keep the Castro regimes in power.

Sanford said the existing travel policy was inconsistent with individual liberty and freedom of movement. The move toward establishing a U.S. embassy in Cuba was wise, he said.

Leahy, the chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, congratulated Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro for making history.

“After 64 years of animosity rooted in the Cold War, they have finally put our two countries on a new path,” said Leahy, a Democrat who had visited Gross twice in prison in Cuba and who has led efforts for fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

U.S. policy has been frozen in time and had failed to achieved its goals, he said.

Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin, who also met with Gross in prison, said that Gross’ release sends a message to Americans held around the world that the country will not forget them.

“A more regular relationship between the United States and Cuba has been overdue and is now possible,” he said. “U.S. policy up to now has not worked in U.S. interests, and it has not weakened the Cuban regime.”

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said he supported Obama despite Cuba’s history, though he added: “I remain concerned about human rights and political freedom inside Cuba, but I support moving forward toward a new path with Cuba.”

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<![CDATA[Exiles in Miami React to Cuba Developments]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 19:20:55 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121714+jose+basulto.jpg

Reactions from the Cuban exile community in Miami were mixed after President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba were moving to normalize relations.

Jose Basulto, president of exile group Brothers to the Rescue, said he was happy that jailed American Alan Gross was freed but said he was upset that three Cuban spies were being released.

"I think that it's offensive to the Cuban-American community and the voters in the Cuban-American community at large what this administration has done," Basulto said.

The Brothers to the Rescue was a group of exiles whose planes dropped leaflets over Cuba. Four members of the group were killed when two of their planes were shot down in 1996.

Maggie Khuly, sister of Armando Alejandre Jr., one of the pilots killed in the 1996 incident, also expressed frustration over the release of the convicted spies.

"They are calling it a humanitarian exchange but not one had the decency to call the families and tell us this was happening," Khuly said. "We cannot believe our country has done this to us. It's horrible, and it's a slap in the face to the U.S. justice system. These convictions went up to the Supreme Court, which decided not to take the case."

At Versailles restaurant in Little Havana, many older generation Cubans expressed anger over the announcement.

"The United States at this moment is on their knees to the Castro regime," said Miguel Saaverdra, president of the Vigilia Mambisa Organization.

Others said they believe the changes will help ordinary Cubans.

"I truly believe that the embargo and not having negotiations with Cuba have only hurt the Cuban people, not the Cuban regime, not the Castro brothers, but the Cuban people," Sebastian Paris said.

"It's not in any way saying that we agree with the policies of the Cuban government," Jorge Davila said. "We don't agree with the way the Chinese government treats its people, we don't agree with the way the Saudi Arabian government treats its people, that does not mean that we don't have embassadors in those nations, that we don't have political dialogue with those nations."

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<![CDATA[Timeline: Cuba - US Relations]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:37:59 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*120/Alan+Gross+arrives+in+US.jpg

Relations between the United States and Cuba have been contentious and intertwined even before the U.S. imposed an economic embargo to Cuba in 1960. A look at the most important events since the United States declared war on Spain in 1898:

  • 1898: The United States declares war on Spain.
     
  • 1898: The U.S. defeats Spain. As a result, it gives up all claims to Cuba and cedes to the U.S.
     
  • 1934: The U.S. ceases to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs, revises Cuba’s quota and changes tariffs to favor Cuba.
     
  • 1953: Fidel Castro leads a botched revolt against Fulgencio Batista regime.
     
  • 1958: The U.S. withdraws military aid to Batista.
     
  • 1959: Castro forced Batista to flee after leading a strong guerrilla army into Havana. Castro becomes prime minister.
     
  • April 1959: Castro unofficially meets U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon during a visit to Washington, D.C.

THE 1960s 

  • 1960: The United States breaks off diplomatic relations with Havana and imposed an official ban on trade after all American businesses in Cuba were nationalized without any compensation. The official prohibition on exports to Cuba except food and medicine is a commercial, economic and financial embargo. It limits American companies from conducting business with Cuban interest.
     
  • 1961: The U.S. supports the invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. The operation failed and Castro proclaims Cuba a communist state and begins to ally it with the Soviet Union.
     
  • 1962: Cuban missile crisis escalate after Castro, fearing an U.S. invasion, allows the Soviet Union to deploy nuclear missiles on the island. The U.S. released photos of Soviet nuclear missile silos in Cuba which triggered a crisis that took both superpowers to the brink of nuclear war.
     
  • Feb. 7, 1962: The embargo on Cuba was extended to include almost all imports.

THE 1980s AND 1990s

  • 1980: 125,000 Cubans, many of them convicts, flee to the U.S. after Castro temporarily lifted restrictions.
     
  • 1993: The U.S. tightens its embargo on Cuba, but introduces some market reforms in order to help its deteriorating economy. This included the legalization of the U.S. dollar, among other reforms.
     
  • 1994: Cuba signs an agreement with the U.S. by which the U.S. agreed to admit 20,000 Cubans annually in an attempt to stop Cuba from releasing an exodus of refugees.
     
  • 1996: U.S. reacts swiftly and makes the U.S. trade embargo permanent after Cuba’s shooting down of two U.S. aircrafts operated by Cuban exiles living in Miami.
     
  • 1998: The U.S. eases restrictions that allow Cuban Americans to send money to relatives in Cuba.
     
  • November 1999: Elian Gonzalez is rescued off the Florida coast after a boat in which his mother, stepfather and others capsized. An intensive campaign by Cuban exiles begins to prevent Elian from rejoining his father in Cuba. After several long court battles, he finally rejoined his father in 2000.

THE 2000s

  • 2001: Five Cubans convicted in Miami for spying for the Cuban government.
    November 2001: U.S. exports food to Cuba for the first time in four decades to help the country cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle. The Cuban government made the request.
     
  • 2002: Prisoners, considered al-Qaeda suspects, taken by American troops in Afghanistan are flown into Guantanamo Bay for interrogation.
     
  • 2003: President George Bush announces new measures designed to end the communist rule in Cuba, which includes tightening a travel embargo to the island and enforcing penalties on illegal cash transfers among other measures.
     
  • August 2006: Fidel Castro undergoes surgery and hands over power of government to his brother Raul Castro.
     
  • 2006: Then Congressman Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., arrives in Cuba with the largest-bipartisan delegation from the U.S. Congress to ever visit the island nation, but is denied to meet with Raul Castro.
     
  • 2007: Raul Castro indicates that he may be open to conversations to mend relations with the U.S.
     
  • 2008: New poll suggests a majority of Cuban-Americans living in Miami want an end to U.S. embargo against Cuba.
     
  • April 2009: President Barack Obama lifts restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba.
  • December 2009: American citizen Alan Gross is detained in Cuba and accused of spying for Washington.
     
  • 2011: Convicted Cuban agent Rene Gonzalez is freed from a Florida jail. He was part of a group known as the Cuban Five, all convicted of spying and given long sentences to serve in U.S. prisons.
     
  • 2012: Cuba hints that it’s ready to negotiate with Washington on finding a solution on the Gross case.
     
  • Dec. 17, 2014: Cuban government freed Alan Gross and he arrives to U.S. soil before 11 a.m. eastern time.

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<![CDATA[From Cigars to Travel: Key Changes to U.S.-Cuba Relations]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:36:01 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/219*120/cuba+flag.jpg

In historic news on Wednesday, the United States and Cuba are to start talks on normalizing relations between the two countries. The congressional embargo remains in place,but President Obama in a noon addressed announced major changes in travel and business policies, saying that increased commerce was good for both Americans and Cubans.

“We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help," he said.

What will it mean to ordinary Americans and companies wanting to do business in Cuba? Here are some key changes:

Diplomatic relations

Secretary of State John Kerry will begin discussions with Cuba on re-establishing diplomatic relations that broke off in January 1961. In the coming months, the United States will open an embassy in Havana and initiate high-level exchanges between the two governments.

Travel

Tourist travel to Cuba is still banned, but restrictions will be eased in 12 categories: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and some intergovernmental organizations; journalists; professional research and meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations and research and educational institutes; export or import of information; and export transactions that may be considered under existing regulations. Only Congress can lift the ban on tourist travel.

Money

Americans will be able to send $2,000 a quarter to Cuba, up from $500. Donations to humanitarian projects, to support Cubans and for the development of private businesses will not longer require a specific license.

Imports

Travelers to Cuba will be able to bring back Cuban cigars for personal use. Overall, Americans will be allowed $400 worth of goods, $100 for tobacco and alcohol. They will be able to use U.S. credit and debit cards while traveling to Cuba.

Exports

To help build the private sector in Cuba, the sale of commercial goods and services will be eased to include agricultural equipment for small farmers, building materials for private residences, and goods for use by Cuban entrepreneurs. U.S. institutions will be able to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions

Internet Access

Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish infrastructure in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and Internet services. Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates at 5 percent. Telecommunications services are limited and expensive.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Twitter Reaction to U.S., Cuba Normalized Relations]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:09:19 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121714+cuban+flag+american+flag.jpg

Reaction on Twitter and Facebook to the developing news of a re-established diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the United States was swift and varied.

President Barack Obama outlined the new relationship Wednesday afternoon as Cuban President Raul Casto spoke concurrently via live television.

The newly formed relationship opens economic and travel ties between the U.S. and the communist nation. This historic shift in U.S. policy was encouraged by Pope Francis. 

The tensions between the two countries had existed since the Cold War.

American prisoner Alan Gross's release from a Cuban jail was the first step toward the new relationship. 

 

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Charting a New Course on Cuba]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:40:56 -0500 http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/219*120/cuba+flag.jpg

Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people. We are separated by 90 miles of water, but brought together through the relationships between the two million Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent that live in the United States, and the 11 million Cubans who share similar hopes for a more positive future for Cuba.

It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.
Today, we are renewing our leadership in the Americas. We are choosing to cut loose the anchor of the past, because it is entirely necessary to reach a better future – for our national interests, for the American people, and for the Cuban people.

Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:
Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has taken steps aimed at supporting the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future. Today, the President announced additional measures to end our outdated approach, and to promote more effectively change in Cuba that is consistent with U.S. support for the Cuban people and in line with U.S. national security interests. Major elements of the President’s new approach include:

Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-
• The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
• In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process. As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
• U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.

• The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.

Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-
• The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce. Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.

• Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.

• These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.

Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

• General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

• Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.

• The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector. Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons-

• Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.

• Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.

Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-
• The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector. Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.

Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

• Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

• U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.

• The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.

• U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.

• These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.

Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-
• Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.

• The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.

• Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.

Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-
• U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries. In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.

Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

• Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore. The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.

• The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

• The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism. Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.

Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-
• President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.

Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society
A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.



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