<![CDATA[NBC 6 South Florida - South Florida News - Cuba Crossroad]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/localen-usTue, 28 Feb 2017 07:44:13 -0500Tue, 28 Feb 2017 07:44:13 -0500NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Shoot Down of Brothers to the Rescue Flight Remembered]]>Fri, 24 Feb 2017 11:52:57 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/525388042.jpg

Members of South Florida’s Cuban exile community will join family and friends of the four men killed during the infamous Brothers to the Rescue flight shot down over two decades ago.

Friday marks the 21st anniversary of the day where the four victims - three American citizens in Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, and Mario de la Pena as well as one American resident, Pablo Morales - were killed as they flew on a humanitarian mission over international waters when their plane was shot down on orders from the Cuban government.

The annual remembrance ceremony for those victims will take place at the monument to those victims located at Opa-locka Airport starting at 11 a.m.

Friday will mark the first anniversary celebrated since the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who passed away in November – as news became public that his brother, current leader Raul Castro, will retire in one year at the age of 86.



Photo Credit: Corbis via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Dissidents Honor OAS Secretary-General Denied Entry]]>Wed, 22 Feb 2017 23:58:44 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/185*120/OEA.JPG

A group of Cuban dissidents on Wednesday recognized the secretary-general of the Organization of American States for defending human rights in their country even though the government denied him entry to attend the ceremony.

About a dozen dissidents and diplomats from the U.S., Czech Republic and Sweden honored Almagro at the home of the late democracy activist Oswaldo Paya, who died in a 2012 car accident.

Paya's daughter Rosa Maria invited Almagro to receive the prize from her group in Havana. She has accused the Cuban government of causing the wreck, a charge the government denies.

Almagro sent dissidents a letter saying that the OAS's only interest is to help move Cuba closer to the values and principles upheld by the organization in relation to democracy and human rights. He also said his intention is not to evaluate Cuba's internal politics.

In his letter, Almagro said the Cuban government told him it was astonished he was involved in what it called "anti-Cuban" activities. He also said he hoped the government would not retaliate against the group.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's office condemned Cuba for blocking Almagro. Rubio's team tweeted "Castro regime has blocked investigations into its 2012 murder of Oswaldo Paya. Now it's blocking OAS head from receiving Paya award in Cuba."

The communist-run government also denied entry to Mexican ex-President Felipe Calderon and former Chilean Education Minister Maria Aylwin, both of whom were invited to attend the ceremony.

Cuba has not belonged to the OAS since 1962. It considers the organization an instrument the U.S. government uses to pressure countries that do not follow its policies.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[US Senators Say Raul Castro Eager to Maintain US Relations]]>Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:44:03 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/012517+raul+castro.jpg

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says Cuban President Raul Castro appears eager to maintain better relations with the United States and gave a group of U.S. congress members signed copies of a speech expressing his willingness to negotiate with President Donald Trump.

Leahy and four other congress members spoke Wednesday at the end of a three-day trip to Cuba. The group met with Castro Tuesday night.

The Vermont Democrat is a longtime advocate of better U.S. relations with Cuba. He says Castro expressed his desire to keep carrying out market-oriented internal reforms and improve ties with Washington.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Timeline: Cuba - US Relations]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 21:28:20 -0500http://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: President Obama and Raul Castro announce restoration of diplomatic ties. Cuban government frees Alan Gross and he arrives to U.S. soil before 11 a.m. eastern time.
  • April 12, 2015: President Obama meets with Raul Castro at Summit of the Americas.
  • May 29, 2015: U.S. State Department removes Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  • July 1, 2015: U.S., Cuba announce opening of embassies in each others capitals.
  • January 12, 2017: The Obama administration announce the end of the so-called 'wet foot, dry foot' policy that grants Cubans residency upon arrival to the United States. 

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<![CDATA[680 Cubans Returned Since End of 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot']]>Sat, 18 Feb 2017 12:38:49 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuban-flag-usatsi.jpg

About 680 Cubans have been returned to the island from various countries since then-President Barack Obama ended a longstanding immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident, state television reported Friday.

Cuba's government had long sought the repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot'' policy, which it said encouraged Cubans to risk dangerous voyages and drained the country of professionals. The Jan. 12 decision by Washington to end it followed months of negotiations focused in part on getting Havana to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.

Cuban state television said late Friday that the returnees came from countries including the United States, Mexico and the Bahamas, and were sent back to the island between Jan. 12 and Feb. 17. It did not break down which countries the 680 were sent back from.

The report said the final two returnees arrived from the United States on Friday "on the first charter flight especially destined for an operation of this type.''

Florida's El Nuevo Herald newspaper reported that the two women were deemed "inadmissible'' for entry to the United States and placed on a morning flight to Havana.

Wilfredo Allen, an attorney for one of the women, says they had arrived at Miami International Airport with European passports. The women requested asylum and were detained.

The repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot'' policy was Obama's final move before leaving office in the rapprochement with the communist-run country that he and Cuban President Castro began in December 2014. The surprise decision left hundreds of Cubans stranded in transit in South and Central America.

Before he assumed the presidency on Jan. 20, Donald Trump criticized the detente between the U.S. and Cuba, tweeting that he might "terminate'' it.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Media Services]]>
<![CDATA[2 Cubans Deported, First Since End of 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot']]>Sat, 18 Feb 2017 01:31:58 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021717+private+plane+cubans+deported.jpg

Two women boarded a flight to Havana with U.S. Immigration and Customs officials Friday, becoming the first Cuban nationals to be deported since the immigration policy known as "wet foot, dry foot" ended last month.

ICE officials told NBC 6 the women, who were seeking asylum in the U.S., were placed on a morning flight back to the island nation Friday morning. Their identities were not made public.

The Obama administration announced the end to the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy, which granted residency to Cubans who made it to the U.S., just days before President Donald Trump took office.

Wilfredo Allen, an attorney for one of the women, said they had arrived at Miami International Airport with European passports. The women requested asylum and were detained.

"They asked for political asylum as Cubans, what happens is the world has changed," Allen said.

Allen asked for them to be released so they could return to Cuba on their own, but the U.S. government denied the request and said they would be deported, sources said.

"I think part of the reason why they're being deported is to send a message that they will enforce the law, they will enforce it severely," Allen said.

President Trump has not established what, if anything, will change regarding U.S. Cuba policy. Press secretary Sean Spicer told NBC 6's Jackie Nespral earlier this month that the administration is reviewing its position with Havana.

"There will be no more paroles issued at the airport for people who seek asylum with a Cuban passport or with a European passport," Allen said.



Photo Credit: Dan Krauth/NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Anti-Castro Cuban-American Lawmakers See a Champion in Trump]]>Mon, 13 Feb 2017 15:56:30 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

Cuban-American lawmakers from Florida helped shape U.S. relations with the island for years until they found themselves on the outside during a historic thaw in relations.

But they could be getting the upper hand on Cuba policy again under President Donald Trump with a possible return to an earlier, more hard-line U.S. stance toward relations with Cuba's government.

"We have had more conversations with high-level Trump officials than we had in eight years of the Obama administration," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, one of a handful of Republican members of Congress from Florida who long had an outsized role on U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba.

What Diaz-Balart and other Cuban-American lawmakers hope is that their renewed access to the U.S. government under Trump's leadership will help them reverse the steps taken by President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro to normalize relations between the two countries.

"Everything is going to be very different," predicted Rep. Carlos Curbelo, another Miami-area Republican who said he felt shut out under Obama.

The congressional delegation from South Florida, home to the largest number of Cuban-Americans in the nation, was long able to help craft U.S. policy toward the island. They had hoped to continue isolating the Castro government and both Democrat and Republican politicians went along, at least in part.

Diaz-Balart recalled that under President George W. Bush he and other Cuban-Americans persuaded the administration to grant travel visas and asylum to Cuban doctors working overseas, helping drive a brain drain from the island.

"When something came up, we could call and they responded to us immediately," he said.

But that changed under Obama, who Diaz-Balart said refused to meet with him as the administration used executive orders to lift some restrictions on travel, trade and investment and ended the so-called "wet-foot, dry foot" policy that allowed Cubans to stay and apply for legal residency if they reached U.S. soil.

Diaz-Balart and other Cuban-American lawmakers want U.S. policy to return to where things were before December 2014, citing what he says is the Castro government's "brutal oppression." Curbelo agrees about the return to earlier policies but does not oppose the easing of restrictions on travel that allow Cuban-Americans to more easily visit family back home.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Florida delegation member, declined to speak to The Associated Press but recently forwarded a letter to the Trump administration calling for a policy focused on "freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights" that enforces sanctions written into U.S. law. Sen. Marco Rubio, who also declined an interview request, has criticized what he calls Obama's "failed Cuba policy," and recently said he expected Trump would reverse the previous administration's order halting the asylum program for doctors.

During the presidential campaign, Trump was critical of the opening with the Castro government and said Obama wasn't paying enough attention to human rights on the island. He promised to re-evaluate the agreements with Cuba and cancel those he doesn't believe serve U.S. interests. He named several anti-Castro Cuban-Americans to his transition team, but has not yet said publicly whether he intends to reverse specific policies of his predecessor.

Some supporters of the opening with Cuba see reason for optimism. James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a corporate-backed bipartisan group that supports improving ties to the island, said Trump may not want to reverse what he sees as the "positive progress" of the last three years.

"We have seen more positive progress in Cuba over the last two years than the last 55 years combined," said Williams, adding that a thorough review of current policy should show the Trump administration the advantages of moving toward normalization.

Diaz-Balart and Curbelo said the meetings they and others have had with officials from the new administration, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearings, have given them hope that Obama's executive orders restoring relations with Cuba would be reversed. "Without a doubt, the days of those orders are numbered," Diaz-Balart said.

Even though Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo did not endorse Trump, some believe they, like Diaz-Balart and Curbelo, will have significant influence on the new administration.

"They are going to be the guides of the policy toward Cuba," said Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Frank Mora, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere under Obama, agreed: "Trump is going to go back to handing the foreign policy of the U.S. toward Cuba to the Cuban-American legislators."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban, US Sailors Weigh Future of Regatta Under Pres. Trump]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:54:53 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

Thursday, sailors from both the Unites States and Cuba competed in an annual regatta race from Miami to Havana. Friday, both sides worry if the recently revived battle will continue.

With President Donald Trump saying he is only willing to continue restoring relations with the island nation if a “better deal” is made, sailor from both sides wonder if 2017 may be the last edition.

"We're optimistic. We believe that at least in this first semester we will be able to develop all our events and that nothing should happen (regarding US and Cuban relations),” said Jose Miguel Diaz, an official with the Ernest Hemingway Nautical Club in Havana.

The event – organized with boating clubs from Key West and other areas – resumed in 2015 for the first time in over a decade as former President Barack Obama looked to thaw the previously cold relations that had been existing since the 1960’s.

Business is still restricted between the counties as the longstanding embargo still exist. The Trump administration and some Republican members of Congress have said they will continue working to keep those restrictions in place unless a new deal is worked out.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Miami's Little Havana Gains 'National Treasure' Label]]>Fri, 27 Jan 2017 18:58:33 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-466437010.jpg

Historic preservation groups announced a partnership Friday with city officials to save Miami's Little Havana, bidding to safeguard its heritage as the famed epicenter of the Cuban diaspora was placed on a list of ``national treasures.''

The nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation said awarding its special designation for the Spanish-speaking enclave is just one step of the partnership to protect Little Havana from large-scale developers who are transforming much of downtown Miami.

Home to a vibrant community of Cuban heritage and many others from around Latin America, Little Havana is under multiple threats: Demolition of historic buildings, displacement of its existing residents, and decades of wear and tear. The same organization placed the neighborhood in its annual list of America's 11 most endangered historic places in 2015.

``Little Havana has a really strong immigrant history,'' said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. ``It's a very inviting place. It's very colorful. It's very warm. The sense of community is very strong.''

But she cautioned: ``We want all that to remain but at the same time we know that communities need to adapt and change overtime to meet the needs of the residents.''

She said the ``national treasures'' designation also will help allied organizations, city officials, residents and investors unite to discuss ways to improve the living conditions of its working-class population, preserve historic buildings and allow moderate development of its neglected areas.

In coming months, planners and developers are to discuss what to do with vacant lots, abandoned buildings and consider which historic sites are worth protecting. And starting in March, they will hold workshops with residents and city officials to share their plans.

``There are many bad buildings and people with a poor quality of life here,'' said Daniel Martin, a handyman who settled in Little Havana after leaving Cuba 15 years ago. ``Since I don't speak English, this was the right place for me to be.''

The neighborhood's signature street, Calle Ocho, is one of the top spots most frequented by tourists after Miami Beach. It features cigar shops, art galleries and mom-and-pop stores where Cubans and their descendants reminisce about the island. Visitors sip aromatic Cuban coffee, eye daily games of dominoes by locals and take selfies at the Versailles restaurant, hub of the exile community.

``My hope is that tears and the dreams of hundreds of thousands of people will not be forgotten,'' said Miami mayor Tomas Regalado, speaking at Friday's event to announce the partnership. ``My hope is that history is not rewritten and the anguish of the Cuban exiles, the Nicaraguans is forever erased.''

Located just west of downtown Miami, Little Havana grew in the 1960s as Cuban's fled Fidel Castro's communist Cuba. The neighborhood has changed some in recent decades as new immigrants have arrived from Central America and Colombia, opening new restaurants and stores.

Some developers have taken risks to refurbish old buildings such as Hugh Ryan, who took what he calls ``the worst crack house in the neighborhood'' and turned it into a two-story pastel green building with a royal emblem of a salamander on its facade.

``Anything can be saved. The whole neighborhood is trying to do that now,'' said Ryan, pointing to a similar two-story apartment building next door and two other buildings across the street that have been renovated in East Little Havana.

Andrew Frey, who is building an 8-unit apartment building, put up a giant blue sign outside that reads ``Little Havana is the Amenity.''

``We don't offer pools, gyms or spas here,'' he said about his construction. ``Little Havana has history, culture. It has real people. It has a narrative you can't control.''

Little Havana joins a list of ``national treasures'' that includes Nashville's Music Row, the Grand Canyon and New Jersey's Princeton Battlefield.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Port Everglades Backs Out of Agreement With Cuban Government]]>Thu, 26 Jan 2017 19:34:20 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/129080103.jpg

A major Florida port has canceled plans to sign an agreement with Cuba, one day after Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut off its state funding if it signed the pact.

Port Everglades issued a statement Thursday that the National Port Administration of Cuba says no agreement is currently needed. The Fort Lauderdale-area port and the Port of Palm Beach began meeting with Cuban officials Thursday.

The Republican governor was highly critical of former President Barack Obama for allowing some products produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs to be imported. The United States had imposed a trade embargo on the communist island for more than half a century.

The first shipments arrived Tuesday at Port Everglades: two containers of artisanal charcoal.

The port has similar agreements with five other ports around the world. Port Everglades could lose upwards of $94 million in state funding if it goes against the governor's wishes.

"What I focused on is the fact our ports, I disagree with them doing business with a ruthless dictator in Cuba," Gov. Scott said.

But that doesn't mean companies that operate at the port can't do business with Cuba. Some already are under executive orders signed by President Obama.

Jim Brickman of Crowley Maritime Corporation has been shipping goods to Cuba for 15 years, and just this week shipped the first legal cargo from Cuba.

He says agreement or not, Crowley Maritime will continue to do business with Cuba.

"If the federal government doesn't change anything as far as how we operate, we'll continue to work with the federal government of both countries, as long as they agree with what we're doing, we'll continue to do it," he said.

Still, the governor's announcement is viewed as a hurdle for other companies who were hoping Thursday's meeting would create opportunities for them in the island nation.

"The rain on this parade is pretty clear. We've had no success for 50 years in reaching out and making them a friendlier western country with us. So here's our chance and after 50 years it's time to try something new and different," said Larry DeRose, VP of Louis Berger, a global services company.

But some local leaders stand with the governor and want to see change on the island before allowing business through Florida's ports.

"We want to move past the last 50 years but we need to know the other side is going to move past it as well and that doesn't include just having money go to the government and allowing them to continue that behavior," Broward commissioner Chip LaMarca said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Castro Open to Dialogue With Trump, But With Caveat]]>Wed, 25 Jan 2017 20:17:24 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/012517+raul+castro.jpg

Cuban President Raul Castro talked about his government's willingness to continue bilateral negotiations with the new U.S. administration, without making concessions to its sovereignty, on Wednesday.

"Cuba and the United States can cooperate and coexist civilly," said Castro in a speech at the Fifth Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) which concludes Wednesday in the Dominican resort of Bavaro States.

He ratified his willingness to advance in the negotiation of bilateral issues with the Trump government, "but we should not expect Cuba to make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence."

Trump, who swore in as White House chief on Jan. 20, has criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for taking conciliatory action with Cuba and restoring diplomatic relations.

President Trump has not specified what his policy towards the island will be.

Castro stressed that the trade embargo that still maintains the United States against Cuba "causes considerable hardship and human damage that seriously injures our economy and hinders development."

The leaders attending the fifth CELAC summit will sign resolutions to reject the trade embargo against Cuba and demand that the United States return Guantanamo Bay to the island.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Rick Scott Threatens Ports That Do Business with Cuba]]>Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:55:56 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011917+rick+scott+inauguration.jpg

Gov. Rick Scott is threatening that Florida ports could lose state money if they do business with Cuba.

Scott said Thursday via Twitter that he will propose a budget that restricts state money for ports that trade with the communist island. He said he was disappointed some Florida ports would enter into agreements with Cuba.

The threat came after news reports of the first legal import from Cuba in more than 50 years arriving at a Fort Lauderdale port, and that Cuban port officials plan to meet with Palm Beach County port officials.

It was not immediately clear what impact Scott's statement would have on Cuban imports coming through Florida. Trade with Cuba was banned for decades, but limited trade recently was opened by former President Barack Obama's executive order.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[US, Cuban Interior Ministry Sign Law-Enforcement Deal]]>Tue, 17 Jan 2017 07:31:36 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The Obama administration and Cuba's Interior Ministry have agreed to share information on international criminal activity such as terrorism, human trafficking and money laundering despite Republican objections to U.S. law-enforcement cooperation with President Raul Castro's government.

The State Department signed the memorandum of understanding Monday with the Cuban Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security in Cuba, including crackdowns on political dissidents. The signing in Havana was closed to the press but the State Department said it was witnessed by President Barack Obama's point man on normalization with Cuba, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

In the wake of Donald Trump's presidential election victory, the Cuban government has launched a last-minute rush of deals with the Obama administration and U.S. businesses in an attempt to build as much momentum as possible behind normalization before Obama leaves office. Trump has promised to re-evaluate Obama's agreements with Cuba and cancel those that he doesn't believe serve U.S. interests.

Trump has named several anti-Castro Cuban-Americans to his transition team. While they have not spoken publicly since joining the transition, Obama's pledge to share intelligence with Cuban state security has generated particularly heated criticism from Republican former diplomats and Cuban-American members of Congress.

The memorandum signed Monday commits the U.S. and Cuba to sharing information, carrying out joint investigations and possibly stationing law-enforcement officials in each other's countries. It was signed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Vice Adm. Julio Cesar Gandarilla, the newly appointed Cuban interior minister.

The Obama administration says it is in both countries' interests to fight international crime like human smuggling, drug trafficking and child sexual abuse.

"The goals of the President's Cuba policy have been simple: to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States," the National Security Council said in a written statement. "While significant differences between our governments continue, the progress of the last two years reminds the world of what is possible when we are defined not by the past but by the future we can build together."

On Thursday, the Obama administration ended a year of negotiations with the Cuban government by ending a 21-year-old "wet foot, dry foot" immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuba Sees Explosion in Internet Access as Ties with US Grow]]>Sat, 14 Jan 2017 18:12:41 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CUBA-INTERNET.jpg

Two days before Christmas, Luis Gonzalez received a little Chinese modem from Cuba's state-owned telecommunications company.

The 55-year-old theater producer connected the device to his phone and his laptop computer, which instantly lit up with a service unimaginable in the Cuba of just a few years ago— relatively fast home internet.

``It's really easy to sit and find whatever you need,'' Gonzalez said as he sat in his living room updating his Facebook account, listening to Uruguayan radio online and checking an arriving tourist's landing time for a neighbor who rents rooms in their building in historic Old Havana. ``Most Cubans aren't used to this convenience.''

Home internet came to Cuba last month in a limited pilot program that's part of the most dramatic change in daily life here since the declaration of detente with the United States on Dec. 17, 2014.

While Cuba remains one of the world's least internet-connected societies, ordinary citizens' access to the internet has exploded over the last two years. Since the summer of 2015, the Cuban government has opened 240 public Wi-Fi spots in parks and on street corners across the country. Cubans were previously restricted to decrepit state internet clubs and hotels that charged $6-$8 for an hour of slow internet.

In a country with an average monthly salary of around $25, the price of an hour online has dropped to $1.50, still steep but now well within the range of many Cubans with private income or financial help from relatives abroad.

The government estimates that 100,000 Cubans connect to the internet daily. A new feature of urban life in Cuba is the sight of people sitting at all hours on street corners or park benches, their faces illuminated by the screen of smartphones connected by applications such as Facebook Messenger to relatives in Miami, Ecuador or other outposts of the Cuban diaspora. Connections are made mostly through access cards sold by the state monopoly and often resold on street corners for higher prices.

The spread of connectivity has remotely reunited families separated for years, even decades. It's fueled the spread of Airbnb and other booking services that have funneled millions in business to private bed-and-breakfasts owners. And it's exposed Cubans to a faster flow of news and cultural developments from the outside world— supplementing the widespread availability of media spread on memory drivers.

Cuban ingenuity has spread internet far beyond those public places: thousands of people grab the public signals through commercially available repeaters, imported illegally into Cuba and often sold for about $100— double the original price. Mounted on rooftops, the repeaters grab the public signals and create a form of home internet increasingly available in private rentals for tourists and cafes and restaurants for Cubans and visitors alike.

On the official front, Google and Cuba's state-run telecoms monopoly Etecsa struck a deal last month to store Google content like YouTube video on servers inside Cuba, giving people on the island faster, smoother access.

While the explosion of internet in Cuba has taken place alongside the process of normalization started by Obama in 2014, it's unclear how much better relations have speeded up Cuba's move online.

Obama said in announcing detente that he welcomed ``Cuba's decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens,'' but neither Obama's team nor Cuban officials have detailed whether that decision was directly linked to negotiations to restore diplomatic ties and began negotiations.

What is clear is that Cuba began to dramatically increase access about six months later when the government began opening Wi-Fi spots around the country. For many Cubans, the start of home internet in December is potentially even more significant, breaking a longstanding barrier against private internet access in a country whose communist government remains deeply wary about information technology undermining its near-total control of media, political life and most of the economy.

The pace of change in Cuba often depends on the state of relations with its giant neighbor to the north: both tensions with the United States and leaps forward like Obama's visit to Havana last year have prompted crackdowns by hardliners worried about the government losing control. While President-elect Donald Trump's administration has promised to take a harder line on Cuba, both opponents of President Raul Castro's government and those advocating closer relations favor more access to information for ordinary Cubans.

The home internet test program selected some 2,000 residents of Old Havana to receive free connections for two months before a planned expansion and the start of billing for the service. Gonzalez said he would be able to receive 30 hours of his 128 kilobyte-per-second connection for $15, with the price increasing for faster connections, with 30 hours of a 2 megabyte-per-second connection available for $115.

That's far slower and wildly more expensive than internet in most of the rest of the world. In the Dominican Republic, for example, a full month of relatively slow 2 megabyte-per-second internet, a speed most people would consider reasonable for applications such as streaming video, costs a little more than $20.

Cuba depended on slow, expensive satellite internet until 2013, when it opened a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela that connected the island to the global online infrastructure.

Cuba says that its still-high internet prices are a result of costs imposed by the U.S. trade embargo on the island. Independent observers blame the costs on political decisions to limit access, and on the cash-strapped socialist government's widespread use of its monopoly power to extract as much money as possible for goods and services considered luxuries. Many young people hope that the spread of access in recent years is the start of Cuba seeing internet more as a necessity and a right, like the free education and health care guaranteed by Cuba's socialist system.

``In my dreams, I'd like for the internet to be seen like arts and culture, and, as such, to be free for the whole population, just like access to education has been for the last 50 years,'' said David Vasquez, the 27-year-old director of the online magazine Cachivache Media. ``It's very hard to know what the future will bring.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[President-Elect Trump's Previous Wet Foot, Dry Foot Comments]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 12:10:51 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011317+donald+trump+miami.jpg

President-elect Donald Trump has yet to comment on President Obama's decision to drop the wet foot, dry foot policy for Cubans but he has spoken about it at least twice in the last year.

While it's unknown how Trump will handle the repeal of wet foot, dry foot once he takes office, last February he expressed that the policy was unfair in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

"I don’t think that’s fair. I mean why would that be a fair thing?” Trump told the paper. "I don’t think it would be fair. You know we have a system now for bringing people into the country, and what we should be doing is we should be bringing people who are terrific people who have terrific records of achievement, accomplishment. . . . You have people that have been in the system for years [waiting to immigrate to America], and it’s very unfair when people who just walk across the border, and you have other people that do it legally."

Trump was asked again about wet foot, dry foot in August by the Miami Herald but didn't say what he would do about the policy.

"Well, interestingly, I’m having a meeting on that in about a week with a lot of people from Cuba, originally from Cuba, and Cuban Americans,” he said. "And I’m going to be talking about that. I’m going to have a decision probably pretty quickly on that. But I want to get their feeling. I want to listen to what the people are saying. And I want to listen specifically to what Cuban people who came to this country, and who have lived in this country, Cuban Americans. I want to hear how they feel."

Trump has been critical of the recent changes in US-Cuba policy, tweeting in November that he could undo some of President Obama's changes.

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," he tweeted.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Reaction Mixed After Elimination of 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' ]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 18:44:17 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

A new reality for Cubans is coming into focus in Little Havana – as scrapping the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy means just reaching dry land won't be enough for Cubans to stay in the USA.

This comes after a spike in Cuban arrivals between October 2015 and July 2016. The pew research center reports 46,635 Cubans reached America via ports of entry.

Cubans can still seek political asylum, but now they'll be treated the same way the U.S. Government treats migrants from anywhere else in the world.

President Obama’s administration emphasizes Cubans first came for more political reasons when the policy was enacted over 20 years ago, now their reasons are more economic.

Some sipping cafecito at Cafe Versailles agree it's time for a change.

"What they suffer there... We can't imagine. We think we can but we really can't. So when they come over here they're looking for a better life for themselves,” said Cuban-American Frank Cantero. But if it's so bad, why do you continue going back, why do you continue visiting? Why do you continue taking advantage of what we're offering you when we bring you into this country?"

Then there's another question - what will President elect Donald Trump do as soon as next week?

"I think Donald Trump should sit down and evaluate the Wet Foot Dry Foot, the Cuban Adjustment Act, but also the fact that that dictatorship utilizes the Cubans as merchandise," said Democracy Movement leader Ramon Raul Sanchez.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a statement saying that they will stop any person trying to enter the country illegally, urging Cuban American communities to discourage people from risking their lives with the "dangerous and illegal at-sea crossings."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement expressing disappointment in the policy change.

“While we have welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the wet foot/dry foot policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez, chairman of the Committee on Migration.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, which has been critical of the law in the pass and said it unfairly gave Cuban immigrants an advantage over those from other countries, said: "But in the absence of that reform, restricting family reunification and freedom of movement for any group hurts us all.”

What remains in place is The Cuban Adjustment Act that allows Cubans to achieve permanent residency after a year. But scrapping wet foot dry foot makes it much harder to reach that level.

The White House argues having a young dynamic population is critical to changing Cuba on the inside.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Friday critical of the policy change.

"President Obama’s Cuba policy can be summed up this way: he has legitimized and coddled a bloodthirsty dictator and in the process, he has turned his back on those who have fought so hard for a free Cuba. As we sit here right now, people in Cuba are being persecuted and killed for their faith, for supporting democracy, for expressing their political views, and for simply desiring freedom," Scott said. "With the President’s latest move, it appears that he has consulted and negotiated with a foreign tyrant while completely ignoring the United States Congress. We have a number of great members of Congress in our Florida delegation of Cuban descent, but of course the President did not involve them in his decision-making. Obama’s polices have not improved human rights in Cuba. In fact, things may be getting worse. We believe that the murderous regime made about 10,000 political arrests last year. Just this week, pro-democracy leader Dr. Oscar Biscet was arrested. Obama has betrayed America’s long-standing commitment to human rights and freedom in Cuba. We need a Cuba policy that respects the fundamental desire of the Cuban people to be free."



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The End of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:01:24 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/219*120/doctor+generic.jpg

With the announcement of the reversal of the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy, also comes the elimination of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.

The policy allowed certain Cuban medical personnel in third countries to apply for parole. Medical professionals applying to the program were required to show they were studying or working in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government.

Their immediate family members were also potentially eligible for parole. That has all changed.

Republican congressional leaders criticized President Obama on the removal of the parole program. Florida Senator Marco Rubio released a statement Thursday opposing the move. "I am concerned by the decision to terminate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. For decades, the Castro regime has forced thousands of doctors to go abroad as a tool of its foreign policy," said Sen. Rubio.

U.s. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also released a statement saying, "The repeal of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program was done because that's what the Cuban dictatorship wanted and the White House caved to what Castro want."

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart added to the slamming of the policy change. "The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program provided a way for doctors forced to work under inhumane conditions for paltry salaries in foreign lands to escape their servitude," Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

Despite the major changes, the U.S. will continue the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. The policy allows beneficiaries of certain approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions to travel to the United States before their immigrant visas become available, rather than remain in Cuba to await a visa.

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<![CDATA[How Policy Change Impacts Cuban Migrants]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:02:24 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuban-migrants-coast-guard.jpg

For years, the U.S. Coast Guard station on Miami Beach has launched hundreds of missions when the call came that Cuban migrants were at sea.

But after the Obama administration ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that granted those migrants amnesty when they touched land, the Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and Immigration agents are playing a whole new ball game when it comes to Cuban migration.

Now, Cubans who now illegally make it to South Florida's shores will be transported to the Krome Detention Center in Southwest Dade or other holding facilities like it.

Immigration attorney Mayra Jolie, Esq. says the refugees will have to seek asylum to remain or be subject to expedited removal.

"They cannot be released just into the community," Jolie said.

To successfully gain asylum, Cubans will have to show a reasonable fear of persecution if they were returned. It's based on race, religion, national origin, political opinion or membership in a social group.

Jolie says it's a tall order.

"It's very difficult to win it. It's not a matter of just having the country conditions and showing there are still violations of human rights in Cuba, you have to show that those violations apply directly to you and the government is persecuting you on one of the protected grounds," she explained.

For the military and federal agents, there's no change for the procedures they follow everyday, just that those procedures now apply to Cubans, too.

Jolie said the standard paths to U.S. citizenship are still available to Cubans, such as American citizens bringing their minor children from Cuba, business visas and falling in love and getting married.



Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard, File]]>
<![CDATA[Sen. Marco Rubio Comments on Reversal of Wet Foot, Dry Foot]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 17:12:45 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112716+marco+rubio.jpg

Florida Senator Marco Rubio sharply criticized the Obama Administration's decision to end the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy as part of the ongoing normalization with the Castro regime. The move, announced Thursday, eliminates the preferential treatment of Cuban migrants.

Rubio slammed President Obama's Cuba policy saying it has contributed to the rise in Cuban migration since 2014.

The Republican senator has been pushing for reform to the Cuban Adjustment Act, but argued that "we must work to ensure that Cubans who arrive here to escape political persecution are not summarily returned to the regime." The senator has been a staunch opponent of Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Havana.

He also echoed the sentiments of Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who opposed the elimination of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The program allowed Cuban doctors to seek asylum in the U.S. "For decades, the Castro regime has forced thousands of doctors to go abroad as a tool of its foreign policy," said Sen. Rubio.

The Florida Republican said he has discussed the issue with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and is looking forward to the new administration's commitment to repeal the Obama Cuba policy.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[South Florida Cubans React to 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' Change]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:05:13 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-79836422.jpg

The White House announced Thursday the end of the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy that grants residency to Cubans arriving United States.

The policy change is effective immediately and is the latest move to normalize relations between the U.S. and Havana.

In South Florida, which is home to the largest Cuban exile community, there was mixed reaction to the announcement.

"Those lines get longer and longer for Cubans in Miami that recently arrived that want to reunite with their families. This might be a bittersweet moment, because I know a lot of them actually tried to see if they could get their families here," Dr. Gomez said in a phone interview with NBC 6 Thursday.

Many people dining at Versailles Restaurant, a Little Havana fixture, said they support the change. "They should stay there and fight for their freedom," said a patron who was born in Cuba. "It's very nice to leave your home and when something wrong happens in your home and go some place else and forget about your home," the man added.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson released a statement saying, "I believe changing this outdated policy in order to be fair to all and also to prevent people from abusing the system is the right thing to do.”

However, Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart called the Obama administration's decision "another shameful concession to the Castro regime." The Republican added, "President Obama has found one more way to frustrate the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people."

The move to scrap the policy also ends the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that gave special privileges to Cuban doctors fleeing the communist island.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized the shutter of this program saying, "the repeal of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program was done because that's what the Cuban dictatorship wanted and the White House caved to what Castro wants."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Statement by President Obama on Ending of Wet Foot, Dry Foot]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 18:42:13 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/AP_17011079532988.jpg

Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called "wet-foot/dry foot" policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people. Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.

The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century. Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws. During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people - inside of Cuba - by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.



Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP]]>
<![CDATA['Wet Foot, Dry Foot' Ending Bittersweet for Some: Expert]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 17:33:13 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011217+cubans+in+miami.jpg

President Obama's decision to end the "wet foot, dry foot" policy could be "bittersweet" to many Cubans in Miami, Cuban expert Dr. Andy Gomez told NBC 6.

"Those lines get longer and longer for Cubans in Miami that recently arrived that want to reunite with their families. This might be a bittersweet moment, because I know a lot of them actually tried to see if they could get their families here," Dr. Gomez said in a phone interview with NBC 6 Thursday. "This basically cuts all of those Cubans coming in, so-called illegally, or by wet foot, dry foot, that were legal once they touched land."

Dr. Gomez said he expected the policy would be ended by President-elect Donald Trump and was surprised President Obama made the move.

"I didn't expect President Obama to do it, I expected President Trump once he was sworn in to do it shortly thereafter," he said. "This a policy, personally, I really thought that need to be done away with and in a way, I think it's a good idea that President Obama went ahead and did this."

Dr. Gomez said the move could have a major effect on those Cubans wishing to come to the U.S.

"We have to wait and see because right now the United States only allows 20,000 visas per year for Cubans that want to come to the United States, we'll have to see whether those visa numbers are going to be increased under the Trump administration," he said. "The sad story of this, you know, is so many Cubans died trying to make it here. This has been a very controversial policy, this is a policy that even the Cuban government wanted the United States to cancel."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Ending 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' Policy for Cubans]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:04:37 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-2193978.jpg

President Barack Obama announced Thursday he is ending a longstanding immigration policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident.

The repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy is effective immediately. The decision follows months of negotiations focused in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.

"Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities," Obama said in a statement. "By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea."

The Cuban government praised the move. In a statement read on state television, it called the signing of the agreement "an important step in advancing relations" between the U.S. and Cuba that "aims to guarantee normal, safe and ordered migration."

Obama is using an administrative rule change to end the policy. Donald Trump could undo that rule after becoming president next week. He has criticized Obama's moves to improve relations with Cuba. But ending a policy that has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to come to the United States without a visa also aligns with Trump's commitment to tough immigration policies.

President Bill Clinton created "wet foot, dry foot" policy in 1995 as a revision of a more liberal immigration policy that allowed Cubans caught at sea to come to the United States become legal residents in a year.

The two governments have been negotiating an end to "wet foot, dry foot" for months and finalized an agreement Thursday. A decades-old U.S. economic embargo, though, remains in place, as does the Cuban Adjustment Act, which lets Cubans become permanent residents a year after legally arriving in the U.S.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cuba has agreed to take back those turned away from the U.S., if the time between their departure from Cuba and the start of deportation hearings in the U.S. is four years or less. Officials said the timeframe is required under a Cuban law enacted after Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act.

"For this to work, the Cubans had to agree to take people back," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

Administration officials called on Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Officials said the changes would not affect a lottery that allows 20,000 Cubans to come to the U.S. legally each year. But Rhodes cast the shift as a necessary step toward Cuba's economic and political development.

"It's important that Cuba continue to have a young, dynamic population that are clearly serving as agents of change," he said.

Rhodes also cited an uptick in Cuban migration, particularly across the U.S.-Mexico border - an increase many have attributed to an expectation among Cubans that the Obama administration would soon move to end their special immigration status.

Since October 2012, more than 118,000 Cubans have presented themselves at ports of entry along the border, according to statistics published by the Homeland Security Department, including more than 48,000 people who arrived between October 2015 and November 2016.

According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. saw a spike the number of Cubans entering the country in the first 10 months of 2016 with 46,635 Cubans. That surpassed the fiscap 2015, which had a total of 43,159 Cubans entering the U.S.

Relations between the United States and Cuba were stuck in a Cold War freeze for decades, but Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro established full diplomatic ties and opened embassies in their capitals in 2015. Obama visited Havana last March. Officials from both nations met Thursday in Washington to coordinate efforts to fight human trafficking.

Obama said the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which was started by President George W. Bush in 2006, is also being rescinded. The measure allowed Cuban doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to seek parole in the U.S. while on assignments abroad. The president said those doctors can still apply for asylum at U.S. embassies around the world.

"By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program ... risks harming the Cuban people," Obama said.

People already in the United States and in the pipeline under both "wet foot, dry foot" and the medical parole program will be able to continue the process toward getting legal status.

Reaction to the announcement in Havana was muted Thursday afternoon.

"This was bound to happen at some point," said taxi driver Guillermo Britos, 35. "It could impose a more normal dynamic on emigration, so that not so many people die at sea, but it could also take an escape valve away from the government, which was getting hard currency from the emigrants."

Anti-Castro Cubans in Miami were mixed in their responses, with some expressing anger at Obama for what they called another betrayal of ordinary Cubans. Others said they thought the measure would increase pressure for change in Cuba.

"People who can't leave, they could create internal problems for the regime," said Jorge Gutierrez, an 80-year-old veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion. But he added, "From the humanitarian point of view, it's taking away the possibility of a better future from the people who are struggling in Cuba."

Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who emigrated from Cuba as a child, decried the elimination of the medical parole programs, calling it a "foolhardy concession to a regime that sends its doctors to foreign nations in a modern-day indentured servitude."

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson applauded the administration's decision to abolish the policy.

"The 'wet foot, dry foot' policy was put in place many years ago to help those who were fleeing Castro’s repressive regime. I believe changing this outdated policy in order to be fair to all and also to prevent people from abusing the system is the right thing to do," Sen. Nelson said in a statement.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who is Cuban-American, was more critical of the change, and said Congress wasn't consulted about the announcement.

"While more needs to be done to prevent the small universe arriving from Cuba who may seek to exploit the privileges and freedoms that come with the Wet-Foot Dry-Foot policy, those few actors should not destroy our efforts to protect the many who are forced to flee persecution," he said in a statement. "To be sure, today’s announcement will only serve to tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people."

Engage Cuba, an organization that's been working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, praised the change in policy.

"This is a logical, responsible, and important step towards further normalizing relations with Cuba. The 'wet foot, dry foot' policy has been an enduring problem that decades of hostility and isolation failed to solve. This change, which has long had strong bipartisan support, would not have been possible without the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba," the group said in a statement. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[US, Cuban Officials Meeting to Discuss Human Trafficking]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 07:57:03 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

Officials from the United States and Cuba will meet over the next two days to discuss stopping the trend of human trafficking.

The meetings in Washington D.C. will include representatives from the FBI and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice and Homeland Security – as well as various Cuban officials from agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It will be the fourth such meeting between the countries on the subject, as they continue to work on efforts to prosecute trafficking and protect victims.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tillerson Critical of US Approach to Cuba]]>Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:42:25 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011117+rex+tillerson.jpg

President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, criticized the United States' normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba saying the communist island has not made enough concessions.

Appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, said Cuba's leaders haven't done enough on human rights for their citizens.

"We did not hold them accountable for their behavior, and their leaders received much, while their people received little," he said. "That did not help Cubans or Americans."

Tillerson did not specify whether he wants to reverse executive actions taken by President Obama to ease the trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in 1961. Obama has taken several administrative steps since the two governments resumed diplomatic relations in 2015, but only Congress can overturn the embargo.

During his election campaign Trump raised the possibility of reopening negotiations with Cuba to seek concessions from Havana.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuba, US Sign Deal on Oil-Spill Prevention]]>Mon, 09 Jan 2017 15:24:30 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/98884098-bp-oil-spill-settlement.jpg

Cuba and the United States have signed an accord on preventing and cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits. 

Monday's agreement is another step in the Obama Administration's efforts to solidify its legacy of normalization with Cuba before a Republican administration takes over.

The agreement calls on both countries to establish a bilateral operations plan in the event of a spill or other pollution in waters they share.

"This agreement strengthens that relationship and helps ensures that our coastlines and marine environments and communities that depend on maritime commerce will be better protected for future generations," said Jeffrey DeLaurentis, U.S. Charge de Affairs.

The Cuban and the U.S. Coast Guard already cooperate over migration and drug enforcement in the Caribbean, coordinating interdiction and control efforts and sharing information over activity in the waters of the Florida Straits.

Both sides say the coordination is crucial to minimizing the effects of potential pollution in the Caribbean to both countries.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Justin E. Stumberg/U.S. Navy via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Scott to Raul Castro: Bring Freedom, Democracy to Cuba]]>Wed, 21 Dec 2016 11:09:44 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

Weeks after the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the Governor of Florida is now making a plea to Castro’s brother in hopes of a free Cuba.

Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to current Cuban leader Raul Castro – though the Cuban ambassador to America – saying the current government can “allow a new era of freedom and opportunity.”

“After Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba, you suggested that you may return to the church and pray again. My prayer for you and the Cuban people is that you listen to Pope Francis and focus on bringing absolute freedom and democracy to Cuba,” Scott wrote. “You have a tremendous and historic opportunity right in front of you.  You can take Cuba in one of two directions.

Castro is scheduled to leave office in 2018 and has shown in recent years he was at least open to some small changes, part of the changing relations encouraged by President Barack Obama. Still, critics have said nothing has changed regarding human rights violations and persecution of dissadents to the regime.

“No one thinks you will choose the way of freedom, the way of democracy, the way of peace,” said Scott. “People will mock this letter and call it naïve.  But, for the sake of the Cuban people, I pray change will come.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuba Arrests American Human Rights Lawyer, Foundation Says]]>Fri, 16 Dec 2016 22:58:57 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/121616+us+lawyer+arrested+in+cuba.jpg

An American human rights lawyer was arrested Friday in Cuba while trying to defend a jailed artist, the Human Rights Foundation said.

Kimberley Motley traveled to Havana to fight for the release of political prisoner Danilo "El Sexto" Maldonado.

The attorney was preparing to hold a news conference outside the National Capitol Building when plainclothes security agents took her away, the organization said.

Motley was arrested alongside dissident punk rock artist Gorki Aguila and activist Luis Alberto Marino. It's unclear what charges they face and their whereabouts are unknown.

Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart condemned the arrest. He tweeted, "Arbitrary arrests in #Cuba must end."

President of HRF Thor Halvorssen called Motley's arrest an "outrageous abuse" which he said "is a sad reality of Cuba's ongoing totalitarianism."

Maldonado, better known as "El Sexto", is a popular Cuban artist who has been detained since the death of Fidel Castro. The Miami Herald reports "El Sexto" was jailed after posting a video on Facebook mocking the death of the former Cuban leader.

Motley is an international litigator who currently works in Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Uganda and the United States.

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<![CDATA[Sources: Google to Give Cubans Faster Access to Content]]>Sat, 10 Dec 2016 15:59:59 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/google21.jpg

Google and the Cuban government have struck a deal giving Cubans faster access to the internet giant's content, two people familiar with the agreement said Friday.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google's parent company, will formally sign the deal Monday morning in Havana, the two people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not yet been publicly announced.

It allows Cubans access to a network called Google Global Cache that stores content from Google-run sites like Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube on servers that sit within relatively short distances of their end users around the world. Cuba suffers from some of the world's slowest internet speeds due to a range of problems that include the convoluted, and thus slower, paths that data must travel between Cuban users and servers that are often in the U.S.

Cuban officials appear to be accelerating their approvals of deals with U.S. companies in an attempt to build momentum behind U.S.-Cuba normalization before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month. The Google pact will be announced less than a week after Cuba gave three U.S. cruise companies permission to begin sailing to the island next year. Officials familiar with the negotiations say other deals, including one with General Electric, are in the works.

The U.S. and Cuba have struck a series of bilateral deals on issues ranging from environmental protection to direct mail since the declaration of detente on Dec. 17, 2014, but business ties have failed to keep pace. The Cuban government has blamed the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Many U.S. businesses say Cuba has been moving on most proposals so slowly that some suspect the government has been deliberately limiting the development of economic ties.

The Google program to be announced Monday could provide ammunition for U.S. advocates of closer ties with Cuba. Both pro-detente forces and those arguing for a hard line on President Raul Castro's single-party government have been pushing for Cubans to have better access to information.

If the Google deal proves to truly improve internet access for a significant number of Cubans, it ties information access to U.S.-Cuban detente in a way that could prove politically difficult to undo for anti-Castro officials in the incoming Trump administration.

It wasn't immediately clear if the Cuba server or servers would be on the island itself, or just closer than current ones. Neither was it clear how much faster Cuban users would be able to see Google content — home internet connections remain illegal for virtually all Cubans, forcing them to use public WiFi spots that are often shared by dozens of people at a time and run at achingly slow speeds.

"There are many other weak links in the chain," said Larry Press, a California-based expert on the Cuban internet. He said that while the technological impact of the deal remained unclear, it was a significant development for a country that has shied away from any ties between U.S. companies and a telecommunications infrastructure that is closely guarded against real or imagined threats to national security.

"It's also a sign that they're willing to go a little further with Google," Press said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Get Approval for Cuba Cruises]]>Wed, 07 Dec 2016 15:44:58 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/low_1466602167_HM-Aerials-June2016-049.JPG

Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruises on Wednesday announced that they have received permission from the Cuban government to sail from the U.S. to Cuba.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings plans sailings on ships from two of its brands, Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania. Both ships will include port calls in Havana as part of longer Caribbean itineraries. The Marina will sail from Miami on March 7 and Norwegian Sky will begin overnighting in Havana in spring 2017.

Royal Caribbean will also sail on two lines, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises.

In May, Carnival Corp. became the first U.S. company in decades to sail to Cuba. Carnival's Cuba trips take place on its Fathom brand, which alternates week-long trips to Cuba with week-long trips to the Dominican Republic.

All of these cruises are subject to U.S. rules that ban pure tourism by American travelers to Cuba. Instead the cruises must be "people to people" trips themed on permitted categories of travel such as cultural exchanges.

Norwegian's CEO, Frank Del Rio, was born in Cuba and emigrated in 1961 at age 7 with his family to the U.S. after the failed U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs effort to overthrow Fidel Castro.

"This is truly a dream come true for me and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents," he said in a statement.

On the U.S. side, all of the cruise companies had been allowed to proceed with plans to sail to Cuba as part of the Obama administration's policy of opening up relations between the two countries.

Some in the travel community are concerned that Donald Trump may reinstate restrictions on travel to Cuba. The president-elect's intentions are unclear but three days after Fidel Castro's death, the president-elect tweeted: "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal."

Norwegian and Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they are concerned that Trump might tighten travel to Cuba.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Migrants: Death of Fidel Castro Delayed Move to U.S.]]>Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:04:07 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*120/15304253_10153932377211816_8278283478318940239_o.jpg

A group of Cuban migrants who came ashore in the Florida Keys say Fidel Castro's death delayed their journey.

The 10 men and three womenlanded on Big Pine Key early Tuesday in a homemade boat. Federal authorities say they're the first Cuban migrants to make it to U.S. soil since the longtime Cuban leader's death Nov. 25.

One of the migrants, Lueje Mestre, told local media that "police were everywhere'' in Cuba after Castro died. Mestre said the group delayed leaving until early Monday to avoid arrest in Cuba.

Mestre and others in the group told the news station they didn't want to discuss Castro's death because they were afraid of causing trouble for relatives in Cuba.

Postrille Abad criticized the celebrations in South Florida that followed Castro's death, calling them "ugly.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Fidel Castro's Ashes Interred in Private Ceremony in Cuba]]>Sun, 04 Dec 2016 18:36:06 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-627638128.jpg

Fidel Castro's ashes were being interred in a private ceremony Sunday morning, ending nine days of mourning for the man who ruled Cuba for nearly half a century.

The military caravan bearing his remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago at 6:39 a.m. Thousands of people lined the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery, waving Cuban flags and shouting "Long live Fidel!"

The Cuban military fired a 21-gun salute and crowds at the entrance to the cemetery sang the national anthem as the ashes entered about 40 minutes later. The ceremony lasted more than an hour and took place out of the public eye after Cuban officials made a last-minute cancellation of plans to broadcast the events live on national and international television. International media were also barred from the ceremony.

Martial music could be heard outside the cemetery, where Ines de la Rosa was among the mourners gathered. She said she would have liked to watch the ceremony on television, but "we understand how they as a family also need a bit of privacy."

Fellow mourner Elena Vinales said she wasn't surprised that the images of the ceremony were not broadcast. "It seems to be a family moment," she said.

The decision to hold a private ceremony came the morning after Castro's brother, President Raul Castro, announced that Cuba would prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after the former leader, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon, in keeping with his desire to avoid a cult of personality.

"The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult of personality and was consistent in that through the last hours of his life, insisting that, once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected," Raul Castro told a massive crowd gathered in the eastern city of Santiago.

He said that Cuba's National Assembly would vote in its next session on the law fulfilling the wishes of his brother, who died last week at 90. The legislature generally holds a meeting in December and under Cuba's single-party system, parliament unanimously or near-unanimously approves every government proposal.

Fidel Castro, who stepped down in 2006 after falling ill, kept his name off public sites during his near half-century in power because he said he wanted to avoid the development of a personality cult. In contrast, the images of his fellow revolutionary fighters Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto "Che" Guevara became common across Cuba in the decades since their deaths.

Mourning for Castro has been fervent and intense across the country since his death, particularly in rural eastern Cuba, where huge crowds have been shouting Castro's name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes.

"All of us would like to put Fidel's name on everything but in the end, Fidel is all of Cuba," said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a 70-year-old retired economist. "It was a decision of Fidel's, not Raul's, and I think he has to be respected."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Huge Crowds Gather For Memorial Service Honoring Castro]]>Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:04:21 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Cenizas-Fidel-Castro-recorrido-Cuba.jpg

Fidel Castro's ashes arrived in the eastern city of Santiago, ending a four-day journey across Cuba.

Thousands of people welcomed the leader's remains to shouts of  "Fidel! I am Fidel!'' The 90-year-old former president died Nov. 25.

He was remembered in a nationally televised service led by his brother, President Raul Castro, Saturday evening at Revolution Square in Santiago. His ashes will be interred Sunday morning, ending a nine-day mourning period.

Mourning for Castro has reached near-religious peaks of public adulation across Cuba since his death, particularly in rural eastern Cuba. Huge crowds have been shouting his name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes from Havana to Santiago.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: EFE]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban-Americans' Hefty Clout in US Politics]]>Sat, 03 Dec 2016 16:31:47 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/cuba.jps.jpg

Cuban-Americans carry hefty political clout in the United States — they vote more frequently than any other Latinos; they have a strong presence in Washington with three senators, two of whom were serious contenders for the presidency; and only one non-Cuban has been Miami's mayor since 1985.

Much of this is a legacy of Fidel Castro, the longtime Cuban leader who died Nov. 25. His communist revolution in 1959 not only sent thousands of Cubans to the U.S. but engendered in them a fervor to resist communism at the height of the Cold War- an issue that resonated heavily in their adopted country and helped transform them into a potent force in its politics.

The clout Cuban-Americans now enjoy comes as no surprise to Lorenzo Rodriguez, a 41-year-old Miami real estate agent who grew up, like many people of Cuban heritage, in households where politics are a passion and people are eager to participate in a democracy after fleeing the communist island.

``Because America gave us this platform, I think Cubans utilized it,'' he said days after Castro died at age 90. ``The fact that America took them in is a debt they feel they can never repay.''

Cubans have been coming to America for about 200 years. Census figures show that the year before Castro took power in 1959, about 125,000 lived in the U.S. In the waves of migration since the communist revolution, that number is now about 2 million, government estimates show.

That's about 3.7 percent of the total Hispanic population in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. Two-thirds of Cuban-Americans live in Florida, with most concentrated in the three major South Florida counties, giving them a powerful political base, said Dario Moreno, a Florida International University political science professor who specializes in Cuban politics.

Florida's role as a perennial swing state in presidential elections gives Cuban-Americans an outsize role in those campaigns, Moreno added. In addition, more than two-thirds of Cuban-Americans regularly turn out to vote, compared with about half of the nation's Latinos as a whole.

``They are paid a lot of attention because of their concentration,'' Moreno said. ``They turn out for the presidential election, and they also turn out for local elections. That's how you get so many Cuban politicians. Cuban-Americans are very politically attuned and savvy.''

The current Congress has five Cuban — American House members in addition to Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Rubio and Cruz each sought the Republican presidential nomination this year. In addition, at least two dozen Cuban-American serve as state legislators nationwide and many more hold local offices, Moreno said.

Cuban-Americans also have been able to win immigration rights enjoyed by no other nationality, a reflection of the struggle between Havana and Washington that dates to the Cold War. Any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil is likely to be allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally sent back under the ``wet foot, dry foot'' policy.

Yet it's not just about voter turnout and geographic concentration. Unlike most other Hispanic immigrant groups, Cubans came to this country in large measure to escape oppression or persecution rather than for economic reasons.

For many, family members were killed or jailed, the Castro government took their property and possessions, or they made the risky Florida Straits crossing in flimsy watercraft. Many have relatives still in Cuba.

Such stories are staples of Cuban-American dinner conversations and family gatherings, reminders to the younger generation of what exile parents and grandparents endured, Rodriguez said.

``You look at your children today, it's important for them to value that struggle,'' he said. ``We try to pass it down as much as possible to never let it go.''

Those hardships, triggered by a political revolution led by Castro, have given Cuban-Americans perhaps a greater appreciation of the role of politics. Instead of an abstraction, politics for them is all too real — and many Cuban-American elected officials say they represent people still on the island almost as much as their constituents in this country.

``I'm also here in representation of my grandfather, who was in political prison for 12 years and was tortured,'' said U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who represents a chunk of South Florida stretching to Key West. ``We are in many ways representing people who cannot be here.''

That sentiment was echoed by former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who came to Florida from Cuba alone as a teenager along with 14,000 other unaccompanied children under the Operation Pedro Pan program from 1960 to 1962. Martinez, who was U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary under President George W. Bush, didn't see his family until 1966 — which he credits as forcing him to become independent.

``It's the story of so many other Cuban families and the trauma that we went through,'' Martinez said in a speech promoting his book about the experience.

It's not hard to understand why politics is personal to most Cuban-Americans and why they turned out by the thousands in Miami's Little Havana for a spontaneous celebration when Castro's death was announced.

``That's why it is such a loud, boisterous community down here,'' Rodriguez said. ``It just hits such a raw nerve for so many.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cuba's Final Farewell to Fidel Castro As Ashes Trek Island]]>Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:08:19 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026816502_1200x675_823592515981.jpgNBC 6's Julia Bagg is in Cuba following the final farewell to Fidel Castro as his ashes trek across the communist island.]]><![CDATA[Cuban Mother and Daughter Separated By Diplomatic Discord]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:12:02 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/120116+cuban+mother+and+daughter+separated.jpg

Moving beyond Castro's death, the future of Cuba's relationship with the U.S. is complicated and unclear.

Perhaps the most painful legacy of past and present tension has been decades of family division. Between revolution and embargo, 90 miles has separated families physically and politically for generations.

For Carmen Garcia Puente that separation is physical and personal. She turned 87 on Monday. Another birthday without her only daughter.

Carmen has suffered multiple strokes and has trouble speaking, but her pain is understood.

Like many native Cubans, Carmen's daughter Lissette Bustamante used to travel between countries to visit family.

As a young journalist, she gained access to Fidel Castro's close circles. From Spain in 2008 she published a book on the current leader Raul Castro, in the shadow of Fidel.

Now living in Miami, for Lissette to travel across Florida straits to see her ailing mother depends on government permission. Permission, Carmen says, her daughter hasn't been granted in nearly 3 years

"It's not right" Carmen says in Spanish. She says can't make sense of it.

In between tears, when asked about her thoughts on Fidel Castro's death, Carmen said it's better for her to stay quiet.

Julia Bagg is on assignment in Cuba. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaNBC6 for behind the scenes action as she covers the death of Fidel Castro. 

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<![CDATA[American Airlines Cutting Number of Flights to Cuba ]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:02:36 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/461830344-american-airlines-cuba-airport.jpg

After over a decade of tense relations between the United States and Cuba, recent changes have allowed for somewhat of a thawing – and an increase in travel between the nations, including the first commercial flights since the late Fidel Castro took over.

Now, thanks to a weakened demand and the unknown future of possible changes in relations under President-elect Donald Trump, one airliner is already cutting the number of flights between the neighboring counties.

American Airlines will reduce the number of round trip flights from 13 to 10 starting in February – as well as flying smaller planes for certain routes. The airline said demand was the reason for the move.

Other airlines have said they will keep their schedule as is, but that could change in the coming weeks.

American was one of eight airlines that bid for the rights to fly between the U.S. and Cuba when President Obama announced plans to begin restoring travel between the counties. Flights started from South Florida on August 31st – with service to Havana added just this week.

A spokesman for the airline told the Miami Herald that the the move had nothing to do with comments made from Trump regarding a possible ending of the restoring push – however, some experts say travelers are growing worried and are in a wait-and-see mode for future plans regarding travel between the countries.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fidel Castro Ashes Complete First Leg of Cross-Country Trip]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 17:59:55 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/AP_16336074486758-cuba.jpg

Fidel Castro's ashes are completing the first leg of a more than 500-mile journey across Cuba, traveling in a flag-draped cedar coffin through small towns and cities where his rebel army fought its way to power nearly 60 years ago.

Just after 7 a.m. on Wednesday, an honor guard placed the coffin under a glass box on a trailer behind a Russian jeep. Thousands of soldiers and state security agents saluted the remains as they rolled slowly out of Havana's Plaza of the Revolution and the cortege made its way to the Malecon seaside boulevard and east into the countryside.

Tens of thousands of people lined the route, which retraces in reverse the path of the triumphant march of Castro and his rebels across the island to enter Havana on Jan. 1, 1959. Many waved flags and shouted "Long may he live!"

Others filmed the procession with cellphones, a luxury prohibited in Cuba until an ailing Castro gave up power in 2006 to his younger brother, Raul, who began a series of slow reforms.

The ashes were to arrive late Wednesday in the central city of Santa Clara, where they would spend the night at a memorial to fellow revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, whose remains are interred in Santa Clara.

An enormous Cuban flag hung outside the memorial to Guevara and hundreds of soldiers and city residents turned out for the arrival.

"He is everything to me. He's the one who gave us everything," said Cristian Garcia, a 13-year-old who painted the words "I love you Fidel" on his face.

The second leg of the journey on Thursday is to take the ashes to the eastern city of Camaguey. They will be interred Sunday in the far-eastern city of Santiago, ending a nine-day period of mourning that saw Cuba fall silent as thousands paid tribute to photographs of Fidel Castro and sign oaths of loyalty to his socialist, single-party system across the country on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday's procession was the first moment in which ordinary Cubans saw the remains of the man who led a band of bearded young fighters out of the Sierra Maestra mountains, overthrew strongman Fulgencio Batista, faced off against the United States for decades and imposed Soviet-style communism on the largest island in the Caribbean.

For many Cubans, seeing the coffin of a man who dominated life here for a half-century made the idea of a Cuba without Fidel Castro real for the first time since his death Friday night at age 90.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, 26, owner of a private restaurant that serves traditional Cuban food in Santa Clara, said there was a greater sense of uncertainty without Fidel and he couldn't say whether that was positive or negative.

"The one who ruled the country was Fidel, in my opinion," Gonzalez said. "Now I don't know how things are going to be."

The crowds along Wednesday's route were a mix of people attending on their own and those sent by the government in groups from their state workplaces.

Outside Havana, the caravan passed through rural communities transformed by Castro's social and economic reforms. Many residents now have access to health care and education. But many towns are also in a prolonged economic collapse, the country's once-dominant sugar industry decimated, the sugar mills and plantations gone.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Thousands Attend Unity Rally in Miami After Castro's Death]]>Wed, 30 Nov 2016 18:39:48 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Cuba+Unity+Rally+1+%282%29.jpg]]><![CDATA[Messages for Fidel Castro Left on Wall in Wynwood]]>Wed, 30 Nov 2016 18:55:20 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/113016+fidel+castro+wall+wynwood.jpg

Many in South Florida have been seeking comfort in leaving Fidel Castro messages on a wall in Wynwood.

"We had written on the top of the wall 'Fidel Castro rot in hell' and then people got all excited about writing it," said Regina McDonald, with the Give Good Works Thrift Store.

The wall facing North Miami Avenue at 24th Street became a platform for people to vent this past weekend after the death of Castro.

"So we put out some paint and they came up and they wrote 'Viva,' 'Fidel,' 'Goodbye, we hope we have some freedom now,' all different kinds of things they wrote on the wall," McDonald said.

A line of people waited for their turn and a marker. Some of the other comments included "praying for a free Cuba," "It's about time," and "Finally 2016 got something right."

"Yeah, we didn't actually expect that at all. There was one guy who pulled over off the street, he said he's been here since he was 18 years old and he's 55 and that Fidel ruined his life and he wondered if he could write something," McDonald said.

The wall belongs to the thrift store and the money they make is donated to the needy. This isn't the first time they've allowed the public to take it over.

"We had the Hillary 'H' sign with the line through it and people came and they would write on that. People would be positive about her, negative about Trump, vice versa," McDonald said.

And even though the comments eventually get erased, the store says it's happy to let people say what's on their mind.

"We like to keep the community engaged, let people have freedom of speech which is really a fun thing that we do in Wynwood with the graffiti," McDonald said.

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<![CDATA[Hundreds Attend Cuban Unity Rally in Miami]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 11:32:27 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/113016+cuban+unity+rally+miami.jpg

Hundreds of people gathered in Miami Wednesday for a rally to call for liberty and democracy in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro.

Cuban exiles in South Florida have been anticipating Castro's death for years and have been celebrating since it was announced over the weekend.

Wednesday's gathering began at 5 p.m., with the crowd descending on the Bay of Pigs Memorial on 8th Street and 13th Avenue in Little Havana.

"The message is clear. We want freedom for Cuba. We are not happy about death per se, we are happy that the symbol in Cuba of Fidel Castro, dictator, assassin, totalitarian, is over," rally attendee Odalys Fuentes said.

Attendees waved Cuban flags, danced to Cuban music and listened to speeches.

Those who fought against Castro's regime said they want to show a more serious tone about how they were impacted by his dictatorship.

"We are going to talk specifically about what this means now and what this means for the future," organizer Humberto Arguelles said.

They called for change on the island and don't want any violence, just to get their message across. That message: join the fight for freedom and put pressure on the Cuban government.

"That is why it is so important that the young people are there because we were able to be lucky enough to have that freedom and grow up with it and it's more important especially to me and Ray the same young people in Cuba can't have those freedoms," organizer Claudia De La Vega said.

Some vendors set up shop and were selling items like Cuban flags and bandannas.



Photo Credit: Steve Paine/NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[Ice Cream Shop Sells 'Burn in Hell Fidel' Flavor]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:29:19 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112916+burn+in+hell+fidel+ice+cream+.jpg

The death of Fidel Castro has been marked by jubilee across South Florida. Now, an ice cream shop in Little Havana is helping people celebrate the historic moment with a sweet and spicy treat with a fitting name.

Azucar Ice Cream Company is selling a flavor called “Burn in Hell Fidel”.

The new flavor is chocolate with loads of cayenne pepper.

The owner of Azucar, Suzy Battle, says the new flavor has been almost sold out, but that she has her team making more of it 24 hours a day.

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<![CDATA[Man Jailed For Refusing to Mourn Castro's Death: Family]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 23:44:07 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112916+eduardo+pacheco.jpg

The daughter of a Cuban dissident says her father was beaten and taken to jail for refusing to mourn the death of Fidel Castro.

Elizabeth Pacheco tells NBC 6 Cuban government security officers warned Eduardo Pacheco, who leads a gathering of the Movimento Recuperacion Democratico, that he could not host his monthly meeting with the opposition organization because he is supposed to be in mourning.

Cuba's government declared nine days of national mourning following Castro's death Nov. 25. The group meets with other Cuban dissidents on the last Monday of every month.

According to Pacheco, government security officers were monitoring her father's home Monday. When one of the group's member's arrived, an officer hurled a rock at her father as he opened the door.

"My dad opened the door of the house and they then hit him with a rock that fractured his nose," Pacheco said. "My mom says someone told her he can barely breathe."

She says several officers tackled her father and took him into custody. Her father's whereabouts are unknown.

Pacheco says her family is often the target of vandalism and Castro sympathizers even throw excrement at their home.

Pacheco also says Cubans are practically forced to board buses to attend Castro's memorial. She says though some have gone willingly, she believes many go out of fear of repercussions. The communist government still employs about 80 percent of the working people in Cuba despite the growth of the private sector under Castro's brother Raul Castro.



Photo Credit: Pacheco Family]]>
<![CDATA[CIA Expert Talks About New Book on Fidel Castro's Regime]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 20:48:56 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026758469_1200x675_820403779906.jpgNBC 6's Jamie Guirola talks to a CIA expert who published a book on the Cuban government hours after Fidel Castro's death.]]><![CDATA[2nd Day of Homage to Castro to End With Huge Rally in Havana]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 18:29:35 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/AP_16334006748334.jpg

Schools and government offices were closed Tuesday for a second day of homage to Fidel Castro, with the day ending in a rally on the wide plaza where the Cuban leader delivered fiery speeches to mammoth crowds in the years after he seized power.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have been bidding farewell to Castro, pledging allegiance to his socialist ideology and paying tribute before images of the leader as a young guerrilla gazing out over the country he would come to rule for nearly a half century.

On Tuesday they were joined by two of Castro's firmest ideological allies, presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who spent several moments paying their respects before a picture of Castro as a young, bearded rebel.

"Cuba is going through a moment of profound shock," Morales said when he arrived the previous evening. "I came to be present during a moment of pain from the loss of my brother, my friend."

Cuban state media reported that an urn containing Castro's ashes was being kept in a room at the Defense Ministry where his younger brother and successor, Raul Castro, and top Communist Party officials paid tribute the previous evening.

Lines stretched for hours outside Havana's Plaza of the Revolution, the heart of government power. In Havana and across the island, people signed condolence books and an oath of loyalty to Castro's sweeping May 2000 proclamation of the Cuban revolution as an unending battle for socialism, nationalism and an outsize role for the island on the world stage.

"I feel a deep sadness, but immense pride in having had him near," said Ana Beatriz Perez, a 50-year-old medical researcher who was advancing in the slow-moving line with the help of crutches. "His physical departure gives us strength to continue advancing in his ideology. This isn't going away, because we are millions."

"His death is another revolution," said her husband, Fidel Diaz, who predicted that it will prompt many to "rediscover the ideas of the commander for the new generations."

Tribute sites were set up in hundreds of places across the island as the government urged Cubans to reaffirm their belief in a socialist, single-party system that in recent years has struggled to maintain the fervor that was widespread at the triumph of the 1959 revolution.

Many mourners came on their own accord, but thousands were sent in groups by the communist government, which still employs about 80 percent of the working people in Cuba despite the growth of the private sector under Raul.

Inside the memorial, thousands walked through three rooms with near-identical displays featuring the 1962 Alberto Korda photograph of the young Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains, bouquets of white flowers and an array of Castro's medals against a black backdrop, framed by honor guards of soldiers and children in school uniforms. The ashes of the 90-year-old former president did not appear to be on display.

Signs read: "The Cuban Communist Party is the only legitimate heir of the legacy and authority of the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution, comrade Fidel Castro."

"Goodbye commander. Your ideas remain here with us," 64-year-old retiree Etelbina Perez said between sobs, dabbing at her eyes with a brown handkerchief. "I feel great pain over his death. I owe my entire life to him. He brought me out of the mountains. I was able to study thanks to him."

The scene was played out on a smaller scale at countless places across the country.

After 10 years of leadership by Raul Castro, a relatively camera-shy and low-key successor, Cuba has found itself riveted once again by the words and images of the man who dominated the lives of generations. Since his death on Friday night, state-run newspapers, television and radio have run wall-to-wall tributes to Fidel Castro, broadcasting non-stop footage of his speeches, interviews and foreign trips, interspersed with adulatory remembrances by prominent Cubans.

Meanwhile, The White House announced Tuesday that a high-ranking presidential adviser and the top diplomat to Cuba will represent the United States at Castro's funeral.

Spokesman Josh Earnest is emphasizing that the two are not part of a formal delegation to the service. But he says the appearance of deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis shows a commitment to an "ongoing, future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people."

He says their attendance is "an appropriate way to show respect," while acknowledging the differences that remain between the two nations.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Fernando Medina/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Future of Cuba Under Raul Castro]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:17:15 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026738569_1200x675_819355715622.jpgNBC 6's Sheli Muniz talks to political experts about the future of Cuba under Raul Castro after the death of brother Fidel Castro.]]><![CDATA[Emilio Estefan Looks to the Future in Wake of Castro's Death]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:10:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026733897_1200x675_819168835616.jpgNBC 6's Jackie Nespral talks to Emilio Estefan about his hope for Cuba's future in the wake of the death of Fidel Castro.]]><![CDATA[Thousands File Through Memorial Honoring Fidel Castro in Cub]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:55:51 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CUBA+MOURNS+CASTRO.jpg

Thousands of Cubans were filing through a memorial in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution on Monday as the nation plunged into a week of services bidding farewell to the man who ruled the country for nearly half a century.

One of the first in line was Tania Jimenez, 53, a mathematician who arrived at 4 a.m. carrying a rose.

"Fidel is everything to us, the soul of this country who gave everything, all his life," Jimenez said in tears.

A nine-story image of a young Castro joined the towering images of fallen guerrillas overlooking the massive square. The government also said Cubans would "sign a solemn oath to carry out the concept of the revolutionary" as expressed by the late leader, but that activity did not appear to be taking at the site of the tribute of Fidel.

After 10 years of leadership by Castro's younger brother Raul, a relatively camera-shy and low-key successor, Cuba finds itself riveted once again by the words and images of the leader who dominated the lives of generations. Since his death on Friday night, state-run newspapers, television and radio have been running wall-to-wall tributes to Fidel, broadcasting non-stop footage of his speeches, interviews and foreign trips, interspersed with adulatory remembrances by prominent Cubans.

"There's a genuine feeling of mourning, that's not a formality, that's not showy, that's not outward-focused, but rather completely intimate," former National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said on state television Sunday.

Ordinary people have largely been staying at home, off streets hushed by a prohibition on music and celebration during the nine days of official mourning for Castro. For some, particularly younger Cubans, Castro's death barely registered.

Yankemell Barrera, a 20-year-old student, said Castro wasn't a strong presence in his life and that he wasn't much affected by his death or planning to go to any of the memorial events. He said studying for finals would be a better use of his time.

"Even if I'm obligated to go, I'm not doing it," he said.

Three months after the first U.S. commercial flight to Cuba in five decades landed in the central city of Santa Clara, the first flight to Havana touched down. Passengers aboard the American Airlines flight cheered as the plane landed at Jose Marti International Airport at 8:25 a.m.

Thirty-five minutes later, simultaneous 21-gun salutes sounded in the capital and in the eastern city of Santiago, where Castro launched his revolution in 1953. At the same moment, tens of thousands of Cubans were filing through three rooms inside the Plaza of the Revolution's memorial to national hero Jose Marti, where posters of Castro as a young guerrilla were mounted alongside flowers and soldiers standing at attention.

The ashes of the 90-year-old former president did not appear to be on display inside the monument. Many Cubans were given time off from work to attend the memorial and virtually all schools and government offices were closing for the homage to Castro, which will stretch for 13 hours on Monday and take place again on Tuesday, ending in a rally echoing those that Castro addressed on the plaza for most of his time in power.

"It's a terrible sadness. Everyone's feeling it here," said Orlando Alvarez, a 55-year-old jeweler. "Everyone will be there."

On Wednesday, Castro's ashes will begin a three-day procession east across Cuba, retracing the march of his bearded rebel army from the Sierra Maestra mountains to the capital. Castro's ashes will be interred on Sunday in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Millennials Prepare For Potential Role In Evolving Cuba]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 18:08:33 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-625883682.jpg

Isabella Prio was born in Miami, is 20 now and a junior at Boston College who fully expects to return to Cuba someday and help shape the island's future. But she's never been to the country where her grandfather was once president and refuses to visit until it's a democracy.

Cherie Cancio, 29, also was born in Miami and runs tours to the island for young Cuban-Americans eager to explore their heritage.

Two daughters of exile. Both passionate in wanting to effect change in a country that has been in the grasp of the Castro brothers' authoritarian rule for decades, but very different in their approaches.

For the hundreds of thousands of children like Prio and Cancio born of Cuban exiles - some two and three generations removed from the island - Fidel Castro's death potentially opens a door to a world long off-limits. Or at the least, it seems to bring it within closer reach.

Millennial Cuban-Americans say Castro's death at the age of 90 symbolically offers hope for improved dialogue between the countries. Some thought the dialogue had begun under President Barack Obama, who visited Cuba in March. But with President-elect Donald Trump, the future of diplomacy between the two countries is uncertain.

“It's definitely in the hands of the young people to take it over,'' Prio said. “We just have to be careful about how we go about it.''

How that dialogue will unfold is anyone's guess, and while attitudes are shifting, the community is still divided on the best way to chart a new course for the island - or whether Miami's exiles even should play a role.

Prio, a finance and marketing student, still won't visit until the Castro regime steps down, and democracy is restored. For now, she's disappointed when she sees friends' photos of Cuba on Instagram and Facebook. Her views are more in line with people her parents' and grandparents' age.

“Young Cuban-Americans really want engagement on the island,'' said Guillermo Grenier, a professor of sociology at Florida International University in Miami and a lead investigator of the FIU Cuba Poll, an annual poll of Cuban-Americans co-sponsored by the Cuban Research Institute.

Still, said Grenier, “how younger Cuban-Americans feel about Fidel Castro dying is kind of independent'' of their interest in engaging with the island.

The most recent Cuba Poll was taken in August. It showed that Cuban-Americans ages 18 to 39 are disenchanted with the embargo, desire expanded business opportunities and favor the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“There's been a shift of millennial Cuban-Americans, who are more open to President Obama's policies,'' says Cancio, whose father reached Florida on the Mariel Boatlift in the 1980s.

She admits that the children of exiles grapple with wanting to learn about their heritage while being respectful of their parents' struggles. Many millennials want to go to Cuba but are hesitant to do so out of respect for their parents' position that the Castro regime must relinquish power and democracy installed before any substantial engagement.

“We all respect the sacrifices and the history of our parents, especially those of us from Miami,'' she said.

That's why she believes in educating Cuban-Americans, while building bridges with folks in Cuba.

We want Cuban Americans to visit Cuba, experience it, talk about it, and think about what an emerging Cuba means for them and their communities in the U.S.,'' reads the website of CubaOne, Cancio's nonprofit.

Still, Cancio doesn't believe that she, or the Miami-born children of exiles, has a role to play in reshaping Cuba. That's up to the people on the island, she says.

“I have the freedom here to support whatever policies I want. I don't know I should have that freedom in another country, even if my father was born there.''

Javier Gonzalez, a 21-year-old University of Miami junior, feels that Cuba is his birthright. His father came from Cuba and hasn't returned. Gonzalez also hasn't visited.

“A free Cuba or nothing,'' said Gonzalez, who is majoring in political science, economics and aquaculture.

Gonzalez attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami - a private school that was once in Havana, only to be seized after Castro took power and expelled from the island.

Castro himself was a 1944 graduate of the school. Gonzalez says many of his teachers knew Castro or studied with him, and the exile experience permeated daily high school life, as it did for him at home.

Each day while walking to his Latin American studies class, Gonzalez would pass the wall of martyrs, a photographic journey of all the alumni who died fighting “for a higher cause,'' including attempting to oust Castro. Many were political prisoners under the Castro regime.

Gonzalez thinks of Cuba as his home, and someday, of returning to what he calls “paradise lost.''

Castro's death “isn't equivalent to liberty, but it's a step toward liberty,'' says Gonzalez.

When news of Castro's death broke, he texted Prio, his friend. They and their high school friends who were home for the Thanksgiving break knew where to meet up: Cafe Versailles in Little Havana, with its signs that say “La Casa del Exilio,'' or, “house of the exiles.''

Prio, who has friends at her school in Boston who questioned her jubilation over Castro's death, tried to explain her feelings.

“He's not a human being, he's a monster,'' she said. “It's perfectly acceptable to celebrate his death.''

Said Gonzales: “it's not celebrating death, it's celebrating the life that could be.''

Prio's grandfather, Carlos Prio Socarras, was president of Cuba from 1948 until 1952, when Fulgencio Batista organized a coup and overthrew the government. Socarras fled the country and backed Castro financially; it was the worst decision of his life, he later said.

Like Gonzalez, Prio believes she will someday go to Cuba and hopes to play a part in its rebuilding.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[First Commercial Flight From Miami to Havana Takes Off]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 18:07:35 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112816+cuba+flight+miami+to+havana.jpg

For the first time in over half a century, United States airlines are making commercial flights into Havana, Cuba — just days after the death of that country's former leader, Fidel Castro.

American Airlines, which scheduled flights to several cities in the country, had a plane take off for Cuba for the first time from Miami International Airport shortly after 7:30 a.m. Monday. It is the first commercial flight from any U.S. carrier to the capital city since Castro cut off relations with the country shortly after taking power.

The first return flight from the capital city, now in mourning for the man who led the country's communist revolution, was scheduled to return around 10:30 a.m.

"We were the last country with the embargo. I think it's time to normalize things," said Daniel Lewis, one of the passengers on the first flight.

Just before the historic flight took off, a water cannon salute bid farewell to the passengers - and then it was up and away to the skies for a historic journey.

Also, Monday, a Havana-bound JetBlue flight departed from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. Delta plans its first flights to Havana on December 1.

Flights have resumed between the countries — part of President Barack Obama's plans to renew relations between the counties just 90 miles apart – with the first ones taking off in August from both MIA and Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport.

A JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara was the first U.S. commercial flight to any Cuban city.

Despite the thaw in relations that allowed new flights, people may only fly to Cuba for 12 reasons, including family visits, official U.S. business and humanitarian projects, but not tourism.

President-elect Donald Trump and his team haven't indicated if his administration will keep Obama's policy, though Trump tweeted Monday morning, "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal." He didn't offer specifics.

It was announced Monday that neither President Obama or Vice President Biden would be attending Castro's funeral.

American Airlines plans on having four daily flights between Havana and Miami under the new plans. 

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<![CDATA[Emotional Video When Grandmother Learns of Castro's Death]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:40:39 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/112816+abuela+castro+death+reax.jpg

As South Floridians continue to react to the news of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death Friday, one woman’s emotional video of her grandmother finding out the news has gone viral – symbolizing the emotions many are feeling.

Ivis Suarez shared the video to Facebook with the following caption:

"Not even Alzheimer's could take away the emotions my abuela Ata felt when she found out that monster had died! Thanks to her, my family is in this country today. #GoodRiddanceFidel."

The emotional grandmother in the video is Flora Suarez, who migrated to Miami in the mid-60's to escape Castro's regime.

Her son Pablo Suarez says everything was taken from his father and grandparents after Fidel took control.

The family says the now-viral abuelita has Alzheimer's, but when her children broke the news to her, Suarez's memory of Cuba did not skip a beat. "She thought Cuba was free because she does not understand that dictatorship is still there. But, for a minute, Cuba was free," said daughter Diana Gil.

Flora's daughter wanted to record the personal moment for her family and the impact has touched thousands of people. "From there it started sharing and sharing but it was never my intention. It was actually a private little video for us," said Gil.

She and her brother Pablo recall how their parents escaped the oppressive regime and prayed for the day change would arrive at the island nation, starting with the demise of the Castro brothers. Gil said her family has been waiting for this moment and she wasn't sure if her mom would make it to see it.

The Suarez family now prays that one day Cuba will see freedom.



Photo Credit: Facebook / Ivis Suarez
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<![CDATA[Emilio Estefan Talks About Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 18:37:24 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026712081_1200x675_818608707554.jpgNBC 6's Jackie Nespral talks to Emilio Estefan about what Fidel Castro's death means to him and his family.]]><![CDATA[Ladies in White March in Miami, Hoping For Change in Cuba]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 23:50:31 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112716+ladies+in+white+march+little+havana.jpg

Waving Cuban flags, the Ladies in White marched through Little Havana Sunday as the dissident group plans a larger march Wednesday.

Sunday’s march was held after a news conference with several Cuban dissident groups. Activists talked about the continued fight for democracy in Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro.

Sylvia Iriondo, President of MAR for Cuba, spoke passionately about the unity of the Cuban exile community in South Florida. “Community comprised of the old like us and the young of the men and the woman of the black and the white all united behind an ideal commitment for the freedom of Cuba,” said Iriondo.

The mothers and wives of political prisoners were accompanied by various Cuban exile groups including the American Missile Crisis Veteran Association. “Let the people know that United States and Cuba we are still fighting for the freedom of Cuba,” exclaimed Jorge Ruiz Rodriguez, president of the group.

All of the Cuban exile groups say that the death of Fidel Castro marks the end of a painful history in Cuba but there is still a lot of work to be done for the demise of communism on the island nation.

Frank Carrill, a veteran of the Florida Army National Guard, also took part in Sunday’s march to support the movement and protest for human rights and liberty in Cuba.

Miami Police assisted in the march and say it was peaceful with no incidents as they prepare for this week’s large demonstration. The rally will be held at the Bay of Pigs Monument in Little Havana on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

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<![CDATA[Social Media Reacts to Castro's Death With Mixed Emotions]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 16:53:43 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Castro+Miami+Celebrations+Skeleton.jpg

As news of Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro's death began to spread, mourners in Cuba, South Florida and around the world took to social media – with mixed emotions.

For some, including U.S. Rep. Ileana Lehtinen, Castro's death symbolizes the end of a brutal chapter and the dawn of a new beginning for the communist island.

"We must seize the moment and help write a new chapter in the history of Cuba; that of a Cuba that is free, democratic and prosperous," said Ros-Lehtinen in a released statement.

Shortly after news of Catro's death broke, Cubans flooded the streets of Miami – and social media – to celebrate his death with fireworks, parades, dancing, and more.

While some celebrated, others turned to social media to mourn Castro’s death and remember him as a great world leader.

Castro, known as the leader of communist Cuba, died Friday night at the age of 90. He led the country for nearly five decades before his brother, Raul Castro, took over his presidency as a result from his ailing health. 

Tell us what you think. How do you remember Fidel Castro? Hashtag your thoughts, videos and photos on social media with #NBC6. 



Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Angry Miami Fans Cheer Kaepernick's Fall Against Dolphins]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:43:49 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/KaepernickDolphins.jpg

It started with a chorus of boos for Colin Kaepernick.

It ended with loud cheers for Kaepernick getting crushed 2 yards short of a game-tying touchdown as time expired.

Miami fans arrived angry, after Kaepernick defended Fidel Castro this week, just days before the Cuban dictator died.

But they went home happy, and hopeful, about a 7-4 football team that has now won 6 straight games, the franchise's longest winning streak since 2005 (when Nick Saban was the Coach).

As fate would have it, on the last play of the game, Dolphins player Kiko Alonso, whose father is Cuban American tackled Kaepernick to save the victory for Miami.

After the loss, the 49er clarified his stance on Fidel Castro saying that he agreed with Castro's investment in education, free universal health care and his involvement in ending apartheid in South Africa. He added, "I would hope that everydoby agrees that those things are good things. And, trying to push the false narrative that I was a supporter of the oppressive things that he did is not true."

Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero started the Kaepernick-Castro controversy. Kaepernick had worn a shirt which had a picture of Malcolm X meeting Castro. Salguero told the quarterback that Castro represents brutal oppression to millions of people. Kaepernick would not acknowledge the regime's brutality.

"I don't want to hear about the education system in Cuba and health care in Cuba when Cubans are so eager to leave that place that they're throwing themselves on rafts and going into shark infested waters to get the heck out,” Salguero told NBC 6 after Sunday’s game.

Kiko Alonso tweeted a picture of the game-saving play with the Spanish profanity-laced caption and the hashtag Cuba Libre which means Cuba Free.

 

Concerns about the Dolphins overlooking the lowly 49ers, or playing down to their competition, dissipated in the 2nd half when Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes on the way to a 31-14 lead.

San Francisco mounted a valiant comeback, but fell just short when Kaepernick was smothered 2 yards shy of a touchdown. The Dolphins survived with a 31-24 win.

And finally, the turnaround feels real.

You'll have to forgive Dolphins fans for being skeptical. It was just last month that the Dolphins were 1-4 and Tannehill was getting booed by his own restless crowd at Hard Rock Stadium.

Now, look at them!

The Fins enter December in the thick of playoff hunt, with a young Head Coach in Adam Gase who the players believe in.

Gase has lived up to the title of "Quarterback Whisperer," helping Tannehill look more comfortable. It doesn't hurt that Devante Parker has emerged as a legitimate down field threat at Wide Receiver. And Jay Ajayi has proved to be a reliable work-horse Running Back.

The Dolphins defense has had its issues, but during the winning streak, it has come up with big plays late in games to clinch victories.

It's all a recipe for optimism that Dolphins fans haven't seen in more than a decade. Even during the 2008 season (Miami's last in the playoffs), the Dolphins didn't have 7 wins through the first 11 games.

That year felt like a fluke. That team didn't have a promising future. Playoffs or not, the 2016 Miami Dolphins do.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Former Cuban Prisoner Alan Gross Reacts to Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 15:02:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112716+alan+gross.jpg

A former Maryland aid worker who was detained in Cuba for five years reacted to the death of Fidel Castro.

Alan Gross spoke to NBC 6 on the phone about the impact Castro's death will have on Cuban Americans and the communist island. He said he was not shocked to hear of Castro's passing. Gross said he expected the former leader's death because of his failing health over the years.

"My condolences to his family and the people who loved him. I just don't know who they are and I don't think there are many of them," said Gross. He said he doesn't think it's appropriate to celebrate the death of Castro, saying that now is a time for reflection.

"Will it ever make things right that he's dead? The answer is "no"," said Gross. He doesn't believe there will be immediate change in Cuba.

Gross said since Fidel stepped down and his brother took power there have been minor changes, but added that when the regime takes one step forward, it takes two more steps backward, at times. "Raul Castro says he's going to retire in 2018, that's more than a year away. That's when I think things will start to change, " explained Gross.

The former aid worker was arrested by the communist government in 2009 for providing communication equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba. He was released from prison in December 2014 just as the White House announced it was normalizing relations with Havana.

Gross warns that if the Cuban government doesn't change soon, it will continue to fail. "I think that the government of Cuba will have to take a real hard look at itself to understand why it has such an inferiority complex that it can's stand any criticism whatsoever."

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<![CDATA[Cousin of Fidel Castro Pays Tribute to Late Cuban Leader]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 14:29:03 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112716+castro%27s+counsin.jpg

A cousin of Fidel Castro paid tribute to the late Cuban leader Sunday in his father's Spanish hometown of Lancara.

Making a noticeable physical effort, 103-year-old Manuela Argiz observed a minute of silence in the small town.

Manuela is one of the two surviving relatives of the leader in Spain.

Helped by members of the local government, Argiz took part in a ceremony to remember Castro at the door of the house where his father Angel Castro was born in 1875.

Manuela, who met Castro in Spain when he made an official visit in 1992, used to live in the family house.

However, due to her age, she now lives in a nearby elderly home.

The mayor of Lancara, Dario Pineiro, said Sunday he is in the process of requesting that the family donate the home to the municipality so it can be transformed into a museum.

Manuela is the daughter of Juana Castro, sister of the late Cuban president's father.

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<![CDATA[Rubio: Tie US-Cuba Changes to Democratic Reforms on Island]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 10:49:33 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112716+marco+rubio.jpg

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says changes in relations with Cuba must be tied to reforms on the communist island such as free elections and freedom of the press.

The Florida Republican said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press" that Fidel Castro's death will not by itself usher in major democratic changes. Rubio says current Cuban President Raul Castro is dedicated to protecting the communist system created largely by his brother.

Rubio, who is Cuban-American, has opposed much of the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations pushed by President Barack Obama. But Rubio also says he's not against all such reforms, only those in which the U.S. or the Cuban people get little in return.

Rubio says he believes President-elect Donald Trump will closely re-examine U.S.-Cuba relations once he takes office in January.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cubans Pay Homage to Castro, Prepare for Week of Mourning]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 22:36:56 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cubansmourncastro.jpg

His words and image had filled schoolbooks, airwaves and newspapers since before many of them were born. Now Cubans must face life without Fidel Castro, the leader who guided their island to both greater social equality and years of economic ruin.

Across a hushed capital, people wept in the streets on Saturday as news of the 90-year-old revolutionary's death spread. The Cuban government says Castro's remains will be interred in the eastern city of Santiago which was key to his early life and his revolution.

State media say Cubans are invited to pay homage to Castro on Monday and Tuesday by signing a "solemn oath of complying with the concept of the revolution." There'll then be a mass gathering in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution, where Castro often addressed huge crowds.

A burial ceremony will be held on Dec. 4.

While many mourned, others privately expressed hope that Castro's passing will allow Cuba to move faster toward a more open, prosperous future under his younger brother President Raul Castro.

Both brothers led bands of bearded rebels out of the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains to create a communist government 90 miles from the United States. But since taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, the 85-year-old Raul Castro has allowed an explosion of private enterprise and, last year, restored diplomatic relations with Washington.

"Raul wants to do business, that's it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maestra," said Belkis Bejarano, a 65-year-old homemaker in central Havana.

In his twilight years Fidel Castro largely refrained from offering his opinions publicly on domestic issues, lending tacit backing to his brother's free-market reforms. But the older Castro surged back onto the public stage twice this year — critiquing President Barack Obama's historic March visit to Cuba and proclaiming in April that communism was "a great step forward in the fight against colonialism and its inseparable companion, imperialism."

Ailing and without any overt political power, the 90-year-old revolutionary icon became for some a symbol of resistance to his younger sibling's diplomatic and economic openings. For many other Cubans, however, Fidel Castro was fading into history, increasingly at a remove from the passions that long cast him as either messianic savior or maniacal strongman.

On Saturday, many Cubans on the island described Fidel Castro as a towering figure who brought Cuba free health care, education and true independence from the United States, while saddling the country with an ossified political and economic system that has left streets and buildings crumbling and young, educated elites fleeing in search of greater prosperity abroad.

"Fidel was a father for everyone in my generation," said Jorge Luis Hernandez, a 45-year-old electrician. "I hope that we keep moving forward because we are truly a great, strong, intelligent people. There are a lot of transformations, a lot of changes, but I think that the revolution will keep on in the same way and always keep moving forward."

In 2013, Raul Castro announced that he would step aside by the time his current presidential term ends in 2018, and for the first time named an heir-apparent not from the Castro's revolutionary generation — Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56.

Fidel Castro's death "puts a sharper focus on the mortality of the entire first generation of this revolution," said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst and business consultant, "and brings into sharper focus the absence of a group of potential leaders that's ready to take over and politically connected to the public."

For Cubans off the island, Castro's death was cause for celebration. In Miami, the heart of the Cuban diaspora, thousands of people banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban and U.S. flags in the air and whooped in jubilation.

"We're not celebrating that someone died, but that this is finished," said 30-year-old Erick Martinez, who emigrated from Cuba four years ago.

The Cuban government declared nine days of mourning for Castro, whose ashes will be carried across the island from Havana to the eastern city of Santiago in a procession retracing his rebel army's victorious sweep from the Sierra Maestra to Havana.

State radio and television were filled with non-stop tributes to Castro, playing hours of footage of his time in power and interviews with prominent Cubans affectionately remembering him.

Bars shut, baseball games and concerts were suspended and many restaurants stopped serving alcohol and planned to close early. Official newspapers were published Saturday with only black ink instead of the usual bright red or blue mastheads.

Many Cubans, however, were already imagining the coming years in a Cuba without Fidel Castro.

"Fidel's ideas are still valid," said Edgardo Casals, a 32-year-old sculptor. "But we can't look back even for a second. We have to find our own way. We have to look toward the future, which is ours, the younger generations'."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Quotes From Fidel Castro Across More Than 5 Decades]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 07:33:22 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Fidel-Castro1.jpg

Quotes from Fidel Castro:

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"Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me." — Oct. 16, 1953, at his trial for rebel attack that launched Cuban Revolution.

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"I am not interested in power nor do I envisage assuming it at any time. All that I will do is to make sure that the sacrifices of so many compatriots should not be in vain, whatever the future may hold in store for me." — Jan. 1, 1959, upon triumph of the revolution. 

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"Workers and farmers, this is the socialist and democratic revolution of the humble, with the humble and for the humble." — April 16, 1961, declaring his government socialist.

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"I believe that aggression is imminent in the next 24 to 72 hours," Oct. 26, 1962, commenting on possibility of U.S. attack in memo to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during tensest hours of Cuban missile crisis.

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"Millions of Cubans shed their tears today together with the loved ones of the victims of the abominable crime. And when an energetic and forceful people cry, injustice trembles." — Oct. 15, 1976, addressing more than 1 million mourners in Havana the week after the terrorist bombing of Cuban airliner killed 73 people.

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"Today it hurts us if a Cuban is hungry, if a Cuban has no doctor, if a Cuban child suffers or is uneducated, or if a family has no housing. It hurts us even though it's not our brother, our son or our father. Why shouldn't we feel hurt if we see an Angolan child go hungry, suffer, be killed or massacred?" — March 30, 1977, to Cuban civilian and military personnel in Luanda, Angola.

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"Cuba is not opposed to finding a solution to its historical differences with the United States, but no one should expect Cuba to change its position or yield in its principles. Cuba is and will continue to be socialist. Cuba is and will continue to be a friend of the Soviet Union and of all the socialist states." — Dec. 20, 1980, to Congress of Communist Party of Cuba.

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"We will take the steps we have to take to keep our factories running, to keep our workers employed, to keep going forward in these difficult conditions, and ... find the formulas to save the country, save the revolution and save socialism." — Oct. 14, 1991, to Communist Party congress as Cuba felt first effects of waning Soviet trade. 

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"We will win this battle for life, and not only for your lives, but also for the lives of all children in the world." — Dec. 23, 1999, calling on schoolchildren to participate in fight to repatriate Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez. 

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"I promise that I will be with you, if you so wish, for as long as I feel that I can be useful — and if it is not decided by nature before — not a minute less and not a second more ... Now I understand that it was not my destiny to rest at the end of my life." — March 6, 2003, upon being re-elected by Cuba's National Assembly to sixth term as Council of State president. 

___

"I do not have the slightest doubt that our people and our revolution will fight to the last drop of blood to defend these and other ideas and measures that are necessary to safeguard this historic process." — July 31, 2006, announcing he had undergone intestinal surgery and temporarily ceded his powers to younger brother Raul, Cuba's defense minister. 

___

"I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept — I repeat, I will neither aspire to, nor accept — the positions of president of the State Council and commander in chief." — Feb. 19, 2008, announcing his resignation as president. 

___

"I was at death's door, but I came back," speaking of his 2006 illness in an Aug. 30, 2010 interview with Mexican daily La Jornada. 

___

"The new generation is being called upon to rectify and change without hesitation all that should be rectified and changed ... Persisting in revolutionary principles is, in my judgment, the principal legacy we can leave them," April 18, 2011 opinion piece written during key Communist Party Congress on the need to hand off to young leaders. At the Congress, Castro stepped down as head of the party. But despite talk of rejuvenation, he was replaced by his 79-year-old brother, with two grey-haired veterans of the revolution selected as Raul's chief deputies.

___

"I'll be 90 years old soon," Castro said at an April 2016 communist party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. "Soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[South Florida Prepares For Future After Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 06:25:42 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026704277_1200x675_818280515860.jpgNBC 6's Erika Glover talks to local experts about what impact Fidel Castro's death will have on South Florida.]]><![CDATA[Special Miami Mass Held After Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 06:39:41 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112616+special+miami+mass.jpg

Hundreds gathered inside the National Shrine for Our Lady of Charity known to many as La Ermita de la Caridad in Coconut Grove Saturday, one night after the death of Fidel Castro.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski lead the special mass highlighting the passing of the former Cuban leader. “Given the emotions of the day and no matter what those emotions are we should be able to unite around the need to pray for Cuba and for its people and we pray that Cuba will experience a future of hope,” Wenski told parishioners.

The religious leader preached to the crowd that now Fidel Castro will be judged by God. “A chapter of Cuban history is being closed and a new advent for the Cuban people who have been suffering for 50 years,” said Father Fernando Hería.

Cubans across South Florida have shown great devotion over the years to the patron saint of Cuba and what she stands for to them in their journey to freedom.

Josue Suarez attended the special mass. He said the saint means a lot to him. “She's the one that oversees us, helps us, takes care of us in all aspects of life and I am very proud to be here tonight,” said Suarez. At the mass, Suarez wore a “Cuba Libre” t-shirt. The words translate to Cuba Free in English. Suarez is hopeful the Cuban people who haven’t been able to raise their voices can do so now. “We are hopeful that our country is free one day and it's not free yet,” added Suarez.

Above all, the Catholic Church urged unity for the Cuban people. “They're rejoicing over the fact that a chapter is closed and a hopeful beginning is upon us,” said Father Hería.

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<![CDATA[Elian Gonzalez Mourns Death of Fidel Castro]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 22:24:02 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/edt-AP100405138767.jpg

Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was involved in an international custody battle 16 years ago in Miami, is mourning the death of Fidel Castro, a man he compared to a "father."

Elian was a photogenic five-year-old in 1999 when he was found floating on an inner tube off the Florida coast.

Sixteen years later, he is recalling Fidel Castro as a man he likened to a father.

In an interview on Cuban State TV Saturday, he said he wanted Fidel to be proud of him.

Speaking in Spanish, he said, "He is a father who like my father, I wanted to show him everything I achieved."

Now almost 23 years old, Elian remembered when Fidel attended his elementary school graduation.

Gonzalez' mother and other Cubans accompanying the boy died trying to get to the United States from the island 90 miles to the south.

His case quickly became another battle in the long-running feud between Havana and Miami - one that ended with the boy's return to his father and grandparents in Cuba.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Castro's Death: A Personal Reflection]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 14:07:23 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112616+jackie+and+dad.jpg

When I found out early this morning about the death of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, even though I had been prepared for the eventuality of the day, I was still in shock.

After that shock passed, an incredible sense of sorrow filled my heart. I immediately thought about my father who passed away a year and a half ago at the age of 92. I thought about how I would have loved to have seen him witness this day.

Then I thought about the thousands of Cuban men and women who have lost their lives after nearly six decades of Castro’s rule, searching in one way or another for what some of us take for granted: freedom. I thought of the broken and separated families, political prisoners and thousands of people who died crossing the Florida straits.

What would my father have said about this day? If I were to guess, he would have reflected about how grateful he was to this country for having opened its doors to him and thousands of so many other men and women like him. He loved this country. He lived many more years in the U.S. than he did in Cuba, but Cuba was always a part of his heart. My parents instilled in their 3 children a pride in our heritage, culture and language but at the same time, a love of this country. I think I grew up with the best of both worlds, a strong sense of where I came from and a sense of gratitude and pride for the country I was born in.

As I look back at my childhood growing up in Little Havana, I believed there was nothing I could not achieve, and I always strived to make my family proud because I knew they had sacrificed so much so that I could have the opportunities that they had to give up.

November 25th will forever be etched in the hearts of Cubans here and on the island for different reasons. The significance may vary depending on whom you ask. For me, the eternal optimist, I believe that this could be the catalyst for better things to come, a hope that the island that is only 90 miles to our south will once again be the Cuba that my parents and grandparents always talked about.

My husband and I have always tried to instill the same values that our parents instilled in us to our 4 children. They are second generation Cuban Americans, who continue to strike a balance between the customs of their grandparents as both Cubans and Americans.

There is a sense of sadness behind all our joy today, thinking of those who are not physically present to witness this historic day. However, I believe as loud and festive as the celebrations are on the streets of Miami, the one above is louder still.

When my two oldest children heard about the news, they felt compelled to go to the closest place to that faraway land they have never been to, Versailles. They were there along with other pots-and-pans-clanking people, singing and dancing. I felt an incredible sense of pride, and I know my father is looking down at us with that glimmer in his eye thinking "WE DID GOOD.”

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<![CDATA[Fidel Castro's Estranged Sister Will Not Attend Funeral]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 18:48:48 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112616+juanita+castro+fidel+reax.jpg

The estranged sister of the late Fidel Castro says she will not attend her brother's funeral in Cuba.

The communist island announced Friday the death of the former leader.

Juanita Castro, who currently lives in Miami, said her brother's death "brought painful wounds to present".

She escaped Havana 51 years ago after Castro's regime assumed power and never spoke to the communist leader for more than four decades.

In the past, Juana has called her brother a "monster", but during medical crises and now Castro's death, Juanita has reserved her resentment and chose not to celebrate on the streets like many emotional Cubans in South Florida.

Instead, she released a statement saying, she respects the feelings of each person, but that she does not rejoice in the death of any human being, much less someone who's blood.

Juanita add that she has never changed her position even though she had to pay a high price of pain and isolation. She said she has fought alongside the exile community even though she was attacked because of her surname.

Juanita shut down rumors that she plans on traveling to Cuba for her brother's funeral. She says she never returned to Cuba, nor does she have any plans to do so.

Juanita offered a message of hope, asking that Cubans become united.

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<![CDATA[Coast Guard Not Anticipating Migration After Castro's Death]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 15:16:31 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/011516+cuban+migrants+boat+raft+miami+beach.jpg

When the United States announced it was resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the numbers of Cuban migrants trying to reach U.S. soil began surging.

But following the announcement on Friday night of Fidel Castro's death, Coast Guard Petty Officer Jonathan Lally says they're not preparing for a large-scale migration from Cuba. Instead, they're proceeding with business as usual, patrolling the Florida Straits.

The Coast Guard says 598 Cuban migrants have illegally attempted to reach Florida's shores since Oct. 1. Under the so-called wet foot-dry foot policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are usually shielding from deportation. The number of migrants from Cuba reached 7,411 during fiscal year 2016, compared to 4,473 a year earlier.

Likewise, officials in Monroe County - home to Key West - are also monitoring the situation.

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<![CDATA[South Florida Reacts To Fidel Castro's Death]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 16:54:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-625934440.jpg

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama, Trump Issue Statements on Fidel Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 06:37:09 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/183*120/muerte-fidel-castro-reaccionan.jpg

As leaders from across South Florida and around the world offer their thoughts on the passing of Fidel Castro, President Barack Obama issued a statement after the death of the former Cuban leader.

“We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” Obama said. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

“For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.”

“Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

Obama has spent much of the last two years working to thaw relations between the two nations – a move that has been met with praise from some and deep criticism from others, especially in the Cuban exile communities in South Florida.

President-elect Donald Trump, who has been a vocal opponent of Obama’s plans, issued a statement of his own:

"Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

"While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.

"Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba."

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<![CDATA[Timeline of Fidel Castro's Regime as Cuban Leader]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 10:34:03 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-687032.jpg

Here is a list of key events in Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro, who died Friday at the age of 90:

Jan. 1, 1959 -- Castro's rebels take power as dictator Fulgencio Batista flees Cuba.

June 1960 -- Cuba nationalizes U.S.-owned oil refineries after they refuse to process Soviet oil. Nearly all other U.S. businesses expropriated by October.

October 1960 -- Washington bans exports to Cuba, other than food and medicine.

April 16, 1961 -- Castro declares Cuba socialist state.

April 17, 1961 -- Bay of Pigs: CIA-backed Cuban exiles stage failed invasion.

Feb, 7, 1962 -- Washington bans all Cuban imports.

October 1962 -- U.S. blockade forces removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba. U.S. President John F. Kennedy agrees privately not to invade Cuba.

March 1968 -- Castro's government takes over almost all private businesses.

April 1980 -- Mariel boatlift: Cuba says anyone can leave; some 125,000 Cubans flee.

December 1991 -- Collapse of Soviet Union devastates Cuban economy.

August 1994 -- Castro declares he will not stop Cubans trying to leave; some 40,000 take to sea heading for United States.

March 18, 2003 -- 75 Cuban dissidents sentenced to prison.

July 31, 2006 -- Castro announces he has had operation, temporarily cedes power to brother Raul.

Feb. 19, 2008 -- Castro resigns as president.

July 2010 -- Castro re-emerges after years in seclusion, visiting a scientific institute, giving a TV interview, talking to academics and even taking in a dolphin show at the aquarium.

April 19, 2011 -- Castro is replaced by his brother Raul as first secretary of the Communist Party, the last official post he held. The elder Castro made a brief appearance at the Congress, looking frail as a young aide guided him to his seat.

April 19, 2016 --Castro delivers a valedictory speech at the Communist Party's seventh Congress, declaring that "soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain."

November 25, 2016 -- Fidel Castro dies

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES]]>
<![CDATA[Celebrations Erupt in Hialeah After News of Death of Fidel Castro]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 07:11:29 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026696858_1200x675_817963587589.jpgHuge crowds filled the streets of Hialeah after word spread of the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.]]><![CDATA[Fidel Castro's Rise and Firm Grip on Power]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 06:05:48 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*178/fidel-cumple-1.jpgAuthor Brian Latell dissects the making of Cuba's former ruthless Fidel Castro and how the communist held a tight grip on power for so long.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons]]>
<![CDATA[Fidel Castro Clung to Socialism, Mentored New Leftists]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 04:45:53 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/172*120/fidel-90-1.jpg

Fidel Castro's revolution was slowly dying - or so it seemed.

Communism had collapsed in Europe, and Cuba's Soviet lifeline was severed. Food was in short supply. Power outages silenced TV sets normally tuned to a nighttime soap opera. Factories rusted in the tropical heat.

The title of an American book seemed just right: "Castro's Final Hour." That was in 1992.

Castro's "final hour" became weeks, then months, then years. Even as China and Vietnam embraced free markets, Castro clung to his socialist beliefs and Communism's supposed dinosaur went on to rule for another decade and a half. Along the way he became godfather to a resurgent Latin American left, mentoring a new generation of leaders: Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

No other Third World leader prompted so much U.S. hostility for so long. Castro brought the planet to the brink of nuclear war in 1962, sent tens of thousands of troops to aid leftist governments in Africa and nurtured guerrilla movements that fought U.S.-backed governments across Latin America. He endured a crippling U.S. embargo and outlasted 10 U.S. presidents - all of them preaching regime change in Cuba - finally resigning 11 months before Barack Obama moved into the White House, not from U.S. pressure but because of serious illness.

After Castro transferred power to his brother Raul, first temporarily in 2006 and then permanently on Feb. 19, 2008, he survived another eight years in quiet retirement before finally dying on Friday. By hanging on in the shadows, he helped his followers avoid political unrest and ease the island into a communist future without the only leader most Cubans had ever known.

To the end, Castro remained a polarizing figure. For many he was a champion of the poor who along with Ernesto "Che" Guevara made violent revolution a romanticized ideal, a symbol of liberation who overthrew a dictator and brought free education and health care to the masses. To exiles who longed for Castro's demise he personified a repressive regime that locked up political opponents, suppressed civil liberties and destroyed the island's economy.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans began fleeing north almost immediately after Castro's 1959 revolution as he started turning exuberantly capitalist Cuba into a socialist state, dismaying reformists who thought he meant only to topple thuggish strongman Batista and restore democracy.

The exodus transformed not only Cuba but also parts of the United States, most notably South Florida, which became the center of virulent anti-Castro sentiment. As Cuban exiles gained political strength, they became a bulwark against softening America's trade embargo against the island. To those whose families were uprooted and saw their properties seized, Castro was nothing less than a tyrant.

But love him or hate him, there was no denying that Castro played an outsize role on the world stage for much of the 20th century, all from his perch on an island smaller than Pennsylvania that had once been better known as a place for gambling and sunbathing.

Castro's "barbudos," as the bearded rebels were known, marched triumphantly into Havana days after Batista fled on Jan. 1, 1959. The United States was among the first countries to recognize the new government. But the rebels' image quickly darkened as impromptu courts sent officials of the old regime to the firing-squad wall.

Castro was outraged at the resulting U.S. criticism, calling it "the vilest, most criminal and most unjust that has been launched against any people." It was a tone of righteous indignation Castro would return to time and again over the decades, convinced to the end of the justice of his revolution.

The man who would become a global symbol of communism was the son of a rugged, self-made capitalist.

Angel Castro had come from Spain's impoverished Galicia province to fight against Cuban independence, and settled in the new nation in 1902 as a landless laborer. Barely literate, he organized contract labor for the U.S.-based United Fruit Company and bought land, eventually building a 32,100-acre farm in a lawless, backward part of eastern Cuba.

Decades later, the farm would become the first property officially confiscated by his son's government under a land reform program.

Fidel Castro was born on Aug. 13, 1926, to Angel's maid, lover and eventual second wife, Lina, who also had roots in Galicia. He grew up in a rambling two-story wood house, attended a one-room plantation school and learned to hunt. Younger brother Raul once tended bar at the family's roadside saloon.

Castro later said that life among the barefoot sons of poor farm laborers helped form his social conscience. By some accounts, he squabbled with his father over their treatment.

Castro attended Roman Catholic Church schools in the eastern city of Santiago and then in the capital, Havana, where he was named the country's best schoolboy athlete as a basketball player. He also loved baseball, though the legend he was scouted by Major League Baseball is untrue.

While studying law at the University of Havana, Castro plunged into the chaotic political scene of the day, joining violent student "action groups." He was arrested, though never charged, in the 1948 slaying of another group's leader.

He joined abortive efforts to topple Rafael Trujillo's dictatorship in the nearby Dominican Republic and took part in riotous protests in Colombia following the assassination of a presidential candidate there.

Castro then became an activist lawyer with ambitions of a seat in Cuba's Congress until Batista organized a coup d'etat on March 10, 1952, short-circuiting scheduled elections.

Fidel and Raul Castro responded by organizing a near-suicidal attack on the sprawling Moncada military barracks in Santiago on July 26, 1953. More than 60 of the 119 who joined the brothers were killed, most by torture after they were captured. Castro survived only because the soldier who nabbed him took him to a police station rather than the barracks where others were being slain.

"Many great things in history started out as crazy acts," said Pedro Trigo Lopez, another survivor.

Castro was imprisoned but won sympathy because of Batista's bloody response to the attack.

Freed in an amnesty, he and Raul fled to Mexico and began recruiting a tiny rebel army. Fidel also went to New York City to raise money for his cause. Among those who joined up in Mexico City was ``Che" Guevara, an Argentine physician who had witnessed the crudely disguised CIA overthrow of Guatemala's elected president.

In 1956, Castro loaded the "Granma," a creaky yacht meant for a dozen, with 82 fighters and set off for Cuba. Batista's forces were tipped off and spotted the wallowing boat before it could land, and all but 12 of the rebels were killed or arrested before they could flee to the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains.

Yet the guerrilla war against the Batista regime gradually became unstoppable, culminating in Castro's Jan. 8, 1959, entry into Havana before throngs of jubilant Cubans. To generations of youths who witnessed the moment, he became a larger-than-life figure known simply as Fidel, and for decades the left in Latin America considered him nearly infallible.

Hundreds of thousands turned out for Castro's speeches, hearing his high-pitched voice soar for hour after hour. He would walk listeners through world history, dip into provincial cane-cutting statistics, chuckle maliciously about his foes and then thunder about capitalist injustice. His 269-minute address to the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 set the world body's record for length, a mark that is unlikely to be broken.

Soon after the revolution, Castro set his eye outside the island.

"How much America and the peoples of our hemisphere need a revolution like the one that has taken place in Cuba!" he said days after his triumph.

"How much it needs for the millionaires who have become rich by stealing the people's money to lose everything they have stolen!" he added. "How much America needs for the war criminals in the countries of our hemisphere all to be shot!"

Most of the foreign uprisings inspired by Cuba's government fizzled, including Guevara's fumbling effort to bring revolution to Bolivia, where he was captured and killed in 1967.

But rebels helped by Cuba toppled Nicaragua's government in 1979 and battled to a peace treaty in the 1990s in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Castro became a hero to many Africans for sending more than 350,000 Cubans to join Angola's civil war against a faction backed by the U.S. and South Africa's white apartheid government.

Even as a young boy, Castro often seemed obsessed with the U.S., natural enough in a poor nation just 90 miles from the economic giant. He studied English in Santiago and practiced by writing a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 that is now preserved in the U.S. National Archives: "President of the United States. If you like, give me a ten dollar bill green American."

He signed it, "Your friend, Fidel Castro," and added, "If you want iron to make your ships I will show you the biggest mines of iron of the land. They are in Mayori, Oriente Cuba."

Perhaps only Castro knew when he first embraced socialism.

While fighting Batista, Castro consistently denied being a communist, and many Cuban supporters, foreign journalists and fellow rebels believed him. At the time, Raul was considered the family radical.

The U.S. government cut off aid to Batista's government in its dying days. But even American officials alert to any whiff of Soviet influence were not quite sure what to make of the rebel leader.

When Castro came to the U.S. as Cuba's new prime minister in April 1959, he denounced communism, wooed the press, met then-Vice President Richard Nixon and reached through bars to pet a tiger at the Bronx Zoo.

Nixon wrote in a four-page memo to President Dwight D. Eisenhower that Castro was "either incredibly naive about Communism or is under Communist discipline." But he also said the 32-year-old showed "those indefinable qualities which make him a leader of men. Whatever we may think of him, he is going to be a great factor in the development of Cuba and very possibly in the development of Latin American affairs generally."

Many U.S. companies initially looked to work with the revolutionary government, including Coca-Cola, which ran a magazine ad celebrating "the resurgence of democratic liberties in our country."

The popular Cuban magazine Bohemia lionized Castro and assured readers that he would never embrace communism. A year later, Bohemia's editor fled as the government took over all independent media, much of the economy and social organizations.

The U.S. government, anxious over Castro's lurch to the left, began imposing economic restrictions and backing plots to overthrow him. It was a tense time in the Cold War, and Washington feared Castro had loosed a political virus that would infect other Latin American countries.

"El Comandante" pushed even more quickly toward the Soviet camp. Factories and even neighborhood shops were transformed into state enterprises. Farms were collectivized. Once-independent labor unions were absorbed into the Communist Party system. No other parties were allowed. Every neighborhood had its "Committee for the Defense of the Revolution'' keeping watch for subversive tendencies.

Many Cuban parents so feared communist education that they separated themselves from their children, about 14,000 of whom were sent to the U.S. under a Catholic Church program known as Operation Pedro Pan.

When Castro traveled to the United Nations in September 1960, relations with Washington had become so bad that his delegation had trouble getting suitable lodging. He wound up making a showy move to the decaying Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he met with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader.

Exiles formed guerrilla bands to try to topple Castro, and the CIA recruited, trained and organized them for the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. It was a debacle for the U.S., and a triumph for Castro, who climbed into a tank to direct some of the island's defenses. More than 1,200 invading troops were captured, about 100 were killed and the operation was crushed.

That was the moment the combative leader chose to officially declare Cuba a socialist country. By year's end, it had adopted Soviet bureaucracy and textbooks. It waged war on rock `n roll and sent priests, gays and others considered socially suspicious to labor camps.

American officials could do little about it. Cuban warnings of a U.S. invasion were shown to the world to be true and U.S. denials of involvement were proven to be lies.

Never again would Washington risk a major military operation to topple Castro.

Instead, it turned to tougher sanctions to strangle Cuba's economy. President John F. Kennedy imposed what came to be known as the U.S. embargo on Feb. 7, 1962, widening existing sanctions. The measure would remain stubbornly in place for the rest of Castro's life.

U.S. officials also covertly dreamed up numerous ways of assassinating their nemesis. By Cuban count, he was the target of more than 630 assassination plots by militant Cuban exiles or the U.S. government.

Castro, meanwhile, deepened his embrace of Moscow, agreeing to host thousands of Soviet military "advisers" and silos containing nuclear missiles, a decision that brought the world to the brink of destruction. Once it got wind of the missiles, the Kennedy administration ordered a blockade of the island and demanded the Soviets pull out.

The standoff known as the Cuban Missile Crisis ended - over Castro's objections - with the Soviet decision to remove the warheads.

Despite his disappointment at what he saw as Khruschev's weakness and betrayal, Castro moved the country even more toward Soviet-style socialism and intensified his crackdown on dissent.

In 1964 he acknowledged holding 15,000 political prisoners. That number would drop into the hundreds in the final years of his rule, though human rights activists continued to deplore harassment and detentions of many opponents. It was left to his brother Raul to hammer out a 2010 agreement with the Roman Catholic Church that freed dozens of intellectuals and social commentators sentenced seven years earlier to long jail terms.

Castro summed up his views on dissent with a famous 1961 warning to Cuba's intellectual class that excessive criticism would not be tolerated: "Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing."

"There are books that should not have a single issue published, not even a chapter, not a page, not a letter," Castro said a decade later, adding: "There will be room here now..only for revolutionaries."

He opened Cuba to a stream of U.S. fugitives, from Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver to financier Robert Vesco, all of whom he said were persecuted Americans.

Castro's revolution, coming as the U.S. was wrestling over its own racial conflicts, uprooted a profoundly racist system on the island, and suddenly the sons of impoverished black cane-cutters became doctors and scientists. Today Afro-Cubans hold an increasing number of prominent positions, although the island's blacks complain that race-based poverty, job discrimination, police harassment and other problems remain entrenched.

Under communism the island gradually became a sort of vast company town providing schooling, health care and subsidized food, and demanding unswerving loyalty. U.S. sanctions bit deep, their effect evident partly in the vintage American cars that cruised the streets, relics of the pre-Revolutionary era.

For the disgruntled, there was no place to go but abroad, dividing many families.

Even some of Castro's sisters, daughters and former lovers left the island. So did his first wife, Mirta.

Tens of thousands risked their lives in makeshift boats trying to reach Florida. An unknown number died in the Florida Straits.

Typically, Castro turned the emigration to his advantage. In 1980 he announced Cuba would stop trying to prevent unauthorized departures, and more than 100,000 islanders seized the moment. The United States was hit by a sudden immigrant onslaught while Castro rid himself of potential dissidents, as well as a few criminals and mental patients, in what came to be known as the Mariel boatlift.

Castro followed a similar strategy during the economic hardships of 1994, letting tens of thousands of dissenters set out for Florida.

Five years later he managed to divide America again when a refugee's child named Elian Gonzalez washed ashore in Florida. A heartbreaking tug-of-war between the Cuban father and Miami relatives was resolved when a U.S. government assault team seized the boy. The Clinton administration said it was simply upholding the law after U.S. courts ruled for the father, but exiles saw Gonzalez's return to Cuba as a victory for Castro.

The wave of emigrants in the revolution's first years included most of Cuba's doctors and many professionals, profound losses for a society that had been one of the most developed, but also unequal, in Latin America.

Castro responded by making medical training a national priority, building schools and forming armies of volunteer teachers to wipe out illiteracy.

In his final years in power, Cuba had such a surplus of doctors - and such a need for cash - that medical missions replaced soldiering as the overseas revolutionary vanguard, treating the poor in remote parts of Venezuela, Bolivia and Central America in exchange for money or trade concessions.

Throughout his rule, Castro remained a thorn in America's side, unchanged and unbowed even after the disappearance of the U.S.S.R., which had been Cuba's guiding light, greatest ally and No. 1 trade partner. For decades, Cuba had followed Moscow's line in international affairs, until he rebelled at Mikhail Gorbachev's "glasnost" opening of the late 1980s.

With the Soviet collapse, 85 percent of Cuba's trade vanished along with an estimated $4 billion in annual subsidies. Housing, entertainment, medical care, schooling and transportation remained free, or close to it, but food and clothing rations withered and the island suffered through dark years of extreme hardship known euphemistically as the "Special Period".

Apartment dwellers began raising pigs and chickens in their buildings. State TV offered tips on making "steak" from grapefruit rind. Farmers replaced tractors with oxen.

Social discipline also frayed. Muggings, once unheard of, became a problem. And revolutionaries proud of having eliminated the lurid prostitution of the 1950s winced as young women in tight shorts went hitchhiking in hopes a tourist with dollars might buy them dinner, clothes, an escape from boredom.

By night, crowds of hungry youths in tattered T-shirts idled away hours on Havana's concrete seawall, watching the tides wash away toward Miami.

It was the lowest point in Castro's revolution, and he did something that for him was truly revolutionary: He compromised.

Comparing it to "walking on broken glass," Castro allowed a few seeds of a free-market economy to bloom. Scores of small-scale private jobs were legalized. Cubans were allowed to use dollars, encouraging exiles to send money to relatives on the island. Private farmers were allowed to sell crops directly to consumers. Foreign tourism was encouraged.

Parallel to the economic changes was a social opening, albeit limited and uneven.

A country that once locked up rock fans raised a statue to John Lennon and eased up on harassment of gays, eventually winning praise for its increasingly tolerant attitudes. Castro even apologized for his past intolerance toward homosexuals, one of the few times he acknowledged a personal error.

Soviet-style atheism was set aside and Pope John Paul II paid a visit. A ban on Santa Claus and Christmas trees was lifted, as were measures against the island's Afro-influenced Santeria religion. Castro, once a student of Jesuits, began giving speeches about Christ as a revolutionary.

Tiny private restaurants popped up in living rooms and backyards. Stands offering haircuts, sandwiches and watch repair appeared on sidewalks.

Foreign investment helped boost oil and nickel production. Castro also found a new benefactor in Chavez, who directed some of Venezuela's vast oil wealth into generous deals that bolstered Cuba's economy.

But as soon as the crisis eased, Castro decried the inequality that even limited capitalism had begun to create. The government began taking a greater cut of remittances. Many private businesses were taxed or regulated out of existence. Years later, economists and even Castro's brother would allude to the about-face as a critical error.

After Raul pushed more dramatic reform in 2010, Fidel praised the effort despite his previous aversion to free markets. He even told a U.S. journalist that Cuba's socialist model "doesn't even work for us anymore," though he later said his statement was misinterpreted.

A severe gastrointestinal illness in 2006 nearly killed Castro, forcing him to turn power over to Raul. Fidel remained a strong presence, penning hundreds of opinion pieces that were dutifully reprinted in every Cuban newspaper and read out in their entirety on the evening news.

But for four years the ailing Castro was not seen in public. That changed in 2010, when he made a series of appearances and even gave several outdoor speeches, seeming to regain his strength.

He soon withdrew again, looking frail and unsteady at a Communist Party summit in April 2011 in which he formally relinquished his final office as party leader.

In an interview with Venezuelan television that year, Castro scoffed at rumors that he might be ill or near death: "You don't say! Well, they haven't told me anything."

Fidel Castro came to power as Europe's colonies in Africa and Asia were gaining independence, the Vietnam war was just starting and much of Latin America was ruled by dictators.

He chose the losing side in the Cold War, and by the twilight of his rule democracy's roots had spread so extensively through the Western Hemisphere that Cuba was the only corner without at least some level of multiparty government.

But Castro survived to see a wave of leftist governments wash across the continent, with some, notably Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, paying him special homage.

He also lived long enough to be around when Raul Castro and Barack Obama struck a historic detente in December 2014, announcing in simultaneous TV speeches that the countries would restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years. Obama made a historic visit to Havana in March 2016.

Castro never wanted statues in his likeness or buildings named after him, though state newspapers and billboards increasingly promoted his likeness after he fell ill.

"There is no cult of personality around any living revolutionary," Castro said on May Day 2003. "The leaders of this country are human beings, not gods."

Now his champions are free to erect those monuments. And for those who felt he should have been imprisoned, Castro long ago chose his own epitaph in his account of his trial following the Moncada attack. Dozens of his lieutenants had been captured and tortured to death, and he himself faced long years in prison.

"Condemn me, it does not matter," he said he told the judges. "History will absolve me".

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Castro Clan Torn By Dysfunction and Disagreements]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 03:48:31 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*123/50837510.jpg

Fidel Castro's rule of nearly five decades split many a Cuban family between exile and solidarity with the communist revolution, including his own.

While brother Raul was his closest confidant and successor as president, sister Juana, exiled in south Florida, called Fidel a "monster" to whom she hadn't spoken in more than four decades.

Eldest son Fidelito, long Castro's only officially recognized child, was a nuclear scientist in Cuba. Eldest daughter Alina Fernandez, born from an affair with a married socialite who remained on the island decades later, blasted dad on exile radio from Miami.

The sprawling Castro clan, made larger by Fidel's early extramarital affairs, also suffered from the same sorts of dysfunction and disagreements afflicting so many other families: siblings who don't speak, adults resentful over childhood slights and murky talk of babies born out of wedlock.

During Castro's long illness, the tightly wrapped secrecy about his family started unraveling as his youngest sons and their mother, Dalia Soto del Valle, rallied around him.

Soto del Valle, a blonde, green-eyed former schoolteacher Castro met during Cuba's literacy campaigns in the 1960s, was his life's most enduring relationship. She was rarely seen in public and never alongside the "maximum leader" while he was in power.

Together more than four decades, the couple had five sons, now middle-aged. Castro, who took the nom de guerre Alejandro during the revolution, continued his homage to Alexander the Great when naming them: Alexis, Alejandro, Angelito, Alexander and Antonio.

None were involved in politics. The best known is Antonio, or Tony. An orthopedic surgeon and former official doctor for the island's national baseball team, he later became vice president of both the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Swiss-based International Baseball Federation.

For decades their identities and their mother's were state secrets known only to a small circle of loyalists.

So private was Castro about his family life, his marital status with Soto del Valle was unknown in a country where common-law unions are as ubiquitous as legal ones. Some reports said they married in a quiet civil ceremony in 1980.

News correspondents on the island had heard whispers about "la mujer del comandante"- the comandante's woman - but didn't get their first glimpse of her until early 2000 when she joined a huge rally calling for the return of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy rescued from an inner tube off South Florida. Soto del Valle also made a rare public appearance the following year at the Tropicana nightclub during Cuba's annual international cigar festival.

But she wasn't seen publicly alongside Castro until the summer of 2010, when he made a series of appearances after a four-year absence, including his first address to the National Assembly since falling ill.

There were also dividing lines in the family tracing back to a custody battle over Fidelito even before Castro toppled Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Those divisions would only grow deeper and more bitter after the revolution, similar to the splintering in untold Cuban families with members on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Fidel's first wife, Mirta Diaz-Balart, divorced him in the mid-1950s and took Fidelito, born in 1949 as the oldest of at least nine children Castro fathered, to the United States. Castro wanted the 5-year-old kept from Mirta's family, which included her brother Rafael Diaz-Balart, an official in Batista's government. Two of Castro's nephews, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, later became Florida congressmen who personified exile opposition to his regime.

"I refuse even to think that my son may sleep a single night under the same roof sheltering my most repulsive enemies and receive on his innocent cheeks the kisses of those miserable Judases," Castro wrote his half-sister, Lidia, in 1956.

While in Mexico preparing for the guerrilla war, Castro persuaded Mirta to send Fidelito for a two-week visit, then refused to send him back. Later, as Castro's sisters were taking the boy for a stroll in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park, three armed men jumped from a car and grabbed him to return him to his mother.

Even Castro's own childhood in eastern Cuban had its family complications.

Patriarch Angel Castro, who immigrated from Spain's Galicia region and established a farmstead in a place called Biran, was still married to his first wife when he started a family with Fidel's mother, Lina Ruz, the family maid.

It's unclear what happened to Maria Argota, Angel Castro's first wife, who bore him Lidia and Pedro Emilio. But Angel and Lina ultimately had seven children together, finally marrying in a church after Fidel, their third child, was born.

Fidel's older brother Ramon, a lifelong rancher, was occasionally seen in public, and sisters Angela and Emma also remained in Cuba. The youngest sister, Agustina, lived in Mexico many years.

Among his own offspring, Fidel only publicly recognized Fidelito, the angel-faced, blond boy from revolution-era photographs who today causes double-takes because he so resembles his father. As an adult he rose to the top post at Cuba's Atomic Energy Commission before his father removed him for unpublicized reasons in the early 1990s.

Alina Fernandez was born March 3, 1953, from Castro's love affair with Natalia Revuelta, a dark-haired, green-eyed beauty and cardiologist's wife who became enamored of Castro during his revolutionary struggle.

Fernandez left Cuba in 1993 wearing a wig and carrying a fake Spanish passport, later describing her feelings of abandonment in a book, "Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba"

"I wanted him to find a solution to all the shortages: of clothes, of meat," wrote Fernandez, who was hired by CNN to provide commentary after her father fell ill in mid-2006.

"I also wanted to ask him to give our Christmas back," she added, referring to her father's abolition of the holiday so workers could participate in the then-critical sugar harvest.

Fernandez's book created a rift even among Castro relatives in exile: Juana filed suit in Spain in 1998 arguing the book defamed her and Fidel's parents. A court ordered the publisher to pay Juana Castro $45,000.

Castro fathered at least two more children out of wedlock: Jorge Angel Castro, who remained in Cuba and fathered at least four children of his own, including triplets; and Francisca Pupo, who migrated to the United States with her husband in 1999.

Juana Castro has told of meeting Pupo after the younger woman emigrated to the United States with her husband in 1999.

Meanwhile Raul's daughter, Mariela, married an Italian businessman and became something of a family rebel by heading Cuba's National Center for Sex Education and speaking out for gay rights, though her activism was later very much within the political mainstream as Cuba became more tolerant of homosexuality.

Despite their differences, the Castros still living on the island were said to regularly attend weekend gatherings with outdoor meals and horseback riding hosted by Raul in his role as lead organizer of family events.

And as in many families, even the most disaffected set aside resentments during crises. Juana Castro refused to celebrate with other exiles when her brother Fidel had emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

"In the same way that people are demonstrating and celebrating, I'm showing sadness," she told The Associated Press then. "It's my family. It's my brothers."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mariel Boatlift: Cubans' Flee to Freedom]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 03:24:14 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112616+mariel+boatlift.jpg

More than 125,000 Cubans arrived in South Florida in the Spring of 1980 in what's been called the Mariel Boatlift.

In April 1980, 10,000 asylum seekers flooded the Peruvian embassy in Havana.

That prompted the Castro regime to open the Port of Mariel to anyone wishing to leave the communist island. Hundreds of boat sailed the Florida straits and South Florida was inundated with Cubans searching for freedom.

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<![CDATA[Video of Raul Castro Announcing Death of Fidel Castro]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 02:57:52 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000026695496_1200x675_817934915952.jpgCuba's leader Raul Castro announced Friday the death of his brother and former leader Fidel Castro.]]><![CDATA[First Group of Cuban Exiles After Castro's Regime]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 03:30:13 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112616+first+cuban+exiles.jpg

Cuban exile activist Sylvia Iriondo was 15 when she left Havana for Miami.

She was part of the first mass migration that would eventually total 650,000 Cuban refugees fleeing communist Cuba for the United States between 1959 and 1974.

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<![CDATA[South Florida Reacts To Castro's Death]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:05:50 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-625993848.jpg

Across South Florida, the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro is being met with a sense of celebration from members of the exile community.

The leaders of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance held a news conference Sunday at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association Brigade to discuss Castro's death. The Ladies in White and activist Sylvia Iriondo spoke passionately about continuing the fight to bring democracy to Cuba. A march and rally will be held Wednesday at the Bay of Pigs Memorial in Little Havana.

Castro, who spent nearly five decades ruling the country after launching a military takeover in 1959, died Friday night at the age of 90. His death was announced on Cuban television by his brother, Raul, who took over as leader of the nation in 2008 when Fidel Castro stepped down.

Hundreds of Cuban Americans crowded to the roads in Hialeah and Little Havana to celebrate the demise of the father of communist Cuba.

People waved Cuba's flag and banged on pots and pans along Bird Road and southwest 87th street.

The front page of Sunday's Miami Herald is a special edition with a simple headline, DEAD, and a photo of Castro.

For more than five decades, thousands of Cubans have been escaping the communist island to gain freedom in the United States and elsewhere.

Many South Florida Cubans told NBC 6 Fidel's death is symbolic and may pave the way for true change in Cuba.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who had vocally opposed the Castro regime, said the crowds were not celebrating death, instead they were celebrating "an opportunity to begin a new chapter of freedom".

Other South Florida members of Congress, including Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart as well as Debbie Wasserman Schultz, echoed those thoughts in calling for a change to the island to ensure freedom for those still living on the island.

The mayors of City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, who are both Cuban American, also reacted to the death of Castro. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, described his death as a "victory", while Miami-Dade Carlos Gimenez said the announcement was "something that we've been waiting for".

Florida Senator Marco Rubio released a statement saying that "the dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people."

Florida's other U.S. Senator, Bill Nelson, said that the U.S. should "continue to take steps to support the Cuban people" until Raul Castro provides basic rights. Governor Rick Scott said today's news should "usher in an era of freedom, peace and human dignity".

Other politicians have also chimed in - including Texas Senator Ted Cruz. His father came to America from Cuba in the 1960s:

Alan Gross, an American citizen who spent five years in a Cuban prision following his arrest on charges of being a spy, also reacted to Castro's death:

In the religious community, Pope Francis called the death "sad news" while Archbishop Thomas Wenski called for peace for both Cuba and its people.

Fidel Castro's death comes on the 17th anniversary of when Elian Gonzalez was rescued off the Florida coast.

In 1999, the Cuban boy landed in Miami after his mother and her boyfriend drowned during their journey from Havana.

Elian, who was five years old at the time, became embroiled in an international custody battle and eventually returned to Cuba.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Miami Street Sign Dedicated to Ladies in White]]>Wed, 23 Nov 2016 19:31:55 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/112316+ladies+in+white+street+sign.jpg

A symbolic moment Wednesday for the Ladies in White, a Cuban dissident group, who witnessed the unveiling of a street sign in Miami named after the activists.

Leader Berta Soler thanked the Miami community, elected officials, and everyone who made the day possible.

She says this sends a message to the Castro regime that the women are not alone and people in and out of the Cuba stand with them.

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez attended Wednesday's ceremony.

"There is rarely an occasion where there has been greater significance to the naming of a street than the one we are going to do here today," said Suarez.

Relatives and wives of jailed dissidents founded the Ladies in White in 2003.

Every Sunday in Cuba, the women peacefully march to church asking for the release of all political prisoners.

They are often arrested, harassed and beaten by government security forces.

Sylvia Iriondo is a member of the Mothers & Women Against Repression.

"These women are living examples of that repression, that courage and that will to stand for the freedom of Cuba for however long it takes," expressed Iriondo.

Last month, Mayor Tomas Regalado recognized leader Berta Soler at an event and honored her with a key to the City of Miami.

"It's important that we mark the places where the Cuban heritage needs to be remembered for many years from now," explained Mayor Regalado.

Soler says the love for country and freedom is stronger than any beating. She says the group plans to continue moving forward until all political prisoners are free.

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<![CDATA[Critic of Obama's Cuba Plan Named to Trump's Transition Team]]>Tue, 22 Nov 2016 07:05:45 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*120/mauricio+claver+carone.jpg

One of the toughest critics of President Barack Obama’s efforts to restore relations with Cuba will now be working to help the transition team for the next Commander-in-Chief.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, was named by President-elect Donald Trump as a member of the group that will help map strategy and policy for when Trump takes the oath of office January 20th.

USCD PAC says they are a non-partisan group promoting the transition in Cuba toward human rights and the rule of law. Claver-Carone will work on the transition team for the Treasury Department, where he once worked as an attorney and adviser during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Those who oppose the Obama administration’s efforts regarding Cuba since 2014 praised the move, saying Claver-Carone is the right person to help fix what they believe was a major error by the President.

Others, including some in the Cuban community in South Florida, oppose Claver-Carone having a seat at the transition table – believing he has worked more for people with financial motives behind a continued embargo with the island nation.

USCD PAC, according to election records obtained by the Miami Herald, donated over $600,000 to candidates that have been critical of the Obama administration’s plans – including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Calver-Carone has also spent time as a college professor while writing for several different websites on the issue of Cuba policy.



Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Fishermen Using Inflated Condoms for Expensive Catches]]>Wed, 16 Nov 2016 19:26:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/111616+cuba+condom+fishing.jpg

Juan Luis Rosello sat for three hours on the Malecon as the wind blew in from the Florida Straits, pushing the waves hard against the seawall of Havana's coastal boulevard.

As darkness settled and the wind switched direction, Rosello pulled four condoms from a satchel and began to blow them up. When the contraceptives were the size of balloons, the 47-year-old cafeteria worker tied them together by their ends, attached them to the end of a baited fishing line and set them floating on the tide until they reached the end of his 750-foot line.

After six decades under U.S. embargo and Soviet-inspired central planning, Cubans have become masters at finding ingenious solutions with extremely limited resources. Few are as creative as what Havana's fishermen call “balloon fishing,'' a technique employing a couple of cents worth of condoms to pull fish worth an average month's salary from the ocean.

On any given night in Havana, dozens of men can be found “balloon fishing'' along the Havana seawall, using their homemade floats to carry their lines as far as 900 feet into the coastal waters, where they also serve to keep the bait high in the water and to increase the line's resistance against the pull of a bonito or red snapper.

“No one can cast the line that far by hand,'' said Ivan Muno, 56, who was fishing alongside Rosello.

For four more hours, he sat silently as the dark sea pounded the rocks below the seawall, algae flashing green in the waves beneath an enormous creamy moon, the sounds of the city muffled by the wind and water. By midnight, he was heading home without a catch, but planning to return soon.

“This is the most effective way to fish,'' Rosello said. “Someone got this great idea and I can be here all night with the balloons out.''

Cuba has been renowned for its fishing at least since the days of Ernest Hemingway, and foreigners by the thousands come each year to fish in waters largely protected by Cuba's lack of development.

Much of Cuba's coastline remains free of the large-scale building that has damaged ecosystems in the rest of the Caribbean. The island's industrial fishing fleet was devastated by the fall of the Soviet Union.

For Cubans, taking advantage of one of their greatest resources remains a challenge. For all but the wealthiest, even the smallest private boats and the fuel for them are too expensive. Many Cubans have taken to riding out on inner tubes or blocks of industrial foam to catch larger fish, but the unsafe technique known as “cork fishing'' has become the target of frequent coast guard crackdowns with steep fines.

“Balloon fishing'' is cheaper, less risky and increasingly popular.

“There's no point in getting a 3,000-peso ($120) fine and your gear confiscated,'' said Leandro Casas, a self-employed construction worker fishing along the Malecon.

It's not clear exactly when the practice was adopted, but according to local fishermen's lore, the inventor of the balloon technique in Cuba saw a video of South Africans fishing using kites and got the idea for using inflated condoms.

It's illegal to sell fish without a license in Cuba, and the balloon fisherman all said they are simply trying to feed their families. Privately, though, many acknowledged that it would be crazy to do anything but sell a 30-pound fish that is worth a dollar a pound in a country with an average monthly state salary of about $25. While most Cubans can't afford to buy fish, Cuba's private restaurants, its growing upper middle class and the thousands of foreigners who live in the capital all are avid buyers.

Alex Romero, the 42-year-president of the state-backed Old Havana Federation of Fishermen, said balloon fisherman are as skilled as any angler and are getting more practiced as their technique gains in popularity.

“It's efficient and everyone uses it,'' he said. “It's the ingenuity that Cubans always show in resolving problems without spending a lot of money.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Trump Presidency Could Affect US-Cuba Policy]]>Wed, 09 Nov 2016 20:37:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/110916+trump+castro.jpg

There was a rousing cheer in Little Havana on Election Night as Donald Trump stumped Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House.

Many Cuban-Americans believe a Trump presidency means a return to a hardline policy against Cuba.

During a recent visit to Miami, Trump criticized President Obama's outreach to the Castro government.

Trump called the White House’s effort a “one-sided deal which “benefits only the Castro regime."

However, a few months before, Trump said he was in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba.

Trump has taken contradictory positions on several issues during the campaign.

On the day after election night, students at Florida International University packed a classroom for a panel discussion on the election's impacts.

President Obama's executive orders on re-establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba were a topic of discussion.

Professor Dario Moreno is an expert on the politics of the exile community.

"Those orders are very easy to reverse, and so with a stroke of a pen, Donald Trump can reverse everything that Obama has done with improving relations with Cuba," explained Moreno.

The FIU professor says while easing travel restrictions to Cuba has been popular in the Cuban-American community, Trump promised hard-liners he'd roll back Obama's initiative.

Since Trump won about 53% of the Cuban vote in Florida, he may feel compelled to act. And, not just about Cuba.

“But, I think we're in for a very interesting ride in foreign policy, not just with Cuba and Venezuela, but also Mexico and Canada, about our trade policies," said Moreno.

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<![CDATA[Man Accused of Forcing 6 Cuban Women Into Prostitution]]>Fri, 04 Nov 2016 14:06:50 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/prostitution_generic_6-3.jpg

Prosecutors say six young women from Cuba who agreed to work as exotic dancers to pay off a $20,000 smuggling fee were instead forced into sex slavery in Miami.

El Nuevo Hearld reports the women were locked up, mistreated and forced into prostitution until they were rescued by police in September.

Court documents show 31-year-old Silvio Clark Morales offered to find them jobs as strippers in Miami. In turn, they agreed to pay him $100 a day from their earnings until they paid off the fee. Once they got to Miami, the women say Morales increased the debt to $55,000 and forced them into prostitution.

Morales was arrested Sept. 6. He faces trial later this month on 16 charges including sexual trafficking. An attorney wasn't listed on court records.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Portugal President Meets Fidel Castro in Cuba]]>Thu, 27 Oct 2016 15:22:00 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/102716+fidel+castro+portugal+president.jpg

Cuba's former president Fidel Castro met with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in Havana on Wednesday.

Rebelo de Sousa and Castro talked about the United Nation's General Assembly resolution that was overwhelming approved Wednesday by a vote of 191-0, with the United States abstaining for the first time in 25 years on the resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba.

Fidel Castro said during the meeting with the Portuguese president that Cuba is not willing to forget the human and economic damage caused by the blockade, and thanked de Sousa for his country's vote.

They also talked about international issues and their friendly relations between both countries.

De Sousa also met with Cuba's current leader, Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[US Abstains on UN Vote on Cuba Embargo]]>Wed, 26 Oct 2016 16:10:49 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The United States abstained for the first time in 25 years Wednesday on a U.N. resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba, a measure it had always vehemently opposed.

The U.S. was joined in abstaining by Israel, the only other country to vote against the embargo resolution in the General Assembly last year. When the vote — 191-0 with two abstentions — was shown on the electronic board, diplomats from the 193 U.N. member states burst into applause.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power announced the abstention just before the vote saying that the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba had "isolated the United States, including here at the United Nations."

"After 55-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we are choosing to take the path of engagement," she said.

The U.S. decision to change its vote follows President Barack Obama's restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and his support for lifting the embargo, which the Republican-led Congress is against.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that they were restoring diplomatic ties, which were broken in 1961 after Fidel Castro took power and installed a communist government. On July 20 last year, diplomatic relations were restored and embassies of the two countries were reopened, but serious issues remain, especially the U.S. call for human rights on the Caribbean island and claims for expropriated property.

The U.S. abstention in the General Assembly vote was certain to anger both Republican and Democratic opponents of lifting the 55-year-old embargo, but it reflects President Barack Obama's belief shortly before he leaves office that it's time to move ahead in normalizing U.S.-Cuban ties.

Indeed, there were immediate protests in the U.S. Congress.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez from New Jersey, the son of Cuban immigrants, tweeted that the U.S. decision not to defend the "long-standing, bipartisan, human rights-based US law ... is shameful." Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that the act that imposed sanctions on Cuba "isn't a 'failed policy' ... (and) is the law of the United States, which should always be defended and upheld."

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the last speaker before the vote, said Cuba is "grateful" for Power's efforts and words and thanked her for the U.S. abstention.

"A change in vote by the United States is a promising signal," he said. "We hope it will be reflected in reality."

Rodriguez said the embargo is still in force and being implemented by U.S. agencies, and while the executive measures taken by Obama were positive, they have "very limited scope and effect."

"Lifting the blockade is the key to be able to advance towards the normalization of relations with the United States," he said. "The blockade is unjust, inhuman, immoral and illegal and should unilaterally and unconditionally cease."

General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and unenforceable. But the 25-year-old exercise in which the world body has overwhelmingly voted to condemn the embargo does reflect world opinion and has given Cuba a global stage to demonstrate America's isolation on its Cuba policy.

Before the vote, more than 20 speakers from all over the world denounced the embargo and urged the U.S. Congress to quickly lift the ban on trade and financial dealings.

The U.S. administration had considered abstaining in the vote last October, but concluded it could not do so because the resolution did not reflect what it considered to be the spirit of engagement between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.

Power made clear that the United States "categorically" rejects statements in Wednesday's resolution suggesting the embargo violated international law.

She also said that abstaining "does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government."

"We do not," Power said. "We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people."

She cited Cuba's detention of government critics, threats and intimidation of participants in peaceful marches and meetings, and severe restrictions on outside information.

In Havana, Cuba organized a vote-watching party on the campus of the University of Havana, where students and government supporters followed the events on an hours-long special live state news broadcast projected onto a giant screen.

The tone of the coverage was triumphant, calling the U.S. abstention a historic victory for Cuba but cautioning that it was meaningless without Congressional action.

"The blockade is still in force but this means that there's been a change in attitude at the highest levels of U.S. government and politics," said Raul Palmeiro, a 21-year-old law student and president of the university's official Student Federation.

In last year's vote, the assembly approved a resolution condemning the commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba with the highest vote ever — 191-2. Only Israel joined the United States in opposing that resolution.

 

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington and Michael Weissenstein in Havana contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Migrants Land In Separate Spots Along Florida Keys]]>Mon, 24 Oct 2016 07:48:57 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/211*120/102416+cuban+migrants+marathon.jpg

Nearly two dozen migrants from Cuba made the journey for America, landing in the Florida Keys over the weekend to cheering locals.

The first group, containing 19 people, landed on the shore near Key West shortly after midnight on Sunday morning. Those on board said they spend 25 hours at sea in a homemade boat that took a month to build. The vessel took on water before reaching shore, forcing those on board to swim the final distance.

A second vessel, containing three men, came ashore near Marathon sometime Sunday. The migrants were met by people on the beach offering them food, water and even beer.

The United States’ policy on Cuban migrants, commonly called “Wet Foot, Dry Foot”, generally allows for those who make it to shore to stay in the country. Those captured at sea are returned back to Cuba after evaluation by officials.

The migrants were transported to Catholic Charities, which will work to place the migrants with relatives or friends in the South Florida area.

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<![CDATA[Cuba Suspends New Licenses For Private Restaurants]]>Mon, 17 Oct 2016 20:12:40 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/203*120/Paladares1.JPG

Cuban entrepreneurs looking to open private restaurants on the island will have to put their plans on hold.

That's because the Castro administration has temporarily stopped issuing licenses for new eateries, according to Reuters.

Cuba also reportedly warned current restaurant owners to comply with tough regulations already put in place.

Reuters reports that over the last six weeks, owners of popular restaurants have been meeting with Havana city officials who listed the violations some commit and warning them to cease and desist.

Some of the restrictions include the maximum number of seats allowed and where owners can buy their supplies.

The tighter grip on the private market could prove challenging for the upcoming tourism season on the communist island.

Cuba is expected to get a record number of tourists from the United States as the White House loosens travel restrictions.



Photo Credit: EFE]]>
<![CDATA[US Removes Limits on Bringing in Cuban Rum, Cigars ]]>Fri, 14 Oct 2016 18:20:56 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/101416+cuban+cigars+cuban+rum.jpg

The Obama administration announced Friday it is eliminating a $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars that American travelers can bring back from the island. 

The administration is also lifting limits on cargo ship travel between the U.S. and Cuba and easing U.S. and Cuban researchers' ability to conduct joint medical research. The measures are contained in a package of relatively small-scale regulatory changes meant to ease U.S. trade with Cuba.

Cuban rum and cigars will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries, meaning most travelers will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum.

Because high-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside Cuba, every U.S. traveler can now legally bring back many thousands of dollars of Cuban products, potentially generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the Cuban state.

The previous limit restricted travelers to a combined value of $100 in rum and cigars, although enforcement of the limit notably declined after President Barack Obama declared detente with Cuba in December 2014. 

"Challenges remain - and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights - but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values," Obama said in a statement announcing the changes. 

Rum and cigar production is entirely government-run under Cuba's centrally planned communist economy. 

However, these sweeping changes are getting some mixed reactions in Miami.

"This reconciliation process is gonna take years," said Andy Gomez.

Gomez, an author and expert on Cuba, shared his thoughts on new amendments to Cuba sanction regulations.

"We have diplomatic relations and that's good, but the reconciliation, I don't see it happening any time soon," Gomez said. "No matter what we do, politically they're not going to change and I think we realize that and we begin then to define the Cuban government in one pocket and the Cuban people in the other."

Politicians opposing the thawing of relations continue to come out against the President and his plans.

"After two years of President Obama's Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out like bandits and received numerous concessions from the U.S. without lifting a finger to return the fugitives it is harboring from American justice, pay Americans for their stolen property, or allow the Cuban people to exercise their God-given freedoms," Senator Marco Rubio from Florida said in a statement. "Today's announcement reaffirms the fact that President Obama's Cuba policy puts the Castro regime's interests first, profits ahead of America's national security, and the Cuban people's rights and dignity dead last."

More than 160,000 American travelers visited Cuba last year and that figure is expected to double this year. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visit family on the island each year and will also be able to take advantage of the new measure, which comes a month and a half before the restart of commercial flights to Havana after more than 50 years. 

The first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba landed in the central city of Santa Clara on Aug. 31 after departing from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.

The package of regulatory changes announced Friday also allows cargo ships to visit U.S. ports directly after docking in Cuba. They had been barred from U.S. ports for 180 days after visiting Cuba. Cuba blamed that measure for harming its ability to import and export and dampening hopes that a new military-run port in the city of Mariel could serve as a major link in the regional cargo shipping system.

The Obama administration says it is eliminating a $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars that American travelers can bring back from the island. 
 
  Cuban rum and cigars will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries, meaning most people will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. High-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside Cuba, meaning every U.S. traveler can now legally bring back many thousands of dollars in Cuban products. The previous limit restricted travelers to a combined value of $100 in rum and cigars. eliminating a $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars that American travelers can bring back from the island.     Cuban rum and cigars will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries, meaning most people will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. High-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside Cuba, meaning every U.S. traveler can now legally bring back many thousands of dollars in Cuban products. The previous limit restricted travelers to a combined value of $100 in rum and cigars. 

The new rules also will allow for more partnerships in the world of pharmaceuticals between the two nations.

As a reminder, the embargo is still in effect and only congress can lift it. These new changes will begin on October 17 of this year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Southwest Airlines Announcing Flight Plans From U.S. to Cuba]]>Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:19:59 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/southwest-GettyImages-139622344.jpg

As flights continue between the United States and Cuba – part of the continued thawing of relations between the neighboring countries – another airline is getting into the business of bringing some Americans to a new destination.

Southwest Airlines announced Thursday their plans to begin commercial flights from Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport and Varadero, Cuba starting November 13th.

The airline also announced plans for flights from the airport and Tampa International Airport to Havana starting December 12th, pending approval by the Cuban government.

Plans for flights from the airports to Santa Clara, Cuba are expected to be announced in the coming days.

After the Obama administration announced plans to end the embargo with Cuba in Decemeber 2014, the countries have slowly begun to resume relations.

The first commercial flights from the United States to the island nation took place in late August and early September from both Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/File]]>
<![CDATA[US, Cuba Assessing Efforts to Save Hemingway Artifacts]]>Wed, 12 Oct 2016 10:55:31 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Ernest-Hemingway.jpg

U.S. and Cuban officials and scholars are meeting in Boston to discuss joint efforts to preserve artifacts at Ernest Hemingway's former Cuban estate.

The forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum is focusing on a U.S.-Cuban collaboration to ensure the literary icon's legacy lives on in both countries.

Wednesday afternoon's event includes TV host Bob Vila, a son of Cuban emigrants who's been working to restore the Hemingway home itself. Joining Vila are U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts; Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of Cuba's Hemingway Museum; and Susan Wrynn, former curator of the JFK Library's Ernest Hemingway Collection.

Amid a new era of U.S.-Cuban normalization, both nations are working together to preserve Hemingway artifacts ranging from books and letters to fishing rods and mounted animal trophies.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama to Nominate Jeffrey DeLaurentis for Cuba Ambassador]]>Tue, 27 Sep 2016 18:29:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/092716+Jeffrey+DeLaurentis.jpg

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis as his choice to become the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than a half-century, a move that sets up a possible fight with congressional critics of Obama's overtures to the communist island nation.

DeLaurentis currently is the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Senate confirmation is required but will be tough for the White House to win before Obama's term ends in January. Senators who argue that Cuba doesn't deserve diplomatic outreach from the U.S. have vowed to block any ambassador nomination, citing lack of progress on democracy and human rights on the island. Among them are Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., both with roots in Cuba.

Obama said Tuesday that DeLaurentis' leadership was "vital" throughout the normalization process.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro surprised the world in December 2014 by announcing that the one-time foes had agreed, after secret negotiations, to restore diplomatic relations, including reopening embassies in each other's countries. The U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic ties in 1961 amid the Cold War.

Obama called the naming of an ambassador a "common-sense" step toward more productive relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and said DeLaurentis is the best person for the job.

"Having an ambassador will make it easier to advocate for our interests, and will deepen our understanding even when we know that we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government," he said in a statement that called attention to DeLaurentis' extensive experience in Cuba and Latin America. "We only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an ambassador."

Cuba's top diplomat in Washington, Jose R. Cabanas, was given the rank of ambassador last year.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign operations, argued for DeLaurentis' confirmation.

"The Cuban people have their ambassador in Washington. The American people need their ambassador in Havana," Leahy said in a statement.

Since diplomatic relations were re-established on July 20, 2015, DeLaurentis has led a series of negotiations with Cuba on topics ranging from human rights to the billions of dollars in U.S. claims against Cuba for properties that were confiscated during the country's revolution in 1959.

Even if ultimately unsuccessful, the nomination of a U.S. ambassador could provide a boost to the Obama administration's final months of negotiations with Cuba, a country highly attuned to the degree of respect it feels it is receiving from the U.S.

Earlier this year, Obama visited Cuba with his wife and daughters. During the brief visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly seven decades, Obama met with Castro and attended a baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball. He also addressed the Cuban people. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[College Week: FIU's Latino Public Opinion Forum]]>Mon, 26 Sep 2016 19:37:48 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/274*120/FIU+Latino+Opinion+Forum.jpg

Latino students at Florida International University are weighing in on this year's presidential election the university's online-based Latino Public Opinion Forum.

"It's mobile advertising. We essentially send a banner ad to a database of 32 million Latinos," explained Prof. Eduaro Gamarra, FIU Politics & International Relations.

The poll systematically and scientifically tracks public opinion trends of the major Latino groups in the United States with an emphasis on Florida.

Over the last 24 weeks, the focus has been tracking the Latino vote.

"We have found that Mrs. Clinton in particular has kind of an iron-clad grip on the Latino vote," said Gamarra.

FIU scholars have studied public opinion for two decades, starting with the Cuba Poll.

The survey is the longest running research project tracking the opinions of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade.

"We have a core set of questions that are always asked, with the designed purpose to trace the changes in the community," explained Prof. Guillermo Grenier, FIU Dept of Global & Sociocultural Studies.

The recently released 2016 poll found a majority of Cuban American residents in the county support the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.

A majority of people polled also oppose continuing the embargo

"We noticed that the newer arrivals ans younger generations have a totally different view of what the US should be doing," said Grenier.

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<![CDATA[Cuba Announces Major Wi-Fi Expansion on Iconic Malecon]]>Wed, 21 Sep 2016 19:45:24 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/tlmd_cuba_malecon_olas.gif

The Cuban government says it will make five miles of Havana's iconic seafront boulevard, the Malecon, into the largest Wi-Fi hotspot in one of the world's least-connected nations.

State media said Wednesday that Wi-Fi will be installed along the most popular stretch of the Malecon by the end of the year.

The seafront is a favored spot for Cubans to gather at night to talk, drink and listen to music.

Home internet remains illegal for most Cubans.

Since last year, the government has installed dozens of Wi-Fi spots in public areas, charging $2 an hour in a country where the average state salary remains about $25 a month.

Cuba said last year that it had 65 Wi-Fi spots in service and expected 80 more to open in 2016.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: EFE]]>
<![CDATA[Rubio Asking for Answers Regarding Security on Cuba Flights]]>Tue, 20 Sep 2016 19:21:28 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/090716+mia+cuba+american+airlines.jpg

Upset that the recently launched commercial flights between the United States and Cuba do not have air marshals on them, Senator Marco Rubio wants all flights stopped until an agreement over security can be signed.

Rubio, who introduced a bill to do such a thing, also wants answers from the Obama administration over what he calls “lies” regarding the Transportation Security Administration claiming last month that the agreement had been signed.

“You and your administration’s lack of concern for the American people’s safety — as evidenced by allowing commercial, non-charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba to commence without the presence of federal air marshals, and lying about it to Congress,” Rubio wrote in a letter to the President, “is further proof that you are putting your legacy ahead of the safety and security of the American people, including the people of Florida.”

 

 

Air marshals have been on previous charter flights to the island, but an agreement to have similar measures on commercial flights is still pending.

The TSA said in an August statement that the agreement between the two countries had been signed, but a deputy administrator admitted that Cuba had not signed the deal.

American Airlines, who will launch the most flights between the nations as part of the new plans, issued a statement saying the safety of passengers is not at risk on any flights.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Iran's President Lands in Cuba To Hold Talks With Castro]]>Mon, 19 Sep 2016 20:21:25 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/170*120/cuba+and+iran+presidents.jpg

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Havana Monday for a one day official visit.

Rouhani was set to meet with Cuban Leader Raul Castro and retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Both countries have recently expressed their interest in expanding and strengthening economic relations.

Foreign media have reported that before leaving Tehran, Rouhani described Cuba as a "friendly and revolutionary county."

In the past, both countries have held meetings to identify opportunities for trade and investment and ways to introduce medical-pharmaceutical products from the island nation to the Iranian market.

Rouhani is scheduled to leave Havana to New York Tuesday morning.

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<![CDATA[Airlines Pulling Cuban-Americans Off Flight Crews to Country]]>Fri, 16 Sep 2016 20:39:39 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/461830344-american-airlines-cuba-airport.jpg

As historic commercial flights have begun between the United States and Cuba in the past weeks, those pilots and other crew members on those flights who are Cuban-Americans are finding that the welcome mat is not being rolled out for them.

Authorities within the Cuban government are telling all airlines that will be flying from American cities to the island nation that those who do not have a Cuban passport – a requirement for anyone born there who left the country after 1970 – will not be allowed entry.

Since rules require overnight rest stops for those who fly 12 hours in a day, airlines such as American, JetBlue and Spirit are going through their crew lists and removing anyone born in Cuba from assigned flights to the country.

 

 

"That’s a Cuban government demand. That’s not something we’re saying,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello to the Miami Herald. “We are abiding by the laws of the Cuban government."

The first flight in over 50 years took place in late August, taking off from Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport on JetBlue Airlines. American had their first flight take off from Miami International Airport the following week.

"The Cuban government requires all Cuban-born individuals to have a valid Cuban passport when entering the country. American Airlines abides by the laws and regulations in all of the countries and territories where we operate," American said in a statement Friday. "American continues to work diligently with Cuban authorities to secure accommodation that will impose no additional documentation requirements on our employees."



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Rubio Calls for Suspension of Cuba Flights Lacking Air Marsh]]>Wed, 14 Sep 2016 23:11:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Cuba+Flight.PNG

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for the suspension of U.S. commercial flights to Cuba after the Transportation Security Administration admitted that there are no air marshals on flights.

At a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Wednesday, TSA officials confirmed that an agreement sent to the Cuban government has not been signed and returned to U.S. officials.

In August, TSA released a statement stating the U.S. and Cuba reached an agreement allowing air marshals to travel undercover on certain flights to and from Cuba.

Rubio took to the Senate floor Wednesday to highlight the potential for terrorists to hijack flights to attack the U.S.

He called for a suspension of these flights "at least until adequate security measures are in place".

The revelation comes two weeks after commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba resumed for the first time in 50 years.

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<![CDATA[Cuba Internet Freedom Conference Starting in Miami]]>Mon, 12 Sep 2016 19:24:54 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/091216+Cuba+Internet+Freedom+Conference.jpg

Former political prisoner Alan Gross is taking part in the Cuba Internet Freedom Conference in Miami.

Gross spent five years confined to a Cuban prison, cut off from all communication with people back here in the United States. Simple acts like playing dominoes or smoking a cigar are things he doesn't take for granted.

He lived through it, remembering his family members who survived the Holocaust.

"I knew that my ordeal was nowhere near as severe as theirs and yet they survived and I was part of the same gene pool," Gross said.

The American contractor was arrested for giving computers and satellites to people on the island nation.

"It's like drinking coffee, imagine going to a country and getting arrested for drinking Coffee, I mean it was the same basis," he said.

Gross is one of hundreds of people gathering in Wynwood Monday for the conference, where there'll be people texting, Facetiming and searching online freely.

In Cuba, it's not the case. Access is at least $2 an hour, which may not sound like a lot but it's an entire week's salary.

"Actually they’re not reforming anything," Cuban activist Rosa Maria Paya said, adding that even when you can log on in Cuba, it's censored. "That’s the reality and it’s like for the rest of the word, ‘what are you talking about?' They don’t even know that, well that’s the reality."

Gross says things are improving, slowly. He said new laws allowing families to send more items like smart phones to people in Cuba are helping. But those only go to about 30 percent of the population.

"I do have satisfaction knowing that the relationship has progressed," Gross said.



Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[First Commercial Flight From MIA to Cuba Takes Off]]>Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:41:53 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/090716+mia+cuba+american+airlines.jpg

It's something most people haven't seen in their lifetime: an American Airlines boarding screen with a destination in Cuba at Miami International Airport – and it’s only the beginning of mass commercial travel between the USA and Cuba.

"Not in my lifetime did I think I’d experience this," said Liane Ventura, one of 90 travelers on Flight 903 to Cienfuegos Wednesday. "We haven't had relations in over 50 years and it's time."

"Some of the other family members are, you know, 'I’m waiting to see what happens, I don't think things are going to change,” said Ventura, who was born in the United States to Cuban parents. "But I think I’m very optimistic."

American Airlines is the second U.S.-based airline to launch regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island nation from South Florida – and the first from MIA in more than half a century.

"I’m really excited to see the culture there,” said Cristal Espejo, a visitor from New York who is making the historic trip with friends. "I don't have any expectations, but I’m going into it very open."

Americans are still prohibited from visiting Cuba as tourists, but can book trips that fall under a dozen different categories including visiting family members or an academic trip.

American Airlines says it will eventually have 84 weekly flights to Cuba from Miami, more than any other airline. Miami travelers will be able to go to Havana later this year.

"The embargo really hasn't done anything or made any changes in Cuba so maybe we ought to try something else,” Ventura said. “This is the something else."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NBC 6 Tours Santa Clara, Cuba]]>Thu, 01 Sep 2016 22:33:28 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000025302092_1200x675_756475971835.jpgNBC 6's Amanda Plasencia explores Santa Clara after the first commercial flight from the U.S. to Cuba lands there.]]><![CDATA[Commercial Travel Between US, Cuba Resumes]]>Wed, 31 Aug 2016 22:29:34 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/083116+jet+blue+flight+to+cuba.jpg

The first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba in more than a half century landed in the central city of Santa Clara on Wednesday morning, re-establishing regular air service severed at the height of the Cold War.

Cheers broke out in the cabin of JetBlue flight 387 as the plane touched down at Abel Santamaria Airport. Passengers — mostly airline executives, U.S. government officials and journalists, with a sprinkling of Cuban-American families and U.S. travelers — were given gift bags with Cuban cookbooks, commemorative luggage tags and Cuban flags, which they were encouraged to wave.

Passengers arrived at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport as early as 6 a.m. to check-in to the historic 10 a.m flight.

"I want to get to discover the country where I was born," said 53-year-old passenger Dominic Santana. "I feel like Christopher Columbus."

Another passenger, Eric Diaz, told NBC 6 he escaped Cuba on a boat in 2008 and has not seen his mother or children in eight years. Wednesday marks his first chance to visit his hometown near the flight's destination city.

"I'm going to hug my kids, hug my mom," Diaz said.

NBC 6's Amanda Plasencia, the daughter of Cuban exiles, was on board the JetBlue flight.

"Being here on board I'm feeling excited," Plasencia said, adding that being a part of this historic first flight has left her "feeling emotional."

There was no shortage of fanfare. Outside the flight's gate a band played Cuban music and the jet made its departure after a small ceremony on the tarmac featuring the flags of both countries

"This is our first commercial flight to Cuba so can you imagine," Wanda Garcia said. "To be the first flight that you can just go into the plane and just come back and it's just overwhelming. I wish my father was alive to see this and it's emotional."

The plane arrived in Cuba just before 11 a.m.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes both addressed passengers on board the 150-seat Airbus A320, which was staffed by a specially selected five-member crew of Cuban-Americans. Airline executives changed from American business attire into loose-fitting Cuban-style guayabera shirts before landing.

"Today’s actions are the result of months of work by airlines, cities, the U.S. government, and many others toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage with Cuba," Foxx said in a statement. "Transportation has a unique role in this historic initiative and we look forward to the benefits these new services will provide to those eligible for Cuba travel."

The arrival opens a new era of U.S.-Cuba travel with about 300 flights a week connecting the U.S. with an island cut off from most Americans by the 55-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and formal ban on U.S. citizens engaging in tourism on the island.

"Seeing the American airlines landing routinely around the island will drive a sense of openness, integration and normality. That has a huge psychological impact," said Richard Feinberg, author of the new book "Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy."

The plane later returned with about 150 people on board. Some said they took both flights just to be a part of history.

"It was an indescribable feeling to be a part of this, to be welcomed, to see our flag next to the Cuban flag when we stepped off the aircraft, words can't describe," flight attendant Jennifer Vance said.

The restart of commercial travel between the two countries is one of the most important steps in President Barack Obama's two-year-old policy of normalizing relations with the island. Historians disagree on the exact date of the last commercial flight but it appears to have been after Cuba banned incoming flights during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Twitter that the last commercial flight was in 1961.

Commercial flights are returning to the island nation after several carriers, including American, Southwest and JetBlue, received federal approval for round trip flights earlier this year.

But Cuban officials insist the continuing U.S. ban on tourism will limit the impact of commercial flights to Cuba, but some experts believe the drastic reduction in the difficulty of flying to Cuba could turn the surge in U.S. visitors into a tidal wave. Americans are allowed to visit the island on "people-to-people" cultural and educational visits, among other reasons.

Americans who fit one of 12 categories will now be able to fill out a federal affidavit by clicking a box on an online form and, in many cases, buy their Cuban tourist visa near the check-in counters of U.S. airports. Within weeks, Americans will be able to fly direct from cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale to eight Cuban cities and two beach resorts.

The final announcement of routes to Havana, which could be announced Wednesday and start before December, is slated to include flights from Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Houston, among others.

The first flight out of Miami International Airport to Cuba is scheduled to leave next Wednesday.

Plasencia will be providing extensive coverage from the ground in Santa Clara on NBC 6 News and NBC6.com Wednesday.

For more on these historic flights and continuing coverage on U.S.-Cuba relations, visit the NBC 6 Cuba Crossroad Section.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Flight From U.S. to Cuba Departs]]>Wed, 31 Aug 2016 09:18:51 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/228*120/Wheels+Up.pngNBC 6's Julia Bagg is at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, where the first commerical flights in over 50 years between the two countries on an American based airline take place.]]><![CDATA[Commercial Flights Between U.S., Cuba Resume Wednesday]]>Tue, 30 Aug 2016 12:07:07 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/461830344-american-airlines-cuba-airport.jpg

For the first time in over half a century, commercial flights between the United States and Cuba will resume on Wednesday – and NBC 6 reporter Amanda Plasencia will be on board one of the flights, providing you extensive coverage of these historical journeys.

As part of President Obama’s efforts to restore relations with the island nation just south of Florida, a potential of 110 round trip flights will take place each week between the countries. That includes 20 daily flights to Havana and 10 each to other cities in Cuba.

The flights will come from airports across the country. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will see their first flights take off Wednesday on JetBlue, one of the airlines that bid for the rights to transport passengers.

NBC 6’s Amanda Plasencia will be on that flight, so you can look for her reports after her plane lands in Santa Clara.

The first flight out of Miami International Airport will be an American Airllines flight on September 7th.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[AT&T, Cuban TelCom Company Reach Service Agreement]]>Mon, 22 Aug 2016 11:47:11 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021814+cuba+flag+generic.jpg

One telephone carrier is making it easier for people to communicate while traveling in Cuba.

AT&T announces they have reached an agreement with ETECSA, the government owned telecommunications provider on the island, to expand coverage on the island for subscribers.

“With this agreement, AT&T customers soon will be able to seamlessly connect with talk, text and data while visiting Cuba,” said Bill Hague, the executive vice president for AT&T Global Connection Management.

The company said it will announce the date the service will start and pricing at a later date.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Photos: Fidel Castro's 90th Birthday]]>Mon, 15 Aug 2016 10:50:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/210*120/90-cumpleanos-de-fidel-castro-06.jpgFidel Castro thanked Cubans for their well-wishes on his 90th birthday on Saturday and criticized President Barack Obama in a lengthy letter published in state media.]]><![CDATA[Fidel Castro Celebrates 90th Birthday]]>Mon, 15 Aug 2016 10:52:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Fidel-Castro1.jpg

Fidel Castro thanked Cubans for their well-wishes on his 90th birthday on Saturday and criticized President Barack Obama in a lengthy letter published in state media.

"I want to express my deepest gratitude for the shows of respect, greetings and praise that I've received in recent days, which give me strength to reciprocate with ideas that I will send to party militants and relevant organizations," he wrote.

"Modern medical techniques have allowed me to scrutinize the universe," wrote Castro, who stepped down as Cuba's president 10 years ago after suffering a severe gastrointestinal illness.

Castro accompanied his thanks with reminiscences about his childhood and youth in eastern Cuba, describing the geology and plant life of the region where he grew up. He touched on his father's death shortly before his own victory in overthrowing U.S-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Castro returns at the end to criticize Obama, who appeared to anger the revolutionary leader with a March trip to Cuba in which he called for Cubans to look toward the future. A week after the trip, Castro wrote a sternly worded letter admonishing Obama to read up on Cuban history, and declaring that "we don't need the empire to give us anything."

In Saturday's letter, he criticizes Obama for not apologizing to the Japanese people during a May trip to Hiroshima, describing Obama's speech there as "lacking stature."

The Cuban government has taken a relatively low-key approach to Castro's birthday, in comparison with the large-scale gatherings that had been planned for his 80th. Government ministries have held small musical performances and photo exhibitions that pay tribute to the former head of state. On Saturday morning, state media showed images of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arriving in Havana and a tribute was planned at a Havana theater Sunday evening. The government did not say which Cuban officials would attend.

Castro last appeared in public in April, closing the twice-a-decade congress of the Cuban Communist Party with a call for Cuba to stick to its socialist ideals amid ongoing normalization with the U.S.

The need for closer economic ties with the U.S. has grown more urgent as Venezuela, Castro's greatest ally, tumbles into economic free-fall, cutting the flow of subsidized oil that Cuba has depended on the South American country for more than a decade. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Cubans are emigrating to the United States, hollowing out the ranks of highly educated professionals.

The brightest spot in Cuba's flagging economy has been a post-detente surge in tourism that is expected to boom when commercial flights to and from the United States, Cuba's former longtime enemy, resume on Aug. 31.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[St. Petersburg Emerging Leader For Cuban Consulate Office]]>Tue, 02 Aug 2016 07:52:09 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

After a weekend tour of the city by the Consular General and his deputy from Washington D.C., one Florida city appears closer to becoming home for a Cuban Consulate office in the United States.

According to NBC affiliate WFLA-TV, the delegation met with officials from St. Petersburg, including Mayor Rick Kriseman, for a tour of both the city and potential office locations for a future home.

The city has spent much of the last year working to get the consulate office in Pinellas County.

At the same time, a scheduled trip to Tampa did not take place. That city’s mayor has said he would not block the consulate if they are chosen, but he will not actively pursue it out of an obligation to supporters that oppose Tampa being picked.

While Miami has the most Cuban-American residents in the entire state, Mayor Tomas Regalado has said a consulate office would not be welcome. Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine championed his city, but that commission voted 4-3 against any potential location.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Migrants Rescued Near Boca Raton, 2 Believed Missing]]>Wed, 20 Jul 2016 14:44:06 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/210*120/072016+cuba+migrants+boca+raton.jpg

A group of Cuban migrants were rescued off the coast of Boca Raton Wednesday, while two others were missing at sea.

Six migrants in all were rescued around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning roughly two miles off shore east of the city. They told Coast Guard crews they had been in the water since sunset Tuesday night and claim two other migrants were missing.

Coast Guard crews are searching by air and water for those two remaining migrants.

All six rescued migrants were in good condition but some were being treated for displaying signs of dehydration.

Officials said a vessel was found on the beach just south of the Boca Raton Inlet. It was later confirmed that it's the vessel the Cubans were on.

Stay tuned to NBC 6 on air and online for updates.

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<![CDATA[Cubans Land at Southernmost Landmark in Key West]]>Wed, 13 Jul 2016 14:08:22 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/071316+southernmost+point+key+west.jpg

Police in Key West say Cuban migrants landed early Wednesday at a tourist attraction marking the southernmost point in the continental United States.

Officer Matthew Hansell reported that three men and three women tied their fishing boat to the red, black and yellow buoy where streams of people pose for pictures daily.

He said none required medical attention after coming ashore. Immigration authorities were notified, but under the federal "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to remain in this country. Those intercepted at sea usually go back.

Groups of migrants from the Caribbean regularly come ashore in Florida. One Tuesday, two dozen Cubans landed on an island in Miami-Dade County.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bill Introduced to Halt Flights Between U.S., Cuba]]>Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:05:32 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/461830344-american-airlines-cuba-airport.jpg

Several members of Congress are worried about potential security concerns on flights from Cuba to the United States and want any potential plans for those flights to stop until tests can be conducted.

Four U.S. Representatives – three Republicans and one Democrat – are calling for a halt to recently announced commercial flights between U.S. cities, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and the island nation.

Ten cities were approved last week to run round trip flights to Cuba on one of the six airlines that received approval to begin operation. The flights are expected to start sometime in the fall.

The Congressional members cite worries about Cuba’s security infrastructure and want to make sure that Cuba’s airports have adequate security in place according to U.S standards. They also want the TSA has had a chance to certify those standards have been met.

Commercial flight plans were seen as one of the biggest steps for the Obama administration since the December 2014 announcement that the United States was going to thaw relations between the neighbors, eventually with the goal of returning them to normal.

The legislation is likely not going to go far, as politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to be warming to the idea of restoring relations completely between the countries.



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Flights Between US Cities, Cuba Proposed]]>Thu, 07 Jul 2016 12:30:22 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

In another step toward normalized relations with Cuba, the U.S. Transportation Department has announced plans to begin daily flights from 10 airports across the country to Havana, Cuba.

The flights, which could begin as early as this fall, will take off from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York City, Atlanta and Charlotte.

Eight of the 12 airlines that applied to host scheduled flights were approved, including major carriers American, Delta, United and JetBlue.

"Today we take another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage Cuba," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Thursday. "Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes."

The proposal allocates non-stop service to Havana from areas with large Cuban-American populations, as well as major hubs.

Under the arrangement, each country may operate up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana.

The arrangement also provides each country with the opportunity to operate up to 10 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and each of Cuba’s nine other international airports, for a total of 90 daily round trips.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fisherman Who Found Message From Lighthouse Cubans Speaks Out]]>Fri, 01 Jul 2016 17:55:59 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

Some of the two dozen Cuban migrants who reached a Florida Keys lighthouse will be sent to Guantanamo Bay while others are being repatriated to Cuba as the fisherman who discovered a message in a bottle written by the migrants is speaking out for the first time.

"The words that were written were 'please help me, S.O.S. 24 people onboard,'" Jason Harrelson said.

Harrelson described Friday the unusual discovery on the open waters. The fisherman from Tampa found the handwritten note where the migrants claim mistreatment while on a Coast Guard cutter where they were detained.

"I immediately contacted the Coast Guard, regardless of where you're from, you need help at that point, I would do it for anyone," he said.

Coast Guard officials said the letter was determined to be authentic and said they are planning on launching an internal investigation.

In another change of course, late Thursday the U.S. Attorney said they re-interviewed the so-called Lighthouse Cubans, and 20 of the 24 claim to have legitimate fears that they could face harm if they go back to Cuba. They've been sent to a camp in Guantanamo Bay where officials will now look for a third country to eventually sent them.

"We are very happy that the 20 people will be given the chance to remain in freedom," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, with Movimiento Democracia. "Of course we would have liked the 24 to do so but apparently the other four might not have said the key words, even though they probably have the same fears and they might be repatriated. I don't know if at this time they're already getting back to Cuba."

Family members in Miami reacted to the latest update on the fate of their loved ones Friday.

"We're very happy because yesterday the government approved 20 of them to apply for political asylum so at least they're gonna have the right to live in freedom," said Fernando Alvarez, cousin of one of the migrants.

While a federal judge ruled the lighthouse was not dry land, there are still some legal uncertainties and family members are holding out hope.

"There is one thing that we are completely sure. We will keep fighting for all of them. It doesn't matter if he's in the group of the 20 or of the 4. We're gonna keep fighting," Alvarez said.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[US Men's Soccer to Play Exhibition Game in Cuba]]>Thu, 30 Jun 2016 16:46:37 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/451400320.jpg

The United States will play Cuba in a friendly for the first time since 1947 on Oct. 7 in Havana.

It will be just the second visit to Cuba in the last 69 years for the American men, who won 1-0 on Sept. 6, 2008 in a World Cup qualifying match. The exhibition game comes a month after the United States concludes the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup with matches against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and then against Trinidad and Tobago.

"We are happy to have the chance to bring our team to Cuba," said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "In addition to good competition, we are always looking for our group to have different experiences, and this is a unique opportunity."

The United States comes off finishing fourth at Copa America Centenario, which it hosted.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lighthouse Cubans Claimed Mistreatment in Message in Bottle]]>Thu, 30 Jun 2016 18:17:51 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

Two days after a federal judge ordered two dozen Cuban migrants returned after reaching a lighthouse in the Florida Keys, one group is vowing to fight for them to stay in the U.S., as a letter that appears to have been written by the migrants and claims they were mistreated was found in a bottle.

In a statement, Movimiento Democracia said their legal team will continue the battle despite the fact that a temporary injunction was not filed Thursday morning, effectively paving the way for the migrants' return to Cuba.

The group believes that the migrants will be subject to persecution if they are returned to Cuba following their arrival over a month ago. They cited Judge Darrin Gayles’ ruling, in which he acknowledges Cuba’s "violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Lawyers for the migrants argued that the lighthouse, which sits seven miles off shore, is property of the United States and thus part of the country’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy regarding those coming from Cuba, something Gayles said did not apply.

Movimiento Democracia said they will file a motion for an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling.

"The court believes it has no authority to prevent the return of these refugees to Cuba," attorney Kendall Coffey said. "In the meantime the judge has expressed the hope that the government would consider not doing so immediately and that the government would consider some form of access."

Meanwhile, it was revealed Thursday that a fisherman found a message in a bottle that appears to have been written by the migrants. The message claims the migrants were mistreated while being detained on a Coast Guard cutter.

Coast Guard officials said the letter was determined to be authentic and said they are planning on launching an internal investigation.

"While this was a challenging situation for everyone involved given the extenuating circumstances, we take any report of improper treatment of migrants very seriously," the Coast Guard said in a statement. "The U.S. Coast Guard is a humanitarian service with a proud history of saving lives at sea. Our men and women have demonstrated tremendous professionalism, genuine empathy, and concern for the safety and welfare of all migrants interdicted. With respect to the 24 Cuban migrants recovered on American Shoal Lighthouse, they were treated with care, compassion and respect during the past five weeks."



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[First U.S. Owned Hotel Opens in Cuba Since Revolution]]>Thu, 30 Jun 2016 09:37:42 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*128/FourPointsHavana-Cuba-CourtesyHotel.jpg

In another sign of the thawing relations between the United States and Cuba, travelers to the island nation will get to enjoy the luxury of an American hotel while on their trip.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts opened Four Points Havana this week, the first new hotel opened and run by an American company since the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

The hotel is part of a three resort deal between the company and the Cuban government. While Cuba still owns the building that was once called the Hotel Quinta Avenida, Starwood will run the day-to-day operations.

The 186 room resort is set in the Miramar section of the city and just 15 minutes from the business areas of downtown Havana. It includes pools, a spa and sauna area as well as multiple bars and restaurants on the property.

The hotel’s arrival is the next step in the renewing of normalcy between the two countries separated by just 90 miles. President Barack Obama ordered the restoring of relations in December 2014, with both countries opening embassies less than a year later.

While travel is still restricted to certain requirements, six airlines have announced plans to start commercials flights later this year, in addition to Stonegate Bank has started issuing credit cards in what was once a cash only country.



Photo Credit: Four Points Havana]]>
<![CDATA[Migrants Who Reached Keys Lighthouse Ordered Back To Cuba]]>Tue, 28 Jun 2016 18:01:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

Two dozen Cuban migrants who reached a lighthouse in the Florida Keys must be sent back to the country, a U.S. District Court in Miami ruled Tuesday afternoon in a 35-page document.

Judge Darrin Gayles' ruling said the 136-year-old American Shoal lighthouse does not count as dry land under the U.S.'s "wet-foot, dry-foot'' policy.

"This is a very sad moment for all of us," immigration advocate Ramon Saul Sanchez said outside the courthouse. "We have had our day in court but we had hopes that freedom would also be enjoyed by these people after they invested so much of their lives."

The attorney for the migrants arguedduring a June 2nd hearing that they should be allowed to remain in the U.S. because the lighthouse standing in shallow water off the Florida Keys is American territory just as if they had reached dry land.

Attorneys for the federal government, however, said that the American Shoal lighthouse located about 7 miles from Sugarloaf Key is U.S. property but does not equal reaching U.S. shores.

At issue was whether the lighthouse, a historic 109-foot iron structure that was in use from 1880 until 2015, qualified as U.S. territory under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. Under that policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned home.

The controversy comes amid a surge in Cuban attempts to migrate from the communist island to the U.S., partly out of fear the favorable policy might change as relations warm between the two Cold War foes. The Coast Guard said attempts by Cubans to reach the U.S. by sea have increased 155 percent in May compared to the same month last year.

The 21 Cuban migrants who reached the lighthouse May 20 stayed there for several hours before they agreed to board a Coast Guard cutter. The lighthouse has a large, eight-room living area once occupied by a keeper and other workers and sits on a submerged reef that was deeded to the U.S. by the state of Florida in the 1870s, according to testimony Thursday.

"This is a federal building, on federal land, in federal territory," said Kendall Coffey, a former Miami U.S. attorney who is among the migrants' lawyers. "We believe they are entitled to not being repatriated" to Cuba.

According to the judge's order, two more migrants were spotted on the lighthouse, and a third was found in the water nearby.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee said the Coast Guard had made a reasonable decision that the lighthouse did not equal U.S. shores and urged U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles not to overturn it. He said it is too far to stretch the definition of "dry land" to include a lighthouse located on a Florida Straits reef, where the water is 4 feet deep at low tide.

"Just because the government owns a lighthouse does not mean it is dry land. It is surrounded by water. It is built on submerged land. It is not dry land," Lee said. "Somebody who wants to journey to the United States wants to get to dry land."

In 2006, a different Miami federal judge ruled that Cubans who reached a portion of the abandoned Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys that was no longer connected to land still qualified as "dry foot" because the structure was U.S. territory. That ruling could play a key role in the lighthouse case, attorneys said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Shaq Named First-Ever US Basketball Sports Envoy to Cuba]]>Fri, 24 Jun 2016 15:16:33 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-508873874.jpg

Months after President Obama's historic trip to Cuba, 15-time NBA all-star Shaquille O'Neal will visit the island nation.

The State Department announced Friday that O'Neal will be part of a U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy to promote sports to the Cuban youth for four days starting this weekend.

The retired NBA star will be joined by Dallas Mavericks Assistant Coach Kaleb Canales to lead basketball camps for youth and demonstrate how sports can serve as a means of developing academic, leadership, and teamwork skills, according to a State Department news release. He is expected to visit historically significant cultural sites in Havana and further promote positive ties between the United States and Cuban people.

O'Neal played in the NBA for 19 seasons and retired following the 2011 season. He played for the Miami Heat from 2004 to 2008, winning his fourth championship, after many years with the LA Lakers and Orlando Magic.



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[DISH TV Launches Cuban Channel in United States]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 19:16:54 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

DISH and Sling TV are launching a new channel that will bring Cuban movies and television shows to the U.S.

The companies say CUBAMAX TV will be the first channel in the United States to provide a variety of programs such as telenovelas, movies, children's shows and music videos by Cuban artists.

The new channel's goal is to reconnect Cuban-Americans with the heritage of their country of origin.

"DISH Latino looked to connect people with their culture, heritage and language," said Alfredo Rodriguez, VP of DISH Network.

One of the featured shows on the network will be "Vivir del Cuento," one of the most popular shows in Cuba. The show stars an 80-year-old retired man named Panfilo, played by actor and comedian Luis Silva, who jokes about his life struggles.

Panfilo appeared in two sketches with President Barack Obama tied to his visit earlier this year.

"We're very happy to have Panfilo a part of the program. He's a great comedian and the program they have, 'Vivir del Cuento,' is No. 1 in Cuba and we're sure it'll be No. 1 here in Miami and across the U.S.," said Jose Romero, GM of DISH Sling Latino.

CUBAMAX TV celebrated its launch at the Olympia Theater in Downtown Miami, where DISH TV hopes to feature other Latino cultures in the future.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Airlines to Start Scheduled Flights to Cuba]]>Fri, 10 Jun 2016 20:44:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/061016+american+airlines+cuba.jpg

Six airlines won permission Friday to resume scheduled commercial air service from the U.S. to Cuba for the first time in more than five decades, another milestone in President Barack Obama's campaign to normalize relations between Cold War foes. 

The airlines — American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest and Sun Country — were approved by the Department of Transportation for a total of 155 roundtrip flights per week. They'll fly from five U.S. cities to nine cities in Cuba other than Havana. 

U.S. law still prohibits tourist travel to Cuba, but a dozen other categories of travel are permitted, including family visits, official business, journalist visits, professional meetings and educational and religious activities. The Obama administration has eased rules to the point where travelers are now free to design their own "people-to-people" cultural exchanges with little oversight. 

Most of the airline service is expected to begin this fall and early winter, the department said. 

Approval is still required by the Cuban government, but the carriers say they plan to start selling tickets in the next few weeks while they wait for signoffs from Cuba. 

More than a year ago, Obama announced it was time to "begin a new journey" with the communist country. "Today we are delivering on his promise," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. 

As it considers opening routes to Havana, the department's selection process has been complicated because airlines have requested far more routes than are available under the U.S. agreement with Cuba. A decision on Havana routes is expected later this summer. 

The routes approved Friday were not contested because there was less interest among U.S. airlines in flying to Cuban locations other than Havana. The routes include service from Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Cuban destinations are Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. 

All flights currently operating between the two countries are charters, but the agreement the administration signed with Cuba in February allows for up to 110 additional flights — more than five times the current charter operations. 

The Transportation Security Administration is in the process of completing a security review of Cuban airports expected to have direct flights to the United States, and it is working with the Cuban government to schedule and complete the security assessment of any additional airports that propose to begin service, the agency said. 

American Airlines has been the most aggressive in its approach, requesting more than half the possible slots to Havana plus service to five smaller Cuban cities. The airline has a large hub in Miami, home to the largest Cuban-American population. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline has also been flying on behalf of charter companies for the longest time, since 1991. 

U.S. airlines have been feverishly working to establish relationships with Cuban authorities. For instance, American had a number of meetings this week in Havana with Cuban aviation and banking officials. 

"We have been working for months on this plan," Galo Beltran, Cuba country manager for American Airlines, told The Associated Press this week during the trip to Havana. "For us, it is going to be fairly easy because of the experience we have." 

Cuba already has seen dramatic growth in flights. Last year, it saw 18 percent more passengers than in 2014, according to government aviation officials. 

Currently, 46 airlines fly to Cuba, including Air France, Aeromexico, KLM, Air Canada, Aeroflot and Iberia. 

Cuban aviation officials say they are ready for the extra flights but that questions remain, especially at Havana, about where the additional planes will park. 

There has been plenty of interest by Americans in visiting Cuba since relations between the two nations started to thaw in December 2014. Nearly 160,000 U.S. leisure travelers flew to Cuba last year, along with hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visiting family. 

Prices for an hourlong charter flight now are about $500. Commercial airlines will probably offer flights for significantly less, although none has publicly discussed pricing. The check-in process for charters is also a cumbersome one, and the companies lack the traditional supports of commercial aviation such as online booking and 24-hour customer service.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: American Airlines]]>
<![CDATA[New US-Cuba Ties Fuel Bitter Rum Trademark Fight]]>Fri, 10 Jun 2016 14:03:21 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*120/100709+bacardi+2.jpg

With his tuxedo loosened and her dress slightly askew, the couple unwinding with cocktails in a new U.S. ad for Bacardi's Havana Club evokes the openness and decadence of pre-revolution Cuba that many exiles have longed for.

By contrast, an online gallery of portraits of employees at the distillery in Cuba of a rival brand of Havana Club jointly run by Pernod Ricard and the Cuban government shows Cubans proud to show the craft and heritage their country offers now, without looking back.

The fresh marketing campaigns for the two brands are the latest escalation in the liquor industry giants' 20-year fight to secure the exclusive right to sell Havana Club throughout the U.S. when the half-century-old embargo on Cuban goods ends.

Both Bacardi and Pernod Ricard hope to capitalize on consumers' growing appreciation for premium rums, as well as U.S. excitement for easier travel to Cuba and its once-forbidden rum and cigars. Similar disputes typically are resolved by establishing who registered first, but this case is complicated and has been defined by bitterness between Cuba's government and exiles.

After President Barack Obama announced a detente in December 2014, Pernod Ricard's chairman and CEO said the thaw was good news for Cubans and Americans, and the company hopes to finally sell its Havana Club in the United States. Bacardi, privately held by its founding Cuban family, still seeks the rights to its own name in Cuba, a trademark it lost to Fidel Castro's government.

Cuba registered its U.S. trademark in 1976 and exported Havana Club mostly to Eastern Europe until a 1993 joint venture with Paris-based Pernod Ricard. Now it's sold in over 120 countries _ except the United States, the world's biggest rum market.

U.S. rum sales generated $2.3 billion in revenue for distillers last year, and premium brands meant for sipping are gaining on popular flavored and spiced rums, according to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Bacardi produces its rums in Puerto Rico and Mexico, but the company argues that it's been supplying the U.S. with Cuban rum for over a century.

It has sold its Havana Club in a handful of states since the mid-1990s. The new "golden age" ad campaign alluding to Bacardi's past in Cuba is part of a nationwide rollout that includes a new, dark style of Havana Club.

Bacardi bought the name and a distillation formula handwritten from memory by the Arechabala family, who created the brand in Cuba in 1934 but lost control to Castro's government in 1960. The company's filings in federal lawsuits and trademark board appeals bristle with indignation while describing Castro's troops forcibly confiscating the Arechabalas' office property.

When Havana Club was acquired, then-Chairman Manuel Jorge Cutillas felt obligated to help the Arechabalas, who lacked facilities outside Cuba to sustain their business, said Rick Wilson, Bacardi's senior vice president of corporate affairs.

"I remember him in particular saying that it was important that we were going to help this family so that all of their assets were not taken outside of Cuba," Wilson said in an interview in Bacardi's suburban Miami offices.

In court documents, Bacardi describes the rum produced by its competitor as "ersatz Havana Club." Pernod Ricard's general counsel, Ian FitzSimons, scoffed at Bacardi's labeling of rum distilled in Puerto Rico as Cuban in any way.

"There's a tradition of over 100 years of rum-making in Cuba, and we rely heavily on that. If you're going to have a rum named Havana Club, it should be made in Cuba, and it should be made with Cuban products," FitzSimons said by phone from Havana.

Havana Club's sales, buoyed by promotions featuring Cuban artists and classic cocktails, totaled 4 million cases for the 2015 fiscal year, according to Pernod Ricard's annual report that listed $9.7 billion overall in net sales.

Pernod Ricard is investing $90 million over the next few years to expand its operations in Cuba in preparation for the opening of the U.S. market, said Havana Club CEO Jerome Cottin-Bizonne.

Bermuda-based Bacardi doesn't disclose its earnings, but its corporate responsibility report for the 2014 fiscal year tallied 60 million cases generating $4.477 billion in net sales. Court records show it paid $1.25 million to the Arechabalas for the Havana Club rights.

U.S. courts generally have ruled against Cuba in this case, but the island's government pursued renewal for its Havana Club registration, arguing that if the U.S. could not renew the trademark it also couldn't cancel it under the embargo.

In spite of decades of icy relations, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office appeals board regularly declined Bacardi's request to have Cuba's registration canceled, saying it lacked the authority to answer Bacardi's politically charged complaints.

A stalled federal lawsuit was revived when U.S. trademark officials abruptly renewed Cuba's trademark in January. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, echoing Cuban hard-liners in her Miami-area district, blasted the Obama administration for siding with Cuba over U.S. business interests.

In its response to Bacardi's latest legal challenge, Pernod Ricard and the Cuban government say the U.S. trademark for Havana Club had been abandoned by its originators after Cuba "assumed managerial control" of the Arechabalas' company.

Bacardi ultimately lost its claim to the Havana Club trademark in Spain after lengthy litigation there. The World Trade Organization also has sided with Cuba, saying the U.S. violates multilateral trade rules with its regulations for cases involving assets seized by the island's government.

None of that matters, Wilson said, because only two companies run by the two Cuban families have ever sold rum labeled Havana Club in the U.S.

"Regardless of what happened with the registration, we have the common law rights. Cuba doesn't," Wilson said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Growing Pains for Fathom Cruises to Cuba]]>Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:03:20 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Carnival-Fathom-AP_71240441964.jpg

Carnival's new Fathom brand cruises to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, launched in May, appear to be experiencing growing pains.

Both offerings are different than anything else in the industry: The Cuba trips are the first U.S. cruises to the island nation in 40 years, and initially generated tremendous excitement. But travelers are giving them mixed reviews, complaining of confusion over how the tours are organized.

The cruises to the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, which invite passengers to volunteer on projects like reforestation and teaching English, are proving to be a hard sell and have been steeply discounted, with the initial $1,540 ticket price cut to as low as $249. "People don't know why they would want go and pay to work somewhere," said travel agent Gloria Hanson. "People want a vacation."

Hanson sailed Fathom's other itinerary to Havana in May and said that while it was a fascinating experience, that trip was different from standard cruises too. "This cruise is not for everybody," she said. "It's a tiring cruise. You're walking, walking, walking. You're not coming back to the ship to have drinks and party. It's not that kind of a cruise."

Even Fathom's ship, Adonia, is different from the glitzy megaships that have become standard in the U.S. cruise industry. Adonia is smaller than many ships, carrying just over 700 passengers. It also has no casino and doesn't offer the comedy clubs and Broadway-style productions that cruise passengers have come to expect.

Tara Russell, who heads the Fathom brand and has been on several of the cruises, says she's not worried.

"We are pioneering two products the world has never seen," said Russell in an interview. She said bookings have increased daily, many passengers have booked second trips, and the company is expanding marketing efforts, especially for the voluntourism trips, by reaching out to faith-based and alumni groups.

But travel agents say Fathom's reception has been lukewarm. "Fathom seems to be having a slow start and the agent members of CruiseCompete are not 100 percent certain the ship will ever sell out," said Heidi Allison-Shane, editor-at-large for CruiseCompete.com. She said CruiseCompete has had a number of requests for information about Fathom, "but very few bookings."

Hanson said passengers to Cuba were confused about how the tours are organized. Many signed up for excursions organized by the ship, not realizing they could have created their own itineraries without violating U.S. rules that limit Americans visiting Cuba to certain types of activities like cultural exchanges.

"I was under the impression you had to do everything with the cruise line," Hanson said. "That part was very confusing." In addition, Fathom randomly assigned passengers to visit museums, historic sites or performance venues without giving them a choice. And while Hanson raved about a meal she had in an excellent private restaurant in Cuba, other passengers had mediocre food in state-run eateries.

The Cuba cruise Hanson took also lacked "crucial talks about the ports you're going to. Every cruise I've ever gone on always had a seminar talking about tomorrow's port and the things to do." Hanson said that type of information is especially important for Cuba because Americans have been cut off from the country for so long.

Russell said Fathom has already tweaked some programs with additional changes coming to give passengers more information, flexibility and customization in tour options. Some tour guides are also being given more training to upgrade their skills.

Russell added that because U.S. policies on Cuba "are changing every day," the company had a hard time adjusting programs to keep pace. "It would be crazy to think that everything would have gone perfectly. We were negotiating policy last minute," she said.

Sharon Kenny, a writer for Porthole Cruise Magazine, took Fathom to Cuba and the Dominican Republic and said both experiences were worthwhile. But she said travelers need to understand that this is "not the traditional cruise in that you're not going to be drinking hard, you're not going to be in a bathing suit."

Kenny recalled crowds in Havana greeting them with shouts and high-fives, and said she still gets teary remembering a woman who told her: "We're so glad you're here. We've been waiting for you so long."

Kenny's experience in the Dominican Republic was also meaningful. "I have volunteered on other worthy causes before, but I'm often left wondering if what I did really mattered," she said. But she was certain that the work her Fathom group did, replacing a dirt floor in a family's home with concrete, made an impact. Others who volunteered with Fathom in the Dominican Republic agreed, speaking glowingly of their experiences planting trees, teaching English and sorting cocoa beans in a chocolate factory.

Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of CruiseCritic.com, was on the first sailing to the Dominican Republic and said "it's a radically different idea."

"They've launched a brand new product nobody's ever attempted before," she said. "They are still fine-tuning and doing some tweaking and they'll be the first to tell you that. They're very open to feedback. After every excursion you are given a survey to give your immediate feedback, what did you think of this and how would you make improvements. They're really listening and trying to make changes."

Russell acknowledged that "Fathom is not for everyone." But she added: "We're very pleased with the progress we're making."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: PR NEWSWIRE via AP]]>
<![CDATA[6 Cuban Migrants Come Ashore in Broward County]]>Tue, 07 Jun 2016 10:39:33 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/060616+cuban+migrants.jpg

Six Cuban migrants came ashore in South Florida Monday evening on a makeshift sailboat.

The migrants landed in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in their boat, which had "Miami 305" on the back and "Barack Obama" on another side.

Broward County officials said the group included four men and two women. Among them was a pregnant woman, who was transported to the hospital.

After nine days at sea, one of the migrants said: "It was a little rough. It was okay. We were just hungry."

"We came to have a look at the state of the boat to see how on earth they managed to travel that far," one tourist said.

Traveling from Cuba to South Florida, the group probably didn't realize they were racing against Tropical Storm Colin.

"It just shows how bad it is in their home country. They resort to this kind of thing," another tourist added.

No further information has been released. Stay with NBC 6 for updates.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Raul Castro Spends 85th Birthday Preparing for Summit]]>Fri, 03 Jun 2016 18:47:57 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CASTRO_AP_991259635660.jpg

Cuban President Raul Castro spent his 85th birthday preparing to host leaders of Caribbean countries who are meeting in Havana, although he did take a congratulatory phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Castro generally doesn't make much of his birthdays and made no comment on his latest milestone Friday. He was looking ahead to a nighttime banquet that welcomes heads of state and government leaders attending the Caribbean summit.

The Russian state news agency Sputnik said Castro did take time to talk with Putin. According to a Kremlin statement, "Putin telephoned President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Raul Castro, and congratulated him warmly on his 85th birthday."

Castro assumed Cuba's presidency nearly 10 years ago, taking over from his ailing brother Fidel.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Hearing on Keys Lighthouse Cubans' Quest to US]]>Thu, 02 Jun 2016 22:28:18 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

Cuban migrants who climbed onto a 136-year-old lighthouse standing in shallow water off the Florida Keys should be allowed to remain in the U.S. because the structure is American territory just as if they had reached dry land, their attorneys told a federal judge Thursday.

Attorneys for the federal government, however, said at a hearing that the American Shoal lighthouse located about 7 miles from Sugarloaf Key is U.S. property but does not equal reaching U.S. shores. No immediate decision was announced after the hearing.

At issue is whether the lighthouse, a historic 109-foot iron structure that was in use from 1880 until 2015, qualifies as U.S. territory under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. Under that policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned home.

The controversy comes amid a surge in Cuban attempts to migrate from the communist island to the U.S., partly out of fear the favorable policy might change as relations warm between the two Cold War foes. The Coast Guard said attempts by Cubans to reach the U.S. by sea have increased 155 percent in May compared to the same month last year.

The 21 Cuban migrants who reached the lighthouse May 20 stayed there for several hours before they agreed to board a Coast Guard cutter, where they have remained ever since. The lighthouse has a large, eight-room living area once occupied by a keeper and other workers and sits on a submerged reef that was deeded to the U.S. by the state of Florida in the 1870s, according to testimony Thursday.

"This is a federal building, on federal land, in federal territory," said Kendall Coffey, a former Miami U.S. attorney who is among the migrants' lawyers. "We believe they are entitled to not being repatriated" to Cuba.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee said the Coast Guard had made a reasonable decision that the lighthouse did not equal U.S. shores and urged U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles not to overturn it. He said it is too far to stretch the definition of "dry land" to include a lighthouse located on a Florida Straits reef, where the water is 4 feet deep at low tide.

"Just because the government owns a lighthouse does not mean it is dry land. It is surrounded by water. It is built on submerged land. It is not dry land," Lee said. "Somebody who wants to journey to the United States wants to get to dry land."

Gayles, saying at one point he was "wracking my brain" over the competing issues, did not issue an immediate ruling and said he would do so in two or three weeks. He noted the confusion surrounding U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants, which differs from that involving any other nationality.

"This sounds like it comes down to whether this was a reasonable interpretation of an unclear policy," Gayles said. "There are important decisions to be made. I don't want to be rushed."

In 2006, a different Miami federal judge ruled that Cubans who reached a portion of the abandoned Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys that was no longer connected to land still qualified as "dry foot" because the structure was U.S. territory. That ruling could play a key role in the lighthouse case, attorneys said.

The 21 migrants, meanwhile, are left in limbo. The Coast Guard had previously said it would not repatriate them until the legal questions were settled, but no such guarantee was offered Thursday. Gayles requested that if possible, the migrants remain under U.S. control until the matter is over. Lee said he would take the request up with Coast Guard officials.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Cruise Resumes Voyage to Cuba After Electrical Outage]]>Mon, 30 May 2016 13:42:59 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/fathom+adonia.jpg

A cruise has resumed its voyage to Cuba after briefly returning to port in Miami due to an electrical outage.

The Fathom Adonia had to return to port Sunday evening. In statement to local news outlets, Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Roger Frizzell said the "momentary electrical issue" was quickly resolved and the ship departed again early Monday.

Frizzell says the seven-night cruise has canceled a stop in Cienfuegos and will proceed to Santiago de Cuba as scheduled. The cruise includes a two-day stop in Havana.

Earlier this month, the Adonia became the first U.S. cruise ship to visit Cuba in decades. Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly traveled from the U.S. to Cuba. Cold War tensions shut down travel between the two nations.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Carnival Corporation & plc]]>
<![CDATA[Hearing for Cubans Found on Florida Keys Lighthouse Friday]]>Thu, 26 May 2016 21:33:01 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

Federal officials say a group of Cuban migrants who climbed onto a lighthouse several miles off the Florida Keys should be returned to Cuba.

Homeland Security officials argued in a Thursday motion that the migrants' request to stop the U.S. Coast Guard from repatriating them should be denied.

An attorney for the migrants says he's hopeful a Miami federal judge will order at a Friday hearing that the Cubans remain under U.S. control until the matter is settled. The 21 migrants are on a Coast Guard cutter.

Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned to the communist island.

U.S. officials say the 136-year-old American Shoal lighthouse, located on a reef off Sugarloaf Key, is not dry land.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Emergency Motion Filed for Cubans Found on Lighthouse]]>Tue, 24 May 2016 17:08:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

The Democracy Movement and a team of attorneys representing a group of Cuban migrants found on a Florida Keys lighthouse filed an emergency motion Tuesday afternoon.

The injunction asks a federal judge to determine if the American Shoal Lighthouse is U.S. territory. The ruling is crucial for 19 Cuban migrants who on Friday climbed on the lighthouse about eight miles from shore near Sugarloaf Key.

All 19, and two others who didn't climb the lighthouse, are hoping to stay in the United States under the wet foot, dry foot policy. The Coast Guard negotiated with the group for several hours until they came down. They have since been in a Coast Guard cutter awaiting their fate.

"We're relying strongly on the 2005 precedent with the 7 Mile Bridge, we're pretty much making an analogy to this case and stating that just as the federal judge ruled in the 2006 case they should do the same with the lighthouse," attorney Virlenys Palma said.

"We have always defended the integrity of the territory of the United States and we believe that lighthouse is an integral part of this great nation," Democracy Movement's Ramon Saul Sanchez said.

Only six migrants are currently listed on the motion because they've been identified by relatives in South Florida. The others can be added later.

Coast Guard officials told NBC 6 Tuesday that all of the migrants are in good health aboard the cutter. They are given food and water daily.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Cuba to Legalize Small and Medium-Sized Private Businesses]]>Tue, 24 May 2016 13:23:11 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021814+cuba+flag+generic.jpg

Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small- and medium-sized private businesses in a move that could significantly expand private enterprise in one of the world's last communist countries.

Cuban business owners and economic experts said they were hopeful the reform would allow private firms to import wholesale supplies and export products to other countries for the first time, removing a major obstacle to private business growth.

"This is a tremendously important step," said Alfonso Valentin Larrea Barroso, director-general of Scenius, a cooperatively run economic consulting firm in Havana. "They're creating, legally speaking, the non-state sector of the economy. They're making that sector official."

While the government offered no immediate further details, the new business categories appear to be the next stage in reforms initiated by President Raul Castro after he took over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008. While those reforms have allowed about half a million Cubans to start work in the private sector, the process has been slow and marked by periodic reversals.

The government has regularly cracked down on private businesses that flourish and compete with Cuba's chronically inefficient state monopolies. The latest backlash came after President Barack Obama met private business owners during his March 20-22 visit to Cuba, prompting hard-line communists to warn that the U.S. wants to turn entrepreneurs into a tool to overturn the island's socialist revolution.

The Communist Party documents, published in a special tabloid sold at state newsstands Tuesday, said a category of small, mid-sized and "micro" private business was being added to a master plan for social and economic development approved by last month's Cuban Communist Party Congress. The twice-a-decade meeting sets the direction for the single-party state for the coming five years.

The 32-page party document published Tuesday is the first comprehensive accounting of the decisions taken by the party congress, which was closed to the public and international press. State media reported few details of the debate or decisions taken at the meeting but featured harsh rhetoric from leading officials about the continuing threat from U.S. imperialism and the dangers of international capitalism.

That tough talk, it now appears, was accompanied by what could be a major step in Cuba's ongoing reform of its centrally planned economy.

"Private property in certain means of production contributes to employment, economic efficiency and well-being, in a context in which socialist property relationships predominate," reads one section of the "Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development."

Vanessa Arocha, a 56-year-old architect who makes hand-made purses and bags at home under a self-employed worker's license, said she dreamed of forming a legally recognized small business that could import supplies and machinery and hire neighbors looking for extra income.

"I could import fittings, zippers, vinyl," she said. "Being a small business would be a new experience, one we know little about, but something very positive."

The government currently allows private enterprise by self-employed workers in several hundred job categories ranging from restaurant owner to hairdresser. Many of those workers have become de-facto small business owners employing other Cubans in enterprises providing vital stimulus to Cuba's stagnant centrally planned economy.

The Cuban government blames the half-century-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba for strangling the island's economy. Cuba's new class of entrepreneurs say the embargo is a major obstacle but also lodges frequent, bitter complaints about the difficulties of running a business in a system that does not officially recognize them.

Low-level officials often engage in crackdowns on successful businesses for supposed violations of the arcane rules on self-employment. And the government maintains a monopoly on imports and export that funnels badly needed products exclusively to state-run enterprises.

Due to its dilapidated state-run economy, Cuba imports most of what it consumes, from rice to air conditioners. Most private businesses are forced to buy scarce supplies from state retail stores or on the black market, increasing the scarcity of basic goods and driving up prices for ordinary Cubans. Many entrepreneurs pay networks of "mules" to import goods in checked airline baggage, adding huge costs and delays.

The latest change will almost certainly take months to become law. Such reforms typically require formal approval by Cuba's National Assembly, which meets only twice a year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lawyers Fight to Keep 21 Cuban Migrants in US]]>Mon, 23 May 2016 22:31:30 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

A group of South Florida lawyers is fighting to keep 21 Cuban migrants in the United States.

A Good Samaritan spotted the group atop the American Shoal Lighthouse near Key West Friday around 9 a.m. After spending several hours there, officials got the group down just after 5 p.m.

19 rafters had climbed on the lighthouse, while another two stayed in the group's vessel.

The Coast Guard said the group is safe and in good health. They received medical attention and food, but they will not be released to family members yet. They are in federal custody.

They said it's too soon to determine whether this applies to the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, which allows Cuban migrants who reach dry American land to stay in the country.

Immigration attorney Virlenys Palma called their arrival unique, "The circumstances are, in the sense of what happened with the lighthouse, the fact that they arrived at the lighthouse and were able to make it into the lighthouse, that is a little unusual."

While immigration officials consider the matter, advocates and relatives would like to see a list from the government, as to who was taken off the lighthouse and put in federal custody.

"These people are desperate," Palma said. "The only thing they have done so far is a tweet from the U.S. Coast Guard saying they are medically okay."

A decision is expected over the next several days.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Rafters Found on Lighthouse Near Key West]]>Fri, 20 May 2016 22:31:22 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/052016+american+shoals+lighthouse+standoff.jpg

A group of Cuban rafters who climbed atop the American Shoal Lighthouse near Key West Friday have come down, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

A group of 19 rafters climbed on the lighthouse about eight miles from shore near Saddlebunch Key around 9 a.m., officials said. A Good Samaritan had spotted the group and alerted authorities.

Another two rafters stayed in the group's vessel.

The group spent several hours on the lighthouse while Coast Guard officials negotiated with them to come down. They finally came down from the lighthouse shortly after 5 p.m.

The Coast Guard said the group is safe and in good health. They received medical attention and food, but they will not be released to family members yet. They are in federal custody.

Officials said they have not determined whether the lighthouse is on U.S. territory. They said it's too soon to determine whether this applies to the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, which allows Cuban migrants who reach dry American land to stay in the country. A decision is expected over the next several days.

Ten years ago, U.S. authorities sent home 15 Cubans who landed on an abandoned Keys bridge because they said it did not constitute land. A federal judge later ruled that decision was illegal. Some of the group eventually made it to land in the Keys on another attempt.

Cuban exile activist Ramon Saul Sanchez was part of the push to make those Cubans in 2006 stay and participated in a hunger strike.

"There was a precedent sent in the bridge case that the bridge was part of the United States and I think this lighthouse is part of the United States," Sanchez said.

The 109-foot historic lighthouse, sitting in about 10 feet of water, is about 20 miles from Key West and is a popular dive site. Officials said the migrants swam from their homemade vessel to the lighthouse when they saw the Coast Guard approaching.

Agents with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Customs and Border Protection were assisting. 



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Panama Airlines Cut Prices for Cuban Migrants]]>Wed, 18 May 2016 20:13:25 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Generic+Logan+Airport+Sign.jpg

Panama's government says airlines are cutting prices on tickets for Cuban migrants flying to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.

The president's office says airlines have offered tickets at $575, rather than the previous price of $805. Children under 11 can fly for free.

Since May 9, Copa Airlines and Mexico's Global Air have flown 2,448 Cuban migrants to Ciudad Juarez, where they cross to neighboring El Paso, Texas.

About 1,300 remain. Some complained the cost was too high.

The Cubans were stranded after Nicaragua and Costa Rica closed their borders to Cuban migrants.

Cubans are admitted to the United States if they get to the border.

They have been arriving in greater numbers because they fear warming relations between the two countries end the exceptional policy.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Top Cuba Diplomat: Obama Trip Positive, Created Momentum]]>Mon, 16 May 2016 19:59:56 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/178*120/AP_567127884526-07.jpg

President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba advanced the normalization of relations between the Cold War foes and created momentum for more cooperation on agriculture, medicine and law enforcement, Cuba's top diplomat on U.S. affairs said Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with U.S. officials in Havana, Director General of U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal said President Raul Castro had seen his meeting with Obama as producing "positive results."

Her portrayal contrasted with more negative characterizations of the visit, including those of former President Fidel Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who described Obama's trip as an "attack" on Cuba's traditions and values.

Vidal said she and U.S. diplomats had agreed upon an agenda for Obama's remaining months in office that would include visits by high-level U.S. agriculture, health and security officials.

She said Obama's visit, which included a forum with private business owners and a speech calling on the Cuban people to look toward a better future, would help both sides accomplish that agenda.

"We believe the visit was an additional step forward in the process of moving toward an improvement in relations, and that it can serve to add momentum to advance in this process, which is in both nations' interest," she said. "That's the opinion that President Raul Castro shared during his address to the press during Obama's visit."

Commenting on Tuesday's meeting, The U.S. State Department said that "both governments recognized significant steps made toward greater cooperation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and cultural exchanges." It said the two sides also discussed future meetings on human rights and claims for compensation by American citizens and firms whose property was confiscated in Cuba's 1959 revolution.

Vidal praised a series of agreements struck directly with the U.S. government on topics like environmental cooperation, direct postal service and commercial flights, but said the continuing U.S. trade embargo on Cuba had made progress on business ties more difficult.

Foreign investors agree the embargo is the main obstacle to doing business in Cuba. But they increasingly point to the communist government's slow-moving bureaucracy and opaque decision-making as reasons investment on the island is lagging despite a huge surge of interest since the December2014 declaration of detente with the U.S.

The two countries appear to be moving toward greater cooperation on law enforcement in coming months. Cuban-born Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was meeting in Havana on Tuesday with his counterparts in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior for talks on cooperation against drug trafficking, illegal migration and transnational crime.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[New Photos Released of Fidel Castro]]>Tue, 10 May 2016 10:50:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/051016+fidel+castro+2.jpg

State media in Cuba have released new photos of Fidel Castro meeting with the president of the Association of National Olympic Committees.

The meeting between Castro and Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah took place Monday in Havana, according to Cuba's Granma newspaper.

Al-Sabah also met with the president of Cuba's Olympic Committee. The purpose of the meeting was unknown.

Castro, 89, gave a rare speech last month telling party members he will soon die and exhorting them to help his ideas survive.

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<![CDATA[Fashionistas Jam Chanel Fashion Show in Havana]]>Wed, 04 May 2016 14:25:20 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/050316+chanel+fashion+show+cuba.jpg

Wealthy fashionistas and celebrities from around the world flocked beneath klieg lights on a grand Havana colonial avenue transformed into a private runway for French fashion house Chanel.

With hundreds of security agents holding ordinary Cubans behind police lines blocks away, actors Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel, supermodel Gisele Bundchen and Cuban music stars Gente de Zona and Omara Portuondo watched slender models sashay down Prado boulevard in casual summer clothes that seemed inspired by the Art Deco elegance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

With the heart of the Cuban capital effectively privatized by an international corporation under the watchful eye of the Cuban state, the premiere of Chanel 2016/2017 "cruise" line offered a startling sight in a country officially dedicated to social equality and the rejection of material wealth.

Chanel welcomed the chance to show its creations in an unusual spot. "To explore new horizons is a way to fire imaginations and renew the vision of our brand while sharing the culture and heritage of the locations chosen for our fashion shows," it said in a statement.

The show was the most extreme manifestation to date of the hot new status Cuba has assumed in the international art and cultural scene since the December 2014 declaration of detente with the United States.

President Barack Obama visited in March, the Rolling Stones performed in Havana the same week, the first U.S. cruise in nearly four decades docked Monday and the latest installment of the multibillion-dollar "Fast and Furious" action movie franchise is filming here now.

Many Cubans say they are delighted their country is opening itself to the world, offering ordinary people a firsthand look at celebrities and extravagant productions. But the rampant display of wealth on the streets of Havana is providing fodder for many already disenchanted by Cuba's failure to deliver on promises of socialist equality.

Mabel Fernandez, a radio announcer, arrived four hours before the start of the show eager to give her 14-year-old daughter a taste of a world of international fashion that the girl had only seen on television and in movies.

"We need this type of novel event so people can know more of culture," she said.

But as police swarmed the area in the hours before the show, virtually all residents of the capital were swept behind yellow barricades and unbroken lines of uniformed and plainclothes police at least a block away.

Reinaldo Fonseca, a local model, stood with a group of friends similarly trying to make their careers in fashion and watched as rich foreigners with invitations arrived at the event in specially rented antique American sedans.

"It's a shame they don't let us pass," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[First US Cruise in Decades Arrives in Havana]]>Mon, 02 May 2016 22:39:33 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/050216+first+cuba+cruise.jpg

The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and pulled into Havana Harbor on Monday, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

The gleaming white 704-passenger Adonia appeared on the horizon around 8 p.m. EST. Cubans fishing off the city's seaside boulevard, the Malecon, watched it slowly sail toward the colonial fort at the mouth of Havana Harbor. The ship stopped off the city's cruise terminal and began slowly turning into a docking position, the first U.S. cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Adonia's arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The straits were blocked by the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across them to Florida on homemade rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

The number of Cubans trying to cross the straits is at its highest point in eight years and cruises and merchant ships regularly rescue rafters from the straits.

The Adonia is one of Carnival's smaller ships — roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana — but U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases as expected. More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run U.S.-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations Cuba could earn more than $80 million a year, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a report Monday.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $500,000 per cruise, while passengers spend about $100 person in each city they visit.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $1,800 per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. The trips include on-board workshops on Cuban history and culture and tours of the cities that make them qualify as "people-to-people" educational travel, avoiding a ban on pure tourism that remains part of U.S. law.

Optional activities for the Adonia's passengers include a walking tour of Old Havana's colonial plazas and a $219 per person trip to the Tropicana cabaret in a classic car.

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly traveled from the U.S. to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L. Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on "horse races" in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

"Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous," he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed government.

After Carter dropped limits on Cuba travel, 400 passengers, including musical legend Dizzy Gillespie sailed from New Orleans to Cuba on a 1977 "Jazz Cruise" aboard the MS Daphne. Like the Adonia, it sailed despite dockside protests by Cuban exiles, and continued protests and bomb threats forced Carras Cruises to cancel additional sailings, Grace said.

The following year, however, Daphne made a several cruises from New Orleans to Cuba and other destinations in the Caribbean.

Cuba cut back on all cruise tourism in 2005, ending a joint venture with Italian terminal management company Silares Terminales del Caribe and Fidel Castro blasted cruise ships during a 4 ½ hour speech on state television.

"Floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents," Castro said.

Today, the Cuban government sees cruises as an easy source of revenue that can bring thousands more American travelers without placing additional demand on the country's maxed-out food supplies and overbooked hotels.

Before detente, Americans made surreptitious yacht trips to Cuba during Caribbean vacations and the number of Americans coming by boat has climbed since 2014, including passengers on cruise ships registered in third countries and sailing from other ports in the Caribbean. Traffic remains low, however, for a major tourist attraction only 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida.

Aiming to change that as part of a policy of diplomatic and economic normalization, Obama approved U.S. cruises to Cuba in 2015. The Doral, Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line announced during Obama's historic trip to Cuba in March that it would begin cruises to Cuba starting May 1.

Unexpected trouble arose after Cuban-Americans in Miami began complaining that Cuban rules barred them from traveling to the country of their birth by ship. As Carnival considered delaying the first sailing, Cuba announced April 22 it was changing the rule to allow Cubans and Cuban-Americans to travel on cruise ships, merchant vessels and, sometime in the future, yachts and other private boats.

Norwegian Cruise Line says it is in negotiations with Cuban authorities and hopes to begin cruises from the U.S. to Cuba this year.

Cruise traffic is key to the Cuban government's reengineering of the industrial Port of Havana as a tourist attraction. After decades of treating the more than 500-year-old bay as a receptacle for industrial waste, the government is moving container traffic to the Port of Mariel west of the city, tearing out abandoned buildings and slowly renovating decrepit warehouses as breweries and museums connected by waterfront promenades.

Cruise dockings will be limited by the port's single cruise terminal, which can handle two ships at a time.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Carnival Ship Sets Sail on Historic Voyage to Cuba]]>Mon, 02 May 2016 22:39:07 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/fathom+adonia.jpg

Fathom's Adonia set sail from Miami to Havana on Sunday afternoon, a historic voyage marking the first time an American cruise company has sailed from the United States to Cuba in decades.

The Adonia departed on a seven-day cruise from PortMiami at 3:30 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive at its first destination in Havana, Monday morning at 11 a.m. It will also make stop in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

"And we're off! #cuba here we come. #travelDeep," the company tweeted before the inaugural journey.

Fathom's 704-passenger Adonia luxury ship will operate bi-weekly cruises. The company said bookings will start at $1,800 per person and feature an array of cultural and educational activities, including Spanish lessons.

The Cuban government in March approved plans by Carnival Corp., Fathom's parent company, to begin sailing to the island nation out of Miami.

"We made history in March, and we are a part of making history again today," said Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation. "More importantly, we are contributing to a positive future. This is a positive outcome and we are extremely pleased. We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Cuba and to our team who worked so hard to help make this happen."

The Adonia returns to PortMiami at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Carnival Corporation & plc
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<![CDATA[11 Cubans on 1984 List Deported]]>Fri, 29 Apr 2016 18:48:28 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The U.S. has deported 11 Cubans under an agreement Washington made with Havana after a massive 1980 boatlift.

In a statement to El Nuevo Herald, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Nestor Yglesias said the deportations took place under the terms of a 1984 agreement listing specific Cubans to be returned to the communist island.

More than 2,700 Cubans who arrived around the time of the Mariel boatlift were included on the list. It's unclear how many still await deportation. ICE officials told the newspaper that by January 2015, about 2,000 already had been deported.

The Miami Herald has previously reported that nearly 30,000 Cuban nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. eventually may face deportation. They were released under supervision by immigration authorities when the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Exiles Drop Lawsuit Over Carnival Cruise to Island]]>Thu, 28 Apr 2016 16:21:56 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Carnival-Fathom-AP_71240441964.jpg

Two Cuban exiles have dropped their federal discrimination lawsuit against Carnival Corp. after the cruise line reached an agreement with the communist-run island to permit Cuban-born passengers to make the voyage.

Attorney Tucker Ronzetti said Thursday that the lawsuit's goal was to ensure anyone could make the trip. Before the agreement last week, Carnival would not sell tickets for the cruise to Cuban-born people because Cuba would not allow them to arrive by sea.

Cuba's reversal cleared the way for anyone to book the cruise on Carnival's Fathom brand. The 704-passenger Adonia departs Miami on Sunday for the first such cruise in 50 years to Havana and two other cities. Carnival says the ship will cruise to Cuba every other week.

The previous Carnival policy sparked protests by Cuban-Americans and criticism from politicians.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: PR NEWSWIRE via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Archbishop of Havana Steps Down]]>Tue, 26 Apr 2016 12:09:43 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-2473670.jpg

The Vatican says Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who oversaw a warming of relations with the Communist government and played a role in the secret negotiations that led to U.S.-Cuba detente, has stepped down.

He is being replaced as archbishop of Havana by Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, the archbishop of the eastern city of Camaguey. Church statements did not say if Garcia will also be appointed cardinal.

The church said Pope Francis accepted Ortega's resignation, which was presented in 2011 under a church rule requiring archbishops to offer their resignation when they are 75. Ortega was named Archbishop of Havana in 1981 and oversaw three papal trips to Communist Cuba. He was so trusted by Cuba that he ferried messages between Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama during detente negotiations.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Carnival Approved to Sail to Cuba With Cuban-Born Travelers]]>Fri, 22 Apr 2016 17:45:31 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Carnival-Fathom-AP_71240441964.jpg

Cuba has loosened a policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving by sea, allowing Carnival Corp. to go forward with the first U.S. cruise to the island in a half-century, the Cuban government and the Miami-based cruise line announced Friday.

The company at first barred Cuban-born Americans from buying tickets for the planned May 1 cruise to comply with Cuba's ban, drawing complaints from the Cuban-American community in Miami and a discrimination lawsuit. Then, the company said it would sell tickets to Cuban-Americans but hold the cruise only if Cuba relented and changed its policy.

Early Friday, Cuban state media announced the loosening of the maritime ban, and Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said in a statement that the trip would go forward May 1 from Miami. The 704-passenger Adonia of Carnival's Fathom brand is scheduled to make the initial seven-day trip, with future cruises planned every other week.

Donald said Carnival negotiated a change in Cuban policy, and that now its cruise ships and other commercial vessels will be treated the same as aircraft, which already are permitted to carry Cuban-born passengers.

"This is very positive outcome resulting from discussions we have been having for quite some time," Donald said in a conference call with reporters. "Today's development will impact countless lives. It's now available to everyone."

In Havana, Cuban state media said the change is part of a broader shift in policy that removes many of the prohibitions on Cubans traveling by ship. Those prohibitions were put in place in response to Cuban exiles launching attacks from the water in the first years after the Cuban revolution.

The Cuban government said people born in Cuba will now be able to travel as passengers and crew on merchant ships and cruise ships, and will eventually be allowed on board yachts as both passengers and crew. The announcement does not specifically mention ferries.

Carnival originally adhered to Cuba's longstanding previous policy by preventing Cuban exiles from booking passage on the cruise, sparking protests by Cuban-Americans outside the company's Doral headquarters, criticism from Secretary of State John Kerry and local politicians and a federal lawsuit that claimed discrimination.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Cuban-American who had questioned the previous Carnival policy, said Carnival Chairman Micky Arison called him Friday about the agreement. Arison also owns the NBA's Miami Heat.

"This policy change was the right thing to do, and I congratulate both Mr. Arison and Carnival on their efforts in what is probably one of the very few times that a corporation has successfully negotiated the changing of a policy with the Cuban government," Gimenez said in a statement.

Beginning May 1, the Fathom will visit the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Carnival says bookings will start at $1,800 per person and feature an array of cultural and educational activities, including Spanish lessons.

The cruise is among the many changes in U.S.-Cuban relations since a thaw between the old Cold War foes began in late 2014.

Carnival is the world's largest cruise line, operating 10 brands with 100 ships that visit 700 ports worldwide, according to the company.

The 704-passenger Adonia plans to sail every other week to three Cuban ports: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Cruise prices for the seven-day sailing start at $1,800 per person, excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees and port expenses.

To learn more, visit Fathom's Cruise to Cuba page.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: PR NEWSWIRE via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cruise Liner Saves Migrants Stranded Off Bahamas]]>Thu, 21 Apr 2016 22:26:04 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Disney+Cruise+Line+Rescue.jpg

A Disney cruise ship came to the rescue of three migrants whose boat capsized in the Atlantic Ocean Thursday morning.

The Disney Fantasy was steaming toward the cruise line's private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay, when a passenger spotted the stranded boaters.

Passenger Maria Telese, a Philadelphia native who is on the ship with her family, said that passenger alerted a bartender who then notified the captain.

Telese said the ship circled the capsized boat until a small ship was sent out to rescue the people.

A spokesperson for Disney Cruise Lines said staff contacted the U.S. Coast Guard and waited 30 minutes for guardsmen to pick up the boaters.

The boaters were Cuban migrants and didn't suffer any injuries in the ordeal, a coast guard spokesman said.



Photo Credit: Marisa Telese]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Exiles to Judge: Don't Let Carnival Discriminate]]>Thu, 21 Apr 2016 14:35:05 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Carnival-Fathom-AP_71240441964.jpg

Two Cuban-American men are asking a Miami federal judge to guarantee that they and other Cuban exiles will not suffer discrimination on upcoming Carnival Corp. cruises to Cuba.

Carnival reversed course this week and announced it will allow Cuban-born people to book passage on its trips to Cuba. Previously, Carnival had said it was barring Cuban-born people from buying tickets for the Cuba cruises scheduled to begin May 1 because the Havana government prohibits Cuban nationals from departing or entering the island by sea.

Tucker Ronzetti, attorney for the Cuban exiles who sued Carnival claiming civil rights violations, said at a hearing Thursday that a judge's order would ensure the company doesn't change its latest decision.

"They could change their minds in the future," Ronzetti told U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who did not issue an immediate ruling.

Carnival attorney Stuart Singer said the company is negotiating with Cuba to change its policy and repeated the company's pledge that if the policy remains in place, none of its ships will sail to the island. The 704-passenger Adonia, a ship of Carnival's Fathom brand, plans to sail every other week from Miami to Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

"There's not going to be a change," Singer said of Carnival's new Cuban-exile ticket plan.

The cruises would be the first between the two nations in more than 50 years and are part of the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana. Yet the Cuban exile ticket dispute also shows much work is ahead in relations and business between the two former Cold War foes.

Cooke, who is African-American, said it appeared clear to her the previous Carnival policy not to sell tickets to Cuban exiles was discriminatory under U.S law. Even with the change, she said Cuban-born people appear to have more hurdles to clear to get travel visas, something she compared to past racial discrimination in the U.S.

"I'm equating this to the old voting test requirements in the American South. If you were a certain skin color, you had to pass a 20-question test on the minutiae of the U.S. Constitution," she said.

The comparison applies to Carnival and other cruise lines because, like a hotel or a dime store lunch counter, its ships that sail from U.S. ports are considered public accommodations that must adhere to U.S. anti-discrimination law, Ronzetti said, even if the laws originate from another country.

"We cannot let another nation export its discrimination to us," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: PR NEWSWIRE via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cubans Fleeing in High Numbers Despite New Diplomatic Ties]]>Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:11:54 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/USA-Cuba-Lapel-Pin.jpg

While more than 50 years of enmity between the United States and Cuba is slowly vanishing, the renewed relationship is raising concerns among some on the communist island nation that the U.S. could also erase a unique immigration policy that favors Cubans.

Those fears are largely unfounded, yet tens of thousands of Cubans have fled since President Barack Obama announced the normalization of relations between the countries in late 2014. The rush to leave has led to the highest number of people trying to make the dangerous sea crossing in the past eight years, according to internal Homeland Security Department documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The perception is that the time is now. Given all that is going on, I could see how that perception would exist," said Coast Guard Capt. Mark Gordon.

The rapprochement between the Cold War foes could have benefits for people in each country. But Cubans worry that once U.S. tourists and businesses flock to Havana, American politicians will move to end an immigration policy that basically allows any Cuban who can make it to U.S. soil to stay.

Cubans can get permanent resident status after living in the U.S. for a year and can later become a citizen as part of the decades-old Cuban Adjustment Act. No other immigrant community is afforded the same on-arrival treatment. Most foreigners trying to come to the United States without a visa try to cross the Mexican border illegally, and typically are arrested and face deportation.

The special treatment for Cubans has long been a draw, but attempts to get to the U.S. by sea have recently reached worrisome levels.

During the 2015 budget year, more than 4,400 Cubans set out for the U.S. by sea, a 20 percent increase over the previous year, according to Coast Guard figures. The agency has had to step up its presence in the Florida Straits to deal with more people on overcrowded, makeshift rafts or barely seaworthy boats. Between October 2015 and this March, more than 4,300 people tried to make the dangerous trip.

Would-be immigrants caught at sea are returned to Cuba, so the rush has made people more desperate, with some actually wounding themselves with knives or guns in the hopes they will be taken to a hospital in the U.S. instead of sent back. Others try to flee rescuers and refuse life jackets.

More than 25,800 other people have also arrived at ports of entry, the bulk of them crossing the border in Laredo, Texas.

Lourdes Mesias, who leads the refugee program for Lutheran Services Florida, said newly arriving immigrants have described harrowing trips, both at sea and over land through Latin America and into Mexico.

"As Cubans we don't see any changes on the horizon," said Mesias, who came to the United States from Cuba 17 years ago.

Instead, she said, the economic conditions on the island "are worse and worse every day" and human rights have yet to improve.

"That's the reason why they are putting themselves in those very high risk situations," Mesias said. "They are trying for hope. For something better."

Though migration has been a topic of discussion between the two countries, changes to U.S. immigration laws have not been formally proposed by either government.

Since October 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has processed nearly 75,000 Cubans who arrived at ports of entry, many of them in Laredo. During the same period, more than 131,800 families and unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended at the border in the Rio Grande Valley. The Cubans were allowed into the United States while the families and children were almost all ordered to appear in immigration court.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said "there's just something unfair" about the special treatment of Cubans.

Cuellar and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, have introduced legislation to end the preferential treatment. Cuellar said he doesn't expect the bill to pass ahead of the presidential election in November, but said the issue needs to be addressed.

"I don't want to take anything from Cubans, but it's a matter of a sense of fair play and how we treat each other," Cuellar said.

Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, have balked at making any changes to the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Fidel Castro Gives Rare Speech Saying He Will Soon Die]]>Tue, 19 Apr 2016 18:36:25 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/AP_928050108275-Fidel-Castro-Cuba-Communist-Party-Congress.jpg

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro delivered a valedictory speech Tuesday to the Communist Party that he put in power a half-century ago, telling party members he will soon die and exhorting them to help his ideas survive.

"I'll be 90 years old soon," Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. "Soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them."

Castro spoke as the government announced that his brother Raul will retain the Cuban Communist Party's highest post alongside his hardline second-in-command. That announcement and Fidel Castro's speech together delivered a resounding message that the island's revolutionary generation will remain in control even as its members age and die, relations with the U.S. are normalized, and popular dissatisfaction grows over the country's economic performance.

Fifty-five years after Fidel Castro declared that Cuba's revolution was socialist and began installing a single-party system and centrally planned economy, the Cuban government is battling a deep crisis of credibility.

With no memory of the revolution's heady first decades, younger Cubans complain bitterly about low state salaries of about $25 a month that leave them struggling to afford food and other staple goods. Cuba's creaky state-run media and cultural institutions compete with flashy foreign programming shared online and on memory drives passed hand-to-hand. Emigration to the United States and other countries has soared to one of its highest points since the revolution.

Limited openings to private enterprise have stalled, and the government describes capitalism as a threat even as it appears unable to increase productivity in Cuba's inefficient, theft-plagued networks of state-run enterprises.

The ideological gulf between government and people widened last month when President Barack Obama became the first U.S. leader to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years and delivered a widely praised speech live on state television urging Cubans to forget the history of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba and move toward a new era of normal diplomatic and economic relations.

The Cuban government offered little unified response until the Communist Party's Seventh Party Congress began Saturday, and one high-ranking official after another warned that the U.S. was still an enemy that wants to take control of Cuba. They said Obama's trip represented an ideological "attack."

That defensive stance was reinforced Tuesday as the congress ended and the government said Raul Castro, 84, would remain the party's first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would hold the post of second secretary for at least part of a second five-year term.

Castro currently is both president and party first secretary. The decision means Castro could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after he is presumably replaced by a younger president in 2018.

Machado Ventura, 85, who fought alongside the Castro brothers to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, is known as an enforcer of Communist orthodoxy and voice against some of the biggest recent economic reforms.

He often has been employed by the Castros to impose order in areas seen as lacking discipline, most recently touring the country to crack down on private sellers of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural goods. While Raul Castro opened Cuba's faltering agricultural economy to private enterprise, the government has blamed a new class of private farmers and produce merchants for a rise in prices.

Jon Lee Anderson, a staff writer at The New Yorker who is writing a biography of Fidel Castro, called the day's events "a way of restoring some kind of essential revolutionary presence or muscle in the room after the star-struck effect of Obama."

The Cuban government appears to be engaging in "overcompensation for being bowled over a little bit by Obama's unexpectedly elegant and charismatic performance in Havana," said Anderson, who covered the visit. "Cubans who aren't prepared for the full extent of what he was saying, it took them aback."

Shortly after the congress ended Tuesday afternoon, government-run television showed rare images of 89-year-old Fidel Castro seated at the dais in Havana's Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd in a strong if occasionally trembling voice. State television showed at least one delegate tearful with emotion, and the crowd greeting the revolutionary leader with shouts of "Fidel!"

"This may be one of the last times I speak in this room," Fidel Castro said. "We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious."

The party congress had been criticized for secrecy and a lack of discussion about substantive new reforms. Castro's speech and his brother's promise that more extensive public debate would come in the weeks and months after the congress appeared to have at least temporarily quelled discontent among the party ranks.

"The Cuban people are followers of Fidel and he's a force that still has a lot of power," said Francisco Rodríguez, a party member who had publicly criticized the secrecy of the congress. "It's easy to love Fidel now that he doesn't have a public position. He's a person who always had a coherent idea and that makes him an exalted figure."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Cubadebate via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Raul Castro, Hardline Deputy, Retain Cuba's Top Positions]]>Tue, 19 Apr 2016 15:08:39 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CASTRO_AP_991259635660.jpg

Raul Castro will retain the Cuban Communist Party's highest post alongside his hardline second-in-command, the government announced Tuesday in a resounding message that the island's aging revolutionary leaders will remain in control in the face of detente with the United States and widespread popular dissatisfaction with the country's economic performance.

Government news sites said Castro, 84, would remain the party's first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would hold the post of second secretary for a second term. Castro currently is both president and first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after stepping down from the government post in 2018.

Machado Ventura, 85, is known as an enforcer of Communist orthodoxy and voice against some of the country's biggest recent economic reforms who fought alongside Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Fidel Castro made a rare appearance at the congress to rousing shouts of "Fidel!" according to state media that showed a delayed, edited broadcast of the day's events.

Government-run television showed rare images of the 89-year-old leader seated at the dais in Havana's Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd.

"I congratulate everyone, above all comrade Raul Castro, for his magnificent effort," Fidel Castro said.

Raul Castro's decision to remain in power alongside a man even he has criticized for rigidity capped a four-day meeting of the Communist Party notable for its secrecy and apparent lack of discussion about substantive new reforms to Cuba's stagnant centrally planned economy. Even high-ranking government officials had speculated in the weeks leading up the Seventy Party Congress that Machado Ventura could be replaced by a younger face associated with free-market reforms started by Castro himself.

The party congress also chose the powerful 15-member Political Bureau, mostly devoid of fresh faces associated with the party's younger generations. Five members were new but none are high-profile advocates for reform.

Esteban Morales, an intellectual and party member who had complained about the secrecy of the congress, said he was gratified by Raul Castro's decision to submit the guidelines approved by the 1,000 delegates to an ex-post-facto public discussion and approval. He said he expected the first and second secretaries to remain in their positions only until Castro leaves the presidency in 2018, after what Morales called a necessary transition period.

A physician by training, Machado Ventura organized a network of rebel field hospitals and clinics in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the 1950s, participating in combat as both a medic and a fighter under Castro in the revolution against Batista. After the revolution he became health minister and later assumed more political roles within the Communist Party. He also sat on the powerful Politburo starting in 1975.

Machado Ventura was vice president from Raul Castro's ascent in 2008 until 2013, when the post was taken by Miguel Diaz-Canel, widely seen as the country's likely next president. Machado Ventura was named second secretary in 2011 in a move seen as a way to placate and empower party hardliners.

Machado Ventura was often employed by Raul Castro and his brother Fidel to impose order in areas seen as lacking discipline, most recently touring the country to crack down on private sellers of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural goods. While Raul Castro opened Cuba's faltering agricultural economy to private enterprise, the government blames a new class of private farmers and produce merchants for a rise in prices.

Machado Ventura has been the public face of crackdown on what the government labels profiteering, but many outside economists say the problem is farms' inability to meet demand due to continued state control of supplies of machinery, fertilizers and other inputs.

"He's demanding! He's very demanding!" Castro said of his deputy in 2008. "To be sincere, sometimes I've said it personally, he doesn't use the best techniques in being demanding."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Leaders Criticize Both Bureaucracy and Private Sector]]>Mon, 18 Apr 2016 20:12:34 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-516939256-10.jpg

Some of Cuba's most powerful officials criticized the creaking inefficiency of its state-controlled economy on Monday but tarred its vibrant private sector as a potential source of U.S. subversion.

The comments illustrated the conundrum faced by a Cuban government simultaneously trying to modernize and maintain control in a new era of detente with Washington.

The Cuban Communist Party ended the third day of its twice-a-decade congress with a vote for the 114-member Central Committee, which in turn selects the powerful 15-member Political Bureau. The bureau's first and second secretaries are the country's top officials.

Monday's vote, like the rest of the congress, was open only to 1,000 delegates, 280 hand-selected guests and state journalists, whose reports revealed virtually no concrete details of the policies that will guide the government for the next five years.

The Seventh Party Congress has been criticized for its extreme secrecy by ordinary Cubans and even members of the Communist Party itself. State media said the results of the voting would be revealed Tuesday.

Cuban President and First Party Secretary Raul Castro opened the meeting Saturday with a somber evaluation of the state of reforms he introduced after taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008. Raul Castro blamed "an obsolete mentality" and "attitude of inertia" for the state's failure to implement reforms meant to increase productivity.

First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, long seen as Castro's successor, repeated that criticism of the bureaucracy in a speech Monday announcing the congress' formal acceptance of Castro's evaluation. He said obsolete ways of thinking led both to inertia in enacting reforms and "a lack of confidence in the future."

"Along with other deficiencies, there's a lack of readiness, high standards and control, and little foresight or initiative from sectors and bureaucrats in charge of making these goals a reality," Diaz-Canel said in an excerpt of a speech broadcast on state television.

However, lengthy state media reports on the four-day congress focused less on proposals for reform than on debates about political orthodoxy focusing on the need to protect Cuba's socialist system from the threat of global capitalism and U.S. influence in particular.

A month after President Barack Obama's visit to Havana, the first by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years, Cuban leaders have begun to consistently portray his trip as an attempt to seduce ordinary Cubans into abandoning the country's socialist values in favor of a desire for free markets and multiparty democracy.

On Saturday, Castro said "the enemy" was targeting young people, intellectuals, the poor and the 500,000 members of Cuba's new private sector as vulnerable to persuasion.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez went further, calling Obama's visit "an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols."

"Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he wasn't the representative of big corporations but the defender of hot dog vendors, of small businesses in the United States, which he isn't," Rodriguez said.

Rene Gonzalez, a former intelligence agent held in the United States in a case resolved by the declaration of detente with Washington, made an unusual call for the consideration of political reform in Cuba.

Saying the party had focused excessively on the economy for 10 years, he said, "Let the party call for a broad public discussion that goes beyond concepts of economic development."

"Let's arrive at the eighth party congress for the first time in human history with a consensus on that human aspiration that some call democracy, and that's possible through socialism," Gonzalez said.

State media did not indicate whether his proposal was included in any of the formal documents put up for a vote during the congress.

Aged 55 and 58, respectively, Diaz-Canel and Rodriguez are members of the generation expected to move into the highest ranks of power in Cuba as early as Tuesday when the congress' vote is announced.

Castro said Saturday that he was proposing an age limit of 60 for election to the Central Committee and 70 for lower-ranking but important posts in the party.

Castro is 84 and his second secretary, hardliner Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, is 85.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Customs Prepares for More International Flights in Keys]]>Mon, 18 Apr 2016 16:20:30 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/AP_298861776687.jpg

A new customs checkpoint is opening at Florida Keys airport in preparation for more traffic involving the island chain and Cuba and other international destinations.

According to a statement from the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, the new Customs and Border Protection facility opens April 20 at The Florida Keys Marathon International Airport. The airport hasn't had a customs officer on duty since the 1980s.

The airport currently serves corporate jets, private planes and charters but no commercial flights.

The county's assistant director of airports, T.J. Henderson, says the Middle Keys airport could be an attractive alternative to busier South Florida airports. Henderson says Marathon's location would be convenient for both residents and tourists coming from Cuba and the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Carnival May Delay Cuba Cruise Over Cuba-Born Traveler Ban]]>Mon, 18 Apr 2016 22:33:20 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Carnival-Fathom-AP_71240441964.jpg

Faced with protests, political pressure and a lawsuit, Carnival Corp. announced Monday it will allow Cuban-born passengers to book cruises to the island but will delay the trips if Cuba does not change its policy barring nationals from returning by sea.

Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said in a written statement that the cruise line is continuing negotiations with Cuba aimed at resolving the issue prior to a scheduled May 1 cruise by its Fathom brand from Miami to Cuba, the first such sail in more than 50 years that is part of the ongoing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The 704-passenger Adonia plans to sail every other week to three Cuban ports: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

"We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us," Donald said. "We remain excited about this historic opportunity to give our guests an extraordinary vacation experience in Cuba."

The decision follows protests last week by Cuban-Americans outside Carnival's headquarters in the suburb of Doral. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was born in Cuba, also suggested in a letter that Carnival might be violating the county's human rights ordinance by discriminating against a specific class of people.

In addition, two Cuban-Americans who were prevented from buying tickets on the May 1 cruise because they were born in Cuba filed a potential class-action civil rights lawsuit in Miami federal court last week. And Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Miami on Friday that Cuba should change its policy and that Carnival nevertheless should allow anyone to travel on its ships.

Miami Lawyer Tucker Ronzetti, who filed the class action lawsuit, released the following statement:

"While Carnival's change of mind is encouraging, it does not moot the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Words are easy, minds can change, and Carnival has not yet agreed to a consent order mandating the end of its prior practice of discrimination. In light of Carnival's announcement, however, we are no longer asking the Court to expedite its hearing. Negotiations with Carnival are ongoing, and we hope this is the first step to the final termination of its discrimination against Cuban-born people."

U.S. cruise ships stopped sailing to Cuba shortly after its 1959 revolution. Restarting them was an important element of the Obama administration's attempt to increase tourism to Cuba after the Dec. 17, 2014, decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. Cruises were seen by Cuban authorities as an easy way of bringing American visitors to spend badly needed dollars in Cuba without further straining the island's overbooked often decrepit hotels.

However, the idea of massive, gleaming cruise ships discharging thousands of Americans into the streets of Havana has provoked negative reactions from some Cuban officials who fear that the U.S. is trying to re-exert control of the island through a new strategy of building closer economic ties.

The idea of Cubans moving back and forth between the two countries by sea also is particularly charged, given Cuban exiles' history of returning to attack the government, and Cubans crossing the Florida Straits in the other direction on rafts to emigrate to the U.S.

Cuba does permit Cuban-born people to arrive by air to the island. Donald said Carnival was continuing discussions so that travel on its ships would "be on a level playing field" with airlines and air charters.

"Again, we remain confident that we will reach a positive outcome and we continue to work full speed ahead in preparing for our every-other-week sailings from PortMiami to Cuba," he said.

Carnival, the world's largest cruise line, operates 10 cruise brands around the world with 100 ships that visit some 700 ports, according to the company statement.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez issued a statement supporting the decision:

"I am glad to see Carnival Cruise Line has heard the echoes of this community. As Mayor of a predominantly Cuban-born population and City, I am glad to see them take this position of opening bookings for Cuban-born guests pending a change in Cuban policy,” said Mayor Carlos Hernandez, “I will also like to thank Mayor Carlos Gimenez for his role and leadership in this manner, and stance with this issue."

Cuban dissident Rosa Maria Paya said she is glad the Cuban-American community spoke out against the issue, "It was stopped because of the bravery and the determination of the Cuban-American exile here in Miami."

Moving forward, Paya also has a message for other companies who are interested in doing business with the Cuban government: "Behave like democratic institutions. Behave as a company that actually believes in democracy and in the rule of law."

Cruise prices for the seven-day sailing start at $1,800 per person, excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees and port expenses.

To learn more, visit Fathom's Cruise to Cuba page.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: PR NEWSWIRE via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Ramon Saul Sanchez Has Residency Application Denied]]>Fri, 15 Apr 2016 21:53:37 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/041516+raul+saul+sanchez.jpg

He spent decades in the United States, but Ramon Saul Sanchez, the leader of the Democracy Movement, received a letter denying his application for residency in the United States. Not only that, he's being asked to leave the country.

"We just got this letter stating they're denying my residency and that I should leave the country immediately," Sanchez said.

He is a prominent figure in the local Cuban exile community and first sent in his application for residency 14 years ago. He's been in Miami now for more than 50 years.

"To us it is suspicious, that in the midst of this and after so many years, we suddenly get this letter and we're concerned whether they're doing this to try to prevent us from exercising free speech with the flotillas in Cuba," Sanchez said.

NBC 6 spoke with Juan Gomez, an immigration attorney, who is familiar with Sanchez's case. He broke down what the letter means.

"This is just a denial for an application for adjustment. It is nothing more than an administrative decision denying an application that coincidentally was pending for 14 years," Gomez explained.

Sanchez fears he will be deported, but Gomez said that's unlikely, "It does not make sense at all that an anti-Castro activist is denied adjustment coincidentally after what's happening with Cuba."

Gomez said it would be a long and arduous road for the government to try and deport Sanchez because of the protections in place specifically for Cubans.

Sanchez said his lawyers are ready to fight, if needed, to keep him here.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Kerry Says Cuba Should Let Anyone Visit Via Cruise Lines]]>Thu, 14 Apr 2016 18:03:03 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/kerryAP_737697319178.jpg

A Cuban law that bars anyone born on the island from returning by ship is discriminatory and should be eliminated, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

Kerry said the policy discriminates against Cuban-born citizens and immigrants and should be eliminated if Cuba's communist government is dedicated to having a full and normal relationship with the rest of the world.

"The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination, and the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have a right to travel," Kerry said in an interview with CNN en Espanol and the Miami Herald. "We should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us. If they want a full relationship and a normal relationship they have to live by international law."

Kerry stopped short of saying Carnival should cancel its planned route to Cuba, but said "Carnival needs to not discriminate."

The United States also has a complicated set of entry and immigration standards that aren't the same for people of every nationality.

Carnival Corp. has denied ticket sales to Cuban Americans because of the law, saying it has to comply with the visa, entry and exit policies of every country its ships visit. But the company said it has lodged a request with the Cuban government to change the ship policy.

Two Cuban-Americans are suing Carnival Corp., claiming their civil rights were violated by the policy, which only applies to travel by ship, not other modes of transportation to Cuba.

Kerry is in Miami meeting with members of the Cuban-American business community. He is also set to speak to honor students at a Miami Dade College event.

The United States and Cuba began normalizing diplomatic relations in late 2014 after more than a half century of estrangement. Since then, both countries have reopened their respective embassies in Washington and Havana, and last month President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island nation in nearly 70 years.

In advance of Obama's historic trip to Havana, the government made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba by allowing travelers to take "people-to-people" trips to the country on their own instead of with expensive tour groups. The rule change turned a ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba into an unenforceable honor system.

Obama previously opened the door to restoring commercial air traffic between the U.S. and Cuba and the two countries have also agreed to a pilot program restarting direct mail service; signed two deals on environmental protection and launched talks on issues from human rights to compensation for U.S. properties confiscated by Cuba's revolution.

While the thawing of relations has been touted by the Obama administration, the effort has not been universally lauded. Republican lawmakers have balked at the idea of restoring diplomatic ties and the move has become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father was born in Cuba, has objected to the renewed ties and said Obama shouldn't have visited the island while the Castro family remains in power.

The decades-old trade embargo also still remains in place and can't be abolished without approval from Congress.

Kerry said Thursday that Cuba needs to continue to address human rights reforms, among other changes, before the embargo is likely to be lifted.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Carnival Sued Over Cuba Ban on Nationals Sailing to Island]]>Wed, 13 Apr 2016 17:58:37 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/102212+carnival+cruise+ship+generic.jpg

Carnival Corp. is being sued in Miami federal court over its adherence to Cuba's policy that prevents Cuban nationals from arriving or departing the island by sea.

Two Cuban-Americans are claiming their civil rights were violated because they were not permitted to buy tickets on a May 1 cruise from Miami to Cuba aboard Carnival's Fathom cruise line.

The potential class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday asks a judge to force Carnival to allow all people of Cuban origin to sail on cruises to Cuba. The lawsuit was filed the same day Cuban Americans staged demonstrations against the policy outside Carnival headquarters in Doral.

The company said in a statement it must comply with the visa, entry and exit policies of every country, but has lodged a request with the Cuban government to change the ship policy.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Miami Beach Commissioners Vote Against Cuban Consulate]]>Wed, 13 Apr 2016 16:32:34 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The Miami Beach City Commission has voted against establishing a Cuban consulate in the city.

In a narrow 4-3 vote Wednesday, the commission said no to the possibility, citing a need for human rights reform in Cuba.

Wednesday's meeting turned into a shouting match at times with those opposed voicing their concerns.

Last month, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola told Cuban government officials that they'd welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

"What we are saying is in the future we can have dialogue, see what is going on, we can watch what happens in the Cuban government with the Cuban people," Levine said. "I think we can revisit it again."

Commissioner Michael Grieco sponsored a resolution opposing the consulate, calling it a bad idea.

"We are telling the U.S. government that we do not want a consulate here in Miami Beach and that we want to put this behind us and we want to get back to business of the city," Grieco said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he would not object to the consulate. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has strongly opposed any suggestion that his city might house the Cuban government, even threatening to sue in federal court.

A public hearing was held Monday to discuss the possibility in Miami Beach.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Protesters at Carnival Cruise Lines Over Cuban Ban]]>Tue, 12 Apr 2016 22:01:51 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/041216+cuban+protesters+carnival+cruise+lines.jpg

Demonstrators converged outside the Carnival Cruise Lines headquarters in Doral Tuesday to protest over Cuba's rule banning Cuban-born people from returning to the Communist island by boat.

The Democracy Movement organized the protest, calling the Cuban law discriminatory and calling out Carnival for abiding by the law.

The group says they have presented their case to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I would hope that Carnival would do its best to allow the Cubans to go to Cuba," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, who helped organize the protest. "We believe this is similar to when blacks had to sit in the back of the bus. We are trying to somehow take example of Miss Rosa Parks and sit in the front of the bus."

It's not the policy stirring the protesters, rather the practice of what they say is discrimination against people from Cuba.

"We are not trying to be antagonistic with anybody. However, if we just stayed quiet, nothing will change," Sanchez said.

Carnival issued a statement over the issue last week.

"Cuba has a longstanding regulation that no Cuban-born individuals are allowed to travel from the U.S. to Cuba by ship. This regulation applies to all cruise lines, ferries and any form of shipping planning to travel to Cuba," the statement read, in part. "We understand and empathize with the concerns being voiced and will continue to work the issue with Cuban officials. It is our hope and intention that we will be able to travel with everyone."

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Carnival Corp. for refusing to allow Cuban-born residents to board its cruises to Cuba.

The Carnival Fathom brand will start operating the first cruises from Miami to Cuba on May 1, 2016. The ship, Adonia, will stop in three cities.



Photo Credit: Steve Litz/NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Public Hearing to Discuss Cuban Consulate in Miami Beach]]>Mon, 11 Apr 2016 15:42:26 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

A public hearing will be held Monday to discuss a possible Cuban consulate in Miami Beach.

The hearing will take place at the City of Miami Beach Hispanic Affairs committee meeting at Miami Beach at 6:30 p.m.

Last month, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola told Cuban government officials that they'd welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

The Hispanic Affairs committee chairman said the Cuban exile community has been a major part of the city's success so their opinions should be considered. The committee is expected to vote on a motion, which would then be sent to the city commission.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he would not object to the consulate. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has strongly opposed any suggestion that his city might house the Cuban government, even threatening to sue in federal court.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['Cuban Twitter' Fallout Sees FOIA Delays]]>Mon, 11 Apr 2016 05:53:03 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021814+cuba+flag+generic.jpg

As U.S. officials dealt with the fallout of the government's once-secret "Cuban Twitter'' program, they had one thing on their side: notorious delays in the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The government didn't have copies of the documents, which formed the basis of an Associated Press investigation detailing a program on which taxpayers spent millions. But officials were worried that asking the contractor to hand over copies would risk making the details even more public.

"The risk is that it gets FOIA'd later. FOIA will take six months,'' said Mark Lopes, a former senior official with the U.S. Agency for International Development. "I say yes so we get through the next week, six months from now when FOIA comes out, this will all be over?''

USAID's calculus _ realizing that the nation's public-records law can be so slow as to border on unusable _ comes amid new data showing that delays to process requests from the public or journalists worsened under the Obama administration. Last year, the government also set a record for coming up short in finding documents.

The government's responsiveness under FOIA is widely regarded as a barometer of its openness. President Barack Obama has said his administration is the most transparent in history.

In USAID's case, emails released last week to the AP come two years after the news cooperative asked for them following its 2014 report of a secret Twitter-like program in Cuba. ZunZuneo, as it was called, was among several Cuban civil-society programs designed to bring about democratic change.

The programs have received sharp criticism from some U.S. lawmakers, who called them "reckless,'' "boneheaded'' and "downright irresponsible.'' The AP found that some Cubans unwittingly ensnared in the program were detained by Cuban authorities, and a secret U.S. hip-hop operation backfired after Cuban authorities found that an independent music festival was really backed by the Obama administration.

USAID spokesman Ben Edwards said the agency was "committed to openness and transparency, and we take our obligation to release information under FOIA very seriously,'' adding that delayed responses came from a ``significant increase'' in information that requestors sought.

The newly released documents, showing the back-and-forth among USAID officials trying to respond to the ZunZuneo revelation, contain dozens of redactions largely for personal-privacy reasons. But most censored items appeared to be benign bits of information like officials' email addresses and general narratives that, at times, describe journalists.

"Um, this could be worse. (Redacted lines) this Jack Gillum guy, and unfortunately, Desmond Butler, who has written extensively and unfavorably on crappy USG programming in Cuba in the past,'' wrote one former official, Joseph McSpedon, referring to this reporter and Butler, who's covered U.S. government programs there.

Under the president's instructions, the U.S. should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing. USAID cited privacy exemptions in 82 requests last year, and that was the exception cited most often.

The AP previously obtained thousands of leaked internal documents about the Cuba program, run by Washington-based private contractor Creative Associates International. A December 2015 inspector general's report found the program was inadequately monitored and had conflicts of interest.

A USAID lawyer acknowledged in the emails the risk in obtaining those very documents from Creative Associates. If the government had possession of them, she said, they could become public record.

"Mark is correct that any copies or notes would be subject to FOIA,'' wrote Susan Pascocello, the agency's deputy general counsel. "It would be a good idea for me or Hal to speak with the person who is going to Creative so that we can provide guidance.''

Overall, USAID said it took nearly 11 months last year to process FOIA requests that were deemed "complex'' _ when a request asks for a lot of documents or requires government workers to search multiple places. The agency processed 305 FOIA requests that same year.

Under FOIA, citizens and foreigners can compel the U.S. government to turn over copies of federal records for little or no cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose certain confidential decision-making.

Yet in one newly released USAID message, one government official's friend suggested FOIA was the source of the ZunZuneo documents and should be tightened up: "AP didn't get this through FOIA, did they? If so, maybe it's time to hire some new redactors. They got a bit too much of an inside view.''

The sender's name and email were censored.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban-Born Residents Not Allowed on Cruises to Cuba]]>Fri, 08 Apr 2016 19:09:45 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/040816+carnival+corp+fathom.jpg

If you're planning a trip on the newest cruises to Cuba, you might want to read the fine print. If you're Cuban-born and living in the United States, there are some major restrictions.

Fathom Travel, Carnival Corporation's small ship line, will soon offer seven-day cruises to three cities in Cuba. Sounds alluring, doesn't it? Not everyone can hop aboard the cruises. There's a controversy brewing over a current Cuban law.

"Cuba has decided that any Cuban, even if you have a passport with a visa to go back to Cuba, they will not let you come in on a cruise line and unfortunately, the American cruise line companies have accepted it," explained Wilfredo Allen, immigration attorney.

Carnival Corp. and Fathom Travel were granted permission to operate the first cruises from the U.S. to Cuba, but there's an issue. They currently have to abide by a Cuban government law, which does not allow Cuban-born individuals living in the United States and elsewhere, to travel to the island by any sea vessel.

"We have the same cruise lines, they travel to Turkey, they travel to Saudi Arabia, they travel to Qatar. What happens if Qatar or Dubai decide that no American of Jewish decent could disembark in Qatar? What happens if they decide an African-American born in South Africa during the Apartheid period could not disembark in South Africa? They would never accept it," Allen said.

Many Cuban-Americans told NBC 6 they believe it's unfair.

"I think that's a little bit of discrimination in a way because, I mean, I was born here so why do I have the opportunity of going and people that were born there can't go?" said Alexander Jaime, who was born in Miami to Cuban parents.

Allen is open to travel with Cuba but disagrees with this policy.

"Cruise lines that are coming out of Miami that literally have hundreds of Cuban-Americans working with them, all of a sudden have bowed down and accepted the rules that the Cuban government has issued," he said.

A spokesperson for Carnival Corp. recognized the issue and released this statement saying, in part: "Cuba has a longstanding regulation that no Cuban-born individuals are allowed to travel from the U.S. to Cuba by ship. This regulation applies to all cruise lines, ferries and any form of shipping planning to travel to Cuba. We understand and empathize with the concerns being voiced and will continue to work the issue with Cuban officials. It is our hope and intention that we will be able to travel with everyone."

The Carnival Fathom brand will start operating the first cruises from Miami to Cuba on May 1, 2016.

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<![CDATA[Protesters Rally Against Cuban Consulate in Miami]]>Thu, 07 Apr 2016 16:56:52 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/040716+cuban+consulate+protests.jpg

Protesters flocked to City Hall Thursday afternoon to denounce the idea of a Cuban consulate finding a new home in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola told the Cuban government in a private meeting last month that they'd welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

"It would be pretty horrible to make the Cubans that we all know in Miami that want to visit their family to have to go to Tampa for example to fill out the proper paperwork," said Levine.

Cuba and the United States had debated whether to open one in Tampa, but its distance from South Florida has been a negative factor.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has strongly opposed any suggestion that his city might house the Cuban government, even threatening to sue in federal court.

In Miami Beach, protesters made their feelings clear, some even bearing signs reading "'Mayor' Shame on You," at the protest.

"Well,apparently he forgot all of the blood that has been shed for 57 years in Cuba," said Olga Gomez, a protester in opposition to the consulate.

Counter-protesters, across the street, were plenty noisy too. Many of them Cuban American and agreeing with Levine.

Elaine Soffer Siegel, a counter-protester in favor of the consulate, said, "We need that for the progress of new generations."

The final decision, however, is not up to Miami or Miami Beach. It would have to go to the full commission for a vote.

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<![CDATA[Cuban Migration to US Nearly Doubles in Last Quarter of 2015]]>Fri, 01 Apr 2016 12:29:44 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/CubanMigrants-AP_342707506285.jpg

New U.S. statistics show nearly twice as many Cuban migrants reached the United States by foot and sea in the last three months of 2015 compared with the same period the year earlier, an exodus apparently fueled by the restoration of diplomatic relations between the former political foes.

Department of Homeland Security figures show about 17,000 Cubans reached the United States from October through December. Slightly more than 9,000 Cuban migrants arrived during the same months in 2014.

The exodus has been driven in part by Cubans' fears they could lose privileges that now let them stay in the United States if they reach American soil.

The Obama administration says it doesn't plan to change U.S.-Cuba immigration policy, but some lawmakers want to end privileges for Cuban migrants.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Angel Villegas via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Unusual Dissent Erupts Inside Cuban Communist Party]]>Wed, 30 Mar 2016 16:42:49 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-516938636-08.jpg

Days after President Barack Obama's historic visit, the leaders of Cuba's Communist Party are under highly unusual public criticism from their own ranks for imposing new levels of secrecy on the future of social and economic reforms.

After months of simmering discontent, complaints among party members have become so heated that its official newspaper, Granma, addressed them in a lengthy front-page article Monday. It said the public dissatisfaction over the lack of open discussion before the upcoming Communist Party congress next month is "a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we're constructing.''

The article did little to calm many party members, some of whom are calling for the gathering to be postponed to allow public debate about the government's plans to continue market-oriented reforms for Cuba's centrally controlled economy.

"The base of the party is angry, and rightly so,'' party member and noted intellectual Esteban Morales wrote in a blog post published before Obama's visit. "We've gone backward in terms of democracy in the party, because we've forgotten about the base, those who are fighting and confronting our problems on a daily basis.''

Across the country, Cuba's ruling party is facing stiff challenges as it tries to govern an increasingly cynical and disenchanted population.

Struggling to feed their families with state salaries around $25 a month, many ordinary Cubans see their government as infuriatingly inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average people. The open anger among prominent party members in the middle of sweeping socio-economic reforms and normalization with the United States hints at a deeper crisis of credibility for the party that has controlled virtually every aspect of public life in Cuba for more than a half century.

A video released on YouTube on Sunday, reportedly shows people protesting against police after the arrest of an anti-government activist.

One of the comments below teh video calls for the Cuban population to wake up and bring down the tyranny of the Castros.

The article in Granma appeared less than a week after Obama won an enthusiastic response from many ordinary Cubans by calling for both an end to Cold War hostility and for more political and economic freedom on the island. The unsigned article shared the front page with Fidel Castro's sharply worded response to Obama, in which the 89-year-old father of Cuba's socialist system said, "My modest suggestion is that he reflect and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics.''

Many Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of American power and cannot envision a society without the free health care and education put in place by the 1959 revolution. Party member Francisco Rodriguez, a gay activist and journalist for a state newspaper, said Obama's nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with Cuban entrepreneurs represented a sort of "capitalist evangelizing'' that many party members dislike.

Rodriguez told The Associated Press that Obama's well-received addresses to the Cuban people had nonetheless increased pressure on the 700,000-member Communist Party to forge a more unified and credible vision of the future.

"Obama's visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution,'' Rodriguez said.

While Cuba's non-elected leaders maintain tight control of the party and the broader system, the last party congress in 2011 was preceded by months of vigorous debate at party meetings about detailed documents laying out reforms that have shrunk the state bureaucracy and allowed a half million Cubans to start work in the private sector.

In the run-up to the party congress scheduled to begin April 16, no documents have been made public, no debate has taken place and many of the party's best-known members remain in the dark about the next phase of Cuba's reforms.

Granma said 1,000 high-ranking party members have been reviewing key documents.

"My dissatisfaction is rooted in the lack of discussion of the central documents, secret to this day, as much among the organizations of the party base as the rest of the population,'' Rodriguez wrote in an open letter Sunday to Raul Castro, who is also the top Communist Party leader.

Under Castro's guidance, the 2011 party congress helped loosen state control of Cubans' economic options and some personal freedoms, moving the country toward more self-employment, greater freedom to travel and greater ability to sell personal cars and real estate. The Granma article argued that the months of debate before the approval of those reforms made a new round of public discussion unnecessary. It also acknowledged that only 21 percent of the reforms had been completed as planned.

The April 16-19 party congress "will allow us to define with greater precision the path that we must follow in order for our nation, sovereign and truly independent since Jan. 1, 1959, to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism,'' the article said.

Rodriguez, who works closely with Castro's daughter Mariela, the director of the national Center for Sexual Education, said the Granma piece was unsatisfactory. He called for the Seventh Party Congress to be delayed, saying many fellow party members share his point of view.

In the days after the Granma article appeared about two dozen people, many identifying themselves as party members, posted lengthy comments on the paper's government-moderated website that criticized the article and the secrecy surrounding the upcoming party congress, which is widely seen as helping mark the transition of power from the aging men who led Cuba's revolution to a younger generation.

"It is one of the last congresses directed by the historic generation,'' wrote one poster identifying himself as Leandro. "This is, I think, a bad precedent for future leaders, who will feel like they have the right to have party congresses without popular participation.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fidel Castro to Obama: 'We Don't Need Your Presents']]>Mon, 28 Mar 2016 16:40:32 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Castro+Dying+.jpg

Fidel Castro responded Monday to President Barack Obama's historic trip to Cuba with a long, bristling letter recounting the history of U.S. aggression against Cuba, writing that "we don't need the empire to give us any presents."

The 1,500-word letter in state media titled "Brother Obama" was Castro's first response to the president's three-day visit last week, in which the American president said he had come to bury the two countries' history of Cold War hostility. Obama did not meet with the 89-year-old Fidel Castro on the trip but met several times with his 84-year-old brother Raul Castro, the current Cuban leader.

Obama's visit was intended to build irreversible momentum behind his opening with Cuba and to convince the Cuban people and the Cuban government that a half-century of U.S. attempts to overthrow the Communist government had ended, allowing Cuba to reform its economy and political system without the threat of U.S. interference.

Fidel Castro writes of Obama: "My modest suggestion is that he reflects and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics."

Castro, who led Cuba for decades before handing power to his brother in 2008, was legendary for his hours-long, all-encompassing speeches. His letter reflects that style, presenting a sharp contrast with Obama's tightly focused speech in Havana. Castro's letter opens with descriptions of environmental abuse under the Spaniards and reviews the historical roles of Cuban independence heroes Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez.

Castro then goes over crucial sections of Obama's speech line by line, engaging in an ex-post-facto dialogue with the American president with pointed critiques of perceived slights and insults, including Obama's failure to give credit to indigenous Cubans and Castro's prohibition of racial segregation after coming to power in 1959.

Quoting Obama's declaration that "it is time, now, for us to leave the past behind," the man who shaped Cuba during the second half of the 20th century writes that "I imagine that any one of us ran the risk of having a heart attack on hearing these words from the President of the United States."

Castro then returns to a review of a half-century of U.S. aggression against Cuba. Those events include the decades-long U.S. trade embargo against the island; the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack and the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner backed by exiles who took refuge in the U.S.

He ends with a dig at the Obama administration's drive to increase business ties with Cuba. The Obama administration says re-establishing economic ties with the U.S. will be a boon for Cuba, whose centrally planned economy has struggled to escape from over-dependence on imports and a chronic shortage of hard currency.

The focus on U.S-Cuba business ties appears to have particularly rankled Castro, who nationalized U.S. companies after coming to power in 1959 and establishing the communist system into which his brother is now introducing gradual market-based reforms.

"No one should pretend that the people of this noble and selfless country will renounce its glory and its rights," Fidel Castro wrote. "We are capable of producing the food and material wealth that we need with with work and intelligence of our people."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[The Rolling Stones Rock Cuba at Historic Concert]]>Sat, 26 Mar 2016 04:08:41 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Mick-Jagger-Cuba-GettyImages-5175639581.jpg

The Rolling Stones unleashed two hours of shrieking, thundering rock and roll on an ecstatic crowd of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors Friday night, capping one of the most momentous weeks in modern Cuban history with a massive celebration of music that was once forbidden here.

The week opened with the arrival of President Barack Obama in Air Force One, accompanied by more than 1,000 employees of a government that waged a cold war against Cuba for more than 50 years. This time, U.S. forces were armed with briefing books and press invitations, here to seal the president's 2014 opening to Cuba with a string of expertly crafted public events that saw Obama call for democracy live on state television, then attend a Major League Baseball exhibition game with Cuban President Raul Castro.

The week ended with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts firing "Jumpin' Jack Flash" ''Sympathy for the Devil" and "Satisfaction" into a jubilant crowd from 3-story-tall high-definition television screens and thumping towers of speakers.

From Sunday evening to late Friday night, it felt as if the full force of the 21st century had landed with bone-rattling impact on an island that still feels mostly cut off from the modern world.

"Havana, Cuba, and the Rolling Stones!" Jagger cried. "This is amazing! It's really good to be here! It's good to see you guys!"

The Stones romped through 18 of their classics, picking up force as the crowd in the open-air Ciudad Deportiva, or Sports City, jumped and chanted "Rollings! Rollings!"

The Rolling Stones were the biggest mainstream rock act to play in Cuba since its 1959 revolution brought a communist government to power and isolated the island from the United States and its allies. At its heyday, Cuba's communist government frowned on U.S. and British bands. Fans had to hide their Beatles and Stones albums in covers borrowed from albums of appropriately revolutionary Cuban groups.

But times have changed. Former supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Richard Gere and singer Jimmy Buffet partied in the VIP section of the concert. Castro's son Alejandro, one of the driving forces behind Cuba's declaration of detente with the United States, greeted friends and relatives after the show.

Far from the Cuban and international elites, ordinary Cubans said they felt shot through with energy, reconnected with the world.

"After today I can die," said 62-year-old night watchman Joaquin Ortiz. "This is like my last wish, seeing the Rolling Stones."

Rivers of spectators flowed north and south from the concert site after the show, watched over by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of security officials.

Few were willing to comment on the connections between the concert and Obama's visit earlier in the week, but many said the concert had implications beyond simple entertainment.

"The Rolling Stones being in Cuba at this time is like several steps up the ladder," said Jennifer Corchado, a 23-year-old biologist. "It's like three steps up the staircase toward global culture, toward the rest of the world."

Among the spectators was a large contingent of foreign tourists, for whom seeing Cuba was as novel as seeing the Rolling Stones is for Cubans.

Ken Smith, a 59-year-old retired sailor, and Paul Herold, a 65-year-old retired plumber, sailed to Havana from Key West, Florida on Herold's yacht.

"This has been one of my life-long dreams, to come to Cuba on my sailboat," Herold said.

Some Cuban concert-goers said it made them more optimistic about the future of their country.

"This is history," said Raul Podio, a 22-year-old employee of a state security firm, who was joined by a group of young friends. "I would like to see more groups, for there to be more variety, for more artists to come, because that would mean we are less isolated."

The band's Cuba stop ended its "Ole" Latin America tour, which also included concerts in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: LatinContent/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Excitement Building for Rolling Stones Concert in Cuba]]>Thu, 24 Mar 2016 17:02:52 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032416+rolling+stones+concert+poster.jpg

The official poster for the Rolling Stones concert in Havana, Cuba is trending on social media ahead of the group's historic event.

The free concert will take place at Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana on Friday. To celebrate the show, fans are invited to vote for a song the band will play on stage. The winning song will be revealed at the concert. To vote, click here.

"Hello Cuba! We are so excited to be coming to play for you!" the group said in a video posted to YouTube earlier this week.

The concert comes just days after President Obama's historic trip to the Communist island, the first by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years.

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<![CDATA[President Obama Appears on Popular Cuban Comedy Show]]>Thu, 24 Mar 2016 07:06:57 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032316+obama+cuba+show.jpg

During his historic trip to Cuba, President Barack Obama made an appearance on "Vivir del Cuento," one of the most popular shows in the country.

Luis Silvia, known for his character Panfilo, posted the clip on Facebook on Wednesday. It shows Panfilo playing dominoes with his neighbors, when President Obama walks in.

The post comes following a previous montage on the show featuring a phone call with President Obama, which had many people doubting whether it was real.

Panfilo stars in the weekly television show in Cuba, which is estimated to be seen by two-thirds of the country, according to Variety. He has a running sketch in which he attempts to call the American president.

President Obama was in Cuba Sunday through Tuesday.



Photo Credit: Vivir del Cuento]]>
<![CDATA[Miami Beach Officials Open to Housing Cuban Consulate]]>Thu, 24 Mar 2016 18:51:49 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The controversial Cuban consulate could have its new home in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola told the Cuban government in a private meeting Wednesday they'd welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

Cuba and the United States have debated whether to open one in Tampa, but its distance from South Florida has been a negative factor.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has strongly opposed any suggestion that his city might house the Cuban government, even threatening to sue in federal court.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he would not object to the consulate, "If the federal government and the government of Cuba decide to put a consulate here, we will provide the protection necessary and whatever protection that we provide to the multitudes of consulates that we have here in this county."

The final decision is not up to Miami or Miami Beach, it would have to go to the full commission for a vote.

In an exclusive interview from Havana, Mayor Levine told NBC 6 anchor Jackie Nespral that warming relations with Cuba is a good idea, "I feel that the Cuban people in Cuba need to understand that there is a connection to Miami and to the United States and we want to give them hope, we want to make sure they have aspiration and I think the way we do that is through connectivity."

Levine was in Cuba leading a seminar for students from Tufts University. The trip, happening at the same time as President Obama's visit, was just a coincidence.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['I Am Happy': Former Cuban Prisoner Discusses Freedom]]>Wed, 23 Mar 2016 16:50:45 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032316+alan+gross.jpg

America's most famous former Cuban prisoner, Alan Gross, was in the heart of Little Havana at Domino Park Wednesday, appreciating his freedom. 

"I am happy to be able to walk in a straight line for great distances, instead of circles in a cell," Gross said. "Literally 10,000 steps a day."

Gross is the subject of a documentary, produced by TV Marti, to be broadcast to Cuba in the near future.

NBC 6 spoke with him about President Barack Obama's trip to the island nation and the warming of diplomatic relations.

"It's about time. At some point in life, you have to let go a little bit and move forward because there's an anchor. The anchor is anger, it's dragging everybody down. Got to move forward," Gross expressed.

He spent five years in a Cuban prison after being arrested in 2009 while working on expanding Internet service for the small Cuban Jewish community. Fidel Castro thought Gross was a spy and threw him in prison.

The Castro Government released Gross in December of 2014 as part of the restoring of relations with the Obama Administration.

TV Marti correspondent Karen Caballero is reporting Gross's story, one she says people need to hear, especially the people in Cuba, "I think he has to tell everyone in first person, every detail. Everyone needs to know exactly what happened with him, from his point of view."

"I would much rather focus on the next five years instead of the last five years and that is a healthy thing for me," Gross said.

A release date for the documentary has not been disclosed, but it will be made available first in Cuba and then in the United States.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Rolling Stones Say Cuba Concert Will Be 'Historic']]>Wed, 23 Mar 2016 12:41:05 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/458035392.jpg

The Rolling Stones have released a message to their Cuban fans as they prepare for their concert in Havana Friday.

"Hello Cuba! We are so excited to be coming to play for you!" the group said in a video posted to YouTube Tuesday.

The rock legends are set to play in Havana's Ciudad Deportiva, becoming the most famous act to play in Cuba since 1959.

"We've performed in many incredible places, but this concert in Havana is going to be an historic event for us," the message said. "We hope it will be for you too."

The concert comes just days after President Obama's historic trip to the Communist island, the first by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[President Obama Praises Courage of Cuban Dissidents]]>Tue, 22 Mar 2016 19:07:12 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032216+cuba+people.jpg

President Barack Obama is praising a group of Cuban dissidents for showing "extraordinary courage."

Obama is meeting with a group of about a dozen activists at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

He is noting that the group represented various causes and some in the room have been detained by government authorities — "some in the past, some very recently." Some have broad concerns about democracy and "the ability to speak freely, worship freely." He says: "It requires, often times, great courage to be active in civic life here in Cuba."

The group includes journalist Miriam Celaya, attorney Laritza Diversent and activist Manuel Cuesta and Jose Daniel Ferrer.

Obama says the U.S.-Cuba policy is about engaging people directly. He says he hopes "that by listening and hearing" from Cuban people that U.S. policy will help them "live freely and with prosperity."

He says: "Much of this is a matter of us being able to hear directly from the Cuban people and making sure that they have a voice and making sure that their concerns and their ideas are helping to shape U.S. policy."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Full Text of President Obama's Speech to the Cuban People]]>Tue, 22 Mar 2016 11:22:50 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032216+obama+havana+speech.jpg

Thank you. Muchas gracias. Thank you so much. Thank you very much.

President Castro, the people of Cuba, thank you so much for the warm welcome that I have received, that my family have received, and that our delegation has received. It is an extraordinary honor to be here today.

Before I begin, please indulge me.  I want to comment on the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Brussels.  The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium.  We stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people.  We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium, in bringing to justice those who are responsible.  And this is yet another reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of nationality, or race, or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.  We can -- and will -- defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.

To the government and the people of Cuba, I want to thank you for the kindness that you’ve shown to me and Michelle, Malia, Sasha, my mother-in-law, Marian.

“Cultivo una rosa blanca.” In his most famous poem, Jose Marti made this offering of friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy. Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz.

Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance -- over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.  The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island -- to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.  Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause.  And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles -- on planes and makeshift rafts -- who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.

Like so many people in both of our countries, my lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us.  The Cuban Revolution took place the same year that my father came to the United States from Kenya.  The Bay of Pigs took place the year that I was born. The next year, the entire world held its breath, watching our two countries, as humanity came as close as we ever have to the horror of nuclear war.  As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies. In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.

I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

I want to be clear:  The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.  I’m sure President Castro would say the same thing -- I know, because I’ve heard him address those differences at length.  But before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share.  Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.

We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.  We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.

Over the years, our cultures have blended together. Dr. Carlos Finlay’s work in Cuba paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.  Just as Marti wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.  We share a national past-time -- La Pelota -- and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut.  And it's said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight -- saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.

So even as our governments became adversaries, our people continued to share these common passions, particularly as so many Cubans came to America.  In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja.  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull. Millions of our people share a common religion -- a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.

For all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives.  A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride -- a lot of pride.  A profound love of family.  A passion for our children, a commitment to their education.  And that's why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration, as just one chapter in a longer story of family and of friendship.

But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have -- about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies.  Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy.  Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market.  Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.

Despite these differences, on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries. Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies.  We've begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement. We've reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service.  We've expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba.

And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies.  But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked: Why now? Why now?

There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I've always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” -- we should not fear change, we should embrace it.

That leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes:  Creo en el pueblo Cubano.  I believe in the Cuban people. This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government.  The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.

And today, I want to share with you my vision of what our future can be.  I want the Cuban people -- especially the young people -- to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope; not the false promise which insists that things are better than they really are, or the blind optimism that says all your problems can go away tomorrow.  Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.

I'm hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world.

In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people.  In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.  Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas, cooperatives and old cars that still run.  El Cubano inventa del aire.

Cuba has an extraordinary resource -- a system of education which values every boy and every girl. And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.  In just a few years, we've seen how cuentapropistas can succeed while sustaining a distinctly Cuban spirit.  Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.

Look at Sandra Lidice Aldama, who chose to start a small business.  Cubans, she said, can “innovate and adapt without losing our identity…our secret is in not copying or imitating but simply being ourselves.”

Look at Papito Valladeres, a barber, whose success allowed him to improve conditions in his neighborhood.  “I realize I’m not going to solve all of the world’s problems,” he said.  “But if I can solve problems in the little piece of the world where I live, it can ripple across Havana.”

That’s where hope begins -- with the ability to earn your own living, and to build something you can be proud of.  That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them.  That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances -- so ordinary Cubans have more resources.  That’s why we’re encouraging travel -- which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges -- so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.

As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo.  It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.  It's a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba.  It's time to lift the embargo.  But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba. It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba.  A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba.  Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn.  The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world -- and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.

There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps.  It’s up to you.  And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection.  But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.  If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential. And over time, the youth will lose hope.

I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President. Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption.  And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities.  I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.

I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba.  What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.  We will not impose our political or economic system on you.  We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.  But having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe -- the things that we, as Americans, believe.  As Marti said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.”

So let me tell you what I believe.  I can't force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear -- to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.

Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.

Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues.  I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro.  For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system -- economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad.  That’s just a sample.  He has a much longer list. But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand:  I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good. It’s healthy. I’m not afraid of it.

We do have too much money in American politics.  But, in America, it's still possible for somebody like me -- a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money -- to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.  That's what’s possible in America.

We do have challenges with racial bias -- in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society -- the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change.

I’m not saying this is easy.  There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.  That's how we got health care for more of our people.  That's how we made enormous gains in women’s rights and gay rights.  That's how we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.  Because workers can organize and ordinary people have a voice, American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.

Now, there are still some tough fights.  It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy.   It's often frustrating.  You can see that in the election going on back home.  But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that's taking place right now.  You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist. Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That's a measure of our progress as a democracy.

So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people:  The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution -- America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world -- those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.  Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not.  And we -- like every country -- need the space that democracy gives us to change.  It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.

There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.  Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down -- but I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new. El future de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano.

And to President Castro -- who I appreciate being here today -- I want you to know, I believe my visit here demonstrates you do not need to fear a threat from the United States.  And given your commitment to Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination, I am also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people -- and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.  In fact, I’m hopeful for the future because I trust that the Cuban people will make the right decisions.

And as you do, I’m also confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe -- and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.

We’ve played very different roles in the world.  But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering. Last year, American health care workers -- and the U.S. military -- worked side-by-side with Cubans to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa.  I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.

We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas.  But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades. That kind of cooperation is good for everybody.  It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope.

We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid.  But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela. And in examining his life and his words, I'm sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries -- to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.  And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent -- who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.

We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights.  But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas -- todos somos Americanos.

From the beginning of my time in office, I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.  We are in a new era.  I know that many of the issues that I’ve talked about lack the drama of the past.  And I know that part of Cuba’s identity is its pride in being a small island nation that could stand up for its rights, and shake the world. But I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.  That's your strength. Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States, any more than the United States should be defined by being against Cuba.  I'm hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.

I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba.  I'm sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future.  But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful -- and sometimes violent -- separation.  They love Cuba.  A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong.  That's why their heartache is so great.  And for the Cuban American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family -- the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.

For all of the politics, people are people, and Cubans are Cubans.  And I’ve come here -- I’ve traveled this distance -- on a bridge that was built by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.  I first got to know the talent and passion of the Cuban people in America.  And I know how they have suffered more than the pain of exile -- they also know what it’s like to be an outsider, and to struggle, and to work harder to make sure their children can reach higher in America.

So the reconciliation of the Cuban people -- the children and grandchildren of revolution, and the children and grandchildren of exile -- that is fundamental to Cuba’s future.

You see it in Gloria Gonzalez, who traveled here in 2013 for the first time after 61 years of separation, and was met by her sister, Llorca.  “You recognized me, but I didn’t recognize you,” Gloria said after she embraced her sibling.  Imagine that, after 61 years.

You see it in Melinda Lopez, who came to her family’s old home.  And as she was walking the streets, an elderly woman recognized her as her mother’s daughter, and began to cry.  She took her into her home and showed her a pile of photos that included Melinda’s baby picture, which her mother had sent 50 years ago.  Melinda later said, “So many of us are now getting so much back.”

You see it in Cristian Miguel Soler, a young man who became the first of his family to travel here after 50 years.  And meeting relatives for the first time, he said, “I realized that family is family no matter the distance between us.”

Sometimes the most important changes start in small places. The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty.  It takes time for those circumstances to change.  But the recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another -- that’s where progress begins.  Understanding, and listening, and forgiveness. And if the Cuban people face the future together, it will be more likely that the young people of today will be able to live with dignity and achieve their dreams right here in Cuba.

The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation.  It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.  It is time for us to look forward to the future together -- un future de esperanza.  And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks.  It will take time.  But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do.  We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family -- together.  Si Senate puede.  Muchas gracias.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[In Cuba, Obama Aims to Bury 'Last Remnants' of Cold War]]>Tue, 22 Mar 2016 18:03:09 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032216+obama+havana+speech+2.jpg

Capping his remarkable visit to Cuba, President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared an end to the "last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas'' and openly urged the Cuban people to pursue a more democratic future for this communist nation 90 miles from the Florida coast.

With Cuban President Raul Castro watching from a balcony, Obama said the government should not fear citizens who speak freely and vote for their own leaders. And with Cubans watching on tightly controlled state television, Obama said they would be the ones to determine their country's future, not the United States.

"Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down,'' Obama said. "But I'm appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.''

On the streets of Havana, the president's address sparked extraordinarily rare public discussions about democracy, and some anger with Cuba's leaders. Cubans are used to complaining bitterly about economic matters but rarely speak publicly about any desire for political change, particularly in conversations with foreign journalists.

Juan Francisco Ugarte, Oliva, a 71-year-old retired refrigeration technician, said the American president "dared to say in the presence of the leaders, of Raul Castro, that (Cubans) had the right to protest peacefully without being beaten or arrested.''

Omardy Isaac, a 43-year-old who works in a gift shop, said, "Cubans need all of their rights and I am in favor of democracy.''

Later, Obama sat beside Castro at a baseball game between Cuba's beloved national team and the Tampa Bay Rays of America's Major League Baseball. Leaving the game early for Jose Marti International Airport, Obama was met there again by Castro who walked him to Air Force One.

They chatted in relaxed fashion, any awkwardness or tension apparently gone from the previous day's news conference that saw Castro hit with tough questions from U.S. reporters.

How quickly political change comes to Cuba, if at all, is uncertain. But the response from at least some Cubans was certain to be seen by Obama as validation of his belief that restoring ties and facilitating more interactions between Cuba and the United States is more likely than continued estrangement to spur democracy.

"What the United States was doing was not working,'' Obama said. He reiterated his call for the U.S. Congress to lift the economic embargo on Cuba, calling it an "outdated burden on the Cuban people," a condemnation that was enthusiastically cheered by the crowd at Havana's Grand Theater.

The president's visit was a crowning moment in his and Castro's bold bid to restore ties after a half-century diplomatic freeze. While deep differences persist, officials from both countries are in regular contact, major U.S. companies are lining up to invest in Cuba, and travel restrictions that largely blocked Americans from visiting have been loosened.

After arriving Sunday, Obama plunged into a whirlwind schedule that blended official talks with Castro and opportunities to soak in Cuba's culture. He toured historic sites in Old Havana in a rainstorm, ate at one of the city's most popular privately owned restaurants and joined a big crowd for Tuesday's baseball game.

The fans roared as Obama and his family entered the stadium, which underwent an extensive upgrade for the game. Castro joined the Obama family and sat alongside the president behind home plate, one of several moments from the U.S. president's trip that would have been barely imaginable just months ago.

Obama also met Tuesday with about a dozen dissidents, praising them for showing "extraordinary courage.'' The group included journalist Miriam Celaya, attorney Laritza Diversent and activists Manuel Cuesta and Jose Daniel Ferrer.

The White House said the meeting was a prerequisite for Obama in coming to Cuba. Yet the gathering did little to appease those who say he hasn't gotten enough human rights concessions from the Castro government to justify the American economic investment expected to pour into the island.

Cubans have been riveted by 15 months of changes in their country's relationship with the United States. But they've learned of it almost entirely through state-run media who have focused on two primary themes, the embargo's continued responsibility for Cuban economic problems and the importance of Cuba changing at its own pace, not one imposed by Washington.

Obama's speech was the first opportunity for Cubans to hear his vision of warming U.S.-Cuban relations as closely linked to Cuba's internal evolution. It's a vision of free speech, free assembly and the ability to earn a living without relying on a centrally controlled economy.

The president appeared to deliberately use neutral terms to describe the Cuban state: "a one-party system'' and "a socialist economic model'' that "has emphasized the role and rights of the state.''

Obama's last day in Cuba was shadowed by the horrific attacks in Brussels, where scores of people were killed in explosions at the airport and a metro station. The president opened his remarks by vowing to do "whatever is necessary'' to support Belgium.

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jackie Nespral Interviews Cuban Bishop About Relations]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 22:38:19 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/WTVJ_000000022741899_1200x675_649645123931.jpgThe thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba is, in part, due to the intervention of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis. NBC 6's Jackie Nespral has the story.]]><![CDATA[John Kerry Meets With Colombia Peace Negotiators ]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 20:24:09 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/168*120/cuba-GettyImages-516833082.jpg

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has met with representatives on both sides of Colombian peace talks in the Cuban capital. 

A photo released by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, shows Kerry with guerrilla leaders, including the top commander, Rodrigo Londono, who goes by the nom de guerre Timochenko. 

The FARC says in an open letter that it asked for Washington to consider it "a trustworthy partner in the building of a continental peace'' and recognize it as a political organization. The FARC is designated as a terrorist group by Washington.

Humberto de la Calle, the chief negotiator for the Colombian government, says the encounter with Kerry was "very productive.'' 

Talks have been going on in Havana since late 2012. Kerry's meeting came Monday as President Barack met with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Carnival to Begin Sailing From United States to Cuba]]>Wed, 23 Mar 2016 19:18:13 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/159665968.jpg

Carnival Corporation has announced that Cuba has granted approval for the company to begin travel to Cuba starting on May 1, 2016.

Following U.S. authorization granted in July 2015, Carnival Corp. is now cleared to operate the 704-passenger MV Adonia to Cuba through its newest brand, Fathom.

This marks the first time in over 50 years a cruise ship is approved to sail from the United States to Cuba. Cuban authorities from Havanatur Celimar, various other agencies and Carnival Corp. Monday signed agreements enabling cruising by Carnival Corporation to Cuba.

The announcement came on the same day President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met in Havana, a historic gathering that marked a new era in relations between the two countries. President Obama and President Castro tussled over differences on human rights and democracy but pledged to keep working on a new path forward between their two countries.

"Our Carnival Corporation and Fathom brand teams have worked closely with Cuba throughout this process and we are thrilled to begin regular sailings to Cuba from Miami starting on May 1, 2016," said Tara Russell, president of Carnival Corporation's new Fathom brand. "We have been told that we will be the first cruise line to sail from the U.S. to Cuba with our historic inaugural sailing."

During each sailing, Carnival Corp. through its Fathom brand initially will visit Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, three ports of call for which Carnival Corp. has obtained berthing approval.

Onboard programming will include a wide variety of activities, ranging from an orientation to Cuba's history, customs and culture, to geographic-inspired entertainment, to casual and fun personal enrichment activities, to conversational Spanish lessons, to guided sessions with the Fathom team.

The first Fathom cruise ship will leave Port of Miami at 4:30 p.m. on May 1 and will arrive in Havana at 11 a.m. the following day. Regular weekend sailing will take place every other week.

Prices start at $1,800 excluding the cost of a Cuban visa, fees, taxes and port charges. Meals, cultural exchange activities and ground transportation are included.

For more information on the cruises, click here.



Photo Credit: File – Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CANF Provides List of Political Prisoners]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 21:25:39 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/222*120/Raul+Castro+During+News+Conference+with+Obama.png

Following Monday's announcement made by Cuban President Raul Castro, the Cuban American National Foundation provided a list of 47 verified political prisoners currently supported by the foundation.

This comes after Castro answered an American journalist's question about political prisoners, during a historic press conference in Cuba with President Obama, and why he doesn't release them. He said, "When the meeting concludes, give me a list with the names. If we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends."

The list was released and CANF said in a statement: "It is our expectation that these political prisoners will be released, unconditionally, by this evening."

"I think it's like a message to the world. 'We will never admit anything. We will never reconsider or we'll never say that we regret what we have done,'" said Juan Adolfo Fernandez, former political prisoner.

Fernandez was a political prisoner in Cuba from 2003 to 2010. He calls Castro's response absurd, "It's a joke. It's a very black humor joke to say there are no political prisoners in Cuba."

Fernandez now works with the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba helping people who have family in jail on the communist island.

The organization is part of the Cuban American National Foundation, which released the list of 47 political prisoners who receive support from the foundation.

The list includes each name of the prisoners, their location, sentence and date of imprisonment:

  1. Liusban John Utra, PRISION PROVINCIAL LAS TUNAS, 7 years, March 6 2013
  2. Ricardo Pelier Frómeta, COMBINADO DE GUANTANAMO, 3 years, May 15 20
  3. Eglis Heredia Rodríguez, BONIATO, SANTIAGO, 5 years, May 13 2014
  4. Daniel Ernesto Dufó Preval, COMBINADO DE GUANTANAMO, 2 years, May 15 2014
  5. Yoelkis Rosabal Flores, COMBINADO DE GUANTANAMO, 4 years, May 15 2014
  6. Amado Verdecia Díaz MAR VERDE, SANTIAGO 5 years Oct 20 2014
  7. Mario Ronaide Figueroa Dieguez AGUADORES, SANTIAGO 3 years Dec 2 2014
  8. María del Carmen Cala Aguilera CARCEL DE MUJERES, HOLGUIN Pending April 24 2015
  9. Yosvani Arostegui Armenteros CERAMICA ROJA, CAMAGÜEY Pending Feb 8 2015
  10. Santiago Cisneros Castellanos AGUADORES, SANTIAGO Pending July 21 2014
  11. Enrique Bartolomé Cámbara KILO 8, CAMAGÜEY 8 years July 21 2014
  12. Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá CERÁMICA ROJA, CAMAGÜEY 1 year Sept 27 2011
  13. David Fernández Cardoso Bungo 8, CONTRAMAESTRE 10 months Nov 11 2015
  14. Maikel Mediaceja Ramos La Granjita. Mar Verde 6 months Nov 11 2015
  15. Laudelino Rodríguez Mendoza Granjita Boniato Pending Nov 5 2015
  16. Yosvani Izaguirre Hernández AGUADORES, SANTIAGO 6 months Nov 5 2015
  17. Alexeis Serrano Avila AGUADORES, SANTIAGO 4 years Oct 12 2015
  18. Fernando Isael Peña Tamayo, PRISION PROVINCIAL LAS TUNAS, Pending, Aug 15 2015
  19. Leonardo Cobas Pérez MOSCU, CONTRAMAESTRE 5 years June 29 2015
  20. Silverio Portal Contrera VALLE GRANDE 1 year
  21. Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta MAYABEQUE 9 years April 2 2013
  22. Osvaldo Rodriguez Castillo MAYABEQUE 7 years April 2 2013
  23. Mario Alberto Hernández Leyva, VALLE GRANDE, Pending, June 16 2015
  24. Orlando Contrera Aguilar QUIVICÁN, MAYABEQUE 6 years June 16 2015
  25. Augusto Guerra Márquez VALLE GRANDE 2 years Dec 12 2015
  26. Reinier Rodríguez Mendoza SAN JOSE, LA HABANA (VIH) 2 years July 31 2015
  27. Ernesto Ortega Sarduy, VALLE GRANDE, Pending, Sept 30 2015
  28. Isaín López Luna, 1580, 3 years, July 8 2015
  29. Warley Pérez Cruz, TACO TACO, 6 months, Oct 13 2015
  30. Nora Lisset Hernández Bulís MANTO NEGRO 18 months
  31. Jordys Manuel Dosil Fong, 1580, 3 years, Aug 5 2015
  32. Alexander Alan Rodríguez VALLE GRANDE Pending July 8 2015
  33. Emilio Serrano Rodríguez VALLE GRANDE Pending Oct 22 2015
  34. Carlos Amaury Calderín Roca, VALLE GRANDE, 3 years, July 8 2015
  35. Misael Delgado Romeu, KM 5 Y MEDIO, P DEL RIO, 6 years
  36. Yoanny Thomas González COMBINADO DEL ESTE, HABANA life sentence
  37. Elieski Roque Chongo ARIZA, CIENFUEGOS 5 years Oct 17 2014
  38. Alfredo Limonte Rodríguez ARIZA, CIENFUEGOS 2 years
  39. Joel Mariano Bencomo Martínez, GUAMAJAL, VILLA CLARA, 3 years
  40. Yaxiel Espino Aceval ARIZA, CIENFUEGOS 4 years March 29 2014
  41. José David González Fumero NIEVES MOREJON Pending
  42. Mario Morera Jardines EL CHIVO, VILLA CLARA 3 years
  43. Miguel Borroto Vázquez, VALLE GRANDE, Pending, July 31 2015
  44. Osvaldo Arcís Hernández, PROVARI (Campamento), 2 years, Dec 9 2015
  45. Ricardo González Sendiña, COMBINADO DEL ESTE, HABANA, 6 years
  46. Ariel González Sendiña COMBINADO DEL ESTE, HABANA 6 years
  47. Leudis Reyes Cuza COMBINADO DEL ESTE, HABANA 5 years Sept 24 2015

]]>
<![CDATA[Western Union Will Expand Services in Cuba]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 12:07:01 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/western+union.jpg

Western Union is joining the growing list of companies looking to conduct more business in Cuba.

The company says it intends to expand its service handling money transfers to Cuba in response to new regulations announced last week by the Obama administration.

Western Union already handles remittances from the United States to Cuba. Soon, it will begin processing remittances from other countries into Cuba.

Monday's statement from Western Union quotes company executive Odilon Almeida as saying remittances to Cuba fund families and private small businesses and can be a "powerful catalyst for empowerment and innovation."

A key goal of Obama's regulatory changes is to support the island's 400,000 or so private entrepreneurs, who have been allowed to go into business for themselves under economic reforms instituted by President Raul Castro.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Obama Praises Cuban Jose Marti's 'Passion for Liberty']]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 11:57:06 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032116+obama+wreath+jose+marti.jpg

President Barack Obama has signed many guest books during his time in office, but the message he left behind for Cubans is one for the history books.

"It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Marti, who gave his life for independence of his homeland. His passion for liberty, freedom, and self-determination lives on in the Cuban people today," Obama wrote in dark ink in the book after he laid a wreath and toured a memorial dedicated to the memory of Jose Marti.

President Obama's first stop on his first full day in Cuba was Revolutionary Square, home to the memorial to the independence hero. Marti was an influential poet and journalist who became a symbol for Cuba's bid for independence against Spain in the 19th century.

Obama arrived midmorning for the brief wreath-laying ceremony. Standing in a lineup of Cuba and U.S. officials, the president listened as a military band played both the Cuban and American national anthem. He held his hand on his heart for the "Star Spangled Banner" and watched as three Cuba soldiers carried a massive wreath of red and white roses to the base of the Marti memorial. Obama made no remarks.

The scene was heavy with reminders of Cuba's history. Behind Obama were striking steel sculptures of two Cuban Revolution figures: Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Coverage of Obama Muted But Respectful]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 07:59:36 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/OBAMA_CUBA_GettyImages-516735340.jpg

President Barack Obama's trip is getting coverage in Cuban state news media that's respectful if muted compared to the global headlines about the visit.

Cuba's main paper is the Communist Party organ Granma. It published a 560-word front-page article titled "Obama in Cuba on official visit" that dryly recounts the president's first half-day in Cuba.

Television news led with Obama's trip then moved quickly to press conferences by Cuban officials about the country's achievement in medical research and the difficulties posed by the U.S. trade embargo on the island.

The Communist government had dedicated more than a half-century to assertions of independence from the United States and it's balancing its welcome of Obama with reminders that its system isn't changing.

Videos circulating on social media showed a more enthusiastic reception. One taken with a cell phone from a building facing the restaurant where Obama dined Sunday night shows Cubans shouting "Obama!" to welcome him as his armored limousine arrives. He turns and waves to the people looking from their windows and rooftops.

Rapid global distribution of cellphone video taken in Cuba would have been impossible a year ago, before the country opened dozens of public Wi-Fi access spots around the country.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama's Historic Trip to Cuba in Photos]]>Tue, 22 Mar 2016 16:58:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/179*120/AP_309888162621-05.jpgPhotos from the historic trip of President Obama and his family to Cuba.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Protests in Little Havana as President Obama Arrives in Cuba]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 17:08:54 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/032116+cubans+protest+little+havana.jpg

Sending a message of solidarity to the opposition movement in Cuba on the day of President Obama's arrival, Cuban Americans in Little Havana marched from the Bay of Pigs Monument to a building that commemorates political prisoners Sunday.

"When Obama goes through the streets of Old Havana with his family, we will be thinking of the countless numbers of families that were uprooted and were separated," said Silvia Iriondo, with Mothers & Women Against Repression.

The Miami group chose to assemble on Sunday to pay tribute to the "Ladies in White" in Cuba who each week attend mass and then peacefully protest demanding freedom for political prisoners.

While President Obama was en route to the communist nation, the dissident group tweeted: "President Obama, while you travel to Cuba about 40 Ladies in White have been arrested."

During the arrests in Havana someone in the crowd said: "Easy, easy. The press is here."

"Many Cuban activists have been detained, so that President Obama lands in Cuba without a visible opposition in the island," said Ramon Saul Sánchez, with the Democracy Movement.

At the Little Havana protest, different groups and different generations stood together with a clear stance against the president's historic visit.

"I'm here today to show the young people in this community that we need to stand up for democracy and never take for granted the importance of what this country stands for," Cuban-American protester Vicente Lago said.

"It is a sad day for America. Sad day for freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness,"  Miriam de la Pena said.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Obama, Castro Spar on Human Rights in Historic Meeting]]>Tue, 22 Mar 2016 06:06:48 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/cuba-GettyImages-516834012.jpg

Laying bare a half-century of tensions, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro prodded each other Monday over human rights and the longstanding U.S. economic embargo during an unprecedented joint news conference that stunned Cubans unaccustomed to their leaders being aggressively questioned.

The exchanges underscored deep divisions that still exist between the two countries despite rapidly improved relations in the 15 months since Obama and Castro surprised the world with an announcement to end their Cold War-era diplomatic freeze.

Obama, standing in Havana's Palace of the Revolution on the second day of his historic visit to Cuba, repeatedly pushed Castro to take steps to address his country's human rights record.

"We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights,'' said Obama, who planned to meet with Cuban dissidents Tuesday. Still, Obama heralded a "new day'' in the U.S.-Cuba relationship and said "part of normalizing relations means we discuss these differences directly.''

Castro was blistering in his criticism of the American embargo, which he called "the most important obstacle'' to his country's economic development. He also pressed Obama to return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which is on the island of Cuba, to his government.

"There are profound differences between our countries that will not go away,'' Castro said plainly.

White House officials spent weeks pushing their Cuban counterparts to agree for the leaders to take questions from reporters after their private meeting, reaching agreement just hours before Obama and Castro appeared before cameras. It's extremely rare for Castro to give a press conference, though he has sometimes taken questions from reporters spontaneously when the mood strikes.

While the issue of political prisoners is hugely important to Cuban-Americans and the international community, most people on the island are more concerned about the shortage of goods and their struggles with local bureaucracy.

Castro appeared agitated at times during the questioning, professing to not understand whether inquiries were directed to him.

But when an American reporter asked about political prisoners in Cuba, he pushed back aggressively, saying if the journalist could offer names of anyone improperly imprisoned, "they will be released before tonight ends.''

"What political prisoners? Give me a name or names,'' Castro said.

A reporter just asked Raul Castro "why do you have Cuban political prisoners?”. Castro's response is a must watch! (Audio in Spanish) Watch our LIVE coverage here >>> http://on.nbc6.com/1TiGIsb

Posted by NBC 6 South Florida on Monday, March 21, 2016

Cuba has been criticized for briefly detaining demonstrators thousands of times a year but has drastically reduced its practice of handing down long prison sentences for crimes human rights groups consider to be political. Cuba released dozens of prisoners as part of its deal to normalize relations with the U.S., and in a recent report, Amnesty International did not name any current prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Lists compiled by Cuban and Cuban-American groups list between 47 and 80 political prisoners, although Cuban officials describe many as common criminals.

Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said the U.S. regularly raises specific cases and some are resolved, but added Cuba typically insists they're being held for other crimes. Rhodes said, "I've shared many lists with the Cuban government.''

Obama's and Castro's comments were broadcast live on state television, which is tightly controlled by the government and the Communist Party.

At an outdoor cafe in Havana, about a dozen Cubans and tourists watched in awed silence. One woman held her hand to her mouth in shock.

"It's very significant to hear this from our president, for him to recognize that not all human rights are respected in Cuba,'' said Raul Rios, a 47-year-old driver, who also expressed agreement with Castro's defense that Cuba is good in some areas, no country is perfect and all should try to do better.

Ricardo Herrera, a 45-year-old street food vendor said, "It's like a movie but based on real life.''

After responding to a handful of questions, Castro ended the news conference abruptly, declaring, "I think this is enough.''

Obama then appeared to lean in to pat Castro on the back. In an awkward moment, the Cuban leader instead grabbed Obama's arm and lifted it up as the U.S. president's wrist dangled, an image that immediately grabbed attention on social media.

White House officials said Obama did not plan to meet with Fidel Castro, the older brother of the Cuban president and his predecessor in office, hoping to keep the visit focused on the future of the island. Rhodes, the White House adviser, said there were also other considerations, including Castro's "health issues.''

Obama, in an interview with ABC News, said he has no problem with such a meeting "just as a symbol of the end of this Cold War chapter.''

Obama's visit to Cuba is a crowning moment in his and Raul Castro's bid to normalize ties between two countries that sit just 90 miles apart. The U.S. leader traveled with his family and was taking in the sights in Old Havana and attending a baseball game between the beloved Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays. Monday night, Castro honored the Americans with a state dinner at Havana's Palace of the Revolution. 

Several American business leaders joined Obama on the trip, many eager to gain a foothold on the island nation. Technology giant Google announced plans to open a cutting-edge online technology center offering free Internet at speeds nearly 70 times faster than those now available to the Cuban public. Obama said Google's efforts in Cuba are part of a wider plan to improve access to the Internet across the island.

While Castro has welcomed increased economic ties, he insisted his country would still suffer as long as the American economic embargo was in place. Obama has called on Congress to lift the blockade, but lawmakers have not held a vote on the repeal.

Obama's visit is being closely watched in the United States, where public opinion has shifted in support of normalized relations with Cuba. Still, many Republicans, including some hoping to succeed Obama as president, have vowed to roll back the diplomatic opening if elected.

Castro was asked by an American reporter whether he favored the election of Republican front-runner Donald Trump or likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Castro smiled and said simply, "I cannot vote in the United States.''

AP writers Josh Lederman, Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[President Obama Arrives in Cuba]]>Sun, 20 Mar 2016 15:45:48 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/216*120/obama+in+cuba.jpg

President Barack Obama will open a new era in the United States' thorny relationship with Cuba during a history-making trip that has two seemingly dissonant goals: locking in his softer approach while also pushing the island's communist leaders to change their ways.

Obama's 2-day visit starting Sunday will be a crowning moment for the ambitious diplomatic experiment that he and President Raul Castro's government announced barely a year ago. After a half-century of acrimony, the two former Cold War foes are now in regular contact. American travelers and businesses are eagerly eyeing opportunities on the tiny nation 90 miles south of Florida.

Joined by his family, Obama will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Castro in his presidential offices,  images unimaginable just a few years ago. He will sit in the stands with baseball-crazed Cubans for a historic game between their beloved national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

Obama also will meet with political dissidents. Their experiences in the one-party state help explain why some Cuban-Americans see Obama's outreach as a disgraceful embrace of a government whose practices and values betray much of what America stands for. Increasingly, though, that's becoming a minority view among Cuban-Americans, as well as the broader U.S. population.

White House officials are mindful that Obama cannot appear to gloss over deep and persistent differences. Even as the president works toward better ties, his statements alongside Castro and dissidents will be scrutinized for signs of how aggressively he is pushing the Havana government to fulfill promises of reform.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez rebuked Obama ahead of the trip for suggesting that he would use the visit to promote change. Rodriguez said that many of Obama's policy changes have essentially been meaningless, and he dismissed the notion that Obama was in any position to empower Cubans.

``The Cuban people empowered themselves decades ago,'' Rodriguez said, referring to the 1959 revolution that put the current government in power. He said if Obama was preoccupied with empowering Cubans, ``something must be going wrong in U.S. democracy.''

Obama's aides and supporters in Congress brushed off such tough talk from Cuban officials. They argue that decades of a U.S. policy of isolation that failed to bring about change in Cuba illustrated why engaging with the island is worthwhile.

Yet Obama's opponents insist he is rewarding a government that has yet to show it is serious about improving human rights and opening up its economy and political system. Though Obama has been rolling back restrictions on Cuba through regulatory moves, he has been unable to persuade Congress to lift the U.S. trade embargo, a chief Cuban demand.

``To this day, this is a regime that provides safe harbor to terrorists and to fugitives,'' said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. ``Unfortunately, it is doubtful that the president will bring up the need for reform during his visit.''

Two years after taking power in 2008, Raul Castro launched economic and social reforms that appear slow-moving to many Cubans and foreigners, but are lasting and widespread within Cuban society. The changes have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to work in the private sector and have relaxed limits on cellphones, Internet and Cubans' comfort with discussing their country's problems in public, for example.

The Cuban government has been unyielding, however, on making changes to its single-party political system and to the strict limits on media, public speech, assembly and dissent.

While in Havana, Obama will attend a state dinner in his honor and lay a wreath at a memorial to Jose Marti, a Cuban independence hero. He will give a speech at the Grand Theater of Havana _ carried on Cuban television. White House aides said Obama will lay out a vision of greater freedoms and economic opportunity.

Ahead of his trip, Obama announced moves to further lift U.S. restrictions on Cuba, including easing travel restrictions for Americans and restoring Cuba's access to the global financial system. Cuba has been slower to approve U.S. businesses operating in Cuba and to take other steps sought by the U.S. But Cuba did announce plans to lift a 10 percent conversion fee on U.S. dollars.

The jubilation that surged through Cuba in the early days of detente has been tempered by the absence of tangible improvement in most people's lives. Obama is well-regarded in Cuba, and though his trip has spurred excitement in the country, few Cubans expect to see Obama in person. The Castro government has announced a virtual shutdown of Havana during Obama's stay.

``I don't think things are going to improve here,'' said Rosa Lopez, 52-year-old food stand worker. Gesturing at her worn-out sandals and soft drinks for sale, she added, ``All this is here, in this country, and the United States is way over there.''

Obama's trip comes in the midst of a heated U.S. presidential election in which his willingness to talk to America's foes- not only Cuba, but also Iran- has been a focus.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has embraced much of his foreign policy agenda, including the Cuba opening. But Republican candidates describe Obama's outreach to Castro as part of a pattern of naïve overtures to enemies that has yielded little in return.

Against that backdrop, Obama aims to avoid glaring missteps that could make a rollback of his Cuba policy more palatable to Americans. He hopes a successful trip will make that impossible, even if a Republican is elected in November.

``We very much want to make the process of normalization irreversible,'' said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. 

NBC 6's Jackie Nespral and Jawan Strader are in Cuba to broadcast the President's historic visit.  You can watch coverage LIVE on NBC 6 and the NBC 6 News and Weather app.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: NBC6.com]]>
<![CDATA[Relaxed Relations Making Cuba Wedding Dreams Come True]]>Sat, 19 Mar 2016 10:38:29 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/wedding+generic1.jpg

As a contestant in the early years of ``The Bachelor,'' seasons four and six, Maribel ``Mary'' Delgado was one of the first to seek love through reality television, once unheard of but now an entertainment genre.

Delgado won season six, but the match proved less than perfect. Then she found love again and married James Kordomenos of Tampa on New Year's Eve 2015, stepping once more through what may be a door to a new trend.

The ceremony was held in Cuba and included mostly American citizens, a rare feat made possible only through the normalization of relations between the U.S. and the island nation.

``It was a dream-come-true type of wedding,'' said Delgado, who along with ABC Action News' Sarina Fazan will be discussing their experiences with ``The Bachelor'' on a Facebook video feed as the reality show airs.

``Cuba was beautiful. I'd absolutely recommend others get married there.''

For decades, because the two countries had no formal relations, Cuba has been largely off limits for Americans who want a destination wedding there. But with relations undergoing normalization, Cuba could indeed become a popular choice.

``It is still a mysterious island to so many people here,'' said Tracie Domino, an event planner based in Tampa who has arranged destination weddings in the Bahamas. ``The excitement and intrigue alone could make it a fun place to marry.''

Americans have been marrying in the island nation for years, but the ceremonies usually involve a visiting U.S. citizen and a Cuban who fall in love and decide to wed there so they can return to America together.

Those born in Cuba who came to the U.S. as adults, and then fell in love with someone who followed the same path, have been known to return to Cuba for their nuptials so immediate family could attend.

Delgado was born in Cuba, though she left before she turned 1.

But what makes the wedding of Delgado and Kordomenos so unusual and potentially groundbreaking is that most of the 30 people in the wedding party were from the U.S. and had no link to Cuba.

Delgado, Kordomenos and their 30 guests went to Havana for five days and four nights on a licensed educational trip through Tampa-based travel company ASC International. Each day, the group visited Havana's historic and cultural sites.

Through a Tampa friend with connections at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, the couple reserved the establishment's waterfront garden in advance of their trip and had the area decorated to their request.

Then, on Dec. 31, when the day's educational tour was complete, they were married by a friend who made the trip with them.

``It's a gray area,'' said Dana Reed, owner of ASC International. ``We need to stay within what we do _ taking people to Cuba for one of the 12 legal reasons. Mary has the unique situation that she was born in Cuba and had contacts there and can speak the language so could do something like this on her own.''

It may soon be easier for American couples to marry in Cuba.

Currently, those visiting Cuba for educational trips must be part of an organized tour group that takes them to sites such as museums, art galleries and music studios to learn about the nation's culture. The tour group operator must vouch to the U.S. government that the experience fell under the educational category.

Destination weddings are chosen by couples primarily to spice up the ceremony, event planner Domino said.

Locations also are chosen for their connection to the couple, perhaps memories of a romantic getaway in the Bahamas that solidified their love, Domino said, or of a resort where the bride vacationed as a child.

For Delgado, who now works at her own real estate brokerage, the wedding in Cuba was especially personal.

She was 11 months old in 1968 when her parents Juan and Juana Delgado carried her onto her father's fishing boat along with her brother and three sisters _ four if you include the sister still in the womb.

``They did not like the direction Cuba was taking,'' Delgado said.

She has no memories of the family's 36-hour journey at sea, but her sisters often talk of when the Coast Guard rescued them off the shores of Florida and took them to their headquarters in Miami, where the hungry family was provided a bounty of food.

``They said they thought they were taken to heaven,'' Delgado said with a laugh.

Soon after, the family moved to Chicago and later, Tampa.

Delgado would go on to become captain of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders and appear on two seasons of ``The Bachelor,'' receiving the final red rose from Byron Velvick in season six, 2004. The couple split in 2009.

A year later, Delgado met Kordomenos, the two began dating, and in September 2013, he popped the question during a getaway to the Virgin Islands

From the start, they discussed a destination wedding. They considered Greece because Kordomenos is of Greek heritage but chose Cuba because Delgado always wanted to see the land of her birth.

The ceremony was simple. In lieu of a reception, they reserved tables at the Hotel Nacional's New Year's Eve party.

``The beaches in Cuba are so gorgeous,'' Delgado said. ``Weddings there must be something special.''

Not that she has any complaints about her ceremony. It was perfect, she said.

``It was my rebirth. My life began in Cuba. And now my new life with my husband began there too.'' 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[South Floridians Head to Cuba As Obama Makes Historic Trip]]>Fri, 18 Mar 2016 22:31:58 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/031816+miami+cuba+travelers.jpg

President Obama's visit to Cuba is just around the corner and as he prepares for his historic trip many in South Florida are also traveling to the island.

NBC 6 caught up with some travelers at Miami International Airport coincidentally flying to the island around the same time, and they gave their thoughts on this landmark presidential visit.

Yanai Santiesteban said it's incredible to see the president of the United States going to Cuba.

Abel Eduardo Rondon lived in Cuba for 28 years and now he's going to visit family but he says he thinks President Obama's visit is positive. Rondon says he would welcome any change even if it's minimal.

While some do criticize the POTUS visit, many are hoping it signals a new beginning in the steps to continue normalizing relations between the two countries.

Maria Santiesteban said the presidential visit makes her happy and she wants to see if things get better. She said she wishes that this trip will bring changes and more communication between these two nations.

On Sunday, Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit the Communist nation in nearly 90 years. He will speak to a Cuban audience in Havana, which will be broadcast nationwide on Cuba TV.

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<![CDATA[Renewed Optimism for Cuban Property Claims]]>Fri, 18 Mar 2016 18:18:16 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/031816+cuban+property+claims.jpg

There is some renewed optimism among those who have claims against the Cuban government for properties that were taken in many cases decades ago ahead of President Obama's historic trip to the Communist nation.

"Ironically, it may open up some opportunities and we need to be prepared to capitalize on those," said Nick Gutierrez Jr., whose family owned property in Cuba.

Gutierrez was huddling with international lawyers and in good spirits over the possibility that the ranch his father owned before Fidel Castro came to power might actually not be a lost cause after all.

His family and others in South Florida, who for decades came up empty when it came to what the Castro regime confiscated, may have an opening during this time of the historic Obama trip.

The possible scenario - dealing directly with investors who want to use the property - not the Cuban government.

"Foreign investors don't want to go into Cuba unless and until they have the consent of the legitimate owner. This might be a way the owners can receive compensation and the foreign investors would feel more comfortable," Gutierrez said.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor and the point man at the White House on Cuba, recently told NBC 6 the property claims are part of the ongoing dialogue with Havana.

"Every individual claim matters to us in that process," he said. "Well this is an issue we take very seriously...The U.S. government does not let up on those issues and intend to carry that through until we see a restitution and see a resolution of claims."

There are over 5,000 certified claims worth about $8 billion. This new idea to deal directly with those who want to use the buildings, businesses, and lands would prevent from settling for pennies on the dollars. The owners could end up getting market value.

"At this point the investors have been foreign but the investors may soon be American as the Obama opening continues to proceed," Gutierrez said.

The property owners would like to separate this concept from the Cuban government's claims about what the U.S. owes it for the embargo. It still has a way to go but all of this is in the forefront as the President will be on the ground in Havana Sunday.

Regardless of what many of these property owners think about Obama going this could be a real silver lining for them and that part about not negotiating with the Cuban government is a big deal.  The Cubans could treat these as any property deal.

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<![CDATA[US Eases Security for Ships Visiting Cuba]]>Thu, 17 Mar 2016 10:58:29 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021814+cuba+flag+generic.jpg

The United States is removing Cuba from its list of countries deemed to have insufficient security in their ports, eliminating a major impediment to free flow of ships in the Florida Straits. The move marks one more step toward normalized relations ahead of President Barack Obama's historic trip to Cuba.

The shift clears the way for U.S. cruise ships, cargo vessels and even ferries to travel back and forth with much less hassle. No longer will all ships have to wait to be boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard for inspections, though the Coast Guard still can conduct random inspections.

The Coast Guard, in a notice to be released Thursday, said Cuba now has effective security measures in its ports. The U.S. also is removing the requirement that American vessels maintain a higher level of security for access to ships while in Cuban ports.

Obama has been easing restrictions on U.S. travel and commerce in Cuba since he and Cuban President Raul Castro moved to restore relations between the two longtime foes. Obama has picked up the pace in the days ahead of his trip to Havana, which starts Sunday. It's the first presidential visit to the communist country in nearly 90 years.

U.S. cruise lines including Carnival are gearing up to start sailing to Cuba as Americans, long prevented from traveling to Cuba under the U.S. trade embargo, take advantage of the relaxed travel restrictions that Obama has put in place. The Obama administration has started giving approval to U.S. cruise lines to operate there, though they need corresponding approval from the U.S. government.

Millions of Americans are expected to visit Cuba in the coming years in a sharp increase, although a formal U.S. ban on tourism technically remains in effect.

The requirements being lifted meant stricter requirements for any vessels that had been in Cuba during its last five ports of call. Those requirements included boarding of all ships by Coast Guard officials prior to entering U.S. ports.

Other countries on the list include Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iran.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[USPS to Resume Mail Service to Cuba]]>Thu, 17 Mar 2016 16:34:09 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/USPS-GettyImages-168420232.jpg

The United States Postal Service announced Thursday it will resume direct mail service to and from Cuba for the first time in more than five decades.

Thursday's announcement applies to customers in the U.S., who can now send first-class postcards, letter-sized envelopes and packages to Cuba, along with Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes and small Flat Rate boxes, according to the USPS.

"The U.S. Postal Service is pleased to participate in the historic direct transportation of mail service with Cuba," said Postmaster General and CEO Megan Brennan in a statement. "Moving letter mail and package volume directly between our countries will improve service for businesses and consumers."

The historic move comes just three days before President Barack Obama becomes the first sitting president to visit Cuba in more than 80 years. According to the White House, the first flight carrying direct mail from the U.S. to Cuba took off Wednesday.

For a list of mailing conditions to Cuba, visit the USPS International Mail Manual.



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Emilio Estefan Hopes to Visit a 'Really Free Cuba']]>Thu, 17 Mar 2016 13:16:44 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/051716+emilio+estefan+at+mia.JPG

Grammy Award-winning couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan would consider one day visiting Cuba, but only if some major changes occur first in the nation of their birth.

Emilio Estefan addressed the media at Miami International Airport early Thursday morning as he returned from a visit with President Obama in Washington, DC.

Estefan said he and wife Gloria would likely never return to Cuba while the Castros are there.

"Maybe one day, we hope soon, that we have new people," Estefan said. "Then, we could go to a really free Cuba."

Estefan was among 16 prominent Cuban-Americans who met with Obama Wednesday to discuss the president's upcoming trip to the island. Other attendees included prominent businessman Mike Fernandez, Mas Tec chairman Jorge Mas and Ric Herrero from Cuba Now.

The group urged the president to meet with Cuban dissidents during his visit and to create a plan of action for a more democratic Cuba.

Estefan did applaud the president's willingness to listen to a wide variety of opinions.

White House officials say the president will openly address the Cuban people during his visit, and that they intend for everyone on the island to know what's going on.

NBC 6 will have live coverage from Cuba on President Obama's historic visit. Anchors Jackie Nespral and Jawan Strader will provide live reports from Cuba starting Friday at 11 p.m.

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<![CDATA[President Obama Meets With Cuban-Americans Ahead of Cuba Trip]]>Wed, 16 Mar 2016 21:19:29 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/presidente-barack-obama-anuncia-su-nominacion-para-la-corte-suprema-de-justicia-reemplazo-anthonin-scalia-372211042.jpg

President Obama is meeting with prominent Cuban-Americans days before he visits the Communist island.

Obama held a meeting Wednesday with 16 Cuban-Americans, including music producer Emilio Estefan, prominent businessman Mike Fernandez, Mas Tec chairman Jorge Mas and Ric Herrero from Cuba Now, White House officials said.

Estefan asked the president to meet with Cuban dissidents and create a plan of action for a more democratic Cuba.

"It doesn't make sense if you go and nothing happens in the end, I think this is good that Cuban people will decide and I think that in order to decide they will have to have free elections," Estefan said.

Obama's visit to Cuba next week is the first for a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years.

Obama and his family are expected to arrive in Havana on Sunday afternoon. White House officials said he'll visit sites in Old Havana, including the Cathedral.

On Monday, he'll meet with Raul Castro. Castro will also host the first family for a state dinner.

To wrap up his visit, President Obama will attend a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

NBC 6 will have team coverage of the president's historic trip, beginning with live reports from Havana on Friday night.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Former Prisoner Alan Gross Discusses Changes in Cuba]]>Tue, 15 Mar 2016 16:52:20 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/031516+alan+gross.jpg

A man who spent five years in a Cuban prison spoke out Tuesday on recent changes and President Obama easing restrictions on the island nation.

"I think President Obama's visit is very timely. I think Cuba will be a legacy item for the president and I think he will rightly be discussing human rights, at the very least abuses of power," Alan Gross said. "I think the government of Cuba is, pardon the expression, grossly guilty of abuse of power."

Gross was arrested by the Communist government in 2009 for providing communication equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba.

"When I was arrested, access to the Internet by Cubanos was illegal. In June of 2013 it was made legal. When I was arrested, Internet cost $6 an hour. The price was reduced to $4.50 and now it's $2 an hour," Gross said.

Now that he's no longer behind bars, the former political prisoner talked about what he believes Cuba can do to achieve freedom of Internet information.

"They need to allow a situation whereby satellite connectivity is not the only source of connectivity. They need to develop other methods," Gross said.

The White House announced Tuesday the further easing of restrictions for not only travel to Cuba as reported last month, but also changes in banking, trade and shipping. But Gross said more needs to be done.

"Eleven point three million people live in a prison, without much historical opportunity for growth and advancement. I think that President Obama is not bringing opportunity, he's bringing the hope of opportunity," Gross said.

He also touched on the embargo.

"There will be no substantial foreign investment until the embargo is lifted so our Congress really needs to grow a pair and get out of the way," he said.

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<![CDATA[US Loosens Rules on Cuba Travel, Dollar]]>Tue, 15 Mar 2016 12:10:10 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The U.S. is loosening rules on travel to Cuba and the Cuban government's use of the dollar, removing obstacles to closer ties between the two countries five days before President Barack Obama makes a historic trip to Havana.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday that Americans can now take "people-to-people" trips to Cuba on their own instead of on expensive group tours.

That means any American can legally go to Cuba as long as they fill out a form asserting that their trip was for educational purposes instead of tourism.

The measure is expected to help fill demand for direct flights that U.S. airlines hope to launch in coming months.

The new measures also allow U.S. banks to process Cuban government transactions that pass even momentarily through the U.S. banking system.

A ban on those transactions crippled Cuba's ability to buy and sell goods internationally and become one of Cuba's biggest complains about the U.S. trade embargo on the island.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Nearly 30K Convicted Cubans May Face Deportation]]>Mon, 14 Mar 2016 08:12:13 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021814+cuba+flag+generic.jpg

As Washington normalizes relations with Havana, nearly 30,000 Cuban nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. may face deportation.

The Miami Herald reports that 28,400 Cuban nationals have served their prison terms and face automatic deportations. Some 18,000 live in Florida. For decades, they've been released under supervision by immigration authorities because the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Authorities say there's no imminent change planned for immigration policy toward Cuba. Republican Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo says dangerous criminals should be deported at the earliest date possible, while those convicted of minor offenses should be given the opportunity to stay.

Miami defense attorney Jose "Pepe" Herrera says many Cuban inmates didn't anticipate any U.S. change toward Cuba when they signed waivers agreeing to deportations to avoid immigration detention proceedings.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuban Entrepreneurs Quietly Build 'Private' Schools]]>Mon, 07 Mar 2016 08:34:00 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/dfw-generic-teacher-school-education-13.jpg

"This is a conversation between two children,'' Graciela Lage Delgado tells a rapt class of third-graders, tightly enunciating each English word from a textbook called "Welcome to America.''

"Is it a TV?'' Lage asks in a girl's voice, pointing to an illustration of a boxy silver robot.

"No, it's not!'' the kids shout back in English. "It's a robot!''

The kids in Lage's class wear sweat shirts and jeans, not the neat maroon uniforms of Cuba's public schools. Their classroom has an air conditioner and a computer with speakers for watching videos, unimaginable in a state school. And unlike most Cubans their age, the children can hold simple conversations in English, thanks to fast-moving, profound change in an important pillar of Cuba's six-decade-old socialist system.

Cuba touts its free, public kindergarten-to-post-grad schools as one of the jewels of its revolution, a force for social equality that virtually wiped out illiteracy across the island and gave even the poorest citizens a shot at educations often superior to wealthier countries'. As the government has allowed an explosion of private businesses ranging from restaurants to car washes, the school system, like health care, has remained under state control. Private schools remain illegal except for children of diplomats and foreign business people. Even the Catholic Church cannot open parochial schools.

Yet against the odds, Cuba's blooming entrepreneurial system has quietly created something that looks much like a private education sector, with thousands of students across Cuba enrolled in dozens of afterschool and weekend foreign language and art schools. The schools are entirely legal because they function as cooperatives of licensed private language teachers, one of the hundreds of new categories of self-employment authorized under Cuba's economic reforms. 

 For upper- and middle-class parents, the schools are filling gaps in subjects such as English, dance, painting, music and theater _ invaluable in a country where artists and tourism industry workers can feed their families far more easily than the average state employee. English is also vital for Cubans migrating to the United States, their numbers nearly doubled since the two countries declared detente in late 2014. 

The economic reforms of the last five years have created a large class of private entrepreneurs with lifestyles most Cubans can only dream of. That class has been flooded with cash from a 17 percent surge in the number of tourist visits and a wave of private investment from Cuban emigres launched after detente was announced.

The special schools mean the children of the privileged are increasingly getting a leg up, threatening to root inequality deeper and more broadly in a society where it isn't supposed to exist at all.

"It's just splintering  the collective identity, stratifying society more and making the gap between the haves and have-nots great,'' said educational anthropologist Denise F. Blum, author of a 2011 study of Cuban education titled "Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values: Educating the New Socialist Citizen.''

"I think it's changing what socialism means for Cuba,'' Blum said.

President Barack Obama travels to Cuba this month to push for such changes, a loosening of state control that allows a middle class to develop independently from the single-party government and the centrally planned economy it controls.

"The diversification of the economy is ultimately a source of a change for the Cuban people because they have more control over their own lives,'' Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, one of the architects of Obama's new policy, told The Associated Press. 

Parents with the means are spending about 250 Cuban pesos ($10) a month, around half the average state worker's salary, to give their children early advantages in English and the arts. Math and science are also taught privately, in less formal settings that more closely resemble group private tutoring.

"It's a sacrifice for every Cuban but we try to do it for them, for their future, so that they can get ahead in life,'' said Doralkis Vinas, a homemaker whose husband works in a private automobile body shop.

Their son Julito takes English at the Cuban School of Foreign Languages, which opened five years ago and now has four branches in Havana and two opening in western Pinar del Rio province.

The network, known by its Spanish acronym ECLEX, has hired a staff of moonlighting or retired public school teachers like Lage, who retired from the University of Havana last year after 37 years teaching English. 

The project has about 800 students across Cuba, said Yureibys Perez Blanco, the school's director-general, making it among the biggest of about 30 private English institutions in Havana. Besides elementary English, it is starting to offer specialized courses for law, accounting, management, medical English and tourism, she said.  

She said there's a need for better English instruction for children in public schools, where there often aren't enough qualified teachers to give weekly English classes. To help, each of the ECLEX branches adopts a needy school nearby and sends a teacher there to teach the weekly English lesson to the class that needs it most. 

"We don't have divisions in social classes here but we know that people have different purchasing power,'' she said. ``We have students here whose parents have families overseas that help them financially a lot. We have students whose parents live off their government salaries and save 250 pesos for English school so their kids can be better prepared.''

Private education has also transformed arts education. The country's elite government arts schools have three sets of competitive entrance exams: for elementary school, high-school and the prestigious Superior Institute of Arts university. Cuba prides itself on its achievements in the arts and its musicians, dancers, actors and fine artists have long been allowed to perform and sell their works outside the country. Many have become wealthy by Cuban standards, making an arts career a path to prestige and profit on the island.

"In our workshops, we realize that 95 percent of families come here with the idea that artists are famous, artists travel outside the country,'' said Angel Escobedo, head of a private Havana arts workshop called Entreartes. He said he has about 40 students aged 3 to 21 taking classes in dance, theater, music and fine arts like sculpture.   

"They want to prepare themselves for the art schools with the objective of being famous, traveling,'' he said. ``We're the specialists in preparing themselves for the entrance exams.''

Relatively affluent Cubans say preparing their children for career success is just part of the reason they're sacrificing to pay for private education. Many say it's just as important to raise well-rounded children in a society that has long valued arts and language skills as the measures of an educated person.

"The singing teacher says she's the finest student he has,'' said Ireinaldo Hernandez, an airport catering services worker who sends his 9-year-old daughter Erika to Entreartes. ``The dance professor says she's the one with the most flexibility. The sculpture teacher says she's coming along well. Until now we haven't been able to define the path for her to follow so she's in everything. Besides helping us decide, it's all preparation for her life, for her future.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[John Kerry to Travel to Cuba With President Obama]]>Fri, 04 Mar 2016 17:45:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Kerry-AP_993669969560.jpg

The White House says President Barack Obama alone will decide who to meet with when he arrives in Cuba on a history-making trip this month. 

Spokesman Josh Earnest says the guest list will be determined solely by the White House.

Earnest was responding to news reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is no longer making a solo visit to Cuba before the president, due to disagreements with Cuban officials over which dissidents will meet Obama. Obama has set meeting with pro-democracy activists on the communist island nation as a condition for the trip.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved more than a year ago to restore formal diplomatic relations between their formerly estranged countries.

Kerry now plans to travel to Cuba with Obama during his two-day trip on March 21-22.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Airlines Vie for Cuba Flights; Havana Top Destination]]>Wed, 02 Mar 2016 20:36:06 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/American+Airlines+Cuban+flag.JPG

U.S. airlines are looking to serve Cuba primarily from their large hub cities, with Havana being the most popular destination.

At least eight carriers submitted applications to the U.S. Department of Transportation Wednesday outlining what routes they would like to fly. The government will spend the next few months reviewing the requests and is expected to award the contested Havana routes this summer. Flights to smaller cities, if uncontested and lacking any contentious issues, could be approved much sooner.

Once routes are awarded, airlines will still need time to develop schedules and actually sell seats on the flights. And while the U.S. government will set the routes, airlines will also need to apply to Cuba's civil aviation authority for a permit to operate in the country.

All flights operating between the two countries today are charters, but an agreement signed between the two nations last month allows for up to 110 additional flights, more than five times the current charter operations.

Only 20 of those flights can go to Havana, in addition to the current 10 to 15 charter flights a day. The rest would fly to other Cuban cities.

U.S. tourists still won't legally be allowed to visit Cuba but the start of commercial flights will make it much easier for those who fall into one of the authorized travel categories. Charter flights are expensive, frequently chaotic and lack many of the traditional supports of commercial aviation such as online booking and 24-hour customer service.

Most of the planes proposed by U.S. airlines would carry about 160 passengers.

Nearly 160,000 U.S. leisure travelers flew to Cuba last year, along with hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visiting family. Tourism is still barred, but the number of legal reasons to go to Cuba, from organizing professional meetings to distributing information to Cubans, has grown so large and is so loosely enforced that the distinction from tourism has blurred significantly.

American Airlines was the most-aggressive carrier in its approach, requesting more than half the possible slots to Havana plus service to five other, smaller Cuban cities. The airline has a large hub in Miami, home to the largest Cuban-American population.

In American's filing with the DOT, CEO Doug Parker wrote that his airline has been "the undisputed leader'' in charter service, having done so since 1991.

The airline notes in its application that last year alone, it operated 1,084 Cuba charters while JetBlue Airways had 221 and Delta Air Lines had four.

Following Wednesday's route application deadline, airlines and the public have a chance to comment on the flights sought. That process will conclude by March 21.

The airlines won't get all of their requests, but below are the routes each carrier applied to fly:

  • American is seeking 10 daily flights from Miami to Havana, one from Charlotte and one from Dallas as well as one weekly flight from both Los Angeles and Chicago. From Miami, it is also looking for two daily flights to Santa Clara, Holguin and Varadero and daily service to Camaguey and Cienfuegos.
  • Delta is seeking flights from Atlanta, New York, Miami and Orlando to Havana. All would be daily, except for Miami where Delta is seeking two daily flights.
  • JetBlue is looking to serve Havana with four daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, two from Tampa, Florida, Orlando and New York and one daily flight from Boston and Newark, New Jersey. It also wants one daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara.
  • Southwest Airlines wants to fly to Havana with six daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, two from Tampa and one daily flight from Orlando. It also applied for daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Varadero and one to Santa Clara.
  • United Airlines is asking for daily flights between Newark, New Jersey, and Havana with two flights on Saturdays. It also wants Saturday-only flights from Chicago, Houston and Washington D.C.
  • Alaska Airlines wants two daily flights from Los Angeles to Havana.
  • Frontier Airlines applied for one daily flight between Denver and Havana, three daily flights between Miami and Havana, one daily flight between Miami and Santiago, four weekly flights between Miami and Camaguey, three weekly flights between Miami and Santa Clara, one weekly flight between Chicago and Varadero and one weekly flight between Philadelphia and Varadero. 
  • Silver Airways, a Florida-based regional airline, wants to fly to Havana twice daily from West Palm Beach, once daily from Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale, five times a week from Key West, and twice a week from Jacksonville. It also proposed to fly from Fort Lauderdale to nine other Cuban cities.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Cuba's Tobacco Country Sees Tourism Boom]]>Wed, 02 Mar 2016 10:48:54 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-464336418.jpg

Unseasonably heavy rains have damaged Cuba's tobacco crop and raised questions about iconic cigar brands that some aficionados hope will not suffer from declining quality amid higher demand.

And while foreign sales rose healthily last year, Cuban cigar industry officials say they have seen little impact on domestic sales from a boom in tourism that has brought hundreds of thousands of new visitors to Havana. That may be partly because while some tourists visit official cigar stores, many others buy pilfered or counterfeit substandard smokes on the street, further damaging the image of the Cuban cigar.

Still, the industry's problems haven't kept farmers in Cuba's tobacco country from benefiting from the tourist boom by converting their farms into tourist attractions, where busloads of foreign visitors can delight meals of roast pork, rice and beans and rum drinks.

The Montesino farm in Pinar del Rio province has been in the same family for three generations and is one of the most renowned Cuban tobacco producers. Each day, it receives tourists on group visits organized by state tourism agencies. Foreigners by the hundreds receive lectures on Cuban tobacco along with a meal and cocktails.

Despite the flood of visitors, some aspects of life in the province's central Vinales valley have changed little. Parents take their children to school on bicycles. Farmers haul tobacco leaves to be dried on ox-drawn carts. Tobacco workers nap under racks of drying leaves.

Workers say they're eager to see more benefits of Cuba's increasing links to the outside world since the start of new relations with U.S., without losing the placid lifestyle of the last half-century.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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<![CDATA[Obama to Attend Tampa Bay Rays Game in Cuba]]>Wed, 02 Mar 2016 05:20:38 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/091213+tampa+bay+rays+mascot+raymond.jpg

The Tampa Bay Rays' exhibition game against Cuba's national team in Havana on March 22 has been finalized, Major League Baseball's first trip to the communist island nation since the Baltimore Orioles played there in 1999.

MLB and the players' association announced the game Tuesday. It will be televised by ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

President Barack Obama plans to attend the game, confirming it with a tweet Tuesday.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says "during a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba's storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans."

Manfred drew the Rays on Nov. 13 from a bin of teams that wanted to make the trip. U.S. teams played spring training games in Cuba before Fidel Castro's revolution but none appeared there from March 1959 until the Orioles faced Cuba's national team in Havana in March 1999.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rolling Stones to Perform in Havana]]>Tue, 01 Mar 2016 13:36:02 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/MickJaggerGrammys-AP_166930872307.jpg

The Rolling Stones announced Tuesday that the group will play a free concert in Havana on March 25, becoming the most famous act to play Cuba since its 1959 revolution.

The Stones will play in Havana's Ciudad Deportiva three days after President Barack Obama visits Havana. The concert is expected to draw a massive audience in a country where the government once persecuted young people for listening to rock music.

"We have performed in many special places during our long career but this show in Havana is going to be a landmark event for us, and, we hope, for all our friends in Cuba too," the band said in a statement.

Along with easing many restrictions on foreign music, art and literature, the Cuban government has increasingly allowed large gatherings not organized by the state in recent years. The Stones concert will almost certainly be one of the largest since Cuba began easing its limits on some non-official gatherings in the 1990s.

"I'm definitely going to go," said Ivia Perez, 39. "It makes me think about being in high school, after the period of censorship. I listened to a lot of rock back then."

On the same week as the visits by Obama and The Rolling Stones, the Tampa Bay Rays are expected to play the first Major League Baseball exhibition game in Cuba since 1999, part of an extraordinary string of events in a country that spent the Cold War isolated from the United States and its allies. Cuba and its capital have been flooded with tourists, visiting dignitaries and celebrities more than a year after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they were moving to normalize relations.

Cuban fans have been buzzing about a possible concert by "Los Rollings" since lead singer Mick Jagger visited Havana in October.

"It's part of a dream to see the greatest icons of music who couldn't come before for various reasons, above all Cuba's isolation," said Cuban music critic Joaquin Borges Triana. "The Rolling Stones are going to magically unite generations of Cubans, from people in their 60s to their children and grandchildren."

The Havana "Concert for Amity" will cap the Stones' America Latina Ole tour through seven Latin American cities. The band said it will donate instruments and other musical equipment from sponsors to Cuban musicians during their visit.

The biggest musical performance in Cuba to date was held in 2009, when the Colombian singer Juanes drew more than a million people to a show titled "Peace without Frontiers" in Havana's Revolution Plaza.

That concert angered Cuban-American exiles in the U.S. and its organizers wrangled with Cuban officials over performances by local artists critical of their government. U.S. government contractors also tried to use the concert to promote programs designed to foment political change in Cuba.

The Stones concert is expected to take place in a more relaxed political environment, as the U.S. and Cuban governments move rapidly to make their new relationship appear irreversible before the end of Obama's term.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Brothers to the Rescue Shoot Down 20th Anniversary]]>Wed, 24 Feb 2016 17:35:59 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-71572586.jpg

The 20th anniversary of the shoot down of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft were remembered Wednesday in solemn ceremonies across South Florida.

On Feb. 24, 1996, three American citizens -- Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, and Mario de la Peña -- as well as one American resident, Pablo Morales, were on a humanitarian mission over international waters when their plane was shot down upon an order from the Cuban government.

The planes of the humanitarians were taken down by a Cuban MiG-29 in international airspace.

Several lawmakers have released statements on the 20th anniversary and have tied it in with the current thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

In a statement, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio called the shoot down a "gross violation of U.S. law for which justice has not been served." Rubio added that the incident "stresses the long history of brutality by the Castro regime."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen referenced President Obama's upcoming trip to Cuba, which she called "misguided" in a statement.

"The Obama administration continues to provide the Castro regime, the same people who murdered the Brothers to the Rescue heroes, concession after concession without even a semblance of contrition or accountability by the murderers of these brave men," she wrote, adding "The memories of the courageous Brothers to the Rescue heroes will endure as a testament to those who were willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of a free Cuba.”

A remembrance ceremony took place at the Brothers to the Rescue Monument located at Opa-locka International Airport at 11 a.m.

Later in the evening, the pilots will be remembered at a mass at 8 p.m.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ramon Castro, Cuban President's Older Brother, Dies]]>Tue, 23 Feb 2016 23:50:32 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/022316+ramon+castro.jpg

Ramon Castro, a lifelong rancher and farmer who bore a strong physical resemblance to younger brother Fidel Castro, has died, Cuban state media announced Tuesday. He was 91.

Widely known by his nickname "Mongo," the white-bearded Ramon Castro preferred tending crops and livestock to the revolutionary political life embraced by his younger siblings Fidel and Raul, who replaced Fidel as Cuba's president in February 2008.

Two years older than Fidel, Ramon was long used to getting double-takes from people who insisted he looked just like his famous brother. At times, Ramon was said to reply that because he was older, Fidel actually looked like him.

Ramon, Fidel and Raul were the second, third and fourth children of Angel Castro, a Spanish-born rancher, and his second wife, Lina Ruz. Angel Castro also had two other children from a previous marriage.

The three brothers attended Roman Catholic schools in eastern Cuba, where their teachers complained about their pranks and trouble making, prompting Angel to pull them out of classes for some time.

Once grown, Fidel and Raul headed off to Havana for studies, then the business of launching a revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup.

But Ramon Castro was content to remain in the village of Biran in eastern Cuba, where he helped his father with the family business.

Nevertheless, Ramon remained in contact with his siblings. He wrote letters to Fidel in prison when he and Raul and other followers were arrested after their unsuccessful 1953 attack on a military barracks that launched their armed struggle. Sometimes along with the correspondence, Ramon sent along a ham or a box of cigars.

According to letters from that period, Fidel asked Ramon to assure their parents that prison was not "a horrible and shameful idea. ... When one's motives are lofty and great, then it is an honorable place."

After Fidel and his followers established their rebel stronghold in Cuba's eastern mountains, there was at least one recorded instance of Fidel visiting the family ranch, where he feasted on a turkey that Ramon had kept frozen for months in hopes of such a visit.

Following the 1959 triumph of the Cuban revolution and Fidel's subsequent rise to power, Ramon often worked as a consultant for the government ministries of agriculture and sugar. In the early 1960s, he oversaw sugar production in eastern Cuba, where he helped increase output.

Ramon founded several state companies, including ones that handled the transportation of sugar cane and the production of oranges. He also was involved in agricultural research.

Although he wielded little government power, Ramon nevertheless was a founding member of the Communist Party of Cuba and served as a deputy in the country's parliament, the National Assembly.

Little was known about his private life except that he was born on Oct. 14, 1924, had been married and had at least two sons, Ramon Omar Castro and Angel Castro.

Being the president's brother often brought him into contact with high-profile visitors, including American film director Oliver Stone, who met with both Fidel and Ramon during a 2002 visit.

More recently, Ramon befriended rancher John Parke Wright, of J.P. Wright & Co. of Florida, during the American's recent visits to negotiate sales of U.S. livestock to the communist government. Wearing big cowboy hats, the pair rode horses and inspected cattle at the Nina Bonita ranch in the western province of Pinar del Rio.

Although Fidel quit smoking cigars in 1986, Ramon maintained the habit that he picked up from his father when he was just 12.

"Is it true that he never smoked again?" Ramon asked during a 2002 international cigar festival about his younger brother's former love of the island's world-famous tobacco. "As for me, I haven't given it up."

Ramon liked to boast about his family's longevity. Their father lived until age 82, and there reportedly was at least one aunt who lived past 100.

"It seems that we have a good genetic mix," Ramon said in late 2004, expressing confidence that Fidel would quickly recover after a fall, which in fact he did.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: File – Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Southwest CEO Says Cuba Flights Could Begin in 2016]]>Tue, 23 Feb 2016 13:15:50 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Southwest-Airlines-generic1.jpg

The CEO of Southwest Airlines Co. says the carrier could begin Cuba flights this year.

The Dallas Morning News reports Gary Kelly offered details Monday in a message to employees. Kelly said Dallas-based Southwest "in all likelihood" would apply to fly in and out of Cuba on new routes being opened.

The U.S. and Cuba last week signed an agreement to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades. U.S. airlines can bid on routes for as many as 110 U.S.-Cuba flights daily. All current passenger flights are charters.

Kelly says Southwest is very prepared to consider the opportunity and may very well be flying to Cuba in 2016.

U.S. carriers face a March 2 deadline to submit applications.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mixed Reactions in Miami to President Obama's Cuba Trip]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2016 18:45:42 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Obama-Raul-Castro.jpg

Cuban-Americans in Miami are speaking out following the announcement that President Obama will be traveling to Cuba next month.

The announcement that Obama plans on meeting with Raul Castro on Cuban soil is stirring up some controversy, especially at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

"It's very unfortunate that the president is doing this," associate director Sebastian Arcos said. "A presidential visit is of the ultimate diplomatic effort to grant legitimacy. And the Cubans do not deserve this level of legitimacy because they have not done anything to deserve it."

While some are passionately opposed to the visit, there were some mixed views. According to the institute, there are some generational gaps between younger and older exiles on the issue of normalization.

"The community is definitely divided on this new policy," Arcos said. "You can see clear majorities opposing this policy in older exiles. And a clear majority of people that favor these kind of policies in younger recent arrived exiles," Arcos said.

Student groups at FIU had a variety of opinions for and against the meeting.

"I think this is really good. I really hope and I'm pretty sure that relations will get better and hopefully will get better for the people," said Steffan Blanco, a member of the Cuban-American student organization at FIU. "I can't expect a real reciprocity at the end but I think hopefully they will learn something from it."

Others are not as optimistic.

"It's unfortunate that our president has chosen to go to Cuba. I think there's a reason why no U.S. President has been to Cuba since 1928 and I think that we have just lost what we stand for...freedom, human rights, constitutional liberties," said Rey Anthony, a member of the Free Cuba Foundation at FIU. "All the things that do not exist in Cuba in Cuba and that have not occurred in Cuba as Obama had promised a year and a half ago."

At Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, which was established in Havana and expelled by Castro in 1961 before relocating to South Florida, the reality of the trip hit home for some.

"I thought it was sort of interesting considering he's not from Cuba, he doesn't really have a lot of experience on Cuba," student William Tablada said. "I think it's sort of a slap in the face because we've really tried to stay away from trading with them and as long as they're still communist with Castro being there I don't think he should go."

His father, Guillermo Tablada, shared his disapproval.

"It will be a gesture to bow down to them basically in essence in my opinion and it will fix absolutely nothing," Guillermo Tablada said. "If you don't know history you may think this is a good idea, you may think a president visiting there will make a difference. If you look back at the history of the Castros this will make absolutely no difference whatsoever."

Carolina Jimenez, who was waiting to pick up her brother from school, sees things differently.

"You can look at it from that side but you can also look at it from the side that maybe through this Cuba will have the opportunity to be freed from that oppression," she said.

A Colombian-American, Jimenez said change in policy after decades may be what turns things around for the island country.

"It's very sad to see people living in those conditions. And I feel that even through diplomacy the American Dream can be reached and it'll give a lot of opportunities to the people living there," she said.

But people who've lived in Cuba and came to the U.S. when they were younger don't share that optimism.

"What I have seen there are so many restrictions, abuses, and so many people that died," Migulito Iglesias said.

"The people in jail are still in jail, the oppression continues. The poverty continues, there's nothing that his visit there will fix," Guillermo Tablada said.

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<![CDATA[Fla. Lawmakers React to Obama Cuba Trip]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2016 17:52:21 -0500http://media.nbcmiami.com/images/214*120/021817+lehtin+on+obama.JPG

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke out Thursday against President Obama's planned trip to Cuba next month, calling the move "absolutely shameful" and "a slap in the face."

Ros-Lehtinen was joined by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart in a press conference Thursday morning. Prior to the conference, Ros-Lehtinen's office released a statement in which she condemned the planned trip.

"For more than 50 years Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime yet the country which grants them refuge, the United States, has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors," she wrote.

Ros-Lehtinen went on to say that there has been no progress on human rights, and no improvement of conditions in Cuba since the thawing of relations began. In her statement, Ros-Lehtinen wrote that the president's visit "will only legitimize the Castros' repressive behavior."

Rep. Balart's office also released a statement condemning the trip, but calling it "hardly a surprise."

President Obama confirmed the visit Thursday on Twitter, and said the visit was part of an effort to "improve the lives of the Cuban people." He vowed to press the communist government on human rights and other policy differences.

"We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world," Obama wrote.

White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes was expected to give details on the trip at a briefing Thursday afternoon.

The trip will take place March 21-22 and the President will be joined by the First Lady.

The trip will make Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. 

According to the State Department historian's office, President Harry Truman visited the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay and its naval base on the southeast end of the island in 1948 and former President Jimmy Carter has paid multiple visits to the island since leaving office in January 1981. Not since President Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in January 1928 has a sitting U.S. president been to that city.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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